From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2021 JANUARY-FEBRUARY"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
Or continue to King Of The East 2021 March-April.

KING OF THE EAST 2021 JANUARY-FEBRUARY


    So as 2020 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.


    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)



2021 JANUARY-FEBRUARY

1/2/2021 Iran Says It Plans To Increase Uranium Enrichment To 20% by OAN Newsroom
US Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on
April 22, 2016 in New York for a JCPOA meeting. (BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran is reportedly planning to up its Uranium enrichment program to surpass far beyond the Iran nuclear deal’s regulations.
    On Friday, the United Nations nuclear watchdog announced it was informed by Iran of its intentions to enrich uranium further past energy grade fissile material and closer to weapons-grade material.
    For peaceful nuclear energy purposes, Uranium enrichment doesn’t need to exceed five percent.    However, Iran said it plans to increase its enrichment to 20 percent for what they’re claiming as “research purposes.”
    Making the jump from five percent enrichment to 20 percent is quite difficult.    However, enriching to 20 percent cuts the time needed to make weapons-grade uranium, which makes the process substantially easier.
    This is why many are worried by Iran’s eagerness to produce large stockpiles of enriched uranium.    Iran looks to carry out this enrichment research at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant, which is located beneath a mountain.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency said nuclear enrichment is not permitted at Fordow according to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. However, activity at the plant has been ongoing.
    “The enrichment process includes several stages,” Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.    “The first is transferring material to Fordow, which has now been done.”
    Some have blamed President Trump and his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal for Iran’s increased aggression.    However, many said the JCPOA deal was destined to fail, as Iran has been proven in the past to cheat when it comes to international arms restrictions.
    One major weak-point in the deal was that Iran did not have to submit to spontaneous inspections. The country also had the ability to delay the checks for up to 24 days.
    Another major point of concern included the 10-to-15-year limit on the deal, which could grant an emboldened Iran to achieve nuclear weapons capabilities immediately after the deal’s expiration.
    According to reports throughout 2020, the nation’s nuclear stockpiles were 12 times larger than what was permitted under the nuclear deal, which is still an active agreement between many European powers and Iran.
    If Iran achieves nuclear weapons capabilities it could set a dangerous precedent, causing regional competitors like Saudi Arabia to try to follow suit.

1/4/2021 ‘Just Stay Home’ – Thai PM Urges Compliance As Virus Cases Hit Record
FILE PHOTO: Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha waves as he 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/Pool
    BANGKOK (Reuters) -Thailand’s prime minister on Monday urged the public to stay at home to help contain its biggest coronavirus outbreak and avoid a strict lockdown, as authorities confirmed a daily record of 745 new infections.
    The government has declared 28 provinces, including Bangkok, as high-risk zones and asked people to work from home and avoid gathering or travelling beyond provincial borders, as infection numbers climb after an outbreak was detected last month at a seafood market near the capital.
    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the government was mindful of the potential economic damage from strong containment measures.
    “We don’t want to lock down the entire country because we know what the problems are, therefore can you all lock down yourselves?” he told reporters.
    “This is up to everyone,” Prayuth said.    “If we don’t want to get infected, just stay home for 14 to 15 days.    If you think like this then things will be safe, easier for screening.”
    Thailand has recorded 8,439 coronavirus cases and 65 deaths overall, among the lowest numbers in Asia.
    Most new cases are linked to a cluster among migrant workers that started in Samut Sakhon, a coastal province southwest of Bangkok, and led to infections in more than half of the country’s provinces.
    The government’s COVID-19 taskforce has recommend extending an emergency decree that gives power to health authorities and provincial governors until the end of February.
    Restaurants and food vendors in Bangkok have to halt dine-in services at 9 p.m., Prayuth said, softening an earlier 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. dine-in suspension imposed by Bangkok authorities, citing economic concerns.    Take-outs will be allowed.
    Alcohol sales in restaurants have been banned and bars and other entertainment venues closed in high-risk provinces.    Provincial governors have been empowered to set their own restrictions.
    Schools and education centres nationwide have been closed for a month.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-umEditing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

1/4/2021 Indonesia To Release Suspected Bali Bombings Mastermind Bashir by Stanley Widianto
FILE PHOTO: Indonesian radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir enters a courtroom for the first day of
an appeal hearing in Cilacap, Central Java province, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will release radical cleric and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings Abu Bakar Bashir from prison later this week, its government said on Monday, upon completion of his jail term.
    Bashir, 82, who was among Indonesia’s most notorious extremists, is considered the spiritual leader of the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network.    He was jailed in 2011 for his links to militant training camps in Aceh province.
    Bashir will be released on Friday “in accordance with the expiration date and the end of his term,” Rika Aprianti, spokeswoman of the corrections directorate general at the law and human rights ministry, said in a statement.
    Jemaah Islamiah is accused of plotting several big attacks in Indonesia and includes operatives trained in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the southern Philippines.
    Its members are accused of orchestrating the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs, which killed more than 200 people, among them scores of Australians, and an attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta that killed 12 people a year later.
    A senior JI operative believed to have made bombs for both attacks, Zulkarnaen, was among 23 suspected militants arrested last month.
    Bashir denied any involvement in the Bali bombings.    A lawyer for Bashir did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment on his upcoming release.
    Security analyst Ridlwan Habib said that though Bashir’s stature has weakened, extremists may try to associate their activities with him to gain traction and boost their credibility.
    “Bashir is a senior figure in Indonesia’s jihadist movement, and it’s not impossible that his big name could be used,” he said.
    While seeking reelection, President Joko Widodo in January 2019 had considered an early release for Bashir on health grounds, but scrapped the plan after Bashir reportedly declined to pledge allegiance to the Indonesian state ideology.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Gayatri Suroyo and Martin Petty)

1/4/2021 Indian Govt, Farmers Fail To Break Impasse On Farm Laws by Nigam Prusty and Manoj Kumar
FILE PHOTO: Farmer leaders gesture as they arrive to attend a meeting with government
representatives in New Delhi, India, December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Indian government on Monday refused to roll back farm reform laws, prompting farmers to threaten to step up their weeks-long protests, but the two sides agreed to meet again on Friday.
    Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping out on roads around the capital, New Delhi, for 40 days, insisting that the government withdraw the reforms and guarantee a minimum support price for their produce.
    “I am hopeful the stalemate will be resolved very soon,” Agricultural Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters after the seventh round of meetings between the ministers and 40 farming unions.
    “For resolution, the cooperation of both sides is essential.”
    Farmers leaders, however, said they would not give up their fight unless the government agrees to repeal the laws, approved by parliament in September.
    “Our agitation will continue till the three laws are withdrawn.    There is no other way,” said Rakesh Tikait, one of the farmers’ leaders who attended the meeting with ministers.
    Reliance Industries asked authorities to help stop attacks on its telecommunication masts by protesting farmers, who say the conglomerate has profited from the reforms at their expense.
    The majority of India’s farmers sell their produce largely to small retailers at a much lower price than the government guaranteed price – offered to only a fraction of farmers.
    They fear that with the introduction of the new laws, big retailers like Reliance will enter the market to buy their produce at a lower price, while the government may slowly dismantle the current system of procurement at the guaranteed price.
(Reporting by Nigam Prusty and Manoj Kumar; Editing by Jan Harvey and Nick Macfie)

1/4/2021 Japanese Government Considers State Of Emergency For Tokyo Area by Chang-Ran Kim and Elaine Lies
A man wearing a protective mask amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, sits in front of a shop on the
first business day of the new year at a business district in Tokyo, Japan, January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The Japanese government said on Monday it was considering declaring a state of emergency in and around Tokyo as coronavirus cases climb, casting fresh doubt over whether it can push ahead with the summer Olympics and keep economic damage to a minimum.
    Citing government sources, Kyodo News reported that preparations were being made for a state of emergency that would take effect by Friday and last about a month.
    Tokyo and the three surrounding prefectures, which have requested an emergency declaration, asked residents to refrain from non-essential, non-urgent outings after 8 p.m. from Friday until at least the end of the month, and said eateries must close by that time.
    Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in charge of coronavirus countermeasures, said the government would make a decision on an emergency “as soon as possible” after listening to experts.
    Japan registered a record 4,520 new cases on Dec. 31, about half in and around Tokyo, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted demands for tougher action.
    Asked to explain the potential change of heart, he told a news conference: “Even during the three days of the New Year’s holidays, cases didn’t go down in the greater Tokyo area … We felt that a stronger message was needed.”
    Suga did not say when the government would decide, or what restrictions would follow.    A state of emergency last spring lasted more than a month, shutting down schools and non-essential businesses.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
    In the absence of specifics, hundreds of thousands of Twitter posts expressed dismay and confusion.
    “This morning, the news said it’s 200 days till the Olympics, and in the afternoon, that there could be another state of emergency. What’s going on?” tweeted user Mii Mama.
    Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has recorded more than 245,000 cases and about 3,600 deaths.
    Although the figures pale in comparison to those of many parts of Europe and the Americas, Suga has the challenge of hosting the Olympics in Tokyo this summer after the pandemic caused the Games’ first-ever delay in 2020.
    Still, Suga repeated a pledge to continue preparations for the Games said a vaccination programme should begin by the end of February.
    Japan has until now relied mostly on voluntary closings rather than the rigid lockdowns seen elsewhere, but Suga said a bill would be submitted to parliament to give state-of-emergency restrictions more teeth, including penalties.
    He said many new cases with unknown origins were likely to be linked to restaurants, and that cutting their hours should help.
    Later he said on television news that the government would consider raising the maximum compensation for businesses that agree to shorter hours from the current 20,000 yen ($195) a day.
    Toshihiro Nagahama, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, estimated that a one-month suspension of non-urgent consumer spending in greater Tokyo would slash gross domestic product by 2.8 trillion yen ($27 billion), or an annualised 0.5%, costing around 147,000 jobs.
($1 = 102.9800 yen)
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Elaine Lies, Daniel Leussink, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Izumi Nakagawa; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Kevin Liffey)

1/5/2021 WHO’s Tedros “Very Disappointed” China Has Not Authorised Entry Of Coronavirus Experts
    ZURICH (Reuters) – The head of the World Health Organization is “very disappointed” that China has still not authorised the entry of a team of international experts to examine the origins of the coronavirus.
    “Today, we learned that Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team’s arrival in China,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news conference in Geneva.
    “I have been in contact with senior Chinese officials and I have once again made it clear the mission is a priority for the WHO,” he told reporters.
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Alison Williams)
[SO IT TOOK THIS LONG TEDROS FOR YOU TO REALIZE THAT CHINA TOOK YOU FOR A SUCKER.].

1/5/2021 Pakistan’s Hazara Say No End To Quetta Sit-In Without Justice For Slain Miners by Gul Yousafzai
People carry placards demanding justice, following the killings of coal miners from Pakistan's minority Shi'ite Hazara community
in an attack in Mach area of Bolan district, during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – Members of the Shi’ite Hazara minority in Pakistan who have blockaded a highway in Quetta with the bodies of slain coal miners said on Tuesday they will not withdraw until Prime Minister Imran Khan meets them and the killers are brought to justice.
    Islamic State militants slit the throats of 11 miners in a residential compound near a mine site in Pakistan’s Balochistan province on Sunday, filming the entire incident and later posting it online.
    Thousands of Hazaras have since staged a protest, arranging the coffins across a highway in the provincial capital Quetta.
    “We have become tired of picking up the bodies of our people,” Syed Agha Raza, a Hazara Shi’ite political leader, told Reuters.
    Masooma Yaqoob Ali told Reuters her elder brother along with four other relatives were among those killed.
    “Now we have no male member [of our family] to take coffins of our brother and other relatives to the graveyard for burial,” she said, shedding tears as she spoke.
    The protesters are refusing to bury the victims of the attack until demands, which include the resignation of the provincial government, are met.    Protests also occurred on Tuesday in Karachi, Pakistan’s large southern city.
    Balochistan Home Secretary Hafiz Basid told Reuters at least nine of the victims were from neighboring Afghanistan, and two bodies had thus far been taken there for burial.    Afghanistan’s Foreign Office said in a statement that seven of the dead were Afghan, and both sides were investigating the incident together.
    Hazaras have faced persecution by extremists in both countries, where Sunni Islam predominates.    Some Afghan Hazaras come to Pakistan for work in the winter, including at the coal mine in Balochistan.
    Hundreds of Hazara have been killed over the last decade in attacks in Pakistan, including bombings in schools and crowded markets and brazen ambushes of buses along Pakistani roads.
(Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Writing by Umar Farooq; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/5/2021 Iran Denies Seized Korean Ship And Crew Are Being Held As Hostages by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith
A South Korean-flagged tanker vessel which was seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards is seen
in Gulf waters, Iran January 4, 2021. IRGC/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Iran denied on Tuesday it was using a South Korean ship and its crew as hostages, a day after it seized the tanker in the Gulf while pressing a demand for Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen under U.S. sanctions.
    The seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi and its 20-member crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz has been seen as an attempt by Tehran to assert its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the United States.
    Iran wants Biden to lift sanctions imposed by outgoing President Donald Trump.    Tehran’s critics have long accused it of capturing ships and foreign prisoners as a method of gaining leverage in negotiations.
    “We’ve become used to such allegations,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference.    “But if there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds.”
    South Korea summoned the Iranian ambassador, called for the ship to be released and said it was dispatching a delegation to Iran to discuss it.    Iran says the ship was held over environmental violations.
    Iran’s ability to challenge shipping in the Gulf is one of its main points of leverage in what is expected to be a difficult negotiation when the Biden administration takes office on Jan. 20. In 2019, Iran held a British tanker for two months.
    South Korea, like other countries, is required to limit Iran’s access to its financial system under the U.S. sanctions, which were imposed by Trump after he abandoned a nuclear agreement reached with Iran under his predecessor Barack Obama.
    Iran says the sanctions are illegal and have hurt its economy, including its ability to respond to the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in the Middle East.
    Biden aims to revive the nuclear agreement, but any thaw is likely to pose a diplomatic challenge.    Since Trump abandoned the deal, Iran has taken steps that violate it; Biden says Iran must be fully compliant before the deal can be restored, while Iran says Washington must first lift the sanctions.
    On Monday, Tehran announced it had stepped up uranium enrichment at an underground facility, its latest move in violation of the nuclear deal’s terms.
    GRAPHIC: Map tracking route of South Korean-flagged tanker seized by Iran – https://graphics.reuters.com/IRAN-TANKER/qzjpqdllmvx/IRAN-TANKER.jpg
CREW ‘SAFE’
    South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha said on Tuesday she was making diplomatic efforts to secure the release of the tanker and had made contact with her counterpart in Tehran.
    Iran’s ambassador in Seoul, Saeed Badamchi Shabestari, asked about the status of the ship’s crew before his meeting at the foreign ministry, told reporters “all of them are safe.”
    In addition to a South Korean delegation expected to go to Iran as soon as possible to try to free the ship, South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Choi Jong-kun, is scheduled to visit Iran on Sunday.    Iranian state TV cited a Tehran government official as saying the visit had been scheduled earlier, to discuss the frozen funds.
‘ARMED SOLDIERS’
    The ship’s Busan-based operator, Taikun Shipping Co. Ltd., told Reuters there had been nothing to indicate before the vessel was seized that Iranian authorities were probing possible violations of environmental rules.
    “If it really was marine pollution, as they say, the coastguard was supposed to approach the ship first,” Taikun’s management director, Lee Chun-hee, said by telephone.    “But instead, armed soldiers approached the crew and said they needed to be investigated.”
    Last Sunday, the Tehran Times newspaper reported Iran was hoping to negotiate an agreement to use the frozen funds to trade for commodities, including coronavirus vaccine doses.
    According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, a foreign ministry official said the Iranian government had tried to secure vaccines through the global COVAX initiative, backed by the World Health Organization.    Tehran had been in talks with the ministry and the U.S. Treasury to pay for the doses with South Korean won.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Florence Tan in Singapore and by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson)

1/5/2021 China Doubles Down On COVID Narrative As WHO Investigation Looms by David Stanway
FILE PHOTO: Visitors attend an exhibition on the fight against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Wuhan Parlor Convention Center that previously
served as a makeshift hospital for COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 31, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – As a team from the World Health Organization (WHO) prepares to visit China to investigate the origins of COVID-19, Beijing has stepped up efforts not only to prevent new outbreaks, but also shape the narrative about when and where the pandemic began.
    China has dismissed criticism of its early handling of the coronavirus, first identified in the city of Wuhan at the end of 2019, and foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that the country would welcome the WHO team.
    But amid simmering geopolitical tensions, experts said the investigators were unlikely to be allowed to scrutinise some of the more sensitive aspects of the outbreak, with Beijing desperate to avoid blame for a virus that has killed more than 1.8 million people worldwide.
    “Even before this investigation, top officials from both sides have been very polarised in their opinions on the origins of the outbreak,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think tank.
    “They will have to be politically savvy and draw conclusions that are acceptable to all the major parties,” he added.
    While other countries continue to struggle with infection surges, China has aggressively doused flare-ups.    After a new cluster of cases last week, the city of Shenyang sealed off entire communities and required all non-essential workers to stay home.
    On Saturday, senior diplomat Wang Yi praised the anti-pandemic efforts, saying China not only curbed domestic infections, but also “took the lead in building a global anti-epidemic defence” by providing aid to more than 150 countries.
    But mindful of the criticism China has faced worldwide, Wang also became the highest-ranking official to question the consensus about COVID-19’s origins, saying “more and more studies” show that it emerged in multiple regions.
    China is also the only country to claim COVID-19 can be transmitted via cold chain imports, with the country blaming new outbreaks in Beijing and Dalian on contaminated shipments – even though the WHO has downplayed those risks.
TRANSPARENCY
    China has been accused of a cover-up that delayed its initial response, allowing the virus to spread further.
    The topic remains sensitive, with only a handful of studies into the origins of COVID-19 made available to the public.
    But there have also been signs China is willing to share information that contradicts the official picture.
    Last week, a study by China’s Center for Disease Control showed that blood samples from 4.43% of Wuhan’s population contained COVID-19 antibodies, indicating that the city’s infection rates were far higher than originally acknowledged.
    But scientists said China must also share any findings suggesting COVID-19 was circulating domestically long before it was officially identified in December 2019.
    An Italian study showed that COVID-19 might have been in Europe several months before China’s first official case.    Chinese state media used the paper to support theories that COVID-19 originated overseas and entered China via contaminated frozen food or foreign athletes competing at the World Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019.
    Raina MacIntyre, head of the Kirby Institute’s Biosecurity Research Program in Australia, said the investigation needed to draw “a comprehensive global picture of the epidemiological clues,” including any evidence COVID-19 was present outside of China before December 2019.
    However, political issues mean they are unlikely to be given much leeway to investigate one hypothesis, that the outbreak was caused by a leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said MacIntyre.
    “I think it is unlikely all viruses in the lab at the time will be made available to the team,” she said.    “So I do not think we will ever know the truth.”

1/5/2021 COVID-19 Fight In China’s Hebei Enters ‘Wartime Mode’
FILE PHOTO: Day labourers wait for work opportunities at an informal labour market following the spread of the
novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Baoding, Hebei Province, China May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The fight to contain the coronavirus in northern China’s Hebei has entered “wartime mode,” official media reported on Tuesday, after the province surrounding capital Beijing saw its first locally transmitted COVID-19 cases in more than six months.
    Hebei reported 19 local infections and 40 asymptomatic cases between Jan. 2 and Jan. 4, according to data from the Chinese health authorities. The last time the province recorded locally transmitted infections was in June 2020.
    Nationally, mainland China reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 4, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday, with 14 of the 17 local cases recorded in Hebei and 16 cases imported from overseas.
    The provincial government-run Hebei Daily said the province had entered “wartime mode,” meaning investigation teams would be set up at provincial, city and district levels to trace the close contacts of those who have tested positive.
    In turn, the close contacts of those people would also be located, the newspaper said, adding that isolation measures would be put in place and testing carried out.
    The Gaocheng district of provincial capital Shijiazhuang would organise testing for all its permanent residents and has put one village under lockdown, the Hebei Daily report said, adding that a working group had been sent to the city of Xingtai to guide handling of the epidemic.
    Hebei would resolutely act as the “political moat” around Beijing and strictly prevent the virus from spreading outside the province, the report said.
    Beijing is scheduled to host China’s annual parliamentary meeting in March. Last year’s gathering was postponed by more than two months because of the coronavirus outbreak.
(Reporting by Colin Qian and Tom Daly; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)

1/5/2021 Iran Tests Drones In Military Exercise
Drones are seen during a large-scale drone combat exercise of Army of the Islamic Republic of Iran, in Semnan, Iran
January 4, 2021. Picture taken January 4, 2021. Iranian Army / WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran launched exercises featuring a wide array of domestically produced drones on Tuesday, Iranian media reported, days after the anniversary of the U.S. killing of a top Iranian general by a drone strike in Iraq.
    Iran and the regional forces it backs have increasingly relied in recent years on drones in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
    Iran’s armed forces are to test combat drones used as bombers, interceptors and in reconnaissance missions in the two-day exercises in central Semnan province, the semi-official Fars news agency said.
    “The fingers of our heroic armed forces are on the trigger, and if enemies commit the slightest mistake, the armed forces will surely respond fiercely,” said Mohammad Baqeri, chief of staff of the armed forces, quoted by state media.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has said U.S. President Donald Trump may be trying to find an excuse to attack Iran in his last days in office, or Israel might try to provoke a war.    Israel rejected the allegation.
    The exercises coincided with increased tensions between Iran and the United States, two days after the first anniversary of the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike at Baghdad airport, and two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
    Biden aims to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran abandoned by Trump, though diplomacy is expected to be tricky.
    Beyond surveillance, Iranian drones can drop munitions and also carry out a “kamikaze” flight when loaded with explosives and flown into a target, according to a U.S. official who spoke to Reuters https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-iran-drones-idUSKCN1UC1X4.
    Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes barring it from importing many weapons.    Western military analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though concerns about its ballistic missiles contributed to Washington leaving the nuclear pact.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/5/2021 Iran Continues Nuclear Program, Aims To Enrich Uranium To 20% by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This Nov. 4, 2020, file satellite photo by Maxar Technologies shows Iran’s Fordo nuclear site. Iran has told international
nuclear inspectors it plans to enrich uranium up to 20% at its underground Fordo nuclear facility, a technical step away from
weapons-grade levels, as it increases pressure on the West over its tattered atomic deal. (Maxar Technologies via AP, File)
    Tensions are on the rise with Iran as it announces it will continue its nuclear program.    On Monday, Tehran announced it has resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment in its underground facilities.
    According to experts, this development puts the country one step closer to enrich uranium at 90 percent, which is required to produce a nuclear weapon.    This marks the biggest breach of the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, which called for Tehran to shut down its nuclear program.
    In a recent statement, the U.S. State Department said Iran is attempting “nuclear extortion” of the world in retaliation to U.S. sanctions that were reimposed in 2018 after the Trump administration pulled out of the agreement.
    Iran has continued to insist that its nuclear program is peaceful. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it’s clear the regime plans to manufacture nuclear weapons. Netanyahu added, he will not allow Iran to continue down this path.
    “There is no other explanation except for the continued realization of Iran’s intention to manufacture nuclear weapons,” he stated.    “I reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.”
    The escalating tensions come just after the one-year mark since the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, which Iran vowed at the time to “get revenge” for.
    Meanwhile, the European Union has also spoken out against the regime’s uranium enrichment program On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the European Commission said the EU regrets Iran’s decision.
    The move clearly violates the 2015 nuclear agreement.    The deal is now effectively dead, but the EU said the pact is still worth saving and that all parties involved must continue to implement it.

1/8/2021 Iran Leader Bans Import Of U.S., UK COVID-19 Vaccines, Demands Sanctions End by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran January 8, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader on Friday banned the government from importing COVID-19 vaccines from the United States and Britain, labelling the Western powers “untrustworthy,” as the infection spreads in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country.
    In a live televised speech, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei raised the prospect of the two Western countries, long-time adversaries of the Islamic Republic, possibly seeking to spread the infection to other countries.
    He added however that Iran could obtain vaccines “from other reliable places.”    He gave no details, but China and Russia are both allies of Iran.
    “Imports of U.S. and British vaccines into the country are forbidden … They’re completely untrustworthy.    It’s not unlikely they would want to contaminate other nations,” said Khamenei, the country’s highest authority.
    “Given our experience with France’s HIV-tainted blood supplies, French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” Khamenei said, referring to the country’s contaminated blood scandal of the 1980s and 1990s.
    Khamenei repeated the accusations in a tweet that was removed by Twitter along with a message saying it violated the platform’s rules against misinformation.
    Iran launched human trials of its first domestic COVID-19 vaccine candidate late last month, saying it could help Iran defeat the pandemic despite U.S. sanctions that affect its ability to import vaccines.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen since 2018, when President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear program, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.
    In retaliation for U.S. sanctions, which were lifted under the nuclear deal, Tehran has gradually violated the accord.    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has pledged to rejoin the agreement if Tehran also returns to full compliance.
    Khamenei said Tehran was in no rush for the United States to re-enter the deal, but that sanctions on the Islamic Republic must be lifted immediately.
    Iran’s utmost authority, Khamenei ruled out any talks over Tehran’s missile programme and Iran’s involvement in the Middle East, as demanded by the United States and some other major powers.
    “Contrary to the U.S., Iran’s involvement in the region creates stability and is aimed at preventing instability … Iran’s involvement in the region is definite and will continue.”
    Shortly before Khamenei’s speech, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards unveiled an underground missile base at an undisclosed Gulf location.
    The West sees Iran’s missiles both as a conventional military threat to regional stability and a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons should Tehran develop them.
    But Iran, which has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, regards the programme as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against the United States and other adversaries – primarily Gulf Arabs – in the region in the event of war.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean and Sonya Hepinstall)
[DON'T BE A FOOL BIDEN IF YOU DO NOT GET IN WRITING AND SIGNED AND APPROVED BY CONGRESS AND HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS THEY WILL CONTINUE DOING WHAT THEY WANT AND WILL KILL ALL AMERICANS AND ISRAEL AND YOU WILL BE WATCHING IT OCCUR AS YOUR ADMINISTRATION IS FOOLED EASY AS IT HAS OCCURRED IN THE PAST BY IRAN, CHINA AND RUSSIA BUT THEN WE KNOW YOU LIKE THEM TO DO THAT TO YOU AS LONG AS THEY GIVE YOU MONEY.].

1/8/2021 Pakistan Sentences Lakhvi To Five Years For Terrorism Financing by Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Shiv Sena, a Hindu hardline group, holds Pakistan's national flag and a portrait of Zaki-ur-Rehman
Lakhvi during a protest against Lakhvi's release, in New Delhi April 11, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee/File Photo
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistan court on Friday sentenced Zaki ur Rehman Lakhvi, a senior official of militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), to five years in jail for terrorism financing.
    Lakhvi and the group are accused by India and the United States of being behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks – though the charges or sentence are not related to any specific incident.
    He was sentenced to five years concurrently on three counts, with a fine of 100,000 rupees on each count, an order from the court seen by Reuters said.
    India has long called on Pakistan to try Lakhvi for the Mumbai attack, in which over 160 people were killed, but Islamabad has said that Delhi has not given it concrete evidence that it can use in a court to try the LeT leader, which it had initially arrested in 2008 but was later released on bail.
    He was arrested again on charges of terrorism financing on Saturday.
    The United States welcomed his arrest but called for him to be tried for the Mumbai attacks, too.
    “We will follow his prosecution & sentencing closely & urge that he be held accountable for his involvement in the Mumbai attacks,” the U.S. State Department said on Twitter.
    According to Delhi, the lone surviving gunman of the attack, who was executed in 2012 after sentencing by an Indian court, told interrogators that the assailants were in touch with Pakistan-born Lakhvi, who is said to be LeT’s chief of operations.
    A U.N. Security Council sanctions committee says Lakhvi is involved in militant activity in a number of other regions and countries, including Chechnya, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Lakhvi’s lawyer did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
    A spokesman for the Counter Terrorism Department said in a statement that Lakhvi had been sent to prison to serve the sentences.
    Another man that India says was the mastermind of the Mumbai siege, Hafiz Saeed, was convicted by a Pakistani court on two charges of terrorism financing last year.
Saeed denies involvement in the Mumbai attacks.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; editing by John Stonestreet and Giles Elgood)

1/8/2021 Indonesian Clerics Declare Sinovac’s COVID-19 Vaccine Halal
A medical worker takes a box of Sinovac's vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from a refrigerator at a community
health centre in Qingdao, Shandong province, China January 5, 2021. Picture taken January 5, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) -A COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sinovac Biotech is deemed halal, or permissible under Islam, the Indonesian Ulema Council said on Friday, days before the country is scheduled to start its inoculation programme using the Chinese vaccine.
    Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has 3 million doses of CoronaVac and plans to use it when it starts its vaccination programme on Wednesday, with President Joko Widodo due to receive the first shot.
    Asrorun Niam Sholeh of the council’s fatwa commission told a news conference that Sinovac’s CoronaVac was “holy and halal,” although authorisation for its use still rests on Indonesia’s food and drug agency (BPOM).
    “This could be the information that could soothe the people, especially Muslims,” Niam said.
    Indonesia is struggling with the worst COVID-19 epidemic in Southeast Asia and authorities are relying on a vaccine to help alleviate the health and economic crises ravaging the country.
    It confirmed a record daily rise in COVID-19 cases for the third consecutive day on Friday, reporting more than 10,000 daily infections for the first time and passing the 800,000 mark in cases, among the highest number in Asia.
    It reported 10,617 new infections on Friday, taking total cases to 808,340.    It has recorded 23,753 deaths.
    Regulator BPOM has said it is hopeful that emergency use approval for CoronaVac, which depends on the results of the vaccine’s Indonesian trials, will be issued before Wednesday.
    CoronaVac was 78% effective in a late-stage Brazilian trial with no severe COVID-19 cases, researchers said on Thursday.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Martin Petty)

1/8/2021 Beijing Raises Guard As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Hebei Province
A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab from an elderly man during a door-to-door nucleic acid sampling following a
recent coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, China January 7, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) -Beijing closed places of worship on Friday and authorities in the Chinese capital restricted access to a highway to the city of Shijiazhuang, nearly 300 km (185 miles) to the southwest, which is battling a new cluster of coronavirus infections.
    The number of new cases in China remains small compared with outbreaks in some other countries, and compared with early last year at the height of its outbreak, which emerged in the central city of Wuhan in late 2019.
    Authorities have taken aggressive measures, including mass testing and sealing off of high-risk communities, to stamp out new clusters but small outbreaks have been flaring, especially as winter set in.
    All of Beijing’s 155 religious sites were closed to the public, a city official said, while some entry and exit ramps to the highway to Shijiazhuang were blocked off.
    Festivities for next month’s Lunar New Year have also been banned in rural parts of the sprawling capital.
    In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province that surrounds Beijing, most flights in and out were cancelled on Friday, as of late afternoon, according to Flightradar24, a day after the city of 11 million barred people from leaving.
    Shijiazhuang accounted for 31 of the 37 new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases and 35 of the 57 asymptomatic cases reported in mainland China on Thursday.
    The city has launched a local COVID-19 testing drive, banned gatherings and ordered vehicles and people in high-risk areas to remain in their districts to keep the infections from spreading.
    The northeastern province of Liaoning, which reported two new local infections and one new imported infection on Thursday, also said on Friday it had extended the quarantine period for arrivals from overseas to 21 days from 14.
    Once those people are released from quarantine, they will be monitored for another seven days in their homes.
    They will be asked to avoid unnecessary trips and public transport and to stay away from group activities during the monitoring period, Liaoning Daily, the official newspaper the provincial committee of the Communist party, reported on Friday.
    Meanwhile, the industrial city of Chifeng in Inner Mongolia, some 340 km northeast of Beijing and not far from the region’s borders with Hebei and Liaoning, has gone into “war-time mode” in the fight against the virus, its government said. Hebei entered the same mode on Tuesday.
    People in Chifeng must not go out unless strictly necessary, and checks on vehicles will be stepped up on highways connecting the city to Hebei and Liaoning, the authorities said.    Inner Mongolia has not reported any locally transmitted cases in 2021.
    For all of mainland China, new COVID-19 cases reported on Friday fell to 53 from 63 a day earlier.    The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to date now stands at 87,331, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.
(Reporting by Jing Wang and David Stanway in Shanghai and Roxanne Liu and Tony Munroe in Beijing; additional reporting by Tom Daly; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle and Hugh Lawson)

1/8/2021 Indian Government, Farmers Fail To Break Deadlock On Controversial Laws by Nigam Prusty and Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: Farmers participate in a tractor rally to protest against the newly passed farm bills,
on a highway on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, January 7, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Indian government and representatives of protesting farmers failed to reach an agreement on contentious new agriculture laws on Friday and said they will meet again in a week’s time.
    Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi for over a month, calling for the repeal of laws introduced by the federal government, which says the legislation is aimed at modernising the country’s antiquated agricultural sector.
    Farm leaders say the laws are an attempt to erode a longstanding minimum support price for their produce and want a full repeal of the laws.
    “The government has constantly said that if the unions give any other option besides repeal, then the government will consider them,” agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters after the eighth round of talks between the two sides.
    “But despite long discussions, no options were presented today, and that’s why the discussions have ended here.”
    The two sides will meet again on Jan. 15, he said.
    “There was a heated discussion.    We said we don’t want anything other than repeal of (the) laws,” Hannan Mollah, one of the farm leaders who met with the government, told reporters.    “We won’t go to any court, this (repeal) will either be done or we’ll continue to fight.”
    Mollah added that the protesters would proceed with a rally during India’s Republic Day celebration on Jan. 26 if their demands have still not been met.
    The majority of India’s farmers sell their produce largely to small retailers at a much lower price than the government guaranteed price – offered to only a fraction of farmers.
    They fear that with the introduction of the new laws, big retailers like Reliance Industries will enter the market to buy their produce at a lower price, while the government may slowly dismantle the current system of procurement at the guaranteed price.
    Earlier this week, Reliance asked authorities to help stop attacks on its telecommunication masts by protesting farmers, who say the conglomerate has profited from the reforms at their expense.
(Reporting by Nigam Prusty and Devjyot Ghoshal; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/8/2021 Ayatollah: Iran In No Hurry To See U.S. Return To Nuclear Deal 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, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Iran’s supreme leader is calling for an end to U.S. sanctions on the country in exchange for scaling back on its uranium enrichment.
    In an appearance on Friday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran is in no rush to see the U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal.    He instead called for a lifting of sanctions by saying they’re a crime against Iran.
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, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Joe Biden has promised to reverse the efforts made against Iran by the Trump administration.    He’s also promised to restore the United States’ involvement in the nuclear deal.
    “The Western front and our enemies are obliged to put an end to this vicious move, which means ending the sanctions imposed on the Iranian nation,” Khamenei stated.    “These must be removed immediately.”
    Recently, Iran defended its decision to resume 20 percent uranium enrichment to “defend security and vital interests.”    Officials said they would reverse their enrichment efforts if sanctions are removed.

1/10/2021 Iran Claims They Have ‘Network Of Missile Bases’ Along Gulf Coast by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, by Sepahnews, the website of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, commanders of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard
walk last missiles during a visit to a new military base in an undisclosed location in Persian Gulf in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran ramped up threats to peace and stability in the Middle East with its new ballistic missile base.
    Iranian Guards of Islamic Revolution unveiled an underground missile facility this weekend, saying it is one of the many similar installations along the Gulf Coast.
    Officials claimed Iran’s missiles have a range of “thousands of miles,” and can breach electronic missile defense systems of other countries.
Missiles are displayed during an inauguration of a new military base in an undisclosed location in Persian Gulf in Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran also reiterated its opposition to President Trump’s peace plan for the Middle East.
    “What you see today in this complex is one of several strategic missile storage facilities of the IRGC Navy.    Behind us, you see a column of these missiles and launchers,” Major Gen. Hossein Salami, chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said.    “Our logic to defend the territorial integrity and independence of the country and to defend the achievements of the Islamic Revolution is to get strong.”
    Iranian officials said they are targeting the information systems and radars of the U.S. and its allies from the guards’ new missile bases.

1/13/2021 Indian Farmers Burn Legislation In Show Of Defiance by Manoj Kumar and Adnan Abidi
Farmers burn farm law copies in a bonfire as they celebrate the Lohri festival, at the site of a protest against the
new farm laws, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad, India January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    GHAZIABAD, India (Reuters) – Indian farmers burnt copies of the government’s new agricultural laws on Wednesday, pressing on with their protest against the reforms despite a decision by the Supreme Court to postpone implementation while their grievances are heard.
    Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital, New Delhi, for almost two months, protesting against what they say are laws designed to benefit large private buyers at the expense of growers.
    The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi denies this, saying the legislation is required to reform an agricultural sector beset by waste.
    At several protest sites on Wednesday, farmers threw copies of the three new laws on bonfires lit for the Hindu Lohri mid-winter festival.
    “These laws are not in farmers’ interests,” said Gursevak Singh, 32, one of the protesters involved in the burning at a protest site in Ghaziabad, a satellite city of New Delhi.
    “We want the government to use their brains and repeal these laws.”
    Unrest among India’s estimated 150 million farmers represents one of the biggest challenges to Modi’s rule since his Bharatiya Janata Party won a second term in power in 2019.
    One of the BJP’s coalition partners resigned when the laws were first introduced in September, and the issue risks uniting India’s often-fractioned opposition.
    India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a temporary suspension of the laws while a four-member committee looks into the protesters’ grievances.
    But farm leaders have refused to cooperate with the committee and say they will intensify their protests, including around Republic Day celebrations in the capital later this month.
    “We expect to mobilise up to two million farmers across the country on January 26,” Kulwant Singh Sandhu, general secretary of Jamhuri Kisan Sabha, one of the main farm unions, told Reuters.
    Farmers have consistently called for the total repeal of the laws, though the government says there is “no question” of this happening.
    Eight rounds of talks have failed to break the deadlock. The two sides are next due to meet on Friday.
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar in New Delhi and Adnan Abidi in Ghaziabad; writing by Alasdair Pal; editing by Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher)

1/13/2021 ‘No Limit’ For WHO Delegation In Month-Long Wuhan Mission, Team Member Says by John Geddie
FILE PHOTO: A man wearing a mask stands near a street in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A global team of scientists led by the World Health Organisation to investigate the origins of the novel coronavirus will spend around a month in the Chinese city of Wuhan, including two weeks in quarantine, a team member said on Wednesday.
    Hung Nguyen, a Vietnamese biologist, told Reuters that he did not expect any restrictions to the 10-member team’s work in China as they prepared to fly on Thursday from Singapore to Wuhan, where the first human cases were detected in late 2019.
    The United States, which has accused China of having hidden the extent of its initial outbreak, and others have called for a transparent WHO-led investigation and criticised the terms under which Chinese experts did the first phase of research.
    “My understanding is in fact there is no limit in accessing information we might need for the team,” Hung said, speaking via video-call from a Singapore airport hotel ahead of his early morning flight.
    “We will see.    We are not in China yet.”
    Hung said the team had been having regular virtual meetings with Chinese virus researchers over the last few months ahead of the trip.
    WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said his organisation looked forward to working with China to identify the source of the virus.
    He said earlier he was “very disappointed” when WHO experts were denied authorisation to enter earlier this month, forcing two members of the team to turn back.    China said there had been a “misunderstanding.”
    After a fortnight of serving quarantine in a Wuhan hotel, Hung said the team planned to spend two weeks interviewing people from research institutes, hospitals and the seafood market in Wuhan where the new pathogen is believed to have emerged.    The team would mainly stay in the central Chinese city, he said.
    Hung, who is based in Kenya, said his particular area of expertise, and the reason he was selected for the mission, was food safety risks in wet markets.
    China has been pushing a narrative via state media that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, citing the presence of coronavirus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers claiming it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.
    The WHO has said it is not looking for “culprits” and is willing to go “anywhere and everywhere” to find out how the virus emerged.
    Peter Ben Embarek, WHO’s top expert on animal diseases that cross the species barrier, who went to China on a preliminary mission last July, is leading the delegation.
    “What we would like to do with the international team and counterparts in China is to go back in the Wuhan environment, re-interview in-depth the initial cases, try to find other cases that were not detected at that time and try to see if we can push back the history of the first cases,” Ben Embarek said in November.
    Hung said he hoped the mission would reveal new details about the origins of a virus which has infected over 91 million and killed nearly 2 million people globally, but cautioned against finding firm answers.
    “We want to find something, to find new information,” he said.
    “But, myself, I don’t expect personally after this trip everything will be clear.    But that is really a necessary step forward.”
(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/13/2021 Iran Launches Missile Drill Amid Rising Tensions With U.S.
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag is pictured near in a missile during a military drill, October 19, 2020. WANA via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s military launched a short-range naval missile drill on Wednesday, Iranian state TV reported, at a time of high tension between arch foes Tehran and Washington.
    Iran has one of the biggest missile programmes in the Middle East, regarding such weapons as an important deterrent and retaliatory force against U.S. and other adversaries in the event of war.
    The West sees Iran’s missiles both as a conventional military threat to regional stability and a possible delivery mechanism for nuclear weapons should Tehran develop them.
    The Iranian-made warship Makran, which state media described as Iran’s biggest warship with a helicopter pad, and a missile-launching ship called Zereh (armour) were taking part in the two-day exercise in the Gulf of Oman.
    Tensions between the United States and Iran have risen since 2018, when President Donald Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal.    The United States restored harsh sanctions to pressure Iran into negotiating stricter curbs on its nuclear programme, ballistic missile development and support for regional proxy forces.
    In recent years, there have been periodic confrontations between Iran’s military and U.S. forces in the Gulf, where Tehran holds annual exercises to display the Islamic Republic’s military might to confront “foreign threats.”
    Last week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters and detained its crew amid tensions between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to U.S. sanctions.
    In early 2019, Iran heightened tensions in the world’s busiest oil waterway by seizing British-flagged tanker Stena Impero two weeks after a British warship had intercepted an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/14/2021 WHO Officials Arrive In Wuhan To Begin Investigation by OAN Newsroom
Passengers arriving on the flight from Singapore are processed by staff in protective clothing and directed towards a covered walkway
to a separate exit from the airport terminal in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Chinese state media
reported that a WHO team arrived in Wuhan, China, on Thursday to research the origins of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
    A global team of scientists led by the World Health Organization arrived on Thursday to China’s central city of Wuhan to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.    The trip was finalized earlier this week, more than a year after the first case was recorded in the province.
    “After negotiation between the two parties, the Chinese government agreed that the World Health Organization’s international team of experts will come to China on January 14 to communicate with Chinese scientists and medical experts about scientific cooperation on the origins of the new coronavirus,” stated Zhao Lijian, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
    The group arrived late in the morning on a budget airline from Singapore and was expected to head into two weeks of quarantine.    The team left the airport terminal through a plastic quarantine tunnel marked “epidemic prevention passage” for international arrivals and boarded a cordoned-off bus that was guarded by half a dozen security staff in full protective gear.
    Team members did not speak to reporters, although some waved and took pictures of the media from the bus as it departed.
A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province
on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. A global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically
sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
    The WHO had been sending requests to the Chinese government to allow their investigators into the epicenter of the outbreak for months, but had been repeatedly denied.
    “It’s just a little bit late for them to come, but better late than never,” said a Wuhan resident.    “China is the first place where epidemic happened.    It will be helpful for them to find the origins of the disease at where it first emerged.”
    The team arrived as China battles a resurgence of cases in its northeast after managing for months to nearly stamp out domestic infections.

1/15/2021 U.S. Troops In Afghanistan Now Down To 2,500, Lowest Since 2001: Pentagon by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. soldier keeps watch at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of U.S troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 2,500, the lowest level of American forces there since 2001, the Pentagon said on Friday.
    In November, President Donald Trump’s administration said it would sharply cut the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, stopping short of a threatened full withdrawal from America’s longest war after fierce opposition from allies at home and abroad.
    “Moving forward, while the Department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based,” acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller said in a statement on reaching 2,500 troops.
    On Monday, Reuters reported the U.S. military had not halted an American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, despite a new law prohibiting further reductions without the Pentagon sending Congress an assessment of the risks.
    A Pentagon spokesman, Army Major Rob Lodewick, on Friday said Trump had signed a waiver allowing for the troop reduction, though it appears to have happened when the move was already complete.
    “Convention dictates that reducing troop levels, associated equipment and adjusting associated force protection requirements across a country-wide combat zone is not something that can be paused overnight without increasing risk to the force and core mission goals,” Lodewick said.
    U.S. forces invaded the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by the Islamist al Qaeda group based in Afghanistan.    At its peak in 2011, the United States had more than 100,000 troops there.
    President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office next Wednesday, has given few clues on what his plans are for Afghanistan.    However, one option could be to leave a small counterterrorism force in the country, where its former Taliban rulers, al Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group still have a presence.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/15/2021 Exclusive: India’s Friction With U.S. Rises Over Planned Purchase Of Russian S-400 Defence Systems by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: An armed soldier stands guard outside India's Defence Ministry building in New Delhi, India, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The United States has told India it is unlikely to get a waiver on its planned acquisition of Russian S-400 air defence systems, raising the risk of sanctions similar to those imposed on Turkey for buying that equipment, people aware of the matter said.
    The Trump administration has been telling the Indians to drop the $5.5 billion deal for five missile systems and avoid a diplomatic crisis, saying New Delhi did not have a wide waiver from a 2017 U.S. law aimed at deterring countries from buying Russian military hardware.
    That position is unlikely to change under the Biden administration that takes over next week and that has promised an even tougher U.S. approach towards Russia, the people aware of the discussions told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    India says it needs the long-range surface-to-air missiles to counter the threat from China.    India and China have been locked in a face-off on the disputed Himalayan border since April, the most serious in decades.
    New Delhi has also affirmed its right to choose its defence supplies, potentially setting up an early point of friction with the new U.S. administration.
    “India and the U.S. have a comprehensive global strategic partnership. India has a special and privileged strategic partnership with Russia,” foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said about the proposed S-400 purchase.
    “India has always pursued an independent foreign policy.    This also applies to our defence acquisitions and supplies which are guided by our national security interests.”
    The United States imposed sanctions on Turkey last month for its acquisition of the Russian air defence systems under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA)
    A U.S. embassy spokesperson in Delhi said the United States was aware of reports of India’s planned purchase of the S-400s, but noted there had been no deliveries yet.
    “We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions under the CAATSA. CAATSA does not have any blanket or country-specific waiver provision.”
    “We have not made any waiver determinations with respect to Indian transactions with Russia,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
    There was no immediate comment from Russian officials.    Moscow has previously said that the sanctions imposed on Turkey were illegitimate and showed arrogance toward international law.
INITIAL PAYMENT IN 2019
    India made an initial payment of $800 million in 2019 toward the Russian deal and the first set of missile batteries are expected towards the end of this year.
    Russia has traditionally been India’s main weapons supplier but in recent decades the Indian government has turned to the United States and Israel for new planes and drones.
    U.S. officials believe there is still time for Delhi to reconsider, and that the punitive measures would only kick in if the deal with the Russians was “consummated.”
    Washington has told New Delhi that if India acquires the S-400 it would affect how its systems interact with U.S. military equipment that India now has and would jeopardise future arms transfers such as high-end fighter planes and armed drones, according to the people aware of the matter.
    “There is a narrow chance India can avoid sanctions, presuming the S-400 purchase is completed. At the moment, it’s a good bet that sanctions will be applied against India,” Richard Rossow, a specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said.
    But the outcome could depend on how India-U.S. defence cooperation progresses, he said, adding that India had been working with Washington on security in Asia more than ever before and this could be a mitigating factor.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/15/2021 U.S. Announces New Sanctions On Six Linked To Hong Kong Mass Arrests by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist Lester Shum is taken away by police officers after over 50 Hong Kong activists arrested
under security law as crackdown intensifies, in Hong Kong, China January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States announced sanctions on Friday against six Hong Kong or Chinese officials it blamed for implementing a new security law in Hong Kong, following the mass arrests of pro-democracy activists this month.
    Hong Kong police arrested 53 people on Jan. 5 in the biggest crackdown on the democracy movement since China last year imposed a security law which opponents say is aimed at quashing dissent in the former British colony.
    “This action by Hong Kong authorities is yet another stark example of Hong Kong’s freedoms and democratic processes being fundamentally undermined,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
    Pompeo said 13 former Legislative Council members, an American lawyer and a former law professor were among those reportedly detained before being released on bail.    He called for the freeing of all those held under the security law.
    Pompeo said those targeted with sanctions included You Quan, vice chairman of Beijing’s Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, and Sun Qingye, deputy director of Hong Kong’s national security office.
    Three officers of the National Security Division of the Hong Kong police were named – Frederic Choi Chin-Pang, Kelvin Kong Hok Lai, and Andrew Kan Kai Yan.
    Tam Yiu-Chung, a Hong Kong delegate to China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, was also designated. Pompeo said all were associated with “developing, adopting, or implementing the National Security Law.”
    The sanctions require the freezing of U.S.-linked assets of those targeted. China’s Washington embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Pompeo warned last week of fresh sanctions in response to the arrests. That warning came a day after supporters of President Donald Trump stormed Congress in a bid to overturn his November election defeat, prompting China’s state media to accuse U.S. politicians of “double standards.”
    Pompeo also said last week that Washington would explore restrictions against the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in the United States, but Friday’s announcement made no mention of this.
    Friday’s action comes less than a week before Trump leaves office to be succeeded by Democrat Joe Biden.    It was the latest in a series of steps targeting China, which analysts see as a bid driven by Pompeo to lock in a tough approach to Beijing.
    Trump has pursued hard-line policies toward China on issues ranging from trade to espionage and the coronavirus.    Relations plummeted to their worst level in decades when he ramped up rhetoric in his unsuccessful re-election campaign.
    Trump’s administration has already imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over the crackdown in Hong Kong and last July declared an end to the territory’s privileged economic status under U.S. law.
    It took another swipe at China on Thursday, imposing sanctions on officials and big Chinese companies for alleged misdeeds in the South China Sea and imposing an investment ban on nine more firms.
    Last Saturday, Pompeo said he was lifting restrictions on contacts between U.S. officials and counterparts in Taiwan.    The move greatly angered Beijing, which considers the island a renegade province.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/15/2021 North Korea Shows Off New Submarine-Launched Missiles After Rare Party Congress by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
Residents welcome the participants of a military parade to commemorate the Eighth Congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea
January 14, 2021 in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). REFILE - CORRECTING CAPTION DESCRIPTION
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea displayed what appeared to be a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) at a parade on Thursday night, state media reported, capping more than a week of political meetings with a show of military might.
    Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, leader Kim Jong Un smiled and waved as he oversaw the parade in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, photos by state media showed.
    The parade featured rows of marching soldiers, as well as a range of military hardware including tanks and rocket launchers.
    At the end, a number of what analysts said appeared to be new variants of short-range ballistic missiles and SLBMs rolled into the square on trucks.
    “The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missiles, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces,” news agency KCNA reported.
    North Korea has test-fired several SLBMs from underwater, and analysts say it is seeking to develop an operational submarine to carry the missiles.
    Photos released by state media showed the SLBM was labelled Pukguksong-5, potentially marking an upgrade over the Pukguksong-4 that was unveiled at a larger military parade in October.
    “The new missile definitely looks longer,” Michael Duitsman, a researcher at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said on Twitter.
    Unlike that October parade, Thursday’s event did not showcase North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the United States.
    The parade in itself was not intended to be a provocation but was a worrying sign of Pyongyang’s priorities, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
    “The economy is severely strained from pandemic border closures, policy mismanagement and international sanctions,” he said.    “Despite or perhaps because of this, Kim Jong Un feels the need to devote scarce resources to another political-military display.”
    On Wednesday, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un and a member of the ruling party’s Central Committee, criticised South Korea’s military for saying it had detected signs of a parade in Pyongyang on Sunday.
    North Korean officials have been meeting in Pyongyang for the first party congress since 2016.
(Reporting by Josh Smith, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

1/15/2021 Indian Government, Protesting Farmers Make No Headway In Talks, To Reconvene Tuesday by Mayank Bhardwaj and Manoj Kumar
Supporters of India's main opposition Congress party react as police officers stand behind a barricade
during a protest against new farm laws, in New Delhi, India January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A ninth round of talks between the Indian government and protesting farmers over three new contentious farm laws made no headway on Friday, but a government minister and union leaders said they would resume discussions on Tuesday.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said that the laws introduced in September will unshackle farmers from the obligation of selling produce only at regulated wholesale markets.    But the farmers say the bills are designed to benefit private buyers.
    “Today’s talks with farmers unions were inconclusive, and we will hold talks again on Jan. 19,” Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.    “We are sure that we’ll be able to come to an agreement through our talks.”
    Tomar said the government was concerned about the health of farmers who have been camping on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi in protest for almost two months.
    Farmers’ around-the-clock sit-ins in cold weather have already led to some deaths among them.
    “We are committed to finding a solution through our dialogues with the government, and that’s why we’ve again agreed to meet on Jan. 19,” said Rakesh Tikait, one of the farmers’ leaders who attended the meeting with ministers.
    Farmers have threatened to march to Delhi on Jan. 26, when India celebrates its Republic Day.
    The Supreme Court has ordered an indefinite stay on implementing the new laws and appointed a four-member panel to hear farmers’ objections.
    Raising doubt about the panel’s composition, farmer union leaders have said they will not appear before the committee.    Panel members favour the three laws, protesting farmers say.
    Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the four members, has recused himself from the Supreme Court-appointed panel.    Mann comes from Punjab, one of India’s breadbasket states. Punjab’s politically influential farmers have been at the vanguard of the agitation.
    The opposition Congress party has protested at state capitals to support the farmers’ case.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Manoj Kumar with additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/15/2021 Laos Communist Party Names PM Thongloun As New Leader
Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith (C) who was named as new secretary general of Laos Communist Party speaks at the closing ceremony of
the 11th national congress of the communist party of Laos in Vientiane, Laos January 15, 2021. Laos Communist Party/Handout via REUTERS.
    (Reuters) – The Communist Party of Laos on Friday named Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith as its new secretary general, replacing retiring chief Bounnhang Vorachit, state media reported as the long-ruling party wrapped up its three-day congress.
    Thongloun, 75, was elected to a five-year term as head of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee – the top post in the country.
    Its party congress also chose 13 members of the Politburo, Laos’ top political body, and 71 party Central Committee members, it said.
    Thongloun takes charge as the landlocked Southeast Asian country faces challenges from a potential debt default and the global impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on its fragile, $18 billion economy.
    On Thursday, Thongloun outlined a new five-year socio-economic plan targeting annual economic growth of 4% up to 2025 and aims to reach annual average per capita income of $2,887 in 2025, the Vientiane Times said.
    The country of more than 7 million people has a current per capita income of just over $2,500, according to World Bank data.
    As prime minister since 2016 and a former foreign minister, Thongloun has been the face of the country at international events and summits, including giving addresses to the United Nations General Assembly.
    He is a veteran of the old guard of the party, which first came to power after communist fighters defeated a Western-backed government to form the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975.
    The same party has been in power ever since, and Laos has traditionally mirrored neighbouring Vietnam’s political system, although China’s sway has grown in recent years.
(Reporting by Kay Johnson in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty)

1/21/2021 Twitter Locks Account Of China’s U.S. Embassy Over Its Defense Of Xinjiang Policy by Brenda Goh
Twitter post of Chinese Embassy in U.S. dated January 7, 2021 is seen in this screen grab retrieved off ARCHIVE.IS by Reuters on January 21, 2021. INTERNET - WEBSITE/via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Twitter has locked the account of China’s U.S. embassy for a tweet that defended China’s policy towards Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang, which the U.S. social media platform said violated its stand against “dehumanizing” people.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that it was confused by the move and that it was the embassy’s responsibility to call out disinformation and clarify the truth.
    The Chinese Embassy account, @ChineseEmbinUS, posted a tweet this month that said that Uighur women had been emancipated and were no longer “baby-making machines,” citing a study reported by state-backed newspaper China Daily.
    The tweet was removed by Twitter and replaced by a label stating that it was no longer available.    Although Twitter hides tweets that violate its policies, it requires account owners to manually delete such posts.    The Chinese embassy’s account has not posted any new tweets since Jan. 9.
    Twitter’s suspension of the embassy’s account came a day after the Trump administration, in its final hours, accused China of committing genocide in Xinjiang, a finding endorsed by the incoming Biden administration.
    The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Twitter’s move.
    Twitter is blocked in China but has been embraced by Chinese state media and diplomats, many of whom have taken to the platform to aggressively defend China’s positions in what has come to be known as “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy.
    “We’ve taken action on the Tweet you referenced for violating our policy against dehumanization, where it states: We prohibit the dehumanization of a group of people based on their religion, caste, age, disability, serious disease, national origin, race, or ethnicity,” a Twitter spokesperson said on Thursday.
    The Chinese embassy in Washington, which joined Twitter in June 2019, did not immediately respond to a e-mailed request for comment.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Thursday that it was confused by Twitter’s move.
    “There are numerous reports and information relating to Xinjiang that are against China.    It’s a responsibility for our embassy in the U.S. to clarify the truth,” she said.
    “We hope they won’t apply double standards on this issue. We hope they can discern what is correct and truthful from disinformation on this matter.”
    China has repeatedly rejected accusations of abuse in Xinjiang, where a U.N. panel has said at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims had been detained in camps.
    Last year, a report by German researcher Adrian Zenz published by the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation think tank accused China of using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against minority Muslims.    China said the allegations were groundless and false.
    This is not the first time Twitter has taken action against China-linked accounts.    In June last year, it removed more than 170,000 accounts it said were tied to a Beijing-backed influence operation that deceptively spread messages favourable to the Chinese government.
    Twitter’s move also follows the removal of the account of former U.S. president Donald Trump, which had 88 million followers, citing the risk of violence after his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol this month.
    China meanwhile struck an optimistic tone towards the Biden administration on Thursday, saying “kind angels can triumph over evil forces.”
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh and Cate Cadell; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Gerry Doyle and Nick Macfie)

1/21/2021 Still Separated: COVID-19 Order Keeps Families Apart After Biden Lifts ‘Muslim Ban’ by Kristina Cooke and Mimi Dwyer
Mania Darbani and her mother Maryam Taghdissi Jani are seen in a restaurant in Tehran, Iran in this 2017 handout photo. Mania Darbani/Handout via REUTERS
    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – On Tuesday night, on the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, Mania Darbani’s mother called her from Iran.
    She was ecstatic that Biden would soon repeal the Trump administration’s so-called “Muslim ban” that barred people from a number of mostly Muslim-majority nations, including Iran, from coming to the United States.
    “It means I can get to you very soon,” Maryam Taghdissi Jani, who is applying for an immigrant visa, told Darbani, a 36-year-old receptionist who lives with her husband in Los Angeles.
    Darbani said she could not bring herself to explain that other roadblocks remained in place before her mother could join her.    On top of the original travel ban that kept them apart for years, Trump issued another ban in 2020 that blocked certain immigrant visas because of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Darbani, a U.S. citizen, petitioned for an immigrant visa for her mother, a 71-year old nurse, in 2019, but the Trump administration stopped issuing almost all new family-based green cards in April 2020, saying the move would protect American jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    Biden has not yet said whether he will rescind the proclamation, but until he does, Taghdissi Jani will remain in Iran.
    “I am very sad right now, I am just waiting for her,” Darbani said.    “My father passed away and my mom is alone.    I need her here.”
    Since December 2017, after a revised version of the original travel ban was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, some 40,000 people have been barred from entering the United States under the ban, according to State Department data.
    But for many families separated by the travel ban a reunion isn’t on the cards anytime soon due to layers of pandemic-related travel and visa restrictions.
‘CAN’T REALLY CELEBRATE YET’
    On Jan. 18, Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said the incoming administration would reject a Trump attempt to lift a restriction on travelers from Europe and Brazil.    She added that the Biden administration planned to “strengthen public health measures around international travel.”
    The Biden administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether he plans to lift the immigration bans.
    Curtis Morrison, an immigration attorney representing more than 5,000 people in lawsuits challenging the coronavirus-related immigration bans, has been advising clients for weeks that Biden’s rescission of the travel ban will not change the broader freeze on travel.
    “It’s a positive development, but we can’t really celebrate yet,” he said.
    Lameaa Albarmaki, 25, a Yemeni green card holder who immigrated to the United States in 2015 as the war in her country intensified, is waiting to be reunited with her husband.
    She lives with her young daughter, parents and four younger siblings in Baltimore.    Her daughter, as well as three of her siblings are developmentally disabled, she said, and she needs help.    “I need him to just be with me,” she said.    “That’s all I need and I hope.”
    Some immigrants who have been waiting for years for the chance to reunite with their loved ones are now having to weigh the risks of traveling during a pandemic.
    Aryan Jafari, whose parents missed milestones such as his engagement and the birth of his baby due to the travel ban, said he got emotional after the presidential election in November, when it became clear the travel ban would be repealed.
    The 31-year-old mechanical design engineer called his parents in Iran and told them they would soon be able to visit and meet their first grandchild.
    But on Wednesday, he said, the family was not “jumping up and down” even as the ban was officially revoked.
    He does not think it is safe for his parents, aged 59 and 67, to get on a plane and travel to Los Angeles, a COVID-19 hotspot, without a vaccination.
    “Right now we are just looking forward to the day when it is safe enough for people to travel,” he said.    “We don’t want it to be their last trip, we want it to be safe for everyone.”
(This story corrects to fix a typo in the subhead)
(Reporting by Kristina Cooke and Mimi Dwyer in Los Angeles, additional reporting by Ted Hesson and Mica Rosenberg, editing by Ross Colvin and Aurora Ellis)

1/21/2021 Fire At India’s Serum Institute Kills 5, AstraZeneca Vaccine Output Unaffected
    Smoke billows after a fire broke out inside the complex of the
Serum Institute of India, in Pune, India, January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A big fire on Thursday at the Serum Institute of India killed five people, a government official told reporters, but the world’s biggest vaccine maker said it would not affect production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot.
    Videos and pictures from Reuters partner ANI showed black smoke billowing from a multi-storey building in SII’s massive headquarters complex in the city of Pune in Maharashtra state.
    “We have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter.    “We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”
    Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said four people had been evacuated but five others had died. The Maharashtra state government said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault during construction work.
    SII has licensed the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and was also planning to start stockpiling up to 50 million doses a month of a vaccine candidate developed by Novavax Inc from around April.
    Many low- and middle-income countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil, are depending on SII delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine, branded COVISHIELD by the Indian company.
    “I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Poonawalla said.
    Poonawalla, whose family owns SII, was quoted as saying by broadcaster CNBC-TV18 that the fire would mean delays in launching new products and revenue losses of more than 10 billion rupees ($137 million).    Equipment worth millions of dollars has been damaged, he said.
    SII is producing around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine a month at other facilities in the complex, with plans to increase that to as much as 100 million doses soon.
    The AstraZeneca vaccine is already in use in India and has been shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Rajendra Jadhav, Euan Rocha and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Simon Cameron-Moore and Giles Elgood)

    Eleven Trapped Miners Rescued In China After 14 Days Underground by Dominique Patton
Rescuers work at the Hushan gold mine where workers were trapped underground after the Jauary 10
explosion, in Qixia, Shandong province, China January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese rescuers pulled 11 gold miners to safety on Sunday with most of them in good condition after 14 days trapped underground after an explosion, but 10 colleagues were still unaccounted for, state media reported.
    Television footage showed the first miner as he was brought to the surface in the morning, a black blindfold shielding his eyes from daylight as he was lifted out of a shaft.
    The miner was extremely weak, state broadcaster CCTV reported on its Weibo site. Rescue workers wrapped the barely responsive man in a blanket and took him to hospital by ambulance.
    Over the next few hours, 10 miners from a different section of the mine, who had been getting food and medical supplies down a shaft from rescue workers last week, were brought out in batches.
    “We made a breakthrough this morning,” chief engineer at the rescue centre, Xiao Wenru, told the Xinhua news agency.
    “After clearing these broken, powdery pieces, we found that there were cavities underneath … our progress accelerated.”
    Officials had said on Thursday it could take another two weeks to drill a rescue shaft through blockages to reach the group of 10.
    One of the men brought to the surface was injured but several were shown walking, supported by rescue workers and wearing black cloth over their eyes, before being taken away by ambulance.
    They were in good physical condition and had been getting normal food since Saturday, after several days of living off nutrient solutions, the Xinhua news agency said.
    China’s mines are among the world’s deadliest.    It recorded 573 mine-related deaths in 2020, according to the National Mine Safety Administration.
    The Jan. 10 explosion in the Hushan mine in Qixia, a major gold-producing region under the administration of Yantai in coastal Shandong province, trapped 22 workers about 600 metres (2,000 feet) underground.
    One miner is known to have died. Ten are unaccounted for.
    More than 600 rescuers have been on the site working to reach the men.
    The workers’ escape is similar to the rescue of 33 miners trapped in the San Jose copper-gold mine in Chile for more than 69 days in 2010.
    The Chilean miners, who were caught in a cave-in, survived on rations of food and water for 17 days until rescue crews gave them a lifeline by drilling a tiny hole into the chamber where they had taken refuge.
    Weeks later, a larger hole was drilled and the miners were pulled to the surface as a captivated global audience watched.
    Interactive graphic of mine rescue: https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/MINE/xklvylmnbpg/index.html
(Graphic: Explosion in a gold mine in northern China’s Shandong province https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/MINE/yxmpjynakvr/CHINA-MINE.jpg)
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel and Wiliam Mallard)

1/25/2021 Indian Police To Let Protesting Farmers Into New Delhi On Republic Day, Official Says
FILE PHOTO: Farmers participate in a tractor rally to protest against the newly passed farm bills, on a
highway on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, January 7, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police in India’s capital New Delhi will allow thousands of protesting farmers to drive through the city after this week’s Republic Day military parade, despite security concerns, a senior official said on Sunday.
    The police statement comes after India’s Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban the rally.
    Farmers have been camping on the outskirts of national capital for around two months in protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial farm laws which they say will hurt their livelihoods and help big companies.
    To up the ante, farmers wanted to drive tractors to the centre of New Delhi on Jan. 26, the Republic Day national holiday when Modi will join a parade of military forces in the capital.
    Senior police officer Dependra Pathak said the city police would allow at least 12,000 tractors on Delhi’s roads to move over a 100 km (62.14 mile) stretch away from the centre on Jan. 26 after the parade.
    “This will be a very challenging task but we decided upon it so that there is a peaceful and disciplined solution,” he told a news conference.
    Security arrangements were being made to allow tractors through certain designated entry and exit points on the day, Pathak said, adding that intelligence inputs indicate some people may try to disrupt a peaceful rally by the farmers.
    The government – which says the agriculture reforms will boost farmer incomes – has agreed to suspend the laws, but the farmers have said New Delhi must repeal them.
    Talks between farmers and Modi’s government have so far failed to break the deadlock – landing Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; editing by Aditya Kalra and Philippa Fletcher)

1/25/2021 U.S. Reaffirms Commitment To Japan To Defending Islands Disputed With China
FILE PHOTO: Chinese marine surveillance ship Haijian No. 51 (C) sails near Japan Coast Guard vessels (R and L) and a Japanese fishing boat (front 2nd L) as Uotsuri island,
one of the disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, is background, in the East China Sea in this photo taken by Kyodo July 1, 2013. REUTERS/Kyodo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – New U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, during his first phone call with his Japanese counterpart, reaffirmed America’s commitment to Tokyo to defending a group of East China Sea islets claimed by both Japan and China, the Pentagon said.
    Austin, in talks with Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, confirmed that Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty, which stipulates U.S. defence obligations to Japan, covers the uninhabited islands, the Pentagon said in a statement.
    The islets are known as the Senkaku islands in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
    Austin also reaffirmed that the United States remains opposed to any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, the Pentagon said.     Japan has become increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in the East China Sea, including incursions into waters around the islands.
    The talks marked the first ministerial discussions between Tokyo and Washington since U.S. President Joe Biden took office on Wednesday.    Retired Army general Austin made history on Friday by becoming America’s first Black defence secretary.
    Japan’s defence ministry was not immediately available for comment.
    U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said on Sunday a U.S. Navy strike group entered the South China Sea on Saturday, the same day Taiwan reported a large incursion of     Chinese bombers and fighter jets into its air defence identification zone near the Pratas Islands.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Edited by Tom Hogue and Nick Macfie)

1/26/2021 Tensions Flare Between China, India After Clashes At Himalayan Border by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Sept. 9, 2020, file photo, an Indian army convoy moves on the Srinagar- Ladakh highway
at Gagangeer, northeast of Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin, File)
    Tensions have continued to rise between India and China following military clashes in their Himalayan border region.    On Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry accused India of taking “unilateral” steps at the border, which threaten a broader military confrontation.
    Beijing made a thinly veiled threat asserting U.S. ally India must cooperate to ensure peace and stability at the border.    In recent days, Indian troops claimed to have repelled a Chinese invasion of its territory in the contested region of Sikkim. Meanwhile, Beijing has denied such claims.
    “We urge India to work with China in the same direction, not to take any unilateral action that may further complicate or exacerbate the border tension,” stated Chinese foreign affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian.    “Properly manage and handle differences, and maintain peace and stability in the border area with concrete actions.”
    Indian officials said China is illegally fortifying its positions in the border area with some of its military installations threatening the positions of the Indian military.

1/28/2021 India Says COVID Contained, But Vaccine Campaign Stutters by Krishna N. Das and Neha Arora
A healthcare worker receives a dose of COVISHIELD, a COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, inside a classroom
of school, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre, in Ahmedabad, India, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s health minister on Thursday declared its COVID-19 epidemic contained as, with most of the country’s active patients concentrated in two states, a fifth of districts completed a week with no new cases.
    However, an inoculation campaign touted by the government as the world’s biggest is progressing unevenly, with a survey showing more than half of Indians reluctant to get vaccinated immediately.
    The country of 1.35 billion has recorded the highest number of coronavirus cases in the world after the United States and, with the likely true rate of infection even higher, one study suggests pockets of India have attained herd immunity through natural infection.
    Since peaking in mid-September at close to 100,000 daily cases, the infection rate has slowed significantly.    Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said 11,666 cases were reported in the past 24 hours.
    “India has successfully contained the pandemic,” he said in a statement.    “India has flattened its COVID-19 graph.”
Vardhan said 146 of India’s 718 districts had had no new cases for a week.
    India has around 173,000 active COVID-19 patients, more than two-thirds of them in Kerala and Maharashtra states.    It has reported 10.7 million infections and 153,847 deaths – one of the world’s lowest fatality rates, attributed partly to its relatively young population.
    With infections falling, the government will from next month lift curbs, reopening public swimming pools and allowing cinema halls and theatres to seat more than 50% of capacity.
IMMUNE ALREADY, OR VACCINE-SHY?
    India started its immunisation programme on Jan. 16, with healthcare workers at the front of the line and a target of reaching 300 million people by July-August.
    It is using a vaccine developed at home by Bharat Biotech and the Indian Council of Medical Research, and another licenced from AstraZeneca.
    There is no shortage of shots, unlike in many other countries.
    But 60% of Indians are hesitant about taking the vaccine immediately, according to a study by citizen-survey platform LocalCircles released on Wednesday – a high percentage but lower than a similar poll of 17,000 people found a few weeks ago.
    The government has acknowledged that reluctance is shared by some doctors and nurses, who have expressed doubt about the Bharat Biotech vaccine, which was given approval for emergency use without late-stage efficacy data.    The government says it is safe and effective.
    Some states, including the national capital territory of Delhi and Maharashtra, have only been able to vaccinate a fifth or fewer of their healthcare workers, the health ministry said in a presentation.
    Three doctors told Reuters anonymously that they already had antibodies through natural infection and would not rush to vaccinate themselves.
    Antibody tests done on more than 700,000 people by diagnostics company Thyrocare Technologies showed that 55% of India’s population may have already been infected, its chief told Reuters.
    The World Health Organization says https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/media-resources/science-in-5/episode-1 at least 60% to 70% of the population needs to have immunity to break the chain of transmission.
    A top Indian vaccine official told Reuters even a smaller percentage of immunity could slow the spread of the virus.
    “Most of our highly populated districts and cities have had their run of the pandemic by now … and may have what you like to call herd immunity, to an extent,” Vinod Kumar Paul, who heads a committee on vaccine strategy, said this month.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Editing by Toby Chopra and John Stonestreet)

1/28/2021 WHO Says Team In Wuhan To Visit Labs, Markets And Hospitals by Gabriel Crossley
Peter Ben Embarek and Marion Koopmans, members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, sit on a bus as they leave their quarantine hotel in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic will meet Chinese scientists on Friday and plans to visit labs, markets and hospitals in Wuhan, the WHO said.
    The team left its quarantine hotel in Wuhan on Thursday to begin field work, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city where the virus emerged in late 2019.
    The mission has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticised the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.
    “The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets.    Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, Wuhan CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) laboratory,” the WHO said in a tweet.
    The team of independent experts, due to remain for two more weeks in China, will also speak with some of the first COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, it said.
    “All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work,” it said, adding: “They should receive the support, access and the data they need.”
    Thea Fischer, a Danish team member, said visiting the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the virus was initially believed to have spread, would provide insight into whether it was the epicenter of the outbreak or just an amplifier of the virus.
    “It is now that the actual field work can begin, and it is my expectation that for this part of the mission we will have unhindered access to the requested destinations and individuals,” Fischer told Reuters by phone from Wuhan.
    “But it is important to remember that the success of this mission and origin-tracing is 100% depending on access to the relevant sources.    No matter how competent we are, how hard we work and how many stones we try to turn, this can only be possible with the support from China,” she said.
RELIEF
    After leaving their quarantine hotel without speaking to journalists, team members boarded a bus to a lakeside hotel, where part the building and grounds were cordoned off.
    Several team members described long work days during their quarantine, and relief at being able to leave their rooms.
    “Slightly sad to say goodbye to my ‘gym’ & my ‘office’ where I’ve been holed up for last 2 wks!!,” team member Peter Daszak said on Twitter, along with photos of exercise equipment and a desk in his hotel room.
    The team members’ luggage, loaded onto the bus by workers in protective suits, included yoga mats and what appeared to be a guitar case.
    Hours before the WHO annnounced their planned visits, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted: “Thanks, Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei, for a frank discussion on the #COVID19 virus origins mission.”
    The WHO has sought to manage expectations.
    “There are no guarantees of answers,” WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told reporters this month.
    China’s foreign ministry said the team would participate in seminars, visits and field trips.
    The origin of COVID-19 has been highly politicised.
    The investigating team had been set to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and China’s delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the head of the WHO, which former U.S. President Donald Trump accused of being “China-centric” early in the outbreak.
    China has pushed the idea that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, with state media citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.
    China’s foreign ministry has also hinted that the sudden closure of a U.S. army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Martin Quin Pollard in Wuhan; Additional reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard in Copenhagen, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)

1/28/2021 U.N. Chief Guterres Hopes For ‘Reset’ In U.S.-China Relations by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech at the lower house
of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday he hopes there will be a “reset” in U.S.-China relations, acknowledging that while the countries had “different views” on human rights, they should work together on climate action.
    Beijing has been pushing for greater global influence in a challenge to traditional U.S. leadership.    Tension between the two superpowers hit a boiling point at the United Nations last year, under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, over the coronavirus pandemic.
    “I hope we will see a reset in relations between the United States and China,” Guterres told reporters.    “It is clear that in human rights, there are two completely different views, and it is clear that in human rights there is no scope for an agreement or a common vision.”
    “There is an area where I believe there is a growing convergence of interests, and my appeal is for that area to be pursued by the two sides, together with the whole of the international community, and that area is climate action,” he said.
    New U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee for ambassador to the United Nations accused China on Wednesday of trying to “drive an authoritarian agenda” at the 193-member world body.
    When asked for a response, Guterres said: “In relation to the United Nations I can guarantee that we are very strongly committed to make sure that the U.N. is a beacon of all the values are related to … security, development, human rights.”
    Guterres also said he was “particularly worried” about the power of social media companies and that a regulatory framework should be created so decisions such as banning Trump from Twitter can be done “in line with law.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool)

1/28/2021 China Sharpens Language, Warns Taiwan That Independence ‘Means War’ by Tony Munroe and Yew Lun Tian
A Taiwan flag is seen during a Navy drill ahead of the Lunar New Year in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China toughened its language towards Taiwan on Thursday, warning after recent stepped up military activities near the island that “independence means war” and that its armed forces were acting in response to provocation and foreign interference.
    Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, reported multiple Chinese fighter jets and bombers entering its southwestern air defence identification zone last weekend, prompting Washington to urge Beijing to stop pressuring Taiwan.
    China believes that Taiwan’s democratically-elected government is moving the island towards a declaration of formal independence, though Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly said it is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
    Asked at a monthly news briefing about the air force’s recent activities, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said Taiwan is an inseparable part of China.
    “The military activities carried out by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait are necessary actions to address the current security situation in the Taiwan Strait and to safeguard national sovereignty and security,” he said.
    “They are a solemn response to external interference and provocations by ‘Taiwan independence’ forces,” he added.
    Wu said a “handful” of people in Taiwan were seeking the island’s independence.
    “We warn those ‘Taiwan independence’ elements: those who play with fire will burn themselves, and ‘Taiwan independence’ means war,” he added.
    While China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, it is unusual for Beijing to make such overt, verbal threats of conflict.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said China should think carefully and not underestimate the island’s determination to defend its sovereignty and uphold freedom and democracy.
    Taiwan’s Defence Ministry reported six Chinese air force aircraft, including four J-10 fighter jets, flew into its air defence zone on Thursday, close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea.
    The weekend Chinese incursions coincided with a U.S. carrier battle group entering the disputed South China Sea to promote “freedom of the seas.”
    China routinely describes Taiwan as its most important and sensitive issue in relations with the United States, which under the former Trump administration ramped up support for the island in terms of arms sales and senior officials visiting Taipei.
    President Joe Biden’s government, in office for a week, has reaffirmed its commitment to Taiwan as being “rock solid,” potentially auguring further strains with Beijing.
    Taiwan has denounced China’s threats and efforts at intimidation, and Tsai has vowed to defend the island’s freedom and not be coerced.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe and Yew Lun Tian, writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Himani Sarkar, William Maclean)

1/28/2021 Iran Says U.S., Not Tehran, Should Act First To Resolve Nuclear Deal Row by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain,
Germany, France and the European Union during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States should act first by returning to world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that it ditched in 2018, the Iranian foreign minister tweeted on Thursday after Washington demanded Tehran reverse its breaches of the pact first.
    New U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed on Wednesday President Joe Biden’s policy that Tehran must resume complying with curbs on its nuclear activity under the deal before the United States rejoins the pact abandoned by former president Donald Trump.
    “Reality check for @SecBlinken: The US violated JCPOA-blocked food/medicine to Iranians -punished adherence to UNSCR 2231.    Throughout that sordid mess, Iran-abided by JCPOA -only took foreseen remedial measures,” tweeted Mohammad Javad Zarif.
    The JCPOA is the nuclear deal’s official acronym, and Zarif was again accusing Washington of having illegally barred humanitarian imports to Iran after Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran, while Tehran had breached limits on uranium enrichment activity only in response to Trump’s repudiation of the accord.
    “Now,” Zarif tweeted, “who should take 1st step? Never forget Trump’s maximum failure.”
    The 2015 accord lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its disputed nuclear programme but after Trump’s withdrawal, Iran violated its conditions in a step-by-step response to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy.
    Iran has repeatedly said it can quickly reverse those violations if U.S. sanctions are removed.
    In December, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed legislation that forces the government to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions were not eased within two months.
    Earlier this month, Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20% fissile strength at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, a level Tehran achieved before the 2015 accord.
    It had earlier breached the deal’s 3.67% limit on the purity to which it can refine uranium, but it had only gone up to 4.5% so far, well short of the 20% level and of the 90% needed to fuel an atomic bomb.
    The new law also obliges Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation to produce 120 kilograms (264.55 pounds) of 20% enriched uranium annually.    However, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said on Thursday Iran had exceeded the timetable by producing more than 17 kilograms within a month.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/28/2021 Pentagon Warns Taliban On Failure To Meet Commitments On Violence, Terrorism
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration believes it is hard to see a way forward for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan without the militant group’s meeting its commitments under a deal last year, but Washington remained committed to that effort, the Pentagon said on Thursday.
    “Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces … it’s very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement, but we’re still committed to that,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
    He added that no decision had been made about the future of troop levels in Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Leslie Adler)

1/29/2021 Iran Says It Will Not Reverse Nuclear Steps Before U.S. Sanctions Are Lifted
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Mevlut Cavusoglu (not seen) in Istanbul, Turkey, January 29, 2021. Turkish Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Tehran will not accept U.S. demands that it reverse an acceleration of its nuclear programme before Washington lifts sanctions, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday.
    The demand “is not practical and will not happen”, he said at a joint news conference in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
    The new administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has said Tehran must resume compliance with curbs on its nuclear activity under the world powers’ 2015 deal before it can rejoin the pact.
    Iran breached the terms of the accord in a step-by-step response to the decision by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump to abandon the deal in 2018 and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
    Earlier this month, Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20% at its underground Fordow nuclear plant – a level it achieved before the accord.
    However, Iran has said it can quickly reverse those violations if U.S. sanctions are removed.
    “If the United States fulfils its obligations, we will fulfil our obligations in full,” he said.
    Iran’s parliament, dominated by hardliners, passed legislation last month that forces the government to harden its nuclear stance if U.S. sanctions are not eased within two months.
    Zarif also condemned U.S. sanctions against Turkey over Ankara’s decision to procure Russian S-400 defence systems.
    “The U.S. government is addicted to sanctions … and this harms the world and the U.S. itself,” he said.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Jon Boyle)

1/29/2021 UK Offers Hong Kong Residents Route To Citizenship, Angering China by Yew Lun Tian and William James
FILE PHOTO: A Star Ferry boat crosses Victoria Harbour in front of a skyline of buildings in Hong Kong, China June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong residents can apply from Sunday for a new visa giving them the chance to become British citizens following China’s crackdown in the former colony, but Beijing said it will no longer recognise the special British passport already in use.
    UK government forecasts say the new visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain.    Beijing said it would make them second-class citizens.
    Britain and China have been arguing for months about what London and Washington say is an attempt to silence dissent in Hong Kong after huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020.
    Britain says it is fulfilling a historic and moral commitment to the people of Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a new security law on the semi-autonomous city that Britain says breaches the terms of agreements under which the colony was handed back to China in 1997.
    “I am immensely proud that we have brought in this new route for Hong Kong BN(O)s to live, work and make their home in our country,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, referring to a special British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders.
    But China and the Hong Kong government hit back by saying they would no longer recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document from Sunday, Jan. 31.
    “Britain is trying to turn large numbers of Hong Kong people into second-class British citizens.    This has completely changed the original nature of BNO,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a briefing.
    Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong in June last year prompted Britain to offer refuge to almost 3 million Hong Kong residents eligible for the BNO passport from Jan. 31.
    The scheme, first announced last year, opens on Sunday and allows those with British National (Overseas) status to live, study and work in Britain for five years and eventually apply for citizenship.
    BN(O) is a special status created under British law in 1987 that specifically relates to Hong Kong.
    Britain’s foreign ministry said it was disappointed but not surprised by Beijing’s decision not to recognise the BNO passport.    China’s move is largely symbolic as Hong Kong residents would not normally use their BNO passports to travel to the mainland.    A BNO passport holder in Hong Kong could still use their Hong Kong passport or identity card.
    The 250 pound ($340) visa could attract more than 300,000 people and their dependents to Britain and generate up to 2.9 billion pounds of net benefit to the British economy over the next five years, according to government forecasts.
    It is still highly uncertain how many people will actually take up the offer.
    China says the West’s views on its actions over Hong Kong are clouded by misinformation and an imperial hangover.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and William James; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/31/2021 China’s first Hualong One nuclear reactor begins operations
    BEIJING – China National Nuclear Corp. said its first nuclear power unit that uses Hualong One, a third-generation nuclear reactor, started commercial operations on Saturday.    The reactor, located in Fuqing city in China’s southeastern Fujian province, was designed to have a 60-year lifespan, with its core equipment domestically produced.    Each unit of the Hualong No. 1 has a capacity of 1.161 million kilowatts and can meet the annual domestic electricity demand of 1 million people in moderately developed countries.

1/31/2021 Japan Offers Exclusive Online Ninja Training Experience by OAN Newsroom
ODAWARA, JAPAN – APRIL 01: Cherry blossoms are seen in full bloom at Odawara Castle Park on April 1, 2008 in Odawara, Kanagawa, Japan. Odawara Castle
was originally built in the early 15th century and used to be one of the largest castles in Japan. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
    Japan is now offering an exclusive online training experience with a real-life ninja as the world continues to adjust to the ongoing pandemic.
    In a live streaming program hosted by Odawara Castle, viewers from all over the world are given insight and background into Japanese culture.
ODAWARA, JAPAN – APRIL 01: Cherry blossoms are seen in full bloom at ODAWARA, JAPAN Castle Park
on April 1, 2008 in Odawara, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
    Ninja master instructors showcase traditional ninja moves, breathing techniques and weapons.
    “The online experience allows us to connect with more people around the world and it gives us a kind of more individual one to one, kind of personalized experience through being online,” Jeffrey Garrish, CEO of Discover Japan said.    “This allows us to do live stream, to connect and comment and answer questions in real-time with a real ninja in Japan.”
UENO, JAPAN: An authentic master of ninjutsu martial art, Kazuki Ukita posed in Ninja costume at the Ninja museum’s
Ninja residence in the small ancient city of Ueno 08 April 2002. (Photo by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP via Getty Images)
    They said the idea to go virtual came when continued COVID-19 virus restrictions prevented others from being able to experience the culture.

2/1/2021 Myanmar Military Seizes Power, Detains Elected Leader Aung San Suu Kyi
Soldiers stand guard at a Myanmar's military checkpoint on the way to the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) -Myanmar’s military seized power on Monday in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early morning raids.
    The army said it had carried out the detentions in response to “election fraud,” handing power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposing a state of emergency for one year, according to a statement.
    Suu Kyi’s party said she had called on people to protest against the military takeover, quoting comments it said had been written in anticipation of a coup.
    The coup derails years of Western-backed efforts to establish democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where neighbouring China has a powerful influence.
    The generals made their move hours before parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the NLD’s landslide win in a Nov. 8 election viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi’s fledgling democratic rule.
    Phone and internet connections in the capital, Naypyitaw, and the main commercial centre Yangon were disrupted and state television went off air after the NLD leaders were detained.
    Summarising a meeting of the new junta, the military said Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, had pledged to practice a “genuine discipline-flourishing multiparty democratic system.”
    He promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, it said, without giving a timeframe.
    The junta later removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defence, foreign affairs and interior.
Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of the morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone.
    A video posted to Facebook by one MP appeared to show the arrest of regional lawmaker Pa Pa Han.    Her husband pleads with men in military garb standing outside the gate.    A young child can be seen clinging to his chest and wailing.
    Troops and riot police stood by in Yangon where residents rushed to markets to stock up on supplies and others lined up at ATMs to withdraw cash.    Banks suspended services but said they would reopen from Tuesday.
    Foreign companies from Japanese retail giant Aeon to South Korean trading firm POSCO International and Norway’s Telenor scrambled to reach staff in Myanmar and assess the turmoil.
    Multinationals moved into the country after Suu Kyi’s party established the first civilian government in half a century in 2015.     The Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s election win followed decades of house arrest and struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent for decades.
    While still hugely popular at home, her international standing was severely damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in 2017.
BROKEN WINGS
    The detentions came after days of tension between the civilian government and the military in the aftermath of the most recent election, in which Suu Kyi’s party won 83% of the vote.
    An army takeover would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship,” the pre-written statement on Facebook quoted Suu Kyi as saying.
    “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” it said. Reuters was unable to reach any NLD officials to confirm the veracity of the statement.
    Supporters of the military celebrated the coup, parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags.
    “Today is the day that people are happy,” one nationalist monk told a crowd in a video published on Facebook.
    Democracy activists and NLD voters were horrified and angry. Four youth groups condemned the coup in statements and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.
    “Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly.    Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun said.
    Senior NLD leader Win Htein said in a Facebook post the army chief’s takeover demonstrated his ambition rather than concern for the country.
    In the capital, security forces confined members of parliament to residential compounds on the day they had expected to take up their seats, representative Sai Lynn Myat said.
‘POTENTIAL FOR UNREST’
    The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and calls for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, Britain, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.
    “The military must reverse these actions immediately,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
    In Japan, a major aid donor with many businesses in Myanmar, a ruling party source said the government may have to rethink the strengthening of defence relations with the country undergone as part of regional efforts to counterbalance China.
    China called on all sides in Myanmar to respect the constitution and uphold stability in a statement which “noted” events in the country rather than expressly condemning them.
    Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh also condemned the takeover.
    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, called for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” while in Bangkok, police clashed with a group of pro-democracy demonstrators outside Myanmar’s embassy.
    “It’s their internal affair,” a Thai government official said of events in Myanmar – a hands-off approach also taken by Malaysia and the Philippines.
    The November vote faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising many Rohingya but the election commission rejected military complaints of fraud.
    In its statement declaring the emergency, the military cited the failure of the commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to postpone new parliamentary sessions, and protests by groups unhappy with the vote.
    “Unless this problem is resolved, it will obstruct the path to democracy and it must therefore be resolved according to the law,” the military said, citing an emergency provision in the constitution in the event sovereignty is threatened.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Lincoln Feast and Angus MacSwan)

2/1/2021 Coup Prompts Outcry From Myanmar As West Ponders How To Respond
NLD supporter holds up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi outside Myanmar's embassy after the military seized power from a democratically
elected civilian government and arrested her, in Bangkok, Thailand February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    (Reuters) – Western leaders condemned the coup by Myanmar’s military against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government and hundreds of thousands of her supporters took to the social media to voice their anger at the takeover.
    The sudden turn of events in the early hours of Monday derailed years of efforts to establish democracy in the poverty-stricken country and raised more questions over the prospect of returning a million Rohingya refugees.
    The U.N. Security Council will meet on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong response to the detention of Suu Kyi and dozens of her political allies, although Myanmar’s close ties with council member China will play into any decision.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.
    The army handed power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year in the country, saying it had responded to what it called election fraud.
    Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, without giving a timeframe.
    Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won a landslide 83% in a Nov. 8 election, said that she called on people to protest against the military takeover, quoting comments it said were written earlier in anticipation of a coup.
    But the streets were quiet overnight after troops and riot police took up positions in the capital, Naypyitaw, and the main commercial centre Yangon. Phone and internet connections were disrupted.
    Many in Myanmar voiced their anger on social media.
    Data on Facebook showed more than 325,000 people had used the #SaveMyanmar hashtag denoting opposition to the coup, and some people changed profile pictures to black to show their sorrow or red in support of the NLD, often with a portrait of the 75-year-old Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
    “We as a citizen of Myanmar not agree with the current move and would like to request the world leaders.    UN and the world medias help our country – our leaders- our people – from this bitter acts,” said one widely reposted message.
    Four youth groups condemned the coup and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.
    Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of Monday morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone.    U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 45 people had been detained.
MINISTERS REMOVED
    Consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defence, foreign affairs and interior.
    Banks said they would reopen on Tuesday after suspending services on Monday amid a rush to withdraw cash.
    Yangon residents had rushed to stock up on supplies while foreign companies from Japanese retail giant Aeon to South Korean trading firm POSCO International and Norway’s Telenor tried to reach staff in Myanmar and assess the turmoil.
    Suu Kyi’s election win followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent for decades until her party came to power in 2015.
    Her international standing as a human rights icon was severely damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in 2017 and defended the military against accusations of genocide.    But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.
BROKEN WINGS
    The coup followed days of tension between the civilian government and the military.    In the pre-written statement on Facebook, Suu Kyi was quoted as saying that an army takeover would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship.”
    “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” it said.    Reuters was unable to reach any NLD officials to confirm the veracity of the statement.
    Supporters of the military celebrated the coup, parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags.
    “Today is the day that people are happy,” one nationalist monk told a crowd in a video published on social media.
    Democracy activists and NLD voters were horrified and angry.    Four youth groups condemned the coup in statements and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.
    “Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly.    Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun said.
    Senior NLD leader Win Htein said in a Facebook post the army chief’s takeover demonstrated his ambition rather than concern for the country.
    In the capital, security forces confined members of parliament to residential compounds on the day they had expected to take up their seats, representative Sai Lynn Myat said.
‘POTENTIAL FOR UNREST’
    The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and calls for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, Britain, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.
    In Washington, President Biden called on the international community to press Myanmar’s military to give up power, release detainees and refrain from violence against civilians.    Those responsible for the coup would be held accountable, he said.
    In Japan, a major aid donor with many businesses in Myanmar, a ruling party source said the government may have to rethink the strengthening of defence relations with the country undergone as part of regional efforts to counterbalance China.
    China called on all sides in Myanmar to respect the constitution and uphold stability, but “noted” events in the country rather than expressly condemning them.
    Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward.    Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh also condemned the takeover.
    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, called for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” while in Bangkok, police clashed with a group of pro-democracy demonstrators outside Myanmar’s embassy.
    “It’s their internal affair,” a Thai government official said – a hands-off approach also taken by Malaysia and the Philippines.
    The November vote faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising many Rohingya but the election commission rejected military complaints of fraud.
    In its statement declaring the emergency, the military cited the failure of the commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to postpone new parliamentary sessions, and protests by groups unhappy with the vote.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/1/2021 Biden Under Pressure For Strong U.S. Response To Myanmar Coup
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding Marine One at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration is under pressure for a swift and strong U.S. response to the military takeover in Myanmar, a crisis that could be a first major test of its bid to work with allies on a new Asia strategy to stand up to China.
    Myanmar’s military seized power on Monday in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early morning raids.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Myanmar military leaders to release Suu Kyi and others detained and the White House said it opposed any attempt to alter the outcome of Myanmar’s Nov. 8 elections, while vowing “action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”
    The U.S. government did not specify what measures might be under consideration but it could strengthen sanctions already in place and impose new ones on Myanmar.
    The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign relations committee, Robert Menendez, said the United States and other countries “should impose strict economic sanctions, as well as other measures” against Myanmar’s army and the military leadership if they did not free the elected leaders and remove themselves from government.
    “The launch of another coup is a tragedy for the people of Burma after a decade of work to establish a civilian-led democratic government,” Menendez said in a statement.
    Menendez charged that the Myanmar army was guilty of “genocide” against minority Rohingya Muslims – a determination yet to be stated by the U.S. government – and of a sustained campaign of violence against other minorities.
    A senior House of Representatives Democrat, Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, also called for sanctions on “the senior military leaders responsible for this coup.”
    U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who like members of the Biden administration has had close past ties with Suu Kyi, called the arrests “horrifying” and demanded a strong response.
    “The Biden Administration must take a strong stand and our partners and all democracies around the world should follow suit in condemning this authoritarian assault on democracy,” he said.
    “We need to support the people of Burma in their journey toward democracy and impose costs on those who stand in their way,” McConnell added.
    The events in Myanmar are a significant blow for the Biden administration and its effort to forge a robust Asia Pacific policy to stand up to China.
    Many of Biden’s Asia policy team, including its head, Kurt Campbell, are veterans of the Obama administration, which at the end of former President Barack Obama’s term hailed its work to end decades of military rule in Myanmar as a major foreign policy achievement. Biden served as vice president in that administration.
    The Biden administration came into office on Jan. 20 promising to work closely with allies on major international challenges, in contrast to former President Donald Trump’s often go-it-alone “America First” approach.
    The Myanmar crisis could be the first major test of Biden’s resolve for multilateral solutions.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, criticized the initial White House response as “disappointingly weak” and urged it to mobilize a concerted international reaction.
    “The U.S. needs to work with allies to speak more clearly, in unison, in terms of ultimatums, to put the Myanmar military on notice of the specific consequences that will occur if their coup is not reversed,” Sifton said, calling for tough sanctions.
(Story refiles to add Schiff title)
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle, Matt Spetalnick, Simon Lewis, Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick; editing by Grant McCool)

2/21/2021 WHO Team In Wuhan Hold “Good Discussions” With Chinese Counterparts by Reuters Staff
The convoy carrying the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic arrives
at the Wuhan Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in Wuhan, China February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter REFILE-QUALITY REPEAT
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday visited the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in China’s central region of Hubei, where the outbreak emerged in late 2019.
    The group of independent experts spent about 4-1/2 hours on its longest site visit since completing two weeks of quarantine on Thursday, and did not speak to waiting journalists.
    The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health curbs.
    The group has so far also visited hospitals where early cases were detected, markets, and an exhibition on the battle with the outbreak in the provincial capital of Wuhan.
    No full itinerary for the group’s field work has been announced, and journalists covering the tightly controlled visit have been kept at a distance from team members.
    Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow with the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, said two weeks in the field was not much time for the experts.
    “I don’t think they have the time to get any conclusive results.    It is more like communication and information exchange,” Huang told Reuters by phone from Washington.
    “It depends how diligent they are in digging new information but also about how cooperative and accommodating the Chinese side will be.”     Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that the coronavirus originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a conduit.
    That hypothesis figured again on Sunday in the Global Times tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.
    On Sunday, the experts visited the Huanan seafood market linked to initial infections, and the Baishazhou wholesale food market, where a loudspeaker repeatedly announced that the sale of imported cold chain products was banned at the market.
[NO ONE IS EXPECTING THAT THE WHO WILL FIND ANYTHING TO PROVE ANYTHING BECAUSE THEY HAVE COVERED IT ALL UP AND THE WHO INDEPENDENT EXPERTS WERE NOT LISTED SO GO THERE AND ALSO THEY HAD A MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL OF FOREIGN RELATIONS (CFR) WITHOUT A NAME SO WE WILL NOT HEAR FROM THEM ANYTIME SOON AND ALL WE WILL GET IS A STATEMENT OF NOTHING OCCURRED, GO FIGURE SINCE THEY WERE LATE FOR A YEAR TO INVESTIGATE THE TRUTH THAT TRUMP TOLD YOU AND IT WAS KNOWN BY HIS ADMINISTRATION].

2/1/2021 As U.S. Warns On Withdrawal, Data Shows Taliban Attacks Climb In Pas ANDt Year
FILE PHOTO: Taliban delegates speak during talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of attacks in Afghanistan by the Taliban in the last quarter of 2020 were higher than the same period the year before, a U.S. watchdog agency said on Monday, after recent accusations by President Joe Biden’s administration that the Taliban has failed to live up to commitments needed for a U.S. withdrawal.
    The February 2020 agreement between the Taliban and the United States calls for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops by May 2021 in return for the insurgents fulfilling security guarantees.
    While Biden has not formally changed the May deadline, officials have said the Taliban has not been living up to its commitments under the deal and the deadline is likely to be extended.
    The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, said in a report that the U.S. military had reported that “enemy initiated attacks” between October and December 2020 were higher than those in the same period in 2019.
    In particular, there was an increase in attacks in the capital city of Kabul.
    “U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said this quarter enemy attacks in Kabul were higher than they were last quarter, and ‘much higher’ than in the same quarter a year prior,” the report said.
    It added that despite the violence, casualties this quarter were down 14% compared with the previous quarter and down 5% in 2020 compared with 2019.
    An Afghan peace ministry official suffered light injuries in a bomb blast in Kabul on Monday.
    The Taliban and the Afghan government have been negotiating in Qatar to reach a peace deal.    Those talks resumed in January after an almost month-long break, but negotiators and diplomats say there has since been little progress.
    Reuters reported on Sunday that international troops plan to stay in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline, a move that could escalate tensions with the Taliban demanding full withdrawal.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

2/1/2021 Iran’s Zarif Hints At Way To Bridge Nuclear Deal Impasse by Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif attends a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Mevlut Cavusoglu (not seen) in Istanbul, Turkey, January 29, 2021. Turkish Foreign Ministry /Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested a way on Monday to overcome the U.S.-Iranian impasse over who goes first in returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, saying a top EU official could “synchronize” or “choreograph” the moves.
    Zarif’s stance was a shift from his position, expressed in a Jan. 22 article in which he said the United States should remove U.S. sanctions before Iran returned to the deal.
    “There can be a mechanism to basically either synchronize it or coordinate what can be done,” Zarif told CNN when asked how to bridge the gap.
    Each government wants the other to resume compliance first with the agreement, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 but which President Joe Biden as said he will rejoin if Iran resumed “strict” compliance.
    Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program to make it harder for it to develop nuclear weapons in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.
    Zarif noted the pact created a Joint Commission coordinated by the European Union foreign policy chief, now Josep Borrell. Borrell “can … sort of choreograph the actions” needed from both sides, Zarif told CNN.
    The commission includes the EU and the seven parties to the deal: Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
    After abandoning the deal, Trump reimposed U.S. sanctions and imposed new U.S. economic penalties on Iran.
    Analysts said Zarif’s stance might lay the ground for talks on reviving the deal despite Iran’s prior insistence that the United States lift sanctions first.
    “It is entirely unsurprising to me that we are hearing, amid a largely uncompromising position from the Iranians, occasional breadcrumbs that will enable them” to enter into a negotiation, said Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese; editing by Grant McCool)
[OH GREAT, WE ARE IN TROUBLE NOW SINCE THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE IS GETTING INVOLVED AGAIN TO CONTINUE WHAT THEY SCREWED UP THE FIRST TIME.].

2/2/2021 Anti-Coup Protests Ring Out In Myanmar’s Main City
NLD supporter holds up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi outside Myanmar's embassy after the military seized power from a
democratically elected civilian government and arrested her, in Bangkok, Thailand February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    (Reuters) – The din of banging pots and honking car horns reverberated through Myanmar’s biggest city of Yangon late on Tuesday in the first widespread protest against the military coup that overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    The party of the detained Nobel Peace laureate called for her release by the junta that seized power on Monday and is keeping her at an undisclosed location.    It also demanded recognition of her victory in a November election.
    A senior official from her National League for Democracy (NLD) said he had learned she was in good health a day after her arrest in a military takeover that derailed Myanmar’s tentative progress towards full democracy.
    The U.N. Security Council was due to meet later on Tuesday amid calls for a strong global response to the military’s latest seizure of power in a country blighted for decades by army rule.
    U.S. State Department officials said the takeover had been determined to constitute a coup d’etat, triggering restrictions in foreign assistance.    Washington has threatened to reimpose sanctions on the generals who seized power.
    In the biggest public display of anger so far, people in Yangon banged on pots and pans and honked car horns and chanted “evil be gone.”
    “It is a Myanmar tradition to drive away evil or bad karma by beating tin or metal buckets,” said Yangon resident San Tint.
    People have not taken to the streets so far in a country with a history of bloody repression of protests.
    The coup followed a landslide win for Suu Kyi’s NLD in an election on Nov. 8, a result the military has refused to accept, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud.
    The army handed power to its commander, General Min Aung Hlaing, and imposed a state of emergency for a year.
INEVITABLE
    Min Aung Hlaing told the first meeting of his new government on Tuesday that it was inevitable the army would have to take power after its protests over the alleged election fraud last year were rejected.
    The election and fighting COVID-19 were the junta’s priorities, he said.    He had earlier promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winner, but without giving a timeframe.
    The electoral commission has dismissed the fraud claims.
    At the United Nations, the world body’s Myanmar envoy Christine Schraner Burgener told the Security Council that the military’s proposal to hold new elections should be discouraged.
    “Let us be clear, the recent outcome of the election was a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy,” Schraner Burgener said, according to excerpts of her remarks seen by Reuters.
    The NLD executive committee demanded the release of all detainees “as soon as possible.”    It also called for the military to acknowledge the election results and for the new parliament to be allowed to sit, as it had been due to on Monday.
    NLD official Kyi Toe said in a Facebook post that it was learned that Suu Kyi was “in good health” and would not be moved.    An earlier post said she was at her home. Reuters was unable to contact him for more information.
    Suu Kyi, 75, endured about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led a democracy movement against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent until her party came to power in 2015.
    Her international standing as a human rights icon was badly damaged over the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in 2017 and her defence of the military against accusations of genocide.    But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
    Activist groups issued a flurry of messages on social media urging civil disobedience. Doctors in more than 20 hospitals said they would join a civil disobedience campaign.
    “We cannot accept dictators and an unelected government,” said Myo Thet Oo, one participating doctor, who said he would not go to his hospital on Wednesday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday called the crisis a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy.
    The U.S. State Department said it will conduct a review of its foreign assistance but will continue its humanitarian programs helping the Rohingya, senior officials said on Tuesday.
    The United Nations has also condemned the coup and called for the release of detainees, in comments echoed by Australia, the European Union, India and Japan as well as former colonial ruler Britain.
    China simply called on all sides to respect the constitution.
    The coup marks the second time the military has refused to recognise a landslide election win for the NLD, having also rejected the result of 1990 polls that were meant to pave the way for multi-party government.
    Following mass protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007, the generals set a course for compromise, while never relinquishing ultimate control.
    The NLD came to power after the 2015 election under a constitution that guarantees the military a role in government, including several main ministries, and an effective veto on constitutional reform.
    The new junta has made its own ministerial appointments.    A new central bank chief was named late on Tuesday, reappointing Than Nyein, who had held the role from 2007 to 2013 under the previous junta.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel, Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/2/2021 In Nagorno-Karabakh, A Village Split In Two By A Ceasefire Struggles To Get By by Artem Mikryukov and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Local resident Lenser Gabrielyan, 65, stands on the ruins of his farm that was destroyed by shelling near
the village of Taghavard in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, January 16, 2021. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    TAGHAVARD, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Ethnic Armenian farmer Lenser Gabrielyan looks with sorrow at his land in the village of Taghavard, now cut off from him and his family under the terms of a peace deal which ended last year’s war in the South Caucasus enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Within weeks of the conflict’s outbreak in September, military forces from Azerbaijan had entered Gabrielyan’s picturesque mountain settlement and made big territorial gains.
    A Russia-brokered ceasefire last November cemented Azeri advances in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as a part of Azerbaijan but had been controlled by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
    The accord split Taghavard, which stretches for three kilometres along an unpaved road towards a mountain range and which had a pre-war population of over a thousand ethnic Armenians.
    It also left Gabrielyan, who has lived there since his birth, with his house on one side of a new border and his farmland on the other.
    “Now we have nothing to do,” lamented the 65-year-old, as he walked near a barn that used to house livestock, but whose roof had since collapsed under shelling.
    “I used to farm.    But almost all the land was left under Azerbaijani control… No tractor is left here, all the equipment is in the hands of the Azeri side.”
    Azeri forces took control of the upper western end of the settlement.    Those ethnic Armenians who did not flee now live in the east, protected by ethnic Armenian military units.
    Gabrielyan’s family, including his ten grandchildren, stayed.    But like other families, they are now struggling to get by as fields where livestock used to graze and a nearby forest, where they used to chop firewood, are under Azeri control.
    Before the war, his family kept sheep and pigs.    Most of them were lost when the village became a battle field and Gabrielyan says his family will run out of firewood in a month.
    “I don’t know what to do,” he said.    “Everything is in ruins.”
    Before the war, residents also enjoyed running water to their homes from wells located in the upper part of the village.    That access has now been lost.
    An alternative water source – a pipe located several hundred metres away from houses is now the only option.    A Reuters reporter watched recently as residents brought several plastic bottles and metal cans of water loaded onto two donkeys back home.    The journey took them around 30 minutes.
FEARS OF WAR
    Gabrielyan’s daughter-in-law, Minara, cried as she showed pictures of her brother, who was killed in combat on the same night when the peace deal was agreed.
    She says she is scared to live in their house, which is only hundreds metres away from Azeri outposts, which are visible on sunny days.
    “We don’t know now what it is – war or peace? We can’t go out freely or sleep calmly at night.    We wake up from every noise because we are afraid,” she said.
    A Reuters reporter saw an Azerbaijani soldier on guard on a hillside overlooking the village, just several dozen metres away from ethnic Armenian military positions.
    Lenser Gabrielyan picks up fragments of exploded shells when walking in a nearby field, still criss-crossed with trenches, and says it worries him that his grandchildren have to live so close to a hostile army.
    “We’re staying here,” he said.    “(But) I don’t know what will happen.    It is dangerous
(Reporting by Artem Mikryukov in Taghavard and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan.    Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Alexandra Hudson)

2/2/2021 Myanmar Medics In Anti-Coup Front Line As Dissent Spreads
    Myanmar's military checkpoint is seen on the way to the congress compound in
Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 1, 2021. Picture taken February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES NO ARCHIVES
    (Reuters) – “Dictatorship must fail,” read the writing on the back of one Myanmar doctor’s hazmat suit in a statement of defiance against Monday’s military coup.
    Other medics in at least 20 government hospitals rallied to a campaign of civil disobedience against the generals who overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday and cut short a tentative transition to democracy.
    Doctors threatened to stop work even with coronavirus infections still rising steadily in the country of 54 million.
    “We cannot accept dictators and an unelected government,” Myo Thet Oo, a doctor participating in the campaign, told Reuters from the northeastern town of Lashio.
    “They can arrest us anytime. We have decided to face it… All of us have decided not to go to the hospital.”
    Reuters was unable to contact Myanmar’s new army government for comment on the doctors’ boycott and the broader signs of spreading dissent.
    Anger against the military surged on social media, with a swathe of Facebook users in a country where it is the main platform changing profile pictures to portraits of Suu Kyi or the red colour of her National League for Democracy party.
    In the main city of Yangon, people banged pans and sounded car horns after dark in protest.
    One of Myanmar’s biggest youth groups and its federation of student unions called for civil disobedience campaigns along with the doctors from across the country – including a 1,000-bed hospital in the capital Naypyidaw.
    “That is inspiring,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters of the civil disobedience campaign, whose new Facebook page already had more than 112,000 likes.
    The military also had its supporters, winning backing from the Young Men’s Buddhist Association in the Buddhist majority country.    Hundreds of people rallied in the centre of the main city, Yangon, to support coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.
ARMY SUPPORTERS
    While the anti-coup doctors voiced dissent, supporters of the army on social media posted an old picture showing the uniformed Myanmar Military Medical Corps COVID-19 response team holding up a banner that said “We Are Ready”
    “We would rather die, than get treatment from the military,” some people posted in response.
    Min Aung Hlaing set fighting the coronavirus as his main priority alongside holding elections on Tuesday.    It has killed over 3,100 people from more than 140,000 infections, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.
    The pandemic has brought even greater respect for doctors working in one of the world’s weakest health systems.
    It is not the first time they have emerged in a challenge against the military.    In 2015, they mounted a Black Ribbon campaign against the militarization of health ministry and other medical appointments.
    Some doctors revived that campaign on Tuesday alongside the boycott.
    “We are well connected to each other in our medical network.    We expect to connect and spread the campaign nationwide,” said Sai Nay Myo, a former assistant hospital director, of the civil disobedience campaign.    “We cannot accept dictatorship.”
    In a letter that anticipated her detention and was published by an aide on Monday, Suu Kyi had called on people to protest against a coup – though she did not specify that they should take to the streets.
    Pro-democracy supporters showed anger in many ways – including a slew of insults to a Facebook post by the new information minister thanking people for their best wishes.
    Some announced boycotts of beer and other products from companies with links to the army’s extensive business holdings.
    “We will only accept the government that was elected and wholeheartedly supported by the people,” said the Grill and Chill Restaurant in the main city Yangon, one of several to join the campaign.
    And in an echo of months of anti-government protests in Thailand, two senior members of Suu Kyi’s NLD posted pictures of themselves giving the three-finger salute of opposition to army rule that was inspired by “The Hunger Games
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/2/2021 Iran Deepens Breach Of Nuclear Deal At Underground Enrichment Site by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the
Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant as it faces off with the new U.S. administration on salvaging the accord.
    Tehran has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, raising pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden as both sides say they are willing to come back into compliance with the badly eroded agreement if the other side moves first.
    Iran began its breaches in 2019 in response to Washington’s withdrawal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and the reimposition of U.S. economic sanctions against Tehran that were lifted under the deal.
    The accord says Iran can refine uranium only at its main enrichment site – an underground plant at Natanz – with first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.    Last year Iran began enriching there with a cascade, or cluster, of much more efficient IR-2m machines and said in December it would install three more.
    “Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, referring to uranium hexafluoride feedstock.
    The IAEA later confirmed that the Islamic Republic had started enriching with the second cascade.
    Tehran is also pressing ahead with the installation of more advanced centrifuges, the report indicated.    Of the remaining two cascades of IR-2m machines, installation of one had begun while the other’s installation was “nearing completion,” it said.
    Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said on Twitter Tehran had also started installing IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow, a site dug into a mountain where Iran has begun enriching uranium to the 20% purity it last achieved before the 2015 deal.
    In a second report on Tuesday evening also reviewed by Reuters, the IAEA said only that Iran had informed it in a letter dated Feb. 1 that two cascades of IR-6 centrifuges would be installed at Fordow to be used with the 1,044 IR-1 machines already enriching in six cascades there.
    The report did not say installation had begun.
    The IAEA confirmed in a statement that Iran had informed it that the two cascades would be installed at Fordow.
    Earlier on Tuesday Israel’s energy minister said it would now take Iran about six months to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior Biden administration official.
    Iran denies any intent to produce nuclear weapons.    The nuclear deal sets a limit of 3.67% enrichment purity, suitable for producing civilian nuclear energy and far below the 90% that is weapons-grade.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Richard Chang)

2/2/2021 U.N. Fears For Myanmar Rohingya After Coup, Security Council Due To Meet Tuesday by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: The United Nations logo is seen at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at
U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United Nations fears the coup in Myanmar will worsen the plight of some 600,000 Rohingya Muslims still in the country, a U.N. spokesman said on Monday as the Security Council planned to meet on the latest developments on Tuesday.
    Myanmar’s military seized power on Monday in a coup against the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other political leaders of in early morning raids.
    A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State sent more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh, where they are still stranded in refugee camps.    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Western states accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing, which it denied.
    “There are about 600,000 Rohingya those that remain in Rakhine State, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps, they cannot move freely and have extremely limited access to basic health and education services,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.     “So our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them,” he said.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council plans to discuss Myanmar in a closed meeting on Tuesday, diplomats said.
    “We want to address the long-term threats to peace and security, of course working closely with Myanmar’s Asia and ASEAN neighbors,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, president of the council for February, told reporters.
    China, backed by Russia, shielded Myanmar from any significant council action after the 2017 military crackdown.    China and Russia are council veto powers along with France, Britain and the United States.
    China’s U.N. mission told Reuters on Monday it hoped to find out more about the latest developments in Myanmar from the Security Council briefing on Tuesday.
    “It’s also our hope that any move of the Council would be conducive to the stability of Myanmar rather than making the situation more complicated,” a spokesperson for the Chinese U.N. mission said.
    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the government was in touch with “all sides” about the meeting and the international community’s actions should contribute to “a peaceful resolution.”
    The Myanmar army said it had detained Suu Kyi and others in response to “election fraud,” handing power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing and imposing a state of emergency for one year.
    The United Nations called for the release of all those detained, Dujarric said. He said Guterre’s special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, “remains actively engaged” and is likely to brief the Security Council.
    The United Nations has long had a presence in Myanmar.    Security Council envoys traveled there in April 2018 and met separately with Suu Kyi and Min Aung Hlaing following the crackdown on the Rohingya.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Angus MacSwan and Lincoln Feast.)

2/2/2021 Explainer: Myanmar Generals Are Back In Charge, But For How Long?
A Myanmar soldier looks on as he stands inside city hall after soldiers occupied the building, in Yangon, Myanmar February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – The military is back in power in Myanmar after a coup less than a decade after it launched a transition to democracy to end nearly half a century of direct army rule and international isolation.
    The military pledged to stick to its 2008 constitution and return power via a free and fair election but set no clear timeframe and the junta detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and purged her allies from the administration.
    Economists say the coup could spook foreign investors and hit international development support, with the threat of a return of sanctions that made Myanmar among the world’s poorest countries.
WHAT WAS ITS JUSTIFICATION?
    The army said the administration had refused to act against “terrible fraud” in a Nov. 8 general election, which was won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.    The military said it took power “to perform scrutiny of the voter lists” and the coup would protect democracy.
    The military justified its coup within the parameters of the constitution, using a clause that allows for power to be transferred by the president to the armed forces chief in a state of emergency declared to address threats to the nation.
    President Win Myint, a Suu Kyi ally, was among dozens of people detained early on Monday. Vice-president Myint Swe, a former general and member of the previous junta, then handed over power to the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
    The electoral commission had repeatedly rejected the accusations of voter fraud.
WHAT OTHER FACTORS COULD THERE BE?
    Observers with knowledge of Myanmar’s secretive military suspect Min Aung Hlaing’s personal ambitions and his limited options were a factor.
    His mandatory retirement was imminent and it is highly unlikely an NLD-controlled parliament would have elected him president given the history of bad blood between the NLD and the army.
    The military boss faces foreign accusations of war crimes against Rohingya Muslims, and is the subject of cases pending in international courts that could seek his arrest.
    Myanmar experts also see the coup as a means to prevent any chance of an NLD-dominated legislature amending the constitution to reduce the military’s powers – which include the right to 25% of the seats in parliament, an effective veto over the legislature.
    Such constitutional change might have been made easier by the poor performance in November’s election by the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the military’s proxy, which won only 33 of 476 seats.
WILL THE MILITARY CEDE POWER?
    The state of emergency will last for one year, as prescribed by the constitution, and the junta chief on Monday pledged to hold elections “upon completion of the tasks
    But after sacking Suu Kyi’s cabinet it appointed a new group of ministers, none of whom were identified as “acting” or interim appointments.
    Activists have already voiced strong doubts that the military will step down after only a year.    The army ignored the NLD’s win in a 1990 election for a constituent assembly and took nearly two decades to complete its promised transition to democracy.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR THE ECONOMY?
    The U.S. government has threatened renewed sanctions on Myanmar and the World Bank said the coup could hurt development prospects and gains in tackling poverty.
    Political risk has been heightened by the takeover, with concern the junta will be preoccupied with establishing control and domestic security.
    Any pro-democracy protests could be met with force. The nascent economy and jobs could be hit if foreign investors are concerned about stability or reputation risks.    Vital infrastructure projects might be stalled or even be halted if private or public funding is affected.
    Ratings agency Fitch called it a “substantial backtracking of progress” that will “weigh heavily on policymaking, social stability as well as international perceptions of the country.”
(Reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/2/2021 Torture, Forced Labour Rife In North Korea, U.N. Says As U.S. Mulls Sanctions by Stephanie Nebehay
A North Korea flag is flown during ceremony for the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea
January 14, 2021 in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Torture and forced labour are rife in North Korea’s prisons, amounting to possible crimes against humanity, the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday, as the Biden administration weighs fresh sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.
    The report, issued seven years after a landmark U.N. investigation found that crimes against humanity were being committed, also said that political prison camps run by security forces still persisted, although information is more scarce.
    “Not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed,” Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
    She urged world powers to pursue justice and prevent further violations. The report called for the U.N. Security Council to refer the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the International Criminal Court for prosecutions or establish an ad hoc tribunal.
    “Accountability for grave human rights violations and ongoing crimes against humanity should not be a secondary consideration in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table,” U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told Reuters.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking on NBC News on Monday, said additional sanctions could be used against North Korea in coordination with U.S. allies as a way toward denuclearization of the divided Peninsula.    Other tools include unspecified diplomatic incentives, he said.
    North Korea denies the existence of political prison camps and last July denounced Britain for announcing sanctions against two organisations that the British government has said are involved in forced labour, torture and murder in the camps.
    The U.N. report, citing interviews with former detainees, said it continued to receive “consistent and credible accounts of the systematic infliction of severe physical and mental pain or suffering upon detainees, through the infliction of beatings, stress positions and starvation in places of detention.”
    This reconfirmed the 2014 findings of the U.N. inquiry, led by former Australian judge Michael Kirby, and “indicates that the crime against humanity of torture continues to take place in the ordinary prison system,” it said.
    Forced labour, “which may amount to the crime against humanity of enslavement” also persists in prisons, it said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/2/2021 Analysis: In China, Post-Coup Myanmar Likely To Find Support If Sanctions Bite by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe
Myanmar's military checkpoint is seen on the way to the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Three weeks before Myanmar’s military commander took power in a coup, he met the Chinese government’s top diplomat in an exchange that pointed to potential support as Myanmar faces the prospect of renewed Western sanctions.
    China’s foreign ministry noted the “fraternal” relationship as State Councillor Wang Yi met last month in Myanmar’s capital with the military chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, making him one of the last foreign dignitaries to visit before the coup.
    “China appreciates that the Myanmar military takes national revitalisation as its mission,” the Chinese ministry said at the time.
    Myanmar’s own readout of the meeting proved more portentous.
    It noted that the military raised complaints to Wang about Myanmar’s Nov. 8 election, saying it was marred by fraud, including “discrepancies with the voter lists,” and told him what the army was doing about it, without giving specifics.
    Since the early Monday coup and the arrest of elected-leader Aung San Suu Kyi, China has stayed largely quiet, saying only it hoped for stability in a country where it ranks as the dominant trading partner, a major investor and a counterweight over years of pressure on Myanmar from the West over its suppression of democracy.
    “China will be all too happy to recalibrate its engagement to recognise the new facts on the ground,” wrote analysts at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    “That will likely soften the blow of any U.S. sanctions, which Min Aung Hlaing has doubtless already anticipated and dismissed.”
    In Japan, a major donor with longstanding ties to Myanmar, State Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama told Reuters that the world’s democracies risk pushing Myanmar into China’s arms if their response to the coup closes channels for communication with the generals.
    Chinese state media has largely held off commenting on what the coup means for China, or even using that word, with state news agency Xinhua referring to Monday’s events as a “major Cabinet reshuffle.”
STABILITY FIRST
    Stability-obsessed China has deep ties to a military that ruled Myanmar for decades.
    China has declined to say whether it was given warning that a coup was coming, but analysts played down the notion that last month’s meeting had a bearing on events, or that Myanmar gave notice of the takeover.
    “Myanmar’s tumultuous transition to democracy in the past decade has greatly impacted China’s economic interests in the country,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
    “More than anything, China would’ve wanted stability in Myanmar, not a coup,” he said.
    China is well-connected in Myanmar following years of backing the old military government when it was subject to sweeping Western sanctions after Suu Kyi was put under house arrest in 1989 following pro-democracy protests.
    China later worked hard to build ties with Suu Kyi as political change swept the country, and she tried to reassure China that she did not consider it an enemy, visiting China several times and backing President Xi Jinping’s extensive Belt and Road Initiative of energy and infrastructure projects.
    Fighting along the border between Myanmar’s army and ethnic minority guerrilla groups has on occasion over the last decade led to refugees pouring into China’s Yunnan province, angering the Chinese government.
    “As a neighbour on China’s southern border, a split Myanmar in turmoil is obviously not what China wants to see,” the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily said in its overseas edition’s WeChat account.
    For its part, Myanmar has lingering suspicion of China’s links with some militia forces that operate on the Myanmar side of their common border, and historically, Myanmar nationalists have viewed their huge neighbour with wariness.
    Maw Htun Aung, a mining expert turned politician from Myanmar’s Kachin State bordering China, who is aligned with neither the army nor Suu Kyi’s ousted government, distrusted China’s motives.
    “It will take advantage of the crisis and will mainly focus on its political gain and regional influence,” he said.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe; Writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/3/2021 Myanmar Police File Charges Against Aung San Suu Kyi After Coup
Myanmar's police officers stand guard at the entrance of parliament members residence
at the congress compound in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) -Myanmar police have filed charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment and she will be detained until Feb. 15 for investigations, according to a police document.
    The move followed a military coup on Monday and the detention of Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi and other civilian politicians.    The takeover cut short Myanmar’s long transition to democracy and drew condemnation from the United States and other Western countries.
    A police request to a court detailing the accusations against Suu Kyi, 75, said six walkie-talkie radios had been found in a search of her home in the capital Naypyidaw.    The radios were imported illegally and used without permission, it said.     The document reviewed on Wednesday requested Suu Kyi’s detention “in order to question witnesses, request evidence and seek legal counsel after questioning the defendant.”
    A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted President Win Myint for violating protocols to stop the spread of coronavirus during campaigning for an election last November.
    Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election in a landslide but the military claimed it was marred by fraud and justified its seizure of power on those grounds.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach the police, the government or the court for comment.
    The chair of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, said the new charges were ludicrous.
    “This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimize their illegal power grab,” he said in a statement.
    The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.
    Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country’s democracy movement, and she remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees in 2017.
    The NLD made no immediate comment.    A party official said on Tuesday he had learned she was under house arrest in the capital, Naypyidaw, and was in good health.
PARTY SAYS OFFICES RAIDED
    The party said earlier in a statement that its offices had been raided in several regions and it urged authorities to stop what it called unlawful acts after its election victory.
    Opposition to the junta headed by Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing has begun to emerge in Myanmar.
    Staff at scores of government hospitals across the country of 54 million people stopped work or wore red ribbons as part of a civil disobedience campaign.
    The newly formed Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement said doctors at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns had joined the protest.    It accused the army of putting its interests above a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3,100 people in Myanmar, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.
    “We really cannot accept this,” said 49-year-old Myo Myo Mon, who was among the doctors who stopped work to protest.
    “We will do this in a sustainable way, we will do it in a non-violent way…This is the route our state counselor desires,” she said, referring to Suu Kyi by her title.
    The latest coup is a massive blow to hopes that Myanmar is on a path to stable democracy.    The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.
G7 CONDEMNS COUP
    The Group of Seven largest developed economies condemned the coup on Wednesday and said the election result must be respected.     “We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically-elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law,” the G7 said in a statement.
    China has not specifically condemned the coup in its neighbour but the foreign ministry rejected the suggestion that it supported or gave tacit consent to it.
    “We wish that all sides in Myanmar can appropriately resolve their differences and uphold political and social stability,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a briefing.
    At the United Nations on Tuesday, its special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, urged the Security Council to “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar
    But a diplomat with China’s U.N. mission said it would be difficult to reach consensus on the draft statement and that any action should avoid escalating tension or complicating the situation.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to reimpose sanctions on the generals who seized power.
    U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tried but was unable to connect to Myanmar’s military following the coup.
    The military had ruled the former British colony from 1962 until Suu Kyi’s party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.
    Her international standing as a human rights champion was badly damaged over the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in 2017 and her defence of the military against accusations of genocide.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Grant McCool and Stephen Coates; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)

2/3/2021 WHO Team Probing COVID-19 Visits Wuhan Lab, Meets ‘Bat Woman’ by Martin Quin Pollard and Thomas Peter
Peter Daszak and Thea Fischer, members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), sit in a car arriving at Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    WUHAN, China (Reuters) -A team of investigators led by the World Health Organization visited a virus research laboratory in China’s central city of Wuhan and met with a prominent virologist there in its search for clues to the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The experts spent about 3-1/2 hours at the heavily-guarded Wuhan Institute of Virology, which has been at the centre of some conspiracy theories that claim a laboratory leak caused the city’s first coronavirus outbreak at the end of 2019.
    “Extremely important meeting today with staff at WIV including Dr Shi Zhengli.    Frank, open discussion.    Key questions asked & answered,” team member Peter Daszak said on Twitter.
    Shi, a well-known virus hunter who has long focused on bat coronaviruses – earning her the nickname “Bat Woman” – was among the first last year to isolate the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
    Most scientists, including Shi, reject the hypothesis of a lab leak.    However, some experts speculate that a virus captured from the wild could have figured in lab experiments to test the risks of a human spillover and then escaped via an infected staff member.
    “Very interesting. Many questions,” Thea Fischer, a Danish member of the team, called from her car as it sped away from the lab following Wednesday’s visit, in response to a question whether the team had found anything.
    Some scientists have called for China to release details of all coronavirus samples studied at the lab, to see which most closely resembles SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the respiratory disease.
    The WHO, which has sought to manage expectations for the Wuhan mission, has said its members would be limited to visits organised by their Chinese hosts and have no contact with community members, because of health restrictions.
    While the novel coronavirus that sparked the pandemic was first identified in Wuhan, Beijing has sought to cast doubt on the notion that it originated in China, pointing to imported frozen food as a possible conduit.
    The team will spend two weeks conducting field work after having completed two weeks in hotel quarantine after arrival in Wuhan.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)
(Reporting by Thomas Peter and Martin Quin in Wuhan; Writing by David Stanway and Tony Munroe; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Pravin Char)

2/3/2021 World Court To Hear Sanctions Dispute Filed By Iran Against United States
General view of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Files
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Judges at the highest U.N. court for disputes between states on Wednesday ruled that they can hear a case filed by Iran against the United States seeking to have sanctions against Tehran lifted.
    A majority of a panel of 16 judges found that the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court, has jurisdiction in the dispute.
    Iran brought the case in 2018 after President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions, following Trump’s decision to abandon a 2015 pact under which Iran accepted curbs to its nuclear programme.
    New U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants to return to that pact, although Tehran and Washington have yet to agree on the steps needed for that to happen.
    The United States had tried to argue that Iran could not base claims at the World Court on a 1955 bilateral friendship pact.    However judges found the treaty, signed decades before Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and the sharp deterioration in ties with Washington, could be used as a basis for the court’s jurisdiction.
    “The court unanimously rejects the preliminary objections to its jurisdiction raised by the Unites States of America according to which the subject matter of the dispute does not relate to the interpretation or application of the Treaty of Amity,” presiding judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter that the ruling was “another legal victory for Iran following 3 Oct. ’18 Order.”
    “Iran has always fully respected int’l law.    High time for the US to live up to int’l obligations,” Zarif tweeted, in a clear reference to Tehran’s call on Biden administration to return to the nuclear pact and lift U.S. sanctions.
    Other U.S. objections to the case were also dismissed, meaning Iran’s claim will move on to a hearing on the merits.    A final decision would be likely to take several more years.
    The ICJ’s rulings are binding, but it has no power to enforce them, and the United States and Iran are among a handful of countries to have ignored its decisions.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alison Williams, Peter Graff and Barbara Lewis)

2/3/2021 Indian Farmers To Scale Up Protests As Rihanna Weighs In by Mayank Bhardwaj
People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest against farm laws at
Kandela village in Jind district in the northern state of Haryana, India, February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    KANDELA, India (Reuters) – Indian farmers’ leaders on Wednesday outlined plans to scale up months of protests against agricultural reforms, as their cause gained high-profile supporters in the West.
    Demanding the repeal of three new farm laws that they say will hurt them to the benefit of large corporations, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi since late 2020.
    Their generally peaceful protest was marred by violence last week, when some demonstrators drove a procession of tractors into the heart of the capital and clashed with police.
    Police have since erected barricades around three main protest sites and shut off the internet in some areas.
    Farmers’ leaders, speaking hours after U.S. pop superstar Rihanna weighed into the row in a posting to her 101 million Twitter followers, said they would not back down.
    “This gathering shows the anger against the government and we will continue our fight,” union leader Rakesh Tikait told a 50,000-strong rally of the politically influential Jat community in northern Haryana state.
    He and other leaders said they would send more farmers to the Delhi protest sites and hold similar meetings across the country to gather further support.
    Rakesh Singh Vidhuri, a farmer from the neighbouring state of Punjab, the epicentre of the protests, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said the movement was bringing together growers from across India’s northern breadbasket region.
    “The protests have spread because these laws will impact the livelihood of farmers and Indian agriculture overall,” he told Reuters.
GLOBAL FOCUS
    The farmers say the reforms, which will allow big retailers to buy directly from growers, will mean the end of long-standing guaranteed prices for their crops and leave them vulnerable to the whims of big business.
    The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has offered some concessions but ruled out abandoning them, says they will benefit farmers and draw investment to a sector that makes up nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs about half its workforce.
    The protests drew global attention as prominent Western activists echoed Rihanna’s support for the farmers’ campaign.
    “We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” U.S. lawyer and activist Meena Harris, a niece of Vice-President Kamala Harris, said on Twitter.
    Greta Thunberg shared a news report about the internet shutdowns.    “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,” the Swedish climate activist wrote on Twitter.
    Hours earlier, Rihanna had shared a CNN article on the demonstrations and asked her Twitter followers under the same hashtag: “Why aren’t we talking about this?
    The foreign ministry labelled the comments “neither accurate nor responsible
    “A very small section of farmers” had issues with the new laws and some groups had tried to mobilise international support against India.
    “Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” the ministry said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel and John Stonestreet)

2/3/2021 South Korea Urges U.S. Flexibility On Sanctions To Restart North Korea Talks by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves during a ceremony for the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party in
Pyongyang, North Korea January 14, 2021 in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States should flexibly enforce sanctions aimed at curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes to revive denuclearisation talks, South Korea’s point man on North Korea said on Wednesday.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and former U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula at their first summit in 2018, but a second summit and subsequent working-level talks fell apart.
    The new administration of President Joe Biden has not announced any North Korea policy, but Seoul, keen to resuscitate stalled cross-border economic cooperation, has expressed hopes that Biden would restart negotiations with Pyongyang.
    Lee In-young, South Korea’s unification minister in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said reinforcing sanctions may not be the key to bringing North Korea back to the table.
    “If we were to talk about additional sanctions, it’s time to review what achievements the sanctions have brought so far.    Strengthening it might not be everything,” Lee told a news conference.
    “We have to look back at the aspect that flexibly applying sanctions depending on the situation could play a role in expediting denuclearisation negotiations.”
    Lee’s remarks came after South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in urged Biden to build on progress made by Kim and Trump.    Last week, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told Reuters that Pyongyang and Washington should seek an initial deal including a halt to the North’s nuclear activity and a cut in its programme in exchange for some sanctions relief.
    Lee did not elaborate on which sanctions should be loosened, but has called for exemptions to allow humanitarian inter-Korean exchanges, including providing assistance to help the North fight the coronavirus.
    North Korea has not confirmed any coronavirus cases, though South Korean authorities have expressed doubt, and rejected Seoul’s aid offer.
    Lee said his government could share testing kits, drugs and other supplies whenever the North accepted its proposal, though it has no plans to send vaccines yet.
    “Working together on COVID-19 is a way to keep all of us safe, beyond helping them,” he said, referring to the shared border.    “I hope the North would rethink the positive value of humanitarian cooperation.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/4/2021 U.N. Chief Vows To Rally Global Pressure To Make Sure Myanmar Coup Fails by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's National League for Democracy Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi looks on during
a news conference at her home in Yangon November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged on Wednesday to mobilize enough international pressure on Myanmar’s military “to make sure that this coup fails” as the U.N. Security Council tries to negotiate a statement on the crisis.
    The Myanmar army detained the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others on Monday in response to “election fraud,” handed power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing, and imposed a state of emergency for one year.
    “We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails,” Guterres said during an interview broadcast by The Washington Post.    “It is absolutely unacceptable after elections – elections that I believe took place normally – and after a large period of transition.”
    The military takeover cut short Myanmar’s long transition to democracy and drew condemnation from the United States and other Western countries.
    An initial draft statement put forward by Britain for discussion among the 15-member Security Council condemned the coup, and called for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights and immediately release those detained.
    However, such statements have to be agreed by consensus and diplomats said the language would likely need to be softened to win the support of China and Russia, who have traditionally shielded Myanmar in the Security Council.
    “We’re continuing discussions on the council’s next steps on Myanmar and council colleagues have agreed that it’s important for us to speak with one voice on the issue,” British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current president of the council, told reporters on Wednesday.
    Myanmar police have filed charges against Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment, according to a police document reviewed on Wednesday.     “Aung San Suu Kyi – if we can accuse her of something – is that she was too close to the military, is that she protected too much the military, namely in relation to what has happened with the dramatic offensive of the military army against the Rohingyas,” Guterres said.
    A 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State sent more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh, where they are still stranded in refugee camps. Guterres and Western states have accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing, which it denies.
    Guterres said all those detained by the military during the coup must be released and constitutional order restored.
    “I hope that it will be possible to make the military in Myanmar understand that this is not the way to rule the country and this is not the way to move forward,” he said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chris Reese, Rosalba O’Brien and Lincoln Feast.)

2/4/2021 South Korea’s Moon Pledged To Upgrade S.Korea-U.S. Alliance In Call With Biden – Presidential Office
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during an online New Year news conference with local and foreign
journalists at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, January 18, 2021. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that he pledged to upgrade the country’s alliance with the United States in a phone call with President Joe Biden, Seoul’s presidential office said.
    “We will always stand together as we work for peace on the Korean Peninsula and tackle global challenges,” Moon said in a statement.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

[WELL IT LOOKS LIKE THE IRON MAN WAR MONGER GENERALS ARE RETURNING U.S. TO PRE-TRUMP CONTINOUS WARS AND FAILED OBAMA-BIDEN-CLINTON POLICIES.].
2/4/2021 U.S. Should Delay Complete Troop Pullout In Afghanistan - Report To Congress by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. soldier keeps watch at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should extend the May 1 deadline for pulling all its troops from Afghanistan, and make force cuts contingent on progress in peace talks as well as by the Taliban in reducing violence and containing al Qaeda, a bipartisan report to Congress said on Wednesday.
    Washington should not abandon the Afghan peace process, the report said. But conditions for its success will not be met by a May 1 deadline set in a 2020 U.S.-Taliban agreement.    Withdrawing all U.S. troops then could lead to civil war, destabilizing the region and reviving the al Qaeda threat.
    The United States “should not…simply hand a victory to the Taliban,” said the Afghanistan Study Group report, reflecting criticism that the Trump administration conceded too much to the insurgents in a bid to end America’s longest war.
    Congress commissioned the group, whose co-chairs included retired Marine General Joseph Dunford, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, and Republican former Senator Kelly Ayotte.
    Dunford told reporters the report was shared with aides to President Joe Biden, including Zalmay Khalilzad, the peace negotiator kept on from the Trump administration, who “found it helpful.”
    State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration “plans to support” the peace process, and is assessing the Taliban’s commitment to cutting ties to al Qaeda, lowering violence and engaging in peace talks.
    Former President Donald Trump ordered a drawdown to 2,500 U.S. soldiers by last month even as violence surged; U.S. officials said the Taliban maintained ties with al Qaeda; and intra-Afghan peace talks stalled.
    The Taliban say al Qaeda fighters are no longer in Afghanistan.    The Taliban also have indicated they will resume attacks on foreign forces if they remain past May 1.
    Senator Lindsey Graham, a leading Republican defense hawk who had concerns with Trump’s deal with the Taliban, praised the report.    He added in a statement that after initial discussions with the administration, “it looks like they will be very receptive to the recommendations.”
Graham added: “This year marks the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and I will never forget how this war started. We took our eye off Afghanistan, and that can never happen again.”
    U.S. policy should be revised to help ensure that the peace talks in Doha between the Taliban and a delegation that includes Afghan government officials produce a durable settlement, the report said.
    “Achieving the overall objective of a negotiated stable peace that meets U.S. interests would need to begin with securing an extension of the May deadline,” said the report, urging an “immediate” U.S. diplomatic push to rally regional support for a delay.
    An extension would let the Biden administration revise policy, including conditioning further U.S. troop cuts on the Taliban reducing violence, ending cooperation with al Qaeda and progress in the Doha negotiations, the report said.
    A delay also would give Washington time to restructure U.S. civilian aid and offer Kabul incentives “to play a constructive role” in peace efforts and advancing women’s and minority rights.
    The February 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal made the U.S. withdrawal contingent on ground conditions and on the Taliban ending the hosting of al Qaeda fighters and halting the group’s “recruiting, training and fund-raising.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Gregorio)

2/4/2021 U.S. ‘Deeply Disturbed’ By Reports Of Systematic Rape Of Muslims In China Camps by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag flies outside the mosque at the Xinjiang International Grand Bazar during a government
organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is “deeply disturbed” by reports of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region and there must be serious consequences for atrocities committed there, the U.S. State Department said on Wednesday.
    A BBC report earlier on Wednesday said women in the camps were subject to rape, sexual abuse and torture.    The British broadcaster said “several former detainees and a guard have told the BBC they experienced or saw evidence of an organized system of mass rape, sexual abuse and torture.”
    Asked to comment, a State Department spokeswoman said: “We are deeply disturbed by reports, including first-hand testimony, of systematic rape and sexual abuse against women in internment camps for ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.”
    The spokeswoman reiterated U.S. charges that China has committed “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang and added: “These atrocities shock the conscience and must be met with serious consequences.”
    The official said China should allow “immediate and independent investigations by international observers” into the rape allegations “in addition to the other atrocities being committed in Xinjiang.”
    The official did not specify what the consequences might be, but said Washington would speak out jointly with allies to condemn the atrocities and “consider all appropriate tools to promote accountability for those responsible and deter future abuses.”
    The previous U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Chinese officials and firms it linked to abuses in Xinjiang, and the administration of new President Joe Biden, which took office on Jan. 20, has made clear it plans to continue a tough approach to Beijing on this and other issues.
    China denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, and has said the complexes it set up in the region provided vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.    Those in the facilities have since “graduated,” it says.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the BBC report was “wholly without factual basis” and charged that the people interviewed for it had been “proved multiple times” to be “actors disseminating false information.”
    The Biden administration was quick to endorse a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.
    Last year, a report by a German researcher published by a Washington think tank accused China of using forced sterilization, forced abortion and coercive family planning against Muslims in Xinjiang.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler and Stephen Coates)

2/4/2021 South Korea Calls For U.S. Sanction Flexibility On North Korea by OAN Newsroom
Protesters hold a banner denouncing policies of the United States and South Korean governments on North Korea near the U.S. Embassy
in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. The South Korean and U.S. presidents agreed on the need for a comprehensive strategy on North Korea
as they push to work together to achieve denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, officials said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    South Korea has urged the U.S. to be more flexible with sanctions on North Korea.    The country’s minister of unification, Lee In-young, made that suggestion at a news conference on Wednesday.
    This comes as South Korea is turning to D.C. to pick up the stalled talks with Pyongyang amid hopes of restarting economic cooperation with its northern neighbor.
    “We have to look back at the aspect that flexibly applying sanctions, depending on the situation, could play a role in expediting denuclearization negotiations,” stated Minister In-young.
    In the meantime, Joe Biden is facing pressure to build on the Trump administration’s progress on denuclearizing the East Asian country.    The White House has not yet announced its policy regarding North Korea.
    According to the U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with Biden in a call this week in which he pledged a continued alliance with the U.S.

2/4/2021 Facebook Faces A Reckoning In Myanmar After Blocked By Military by Fanny Potkin
FILE PHOTO: Protesters from Myanmar residing in Japan raise their fists and hold a poster depicting Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally against Myanmar's military, after it
seized power from a democratically elected civilian government and arrested Suu Kyi, outside Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, Japan February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The Myanmar military’s shutdown of Facebook access following the ouster of the democratically elected Aung San Suu Kyi caps years of tension between the social media company and the most powerful institution in a nation where Facebook is used by half the population.
    The junta on Wednesday banned Facebook Inc until at least Sunday after the regime’s opponents began using it to organize.    A new civil disobedience page had gained nearly 200,000 followers and the support of Burmese celebrities in the days after the coup, while a related hashtag was used millions of times.
    “The Tatmadaw sees Facebook as their internet nemesis because it’s the dominant communication channel in the country, and has been hostile to the military,” Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson told Reuters, referring to the country’s army.
    “Since the Burmese people are rapidly moving online to organize a massive civil disobedience campaign, shuttering access becomes a top priority.”
    A company spokeswoman on Thursday urged Myanmar authorities to restore access to Facebook and WhatsApp to the country’s 54 million residents.
    Facebook will have to decide how to play the delicate balance of protecting the democratic politicians and activists versus cooperating with the new regime to get services restored–an especially acute example of the political dilemmas the company faces worldwide.
    In nearby Vietnam, for example, Facebook recently acquiesced to government demands that it censor more political criticism to avoid a blockade.
    The service has mostly avoided shutdowns outside of countries such as China, where it has long been blocked, but currently faces pressure in India, Turkey and elsewhere.
    In Myanmar, where the company has a small team, Facebook in recent years has engaged with civil rights activists and democratic political parties and pushed back against the military after coming under heavy international criticism for failing to contain online hate campaigns.
    In 2018, it banned army chief Min Aung Hlaing – now Myanmar’s military ruler – and 19 other senior officers and organizations, and took down hundreds of pages and accounts run by military members for coordinated inauthentic behavior.
    Ahead of the Myanmar’s November election, Facebook announced it had taken down a network of 70 fake accounts and pages operated by members of the military that had posted either positive content about the army or criticism of Suu Kyi and her party.
    A Reuters review early this week found dozens of pages and accounts alleging election fraud – the reason given by the army for seizing power.    The posts started in October and continued after the election; in the 48 hours before the coup, many of the pages called for military intervention.
    After the coup, those pages turned to posts accusing the ousted government of fraud and justifying the takeover, the review showed.    Some of the pages published coordinated posts criticizing or threatening politicians like Suu Kyi as well as journalists and activists.
    Facebook took down dozens of the accounts on Wednesday, shortly before being shut down. Reuters could not determine their provenance.
    And just two days before the coup, the new military-installed information minister, Chit Hlaing, shared a story purporting to be from Radio Free Myanmar, which Facebook banned after it was used in anti-Rohingya disinformation campaigns.    The minister was not immediately reachable for comment.
    By Wednesday, both his account and the post were taken down.
    A spokesman for the military did not respond to multiple calls for comment.
LIKE A ‘BAN ON THE INTERNET’
    Facebook plays an outsized role in Myanmar, where for many residents it is synonymous with the internet. United Nations investigators say that Facebook allowed the platform to be used by radical Buddhist nationalists and members of the military to fan a campaign of violence towards the Muslim Rohingya minority, 700,000 of whom fled an army crackdown in 2017.
    In response, Facebook tried to tamp down hate speech and misinformation and ramped up partnerships with civilians, sometimes in conflict with the military.    The company maintained its central role in the life for the country, and Suu Kyi’s government regularly announced major initiatives on its Facebook pages.
    “A ban on Facebook is effectively a ban on the internet,” ethnic Kachin human rights advocate Zaw Htun Lat wrote on Twitter on Thursday.
    A Facebook spokeswoman referred Reuters to an earlier statement by Southeast Asia policy director Rafael Frankel, which states Facebook is “removing misinformation that delegitimizes the outcome of November’s election.”
    She added that the company is treating Myanmar as an emergency and is using artificial intelligence to restrict content likely to break its rules on hate speech and incitement of violence.
    At the same time, the military has used Facebook since the start of the coup.    Its “True News” information unit had provided daily updates prior to Thursday’s shutdown.
    A page for the country’s new military president was created within hours on Monday.    Since then, a handful of other official government pages have been taken over by the regime and are publishing official announcements from the ministry of information warning against social media “rumors” that could incite riots and instability.
    Facebook declined to comment on how it decides who is permitted to control official government pages.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Editing by Ken Li and Lisa Shumaker)

2/4/2021 U.N. Security Council Calls For Release Of Myanmar’s Suu Kyi, Biden Tells Generals To Go
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi waits for the arrival of her delegation before the Japan Myanmar Summit meeting with Japan's
Prime Minster Shinzo Abe (not pictured) at Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Nicolas Datiche/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council called for the release of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained by the military and stressed the need to uphold democracy, but stopped short of condemning this week’s coup.
    In the United States, the din of voices weighing in to warn the generals to change course grew, as U.S. President Joe Biden said the military should step down and his security adviser said the administration was considering an executive order that could include sanctions.
    Myanmar’s long and troubled transition to democracy was derailed on Monday when army commander Min Aung Hlaing took power, saying there were irregularities in a November election that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide. The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council said in a statement agreed by consensus on Thursday that they “stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.”
    Language in the statement was softer than the original draft by Britain and made no mention of a coup – apparently to win support from China and Russia, which have traditionally shielded Myanmar from significant council action.    China also has large economic interests in Myanmar and ties to the military.
    China’s U.N. mission said Beijing hoped the key messages in the statement “could be heeded by all sides and lead to a positive outcome” in Myanmar.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Myanmar government for comment.
    Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since her arrest.    Police have filed charges against her for illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home.
    Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover.
    “There can be no doubt in a democracy force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” said Biden.
    Two U.S. senators, one Democrat, one Republican, said they would introduce a resolution on Thursday calling on Myanmar’s military to step back from the coup or face consequences, notably sanctions.
    National security adviser Jake Sullivan told a news briefing that the Biden administration was looking at targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military.
    But it is unclear how effective such a move would be. The generals that seized power have few overseas interests that could be affected by financial sanctions.
    The International Monetary Fund, which transferred $350 million to Myanmar just days before the coup to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, said it would be “in the interests of the government, and certainly the people of Myanmar that those funds are indeed used accordingly.”
‘LIGHTS IN THE DARK’
    Over 140 people have been detained since the coup, including activists, lawmakers and officials from Suu Kyi’s government, Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.
    At least four people were arrested on Thursday, including three who took part in a street demonstration and a teenager who was banging a pot in part of what have become nightly protests against the coup.
    Win Htein, 79, a long time supporter of Suu Kyi, told Reuters early on Friday that he had been arrested and was being taken by police officers in a car from Yangon to the capital, Naypyidaw.
    In a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on demonstrations, there has been no mass outpouring of opposition on the streets.
    But doctors have helped spearhead a campaign of civil disobedience that has also been joined by some other government employees, students and youth groups.
    “Lights are shining in the dark,” said Min Ko Naing, a veteran of past campaigns against military rule, in a call to action.    “We need to show how many people are against this unfair coup.”
    In the face of the dissent, Myanmar’s junta has blocked Facebook, trying to shut off an important channel for opposition.    Demand for VPNs surged over 4,000% as people sought to defeat the ban.
    The Ministry of Communications and Information said Facebook would be blocked until Feb. 7, because users were “spreading fake news and misinformation and causing misunderstanding.”
    Hlaing has moved quickly to consolidate his grip on power.    He told a business group on Wednesday night he could remain in charge for six months after a one-year state of emergency ends in order to hold fair elections.
    But in a show of defiance to the generals, about a dozen lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s party convened a symbolic parliamentary session on Thursday.
    The daughter of the former British colony’s independence hero Aung San and the longtime leader of its democracy movement, Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010.    She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
    She remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.
    The NLD won about 80% of the parliament seats in the November election and trounced a pro-military party, according to the election commission.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates; editing by Grant McCool)

2/4/2021 U.S. Considering Targeted Sanctions After Myanmar Coup: Sullivan
FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivers remarks during a press
briefing inside the White House in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration is considering an executive order in response to the military takeover in Myanmar and potentially targeted sanctions on individuals and military-controlled entities, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday.
    Sullivan said there was bipartisan support on Myanmar, and the administration believed it could work with Congress “on a package of sanctions to impose consequences in response to this coup.”
    “We will also be working with allies and partners around the world,” he told a White House news briefing.
    “We are reviewing the possibility of a new executive order and we are also looking at specific targeted sanctions, both on individuals and on entities controlled by the military that enrich the military,” Sullivan said.
    Myanmar military ruler General Min Aung Hlaing has moved quickly to consolidate his hold after overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and detaining her and allied politicians on Monday.
    Biden on Monday pledged to “stand up for democracy” and threatened to re-impose sanctions on Myanmar gradually rolled back by former President Barack Obama.
    U.S. officials said this week the U.S. State Department would conduct a review of its foreign assistance to Myanmar.
(Reporting by Reporting by Alex Alper, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

2/4/2021 U.S., E3 Foreign Ministers Expected To Discuss Iran Soon - Sources by John Irish and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    PARIS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S., British, French and German foreign ministers plan to discuss soon, possibly as early as Friday, how to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump, sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday.
    Four of the sources said the virtual meeting, which was likely to cover other topics, could take place as soon as Friday, while two others said it could happen next week.    All spoke on condition that they not be identified.
    Such a high-level conversation would be the latest step by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to seek a way to revive the pact, under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities so as to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.
    Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, restoring the U.S. sanctions the agreement had removed and placing more on Iran.
    Iran has long denied any intent to develop nuclear arms.
    Biden, who took office last month, has said that if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the 2015 pact, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and regional activities.
    Tehran has insisted that Washington ease sanctions before it will resume compliance, but Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hinted on Monday at a way to resolve the impasse over who goes first by saying the steps could be synchronized.
    While the U.S. State Department reacted coolly, a U.S. official said its stance should not be seen as a rejection.
    The State Department declined comment on whether the four foreign ministers would meet soon. British, French and German spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Speaking to a U.S. think tank from Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the U.S. willingness to engage Iran, offered himself as an “honest broker” and said Saudi Arabia and Israel must ultimately be involved.
    In 2019, he pushed to bring Washington and Tehran back to the negotiating table and to set parameters for wider future talks.
    European and Western diplomats have said Britain, France and Germany have proposed sequencing for Iran to return to compliance in return for economic benefits.    It is unclear if Washington would lift sanctions without Iran first complying.
    In September 2019, France proposed offering Iran a $15 billion credit facility, which would be guaranteed by Iranian oil revenues if Tehran came back fully into compliance.    Such an arrangement hinged on Washington giving tacit approval.
    “We aren’t starting from a blank page. We know the parameters of the sequencing to get back to (the deal) and then to build on a deeper accord,” said a senior European diplomat.
(Reporting By John Irish in Paris and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)
[WELL HERE WE GO AGAIN AS THE PREVIOUS OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WHO WAS CONTROLLED BY THE GLOBALIST SOCIALIST ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT AND HAS RISEN AGAIN IN THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PROBABLY HAS NOT LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THEIR PAST WILL CONTINUE WHERE THEY LEFT OFF AND THE REVELATION-EUPHRATES PROPHECIES WILL CONTINUE TO OCCUR AS PREDICTED IN A FAST PACE WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO KEEP UP WITH IT.].

2/4/2021 Guyana Nixes Taiwan Office After Beijing Criticizes ‘Mistake’
FILE PHOTO: A double rainbow is seen behind Taiwanese flag during the National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI/GEORGETOWN (Reuters) – Guyana on Thursday abruptly terminated an agreement with Taiwan to open an office in the South American country, hours after China urged Georgetown to “correct their mistake.”
    Taiwan’s foreign ministry earlier on Thursday said it had signed an agreement with Guyana on Jan. 11 to open a Taiwan office, effectively a de facto embassy for the island that China claims as its sovereign territory with no right to diplomatic ties.
    Guyana’s foreign ministry on Thursday afternoon said it was rolling back the agreement and that it continued to adhere to the “One China” policy.
    “The government has not established any diplomatic ties or relations with Taiwan and as a result of the miscommunication of the agreement signed, this agreement has since been terminated,” Guyana’s statement read.
    Guyana has traditionally had close ties with China.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had responded to the move by saying Beijing hoped Guyana would not engage in official ties with Taiwan, calling on the country to “earnestly take steps to correct their mistake.”
    The United States is worried about deepening Chinese influence in Latin America.    Guyana, a former British colony, recently begun developing offshore oil reserves and is strategically located next to strife-torn Venezuela, a major Chinese ally with which Guyana has a territorial dispute.
    Taiwan only has formal diplomatic relations with 14 countries, including four Caribbean nations.
    China’s CNOOC Ltd is part of a consortium with U.S. oil companies Exxon Mobil Corp and Hess Corp that has discovered more than 8 billion barrels of recoverable crude reserves in the Stabroek block off Guyana’s coast, turning the country into a new energy hotspot.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Neil Marks in Georgetown, Guyana; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Michael Perry and Marguerita Choy)

2/4/2021 Indian Farmers To Scale Up Protests As Rihanna Weighs In by Mayank Bhardwaj
People attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest against farm laws at
Kandela village in Jind district in the northern state of Haryana, India, February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    KANDELA, India (Reuters) – Indian farmers’ leaders on Wednesday outlined plans to scale up months of protests against agricultural reforms, as their cause gained high-profile supporters in the West.
    Demanding the repeal of three new farm laws that they say will hurt them to the benefit of large corporations, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi since late 2020.
    Their generally peaceful protest was marred by violence last week, when some demonstrators drove a procession of tractors into the heart of the capital and clashed with police.
    Police have since erected barricades around three main protest sites and shut off the internet in some areas.
    Farmers’ leaders, speaking hours after U.S. pop superstar Rihanna weighed into the row in a posting to her 101 million Twitter followers, said they would not back down.
    “This gathering shows the anger against the government and we will continue our fight,” union leader Rakesh Tikait told a 50,000-strong rally of the politically influential Jat community in northern Haryana state.
    He and other leaders said they would send more farmers to the Delhi protest sites and hold similar meetings across the country to gather further support.
    Rakesh Singh Vidhuri, a farmer from the neighbouring state of Punjab, the epicentre of the protests, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, said the movement was bringing together growers from across India’s northern breadbasket region.
    “The protests have spread because these laws will impact the livelihood of farmers and Indian agriculture overall,” he told Reuters.
GLOBAL FOCUS
    The farmers say the reforms, which will allow big retailers to buy directly from growers, will mean the end of long-standing guaranteed prices for their crops and leave them vulnerable to the whims of big business.
    The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has offered some concessions but ruled out abandoning them, says they will benefit farmers and draw investment to a sector that makes up nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs about half its workforce.
    The protests drew global attention as prominent Western activists echoed Rihanna’s support for the farmers’ campaign.
    “We ALL should be outraged by India’s internet shutdowns and paramilitary violence against farmer protesters,” U.S. lawyer and activist Meena Harris, a niece of Vice-President Kamala Harris, said on Twitter.
    Greta Thunberg shared a news report about the internet shutdowns.    “We stand in solidarity with the #FarmersProtest in India,” the Swedish climate activist wrote on Twitter.
    Hours earlier, Rihanna had shared a CNN article on the demonstrations and asked her Twitter followers under the same hashtag: “Why aren’t we talking about this?
    The foreign ministry labelled the comments “neither accurate nor responsible.”
    “A very small section of farmers” had issues with the new laws and some groups had tried to mobilise international support against India.
    “Before rushing to comment on such matters, we would urge that the facts be ascertained, and a proper understanding of the issues at hand be undertaken,” the ministry said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel and John Stonestreet)

2/4/2021 Biden Says U.S. Ready To Work With China When It Is In America’s Interest
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company in Beijing, China, January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday called China’s America’s most serious competitor, but said the United States is ready to work with China when it is in its interests to do so.
    “We will … take on directly the challenges posed (to) our prosperity, security and democratic values by our most serious competitor, China,” Biden said in a speech during his first visit to the State Department.
    “We will confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive course of action to push back China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance,” he said.    “But we’re ready to work with Beijing, when it’s in America’s interest to do so.”
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)
[I AM GLAD THAT THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION CAN WRITE COMEDY AS YOU READ ABOVE THE WORD WORK IS FUNNY SINCE IN THE PAST IT WAS TAKE WHAT YOU WANT.]

2/4/2021 Rival Communist Faction Calls National Strike In Nepal To Turn Up Heat On Premier by Gopal Sharma and Navesh Chitrakar
Protesters affiliated with a faction of the ruling Nepal Communist Party march during a general strike against the appointment of dozens of
officials to constitutional bodies, saying due process of law was not fulfilled, in Kathmandu, Nepal February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    KATHMANDU (Reuters) – A faction of Nepal’s ruling communist party declared a nationwide strike on Thursday to ramp up opposition against Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli for dissolving parliament and seeking fresh polls amid a pandemic-induced economic crisis.
    The call to shutdown businesses, shops, educational institutions was part of protest campaign launched across the Himalayan nation, after Oli dissolved parliament on Dec. 20 citing a lack of cooperation from other leaders of his Nepal Communist Party (NCP).
    Supreme Court judges hearing more than a dozen petitions challenging the legality of parliament’s dissolution are expected to give a verdict this month.    If they rule in Oli’s favour elections have been scheduled in two phases, on April 30 and May 10.
    The call for a strike came after Oli earlier this week appointed senior officials to constitutional bodies, including commissions on human rights and investigations into abuse of authority. Opponents in the NCP accused Oil of bypassing a requirement for appointees to be approved by the parliament.
    “Declaring the strike is our compulsion to oppose the prime minister’s unrestrained move to avoid the due process of law to make the appointments,” said Pampha Bhusal, a senior leader who along with her colleagues declared the strike.
    The streets in the capital Kathmandu were deserted on Thursday morning and television channels reported that some protesters clashed with police but there were no immediate report of major violence.
    “A taxi was set on fire and three other vehicles were vandalized in Kathmandu by activists,” said Ashok Singh, a police officer, adding that more than 70 activists had been detained.
    After their alliance won the last national election in 2017, Oli’s communist UML party and a Maoist party of the former rebels merged to form the NCP, but the party has been plagued with infighting ever since.
    In late December, the Chinese Communist Party sent senior officials to Kathmandu to see if they could mend ties between the factions in a party regarded as friendly to Beijing.
(This story corrects year of election to 2017 in penultimate paragraph)
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; additional reporting Navesh Chitrakar; Editing by Rupam Jain & Simon Cameron-Moore)

2/5/2021 Joe Biden Urges Myanmar’s Military To Relinquish Power, Release Officials by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on foreign policy, at the State Department, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Joe Biden called on Myanmar’s military to step down in his first foreign policy address.    While speaking to the press on Thursday, Biden announced the U.S. is working with its allies to address the recent coup.
    Biden said a military force should never attempt to overrule the will of the people or try to reverse the outcome of a democratic election.
    “The Burmese military should relinquish [the] power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained,” Biden said.    “And lift the restrictions on telecommunications and refrain from violence.”
Supporters give roses to police while four arrested activists make a court appearance in Mandalay, Myanmar, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021. Hundreds of students and teachers have taken
to Myanmar’s streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians, as resistance to a coup swelled with demonstrations in several parts of the country. (AP Photo)
    Earlier this week, Biden warned he may re-impose sanctions on the government in an effort to maintain democracy.
[BOY DID BIDEN'S SPEECH MAKE HIM LOOK PRESIDENTIAL ALTHOUGH WHAT HE SAID HAD NO EFFECT TO CHANGE ANYTHING SINCE HE KNOWS AND THEY ARE ONLY GOOD AT STEALING ELECTIONS IN THE U.S..].

2/5/2021 Myanmar Anti-Junta Protests Spread, Social Media Disrupted
Women wearing red ribbons hold candles during a night protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – The lawyer for Myanmar’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint said they were being held in their homes after being detained on Monday when the army seized power and that he was unable to meet them.
    Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he was seeking their unconditional release but had been told they were still under investigation.
    Teachers and students in Myanmar earlier rallied to a growing civil disobedience campaign as the anti-coup protest movement won the support of Suu Kyi’s political party.
    The Nobel Peace laureate, 75, has not been seen since her arrest on Monday.    Police have filed charges against her for illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home.
    “We expect justice from the judge, but it is not certain.    We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Of course, we want unconditional release as they have not broken the law,” her lawyer told reporters in the capital, Naypyidaw.
    Stepping up measures to quell discontent, police arrested one of Suu Kyi’s veteran aides and dozens of people who had joined noisy demonstrations against Monday’s coup.
    International pressure on the junta increased with the U.N. Security Council urging the release of detainees and Washington considering sanctions on the ruling generals.
    U.N. Myanmar envoy Christine Schraner Burgener strongly condemned the military’s actions in a call with the country’s deputy military chief Soe Win and called for the immediate release of all those detained, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday.
    Two days after a temporary ban on Facebook., authorities ordered internet providers to block Twitter and Instagram, said Norway’s Telenor Asa [TEL.OL]. Twitter user numbers had jumped after the ban on Facebook.     Teachers became the latest group to join a civil disobedience campaign with some lecturers refusing to work or cooperate with authorities over the coup that halted a long and unsteady transition to democracy.
    “We want the military coup to fail,” said lecturer Nwe Thazin Hlaing at the Yangon University of Education.
    Reuters was unable to reach the government for comment.
    The disobedience campaign, which began with doctors, has also spread to some government offices and on Friday won the formal backing of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
    In a statement, the party denounced the coup and Suu Kyi’s detention as “unacceptable” and said it would help people who are arrested or sacked for opposing the takeover.
    Army chief Min Aung Hlaing took power saying there were irregularities in an election last November, which the NLD won in a landslide.    The electoral commission has said the vote was fair.
    There has been no outpouring of people onto the streets in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on protests, but there were signs of coup opponents growing bolder – with dozens of youths parading in the southeastern city of Dawei.
COLOUR RED
    In the biggest city, Yangon, supporters hung red clothing, ribbons and balloons outside their homes to show support for Suu Kyi.
    “I hung my red dress outside the shop since yesterday to show our support for Mother Suu,” said Cho Cho, 39, a salad shop owner.    “This is our last fight for democracy: The fight for our children.”
    But authorities also began to step up action against coup opponents.
    In Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay, 30 people were arrested over pot-banging protests which have taken place for the last three nights.br>     Eleven Media quoted Maung Maung Aye, deputy head of the regional police force, as saying they were accused of breaking a law against “causing noise in public streets.”
    The latest high-profile detainee was 79-year-old Win Htein, a stalwart of Suu Kyi who was repeatedly imprisoned during their decades of struggling against previous juntas.
    “I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life,” he told Reuters by phone as he was taken away.
    Reuters was unable to reach police for comment on his arrest or what charges could be brought against him.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council in a statement on Thursday called for the release of all detainees and for respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
    But before it won consensus among members that include China and Russia, which have close ties to Myanmar’s army, the language of the draft was changed to remove any mention of a coup.
‘CREDIBLE ELECTION’
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will discuss Myanmar in a Friday online meeting with his British, French and German counterparts, a U.S. official said.
    National security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military were under consideration.
    He spoke by phone with ambassadors from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc.    Indonesia and Malaysia later said regional foreign ministers would be asked to hold a special meeting on the situation.
    Myanmar’s generals have few overseas interests that could be targeted by sanctions, but the military has extensive business interests that could suffer if foreign partners leave.
    Japanese drinks company Kirin Holdings said on Friday it was terminating its alliance with a top Myanmar conglomerate whose owners, according to the United Nations, include members of the military.    Kirin said the coup had “shaken the very foundation of the partnership.”
(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Grant McCool; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

2/5/2021 Myanmar Military Rulers Order Block On Twitter, Instagram ‘Until Further Notice’ by Fanny Potkin
FILE PHOTO: A Twitter logo is seen outside the company headquarters, during a purported demonstration by supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump to protest the
social media company's permanent suspension of the President's Twitter account, in San Francisco, California, U.S., January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The new military rulers of Myanmar on Friday ordered mobile operators and internet service providers to block access to Twitter and Instagram in the country until further notice, Norwegian telecom Telenor said.
    The government had already ordered internet providers on Thursday to block Facebook, which counts half of the population of 54 million as users, until Feb. 7.
    The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology did not immediately answer a request for comment, but said previously it had blocked Facebook for the sake of “stability
    A spokeswoman for Twitter, which is also facing pressure from authorities in India, said it was “deeply concerned about the order to block Internet services in Myanmar.”
    “It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard.    The Open Internet is increasingly under threat around the world.    We will continue to advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns,” she said.
    A spokesman for Facebook confirmed the block on Instagram.
    “We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with family and friends and access important information,” he told Reuters.
    In a statement, Telenor expressed “grave concern” about the directive and said it had challenged its necessity to authorities.
    Since the ban on Facebook, thousands in Myanmar have flocked to Twitter and Instagram to express their opposition to Monday’s takeover by the army and the ousting and arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    Many people are using social media and pro-democracy hashtags to criticize the army’s takeover and call for peaceful protests until the result of November’s election, which was won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party, is respected.
    The hashtags #RespectOurVotes, #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar, and #SaveMyanmar all had hundreds of thousands of interactions by Friday, according to hashtag tracker BrandMentions.
    The military has made unsubstantiated claims that the election of Suu Kyi and her National Democracy League was fraudulent.    The election commission said the vote was fair.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

2/5/2021 China’s Latest Weapon Against Taiwan: The Sand Dredger by Yimou Lee
A sand-dredging ship with a Chinese flag is seen in the waters off the Taiwan-controlled Matsu islands, January 28, 2021. Picture taken January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    ON BOARD THE TAIWAN COAST GUARD SHIP PP-10062, East China Sea (Reuters) – Taiwanese coast guard commander Lin Chie-ming is on the frontline of a new type of warfare that China is waging against Taiwan.    China’s weapon?    Sand.
    On a chilly morning in late January, Lin, clad in an orange uniform, stood on the rolling deck of his boat as it patrolled in choppy waters off the Taiwan-run Matsu Islands.    A few kilometers away, the Chinese coast was faintly visible from Lin’s boat.    He was on the lookout for Chinese sand-dredging ships encroaching on waters controlled by Taiwan.
    The Chinese goal, Taiwanese officials say: pressure Taiwan by tying down the island democracy’s naval defenses and undermining the livelihoods of Matsu residents.
    Half an hour into the patrol, Lin’s nine-man crew spotted two 3,000-ton dredgers, dwarfing their 100-ton vessel.    Parked just outside Taiwan’s waters, neither of the dredgers clearly displayed their names, making it difficult for a crew member to identify them as he peered through binoculars.
    Upon spotting Lin’s boat, armed with two water cannons and a machine gun, the dredgers quickly pulled up anchor and headed back toward the Chinese coast.
    “They think this area is part of China’s territory,” said Lin, referring to Chinese dredgers that have been intruding into Matsu’s waters.    “They usually leave after we drive them away, but they come back again after we go away.”
    The sand-dredging is one weapon China is using against Taiwan in a campaign of so-called gray-zone warfare, which entails using irregular tactics to exhaust a foe without actually resorting to open combat.    Since June last year, Chinese dredgers have been swarming around the Matsu Islands, dropping anchor and scooping up vast amounts of sand from the ocean bed for construction projects in China.
    The ploy is taxing for Taiwan’s civilian-run Coast Guard Administration, which is now conducting round-the-clock patrols in an effort to repel the Chinese vessels.    Taiwanese officials and Matsu residents say the dredging forays have had other corrosive impacts – disrupting the local economy, damaging undersea communication cables and intimidating residents and tourists to the islands.    Local officials also fear that the dredging is destroying marine life nearby.
    To see the interactive version of this story open this link: https://tmsnrt.rs/39OYbAZ
    Besides Matsu, where 13,300 people live, the coast guard says China has also been dredging in the shallow waters near the median line of the Taiwan Strait, which has long served as an unofficial buffer separating China and Taiwan.
    Last year, Taiwan expelled nearly 4,000 Chinese sand-dredgers and sand-transporting vessels from waters under its control, most of them in the area close to the median line, according to Taiwan’s coast guard.    That’s a 560% jump over the 600 Chinese vessels that were repelled in all of 2019.
    In Matsu, there were also many Chinese vessels that sailed close to Taiwanese waters without actually entering, forcing the coast guard to be on constant alert.
    The dredging is a “gray-zone strategy with Chinese characteristics,” said Su Tzu-yun, an associate research fellow at Taiwan’s top military think tank, the Institute for National Defense and Security Research.    “You dredge for sand on the one hand, but if you can also put pressure on Taiwan, then that’s great, too.”
‘PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE’
    Sand is just part of the gray-zone campaign. China, which claims democratically-governed Taiwan as its own territory, has been using other irregular tactics to wear down the island of 23 million.    The most dramatic: In recent months, the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military, has been dispatching warplanes in menacing forays toward the island.    Taiwan has been scrambling military aircraft on an almost daily basis to head off the threat, placing an onerous burden on its air force.
    Taiwanese military officials and Western analysts say China’s gray-zone tactics are meant to drain the resources and erode the will of the island’s armed forces – and make such harassment so routine that the world grows inured to it.    China’s sand dredging, said one Taiwanese security official investigating the matter, is “part of their psychological warfare against Taiwan, similar to what they are doing in Taiwan’s southwestern airspace,” where the Chinese jets are intruding.
    China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement to Reuters that Taiwan’s claims that Beijing is allowing sand-dredging boats to engage in “illegal operations” near Matsu and the median line are baseless.    The office did say it has taken steps to stop illegal sand-dredging, without elaborating.
    The office also said Taiwan is “an inseparable part of China.”    Taiwanese authorities, it alleged, are using their claims of control over the waters near the islands to “detain mainland boats and even resorting to dangerous and violent means in their treatment of mainland crews.”
    Asked about China’s gray-zone actions, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, which oversees policy toward China, said the Chinese Communist Party was engaging in “harassment” with the aim of putting pressure on Taiwan.    The council said the government had recently increased penalties for illegal dredging in its waters.
    Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense did not respond to questions.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping has not ruled out the use of force to subdue Taiwan.    If he succeeds – by gray-zone tactics or outright war – it would dramatically undermine America’s decades of strategic dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and propel China toward preeminence in the area.
    The Matsu Islands are almost an hour by plane from Taipei. They are one of a handful of island groups close to China’s coast that Taiwan has governed since 1949, when the defeated Republic of China government, under Chiang Kai-shek, fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war. The Matsu, Kinmen and Pratas island groups lie several hundred kilometers from mainland Taiwan.    Their isolation, and their much-reduced Taiwanese military presence since the end of the Cold War, would make them highly vulnerable to a Chinese attack.
    Matsu is just nine kilometers from the Chinese coastline at the closest point.    The island has a total of just nine coast guard ships, ranging from 10 to 100 tons.    On some days, government officials said, the coast guard has faced hundreds of Chinese vessels, ranging in size from 1,000 to 3,000 tons, in and around the island’s waters.    Taiwan says those waters extend six kilometers out from the coastline here.    China doesn’t officially recognize any claims of sovereignty by Taiwan.
    At one point last year, more than 200 Chinese sand-dredging and transport boats were spotted operating south of Nangan, the main Matsu islet, three Taiwanese officials told Reuters.    Lin, the coast guard commander, recalls a similar scene playing out on the morning of Oct. 25, when he and his colleagues encountered an armada of roughly 100 Chinese boats.    That day, he said, his team expelled seven Chinese vessels that breached Matsu waters.
    “People were frightened by the scene,” he said, referring to local residents.    “They were speculating about the purpose of the mainland boats and whether they would pose a security threat to the Matsu region.”
NEW BOATS
    In some stand-offs, Taiwan’s coast guard has sprayed high-power water cannons at the Chinese ships in an attempt to drive them away.    Last year, Taiwan impounded four Chinese vessels and detained 37 crew members, according to the coast guard.    Ten of those arrested were given sentences of six to seven months in prison.    The others are still on trial, the coast guard said.
    Taiwan is in the process of beefing up its coast guard, partly in response to the dredging threat.    Last year, President Tsai Ing-wen commissioned into service the first of a new class of coast guard vessel, based on the design of an “aircraft-carrier killer,” a missile boat for the navy.
    More than 100 new coast guard boats will be built in the next decade, Tsai said in December, vowing to enforce a crackdown with “no mercy” on Chinese dredging in Taiwan waters.    In the meantime, larger patrol boats were sent to temporarily reinforce the coast guard in Matsu, whose 117 members are now conducting 24-hour patrols.
    The number of sand dredgers off the coast of Matsu dropped significantly at the end of last year, as winter weather brought rougher seas that make dredging difficult.    When the seasons change and the seas are calmer, local residents fear that dredgers will be back.
    From the late 1950s through to the late 1970s, Chinese forces occasionally bombarded the Matsu Islands with artillery shells.    Remnants of that era are still visible across the island group, from old air-raid tunnels to anti-Communist slogans displayed on the rugged cliffs of Nangan island.
    Today, Matsu is a popular tourist destination. Its picturesque old-stone homes have been turned into fashionable guest houses.
    But locals say China’s dredging tactics are hurting their livelihoods.    Chen Kuo-chiang, who runs a seafood restaurant on Nangan, says the dredging has led to a drastic decline in the number of fish he catches off the island.    Three years ago, he was hooking a dozen a day with his rod, said Chen, 39, as he stood fishing on some rocks in a Nangan port.    Now, he said, he struggles to catch one or two.
    The fears of a Chinese invasion are palpable on Nangan.    Chen thinks the sand dredging might be a precursor to an attack by Chinese forces.    “We don’t want to be ruled by mainland China,” he said.    “We have freedom, which is limited over there.”
    Tsai Chia-chen, who works at an ocean-front bed and breakfast, said concern was particularly high ahead of the U.S. presidential election in early November.    At the time, said Tsai, rumors circulated that China might seize the window of opportunity with the United States distracted by the election to launch an attack on Taiwan.    The large number of Chinese dredgers around the islands in late October added to the anxiety, she recalled.
    “Our guests were obviously worried,” she said.    “There was only one small Taiwan coast guard boat, surrounded by many huge dredgers.”
DAMAGED CABLES
    On five occasions last year, the dredgers damaged undersea communication cables between Nangan and Juguang, another isle in the Matsu group, the three Taiwanese officials told Reuters.    Mobile phone and internet services for the islanders were disrupted, they said.    There were no such incidents in 2019.
    State-backed Chunghwa Telecom said it spent T$60 million (about $2 million) to fix the cables last year.    It also hired a local fishing boat to conduct daily patrols to ensure the safety of the cables.
    The coast guard said most of the fully loaded Chinese vessels around Matsu have been seen heading with their sand in a northerly direction, towards the city of Wenzhou, where the local Chinese government has been touting a massive land reclamation project.
    Known as the Ou Fei project, the area has been reclaimed for a new economic zone.    It encompasses about 66 square kilometers – more than double the area of all the Matsu Islands.    On its website, the Wenzhou local government describes the project as a “major strategic development for the future” of the city.
    The Wenzhou city government didn’t respond to a request for comment.
    Following contact on the local level between the two sides, China detained several dredging boats last month, according to Taiwan’s coast guard.    But a Taiwan-initiated meeting with authorities in the port city of Fuzhou to discuss the dredging was “postponed indefinitely” and without explanation in late December, said Wang Chien-hua, who oversees economic development in the local government that administers Matsu.
    Taiwan had been planning to use the online meeting to urge Chinese authorities to enforce mandatory registration for dredgers and punish those who go out to sea without reporting to the authorities, according to an internal government note reviewed by Reuters.
    The Taiwan Affairs Office in Beijing said the local authorities on both sides maintained “necessary communication and collaboration” to ensure order on the seas.
    Aboard his patrol vessel, Taiwanese commander Lin sounded defiant.    The coast guard, he said, “will use force to drive away” Chinese ships that enter Taiwan’s waters.
    “That way we can reassure the people in Matsu.    At the moment, we are capable of doing this job.”
(Reporting by Yimou Lee. Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei. Edited by Peter Hirschberg.)

2/5/2021 Protests Against Myanmar Junta Spread Despite Arrests
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi waits for the arrival of her delegation before the Japan Myanmar Summit meeting with Japan's
Prime Minster Shinzo Abe (not pictured) at Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Nicolas Datiche/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Teachers and students in Myanmar rallied on Friday to a growing civil disobedience campaign as the anti-coup protest movement won the support of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
    Stepping up measures to quell discontent, police arrested one of Suu Kyi’s veteran aides and dozens of people who had joined noisy demonstrations against Monday’s coup.br>     International pressure on the junta increased with the U.N. Security Council urging the release of detainees and Washington considering sanctions on the ruling generals.
    Teachers became the latest group to join a civil disobedience campaign with some lecturers refusing to work or cooperate with authorities over the coup that halted a long and unsteady transition to democracy.
    “We want the military coup to fail,” said lecturer Nwe Thazin Hlaing at the Yangon University of Education.
    Reuters was unable to reach the government for comment.
    The disobedience campaign, which began with doctors, has also spread to some government offices and on Friday won the formal backing of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
    In a statement, the party denounced the coup and Suu Kyi’s detention as “unacceptable” and said it would help people who are arrested or sacked for opposing the takeover.
    Army chief Min Aung Hlaing took power citing alleged irregularities in a November election that the party won in a landslide.    The electoral commission has said the vote was fair.
    There has been no outpouring of people onto the streets in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on protests, but there were signs of coup opponents growing bolder – with dozens of youths parading in the southeastern city of Dawei.
COLOUR RED
    In the biggest city, Yangon, supporters hung red clothing, ribbons and balloons outside their homes to show support.
    “We put red balloons down the whole street,” said Myint Myint Aye, 49.    “This is a non-violent campaign.    We want to show the dictators that all of us are with Mother Suu.”
    But authorities also began to step up action against coup opponents.
    In Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay, 30 people were arrested over pot-banging protests which have taken place for the last three nights.
    Eleven Media quoted Maung Maung Aye, deputy head of the regional police force, as saying they were accused of breaking a law against “causing noise in public streets.”
    The latest high-profile detainee was 79-year-old Win Htein, a stalwart of Suu Kyi who was repeatedly imprisoned during their decades of struggling against previous juntas.
    “I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life,” he told Reuters by phone as he was taken away.
    Reuters was unable to reach police for comment on his arrest or what charges could be brought against him.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council released a statement on Thursday calling for the release of all detainees and for respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
    But before it won consensus among members that include China and Russia, which have close ties to Myanmar’s army, the language of the draft was changed to remove any mention of a coup.
    Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since her arrest in morning raids on Monday.    Police have filed charges against her for illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home.
‘CREDIBLE ELECTION’
    President Joe Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the generals’ takeover.
    “There can be no doubt in a democracy force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election,” he said.
    National security adviser Jake Sullivan said targeted sanctions on individuals and on entities controlled by the military were under consideration.
    He spoke by phone with ambassadors from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) regional bloc.    Indonesia and Malaysia later said regional foreign ministers would be asked to hold a special meeting on the situation.
    Myanmar’s generals have few overseas interests that could be targeted by sanctions, but the military has extensive business interests that could suffer if foreign partners leave.
    Japanese drinks giant Kirin Holdings said on Friday it was terminating its alliance with a top Myanmar conglomerate whose owners, according to the United Nations, include members of the military.    Kirin said the coup had “shaken the very foundation of the partnership.”
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Rosalba O’Brien and Stephen Coates; editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel, Nick Tattersall)

2/5/2021 Former Suu Kyi Ally Says No Betrayal In Taking Myanmar Junta Job
A demonstrator flashes a three-finger salute while holding a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar citizens living in Thailand
protest against the military coup, outside Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, Thailand February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    (Reuters) – A one-time ally of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday that she was no traitor for accepting a ministerial post with the junta that overthrew the elected leader this week.
    Social welfare minister Thet Thet Khine told Reuters the new military government was inclusive and committed to democracy in one of the first interviews that any member of the new government has given since the coup on Monday.
    “The fact the armed forces say they will continue to act according to the law, we have to welcome it gladly,” she said.    “I am not betraying the country.”
    Thet Thet Khine had fallen out with Suu Kyi in 2018, long before last year’s election and had described the Nobel laureate as a “control freak” whose ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party could not fix Myanmar’s problems.
    The army overthrew Suu Kyi on Monday and detained her, drawing international condemnation that included a call from the U.N. Security Council call for the release of the Nobel Peace laureate and other detainees.
    In Myanmar, the coup has prompted widespread anger and Thet Thet Khine, 53, has been branded a traitor in a torrent of online criticism that has brought calls for a boycott of her jewellery company.
    She gave no comment when asked about working for the generals.
    Thet Thet Khine split with the NLD in October 2019 and started her own party, the People’s Pioneer Party, which failed to win a single seat in a November election won by the NLD in a landslide.    In her constituency, she won only 7% of the vote.
    The military says it intervened after what it said was a fraudulent election.    The poll body and NLD rejected its accusations.
    Thet Thet Khine said the military, widely known as the Tatmadaw, was managing the country until a fair election could be held and would continue the previous government’s policies.
    “The military is doing democratic acts and the civilian government that calls itself the democratic government did undemocratic things,” she said.
    “While the Tatmadaw is forming the government, they are working with inclusiveness.    They invited ethnic groups, civilians, political parties and they assigned positions to people with competency.”
    Thet Thet Khine has defended the generals previously, dismissing accusations they orchestrated genocide against Rohingya Muslims and calling international legal action for alledged war crimes unnecessary.
    Thet Thet Khine, who describes herself as an advocate for democracy, has also advocated a middle path that engages with the military, which ruled Myanmar for 49 years after a 1962 coup.
    “For the military to back off gradually from politics, we have to help.    If we fight them and chase them away, the country will not be at peace,” she said.
    “This is democratisation in progress.    There are unavoidable difficulties in democratisation.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

2/5/2021 Pacific Island Nations Turn To Beijing-Backed AIIB As Pandemic Sinks Economies by Jonathan Barrett and Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: The sign of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is pictured at its headquarters in Beijing, China July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Pacific island nations are turning to the China-backed AIIB development bank to plug funding gaps in their pandemic-ravaged budgets after exhausting financing options from traditional western partners, stoking fears the region is becoming more dependent on Beijing.
    The Cook Islands, a tiny country of around 20,000 people in the South Pacific, turned to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) late last year after a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and a grant from close ally New Zealand fell short, two sources with knowledge of the talks said.
    The US$20 million loan to the Cook Islands was the AIIB’s second to a strained Pacific economy in the last few months, after Fiji secured a US$50 million facility, signalling its arrival in the Pacific region.
    The multi-lateral lender said the loans to Fiji and Cook Islands were co-financed with the U.S. and Japanese-led ADB.
    “The objective is to minimise the pandemic’s uncertain socio-economic impact on AIIB members given their heavy dependence on the international tourism market,” it said.
    Vanuatu, with a population of 300,000, also announced in January that it had accepted a US$12 million grant from the Chinese government.
    While most Pacific island countries have used their natural borders to combat COVID-19 infections, they have faced economic hardship given their reliance on international tourism, a sector that abruptly shut as the pandemic struck.
    China’s growing reach in the region is unsettling for the United States and its allies, who have been the dominant powers in the Pacific since World War Two.
    Despite being small, Pacific states boast strategic ports and air strips and control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.    They also represent a vote in some international forums.
    “China is very willing to lend money to any Pacific island nation.    As much as Australia and New Zealand have encouraged the islands to look to them first it’s been a lot easier getting money out of China,” said Fletcher Melvin, president of Cook Islands’ Chamber of Commerce.
    The Cook Islands became an AIIB member last year. More than 100 countries are members of the multi-lateral bank, with the noteable exceptions of the United States and Japan.    China, which proposed the idea of setting up the AIIB, is the biggest stakeholder.
    The lender, which began operations in 2016, is often closely linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).    The AIIB says while there is an overlap in mandates of the bank and the BRI to benefit the region, the BRI is not part of its project decisions.
FUNDING GAP
    One of the most remote outposts of World War Two, Cook Islands has a free association agreement with New Zealand and shared citizenship, though it is its own country.
    Almost one-third of Cook Islands’ NZ$215 million ($153.2 million) external debt now lies with Beijing-linked bodies, AIIB and China’s Exim Bank, up from 16% before the pandemic.
    Cook Islands expects to require additional borrowings of NZ$71.2 million ($50.74 million) over the next three years to cover shortfalls, budget documents show.
    Jon Fraenkel, professor in comparative politics at Victoria University of Wellington, said Fiji, which has one of the biggest Pacific economies, was desperate for foreign funds after it entered the pandemic in a weak financial position.
    The Cook Islands has previously defended its economic ties to China, which has funded several projects, including a water supply system.    Its government did not respond to requests from Reuters for comment.
    The ADB said in a statement to Reuters that late last year it provided an additional US$20 million loan, which under its internal rules took its lending to the “country limit” for the small island nation.
    The New Zealand government said it provided a NZ$22 million ($16 million) grant through its aid programme. It does not provide loans to governments.
    That left a funding gap, two sources with knowledge of the talks told Reuters.    The AIIB collaborated with the ADB to contribute a US$20 million loan to create the financing package.
    “If the AIIB becomes the primary lender to the Pacific and the region’s economic recovery is driven by Chinese lending, then certainly there will be cause for significant concern that economic dependence could be exploited,” said Anna Powles, senior lecturer in the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at Massey University based in Wellington.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Praveen Menon; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Neil Fullick)

2/8/2021 Rescuers Search For 125 Missing After Glacier Burst In Indian Himalayas, Many Believed Trapped In Tunnel by Saurabh Sharma
Members of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) search for survivors after a Himalayan glacier broke and swept away a small hydroelectric dam,
in Chormi village in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of military personnel were deployed in the Indian Himalayas on Monday to help find at least 125 people unaccounted for after a part of a glacier broke away, setting off a torrent of water, rock and dust down a mountain valley.
    Sunday’s violent surge swept away a small hydro electric project called Rishiganga and damaged a bigger one further downstream.
    Most of the missing were people working on the two projects, one of the many the government has been building deep in the mountains of Uttarakhand state as part of a development push.
    Rescue workers were focused on a 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long tunnel where workers were believed trapped.
    Vivek Pandey, a spokesman of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force, said 30-35 workers were believed to be inside the tunnel and that rescuers were trying to open its mouth and get inside.
    There had been no voice contact yet with anyone in the tunnel, another official said.
    On Sunday 12 people were rescued from another tunnel.
    Videos on social media showed water surging through a small dam site, washing away construction equipment and bringing down small bridges.
    “Everything was swept away, people, cattle and trees,” Sangram Singh Rawat, a former village council member of Raini, the site closest to the glacier, told local media.
    Some 400 soldiers have been deployed to the site in the remote mountains, state authorities said.
    “We expect to carry on operations for the next 24 to 48 hours, ” said Satya Pradhan, the chief of the National Disaster Response Force.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Michael Perry)

2/8/2021 After A Decade Of Change In Myanmar, Fear Of The Past Drives Anti-Coup Protests
FILE PHOTO: People rally in a protest against the military coup and to demand the release of
elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – A communications blackout, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi without word, wild rumours fed by a paucity of information.
    All recalled the darkest days of a succession of military juntas that ruled Myanmar during half a century of ruinous isolation – driving many people to mass protests in fear that such times could return.
    That included a Generation Z who grew up with somewhat greater freedom and prosperity in what nonetheless remains one of Southeast Asia’s poorest and most restrictive countries.
    “We don’t want a dictatorship for the next generation or for us,” said Thaw Zin, a 21-year-old among the sea of people massed in the shadow of Sule Pagoda in the center of the commercial capital of Yangon on Sunday.
    Some carried posters that read: “You fucked with the wrong generation.”
    Shaking with emotion, Thaw Zin said, “If we don’t stand this time for our country, our people, there is no one.    Evil will fall on us. We will never forgive them for the trouble they have brought to us.”
    Myanmar’s army seized power last Monday, detaining Suu Kyi and halting an unsteady transition to democracy, citing unsubstantiated fraud in the election landslide won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy in November.
    Successive military juntas ruled Myanmar from 1962 until 2011, when a quasi-civilian government started opening up the country and its economy after Suu Kyi was freed from a spell of what totalled nearly 15 years under house arrest.
    In 2012, only 1.1 per cent of the population used the internet and few people had telephones, according to the International Telecommunication Union.
    But after liberalisation in 2013, the price of SIM cards dropped from more than $200 to as little as $2 almost overnight.    By 2016, nearly half the population had cell phones and most were smartphones with internet access.
    Pre-publication censorship was abolished and private media proliferated.    While journalists remained under heavy scrutiny and arrests continued, it was a far cry from the days when the only news was state-produced propaganda that glorified the generals and lambasted “foreign axe-handles of the West.”
    After the military seized power, activists responded with calls for a mass civil disobedience movement that spread rapidly online, something that would not have been possible before.
    The parliament that had been due to be sworn in on Monday, the day of coup, held a symbolic first session by Zoom.
    Anger over the internet shutdown on Saturday – so reminiscent of the old days – drove both older generations all too familiar with isolation and younger ones suddenly cut off.
    “Most of us youths work at I.T companies,” said one 22-year-old protester.    “Since the whole server is shutdown, we can’t do anything. It affects our business as well as our opportunities.”
‘WE HATE DICTATORSHIP’
    “We all know how terrible it was,” said 40-year-old Maw Maw Aung, who was also among the crowds beside Sule Pagoda, of direct army rule.    “We cannot live under the boot of the military.    We hate dictatorship.    We really hate it.”
    She remembered the legacy of crippled education and healthcare systems under the junta.    When the World Health Organization last did rankings, in 2008, Myanmar’s health system came last.
    “We lived in fear everyday,” she said.    “We are behind our neighboring countries in everything.”
    As the generals shut the internet on Saturday, echoes of the old era reappeared.
    Activists and politicians went into hiding.    Wild rumours began to spread: that various high-profile NLD leaders were dead, that Suu Kyi had been freed, and the army chief toppled.
    Without explanation on Sunday evening, the internet was switched back on.    But there was no sign of the protests abating. Many are fearful about what comes next: previous uprisings against the military – in 1988 and 2007 – have been subdued with deadly force.
    “With the anti-coup protests gaining steam, we can well imagine the reaction to come,” author and historian Thant Myint-U wrote on Facebook.
    “But Myanmar society is completely different from 1988 and even 2007,” he said.    “I have tremendous faith in today’s younger generation.    Anything is possible.”
(Reporting by Reuters staff, Writing by Poppy McPherson, Editing by William Maclean)

2/8/2021 Philippines Says To Meet U.S. To Iron Out Differences On Troop Deal
FILE PHOTO: Philippines' Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. speaks during a press briefing with Japanese Foreign
Minister Toshimitsu Motegi after their meeting in Manila, Philippines, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines and the United States will meet this month to iron out differences over a two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Manila’s top diplomat said, amid renewed concerns in the region over China’s assertive maritime agenda.
    The Philippines in November suspended its decision to terminate the VFA for a second time to allow it to work with Washington on a long-term mutual defence pact.
    “The suspension was intended that we should continue working and I am narrowing down the issues and soon we will meet…and iron out whatever differences we have,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin told ANC news channel on Monday, adding a meeting was likely in the last week of February.     He declined to elaborate on the terms of a potential agreement.
    President Rodrigo Duterte notified Washington in February last year that he was cancelling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a U.S. visa.
    But he has extended the termination process, which has now reached U.S. President Joe Biden’s term.
    The VFA provides the legal framework under which U.S. troops can operate on a rotational basis in the country and experts say without it their other bilateral defence agreements, including the Mutual Defence Treaty (MDT), cannot be implemented.
    Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the importance of the MDT and its clear application if Manila came under attack in the South China Sea.
    Blinken’s comments came as Manila had filed a diplomatic protest over China’s passing of a law allowing its coastguard to open fire on foreign vessels, describing it as a “threat of war.”
    China claims almost all of the South China Sea, which is a major trade route.    The Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims.
    Locsin said he would continue to press for a code of conduct in the disputed waters that “will never exclude” the United States to ensure the balance of power between Washington and Beijing in the region.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies)

2/8/2021 China Reports No New Local COVID-19 Infection For First Time In Nearly Two Months
FILE PHOTO:Train attendants walk in Wuhan Railway Station following an outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China reported no new locally transmitted mainland COVID-19 case for the first time in nearly two months, official data showed on Monday, adding to signs that it has managed to stamp out the latest wave of the disease.
    The total number of COVID-19 cases rose slightly to 14 on Feb. 7 from 12 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement, but all were imported infections from overseas. Seven of the cases were in Shanghai, the rest in the southeastern Guangdong province.
    This marked the first time China has had zero local infections since Dec. 16, suggesting the aggressive steps taken by authorities managed to stop the disease spreading further from major clusters in Hebei province surrounding Beijing and the northeastern Heilongjiang and Jilin provinces.
    The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed COVID-19 cases, rose to 16 from 10 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement.
    The total number of COVID-19 cases in mainland China stands at 89,706, while the death toll is unchanged at 4,636.
(Reporting by Jing Wang and Brenda Goh, writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Michael Perry)
[IS CHINA RELEASING FALSE INFORMATION OR DOES THIS TELL YOU THE TRUTH THAT WHEN THE PANDEMIC STARTED IN THE WUHAN AREA THEY SEALED OFF THE CITY TO CONTAIN THE VIRUS AND ALLOWED ANYONE WHO WANTED TO FLY OUT OF WUHAN TO ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD SO THAT VERY LITTLE OF THE PANDEMIC GOT INTO THE REST OF CHINA BUT ENTERED 190 OTHER NATIONS AND AS I HAVE SHOWN YOU THAT ALL CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAKS IN THE UNITED STATES STARTED AT CITIES WITH INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS AND ANYONE DOES NOT BELIEVE ME JUST MATCH IT UP WHERE THE MAIN AREAS IN THE U.S. OUTBREAKS ARE NOW AND YOU WILL SEE IT ALSO.].

2/8/2021 Saffron-Robed Monks Join Third Day Of Street Protests Against Myanmar Coup
A nurse show the three-finger salute as she takes part in a protest against the military coup and to demand
the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Thousands of anti-coup protesters marched in towns and cities across Myanmar on Monday, witnesses said, demonstrating for a third straight day against the military’s removal and detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi a week ago.
    Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organised since last Monday’s coup, which drew widespread international condemnation.
    In the biggest city of Yangon, a group of saffron-robed monks marched in the vanguard of Monday’s protest with workers and students.    They flew multicoloured Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the colour of Suu Kyi’s National league for Democracy (NLD), witnesses said.
    “Release Our Leaders, Respect Our Votes, Reject Military Coup,” said one sign.    Other signs read “Save democracy” and “Say No to Dictatorship”. Many protesters wore black.
    Protests that swept the country on Sunday were the biggest since the “Saffron Revolution” led by Buddhist monks in 2007 that helped prompt democratic reforms that were upended by the Feb. 1 coup.
    “Marchers from every corner of Yangon, please come out peacefully and join the people’s meeting,” activist Ei Thinzar Maung urged followers on Facebook, using VPN networks to rally protesters despite a junta attempt to ban the social media network.
    Thousands marched in the coastal city of Dawei, in the southeast, and in the Kachin state capital in the far north, where they were dressed head to toe in black.
    So far gatherings have been peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns during previous widespread protests in 1988 and 2007.    A convoy of military trucks was seen passing into Yangon late on Sunday, raising fears that could change.
    Reuters has been unable to contact the junta for comment on the protests and state television has not mentioned them.
CALLS FOR WORK STOPPAGES
    The government lifted a day-long internet ban at the weekend that prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and even greater poverty before a transition to democracy began in 2011.
    Activists Maung Saungkha and Thet Swe Win posted on their Facebook pages that police had been to search for them at their homes, but that they were not there and were still free.
    In addition to the street protests, a campaign of civil disobedience has begun, first with doctors and joined by some teachers and other government workers.
    “We request government staff from all departments not to attend work from Monday,” said activist Min Ko Naing, a veteran of the demonstrations in 1988 that first brought Suu Kyi to prominence.
    She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy, and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost half a century of army rule.
    Suu Kyi, 75, has been kept incommunicado since army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power in the early hours of Feb. 1.
    She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention for investigation until Feb. 15.    Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
    The United Nations Security Council called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees last week and the United States is considering targeted sanctions.
    “Protesters in Myanmar continue to inspire the world as actions spread throughout the country,” Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar said on Twitter.    “Myanmar is rising up to free all who have been detained and reject military dictatorship once and for all.    We are with you.”
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Richard Pullin)

2/8/2021 China Issues New Anti-Monopoly Rules Targeting Its Tech Giants
FILE PHOTO: People check their phones during the third annual World Internet Conference
in Wuzhen town of Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, China November 17, 2016. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s market regulator released new anti-monopoly guidelines on Sunday that target internet platforms, tightening existing restrictions faced by the country’s tech giants.
    The new rules formalise an earlier anti-monopoly draft law released in November and clarify a series of monopolistic practices that regulators plan to crack down on.
    The guidelines are expected to put new pressure on the country’s leading internet services, including e-commerce sites such as Alibaba Group’s Taobao and Tmall marketplaces or JD.com.    They will also cover payment services like Ant Group’s Alipay or Tencent Holding’s WeChat Pay.
    The rules, issued by the State Administration for Market Regulation (SAMR) on its website, bar companies from a range of behaviour, including forcing merchants to choose between the country’s top internet players, a long-time practice in the market.
    SAMR said the latest guidelines would “stop monopolistic behaviours in the platform economy and protect fair competition in the market.”
    The notice also said it will stop companies from price fixing, restricting technologies and using data and algorithms to manipulate the market.
    In a Q&A accompanying the notice, SAMR said reports of internet-related anti-monopoly behaviour had been increasing, and that it was facing challenges regulating the industry.
    “The behaviour is more concealed, the use of data, algorithms, platform rules and so on make it more difficult to discover and determine what are monopoly agreements,” it said.
    China has in recent months started to tighten scrutiny of its tech giants, reversing a once laissez-faire approach.
    In December, regulators launched an antitrust investigation into Alibaba Group following the dramatic suspension of the $37 billion initial public offering plan of its payment affiliate, Ant Group.
    At the time, regulators warned the company over practices including forcing merchants to sign exclusive cooperation pacts at the expense of other internet platforms.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Susan Fenton)

2/8/2021 Iran Takes ‘Final’ Stance On Nuclear Deal, Says U.S. Must Lift Sanctions Before Tehran Rejoins by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech, in Tehran, Iran January 8, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Tehran’s “final and irreversible” decision was to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal only if Washington lifts sanctions on the Islamic Republic, Iranian state TV reported.
    The comment, as well as U.S. President Joe Biden’s separate statement that the United States would not lift sanctions simply to get Iran back to the negotiating table, appeared to be posturing by both sides as they weigh whether and how to revive the pact.
    The deal between Iran and six major powers limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms – an ambition Iran has long denied having – in return for the easing of U.S. and other sanctions.
    But former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, denouncing it as one-sided in Iran’s favour, and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    “Iran has fulfilled all its obligations under the deal, not the United States and the three European countries … If they want Iran to return to its commitments, the United States must in practice … lift all sanctions,” state TV quoted Khamenei as saying during a meeting with Air Force commanders.
    “Then, after verifying whether all sanctions have been lifted correctly, we will return to full compliance … It is the irreversible and final decision and all Iranian officials have consensus over it.”
    While Iran has insisted the United States first drop its sanctions before it resumes compliance, Washington has demanded the reverse.
    In a segment of a CBS News interview taped on Friday and broadcast on Sunday, Biden said “no” when asked whether Washington would lift sanctions to get Tehran to the negotiating table.
    Asked if Iran had to stop enriching uranium first, Biden nodded.    It was not clear exactly what he meant, since Iran was allowed to enrich uranium to 3.67% under the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
    A senior U.S. official later said Biden meant Iran had to stop enriching beyond the deal’s limits, not that it had to stop enriching entirely before the two sides might talk.
    “They have to stop enriching beyond the limits of the JCPOA,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.    “There is nothing changed in the U.S. position.    The United States wants Iran to come back into (compliance with) its JCPOA commitments and if it does, the United States will do the same.”
    Iran in January said it has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear site, well above the deal’s limit but far short of the 90% that is weapons-grade.
    In response to Trump’s withdrawal, Tehran has breached the deal’s key limits by building up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, refining uranium to a higher level of purity and using advanced centrifuges for enrichment.
    Biden has said if Tehran returned to strict compliance, Washington would follow suit and use that as a springboard to a broader agreement on other areas of concern for Washington including Iran’s missile development and regional activities.
    Those activities include support for proxies in conflicts roiling countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
    Iran has said it could quickly reverse its JCPOA violations if U.S. sanctions are removed but has ruled out talks on its missile programme and its influence in the Middle East, where Iran and Saudi Arabia have fought proxy wars for decades.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by William Maclean and Daniel Wallis)

2/8/2021 U.N. Envoy Griffiths In Iran For First Time To Discuss Yemen Crisis: TV
FILE PHOTO: Martin Griffiths, United Nations Special Envoy for Yemen arrives to attend the closing plenary of the fourth meeting of the Supervisory
Committee on the Implementation of the Prisoners' Exchange Agreement in Yemen, in Glion, Switzerland, September 27, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Nations special envoy on Yemen is visiting Iran for the first time to discuss Yemen’s crisis, Iranian state TV reported on Sunday, days after Washington announced an end to its support for Saudi-led military operations in Yemen.
    A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence across the Middle East, from Syria to Iraq and Yemen.
    “The U.N. Special Envoy Martin Griffiths has arrived in Tehran for a two-day visit, during which he will meet with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other Iranian officials,” state TV said.
    Griffiths’ office said the visit was part of his diplomatic efforts to support a negotiated political solution to the conflict.    His immediate priority was to support agreement between the warring parties on a ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and a resumption of the political process, it said in a press release.
    Griffiths’ spokeswoman, Ismini Palla, said the visit had been planned for some time, adding it comes at a time when he is trying to bring together more diplomatic, regional and international support to his efforts to end the war.
    “Griffiths will consult with Iranian officials on ways to alleviate sufferings of the Yemeni people,” Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
    On Saturday, Iran welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s move on Thursday to end Washington’s support for offensive operations in the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen as a “step towards correcting past mistakes.”
    When asked whether the U.S. decision will produce the opportunity to end the war in Yemen, Zarif told CNN: “I certainly hope that it does … it is best for the United States to show some tough love to its allies and tell them to stop this atrocity.    They will never win in Yemen.”
    Reversing one of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s most criticised last-minute decisions, Washington also said on Friday it intended to revoke a terrorist designation for the Houthi movement in response to the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where the United Nations says some 80% of the population is in need.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Susan Fenton)

2/8/2021 Protests Sweep Myanmar To Oppose Coup, Support Suu Kyi
People rally in a protest against the military coup and to demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people rallied across Myanmar on Sunday to denounce last week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in the biggest protests since the 2007 Saffron Revolution that helped lead to democratic reforms.
    In a second day of widespread protests, crowds in the biggest city, Yangon, sported red shirts, red flags and red balloons, the colour of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD).
    “We don’t want military dictatorship!    We want democracy!” they chanted.
    On Sunday afternoon, the junta ended a day-long blockade of the internet that had further inflamed anger since the coup last Monday that has halted the Southeast Asian nation’s troubled transition to democracy and drawn international outrage.
    Pope Francis expressed “solidarity with the peoplez” on Sunday and asked Myanmar’s leaders to seek “democratic” harmony.
    Huge crowds from all corners of Yangon gathered in townships, filling streets as they headed towards the Sule Pagoda at the heart of the city, also a rallying point during the Buddhist monk-led 2007 protests and others in 1988.
    A line of armed police with riot shields set up barricades, but did not try to stop the demonstration.    Some marchers presented police with flowers. One officer was photographed giving a surreptitious three-finger salute.
    Protesters gestured with the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of protest against the coup.    Drivers honked their horns and passengers held up photos of Suu Kyi.
    “We don’t want a dictatorship for the next generation,” said 21-year-old Thaw Zin.    “We will not finish this revolution until we make history. We will fight to the end.”
    There was no comment from the junta in the capital Naypyidaw, more than 350 km (220 miles) north of Yangon.    State-run MRTV news reported on army officers visiting hospitals and plans to reopen pagodas, but not on the protests.
    An internal note for U.N. staff estimated that 1,000 people joined a protest in Naypyidaw while there were 60,000 in Yangon alone.    Protests were reported in the second city of Mandalay and many towns and villages across the country of 53 million people that stretches from Indian Ocean islands to the fringes of the Himalayas.
    The Yangon protesters dispersed after dark, saying they would return if their demands are not met.
    The demonstrations have largely been peaceful, unlike the bloody crackdowns in 1998 and 2007.
    But shots were heard in the southeastern town of Myawaddy as uniformed police with guns charged a group of about 200 protesters, live video showed.    Pictures of protesters afterwards showed what appeared to be rubber bullet injuries.
‘ANYTHING’S POSSIBLE’
    “Anti-coup protests show every sign of gaining steam. On the one hand, given history, we can well expect the reaction to come,” author and historian Thant Myint-U wrote on Twitter.
    “On the other, Myanmar society today is entirely different from 1988 and even 2007.    Anything’s possible.”
    With no internet and official information scarce, rumours swirled about the fate of Suu Kyi and her cabinet.    A story that she had been released drew crowds out to celebrate on Saturday, but it was quickly quashed by her lawyer.
    Suu Kyi, 75, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention for investigation until Feb. 15.    Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
    She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy, and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost half a century of army rule before the start of a troubled transition to democracy in 2011.
    Army commander Min Aung Hlaing carried out the coup on the grounds of fraud in a Nov. 8 election in which Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide.    The electoral commission dismissed the allegations of malpractice.
    “It is simple, the NLD won the 2020 election,” Bo Kyi of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners rights group said in a statement.
    “There is reasonable concern that the military junta will transform these peaceful demonstrations into a riot and take advantage of the instability.”
    More than 160 people have been arrested since the military seized power, said Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar.
    “The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance – and keep the outside world in the dark – by cutting virtually all internet access,” Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.
    “We must all stand with the people of Myanmar in their hour of danger and need.    They deserve nothing less.”
    Pope Francis, who met Min Aung Hlaing when visiting Myanmar in 2017, appeared to come down against the military leaders at his Sunday address, saying he prayed the leadership would promote a “harmonious and democratic co-existence.”
    There are fewer than 800,000 Roman Catholics in the predominantly Buddhist country.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Kim Coghill, Christian Schmollinger, William Mallard, William Maclean and Timothy Heritage)

2/8/2021 Myanmar General Repeats Pledge Of New Election As Thousands Join Protests Against Coup
A man with a tattoo of Aung San Suu Kyi takes part in a protest against the military coup and to demand the
release of the elected leader in Yangon, Myanmar, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military leader said on Monday his junta would hold a new election and hand power to the winner as tens of thousands of people took to the streets for a third day to protest against the coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government.
    Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was speaking in a televised address, his first to the country since last Monday’s military takeover.    He did not say when the election would be held, but repeated claims that last November’s poll, won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, had been fraudulent.
    In the capital Naypyitaw, crowds of protesters chanted anti-coup slogans and told police they should serve the people not the military, according to media and a live feed of events.
    Police turned water cannon on protesters and warned that they might use live fire if the demonstrators did not disperse, but the protests ended without bloodshed.
    Demonstrations also took place in the commercial capital Yangon and elsewhere.    Gatherings have so far been largely peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns on previous protests, in 1988 and 2007 in particular when hundreds were killed.
    The U.S. Embassy said it had received reports that a curfew had been imposed in Yangon and Mandalay, the second-biggest city, from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. local time.
    The generals had already tried to justify their takeover on the grounds of election fraud – rejected by the election committee – and had promised a new poll.
    Min Aung Hlaing reiterated that position in his address on Monday, saying the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy” different to previous eras of military rule.
    The election committee must be reformed, he said.    He accused it of using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to prevent fair campaigning.
    “We will have a multiparty election and we will hand the power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy,” he said.
    He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency will last one year.
CRISIS MOVES TO STREETS
    Upping the stakes in the crisis, state media had earlier signaled possible action against protesters.
    “We, the whole people who value justice, freedom, equality, peace and safety, not only refuse to accept the lawless wrongdoers but also request that they be prevented and removed through cooperation,” the MRTV television station said in a comment that was later read out on a military-owned network.
    Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organized since the coup, which drew widespread international condemnation.
    “Our message to the public is that we aim to completely abolish this military regime and we have to fight for our destiny,” Aye Misan, a nurse at a government hospital said at a protest in Yangon.
    Thousands also marched also in the southeastern city of Dawei and in the Kachin state capital in the far north, the massive crowds reflecting a rejection of military rule by diverse ethnic groups.
    In Yangon, a group of saffron-robed monks marched in the vanguard of protests with workers and students, flying multicolored Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the League’s colour.
    “Release Our Leaders, Respect Our Votes, Reject Military Coup,” said one sign.
    The protests are the biggest since the “Saffron Revolution” led by monks in 2007, which led over subsequent years to the military’s gradual withdrawal from politics after decades of direct rule.
CALL FOR STRIKE
    Some government workers have joined doctors and teachers in rallying to the call for civil disobedience and strikes.
    “We request government staff from all departments not to attend work from Monday,” said activist Min Ko Naing, a veteran of the 1988 demonstrations that brought Suu Kyi to prominence.
    Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house as she struggled to end almost half a century of army rule.
    The 75-year-old has been kept incommunicado since army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power.
    Suu Kyi faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention until Feb.15.    Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
    The daughter of the former British colony’s independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
    While Western governments have condemned the coup, there has been little in the way of concrete action to press the generals.
    The U.N. Security Council has called for the release of SuuKyi and other detainees and the United States is considering targeted sanctions.    Britain and the European Union requested a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council be held to address the crisis.
    In a letter on Monday, a senior NLD member asked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “use all available means…to ensure a swift reversal of the coup.”
    A U.N. spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter.    Guterres last week pledged to mobilize international pressure on the military to make sure the coup failed.
(Reporting by Reuters staff, writing by Matthew Tostevin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/8/2021 Lawmakers Challenge HSBC On Hong Kong Activist’s Accounts
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
    (Reuters) – An international coalition of lawmakers has written to HSBC Holdings Chairman Mark Tucker, calling on the bank to unfreeze Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Ted Hui’s accounts.
    In a letter, the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group of legislators from countries including Britain, Australia, Japan and the United States, criticised the bank for its freezing of accounts belonging to activists associated with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
    “HSBC has failed to give evidence of any court order or police warrant to carry out this action and have refused to publicly respond to concerns raised by Hui and his family,” according to the letter.
    The letter added it was “highly concerning” that Hui’s family members’ accounts have also been frozen, despite not having been subject to any charges.
    An HSBC spokeswoman said the bank was “unable to comment on individual cases, but the Hong Kong Police explained publicly in early December the reasons for instructing banks to freeze accounts related to Mr Hui and his family.”
    The bank also said it had no choice but to comply with specific legal instruction by police authorities in Hong Kong to freeze the accounts of somebody under formal investigation.
    Hui, a former Hong Kong lawmaker, said in December his local bank accounts appeared to have been frozen after he said he would seek exile in Britain to continue his pro-democratic activities.
    British lawmaker Chris Bryant told the bank’s Chief Executive Officer Noel Quinn last month that HSBC was “aiding and abetting one of the biggest crackdowns on democracy in the world,” during a hearing.
(Reporting by Juby Babu in Bengaluru and Lawrence White in London; Editing by Uttaresh.V, Shounak Dasgupta and Rachel Armstrong)

2/8/2021 U.N. Experts Alarmed By Thailand’s Rise In Royal Insult Cases
FILE PHOTO: A pro-democracy protester wearing a face mask with a message that reads "Lese majeste, section 112" attends a Harry Potter-themed protest
demanding the resignation of Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Bangkok, Thailand, August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – United Nations human rights experts on Monday spoke out against Thailand’s increasing use of a law forbidding criticism of its royal family, singling out a 43-year sentence for an elderly woman convicted under the law.
    The condemnation comes after dozens of police cases have been filed against leaders of youth-led demonstrations that have broken taboos by openly criticising the Thai king, risking prosecution under a strict law known as lese majeste that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
    Since November, at least 40 youth activists have been charged under the law, according to records compiled by the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights.    All of the legal cases are pending.
    “We are profoundly disturbed by the reported rise in the number of lese majeste prosecutions since late 2020 and the harsher prison sentences,” a group of seven U.N. special rapporteurs and members of a working committee on arbitrary detention said in a statement on Monday.
    The U.N. human rights office in December called on Thailand to amend the law.
    Monday’s statement singled out the case of Anchan Preelert, a 65-year-old woman sentenced to 43 years in prison in January in what lawyers said was the harshest punishment yet for royal insult.
    The military-backed government briefly stopped using the lese majeste law in 2018, but police started to invoke it again late last year after young protesters began openly criticising the monarchy.
    Thailand is officially a constitutional monarchy, but the king is revered by the predominantly Buddhist country’s conservative establishment.    Until recently, open criticism was extremely rare.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Martin Petty)

2/8/2021 Iran: We Won’t Talk Nuclear Deal Until Biden Lifts Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addressed a joint press conference with his Venezuelan counterpart Delcy Rodriguez
following their meeting in the Iranian capital Tehran on April 20, 2015. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iranian leadership is claiming it is America’s responsibility to lift sanctions before Iran will resume compliance with the nuclear deal.    Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made those remarks during an interview on Sunday.
    Though Iran acknowledged it broke some of the agreement’s terms following U.S. withdrawal under President Trump, it maintained the U.S. is responsible for the deal’s failure.
    In an echo of previous ultimatums issued by other top Iranian officials, Zarif took a hardline stance, saying it is the U.S. which must make concessions to reestablish the agreement.
    “We do not buy the horse twice.    You put yourselves in our shoes, you agreed to a deal,” Zarif stated.    “You agreed to give and take. You agreed to sacrifice certain demands that you had, because you agreed not to deal with certain issues.”
    The controversy came amid growing pressure on Joe Biden to declare whether he will seek to rejoin the deal despite reports indicating Iran is continuing to enrich material that could be used in production of nuclear weapons.
    Critics of the deal have said the terms did not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capabilities.

2/9/2021 Myanmar Police Fire To Disperse Protest, Four Hurt, One Critical
Police uses a water canon against demonstrators as they protest against the military coup and to demand the
release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Police and protesters clashed in Myanmar on Tuesday, with injuries on both sides on the most violent day so far of demonstrations against the military coup that overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, and a doctor said one woman was unlikely to survive a gun wound in the head.
    Three other people were being treated for wounds from suspected rubber bullets after police fired guns, mostly into the air, and used water cannon to try to clear protesters in the capital Naypyitaw.
    State television reported injuries to police during their attempts to disperse protesters – its first acknowledgement of the demonstrations taking place in the country.
    The incidents marked the first bloodshed since the military led by army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing overthrew Suu Kyi’s newly elected government on Feb. 1 and detained her and other politicians from her National League for Democracy (NLD).
    The military claimed that the NLD won by fraud – an accusation dismissed by the election committee and Western governments.
    Late on Tuesday, police in Myanmar raided the NLD’s headquarters in Yangon, two elected NLD lawmakers said.
    The raid was carried out by about a dozen police personnel, who forced their way into the building in the commercial capital after dark, they said
. DISPROPORTIONATE FORCE
    The protests are the largest in Myanmar for more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics in 2011.
    The United Nations expressed concern about the use of force against demonstrators.
    “I call on the Security Forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” Ola Almgren, the UN representative in Myanmar, said.
    “The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable.”
    According to reports from Naypyitaw, Mandalay and other cities, numerous demonstrators have been injured, some of them seriously, by security forces.
    A doctor in the Naypyitaw hospital said the shot woman had suffered what was most likely to be a fatal head wound.
    “She hasn’t passed away yet, she’s in the emergency unit, but it’s 100% certain the injury is fatal,” said the doctor, who declined to be identified.    “According to the X-ray, it’s a live bullet.”
    Neither police nor the hospital responded to a request for comment.
    A man had a chest wound but was not in critical condition.    It was not clear if he was hit with a bullet or rubber bullet, the doctor said.
    State-run MRTV news said a police truck had been destroyed at a demonstration in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city.    It showed footage of the aftermath, including injured police.
    MRTV described the protests as being orchestrated by people who wanted to harm the nation’s stability and had acted aggressively.    It made no mention of the coup or other demonstrations across the country.
    Earlier, witnesses said police fired into the air in Naypyitaw as a crowd refused to disperse.    They then blasted them with water cannon while the protesters responded with stones, a witness said.
    Footage posted on social media apparently of the woman who was shot showed her with other protesters by what appeared to be a bus-stop shelter some distance from a row of riot police as a water cannon sprayed and several shots could be heard.br>     The woman, wearing a motorbike helmet, suddenly collapsed.    Pictures of her helmet showed what appeared to be a bullet hole.    Reuters was not able to verify the video footage or photographs.
    Video from the central town of Bago showed police confronting a crowd and firing water cannon.    Police arrested at least 27 demonstrators in Mandalay, domestic media reported.
    The situation nationwide was quiet by nightfall.    Orders banning gatherings of more than four people and a curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. have been imposed on Yangon and Mandalay.
PROMISES
    Suu Kyi’s party had won a 2015 election but Myanmar’s transition to democracy was brought to a halt by the Feb. 1 coup staged as her government was due to start a second term.
    Promises on Monday from Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election drew scorn.    He said the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy,” different to previous eras of military rule, which brought years of isolation and poverty.
    He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency would last one year.
    A civil disobedience movement affecting hospitals, schools and government offices shows no sign of ending but the crowds in Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and commercial hub, appeared smaller on Tuesday than the previous day.
    “The main thing is we don’t want a coup,” said a 24-year-old woman protester in Yangon.    “If we young people don’t come out who will?
    Activists are also seeking the abolition of a 2008 constitution drawn up under military supervision that gave the generals a veto in parliament and control of several ministries, and for a federal system in ethnically diverse Myanmar.
    Western governments have widely condemned the coup, although there has been little concrete action to press the generals.
    The U.N. Security Council has called for the release of SuuKyi and others.    The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis.
    Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.
    The 75-year-old faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in detention until Feb. 15.    Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
    Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despitedamage to her international reputation over the plight of theMuslim Rohingya minority.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel; Editing by Richard Pullin, Angus MacSwan)

2/9/2021 Taiwan Wishes China Happy New Year, But Says Won’t Yield To Pressure
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at Taiwan Stock Exchange in Taipei, Taiwan, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen wished China a happy Lunar New Year on Tuesday, but said she will not yield to Chinese pressure and reiterated a call for dialogue to resume with Beijing.
    China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased its military activity around the island in recent months, responding to what Beijing calls “collusion” between Taipei and Washington, Taiwan’s most important international backer.
    Speaking after a meeting with senior security officials, Tsai said Taiwan was in close contact with “relevant countries” about the situation in the Taiwan Strait, which separates the island from its huge neighbour.
    Chinese military aircraft and warships operating around Taiwan are not conducive to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, she added.
    “I would like to reiterate that Taiwan’s consistent position on cross-strait relations is neither to succumb to pressure nor to advance rashly when we get support,” Tsai said.
    Taiwan wants “meaningful talks” with China on the basis of equality and mutual respect, as long as Beijing wants to ease the stand-off, she added.
    “Cross-strait peace is not a unilateral issue for Taiwan.    The key lies in China’s hands.    Historical experience has proven that verbal attacks and military threats against Taiwan will not help cross-strait relations.”
    Taiwan and China this week both mark the Lunar New Year, traditionally the most important holiday of the year for both, marking the arrival of spring.
    “We would also like to wish the people on the other side of the strait a happy new year and hope to jointly promote peace and stability on both sides of the strait,” Tsai said.
    There was no immediate response from China, which has rebuffed previous calls from Tsai for dialogue, believing she is a separatist bent on Taiwan’s independence.
    In January, China said Taiwan was engaging in a “cheap trick” after Tsai again called for talks.
    Tsai has repeatedly said Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/9/2021 Hong Kong Tycoon Jimmy Lai Denied Bail In National Security Case by James Pomfret
Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, leaves the Court of Final Appeal by prison van in Hong Kong, China February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s top court denied bail on Tuesday to media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the city’s national security law.
    Lai had been in custody since Dec. 3, except when he was released on bail for about a week late last year.    He was granted a HK$10 million ($1.3 million) bail by a lower court on Dec. 23 only for the Court of Final Appeal (CFA) to bring him back into custody on Dec. 31 for another hearing following an appeal by the government.
    His return to custody was related in part to Article 42 of the security law, which says that “no bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing that the criminal suspect or defendant will not continue to commit acts endangering national security.”
    On Tuesday, the CFA’s five judges said in a written judgment the lower court applied an “erroneous line of reasoning” and “misconstrued” Article 42. The decision was unanimous.
    The judges said Lai’s team could make a “fresh application” for bail, as Tuesday’s decision was of “a limited nature,” focusing on how the lower court arrived at its decision, rather than whether Lai should be bailed out or not.
    Lai, wearing a dark grey suit and sporting his trademark buzz cut, stood in the dock impassively as the judges delivered their decision.
    Outside the court, a small number of pro-China protesters shouted “Jail Jimmy Lai for life … safeguard Hong Kong’s peace” through a loud-hailer.    Inside, Lai’s supporters shouted “Hang in there,” and “Add oil,” an encouragement used frequently in Hong Kong.
    Lai was arrested in August when about 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid newspaper.
    Beijing imposed the sweeping national security law on the former British colony last June after months of pro-democracy protests.    The law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Critics say it is aimed at crushing dissent and it erodes freedoms in the semi-autonomous, Chinese-ruled city.    Its supporters say it restores stability after months of unrest.
    Prosecutors have accused Lai of breaching the law over statements he made on July 30 and Aug. 18, in which they allege he requested foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.
    Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting with officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor
    Under the new law, the onus is on the defendant to prove they would not be a national security threat if released on bail.    Under Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system, the onus has traditionally been on the prosecution to prove its case.
    “We’ve lost the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty,” said Avery Ng, a pro-democracy activist in the courtroom who himself faces illegal assembly charges related to mass anti-government and anti-China protests in 2019.
    Lai stepped down last year as chairman of Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, a popular tabloid newspaper known for its feisty and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong.
    Separately, the national security trial of Tong Ying-kit, who allegedly drove his motor-bike into police officers while flying a protest flag, will be held without a jury, AFP reported, citing a legal source.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/9/2021 South Korea PM Pleads For COVID-19 Compliance Ahead Of Lunar New Year by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea, January 28, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Tuesday called on restaurant and other business owners in the greater Seoul area to cooperate with social distancing rules to head off a spread of COVID-19 during the Lunar New Year holiday.
    The country has been trying clamp down the number of infections by imposing strident social distancing measures, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining after 9 p.m., though it eased that curfew on more than half a million restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul after a backlash.
    Business owners and self-employed people in Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and port city of Incheon, home to over 25 million, have strongly criticised the government for unfair treatment, prompting some businesses to open their stores in protest.
    “I understand the frustration, but we have made the decision after comprehensive consideration of social acceptance and different opinions,” Chung told an government meeting.
    The Lunar New Year holiday starts on Feb. 11, and tens of millions of Koreans usually travel across the country to family gatherings.
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 303 daily new coronavirus cases as of Monday, bringing total infections to 81,487, with a death toll of 1,482.
    The KDCA held a COVID-19 vaccination dry run at the National Medical Center in Seoul on Tuesday, as the country gears up to kick off inoculation later this month.
    The mock drill comes after last week’s three-day vaccination preparedness drill at an airport, which mobilised special freezers and ran through scenarios such as a terror attack, theft and transport faults.
    Tuesday’s training focused on indoor handling of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines: unpacking, thawing, and mixing with diluents before administration, the KDCA said in a statement.
    The practice session involved screening and processing unscheduled arrivals of recipients, as well as practising transporting a recipient who developed an allergic reaction to a local hospital.
    The KDCA said it would conduct similar exercises with other brands of vaccines it has secured, including Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/9/2021 South Korea’s New Top Diplomat Says Confident About U.S. Coordination Over North Korea by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korea's National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong attends a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia March 13, 2018. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via Reuters
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s new foreign minister said on Tuesday he was confident about coordinating North Korea policy with the United States despite earlier signs of differences.
    Chung Eui-yong, 74, took office as South Korea’s top diplomat, replacing Kang Kyung-wha, who had held the post for nearly four years.    As President Moon Jae-in’s first national security adviser until last year, Chung helped facilitate Moon’s summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and sought to meditate between Pyongyang and Washington.
    Chung’s nomination came two days after Moon called for U.S. President Joe Biden to hold a dialogue with North Korea to build on progress made by Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump at their first summit in Singapore.
    Chung played an incremental role in arranging the 2018 Singapore summit between Kim and Trump.    But he was accused of misleading both Pyongyang and Washington about the potential for agreement ahead of their failed second summit in Vietnam in 2019.
    The allies have shown signs of friction since then, with Seoul keen to reopen inter-Korean economic initiatives while Washington urges those projects should keep step with North Korea’s progress on dismantling its nuclear programmes.
    Chung expressed confidence in coordinating with the new U.S. administration of President Joe Biden, saying an early denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is a shared goal.
    “Resolving the issue a very key task that can no longer be postponed,” Chung told reporters.
    “Basically there is no big difference in the two sides’ positions.    Given the solid alliance, I believe there won’t be major problems coordinating even if there are slight differences.”
    Biden has not announced any new North Korea policy, but said during a presidential debate in October he would meet Kim only if he agreed to “draw down” the country’s nuclear capacity.
    South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told Reuters that the two sides should pursue an interim deal including a halt to the North’s nuclear activity and a cut in its programmes in return for some sanctions relief.
    North Korea had offered to abolish its main nuclear facility in exchange for the lifting of key U.N. sanctions, but the United States said Pyongyang should also hand over its nuclear weapons and bomb fuel.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

2/9/2021 Indian Police Arrest Man Suspected Of Leading Farm Protest Violence by Mayank Bhardwaj
FILE PHOTO: Farmers gather in front of the historic Red Fort during a protest against farm laws
introduced by the government, in Delhi, India, January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Police in the Indian capital arrested a man on Tuesday accused of leading a group of farmers who clashed with police and stormed the historic Red Fort last month during the worst day of violence in months of protests against agriculture reforms.
    Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping out on main highways on the outskirts of New Deli for more than two months in a bid to force the government to withdraw new agricultural laws they say benefit private buyers at the expense of growers.
    When India celebrated its Republic Day with a military parade on Jan. 26, farmers organised a procession of tractors that turned violent when some protesters deviated from the route and broke into the Red Fort complex.
    One person died and hundreds were injured.
    In the first arrest linked to that violence, police arrested a little-known actor from the northern state of Punjab, Deep Sidhu, and several others suspected of joining him at the Red Fort.
    Sidhu is a Sikh and many farmers from Sikh-dominated Punjab have been at the vanguard of the protest.
    Police did not give details of charges against Sidhu but would interrogate him, said officer Chinmoy Biswal.
    Disassociating themselves from the violence, leaders of farmers’ unions, said Sidhu had not been a part of the protest and had infiltrating their tractor procession on Jan 26.
    Farmer union leaders have accused Sidhu of being sympathetic to fringe groups demanding an independent Sikh state called Khalistan, carved out of India.
    Sikh separatists waged an insurgency against the government in the 1980s and activism by Sikhs can risk reviving painful memories.
    The farmers say the new laws will mean the end of guaranteed prices for their crops but Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging farmers to end the protest, has assured them the government would still buy grain at set prices.
    Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmer leader, said the protest would go on until the government withdraws the laws, makes it mandatory for buyers to pay guaranteed prices for all crops and drops police cases filed against protesters.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj)

2/9/2021 Two U.S. Carrier Groups Conduct Exercises In South China Sea by Se Young Lee
FILE PHOTO: The USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is pictured as it enters the port in Da Nang, Vietnam, March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Two U.S. carrier groups conducted joint exercises in the South China Sea on Tuesday, days after a U.S. warship sailed near Chinese-controlled islands in the disputed waters, as China denounced the United States for damaging peace and stability.
    The Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group and the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group “conducted a multitude of exercises aimed at increasing interoperability between assets as well as command and control capabilities,” the U.S. Navy said, marking the first dual carrier operations in the busy waterway since July 2020.
    In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the frequent moves by U.S. warships and aircraft into the South China Sea in a “show of force” was not conducive to regional peace and stability.
    “China will continue to take necessary measures to firmly safeguard national sovereignty and security and work with countries in the region to firmly safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.
    The exercise comes days after China condemned the sailing of the destroyer, the USS John S. McCain, near the Chinese-controlled Paracel Islands in what the United States calls a freedom of navigation operation – the first such mission by the U.S. navy since President Joe Biden took office.
    Last month, the U.S. military said Chinese military flights over the South China Sea fit a pattern of destabilising and aggressive behaviour but posed no threat to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group in the region.
    The United States has contested China’s extensive territorial claims in the region, accusing it of militarising the South China Sea and trying to intimidate neighbours such as Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, who have claims that overlap with China’s in the resource-rich area.
    “We are committed to ensuring the lawful use of the sea that all nations enjoy under international law,” Rear Admiral Jim Kirk, commander of the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group, said in a statement.
    China has been infuriated by repeated U.S. sailings near the islands it occupies and controls in the South China Sea.    China says it has irrefutable sovereignty and has accused the United States of deliberately stoking tension.
    China has also been angered by U.S. warships sailing through the Taiwan Strait, including one last week, also the first such operation under the Biden administration.
    Speaking in Taipei, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said U.S. ships and aircraft carrying out freedom of navigation operations was reassuring.
    “This demonstrates the clear U.S. attitude towards challenges to the security status quo in the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee in Washington; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)

2/9/2021 Iran’s Spy Chief Says Tehran Could Seek Nuclear Arms If ‘Cornered’ By West
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Minister of Intelligence Mahmoud Alavi, a candidate for upcoming vote on the Assembly of Experts, speaks during a
campaign gathering of candidates mainly close to the reformist camp, in Tehran February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s intelligence minister said persistent Western pressure could push Tehran to fight back like a “cornered cat” and seek nuclear weapons, which the Islamic Republic has for years insisted it has no intention of ever developing.
    The remarks made in a television interview are a rare suggestion that Iran might have an interest in nuclear weapons, which Western nations have accused Iran of pursuing.
    Iranian officials have repeatedly dismissed this charge, citing a fatwa or religious decree issued in the early 2000s by the Islamic Republic’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that bans the development or use of nuclear arms.
    The United States and the other Western powers which originally signed up to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran appear to be at an impasse over which side should return to the accord first, making it unlikely U.S. sanctions that have crippled its economy can be quickly removed.
    “The Supreme Leader has explicitly said in his fatwa that nuclear weapons are against sharia law and the Islamic Republic sees them as religiously forbidden and does not pursue them,” the minister, Mahmoud Alavi, told state TV.
    “But a cornered cat may behave differently from when the cat is free. And if they (Western states) push Iran in that direction, then it’s no longer Iran’s fault,” Alavi said in the interview broadcast late on Monday.
    Details from the interview were published by Iranian news websites on Tuesday.
    Iran has insisted its nuclear programme is to generate power and for other peaceful purposes.    But U.S. intelligence agencies and the United Nations nuclear watchdog believe Iran once had a nuclear weapons programme that it halted. [L1N2JF0J2]
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is exploring ways to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with major world powers but that was abandoned in 2018 by former President Donald Trump, who restored sanctions. Iran retaliated by breaching the terms of the accord in a step-by-step response.
    Biden has said that, if Tehran returned to strict compliance with the pact, Washington would follow suit, using that as a springboard to a broader agreement that might restrict Iran’s missile development and its regional activities.
    Tehran has insisted that Washington must first ease sanctions before it resumes compliance.    It has ruled out any negotiations on wider security issues.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Edmund Blair)

2/9/2021 Ayatollah Regime Demands Biden Restore Failed Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 7, 2021, file photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency,
President Hassan Rouhani attended a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP, File)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime is continuing to pressure Joe Biden to restore the failed nuclear deal.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Biden must bring the U.S. back in compliance with the failed accord, alleging President Trump’s termination of the deal was illegal.    Rouhani also demanded that Biden lift the sanctions imposed by President Trump.
    The Iranian economy is continuing to reel under the pressure of an oil embargo and currency devaluation, but restoring the 2015 agreement could save the Ayatollah regime.
    Rouhani also reiterated nuclear threats against the U.S.
    “The country that has exited the agreement for about three years and has been this cruel to our country, against international regulations and its commitments under Resolution 2231, is obligated today to take the first step,” Rouhani stated.    “Not just today.    Every hour that it is delaying this, it is ignoring international laws and regulations.”
    The Ayatollah regime is now saying Biden owes them reparations for President Trump’s policies, suggesting Biden should repeat the cash payment sent to Iran by Barack Obama in 2016.

2/9/2021 North Korea’s Kim Lays Out Paths To Take With South Korea, External Affairs by Sangmi Cha
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party central committee in Pyongyang,
North Korea in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 9, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the paths for his ruling Workers’ Party to take with South Korea and external affairs, state media KCNA said on Wednesday.
    Kim called last month for more advanced nuclear weapons and said the United States was “our biggest enemy,” presenting a stark challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden just days before he took office.
    Kim, who cemented his power at January’s party congress with his election as general secretary, further discussed Pyongyang’s five-year policy plan on the second day of the plenary meeting on Tuesday.
    “The General Secretary in the report evinced the militant tasks to be carried out by the People’s Army and the munitions industry this year,” KCNA reported, “and the direction of future action to be taken by the sector in charge of affairs with South Korea and the sector in charge of external affairs, before underscoring the need to thoroughly carry them out without fail.”
    While raising the issue of reshaping relations with South Korea “as required by the prevailing situation and the changed times,” Kim has criticised Seoul for offering cooperation in “non-fundamental” areas such as COVID-19 aid and tourism and said it should stop buying arms from and conducting military drills with the United States.
    South Korea’s new foreign minister said on Tuesday he was confident about coordinating North Korea policy with the United States despite earlier signs of differences.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in said last month that Biden should hold talks with North Korea to build on progress that former President Donald Trump made with Kim.
    Kim’s unprecedented personal meetings with Trump failed to lead to a breakthrough in denuclearisation talks or a loosening of sanctions.
    KCNA did not provide further details of the meeting, but said the meeting would continue at least until a third day.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Peter Cooney)

2/9/2021 New Zealand Maori Leader Ejected From Parliament For Not Wearing A Necktie by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: Ties are pictured at a Men's Wearhouse store in Pasadena, California June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A New Zealand Maori leader who was ejected from parliament this week for refusing to wear a necktie in the chamber said forcing him to a Western dress code was a breach of his rights and an attempt to suppress indigenous culture.
    On Tuesday, Speaker Trevor Mallard twice prevented Rawiri Waititi from asking questions in the debating chamber, insisting that MPs could only ask a question if they were wearing a tie.
    When Waititi continued with his question after being stopped a second time, Mallard ordered him to leave.
    “It’s not about ties, it’s about cultural identity, mate,” Waititi said as he exited the chamber.
    Waititi, who has called ties “a colonial noose,” was told last year that he would be ejected from the House if he did not wear one.    On Tuesday he wore a taonga, a Maori greenstone pendant, instead.
    Mallard said on Tuesday that while ties were outdated in his view, an overwhelming majority of members asked that the rule be retained in consultations on the issue in the last few months.
    Writing in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday, Waititi said his action was not about ties, but about the right of Maori to be Maori, whether in Parliament or in the pub.
    “I took off the colonial tie as a sign that it continued to colonise, to choke and to suppress out Maori rights that Mallard suggests gives us all equality,” Waititi said.
    “This is about more than just the tie or the taonga, this has everything to do with equality.”
    Asked to comment, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that it was not something she had a strong opinion on, and that she had no objection to someone wearing a tie in parliament or not.
    “There are much more important issues for all of us,” Ardern said.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

2/9/2021 China Poses Serious Strategic Threat To Canada, Says Canadian Spy Agency Head by David Ljunggren
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ahead
of their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – China poses a serious strategic threat to Canada, both through attempts to steal secrets and a campaign to intimidate the Chinese community, the head of Canada’s spy agency said on Tuesday in a rare public appearance.
    The remarks by Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) Director David Vigneault mark the second time in a few months that Ottawa – mired in a broad diplomatic and trade dispute with Beijing – has identified China as a problem actor.
    Vigneault told an online forum that hostile activity by state actors seeking among other things to purloin business secrets and sensitive data “represents a significant danger to Canada’s prosperity and sovereignty” and singled out China.
    “The government of China … is pursuing a strategy for geopolitical advantage on all fronts – economic, technological, political, and military – and using all elements of state power to carry out activities that are a direct threat to our national security and sovereignty,” he said.
    The biopharmaceutical and health, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, ocean technology and aerospace sectors were most at risk from state-sponsored hackers, he said.
    China regularly denies it is trying to steal secrets.
    Vigneault also said China had used its Operation Fox Hunt – a search for what Beijing says are corrupt officials and executives who have fled abroad with their assets – to routinely threaten and intimidate political opponents in Canada.
    “These activities … cross the line by attempting to undermine our democratic processes or threaten our citizens in a covert and clandestine manner,” he said.
    Last November, the Communications Security Establishment signals intelligence agency identified state-sponsored programs in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea as major cyber crime threats for the first time.
    The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa was not immediately available for comment.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

2/10/2021 In Response To Myanmar Coup, Biden Signs Order For Sanctions On Generals, Businesses
    (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday he had approved an executive order for new sanctions on those responsible for the military coup in Myanmar and he repeated demands for the generals to give up power and free civilian leaders.
    Biden said the executive order would enable his administration “to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members.”
    He said Washington would identify the first round of targets this week and was taking steps to prevent the generals in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, having access to $1 billion in funds held in the United States.
    “We’re also going to impose strong exports controls.    We’re freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” Biden said at the White House.
    “We’ll be ready to impose additional measures, and we’ll continue to work with our international partners to urge other nations to join us in these efforts.”
    The Feb. 1 coup, which overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian-led government, occurred less than two weeks after Biden took office.    It presented him with his first major international crisis and an early test of his dual pledges to re-center human rights in foreign policy and work more closely with allies.
    Biden said Myanmar was of “deep and bipartisan concern” in the United States.
    “I again call on the Burmese military to immediately release the democratic political leaders and activists,” he said.    “The military must relinquish power it’s seized.”
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing Washington was rolling out collective actions with partners on Myanmar and could impose substantial costs on the generals.
    Protesters returned to the streets of Myanmar on Wednesday despite the shooting of a young woman the previous day, with some deploying humor to emphasize their peaceful opposition to the military takeover.
    The protests have been the largest in Myanmar in more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
    The military justified its takeover on the grounds of fraud in a Nov. 8 election that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.    The electoral commission dismissed the army’s complaints.
    The Biden administration has been working to form an international response to the crisis, including by working with allies in Asia who have closer ties to Myanmar and its military.
    Western countries have condemned the coup, but despite this, analysts say Myanmar’s military’s is unlikely to be as isolated as it was in the past, with China,     India, Southeast Asian neighbors and Japan unlikely to cut ties given the country’s geo-strategic importance.
    While Biden did not specify who would be hit with new sanctions, Washington is likely to target coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals who are already under U.S. sanctions imposed in 2019 over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
    It could also blacklist the military’s two major conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corp, holding companies with investments spanning sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.
    Japan’s foreign ministry said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed in a phone call to urge the Myanmar authorities to immediately stop violence against protesters.
    There were no reports of violence in Myanmar on Wednesday, and in many places protests took on a festive air, with bare-chested body builders, women in ball gowns and wedding dresses, farmers in tractors and people with their pets.
    Thousands joined demonstrations in the main city of Yangon, while in the capital, Naypyitaw, hundreds of government workers marched in support of a growing civil disobedience campaign.
    The Biden administration has been working on its Myanmar policy with both fellow Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
    U.S. National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on Wednesday with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has a longstanding interest in the country and a close relationship with Suu Kyi, a McConnell aide said.
    Suu Kyi, 75, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
    She has spent nearly 15 years under house arrest and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

2/10/2021 Myanmar’s Anti-Coup Protesters Defy Crackdown With Humour
A demonstrator holds a placard during a rally against the military coup and to demand the release
of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Protesters returned to the streets of Myanmar on Wednesday despite the shooting of a young woman the previous day, with some deploying humour to emphasise their peaceful opposition to this month’s military takeover.
    The coup has drawn Western condemnation.    U.S. President Joe Biden will deliver remarks on the U.S. response at 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Wednesday, the White House said.    He is expected to announce sanctions on those responsible for the takeover, according to a person familiar with the matter.
    Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, 19, was the first known serious casualty of the protests and her wounding rallied support for the movement seeking to reverse the Feb. 1 coup and free elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her allies from detention.
    “We cannot stay quiet,” youth leader Esther Ze Naw told Reuters.    “If there is blood shed during our peaceful protests, then there will be more if we let them take over the country.”
    There were no reports of violence on Wednesday and in many places protests took on a festive air, with bare-chested body builders, women in ball gowns and wedding dresses, farmers on tractors and people with their pets.
    Thousands joined demonstrations in the main city of Yangon, while in the capital, Naypyitaw, hundreds of government workers marched in support of a growing civil disobedience campaign.
    A group of police in Kayah state in the east marched in uniform with a sign that said “We don’t want dictatorship”, according to pictures published in the media.
    Earlier, soldiers took over a clinic that had been treating wounded protesters in Naypyitaw on Tuesday, a doctor there said.
    The teenager was shot when police fired, mostly into the air, to clear the protesters.    Her brother, Ye Htut Aung, told Reuters the family – though supportive of the protests – had urged her not to go but she insisted.
    The army’s True News Information Unit said in a statement the security forces only used non-lethal weapons.    It later said that because of aggression from protesters police “inevitably” had to shoot, adding that 28 police were injured.
    Protesters draped a big portrait of Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing from a bridge in Yangon.    A doctor at the hospital where she was being treated told Reuters she was not likely to survive.
    Human Rights Watch said a 20-year-old man also wounded by a bullet was in a stable condition, while doctors said three other people were being treated for wounds from suspected rubber bullets. Protesters were also hurt in Mandalay and other cities.
‘DISPROPORTIONATE FORCE’
    The protests are the largest in Myanmar in more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
    The military, which has imposed restrictions on gatherings and a night curfew in the biggest cities, justified its takeover on the grounds of fraud in a Nov. 8 election that Suu Kyi’s NLD party won by a landslide. The electoral commission dismissed the army’s complaints.
    U.N. human rights investigator Thomas Andrews voiced concern at the use of lethal force.
    He said that “hundreds of arbitrary detentions” had been recorded since the coup.    Four regional chief ministers who had served with the previous government were arrested late on Wednesday, local media said.
    Avinash Paliwal, a senior lecturer at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said Myanmar would not be as isolated now as it was in the past, with China, India, Southeast Asian neighbours and Japan unlikely to cut ties.
    “The country is too important geo-strategically for that to happen. The U.S. and other Western countries will put sanctions – but this coup and its ramifications will be an Asian story, not a Western one,” Paliwal said.
    Underscoring that Asian stance, the prime minister of neighbouring Thailand, Prayuth Chan-ocha, himself a former army chief who seized power in a 2014 coup, said he had received a letter from Myanmar’s new junta leader, army chief Min Aung Hlaing, asking for help to support democracy.
    “Thailand supports the democratic process.    The rest is up to him to see how to proceed,” Prayuth said.
    Suu Kyi, 75, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.
    She has spent nearly 15 years under house arrest and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Robert Birsel, Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood)

2/10/2021 Biden Announces New Sanctions Against Myanmar Generals After Coup by Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the political situation in Myanmar at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he had approved an executive order paving the way for new U.S. sanctions on Myanmar generals after the military detained elected leaders and seized power on Feb. 1.
    Biden said the executive order would enable his administration “to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members.”
    While neither Biden nor the Treasury Department specified who would be hit by the sanctions or how, the president promised controls on exports and to prevent the generals from accessing $1 billion of Burmese government funds held in the United States.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday the specifics of the new sanctions would be spelled out this week.
    “We will identify a first round of targets this week, and we’re also going to impose strong exports controls,” Biden said.
    “We’re freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for healthcare, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly.”
    Myanmar’s military arrested civilian leaders, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and announced a year-long state of emergency, citing allegations a November election was beset by fraud. The electoral commission dismissed the army’s complaints.
    Protesters took to the streets of Myanmar for a fifth day on Wednesday, vowing to keep up demonstrations against the coup even after a woman was shot and critically wounded during clashes the previous day.
    The United States would be ready to impose additional measures and would work with other countries to join in pressuring the coup-makers, Biden said.
    The United States is likely to target the commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup.    Min Aung Hlaing and other generals are already under U.S. sanctions imposed in 2019 over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
    They could also target the military’s two major conglomerates.    Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited and Myanmar Economic Corp are sprawling holding companies with investments spanning various sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.
    The Biden administration has been working to form an international response to the crisis, including by working with allies in Asia who have closer ties to Myanmar and its military.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi agreed to urge Myanmar authorities to immediately stop their violence against protesters, according to a readout from Japan’s foreign ministry on Wednesday U.S. time.
    The Biden administration also was working on its Myanmar policy with both fellow Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
    National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke on Wednesday with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has a longstanding interest in the country and a close relationship with Suu Kyi, a McConnell aide said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Steve Holland, Arshad Mohammed and Simon Lewis; additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

2/10/2021 WHO’s Wuhan Probe Ends, U.S.-China Bickering Over COVID Continues by Gabriel Crossley
Peter Ben Embarek, and other members of the World Health Organisation (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), arrive at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China called on the United States on Wednesday to invite the World Health Organization to investigate origins of the COVID-19 outbreak there, as sparring over the pandemic continued after the WHO wrapped up its field work in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
    Hours after the WHO team revealed preliminary findings at a Wuhan news conference on Tuesday, Washington said it wants to scrutinize data used by the team, which concluded that the virus causing COVID-19 did not originate in a laboratory in Wuhan, and that bats remain a likely source.
    “We wish that the U.S. side can, like China, uphold an open and transparent attitude, and be able to invite WHO experts to the U.S. to conduct origin tracing research and inspection,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular daily briefing, repeating a call it has been making recently.
    The origins of the coronavirus pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, are highly politicized, with China pushing the idea that the virus has roots outside its borders.
    White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that the Biden administration had not been involved in the “planning and implementation” of the WHO investigation and wants to take an independent review of its findings and underlying data.
    “The U.S. independently examining the WHO’s data?    It’s the WHO who should examine the U.S. data,” said Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, on social media platform Weibo.
    “Did we all mishear, or is this spokesperson really so shameless?
    Peter Ben Embarek, who heads the WHO-led team that spent four weeks in China – two of them in quarantine – said that the investigation had not dramatically changed its picture of the outbreak, although the virus could have crossed borders before arriving in Wuhan.
    In addition to ruling out a lab leak, he said that frozen food could possibly be a means of transmitting the virus, which would support a thesis backed by Beijing, which has blamed some case clusters on imported food packaging.
    The WHO’s conclusion “completely refutes the conspiracy theory raised by some anti-China hawks, like former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who has been accusing the Wuhan Institute of Virology of leaking the virus,” the Global Times wrote.
    Pompeo had said there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the new coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory.
    Chinese officials have stressed in recent months that the virus could have emerged in multiple regions outside China.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Tony Munroe and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
[WELL IT DID NOT TAKE LONG FOR THE WHO TO CLAIM THAT CHINA DID NOT RELEASE THE CORONAVIRUS ON THE WORLD AS THEY DID NOT SPEND A WEEK TO SEARCH AND FIND EVIDENCE BUT THEN NO ONE IS GOING TO RAT ON THEM SINCE THEY WOULD END UP IN A CAMP NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN SO THE CORRUPTION CONTINUES AND BEIJING BIDEN IS NOT GOING TO ANYTHING ABOUT IT EITHER BUT THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO ESCAPED FROM CHINA AND BROUGHT THE TRUTH TO AMERICA BUT THE PRESS WILL NOT AIR IT WAKE UP AMERICA FROM THIS NIGHTMARE DREAM THAT THE DEMOCRATS HAVE CREATED.].

2/10/2021 Analysis: Economic Pain May Push Tough-Talking Iran To Show Nuclear Flexibility by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment plant 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran insists the new U.S. administration act first to save the collapsing 2015 nuclear deal but faces pent-up pressures, from ruinous sanctions to internal dissent and wider regional crises, that may impel Tehran to show flexibility in a test of wills.
    U.S. sanctions are squeezing Iran’s oil income, Iranians’ economic misery is palpable.    Israel’s normalisation deals with Gulf Arab states threaten Iran’s wider regional presence, and Tehran’s regional proxy wars are draining scarce resources.
    Despite official Islamic Republic bluster that Tehran is in no rush for Washington to rejoin its nuclear accord with world powers, the myriad pressures mean speed is of the essence with a presidential election looming in June.
    “Public dissatisfaction is simmering … The hopes of many Iranians that their economic misery would quickly end after (U.S. President Joe) Biden’s election are turning to frustration and anger,” a senior Iranian official said.
    Iran’s clerical rulers fear a re-eruption of unrest among its core voting bloc – lower-income Iranians – whose periodic bouts of protest in recent years reminded them how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over economic hardships.
    “This anger over economic problems should be addressed immediately.    It does not mean yielding to America’s pressure.    It means showing heroic flexibility,” he told Reuters.
    Biden has said Washington will return to the nuclear pact abandoned by predecessor Donald Trump if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.    But with mutual mistrust running deep, Tehran avers that Washington must act first.    “It is a delicate decision for top leaders to make.    They have to choose between sticking to their uncompromising stance or showing some flexibility,” another senior Iranian official told Reuters.
    There may be little time to lose to avoid the risk of the stand-off deteriorating into open conflict, some analysts say.    Since Trump ditched the deal, asserting it was too lenient on Iran, Tehran has been rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.    Dramatically upping the ante, a law passed by the hardline parliament obliges Tehran on Feb. 21 to cancel the sweeping access given to U.N. non-proliferation inspectors under the 2015 deal, limiting their visits to declared nuclear sites only.
    “This will be considered a major breach by Iran and will deeply complicate the situation,” warned a senior Western diplomat whose country is a party to the deal.
QUIET DEBATE ABOUT MUTUAL GESTURES
    However, some officials and analysts see room to bypass the hardline public posturing over which side should take the first step to rescue the deal, which was touted as a key insurance policy against wider Middle East war when signed.
    Iran would be amenable to a step-by-step, give-and-take approach if Washington took the first step, another Iranian official who was involved in the nuclear diplomacy with six world powers before 2015 told Reuters.
    “Biden needs to build trust by returning to the deal as soon as possible.    Then they should immediately find a way to ease the unjust economic pressure that would encourage Iran to show flexibility,” he said.
    Three sources told Reuters on Monday that the Biden administration was weighing a wide array of ideas on how to revive the deal, including an option where both sides would take small steps short of full compliance to buy time.
    A viable route to agreement that would avoid either side losing face has yet to crystallise, however.
    “We still don’t know how all this will happen because the Americans have not defined how they see the calendar sequencing and crucially what they actually want to obtain.    The Iranians have also not defined what they want,” said a European diplomat.
    A senior Iranian diplomat suggested one gesture by Tehran towards resolving the impasse could be help in ending conflicts in Yemen, Iraq and Syria, saying this could offer a “quick foreign policy win” for Biden.
    Ali Vaez, Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, suggested Washington could help pave the way to a new deal by reviving a French proposal to give Iran a $15 billion credit facility, or unblocking Iranian funds abroad. About 90% of Iran’s official reserves are frozen abroad due to sanctions.
    Eurasia Group analyst Henry Rome said Iran could match U.S. gestures by eschewing further provocative moves, such as “not reducing U.N. inspector access, not installing more advanced centrifuges, not ramping up enriched uranium production.”
    Another gesture could lie in a prisoner swap – Tehran has in the past indicated readiness to carry one out with Washington.
    Ultimately the Islamic Republic desires Western recognition of what it sees as its rightful place as a pre-eminent power in the Middle East, where for decades Iran and Saudi Arabia have jostled for the upper hand.
    Saudi Arabia and Israel both opposed the 2015 deal and fear its revival, without addressing Iran’s ballistic missile program and role in various Middle East conflicts via proxy forces, might further embolden their mutual enemy.
ECONOMIC MISERY
    As the nuclear impasse has festered, so has popular disenchantment at home – especially among women and the young, who comprise the bulk of voters – over high unemployment, soaring inflation and restrictions on political freedoms and social life.
    Hundreds of factories have been closed, Iran’s rial currency has lost 70% of its value against the U.S. dollar and official data show over 40 million Iranians live below the poverty line.
    The election outcome in June will have no notable sway on nuclear policy, which is determined by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    But the myriad privations suffered by voters make a poor turnout more likely and this could bolster critics who say the establishment must moderate domestic and foreign policy.
    “Any delay in reviving the economy could push Iran into chaos.    People cannot take more economic pressure,” said a former Iranian official who favours policy reforms.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/11/2021 Biden Flip Flops On Economic Threat Posed By China by OAN Newsroom
WILMINGTON, DELAWARE – JANUARY 08: Joe Biden delivered remarks at The Queen theater on January 08, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden flip flopped on the economic threat posed by China.    After his first phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping Wednesday night, Biden raised concerns about Beijing while speaking with reporters on Thursday.
    “If we don’t get moving they’re going to eat our lunch,” Biden stated.
    He said China is “investing billions” on issues that relate to transportation and the environment and “we just have to step it up.”
    However, Biden struck a very different tone back in May of 2019 while campaigning for president.
    “China is going to eat our lunch?    C’mon man,” Biden said.    “They’re not competition for us.”
    Biden has faced criticism for being pro-China, with Beijing openly admitting they preferred him to win the 2020 election.    He previously criticized President Trump for his hardline stance on China.
[BEIJING BIDEN IS NOT FLIP FLOPPING HE HAS NEVER STOPPED AS HE IS STILL CALLED THE BIG GUY AS THE CORRUPTION THAT HIS SON HUNTER WAS IN BEING INVESTIGATED FOR A BIG TIME CORRUPTION AND IT IS MOST LIKELY GOING TO BE WISHED WASHED AWAY NEVER TO BE HEARD AGAIN DUIRNG THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION JUST LIKE THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION DID FOR 8 YEARS WHICH MEANS WE WILL GET FOUR MORE YEARS OF THAT SAME SCENARIO.].

2/11/2021 Biden Admin. Places Sanctions On Myanmar Military Leaders Amid Coup by OAN Newsroom
A demonstrator flashes three-fingered salute of defiance in front of a public notice board with pictures of deposed
national leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Mandalay, Myanmar on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. (AP Photo)
    The Biden administration slapped new sanctions on Myanmar amid a growing political crisis happening in the Burmese country.    While speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Joe Biden announced the U.S. is taking a series of actions against the leaders responsible for the military coup.
    “Today, I have approved a new executive order enabling us to immediately sanction the military leaders who directed the coup, their business interests as well as close family members,” he stated.
    The new order will block the Burmese generals from accessing $1 billion of Myanmar assets held in the U.S. with more measures to come if power is not relinquished by the military.
    Earlier this month, the Myanmar military overthrew the civilian government after claims of voter fraud in last year’s elections.    Officials behind the coup said their cause for action is justified and they are working to investigate the fraud claims.
    “Before the election, the Union Election Commission made many statements about early voting and didn’t allow parties to conduct fair campaigns because of Covid-19,” stated Myanmar Military Chief Min Aung Hlaing.    “We are investigating the responsible authorities regarding voter fraud.”
    The general added, they will hold a free and fair election once the unrest subsides and the state of emergency is lifted.
    Meanwhile, thousands of protestors took to the streets this week to demand the military relinquish power and release their deposed leaders.    Authorities have banned citizens from using platforms until further notice, while enacting a strict curfew within the country’s first and second biggest cities.
Protesters wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus display slogans showing support for protests in Myanmar during a rally in Quezon city, Metro Manila, Philippines
on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021. The group condemned the February 1 military coup and calls for return to civilian government in Myanmar. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
    While taking note of the political unrest, other nations around the world have also denounced the legitimacy of the military-led government.
    In a press briefing this week, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced the government will be suspending contact with Myanmar.    She also raises concerns about the military coup’s impact on human rights.
    “New Zealand is suspending all high-level political and military contact with Myanmar,” announced Ardern.    “We’ve also agreed to implement a travel ban to be formalized in the coming week on Myanmar’s military leaders.”
    World leaders are calling for the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct a special session as the situation in Myanmar continues to unfold.

2/11/2021 President Rouhani Urges Biden To Restore Failed Nuclear Deal For Third Consecutive Day by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani addresses
the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    Iran has continued to plead with Joe Biden to lift sanctions on the Ayatollah regime.    In a new statement Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on the U.S. to restore the failed nuclear deal and open direct talks on the matter.
    Rouhani’s statement came amid celebrations of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which resulted in a siege of the U.S. Embassy at the time. The Iranian leader also proudly declared his regime helped remove President Trump from office.
    “The role of the Iranian people and the Iranian government in the downfall of this tyrant Trump was undoubtedly influential,” he stated.    “And today the world owes its security, its sense of lawfulness and its sense of stability felt with the departure of Trump to the Iranian people.”
    Iranian officials also reiterated they expect Biden to pay reparations for sanctions imposed by President Trump.

2/12/2021 State Dept. Sides With U.K. After China’s BBC Ban by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This Oct. 17, 2007, file photo, shows the BBC, British Broadcasting Corporation sign on their offices at White City in London.
China has banned the BBC World News television channel from the few outlets where it could be seen in the country in possible retaliation
after British regulators revoked the license of state-owned Chinese broadcaster CGTN. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
    The State Department has expressed support for the U.K. after Beijing’s ban on BBC World News.
    “We absolutely condemn the PRC’s decision to ban BBC World News,” announced department spokesman Ned Price.
    On Thursday, U.S. diplomats said Beijing maintains one of the most oppressive and restrictive information spaces in the world, and the ban of the BBC further restricts freedom of speech in the communist country.
    The State Department said Beijing is spreading its own propaganda, unrestricted, in other parts of the world.
State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a press briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, on February 9, 2021. (Olivier Douliery/Pool via AP)
    “It’s troubling that as the PRC restricts outlets and platforms from operating freely in China, Beijing’s leaders use free and open media environments overseas to promote misinformation,” Price continued.    “We call on the PRC and other nations with authoritarian controls over their population to allow their full access to the Internet and media.”
    The State Department also added, the BBC is an important outlet to maintain a free and open discussion.

2/12/2021 Tokyo Olympics President Resigns Over Sexist Comments by OAN Newsroom
Olympics organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori announces his resignation at a meeting with council and executive board members at the committee headquarters
in Tokyo on Friday, Feb. 12, 2021. Tokyo Olympics organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori resigned for his sexist remarks. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool Photo via AP)
    The president of the Tokyo Olympic Organizing Committee has stepped down from his position after facing criticism for making sexist remarks about women.     Earlier this month, Yoshiro Mori faced public backlash after implying women talk too much. While speaking during an executive board and council meeting Friday, he announced his resignation.     “As it has been reported, as of today I intend to resign as president,” he stated.    “The important thing is for the Olympic to be held in July and in order to hold the Olympics, if my presence is a hindrance to the preparations, this cannot be allowed.”
    Officials with the International Olympic Committee released a statement committing to the upcoming games this summer and said they are working “hand-in-hand” with Mori’s successor.

2/12/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Tells U.S. ‘You Have To Pay’ If It Wants To Keep Troop Deal
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during a speech in Quezon City, Philippines, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Friday the United States must pay if it wants to keep a two-decade-old troop deployment agreement with his country that is central to U.S. strategy in Asia.
    Duterte, a firebrand nationalist who openly disapproves of the long-standing U.S. military alliance, unilaterally cancelled the Visiting Force Agreement last year in an angry response to an ally being denied a U.S. visa.
    The withdrawal period has been twice extended, however, to create what Philippine officials say is a window for better terms to be agreed.
    Speaking to Philippine troops on Friday after inspecting newly acquired air assets, Duterte said: “I’d like to put on notice if there is an American agent here, from now on, you want the Visiting Forces Agreement done?    You have to pay."
    “It is a shared a responsibility, but your share of responsibility does not come free, after all, when the war breaks out we all pay,” Duterte said, alluding to Washington and Beijing stepping up military activities in the South China Sea.
    Duterte did not elaborate, or say how much U.S. should pay.
    The U.S. embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his remarks.
    The Philippines defence apparatus want to keep the VFA as it has been vital in boosting the capabilities of under-resourced Philippine forces through dozens of annual joint training exercises, Duterte’s defence minister has said.
    U.S. and Philippine officials met on Thursday to settle differences over the VFA, the first under U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which has reaffirmed the alliance in the face of China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
    “(The United States) is free to advance their troops in our land…We do not like it because we want to remain neutral,” Duterte said.    “But the exigency of the moment requires their presence here, I am okay with that.”
    Relations between the United States and its former east Asian colony have been complicated by Duterte’s rise to power in 2016 and his frequent statements condemning U.S. foreign policy, and his open embrace of China.
    Duterte reiterated that he wanted to avoid confrontation with China over maritime claims that “would lead to something we can hardly afford.”
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/12/2021 Myanmar Police Fire Rubber Bullets, Wounding Three, As Hundreds Of Thousands Protest
A demonstrator is detained by police officers during a protest against the military coup in Mawlamyine, Myanmar February 12, 2021. Than Lwin
Times/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. COURTESY THAN LWIN TIMES MEDIA. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    (Reuters) – Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi clashed with police on Friday as hundreds of thousands joined nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in defiance of the military junta’s call to halt mass gatherings.
    The United Nations human rights office said more than 350 people, including officials, activists and monks, have been arrested in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup, including some who face criminal charges on “dubious grounds
    The U.N. rights investigator for Myanmar told a special session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that there were “growing reports, photographic evidence” that security forces have used live ammunition against protesters, in violation of international law.
    Special Rapporteur Thomas Andrews urged the U.N. Security Council to consider imposing sanctions and arms embargoes.
    Myint Thu, Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the session that Myanmar did not want “to stall the nascent democratic transition in the country,” and would continue international cooperation.
    Friday’s mostly peaceful protests were the biggest so far, and came a day after Washington imposed sanctions on generals who led the takeover.
    Three people were wounded when police fired rubber bullets to break up a crowd of tens of thousands in the southeastern city of Mawlamyine, a Myanmar Red Cross official told Reuters.
    Footage broadcast by Radio Free Asia showed police charging at protesters, grabbing one and smashing him in the head.    Stones were then thrown at police before the shots were fired.
    “Three got shot – one woman in the womb, one man on his cheek and one man on his arm,” said Myanmar Red Cross official Kyaw Myint, who witnessed the clash.
    Several people in Mawlamyine were arrested but later released when a thousands-strong crowd stood outside the police station and demanded they be freed, according to live footage broadcast by Radio Free Asia.
    A broadcast by state-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) said police had fired 10 rubber bullets because protesters were “continuing violent acts without dispersing from the area.”    The report made no mention of any people being wounded.
    Doctors have said they do not expect a 19-year-old woman shot during a protest in the capital Naypyitaw on Tuesday to survive.    She was hit in the head with a live round fired by police, witnesses said.
    In the biggest city Yangon on Friday, hundreds of doctors in white duty coats and scrubs marched past the golden Shwedagon pagoda, while in another part of town, football fans wearing team kits marched with humorous placards.
    Other demonstrations took place in Naypyitaw, the coastal town of Dawei, and in Myitkyina, the capital of northern Kachin state, where young men played rap music and staged a dance-off.
    Social media giant Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they had “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power.
    The generals have sought to justify their takeover by saying there was fraud in an election last November won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), a claim rejected by the country’s election committee.
    In a letter read out to the U.N. rights council in Geneva, some 300 elected parliamentarians from Myanmar called on the United Nations to investigate “gross human rights violations” committed by the military since its coup.
    The 47-member council later adopted a resolution calling on Myanmar to release Suu Kyi and other officials from detention and refrain from using violence on protesters.    Myanmar’s envoy said before the vote that the resolution was “not acceptable.”
CALL FOR ‘MORE ACTIONS’
    Supporters of the NLD welcomed the U.S. sanctions but said tougher action was needed.
    “We are hoping for more actions than this as we are suffering every day and night of the military coup here in Myanmar, ” Suu Kyi supporter Moe Thal, 29, told Reuters.
    Myint Thu, Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva, told the special rights council session that his government wanted “better understanding of the prevailing situation in the country, and constructive engagement and cooperation from the international community.”
    The United Nations’ Myanmar office said on Friday it was “essential that lifesaving humanitarian assistance continues unimpeded” in the country “and that humanitarian partners are given timely and safe access to the populations in need.”
    Friday’s protests marked the seventh consecutive day of demonstrations, including one on Thursday outside the Chinese Embassy where NLD supporters accused Beijing of backing the junta, something Beijing has denied.
    Security forces carried out more arrests overnight Thursday.
    The junta remitted the sentences of more than 23,000 prisoners on Friday, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public.”
    The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated by bloody crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
    The generals have promised to stick to the 2008 constitution and hand over power after elections.    No date has yet been set for the vote.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Stephen Coates, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Frances Kerry/Mark Heinrich)

2/12/2021 France, Germany, UK Condemn Iran’s Production Of Uranium Metal
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – France, Germany and Britain on Friday condemned Iran’s decision to produce uranium metal, which they said was in breach of commitments made by Tehran to the international community.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog said this week that Iran had followed through on its stated plan to make uranium metal, which Tehran said would be used to make fuel for a research reactor but which can also be used in nuclear weapons.
    The move is the latest breach by Iran of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.    Tehran began incremental violations of the pact, also known by the acronym JCPoA, after the United States withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.
    “We strongly urge Iran to halt these activities without delay and not to take any new non-compliant steps on its nuclear programme.    In escalating its non-compliance, Iran is undermining the opportunity for renewed diplomacy to fully realise the objectives of the JCPoA,” said the three European states, which are also referred to as the E3.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed the E3 statement, saying Iran’s position on breaching the pact was in line with paragraph 36 of the deal governing actions one side could take if it believe the other was not meeting obligations.
    “Have our E3 partners ever read para 36 of JCPOA & Iran’s many letters on that basis?,” Zarif said on Twitter.
    “By what logic is the onus on IRAN to stop its remedial measures undertaken a full year after the US withdrew from—and continues to violate—the JCPOA?    What have E3 done to fulfill their duties?,” he said.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Jon Boyle and Edmund Blair)

2/14/2021 Sullivan: U.S. Has ‘Deep Concerns’ Over WHO Findings Of COVID-19 Origins In China Without Sufficient Data by OAN Newsroom
Peter Ben Embarek (C) talks with Liang Wannian (L) and Marion Koopmans (R) after a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts
from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province on February 9, 2021. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration called out the World Health Organization for its cozy relationship with China.    Saturday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said he has “deep concerns” over the WHO’s investigation into China’s role as ground zero for the coronavirus pandemic.
    The organization’s initial findings were made without data from the early phase of the outbreak.
    “Of course, this information is all in Chinese and needs to be translated etcetera, etcetera,” microbiologist and infectious disease expert Professor Dominic Dwyer said.    “But whether there are any other reasons why the data isn’t available, I don’t know.    One would only speculate.”
    Last week, WHO investigators left China empty-handed as they were denied access to data on 174 cases that were allegedly close to the pandemic’s origins.    Instead, Chinese researchers gave their own studies based on medical data months before the Wuhan outbreak hit.
WHO team member Peter Ben Embarek (L) waves as group members Marion Koopmans and Peter Daszak leave their hotel
after the World Health Organization (WHO) team wrapped up its investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Wuhan
in China’s central Hubei province on February 10, 2021. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Allegedly, the WHO team was neither allowed to look at this data nor to conduct their own investigations.    The lack of transparency from China raised the hairs of global leaders, including the U.S., who called for China to release the data.
    “None of the data has given the answer on its own,” Dwyer added.    “So then when you have got limited bits of information, how do you put those together to work out the origin?    So there were differences of opinion about the significance of the data and so on, and that’s natural.”
    Sullivan stressed the Biden administration reversed President Trump’s decision to pull out of the WHO out of respect for the organization.    He added protecting the WHO’s credibility is a top priority as the world looks to it for advice on how to combat COVID-19.
    However, Sullivan noted re-engaging with the WHO means they must live up to higher standards.
[AS USUAL THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION GAVE CHINA ANOTHER PASS FOR THEIR PART OF THE CRIMES OF RELEASING AND SENDING CORONAVIRUS TO 190 COUNTRIES FOR MILLIONS OF DEATHS AND THEY CONTINUE TO LET THEM COVER IT UP JUST LIKE THE DEMOCRATS ARE LETTING THE SWING STATES TO COVER UP THEIR VOTING LAW VIOLATIONS AND IF THIS IS NOT A SIGN OF THE END TIMES WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE.].

2/15/2021 China disputes US virus claims by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – China fired back at the U.S. on Sunday over allegations from the White House that Beijing withheld some information about the coronavirus outbreak from World Health Organization investigators.
    In a statement Saturday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington had “deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the COVID-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them.”
    “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government,” he said.
    “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one, China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak,” Sullivan’s statement said.
    China responded with a statement that said the U.S. had already “gravely damaged international cooperation on COVID-19” and was now “pointing fingers at other countries who have been faithfully supporting the WHO and at the WHO itself.”
    While it welcomes President Joe Biden’s decision to reverse the Trump administration’s move to leave the WHO, China hopes the U.S. will “hold itself to the highest standards, take a serious, earnest, transparent and responsible attitude, shoulder its rightful responsibility,” the statement said.

2/15/2021 Afghan, Iranian Authorities Probe Fuel Tank, Say Terror Attack ‘Possible’ by OAN Newsroom
Iranian firefighters work on a burning tanker carrying fuel at the Islam Qala border with Iran, in Herat Province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021.
A fuel tanker exploded Saturday at the Islam Qala crossing in Afghanistan’s western Herat province on the Iranian border. (AP Photo/Hamed Sarfarazi)
    Iranian and Afghan authorities are investigating a major explosion at their shared border.    On Sunday, Iranian rescue teams arrived at the Afghan border checkpoint, just hours after a fuel tanker reportedly exploded and set hundreds of other vehicles on fire.
    The blast took place while the tanker was going through customs proceedings at the checkpoint.    Officials said it’s still not clear what caused the explosion and they are not ruling out the possibility of it being terror-related.
    As of Sunday evening, at least 500 other fuel tankers have burnt as a result of the initial blast.
    “People have suffered millions of dollars in damages,” stated Afghani truck driver Mohammad Daud.    “The losses are endured by people and traders, not the government…all the burnt tankers belonged to people and nobody cares about it.”
    The Afghan government also asked NATO forces to help contain the fire and repair electricity lines after the incident cut off power supply in the region.

2/15/2021 Iran Says U.S. Move To Seize Oil Shipment Is ‘Act Of Piracy’
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday that a U.S. move this month to seize a cargo of oil on the grounds that it came from Tehran was an act of piracy, adding that the shipment did not belong to the Iranian government.
    Washington filed a lawsuit earlier this month to seize the cargo, alleging that Iran sought to mask the origin of the oil by transferring it to several vessels before it ended up aboard the Liberian-flagged Achilleas tanker destined for China.
    Washington said the cargo contravened U.S. terrorism regulations.
    “This shipment does not belong to the Iranian government.    It belongs to the private sector,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference.
    He did not elaborate on what he meant by the private sector.
    The Achilleas last reported its position on Sunday as anchored within the Galveston Offshore Lightering Area, which is outside the U.S. Gulf port of Galveston, Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Monday.
    A U.S. official said last week that Washington had sold more than a million barrels of Iranian fuel seized under its sanctions programme last year.
    Tensions have mounted between Washington and Tehran since 2018, when former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged to revive the nuclear deal if Tehran returns to full compliance with the accord.
    “It is very unfortunate that such an act of piracy is happening under the new U.S. administration … a solution should be found to stop such acts of piracy by anyone for any reason,” the spokesman Khatibzadeh added.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

2/15/2021 NATO’s Afghanistan Withdrawal Depends On Violence Levels, Stoltenberg Says by Robin Emmott
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a news conference ahead of a NATO defence ministers council
at the alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 15, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Taliban militants in Afghanistan must do more to meet the terms of a 2020 peace agreement with the United States to allow for any possible foreign troop withdrawal by a May deadline, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.
    Allied defence ministers will discuss later this week whether the Taliban is making good on the peace deal, which called for militants to curb attacks and foreign troops to withdraw by May 1.
    “We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments … to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said.
    Attacks in Afghanistan, including a bomb that killed the deputy governor of the capital Kabul in December, have prompted members of the U.S. Congress and international rights groups to call for a delay to the pullout agreed under former President Donald Trump.
    NATO has 9,600 troops in Afghanistan, including 2,500 Americans, training and assisting Afghan forces.
    Many fear that progress during two decades of foreign intervention in Afghanistan would quickly unravel, threatening gains in areas from women’s rights to democracy.    U.S. lawmakers have warned that withdrawing all troops could lead to civil war.
    This week’s defence ministers’ meeting, which will take place by video conference on Wednesday and Thursday, was initially set decide on whether to go ahead with a troop pullout.    The administration of new U.S. President Joe Biden faces calls to seek a six-month delay.
    Four senior NATO officials told Reuters on Jan. 31 international troops would stay beyond the May deadline, despite Taliban calls for a full withdrawal.
    “Our common goal is clear: Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands,” Stoltenberg said.    “While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary.    We will not leave before the time is right.”
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff)
[WELL WE WILL SOON SEE IF THEY REPORT IT CORRECTLY HOW THE TRUMP WITHDRAWAL WILL BE SCREWED UP BY THE INCOMING BIDEN ADMINISTRATION WHO ARE DOING EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO REVERSE ANYTHING TRUMP DID AND THEY WERE THE FORMER ONES WHO KEPT THE WAR BETWEEN THE TALIBAN GOING ON FOR DECADES AND NATO HAS BEEN TRYING TO DO WHAT IT WAS MEANT TO DO.].

2/15/2021 GOP Resolution Demands Boycott Of Beijing Olympics by OAN Newsroom
The Olympic rings are visible atop the Olympic Tower in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
    A Republican lawmaker denounced China hosting next year’s Olympics and said it would be celebrating a “brutal dictatorship.”
    Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution on Monday, which urged the U.S. Olympic Committee to change the winter games to a site outside of China.    The resolution asked the U.S. to withdraw from the 2022 Olympic Games if the International Olympics Committee rejects the proposal.
    Despite a letter signed by 180 groups calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese officials remain bullish on rejecting any disruptive efforts.
    “We also hope that the media will face up to the facts and stop disseminating such unfounded and slanderous remarks,” Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated.    “Attempts to interfere with and disrupt the normal preparation and holding of the Olympic Games out of political motives are highly irresponsible.    Such a move will not be supported by the international community and will never succeed.”
    Waltz also expressed concern for the Chinese people being brutalized by their government.

2/15/2021 Smaller Protests In Myanmar As Junta Deploys More Troops, Armoured Vehicles
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold up signs during a protest against the military coup and demanding the release
of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Protesters in Myanmar kept up demands on Monday for the release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and an end to military rule despite the deployment of armoured vehicles and more soldiers on the streets.
    Suu Kyi, detained since a Feb. 1 coup against her elected government, had been expected to face a court in connection with charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios, but a judge said her remand lasted until Wednesday, her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said.
    The coup and arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi and hundreds of others have brought on the biggest protests in Myanmar in more than a decade, with hundreds of thousands denouncing the military’s derailment of a tentative transition to democracy.
    “This is a fight for our future, the future of our country,” youth activist Esther Ze Naw said at a protest in the main city of Yangon.    “We don’t want to live under a military dictatorship. We want to establish a real federal union where all citizens, all ethnicities are treated equally.”
    The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that ended in 2011 when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics.
    “People are delighted to have the security patrols and the security forces will conduct them day and night,” the army’s True News information team said.
    Violence this time has been limited, although police have opened fire several times to disperse protesters.    One woman who was hit by police fire in the capital Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.
    Two people were lightly wounded on Monday when police in the city of Mandalay used rubber bullets and catapults to break up a protest, media and residents said.
    Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing told a junta meeting on Monday that authorities were trying to proceed softly, but said: “Effective action will be taken against people who are harming the country, committing treason through violence.”
    The army said four police injured in the northern town of Myitkyina on Sunday were among those hurt in protests.
    As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.
TROOPS ON THE STREETS
    Armoured vehicles were deployed on Sunday in Yangon, the northern town of Myitkyina and Sittwe in the west, the first large-scale use of such vehicles since the coup.
    More soldiers have also been spotted on the streets to help police, including members of the 77th Light Infantry Division, a mobile force accused of brutality in campaigns against ethnic minority insurgents and protests in the past.
    Crowds were smaller, though it was unclear if people were intimidated by the soldiers or fatigue was setting in after 12 days of demonstrations.
    “We can’t join the protests every day,” said a laid-off travel officer worker in Yangon who declined to be identified.    “But we won’t back down.”
    At a protest outside the central bank, demonstrators pasted a sign saying “We do not want military government” on an armoured vehicle.    Police sealed off the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s party, searching it as protesters demonstrated nearby.
    Police in Naypyitaw detained about 20 student protesters, one of whom posted pictures of them chanting as they were taken away on a police bus.    They were later released.
    Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.
    The army has been carrying out nightly arrests and has given itself search and detention powers.    At least 400 people have been detained, the group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.
    On Sunday, the military published penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent and residents reported an internet outage after midnight on Sunday that lasted until about 9 a.m.
    “It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said on Twitter.
    Suu Kyi’s party won a 2015 election and another on Nov. 8, but the military said the vote was fraudulent and used that complaint to justify the coup.    The electoral commission dismissed accusations of fraud.
(Reporting by Reuter staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore and Alex Richardson)

2/15/2021 India’s Arrest Of Activist Tied To Greta Thunberg’s Movement Sparks Outrage by Chandini Monnappa and Rupam Jain
People hold placards during a protest against the arrest of 22-year-old climate activist
Disha Ravi, in Bengaluru, India, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar
    BENGALURU (Reuters) – Indian politicians and activists on Monday condemned the arrest of a 22-year-old climate campaigner accused of sedition for helping edit an online document that Sweden’s Greta Thunberg had promoted in support of farmers protesting in the country.
    Thunberg had shared a “toolkit” or an action plan on Twitter which listed ways to help Indian farmers, who have been protesting agricultural reforms https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-farms-protests-idUSKBN2A30QI they fear will ruin their livelihoods.
    Over the weekend, police brought Disha Ravi, a leader of the Indian arm of Thunberg’s climate crisis-related Fridays for Future movement, to the capital from her home in the southern city of Bengaluru to question her.    Thunberg said she had no comment on the detention of Ravi.
    Police said the arrest was part of an investigation into how a group of farmers stormed the historic Red Fort on the occasion of India’s republic day last month.
    “The main aim of the ‘toolkit’ was to create misinformation and disaffection against the lawfully enacted government,” Delhi police official Prem Nath told reporters.
    Police have registered a case of sedition and criminal conspiracy. The colonial-era sedition law carries a penalty of life sentence.
    “The toolkit sought to artificially amplify fake news through various tweets which they have created in the form of a tweet bank.    And they sought the public to participate in the action on Jan 26 that was the Republic Day of India,” Nath said.
    The crackdown comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faces allegations it is suppressing dissent.    The government denies the charge and says people are free to protest if it is done peacefully.
    Thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and reached the Red Fort complex in the old quarter of Delhi last month after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.
    Police said they were also looking to detain two associates of Ravi in a widening probe.
FEAR
    Ravi could not be reached while in custody and her family was not immediately available for comment.    Her tight circle of friends in Bengaluru said they were terrified over what she was going through and for themselves in case they will be dragged into the probe.
    Ravi worked for a vegan food company in the city and was enthusiastic about environmental issues, her friends said, speaking on condition that they be not identified. On social media, her posts relate to climate change, helping animals and her love of Harry Potter books.
    “The Indian state must be standing on very shaky foundations if Disha Ravi, a 22 year old student of Mount Carmel college and a climate activist, has become a threat to the nation,” P.Chidambaram, a leader of the main opposition Congress opposition said.
    A group of people gathered in Bengaluru and held placards seeking her release.
    Activists have planned more protests across the country over the next few days and the hashtag #IndiabeingSilenced was trending on Twitter.
    On Sunday, a Delhi court ordered that Ravi be held in police custody for five days.
    “This is their way of trying to scare away youngsters from raising their voice about anything.    This sends a message to all young people out there that, you know, shut up and stay at home or this is what is going to happen to you,” said Leo Saldanha, a member of the Environment Support Group in Bengaluru.
    Bhavreen Kandhari, a member of Thunberg’s movement in India, said the organisation was awaiting clarity from the police before making any statement.
(Additional reporting by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Samuel Rajkumar in Bengaluru, Devjyot Ghoshal and Mayank Bharadwaj in New Delhi, Colm Fulton in Stockholm; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Bernadette Baum)

2/16/2021 Myanmar Military Promises New Election; Suu Kyi Faces Additional Charge
Demonstrators holding placards sit during a protest against the military coup outside the U.S. embassy in Yangon, Myanmar February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military junta promised on Tuesday that it would hold an election and hand over power as police filed an additional charge against toppled former leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    It also defended its Feb. 1 seizure of power, denying it was a coup even as protesters took to the streets again in support of Suu Kyi and other arrested leaders and China dismissed social media rumours that it had helped with the military’s action.
    “Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, told the junta’s first news conference since overthrowing Suu Kyi’s government.
    The military has not given a date for a new election but has imposed a state of emergency for one year.    Zaw Min Tun said the military would not hold power for long.
    “We guarantee … that the election will be held,” he told the nearly two-hour news conference, which the military broadcast from the capital, Naypyitaw, live over Facebook, a platform it has banned.
    Asked about the detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi and the president, Zaw Min Tun dismissed the suggestion they were in detention, saying they were in their homes for their security while the law took its course.
    Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.
    She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and is being held on remand until Wednesday.    Her lawyer said on Tuesday police had filed a second charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law.
    The army spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, said Myanmar’s foreign policy would not change, the country remained open for business and deals would be upheld.
    The military will be hoping its reassurances will dampen the campaign of daily opposition to its rule and to the removal of Suu Kyi and her government.
    As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.
    The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that ended in 2011 when the military began a process of withdrawing from politics.
    Police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters.    A protester who was shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.
    Six people were wounded in the central town of Maungmya on Tuesday when police fired rubber bullets to break up a protest over an arrested teacher, a witness said.    An army statement said protesters had thrown stones at police, injuring some officers.
    Zaw Min Tun said a policeman had died of injuries sustained during a protest in Mandalay on Monday.
    He said the protesters were starting violence while the campaign of civil disobedience amounted to the illegal intimidation of civil servants.
    “We will wait patiently. After that, we will take action according to the law,” Zaw Min Tun said.
    The army has given itself extensive search and detention powers and has made penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent with tough prison terms.
TRAIN BLOCKED
    Protesters milled onto a sun-baked stretch of railway track earlier in the day waving placards in support of the disobedience movement and blocking trains between the commercial capital Yangon and the southern city of Mawlamyine.
    “Release our leaders immediately,” and “People’s power, give it back,” the crowd chanted in live images broadcast by media.
    Crowds gathered in Yangon, including at the central bank where protesters called for staff to join the civil disobedience movement.    Buddhist monks also rallied against the coup in Yangon while hundreds marched through the west coast town of Thanked.
    The army took power alleging that its complaints of fraud in a Nov. 8 general election, in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party had won a landslide, were being ignored.
    The electoral commission had dismissed the army’s complaints.
    The coup has prompted an angry response from Western countries and the United States has slapped some sanctions on the generals.
    But China has taken a softer approach, arguing stability should be the priority in its neighbour, where it has close contacts with the military.    China did, however, join other U.N. Security Council members in calling for the release of Suu Kyi.
    On Tuesday, Chinese Ambassador Chen Hai said the situation was “absolutely not what China wants to see” and dismissed rumours of Chinese involvement in the coup as “completely nonsense.”
    Chen, in an interview with media posted on his embassy’s Facebook page, said Beijing maintained friendly relations with both the army and the former government and had not been “informed in advance of the political change.”
(Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Bangkok; Writing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore, William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

2/16/2021 Iran’s Meddling Must Be Tackled Before Iraq Elections, U.S. Tells U.N. by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Broken glass is seen at the Bright Castle Motors building after reports of mortar shells
landing near Erbil airport, in Erbil, Iraq February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday that creating a conducive environment for elections in Iraq later this year includes tackling Iran-backed militias, Iran’s destabilizing activities in the country and remaining Islamic State elements.
    Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Mills told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq that one of the highest barriers to creating a conducive environment for credible, peaceful and inclusive elections “is the presence of armed militias, violent extremists and spoilers.”
    “A conducive environment means that we must address Iran-backed militias and Iran’s destabilizing activities in Iraq, as well as the remaining ISIS (Islamic State) elements,” Mills told the 15-member council.
    “These groups undermine the public’s trust in the government, and in the October 2021 elections.    They’re killing Iraqi citizens and depriving Iraq of much-needed economic relief and foreign investment.    No one is immune,” he said.
    A rocket attack on U.S.-led forces in northern Iraq on Monday killed a civilian contractor and injured a U.S. service member.    The attack was claimed by a group that some Iraqi officials say has links with Iran.
    The United States has about 2,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.
    “Such reckless attempts to inflame tensions pose grave threats to Iraq’s stability. Close collaboration between Baghdad and Erbil, to bring the culprits to justice, is now of the greatest importance,” U.N. Iraq special envoy Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert told the Security Council on Tuesday.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration pledged to be a steady, reliable partner for Iraq, Mills said.
    “Among its top priorities, the United States will seek to help Iraq assert its sovereignty in the face of enemies at home and abroad, by preventing an ISIS resurgence and working toward Iraq’s stability,” he said.
    “For the United States this means supporting Iraq’s efforts to hold credible inclusive and peaceful elections,” Mills said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler)

2/16/2021 European Human Rights Court Backs Germany Over Kunduz Airstrike Case by Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: Afghan police inspect the site of an airstrike in Kunduz September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Wahdat
    Berlin (Reuters) – An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.
    The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.
    In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.
    The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed.    Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.
    The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defense minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.
    Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.
    For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.
    The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force.    It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.
    Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.
    A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.
    Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold)

2/16/2021 Germany Cautions Iran Against Blocking IAEA Inspections, Source Says
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany is warning Iran against blocking inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog IAEA, a diplomatic source in Berlin told Reuters on Tuesday.
    “It would be completely unacceptable should Iran obstruct IAEA inspections,” the German diplomat said.
    “We urge Iran to refrain from this step, and are in close contact regarding this issue with our partners, including the United States,” the diplomat said, adding Iran needed to contribute to a de-escalation to give diplomacy a chance.
    Iran said on Monday it will block snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from next week if other parties to the 2015 nuclear deal do not uphold their obligations, a challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden’s hope of reviving the accord.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

2/16/2021 China’s Wang Urges Peace Push In Call With New South Korea Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi listens during a meeting in Manila, Philippines January 16, 2021. Francis Malasig/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – China’s State Councillor Wang Yi called for stronger communication and coodination from all parties to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula when he spoke to South Korea’s new foreign minister on Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said.
    Wang, who is also China’s foreign minister, told Chung Eui-yong in the phone call that Beijing had always appreciated South Korea’s “unique role” in Korean peninsula affairs and urged extra efforts to achieve denuclearisation and lasting peace, the ministry statement said.
    Chung, who took office a week ago, on Friday held his first phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, amid stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang aimed at making North Korea give up its nuclear weapons.
    He told Wang that Seoul was willing to continue to play a constructive role in promoting the resumption of peace talks, firmly supported Beijing in hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022 and was willing to deepen regional cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, China’s foreign ministry said.     South Korea hosted the last Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018.
(Reporting by Tom Daly; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/17/2021 U.S., China Face U.N. Cooperation Test Over UK Push For Vaccine Ceasefires by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech at the lower house
of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Britain on Wednesday proposed that the U.N. Security Council call for ceasefires to allow for COVID-19 vaccinations, a move that will be a key test of cooperation at the United Nations between China and new U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
    Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged a “swift adoption” by the 15-member council of a draft resolution calling for vaccination ceasefires, warning that 160 million people are at risk of missing out due to instability and conflict.
    “Local ceasefires are going to be essential to enable lifesaving vaccinations to take place,” Raab said.
    The U.N. Security Council took more than three months to back a call by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global pandemic ceasefire last year due to bickering between China and former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
    “We need to resist the prejudice, respect science and reject disinformation and attempts to politicize the pandemic.    In this regard, members of the Security Council must lead by example,” China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the council on Wednesday.
    He made no mention of the British initiative and instead pushed warring parties to implement ceasefires called for by the Security Council in the resolution adopted in July, while Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia signaled that another resolution is not needed.
    Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward hopes the council can adopt a new resolution in “the coming weeks.”
‘WILDLY UNEVEN, UNFAIR’
    Long-simmering tensions between China and the Trump administration hit the boiling point over the pandemic, spotlighting Beijing’s bid for greater multilateral influence in a challenge to Washington’s traditional leadership at the United Nations.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington would pay by the end of the month more than $200 million it owes to the World Health Organization (WHO).    Biden rescinded a Trump decision to withdraw from the Geneva-based body this year.
    Blinken said an ongoing WHO inquiry into the pandemic origins must be independent, based on science and facts and free from interference.    The White House has raised concerns that China, where the virus first emerged in 2019, could alter the report.
    “To better understand this pandemic and prepare for the next one all countries must make available all data from the earliest days of any outbreak,” Blinken said, without mentioning China.
    The Trump administration accused Beijing of a lack of transparency that it says worsened the COVID-19 outbreak.    China denied those assertions.
Secretary-General Guterres appealed for a global immunization plan, urging the Group of 20 rich and big emerging powers to take the lead.
    “We must ensure that everybody, everywhere, can be vaccinated as soon as possible.    Yet progress on vaccinations has been wildly uneven and unfair,” Guterres told the council.
    “Just 10 countries have administered 75% of all COVID-19 vaccines.    Meanwhile, more than 130 countries have not received a single dose.    Those affected by conflict and insecurity are at particular risk of being left behind.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alex Richardson and Jonathan Oatis)

2/17/2021 Myanmar Coup Protesters Mass To Reject Army Claim Of Support
Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Myanmar on Wednesday, rejecting the army’s assertion that the public supported its overthrow of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and saying they would not be cowed in their bid to end military rule.
    The day’s demonstrations were largely peaceful, but security forces fired shots in the city of Mandalay after dark in a confrontation with striking railway workers, residents said.
    Opponents of the Feb. 1 military coup are deeply sceptical of junta assurances, given at a news conference on Tuesday, that there would be a fair election and that it would hand over power, even as police filed an additional charge against Suu Kyi.
    “We love democracy and hate the junta,” Sithu Maung, an elected member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), told tens of thousands of people at the Sule Pagoda, a central protest site in the main city of Yangon.
    “We must be the last generation to experience a coup.”
    The protests in cities across Myanmar were some of the biggest since daily demonstrations began on Feb. 6 to denounce the coup that halted an unsteady transition to democracy from half a century of army rule and isolation.
    Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told the Tuesday news conference that the army would not be in power for long and that 40 million of Myanmar’s 53 million population supported the coup.
    Sithu Maung poked fun at that, saying: “We’re showing here that we’re not in that 40 million.”
    As well as the demonstrations across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.
    The army announced on Wednesday that police complaints had been filed against six local celebrities under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join in the protest.    The charges can carry a two-year prison sentence.
“OUR FUTURE”
    “If we don’t win this battle, our future, the future of our generation, the future of our children, will be lost,” actor Pyay Ti Oo, one of the six, told protesters.
    The army seized power after the electoral commission dismissed its allegations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Suu Kyi’s party.    The army said its seizure of power was in line with the constitution and it remained committed to democracy.
    The Nobel Peace laureate, detained since the coup, now faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios.
    Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy.
    The takeover and the arrests of Suu Kyi and hundreds of others have also drawn strong Western criticism, with renewed anger from Washington and London over the additional charge for Suu Kyi.
    Although China has taken a softer line, its ambassador in Myanmar on Tuesday dismissed accusations it supported the coup.
    Despite that, protesters also gathered outside the Chinese embassy.
    Tens of thousands took to the streets of the city of Mandalay, where some people also blocked its main rail link.br>     After dark, security forces opened fire as they advanced with a line of riot shields towards railway workers who had stopped trains from running. Dozens of shots could be heard and videos show soldiers throwing stones and using catapults.
    One local charity worker was hit in the leg by what appeared to be a rubber bullet, residents said.
    Neither the army nor the police made any immediate comment on the incident, but the army’s Facebook page said forces were providing security across the country to “make sure people have tranquility and sound sleep
    Thousands marched in the capital, Naypyitaw, and hundreds in the southern town of Mawlamyine, witnesses said.    Both places saw clashes last week.
    In Yangon and elsewhere, motorists responded to a “broken-down car campaign” spread on social media, stopping their supposedly stalled cars, with bonnets raised, on streets and bridges to block them to police and military trucks.
    The unrest has revived memories of bloody suppression of protests under previous juntas.
    Police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters.    A protester who was shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.
    A policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest in Mandalay on Monday, the military said.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Kim Coghill and Nick Macfie)

2/17/2021 Mumbai Court Stops Arrest Of Associate Of 22-Year-Old Climate Activist by Shilpa Jamkhandikar
FILE PHOTO: People hold placards during a protest against the arrest of 22-year-old climate activist
Disha Ravi, in Bengaluru, India, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Samuel Rajkumar
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – A Mumbai court on Wednesday granted bail to an associate of a 22-year-old climate activist whose arrest for promoting an action plan for farmers’ protests has caused outrage across the country.
    Police had sought the arrest of Nikita Jacob, a Mumbai-based lawyer, for allegedly working together with activist Disha Ravi on a “tool-kit” or a document that it said was used to foment violence during a mass protest by farmers in Delhi last month.
    Ravi, an activist linked to Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, was arrested over the weekend on charges of sedition and remains in police custody.
    But Jacob petitioned a court in Mumbai to stop the police from carrying out her own arrest warrant.
    “The court has granted her three weeks interim relief,” Sanjukta Dey, Jacob’s lawyer, told reporters outside the court.
    “There is nothing in the tool kit about violence, it is only for creating awareness about farm laws, it’s not for creating violence,” Dey added.
    Dey said that Jacob had already been questioned by police on the document and she was ready to cooperate with them in their investigations into the events of Jan. 26, when farmers stormed the historic Red Fort in the old quarter of Delhi while the country was marking the Republic Day.
    Thunberg tweeted a link to the “tool-kit” in early February, drawing international attention to the farmers’ campaign against the Indian government’s move to deregulate agriculture produce markets and open them to private players.    She later deleted that post.
    Politicians, students and activists have held protests against the arrest of Ravi, a founding member of the local arm of Thunberg’s Fridays for Future climate change movement.    On Wednesday, the student wing of the main opposition Congress party staged a protest in Delhi demanding her release.
    A lawyer for Ravi has declined to comment. Her arrest comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government faces allegations it is suppressing dissent.
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; addtiional reporting by Sunny Kataria in new Delhi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

2/17/2021 U.S. Charges Three North Koreans In $1.3 Billion Hacking Spree by Sarah N. Lynch, Raphael Satter and Mark Hosenball
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Department of Justice building in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has charged three North Korean computer programmers with a massive hacking spree aimed at stealing more than $1.3 billion in money and cryptocurrency, affecting companies from banks to Hollywood movie studios, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday.
    The indictment alleges that Jon Chang Hyok, 31, Kim Il, 27, and Park Jin Hyok, 36, stole money while working for North Korea’s military intelligence services.    Park had previously been charged in a complaint unsealed in 2018.
    The Justice Department said the hackers were responsible for a wide range of criminal activity and high-profile intrusions, including a retaliatory 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment for producing “The Interview” movie, which depicted the assassination of North Korea’s leader.
    The group is alleged to have targeted staff of AMC Theatres and broken into computers belonging to Mammoth Screen, a U.K. film company that was working on a drama series about North Korea.
    The Justice Department also alleged that the trio participated in the creation of the destructive WannaCry 2.0 ransomware – which hit Britain’s National Health Service hard when it was set loose in 2017.
    The indictment pins the blame on the hackers for breaking into banks across South and Southeast Asia, Mexico, and Africa by penetrating the financial institutions’ networks and abusing the SWIFT protocol to steal money.    They’re also alleged to have deployed malicious applications from March 2018 through September 2020 to target cryptocurrency users.
    The overall amount of money stolen by the hackers is not clear because in some cases the thefts were either halted or reversed.    But the figures are significant.    In one 2016 heist alone – at the Bangladesh Bank – the hackers are alleged to have made off with $81 million.
    “North Korea’s operatives, using keyboards rather than guns, stealing digital wallets of cryptocurrency instead of sacks of cash, are the world’s leading 21st century nation-state bank robbers,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Demers told a news briefing.
    Kristi Johnson, the FBI assistant director in charge for the Los Angeles Field Office, told reporters that the three alleged hackers were believed to be in North Korea.    Officials alleged they had been stationed at times in various other countries, including China and Russia.
    The North Korean mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to requests for comment and contact details for the trio could not immediately be found.    The Chinese and Russian embassies in Washington also did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
    Overall, North Korea has generated an estimated $2 billion using “widespread and increasingly sophisticated” digital intrusions at banks and cryptocurrency exchanges, according to a U.N. report in 2019 by independent experts monitoring international sanctions on Pyongyang.
    “According to one member state, the DPRK total theft of virtual assets, from 2019 to November 2020” was approximately $316.4 million, the report said.
    Officials said on Wednesday that Ghaleb Alaumary, a Canadian-American citizen, has separately pleaded guilty to laundering some of the alleged hackers’ money.    Requests for comment sent to Alaumary’s lawyers were not immediately returned.
    Alaumary is slated to be sentenced in June in a federal court in Georgia.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Raphael Satter and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Alistair Bell)

2/17/2021 Germany Warns Against Swift Withdrawal From Afghanistan by Sabine Siebold
FILE PHOTO: The outgoing leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer takes her face mask off ahead of the second day of the
party's 33rd congress held online amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Berlin, Germany January 16, 2021. Odd Andersen/Pool via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Peace talks for Afghanistan have not made sufficient progress to allow a withdrawal of foreign troops, German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Wednesday ahead of a virtual meeting with her NATO counterparts.
    The Afghan government and Taliban militants began peace talks in Doha last September, but negotiations have largely stalled.
    NATO defense ministers will discuss on Thursday whether the Taliban is making good on a separate 2020 peace deal with the United States, which called for militants to curb attacks and for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1.
    Washington is currently reviewing this deal.
    “This (lack of progress in peace talks) means we will have to prepare for a changing security situation and a rising threat to both international troops and our own soldiers,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement.
    Germany has contributed some 1,100 soldiers to NATO’s mission, which numbers 9,600 personnel in total, training and assisting Afghan forces.    The mission also includes some 2,500 U.S. military personnel.
    Many fear that progress during two decades of foreign intervention in Afghanistan could quickly unravel in the event of NATO’s forces withdrawing, threatening gains in areas from women’s rights to democracy.
    In her statement, Kramp-Karrenbauer echoed comments by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who said on Monday the Taliban must do more to meet the terms of the 2020 peace agreement with the United States.
    Attacks in Afghanistan, including a bomb that killed the deputy governor of the capital Kabul in December, have prompted members of the U.S. Congress and international rights groups to call for a delay to the pullout agreed under former President Donald Trump.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Madeline Chambers and Gareth Jones)
[WELL IT DID NOT TAKE LONG FOR THE GLOBALIST SOCIALIST ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT TO REVERSE TRUMP’S NO MORE USELESS WARS CONCEPT SO NOW THEY WILL MOVE ALL TO RETURN TO THE PREVIOUS STATUS.].

1/17/2021 Japan’s Ruling Party Invites More Women To Meetings, As Long As They Don’t Talk by Ju-min Park and Chang-Ran Kim
FILE PHOTO: Toshihiro Nikai, Secretary General of the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, talks to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi
during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 31 August 2018. Roman Pilipey/Pool via Reuters
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, long seen as a homogeneous redoubt of elderly men, now wants more women at its key meetings – provided they don’t do the talking.
    The party, in power for most of the time since 1955, has proposed allowing five female lawmakers to join its board meetings as observers in a response to criticism that its board is dominated by men.
    Two of the party’s 12-member board are women, while only three of its 25-member general council are women.
    The proposal comes after sexist comments from former Tokyo Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, himself an LDP member and a onetime prime minister, sparked a global outcry and renewed attention on gender disparity in the world’s third-largest economy.
    The move would allow more female LDP members to see how decisions were being made, said Toshihiro Nikai, the party’s 82-year-old secretary general.    He said he had heard criticism the party’s elected board was dominated by men.
    “It is important to fully understand what kind of discussions are happening,” he told a news conference late on Tuesday.
    “Take a look, is what it is about.”
    Those female observers would not be able to speak during the meetings, but could submit opinions separately to the secretariat office, the Nikkei newspaper reported.
    Japan is ranked 121st out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Index – the worst ranking gap among advanced countries – scoring poorly on women’s economic participation and political empowerment.
    Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe championed a policy of “Womenomics” to increase women’s participation in the economy, but activists and many ordinary women say more drastic change is still needed in the workplace, and in politics.
    The problem was highlighted as Mori, the Olympics chief, resigned last week after comments that women spoke too much at meetings and caused them to go one for too long.
    This week, a group of female LDP lawmakers asked Nikai to increase the ratio of women in key party posts.
    The LDP’s latest move met with scorn on social media and from some opposition lawmakers.
    “Male chauvinism and discrimination against women is always part of the LDP,” wrote one Twitter user, miku_mizusaki.
    Also making the rounds on social media were comments by Kengo Sakurada, head of a powerful Japanese business lobby, who said Japan’s glass ceiling was “partly women’s fault.”
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Chang-ran Kim; Additional reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Gerry Doyle, David Dolan and Nick Macfie)

2/17/2021 Merkel Tells Rouhani Iran Should Return To Nuclear Deal
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel sits following her speech on the government's response to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, at the country's parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin, Germany, February 11, 2021. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran should send positive signals to increase the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and defuse a standoff with western powers, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told President Hassan Rouhani in a phone call on Wednesday.
    Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said the German leader told Rouhani she was concerned that Iran was continuing to breach its commitments under the deal, which U.S. President Joe Biden wants to restore should Iran halt nuclear activities.
(Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Madeline Chambers)

2/17/2021 Iran Plans Extra Advanced Machines At Underground Enrichment Plant: IAEA
FILE PHOTO: Iranian soldiers stand guard on an anti-aircraft machine gun inside the Natanz uranium
enrichment facility, 322km (200 miles) south of Iran's capital Tehran March 9, 2006. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog it plans to install more of its advanced IR-2m centrifuges at an underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, a report by the agency on Wednesday said, which would deepen a breach of Iran’s nuclear deal.
    “Iran indicated it plans to install two additional cascades of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at FEP to enrich … up to 5% U-235.    This will bring the total number of cascades of IR-2m centrifuges either planned, being installed, or operating in FEP to six,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to member states obtained by Reuters.
    An IAEA report on Feb. 1 said Iran had brought a second cascade, or cluster, of IR-2m centrifuges online at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) and was installing two more.    Iran’s deal with major powers says it can only enrich at the FEP with far less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

2/17/2021 Iran’s Khamenei Demands ‘Action’ From Biden To Revive Nuclear Deal by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wears a mask during a virtual speech, in Tehran, Iran
February 17, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded “action, not words” from the United States if it wants to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, challenging new President Joe Biden to take the first step toward a thaw.
    Iran has set a deadline of next week for Biden to begin reversing sanctions imposed by his predecessor Donald Trump, or it will take its biggest step yet to breach the deal – banning short-notice inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    “We have heard many nice words and promises which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.    “Words and promises are no good. This time (we want) only action from the other side, and we will also act.”
    Biden aims to restore the pact under which Iran agreed to curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme in return for the lifting of sanctions, a major achievement of the Obama administration that Trump scrapped in 2018, calling the deal one sided in Iran’s favour and reimposing a wide range of sanctions.
    Iran and the United States are at odds over who should make the first step to revive the accord. Iran says the United States must first lift Trump’s sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal, which it began violating after Trump launched his “maximum-pressure” campaign.
    Highlighting the urgency of a diplomatic solution to the standoff, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a rare phone call with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in which she urged Tehran to take steps ensuring its return to full compliance.
    “It is now time for positive signals that create trust and increase the chances of a diplomatic solution,” Merkel told Rouhani, according to a statement by the chancellor’s spokesman.
    Iran has accelerated its breaches of the deal’s restrictions in recent months, culminating in an announcement that it will end snap inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Feb. 23.
    Such inspections, which can range anywhere beyond Iran’s declared nuclear sites, are mandated under the IAEA’s “Additional Protocol” that Iran agreed to honour under the deal.    It signed up to the Protocol in 2003 but has not ratified it.
MORE ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES ON TAP
    An IAEA report on Wednesday said Iran had informed the IAEA of plans to install more of its advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its main underground enrichment plant at Natanz, in a further move apparently meant to pile pressure on Washington.
    The IAEA reported on Feb. 1 that Iran had brought a second cascade, or cluster, of IR-2m machines online at Natanz, and was installing two more.    The 2015 deal says Iran can only enrich with far less efficient, first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.
    Iran recently began enriching uranium to 20% fissile purity at another site, Fordow, well above its previous level of 4.5% and the deal’s 3.67% limit, though still well before the 90% that is weapons grade. Iran had enriched to 20% before the deal.
    Refining uranium to high levels of fissile purity is a potential pathway to nuclear bombs, though Iran has long said it its enrichment programme is for peaceful energy purposes only.
    European parties to the deal, which have called on Tehran not to halt snap inspections, will discuss the issue with the United States on Thursday, the French Foreign Ministry said.
    Rouhani played down the importance of the snap inspections, saying that ending them would not be a “significant step,” as Iran would still comply with obligations under a so-called Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.
    “We will end the implementation of the Additional Protocol on Feb. 23 and what will be implemented will be based on the safeguards,” Rouhani said at a televised cabinet meeting.    “The Additional Protocol is a step beyond safeguards.”
    Iran’s envoy to the IAEA said on Wednesday that the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi, would visit Tehran on Saturday to discuss the country’s plan to scale back cooperation with inspectors next week.
(Additional reporting by Joseph Nasr in Berlin with additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[WHY IS IT SO HARD FOR THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION TO SAY NO TO IRAN WHO IS A COUNTRY THAT WOULD DESTROY YOU IF THEY COULD.].

2/18/2021 Protesters Out Again In Myanmar, Police Use Water Cannon In Capital
Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Protesters demonstrated across Myanmar again on Thursday to denounce the Feb. 1 military coup and arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and police forcefully dispersed crowds, using water cannon in the capital and catapults in a northern town.
    The daily protests and strikes that have paralysed many government offices show no sign of easing even though the junta has promised a new election and appealed for civil servants to return to work, threatening action if they do not.
    “I don’t want to wake up in a dictatorship. We don’t want to live the rest of our lives in fear,” said Ko Soe Min, who was out in the main city of Yangon where tens of thousands took to the streets a day after some of the biggest protests yet.
    Big crowds returned to Yangon’s central Sule Pagoda while many young people also massed at another favourite protest site, at an intersection near the main university campus, spilling into the streets as police tried to move them on.
    The marches have been more peaceful than the bloodily suppressed demonstrations seen during an earlier half century of army rule, but they and the civil disobedience movement have had a crippling effect on much official business.
    Many motorists in Yangon drove at a snail’s pace in a show of opposition to the coup, a day after many pretended to be broken down to block police and army vehicles.
    In the second-biggest city, Mandalay, protesters rallied to demand the release of two officials arrested in the coup.    Police fired water cannon in the capital, Naypyitaw, to scatter a crowd approaching police lines.
    The northern town of Myitkyina was tense after police and soldiers used catapults to break up a protest, a resident said.    Pictures on social media showed soldiers and rows of police trucks.
    “They’re not acting in line with the constitution nor rule of law.    They are acting like terrorists,” said activist Sut Seng Htoi.    Police were not available for comment.
    In the old capital of Bagan, people with banners and flags marched in colourful processions against a backdrop of ancient temples.    Some protesters stopped at a temple to put a curse on dictators, a witness said.
TRYING TO END CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE     Putting an end to the civil disobedience campaign appears to be the military government’s priority.
    Late on Wednesday, the junta issued arrest warrants against six celebrities, including film directors, actors and a singer, under an anti-incitement law, for encouraging civil servants to join the protest.
    The charges can carry a two-year prison sentence.
    “It’s amazing to see the unity of our people.    People’s power must return to the people,” actor Lu Min, who was on the junta’s ‘wanted list’, posted on his Facebook page.
    The military says a majority of people back its actions.
    The takeover and arrests have drawn strong Western criticism with the United States and Britain among countries that have announced or threatened sanctions.
    China has taken a softer line while neighbours Singapore and Indonesia have proposed regional dialogue.    Singapore also urged that violence not be used against civilians.
    “In particular, live rounds should not be fired on unarmed civilians under any circumstances,” Singapore’s foreign ministry cited its minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, as saying.
    Police have fired rubber bullets several times.
    One protester was shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week and is being kept on life support, but doctors say she is not expected to survive.
    The army says that one policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest.
    The army said on its Facebook page forces were providing security across the country to “make sure people have tranquillity and sound sleep.”
    Halting Myanmar’s tentative transition towards democracy, the army took power after the electoral commission rejected its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.
    Opponents of the coup are deeply sceptical of junta promises to hand over power after a new election, for which no date has yet been set.
    Suu Kyi, detained since the coup, faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios.    Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.
    Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her struggle.
    The number of people known to have been detained since the coup had reached 495 by Wednesday, of whom 460 were still being held, Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)

2/18/2021 Hong Kong Tycoon Jimmy Lai Denied Another Bid For Bail In National Security Case by Jessie Pang
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/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s High Court denied another bail application on Thursday to media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, the most high-profile person to be charged under the Chinese-ruled city’s national security law.
    The Court of Final Appeal ruled last week that a lower court’s decision last year to grant him bail applied “an erroneous line of reasoning,” but allowed Lai’s team to make a new application for bail to the High Court.
    The High Court said it will publish its reasons for rejecting Thursday’s application at a later date.
    Under the new law, the onus is on the defendant to prove they would not be a national security threat if released on bail. Under Hong Kong’s common law-based legal system, the onus has traditionally been on the prosecution to prove its case.
    Lai has been in custody since Dec. 3, except for when he was released for about a week last year before his bail was appealed by the prosecutors and subsequently overturned.
    He was arrested in August when about 200 police officers raided the newsroom of his Apple Daily tabloid newspaper.
    The tabloid and other media reported on Wednesday that Lai, while in jail, had been arrested again, on suspicion of assisting a fugitive China captured at sea last year.
    Beijing imposed the national security law on the former British colony last June after months of pro-democracy protests.    The law punishes anything China considers subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Critics say it is aimed at crushing dissent and it erodes freedoms in the semi-autonomous financial hub.    Its supporters say it restores stability after months of unrest.
    Prosecutors have accused Lai of breaching the law over statements he made on July 30 and Aug. 18, in which they allege he requested foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.
    Lai has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting with officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor
    Lai stepped down last year as chairman of Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/18/2021 Jailed Duterte Rival Celebrates ‘Moral Victory’ After Court Dismisses Case
FILE PHOTO: Philippine police escort Leila de Lima, a senator detained on drug charges, on her way to a local court to face
an obstruction of justice complaint in Quezon city, metro Manila, Philippines March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
    MANILA (Reuters) – A jailed critic of Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday hailed as a “moral victory” a court’s dismissal of one of three cases against her, which stem from the president’s allegations she prospered from illicit drugs under the previous government.
    Senator Leila de Lima, who has spent four years in prison since she led an investigation into alleged summary executions during Duterte’s signature war on drugs, said the court’s decision showed the charges against her were “trumped-up” by the Duterte administration.
    The court said that its granting of De Lima’s plea to dismiss the case on lack of evidence was “tantamount to her acquittal.”
    De Lima, a former justice minister, is considered by many activists as a political prisoner and has received awards from human rights groups for standing up to Duterte over the deaths of thousands of suspected drug peddlers.
    “Not a single witness testified that I and my co-accused conspired with drug lords to trade drugs in prisons,” De Lima said in a statement.
    “From the onset, these cases were filed to silence me and distract me from my duties as senator.”
    Before and during her detention, De Lima was subject to humiliating public tirades by Duterte, who accused her of adultery and of making a sex tape and even recommended she hang herself.
    De Lima sought a court injunction to muzzle Duterte and once called him a “sociopathic serial killer.”    She has expressed fear for her life because of the “diehard fanatics” among his supporters.
    Akbayan Partylist, a leftwing group of lawmakers, said De Lima’s first victory should serve as reminder to the government that “despite the weaponisation of the law, the people will push back in order for truth and justice to find their way out.”
    Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque said De Lima had no reason to celebrate because she remains in jail.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

2/18/2021 Blinken, Quad Ministers Discuss COVID, Climate, Security Issues: State Dept.
FILE PHOTO: New U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken begins his first press briefing at
the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Myanmar, COVID-19, climate and Indo-Pacific territorial and navigation issues with his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia on Thursday, the State Department said.
    “The ministers also discussed countering disinformation, counterterrorism, maritime security, the urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in Burma, and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region,” the State Department said in a statement.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

2/18/2021 Bomb Blast Kills University Professor In Afghan Capital: Police
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan police officer keeps watch at the site of a bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan January 10, 2021. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – A Kabul University professor was killed when a bomb hit his car in Afghanistan’s capital on Thursday, police officials said, the first attack in days after a series of such incidents in recent weeks.
    Mubasher Muslimyar, an Islamic law professor, was killed in Kabul along with another person, said Ferdaws Faramarz, a police spokesman.    The identity of the second individual killed was not immediately known, but media reports said he was a professor too.
    Kabul has seen a series of attacks with small magnetic bombs attached under vehicles and other targeted killings against members of security forces, judges, government officials, civil society activists and journalists in recent weeks.
    No group claimed responsibility for the attack but government officials say Taliban insurgents are to be blame and use such tactics to instill fear while avoiding large-scale civilian casualties.
    The government announced last week that they had arrested a militant group behind making and deploying sticky bombs, but such attacks do continue to occur.
    Violence in parts of the country has increased recently as peace talks between the government and Taliban insurgents have largely stalled while U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration reviews how to handle the peace process, including a troop withdrawal.
    Afghan military officials said both local security forces and the Taliban are preparing for fresh fighting in the spring.
(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi, Writing by Hamid Shalizi, Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

2/18/2021 Facebook ‘Unfriends’ Australia: Global Uproar As News Pages Go Dark by Byron Kaye
A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed Australia's flag in this illustration photo taken February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Facebook faced a worldwide backlash from publishers and politicians on Thursday after blocking news feeds in Australia in a surprise escalation of a dispute with the government over a law to require it to share revenue from news.
    Facebook wiped out pages from Australian state governments and charities as well as from domestic and international news organisations, three days before the launch of a nationwide COVID-19 vaccination programme.
    Though the measure was limited to Australia, denunciations came from far afield, with politicians elsewhere describing it as an attempt to put pressure on governments that are considering similar measures around the world.
    “Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison wrote on his own Facebook page.
    “These actions will only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them.”
    The dispute centres on a planned Australian law that would require Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to reach commercial deals to pay news outlets whose links drive traffic to their platforms, or agree a price through arbitration.
    Facebook said it had blocked a wide swathe of pages because the draft law did not clearly define news content.    It said its commitment to combat misinformation had not changed, and it would restore pages that were taken down by mistake.
    “The actions we’re taking are focused on restricting publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content,” a company spokesman said.    “As the law does not provide clear guidance on the definition of news content, we have taken a broad definition in order to respect the law as drafted.”
    The head of the British parliamentary committee overseeing the media industry, Julian Knight, was among politicians abroad who thought the message was aimed far beyond Australia.
    “This action – this bully boy action – that they’ve undertaken in Australia will I think ignite a desire to go further amongst legislators around the world,” Knight told Reuters.
    “I think they’re almost using Australia as a test of strength for global democracies as to whether or not they wish to impose restrictions on the way in which they do business,” he said.    “So, we’re all behind Australia in my view.”
    News publishers saw Facebook’s tactics as evidence that the company, which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp, cannot be trusted as the gatekeeper for their industry.
    Henry Faure Walker, chairman of Britain’s News Media Association industry group, said banning news during a global pandemic was “a classic example of a monopoly power being the schoolyard bully, trying to protect its dominant position with scant regard for the citizens and customers it supposedly serves.”
    The head of Germany’s BDZV news publishers’ association, Dietmar Wolff, said: “It is high time that governments all over the world limit the market power of the gatekeeper platforms.”
    Facebook shares traded down 1.5% on Thursday.
DIFFERENT STRATEGIES
    Publishers say platforms such as Google and Facebook hoard the bulk of revenue as media shifts online as print and broadcast advertising shrivels, forcing newspapers and TV and radio stations to scale down newsrooms or shut.
    Jurisdictions around the world have been enacting rules to require Google, Facebook and others to share revenue with publishers, including a 2019 directive from Brussels which European Union countries are meant to enact into law by June.
    Google has complained that Australia’s rules go further than Europe’s, because they would apply even to links and snippets of articles, which it says limits internet users’ free speech.
    Still, Facebook’s action in Australia represented a tactical split with Google.    They had campaigned together against such laws and both threatened to cancel services in Australia, but Google sealed preemptive deals with several media outlets in recent days.
Google declined comment on Facebook’s action.
    Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp was the latest to announce a deal in which it will receive “significant payments” from Google to provide content for the search engine’s News Showcase account.
    Facebook drew particular condemnation for including in its blackout charity accounts and major state governments, including those providing advice on the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfire threats.    Some were later restored, though even Facebook’s own page was briefly taken down.
    Facebook said the planned Australian law, expected to be passed by parliament within days, “fundamentally misunderstands” the relationship between itself and publishers and it faced a stark choice of complying or banning news.
    The tech giant has said news makes up just 4% of what people view on its website.    But for Australians, Facebook’s role in news delivery is growing. A 2020     University of Canberra study found 21% of Australians use social media as their primary news source and 39% of the population uses Facebook to receive news.
    With professional journalism blacked out, “Facebook has exponentially increased the opportunity for misinformation, dangerous radicalism and conspiracy theories to abound on its platform,” tweeted Lisa Davies, editor of The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye, Supantha Mukherjee, Guy Faulconbridge, Emma Thomasson; Editing by Jane Wardell, Kim Coghill, Peter Graff, Keith Weir and Timothy Heritage)

2/18/2021 Australians Furious At Facebook’s News Ban by OAN Newsroom
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 18: In this photo illustration ABC News reports on Facebook’s news ban on Australian
and International content on February 18, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
    Millions of Australian citizens and government officials took to social media to criticize Facebook’s decision to ban news content in their country.    As part of the ban, Facebook blocked access to several government accounts, which deprived Australian citizens of important information.
    Australians said Facebook’s actions amount to blatant interference with their domestic affairs.
    “Yeah, I think it’s crazy,” Sydney resident Doug Neale said.    “I’m a software developer, so I’m fascinated to see how the ban is actually affecting other sites that are getting crashed.”
    “This is outrageous and unacceptable,” Minister for Health Greg Hunt (L-Victoria) said.    “We expect that Facebook will fix these actions immediately and never repeat them again.    This is an assault on a sovereign nation.    It is an assault on people’s freedom and, in particular, it is an utter abuse of big technology’s market power and control over technology.    This will go around the world, but this stops.    This is unacceptable.”
    In response, Australian users left Facebook and switched to Telegram.

2/19/2021 Biden Admin. Seeks To Rejoin 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden walked on the South Lawn of the White House after stepping off Marine One, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    The Biden administration announced its plans to open dialogue with Iran regarding America’s return to the 2015 nuclear deal.    On Friday, Joe Biden announced the U.S. is looking forward to coming to a diplomatic agreement in order to revive the deal.
    President Donald Trump famously withdrew from the deal in 2018, saying it failed to stop the development of ballistic missiles and handed Iran billions of dollars, used to fund terrorism across the Middle East.
    However, Biden signaled a willingness to engage with world leaders and Tehran in a bid to return the U.S. to the negotiation table.
    “We said we’re prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program,” Biden stated.    “We must also address Iran’s destabilizing activities across the Middle East, and we’re going to work in close cooperation with our European and other partners as we proceed.”
    Biden’s statement came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken, along with his German, French and British counterparts said on Thursday that the U.S. would be “prepared to engage in discussions.”
WILMINGTON, DE – NOVEMBER 24: Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on November 24, 2020
in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
    The administration has already softened its stance on Iran in comparison with the last administration. Reports have said Biden formally rescinded the effort by President Trump to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran. It further pulled back the restrictions on domestic travel for Iranian officials working at the UN.
    On Thursday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was prepared to attend a meeting of the countries that signed the deal to discuss a diplomatic way forward on Iran’s nuclear program. He noted, while Tehran has already gone beyond what the deal allows in terms of limits on its nuclear program, the steps are “reversible.”
    “If Iran resumes its full compliance with the deal, we will do the same. Importantly, as you have also heard us say, that the deal for us, it is a floor. It’s not a ceiling,” Price said.    “We want to go beyond the 2015 deal, lengthen and strengthen it and build on it with follow-on arrangements to address other areas of concern when it comes to our relationship with Iran.”
    Unfortunately, Iran has indicated it will only backtrack on its progress if the U.S. “unconditionally lifts all sanctions,” a point made by the Iranian foreign minister.
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made similar comments during a statement on Wednesday.
    “We have heard many nice words and promises, which in practice have been broken and opposite actions have been taken,” Khamenei stated.    “    Words and promises are no good.    This time we want only action from the other side and we will also act.”
    Iran’s state media have already called the effort a “defeat for America.”
    One State Department official warned if the Biden team continues to roll back restrictions with only the hope of starting talks, Iran is “going to eat our lunch” in the negotiations.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who recently praised a phone call he received from Biden, reiterated his government’s longtime stance against the deal hasn’t changed.    He noted Israel believes that going back to the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”
[WELL BIDEN YOU WOKE ISRAEL AND THE ARAB NATIONS UP TO YOUR LIES AND THEY WILL HOPEFULLY STRENGTHEN THEIR FORCES TO PROTECT THEMSELVES FROM IRAN AND YOU HAVE OPENED THE GATE FOR THE KING OF THE EAST TO TRY TO INFILTRATE THE WEST AGAIN.].

2/20/2021 Explosions In Afghanistan Lead To Multiple Casualties by OAN Newsroom
A soldier stood guard as firefighters worked at the site of a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Three
separate explosions in the capital Kabul on Saturday killed and wounded numerous people an Afghan official said. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Kabul was rocked by a series of explosions after bombs went off in the Afghan capital.    According to local authorities on Saturday, at least five people were killed and two others were injured due to the blasts.
Afghan security personnel removed a damaged vehicle from the site of a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo)
    One of three major explosions reportedly struck a vehicle belonging to an adviser to the Afghani president.
    “The Ranger-type vehicle which was targeted belonged to Muhammad Mohaqiq, the president’s senior adviser on political and security affairs, and a party leader,” Ghulam Qader Sikandari, head of the office of President Mohammad said.    “The vehicle occupants were moving towards the Pul-e-Surkh area, when their vehicle exploded near the Vahdat crossroads.”
    Reports said two people died in that explosion, but the lawmaker was not in the vehicle at the time.    Officials believe the Taliban was involved in the attack, though no group has claimed responsibility.

2/20/2021 Aus. PM: Facebook ‘Temporarily Friended Us’ by OAN Newsroom
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 19: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a press conference
on February 19, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)
    Facebook is back at the negotiating table after its decision to stop Australians from sharing news and stripping the pages of domestic as well as foreign news outlets.    According to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Saturday, Facebook’s decision to erase several state government and emergency department accounts caused widespread anger.
    “We want to work through this issue,” Morrison said.    “And so I welcome the fact that they are back engaging with the government, as they should, and those actions were completely indefensible.”
    While Facebook publicly indicated no change in its position, Morrison said the tech giant “tentatively friended us again.”
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 18: In this photo illustration ABC News reports on Facebook’s news ban on
Australian and International content on February 18, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
    On Friday, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had spoken with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and further talks were expected over the weekend.    The stand-off came as Australia vowed to press ahead with landmark legislation, which Facebook opposed amid concern it would set a global precedent.
    “Look, I’ll let legal minds go over those issues,” Morrison said.    “My focus though is to get this issue resolved, positively, to ensure that the protections that we want to put in place.    To ensure that we have a free and democratic society here that supported by an open news media can continue, that’s a very important part of who we are.”

2/21/2021 Severe Flooding Hits Indonesian Capital by OAN Newsroom
People stood above at an office yard flooded following heavy rains, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 in Jakarta, Indonesia. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
    On Saturday, 1,300 people evacuated Indonesia’s capital Jakarta after monsoon floods slammed the city.    Floodwaters reached roughly six feet in parts of the city, which is home to over 10 million people.
    The country set up two dozen evacuation sites for residents from over 200 neighborhoods hit by floodwaters.    Resident social media posts show shoulder-high muddy waters and vehicles almost completely submerged.
People swam through a flooded neighborhood following heavy rains in Jakarta, Indonesia, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. Heavy downpours
combined with poor city sewage planning often causes heavy flooding in parts of greater Jakarta. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
    “I don’t know about other areas, but at my house it reached my chest,” an evacuee said.
    The country’s meteorology agency has cautioned residents to be on alert for more potential flooding over the next four days.
    At least five people have been killed by the flooding so far.

2/21/2021 Iran Agrees To Extend UN Nuclear Checks For 3 Months by OAN Newsroom
The head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, is pictured during
a meeting with Iran’s foreign minister in Tehran on February 21, 2021. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency came to an agreement with the Ayatollah regime to continue inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.    On Sunday, Iran agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor their nuclear activities for up to three months.
    Iran violated the international law while seeking to develop a nuclear weapon. Despite the latest agreement with the UN, inspectors said Iran still restricted access to some of its nuclear objects.    This was partly done as retaliation to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in November of 2020.
    “My hope and the hope of the IAEA has been to stabilize a situation, which was very unstable,” IAEA Director Rafael Grossi said.    “And I think this technical understanding does it so that other political consultations on other levels can take place.”
    Political analysts believed Iran’s deal with the UN could buy the Biden administration more time to negotiate a restoration of the failed Nuclear Deal.

2/22/2021 Iran to start limiting monitoring of nuke sites - Envoy: Sanctions must end before pact revived by Kim Hjelmgaard and Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
    Iran’s top diplomat insisted Sunday the United States must lift economic sanctions imposed on it by the Trump administration before the 2015 nuclear pact can be revived.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s remarks came as Tehran confirmed it would begin limiting additional international monitoring of its nuclear sites Tuesday, a move that for Iran represents another lean away from the accord exited by the U.S. in 2018.
    Zarif’s comments also follow an offer from President Joe Biden’s administration to meet with Iran and other world powers involved in negotiating the agreement.
    “The United States must return to the deal and lift all sanctions. ... The United States is addicted to sanctions, but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure,” Zarif said in an interview with Iran’s state-run, Englishlanguage broadcaster Press TV.
    Zarif did not confirm Iran was rejecting Biden’s offer of diplomacy.
    The nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, was negotiated by the U.S. with Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.
    His weekend remarks reflect the position Iran has held since the U.S. pulled out of the nuclear deal.    Iran has said it will resume negotiations with the U.S. only when the sanctions are lifted because Washington, not Tehran, exited the accord.
    The U.S. has been unwilling to take that first step, although the Biden administration’s offer Thursday to hold talks was its first public attempt at renewed diplomacy.    Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a CBS interview Sunday that the U.S. has “begun to communicate” with Iran regarding detained U.S. nationals.
    Zarif said International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) surveillance cameras at some of Iran’s nuclear sites would be shut off Tuesday, in line with a law passed by Iran’s Parliament.    These cameras were installed as part of an “additional protocol” of the nuclear deal.    Also, some nuclear inspectors will be barred from the sites.
    The protocol is a voluntary agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the nuclear agreement.    Under the measure, the agency “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” it said in 2017, adding that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”
    Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by Tuesday.    The IAEA is the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog.
    IAEA head Rafael Grossi is in Iran to discuss how to find “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”
    Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal.    But Biden and his secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have repeatedly said the U.S. would rejoin the agreement – and lift the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration – only if Iran first came back into compliance.
    In the Press TV interview, Zarif said the new access restrictions placed on the nuclear sites, as well as previous steps Iran has taken to enrich more uranium, were reversible.
    “This is not a deadline for the world.    This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif said.
    Mohammad Farahani, editor-inchief of a news agency linked to Iran’s judiciary, said in an email that the U.S. sanctions that have targeted Iran’s oil and banking sectors have hindered access to basic and humanitarian goods.
    “Iranians want these cruel sanctions lifted,” he said, adding that he saw no path to new diplomacy before the sanctions were addressed.
    “Iran will not yield to pressure” from the USA, said Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. AFP FILE PHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
[DON'T WORRY ZARIF THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION ARE HELL-BENT TO REVERSE ANY POLICY THAT TRUMP IMPLEMENTED EVEN IF IT IS THE STUPIDESS THING THEY HAVE EVER DONE IN THEIR LIFE BUT THEN THEY ARE USE TO DOING THAT.].

2/22/2021 Rep. Turner Says Biden’s Iran Policies Threaten Mideast Peace by OAN Newsroom
In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
speaks during a meeting with army’s air force and air defense staff in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021. Iran’s supreme leader said the U.S. must lift
all sanctions if it wants Iran to return to its commitments to the nuclear deal with Western powers. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Ohio congressman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) recently criticized Joe Biden for making huge political concessions to Iran.    On Sunday, the GOP lawmaker said Biden’s promises to restore the nuclear deal with Iran may undermine U.S. policy in the Middle East.
    Turner added, Biden gave the Ayatollah regime a pathway to becoming a nuclear-armed state without any consequences.    The proliferation of nuclear weapons is prohibited by United Nations (UN) resolutions, many of which were violated by Iran.
    Turner went on to stress that Biden is turning his back on U.S. allies in the Middle East while giving Iran a major benefit.
    Meanwhile, officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) came to an agreement with the Ayatollah regime to continue inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities.    On Sunday, Iran agreed to allow UN inspectors to monitor their nuclear activities for up to three months.
    This follows several international law violations by Iran as it continues to seek development of a nuclear weapon.    Despite this latest agreement with the UN, inspectors said Iran has restricted access to some of its nuclear objects.
    “My hope and the hope of the IAEA has been to stabilize a situation, which was very unstable,” stated Rafael Grossi, IAEA director.    “And I think this technical understanding does it, so that other political consultations on other levels can take place.”
    In the meantime, political analysts believe Iran’s deal with the UN could buy the Biden administration more time to negotiate a restoration of the failed nuclear deal.

2/22/2021 Reports: Biden Admin. Colluded With Iran To Derail President Trump by OAN Newsroom
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry is pictured. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)
    New evidence has revealed a likely collusion and conspiracy between Joe Biden and Iran’s Ayatollah regime.    According to The Washington Times on Sunday, top Obama-era officials Robert Malley and John Kerry established a back-channel with Iran in July 2019 in an apparent violation of the Logan Act.    The two now hold top positions in the Biden administration.
    The report found Kerry and Malley spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to normalize U.S.-Iranian ties and lift U.S. sanctions.    Separate reports said their efforts may have been aimed at derailing the Trump administration’s foreign policy on Iran.
    The report also found Malley and Kerry may have conspired with Iran to derail President Trump’s peace efforts in the Middle East in an effort to discredit his administration.

2/22/2021 Australia: No Changes To News Media Law After Facebook Fallout by OAN Newsroom
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 18: In this photo illustration, a message is seen on
Facebook mobile, on February 18, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
    Australia took a hardline stance on Facebook after the company attempted to cancel news and government agencies in the country.
    On Monday, leaders of the Australian Parliament said there will be no changes to the proposed law, which would make social media companies pay for news content. The decision blocked any possibility to negotiate better terms for U.S.-based tech giants.
    Last week, Facebook briefly banned a number of Australian media and state agencies, while Google opened talks to keep doing business as usual. Australian officials said Big Tech bias has gone too far.
    “Look, I’ll let legal minds go over those issues.    My focus though is to get this issue resolved, positively, to ensure that the protections that we want to put in place,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.    “To ensure that we have a free and democratic society here that supported by an open news media can continue, that’s a very important part of who we are.”
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 11: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke to the media at a
press conference at Parliament House on April 11, 2019 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)
    A final vote on the bill is slated for Tuesday.

2/22/2021 Iran Refutes Biden Admin.’S Claims Of Direct Talks On Release Of Hostages by OAN Newsroom
National security adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    According to Iran, the Biden administration’s claim that the two countries are holding direct negotiations over the release of American hostages is “not true.”
    This rebuttal came in a Sunday tweet posted by a spokesperson for the Fars News Agency, which is the semi-official news organization of the Ayatollah regime.    The spokesperson said indirect communications have been relayed to the Islamic Republic through Switzerland, though no direct dialogue has been initiated.
    This follows an interview earlier Sunday in which U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan claimed the administration had already launched these negotiations.
    “We have begun to communicate with the Iranians on this issue, yes, and we will continue to do so as we go forward,” Sullivan stated.    “And our strong message to the Iranians will be that we will not accept a long-term proposition where they continue to hold Americans in an unjust and unlawful manner.”

2/22/2021 China Calls For A Reset, But U.S. Says Beijing Trying To ‘Avert Blame’
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at the Lanting Forum
in Beijing, China February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Shubing Wang
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi said on Monday the United States and China could work together on various issues if they repaired their damaged bilateral relations, but Washington accused Beijing of trying to avert blame for its actions.
    Wang, a Chinese state councillor and foreign minister, said Beijing stood ready to reopen constructive dialogue after ties sank to their lowest in decades under former president Donald Trump.
    But he urged Washington to respect China’s core interests, stop “smearing” the ruling Communist Party, stop interfering in Beijing’s internal affairs, and stop “conniving” with separatist forces for Taiwan’s independence.
    He called on the United States to remove tariffs on Chinese goods and abandon what he said was an irrational suppression of the Chinese tech sector.
    In response, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters: “His comments reflect a continued pattern of Beijing’s tendency to avert blame for its predatory economic practices, its lack of transparency, its failure to honour its international agreements, and its repression of universal human rights.”
    White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters separately that the United States viewed the relationship with China as one of “strong competition.”
    Before Wang spoke at a forum sponsored by the foreign ministry, officials played footage of the “ping-pong diplomacy” of 1972 when an exchange of table tennis players cleared the way for then-U.S. President Richard Nixon to visit China.
    “Over the past few years, the United States basically cut off bilateral dialogue at all levels,” Wang said in prepared remarks translated into English.     “We stand ready to have candid communication with the U.S. side, and engage in dialogues aimed at solving problems.”
    Wang pointed to a recent call between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden as a positive step. Biden succeeded Trump as president on Jan. 20.
    Washington and Beijing have clashed on multiple fronts including trade, accusations of human rights crimes against the Uighur Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang region, and Beijing’s territorial claims in the resources-rich South China Sea.
    The Biden administration has signalled it will maintain pressure on Beijing.    The president has voiced concern about China’s “coercive and unfair” trade practices, and endorsed a Trump administration determination that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang.
    Confronting China is one of the few areas where Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress find common ground.
    U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a statement on China’s crackdown on the once semi-autonomous Hong Kong, on Monday urged considering strict consequences for Beijing.
    “The Chinese government must know that the world is watching its strangulation of human rights – and that we must put all options on the table for holding China accountable,” said Pelosi, a Democrat.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, and Jeff Mason, Humeyra Pamuk, and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Writing by Se Young Lee and Michael Martina; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Jane Wardell and Howard Goller)

2/22/2021 Exclusive: U.S. Plays Down Iran Rhetoric, Waits To See If Tehran Resumes Talks by Arshad Mohammed
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets members of the Assembly of Experts in
Tehran, Iran February 22, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. official played down comments by the Iranian supreme leader on Monday that Tehran could enrich uranium to 60% purity, saying that would be concerning but Iran has not done so yet and Washington is waiting to see if Tehran will return to talks.
    The United States on Thursday offered to sit down with the Iranians along with other parties to a 2015 nuclear deal to see if there is a way to return to the pact abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    The crux of the deal was that Iran would limit its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to amass the fissile material for a nuclear weapon – an ambition it has long denied – in return for relief from U.S. and other economic sanctions.
    Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tehran may enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it, state TV reported, adding that Tehran will never yield to the U.S. pressure over its nuclear work.
    Iran has responded to Trump’s abandonment of the nuclear deal and restoration of U.S. sanctions by reducing its own compliance, including by enriching uranium up to 20%, above the pact’s 3.67% limit but well below the 90% that is weapons grade.
    “Until you get back to talks, both sides are going to take positions … to elevate the tone. But I don’t know that we need to focus on that.    Let’s see whether they agree to come back to the table,” said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The White House said U.S allies in Europe are still waiting for Iran to respond to the European Union’s offer to host talks among parties to the nuclear deal, which included Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
    “There is no doubt that if we don’t reach an understanding, they will continue to expand their nuclear program … whether it’s what he says they will do – 60% – or something else,” said the U.S. official.
    “Both sides are now accumulating leverage, whether it’s them with their nuclear steps, or us with the sanctions that have been imposed.    That’s not really helping either side,” the U.S. official added.
    It would be “very concerning” to Washington if Iran enriched to 60%, but it had not yet done so, the official said.
    The United States wants to “find a way so that neither side feels a need to escalate but to the contrary wants to get back to the place where both sides are in compliance,” the official added.
    In a sign Iran plans to further reduce its compliance, Tehran said on Monday it will end at 2030 GMT the implementation of the Additional Protocol that allows the U.N. nuclear watchdog to carry out snap inspections at sites not declared to the agency, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Sunday it had struck an agreement with Iran to cushion the blow of steps Tehran plans to take this week, including an end to snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)

2/22/2021 Khamenei Says Iran May Enrich Uranium To 60% Purity If Needed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian soldier stands guard inside the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, 322km (200 miles)
south of Iran's capital Tehran March 9, 2006. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if the country needed it and would never yield to U.S. pressure over its nuclear programme, state television reported.
    Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67%, well under the 20% achieved before the agreement and far below the 90% suitable for a nuclear weapon.
    “Iran’s uranium enrichment level will not be limited to 20%. We will increase it to whatever level the country needs … We may increase it to 60%,” the TV quoted Khamenei as saying, upping the ante in a stand-off with U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration over the future of the fraying deal.
    “Americans and the European parties to the deal have used unjust language against Iran … Iran will not yield to pressure. Our stance will not change,” Khamenei said.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” and declined to respond to what he described as “hypotheticals” and “posturing
    He reiterated U.S. willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
    The Biden administration said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.
    Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20% in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.
    Although under domestic pressure to ease economic hardships worsened by sanctions, Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.
DIPLOMACY PATH
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday Washington intended to bolster and extend the 2015 pact, which aimed to limit Iran’s enrichment potential – a possible pathway to atomic bombs – in exchange for a lifting of most sanctions.
    Blinken, addressing the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, said in a pre-recorded speech: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy is the best path to achieve that goal.”
    Khamenei, in his televised remarks, repeated a denial of any Iranian intent to weaponise uranium enrichment.
    He added: “That international Zionist clown (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) has said they won’t allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons.    First of all, if we had any such intention, even those more powerful than him wouldn’t be able to stop us.”
    To pressure the Biden administration to drop sanctions, Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament passed a law last year obliging the government to end roving snap inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
    Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said Iran had ended the implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol, which allows International Atomic Energy Agency to carry out short-notice inspections at midnight (2030 GMT).
    To create room for diplomacy, the U.N. watchdog on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Iran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.
    Iranian lawmakers protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by U.N. inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke the new law.
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Arshad Mohammed and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Alison Williams)

2/22/2021 U.S. May Take More Action On Myanmar After Crackdown On Protests, Says State Department Spokesman
A Buddhist monk holds a flag during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may take additional actions against the leaders of a military coup in Myanmar, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday, while denouncing a crackdown on peaceful protests against the coup.
    Asked why the United States had not imposed sanctions on military-owned conglomerates, Price said the United States had already placed sanctions on some individuals and entities linked to the coup and that “there may be additional policy levers we can pull when it comes to our goal of supporting the people of Burma.”
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

2/22/2021 Canada’s Parliament Passes Motion Saying China’s Treatment Of Uighurs Is Genocide by Steve Scherer
FILE PHOTO: Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre
in Huocheng County in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 3, 2018.REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s parliament passed a non-binding motion on Monday saying China’s treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region constitutes genocide, putting pressure on Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to follow suit.
    Canada’s House of Commons voted 266-0 for the motion brought by the opposition Conservative Party.    Trudeau and his Cabinet abstained from the vote, although Liberal backbenchers widely backed it.
    The motion was also amended just before the vote to call on the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Winter Olympics from Beijing if the treatment continues.
    Trudeau’s Conservative rivals have been pressuring him to get tougher on China.    After Canada arrested Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in 2018 on a U.S. warrant, China detained two Canadians on spying charges, igniting lingering diplomatic tensions between the two countries.
    China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills, and which others have called concentration camps.    Beijing denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang.
    Citing testimony, documents and media reports of human rights abuses against Uighurs, Conservative lawmaker Michael Chong said: “We can no longer ignore this.    We must call it for what it is — a genocide.”
    Trudeau has been reluctant to use the word genocide, suggesting that seeking broad consensus among Western allies on Chinese human rights issues would be the best approach.
    “Moving forward multilaterally will be the best way to demonstrate the solidarity of Western democracies … that are extremely concerned and dismayed by reports of what’s going on in Xinjiang,” Trudeau said on Friday after speaking to fellow G7 leaders.
    Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden will hold a virtual bilateral meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and relations with China are likely to be discussed, a government source said.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump – on his last full day in office last month – said China had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighur Muslims.
    The Biden administration is trying to ensure that the genocide declaration is upheld, according to his pick to be ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
    Cong Peiwu, the Chinese ambassador to Ottawa, denied accusations of genocide.
    “Western countries are in no position to say what the human rights situation in China looks like,” Cong said in an interview before the vote.    “There is no so-called genocide in Xinjiang at all.”
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon; Editing by Peter Cooney)

2/23/2021 Iran Says It Hopes South Korea, Japan Will Release $1 Billion In Blocked Funds
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past the Central Bank of Iran in Tehran, Iran August 1, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran expressed hope on Tuesday that South Korea and Japan would agree to release about $1 billion of Iranian funds frozen in the two countries because of U.S. sanctions, but South Korea said it still needed to discuss the matter with the United States.
    Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati had reached preliminary agreements with the ambassadors of Japan and South Korea on the fund releases.
    “He (Hemmati) has said that it seems that, in a first step, about $1 billion of foreign exchange resources of the Central Bank of Iran will be provided to us,” Rabiei told a news conference streamed live on a government website.
    But in Seoul, a South Korean foreign ministry official told reporters: “The actual unfreezing of the assets will be carried out through consultations with related countries, including the United States.”
    Iran has repeatedly demanded the release of about $7 billion of its funds frozen in South Korea and $3 billion in Japan.    But Tehran has denied that its seizure of a South Korean ship for alleged environmental pollution on Jan. 4 was linked to the dispute.
    Iranian officials have sought ways of setting up channels to allow Tehran to use the funds blocked in Japan and South Korea to buy humanitarian goods.
    The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers.    Under that deal, Iran had agreed to curb its nuclear work in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
    Iran has retaliated by bypassing the restrictions of the deal step by step, in a move that has complicated efforts by U.S. President Joe Biden to rejoin the deal.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, and Joori Roh in Seoul; Editing by William Maclean)

2/23/2021 Hong Kong Crafting ‘Patriotic’ Oath For Local Councils, Beijing Wants Loyalists In Charge
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai (C) speaks during a news conference
to announce changes to election and oath taking rules, in Hong Kong, China February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s government will gazette a bill later this week that will require community level district councils to pledge an oath of allegiance to the Chinese-ruled city’s mini-constitution, further stifling democratic opposition.
    Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Eric Tsang said politicians deemed insincere would be blocked from office, releasing details of the bill a day after a senior official in China’s cabinet said provisions should be made to ensure “patriots” were running Hong Kong.
    “The law will fulfill the constitutional responsibility of the government,” Tsang said.
    “You cannot say that you are patriotic but you do not love the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party or you do not respect it – this does not make sense,” Tsang added. “Patriotism is holistic love.”
    Any district councillor suspended from office after failing the loyalty test would be sent to court for formal disqualification, and banned from contesting elections for five years.
    The bill potentially paves the way for the mass disqualification of pro-democracy politicians who took almost ninety percent of 452 district council seats in Hong Kong in the 2019 elections, humiliating the pro-Beijing camp.
    While district councils decide little beyond community-level issues, such as garbage collection and bus stops, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are determined that all public institutions in the city must be run by people loyal to Beijing.
    On Monday, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of China’s State Council, said Hong Kong can only be ruled by “patriots,” a term he said includes people who love China, its constitution and the Communist Party and excludes anti-China “troublemakers."
    Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam endorsed Beijing’s stance on Tuesday, saying the changes were needed to stop hatred of China and sustain the ‘one country, two systems’ governance model for the Asian financial hub.
    Hong Kong’s Legislative Council will debate the bill on March 17.
    Before that, China’s parliament will convene from March 5, and is expected to impose a series of electoral changes on Hong Kong, which critics say would strengthen the authoritarian turn taken in the city following the imposition of a sweeping national security law in June 2020.
    Tsang announced that once the oath-taking law is passed, four councillors would be disqualified given their earlier disqualification from standing for Legislative Council elections.
    Henry Wong, a pro-democracy councillor from suburban Yuen Long, said he was still deciding whether to take the oath under the new law.
    “This is just an act to legalise their brutal force in destroying democracy voices,” he said.
    The district councils are the only fully democratic institution in Hong Kong.    Its Legislative Council is stacked with pro-Beijing figures, while its chief executive is not directly elected.
    The district councils account for about a tenth of the votes on a 1,200 member committee that meets every five years to elect the city’s leader.    That committee, by design, is also stacked with pro-Beijing figures.
(Reporting by Sharon Tam and Jessie Pang; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

2/23/2021 Iran’s Rulers Close Ranks, Raise Pressure On Biden To Lift Sanctions by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian state newspaper, taking aim at hardline lawmakers’ intervention in Tehran’s nuclear row with the West, warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions may lead to Iran’s isolation after a new law ended snap inspections by U.N. inspectors.
    Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers has been fraying since 2018 when the United States pulled out and reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran, prompting it to breach the deal’s limits on uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear weapons.
    On Monday, Iranian lawmakers protested against the government’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency for up to three months, saying the move broke a new law they passed that mandated an end to IAEA snap inspections as of Tuesday.
    Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to observe the IAEA’s Additional Protocol that permits short-notice inspections at locations not declared to the agency – to bolster confidence that nuclear work is not being covertly put to military ends.
    The three-month compromise secured by the IAEA’s director-general on a trip to Tehran last weekend kept alive hopes for an eventual diplomatic solution to rescue the nuclear deal.
    But the state newspaper Iran, seen as close to pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, a former chief nuclear negotiator, suggested in an unusually critical commentary that the new law blocking snap inspections could be counter-productive.
    “Those who say Iran must take swift tough action on the nuclear accord should say what guarantee there is that Iran will not be left alone as in the past…, and will this end anywhere other than helping build a consensus against Iran?” it said.
    Later on Tuesday, the three major European parties to the nuclear deal called on Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA and reverse steps that reduce transparency, saying its suspension of the Additional Protocol was deeply regrettable.
    Both Tehran, whose economy has been crippled by sanctions, and new U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration want to salvage the deal repudiated by his predecessor Donald Trump, but disagree over who should take the first step.    Iran insists the United States must first lift sanctions, while Washington avers that Tehran must first return to compliance with the pact.
    Since Trump’s pull-out in 2018, Iran has been rebuilding stockpiles of low-enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.
HIGH-LEVEL SHOW OF UNITY
    Biden’s refusal to lift sanctions first has been met by a show of unity from both sides of Iran’s political divide, uniting hardliners who cast the United States as an implacable enemy with pragmatists who seek rapprochement with the West.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although the top hardliner with the last word on policy, endorsed the inspections deal with the IAEA in a tacit rebuff of hawkish lawmakers.
    The hardline daily Kayhan, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Khamenei, also approved it, saying the deal “could not have been prepared without the participation and opinion of the Supreme National Security Council
    But Iran’s overall strategy appears to be cranking up enrichment and raising questions about cooperation with the IAEA to push the Biden administration into dropping the “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions launched by Trump.
    Khamenei, upping the ante on Monday, said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60% purity if needed, while repeating a denial of any Iranian intent to seek nuclear weapons, for which 90% enrichment would be required.
    “Iran’s economy is doing badly because of sanctions, COVID-19 crisis and mismanagement,” said Meir Javedanefar, a lecturer at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
    “Therefore, if Biden takes the first step by removing at least part of the sanctions…, Khamenei would be willing to reach a deal with him.”
    Washington, which said last week it was ready to talk to Tehran, said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” but reiterated U.S. willingness to engage with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
    Iran’s clerical rulers face challenges in keeping the economy afloat under U.S. sanctions that have slashed its vital oil exports.
    The economic hardship bodes ill for the presidential election in June, when Iran’s rulers typically seek a high turnout to show their legitimacy, even if the outcome will not change any major policy that is decided by Khamenei.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/23/2021 Exclusive: ‘Perfect Trips’ – Venezuela Ships Jet Fuel To Iran In Exchange For Gasoline, Sources Say by Deisy Buitrago and Marianna Parraga
FILE PHOTO: An oil tanker is docked while oil is pumped into it at the ships terminal of PDVSA's Jose Antonio Anzoategui
industrial complex in the state of Anzoategui April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    CARACAS/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Venezuela is shipping jet fuel to Iran in return for vital gasoline imports for the South American nation as part of a swap deal agreed by the two state-run oil firms, three people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
    Iran has ramped up assistance to Venezuela since last year as the United States tightened sanctions on both countries, hitting oil exports by state-run firms Petroleos de Venezuela and National Iranian oil Company (NIOC).
    Iran has sent flotillas of state-operated tankers carrying gasoline and feedstock for motor fuel to Venezuela, as well as equipment and spare parts to help the once-prosperous OPEC nation restart its dilapidated refineries.
    But the countries have provided few details on what Iran is getting from Venezuela in return.
    Iran’s embassy in Caracas said in August that Venezuela had shipped a cargo of mangos and pineapples to Iran as part of “win-win commercial relations.”
    Both Caracas and Tehran – which the United States has sanctioned with the aim of halting its nuclear program – have celebrated the Iranian fuel shipments as a method of resisting pressure from their common adversary.
    However, one of the sources said NIOC and PDVSA last year agreed to a full swap of Venezuela jet fuel to pay for the Iranian gasoline.
    The fuel swap suggests that Iranian fuel shipments to Venezuela – rather than a temporary expediency – could be sustained over the longer term.
    Jet fuel is now abundant in Venezuela due to a shutdown in most domestic air travel due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
    The jet fuel is shipped in the Iranian tankers that deliver gasoline to Venezuela in order to secure a uninterrupted flow of refined products and take advantage of available tankers, the source said.    Such deals are known as “perfect trips” in the maritime industry as vessels travel fully laden in both directions.
    Many independent tanker firms have been reluctant to carry Venezuelan oil or imported fuel for the country since Washington started sanctioning vessel owners.
    “Each cargo is priced and compensated later.    If there are differences in value (between swap shipments), they are paid through future cargoes,” the source added.
    Venezuela has used shipments of its Merey heavy crude to compensate Iran for shortfalls in the value of jet fuel exports, with at least one 1.9-million-barrel cargo delivered to NIOC since October, according to the sources and PDVSA documents seen by Reuters.
    The mechanism has so far allowed the two state firms to dispatch cargoes in and out of Venezuela onboard Iran-flagged vessels that have docked at the South American nation’s ports at least three times since May 2020, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
    PDVSA is selling the Iranian gasoline in dollar-denominated prices at the pump, which has provided it with desperately needed hard currency for operations.    It is unclear if Iran is using the Venezuelan jet fuel for domestic consumption or if cargoes are resold.
    Neither PDVSA nor Venezuela’s oil ministry responded to requests for comment.    NIOC and Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
PERFECT TRIPS
    In its most recent trip to Venezuela, the Iran-flagged tanker Fortune, managed by state-run National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC), loaded 250,000 barrels of Venezuelan jet fuel in early February at the eastern port of Puerto La Cruz after discharging about 300,000 barrels of Iranian gasoline, one person with knowledge of the shipment said.
    A third person with knowledge of the matter confirmed that both the Fortune and another Iran-owned tanker, the Faxon, which have made several trips from Iran’s Bandar Abbas port to Puerto La Cruz between May and February, were full again upon their departure from South America, though the person did not know what product they had loaded with.
    NITC declined to comment.
    In addition to the jet fuel, Venezuela sent alumina to Iran aboard a cargo vessel that brought supplies for a supermarket in Caracas, as a years-long economic collapse has led to a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.
    U.S. officials have said that Caracas is also paying Tehran with gold.
    Iran in February also resumed airlifts of catalysts to Venezuela to help PDVSA boost fuel output at its 1.3 million barrel-per-day refining network, which remains mostly idled.
    A portion of Iran’s gasoline shipments was seized last year by the U.S. Department of Justice, exacerbating Venezuela’s acute fuel scarcity.
(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City. Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai.; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Marguerita Choy)

3/23/2021 Indonesian Foreign Minister To Visit Myanmar As Pressure Mounts On Generals
FILE PHOTO: An armoured vehicle is seen on a street during a protest against the military coup,
in Yangon, Myanmar, February 14, 2021. Picture taken February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Indonesia’s foreign minister plans to fly to Myanmar on Thursday in the first known visit by a foreign envoy since the Feb. 1 military coup, a leaked government document said, as Western pressure mounts over a crackdown on protesters.
    Retno Marsudi will arrive in the capital Naypyitaw in the morning and depart several hours later, according to the letter from the Ministry of Transport dated Feb. 23 seen by Reuters, which an official said was authentic.
    Retno has been rallying support in Southeast Asia for a special meeting on Myanmar and sources said Jakarta proposed the region sends monitors to ensure the generals hold “fair and inclusive elections.”
    The proposal was met with anger from some of the protesters, who are demanding the immediate release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and recognition of the November polls won by her party.
    Hundreds gathered outside Indonesia’s embassy in Yangon on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the election proposal.
    The meeting in Myanmar prompted scepticism from some Twitter users and The Future Nation Alliance, a Myanmar-based activist group, said in a statement a visit by Retno would be “tantamount to recognising the military junta.”
    The group demanded foreign officials meet with Htin Lin Aung, a representative of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), formed by ousted lawmakers, who has been appointed the “sole responsible official for foreign relations.”
    “We strongly oppose and condemn Indonesia for sending a government envoy to Burma for official communications with the coup regime,” the statement said.
    An Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman said Retno was in Thailand and may travel to other countries in the region afterwards but could not confirm which.    Earlier, he said a new election was not Indonesia’s position.
    The move emerged as the leader of the new junta called for energetic efforts to revive an ailing economy and Western countries considered more sanctions.
    A general strike shut businesses on Monday and huge crowds gathered to denounce the military’s Feb. 1 coup and demand the release of Suu Kyi and her allies, despite a warning from authorities that confrontation could get people killed.
    The Group of Seven (G7) rich nations on Tuesday condemned intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup.    “Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account,” group foreign ministers said in a joint statement.
‘AILING ECONOMY’
    Protesters gathered again on Tuesday though in much smaller numbers.    There were also small marches in favour of the military, media reported.     There were no reports of violence.
    Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing, in a meeting with his ruling council on Monday, called for state spending and imports to be cut and exports increased.
    “The council needs to put its energy into reviving the country’s ailing economy. Economic remedy measures must be taken,” state media quoted him a saying.
    The army seized power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8 elections, detaining Suu Kyi and much of the party leadership.    The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.
    The crisis raises the prospect of isolation and investor jitters just as the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined consumption and choked off tourism.
    Min Aung Hlaing did not link the protests directly to economic problems but said the authorities were following a democratic path in dealing with them and police were using minimal force, such as rubber bullets, state media reported.
    The security forces have shown more restraint compared with earlier crackdowns against people who had pushed for democracy during almost half a century of direct military rule.
    Even so, three protesters have been shot and killed.    The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustained during the protests.
    The military has accused protesters of provoking violence but U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said the millions who marched on Monday in a “breathtaking” turnout showed they were prepared to face up to military threats.
    “The generals are losing their power to intimidate and with it, their power.    It is past time for them to stand down, as the people of Myanmar stand up,” Andrews said on Twitter.
SANCTIONS
    European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday called for restoring the “legitimate civilian government,” adding: “There, as everywhere, democracy must prevail."
    The European Union said it was considering sanctions that would target businesses owned by the army, but the bloc ruled out any curtailing its trade preferences to avoid hurting poor workers.
    “We are not prepared to stand by and watch,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels on Monday.
    Singapore’s central bank said it had not found significant funds from Myanmar in banks in Singapore but warned them to remain vigilant to any transactions with companies and individuals subject to sanctions.
    The United States imposed sanctions on two more members of the junta and warned it could take more action.    It had already placed sanctions on Myanmar’s acting president, several military officers and three companies in the jade and gems sector.
    Myanmar’s giant neighbour China, which has traditionally taken a softer line, said any international action should contribute to stability, promote reconciliation and avoid complicating the situation, media reported.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore and Philippa Fletcher)

3/23/2021 Top U.S. Senate Democrat Directs Lawmakers To Craft Bill To Counter China by Richard Cowan and Alexandra Alper
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to reporters in The Senate Reception Room during
second day of Trump's second impeachment trial in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2021. Brandon Bell/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday he has directed lawmakers to craft a package of measures to counter China’s rise, capitalizing on bipartisan hardline sentiment on Beijing in Congress to strengthen the U.S. tech sector and counter unfair practices.
    Schumer said at a weekly press conference that he has directed committees to craft a bipartisan bill based on legislation he proposed last year seeking funding of $100 billion to spur research in key tech areas, from artificial intelligence to quantum computing and semiconductors.
    This year’s package would target investment in U.S. manufacturing, science and technology, supply chains and semiconductors, Schumer said, adding he intends to have a bill on the Senate floor by “this spring
    “Today on our caucus call I directed the chairs and members of our relevant committees to start drafting a legislative package to out-compete China and create new American jobs,” Schumer said at the press conference.
    As part of the package, senators are also looking at providing emergency funding to implement bipartisan semiconductor programs included in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act, which sets overall U.S. military spending and the Pentagon policies backed up by that spending.
    “I want this bill to address America’s short-term and long-term plan to protect our semiconductor supply chain and keep us No. 1 in AI (artificial intelligence), 5G (next generation communications network), quantum computing, biomedical research, storage, all of these things are part of the bill,” Schumer said.
    The legislative drive comes as Republican China hawks have stepped up pressure on Democratic President Joe Biden to stick to his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s hardline policies on Beijing.
    The Biden administration has said it is conducting a review of China programs and promised a tough but more multilateral approach to Beijing.
    The announcement also comes as some U.S. automakers have slowed production due to a shortage of semiconductor chips, scarce in part due to a pandemic-era boom in consumer appetite for more cell phones and computers.
    The Semiconductor Industry Association welcomed Schumer’s announcement and urged Biden and Congress to invest “boldly” in domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research.
    “Doing so will help keep the United States on top in this foundational technology, while also strengthening America’s economy, job creation, national security, and critical infrastructure,” SIA CEO John Neuffer said in a statement.
    Under the prior legislation that the bill would be modeled on, the $100 billion in funding would be funneled over 5 years through a new technology directorate to be installed at the National Science Foundation.    Under that proposal, an additional $10 billion would be set aside for technology hubs.
    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers plans to meet with Biden at the White House on Wednesday to discuss supply chain issues, including semiconductor chips, Reuters reported.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Richard Cowan; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

2/23/2021 Questions Hover Over Whether Iran’s Shooting Down Of Ukrainian Plane Intentional: U.N. Investigator
FILE PHOTO: Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, holds a joint news conference
with Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi, in Brussels, Belgium December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Inconsistencies in the Iran government’s explanation of the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year raise questions over whether it was intentional, an independent U.N. investigator said on Tuesday, but she had found no concrete evidence that it was.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane on Jan. 8, 2020, in error shortly after takeoff, mistaking it for a missile at a time when tensions with Washington were high over the U.S. assassination five days earlier of Guards General Qassem Soleimani.
    All 176 people on board were killed, 138 of whom had ties to Canada.
    Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, told reporters she had found no concrete evidence that the targeting of the plane was premeditated and intentional.
    But she added that “inconsistencies in the official explanation and the reckless nature of the mistakes have led many, including myself, to question whether the downing of flight PS752 was intentional.”
    Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Callamard said Tehran’s explanation contained a number of contradictions, including on the timing of the window to fire and on communication.    It has provided no information on why flights that took off earlier that night were not targeted, she said.
    Callamard said the question of whether the plane was shot down intentionally needed to be further investigated, including by Iran.
    “They have not proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the plane was not intentionally targeted,” she said.
    The Iranian authorities failed to investigate the strike in line with international standards, Callamard said, citing that Iran’s government continued to deny the flight had been shot down for three days and that it appears evidence was destroyed.
    Callamard said she sent the Iranian government a letter in December detailing her investigation and requesting answers about the strike, but has yet to receive a response.
    The decision not to quickly publicly state that the plane was shot down in an Iranian strike constitutes “an extremely grave violation of the right to life,” she said.
    Callamard also questioned why Iran had not closed its airspace for civilian traffic that night amid the concern that tensions with the United States could increase.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

2/24/2021 Iran cuts access to nuclear facilities - Nasser Karimi and Kiyoko Metzler by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities Tuesday, in a bid to pressure European countries and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
    World powers slammed the restrictions as a “dangerous” move.
    It came as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by the Associated Press that Iran had added 38.8 pounds of uranium enriched to 20% to its stockpile as of Feb. 16.
    It was the first official confirmation of plans Iran announced in January to enrich to the greater purity, which is just a technical step away from weapons- grade levels and far past the 3.67% purity allowed under the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.    It also increased its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to 6,542.9 pounds, up from 5,385.7 pounds reported Nov. 2, the IAEA reported.
    Iran’s violations of the JCPOA and the move Tuesday to limit international inspections underscore the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse former President Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally pull the U.S. out of the deal in 2018.

2/24/2021 CIA Dir. Nominee: U.S. Must Prevent Iran From Developing Nuclear Weapons by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 24: William Burns, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, arrives for his Senate Select Intelligence
Committee confirmation hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Burns is a career
diplomat who most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
    If confirmed, Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Central Intelligence Agency vowed to give straight-forward intelligence on Iran.    During the Senate Intelligence Committee Hearing Wednesday, William Burns told lawmakers he does not believe Iran can be trusted with a nuclear weapon.
    Burns also stressed the U.S. needs to keep doing everything it can to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
FEBRUARY 24: William Burns, right, nominee for Central Intelligence Agency director, talks with Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., after his Senate
Select Intelligence Committee confirmation hearing in Russell Senate Office Building on February 24, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Burns is a career diplomat who most recently served as Deputy Secretary of State in the Obama administration. (Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)
    “I learned that good intelligence, delivered with honesty and integrity, is America’s first line of defense,” Burns said.    “I learned that intelligence professionals have to tell policymakers what they need to hear, even if they don’t want to hear it.    And I learned that politics must stop where intelligence work begins.”
    Meanwhile, Biden is expected to try to re-join the Iran Nuclear Deal.    The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of it back in 2018.

2/24/2021 Biden CIA Nominee Burns To Focus On ‘Authoritarian Adversary’ China by Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball
William Burns is sworn in to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on his nomination to be director of the
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s nominee to be director of the CIA, William Burns, told a Senate committee on Wednesday that he saw competition with China – and countering its “adversarial, predatory” leadership – as the key to U.S. national security.
    Burns, 64, a former career diplomat during both Democratic and Republican administrations, is expected to easily win confirmation to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency.    Burns has already been confirmed by the Senate five times for his stints as ambassador to Jordan and Russia and three senior State Department positions.
    The Senate Intelligence Committee will likely vote on his confirmation late next week or the week after, to allow time for members to send more questions, a congressional official said.
    Testifying to the committee, Burns outlined his four top priorities – “people, partnerships, China and technology” – if he is confirmed.
    He called China “a formidable, authoritarian adversary,” that is strengthening its ability to steal intellectual property, repress its people, expand its reach and build influence within the United States.
    During questioning, Burns said that if he were a U.S. college or university president, he would recommend shutting down Confucius Institutes – Beijing-funded campus cultural centers that many members of Congress see as propaganda tools.
    Burns was introduced at the hearing by bipartisan foreign policy heavyweights – former Secretary of State James Baker and former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. He would be the first career diplomat to lead the agency.
    Senators from both parties praised Burns during an unusually amicable two-hour hearing.    Republican Richard Burr, a former committee chairman, said he looked forward to Burns’ confirmation. Democrat Ron Wyden praised Burns’ record on human rights and said he would support him.
    Competition with China is a top priority for the Biden administration – and for members of Congress, who want a tough line toward Beijing.    Avril Haines, Biden’s Director of National Intelligence, also called for an “aggressive stance” toward the threat from China at her hearing last month.
    Russian aggression also is a constant concern, especially its involvement in U.S. elections and the recent SolarWinds hack that penetrated government agencies and that U.S. officials have blamed on Russian hackers.
    Burns said the Biden administration would soon produce an assessment of Russia-related issues, including the SolarWinds hack.
OLD AND NEW THREATS
    Burns said “familiar” threats persist, including from Russia, North Korea and Iran.    He also said climate change, global health issues and cyber threats are great risks, and “an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test.”
    Burns helped lead secret talks with Iran in 2013 that helped pave the way for the international nuclear deal, which was opposed by Republicans. He told the hearing that Iran must not be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.
    The Biden administration offered last week to sit down with the Iranians and other parties to the 2015 pact to see if there is a way to return to the agreement, after former Republican President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
    Burns’ arrival at the CIA would come after a difficult four years under Trump, who frequently disregarded spy agencies’ findings, especially the determination that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to boost his chances of winning the White House.
    Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic chairman, stressed that point in his opening remarks.
    “I would like to hear how you plan to reinforce the credo that – no matter the political pressure, no matter what – CIA’s officers will always do the right thing and speak truth to power,” Warner said.
    Biden has been able to get most of his national security team into place with support from many Senate Republicans as well as Democrats.    Haines, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin all easily won confirmation.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Mark Hosenball and Daphne Psaledakis, additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed; writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall)

2/24/2021 U.S. Patience With Iran On Renewing Nuclear Talks ‘Not Unlimited’: State Department
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian protester holds the picture of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as she attends an anti U.S. demonstration, marking the 40th anniversary of the
U.S. embassy takeover, near the old U.S. embassy in Tehran, Iran, November 4, 2019. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States’ patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is “not unlimited,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.
    Iran has not formally responded to a U.S. offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal.
    Asked at a news briefing whether there was an expiration date on the offer, Price said Iran’s moves away from compliance with the 2015 agreement’s restrictions on its nuclear activities made the issue an “urgent challenge” for the United States.
    “Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this … that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy,” Price said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

2/24/2021 North Korea’s Kim Calls For Tougher Discipline In His Military: KCNA by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party central committee in Pyongyang,
North Korea in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 9, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un chaired a Central Military Commission meeting, state media KCNA said on Thursday, where he called for more control and discipline within the military.
    The meeting comes amid Kim’s drive to rally his ruling Workers’ Party to implement new policy goals for the next five years that were disclosed in a rare congress last month, including the ramping up of military power and greater nuclear war deterrence.
    The meeting addressed a series of problems about political activities and discipline among military officials and called for tougher rules to control such matters.
    Kim said the establishment of revolutionary discipline within the military would decide the survival of the army and the success or failure of its activities, KCNA said.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Peter Cooney)

2/24/2021 Australian Parliament Passes News Media Bargaining Code
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed Facebook logo is seen in front of displayed Australia's flag
in this illustration photo taken February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian parliament on Thursday passed a news media and digital platforms mandatory bargaining code that will make it compulsory for Alphabet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc to pay media companies for content.
    The code will be reviewed within one year of its commencement, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a joint statement.
    “The code will ensure that news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public-interest journalism in Australia,” they said.
    The passage of the code, developed after extensive analysis from Australia’s anti-trust regulator and almost three years of public consultation, may offer encouragement to countries such as Britain and Canada which are planning similar laws.
    Other countries have introduced legislation forcing major technology companies to negotiate with media companies for licensing fees for links that draw traffic, and advertising revenue, to their platforms.
    The new code makes Australia the first country where a government arbitrator will set the rates tech giants have to pay if negotiations with media companies fail.
    Frydenberg and Fletcher said the government was pleased to see “progress by both Google and more recently Facebook” in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media.
    Facebook had cut off news in Australia last week amid tense negotiations with the government.
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Leslie Adler and Stephen Coates)

2/25/2021 Thai Ministers Jailed As Court Finds 26 Guilty Of Insurrection by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan gestures while wearing a face mask as anti-government protesters and students attend a demonstration
demanding the government to resign, in front of the Ministry of Education in Bangkok, Thailand September 5, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai court on Wednesday sentenced 14 political leaders to jail, including three incumbent cabinet ministers, after finding them guilty of insurrection during anti-government protests that culminated in a 2014 military coup.
    The court found 26 of 39 defendants guilty, a lawyer for the group said, for actions that included obstructing elections and invading government property, which took place during seven months of demonstrations against the government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
    Digital Minister Puttipong Punnakanta, Education Minister Nataphol Teepsuwan and Deputy Transport Minister Thaworn Senneam received jail terms ranging from five years to seven years and four months.    According to the country’s constitution, they will be required to vacate their posts.
    A government spokesman declined to give comment on jailed ministers, while the court could not be reached.
    The ministers are all in the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led a coup that overthrew Yingluck in 2014, an intervention the military said was necessary to prevent bloodshed as protests against her intensified.
    “They pleaded not guilty to all the charges and will appeal,” said Sawat Charoenpon, a lawyer representing the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), as the group is known.
    PDRC leader and former deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban was jailed for five years.    Of those found guilty, 12 were given suspended sentences and six were released on bail.
    “We the leaders of the PDRC have been convicted to many years in jail yet all of us still maintain our ideals of serving the nation, religion and king,” Suthep posted on Facebook after the verdict.
    The PDRC protests in 2013 and 2014 play a pivotal role in uniting royalist and nationalist forces against a government they said was controlled by fugitive tycoon and ousted former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck’s exiled brother.    Both Shinawatras won elections by landslides.
    Prayuth stayed on as prime minister after the coup and retained the post after a 2019 election, which he insists was free and fair, despite opposition allegations of foul play.
    The former general endured months of street protests himself last year by a youth-led movement demanding his resignation, a new constitution and reforms to the monarchy.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)

2/26/2021 Facebook Bans Myanmar Military Despite Election Fraud Concerns by OAN Newsroom
(Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Big Tech giants attempted to silence the Myanmar military over its effort to reverse vote fraud in that country.    On Thursday, Facebook banned the Myanmar military from using its platform, including Instagram.    The social media giant accused officials of staging a coup and inciting violence.
    Facebook also moved to de-platform several commercial companies in Myanmar by accusing them of having ties to the military.    On February 1, the military ousted the Myanmar government and alleged rampant voter fraud in the country’s November 2020 election.
Police escort an arrested man, amid a crackdown on protests against the military coup, in Yangon
on February 26, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP) (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Facebook failed to address the concerns of fraud.
    “We’re continuing to treat the situation in Myanmar as an emergency,” Facebook Director of Public Policy Rafael Frankel said.    “And we remain focused on the safety of our community, and the people of Myanmar more broadly.”
    Myanmar generals said a civilian rule will be restored within one year, during which they will conduct an election reform to prevent fraud going forward.

2/26/2021 Myanmar Envoy Appeals To U.N. To Stop Coup As Police Break Up Protests
Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun holds up three fingers at the end of his speech to the General Assembly
where he pleaded for International action in overturning the military coup in his country as seen in this still image taken
from a video, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., February 26, 2021. United Nations TV/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s U.N. envoy urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to stop a military coup there, making a surprise appeal on behalf of the ousted government as police cracked down on anti-junta protesters.
    The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won.
    The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Myanmar’s streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
    Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the U.N. General Assembly he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government and appealed to the body “to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people.”
    “…We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people.. and to restore the democracy,” told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly, receiving applause as he finished.
    Delivering his final words in Burmese Kyaw Moe Tun, a career diplomat, raised the three-finger salute of pro-democracy protesters and announced “our cause will prevail.”
    Reuters was not immediately able to contact the army for comment.
    Opponents of the coup hailed Kyaw Moe Tun as a hero.
    “The people will win and the power-obsessed junta will fall,” one protest leader, Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook.
    U.N. special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener pushed the world body for a collective “clear signal in support of democracy” and told the General     Assembly no country should recognise or legitimize the junta.
    China’s envoy did not criticize the coup and said the situation was Myanmar’s “internal affairs,” saying it supported diplomacy by Southeast Asian countries which protesters fear could give credibility to the ruling generals.
SUU KYI’S WHEREABOUTS UNCERTAIN
    Uncertainty grew over Suu Kyi’s whereabouts on Friday, as the independent Myanmar Now website quoted senior officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as saying she had been moved this week from house arrest to an undisclosed location.
    One lawyer acting for her, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters he had heard the same from NLD officials but could not confirm it.    Authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
    The lawyer said he had been given no access to Suu Kyi ahead of her next hearing on Monday, adding: “I’m concerned that there will be a loss of rights to access to justice and access to legal counsel.”
    Protesters who have taken to the streets daily for over three weeks demand the release of Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of the result of last year’s election.
    In the biggest city, Yangon, riot police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and shots into the air to send protesters scattering.    At least one person was wounded there, a witness said.
    Several people were detained, witnesses said, among them a Japanese journalist who was held briefly.
    Several people were also hurt by police in the second city of Mandalay, domestic media and an emergency worker said.    Police also broke up protests in Naypyitaw, the central town of Magwe and western hill town of Hakha, witnesses said.
    Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities were using minimal force.    Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died.    The army says a policeman was also killed.
    At least 689 people are under detention or have outstanding charges that have been laid against them since the coup, according to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
    Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas.    She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
    The army has promised an election, but has not given a date. It has imposed a one-year state of emergency.
    The question of an election is at the center of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is a member.    Indonesia has taken the lead, but coup opponents fear the efforts could legitimise the junta.
    ASEAN foreign ministers are planning to hold a meeting on Myanmar next week, regional diplomats said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie, Jon Boyle and John Stonestreet)

2/26/2021 Armenian Opposition Leader Urges Army To Rebel After PM’s Coup Accusation
Armenian opposition leader Vazgen Manukyan delivers a speech during a rally to demand the resignation
of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Yerevan, Armenia February 25, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s grip on power appeared to be slipping on Friday, a day after the army called on him to quit.
    Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in the capital Yerevan to demand his downfall, and a leading opposition figure called on the army to rebel against him.    Two former presidents have already said he must step down.
    Pashinyan, 45, accused the military of a coup attempt on Thursday and tried to sack the chief of staff, after the army issued a written statement calling for him to resign.
    He has faced calls to quit since November from countrymen who blame him for a disastrous six-week war that saw ethnic Armenian forces lose swathes of territory in neighbouring Azerbaijan they had held for decades.
    While crowds on Friday demanded he resign, thousands of others had gathered in the capital to rally behind him on Thursday.
    Pashinyan told his supporters on Thursday he was firing Onik Gasparyan, the chief of the army’s general staff.    But by Friday the dismissal had not yet been approved by Armenia’s president, a step needed for it to enter force.
    President Armen Sarkissian held a meeting with Gasparyan, the president’s office said, without releasing further details.
    Vazgen Manukyan, a politician who has been touted by the opposition as a possible interim prime minister to replace Pashinyan, told hundreds of supporters at a rally that the army would never allow Gasparyan to be sacked.
    “You think the army will easily agree that Pashinyan illegally removes their head?    No.    The army will rebel.    I call on the army to rebel.    The army shouldn’t carry out illegal orders,” Manukyan said.
    The General Prosecutor’s Office told Reuters on Friday that it was investigating whether the army’s call for the prime minister to go constituted a crime.
    “The general staff’s statement and the possible risk of developments around it are the subject of our attention,” Gor Abrahamyan, an aide to the prosecutor general, told Reuters by telephone.    “If any elements of a crime outlined in the criminal code are revealed, a legal response will immediately follow.”
    Pashinyan, a former journalist and lawmaker, came to power in a peaceful popular uprising in May 2018 known as Armenia’s velvet revolution.
    But the loss of territory in and around the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last year was a bitter blow for Armenians, who had won control of the area in the 1990s in a war which killed at least 30,000 people.
    The conflict was brought to a halt by a ceasefire deal brokered by Russia.    Moscow, which has deployed peacekeepers to enforce the ceasefire, said on Friday it was vital the agreements be fully implemented despite Armenia’s crisis.
(Reporting by Artem Mikryukov and Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/26/2021 Kashmir Villagers Hopeful But Wary After India And Pakistan Agree To Ceasefire by Fayaz Bukhari and Abu Arqam Naqash
FILE PHOTO: Kashmiris run for cover as Indian security forces (not pictured) fire teargas shells during clashes, after scrapping of the
special constitutional status for Kashmir by the Indian government, in Srinagar, September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail/File Photo
    SRINAGAR, India/MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – Villagers living on both sides of the Line of Control dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir welcomed an agreement between long-time foes India and Pakistan to stop shelling from each side, but some were sceptical it would hold.
    The nuclear-armed neighbours signed a ceasefire agreement along the Line of Control (LoC) in 2003, but that has frayed in recent years and there have been mounting casualties.
    In a joint statement on Thursday, India and Pakistan said they would observe a ceasefire.
    “It has given a new lease of life to us. We were living in constant fear of being hit,” said Laldin Khatana, the headman of Churnada village on the Indian side of the border.
    Khatana said that two people had been killed last year by shelling in the hillside village, home to 1,600 people, many of whom gathered at a mausoleum to celebrate the new agreement.
    “It was affecting our farming and grazing,” he told Reuters via telephone.    “And children were scared to go to school.”
Kashmir has long been a flashpoint between India and Pakistan, which claim the region in full but rule only in part.    Tensions reignited after New Delhi withdrew the autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir state in August 2019 and split it into two federally administered territories.
    Since 2018, Indian data shows that 70 civilians and 72 soldiers have been killed in cross-border firing.
    On the Pakistani side, nearly 300 civilians have been killed since 2014, when ceasefire violations began rising, according to a Pakistan military source.
    “The fresh announcement is welcome and can help us live a life free of fear, only if implemented in letter and in spirit,” said Danish Shaikh, a resident of Ban Chattar village in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir’s Neelum valley.
    “Who knows how seriously and how long they will stick to the fresh understanding?
    The picturesque Neelum valley saw hundreds of hotels and guesthouses sprout up when the ceasefire held, with tourists visiting year round.
    But with skirmishes and firing increasing, tourism went into a tailspin and guesthouse operators like Khawaja Owais were forced to dig into their savings.
    “This is good news indeed. Not just for us who are running businesses in the valley but for everyone who has faced death and destruction during heavy shelling,” Owais said of the agreement.
Let’s hope and pray it remains intact.”
(Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/26/2021 U.N. Rights Chief Decries Arrests In China, Abuses In Xinjiang by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet speaks during a news conference at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Friday that China is restricting basic civil and political freedoms in the name of national security and COVID-19 measures, adding to a wave of criticism of the country’s rights record.
    “Activists, lawyers and human rights defenders – as well as some foreign nationals – face arbitrary criminal charges, detention or unfair trials,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.
    More than 600 people in Hong Kong are being investigated for taking part in protests, some under the new national security law imposed by mainland China on the former British colony, she said.
    Hong Kong Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng told the Geneva forum that since the law was adopted, civil unrest had subsided and residents can enjoy their lawful freedoms.
    Referring to China’s Xinjiang region, Bachelet said that given reports about arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, sexual violence and forced labour, there was a need for a thorough and independent assessment of the situation.
    She said she hoped to clinch agreement with Chinese officials about a visit to the country.    Louise Arbour was the last U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit China, in September 2005.
    Activists and U.N. experts have said that at least one million Muslim Uighurs are detained in camps in the western region of Xinjiang.    China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
    China hit back on Wednesday at growing criticism by Western powers of its treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet and of citizens in Hong Kong.
    Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has said that torture, forced labour and sterilisations are taking place on an “industrial scale” in Xinjiang.    France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denounced “an institutionalised system of surveillance and repression on a large scale.”
    The Biden administration has endorsed a determination by the Trump administration in its final days that China has committed genocide in Xinjiang and has said the United States must be prepared to impose costs on China.
    Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi said on Monday that “there has never been so-called genocide, forced labour, or religious oppression in Xinjiang.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by John Revill, William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

2/27/2021 Myanmar Fires Ambassador To UN Over Incendiary Comments by OAN Newsroom
In this image taken from video by UNTV, Myanmar Ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun flashed the three-fingered salute, a gesture of defiance done
by anti-coup protesters in Myanmar, at the end of his speech before the U.N. General Assembly at the United Nations Friday, Feb. 27 , 2021. (UNTV via AP)
    Myanmar’s military ousted their ambassador to the United Nations after he gave a fiery speech against the regime.    According to reports on Saturday, Kyaw Moe Tun was fired from his position for allegedly betraying the country and abusing his power as ambassador.
    This came after he spoke in front of the UN General Assembly, asking members to take action on the military coup.
    “In addition to the existing support, we need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people and to restore the democracy,” Kyaw Moe Tun stated.
    In the meantime, protesters are marching against the coup in cities across the country, where several residents have been reportedly injured.
Protesters blocked a road during a protest against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (AP Photo)
    Top U.S. foreign affairs officials said they support the calls from the protesters for Myanmar’s military and police to stand down.

2/28/2021 Iran internet disruption follows unrest by Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran’s impoverished southeast experienced wide disruptions of internet service over the past week, internet experts said Saturday, as unrest gripped the remote province after fatal border shootings.
    Several rights groups reported in a joint statement that authorities shut down the mobile data network in the restive province of Sistan and Baluchestan, calling the disruptions an apparent “tool to conceal” the crackdown on protests convulsing the area.
    The reports of internet interference come as Iranian authorities and semiofficial news agencies increasingly acknowledge the turmoil challenging local authorities in the southeast – a highly sensitive matter in a country that seeks to repress all hints of political dissent.
    For three days starting Wednesday, the government shut down the mobile data network across Sistan and Baluchestan, where 96% of the population accesses the internet only through their phones, rights groups said.    Residents reported a restoration of internet access early Saturday.


    This page created on 1/1/2021, and updated each month by 1/31/2021, 2/28/2021.

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