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

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

KING OF THE EAST 2021 MARCH-APRIL


    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 I did 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 MARCH-APRIL

3/1/2021 UN: At least 18 dead as Myanmar police crack down by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
    YANGON, Myanmar – Security forces fired on demonstrators and made mass arrests Sunday as they sought to break up protests against the military’s seizure of power.    A U.N. human rights organization said it had “credible information” that 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded.
    That would be the highest single-day death toll among protesters demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power after being ousted in a coup Feb. 1.
    “Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” the United Nations Human Rights Office said in a statement, referring to several cities.    It said the forces also used tear gas, flashbang grenades and stun grenades.
    “We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
    Thein Zaw, an Associated Press journalist, was taken into police custody Saturday morning while providing news coverage of the protests.
    The Democratic Voice of Burma reported 19 confirmed deaths in nine cities and 10 unconfirmed.    The independent media company broadcasts on satellite and digital television, as well as online.
    DVB counted five deaths in Yangon and two in Mandalay, the largest and second-largest cities.
    It reported five deaths in Dawei, a much smaller city in southeastern Myanmar that has seen tens of thousands of protesters nearly every day since the coup.    Witnesses said Sunday’s march also was large, and people were determined not to be driven off the streets.
    Confirming the deaths of protesters has been difficult amid the chaos and general lack of news from official sources, especially in areas outside Yangon, Mandalay and the capital of Naypyitaw. Photos and video showed killings and bodies.
    Gunfire was reported during protests in Yangon, and police also fired tear gas and water cannons while trying to clear the streets.    Photos of shell casings from live ammunition used in rifles were posted on social media.
    In Dawei, media reported at least three people were killed during a protest march.    Photos on social media showed one wounded man in the care of medical personnel.
    Before Sunday, there had been eight confirmed reports of killings linked to the army’s takeover, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.
    The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.    Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi’s government.
    Sunday morning, medical students marched in Yangon near the Hledan Center intersection, which has become a gathering point for protesters who fan out to other parts of the city.
    Protesters ran from police and set up makeshift roadblocks to slow the advance of authorities.    Some protesters threw tear gas canisters back at police.    Residents pleaded with police to release those they picked up from the street and shoved into trucks to be taken away.
    “The world is watching the actions of the Myanmar military junta and will hold them accountable,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for     New York-based Human Rights Watch.    “Live ammunition should not be used to control or disperse protests, and lethal force can only be used to protect life or prevent serious injury.”
    Security forces began employing rougher tactics Saturday, taking preemptive actions to break up protests and making scores, if not hundreds, of arrests. Soldiers joined police.    Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison on Yangon’s northern outskirts, where political prisoners have been held.
    According to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, as of Saturday, 854 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the coup, and 771 were detained or sought for arrest.
Riot police arrest protesters on Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar. The military government
has intensified a crackdown on demonstrations. HKUN LAT/GETTY IMAGES

3/1/2021 White House: U.S. Preparing ‘Additional Actions’ Over Myanmar Military Coup by OAN Newsroom
Protesters set up barricade during an anti-coup protest march in Yangon, Myanmar, Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo)
    The U.S. said it is ready to take “additional actions” over the military coup in Myanmar.    White House press secretary Jen Psaki made that announcement in a press briefing on Monday.
    The U.S. has already sanctioned 10 of Myanmar’s top-ranking military officials following their ousting of the country’s civilian government in early February.    The U.S. has also redirected over $42 million in aid away from the country.
Anti-coup protesters ran away from tear gas launched by security forces in Yangon, Myanmar, Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo)
    Since the coup, over a dozen pro-government protesters have been killed by military forces.
    “The killings represent an escalation of the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since the February 1st coup,” Psaki stated.    “We are preparing the additional actions to impose further costs on those responsible for this latest outbreak of violence and the recent coup.    And we expect to have more to share in that in the coming days.”
    According to the UN Human Rights Council, Sunday was the deadliest day of protests in Myanmar since the start of the takeover.

3/2/2021 Myanmar’s Neighbours Press Junta For Suu Kyi’s Release, Restoration Of Democracy
Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas float around demonstrators during a protest against the military
coup in Yangon, Myanmar, March 2, 2021. Picture taken from behind a window. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Some of Myanmar’s neighbours pressed its ruling junta on Tuesday to release ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and cease using lethal force against opponents of their Feb. 1 coup to work out a solution to the crisis.
    The calls from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) came as Myanmar police again opened fire to disperse crowds after weeks of demonstrations against military rule.    Several people were wounded, witnesses said.
    ASEAN foreign ministers held talks with a representative of the junta in a video call two days after the bloodiest day of unrest since the military overthrew Suu Kyi’s elected government.
    At least 21 people have been killed since the coup, which Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview with the BBC was a “tragic” step back for Myanmar.
    The foreign minister of Indonesia, which has been pushing a regional diplomatic effort, urged Myanmar to “open its doors” to the ASEAN bloc to resolve the escalating tension, but said there was little it could do if it did not.
    Retno Marsudi, called for the release of political detainees and for the restoration of democracy, while pledging that ASEAN countries would not break their pledge of not interfering in each other’s affairs.
    “Restoring democracy back on track must be pursued,” Retno said. “Indonesia underlines that the will, the interest and the voices of the people of Myanmar must be respected.”
    The foreign ministers of Malaysia and the Philippines also called for the release of Suu Kyi.
    But some countries were less emphatic and a statement from the group said “all parties” should refrain from instigating violence and that ASEAN stood ready to help.
    ASEAN groups Myanmar, Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
    The bloc’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military has been criticised by supporters of democracy, with a committee of ousted Myanmar lawmakers declaring the junta a terrorist group and saying ASEAN’s engagement would give it legitimacy.
    Sa Sa, a senior member of the committee who has been anointed as its representative to the United Nations, said ASEAN should have no dealings with “this illegitimate military-led regime.”
    Myanmar’s own representative to the United Nations denounced the coup last week and after the junta announced he had been fired, he staked a formal claim as the legitimate representative, according to letters seen by Reuters.
CONDEMNATION
    The coup halted Myanmar’s tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule and has drawn condemnation and sanctions from the United States and other Western countries.
    Singapore’s Lee said sanctions would not affect the junta but hurt the people and the way forward was to free Suu Kyi and work out a solution – describing the takeover as “an enormous tragic step back
    “To use lethal force against civilians and unarmed demonstrators, I think it is just not acceptable.    That is disastrous not just internationally, but disastrous domestically,” said.
    Hundreds of protesters, many wearing hard hats and clutching makeshift shields, gathered earlier behind barricades in different parts of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon to chant slogans before police moved in firing stun grenades.
    There were no reports of injuries in Yangon but four people were wounded in the northwestern town of Kale, where police fired live ammunition to disperse a crowd after protesters threw objects at advancing police, witnesses said.
    State television MRTV later said security forces used stun grenades, rubber bullets and other non-lethal measures.
    “They were acting like they were in a war zone,” a teacher at the protest who declined to be identified said of the police.
    MRTV said that crowds were being instigated through social media by illegal organisations and causing instability.    It said 12 “riotous protesters.” had been detained in Yangon.
    After the use of force by security forces on the streets, people protested from their balconies after dark across Yangon, chanting “the revolution must succeed” and calls for Suu Kyi’s health.
    The military justified the coup saying its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Suu Kyi’s party were ignored. The election commission said the vote was fair.
    Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to hold new elections and hand power to the winner but has given no time frame.
    Suu Kyi, 75, appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing on Monday and looked in good health, one of her lawyers said.    Two more charges were added to those filed against her after the coup, the lawyer said.
    More than 1,100 people have been detained, according to activists, among them six journalists in Yangon, one of whom works for the Associated Press, which has called for his release.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Additional reporting by Tom Allard, Jospeh Sipalan; Writing by Martin Petty and Rob Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

3/2/2021 U.S. Understanding Is Myanmar Ambassador To UN Remains In Position: State Department
FILE PHOTO: 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
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price on Tuesday said that the United States understanding is that Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York Kyaw Moe Tun remains in position despite an attempt by the junta to install his deputy.
    Myanmar state television announced on Saturday that Kyaw Moe Tun had been fired for betraying the country, a day after he urged countries to use “any means necessary” to reverse a Feb. 1 coup that ousted the nation’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis, Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis)

3/2/2021 France, Allies To Push On With Protest At IAEA Over Iran’s Activities: Foreign Minister by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian, wearing a protective face mask, attends the questions to the government session
at the National Assembly in Paris amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in France, January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    PARIS (Reuters) – France and its Western allies plan to lodge a protest with the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog to criticise Iran’s decision to curb cooperation with the agency, the French foreign minister said on Tuesday.
    Iran said last month it was scaling back cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, ending extra inspection and monitoring measures introduced by the 2015 nuclear deal, including the power given to the IAEA to carry out snap inspections at facilities not declared by Iran.
    “The nuclear tensions will lead us in the coming days to put forward a protest in the framework of the IAEA Board of Governors to regret this decision,” Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary hearing.
    Britain, France and Germany – all parties to the deal with Iran – on Monday circulated a draft resolution backed by the United States for the Vienna meeting voicing “serious concern” at Iran’s reduced cooperation and urging Iran to reverse its steps.
    Iran has bristled at the prospect of such criticism, threatening to cancel a deal struck a week ago with the IAEA to temporarily continue many of the monitoring measures it had decided to end – a black-box-type arrangement valid for up to three months and aimed at creating a window for diplomacy.
    A vote on the resolution is due by the end of the week.
    The IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors is holding a quarterly meeting this week against the backdrop of faltering efforts to revive Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers now that U.S. President Joe Biden is in office.
    Diplomacy, however, is making limited progress.    Iran said on Sunday it would not take up a European Union proposal to hold a meeting with other parties to the deal and the United States.
    “The situation is complicated,” Le Drian said.    “The problem is to know who goes first and nobody wants to be trapped.    The fact that the Iranians suspended the Additional Protocol is not good news,” he said, referring to Iran’s move last month to curb IAEA inspections.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Angus MacSwan)

3/2/2021 France’s Macron Tells Iran ‘Clear Gestures’ Needed To Revive Nuclear Deal
ILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that Tehran must make clear and immediate gestures to allow dialogue to resume on the 2015 nuclear deal, the Elysee palace said on Tuesday.
    “Having reminded (Rouhani) of the efforts made by France with its partners in the last years to reach a negotiated solution, the (French) head of state stressed it was important that Iran made clear and immediate gestures so that dialogue can resume with all parties to the Vienna deal,” Macron’s office said.
    In 2019, Macron pushed to bring Washington and Tehran back to the negotiating table and to set parameters for wider future talks.        Last month he offered himself as an “honest broker.”    https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2A42Q6
    Expressing his deep concerns regarding Iran’s decisions to violate the accord, Macron said it was vital Tehran returned into compliance and fully cooperate with the U.N. atomic watchdog.
    Iran has recently accelerated its violations of the 2015 deal in an apparent bid to raise pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden, as each side insists the other must move first.
    Several Iranian media outlets said Rouhani had made it clear to Macron that the only way to revive the deal would be for the U.S. to lift sanctions and repeated that Tehran’s decision to reduce its obligations was due to the U.S. withdrawal in 2018.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon and Dubai Newsroom; writing by John Irish; Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

3/2/2021 Beijing Dismisses Alleged Chinese Hacking Of Indian Vaccine Makers by Yew Lun Tian and Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: Men ride on a motorbike past a supply truck of India's Serum Institute, the world's largest maker of vaccines, which
is working on a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Pune, India, May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Euan Rocha
    BEIJING/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday rejected an allegation by a cyber intelligence firm that a state-backed hacking group targeted the IT systems of two Indian coronavirus vaccine makers.
    Cyfirma told Reuters that hacking group APT10, known as Stone Panda, had identified gaps and vulnerabilities in the IT infrastructure and supply chain software of     Bharat Biotech and the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker.
    “Without showing any evidence, the relevant party made baseless speculation, distorted and concocted facts, to malign a specific party,” China’s foreign ministry told Reuters.
    “This behaviour is irresponsible and has ulterior motive. China firmly opposes it,” it added in a written reply to questions about Cyfirma’s allegations.
    Asked to respond to Beijing’s comment, Cyfirma, a company which is backed by investors including Goldman Sachs, said in a statement: “We stand by our findings and research.”
    SII declined to comment.    Bharat Biotech, which said on Monday it did not comment on hacking-related matters, had no immediate comment on Tuesday.
    The office of the director-general of the state-run Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) told Reuters on Monday the hacking matter had been handed to its operations director.
    It declined further comment.
    SII is making the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine for many countries and will soon start bulk manufacturing Novavax shots, while Bharat Biotech plans to export its COVAXIN shot to dozens of countries including Brazil and the Philippines.
    China and India have both sold or gifted COVID-19 shots to many countries.    India produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold in the world.
    Relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours soured in June when 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed in a Himalayan border confrontation. Recent talks have eased tension, and the Chinese foreign ministry said both sides were working towards safeguarding the peace in the border region.
    “China and India are using military diplomatic channel to communicate about how to properly manage the border situation,” the foreign ministry statement said.
    “We hope everyone can work together to stop the spreading of fake information,” it added.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Krishna N. Das in New Delhi; Editing by Alexander Smith)

3/4/2021 Myanmar Police Break Up Protests Again After Bloodiest Day Since Coup
Protesters hide behind a barricade as the tear gas and smoke rise amongst them during a demonstration against the military coup
in Yangon, Myanmar March 4, 2021 in this still frame obtained from a social media video. KHIT THIT MEDIA via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Police in Myanmar broke up demonstrations in several places with tear gas and gunfire on Thursday as protesters took to the streets again undeterred by the rising death toll in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.
    The incidents followed the bloodiest day since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with the United Nations special envoy for     Myanmar saying 38 people had been killed on Wednesday.
    The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters.”
    At least 54 people had been killed in total but the actual toll could be much higher, she said.    More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
    “Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement.
    A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
    The army seized power alleging fraud in an election won by Suu Kyi’s party last November, although the electoral commission dismissed its claims.    It has defended measures to quell protests and said it will not let Myanmar’s stability be threatened.
    Activists said they refused to accept military rule and the new elections promised by the junta, voicing determination to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of her election victory.
    “We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets but there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta,” activist Maung Saungkha told Reuters.
    Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said.    Police also fired in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported.
    Big crowds also gathered peacefully for rallies elsewhere, including the second city of Mandalay and in the historic temple town of Bagan, where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Suu Kyi and a banner saying: “Free our leader,” witnesses said.
EVERYTHING WILL BE OK” PROTESTER MOURNED
    Hundreds of people attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday, who was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK.”
    On Wednesday, police and soldiers had opened fire with live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said. The United Nations said at least 38 people were killed.     “Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality,” said Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
    Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said in a statement that flags would fly at half mast at its offices to commemorate the dead.
    The U.N. Security Council is due to discuss the situation on Friday in a closed meeting, diplomats said.
    The U.S. State Department said Washington was “appalled” by the violence and was evaluating how to respond.    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was horrified by the escalation of violence and killing of protesters.
    The European Union suspended support for development projects to avoid providing financial assistance to the military, officials said on Thursday.    The support in past years has involved more than 200 million euros ($240.7 million) in separate programmes often running for four years.
    Myanmar’s generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.
    The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said on Wednesday she had warned deputy military chief Soe Win that the army was likely to face strong measures from some countries over the coup.
    “The answer was: ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived’,” she told reporters in New York.    “When I also warned they will go (into) isolation, the answer was: ‘We have to learn to walk with only few friends’.”
    The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, it expects it to play a constructive role. China has said stability is a top priority in its strategic neighbour.
    At least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed over into India, fearing persecution for disobeying orders, a senior Indian police official told Reuters.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Stephen Coates and Angus MacSwan)

3/4/2021 Western Powers Scrap Plan For IAEA Rebuke Of Iran To Make Space For Talks by Francois Murphy 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
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain, France and Germany have scrapped a U.S.-backed plan for the U.N. nuclear watchdog to criticise Iran for reducing cooperation with its inspectors, in a bid to avoid escalation and make room for diplomacy, diplomats said on Thursday.
    Tehran and Washington have emerged from U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to wreck Iran’s nuclear deal locked in a standoff over who should move first to save it.    Tehran has added to its breaches of the deal’s atomic restrictions in protest at U.S. sanctions re-imposed when Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.
    The European powers, all parties to the 2015 deal, have been lobbying for the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors to adopt a resolution at its quarterly meeting this week expressing concern at Iran’s latest breaches, including ending the basis for snap IAEA inspections.
    The resolution also called on Iran to answer the IAEA’s questions on the origin of uranium particles recently found at several undeclared and apparently old sites     Just as time for a resolution was running out, the IAEA announced a new diplomatic push to get answers from Iran.
    “We are trying to sit down around the table and see if we can resolve this once and for all,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told a news conference called at short notice, outlining a process that will start next month.
    “We are going to be starting this process of focused analysis of the situation with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings.”
    That push prompted the so-called E3 to drop their planned resolution, even though there is no sign as yet of Iran relenting on its breaches of the deal.
    A French diplomatic source told reporters the resolution was put on hold because the E3 believed they had won concessions allowing Grossi to work on the outstanding issues and because it would have harmed the prospects of a meeting between Iran, the United States and other parties to the deal.
    “If we had gone through with the vote (on a resolution) it would have made it more difficult to quickly start this meeting,” the source told reporters.
    Iran had bristled at the prospect of the resolution, threatening to end a recent agreement with the IAEA that limits the impact of its latest breaches, enabling monitoring of its facilities to continue almost as before for up to three months.
    “Cooler heads are prevailing,” said one diplomat from a country on the board that had been sceptical about a resolution.
TALKING PAST EACH OTHER
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the move kept diplomatic efforts alive.
    “Today’s development can preserve the path of diplomacy that was created by Iran and the IAEA and pave the way for returning to full compliance by all parties to the JCPOA,” Iranian state media quoted him as saying, referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.
    While Grossi said he hoped to report progress to the next IAEA board meeting in June, the French source said the resolution could be revived even before then if there were problems between the IAEA and Iran.
    Grossi said he was seeking to end a process of “talking past each other” with Iran that has failed to yield credible answers.
    U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had a nuclear weapons programme that it halted in 2003.    Iran denies ever having had one.
    “Either you continue with this merry-go-round that can last a long time or you try something else,” Grossi said.    “I felt that we needed to try to discuss this in a different way.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Gareth Jones and Hugh Lawson)

3/4/2021 New Zealand Police Charge Man After Threat Against Mosques Attacked In 2019 by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: People visit a memorial site for victims of Friday's shooting, in front of the
Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    (Reuters) – New Zealand police said on Thursday they had charged a 27-year-old man after he threatened to attack two mosques that were the scene of mass murder by a white supremacist two years ago.
    Police said an online threat was made this week on the 4chan website against the Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, which were targeted in 2019 in New Zealand’s most deadly shooting.
    Police provided no details on the nature of the threat, but New Zealand media said the threats had included setting off a car bomb on March 15 – the anniversary of the 2019 attack.
    The unnamed man has been charged with threatening to kill and will appear in court on Friday, the police said.
    “Any messages of hate or people wanting to cause harm in our community will not be tolerated – it’s not the Kiwi way,” said John Price, Canterbury District Commander Superintendent in an emailed statement.
    A second person arrested on Thursday remains in custody and police said they are considering further charges.
    New Zealand is on heightened alert ahead of the March 15 anniversary of the Christchurch attack.
    On that day in 2019, armed with high-capacity semi-automatic weapons, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people and injured dozens more after opening fire on worshippers at the two mosques, livestreaming the attacks on Facebook before being arrested.
    In August, Tarrant was sentenced to life in prison without parole, the first time New Zealand has confined anyone for the rest of their life. (Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones)

3/4/2021 From Homes And Streets, Myanmar Citizens Record Spiralling Bloodshed
A soldier points their gun at a balcony on a street in Yangon, Myanmar
March 3, 2021 in this screen grab from a social media video obtained by REUTERS.
    (Reuters) – “I was lucky not to die,” Min Thura Zaw posted on his Facebook page with a video that shows a soldier aiming in his direction in Myanmar’s main city and the sound of a bullet’s crack.
    He ducked from the window and tumbled to safety on the floor of his apartment – all captured in one of the growing number of videos shot by householders using their mobile phones to record violence on the streets outside.
    “I wanted to record the inhumanity of the military, shooting at houses and even stray dogs,” Min Thura Zaw told Reuters.
    “The soldier … came back and shot (at) me intentionally… I want to send my message to the world to please try to stop these acts of inhumanity without delay.”
    Reuters has verified the authenticity of Min Thura Zaw’s video.
    A spokesman for the army and junta did not respond to a request for comment on the incident or on the recordings more broadly.
    The junta has said that it has taken restrained measures against protests in line with international norms, but that it will not tolerate “riotous protesters” it says are damaging national security.
    Often shaky or blurred, shot between railings or from behind curtains, the videos are sometimes the only record of the violence.
    In total, at least 54 protesters have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the United Nations.
    The army said it overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the electoral commission dismissed its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by her party.    It has promised a new election at a still unspecified date.
    The home-shot videos of violence have become an important source of images for people in Myanmar and international media, including Reuters.
    “These clips filmed by either journalists or ordinary citizens play a crucial role in understanding and documenting the accurate scope of atrocities,” said Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the independent Myanmar Now news service.
    Also, he said, they could help bring those responsible to justice in the future.
    In the central town of Monywa on Wednesday, video shot from an upstairs room and verified by Reuters shows two police officers grabbing what appears to be a corpse, one pulling hands and one feet as they drag it along the ground.
    Other verified videos have shown security forces using teargas, stun grenades and live ammunition.
    “Now they are using real bullets, our people are in great danger,” said Min Thura Zaw.    “Our cause must prevail.”
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/4/2021 Americans Favor Confronting China On Human Rights Despite Risk To Economic Ties, Survey Finds
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) – American attitudes toward China have soured significantly in the past three years, with 70% of those surveyed for a report published on Thursday saying Washington should stand up to Beijing over its human rights record even if it damages economic ties.
    Nearly 9 in 10 respondents to a Pew Research Center survey of more than 2,500 Americans conducted in February said they saw China, the world’s second largest economy, as a competitor or enemy rather than a partner, the U.S.-based center said.
    “Americans want more focus on human rights – even at the expense of economic ties – in bilateral relations with China,” the report said.
    President Joe Biden’s administration, which took office in January, has singled out China as the “biggest geopolitical test” of this century, and endorsed a determination by the previous Trump administration that Beijing has committed genocide against minority Muslims.
    It has also criticized China’s crackdown on Hong Kong’s democracy movement and signaled it will maintain the Trump administration’s pressure on Beijing, albeit in coordination with allies.
    The Pew survey suggested a slim majority of Americas, 53%, had confidence in Biden to effectively deal with China, lower than that for other global issues, such as terrorism, climate change, the use of military force, and managing trade.
    Across the board, negative views in the United States toward China have grown sharply since 2018, with 67% of respondents holding “very cold” or “cold” views toward China compared to 46% three years ago. Just 11% of the Americans surveyed held warm sentiments toward the country.
    Perceptions that China-sponsored cyberattacks and Beijing’s rights record were “very serious” problems jumped 7% since 2020 to 65% and 50%, respectively, the report said.
    Majorities also saw U.S. job losses to China and the country’s growing military power as very serious problems, up 6% since last year to 53% and 52%.
    U.S.-China ties plummeted to their lowest point in decades in former President Donald Trump’s final year in office, as Washington targeted Beijing over trade, the coronavirus outbreak, espionage, human rights, and Chinese territorial claims in the strategic South China Sea.
    Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Congress have found common cause in confronting Beijing, with lawmakers proposing a barrage of China-related legislation.
    A majority of Americans surveyed, 54%, said China had handled the coronavirus outbreak poorly.    But even more – 58% – said their own country had also done a bad job.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom)

3/4/2021 Clash Over Myanmar Representation At U.N. Averted For Now by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the
United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A clash over who represents Myanmar at the United Nations in New York after a Feb. 1 military coup was averted – for now – after the junta’s replacement quit and the Myanmar U.N. mission confirmed that Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun remained in the job.
    Kyaw Moe Tun was fired by the junta on Saturday, a day after he urged countries at the 193-member U.N. General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup that ousted the nation’s elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    On Sunday, the Myanmar U.N. mission said Kyaw Moe Tun’s deputy, Tin Maung Naing, would become the acting U.N. envoy.    On Monday, Kyaw Moe Tun formally staked his claim to remain the country’s legitimate representative – a job he has held since October – in a letter to the United Nations.
    The rival claims raised the prospect of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly having to address the issue.
    On Wednesday, the Myanmar U.N. mission told the United Nations on Wednesday that Tin Maung Naing had resigned and Kyaw Moe Tun remained the country’s ambassador.    It said the note it sent on Sunday “shall be ignored.”
    Myanmar’s representation at the United Nations could become an issue again if the junta tries to appoint a new ambassador.
    Police in Myanmar broke up demonstrations in several places with tear gas and gunfire on Thursday as protesters took to the streets again, undeterred by the rising death toll in a crackdown on coup opponents.
    The U.N. Security Council is due to discuss Myanmar on Friday in a closed meeting, diplomats said.    The 15-member council has voiced concern over the state of emergency, but stopped short of condemning the coup last month due to opposition from Russia and China.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

3/4/2021 Exclusive: Nineteen Myanmar Police Seek Refuge In India, More Expected by Devjyot Ghoshal
A riot police officer fires a teargas canister to disperse pro-democracy protesters taking part
in a rally against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least 19 Myanmar police have crossed into India to escape taking orders from a military junta that is trying to suppress protests against last month’s coup, an Indian police official said on Thursday, adding that more were expected.
    The men have crossed into Champhai and Serchhip, two districts in the northeastern state of Mizoram that share a porous border with Myanmar, the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    All the men, who are lower-ranking policemen, were unarmed, the official said.    “We are expecting more to come,” he said, citing intelligence reports.
    There have been several instances recounted on social media of police joining the civil disobedience movement and protests against the junta, with some arrested, but this is the first reported case of police fleeing Myanmar.
    The official said that the policemen crossed over fearing persecution for disobeying orders and would be temporarily housed by local Indian authorities.
    “They didn’t want to take orders against the civil disobedience movement,” he said, referring to the agitation in Myanmar calling for the reversal of the Feb. 1 coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    Of the 19, three Myanmar policemen came across the border near the town of North Vanlaiphai in Serchhip district on Wednesday afternoon and authorities there were assessing their health, another police official said.
    “What they said is they got instructions from the military rulers which they cannot obey, so they have run away,” Serchhip police superintendent Stephen Lalrinawma told Reuters.
    “They are seeking refuge because of the military rule in Myanmar,” Lalrinawma said.
India shares a 1,600 km (1,000 mile) land border with Myanmar, where more than 50 people have been killed during protests against the coup.
    The junta overthrew a democratically elected government, and detained its leader, Suu Kyi, having disputed her party’s landslide victory in November.
    India is already home to thousands of refugees from Myanmar, including ethnic Chin people and Rohingya who fled the southeast Asian country during previous bouts of violence.
    A Chin community leader in New Delhi said police have rarely fled to India.
    “This is something unusual,” said James Fanai, president of the India-based Chin Refugee Committee.    “Because in the past, police and military just follow orders.”
    Myanmar’s ruling military council has stressed the importance of police and soldiers doing their duty.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Simon Cameron-Moore and Giles Elgood)

3/4/2021 Pakistan PM To Seek Vote Of Confidence On Saturday After Senate Setback
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani
(not pictured) at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD/KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan, said he will seek a vote of confidence from parliament on Saturday after the finance minister lost his bid for a Senate seat.
    Khan and his government had been expected to win the indirect election on the seat, given their coalition’s numerical superiority in the lower house of parliament, the electoral college for the vote.
    “I’m going to seek a confidence motion a day after tomorrow,” Khan said in a televised address to the nation on Thursday.
    The Senate is the upper house of Pakistan’s bicameral parliament.
    He said the vote of confidence would be an open ballot in which members of his party and his allies were welcome to vote against him if they no longer had confidence in him.
    “This is your democratic right … just raise your hands that you don’t have confidence and I will go into the opposition (benches),” he said.
    The Senate election a day earlier was a secret ballot and members of the ruling coalition are widely believed to have voted against his candidate, Finance Minister Abdul Hafiz Sheikh.
    He alleged the opposition parties had gained those votes through unfair means. The opposition denies the charge.
    Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), became the largest party in the Senate in Wednesday’s poll.    But although it gained ground, interim results on     Thursday showed his ruling coalition was still a few seats short of a clear majority.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Timothy Heritage)

3/4/2021 Iran Gives Positive Signals On Informal Nuclear Talks, Time Short: Sources by John Irish
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
    PARIS (Reuters) – Iran has given encouraging signs in recent days about opening informal talks with world powers and the United States, two European sources said on Thursday after European powers scrapped plans to criticise Tehran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal.
    “Things are moving in the right direction and we have had positive signals this week and especially in last few days,” a French diplomatic source said.    “We are seeing movements that we weren’t seeing last weekend,” he said.
    The source added the objective was to get everyone around the table before the start of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, on March 20, when Iran slows down administratively.
    He added that the window would also narrow from mid-April when Iran’s presidential election campaign kicks in.
    “We are putting all our efforts so that this (meeting) can take place in the days or coming weeks,” the source said.
    French President Emmanuel Macron and his foreign minister both spoke separately with their Iranian counterparts earlier this week.
    A second European source also said there had been positive signals from the Iranian side.
    An Iranian official declined to comment.
    An EU official said that this was the objective and the channels remained open with contacts almost daily.
    “It’s good that the Iranians are still talking,” the official said.
    The French source added that another positive indication was that Iran had reportedly suspended its production of uranium metal, one of its latest violations of the nuclear accord, although that had not been verified by the IAEA.
    Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy and after what they said were concessions gained from Iran to deal with outstanding nuclear.
(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Editing by Alex Richardson and GV De Clercq)

3/5/2021 Iran’s Zarif To Offer ‘Constructive’ Plan Amid Hopes Of Informal Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will soon present a “constructive” plan of action, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday, after European sources said Tehran gave positive signs about opening informal talks about its nuclear programme.     “As Iran’s FM (foreign minister) & chief nuclear negotiator, I will shortly present our constructive concrete plan of action – through proper diplomatic channels,” Zarif said on Twitter.
    A French diplomatic source and another European source said on Thursday that Iran had given encouraging signs in recent days about opening the informal talks after European powers scrapped plans to criticise Tehran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving its 2015 nuclear deal.
    Iran’s nuclear policy is decided by the country’s top authority, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and not the president or the government.
    Tehran and Washington have emerged from former U.S. President Donald Trump’s attempts to wreck Iran’s nuclear deal locked in a standoff over who should move first to save it.    Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018.
    Britain, France and Germany decided to pause the submission of a resolution critical of Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday to not harm the prospects for diplomacy after what they said were concessions gained from Iran to deal with outstanding nuclear.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

3/5/2021 Analysis: End Of The Road For Hong Kong’s Democratic Dream As China ‘Improves’ Its Voting System by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong and Chinese national flags are flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras outside
the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Ever since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, opposition activists have tried to bring full democracy to the city, believing that China would live up to its promise to one day allow universal suffrage to elect the city’s leader.
    On Friday, that campaign was dealt its biggest blow.    Chinese parliamentarians in Beijing unveiled details of a plan to revamp the political structure of China’s freest city that critics say has all but killed off the pledge of one person, one vote.
    China’s move comes months after a sweeping national security law was imposed on the Asian financial hub, cracking down on dissent, and more than a year after months of sometimes violent anti-China, pro-democracy protests which swept the city.
    “There is not much we can do to effectively change what they’re deciding,” the head of the Democratic Party, Lo Kin-hei, told Reuters.
    The structural changes will include increasing the city’s legislative seats from 70 to 90, with some of these to now be decided by a committee stacked with Beijing loyalists.    Seats likely to be controlled by the democrats will either be scrapped or reduced.
    A 1,200-person committee that picks Hong Kong’s leader will be expanded – further “improving” a system controlled by Chinese “patriots,” according to Wang Chen, a vice chairman of the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress.
    Wang told reporters the moves, that would involve re-drafting parts of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, would consolidate China’s “overall jurisdiction” over the city and fix “deep-seated problems” once and for all.
    It was in the Basic Law that Beijing promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong.
    But Friday’s moves now stand to nip in the bud the risk of any resurgence of the democracy movement, founded after Beijing’s violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
    With many leading democrats now jailed or forced into exile, including Lo’s predecessor, Wu Chi-wai, who was denied bail this week along with dozens of others for an alleged conspiracy to “overthrow” the government, the democrats will try to utilise their grassroots networks to keep their ideals alive.
    “The trust towards the system is fading … and it’s not a good sign if we want a more peaceful society to not allow different voices to be in harmony,” Lo told Reuters.
‘MOVING BACKWARDS’
    Another veteran democracy campaigner said Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who became head of the Communist Party in 2012, had changed the trajectory of Hong Kong’s moves towards full democracy, going against the oft-cited promise of China’s late leader, Deng Xiaoping, to let Hong Kong people “rule” Hong Kong.
    “It’s a great tragedy,” said the source, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the political atmosphere.    “They are moving backwards, not forwards, and taking us back in time to a dark, dark place.”
    With the opposition now likely to be become a permanent minority in a re-modelled legislature, the shift towards China’s one-party model will create openings for new patriotic factions, critics and some pro-Beijing politicians say.
    China, given its rise into a global superpower, now has the power and resources to extend its autocratic governance despite criticism and sanctions from the West.
    Some see Hong Kong’s British Common Law legal system as the last bastion against China’s tightening authoritarian grip.
    More than 50 democratic advocates crammed into a court in the city this week, some of whom face potential life imprisonment on a subversion charge under the national security law promulgated directly by China’s parliament last June.
    Two democrats, veteran activist Leung Kwok-hung and former law professor Benny Tai, had to shuttle between two court rooms for concurrent hearings, while others were taken to hospital after falling ill during marathon sessions.
    Under the security law, the onus rests on defendants to argue a case for bail – which critics say overturns the common law tradition.
    Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, which guaranteed its way of life, freedoms and independent legal system.
    Barrister Martin Lee, 82, dubbed the city’s father of democracy, wrote in a 2014 editorial in the New York Times that universal suffrage was the only way to honour Deng’s “one country, two systems” formula and to “keep his blueprint from becoming a litany of broken promises.”
    The current moves could be a final departure from that.
    “This is now an over-correction,” a senior Western diplomat told Reuters.
    “In trying to wrest control back, there is a danger that they will overdo it and kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

3/5/2021 U.N. Security Council Urged To Act As Myanmar Protesters Are Again Met With Gunfire
A protester is seen on the roof of a building as he throws objects at police, during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar,
March 4, 2021, in this still image taken from a video. Bangkoksighseeing Facebook/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Police in Myanmar on Friday opened fire on protesters against last month’s military coup, killing one man, as international condemnation rained down on the junta and the U.N. special envoy on Myanmar urged the Security Council to act.
    Christine Burgener called on the council for “unified support, action,” asking “how much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?,” following the deaths of dozens of civilian protesters this week.
    She said the situation in Myanmar was moving toward “an acute humanitarian crisis.”
    Activists demanding the restoration of the elected government of veteran democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi held more demonstrations in several towns and cities, with thousands marching peacefully through the second city of Mandalay.
    “The stone age is over, we’re not scared because you threaten us,” the crowd chanted.
    Police opened fire and one man was killed, witnesses and a doctor told Reuters by telephone.
    An official from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was also stabbed to death along with his 17-year-old nephew in an apparent mob attack in the central Magwe region, local media reported.
    Myanmar Now cited the son of the official, who survived the attack, as saying 25 supporters of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party set upon them with knives.
    The party did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    In the main city of Yangon, police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse protesters who had been joined by about 100 doctors in white coats, witnesses said.
    Crowds also gathered in Pathein, to the west of Yangon, and in central Myingyan, where dozens of women in straw hats held up signs calling for Suu Kyi’s release, witnesses said.
    A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
    Thousands also rallied in the southeastern Karen state, accompanied by fighters from the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed group engaged in a long-running war with the military.
    During the rally – the strongest indication yet of support for the anti-coup movement from one of the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups – KNU troops flashed the three-finger salute popularized by protesters and handed out water bottles.
    The KNU said in a statement it would not tolerate attacks on peaceful protesters by the army.
    “People in urban areas, ethnic armed groups and the international community must work together until the military dictatorship falls,” it said.
    On Thursday, police broke up rallies with tear gas and gunfire in several cities but the crackdown was more restrained than on Wednesday, when the United Nations said 38 people were killed in the bloodiest day of protests.
    In all, at least 55 people have been killed since the Feb. 1 coup.
    U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet demanded the security forces halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters,”    Bachelet said more than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
    The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said some Red Cross volunteers had been injured and wrongfully arrested and Red Cross ambulances had been damaged.
    The military seized power saying that the NLD’s landslide victory in an election in November was fraudulent.    The electoral commission has said the ballot was fair.
    The junta has promised new elections but not given a date.    Activists have rejected that and demand the release of Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup.
DISOBEDIENCE
    Singapore has been the most outspoken of Myanmar’s neighbours and its foreign minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said it was a “national shame” for armed forces to use weapons against their people.
    But condemnation of the coup and subsequent violence has come largely from the West, with Asian nations, including India, mostly more restrained.    The junta can count on some support from Russia and China – a major investor – at the United Nations.
    The military has weathered isolation and sanctions during previous eras of army rule and has indicated it will not be swayed this time around.
    The U.N. human rights investigator on Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, urged the Security Council to impose a global arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions on the junta.
    The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, that it expects it to play a constructive role.    China has said stability is a top priority.
    The military, which ruled directly for nearly 50 years until it embarked on a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago, has been struggling to impose its authority on a country where many people abhor the thought of a return of army rule.
    A civil disobedience campaign of strikes running parallel with the protests has been supported by many government workers including a trickle of policemen.
    Indian security forces meanwhile stepped up border patrols to stop any more people entering, Indian officials said.    About 20 policemen crossed into India this week fearing persecution for disobeying orders to enforce the crackdown.
    “As of now, we are not letting anybody enter,” Maria Zuali, a government official in Mizoram state, told Reuters.
    The move follows the defection over the border of some low-ranking Myanmar police officers who were unwilling to obey orders to suppress demonstrations.
    More than 10 Myanmar diplomats in foreign missions have also declared their support for the pro-democracy campaign, the Irrawaddy news outlet reported.    In Washington, it was unclear whether Myanmar’s embassy was still representing the junta.
    In New York, a clash over who represents Myanmar at the United Nations was averted after the junta’s replacement quit and the Myanmar U.N. mission confirmed that Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun remained in the job.    The junta fired Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday after he urged countries at the U.N. General Assembly to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Stephen Coates, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)

3/5/2021 U.N. Condemns Up To 23 Killings In Iran’s Border Area With Pakistan
FILE PHOTO: The United Nations flag is seen during the 74th session of the United Nations General
Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yana Paskova
    GENEVA (Reuters) – At least a dozen people and possibly up to 23 have been killed in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province where Revolutionary Guards and security forces have used lethal force against fuel couriers from ethnic minorities and protesters, the United Nations said on Friday.
    Iran is investigating an incident in which at least two Iranians were shot dead this week at the border with Pakistan, and Islamabad has handed over the body of one of the victims, the Iranian foreign ministry said a week ago.
    The shooting of people carrying fuel across the border led to protests that spread from the city of Saravan to other areas in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, including the capital, Zahedan.
    “The series of violent events and unrest began on 22 February, when Revolutionary Guards are alleged to have shot and killed at least 10 fuel couriers, known as sookhtbar, in Sistan and Baluchistan Province at the border with Pakistan, after a two-day stand-off triggered by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps blocking the road to the city of Saravan,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.
    The killings had triggered demonstrations in several cities across the province, during which the revolutionary guard and security forces fired lethal ammunition at protesters and bystanders, he said.
    Colville said that it has been difficult to verify the death toll due to disruptions of local mobile data networks, but some unconfirmed reports have estimated that as many as 23 people may have been killed.
    “We call on the authorities to immediately restore Internet access in areas that remain disconnected,” he said.
    Sistan-Baluchistan’s population is predominantly Sunni Muslim, while most Iranians are Shi’ite.    Iran has some of the lowest fuel prices in the world and has been fighting smuggling to neighbouring countries.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Emma Farge)

3/5/2021 Uighurs Take Case Against Beijing Games To IOC Ethics Chief Ban Ki-Moon by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Former United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon arrives ahead of the start of the 74th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Yana Paskova
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The largest group of exiled ethnic Uighurs have asked the chair of the IOC’s ethics commission to personally review its call for the 2022 Winter Games not to be held in Beijing amid evidence of what it calls crimes against humanity.
    Activists and U.N. experts say 1 million Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims are held in Chinese camps in Xinjiang.    China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism in the remote western region.
    The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said its public complaint on the issue last August had not been given a fair hearing by the International Olympics Committee.
    In a statement seen by Reuters on its Feb. 26 letter to ethics chief Ban Ki-moon, the WUC repeated that the IOC had “acted in breach of the Olympic Charter by failing to reconsider holding the 2022 Olympics in Beijing following verifiable evidence of genocide and crimes and humanity taking place.”
    There was no immediate comment from the IOC.
    The IOC said in a statement to Reuters last August that it “must remain neutral on all global political issues.”    The IOC said it had received assurances from Chinese government authorities “that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games.”
    The World Uyghur Congress, which uses a different spelling for the word Uighur, said its latest letter followed what it called a failure by the IOC’s ethics office to comply with the procedure for such cases.
    This was because it had received a reply in September only from the Games executive director and not the ethics commission.
    The Uighur group “calls on Mr Ban Ki Moon to either examine the Complaint himself or to appoint a new Ethics and Compliance Officer to do so properly,” the WUC statement said.    Ban is a former U.N. secretary-general.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he agrees with his predecessor Mike Pompeo’s determination that genocide against Muslims is underway in Xinjiang.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/5/2021 Four Hong Kong Activists Released On Bail After Prosecutors Withdraw Appeal by Jessie Pang
Supporters of 47 pro-democracy activists hold flashlights as they wait for four of them to leave the West Kowloon
Magistrates’ Courts on bail, over a national security law charge, in Hong Kong, China March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Four Hong Kong democracy activists were released from custody on Friday after prosecutors withdrew an appeal against a court decision to grant them bail in a controversial national security case following marathon hearings this week.
    The four are part of a group of 47 activists charged with conspiracy to commit subversion in a case that has triggered global concern that Beijing is using the security law to crush dissent and wipe out meaningful opposition in the former British colony.
    The case is the most sweeping use yet of the law, which imposes punishments of up to life in prison for serious charges, including subversion.
    The 47 activists, aged 23 to 64, are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll last July that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.
    The vote was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a Legislative Council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
    Beijing is planning a major overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system and Legislative Council elections will likely be deferred again, to September 2022.
    Late on Thursday, following four consecutive days of hearings that went on late into the night and saw some of the defendants falling ill and taken to hospital, judge Victor So denied bail to 32 of the defendants.
    The other 15 were granted bail under strict conditions, but still kept in custody after government prosecutors appealed against the decision.
    On Friday, appeals for Clarisse Yeung, Lawrence Lau, Hendrick Lui and Mike Lam were withdrawn.
    They were then granted bail ranging from HK$80,000 ($10,300) to HK$1 million, provided that they surrender all travel documents, abide by a curfew, do not use speech and action that could possibly endanger national security, or organise or take part in elections or contact foreign officials.
    The other 11 will appear in three batches in court on Saturday for the prosecutors’ appeal to be heard.
    For the others – including prominent activists Owen Chow, Lester Shum, Wu Chi-wai, Eddie Chu, Alvin Yeung, Claudia Mo, Gwyneth Ho and Prince Wong – the case was adjourned until May 31.    Some are appealing against the decision.
    In contrast with the global financial hub’s common law traditions, the new security law puts the onus on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
    Hong Kong laws restrict media coverage of the content of bail hearings.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms that pro-democracy activists, who brought parts of the city to frequent halts in sometimes violent protests in 2019, say are being whittled away by Communist Party rulers in Beijing. China denies interference.
    While critics say the security law has been used to curb freedoms, Beijing and Hong Kong officials say it was vital to end the 2019 violence – political action they say was partly manipulated by foreign governments.
(Additional reporting by Sharon Tam; Editing by Nick Macfie)

3/5/2021 Australian Broadcaster Suspends China’s CGTN Citing Human Rights Complaint by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese flag flutters outside the CCTV headquarters, the home of Chinese state media outlet CCTV and
its English-language sister channel CGTN, in Beijing, China February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian broadcaster SBS said on Friday it would suspend its broadcasts of news bulletins from Chinese state television news services CGTN and CCTV after receiving a human rights complaint.
    An SBS spokesman told Reuters that programmes from CCTV and CGTN would not air on Saturday and that SBS was reviewing a complaint from a human rights organisation.
    “Given the serious concerns it raises, and the complexity of the material involved, we have made the decision to suspend the broadcast of the overseas-sourced CGTN and CCTV news bulletins while we undertake an assessment of these services,” SBS said in a statement.
    A story on the SBS News website said human rights organisation Safeguard Defenders wrote to SBS after Britain’s media regulator revoked the licence of CGTN due to “serious non-compliance offences
    “This is classic political persecution,” said China’s foreign ministry in a statement to Reuters which urged “relevant parties to cast aside their ideological prejudice.”
    CGTN upholds the principles of fair and accurate reporting, it said.
    “China will take all necessary measures to resolutely protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese media.”
    The letter from Safeguard Defenders to SBS said CCTV had broadcast the forced confessions of some 56 people between 2013 and 2020.
    “These broadcasts involved the extraction, packaging and airing of forced and false confessions of prisoners held under conditions of duress and torture,” SBS reported the letter from Safeguard Defenders as saying.
    SBS is a public service broadcaster, providing news and entertainment programming on radio and television in multiple languages and focussing on multicultural issues.
    A 15-minute CGTN English news service and 30-minute CCTV Mandarin language service were part of SBS programming.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Tom Hogue & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/5/2021 India Steps Up Border Patrols To Stop Arrivals From Myanmar by Devjyot Ghoshal
Myanmar citizens living in India hold placards and pictures of Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest, organised by Chin Refugee
Committee, against the military coup in Myanmar, in New Delhi, India, February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian security forces stepped up patrols on the border with Myanmar on Friday to stop refugees entering after some police officers crossed over to escape taking orders from the military junta there, officials said.
    “As of now, we are not letting anybody enter,” Maria Zuali, senior government official in Mizoram state’s Champhai district, told Reuters by telephone.
    The move follows the defection over the border of some low-ranking Myanmar police officers who were unwilling to obey orders to suppress demonstrations against the junta.
    Myanmar’s military overthrew a democratically-elected government on Feb. 1, setting off nationwide protests that have left more than 50 people dead.    A spokesman for the military has not commented on the police defectors.
    Indian soldiers and police were patrolling the frontier on Friday.
    In Serchhip district, senior official Kumar Abhishek said eight people, including a woman and a child, had crossed the border and were being taken care of.
    “We are anticipating that some more may come,” he said.
    Authorities were making preparations to house between 30-40 people, he said.
    In all, about 30 Myanmar police and their family members had crossed over into India in recent days, a senior police official in Mizoram said, including some who had come overnight.
    The official, who requested anonymity, said people were slipping in despite intensive patrolling by Indian soldiers along a border that hugs the Tiau river flowing between forested hills.
    “People are coming from different routes,” the official said, “The border is porous, you can’t prevent it.”
    A federal Indian security official said that police crossing over had said they did not wish to carry out orders from the military to quell the protests.
    “They alleged that there are human rights violations and they were asked to shoot at civilians,” the official said, also requesting anonymity.
    The influx of such refuge-seekers, particularly police, puts India in a quandary because of New Delhi’s close ties with the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw.
    Over the last two years the Tatmadaw has mounted operations at India’s request to flush out insurgents along the northeastern border.    India, on its part, gifted Myanmar its first submarine last year.
    “It’s a little difficult situation for India because diplomatic balance is crucial,” the official said.
    India’s foreign ministry did not respond to questions from Reuters on the scale of recent arrivals and on what it intends to do with those who have already crossed over.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Angus MacSwan)

3/5/2021 China Tightens Hong Kong Grip, Sets Modest GDP Target As Parliament Begins by Tony Munroe and Kevin Yao
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC)
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China moved to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system on Friday in a further blow to democracy in the city and unexpectedly set an economic growth target for this year, albeit a modest one, as it kicked off its annual session of parliament.
    On a smoggy day in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang touted the achievements of the previous year as China overcame the coronavirus pandemic, and laid out ambitions to solidify the economic recovery, cut emissions, invest in innovation and improve a worsening demographic outlook.
    Also on Friday, Beijing unveiled its next five-year plan, pledging to lift annual research and development spending by more than 7% until 2025, highlighting a commitment to become self-sufficient as the country clashes with the United States and other countries over technology policy.
    “We owe our achievements last year to the strong leadership of the Party Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core,” Li said in an hour-long speech to over 5,000 delegates gathered in the Great Hall of the People, all of them inoculated against COVID-19 with a vaccine made by China’s Sinopharm.
    However, consumer spending remains constrained, investment growth lacks sustainability, and “the foundation for achieving our country’s economic recovery needs to be further consolidated,” he said in a speech that mentioned Xi 13 times.
    Li set a growth target of more than 6% this year for the world’s second-largest economy, seen to be easily achievable, defying expectations that China would refrain from setting a goal given global uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
    China grew by 2.3% last year, its weakest in 44 years, but was still the only major economy to expand as it largely vanquished the domestic spread of the novel coronavirus that first emerged in the country in late 2019.
    During Friday’s parliamentary session, Beijing proposed legislation that would tighten its increasingly authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by making changes to the electoral committee that chooses the city’s leader, giving it new power to nominate legislative candidates.
    The measure, set to be approved during the week-long session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, would further marginalise a democratic opposition, decimated after     Beijing imposed national security legislation following anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019.
‘QUALITY’ GROWTH
    The 2021 economic target was significantly below the consensus of analysts, who expect growth could beat 8% this year from last year’s low base.    Chinese shares fell. [ECILT/CN]
    China will keep its average annual economic growth rate over the next five years within a “reasonable” range, the government said.
    Beijing also announced that its defence spending will rise 6.8% from 2020, up just slightly from last year’s budget increase and broadly tracking the government’s economic growth forecast.
    Chaoping Zhu, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said the low economic expansion target reflects a shift from quantity to quality growth.
    “This implies that more resources will be allocated to push forward long-term initiatives such as environment protection, fiscal consolidation and leverage reduction, so as to boost China’s long-term growth potential,” he said in a note.
    China pledged to lift employment, targeting more than 11 million new urban jobs, compared with last year’s goal of over 9 million.
    “We will expedite the transition of China’s growth model to one of green development, and promote both high-quality economic growth and high-standard environmental protection,” Li said.
    Still, China stopped short of setting a cap on energy use in its 2021-2025 plan.    Beijing previously included a cap on energy consumption in its 2016-2020 plan.
    China also refrained from introducing a ban on building new coal-fired plants, and did not set a target for curbing coal power plants’ capacity for the next five years.
($1 = 6.4756 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Kevin Yao, Judy Hua, Stella Qiu, Gabriel Crossley, Cheng Leng, Lusha Zhang, Tony Munroe, Ryan Woo and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Sam Holmes)

3/7/2021 Mainland China Deepens Crackdown Of Hong Kong, Pushes ‘Electoral Reform’ by OAN Newsroom
People wear protective face masks as they stand near a Communist Party flag at the entrance to
a residential compound in Beijing on February 9, 2020. (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)
    Mainland China has continued attempts to stifle political dissent in Hong Kong by staging pro-communist rallies and ramping up its propaganda efforts.
    “Over the past years, we have seen many anti-Chinese and destabilizing forces in Hong Kong, which makes our citizens very angry,” Y. Elites Association Deputy and Secretary General Jacky Ko Chung Kit stated.    “We must straighten out the electoral system to ensure that real patriots govern in Hong Kong.”
    On Saturday, the China Central Television aired multiple segments that claimed to show citizens of Hong Kong speaking favorably of Beijing’s rule in their city.    Chinese officials have pushed for electoral reform in Hong Kong to disenfranchise political opposition in the city.
LIEYU, TAIWAN – FEBRUARY 04: Xiamen, in mainland China, as seen from Shaxi Fort on February 04, 2021 in Lieyu, an outlying island of Kinmen
that is the closest point between Taiwan and China. Kinmen, an island in the Taiwan strait that is part of Taiwan’s territory, is so close to China
that the deep-water port of Xiamen, one of China’s biggest, lies less than three miles away across the water. (Photo by An Rong Xu/Getty Images)
    “China’s just position is supported by the majority of the international community,” Mainland China’s UN Envoy Chen Xu alleged.    “Electoral system needs to keep pace with the times and undergo improvements to provide sound institutional safeguards for the full and accurate implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ and principle of patriots governing Hong Kong.”
    Meanwhile, the communist administration has jailed the leaders of the Hong Kong opposition and forced thousands of others to flee the city.    The U.K. and Australia have condemned China’s actions and are now providing political asylum to Hong Kong citizens.

3/8/2021 China Vows To Crackdown On Dissenters by OAN Newsroom
A security official stands guard after a plenary session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC)
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
    China has pledged to crack down on dissenters of the ruling communist government.    While speaking at a meeting Monday, the chief justice of the Supreme Court of China asserted that the nation will “severely” punish crimes undermining the state’s power or provoking secession.
    Chief Justice Zhou Qiang added, they are taking these steps to defend the country’s judicial sovereignty and national dignity.    This comes as China’s National’s People’s Congress meets to approve policies backed by the Communist Party.
    “We should severely crack down on the infiltration, sabotage, subversion and separatist activities of hostile forces at home and abroad,” Qiang stated.
    The annual week-long session is slated to continue until Thursday and it is being cut a week short due to the coronavirus pandemic.

3/8/2021 Exclusive: EU Preparing Sanctions On Myanmar Military Businesses, Documents Show by Gabriela Baczynska and Robin Emmott
A woman shows a three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is preparing to widen its sanctions on Myanmar’s armed forces to target businesses they run, in protest at the Feb. 1 military coup, according to diplomats and two internal documents seen by Reuters.
    The measures, which diplomats said could be agreed by EU foreign ministers on March 22, would target companies “generating revenue for, or providing financial support to, the Myanmar Armed Forces,” said one of the documents dated March 5.
    While the bloc has an arms embargo on Myanmar, and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018, the measures would be its most significant response so far since the coup.
    EU diplomats told Reuters that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), were likely to be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them.
    The conglomerates are spread throughout the economy from mining and manufacturing to food and beverages to hotels, telecoms and banking.    They rank among the country’s biggest taxpayers and sought partnerships with foreign companies as Myanmar opened up during the democratic liberalization.
    A U.N. fact-finding mission in 2019 recommended sanctions against the two companies and their subsidiaries, saying they gave the army extra sources of revenue that could finance human rights violations.
    A Myanmar junta spokesman did not answer a call seeking comment on the EU’s plan to broaden its sanctions.
    Last week, the EU said it was suspending development funds to Myanmar, although it has so far declined to freeze trade preferences to one of Asia’s poorest countries for fear of hitting mainly female workers in the textile sector.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Thursday said fresh sanctions were part of the EU’s plans for economic punishment in response to the coup.
    “With these measures, we are aiming very deliberately at the decision-makers in the military. Further options, such as the listing of economic companies of the military, are already on the table and can be taken shortly,” Maas told the German parliament.
MORE INDIVIDUAL SANCTIONS
    Like much of the West, the EU condemned the coup last month that unseated the government of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and EU foreign ministers called for her release and the restoration of civilian rule.
    However, such calls have been ignored, and police and military have killed more than 50 people to quell daily demonstrations and strikes against the coup, according to the United Nations last week.
    The EU’s expected new sanctions, which are under preparation this week, follow a U.S. decision last month to target the military and their business interests.
    Additionally, the bloc is set to place asset freezes and travel bans on military officials and border guard police accused of the crackdown on protesters against the coup, the EU documents seen by Reuters showed, although names are still under discussion.
    Suu Kyi’s party won a 2015 election but the transition to democracy was brought to a halt by the coup that ousted her government as it was preparing to begin its second term after her National League for Democracy (NLD) swept a Nov. 8 election.
    The military cited election fraud as justification for its takeover.    The electoral commission dismissed accusations of fraud.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Editing by John Chalmers and Giles Elgood)

3/8/2021 Protests Surge In Yangon As Myanmar Forces Trap Youth Protesters
Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas float around demonstrators during a protest against
the military coup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city in defiance of a night curfew on Monday, chanting in anger after security forces besieged hundreds of young anti-coup protesters in one neighbourhood.
    Western embassies appealed to the ruling military junta to allow the protesters to leave Sanchaung, where they were cornered at the end of another day of bloodshed in Myanmar in which at least three protesters were killed elsewhere in the country.
    “Free the students in Sanchaung,” people chanted in the streets in districts across the former capital, where daily protests have taken place for more than a month against the Feb. 1 coup which overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    In some areas, police used stun grenades and fired shots to try to disperse protesters, witnesses said.
    Live video from Sanchaung on social media showed protesters running between the houses as stun grenades detonated.
    “Almost 200 young protesters are still blocked by the police and soldiers there.    Local and international community needs to help them now! Please,” one protest leader, Maung Saungkha, said on Twitter.
    The U.S. Embassy said in a statement: “We call on those security forces to withdraw and allow people to go home safely.”    The United Nations office in Myanmar and the British Embassy made a similar appeal.
    In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office voiced deep concern about the fate of the protesters trapped in Sanchaung.    Rights chief Michelle Bachelet said they should be allowed to leave safely and without reprisals.
    A spokesman for the junta did not answer calls requesting comment.
    Police said they would scrutinise family registration lists in the area to check for outsiders – threatening action against anyone caught concealing them.
    State television MRTV said: “The government’s patience has run out and while trying to minimise casualties in stopping riots, most people seek complete stability are calling for more effective measures against riots.”
    According to the United Nations, more than 50 people have been killed by security forces in the junta’s attempts to end the protests demanding the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and respect for the election she won last year.
AT LEAST THREE DEAD
    Two protesters died of gunshot wounds to the head in the northern town of Myitkyina on Monday, witnesses said.    At least one person was killed at a protest in the town of Phyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta, a political activist and local media said.
    Earlier, protesters in some places had waved flags fashioned from htamain (women’s sarongs) or hung them up on lines across the street to mark International Women’s Day.    Walking beneath women’s sarongs is traditionally considered bad luck for men.
    MRTV said such a display was severely insulting to religion in largely Buddhist Myanmar.
    The army took power citing fraud in the ballot last November that was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – an accusation rejected by the electoral commission.    It has promised another election, but without giving a date.
    The military has brushed off condemnation of its actions and appears to be digging in to weather the crisis, as it has in past periods of army rule.
    In a clampdown on independent media that has been covering the protests, state television announced the licenses of five outlets had been withdrawn.
    Shops, businesses and factories closed across Yangon on Monday after at least nine unions covering sectors including construction, agriculture and manufacturing called on all Myanmar people to stop work to reverse the coup.
    “The time to take action in defence of our democracy is now,” they said in a statement.
    Security forces had moved in to occupy hospitals on Sunday night.
    The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and Australia on Sunday cut defence ties.
    The European Union is preparing to widen its sanctions on the army to target businesses they run and the measures could be agreed by EU foreign ministers on March 22, according to diplomats and two internal documents seen by Reuters.
    In Sweden, H&M, the world’s second-biggest fashion retailer, said it had paused placing orders with direct suppliers in Myanmar – saying it was shocked at the use of deadly forces against protesters, but also worried about instability.
    Among those the military has detained is Suu Kyi’s Australian former financial advisor.    State television quoted junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing as saying the detention led to the discovery of secret financial information from the former government.
    Reuters was unable to contact Sean Turnell for comment. The army has not announced charges against him.
    Thailand’s state broadcaster PBS said areas had been set aside along the border with Myanmar to house any refugees fleeing the unrest.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty, Poppy McPherson and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Angus MacSwan)

3/8/2021 Thailand To Reduce Quarantine Period For Vaccinated Travellers
FILE PHOTO: A blank flight information board is seen at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Bangkok, Thailand, October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand will from next month reduce its mandatory quarantine from 14 to seven days for foreigners arriving in the country who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, its Health Minister said on Monday.
    Vaccinations must be administered within three months of the travel period and visitors will still be required to show negative COVID-19 test results within three days of their departure, Anutin Charnvirankul told a news conference.
    Those not yet inoculated but with coronavirus-free certificates would be quarantined for 10 days, he said.
    “Foreigners travelling to Thailand with vaccination certificates in accordance with the requirements of each brands, will need to quarantine for only seven days,” Anutin said, referring to the doses needed to be effective.
    Thailand’s flight limits, its strict entry requirements and mandatory quarantine for all arrivals have been central to its success in limiting the spread of the virus to just over 26,000 cases and 85 deaths.
    Those curbs have decimated its vital tourism sector, however, prompting widespread jobs losses and business closures and contributing to the country’s deepest economic traction in over two decades.
    The country received close to 40 million visitors in 2019.
    The new measures do not apply to those travelling from Africa, who would still be subject to quarantine for two weeks due to concerns about other variants of the virus.
    Vaccinated Thai nationals without a certificate showing they are coronavirus-free need to spend one week in quarantine after two negative tests in the country.
    After October, if Thailand inoculates 70% of medical personnel and at-risk groups, there could be more easing of restriction, Anutin said, adding it was possible quarantine could be waived completely.
    Thailand has so far vaccinated 27,497 people, mostly medical workers, using the Sinovac Biotech vaccine.    It has ordered 61 million doses in total of the AstraZeneca vaccine with mass vaccinations slated to begin in June.
    Anutin said the country may need to order an additional 10 to 20 million doses, which it could source from other producers.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Martin Petty)

3/8/2021 Philippine Leader’s Order To Kill Rebels ‘Legal’, Spokesman Says
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the APEC CEO Summit, taking place ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) leaders summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to kill armed rebels was legal, his spokesman said on Monday, as catholic leaders joined condemnation of the killings of nine activists in separate weekend raids against suspected insurgents.
    Human Rights groups are outraged over the deaths of what they said were legitimate activists under the guise of counter-insurgency operations, which came two days after Duterte told security forces they could kill rebels if they were holding a gun and to “ignore human rights.”
    “The president’s ‘kill, kill, kill’ order is legal because it was directed at armed rebels,” his spokesman Harry Roque said in a briefing, adding the government would still investigate the incident.
    The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, an influential church group, in a statement denounced the use of what it called unnecessary force and violence during “Bloody Sunday.”
    On Sunday, Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations,” and authorities had search warrants for firearms and explosives.
    Activists said the raids were reminiscent of police operations in which thousands of people have been killed as part of Duterte’s signature war on drugs, in which police said all of the victims were armed and had resisted arrest.
    Among those killed was a coordinator of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, a left-wing group that has called for an end to “red-tagging,” the practice of labelling opponents communists or terrorists to justify targeting them, which dates back to the the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
    Human Rights Watch said the government’s counter-insurgency campaign no longer makes a distinction between armed rebels and non-combatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.
    Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte has seen his efforts to forge peace with Maoist rebels derailed repeatedly, prompting frequent outbursts and threats to wipe them out.
(This story refiles to fix order of misplaced word ‘kill’ in paragraph 1)
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

3/8/2021 Australians Condemn Violence Against Women As They Celebrate International Women’s Day
    People participate in a rally for International Women's Day in Sydney, Australia, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Hundreds of mostly female workers gathered outside government buildings in Sydney to condemn violence against women and call for greater gender equality in workplaces, amid growing scrutiny over the treatment of women in Australian politics.
    Celebrating International Women’s Day, a young woman stood outside the New South Wales state parliament, with the message “My body, my business” written across her body, while another held a placard reading “Equal work deserves equal pay!
    A variety of workers – from nurses and teachers to hairdressers and transport workers – took part in the gathering.    It comes as the government launched a A$19 million ($14.57 million) campaign urging people to speak up when they witness disrespect against women.
    “Let us all work together … so that we finally move to a world where sexual violence and sexual assault and sexual harassment is a thing of the past,” Jenny Leong, a parliamentary representative from the Greens party told the crowd.
    Australia’s parliament is under increased scrutiny over sexual assault allegations.
    Three female employees of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal party last month said they had been raped by the same man in 2019 and 2020.    One of the alleged victims has lodged a complaint with police.
    Last week, Attorney-General Christian Porter, the country’s chief law officer, identified himself as the subject of a separate historical rape allegation, declared his innocence and strongly denied the claim.
($1 = 1.3045 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

3/8/2021 Thousands Of Women Join Indian Farmers’ Protests Against New Laws by Danish Siddiqui and Zeba Siddiqui
Women farmers attend a protest against farm laws on the occassion of International Women's Day
at Bahadurgar near Haryana-Delhi border, India, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Thousands of women joined protests by farmers on the outskirts of Delhi on Monday to mark International Women’s Day, demanding the scrapping of new laws that open up agriculture produce markets to private buyers.
    Since December, many farmers accompanied by their families have camped at three sites on the outskirts of the Indian capital to oppose the biggest farm reforms in decades, which they say hurt them.
    Wearing bright yellow scarves representing the colour of mustard fields, the women took centrestage at one key site, chanting slogans, holding small marches, and making speeches through loudspeakers to target the laws.
    “This is an important day as it represents women’s strength,” said Veena, a 37-year-old from a farming family, who gave only one name in order to protect her identity.
    “I believe if us women are united, then we can achieve our target much quicker,” added Veena, who travelled from the northern state of Punjab to the sprawling Tikri protest spot.
    More than 20,000 women gathered at the site near Delhi’s border with the state of Haryana, police and event organisers said.
    “This is a day that will be managed and controlled by women, the speakers will be women, there will be a lot of feminist perspectives brought in, and discussions on what these laws mean for women farmers,” said farm activist Kavitha Kuruganti.
    “It is one more occasion to showcase and highlight the contribution of women farmers both in agriculture in India as well as to this movement.”
    India says the reforms will bring private investment into a vast and antiquated farm sector, improve supply chains and cut colossal waste.
    Faced with the protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government offered to suspend the laws for 18 months, but the farmers have refused to back down, demanding their repeal.
    Agriculture accounts for nearly 15% of India’s $2.9 trillion economy and employs about half its workforce.
    Women farmers have as much at stake as men from the new laws, Kuruganti added.
    “Markets that are distant as well as exploitative make single women farmers more vulnerable, and in any case a patriarchal society has discriminated and made them vulnerable.”
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Danish Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

3/10/2021 World Powers Ignoring North Korea Crimes Against Humanity Amid Nuclear Programme Focus: U.N. Expert by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A soldier stands guard at a checkpoint on the Grand Unification Bridge which leads to the inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex in
North Korea, just south of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, June 17, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – World powers bear responsibility for ignoring crimes against humanity that may still be perpetrated by authorities in North Korea amid a focus on its nuclear programme, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Wednesday.
    Tomas Ojea-Quintana urged the U.N. Security Council to refer grave violations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
    He voiced concern at reports of severe punishments imposed for breaking COVID-19 lockdown measures, including alleged orders to “shoot on sight” anyone trying to cross the border.
    “Crimes against humanity may be ongoing,” Ojea-Quintana told the U.N. Human Rights Council.
    He had received information confirming the findings of a landmark 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry on extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, rape, forced abortion, sexual violence, political persecution and “the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation” in the isolated country.
    “The urgency to stop violations of such a scale, gravity and nature cannot take a back seat to national interests or geopolitical interests,” Ojea-Quintana told the Geneva forum.
    This was not justifiable under the U.N. Charter, he said, adding: “I believe that the Security Council bears responsibility for its inaction against the continuation of crimes against humanity in the DPR Korea.”
    Ojea-Quintana presented his latest report, issued last week, which said that drastic measures taken by North Korea to contain the novel coronavirus have exacerbated abuses and economic hardship for its citizens, including reports of starvation.
    “We are concerned about increasing reports of starvation, imprisonment and summary executions,” U.S. charge d’affaires Mark Cassayre told the council.
    Australia’s deputy ambassador, Jeffrey Roach, said that North Korea’s top priority should be improving the lives of its citizens.    “Instead, the regime’s focus remains on developing weapons of mass destruction and the vehicles for delivering them,” he said.
    North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva did not respond to Reuters’ queries for comment.    Pyongyang does not recognise the U.N. investigator’s mandate and boycotted Wednesday’s debate.
    It has previously rejected U.N. allegations of crimes against humanity.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

3/10/2021 Myanmar Security Forces Surround Protesters As U.S. Pleads For Them
FILE PHOTO: Police stand after they seized Sanchaung district in search of anti-coup demonstrators in Yangon, Myanmar, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Firing teargas and rubber bullets, Myanmar security forces trapped hundreds of anti-junta protesters late into the night in two districts of Yangon on Wednesday, prompting the U.S. Embassy to call for the forces to withdraw.
    Some protesters who managed to evade blockades set up by police in surrounding streets told of scores of arrests and said that some of those who got caught were beaten.
    More than 60 protesters have been killed and some 2,000 people have been detained by security forces since the Feb. 1 coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group said.
    A junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.    The military has brushed off condemnation of its actions, as it has in past periods of army rule when outbreaks of protest were forcibly repressed.
    State television MRTV announced arrest warrants against some of the best known youth protest leaders and showed a picture of 29 wanted protesters.
    The protesters have been calling for international protection and action against the junta.    But in New York, the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a statement that would have condemned the coup in Myanmar, called for restraint by the military and threatened to consider “further measures.”
    Talks on the statement would likely continue, diplomats said.    Veto-wielding members China and Russia have balked at action proposed by Western countries.
    On Wednesday, Police stormed a compound in Yangon housing railway staff and surrounded hundreds of protesters in North Okkalapa district, in another part of the city.    More than 100 people were arrested at the two sites, witnesses said.
    Many of the railway staff are part of a civil disobedience movement that has crippled government business and included strikes at banks, factories and shops.
    The U.S. embassy called on security forces to withdraw from North Okkalapa, where it said “innocent students and civilians” had been surrounded. Some protesters later said they had been able to sneak out after dark.
    Police and the army did not respond to requests for comment.
    One youth said in a message to Reuters that other protesters had been beaten and slapped. He escaped by hiding in a large washing machine, he said.
    “Tomorrow I will keep protesting.    I will not stop.    The goal is very clear that we want democracy.    We want our elected government back,” he said, not wanting his name published.
    In the central towns of Mingyan and Monywa, people defied night curfew orders to hold candlelight vigils.
HELL ROOM
    One protester told Reuters from the southern coastal town of Myeik that he had been brought to Myeik Air Base and beaten with belts, chains, bamboo sticks and batons.
    “The soldiers said, ‘This is the hell room, why don’t you guys have a taste?'” he said, declining to give his name for fear of reprisals.    Reuters was unable to contact police in the town or the air base for comment.
    Some police have refused orders to fire on unarmed protesters and have fled to neighbouring India, according to an interview with one officer and classified Indian police documents.
    “As the civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum and protest(s) held by anti-coup protesters at different places we are instructed to shoot at the protesters,” four officers said in a joint statement to police in the Indian city of Mizoram.
    “In such a scenario, we don’t have the guts to shoot at our own people who are peaceful demonstrators,” they said.
    The United States is “repulsed” by the Myanmar army’s continued use of lethal force against its people and is continuing to urge the military to exercise “maximum restraint,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.
    The army has justified the coup by saying that a November election won by the NLD was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election, but has not said when.
    The junta has hired an Israeli-Canadian lobbyist for $2 million to “assist in explaining the real situation” to the United States and other countries, documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department show.
    Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, will represent Myanmar’s military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies such as the United Nations, according to a consultancy agreement.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Peter Graff)

3/10/2021 Secretary Of State Blinken To Meet Top Chinese Officials March 18: Statement
FILE PHOTO: Antony J. Blinken, of New York, speaks during his confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the U.S. Senate
Foreign Relations Committee at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. January 19, 2021. Graeme Jennings/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans to meet with top Chinese officials on March 18 during a stop in Anchorage, Alaska, the State Department said on Wednesday, after his first overseas trip to U.S. allies Japan and South Korea.
    Blinken and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan plan to discuss a range of issues with Yang Jiechi, director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs, and State Councilor Wang Yi, the department said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

3/10/2021 UK PM Johnson Tells Iran’s Rouhani To Let British-Iranian Aid Worker Return Home
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a virtual news conference at 10 Downing Street,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in London, Britain, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/Pool
    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that British-Iranian aid worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe must be allowed to return home to be with her family.
    “The prime minister raised the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other British-Iranian dual nationals detained in Iran and demanded their immediate release,” a statement from Johnson’s office said after a call with Rouhani on Wednesday.
    “He (Johnson) said that while the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle monitor was welcome, her continued confinement remains completely unacceptable and she must be allowed to return to her family in the UK.”
    Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation charity, was arrested at a Tehran airport in April 2016 and convicted of plotting to overthrow the clerical establishment.    She denied the charges.
    Zaghari-Ratcliffe served a five-year sentence which ended on Sunday.    An ankle bracelet was removed, allowing her freedom to travel in Iran, but she still cannot leave the country, as she has been ordered to appear for a new court case on March 14 on charges of propaganda against the Iranian state.
    Johnson also restated Britain’s commitment to making a success of a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, and urged Rouhani to end Iranian breaches of the terms of that deal that began after the United States withdrew from it in 2018.
    “He stressed the importance of Iran seizing the opportunity presented by the United States’ willingness to return to the deal if Iran comes back into compliance,” the statement said.
    Iran has so far refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving the deal.
(Reporting by William James; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/10/2021 U.S. State, Defense Secretaries To Travel To Japan And South Korea Next Week by Humeyra Pamuk and Doina Chiacu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks about priorities for administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in
the Ben Franklin room at the State Department in Washington, U.S. March 3, 2021. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will travel to Japan and South Korea next week, the State Department and Pentagon said on Wednesday, in the first overseas and in-person trip by top cabinet members of the Biden administration.
    Blinken and Austin will hold “2 plus 2” dialogues with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts on March 15-18, the State Department said in a statement.     Austin’s trip will start earlier on March 13, and will also include Hawaii and India, the Pentagon said.
    The choice of Asia as the destination for Blinken and Austin’s first visit reflects Biden administration’s priority to reinforce alliances in Indo-Pacific in the face of growing concerns about an increasingly assertive China.
    Days before the trip, President Joe Biden is expected to hold an online meeting on March 12 with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the first leader-level meeting of the “Quad,” a four-country group seen as part of efforts to balance Beijing.
    Biden’s administration has committed to reviewing elements of U.S. policies toward China in consultation with allies, as the world’s two largest economies navigate frosty relations that sank to their lowest depths in decades during the Trump administration.
    Blinken and Austin’s trip to Asia escalated speculation if there could be a meeting with Chinese officials.    On Tuesday, The South China Morning Post cited a source as saying that the two countries were in discussions about a meeting in Alaska between Blinken and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi.
    A senior Biden administration official said on Tuesday that the United States was in talks with China about a possible “near-term” senior-level meeting between the two countries, after the White House said it had no “finalized” details to announce.
    Biden spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping last month and so did Blinken with his Chinese counterpart, but there has been no in-person contact between Washington and Beijing since Biden took office on Jan. 20.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert; Editing by John Stonestreet and Nick Zieminski)

3/10/2021 South Korea Agrees To Biggest Increase In Its Share Of Cost For U.S. Troops In Years by Hyonhee Shin and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at Yongin, South Korea,
August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Korea has agreed to a 13.9% increase in its contribution to the cost of hosting some 28,500 U.S. troops for 2021, the biggest annual rise in nearly two decades after U.S. calls for greater funding.
    The increase under the multi-year pact takes South Korea’s contribution for 2021 to 1.18 trillion won ($1.03 billion) and settles a long-running dispute that had strained ties between Seoul and Washington during Donald Trump’s presidency.
    Even as he warmed to North Korea’s leader, Trump had accused ally South Korea of “free-riding” on U.S. military might and demanded that it pay as much as $5 billion a year.    Trump had rejected a similar first-year increase offered by Seoul during failed talks under his administration.
    “The agreement resolved the longest-ever vacuum that had lasted about a year and three months,” South Korea’s chief negotiator, Jeong Eun-bo, told a televised briefing.
    “It provided a chance to reaffirm the importance of the alliance and the need for stable stationing of U.S. Forces Korea.”
    A U.S. State Department official portrayed the agreement as in line with new President Joe Biden’s calls “to reinvigorate our alliances.”
    “In that spirit, one of friendship and seriousness about the challenges that we face ahead, we found a fair and equitable cost-sharing arrangement,” the official said, describing late night sessions in Washington to finalise the accord.    The official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
    American troops are deployed to South Korea in what is seen as a deterrent to Pyongyang that also sends a message to China about U.S. influence and capability in Asia.
    South Korea began paying towards the costs of U.S. deployments – things like local labour and military construction – in the early 1990s after rebuilding its war-devastated economy.
DRAWN-OUT NEGOTIATIONS
    The new, six-year Special Measures Agreement with the United States came after drawn-out negotiations and will boost South Korea’s annual contribution to the bill for 2022 to 2025 in line with its annual defence budget increase, which was 5.4% this year, the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    The pact replaces an arrangement that expired at the end of 2019, under which South Korea paid about $920 million a year.    Both sides agreed to freeze South Korea’s contribution for 2020, the ministry said.
    In the last big increase in its contribution, South Korea in 2003 paid 17% more than the previous year, according to data from a defence ministry white paper.
    On the decision to link cost-sharing to the defence budget, the ministry said the increase in the defence budget was a “reasonable, verifiable indicator” that reflected financial and security capabilities.
    But Shin Beom-chul, a security expert at the Research Institute for Economy and Society in Seoul, said aligning the two issues was a “mistake” for South Korea, one of the world’s largest defence spenders, and it could bring budget pressure.
    With negotiations making little headway after the last pact expired, about half of some 9,000 South Koreans working for the U.S. military were placed on unpaid leave, prompting the two sides to scramble for a stopgap deal to bring them back to work.
    Jeong said the accord stipulated that in future, workers can get their existing salaries in the absence of a new deal.
    The workers’ union welcomed the agreement, saying it would help ensure stable work conditions.    Without it, thousands more workers would have been forced to take unpaid leave next month, the union said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Phil Stewart; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)

3/10/2021 Biden To Meet Virtually With Leaders Of Japan, India, Australia by David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on International Womens Day
at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will hold an online meeting on Friday with the leaders of Japan, India and Australia, the White House said on Tuesday, the first leader-level meeting of a four-country group seen as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic power.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the meeting of the “Quad” countries showed the importance placed by Biden on U.S. allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
    A range of issues facing the global community was expected to be discussed “from the threat of COVID, to economic cooperation and, of course, to the climate crisis,” she said.
    “This sends a very strong signal of common cause and purpose.    And the goal here is basically to introduce the Quad as a new feature of regular diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific,” a senior administration official told Reuters separately.
    He said the meeting planned to announce financing agreements to support an increase in manufacturing capacity for coronavirus vaccines in India, something New Delhi has urged to counter China’s widening vaccine diplomacy.
    The aim was to reduce manufacturing backlogs, speed vaccination, and defeat some coronavirus mutations, the official said.    Some of the additional vaccine capacity would be used in vaccination efforts in Southeast Asian countries.
    The United States is looking to strengthen ties with key allies and partners as China adopts an increasingly assertive foreign policy in Asia and elsewhere.
    The U.S. official said Friday’s engagement would last about two hours, and lay the groundwork for an in-person meeting later in the year.
    India, Australia and Japan had all been “directly challenged by China in the recent period,” he said, adding that the meeting was intended to work on “a different vision for the future” in the region.
    India’s Foreign Ministry said the leaders would address “regional and global issues of shared interest, and exchange views on practical areas of cooperation towards maintaining a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific region.”
    It said the summit would also cover supply chains, emerging and critical technologies, maritime security and climate change.
    India said Quad leaders would discuss efforts to combat the pandemic and explore “opportunities for collaboration in ensuring safe, equitable and affordable vaccines in the Indo-Pacific region.”
    Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the meeting would focus on regional security and climate change.
    “It will be an historic moment in our region and it sends a strong message to the region about our support for a sovereign, independent Indo-Pacific,” he told reporters in Canberra.
    Friday’s meeting will take place days before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin plan to visit Japan and South Korea later this month.
    The visit by Blinken and Austin will be the first to the Asian allies by the top U.S. foreign policy and defense officials since the Biden administration took office in January.
    Biden’s administration has committed to reviewing elements of U.S. policies toward China in consultation with allies, as the world’s two largest economies navigate frosty relations that sank to their lowest depths in decades during the Trump administration.
    Asked whether the Quad could expand in future, the senior U.S. official said it remained an unofficial gathering, despite the decision to hold a leaders’ meeting.     “Each country has highly attuned domestic politics and want constructive dialogues, but also want to maintain a degree of maneuver room,” he said.
    “We appreciate and understand that and seek to support it generally and we want to take it step by step.    We have had discussions with other countries about other forms of informal association with the Quad and we expect those conversations will continue.”
    He said South Korea was one of those countries.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina in Washington; additonal reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Matthew Lewis and Richard Pullin)

3/11/2021 Myanmar Junta Accuses Suu Kyi Of Taking Bribes As Eight Killed In Anti-Coup Protests
FILE PHOTO: An anti-coup demonstrator sprays a fire extinguisher as he runs away from
a barricade during a protests in Yangon, Myanmar, March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military government on Thursday alleged that deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments, while eight people were killed when security forces opened fire on protests against the coup, witnesses said.
    Rights group Amnesty International accused the military of adopting battle tactics against demonstrators.
    Six people were killed in the central town of Myaing when security forces fired on a protest, a demonstrator who helped carry bodies to hospital told Reuters by telephone.    A health worker there confirmed all six deaths.
    “We protested peacefully,” the 31-year-old man said.    “I couldn’t believe they did it.”
    One person was killed in the North Dagon district of the biggest city of Yangon, witnesses said.    Photographs posted on Facebook showed a man prone on the street, bleeding from a head wound. One death was reported in Mandalay.
    Before Thursday’s deaths, an advocacy group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, had said more than 60 protesters were killed and about 2,000 people detained by security forces since the Feb. 1 coup against Suu Kyi’s elected government.
    Amnesty International accused the army of using lethal force against protesters and said many killings it had documented amounted to extra-judicial executions.
    “These are not the actions of overwhelmed, individual officers making poor decisions,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty’s director of crisis response.
    “These are unrepentant commanders already implicated in crimes against humanity, deploying their troops and murderous methods in the open.”
    Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference the security forces were disciplined and used force only when necessary.
    The unrest was not a situation that should be of concern to the international community and the West was making assumptions that were incorrect, he said.
    The military has previously said it is acting with utmost restraint in handling what it describes as demonstrations by “riotous protesters” whom it accuses of attacking police and harming national security and stability.
    Zaw Min Tun also said Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth $600,000 as well as gold while in government, according to a complaint by Phyo Mien Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon.
    “He strongly said that,” the spokesman said. “We have verified those facts several times. Now the anti-corruption committee is continuing the investigation.”
    Aye Ma Ma Myo, a member of the dissolved parliament belonging to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, rejected the claim.
    “It is no longer uncommon to see slander against politicians and efforts to crush the party while innocent young people are killed in public,” she told Reuters in a message.
U.N. FAILS TO CALL TAKEOVER A COUP
    The army has justified taking power by saying that a November election, overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s party, was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.
    Zaw Min Tun also reiterated that the military would only be in charge for a certain period before holding an election.    “We are on the road to authentic democracy,” he said.
    The junta has previously promised a new election within a year, but has not set a date.
    The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday condemned violence against protesters and urged the army to show restraint.
    But language that would have denounced the military takeover as a coup or threatened possible further action was removed from the British-drafted text, due to opposition by China, India, Russia and Vietnam.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he hoped the Security Council statement would push the military to realise it “is absolutely essential” that all prisoners are released and the results of the November election are respected.
    In Myanmar, state media said the junta had removed Arakan Army (AA) insurgents from its list of terrorist groups because the faction had stopped attacks in order to help establish peace across the country.
    The move comes as the army struggles to restrain daily protests against the coup.
    The AA, which is fighting for greater autonomy in the western state of Rakhine, had become one of the most formidable forces in challenging an army that has been fighting various ethnic wars for seven decades.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Angus MacSwan)

3/11/2021 Court Releases One Hong Kong Activist On Bail In Case Involving 47 by Jessie Pang
A police van arrives at the High Court before a court hearing on the appeal against the bail release of 11 pro-democracy
activists charged with national security violations, in Hong Kong, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s High Court released on bail on Thursday one activist charged with conspiracy to commit subversion but remanded another in a widely monitored case that saw the most sweeping use yet of the city’s national security law.
    The High Court was ruling on an appeal by prosecutors against a lower court’s decision to grant bail to the activists.
    Foreign diplomats and rights groups are closely watching proceedings as concerns mount over the vanishing space for dissent in the former British colony, which has taken a swift authoritarian turn since the imposition of the law in June 2020.
    The case offers an insight into how the security law drafted by Beijing clashes with the global financial hub’s common-law traditions, and could see activists held in custody for months until their trial begins.
    In contrast with past practice, the new security law puts the onus on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
    A lower court granted 15 activists bail last week after marathon hearings of 47 opposition figures, which stretched into the night for four consecutive days and saw some of the defendants falling ill and hospitalized.
    Prosecutors appealed the bail decisions, however, preventing the activists’ immediate release. Four were released last Friday after prosecutors withdrew appeals.
    Former opposition lawmaker Helena Wong was released on bail on Thursday as the High Court rejected the appeal.    Community-level democratic politician Ng Kin-wai was remanded in custody. The court will publish its reasons later.
    Nine others are set to appear in court in two batches on Saturday and Monday.
    The conditions for Wong’s bail included not threatening national security, participating in any elections, or contacting foreign officials, as well as surrendering all travel documents, observing a curfew and reporting to police regularly.
    Of the 32 for whom bail was denied, about two dozen are appealing the decision, with hearings starting on Friday.
    The 47 activists are accused of organising and participating in an unofficial, non-binding primary poll in July 2020 that authorities said was part of a “vicious plot” to “overthrow” the government.
    The vote was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
    The detentions have been fiercely criticised by governments in the West, including in Britain and the United States.
    Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has said no one should interfere with independent prosecutorial decisions, as it would undermine the rule of law.
    Supporters of the security law, which punishes what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, say it is necessary to restore stability in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Hong Kong laws restrict media coverage of the content of bail hearings.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)
    The vote was aimed at selecting the strongest opposition candidates for a legislative council election that the government later postponed, citing the coronavirus.
    The detentions have been fiercely criticised by governments in the West, including in Britain and the United States.
    Hong Kong’s Department of Justice has said no one should interfere with independent prosecutorial decisions, as it would undermine the rule of law.
    Supporters of the security law, which punishes what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, say it is necessary to restore stability in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Hong Kong laws restrict media coverage of the content of bail hearings.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/11/2021 China Moves To Overhaul Hong Kong Politics, Squeezing Democratic Opposition by Yew Lun Tian and Marius Zaharia
A screen shows the voting results on Hong Kong electoral reform at the closing session of the National People's Congress
(NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING/HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s parliament approved on Thursday a draft decision to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, further reducing democratic representation in the city’s institutions and introducing a mechanism to vet politicians’ loyalty to Beijing.
    The measures are part of Beijing’s efforts to consolidate its increasingly authoritarian grip over the global financial hub following the imposition of a national security law in June, which critics see as a tool to crush dissent.
    Beijing is responding to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, which it saw as a threat to China’s national security.    Since then, most high-profile democratic politicians and activists have been sent to jail or are in self-exile.
    “The central authorities have good intentions,” the Liaison Office, Beijing’s representative body in Hong Kong, said in a statement.
    “We expect all sectors of the community and the general public to take ownership of the work to amend the law and offer suggestions, so that a strong positive energy can be gathered under the banner of patriotism and love for Hong Kong.”
    The legislators gathered in the Great Hall of the People burst into sustained applause when the 2,895 to 0 vote tally, with one abstention, was projected onto screens.
    In a separate statement, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam pledged her “staunch support” and expressed “sincere gratitude.”
    The restructuring is aimed at getting the city “back on the right track,” Lam said.
    The changes virtually eliminate any possibility of the opposition affecting the outcome of elections in the former British colony, whose return to Chinese rule in 1997 came with a promise of a high degree of autonomy.
    The blanket requirement for “patriotism” raises the risk that politicians will start competing over who is more loyal to Beijing, rather than who has the better ideas for how the city should be governed, analysts say.
    The head of Hong Kong’s legislature, the secretaries for justice and security, the customs department, the immigration office, the correctional services department, the police chief and the fire service all issued separate statements praising China’s moves.
    Hong Kong Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang has defined patriotism as “holistic love” for China, including the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
    British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said on Thursday that proposed changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system would further undermine international trust in China.
    “This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong,” Raab said.
    The draft decision said the move will help “develop a democratic system in line with Hong Kong’s actual situation” and protect residents’ “rights to vote and be voted,” according to state news agency Xinhua.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters the purpose of the changes was to “adhere to and improve” the one country, two systems principle agreed for Hong Kong at the handover.
VETTING AND SCREENING
    The measures will alter the size and composition of Hong Kong’s legislature and an electoral committee selecting the chief executive in favour of pro-Beijing figures.
    The committee will also be given powers to select many city legislators.    A new mechanism will be set up to vet candidates and screen election winners’ behaviour to make sure only those seen as patriots rule Hong Kong.
    Beijing will increase the size of the electoral committee from 1,200 to 1,500, and the legislature from 70 to 90 seats.
    Currently half of the 70 seats in the Legislative Council, known as LegCo, are directly elected, a proportion which will shrink with the extra seats picked by the electoral committee.    The other half represents industries, unions, and professions and is largely stacked with pro-Beijing figures.
    Beijing had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
    Critics say the changes to the electoral system move Hong Kong in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has ever had since the 1997 handover, if any at all.
    It is not clear what shape any future opposition could take and how its message could comply with loyalty requirements.
(This story corrects to remove extraneous word in headline)
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Additional reporting by Clare Jim in Hong Kong, Editing by Christopher Cushing, Angus MacSwan and Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/12/2021 Sky News Australia Denounces Biden’s Hypocrisy As Dangerous To Western World by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden speaks during a virtual meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, from the State Dining Room of the White House, Friday, March 12, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
    Australian television network Sky News has criticized Joe Biden for his hypocritical policy choices and his administration’s soft stance on China.
    “This bloke Biden walks on both sides of the road,” asserted Sky News host Alan Jones.    “As I keep asking, are some of these politicians dumb or duplicitous, or both?
    In a recent report, the Sky News host questioned Biden’s cognitive abilities by pointing out that almost everything he does contradicts what he says.    Jones added, Biden’s policies are incoherent and put America at risk.
    “He hates cultural norms, but accepts that China’s brutality is a consequence of different norms in each country,” the host continued.    “He’s going to be the leader of the global warming crusade ‘net zero carbon dioxide emissions’, but he loves the fire in the Oval Office and sometimes adds a log himself.”
    Jones pointed out that Biden claims to uphold the values of America, yet continues to let in illegal immigrants.    Additionally, he noted the fact that the administration moved to destroy thousands of jobs by shutting down a crucial pipeline.
    Australian media recently spoke in defense of free speech with several reporters saying Biden’s policies are destroying constitutional liberties in America.

3/12/2021 In Summit With India, Japan And Australia, Biden Says Free Indo-Pacific ‘Essential’ by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers his first prime time address as president, marking the one-year anniversary of
widespread shutdowns to combat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and speaking about the impact of the pandemic
during an address from the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden met leaders of Australia, India and Japan on Friday, a group central to his efforts to counter China’s growing military and economic power, and said a free and open Indo-Pacific region was crucial to all of them.
    The White House says the virtual meeting of the countries known as the Quad, the first at leader level, shows the importance Biden places on the Indo-Pacific region and that it will focus on tackling the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, and on reviving economic growth.
    “A free and open Indo Pacific is essential to each of our futures,” Biden told the meeting from the White House.    “The United States is committed to working with you, our partners, and all our allies in the region, to achieve stability.”    Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he wanted the four “to forge strongly ahead toward the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
    India and Australia also emphasized the importance of regional security cooperation, which has been enhanced by previous lower-level Quad meetings.
    A senior U.S. official told reporters Friday’s meeting would involve “an honest, open discussion about China’s role on the global stage,” referencing “challenges in the region” to free and open trade and commerce.
    The Biden administration has said the Quad nations will announce financing agreements to support an increase in manufacturing capacity for coronavirus vaccines in     India, something New Delhi has called for to counter Beijing’s widening vaccine diplomacy.
    U.S. officials say the countries will also set up a group of experts to help distribute vaccines in the region, as well as working groups for cooperation on climate change, technology standards, and joint development of emerging technologies.
    The United States wants to strengthen ties with allies and partners as China adopts an increasingly assertive foreign policy in Asia and beyond.    Washington says the additional vaccine capacity will be used in immunization efforts in Southeast Asia, where Beijing is competing for influence.
    The virtual meeting, which also included Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, aims to lay the groundwork for an in-person meeting later this year, the administration said.
    Modi told the session the Quad had “come of age” and would “now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.”
‘WHOLE NEW LEVEL OF COOPERATION’
    Earlier, Morrison told reporters: “When governments come together at the highest level, this shows a whole new level of cooperation to create a new anchor for peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific.”
    Among the issues to be addressed are supply chains exposed as heavily reliant on China during the pandemic.
    Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported on Thursday that the four countries would also work together to secure rare earth metals essential for electric car motors and other products.
    The Biden administration told Reuters on Tuesday the United States and Japan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing vaccines for U.S. drugmakers Novavax Inc and J&J.
    However, Indian government sources say U.S. curbs on exports of critical materials could hamper that effort and those to start large-scale distribution to Southeast Asia.
    A second senior administration official told reporters Washington’s focus was foremost on getting vaccines to Americans, adding: “We will not be talking about sharing vaccines right now.”
    India, Australia and Japan have all faced security challenges from China, strengthening their interest in the Quad.    Quad cooperation dates back to their joint response to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.
    The Quad was revived under the Trump administration, which saw it as a vehicle to push back against China.    The United States hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting in 2019, which was followed by another in Japan last year and a virtual session in February.
    Friday’s meeting coincides with a major U.S. diplomatic drive to solidify alliances in Asia and Europe to counter China, including visits next week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea.
    Blinken will also meet in Alaska with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi – the first high-level in-person contact between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration.
    Washington has said it will not hold back in its criticism of Beijing over issues ranging from Taiwan to Hong Kong and the genocide it says China is committing against minority Muslims.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason; additonal reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

3/12/2021 More Protests Held In Myanmar As South Korea Suspends Defence Exchanges
FILE PHOTO: An anti-coup demonstrator sprays a fire extinguisher as he runs away from a barricade
during a protests in Yangon, Myanmar, March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar activists held more rallies against the junta on Friday as South Korea said it would suspend defence exchanges and reconsider development aid to the Southeast Asian nation because of the military’s harsh crackdown on the protests.
    Friday’s rallies came a day after a rights group said security forces killed 12 protesters and as the lawyer of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi ridiculed new bribery allegations against her.
    The deaths took to more than 70 the number of protesters killed since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group said.
    “Despite repeated demands of the international community, including South Korea, there are an increasing number of victims in Myanmar due to violent acts of the military and police authorities,” South Korea’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
    It said Seoul would suspend defence exchanges, ban arms exports, limit exports of other strategic items, reconsider development aid and grant humanitarian exemptions allowing Myanmar nationals to stay in South Korea until the situation improved.
    Protests were held in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, and several other towns on Friday, social media photographs posted by witnesses and news organisations showed.    There were no immediate reports of violence.
    The country has been in crisis since the army ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government in a Feb. 1 coup, detained her and officials of her National League for Democracy party and set up a ruling junta of generals.
    Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said on Thursday Suu Kyi had accepted illegal payments worth $600,000, as well as gold, while in government, according to a complaint by Phyo Mien Thein, a former chief minister of Yangon.
    Adding corruption charges to the accusations facing Suu Kyi, 75, could bring her a harsher penalty.    The Nobel Peace Prize laureate now faces four comparatively minor charges, such as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and flouting coronavirus curbs.
    “This accusation is the most hilarious joke,” Suu Kyi’s lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said in a statement posted on social media.    “She might have other weaknesses but she doesn’t have weakness in moral principle.”
    Thursday was one of the deadliest days since the military took power.    Among the dead were eight people killed in the central town of Myaing when security forces fired on a protest, the AAPP said.
    In Yangon, protester Chit Min Thu was killed in the North Dagon district.    His wife, Aye Myat Thu, told Reuters he had insisted on joining the protests despite her appeals that he stay home for the sake of their son.
    “He said it’s worth dying for,” she said through her tears. “    e is worried about people not joining the protest.    If so, democracy will not return to the country.”
    The bloodshed also came hours after the U.N. Security Council had called for restraint from the army, which has been trying to put down daily anti-coup protests and paralysing strikes.
    Pro-democracy activists urged people not to be cowed and in posts on social media called for night demonstrations on Friday and for strikes and civil disobedience campaigns that have paralysed swathes of the economy to continue.
    Candlelight vigils by protesters in defiance of a curfew have been held more frequently in recent weeks.
‘CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY’
    U.N. human rights investigator Thomas Andrews told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva the military may have committed crimes against humanity.    He called for multilateral sanctions on the junta and the state energy firm, Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise.
    The army did not respond to requests for comment on the latest deaths, but the junta spokesman said on Thursday the security forces were disciplined and used force only when necessary.
    Rights group Amnesty International accused the army of using lethal force against protesters and said many killings it had documented amounted to extra-judicial executions.
    Suu Kyi fought for decades to overturn military rule under previous juntas before the start of tentative democratic reforms in 2011.    She had spent a total of about 15 years under house arrest.
    The army has justified taking power by saying that a November election, overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s party, was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission.
    Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun reiterated the military would only be in charge for a certain period before holding an election.    The junta has said a state of emergency will last for a year, but has not set a date for the election.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

3/12/2021 U.S. Criticises China’s Hong Kong Move, Set To Raise Xinjiang Genocide Charge In Talks by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders applaud at the closing session of the National People's
Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday condemned Chinese moves to change Hong Kong’s electoral system and forecast “difficult” talks with Beijing’s top diplomats next week, when the genocide Washington says China is committing against minority Muslims will be an issue the U.S. side plans to raise.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan would not hold back when they meet with the Chinese diplomats in Alaska on March 18 and 19, “whether it’s on Taiwan, or … efforts to push back democracy in Hong Kong, or on concerns we have about the economic relationship.”
    “Addressing the genocide against Uighur Muslims is something that will be a topic of discussion with the Chinese directly next week,” she added.
    In response, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, urged the United States on Friday to stop interfering in China’s affairs, including Hong Kong.
    “China hopes both sides can focus on cooperation and manage differences,” he said, adding that both sides should understand each others’ policy intention correctly.
    China rejects U.S. charges that it has committed genocide against Uighur and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region and calls criticism of its behavior toward Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.
    China’s parliament on Thursday approved a draft decision to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, further reducing democratic representation in the city’s institutions and introducing a mechanism to vet politicians’ loyalty to Beijing.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price called the changes “a direct attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, its freedoms and democratic processes.”
    “There will be some difficult conversations I would expect,” he said, referring to the talks Blinken and Sullivan plan to hold in Anchorage with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi, the first high-level in-person contacts between the two sparring countries under the Biden administration. {nL1N2L825Q]
    Price said Washington would explore areas for cooperation with China where it was in the U.S. interest, including climate change, but called on Beijing to change if it wanted to improve the frayed relationship.
    “We’re not looking to engage in talks for the sake of talks,” he said.
    “We are looking for Beijing … to demonstrate that seriousness of purpose, to demonstrate that it seeks to live up to its own oft-stated desire to change the tone of the bilateral relationship.”
    President Joe Biden’s administration has committed to reviewing elements of U.S. policies toward China, as the world’s two largest economies navigate relations that sank to their lowest depths in decades during Donald Trump’s presidency.
    Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first phone call as leaders last month and appeared at odds on most issues, even as Xi warned that confrontation would be a “disaster” for both nations.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday that China and the United States had common interests and many areas for cooperation and that Beijing hoped ties could develop in a healthy way based on respecting each other’s core interests, win-win cooperation and non-interference in internal affairs.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis, Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Peter Cooney and Timothy)

3/12/2021 Armenia To Hold Military Drills From March 16-20-RIA Cites Defence Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Ethnic Armenian soldiers gather at their fighting positions near the village of Taghavard
in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, January 11, 2021. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s defence ministry on Friday said military exercises involving 7,500 troops would be held in Armenia on March 16-20, the RIA news agency reported.
    The ministry said the goal of the exercise was, among other things, to test the combat readiness of troops.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/12/2021 China Warns U.S. To Stay Out Of Hong Kong Affairs Ahead Of Alaska Meet
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference in
Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China again warned the United States to stop interfering in its affairs, including Hong Kong, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Friday, ahead of talks between diplomats of both countries which Washington has said would be “difficult.”
    China hopes the meeting can focus on cooperation, the spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said.
    The two countries diplomats are set to meet in Alaska on Thursday.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Yew Lun Tian and Clarence)

3/12/2021 India’s Digital Media Regulation Sparks Fears Of Curbs On Press Freedom by Sankalp Phartiyal
FILE PHOTO: A man watches a video on his mobile phone as he commutes by a suburban
train in Mumbai, India, March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s new oversight of digital news platforms is drawing protest from the media industry and activists who fear the rules will curb press freedom in the world’s largest democracy.
    India, which has one of the world’s biggest and most diverse media industries, last month announced the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, aimed at pushing Big Tech firms such as Facebook to comply with content takedown orders.    However, it also extends to news websites.
    The rules impose a three-tier regulatory mechanism, requiring a grievance officer to resolve complaints and a government panel to have broad oversight.    The most senior government official in the information and broadcasting ministry will also have emergency powers to order content be blocked.
    Media executives fear such oversight could lead to censorship of content seen as critical of the government, and three digital news outlets have approached state courts.
    “These…rules will signify the death of media independence in India,” said Siddharth Varadarajan, editor of independent news website ‘The Wire’.    Its publisher has challenged the regulation in the Delhi High Court.
    LiveLaw, a legal news website, has challenged the rules in the Kerala High Court, which this week said no coercive action should be taken against the website for non-compliance.
    The government says the new rules are aimed at achieving parity between digital media and print and TV news regulations.    Referring to the rules for digital media, information and broadcasting minister Prakash Javadekar last month said “every freedom has to be responsible freedom.”
    The number of online media outlets in India has increased in recent years, but some journalists have complained they face intimidation for reporting stories critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his administration.
    Modi’s administration says it favours press freedom. (https://reut.rs/3tcKuml)
    “I think these rules will restrict and constrain press freedom, as indeed freedom more generally,” said Zoya Hasan, a former professor of political science at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.
    “This whole regulation is about control of digital media and other platforms as there’s little tolerance for dissenting voices.”
    U.S. think tank Freedom House recently said Modi and his party are driving India toward “authoritarianism,” adding political rights and civil liberties had deteriorated since he came to power in 2014.    The government called the report “misleading, incorrect and misplaced
    On Thursday, Javadekar said on Twitter that a group representing leading newspapers and TV channels had welcomed the new regulation and asked that their members “be treated differently” from digital-only news publishers.
    That has drawn criticism from some smaller digital news outlets, which have questioned why they are being ignored while seeking exemptions.
(Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Aditya Kalra, Kirsten Donovan)

3/12/2021 U.S. Condemns China At UN Rights Forum For Abuse Of Uighurs, Tibetans by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A gate of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre is photographed
in Dabancheng, in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States on Friday condemned China’s abuse of ethnic and religious minorities, including what it called “crimes against humanity and genocide” in Xinjiang against Muslim Uighurs and severe restrictions in Tibet.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who meets his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Alaska next week, is due to raise the treatment of Uighurs, U.S. officials have said.
    China rejects U.S. charges that it has committed genocide against Uighur and other Muslims in the remote western region, where activists say more than 1 million are held in internment camps.
    “We condemn China’s abuse of members of ethnic and religious minority groups including crimes against humanity and genocide in Xinjiang and severe restrictions in Tibet,” Mark Cassayre, U.S. charge d’affaires, told the U.N. Human Rights Council.
    Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, did not refer directly to Xinjiang in a speech saying that his country opposed politicisation of human rights issues.
    Cuba, speaking on behalf of 64 countries including China, said Xinjiang is “an inseparable part of China” and urged states to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs by manipulating Xinjiang-related issues, (and) refrain from making unfounded allegations against China out of political motivations.”
    Britain’s ambassador, Julian Braithwaite, told the forum: “We remain deeply concerned by the extensive and systematic human rights violations in Xinjiang, including credible reports of forced labour and forced birth control.”
    China says the complexes it set up in Xinjiang provide vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.    Allegations of forced labour and human rights violations are “groundless rumour and slander,” the Chinese foreign ministry says.
    Cassayre and Braithwaite raised concerns about Hong Kong, where 21 activists are to remain in custody after a court on Friday rejected requests by some for bail.
    The charges against a total of 47 opposition figures represent the most sweeping use yet of Hong Kong’s new security law, which punishes what it broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    “We condemn Hong Kong authorities’ detention of democratic activists for exercising their rights and freedoms and call for their immediate release,” Cassayre said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/14/2021 Expert: China Knows It Can Release Viruses And Not Be Held Accountable by OAN Newsroom
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on screen, answers a question during a video news conference, held remotely as a precaution for COVID-19,
as part of the National People’s Congress on March 7, 2021 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
    Critics of communist China have warned the nation could attempt to release more pathogens in the future after it witnessed how the current COVID-19 pandemic was handled.    In a recent interview, China critic Gordon Chang spoke to Steve Bannon and said China was never held accountable for its part in releasing coronavirus into the world.
    Chang further speculated China wanted to prevent the world from knowing it was accidentally released.    Chang forewarned this will likely not be the last pathogen that will come from Chinese soil.
    “Xi Jinping now knows that he can spread a disease virtually without cost,” Chang stated.    “So we’ve got to establish deterrents.    And the reason why deterrents are especially important right now, Steve, is that China’s working on pathogens that will leave the Chinese alone – the Chinese will be immune to them – but they will sicken everybody else.”
    Meanwhile, Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) recently introduced a bill that encourages the US. and other countries to withhold debt payments to China in response to the pandemic.

3/15/2021 Iran Touts New Missile Base Amid Soft Stance By Biden by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released on Monday, March 15, 2021, missiles are shown in an underground
storage facility in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iran unveiled a major ballistic missile facility amid ongoing appeasement by Joe Biden.    On Monday, Iranian state media showed video footage of what it called the “missile city,” ran by the Guard of Islamic Revolution.
In this photo released on Monday, March 15, 2021, missiles are shown in an underground
storage facility in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Sepahnews via AP)
    Iranian officials claimed the facility will serve as an operational base for cruise and ballistic missiles, as well as electronic warfare equipment.
    The missile base came in yet another violation of UN resolutions by Iran, while Joe Biden is sending more cash to the ayatollah in hopes to restore the nuclear deal.
    “Allah be praised, the Islamic Republic has advanced so much militarily that nobody even considers to attack it. Not only is the military option is no longer on America’s table, it’s not underneath the table either.    There’s no such thing,” Islamic scholar Mohammad-Bagher Ebadi said.    “Unless the sanctions are lifted, there will be no return to the JCPOA.”
    Iranian officials also called Biden a “second-class idiot,” saying the future of mutual relations is now in the hands of Iran.
[HALF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE CALL BIDEN WORST THAN THAT WE WANT TRUMP TO COME BACK AND PUT YOUR ASS IN RESTRAINT AS HE DID FOR 4 YEARS.].

3/16/2021 Myanmar junta imposes martial law in largest city by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s ruling junta has declared martial law in a wide area of the country’s largest city, as security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.
    The developments were the latest setback to hopes of resolving the crisis that started with the military’s Feb. 1 seizure of power that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.    A grassroots movement has sprung up across the country to challenge the takeover with almost daily protests that the army has tried to crush with increasingly deadly violence State broadcaster MRTV said Monday that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law.    That was in addition to two others – Hlaing Thar Yar and neighboring Shwepyitha – announced late Sunday.    More violence was reported around the country Monday, with at least eight protesters in four cities or towns killed, according to the independent broadcaster and news service Democratic Voice of Burma.
    Photos and videos posted on social media showed long convoys of trucks entering Yangon.
    At least 38 people were killed Sunday and dozens were injured in one of the deadliest days of the crackdown on anti-coup protesters, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent group tracking the toll of the violence.    Death tolls compiled by other credible sources were almost twice that.
    U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday at least 138 peaceful protesters have been killed, including the Sunday deaths, in Myanmar since the coup.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns this ongoing violence against peaceful protesters and the continuing violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar,” Dujarric said.
    The U.N. chief again calls on the international community, including regional countries, “to come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations,” the spokesman said.
    Complicating efforts to organize new protests, as well as media coverage of the crisis, cellphone internet service has been cut, although access is still available through fixed broadband connections.
    Mobile data service had been used to stream live video coverage of protests, often showing security forces attacking demonstrators.    It previously had been turned off only from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. for several weeks, with no official explanation.
    The blockage of internet service forced postponement of a court hearing in the capital, Natpyitaw, for Myanmar’s detained leader Suu Kyi, who was supposed to take part via a video conference, said her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained during the coup, and have been charged with several criminal offenses that their supporters believe are politically motivated to keep them locked up.
    Since the takeover, Myanmar has been under a nationwide state of emergency, with military leaders in charge of all government.    But Sunday’s announcement was the first use of martial law since the coup and suggested more direct handling of security by the military instead of police.
Myanmar’s ruling junta is responding to protests, such as this one in
Mandalay on Monday, by imposing martial law in some areas. AP

3/16/2021 U.S. General: North Korea Might Flight Test New ICBM Design ‘In The Near Future’ by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un addresses the first short course for chief secretaries of the city and county Party committees in
Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released March 7, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea might begin flight testing an improved design for its inter-continental ballistic missiles “in the near future,” the head of the U.S. military’s Northern Command said on Tuesday, a move that would sharply increase tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.
    The warning by Air Force General Glen VanHerck appeared based on North Korea’s October unveiling at a parade of what would be its largest ICBM yet, and not specific intelligence about an imminent launch.
    Still, his remarks came a day ahead of a debut trip by President Joe Biden’s top diplomat and defense secretary to South Korea and underscore U.S. concerns that     Pyongyang may resume testing of missiles and nuclear weapons after a hiatus of more than three years.
    Even during the testing lull, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for continued production of nuclear weapons for his arsenal, launched a series of smaller missiles and unveiled what would be North Korea’s largest ICBM yet at the October parade.
    VanHerck told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Pyongyang’s “considerably larger and presumably more capable” ICBM further increased the threat to the United States.    Still, he expressed confidence in U.S. missile defenses.
    The U.S. general also noted that Kim released himself from a moratorium on testing over a year ago.
    “The North Korean regime has also indicated that it is no longer bound by the unilateral nuclear and ICBM testing moratorium announced in 2018, suggesting that Kim Jong Un may begin flight testing an improved ICBM design in the near future,” VanHerck said in his written testimony.
    The White House confirmed a Reuters report on Monday that it has sought to reach out to North Korea but had received no response, extending a chill in relations that began at the end of Donald Trump’s administration.
    After the White House remarks, North Korean state news reported that the sister of the North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, criticized the Biden Administration for ongoing military drills in South Korea.
    “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” Kim said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
    The joint U.S.-South Korean springtime military drill begun last week was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk, as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Dan Grebler)

3/16/2021 Myanmar Families Hold Funerals For Crackdown Victims As Activists Defy Security Crackdown
People show a three-finger salute as they attend the funeral of Khant Nyar Hein, 19 yrs old medical student who was shot
and killed during the security force crack down on anti-coup protesters in Yangon, Myanmar March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – The families of dozens of people killed in demonstrations against military rule in Myanmar attended their funerals on Tuesday as more protesters defied the security forces and at least one man was shot dead.
    The political and economic crisis over the Feb. 1 overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government could also force the poor into hunger as food and fuel prices rise, the United Nations food agency said.
    Security forces shot dead at least 20 people on Monday after 74 were killed a day earlier, including many in a suburb of Yangon where Chinese-financed factories were torched, according to advocacy group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
    On Tuesday, a crematorium in Yangon reported 31 funerals, a mourner at one of the ceremonies said.
    Hundreds of young mourners spilled out on to the street at the funeral of medical student Khant Nyar Hein who was killed in Yangon on Sunday, the bloodiest day of the protests.
    “Let them kill me right now, let them kill me instead of my son because I can’t take it any more,” the student’s mother was seen saying in a video clip posted on Facebook.
    Mourners, including many fellow medical students in white lab coats, chanted: “Our revolution must prevail.”
    Some families told media the security forces had seized the bodies of victims, but they would still hold a funeral.
    At least 184 people have been killed by the security forces in the weeks of protests, the AAPP said, with the toll rising as one protester was shot dead in the central town of Kawlin, a resident there said.
    People held up pictures of Suu Kyi and called for an end to the repression during a small protest in the southern town of Dawei on Tuesday, the Dawei Watch media outlet reported.    There was no report of violence.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was appalled by the escalating violence and called on the international community to help end the repression, his spokesman said, while the United States also denounced the bloodshed.
    “The military is attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election and is brutally repressing peaceful protesters,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference in Tokyo.
    A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls to seek comment and Reuters could not independently confirm all the casualties.
‘STOP KILLING’
    State broadcaster MRTV said martial law had been imposed in parts of Yangon and military commanders would take over administration of districts and courts.
    The U.N. human rights office said some 37 journalists had been arrested, including 19 who remained in detention, while “deeply distressing” reports of torture in custody had emerged and five people were known to have died in detention.
    “We call on the military to stop killing and detaining protesters,” the office’s spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, said in Geneva.
    The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) were rejected by the electoral commission.    It has promised to hold a new election but has not set a date.
    The military ruled the former British colony for decades after a 1962 coup and cracked down hard on uprisings before beginning a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago.
    That has been derailed and instead the protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes are paralysing large parts of the economy and could undermine the ability of poor families to feed themselves, the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) warned.
    The WFP said the price of rice was up as much as 35% in parts of the north and prices of cooking oil and pulses were also higher, while the cost of fuel had risen by 15% since Feb. 1.
    “These rising food and fuel prices are compounded by the near paralysis of the banking sector, slowdowns in remittances, and widespread limits on cash availability,” the WFP said.
    Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup and faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.
    Western countries have called for her release and condemned the violence while Asian neighbours have offered to help resolve the crisis, but Myanmar has a long record of rejecting outside intervention.
    The military has charged the international envoy of the ousted government, who is abroad, with treason for encouraging the civil disobedience campaign and calling for sanctions, army-run television announced.
    Authorities have also detained an official from Open Society Myanmar, a group set up with the help of the foundation of billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and are looking for 11 other employees on suspicion they passed funds to opponents of the coup, a state-run newspaper said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff, additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Emma Thomasson in Berlin; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Angus MacSwan)

3/16/2021 China’s Yunnan Vows Ecological ‘Security Barrier’ To Limit Disease Risks by David Stanway
A child walks towards a nature protection zone at Mandian village in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture,
Yunnan province, China, January 29, 2021. Picture taken January 29, 2021. REUTERS/David Stanway
    JINGHONG, China (Reuters) – In the border district of Xishuangbanna in southwest China’s Yunnan province, the global pandemic has put residents of the small ethnic minority village of Mandian under pressure to change old habits.
    Behind a traditional homestead with a small garden of medicinal herbs and a veranda lined with beehives, a sign posted on the edge of the forest says, “Do not enter the protected zone without authorisation.”
    “Because of environmental protection, we aren’t allowed to go in anymore,” said local resident Yu Yao.
    She said inspectors come and visit every month to ensure the new restrictions are being enforced, adding that permission is needed even to fell a tree.
    Home to around half of the country’s protected animal and plant species, Yunnan is on the front line of China’s efforts to redefine its relationship with nature and reduce health risks.
    Believed by many to be the source of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the province aims to build a “southwest ecological security barrier for the motherland,” vice governor Qiu Jiang said at China’s national session of parliament on March 6.
    It has already put nearly a third of its territory behind an “ecological protection red line” that restricts human activities.    Much of that is in Xishuangbanna on the border with Laos and Myanmar.    It’s the home of China’s last surviving elephant community, located in a sliver of forest about 5 miles from the Mekong river.
    Experts say decades of deforestation in China and elsewhere have disturbed ancient ecosystems, destroyed habitats and let loose countless potentially lethal pathogens.
    “We have an incredibly huge, unprecedented, human-animal interface across the planet,” said Peter Daszak, zoologist and President of the OneHealth Alliance, a non-profit organisation.
    “There are deforestation events, and wildlife trade, and until we deal with that, we are going to see more and more pandemics.”
HARMONY WITH NATURE?
    Acknowledging the role played by habitat destruction in the coronavirus outbreak, China last year imposed tough curbs on wildlife trading and drew up policies to better protect rivers, wetlands and forests.
    The policies are already having an impact.    Though the 300 ethnic Dai inhabitants of Mandian village have subsisted comfortably off the forest for years, they are now unwilling to risk being fined, residents said.
    Yunnan is also under pressure to enforce its so-called red lines more rigorously and crack down on the illegal occupation of protected land. Xishuangbanna also launched a campaign in December to stop local farmers from illegally expanding their tea plantations.
    A local wildlife protection officer told Reuters that he and his team have been inundated with work since the the start of 2020.
    “There’s been a much bigger emphasis on protection and a greater awareness of the risks among the public and the government,” said the officer, who did not want to be identified.
    But Xishuangbanna has also struggled to find the means and the manpower to enforce the rules, he added.
    “We are spending longer and longer inside the forest, but we need more facilities – and we need more Toyotas.”
    Though signs warn against trespassing into protected areas, sites visited by Reuters still show considerable human activity, including farming and logging.
    The protection officer said it was impossible to track every encroachment in a region where total forest coverage – including rubber plantations – stands at 80%.     Authorities have also struggled to prevent farmers from intruding on ecosystems to plant more crops.
    “In some areas, the local residents would take one line of trees a year,” said Alice Hughes, a botanist based at the Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Gardens, a research facility and tourist attraction.
URBAN SPRAWL
    Beyond Yunnan’s fragmented nature reserves, the churn of urbanisation continues.    Xishuangbanna’s population has doubled in 40 years, its ethnic minorities subsumed in an urban sprawl centred on Jinghong, the region’s political centre.
    Scholars worry that while the “red line” scheme protects 30% of Yunnan’s territory, little is being done elsewhere.
    A study published last year said existing schemes “do not offer adequate protection,” with nearly 25% of the region’s biodiversity hotspots not covered.    Another 2020 paper showed Jinghong had lost a quarter of its tropical forest since 1999.
    “Ecological red-lining has huge potential,” said Hughes.    “But there’s a lot of biodiversity that is falling through the cracks.”
AN ACCIDENT WAITING TO HAPPEN
    Scientists have long identified southeast Asia – with its vast bat populations and unregulated wildlife trading networks – as one of the most likely origins of a lethal viral spillover.
    Coronaviruses could have been endemic for years, but the range of human exposure has been vastly increased by the arrival of thousands of migrants and tourists, together with the construction of new high-speed road and rail links and the extension of wildlife trade networks into new ecological niches.
    “The world has become a much smaller place,” said Hughes.    “Local populations will often be immune to local pathogens because they’ve been exposed repeatedly at low doses.”
    “But if then their relatives from the big city or from overseas come, they have no immunity and that means they can contract it and they can spread it.”
    In 2018, more than a year before COVID-19 was discovered in the city of Wuhan, Daszak and his team set out to explore the risks of zoonotic disease in rural southern China.    They found that human-animal interactions were frequent and conducted with “low levels of environmental biosecurity.”
    “It is not one person every 10 years that leads to an outbreak, but thousands of people, maybe millions every year,” Daszak said.
(Reporting by David Stanway. Editing by Janet Roberts and Blake Morrison.)

3/16/2021 U.S. Lawmakers Seek 20% Boost In Foreign Affairs Budget, With Eye On China by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) speaks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the nomination of Linda Thomas-Greenfield to
be the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 27, 2021. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Four Democratic U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday proposed an increase of $12 billion in the country’s foreign affairs budget, hoping to prod President Joe Biden to boost funding for diplomacy after years of flat spending.
    Senators Chris Murphy and Chris Van Hollen and Representatives David Cicilline and Ami Bera said the 20% spending increase would enhance the country’s ability to compete with China, prevent another pandemic and fight climate change.
    Competing with China has been the focus of foreign affairs in the first weeks of the Biden administration.    Secretary of State Antony Blinken is using his first trip abroad to shore up Asian alliances in the face of growing assertiveness by Beijing.
    The lawmakers proposed funding of $68.7 billion for the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, versus the current $56.6 billion.
    “If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the biggest threats posed to our country really aren’t foreign armies.    This is why it’s so mind-boggling that our     Defense Department budget continues to increase by tens of billions of dollars each year, while funding for other vital national security agencies has remained flat,” Murphy said in a statement.
    Republican former President Donald Trump tried repeatedly to slash foreign affairs spending, instead prioritizing increases in military spending and tax cuts.
    Lawmakers from both parties pushed back against those plans, saying it was essential to preserve U.S. “soft power” on the world stage, but the result was that spending on diplomacy remained flat.
    One Senate aide said the lawmakers had run their proposal by Biden’s State Department, in the hope that it would “kick off a conversation with them about progressive priorities.”
    Biden is not expected to send his first budget request to Congress for several weeks.
    The country spends $740 billion a year on the military.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

3/16/2021 U.S., India, Japan And Australia Counter China With Billion-Dose Vaccine Pact by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Jeff Mason
Yoshihide Suga, Japan's Prime Minister, speaks while a monitor displays U.S. President Joe Biden, Australia's Prime Minister
Scott Morrison and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during the virtual Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) meeting
at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, March 12, 2021. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and three of its closest Indo-Pacific partners committed to supplying up to a billion coronavirus vaccine doses across Asia by the end of 2022 at a summit on Friday carefully choreographed to counter China’s growing influence.
    President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia, India and Japan – countries together known as the Quad – pledged at their first summit to work to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific and to cooperate on maritime, cyber and economic security, issues vital to the four democracies in the face of challenges from Beijing.
    “We’re renewing our commitment to ensure that our region is governed by international law, committed to upholding universal values, and free from coercion,” Biden told his counterparts, without naming China.
    His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called the virtual summit a big day for U.S. diplomacy, as Washington sought to revitalize its alliances and approach     Beijing from a position of strength ahead of a high-level U.S.-China meeting next week.
    “The four leaders did discuss the challenge posed by China, and they made clear that none of them have any illusions about China,” Sullivan told reporters, adding that they all believed democracy could outcompete “autocracy.”
    Freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas, recent cyberattacks and semi-conductor supply-chain security, were also discussed, along with the North Korean nuclear issue and the coup and “violent repression” in Myanmar, he said.
    In a joint statement, Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pledged to work closely on COVID-19 vaccine distribution, climate and security.
    “We strive for a region that is free, open, inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic  values, and unconstrained by coercion,” they added.
    The leaders agreed to set up an experts’ group to help distribute vaccines, as well as working groups on climate change, technology standards, and joint development of emerging technologies.    An in-person summit would be held later this year, they said.
‘NEW LEVEL OF COOPERATION’
    Suga told reporters he had expressed strong opposition to China’s attempts to change the status quo in the region, and Modi told the session the Quad had “come of age” and would “now remain an important pillar of stability in the region.”
    Morrison called the meeting “a new dawn in the Indo-Pacific” and added: “let our partnership be the enabler of peace, stability, and prosperity.”
    Confronting China has been a rare area of agreement for Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress.    In a statement, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, said he was pleased by the Quad meeting.
    India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the summit had agreed U.S. vaccines would be manufactured in India, something New Delhi has called for to counter Beijing’s widening vaccine diplomacy.
    A Quad fact sheet said the United States, through its International Development Finance Corp, would work to finance Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd to produce at least 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of 2022.
    It also said Japan was in discussions to provide concessional yen loans for India to expand manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines for export.
    Sullivan said the vaccines would go to Southeast Asian countries, elsewhere in the Indo-Pacific, and beyond.
    The Biden administration told Reuters on Tuesday the United States and Japan would help fund Indian firms manufacturing vaccines for U.S. drugmakers Novavax Inc and J&J.
    An Asian diplomat said countries in Southeast Asia, where China is competing strongly for influence, were “desperate” for vaccines and the end of 2022 was still far off.
    “The question is how quickly can they get them out,” he said.    “It’s important to get them out sooner rather than later.”
‘INIMICAL TO OUR VALUES’
    India, Australia and Japan have all faced security challenges from China, strengthening their interest in the Quad, whose cooperation dates back to joint responses to the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami in 2004.
    The group was revived under the Trump administration, which saw it as a vehicle to push back against China.    The United States hosted a foreign ministers’ meeting in 2019, which was followed by another in Japan last year and a virtual session in February.
    Friday’s meeting coincided with a major U.S. diplomatic drive to solidify alliances in Asia and Europe to counter China, including visits next week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to Japan and South Korea.
    Blinken will stop in Alaska on his return to meet China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi – the first high-level in-person contact between the world’s two largest economies under the Biden administration.
    Washington has said it will not hold back in its criticism of Beijing over issues ranging from Taiwan to Hong Kong and the genocide it says China is committing against minority Muslims.
    Sullivan, who will attend the meeting with the Chinese officials, said he did not expect details on U.S. tariffs or export controls to be major topics, but added:
    “We will communicate that the United States is going to take steps in terms of what we do on technology to ensure that our technology is not used in ways that are inimical to our values or adverse to our security.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina, Jeff Mason and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo, Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Euan Rocha in Mumbai; Editing by Mary Milliken and Alistair)

3/16/2021 North Korea Tells New U.S. Administration To Cease War Games If Wants To ‘Sleep In Peace’ by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends wreath laying
ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Pool
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The sister of North Korean leader, Kim Yo Jong, criticised ongoing military drills in South Korea and warned the new U.S. administration that the smell of cordite wafting over the border would not help bring peace, state news reported on Tuesday.
    Kim’s statement was the North’s first public message to Washington since President Joe Biden took office in January.    It was delivered a day before U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are due to arrive in Seoul for their first talks with South Korean counterparts.
    “We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off powder smell in our land,” Kim said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.    “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
    For all the imagery of Kim’s words, the joint springtime military drill begun last week was limited to computer simulations because of the coronavirus risk as well as the ongoing efforts to engage with the North.
    But her message was clear.
    “War drills and hostility can never go with dialogue and cooperation,” Kim Yo Jong said.
    When asked about Kim Yo Jong’s statement, Blinken told a briefing in Tokyo that he was aware of her comments, but that he was more interested in hearing what America’s allies and partners think about North Korea.
    Blinken and Austin are travelling in Asia this week for foreign policy and security talks with allies in Japan and South Korea, among other stops.
    The new U.S. administration is expected to wrap up a review of North Korea policy in coming weeks.    And Blinken said Washington is considering whether additional pressure on North Korea could be effective.
    The timing of Kim’s comments seems designed to ensure that North Korea will be at the top of Blinken and Austin’s agenda when they land in Seoul, said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korea expert at King’s College London.
    “Until now, the discussion was focusing on The Quad, dealing with China and the North Korea policy review,” he said.    “Now Kim’s statement will be central to discussions.”
    North Korea has so far rebuffed entreaties from the United States to engage in dialogue, the White House said on Monday, as a chill in relations that began under then-President Donald Trump has extended into Biden’s presidency.
    Leader Kim Jong Un had three high-profile summit meetings with Trump and exchanged a series of letters, but the nuclear-armed state ended talks and said it would not engage further unless the United States drops its hostile policies.
‘SHRUNKEN WAR GAMES’
    Kim Yo Jong mocked South Korea for “resorting to shrunken war games, now that they find themselves in the quagmire of political, economic and epidemic crisis.”
    Boo Seung-chan, a spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence, said the drills were routine and defensive in nature.
    “The ministry’s position is that North Korea must show a flexible attitude, such as responding to dialogue, to build a lasting and solid peace on the Korean Peninsula,” he told a briefing.
    The inter-Korean engagement that had improved in 2018 and is sought by South Korea “won’t come easily again” and North Korea will be watching to see if there is further provocations, said Kim.
    She said North Korea would consider pulling out of an inter-Korean military agreement aimed at reducing tensions along their shared border, and would review whether to dissolve several organisations aimed at cooperation with the South.
    Kim’s statement, as colourful as it is, is generally consistent with past North Korean statements expressing frustrations at disparities between words and actions, said Jenny Town, director of 38 North, a U.S.-based website that tracks North Korea.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese, Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue)

3/16/2021 Blinken Warns China Against ‘Coercion And Aggression’ On First Asia Trip by Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Japan's Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Japan's
Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi attend the 2+2 Meeting at Iikura Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned China on Tuesday against using “coercion and aggression” as he sought to use his first trip abroad to shore up Asian alliances in the face of growing assertiveness by Beijing.
    China’s extensive territorial claims in the East and South China Seas have become a priority issue in an increasingly testy Sino-U.S. relationship and are an important security concern for Japan.
    “We will push back, if necessary, when China uses coercion and aggression to get its way,” Blinken said.
    His visit to Tokyo with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is the first overseas visit by top members of President Joe Biden’s cabinet.    It follows last week’s summit of the leaders of the Quad grouping of the United States, Japan, Australia and India.
    Blinken’s comments come ahead of meetings in Alaska on Thursday that will bring together for the first time senior Biden administration officials and their Chinese counterparts to discuss frayed ties between the world’s top two economies.
    Washington has criticised what it called Beijing’s attempts to bully neighbors with competing interests.    China has denounced what it called U.S. efforts to foment unrest in the region and interfere in what it calls its internal affairs.
    In the statement issued with their Japanese counterparts, Blinken and Austin said, “China’s behavior, where inconsistent with the existing international order, presents political, economic, military and technological challenges to the alliance and to the international community.”
    The two countries committed themselves to opposing coercion and destabilizing behavior towards others in the region that undermines the rules-based international system, they added.
    The meeting was held in the “2+2” format with Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi as hosts.
    North Korea was in sharp focus after the White House said Pyongyang had rebuffed efforts at dialogue.
    The isolated nation, which has pursued nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, warned the Biden administration against “causing a stink” if it wanted peace, state media said on Tuesday.
    Blinken underscored the importance of working closely with Japan and South Korea on the denuclearization of North Korea.
    “We have no greater strategic advantage when it comes to North Korea than this alliance,” he said.    “We approach that challenge as an alliance and we’ve got to do that if we are going to be effective.”
‘UNWAVERING COMMITMENT’
    The ministers also discussed Washington’s “unwavering commitment” to defend Japan in its dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea and repeated their opposition to China’s “unlawful” maritime claims in the South China Sea.
    They also shared concerns over developments such as the law China passed in January allowing its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.
    China has sent coast guard vessels to chase away fishing vessels from countries with which it has disputes in regional waters, sometimes resulting in their sinking.
    Motegi said China-related issues took up the majority of his two-way talks with Blinken, and expressed strong opposition to the neighbour’s “unilateral attempt” to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.
    In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news briefing that U.S.-Japan ties “shouldn’t target or undermine the interests of any third party,” and should boost “peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.”
    Blinken expressed concern over the Myanmar military’s attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election, and its crackdown on peaceful protesters.
    He also reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to human rights, adding, “China uses coercion and aggression to systematically erode autonomy in Hong Kong, undercut democracy in Taiwan, abusing human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet.”
    Motegi said Blinken expressed support during the meeting for the staging of the Tokyo Olympics, set to run from July 23 to Aug. 8 after being postponed from last year because of the coronavirus crisis.
    But Blinken sounded non-committal in his remarks to Tokyo-based U.S. diplomats, saying the summer Games involved planning for several different scenarios.    But he added, “Whenever and however Team USA ends up competing, it will be because of you.”
    The U.S. officials ended the visit with a courtesy call on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is set to visit the White House in April as the first foreign leader to meet Biden.
    Both will leave Tokyo for Seoul on Wednesday for talks in the South Korean capital until Thursday.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park, Antoni Slodkowski, Elaine Lies, Chang-Ran Kim, Ritsuko Ando and David Dolan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

3/16/2021 We Will Not Back Down Under Sanctions, China Warns EU
FILE PHOTO: An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic
Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – China warned the European Union on Tuesday against planned EU sanctions for human rights violations, saying Beijing would not yield if Brussels interfered in its internal affairs.
    EU ambassadors are expected on Wednesday to give the go-ahead for sanctions in response to alleged human rights abuses against China’s Uighur Muslim minority.
    “We want dialogue, not confrontation.    We ask the EU side to think twice,” Zhang Ming, China’s ambassador to the 27-nation bloc, told an online seminar on Tuesday.    “If some insist on confrontation, we will not back down.”
    The expected EU measures will consist of travel bans and asset freezes against four Chinese officials as well as one entity, EU diplomats told Reuters last week.
    Zhang rejected accusations of persecution and forced labour of Uighurs in China’s far west region of Xinjiang, saying “China haters” were spreading lies for political gain.
    He also warned the EU against linking the investment deal the two sides reached in December with human rights issues or Beijing’s actions on Hong Kong.    “Economic issues should not be politicized,” Zhang said.
    The EU regards the investment pact as giving European firms better access to Chinese markets and redressing unbalanced trade relations.    But human rights issues could make it a hard sell to EU lawmakers, whose approval will be needed for the deal to take effect.
(Reporting by Sabine)

3/16/2021 U.K.’S Johnson Condemns Iran, China In Rebuke To Biden by OAN Newsroom
ROTHERHAM, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 13: Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a speech at the Convention of the North at
the Magna Centre on September 13, 2019 in Rotherham, England. (Photo by Christopher Furlong – WPA Pool /Getty Images)
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is ramping up criticism of Iran and Mainland China.
    “We remain extremely concerned by Iran’s influence in the region, the disruptive behavior of Iran and particularly of course, we are concerned by the risk of Iran developing a nuclear weapon,” Johnson stated.
    On Tuesday, Johnson told Parliament that Iran and China are posing a growing threat to the free world.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the National Express depot in Coventry,
central England, Monday March 15, 2021. (Steve Parsons/Pool via AP)
    He also condemned Beijing’s genocide of Uighurs, something that Joe Biden referred to as mere “cultural differences.”
    “Our deep concern over China’s mass detention of the Uighur people in Xinjiang province and in giving nearly three million of Hong Kong’s people a route to British citizenship,” Johnson stated.    “There is no question that China will pose a great challenge for an open society such as ours.”
    The prime minister also said he will increase Britain’s arsenal of nuclear warheads by 40 percent amid Biden’s failure to stand up to global threats.

3/17/2021 Report: Chinese Scientists Infiltrated U.S. Virology Programs by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 15, 2021, file photo, a medical worker gives a coronavirus vaccine shot to a patient at a vaccination facility in Beijing. China is
aiming to vaccinate 70-80% of its population by mid-2022, the head of the country’s Center for Disease Control said Saturday.(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    Concern has continued to grow over China’s infiltration of American virus research labs after recent reports highlighted three Chinese military scientists trained by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) who arrived at U.S. universities and research institutions in the late 90s only to later become involved in the COVID-19 saga.
    Their names? Yusen Ahou, Guangyu Zhao and Yuzhang Wu.
    While Yuzhang would become director of the Institute of Immunology at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, Yusen and Guangyu would become long-time research collaborators of Dr. Shibo Jiang who received his post-doctoral training at the Rockefeller University in New York between 1987 and 1990.
    Throughout his career in the states, Jiang maintained a relationship with PLA laboratories, simultaneously hosting and training scientists linked to the Chinese military.    Jiang also received more than $17 million in U.S. research grants with the vast majority coming from Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
    One Chinese whistleblower claimed COVID-19 originated in laboratories overseen by China’s PLA by using bat coronaviruses ZC-45 and ZXC-21, which were then characterized and genetically engineered under the supervision of the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing and the Research Institute for Medicine of the PLA Nanjing Military Command.
    As of now, the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to confirm the origin of the virus.    However, efforts to investigate have largely been obstructed.
    Australian infectious diseases expert Dominic Dwyer was among the WHO’s second team of researchers sent to China to document the early days of the pandemic.    Dwyer said Chinese officials provided a summary of information from interviews with patients, but refused to provide the raw case data on early infections.
    ”If you’re really trying to go back to the very beginning to try and understand the sources, in the ideal world, you would go through patient by patient by patient and that’s what we call that a line listing,” he explained.    “Now, obviously, all of that stuff is anonymous, but you want the details on what were the questions asked, what were the responses and what were the sort of analysis of the data.”
    According to Dwyer, that is standard practice for an outbreak investigation.    However, China denied WHO officials of the raw data and, instead, handed over what they claimed to be the “results.”
    On part of this, many believe China has colonized U.S. virus research programs.    Important to mention is these programs are funded by the U.S. government or in other words — the U.S. taxpayer.    There’s very little these U.S. virology programs do that China isn’t aware of and for many that’s a threat far too large to be ignored any longer.

3/17/2021 Biden Pushing Back Withdrawal Of Troops From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2011 file photo, U.S. soldiers sit beneath an American flag just raised to commemorate the tenth anniversary
of the 9/11 attacks at Forward Operating Base Bostick in Kunar province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)
    Joe Biden recently side-stepped his administration’s projected failure to bring home U.S. troops from Afghanistan.    During an interview on Tuesday, he discussed the timeline President Trump laid out for removing U.S. military presence from the Middle East by May 1.
    President Trump arranged an end to America’s longest war by negotiating with the Taliban to sever its ties with Al-Qaeda and to stop attacking American forces.    Meanwhile, Biden said that it’s unlikely a total withdrawal will happen by then, but was vague on how much longer it would take.
    “And so we’re in consultation with our allies as well as the government and that decision is going to be…is in process now,” he stated. “I don’t think a lot longer.”
    Today is the 56th day that Biden has chosen to continue the war in Afghanistan that he pledged to end 7 years ago. https://t.co/bOwQWmnOYk pic.twitter.com/4WCWRvypWm
— Has Biden Done Anything Yet? (@WaitingOnBiden) March 16, 2021
    President Trump brought thousands of troops home during his time in off, leaving around 2,500 in the region.    It appears the White House is struggling to decide whether to end the nearly two decade-long war or to prolong conflict by remaining in Afghanistan.

3/18/2021 Japan To Lift Tokyo Area Emergency On Sunday But Warns Against Complacency by Chang-Ran Kim and Tetsushi Kajimoto
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing protective masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
make their way in Tokyo, Japan, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will lift the coronavirus state of emergency in the Tokyo area on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, while the capital’s governor warned citizens not to let down their guard.
    Suga said the availability of hospital beds had improved in Tokyo and its three neighbouring prefectures, where restrictions have remained since early January.
    “Following these developments, we’ve decided to lift the state of emergency in Tokyo and Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures as of March 21,” said Suga.
    While under pressure to bring COVID-19 under control ahead of the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer, the government is eager to jumpstart economic activity in the Greater Tokyo area, whose 36 million residents account for 30% of Japan’s population.
    But experts noted at the meeting of the government’s advisory panel that infections had been creeping up and a resurgence was likely.
    This is why not all curbs will be lifted.    After the end of the emergency, the four prefectures will ask restaurants to close by 9 p.m., at least until the end of March, to reduce the chance of a resurgence in infections, Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa said on Wednesday.
    The number of new COVID-19 cases has plunged from a peak in early January, when the third and most deadly wave of the pandemic swept the country.    But the daily tally for Tokyo remains far from Governor Yuriko Koike’s target of reducing the seven-day average to 70% or lower than the preceding week.
    On Wednesday, the capital reported 409 cases, compared with a peak of 2,520 on Jan. 7, but the highest since mid-February.
    Koike warned residents not to let their guard down.
    “The first drop of vaccines for (Tokyo’s) 14 million has only just begun, and until we’re done, we have to fight with our bare hands,” she said.
    While other parts of the country lifted the emergency status at the end of February, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures extended it, with officials saying they wanted to see a continued decline in infections and hospitalisations.
    As of Wednesday, about 449,000 people have tested positive in Japan and 8,715 have died.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Kaori Kaneko and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Additional reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Nick Macfie)

3/18/2021 Myanmar Faces Growing Isolation As Military Tightens Grip
Protesters run during a crackdown of an anti-coup protests at Hlaing Township in
Yangon, Myanmar March 17, 2021. Picture taken March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar faced increasing isolation on Thursday as further more restrictions on internet services hampered the ability of opponents of military rule to organise and report on violence, but protesters still rallied in defiance of a deadly crackdown.
    While the security forces have focused on stamping out dissent in the commercial capital Yangon and other cities since a military coup ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, small demonstrations have erupted elsewhere.
    Several thousand people marched in the central town of Natmauk on Thursday, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.    Natmauk is the birthplace of Aung San, who is stil revered as the leader of Myanmar’s drive for independence from colonial power Britain, and is Suu Kyi’s father.
    Security forces have used increasingly violent tactics to suppress daily demonstrations.    The documented total of those killed in the unrest stands at 217, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group said, but the actual toll is probably much higher, Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing took part in a video conference with other Southeast Asian defence chiefs, his first international engagement since seizing power, state television showed.
    There was no indication the Myanmar crisis was discussed.
    Western countries have condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence and for the release of Suu Kyi and others detained since the coup. Asian neighbours have offered to help find a solution, but the military has shown no sign of seeking reconciliation.
    The army has defended its coup, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Suu Kyi’s party were rejected by the electoral commission.    It has promised a new election but not set a date.
MOTORBIKE PROTESTS
    About 1,000 protesters on motorbikes drove around the central town of Taungoo on Thursday and hundreds marched in the northern jade-mining town of Hpakant, the Irrawaddy news service reported.
    Protesters also gathered in the central town of Monywa after a 24-year-old campaigner against military rule died, three days after security forces detained and beat him, the Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now news portal reported.
    A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
    Opponents of the coup also gathered in some neighbourhoods of Yangon, which has seen the worst of the weeks of violence.    Parts of the city are under martial law.
    In one district, security forces opened fire and torched protesters’ barricades, detaining 20 people, the Irrawaddy reported.    There were unconfirmed reports of one person wounded.
    Yangon residents said soldiers also ordered people to dismantle barricades and remove posters on some streets.
    Authorities have restricted the internet services that protesters use to organise and post reports and pictures, with access to Wi-Fi in public areas largely shut off by Thursday.
    Residents of some towns, including Dawei in the south, reported no internet at all.
    The private Tachilek News Agency in the northeast published photographs of workers cutting cables it said were the fibre links with neighbouring Thailand.
    Reuters could not verify the report.
    Information within Myanmar is becoming increasingly difficult to verify.    Some 37 journalists have been arrested, including 19 who remain in detention, the U.N. human rights office said.
    While authorities have ordered some newspapers shut, others have apparently been forced to close for reasons of logistics.    The last private newspaper stopped publishing on Wednesday.
    State-run media have not been affected.
REFUGEES
    The junta has stepped up its efforts against Suu Kyi.    The Nobel peace laureate, 75, is hugely popular for her struggle against military rule since 1988, during which time she has spent years in detention.
    State television said on Wednesday she was being investigated for bribery in connection with accepting four payments worth $550,000 from a businessman.
    The junta said last week that authorities were investigating her for receiving illegal payments.    Her lawyer dismissed that accusation as a joke.    He was not available for comment on Thursday.
    Suu Kyi, who is being held in an undisclosed location, already faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.    If convicted, she could be barred from politics and face imprisonment.
    On Myanmar’s border with Thailand, hundreds of people who have fled towns and cities are sheltering in areas controlled by ethnic insurgents, an official from the Karen National Union (KNU) said.
    They included strike leaders, government staff, deserters from the police and military, and MPs from the ousted government, said Padoh Saw Taw Nee, whose KNU has been fighting the Myanmar army for decades.
    Thai authorities were bracing for a surge of refugees and have set aside areas to shelter more than 43,000 people in Mae Sot district, according to plans seen by Reuters.
    The United Nations food agency said this week that rising prices of food and fuel meant many poor families faced shortages and hunger.
    “Whatever happens in Myanmar over coming months, the economy will collapse, leaving tens of millions in dire straits and needing urgent protection,” historian and author Thant Myint-U said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Clarence Fernandez and Angus MacSwan)

3/18/2021 Armenian Leader, In Standoff With Army, Announces Early Election On June 20
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan greets his supporters during a rally in
Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia March 1, 2021. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia will hold an early parliamentary election on June 20, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan announced on Thursday, indicating a potential path out of a political crisis that has pit him against the army.
    Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since last November when he agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting in which ethnic Armenians lost territory to Azeri forces in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    “Based on discussions I have had with Armenia’s president, the ‘My Step’ faction and with the leader of the Bright Armenia faction… special parliamentary elections will be held on June 20…” Pashinyan wrote on Facebook.
    The army told Pashinyan to quit on Feb. 25, prompting the prime minister to sack the chief of the army’s general staff.    Armenia’s president, whose role is largely ceremonial, declined to approve the army chief’s dismissal, and the general’s lawyer said on Thursday he remained in his post.
    Pashinyan, who was swept to power by protests in 2018, has been under fire since the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, seen as a fiasco for ethnic Armenian forces.
    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated by ethnic Armenians, who had held full control there and across a swathe of surrounding territory since a war in the 1990s.
    Pashinyan said he had been compelled to agree to the peace deal to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Alison Williams, Gareth Jones and Peter Graff)

3/18/2021 Unlikely Allies Russia And U.S. Push Afghan Enemies To Accept Interim Government by Charlotte Greenfield and Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in
Kabul, Afghanistan March 15, 2021. Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Russia hosts a summit on Thursday to revive the Afghan peace process, the first in a series of meetings that make unlikely allies of Washington and Moscow as they try to pave the way for an interim government in Kabul and end the bloodshed.
    The United States is shifting the focus from largely stalled negotiations in Qatar’s capital to meetings among key regional countries aimed at pushing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Taliban insurgents and other Afghan political leaders to form a transitory government as soon as possible.
    The Moscow meeting will include U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and representatives from Pakistan and China, according to officials.    A team of Afghan political leaders and government representatives and a Taliban delegation will also attend.
    Khalilzad has been trying to drum up support for a written proposal that includes an interim government and ceasefire, as U.S. President Joe Biden reviews plans for Afghanistan ahead of a May 1 troop withdrawal deadline agreed with the Taliban by the Trump administration.
    The Moscow gathering will be followed by a meeting of regional players in the first week of April in Turkey and a summit that Khalilzad has asked the United Nations to organise, styled on a 2001 conference in the German city of Bonn.
    It was there that Afghan leaders met to set up a provisional administration after the Islamist Taliban was ousted by local forces backed by the U.S. military.
    Some diplomats and experts said that for the renewed peace push to succeed, Washington must align itself with countries including Russia, China and Iran, with which it has strained relations.
    Both Russia and the United States support the idea of an interim government, said a diplomatic source whose country will be present in Moscow, which could pressure Afghan leaders to give ground while Pakistan leans on the Taliban to do the same.
    “If they are working together it is very possible to bring this war to an end,” the source said, adding the main hurdle was any lingering mistrust between Moscow and Washington.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the meeting in Russia complemented the Doha process and that Washington was engaging with regional countries, though believed the peace process should be “Afghan-led, Afghan-owned at its core.”
    “We have never sought to be prescriptive.    Rather we are encouraging the sides to accelerate the peace process and make progress toward a political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire,” the spokesperson said.
MUTUAL SUSPICION, CHALLENGES AHEAD
    The warring Afghan sides have yet to reach a peace deal amid mutual suspicion and ongoing violence in Afghanistan which the government largely blames on the Taliban.
    The Islamist militant movement sees Ghani as a lackey of the West and insists remaining foreign troops leave the country.
    Iran, which borders Afghanistan, is not attending the Moscow meeting.    The source said Tehran had communicated it would accept an interim government so long as it had representation from minority ethnic groups that have historic ties with Iran.
    Iranian officials and Russia’s foreign ministry could not be immediately reached for comment.
    Three diplomatic sources and one international official said that traditional U.S. partners including European and NATO nations felt sidelined by Washington’s regional push.
    Some experts said that, although talks in Doha had struggled to make headway since starting in September, peace negotiations tend to take time.
    “They’re scrambling as if they need to fix a broken process, but it’s barely even started,” said Andrew Watkins, senior Afghanistan analyst at International Crisis Group.
    There are also concerns among some officials over whether an interim government – which Ghani has vehemently opposed and the Taliban have said they would not join – is feasible.
    A Taliban leader said they would avoid joining an interim government, although they would support replacing Ghani’s administration. He added that they had refused a request to allow U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan after April.
    A Taliban spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Three more diplomatic sources familiar with the discussions said Ghani was under intense pressure from the United States to accept an interim government.
    Key to the Taliban, a separate source familiar with negotiations said, was an Islamic jurisprudence council that would oversee the president.    They also wanted half of government positions and the chance to nominate a president.
    A spokesman for Ghani’s office denied any pressure, saying the leader had a respectful working relationship with the United States and that no amount of pressure would lead him to accept an unelected interim government.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Rupam Jain in New Delhi, Alexander Cornwell in Dubai, Jonathan Landay in Washington and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan and Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Mike Collett-White/Mark Heinrich)

3/18/2021 Russia Hopes For Progress As U.S. Joins Afghan Peace Talks In Moscow
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivers a speech at the Afghan peace conference
in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said it hoped international talks in Moscow on Thursday would breathe new life into the Afghan peace process, after a high-level U.S. official joined the Russian-hosted talks for the first time.
    The talks, which also include representatives of Pakistan and China, are designed to give a boost to negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha, stalled lately by government accusations that the insurgents have done too little to halt violence.
    “We regret that so far the efforts to launch a political process in Doha have yet to yield a positive result,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in his opening remarks at the talks.    “We hope today’s talks will facilitate the creation of conditions to achieve progress in intra-Afghan negotiations.”
    U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s presence was a sign of Washington’s increasing effort to attract support among regional powers for its plans for Afghanistan, where it has agreed to withdraw its forces after nearly 20 years.
    Khalilzad has been trying to drum up backing for a proposal that includes an interim government and ceasefire, as President Joe Biden reviews plans ahead of a May 1 deadline to withdraw troops agreed under his predecessor Donald Trump.
    There was no immediate indication whether the U.S. participation at the talks would be affected by a separate announcement from Moscow that it was withdrawing its ambassador from Washington for consultations, following an interview in which Biden criticised President Vladimir Putin.
    Moscow, which fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s, has hosted talks among Afghan sides and regional powers since 2017.    Previously, Washington had largely kept its distance from the so-called “Moscow Format.”
    Arkady Dubnov, a Russian political analyst, said Khalilzad’s participation would bolster Moscow’s role, and “should, according to the Russian leadership, highlight that a settlement is impossible without Russia.”
    Nevertheless, an immediate breakthrough is unlikely, given the distance between the Afghan sides, said Andrew Watkins, Senior Analyst for Afghanistan at International Crisis Group.    President Ashraf Ghani objects to an interim government and the Taliban have said they will not join one.
    “The Taliban and the Afghan government, in particular President Ghani and his senior officials, have just as much reason to resist,” Watkins said.
    The Moscow gathering will be followed by a meeting of regional players in Turkey next month and a summit that Khalilzad has asked the United Nations to organise.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Peter)

3/18/2021 WHO Allows China To Bar U.S. Scientists From COVID Probe, Gives China More Control Over Int’l Panel; Australia Leads Own Probe Saying WHO Is Biased by OAN Newsroom
This photograph taken on March 5, 2021 shows the sign of the World Health Organization (WHO)
at their headquarters in Geneva amid the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The World Health Organization has authorized China to effectively bar American scientists from the probe into the origins of COVID-19. According to the Wall Street Journal on Thursday, the WHO has allowed Chinese officials to determine which American scientists can join the international probe into COVID’s origins.
    The WHO said none of the scientists recommended by the HHS were approved to join the probe so far.    Meanwhile, Australia has been leading its own investigation.
    “50 percent of the members of this panel were put there by the Chinese government,” Flinders University Prof. Nikolai Petrovsky said.    “And given we know that some of the international members of the panel are quite parochial and supportive of China, I think we can assume that China, in fact, were confident that they had the majority of panel members on their side, which meant the panel only trumped findings that were agreed to by the Chinese government.    And again that’s not an independent panel.”

    China has also accused American and Australian scientists of “misinformation” on every occasion they have questioned Beijing’s narrative about COVID-19.

3/19/2021 Taliban Insist On Islamic System For Afghanistan And Sticking To Troop Withdrawal Deadline
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members
attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Taliban on Friday pushed back against major regional players at a conference in Moscow who said Afghanistan should not return to being an Islamic emirate, and it warned the United States against keeping troops in Afghanistan beyond their agreed withdrawal date.
    At a summit in Moscow on Thursday, six weeks ahead of a deadline set last year for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan called on the warring Afghan sides to agree on an immediate ceasefire.
    In a joint statement they added that they “did not support the restoration of the Islamic Emirate.”
    But Taliban political spokesman Mohammad Naeem, speaking to media in Moscow on Friday, said that it was up to the Afghan sides to decide their system of governance and that it should be an Islamic system.
    “What is stated in the declaration is against all principles and is not acceptable,” he said.
    A member of the Taliban’s political office, Suhail Shaheen, said negotiations should be sped up and said Washington should not keep troops in the country beyond their agreed withdrawal date.
    “After that, it will be a violation of the agreement.    That violation will not be from our side but it will be from their side.    So in that case if there is action, of course, there will be reaction,” he said.
    The Moscow conference aimed to shake up the largely stalled negotiations which have been held between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha.
    “We expressed our readiness to accelerate the (peace) process,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, told Russia’s RIA news agency.
    The conference will be followed by another summit in Turkey next month.
    “We encouraged delegations representing the Islamic Republic and the Taliban…to prepare for and attend a leaders’ meeting in Istanbul in early April, the next critical milestone in the peace process,” U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad wrote on Twitter, adding that Thursday’s meeting had been “productive diplomacy.”
    The Moscow conference was the first time the United States had sent a senior representative to talks on Afghanistan under a format launched by Russia in 2017.
    Washington agreed last year with the Taliban to withdraw its troops by May 1 after nearly two decades, but President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing its plans for Afghanistan and says all options remain on the table.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Andrew Osborn and Hameed Farzad; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Tom Balmforth, Peter Graff and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/19/2021 Myanmar Security Forces Kill Nine As Indonesia, Envoys Call For End To Violence
Riot police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Security forces killed at least nine opponents of Mynamar’s military junta on Friday, a funeral service and media said, as Southeast Asian countries urged an end to the violence and Western ambassadors condemned what they called the army’s “immoral, indefensible” actions.
    Police and soldiers have used increasingly harsh tactics to suppress demonstrations since the military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup on Feb.1. But crowds of protesters turned out again on Friday.
    Security forces opened fire in the central town of Aungban as they tried to clear a protesters’ barricade, media and a witness reported.
    “Security forces came to remove barriers but the people resisted and they fired,” the witness, who declined to be identified, said by
    An official with Aungban’s funerary service told Reuters eight people were killed, seven on the spot and one wounded person who died after being taken to hospital.
    The spokesman for the junta was not immediately available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.
    One protester was killed in the northeastern town of Loikaw, the Myanmar Now news portal said.    One person was shot and killed in Myanmar’s main city Yangon, social media posts showed.    Reuters could not confirm that death.
    Police ordered people in some Yangon neighbourhoods to dismantle barricades and have been hunting for protest leaders, residents said. Parts of Yangon are under martial law.
    Demonstrators were also out in the second city of Mandalay, the central towns of Myingyan and Katha, and Myawaddy in the east, witnesses and media reported.
    Ambassadors of Western countries condemned the violence as “immoral and indefensible,” in particular in Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar industrial district, where dozens were killed over several days after Chinese-owned garment factories were torched last weekend.
    “Internet blackouts and suppression of the media will not hide the military’s abhorrent actions,” they said in a statement.
    The total number of people killed in weeks of unrest has risen to at least 234, based on a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
    The army has defended its takeover, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov. 8 election swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party were ignored by the electoral commission.    It has promised a new election but not set a date.
    Suu Kyi, 75, faces accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted.    Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.    The Nobel peace laureate, who has campaigned for democracy in Myanmar for three decades, is being held at an undisclosed location.
‘NO MORE VICTIMS’
    Stepping up the international pressure on the generals, Indonesian President Joko Widodo called for an end to the bloodshed.
    In some of the strongest comments yet by a regional leader on the crackdown, Jokowi, as the president he is known, said he would ask Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the current chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to call an urgent meeting.
    “Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims,” Jokowi said in a virtual address.
    “The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority.    Indonesia also urges dialogue, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy, to restore peace and to restore stability in Myanmar.”
    Brunei’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Backing Indonesia’s call for a meeting, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against unarmed civilians in Myanmar.
    “The military leadership in Myanmar is strongly urged to change its course, and choose a path towards peaceful solutions,” Muhyiddin said in a statement.
    Philippine foreign minister Teodoro Locsin said on Twitter that ASEAN “has to act.    Because passivity is complicity; and silence gives consent.”
    The 10 ASEAN countries have long held to the principle of not commenting on each other’s internal affairs, but the Myanmar crisis seems to be forcing a reassessment of that.
    The coup leader, General Min Aung Hlaing, took part in a video conference with regional defence chiefs on Thursday, his first international engagement since seizing power.
    At the meeting, the head of Indonesia’s armed forces, Hadi Tjahjanto, expressed concern over the Myanmar situation, the Indonesian military said.
    Singapore’s military chief, Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong, also expressed “grave concern” and urged Myanmar to avoid lethal force, the Singapore defence ministry said.
INTERNET RESTRICTIONS
    Three international aid agencies criticised the military for occupying educational facilities and hospitals.    More than 60 schools and universities had been taken over, a serious violation of children’s rights, Save the Children, UNESCO and UNICEF said in a joint statement.
    Teachers were beaten in at least one incident, they said.
    Authorities have tightened restricted on internet services, making information increasingly difficult to verify, and also clamped down on private media.
    The U.N. human rights office said this week about 37 journalists had been arrested so far.    Two more were detained in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Friday while covering a hearing for an arrested member of Suu Kyi’s party, said the Mizzima news portal, the former employer of one of them, Than Htike Aung.
    The other detained reporter was Aung Thura of the British Broadcasting Corp.    The BBC said they were taken away by unidentified men and it called on authorities to help find its accredited journalist and confirm he was safe.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Frances Kerry and Angus MacSwan)

3/19/2021 U.S., Chinese Diplomats Clash In First High-Level Meeting Of Biden Administration by Humeyra Pamuk, Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (2nd R), joined by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), speaks while facing Yang Jiechi (2nd L),
director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office, and Wang Yi (L), China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister, at the opening
session of US-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – The first high-level U.S.-China meeting of the Biden administration got off to a fiery start on Thursday, with both sides leveling sharp rebukes of the others’ policies in a rare public display that underscored the level of bilateral tension.
    The run-up to the talks in Anchorage, Alaska, which followed visits by U.S. officials to allies Japan and South Korea, was marked by a flurry of moves by Washington that showed it was taking a tough stance, and by blunt talk from Beijing.
    “We will … discuss our deep concerns with actions by China, including in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan, cyber attacks on the United States, economic coercion of our allies,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Chinese counterparts in a highly unusual extended back-and-forth in front of cameras.
    “Each of these actions threaten the rules-based order that maintains global stability,” he said.
    The Biden administration has made clear that it is looking for a change in behavior from China, which has expressed hope to reset relations between the world’s two largest economies that worsened drastically under former President Donald Trump.
    China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi responded with a 15-minute speech in Chinese while the U.S. side awaited translation, lashing out over what he said was the United States’ struggling democracy, poor treatment of minorities, and criticizing its foreign and trade policies.
    “The United States uses its military force and financial hegemony to carry out long-arm jurisdiction and suppress other countries,” said Yang.
    “It abuses so-called notions of national security to obstruct normal trade exchanges, and incite some countries to attack China,” he added.
‘GRANDSTANDING’ AND PROTOCOL BREACHES
    Throughout Yang’s monologue, U.S. National Security Adviser Sullivan and other officials in the delegation passed notes to each other.    At the end, Blinken held journalists in the room so he could respond.
    What is typically a few minutes of opening remarks in front of journalists for such high-level meetings lasted more than an hour, and the two delegations tussled about when media would be ushered out of the room.
    Afterwards, the United States accused China of “grandstanding” while Chinese state media blamed U.S. officials for speaking too long and being “inhospitable.”
    Both sides accused the other of violating diplomatic protocol by speaking too long in opening remarks.
    “The Chinese delegation … seems to have arrived intent on grandstanding, focused on public theatrics and dramatics over substance,” the official told reporters at the Anchorage hotel where the meeting was taking place.
    “Exaggerated diplomatic presentations often are aimed at a domestic audience,” the official added.
    Many netizens on China’s social media said Chinese officials were doing a good job in Alaska, and that the U.S. side lacked sincerity.
    Some even characterized the talks as a “Hongmen Banquet,” referring to an event that took place 2,000 years ago where a rebel leader invited another to a feast with the intention of murdering him.
    Still, the two sides reconvened for another meeting on Thursday evening, and a senior Biden administration official said that the first session was “substantive, serious, and direct,” running well beyond the two hours originally allotted.
    “We used the session, just as we had planned, to outline our interests and priorities, and we heard the same from our Chinese counterparts,” the official said in the pool report, adding that a third session of talks was scheduled for Friday morning.
    While much of Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented under Trump, his administration has so far placed a stronger emphasis on democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China.
    China firmly opposes U.S. interference in what it regards as its internal affairs, issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said it was expecting the United States to brief them about the talks.
TERMS OF DISAGREEMENT
    Washington says Blinken’s Asia tour before the meeting with Chinese officials, as well as U.S. outreach to Europe, India and other partners, shows how the United States has strengthened its hand to confront China since Biden took office in January.
    But the two sides appeared primed to agree on very little at the talks.
    Even the status of the meeting became a sticking point, with China insisting it is a “strategic dialogue,” harkening back to bilateral mechanisms of years past.    The U.S. side rejected that, calling it a one-off session.
    On the eve of the talks, the United States issued a flurry of actions directed at China, including a move to begin revoking Chinese telecoms licenses, subpoenas to multiple Chinese information technology companies over national security concerns, and updated sanctions on China over a rollback of democracy in Hong Kong.
    Adding to tensions, China on Friday tried a Canadian citizen on espionage charges, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
    At the talks on Thursday, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi questioned Blinken about whether the sanctions were announced ahead of the meeting on purpose.
    Washington has said it is willing to work with China when it is in U.S. interests, citing climate policy and the coronavirus pandemic as examples.    Blinken said Washington hoped to see China use its influence with North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons.
    Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said tough statements from both sides in the run-up to the meeting had created a risk that it would devolve into an exchange of accusations and demands.
    “Neither side benefits from this meeting being judged a total failure,” Glaser said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Anchorage and Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis in Washington, and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Mary Milliken, Grant McCool, Tony Munroe, Michael Perry and Kim Coghill)

3/19/2021 U.S.-China High-Level Talks To Wrap Up After Acrimonious Opening by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: The U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken (C) and flanked by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan (R), face their Chinese
counterparts at the opening session of U.S.-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska on March 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS
    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Chinese officials are set to conclude their talks in Alaska on Friday after a dramatic opening round laid bare the depth of tensions between the world’s two largest economies at the outset of the Biden administration.
    The United States accused China of “grandstanding” for its domestic audience, and both sides suggested the other had broken diplomatic protocol.
    The rebukes played out in front of cameras, but a senior U.S. administration official told reporters that as soon as media had left the room, the two sides “immediately got down to business” and held substantive, serious, and direct talks.
    Blinken and Yang, joined by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Chinese State Councilor Wang Yi, have a final session scheduled in Anchorage at around 9 a.m. (1700 GMT).
    While much of President Joe Biden’s China policy is still being formulated, including how to handle the tariffs on Chinese goods implemented by his predecessor Donald Trump, his administration has so far placed a stronger emphasis on democratic values and allegations of human rights abuses by China.
    “I am very proud of the secretary of state,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Friday morning when asked about the previous day’s meeting.
    In recent weeks, top Republicans have given a nod to efforts by Biden, a Democrat, to revitalize relations with U.S. allies in order to confront China, a shift from Trump’s go-it-alone ‘America First’ strategy.
    Biden has partially staked his approach on China to rebuilding American domestic competitiveness, and several top Republicans, whose cooperation will be crucial to the success of those plans, backed his administration in the face of the heated exchanges from the first day of talks.
    “I have many policy disagreements with the Biden Administration, but every single American should unite against Beijing’s tyrants,” Republican Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement.
    China’s social media carried comments saying Chinese officials were doing a good job in Alaska, and that the U.S. side lacked sincerity.
    “My sense is that the administration is testing the question of whether it is possible to get real results from these dialogues,” said Zack Cooper, who researches China at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
    Dean Cheng at the conservative Heritage Foundation said China’s global influence had grown to the point where it felt it could openly deride the U.S. system.
    “That is a vision from the Chinese perspective of, ‘you need me, I don’t need you,” Cheng said.
    China on Friday put a Canadian citizen on trial https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2BB00S on spying charges, in a case embroiled in a wider diplomatic spat between Washington and Beijing.
    The Chinese military also banned Tesla cars from entering its housing complexes, citing security concerns over the cameras installed on the vehicles, according to two people who saw notices of the directive.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Anchorage and Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

3/19/2021 North Korea To Sever Ties With Malaysia Over Extradition Of Citizen To U.S. by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: The North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said on Friday it would sever diplomatic relations with Malaysia after the Southeast Asian nation extradited a North Korean man to the United States to face money-laundering charges this week.
    Malaysia denounced North Korea’s move as unwarranted and disruptive to regional peace, adding that the extradition had been carried out according to law.
    North Korea did not name its citizen in a statement carried by state media KCNA, but Malaysia said Mun Chol Myong, who was arrested in 2019, was extradited on Wednesday after he had already exhausted several legal appeals.
    “Malaysia denounces (North Korea’s) decision as unfriendly and unconstructive, disrespecting the spirit of mutual respect and good neighbourly relations among members of the international community,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
    It said Malaysia would close its embassy in Pyongyang in response and order all diplomatic staff at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur to leave the country within 48 hours.
    North Korea’s foreign affairs ministry also warned Washington would “pay a price” in the statement, according to KCNA.
    Mun’s arrest in 2019 came after the United States accused him of laundering funds through front companies and issuing fraudulent documents to support illicit shipments to North Korea. He had denied the allegations, saying they were politically motivated.
    The North Korean foreign ministry had called the extradition a “nefarious act and unpardonably heavy crime” by Malaysian authorities, who had “offered our citizen as a sacrifice of the U.S. hostile move in defiance of the acknowledged international laws.”
    Kuala Lumpur’s once-close ties with North Korea were severely downgraded after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s estranged brother, Kim Jong Nam, was killed at a Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017 when two women smeared his face with VX nerve agent, which the United Nations lists as a weapon of mass destruction.
    Malaysia suspended operation of its embassy in 2017 after it secured the safe return of nine citizens held in Pyongyang in exchange for the release of Kim Jong Nam’s body.
    Despite a promise by Malaysia’s then-premier Mahathir Mohamad during an apparent thaw in diplomatic relations in 2018, the embassy never resumed operations.
    North Korea had used Malaysia as a hub for its arms export operation, and to set up business entities for funneling money to North Korea’s leadership.
    “We warn in advance that the U.S. – the backstage manipulator and main culprit of this incident – that it will also be made to pay a due price,” KCNA reported.
    On Thursday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the administration of President Joe Biden would complete a review of its North Korea policy in the next few weeks in close consultation with allies.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Joseph Sipalan and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by Richard Pullin, Gerry Doyle and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

3/19/2021 Taiwan Says China Bolstering Ability To Attack, Blockade Island by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: AH-64 Apache helicopters fly to location during the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang military
exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China is bolstering its ability to attack and blockade Taiwan, deploying long-range missiles to prevent foreign forces helping in the event of war and using psychological warfare to undermine faith in Taiwan’s military, the island’s defence ministry said.
    The ministry, in its once-every-four-years defence review, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, warned China was deploying “grey zone” warfare tactics to subdue the Chinese-claimed island, seeking to wear Taiwan down with repeated drills and activities near its airspace and waters.
    “China has continued to modernise its military and increase its capability in a war with Taiwan,” it said.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    China views democratic Taiwan as its own territory, and has ramped up military activities in recent months, seeking to assert its sovereignty and express displeasure at Washington’s support for the island.
    The review offered sobering details about the threat Taiwan faces from the world’s largest armed forces.
    It said China was building copies of Taiwanese facilities so it could train to attack them and was conducting landing drills to simulate invading Taiwan.
    China has the ability to partially shut down Taiwan’s key ports and sea routes and cut off sea transport to the island, while its deployment of long-distance missiles is aimed at stopping foreign forces from assisting Taiwan, it said.
    China’s “hostility and threats against us have increased, elevating the risks of an accident and conflict and destroying stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait,” the report said.
    Chinese aircraft, including drones, are flying repeatedly in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone, seeking to wear out Taiwan’s air force, it added.
    China is also spreading “fake news” in Taiwan to try and “damage people’s faith in the country,” the report said.
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said earlier this month that China would resolutely deter any separatist activity seeking Taiwan’s independence.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name, and that she will defend its democracy and sovereignty.
    Tsai is overseeing a military modernization programme, including building submarines, upgrading Taiwan’s air force, and developing long-range missiles of its own.
    But its armed forces are dwarfed by China’s which is adding stealth jets, aircraft carriers and other advanced equipment.
    Taiwan is a key source of tension between Beijing and Washington, the island’s main arms supplier and international backer, and was raised in high-level Sino-U.S. talks in Alaska on Thursday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s government, which took office on Jan. 20, has moved to reassure Taiwan that its commitment to them is “rock solid,” especially after China stepped up its military activity near the island shortly after Biden’s inauguration.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Susan Fenton)

03/20/2021 U.S. Deputy Defense Secy.: China Is Pacing Challenge For Nation’s Military, China Elites Believe Country Can Push U.S. Around Due To Wallstreet, Hunter Biden by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden elbow bumps US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (R) as he arrives to speak during
a visit to the Pentagon in Washington, DC, February 10, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    At a virtual meeting for the National War College on Friday, United States Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said the economic security and governance differences between the U.S. and China have come into sharper focus.    In recent times, she said Beijing has demonstrated increased military confidence and a prominent willingness to take risks.
    “Beijing is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system,” Hicks said.
    She added, the country adopted a more forceful and aggressive approach.    Additionally, in 2020 alone, Beijing escalated tensions between its neighboring countries, including Australia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.    The Pentagon’s No. 2 official urged that the U.S. must invest financially in military capabilities, technologies and operational concepts upheld by the Department of Defense.
    “The PRC’s actions constitute the threat to regional peace and stability,” Hicks noted.    “And to the rules-based international order on which our security and those of our allies depend.”
    This came after Washington’s diplomatic talks with Beijing in Anchorage, Alaska ended Friday.    The meeting showed the U.S.-China relationship is likely to remain challenged under the Biden administration.    Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted the U.S.’s concern of China’s actions in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan as well as the cyberattacks on the United States.
    The foreign affairs commissioner from the Chinese Communist Party struck back and said “the U.S. does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength.”
    “I think really what you’ve got here is a Chinese elite that believes it can push the United States around,” Gordon Chang, author of The Great U.S.-China Tech War, stated.    “We have heard voices from Beijing, especially in November, [say] that they own the Biden administration because of Wall Street and Hunter Biden.    So this is a time where the Chinese attitude can cause great tumult in the world.”

3/20/2021 Fmr Secy. Of State Pompeo Doubtful Of WHO COVID Investigation by OAN Newsroom
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference held
in the Hyatt Regency on February 27, 2021 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    The former secretary of state has called the World Health Organization’s investigation of the coronavirus origins into question. During an interview Friday, Mike Pompeo said it will be important for everyone to look closely at the report when it comes out.
    He added, he’s concerned it won’t reflect what actually took place.    Pompeo went on to point to the declassified intelligence that appears to point to the Wuhan Lab of Virology playing a role in the pandemic.
This aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) on the campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology
in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province.(Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    He also said investigators have not had access to the information they’ve needed to conduct a thorough and accurate report.

3/21/2021 Reports: Japan May Deploy Military To Protect U.S. From China, Tokyo Warns Of Taiwan Tensions, Seeks To Deploy Military Overseas For 1st Time Since 1945 by OAN Newsroom
ARLINGTON, VA – SEPTEMBER 27: A light shines on the seal of the Department of Defense during a briefing at the Pentagon, September 27, 2007 in Arlington, Virginia.
Today was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace’s last official day as Joint Chief Chairman. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
    The Defense Department has agreed to cooperate with Japan in case of Chinese military aggression against Taiwan.    According to Japanese media Sunday, Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin proposed deepening bilateral cooperation during a recent meeting with his Japanese counterpart.
    Reports found Japan could deploy its own military to protect U.S. warships in Taiwan as well as defend the sovereignty of that island nation. Japan has been barred from conducting military missions overseas since 1945.
    However, Tokyo is working to restore its role in global affairs.
    “I presented my strong concern over the increased activities of the China Coastguard recently and their stronger partnership with the military forces,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi stated.    “And this was agreed with all four ministers. We must not allow the Coast Guard law to undermine the legitimate interests of relevant nations including Japan.”
    Japanese officials have opposed any concessions to China that Joe Biden may be willing to give.    Tokyo has strongly urged the U.S. to take a tougher stance on China as well as to stand up to its predatory policies.

3/22/2021 Britain Imposes Sanctions On Chinese Officials, Company Over Xinjiang
FILE PHOTO: A perimeter fence is constructed around what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng
in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. Picture taken September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain imposed sanctions on Monday on four Chinese officials and a construction company over human rights abuses against the mainly Muslim Uighur community in Xinjiang, part of coordinated action by some Western countries to put pressure on Beijing.
    Earlier on Monday, the United States announced sanctions on two more Chinese officials linked to China’s Xinjiang region and the European Union imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials, including a top security director.
    Britain has repeatedly denounced torture, forced labour and sterilisations that it says are taking place against Muslim Uighurs on an “industrial scale” in China’s Xinjiang region and repeated its criticism of Beijing on Monday.
    Activists and U.N. rights experts have said that at least 1 million Muslims are detained in camps in the remote western region.    China denies abuses and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
    “I can tell the House (of Commons) today that I’m designating four senior individuals responsible for the violations that have taken place and persist against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang,” foreign minister Dominic Raab told parliament, adding that a construction company was included in the sanctions.
    Britain imposed sanctions on the same four officials as the EU: Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, the former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.
    They will be subject to an asset freeze, the government said in a statement.
    Beijing responded to the EU by saying it had decided to impose sanctions on 10 EU individuals, including European lawmakers, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body known as the Political and Security Committee and two leading think-tanks in a rare escalation of diplomatic tensions.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Estelle Shirbon/Guy Faulconbridge)

3/22/2021 U.S. Sanctions Two More Chinese Officials Over Alleged Xinjiang Abuses
FILE PHOTO: People take part in a rally to encourage Canada and other countries as they consider labeling China's treatment of its Uighur
population and Muslim minorities as genocide, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., U.S. February 19, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis/
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday announced sanctions on two more Chinese officials in connection with serious human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, where Washington says ethnic Muslims are the victims of genocide.
    The U.S. Treasury Department named the officials as Wang Junzheng, secretary of the Party Committee of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), and Chen Mingguo, director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB).
    The two were targeted under the U.S. Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, it said, adding that the move complemented actions taken by the European Union, Britain and Canada.
    While the actions by the United States and others avoided targeting China’s top leadership, it was the first coordinated move under the Biden administration, which took office in January and has vowed to work closely with allies in pushing back against China.
    The move follows two days of “tough and direct” talks between U.S. and Chinese officials last week in Alaska, which laid bare the depth of tensions between the world’s two largest economies at the outset of the Biden administration.
    “Amid growing international condemnation, (China) continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who took part in last week’s talks, said in a statement while calling on Beijing to end the repression of Uighurs and other minority groups.     Monday’s moves block U.S.-linked assets of the individuals.
    Washington imposed sanctions on Xinjiang’s Communist Party Secretary Chen Quanguo, a member of China’s powerful Politburo, and five other officials in July, when it also targeted the XPSB and the XPCC.
    “Chinese authorities will continue to face consequences as long as atrocities occur in Xinjiang,” Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in a statement.
    “Treasury is committed to promoting accountability for the Chinese government’s human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention and torture, against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities,” she said.
    The Treasury statement said the XPSB had used repressive tactics against the Uighurs and members of other ethnic minorities in the region, including mass detentions and surveillance since at least 2016.
    “Targets of this surveillance are often detained and reportedly subjected to various methods of torture and political reeducation,” it said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu, David Brunnstrom and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

3/22/2021 Several Dead, Thousands Of Homes Burn As Fire Sweeps Rohingya Camp: Witnesses by Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson
Smoke billows at the site of the Rohingya refugee camp where fire broke out in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    DHAKA (Reuters) – A huge fire swept through a Rohingya refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Monday, destroying thousands of homes and killing several people, officials and witnesses said, in the worst blaze to hit the settlement in recent years.
    Video and photographs showed a blaze ripping through the Balukhali camp in Cox’s Bazar.    Black smoke billowed over burning shanties and tents as people scrambled to recover their possessions.
    “Fire services, rescue and response teams and volunteers are at the scene to try to control the fire and prevent it spreading further,” said Louise Donovan, spokesperson for U.N. refugee agency UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar.
    Mohammed Shamsud Douza, the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of refugees, said authorities were trying to control the blaze.
    Rohingya refugees in the camps said many homes were burned down and several people had died, but neither the authorities nor the UNHCR could confirm the number of deaths.    The cause of the blaze has not been established.
    More than a million Rohingya live in the camps in southern Bangladesh, the vast majority having fled Myanmar in 2017 from a military-led crackdown that U.N. investigators said was executed with “genocidal intent,” charges Myanmar denies.
    Zaifur Hussein, a 50-year-old refugee who escaped the fire but lost his home and was sheltering with friends, said he believed dozens may have been killed and that fencing around the camps made it difficult to flee.
    “When we were in Myanmar we faced lots of problems… they destroyed everything,” he said.    “Now it has happened again.”
    Snigdha Chakraborty, the Bangladesh director for Catholic Relief Services, said she was worried about the lack of medical facilities in the area.
    “Medical facilities are basic and burns require sophisticated treatment, plus hospital beds are already partly taken up with COVID-19 patients,” she said.    “Most likely there will be fatalities because the fire is so large.”
    A Rohingya leader in Cox’s Bazar, a sliver of land bordering Myanmar in southeastern Bangladesh, said he saw several dead bodies.
    “Thousand of huts were totally burned down,” Mohammed Nowkhim told Reuters.
    Another large blaze tore through the camp in January, destroying homes but causing no casualties.
    The risk of fire in the densely populated camps is high, and Monday’s blaze was the largest yet, said Onno Van Manen, Country Director of Save the Children in Bangladesh.
    “It is another devastating blow to the Rohingya refugees who live here.    Just a couple of days ago we lost one of our health facilities in another fire,” he said.
    The UNHCR said humanitarian partners had mobilised hundreds of volunteers from nearby camps for the support operation, as well as fire safety vehicles and equipment.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mike Collett-White)

3/22/2021 USTR Says Tai, UK’s Truss Discussed Trade Talks, China, Aircraft Dispute
FILE PHOTO: Katherine C. Tai addresses the Senate Finance committee hearings to examine her nomination to be United States
Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador, in Washington, DC February 25, 2021. Bill O'Leary/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai discussed with her British counterpart her ongoing review of previous U.S.-UK trade negotiations during the Trump administration and cooperating to jointly address unfair trade practices of China and other non-market economies, USTR said in a statement.
    Tai and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss “also agreed to partner on key issues, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, resolving the large civil aircraft subsidies dispute, WTO reform, climate change, forced labor and support for a worker-centered trade policy.”
(Reporting by David Lawder)

3/22/2021 U.S. Trade Chief Tai Focused On USMCA, China Ties In First Trade Calls by David Lawder and Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: Katherine C. Tai addresses the Senate Finance committee hearings to examine her nomination to be United States
Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador, in Washington, DC February 25, 2021. Bill O'Leary/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai hit the ground running on Monday after being sworn in as President Joe Biden’s top trade negotiator last week, making initial calls to her counterparts in Canada and Britain.
    Tai is also due to speak with her counterpart from the European Union, which is hoping for a reset in ties with the United States after four years of tariffs and tensions under the Trump administration.
    Tai agreed with Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, to pursue a ministerial-level meeting of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement’s governing body, including Mexico’s trade minister, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office (USTR) said in a statement.
    Both officials committed to future engagement on shared priorities, including recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate and environmental issues, forced labor and reform at the World Trade Organization, USTR said in a statement.
    The two officials also discussed the importance of fully implementing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact and building a partnership that advances racial equity and supports underserved communities, USTR said.
    China was a key topic in Tai’s call with British trade minister Liz Truss, USTR and Truss’s office said, USTR said the two officials agreed to “work constructively to address unfair trade practices of non-market economies, such as China,” including looking at issues such as use of forced labor.
    The two officials “resolved that the UK and US will collaborate to address our shared concerns, including on serious issues such as forced labor, at the G7 and WTO,” according to the UK statement.
    USTR said they also agreed to work together on other key issues, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing a longstanding dispute over aircraft subsidies, reforming the World Trade Organization and climate change, it said.
    Tai discussed her ongoing review of U.S.-U.K. talks about a free trade agreement conducted under the former Trump administration.    The two officials agreed to continue discussions at the Group of Seven (G7) Trade Ministerial meeting in March.    Britain is leading the G7 this year.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

3/22/2021 EU, China Impose Tit-For-Tat Sanctions Over Xinjiang Abuses by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng
in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 4, 2018. Picture taken September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union imposed sanctions on Monday on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses in Xinjiang, to which Beijing responded with its own sanctions on Europeans.
    Unlike the United States, the EU has sought to avoid confrontation with Beijing, but a decision to impose the first significant sanctions since an EU arms embargo in 1989 following the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy crackdown indicates a change in posture.
    The Netherlands summoned China’s ambassador to The Hague after Beijing announced its measures on 10 Europeans, while the European Parliament, along with German and Belgian and other foreign ministers, rejected the Chinese retaliation.
    Accused of mass detentions of Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China, those targeted by the EU included Chen Mingguo, the director of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau.    The EU said Chen was responsible for “serious human rights violations.”
    In its Official Journal, the EU accused Chen of “arbitrary detentions and degrading treatment inflicted upon Uighurs and people from other Muslim ethnic minorities, as well as systematic violations of their freedom of religion or belief.”
    Others hit with travel bans and asset freezes were: senior Chinese officials Wang Mingshan and Wang Junzheng, the former deputy party secretary in Xinjiang, Zhu Hailun, and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Public Security Bureau.
    However, the EU did not designate the top official in Xinjiang, Chen Quanguo, who is targeted by U.S. sanctions.
    Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims are being detained in camps in the remote western region of Xinjiang.    The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations. China denies rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
    Beijing’s retaliation included sanctions on European lawmakers, the EU’s main foreign policy decision-making body known as the Political and Security Committee and two institutes.
    German politician Reinhard Butikofer, who chairs the European Parliament’s delegation to China, was among the most high-profile figures to be hit.    The non-profit Alliance of Democracies Foundation, founded by former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen, was on the list, according to a statement by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    “As long as human rights are being violated, I cannot stay silent. These sanctions prove that China is sensitive to pressure.    Let this be an encouragement to all my European colleagues: Speak out!” Dutch lawmaker Sjoerd Sjoerdsma, who was put on China’s sanctions list, said on Twitter.
    Restricted from entering China or doing business with it, Beijing accused them of seriously harming the country’s sovereignty and interests over Xinjiang.    China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged the EU to “correct its mistake” and not to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
    While mainly symbolic, the EU sanctions mark a significant hardening in the bloc’s policy towards China, which Brussels long regarded as a benign trading partner but now views as a systematic abuser of basic rights and freedoms.
    The EU had not sanctioned China significantly since 1989 although it targeted two computer hackers and a technology firm in 2020 as part of broader cyber sanctions.    The arms embargo is still in place.
    All 27 EU governments agreed to the punitive measures, but Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called them “harmful” and “pointless.”
    China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States and Beijing is both a big market and a major investor which has courted poorer and central European states.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, Sabine Siebold in Berlin; editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool)

3/22/2021 Armenia General Staff Issues Statement In Name Of Army Chief Chosen By Embattled PM
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is pictured during an interview with Reuters
in Yerevan, Armenia October 13, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s general staff issued a statement on Monday describing a general chosen by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan as chief of the army, after weeks of dispute over the military’s leadership, Interfax news agency reported.
    Pashinyan, whose political future has been in doubt since ethnic Armenian forces lost territory in a conflict with Azerbaijan last year, has spent weeks trying to unseat army chief Onik Gasparyan, who had called on the prime minister to quit.
    Interfax news agency reported on Monday that the general staff press office had issued a statement describing Artak Davtyan, the general chosen by Pashinyan, as the army chief.
    “Armenia’s armed forces will remain neutral on political issues, guided solely by its obligation to ensure the defence, security, territorial integrity and the inviolability of its borders as required by the constitution,” Davtyan was quoted as saying in the statement.
    Davtyan referred directly to the dispute that had arisen since Gasparyan called for the government to resign, saying it had now “received its resolution, and existing disagreements had moved into the legal sphere
    Gasparyan has called Pashinyan’s attempt to fire him illegal, as the country’s largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, had refused to endorse it.
    On Monday, Pashinyan said the appointment of a new chief of staff had come into force by default, because the president had failed to challenge it in court in time.
    Gasparyan has yet to accept his dismissal.    Armenian news website Aysor.am quoted a lawyer for Gasparyan, Artur Hovhannisyan, as saying Pashinyan had ignored the courts, and a criminal complaint would now be filed against the prime minister.
    There was no immediate reply to an email seeking comment from the president’s office.
    Pashinyan has faced calls to resign since last November when he agreed to a Russian-brokered ceasefire that halted six weeks of fighting in which ethnic Armenians lost territory to Azeri forces in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Pashinyan is set to represent his party at parliamentary elections in June, the TASS news agency cited Justice Minister Rustam Badasyan as saying.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Dmitry Antonov; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Tom Balmforth and Peter Graff)

3/22/2021 Indian Border State Pushes Prime Minister Modi To Do More In Myanmar by Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: An Indian national flag flies next to an immigration check post on the India-Myanmar border in Zokhawthar village
in Champhai district of India's northeastern state of Mizoram, India, March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An Indian border state, into which more than 1,000 people from Myanmar have sought refuge, is pushing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to engage with representatives of the southeast Asian country’s ousted elected government.
    By calling for the restoration of democracy but unwilling to openly condemn the military, which staged a coup on Feb. 1, India’s federal government has taken a cautious approach towards Myanmar despite an escalation in violence.
    But the chief minister of the northeastern state of Mizoram said on Sunday that he had held talks with a member of a committee of ousted lawmakers in Myanmar, which is attempting to reestablish the civilian government.
    “Our thoughts and prayers are with #Myanmar in these trying times,” Chief Minister Zoramthanga, who uses only one name, wrote in a tweet, after talking online with Zin Mar Aung, who has been named by the lawmakers’ committee as its foreign minister.
    Mizoram shares close ties with parts of Myanmar.    Many of the people who have sought shelter in the remote Indian state since late February are defecting policemen and their families.
    A group of officials from Mizoram also held meetings with India’s federal home ministry last week, asking New Delhi to help people fleeing Myanmar and urging the government to assist the pro-democracy movement.
    “We have to help them in the time of need,” Mizoram lawmaker K. Vanlalvena, who attended the meetings, said in an interview.
    “We asked the Indian government to involve (itself) more in the local politics of Myanmar.”
    India’s home ministry had previously directed border states to stop the influx from Myanmar and deport those who had crossed over.
    The home and foreign ministries did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
    At least 250 people have been killed and thousands detained in Myanmar since Feb. 1, with security forces attempting to stamp out widespread pro-democracy protests.
    The junta has previously said it only uses force when necessary.    It has also said the takeover was necessary because a Nov. 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was fraudulent, an accusation rejected by the electoral commission.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Jonathan Oatis)

3/23/2021 Expert: COVID-19 Likely A Result Of Chinese Bioweapons Program by OAN Newsroom
The view shows the P4 laboratory building at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan
in China’s central Hubei province on May 13, 2020. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    A prominent scientist said it is highly likely that COVID-19 is a Chinese bioweapon that was developed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
    According to David Asher of Hudson Institute, COVID-19 could have emerged as part of China’s military program to develop a universal antidote to bioweapons.
    He added, Russia based its own COVID-19 vaccine on the “adenovirus” research while China may have had the vaccine before it had the virus.
    “There was adenovirus present in the sequences that were posted in Europe publicly,” Hudson Institute Senior Fellow and Former State Department Investigator David Asher said.    “Adenovirus means that there was a vaccine present for COVID-19. Whether they were developing this vaccine — if it exists — as an antidote, [is] hard to know.”
    Asher stressed how the early cluster of infections at the Wuhan Lab suggests China may have run an illegal bioweapons program there.    He called for an unbiased international probe into all of this evidence.

3/24/2021 Biden Laughs When Asked About North Korea Missile Launch by OAN Newsroom
A man wearing a face mask stands near TV screens showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s missiles with file images at an
electronic shop in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. North Korea fired short-range missiles this past weekend, just days after
the sister of Kim Jong Un threatened the United States and South Korea for holding joint military exercises. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
    Joe Biden appeared to brush off concerns following a recent missile test from Pyongyang.    While returning to the White House Tuesday night, he was asked to comment on North Korea’s launch of two short-range missiles over the weekend.
    The demonstration is the first launch from the socialist nation since Biden took office and was reportedly in response to the latest military drills between the U.S. and South Korea.
    Biden’s dismissal came even after the Kim Jong-un regime gave him the cold-shoulder when he tried to reach out for talks.    North Korean officials said Washington should seek meaningful de-escalation.

3/24/22021 Biden Admin. Takes ‘Wait And See’ Approach To China Trade by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a media conference with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
at EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, March 24, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP)
    According to Joe Biden’s secretary of state, the administration will not push China to hold up its side of a recent trade agreement with the European Union.
    After a meeting with NATO foreign ministers Wednesday, Antony Blinken asserted the U.S. will not force allies into a “us or them choice” when it comes to China despite saying the communist country is a threat to the west.
    While highlighting so-called climate change, however, Blinken said countries should work with China where possible.    In the meantime, he said he U.S. will wait to see whether China will open its economy up to Europe as well as follow international labor laws.
    “Our judgement is that the onus is really going to be on China to demonstrate that the pledges it has made on forced labor, on state-owned enterprises, on subsidies are not just talk,” stated the secretary of state.    “And that the Chinese government will follow through on the commitments that it has made, so I suspect that not only will we be looking into that, but so will the European Union.”
    Blinken’s comments come amid a wave of criticism against the Biden administration for seemingly backing down to China following talks with trade officials in Alaska.

3/24/2021 Myanmar Military Frees Hundreds Of Detained Protesters, Child Victim Buried
Protesters detained by police during the anti-coup demonstrations pose after being released
at Tamwe township police station in Yangon, Myanmar, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ruling junta on Wednesday freed hundreds of people arrested in its crackdown on protests against the overthrow of the elected government, while businesses in Yangon were shut and streets deserted in a strike called by anti-coup activists.
    Several buses full of prisoners drove out of Yangon’s Insein Prison in the morning, lawyers and other witnesses said.    There was no word from authorities on how many prisoners were freed.    A spokesman for the military did not answer calls.
    “All the released are the ones arrested due to the protests, as well as night arrests or those who were out to buy something,” said a member of a legal advisory group who said he saw about 15 buses leaving.
    Among those freed was Thein Zaw, a journalist for The Associated Press who was arrested last month, AP reported, quoting him as saying the judge had dropped the charges.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 2,000 people have been arrested in the military crackdown on protests that broke out following the coup on Feb. 1.
    It was not clear what prompted the junta to release the detainees, although it has faced repeated calls from foreign governments and organisations to do so.
    In New York, the United Nations’ spokesman noted the reports of the releases but said it was still concerned about continuing arbitary arrests.
    Farhan Haq also called for the release of all detainees, including the deposed President U Win Myint and Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the civilian government and Myanmar’s most popular political figure.
    At least 275 people have been killed as the security forces employed lethal force to quell the unrest, according to the AAPP.    Five more people were wounded in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, after nightfall on Wednesday, Myanmar Now media outlet reported.
    It quoted residents saying security forces started shooting after people banged pots and pans in an act of opposition to the military.
    Earlier in Mandalay, the funeral took place of a seven-year-old girl killed on Tuesday – the youngest known victim of the crackdown.    Soldiers shot at her father in their home but hit the girl, Khin Myo Chit, who was sitting on his lap, Myanmar Now reported.
    On Tuesday night, soldiers raided the family home in Chanmyathazi township, apparently to take away the child’s body, but the family had already gone into hiding with the corpse, Myanmar Now said.
    “They broke down the doors and ransacked the house,” her sister May Thu was quoted as saying.    “We were on the run because we were afraid they would come and take her body.”
    Khin Myo Chit was buried at a Muslim cemetery with just a few close relatives present. The military has not commented on the incident.
    The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said the security forces’ tactics were taking a devastating toll on children, with at least 23 killed and 11 others seriously injured since the crisis began.
    “Terror is not democracy” the U.S. Embassy said in Twitter post condemning the deaths of children.
SUU KYI COURT HEARING POSTPONED
    The junta has faced international condemnation for staging the coup that halted Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy and for its deadly suppression of dissent.
    It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission has rejected.    Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
    Opponents of military rule have regularly called for strikes and parts of the economy have been paralysed by a civil disobedience campaign, including among civil servants.
    Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been cooked up to discredit her.
    She was due to appear at another court hearing via video conference on Wednesday, but the head of her legal team Khin Maung Zaw said it had been postponed until April 1, the second successive delay due to internet issues.
    In Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub and former capital, a call by pro-democracy activists for a silent strike left the streets eerily quiet.
    “No going out, no shops, no working.    All shut down. Just for one day,” Nobel Aung, an illustrator and activist, told Reuters.
    “The usual meat and vegetable vendors on the street didn’t show up,” said a resident in Mayangone district.    “No car noises, only birds.”
    The scale of the protests has dropped in recent days but activists have called for a big demonstration on Thursday.
    “The strongest storm comes after the silence,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said in a social media post.
    In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council reiterated that all those responsible for crimes and human rights violations throughout Myanmar, including arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearances and the use of force must be held to account.
    It called on the Myanmar authorities to grant free and unrestricted access for U.N. monitors.
    Myanmar’s deputy foreign minister Kyaw Myo Htut said in a speech that the government was trying to maintain stability by showing restraint in the face of violent demonstrations.
    He criticised European Union sanctions imposed on officials linked to the coup, saying the bloc should avoid increasing tensions and complicating the situation.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff, Writing by Angus MacSwan, Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Mike Collett-White, Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/24/2021 U.S., EU To Cooperate On China Dialogue, Russia Challenge: Statement
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell hold
a joint news conference in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Europe have agreed to relaunch a bilateral dialogue on China and work together to address Russia’s “challenging behavior,” according to a statement Wednesday from U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the EU high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.
    “They acknowledged a shared understanding that relations with China are multifaceted, comprising elements of cooperation, competition, and systemic rivalry,” the statement said.    Among other issues the two ministers discussed during their meeting in Brussels were cooperation on climate action, coronavirus vaccines, Iran and Turkey.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Eric Beech; Editing by Leslie Adler)

3/24/2021 Aid Workers Struggle To Reunite Rohingya Children Separated By Deadly Fire by Ruma Paul
Fire is seen at the Rohingya refugee camp where a massive fire broke out two days ago and destroyed
thousands of shelters in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Aid workers searched on Wednesday to reunite Rohingya Muslim families separated when a huge fire swept through the world’s biggest refugee settlement in Bangladesh, forcing about 45,000 people from their bamboo and plastic homes.
    The blaze, the latest and biggest over the past year in the crowded camps in southeast Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, killed 15 people on Monday with hundreds missing, the United Nations said.
    Bangladeshi authorities say they are investigating the cause.
    Some 1 million Rohingya refugees live in camps in Cox’s Bazar with little hope of returning to their homes in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most have been refused citizenship and face persecution.
    Ayesha Bibi, 60, was relieved to be reunited with her husband after assuming him dead but said they once again faced ruin.
    “Nothing is left but ashes,” Bibi said.
    “Our home in Myanmar was burned down.    Here also we’re losing our shelter.”
    Bibi and her 85-year-old husband sat under a tarpaulin as aid agencies set up tents in place of their huts.    Nearby, some iron pipes and a boundary wall were all that remained of a camp hospital built with Turkish support.
    Nearby Mohammed Bokheri, 10, was poking through the scorched debris of what was his home, picking over scraps of his half-burned school books.
    “I’m so sad, all my books are ruined,” he said.
‘ANOTHER DISASTER’
    The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said some children were looking for their parents, in another trauma for many of the families that fled from their homes in western Myanmar when the military there launched an offensive against Rohingya insurgents in 2017.
    “This is a very difficult situation and our heart goes out to the thousands of refugees who have yet met another disaster,” UNHCR official Ita Schuette said in a video message posted on Twitter from Cox’s Bazar.
    Witnesses said that barbed wire fencing put up around the camp had trapped many people during the fire.
    International humanitarian agencies have called for the removal of the wire but the deputy Bangladesh government official in charge of the refugees, Mohammad Shamsud Douza, said the fencing was not a major issue.
    “It spread so quickly that some people who could not come out instantly died,” he said, putting the death toll at 11.    “It was not the barbed wire fencing that prevented them from escaping.”
    Citing the overcrowding in the camps thrown up across deforested hills, Bangladesh has been trying to move 100,000 Rohingya to a remote, flood-prone Bay of Bengal island.
    Bangladesh has already transferred more than 13,000 refugees to the Bhasan Char island since December, despite opposition from aid groups and the reluctance of many Rohingya.
    Aid groups say the flood-prone, low-lying island, which only emerged from the see about 20 years ago, risks being overwhelmed by storms and refugees should not be housed there.
    Bangladesh has dismissed safety concerns over the island, and says it has built flood defences, housing, hospitals and emergency cyclone shelters.
    Bibi said she would never go: “I’ll die here.    I’ll never go to Bhasan Char island.”
(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/24/2021 U.S. Says Hopes WHO Report On Virus Origins Is ‘Based On Science’ by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: 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
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States expects the World Health Organization (WHO) investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus pandemic to require further study, perhaps including a return visit to China, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday.
    Marc Cassayre, charge d’affaires at the U.S. mission to the U.N. in Geneva, also voiced hope that the WHO-led mission to the central city of Wuhan in Jan.-Feb. had access to the raw data and to the people required to make an independent assessment.
    The lengthy report by the team – composed of international experts and their Chinese counterparts – is expected to be issued this week, the WHO says.
    “We are hopeful that it will be based on science and be a real step forward for the world understanding the origins of the virus so we can better prepare for future pandemics,” Cassayre told a news briefing.
    U.S. officials expected further work would be needed to identify the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, he said.    “That would probably require, as we would presume, further studies of the team, maybe travel to China or further discussions.”
    The probe was plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between Beijing and Washington, which under former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak.
    Some team members have said China was reluctant to share vital data that could show the virus was circulating months earlier than first recognised in late 2019.
    Ben Embarek, a WHO official leading the mission, said at a press briefing marking the end of the visit that the virus probably originated in bats, although it was not certain how it reached humans.    He also effectively ruled out a lab leak.
    WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus later said that “all hypotheses remain open” and pledged full transparency.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh)

3/24/2024 U.S. Won’t Force NATO Allies Into ‘Us Or Them’ Choice On China by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken bumps elbows with Netherland's Foreign Minister Stef Blok as they take part in
a North Atlantic Council (NAC) at foreign ministers level, at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States will not force any NATO ally to choose sides between Washington and Beijing, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday, although he warned that the West needed to show authoritarian states that democracy was superior.
    European allies France and Germany are looking for a strategic balance in relations with Beijing and Washington that ensures the European Union is not so closely allied with one of the world’s two big powers that it alienates the other.
    “The United States won’t force allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China,” Blinken, on his maiden voyage to Europe as Washington’s top diplomat, said at the NATO headquarters in Brussels.
    The European Union, led by France, wants independence from the United States, its ally and protector for over seven decades.    Spain and the Netherlands urged the bloc to keep its economy open while seeking “strategic autonomy
    “Countries can work with China where possible,” Blinken said.    He noted that climate change was an area where cooperation was necessary with a country of 1.34 billion people that already emits a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide, more than the United States, but is also an investor in renewable energy.
    In his first trip to the EU headquarters, Blinken also urged the bloc to help stand up for liberal values and human rights, in a stark shift from four years under former U.S. President Donald Trump, who shunned the EU and promoted Britain’s departure from the club of 27 states.
    “There is a fundamental debate under way about … whether democracy or autocracy offers the best path forward.    I think it is up to us to come together and show the world that democracy can deliver for our people,” Blinken said.
    As the United States and China vie for supremacy in areas from electric cars to biomedicine, Blinken also accused Beijing of undermining the international trading order that the United States and its allies built after World War Two.
    “They are actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share,” Blinken said of China, standing by the 30 flags of the NATO alliance.    “If we work together to make real our positive vision for the international order … we’re confident that we can outcompete China on any playing field,” he said.
    China’s military ambitions were also growing, he said.
SANCTIONS
    China denies any wrongdoing and says it respects global rules upheld by international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund.
    Prior to the speech, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Twitter: “The US, UK and Canada together account for only 5.7% of the world’s population.    Even if EU is added, that will be about 11%.    They cannot represent the international community.”
    Blinken, speaking to reporters, said in reference to gross domestic product: “When we are actually working with our European partners, Asian partners and others, we might be 40, 50 or 60% of world GDP.    That’s a lot harder for Beijing to ignore.”
    The United States, the EU, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials on Monday accusing them of rights abuses in Xinjiang, in the first such coordinated Western action against Beijing under new President Joe Biden.    Beijing hit back with broader punitive measures against the EU.
    China’s decision to sanction European lawmakers, diplomats and institutes on Monday in response to Western sanctions appeared to galvanise opposition to Beijing at NATO and the EU, with several EU governments summoning Chinese envoys this week.
    Italy said in a statement after meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Rome that the sanctions were “unacceptable.”
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Macfie)

3/25/2021 Biden Says North Korea Top Foreign Policy Issue, Casts Doubt On U.S. Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden spoke during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Joe Biden delivered vague answers to a preapproved list of reporters during his first press briefing since taking office.
    From the East Room of the White House on Thursday, Biden blamed Trump and Republicans for several key issues facing his administration, including the border crisis.
    On foreign relations, Biden cast doubt on meeting the May 1 deadline set by President Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
    However, he did not give an accurate timeline on a withdrawal and said it likely would not happen in the next year.
    Regarding North Korea, Biden said he considers it a top foreign policy issue for his administration.
    “We are consulting with our allies and partners and there will be responses if they choose to escalate,” Biden stated.    “We will respond accordingly.    But I am also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”
    North Korea has ramped up rhetoric against the U.S. in the past few weeks, and launched two ballistic missiles on Thursday.
    Biden has taken criticism recently for weak responses to challenges from China, Pyongyang and Russia. He now faces criticism for today’s performance, after fumbling through sentences, appearing confused during parts of the briefing and losing his train of thought several times.
    Notably absent were any questions about the coronavirus pandemic, economy, gun control, his son Hunter or sexual assault allegations against his Democrat colleague Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.).

3/26/2021 ‘Can’t Take This Pain’: Rohingya Mother Searches For Son After Refugee Camp Blaze by Ruma Paul
Noor Banu, 32, points at a picture of her eleven-year-old son Mohammed Karim who went missing after a fire broke out earlier
this week and destroyed thousands of shelters at the Balukhali refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, March 25, 2021. "I can't take
this pain any more," Banu said. "I believe Karim is dead, and I may not even be able to identify his body." REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    BALUKHALI REFUGEE CAMP, Bangladesh (Reuters) – After losing her husband, two young sons and her home, Noor Banu thought she had seen the worst of life.
    She made the perilous journey from her village in Myanmar’s Rakhine State to the refugee camps in Bangladesh in 2017, with nothing except her four surviving boys.
    Now she fears she has lost another son to the massive blaze that ripped through the Cox’s Bazar camps, reducing tarpaulin and bamboo shelters to ash. More than 300 refugees are missing.    Eleven-year-old Mohammed Karim is among them.
    “I can’t take this pain any more,” Banu said, breaking into sobs as she spoke to Reuters inside a temporary shelter on Friday.
    “I believe Karim is dead, and I may not even be able to identify his body.”
    The 32-year-old Rohingya Muslim has already seen two sons die by fire.
    In 2016, as the Myanmar army poured into Rohingya villages in response to coordinated insurgent attacks on security posts, Banu said her home was set ablaze in Pawet Chaung, killing the two boys – one barely a year old, and another seven.
    “My home was torched in front of my eyes,” she said.    “I could do nothing to save my children from the blaze.”
    Her sons still bear burn marks from the fire.
    Banu was among hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar in 2017 following army operations that the United Nations called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
    Myanmar denies the charge and says it was waging legitimate counterinsurgency operations against Rohingya insurgents.
SEARCHING
    Banu is one of around a million Rohingya refugees living at the camps.    Myanmar denies most Rohingya citizenship and considers them interlopers from Bangladesh even though they have lived in Myanmar for decades.
    She – like many others – arrived with the trauma of the violence back home.    Her husband went missing in 2015, and she said she later learned he had been arrested and was in jail – she does not know on what charges.    She has not heard from him since.
    The family stayed at a shelter close to those of her relatives and survived on food aid.
    The boys began to attend the religious school at the camps.    Slowly, they were learning to build a life out of ruins.
    On Monday, Banu said she had just finished with lunch when she heard people screaming and rushed out of her hut.    Her four boys, who had been at the madrassa, were running toward her, and behind them, flames were rising from shelters.
    “My sons were hurrying home to take me away,” she said.
    She grabbed her youngest and ran, but as people scurried from the fire, Banu said she was separated from her other sons.
    That evening, two of the boys managed to reach her by making calls through the phones of other refugees.    Four days on, there has been no word from Karim.
    The ruins of scores of charred huts can be seen at the hilly camps. Some 45,000 refugees have been displaced, according to the United Nations.    Some refugees are working to rebuild their tent homes, others search for their relatives.    Eleven people have so far been confirmed dead.
    Banu has approached aid agencies at the camps to seek help in finding Karim, but her hope is fading.
    “My son knows the camps very well,” she said.    “If he was alive, he would have returned to me by now.”
    For the photo essay, click on https://reut.rs/3fgwtAh
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Mohammad Hossain; Writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Alison Williams)

3/26/2021 U.S. Needs New Understanding With China Or It Risks Conflict, Kissinger Says by Guy Faulconbridge
FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger attends the American Academy's award ceremony
at Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, Germany, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Annegret Hilse
    LONDON (Reuters) – The United States will have to reach an understanding with China on a new global order to ensure stability or the world will face a dangerous period like the one which preceded World War One, veteran U.S. diplomat Henry Kissinger said.
    Kissinger, now 97, influenced some of the most important turns of the 1970s while serving as secretary of state under Republican Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
    Speaking at a Chatham House event in London via Zoom, Kissinger said the ultimate question was whether or not the United States and its Western allies could develop an understanding with China about a new global order
.
    “If we don’t get to that point and if we don’t get to an understanding with China on that point then we will be in a pre-World War One-type situation in Europe, in which there are perennial conflicts that get solved on an immediate basis but one of them gets out of control at some point,” he said.
    “It is infinitely more dangerous now than it was then,” Kissinger said.    He said the high-tech weaponry on both sides could lead to a very gave conflict.
    Amid worsening relations between China and the West on a range of issues from human rights and trade to Hong Kong, Taiwan has said China is bolstering its ability to attack and blockade the China-claimed island.
    Kissinger said the United States would likely find it difficult to negotiate with a rival like China that would soon be larger and more advanced in some areas.
    The other question, he said, was whether or not China would accept that new order.
    Kissinger praised China’s skill at organising itself for technological advance under state control.
    But he said the West had to up its game.
    The West has to believe in itself,” Kissinger said.    “That is our domestic problem – it is not a Chinese problem.”
    He added that China’s economic might did not automatically mean that it will be superior in all aspects of technology this century.
    Kissinger negotiated on behalf of Nixon to open China to the West in 1971 without telling George H.W. Bush, who was then Washington’s ambassador to the United Nations, about the talks.
    Asked about Brexit, Kissinger said he had refused to campaign against leaving the EU as he saw a role for an “autonomous” Britain as a bridge between the United States and the rest of Europe.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
I did not know that Kissinger was still around and as you can see in the above cartoon
which I drew in 1974 as a pun on Nixon passing away and was reincarnated as a frog
which you can see the entire comics at the end of http://www.mazzaroth.com/KSP/IDCartoons.htm
and if you view the entire cartoon it amusingly reminds me of what the Biden administration is doing in our times

3/26/2021 Chinese Apps Join Celebs In Backlash Against Western Fashion Brands Over Xinjiang by Ryan Woo, Anna Ringstrom and Victoria Waldersee
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a Burberry boutique in Beijing, China, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s top ride-hailing app dropped Swedish fashion retailer H&M from its listings as Chinese celebrities stopped endorsing foreign labels in a growing uproar over Western accusations of “forced labour” in Xinjiang.
    H&M faced a public backlash in China when social media users in the country circulated a statement the company made last year announcing it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang after reports of the use of forced labour by Uighur Muslims.
    Western governments and rights groups have accused authorities in the farwestern region of detaining and torturing Uighurs in camps, where some former inmates have said they were subject to ideological indoctrination.
    Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps in question as vocational training centres which help combat religious extremism.
    Search results for H&M in the Didi Chuxing ride-hailing app for all of China’s major cities yielded no results on Friday.
    The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The backlash against H&M caused Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, shopping app Meituan and the maps app for search engine Baidu Inc to each remove the Swedish retailer from their listings.
    Other overseas brands, including Burberry Group PLC, Nike Inc, and Adidas AG have also faced an online blowback for making similar statements regarding their sourcing of cotton in Xinjiang.
    The Human Rights section of H&M’s website hmgroup.com on Friday no longer carried the link to the 2020 statement on Xinjiang.    The statement could still be accessed through the page’s direct address.
    Statements expressing concern about or intolerance of forced labour in Xinjiang previously seen on the websites of Inditex, VF Corp, PVH and Abercrombie & Fitch were no longer available on Thursday.
    Following enquiries by Reuters, VF Corp pointed to a statement on a separate section of its website that said it did not source from Xinjiang.    A Google cache showed the statement had been added in the last four days.    VF did not respond to a question asking why the statement had been moved.
    PVH, Inditex and Abercrombie & Fitch did not respond to a request for comment.
    “We have to stand by the brands keeping statements condemning slavery and shame those who are taking them down.    This is a defining moment for these brands,” said     French MEP Raphael Glucksmann, one of 10 EU individuals sanctioned by China who has run social media campaigns calling on retailers to stand against forced labour in Xinjiang.
    “Consumers in Europe need to place counter pressure on companies retracting their statements.”
CHINA CELEBS DROP BRANDS
    German fashion house Hugo Boss said on its official Chinese Weibo account on Thursday that it would “continue to purchase and support Xinjiang cotton.”
    But in an email to Reuters on Friday, company spokeswoman Carolin Westermann said that an undated English-language statement on its website stating that “so far, HUGO BOSS has not procured any goods originating in the Xinjiang region from direct suppliers” was its official position.    It did not respond to a query about the apparent mixed messages or when the English-language statement was published.
    The cotton row has spilled over into the entertainment world, with Chinese celebrities dropping several foreign retail labels, including six U.S. brands such as Nike.
    New Balance, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Converse, owned by Nike, have come under fire in China for statements saying they would not use Xinjiang cotton.
    Other brands affected include Adidas, Puma and Fast Retailing’s Uniqlo.
    “I can confirm that Uniqlo’s Chinese brand ambassadors have terminated their contracts,” said a Fast-Retailing spokesperson.
    “Regarding cotton, we only source sustainable cotton and this has not changed.”
    At least 27 Chinese movie stars and singers have declared in the past two days that they would stop cooperating with foreign brands.
    Their decision was widely praised by Chinese internet users for being patriotic and trended high on the popular Twitter-like microblog Weibo.
    “I have bought these kinds of products in the past and this situation doesn‘t mean that I will now throw them away, destroy them or something like that,” said graduate Lucy Liu outside a Beijing shopping mall.
    “What I’ll do is just avoid buying them for the moment.”
    Beyond the fashion and retail industry, China sanctioned British organisations and individuals on Friday over what it called “lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang, days after Britain imposed sanctions of its own.
    “China is firmly determined to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests, and warns the UK side not to go further down the wrong path,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.    “Otherwise, China will resolutely make further reactions.”
    The sanctions are the latest sign of deteriorating relations between London and Beijing, including China’s crackdown on dissent in the former British colony of Hong Kong, which had been guaranteed its freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing, Josh Horwitz in Shanghai, Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon, Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm and William James, Sarah Young and Paul Sandle in London, Writing by Nick Macfie;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

3/26/2021 Four Killed In Myanmar Protests, World Bank Warns Of Slump
University students and LGBT groups march against the ongoing coup in Dawei, Myanmar March 25, 2021
in this image obtained from social media. Dawei Watch via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Myanmar security forces shot dead four pro-democracy protesters on Friday, witnesses and local media reports said, as activist leaders called for a huge show of defiance to the ruling military junta on the country’s Armed Forces Day on Saturday.
    The World Bank said Myanmar’s economy could slump 10% this year due to the turmoil since the coup last month that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
    But in a week that saw international pressure on the generals ramped up with new U.S. and European sanctions, Russia offered support for the military and said it wanted to strengthen ties.
    Protesters against the junta have taken to the streets almost daily since the Feb.1 coup, prompting an uncompromising crackdown by the security forces.
    Demonstrations took place across the country overnight and on Friday, including in the Mandalay and Sagaing regions, as well as in Karen and Chin states, media reports said.
    Security forces opened fire on protesters waving black flags in the southern town of Myeik, a witness said.
    “Two were killed by head shots,” the witness told Reuters.
    “We cannot pick up the (third) dead body as many security forces are there.”
    Several other people were wounded, said the witness, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution.
    Another witness said he had seen a fourth body. Myanmar Now news said four people were killed in the town.
    At least 320 people have been killed in the weeks of unrest that followed the coup, according to figures as of Thursday night from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
    Its data shows that at least 25 percent of those who were killed died from shots to the head, raising suspicions they were deliberately targeted for killing.
    Reuters could not independently verify the numbers killed. A military spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.
    The United Nations’ special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said the military had turned against its own citizens.
    “Women, youth and children have been among those killed,” she said in a statement.
    U.S. Ambassador Thomas Vajda and his wife Amy Sebes placed a wreath in front of a Yangon school where a protester was shot and killed last month.
    “We honour the memory of all those who have lost their lives since the February 1 coup,” the embassy said in a Twitter post.
    Half an hour later, troops took the wreath away, witnesses said.
STRATEGIC ALLY
    While Western powers have condemned the coup and the lethal crackdown, Russia said it wanted to strengthen ties with the Myanmar military.
    Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin met junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Friday and said Myanmar was a reliable ally and strategic partner of Moscow, Tass news agency reported. [L4N2LO2H6]
    Moscow’s support for the junta is important as it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and along with China, which has also refrained from criticism, can block potential U.N. actions.
    The World Bank on Friday slashed its forecast for Myanmar’s economy to a 10% contraction in 2021 from the growth expected previously.
    Myanmar “has been heavily affected by protests, worker strikes, and military actions” it said.
    The forecast came after the United States, Britain and the European Union imposed new sanctions on groups and individuals linked to the coup.
    The targets included Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited, both part of a military-controlled network that spans sectors from mining to tourism and has enriched the generals.
‘WAR HAS NOT ENDED’
    A group of about 100 people beating drums held a protest in the downtown Sule area of the commercial capital Yangon before being chased away by security forces, witnesses said.
    “This war has not ended until we win,” one protester, Phone Naing, told Reuters.    “I will fight them as much as we can.”
    Organisers have called for widespread protests on Saturday, observed as Armed Forces Day commemorating the start of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.
    “We have to revive that history on March 27, 2021 in this spring revolution,” wrote Ei Thinzar Maung, a protest leader, in a social media post.
    “The day for the people to revolt against the Tatmadaw (military), which has been oppressing people for ages…has come again.”
    Authorities freed about 300 protesters on Friday who had been detained in Yangon, witnesses and news reports said.    About 1,000 have previously been freed from a total of about 3,000 arrested, the AAPP activist group has said.
    However, Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most prominent civilian politician, remains in detention at an undisclosed location.    Many other figures in her National League for Democracy are also being held in custody.
    The military says it acted because the NLD’s victory in an election last November was marred by fraud – a claim rejected by the electoral commission and many foreign governments.    It has placed the country under a state of emergency and said it will organise a new election, though it has not set a date.
    Unknown attackers hurled petrol bombs at the headquarters of the NLD in Yangon early on Friday, the Myanmar Now portal reported.    There were no casualties and some furniture was damaged, it said.
    Residents said that after dark on Thursday, soldiers raided Yangon’s Mingalar Taungnyunt district and arrested people on the streets after curfew.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/26/2021 India Tells Overseas Vaccine Buyers It Has To Prioritise Local Needs by Neha Arora and Rajendra Jadhav
FILE PHOTO: A woman watches as a healthcare worker fills a syringe with a dose of COVISHIELD, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
manufactured by Serum Institute of India, at Max Super Speciality Hospital, in New Delhi, India, March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi//File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India, the world’s biggest vaccine maker, said on Friday it would make domestic COVID-19 inoculations a priority as infections surge and had told international buyers of its decision.
    Reports that India will delay deliveries of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to a global programme to inoculate poorer countries triggered alarm on Thursday, with the head of Africa’s disease control agency describing the continent as “helpless.”
    India has exported 60.5 million doses, more than the number of inoculations conducted at home, and says there is no outright ban on exports.
    “In the coming weeks and months … obviously there will be a demand spike and obviously people are preparing for it,” Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the minister of external affairs, told the Times Network’s India Economic Enclave.
    “In many cases, we have told our international partners that … COVID rates are going up in India, we are expanding our own vaccination ambit, so we are sure you will understand that at this time we have to purpose it much more focused at where we are.”
    The Gavi alliance said in a statement that the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility had notified all affected economies of potential delays of exports by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
    India is diverting more supplies from SII to inoculations at home.    Its other vaccine maker, Bharat Biotech, is struggling to boost output.
    “SII has pledged that, alongside supplying India, it will prioritize the COVAX multilateral solution for equitable distribution,” Gavi said.
    COVAX is a global vaccine allocation plan co-led by the World Health Organization and partners including the Gavi alliance.
    India on Friday reported 59,118 new infections, taking its tally to 11.85 million. The death toll rose by 257 to stand at 160,949.
    Everyone above 45 in India is eligible for vaccination from April 1 and the government is considering including more people after new infections nearly quadrupled this month.
    “The government is already planning to widen the umbrella of COVID-19 vaccine beneficiaries in the near future to cover other sections of our population,” Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told a virtual summit organised by the Economic Times newspaper.br>     India has injected 55 million vaccine doses, the third highest figure after the United States and Brazil, although much lower as a proportion of its population of 1.35 billion, the website Our World in Data showed.
    The western state of Maharashtra, hardest hit by a resurgence in cases, has warned of vaccine shortages and imposed lockdowns in some towns.
    Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray said the state government would impose a night curfew from Sunday to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and authorities could also impose local lockdowns in some districts after informing people in advance. In another measure, the state will shut shopping malls from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. local time.
    Thackeray said although his government has beefed up health-care facilities, rising coronavirus cases could overwhelm hospitals.
    Maharashtra’s Pune district on Thursday reported a record 6,427 new cases, the highest in the country.
    “If the current surge in coronavirus cases remains there for the next few days, there will be no option but to impose a strict lockdown in Pune from April 2,” Maharashtra’s deputy chief minister, Ajit Pawar, told a news conference.
    Separately, a fire in one hospital near Mumbai killed at least nine coronavirus patients.
(Global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access)
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps)
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Krishna N. Das, Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)

3/26/2021 Four Killed As Police In Bangladesh Clash With Protesters During Visit By Indian PM by Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses a gathering before flagging off the "Dandi March", or Salt March,
to celebrate the 75th anniversary of India's Independence, in Ahmedabad, India, March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    COX’S BAZAR (Reuters) – Four people were killed after police fired on protesters who they said attacked a police station in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong on Friday during a demonstration against a visit to the country by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
    Dozens were also hurt in the capital Dhaka where police used rubber bullets and teargas in clashes with violent protesters, witnesses said.
    In Chittagong, thousands of supporters of an Islamist group that accuses Modi of alienating minority Muslims in India streamed out of mosques after prayers to register their protest against his visit, police official Rafiqul Islam said.
    “We had to fire teargas and rubber bullets to disperse them as they entered a police station and carried out extensive vandalism,” he told Reuters, referring to protesters.
    He made no mention of police using live rounds.    Another police official, Mohammad Alauddin, said a Chittagong hospital had received eight people with gunshot wounds, adding: “Among them four succumbed to their injuries.”
    He identified the dead as three students and a tailor.
    Modi landed in Dhaka on Friday for a two-day visit to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bangladesh’s independence.
    After being received by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Modi met opposition and government leaders.
    Hundreds of protesters then clashed with police near a large mosque in Dhaka, witness Jahangir Alam said.    He said dozens were hurt when police fired rubber bullets and teargas after protesters pelted them with stones and set ablaze motorcycles.
    Social media network Facebook and its Messenger app, which are often used to organise protests in the country, appeared to be down in some parts of Bangladesh.
    An official from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission declined to comment.    A Facebook representative did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar; Writing by ; Devjyot Ghoshal, Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Toby Chopra and Timothy Heritage)

3/26/2021 Indian Farmers Squat On Railway Tracks To Mark Four Months Of Protests by Devjyot Ghoshal and Adnan Abidi
Farmers dance as they sing a folk song during a 12-hour strike, as part of protests against farm laws,
on a highway at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad, India, March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Dozens of farmers squatted on railway tracks in northern India on Friday, disrupting traffic to mark four months of a campaign against the opening up of agriculture produce markets to private players.
    Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi since last year, saying new farm laws enacted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
    Farm unions called for a 12-hour nationwide shutdown to keep up the pressure on the Modi government which says the reforms will help farmers realise better prices for their produce and bring investment.
    “Four months ago, this day, farmers came to the borders of Delhi with their demands. But this government isn’t listening to the farmers,” said union leader Gurinder Singh Pannu.
    “This protest will continue,” he added.
    Across the northern states of Haryana and Punjab, protesters blocked railway tracks at 32 locations, leading to the cancellation of at least four passenger trains.
    “Around 30 trains are held up,” Deepak Kumar, an Indian railways spokesman, told Reuters.
    Freight movement had also been affected, with around 20 goods trains currently stalled, Kumar said.
    At a major protest camp in Delhi’s Ghazipur, protesters blocked a highway connecting the capital city with neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state.
    Police also erected additional barricades, topped by concertina wire, and hundreds of personnel had been deployed.
    Of around a thousand protesters at the site, some danced and sang on Friday.    “Take back the black laws,” they chanted in Hindi.
    Several rounds of talks between the government and the farm leaders have failed and there are no new meetings planned for now.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Adnan Abidi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Michael Perry)

3/26/2021 Wrong For China To Sanction UK Individuals: British Minister
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick arrives to attend a Cabinet meeting at the
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, Britain December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
    LONDON (Reuters) – British housing minister Robert Jenrick said it was wrong for China to have sanctioned UK individuals and entities over what Beijing called “lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang.
    “I think it was completely wrong for China to place these restrictions on members of our parliament,” Jenrick told Times Radio on Friday.
    “Knowing those MPs, I doubt that they will be silenced or intimidated by this action.”
    Earlier in the week, Britain had imposed sanctions for human rights abuses in the western Chinese region.
(Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)

3/26/2021 Taiwan, U.S. To Strengthen Maritime Coordination After China Law
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks
and with Su Chia-chyuan,     President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan and the United States have signed their first agreement under the Biden administration, establishing a Coast Guard Working Group to coordinate policy, following China’s passing of a law that allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.
    The new government of U.S. President Joe Biden has moved to reassure Chinese-claimed Taiwan that its commitment to the island is rock solid.
    The defacto Taiwanese ambassador to the United States, Hsiao Bi-khim, signed the agreement in Washington on Thursday, her office said in a statement.
    “It is our hope that with the new Coast Guard Working Group, both sides will forge a stronger partnership and jointly contribute even more to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.”
    U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim was at the signing ceremony, the office said.
    The American Institute in Taiwan, which handles U.S. ties with the island, said the United States supported “Taiwan’s meaningful participation and contributions to issues of global concern, including in maritime security and safety
    Taiwan is upgrading its coast guard with new ships, which can be drafted into naval service in the event of war, as the island deals with increasing encroachments from Chinese fishing boats and sand dredgers in Taiwan-controlled waters.
    While the United States, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s most important international backer and arms supplier.
    China passed a law in January that for the first time explicitly allows its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels, causing concern regionally and in Washington.    China has rebuffed those worries.
    Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said on Friday China’s new law had shocked the region and that those with “common values” needed to work together to protect peace.
    “This unilateral request for the coast guard to use force will cause great tension and pressure on neighbouring countries,” he told reporters.
    China also has maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

3/28/2021 U.S. And Canada Reject Chinese Sanctions Over Slave Labor Debate by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke during a welcome ceremony at the State Department
in Washington, D.C. on January 27, 2021. (Photo by CARLOS BARRIA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    The State Department is condemning Mainland China over its new sanctions on top U.S., Canadian and European officials.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Chinese sanctions are baseless and seek to intimidate and silence those who speak about Beijing’s grave abuses of human rights.
    “An increasingly assertive China, and they know that the United States is much better off tackling them with partners, rather than trying to do it alone,” Blinken stated.    “And all our allies can say the same.”
    Last week, China blacklisted the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), as well as a group of Canadian lawmakers and British officials.
    Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau criticized China for its sanctions as well.
Marc Garneau and his wife attended a gathering October 14, 2008 in St. Laurent,
Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by ROGERIO BARBOSA/AFP via Getty Images)
    “If China wants to operate on the world stage, that’s fine. They’re a major country.    We’re happy to do that, but it must operate according to international rules, and that’s the message we’re carrying to them,” Garneau said.    “It cannot operate with other countries to coercive diplomacy.”
    The international community is targeting China over its concentration camps in the Xinjiang province, which provide cheap labor to several multinational corporations.

3/29/2021 International Community, State Dept. Condemn Chinese Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
(Andy Wong/AP Photo)
    A divided Biden White House has been struggling to stay firm in the face of increased Chinese aggression.    Last week, China blacklisted the wife of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as well as a group of Canadian lawmakers and British officials.
    The move resulted in Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating that the Chinese sanctions are baseless and seek to intimidate as well as silence those who speak about Beijing’s grave abuses of human rights.
    “An increasingly assertive China, and they know that the U.S. is better off tackling them with partners rather than trying to do it alone,” he stated.    “And all our allies can say the same.”
    Meanwhile, officials within the Biden administration said the State Department’s opposition may be all talk.    Trade representative Katherine Tai has vowed not to lift U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by President Trump.    In an interview Sunday, she admitted she’s facing pressure to lift the tariffs, but she said doing so would hurt the U.S. economy.
    Tai clarified that U.S. manufacturers and importers are planning ahead with customs duties in mind and removing the tariffs would thwart their business plans.    The trade representative added, the tariffs also serve as “leverage” in any future talks with China.    The international community is eager to have these talks, according to the Canadian Foreign Minister.
    The international community is targeting China over its concentration camps in the Xinjiang province, which provide cheap labor to several multi-national corporations.    However, those very corporations are even facing backlash within China as consumers in Beijing are beginning to push back and have begun organizing boycotts of products made in Xinjiang.
    Despite global outrage, however, China has refused to admit any wrongdoing.

3/29/2021 WH: Biden Won’t Hold Direct Talks With Kim Jong Un, Experts Warn China Will Take Over Korean Affairs If U.S. Fails To Open Direct Talks by OAN Newsroom
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting with US President Donald Trump on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea,
in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden rejected the possibility of direct diplomacy with North Korea, which experts said may further embolden China.    On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden has not planned to meet with Kim Jong Un to discuss the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
    Psaki said Biden’s approach to North Korea would be different, but she did not provide more details.    Experts noted the only alternative to talking to North Korea would be to ask China to handle the matter.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Fmr US Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall
of the People in Beijing on December 4, 2013. (Photo credit should read LINTAO ZHANG/AFP via Getty Images)
    Meanwhile, according to reports, Pyongyang is advancing its ballistic missile program with a series of recent test launches.
    “Now that [Biden] said that he is ‘prepared for some formal diplomacy’ with North Korea,’ does this include sitting with President Kim Jong Un?” asked a reporter.
    “I think his approach would be quite different,” Psaki claimed in response.    “This is not his intention.    Thank you.”
    In the meantime, North Korea said it sees the Biden administration as a threat to its political and economic wellbeing.    This is a far cry from the peaceful development plan once proposed by President Trump.

3/29/2021 WHO Team Did Not Investigate China’s Cover-Up Of COVID-19 Data by OAN Newsroom
Peter Daszak (R), Vladimir G. Dedkov ( L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 coronavirus, leave the Hubei Center
for animal disease control and prevention in Wuhan, China’s central Hubei province on February 2, 2021. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    The long-awaited WHO report on the origins of COVID-19 failed to probe the Chinese authorities who possibly covered up information related to the early stages of the pandemic.    In a leaked copy of the report, which was expected to be released Tuesday, it stated the origins of the outbreak were “inconclusive.”
    It also characterized the theory that said the virus emerged from a lab in Wuhan as “extremely unlikely” — a conclusion that was met with criticism over a potential conflict of interest.    The only American researcher on the team, EcoHealth Alliance President Peter Daszak, admitted they did not investigate China’s lack of transparency.
    “But weren’t the Chinese engaged in a cover-up?” questioned ’60 Minutes’ Correspondent Lesley Stahl during an interview.    “They destroyed evidence?    They punished scientists who were trying to give evidence on this very question of the origin?
    “Well, that wasn’t our task, to find out if China had covered up the origin issue,” claimed Peter Daszak.
    Meanwhile, some scientists have questioned Daszak’s involvement in the probe.    They pointed to his involvement in the decision to approve NIH grants, totaling $598,000 dollars to the Wuhan Institute of Virology between 2014 and 2020.

3/30/2021 WSJ: Biden Must Drop Illusions About China, Iran by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a virtual meeting with UN Secretary-General
Antonio Guterres from the State Department in Washington, on Monday, March 29, 2021. (Leah Millis/Pool via AP)
    U.S. foreign policy experts are worried a new multi-billion dollar deal between Iran and China could advance anti-American sentiment.
    On Monday, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board said, “the world is becoming more dangerous despite Joe Biden’s hopes.”    Biden has claimed he favors a “rule-based global order,” which the journal said requires the support of all U.S. allies.
    Last week, however, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the administration has no plans to round up an international policy to bring wayward nations in line.    He asserted that the U.S. won’t force its allies in an “us or them” choice with China.
    “There is no question that Beijing’s course of behavior threatens our collective security and prosperity, and that it is actively working to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share,” he stated.    “But that doesn’t mean that countries can’t work with China where possible…for example, on challenges like climate change and health security.”
    The $400 billion “strategic partnership” the two countries signed over the weekend will allow China to gain a foothold in the Middle East and an ongoing supply of cheap Iranian oil.

4/3/2021 Pakistan Works To Stop Thousands Of Citizens From Smuggling Oil From Iran by OAN Newsroom
A picture taken on March 12, 2017, shows an Iranian laborer walking the platform of the oil facility
in the Khark Island, on the shore of the Gulf. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Pakistan is struggling to stop thousands of citizens from smuggling oil into the country from Iran.
    Reports on Friday said the Pakistan government has recently ordered an end to illegal trade.    The move came in response to growing fears over the millions of dollars the economy has lost from oil smuggling.
A picture taken on March 12, 2017, shows a view of an oil facility in the Khark Island,
on the shore of the Gulf. (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    This struggle has lasted decades, but recently it’s been further propelled by U.S. sanctions on Iran. Experts said it has become organized.
    “It exists on both sides of the border.    The allegation in Iran is that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards are part of this,” Shahzeb Jillani of News Asia said.    “On the Pakistani side, it’s Frontier Corps, which is the paramilitary organization charged with manning the border that they are involved.    Obviously both sides officially denied this, but facts on the ground and pictures we have seen speak for themselves.”
    Pakistan Today reported that more than 317,000 gallons of oil are smuggled into Pakistan every day, mainly in tankers whose drivers bribe officials on both sides of the border.

4/4/2021 Australian T.V.: Biden Is Illiterate, Incoherent & Cognitively Deficient by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden responds to a question after speaking about the March jobs report in the State Dining Room
of the White House, Friday, April 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    A major Australian T.V. channel has continued to expose the weakness and corruption of the Biden administration.    In a recent segment of his show, Alan Jones of Sky News Australia said Biden’s declining mental and physical health have raised increasing alert among U.S. allies.
    “This is the President of the United States of America who is illiterate, incoherent, cognitively deficient,” Jones said.    “And a leader of the Western world, it is an insult to those who fought for democracy.”
[BY THE WAY THE LEFT CLAIMED THERE WAS A HEAVY WIND THAT BLEW HIM DOWN BUT IF IT WAS THAT STRONG HIS HAIR WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE ALBERT EINSTEIN.].

    Jones said the purported leader of the free world has to be propped up for every public appearance.    He added, Democrat-controlled media has lied and covered up for Biden to make him look good, but it’s failing at its task.
    “After the stumble, the websites of MSNBC, CBS News, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all had no mention of Biden’s stumbling incident,” Jones noted.    “To prove the Trump point when it came to airtime on television, CNN devoted 15 seconds to the incident. But when Trump walked slowly down a ramp after he delivered a graduation address last June, CNN devoted 22 minutes to Trump’s walk, the media pushing the line that Trump, at 74, was facing serious health questions.”
    Jones also said Biden has made statements that didn’t make sense, which stirred further confusion among U.S. allies.

4/5/2021 Iran Rejects U.S. Talks, Pushes Biden To Lift Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
    As U.S. officials head to Vienna to engage in talks with Iran, it appears one topic is already off limits.
    In a statement Sunday, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said there will be no direct or indirect talks with the U.S. on the country’s nuclear program throughout the week.    The Iranian diplomat reiterated Joe Biden has to lift all sanctions on Iran and pay compensation before any talks could begin.
    “We are negotiating with the Joint Commission, meaning the 4+1 countries, we will relay to them our demand and condition for returning to the nuclear deal,” Araghchi stated.    “Our demand is that America must first resume complying with its entire commitments.”
    Last Friday, both countries agreed to send delegates to Vienna to discuss possible solutions to mutual tensions with U.S. officials saying they believed the focus of the discussion would be the JCPOA and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
This combined photo released by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, shows Iranian diplomats attending a virtual talk on nuclear deal
with representatives of world powers, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, April 2, 2021. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)
    “This is just the first step…its going to be a difficult path because of how much time has gone by and how much mutual distrust there is, but our goal is to discuss indirectly with our European and other partners who will discuss with Iran to see whether we could define those steps that both sides are gonna have to take,” explained Robert Malley, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran.    “If were serious about coming back into compliance with the deal.”
    However, Iran’s pull-back appears to demand a full U.S. capitulation and has reignited claims of the nation meddled in the 2020 election to get Democrats in office so that Trump-era sanctions, which have crippled their economy, could be lifted.
    The talks are scheduled to begin Tuesday.

4/6/2021 State Dept. Holds Iran Talks In Vienna To Restore Failed 2015 Deal by OAN Newsroom
State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the State Department
in Washington, Wednesday, March 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)
    Joe Biden’s State Department has continued its policy of appeasement of Iran while touting a gradual restoration of the failed 2015 nuclear deal.
    While speaking to reporters on Monday, spokesman Ned Price seemed to ignore the growing threat in the Middle East while claiming current talks with Iran are heading in the right direction.
    “But we do believe that these discussions with our partners, and in turn our partners with Iran, is a healthy step forward,” he stated.
    Department officials said the indirect talks with Iranian and European diplomats in Vienna this week are aimed at “constraining Iran’s nuclear program.”    The diplomats also denied Biden will give concessions to Iran.    However, they did admit they seek to restore the nuclear deal, which is known to favor the Ayatollahs.
    “Our goal at these talks in Vienna, again, is to set the stage for that mutual return to compliance,” Price explained.    “The original formulation is one that still holds today: it’s the limited lifting of sanctions, nuclear sanctions, in return for permanent and verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.”
    In a statement Sunday, however, the deputy Iranian foreign minister said there will be no “direct or indirect talks” with the U.S. on the country’s nuclear program throughout the week.    He said Biden has to lift all sanctions on Iran and pay compensation before any talks can begin.
    Critics have said Biden is restoring the deal with Iran in exchange for the Iranian meddling in last year’s elections, which helped the Democrats.

4/6/2021 World Powers, Iran, U.S. Launch Indirect Talks To Revive Nuclear Deal by Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Deputy at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi
wait for the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria April 6, 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna/Handout via REUTERS
    VIENNA (Reuters) -European intermediaries began shuttling between Iranian and U.S. officials in Vienna on Tuesday as they sought to bring both countries back into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that Washington abandoned three years ago.
    Iran has steadily overstepped the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme in response to the United States’ withdrawal from the accord under then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and its reimposition of sanctions that have crippled the Islamic Republic’s economy.
    While Tehran has repeatedly rebuffed “direct and indirect negotiations” with its old foe, Washington said on Monday it expected the discussions to be difficult.    Neither side expected any early breakthrough.
    Even without face-to-face talks, however, the presence of both Iran and the United States in the same location marks a step forward.
    “We are confident that we are on the right track, and if America’s will, seriousness and honesty is proven, it could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told reporters.
    The remaining parties to the deal briefly met at a Viennese hotel for preparatory talks in the Austrian capital, where the pact was originally reached in 2015.
    Russia’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mikhail Ulyanov, said after the meeting that the parties had tasked two expert-level groups on sanctions-lifting and nuclear issues to identify concrete measures to move forward.
    The experts were set to begin technical work later on Tuesday with the aim of marrying lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet.
    “The restoration of #JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or nuclear deal) will not happen immediately.    It will take some time. How long?    Nobody knows.    The most important thing after today’s meeting of the Joint Commission is that practical work towards achieving this goal has started,” Ulyanov tweeted.
INTERMEDIARIES
    Officials from Britain, France and Germany will act as intermediaries between Iran and the United States, shuttling between both delegations.    Russia and China, also part of the accord, are present as well.
    The U.S. delegation, headed by special envoy Rob Malley and sanctions expert Richard Nephew, are based in a nearby hotel.
    “This is going to involve discussions about identifying the steps that the U.S. has to take and identifying the steps that Iran is going to have to take,” Malley told NPR radio on Tuesday morning.
    President Joe Biden’s administration wants to revive the accord but says this requires negotiations.    Tehran has dismissed any direct engagement for now in talks with Washington.
    Under the 2015 accord, U.S. and other economic sanctions on Tehran were removed in return for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder to develop a nuclear weapon.    Tehran has long denied it is enriching uranium for any other purpose than civilian nuclear energy.
CHALLENGES
    Highlighting the difficulties of getting a breakthrough, Majid Takht-Ravanchi, Iran’s envoy to the United Nations and a former nuclear negotiator, put the onus on Washington.
    “The US has so far failed to honor @POTUS campaign promise to rejoin the JCPOA. So this opportunity shouldn’t be wasted,” he said on Twitter.    “If US lifts all sanctions, Iran will then cease all remedial measures.”
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, has opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.
    Diplomats said the talks could continue for several days to resolve some of the less contentious issues before resuming in several rounds over the coming weeks.
    The objective is some form of an accord ahead of June’s Iranian presidential election, an EU official said, although Iranian and U.S. officials have said there is no rush.
    The Biden administration has also said it wants to build a “longer and stronger agreement” that would deal with other issues, including Iran’s long-term nuclear programme, its development of ballistic missiles, and its support for proxy forces across the Middle East.
    “But we’re much better off talking about all of that if we could at least put the current nuclear issue to the side and not have to worry every day about what the latest Iranian announcement will be,” Malley told NPR.
    Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, dismissed that option on Twitter.
    “Regardless of whether Europe has the will or ability to persuade #USA to lift all sanctions at once & Washington’s return to its commitments, there will be no possibility for Iran entering talks in the new fields, more than JCPOA, under any circumstances.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish Editing by Giles Elgood and Mark Heinrich)

4/6/2021 Death Threats, Hate Speech Turn Rohingya Activist’s Malaysia Home Into A Prison by Rozanna Latiff and Ebrahim Harris
Rohingya refugee and activist Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani and his wife look out from
their home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani, a Rohingya Muslim refugee and activist who fled persecution and ethnic strife in Myanmar, has called Malaysia home for nearly three decades.
    Now, it’s more like a prison.
    Zafar, 51, has not left his home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur for nearly a year, after misinformation spread online that he had demanded Malaysian citizenship, triggering a wave of hate speech and death threats against him and his family.
    “I’m still scared. For a year, I’ve not set foot outside.    I’ve not seen the earth outside,” said the father of three.
    Zafar has reported the false accusations and online attacks to the police, but to his knowledge, no charges have been filed.    He has denied making any demand for citizenship or the same rights as citizens for Rohingya in Malaysia.
    More than 100,000 Rohingya live in Muslim-majority Malaysia, long seen as friendly to the persecuted minority even though they are not officially recognised as refugees.
    The welcoming sentiment soured a year ago as people started saying Rohingya were spreading the then surging coronavirus.
    Hate speech calling for violence against Rohingya and other undocumented migrants spread widely online.    A significant portion of the volume targeted Zafar, who heads a prominent Rohingya refugee rights organisation.
    Zafar still receives abusive calls and messages on his phone and social media accounts daily, and details and photos of his family have been circulated online, according to screenshots shown to Reuters.
    His Malaysian wife, Maslina Abu Hassan, said the attacks have taken a heavy toll.    Their children no longer attend school due to safety concerns, and last year, Zafar was diagnosed with depression and began taking medication to cope, she said.
    Zafar, who is registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), applied to be moved to another country but his request was rejected after the agency said he did not meet its criteria for resettlement.
    A UNHCR spokeswoman in Kuala Lumpur said in an email the agency could not comment on individual cases.    Resettlement decisions depend on various factors, she said, but ultimately lie with any potential host countries.
    Zafar said he hopes the agency will reconsider his case because he no longer feels safe in Malaysia.
    “I cannot relax my body, my brain, my heart.    I cry asking why people are doing this to me.”
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Ebrahim Harris; Editing by Martin Petty and Tom Hogue)

4/6/2021 Indian Capital Imposes Night Curfew Ahead Of ‘Critical’ Four Weeks In COVID-19 Fight by Sachin Ravikumar and Neha Arora
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker collects a swab sample from a man during a rapid antigen testing campaign for the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), near the Gateway of India monument in Mumbai, India, April 5, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni
    BENGALURU/NEW DELHI (Reuters) -The Indian capital of New Delhi on Tuesday imposed a night-time curfew until April 30 with much of the country struggling to contain a second surge in coronavirus infections that has eclipsed the first wave.
    The next four weeks in India’s fight against COVID-19 will be “very, very critical,” said senior government health official Vinod Kumar Paul, warning that the respiratory disease was now spreading much faster than in 2020.
    “The pandemic has worsened in the country…There is a serious rise in cases,” Paul told reporters.
    India, the world’s second most populous country with 1.35 billion people, has administered 80.9 million vaccine doses, the most after the United States and China, but it lags far behind in immunisations per capita.
    Healthcare and similar frontline workers as well as people over 60 have been the main recipients of vaccinations so far.    Inoculations of people above 45 began only on April 1.
    New Delhi authorities launched the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew a day after India surpassed the grim milestone of 100,000 new daily infections for the first time.    The curfew echoes tough restrictions in Maharashtra, the country’s hardest-hit state where the financial capital Mumbai is also located.
    Rising COVID-19 fatalities in the states of Punjab and Chhattisgarh are also cause for “extreme concern,” India’s top-ranked health official Rajesh Bhushan told reporters on Tuesday.
    Leaders in several states including Delhi and Maharashtra have appealed to the federal government for a faster and wider roll-out of vaccines, with some like Odisha repeatedly citing shortages even for prioritised groups such as the elderly.
    Coronavirus cases jumped by nearly 97,000 on Tuesday, data from the health ministry showed.    There were 446 new deaths, taking the total to 165,547. With 12.7 million cases, India is the worst affected country after the United States and Brazil.
    Daily infections have risen many fold since hitting a multi-month low in early February, when authorities eased most restrictions and people largely stopped wearing masks and observing social distancing.
    India has recorded the most number of infections in the past week anywhere in the world.    More infectious variants of the virus may have played a role in the second surge, some epidemiologists say.
    There is also widespread criticism over tens of thousands of mostly maskless people crowding political rallies across four states that are now holding elections.    Modi and some close cabinet colleagues have addressed the rallies.
    There are also jitters about tens of thousands of Hindu devotees gathering on the banks of the river Ganges, in the northern state of Uttarakhand ruled by Modi’s party, for the weeks-long ‘Kumbh Mela’, or pitcher festival.
    Organisers had initially expected more than 150 million people to arrive, though the numbers are likely to be much lower now due the rise in COVID-19 cases.
    Global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access)
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/)
(Reporting by Neha Arora in NEW DELHI and Sachin Ravikumar and Nallur Sethuraman in BENGALURU; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/6/2021 Russia Says In Talks To Make More Military Equipment In India by Sanjeev Miglani and Vladimir Soldatkin
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Indian counterpart Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attend a news
conference following their talks in New Delhi, India, April 6, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Russia and India are discussing “additional” production of Russian military equipment in India, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday, in a move that could irk the United States which frowns upon countries engaged in defence trade with Moscow.
    Speaking at a joint news conference with India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Lavrov did not specify what kind of equipment could be made in India.
    Officials from both countries have said their governments have been discussing for some years the possibility of making Russian military helicopters in India.
    “We have confirmed our determination towards the development of military-technical cooperation,” Lavrov told the briefing, adding there was an inter-governmental commission dealing with the subject.
    “It has its own plans, and the prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion,” he said.
    India has made Russian MiG fighter planes and Su-30 jets under license and the two countries have collaborated to develop and produce supersonic BrahMos cruise missiles in India.
    While joint defence production would fit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship make-in-India programme, it could rile the United States, which has been targeting Russia’s defence and intelligence sectors with trade sanctions for Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and U.S. intelligence findings it has meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    Lavrov said the United States has been trying to discourage countries from buying Russian weapons, but U.S. objections did not feature during his talks with Jaishankar, which had focused on deepening military ties.
    Washington has already warned New Delhi that it could face sanctions if it goes through with the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems under a deal struck in 2018, though it has not made the same threat over other Indian arms purchases from Russia.
    Last year, the United States sanctioned Turkey for buying S-400 systems.    India made an initial payment of $800 million in 2019, and the first set of missile batteries is expected to be delivered towards the end of this year.
    Jaishankar said ties with Russia were time-tested and that the two sides also discussed a summit meeting between Modi and President Vladimir Putin later this year.
    “India-Russia ties are characterised by consistent ability to identify and update shared interests,” he said.
    Russia has traditionally been India’s main arms supplier but Delhi has turned to the United States and Israel in recent years for supplies of attack helicopters, transport planes and high-tech drones and other surveillance equipment.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Bernadette Baum)

4/6/2021 Iran Indicts 10 Over Ukraine Plane Crash, Prosecutor Says; Canada Demands Justice
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers carry a coffin containing the remains of one of the eleven Ukrainian victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752
plane disaster, at Boryspil International Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine, January 19, 2020. Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has indicted 10 officials over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January 2020 that killed all 176 people on board, a military prosecutor said on Tuesday.
    In a report published last month, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defence operator. Ukraine and Canada, home to many of those who died, criticised the report as insufficient.
    “Indictments have been issued for 10 officials involved in the crash of the Ukrainian plane…and necessary decisions will be taken in court,” Gholam Abbas Torki, the outgoing military prosecutor for Tehran province, was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA. He did not elaborate.
    In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability” from Iran about the disaster.
    Canada, along with its partners, will continue to press Tehran to deliver justice and compensation for families of the victims, he told a briefing when asked about the indictments.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport.
    The Iranian government later said the shooting-down was a “disastrous mistake” by its forces at a time when they were on high alert in a regional confrontation with the United States.
    Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

4/7/2021 U.S. Could Lift Iran Sanctions, Begin Nuclear Deal Discussions by OAN Newsroom
US State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks during a press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, DC. (Photo by CAROLYN KASTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    New talks between Iran and the Biden administration could result in the lifting of sanctions.    On Wednesday, State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the U.S. was open to direct negotiations with Iran as well as open to diplomacy.
    The two countries have been speaking indirectly about future relations.
    President Trump withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s Nuclear Deal back in 2018.    He claimed the country refused to take the deal seriously.    However, Price said the Biden administration was willing to bet on Iran’s compliance in exchange for sanctions relief.
    “We are prepared to take the steps necessary to return to compliance with the JCPOA, including by lifting sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA,” Price stated.
    Price gave little detail about how the U.S. would get Iran to comply.    Indirect talks with Iran were expected to continue.

4/8/2021 Eleven Killed As Myanmar Protesters Fight Troops With Handmade Guns, Firebombs: Media
Shoes are seen during Marching Shoes Strike in honour of the people who have been killed since the
start of the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar April 8, 2021. Photo obtained by REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Anti-coup demonstrators in Myanmar fought back with handmade guns and firebombs against a crackdown by security forces in a town in the northwest but at least 11 of the protesters were killed, domestic media reported on Thursday.
    Initially, six truckloads of troops were deployed to quell protesters in the town of Taze, the Myanmar Now and Irrawaddy news outlets said.    When the protesters fought back with handmade guns, knives and firebombs, five more truckloads of troops were brought in.
    Fighting continued into Thursday morning and at least 11 protesters were killed and about 20 wounded, the media said.    There was no word of any casualties among the soldiers.
    That would take the toll of civilians killed by security forces to over 600 since the junta seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).    It had a toll of 598 dead as of Wednesday evening.
    Taze is near the town of Kale, where at least 12 people were killed in a similar clash between troops and protesters on Wednesday, according to news media and witnesses.    Security forces fired live rounds, grenades, and machine-guns on protesters who were demanding the restoration of Suu Kyi’s government, AAPP said.
    “Taze, Kale have many hunters in the jungle,” said Hein Min Hteik, a resident of the region and a youth activist.    “They have handmade firearms. And now they came out with their weapons in order to protect the locals, while the people were under attack by the junta.”
    A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
    “People will try to defend their own lives and their rights,” said a former government minister who is part of the CRPH, a group of lawmakers representing the ousted civilian government.
    “People will not wait for CRPH to act,” the minister said in a video call with Reuters.    “The CRPH cannot stop the possible armed resistance by the people, from the people.”    The junta on Thursday arrested Paing Takhon, a model and actor who had spoken out against the coup, his sister told Reuters.    In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, activists placed shoes filled with flowers to commemorate dead protesters.
    AAPP has said 2,847 people were currently being held in detention.
    In addition, arrest warrants have been issued for hundreds of people, with the junta this week going after scores of influencers, entertainers, artists and musicians.
‘LOCKED OUT OF EMBASSY’
    Paing Takhon, 24, well-known in Myanmar and Thailand, was one of the latest celebrities to be detained.    He had condemned the military takeover and pledged support for Suu Kyi.
    His sister, Thi Thi Lwin, told Reuters that the military detained her brother at 4.30 am at their parents’ home in Yangon, where he had been staying for several days while unwell, suffering from malaria and a heart condition.
    The security forces came with eight military trucks and about 50 soldiers and it was unclear where he had been taken, she said.
    The country’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, was arrested on Tuesday, media reported.
    Overseas, tussles for control of Myanmar’s diplomatic missions emerged again on Wednesday.
    Myanmar’s ambassador to London Kyaw Zwar Minn said he was locked out of the embassy, with sources saying his deputy had shut him out and taken charge on behalf of the military.
    Kyaw Zwar Minn has broken ranks with the ruling junta in recent weeks, calling for the release of detained civilian leader Suu Kyi.
    “It’s a kind of coup, in the middle of London… you can see that they occupy my building,” he told Reuters.
    There have also been similar counter claims in embassies in other global centres and at the United Nations.
    Meanwhile, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the junta’s leader, said in a statement on Wednesday that the civil disobedience movement, or CDM, had halted the working of hospitals, schools, roads, offices and factories.
    “CDM is an activity to destroy the country,” he said.
    Fitch Solutions said in a report that Western sanctions targeting the military were unlikely to succeed in restoring democracy, but said the army was losing control.
    It predicted a violent revolution pitting the military against an armed opposition comprised of members of the anti-coup movement and ethnic militias.
    “The escalating violence on civilians and ethnic militias show that the Tatmadaw (military) is increasingly losing control of the country,” it said.
    The vast majority of people back Suu Kyi’s ousted government, it added.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Michael Perry & Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/8/2021 AstraZeneca Woes Grow As Australia, Philippines, African Union Curb COVID Shots by Reuters Staff
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker prepares a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center, amid the
coronavirus disease outbreak, in Ronquieres, Belgium April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Australia and the Philippines limited use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, while the Africa Union dropped plans to buy the shot, dealing further blows to the company’s hopes to deliver a vaccine for the world.
    The vaccine – developed with Oxford University and considered a frontrunner in the global vaccine race – has been plagued by safety concerns and supply problems since Phase III trial results were published in December, with Indonesia the latest country forced to seek doses from other vaccine developers.
    The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZeneca shots for people below 60 after Europe’s regulator said on Wednesday it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients although the vaccine’s advantages still outweighed its risks.
    Australia recommended people under 50 should get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s, a policy shift that it warned would hold up its inoculation campaign.
    The African Union is exploring options with Johnson & Johnson having dropped plans to buy AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India’s Serum Institute, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters.
    AstraZeneca’s shot is sold at cost, for a few dollars a dose.    It is by far the cheapest and most high-volume launched so far, and has none of the extreme refrigeration requirements of some other COVID-19 vaccines, making it likely to be the mainstay of many vaccination programmes in the developing world.
    But more than a dozen countries have at one time suspended or partially suspended use of the shot, first on concerns about efficacy in older people, and now on worries about rare side effects in younger people.
    That, coupled with production setbacks, will delay the rollout of vaccines across the globe as governments scramble to find alternatives to tame the pandemic which has killed more than 3 million.
‘EXTREMELY RARE’
    Italy joined France, the Netherlands, Germany and others in recommending a minimum age for recipients of AstraZeneca’s shot on Wednesday and Britain said people under 30 should get an alternative. South Korea also suspended use of the vaccine in people under 60 this week, while approving Johnson & Johnson’s shot.
    AstraZeneca has said it is working with the British and European regulators to list possible brain blood clots as “an extremely rare potential side-effect.”
    South Africa also paused AstraZeneca vaccinations last month because of a small trial showing the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the dominant local coronavirus variant.
    AstraZeneca is grappling with production issues that have led to shortfalls of its shot in several countries.
    Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Thursday the country was in talks with China on getting as many as 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to plug a gap in deliveries after delays in the arrivals of AstraZeneca shots.
    India has put a temporary hold on all major exports of AstraZeneca’s shot made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine-maker, as domestic infections rise.
    That has affected supplies to the GAVI/WHO-backed global COVAX vaccine-sharing facility through which 64 poorer countries are supposed to get doses from the SII, the programme’s procurement and distributing partner UNICEF told Reuters last month.
    Britain is slowing its vaccine rollout due to a shipment delay from India and is at loggerheads with the EU over exports.    Australia has also blamed delays in its immunisation campaign on supply issues in Europe.
    AstraZeneca has cited reduced yields at a European factory behind the supply shortfall to the European Union.

4/8/2021 Scientists Call For New Probe Into COVID-19 Origins – With Or Without China
FILE PHOTO: Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), attends the WHO-China joint study news conference at a hotel in Wuhan, Hubei province, China February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) -A joint China-World Health Organization (WHO) study into COVID-19 has provided no credible answers about how the pandemic began, and more rigorous investigations are required – with or without Beijing’s involvement, a group of international scientists and researchers said on Wednesday.
    The joint study, released last week, said the likeliest transmission route for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, involved bats and other wildlife.    It all but ruled out the possibility it had leaked from a laboratory.
    In an open letter, 24 scientists and researchers from Europe, the United States, Australia and Japan said the study was tainted by politics.
    “Their starting point was, let’s have as much compromise as is required to get some minimal cooperation from China,” said Jamie Metzl, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank, who led the drafting process for the letter.
    The study’s conclusions were based on unpublished Chinese research, while critical records and biological samples “remain inaccessible,” the letter said.
    Claims by WHO Director General Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus that China has withheld data have been rejected by Liang Wannian, China’s senior COVID-19 expert. Liang also appeared to rule out any further joint investigations in China.
    Metzl said the world might have to “revert to Plan B” and conduct further investigations without China’s involvement.
    China has rejected allegations that SARS-CoV-2 leaked from a research laboratory in Wuhan, the city where COVID-19 was first identified.
    The joint China-WHO study said the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely,” saying there was “no record” that any laboratory had kept SARS-CoV-2-related viruses.    Tedros said more research was required to “reach more robust conclusions.”
    But Metzl said China should disclose information that would allow the lab-leak hypothesis to be disproved.
    “China has databases of what viruses were being held… there are lab notes of the work that was being done,” he said.
    Responding to the letter on Thursday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said its “purpose was self-evident” and that countries like the United States, not China, were guilty of politicising the inquiry into COVID-19’s origins.
    “They insist on politicising the issue of traceability, damaging and disrupting China’s cooperation with the WHO, discrediting China and publicly challenging the independence and scientific conclusions of scientists,” he said.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Bernadette Baum)

4/8/2021 Armed Clashes Break Out In Myanmar Between Troops And Anti-Junta Protesters, US Expands Sanctions
Shoes are seen during Marching Shoes Strike in honour of the people who have been killed since the
start of the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar April 8, 2021. Photo obtained by REUTERS
    (Reuters) -At least 11 demonstrators were killed in clashes with security forces in a town in northwest Myanmar after truckloads of troops arrived to quell a protest against the ruling military junta, domestic media reported on Thursday.
    Protesters armed with homemade guns, knives and firebombs fought back against the troops in the town of Taze and more soldiers were brought in, the Myanmar Now and Irrawaddy news outlets said.
    Fighting carried on into Thursday morning and at least 11 protesters were killed and about 20 wounded, they said.    There was no word of any casualties among the soldiers.
    It took the toll of civilians killed by security forces to more than 600 since the junta seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
    Taze is near the town of Kale, where at least 12 people were killed in a similar clash between troops and protesters on Wednesday, according to news media and witnesses.
    The incidents could signal a new phase in a struggle in which the opposition has largely used peaceful means of protest despite the lethal actions of the security forces.
    “People will try to defend their own lives and their rights,” said a former government minister who belongs to the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a group of lawmakers representing the ousted civilian government.
    “People will not wait for CRPH to act,” the minister told Reuters. “The CRPH cannot stop the possible armed resistance by the people, from the people.”    The junta could not be reached for comment.
SECURITY COUNCIL
    A member of the CRPH, which is attempting to restore the civilian government, will on Friday address an informal, virtual gathering of the 15 U.N. Security Council members in New York, diplomats said.
    It will be the first public discussion of Myanmar by the Council’s members since the coup on Feb. 1.
    The Security Council has condemned the violence against protesters, but has not defined the military takeover as a coup or threatened any action, due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.
    The United States, which has imposed sanctions on the junta’s economic interests, on Thursday added a state-owned gem enterprise to its list of targets.
    The junta has not baulked at taking on celebrities, and on Thursday arrested Paing Takhon, a popular 24-year-old model and actor who had spoken out against the coup and pledged support for Aung San Suu Kyi, his sister Thi Thi Lwin said.
    She said eight trucks and about 50 soldiers had come to pick him up at their parents’ home in Yangon, where he had been staying as he was unwell from malaria and a heart condition.    She did not know where he had been taken.
    AAPP has said over 2,800 people are in detention for opposing the junta.
    Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s leading champion of democracy over three decades, has been held at an undisclosed location since the coup and charged with crimes that could see her jailed and banned from politics.
    Her National League for Democracy won an election in November but the military – which has ruled Burma for most of its post-independence history – alleged that it had been marred by fraud.
    The junta’s vice-chairman, Soe Win, was shown on state-run television meeting with military officers in Shan state to detail what he said were more cases of fraud.    Many Western governments have dismissed the assertions as nonsense.
BLACKLISTED GEMS
    The United States, the European Union and others have already imposed sanctions on generals involved in the coup and some of their family members, as well as two conglomerates controlled by the military.
    The latest U.S. sanctions blacklisted Myanma Gems Enterprise, part of the mining ministry.
    The move blocks Americans from doing business with the entity, which issues permits and licences to mine precious stones and collects revenues from the sale of gems and jade.    The U.S. Treasury Department said it would curb the junta’s ability to generate revenues.
    Myanmar is the world’s main source of jade, and a major source of rubies and other rare gems.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States would “keep increasing pressure on the regime’s revenue streams until it ceases its violence, releases all those unjustly detained, lifts martial law and the nationwide state of emergency, removes telecommunications restrictions, and restores Burma to the path of democracy.”
    An adviser to the CRPH told Reuters that at least six lawmakers from the National League for Democracy were now sheltering in India.
    An Indian police official said they were among about 1,800 people who had entered from Myanmar since late February.
    “MPs are in great danger at the moment in Myanmar.    They are being searched, they are being followed by the soldiers,” the adviser said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/9/2021 Hong Kong Shop Founded By Pro-Democracy Activist Raided Over Content Labelling
Customers queue outside "AbouThai" shop, founded by pro-democracy activist Mike Lam, who is facing charges under
the city's contentious national security law, in Hong Kong, China April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jessie Pang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities said on Friday they had seized nearly 9,000 Thai cleaning products suspected to have wrong labelling from a shop founded by a pro-democracy activist facing charges under the city’s contentious national security law.
    Customs officers on Thursday raided 25 shops belonging to the chain, AbouThai, and arrested a 33-year-old male director of the group, the government said in a statement.
    The suspect had been released on bail and further arrests had not been ruled out, it added.
    “The product information marked on the packages of the products involved failed to bear Chinese and English bilingual warnings or cautions,” it said, adding the estimated market value of the 8,805 products seized was about HK$400,000 ($51,400).
    Under Hong Kong’s Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance, warnings or cautions on products must be in both English and Chinese and are required to be “legibly and conspicuously shown on the goods.”
    Customs chiefs said the raids were carried out in connection with missing safety warnings on cleaning products, with some only having warnings or cautions in Thai, while others bore warnings or cautions in Thai and English.
    The company’s founder, Mike Lam, is among 47 democrats charged under the city’s national security law on a charge of conspiracy to commit subversion and is currently on bail.
    Crowds queued outside branches of the shop across the city on Friday to show support for Lam, with some saying they believed the raid was politically motivated.
    “I find it unreasonable that the Customs targeted AbouThai.    That’s why I come here to support.    I am quite touched that many people come,” said Chris, who declined to give his full name due to the sensitivity of the national security law.
    The legislation punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secessionism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
    Local broadcaster RTHK quoted Vincent Chan, from the customs consumer protection bureau, as saying the department condemned any “false accusation” that the raid was an “act of repression.”
    Hong Kong anti-government protesters have queued outside businesses that openly support the democracy movement since anti-government protests flared in 2019.
    The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a promise of safeguards for its wide-ranging autonomy.    Democracy activists say authorities are chipping away at those freedoms, accusations which officials in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
(Reporting by Jessie Peng, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Nick Macfie)

4/9/2021 Parties To Iran Nuclear Talks See Progress Despite Clash On Sanctions by Francois Murphy and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo/File Photo
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) -Talks to bring Iran and the United States fully back into the 2015 nuclear deal are making progress, delegates said on Friday, but Iranian officials indicated disagrement with Washington over which sanctions it must lift.
    The talks, in which European Union officials are shuttling between the remaining parties to the deal and the United States, aim to restore the bargain at the core of the deal – restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and other international sanctions.     The United States was the first to renege on that bargain under President Donald Trump, who vehemently opposed the deal and sought to wreck it.    He pulled out, reimposed the sanctions that were lifted, and brought in many more. Iran responded by breaching many of the nuclear restrictions.
    “All Trump sanctions were anti-JCPOA & must be removed—w/o distinction between arbitrary designations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Twitter, referring to the deal by its full name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    The United States says it is prepared to lift “sanctions that are inconsistent with the JCPOA.”    While it has declined to elaborate, that appears to exclude sanctions formally unrelated to nuclear issues covered by the deal.
    Whether the statements are opening gambits or more firm positions remains to be seen.    European officials said Iran was bargaining hard at the outset.
    The remaining parties to the accord – Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – met again in Vienna on Friday after talks formally began on Tuesday and they agreed to keep going, Russian and Chinese envoys said.
    “The #JCPOA participants took stock of the work done by experts over the last three days and noted with satisfaction the initial progress made,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Twitter after the meeting formally known as the Joint Commission.
    “The Commission will reconvene next week in order to maintain the positive momentum.”
    The deal’s remaining parties have formed two expert-level working groups whose job is to draw up lists of sanctions that the United States will lift and of nuclear restrictions Iran will implement.    Their work continues between Joint Commission meetings.
    “All parties have narrowed down their differences and we do see the momentum for gradually evolving consensus,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the IAEA, told reporters after the meeting, adding that work would continue next week.
‘IRAN IS THE PACE CAR’
    Iran’s foreign ministry said in a statement diplomats would meet again on Wednesday in Vienna.    Talks are expected to drag on for weeks.
    “Given the technical complexity of the nuclear aspects and legal intricacies of sanctions lifting, it would be very optimistic to think a few weeks,” a senior European diplomatic source said.br>     Some diplomats hope agreement can be reached before Iran’s June 18 presidential election or else talks risk being pushed back until later in the year.
    “Iran is the pace car for progress.    If Tehran decides to push forward swiftly before the June presidential elections, the U.S. will almost certainly be receptive,” Henry Rome, an analyst with the Eurasia Group research firm said in a note.
    “That would require Iran to compromise on its sanctions and sequencing demands. If Tehran is unsatisfied with the US position, or if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is wary about the political consequences of a diplomatic breakthrough in the midst of a presidential campaign, Tehran will tap the brakes.”     Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, has opposed any gradual easing of sanctions.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/9/2021 Myanmar Junta Says Protests Are Dwindling As At Least 10 Reported Killed By Troops
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators are seen before a clash with security forces in Taze, Sagaing Region,
Myanmar April 7, 2021, in this image obtained by Reuters. Photo obtained by REUTERS.

4/9/2021 United States Issues Guidelines To Encourage More Interaction With Taiwan
FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price takes questions from reporters at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., March 31, 2021. Carolyn Kaster/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Friday it had issued new guidelines that will enable U.S. officials to meet more freely with officials from Taiwan.
    “These new guidelines liberalize guidance on contacts with Taiwan, consistent with our unofficial relations,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in statement.    The aim, he said, was “to encourage U.S. government engagement with Taiwan that reflects our deepening unofficial relationship.”
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Leslie Adler)

4/9/2021 Psaki: Biden Admin. Not Looking For Confrontation With China by OAN Newsroom
White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke at a press briefing at the White House,
Friday, April 9, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    The Biden administration is continuing to drag its feet when it comes to China, despite mounting aggression from the Communist state.
    The latest instance of this policy of appeasement came about during Friday’s White House press briefing.
    A reporter asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the administration’s views on a series of military exercises carried out by the People’s Liberation Army near Taiwan on Monday.
    The air and sea drills raised concerns they could point to an approaching Chinese invasion of the island, but Psaki refused to give a straight answer.    Instead, she pointed out the Biden administration does not want to make an enemy of China.
    “Well, first, let me say that we’re not looking, as you know, for confrontation with China,” Psaki stated.    “So, we are watching that closely.    I can’t make any other predictions from here.”
    This came amid backlash over Biden’s skinny budget released on Friday, which critics said puts national security behind social projects on the Democrat agenda.

4/10/2021 Iran Reveals New Centrifuge, Can Enrich Uranium 50 Times Quicker by OAN Newsroom
NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 25: President of Iran Hassan Rouhani addresses the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters on
September 25, 2019 in New York City. World leaders from across the globe are gathered at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly,
amid crises ranging from climate change to possible conflict between Iran and the United States. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
    Iran unveiled a new nuclear centrifuge it said would allow the nation to enrich uranium much faster than older equipment.    According to Iranian state television Saturday, the new centrifuge will be able to enrich uranium 50 times faster than the nation’s first centrifuges.
    Iran has begun enriching uranium at up to 20 percent purity, which is nearing weapons-grade levels.    This week, the State Department said the U.S. would be open to negotiations with Iran.
    “Once again, I stress that all our nuclear activities are peaceful and for non-military purposes,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated.    “And just as the Supreme Leader of Iran has emphasized multiple times, based on Islamic ethics and deep understanding, pursuing a destructive weapon that can be a large threat to a large community is not something Iran is doing.”
    Iran is seeking to have U.S. sanctions lifted, while the Biden administration is looking for the country to return to the terms of the 2015 Nuclear Deal.

4/11/2021 Secy. Of State Vows To Defend Taiwan Against Chinese Invasion by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered remarks on March 3, 2021. (Photo by ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken is vowing military support for Taiwan in case of a Chinese aggression against the island nation.
    “What we’ve seen, and what is of real concern to us, is increasingly aggressive actions by the government in Beijing directed at Taiwan, raising tensions in the Straits,” Blinken stated.
    Blinken said the U.S. would provide assistance to Taiwan to increase its ability to defend itself against a possible Chinese incursion.    However, he didn’t say if the U.S. would confront China directly if such an incursion were to happen.
    “We have a commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act, a bipartisan commitment that’s existed for many, many years to make sure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself and to make sure that we’re sustaining peace and security in the western Pacific,” Blinken stated.    “We stand behind those commitments and all I can tell you is, it would be a serious mistake for anyone to try to change the existing status quo by force.”
    Critics noted back in 2014 the Obama administration failed to defend Ukraine, despite having similar commitments under the Budapest Memorandum.
    Taiwanese officials said they’re preparing to repel a Chinese invasion by all means they have.

4/12/2021 Iran: Site’s blackout is ‘nuclear terrorism’ by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran on Sunday described a blackout at its underground Natanz atomic facility an act of “nuclear terrorism,” raising regional tensions as world powers and Tehran continue to negotiate over its tattered nuclear deal.
    While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion fell immediately on Israel, where its media nearly uniformly reported a devastating cyberattack orchestrated by the country caused the blackout.
    If Israel was responsible, it further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who met Sunday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, has vowed to do everything in his power to stop the nuclear deal.
    Details remained few about what happened early Sunday morning at the facility, which initially was described as a blackout caused by the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls.
    Ali Akbar Salehi, the American-educated head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, who once served as the country’s foreign minister, offered what appeared to be the harshest comments of his long career, which included the assassination of nuclear scientists a decade ago.    Iran blames Israel for those killings as well.
    He pledged to “seriously improve” his nation’s nuclear technology while working to lift international sanctions.
    Salehi’s comments to state TV did not explain what happened at the facility, but his words suggested a serious disruption.
    “While condemning this desperate move, the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes the need for a confrontation by the international bodies and the (International Atomic Energy Agency) against this nuclear terrorism,” Salehi said.
    The IAEA, the United Nations’ body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the incident at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it.    The agency did not elaborate.
    However, Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past.    The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges at Natanz amid an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.
    Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant in July that authorities later described as sabotage.    Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.
    Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.
    Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout in Natanz. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack.    Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.
    While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which lost power Sunday,
in central Iran. ATOMIC ENERGY ORGANIZATION OF IRAN VIA AP, FILE

4/12/2021 Iran Blames Israel For Natanz Nuclear Plant Outage, Vows Revenge by Parisa Hafezi
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/
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Monday accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging its key Natanz nuclear site and vowed revenge for an attack that appeared to be latest episode in a long-running covert war.
    Iran’s semi-official Nournews website said the person who caused an electricity outage in one of the production halls at the underground uranium enrichment plant had been identified.    “Necessary measures are being taken to arrest this person,” the website reported, without giving details about the person.
    The incident occurred amid diplomatic efforts by Iran and the United States to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, an accord Israel fiercely opposed, after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago.
    Last week, Iran and the global powers held what they described as “constructive” talks to salvage the deal, which has unravelled as Iran has breached its limits on sensitive uranium enrichment since Trump reimposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.
    Iranian authorities described the incident a day earlier as an act of “nuclear terrorism” and said Tehran reserved the right to take action against the perpetrators.
    On Monday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explicitly blamed Israel.    “The Zionists want to take revenge because of our progress in the way to lift sanctions… We will not fall into their trap…We will not allow this act of sabotage to affect the nuclear talks,” Zarif was quoted by state TV as saying.
    “But we will take our revenge against the Zionists.”
    Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the underground Natanz complex, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months.
    Israel, whose existence Iran does not recognise, has not formally commented on the incident.
    Iranian nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said an emergency power system had been activated at Natanz to offset the outage.    “Enrichment of uranium has not stopped at the site.”
ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES
    The incident took place a day after Tehran, which has insisted it wants only peaceful nuclear energy not nuclear bombs from the enrichment process, launched new advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.
    “All of the centrifuges that went out of circuit at Natanz site were of the IR-1 type,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference, referring to Iran’s first generation of enrichment machines more vulnerable to outages.
    “Our nuclear experts are assessing the damage but I can assure you that Iran will replace damaged uranium enrichment centrifuges in Natanz with advanced ones.”
    Modernised centrifuges can refine uranium to higher fissile purity at a much faster rate, helping accumulate a stockpile that could shorten Iran’s route to a nuclear weapon, if it chose to develop them, than the IR-1 that still predominates in Natanz’s production halls.
    The 2015 deal only allows Iran to enrich with up to 5,060 IR-1 machines, in a plant designed to house around 50,000, but it has begun enriching at Natanz with hundreds of advanced centrifuges including the IR-2m.
    Despite strong Israeli opposition, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is committed to rejoining the deal if the Islamic Republic returns to full compliance with restrictions on nuclear fuel production.
    Asked by reporters about the Natanz outage, a German Foreign Ministry spokesman, alluding warned that such incidents could adversely affect the nuclear negotiations.
    Khatibzadeh said nuclear talks would resume on Wednesday in Vienna. Diplomatic headway has been made, delegates said on Friday.    Iran insists all U.S. sanctions crippling its oil-based economy must be lifted first before it stops accelerating enrichment and restores caps on the process.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday Iran had never given up efforts to develop nuclear weapons and that Israel would never allow Tehran to do so.    Israel sees the Iranian enrichment drive as a existential menace.
    There have been sporadic episodes of sabotage and outages at Iranian nuclear installations over more than a decade, for which Tehran has blamed Israel.
    In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz, causing damaging breakdowns of centrifuge cascades that refine uranium.
    In July last year, a fire broke out at Natanz that Iran said was an attempt by Israel to scuttle enrichment activity there.
    Iran also accused Israel of responsibility for last November’s ambush killing outside Tehran of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was considered by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme.    Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in his death.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Alexander Ratz in Berlin; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

4/12/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Asks Court To Let Her Meet Lawyers, Activists Urge New Year Defiance
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during an event at the
Asia Society Policy Institute in New York City, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb/File Photo
    (Reuters) -Myanmar’s detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi asked a court on Monday to be allowed to meet her lawyers in person when she appeared at a hearing via video link to face charges brought by the military junta that could see her jailed for years.
    As Suu Kyi appeared, her supporters called for people to show their opposition to the Feb. 1 coup during this week’s traditional new year holiday in the largely Buddhist country.
    Suu Kyi, 75, who has led Myanmar’s struggle against military rule for decades and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been detained since the coup and charged with various offences.    These include violating a colonial-era official secrets act that could see her jailed for 14 years.
    She has only been allowed to talk with her lawyers via video link in the presence of security officials and it is not known if she is even aware of the turmoil that has engulfed the country since the military seized power.
    “No, we haven’t, we could only talk about legal matters,” lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters when asked if her legal team had been able to talk to her about the protests in which more than 700 people have been killed.
    The lawyer said Suu Kyi looked healthy as she repeated a request to meet her lawyers face-to-face.    The next hearing is on April 26.
    As well as the official secrets charge, Suu Kyi has been charged with illegally possessing two-way radios and violating coronavirus protocols.    She has also been accused by the ruling military council of bribery.
    Her lawyers say the charges were trumped up and they dismiss the accusation of bribery as a joke.
    An additional complaint against her was filed on Monday related to the coronavirus rules, Min Min Soe said.
    The coup has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps towards democracy as the military stepped back from politics and allowed Suu Kyi to form a government after her party swept a 2015 election.
    The military says it had to overthrow her government because a November election again won by her National League for Democracy was rigged.    The election commission dismissed the accusation.
    The coup has triggered relentless protests by those opposed to military rule, and unyielding suppression by the generals who say that only they can save the country from disintegration.
‘POWER OF PEOPLE’
    Security forces have killed 706 protesters, including 46 children, since the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
    That included 82 people killed in the town of Bago, about 70 km (45 miles) northeast of Yangon, on Friday.
    Undaunted by the violence, activists called for defiance this week over the five-day traditional new year, known as Thingyan, which begins on Tuesday.
    The most important holiday of the year is usually celebrated with prayers, ritual cleaning of Buddha images in temples, and high-spirited water-throwing on the streets.
    “The military council doesn’t own Thingyan. The power of people is in the hands of people,” Ei Thinzar Maung, a leader of the General Strike Collaboration Committee protest group, wrote on Facebook.
    Calling for a “people’s Thingyan,” Ei Thinzar Maung said Buddhists should wear certain religious attire and recite prayers together, for members of small Christian communities to wear white and read psalms, and for followers of other religions should to follow the lead of their leaders.
    Reports on social media said security forces had opened fire in the northwestern town of Tamu on Monday and police had broken up a protest in the city of Mandalay.
    Three civilians were killed in fighting between the army and ethnic minority Kachin insurgents in the north, the Irrawaddy online news service reported.
    Details of the violence were difficult to obtain because of the junta’s curbs on broadband internet and mobile data services.     A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
(Reporting by Reuters staff, writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Jane Wardell & Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

4/12/2021 EU Sanctions Elite Iran Commander, Seven Others, Over 2019 Protests by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union has imposed sanctions on eight Iranian militia commanders and police chiefs, including the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, over a deadly crackdown in November 2019, the bloc said in its Official Journal on Monday.
    The travel bans and asset freezes are the first EU sanctions on Iran for human rights abuses since 2013, as the bloc had shied away from angering Tehran in the hope of safeguarding a nuclear accord Tehran signed with world powers in 2015.
    Their preparation was first reported by Reuters last month.
    The bloc, which also hit three Iranian prisons with asset freezes, blacklisted Hossein Salami, head of the Revolutionary Guards, the most powerful and heavily armed security force in the Islamic Republic.
    “Hossein Salami took part in the sessions that resulted in the orders to use lethal force to suppress the November 2019 protests.    Hossein Salami therefore bears responsibility for serious human rights violations in Iran,” the EU said.
    The three prisons sanctioned included two in the Tehran area where the EU said those detained after the 2019 protests were deliberately wounded with boiling water and denied medical treatment.
    About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15, 2019, according to a toll provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials at the time.    The United Nations said the total was at least 304.
    Iran has called the toll given by sources “fake news.”
    Iran has repeatedly rejected accusations by the West of human rights abuses.
    On March 9, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, presented a report saying Tehran used lethal force during the protests and chided it for failing to conduct a proper investigation or failing to hold anyone accountable.
    Other individuals targeted with EU sanctions, which take effect on Monday, include members of Iran’s hardline Basij militia, who are under the command of the Revolutionary Guards, and its head Gholamreza Soleimani.
    The eight Iranians were added to an EU sanctions list for human rights abuses in Iran that was first launched in 2011 and which now numbers 89 people and four entities.    It includes a ban on exports of equipment that could be used for repression.
    Diplomats said the sanctions were not linked to efforts to revive the nuclear deal, which the United States pulled out of but now seeks to re-join.    That deal made it harder for Iran to amass the fissile material needed for a nuclear bomb – a goal it has long denied – in return for sanctions relief.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Marine Strauss and Giles Elgood)

4/13/2021 White House: Biden To Withdraw 2.5K U.S. Troops From Afghanistan By Sept. 11 by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Jan. 31, 2020, file photo Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, center, top U.S. commander for the Middle East, makes an unannounced visit
in Kabul, Afghanistan. Without coming right out and saying it, President Joe Biden seems ready to let lapse a May 1 deadline for completing a
withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Orderly withdrawals take time, and Biden is running out of it. (AP Photos/Lolita Baldor, File)
    Joe Biden has planned to withdraw all remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11. Defense officials told news outlets Tuesday that he plans to remove the last 2,500 military personnel from the region.
    The administration will, however, miss President Trump’s deadline to withdraw troops by May 1, which is the 10-year anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.    The new withdrawal date would come on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which preceded America’s longest running war.
    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to brief U.S. NATO allies on the withdrawal during their visit to Brussels this week.
    “My administration strongly supports the diplomatic process that’s underway and to bring an end to this war that is closing out 20 years,” Biden stated.    “We remain committed to ensuring that Afghanistan never again provides a base for terrorist attacks against the United States and our partners and our interest.”
    Biden is expected to make a formal announcement on the troop withdrawal on Wednesday.

4/14/2021 US to exit Afghan war by Sept. 11 by Lolita C. Baldor, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on America that were coordinated from that country, several U.S. officials said Tuesday.
    The decision defies a May 1 deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year, but leaves no room for additional extensions.    A senior administration official called the September date an absolute deadline that won’t be affected by security conditions in the country.
    While Biden’s decision keeps U.S. troops in Afghanistan four months longer than initially planned, it sets a firm end to two decades of war that killed more than 2,200 U.S. troops, wounded 20,000, and cost as much as $1 trillion.    The conflict largely crippled al-Qaida and led to the death of Osama bin Laden, the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.
    But an American withdrawal also risks many of the gains made in democracy, women’s rights and governance, while ensuring that the Taliban, who provided al-Qaida’s safe haven, remain strong and in control of large swaths of the country.
    Biden hinted for weeks that he would let the May deadline lapse, and as the days went by it became clear that an orderly withdrawal of the roughly 2,500 remaining troops would be difficult and was unlikely.

4/14/2021 Official: Iran to enrich uranium to 60% purity - Blackout at power plant roils diplomatic efforts by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran will begin enriching uranium up to 60% purity after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility, a negotiator said Tuesday, pushing its program to higher levels than ever before though still remaining short of weapons-grade.
    The announcement marks a significant escalation after the sabotage that damaged centrifuges, suspected of having been carried out by Israel – and could inspire a further response from Israel amid a long-running shadow war between the nations.
    Earlier, Iran’s foreign minister had warned that the weekend assault at Natanz could hurt ongoing negotiations over its tattered atomic deal with world powers. Those talks are aimed at finding a way for the United States to reenter the agreement, the goal of which is to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for relief on sanctions.
    Nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi, in Vienna to begin informal talks Tuesday night, made a point to make his announcement in English.
    “We believe this round of negotiations is the time for the U.S. to present a list, and I hope that I can go back to Tehran with the list of sanctions which should be lifted,” Araghchi told Iranian state television’s English-language arm Press TV.
    He said authorities would add another 1,000 centrifuges to Natanz as well.
    “The damaged centrifuges in Natanz ... would be replaced with more advanced centrifuges and more capable centrifuges,” he said.    “We insist on what we have asked.    All sanctions should be lifted, we verify, and then we go back to full compliance if we are satisfied with the verification process.”
    Iran had been enriching up to 20%, and even that is a short technical step to weapons-grade levels of 90%.
    Meanwhile on Tuesday, Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported an Israeliowned ship had been attacked in the Gulf of Oman off the coast of the United Arab     Emirates near the port city of Fujairah.    The broadcaster said Israeli security officials believed it was an Iranian attack, but did not elaborate.    Iranian state media had been reporting a similar incident for hours.    U.S. military officials declined to immediately comment, and Emirati officials did not acknowledge any incident there.
    Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, though the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program up until the end of 2003.    However, the nuclear deal prevents it from having enough of a uranium stockpile to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon.
    The talks in Vienna are aimed at reviving America’s role in that agreement, which former President Donald Trump abandoned, and lifting the sanctions he imposed.
    The Vienna-based IAEA told The Associated Press that Director General Rafael Grossi reported to member states on Tuesday that Iran had informed the agency it planned to begin enriching uranium up to 60% purity at its Natanz facility.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center right, and Russian counterpart
Sergey Lavrovsign sign agreements. IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY VIA AP

4/14/2021 Blinken Meets With NATO Chief Over Afghanistan Withdrawal by OAN Newsroom
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken address a media conference
at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels on
Wednesday for talks with European and NATO allies about Afghanistan, Ukraine and other matters. (Johanna Geron, Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Brussels to try convincing NATO’s ally countries to withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    During his visit Wednesday, Blinken met with NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg to discuss the alliance members’ future in the region.    He said neither the U.S. nor NATO has plans to desert the region despite the impending withdrawal.
    There are roughly 7,000 NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan and Blinken made it clear what path the administration hopes the group will take.    Meanwhile, none of the alliance members are expected to go against Joe Biden’s plans.

4/15/2021 Blinken Visits Afghanistan In Show Of Support After Biden Announces Withdrawal by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meets with Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah
Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan April 15, 2021. High Council for National Reconciliation Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kabul on Thursday in an unannounced visit to show support for the Afghan government a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said that he was pulling out U.S. forces after nearly 20 years of war.
    Biden acknowledged that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly two decades after al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.
    Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the U.S. pullout.
    Blinken, arriving in Kabul after attending NATO talks in Brussels, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, whose government remains embroiled in fierce fighting with Taliban insurgents while a U.S.-backed peace process is shrouded in uncertainty.
    The top U.S. diplomat tried to reassure Ghani that despite the departure of U.S. troops, the United States would remain committed to Afghanistan, saying Washington will “intensify” its diplomacy to do “everything we can” to advance efforts to secure a peace agreement between Kabul and the insurgents.
    “The reason I’m here, so quickly after the president’s speech last night, is to demonstrate literally, by our presence, that we have an enduring an ongoing commitment to Afghanistan,” Blinken said at the embassy, according to a press pool report.
    He was in Kabul for about eight hours.
    The foreign troop withdrawals have raised concerns that the country could erupt in full-scale civil war, providing al Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.
    In his meeting with Ghani at the presidential palace, Blinken assured the Afghan president that “the partnership is changing, but the partnership is enduring.”
    Later at a press conference at the heavily fortified American embassy, where earlier he had greeted U.S. soldiers, Blinken warned the Taliban that any attack on American troops as they pulled out would be met with “a very forceful response.”
    Blinken also met with Abdullah Abdullah, the head of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, who expressed support for the U.S. decision.
    “This does not mean the end of relations and cooperation between the two countries.    A new chapter of relations and cooperation between the two countries has returned and we will continue our cooperation in various fields in this chapter,” Abdullah said in a statement.
IMPLICIT THREAT
    Even as Blinken visited Kabul, the Taliban reiterated a call for an “immediate” withdrawal of all foreign forces, accusing Washington of breaching a February 2020 accord – secured by the Trump administration – to complete a U.S. troop pullout by May 1.
    The Taliban statement appeared to make an implicit threat, warning that “in principle” their fighters would “take every necessary countermeasure, hence the American side will be held responsible for all future consequences.”
    They also said they will “under no circumstance ever relent” on their goal of establishing a “pure Islamic system,” underscoring a deep difference with Kabul over the kind of governmental system that should be established in a peace agreement.
    As the fate of the peace talks remained uncertain, with the Taliban saying they would not attend a planned conference in Turkey until all foreign forces leave Afghanistan, Blinken remained hopeful.
    “We’re waiting to see a definitive response form the Taliban about their participation… The goal is … to accelerate the peace process.    The gathering will be supported by high-level attendance from the international community,” he said.
    Some U.S. officials and experts are concerned about the enduring presence in Afghanistan of al Qaeda and Islamic State extremists, worried that the former will be able to rebuild and plot new attacks on Western targets.
    Speaking to CNN, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, conceded that the U.S. withdrawal would result in less intelligence.    But, he said, the United States still would be able to detect threats to the U.S. homeland from Afghanistan.
    “Our ability to protect the American homeland in my view will not diminish,” Sullivan said.    “Our ability to collect intelligence on a day-to-day basis, against the comings and goings of actors within Afghanistan, will diminish. That’s a big difference.”
    “From our perspective, we can set up the kind of scenario in which we can protect this country without remaining at war in Afghanistan for the third decade.”
    The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces.    A U.S.-backed government has held power in Afghanistan since then, although the Taliban have control over wide areas of the country.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Jonathan Landay in Washington, editing by Sabine Siebold and Nick Macfie)

4/15/2021 Iran, World Powers Resume Nuclear Talks Amid Strains Over Enrichment, Natanz Attack by Francois Murphy, Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
Police officers stand outside a hotel, where a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission or Iran nuclear
deal will be held, in Vienna, Austria, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and global powers resumed talks on Thursday to rescue the 2015 nuclear deal in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment and what it called Israeli sabotage at a nuclear site.
    Casting a shadow over the Vienna talks, Tehran on Tuesday announced its decision to enrich uranium at 60% purity, a big step closer to the 90% that is weapons-grade material, in response to an explosion at its key Natanz facility on Sunday.
    Calling the move “provocative,” the United States and the European parties to the deal warned that Tehran’s enrichment move was contrary to efforts to revive the accord abandoned by Washington three years ago.
    The 2015 agreement sought to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb in return for lifting sanctions.
    Tehran’s refusal to hold direct talks with the United States forced European intermediaries to shuttle between separate hotels in Vienna last week when Iran and the other signatories – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – held what they described as a first round of “constructive” negotiations.
    Senior diplomats, excluding the United States, initially met to set the tone on Thursday in what diplomats anticipated would be a tougher round of talks to salvage the pact.
    Two expert-level groups, seeking to marry lists of sanctions that the United States could lift with nuclear obligations Iran should meet, have now resumed their discussions.
    “Currently I think the nuclear working group is more advanced, much more advanced, than (the) sanctions-lifting working group,” Wang Qun, China’s ambassador to the U.N. atomic watchdog, told reporters after the Joint Commission meeting of senior officials.
    “So currently we should do away with all disruptive factors, moving forward as swiftly as we can on the work of negotiation, especially by zeroing in on sanctions-lifting.”
    Iran’s foreign ministry said its negotiators had defended their decisions and expressed their disappointment at “the weak reaction” from European powers to the attack on Natanz.
SANCTIONS
    Highlighting Western concerns, a senior diplomat said that while the desire was to make progress, Iran’s latest violation could not be ignored and made efforts to achieve a breakthrough before the June 18 Iranian presidential election harder.
    “The seriousness of Iran’s latest decisions has hurt this process and raised tensions,” said the senior Western diplomat.
    “We will have to see how in the coming days we address these violations with the will to press ahead in the talks.”
    Tehran has repeatedly said that all sanctions must be rescinded first, warning that it may stop negotiations if the measures are not lifted. Washington wants Iran to reverse the breaches of the deal that it made in retaliation for tough sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Iran’s 'seriousness of purpose' in pursuing diplomacy was tested in the three years since Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter.    “Iran – by remaining in the deal – passed with flying colors.    The Biden administration, however, has only shown a commitment to Trump’s maximum pressure.”
    Enrique Mora, EU chief coordinator for the talks, said in a tweet it was good to see participants resume the talks “despite very challenging events and announcements over the past days.”
    Israel, which Tehran refuses to recognise, opposes the deal, an accord that Iran and U.S. President Joe Biden are trying to revive after Trump quit it in 2018 and reinstated sanctions.    Israel has not formally commented on Sunday’s Natanz incident.
    The United Arab Emirates, which also supported the decision to quit the 2015 accord and reimpose sanctions on Tehran, urged Washington to push for a better accord and a Gulf diplomatic source said the Riyadh-based Gulf Cooperation Council had sent letters to global powers stressing the need for Gulf involvement in ongoing negotiations.
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)

4/15/2021 Exclusive: EU Agrees To Sanction Two Companies Close To Myanmar Military, Diplomats Say by Robin Emmott and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – The European Union has agreed to impose sanctions on another 10 individuals linked to the Feb. 1 coup in Myanmar and to target two businesses run by the armed forces for the first time in protest at the military takeover, two diplomats said.
    The measures, which the diplomats said could take effect next week, would target two companies that generate revenue for the Myanmar Armed Forces.    Reuters first reported preparations for the measures on March 8.
    While the EU has an arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted 11 senior military officials last month, the decision to target two companies is the most significant response so far for the bloc since the coup that ousted an elected government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
    “A list will be adopted.    It’s been agreed with 10 individuals and two entities.    There was a discussion on which entities to add linked to the junta and two were agreed,” one European diplomat said.
    A second European diplomat confirmed the agreement among the EU’s 27 ambassadors.
    EU diplomats told Reuters in March that parts of the military’s conglomerates, Myanma Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL) (editors: correct) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), would be targeted, barring EU investors and banks from doing business with them. Human rights groups have also called for them to be sanctioned.
    More details were not immediately available.    The EU declined to comment, and no one at Myanmar’s mission to the EU in Brussels could be reached for reaction.
    The sanctions are expected to be imposed and the names of those targeted made public next week.
    The new round of measures follow similar moves by Britain and the United States.    The EU sanctioned Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the armed forces commander-in-chief, and 10 others on March 22.
    EU foreign ministers will discuss their strategy on Monday in a regular meeting.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on April that a new round of sanctions, including on companies, were coming.
MILITARY’S FINANCIAL SUPPORT
    The conglomerates are spread throughout the economy from mining and manufacturing to food and beverages to hotels, telecoms and banking.    They rank among the country’s biggest taxpayers and sought partnerships with foreign companies as Myanmar opened up during the democratic liberalization.
    A United Nations fact-finding mission in 2019 recommended sanctions against the two companies and their subsidiaries, saying they gave the army extra sources of revenue that could finance human rights violations.
    Like several Western powers, the EU has condemned the coup and called for the restoration of civilian rule.
    The coup has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps toward democracy, with, in addition to the daily protests, strikes by workers in many sectors that have brought the economy to a standstill.
    An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, says the security forces have killed 715 protesters since the overthrow of Suu Kyi’s government.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/15/2021 WHO Expects Decision On Emergency Listing For Chinese Vaccines Soon
A nurse holds a syringe containing a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine made by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China
National Biotec Group (CNBG), at a vaccination center during a government-organized visit, in Beijing, China, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    ZURICH (Reuters) -The World Health Organization will decide late this month or in May on emergency use listings for COVID-19 vaccines from Sinopharm and Sinovac following an extended review, a WHO European region official said on Thursday.
    “We are in touch with them to review the dossiers that have been submitted by both vaccine manufacturers,” WHO-Europe vaccination expert Siddhartha Datta told a virtual press conference.    “We will be hearing about a decision on the emergency use listing in April or early May, so please keep an eye on that.”
    A WHO panel in final stages of review of the Chinese vaccines has said that a decision for at least one could come on April 26, while a second meeting has been planned for May 3, should more time be needed to make a decision on both shots.
    Such an emergency WHO listing is a prerequisite for purchase by the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility designed to get shots to poorer countries.    It also helps guide countries with less developed regulatory systems about a vaccine’s safety and efficacy.
    So far, the WHO has issued emergency listings for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, as well as versions of AstraZeneca’s vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio.
    CanSino’s vaccine relies on a viral vector to deliver DNA to prompt an immune response, a technique similar to that used in both AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines now being investigated for their association with very rare blood clots combined with low platelet counts.
    CanSino has said there have been no reports of blood clots.
    Sinovac’s vaccine, being used in places including Hong Kong and Brazil, relies on inactivated coronaviruses to generate an immune response, a technique used for decades including against polio.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Barbara Lewis)

4/15/2021 Iran Sees Rising COVID-19 Death Rate If Lockdown Rules Breached
FILE PHOTO: Iranian women wear protective face shields and masks as they walk in Tehran Bazaar
in Tehran, Iran April 6, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The new coronavirus is killing one person every four minutes in Iran, state TV reported on Thursday, a death rate authorities said was sure to quicken if Iranians continue to fail to adhere to health protocols.
    “This week is worse than the previous week.    The situation will be much worse next week and we have very difficult days ahead,” Health Minister Saeed Namaki was quoted by state media as saying.
    The health ministry in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country on Thursday reported 321 new deaths and 25,078 new cases over the past 24 hours. A banner on state TV said that amounted to a death every four minutes.
    In some cities, the ILNA news agency reported, hospitals had run out of beds to treat new patients.
    Thursday’s data took Iran’s death toll to 65,680 and the number of identified cases to 2,168,872, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV.
    Complaining about poor social distancing, authorities have imposed a 10-day lockdown since Saturday across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus.
    The lockdown affects 23 of Iran’s 31 provinces.
    Businesses, schools, theatres, sports facilities and other public institutions have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the fasting holy month of Ramadan.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

4/15/2021 Exclusive: From Remote Part Of India, Myanmar’s Ousted Lawmakers Work On Challenging Junta by Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: An ousted member of parliament from Myanmar flashes a three-finger salute at an
undisclosed location in northeastern India April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Devjyot Ghoshal
    (Reuters) – In a spartan hillside room in India furnished only with a thin sleeping mat, the Myanmar member of parliament spends much of his days attentively listening to Zoom conference calls and tapping away messages on his smartphone.
    The short, soft-spoken man is among roughly a dozen ousted Myanmar MPs who have fled across the border to India’s remote northeastern region after the military’s Feb. 1 coup and lethal crackdown on dissent.
    Reuters spoke to two of the lawmakers and to a Myanmar politician, all involved with the CRPH, a body of ousted lawmakers that is attempting to re-establish the civilian government and displace the military.
    The three said the group was supporting demonstrations, helping distribute funds to supporters and holding negotiations with multiple entities to quickly form a civilian administration nationwide. They asked not to be named for fear of reprisals against their families.
    Most of the ousted lawmakers are from deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) that overwhelmingly won a November 2020 election, which the military has annulled.
    The coup has been met with a fierce pro-democracy movement and tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets, despite the crackdown.
    Security forces have killed over 700 people, and more than 3,000 have been detained, including more than 150 lawmakers and members of the former government.    Mobile and wireless internet services have been shut down.
    The fear of detention and inability to rebuild a civilian government without internet connectivity has driven some Myanmar lawmakers involved in the resistance to work from India, the two MPs elected to Myanmar’s parliament said.
    “There is no time,” one of them, who is from the country’s western Chin state, told Reuters.    “People are dying in our country.”
    A spokesman for the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, did not answer calls seeking comment.
    It has accused the CRPH, or Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, of treason.    The group is working to set up a national unity government to challenge the military’s authority.
‘CAN’T RELY ON CHINA’
    Since fleeing to India around two weeks ago, the lawmaker said he had been holding regular discussions with colleagues to set up a parallel administration in Chin state, under directions from the CRPH.
    The process is complex, involving building consensus between elected representatives, political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society bodies and civil disobedience movement leaders, the two lawmakers and the politician said.
    The CRPH is also keen on opening communications with India, where at least 1,800 people from Myanmar are already sheltering, and it will seek New Delhi’s blessings for the parallel government it is attempting to form, the politician said.
    “We can’t rely on China, Thailand and other neighbouring countries,” he said.    “The only country where refugees are being welcomed is India.”
    India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters.
    This week, NLD lawmakers from Myanmar’s northern Sagaing region held an online conference call, but only 26 out of 49 representatives dialled in, according to the second member of parliament, who attended the meeting from India.
    “We don’t know where the rest are,” the federal lawmaker said, adding two party officials were now trying to track down the missing colleagues.
    Some of the fiercest resistance to the junta has come from Sagaing.    In the last two months, around 2,000 families involved in the civil disobedience movement in one part of the region have been given financial assistance of around 17 million Kyat ($12,143), the lawmaker from Sagaing said.
INDIAN POSITION
    For the Indian government, the presence – and activities – of escapee Myanmar lawmakers could pose a diplomatic quandary, particularly given New Delhi’s close ties with the Tatmadaw.
    But, in recent weeks, India’s position on the Myanmar crisis itself appears to have somewhat shifted, which has also been acknowledged by some CRPH representatives.
    At an United Nations Security Council meeting on April 10, Indian diplomat K. Nagaraj Naidu said New Delhi is pushing for a return to democracy in Myanmar.
    “The first, and most immediate step, in this regard is the release of detained leaders,” Naidu said.
    However, India is concerned around internal divisions within the CRPH that could hobble its functioning, a source with knowledge of New Delhi’s thinking said.
    Still, the politician involved with the CRPH said he was hopeful that India will engage with the group.
    “If democracy wins in Myanmar, it is also a win for India,” he said.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

4/15/2021 ‘Time To End The Forever War’: U.S., Allied Troops To Leave Afghanistan By Sept. 11 by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province,
Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Joe Biden said on Wednesday U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan starting May 1 to end America’s longest war, rejecting calls for them to stay to ensure a peaceful resolution to that nation’s grinding internal conflict.
    Foreign troops under NATO command will also withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with the U.S. pull-out, NATO allies agreed.    The withdrawal of foreign troops will be completed by Sept 11.
    Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but they still rely on American air support, planning and leadership.
    “While our military contribution will reduce, we will continue to support the stability of Afghanistan through our bilateral partnership and in concert with our other nations,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
    Biden acknowledged that U.S. objectives in Afghanistan had become “increasingly unclear” over the past decade and set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. troops remaining in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States that triggered the war.
    But by pulling out without a clear victory over the Taliban and other radicals in Afghanistan, the United States opens itself to criticism that a withdrawal represents a de facto admission of failure for American military strategy.
    “It was never meant to be a multi-generational undertaking.    We were attacked.    We went to war with clear goals.    We achieved those objectives,” Biden said, noting that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by American forces in 2011 and saying that organization has been “degraded” in Afghanistan.
    “And it’s time to end the forever war,” Biden added.
    The war has cost the lives of 2,448 American service members and consumed an estimated $2 trillion.    U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan peaked at more than 100,000 in 2011.
    In withdrawing, Biden is embracing risks at the start of his presidency that proved too great for his predecessors, including that al Qaeda might reconstitute itself or that the Taliban insurgency might topple the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
    “I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan.    Two Republicans.    Two Democrats,” Biden said.    “I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.”
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani wrote on Twitter that he spoke with Biden and respects the U.S. decision.    Ghani added that “we will work with our U.S. partners to ensure a smooth transition” and “we will continue to work with our US/NATO partners in the ongoing peace efforts.”
    A peace summit on Afghanistan is planned from April 24 in Istanbul that would include the United Nations and more than 20 countries.
TALIBAN WON’T ATTEND
    The Taliban, ousted from power in 2001 by U.S.-led forces, said they would not take part in any meetings involving decisions about Afghanistan until all foreign forces have left.    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Wednesday called on the United States to adhere to the deal the group reached with Trump’s administration.
    “If the agreement is committed to, the remaining problems will also be solved,” Mujahid wrote on Twitter.    “If the agreement is not committed to … the problems will certainly increase.”
    In Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, government officials said they would carry on with peace talks and their forces would defend the country.
    “Now that there is an announcement on foreign troops withdrawal within several months, we need to find a way to co-exist,” said Abdullah Abdullah, a top peace official and former presidential candidate.    “We believe that there is no winner in Afghan conflicts and we hope the Taliban realize that too.”
    Biden rejected the idea that U.S. troops could provide the leverage needed for peace, saying: “We gave that argument a decade.    It has never proven effective.”
    “American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries,” Biden said.
    Biden also said the threat of terrorism was not limited to a single country and that leaving American forces in one foreign land at great financial cost did not make sense.
    The president made the decision personal, invoking the memory of his late son who served in Iraq and showing a card he carried with the number of U.S. troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Visiting Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, Biden later said the decision to withdraw was not difficult.     “To me, it was absolutely clear,” Biden said.
    Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, was among Biden’s fiercest critics, saying the withdrawal would backfire by prolonging the conflict and possibly even breathing new life into al Qaeda.
    “What do we lose by pulling out? We lose that insurance policy against another 9/11,” Graham said.
    Critics of the U.S. military involvement say it clearly failed to get the Taliban to end the conflict on America’s terms.    Some experts blame endemic corruption in Afghanistan, Taliban safe havens across the border in Pakistan and overly ambitious goals for training Afghan security forces.
    Biden criticized past U.S. aspirations to somehow unify Afghans, a goal that defied the lessons of history over centuries.
    “It’s never been done,” Biden said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland in Washington and Hamid Shalizi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad; Editing by Mary Milliken, Will Dunham, Grant McCool and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

4/15/2021 Many Afghans Feel U.S. Is Leaving Them At Mercy Of Resurgent Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces fires heavy machine-gun at insurgents near the site of an
attack in Jalalabad city, Afghanistan September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Parwiz
    KABUL (Reuters) – Many Afghans believe that the United States is putting them at the mercy of hardline Islamist Taliban insurgents after President Joe Biden’s announcement that U.S. troops will leave the country by Sept. 11.
    The withdrawal date was pushed back four months from the May 1 deadline agreed to between the Washington and the insurgents last year – but, this time, there have been no conditions attached to the pullout.
    “International forces’ intervention was like a light in a dark night,” Amina, 32, a teacher at a girls school in the northern province of Kunduz, told Reuters.
    Amina, who was a child when U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in 2001, feels Washington should not leave without making the Taliban agree to accept the changes that have occurred in the country over the past two decades.
    Washington is pressing for a settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban at a conference in Turkey next week, where they hope to reach an agreement on a ceasefire and a power-sharing interim government.
    The Taliban announced a boycott of the event in reaction to Washington’s announcement that foreign troops would stay beyond May 1.
    However foreign capitals are pushing the Taliban to attend and reach some sort of agreement that would save the country from another bout of civil war.
    “It would have been better if foreign forces had not come at all… At least we could have found a way in the past 20 years, which I think are now just wasted,” Amina said.
    Ahmed, 26, who works at an international organisation in Kabul, said he and many others had been living in fear of the Taliban returning to power.
    “Now foreign forces are preparing to leave us in the hands of the Taliban,” he said, but added it was up to Afghans to overcome their fear.
    Munira Harir, 30, a government employee in Kabul, criticised the decision to withdraw at a time when unrest was at its peak.
    Afghan women, young government employees, and rights activists have, over the last few months, faced increased attacks, which no group has claimed but the Afghan government blames on the Taliban.
    Women have found much more space in public than they did during the Taliban’s puritan rule, which included contempt for women’s rights, blocking their education, forcing nearly all to quit work, restricting their movement and brutally enforcing a strict dress code.
    “They (Taliban) will repeat the black history again, and this is not acceptable for women like us, so we are again going to face a wave of migration, and once again the achievements of the last 20 years become zero,” Harir said.
    For Pedram Qazizada, 40, a resident of the western province of Herat, the withdrawal of foreign troops was inevitable.
    “Every country that came was gone one day,” he said in reference to the British and Russians before the arrival of the Americans.
    But he added that the United States had failed in its mission because, if there were a return to civil war, it would be worse in the face of an emboldened Taliban, who ruled from 1996 to 2001.
    “The fact that they are not attending the peace talks means that they consider themselves the winners of this war,” he said.
    Some Afghans still hope things won’t fall apart.
    “This nation was alive before U.S.A., Russia and Britain and after them it will get better … by the grace of almighty Allah, we will build and free our country from the evil of a religious and terrorist virus,” said Noorullah, 62, a shopkeeper in Kabul.
    Yasin Darman, 25, a professor at Nangarhar University in the eastern city of Jalalabad, in one of the country’s most dangerous provinces, feels Afghan forces had taken over a majority of security responsibilities and were now capable of preventing a complete Taliban takeover.
    “Naturally, with the withdrawal of American troops, the war will intensify for a while, but the Taliban will not win,” he said.
(Reporing by Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar, and Storay Karimi in Herat; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Nick Macfie)

4/15/2021 Secy. Blinken Makes Unannounced Visit To Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Abdullah Abdullah, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, right, meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, at the Sapidar Palace
in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, April 15, 2021. Blinken made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday to sell Afghan leaders and a wary public
on President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all American troops from the country and end America’s longest-running war. (Sapidar Palace via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the time has come for American troops to withdraw from Afghanistan.
    “We’ve achieved the objective we set out nearly 20 years ago,” he stated.    “We never intended to have a permanent military presence here.”
    While speaking during a surprise visit to Kabul, Blinken said the threat from Al-Qaeda has significantly degraded and it’s time for our troops to come home.    The secretary added, the U.S. partnership with Afghanistan will continue and he issued a warning to the Taliban if the terror group attempts any attacks on American troops.
    “If as our forces are withdrawing, the Taliban were to attack them, it would be met with a very forceful response,” he warned.
    Blinken’s visit came less than 24-hours after Joe Biden announced the U.S. would withdraw the remaining 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by September 11.    He noted, there is no military solution to the conflict that remains in the country.
    “The only path forward to a durable, lasting and just end of the conflict,” he stated.    “Is through negotiation, is through a political agreement and, ultimately, is through through compromise.”
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said he respects Biden’s decision, but other Afghan officials are pessimistic.    Critics have said the move would strengthen threats from various terror groups in the country.
    Blinken said the U.S. will “intensify” its diplomacy on Afghanistan and do “everything it can” to secure a peace agreement between Kabul and the insurgents.

4/16/2021 Analysis: U.S. Announcement Of Pullout From Afghanistan Undermines Chances Of Peace by Hamid Shalizi, Charlotte Greenfield and Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO: Youths take pictures next to an Afghan flag on a hilltop overlooking Kabul, Afghanistan, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s announced pullout of troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11 has jeopardised Washington’s push for peace with Taliban Islamists and increased the chances of an upsurge in violence, sources say.
    Biden announced the withdrawal, pushed back from a May 1 deadline agreed with the Taliban, without buy-in from the insurgents, sources involved in the discussions told Reuters.
    The decision was signalled just hours after Turkey announced dates for a crucial peace summit on April 24, which the Taliban had also not yet agreed on.
    The Taliban then announced they were shunning the summit while troops remained, throwing the process into disarray.
    “Biden’s announcement decreases any leverage the international community has left over them, and helps the Taliban justify refusing to attend,” said Ashley Jackson of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).
    One official whose country is involved in the peace process said the Taliban’s negotiating position had become much stronger and chances of progress were slim.
    “What do the Taliban get out of the Turkey summit?    They need something tangible,” he said.    “It’s difficult to bring them to a negotiation table where they know they will have to make painful compromises.”
    Tribal elders and Taliban members in Afghanistan’s Taliban-controlled areas described jubilation at the U.S. announcement.
    “Of course we won and America lost the long…war,” said Quraishi, a Taliban commander in eastern Logar province.    “There is no bigger happiness than hearing that the invaders are packing their bags.”
    In recent weeks, Washington raced to get agreement on a ceasefire and an interim government, and to get the Taliban onboard with a deadline extension, officials said.
    Biden’s decision on the extension and the Taliban’s reaction have sparked more frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations.
    The sources said Washington was urging Qatar and Pakistan, which have long-standing ties within the Taliban, to pressure the militants to come back to the table.
    Taliban sources described intense pressure from Pakistan.
    “When our leadership refused to go (to Turkey), then Pakistani authorities asked us to send Mullah Yaqoob.    When he refused, they proposed Sirajuddin Haqqani but he too is unwilling,” one source said, referring to the Taliban’s military chief and their deputy leader.
    Pakistan’s foreign office and Qatar’s government did not respond to requests for comment.
    Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem denied there was any pressure.
    In a statement on Thursday, Pakistan said it would “continue to work together with the international community in efforts for lasting peace and stability in Afghanistan.”
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said: “We continue to put the full weight of our government behind diplomatic efforts to reach a peace agreement…and encourage Afghanistan’s neighbours and countries in the region to do the same.”
    But a senior Afghan official told Reuters Washington had also lost leverage with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
    “The withdrawal announcement will certainly embolden the Taliban to increase attacks but it will also embolden President Ghani’s position not to step down,” the official said of the proposal to replace Ghani’s administration with an interim government.
READY FOR WAR
    Security and diplomatic officials warned that violence would escalate if talks fell apart.    The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces, but they still control wide areas.
    A senior Western official in Kabul said military bases were being revamped and air strikes had been conducted by the Afghan Air Force in recent days to put pressure on the Taliban.
    Four Taliban military and political leaders said they too had already prepared for war, realising that foreign forces were unlikely to leave.
    Though many experts and officials warned the U.S. stance undermined the chance of a peace settlement, some concede that Washington had done all it could.
    “The Biden announcement didn’t help, but the Turkey effort already looked to be falling apart,” said ODI’s Jackson.
    Two diplomatic sources said a stalemate had become apparent when the Taliban refused to join an interim administration headed by Ghani, who in turn refused to step down without holding elections, a suggestion the insurgents reject.
    The U.S. State Department did not comment on the interim government but said any solution must be Afghan-led and owned.
    Two sources said discussions have revolved around the set-up of an Islamic jurisprudence council whose decisions by religious scholars could bind the president.
    Other concessions discussed, one source added, were whether the Taliban could nominate a president, whether to remove Taliban leaders from international sanctions lists, prisoner releases, and their fighters having status equal to Afghan security forces, without joining them.
    Naeem did not confirm or deny discussions over an interim government.    He said the release of prisoners and removal from sanctions lists was necessary under their 2020 deal.
    Officials say the challenge to get both sides in an interim government was revealed at a conference in Moscow last month.
    Deep hostilities became apparent when the delegations gathered.    On one occasion, a Taliban leader hissed “traitor” at a politician and former warlord who had once held him captive, people in the room said.
    Since the Moscow meeting and as Washington tried to negotiate a troop withdrawal extension, one source said, the Taliban had toughened their stance.
    “Their proposals (now) are more like almost a takeover,” said the official whose country is involved in the peace process.
    Though the Taliban learned of Biden’s withdrawal decision through media on Tuesday, a Taliban leader said, Washington had already discussed a six-month extension with them, which they had rejected.
    “We told them you should call back all your troops and then start shifting logistics later and we guaranteed them of providing protection to their belongings,” another Taliban leader said.    “They damaged our trust and now we wouldn’t believe them…until they fulfil their commitment.”
    But Rustam Shah Mohmand, a former Pakistani diplomat, said there was hope and the Taliban did not want to lose international recognition.
    “Missing the Turkey conference would be a huge mistake,” he said. “It’s the last big effort for peace and stability in Afghanistan and it must not be allowed to fail.”
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad, Hamid Shalizi in Kabul, Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Rupam Jain in Panjim, India, and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul and Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie)

4/16/2021 Biden To Welcome Japan’s Suga As First Guest And Key Ally In China Strategy by Trevor Hunnicutt and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan March 5, 2021. Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden welcomes Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday as the first foreign leader to visit his White House, underscoring Tokyo’s central role in the U.S. strategy to counter the challenge of China’s growing assertiveness.
    The one-day summit is expected to yield steps diversifying supply chains seen as over-reliant on China and a $2 billion commitment from Japan to work with the United States on alternatives to the 5G network of Chinese firm Huawei, a senior U.S. official said.
    Biden and Suga are also expected to discuss human rights issues related to China, including the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the official said.
    The summit is expected to yield a formal statement on Taiwan, a Chinese-claimed, self-ruled island under increasing military pressure from Beijing, said the official, who did not want to be identified.
    It would be the first joint statement on Taiwan by U.S. and Japanese leaders since 1969, but appears likely to fall short of what Washington has been hoping from Suga, who inherited a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with economic ties when he took over as premier last September.
    In a statement after a March meeting of U.S.-Japan officials, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
    The U.S. official said that both countries, while not wanting to raise tensions or provoke China, were trying to send a clear signal that Beijing’s dispatch of warplanes into Taiwan’s air defense zone was incompatible with maintaining peace and stability.
    A Japanese foreign ministry official said this week it had not been decided whether there would be a joint statement and two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the discussions said officials have been divided over whether Suga should endorse a strong statement on Taiwan.
    The U.S. official said Washington would not “insist on Japan somehow signing on to every dimension of our approach” and added: “We also recognize the deep economic and commercial ties between Japan and China and Prime Minister Suga wants to walk a careful course, and we respect that.”
    With his first in-person summit with Suga, and another planned with South Korea in May, Biden is working to focus on the Indo-Pacific to manage China’s rising power, which he sees as the critical foreign policy issue of the era.
    He hopes to energize joint efforts with Australia, India and Japan, in a grouping known as the Quad, as well as with South Korea, to counter both China and longtime U.S. foe North Korea, and its increasingly threatening nuclear weapons program.
    It requires a delicate balancing act given Japan and South Korea’s economic ties with China and currently frosty relations between Seoul and Tokyo.
    Suga said before leaving for Washington he hoped to show U.S.-Japan leadership in creating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and build a relationship of trust with Biden.
    The emphasis on Japan’s key status should boost Suga ahead of an election this year, but some politicians are pushing him for a tougher stance towards Beijing as it increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan.
    The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have all imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang and some Japanese lawmakers think Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, even as Japanese executives worry about a Chinese backlash.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Kieran Murray and Lincoln Feast.)

4/16/2021 Hong Kong Tycoon Jimmy Lai Gets 14 Months In Prison For Unauthorised Assembly by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: 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 media tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison while nine other activists received jail time or suspended sentences on Friday for taking part in unauthorised assemblies during mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Senior barrister Martin Lee, who helped launch the city’s largest opposition Democratic Party in the 1990s and is often called the former British colony’s “father of democracy,” was given an 11-month suspended sentence.
    It was the first time that Lai, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent democratic activists, who has been in jail since December after being denied bail in a separate national security trial, received a prison sentence.
    Lai was found guilty in two separate trials for unauthorised assemblies on Aug. 18 and Aug. 31 2019, respectively.
    He received a 15-month sentence for the first, reduced by three months in mitigation, and an eight-month sentence for the second, of which he will serve two.
    District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said even though the Aug. 18 assembly was peaceful there was a “latent risk of possible violence” and that a deterrent sentence and “immediate imprisonment” was appropriate.
    Lai’s repeated arrests have drawn criticism from Western governments and international rights groups, who raised concerns over waning freedoms in the global financial hub, including freedom of speech and assembly.
    “The wrongful prosecution, conviction and sentencing of these activists underlines the … government’s intention to eliminate all political opposition,” Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra said.
    The other defendants in the Aug. 18 case, also found guilty, included prominent barrister Margaret Ng and veteran democrats Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho, Leung Kwok-hung, Cyd Ho, Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung.
    They received sentences of up to 18 months.    Ng, Leung Yiu-chung and Albert Ho were given suspended sentences.
    In her mitigation speech, Ng said the law must not only be defended in courts or the legislature, but also in the streets.
    “When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them, stand by them and stand up for them,” she said.
    In the second trial, Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan were found guilty together with Yeung Sum, who received a suspended sentence.    All three had pleaded guilty.
    The 2019 pro-democracy protests were spurred by Beijing’s tightening squeeze on wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997, and plunged the semi-autonomous city into its biggest crisis since the handover.
    Beijing has since consolidated its authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by imposing a sweeping national security law, punishing anything it deems as secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Supporters of the law say it has restored stability.
    Lai, founder of the Apple Daily tabloid, has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting officials such as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to rally support for Hong Kong democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor.”
    Lai attended two other court mentions on Friday, in the ongoing trial where he is charged with collusion with a foreign country and a fraud case related to the lease of the building which houses Apple Daily.
    Prosecutors said he will face two additional charges of conspiracy to collude with foreign forces and conspiracy to obstruct the course of justice.
    Earlier this week, the tabloid published a hand-written letter Lai sent to his colleagues from prison, saying: “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice.    As long as we … do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
    It is “time for us to stand tall,” he wrote.
(Additional reporting by Pak Yiu; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates and Hugh Lawson)

4/16/2021 Iran Nuclear Talks To Last Several Days Then Pause: EU Official
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a
board of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) – Talks on rescuing Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal will carry on for several days before breaking so that Iranian and U.S. officials can return home for consultations, a European Union official said on Friday.
    The EU is chairing meetings in Vienna of the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.    A delegation from the United States, which pulled out of the accord under President Donald Trump, is based in a nearby hotel as Iran has refused to hold direct talks.
    A second round of talks, which involve discussions in various formats as well as formal meetings of all the remaining parties, started on Thursday.    The aim is a U.S. return to the deal, lifting sanctions that were reimposed after its pullout, and undoing Iranian breaches of its nuclear restrictions.
    Talks will continue “for a few days and then I think the two most relevant delegations will go back home to receive more precise instructions and then, I don’t know when, we will resume,” the EU official told reporters in a phone briefing.
    The talks have been overshadowed by an explosion at Iran’s main uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, which Tehran has blamed on Israel, and Iran’s decision to enrich uranium to 60% purity, a big step towards weapons-grade, which it said it started doing on Friday.
    “We have this (Iranian) decision to go for 60% enrichment.    Obviously this is not making the negotiation easier,” the official said, calling what happened at Natanz “deliberate sabotage.”    It is not clear how long the talks will last in total, he added.
    Israel – widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal – has not formally commented on the Natanz incident.    Several Israeli media outlets have quoted intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out the operation.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/16/2021 Opponents Of Myanmar Coup Form Unity Government, Aim For ‘Federal Democracy’
Women carry pots with flowers as they take part in a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) -Opponents of Myanmar’s junta announced a National Unity Government on Friday including ousted members of parliament and leaders of anti-coup protests and ethnic minorities, saying their aim was to end military rule and restore democracy.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since the Feb. 1 coup that ousted a civilian government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi which had held power for five years and was starting its second term after a landslide election victory in November.
    People have taken to the streets day after day to demand the restoration of democracy, defying crackdowns by the security forces in which more than 700 people have been killed, according to a monitoring group.
    At the same time, political leaders, including ousted members of parliament from Suu Kyi’s party, have been trying to organise to show the country and the outside world that they and not the generals are the legitimate political authority.
    “Please welcome the people’s government,” veteran democracy activist Min Ko Naing said in a 10-minute video address announcing the formation of the National Unity Government (NUG).
    While setting out few positions, Min Ko Naing said the will of the people was the unity government’s priority, while acknowledging the scale of the task at hand.
    “We’re trying to get this out from the roots so we have to sacrifice a lot,” he said, referring to the junta.
    A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.
    The generals justified their takeover with accusations of fraud in the November election won by Suu Kyi’s party, though the election commission dismissed the objections.
    One of the unity government’s primary objectives will be to win international support and recognition.
    “We are the democratically elected leaders of Myanmar,” said the unity government’s minister of international cooperation, Dr Sasa, who goes by one name.
    “So if the free and democratic world rejects us that means they reject democracy.”
    International pressure has been building on the Myanmar military, particularly from Western governments that have imposed limited sanctions, though the generals have a long record of dismissing what they see as outside interference.
    The unity government released a list of office holders including members of ethnic minorities and protest leaders, underlining the unity of purpose between the pro-democracy movement and autonomy-seeking minority communities, some of whom have battled the central government for decades.
CLAPPING IN THE DARK
    Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, was listed as state counsellor, the post she held in government.
    The only known communication she has had with the outside world since the coup has been monitored video calls with her lawyers.
    A spokesman for the democratic politicians said while they could not inform her about their new government, he was sure she was aware of what was happening.
    Sasa told Reuters the objective was to end violence, restore democracy and build a “federal democratic union.”    The military, while playing lip service to the idea of federalism, has long seen itself as the core power holding the country together.
    Unity government leaders said they intended to form a federal army and were in talks with ethnic minority forces.
    The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of international experts including former United Nations officials, hailed the creation of the NUG as historic and said it was the legitimate government.
    After darkness fell over Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, people clapped at their windows and chanted “our government,” video posted by activists on Twitter showed.    Some community groups reported the sound of explosions and gunfire shortly afterwards.
    While the politicians were announcing the unity government, other opponents of military rule observed a “silent strike” staying home to mourn those killed or wearing black in small marches in half a dozen cities and towns, media reported.
    Yangon’s streets were largely deserted, residents said.
    There were no immediate reports of violence at Friday’s rallies.
    The military has also been rounding up critics and state media announced arrest warrants for 20 doctors on charges of encouraging dissent in the armed forces. The junta is seeking more than 200 people, including several internet celebrities, actors and singers, on the same change.
    The turmoil has alarmed Myanmar’s neighbours in Southeast Asia who have been trying to encourage talks between the rival sides.    Leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Myanmar, will meet in Indonesia on April 24 to discuss the situation, Thai and Indonesian media reported.
    Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was due to attend, a Thai broadcaster said, but the Jakarta Post said it had not been confirmed whether the summit would include representatives of the junta or the former government.
    Sasa said ASEAN should not invite “murderer-in-chief” Min Aung Hlaing.
(Reporting by Reuters staff, writing by Robert Birsel; editing by Jane Wardell, Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

4/16/2021 Southeast Asian Nations Weigh Aid Mission To Myanmar by Tom Allard and Rozanna Latiff
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leave the
opening ceremony of an ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, Laos September 6, 2016. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo
(Fixes Sukma’s post in para 12)
    JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Southeast Asian countries are considering a proposal to send a humanitarian aid mission to Myanmar as a potential first step in a long-term plan to broker a dialogue between the junta and its opponents, diplomats familiar with the discussions said.
    The proposal is being considered ahead of a planned meeting of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leaders this month.
    Diplomats said it might be attended by Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, who took power in a Feb. 1 coup that has plunged his country into turmoil.
    The ASEAN summit has yet to be confirmed, although Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said on his Facebook account on Friday that it would take place on April 24 and he would fly to Indonesia’s capital for the event.
    Myanmar’s junta did not respond to a request for comment.
    A national unity government in Myanmar, announced on Friday by members of the civilian administration ousted by the junta, said it should handle any aid from ASEAN and Min Aung Hlaing should not be allowed to take part in the summit.
    Some regional foreign ministers and officials have held talks with Myanmar’s ousted lawmakers, who call themselves the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), but they have not been invited to the meeting.
    Myanmar has been in violent disarray since the junta overthrew the government led by democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi.     People have been taking to the streets day after day to demand the restoration of democracy, defying crackdowns by the security forces in which more than 700 people have been killed, according to a monitoring group.
    ASEAN countries – worried by the bloodshed in a country that faces economic collapse, mass civil disobedience and the resurgence of conflict between the military and ethnic groups – have stepped up diplomatic efforts since the coup.    Myanmar is a member of the 10-member ASEAN and the bloc’s mediation could be key to resolving the crisis.
    Proposals being considered for the summit included a humanitarian aid mission that could be a prelude to talks between the Myanmar military and the ousted civilian government, two regional diplomats and a source close to the Malaysian government said.
    However, there is little likelihood of any dialogue soon between the two sides.    The military government has accused the CRPH of treason, which is punishable by death, while the ousted lawmakers have called the junta leader a “murderer in chief.”
‘SPACE FOR DIALOGUE’
    The ASEAN proposal would start with a pause in hostilities and be followed by the delivery of aid, said Rizal Sukma, a senior research fellow at the Jakarta-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, who is among a team helping to generate policy ideas ahead of the summit.
    This might eventually create a “space for dialogue” between the junta and its opponents, he said.    “For this third element, it really requires the Tatmadaw to release political prisoners,” said Sukma, referring to the military by its Burmese name.
    Four members of ASEAN – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines – have called for the release of Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, but the group itself has refrained from that step.
    Two diplomats said the idea of appointing a special envoy was also being considered, with either the ASEAN secretary-general or a senior retired diplomat or military figure taking the job.    The envoy would negotiate with the military regime and members of the ousted government, diplomats and analysts said.
    The diplomats said Min Aung Hlaing has been sounded out about attending the summit and could go to Jakarta, although they stressed nothing had been finalised.
    A spokesman for the CRPH said on Friday “it would be a huge insult to the brave people of Myanmar to invite the murderer in chief.”
    “ASEAN should immediately engage with national unity government to end the violence and restore democracy in Myanmar,” said Dr. Sasa, who goes by only one name.    Aid should not be channelled through the military because it would be stolen, he said.
    Sukma, a former Indonesian diplomat, said it was important for Min Aung Hlaing to attend the summit.
    “If the main objective of the ASEAN meeting is to stop the killing by the Tatmadaw, then that message is best delivered directly to MAH,” he said, using the junta leader’s initials.
    “Also, if the summit wants to propose a humanitarian pause, then it must be delivered to the Tatmadaw.”
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta, Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur, Poppy McPherson and Panu Wongcha-un in Bangkok; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

4/16/2021 Iran Nuclear Chief Says 60% Enrichment Has Started At Natanz Site
FILE PHOTO: Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi wears a mask as he speaks during a meeting with International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi, in Tehran, Iran August 25, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Iran has begun 60% uranium enrichment at its Natanz plant, the country’s nuclear chief said on Friday, days after an explosion at the site that Tehran blamed on Israel.
    We are producing about nine grams of 60% enriched uranium an hour,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told state television.
    “But we have to work on arrangements… to drop it to 5 grams per hour.    But then we will simultaneously produce 20% (uranium),” Salehi said.
    Earlier, parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said Iranian scientists had successfully started enriching 60 percent uranium at 12:40 a.m. local time (2010 GMT).
    “The will of the Iranian nation makes miracles that thwart any conspiracy,” Qalibaf said on Twitter.
    In Vienna, a spokesman for the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA declined to comment on the Iranian statements about 60% enrichment.
    Iran has said its decision to increase enrichment to its highest level ever was in response to sabotage at its nuclear site at Natanz on Sunday by Israel.
    Iran and global powers are meeting in Vienna to try to rescue a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by Washington three years ago, in an effort potentially complicated by Tehran’s decision to ramp up uranium enrichment.
    The 2015 agreement sought to make it harder for Iran to develop an atomic bomb – something it denies ever trying to do – in return for lifting sanctions.
    Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator at nuclear talks in Vienna, said on Tuesday that Iran would activate 1,000 advanced centrifuge machines at Natanz.
    An Iranian official told Reuters that “60% enrichment will be in small quantity” only.
    Multiple Israeli media outlets have quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying the country’s Mossad spy service carried out the sabotage operation at the Natanz complex.    Israel – widely believed to be the only Middle Eastern country with a nuclear arsenal – has not formally commented on the incident.
(dubai.newsroom@thomsonreuters.com, additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna; Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)

4/18/2021 U.S., Iran Nuclear Talks Not Easy Despite Emerging Understanding by OAN Newsroom
FILE – This file photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines
in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
    Serious disagreements remain between the U.S. and Iran, as Joe Biden continues to attempt to recommit to the failed nuclear deal in Vienna.
    According to reports on Saturday, Iran’s chief negotiator said that a new understanding appears to be emerging between the two parties, but stressed the path ahead was not easy.
    Despite this comment, Iran has continued to breach agreements with the U.S.
    Iran began ramping up its uranium enrichment program to 60 percent purity, a big step up from its current max of 20 percent.
    “We do not support and do not think it’s at all helpful that Iran is saying it’s going to move to enrichment to 60 percent,” Biden stated.    “It is contrary to the agreement.    We are, though, nonetheless pleased that Iran has continued to agree to engage in discussions.”
    Negotiators are working on steps both sides must take on sanctions and nuclear activities.
    However, the talks have been further complicated by an explosion at Iran’s main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, which their government has claimed was an act of sabotage by Israel.

4/18/2021 Blinken: U.S. Will ‘Monitor’ Afghan Security After Withdrawal by OAN Newsroom
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden’s Secretary of State Tony Blinken has claimed a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan would not compromise the security of that country.
    “We will have the means to see if there is a resurgence, a reemergence of a terrorist threat from Afghanistan,” said Blinken.    “We’ll be able to see that in real-time with time to take action.    And we’re going to be repositioning our forces and our assets to make sure that we guard against the potential re-emergence.”
    Blinken suggested U.S. forces would be able to return to Afghanistan if terror group the Taliban moves to restore control over that nation’s politics.    He also claimed the U.S. has achieved its objectives in that country, although the Taliban still controls nearly 20 percent of the Afghan territory.
    “And we went to take on those who attacked us on 9/11 and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorism directed at the     United States or any of our allies and partners,” Blinken noted.    “And we’ve achieved the objectives that we set out to achieve.    Al-Quaeda has been significantly degraded. Its capacity to conduct an attack against the United States, now, from Afghanistan, is not there. And of course, Osama Bin Laden was brought to justice ten years ago.”
    In early April, Biden postponed the withdrawal of U.S. troops, which had been slated for May 1 by President Trump, and is now expected by mid-September.

4/19/2021 Biden Admin. Unsure Of Consequences Of Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 03: Joe Biden spoke during the 19th Annual HRC National Dinner at Walter E. Washington
Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
    The White House said it cannot guarantee what will happen in Afghanistan once American troops leave the region.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has achieved all its goals after sending troops to the Middle East nearly 20 years ago.
    Sullivan said Joe Biden has no intention of sending more troops to Afghanistan, despite being aware the move could embolden terrorist groups in the region.
WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 04: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke to reporters during the daily press conference in the
Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House February 04, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Lawmakers are divided on the issue, as some expressed concerns that groups like the Taliban could further destabilize the country.
    Sullivan explained the Biden administration wants to focus on more pressing threats.
    “The terrorist threat has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, it’s not just about Afghanistan anymore,” Sullivan explained.    “Al-Qaeda is in Yemen, ISIS is in Syria and Iraq, Al-Qaeda is in Somalia and Syria and many other places.”
    Sullivan said the only troops that will remain in the region will be security for the U.S. Embassy.

4/19/2021 Ex-U.N. Chief Ban Urges Guterres To Engage Directly With Myanmar Army by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Head of the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets Chinese
President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -Former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged his successor on Monday to engage directly with Myanmar’s military to prevent an increase in post-coup violence and said southeast Asian countries should not dismiss the turmoil as an internal issue for Myanmar.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, has communicated with the military since it ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, but the army has not allowed her to visit.
    “Given the gravity and urgency of the situation, I believe the secretary-general himself should use his good offices to engage directly with the Myanmar military, to prevent an escalation of violence,” Ban, secretary-general from 2007 to 2016, told a U.N. Security Council meeting.
    Guterres is “very actively involved” on Myanmar and “has been for a long time,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding: “His good offices, along with his special envoy, are always available. We all want to see an end to the violence.”
    Guterres told the Security Council on Monday that a “robust international response grounded on a unified regional effort” was needed, urging “regional actors to leverage their influence to prevent further deterioration and, ultimately, find a peaceful way out of this catastrophe.”
    The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to find a way out of the violence tearing at fellow member Myanmar.    Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing is due to attend an ASEAN summit in Indonesia on April 24.
    “ASEAN must make it clear to the Myanmar military that the current situation is so grave that it cannot be regarded only as an internal matter,” said Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister who is now a member of The Elders global leaders group.
    According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group, 737 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and 3,229 remain in detention.
    “The military’s use of lethal force and the gross violations of human rights being perpetrated against the civilians are not compatible with the ASEAN Charter,” he said.    “These actions are clear violations of international law, and constitute a threat to the peace, security and stability of the region.”
    Ban also urged the Security Council to move beyond statements to collective action.    However, some diplomats say Russia and China are likely to prevent any stronger action.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

4/19/2021 Pakistan Opens Talks With Outlawed Islamists Behind Violent Anti-France Protests by Asif Shahzad
A hawker on bicycle rides past a closed wholesale cloth market during a countrywide strike by the banned
Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) in Karachi, Pakistan April 19, 2021.REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
(Refiles to fix grammar in headline)
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan on Monday opened negotiations with radical Islamist after they freed 11 police abducted during week-long anti-blasphemy protests against France in which four officers were killed, the interior minister said.
    Most main businesses, markets, shopping malls and public transport services were closed in major cities in response to a strike call by the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) and its affiliated groups.
    Pakistan’s PSX 100 stock exchange opened 500 points down in the morning though recovered later in the day.
    The police officers were abducted during clashes outside TLP headquarters in the eastern city of Lahore, which according to the group also killed its three members.
    Photographs of the police officers, with their heads, legs and arms heavily bandaged, were posted on social media by their captors.
    “They’ve released the 11 policemen they had held hostage,” Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said in a video statement.
    He said negotiations with the TLP were under way.
    “There have been two rounds of the talks and there will be another later in the evening,” Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri told parliament.    “We believe in negotiations and reconciliation to sort out issues.”
    The government outlawed the TLP last week after it blocked main highways, railways and access routes to major cities, assaulting police and burning public property.    Four police officers were killed and more than 500 wounded.
    The violence erupted after the government detained TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi ahead of a planned countrywide anti-France campaign to pressure the Islamabad government to expel the French ambassador in response to the publication of cartoons in France last year depicting the Prophet Mohammad.
    The TLP has presented four main demands in the talks with the government, officials from both sides said.
    They included expulsion of the French ambassador, release of the TLP leader and around 1,400 arrested workers, lifting the ban on the group and the dismissal of the interior minister.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan said expelling the French ambassador would only cause damage to Pakistan, and diplomatic engagement between the Muslim world and the West was the only way to resolve disputes.
    “When we send the French ambassador back and break relations with them it means we break relations with the European Union,” he said in a televised address.    “Half our textile exports go to the EU, so half our textile exports would be gone.”
    Relations between Paris and Islamabad have worsened since the end of last year after President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to a French history teacher who was beheaded by an 18-year-old man of Chechen origin for showing cartoons of the Prophet in a class on freedom of speech.
    Protests erupted in several Muslim countries over France’s response to the killing of the teacher.    The Prophet cartoons were re-printed elsewhere as well.
    At the time, Khan’s government signed a deal promising to present a resolution in parliament by April 20 to seek approval for the expulsion of the French envoy and to endorse a boycott of French products.
(Story refiles to fix grammar in headline)
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Additional Reporting by Umar Farooq in Islamabad, Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

4/19/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Would Send Navy Ships In South China Sea To Assert Claim Over Resources
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation address at the Philippine
Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday he was prepared to send his military ships in the South China Sea to “stake a claim” over oil and mineral resources in the disputed part of the strategic waterway.
    With some critics complaining Duterte had gone soft by refusing to push Beijing to comply with an arbitration ruling, he said the public can be assured he would assert the country’s claims to resources like oil and minerals in the South China Sea.
    “I’m not so much interested now in fishing.    I don’t think there’s enough fish to quarrel about.    But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, our oil, by that time I will send my grey ships there to stake a claim,” Duterte said in a late night public address.
    “If they start drilling oil there, I will tell China, is that part of our agreement?    If that is not part of our agreement, I will also drill oil there,” he said even as he reiterated he wanted to remain friends with Beijing.
    Duterte has sought to build an alliance with China and has been reluctant to confront its leadership, having been promised billions of dollars of loans and investments, much of which have yet to materialise, frustrating nationalists.
    He has repeatedly said the Philippines was powerless to stop China, and that challenging its activities could risk a war his country would lose.
    The firebrand leader said there was no way for the Philippines to enforce “without any bloodshed” a landmark 2016 arbitral ruling that clarified the Philippines sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone.
    The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The Philippines has filed several diplomatic protests against China’s actions in the South China Sea, with the latest accusing its giant neighbour of undertaking illegal fishing and massing more than 240 boats within its territorial waters.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by David Gregorio)

4/19/2021 EU’s Borrell Cites Progress In Iran Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell speaks during a meeting via video conference
with EU foreign ministers at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium April 19, 2021. Francois Walschaerts/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday he saw a willingness to save the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers, citing progress in talks in Vienna to bring the United States back to the accord.
    The optimism follows comments by China’s envoy to the negotiations, Wang Qun, on Saturday that negotiations were starting to pick up pace.
    “I think that there is real good will among both parties (Iran and the United States) to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” he said, citing progress but not giving details.
    “I think that both parties are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly, on one side sanction-lifting, and on the other side, nuclear implementation issues.”
    The second round of talks began last Thursday in the basement of a luxury hotel in Vienna.    The United States is not present as Iran has declined face-to-face negotiation, but EU officials are carrying out shuttle diplomacy with a U.S. delegation based at another hotel across the road.
    Borrell said that his political director Enrique Mora, who is chairing the talks, had gone back to Vienna after returning to Brussels on Friday.
    Iran has breached many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities in response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against Tehran under former U.S. President Donald Trump.    Negotiators are working on steps both sides must take, on sanctions and nuclear activities, to return to full compliance.
    The deal was intended by the six global powers to make it harder for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.    Iran says it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would, and that its nuclear activity has only civilian aims.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Timothy Heritage)

4/19/2021 Pakistan Urges Taliban To Stay Engaged In Afghan Peace Process by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi is seen, ahead of an agreement signing between members of
Afghanistan's Taliban delegation and U.S. officials in Doha, Qatar February 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Pakistan on Monday urged the Taliban to remain engaged in the Afghan peace process after the armed group said it would now shun summits about Afghanistan until all foreign forces leave.
    The decision was taken after the United States said last week it would withdraw all troops by Sept. 11 this year, later than a May 1 deadline set out by the previous administration.
    “They take their own decisions but we will do whatever we can to convince them that it is in their national interest to remain engaged,” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said of the Taliban in an interview with Reuters in Abu Dhabi.
    The refusal has thrown the peace process into disarray with Turkey scheduled for Saturday to host a summit that diplomats had hoped could create new momentum towards a political settlement between the Taliban and Afghan government.
    The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when they were ousted by U.S.-led forces, but they still control wide areas.
    Qureshi said withdrawal delays were always a possibility due to logistics but that the Taliban had largely succeeded in their objective for foreign troops to withdraw and so should show flexibility towards the new Sept. 11 deadline.
    “The troops will be out and a date has been given and the process starts on the 1st of May and goes on until the 11th of September so there is a definite time frame,” Qureshi said.
    Sources have told Reuters Pakistan was putting pressure on the militants to come back to the table.
    Qureshi said he believed the Taliban would benefit from staying involved but said he had no contact with the group.
    Pakistan, which helped facilitate U.S.-Taliban negotiations in Doha that resulted in the initial May 1 withdrawal deal, wields considerable influence with the Taliban.
    The insurgents have sanctuaries in Pakistan, whose main military-run intelligence service gives them support, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.    Pakistan denies the allegation.
    Qureshi said he feared violence could escalate if the peace process remains deadlocked, plunging Afghanistan into civil war and leading to an exodus of Afghans.
    Pakistan, which hosts close to 3 million Afghan refugees and economic migrants, has built 90% of a fence along its disputed 2,500 km (1,500 mile) border with Afghanistan and would hopefully be completed by September, he said.
    He also said Pakistan was ready to engage in direct dialogue with arch-rival India once Jammu and Kashmir statehood was restored, which New Delhi in 2019 split into territories.
    “We are two atomic powers that cannot, should not go into a direct conflict.    It would be suicidal,” Qureshi said.
    But he said he had no plans to meet with his Indian counterpart who is also in the United Arab Emirates this week.
    Top intelligence officers from India and Pakistan held secret talks in Dubai in January in a new effort to calm military tension over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, sources have told Reuters.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alison Williams)

4/19/2021 Analysis: Beijing Huddles With Friends, Seeks To Fracture U.S.-Led ‘Clique’ by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen before a meeting between senior defence officials from
both countries at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is shoring up ties with autocratic partners like Russia and Iran, as well as economically dependent regional countries, while using sanctions and threats to try to fracture the alliances the United States is building against it.
    Worryingly for Beijing, diplomats and analysts say, the Biden administration has got other democracies to toughen up to a rising, more globally assertive China on human rights and regional security issues like the disputed South China Sea.
    “China has always resolutely opposed the U.S. side engaging in bloc politics along ideological lines, and ganging up to form anti-China cliques,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement to Reuters.
    “We hope relevant countries see clearly their own interests…and are not reduced to being anti-China tools of the U.S.”
    After last month’s stormy talks between top U.S. and Chinese diplomats in Anchorage, Beijing also appeared to engage more urgently with countries like Russia, Iran and North Korea, which are also on the wrong end of U.S.-led sanctions.
COLD COMFORT
    “China is very worried about U.S. alliance diplomacy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, pointing to what he calls attempts to “huddle for warmth” with governments shunned by the West.
    Days after the Alaska meeting, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, received Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who called for Moscow and Beijing to push back against what he called the West’s ideological agenda.
    A week later, Wang flew to Iran and signed a 25-year economic pact, which Renmin University professor Shi Yinhong said “effectively exposes every Chinese company participating to direct or indirect U.S. sanctions.”
    President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, exchanged messages with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, calling for a deeper partnership with another country whose ambitions for nuclear arms has drawn sanctions.
    China is also wooing its economically dependent neighbours.    Wang hosted foreign ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea in China’s southeastern Fujian province in recent weeks.
    Li said Beijing will be holding out promises to help these countries revive their economies after the COVID-19 pandemic, making them think twice about siding with the United States.
    After Philippines diplomats and generals accused China of sending militia-manned vessels into their waters, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was not going to let territorial disputes in the South China Sea get in the way of working with China on vaccines and economic recovery.
BUILDING BLOCS
    Biden has continued to pressure Beijing on many of the same issues the Trump administration did, but with a more alliance-focused strategy.
    At a meeting between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday, the two countries presented a united front against China’s assertiveness, on issues ranging from the disputed East China Sea islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, to rights issues in China’s Hong Kong and Xinjiang region.
    Last month, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed coordinated sanctions over reports of forced labour in China’s western Xinjiang region, while over a dozen countries jointly accused China of withholding information from an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Germany, Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and France all recently joined the United States in sending warships through the disputed South China Sea, or announced plans to do so.
    Washington also said it wants a “coordinated approach” with allies on whether to participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, amid concerns over human rights violations, particularly related to the treatment of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
BREAKING THE ‘CLIQUE’
    China has responded angrily to shows of unity by Washington’s allies, with its diplomats dubbing Japan a “vassal” and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “running dog” of the United States.
    China’s strategy to weaken this unity revolves around encouraging U.S. allies to engage independently with Beijing, and put the economic benefits first, while punishing them if they engage in joint-action against China.
    Beijing responded to the EU’s sanctions of Chinese officials over Xinjiang with disproportionately harsh counter-sanctions, analysts said, potentially torpedoing a long-awaited investment agreement.
    Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations, believes Beijing is prepared to sacrifice economic benefits for core interests if they are threatened by the U.S.-EU alliance.
    Xi drove home the message in a recent phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, telling her that he hoped “the EU will make a correct judgment on its independence.”
    But China still needs European technology and investment, said Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China.
    “They still talk to us, despite the sanctions, business keeps going, and that’s very reassuring.”
    Beijing has not given up persuading Washington that cooperation is better than competition, as demonstrated last week when it assured U.S. climate envoy John Kerry of support for Biden’s virtual climate summit this week.
    “China hopes Washington can appreciate that it is in U.S. interests to have China as a friend rather than as a foe,” said Wang Wen, a professor at the Chongyang Institute of the Renmin University of China.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe & Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/19/2021 Some Progress In Nuclear Talks, Interim Deal Possible -Iran Officials by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the beginning of a board
of governors meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran and world powers have made some progress on how to revive the 2015 nuclear accord later abandoned by the United States, and an interim deal could be a way to gain time for a lasting settlement, Iranian officials said on Monday.
    Tehran and the powers have been meeting in Vienna since early April to work on steps that must be taken, touching on U.S. sanctions and Iran’s recent breaches of the deal, to bring back Tehran and Washington into full compliance with the accord.
    “We are on the right track and some progress has been made, but this does not mean that the talks in Vienna have reached the final stage,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a weekly news conference in Tehran.
    “Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards the goal,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA), wrote on Twitter on Monday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, which took office in January pledging to rejoin the deal, has said it is ready to remove “all sanctions that are inconsistent” with the accord, but not spelled out which measures it means.
    Iran’s clerical establishment has said it will not return to strict observance of the 2015 agreement unless all sanctions reimposed or added by former President Donald Trump after he ditched the accord in 2018 are rescinded first.
    Diplomats say sequenced steps by each side may offer a solution, while Iranian officials told Reuters the high-stakes talks in Vienna might yield an interim deal to give space to diplomacy on a lasting settlement.
    “The May deadline is approaching…What is being discussed in Vienna for the near term is the main outlines of an interim deal to give all sides more time to resolve complicated technical issues,” said an Iranian official.
    He referred to a law passed by Iran’s hardline-dominated parliament that obliges the government to harden its nuclear stance if sanctions are not lifted.
    The law mandated an end to short-notice U.N. nuclear inspections from Feb. 21, but Tehran and the IAEA agreed to keep up “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.
    Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi told Iranian state media that “there is no discussion on an interim agreement or similar topics in the Vienna talks.”
    However, another Iranian official said that if a political agreement was reached on technical steps to remove all sanctions, Tehran might suspend enrichment to 20% purity in return for a release of blocked Iranian funds in other countries.
    Iran says $20 billion of its oil revenue has been frozen in countries like South Korea, Iraq and China under the U.S. sanctions regime since 2018.
    “Unblocking Iran’s funds is a good start. An interim deal will give us time to work on removal of all sanctions on Iran,” the second Iranian official said.
    On top of sanctions reimposed in 2018, Trump added new ones, including classifying Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group and blacklisting Iran’s Central Bank for alleged terrorist financing.
EU SEES GOODWILL TO SAVE 2015 DEAL
    The European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said on Monday he saw a willingness to save the 2015 deal, citing progress at the talks in Vienna.
    “I think that there is real goodwill among both parties (Iran and the United States) to reach an agreement, and that’s good news,” he said.
    “I think that both parties are really interested in reaching an agreement, and they have been moving from general to more focused issues, which are clearly, on one side sanction-lifting, and on the other side, nuclear implementation issues.”
    At the same time, Iran has been overstepping the deal’s limits on nuclear activity since Washington withdrew, recently raising uranium enrichment to 20% fissile purity, a level where uranium is considered to be highly enriched and a significant step towards bomb-grade material.
    The 2015 pact had capped the level of enrichment purity at 3.67% – suitable for generating civilian nuclear energy.
    Complicating Biden’s objective to rejoin the deal, Tehran last week launched enrichment to 60% purity at its main Natanz plant after a damaging blast at the site that Tehran blamed on sabotage by arch-foe Israel, which opposes diplomacy with Iran.
    Around 90% fissile purity is needed for a nuclear explosive, Tehran has repeatedly denied seeking to weaponise enrichment, though Western intelligence services and the IAEA believe it once had a covert atom bomb programme that was shelved in 2003.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold in BrusselsWriting by Parisa HafeziEditing by Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

4/20/2021 Iran Sees Vienna Talks Moving Forward, Warns Against Excessive Demands
FILE PHOTO: Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, attends a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission
in Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020. European Commission EbS - EEAS/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s chief negotiator said on Tuesday talks to save the 2015 nuclear accord were moving forward despite difficulties but warned Tehran would stop the negotiations if faced with “unreasonable demands” or time wasting.
    Iran and world powers have made headway in the Vienna talks though much more work is needed, a senior European Union official said, with meetings to resume next week after consultations in their respective capitals.
    Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi “assessed the current trend of the talks as going forward, despite the existing difficulties and challenges,” Iranian state media reported.
    “The Iranian delegation will stop the talks whenever the process of negotiations leads to unreasonable demands, waste of time and irrational bargaining,” Araqchi was quoted as saying.
    “It is too early to judge the outcome or to say whether we are optimistic or pessimistic, but we think we are on the right track,” Araqchi told state television.
    Hardline-led Iranian news agencies quoted an unnamed source as saying the United States was only planning to issue temporary waivers instead of permanently lifting sanctions, which Washington re-imposed on Tehran after withdrawing from the nuclear accord in 2018.
    “America’s intention is not to lift the sanctions completely and to be satisfied with temporary waivers on some sanctions in order to simply return to the nuclear accord so that it can use the possibility of the snapback mechanism against Iran,” the Fars news agency quoted the source as saying.
    Under the 2015 deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for relief from U.S. and other sanctions.    The accord includes the option of a snapback of U.N. sanctions if Iran breaches the deal, requiring Tehran to suspend all nuclear enrichment-related activities, including research development.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom;Editing by Alison Williams and Cynthia Osterman)

4/20/2021 Islamists Call Halt To Pakistan Protest After Government Allows Vote On French Envoy by Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) chant
slogans during a protest in Lahore, Pakistan April 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A banned Pakistani Islamist group called an end to violent nationwide anti-France protests on Tuesday, after the government called a parliamentary vote on whether to expel the French ambassador and said it would halt criminal cases against the group’s members.
    Pakistan arrested the leader of the group Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) on April 12 and banned the group last week after its members blocked main highways, railways and access routes to major cities, assaulting police and burning public property.
    The group has demanded that Pakistan expel the French ambassador in retaliation for the publication in France of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.
    Four police officers were killed, 11 taken hostage and more than 800 wounded, many seriously, during week-long clashes.    The Islamists said three of their members were killed.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan warned his nation on Monday that Pakistan risked paying a price if it expelled the French envoy, as half the country’s exports are sold to the European Union.
    Nevertheless, Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmad said on Tuesday that the government had agreed “after long negotiations with the TLP” to put a resolution before parliament on whether to expel the ambassador.
    All criminal cases registered against the TLP would also be withdrawn as a result of the agreement with the group, which in return would end its protests, the minister said.
    The TLP responded by releasing an audio statement of its spokesman Shafiq Amini saying: “It is requested to end protests wherever they are happening across the country.”
    However there was no immediate sign that crowds were dispersing at the biggest protest, in the city of Lahore, where thousands of followers were gathered outside the group’s headquarters.
    Later on Tuesday, a resolution calling for a debate on the envoy’s expulsion was presented in a specially-convened session of parliament.    The government referred the resolution to a committee, and the session was adjourned. Opposition members protested, demanding details of the agreement with the TLP.
    The TLP has also demanded the release of its leader and hundreds of arrested staff, the removal of the ban and the dismissal of the interior minister.
    Relations between Paris and Islamabad became more strained after President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute late last year to a French teacher who was beheaded by a man of Chechen origin for showing a class on free speech cartoons depicting the Prophet.    Many Muslims consider such cartoons blasphemous.    Macron maintains that free speech is a fundamental right in France.
    At that time, protests broke out in Muslim world, including one led by the Islamists who shut the main highway to Islamabad until Khan’s government agreed to endorse a boycott of French products and expel the envoy.
    France has already advised its citizens to temporarily leave Pakistan.
    Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a political analyst, told Reuters the government wanted take the matter of the French envoy’s expulsion to the parliament, “so they can say they have consulted with them and whatever step they take has a consensus behind it.”
    The government’s apparent acceptance of the militants’ demands would be seen as a victory for the Islamists, said author and analyst Khaled Ahmed.
    “The government’s retreat from its stance and agreement indicate that none of the institutions can stand against them,” he said.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Additional reporting by Umar Farooq in Islamabad and Gibran Peshimam in Karachi; Editing by Kim Coghill, Simon Cameron-Moore, Peter Graff)

4/20/2021 ASEAN Calls Summit On Myanmar As EU Widens Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Protesters defend themselves from the troops in Kale, Sagaing region, Myanmar
March 28, 2021 in this picture taken March 28, 2021 obtained by REUTERS.
    (Reuters) -Southeast Asian countries will discuss the crisis in Myanmar at a summit in Jakarta on Saturday, but some are choosing to send ministers rather than heads of government.
    The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to guide Myanmar, a member, out of the bloody turmoil triggered by the military overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.
    But the group’s principles of consensus and non-interference have restricted its ability to overcome members’ divergent views on how to respond to the army’s killing of hundreds of civilians.
    Domestic media said at least six villagers had been killed on Tuesday by the junta’s security forces.
    After ASEAN’s secretariat announced the summit, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he would be represented by his deputy, Don Pramudwinai, who is also foreign minister.
    “Some other countries will also send their foreign ministers,” Prayuth, a former army chief who led a coup in Thailand in 2014, told reporters.
    A Thai government official said on Saturday that Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would go to Jakarta, although the Myanmar government has not commented.
    However, in previous periods of military rule, Myanmar has usually been represented at regional meetings by a prime minister or foreign minister.
Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have all tried to put pressure on the junta.
    Thailand, Myanmar’s neighbour, has said it is “gravely concerned” about escalating bloodshed, but close military ties and fears of a flood of refugees mean it is unlikely to go further.
    Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said his prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, would attend the meeting.
    “We hope that with the coming discussions in Jakarta, Myanmar will agree to accept representatives from the ASEAN chair Brunei or the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta to observe and help Myanmar return to normalcy,” he told reporters.
LITTLE WILLINGNESS
    According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group, 738 people have been killed by Myanmar security forces since the coup.
    At least six villagers were killed by soldiers on Tuesday in Yinmarpin in the northerly Sagaing region, the Monywa Gazette said.
    Myanmar’s military has shown little willingness to engage with its neighbours and no sign of wanting to talk to members of the government it ousted, accusing some of them of treason, which is punishable by death.
    Pro-democracy politicians including ousted members of parliament from Suu Kyi’s party on Friday announced the formation of a National Unity Government (NUG).
    It nominally includes Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup, as well as leaders of the pro-democracy protests and ethnic minorities.
    The NUG says it is the legitimate authority and has requested international recognition and an invitation to the ASEAN meeting in place of the junta leader.
    Former U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon urged his successor to engage directly with Myanmar’s military to prevent violence, and said Southeast Asian countries should not dismiss the turmoil as an internal issue for Myanmar.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, has communicated with the military since the coup, but the junta has not allowed her to visit.
    In its firmest response yet, the European Union on Monday said it would impose travel bans and asset freezes on nine members of the junta’s State Administration Council, formed the day after the coup, as well as Information Minister U Chit Naing.
    The decision follows similar measures by the United States.    Min Aung Hlaing and Myint Swe, who has been acting president since the coup, were blacklisted by the EU last month.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/21/2021 State Dept. Officials Describe Iran Nuclear Talks As ‘Positive’ by OAN Newsroom
State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the
State Department, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Washington. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)
    The Biden administration said negotiations with Iran have been “positive” even as the Islamic Republic inches ever closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon.     This was the assessment shared with reporters by State Department spokesman Ned Price during a Tuesday press briefing.
    Yet, even as the Biden State Department was declaring its confidence in the progress of talks, Iranian officials stated they would consider walking away from negotiations altogether. They warned this would be the case unless the U.S. agreed to unilaterally remove the entirety of Trump-era sanctions on the Islamic Republic.br>     “We think that if the United States decides to distance from (Donald) Trump’s failed legacy and to live up to its commitments, the consultations will advance easily,” stated Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    My note: I put this image above here since they have found away to keep it from being copied on the above image, so what else are they hiding.
    Many critics of the plan suggest returning to the accords could weaken America’s position in the Middle East and allow Iran to get closer to achieving nuclear weapons.

4/21/2021 Australia Cancels Belt And Road Deals; China Warns Of Further Damage To Ties by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Staff members chat as they prepare a seminar of Australia China bilateral cooperation
in resources and infrastructure in West Australia, in Beijing July 23, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia on Wednesday cancelled two deals struck by its state of Victoria with China on Beijing’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative, prompting the Chinese embassy in Canberra to warn that already tense bilateral ties were bound to worsen.
    Under a new process in Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne has the power to review deals reached with other nations by the country’s states and universities.
    Payne said she had decided to cancel four deals, including two that Victoria agreed with China, in 2018 and 2019, on cooperation with the Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature trade and infrastructure scheme.
    “I consider these four arrangements to be inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations,” she said in a statement.
    China’s embassy in Australia voiced its “strong displeasure and resolute opposition” to the cancellations late on Wednesday.
    “This is another unreasonable and provocative move taken by the Australian side against China,” the embassy said in a statement.    “It further shows that the Australian government has no sincerity in improving China-Australia relations.”
    Bilateral ties were strained in 2018 when Australia became the first country to publicly ban Chinese tech giant Huawei from its 5G network.    Relations worsened last year when Canberra called for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Australia’s latest move “is bound to bring further damage to bilateral relations, and will only end up hurting itself,” the Chinese embassy said.
    Australia’s federal parliament granted the veto power over foreign deals by states in December amid the deepening diplomatic spat with China, which has imposed a series of trade sanctions on Australian exports ranging from wine to coal.
    Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull had declined to agree to a country-level MOU with China on the Belt and Road Initiative.
    But Victoria’s Labor state premier Dan Andrews signed agreements with China’s National Development and Reform Commission to promote the initiative in 2018 and 2019.
    Some countries fear the lending the Belt and Road scheme entails could lead to unsustainable debt levels in developing nations, including the Pacific islands region.
    Morrison’s government has denied that its new veto power is aimed at China, Australia’s largest trading partner and biggest source of overseas universities students before the pandemic led the country to close its borders.
    Payne said states, local governments and publicly funded universities had notified her of more than 1,000 foreign deals overall.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; additional reporting by Colin Qian and Tom Daly; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Hugh Lawson)

4/21/2021 Bureaucratic Barriers Leave COVID-19 Patients Begging For Beds In India’s Most Populous State by Saurabh Sharma
A woman registers details to get a hospital bed for her relative who needs treatment for the coronavirus disease
at the COVID-19 Integrated Control and Command Centre in Lucknow, India, April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar
    LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) -As Sushil Kumar Srivastava’s breathlessness worsened, his family bundled the 70-year-old into a car and drove him to a hospital in the capital of India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state, where he tested positive for the coronavirus.
    After the private hospital turned the retired government official away because it didn’t have any vacant beds, his son Ashish brought two oxygen cylinders and drove his father on a hunt for a hospital that could admit him.
    “All the hospitals asked for a referral letter from the chief medical officer’s (CMO) office,” Ashish said, referring to the top healthcare official of the city of some 3.5 million people.
    At the office, Ashish said nobody helped him.    “I was shooed away by the police,” he said, when he tried to meet the CMO.
    Three days later, Ashish said someone from the government called him offering a bed for his father – a day after Srivastava had passed away at a private clinic.
    The family’s ordeal reflects the worsening COVID-19 crisis in Uttar Pradesh, where people are battling bureaucracy along with the disease.
    To get a COVID-19 bed in Lucknow, families say they need to show the result of an RT-PCR test, which are already in short supply.
    Next, patients are required to register with the CMO’s office, which then forwards the request to the Integrated Command Control Centre for COVID management that makes the final bed allocation, a government official said.
    A state government spokesman on Wednesday told Reuters that authorities were planning to end the CMO referral system this week, and instead appoint officials at every COVID-19 hospital to assess whether a patient needed to be admitted.
    The cumbersome process has come under criticism, including from the state’s Human Rights Commission that has asked the government to ditch the referral rule.
    “There are expert doctors in hospitals who can decide if the patient needs to be admitted or not,” the commission said on Tuesday. “This referral letter system is not required.”
    Having already become the country currently being hit hardest by the pandemic, India has recorded more than 200,000 new COVID-19 cases daily for the last seven days, marking the world’s steepest rise this month, and there is no sign yet that the second wave of infections is going to peak soon.
    In Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, infections are rising by more than 22,000 cases daily, severely straining its creaky healthcare system.
    The state government has said it is turning several hospitals into COVID-only facilities and adding more beds.    It did not respond to questions from Reuters.
BEGGING FOR HELP
    At Lucknow’s CMO office, adjacent to two large hospitals, dozens of people line up daily, requesting, begging and sometimes crying for a referral letter required for hospital admissions.
    This week, local TV news channels aired footage of a young man lying on the road to block the CMO’s car in his desperation to get a letter for an ailing relative.
    Patients need to show an RT-PCR test confirming infection before being given a referral letter.
    But these tests are increasingly hard to access for most patients, with long queues outside hospitals and clinics over-burdened due to the surge in infections.
    “Getting an RT-PCR done in U.P. is next to impossible,” said journalist Shreya Jai, whose family members had to wait for a week to get a rapid antigen test.
    Many Lucknow labs are working with less than half their staff, the rest sickened by the virus, a lab worker said, asking not to be named.
    The state government has said that nearly 230 private and state-run labs were being used for coronavirus testing.
    On Monday, the state government led by Yogi Adityanath, who himself is currently down with COVID-19, was pilloried for its handling of the crisis by a regional court.     “It is a shame that while the government knew of the magnitude of the second wave it never planned things in advance,” the state’s Allahabad High Court said.
    In the Srivastava household, in a middle-class neighbourhood in central Lucknow, there is anger and sadness after the cremation of the head of the family.
    “I blame the officers sitting in air conditioned chambers for my father’s death,” said 39-year-old Ashish, who himself is now COVID-19 positive.
(Additional reporting and writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

4/21/2021 Australia Severs Regional ‘Belt & Road’ Deals With China, FM Payne Says Deals With Beijing Inconsistent With Australia’s Foreign Policy by OAN Newsroom
Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne during a press conference in the Prime Ministers Courtyard
at Parliament House on March 17, 2021 in Canberra, Australia. (Photo by Sam Mooy/Getty Images)
    Australia has ceased all economic partnerships with Mainland China under its Belt and Road Initiative due to risks of political pressure by Beijing.
    “If China comes knocking and says: ‘Hey, by the way, there’s all this money here you can use for infrastructure.    Oh, no problem, don’t worry about it,'” Caleb Bond, political analyst for ‘The Advertiser – Australia,’ stated.    “Pull the other one.    They’re not doing this out of goodwill.”
    The decision by Australia’s central government came in response to the state of Victoria joining Belt and Road several years ago.    The deals were inked by Victorian officials back in 2004 and 2018, but Foreign Minister Marise Payne said those accords are now inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy and are void.
    “China has been going around basically buying different islands,” Bond added.    “They offer loads of money to islands in the South Pacific.    They take the money, they spend it on whatever it is they want to build.    They then default.    They can’t pay the money back, China sweeps in and takes the island.    It’s as simple as that or they call them in for favors, whatever is beneficial at the time.    And it would be no different with Victoria.”
    Foreign Minister Payne also said Australia holds China responsible for the spread of COVID-19 and is continuing the probe into the origins of the virus.

4/22/2021 China Lashes Out Over Bipartisan Bill Condemning Beijing’s Abuses by OAN Newsroom
Flag of the Chinese Communist Party (WANG ZHAO/AFP via Getty Images)
    China has lashed out at a bipartisan effort in Congress to hold Beijing to task over its disregard for international norms, continuous attacks on human rights and attempts at establishing itself as the dominant force in global politics.
    Chinese Communist Party officials reacted quickly to the news the Strategic Competition Act had gained overwhelming bipartisan support.    It was approved in a 21-to-one vote during a Wednesday session of the Senate Foreign Policy Committee and has headed to the Senate floor for chamber-wide consideration.
    “The bill seriously distorts the facts, confuses right and wrong, plays up the ‘China threat theory,’ advocates the U.S. to carry out comprehensive strategic competition with China and grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs,” Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claimed.    “It is fraught with outdated Cold War mentality and zero-sum thinking and reflects the hegemonic mentality and self-supremacy of the U.S. that does not allow normal development of other countries.”
    The 280-page bill, authored jointly by the top Democrat and Republican in the Committee — Senators Bob Menendez and Jim Risch respectively — covers a wide range of issues related to the U.S. response to China.    These issues include increased spending on strategic military projects, calling for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics by U.S. officials, and punishing China’s mistreatment of ethnic and religious minorities through increased sanctions.
    China has claimed the bill is fraught with falsehoods, particularly concerning its treatment of ethnic Uyghurs in Xinjiang province, where Beijing has carried out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing that led to the U.S. State Department — then-headed by former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — to officially accuse the country of genocide in January of 2021.
    Yet even as CCP officials were accusing U.S. lawmakers of spreading misinformation about the regime’s activities, “CTGN,” a channel under direct control by the Chinese Communist Party, was busy blaming Uyghurs for their own mistreatment by suggesting repression was appropriate due to the ethnic group “lacking the mental sophistication” to accept communist rule.
    “At that time, the people of Xinjiang were not immunized against such ideological infiltration, so they did not have the ability to resist it, nor were they mentally prepared for it,” Kamalet Law Firm Attorney Mijit Litip stated.    “The kind of blind worship of whatever was foreign, coupled with a lack of sophistication, made them very susceptible to such extremist thoughts.”
    Nevertheless, representatives of China’s communist regime were intent on flipping the script on America by claiming it is not China, but rather the U.S. that has been the source of global conflict.
    “This kind of twisted and narrow mindset doesn’t fit the mold of a great global power,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson said. “I will reiterate that China is willing to form a relationship with the U.S. without confrontation or conflict, with mutual respect and win-win cooperation.”
    The attempt by Chinese authorities to paint themselves as open to international cooperation, contrasted against their portrayal of the U.S. as an unjustifiable aggressor, however, is belied by Beijing’s own state media.
    Indeed, another communist party-controlled outlet, the “Global Times,” actually celebrated U.S. opposition in its coverage of the bill.    They argued the fact America condemns Beijing’s actions “just proves that China is developing on the right path.”

4/22/2021 U.S. Centcom Chief: Afghan Forces May Collapse After U.S. Pullout, Says Pentagon May Need Additional Resources To Withdraw U.S. Troops by OAN Newsroom
General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., US Central Command (CENTCOM) Commander. (Photo by MAZEN MAHDI/AFP via Getty Images)
    A top military official disagreed with Joe Biden’s assessments of the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan.    On Thursday, Central Command Chief Gen. Frank McKenzie spoke in Congress and said the U.S. military would have to respond to possible attacks by the Taliban, despite the withdrawal.
    The General added, the Pentagon would require more money to actually pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
    This came after Biden pushed back President Trump’s withdrawal deadline from May 1 to mid-September of 2021.
    McKenzie also said the Afghan military may collapse after U.S. troops leave.
    “It is a matter of very much great concern to me, and I think everyone, whether or not the future government of Afghanistan is going to be able to do that after we leave,” Gen. Frank McKenzie noted.    “That will be determined here over the next few weeks as we begin our drawdown and we evaluate the security platforms.”
    McKenzie went on to say, U.S. regional partners, such as Pakistan, have not been particularly helpful over the past 20 years as political tensions and Islamic terror continue to simmer.

4/22/2021 Iran Cuts Number Of Centrifuges Enriching Uranium To 60% Purity, IAEA Report Says by Francois Murphy
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
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges enriching uranium to up to 60% purity at an above-ground plant at Natanz to one cluster from two, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog seen by Reuters indicated on Thursday.
    Iran announced the shift to 60%, a big step towards weapons-grade from the 20% it had previously achieved, in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz last week that Tehran has blamed on Israel.
    Iran’s move complicated the current indirect talks with the United States on rescuing its nuclear deal with major powers.    Washington pulled out and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 under President Donald Trump; Iran responded as of 2019 by breaching the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear activities.
    “On 21 April 2021, the Agency verified that Iran had changed the mode by which it was producing UF6 enriched up to 60% U-235 at PFEP,” the report said, referring to the above-ground Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant at Natanz and to uranium hexafluoride, the form in which uranium is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
    Iran was now using one cascade, or cluster, of IR-6 centrifuges to enrich to up to 60% and feeding the tails, or depleted uranium, from that process into a cascade of IR-4 machines to enrich to up to 20%, the report said.    The IR-4 cascade was previously being used to enrich to up to 60%.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency report did not say why Iran had made the change or say how many centrifuges are in each cascade.    A previous report in February said there were 119 centrifuges in the IR-4 cascade and 133 in the IR-6 one.
    The deal lets Iran produce enriched uranium but only at an underground plant at Natanz and only with first-generation IR-1 machines, which are far less efficient.    It also caps the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67%.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Chris Reese, Marguerita Choy and Barbara Lewis)

4/22/2021 U.S. Lawmakers Intensify Bipartisan Efforts To Counter China by Patricia Zengerle and Michael Martina
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) -A bipartisan U.S. congressional push to counteract China picked up steam on Wednesday as a Senate committee overwhelmingly backed a bill pressing Beijing on human rights and economic competition, while other lawmakers introduced a measure seeking billions for technology research.
    The Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed the “Strategic Competition Act of 2021” by 21-1, sending the bill for consideration by the 100-member Senate, even as committee members voiced a need to do even more to counteract Beijing.
    The committee added dozens of amendments to the bill. One would force a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics by U.S. officials, not athletes, which was also recommended by the U.S. Commission on Religious Freedom.
    Separately, a group of Senate and House of Representatives lawmakers introduced the “Endless Frontier Act,” calling for $100 billion over five years for basic and advanced technology research and $10 billion to create new “technology hubs” across the country.
    Both bills have strong support from both political parties and are expected to become law.    The desire for a hard line in dealings with China is one of the few truly bipartisan sentiments in the deeply divided U.S. Congress, which is narrowly controlled by President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrats.
    The Biden administration supports the measures.
    “With this overwhelming bipartisan vote, the Strategic Competition Act becomes the first of what we hope will be a cascade of legislative activity for our nation to finally meet the China challenge across every dimension of power, political, diplomatic, economic, innovation, military and even cultural,” said Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate panel.
    He and Senator Jim Risch, the panel’s top Republican, wrote the “Strategic Competition” measure together, with Risch saying it was “truly bipartisan.”
    The legislation was greeted with anger in Beijing.<
    “It distorts facts and confuses right and wrong,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry.
    “It hypes up the China threat theory and talks about full strategic competition with China.    It grossly interferes with China’s affairs and reeks of Cold War and zero sum mentalities.”
HUMAN RIGHTS AND MILITARY SPENDING
    The 280-page Senate bill addresses competition with China through efforts such as increasing international development funding and working with allied countries and international organizations.    It pushes humanitarian and democratic values, like imposing sanctions over the treatment of the minority Muslim Uighurs and supporting democracy in Hong Kong. [L1N2M113C]
    The bill stresses the need to “prioritize the military investments necessary to achieve United States political objectives in the Indo-Pacific.”    It backs steep increases in security-related funding for the region and closer ties with Taiwan.
    It would expand the scope of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which scrutinizes financial transactions for potential national security risks. U.S. universities are concerned about a provision of the bill requiring CFIUS to review some Chinese grants and contracts.
    The Strategic Competition and Endless Frontier acts are part of a fast-track effort announced in February by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass a wide range of legislation to counter China. Schumer is a lead sponsor of the Endless Frontier bill.
    Foreign Relations committee members said they want to do more.
    “I don’t believe anyone would think that this legislation is going to change China’s march toward a global hegemony of autocracy and repression,” Republican Senator Mitt Romney said.    “…I would suggest we have a lot more work to do.”
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Howard Goller, Sonya Hepinstall and Kim Coghill)

4/22/2021 ‘Beg, Borrow, Steal’: The Fight For Oxygen Among New Delhi’s Hospitals by Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra
An empty tanker is seen outside an oxygen plant, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Ghaziabad, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Pankaj Solanki, a doctor and the director of a small hospital in New Delhi, rushed to an oxygen vendor earlier this week to secure enough cylinders to keep 10 COVID-19 patients on the ICU ward breathing.
    His supplies would only last until Thursday night, and so he has sent a driver out to try to find more.
    “It is mental agony.    I can’t bear it any more.    What if something happens to the patients?” he told Reuters.
    The last-minute scramble for oxygen at Dharamveer Solanki Hospital is playing out across the city and the country, which is facing the world’s largest surge in COVID-19 cases.
    Hospitals in India’s capital, renowned for some of the best medical care in the country, are unable to guarantee basic services and thousands of lives hang in the balance – a stark warning of how India’s healthcare system is buckling amid the pandemic.
    Big private hospital chains have not been spared.
    This week in New Delhi, which has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus, seven Max Healthcare hospitals treating more than 1,400 COVID-19 patients were down to between 2 and 18 hours of oxygen left.
    Staff at a major facility of the Apollo group had a harrowing night wondering if oxygen to 200 patients would run out. A tanker arrived at around 3 a.m., just in time, a source at the hospital said.
    As panic breaks out at hospitals unable to admit some people with severe COVID-19 symptoms, police are being deployed to secure oxygen.    In court, judges are challenging the central government to do more to address shortages.
    In a late-night court hearing on Wednesday, Delhi justices called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to “beg, borrow, steal or import” to meet the city’s needs.    Officials said they were arranging supplies, but the judges weren’t convinced.
    The state “cannot say ‘we can provide only this much and no more’, so if people die, let them die; that cannot be an answer by a responsible sovereign state,” said Justice Vipin Sanghi.
OXYGEN EMERGENCY
    Demand for medical oxygen has soared. India recorded 314,835 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, the highest tally anywhere during the pandemic.    In Delhi alone, the daily rise is around 25,000.
    Modi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal have been criticised for failing to plan for the upsurge in cases.
    On April 13, when Delhi recorded 13,000 new cases, Kejriwal told a news channel there was “no shortage of oxygen.”    Five days later, he tweeted, “OXYGEN HAS BECOME AN EMERGENCY.”
    “It is poor forecasting.    Maybe they are not able to understand the gravity of the situation,” said Anant Bhan, an independent researcher of global health and bioethics.
    “This is a reminder again – we should have extra reserves of oxygen.    It shows poor planning.”
    A senior gas industry source directly involved in supplying oxygen to Delhi hospitals said the city had moved too slowly in recent days in liaising with authorities and suppliers.
    The city has few production units nearby and transportation is a challenge.
    The Delhi government and federal health ministry did not respond to Reuters questions for this story.
    At an INOX gas plant in the state of Uttar Pradesh, around an hour’s drive from Delhi, 12 trucks from cities across northern India were waiting to load oxygen on Thursday.
    Six drivers told Reuters they had faced long delays, as surging demand from hospitals in the capital and elsewhere outstripped supply.
    “We have been waiting for three days,” said Bhure Singh, one of the drivers.    “Demand has increased and there is no gas.”
    The plant has been visited by government officials and police, some carrying assault rifles.    An Uttar Pradesh police officer said they had been given orders to escort trucks in some instances to make sure they reached their destination.
LAWYERS’ BARBS
    At one Max facility in west Delhi treating 285 COVID-19 patients, oxygen supplies this week ran dry as authorities diverted their tanker to another hospital, the healthcare group wrote in a letter to Delhi’s health minister.
    Staff had to borrow cylinders from another facility.
    The medical superintendent at the Shanti Mukund Hospital, Kulwinder Singh, told Reuters on Thursday they were asking families of 85 patients who needed high-flow oxygen to make other arrangements because they had only two hours’ worth of supply.
    Some hospitals in Delhi have run out of oxygen altogether, putting lives at risk, the city’s deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia said in a televised address.    “After some time, saving lives would be difficult,” he warned.
    In the capital, the fight for oxygen has reached the High Court, where judges convened late on Wednesday night to hear a plea from Max hospitals.
    For around two hours, lawyers for Delhi and the federal government traded barbs over transportation challenges and supplies.    Other lawyers shared real-time updates on oxygen tanks reaching hospitals in the city, and a judge took notes on demand and supply statistics for the capital.
    The Supreme Court also intervened, saying Modi’s administration should draw up a plan to address shortages of oxygen and critical supplies.
    “The situation is alarming,” the court said.

4/22/2021 China Rebukes Australia For “Cold War Mentality” After Belt And Road Accords Cancelled by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia said on Thursday that it cancelled two accords between Victoria state and China on the Belt and Road Initiative because they were out of line with the federal government’s foreign policy, which sees a “free and open Indo Pacific” as a key goal.
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman responded by urging Australia to abandon its “Cold War mentality and ideological bias” and “immediately correct its mistakes and change course
    The Chinese embassy earlier criticised the move by Foreign Minister Marise Payne to veto two agreements signed by Victoria state as “provocative” and said it would further damage ties.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Thursday the accords were cancelled because his federal government didn’t want other levels of government to enter into agreements that conflict with Australia’s foreign policy.
    “We will always act in Australia’s national interest to protect Australia, but to also ensure we can advance our national interest in a free and open Indo     Pacific and a world that seeks a balance in favour of freedom,” he said.
    Under a new process, states must consult with the foreign minister before signing agreements with other nations.
    Payne earlier told local radio the policy was “not aimed at any one country.”    Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, expressed doubt over that claim during a regular news conference in Beijing.
    “The Australian side reviewed more than 1,000 deals and only decided to cancel four, and two of them were agreements with China, so Australia’s claim that the decision doesn’t target any particular country does not hold water,” Wang said.
    The spokesman warned Australia against travelling “further down the wrong path to avoid making the already strained China-Australia relations worse.”
    Speaking to reporters in New Zealand after meeting with her counterpart Nanaia Mahuta, Payne said Australia sought a clear-eyed and practical engagement with China, particularly as the world emerged from COVID-19.
    “We also have to acknowledge that China’s outlook, the nature of China’s external engagement, both in our region and globally, has changed in recent years, and an enduring partnership requires us to adapt to those new realities,” she said.
    China is the largest trading partner of New Zealand and Australia.
    Mahuta on Thursday repeated comments that New Zealand valued the Five Eyes security alliance – which also includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States – but questioned whether it was the right platform for New Zealand to speak out on human rights issues.
    The comment, first made on Monday, has been widely interpreted as referring to recent Five Eyes joint statements criticising China.
    In a joint written statement that did not mention China, Payne and Mahuta said they had “reaffirmed their intent to work together to preserve the liberal international order that has underpinned stability and prosperity in the region, and to foster a sustainable regional balance where all countries- large and small – can freely pursue their legitimate interests.”
    Australia’s conservative coalition government had declined to agree to a country-level MOU with China on the Belt and Road Initiative.    But Victoria Labor Premier Dan Andrews signed an MOU to promote the infrastructure development initiative in 2018 and a framework agreement in 2019, saying it would bring Chinese investment to his state.
    Hans Hendrischke from the University of Sydney Business School said the cancellation of the agreements would have minimal commercial impact because no projects had begun.
    “It had no legal force and there were no specific deals,” he told Reuters.
    Diplomatic relations between Australia and China have worsened since Canberra called for an international inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, prompting trade reprisals from Beijing.
    Fitch Ratings said economic co-dependencies between Australia and China will restrain Beijing from targeting major exports such as iron ore.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/23/2021 U.S. Troops Packing Equipment Ahead Of Leaving Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    After nearly two decades, U.S. military forces are preparing to pack up and move out of Afghanistan.    According to reports on Thursday, the U.S. military has begun dissolving contracts with local suppliers of equipment and recycling scrap metal from its installations in Afghanistan.
    All military equipment will be sent back to the U.S., but things like refrigerators, containers and other auxiliary hardware will be left behind.    Contractors said some of the decommissioned U.S. equipment is being sold to local parties.
    “All these scraps of equipment are brought to a compound from the airbase by the translator and from there, then everyone buys whatever they need,” Kandahar scrap dealer Neyaz Mohammad said.    “And then they take them to Herat, Lashkar Gah City, Zabul, Ghazni and other places.    You can find containers, refrigerators, chairs, tables and anything you would need, generators and some even some stuff in working conditions.”
    Meanwhile, Afghani aides to the U.S. military have claimed they won’t be safe after U.S. troops leave.
    Meanwhile, a top military official disagreed with Joe Biden’s assessments of the upcoming withdrawal from Afghanistan.    U.S. CENTCOM Commander Gen. Frank McKenzie said the U.S. military would have to respond to possible attacks by the Taliban despite the withdrawal.
    The general added, the Pentagon would require more money to actually pull out U.S. troops from Afghanistan and the Afghan military may collapse after U.S. troops leave.
    “It is a matter very much of great concern to me, and I think everyone, whether or not the future government of Afghanistan is going to be able to do that after we leave,” General McKenzie said.    “That’ll be determined over the next few weeks as we begin our drawdown.”
    McKenzie went on to say, U.S. regional partners, such as Pakistan, have not been particularly helpful over the past 20 years as political tensions and Islamic terror continue to simmer.

4/24/2024 Indonesia Officials Say Missing Submarine Sunk, Little Hope For Survivors by OAN Newsroom
Indonesian navy ships arrive at the naval base in Banyuwangi on April 22, 2021, to join in the search for a decades-old navy
submarine that went missing off the coast of Bali with 53 crew aboard during regular exercises. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Indonesian Navy officially declared a missing submarine most likely sunk after rescuers found several pieces of debris believed to be from the vessel.
    In a press conference Saturday, Indonesian officials said divers had found items like a torpedo straightener, a grease bottle believed to be used to oil the periscope, and prayer rugs in the area the sub originally lost contact.
    This came after the vessel went missing during a training exercise off the coast of Bali on Wednesday along with a crew of 53.
Indonesian navy ships arrive at the naval base in Banyuwangi on April 22, 2021, to join in the search for a decades-old navy submarine
that went missing off the coast of Bali with 53 crew aboard during regular exercises. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
    “In the past few days, to this day we have found several pieces of debris at the location where the submarine was last seen while diving,” Yudo Margono, chief of staff of the Indonesian Navy Commander, said. “    These are believed to be parts or components that were attached to the submarine.    These would not have come off of the ship if there had not been pressure from outside, or there was a crack in the torpedo launcher.”
    Several counties, including the U.S., aided in the search.    Officials said the submarine only had enough oxygen to last through Saturday morning and the discovery of the floating items confirmed the worst-case scenario.

4/27/2021 U.S. Aid To Arrive At India Within Days Amid Massive COVID-19 Surge by OAN Newsroom
Health workers stand on the back of ambulance as they transport patients at the Jumbo COVID-19 field hospital in Mumbai, India,
Monday, April 26, 2021. As India suffers a bigger, more infectious second wave with a caseload of more than 300,000 new cases a day,
the country’s healthcare workers are bearing the brunt of the disaster. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
    The Pentagon is sending aid to India amid the southeast Asian country’s spike in coronavirus cases.    During a press conference Monday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the U.S. military will be transporting emergency supplies to India within the next few days.
    This comes after the White House on Sunday said the U.S. would immediately provide raw materials to help India manufacture the Covishield vaccine along with medical equipment.    The Pentagon will be working to deploy oxygenation equipment, rapid COVID-19 test kits and other items.
    “The department is working closely with other U.S. agencies to rapidly deploy oxygen related equipment, rapid testing kits, personal protective equipment and other essential equipment to our Indian partners,” Kirby stated.    “We are also in close communication with the government of India to ensure we are providing India’s frontline health care workers with any support we can offer within our authority.”
    Kirby added, the U.S. deeply values its partnership with India and is determined to help the country as they combat the virus outbreak.

4/30/2021 Overwhelmed India Running Short Of COVID-19 Vaccines by Adnan Abidi and Shilpa Jamkhandikar
A man tries to lift a woman that fainted after seeing the body of a relative who died from the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Several states in India have run out of vaccines against COVID-19, exacerbating a dire second wave of infections that has left hospitals and morgues overflowing while families scramble for increasingly scarce medicines and oxygen.
    “Come back to us. How will we live without you?” wailed Aanchal Sharma and her mother-in-law over the lifeless body of her husband, waiting like so many others for their turn at a crematorium on the outskirts of New Delhi.
    In the parking lot, more than 10 ambulances containing corpses lined up while workers cleared ashes from pyres that had spilled over from the main cremation area.
    Second only to the United States in total infections, India has reported more than 300,000 new cases daily for nine days in a row, hitting another global record of 386,452 on Friday.
    Total deaths have surpassed 200,000 and cases are nearing 19 million – nearly 8 million since February alone as virulent new strains have combined with “super-spreader” events such as political rallies and religious festivals.
    Medical experts say real numbers may be five to 10 times higher than the official tally.    Patients have been begging for spaces in hospitals while oxygen tanks are scarce and prized.
    Despite being the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, India now does not have enough for itself – undermining a plan to ramp up and widen inoculation from Saturday.
    Only about 9% of its 1.4 billion people have had a dose.
    “I registered to get a slot 28 days before, but now they are saying there are no vaccines,” complained Jasmin Oza on Twitter. VACCINE BOTTLENECKS
    India has struggled to increase capacity beyond 80 million doses a month due to lack of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine.     Authorities in the financial capital Mumbai said inoculation centres were closing for three days, while Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal told citizens not to show up for vaccinations on Saturday as doses had not yet arrived.
    Karnataka state, home to tech hub Bengaluru, postponed its new vaccination drive for adults that was to start on Saturday.
    However, officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s western home state of Gujarat said vaccinations for those aged between 18 and 45 would begin on Saturday in worst-hit districts.
    And contradicting some of the local governments, the national health ministry said states had 10 million vaccines stockpiled and 2 million more coming in the next three days.
    Modi met on Friday with his cabinet, which recognised a “once in a century” crisis in India.
    With India’s health system reeling and absenteeism from the workplace soaring – as staff fall ill or take care of relatives – international aid has begun pouring in.
    A first U.S. aid flight with oxygen cylinders, regulators, rapid diagnostic kits, masks and pulse oximeters arrived.
    “Just as India came to our aid early in the pandemic, the United States is committed to working urgently to provide assistance to India in its time of need,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted.
    Washington is sending more than $100 million worth of supplies and has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca vaccines to India, providing another 20 million doses.
    Britain, Ireland and Romania have also sent help, and a first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine was due on Saturday.
‘PEOPLE ARE PANICKING’
    On the streets, Indians were hoarding supplies.
    “Anything related to oxygen … our sales have doubled,” said medical store owner Vipul Garg in Uttar Pradesh state.
    Medicines were starting to run short in some parts.
    “People are panicking a lot.    People are unnecessarily hoarding medicines, even those who don’t need them,” added another business owner Sanjay Sharma, also in Uttar Pradesh.
    Bringing some hope to the crisis, a team of scientists advising India’s government said cases may peak next week between May 3-5 – earlier than initially forecast.
(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru; Sanjeev Miglani, Adnan Abidi, Tanvi Mehta and Suchitra Mohanty in New Delhi; Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad; Jatindra Das in Bhubaneshwar; Subrata Nag Choudhary in Kolkata; Writing by Michael Perry and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones)

4/30/2021 Exclusive-As U.S. Prepared Exit, Taliban Protected Foreign Bases, But Killed Afghans by Rupam Jain, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Charlotte Greenfield
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier sits on a back of an army vehicle at a checkpoint
on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban fighters have protected western military bases in Afghanistan from attacks by rival, or rogue Islamist groups for over a year under a secret annex to a pact for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by May 1, three Western officials with knowledge of the agreement told Reuters.
    The U.S. State Department gave no immediate response to Reuters over the existence of any such document.    Nor did it have any immediate comment on what the three officials described as a “Taliban ring of protection.”
    Since United States struck a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, paving the way for America to end its longest war, there have been no U.S. combat deaths, and there have been only isolated attacks on U.S. bases.
    Instead, the Taliban intensified attacks on Afghan government forces, and civilian casualties have spiralled.
    Peace talks between the militants and the government, begun in September, have made no significant progress, and a U.N. report said civilian casualties were up 45% in the last three months of 2020 from a year earlier.
    Testing Taliban patience, U.S. President Joe Biden served notice that the U.S. withdrawal would overshoot the May 1 deadline agreed by the previous U.S. administration, while giving an assurance that it would be completed by Sept. 11 – the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
    When the deadline passes on Saturday, around 2,000 U.S. troops will still be in Afghanistan, according to a western security official in Kabul.    The commander of foreign forces in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Scott Miller earlier this week said an orderly withdrawal and the handing over of military bases and equipment to Afghan forces had begun.
    Afghan soldiers left manning those bases could need plenty of firepower to resist any offensive by Taliban fighters who have been occupying strategic positions in surrounding areas.
    In the past two weeks alone, the militants have killed more than 100 Afghan security personnel in a surge of attacks that followed Biden’s announcement that a U.S. withdrawal would take a few months more.
    Two of the Western officials said Washington had accepted the Taliban’s offer to shield the western military bases from attacks by the likes of Islamic State.
    The officials said the Taliban had wanted to demonstrate good faith by meeting a commitment to ensure Afghan soil was not used for attacks on U.S. interests – a key U.S. demand in the February agreement.
    “They provided a layer of cover, almost like a buffer and ordered their fighters to not injure or kill any foreign soldier in this period,” said one western diplomat involved in the process.
    The western officials said it was also important for the Taliban to show its ability to control the more recalcitrant factions in its movement, like the Haqqani network, which has often followed its own agenda, though its leader Sirajuddin Haqqani is the second-highest ranking commander in the Taliban.
    A Kabul-based western security official said that militants had kept their side of the bargain.
    “The Taliban swiftly responded to even minor attacks conducted by the Haqqani network and Islamic State fighters around the bases,” he said.DEADLINE SATURDAY
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid declined to comment on the so-called “ring of protection” agreement.
    More broadly, he said no security guarantee has been given to the United States beyond Saturday’s deadline, but talks were underway among the group’s leadership and with the U.S. side.
    “So far our commitment of not attacking the foreign forces is until May 1, after that whether we will attack or not is an issue under discussion,” said Mujahid.
    Mullah Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy political chief, held talks with U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad to discuss the peace process on Thursday, another militant spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said in a Twitter post.
    Clearly having the militants holding positions around Western bases presents a danger if no understanding is reached.
    “They’ve definitely moved ever closer to a lot of Afghan and foreign bases,” said Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at Overseas Development Institute, a London-based think-tank.
    “Encircling U.S., NATO, and Afghan bases seems like the Taliban strategy to poise themselves to take over when foreign forces leave.”
    Afghan defence ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said the Taliban had ramped up violence against the Afghan people and their government, while holding fire against foreign forces.
    More than 3,000 Afghan civilians were killed and almost 5,800 were wounded in 2020, according to a United Nation report.
    “By not attacking the foreign forces but continuously targeting the Afghan security forces and civilians, the Taliban have shown that they are fighting against the people of Afghanistan,” Aman said.
    Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, sympathised with that view, saying: “they have every right to lambaste a U.S.-Taliban agreement for failing to bring a semblance of relief to Afghans themselves.”
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Charlotte Greenfield in Islamabad and Rupam Jain in Panjim, India; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

4/30/2021 Myanmar Risks Coming To Standstill As Violence Worsens -U.N. Envoy by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators carry flags during a protest against the military coup,
in Dawei, Myanmar April 27, 2021. Courtesy of Dawei Watch/via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -The U.N. special envoy on Myanmar told the Security Council on Friday that in the absence of a collective international response to the country’s coup, violence is worsening and the running of the state risks coming to a standstill, according to diplomats who attended the private meeting.
    Christine Schraner Burgener briefed the 15-member council from Thailand, where she has been meeting with regional leaders.    She still hopes to travel to Myanmar – where a Feb. 1 military coup ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi – but the military is yet to approve a visit.
    Pro-democracy protests have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the coup.
    “The general administration of the state could risk coming to a standstill as the pro-democracy movement continues in spite of the ongoing use of lethal force, arbitrary arrests and torture as part of the military’s repression,” Schraner Burgener said, according to diplomats.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group says more than 3,400 people have been detained for opposing the coup and security forces have killed at least 759 protesters.    Reuters is unable to confirm the casualty toll.
    The military, which ruled for almost 50 years until launching a tentative reform process a decade ago, has acknowledged the death of some protesters, saying they were killed after they initiated violence.
    Schraner Burgener told diplomats that reports of a continuing crackdown risked undermining momentum toward ending the crisis following a meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Saturday with the junta leader, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
    Britain’s Deputy U.N. Ambassador James Roscoe said after the Security Council briefing on Friday that it was “deeply concerning” that Min Aung Hlaing did not plan to immediately implement ASEAN’s recommended steps to end the crisis.
    “It’s really vital that the military junta do follow the ASEAN consensus, as opposed to their own roadmap.    And it was clear in the discussion that the (Security) council felt that the council had a continuing role in maintaining pressure to that end,” Roscoe told reporters.
    Schraner Burgener said there were concerning reports that civilians, mostly students from the urban areas, were being trained how to use weapons by ethnic armed organizations.
    “In the absence of a collective international response, there has been a rise in violence and reported use of improvised explosive devices.    Calls for maximum restraint by all sides have been met with responses from some protesters asking who can blame them for their self-defense,” she said, according to diplomats.
(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Alistair Bell)

4/30/2021 Indirect Talks On Iran Nuclear Deal In ‘Unclear Place’: U.S. National Security Adviser by Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina
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) – Indirect negotiations between the United States and Iran on a return to compliance to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are in “an unclear place,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.
    Sullivan’s comments followed the start this week of a third round of the talks in Vienna in which representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and European Union shuttle between U.S. and Iranian delegations.
    “I’m not going to characterize the substance of the negotiations at this point because they are in … an unclear place,” Sullivan told an Aspen Security Forum webinar.    “We’ve seen willingness of all sides, including the Iranians, to talk seriously about sanctions relief restrictions and a pathway back into the JCPOA.”    The acronym refers to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear deal’s title.
    “But it is still uncertain as to whether this will culminate in a deal in Vienna,” he said.
    The agreement limited Iran’s nuclear program to block the development of nuclear weapons.    In return, Iran received relief from U.S. and international sanctions.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018, reimposing and adding U.S. sanctions.    In response, Tehran began breaching JCPOA restrictions.
    President Joe Biden has pledged to return to the deal.    Iran refused direct talks on resuming compliance in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions.
    Sullivan was asked whether the Iranians are negotiating in good faith.
    “I guess good faith is always in the eye of the beholder,” he said.    “The Iranians have come in a serious way to have serious discussions about details and the teams are working through those details now.”
    The main differences are over what U.S. sanctions will need to end, the steps Iran must take to resume its obligations to restrict its nuclear program and how to sequence the process.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Michael Martina; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

4/30/2021 Biden Administration Sets New North Korea Policy Of ‘Practical’ Diplomacy
FILE PHOTO: Troops march during a military parade to commemorate 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).
    ABOARD AIR FORCE ONE (Reuters) -President Joe Biden has settled on a new approach to pressuring North Korea to give up nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles that will explore diplomacy but not seek a grand bargain with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the White House said on Friday.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One that U.S. officials had completed a months-long review of North Korean policy.
    Complete denuclearization of North Korea remains the goal, she said, but she noted that the past four presidents had been unable to get Pyongyang to forswear nuclear weapons.
    The Biden policy attempts to strike a middle ground between the policy pursued by Biden’s most recent predecessors.
    Republican Donald Trump had held three summit meetings with Kim but achieved no breakthrough other than a pause in nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests that has lasted since 2017.
    Democrat Barack Obama refused serious diplomatic engagement with North Korea absent any steps by Pyongyang to reduce tensions.
    “Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” Psaki said.
    Instead, the United States will pursue a “calibrated practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with” North Korea and making “practical progress” that increases the security of the United States and its allies, she said.
    North Korea, so far, has refused diplomatic entreaties from the Biden administration.    Pyongyang wants the United States and its allies to lift economic sanctions imposed over its weapons programs.
    Psaki did not provide details of what the administration’s next step might be beyond discussions with allies.    Biden met Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga two weeks ago and is to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in on May 21 at the White House.
    Jenny Town, director of 38 North, a Washington-based North Korea monitoring program, sad the broad strokes of the Biden policy sound good so far.
    “But the details will matter greatly to assessing how successful the administration might be with this ‘new approach.’    Not sure there’s much to say until we see more,” she said.
    There are ongoing concerns that North Korea might return to testing of nuclear devices.    North Korea launched two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan in March.
    The White House did not say whether it will offer concessions to get North Korea to return to talks.
    The Biden administration has simultaneously signaled a hard line on human rights, denuclearization and sanctions, while making diplomatic overtures that officials say have been rebuffed by Pyongyang, which has long demanded sanctions relief.
    On April 15, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius quoted a senior administration official as saying the likelihood of North Korea giving up nuclear weapons right now was “close to zero” and the administration was seeking interim “way stations,” such as halting weapons proliferation and checking North Korea’s development of new delivery systems like submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
(Reporting by Nandita Bose; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Steve Holland, Editing by Franklin Paul and Nick Zieminski)

4/30/2021 EU Aims To Cut Foreign Reliance On Chips, Pharma Materials – Document by Foo Yun Chee
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in
Brussels, Belgium, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union aims to cut its dependency on Chinese and other foreign suppliers in six strategic areas including raw materials, pharmaceutical ingredients and semiconductors, under an industrial action plan to be announced next week.
    A draft seen by Reuters outlined the urgency of the task ahead, citing Europe’s reliance on China for about half of 137 products used in sensitive ecosystems, mainly raw materials and pharmaceuticals and other products key to the bloc’s green and digital goals.
    The updated industrial strategy plan, devised after the COVID-19 pandemic led to bottlenecks in supply chains, will be presented by EU digital chief Margrethe Vestager and EU industry chief Thierry Breton on May 5.
    The European Commission will conduct an in-depth review of the six areas, which also include batteries, hydrogen and cloud and edge technologies, before deciding on the appropriate measures, the draft document said.
    Such measures could include “diversifying supply and demand relying on different trading partners whenever possible, but also stockpiling and acting autonomously whenever necessary,” the 19-page document said.
    Another strategy set out in the paper to reduce import dependency could see EU countries pool resources for Important Projects of Common European Interest (IPCEIs) in next-generation cloud, hydrogen, low-carbon industry, pharmaceuticals and a second IPCEI on cutting-edge semi-conductors.
    An IPCEI allows EU governments to pump in funding under easier state aid rules and for companies to work together on the entire range of the project, from design to production and downstream applications.
    Europe also needs to take the lead in setting standards for batteries, hydrogen, offshore wind, safe chemicals, cybersecurity and space data to ensure the competitiveness and resilience of EU industries, the paper said.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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