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

    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 March-April or continue to King Of The East 2021 July-August.

KING OF THE EAST 2021 MAY-JUNE


    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 MAY-JUNE

5/1/2021 White House Signals Openness To Diplomacy With N. Korea After Policy Review by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting with US President Donald Trump.
(Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The White House’s relationship with North Korea could change following the completion of its foreign policy review.    Press Secretary Jen Psaki spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday and said the goal is “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula.
    “We consulted closely with outside experts and our predecessors from several previous administrations and our way forward draws from their lessons learned and shared,” Psaki said.    “Our goal remains the complete nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula with a clear understanding that the efforts of the past four administrations have not achieved this objective.”
    The White House press secretary added, the Biden administration has consulted with experts, predecessors and U.S. allies to determine the best way to move forward.
    “Their input and also the approaches we’ve taken in the past have all played a role in this effort,” Psaki continued.    “I’m not going to have any details on when [Joe Biden] was briefed, but it’s been an ongoing discussion.”
    However, within Psaki’s comments were two jabs: One to the Obama administration’s strategy of patience and the other to President Trump’s direct negotiations with Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un.
A handout photo provided by Dong-A Ilbo of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ)
separating the South and North Korea on June 30, 2019 in Panmunjom, South Korea. (Handout photo by Dong-A Ilbo via Getty Images/Getty Images)
    “Our policy will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience,” Psaki said.    “Our policy calls for a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy with the DPRK and to make practical progress that increases the security of the United States, our allies and deployed forces.”
    In the meantime, Biden’s so-called “diplomacy” has resulted in no meetings with the leader of North Korea and little progress on his ultimate goal of denuclearization.

5/3/2021 Trainee Indian Doctors Pulled From Exams To Fight World’s Biggest COVID Surge by Adnan Abidi and Shilpa Jamkhandikar
Mukesh Bhardwaj cries as he sits next to his wife, who receives oxygen support for free for people suffering from breathing problems, outside
a Gurudwara (Sikh temple), amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Ghaziabad, India, May 3, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – India postponed exams for trainee doctors and nurses on Monday, freeing them up to fight the world’s biggest surge in coronavirus infections, as the health system crumbles under the weight of new cases and hospitals run out of beds and oxygen.
    The total number of infections so far rose to just short of 20 million, propelled by a 12th straight day of more than 300,000 new cases in a pandemic sparked by a virus first identified in central China at the end of 2019.
    Medical experts say actual numbers in India could be five to 10 times higher than those reported.
    Hospitals have filled to capacity, supplies of medical oxygen have run short, and morgues and crematoriums have been overloaded with corpses.    Patients are dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in carparks outside.
    “Every time we have to struggle to get our quota of our oxygen cylinders,” said B.H. Narayan Rao, a district official in the southern town of Chamarajanagar, where 24 COVID-19 patients died, some from a suspected shortage of oxygen supplies.
    “It’s a day-to-day fight,” added Rao, as he described the hectic scramble for supplies.
    In many cases, volunteer groups have come to the rescue.
    Outside a temple in the capital, New Delhi, Sikh volunteers were providing oxygen to patients lying on benches inside makeshift tents, hooked up to a giant cylinder.    Every 20 minutes or so, a new patient came in.
    “No one should die because of a lack of oxygen.    It’s a small thing otherwise, but nowadays, it is the one thing every one needs,” Gurpreet Singh Rummy, who runs the service, told Reuters.
    Total infections since the start of the pandemic have reached 19.93 million in India, swelled by 368,147 new cases over the past 24 hours, while the death toll rose by 3,417 to 218,959, health ministry data showed.    At least 3.4 million people are currently being treated.
    Offering a glimmer of hope, the health ministry said positive cases relative to the number of tests fell on Monday for the first time since at least April 15.
    GRAPHIC: India’s daily positivity rate – https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA/gjnvwdqlrpw/chart.png
    Modelling by a team of government advisers shows coronavirus cases could peak by Wednesday this week, a few days earlier than a previous estimate, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
    At least 11 states and regions have ordered curbs on movement to stem infections, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, widely criticised for allowing the crisis to spin out of control, is reluctant to announce a national lockdown, concerned about the economic impact.
    “In my opinion, only a national stay at home order and declaring medical emergency will help to address the current healthcare needs,” Bhramar Mukherjee, an epidemiologist with the University of Michigan, said on Twitter.
CRISIS TESTS MODI
    As medical facilities near breaking point, the government postponed an exam for doctors and nurses to allow some to join the coronavirus battle alongside existing personnel, it said in a statement.
    In Pune, the second-largest city in the state of Maharashtra, Dr. Mekund Penurkar returned to work just days after losing his father to COVID-19.    His mother and brother are in hospital with the virus, but patients are waiting to see him.
    “It is a very difficult situation,” he said.    “Because I have been through such a situation myself, I can’t leave other patients to their fate.”
    Modi has been criticised for not moving sooner to limit the spread and for letting millions of largely unmasked people attend religious festivals and crowded political rallies in five states during March and April.
    In early March, a forum of government scientific advisers warned officials of a new and more contagious variant of the coronavirus taking hold, five of its members told Reuters.
    Despite the warning, four of the scientists said the federal government did not seek to impose major curbs.
    With the next general election due in 2024, it remains to be seen how the pandemic might affect him or his party.    His Hindu nationalist party was defeated on Sunday in a state poll in the eastern state of West Bengal, although it won in the neighbouring state of Assam.
    Leaders of 13 opposition parties urged Modi in a letter on Sunday to immediately launch free national vaccinations and to prioritise oxygen supplies to hospitals and health centres.
    Despite being the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, India does not have enough for itself.    Just 9% of a population of 1.35 billion has received a dose.
    Daily shots have fallen sharply from an all-time high reached early last month as domestic companies struggle to boost supplies.
[L1N2MQ0M8]    Vaccination centres in Mumbai were deserted after the state government said it did not have enough supplies to administer second doses for adults above 45.
    Only limited doses were available for those aged 18-44 and no walk-ins were allowed.
    India has struggled to increase capacity beyond 80 million doses a month due to a lack of raw materials and a fire at the Serum Institute, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine.
    Another manufacturer, Pfizer Inc, is in talks with the government for “expedited approval” of its vaccine, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on LinkedIn, announcing a donation of medicines worth more than $70 million.
    Last month, India said its drugs regulator would hand down a decision within three days on emergency-use applications for foreign vaccines, including that of Pfizer.
    International aid has poured in in response to the crisis.
    Britain will send another 1,000 ventilators to India, the government said on Sunday.    Prime ministers Boris Johnson and Modi are set to talk on Tuesday.
    The Indian COVID-19 variant has now reached at least 17 countries including Britain, Iran and Switzerland, spurring several nations to close their borders to travellers from India.
(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta and Anuron Kumar Mitra; Additional reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru; Writing by Michael Perry and Nick Macfie; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Hugh Lawson)

5/3/2021 Philippines Foreign Minister Issues Expletive-Laced Tweet Over China Sea Dispute
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese fishing vessel is anchored next to Filipino fishing boats at the
disputed Scarborough Shoal April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
    MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippine foreign minister on Monday demanded in an expletive-laced message on Twitter that China’s vessels get out of disputed waters, marking the latest exchange in a war of words with Beijing over its activities in the South China Sea.
    The comments by Teodoro Locsin, known for making blunt remarks at times, follow Manila’s protests for what it calls the “illegal” presence of hundreds of Chinese boats inside the Philippines 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
    “China, my friend, how politely can I put it?    Let me see… O…GET THE FUCK OUT,” Locsin said in a tweet on his personal account.
    “What are you doing to our friendship?    You.    Not us.    We’re trying.    You.    You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province…,” Locsin said.
    China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Chinese officials have previously said the vessels at the disputed Whitsun Reef were fishing boats taking refuge from rough seas.
    China claims almost the entire South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion of ship-borne trade passes each year.    In 2016, an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled that the claim, which Beijing bases on its old maps, was inconsistent with international law.
    In a statement on Monday, the Philippine foreign ministry accused China’s coast guard of “shadowing, blocking, dangerous manoeuvres, and radio challenges of the Philippine coast guard vessels.”
    Philippine officials believe the Chinese vessels are manned by militia.
    On Sunday, the Philippines vowed to continue maritime exercises in its EEZ in the South China Sea in response to a Chinese demand that it stop actions it said could escalate disputes.
    As of April 26, the Philippines had filed 78 diplomatic protests to China since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, foreign ministry data shows.
    “Our statements are stronger too because of the more brazen nature of the activities, the number, frequency and proximity of intrusions,” Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos, executive director for strategic communications at the foreign ministry, said.
    Duterte for the most part has pursued warmer ties with China in exchange for Beijing’s promises of billions of dollars in investment, aid and loans.
    “China remains to be our benefactor.    Just because we have a conflict with China does not mean to say that we have to be rude and disrespectful,” Duterte said in a weekly national address.
    “So, kindly just allow our fishermen to fish in peace and there is no reason for trouble,” Duterte said, addressing China.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies, Neil Fullick and Hugh Lawson)

5/3/2021 S.Korea Counts On Large Shipments Of Vaccines Arriving In Coming Weeks by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A nursing home worker receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care centre as South Korea starts a
vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seoul, South Korea February 26, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea is banking on the arrival of nearly 14 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by June, officials said on Monday, to boost an immunisation drive that could lose momentum due to dwindling supplies as result of shipment delays.
    Nearly 3.4 million of the population of 52 million had received their first dose by Sunday in the campaign begun in February, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
    A shipment of 8.9 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine, including 1.67 million via the global COVAX sharing scheme, and 5 million doses of Pfizer’s product will arrive by June, the agency’s director Jeong Eun-kyeong said, without giving dates.
    “The scale and speed of the shipment of vaccines are improving increasingly,” Jeong told a briefing after an intra-agency meeting to combat the virus, hosted by President Moon Jae-in.
    “Please take trust in the government’s plan to bring in vaccines, and I request you to join the campaign instead of worrying too much about supplies.”
    Moon the meeting that the campaign was going better than initially planned, since it had met a goal of vaccinating 3 million people by the end of April.
    “We might be able to raise our first-half target to 13 million from the current 12 million, if we effectively use supplies that arrive in each period as much as possible,” he said.
    However, at the current pace of the campaign, with about 200,000 people receiving a dose each day, supplies could run out within a few days.
    This is because available stocks amount to just 529,000 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine and 381,000 doses of the AstraZeneca product, an agency official told Reuters.
    Opposition lawmakers accused Moon’s government of creating a “vaccine crunch” by failing to plan ahead and secure sufficient supplies.
    South Korea has lined up 192 million doses of vaccines, including those from Novavax, Moderna Inc, and Johnson & Johnson, but has had to contend with shipment delays amid global supply shortages.
    The KDCA reported 488 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight on Sunday, bringing the country’s total infections to 123,728, with 1,834 deaths.
(Global vaccination tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/vaccination-rollout-and-access)
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

5/3/2021 Malaysia Makes AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Optional Amid Safety Fears by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a vaccine for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a
vaccination centre in Subang Jaya, Malaysia April 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia will begin a parallel COVID-19 innoculation programme this week for people who chose to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, after it was removed from an ongoing rollout due to public fears over its safety, a minister said on Monday.
    Reports of possible links to very rare blood clots have dented confidence in the shot in Malaysia and elsewhere.
    AstraZeneca has pointed to regulator recommendations that the vaccine is safe and effective, though some countries have suspended its use due to rising unease or limited it to certain age groups.
    Malaysia, which received its first 268,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses in April, said it would allow people to choose to receive the jab on a first-come, first-serve basis.
    The decision was made after around 8,000 people cancelled online vaccination registrations following the government’s announcement that the shot would be part of the nationwide rollout, Science Minister Khairy Jamaludin told reporters.
    Data also showed increased vaccine hesitancy with some people not showing up to appointments after AstraZeneca was included, he said.
    “The number of cancellations was rising, and this resulted in (authorities) deciding that we should carve out AstraZeneca from the mainstream national immunisation programme,” Khairy said.
    Slots for 268,000 doses were filled in just three hours after bookings opened on Sunday, he said, adding the programme that starts on Wednesday would be expanded when more doses arrive.
    Malaysia is due to receive 12.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, with the next shipment of 1.1 million doses expected to arrive this month.
    Khairy said authorities had also decided to limit the use of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech to those aged 60 years or older.
    Malaysia is facing a spike in coronavirus cases, with more than 415,000 total infections reported.
    Separately, Health Minister Adham Baba noted a marked increase in COVID-19 patients suffering acute symptoms, possibly due to new strains.
    Malaysia on Sunday reported its first case of a variant first identified in India, which experts say may have mutations that would make it more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.
    The government has also detected 48 cases of the South African variant and eight of the British variant as of May 1, Adham said.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Ed Davies)

5/3/2021 Taiwan Bars Arrivals From India As Indonesia Reports First Cases Of Indian COVID-19 Variant by Ben Blanchard and Stanley Widianto
FILE PHOTO: A view of the empty departure hall at the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, January 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
(Correct timing in paragraph 5 to last month, not last week)
    TAIPEI/JAKARTA (Reuters) -Taiwan became the latest place to ban arrivals from coronavirus-stricken India on Monday, as it moves to prevent new infections, with more nations reporting cases of a variant first identified in the subcontinent.
    The variant, B.1.617, has reached at least 17 countries, from Britain and Iran to Switzerland, sparking global concern and spurring several to close their borders to people travelling from India.
    Scientists are studying whether the variant, resulting from two key mutations to the outer “spike” portion of the virus that attaches to human cells, is driving an unexpected explosion in cases in India.
    The south Asian nation’s tally of infections was just shy of 20 million on Monday, after it reported more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for a 12th straight day.
    Last month, Indonesia, which has been battling one of Asia’s worst COVID-19 outbreaks, stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.
    “We need to contain these cases, while there are still only a few of them,” said Indonesian health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin, after the first two cases of the variant reported in the southeast Asian nation on Monday.
    Neighbouring Malaysia said on Sunday it had detected its first case of the Indian variant, days after imposing a ban on flights from the country.
    On Monday, Taiwan said that except for its citizens, all those who had been in India in the 14 days prior would be barred from entering its territory, while returning Taiwanese face 14 days in centralised quarantine facilities. [L1N2MQ08Z]
    The move comes after Australia took a more drastic measure last week, banning the entry of residents and citizens who have been in India in the previous two weeks, threatening fines and jail for any who disobey.
    It was the first time Australia has branded citizens’ return home a criminal offence.
    Australia defended the ban, which took effect on Monday, saying it had a “strong, clear and absolute” belief that the move was legal.
    “It’s a high-risk situation in India,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told a televised news briefing.
    “The strong, clear view is that there has been no doubt in any of the Commonwealth advice about this.”
    Philippine officials warned that they could not rule out the possibility of an India-like COVID-19 crisis, saying last week’s decision to ban entry of arrivals from India aimed to keep it from becoming a reality.
    “It is possible for it to happen here if we don’t intensify responses,” Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said.
    “When we look at what is happening in India, it is happening across the globe… What’s different is the intensity of it.”
    The World Health Organisation designates the variant as being “of interest,” suggesting it may have mutations that would make the virus more transmissible, cause more severe disease or evade vaccine immunity.
    Other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the Brazil, Britain and South Africa, have been categorised as “variants of concern,” a higher threat level.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Stanley Widianto in Jakarta and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Clarence Fernandez)

5/3/2021 Indonesia Records Two Cases Of Indian COVID-19 Variant In Jakarta
FILE PHOTO: An elementary school student wearing a face mask has her temperature checked before attending a classroom session, as schools
reopen amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Bekasi, on the outskirts of Jakarta, March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
(Corrects paragraph 3 to last month instead of last week)
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia has recorded two cases of a highly infectious COVID-19 variant first identified in India, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Monday.
    “There were two new mutations that entered.    One from India, with two incidents in Jakarta and one from South Africa in Bali,” Budi told a virtual conference.    Another official confirmed the two cases were the B.1.617 variant, first detected in India.
    Indonesia last month stopped issuing visas for foreigners who had been in India in the previous 14 days.
(This story corrects paragraph 3 to last month instead of last week)
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Writing by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Ed Davies)

5/3/2021 Thailand Reports New Daily Record Of 31 Coronavirus Deaths
FILE PHOTO: A health worker prepares to administer the Sinovac coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
at the Samut Sakhon hospital in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand on Monday reported a new daily record of 31 coronavirus deaths, the health ministry said, as the Southeast Asian country grapples with a third wave of infections.
    After managing to largely control the virus for around a year through shutdowns and strict border controls, Thailand has faced a spike in cases since early April that is proving harder to control and putting pressure on parts of the medical system.
    The ministry recorded 2,041 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country’s total number to 71,025 since the pandemic began last year.    The total number of fatalities now stands at 276.
    The new outbreak, which includes the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant first detected in Britain, has accounted for more than half of total cases and deaths since the start of the pandemic leaving Thais worried about when it might end.
    “It’s horrible this time round,” said 39-year-old bus driver Chaowan Tessana, adding his work days had been halved from 15 days per month to six or seven.
    “I don’t know what to do, so I’m just living day by day.”
    Authorities say the situation should ease in coming weeks as a result of restrictions including shutting bars and public venues in Bangkok.
    Thailand aims to have 70% of the population vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of the year, though the rollout has been slower compared with some neighbouring countries.
    Registration for vaccinating the general public began on Saturday, with about 16 million people aged over 60 or those with pre-existing medical conditions getting priority.
    Mass inoculations are set to begin in June, when the first batch of what is targetted to reach 61 million locally manufactured AstraZeneca doses becomes available.
    Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration has approved the AstraZeneca, Sinovac Biotech, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for use so far.
    The agency said on Monday it was processing Moderna’s registration request, while India’s Bharat Biotech and Russia’s Sputnik V were also submitting documents for registration.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Ed Davies)

5/3/2021 Myanmar Rebels Say They Downed Helicopter, Pro-Junta Official Killed
A view shows a Tatmadaw helicopter falling after being shot down in Konlaw, Myanmar, May 3, 2021,
in this still image obtained from a social media video by REUTERS.
    (Reuters) -An ethnic rebel group in Myanmar said it had shot down a military helicopter on Monday as fighting in the country’s northern and eastern frontier regions intensified following an army coup.
    Domestic media also reported that a junta-appointed local administrator had been stabbed to death in the main city, Yangon.
    Violence has spiralled since the Feb. 1 coup, with at least 766 civilians reported killed by security forces and increasing confrontation with ethnic armies on Myanmar’s fringes and junta opponents in the cities and countryside.
    The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes to escape fighting between the military and insurgents based along the border.
    The Kachin Independence Army said the helicopter was shot down around 10:20 a.m. at a village near the town of Moemauk in Kachin province following days of air raids.
    “The military council launched air strikes in that area since around 8 or 9 this morning … using jet fighters and also fired shots using a helicopter so we shot back at them,” said spokesman Naw Bu by telephone.
    He declined to say what weapons were used.
    News portals MizzimaDaily and Kachinwaves also reported the downing of the helicopter next to photographs showing a plume of smoke coming from the ground.
    A resident in the area, who declined to be named, said by telephone that four people had died in hospital after artillery shells hit a monastery in the village.
    Reuters could not independently verify the reports and a military spokesman did not answer a phone call seeking comment.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with protests almost daily against military rule across the country.
    In another sign of the growing insecurity, the junta-appointed head of the ward administration office in Yangon’s Tharketa district was stabbed at his office and later died of his wounds, Khit Thit Media said.    Two residents of the district confirmed the report.
    Police did not respond to a request for comment.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group says security forces have killed at least 765 civilians since the coup.    The junta disputes the figure and says at least 24 members of security forces have been killed during the protests.
    The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Suu Kyi’s party were not addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.
    Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup along with many other members of her party.
(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

5/3/2021 Cambodian Capital To End Blanket COVID Lockdown Despite Surge
FILE PHOTO: A Cambodian army member checks documents of a person as people are vaccinated inside a red zone with strict lockdown measures,
amidst the latest outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu/File Photo
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia registered a record 841 new coronavirus cases on Monday but Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the end to a blanket lockdown in the capital Phnom Penh and said there would be only be lockdowns in areas where infections have surged.
    The Southeast Asian nation has recorded one of the world’s smallest COVID-19 caseloads, but infections have climbed from about 500 in late February to 15,361 now, with a total 106 deaths.
    It reported 730 new cases on Sunday and a second highest daily record of 841 on Monday.
    Authorities put Phnom Penh and the nearby town of Takhmau, where most of the cases have been recorded, under a hard lockdown on April 15.
    “The Royal Government has issued a decision to end the lockdown … from May 6, 2021, replacing it with new measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Hun Sen said on Facebook.
    Under the lockdown, authorities declared some districts “red zones,” banning people from leaving their homes, prompting anger among residents and human rights groups over inadequate aid distribution.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Cambodia, Li Ailan, warned on Sunday against easing COVID-19 curbs too soon.
    “Relaxing #COVID19 measures too fast and too soon means a possible surge,” Ailan said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/5/5021 Top Swiss Diplomat Dies In Iran Amid Biden’s Concessions To Ayatollahs by OAN Newsroom
A cordon tape is seen at the garden in front of the tower, where the body of the Swiss embassy’s first secretary was found
after falling from a building, in Tehran, Iran May 4, 2021. (Naser Safarzadeh/WANA-West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)
    A senior diplomat from Switzerland has died under mysterious circumstances in Iran amid talks to restore the failed nuclear deal.
    The first secretary at the Swiss Embassy fell from a high rise building Tuesday in the northern part of Tehran where she lived.
    Switzerland has represented U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran since the closure of the American Embassy back in 1979.    Despite this, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said the secretary’s death was a result of “an accident.”
    Further details of the incident are scarce and are mostly coming from Iranian sources that One America News could not independently verify.
    Meanwhile, critics have said the Swiss Embassy secretary could have fallen victim to foul play as the Biden administration advances talks with Iran to restore the 2015 nuclear accord.
    The 52-year-old senior diplomat has not been identified at this time.    This Swiss Foreign Ministry noted they are “shocked by the tragic death and express their deepest condolences to the family.”

5/5/2021 As COVID-19 Rages In India, Scientist Warns Further Waves ‘Inevitable’ by Tanvi Mehta
A man mourns as he sits next to the burning pyre of a relative, who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
during his cremation, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A top scientific adviser to the Indian government warned on Wednesday the country would inevitably face further waves of the coronavirus pandemic, as almost 4,000 people died in the space of a day.
    With hospitals scrabbling for beds and oxygen in response to a deadly second surge in infections, the World Health Organization said in a weekly report that India accounted for nearly half the coronavirus cases reported worldwide last week and a quarter of the deaths.
    Many people have died in ambulances and car parks waiting for a bed or oxygen, while morgues and crematoriums struggle to deal with a seemingly unstoppable flow of bodies.
    The government’s principal scientific adviser, K. VijayRaghavan, warned that even after infection rates subside the country should be ready for a third wave.
    “Phase 3 is inevitable, given the high levels of circulating virus,” he told a news briefing.    “But it is not clear on what timescale this phase 3 will occur… We should prepare for new waves.”
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.
    “We are running out of air.    We are dying,” the Booker Prize-winning author Arundhati Roy wrote in an opinion piece that called for Modi to step down.
    “This is a crisis of your making,” she added in the article published on Tuesday.    “You cannot solve it.    You can only make it worse….So please go.”
    India’s delegation to the Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting in London is self-isolating after two of its members tested positive for COVID-19, Britain said on Wednesday.
    Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, who is in London, said in a Twitter message that he would attend virtually.
GOVERNMENT RESISTING LOCKDOWN
    Deaths rose by a record 3,780 during the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, and daily infections rose by 382,315 on Wednesday.    The number has been in excess of 300,000 every day for the past two weeks.
    Medical experts say India’s actual figures could be five to 10 times the official tallies.    The country has added 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach its first 10 million.
    The opposition has urged a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose one for fear of the economic fallout, although several states have adopted social curbs.
    In the latest move the eastern state of West Bengal, where voters dealt Modi’s party a defeat in an election last week, suspended local train services and limited working hours for banks and jewellery shops, among its steps to limit infections.
    The central bank asked banks on Wednesday to allow more time for some borrowers to repay loans, as the crisis threatens a nascent economic revival.
FALL IN VACCINATIONS, TESTING
    The surge in infections has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations because of supply and delivery problems, despite India being a major vaccine producer.
    At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, have reported a scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.
    Lengthy queues formed outside two centres in the western city that still have vaccine supplies, and some of those waiting pleaded for police to open their gates earlier.
    The government said production capacity for the antiviral drug remdesivir, used to treat COVID-19 patients, has trebled to 10.3 million vials per month, up from 3.8 million vials a month ago.
    But daily testing has fallen sharply to 1.5 million, state-run Indian Council of Medical Research said, off a peak of 1.95 million on Saturday.
OUTBREAK SPREADING
    Two “oxygen express” trains carrying liquid oxygen arrived in the capital, New Delhi, on Wednesday, railways minister Piyush Goyal said on Twitter. More than 25 trains have distributed oxygen supplies nationwide.
    The government says supplies are sufficient but transport woes have hindered distribution.
    Meanwhile, the outbreak continues to spread.
    In the remote state of Mizoram bordering Myanmar, beds in its biggest coronavirus hospital are in such short supply that all victims of other diseases have been asked to leave, said government official Dr Z R Thiamsanga.
    Just three of a total 14 ventilators were still available.
    “In my opinion, a complete lockdown is required to control the situation,” he told Reuters from the state capital, Aizawl.
    Neighbouring Nepal is also being overwhelmed by a surge of infections as India’s outbreak spreads across South Asia, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.
    With 57 times as many cases as a month ago, Nepal is seeing 44% of tests come back positive, it added.    Towns near the border with India are unable to cope with the growing numbers seeking treatment, while just 1% of its population was fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi, Chanchinmawia in Aizawl; Additional reporting by Subrata Nagchoudhary in Kolkata, Francis Mascarenhas and Aishwarya Nair in Mumbai; Writing by Michael)

5/5/2021 Myanmar’s Anti-Junta Unity Government Says Forms Defence Force
FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold homemade pipe air guns during a protest against the
military coup in Yangon, Myanmar April 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s National Unity Government, set up by opponents of army rule, said on Wednesday it had formed a “people’s defence force” to protect its supporters from military attacks and violence instigated by the junta.
    Since the military seized power and ousted an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1 there have been daily protests and a surge of violence with security forces killing hundreds of civilians.
    The National Unity Government said in a statement the new force was a precursor to a Federal Union Army and that it had a responsibility to “make effective reforms in the security sector in order to terminate the 70-year long civil war.”
    It also said it has a responsibility to deal with “the military attacks and violence from state administration council on the people.”
    The unity government, established last month by an array of groups opposed to the junta, has pledged to end violence, restore democracy and build a “federal democratic union.”
    A spokesman for the junta did not answer a call seeking comment.
    Myanmar was ruled by the military for nearly half a century from 1962 before the generals launched a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago.    That process was brought to a halt by the coup, to the anger of many people unwilling to put up with another phase of military rule.
    The National Unity Government did not provide details of how the new force would be organised or armed, or how it would try to achieve its objectives.    A spokesman for the unity government was not immediately available for comment.
    Myanmar’s well-equipped army is one of the region’s most battle-hardened forces.
    But despite that, opponents of the coup have in some places been using crude weapons to fight troops while others have sought training with ethnic minority insurgents who have been battling the military since independence in 1948 from remote border areas.
DEADLY BLAST
    Myanmar has in recent weeks seen an increasing number of small blasts in cities and towns, some targeting government offices and military facilities.
    There have been no claims of responsibility but the military has blamed people bent on destabilising the country.
    Five people killed in an explosion this week, including a former member of parliament for Suu Kyi’s party, had been building a bomb, the state controlled Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.
    The newspaper said security forces had searched the scene of the Monday afternoon blast in the central Bago area and found wire, batteries and a damaged phone and phone parts.
    The newspaper said the explosion of the “home-made mine” killed four men on the spot including a member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) while another man died of his injuries in hospital.
    A spokesman for the NLD was not available for comment.    Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup along with many members of her party.
    The junta said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Suu Kyi’s party were not addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) rights monitoring group says security forces have killed 766 people since the coup.
    The junta disputes the AAPP figure and has banned the group.    It acknowledged 248 deaths in mid-April and in addition says 24 police and soldiers have been killed in the protests.br>     Reuters is unable to verify casualties because ofcurbs placed on media by the junta.    Many journalists areamong the thousands of people who have been detained.
    The independent Tachileik news agency based in Shan State in the northeast said on Facebook its licence had been revoked, the latest of eight such news outlets to be shut under orders of the authorities.
    Junta-controlled MRTV state television announced on Tuesday a ban on satellite television receivers, saying outside broadcasts threatened national security. It said anyone caught violating the ban risked jail.
    With mobile internet access largely cut off in a bid to quell the anti-junta protests, Myanmar has increasingly appeared headed back to a state of isolation that preceded a decade of democratic reforms.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

5/5/2021 Japan Heads Toward Longer State Of Emergency As Olympics Approach by Stanley White and Yoshifumi Takemoto
A couple wearing protective face masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, make their way at a local shopping
street decorated with Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games flags in Tokyo, Japan, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is considering extending a coronavirus-spurred state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and other major urban areas, sources said on Wednesday, a move that could cast doubt on the planned Summer Olympics.
    Officials were leaning toward an extension of the measures in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures beyond May 11 as the country battles a surge in COVID-19 cases, three sources told Reuters.
    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters after meeting with cabinet ministers and advisers on Wednesday that he wants to make a decision this week.
    An official announcement could come as early as Friday, one of the sources told Reuters.    The Yomiuri Newspaper earlier reported that an extension was likely.
    Extending the measures, which were imposed on April 25, would likely fan persistent concerns about whether the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23, can be held as planned.
    The games have already been delayed once from last year due to the pandemic.    The city of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, hosted a half-marathon test event on Wednesday.
    One proposal that has emerged is an extension until the end of the month, according to two of the sources.    All three people requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with the media.
    The governor of Osaka Prefecture said an extension of three weeks to a month may be necessary, according to domestic media.
    Calls by Reuters to Suga’s office were not answered.    Japan’s government buildings and financial markets were closed on Wednesday for the annual Golden Week holidays.
    International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is expected to visit Japan later this month, but a longer state of emergency could prompt renewed calls from the public to cancel the games.
    Under the restrictions in Tokyo and other urban areas, the government has required restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol to close.    Large department stores and cinemas were also shuttered, while spectators were banned from big sporting events.
    It was uncertain whether the government will loosen any of the operating restrictions on the services sector, the Yomiuri said.
(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Jane Wardell and Kim Coghill)

5/5/2021 ‘Last Resort’: Desperate For Oxygen, Indian Hospitals Go To Court by Aditya Kalra
FILE PHOTO: Patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) get treatment at the casualty ward in Lok Nayak Jai Prakash
(LNJP) hospital, amidst the spread of the disease in New Delhi, India April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A court in India’s capital New Delhi has become the last hope for many hospitals struggling to get oxygen for COVID-19 patients as supplies run dangerously short while government officials bicker over who is responsible.
    A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals invoking India’s constitutional right to protection of life. Local and federal officials are attending.
    The court’s intervention has saved lives, lawyers say.
    On Sunday, with just 30 minutes of oxygen left for 42 virus patients at Sitaram Bhartia hospital, and new supplies nowhere in sight, hospital authorities approached the Delhi court as a “last resort” for help, lawyer Shyel Trehan said.
    The judges ordered the Delhi state government to immediately arrange supplies.
    “Oxygen cylinders arrived soon after the hearing, and a tank arrived a few hours later,” Trehan said.
    The shortage of medical oxygen has plagued the city of 20 million people for about two weeks, with unprecedented scenes of patients dying on hospital beds, in ambulances and in carparks outside, gasping for air.
    Delhi is recording about 20,000 new COVID-19 cases a day. As the health system buckles, the city says it needs 976 tonnes of medical oxygen daily, but gets less than 490 tonnes, allocated by the federal government.
    Representatives of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which is managing supplies nationally, have told the court they were doing all that is possible, and blamed the Delhi government, run by a rival party, for politicizing the issue.
    The panel of two judges, Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli, has heard lawyers for Modi and the local administration spar over oxygen quotas, transport problems and a lack of tankers.
    And sometimes, the judges have lost their cool.
    Over the weekend, when Delhi state representatives again flagged concerns that oxygen supplies were not arriving in time, putting patients’ lives at risk, Justice Sanghi lashed out at officials, saying the “Water has gone over the head.    Enough is enough…enough is enough.”
    In late April, Sanghi pulled up government officials, saying they should “beg, borrow, steal or import” oxygen supplies to meet the city’s needs.
    He said the state “cannot say ‘We can provide only this much and no more,’ so if people die, let them die.”
‘LIKE WATER FOR FISH’
    Both governments, federal and that of Delhi, are facing criticism for not being adequately prepared for the surge in infections.    Since late April, some of the city’s best hospitals have asked the court for help.
    “Not only is this unprecedented, but right now this (court) hearing is literally like water is for fish,” said Prabhsahay Kaur, another lawyer who approached the court for a hospital’s oxygen needs and got help.
    Still, scenes of desperation, urgency and frustration play out every day.
    At one hearing last week, a lawyer for the local government called an oxygen supplier by telephone, putting the call on speaker, to ask why cylinders had not reached one hospital, while the judges patiently listened to the answers.
    On Sunday, one lawyer broke into arguments to say his hospital had just one hour of oxygen supplies left, while simultaneously another person pleaded that patients could “start dying” at his facility.
    Minutes later, another loud voice said: “One hundred and forty patients.    One hour left.    We are in trouble … there is a crisis,” as a judge tried to calm the speaker and urged state authorities to take immediate action.
    In another exchange, a home ministry official said its officers were working on a war footing and sought the blessings of the court.
    India’s Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the federal government, said, “We desperately need … God’s blessings.”
(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

5/5/2021 India COVID Cases Top 20 Million, Halting Cricket, Prompting Lockdown Call by Rajendra Jadhav and Sumit Khanna
A healthcare worker gives a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India, to a woman
inside a classroom of a school, which has been converted into a temporary vaccination centre, in New Delhi, India, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    SATARA/AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) - India halted its hugely popular cricket league on Tuesday as COVID-19 infections surged past 20 million in the world’s second-most populous country and the opposition leader said a nationwide lockdown was now the only way out.
    Cricket officials suspended the money-spinning Indian Premier League (IPL) as the pandemic spirals out of control, with the country adding 10 million cases in just over four months, after taking more than 10 months to reach the first 10 million.
    “While we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the IPL said.
    With 3.45 million active cases, India recorded 357,229 new infections over the last 24 hours, while deaths rose by 3,449 to 222,408, health ministry data showed.
    With hospitals running out of beds and oxygen and morgues and crematoria overflowing, experts say the actual numbers could be five to 10 times higher.
    According to a Reuters tally, total infections were more than 20.2 million, second only to the United States.
    “The only way to stop the spread of corona now is a full lockdown … GOI’s inaction is killing many innocent people,” opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter, referring to the government.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, widely criticised for allowing religious festivals and political gatherings attended by hundreds of thousands of largely unmasked people, is reluctant to impose a national lockdown for fear of the economic fallout, but several states have imposed social curbs.
    The eastern state of Bihar ordered a lockdown until May 15, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said.    With more than 100,000 infections, its death toll is nearing 3,000, government figures show.
GLIMMER OF HOPE
    The IPL tournament, with an estimated brand value of $6.8 billion, was being played without spectators to a huge television audience in the cricket-obsessed nation but has been severely criticized for continuing while the healthcare system is falling apart.
    The surge of the highly infectious Indian variant of the coronavirus has swamped hospitals and depleted supplies of oxygen, while sufferers have died in ambulances and car parks.
    Rows of funeral pyres set up in parks and other open spaces are being used to cremate the overflow of corpses.    A two-judge bench of the Delhi High Court has been holding almost daily video conferences to hear petitions from hospitals seeking oxygen and invoking India’s constitutional right to protection of life.
    But some hope surfaced in comments on Monday by a health ministry official who said infections in some regions were levelling out.
    Government modelling points to a peak by Wednesday, a few days earlier than thought, since the virus has spread faster than expected.
    India’s surge has coincided with a dramatic drop in vaccinations due to supply and delivery problems.
    At least three states, including Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai, reported scarcity of vaccines, shutting down some inoculation centres.
    On Monday the state had injected 79,491 doses, after a record 534,372 a week ago.
    In Modi’s adjoining home state of Gujarat, the three largest cities of Ahmedabad, Surat and Vadodara limited vaccines to those aged between 18 and 44, officials said.
TIRED OF WAITING
    The eastern state of Odisha also halted vaccinations in 11 of its 30 districts, health officials told Reuters.
    “I am tired of standing in a queue,” said Anil Rajapure, a 49-year-old farmer in Maharashtra’s temple town of Wai, as he waited for his first shot.
    “I will try one more time.    If I don’t get it then, I will give up,” said Rajapure, adding that three earlier attempts had proved futile, either because stocks had run out or not arrived.
    Forecasts by India’s two current vaccine producers show it will take two months or more to boost total monthly output from the current 70 million to 80 million doses.
    India, with the world’s biggest vaccine making capacity, has partially or fully immunised only 9.5% of its 1.35 billion people, according to the government’s Co-Win portal.
    The coronavirus, widely believed to have crossed to humans from bats before it was first identified in central China in late 2019, has also infected eight lions at a zoo in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, the federal government said.
    The Asiatic lions had been isolated and were being treated, a statement added.
(Reporting by Anuron Kumar Mitra in Bengaluru, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi and Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar; Writing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Giles Elgood)

5/5/2021 EU Seeks India’s Support For Plastics Treaty, Draft Summit Statement Says by Kate Abnett and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: A man walks on a garbage-strewn beach in Mumbai, India, October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Hemanshi Kamani/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union will ask India to join its push for a global treaty on plastic pollution, according to a draft statement prepared for a virtual summit on Saturday and seen by Reuters.
    The draft statement, which must be signed off by EU ambassadors and needs New Delhi’s final approval, said: “The EU invited India to consider endorsing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, and effective engagement with like-minded countries on negotiations on a Global Plastics Agreement.”
    The EU, Rwanda and Peru are among those pushing for a legally binding international treaty to stem the flow of plastic pollution piling up in the world’s oceans and natural habitats.
    The aim is to win support ahead of a U.N. meeting in February 2022 which could launch negotiations on the agreement — paving pave the way for a deal akin to the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which nearly 200 countries committed to avoid dangerous climate change.
    At the virtual summit on Saturday, both sides are expected to pledge to increase cooperation to limit climate change, part of a wider bilateral agenda that the EU hopes will include closer trade ties and ways to counter China’s rise.
    The draft statement said the EU and India would hold regular meetings to increase collaboration in areas including renewable energy, energy storage technology, and modernising power grids.
    India aims to have 450 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy generation capacity by 2030, roughly five times the 93GW it has today.
    India is the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter after China and the United States, and is facing pressure to commit itself to net zero emissions by 2050 — a pledge the EU and United States have both made, while China is aiming for 2060.
    Government sources have told Reuters the country is concerned that binding itself to such a target could constrain the energy needs of its people.
    The draft summit statement said the European Investment Bank and EU countries’ development banks were increasing financial support to India for climate-related issues, for example in areas such as renewable energy and green transport.
(Reporting by Robin Emmot and Kate Abnett; Editing by Alison Williams)

5/7/2021 Exclusive: China Urges U.N. States Not To Attend Xinjiang Event Next Week by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education center
in Huocheng County in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 3, 2018.REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – China has urged United Nations member states not to attend an event planned next week by Germany, the United States and Britain on the repression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to a note seen by Reuters on Friday.
    “It is a politically-motivated event,” China’s U.N. mission wrote in the note, dated Thursday.    “We request your mission NOT to participate in this anti-China event.”
    China charged that the organizers of the event, which also include several other European states along with Australia and Canada, use “human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development.”
    “They are obsessed with provoking confrontation with China,” the note said, adding that “the provocative event can only lead to more confrontation.”
    The Chinese mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The ambassadors of the United States, Germany and Britain are due to address the virtual U.N. event on Wednesday, along with Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth and Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard.
    The aim of the event is to “discuss how the U.N. system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang,” according to an invitation.
    Western states and rights groups have accused authorities in Xinjiang of detaining and torturing Uyghurs in camps, which the United States has described as genocide.    In January, Washington banned the import of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.
    Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training centers to combat religious extremism.
    “Beijing has been trying for years to bully governments into silence but that strategy has failed miserably, as more and states step forward to voice horror and revulsion at China’s crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Human Rights Watch U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said on Friday.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

5/7/2021 Gandhi Warns ‘Explosive’ COVID Wave Threatens India And The World by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Anuron Kumar Mitra
A man suffering from coronavirus disease (COVID-19), receives treatment as a Syringe Infusion Pump, donated by France is seen
next to his bed, inside the emergency room of Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi, India, May 7, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    BENGALURU (Reuters) -India’s main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi warned on Friday that unless the deadly second COVID-19 wave sweeping the country was brought under control it would devastate India as well as threaten the rest of the world.
    In a letter, Gandhi implored Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prepare for another national lockdown, accelerate a countrywide vaccination programme and scientifically track the virus and its mutations.
    Gandhi said the world’s second-most populous nation had a responsibility in “a globalised and interconnected world” to stop the “explosive” growth of COVID-19 within its borders.
    “India is home to one out of every six human beings on the planet.    The pandemic has demonstrated that our size, genetic diversity and complexity make India fertile ground for the virus to rapidly mutate, transforming itself into a more contagious and more dangerous form,” wrote Gandhi.
    “Allowing the uncontrollable spread of the virus in our country will be devastating not only for our people but also for the rest of the world.”
    India’s highly infectious COVID-19 variant B.1.617 has already spread to other countries, and many nations have moved to cut or restrict movements from India.
    British Prime Minister Boris said on Friday the government needed to handle very carefully the emergence of new coronavirus strains in India that have since started to spread in the United Kingdom.
    Meanwhile tonnes of medical equipment from abroad has starting to arrive in Delhi hospitals, in what could ease the pressure on an overburdened system.
VACCINATION RATES
    In the past week, India has reported an extra 1.5 million new infections and record daily death tolls.    Since the start of the pandemic, it has reported 21.49 million cases and 234,083 deaths. It currently has 3.6 million active cases.
    Modi has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave, after religious festivals and political rallies drew tens of thousands of people in recent weeks and became “super spreader” events.
    His government – which imposed a strict lockdown in March 2020 – has also been criticised for lifting social restrictions too soon following the first wave and for delays in the country’s vaccination programme.
    The government has been reluctant to impose a second lockdown for fear of the damage to the economy, though many states have announced their own restrictions.
    Goa, a tourism hotspot on the west coast where up to one in two people tested in recent weeks for coronavirus have been positive, on Friday announced strict curbs from Sunday, restricting timings for grocery shops, forbidding unnecessary travel and urging citizens to cancel all gatherings.
    While India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker, it is also struggling to produce and distribute enough doses to stem the wave of COVID-19.
    Although the country has administered at least 157 million vaccine doses, its rate of inoculation has fallen sharply https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/INDIA/jbyprwkawve/chart.png in recent days.
    India vaccinated 2.3 million people on Thursday, the most this month but still far short of what is required to curb the spread of the virus.
RECORD INFECTIONS
    India reported another record daily rise in coronavirus cases, 414,188, on Friday, bringing total new cases for the week to 1.57 million. Deaths from COVID-19 rose by 3,915 to 234,083.
    Medical experts say the real extent of COVID-19 is likely to be far higher than official tallies.
    India’s healthcare system is crumbling under the weight of patients, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen.    Morgues and crematoriums cannot handle the number of dead and makeshift funeral pyres burn in parks and car parks.
    Infections are now spreading from overcrowded cities to remote rural villages that are home to nearly 70% of the 1.3 billion population.
    Although northern and western areas of India bear the brunt of the disease, the south now seems to be turning into the new epicentre.
    In the southern city of Chennai, only one in a hundred oxygen-supported beds and two in a hundred beds in intensive care units (ICUs) were vacant on Thursday, from a vacancy rate of more than 20% each two weeks ago, government data showed.
    In India’s tech capital Bengaluru, also in the south, only 23 of the 590 beds in ICUs were vacant.
    The test-positivity rate — the percentage of people tested who are found to have the disease — in the city of 12.5 million has tripled to almost 39% as of Wednesday, from about 13% two weeks ago, data showed.
    Syed Tousif Masood, a volunteer with a COVID-19 resource group in Bengaluru called the Project Smile Trust, said the group’s helpline was receiving an average 5,000 requests a day for hospital beds and oxygen, compared with 50-100 such calls just one month ago.
    “The experts say we have not yet hit the peak,” he said.    “If this is not the peak, then I don’t know what will happen at the real peak.”
(Reporting by Tanvi Mehta and Neha Arora in Delhi, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Sudarshan Varadhan in Chennai, Sachin Ravikumar and Sethuraman in Bengaluru, Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Alex Richardson and Mark Heinrich)

5/7/2021 White House Says Iran Sanctions Could Only Be Lifted If Nuclear Deal Conditions Met
FILE PHOTO: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds the daily press briefing
at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sanctions on Iran could only be lifted if the country comes back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, the White House said on Friday.
    There has been some progress made in talks between world powers and Iran, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, and it is a good sign that talks are continuing.
(Reporting by Heather Timmons; Editing by Chris Reese)

5/7/2021 Maldives Former President Nasheed Critical After Bomb Blast by Mohamed Junayd and Waruna Karunatilake
FILE PHOTO: Maldives former President Mohamed Nasheed leaves a private apartment in Sri Lanka to return in his country, after living in
exile between London and Colombo for over two and a half years, Colombo, Sri Lanka November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    MALE (Reuters) -The Maldives speaker of parliament and former president, Mohamed Nasheed, was in critical care on Friday after being severely wounded in a bomb blast outside his home, hospital authorities said, in what police are treating as a terrorist attack.
    Nobody has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s explosion in the capital Male that has revived security concerns in the Indian Ocean islands, known for luxury resorts but which have also faced political unrest and Islamist militant violence.
    Nasheed, the Maldives first democratically elected president who is now parliament speaker, had previously warned about militants infiltrating the Islamic country.    He was getting into his car when the blast occurred.
    The United States was “saddened and concerned” by the attack and stood ready to assist in bringing the perpetrators to justice, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said on Friday.
    Local media said the explosion was caused by a device planted on a motorcycle parked near his car.
    Doctors operated to remove shrapnel from Nasheed, who was now in critical condition in intensive care, ADK hospital said.
    “Over the course of the past 16 hours he had life-saving surgery on injuries to his head, chest, abdomen and limbs,” the hospital said in a statement.
    In 2015, former President Abdulla Yameen escaped unharmed after an explosion on his speedboat.    In 2007, a blast that was blamed on Islamist militants targeted foreign tourists and injured 12 people.
    Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed said 450 officers had been deployed to investigate the latest incident.
    “We are treating this as a terrorist attack,” he told a news conference, adding that the national security threat level had been raised to its highest rating of 3.
    The government is seeking technical support from foreign partners in the case.    A team from the Australian Federal Police is expected to join the investigation on Monday.
    President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a close ally of Nasheed, said Thursday’s blast was an attack on nation’s democracy and its economy.
(Reporting by Mohamed Junayd in Male and Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo; additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Edmund Blair)

5/7/2021 U.S. Ready To Lift Many Sanctions But Iran Says It Wants More
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) -The United States has expressed its readiness to lift many of its sanctions on Iran at the Vienna nuclear talks but Tehran is demanding more, top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state media on Friday.
    “The information transferred to us from the U.S. side is that they are also serious on returning to the nuclear deal and they have so far declared their readiness to lift a great part of their sanctions,” Araqchi told state TV.
    “But this is not adequate from our point of view and therefore the discussions will continue until we get to all our demands,” Araqchi said as indirect talks were scheduled to resume on Friday in the Austrian capital.
    In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden said he believed Iran was seriously engaging in the talks but it was unclear what Tehran was actually prepared to do for both sides to resume compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Asked at the White House if he thought Tehran was serious about talks, Biden replied: “Yes, but how serious, and what they are prepared to do is a different story.    But we’re still talking.”
    U.S. officials have returned to Vienna for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
    The crux of the agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and by Steve Holland, Susan Heavey and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Grant McCool)

5/10/2021 U.S. Welcomes Taliban’s Announcement Of Three-Day Ceasefire - State Dept
FILE PHOTO: U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price speaks at his first daily press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, U.S. February 2, 2021. Nicholas Kamm/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that Washington welcomed the Taliban’s announcement of a three-day ceasefire.
    The United States was still looking into who was responsible for an attack in the Afghan capital, Kabul, on Saturday, Price said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis)

5/10/2021 Olympics-Amid Opposition, Japan PM Says Has “Never Put Olympics First” by Leika Kihara and Elaine Lies
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, May 7, 2021. Hiro Komae/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he has never “put the Olympics first,” as an opinion poll showed nearly 60% of people in Japan want the Games cancelled with fewer than eleven weeks left before they are due to open.
    Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising more questions about whether the Games should go ahead. Its vaccination rate is also the lowest among wealthy nations.
    International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga himself have insisted the Games will go on in “a safe and secure” way.    Foreign spectators will not be allowed and planners issued an elaborate set of rules last month aimed at preventing coronavirus infections.
    But such arrangements have not eased public worries over the Games that were postponed last year due to the coronavirus.
    A opinion survey conducted on May 7-9 by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed 59% of respondents wanted the Games cancelled as opposed to 39% who said they should be held.    “Postponement” was not offered as an option.
    Another poll conducted at the weekend by TBS News found 65% wanted the Games cancelled or postponed again.    More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games since it was launched about five days ago.
    Opposition members of parliament grilled Suga for hours about holding the Games under these circumstances.
    In apparent acknowledgment of the public concern about holding the Games no matter what, Suga, when asked if the Games would go ahead even if infections spiked, replied: “I’ve never put Olympics first.”
    “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population.    We must first prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
DECLINING SUPPORT
    Voter support for Suga’s government is now at its lowest level since he took office last year, with a majority of the public unhappy with his handling of the pandemic, a poll showed.
    A tweet by one of his advisers downplaying the pandemic and laughing off calls for the Games to be cancelled has also drawn public ire.
    Suga has said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the Games and the government’s role was to take steps so they can be held safely.    Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday.
    A visit by IOC head Thomas Bach scheduled for May 17-18 has been cancelled “in the light of the extension of the state of emergency last week and various circumstances we are facing,” Tokyo 2020 organisers said in a statement.
    “We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in Japan and other relevant factors and will re-arrange his visit to Japan as soon as possible.”
    Media said the visit would likely take place in June, with one outlet saying that lifting the state of emergency would be a prerequisite.
    An official in Okayama prefecture said they were considering keeping the Olympic torch relay off public roads when it passes through next week.    Though other prefectures have taken similar steps, they were under states of emergency or other restrictions at the time.
    Top Olympic official John Coates said on Saturday that while public sentiment in Japan about the Games “was a concern” he could foresee no scenario under which the sporting extravaganza would not go ahead.
    On Sunday, Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka said that even though she had waited her whole life to take part in the Olympics, the risk of holding the Tokyo Games should be carefully discussed.
    The Games are set to open on July 23 and run until Aug. 8.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Leika Kihara and Chang-ran Kim; Editing by Peter Rutherford and Michael Perry)

5/10/2021 Taiwan Says Will Work With EU, Other Democracies On Chips
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is seen at its
headquarters in Hsinchu, Taiwan August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will work with the European Union and other democracies to ensure a more “resilient supply” of crucial goods like semiconductors, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Monday, amid a chip shortage that has snarled the auto and other industries.
    Tech-powerhouse Taiwan, home to companies like Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, has taken on an oversized role in resolving the problem, which has in some cases caused major car makers to shutter assembly lines.
    Speaking to the Copenhagen Democracy Summit in a video message, Tsai noted a forum the government had held with the EU in March on supply-chain cooperation.
    “Taiwan will continue to engage with the EU and other democratic partners to establish a more resilient supply of critical goods such as semiconductors and medical supplies,” she said.
    “This kind of reciprocal and transparent cooperation is key to our mutual prosperity,” Tsai added, without giving details.
    Taiwan and its companies have repeatedly promised to help resolve the chip problem, but Taiwanese firms have been reluctant to start production in the EU even as officials in the bloc press them to do so.
    Tsai reiterated a call for Taiwan and the EU to restart talks for a stalled bilateral investment agreement, or BIA.
    “A BIA would not just help secure our supply chains; it would protect our mutual geopolitical and economic interests, and send a message about the partnerships and values on which our interests depend.”
    The bloc included Taiwan on its list of trade partners for a potential bilateral investment agreement in 2015, the year before Tsai won the presidency, but since then has not held talks with Taiwan on the issue.
    EU member states and the EU itself have no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan due to objections from China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of statehood, so any investment deal could be tricky politically for the EU.
    Taiwan has come under increasing pressure from Beijing to accept Chinese sovereignty, including stepped up military drills near the island.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

5/10/2021 Malta’s Restaurants Reopen, COVID Vaccination Reaches 60% Of Adults
People sit at an outdoor patio as restaurants and markets reopened for business after coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccinations reached 60% of the adult population, in Valletta, Malta May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi
    VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta reopened restaurants for lunch on Monday after the island’s health minister said the COVID-19 vaccination drive had reached 60% of the adult population and cases were down.
    Restaurants were closed two months ago when case numbers hit a record 510 on March 10 and the Mediterranean island of about 450,000 people tightened restrictions with an eye to reopening for tourism on June 1.
    Malta has led one of the most aggressive vaccination campaigns in the European Union.    The island reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Monday.
    On Sunday, Health Minister Chris Fearne tweeted that 60% of the adult population had received at least a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination, more than double the EU average, with vaccination efforts now focused on people in their 30s.
    Non-essential services and retail outlets were allowed to reopen on April 26 and Malta also announced a scheme to pay up to 200 euros to tourists in Malta during the summer.    But efforts appeared to take a knock on Friday when Britain kept the island off its Green List of safe tourism destinations.
    Tourism is a major contributor to Malta’s GDP and British tourists account for a quarter of arrivals.    The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association said the omission could deal a blow to the start of the summer season.
    Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo told the media “the Maltese government will continue working hard to assure that Malta is included in the next review” of the British tourism list, due by the end of May.
    Malta will also remove mandatory wearing of face masks at beaches and around pools on June 1.
(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

5/10/2021 Pakistani General Reiterates Support For Afghan Peace Process As Violence Surges
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani meets with Pakistan's Army Chief of Staff General
Qamar Javed Bajwa, in Kabul, Afghanistan May 10, 2021. Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The Pakistani army chief offered Islamabad’s support for the Afghanistan peace processbr> in a meeting with President Ashraf Ghania in Kabul on Monday amid growing violence as the United States withdraws its troops.
    Britain’s chief of defence staff also attended the meeting.
    Pakistan is a key player in moves to resolve the conflict between the Western-backed government and the Taliban insurgents.
    In the past, Islamabad has been accused of harbouring the Taliban but in recent years Washington and other Western powers have acknowledged its efforts to push the militant group to take part in peace talks.
    Pakistani Army Chief of Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa reiterated to Ghania that “a peaceful Afghanistan means a peaceful region in general and a peaceful Pakistan in particular,” a Pakistani military statement said.
    “We will always support ‘Afghan led-Afghan owned’ Peace Process based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders,” it said.
    General Bajwa was accompanied by British Chief of Defence Staff General Nicholas Patrick Carter. Britain still has troops in Afghanistan in a war that started with the overthrow of a Taliban government following the 2001 attacks by Islamist militants in the United States.
    In recent weeks, Pakistan has been negotiating with the insurgents to try to get them to commit to a ceasefire, Taliban and diplomatic sources have told Reuters.
    Pakistan is also trying to persuade them to agree to an extension of the U.S.-Taliban agreement which stipulated U.S. and other foreign forces should withdraw by May and to continue to take part in planned peace talks in Turkey.
    But violence has risen starkly in recent weeks as the U.S. forces pull out.
    The Taliban announced on Sunday they would commit to a three-day ceasefire for the Muslim religious holiday of Eid later this week.
    Afghanistan’s presidential palace said on Monday the security forces would also observe the ceasefire.
(Reporting by Kabul and Islamabad bureaux; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

5/10/2021 As Lockdown Returns, Malaysians Face Another Bleak Eid by Ebrahim Harris
    A police officer stands guard at a roadblock during lockdown ahead of the Eid al-Fitr celebrations in an effort to prevent
a large-scale transmission of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Mohd Rezuan Othman would normally travel from Kuala Lumpur to his hometown in southern Malaysia to spend Eid al-Fitr with his family, but the country’s latest nationwide COVID-19 lockdown has scuppered his plans for the second year in a row.
    Under measures announced on Monday, just days before Eid, he and millions of others are being forced to stay apart from loved ones during the annual celebration because of strict restrictions on travel.
    “I haven’t gone back for Raya for nearly two years now and I haven’t seen my parents in all that time,” said the 40-year-old cook, using the Malay term for Eid.
    Malaysia was among the earliest countries in the region to impose a strict lockdown last year to keep the epidemic contained.    It suffered its worst economic slump in 2020 since the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s.
    A surge in cases that started at the end of last year prompted the government to impose a state of emergency in January, and Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on     Monday declared a month-long nationwide lockdown to deal with yet another spike.
    Malaysia’s caseload went past 444,000 with 1,700 deaths as of Monday, the third highest infection rate in the region behind Indonesia and the Philippines.
    Some, like Rusyan Sopian, think the travel restrictions make sense given health authorities have said the spike may be linked to the spread of more infectious variants.
    “If it helps keep the virus at bay, that’s okay with me,” said the 38-year-old writer.
    But beyond the disruption of social lives, the repeated lockdowns have become a threat to the livelihoods of Mohd Rezuan and many others in Malaysia.
    The holy fasting month of Ramadan would normally have meant brisk business for restaurants and food bazaars preparing meals for millions of Muslims who breakfast after sundown. About 60% of Malaysia’s population of 32 million are Muslim.
    “I work in the food industry.    One moment it’s open, one moment it’s closed,” said Mohd Rezuan, speaking during a break from his work at a restaurant in a normally busy suburb of Kuala Lumpur, now unnaturally quiet.
    “One moment my salary is OK, and the next it is not. How am I going to survive?”
(Reporting by Ebrahim Harris, writing by Joseph Sipalan, editing by Estelle Shirbon)

5/10/2021 EU’s Borrell Says Iran Nuclear Talks Moving To Crucial Stage
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
(Refiles to correct spelling of Borrell in headline)
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Negotiations in Vienna between world powers and Iran are moving into a crucial stage and the next few weeks will be critical to saving their 2015 nuclear deal, the European Union’s top diplomat said on Monday.
    U.S. officials returned to Vienna last week for a fourth round of indirect talks with Iran on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its limits on uranium enrichment about a year later.
    “I am optimistic, there is a window of opportunity that will stay open for a couple of weeks, (until) end of the month,” EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the talks, told a news conference in Brussels.
    “But a lot of work is needed, time is limited and I hope that the negotiations will enter into a phase of nonstop (talks) in Vienna,” he said following a meeting of EU foreign ministers.
    The crux of the 2015 agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its uranium enrichment program to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon, in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Tehran denies having nuclear weapons ambitions.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described the negotiations as tough and laborious, but added that all participants were conducting them in a constructive atmosphere.
    “However, time is running out. We aim for the full restoration of the Iran nuclear deal as this is the only way to guarantee that Iran will not be able to come into possession of nuclear weapons,” Maas said in Brussels.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Sabine Siebold; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[ITS KIND OF LIKE THE FOX SAYING IT WILL NOT ATTACK THE CHICKENS IN THE HEN HOUSE BUT THEN DOES IT ANYWAY.].

5/10/2021 Taiwan Fights To Attend WHO Meeting, But China Says No
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside military airplanes
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will fight to the end for an invitation to a World Health Organization (WHO) meeting this month, its foreign ministry said on Monday, but China said there was no room for compromise over the island that Beijing claims as its own.
    The rich-nation Group of Seven (G7) has called for Chinese-claimed but democratically-ruled Taiwan to attend the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, which meets from May 24.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated that on Sunday and Taiwan says it is urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said they had yet to receive an invite.
    “But the Foreign Ministry will continue to work together with the Ministry of Health and Welfare to fight to the last minute and do everything possible for our right to participate in the meeting,” she said in a statement.
    Taiwan is locked out of most global organisations such as the WHO due to the objections of China, which considers the island one of its provinces not a country.
    While the WHO cooperates with Taiwan’s technical experts on COVID-19, it is up to member states whether to invite Taiwan to observe the WHO meeting, the WHO’s principal legal officer Steve Solomon said at a news briefing on Monday.
    Such an invite would need a vote, and China can easily corral enough friendly countries to block it, according to diplomats.
    Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying condemned the United States for its “political manipulation” of the issue, and said Taiwan had to accept it was part of China if it wanted access to global bodies, something the government will not do.
    “I want to emphasise once again that the Taiwan issue concerns China’s core interests. China has no room for compromise,” Hua told reporters.
    The WHO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Taiwan says it is nonsense for China to claim it has the right to speak for it on the international stage when Beijing has no say in how it is governed.
    The WHO says it has cooperated with Taiwan during the pandemic and that the island has received help needed.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by David Kirton in Beijing and Emma Farge in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

5/11/2021 China’s space agency says criticism unfair by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – China’s government defended its handling of a rocket booster that burned up over the Indian Ocean and said Monday it was unfairly being held to different standards than the U.S. and other space programs.
    The administrator of the American space agency and others accused Beijing of acting recklessly by allowing its rocket to fall to Earth seemingly uncontrolled Sunday after carrying a space station into orbit.
    The Chinese space agency said most of the 100-foot main stage of the Long March 5B rocket burned up above the Maldives.
    “China has been closely tracking its trajectory and issued statements on the reentry situation in advance,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said.    “There has been no report of harm on the ground. China also shares the results of reentry predictions through international cooperation mechanisms.”
    The rocket carried the main section of the Tianhe, or Heavenly Harmony, space station into orbit on April 29.    China plans 10 more launches to complete construction of the station.
    Booster rockets usually fall back to Earth soon after takeoff.    China’s space agency hasn’t said why the Long March was sent temporarily into orbit.
    NASA Administrator Bill Nelson accused China in a statement of “failing to meet responsible standards” in handling space debris.
    Hua, the Chinese spokesperson, complained that Beijing was being treated unfairly.
    She pointed to the reaction to debris from a rocket launched by U.S. aerospace company SpaceX that fell to Earth in Washington and on the Oregon coast in March.
    “American media used romantic rhetoric like ‘shooting stars lighting up the night sky,’” she said.    “But when it comes to the Chinese side, it’s a completely different approach.”
    “We are willing to work with other countries including the United States to strengthen cooperation in the use of outer space, but we also oppose double standards on this issue,” Hua said.
A Long March 5B rocket carrying a module for a Chinese space station lifts off April 29
in southern China’s Hainan Province. JU ZHENHUA/AP

5/11/2021 U.S. Welcomes Taliban’s Announcement Of 3-Day Ceasefire by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this May 5, 2020 file photo, graffiti depicts Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, left, and
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
    The White House has announced a temporary ceasefire agreement with the Taliban and are hopeful of a more long-term truce in the future.    On Monday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price shared the administration’s welcome of the news.
    “We welcome their announcement of a three-day cease fire over the upcoming Eid holiday,” he stated. “We call on the Taliban and Afghan leaders to engage seriously in the ongoing peace process to ensure the Afghan people enjoy a future free of terrorism and of senseless violence.”
    The ceasefire is set to go into effect on Wednesday, the first night of Eid al-Fitr, also known as the Festival of Breaking the Fast after Ramadan.    Although, just hours before the Taliban’s announcement, a roadside bomb detonated near a bus killing around a dozen people and injuring dozens more.
    However, the roadside bombing was just one instance marking a dramatic rise in attacks carried out by or linked to Taliban insurgents.    While Afghani officials are still largely unwilling to give casualty information to U.S. media, in the last week more than 184 people were confirmed to have been killed by Taliban forces.
    That was before Saturday when three explosions shook a Shia neighborhood outside of Kabul.    The first explosion was from a car bomb outside of Sayed Al-Shuhada, a girls’ school, just as some children had been let out of class to return home.    Then just as the children ran outside, two more blasts went off.
    At least 80 people, with one witness saying all but seven or eight of whom were students, were killed and more than 160 were immediately injured.    Though the Taliban has denied all involvement, a number of Afghani officials have gone on record saying that this grievous attack was perpetrated by the Taliban.    Although, the State Department still has doubts.
    Joe Biden was reportedly warned by the spokesperson for the Taliban, who on May 1 said that Biden had missed the withdrawal deadline that was agreed to by the group and President Donald Trump.

5/11/2021 Myanmar Marks 100 Days Of Junta Rule With Protests, Strikes
Demonstrators walk, displaying the three-finger salute, during a protest against Myanmar's junta
in Yangon May 11, 2021 in this still image taken from video obtained by REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Protesters rallied in towns and cities around Myanmar on Tuesday to denounce its military rulers, 100 days after the generals’ overthrow of an elected government pitched the country into its biggest crisis in decades.
    Demonstrators took part in marches, motorcycle convoys and flash protests to evade security forces, some making three-finger gestures of defiance as anti-coup groups renewed calls for the toppling of a junta that has been condemned around the world for killing hundreds of civilians.
    The junta has struggled to govern Myanmar since seizing power on Feb. 1.    Protests, strikes and a civil disobedience campaign have crippled businesses and the bureaucracy in an overwhelming public rejection of the return of military rule.
    Protesters in the biggest city Yangon carried a banner saying “Yangon strikes for complete removal of the enemy,” while demonstrators in Hpakant in Kachin State marched chanting “the revolution must prevail.”
    Demonstrators in Hpakant, the Saigang region and elsewhere held signs in support of a National Unity Government (NUG), an anti-junta coalition that has declared itself Myanmar’s legitimate authority. Last week the NUG announced the formation of a “People’s Defence Force.”
    The NUG’s spokesman Dr. Sasa, said in a tweet he and other ministers of the parallel government would meet with a U.S. assistant secretary of state on Tuesday to discuss how the United States and its allies “can work together to end this reign of terror.”    He did not elaborate on the meeting.     The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation of the meeting.
    The military arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi hours before the coup.    It said its takeover was to protect Myanmar’s fledgling democracy after a November election that it said was marred by fraud. Suu Kyi’s party says its landslide win was legitimate.
INTERNATIONAL CRIMES
    In a statement on Tuesday, the NUG said rank-and-file members of the military should recognise that they were responsible for committing international crimes.
    “It is time to answer the question clearly whether you will stand on the side of human rights and fairness, or you will continue to violate human rights by committing violence and then face the international court,” it said.
    Despite the imposition of limited economic sanctions by the United States, the European Union and others, the junta has shown no sign of compromise.    It has the tacit support of neighbouring China, a major investor and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
    Tuesday’s protests took place amid sporadic violence in the country that has included deadly attacks on military-appointed administrators and weeks of small explosions involving homemade bombs, which the junta says is the work of the ousted government.
    The NUG has said the military has orchestrated such attacks as a pretext for its crackdown.
    In its nightly news bulletin, state-run MRTV said two members of the security forces were killed and three others wounded on Monday evening in an attack by “terrorists” in the Sagaing region.
    A group calling itself the Sagaing People Defence Force, in a statement earlier on Tuesday, claimed responsibility for an attack on security personnel around the same time in the same area, which it said killed three people.
    News reporting and information flow inside Myanmar has been severely impacted since the coup, with restrictions on internet access, a ban on foreign broadcasts and some news organisations ordered to close, accused by authorities of inciting rebellion.
    Security forces have killed 781 people since the coup, including 52 children, and 3,843 people are in detention, according to the Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, whose figures are being used by the United Nations.
    The U.N. human rights body said on Tuesday the military was showing no let-up in its efforts to consolidate power and its human rights violations went far beyond killings.
    “It is clear that there needs to be greater international involvement to prevent the human rights situation in Myanmar from deteriorating further,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; writing by Martin Petty; editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/11/2021 Iran Has Enriched Uranium To Up To 63% Purity, IAEA 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) - “Fluctuations” at Iran’s Natanz plant pushed the purity to which it enriched uranium to 63%, higher than the announced 60% that complicated talks to revive its nuclear deal with world powers, a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Tuesday.
    Iran made the shift to 60%, a big step towards nuclear weapons-grade from the 20% previously achieved, last month in response to an explosion and power cut at Natanz that Tehran has blamed on Israel and appears to have damaged its enrichment output at a larger, underground facility there.
    Iran’s move rattled the current indirect talks with the United States to agree conditions for both sides to return fully to the 2015 nuclear deal, which was undermined when Washington abandoned it in 2018, prompting Tehran to violate its terms.
    The deal says Iran cannot enrich beyond 3.67% fissile purity, far from the 90% of weapons-grade.    Iran has long denied any intention to develop nuclear weapons.
    “According to Iran, fluctuations of the enrichment levels… were experienced,” the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in the confidential report to its member states, seen by Reuters.
    “The agency’s analysis of the ES (environmental samples) taken on 22 April 2021 shows an enrichment level of up to 63% U-235, which is consistent with the fluctuations of the enrichment levels (described by Iran),” it added, without saying why the fluctuations had occurred.
    A previous IAEA report last month said Iran was using one cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-6 centrifuge machines 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%.
    Tuesday’s report said the Islamic Republic was now feeding the tails from the IR-4 cascade into a cascade of 27 IR-5 and 30 IR-6s centrifuges to refine uranium to up to 5%.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Mark Heinrich)

5/11/2021 In Iran Talks, France Sees Progress On Nuclear Aspects, But Time Short
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
    PARIS (Reuters) -France said on Tuesday that there had been some progress in negotiations related to Iran’s compliance on nuclear issues, but warned that there remained a lot still to do within a short time frame if efforts to revive a 2015 accord were to succeed.
    Talks resumed in Vienna on May 7 with the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel, and the United States based in another hotel across the street.
    Iran has refused to hold direct meetings with the United States on how to resume compliance with the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Iran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
    “The discussions that resumed on May 7 in Vienna have led to some initial progress on the nuclear issue,” France’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters without elaborating.
    “Nevertheless, major disagreements remain on some key points that must be ironed out in order to reach an agreement providing for the return of Iran and the United States and their full implementation of the JCPoA. There is still a lot to do, within very tight deadlines.”
    The crux of the agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its nuclear programme to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Officials have said they hope to reach a deal by May 21, when an agreement between Tehran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog on continued monitoring of some Iranian nuclear activities is due to expire.
    Diplomats have said they believe there had been sufficient progress in the Vienna talks that an extension of the monitoring accord between Tehran and the U.N. agency was likely even if the modalities would still need to be worked out.
    “If an agreement on Iran’s resumption of its commitments is not reached before the expiration of the bilateral technical arrangement between Iran and the Agency, they will have to agree on its extension,” Von der Muhll said.
(Reporting by John Irish;Editing by GV De Clercq, William Maclean)

5/11/2021 Global Firms Leave Myanmar Office Block With Military Ties
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar soldiers walk along a street during a protest against the
military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – A number of tenants of a high-end office block in Myanmar that the United Nations said is built on military-owned land have moved out or are reviewing their leases, including McKinsey, Coca-Cola and Reuters, the companies said.
    Activist group Justice for Myanmar last month called on commercial tenants of the Sule Square complex of offices and shops in the heart of Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon to stop indirectly supporting the army.
    “Sule Square has big-name tenants that continue to lease office space in the building, indirectly supporting the army,” Justice for Myanmar said in a report in which it identified 18 of the tenants.
    Reuters approached all of the companies named in the report.    Of the six that said they had moved or were reviewing office plans, only one cited the military link.    Others cited various reasons including business prospects.
    Business has collapsed in the Southeast Asian country since a Feb. 1 coup that prompted widespread protests and strikes, during which the army has killed hundreds of civilians and arrested thousands.
    Opened in 2017 near the historic Sule Pagoda, Sule Square was developed by a local affiliate of Hong Kong listed Shangri-La Asia, which also manages the building and an adjacent hotel.
    The site was leased from the military, according to a 2019 fact-finding mission established by the United Nations to investigate the army’s economic interests, media and human rights groups.
    As the basis for its conclusion that the land is owned by the military, the mission in its report cited what it called digital records.    One of the authors of the report, human rights consultant Chris Sidoti, said the material had been archived and was not immediately available.
    On Tuesday, Reuters made a request to the United Nations to get access to the records.
    Shangri-La, which said in 2017 it had invested $125 million in the development, declined to comment on Reuters’ questions about land ownership.
    A spokesman for Myanmar’s junta did not answer calls seeking comment.    Reuters could not independently verify details of the land lease deal.
    Myanmar’s military, which directly ruled for almost 50 years after taking power in a 1962 coup, owns large tracts of land and controls conglomerates that span everything from mining to banking.
    McKinsey & Company terminated its lease of serviced office space in Sule Square in early 2021, said Melissa Yeo, director of reputation and communications, Southeast Asia, at the consultancy, without elaborating.
    In an emailed statement, Coca-Cola said it would not be renewing its lease when it ends in mid-June citing “changing business requirements.”
    When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Reuters, which was not one of the companies named in the report, said it is not currently using its Sule Square office and was reviewing its tenancy.    The spokesperson did not comment on the building’s possible military ties.
BUSINESS IMPACT
    Singapore-based private equity firm Emerging Markets Investment Advisors said it had moved out of Sule Square after its lease ended in March, while Norwegian fertiliser firm Yara said it had started looking for alternative office space.
    Of the companies that said they had moved or were reviewing office space, only Yara cited the military ownership.
    “We have only recently been made aware that the landlord is owned by a company who pays land lease to the military,” said Josiane Kremer, director, external relations at Yara.
    She did not elaborate on how Yara became aware of the ownership details.
    Norwegian state-owned telecoms firm Telenor said it had been aware of the military-owned land under Sule Square before it moved in but it had picked the location due to factors such as safety.
    Telenor did not comment on its future office plans nor did it elaborate on how it became aware of the ownership.
    The World Bank, which also has an office in Sule Square, said it was “assessing the situation in Myanmar, according to internal policies and procedures.”    It did not elaborate on its plans.
    French container shipping firm CMA CGM said it was “conducting further investigations” and Canadian realtor Colliers International Group Inc said its Myanmar business was run by an independent franchisee and declined to comment further.
    Japan’s Sony Corp said it previously had a representative in Myanmar but its office had closed “due to the local situation” and it now sold only through distributors.
    Several other groups named in Justice for Myanmar’s report, including the American Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar and British insurer Prudential either did not respond to a request for comment or declined to comment.
    The University of Reading and Mastercard were named in the Justice for Myanmar report but told Reuters they did not rent offices in Sule Square.    Reuters could not independently confirm that.
(Reporting by John Geddie in London, Victoria Klesty in Oslo, Nivedita Balu in Bangalore, Gus Trompiz in Paris, Andrea Shalal in Washington DC, Tim Kelly in Tokyo; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel)

5/16/20021 Rare twisters kill 12, injure 300 in China by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – Back-to-back tornadoes killed 12 people in central and eastern China and left more than 300 others injured, authorities said Saturday.
    Eight people died in the inland city of Wuhan on Friday night and four others in the town of Shengze, about 250 miles east in Jiangsu province, local governments said.
    The first tornado struck Shengze about 7 p.m., damaging homes and factories and knocking out power, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.    The Suzhou city government said in a social media post that four people had died and 149 others had minor injuries.    Shengze is near Shanghai on China’s east coast.
    Another tornado hit Wuhan about 8:40 p.m., destroying more than two dozen homes and triggering a power outage affecting 26,600 households, Xinhua said.    Officials in Wuhan said at a news conference Saturday that eight had died and 230 were injured.
    Tornados are rare in China.    In July 2019, a tornado killed six people in the northeastern Liaoning province, and another tornado the following month killed eight on the southern resort island of Hainan.

5/18/2021 U.S. Voices Concern Over Military Movements To Azerbaijan, Armenia Leaders
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/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, in separate calls on Monday with the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan, expressed concern over recent tensions between the two countries, the White House said in a statement.
    Armenia accused Azerbaijan last week of sending troops across the border.    Azerbaijan has denied this and said its forces only defended their side of the frontier.
    Sullivan, who spoke with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, “emphasized that military movements near un-demarcated borders are irresponsible and provocative,” the statement said.
    Sullivan also “underscored the need for the two countries to conduct formal discussions to demarcate their international border,” it said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Rosalba O’Brien)

5/18/2021 Exodus To Jungles, Villages As Myanmar Troops Retake Town
FILE PHOTO: A soldier uses a mobile phone as he sits inside a military vehicle outside Myanmar's Central Bank
during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Thousands of residents of a hill town in northwest Myanmar were hiding in jungles, villages and valleys on Monday after fleeing an assault by state troops, witnesses said, as the army advanced into the town after days battling local militias.
    Mindat, about 100 km (60 miles) from the Indian border in Chin state, has seen some of the most intense fighting since a Feb. 1 coup that has led to the emergence of ragtag local armies that are stifling the junta’s bid to consolidate power.
    Martial law was declared in Mindat on Thursday before the army launched its assault, using artillery and helicopters against a newly formed Chinland Defence Force, a militia armed mainly with hunting rifles, which said it had pulled back to spare civilians from being caught in the crossfire.
    Several residents reached by Reuters said food was in short supply and estimated as many as 5,000 to 8,000 people had fled the town, with roads blocked and the presence of troops in the streets preventing their return.
    “Almost everyone left the city,” said a volunteer fighter who said she was in a jungle.    “Most of them are in hiding.”
    A representative of the local people’s administrative group of Mindat said he was among some 200 people, including women and children, who had trekked across rocky roads and hills carrying blankets, rice and cooking pots.
    He said the group was attacked with heavy weapons when troops spotted smoke from their cooking fires.
    “We have to move from one place to another.    We cannot settle in a place in the jungle,” he told Reuters by phone.
    “Some men were arrested as they went into town to get more food for us.    We cannot get into town currently.    We are going to starve in few days.”
    The Chinland Defence Forces in a statement on Monday said it had killed five government troops in Hakha, another town in Chin State.
    The United Nations children’s fund UNICEF in a tweet urged security forces to ensure safety of children in Mindat, the latest international call for restraint after human rights groups, the United States and Britain condemned the use of war weapons against civilians.
MULTIPLE FRONTS
    The United States, Britain and Canada on Monday announced more sanctions against businesses and individuals tied to the junta. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged more countries to follow suit.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the military battling armed and peaceful resistance on multiple fronts, adding to concerns about economic collapse and a humanitarian crisis from old conflicts reigniting in border regions.
    The fighters in Chin State say they are part of the People’s Defence Forces of the shadow government, which has called on the international community for help.
    In an effort to coordinate the anti-junta forces, the shadow government on Monday issued a list of instructions to all the civilian armies, which it said must operate under its command and control.
    Aid groups in direct contact with residents of Mindat made urgent calls on social media on Monday for donations or food, clothing and medicine.
    Salai, 24, who has been organising an emergency response, said she had spoken to people hiding in a valley and on farmland who had fled the advance of soldiers.
    “They looted people’s property. They burned down people’s houses.    It is really upsetting,” said Salai.
    “Some in the town were injured by gunshots, including a young girl.    She cannot get medical treatment.”
    A military spokesman did not answer calls or messages seeking comment.
    In its nightly news bulletin, state-run MRTV said security forces returned fire after coming under attack from insurgents in Mindat, who fled, and that government troops had been attacked elsewhere in Chin State.
    So far, 790 people have been killed in the junta’s crackdown on its opponents, according to the activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
    The military disputes that figure.    Reuters cannot independently verify arrests and casualty numbers.
    The military says it intervened after its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party were ignored.
    An international monitoring group on Monday said the results of that election “were, by and large, representative of the will of the people of Myanmar.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/18/2021 Afghan President: We’re Ready For War With Taliban by OAN Newsroom
Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, center, speaks during the Eid al-Fitr at the presidential
palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib)
    Afghani President Ashraf Ghani said his country is preparing for the worst in the wake of a delayed and disorienting withdrawal of U.S. troops.    On Monday, he told reporters that after the years he has spent working to restore the government, he would not give into to Taliban demands.
    “I’ve been working on this for two decades; there are lessons,” Ghani stated.    Peacemaking is not jazz, it’s not improvisation.    In order to do jazz, you need ten thousand hours of preparation.”
    His statement comes as the Taliban has increased violence in the region since May 1, which was the original withdrawal deadline established by President Trump.    This is exactly what military experts warned might happen if Joe Biden ignored the groundwork laid by previous negotiations and unilaterally made his own decision regarding operations in an incredibly unstable area.
    Nevertheless, Ghani affirmed with the resolution of the decades-long conflict and despite threats, if it came down to it Afghanistan would establish a democracy or the people would die trying.
    “If they do not want peace and want to gain power through violence and impose a dictatorial regime, then all the patriotic forces of Afghanistan will have to rally and make a decision,” stated the Afghani President.    “And that issue, unfortunately, will have to be decided on the field of battle.”

5/18/2021 U.S. Says China Is Resisting Nuclear Arms Talks by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside a company building in Shanghai, China April 14, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    GENEVA (Reuters) – China is resisting bilateral talks with the United States on nuclear weapons, the U.S. disarmament ambassador told a U.N. conference on Tuesday, as Washington seeks to advance efforts to reduce nuclear arms stockpiles.
    “Despite the PRC’s dramatic build-up of its nuclear arsenal, unfortunately it continues to resist discussing nuclear risk reduction bilaterally with the United States,” said Robert Wood, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
    “To date Beijing has not been willing to engage meaningfully or establish expert discussions similar to those we have with Russia. We sincerely hope that will change,” he added.
    In an apparent rebuttal, China’s envoy later told the same virtual U.N. meeting that Beijing was prepared for dialogue.
    “We stand ready to carry out positive dialogue and exchange with all parties to jointly explore effective measures to reduce nuclear risk and to contribute to global strategic security,” Ji Zhaoyu said.
    The exchange came at a discussion on the Prevention of Nuclear War at the 65-member U.N. Conference on Disarmament based in Geneva.    The body, which makes decisions by consensus, has not reached a major agreement in decades but is often the theatre for tense rhetorical exchanges between superpowers.
    Earlier this year, Russia and the United States agreed to extend the New START arms control treaty for five years, preserving the last treaty limiting deployments of the world’s two largest strategic nuclear arsenals.
    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are set to discuss arms control and security issues at a meeting and strategic nuclear stability will be on the agenda.    Wood said on Tuesday he hoped that such bilateral discussions may lay the groundwork for nuclear disarmament and future arms control treaties.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)

5/18/2021 India’s COVID Tally Passes 25 Million; Cyclone Hampers Response In Western States
FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers and relatives carry a woman from an ambulance for treatment at a COVID-19 care facility,
amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, May 4, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni
    AHMEDABAD, India (Reuters) -India’s total COVID-19 caseload surged past 25 million on Tuesday as a powerful cyclone complicated the health crisis in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, already among the hardest hit by a second wave of the pandemic.
    COVID-19 tests were administered to 200,000 people evacuated from coastal districts of Gujarat before the cyclone struck late on Monday and efforts were being made to try to limit any spread of infections.
    “Masks have been arranged for people shifted to shelter homes,” said Sandip Sagale, a top official in Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat.
    “Efforts are also made to maintain social distancing.”
    India’s total tally of coronavirus cases now stands at 25.23 million, health ministry data showed, following 263,533 new infections over the past 24 hours, while fatalities rose by a record 4,329.    The official total death toll is 278,719.
    The government said about 98% of India’s population of 1.3 billion remained susceptible to infections.
    Only the United States has had more cases, or a worse single day death toll, when it lost 5,444 people on Feb. 12.    But whereas the epidemic there peaked months ago, there is no certainty that India’s infections have.
    Though the official count shows new infections subsiding, there are fears that the new, highly infectious B.1.617 variant, first found in India, is out of control and that many cases are going unreported due to lack of testing.
    Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, has suffered a 30% increase in infections since May 2, while the total number of vaccinations it administered last week was just 1.1 million – half the total of a month earlier.
    The storm, which has killed at least 19 people and caused widespread devastation, has exacerbated efforts to tackle the pandemic in Gujarat, with vaccinations suspended and hospitals awaiting back-up generators to keep power running and additional oxygen supplies.
    Vaccinations are likely to remain suspended at least until Wednesday, a government official said.
    But Aayush Oak, a top official in Amreli, the district hardest hit by the cyclone, said preparations had paid off.
    “We had already shifted COVID patients from areas closer to the coast to hospitals in other places three days back and did not need to shift a single patient more.    There is no disruption of oxygen supply to any hospital,” Oak said.
    Sunaina Tomar, energy secretary in Gujarat state, said 81 hospitals designated for coronavirus patients had faced power supply disruption, along with 16 other hospitals, and 19 oxygen refilling plants.
    “Power supply has been restored to 29 COVID hospitals, 12 other hospitals, and six oxygen units, and work to restore supply is going on at a war footing at other places,” she said in a statement.
    Gujarat’s health secretary Jayanti Ravi said teams were working to ensure that roads remained clear for emergency medical requirements despite the damage caused by the cyclone.
‘STRUGGLING’ VACCINATION DRIVE
    In neighbouring Maharashtra state, which was sideswiped by the cyclone on Monday, 1,000 coronavirus deaths were reported overnight – the worst toll nationwide.    The infection rate there has soared 15% in the last two weeks, government data showed.
    The pace of vaccinations in Maharashtra has fallen 30% since peaking in early April, data from the government’s Co-WIN portal showed.     Since April 1, 269 doctors nationwide have died of COVID-19, 78 of them in the mostly rural state of Bihar, the Indian Medical Association said.
    “The surge has been very devastating,” its secretary-general, Jayesh Lele, told Reuters.
    In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, home to more people than Brazil, rural areas have been severely hit, as healthcare systems have struggled to cope.
    Incensed by scarce testing and tracing, a state court said on Monday the situation was turning to “God’s mercy” and hurtling towards a third wave.
    “If this is the state of affairs of five districts, one can guess where we are leading people of this state to, i.e. (a) third wave of the pandemic,” said the Allahabad High Court.
    Modi’s popularity has fallen to 63%, its lowest since U.S. data intelligence firm Morning Consult began tracking it in 2019, amid the criticism of his government’s handling of the pandemic.
    Chandrakant Lahariya, a public policy and health systems expert, said in the Hindustan Times newspaper that India’s vaccine policy urgently needed a reset.
    “The political leadership should give a free hand to technical experts to decide and implement new strategies,” he said.
    India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, halted exports a month ago after donating or selling more than 66 million doses, and government sources told Reuters it was unlikely to resume major exports of vaccines until at least October to prioritise domestic needs.
    The Serum Institute, India’s largest vaccine producer, said it would continue to scale up its production of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and start exporting to other countries by the end of the year.
    India is one of the countries likely to benefit from U.S. President Joe Biden’s announcement on Monday that his administration would send at least 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June.
(Reporting by Sumit Khanna in Ahmedabad, Rama Venkat in Bengaluru, Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Neha Arora and Tanvi Mehta in New Delhi; Writing by Simon Cameron-MooreEditing by Gareth Jones)

5/18/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Issues Gag Order Over South China Sea by Neil Jerome Morales
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his fourth State of the Nation address
at the Philippine Congress in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) -President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday the Philippines would not waver in defence of its interests in the South China Sea, even though he had barred his ministers from talking about the situation there in public.
    China’s maritime conduct has been a constant problem for Duterte but he has refrained from criticising Beijing and instead praised its leadership, hoping to secure investment.
    But after weeks of rebukes of China by his ministers over the presence of hundreds of fishing vessels in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), he told his ministers on Monday they must refrain from discussing the matter.
    “If we talk, we talk but just among us,” he said in a televised address.
    On Tuesday, he said his order should not be construed as weakness and that maritime patrols must continue.
    “Our agencies have been directed to do what they must and should to protect and defend our nation’s interest,” Duterte said in a statement.    “We will not waver in our position.”
    Beijing claims almost the entire South China Sea and has built military installations equipped with missiles on reefs in disputed areas, including within the Philippine EEZ, alongside a constant presence of coastguard and fishing vessels.
    Duterte’s defence and foreign ministers and his legal adviser have taken strong positions lately on what they have called a “swarming and threatening” presence of Chinese vessels they believes are manned by militias.
    China’s embassy in Manila has denied the presence of militias.    It did not respond to requests for comment on Monday and Tuesday.
    The gag order could lessen tensions at the rhetorical level, said Aaron Jed Rabena of the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress, a Manila-based think tank.
    “It could be that President Duterte has realised that it’s high time for his administration to speak with one voice given the mixed signals…which show a government that is incoherent,” Rabena said.
    The same day Duterte announced the gag order, the foreign ministry filed another diplomatic protest against China over the annual summer fishing ban Beijing imposed in the South China Sea from May 1 to August 16, saying it was “a violation of Philippines’ sovereignty and sovereign rights.”
    “And with the new Chinese coast guard law, it effectively grants Chinese coastguard freedom and authority to use force within what it considers its maritime jurisdiction,” Foreign Ministry official Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos said.
    Abalos was referring to a law that China passed in January that allowed its coast guard to fire on foreign vessels.
    She said this put at risk the legitimate right of Filipino fishermen to fish in Philippine territory and the exclusive economic zone.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Nick Macfie, Martin Petty)

5/19/2021 EU Envoy Optimistic On Iran Nuclear Talks, European Powers Prudent by Francois Murphy and John Irish
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, speaks to the
media outside a hotel, during a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission, in Vienna, Austria, May 19, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) – The EU official leading talks to revive Iran’s nuclear deal said on Wednesday he was confident a deal would be reached as the negotiations adjourned, although European diplomats said success was not guaranteed with very difficult issues remaining.
    The talks resumed in Vienna on May 7 with the remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany – meeting in the basement of a luxury hotel, and the United States based in another hotel across the street.
    Iran has refused to hold direct talks with the United States on how to resume compliance with the 2015 deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, prompting Tehran to begin violating its terms about a year later.
    “I am quite sure that there will be a final agreement … I think we are on the right track and we will get an agreement,” Enrique Mora, who is coordinating indirect talks between Iran and the United States, told reporters at the end of a fourth round of negotiations.
    Russia’s envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, echoed those comments, saying on Twitter he hoped a final round expected to begin next week would be the last one.
    The crux of the original agreement was that Iran committed to rein in its nuclear programme to make it harder to obtain the fissile material for a nuclear weapon in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Senior diplomats from Britain, France and Germany (a grouping known as the E3) offered a note of caution, saying that while there was some tangible progress with the contours of a final deal emerging, success was not guaranteed.
    “There are still some very difficult issues ahead.    We do not underestimate the challenges that lay before us,” they said in a statement.
    Mora said there was a common understanding on what was needed for a U.S. to return to the deal, lifting of related sanctions and the resumption of nuclear commitments by Iran.
    “It can be said now that the framework and structure of the agreement has been defined and many clauses of the agreement are being negotiated,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told Iranian state TV.
    Officials have said they want to move ahead before Iran’s presidential election in mid-June, fearing the campaign could poison talks.
    They have also had a soft deadline of May 21, when an agreement between Tehran and the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, on continued monitoring of some Iranian nuclear activities is due to expire.
    The E3 diplomats said it was critical that Iran allow the IAEA to continue its necessary monitoring and verification work and urged Tehran and the agency to find a way forward.
    “IAEA access will of course be essential to our efforts to restore the JCPoA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), as a deal cannot be implemented without it,” they said.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)

5/20/2021 Iran’s Rouhani Says U.S. Will Lift Sanctions, As Another Official Denies It
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a session
of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council In Yerevan, Armenia October 1, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s president said on Thursday that the United States was ready to lift sanctions on his country’s oil, banking and shipping sectors that were reimposed after former U.S. President Donald Trump exited a 2015 nuclear deal three years ago.
    Iran and world powers have been in talks since April on reviving the deal and the EU official leading the discussions said on Wednesday he was confident a deal would be reached.
    But European diplomats said success was not guaranteed and very difficult issues remained, while a senior Iranian official contradicted the president.
    “The talks in Vienna are about minor issues.    They have accepted to lift sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping sectors as well as sanctions on the Central Bank and others,” President Hassan Rouhani said during a televised cabinet meeting.
    Rouhani was speaking a few weeks ahead of Iran’s presidential election, in which the revival of the nuclear accord could boost moderate candidates close to him.
    Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – an ambition Tehran denies.
    Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said on Wednesday that some “key issues” needed to be discussed further.
    And a senior Iranian official told the country’s Press TV that Washington had no intention to “completely lift any sanctions on the oil, banking, finance and energy sectors.”
    “Washington intends to temporarily suspend some of the sanctions over a long period of time and in various steps,” said the official, who was not identified by the station run by hardliners and which is close to the Revolutionary Guards.
    Oil prices were on course for a third day of losses on Thursday after diplomats said progress was made towards a deal to lift sanctions on Iran, which could boost crude supply.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/20/2021 India’s Vaccine Output Likely To Fall Short Of Target, Sources Say by Neha Arora and Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: A policeman asks people who came to receive a dose of a coronavirus vaccine to leave as they stand outside the gate of a vaccination
centre which was closed due to unavailability of the supply of COVID-19 vaccine, in Mumbai, India. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s output of COVID-19 shots for August-December is likely to be lower than the government’s public estimate, according to internal projections shared with Reuters by two sources.
    Lower-than-expected production could delay India’s plans to vaccinate all its adults this year, amid fears the country will face another surge of coronavirus infections in the winter.    India’s ongoing second wave, the world’s worst since the pandemic began, has overwhelmed its health system.
    The government last week publicly estimated 1.46 billion doses of its three approved shots – AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Covaxin – would be made between August and December.
    Production of the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which the Serum Institute of India (SII) is the biggest maker in the world, is expected to reach 100 million to 110 million doses a month from July and stay at that level for the foreseeable future, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
    That would be at least 200 million doses less than the government’s public forecast of 750 million AstraZeneca doses for the last five months of the year, a 27% shortfall.
    An internal government projection for August and September shared by a second source put the monthly number of AstraZeneca doses at 100 million, out of 200 million for all the three approved shots combined.
    The sources declined to be named discussing a subject on which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been criticised due to a shortage of vaccines.    Immunisations have fallen https://dashboard.cowin.gov.in sharply since an April peak.
    The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare did not respond to queries from Reuters.
    SII, which is facing raw material shortages for another vaccine that the government is banking on, declined to comment.
    A spokeswoman for Covaxin-maker Bharat Biotech said that last month the company raised its annual production capacity to more than 500 million doses, or about 42 million doses a month.    It has been producing about 10 million doses a month.
    Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, the local distributor for Russia’s Sputnik V, did not respond to a request for comment.
    Apart from the approved vaccines, the government has also forecast August-December production of 866 million doses of five yet-to-be-approved vaccines. Overall, the government has pledged to make 2.67 billion doses available this year.
    SII has already halted exports until the end of the year to meet domestic demand, in a major blow to dozens of poor countries relying on it for supplies.
    India has so far administered 187 million vaccine doses, the most after China and the United States, but fully immunised only about 3% of its 1.35 billion people.
(Reporting by Neha Arora and Krishna N. Das; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

5/20/2021 Taiwan President Tests Negative For COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen gives a speech after visiting the
Navy's 131st Fleet in Keelung, Taiwan, March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has tested negative for COVID-19, after a worker at her residence tested positive, the presidential office said on Thursday.
    “The president is healthy and safe,” it added.
    Taiwan is dealing with a spike in domestic COVID-19 infections.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)

5/20/2021 Lithuanian Parliament Latest To Call China’s Treatment Of Uyghurs ‘Genocide’ by Andrius Sytas
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. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    VILNIUS (Reuters) – The parliament in Lithuania on Thursday became the latest to describe China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority as “genocide”, voting to call for a U.N. investigation of internment camps and to ask the European Commission to review relations with Beijing.
    The Biden administration in the United States has used the term genocide to describe China’s actions towards the Uyghurs, as have parliaments in countries including Britain and Canada. Beijing denies abusing minorities and has condemned countries for using the term, which it says is motivated by propaganda.
    The non-binding resolution, supported by three fifths of Lithuanian parliament members, also called on China to abolish a national security law in Hong Kong, and to let observers into Tibet and begin talks with its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
    Neither Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte nor Foreign Minsiter Gabrielius Landsbergis participated in the vote, despite being present in the parliament.
    “We support democracy, as we will never forget the cruel lesson of living under occupation by a Communist regime for 50 years,” said Dovile Sakaliene, a lawmaker who has been blacklisted by China and who sponsored the resolution.
    Lithuania, which suffered repressions under Soviet rule from 1940-1991, is now a member of the EU and NATO, and has often taken a prominent role in pushing for tougher Western diplomatic lines towards Russia and Communist countries such as China.
    In March Lithuania said it would open a trade representative office this year in Taiwan, which China considers its own territory, angering Beijing.
    Rights groups, researchers, former residents and some Western lawmakers say authorities in China’s Xinjiang province have arbitrarily detained around a million Uyghurs and members of other primarily Muslim minorities in a network of camps since 2016.
    Beijing initially denied the camps existed but has since said they are vocational training centres designed to combat religious extremism.
(Reporting by Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by Peter Graff)

5/21/2021 CCP-Linked Professor Admits COVID-19 Was Biological War Against U.S. by OAN Newsroom
In this picture taken on December 18, 2019, a Fudan University sign is seen on the campus
in Shanghai. (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    A top Chinese scholar has reportedly admitted that the coronavirus outbreak was an act of biological warfare against the U.S. In a recent video, Professor Ping Chen of China’s Fudan University said in 2020 Beijing won in both a trade war and a biological war against the U.S.
    This comes after bioweapons expert Lawrence Sellin discovered China released COVID-19 intentionally to gain economic advantage of the U.S. and remove President     Donald Trump from office.    Professor Ping’s video further confirmed China’s biological warfare program served a political purpose of derailing President Trump’s “America First” agenda.
    A new House Intelligence report found overwhelming circumstantial evidence that COVID-19 came from a lab in Wuhan.    The report cited evidence obtained by U.S. Intelligence agencies over the past year, noting that the coronavirus outbreak was likely a result of an accidental leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.    It added, there’s no credible evidence that the virus jumped from animals to humans by itself without any outside influence.
    Meanwhile, Australian Intelligence suspects China may have released the virus intentionally in order to take advantage of the global economy.    The House Intelligence report concluded by urging the U.S. government to release all evidence of Dr. Anthony Fauci’s cooperation with the Wuhan lab on the research.
TOPSHOT – An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei
province on April 17, 2020. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
    This comes as Mainland China has been caught spreading COVID-19 misinformation, yet again.    Most of this was channeled by its state propaganda media.    According to a new report by the International Federation of Journalists( IFJ), Beijing was exaggerating COVID-19 fears and drumming up its response to it.
    As a result, 56 percent of IFJ members said media coverage in their country became more positive of China amid the initial outbreak.    The IFJ is based in Brussels and its members include 54 journalist unions in more than 50 countries.    Amongst them, there has been a collective agreement that China has successfully manipulated COVID narratives to increase its political influence worldwide.

5/21/2021 India Faces Antifungal Drug Shortage As Rare Complication Adds To COVID-19 Woes by Manas Mishra and Rajendra Jadhav
A healthcare worker takes a nasal swab sample from a man for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test in front of
a shop in Nawroz Baba village in central Kashmir's Budgam district May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    BENGALURU (Reuters) -India said on Friday it was working to alleviate a shortage of a medicine used to treat a rare fungal disease hitting COVID-19 patients as its healthcare system reels under a massive wave of coronavirus infections.
    Cases of mucormycosis, or “black fungus,” a potentially serious condition that causes blurred or double vision, chest pain and breathing difficulties, have surged in India, mostly among COVID-19 patients.
    At least 7,250 such cases have been found across the country as of May 19, local media reported.
    “In this battle of ours, another new challenge of black fungus has also emerged these days,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Friday.
    India has the second-highest tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the world and has been reporting some 250,000 infections and 4,000 deaths daily.
    With mucormycosis cases rising, India’s health ministry said it was looking for more companies to produce the antifungal drug amphotericin B used to treat it and also increase imports of the medication.
    That would lead to a nearly 250% increase in supply to around 570,000 vials in June, the ministry said on Friday.
    Some Indian states like Maharashtra, home to the financial capital Mumbai, said they were running low on amphotericin B as black fungus cases spiked and had asked federal authorities to provide more.
    “One patient needs 60 to 100 injections (of amphotericin B) depending on severity of illness.    With current case load, we need more than 150,000 injections,” Maharashtra health minister Rajesh Tope told reporters.
    The western state has reported 1,500 cases of mucormycosis so far, and 850 patients are undergoing treatment.
    The state governments in the two southern states of Kerala and Karnataka have extended lockdowns to try to keep the COVID-19 related infection from spreading further.
    The lockdown in Kerala is likely to last until the end of this month, while it has been extended to June 7 in Karnataka.
    After several other states, New Delhi will also halt vaccinations for people in the age group of 18-44 years due to supply shortage, the state government said in a statement on Friday evening.
RURAL TESTING
    Overall, India’s COVID-19 infection tally stands at more than 26 million, with a death toll of 291,331, health ministry data showed on Friday.
    The country conducted roughly two million tests on Thursday, but experts have said infections and deaths could be between five-to-10 times higher than official estimates as the virus spreads to the vast hinterland.
    India aims to double its testing capacity to 4.5 million per day by the end of June, of which 60% would be through rapid antigen tests, according to the government.
    As part of the effort, the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) this week approved home testing for COVID-19, using rapid antigen tests.
    These tests, less accurate than the RT-PCR method, are advised only for symptomatic cases and immediate contacts of laboratory-confirmed positive cases, according to the state-run ICMR.
    “In rural areas or in field level areas, rapid antigen test is the backbone of testing and that should be encouraged,” Balram Bhargava, head of ICMR, told reporters.
(Reporting by Manas Mishra, Rama Venkat in Bengaluru, Neha Arora in New Delhi, Rajendra Jadhav and Nupur Anand in Mumbai; Editing by Himani Sarkar, William Maclean and Bill Berkrot)

5/21/2021 Myanmar Junta’s Electoral Body To Dissolve Suu Kyi Party – Media
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends Invest Myanmar
in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission will dissolve Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party for vote fraud in a November election, local media reported on Friday, citing a commissioner, who threatened action against “traitors” involved.
    News sites Myanmar Now and the Irrawaddy said the announcement was made at a meeting on Friday with political parties that was boycotted by many, including Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
    The army seized power on Feb. 1, overthrowing and detaining the elected civilian leader Suu Kyi, who led a non-violent struggle against dictatorship in the last two decades of the military’s 1962-2011 rule of Myanmar.
    The military justified its coup by accusing the NLD of obtaining a landslide victory through a manipulated vote, though the electoral commission at that time had rejected its complaints.    The NLD says it won fairly.
    The military has pledged to hold an election within two years, and hand power to the winner.
    The NLD had committed fraud “so we will have to dissolve the party’s registration,” the chairman of the junta-appointed Union Election Commission (UEC), Thein Soe, was cited in the reports as saying.He was quoted saying those involved in election fraud “will be considered as traitors” and action taken against them.
    A spokesman for the military council did not answer calls seeking comment.
    In its nightly news bulletin, state-run MRTV carried a report on the meeting of parties, which showed footage of Thein Soe, with his remarks summarised by an announcer.
    MRTV made no specific mention of disbanding the NLD, but quoted Thein Soe as saying “unlawful actions of the ruling party will be punished.”
    The National Unity Government (NUG), an underground alliance of pro-democracy groups that includes the NLD, said the banning of the NLD was a military ploy to cling to power.
    “The announcement that the junta’s obedient electoral commission is banning the National League for Democracy is a blatantly undemocratic attempt to prolong military rule in defiance of the people,” Dr Sasa, spokesman and minister in the shadow government, said in an emailed response to Reuters.
COUNTRY IN CHAOS
    Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with daily protests, marches and strikes nationwide against the junta, which has responded with lethal force, killing more than 800 people and arresting nearly 5,000, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
    The junta has disputed that number. Reuters is unable independently verify casualties and arrests.
    The military has struggled to impose order and is seeing fatal attacks on junta-appointed administrators, while fighting has erupted on numerous fronts between soldiers and newly formed and established ethnic minority armies in border areas.
    Local media reported fighting between rebels and the military in Kayah state bordering Thailand on Friday, the latest flashpoint.
    Thousands of people have been displaced after artillery and helicopters were used during fighting between troops and a civilian militia in Mindat, a small hill town in northwestern Chin State, close to India.
    The United Nations said it was alarmed by the violence there and urged access for humanitarian help.
    The NLD was formed around leading opponents of military rule during a student-led uprising in 1988 and has won every election it was allowed to contest.
    It was disbanded in 2010 for failure to register for an election held under a military-drafted constitution, but Suu Kyi contested subsequent polls after reforms introduced by the retired generals in charge of a nominally civilian administration.
    Co-founded by Suu Kyi, the NLD won a majority of seats in a 1990 election for a constituent assembly, but the junta did not recognise the result and it took until 2015 for her to come to power with a landslide win.
    Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 75, faces numerous charges filed in two courts, the most serious under a colonial-era official secrets act, punishable by 14 years in prison.
    She has been allowed to speak with lawyers only via a video link in the presence of security personnel.
    Myo Sat Tway, a politician with the People’s Pioneer Party, told Reuters he attended Friday’s meeting but did not hear the commissioner say specifically that the NLD would be dissolved.
    “When some political parties asked what extent and when action will be taken against NLD, he do not answer the question,” Myo Sat Tway said.
    Separately, the foreign minister of Japan, a major donor and important investor in Myanmar, on Friday said his country would have to rethink its aid provision to Myanmar if the situation there did not improve.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Martin Petty; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/21/2021 South Korea’s Moon To Be Second Leader Welcomed By Biden
South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers remarks with U.S. Vice president Kamala Harris before participating in a bilateral meeting
at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building near the White House in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -South Korean President Moon Jae-in began a day of White House talks on Friday by thanking U.S. President Joe Biden and his team for “restoring the soul of America,” an apparent indirect jab at Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
    Moon had a morning meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris before an afternoon of talks with Biden expected to focus heavily on China and North Korea.    The two leaders were to hold a joint news conference at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT).
    Trump had badgered Moon as a weak leader and threatened to pull U.S. troops from South Korea.    Moon referenced the Biden team’s work in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and the U.S. economy.
    “My congratulations on how the Biden-Harris administration is building back better with the world’s most successful vaccine deployment and fastest economic recovery, and blazing a trail for inclusiveness and unity by restoring the soul of America,” Moon said.
    Harris told Moon that she and Biden would work together with South Korea for a “free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region – a region that is unconstrained by coercion and anchored in international rules and order."
    “Today we will discuss a broad range of issues, including our strong partnership, as well as the challenges that exist on the Korean Peninsula,” she said.
    As well as the perennial issue of North Korean nuclear weapons, the allies will discuss regional security more broadly, cooperation in high-tech industries such as microchips, efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic and stronger action on climate change.
    Moon, under pressure at home over his COVID-19 response, will be hoping to secure an agreement with Washington for stopgap supplies of vaccines, while the Biden administration is looking for enhanced climate commitments from Seoul.
    Moon approached his Washington visit hoping it would provide fresh impetus to his dream of building peace with North Korea, but U.S. officials have played down the prospect of a dramatic fresh initiative.
    South Korean officials were heartened by Biden’s North Korea policy review, which called for a focus on practical diplomatic steps to reduce tensions while maintaining a final goal of persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
    A South Korean presidential official said a joint U.S.-South Korean statement will embrace a 2018 agreement between Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that vowed to improve relations and work for complete denuclearization of the peninsula.
    “We had made much contribution to the U.S. policy review, and endorsing the agreement could be a sign of their respect and acknowledgement,” the official told reporters in Washington.
    Moon and Biden will also discuss abolishing a U.S. guideline limiting the range of any South Korean missiles to up to 800 km (500 miles), and ways to boost civilian nuclear plant exports together, the official added.
    But the pandemic, economic and political challenges, as well as crises elsewhere, have shifted the North Korea issue to the back burner, complicating Moon’s hopes of cementing a peacemaker legacy before leaving office next year.
    Washington would like to see a forthright statement from Moon on China’s ever more assertive behavior in the region.    Last month, when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited, Biden sought to present a united front toward Beijing.
    Seoul has been cautious for fear of angering China, its top trading partner.    In a visit to Capitol Hill on Thursday, Moon stressed the importance of stable Washington-Beijing ties and China’s importance in connection with Korean Peninsula affairs.
    A senior Biden administration official said Moon, who was accompanied by chief executives bringing investments in technology and batteries, would discuss issues associated with 5G cellphone service and new-age logic chips, areas where Washington is seeking to boost competitiveness against China.
    The Yonhap news agency said four major South Korean companies, including Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and SK Group, on Friday announced plans to invest more than $35.5 billion in the United States.
    During a business roundtable attended by Moon, Samsung announced plans to invest $17 billion in a new chip foundry.
    LG Energy Solution Ltd and SK innovation Co Ltd, which make batteries, said they plan to invest some $14 billion in separate and joint projects, while Hyundai Motor Co announced plans to invest $7.4 billion in expanding electric vehicle production and recharging infrastructure in the United States.
    SK Hynix Inc said it has plans to spend $1 billion on building a large-scale research and development center in Silicon Valley.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and Katanga Johnson in Washington; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Grant McCool, Philippa Fletcher and Jonathan Oatis)

5/21/2021 Pakistan Blast Kills Six, Wounds 13 At Pro-Palestinian Rally by Gul Yousafzai
Police and residents gather at the site after a bomb blast in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border
town of Chaman, Pakistan, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Saeed Ali Achakzai
    QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – A bomb blast killed six people on Friday at a pro-Palestinian rally in southwest Pakistan and wounded 13, including the leader of a hardline religious party that organised the event, police said, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    The motorcycle bomb exploded as people dispersed at the end of the rally held in the city of Chaman near the Afghan border in the province of Balochistan, the region’s police chief, Jafar Khan, told Reuters by telephone.
    He added that the bombing also wounded Maulana Abdul Qadir Luni, a cleric and leader of the religious party, which has a history of supporting Afghan Taliban militants.
    The mineral-rich province bordering Iran and Afghanistan has long been convulsed by a nationalists’ insurgency seeking a greater share in the profits from exploitation of regional resources.
    Other operators included Islamist militants linked to the Afghan and local Taliban as well as the Islamic State group.
    The province is home to the newly expanded Gwadar deepwater port, the centrepiece of a planned $65-billion investment in China’s Belt and Road Initiative economic corridor.
    In April, a car bomb exploded in the parking area of a luxury hotel in the provincial headquarters of Quetta, killing four and wounding 11.     China’s envoy to Pakistan, who had been staying at the hotel, was away at the time, however.
(This story refiles to correct byline spelling)
(Reporting by Gul Yousafzai; Writing by Asif Shahzad; Editing by John Stonestreet and Clarence Fernandez)

5/21/2021 ‘Running Out Of Time’: Tibetan President-Elect Warns Of Cultural Genocide by Cate Cadell and Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: Tibet's exiled Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, Penpa Tsering (in grey), speaker of the
Tibetan Parliament-in-exile and Samdhong Rinpoche (R), Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, observe a minute's
silence during a ceremony in the northern Indian hilltown of Dharamsala March 10, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The top political leader of Tibet’s government in exile said on Friday that there is an urgent threat of “cultural genocide” in Tibet, and the international community must stand up to China ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
    Penpa Tsering, who was this month elected president of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), told Reuters that they are committed to a peaceful resolution with China, but Beijing’s current policies threaten the future of Tibetan culture.
    “Time is running out,” said Tsering, speaking from Dharamshala in India.    “Once it is eliminated, it doesn’t make sense to fight for anything,” he said.
    Rights groups and Tibetans in Tibet say the government has put strict controls on religion, language education and labour, while encouraging immigration by Han people, China’s largest ethnic group.
    “I have always said we are not against multiculturalism … but one single majority population completely overwhelming a minority population, that amounts to cultural genocide, especially when it’s enforced by the state,” Tsering said.
    Beijing denies it breaches the human rights of Tibetan people.    It says its development policies have eradicated absolute poverty in the region and are backed by all residents.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday evening.
    Chinese troops seized Tibet in 1950 in what Beijing calls a “peaceful liberation.”    In 1959, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama fled into exile, following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
    Founded after the exile, the CTA maintains its own executive, legislative and judicial bodies in Dharamshala.    As many as 150,000 Tibetans are living in exile.
    Tibet has since become one of the world’s most restricted and sensitive areas. Journalists, diplomats and other foreigners are barred from travelling there outside of tightly managed government tours.
    “If you are not challenging China’s practices right now, then China will get away with everything,” said Tsering, responding to a question about the 2022 Winter Olympics.    “There has to be a stop to this.”
‘DOOMED TO DIE OUT’
    China this month celebrates the 70th anniversary of its control over Tibet with press events and a government-sponsored tour to the region.
    It’s part of a broader effort to formalise Beijing’s claim over Tibet, and share a positive narrative of the Communist Party’s role there.
    In a white paper released in state media on Friday, Beijing said that prior to China’s intervention, Tibet was a “wretched and backward feudal serfdom” that was “doomed to die out.”
    “Money alone does not bring happiness,” said Tsering.    “If we had been independent we could have been economically as developed as Tibet is today,” he said.
    Dialogue between Beijing and the CTA has stalled since 2010. Tsering said that the Dalai Lama’s return to China was crucial to reopen a dialogue.
    “We’ll use all ways and means to reach out to the Chinese government,” said Tsering.    “If the Chinese don’t respond to us the only way we can keep the issue alive is to reach out to the international community,” he said.
    The CTA and Tibetan advocacy groups have received a boost in international support amid rising criticism of China’s human rights record, particularly from the United States.
    In November, Tsering’s predecessor Lobsang Sangay visited the White House, the first such visit by a CTA president in six decades.
    A month later, the U.S. Congress passed the Tibet Policy and Support Act, which calls for the right of Tibetans to choose the successor to the Dalai Lama, and the establishment of a U.S. consulate in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.
    Tsering reiterated that when the 14th Dalai Lama passes he will only be reincarnated in a “free country,” according to his wishes.    China says it has a right to select the Dalai Lama’s successor according to Chinese law.
    “Why are they so concerned with the 15th Dalai Lama?” said Tsering.    “The 14th Dalai Lama is still living and he wishes to go to China … the Chinese government leaders need to learn about Buddhism first.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/21/2021 Iran Leader Urges Muslim States To Back Palestinians Militarily, Financially
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a live televised speech marking the annual Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day,
on the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran May 7, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday called on Muslim states to support Palestinians militarily and financially and help rebuild Gaza after an 11-day conflict with Israel, Iranian media reported.
    “Muslim states must sincerely support the Palestinian people, through military …or financial support …or in rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure,” Khamenei said in a statement carried by media outlets.    He urged Muslims to demand that their governments back Palestinians.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Chris Reese)

5/21/2021 Pakistanis Rally In Support Of Palestinians by Syed Raza Hassan
People carry flags as they chant slogans to express solidarity with Palestinian people and to protest
against Israel, during a rally in Karachi, Pakistan May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
(Fixes media identifier tag to conform with pictures; no changes to text)
    KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) -Ten of thousands of Pakistanis marched in support of the Palestinians on Friday as a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas took effect after 11 days of fighting, but a bomb blast killed six people at one rally in southwest Pakistan.
    Shrugging aside restrictions linked to the coronavirus pandemic, people waved Palestinian flags and placards that read “All unite to free Palestine” and “Boycott Israel” at the rallies, many organised by Islamic groups, in a number of cities across the country including Islamabad and Karachi.     In Peshawar demonstrators burned Israeli flags.
    The bomb blast, which also wounded 13 people, occurred in the city of Chaman in the province of Balochistan near the Afghan border, the region’s police chief, Jafar Khan, told Reuters by telephone.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
    Police in Karachi halted a rally organised by the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami when demonstrators trying to march on the U.S. consulate in the port city caused a massive traffic jam.
    “The Palestinian issue is more of a humanitarian issue than a religious issue.    You don’t need to be a Muslim or a Christian to condemn whatever is going on in Palestine.    You need to be a human being to condemn it,” Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain told foreign media on Friday.
    Pakistan, a largely Muslim country, has no diplomatic relations with Israel.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan applauded Friday’s rallies across Pakistan and said international public opinion was tilting in favour of the Palestinians.
    The foreign ministry said in a tweet that Pakistan continued to believe that peace in the Middle East hinged on the creation of a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state alongside Israel.
    Both Israel and Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, claimed victory on Friday as the ceasefire, mediated by Egypt, came into force.
(Additional Reporting by Gibran Naiyyar PeshimamEditing by Gareth Jones)

5/22/2021 Construction Begins On Wall Of Remembrance For Korean War Veterans by OAN Newsroom
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, right, look at a replica of a section of the Wall of Remembrance
at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, Friday, May 21, 2021, during a groundbreaking ceremony. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Construction officially began on the Wall of Remembrance at the National Mall on Friday, aimed at commemorating those who lost their lives defending South Korea from aggression and ensuring their freedom.    Featured on the wall will list the names of the U.S. troops and Korean augmentation to the U.S. Army personnel who died fighting between 1950 and 1953.
WASHINGTON, : Claudius M. Lehmann, a US Army World War II and Korean War veteran from Ashburn, VA salutes after placing a red carnation
at the Vietnam Memorial Wall 11 November, 1999 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP via Getty Images)
    Over the course of the construction the National Park Service will also be restoring the memorial, which has been around for 25 years.    The pavement will be repaired and the statues will be refinished.    The $22 million construction project is being funded by donations from the people of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea.     South Korean President Moon Jae-in attended the groundbreaking ceremony along with other dignitaries. The memorial is expected to be finished in the next year.

5/24/2021 Myanmar Junta Shows First Images Of Suu Kyi Since Coup
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the opening session of the
31st ASEAN Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    (Reuters) -Myanmar’s state television on Monday aired pictures of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time since a military coup nearly four months ago, showing her first in-person court appearance since her arrest.
    MRTV in its nightly news bulletin showed Suu Kyi, 75, in the dock sitting upright with her hands in her lap and wearing a surgical mask.
    Beside her was ousted President Win Myint and another defendant, former Naypyitaw mayor Myo Aung, as two police officers stood behind them.
    Suu Kyi looked in good health during a 30-minute meeting with her legal team, but said she had no access to newspapers in detention and was only partially aware of what was happening outside, her legal team head, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters.
    “This image breaks my heart,” said one Twitter user identified as Nay Win Aung, in one of a series of similar posts reacting to the pictures of Suu Kyi in court.
    Another user, Su Mon Hlaing, said: “I love Mother Aung San Suu Kyi, we stand with our leaders, we want our country back.”
    Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, for decades the figurehead of Myanmar’s struggle for democracy, is among more than 4,000 people arrested since the Feb. 1 coup.
    The latest include an American journalist Danny Fenster, 37, who was detained on Monday as he tried to board a flight out of Myanmar, his news organisation said.
    Suu Kyi is being prosecuted in cases in two courts, for offences that range from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios to violating a state secrets law, punishable by 14 years in prison. The military has also accused her of taking bribes.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since the army took power on Feb 1, with daily protests, marches and strikes nationwide against the junta, which has struggled to impose order as opposition against it grows.
    It has responded with lethal force, killing more than 800 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
    Suu Kyi “wished people good health” in her meeting with her lawyers and also made a reference to her National League for Democracy (NLD) party that could be dissolved soon.
    “Our party grew out of the people so it will exist as long as people support it,” Khin Maung Zaw quoted Suu Kyi as saying.
    The presiding judge adjourned the session until June 7, the lawyer said.
    Myanmar’s junta-appointed election commission will dissolve the NLD on the grounds that its victory in a November election was secured by fraud, media reported on Friday, quoting a commissioner, who threatened action against “traitors.”
    The accusations had been dismissed by the former election commission.
LIMITED INFORMATION
    Suu Kyi said the only information she received from outside was when police asked her opinion on some matters, said Khin Maung Zaw. She refused to respond because she was unaware of the full situation, he said.
    In his first interview with foreign media since the coup, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing had also said Suu Kyi was in good health.
    Min Aung Hlaing also told Hong Kong-based Chinese language broadcaster Phoenix Television that about 300 people had been killed in the unrest, including 47 police.
    The military is fighting on a growing number of fronts, against established ethnic minority armies, and rag-tag local militias formed in the past few weeks, many armed with rudimentary rifles and home-made weapons.
    Fighting has intensified in eastern Myanmar in recent days near the border of Southern Shan and Kayah states, with thousands fleeing their homes and dozens of security forces and local fighters killed, according to residents and media reports.
    Local people and activists estimated at least 10,000 people had fled their homes in Kayah, bordering Thailand, after the latest violence.
    “They fled into nearby forests or nearby villages where their relatives live.    We don’t have an organised group to help,” said an activist, who asked not be identified.
    Other residents said there was an immediate need for humanitarian aid including food, shelter and medicine, with pregnant women, children and the elderly among the displaced.
    On Monday, a resident in Loikaw said shooting could still be heard and several military planes landed at an air base, after tanks and helicopters were patrolling the area a day earlier.
    On the northwestern side of Myanmar, bordering India, 12 police officers in the Chin State town of Kanpetlet had switched sides on Saturday to join the fight against the coup, Myanmar Now quoted the local militia, the Chinland Defence Force (CDF), as saying.
    Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing played down the risk of violence spiralling into a bigger conflict.
    “I don’t think there will be a civil war,” he told Phoenix in the May 20 interview.
(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

5/24/2021 Taiwan’s Bid To Take Part In WHO Annual Assembly Fails
FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO)
in Geneva, Switzerland, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Taiwan’s bid to take part in the annual ministerial assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO) formally ended on Monday, despite support from a handful of countries including allies of the United States.
    The decision not to include Taiwan on the agenda, taken by WHO’s general committee, was announced by Bhutan’s Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo, who serves as president of the week-long assembly.
    Minutes earlier in the debate, Chen Xu, China’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, called on countries supporting Taiwan’s participation in the WHO ministerial assembly to “stop politicising the issue” and to uphold the ‘One China’ principle.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/24/2021 Singapore Airport Tightens Measures After COVID-19 Outbreak
FILE PHOTO: People look at a Singapore Airlines plane, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at a viewing gallery of the Changi Airport in Singapore October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s airport said on Monday it was stepping up measures to keep out the coronavirus, including further segregating arrivals and about 14,000 workers into different risk zones, after it became the country’s largest active COVID-19 cluster.
    The Changi airport cluster, which involves over 100 cases, may have initially spread through a worker who helped an infected family arriving in the country, according to authorities.    Some of the cases included the B.1.617 variant first detected in India.
    Workers in the highest risk zone – the terminal piers, arrival immigration hall and baggage claim – will be vaccinated, segregated from other staff, given full protective clothing and subject to enhanced testing, the airport operator said in a statement.
    Passengers from very high-risk countries will be escorted through immigration to their quarantine facilities without going through the other terminals, it said.
    Authorities have been criticised on the internet and social media for not introducing such measures earlier given the international impact of highly contagious variants.
    Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung this month said airport staff who received travelers from high-risk countries may have infected others in the airport’s food outlets.
    The airport outbreak is part of a resurgence of infections in Singapore, which reported 24 local cases on Monday, that follows months of reporting few or no local cases each day.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Martin Petty)

5/25/2021 Iran Agrees To 1 Month Extension Of Nuclear Site by OAN Newsroom
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference behind plexiglass shields regarding
the agency’s monitoring of Irans’s nuclear energy program at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
    Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) havem agreed to extend surveillance at Tehran’s nuclear sites.    IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters in Austria Monday that the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency would keep its monitoring devices in place until June 24.
    “One thing that we had agreed on back in February was that at the expiration of the technical understanding, the information would be erased,” stated the IAEA chief.    “And this is not going to happen, so this is an important aspect.”
    The temporary three month agreement that expired Saturday was an attempt to encourage Iran’s cooperation with inspectors.    Tehran’s compliance began to falter in     February as they violated terms of the failed 2015 nuclear deal to pressure the U.S. into lifting sanctions.
    “I want to stress, this is not ideal,” Grossi stated.    “This is like an emergency device that we came up with in order for us to continue having these monitoring activities.”
    The extension buys more time for negotiations between the U.S. and Iran to salvage an Obama-era nuclear deal, which aimed to limit Tehran’s enrichment of uranium.    President Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018 after calling it “horribly one-sided.”
    At the time, President Trump said that at the point when the U.S. had maximum leverage, the Obama administration gave billions of dollars to the Iranian terror regime.
    “The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complies, the regime could still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time,” stated the 45th President.    “The deal’s inspection provisions lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, detect and punish cheating.”
FILE – This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo shows Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak,
150 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/ISNA, Hamid Foroutan, File)
    According to experts, there are as many as two dozen facilities active in Iran’s covert nuclear weapons program.    Inspectors have only visited three of these sites and found traces of processed uranium.

5/25/2021 Iran Official Upbeat Over Nuclear Talks, Top Delegate Cautious
Iranian flag flies in front of the UN office building, housing IAEA headquarters, amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    DUBAi (Reuters) – Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Tuesday he was optimistic over Tehran reaching an agreement soon at talks with world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, although Iran’s top negotiator cautioned that serious issues remained.
    Iran and global powers have held several rounds ofnegotiations since April in Vienna, working on steps that Tehranand Washington must take on sanctions and nuclear activitiesto return to full compliance with the nuclear pact.
    “General agreements have been reached on major disputes.    On the lifting of sanctions, the remaining cases are very minor, and given the negotiation process, we are optimistic about resolving the remaining minor and practical cases,” Rabiei told a news confrence streamed on a state-run website.
    Iran’s top negotiator, Abbas Araqchi struck a more cautious stance in comments to state TV.
    “There are still serious and important issues that need to be resolved,” he said.    “Today we will start the negotiations again and we hope that during the few days of talks, God willing, we will be able to reach the final solutions.”
    On his way to the talks, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said on Twitter: “The latest round of talks was constructive and saw meaningful progress.    But much work still needs to be done.”
    Washington withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran tosteadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programmedesigned to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – anambition Tehran denies.
    Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said sanctions on oil, shipping, petrochemicals, insurance and the central bank had been dealt with in the talks, though European diplomats said success was not guaranteed and very difficult issues remained.
    U.S. sanctions are likely to be a major issue in campaigning for Iran’s presidential election on June 18.
    State TV reported on Tuesday that Iran’s election watchdog had approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in the election.    Hardliners say Washington cannot be trusted to respect any nuclear accord.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/25/2021 Indonesian Anti-Graft Activists Complain Of Digital Attacks by Kate Lamb and Fanny Potkin
FILE PHOTO: A hooded man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Top fuel
pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline has shut its entire network after a cyber attack, the company said on Friday. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration
    (Reuters) – Indonesian anti-corruption activists have suffered a surge of digital attacks, from the hacking of messaging accounts to the sabotage of a Zoom conference with pornography, and they say they fear they are being targeted for speaking out.
    A spotlight was thrown on Indonesia’s fight against corruption this month with the sacking of 75 officials from the anti-graft agency, which some campaign groups said appeared to be a bid to undermine their work.
    The sackings, ostensibly over the officials’ performances in a civil service exam, were later commuted to suspensions.
    The non-governmental group Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said its members had faced digital harassment since May 17, when the messaging accounts on WhatsApp of six of its members became inaccessible as they were taking part in a video conference discussing the dismissals.
    An unidentified hacker also streamed a porn film into the video conference, the group said.
    ICW said in a statement it suspected that “parties against the strengthening of anti-corruption efforts” were behind the attack and urged law enforcement to investigate.
    ICW did not say which specific groups it thought could be responsible.
    ICW coordinator Adnan Topan Husodo told Reuters attempts to take over his and other accounts on WhatsApp and Telegram had continued in recent days.
    Several former investigators from the KPK anti-corruption agency said they had faced similar attacks.
    WhatsApp, Zoom, and Telegram did not immediately answer requests for comment.
    An official in President Joko Widodo’s office said it was a police matter. Police in the capital, Jakarta, declined to comment.
    Campaigners say the state anti-corruption agency has become weaker under this president’s administration but his office denies that.
    The complaints of digital harassment follow similar cases last year involving activists and students in online seminars discussing human rights issues in the easternmost region of West Papua, where a low-level separatist insurgency has simmered for decades.
    Some journalists have also been subjected to similar harassment.
    Damar Juniarto, executive director of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet), said his group had recorded 147 instances of digital attacks in Indonesia last year, a sharp increase from previous years.
(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo da Costa, Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel)

5/25/2021 Iran Approves Hardliner For Presidential Polls, Bars Several Hopefuls
FILE PHOTO: Ebrahim Raisi, Chief Justice of Iran, shows his identification document as he registers as a candidate for the presidential
election at the Interior Ministry, in Tehran, Iran May 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/ WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s election watchdog has approved the candidacy of hardline judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi in next month’s presidential election, state TV said on Tuesday, while disqualifying some of his main rivals including former parliament speaker Ali Larijani.
    The move is likely to boost the prospects of Raisi, a close ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    But it may further dent the clerical rulers’ hopes of a high turnout in the June 18 vote, amid rising discontent over an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions.
    As well as Larijani, a moderate conservative, the hardline-led Guardian Council barred populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and pragmatist First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, an ally of the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani.
    Rouhani and his moderate allies have blamed most of Iran’s economic woes on U.S. sanctions and given top priority to talks aimed at reviving Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which former U.S. president Donald Trump quit.
    Conservative and hardline allies of Khamenei have placed the responsibility squarely on the government, and insisted that Washington cannot be trusted to fulfil any accord.
    The Council approved just seven candidates out of 40 who met its basic criteria – in turn a small fraction of the 600 who had registered.
    They included former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, a conservative; former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezaei, a frequent presidential candidate; and current Central Bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, a low-profile moderate.
    In a statement carried by local media, Rouhani’s ally Jahangiri said: “The disqualification of many qualified people (is) a serious threat to public participation and fair competition among political tendencies, especially reformists.”
    Even Raisi appeared to object to the large number of disqualifications.
    “Since yesterday evening, when I was informed of the results, … I have made contacts and I am holding consultations to make the election scene more competitive and participatory,” Raisi said on Twitter.
    Larijani, who had voiced support for the nuclear deal and talks to revive it, accepted the Council’s ruling, tweeting: “Now that the election process has been conducted in this way, I have done my duty before God and my dear nation.”
    In a speech in parliament carried by local media, lawmaker Ahmad Alirezabeigi blasted Ahmadinejad’s disqualification and said security forces had surrounded the populist leader’s home, even though he had urged his supporters to remain calm.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

5/25/2021 Chinese Visit ‘Red’ Sites Ahead Of 100th Communist Party Anniversary by Martin Quin Pollard
Statues of late Chinese chairman Mao Zedong wrapped in plastic are seen displayed at a souvenir stall at Nanniwan,
a former revolutionary base of the Communist Party of China, ahead of the 100th founding anniversary of the party during
a government-organised tour in Yanan, Shaanxi province, China May 11, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    XIBAIPO, China (Reuters) -In a square in front of a Communist Party memorial hall at Xibaipo in northern China, row upon row of party members stood, raised their fists and chanted the party oath in unison.
    “I will never betray the party,” they called out, facing statues of the People’s Republic of China founder Mao Zedong and other revolutionary leaders before moving on, to be quickly replaced by another group.
    Xibaipo was an important Communist Party base during China’s civil war, which ended in 1949 with the victorious communists sweeping to power.
    Earlier this month, it was a stop on a four-day government-organised media tour to some of the party’s most important historical sites to mark the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1.
    Thirteen delegates, including Mao, attended the first congress in Shanghai in 1921 to set up the party.
    Party researchers and officials told Reuters the large numbers of visitors at Xibaipo reflects a national push to get people, especially party members and cadres, to get involved with the upcoming anniversary.
    Schools are also taking part. At Xibaipo, in Hebei province, a large group of students was lined up, given small national flags and told to recite their Communist Youth League oaths, just as the senior party members were doing.
    “I feel I’m taking on a responsibility to strive for the realisation of communism,” said Mao Weijia, 17, a high school pupil from Hebei.    “As a young person entering adulthood, I carry the future of our motherland.”
    The idea of the motherland also featured in Yanan, the city in northwest China mythologised in party history as the birthplace of the revolution where Mao cemented his authority as party leader.    Students were seen being asked to recite the patriotic song “Ode to the Motherland” by a tour guide.
    The guide, who only gave his last name as Gao, said students are brought to such sites so they understand at an early age “our proletarian forefathers’ spirit of hard work and struggle.”
    Among the adult visitors, many, such as Zhang Zhaoyang from Hunan province, said they were in Yanan as part of a “red tourism” or party-building trip organised by their party unit or employer.
    “We take party-building activities very seriously.    It is the leadership of the Communist Party that gives us happiness,” Zhang, 50, said.
‘UNMATCHED CORE’
    The push to study the party’s history this year is a boon to tourism in red tourist hot spots like Yanan and Xibaipo, say officials.    But the trend is not new.
    Before the pandemic, tourism in Yanan grew consistently, officials said, from 40.25 million visitors in 2016 to 73.08 million in 2019.
    Nationwide, the drive to step up patriotic sentiment in part through party study has been a theme since Xi Jinping became China’s leader nearly a decade ago, said Xu Jia, a researcher at the CPC Central Committee’s Institute of Party History and Literature.
    The push is aimed “to increase cohesion in the country,” at a time when China faces challenges such as the recent trade war with the United States, Xu said.
    At Yanan’s China Executive Leadership Academy, one of several across the country where senior officials study the party and its history, academy Vice Director Li Guoxi explained the chief aim of their courses.
    “In our cadres’ education and training, we emphasise loyalty, honesty, and responsibility, but loyalty is the No.1 requirement, the priority,” Li said.
    Many here expressed confidence for the future of the party, which includes roughly 90 million members among China’s population of 1.4 billion.
    “For the next 100 years, I don’t believe the Chinese people will change to another party,” said Feng Jianmei, who teaches at the academy.
    “It won’t happen because the Chinese Communist Party has proven to the world and especially the Chinese people with 100 years of magnificent achievements that it provides an unmatched core of leadership.”
(Editing by Karishma Singh)

5/25/2021 Senior Chinese Diplomat Accuses EU Of Politicising Trade
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
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said on Tuesday that attempts by some in the EU to politicise trade issues are “not acceptable and will lead nowhere,” and that Beijing had been shocked when Brussels placed sanctions on Chinese officials.
    Wang, who is also foreign minister, made the remarks less than a week after the EU halted ratification of an investment pact with China until Beijing lifts its own sanctions on EU politicians.
    China’s retaliatory sanctions came after Brussels in March blacklisted Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which Beijing denies.
    The investment pact was not a “one-sided favour” and stoking political confrontation and economic decoupling does not serve the EU’s interests, Wang said at a talk hosted by the Munich Security Conference.
    China remains ready to expand cooperation with Europe, based on mutual respect, he added.
    “It has never come to our mind that the EU will put sanctions on us,” Wang said, questioning how a strategic partner could take such action.
    The sanctions reminded Chinese people “of the days when they were bullied by European imperialists,” Wang said.
    “And as the Chinese government, we have our sovereignty to uphold.    We have our national dignity to uphold … We have to push back falsehoods and disinformation,” he added, explaining why China hit back.
    “China is a trustworthy partner of all countries, not a systemic rival locked in confrontation,” Wang said.
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; writing by Tom Daly; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Giles Elgood)

5/26/2021 Taliban Warns Nearby Nations Against Hosting U.S. Military After Withdrawal
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier sits on the back of an army vehicle at a checkpoint
on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL/PESHAWAR (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban on Wednesday warned nearby nations against allowing the United States to use their territory for operations in the country after they withdraw from Afghanistan.
    As foreign forces withdraw troops by President Joe Biden’s announced deadline of Sept. 11, experts and diplomats have speculated that Washington’s future role in the region could include bases in nearby countries, especially Pakistan.
    “If such a step is taken, then the responsibility for all the misfortunes and difficulties lies upon those who commit such mistakes,” the insurgent group said in a statement, without specifying a country.
    U.S. officials have privately said that they are exploring potential basing options in countries near Afghanistan, like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, but have so far not come to an agreement with any of them.
    In recent days, there has been a spate of talks between senior Pakistani and U.S. officials, including a meeting between Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Pakistani counterpart.
    Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan that runs along heavily contested areas of south and eastern Afghanistan where the Taliban have a large presence.
    A spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign office said on Monday that any speculation over U.S. use of bases in Pakistan “was baseless and irresponsible.”
    The U.S. embassy in Islamabad did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces has escalated sharply in Afghanistan since Washington announced its decision, a slower timeframe than envisaged in a deal former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration signed with the insurgents that said troops would withdraw by May subject to security guarantees.
    Many analysts have warned that the country could descend into civil war as efforts to secure a peace deal through talks in Doha have largely stalled.
    Two Taliban sources said several members of the group’s political office are currently in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad for talks over the ongoing negotiations, including whether to take part in a conference due to take place in Turkey that they had previously boycotted.
    Pakistan has been criticised in the past for ties to the Taliban, but in recent years has been praised by Washington for helping to bring the group to the negotiating table.
(Reporting by Afghanistan and Pakistan bureaux; Editing by Giles Elgood)

5/26/2021 Malaysian Transport Operator Head Fired After Response To Train Crash
A view of the station of two metro light rail trains that collided in an underground tunnel
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Malaysia’s finance ministry said on Wednesday it had terminated the services of the chairman of the public transport operator amid an outcry over his response to a train accident in which more than 200 people were injured.
    On Monday, 47 commuters were severely hurt and 166 sustained minor injuries when two light rail metro trains collided head-on in an underground tunnel near the centre of Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur.
    Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, chairman of Prasarana Malaysia, appeared to joke about the collision in response to a question from a reporter on the situation in the tunnel.
    “Normal… only the two cars are together.    They kissed each other,” Tajuddin said laughing during the televised news conference.
    Malaysian social media users lambasted Tajuddin’s comments as insensitive, with thousands signing an online petition calling for him to be sacked.
    In a letter dated Wednesday and circulated on social media, Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz said Tajuddin’s services would be terminated, effective immediately.
    The letter did not specify the reason.
    A ministry spokeswoman confirmed to media that the letter was authentic.    Tajuddin did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.
    Tajuddin, who is also a government lawmaker, was appointed as Prasarana chairman in May last year.
    Authorities have pledged to carry out a thorough investigation into the train collision, the first major accident in the metro system’s 23 years of operation.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Nick Macfie)

5/26/2021 Beijing Says It Rejects Pending U.S. Legislation To Counter China
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference
in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday it rejected a pending U.S. bill to counter China, and that Beijing would safeguard its own interests.
    U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled revised bipartisan legislation last week to approve $52 billion to significantly boost U.S. semiconductor chip production and research over five years to better compete with China.
(Reporting by Gabirel Crossley; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

5/27/2021 Hong Kong Passes Sweeping Pro-China Election Rules, Reduces Public’s Voting Power by Sharon Abratique
Live footage of the meeting to debate on electoral reform bill is seen on the screens inside
a control room at Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China 26 May, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong’s legislature approved the biggest overhaul of its political system in the quarter century since British rule on Thursday, in a decisive step to assert Beijing’s authority over the autonomous city.
    The move was quickly denounced by the United States, which accused China of undermining Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and said decreasing electoral representation of residents of the territory would not foster long-term stability.
    The changes will reduce the proportion of seats in the legislature that are filled by direct elections from half to less than a quarter.    A new body will vet candidates and bar those deemed insufficiently patriotic towards China from standing.
    “These 600-or-so pages of the legislation come down to just a few words: patriots ruling Hong Kong,” said Peter Shiu, a pro-Beijing lawmaker.     Most of the changes were announced by China in March, though Hong Kong authorities later contributed further details, such as redrawing constituency boundaries and criminalising calls for ballots to be left blank.
    The measures were passed with 40 votes in favour and two against.    The pro-Beijing government has faced no opposition in the legislature since last year, when China disqualified some pro-democracy lawmakers and others resigned in protest.
    Chinese authorities have said the electoral shake-up is aimed at getting rid of “loopholes and deficiencies” that threatened national security during anti-government unrest in 2019 and ensure only “patriots” run the city.
    The legislature will increase in size to 90 seats from 70.    The number of seats filled by direct election will decrease to 20 from 35.    Forty seats will be filled by an election committee, which is also responsible for choosing the chief executive.
    The new vetting committee empowered to disqualify candidates will work with national security authorities to ensure those standing are loyal to Beijing.
    In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused China of continuing to undermine democratic institutions in Hong Kong and called on Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to release and drop charges against everyone charged under the national security law.
    Blinken said altering the composition of the legislature “severely constrains people in Hong Kong from meaningfully participating in their own governance and having their voices heard.”
    “Decreasing Hong Kong  residents’ electoral representation will  not  foster long-term political and social stability for Hong Kong,” he added.
    Elections for the election committee are set for Sept. 19, and for the legislature three months later.    The committee will choose a chief executive on March 27, 2022.
    Chief executive Carrie Lam has not made clear whether she will seek re-election.    In 2019 she faced the largest and most violent anti-government protests since the handover from British rule in 1997, after proposing a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China.
    China had promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing.
    Democracy campaigners and Western countries say the political overhaul moves the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with the most limited space it has had since the handover.
    Since China imposed a national security law in 2020 to criminalise what it considers subversion, secessionism, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces, most pro-democracy activists and politicians have found themselves ensnared by it or arrested for other reasons.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff and Lisa Shumaker)

5/28/2021 Philippines Halts Deployment Of Workers To Saudi Arabia
FILE PHOTO: Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) wearing protective masks standby outside the Ninoy Aquino
International Airport in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has suspended the deployment of workers to Saudi Arabia after it received reports that their employers and recruiters were making them pay for COVID-19 testing, quarantine and insurance upon arrival in the kingdom.
    Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said in a May 27 order that his department will issue an official statement on resumption of deployment “after this matter has been clarified accordingly.”
    It was not immediately clear how many Filipinos bound for Saudi Arabia would be directly affected.
    Saudi Arabia was the most preferred destination of overseas Filipino workers in 2019, government data showed, hosting one out of five Filipinos who landed jobs abroad during that year.
    More than a million Filipinos work in Saudi Arabia, many in construction or as domestic helpers or nurses.
    Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment outside office hours.
    Filipinos in Saudi Arabia sent home $1.8 billion in remittances in 2020, making it an important source of foreign exchange inflows, a key driver of Philippines’ consumption-led economy.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

5/28/2021 China Invites Four European Foreign Ministers To Visit In Diplomatic Push
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
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Ireland, Poland, Hungary and Serbia will visit China from Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry said, in a sign of a push to strengthen ties with Europe after an investment treaty was frozen.
    The European Parliament this month halted ratification of the investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to China.
    Beijing’s sanctions were a response to Western sanctions against Chinese officials accused of the mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China.
    The four ministers will visit China from May 29 to 31 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news conference in Beijing on Friday.
During the visit Wang will separately meet the four ministers and discuss bilateral and China-Europe relations, said Zhao.    China hopes the visit can help deepen cooperation and “promote the post-epidemic economic recovery,” he said.
    EU members Poland and Hungary, as well as Serbia, which is not in the bloc, belong to the China-led “17+1” grouping of Central and Eastern European countries.    The grouping recently lost a member when Lithuania pulled out.
    Lithuania’s parliament in May described China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority as genocide, and the country also said it would open a trade representative office this year in Taiwan, which China considers its own territory, prompting anger in Beijing.
    None of the ministers invited to China are from countries whose parliaments have branded its treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, a label Beijing strongly rejects.
    Serbia and Hungary have also both approved and administered Chinese vaccines against COVID-19.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Gareth Jones)

5/28/2021 Olympics-Japan Extends COVID-19 State Of Emergency Ahead Of Games by Chang-Ran Kim and Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
is seen through a traffic sign at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas by about three weeks to June 20 as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open.
    The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/beset-by-coronavirus-wave-tokyos-doctors-lead-push-against-games-2021-05-26 remain severe.
    Japan has seen a record number of COVID-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections has slowed.
    “In Osaka and Tokyo, the flow of people is starting to creep up, and there are concerns that infections will rise,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also heads the country’s coronavirus countermeasures, said at the start of a meeting with experts.
    The experts later approved the government proposal and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga officially announced the extensions.
    Worries about variants of the novel coronavirus and a slow vaccination drive have prompted urgent calls from doctors, some high-profile business executives, and hundreds of thousands of citizens to cancel the Olympic Games, due to start on July 23.
Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have said the Games would go ahead under strict virus-prevention measures.
    IOC’s senior official John Coates, who oversees the preparations, said last week the Games were on https://www.reuters.com/article/olympics-2020-idCNL2N2N80BL whether or not the host city, Tokyo, is under a state of emergency at the time.
    Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference she had received pledges from India – now battling a deadly second COVID-19 wave – and five other countries to vaccinate all their Olympic delegates as a measure against a new variant that has emerged in India.
    IOC President Thomas Bach has said 80% of the 10,500 athletes expected in Japan would be vaccinated and on Thursday urged Olympians to get their shots if they could.    Delegates must also be tested before and after arrival.
I WANT TO SAY ‘SHUT UP'
    Comments by IOC officials appearing to dismiss Japanese concerns have sparked outrage on social media, including IOC’s Bach telling an International Athletes Forum on Thursday: “Come with full confidence to Tokyo and get ready,” calling Tokyo the “best prepared Olympic city ever.”
    “I want to say ‘shut up’,” said one Twitter user.    “Let’s beat up on the IOC, which denigrates Japan, and halt these crazy Olympics.”
    Japan has recorded about 727,000 coronavirus infections and 12,597 deaths so far.    About 6% of its population has been vaccinated, according to Reuters data, https://tmsnrt.rs/3uqFNWb the lowest among the world’s larger, rich countries.
    Under the government’s current plan, about 30% of the population would be vaccinated by the end of July, Nishimura said.
    After meeting with Japanese officials on Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen backed Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympics and said the European     Union had authorised the export to Japan of more than 100 million vaccine doses, enough to inoculate about 40% of the population.
    International spectators will not be allowed for the Games but some 90,000 people including athletes and their delegations will be coming.    No decision has been made yet on domestic fans and Tokyo 2020’s Hashimoto said the situation regarding the state of emergency would need to be taken into account.
    Polls show a majority of Japanese want the Games, postponed last year due to COVID-19, either cancelled or put off again.
    That is a worry for Suga, whose support has slid over his handling of the response to COVID-19 and who faces a general election and a ruling party leadership race later this year.
    But cancellation would carry its own political risk for the premier, some ruling party lawmakers said.
    “The demerits would outweigh the merits,” Liberal Democratic Party MP Hajime Funada told Reuters.    “It would give the impression that Japan is in such dire straits it cannot hold the Games.”
    Japan’s latest emergency steps, unlike stricter measures in many countries, have focused mainly on asking eateries that serve alcohol to close and those that don’t to shut down by 8 p.m.
    Nomura Research Institute executive economist Takahide Kiuchi said an extension of the states of emergency would mean the economy would likely contract in the current quarter, pushing it back into a recession.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Sakura Murakami; Additional reporting by Linda Sieg and Daniel Leussink; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim and Linda Sieg; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Lincoln Feast and Kim Coghill)

5/28/2021 Jailed HK Tycoon Jimmy Lai Sentenced To 14 Months For Oct. 1 Illegal 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/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Jailed Hong Kong media tycoon and Beijing critic Jimmy Lai was given a new prison sentence of 14 months on Friday over his role in an unauthorised assembly on Oct. 1, 2019, during one of the city’s pro-democracy rallies that year.
    This month, Lai – who is already serving sentences adding up to 14 months for participating in similar demonstrations on Aug. 18 and Aug. 31, 2019 – and nine other activists pleaded guilty in District Court to organising an unauthorised assembly.
    He has been in jail since December after being denied bail in a separate national security trial.    He faces three charges under the new law, introduced by China in 2020 in response to the protests, including collusion with a foreign country.
    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.
    Beijing sees him as a traitor and an anti-China instigator.
    China says the sweeping security law, which punishes anything Beijing considers as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, was vital to restore stability and prosperity.
    Judge Amanda Woodcock, who handed Lai his previous illegal assembly sentence in April, delivered the sentence on Friday.    She said part of the new sentence would be served consecutively, meaning Lai faces a total of 20 months in prison so far.
    There were major clashes On Oct. 1, China’s national day, including a live round shot by a policeman at a protester swinging a long stick, the first use of a handgun after months of demonstrations.
    “They did call for a peaceful, rational and non-violent procession but how naive and unrealistic was that considering what was happening on a daily basis was the opposite,” Woodcock said.    “This is not with hindsight.    The risk was very real every day at that time.”
    The other nine defendants, including activists Figo Chan, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Leung Kwok-hung, who is known in Hong Kong as Long Hair, were sentenced to up to 18 months.    Two received suspended sentences.
    “Your Honour, for over 40 years I have strived for democratic reform in China,” Lee told the court this week during one of the hearings.    “This is my unrequited love, the love for my country with such a heavy heart.”
    Activist Tsang Kin-shing, present at the court, condemned the “heavy” sentencing received by Long Hair, his colleague in the League of Social Democrats.
    “We’re all trapped now in a prison city where freedom of expression is not allowed,” Tsang told Reuters.
    The sentence comes two weeks after authorities froze assets belonging to Lai, including bank accounts and his 71.26% stake in media publisher Next Digital.
    Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank this month threatening up to seven years in prison for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city, according to documents seen by Reuters.
    The moves could imperil any attempt by the democracy activist to move offshore assets back home to prop up Next Digital’s troubled Apple Daily tabloid, a staunch government critic, one of Lai’s financial advisers said.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

5/28/2021 Malaysian Volunteer Undertakers Struggle To Cope As COVID Cases Surge by Ebrahim Harris
    Malaysian Muslim cleric Rafie Zainal and his team members pray for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victim
during a burial at a cemetery, in Gombak, Malaysia May 23, 2021. Picture taken May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) -Malaysian volunteers, who help to give virus victims a Muslim burial, say they are being stretched like never before, as the Southeast Asian country struggles to cope with its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic.
    Dressed in full protective gear, the Malaysian Funeral Management Squad is usually called in by hospitals to help families to pay their last respects in a safe way.
    Muhammad Rafieudin Zainal Rasid, a religious leader who heads the nationwide volunteer team, has become known as the “cleric undertaker.”    He said the volunteers were currently handling nearly 30 times more bodies than they did last year.
    The volunteer team has grown in size to more than 2,000 members, but Muhammad Rafieudin said they are struggling to keep up.
    “Before this, it was about one to three cases per month, but now we are managing up to two to three cases a day,” he said, referring to just one team in the district of Kuala Lumpur where he is based.
    The volunteers go from the hospital to the morgue to prepare the bodies for burial and also perform Muslim prayers at the cemetery, sometimes joined by family members who are also given full protective gear.
    But as the number of deaths from the virus increases in the Muslim-majority country, it is sometimes hard to bury the body within 24 hours as is typical under Islam.
    “If there are more than 10 cases today at the same cemetery, it might take two to three (days) to wrap everything up,” he said.
    Malaysia on Thursday reported 7,857 new coronavirus cases, the third straight day of record infections and 59 deaths.
    While its overall caseload is far lower than some neighbours, its ratio of infections to population, at more than 16,000 per million, is Southeast Asia’s highest, public data shows.
    “We are worried that the risk will be more dangerous for all of us who are exposed since we are handling the bodies,” said Muhammad Rafieudin.
(Writing by Ed Davies. Editing by Jane Merriman)

5/28/2021 Myanmar Military Tribunal Orders 20-Yr Jail Terms For Torching Chinese-Linked Factories
FILE PHOTO: A soldier uses a mobile phone as he sit inside a military vehicle outside Myanmar's Central Bank during a
protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo/File Photo
    (Reuters) – A Myanmar military tribunal has sentenced 28 people to 20 years in jail with hard labour for arson attacks on two factories, state media reported, after a string of mainly Chinese-financed factories were torched during unrest in Yangon in March.
    The army-run Myawady news portal said the offenders had targeted a shoe plant and a garment factory in the industrial Hlaing Tharyar suburb of Myanmar’s biggest city.
    Martial law was imposed in the suburb after the blazes, with dozens killed or wounded when security forces opened fire on anti-military protesters, media and an activist group said.
    The Chinese embassy in Myanmar said at the time that many Chinese staff were injured and trapped in the arson attacks and called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens.
    A total of 32 Chinese-invested factories were vandalised in the attacks, with property losses reaching 240 million yuan ($36.9 million), China’s state-controlled tabloid Global Times said in March.
    China is viewed as being supportive of the military junta that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
    No group claimed responsibility for burning the factories.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since the army took power and arrested Suu Kyi and other members or her party, with daily protests, marches and strikes against the junta.
    Security forces have responded with lethal force, killing more than 800 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. The military disputes this figure and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing recently said about 300 people had been killed in the unrest, including 47 police.
    As well as renewed conflict with ethnic forces in border areas, fighting has also escalated between Myanmar’s army and often rag-tag militias opposed to the military in some regions.
    In eastern Myanmar near the border of Shan and Kayah states, dozens of security forces and local fighters have been killed in recent fighting, according to residents and media reports.
    A resident taking refuge near the town of Demoso reported on Friday that power was down and fighting had flared on Thursday night with the constant thud of artillery.
    “We feared that the bombs will hit us.    It made me tremble as they were constantly firing,” said the resident, who asked not to be identified.
    She said everyone had fled Demoso and estimated that more than 40,000 people were taking refuge in areas around the town and were in need of food, clothing and shelter.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Simon Cameron-moore)

5/29/2021 CBP Prevents Chinese Fishing Company From Importing Goods Into U.S. Due To Widespread Human Rights Abuses by OAN Newsroom
Chinese fishermen drawing a net as they catch fish at the Qiandao lake
in Zhejiang province. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)
    On Friday, Customs and Border Protection issued a withhold release order for any goods that come from Dalian Ocean Fishing Company Limited, due to their use of forced labor.
    Last year, the Straits Times ran a story detailing the tragic conditions crewmen faced aboard one of Dalian’s boats.    It further detailed their experiences with wage withholding and abuse, which resulted in international scrutiny.    While CBP has issued WRO’s for individual vessels before, officials said the scope of the allegations mandated larger action.
    John Leonard, the acting executive assistant commissioner of the agency’s Office of Trade said, “so we determined that this entire fleet, which is based out of Dalian, China, has been committing these forced labor infractions.    Basically almost enslaving employees, many of whom come from Indonesia, under these conditions…and it really affected the whole fleet, really all 32 vessels.    So that’s why we took this rather sweeping action.”
    Leonard explained how forced labor is a serious problem and something that has yet to disappear.    Therefore, there must be consequences for it.    He claimed this could be an ongoing effort for the CBP because the plan is to issue withhold release orders whenever and wherever situations arise that involve forced labor.    The newly released order will allow officials to confiscate any goods that arrive at a U.S. port and prevent their distribution into American marketplaces.

6/1/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Talks Not At Impasse, But Difficult Issues Remain
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 believes that barriers to the revival of its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers are complicated but not insurmountable, a spokesman said on Tuesday, denying that negotiations had stalled.
    The Islamic Republic and six powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for Tehran and Washington to take, respectively, on nuclear activities and sanctions, for the pact to resume.
    Two Western diplomats and an Iranian official said the talks would likely pause on Thursday for consultations in respective capitals, though it remained unclear if they would resume before Iran’s June 18 presidential election, in which a prominent hardliner is tipped to replace the pragmatist incumbent.
    “There is no impasse in the Vienna talks,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference streamed live by a state-run website.
    “Negotiations have reached a stage where a few key issues need to be decided, and these issues require the proper attention, perfectionism and time.”
    Since former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal three years ago and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter-measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
    “It is natural that due to the complexities created by the Trump administration’s numerous sanctions and Iran’s measures…, many details need to be considered, but none of these obstacles are insurmountable,” Rabiei added.
    On Monday, Iran’s nuclear negotiator expressed doubt that the current round of talks would be the final one.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has said Washington will return to the pact if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment.
    Separately, France, one of the signatories to the deal, voiced concern after a report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog which showed on Monday that Iran had failed to explain traces of uranium found at several undeclared sites.
    French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll, asked whether Paris wanted to resurrect a resolution criticising Iran at the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency (IAEA) for not clarifying the uranium issue, said: “We strongly call on Iran to provide such responses as quickly as possible.”
    Three months ago Britain, France and Germany scrapped a U.S.-backed plan for the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors to criticise Iran for failing to fully explain the origin of the particles.    The three backed off when IAEA chief Rafael Grossi announced fresh talks with Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, John Irish in Paris, Francois Murphy in Vienna and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

6/1/2021 N.Korea’s Ruling Party Sets Up New Post Under Leader Kim - Yonhap by Sangmi Cha
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea’s ruling party has amended its rules to create a de facto second-in-command under leader Kim Jong Un as he looks to revamp domestic politics, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said on Tuesday.
    Citing an unidentified source familiar with North Korea, the agency said the holder of the new post of “first secretary” would chair meetings on behalf of Kim Jong Un.
    Kim cemented his power at a congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in January, when he was elected its general secretary, taking a title last held by his late father, Kim Jong Il.
    Now Kim wants a greater role in government for the party, as compared to the more-military centred administration of his father, the news agency added.
    “The term ‘military-first politics’, a major keyword in the Kim Jong Il era, is known to have been scrapped from the preface of the party by-laws,” it said.
    In a statement, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said new party by-laws were publicized in North Korea after the January meeting.    But the ministry responsible for relations with the neighbouring nation said it could not disclose details.
    Kim Jong Un himself used the “first secretary” designation from 2012 to 2016.
    The new post, the most senior of the party’s seven secretaries, is likely to have been taken by Jo Yong Won, who is a member of the politburo’s five-strong presidium, Yonhap said.
    Jo, considered one of Kim’s closest aides, was seen by analysts at the time of the January meeting to hold the government’s No. 3 position, after Kim and Choe Ryong Hae, chairman of the Standing Committee of the Supreme People’s Assembly.
    “This seems to be the broader trend of North Korea delegating and redistributing some of Kim Jong Un’s duties to others, not necessarily his powers, and streamlining the party leadership structure,” said Rachel Minyoung Lee, a fellow with 38 North, a U.S.-based programme that monitors North Korea.
    The change is likely to affect Kim’s public profile and how leadership guidance is provided to the public, she said, adding that Jo had already taken a role in leading party sessions.
    Kim Jong Un has wielded almost absolute power in North Korea’s dynastic system since taking over after his father’s death in 2011.
    Last year a South Korean lawmaker said the country’s intelligence agency believed that Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was serving as his “de facto second-in-command” but had not necessarily been designated his successor.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Josh Smith and Clarence Fernandez)

6/1/2021 China’s Third-Child Policy Boosts Shares In Toy, Diaper Makers
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Shares in Chinese toy makers, diaper producers and infant food companies soared
for the second day on Tuesday, as investors piled into stocks seen as benefitting from Beijing’s new three-child policy.
    China’s announcement on Monday to allow married couples to have up to three children – from the previous limit of two – also sent brokerage analysts scrambling to recommend stocks, despite a widely-shared perception that the policy shift won’t have a sudden impact on the country’s declining birth rate.
    Shares in toy maker Goldlok Holdings (Guangdong) Co jumped to their 10% daily limit for the second day, as did shares in Jinfa Labi Maternity & Baby Articles Co.
    Other baby-related stocks, including milk powder maker Beingmate Co, baby products maker Shanghai Aiyingshi Co and toddler care equipment maker Ningbo David Medical Device Co also soared.
    An index tracking the so-called “third baby concept” stocks, newly compiled by Hithink RoyalFlush Information Network Co, rose about 2.5% on Tuesday, while China’s benchmark stock index was roughly flat.
    Hu Yunlong, a Beijing-based hedge fund manager, said the sharp gains in such stocks were the result of “short-term speculation,” as he sees limited immediate impact on corporate fundamentals.
    China lifted the cap on births in a bid to stave off risks to its economy from a rapidly aging population.    But analysts say the policy by itself is unlikely to boost many couples’ willingness to have more children, given high childcare costs.
    Still, Xu Qi, investment adviser at Guosheng Securities, said Luolai Lifestyle Technology Co, which makes home textile products such as quilts and pillows, stands to benefit from the new policy.    He also recommends Zhejiang Semir Garment Co, which makes children’s clothes.
    Essence International suggested investors pay attention to China Feihe Ltd, a Hong Kong-listed maker of infant milk formula products.
    Meanwhile, Chinese listed companies fielded questions from investors anxious to learn how their businesses will be affected by the new policy.
    Thinker Agricultural Machinery Co Ltd, a maker of rice harvesters, was asked if the company was a “third-child concept” stock.
    “Thanks for your humorous question,” the company replied in an online investor relations platform.
    The indirect relationship is that “an increase in population will increase grain consumption…and demand for harvesters."
    “But the precondition is…people are willing to have a third child.”
(Reporting by Samuel Shen, Luoyan Liu and Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

6/1/2021 China’s New Three-Child Policy Draws Scepticism, Cost Questions by Tony Munroe
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s decision to allow families to have up to three children was met with scepticism on Tuesday, with doubts expressed on social media whether it would make much difference, and calls for details on what promised “supportive measures” will include.
    On Monday, Beijing announced that it was lifting the two-child limit in an effort to encourage more child-bearing, weeks after census data confirmed rapid aging and a decline in fertility that puts China on track to see its population, the world’s largest, begin shrinking.
    The major policy shift will include supportive measures “conducive to improving our country’s population structure,” the official Xinhua news agency said.
    “I don’t quite understand.    What’s the meaning of supportive measures?,” asked one Weibo user in a post that received more than 128,000 thumbs-up, the most popular comment on Xinhua’s post on the three-child policy.
    Social media participants cited the high cost of raising children in urban China, where housing can be expensive and children undergo private tuition in addition to public schools amid a fiercely competitive education system, as deterrents to having kids.
    Women in China already face a widening gender gap in terms of workforce participation and earnings, and have borne a growing share of childcare duties as state-supported childcare has declined, according to a report last year by the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    “Working women in the big cities will be further discriminated against, and it would be harder for women over 30s to find jobs,” said another Weibo user.
    The Xinhua readout from Monday’s Politburo meeting chaired by President Xi Jinping said that in conjunction with the new policy China would lower educational costs, step up tax and housing support and guarantee the legal interests of working women, but did not give specifics.
    James Liang, a professor at Peking University’s School of Economics and founder of online travel giant Trip.com Group, last month urged China to give parents of each newborn 1 million yuan to lift a fertility rate of just 1.3 children per woman in 2020.    That rate is in line with countries such as Japan and Italy and far short of the 2.1 replacement rate.
    He said this week that China would need to spend about 5% of GDP, compared with “practically 0% now,” in cash, tax breaks, housing subsidies, day care and other incentives in order to get the fertility rate up to about 1.6, and expects the government soon to step up building day-care centres and kindergartens.
    Developed counties typically spend 1% to 4% of GDP on such support, he said.
    “The one I’d really like to see is the housing subsidy, especially in large cities,” he said.    “If the local government can return (land tax) or give discounts to couples with a third child or second child,” it would be helpful, he said.
UPTICK AND DECLINE
    When China scrapped its one-child policy in 2016 there was a brief uptick in births followed by a decline that has steepened as costs continue to rise.
    Yi Fuxian, a University of Wisconsin scientist and longtime critic of Chinese birth policy, said the decades-long one-child policy entrenched attitudes.
    In Japan, he noted, costly policies such as free childcare and education, housing subsidies for young couples and free medical care for kids helped lift the fertility rate from 1.26 in 2005 to 1.45 in 2015, only for it to drop to 1.36 in 2019.
    “Having just one child or no children has become the social norm in China.    Social and economic patterns cater to the one-child policy, so the inertial effects linger on,” he said.
    The Global Times, a nationalistic tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, acknowledged the difficulty of having three children in big cities but also said economics was not the only factor.
    “It is equally important to change some habitual views of children and family values in a society with a declining birth rate, and to form new expectations and acceptability, as well as views on happiness,” it said in an editorial.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe; Additional reportiny by Sophie Yu and Leng Cheng in Beijing and David Kirton in Shenzhen; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/1/2021 HK Security Dept Annuls Voting Rights Of Next Digital’s Imprisoned Owner
FILE PHOTO: Media mogul Jimmy Lai, founder of Apple Daily, arrives the Court of Final Appeal
by prison van in Hong Kong, China February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    (Reuters) - Media publisher Next Digital Ltd said on Tuesday Hong Kong’s National Security Department confirmed its founder and controlling shareholder, jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai, must not exercise voting rights on shares held by him.
    Lai, who owns a 71.26% stake in Next Digital, can only exercise voting rights under the authority of a license granted by the Secretary for Security, according to the Security Department.
    Lai was arrested in August last year and later charged under the national security law imposed by China.    The pro-democracy activist’s assets were also frozen under the same law.
    The National Security Department had notified Next Digital last week Lai was prohibited from dealing in assets, including shares of the company.
    The media publisher said Lai was not a member of its board and so the voting rights prohibition was not expected to have any impact on its operations and financial performance.
    The company’s shares, which soared more than 300% last Thursday when they resumed trading after a suspension, closed 2.3% lower on Tuesday. (Reporting by Riya Sharma; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

6/1/2021 Exclusive-Amid Divisions, ASEAN Leaders Plan Myanmar Visit This Week by Tom Allard and Panu Wongcha-um
FILE PHOTO: A bird flies near the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) secretariat building,
ahead of the ASEAN leaders' meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, April 23, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA/BANGKOK (Reuters) – The chair and secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plan to travel to Myanmar this week even as the 10-nation bloc remains divided on how to respond to the military coup there, four diplomatic sources said.
    ASEAN, a grouping that includes Myanmar and has a policy of non-interference in the affairs of members, has led the main diplomatic effort to resolve the violent turmoil gripping the country following the overthrow of a democratically-elected government four months ago.
    The military has detained Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and imprisoned political opponents amid a deadly crackdown on protesters, resulting in a growing refugee crisis and the collapse of the economy.
    Erywan Yusof, the second minister for foreign affairs for Brunei, ASEAN’s chair this year, and the bloc’s secretary-general Lim Jock Hoi, also from Brunei, are scheduled to meet this week with leaders of the junta, among other stakeholders, the sources, who asked not to be identified, said.
    The sources warned that a trip could be delayed or derailed by last-minute logistical and diplomatic impediments.
    It is unclear if the pair plan to meet with opponents of the junta, many of whom are imprisoned or in hiding.    Spokesmen for     ASEAN and the Myanmar opposition’s National Unity Government did not respond to requests for comment.    Brunei’s ASEAN mission also did not respond to a request for comment.
    The planned trip comes more than five weeks after ASEAN leaders announced a “five-point consensus” to end violence; promote dialogue; deliver aid; appoint a special envoy; and send a delegation headed by the envoy to Myanmar to meet “with all parties concerned.”
    However, the special envoy has yet to be appointed amid divisions within ASEAN over the best person or persons for the job, the envoy’s mandate and the length of the envoy’s term.
    A “concept paper” released by Brunei to ASEAN members last month proposed the envoy only hold the position for the rest of the year, when it would be reviewed by the next chair of ASEAN, due to be Cambodia, said three sources familiar with its contents.    They said the paper also proposed limiting the envoy’s job to mediating, not basing them in Myanmar, giving them a small staff paid for by the home country of the envoy.
    The conditions were seen by several ASEAN states as fatally undermining the stature and leverage of the envoy, they said.
    Brunei – an oil-rich sultanate of less than 500,000 people with little diplomatic leadership experience – has not responded to the concerns, the sources added.    The envoy represents the chair, so is technically appointed by Brunei, said one diplomat.
    ASEAN operates on consensus decision-making, but it is a diverse grouping of democracies, an absolute monarchy, along with authoritarian and one-party communist states, and it seldom takes a strong stand on issues involving one of its own.
    “ASEAN is haemorrhaging.    There is a lot of intra-ASEAN diplomatic sniping.    There is unhappiness all around,” said one source familiar with negotiations.
JUNTA BUY-IN
    All four diplomatic sources said Indonesia and Thailand, two of ASEAN’s most important members, were at loggerheads over the envoy.
    Indonesia initially favoured a single envoy to lead a task force while Thailand, whose military has close ties to neighbouring Myanmar, pushed for a “friends of the chair” body of multiple representatives, the sources said.
    Spokespeople for the foreign ministries of Indonesia and Thailand declined to comment on their stance.
    The compromise supported by most ASEAN states is for three envoys, likely made up of representatives from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei, two sources said.
    ASEAN foreign ministers will meet in China next week for the annual China-ASEAN summit.    If their disagreement on the envoy isn’t sorted out beforehand, the sources said it was hoped to be finalised on the sidelines of the summit.
    China watered down a UN Security Council resolution on Myanmar but said the current political situation was “absolutely not what China wants to see.” [L1N2KM0RK]
    Since the ASEAN five-point consensus was announced, Myanmar’s junta has said it will only consider the proposals – including a visit from an envoy – once it has restored stability. [L1N2MU0GY]
    The military regime’s position undermined ASEAN’s claim of a unified position, but also reflected diplomatic realities given Myanmar’s membership of the bloc, diplomats and analysts said.
    “All of this only works if there is full buy-in from the junta,” said one regional diplomat.
    ASEAN’s divisions also underpinned its rejection of a draft U.N resolution to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar last week [L2N2NF1PY], said three sources.    Several     ASEAN nations were comfortable with weapons freeze being included in the non-binding resolution, they said, but resistance led by Thailand and Singapore ensured ASEAN requested the clause be removed.
    Singapore’s foreign ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
    There is also conflict among ASEAN states about when to deliver aid to Myanmar, amid fears from some that the early deployment of assistance without any commitment from Myanmar to hold dialogue with its opponents could be exploited by the junta for propaganda purposes, two of the sources said.
(Additional reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/1/2021 Empty Streets And Malls As Malaysia Locks Down by Ebrahim Harris
A view of a deserted bridge during a lockdown amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia began a two-week national lockdown on Tuesday, with police checkpoints on road junctions around the capital Kuala Lumpur as authorities tackle a wave of COVID-19 infections that has hit record levels in recent weeks.
    Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin called it a “total lockdown,” though essential services are allowed and some factories can operate with a reduced workforce.
    The latest outbreak has been more severe, partly due to highly transmissible variants.    It has also strained the health service, prompting some in the capital to question whether enough has been done.
    “For me, the lockdown should have been carried out during Ramadan when there were fewer cases and people didn’t move around as much,” said bank manager Muhammad Azril Maridzuan, referring to the Muslim fasting month that ended in mid-May.
    “Now, people are moving around more.    So it’s a little late but a lockdown is okay to reduce our infection rates,” he said.
    Traffic appeared lighter in parts of the often congested capital with cars moving smoothly around the landmark 88-storey Petronas Twin Towers.
    Another resident also worried about the scope of the latest curbs.
    “I think even with the new restrictions, the airports are still open so there is still a potential that COVID can spread even while the people are struggling (under lockdown) right now,” said Siti, a 25-year-old food delivery rider, who declined to give her full name.
    Malaysia on Monday announced an additional 40 billion ringgit ($9.7 billion) stimulus package ahead of the lockdown, as the finance minister warned on Tuesday that this year’s economic growth forecast of 6%-7.5% may have to be revised down due to the new lockdown measures.
    The number of new daily COVID-19 cases has been greater than India’s on a per capita basis, though infections have come down since hitting a record on Saturday.
    Malaysia reported 7,105 new infections on Tuesday, bringing its total cases to 579,462.
(Reporting by Ebrahim Harris; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/1/2021 Thai Court Approves Bail For Protest Leaders Jailed Over Royal Insult
FILE PHOTO: Police on horses wearing protective face masks pass outside the Grand Palace as Bangkok authorities shut down several entertainment
and recreation places to fight the surge of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, in Bangkok, Thailand April 26, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A court in Thailand on Tuesday approved bail for three leaders of anti-government protests who had been remanded on charges of insulting the country’s powerful king, their lawyer said.
    Human rights lawyer Arnon Nampa, Panupong “Mike” Jadnok and Chukiat “Justin” Saengwong, were given bail on conditions that include they refrain from defaming the monarchy and inciting unrest, said lawyer Krisadang Nutcharat.
    The three are currently being treated in hospital after testing positive for COVID-19, part of a cluster of infections that has struck the country’s jails.
    Arnon and Panupong would be discharged later on Tuesday, Krisadang said, but would need to a COVID-19 test and to self-isolate at home for 14 days, in line with health guidelines.
    Chukiat would remain in custody as he still had other detention orders from different legal cases, Krisadang said.
    The three activists, alongside several others, are being prosecuted for lese majeste or insulting the monarchy, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison for each offence.
    They have denied the charges.
    Arnon was remanded in early February, followed by Panupong and Chukiat a month later.    Chukiat is now the last of the protest leader yet to be released from detention.
    The student-led demonstrations last year made once-unthinkable calls for reforming Thailand’s monarchy, considered by many conservatives to be sacrosanct.
    They also demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army chief and staunch royalist who first came to power in a 2014 coup.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Ed Davies)

6/1/2021 Philippine Court Dismisses Libel Case Vs Journalist Ressa
FILE PHOTO: Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa arrives at a Manila Regional Trial Court
for cyber libel charges in Manila, Philippines, March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – A Philippine court on Tuesday dismissed a cyber libel case against award-winning journalist Maria Ressa, which was one of several lawsuits against her and news site Rappler, which have put President Rodrigo Duterte under tough scrutiny.
    A second libel case filed late last year by businessman Wilfredo Keng, who had accused Ressa of sharing screenshots of a 2002 news article linking him to crimes, was withdrawn by the complainant.
    Rappler chief Ressa has said the charges against her were ludicrous.
    She was convicted in June in an earlier cyber libel case filed by Keng over the same article that Rappler cited in its own story in 2012, a ruling that was widely seen as a blow to media freedom.
    Ressa faces up to six years in jail but has appealed the ruling.
    She and Rappler are dealing with several other cases, including alleged tax offences and violation of foreign ownership rules in media.
    “I’m glad to hear good news.    I look forward to seeing the rest of the cases against me and Rappler dropped in the future,” Ressa said in a statement on Tuesday.
    Keng’s legal counsels did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment and clarification about the complaint withdrawal.
    Keng “decided to redirect his focus towards helping out with the pandemic, instead of being preoccupied with the prosecution of this case,” according to a Rappler report, citing a May 25 motion filed by the complainant.
    Judge Andres Soriano of the Makati Regional Trial Court, in a written order, said that with the complainant himself seeking dismissal “the prosecution can no longer prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.”
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Martin Petty)

6/1/2021 Hong Kong Regulators Tells Banks, Asset Managers To Get Staff Vaccinated
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Central Business District, including the Bank of China Tower (center L)
and China Construction Bank (CCB) Tower are seen in Hong Kong December 26, 2014. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s financial regulators on Tuesday told banks, brokers and asset managers to identify staff in key roles and encourage them to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as part of their business continuity planning.
    Authorities in the financial hub are struggling to boost the inoculation rate among the city’s 7.5 million population, and Hong Kong’s government, on Monday, said it would offer vaccinated civil servants two days off as an incentive for getting a shot.
    Banks in the city should submit a list of staff in key roles who will receive a vaccine to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), Arthur Yuen deputy chief executive of the banking regulator said in a letter to all authorised banks in the city published on the HKMA’s website on Tuesday.
    The staff on the list should include those who have frequent face-to-face interactions with customers and those responsible for critical IT, data centre, treasury and settlement operations.
    Yuen, who urged banks to offer staff additional incentives for inoculation, said a high vaccination rate was necessary for restarting international travel. He said this was crucial to maintain Hong Kong’s status as an international finance centre.
    In a separate Tuesday circular, markets watchdog the Securities and Futures Commission said the companies it licences are “strongly encouraged to consider vaccination as a critical part of operational risk management.”
    Hong Kong on Friday said vaccinated top executives of SFC licenced-companies could be exempted from compulsory quarantine arrangements when travelling for work, subject to certain conditions.
    Roughly 21% of Hong Kong’s population aged 16 and above has had at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, based on official figures.
(Reporting by Alun John. Editing by Jane Merriman)

6/1/2021 U.S. Concerned At Chinese Military Presence In Cambodia, Urges ‘Balanced’ Foreign Policy
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks during a press briefing with Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar
following their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, May 31, 2021. Courtesy of Okta/Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via REUTERS
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The most senior U.S. official to visit Cambodia in years expressed concern on Tuesday about China’s military presence there and sought clarification on the demolition of U.S.-funded buildings, the State Department said.
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, who met veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen, urged Cambodia’s leadership to “maintain an independent and balanced foreign policy, in the best interests of the Cambodian people
    Hun Sen, who has ruled for over 35 years, has become increasingly chose to China as the United States has condemned human rights abuses and his demolition of the political opposition.
    The Pentagon said last year it was worried about reports that the Cambodian Navy tactical headquarters at Ream Naval Base had been demolished and had asked Cambodia for an explanation.
    The building, roughly 30 metres (100 feet) long, had housed several small patrol boats.
    In October, Cambodia said it had razed the building to allow for further expansion and would relocate the demolished facility, denying reports of Chinese involvement.
    “Deputy Secretary Sherman expressed serious concerns about the PRC’s (China’s) military presence and construction of facilities at Ream Naval Base on the Gulf of Thailand,” the State Department said in a statement.
    “She sought clarification on the demolition of two U.S.-funded buildings at Ream without notification or explanation and observed that a PRC military base in Cambodia would undermine its sovereignty, threaten regional security, and negatively impact U.S.-Cambodia relations.”    The visit took place as China has become an increasingly important economic and political ally for Cambodia.
    Ties between China and the United States have also deteriorated, over a range of issues, including human rights, trade, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims and its military expansion into the South China Sea.
    Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan called for dialogue.
    “There are some issues that the United States doesn’t understand clearly about Cambodia and that Cambodia does not understand the intentions of the United States,” Phay Siphan told Reuters before the meeting with Hun Sen.
    Sherman, who also met opposition leader Kem Sokha, civil society groups and journalists, had faced calls for her to bring up human rights and the country’s record on media freedom.
    Sherman’s trip is the first by such a senior U.S. official since well before Kem Sokha’s opposition party was banned in 2017.    A wider crackdown has targeted rights activists for speaking up about other issues such as illegal logging.
    Sherman emphasized the importance of human rights and urged Cambodia to abide by international commitments, the State Department said.
    “We hope this trip is a reminder to the Cambodian regime that the U.S. continues to be vigilant about rights and the destruction of democracy in Cambodia as well as Cambodia’s role in being a responsible actor in the region,” opposition official Monovithya Kem, Kem Sokha’s daughter, told Reuters.
(Reporting by Prak Chan ThulEditing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)

6/1/2021 China Reports First Human Case Of H10N3 Bird Flu by Dominique Patton and Hallie Gu
FILE PHOTO: Workers vaccinate chicks with the H9 bird flu vaccine at a farm in
Changfeng county, Anhui province, April 14, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) -A 41-year-old man in China’s eastern province of Jiangsu has been confirmed as the first human case of infection with the H10N3 strain of bird flu, China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said on Tuesday.br>     The man, a resident of the city of Zhenjiang, was hospitalised on April 28 after developing a fever and other symptoms, the NHC said in a statement.
    He was diagnosed as having the H10N3 avian influenza virus on May 28, it said, but did not give details on how the man had been infected with the virus.
    The man was stable and ready to be discharged from hospital.    Medical observation of his close contacts had not found any other cases.
    H10N3 is a low pathogenic, or relatively less severe, strain of the virus in poultry and the risk of it spreading on a large scale was very low, the NHC added.
    The strain is “not a very common virus,” said Filip Claes, regional laboratory coordinator of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases at the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
    Only around 160 isolates of the virus were reported in the 40 years to 2018, mostly in wild birds or waterfowl in Asia and some limited parts of North America, and none had been detected in chickens so far, he added.
    Analysing the genetic data of the virus will be necessary to determine whether it resembles older viruses or if it is a novel mix of different viruses, Claes said.
    Many different strains of avian influenza are present in China and some sporadically infect people, usually those working with poultry.    There have been no significant numbers of human infections with bird flu since the H7N9 strain killed around 300 people during 2016-2017.
    No other cases of human infection with H10N3 have previously been reported globally, the NHC said.
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Richard Pullin and Barbara Lewis)

6/1/2021 Japan Finance Minister Does Not Expect G7 Meet To Debate Specific Tax Rates by Tetsushi Kajimoto
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Taro Aso, wearing a protective face mask, delivers his policy speech
at the opening of an ordinary session of the parliament in Tokyo, Japan January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Finance leaders from the Group of Seven rich countries have narrowed their difference of opinions over global taxation but they are unlikely to debate specific figures on minimum tax rates at their weekend meeting, Finance Minister Taro Aso said.
    Aso said he is planning on a bilateral meeting with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on the sidelines of the June 4-5 G7 meeting in Britain, although the details weren’t finalised.
    The G7 will vow this week to support their economies as they emerge from the pandemic and reach an “ambitious” deal on a minimum global corporate tax in July, a draft communique showed.
    This tax would aim to solve the problem of large companies that generate huge revenues but pay very little tax because they set up offices for tax purposes in low-tax jurisdictions.
    “I don’t think the June meeting would reach a debate on specific figures,” Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
    Asked about Japan’s position on minimum global tax and how he would address Japan’s stance in a meeting with Yellen at G7, Aso did not elaborate further, saying that the matter has not been put formally on agenda.
    However, “the difference of opinions has narrowed over global taxation,” he added.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Additional reporting by Kentaro Sugiyama; Editing by Shri Navaratnam & Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/2/2021 China’s Xi Calls For Greater Global Media Reach
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin via a video link,
from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 2, 2019. Noel Celis/Pool via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China President Xi Jinping said the country must improve the way it tells its “stories” to a global audience as it seeks to develop an international voice that reflects its status on the world stage, official news agency Xinhua reported.
    Speaking at a Communist Party study meeting, Xi said it was crucial for China to improve its ability to spread its messages globally in order to present a "true, three-dimensional and comprehensive China," Xinhua said on Tuesday.
    China needed to develop an “international voice” to match its national strength and global status, Xinhua said, citing Xi.    It also needed to strengthen propaganda efforts to help foreigners understand the Chinese Communist Party and the way it “strives for the happiness of the Chinese people.”
    The country needed to create a team of professionals and adopt “precise communication methods” for different regions, he said.
    China’s relationship with foreign media has become increasingly tense in recent years, with local news outlets such as the Global Times often singling out foreign reporters for what it says is biased and unfair coverage.
    Several journalists working for U.S. news organisations were expelled last year as relations between the two sides deteriorated.
    China has also banned BBC World News from mainland Chinese television networks following criticism of the British broadcaster’s coverage of human rights in the northwestern region of Xinjiang as well as the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

6/2/2021 Australia’s Victoria State Extends COVID-19 Lockdown In Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a "Stay Safe Melbourne" sign on a mostly-empty city centre street on the first day of a seven-day lockdown as the state of
Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Melbourne, Australia, May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state on Wednesday extended a COVID-19 lockdown in state capital Melbourne for another week in a bid to contain the latest virus outbreak, but eased restrictions in other regions.
    The lockdown, imposed on May 27 after the state reported its first locally acquired coronavirus cases, had been scheduled to end Thursday night. It will now end on June 10.
    The state reported six new locally acquired cases on Wednesday, versus nine a day earlier, taking the total infections in the latest outbreak to 60.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

6/2/2021 EU To Add Japan To Safe Travel List, Leave UK Off For Now by Philip Blenkinsop
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing protective face masks walk at Fiumicino Airport on the day EU governments agreed a "safe list" of 14 countries for which they will
allow non-essential travel starting from July, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Rome, Italy, June 30, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is set to add Japan to its small list of “safe” countries from which it will allow non-essential travel, but will hold off opening the door to British tourists for now, EU sources said on Tuesday.
    Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 countries are expected to approve adding Japan at a meeting on Wednesday, while Britain will be left off because of a rise in COVID-19 cases due to an infectious coronavirus variant first identified in India.
    Under current restrictions, people from only seven countries, including Australia, Israel and Singapore, can enter the EU on holiday, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.
    Individual EU countries can still choose to demand a negative COVID-19 test or a period of quarantine.
    The EU last month eased criteria for adding new countries to the list, by changing to 75 from 25 the maximum number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people in the previous 14 days.    The trend should also be stable or decreasing, with variants of concern taken into account.
    EU health experts considered both Japan and Britain at a meeting on Monday, but representatives from a number of countries voiced opposition to adding Britain now.
    Cases of the Indian variant doubled last week and the government has said it is too early to say whether Britain can fully drop COVID-19 restrictions on June 21.
    Depending on the course of the variant, Britain could still enter the safe travel list on June 14, when a larger number of countries are expected to be considered, EU sources said.
    The list is designed to ensure consistency across the bloc, although that has been lacking.
    France and Germany have imposed quarantines on UK visitors and Austria banned British tourists, while Portugal and Spain have started welcoming them.
    Britain requires all EU visitors, except those from Portugal, to undergo quarantine.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/2/2021 Hundreds Evacuated In New Zealand’s Canterbury Region Floods by Praveen Menon
Floodwaters are pictured following a period of severe flooding in the South Island's Canterbury region,
in Selwyn Huts, New Zealand, June 1, 2021. Chris Skelton/Pool via REUTERS
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Hundreds of people were evacuated overnight and many more face the risk of abandoning their homes in New Zealand’s Canterbury region as heavy rains raised water levels and caused widespread flooding.
    At least 300 homes in Canterbury were evacuated overnight as water levels rose in rivers across the region in a “one-in-100-year deluge,” local media reports said on Monday.
    Several highways, schools and offices were closed and New Zealand’s Defence Forces deployed helicopters to rescue some people stranded in floods in the Ashburton area.
    Ashburton’s Mayor Neil Brown said “half of Ashburton” would need to be evacuated if the river’s levees broke but there was “still quite a bit of capacity” in the river.
    “We need it to stop raining to let those rivers drop,” said Brown, according to the New Zealand Herald.
    New Zealand’s MetService had issued a red warning on Sunday for heavy rain for Canterbury and multiple warnings elsewhere.
    The government announced NZ$100,000 ($72,500) towards a Mayoral Relief Fund to support Canterbury communities impacted by the flooding, Kris Faafoi, the acting minister for emergency management said in a statement.
    “While it is still very early to know the full cost of the damage, we expect it to be significant and this initial contribution will help those communities to start to get back on their feet,” said Faafoi.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Diane Craft)

6/2/2021 WHO Approves Sinovac COVID Shot In Second Chinese Milestone by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker holds a dose of the Sinovac vaccine at a district health facility as Indonesia begins mass vaccination for the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), starting with its healthcare workers, in Jakarta, Indonesia January 14, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    GENEVA (Reuters) -The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it has approved a COVID-19 vaccine made by Sinovac Biotech for emergency use listing, paving the way for a second Chinese shot to be used in poor countries.
    A WHO emergency listing is a signal to national regulators of a product’s safety and efficacy and will allow the Sinovac shot to be included in COVAX, the global programme providing vaccines mainly for poor countries, which faces major supply problems due to curbs on Indian exports.
    The WHO’s independent panel of experts said in a statement it recommended Sinovac’s vaccine for adults over 18.    There was no upper age limit as data suggested it is likely to have a protective effect in older people.
    The WHO’s technical advisory group, which began meeting on May 5, made the decision after reviewing the latest clinical data on the Sinovac vaccine’s safety and efficacy as well as the company’s manufacturing practices.
    WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the move, calling the vaccine safe and effective and noting its easy storage requirements make it suitable for low-income countries.
    “It’s now crucial to get these lifesaving tools to the people that need them quickly,” he told a briefing.
    Branded CoronaVac in some regions, it is the eighth vaccine to win such a WHO listing to combat COVID-19 and the second developed by a Chinese company, after the May 7 approval of a shot developed by state-backed Sinopharm.
    While a third Chinese vaccine, produced by CanSino Biologics, has submitted clinical trial data, no WHO review has been scheduled.
    Sinovac said that it had supplied more than 600 million doses of its vaccine at home and abroad as of end-May and over 430 million doses have been administered.
BIG BOOST
    The endorsement is a big boost for Sinovac’s vaccine after data in clinical trials showed a wide range of efficacy rates.
    The WHO said results showed it prevented symptomatic disease in 51% of those vaccinated and prevented severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation in 100% of the studied population.
    The WHO’s separate Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) had said previously that vaccine efficacy in multi-country Phase III clinical trials ranged from 51% to 84%.
    Indonesia said on May 12 that its study of 120,000 healthcare workers who had received the vaccine found it was 94% effective at preventing symptomatic disease.
    In a preliminary evaluation, the SAGE panel found that the shot was effective in preventing COVID-19 in adults under 60, but that some quality data on the risk of serious adverse effects was lacking.
    It cited evidence gaps in safety in pregnancy, and on safety and clinical protection in older adults, those with underlying disease, and evaluation of rare adverse events.
    SAGE experts, who issue policy recommendations to states and dosage guidelines, reviewed Sinovac clinical data last month.
    Sinovac chairman and chief executive Weidong Yin said in a statement that clinical trials had provided a “solid scientific foundation” for the drugmaker’s shot to be approved by more than 40 countries and by the WHO.
    China has already deployed hundreds of millions of doses of both Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines at home and exported them to many countries, particularly in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu; Writing by Josephine Mason; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexander Smith)

6/2/2021 Demonstrations, Defiance As Myanmar Marks 4 Months Since Coup
People displaced by fighting in north-western Myanmar between junta forces and anti-junta fighters
are seen at a camp in Chin State, Myanmar, May 31, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) - Pro-democracy demonstrators took to the streets in towns around Myanmar on Tuesday to denounce the country’s military, marking four months since it ousted an elected government and unleashed a wave of nationwide anger.
    Despite a bloody crackdown by security forces, Myanmar’s military is still struggling to impose order amid protests and strikes, and fighting on multiple fronts in border regions as civilians take up arms against the junta.
    Protests took place in the south in Luang Lone, several areas of the Sagaing division including Kale and Monywa, and the commercial hub Yangon, according to images carried by mainstream and social media.
    “This is not over yet.    We still have our turn,” read a sign carried by one protester.
    Schools officially reopened across Myanmar for the first time since the Feb. 1 coup, but turnout was low due to security concerns and a boycott over the junta’s suspension of tens of thousands of teachers opposed to its rule.
    Some students held demonstrations with blood-splattered white uniforms.
    Security forces have killed 840 people since the coup, according to figures from activists cited by the United Nations.    The junta says about 300 people have died.
    The military, known as the Tatmadaw, says it seized power because of fraud in a November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party.
    The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper carried a quote from junta leader Min Aung Hlaing on Tuesday saying the current crisis was caused by “dishonesty of democracy” in the election, under a large headline that said “Tatmadaw values democracy
    The military’s use of lethal force against its own people has caused outrage among western countries, and concern among its neighbours.    In April, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) announced a five-point consensus towards resolving the crisis, though no timeframe was agreed.
    But four diplomatic sources have told Reuters that the chair and secretary-general of ASEAN are planning to visit Myanmar this week, to meet junta leaders, among other stakeholders.
    It was not clear if they would meet detainees or members of a shadow unity government formed to challenge the junta and undercut its efforts to gain international recognition.
HEAVY TOLL
    The unrest has taken a heavy toll in the countryside, where clashes between Myanmar’s well-equipped military and ethnic minority armies or newly formed People’s Defence Forces have displaced tens of thousands of people.
    On Tuesday, a local aid group said 8,000 people were in camps having fled the town of Mindat in Chin State, which the army took control of last month after days of clashes with militias armed mostly with hunting rifles.
    The people’s militias have stepped up ambushes in recent weeks on troops in Kayah state bordering Thailand, where witnesses said fierce fighting and retaliatory shelling and air strikes had taken place late on Monday in the town of Demoso.
    A resident shared video and images with Reuters of soldiers he said were killed in Demoso late on Monday.    He said he saw six bodies and residents had counted 20.
    The Karenni Nationalities Defence Force said on its Facebook page that 80 army soldiers had been killed on Monday, while one of its fighters and a civilian were also casualties.
    Reuters could not verify the information and a spokesman for the junta did not answer calls seeking comment.
    Myanmar state television made no mention of the Demoso unrest in its nightly news bulletin.
    Fighting in Kayah has displaced about 37,000 people in recent weeks, according to the United Nations.    Many have fled into jungles and are in need of food and medicine.
    The Elders, a group of former national leaders founded by the late Nelson Mandela, on Tuesday called on the international community, including ASEAN, to turn up pressure on the junta.
    “Myanmar is currently on a dangerous path towards state failure,” its chair, Mary Robinson, said in a statement.
    “Allowing the coup to succeed through inaction and disregard would further undermine the international rules-based order upon which global stability depends.”
(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and Martin PettyEditing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

6/2/2021 Thailand Welcomes Back Stolen Artefacts After San Francisco Forfeiture
The Bangkok National Museum holds a ceremony to celebrate the return of two ancient relics, believed to have been stolen
from Thailand about 60 years ago, from the United States, in Bangkok, Thailand May 31, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand held a welcoming ceremony on Monday to mark the return of two ancient hand-carved artefacts that were stolen decades ago and smuggled out of the country to the United States.
    The two 680 kg (1,500 lb) Khmer-style stone carvings had been on display at the Asian Arts Museum in San Francisco, which was required to forfeit them when a settlement was reached in February between the U.S. government and San Francisco authorities.
    Thailand had informed the United States in 2017 that the lintels, which date back to the 10th and 11th century, had been stolen.
    “Today is the day that they are finally returned to their home country and displayed here,” Thai culture minister Itthiphol Kunplome said at the Bangkok ceremony.
    The sandstone lintels were once parts of the structure of two religious sanctuaries in Thailand’s northeast.    The government will assess whether they can be returned to their original locations.
    “This is a legal battle that has set an excellent example for the museums that still own Thai artefacts illegally because they know they will lose the case,” said Tanongsak Hanwong, who located the artefacts and pushed for their return.
    “Many museums have chosen to reach out to begin the return process instead of going into the legal process.”
(Reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan and Vorasit Satienlerk; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Giles Elgood)

6/2/2021 Explainer-The Cost Of Having A Child In China
Children play next to adults at a park in Beijing, China June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Married Chinese couples can have up to three children, China announced on Monday, in a major shift from the limit of two after recent data showed a dramatic decline in births in the world’s most populous country.
    The cost of raising a child in urban China has deterred many would-be parents, and China’s fertility rate has fallen to just 1.3 children per woman, despite Beijing’s scrapping of the one-child policy in 2016.
    Below are some of the costs of raising a child in China’s big cities.
MATERNAL COSTS
    The costs of giving birth in public hospitals in China, including prenatal tests and deliveries, are usually covered by state insurance, but resources are tight at public hospitals and more Chinese women are turning to private clinics, which can charge more than 100,000 yuan ($15,700).
    Well-off families typically hire an in-house nursemaid, or yuesao, to look after the mother and baby in the first month, at about 15,000 yuan.    As incomes rise in     China, new mothers are also flocking to expensive postpartum centres that offer professional care and services.    One such facility in Beijing’s Wangfujing district costs from 150,000 to 350,000 yuan per month.
HOUSING AND EDUCATION
    After feeding their children milk formula imported from Australia and New Zealand and sending them to early childhood education centres, well-off parents seek apartments in districts with good schools such as Beijing’s Haidian, where housing costs an average of over 90,000 yuan per square meter, on par with median prices in Manhattan.
    Those not eligible for public schools because they lack a hukou, or residency permit, must attend private schools, which cost from 40,000 to 250,000 yuan per year.
    Anxious parents, most of them investing in their only child, sign kids up for private tutoring and to extracurriculars such as piano, tennis or chess classes.
    Competition is so fierce that a popular term in parenting circles – jiwa, or “chicken baby” – refers to parents pumping energy boosting “chicken blood” into their kids by loading them up with extracurricular classes.
    In order to ease pressure on children and boost birth rates by lowering family education costs, China has launched a clampdown on the country’s booming private tutoring industry.
    According to a 2019 Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences report, an average family living in Shanghai’s upscale Jingan District spends almost 840,000 yuan per child from birth through junior high school, which typically ends at age 15, including 510,000 on education alone.
    Low-income families in Shanghai’s Jingan and Minhang districts, which have annual incomes under 50,000 yuan, spend over 70% of earnings on the child, the report said.
‘LYING DOWN’
    High costs and the pressures of having grown up as only children, as well as the expectation that they will support their parents, have made many young people reluctant to have kids of their own.
    New buzzwords capturing young people’s outlook often crop up on social media, including the recent “tang ping,” or “lying down,” which reflects disillusionment with a society beset by “involution,” another catchphrase referring to the state of being stuck in meaningless competition.
    That came after the rise of “sang” culture, which revels in often-ironic defeatism, and “Buddhist youth,” which refers to young people’s laissez-faire attitude to life.
($1 = 6.3667 yuan)
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Tony Munroe; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/3/2021 Japan PM Suga Seen Calling Snap Election After Tokyo Games – Asahi by Leika Kihara
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference after the
government's decision to exted a state of emergency amid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at the
prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan May 28, 2021. Behrouz Mehri/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is likely to call a snap election after the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, a media report said, showing his resolve to push ahead with the Games despite the country’s struggle to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The government is considering crafting a new economic stimulus package before the expected snap election, the Asahi newspaper said on Thursday, citing several anonymous ruling party executives.
    Suga agreed on Wednesday with the head of his ruling coalition partner not to extend the current parliament session when it closes on June 16, according to media reports.
    That means Japan will forgo compiling a supplementary budget for now and tap nearly 4 trillion yen ($36.50 billion) left in reserves to pay for immediate spending to combat the pandemic, the Asahi said.
    “It’s obvious we need an extra budget, but parliament is closing so we don’t have time to pass it,” ruling party lawmaker Shoji Nishida told Reuters last week.
    “But there should be debate within the party on compiling another stimulus package and an extra budget,” he said.
    Government officials were not immediately available to comment on the Asahi report.
    Suga has said he would focus on dealing with the pandemic, and that Japan will go ahead with the Games under strict virus-protection measures.
    Some ruling party lawmakers have called on the government to boost spending to revive an economy hit by new state of emergency curbs to prevent the spread of the virus.
    Slow vaccine rollouts and strong public opposition to holding the Games have led to a plunge in Suga’s support ratings, heightening uncertainty over his administration’s fate.
    With the Tokyo Olympic Games starting on July 23, the most likely scenario is for Suga to dissolve parliament after the Sept. 5 end of the Paralympic Games and call a snap election, the Asahi said.
($1 = 109.5900 yen)
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Additional reporting by Daniel Leussink; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Lincoln Feast.)

6/3/2021 Hundreds Of Myanmar Activists Hold Flash Mob Protest Against Military Rule
Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger salute during a
flash mob protest in Yangon, Myanmar June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Around 400 pro-democracy supporters took to the streets of downtown Yangon on Thursday to stage one of the biggest recent demonstrations against military rule in Myanmar’s commercial hub and largest city.
    Despite a crackdown by security forces, the military is still struggling to impose order more than four months after overthrowing Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government in a coup and arresting her and senior members of her party.
    “We gathered at the protest today in order to show that we won’t allow them to rule us,” Zayar Lwin, an activist and former political prisoner who attended the rally, told Reuters.
    Demonstrators in urban areas have had to become more nimble to avoid security forces, often using flash mobs that quickly disperse, after big rallies in the first months after the coup were frequently met with troops or police firing live rounds.
    Zayar Lwin pledged that protests against the coup would continue, although he said it was now harder to organise them due to a heavy security presence in Yangon.
    “The minimum risk is we could be arrested and the greatest danger is to be killed,” said the activist, who said only two people had been arrested at Thursday’s rally that lasted around five minutes.
    Security forces have killed 842 people since the coup, according to figures from an activist group.    The junta said last month the toll was nearer 300, including 47 police.
    As well as in urban areas, the unrest has taken a heavy toll in the countryside, where clashes between Myanmar’s well-equipped military and ethnic minority armies or newly formed People’s Defence Forces have displaced tens of thousands of people.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff, Writing by Ed Davies, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/3/2021 Rohingya Muslim Refugees ‘Injured In Protests’ On Isolated Island During UNHCR Visit by Zeba Siddiqui and Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees sit on wooden benches of a navy vessel on their way to the
Bhasan Char island in Noakhali district, Bangladesh, December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar, angry at living conditions on a remote Bangladeshi island, suffered baton injuries as they protested against the lack of access to a visiting U.N. team, two of the refugees said.
    The Rohingya, who fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, cannot move off the flood-prone island of Bhasan Char, several hours away from the mainland by sea.
    A two-member delegation from the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) was joined by Bangladesh foreign ministry officials on Monday on the visit to Bhasan Char, where Bangladesh wants to transfer 100,000 of the more than a million refugees who fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.
    Two refugees told Reuters by phone that they protested because Bangladesh had blocked them from speaking to the UNHCR delegates.
    “They only allowed the delegates to meet a few refugees who would not say anything critical against Bangladesh,” said Ali, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisals from authorities.
    “We wanted to speak to the U.N. officials to tell them about the real situation here,” he added.    “We don’t have work … how will we earn?    And there is also no proper healthcare here.”
    They said hundreds of refugees protested and were baton-charged by police.
    Despite criticism from rights groups, Bangladesh has already moved some 18,000 Rohingya to the island.
    The UNHCR said it “had the opportunity to talk to a large group of refugees, predominantly young men,” adding they had raised concerns about a lack of access to jobs and education.    It said in a statement it was “deeply concerned” to learn of injuries.
    Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said a large number of Rohingya gathered and launched a demonstration during the UNHCR visit.
    “At one point, the crowd got agitated and in the process some of the Rohingya reportedly got minor injuries,” it said in a statement.    It said the crowd had “free and frank interactions” with the U.N. officials.
    Myanmar is facing genocide charges at the international court of justice in The Hague over the 2017 campaign against the Rohingya.    The military denies the charges, saying it was waging a legitimate campaign against insurgents who attacked police posts.
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI and Ruma Paul in DHAKA; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/3/2021 Budapest Names Streets At Planned Chinese University After Uyghurs, Hong Kong by Anita Komuves
Activists hold a Tibetan flag next to a sign in a street renamed 'Dalai Lama', near the planned
site of Chinese Fudan University campus, in Budapest, Hungary, June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    BUDAPEST (Reuters) -The liberal opposition mayor of Budapest announced on Wednesday he would rename streets in the Hungarian capital near a planned campus of a Chinese university to commemorate alleged human rights abuses by Beijing.
    One street will be named after the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, labelled a dangerous separatist by     Beijing.    Another will be called “Uyghur Martyrs’ Road” after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that Washington and other capitals say has been victim of a Chinese genocide, and a third will be called “Free Hong Kong Road.”    A fourth street will be renamed after a Chinese Catholic bishop who was jailed.
    China denies repressing human rights.
    “A few Hungarian politicians are trying to hype up China-related issues in order to grab attention and obstruct China-Hungary cooperation.    This behaviour is contemptible,” said Wang Wenbin, China’s foreign ministry spokesman.
    The renamed streets will converge at an area where China’s Fudan University is planning to open a campus offering masters programmes in liberal arts, medicine, business and engineering for 6,000 students with 500 faculty.
    “This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago” at the fall of Communism, said Mayor Gergely Karacsony, a liberal opposition figure who plans to run next year to unseat Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister.
    Orban’s liberal opponents accuse him of coshing up to China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while angering European allies by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.
    Central European University, Hungary’s leading private university, relocated most operations to neighbouring Austria in 2019 after Orban’s government enacted legal changes that jeopardised its status and launched a public hate campaign against its founder, businessman George Soros.
    Karacsony told reporters the Chinese campus would cost Hungarian taxpayers nearly $2 billion and went against an earlier deal with the government to build dormitories and facilities for Hungarian students in the district.
    The government has defended the project: “The presence of Fudan University means that it will be possible to learn from the best in the world,” Tama Schanda, deputy minister for innovation and technology said last week.
    According to an opinion poll by liberal think tank Republikon Institute published on Tuesday, 66% of Hungarians oppose and 27% support the idea of the campus.
    “Fudan has brought the topic of relations with China to the forefront of politics,” said Tamas Matura, a lecturer at Corvinus University and expert on China.
    Orban has faced criticism over a deal to reconstruct the Budapest-Belgrade railway with a $2.1 billion Chinese loan, and for his fast-track approval of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine which still has not been approved in the EU. His government says the Chinese doses have helped accelerate the vaccine programme, and the road funding will improve Hungary’s transport links. ($1 = 284.6200 forints)
(Reporting by Anita Komuves, Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Krisztina Than and Peter Graff)

6/3/2021 Ahead Of Tiananmen Anniversary, Taiwan Urges China To Return Power To The People
FILE PHOTO: A paramilitary police officer stands guard on Tiananmen Square shrouded in smog,
before the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall
of the People on a polluted day in Beijing, China March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan urged China on Thursday to return power to the people and embark on real political reform rather than avoid facing up to the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.
    Friday marks 32 years since Chinese troops opened fire to end the student-led unrest in and around the square.    Chinese authorities ban any public commemoration of the event on the mainland.
    The government has never released a full death toll, but estimates from human rights groups and witnesses range from several hundred to several thousand.
    The government of democratically ruled and Chinese-claimed Taiwan, in a statement on the anniversary’s eve, said Beijing was avoiding an apology over what had happened or reflection on its mistakes.
    “We express regret, and call on the other side to implement people-centred political reforms, stop suppressing people’s democratic demands, and return power to the people as soon as possible,” the Taiwanese government said.
    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin dismissed comments about the anniversary.
    “The great achievements made since the founding of new China more than 70 years ago fully demonstrate that China’s choice of development path is completely correct,” he said, referring to the founding of Communist China in 1949.
    Calling China’s ruling Communist Party a “one-party dictatorship,” the Taiwanese council said Beijing’s repression at home and in Hong Kong had deviated from universal values and international rules.
    “They not only deepen the deep-seated social contradictions in their own society, increasing the difficulty of systemic reform, but also create a risk of conflict, affecting regional security and stability.”
    Taiwan tends to use the Tiananmen Square anniversary to criticise China and urge it to face up to what it did, to Beijing’s repeated annoyance.    China claims Taiwan as its own territory, to be taken by force if necessary.
    On Friday, activists will mark the Tiananmen anniversary with at least one public event in Taipei, although considerably scaled down from previous years due to a spike in COVID-19 cases on the island.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/3/2021 Taiwan Says In Vaccine Talks With Pfizer And J&J by Ju-min Park and Mari Saito
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu attends a news conference for foreign
journalists in Taipei, Taiwan April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Taiwan is in talks with COVID-19 vaccine makers like Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson for more supplies, its foreign minister said on Thursday while expressing appreciation to Japan for considering donating much needed shots.
    Taiwan has been a model for how to control the pandemic, but a recent spike in domestic infections has increased the need to inoculate people faster.
    During a video call with international media in Japan, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu repeated complaints that China, which claims the island as its own territory, has hampered efforts to secure more vaccines, and kept Taiwan excluded from the World Health Organisation.
    So far, Taiwan has received only the Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc vaccines.    But Wu said his government was “negotiating with individual companies like Pfizer” and J&J, while expressing confidence in its domestic vaccine rollout.
    “When and if our own vaccines are rolled out toward the end of July, I think this will become the most important supply for the vaccine demand here in Taiwan,” Wu said.
    Johnson & Johnson was not immediately available for comment.
    Responding to Reuters request for comment, Pfizer said: “As Taiwan is outside the scope of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine collaboration agreement with BioNTech, we will have to refer you to BioNTech for any questions on this matter.”
    BioNTech did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Wu did confirm, however, that the German government has helped with talks underway between Taiwan and BioNTech SE, after a deal fell through earlier this year.
    Taiwan had blamed China for blocking that deal. Beijing, which has offered to supply Chinese-made vaccines as well as BioNTech shots via the German firm’s Chinese partner Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, has denied that accusation.
    Wu also cited Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi as saying that Japan is “seriously and positively” considering donating vaccines to Taiwan.    “Taiwan and Japan are always very good partners.    And in times of difficulties, we always try to reach out to each other,” Wu said.
    Japan plans to donate about 1.2 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Taiwan, public broadcaster NHK reported.
    About 3% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have been inoculated, and the government has been scrambling to ensure the millions of vaccines it has ordered arrive on time amid global shortages.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Mari Saito; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

6/4/2021 Fauci Calls On China To Release Medical Records Of Wuhan Lab Workers – FT
FILE PHOTO: Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, gives an
opening statement during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing to discuss the on-going federal
response to COVID-19, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 11, 2021. Greg Nash/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has called on China to release the medical records of nine people whose ailments might provide vital clues into whether COVID-19 first emerged as the result of a lab leak, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.
    “I would like to see the medical records of the three people who are reported to have got sick in 2019.    Did they really get sick, and if so, what did they get sick with?” the report https://on.ft.com/3igFTgU quoted Fauci as saying about three of the nine.
    The origin of the virus is hotly contested, with U.S. intelligence agencies still examining reports that researchers at a Chinese virology laboratory in Wuhan were seriously ill in 2019 a month before the first COVID-19 cases were reported.
    However, Chinese scientists and officials have consistently rejected the lab leak hypothesis, saying the virus could have been circulating in other regions before it hit Wuhan and might have even entered China through imported frozen food shipments or wildlife trading.
    A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, Wang Wenbin, declined to comment directly on whether China would release the records of the nine but firmly denied that the laboratory was linked to the outbreak of COVID-19.
    At a regular briefing on Friday, he referred to a March 23 statement from the Wuhan Institute of Virology that said no staff or graduates were confirmed to have contracted the virus.
    Wang reiterated China’s position that reports of a lab leak are a “conspiracy theory.”
    Financial Times reported that Fauci continues to believe the virus was first transmitted to humans through animals, pointing out that even if the lab researchers did have COVID-19, they could have contracted the disease from the wider population.
(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

6/4/2021 Pakistan Seeks Afghan Settlement Before Foreign Troop Pullout: Khan by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
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 (Reuters) – Prime Minister Imran Khan said Pakistan is pushing for a political settlement in Afghanistan before foreign troops leave later this year, to reduce the risk of civil war in its western neighbour.
    The United States has said it will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan on Sept. 11 after a two-decade presence.
    More than 20 allied countries plan to follow suit.
    “There is a lot of fear right now in Pakistan and I assure you that we are trying our level best that there is some sort of political settlement before the Americans leave,” Khan told Reuters on Friday at his official residence in Islamabad.
    Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply since the troop withdrawal announcement, with the insurgent Taliban resisting pressure from Washington and its allies to agree to a political understanding leading to a peace deal.
    “Since the moment the Americans gave a date, of when they were going to leave Afghanistan … the Taliban feel they have won the war,” Khan said, adding it was not going to be easy to get concessions from the Taliban after the U.S. decision.
REGIONAL REPERCUSSIONS
    Khan said Pakistan would suffer the most, after Afghanistan itself, if there was civil war and a refugee crisis.
    “And then there would be pressure on us to jump in and become a part of it,” Khan said.
    He said his government had changed Pakistan’s decades-long policy of pushing for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan to ensure that there was a friendly government there.
    “Any Afghan government chosen by the people is who Pakistan should deal with,” Khan said, adding that Pakistan “should not try to do any manipulation in Afghanistan.”
    Pakistan has long been accused of harbouring leaders and fighters of the Taliban, whom Islamabad helped to power in 1996, even as the insurgent group fought U.S.-led foreign troops.
    Khan said a lot depended on U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, with Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s help, to carve out a settlement to avoid more bloodshed.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/4/2021 U.S. Announces More Than $266 Million In New Afghanistan Aid
An internally displaced Afghan woman washes clothes outside her shelter on
the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – With the U.S. troop withdrawal well under way, the United States on Friday announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian aid for Afghanistan as part of what it called an enduring U.S. commitment to the war-torn country.
    The announcement comes amid unrelenting violence and a stalled peace process that are fueling fears that the departure of U.S.-led international forces is putting Afghanistan on a path to all-out civil war that could restore Taliban rule two decades after the Islamists were driven from power.
    Officials of the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden, who ordered an end to the 20-year U.S. troop presence by Sept. 11, have vowed to continue U.S. military and civilian aid to Kabul.    But they warned it could be suspended if there is backtracking on progress made in human rights, especially those of women and girls.
    “As the United States withdraws military forces from Afghanistan, our enduring commitment is clear.    We remain engaged through our full diplomatic, economic, and assistance toolkit to support the peaceful, stable future the Afghan people want and deserve,” the State Department said in a statement.
    The $266 million in new assistance brings to nearly $3.9 billion the total amount of such aid provided by the United States since 2002, the statement said.
    The funds will help support some of the estimated 18 million Afghans in need, including more than 4.8 million who are internally displaced, 115,000 of whom have been driven from their homes by fighting this year alone, it said.
    The funds, it continued, will go to providing shelter, job opportunities, basic healthcare, emergency food, water, sanitation, and hygienic services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    It also will support protection programs for “the most vulnerable Afghans,” including women and girls “facing particular risks, including gender-based violence,” it said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)

6/4/2021 Western Powers Avoid Resolution Against Iran At IAEA Board – Diplomats by Francois Murphy and John Irish
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi addresses the media at the IAEA headquarters,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain, France, Germany and the United States will not push for a resolution against Iran at next week’s meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s board despite Tehran’s failure to explain uranium traces found at three sites, diplomats said on Friday.
    A resolution could have prompted an escalation between Tehran and the West that would have jeopardised talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal taking place in Vienna, where the atomic watchdog is also based.
    At the last quarterly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors, the three European powers, with U.S. backing, prepared a draft resolution criticising Iran but did not formally submit it as IAEA chief Rafael Grossi announced new talks.
    Those talks – aimed at breathing new life into efforts to get Iran to explain the origin of the traces, which are believed to be linked to activities long predating the deal – failed to produce new explanations, the IAEA reported on Monday.    That raised the question of whether the resolution would be revived.
    “The May 31 report can’t be ignored just because the JCPOA talks are ongoing, but a resolution is not likely now,” one diplomat said, referring to the 2015 deal by its official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    Five other diplomats said there would not be a resolution but simply statements by countries on the board.
    “There need to be strong statements,” said one diplomat from a country that backed a resolution at the last board meeting.    “They (Iran) have obligations and they need to fulfil them.”
    It remains unclear whether a resolution would have had the necessary support to be adopted by the board, the IAEA’s main decision-making body that meets more than once a year.
    Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on both countries returning to full compliance with the deal will resume next week, with an election on June 18 likely to usher in a more hard-line Iranian president.
    “No progress has been made in the dialogue between Iran and the agency with respect to providing substantiated answers to the IAEA’s questions,” a French foreign ministry spokeswoman said, expressing “great concern” at the IAEA’s report on Monday.
    “We strongly urge Iran to provide such answers as swiftly as possible,” she added.
(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

6/4/2021 Rich States Haven’t Done Enough For The Environment, Pakistan PM Says by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The world’s richest countries have not done enough to combat global warming, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Friday, adding his country had done more than any other in the world to combat rising emissions relative to its economic means.
    Pakistan, this year’s host of the United Nations’ annual World Environment Day on June 5, is among the countries worst affected by climate change, having been regularly hit by devastating floods in recent years, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying swathes of agricultural land.
    “Has the developed world done enough: The answer is no,” Khan said in an interview with Reuters at his official residence in Islamabad.    “Emissions are from the rich countries.    And I think they know they haven’t done enough.”
    This year’s World Environment Day will serve as the launch of the U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, calling for urgent action to revive damaged ecosystems.
    Under Khan, Pakistan has undertaken a number of restoration projects, including a 10 billion tree-planting drive.    This week Khan planted the billionth tree in that drive.
    The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report released on Friday that over the last five years Pakistan had experienced an environmental turnaround after years of decline in its natural capital, but added more needed to be done.
    Khan said developing countries like Pakistan had done “more than enough” to combat global warming and climate change despite having limited budgets and an array of problems to deal with such as in education and health.
    “To take so much money out as we did – proportionate to our GDP and available income – I think Pakistan has done more than any country in the world,” he said.
    Aside from ecological restoration projects, Pakistan has also recently become active on the global green finance market, looking to access finance for environmentally friendly projects and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels.
    Pakistan said the World Bank estimated the country’s new plantation projects would be worth $500 million, and that the valuation could go up to $2.5 billion if carbon pricing estimates went up.
    Khan said global green financing and the valuation of natural assets provided good incentives to the developing world to protect the environment.
    “If you can prove to the people that by protecting your environment you can actually gain something as well, that means you have more buy-in from the people,” he said.    “Remember: hungry people do not really care for the environment.”
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by David Holmes)

6/5/2021 U.S. Vaccine Supplies Arrive In South Korea by OAN Newsroom
South Korean soldiers talk as a batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arrive at a military airport in Seongnam,
South Korea on June 5, 2021. (Photo by KIM HONG-JI / POOL / AFP) (Photo by KIM HONG-JI/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    More than one million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Coronavirus vaccines have arrived in South Korea. On Saturday morning, the vaccine shipment was received by South Korean authorities.    Officials have expressed hope that the doses will speed up the country’s vaccination program.
    This measure come as a follow up to the South Korea-U.S. summit last month, where the Biden administration offered vaccinations for more than 500,000 of South Korea’s active service members.
    South Korea’s Deputy Defense Minister Park Jae Min expressed his gratitude to military officials who assisted with the arrival and transport of the vaccines.
    “I want to thank the South Korea and U.S military officials that facilitated the quick transportation of the vaccines,” he mentioned.    “I hope the arrival of the vaccines expedite the vaccination process so our people can go back to their normal lives.”
    Officials say the shipment shows the value and strength of the relationship between the two countries.

6/5/2021 Bipartisan Group Of Lawmakers Urge Joe Biden To ‘Immediately’ Evacuate Afghans Who Helped U.S. Forces by OAN Newsroom
U.S. soldiers board an Army Chinook transport helicopter after it brought fresh soldiers and supplies
to the Korengal Outpost on October 27, 2008 in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
    Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling on the Biden administration to “immediately” evacuate Afghan nationals who helped U.S. forces during the war in the Middle Eastern nation.
    In a letter to Joe Biden on Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers said they are becoming increasingly concerned he has not yet directed the Pentagon to mobilize as part of a concrete plan to help the Afghans.    They warn that if the U.S. does not take action, these forces would almost certainly experience retaliation from the Taliban once American troops are brought home from the region.
    The letter, which was led by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), stated “we appreciate the complexity of ending the War in Afghanistan, but we are increasingly concerned that you have not yet directed the Department of Defense be mobilized as part of a concrete and workable whole of government plan to protect our Afghan partners.”
    The group also said that failing to protect our Afghan allies would have a lasting impact on future partnerships and global reputation.    They fear that this would hurt the future of our national security more than ever.
    The letter comes just days after the Biden administration were discussing the Special Immigrant Visa program.    Spokesperson Ned Price said the goal is to process SIV applications quickly by utilizing increased staff in Washington and Kabul.
    Price commented saying, “we understand and we recognize that we have a special commitment and a special responsibility to the many Afghans who, over the years, have at great risk to themselves and even to their families…have assisted the U.S. in our efforts in Afghanistan.”    He also mentioned that they are continuously seeking ways to improve the SIV process while still ensuring the integrity of the program, safeguarding national security and affording opportunities to these Afghans.
    The normal rate of processing takes an average of more than 800 days, but the existing plan is to make the withdrawal in less than 100 days.    As it stands, more than 18,000 applicants are in need of visas before the withdrawal.

6/7/2021 China Lodges ‘Solemn Representations’ Against U.S. After 3 Senators Visited Taiwan To Strengthen Ties by OAN Newsroom
Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, fourth from right, waves with U.S. senators to his right Democratic Sen. Christopher Coons of Delaware,
a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, members
of the Armed Services Committee on their arrival at the Songshan Airport in Taipei, Taiwan on Sunday, June 6, 2021. (Pool Photo via AP)
    China lodged “solemn representations” after a bipartisan group of senators visited Taiwan to strengthen ties between Washington and Taipei.    Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) visited the island Sunday.    They announced the U.S. will give Taiwan 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
    The lawmakers also met with Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen.    The move angered China with the country’s foreign ministry stating Monday that their actions are continuing to damage relations between Beijing and Washington.
    “We urge the U.S. to implement the One-China policy and strictly abide by the One-China principle and the provisions of the three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués,” stated Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.    “Immediately stop any form of official exchanges with Taiwan, handle the Taiwan issue prudently and refrain from sending any false signals to the separatist forces of Taiwan independence.”
    The trip comes as Taiwan accuses China of attempting to block international COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the country. China, however, has denied these allegations.
    The U.S. has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan due to the One-China policy.    However, the U.S. is committed to helping the island in maintaining its defense capability through the Taiwan Relations Act.

6/8/2021 Taliban Statement On Afghans Who Cooperated With U.S. Forces Prompts Concerns Over Withdrawal Plans by OAN Newsroom
Afghan soldiers patrol outside their military base on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 9, 2021.
By Sept. 11 2021, at the latest, the remaining U.S. and allied NATO forces will leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement.
Also leaving is the American air support that the Afghan military has relied on to stave off potentially game-changing Taliban
assaults, ever since it took command of the war from the U.S. and NATO in 2014. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    The Taliban said they will not attack Afghans who worked with U.S. forces, however, suggested these people should “show remorse.”
    The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan released a statement Sunday, asserting the Afghans who worked alongside the U.S. do not need to worry about their safety despite the Taliban’s record of killing informants and other aides to allied forces.
    The terrorist organization claimed the change of attitude was directly associated with the U.S. removing all troops in the country.    This prompted expressions of concern from American lawmakers in light of the Biden administration’s lack of commitment to protect NATO-aligned Afghans.
    “From my perspective and the perspective of many veterans, these are like our brothers and sisters,” stated Rep. Jason Crow (D-Colo.).    “These are people we have an obligation to, not just a moral our obligation to, but there’s also a strategic imperative here.    If we don’t do right by these folks, in the future people are not going to work with us and we’re not going to be able to get out missions done.”
    Since 2014, at least 300 Afghan informants working with the United States have been killed by the Taliban.

6/8/2021 Passenger Trains Collide, Killing 56 In Pakistan by OAN Newsroom
Soldiers arrive to conduct rescue operation to clear the track at the site of a train collision in the Ghotki district,
southern Pakistan, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. The death toll from a deadly train accident in southern Pakistan jumped to dozens on Tuesday
after rescuers pulled a dozen more bodies from crumpled cars of two trains that collided on a dilapidated railway track a day ago,
an official said, as rescue work continued even 24 hours after the incident to find any survivors. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
    Rescue efforts continue in Pakistan following a train collision, which killed at least 56 people.    According to authorities, a train collided with derailed passenger cars of another train Monday in the country’s Sindh province.
    The two trains were carrying more than 1,300 passengers through remote villages.    Sher Mohammad, a local resident and farmer, recounted the scene in which he witness. He made the following statement:
    “We are farmers and we were watering our fields.    We all rushed there, along with villagers nearby.    We saw a terrifying scene here.    We brought water and picked up children.    Passengers who were coming out of the train were mostly in agony and we gave water to them.”
A railway worker walks past the wreckage at the site of a train collision in the
Ghotki district, southern Pakistan, Tuesday, June 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
    A railway spokesperson said Monday’s collision highlights a broken railway system, which dates back to the 19th Century.

6/8/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Talks Policy Won’t Change After Presidential Vote
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s policy in talks with world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear accord will remain unchanged after a June 18
presidential election because the issue is decided by its highest leadership, a government spokesman said on Tuesday.
    A host of barriers to the revival of the nuclear deal remain firmly in place ahead of talks due to resume this week, suggesting a return to compliance with the accord is still a way off, diplomats, Iranian officials and analysts said.
    “We have shown that we adhere to our international obligations under all circumstances, and this was a national decision,” cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei told a weekly news conference.
    Rabiei said Iran’s nuclear policy, set by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is not linked to internal developments and that the new government would maintain the same policies as those followed in the Vienna talks which began in April.
    “As long as all parties to the nuclear accord abide by their commitments, they can be sure that Iran will not abandon its obligations,” Rabiei said.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal in 2018, prompting Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme.
    With a hardline-led election watchdog barring leading moderate and conservative candidates, the turnout is likely to be low in seven-man race between hardline and somewhat less hardline candidates, and two low-profile moderates.
    The candidates took part in a televised debate on Tuesday and sparred on issues including ways of saving the nuclear deal and lifting U.S. sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy.
    The leading moderate candidate, Abdolnaser Hemmati, accused hardliners of seeking to heighten tensions with the West through a militant foreign policy, while conglomerates they control rake in large sums by circumventing sanctions.
    “I face a tendency which wants to turn the White House into a Hosseinieh (Shi’ite prayer hall) instead of developing Iran,” said Hemmati, a former central bank chief.    “They benefit from the sanctions by raising the cost of our transactions by 20%.”
    Saeed Jalili, a hardline diplomat, rejected Hemmati’s warning about radicals seeking a confrontation with the West as “imaginary
    He accused instead the government of outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani of wasting time by “constantly waiting on a few other countries, one time Trump was the excuse, another time the nuclear deal”.
    Judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, seen as the leading hardline candidate, said: “Any government that takes over should work towards ending the oppressive sanctions, but there should also be practical measures to neutralise the sanctions.”
    Iranian leaders say sanctions can be neutralised by circumventing them or by boosting local production.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

6/8/2021 Spy Phones ‘In Gangsters’ Back Pockets’ Betray Hundreds To Police by Colin Packham and Toby Sterling
Australian Federal Police are seen during its Operation Ironside against organised crime in this
undated handout photo released June 8, 2021. Australian Federal Police/Handout via REUTERS
    CANBERRA/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) -A global sting in which organised crime gangs were sold encrypted phones that law enforcement officials could monitor has led to more than 800 arrests and the confiscation of drugs, weapons, cash and luxury cars, officials said on Tuesday.
    The operation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Australian and European police ensnared suspects in Australia, Asia, Europe, South America and the Middle East involved in the narcotics trade, the officials said.
    Millions of dollars in cash were seized in raids around the world, along with 30 tonnes of drugs including more than eight tonnes of cocaine.
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the operation had “struck a heavy blow against organised crime – not just in this country, but … around the world.”
    Operation Greenlight/Trojan Shield, conceived by Australian police and the FBI in 2018, was one of the biggest infiltrations and takeovers of a specialised encrypted network.
    It began when U.S. officials paid a convicted drug trafficker to give them access to a smartphone that he had customised, on which he was installing ANOM, also styled An0m, a secure encrypted messaging app.    The phones were then sold to organised crime networks through underworld distributors.
    The FBI helped to infiltrate 12,000 devices into 300 criminal groups in more than 100 countries, Calvin Shivers of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division told reporters in The Hague.
    On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of 17 suspected distributors for their involvement in marketing and selling thousands of the ANOM devices to transnational criminal organizations.
    All defendants are foreign nationals outside the United States and eight of them were arrested on Tuesday, said Randy Grossman, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California at a press conference in San Diego.    The others remain at large.
    The indictment accuses the defendants of knowing that the devices they distributed were being used by criminals to coordinate drug trafficking and money laundering, Grossman said.
    “Today marks a culmination of more than five years of strategic, innovative, complex investigative work to disrupt and dismantle encrypted communication services that cater to the criminal element across the globe,” said Suzanne Turner, special agent in charge of the San Diego FBI field office.
COCAINE IN FRUIT
    In a pattern repeated elsewhere, one Australian underworld figure began distributing phones containing the app to his associates, believing their communications were secure because the phones had been rebuilt to remove all capabilities, including voice and camera functions, apart from ANOM.
    As a result, there was no attempt to conceal or code the details of the messages – which police were reading.
    “It was there to be seen, including ‘we’ll have a speedboat meet you at this point’, ‘this is who will do this’ and so on,” Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw said.
    “We have been in the back pockets of organised crime … All they talk about is drugs, violence, hits on each other, innocent people who are going to be murdered.”
    The phones were such a hit that Italian mafiosi, Asian triads, biker gangs and transnational drug syndicates all began using them, providing the FBI and its partner forces around the world with a trove of 27 million messages.
    Shivers said the FBI had been able to see photographs of “hundreds of tons of cocaine that were concealed in shipments of fruit.”
PRINTERS FOR GUN PARTS
    Australian police said they had arrested 224 people, including members of outlawed motorcycle gangs, and disrupted 21 murder plots.
    On Monday alone, they seized 104 firearms, including a military-grade sniper rifle, as well as almost A$45 million ($35 million) in cash, including A$7 million from a safe buried under a garden shed in a suburb of Sydney.
    In Europe, there were 49 arrests in the Netherlands, 75 in Sweden and over 60 in Germany, where authorities seized hundreds of kilograms of drugs, more than 20 weapons and over 30 luxury cars and cash.
    Finnish police not only detained almost 100 suspects and seized 500 kg of narcotics but also found a warehouse with 3-D printers used to manufacture gun parts.
    The operation also revealed that gangs were being tipped off about police actions, which prompted “numerous high-level public corruption cases in several countries,” according to an affidavit from an FBI agent.
    Kershaw said the Australian underworld figure, who had absconded, had “essentially set up his own colleagues” by distributing the phones, and was now a marked man.
    “The sooner he hands himself in, the better for him and his family.”    ($1 = 1.2893 Australian dollars)
(Additional reporting by Joseph Menn, Tom Allard, Jonathan Barrett, Essi Lehto, Riham Alkousaa and Caroline Copley, Diane Bartz, David Shepardson; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Philippa Fletcher and James Oliphant; Editing by Stephen Coates, Kevin Liffey and Grant McCool)

6/8/2021 How An Informant And A Messaging App Led To Huge Global Crime Sting by Tom Allard
Persons are detained by Australian Federal Police after its Operation Ironside against organised crime
in this undated handout photo released June 8, 2021. Australian Federal Police/Handout via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – It took $100,000 plus expenses, and the opportunity for a reduced prison sentence, for the smartphone developer to collaborate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2018 and kick-start Operation Trojan Shield, according to a court document.
    Three years later, the investigation involving 9,000 law enforcement officers from 17 countries saw authorities monitor 27 million messages from 12,000 devices in 100 countries and track the activities of more than 300 organised crime groups, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, Europol, said in a statement.
    To date, there have been more than 800 arrests and the seizure of more than eight tonnes of cocaine, 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of synthetic drugs, 250 guns, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million in cash and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.
    More arrests and seizures are expected, it said.
    The U.S. court document – an affidavit from an FBI special agent first published by Vice News – says the “confidential human source,” a former drug trafficker, had been creating a new hardened encrypted phone with a bespoke app called ANOM.
    The source came on board after authorities dismantled the Phantom Secure encrypted smartphone network and arrested its CEO in 2018.
    For at least a decade, organised crime groups have used phones like Phantom Secure to organise drug deals, hits on rivals and launder illicit earnings without detection, police say.    Among many of the phones’ features, content can be remotely wiped if they are seized.
    But as one model was put out of business, new ones would enter the lucrative market.
    The FBI decided it would launch its own, inserting a master key into the devices that attached to each message and enabled law enforcement officers to decrypt and store them as they were transmitted.
‘COUPLE OF BEERS’
    In 2018, Australian police investigators and analysts met with the FBI.    “As you know, some of the best ideas come over a couple of beers,” said Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Reece Kershaw on Tuesday.
    Prodded by authorities, the developer-turned-informant tapped his trusted distributors, who targeted the Australian market.    They settled on a soft launch in October 2018.    The developer gave the distributors only 50 devices to sell. Seeing a “huge payday”, they agreed, according to the affidavit.
    As the AFP monitored the messages and photos shared on the devices, “100% of ANOM users in the test phase used ANOM to engage in criminal activity,” the affidavit said.    Business grew organically, by word-of-mouth.    Soon overseas criminals were flocking to use the ANOM phone.
    Law enforcers had “an edge” that they had never had before, said Kershaw.    Among hundreds of arrests and tons of drugs seized, Australian authorities said they also disrupted 21 murder plots, including a mass killing, thanks to ANOM.
    But, due to “technological issues,” the FBI could not directly monitor the phones in Australia.    A court order in late 2019, however, issued by an unspecified country where a server for the phones was located, gave the agency far greater and more timely access to their content.
    The FBI and other countries’ law enforcers discovered that Italian organised crime, Asian triads, biker gangs and transnational drug syndicates were all users.
    The special agent’s affidavit, and the AFP’s Kershaw, said criminals used the phones openly, often not even using code words and frequently sharing photos of massive drug consignments and details of how they would be transported.
    Among the images shared in the affidavit were mounds of blocks of illicit drugs and a diplomatic pouch identified in the court document as French and allegedly used to transport cocaine from Colombia.    There was also evidence of corrupt government officials and police.
    Crime groups were being “notified of anticipated enforcement actions”, the affidavit said.
    “The review of ANOM messages has initiated numerous high-level public corruption cases in several countries.”
    Raids targeting users of another encrypted phone, Sky ECC, in March saw ANOM’s popularity surge, with active users growing from 3,000 to 9,000 in months, the affidavit said.
    But the expiry of the unspecified country’s court order on Monday signalled the end of the phones’ torrent of criminal intelligence.    In a series of news conferences around the world the next day, Operation Trojan Shield was revealed. (This story corrects name in first paragraph to Federal Bureau of Investigation)
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Colin Packham and Jonathan Barrett in Canberra and Sydney; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/8/2021 U.N. Says 100,000 Flee Fighting In Myanmar Border State
Anti-coup protesters flash the three-finger salute during a flash mob
protest in Yangon, Myanmar June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday an estimated 100,000 people in Myanmar’s Kayah state had been displaced by fighting that included “indiscriminate attacks by security forces” in civilian areas.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since a military coup on Feb. 1, with daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority militias, some of which have only existed for a few weeks.
    “This crisis could push people across international borders seeking safety, as already seen in other parts of the country,” the United Nations in Myanmar said in a statement.
    It urged all parties to “urgently take the necessary measures and precautions to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.”
    Myanmar’s foreign minister defended the junta’s plan for restoring democracy, state media reported on Tuesday, after a meeting at which his counterparts from ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states pressed the junta to honour a consensus agreement to halt violence and start dialogue with its opponents.
    The foreign ministers on Monday expressed disappointment at a meeting in China with Myanmar’s “very slow” progress in implementing a five-point plan that it agreed to, by consensus, at an ASEAN summit in April.
    State media cited the junta’s envoy, retired army colonel Wunna Maung Lwin, as telling the meeting the military had made progress on its own five-step road map, unveiled after the coup.
    That plan has few similarities with the ASEAN blueprint and centres on investigating alleged fraud in November’s election, managing Myanmar’s coronavirus epidemic and organising another election, after which the junta has promised to cede power.
CHINA PUSHES ASEAN PLAN
    “The minister apprised the meeting that the only way to ensure the democratic system that is disciplined and genuine was through the five-point future programme that was declared in February,” the daily Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
    The military has defended its takeover by saying that the old election commission ignored its complaints of fraud by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party.
    Wunna Maung Lwin on Tuesday met separately with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, and told him Myanmar was “committed to maintaining national stability and social tranquillity,” according to a statement by China.
    He said Myanmar “appreciates China’s support for the peace and reconciliation process,” it said.
    Wang said the ASEAN plan should be implemented, violence avoided, stability restored and the democratic process restarted, the statement added.
    Opponents of the junta have been wary of China, one of the few countries that previously had influence over Myanmar’s generals.    Unlike Western countries, China has not been vocal in criticising the coup.
    A ‘shadow government’ named by the opposition was angered by a Chinese Embassy statement that referred to junta head Min Aung Hlaing as “leader” of Myanmar.
    The United Nations, Western countries and China all back ASEAN’s effort to mediate in the crisis, which was triggered by the military’s decision to end a decade of tentative democracy and international integration that it had itself initiated.
    But in taking back control, it has been unable to stop protests flaring up and down Myanmar.    A rights group says government forces have killed at least 849 protesters, though the army disputes that figure.
NEED FOR SHELTER AND FOOD
    The United Nations on Monday said those who had fled Kayah urgently needed shelter, food, water and healthcare, and urged security forces to let aid workers and supplies through.
    Kayah, which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People’s Defence Forces have attacked the well-equipped military, which has responded with heavy weapons and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.
    Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting and urged the junta to take the steps agreed with ASEAN.
    Images taken on Monday and obtained by Reuters showed a plume of smoke above the Kayah town of Mobye, which anti-junta militias were forced to flee after the army used heavy weapons, one fighter told Reuters.
    Reuters is unable to independently verify the accounts.    State television made no mention of conflict in Kayah in its nightly newscast and a junta spokesman did not answer several calls seeking comment.
    Fighting has also taken place in the past few weeks in Demoso, Hpruso and the state capital Loikaw, where a resident described a climate of fear, with troops looting shops and questioning local people.
    “People are scared to go out,” said the 25-year-old woman, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.
    “If people go out, soldiers stop them and interrogate them and sometimes shoot at them.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel and Kevin Liffey)

6/9/2021 China Defends Cultural Links With Japan Amid Online Nationalist Fury
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Japanese flags flutter in front of the Tiananmen Gate ahead of Japan's
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit, in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese foreign ministry defended the value of cultural exchanges with Japan on Wednesday after Chinese intellectuals came under heavy attack from nationalists online for attending events sponsored by the Japanese government over many years.
    The ministry’s mild tone contrasted with the hardline “wolf warrior diplomacy” it has often favoured on international issues, especially those concerning Japan, whose brutal wartime occupation of China is a touchstone for Chinese nationalists.
    Some prominent Chinese scholars and writers came under fire last week after nationalistic netizens noticed their names among a list of 144 Chinese intellectuals who had been sponsored by the Japan Foundation to visit Japan from 2008 to 2016.
    Two netizens, operating under the pseudonyms Diguaxiong Laoliu and Guyan Muchan, who each have more than six million followers on their Twitter-like Weibo accounts, accused the intellectuals of currying favour with Japan for financial gain.
    They joined an online “name and shame” campaign to brand the intellectuals as traitors.
    Asked about the controversy at a regular press conference on Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said government-supported people-to-people interaction had contributed positively to relations between China and Japan.
    “We hope to achieve more understanding, trust and deeper friendship through continual healthy and stable interaction among Chinese and Japanese people,” said Wang.
    Wang’s comment comes a week after President Xi Jinping told senior Communist Party officials that they should improve the way they communicate with the rest of the world.
    “We must focus on setting the tone right, be open and confident but also modest and humble, and strive to create a credible, lovable and respectable image of China,” Xi said, according to Xinhua news agency.
    Some Chinese diplomats and commentators have taken up hardline positions on social media in recent years, appealing to nationalist passions among their online followers.
    But this has contributed to friction with Western and Asian countries, encouraging them to reevaluate ties with an increasingly assertive China, the world’s second biggest economy.
    Relations with China will be on the agenda of the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies when they meet this week for a summit in Britain.    The G7 groups the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/9/2021 Philippine President Spars With Pacquiao Over South China Sea
FILE PHOTO: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte fist bumps a supporter at a community
gathering event in Singapore, April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Feline Lim/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has stoked a feud with boxer Manny Pacquiao by criticising his “shallow” foreign policy knowledge, after the senator and eight-division champion said he found the leader’s stand on the South China Sea was “lacking
    In a late night interview with SMNI news channel on Tuesday, Duterte said Pacquiao, a senator and close ally, should “study first” before weighing in.
    Pacquiao stood his ground and hit back on Wednesday, when he said the country should pursue dialogue over disputes, but “stand strong in protecting our sovereign rights.”
    “I am a Filipino voicing out what needs to be said in defence of what has been adjudicated as rightfully ours,” Pacquiao said, referring to a 2016 international arbitral ruling won by the Philippines in a case against China.
    Though Duterte is hugely popular at home, he has been widely criticised for refusing to confront China over the conduct of its military, coastguard and fishing fleet, which he has repeatedly said would be pointless.
    The Philippine defence and diplomatic establishment has spoken out strongly of late over the constant presence of hundreds of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone, which they say are manned by militias.    China has denied that.
    Duterte has said the Philippines owes China a “huge debt” of gratitude for its support in other areas, remarks that did not sit well with Pacquiao.
    Pacquiao, 42, had last month said he found Duterte’s stance to be “lacking” and “disheartening.”
    The comments were a surprise, as Pacquiao has long been among Duterte’s strongest backers, including over his bloody war on drugs and bid to re-introduce the death penalty.
    “I respect the president’s opinion but humbly disagree with his assessment of my understanding of foreign policy,” said Pacquiao, who is rumoured to be considering running for the presidency next year.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

6/9/2021 Afghan Government And Taliban Negotiators Meet In Doha To Discuss Peace
FILE PHOTO: Officials, including Afghan former President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan government and Taliban negotiators met in Qatar’s capital Doha this week to discuss the peace process, the first known meeting in weeks after negotiations largely stalled earlier this year.
    Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in a statement on Twitter on Wednesday that the heads of both teams, along with some of their negotiators, had met the previous day in Doha.
    “They discussed topics of the agenda, accelerating the Afghan negotiations process and reaching mutual understanding in this regard,” he said.
    The meeting was the first announced gathering of both sides since mid-May and after already-slowing talks largely broke off in April, when the United States announced it would withdraw its forces by September 11.
    The Taliban had responded angrily to that announcement as it meant foreign forces would stay in the country beyond a May deadline agreed with the previous Trump administration.    The Islamist group said it would boycott a major peace conference due to take place in Turkey.
    Negotiators had started in Doha in September to find a way to end decades of war.    But the talks stalled after a few rounds and violence has escalated since the United States started its final pullout of troops.
    Finding common ground between the two warring sides has been a top priority for Western capitals, particularly Washington.
    Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said last week his country was pushing for a political settlement in Afghanistan before foreign troops leave, to reduce the risk of civil war in its western neighbour.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/9/2021 South Korea Building Collapses Suddenly During Demolition, Killing Nine
South Korean firefighters search for passengers from a bus trapped by the debris of a collapsed building in
Gwangju, South Korea, June 9, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A
THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. SOUTH KOREA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN SOUTH KOREA.
    SEOUL (Reuters) – At least nine people were killed and eight were injured when a five-story building collapsed suddenly on Wednesday while it was in the midst of a demolition process and fell on to a busy street in South Korea, officials at a local fire station said.
    The building collapsed as it was being demolished in Gwangju, some 270 kilometres of southwest of capital Seoul, officials at the Gwangju Fire and Safety Headquarters said.
    The reason for the collapse was unclear, according to the fire station.
    Gwangju Fire and Safety Headquarters officials said the fire station had received the report of the collapse, which buried a bus that was near the construction site.
    As of 8:25 p.m. local time, a total of 17 people were affected by the accident, said fire station officials, including nine who were confirmed dead and eight who were seriously injured and taken to hospitals.
    South Korea has been known in the past for having a bad safety record in terms of infrastructure.    A department store collapse killed more than 500 people in 1995, and a bridge collapse in 1994 killed 49 people, but the country has in recent years tried to improve its safety record.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

6/10/2021 Iran Growing Bolder In Its Demands To Rejoin Failed Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
President Hassan Rouhani speaks in a cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    Iran has ramped up its demands ahead of the next round of negotiations over renewal of the nuclear deal.    The Biden administration has continued to push for the restoration of the Iran Nuclear Deal in the face of direct opposition from key U.S. ally Israel.
    On Wednesday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the next round of talks in the Austrian capital of Vienna are set to kick off this coming weekend.    Sherman highlighted the negotiations are being overshadowed by the upcoming June 18 elections in Iran, which are widely predicted to result in the replacement of President Hassan Rouhani with a hardline candidate.
    According to Iranian officials and analysts, the shift is likely to result in an even less flexible stance on the part of Tehran’s’ negotiators, who are already calling for the U.S. to fully lift all sanctions on the Islamic republic as a precondition of a return to the nuclear deal.
    “It’s not easy to trust America again.    That’s why Iran is saying that you lift sanctions, because when you suspend, you can always go back,” political analyst Fuad Izadi explained.    “This time, we want to see some action.    We just don’t want to accept your move.”
    Iran holds the 2018 withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions by the U.S. to justify its move away from compliance, despite the lack of justification for this argument in international law as the deal.    Yet, the Maximum Pressure Campaign initiated by the Trump administration was broadly effective in reducing Tehran’s’ capability to project power abroad by limiting its access to funds critical to its overseas operations and support of proxy militant groups.
    Indeed, Iranian analysts explicitly recognize the efficacy of U.S. sanctions in limiting Iran’s’ power and curtailing its efforts at international destabilization.
    “They say that they want a longer and stronger deal.    Longer means they want to change some of the articles in the agreement.    Stronger means they want to go beyond the nuclear agreement,” Izadi declared.    “So Iran’s foreign policy, they want to have a say.    Iran’s defense policy, they want to have a say.”
    The shift away from a strong pressure strategy and focus on the so-called soft power favored by the Biden administration has created the conditions for Iran to reassert itself as a significant source of regional instability and its renewed pursuit of a nuclear weapon.    Although Biden administration officials have not conceded this point outright by their own admission, the last few months have been characterized by a bolder Iran steadily racing towards full nuclear power status.     “What we do know unfortunately, meanwhile, its program is galloping forward.    It has lifted restraints imposed on it by the agreement, including the amount of enriched material it has,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned.    “It has started to deploy some more advanced centrifuges.”
    Meanwhile, the Biden administration continues to steadfastly hold on to the idea of renewing the deal, even as Iran inches ever closer to possession of the weapons the Ayatollah regime believes are vital to its ambitions for regional domination.

6/10/2021 Pentagon Considering Airstrikes To Support Afghan Security Forces by OAN Newsroom
Members of the Afghan security forces stand at the site of an attack, in Kabul
on December 20, 2020.(ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Department of Defense is discussing how to respond should terror groups in Afghanistan take advantage of the U.S. troop withdrawal.    The Biden administration has pledged to bring all U.S. troops home by Sept. 11.
    However, the Pentagon is reportedly looking to receive emergency authorization to carry out airstrikes in Kabul or other cities in Afghanistan if U.S. allies are threatened by the Taliban.    Officials said this would entail drones or warplanes taking action if U.S. citizens or embassies are put at risk.    Although, anything beyond would require Joe Biden’s approval.
    Biden’s withdrawal comes as the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches.    He said, “we were attacked.    We went to war with clear goals.    We achieved those objectives.    Bin Laden is dead and Al-Qaeda is degraded in Afghanistan and it’s time to end the forever war.”
Afghan security forces and residents stand near the crater left by a truck bomb
attack in Kabul on May 31, 2017. (WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) weighed in on the retrieval saying he believes it would be a “grave mistake” and a “gift” to U.S. enemies to remove all U.S. troops from the area.
    Critics are concerned over the rise in violence amid clashes between the Afghan military and the Taliban since Biden’s military withdrawal announcement. However, military leaders in on the talks announced they have yet to reach a final decision.

6/10/2021 Biden Admin. Lifts Sanctions On Iran Oil Officials by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden delivers a speech on the COVID-19 pandemic, in St Ives, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead
of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden is continuing to ease sanctions on Iran despite the recent attacks on Israel by its terror proxies.    On Thursday, reports found the U.S. Treasury lifted sanctions on five individuals linked to the Ayatollah regime’s oil sector and illegal energy exports.
    Biden’s State Department petitioned to remove three of those individuals from the Treasury’s sanctions list.    The Biden administration said the move was made in efforts to demonstrate “our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons.”
    The Iranians in question are involved in illegal exports of oil through Hong Kong in violation of United Nations resolutions.    Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the move saying Biden is giving unilateral concessions to the Ayatollahs to restore the failed nuclear deal.

6/10/2021 China Praises Biden For Plan To Donate 500M Vaccines To COVAX by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden delivers a speech on the COVID-19 pandemic, in St Ives, Cornwall on June 10, 2021, ahead
of the three-day G7 summit being held from 11-13 June. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Communist China is praising Joe Biden for his decision to use U.S. taxpayer money to buy COVID-19 vaccines for foreign countries.    Additionally, the Chinese Foreign Ministry appeared to take a jab at the Trump administration for putting vaccinations of Americans first before helping other countries.
    However, Biden plans to buy 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccines for the COVAX initiative, which is partially financed by Bill Gates and China.
    Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “the U.S. has said before that it would give priority to the use of U.S. vaccines at home.    Now the U.S. offered to donate vaccines to COVAX, we hope it will deliver its promise as soon as possible.”
Frozen vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are taken out to thaw,
at the MontLegia CHC hospital in Liege, Belgium. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco, File)
    China has so far committed to donating just 10 million doses of its vaccines to COVAX, which is almost 50 times less than what is being promised by Biden.    U.S. officials also said Biden plans to include a direct request to his fellow G7 leaders to adopt the same mentality.
    “It’s in all of our interests to have the global economy begin to recover as well, and that won’t happen unless we can get this pandemic under control worldwide,” stated Biden.

6/11/2021 China Brands COVID-19 Lab-Leak Theory As ‘Absurd,’ Blinken Urges Transparency by David Brunnstrom and Tom Daly
FILE PHOTO: Yang Jiechi, director of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Office for China, addresses the U.S. delegation at the opening session
of U.S.-China talks at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. March 18, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need for cooperation and transparency over the origins of COVID-19 in a call with Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi on Friday and raised other contentious topics, including China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    Yang, China’s top diplomat, expressed Beijing’s serious concern to Blinken that some people in the United States were spreading the “absurd story” about the coronavirus escaping from a Wuhan laboratory, Chinese state media said.
    Yang, the head of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission of China’s ruling Communist Party, also told Blinken that Washington should handle Taiwan-related issues “carefully and appropriately,” state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    The call came ahead of a G7 summit in Britain attended by U.S. President Joe Biden that is expected to be dominated by Washington-led efforts to counter China’s growing influence.
    The world’s two largest economies are deeply at odds over issues ranging from trade and technology to human rights and the coronavirus.    Washington should work with Beijing to put ties “back on track,” Yang said.
    Yang, who had a fiery exchange with Blinken in Alaska in March during the Biden administration’s first high-level meeting with its counterparts in China, said Beijing firmly opposed what he called “abominable actions” over the pandemic, which he said were being used to slander China, CCTV said.
    The State Department said the diplomats also discussed North Korea policy and that Blinken expressed U.S. concerns over the deterioration of democratic norms in Hong Kong and what Washington describes as the genocide of Muslim Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang region.
    Blinken also called on China to stop its pressure campaign against Taiwan and to release “wrongfully detained” U.S. and Canadian citizens, it said in a statement.
‘RESPECT FACTS AND SCIENCE’
    The State Department said the discussion on North Korea – an issue on which the United States is keen for more Chinese action to press its ally and neighbor to give up its nuclear weapons – focused on the need for Beijing and Washington “to work together for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
    It said the two diplomats also continued discussions on shared global challenges, including Iran and Myanmar, and the climate crisis.
    “Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Secretary stressed the importance of cooperation and transparency regarding the origin of the virus, including the need for WHO Phase 2 expert-led studies in China,” it said, referring to the World Health Organization.
    Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States think tank, said that although the agenda included potential areas of cooperation, the conversation appeared dominated by contentious issues.
    She said Yang’s call for Washington to work with Beijing to put ties “back on track” indicated China was still putting the onus on the United States for the problems in the relationship.
    “That’s a non-starter, but demonstrates that the Chinese are sticking to their tried-and-true diplomatic approaches, even though they are not successful.”
    A report on the origins of COVID-19 by a U.S. government national laboratory concluded the hypothesis of a viral leak from a Chinese lab in Wuhan was plausible and deserved further investigation, the Wall Street Journal said on Monday.
    “We urge the United States to respect facts and science, refrain from politicizing the issue … and focus on international cooperation in the fight against the pandemic,” Yang said.
    His comments on Taiwan followed a visit to the Chinese-claimed island last weekend by three U.S. senators on a U.S. military aircraft.    They met Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and announced the donation of 750,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine for Taiwan, drawing a sharp rebuke from China’s defense ministry.
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Tom Daly; Editing by Alex Richardson, Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan and Paul Simao)

6/11/2021 Iran Nuclear Deal Talks To Resume On Saturday: Iranian Official
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) – Talks between Iran and world powers on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will resume in Vienna on Saturday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Friday.
    “The participants are expected to continue consultations on the possible return of the United States to the nuclear accord and ensuring the full and effective implementation of this agreement,” Araqchi, Iran’s top negotiator at the talks, said on his channel on the Telegram messaging app.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

6/11/2021 Iran Regains U.N. Vote After U.S. Enables U.N. Payment by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform is seen alongside an Iranian
flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Iran regained its vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Friday after the United States enabled Tehran to use funds frozen in South Korea to pay some $16 million it owed to the world body.
    Iran lost its vote in the 193-member General Assembly in January because it was more than two years in arrears.    It owed a total of more than $65 million, but paid the minimum amount needed to regain its vote.
    “Iran has paid the minimum amount due,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Friday, confirming Iran could vote again.
    Iran says $20 billion of its oil revenue has been frozen in countries like South Korea, Iraq and China since 2018 under sanctions imposed by then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Illegal U.S. sanctions have not just deprived our people of medicine; they have also prevented Iran from paying our dues in arrears to the U.N.,” Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi posted on Twitter.    “After more than 6 months of working on it, the U.N. today announced it has received the funds.”
    Iran was able to vote in the General Assembly on Friday to elect five new members of the U.N. Security Council.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry said that it had proposed to the United Nations that it could use funds frozen in South Korea to pay its dues.    It said the world body followed up with the U.S. Treasury Department to get the appropriate approvals.
    “The permit was recently issued and the process of withdrawing the membership fee from Iran’s account in the Korean banks and transferring it to the U.N. account in Seoul has been paved, and this payment will be made soon,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said last week.
    When asked about the issue last week, the U.S. Treasury Department said it “does not comment on specific licenses.”
    The U.N. payment comes as U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and Iranian officials are expected to begin their sixth round of indirect talks in Vienna this weekend about how both sides might resume compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
    Under the deal with key world powers, Iran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain fissile material for atomic weapons in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.
    However, Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, arguing it gave Tehran too much sanctions relief for too few nuclear restrictions, and reimposed sanctions that slashed Iran’s oil exports.    Iran then retaliated about a year later by violating the limits on its nuclear program.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/11/2021 Japan City Uses Tsunami Lessons For COVID-19 Vaccinations by Rocky Swift
A gymnasium which turned into a mass vaccination centre for the elderly is pictured
in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, June 9, 2021. REUTERS/Rocky Swift
    SOMA, Japan (Reuters) – Tamio Hayashi, 77, doubted he could ever navigate the internet systems set up to register for COVID-19 vaccines across most of Japan.
    He hated the idea of using the “troublesome” systems that have broken down and befuddled other older residents, hobbling Japan’s inoculation push.
    Luckily, local officials in his small, northeastern town helped him through the red tape and he got his shots – a rarity in Japan, where the authorities are racing to inoculate the vulnerable elderly population before the start of the Summer Olympics in just six weeks.
    “This way is great,” Hayashi told Reuters after he and his wife got their second doses at a local gymnasium.    “You just get a notice that says come on such-and-such a day.”
    Soma, a rural city 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Tokyo that was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, has surged ahead of most of the country in vaccinations by heeding lessons learned from the catastrophe of a decade ago.
    Japan lags far behind other advanced economies in vaccinating its people – 12% have received at least one shot, according to a Reuters tracker, compared to France, the next lowest in the Group of Seven industrial powers at 42%, and the most advanced, Canada, at 63%.
    Soma’s nimble, homegrown approach eschews the reservation systems and fragmented efforts common across Japan.    The city has inoculated 84% of its elderly – versus about 28% nationwide – is now injecting younger generations and aims to reach people as young as 16 by the end of July, just as the Olympics are getting underway.
    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga wants to have Japan’s elderly population fully vaccinated by July and all adults by November.    But that will require boosting shots to a million a day from the peak so far of around 700,000.
    Part of Soma’s success is due to its small population of 35,000, making it easier to reach people in the city on the Pacific coast in Fukushima prefecture than for stretched medical staff in the giant urban areas.
    But the city is also succeeding where much of Japan has not because of the painful lessons of the tsunami that killed 450 of the city’s people as it swept 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) inland.
‘PEOPLE COMING TOGETHER’
    That disaster taught Soma the importance of laying out and communicating clear plans, working closely with local medical professionals, gathering affected people in concentrated places – and not waiting for a plan to come down from Tokyo – said Vice Mayor Katsuhiro Abe.
    “I don’t know if you would say that we couldn’t have done this had it not been for the earthquake disaster,” Abe said.    “But this inoculation programme comes in conjunction with the experience of the city government and the people coming together to deal with that for these 10 years.”
    Japan has avoided the enormous COVID-19 case loads and death tolls seen in many nations, but the mid-February start of its vaccine rollout was later than most and was initially stymied by scarce supplies of imported vaccines.
    Distribution was then uneven, while reservation systems broke down or confused the elderly prioritised for shots.
    Soma’s leaders and doctors, drawing on 2011 lessons, began drafting plans and running inoculation drills in December, months before vaccines were approved.
    The city set up a central vaccination centre, conserving medical manpower.    Residents were called by city block, no reservation necessary, and the city sent busses for those who could not travel on their own.
    After the previous disaster, Soma’s neighbours know to look out for each other, while city officials are used to shifting gears from office work to crisis management, said Abe, a lifelong Soma resident.
    Townspeople are shuttled briskly to waiting areas and screenings, then to a partitioned area for their shots.
    When some older patients got flustered being asked to turn left or right for their shots, staff improvised with cartoon posters on the walls: face the bunny for an injection in your right arm, turn to the doggy to get it in the left arm.
    “The strategy needs to be tailored to each local culture and context,” said Kenji Shibuya, who this spring resigned as director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London to help run Soma’s COVID-19 vaccination push.
    “It’s a war,” said Shibuya, a persistent critic of Japan’s handling of the pandemic.
    He said the best thing the government can do is provide a steady supply of vaccines and supplies to municipalities – and leave the rest to the people on the ground.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by William Mallard)

6/11/2021 Exclusive: China’s Attacks On ‘Foreign Forces’ Threaten Hong Kong’s Global Standing – Top U.S. Envoy by Greg Torode, Anne Marie Roantree and James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Hanscom Smith, the U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong and Macau attends
a meeting in Hong Kong, China, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The top U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong said the imposition of a new national security law had created an “atmosphere of coercion” that threatens both the city’s freedoms and its standing as an international business hub.
    In unusually strident remarks to Reuters this week, U.S. Consul-General Hanscom Smith called it “appalling” that Beijing’s influence had “vilified” routine diplomatic activities such as meeting local activists, part of a government crackdown on foreign forces that was “casting a pall over the city.”
    Smith’s remarks highlight deepening concerns over Hong Kong’s sharply deteriorating freedoms among many officials in the administration of President Joe Biden one year after China’s parliament imposed the law.    Critics of the legislation say the law has crushed the city’s democratic opposition, civil society and Western-style freedoms.
    The foreign forces issue is at the heart of the crimes of “collusion” with foreign countries or “external elements” detailed in Article 29 of the security law, scholars say.
    Article 29 outlaws a range of direct or indirect links with a “foreign country or an institution, organisation or individual” outside greater China, covering offences from the stealing of secrets and waging war to engaging in “hostile activities” and “provoking hatred.”    They can be punished by up to life in prison.
    “People … don’t know where the red lines are, and it creates an atmosphere that’s not just bad for fundamental freedoms, it’s bad for business,” Smith said.
    “You can’t have it both ways,” he added.    “You can’t purport to be this global hub and at the same time invoke this kind of propaganda language criticising foreigners.”
    Smith is a career U.S. foreign service officer who has deep experience in China and the wider region, serving in Shanghai, Beijing and Taiwan before arriving in Hong Kong in July 2019.    He made his comments in an interview at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Hong Kong on Wednesday after Reuters sought the consulate’s views on the impact of the national security law.
    In a response to Reuters, Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said that “normal interactions and activities” were protected, and blamed external elements for interfering in the city during the protests that engulfed Hong Kong in 2019.
    “There are indications in investigations and intelligence that foreign intervention was rampant with money, supplies and other forms of support,” a representative said. He did not to identify specific individuals or groups.
    Government adviser and former security chief Regina Ip told Reuters it was only “China haters” who had reason to worry about falling afoul of the law.
    “There must be criminal intent, not just casual chat,” she said.
    Smith’s comments come as other envoys, business people and activists have told Reuters of the chilling effect on their relationships and connections across China’s most international city.
    Private investigators say demand is surging among law firms, hedge funds and other businesses for security sweeps of offices and communications for surveillance tools, while diplomats describe discreet meetings with opposition figures, academics and clergy.
    Fourteen Asian and Western diplomats who spoke to Reuters for this story said they were alarmed at attempts by Hong Kong prosecutors to treat links between local politicians and foreign envoys as potential national security threats.
    In April, a judge cited emails from the U.S. mission to former democratic legislator Jeremy Tam as a reason to deny him bail on a charge of conspiracy to commit subversion. Tam, one of 47 pro-democracy politicians charged, is in jail awaiting trial; his lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    “It’s appalling that people would take a routine interaction with a foreign government representative and attribute something sinister to it,” Smith said, adding that the consulate did not want to put anyone in an “awkward situation.”
    In the latest ratcheting up of tensions with Western nations, Hong Kong on Friday slammed a U.K. government report that said Beijing was using the security law to “drastically curtail freedoms” in the city.
    Hong Kong authorities also this week lambasted the European Union for denouncing Hong Kong’s recent overhaul of its political system.
‘TOUGH CASES’ LOOM
    Although local officials said last year the security law would only affect a “tiny minority” of people, more than 100 have been arrested under the law, which has affected education, media, civil society and religious freedoms among other areas, according to those interviewed for this story.
    Some have raised concerns that the provisions would hurt the business community, a suggestion Ip dismissed.
    “I think they have nothing to worry about unless they are bent on using external forces to harm Hong Kong,” Ip said.    “I speak to a lot of businessmen who are very bullish about the economic situation.”
    Retired judges familiar with cases such as Jeremy Tam’s said they were shocked at the broad use of foreign connections by prosecutors.    One told Reuters he did not see how that approach would be sustainable, as the government accredits diplomats, whose job is to meet people, including politicians.
    Hong Kong’s judiciary said it would not comment on individual cases.
    Smith said Hong Kong’s growing atmosphere of “fear, coercion and uncertainty” put the special administrative region’s future in jeopardy.
    “It’s been very distressing to see this relentless onslaught on Hong Kong’s freedoms and back-tracking on the commitment that was made to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy,” he said. (This story refiles to add dropped word in final paragraph)
(Reporting By Greg Torode, Anne Marie Roantree and James Pomfret. Additional reporting by Clare Jim. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

6/11/2021 U.N. Rights Commissioner Warns Of Escalating Violence In Myanmar
FILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the European
headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    (Reuters) – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Friday of that violence in Myanmar is intensifying and condemned the army’s “outrageous” use of heavy weapons, while urging a wider diplomatic effort to pressure the ruling generals.
    Michelle Bachelet said the junta had shown no willingness to implement a five-point consensus it agreed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April to halt violence and start dialogue with its opponents.
    Bachelet said there were credible reports that in Kayah State, civilians were being used as human shields and the army was shelling homes and churches, which had forced more than 108,000 people to flee, with little food, water or sanitation, and humanitarian access was blocked.
    “There appear to be no efforts towards de-escalation but rather a build-up of troops in key areas, contrary to the commitments the military made to ASEAN to cease the violence,” Bachelet said in a statement.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since a Feb. 1 coup ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, unleashing daily protests and strikes that have paralysed the economy, and fighting in borderlands between the armed forces and ethnic minority guerrilla forces and militias.
    A junta spokesman did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment.
    The Southeast Asian mediation effort has made little progress. ASEAN’s foreign ministers, China and Japan were among several countries this week stressing the importance of the peace plan being implemented.
    The United Nations, Western countries and China all back the ASEAN effort, but the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, has paid little heed to that and instead touted the progress of its own five-step plan towards a new election.
    Bachelet encouraged the intensification of diplomacy, including from influential states, and said dialogue was urgently needed with all political stakeholders, including a shadow government made up of opponents of military rule.
    Two ASEAN envoys visited Myanmar last week and met top junta officials, including military chief Min Aung Hlaing, a trip that was criticised by pro-democracy groups, who say they are being shut out.
    “The international community needs to unify in its demand that the Tatmadaw cease the outrageous use of heavy artillery against civilians and civilian objects,” Bachelet said.
    “The military leadership is singularly responsible for this crisis, and must be held to account.”
    She also said newly formed civilian forces, known as People’s Defence Forces, and other armed groups, must take all measures to keep civilians away from harm.
    Bachelet also said she was deeply troubled by detentions and reports of torture.
    According to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group, 5,965 people been arrested since the coup.    Of those, 4,804 remain in prison, interrogation centres, and under house arrest.
    At least 860 people have been killed, 22 of those from torture during detention, the AAPP says.
    The junta has branded its opponents terrorists and outlawed many organisations, including the AAPP.
    The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper gave a breakdown on Friday of offences committed since the military took power.
    It included 49 held for arson and terrorist acts and 61 suspected of murder, 256 people arrested for illegally holding arms and 272 for terrorism and destructive acts.
    Among the weapons seized were 914 homemade guns, 50 small arms, and 5,947 homemade bombs, the paper said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/12/2021 Hong Kong Democracy Activist Agnes Chow Released From Prison
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow speaks to the media before entering
Eastern Magistrates' Courts in Hong Kong, China, November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was released from prison on Saturday after serving nearly seven months for her role in an unauthorised assembly during anti-government protests in the city in 2019.
    The 24-year-old activist had been convicted together with her long-time activist colleague, Joshua Wong, for their involvement in an illegal rally near police headquarters in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Wong remains in prison and the reason for Chow’s early release after being sentenced to 10 months in jail was not clear.    The Correctional Services Department said it would not comment on individual cases.
    Chow was released from the Tai Lam Correctional Institution in Tuen Mun, in Hong Kong’s New Territories district, at about 10 a.m. (0200 GMT).
    She did not speak to media before she was ushered into a car with friends and fellow democracy activists.
    Supporters shouted “Agnes Chow add oil,” a Cantonese-language expression of encouragement that was widely used at the protests that roiled the city.
    Some supporters wore black T-shirts and yellow masks and one held a yellow umbrella, a symbol of protests in the former British colony dating back to 2014.
    Chow, along with Wong and Nathan Law, who has since been given asylum in Britain, came to prominence as teenage activists during the 2014 protests to demand universal suffrage.
    The three founded the democracy group Demosisto in 2016, which dissolved hours after Beijing passed a contentious national security law for the city last year amid fears it could be targeted under the legislation.
    The law has stifled the pro-democracy movement and raised concern about prospects for the autonomy Hong Kong was promised under a “one country, two systems” formula when it was handed over to China in 1997.
    Chow was also arrested last year on suspicion of “colluding with foreign forces” under the security law but has not faced any charges related to that.
    Fluent in Japanese, Chow has a sizable following in Japan, particularly on social media and had travelled to the country frequently before her arrest.    She often posted on Twitter in Japanese and Japanese media has dubbed her a “goddess of democracy.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Editing by Scott Murdoch and William Mallard)

6/12/2021 Beijing Official Says ‘Real Enemies’ Want Hong Kong To Be ‘Pawn In Geopolitics’
FILE PHOTO: Newly appointed head of Hong Kong Liaison Office Luo Huining speaks to media to mark
his first day at office in Hong Kong, China January 6, 2020. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The main representative of the Chinese government in Hong Kong said on Saturday people trying to turn the city into a “pawn in geopolitics” were the “real enemies” and Beijing was the true defender of the city’s special status.
    Luo Huining, director of China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, told a forum that the financial hub, a former British colony handed over to China in 1997, remained one of the world’s most competitive economies, the South China Morning Post reported.
    “Those trying to turn Hong Kong into a pawn in geopolitics, a tool in curbing China, as well as a bridgehead for infiltrating the mainland, are destroying the foundation of one country, two systems,” Luo said, referring to the formula agreed when Britain handed the city back aimed at preserving its freedoms and role as a financial hub.
    “They are the real enemies of Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” he said, without identifying any people or groups.
    Luo said the ruling Communist Party was “the creator, leader, implementer and defender of one country, two systems.”
    Despite such assurances, many Hong Kong residents have over recent years become worried about what they see as attempts by Beijing to curtail its freedoms.
    China denies that.
    The Liaison Office did not answer calls outside normal business hours to confirm the contents of the speech and it did not immediately respond to faxed questions.
    Unease among many Hong Kong residents grew in 2014 when pro-democracy protesters took to the streets to demand universal suffrage.    Demonstrations snowballed again in 2019, sparked by opposition to judicial reform that many people saw as a threat to their way of life.
    Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the city last June stifling the pro-democracy movement and raising new concerns about the city’s prospects.
    The law’s supporters say it has restored order and improved prospects for the city’s economy, which Luo said was among the world’s most competitive despite fears it would deteriorate under Chinese rule.
(Reporting by Scott Murdoch in Hong Kong; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/12/2021 India’s Daily COVID-19 Infections At More Than Two-Month Low
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker administers a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured
by Serum Institute of India, to a shepherd man during a vaccination drive at Lidderwat near scenic Pahalgam
in south Kashmir's Anantnag district, June 10, 2021. Picture taken June 10, 2021. REUTERS/Sanna Irshad Mattoo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Saturday reported 84,332 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, the lowest in more than two months, data from the health ministry showed.
    The South Asian country’s total COVID-19 case load now stands at 29.4 million, while total fatalities are at 367,081, data.    India added 4,002 deaths overnight.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by William Mallard)

6/12/2021 China Passes Anti-Sanctions Law by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
    China has targeted foreign sanctions in response to power politics.    On Thursday, the Chinese Communist Party passed an anti-sanctions law aimed at boosting Beijing’s authority against international pressure.
    The measures allow Chinese authorities to refuse to issue visas as well as freeze a person’s assets in mainland China.    Officials claim the law was implemented to safeguard China’s national sovereignty while undermining the authority of certain western countries.
    “This law targets the unilateral sanctions against China that violates international law in international relations,” law professor Liao Shiping explained.    “It is a response to all these sanctions and the countries that are enforcing them.    Therefore, it is not a legislation targeting a specific country.”
    The move comes just one week after Joe Biden expanded the U.S. blacklist on certain Chinese companies receiving investments from Americans.

6/12/2021 ‘Intense’ Iran Nuclear Talks Resume As Germany Calls For Rapid Progress by Francois Murphy
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Kazem Gharibabadi leaves a meeting of the Joint
Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) -Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed in Vienna on Saturday as the European Union said negotiations were “intense” and Germany called for rapid progress.
    The sixth round of talks began as usual with a meeting of remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – in the basement of a luxury hotel.
    The U.S. delegation to the talks, known as the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings.
    The talks’ chief coordinator, EU foreign policy official Enrique Mora, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between Iran and the United States, has said he expects a deal in this round of talks.    Other envoys, however, are more cautious, saying many difficult issues are yet to be resolved.
    “We are making progress but the negotiations are intense and a number of issues (remain), including on how steps are to be implemented,” an EU spokesman said in a statement to reporters, adding that the aim was “to find ways to get very close to a final agreement in the coming days
    The top Iranian negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, suggested it was unlikely the talks would conclude before Iran’s presidential election on Friday.
    “I don’t think we will be able to reach a final conclusion in Vienna this week,” Iranian state media quoted Araqchi as saying.
    The deal, or JCPoA, imposed strict limits on Iran’s nuclear activities designed to extend the time Tehran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to at least a year from two to three months.
    Iran denies ever pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are solely peaceful.
    President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed economic sanctions lifted by the deal.    Iran responded by breaching many of those limits, producing more enriched uranium than allowed and enriching to higher purity levels, recently to near weapons grade.
    “Playing for time is in no-one’s interest,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who is not at the talks, told Reuters, urging all sides to show flexibility and pragmatism.
    China’s top envoy said the main sticking point was U.S. sanctions.    “Our message to them (the United States) is that they should stop shilly-shallying by moving decisively to sanction-lifting,” China’s ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Wang Qun, told reporters.
    On the steps Iran must take to return to compliance with the deal, Wang said: “To a great extent, the major issues have been worked out as a matter of principle, though I think there are some fixes (left).”
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt, and Dubai newsroomEditing by David Holmes, William Maclean)

6/12/2021 G7 Reaches Consensus On China Dumping, Human Rights Abuses - U.S. Official
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, U.S. President Joe Biden, France's President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa and South Korea's
President Moon Jae-in attend a working session during G7 summit in Carbis Bay, Cornwall, Britain, June 12, 2021. Leon Neal/Pool via REUTERS
    CARBIS BAY, England (Reuters) – G7 leaders have reached consensus on the need for a shared approach to China selling exports at unfairly low prices and to human rights abuses, a senior official in the U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Saturday.
    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the leaders of the Group of Seven world’s largest advanced economies had also agreed on the need to coordinate on supply chain resilience to ensure democracies are supporting each other.
    “I would say there was unanimity in terms of a willingness to call out human rights abuses and violations of fundamental freedoms that invoke our shared values,” the official said.
    “There was commitment to take action in response to what we’re seeing.”    The official said the G7 had moved far from three years ago when the final communique made no mention of China.
    Under the legal structure of the World Trade Organization, the designation of China as a “non-market economy” allows its trading partners, including the United States, to use a special framework to determine whether China’s exports are being sold at unfairly low prices and, if that is found to be the case, to apply additional anti-dumping duties.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, writing by Elizabeth Piper; editing by William James)

6/12/2021 Blasts On Buses In Western Kabul Kill At Least 7 – Police
Afghan security forces inspect the wreckage of a passenger van after a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan June 12, 2021.REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Blasts hit two buses in western Kabul on Saturday, killing at least seven people, according to police.
    The explosions took place in a neighbourhood dominated by the minority Hazara community where similar attacks on buses earlier this month killed 12 civilians.
    Basir Mujahid, Kabul’s police spokesman, added that six people had also been wounded in Saturday’s blasts.
    Violence has been rising as foreign forces withdraw from the country by Sept. 11 and efforts to broker a peace settlement between the Afghan government and insurgent Taliban have slowed.
    It was not immediately clear who was behind Saturday’s attacks.
    The Hazara community has also been the target of a number of attacks from the Islamic State militant group.    In May an unclaimed attack on a school in the area left around 80, mostly school girls, dead.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/12/2021 U.S., Iran Resume Talks To Revive 2015 Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
Deputy Secretary General and Political Director of the European External Action Service (EEAS), Enrique Mora, leaves the ‘Grand Hotel
Vienna’ where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
    U.S. and Iranian diplomats have resumed talks to revive the controversial Obama-era nuclear deal.    The sixth round of discussions began on Saturday and officials with the European Union said the negotiations were intense.
    EU Foreign Policy official Enrique Mora, who is leading the shuttle diplomacy between Iran and the U.S., said he expects both sides to make an agreement during this round. However, other envoys believe there are still several contentious issues that still need to be resolved.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane prior to departing from Cornwall Airport, Newquay, England,
Saturday June 12, 2021, following his visit to the G7 summit, before heading to Brussels. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented on the administration’s action to remove sanctions stating, “these actions demonstrate our commitment to lifting sanctions in the event of a change in status or behavior by sanctioned persons.”    The Biden administration is hoping their repeal of sanctions on several senior officials and companies will get Iran to relax their position.

6/13/2021 G7 Chides China On Rights, Demands COVID Origins Investigation by Guy Faulconbridge and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    CARBIS BAY, England (Reuters) -Group of Seven leaders on Sunday scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    After discussing how to come up with a unified position on China, leaders issued a highly critical final communique that delved into what are for China some of the most sensitive issues, including also Taiwan.
    The re-emergence of China as a leading global power is considered to be one of the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
    China’s rise has also unnerved the United States: President Joe Biden casts China as the main strategic competitor and has vowed to confront China’s “economic abuses” and push back against human rights violations.
    “We will promote our values, including by calling on China to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially in relation to Xinjiang and those rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” the G7 said.
    The G7 also called for a transparent, expert-led Phase 2 COVID-19 Origins study including in China, to be convened by the World Health Organization (WHO).    Reuters earlier reported the finalised version of the draft communique.
    “We haven’t had access to the laboratories,” Biden told reporters.
    Biden said it was not yet certain whether or not “a bat interfacing with animals and the environment… caused this COVID-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry in a laboratory.”
    Before the G7 criticism emerged, China pointedly cautioned G7 leaders that the days when “small” groups of countries decided the fate of the world were long gone.
    The G7 also underscored “the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and encourage the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues.”
    “We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” they said.
FORCED LABOUR
    Biden said democracies were in a global contest with “autocratic governments,” and that the G7 had to deliver viable alternatives.
    “We’re in a contest, not with China per se, … with autocrats, autocratic governments around the world, as to whether or not democracies can compete with them in a rapidly changing 21st century,” Biden told reporters.
    “As I’ve told (Chinese President) Xi Jinping myself, I’m not looking for conflict.    Where we cooperate, we’ll cooperate; where we disagree I’m going to state this frankly, and we are going to respond to actions that are inconsistent.”
    The G7 – comprising the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Canada – said it was concerned about forced labour in global supply chains including in the agricultural, solar, and garment sectors.
    Beijing has repeatedly hit back against what it perceives as attempts by Western powers to contain China.    It says many major powers are still gripped by an outdated imperial mindset after years of humiliating China.
    U.N. experts and rights groups estimate that more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang in northwest China.
    China denies all accusations of forced labour or abuse.    It initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres and are designed to combat extremism.    In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Holton, Elizabeth Piper, William James, Michel Rose and Michael Holden; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

6/14/2021 China Denounces G7 Statement, Urges Group To Stop Slandering Country
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China denounced on Monday a joint statement by the Group of Seven leaders that had scolded Beijing over a range of issues as a gross interference in the country’s internal affairs, and urged the grouping to stop slandering China.
    The G7 leaders on Sunday took China to task over human rights in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait – all highly sensitive issues for Beijing.
    China’s embassy in London said it was strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan that distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
    With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging and global economy sluggish, the international community needs unity and cooperation of all countries rather than “cliquey” power politics sowing division, it added.
    China is a peace-loving country that advocates cooperation, but also has its bottom lines, the embassy said.
    “China’s internal affairs must not be interfered in, China’s reputation must not be slandered, and China’s interests must not be violated,” it added.
    “We will resolutely defend our national sovereignty, security, and development interests, and resolutely fight back against all kinds of injustices and infringements imposed on China.”
‘COUNTERING CHINA’
    Taiwan’s government welcomed the G7 statement, saying the Chinese-claimed island will be a “force for good” and that they will continue to seek even greater international support.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday’s statement from G7 was a significant move forward for the group as leaders rallied around the need to “counter and compete” with China on challenges ranging from safeguarding democracy to the technology race.
    China’s embassy said the G7 should do more that is conducive to promoting international cooperation instead of artificially creating confrontation and friction.
    “We urge the United States and other members of the G7 to respect the facts, understand the situation, stop slandering China, stop interfering in China’s internal affairs, and stop harming China’s interests.”
    The embassy also said work on looking at the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be politicised, after the G7 in the same statement demanded a full and thorough investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    The joint expert group on the virus between China and the World Health Organization has been conducting research independently and following WHO procedures, the embassy added.
    “Politicians in the United States and other countries ignore facts and science, openly question and deny the conclusions of the joint expert group report, and make unreasonable accusations against China.”
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Lincoln Feast.)

6/14/2021 Iran Vote Turnout Poses Test Of Youth Frustrations And Hopes by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's presidential candidates stand after the election debate at a television studio,
in Tehran, Iran June 12, 2021. Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/YJC/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Like many young Iranians yearning for democracy, Shirin doesn’t believe elected officials want to deliver greater political and social freedoms, and doubts Iran’s ruling theocracy would let them even if they tried.
    How many share her frustration may become apparent in a June 18 vote, when Iran holds a presidential election seen as a referendum on the Islamic Republic’s handling of an array of political and economic crises.
    Official polls suggest record low participation, a prospect critics of the government ascribe to economic hardship and to a lack of choice at the ballot box for an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions.
    Religiously devout, less well-off communities are expected to go to the polls and vote for the hardline front-runner, the strongly anti-Western Ebrahim Raisi, but young educated voters in towns and cities and some villages may well stay home.
    After a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates from standing in the race, young urban Iranians appear united only in their weariness with a cheerless status quo.
    “I want freedom, I want democracy.    Iranian presidents have no authority and desire to change our lives … So why should I vote?,” said French literature student Shirin, 22, from Tehran.
    Like most other young people interviewed for this story, Shirin declined to be identified by her full name due to the sensitivity of the election contest.
    Under Iran’s clerical system, the powers of the elected president are circumscribed by those of the hardline supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in office since 1989.
    Pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani won the presidency in 2013, bolstered by the support of many women and young people encouraged by his comments that Iranians deserved to live in a free country and have rights enjoyed by others around the world.
    But critics say Rouhani, who is not permitted to run for a third consecutive term, has failed to make good on his pledges.
    “I am undecided.    I have always believed in voting and I voted for the incumbent president in the past two elections," said 28-year-old sales manager Sudabeh.
    “But he could not fulfil his promises.”
ECONOMIC MISERY
    Hundreds of Iranians at home and abroad – including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 revolution – have called for an election boycott.    The hashtag #NoToIslamicRepublic has been widely tweeted by Iranians in the past weeks.
    There is also lingering anger over the bloody suppression of a series of street protests in recent years and the military’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in 2020 in what Iranian authorities said was an error.
    All seven candidates – five hardliners and two low-key moderates – have been wooing youthful voters in speeches and campaign messages and have used social media to reach the 60% of the 85 million population who are aged under 30.
    Khamenei, like many other officials, has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and Instagram, although access to social media is officially blocked in Iran.
    The ban rankles with many young Iranians.    Many get around it by using virtual private networks, while insisting social media should be unblocked.
    “Now that they need my vote to pursue their own political agenda, they promise unblocking the social media ban … I will not vote as long as my freedoms are restricted,” said university student Saharnaz, 21, from the northern city of Sari.
    Amid growing anger over economic hardship, candidates have promised to control galloping inflation, create jobs and end the rapid fall in the value of Iran’s currency without detailing their plans.
Jamshid, 27, from the southern city of Ahvaz, was sceptical.
    “No, no, and no.    I will not vote.    I am jobless and hopeless.    They get richer.    Why should I vote in a system that is the source of my miserable life,” Jamshid said.
    The economy, the authorities’ biggest challenge, is beset by mismanagement and U.S. sanctions reimposed after the United States withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal three years ago.
FAITHFUL VOTERS
    Prices of basic goods like bread and rice rise daily.    Meat is too dear for many, costing the equivalent of $40 for a kilogramme.    The minimum monthly wage equates to about $215. Iranian media regularly report layoffs and strikes by workers not paid for months.
    Many voters preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues said they would vote for Raisi, a Shi’ite cleric who has been a strong advocate of Khamenei’s “resistance economy,” a project to increase self-reliance in Iranian manufacturing and services.
    But taxi driver Alireza Dadvar supports low-key moderate former Central Bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati.
    “I don’t care about politics.    I care about my family’s daily struggle … Hemmati is the only candidate who can fix the economy,” said Dadvar, 41, a father of three in Isfahan.
    Appointed by Khamenei as head of the judiciary in 2019, front-runner Raisi lost to Rouhani in a 2017 election.    He is counting on poor Iranians to carry him to victory.
    “Of course I will vote.    It is my religious duty to vote and to choose a president who is loyal to the revolution.    My vote will be a slap in the face of our enemies,” said first time voter Sajjad Akhbari from Tabriz, a city in north Iran.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/14/2021 International Criminal Court Prosecutor Requests Green Light For Probe Into Philippines Killings
FILE PHOTO: Framed portraits of Philippines' drug war victims are prepared for the theatre performance of grieving families on
their journey of loss and healing in a Catholic school in Makati City, Philippines, March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) -The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court asked it on Monday for authorization to open a full investigation into drug war killings in the Philippines, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.
    According to Philippines government data, from the time President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 until the end of April this year, security forces killed 6,117 drug dealers in sting operations.
    Rights groups say authorities have summarily executed drug suspects, but police say drug dealers fought back violently.     “I announce that the preliminary examination into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded and that I have requested judicial authorisation to proceed with an (formal criminal) investigation,” ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.
    Bensouda had said last December that there were reasonable grounds to believe crimes against humanity had been committed during Duterte’s bloody anti-narcotics crackdown, whose death toll has stirred international outrage.
    In an address recorded this week before the news of Bensouda’s request broke, Duterte called on human rights organisations to take a closer look into his war on drugs.
    “You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back,” he said, warning drug dealers: “Do not destroy the country. I will kill you.”
    The Philippines Justice ministry declined to comment on the announcement from the ICC in The Hague.
    Bensouda, in concluding her preliminary inquiry in December last year, said there was a “reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture (…) and other inhumane acts were committed” between 2016 and 2019.
    Many people killed in Duterte’s crackdown had been on a drug watch list compiled by authorities or had previously surrendered to police, while a significant number of minors were victims, Bensouda’s office said in a report six months ago.
    Human rights groups accuse Duterte of inciting deadly violence and say police have murdered unarmed suspects and staged crime scenes on a massive scale.    Police deny this and Duterte insists he told police to kill only in self-defence.
    Under the ICC statute, the prosecutor must ask judges for permission to open an official investigation into alleged crimes.    The tribunal’s judges have up to four months to issue a decision on such a request.
    In March 2018, Duterte cancelled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty just weeks after Bensouda announced the preliminary examination was under way.    He said the ICC was prejudiced against him.
    Under the ICC’s withdrawal mechanism the court keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state, in this case between 2016 and 2019 when the Philippines’ pullout became official.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales in ManilaEditing by Mark Heinrich)

6/14/2021 EDF Examines Gas Build-Up At Chinese Nuclear Plant
FILE PHOTO: A nuclear reactor and related factilities as part of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, to be operated by China Guangdong
Nuclear Power (CGN), is seen under construction in Taishan, Guangdong province, October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
    SINGAPORE/PARIS (Reuters) – French power group EDF has begun examination of a potential issue linked to a build-up of inert gases at its nuclear power station in China, though the company and its Chinese partner said the plant was operating safely.
    CNN reported on Monday that the U.S. government had spent the past week assessing a report of a leak at the Taishan power plant in Guangdong province run by a joint venture between EDF and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN).
    The U.S. news network reported that Framatome, the EDF business that designed the plant’s reactor and remains involved in its operations, had warned of an “imminent radiological threat.”
    EDF said the build-up of noble gases krypton and xenon, which it said had affected the primary circuit of reactor No.1 of the Taishan plant, was a “known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”
    A group spokesman said this could be because of an issue with fuel rods and seals.    Measurements of inert gases were below maximum levels authorised in China, the spokesman said, adding that it was too early to say whether the reactor would have to be shut down.
    Krypton and xenon do not tend to react with other substances but they do have radioactive qualities and are therefore subject to constant monitoring.
    EDF has called for a meeting with CGN to go over the findings, though no date has yet been set.
    State-run CGN, the majority owner of the joint venture, said operations at the plant met safety rules and the surrounding environment is safe.
    “Regular monitoring data shows the Taishan station and its surrounding environment meet normal parameters,” it said in a statement on its website late on Sunday.
    Framatome said it was supporting efforts to resolve the situation.
    “According to the data available, the plant is operating within the safety parameters,” the company said in a statement, adding that it was working with experts to assess the situation.
    TNPJVC, the joint venture behind the plant, is 70% owned by CGN and 30% by EDF.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. atomic watchdog, said: “At this stage, the agency has no indication that a radiological incident occurred,” and that it was in contact with officials in China about the issue.
    France’s nuclear watchdog ASN had no immediate comment.    The U.S. State Department and U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission referred queries to the Energy Department and the White House did not respond immediately to questions from Reuters.
EPR TECHNOLOGY
    The Taishan reactor is the first French-designed Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) to become operational.    The technology is also being deployed in France, Finland and at the Hinkley Point C project in Britain.
    Power from the plant serves the Guangzhou and Shenzhen areas, Guangdong province’s major manufacturing hubs, which have faced power shortages in recent weeks due to hot weather and lower than normal hydropower supplies from neighbouring Yunnan province.
    CNN said the warning by Framatome included an accusation that the Chinese safety authority was raising the acceptable limits for radiation detection outside the Taishan plant to avoid having to shut it down.
    A Reuters call for comment to the National Nuclear Safety Administration went unanswered during a public holiday.
    GRAPHIC – China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) says Taishan nuclear power plant meets safety rules:
https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/bdwpkxybjvm/TaishanPlant.png
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu in Singapore, Benjamin Mallet and Sarah White in Paris and Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Jan Harvey, Louise Heavens, David Goodman and Dan Grebler)

6/14/2021 Philippines Again Suspends Scrapping Of Troop Pact With U.S. Amid China Dispute by Karen Lema and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. military forces cross a flooded area near the shore during the annual Philippines-US amphibious landing
exercise (PHIBLEX) at San Antonio, Zambales province, Philippines October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo
    MANILA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The Philippines has again suspended a decision to scrap a crucial agreement governing the U.S. troop presence in the country, its foreign minister said on Monday, amid continuing maritime pressure from China.
    The Pentagon welcomed the announcement from Manila – the third suspension of the decision covering the two-decade-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that had been due to expire in August – but analysts said there would be disappointment in both countries that it was not renewed.
    Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin said the suspension would be for a further six months while President Rodrigo Duterte “studies, and both sides further address his concerns regarding, particular aspects of the agreement.”
    The Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA, which provides rules for the rotation of thousands of U.S. troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills and exercises.
    Having the ability to rotate in troops is important not only for the defence of the Philippines, but strategically for the United States when it comes to countering China’s increasingly assertive behaviour in the region.
    “The Department welcomes the government of the Philippines’ decision to again suspend termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
    “We value the Philippines as an equal, sovereign partner in our bilateral alliance.    Our partnership contributes not only to the security of our two nations, but also strengthens the rules-based order that benefits all nations in the Indo-Pacific.”
MARITIME TENSIONS
    Greg Poling, a maritime security expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there would be frustration in Washington and most of the Philippine government.
    “It isn’t the worst possible scenario, obviously, but Philippine officials were really signalling that they were confident they had reached a deal Duterte would get on board with, and instead everyone has to remain in limbo for at least another six months,” he said.
    Poling said he did not think there was any substantive issue holding up an agreement.
    “It is now as simple as Duterte doesn’t seem to want it, but everyone else does.    If he won’t reverse course but he also doesn’t want to waste political capital on an unpopular decision heading into election season, then kicking the can down the road is his preferred option.”
    Duterte told Washington last year he was cancelling the deal amid outrage over a senator and ally being denied a U.S. visa, but he has repeatedly suspended the expiration date.
    The latest suspension comes at a time of continued tensions between Manila and Beijing over disputed waters in the South China Sea and a U.S. announcement last week that the Philippines would be among countries that would receive millions of COVID-19 vaccines it is donating.
    Ties between Washington and its former colony have been complicated by Duterte’s rise to power in 2016 and his frequent condemnation of U.S. foreign policy and embrace of China, which has nevertheless continued to pressure his country’s maritime boundaries.
    Manila has repeatedly protested what it calls the “illegal” and “threatening” presence of hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia” vessels inside its exclusive economic zone.
    Jose Manuel Romualdez, Manila’s ambassador to Washington, told Reuters this month the VFA had been revamped to make it “acceptable” and “mutually beneficial” to both countries.
    Manila has in the past been unhappy about issues such as a lack of jurisdiction over U.S. personnel who commit crimes in the Philippines and environmental damage during maritime drills.
(Reporting by Karen Lema in Manila; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

6/15/2021 South Korea Willing To Provide Vaccines To North Korea by OAN Newsroom
The President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, speaks during his joint visit with the Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen to the
‘Stift Heiligenkreuz’ (Holy Cross Monastery) in Heiligenkreuz im Wienerwald, Austria, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
    The president of South Korea said he’s willing to providing coronavirus vaccine aid to North Korea if Pyongyang is in agreement.    During a news conference Monday, President Moon Jae-in said the world can only be completely free from COVID-19 when the developing world is vaccinated.
    President Moon added that the U.S. government is also actively supporting humanitarian aid to North Korea.    His remarks came after the U.S. recently announced its plan to donate $500 million Pfizer vaccines to lower income countries.
    “If South Korea plays the role of global (vaccine) production hub, North Korea will surely become one of the countries for (vaccine) cooperation,” stated the South Korean leader.    “If North Korea agrees, we will actively proceed with vaccine aid to North Korea.”
    While President Moon is hopeful, North Korea has not yet responded to the offer of vaccine relief.    This comes as COVID-19 data from the isolated country lacks.

6/15/2021 Taiwan Reports Largest Incursion Yet By Chinese Air Force
FILE PHOTO: A military honour guard holds a Taiwanese national flag as he attending flag-raising ceremony
at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall, in Taipei, Taiwan March 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Twenty-eight Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday, the island’s government said, the largest reported incursion to date.
    While there was no immediate comment from Beijing, the news comes after the Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement on Sunday scolding China for a series of issues and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, comments China condemned as “slander.”
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island, concentrated in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    The latest Chinese mission involved 14 J-16 and six J-11 fighters, as well as four H-6 bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, and anti-submarine, electronic warfare and early warning aircraft, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said.
    It was the largest daily incursion since the ministry began regularly reporting Chinese Air Force activities in Taiwan’s ADIZ last year, breaking the previous record of 25 aircraft reported on April 12.
    The ministry added that Taiwanese combat aircraft were dispatched to intercept and warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were also deployed to monitor them.
    Not only did the Chinese aircraft fly in an area close to the Pratas Islands, but the bombers and some of the fighters flew around the southern part of Taiwan close to the bottom tip of the island, according to a map the ministry provided.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    China has in the past described such missions as necessary to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
    The United States, which like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has watched with alarm the stepped-up tensions with Beijing.
    China describes Taiwan as its most sensitive territorial issue and a red line the United States should not cross.    It has never renounced the possible use of force to ensure eventual unification.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/15/2021 China Urges NATO To Stop Exaggerating ‘China Threat Theory’
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s mission to the European Union urged NATO on Tuesday to stop exaggerating the “China threat theory” after the group’s leaders warned that the country presented “systemic challenges.”
    NATO leaders on Monday had taken a forceful stance towards Beijing in a communique at United States President Joe Biden’s first summit with the alliance.
    “China’s stated ambitions and assertive behaviour present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and to areas relevant to alliance security,” NATO leaders had said.
    The new U.S. president has urged his fellow NATO leaders to stand up to China’s authoritarianism and growing military might, a change of focus for an alliance created to defend Europe from the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
    The NATO statement “slandered” China’s peaceful development, misjudged the international situation, and indicated a “Cold War mentality,” China said in a response posted on the mission’s website.
    China is always committed to peaceful development, it added.
    “We will not pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to anyone, but if anyone wants to pose a ‘systemic challenge’ to us, we will not remain indifferent.”
    In Beijing, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Zhao Lijian, said the United States and Europe had “different interests,” and that some European countries “will not tie themselves to the anti-China war chariot of the United States.”
    G7 nations meeting in Britain over the weekend scolded China over human rights in its Xinjiang region, called for Hong Kong to keep a high degree of autonomy and demanded a full investigation of the origins of the coronavirus in China.
    China’s embassy in London said it was resolutely opposed to mentions of Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan, which it said distorted the facts and exposed the “sinister intentions of a few countries such as the United States.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez)

6/15/2021 Khamenei Set To Tighten Grip In Iran Vote As Frustrations Grow by Parisa Hafezi
Banners of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi are seen in a street in Tehran, Iran
June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians elect a new president on Friday in a race dominated by hardline candidates close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with popular anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms set to keep many pro-reform Iranians at home.
    The front-runner in a carefully vetted field is Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline judge seen by analysts and insiders as representing the security establishment at its most fearsome.
    But the authorities’ hopes for a high turnout and a boost to their legitimacy may be disappointed, as official polls suggest only about 40% of over 59 million eligible Iranians will vote.
    Critics of the government attribute that prospect to anger over an economy devastated by U.S. sanctions and a lack of voter choice, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates from standing.
    The race to succeed President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist, will be between five hardliners who embrace Khamenei’s strongly anti-Western world view, including Raisi and former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and two low-key moderates.
    The limited choice of candidates reflects the political demise of Iran’s pragmatist politicians, weakened by Washington’s decision to quit a 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
    “They have aligned sun, moon and the heavens to make one particular person the president,” said moderate candidate Mohsen Mehralizadeh in a televised election debate.
    While the establishment’s core supporters will vote, hundreds of dissidents, both at home and abroad, have called for a boycott, including opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, under house arrest since 2011.
    “I will stand with those who are tired of humiliating and engineered elections and who will not give in to behind-the-scenes, stealthy and secretive decisions,” Mousavi said in a statement, according to the opposition Kalameh website.
    Mousavi and fellow reformist Mehdi Karoubi ran for election in 2009.    They became figureheads for pro-reform Iranians who staged mass protests after the vote was won by a hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a contest they believed was rigged.
EXECUTIONS
    If judiciary chief Raisi wins Friday’s vote, it could increase the mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric’s chances of eventually succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader.
    Rights groups have criticised Raisi, who lost to Rouhani in the 2017 election, for his role as a judge in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.    Raisi was appointed as head of the judiciary in 2019 by Khamenei.
    However, Iranians do not rule out the unexpected.
    In the 2005 presidential vote, Ahmadinejad, a blacksmith’s son and former Revolutionary Guard, was not prominent when he defeated powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, largely seen beforehand as the frontrunner.
    “(Saeed) Jalili’s chances to surprise us should not be underestimated,” said Tehran-based analyst Saeed Leylaz.
    Although publicly Khamenei has favoured no candidate, analysts said he would prefer a firm loyalist like Raisi or Jalili as president.
    The election is unlikely to bring major change to Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies, already set by Khamenei.    But a hardline president could strengthen Khamenei’s hand at home.
    Iran’s devastated economy is also an important factor.
    To win over voters preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues, candidates have promised to create millions of jobs, tackle inflation and hand cash to lower-income Iranians. However, they have yet to say how these promises would be funded.
    All candidates back talks between Iran and world powers to revive the 2015 nuclear deal and remove sanctions.
    But moderate candidate Abdolnaser Hemmati said hardliners sought tension with the West, while conglomerates they control rake in large sums by circumventing sanctions.
    “What will happen if the hardliners come to power?    More sanctions with more world unanimity,” Hemmati, who served as central bank chief until May, said in a televised debate.
    Please also see Judge, banker, negotiator among candidates for Iran’s presidency, Front-runner for Iran presidency is hardline judge sanctioned by U.S., Iran’s presidential election process.
(This story has been refiled to fix typo in para 17)
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/15/2021 Exclusive – Indian Scientists: We Didn’t Back Doubling Of Vaccine Dosing Gap by Krishna N. Das and Devjyot Ghoshal
FILE PHOTO: A health official draws a dose of the AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India,
at Infectious Diseases Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Indian government doubled the gap between the two doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine without the agreement of the scientific group that it said recommended the increase, three members of the advisory body told Reuters.
    The ministry of health announced the decision to change the gap from 6-8 weeks to 12-16 weeks on May 13, at a time when supplies of the shot were falling short of demand and infections were surging across the country.
    It said the extended gap was recommended by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI), based on real-life evidence mainly from Britain.    Yet the NTAGI scientists, classified by the government as three of the 14 “core members,” said the body did not have enough data to make such a recommendation.
    M.D. Gupte, a former director of the state-run National Institute of Epidemiology, said the NTAGI had backed increasing the dosing interval to 8-12 weeks – the gap advised by the World Health Organization.    But he added that the group had no data concerning the effects of a gap beyond 12 weeks.
    “Eight to 12 weeks is something we all accepted, 12 to 16 weeks is something the government has come out with,” he added.    “This may be alright, may not be.    We have no information on that.”
    This was echoed by his NTAGI colleague Mathew Varghese, who said the group’s recommendation was only for 8-12 weeks.
    The health ministry, citing the head of NTAGI’s working group on COVID-19, said that the dosing decision was based on scientific evidence.    “There was no dissenting voices among the NTAGI members,” the ministry said on Twitter.
    The ministry’s statement https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1718308 on May 13 said that it had accepted the 12-16 weeks recommendation from NTAGI’s COVID working group, as had a group of mainly government officials tasked with vaccine administration, known as NEGVAC.
    Government health officials told a news conference on May 15 the gap was not increased to address a vaccine shortage but was a “scientific decision.”
    J.P. Muliyil, a member of the seven-strong COVID working group, said there had been discussions within the NTAGI on increasing the vaccine dosage interval but that the body had not recommended 12-16 weeks.
    “That specific number was not quoted,” he said, without elaborating.
    N.K. Arora, the COVID working group head, declined to comment to Reuters on its recommendations but said all its decisions were taken collectively by the NTAGI at large.
    A NEGVAC representative said it “respects the decisions of the NTAGI and use them for our work,” declining to elaborate.
    Real-world data released early last month by South Korea showed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-says-astrazeneca-pfizer-covid-19-vaccines-87-effective-after-first-shot-2021-05-05 that one dose of the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Pfizer was 86.6% effective in preventing infections among people aged 60 and older.
    Muliyil said this increased confidence within the advisory body that delaying a second shot would not be harmful.
    The AstraZeneca vaccine accounts for nearly 90% of the 257.5 million vaccine doses administered in India.
    The dispute over doses comes amid criticism from some scientists that the government had been slow to respond to a new virus variant that led to a spike in infections in April and May.
    The government has denied being slow to react, saying state-run laboratories had studied variants in real time and shared data with local authorities to allow them to take the necessary action.
    Shahid Jameel, a top Indian virologist who recently quit a government panel on virus variants after criticising New Delhi over its response to the pandemic, said the authorities should clarify their position on the reasons for the decision to double the gap between doses.
    “In a situation where we have a variant of concern spreading, we should really be vaccinating people at scale and making sure that they are protected,” he added.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Pravin Char)

6/15/2021 Biden’s Asia Nominee Says U.S. Should Develop Taiwan Ties In Every Sector by David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The nominee to be the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said on Tuesday Washington should develop its relationship with Taiwan in every sector, hours after China’s largest reported incursion to date into the island’s air defense identification zone.
    Daniel Kritenbrink said it was important for Washington to demonstrate its resolve and commitment to meet its “rock-solid obligations” towards Taiwan in the face of pressure from China, which claims the island as its own territory.
    “It’s … incumbent upon us to further develop our robust relationship with Taiwan in every sector,” Kritenbrink told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on his nomination to be assistant secretary of state for East Asia.
    Earlier, Taiwan said 28 Chinese aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered its air defense identification zone, the largest reported incursion to date.
slander.”
    Kritenbrink, a career foreign service officer who was most recently U.S. ambassador to Vietnam and a former deputy head of mission in China, was asked if Washington should switch from a long-standing stance of “strategic ambiguity” to make a clear commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
    He said the U.S. “one-China” policy that formally recognizes Beijing and not Taipei had ensured cross-strait stability and Taiwan’s security for many decades, while adding:
    “I do think that maintenance of that status quo and of that security is a dynamic situation.    As the threat from (China) grows, as Beijing’s aggressive and bullying behavior vis-a-vis Taiwan grows, I think that our response has to be calibrated as well.”
    Kritenbrink described China as the “major challenge the United States faces today,” and said new guidelines adopted by the Biden administration for Taiwan relations were “significantly liberalized” and “explicitly designed to further develop our relationships and our partnership.”    He said Washington should continue to take steps to hold to account Chinese leaders responsible for what it calls genocide against Uyghurs and other Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.
    “The ongoing genocide in Xinjiang shocks the conscience,” he said.    “We estimate more than 1 million Uyghurs have been forcibly detained, put into re-education camps, forced to provide labor, and many other disturbing allegations about how they are being treated,” he said.
    “We need to continue to take steps using all the tools that the U.S. government has at its disposal to hold to account the leaders who are carrying out these atrocities.”
    China denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang.
    Kritenbrink referred to past U.S. sanctions against Chinese officials over Xinjiang and added: “I pledge that we will continue to work, not just to shine a bright light on the abuses, but also to take steps to hold those responsible accountable.”
    In a tweet, Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch, called Kritenbrink’s remarks on Xinjiang a “strong pledge,” while adding: “Follow through critical.”
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina, Editing by Bill Berkrot and Nick Zieminski)

6/15/2021 Iran Says It Produced 6.5 Kg Of Uranium Enriched To 60%
FILE PHOTO: A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy
Day in Tehran, Iran April 10, 2021. Iranian Presidency Office/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country’s nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material a step towards nuclear weapons-grade of 90%.
    Government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.
    Iran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the uranium much closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear bomb, after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.
    Tuesday’s disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
    Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, partly in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.
    Trump’s withdrawal prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb – an ambition Tehran denies.
    “Under parliament’s law…, the Atomic Energy Organization was supposed to produce 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in a year.    According to the latest report, we now have produced 108 kg of 20% uranium in the past five months,” Rabiei was quoted as saying.
    “In the area of 60% uranium production, in the short time that has elapsed…, about 6.5 kg has been produced,” Rabiei added.
    A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in May said that, as of May 22, Tehran had produced 62.8 kg of uranium enriched up to 20%, and 2.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 60%, with the next level down being enriched to between 2% and 5%.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Editing by William Maclean)

6/15/2021 China Says Radiation Levels Normal Around Taishan Reactor
A nuclear reactor and related factilities as part of the Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, to be operated by China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGN), is
seen under construction in Taishan, Guangdong province, October 17, 2013. As China signs global deals to export its nuclear power technology,
it faces a huge obstacle: it still needs to show it can build and safely operate these reactors at home. Aided by foreign technology
acquired during three decades of development, China has the highest number of reactors being built and ambitions to export its home-grown
models to an overseas market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Picture taken October 17, 2013.
REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: ENERGY ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY BUSINESS)
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Tuesday that radiation levels around the Taishan nuclear project in the southeastern province of Guangdong remained normal, following media reports of a leak at one of its reactors.
    French utility EDF, one of the project’s owners, said on Monday that it was investigating media reports that abnormal levels of radioactive gas had leaked from the plant.
    CNN had reported that Framatome, the EDF unit that designed Taishan’s reactors, was warning of an “imminent radiological threat” at the project following a build-up of krypton and xenon.
    Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told a news briefing that the plant was fully compliant with all requirements and there were no signs of abnormalities in its vicinity.
    “So far China’s nuclear power plants have maintained a good operating record, with no incidents affecting the environment and public health,” Zhao said.
    EDF said on Monday that the problem at the plant could have been caused by fuel rods supplied by Framatome.
    “Under normal operating conditions it is true some gases like krypton and xenon will escape and be detected but in this case the concentrations are much higher, so something is happening,” said Tatsujiro Suzuki, a former vice-chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.
    “Once radioactive gas is leaking to the environment it is a serious issue.    It could get worse.    I think there could be problems with the fuel.    It is unusual.”
    The Taishan project, completed in 2019, consists of two French-designed reactors, and is located around 200 km (124 miles) from Hong Kong.
    Earlier, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters that the Hong Kong Observatory and the Water Supplies Department have been monitoring radiation levels and have so far not detected anything abnormal.
    Li Ning, a Chinese nuclear scientist based in the United States, said the dangers at Taishan have been exaggerated.
    “Because nuclear power plants, once built and in operation, are under very strict control and local areas are excluded from further development, background radiation levels around them can often be lower than historical levels,” he said.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo; Writing by David Stanway; Editing by Jason Neely and Kim Coghill)

6/16/2021 Proposed Changes To S.Korea Citizenship Law Face Anti-China Headwinds by Sangmi Cha
Residents walk in Seoul's Chinatown neighbourhood, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is trying to increase its future working population by making it easier for children of foreign residents to become citizens, but its plans have run into trouble in the face of rising anti-China sentiment.
    A measure proposed by the Ministry of Justice – first made public in April – called for easing the pathway to citizenship for children born to long-term foreign residents, by simply notifying the ministry.
    A presidential petition opposing the revision has gathered over 300,000 signatures.    The chatroom of an online hearing held to discuss the proposal in May was overwhelmed with expletive-laced complaints by the tens of thousands of viewers.
    The justice ministry has said it is still taking into account public opinion and the advice of experts before submitting the proposal to the Ministry of Government Legislation.
    “Given the strong backlash, I would say the ministry has already lost much of the momentum to push ahead with the proposal,” said Jang Yun-mi, an attorney who specializes in issues related to children.
    The controversy highlights the challenges South Korea faces as it seeks to ensure a robust future population in the face of declining birthrates and rapidly aging workers, and the potential policy implications of increasingly negative views of China, its biggest trading partner.
    Data from last year suggests only about 3,930 people would be eligible under the rule change, but the fact that 3,725 of them were of Chinese heritage prompted much of the criticism.
    South Korean views have been coloured by what some see as economic bullying by Beijing, its poor handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and the assertion by some Chinese that dearly held aspects of Korean food and culture, such as kimchi and the traditional hanbok dress, have roots in China.
    Among immigrant communities, the proposed measures are not seen as worth the backlash, said Kim Yong-phil, editor-in-chief of E Korea World, a local newspaper for Chinese-Koreans.
    “Anti-Chinese people could use this issue as a pretext to attack Chinese-Koreans,” he said.
POPULATION DECLINE
    Naturalization was rare in South Korea until the early 2000s – just 33 foreigners gained South Korean citizenship in 2000, for example – but rose to nearly 14,000 last year, immigration data show.
    Of them, nearly 58% were from China, and 30% from Vietnam.    The rest included people from Mongolia, Uzbekistan and Japan, Korea Immigration Service data showed.
    The latest proposal is needed to encourage future workers to stay by allowing them to foster a South Korean identity from an early age and stably get assimilated into society, the justice ministry told Reuters in a statement.
    Kim Yong-seon, who came from China in 2004 to study and was naturalized in 2014, said the amendment is useful as it provides more options for immigrants, but that the more pressing matter is making it easier for adults to become citizens.
    “Over the past few years, the requirements for permanent residency and citizenship have only gotten harder,” he said, citing changes that require high amounts of income or assets.
    Like the majority of Chinese nationals residing in South Korea, Kim is ethnic Korean – his grandfather migrated to China a century ago.
    More than 70% of the 865,000 Chinese nationals residing in South Korea are of Korean descent, according to immigration data.
    Negative views of China among South Koreans have hit historic highs recently, with as much as 75% having an unfavourable opinion of them late last year, compared to around 37% in 2015, according to Pew Research.
    “Some Chinese people are already committing a ‘cultural fraud’ against the whole world by making unreasonable claims that kimchi and hanbok are also Chinese,” opposition People’s Party chairman Ahn Cheol-soo said.
    “If left as is, it will lead to a ‘cultural invasion’ in which they claim that even Korea’s priceless culture is theirs.”
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/16/2021 Sydney Records First Local COVID-19 Case In More Than A Month
A woman scans a QR check-in code at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing centre behind the Kings Park townhouse
complex, locked down in response to an outbreak, in Melbourne, Australia, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s most populous city Sydney has recorded its first locally acquired case of COVID-19 in more than a month, stoking concerns of a fresh wave of infections on Wednesday.
    New South Wales (NSW) state said it is not clear how the unnamed man in his 60s acquired the virus, but he was a driver who occasionally transported overseas airline crew.
    While authorities urgently try and determine the source of the infection, NSW warned the unnamed man went to the cinema and more than a dozen cafes and shops in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, while potentially infectious.
    The emergence of a case in NSW comes as Australia’s second most populous state battles to contain a cluster of COVID-19 cases.
    Victoria state on Wednesday recorded five COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, though all linked to known cases, but authorities said it will ease restrictions on the 5 million residents of Melbourne.
    From Friday, anyone in Melbourne will be allowed to travel more than 25 kms (15 miles) from their home, while mandatory masks wearing outdoors will end.
    Melbourne exited a two-week hard lockdown late last week, its fourth since the pandemic began, after an outbreak that has seen about 100 cases since May 24.
    Public gatherings will increased to 20 people while the ban on home gatherings will be lifted.    Gyms can open across Melbourne but must comply to strict distancing rules and salon services can operate without masks during service.
    “It isn’t over yet by no means … please don’t go back to behaviours that would suggest that there’s absolutely no risk,” Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said during a televised media conference in Melbourne.
    Swift contact tracing, snap lockdowns and strict social distancing measures has helped Australia successfully combat prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.
    Daily cases have remained in single digits for the last nine days in Victoria while other states and territories have effectively eliminated the virus.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)

6/16/2021 China Ramps Up Vaccinations, But Uneven Rollout Leaves Borders Closed
FILE PHOTO: A man leaves a booth to after receiving a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination
center, during a government-organized visit, in Beijing, China, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China has tripled its daily COVID-19 vaccine rollout in June, inoculating 44% of its population with at least one dose, but its health experts warn against a quick border reopening, citing an uneven rollout and the low rate of full vaccinations.
    China rolled out 17.3 million doses per day in June on average, up sharply from 4.8 million in April, as it expanded the list of approved vaccines to seven by adding three more locally-developed shots, and continued to boost production.
    But the rollout has been uneven.
    By the first week of June, major cities of Beijing and Shanghai fully inoculated nearly 70% and 50% of their residents respectively, but the rate in Guangdong and Shandong provinces remained below 20%.
    “(China) is such a big country… Once any of its places open up, it will have a big impact on places that haven’t reached high vaccination levels,” Feng Zijian, a researcher at Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said earlier this month.
    Feng said that China is yet to reach a consensus on what vaccination rate will safely allow adjusting virus control measures, including loosening requirement of quarantine or virus testing for inbound travellers.
    China will also wait and see how Japan handles its virus outbreak and the Tokyo Olympics next month before deciding how quickly Beijing needs to loosen its border controls, a person familiar with the situation said.
    China is also stepping up vaccinations in preparation to host the Winter Olympics early next year.
    Several counties and districts of Zhangjiakou city in northern China, which will host some of the Games, are urging residents to get vaccinated, saying it is a “necessary contribution” that they should make for the international event.
    As part of the city’s vaccination campaign, more than 1,800 unvaccinated visitors were dissuaded from entering a park in the Xuanhua district earlier this month and guided to nearby inoculation sites, according to a social media post by the district-level authorities.
    “There isn’t much time and the task is heavy,” Wu Weidong, head of the city-level committee of the Communist Party, said in a statement earlier this month.
    It said the city is still short of its vaccination target without detailing its target or inoculation rate.
ZERO TOLERANCE
    China has kept local transmission in check by conducting large-scale COVID tests and seal up neighbourhoods and streets when new cases emerged.    It refuses to abandon this “zero-tolerance” playbook, even though local outbreaks are tiny compared with those in other countries.
    Zhang Wenhong, director of an expert team on COVID-19 treatment in Shanghai city, said at a recent conference it would be too early to drop the policy or fully open up until the full vaccination rate hits at least 70%.
    For China, the flip side of low local transmission has been difficulty in gauging clearly how effectively China’s vaccination campaign will help contain the spread of the virus.
    Some countries such as Britain and Chile are battling a surge in new cases even as they have among the highest vaccination rates in the world, a cautionary tale for China.
    Chile, which used a vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac as its major vaccination tool, said on Monday it would extend a COVID-19 emergency through September, as cases have soured to some of their highest levels since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Michael Perry)

6/16/2021 China Says No Leak At Nuclear Plant, No Change To Detection Standards
FILE PHOTO: An artist impression of Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, to be operated by China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGN), is displayed on
a viewing platform overlooking the construction site in Taishan, Guangdong province, October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China said on Wednesday that there was no radiation leak at the Taishan nuclear power station and it had not raised acceptable limits for radiation levels around the plant, responding to a CNN report earlier this week.
    CNN reported on Monday that Framatome, the French company which designed the plant, had warned China’s National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) had raised acceptable radiation limits outside the plant in the southeastern province of Guangdong to avoid having to shut it down.
    The Ministry of Ecology and Environment said on Wednesday an increase in radiation levels had been detected in the primary circuit at Taishan’s Unit 1 reactor, but they were within the parameters for safe operations.
    The higher radioactivity level was caused by damage to a small number of fuel rods, which is usual during production, transportation and loading of the fuel, the ministry said on its Wechat social media account.
    “Environmental monitoring in the vicinity of the Taishan plant found no abnormal parameters … showing no leak has occurred at all,” it said.
    About five out of more than 60,000 fuel rods at the Unit 1 reactor were estimated to have been damaged, or less than 0.01%, far below a designed allowance of 0.25%, it said.
    It said the NNSA had approved radiation limits for noble gases inside the reactor coolant, but this had nothing to do with the detection of radiation outside the plant, adding that “the idea in the CNN report was erroneous.”
    The ministry said it will continue to closely monitor radioactivity levels at the Unit 1 reactor and would also maintain communications with the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as France’s nuclear safety watchdog.
    The Taishan project, completed in 2019, consists of two French-designed reactors, and is located around 200 km (124 miles) from Hong Kong.
(Reporting by Min Zhang, Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton; additional reporting by Chen Aizhu in Singapore; editing by Richard Pullin)

6/16/2021 North Korea’s Kim Says Food Situation ‘Tense’ Due To Pandemic, Typhoons by Hyonhee Shin
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the opening of the 3rd Plenary Meeting of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK),
in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this undated photo released on June 16, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said the country’s economy improved this year but called for measures to tackle the “tense” food situation caused by the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s typhoons, state media said on Wednesday.
    Kim chaired a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee on Tuesday to review progress on major policies and craft measures to resolve economic issues, according to the official KCNA news agency.
    The committee set goals and tasks to achieve its new five-year economic plan outlined at its previous session in February, including increased food and metal production.
    Kim said the overall economy had improved in the first half of the year, with the total industrial output growing 25% from a year before, KCNA said.
    But there was “a series of deviations” in the party’s efforts to implement the plans due to several obstacles, he said, singling out tight food supplies.
    “The people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfil its grain production plan due to the damage by typhoon last year,” Kim said.
    The party vowed to direct all efforts to farming this year and discuss ways to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, KCNA said.
    Kim called for steps to minimise impacts of natural disasters as a lesson from last year and key to attain this year’s goal.
    In January, Kim said his previous five-year economic plan had failed in almost every sector, amid chronic power and food shortages exacerbated by sanctions, the pandemic and floods.
    He also the protracted pandemic required the party to step up efforts to provide food, clothing and housing for the people, KCNA said.
    North Korea has not officially confirmed any COVID-19 cases, a claim questioned by Seoul officials.    But the reclusive country has imposed strict anti-virus measures including border closures and domestic travel restrictions.
    COVAX, a global initiative for sharing COVID-19 vaccines with poor countries, has said it will provide nearly 2 million doses to North Korea but the shipment has been delayed amid protracted consultations.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

6/16/2021 After Massed Plane Incursion Near Taiwan, China Says Must Respond To ‘Collusion’
Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside military airplanes in
this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) -China does not tolerate foreign forces intervening in Taiwan issues and has to make strong responses to such acts of “collusion,” the government said on Wednesday after the island reported the largest incursion to date of Chinese aircraft.
    Twenty-eight Chinese air force aircraft, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Tuesday, the Chinese-claimed island’s government said.
    The incident came after the Group of Seven leaders issued a joint statement on Sunday scolding China for a series of issues and underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, comments China condemned as “slander.”
    Asked at a news conference whether the military activity was related to the G7 statement, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said it was Taiwan’s government that was to blame for tensions.    Beijing believes the island’s government is working with foreign countries to seek formal independence.
    “We will never tolerate attempts to seek independence or wanton intervention in the Taiwan issue by foreign forces, so we need to make a strong response to these acts of collusion,” Ma said.
    Democratically-ruled Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the island, concentrated in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    However, this time not only did the Chinese aircraft fly in an area close to the Pratas Islands, but the bombers and some of the fighters flew around the southern part of Taiwan near the bottom tip of the island, according to Taiwan’s defence ministry.
    The fly-by happened on the same day the U.S. Navy said a carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan had entered the disputed South China Sea.
    “The Ronald Reagan Strike group did not interact with any Chinese military aircraft,” Carrier Strike Group 5 spokesperson Lt. Cmdr. Joe Keiley said in an emailed statement responding to questions on whether the Chinese aircraft had approached them.
    “During the strike group’s South China Sea operations, all communications between ships and aircraft have been consistent with international norms and have not impacted our operations.”
    A senior official familiar with Taiwan’s security planning told Reuters that officials believed China was sending a message to the United States as the carrier group sailed through the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines and leads into the South China Sea.
    “It’s strategic intimidation of the U.S. military.    They wanted the United States to notice their capability and for them to restrain their behaviour.”
    Taiwan needs in particular to pay attention to the fact that China’s military has started conducting drills in Taiwan’s southeastern ADIZ, the source added.
    This “to a certain degree was targeting our deployments in the east and increasing air defence pressure around our ADIZ,” the source said.
    Taiwan’s east coast is home to two major air bases with hangers dug out of the side of mountains to provide protection in the event of a Chinese assault.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom, Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/16/2021 Singapore Records Slowest Decade Of Population Growth Since Independence
FILE PHOTO: Commuters wearing protective face masks leave a train station during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s population rose by about 1.1% each year over the past decade, the slowest rate since independence in 1965, the latest census showed on Wednesday, with locals having fewer children and immigration policies tightening.
    Just last year, the global financial hub saw its population fall 0.3% to 5.69 million, the first drop since 2003, due to fewer foreign arrivals on the back of travel curbs and job losses brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Like many other developed countries, Singapore is struggling with the implications of low birth rates and an ageing population.
    Residents aged 65 years and over formed 15.2% of the population in 2020, up from 9% in 2010.
    Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Singaporean citizens increased to 3.52 million from 3.23 million.    But more are staying single and those who marry are having fewer children.
    The average number of children born to a resident female, who has been married, aged 40 to 49 years dropped to 1.76 in 2020, from 2.02 in 2010.
    The median age of the resident population, which includes citizens and permanent residents, increased to 41.5 years in 2020 from 37.4 years in 2010, the latest census showed.
    Authorities have also been accelerating immigration restrictions since the 2011 general elections when the ruling People’s Action Party polled a record low share of the popular vote, hurt by citizens’ anxiety over an influx of foreigners.
(Reporting by Chen Lin and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Ed Davies)

6/16/2021 Japan Govt Vows ‘Safe And Secure’ Olympics In Economic Blueprint - Draft by Takaya Yamaguchi
Workers attach the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner on a lamp post in Tokyo, Japan, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government will include a pledge to achieve a “safe and secure” Tokyo Olympic Games in its economic blueprint due out on Friday, according to a final draft obtained by Reuters on Wednesday.
    An earlier draft blueprint only called for making the Olympics leave “various legacies” behind, while the final version appeared to stress the government’s resolve to go ahead with the Games.
    The final draft came days after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he had won support at a G7 summit meeting in Britain for holding the Olympics despite public concern that the sports extravaganza could worsen the spread of coronavirus infections.
    The government will also clarify its resolve to complete vaccine inoculations in October through November, the draft showed.
    Turning to fiscal policy, the draft kept the government’s pledge to achieve a primary budget surplus by fiscal year-end in March 2026 while reassessing the target by the end of this fiscal year taking into account coronavirus fallouts.
(Reporting by Takaya Yamaguchi, writing by Leika Kihara and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Catherine Evans)

6/16/2021 Osaka Governor Says To Ask Japan Govt To Call ‘Quasi-Emergency’
FILE PHOTO: A woman, wearing protective mask following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), walks on an almost empty street
in the Dotonbori entertainment district of Osaka, Japan, March 14, 2020. Pictured taken March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Osaka will ask the Japanese government to keep a quasi-state of coronavirus emergency should the current state of emergency be lifted on June 20, the governor of the country’s major western prefecture said on Wednesday.
    Although fresh cases are declining, the prefecture should prevent the virus infection from “rebounding,” Osaka governor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

6/16/2021 Watchdog Says ‘Pervasive’ Digital Sex Crime Affecting Life For South Korean Women, Girls by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A woman poses for a picture next to a cherry blossom tree, at a street closed to avoid the
spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Seoul, South Korea, April 1, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Digital sex crime is now so pervasive in South Korea that the fear of it is affecting the quality of life for women and girls, with many victims saying they had considered suicide or leaving the country, a human rights watchdog said on Wednesday.
    South Korea has become the global epicentre of spycam – the use of tiny, hidden cameras to film victims naked, urinating or having sex.
    Other cases have involved intimate photos being leaked without permission, or sex abuse such as rapes captured on camera and the videos shared online.
    Victims are often traumatized further and become “immersed in the abuse” by encounters with police and other justice officials, and by the expectation that they should gather evidence and monitor the internet for new appearances of images of themselves, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.
    “Digital sex crimes have become so common, and so feared, in South Korea that they are affecting the quality of life of all women and girls,” Heather Barr, the report’s author, said in a statement.    “Women and girls told us they avoided using public toilets and felt anxious about hidden cameras in public and even in their homes.    An alarming number of survivors of digital sex crimes said they had considered suicide.”
    The report, based on 38 interviews and an online survey, said sex crime prosecutions involving illegal filming rose 11-fold between 2008 and 2017, according to data from the Korean Institute of Criminology.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in has called for police to investigate the growing number of sexual abuse claims, including recently among members of the military.
    Last year, police broke up an online network that lured dozens of women and underage girls into what authorities have called “virtual enslavement” by blackmailing them into sending increasingly degrading and sometimes violent sexual imagery of themselves.
    HRW said the government needs to do more by increasing legal penalties for convicted offenders, boosting the number of women among the police, prosecutors, and judges, and changing broader gender inequality that normalizes the consumption of non-consensual images.
    In 2019, prosecutors dropped 43.5% of digital sex crime cases compared to 27.7% of homicide cases and 19% of robbery cases, though the sex crime cases that were prosecuted usually ended in a conviction, the report said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

6/16/2021 Explainer: What Happened At China’s Taishan Nuclear Reactor? by David Stanway
FILE PHOTO: An artist impression of Taishan Nuclear Power Plant, to be operated by China Guangdong Nuclear Power (CGN), is displayed on
a viewing platform overlooking the construction site in Taishan, Guangdong province, October 17, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – French energy company EDF is investigating a potential issue linked to a build-up of inert gases at its nuclear plant in China’s southeastern province of Guangdong.
    The probe comes after CNN reported that the U.S. government was assessing a report of a leak at the Taishan power station.    The report was made by Framatome, the EDF business that designed the plant’s reactor and remains involved in its operations.
    Framatome warned that the plant, a joint venture with China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) that is located around 200 kilometres from Hong Kong, was facing an “imminent radiological threat
    Here is what we know so far.
WHAT HAPPENED AT TAISHAN?
    According to CNN, U.S. officials have been investigating the Framatome claims of a leak for the past week.
    EDF, which has a minority stake in the plant, said a build-up of krypton and xenon – both inert gases – had affected the primary circuit of Taishan Unit 1, but added that it was a “known phenomenon, studied and provided for in the reactor operating procedures.”
    Majority owner CGN also said in a statement that operations at the plant met safety rules.
    Radiation levels in the vicinity were still normal on Monday, according to real-time data from the National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA).
    According to CNN, Framatome’s warning included an accusation that NNSA was raising acceptable radiation limits outside the Taishan plant to avoid having to shut it down.
    The regulator and the Chinese government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS?
    Nuclear experts have generally played down the risks.    CNN cited U.S. officials as saying that the dangers to the public were currently minimal.
    Li Ning, a Chinese nuclear scientist based in the United States, told Reuters that CNN was “making a mountain out of a molehill” and that it was unrealistic to expect “zero failure” in the fuel cladding of nuclear projects anywhere in the world.
    Li said the media were “often unwilling to put risks into proper perspective,” which he said had effectively killed off the nuclear industry in the west.
    “Coal fired power plants can emit and discharge more radioactivity than nuclear power plants,” Li said.
WHY IS THE U.S. GOVERNMENT INVOLVED?
    CGN, China’s largest state-owned nuclear company, was placed on a U.S. blacklist in Aug. 2019 for allegedly making efforts to acquire advanced U.S. technology and material for diversion to military uses in China.     That means that Framatome, which has operations in the United States, would need a waiver from the U.S. government to allow it to help CGN fix technological problems, Li said.
    China’s foreign ministry has said the blacklist is a misuse of export control measures.
WHAT IS TAISHAN’S SAFETY RECORD?
    Minor safety issues have been quite frequent at Taishan. In March, inspectors checking a faulty voltmeter in Unit 1 accidently caused an electrical malfunction that triggered an automatic shutdown, according to NNSA incident records.
    In April, a burst of radioactive gas unexpectedly entered a pipe at Unit 1’s waste gas treatment system just as workers were trying to seal it, also triggering an alarm, NNSA said.
WHAT IS AN “EPR”?
    Formerly known as a “European Pressurised Reactor,” the EPR is a “third-generation” nuclear technology that includes enhanced safety features as well as greater generation capacity.
    It was designed by Framatome together with Germany’s Siemens.    Its third-generation rivals now include Westinghouse’s AP1000, Russia’s VVER-1200 and China’s Hualong One.
    In 2006, EDF and fellow French nuclear group Areva lost a bid to build four reactors on China’s eastern coast, with China opting for Westinghouse’s model after signing a deal to transfer core technology for use in its own projects.
    In 2007, EDF agreed to build two EPRs at Taishan, which would be 70%-owned by CGN.    Construction got underway in 2010.    Originally scheduled to be connected to the grid within four years, the first unit wasn’t completed until December 2018.
WHAT NEXT?
    EDF did not provide a timeframe for completion of its investigation, nor did U.S. officials, according to the CNN report.
    Problems at the Taishan project are unlikely to dent China’s nuclear ambitions, but they underscore the challenges facing foreign reactor developers in a market increasingly dominated by domestic players.
    China fell short on its 2020 nuclear capacity target.    Many complained the sector’s expansion was derailed not only by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but also by the lengthy delays and spiralling costs at foreign-designed projects.
    As it steps up the construction of new plants, China is now expected to depend primarily on its own third-generation Hualong One design, but it is also helping to finance the construction of an EPR project at Britain’s Hinkley Point.
(This story corrects name of regulator to National Nuclear Safety Administration, not China Nuclear Safety Administration in paragraph 8)
(Reporting by David Stanway, additional reporting by Muyu Xu in Beijing; editing by Jane Wardell)

6/17/2021 China Denies Leak After Fuel Rod Trouble Reported At Nuclear Power Plant by OAN Newsroom
The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant in Taishan in southern China’s Guangdong Province is seen, Thursday, June 17, 2021.
The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant near Hong Kong had five broken fuel rods in a reactor but no radioactivity leaked, the government
said Wednesday in its first confirmation of the incident that prompted concern over the facility’s safety. (AP Photo)
    The Chinese government acknowledged damage at one of its nuclear power plants, but claimed nothing has leaked out.
    Reports Wednesday detailed the situation after a spokesperson for the French energy firm that helps operate the plant said a problem with fuel rods led to a build-up of gasses.    The firm warned the U.S. government of an “imminent radiological threat” and said China’s nuclear regulator raised the level of radiation allowed outside the plant to avoid closing it.
    Chinese officials, however, claim the reactor is within its safety parameters.
    “The Taishan Nuclear Power Plant performs to the requirements of the technical specifications with normal level of environmental radiation in the surrounding areas of the nuclear power plant, the safety of which is guaranteed,” stated Zhao Lijian, spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
    According to reports, the Biden administration believes the facility isn’t yet at a “crisis level.”

6/17/2021 Chinese Astronauts Board Space Station Module In Historic Mission by Carlos Garcia and Shubing Wang
The Long March-2F Y12 rocket, carrying the Shenzhou-12 spacecraft and three astronauts, takes off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center for
China's first manned mission to build its space station, near Jiuquan, Gansu province, China June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    JIUQUAN, China (Reuters) -Three Chinese astronauts on Thursday flew to an unfinished space station in China’s first crewed mission since 2016, expanding the country’s already growing near-Earth presence and challenging U.S. leadership in orbital space.
    The astronauts rode to Tianhe – the module that will be the living quarters of China’s completed space station – on Shenzhou-12, or “Divine Vessel.”    The crew boarded the module, where they will live for three months, the longest stay in low-Earth orbit by any Chinese national.
    China’s space station, due to be finished by end-2022, will be the only alternative to the two-decade-old, U.S.-led International Space Station (ISS), which may be retired in 2024.
    If the ISS – backed mainly by the United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada – is decommissioned, China would be the operator of the only active space station.    That would potentially give it greater power in shaping future norms and regulations for near-Earth space, which is already teeming with Chinese satellites.
    “At this current stage, we haven’t considered the participation of international astronauts, but their future participation will be guaranteed,” said Zhou Jianping, chief designer of China’s manned space programme.
    “I’m aware that many countries have expressed their wish in this regard,” Zhou told foreign reporters at the Shenzhou launch site in northwestern Gansu province.
    Shenzhou-12 is the third of 11 missions – four of which will be crewed – needed to complete China’s first full-fledged space station.    Construction began in April with the launch of Tianhe, a cylinder-like module slightly bigger than a city bus.
    The Shenzhou-12 astronauts Nie Haisheng, 56, Liu Boming, 54, and Tang Hongbo, 45, will test out technologies on Tianhe including its life-support system.    They will also be monitored for how they fare in space physically and psychologically.    An upcoming mission to the space station will last six months.
    Barred by U.S. law from working with NASA and by extension on the ISS, China has spent the past decade developing technologies to build its own space station, in addition to planning missions to the moon, Mars and other planets.
    China plans to allow Hong Kong astronauts to join future missions, Zhou also said.
‘FIRST BATON’
    “This will be the first crewed flight in the space station (construction) phase, and I’m lucky to be able to have the ‘first baton’,” Nie told reporters a day before the launch.
    The veteran astronaut has been hailed by his team as a bastion of stability and a teacher figure who constantly challenges others with tough questions.
    “As long as we have him in our hearts, we have nothing to fear,” fellow astronaut Wang Yaping, who is part of the Shenzhou-12 backup team, told state media previously.
    “In our crew, elder brother Nie is like the needle that stills the sea,” she said.
    Liu Boming, like Nie, was from the first batch of astronauts selected in the 1990s for China’s space programme.
    Known for his intellect, Liu is often addressed by his colleagues as “Little Zhuge”, the renowned military strategist who lived in China two millennia ago.
    On the Shenzhou-7 mission in 2008, Liu famously used a crowbar to pry open the hatch after it refused to open.
    Former air force pilot Tang Hongbo, 45, was from a later batch of astronauts, and trained for more than a decade before being selected for his first spaceflight on Shenzhou-12.
    “I’ve waited for 11 years, and finally I’m ready, and I can contribute my strength,” Tang told reporters on Wednesday.
    Since 2003, China has launched six crewed missions and sent 11 astronauts into space, including Zhai Zhigang, who carried out China’s first space walk ever on the 2008 Shenzhou mission.
(Reporting by Carlos Garcia and Shubing Wang; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Tom Hogue and Giles Elgood)

6/17/2021 Hong Kong’s Apple Daily Newsroom Raided By 500 Officers Over National Security Law by Sara Cheng and Sharon Abratique
FILE PHOTO: Copies of Next Digital's Apple Daily newspapers are seen at a
newsstand in Hong Kong, China May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Five hundred Hong Kong police officers sifted through reporters’ computers and notebooks at pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Thursday, the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the national security law.
    Around dawn, police arrested five executives of the newspaper, and officers were later seen sitting at computers in the newsroom after entering with a warrant to seize journalistic materials, including from reporters’ phones and laptops.
    The raid is the latest blow to media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the tabloid’s owner and a staunch Beijing critic, whose assets have been frozen under the security law and who is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
    In comments raising further alarm over media freedoms in Hong Kong, Security Secretary John Lee described the newsroom as a “crime scene” and said the operation was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool to endanger” national security.
    He did not elaborate on the dozens of articles police said they were taking aim, at but said the five were arrested for a conspiracy to make “use of journalistic work” to incite foreign forces to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.
    “Normal journalists are different from these people.    Don’t collude with them,” he told reporters.
    “Do your journalistic work as freely as you like in accordance with the law, provided you do not conspire or have any intention to break … the national security law.”
Senior superintendent Li Kwai-wah said the tabloid’s reports dated back to 2019, without saying when the most recent were published.    The legislation is not retrospective but prosecutors can use actions from before its implementation as evidence.
    Police have also frozen HK$18 million ($2.32 million) of assets owned by three companies linked to Apple Daily and said that the raid was not aimed at the media industry as a whole.
    In a letter to its readers, Apple Daily said that it was the victim of a “targeted attack by the regime,” but that its staff “will continue to stick to their posts loyally and fight to the end.”
    Police seized 38 computers used by its reporters, Apple Daily said.
    It was the second time national security police have raided the Apple Daily headquarters; 200 officers went in last year to arrest Lai on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces.
    Lai has been in detention since December, denied bail under the security law and serving several sentences for taking part in some unauthorised rallies, including during the global financial hub’s mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    The security law was Beijing’s first major move to set China’s most restive city on an authoritarian path.    It punishes anything Beijing deems as subversion, secessionism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    The five people arrested were editor-in-chief Ryan Law, chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai.
    “This is a blatant attack on the editorial side of Apple Daily,” Mark Simon, an adviser to Lai who is outside Hong Kong, told Reuters.    “They’re arresting the top editorial folks.”
    Asked how long he thinks the newspaper can survive, Simon said: “They decide, not us,” referring to authorities.
    China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office said it firmly supported what it described as “just action” by the police.
‘ORWELLIAN’ LAW
    Pictures published by Apple Daily showed police sitting at reporters’ desks and using their computers.    A person streaming a live feed for Apple Daily’s Facebook page said reporters were prevented from accessing certain floors or getting their equipment or notebooks.
    Chief editor Law was seen walking in handcuffs, flanked by police officers. The Apple Daily paper’s general news desk told reporters in a text message seen by Reuters to carry on with their assignments outside the building for the time being.
    The move is the latest blow to Apple Daily after authorities last month directed jailed tycoon Lai’s shares in Next Digital, publisher of the newspaper, to be frozen.
    In May, Reuters reported that Hong Kong’s security chief sent letters to Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years in jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.
    Apple Daily is an unapologetic tabloid founded 26 years ago that mixes pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, and is popular in Hong Kong.
    “The arrests … under Hong Kong’s Orwellian National Security Law destroy any remaining fiction that Hong Kong supports freedom of the press,” said Steven Butler, Committee to Protect Journalists’ Asia program coordinator.
    “China, which controls Hong Kong, may be able to eliminate the paper, which it sees as an annoying critic, but only at a steep price to be paid by the people of Hong Kong, who had enjoyed decades of free access to information,” he added.
(Reporting by Sharon Tam, Sharon Abratique, Sara Cheng, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok, and Anne Marie Roantree; writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)

6/17/2021 Close Khamenei Loyalist Sanctioned By U.S. Set To Win Iran Vote by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally in Tehran,
Iran June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians vote on Friday in a race likely to hand the presidency to a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners, a result that would cheer the clerical leadership but stir Western human rights concerns.
    Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, an ally and protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is favourite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani, forbidden under the constitution from serving a third four-year term.
    Raisi says that while the Islamic Republic needs no help from foreigners, he does back talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, a development that would bring an easing of Western sanctions that have crushed Iran’s economy.
    But the election of an Iranian head of government currently under U.S. sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden’s sharpened focus on human rights globally.
    “Raisi being elected will justify and legitimize America’s human rights sanctions against the Islamic Republic,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born expert on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
    Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but record numbers of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hardline rule.
    Another potential deterrent for voters is a hardline vetting body’s disqualification of hundreds of would-be candidates, including many advocating more political and personal freedoms.
    For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little purpose, analysts of Iranian politics say.
BOYCOTT CALL
    The establishment’s religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi, a mid-ranking Shi’ite Muslim cleric who lost to Rouhani in 2017.
    “I will vote for Raisi because he is the most capable candidate to bring back the country to our revolutionary values,” Said Mohammad Hosseini from the holy Shi’ite city of Mashhad.
    But hundreds of Iranians, including prominent politicians and relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, have called for an election boycott.
    “Why should I vote when it has no impact?    Raisi will be the next president whether we vote or not,” said an Iranian journalist who asked not to be named due to security concerns.
    Raisi, whose main rival in the vote is moderate former Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.
    A few months later, the United States sanctioned him for human rights violations, including the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a part according to human rights groups.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    A win on Friday would burnish Raisi’s chances of one day succeeding Khamenei at the pinnacle of power, the analysts say.
STREET PROTESTS
    If elected, Raisi is not expected to stray from Khamenei’s anti-U.S. stance, in contrast to Rouhani, whose comments in favour of opening up to the world sometimes appeared at variance with the supreme leader’s intense suspicion of the West.
    “Khamenei does not want dissent from the presidential office, especially not now that he faces unprecedented challenges,” said Javedanfar.
    Within Iran’s mix of clerical rulers and elected officials, Khamenei has the final say on all state matters, including nuclear and foreign policies.    But the elected president will be in charge of tackling an economy hammered by U.S. sanctions.
    Over 50% of Iran’s 85 million population has been pushed under the poverty line since 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched a 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed nuclear-related sanctions that have squeezed Tehran’s oil income.
    The election coincides with talks between Iran and six major powers to revive the nuclear accord, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions.
    Aware of its vulnerability to anger over the economy, the leadership fears a revival of street protests that have erupted since 2017, in which protesters called for “regime change.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/17/2021 Low Probability China Tries To Seize Taiwan Militarily In Near Term: Top U.S. General
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley looks on during a Senate Appropriations
Committee hearing in Washington, U.S. June 17, 2021. Caroline Brehman/Pool via Reuters
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. general said on Thursday there was a low probability that China would try to militarily take over Taiwan in the near-term and had some way to go to develop the capabilities needed.
    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley told lawmakers that while Taiwan was still a core national interest of China, “there’s little intent right now, or motivation, to do it militarily.”
    “There’s no reason to do it militarily, and they know that. So, I think the probability is probably low, in the immediate, near-term future,” Milley said during a Congressional hearing.
    “My assessment in terms of capability, I think China has a ways to go to develop the actual, no-kidding capability to conduct military operations to seize through military means the entire island of Taiwan, if they wanted to do that,” he added.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart)

6/18/2021 Exclusive-Pacific Undersea Cable Project Sinks After U.S. Warns Against Chinese Participation by Jonathan Barrett and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Plane carrying then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes its landing approach on Pohnpei
International Airport in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – A World Bank-led project declined to award a contract to lay sensitive undersea communications cables after Pacific island governments heeded U.S. warnings that participation of a Chinese company posed a security threat, two sources told Reuters.
    The former Huawei Marine Networks, now called HMN Technologies and majority owned by Shanghai-listed Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd, submitted a bid for the $72.6 million project priced at more than 20% below rivals Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN), part of Finland’s Nokia, and Japan’s NEC, the sources said.
    The East Micronesia Cable system was designed to improve communications in the island nations of Nauru, Kiribati and Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), by providing underwater infrastructure with a far greater data capacity than satellites.
    Two sources with direct knowledge of the tender told Reuters that the project reached a stalemate due to security concerns raised within the island nations over HMN Tech’s bid.    The project’s planned connection to a sensitive cable leading to Guam, a U.S. territory with substantial military assets, heightened those security concerns.
    “Given there was no tangible way to remove Huawei as one of the bidders, all three bids were deemed non-compliant,” one of those sources said.
    The source said that HMN Tech was in a strong position to win the bid due to the terms overseen by the development agencies, prompting those wary of Chinese involvement to find an expedient solution to end the tender.
    The World Bank said in a statement to Reuters that it was working with the respective governments to map out the next steps.
    “The process has concluded without an award due to non-responsiveness to the requirements of the bidding documents,” the Washington-based multilateral lender said.
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement to Reuters that all parties should provide a non-discriminatory business environment that companies from all countries, including China, can participate in.
    “As a matter of principle, I want to emphasise that Chinese companies have always maintained an excellent record in cyber security,” the spokesperson said.
    “The Chinese government has always encouraged Chinese companies to engage in foreign investment and cooperation according to market principles, international regulations and local laws.”
    The three island nations involved in the project were represented on the bid assessment committee.    Development agencies typically review the committee’s recommendations to ensure the selected bidder complies with the agencies’ policies and procedures.
    A second development bank involved in the project, the Asian Development Bank, referred questions from Reuters to the World Bank as the lead agency.
    HMN Tech and Hengtong Group, the parent company, did not respond to emailed questions.    A representative who answered the phone at HMN Tech declined to comment.
    A spokesman for Nokia-owned ASN told Reuters the company was not authorised to comment on confidential information.    NEC did not respond to questions. (Graphic: Submarine Cables in the Pacific, https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-PACIFIC/dgkvlqbmmpb/SUBMARINE-CABLES.jpg)
U.S. CONCERNS
    During the bidding process last year, Washington detailed its concerns in a diplomatic note sent to FSM, which has military defence arrangements with the United States under a decades-old agreement.
    The note said Chinese firms posed a security threat because they are required to co-operate with Beijing’s intelligence and security services, an assertion rejected by China.
    In separate correspondence, prominent U.S. lawmakers warned that the Chinese government subsidises companies, undermining tenders like those run by development agencies.
    The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday.
    While the warnings were issued during the Trump administration, there’s been no apparent change to the U.S. position on the issue under the new government.
    The project was designed to connect to the HANTRU-1 undersea cable, a line primarily used by the U.S. government that connects to Guam.
    Washington has pressed governments around the world to squeeze Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei Technologies out of supplying critical infrastructure, alleging the company would hand over data to the Chinese government for spying, a charge consistently denied by the company.
    The U.S. Commerce Department publicly lists Huawei Marine on its so-called “Entity List” – known as a blacklist – which restricts the sale of U.S. goods and technology to the company.    The Department did not immediately respond to questions on whether the change in Huawei Marine’s ownership changed this status.
    Nauru, which has strong ties to Australia and is a Pacific ally to Taiwan, initially raised concerns over the bid lodged by the Chinese company.
    The third island nation involved in the project, Kiribati, has forged strong bilateral ties with Beijing in recent years, which includes drawing up plans to upgrade a remote airstrip.
    A spokesman for FSM said the government was unable to comment on the project.    Representatives of Nauru and Kiribati did not respond to questions.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/18/2021 Two Apple Daily Executives Charged With Collusion With Foreign Country by Jessie Pang and Sara Cheng
People line up to purchase Apple Daily newspaper from a newspaper stall after police raided its newsroom and
arrested five executives the day before, in Hong Kong, China early June 18, 2021. REUTERS/James Pomfret
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong police charged the chief editor and chief executive of pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily on Friday with collusion with a foreign country, a national security case that has sent chills through the city’s media.
    Some 500 police raided the media outlet on Thursday and five Apple Daily executives were arrested on suspicion that dozens of its articles violated Hong Kong’s new security law.
    Police said they charged two of the five on Friday, identified by Apple Daily as editor-in-chief Ryan Law and chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung.
    The other three, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai, were released on bail late on Friday, according to Apple Daily.
    The exact terms of their bail were not immediately known, but it appeared the three had not been charged.
    “I know that there are still two other colleagues who cannot come out yet.    They are being charged under the national security law.    I am very upset.    I hope they can be bailed out soon,” Chan said as she left the police station.
    “I know the company and Apple Daily colleagues continue to uphold their duty professionally, continue to report the news.    I am proud of them.    I am very touched.    We will try our best.”
    Earlier, police also said they would prosecute three companies related to Apple Daily for the same offence after freezing HK$18 million ($2.32 million) of their assets.
    The arrests have raised further alarm over media freedom in Hong Kong and have been criticised by Western governments and international rights groups and press associations.
    The chief U.N. human rights spokesperson, Rupert Colville, said on Friday the raid “sends a further chilling message for media freedom.”
    The national security law imposed by Beijing in 2020 on the former British colony has brought an authoritarian tone to most aspects of life in Hong Kong, including education and arts.
    It was the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the security law, which was imposed after almost a year of mass pro-democracy protests.    Beijing says the law was necessary to bring stability to the city after the sometimes-violent unrest.
    Democracy supporters flocked to buy copies of Apple Daily on Friday to protest against the raid.
    The popular 26-year-old paper, which combines liberal discourse with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, increased its Friday press run to 500,000 copies, up from 80,000 the previous day.
‘HANG IN THERE’
    In the Mong Kok district, queues formed at some kiosks at midnight, with some customers carting off hundreds of first editions on trolleys and suitcases.
    “You never know when this newspaper will die,” said one reader who only gave his last name, Tsang, because of the sensitivity of the matter.    “As Hong Kongers, we need to preserve the history.    Hang in there as long as we can.    Although the road is rough, we still need to walk it, as there’s no other road.”
    By the morning, some newsstands in central Hong Kong had already sold out.
    Tam, a 40-year-old banker, said he had bought his first newspaper in 20 years after hearing about the raid.
    “I don’t mean to do anything with the newspaper in my hand.    It’s just for my conscience,” he said.
    It was the second time police had raided the newsroom after the arrest last August of media tycoon Jimmy Lai, a pro-democracy activist and staunch Beijing critic, who owns Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily.
    Lai’s assets have since been frozen as he faces three charges under the security law.    He is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
    Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that media freedom and other rights will remain intact, but that national security is a red line.
    China’s Foreign Commissioner’s Office said in a statement the national security law protected press freedom, while warning “external forces” to “keep their hands off Hong Kong.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang, Sara Cheng, Sharon Abratique, Twinnie Siu, Joyce Zhou and Donny KwokWriting by Marius Zaharia and Anne Marie RoantreeEditing by Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Frances Kerry)

6/18/2021 Judge Under U.S. Sanctions Set To Take Over Iran Presidency by Parisa Hafezi
Electoral staff work during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021.
Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Millions of Iranians voted on Friday in a contest set to hand the presidency to a hardline judge who is subject to U.S. sanctions, though anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms mean many will heed calls for a boycott.
    Senior officials appealed for a large turnout in an election widely seen as a referendum on their handling of the economy, including rising prices and unemployment and a collapse in the value of its currency.
    “I urge everyone with any political view to vote,” judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in the contest, said after casting his ballot.
    “Our people’s grievances over shortcomings are real, but if it is the reason for not participating, then it is wrong.”    While state television showed long queues at polling stations in several cities, the semi-official Fars news agency reported 22 million or 37% of voters had cast ballots by 7:30 pm (1500 GMT), citing its own reporter.    The interior ministry said it could not confirm turnout figures.
    The interior ministry extended voting until midnight local time (19:30 GMT), Iranian media reported, citing a large number of voters waiting at polling stations.
    After voting in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians follow suit, saying “each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president.”
    Raisi, 60, is backed by security hawks in his bid to succeed Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist prevented under the constitution from serving a third four-year term in the post, which runs the government day-to-day and reports to Khamenei.
    Supported by the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, Raisi, a close Khamenei ally who vows to fight corruption, is under U.S. sanctions for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners decades ago.
    Voters reached by Reuters expressed mixed views.
    Maryam, 52, a hairdresser in Karaj near Tehran, said she would not vote because “I have lost confidence in the system.”
    “Every time I voted in the past, I had hope that my living standard would improve.    But I lost hope when I saw the highest official in the country wasn’t brave enough to resign when he couldn’t make things better,” she said, referring to Rouhani.
    Asked which candidate he preferred, Mohammad, 32, at a polling station in a hamlet in southern Iran, replied: “To be honest none of them, but our representative in parliament says we should vote for Raisi so that everything will improve.”
BOYCOTT
    “My vote is a big NO to the Islamic Republic,” said Farzaneh, 58, from the central city of Yazd, referring to the country’s system of clerical rule.    She said contrary to what state TV reported, “the polling stations are almost empty here.”
    Mohammad, 40, an engineer, said he would not vote because “the results are known beforehand and more important, if Mr. Raisi was serious about tackling corruption he should have done so by now.”
    While hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, have called for an election boycott, the establishment’s religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi.
    More than 59 million Iranians can vote.    Polls close at 1930 GMT but can be extended for two hours.    Results are expected around midday on Saturday.
    A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the U.S. decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
    The new sanctions slashed oil exports from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2018 to as low as an estimated 200,000 bpd in some months of 2020, although volumes have since crept up. Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 70% in value since 2018.
    With inflation and joblessness at about 39% and 11% respectively, the clerical leadership needs a high vote count to boost its legitimacy, damaged after a series of protests against poverty and political curbs since 2017.
    Official opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 44%, well below 73.3% in 2017.
    Khamenei, not the president, has the final say on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies, so a Raisi win would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement and break free of sanctions.
ECONOMIC MISERY
    Raisi’s record as a hardline judge accused of abuses could worry Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts said, especially given President Joe Biden’s focus on human rights.
    Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the job of judiciary chief in 2019. A few months later, Washington sanctioned him for alleged abuses including what rights groups say was his role in the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    Raisi’s main rival is the moderate former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, who says a win for any hardliner will mean more sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean, Giles Elgood, Philippa Fletcher)

6/18/2021 Chinese, Indian Workers Among 11 Killed In Nepal Floods, 25 Missing by Gopal Sharma
FILE PHOTO: A Nepali army helicopter flies above the swollen Melamchi river during a
rescue mission in Sindhupalchok, Nepal, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    KATHMANDU (Reuters) – Landslides and flash floods triggered by heavy rain across Nepal this week killed 11 people including one Indian and two Chinese workers at a development project, while 25 people were missing elsewhere, officials said on Friday.
    The bodies of the three workers were recovered near the town of Melamchi in Sindhupalchowk district, northeast of Kathmandu, which was hit by flash floods on Wednesday that also forced many people from their homes, district administrators said in a statement.
    “The foreign nationals were working for a Chinese company that is building a drinking water project,” district official Baburam Khanal told Reuters.
    The Home Ministry said late on Thursday that 25 people were missing in floods in Sindhupalchowk, a mountainous district bordering the Tibet region of China, and other parts of the country.
    The monsoon rains, which normally begin in June and last until September, kill hundreds of people in mostly mountainous Nepal every year.
    Heavy rain since Tuesday have damaged roads, destroyed bridges, washed away fish farms and livestock, and wrecked homes.
    Hundreds of people have been forced to move to community shelters, including schools, sheds and tents, authorities said.
    Aid agencies said the crisis this year could add to the social and economic woes of a country hard hit by COVID-19.    Nepal has been reporting among the highest coronavirus test positivity rates in the world.
    “Those who have lost homes are sleeping in community centres,” said John Jordan of the U.S.-based charity World Neighbors.
    “This forced density raises risks for a community that has been recovering from COVID-19.”
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Devjyot Ghoshal, Robert Birsel)

6/18/2021 N.Korea’s Kim Says To Prepare For ‘Both Dialogue And Confrontation’ With U.S. - KCNA by Sangmi Cha
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the third-day sitting of the 3rd Plenary Meeting of 8th Central Committee of the Workers'
Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea in this image released June 17, 2021 by the country's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country should prepare for both dialogue and confrontation with the United States, particularly confrontation, state media KCNA reported on Friday, in his first direct comment on the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
    Kim gave a detailed analysis of the Biden administration’s North Korea policy at a plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s central committee on Thursday, and laid out “appropriate strategic and tactical counteraction” to deal with Washington, KCNA said.
    “The General Secretary stressed the need to get prepared for both dialogue and confrontation, especially to get fully prepared for confrontation in order to protect the dignity of our state and its interests for independent development.”
    Such moves would “reliably guarantee the peaceful environment and the security of our state,” KCNA said.    Kim also emphasized the need to create a “favorable external climate” for the North’s own initiatives.
    The report did not provide details of any course of action.
    Kim’s remarks came two days before the newly appointed U.S. envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is scheduled to arrive in South Korea on his first visit since assuming the role last month.
    He will hold talks with South Korean and Japanese counterparts and meet other Seoul officials during his stay until June 23, the State Department said on Thursday.
    Kim’s comments continue a “wait and see” policy, while refraining from provoking the Biden administration, said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
    “It seems to suggest that Pyongyang thinks the ball is in the U.S. court at the moment, and it is waiting to see how the Biden administration outreach goes,” he said.    “Given reports of North Korea’s food and COVID-19 situation, one presumes that Kim is also happy to avoid a near term confrontation.”
    Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Kim appeared to be sending a message to Washington that he would be willing to return to talks at some point.
    “Despite mentioning confrontation, he refrained from criticising both the South and the United States while highlighting the need to maintain a stable geopolitical situation,” Yang said.
    Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in held their first summit in May, injecting fresh urgency into efforts to bring the North back to denuclearisation negotiations.
    North Korea lashed out at the United States and its allies in South Korea last month in a series of statements saying comments from Washington on its North Korean policy were proof of a hostile policy that required a corresponding response from Pyongyang.
    North Korea’s plenary meeting kicked off on Tuesday to review progress on major policies and devise steps to resolve pending issues.    On its first day, Kim called for measures to tackle the “tense” food situation, blaming the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s typhoons.
    Diplomats and analysts say the North is experiencing widespread food shortages after typhoons destroyed crops last year, while there are concerns COVID-19 may have taken hold in the country despite no official acknowledgement by Kim’s regime.    Border closures have further hit an economy already battered by international sanctions.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha, additional reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; editing by Richard Pullin)

6/18/2021 Vietnam Introduces Nationwide Code Of Conduct For Social Media by Phuong Nguyen and James Pearson
FILE PHOTO: A man uses an iPad device in a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam introduced national guidelines on social media behaviour on Friday which encourage people to post positive content about the Southeast Asian country and require state employees to report “conflicting information” to their superiors.
    The code prohibits posts which violate the law and “affect the interests of the state” and applies to state organisations, social media companies, and all their users in Vietnam.
    “Social media users are encouraged to promote the beauty of Vietnam’s scenery, people and culture, and spread good stories about good people,” reads the code, which was contained in a decision from the information ministry and dated June 17.
    It was not clear to what extent the decision was legally binding, or how it would be enforced.
    Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party tolerates little criticism, retains tight control over media and has in recent years presided over an intensified crackdown on dissidents and activists, some of whom are serving lengthy jail terms for posts on Facebook and Google’s YouTube.
    In November last year, Reuters exclusively reported that Vietnamese authorities had threatened to shut down Facebook if the social media giant did not bow to government pressure to censor more local political content on the platform.
    Vietnam is a major market for Facebook, which serves about 60 million users in the country and generates revenue of nearly $1 billion, according to sources familiar with the numbers.
    The new code requires social media providers in Vietnam to “deal with users in accordance with Vietnamese law” when requested by authorities to remove content from their platforms.
    It encourages social media users to create accounts using their real identities, share information from official sources, and avoid posting content which violates the law, contains bad language, or advertises illegal services.
    In January, Vietnamese social media users used fake weather reports and football scores as a creative means to discuss Communist Party leadership wrangling after an official ban on speculation ahead of a Party congress.
(Reporting by Phuong Nguyen and James Pearson; Editing by Ed Davies)

6/18/2021 Japan Inc Joins COVID-19 Vaccination Push As Olympics Loom by Rocky Swift
FILE PHOTO: A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccine at the Noevir Stadium Kobe, the home venue of Japanese professional soccer club Vissel Kobe and
currently acting as a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination center, in Kobe, Japan June 12, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese corporate giants are joining the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination effort ahead of the Olympic Games as the government struggles to meet its inoculation targets amid fears of a resurgence of infections.
    Thousands of corporations from Toyota Motor Corp to telecom and investing outfit SoftBank Group Corp are setting up clinics in a massive private-sector vaccination drive which will begin in earnest on Monday.
    The campaign, launched with the government’s backing, takes added urgency with the start of the Tokyo Olympics just over a month away and fears that the influx of visitors could cause a resurgence in infections.
    So far, more than 2,300 companies have applied to open vaccination centres that will give shots to about 11 million people, mainly their employees, family members and nearby residents.
    “Hopefully, vaccination at the corporations will help us speed up the inoculation process,” said Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine push.
    “With the number of applications from the corporations, I think we can reach 1 million (doses a day) by the end of this month.”
    Hitting that daily rate will be critical to achieving Japan’s vaccination goals, namely getting shots to all the elderly by the end of July and the rest of the adult population by November at the latest.
    Just 16% of Japan’s population have had at least one shot, according to a Reuters tracker, the lowest rate among comparable wealthy economies. The government’s vaccination drive has been hit by manpower shortages and malfunctions in reservation systems.
    To speed things up, the government charged the military to set up mass vaccination centres and liberalised rules on who can administer or get the shots.
    The latest plan allowing the private sector to join the campaign leverages requirements for companies with 1,000 employees or more to have in-house doctors.    Major corporations also often sport their own medical facilities and even whole hospitals that can be quickly switched to vaccination centres.
    SoftBank believes it can inoculate 250,000 people, while Toyota is planning to handle 80,000.
    Some small firms are joining the campaign. James Riney, the founder of venture capital firm Coral Capital, pooled the startups he has backed into a group big enough to qualify to host a vaccination centre.
    “Things happen slowly in Japan until they don’t,” Riney said.
    Vaccine hesitancy https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-japan-vaccine-idINKBN2AC0BB is strong in Japan but workplace peer pressure could be even stronger, said Yoshiaki Katsuda, an occupational health expert at the Kansai University of Social Welfare.
    “If a staffer has some belief in conspiracy theories or has some strong doubts about vaccinations, if their boss or colleagues get a vaccination, they would be hard-pressed to refuse it,” Katsuda said.
($1 = 110.2300 yen)
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)

6/18/2021 Election In Armenia, Meant To End Political Crisis, Is Too Close To Call
Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan attends a campaign rally ahead of the
upcoming snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 17, 2021. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s political fate hangs in the balance ahead of a parliamentary election on Sunday with opinion polls putting the party of acting Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and that of former President Robert Kocharyan neck-and-neck.
    The Armenian government called the snap election to try to end a political crisis that erupted after ethnic Armenian forces lost a bloody six-week war against Azerbaijan last year and ceded territory in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
    Pashinyan has been under pressure ever since, with regular street protests demanding he step down over the terms of the peace agreement that ended the conflict.    Under the deal, which was brokered by Russia, Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s.
    Pashinyan himself called the agreement a disaster, but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
    According to a recent Gallup International poll conducted on June 7-10, 24.1% of voters are ready to vote for Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance and 23.8% for Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party.
    Whoever forms a majority in parliament gets to elect the prime minister, who is nominated by the president.
    Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is a close ally of Moscow, though Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018, has had cooler relations with the Kremlin.
    “We wish a successful election to our close ally and partner,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.
    Turkey, which supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict, will also be watching closely.
    Pashinyan’s main rival is Kocharyan, a native of Nagorno-Karabakh, the region that was fought over last year.    It is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but has long been claimed by ethnic Armenians too.
    He was president of Armenia from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 following a disputed election.    At least 10 people were killed in the clashes that followed between the police and protesters.
    In a recent interview with Russia’s RT TV channel, Kocharyan accused the then Armenian leadership of inaction during last year’s war and pledged to start negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh’s borders if he came to power.
(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/18/2021 U.N. Chief Urges General Assembly To Act On Myanmar by Michelle Nichols
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks as U.N. General Assembly appointed him for a second five-year
term from January 1, 2022, in New York City, New York, U.S., June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. chief Antonio Guterres pushed the 193-member General Assembly on Friday to tell Myanmar’s military that democracy must be reinstated, political detainees must be freed and human rights abuses and killings must stop.
    “We cannot live in a world where military coups become a norm.    It is totally unacceptable,” Guterres told reporters.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, citing its refusal to address what it said was fraud in a November election. International observers have said the ballot was fair.
    The junta’s forces have killed more than 860 people since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group.    The junta has said the number is much lower.
    The General Assembly on Friday was set to call for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar and urge the military to respect November election results and to release political detainees, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi, diplomats said.
    It was not immediately clear if any countries would call for a vote on the draft General Assembly resolution or if it would be adopted by consensus.    Diplomats said the text had enough support to pass if put to a vote.
    “I hope that the General Assembly will be able to send a very clear message,” Guterres said.
    General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but carry political weight.    Unlike the 15-member Security Council, no country has veto power in the General Assembly.
    The draft General Assembly resolution also calls on Myanmar to swiftly implement a five-point consensus the junta forged with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in April to halt violence and start dialogue with its opponents.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

6/18/2021 Judge Under U.S. Sanctions Set To Take Over Iran Presidency by Parisa Hafezi
Electoral staff work during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA
(West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
    DUBAI (Reuters) - Millions of Iranians voted on Friday in a contest set to hand the presidency to a hardline judge who is subject to U.S. sanctions, though anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms mean many will heed calls for a boycott.
    Senior officials appealed for a large turnout in an election widely seen as a referendum on their handling of the economy, including rising prices and unemployment and a collapse in the value of its currency.
    “I urge everyone with any political view to vote,” judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in the contest, said after casting his ballot.
    “Our people’s grievances over shortcomings are real, but if it is the reason for not participating, then it is wrong.”
    While state television showed long queues at polling stations in several cities, the semi-official Fars news agency reported 22 million or 37% of voters had cast ballots by 7:30 pm (1500 GMT), citing its own reporter.    The interior ministry said it could not confirm turnout figures.
    The interior ministry extended voting until midnight local time (19:30 GMT), Iranian media reported, citing a large number of voters waiting at polling stations.
    After voting in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians follow suit, saying “each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president.”
    Raisi, 60, is backed by security hawks in his bid to succeed Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist prevented under the constitution from serving a third four-year term in the post, which runs the government day-to-day and reports to Khamenei.
    Supported by the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, Raisi, a close Khamenei ally who vows to fight corruption, is under U.S. sanctions for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners decades ago.
    Voters reached by Reuters expressed mixed views.
    Maryam, 52, a hairdresser in Karaj near Tehran, said she would not vote because “I have lost confidence in the system.”
    “Every time I voted in the past, I had hope that my living standard would improve.    But I lost hope when I saw the highest official in the country wasn’t brave enough to resign when he couldn’t make things better,” she said, referring to Rouhani.
    Asked which candidate he preferred, Mohammad, 32, at a polling station in a hamlet in southern Iran, replied: “To be honest none of them, but our representative in parliament says we should vote for Raisi so that everything will improve.”
BOYCOTT
    “My vote is a big NO to the Islamic Republic,” said Farzaneh, 58, from the central city of Yazd, referring to the country’s system of clerical rule.    She said contrary to what state TV reported, “the polling stations are almost empty here.”
    Mohammad, 40, an engineer, said he would not vote because “the results are known beforehand and more important, if Mr. Raisi was serious about tackling corruption he should have done so by now.”
    While hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, have called for an election boycott, the establishment’s religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi.
    More than 59 million Iranians can vote.    Polls close at 1930 GMT but can be extended for two hours.    Results are expected around midday on Saturday.
    A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the U.S. decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
    The new sanctions slashed oil exports from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2018 to as low as an estimated 200,000 bpd in some months of 2020, although volumes have since crept up.    Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 70% in value since 2018.
    With inflation and joblessness at about 39% and 11% respectively, the clerical leadership needs a high vote count to boost its legitimacy, damaged after a series of protests against poverty and political curbs since 2017.
    Official opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 44%, well below 73.3% in 2017.
    Khamenei, not the president, has the final say on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies, so a Raisi win would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement and break free of sanctions.
ECONOMIC MISERY
    Raisi’s record as a hardline judge accused of abuses could worry Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts said, especially given President Joe Biden’s focus on human rights.
    Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the job of judiciary chief in 2019. A few months later, Washington sanctioned him for alleged abuses including what rights groups say was his role in the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    Raisi’s main rival is the moderate former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, who says a win for any hardliner will mean more sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean, Giles Elgood, Philippa Fletcher)

6/19/2021 As Iran Veers Right, Ties With Gulf Arabs May Hinge On Nuclear Pact by Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at
a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Gulf Arab states are unlikely to be deterred from dialogue to improve ties with Iran after a hardline judge won the presidency but their talks with Tehran might become tougher, analysts said.
    Prospects for better relations between Muslim Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Gulf Arab monarchies could ultimately hinge on progress to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, they said, after Ebrahim Raisi won Friday’s election.
    The Iranian judge and cleric, who is subject to U.S. sanctions, takes office in August, while nuclear talks in Vienna under outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a more pragmatic cleric, are ongoing.
    Saudi Arabia and Iran, longtime regional foes, began direct talks in April to contain tensions at the same time as global powers have been embroiled in nuclear negotiations.
    “Iran has now sent a clear message that they are tilting to a more radical, more conservative position,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a UAE political analyst, adding that Raisi’s election might make improving Gulf ties a tougher challenge.
    “Nevertheless, Iran is not in a position to become more radical … because the region is becoming very difficult and very dangerous,” he added.
    The United Arab Emirates, whose commercial hub Dubai has been a trade gateway for Iran, and Oman, which has often played a regional mediation role, were swift to congratulate Raisi.
    Saudi Arabia has yet to comment.
    Raisi, an implacable critic of the West and an ally of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran, has voiced support for continuing the nuclear negotiations.
    “If the Vienna talks succeed and there is a better situation with America, then (with) hardliners in power, who are close to the supreme leader, the situation may improve,” said Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of Gulf Research Center.
LEVERAGE
    A revived nuclear deal and the lifting of U.S. sanctions on the Islamic Republic would boost Raisi, easing Iran’s economic crisis and offering leverage in Gulf talks, said Jean-Marc Rickli, an analyst at Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
    Neither Iran nor Gulf Arabs want a return to the kind of tensions seen in 2019 that spiralled after the U.S. killing, under former U.S. President Donald Trump, of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.    Gulf states blamed Iran or its proxies for a spate of attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil plants.
    A perception that Washington was now disengaging militarily from the area under U.S. President Joe Biden has prompted a more pragmatic Gulf approach, analysts said.
Nevertheless, Biden has demanded Iran rein in its missile programme and end its support for proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi movement in Yemen, demands that have strong support from Gulf Arab nations.
    “The Saudis have realised they can no longer rely on the Americans for their security … and have seen that Iran has the means to really put pressure on the kingdom through direct attacks and also with the quagmire of Yemen,” Rickli said.
    Saudi-Iran talks have focused mainly on Yemen, where a military campaign led by Riyadh against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for over six years no longer has U.S. backing.
    The UAE has maintained contacts with Tehran since 2019, while also forging ties with Israel, Iran’s arch regional foe.
    Sanam Vakil, an analyst at Britain’s Chatham House, wrote last week that regional conversations, particularly on maritime security, were expected to continue but “can only gain momentum if Tehran demonstrates meaningful goodwill.”
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/19/2021 Khamenei Protege Wins Iran Election Amid Low Turnout by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi looks on at a polling station during presidential
elections in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline judge who is under U.S. sanctions for human rights abuses, secured victory as expected on Saturday in Iran’s presidential election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
    With all 28.9 million ballots counted, Raisi was elected with a tally of 17.9 million, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said on state TV.
    Turnout in Friday’s four-man race was a record low of around 48.8% and there were 3.7 million invalid ballots that were likely to have been mostly blank or protest votes.
    Appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later over human rights violations.
    Those included the role that human rights group say Raisi played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1988 and in the violent suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.     Seen by analysts and insiders as representing the security establishment at its most fearsome, Raisi, 60, had been widely tipped to win the contest, thanks to Khamenei’s endorsement.
    Iran’s regional allies, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and militant Islamist group Hamas welcomed Raisi’s election.    Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said his victory was “a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”
    “We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction,” she said in a statement.
    Outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, visited Raisi at his office to congratulate him, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would lead Iran well.
    “Backed by your high vote and exceptional confidence, I will form a hard-working, revolutionary and anti-corruption government,” state media quoted Raisi as saying in a statement.
    Raisi, who takes office in early August, said he will be a president for all Iranians – whether they voted for him or for the other candidates, or did not vote at all.
NUCLEAR TALKS
    Raisi’s election comes at a critical time.
    Iran and six major powers are in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal. Donald Trump, U.S. president at the time, abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s oil income.
    However, with Iran’s ruling clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardships, Raisi’s win will not disrupt Iran’s effort to revive the pact and break free of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.
    Nonetheless, some analysts predicted his hardline stances could deter foreign investors.
    “Raisi’s hardline political and economic beliefs will limit the scope for significant foreign investment if a deal is reached and further isolate Tehran from the West,” said senior analyst Henry Rome at Eurasia Group.
    Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on all issue of state such as Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies.
    Seeking to win over voters preoccupied by bread-and-butter issues, Raisi has promised to create millions of jobs and tackle inflation, without offering a detailed political or economic programme.
LACK OF CHOICE
    Hoping to boost their legitimacy, the country’s clerical rulers had urged people to turn out and vote on Friday, but simmering anger over economic hardships and curbs on freedoms kept many Iranians at home.
    Khamenei said the turnout displayed the clerical establishment’s popularity.    But more than half of eligible voters were too dissatisfied to vote or appeared to have heeded calls by hundreds of dissidents, at home and abroad, to boycott the vote.
    Another deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderates and conservatives from standing.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Friday: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.
    Many pro-reform Iranians fear Raisi’s presidency could usher in more repression.
    “I am scared. I don’t want to go back to jail again.    I am certain that any kind of dissent will not be tolerated,” said Hamidreza, 31, who declined to give his full name. He was jailed for participating in unrest in 2019 that broke out over fuel price hikes and quickly turned political.
    Analysts say the election win could increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader in 1989.
(Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by John Stonestreet and Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Winner Of Iran Presidency Is Hardline Judge Who Is Under U.S. Sanctions by Parisa Hafezi
A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi displays his portrait during a celebratory rally for his presidential
election victory in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Ebrahim Raisi’s record of fierce loyalty to Iran’s ruling clerics helped explain why the senior judge had been expected to win Friday’s presidential election, a contest the authorities limited almost exclusively to hardline candidates like him.
    The win for Raisi, 60, an implacable critic of the West whose political patron is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, burnishes his chances of one day succeeding Khamenei at the pinnacle of power, analysts say.
    Accused by critics of human rights abuses stretching back decades – allegations his defenders deny – Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.
    Later that year, Raisi headed the legal system as authorities used the courts to suppress the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.    Iran says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.
    “Raisi is a pillar of a system that jails, tortures, and kills people for daring to criticize state policies,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of New York-based advocacy group the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), in a statement.
    Iran denies it tortures prisoners.
    A mid-ranking figure in the hierarchy of Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim clergy, Raisi has been a senior judiciary official for most of his career.    He served as deputy head of the judiciary for 10 years, before being appointed prosecutor-general in 2014.
    Gaining a reputation as a feared security hawk, he was one of four judges who oversaw executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, rights groups say.    Amnesty International has put the number executed at around 5,000, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher.”
SUPPORT FOR IRAN TALKS
    The CHRI said that those executed were “buried in unmarked mass and individual graves, based on the committee’s determination of their ‘loyalty’ to the newly established Islamic Republic.    These prisoners had already been tried and were serving their issued prison sentences.”
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions.    However, some clerics have said the trials of the prisoners were fair, and those judges involved should be rewarded for eliminating the armed opposition in the revolution’s early years.    Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
    In 2020, U.N. human rights experts called for accountability over the 1988 deaths, warning “the situation may amount to crimes against humanity” if the Iranian government continued to refuse to hold responsible those involved.
    The United States imposed sanctions on Raisi in 2019 for human rights violations, including the 1980s executions and his part in the suppression of unrest in 2009.
    Raisi, who lost to pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani in 2017, offered no detailed political or economic programme during his election campaign, while wooing lower-income Iranians by promising to ease unemployment.
    However, by promising not to “waste a single moment” in removing U.S. sanctions, Raisi signalled his support for talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.
    A Raisi presidency will strengthen Khamenei’s hand at home, and rights activists fear it could usher in more repression.
    “He would not have registered as a candidate if his chances were not all but certain, and Raisi’s decision to register would have almost certainly been guided by Khamenei himself,” said Kasra Aarabi, a senior analyst on Iran & Shia Islamist Extremism at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.
NEXT SUPREME LEADER?
    With the rejection of prominent moderate and conservative candidates by a hardline vetting body, voters had a choice only between hardliners and low-key moderates in the election.    Turnout was, as expected, a record low amid rising anger over economic hardship and curbs on personal freedoms.
    “By taking its exclusionary strategies to a new height, the Guardian Council has left no space for surprise,” said Ali Vaez, senior adviser at the International Crisis Group.
    An election win would increase Raisi’s chances of succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president before becoming supreme leader upon founder of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s 1989 death, analysts said before Friday’s vote.
    “Raisi is someone that Khamenei trusts … Raisi can protect the supreme leader’s legacy,” said Sanam Vakil, deputy director of Chatham House’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
    Born in 1960 to a religious family in Iran’s holy Shi’ite Muslim city of Mashhad, Raisi was active in the 1979 revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah and continues to proclaim his fidelity to the “fundamental values” of Khamenei.
    “The deep state is willing to go as far as undermining one of its pillars of legitimacy to ensure that Ayatollah Khamenei’s vision for the revolution’s future survives him when Raisi takes over the Supreme Leader’s mantle,” said Vaez.
    Vaez was referring to the republican pillar of Iran’s dual system of clerical and republican rule.    Critics say the hardline election body’s rejection of leading moderate and conservative hopefuls to enter the election race has cleared the way for tyranny, a charge Iranian authorities deny.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Exclusive-U.S. Triples Vaccines For Taiwan With 2.5 Million-Dose Shipment by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: Workers transport Moderna vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
to Taiwan Air cargo Terminal in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States shipped 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Taiwan on Saturday, more than tripling Washington’s previous allocation of shots for the island, which has faced increasing political and military pressure from China.
    Washington, competing with Beijing to deepen geopolitical clout through so-called “vaccine diplomacy,” initially had promised to donate 750,000 doses to Taiwan but increased that number as President Joe Biden’s administration advances its pledge to send 80 million U.S.-made shots around the world.
    China, which considers Taiwan an integral part of its territory, has repeatedly offered to send coronavirus vaccines to the island, which has been battling a spike in domestic infections.    Taipei has expressed concern about the safety of Chinese shots.
    The 2.5 million donated doses of the Moderna Inc vaccine were set to leave Memphis, Tennessee, on a flight belonging to Taiwan’s China Airlines early on Saturday and arrive in Taipei on Sunday evening, a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters, noting that the prompt delivery was due to experts from both sides being able to work out regulatory issues.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price later tweeted that the plane carrying the vaccines had departed.
    “We are not allocating these doses, or delivering these doses, based on political or economic conditions.    We are donating these vaccines with the singular objective of saving lives,” the senior official said.
    “Our vaccines do not come with strings attached,” the official said, adding Taiwan had “faced unfair challenges in its efforts to acquire vaccines on the global marketplace.”
    A deal for Taiwan to purchase vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech SE fell through this year, with Taiwan’s government blaming pressure from Beijing.
    China has denied the accusation, saying Taiwan is free to obtain the vaccines through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, which has a contract to sell BioNTech’s vaccine in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
    “We believe that these attempts by China to block purchases, for political purposes, are reprehensible,” the senior Biden administration official said.
    Taiwan is trying to speed up the arrival of the millions of vaccines it has on order, although infections remain comparatively low despite a rise in domestic cases. Only around 6% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one shot of a vaccine regimen.
    The U.S. shipment comes at a time when Washington has been working with Taipei to create secure supply chains for strategic items such as computer chips, of which Taiwan is a key producer, that are vital for U.S. automobile manufacturers and other industries.
    It also comes after Taiwan announced on Friday that it will allow Terry Gou, the billionaire founder of Taiwan’s Foxconn and semiconductor giant TSMC, to negotiate on its behalf for COVID-19 vaccines.
    Taiwan Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang said Washington’s assistance with vaccines confirmed the “rock-solid friendship between Taiwan and the United States.”
    Jonathan Fritz, a senior State Department official, said on Thursday that China had been “very aggressively using vaccine donations as a lever to induce more of Taiwan’s diplomatic partners to switch recognition.”
    Beijing has steadily whittled down the number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, which now stands at just 15 countries.
    The United States, which like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, has watched with alarm the stepped up tensions with Beijing, and Biden’s administration has vowed to boost ties with the island, which it is required under U.S. law to supply with the means of defense.
    Earlier this week Taiwan reported the largest incursion yet by China’s air force, including fighters and nuclear-capable bombers, into its air defense identification zone.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Andrea Shalal in Washington; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Steve Orlofsky)

6/19/2021 Parties To Iran Nuclear Deal To Meet On Sunday – EU
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) -Parties negotiating a revival of the Iran nuclear deal will hold a formal meeting in Vienna on Sunday, the European Union said on Saturday.
    Iran and six world powers have been negotiating in Vienna since April to work out steps for Washington and Tehran to take.    The United States withdrew in 2018 from the pact, under which Iran accepted curbs on its nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of many foreign sanctions against it.
    Sunday’s formal meeting comes more than a week after this round of talks resumed and is an indication that the talks are likely to be adjourned.
    Officials over the week have indicated that differences remain on key issues.
    “The Joint Commission of #JCPOA will meet on Sunday, June 20,” Mikhail Ulyanov Russia’s envoy to the talks said on Twitter.
    “It will decide on the way ahead at the #ViennaTalks.    An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalised yet.”
    The remaining parties to the deal – Iran, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany and the European Union – meet in the basement of a luxury hotel.
    The U.S. delegation to the talks is based in a hotel across the street as Iran refuses face-to-face meetings, leaving the other delegations and EU to work as go-betweens.
    Since former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran has embarked on counter measures, including rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, a potential pathway to nuclear bombs.
(Reporting by John IrishEditing by Frances Kerry and Christina Fincher)

6/19/2021 Apple Daily Editor, CEO Denied Bail In Hong Kong by Jessie Pang
Apple Daily’s editor-in-chief Ryan Law arrives at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre by a prison van after he
remained in custody over the national security law charge, in Hong Kong, China June 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Two executives of Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, charged under a national security law, were denied bail on Saturday in a case that has drawn international condemnation and stoked fears over media freedoms in the financial hub.
    Editor-in-chief Ryan Law 47 and chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung 59 were among five Apple Daily executives arrested on Thursday when 500 police also raided the outlet’s newsroom, which authorities described as a “crime scene.”
    Police said on Thursday dozens of the newspaper’s articles were suspected of violating the national security law.    It was the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the contentious legislation.
    Law and Cheung, who are charged with “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security” appeared at the     West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Saturday and were denied bail by Judge Victor So.
    They will next appear in court on August 13.
    The pair are accused of colluding with Apple Daily owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai between July 1 2020 and April 3 April 2021 to request a foreign country, person or organisation “to impose sanctions or blockade or engage in other hostile activities against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or the People’s Republic of China,” according to a charge sheet.
    The National Security Law came into force in Hong Kong just before midnight on June 30, 2020.
    Judge So said Law and Cheung were denied bail because there was insufficient evidence to believe they would not endanger national security.
    Under the security law, the onus is on defendants to prove they will not pose a security threat if released on bail.
    As part of their bail application, Law and Cheung had offered to resign their roles at Apple Daily, not speak to media and foreign politicians and pay cash bail – HK$3 million ($386,463.47)for Cheung and up to HK$200,000 for Law.
    Three companies related to Apple Daily that are also being prosecuted for collusion with a foreign country appointed people to represent them in court.    Authorities have frozen HK$18 million ($2.32 million) of the companies’ assets.
    The other three executives arrested on Thursday, Chief Operating Officer Chow Tat-kuen, Deputy Chief Editor Chan Puiman and Chief Executive Editor Cheung Chi-wai, were released on bail late on Friday, according to Apple Daily.
    “We will still publish the newspaper tomorrow.    We will try our best to keep running,” said Chan, who attended Saturday’s hearing and was speaking outside the court after bail had been denied.
    Earlier on Saturday, crowds had gathered outside the court ahead of the hearing, some holding yellow umbrellas or wearing Apple Daily T-shirts saying, “No fear, fight on.”     The National Security Law punishes what Beijing broadly refers to as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    The arrests and scale of the Apple Daily raid have been criticised by Western nations, global rights groups, press associations and the chief U.N. spokesperson for human rights.
    Apple Daily and its listed publisher Next Digital have come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under the legislation.
    Lai, whose assets have been frozen under the security law, is already in jail for taking part in unauthorised assemblies and awaiting trial in his national security case.
    As investigations into Apple Daily and its senior executives ramp up, some employees and observers have expressed deepening concern over the newspaper’s future.
($1 = 7.7627 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting By Jessie Pang; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Alun John, Shri Navaratnam and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/19/2021 Praise And Condemnation For Iran’s New Hardline President
Iran's outgoing President Hassan Rouhani and Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speak to the media
after their meeting in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Following are some world reactions to the election of Ebrahim Raisi as president of Iran. Raisi, 60, is a hardline judge who is loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT
    “Relations between our countries are traditionally friendly and good-neighborly.    I hope that your activities in this high post will contribute to the further development of constructive bilateral cooperation in various directions, as well as to the partnership in international affairs.    This fully meets the interests of the Russian and Iranian peoples, goes in line with the strengthening of regional security and stability,” Putin said in a message to Raisi, according to the Kremlin.
YAIR LAPID, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER, ON TWITTER:
    “Iran’s new president, known as the Butcher of Tehran, is an extremist responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iranians.    He is committed to the regime’s nuclear ambitions and to its campaign of global terror.”
BASHAR AL-ASSAD, SYRIAN PRESIDENT
    Assad wished Raisi success “for the good and interest of the steadfast Iranian people in the face of all schemes and pressures that aim to break their will and undermine their independent decision,” according to a Syrian presidency statement.
TAYYIP ERDOGAN, TURKISH PRESIDENT
    “Stating my belief that cooperation between our two countries will strengthen during your presidency, I am ready to work together with you,” Erdogan said in a letter sent to Raisi.
SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN RASHID, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES VICE-PRESIDENT AND DUBAI RULER
    “We wish for the Islamic Republic, and for our bilateral relations, stability, continuity and prosperity,” he said in a statement tweeted by Dubai’s media office.
ABU DHABI CROWN PRINCE SHEIKH MOHAMMED BIN ZAYED
    Sent a message of congratulations, according to state news agency WAM.
HAITHAM BIN TARIQ AL-SAID, SULTAN OF OMAN
    Congratulated Raisi on his victory, Oman’s state news agency ONA reported.
TAMIM BIN HAMAD AL-THANI, QATAR’S EMIR
    Sent a message to Raisi “wishing him success as well as further development and growth of the relations between the two countries,” state news agency QNA said.
SHEIKH NAWAF AL-AHMAD AL-SABAH, KUWAIT’S EMIR
    Messaged Raisi, “wishing him further success and wellness, as well as the friendly Islamic Republic to further progress and prosper,” according to KUNA state news agency.
MUSTAFA AL-KADHIMI, IRAQ’S PRIME MINISTER
    Congratulated Raisi by phone, according to a Tweet by the prime minister’s office, and expressed his hopes for further cooperation on economic and security matters “in addition to the fight against terrorism, and in a way that boosts the security and stability of the two countries and the region.”
BARHAM SALIH, IRAQI PRESIDENT
    “I extend my sincere congratulations and blessings on the occasion of your election as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran … We in Iraq look forward to strengthening our solid relations with our neighbour Iran and its people.”
MICHAEL PAGE, DEPUTY MIDDLE EAST DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
    “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election.    As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.”
AGNES CALLAMARD, SECRETARY GENERAL AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
    “That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.    We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction.”
MARYAM RAJAVI, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE PARIS-BASED NATIONAL COUNCIL OF RESISTANCE OF IRAN
    “Ebrahim Raisi, the henchman of the 1988 massacre and murderer of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (PMOI/MEK), is Khamenei’s final bid to preserve his regime.    Weak, crisis-riddled, and rattled by looming uprisings, Khamenei purged all rivals to install Raisi as president, one of the vilest criminals against humanity since World War II.”
MAHDI AL-MASHAT, HEAD OF THE HOUTHI MOVEMENT’S POLITICAL OFFICE
    Sent a message of congratulations to Raisi on his victory, al-Masirah TV reported.
HAZEM QASSEM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN IN GAZA
    “We congratulate the Islamic Republic of Iran for the success of the democratic process, the holding of the presidential election and the victory of Ebrahim Raisi as Iran’s President.    We wish the Islamic Republic of Iran progress and prosperity.    Iran has always been a fundamental and a real supporter of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian resistance.”
YOUSSEF AL-HASSAYNA, ISLAMIC JIHAD OFFICIAL IN GAZA
    “Once again the people of Iran have reiterated their commitment to the path of revolution and its regime.    We congratulate the Islamic Republic and the people of Iran on this great achievement.”
(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; John Irish in Paris; Dominic Evans in AnkaraWriting by Maayan LubellEditing by Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Rights Groups Call For Probe Into Iran’s Raisi For Crimes Against Humanity
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his vote during presidential elections at
a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) - Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Ebrahim Raisi’s election as Iran’s new president was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in what Washington and rights groups have called the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
    Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions and Raisi has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.    Some clerics have said the trials were fair, praising the “eliminating” of armed opposition in the early years of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture, is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” London-based Amnesty Secretary General Agnès Callamard said in a statement.
    “We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction.”
    New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed this.
    “Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election,” Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in a statement.
    “As head of Iran’s repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran’s recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office.”
(Reporting by John IrishEditing by Frances Kerry)

6/19/2021 Flower Protests In Myanmar For Suu Kyi’s 76th Birthday
FILE PHOTO: State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi attends the 22nd ASEAN
Plus Three Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    (Reuters) – Supporters of Myanmar’s detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi wore flowers in their hair and paraded with them at street demonstrations on Saturday as she marked her 76th birthday locked up by the generals who overthrew her.
    Protests have been held almost daily in Myanmar since Suu Kyi was ousted in a Feb. 1 coup that cut short a decade of democratic reforms and also sparked paralysing strikes and renewed conflict in the Southeast Asian country.
    The United Nations General Assembly on Friday called for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar and urged the military to respect November election results and release political detainees, including Suu Kyi.
    For decades a symbol of the fight for democracy under previous juntas, she often wore flowers in her hair.
    Among those wearing flowers on Saturday was activist Thet Swe Win, who had been at odds with Suu Kyi over human rights violations during her own time in office.
    “I demand freedom for all the people including Aung San Suu Kyi,” he said “Her individual rights and political rights are being violated.”
    A junta spokesman did not answer calls to seek comment.
    Suu Kyi is among nearly 5,000 people currently detained by the junta for opposing the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.    It also says 870 people have been killed – a figure challenged by the junta.
    The army overthrew Suu Kyi after her administration dismissed its allegations of fraud over her party’s landslide election victory last November.    International monitors had said the vote was fair.
    She now faces charges from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios and breaking coronavirus protocols to inciting discontent, corruption and breaking the Official Secrets Act – which can carry a 14-year jail term.
    Suu Kyi’s lawyers say the charges are absurd and her supporters say they are aimed at eliminating her from politics.
    The next hearing is set for Monday.
    Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but her standing in Western countries collapsed in 2017 over her defence of the army after the exodus of 700,000 minority Rohnigya Muslims in the face of an offensive.
    But the episode did nothing to dent her popularity in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.
    The General Assembly resolution calling for a halt of arms supplies to Myanmar was adopted with the support of 119 countries.    Belarus was the only country to oppose it, while 36 abstained, including China and Russia.
    “The risk of a large-scale civil war is real,” U.N. special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly after the vote.
    “Time is of the essence.    The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing.”
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

6/21/2021 Exclusive-HK’s Apple Daily To Shut Within Days, Says Jimmy Lai Adviser by Anne Marie Roantree
    FILE PHOTO: A supporter holds a copy of Apple Daily newspaper during a court hearing outside West Magistrates’ Courts, after police charge
two executives of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper over the national security law, in Hong Kong, China, June 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily will be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities froze the company’s assets under a national security law, an adviser to jailed owner Jimmy Lai told Reuters on Monday.
    The closure of Apple Daily would undermine the former British colony’s reputation as an open and free society and send a warning to other companies that could be accused of colluding with a foreign country, media advocacy groups said.
    Next Digital, publisher of the top-selling 26-year-old newspaper, would hold a board meeting on Monday to discuss how to move forward after its lines of credit were frozen, the adviser, Mark Simon, said.
    “We thought we’d be able to make it to the end of the month.    It’s just getting harder and harder.    It’s essentially a matter of days,” he said by telephone from the United States.
    Vendors had tried to put money into the company’s bank accounts but had been rejected, he said.
    The newspaper would stop publication on June 26 if a board meeting on Friday decided to stop operations, an internal memo seen by Reuters showed.
    Apple Daily management could not be reached for comment on Monday.
    The newspaper said on Sunday the freezing of its assets had left it with cash for “a few weeks” for normal operations.
    Chief Editor Ryan Law, 47, and Chief Executive Cheung Kim-hung, 59, were denied bail on Saturday after being charged with collusion with a foreign country.
    Three other executives were arrested on Thursday when 500 police officers raided the newspaper’s offices, drawing condemnation from Western countries, global rights groups and the U.N. spokesperson for human rights.
    Those three are still under investigation but were released from police detention.
    Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that media freedom and other rights will remain intact but national security is a red line.
    Security Secretary John Lee told a news conference on Thursday the police operation against the Apple Daily was aimed at those who use reporting as a “tool” to endanger national security and did not target the media industry as a whole.
    China’s Foreign Commissioner’s Office said in a statement on Thursday the national security law protected press freedom and warned “external forces” to “keep their hands off Hong Kong.”    The office said press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for those who commit crimes.
    The office of the city’s chief executive did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.    Beijing’s chief representative in the city, the Liaison Office, and the city’s Security Bureau also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘WE CAN’T BANK’
    In May, Reuters reported exclusively that Hong Kong’s security chief had sent letters to tycoon Lai and branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.
    A Hong Kong-based spokesperson for Citibank said at the time the bank did not comment on individual client accounts.    HSBC declined to comment.    Authorities are also prosecuting three companies related to Apple Daily for alleged collusion with a foreign country and have frozen HK$18 million ($2.3 million) of their assets.
    Simon told Reuters it had now become impossible to conduct banking operations in the global financial hub as authorities had “criminalised” any activities with the company’s accounts.
    “We can’t bank.    Some vendors tried to do that as a favour … and it was rejected.”
    Reuters could not determine the banks where Apple Daily vendors had tried to deposit funds only to have their transactions rejected.
    Apple Daily said on Sunday it planned to ask the government’s Security Bureau to unfreeze the assets of the three companies.    If that did not work, it may challenge the decision in court, it said.
    The paper has come under increasing pressure since owner and Beijing critic Lai, who is now in jail, was arrested under the national security law last August and has since had some of his assets frozen.
    A source with direct knowledge of the board’s discussions said an application had been made to the Security Bureau to ask Hong Kong security chief John Lee to unfreeze the assets to allow essential payments to staff and suppliers.br>     The company has about 600 journalists, according to Simon.
    The U.S.-based adviser said some reporters had received threatening phone calls from unknown sources.
    “Our staff are now just worried about personal safety,” he said.
    Police have said dozens of Apple Daily articles were suspected of violating the national security law, the first case in which authorities have cited media articles as potentially violating the legislation.
    Simon and the source said their understanding was that about 100 articles were under scrutiny.
    “After all this is said and done, the business community is going to look up and recognise that a man’s company was gutted and stolen by a communist regime in Hong Kong,” he said.
    “That’s a big deal.”
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Clare Jim; Editing by Stephen Coates)

6/21/2021 Armenia’s Acting PM Keeps Power Despite Karabakh Defeat by Alexander Marrow and Dmitry Antonov
FILE PHOTO: Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan visits a polling station to cast
his vote during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, has kept power in a parliamentary election despite being widely blamed for a military defeat last year in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
    Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 53.92% of votes cast in Sunday’s snap election, according to preliminary results on Monday.    Former President Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance trailed on 21.04%, and questioned the credibility of the result, the Interfax news agency reported.
    The government called the election to try to end a political crisis that began when ethnic Armenian forces ceded territory to Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in six weeks of fighting last year.
    The hostilities caused international concern because the wider South Caucasus region is a corridor for pipelines carrying natural oil and gas to world markets.
    Pashinyan, 46, faced street protests after the defeat and demands for his resignation over the terms of a peace agreement under which Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s.
    Pashinyan described the agreement as a disaster but said he had been compelled to sign it in order to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
    He wrote on Twitter that his party will have a constitutional majority – at least 71 deputies out of 105 – and “will form a government led by me.”
    Pashinyan said Armenia would strengthen ties with Russia-led regional groups, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
    “We are determined to work on improving, deepening and developing relations (with CSTO and EAEU countries), and we will definitely move in this direction,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Pashinyan as saying in an address broadcast on Facebook.
    Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is an ally of Moscow although relations have been cooler under Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018.
    Another regional power, Turkey, supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict and watches developments in Armenia closely.
KOCHARYAN’S BLOC RAISES QUESTIONS
    Final results will be announced a week after the elections, Interfax cited Central Election Commission (CEC) head Tigran Mukuchyan as saying on Monday.    He said the results gave Pashinyan the right to form a government on his own.
    Opinion polls had put Pashinyan’s party and Korcharyan’s Armenia Alliance neck and neck.
    “These results contradict the processes of public life which we have observed in the past eight months,” the alliance said in a statement, carried by Interfax.
    Kocharyan is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh.    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but much of the population is ethnic Armenian.
    Kocharyan was Armenia’s president from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election.    At least 10 people were killed in clashes that followed between police and protesters.
    There were 319 reports of voting irregularities, RIA reported.    The CEC said the elections were largely in line with legal norms and observers from a CIS monitoring mission said the vote was open and fair, Interfax cited them as saying on Monday.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow and Dmitry Antonov; additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

6/21/2021 Australia’s New Deputy PM Casts Shadow Over 2050 Net Zero Emissions Ambition by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Barnaby Joyce, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, during
an official signing ceremony at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia March 24, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) -A climate change sceptic will be Australia’s new deputy prime minister after a leadership revolt in the coalition government’s minor party, making it harder for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to achieve a commitment of zero net emissions by 2050.
    Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but its conservative government has steadfastly backed the country’s fossil fuel industries, arguing tougher action on emissions would cost jobs.
    Morrison in recent months has been softening his position saying Australia wants to achieve net zero emissions as soon as possible, “preferably” by 2050, but that technology must lead the way not political targets.
    Climate change sceptic Barnaby Joyce, who was deputy prime minister from 2016 to 2018 but resigned after an extramarital affair with a former staffer, won a National party leadership vote on Monday defeating incumbent Michael McCormack.
    By convention, the leader of the rural-based National party becomes deputy prime minister in a Liberal-National government.
    Joyce, who will be sworn in as deputy prime minister on Tuesday, said his party will only support an energy policy that bolsters the government’s appeal in regional Australia – which is heavily dependent on fossil fuel mining.
    “I want to make sure that we have a process that we can go to places such as central Queensland (a major mining state).. and give us the very best chance of winning the next election,” Joyce told reporters in Canberra.
    Joyce’s assent is likely to derail Morrison’s hope of strengthening Australia’s climate targets amid a concerted push by U.S. President Joe Biden for countries to commit to a pledge of zero net emission by 2050.
    “Barnaby Joyce has made it known that he wants the National party to be independent and there won’t be any room for compromise on net zero by 2050,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.
    Joyce has previously said he was willing to vote against any government legislation that costs jobs as a result of higher climate standards.
    Unlike other developed nations, Australia has refused to budge from its Paris Agreement commitment to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% from 2005 levels by 2030.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Michael Perry)

6/21/2021 Iran’s Raisi Says U.S. Violated Nuclear Deal, EU Failed To Fulfil Commitments
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference
in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President-Elect Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that the United States violated the 2015 nuclear deal and the European Union failed to fulfil its commitments, speaking in his first news conference since his victory in Friday’s election.
    The United States and the EU should fulfil their pledges under the deal, Raisi said in Tehran.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Edmund Blair)

6/21/2021 China’s Xi Congratulates Raisi On Election As Iranian President
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during a meeting with then-U.S. President Donald Trump
at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping sent his congratulations on Monday to Ebrahim Raisi on his election as Iran’s president, saying their two countries were “comprehensive strategic partners”, state media reported.
    Raisi, a hardliner and fierce critic of the West, won election on Friday.    China has close energy and business ties with Iran but must tread carefully as it has also cultivated good relations with Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Iran, Xi said, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
    “I attach great importance to the development of China-Iran relations,” Xinhua cited Xi as saying.
    Xi added that he was willing to work with Raisi to strengthen strategic communication, consolidate mutual political trust, and expand and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation.
    China is one of the six world powers involved in ongoing negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which came undone after the United States withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

6/21/2021 Armenian Acting PM’s Party Wins Parliamentary Election With 53.92% Of Vote -Ifax Cites Electoral Commission
Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan receives a ballot at a polling station
during the snap parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 20, 2021. Lusi Sargsyan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, and his Civil Contract party won a parliamentary election with 53.92% of the vote, the Interfax news agency reported on Monday, citing the electoral commission.
    Pashinyan had earlier claimed victory in Sunday’s election based on preliminary results, with his party taking an early lead over its closest challenger, the Armenia Alliance, led by former President Robert Kocharyan.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Alexander Marrow)

6/21/2021 Analysis: Iran Vote Points To Hardline Goal Of Long-Term Power – Analysts by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi displays his portrait during a celebratory rally for his presidential
election victory in Tehran, Iran June 19, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A hardline victory in Iran’s presidential election has tilted the domestic balance of power towards the country’s anti-Western clergy and away from officials chosen by popular vote, a shift Tehran may one day seek to make permanent, six analysts who follow the Islamic Republic’s politics say.
    In a tightly controlled race on Friday marked by voter apathy, judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a trusted ally of the security establishment, was elected Iran’s next president.    He takes office in August.
    While his win presages no change in Iran’s push to revive a 2015 nuclear deal and break free of sanctions, it points to Raisi as a potential successor to Khamenei and brings all arms of the state under the control of hardliners suspicious of the West, officials and analysts say.
    Although the supreme leader, not the president, has the last word on all matters of state, the changeover at the presidency will remove the moderating influence on policy-making exercised by outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani since 2013.
    The constitution’s provision for a directly elected president may be one area targeted for change, the analysts say.
    The election of Raisi, whose views appear to align with Khamenei’s on every major topic, may permit the supreme leader to pursue changes entrenching more clerical power, a goal some analysts suspect the 82-year-old has long sought.
    “This election was rather a selection, as it precluded any competitive race,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an analyst and author of Iran in an Emerging New Word Order.
    “… the true nature of the Islamic Republic has been revealed, in that the theocratic institutions are omnipotent and the so-called republican one is just an impotent facade.”
    Pointing to the authorities’ decision to severely limit the field in the election, some insiders including former senior government officials have called Raisi’s win a “political coup d’etat” aimed at eliminating all other factions from the political scene.
    Iranian officials were not immediately available to reply to a request for comment on possible constitutional changes or on accusations of a power grab.
MONOLITHIC CONTROL
    Crisis Group’s Iran Project Director, Ali Vaez, said the establishment preferred “a pliant, tested, loyal president” who will not oppose constitutional changes he suspects are desired by the clerical rulers.
    “They are probably paving the ground for some structural changes (to the constitution) and for that you need to have monolithic control over all instruments of power, including for instance changing the system from a presidential to a parliament one,” Vaez said.
    Such a move would signal the biggest constitutional change since 1989, at the end of the reign of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when the position of prime minister was abolished and that of president strengthened.
    Iran’s political system is a complex mix of Shi’ite Muslim clerical authority and an elected president and parliament.    The president runs the government day-to-day, but reports to the deeply anti-Western Khamenei.    A hardline watchdog body made up of clerics and jurists aligned to Khamenei and who favour tough political and social restrictions has the power to veto laws and decide which candidates may stand.
    While Khamenei has never declared whether this system needs improvement, he has indicated he is open to change.
    He said a decade ago there would be “no problems” in switching the republican part of the country’s administration from a directly-elected presidency to a parliamentary system, giving MPs the power to elect a prime minister.
    And on June 3 this year, in a televised speech, Khamenei appeared to go further, saying: “There may come a time in the future when elections become meaningless, there may be other forms of public presence and expression.”
    Over the decades there have been periodic tensions between presidents, deriving their authority directly from the ballot box, and clerics invoking divine law who have the final word.
    Replacing a popularly elected president with a premier picked by a parliament dominated by hardliners would strengthen the supreme leader’s hold over the establishment, the six analysts said.    Such a shift could hand more influence over policy-making to unelected clerics hostile to trade and investment with Western and Gulf Arab countries long seen as foes, analysts say.
    Cohesion among those in power – all hardliners – would also guarantee a smooth power transfer after Khamenei dies.
    “Raisi’s election was an exclamation point on a longer term effort by hardliners to consolidate power ahead of Khamenei’s succession,” said Henry Rome, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
NUCLEAR TALKS
    With the clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling economic hardship, Raisi has made a point of saying he backs Iran’s talks with world powers to restore the nuclear pact and break free of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.
    The struggle of ordinary Iranians to make ends meet has become harder since three years ago when then U.S. President Donald Trump exited the deal and reimposed crushing sanctions.
    Several officials have publicly warned against a reprise of protests in recent years that reminded the clerical rulers how vulnerable they could be to popular anger over the economy.
    “The nuclear deal’s revival would probably lead to a surge in Iranian economic growth … This would give Raisi a substantial cushion in his first year or two in office,” said Clement Therme, an Iran expert at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy.
    Dissidents also fear Raisi’s presidency could usher in more repression at home.    As head of the judiciary, Raisi held significant power in a country that has long used its powerful legal system to crack down on political dissent.
    Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions for human rights violations in 2019, for the role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1988.    Iran has never acknowledged the killings.
    Raisi said on Monday he should be rewarded for defending his people’s rights and security.    He said that, as a jurist, he had “always defended human rights,” adding that U.S. sanctions had been imposed on him for doing his job as a judge.    He had not previously publicly addressed the allegations.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

6/21/2021 Closure Looms For Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Apple Daily After Raids by Tyrone Siu and Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: Copies of Apple Daily newspaper are seen at its printing facility after police raided its
newsroom and arrested five executives, in Hong Kong, China early June 18, 2021. REUTERS/Jessie Pang
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -The pro-democracy Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily looked set to close for good by Saturday following police raids and the arrest of executives – a move that critics say undermines the city’s status as a free and open society as Beijing tightens its grip.
    Mark Simon, an adviser to the jailed owner and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai, told Reuters on Monday the newspaper would be forced to shut “in a matter of days” after authorities froze access to the firm’s core operating capital on national security grounds that were needed for staff wages and other expenses.
    In an internal memo to some staff seen by Reuters, the Apple Daily said the board of its parent company, Next Media, would decide by week’s end whether to keep going.
    “If the board decides not to continue to operate on Friday, online will stop uploading at 23:59 p.m. on the day, newspaper will cease operation after publishing the June 26 edition.”
    Apple Daily and Next Digital management could not be reached for comment.    Apple’s financial news team said in an article it had already ceased publishing online as of Tuesday morning.
    The jewel in Lau’s Next Digital media business, Apple Daily is a popular tabloid founded 26 years ago that mixes pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and critical reports on China’s Communist leaders.
    Hundreds of police raided the newspaper last week in a national security probe in which senior Apple Daily executives were arrested for alleged “collusion with a foreign country” and HK$18 million ($2.3 million) in assets frozen.
    Late on Monday, several Hong Kong media outlets reported that Apple Daily and its online edition would cease operations by Wednesday as most of its employees had resigned.
    The looming demise of Apple follows the imposition of a national security law on the former British colony last year in response to mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Western democracies including the United States say Beijing has used the law to stifle freedoms and impose greater control over the semi-autonomous trade entrepot and financial centre.
    Police have claimed dozens of Apple Daily articles violated the new security law – the first instance of authorities targeting media articles under the contentious legislation.
CHOKED “TO DEATH
    Another senior company source with direct knowledge of the matter said the freezing of the firm’s core assets – before any trial or due legal process proved any criminality – had made it impossible to pay wages or even electricity bills.
    “This is an extraordinary thing for a place that prides itself on (being) a global financial center, that you haven’t even filed charges against people and yet you’ve decided you’re going to try to … choke this company to death.”
    “It’s surreal.    You know the intensity with which the Chinese Communist Party works.    It’s a testament to the depths to which they will sink to destroy private companies, without even the fiction of a conviction.”
    Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law and Chief Executive Officer Cheung Kim-hung were charged with conspiracy to commit collusion with a foreign country and denied bail on Saturday.    Three other senior executives were also arrested on Thursday and released pending further investigation.
    The company said in the memo the board had sent a letter to Hong Kong’s Security Bureau to ask that some assets be unfrozen in order for it to avoid violating labour laws by failing to pay staff.    The company asked the Security Bureau to reply by Friday.
‘SERIOUS CRIME’
    The Security Bureau said on Monday it would not comment given ongoing legal proceedings and any application related to the frozen property would be handled according to the law.
    “Endangering national security is a very serious crime,” it said in a statement to Reuters, without giving specifics.
    China’s Liaison Office in the city did not respond to requests for comment.
    The arrests and scale of the Apple Daily raid have been criticised by Western countries, global rights groups, press associations and the chief U.N. spokesperson for human rights.
    Security Secretary John Lee said last Thursday the police operation against the Apple Daily was aimed at those who use reporting as a tool to endanger national security and did not target the media industry as a whole.
    China’s Foreign Commissioner’s Office said last week that press freedom cannot be used as a “shield” for those who commit crimes.
    Next Digital has come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under the legislation.    Lai, whose assets have also been frozen under the security law, is in jail for taking part in unauthorised assemblies.
    “We hope that even though this platform will no longer be around that Hong Kong journalists will continue to hold ground and pursue the truth,” said Ingrid Tse, the host of an Apple Daily nightly news broadcast, who signed off for good on Monday.
($1 = 7.76 Hong Kong dollars)
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Toby Chopra, Robert Birsel and Angus MacSwan)

6/21/2021 Iran’s Raisi Backs Nuclear Talks, Rules Out Meeting Biden by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi attends a news conference in Tehran, Iran
June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi on Monday backed talks between Iran and six world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal but flatly rejected meeting U.S. President Joe Biden, even if Washington removed all sanctions.
    In his first news conference since winning Friday’s presidential election, the hardline judge said his foreign policy priority would be improving ties with Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours, while calling on Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia to immediately halt its intervention in Yemen.
    Raisi, 60, a strident critic of the West, will take over from pragmatist Hassan Rouhani on Aug. 3 as Iran seeks to salvage the tattered nuclear deal and be rid of punishing U.S. sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    “We support the negotiations that guarantee our national interests. … America should immediately return to the deal and fulfil its obligations under the deal,” said Raisi, who is himself under U.S. sanctions.
    Negotiations have been under way in Vienna since April to work out how Iran and the United States can both return to compliance with the nuclear pact, which Washington abandoned in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump before reimposing sanctions on Iran.
    Iran has subsequently breached the deal’s limits on enrichment of uranium, designed to minimise the risk of it developing nuclear weapons potential.    Tehran has long denied having any such ambition.
    Raisi said Iran’s foreign policy would not be limited to the nuclear deal, adding that “all U.S. sanctions must be lifted and verified by Tehran.”
    Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance in talks to revive the nuclear deal.    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all major policy.
    Asked if he would meet Biden if those sanctions were lifted, Raisi answered: “No.”
WHITE HOUSE RESPONSE
    The White House downplayed Raisi’s influence, saying no meeting was planned and that Khamenei was the real decision maker in Tehran.
    “We don’t currently have any diplomatic relations with Iran or any plans to meet at the leader level,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.    “Our view is that the decision maker here is the supreme leader.”
    The U.S. State Department said it regarded the process that elected Raisi as “pretty manufactured” and expected the Vienna nuclear talks to resume “in the coming days.”
    Raisi secured victory as expected in the election after a contest marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
    He is under U.S. sanctions over a past that includes what the United States and human rights groups say was his involvement in the extrajudicial killing of thousands of political prisoners in the Islamic Republic in 1988.
    When asked about human rights groups’ allegations that he was involved in the killings, he said: “If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised.”
    “I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far,” Raisi said.
    The White House said it would keep human rights on the table following negotiations on the nuclear deal.    Psaki declined to predict when or if a deal would be reached, adding that officials are “looking forward to seeing where that goes.”
    Gulf Arab states have said it would be dangerous to separate the nuclear pact from Iran’s missile programme and “destabilising” behaviour in the Middle East, where Tehran and Riyadh have fought decades of proxy wars, in countries from Yemen to Iraq.
    Echoing Khamenei’s stance, Raisi said Iran’s “regional activities and ballistic missile programme” were non-negotiable.
    A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s war in 2015 after Iran-backed Houthi forces drove its government out of the capital, Sanaa.    The conflict has been largely stalemated for several years.
    “They (the United States) did not comply with the previous agreement.    How do they want to enter into new discussions?” Raisi said.
    Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which severed ties in 2016, began direct talks in Iraq in April aimed at containing tensions.    “The reopening of the Saudi Embassy is not a problem for Iran,” said Raisi.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington; Writing by Raya Jalabi and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Timothy Heritage and Peter Cooney)

6/21/2021 Acting Armenian PM Holds Power, Cements Authority Despite Military Defeat by Alexander Marrow
Armenia's acting Prime Minister and leader of Civil Contract party Nikol Pashinyan attends a rally after snap
parliamentary election in Yerevan, Armenia June 21, 2021. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Armenia’s acting prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, kept power in a parliamentary election that boosted his authority despite being widely blamed for a military defeat last year in the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, results on Monday showed.
    Pashinyan’s Civil Contract party won 53.92% of votes cast in Sunday’s snap election, preliminary results showed.    Former President Robert Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance trailed on 21.04%, and questioned the result, Interfax news agency reported.
    The government called the election to try to end a political crisis that began when ethnic Armenian forces ceded territory to Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh in fighting last year.
    Six weeks of hostilities caused international concern as the wider South Caucasus region is a corridor for pipelines carrying oil and gas to world markets.    It is also a geopolitical arena where Russia, the United States, the European Union and Turkey all jostle for influence.
    Pashinyan, 46, faced street protests after the defeat and demands for his resignation over the terms of a peace agreement under which Azerbaijan regained control of territory it had lost during a war in the early 1990s.
    While Pashinyan described the deal as a disaster, he said he had been compelled to sign it to prevent greater human and territorial losses.
    He wrote on Twitter on Monday that his party would have a constitutional majority – at least 71 deputies out of 105 – and “will form a government led by me.”
    Pashinyan said Armenia would strengthen ties with Russia-led regional groups, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
    “We are determined to work on improving, deepening and developing relations (with CSTO and EAEU countries), and we will definitely move in this direction,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Pashinyan as saying in an address broadcast on Facebook.
    Armenia, which hosts a Russian military base, is an ally of Moscow though relations have been cooler under Pashinyan, who came to power on the back of street protests and on an anti-corruption agenda in 2018.
    Another regional power, Turkey, supported Azerbaijan in last year’s conflict and watches developments in Armenia closely.
KOCHARYAN’S BLOC RAISES QUESTIONS
    Pashinyan on Monday visited a cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of soldiers killed in last year’s conflict.
    Final results of the election will be announced in a week, Interfax cited Central Election Commission (CEC) head Tigran Mukuchyan as saying.    He said the results gave Pashinyan the right to form a government on his own.
    Opinion polls had put Pashinyan’s party and Kocharyan’s Armenia Alliance neck and neck.
    “These (election) results contradict the processes of public life which we have observed in the past eight months,” the alliance said in a statement, carried by Interfax.
    It said it did not recognise the results and had started consultations with other parties to organise a collective appeal to Armenia’s constitutional court, RIA reported.
    Speaking at a rally in Yerevan on Monday evening, Pashinyan reached out to his rivals with an offer of reconciliation.
    “I will start political consultations with the political forces, which took part in the election and who are ready for constructive dialogue,” Interfax quoted him as saying.
    Kocharyan is a native of Nagorno-Karabakh.    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but much of the population is ethnic Armenian.
    Kocharyan was Armenia’s president from 1998 to 2008 and was accused of acting unlawfully when he introduced a state of emergency in March 2008 after a disputed election and at least 10 people were killed in clashes between police and protesters.
    International observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said the elections were competitive and generally well-managed.
    “However, they were characterized by intense polarization and marred by increasingly inflammatory rhetoric among key contestants,” it said in a statement.
    There were 319 reports of voting irregularities, RIA reported.    The CEC said the elections were largely in line with legal norms and observers from a CIS monitoring mission said the vote was open and fair, Interfax reported.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; additional reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy, Dmitry Antonov and Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alexander Marrow/Andrew Osborn; Editing by Timothy Heritage/Alexander Smith)

6/21/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Threatens Those Who Refuse The COVID-19 Vaccine With Jail
FILE PHOTO: Health workers encode information and prepare vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
at a mobile vaccination site in Taguig, Metro Manila, Philippines, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) – President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to jail people who refuse to be vaccinated against the coronavirus as the Philippines battles one of Asia’s worst outbreaks, with over 1.3 million cases and more than 23,000 deaths.
    “You choose, vaccine or I will have you jailed,” Duterte said in a televised address on Monday following reports of low turnouts at several vaccination sites in the capital Manila.
    Duterte’s remarks contradict those of his health officials who have said that while people are urged to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, it was voluntary.
    “Don’t get me wrong, there is a crisis in this country,” Duterte said.    “I’m just exasperated by Filipinos not heeding the government.”
    As of June 20, Philippine authorities had fully vaccinated 2.1 million people, making slow progress towards the government’s target to immunise up to 70 million people this year in a country of 110 million.
    Duterte, who has been criticised for his tough approach to containing the virus, also stood by his decision not to let schools reopen.
    In the same address, he took a swipe at the International Criminal Court, after an ICC prosecutor had sought permission from the court for a full inquiry into the drug war killings in the Philippines.
    Duterte, who in March 2018 cancelled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty, repeated he will not cooperate with the probe, describing the ICC as “bullshit.”
    “Why would I defend or face an accusation before white people.    You must be crazy,” Duterte said, who after winning the presidency in 2016 unleashed an anti-narcotics campaign that has killed thousands.
    Human rights groups say authorities have summarily executed drug suspects, but Duterte maintained those who were killed violently resisted arrest.
    Sought for comment, ICC court spokesperson Fadi El Abdallah said: “The Court is an independent judicial institution, and does not comment on political statements.”
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Additional reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

6/22/2021 U.N. Afghanistan Envoy Warns Of Taliban Offensive by Michelle Nichols
Afghan security forces are seen at the site of a battle field where they clash with the
Taliban insurgent in Kunduz province, Afghanistan June 22, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents have captured more than 50 of 370 districts in Afghanistan since May, the U.N. special envoy said on Tuesday, warning that increased conflict posed a risk of insecurity to many other countries.br>     Deborah Lyons told the U.N. Security Council that the announcement earlier this year that foreign troops would withdraw sent a “seismic tremor” through Afghanistan.
    “Those districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn,” Lyons said.
    After 20 years, the United States has started to withdraw its remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and aims to be completely out of the country by Sept. 11.    About 7,000 non-U.S. personnel from mainly NATO countries – along with Australia, New Zealand and Georgia – are also planning to leave by that date.
    “All of the major trends – politics, security, the peace process, the economy, the humanitarian emergency, and of course COVID – all of these trends are negative or stagnate,” Lyons told the 15-member Security Council.    “The possible slide toward dire scenarios is undeniable.”
    U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the radical Islamist Taliban from power in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
    U.S. President Joe Biden will meet at the White House with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday amid the surge in fighting.
WOMEN’S RIGHTS ‘NOT NEGOTIABLE’
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the decision to withdraw U.S. troops was not taken lightly.
    “We will use our full diplomatic, economic and assistance toolkit to support the peaceful, stable future the Afghan people want and deserve and will continue to support the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces in securing their country,” she told the Security Council.
    Talks in Qatar between the Taliban and Afghan government representatives on a political settlement have stalled.    Lyons urged the Security Council, with the support of regional countries, to push the parties back to the negotiating table.
    Afghan Foreign Minister Mohammad Haneef Atmar said Ghani had proposed “in good faith” a peace plan for a ceasefire, power sharing and early elections.
    “For almost 10 months now we have had no serious engagement from the Taliban for serious peace negotiation and no response to our proposed peace plan and absolutely no counter proposals,” he told the U.N. Security Council.
    Before being ousted in 2001, the Taliban imposed a harsh version of Islamic rule that included barring girls from school and women from working outside their homes and prohibiting them from being in public without a male relative.
    “Preserving the rights of women remains a paramount concern and must not be used as a bargaining chip at the negotiating table,” Lyons said.    “Men’s rights are not negotiable.    Women’s rights are not negotiable.    Human rights are not negotiable.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

6/23/2021 Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Tabloid Apple Daily To Print Final Edition On Thursday by Sharon Abratique and Pak Yiu
FILE PHOTO: An employee walks at the offices of Apple Daily and Next Media after police
raided the newsroom, in Hong Kong, China June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong’s pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily will print its last edition on Thursday, the paper said, after a stormy year in which it was raided by police and its tycoon owner and other staff were arrested under a new national security law.
    The end of the popular tabloid, which mixes pro-democracy discourse with racy celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, has raised alarm over media freedom and other rights in the Chinese-ruled city.
    “Thank you to all readers, subscribers, ad clients and Hong Kongers for 26 years of immense love and support. Here we say goodbye, take care of yourselves,” Apple Daily said in an online article.
    Apple Daily’s support for democratic rights and freedoms has made it a thorn in Beijing’s side since owner Jimmy Lai, a self-made tycoon who was smuggled from mainland China into Hong Kong on a fishing boat at the age of 12, started it in 1995.
    It shook up the region’s Chinese-language media landscape and became a champion of democracy on the margins of Communist China.
    While viewed as tawdry at times by some of its critics, the tabloid has served as a beacon of media freedoms in the Chinese-speaking world, read by dissidents and a more liberal Chinese diaspora – repeatedly challenging Beijing’s authoritarianism.
    Lai, whose assets have been frozen, has been in jail since December on charges of taking part in unauthorised assemblies, stemming from pro-democracy protests.
    Rights groups, media organisations and Western governments, including the European Union and Britain, have criticised the action against the newspaper.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to “beautify” acts that endangered national security.    Chinese officials have denounced the criticism as interference.
    Hong Kong and mainland officials have repeatedly said that media freedoms are respected but are not absolute.
    One reader said the paper’s closure could herald the end of Hong Kong’s press freedom.    “If such a strong organisation can lose its voice, I think other media organisations will be scared,” said Johny Ku, 55.
‘EMPLOYEE SAFETY’
    About 200 police raided the paper’s newsroom in August last year, when Lai was arrested on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces, and again last week, by 500 police, when five other executives were detained.
    On both occasions, the paper increased its printing run to 500,000 the following day from the usual 80,000 and people queued up at news stands to buy the paper to show their anger at the crackdown.
    Media reported Apple Daily was expected to print one million copies on Thursday. The paper said its online version will also stop updating.
    Last week’s pictures of police sitting at reporters’ desks and footage of them loading vans with journalistic materials have sent chills through the media in the former British colony.
    The raid was seen as the most direct attack on Hong Kong’s freewheeling media since Beijing regained control of the city in 1997.
    The national security law imposed on the city last year was Beijing’s first major move to put Hong Kong on a more authoritarian path.
    Supporters of the law say after months of at times violent pro-democracy protests, it has restored stability essential for preserving the financial hub’s economic success.
    Apple Daily, which is published by Next Digital and employs about 600 journalists, said the decision to close was “based on employee safety and manpower considerations.”
    Next Digital said the decision was taken “due to the current circumstances prevailing in Hong Kong.”
    Since the raid, the newspaper has suffered mass resignations and entire departments had to close.
‘DOG-LIKE ANIMAL’
    The Taiwan arm of Apple Daily, which stopped publishing its print version last month, said it would continue to publish online given its independent finances.
    Apple Daily has come under increasing pressure since Lai was arrested last year under the security legislation.
    Police last week froze assets of companies linked to the newspaper and arrested five executives, effectively choking its operations.    On Wednesday, police arrested a columnist on suspicion of conspiring to collude with a foreign country or foreign forces.
    Authorities have said dozens of Apple Daily articles may have violated the security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.
    Two Hong Kong pro-Beijing newspapers, Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao, published special pages on Wednesday, portraying Lai as a “dog-like animal,” a “traitor” and a shoe-shiner doing the bidding of the United States.
    Next Digital has been kept afloat by loans from Lai.    In May, Reuters reported exclusively that Hong Kong’s security chief had sent letters to branches of HSBC and Citibank threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city.
    A handful of Beijing supporters celebrated the paper’s demise with champagne and a banner reading “Fake News” in front of its headquarters.
(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Yoyo Chow, Sara Cheng, Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)

6/23/2021 N.Korea Say It Is Not Considering Any Contact With The U.S. - KCNA
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and North Korean national flags are seen at the Capella Hotel on
Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea is not considering any contact with the United States, Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said on Wednesday.
    “We are not considering even the possibility of any contact with the U.S., let alone having it, which would get us nowhere, only taking up precious time,” Ri said in a statement carried on state media KCNA.
    His comments were made after the new U.S. envoy for North Korea said in Seoul on Monday that he looked forward to a “positive response soon” on dialogue from Pyongyang.
    North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme has been an intractable problem for Washington for years and in trying to change that, President Joe     Biden’s administration conducted a review of policy and said it would seek “calibrated and practical” ways to persuade Pyongyang to denuclearise.
    On Tuesday, the sister of North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, said in a statement that the United States appeared to be interpreting signals from North Korea in the “wrong way.”
    Kim Yo Jong, who is a senior official in North Korea’s ruling party, was responding to U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who on Sunday said he saw as an “interesting signal” a recent speech by Kim Jong Un on preparing for both confrontation and diplomacy with the United States.
(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Angus MacSwan)

6/23/2021 No Meeting Planned Between Blinken And China’s Wang At G20 -U.S. Official
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses the media following the closed-door morning talks between the United States and
China upon conclusion of their two-day meetings in Anchorage, Alaska March 19, 2021. Frederic J. Brown/Pool via REUTERS/Files
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -There is no meeting planned between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a G20 gathering in Italy next week, a State Department official said on Wednesday, after the Financial Times reported that Beijing and Washington were discussing such a meeting.
    The newspaper, citing people briefed on the talks, said U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration had also informed counterparts in Beijing that it would like Wendy Sherman, deputy secretary of state, to visit China over the summer.
    The White House had also held preliminary internal discussions about sending Blinken or Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, to China later this year, which could set the stage for Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping to hold a bilateral summit on the margins of the G20 leaders meeting in Rome in October, the British newspaper reported https://on.ft.com/2SXZGHt.
    “There is no meeting planned between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Wang at the upcoming G20 Ministerial,” a State Department official said in response to a query about the report, while not commenting on the other details.
    Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States who was cited by the Financial Times, said she had heard from sources that after a Blinken-Wang Yi meeting there might be a phone call between Biden and Xi and then a visit by a State Department official to China over the summer.
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Wang and Blinken have not met since they and other officials were involved in fiery exchanges in Alaska in March during the Biden administration’s first high-level meeting with its Chinese counterparts.
    Blinken held a call with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi earlier this month and stressed the need for cooperation and transparency over the origins of COVID-19 and raised other contentious topics, including China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    U.S.-China relations deteriorated sharply under then-U.S. President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration has maintained his tough approach, while stressing its interest in cooperation on areas of shared concern like climate change.
    China this month denounced a joint statement by the Group of Seven leaders led by Washington that scolded Beijing over a range of issues as a gross interference in the country’s internal affairs.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Jonathan Oatis)

6/23/2021 Iran Says U.S. To Lift Oil Sanctions, Germany, France Cautious On Matter by Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/BERLIN (Reuters) -Iran said on Wednesday the United States had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping, although Germany cautioned that major issues remained at talks between Tehran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
    The Iranian remarks, by outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi, echoed previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is prepared to make major concessions at the talks, which have been under way since April in Vienna.
    The talks adjourned on Sunday for consultations in capitals, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief who is on a U.S. blacklist. Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
    “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by (former U.S. President Donald) Trump,” Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
    Like other Western and Iranian negotiators who have said the talks remain a long way from conclusion, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday that Tehran and the powers still had to overcome significant hurdles.
    “We are making progress but there are still some nuts to crack,” Maas told a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.    Maas said a deal was possible even after the election of Raisi, an implacable critic of the West.
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS’
    French Junior Foreign Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers that time was running out to reach a deal and he opened the door to the idea that a deal might not be reached quickly.     “Difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming days or weeks if these negotiations were not to move forward.”
    U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel,” including on sanctions and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make to salvage the tattered deal.
    Iran agreed in 2015 to curbs on its uranium enrichment programme, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, in return for the lifting of international sanctions.    Trump abandoned the deal three years later, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, and reimposed harsh sanctions that hammered Iran’s economy.
    Tehran responded by violating some enrichment limits, while continuing to insist that it has no nuclear arms ambitions.
    Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s ascendancy is unlikely to alter the Islamic Republic’s negotiating position, as clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has the final say on all major policy.
    Vaezi said the United States had agreed to take some senior Iranian figures off a blacklist.
    “About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement.    It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when to defuse mutual suspicions and ensure full compliance.
    But some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give the new president a clean slate and avoid blame if problems subsequently arise.
    Vaezi also said that Iran’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to extend its nuclear site monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after its expiry on June 24.
    Iran and the IAEA reached a three-month accord in February to cushion the blow of Tehran’s decision – another response to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement – to scale back its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog by ending extra monitoring measures introduced by the 2015 deal.
    Under the February accord, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black box-type arrangement with the IAEA able to access it only at a later date.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Humeyra Pamuk in Berlin and John Irish in ParisEditing by Mark Heinrich)

6/23/2021 French Minister Says Time Running Out On Iran Nuclear Talks
FILE PHOTO: French Culture Minister Franck Riester speaks at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France
May 6, 2020 following a video conference between the French president and several artists' representatives as the country
is under a strict lockdown to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Talks on Iran’s nuclear program need to end quickly because time is running out, French junior minister Franck Riester said on Wednesday.
    Riester told parliament that difficult decisions would need to be taken in coming days or weeks if negotiations do not advance.
(Reporting by John Irish; Writing by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Toby Chopra)

6/23/2021 Iran Says U.S. To Lift Oil Sanctions, U.S. Says Nothing Agreed by Parisa Hafezi and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/BERLIN (Reuters) -Iran said on Wednesday the United States had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping but Washington said “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” in talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    The remarks by outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi echoed previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is ready to make major concessions at the nuclear talks in Vienna that began in April.
    The indirect talks adjourned on Sunday for consultations in capitals, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief subject to U.S. sanctions.    Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
    Iran struck a deal with major powers in 2015 to curb its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    Then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019 while sticking to its position that it had no nuclear weapons ambitions.
    U.S. President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when, with the key issues being what nuclear limits Tehran will accept and what sanctions Washington will remove.
    “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
    While acknowledging negotiators sometimes draw up draft texts, the U.S. State Department said there would be no agreement until all matters had been resolved.
    “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that capture the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” a State Department spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
    Echoing Western and Iranian negotiators, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said there were still significant hurdles.
    “We are making progress but there are still some nuts to crack,” Maas told a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.    Maas said a deal was possible even after the election of Raisi, an implacable critic of the West.
‘DIFFICULT DECISIONS’
    French Junior Foreign Minister Franck Riester told lawmakers time was running out to reach a deal and he suggested one might not be struck quickly.
    “Difficult decisions will need to be made in the coming days or weeks if these negotiations were not to move forward."
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel.”
    Iranian and Western officials say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating stance because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has the final say.
    Vaezi also said Washington had agreed to take some senior Iranian figures off a blacklist.
    “About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement.    It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
    The State Department did not directly comment on this.
    Some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give him a clean slate and allow him avoid blame if problems arise.
    Vaezi also said Iran’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to extend its nuclear site monitoring deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency after its expiry on June 24.     Iran and the IAEA reached a three-month accord in February to cushion the blow of Tehran’s decision – another response to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement – to scale back its cooperation with the U.N. watchdog by ending extra monitoring measures introduced by the 2015 deal.
    Under the February accord, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black box-type arrangement with the IAEA able to access it only later.
    (Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, Humeyra Pamuk in Berlin; John Irish in Paris and Arshad Mohammed in WashingtonEditing by Mark Heinrich and Howard Goller)

6/23/2021 White House Says No Increased Violence Against U.S. Troops In Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. soldier keeps watch at an Afghan National Army base in Logar province,
Afghanistan August 5, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Pentagon is overseeing an orderly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the United States has not seen an increase in violence directed against its troops in the country in the past year, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
    Psaki told a news briefing that while there had been increased attacks on Afghan forces and the government compared with a year ago “we have not seen an increase in attacks on our military or presence since February 2020.”
(Reporting by Nandita Bose, Steve Holland, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chris Reese)

6/24/2021 U.S. To Evacuate Afghan Interpreters Before Military Withdrawal Complete-Officials by Patricia Zengerle, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks with the unit's Afghan interpreter before a mission near
forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 11, 2014. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States is planning to evacuate a group of vulnerable Afghan interpreters before the U.S. military completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan so they can wrap up their visa applications from safety, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
    The evacuation of the at-risk Afghans will include their family members for a total of as many as 50,000 people, a senior Republican lawmaker told Reuters.
    The decision by President Joe Biden’s administration risks inflaming a sense of crisis in Afghanistan, just a day before Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for talks in Washington aimed at projecting a sense of partnership despite the U.S. military exit.
    Responding to questions after a White House speech, Biden said, “Those who helped us are not going to be left behind … They’re welcome here just like anyone else who risked their lives to help us.”
    His meeting with Ghani comes as Taliban insurgents press a major offensive in Afghanistan, triggering growing concern in Congress https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-speeds-visas-vulnerable-afghans-pullout-looms-congress-wants-more-2021-06-15 for Afghan interpreters who worked for the U.S. military during its two-decade-long engagement and fear Taliban reprisals after American troops depart.
    The U.S. officials did not disclose where the Afghans would be transported or say how many would be involved, but said the group consisted entirely of Afghans who have already started the visa process.
    “Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options,” one of the officials said. U.S. Representative Mike McCaul, speaking to Reuters after discussing the plan with administration officials, said the evacuees will comprise some 9,000 interpreters who have applied for Special Immigration Visas and their families.
    “You are probably talking about 50,000 people.    There’s no way to expedite their visas in-country … on a timely basis that would save their lives,” said McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs and a leading advocate of evacuating U.S.-affiliated Afghans.
    Countries that “could be on the table” to receive them include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait, he said.
    The operation “is going to involve a lot of planes,” he said, adding that while it will create the “optics” that Afghanistan “is imploding … the decision has been made to pull out our military forces and so this really needs to be part of the preparation and planning.”
    Fighting between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and the Taliban has surged in recent weeks, with the militants gaining control of territory.    The Pentagon now estimates the Taliban control 81 of the country’s 419 district centers.
    Political talks between the government and the Taliban have largely stalled and it is unclear how Afghan security forces will perform after U.S. troops depart.    The Taliban have assured Afghans who worked with foreign forces of their safety.
    But as the clock ticks down, Afghans who have applied for visas increasingly fear that the insurgents will target them and their families, in retribution for helping foreign forces during America’s longest war.
    Samey Honaryar, a former Afghan interpreter who was granted asylum in the United States after his life was threatened, said at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol on Thursday that time was running short for his compatriots.
    “Please evacuate them,” he said.    “They were good people, they helped you.”
    The U.S. military has completed more than half of its withdrawal from Afghanistan and is set to finish in the coming weeks.    That leaves little time to process applications for special immigrant visas already filed by roughly 9,000 Afghans, or the thousands of others who have formally expressed interest.
    Although the U.S. State Department has increased staffing, U.S. officials say there is a limit to how fast a 14-step, multiple-agency process that includes security vetting can move without changes to legislation.    If all goes well, a visa could normally be processed in nine to 12 months, officials say.
    Administration officials say changes in legislation could accelerate the process, but its plans have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic, which has repeatedly forced the U.S. embassy in Kabul to postpone visa interviews.
    U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, a Democrat and former Marine, introduced legislation on Thursday to help Afghans who worked for the United States.    With Honaryar and other former interpreters, he told reporters he welcomed reports of the planned evacuations.     “This is a good day in this story, but it is far from the final chapter,” Moulton said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Patricia Zengerle, Idrees Ali, Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

6/24/2021 Serious Differences Persist In Iran Nuclear Talks – U.S. Official
FILE PHOTO: 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 talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in Vienna, Austria June 20, 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – There are serious differences in talks on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and if they cannot be bridged in the foreseeable future, Washington will need to rethink its approach, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
    “This process is not going to be open forever,” the senior U.S. official told reporters.    “We do have differences and if we can’t bridge them in the foreseeable future, I think we are going to have to regroup and figure out how we … move ahead.”
    The sixth round of indirect talks adjourned on Sunday, two days after hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief who is subject to U.S. sanctions, was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Raisi is due to take office in August.
    The U.S. official, who spoke to reporters on condition he not be named, said the U.S. delegation expected to return to Vienna for a seventh round of talks in the not-too-distant future but that he did not know when.
    Iran struck a deal with major powers in 2015 to curb its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.
    Then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, prompting Tehran to start violating some of the nuclear limits in 2019 while sticking to its position that it had no nuclear weapons ambitions.    U.S. President Joe Biden is seeking to revive the agreement.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed, Daphne Psaledakis and Doyinsola Oladipo; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/24/2021 Canada Finds No Evidence Iran’s Downing Of Airliner Was Premeditated by Steve Scherer
FILE PHOTO: Mourners attend an outdoor vigil for the victims of a Ukrainian passenger jet which
crashed in Iran, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada said on Thursday it had found no evidence that Iran’s downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane last year had been premeditated, and condemned what it called the incompetence and recklessness of those responsible.
    Iran has admitted it shot down the airliner shortly after takeoff from Tehran in January 2020, killing 176 people, and blamed a “disastrous mistake” by forces on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.
    A special Canadian forensic team charged with examining all available information about the incident, including classified intelligence, said it had “found no evidence that Iranian officials ordered the shoot-down or that it was premeditated.”
    In a report the team added: “This in no way absolves Iran of its responsibility for the death of 176 innocent people.”    The dead included 55 Canadian citizens and 30 permanent residents.
    Ottawa has repeatedly complained that Iran’s official explanation did not answer many important questions about the downing of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752.
    “Iranian civilian and military authorities bear full and complete responsibility.    Flight PS752 was shot down due to their recklessness, incompetence, and wanton disregard for human life,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote in the report.
    “Senior regime officials made the decisions that led to this tragedy, and the world must not allow them to hide with impunity behind a handful of low-ranking scapegoats.”
    In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.
    “In the context of military operations, a misalignment of this nature should have been detected,” the report concludes, adding that Iran has failed to provide a “credible explanation” as to why the aircraft was targeted.
    Canada and other countries are seeking reparations for victims’ families.    Canada does not have formal diplomatic relations with Iran, making the process lengthy and complex.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by David Ljunggren and David Gregorio)

6/24/2021 Biden Calls Closure Of Hong Kong Tabloid ‘Sad Day For Media Freedom’
Copies of the final edition of Apple Daily, published by Next Digital, are seen
at a newsstand in Hong Kong, China June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday called the closure of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid a “sad day for media freedom” and said it signaled “intensifying repression by Beijing.”
    In a statement following the news outlet’s closure earlier on Thursday, Biden called on China to stop targeting the independent press and release detained journalists and media executives.
    “People in Hong Kong have the right to freedom of the press.    Instead, Beijing is denying basic liberties and assaulting Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic institutions and processes, inconsistent with its international obligations,” he said.
    Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, was forced to end a 26-year run amid a national security crackdown that froze the company’s funds.    Its closure prompted snaking queues of hundreds of loyal readers at news stands across the city.
    “It is a sad day for media freedom in Hong Kong and around the world,” Biden said, adding that the publication had been “a much-needed bastion of independent journalism in Hong Kong.”
    “Through arrests, threats, and forcing through a National Security Law that penalizes free speech, Beijing has insisted on wielding its power to suppress independent media and silence dissenting views,” he said.
    Biden vowed that the United States “will not waver in our support of people in Hong Kong and all those who stand up for the basic freedoms all people deserve.”
(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Lisa Lambert, Doina Chiacu and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chris Reese and Paul Simao)

6/24/2021 India’s Modi Discusses Kashmir Elections In First Talks Since Autonomy Revoked by Nigam Prusty and Fayaz Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI, India (Reuters) – Indian premier Narendra Modi told leaders from Jammu & Kashmir that elections would be held there after the region’s constituencies were reconfigured following the revocation of its semi-autonomous statehood, meeting participants said.
    The talks on Thursday were the first between Modi and Kashmiri leaders since the government scrapped the Himalayan region’s special status in 2019, detaining thousands of people and imposing a months-long lockdown.
    Kashmiri leaders have long demanded a restoration of their semi-autonomy and for elections to be held, but India has been working to re-adjust some assembly and parliamentary constituencies there under a process known as “delimitation.”
    Modi later took to Twitter to reiterate the line he had taken in the roughly three-hour talks in New Delhi.
    “Delimitation has to happen at a quick pace so that polls can happen and J&K gets an elected Government that gives strength to J&K’s development trajectory,” he said.
    Regional leaders said they pressed their demand for restoration of statehood and limited autonomy at the talks.
    “We told PM that we don’t stand with what was done on 5th Aug 2019,” said Omar Abdullah, leader of the regional party National Conference.    “We’re not ready to accept it, but we won’t take law into hands, we will fight this in court.”
    Jammu and Kashmir is claimed in full by both India and its neighbour Pakistan, although each control only parts of it.
    As well as revoking the region’s statehood and semi-autonomy in August 2019, India split its only Muslim majority state into two federally administered territories.    It said the changes were needed to spur development in a region where an armed insurgency has raged for decades against New Delhi’s rule.
PROTESTS, LOCKDOWN
    The shock decision to revoke the region’s statehood and semi-autonomy triggered protests by thousands of people and was criticised by local leaders who said they were never consulted.
    Ahead of that move, India had also locked down the heavily militarised Kashmir valley and placed strict curbs on movement and telecoms, snapping most mobile telephone and internet links for weeks.    Even 18 months later high-speed mobile internet had been only partially restored, and local leaders complain about an erosion of civil rights.
    “I spoke about the pain and anger and frustration among the people of Jammu and Kashmir since August 2019, about how they feel humiliated,” said Mehbooba Mufti, leader of the regional People’s Democratic Party.    “I said people of J&K are facing a lot of problems … even if they breathe loudly they are jailed.”
    Many people in Kashmir have voiced criticism of “delimitation,” fearing it is aimed at tilting the balance of power in the region toward Hindu leaders.
    Nisar Ahmad, a university student in Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, said he didn’t have high hopes from Wednesday’s meeting.     “They are not going to reverse what they did,” Ahmad said.
(Writing by Zeba Siddiqui and Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Pravin Char)

6/24/2021 Iran’s President Refuses To Meet With Biden Amid Nuclear Deal Talks by OAN Newsroom
Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is pictured during his first press conference in the
Islamic republic’s capital Tehran, on June 21, 2021. (ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran’s president-elect has refused to meet with Joe Biden.    In a press conference this week, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said he wouldn’t meet with Biden even if the U.S. rejoined the nuclear accord.
    Additionally, Raisi called on Biden to remove the sanctions against Iran, adding that Iran’s ballistic missile program was not up for discussion.    “We support the negotiations that guarantee our national interests…America should immediately return to the deal and fulfill its obligations under the deal,” said Raisi, who is currently under U.S. sanctions.
Iran’s President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is seated under a portrait of the Islamic republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during
his first press conference since his election on the weekend in Tehran, on June 21, 2021. (ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
    This comes after President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action agreement in 2018.
    Raisi won the presidency last week, claiming victory amid a scandal-ridden election which saw a record low voter turnout.

6/25/2021 First COVID-19 Case Could Have Emerged In China In Oct 2019 – Study by David Stanway
FILE PHOTO: Workers in PPE spray the ground with diinfectant in Baishazhou market during a visit of World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked
with investigating the origins of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, January 31, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) -The virus that causes COVID-19 could have started spreading in China as early as October 2019, two months before the first case was identified in the central city of Wuhan, a new study showed on Friday.
    Researchers from Britain’s University of Kent used methods from conservation science to estimate that SARS-CoV-2 first appeared from early October to mid-November 2019, according to a paper published in the PLOS Pathogens journal.
    The most likely date for the virus’s emergence was Nov. 17, 2019, and it had probably already spread globally by January 2020, they estimated.
    China’s first official COVID-19 case was in December 2019 and was linked to Wuhan’s Huanan seafood market.
    However, some early cases had no known connection with Huanan, implying that SARS-CoV-2 was already circulating before it reached the market.
    A joint study published by China and the World Health Organization at the end of March acknowledged there could have been sporadic human infections before the Wuhan outbreak.
    In a paper released in preprint form this week, Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle recovered deleted sequencing data from early COVID-19 cases in China.
    The data showed that samples taken from the Huanan market were “not representative” of SARS-CoV-2 as a whole, and were a variant of a progenitor sequence circulating earlier, which spread to other parts of China.
    The U.S. National Institutes of Health confirmed to Reuters that the samples used in the study were submitted to the Sequence Read Archive (SRA) in March 2020 and later deleted at the request of Chinese investigators, who said they would be updated and submitted to another archive.
    Critics said the deletion was further evidence that China was trying to cover up the origins of COVID-19.
    “Why would scientists ask international databases to delete key data that informs us about how COVID-19 began in Wuhan?” said Alina Chan, a researcher with Harvard’s Broad Institute, writing on Twitter.
    Another study by Australian scientists, published on Thursday in the Scientific Reports journal, used genomic data to show SARS-CoV-2 binds to human receptors far more easily than other species, suggesting it was already adapted to humans when it first emerged.
    It said it was possible there was another unidentified animal with even stronger affinity that served as an intermediary species, but the hypothesis that it leaked from the lab could not be ruled out.
    “While it is clear early viruses had a high propensity for human receptors, that doesn’t mean they were ‘man-made’,” said Dominic Dwyer, infectious disease expert at Australia’s Westmead Hospital who was part of the WHO team investigating COVID-19 in Wuhan this year.
    “Such conclusions remain speculative,” he said.
    Serum samples still needed to be tested to make a stronger case about COVID-19’s origins, said Stuart Turville, associate professor at the Kirby Institute, an Australian medical research organisation who was responding to the University of Kent study.
    “Unfortunately with the current pressure of the lab leak hypothesis and the sensitivities in doing this follow-up research in China, it may be some time till we see reports like that,” he said.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh and Vishal Vivek in Bengaluru;Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kim Coghill)

6/25/2021 ‘Sadness And Torment’: Apple Daily Interns Reflect On Final Days At HK Paper by Sharon Abratique
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – For a group of interns, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily proved to be a work experience they will never forget.
    When the interns were less than three weeks into the job, 500 police officers raided their newsroom and arrested five executives as part of a national security investigation that has intensified fears over press freedom in the global financial hub.
    On Thursday, the popular newspaper ended its nearly three-decade run, forced to close with its owner in jail and company assets frozen, leaving it unable to pay its approximately 600 journalists.
    It was not the start of a career the interns had hoped for.
    “My parents asked me to quit the internship after the senior executives were arrested,” said Cherry, 21, who nevertheless defied her parents to stay on until the end.
    Cherry, who did not want to be identified by her full name because of the sensitivity of the matter, said she felt sadness and torment over the paper’s demise.
    “I wanted to stay in Apple Daily my whole life. From intern, to part-time, then to full-time … Working at Apple Daily is not just a job, it is like a mission,” she said.
    Owned by staunch Beijing critic and jailed democracy activist Jimmy Lai, the 26-year-old newspaper was a popular tabloid that mixed pro-democracy discourse with celebrity gossip and reports critical of Chinese Communist leaders.
    Lai, 73, has been a thorn in the side of Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government for years.    Authorities have accused him of colluding with foreign forces, including calling for sanctions in defence of the pro-democracy movement.
    Beijing’s main office in the city, the Liaison Office, has called him a traitor in statements.    Lai is in jail on charges of illegal assembly, related to last year’s democracy protests.
‘BE CAREFUL’
    The paper’s closure is a dark moment for media in the former British colony, press advocacy groups say.    Officials in Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said media freedoms are respected but are not absolute.
    Five other interns who spoke to Reuters on condition they not be fully identified described their anguish but also the support of parents as they joined a company in the firing line of authorities under a tough national security law Beijing imposed on the city last year.
    Polie, 21, said her mother had rushed into her bedroom the morning the newsroom was raided last week to tell her the news.
    “They were not exactly worried, but sad.    They were sad to see Hong Kong like this, sad to see me like this.”
    Venus, 20, said her parents were worried about her internship and asked her not to put her byline on articles.
    “They didn’t scold me, they just reminded me to be careful.”
    For Ng, 21, working at the Apple Daily had been a childhood dream come true.
    “If I didn’t get the internship at Apple Daily, I wouldn’t apply to any other organisation,” she told Reuters.
    “There won’t be a paper better than Apple Daily for reporting the truth.”
    Kenji, 22, on his second internship at the paper, said his passion for journalism was fading as the future for Hong Kong’s media appeared ever more gloomy.
    “I might not be a journalist in future,” Kenji said.
(Reporting By Sharon Abratique; writing by Anne Marie Roantree; editing by Robert Birsel)

6/25/2021 Biden Meets Afghan Leaders As U.S. Troops Leave, Fighting Rages by Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: A shoe polishing girl waits for customers under graffiti on a wall
in Kabul, Afghanistan June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden meets Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday to discuss Washington’s support for Afghanistan as the last U.S. troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances.
    The Oval Office meeting may be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new U.S. help because it will be seen as affirming Biden’s support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings and assassinations, a surge in COVID-19 cases and political infighting in Kabul.
    “At a time when morale is incredibly shaky and things are going downhill, anything one can do to help shore up morale and shore up the government is worth doing,” said Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul.    “Inviting Ghani here is a pretty strong sign that we’re backing him.”
    Biden’s embrace, however, comes only months after U.S. officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.
    Biden’s first meeting as president with Ghani and Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, will focus on “our ongoing commitment to the Afghan people” and security forces, said White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
    Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines there to help it battle COVID-19.
    Biden will urge Ghani and Abdullah, foes in Afghanistan’s two last presidential elections, “to be a united front” and he will reaffirm U.S. support for a negotiated peace deal, Jean-Pierre said.
    U.S. officials, however, have been clear that Biden will not halt the U.S. pullout – likely to be completed by late July or early August – and he is unlikely to approve any U.S. military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.
    Ghani and Abdullah spent Thursday discussing the situation in Afghanistan with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
WORRIES ABOUT AL QAEDA
    The visit comes with the peace process stalled and violence raging as Afghan security forces fight to stem a Taliban spring offensive that threatens several provincial capitals and has triggered mobilizations of ethnic militias to reinforce government troops.
    The crisis has fueled grave concerns that the Taliban could regain power – two decades after the U.S.-led invasion ended their harsh version of Islamist rule – allowing a resurgence of al Qaeda.    U.S. and U.N. officials say the extremists maintain close links with the Taliban.
    “The Pentagon and the intelligence community are saying it is very likely that al Qaeda will come roaring back.    It is very likely that our soldiers and our troops may have to go back into Afghanistan,” said U.S. Representative Mike Waltz, a former Army officer who commanded U.S. special forces in Afghanistan.
    U.S. officials respond that the United States will be able to detect and thwart any new threats by al Qaeda or other Islamists.    The Taliban insist al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan.
    U.S. government sources familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting describe the situation as dire.    Ghani, they said, has been urged to do more to step up pressure on the insurgents while U.S.-led coalition forces are still there.
    Biden, who pledged to end America’s “forever wars,” announced in April that all U.S. forces would be out of Afghanistan by the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks by al Qaeda on the United States.
    He made the decision even though a 2020 U.S.-Taliban deal forged under former President Donald Trump set May 1 as the U.S. pullout deadline.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

6/25/2021 China Promotes Security Officials To Senior Roles In Hong Kong by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Security John Lee Ka-Chiu is seen after announcing the withdrawal
of the extradition bill, in Hong Kong, China October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -China on Friday approved the promotion of Hong Kong’s security secretary John Lee to chief secretary, while police chief Chris Tang will take Lee’s position in what critics say will further tighten Beijing’s security squeeze on the global financial hub.
    The elevation of Lee, 63, a former police deputy commissioner, to chief secretary is the first time a security specialist has taken on the number two position in the territory since Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Other former chief secretaries have had extensive economic and social policy-making expertise.
    “They have had distinguished performance in the government over the years and possess proven leadership skills,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said in a statement.    “I am confident that they are competent for their new posts and would rise to the challenges in serving the community.”
    Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong in June 2020 has put China’s freest city on an authoritarian trajectory, with mass arrests of democratic campaigners, curbs on public assemblies and free speech.
    The reshuffle could further empower security officials, critics say, who have faithfully implemented Beijing’s new security regimen to strengthen control and clamp down on freedoms in the former British colony after mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    “The promotion of John Lee and Chris Tang completes the swift and total transformation of Hong Kong into a police state,” said Samuel Chu of the Hong Kong Democracy Council.
    Lam and Lee are expected to travel to Beijing for the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary celebrations next week, local media reported.
    Lee and Tang, 55, were among 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials sanctioned by the U.S. government last August for undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic processes after the enactment of the national security law.
    Lam told reporters on Friday the changes would lay down a “good base” for a government transition next year when her current term ends.
    Lee holds a degree from Charles Sturt University in Australia, and joined the Hong Kong Police in 1977, rising to become deputy commissioner, according to a government statement.
    He played a key role in trying to implement a contentious proposed extradition law in 2019 that divided Hong Kong society and triggered the mass protests.    That legislation was eventually scrapped amid widespread public calls for Lee to quit.
    Known for his hawkish stance, Lee had spearheaded the city’s disciplinary forces, including the police, in the national security crackdown.
    That clampdown has seen mass arrests of democratic activists and politicians, and a freeze on the assets of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper on national security grounds that led to its abrupt closure this week.
    Chinese and Hong Kong officials say the national security law has restored stability and order to Hong Kong, maintaining that rights and freedoms aren’t absolute.
    One source who has worked with Lee said he is resolute, earnest and efficient but, as a career police officer, “doesn’t have a natural feel for the politics of a highly-polarised Hong Kong.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Greg Torode, Twinnie Siu and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/25/2021 Downtown Sydney, Bondi Head For Lockdown As Delta Infections Spike by Renju Jose
People wait in line outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination centre at
Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Wardell
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Downtown Sydney and the city’s eastern suburbs, which include Bondi Beach, will go into a one week lockdown from midnight Friday as authorities struggle to contain a spike in the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 virus variant in the city.
    The Australian Medical Association (AMA), which represents doctors, said the move was not enough and called for a complete lockdown of the country’s biggest city to prevent the virus spreading and causing possible deaths.
    People who live or have worked in the four local government council areas in Sydney in the last two weeks have been ordered to stay at home except for urgent reasons, New South Wales (NSW) state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
    People are allowed to leave their homes only for essential work or education, medical reasons, grocery shopping or outdoor exercise.
    “We don’t want to see this situation linger for weeks, we would like to see this situation end sooner rather than later,” Berejiklian said.
    Authorities said they were “concerned” about a potential super-spreader event in a salon where three staff were infected and over 900 clients visited between June 15 and 23.
    Officials have issued health alerts overnight for more than a dozen new venues scattered across Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, as total infections in the outbreak topped 60.
    NSW has held off calls for a hard lockdown, instead imposing mandatory masks in all indoor locations in Sydney, including offices, restricted residents in seven council areas from leaving the city and limited home gatherings to five.
    These restrictions, which were scheduled to end on Wednesday, are now extended until midnight on July 2.
    Twenty-two local cases were reported on Friday, the biggest rise in infections since the first case was detected in Bondi last Wednesday in a limousine driver who transported an overseas airline crew.    19 of these cases are linked to known infections, while three are under investigation.
    AMA President Omar Khorshid said the latest restrictions were “not quite enough” and urged officials to place the entire city under lockdown.
    Khorshid warned officials the latest Sydney outbreak could get out of control and reminded officials the devastating wave of COVID-19 in Melbourne last year, which resulted in more than 800 deaths.
    “What happened in Melbourne is they tried last year to get ahead slowly and were not able to get ahead of it and it resulted in deaths … that must not be allowed to happen in Sydney,” Khorshid said.
    The outbreak has prompted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to postpone her trip to Australia scheduled in early July.    “We are deferring the PM’s trade mission until later in the year,” a spokesperson for the prime minister said.
    Lockdowns, swift contact tracing, strict social distancing rules and a high community compliance have largely helped Australia quash prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 30,400 cases and 910 deaths.
    NSW has been effectively isolated from the rest of the country after other states reinstated tough border rules in response to the latest outbreak, including a total ban for visitors from Sydney’s virus-hit suburbs.
    Neighbouring Queensland and Victoria authorities on Friday said several passengers from Sydney who attempted to enter the states by air without exemptions were sent back to Sydney.
    Victoria reported no new local COVID-19 cases beyond the two announced on Thursday, likely linked to the Sydney outbreak.    Two local cases were detected in Queensland overnight, both in home quarantine.
    A conference of Australian Banking Association in Sydney where Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe was due to speak next week has been postponed by the organisers due to COVID-related curbs.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Perry)

6/25/2021 New Zealand Plans Stronger Hate Speech Laws In Response To Christchurch Attack
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
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Friday that it plans to strengthen its hate speech laws, and increase penalties for inciting hatred and discrimination, in response to the attack by a white supremacist in Christchurch two years ago that killed 51 Muslims.
    The move comes after a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch attack on March 15, 2019 recommended changes to hate speech and hate crime laws, which it said were weak deterrents for people targeting religious and other minority groups with hate.
    New Zealand’s hate speech laws have resulted in just one prosecution and two civil claims so far, the Royal Commission had noted.
    “Protecting our right to freedom of expression while balancing that right with protections against ‘hate speech’ is something that requires careful consideration and a wide range of input,” Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said at a press conference.
    The government proposed new criminal offences for hate speech that it said would be clearer and more effective.
    Under the proposal a person who “intentionally stirs up, maintains or normalises hatred” would break the law if they did so by being threatening, abusive or insulting, including by inciting violence, the government said.
    Punishment for such offences would be increased to a maximum of three years in prison or a fine of up to NZ$50,000. Currently the punishment is up to NZ$7,000 or three months in jail.
    It also proposed provisions that would protect trans, gender diverse and intersex people from discrimination. Current laws only target speech that “excite hostility” against a person or group on the grounds of their colour, race or ethnicity.
    The proposals are now open for public consultation.
    Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people and injured dozens when he opened fire on Muslim worshippers in two mosques in Christchurch, shortly after releasing a racist manifesto online, and streamed the shootings live on Facebook.
    With support across the political spectrum, New Zealand swiftly banned the sale of the high-capacity semi-automatic weapons Tarrant used. But changes to hate speech laws have been more contentious as some political parties said it would impede free speech.
    “The government’s proposed hate speech laws are a huge win for cancel culture and will create an even more divided society,” New Zealand’s smaller ACT Party leader David Seymour said in a statement.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Michael Perry)

6/25/2021 Malaysian Palm Giant IOI Says Aware Of US Customs Letter On Alleged Forced Labour
FILE PHOTO: Workers stand near palm oil fruits inside a palm oil factory in Sepang,
outside Kuala Lumpur, February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian palm oil company IOI Corporation said on Friday it had been made aware of a letter from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about opening an investigation against the company on allegations of labour abuse.
    According to the statement on IOI’s website, CBP in the letter to a labour activist acknowledges the receipt of a petition providing information on alleged forced labour conditions at the company.
    IOI said while it had been made aware of the letter, it had not been notified directly by the CBP.
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Ed Davies)

6/25/2021 Taiwanese Foreign Minister Warns Of Potential War With Communist China by OAN Newsroom
File- Joseph Wu, Foreign Minister of Taiwan, speaks in Taipei. (AP Photo/ Chiang Ying-Ying)
    Taiwan is preparing for a possible war with Communist China. Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said Thursday that his nation needs to be ready for a possible military conflict amid growing signs of a potential invasion by Communist China.
    The diplomat added, Beijing has not renounced its plans to use military force against Taiwan.    Nonetheless, Wu said Beijing will not be able to destroy Taiwan’s independence and political freedoms.
    “But they want to use force if necessary, so we need to prepare ourselves for a possible conflict,” he stated.    “We hope it doesn’t happen; a war between Taiwan and China is in nobody’s interest.”
    “I think they are also trying to expand their sphere of influence over the China Sea, over the South China Sea or beyond the first island chain into the white Pacific, so this is not just Taiwan’s problem,” Wu continued.    “We certainly hope that the international community will continue to look at the peace and stability in this region with attention and continue to support Taiwan."
    Beijing has claimed Taiwan is a rogue province of Mainland China, but Taipei has insisted it will stand up to any form of aggression by the illegitimate communist regime.

6/25/2021 Exclusive: YouTube Takes Down Xinjiang Videos, Forces Rights Group To Seek Alternative by Victoria Waldersee and Paresh Dave
FILE PHOTO: Security guards stand at the gates of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre
in Huocheng County in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    (Reuters) – A human rights group that attracted millions of views on YouTube to testimonies from people who say their families have disappeared in China’s Xinjiang region is moving its videos to little-known service Odysee after some were taken down by the Google-owned streaming giant, two sources told Reuters.
    The group, credited by international organizations like Human Rights Watch for drawing attention to human rights violations in Xinjiang, has come under fire from Kazakh authorities since its founding in 2017.
    Serikzhan Bilash, a Xinjiang-born Kazakh activist who co-founded the channel and has been arrested multiple times for his activism, said government advisors told him five years ago to stop using the word “genocide” to describe the situation in Xinjiang – an order he assumed came from pressure from China’s government on Kazakhstan.
    “They’re just facts,” Bilash said to Reuters in a phone interview, referring to the content of Atajurt’s videos.    “The people giving the testimonies are talking about their loved ones.”
    Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights’ channel has published nearly 11,000 videos on YouTube totaling over 120 million views since 2017, thousands of which feature people speaking to camera about relatives they say have disappeared without a trace in China’s Xinjiang region, where UN experts and rights groups estimate over a million people have been detained in recent years.
    On June 15, the channel was blocked for violating YouTube’s guidelines, according to a screenshot seen by Reuters, after twelve of its videos had been reported for breaching its ‘cyberbullying and harassment’ policy.
    The channel’s administrators had appealed the blocking of all twelve videos between April and June, with some reinstated – but YouTube did not provide an explanation as to why others were kept out of public view, the administrators told Reuters.
    Following inquiries from Reuters as to why the channel was removed, YouTube restored it, explaining that it had received multiple so-called ‘strikes’ for videos which contained people holding up ID cards to prove they were related to the missing, violating a YouTube policy which prohibits personally identifiable information from appearing in its content.    They reinstated the channel on June 18 but asked Atajurt to blur the IDs.
    Atajurt is hesitant to comply, the channel’s administrator said, concerned that doing so would jeopardize the trustworthiness of the videos.    Fearing further blocking by YouTube, they decided to back up content to Odysee, a website built on a blockchain protocol called LBRY, designed to give creators more control. About 975 videos https://odysee.com/@ATAJURT:8 have been moved so far.
    Even as administrators were moving content, they received another series of automated messages from YouTube stating that the videos in question had been removed from public view, this time because of concerns that they may promote violent criminal organizations.
    “There is another excuse every day.    I never trusted YouTube,” Serikzhan Bilash, one of Atajurt’s founders, told Reuters in a phone interview.    “But we’re not afraid anymore, because we are backing ourselves up with LBRY.    The most important thing is our material’s safety.”
    Bilash, who fled to Istanbul last year after suffering repeated threats and intimidation from Kazakh authorities when he refused to stop working with Atajurt, said his equipment including hard disks and mobile phones had been confiscated multiple times in Kazakhstan – making YouTube the only place where their entire video collection was stored.
    YouTube said the messages relating to promoting violent criminal organisations were automated and not related to the creator’s content, but the videos were being kept private to allow administrators to make edits.
‘I FELT I’D LOST EVERYTHING’
    U.N. experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.    Many former inmates have said they were subject to ideological training and abuse in the camps. China denies all accusations of abuse.
    YouTube in recent years has restricted more content amid increasing scrutiny on online cyberbullying, misinformation and hate speech.    The policies have ensnared many channels, including those of far-right commentators, forcing them to seek haven on social media services such as Parler that tout more openness.
    But Atajurt representatives fear pro-China groups who deny that human rights abuses exist in Xinjiang are using YouTube’s reporting features to remove their content by reporting it en masse, triggering an automatic block.    Representatives shared videos on WhatsApp and Telegram with Reuters which they said described how to report Atajurt’s YouTube videos.
    They also pointed to multiple YouTube channels containing videos of Serikzhan Bilash’s face superimposed onto animals like monkeys and pigs which they said were denigrating Bilash’s character and work.
    YouTube said channels are always welcome to move to alternatives.    Its policies bar directing abusive attention by posting non-public personal information, such as names and addresses.
    The service makes exceptions to some rules for videos that are educational, documentary or scientific – but Atajurt’s videos did not meet these requirements to a sufficient level, according to YouTube.
    “We welcome responsible efforts to document important human rights cases around the world,” the company said.    “We recognize that the intention of these videos was not to maliciously reveal PII … and are working with Atajurt Kazakh to explain our policies.”
    Odysee told Reuters that it welcomes and supports Atajurt.
    Atajurt plans to keep uploading to YouTube as long as it can.
    “We will never delete it,” Bilash said, citing the importance of the service’s big audience.
    “The day YouTube deactivated our channel, I felt I’d lost everything in the world… the new channel does not have so many subscribers,” he said, “but it is safe.”
(Reporting by Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon, Paresh Dave in San Francisco; editing by Kenneth Li, Vanessa O’Connell and Nick Zieminski)

6/25/2021 IAEA Wants ‘Immediate Response’ From Iran On Extending Monitoring Deal by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at the IAEA headquarters,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran has not responded to the U.N. atomic watchdog on extending their monitoring agreement that expired overnight, the agency said on Friday, calling for an “immediate” answer on the issue that threatens to derail wider talks on the Iran nuclear deal.
    The agreement continues the International Atomic Energy Agency’s collection of data on some of Tehran’s activities, cushioning the blow of Iran’s decision in February to reduce cooperation with the agency.
    “An immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard,” the IAEA said in a statement summarising a report by its chief Rafael Grossi to its 35-nation Board of Governors that was also seen by Reuters.
    The agreement stipulates the IAEA cannot access the data collected until a later date, provided the agreement holds.    Grossi wrote to Iran last week “to understand Iran’s position regarding the possible continued collection, recording and retention of data,” the report said.
    As of Friday, Iran had not replied or indicated whether it intends to maintain the current arrangement, it said.
    “The Director General stresses the vital importance of continuing the Agency’s necessary verification and monitoring activities in Iran, including the uninterrupted collection and storage of data by its monitoring and surveillance equipment,” it added.
    John Irish and Humeyra PamukIran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers that imposed restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of international sanctions.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy;Editing by Alison Williams and Frances Kerry)

6/25/2021 IAEA Demands Answer From Iran On Monitoring Deal As Nuclear Talks Crisis Looms by Francois Murphy, John Irish and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at their headquarters during a board of governors
meeting, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Vienna, Austria, June 7, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA/PARIS (Reuters) -Iran has not responded to the U.N. nuclear watchdog on extending a monitoring agreement that expired overnight, the agency said on Friday, hours after Washington warned that not prolonging it would harm efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    The agreement continues the International Atomic Energy Agency’s collection of data on some of Tehran’s activities, cushioning the blow of Iran’s decision in February to reduce cooperation with the agency.
    “An immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard,” the IAEA said in a statement summarising a report by its chief Rafael Grossi to its 35-nation Board of Governors that was also seen by Reuters.
    Grossi wrote to Iran last week “to understand Iran’s position regarding the possible continued collection, recording and retention of data”, the report said.    As of Friday, Iran had not replied or indicated whether it intends to maintain the current arrangement, it said.
    Before Grossi updated the board, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said any failure by Tehran to extend the monitoring agreement would be a “serious concern” for broader negotiations.
    Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers that imposed restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
    The Vienna talks, which began in April, are now in a pause that had been expected to last until early July, but failure to extend the monitoring accord could throw those negotiations into disarray.
    “Regarding the IAEA, this remains a serious concern,” Blinken told a news conference in Paris alongside his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian.    “The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolved.”
    The United States abandoned the deal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and Iran responded by violating many of its restrictions.    President Joe Biden’s administration wants to revive the accord, but Tehran and Washington have yet to agree which side should take what steps, and when.
SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCES WITH IRAN
    One of Iran’s moves to reduce compliance was its February decision to end the deal’s extra IAEA monitoring of some nuclear activities.    The temporary agreement continued that monitoring and a one-month extension ended overnight.
    Officials on all sides have said there are major issues still to be resolved before the nuclear deal can be revived.
    “We still have significant differences with Iran,” Blinken said, adding that he hoped a resumption of talks in the coming days could resolve them.
    “We are only going to reach an agreement with Iran if it honours its obligations under the JCPoA and we are just not there yet,” he said, referring to the nuclear deal by an abbreviation.
    Le Drian echoed that.
    “We’re waiting for Iranian authorities to take the final difficult decisions to allow for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in ViennaEditing by Richard Lough, Toby Chopra, Peter Graff and Frances Kerry)

6/25/2021 Swelling Ganges Opens Up India’s Riverside Graves by Ritesh Shukla and Saurabh Sharma
A municipal worker cremates bodies that washed up on the Ganges riverbank after monsoon rains swelled the river, exposing shallow sand graves
dug during the peak of the latest COVID-19 wave in Phaphamau, on the outskirts of Prayagraj, India, June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ritesh Shukla
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – More corpses are washing up on the banks of the Ganges in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, as rains swell the river and expose bodies buried in shallow graves during the peak of the country’s latest wave of coronavirus infections.
    Videos and pictures in May of bodies drifting down the river, which Hindus consider holy, shocked the nation and underlined the ferocity of the world’s biggest surge in infections.
    Though cases have come down drastically this month, the Uttar Pradesh city of Prayagraj alone has cremated 108 bodies found in the river in the last three weeks, said a senior municipal official.
    “These are those dead bodies which were buried very close to the river and have gone into it with the rise in its water levels,” Neeraj Kumar Singh told Reuters.
    “The municipal corporation has deployed a team of 25 people who are working day and night on this front.”
    Reuters saw more than a dozen riverside pyres burning a few miles from Prayagraj.
    India, the world’s second most populous country, saw its health infrastructure crushed in April and May.    Hospitals ran out of beds and life-saving oxygen and crematoriums became overwhelmed with the dead.
    The government of Uttar Pradesh, home to 240 million people, acknowledged in May that bodies of COVID-19 victims were being dumped into rivers in a practice likely stemming from poverty and families abandoning victims for fear of the disease.
    “Instructions have been passed to every district magistrate to cremate the dead bodies with proper respect,” said Uttar Pradesh government spokesperson Navneet Sehgal.
    “There are dead bodies buried on the river bank and it is because of a local tradition.”
    The state reported 224 COVID-19 infections overnight, taking its total caseload to 1.7 million, while total fatalities are at 22,366.
(Reporting by Ritesh Shukla in Prayagraj, Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

6/26/2021 Biden Calls On Afghans To ‘Decide Their Future’ As Withdrawal Nears End by Jonathan Landay, Steve Holland and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are ready
to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his former political foe, Abdullah Abdullah, on Friday at the     White House where he called on Afghans to decide the future of their country as the last U.S. troops pack up after 20 years of war and government forces struggle to repel Taliban advances.
    Biden, seated beside Ghani and Abdullah in the Oval Office, called them “two old friends” and said U.S. support for Afghanistan was not ending but would be sustained despite the U.S. pullout.
    “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want,” said Biden, saying the “senseless violence has to stop.”
    Ghani said Afghan security forces had retaken six districts on Friday.    He said he respected Biden’s decision and that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is entering a new phase.
    “We are determined to have unity, coherence,” he said.
    Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ghani said the United States’ decision to withdraw troops was a sovereign one and it was Kabul’s job to “manage consequences.”
    He added that Biden had clearly articulated that the U.S. embassy would continue to operate and security aid would continue and in some cases move on an accelerated schedule.
    Abdullah said in a Reuters interview after the Biden meeting that stalled intra-Afghan talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned unless the insurgents themselves pull out.
    “I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah said.    “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
    The Oval Office meeting could be as valuable to Ghani for its symbolism as for any new U.S. help because it will be seen as affirming Biden’s support for the beleaguered Afghan leader as he confronts Taliban gains, bombings and assassinations, a surge in COVID-19 cases and political infighting in Kabul.
    “At a time when morale is incredibly shaky and things are going downhill, anything one can do to help shore up morale and shore up the government is worth doing,” said Ronald Neumann, a former U.S. ambassador to Kabul.    “Inviting Ghani here is a pretty strong sign that we’re backing him.”
    Biden’s embrace, however, comes only months after U.S. officials were pressuring Ghani to step aside for a transitional government under a draft political accord that they floated in a failed gambit to break a stalemate in peace talks.
    Biden has asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion in security assistance for Afghanistan next year and is sending 3 million doses of vaccines there to help it battle COVID-19.
    U.S. officials have been clear that Biden will not halt the American pullout – likely to be completed in the coming weeks -and he is unlikely to approve any U.S. military support to Kabul to halt the Taliban’s advances beyond advice, intelligence, and aircraft maintenance.
    Earlier, the Afghan leaders met for a second day on Capitol Hill, where Biden’s withdrawal decision met objections from many members of both parties.
    U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, welcoming Ghani to a bipartisan leadership meeting, said she looked forward to hearing about what more can be done with U.S. humanitarian aid, especially for women and girls.
    Many lawmakers and experts have expressed deep concerns that the Taliban – if returned to power – will reverse progress made on the rights of women and girls, who were harshly repressed and barred from education and work during the insurgents’ 1996-2001 rule.
WORRIES ABOUT AL QAEDA
    The Ghani-Abdullah visit comes with the peace process stalled and violence raging as Afghan security forces fight to stem a Taliban spring offensive that threatens several provincial capitals and has triggered mobilizations of ethnic militias to reinforce government troops.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking during a visit on Friday to Paris, said Washington is “looking very hard” at whether the Taliban are “serious about a peaceful resolution to the conflict.”
    The crisis has fueled grave concerns that the Taliban could regain power – two decades after the U.S.-led invasion ended their harsh version of Islamist rule – allowing a resurgence of al Qaeda. U.S. and U.N. officials say the extremists maintain close links with the Taliban.
    U.S. officials respond that the United States will be able to detect and thwart any new threats by al Qaeda or other Islamists.    The Taliban insist al Qaeda is no longer in Afghanistan.
    U.S. government sources familiar with U.S. intelligence reporting describe the situation as dire. Ghani, they said, has been urged to do more to step up pressure on the insurgents while U.S.-led coalition forces are still there.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Mary Milliken, Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

6/26/2021 Afghan Peace Talks Should Continue Unless Taliban Pull Out - Abdullah by Jonathan Landay
Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah looks on during an
interview with Reuters at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of Afghanistan’s peace council said on Friday that long-stalled talks on a political settlement to decades of strife should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks, unless the insurgents themselves pull out.
    “I think we shouldn’t shut the door unless it’s completely shut by the Taliban,” Abdullah Abdullah, chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, told Reuters in an interview.    “We can’t say no to talks despite a lack of progress or in spite of what’s happening on the ground.”
    Abdullah spoke after he and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani met U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House for talks on U.S. military and civilian aid, and issues stemming from the departure of the last U.S. troops nearly 20 years after the U.S.-led invasion.
    The former political rivals’ two-day visit, which included meetings with lawmakers from both parties and the Pentagon leadership, came at a time of surging violence across Afghanistan as government forces struggle to beat back Taliban advances.
    Biden told Ghani and Abdullah that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future” and the “senseless violence has to stop.”
    The fighting, however, has raised grave doubts about long-stalled U.S.-backed peace negotiations between the insurgents and a delegation that includes government officials that began in Doha under the Trump administration in 2020.
    Abdullah said there was “perhaps more optimism” about a peace deal when the negotiations began because “the Taliban said things to different interlocutors that created optimism.”
    Still, Abdullah said, the talks should not be abandoned.
    “Eventually, the last man killed will not be a solution,” he said.    “There has to be a peaceful settlement.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

6/26/2021 Top Afghan Leaders Meet With Joe Biden At White House by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden, right, meets with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, center, and Chairman of the High Council for National
Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah, left, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    Joe Biden met with top Afghan leaders at the White House and pledged the U.S. commitment to assisting Afghanistan.    On Friday, Biden held talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah.
    The meeting was centered around the U.S. troop withdrawal from the region, military and civilian aid, and combating growing Taliban advances.    Biden pledged the U.S. would continue to support Afghanistan through political and economic means.
    Although, Abdullah noted the troop drawdown leaves the door open for terrorist threats in the country.
    “We tend to forget that that Al-Qaida had reached a certain level of capacity in Afghanistan, that was an actual danger, a homeland security threat for the United States,” he explained.    “The issue is also today if Afghanistan is abandoned completely, without support, without engagement, that’s the danger that Afghanistan can turn once again into a hub for terrorist groups.”
    Within the next two weeks, about 4,000 troops will be pulled out from Afghanistan.

6/26/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Deal Salvageable But Will Not Negotiate Forever
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it believes a reinstatement of its 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers is possible but warned that Tehran “will not negotiate forever.”
    “Out of a steadfast commitment to salvage a deal that the US tried to torpedo, Iran has been the most active party in Vienna, proposing most drafts,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Twitter, referring to talks aimed at reviving the nuclear deal.
    Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 agreement between Tehran and six powers that imposed restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions.
    Then U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agreement in 2018, but President Joe Biden has been seeking to revive it.    Officials on all sides have said there are major issues to resolve before the deal can be reinstated.
    “Still believe a deal is possible, if the US decides to abandon Trump’s failed legacy.    Iran will not negotiate forever,” Khatibzadeh tweeted.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Friday demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that expired overnight.    An Iranian envoy responded that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.
    The Vienna talks, which began in April, are now in a pause that had been expected to last until early July, but failure to extend the monitoring accord could throw those negotiations into disarray.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry)

6/27/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Site Images Won’t Be Given To IAEA As Deal Has Expired by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) -The speaker of Iran’s parliament said on Sunday Tehran will never hand over images from inside of some Iranian nuclear sites to the U.N. nuclear watchdog as a monitoring agreement with the agency had expired, Iranian state media reported.
    “The agreement has expired … any of the information recorded will never be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the data and images will remain in the possession of Iran,” said Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
    The announcement could further complicate talks between Iran and six major powers on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.    Three years ago then U.S.     President Donald Trump withdrew from the pact and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran; Iran reacted by violating many of the deal’s restrictions on its nuclear programme.
    The IAEA and Tehran struck the three-month monitoring agreement in February to cushion the blow of Iran reducing its cooperation with the agency, and it allowed monitoring of some activities that would otherwise have been axed to continue.
    Under that agreement, which on May 24 was extended by a month, data continues to be collected in a black-box-type arrangement, with the IAEA only able to access it at a later date.
    On Friday, the IAEA demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend the monitoring agreement, prompting an Iranian envoy to respond that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.
    Iran said on Wednesday the country’s Supreme National Security Council would decide whether to renew the monitoring agreement only after it expires.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday that any failure by Tehran to extend the monitoring agreement would be a “serious concern” for broader negotiations.
    Parties involved in the talks on reviving the deal, which began in April in Vienna, have said there are major issues still to be resolved before the nuclear deal can be reinstated.
(Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by Toby Chopra and Frances Kerry)

6/27/2021 Freed U.S. Editor Says He Was Tortured In Myanmar
U.S. journalist Nathan Maung speaks after being deported from Myanmar following more than three months in detention,
in this handout picture taken in Virginia, U.S. June 26, 2021. Picture taken June 26, 2021. Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Myanmar security forces punched, slapped and beat a U.S. journalist and kept him blindfolded for more than a week of interrogation, he said after being deported to the United States following over three months in detention.
    Nathan Maung, 44, editor-in-chief of the online news platform Kamayut Media, was detained on March 9 in a raid and freed on June 15.    He said his colleague Hanthar Nyein, who remains in detention, had been tortured more harshly, as had other people he met in prison.
    A junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment on the account by Nathan Maung, which echoes those of some of the thousands of others who have been detained since the army overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
    The junta has said detainees are being treated in accordance with the law.
    “The first three to four days were the worst,” Nathan Maung told Reuters in a telephone interview from Virginia on Friday.
    “I was punched and slapped several times.    No matter what I said, they just beat me.    They used both their hands to slap my eardrums many times.    They punched my cheekbones on both sides.    They punched my shoulders.    I was not allowed to stand up.    My legs were swollen.    I could not move anymore,” he said.
    Nathan Maung, who was born in Myanmar and fled to the United States as a refugee in the 1990s, said he was seized at Kamayut Media’s office and was taken for questioning about his publication, his role there and how it operates.
    “They handcuffed my hands behind my back, tied my eyes with a cloth and covered that with another cloth,” he said.
    “They did not allow me to sleep for about three or four days.    Nonstop interrogation.    There was no time to sleep,” he said.    He said the beatings diminished on the fourth day, after they discovered he was a U.S. citizen.
    “On the eighth day, a colonel came, he removed the cloth blindfolding me,” Nathan Maung said.
SOME ‘EXPERIENCED WORSE TORTURE’
    Nathan Maung was met by U.S. officials after his release and they assisted him and his family, the U.S. embassy said.
    It expressed its continuing deep concern over the detention of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, who was detained more than a month ago and whose brother said he was allowed to speak to the U.S. embassy for the first time last week.
    Nathan Maung said the colonel had recorded his testimony and asked if he had any statement to make – to which the editor requested that his human rights be respected and that he have a lawyer to defend against any charges.
    The colonel had told him that he was not charged with any crime and that he would be freed when the situation had calmed down, Nathan Maung said.
    During his detention, Nathan Maung said he had met other people who had been mistreated and heard people shouting, begging and screaming from other buildings.
    “Some people experienced worse torture than us.    There was someone together with me in a room for two days. His body was covered in bruises and injuries.    They put his handcuffed hands on the table and beat his hand."
    “The bones were not broken, but he was badly injured and his skin was ripped off.”
    Kamayut Media stopped publication after his arrest, but Nathan Maung said he planned to resume his work.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says nearly 5,200 people remain incarcerated after being detained since the coup.    It says security forces have killed at least 881 people since then.    The junta disputes the figure.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by William Mallard)

6/27/2021 Sydney And Darwin In Lockdown As COVID-19 Cases Pop Up Across Australia by Lidia Kelly
A public transport passenger wears a protective mask in the city centre on the first day of a two-week lockdown to curb
the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, June 26, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia reported on Sunday one of the highest numbers for locally acquired coronavirus cases this year, triggering lockdowns in the cities of Sydney and Darwin and forcing tighter restrictions in four states.    Sydney began a two-week lockdown on Sunday as the Bondi neighbourhood cluster of the highly infectious coronavirus Delta variant rose to 110 in Australia’s largest city, while an outbreak in the northern city of Darwin prompted a hard two-day stay-at-home order.
    “Given how contagious this strain of the virus is we do anticipate that in the next few days case numbers are likely to increase beyond what we have seen today,” News South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a news briefing in Sydney.    There were 38 cases of different COVID-19 variants reported by late Sunday, 30 of them in Sydney, four in Northern Territory, three in Queensland and one in Western Australia.    It was the first time in months that so many different regions in Australia had reported new infections on the same day, and Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt also warned Australians there would be more to come.
    “I’m confident we will get through it.    There will be cases that follow.    We need to be honest and aware of that.”
    Queensland, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and South Australia have implemented tighter social distancing rules, some closing borders to arrivals from affected regions, others moving to obligatory mask wearing indoors.    Australia has been more successful in managing the pandemic than many other advanced economies through swift border closures, social distancing rules and high compliance, reporting just over 30,450 cases and 910 COVID-19 deaths.    But the country has struggled with its vaccination rollout and has confronted an increasing number of small outbreaks in recent months.    Government figures suggest that there have been only about 1.4 million double doses of vaccinations administered so far in a country of 25 million people.
    The lockdown in Sydney meant people can only leave home for essential shopping, work, education, exercise and medical care.    “I think because we have been through a lockdown before so I guess we are mentally a bit more prepared this time,” Preet Singh, a resident, said.    Australia’s series-opening rugby test against France next month was moved to Brisbane as Sydney entered lockdown.    Northern Territory reported four locally acquired infections, unrelated to Sydney, which started with a worker at a gold mine owned by Newmont Corp, now in lockdown.
    “I would rather regret us going too hard, too early than go too easy and risk it all,” Chief Minister Michael Gunner said at a news briefing after imposing an immediate 48-hour hard lockdown on Darwin and some surrounding areas.
(Additional reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Writing by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard & Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/27/2021 North Koreans Worry Over ’Emaciated’ Kim Jong Un, State Media Says
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during the fourth-day sitting of the 3rd Plenary Meeting of 8th Central Committee of the
Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang, North Korea in this image released June 18, 2021 by the country's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Everyone in North Korea is heartbroken over leader Kim Jong Un’s apparent weight loss, said an unidentified resident of Pyongyang quoted on the country’s tightly controlled state media, after watching recent video footage of Kim.
    The rare public comment on Kim’s health come after foreign analysts noted in early June that the autocratic leader, who is believed to be 37, appeared to have lost a noticeable amount of weight.
    “Seeing respected general secretary (Kim Jong Un) looking emaciated breaks our people’s heart so much,” the man said in an interview aired by state broadcaster KRT on Friday.
    “Everyone is saying that their tears welled up,” he said.
    In the clip, which Reuters could not independently verify, Pyongyang residents were seen watching a big screen on the street showing a concert attended by Kim and party officials after a plenary meeting of their Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK).
    The broadcast did not provide any details on what had led to the weight loss.
    When Kim reappeared in state media in June after not being seen in public for almost a month, analysts at NK News, a Seoul-based website that monitors North Korea, noted that his watch appeared to be fastened more tightly than before around an apparently slimmer wrist.
    Given Kim’s tight grip on power in North Korea – and the uncertainty over any plans for a successor – international media, spy agencies, and specialists closely watch his health.
    Early last year speculation about Kim’s health exploded after he missed the birth anniversary celebrations of state founder Kim Il Sung on April 15, only to reappear in public in early May.
    In 2014, state media reported that Kim was suffering from “discomfort,” after a prolonged period out of the public eye.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Minwoo Park; Editing by Gareth Jones)

6/27/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest Former Apple Daily Journalist At Airport - Local Media
FILE PHOTO: A man gestures as he brings copies of the final edition of Apple Daily, published by
Next Digital, to a news stand in Hong Kong, China June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested a former senior journalist with the Apple Daily newspaper at the international airport on Sunday night on a suspected national security charge as he tried to leave the city, according to local media reports.
    Fung Wai-kong would be the seventh staffer at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper to be arrested on national security grounds in recent weeks.    He was an editor and columnist at the now-closed paper, local media reported.
    The Hong Kong police said in a statement that a 57-year-old man had been arrested at the airport for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.”    They added that he had been detained and investigations were continuing.
    Apple Daily, a popular tabloid, was forced to fold following a raid by several hundred police on its headquarters on June 17 and the freezing of key assets and bank accounts.    It printed its last edition last Thursday.
    Authorities say dozens of the paper’s articles may have violated a China-imposed national security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.
    Critics of the law, introduced last June, say it has been used to stifle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Some of the critics also say the closure of Apple Daily, which mixes pro-democracy views with celebrity gossip and investigations of those in power, marks the end of an era for media freedom in the city.
    The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, reacting to reports of the airport arrest, condemned the police for targeting journalists again, and asked them to explain the incident.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by Pravin Char)

6/27/2021 Iran Refuses To Share Data From Nuclear Sites With IAEA by OAN Newsroom
The flag of Iran is seen in front of the building of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Headquarters. (Michael Gruber/Getty Images)
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime has refused to provide the images of its nuclear sites to the International Atomic Energy Agency.    On Sunday, Iranian officials announced they will no longer be sharing data about their nuclear program with the IAEA because a temporary monitoring agreement has expired.
    “The agreement has expired…any of the information recorded will never be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency and the data and image will remain in the possession of Iran,” said Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
This handout picture provided by the Islamic Consultative Assembly News Agency (ICANA) on May 31, 2020, shows Iranian Parliament
speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (C) chairing a parliament session in the capital Tehran. (ICANA NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images)
    This comes as Iran is pressuring Joe Biden to restore the failed 2015 nuclear deal and lift economic sanctions.    Tehran said it would resume the sharing of its nuclear data only after the 2015 deal was restored.
    However, experts have said even if the deal is restored, Iran may continue to violate United Nations resolutions.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (D) said a failure of extension would be a “serious concern” for future negotiations.    International inspectors have since reached out to Iran, asking to extend the temporary monitoring accord, but so far have not received a response.

6/28/2021 Analysis-North Korea Sees ‘Propaganda Value’ In Slimmer Kim, Analysts Say by Josh Smith
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un speaks at plenary meeting of 8th central committee of the Workers' Party
of Korea in this still image taken from KRT footage on June 16, 2021. KRT TV via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A rare mention in North Korean state media of leader Kim Jong Un’s health could be intended to head off speculation and play up shared sacrifice amid food shortages, analysts said.
    The tightly controlled state media on Friday quoted an unidentified resident of Pyongyang as saying that everyone in North Korea was heartbroken after seeing images of Kim looking “emaciated.”
    When Kim reappeared in state media in early June after not being seen in public for almost a month, analysts noted that his watch appeared to be fastened more tightly than before around an apparently slimmer wrist, sparking speculation over the health of a leader who holds an iron grip in North Korea.
    “If outside observers picked up on the change in Kim’s appearance, you can bet your bottom dollar that the North Korean people noticed it, too, and more quickly,” said Christopher Green, a Korea specialist at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
    It is unclear whether Kim’s weight loss is due to illness, or whether he decided that it was time to get fit, and the intention behind the state media coverage is unknown, said Jenny Town, director of the U.S.-based 38 North project, which monitors North Korea.
    “It is a little strange that they would show him in such ill-fitting clothes, as the optics do seem to emphasise his weight loss,” she said.
    Kim has acknowledged a “tense” food situation that could worsen if this year’s crops fail, exacerbating economic problems amid strict self-imposed border and movement restrictions that have slowed trade to a trickle.
    “The most likely reason they would mention his declining weight in this way would, in my opinion, be related to ongoing COVID-19-related border measures,” said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of the Seoul-based Korea Risk Group.
    “Regardless of the motivation for Kim’s rapid weight loss, it seems there is propaganda value in showing that even the leader of North Korea is enduring the same food shortages that are hitting the country at the current time.”
    The regime may have intended from the beginning to emphasise the fact that Kim is working hard for the people at a time of widespread hardship, or its messaging may have been an unintended consequence of Kim’s inevitable appearance, Green said.
    “What matters is that the North Korean regime will have received word from its many, many, many informants that Kim’s condition was a talking point among ordinary people,” he said.
    “From there it is a simple matter to respond by designing a propaganda strategy to use the existing public discussion to the regime’s advantage.”
    The “pseudo-voxpop” – carefully staged by state media to look authentic – such as the one from the unnamed Pyongyang resident was a common North Korean media tactic, he added.
    It is unusual, though not unheard of, for North Korean state media to mention a leader’s health.    In 2014 it reported that Kim – who inherited his position from his father and grandfather before him – suffered from “discomfort” after a prolonged period out of the public eye.
    With succession plans unclear, a sudden decline in Kim’s health could throw nuclear-armed North Korea’s 76-year-old system of hereditary leadership into disarray.
    “It is a major weight loss, and his health is important to the functioning and fate of the state, which is why people are watching this closely,” said Town of 38 North.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates)

6/28/2021 Police Checks And Patriotic Flowers: Beijing Leaves Nothing To Chance Ahead Of Party Centenary by Cate Cadell
Police and security personnel block a road before a rehearsal of a fireworks display near the National Stadium ahead of
the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Behind roadblocks and hundreds of police in the Chinese capital of Beijing on Friday, fireworks resembling the national flag bloomed over the city as part of secretive and tightly choreographed rehearsal for the 100th anniversary of China’s Communist Party.
    Beijing has shut down traffic, decked streets in patriotic flower arrangements and national flags, and ramped up surveillance and security this week in preparation for the centenary event on July 1.
    The covert rehearsals represent the final stages of a yearlong planning effort, designed to glorify Party history and cement domestic loyalty to China’s socialist system.
    “Without the Communist Party, there is no new China,” read new propaganda posters throughout the city.
    Plans for the event haven’t been fully revealed, though state media and government agencies have hinted at a large-scale theatrical event in Tiananmen Square.    A performance is scheduled for Monday at the Bird’s Nest stadium, built for the 2008 Olympics.
    The anniversary has been preceded by a clampdown on potential dissident activity, including a spate of arrests this year under a law banning the defamation of national heroes, and an online venue for citizens to report “historical nihilists,” a phrase referring to those sharing unsanctioned versions of Party history.
    Upgraded security and its attendant disruption isn’t unusual ahead of major political events in the capital, but the fanfare has taken on added importance amid new political challenges to the Party at home and abroad.
    “It comes down to legitimacy … what you’re sitting through in those events is an extended performance for the benefit of the domestic public to basically legitimise an unelected government, which is why, in short, these things are so important,” said Graeme Smith, a fellow in the Department of Pacific Affairs at the Australian National University specialising in Chinese politics.
NO ROOM FOR ERROR
    On June 23, residents in the old-style hutongs in Beijing awoke to find alleys decked out in a coordinated display of Chinese national flags, visible by almost every doorway.
    Beginning in May, teams dressed in orange work uniforms became a common sight throughout the city, upgrading roadside decor and creating elaborate floral arrangements made up of 2.3 million seedlings and potted plants, according to state media.
    At the same time, security organs have ramped up surveillance and other restrictions.
    Last week, police officers went door to door in Beijing’s central Dongcheng district checking house registrations and confirming the number of people living at each address, people in the neighbourhood told Reuters.
    A Dongcheng police official told Reuters that such visits were “normal inspections.”
    People on a citywide list of residents suffering from mental illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, received house calls and phone checks from authorities, a common practice ahead of major political events, according to two people who received the calls and a doctor who said many of their patients had been contacted.
    The Beijing city government did not reply to a request for comment.
    Four merchants on China’s top e-commerce site, Taobao.com, told Reuters they had been banned from shipping items including gas bottles and other flammable products to Beijing residents beginning in June.    Taobao’s owner, Alibaba, did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
    “It’s like having an enormous birthday party and not wanting your embarrassing neighbours to spoil it,” said Smith, adding that propaganda around so called “sensitive days” on Beijing’s calendar can also serve as a warning to potential dissidents.
    Throughout China, local state-run institutions, including hospitals, schools and military units will hold special events marking the anniversary, including political-education sessions and party history exhibitions.
    “The whole army will transform the political enthusiasm radiated by the celebrations into practical actions to advance the cause of strengthening the country and the army in the new era,” Ren Guoqiang, spokesman for the Ministry of National Defence, said on June 23.
    Censorship of China’s already tightly controlled cyberspace has intensified.
    Two people working at the Tianjin-based censorship unit of social media firm Bytedance Ltd and one Beijing-based censor for Chinese search engine Baidu.com said they had received new directives in recent months on removing negative commentary about the anniversary. Neither company immediately replied to requests for comment.
    “There’s no room for error,” said one Bytedance staffer, who declined to be named because they are not permitted to speak to foreign media.
    As of Friday, patriotic fervour on display in Beijing’s streets was largely mirrored online.    Despite tight censorship, however, a small number of netizens griped over the road closings and costly events that are closed to the public.
    “My family has lived in Beijing for several generations, I have become accustomed to this,” said one commenter on social media site Weibo.com, venting concerns about pollution from the mass firework displays.    “This city has sacrificed too much for politics.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

6/28/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest Former Apple Daily Journalist At Airport – Media
FILE PHOTO: A man gestures as he brings copies of the final edition of Apple Daily, published by Next Digital,
to a news stand in Hong Kong, China June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong police arrested a former senior journalist with the now-closed Apple Daily newspaper at the international airport on Sunday night on a suspected national security offence as he tried to leave the city, according to media reports.
    Police, who typically do not name arrested people, said in a statement that a 57-year-old man had been arrested at the airport for “conspiring to collude with foreign countries or foreign forces to endanger national security.”    They added that he had been detained and investigations were continuing.
    Hong Kong media identified him as Fung Wai-kong, an editor and columnist at the now-closed paper.    If confirmed, he would be the seventh staffer at the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper to be arrested on national security grounds in recent weeks.
    Reuters could not independently confirm that the arrested man was Fung.
    Fung could not be contacted for comment.    It was not immediately known if he had legal representation.
    The Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Next Digital, the publisher of Apple Daily, did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
    Apple Daily, a popular tabloid, was forced to fold following a raid by 500 police on its headquarters on June 17 and the freezing of key assets and bank accounts.    It printed its last edition last Thursday.
    Authorities say dozens of the paper’s articles may have violated a China-imposed national security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.
    Critics of the law, introduced last June, say it has been used to stifle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Authorities say the law has restored stability after months of often-violent pro-democracy protests.
    Officials in Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said media freedoms are respected but not absolute, and cannot endanger national security.    Police have said the actions against Apple Daily were not targeting the media industry as a whole.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that criticism of the raid on the newspaper amounted to attempts to “beautify” acts that endangered national security. Chinese officials have denounced the criticism as interference.
    The shutdown of Apple is the latest setback for media tycoon Jimmy Lai, the newspaper’s owner and a staunch Beijing critic, whose assets have been frozen under the legislation and who is serving prison sentences for taking part in illegal assemblies.
    Lai is also awaiting trial under the national security law after being charged with collusion with foreign forces.    If convicted, he can be sentenced to life in jail.
    The Hong Kong Journalists’ Association, reacting to reports of the airport arrest, condemned the police for targeting journalists again, and asked them to explain the incident.
    The shutdown of Apple Daily has sent a chill through the city’s media industry.    Online pro-democracy outlet Stand News said late on Sunday it would stop accepting monthly donations from readers and had taken down older commentaries from the platform.
    It said in a Facebook post its moves were aimed at protecting supporters, authors and editorial staff and reducing risks of all parties, adding that “speech crimes” have come to Hong Kong. It did not elaborate.
    Stand News, founded in 2014, said most of its directors, including barrister Margaret Ng and singer Denise Ho, had stepped down.
    Two founding directors, Tony Tsoi and chief editor Chung Pui-kuen, would remain, it added.
    Stand News management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Its charter states that it shall be independent, autonomous and non-profit.    It says Stand News is committed to safeguarding Hong Kong’s core values of “democracy, human rights, rule of law and justice.”
(Reporting by Jessie Pang, James Pomfret and Anne Marie Roantree; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Pravin Char, Stephen Coates and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/28/2021 India Reports 46,148 New COVID-19 Cases, 979 Deaths
FILE PHOTO: A municipal worker cremates bodies that washed up on the Ganges riverbank after monsoon rains
swelled the river and exposed bodies buried in shallow sand graves during the peak of the latest wave of COVID-19
in Phaphamau on the outskirts of Prayagraj, India, June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ritesh Shukla
    BENGALURU (Reuters) – India reported on Monday 46,148 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed.
    The South Asian country’s total COVID-19 case load now stands at 30.27 million, while total fatalities are at 396,730, the data showed.    India’s coronavirus-related deaths rose by 979 overnight.
(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru)
[Somewhere between 1 to 2% of the deaths are occurring per total cases.]

6/28/2021 Australia’s COVID-19 Response Team Holds Urgent Meeting Amid Outbreak by Renju Jose
A pedestrian crosses an empty intersection at morning commute hour in the city centre during a lockdown to curb
the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s COVID-19 response committee is due to hold an emergency meeting on Monday as outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant across the country prompted a lockdown in Sydney and renewed restrictions elsewhere.
    More than 20 million Australians, or around 80% of the population, are now under some form of lockdown or COVID-related restrictions as officials grapple with COVID-19 flare-ups in almost every state or territory.
    “I think we are entering a new phase of this pandemic, with the more contagious Delta strain,” federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told the Australian Broadcasting Corp on Monday, adding Australia was facing a “critical time” in its fight against COVID-19.
    The national security committee, chaired by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, would be briefed by the country’s chief medical officer later on Monday, Frydenberg said.
    Sydney, Australia’s most populous city and the capital of New South Wales (NSW) state, began a two-week lockdown over the weekend.
    Eighteen new local cases were reported in NSW on Monday, compared with 30 a day earlier, taking the total infections in the latest outbreak to 130 since the first case was detected nearly two weeks ago in a driver for overseas airline crew.
    “We have to be prepared for the numbers to bounce around and we have to be prepared for the numbers to go up considerably,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
    “With this strain, we are seeing almost 100% transmission within households.”
    An initial two-day lockdown in the northern city of Darwin, scheduled to end on Tuesday, was extended to Friday after the Delta variant of the virus was found in a fly-in, fly-out mine worker.
    Queensland and South Australia reintroduced mandatory masks and restricted home gatherings, following a similar move by Western Australian officials for state capital Perth.    Restrictions remain in place in Victoria state capital Melbourne and national capital Canberra.
    Queensland reported two new locally acquired cases while Western Australia and Northern Territory detected one each.
    A health alert was issued over the weekend for hundreds of passengers after an infected Virgin Australia cabin crew member worked on five flights covering Brisbane, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
    Australia has so far fared much better than many other developed countries in tackling the spread of the coronavirus, with just over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths.
    Lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and swift contact tracing have helped suppress prior outbreaks but the fast-moving Delta variant has alarmed authorities.
    NSW police fined 44 people for breaching stay-at-home orders, including a pair of naked sunbathers who became lost in a national park after being startled by a deer.
    “Not only did they require assistance from police to rescue them, they also both received a ticket for A$1,000 ($759),” NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller told reporters.
($1 = 1.3180 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; editing by Jane Wardell and Stephen Coates)

6/28/2021 Settlements Locked Down As Fiji Endures Deadly Coronavirus Wave by David Hotchin and Jill Gralow
Family members wait at the entrance to a village settlement to deliver food to relatives that are in lockdown as an outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affects Lami, Fiji, June 26, 2021. Picture taken June 26, 2021. REUTERS/David Hotchin
    SUVA/SYDNEY (Reuters) – At the Qauia settlement, a community of more than 2,000 near Fiji’s capital of Suva, police stand guard to ensure no one other than health workers comes in – or out – of an area that has become a hotspot of COVID-19 infections.
    After keeping the coronavirus at bay last year, Fiji, with a population of about 900,000, is now recording as many as 300 new cases a day as part of a wave of infections linked to the highly transmissible Delta strain, a variant first detected in India.
    The spread has been rampant in the Pacific island’s close-knit settlements, with Qauia representing the fastest-growing cluster, according to health authorities.
    “The names of those who are sick are not mentioned.    Those within the zone who are sick, their names are not publicised so we do not know who is sick nor do we know if any of our relatives are sick,” said Sefaira Vere Waqaituinayau, who has family members in Qauia.    “So what we do is we organise food and other items to be taken into the zone, through the police or soldiers, to deliver to our relatives.”
    Although the total number of infections in Qauia is not public, the settlement recorded 153 cases in a single day last week, according to official data.    Fiji has recorded just over 3,500 infections and 13 deaths during the second wave starting in April.
    The outbreak has been linked to a breach in a quarantine facility.
    The containment of settlements, including Qauia, is part of a broader plan to suppress the virus, with schools closed and a curfew in place across the usually bustling nation, where tourism accounted for about 40% of its gross domestic product before the pandemic.
    Restaurant owner Sikipio Fihaki said he had laid off six of his 11 staff, relying solely on home deliveries for business.
    “Everyone’s sitting on their hands … we’re trying to feed the families of those that are working for us, like the crew, they still have their own families, they still have their own rent to pay,” Fihaki said.    “It’s a lonely time. You can’t see your families, you can’t go see your friends.”
    Like most Pacific island nations, Fiji closed its borders in the early stages of the pandemic.    Now it is one of a small but growing number such nations battling increased infections, along with Papua New Guinea.
    Katie Greenwood, head of the Pacific delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said it was not inevitable that COVID-19 would devastate the region so long as vaccination programmes were administered promptly.
    About 46% of Fijians have received at least one dose of AstraZeneca or Sinopharm vaccines, according to official data, while just over 6% have received a second.
    “The rise of cases in Fiji is definitely a wake-up call for Pacific nations, who absolutely can prevent a first wave from reaching their shores,” Greenwood told Reuters.    “The importance of the vaccination campaign is absolutely paramount.”
(Reporting by David Hotchin and Jill Gralow; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

6/28/2021 Analysis: Shut Off From The World, Australia Fosters Red-Hot Growth At Home by Swati Pandey
FILE PHOTO: People are seen walking in front of the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge following the easing of restrictions
implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A year after the coronavirus pandemic pummelled Australia’s economy, IT contractor Ashok Ravindran has a nice problem: deciding which of three job offers to accept.     His happy dilemma is a reflection of an economy that is now larger than its pre-pandemic level.    Exports are booming, consumer and business confidence are high and employment has beaten all expectations, with job vacancy rates at a 12 1/2 year high.
    The Sydney resident only quit his last job two weeks ago.
    “The market is really hot right now.    I tried a few companies just to test waters and received three offers,” Ravindran told Reuters.    “I got counter offers from each of them. That made it harder to say no as you don’t want to burn your bridges.”
    Far from last year’s dire predictions, Australia’s unemployment rate has slid to a pre-pandemic level of 5.1%, home building approvals are at a record high and consumer spending is euphoric.
    The A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy is now larger than before the once-in-a-century pandemic hit its shores.    Sporting events are again a major spectacle and pubs overflow with patrons. In many states and territories, masks are an uncommon sight.
    If anything, the very constraints that were expected to hurt demand, such as closed international borders and limited domestic mobility, have serendipitously channelled new sources of growth.
    Instead of travelling to Bali or Bangkok, Australians are holidaying locally.    Working from home requirements have prompted many to base themselves in new residences outside major cities, propping up demand in smaller towns.    Physical distancing rules have spurred online retail sales while dining out has never been this popular.
    “Australia is breaking records in what must be one of the fastest economic recoveries in modern history,” said AMP Capital Australian Equities Portfolio Manager Dermot Ryan.
    “The economy is riding the wave of a triple boom in mining, housing and corporate profitability.”
    While the country is in the midst of a worsening trade war with the world’s largest trading nation, China, Australia’s exports are miraculously booming, thanks to soaring prices of iron ore and newer markets in Asia and Middle East to sell to.
    Economists expect this golden run to extend awhile.
    Australia’s swift economic recovery from its first recession in three decades in 2020 has been driven by its ability to largely re-open from coronavirus lockdowns earlier than expected and solid monetary and fiscal stimulus.
    The combination has triggered a property bull run, freeing up a huge amount of capital that was prudently held back by banks in 2020 in case of a COVID-induced housing crash.
    AMP’s Ryan said both the mining and banking sectors have the potential to return over A$50 billion each to investors over the coming financial year.
    The surge in home prices has sparked a building boom, sending shares of building products makers such as James Hardie and Brickworks to record highs.    Shares of Australia’s top mortgage lender Commonwealth Bank, are at all-time highs after ceremoniously surpassing A$100 on May 28.
    In another sign of solid business recovery, CBA this month said its financing of light commercial vehicles is up a startling 187% since January over the past year while loans for equipment and machinery jumped 21% in May, compared with the same time last year.
SHORTAGES
    Consumers, too, are feeling confident with survey results consistently showing optimists far outnumber pessimists.
    Indeed, retail sales have surged 25% on a year ago and vehicle sales have skyrocketed 68%. Household goods retailing has boomed, led by appliances and furniture as people renovate homes or build new houses.
    Demand is so strong that home supplies and hardware chain Bunnings is now facing a timber shortage.
    Companies are also facing a labour shortage with tens of thousands of Australian citizens still stuck overseas.
    Their fate hangs in the air as Australia has pledged to keep borders shut well into next year, which also means skilled migration – which was propelling the economy until 2019 – is practically impossible.
    The decision to keep borders closed is popular with the general public with recent state elections showing that leaders who take a hardline stance on COVID are heavily favoured.
    Tight border controls, slower interstate migration together with solid business confidence and profitability have helped tighten the labour market, with some sectors such as IT, engineering, hospitality and healthcare facing severe shortages.
    This has frustrated businesses who are calling for border restrictions to be eased.
    “The current international border setting is virtually no-one-in and no-one-out,” said Innes Willox, chief executive of Australia’s employer association Ai Group.
    “This needs to give way to a more sensible position and a much more ambitious border opening goal than the July 2022 target currently adopted by the Federal Government,” Willox added.
    “Our critical skill shortages are only going to get worse the longer our border remains closed.”
    For the likes of Ravindran, however, there has never been a better time to look for work.    “I am confident my contract will be renewed when it comes up for renewal.    There is enough demand right now.”
($1 = 1.3160 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Swati Pandey; Editing by Sam Holmes and Simon Cameron-Moore)

6/28/2021 Desperate Expatriate Workers Storm Islamabad Vaccination Centre by Umar Farooq
A police officer helps men to fill out forms to obtain a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, so they can travel
to work abroad, at a mass vaccination centre in Islamabad, Pakistan June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Umer Farooq
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistani expatriate workers, desperate to obtain a Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca COVID shot so they can travel to work in Saudi Arabia, stormed a vaccination centre in Islamabad on Monday, witnesses said.
    Saudi Arabia, which bars direct travel from Pakistan, has only approved the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines.    Anyone arriving without one of those shots is required to quarantine at a cost many Pakistani workers say they cannot afford.
    Pakistan has relied extensively on the Sinopharm, CanSinoBio, and Sinovac vaccines donated by ally China.    That is a problem for the tens of thousands of Pakistanis who work in Saudi Arabia and contribute $7 billion, or a quarter of the country’s total annual remittances.
    “There was a big crowd and they broke down these glass doors, because they were worried the vaccine would run out,” witness Muhammad Ismail, 31, told Reuters. He pointed out the shattered remnants of the vaccination centre’s entrance, where a huge crowd swarmed around a handful of medical staff screening people for the shots.
    Other witnesses gave similar accounts, but asked not to be named.    They estimated the size of the crowd at hundreds.
    “The Saudis say they don’t want the Chinese vaccine, they want these other ones,” said Ismail, who has a job in a restaurant in Saudi Arabia.    “Otherwise they keep you in quarantine, and that costs around 5,000 riyal ($1,333.23).    My monthly wages are 1,800 riyal, so how can I afford that?.”
    He and four relatives travelled to Islamabad hoping to get the AstraZeneca vaccine and finally return to their jobs.    They have been stuck in Pakistan for the last 9 months after Saudi Arabia told foreign workers to leave late last year.
    Earlier this month Pakistan began allowing people under 40 who have to travel for jobs abroad to obtain the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which the country has 1.2 million doses obtained through COVAX.
    Pakistan also has around 100,000 doses of Pfizer, meant for immunocompromised people, and the government has said it plans to purchase 13 million more doses by the end of the year.
($1 = 3.7503 riyals)
(Reporting by Umar Farooq; editing by Barbara Lewis)

6/28/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Challenges Pacquiao To Expose Corruption
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the arrival ceremony for the first COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in
the country, at Villamor Air Base in Pasay, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday that Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao should name corrupt government offices to prove that the boxer-turned-lawmaker is not just politicking ahead of a presidential election next year.
    The comments were the latest chapter in a surprise war of words between the president and Pacquiao who is seen as being among his strongest backers and a possible successor when the single six-year term he is allowed expires next June.
    The firebrand Philippine leader said Pacquiao had criticised corruption in his government and threatened to expose the boxing champion as a liar.
    “I’m not saying there is no corruption, so expose it,” Duterte said in a televised late night national address.    “If you don’t do that, I will expose you daily as a liar … I know you from way back.”
    Using an expletive in his strongest language yet against Pacquiao, Duterte said if he did not reveal corruption, he would be “playing politics” and pledged to take action against any erring officials.
    It was not immediately clear what officials he was urging Pacquiao to expose, or why.    Pacquiao has not publicly been speaking about any allegations of high-level corruption in recent days.
    Pacquiao, the acting president of Duterte’s political party, was not immediately available for comment outside office hours.
    Pacquiao, 42, has long been among Duterte’s strongest supporters, backing his bloody war on drugs and bid to re-introduce the death penalty.    The eight-division champion has yet to announce his presidential bid.
    Early this month, Duterte criticised Pacquiao’s “shallow” foreign policy knowledge, after the senator said he found the leader’s stand on the South China Sea as “lacking” and “disheartening.”
    Duterte remains popular in the Philippines.    Political allies are urging him to run as vice president when his term ends.    His daughter – a long term aide – is also seen among his possible successors.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Alison Williams)

6/29/2021 Xi Stresses Loyalty As Chinese Communist Party Prepares For 100th Anniversary by Yew Lun Tian
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the medal award ceremony marking the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party
of China, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China in this still image taken from a video released June 29, 2021.
CCTV via Reuters TV ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged Chinese Communist Party members to remain loyal and continue to serve the people as he awarded a new medal of honour to 29 members as part of the ruling party’s 100th anniversary celebrations this week.
    The medal award ceremony took place in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People with much fanfare and was broadcast live on national television, as the party prepares to mark its 100th birthday on Thursday.
    The “July 1 medal,” announced in 2017 and given out for the first time on Tuesday, is part of Xi’s efforts to shore up the image of one of the world’s most powerful political parties.
    He urged all members to “firmly keep the loyalty and love for the party and the people close to one’s heart, turn that into action, dedicate everything, even your precious life, to the party and the people.”
    Honoured for “outstanding contributions” to the party, the medal recipients included soldiers, community workers and professionals in the arts and science.
    The Chinese Communist Party had 91.9 million members in 2019, or 6.6% of China’s population, and has ruled the country since 1949.
    As part of the anniversary-week celebrations, the party also staged a gala performance on Monday night in the National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest” as it is commonly called.
    Party leaders and foreign diplomats watched the extravaganza of song, dance and theatre which credited the party with guiding China’s rise into a great power over the past century.
    Darker parts in the party’s history, including a famine in the late 1950s, the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, were omitted from the show.
    The show culminated with the audience singing the song “Without the Communist Party, There Would Be No New China,” and five minutes of fireworks.
    Many Chinese cheered the celebration by posting online well-wishes for the country and party on social media.
    Some comments were less cheery.
    “Only when housing price falls, can the people start to feel happiness,” read one comment, which received 39 “likes.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Stephen Coates)

6/29/2021 Twitter Faces New Headache In India After Police Complaint Over Controversial Map by Saurabh Sharma
FILE PHOTO: The Twitter App loads on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in
Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo/File Photo
    LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) -A Hindu hardline group has filed a complaint with police against Twitter’s country head after politically sensitive regions were depicted outside a map of India on its website, kickstarting an investigation in a fresh headache for the U.S. tech firm.
    A map on Twitter’s careers page showed Jammu and Kashmir region, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan, as well as the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh outside India.    That provoked an outcry on social media this week that comes amid strained relations between Twitter and New Delhi over the firm’s compliance with India’s new IT rules.
    The complaint accuses Twitter’s India boss Manish Maheshwari and another company executive of breaching the country’s IT rules as well as laws designed to prevent enmity and hatred between classes.
    “This has hurt my sentiments and those of the people of India,” Praveen Bhati, a leader of the group Bajrang Dal in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said in the complaint which was reviewed by Reuters.    He also called it an act of treason.
    Twitter did not respond to a request for comment.    As of Tuesday, the map was no long visible on its site.
    Maheshwari was only this month summoned by police in Uttar Pradesh for failing to stop the spread of a video that allegedly incited religious discord.    Maheshwari has won relief from a court in that case.
    India’s technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has criticised Twitter for its failure to abide by new Indian rules and for denying him access to his Twitter account.
    To comply with rules that came into effect in May, companies such as Twitter must appoint a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer and another executive who will liaise with law enforcement and the government on legal requests.    LinkedIn job postings show the three positions are open at Twitter.
    A senior government official has previously told Reuters that Twitter may no longer be eligible to seek liability exemptions as an intermediary or the host of user content in India due to its failure to comply with the new IT rules.    Activists say, however, it is a matter for the courts to decide.
    Last year, the head of an Indian parliamentary panel accused Twitter of disrespecting New Delhi’s sovereignty, after mapping data showed Indian-ruled territory as part of China in what the social media firm said was a quickly resolved mistake.
    Growing tension with New Delhi has discouraged U.S. big tech firms about prospects for their largest growth market, so much so that some are rethinking expansion plans.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma; Writing by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

6/29/2021 Australia Tightens Lockdown Amid Delta Virus Outbreak, Vaccine Chaos by Renju Jose
Transport workers stand on mostly deserted train platforms at morning commute hour in the city centre during a lockdown to
curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
(Refiles to correct headline spelling of Australia)
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia reported a slight rise in COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, while officials in several states tightened movement curbs and pushed for vaccinations to limit flare-ups of the highly infectious Delta variant.
    After months in which it had nearly stamped out the virus, Australia is battling the variant in five of its eight states and territories, just two weeks after an infection in key city Sydney involving a limousine driver of overseas airline crew.
    Worries that the variant first detected in India could touch off outbreaks have forced lockdowns in three large cities and curbs of varying strictness in several more, affecting more than 20 million Australians, or about 80% of the population.
    Northern Queensland state imposed a three-day lockdown in capital Brisbane and neighbouring regions from Tuesday evening.    The Western Australian capital of Perth began a four-day lockdown from Tuesday, joining Sydney and Darwin.
    “The risk is real and we need to act quickly, we need to go hard, we need to go fast,” said Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.    The state reported two new local cases.
    Sydney, home to a fifth of Australia’s population, is in a two-week lockdown until July 9, while a stay-home order in the outback city of Darwin was extended by 72 hours to Friday.    The Sydney outbreak has grown to nearly 150 cases.
    Mandatory masks and limits on gatherings are among the curbs across Australia.
    Police in the most populous state of New South Wales fined Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce A$200 ($150) for not wearing a mask inside a petrol station, media said.
    Joyce, the highest-ranking government official to face such a fine, confirmed the incident in a media interview, saying he had gone unmasked to pay for petrol bought for his partner.
    Even under lockdown, New South Wales reported 19 new locally-acquired infections, up from 18 a day ago.
    Western Australia reported no new cases, despite going into lockdown, while the Northern Territory detected two.
VACCINE CONFUSION
    Monday’s decision to indemnify doctors who give the AstraZeneca vaccine to those younger than 60, a bid to kickstart a sluggish inoculation program, provoked complaints from doctors who said the medical regulator still recommended the vaccine for those older than 60.
    “Phones are ringing off the hook at GP clinics,” Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said on Twitter.
    “We had no warning of last night’s announcements and this isn’t the first time this has happened.”
    Omar Khorshid, the president of the Australian Medical Association, said the change took him by surprise and caused “disagreement and confusion,” by appearing to contradict the formal advice.
    “AstraZeneca is safe, it is effective, but for those under 60 there is a better vaccine and that is Pfizer,” Khorshid told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
    Public health experts in three states said they were not consulted before the announcement.
    Border closures, lockdowns and contact tracing have helped Australia hold down infections, with just over 30,500 cases and 910 deaths, but the federal government has faced criticism over the pace of vaccination.
Less than 5% of the population has been fully inoculated.
    Neighbouring New Zealand said it would resume quarantine-free travel next week with the states of South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory, as it lifted curbs in its capital of Wellington.
($1=1.3235 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

6/29/2021 S.Korean Ex-Chief Prosecutor To Challenge Moon’s Party For Presidency by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korea's President Moon Jae-in poses with Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
(not pictured) at the Moncloa Palace in Madrid, Spain, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Susana Vera/Pool
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A former South Korean prosecutor-general launched on Tuesday a bid to become president in an election next year saying the administration of President Moon Jae-in was corrupt and had to be defeated.
    Moon is limited to just one term under the constitution. His liberal party has yet to nominate its candidate for the presidential election but former top prosecutor Yoon Seok-youl said Moon’s supporters had to be voted out.
    “We have to stop the corrupt and incompetent ruling forces’ attempt to extend their term and plunder people,” Yoon told a news conference.
    Moon and his government reject accusations of corruption.
    The conservative Yoon has been topping polls for presidential candidates since he resigned from the prosecutor job in March.
    In a Realmeter survey released last week, Yoon won the support of 32.3% of respondents with Lee Jae-myung, the popular governor of Gyeonggia province and a member of Moon’s party, coming second on 22.8 percent.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/29/2021 Bali Reopening To Foreign Tourists Delayed As COVID Surges - Minister by Tom Allard and Kate Lamb
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination programme
for Green Zone Tourism in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia, March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s government will wait until COVID-19 cases fall significantly before opening Bali to foreign tourists, the country’s tourism minister said in an interview.
    The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the economy of Bali, for decades a magnet for holidaymakers thanks to its spectacular beaches, vibrant nightlife and distinctive Hindu culture.
    “We were targeting end of July, beginning of August, but we just have to be mindful of where we are in this recent spike (in coronavirus cases),” Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy, Sandiaga Uno, told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
    “We will be waiting for the situation to be more conducive.”
    Coronavirus infections have surged across Indonesia in recent weeks, including in Bali, where there has been a fourfold rise in the past month, albeit from a low base, to about 200 cases per day, according to official data.
    Uno said he wanted Bali’s daily coronavirus infections to fall to 30 or 40 per day before reopening.
    The true extent of Bali’s infections is masked by its low testing rates, which stand at 15% of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation, according to data released by the global health body.
    Indonesia’s government has prioritised Bali for vaccinations, and was seeing good early results as most people infected with coronavirus showed only mild symptoms, Uno said. While bed occupancy rates were approaching 100% in many parts of the neighbouring, densely populated island of Java, he said the rate was below 50% in Bali.
    About 71% of Balinese had received a first vaccine dose, and the target of full vaccination for 70% of its population could be achieved by the end of July, Uno said.
    Domestic travellers to Bali will now be required to have a PCR test before entering, a measure to insulate the island from the pandemic.
    As well as traditional tourists, Bali hopes to attract ‘digital nomads’ – international entrepreneurs operating internet-based companies. They will be granted five-year visas under the proposed scheme.
    “If they earn income within Indonesia they will be taxed but if it’s solely from overseas there will be zero tax,” Uno said.
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

6/29/2021 Japan Minister Says Necessary To ‘Wake Up’ To Protect Taiwan by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Japan's then-State Minister for Foreign Affairs Yasuhide Nakayama speaks during the White House Summit on
Countering Violent Extremism at the State Department in Washington February 19, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Japan’s deputy defense minister on Monday warned of a growing threat posed by Chinese and Russian collaboration and said it was necessary to “wake up” to Beijing’s pressure on Taiwan and protect the island “as a democratic country.”
    Speaking to the Hudson Institute think tank, State Minister of Defence Yasuhide Nakayama questioned whether the decision of many countries, including Japan and United States, to follow a “one-China” policy that has recognized Beijing over Taipei since the 1970s would stand the test of time.
    “Was it right?” he asked at the online event, referring to how future generations will judge policymakers on the issue.    “I don’t know.”
    Nakayama said democratic countries had to protect each other and noted that he had in the past referred to Taiwan as a “red line.”
    “So we have to protect Taiwan as a democratic country.”
    Nakayama said Japan and Taiwan were geographically close, and added that if something happened in Taiwan it would affect Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, where U.S. forces and their families are based.
    Nakayama highlighted growing threats posed by China in space, in missile technology, in the cyber domain and in nuclear and conventional forces, and said that under President Xi Jinping’s leadership it had “aggressive, aggressive … thought and will.”
    “So wake up.    We have to wake up,” he said.
    China claims democratically governed Taiwan as an integral part of its territory.
    “We deplore the erroneous remarks by the senior official of the Japanese government, and we have lodged solemn representations,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, adding that Nakayama had “falsely accused” China over “normal national defence developments.”
    “This is highly sinister, dangerous and irresponsible.    This politician also openly called Taiwan a country, in serious violation of the China-Japan joint statement,” Wang said at a regular media briefing.
    “We urge the Japanese government to make a clarification and ensure this will not happen again.”
    Nakayama said it was necessary to show deterrence to China and also Russia, which had stepped up exercises in Japanese-claimed territory and near the U.S. territory of Hawaii.
    “You can see China and Russia collaborating together, when they are doing some military exercise around our neighbors,” Nakayama said, adding that he wanted to see the United States “stronger, stronger and stronger.”
    Nakayama referred to Tokyo’s decision to scrap its one-percent-of-GDP cap on defense spending.    He said Japan needed to spend more on weapons, including missiles, and cut costs, given that 50 percent of its budget went on personnel.
    Washington and Tokyo should boost technological collaboration in the face of closer Chinese and Russian cooperation, he said.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Cate CadellEditing by Sonya Hepinstall and Raissa Kasolowsky)

6/29/2021 Philippines Extends Coronavirus Curbs Until Mid-July
FILE PHOTO: Frederick Obedoza Jr, janitor at a shopping mall, receives a dose of the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine as vaccinations
start for economic workers, at Robinsons Place, in Manila, Philippines, June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – President Rodrigo Duterte has prolonged restrictions on movement and businesses in the Philippine capital and nearby provinces until mid-July, and retained stricter COVID-19 curbs in central and southern areas, an official said on Tuesday.
    Infections in the capital region, home to at least 13 million people, have dropped since peaking in April, but some provinces are battling spikes as the country scrambles to distribute and administer vaccines.
    Entertainment venues, amusement parks, and contacts sports are prohibited in the capital region and nearby provinces, while restaurants, gyms and indoor tourist attractions are allowed to operate at up to 40% capacity.
    But 21 cities and provinces outside the capital remain under tighter measures to contain the virus.
    A ban was extended on inbound travel from Oman, the United Arab Emirates and most countries in South Asia, to ward off highly contagious COVID-19 variants.
    Local officials have two days to appeal to the president over the restrictions, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
    The Philippines has fully vaccinated only 2.5 million people, or just 3.6% of the 70 million targeted for immunisation this year.
    It has received 17.5 million vaccine doses, mostly those of Sinovac, among 40 to 55 million doses of various brands on order for June to September.
    In a weekly national address, Duterte told local officials to prepare cold storage facilities for the vaccines.
    With more than 1.4 million cases and 24,456deaths, the Philippines has among the most coronavirus deaths and infections in Asia.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies)

6/29/2021 Bali Reopening To Foreign Tourists Delayed As COVID Surges - Minister by Tom Allard and Kate Lamb
FILE PHOTO: A woman receives a dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine during a mass vaccination programme
for Green Zone Tourism in Sanur, Bali, Indonesia, March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Nyimas Laula/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s government will wait until COVID-19 cases fall significantly before opening Bali to foreign tourists, the country’s tourism minister said in an interview.
    The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the economy of Bali, for decades a magnet for holidaymakers thanks to its spectacular beaches, vibrant nightlife and distinctive Hindu culture.
    “We were targeting end of July, beginning of August, but we just have to be mindful of where we are in this recent spike (in coronavirus cases),” Indonesia’s Minister for Tourism and the Cultural Economy, Sandiaga Uno, told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
    “We will be waiting for the situation to be more conducive.”
    Coronavirus infections have surged across Indonesia in recent weeks, including in Bali, where there has been a fourfold rise in the past month, albeit from a low base, to about 200 cases per day, according to official data.
    Uno said he wanted Bali’s daily coronavirus infections to fall to 30 or 40 per day before reopening.
    The true extent of Bali’s infections is masked by its low testing rates, which stand at 15% of the minimum recommended by the World Health Organisation, according to data released by the global health body.
    Indonesia’s government has prioritised Bali for vaccinations, and was seeing good early results as most people infected with coronavirus showed only mild symptoms, Uno said.    While bed occupancy rates were approaching 100% in many parts of the neighbouring, densely populated island of Java, he said the rate was below 50% in Bali.
    About 71% of Balinese had received a first vaccine dose, and the target of full vaccination for 70% of its population could be achieved by the end of July, Uno said.
    Domestic travellers to Bali will now be required to have a PCR test before entering, a measure to insulate the island from the pandemic.
    As well as traditional tourists, Bali hopes to attract ‘digital nomads’ – international entrepreneurs operating internet-based companies.    They will be granted five-year visas under the proposed scheme.
    “If they earn income within Indonesia they will be taxed but if it’s solely from overseas there will be zero tax,” Uno said.
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

6/29/2021 U.S. Finalizes Withdrawal Of Bagram Airfield by OAN Newsroom
The flag of the United States flies over Bagram Air Base, in Afghanistan, Friday, June 25, 2021. In 2001 the armies of the world united behind America
and Bagram Air Base, barely an hours drive from the Afghan capital Kabul, was chosen as the epicenter of Operation Enduring Freedom, as the assault
on the Taliban rulers was dubbed. It’s now nearly 20 years later and the last US soldier is soon to depart the base. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    The U.S. has almost completely abandoned its largest military installation in Afghanistan while it swiftly moves forward with troop withdrawal.    For two decades the U.S. military relied heavily on Bagram Airfield as a strategic location in the Middle East, but it’s now over 50 percent deserted.
    U.S. officials said they have already cleared out over half of the base as it moves forward with plans to hand the airfield over to Afghan forces.    Retired Afghan Army General Safiullah Safi, who served with the U.S. troops in Bagram, said he’s optimistic for the future.
    “Bagram can turn to a very good and strong base for the Afghan Airforce, and they will be able to control the whole country,” stated the Afghan general.    “But if there is no peace and fighting continues, I believe that a second wave of resistance will start from Bagram against the groups, which don’t want peace in Afghanistan.”
    The U.S. exit from Afghanistan has come along side a resurgence of the Taliban.    General Safi warned the U.S. exit needs to be calculated, adding if it’s not handled correctly then the years of sacrificing blood and treasure in Afghanistan will have been a waste.

6/29/2021 U.N. Expert Backs Probe Into Iran’s 1988 Killings, Raisi’s Role by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a campaign rally
in Tehran, Iran June 15, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) -The U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 and the role played by President-elect Ebrahim Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor.
    Javaid Rehman, in an interview with Reuters on Monday, said that over the years his office has gathered testimonies and evidence.    It was ready to share them if the United Nations Human Rights Council or other body sets up an impartial investigation.
    He said he was concerned at reports that some “mass graves” are being destroyed as part of a continuing cover-up.
    “I think it is time and it’s very important now that Mr. Raisi is the president (-elect) that we start investigating what happened in 1988 and the role of individuals,” Rehman said from London, where he teaches Islamic law and international law.
    A probe was in the interest of Iran and could bring closure to families, he said, adding: “Otherwise we will have very serious concerns about this president and the role, the reported role, he has played historically in those executions.”
    Raisi’s office could not be reached for comment.    The office of the spokesman of the Iranian judiciary was not immediately available to comment.    Iran’s missions to the United Nations in both New York and in Geneva did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Raisi, a hardline judge, is under U.S. sanctions over a past that includes what the United States and activists say was his involvement as one of four judges who oversaw the 1988 killings.    Amnesty International has put the number executed at some 5,000, saying in a 2018 report that “the real number could be higher
    Raisi, when asked about allegations that he was involved in the killings, told reporters: “If a judge, a prosecutor has defended the security of the people, he should be praised … I am proud to have defended human rights in every position I have held so far.”
    Rehman said: “We have made communications to the Islamic Republic of Iran because we have concerns that there is again a policy to actually destroy the graves or there may be some activity to destroy evidence of mass graves.”
    “I will campaign for justice to be done,” he added.
ARRESTS, INTIMIDATION
    Raisi succeeds Hassan Rouhani on Aug. 3, having secured victory this month in an election marked by voter apathy over economic hardships and political restrictions.
    Rehman denounced what he called “deliberate and manipulative strategies adopted to exclude moderate candidates and to ensure the success of a particular candidate.”
    “There were arrests, journalists were stopped from asking specific questions about the background of the presidential candidate Mr Raisi and there was intimidation towards any issues that were raised about his previous role and background.”
    Iran has never acknowledged that mass executions took place under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the revolutionary leader who died in 1989.
    “The scale of executions that we hear imply that it was a part of a policy that was being pursued…It was not just one person,” Rehman said.
    He said there had also been “no proper investigation” into the killing of protesters in Nov. 2019, the bloodiest political unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
    “Even by conservative estimates we can say that more than 300 people were killed arbitrarily, extrajudicially, and nobody has been held accountable and no compensation,” he said.
    “There is a widespread and systemic impunity in the country for gross violations of human rights, both historically in the past as well as in the present.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff and Jon Boyle)

6/29/2021 Chinese Censorship, Surveillance Found At Australian Universities – Rights Group by Kirsty Needham
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – High numbers of Chinese students at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students staying silent in fear of harassment, Human Rights Watch said.
    Some parents in mainland China had been questioned by Chinese police about the activities of students in Australia and Hong Kong police had questioned a returning student about pro-democracy activities, the group said in a report released on Wednesday.
    Self-censorship has worsened as universities have adopted online courses during the COVID-19 pandemic, with Chinese students joining class from behind China’s “Great Firewall” system of internet censorship, the group said.
    The trend compromised the academic freedom of all students in the class, the report’s author, Sophie McNeill, told Reuters.
    “It erodes Australia’s academic freedom,” she said.
    In one example, an online course removed references to the bloody Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, she said.
    Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 40% of all international students in Australia were from China, or 10% of all university students.    Almost a third of university sector revenue was generated from international student fees.
    Human Rights Watch interviewed 24 students with “pro-democracy” views attending Australian universities, of whom 11 were from mainland China and 13 from Hong Kong.    It also interviewed 22 academics.
    The rights group verified three cases where family in China had been warned by police over a student’s activity in Australia.
    “If you protest against CCP abroad, they will find people you love to make you pay.    Even if you are in Australia,” a student not identified in the report told Human Rights Watch, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.
    The student, who said he had posted “anti-government” material on Twitter, said Chinese police had issued his parents with an official warning last year.
    A student from Hong Kong filed a report with Australian police after four men in masks and speaking Mandarin appeared outside his house and chased him with sticks after he spoke at a democracy rally.    The student slept in his car then moved house after the incident. He is seeking asylum in Australia.
    Threats by patriotic Chinese classmates, including exposing address details online, known as doxxing, and threats to report a student’s anti-China views to the embassy, were more common, the report found.
    Human Rights Watch said more than half of students who experienced intimidation did not report it to their universities.
    “They believed their universities cared more about maintaining relationships with the Chinese government and not alienating the students who were supportive of the CCP,” said McNeill.
    Half of academics interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they self-censored in the classroom, the report said.
    “Academic after academic avoided discussing China in the classroom,” McNeill said.
    Human Rights Watch said it wanted the Australian government to report annually of incidents of harassment and censorship and for universities to classify students “reporting on” classmates or staff as harassment and grounds for disciplinary action.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

6/29/2021 Taiwan To Discuss Easing Vaccine Trade In Talks With U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Workers transport Moderna vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) shipped from the United States,
to Taiwan Air Cargo Terminal at the Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 20, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will discuss easing the import and export of COVID-19 vaccines with the United States when it holds trade talks with Washington this week, which will help in bringing the pandemic under control, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday.
    The two sides are due to resume long-stalled trade discussions on Wednesday as Washington seeks to deepen its support for the Chinese-claimed island, and at a time when Taiwan is dealing with a cluster of domestic COVID-19 cases.
    In an address from her office, Tsai said the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks, or TIFA, would include what she referred to as an “important” topic.
    “That is to simplify the import and export process of vaccines and other medical supplies.    This substantive cooperation will bring important help to our current epidemic situation.    I have asked our negotiating team to go all out,” Tsai said.
    “If Taiwan’s epidemic is brought under control and economic fluctuations are reduced, it will be a further contribution to the peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.”
    Taiwan is a major producer of semiconductors, a global shortage of which has reverberated around the world, though the island’s domestic COVID-19 outbreak has not had a substantial impact on supplies.
    The island has received a total of 4.85 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to date, including 1.24 million donated by Japan and 2.5 million donated by the United States.    Japan has pledged another 1 million, while Lithuania is giving Taiwan 20,000.
    Asked if the large number of doses the United States sent to Taiwan was intended as a quid pro quo to ensure access to semiconductor supplies, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters: “There should not be that suggestion. I will note that they were being cut off from access to vaccines.”
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said China has used access to vaccines for political coercion around the world, including “disgraceful” attempts to block democratic Taiwan’s ability to purchase them.
    China has denied that it tried to cut Taiwan off from buying vaccines from Germany’s BioNTech SE, saying it was free to obtain the shots through Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd, which has a contract to sell BioNTech’s vaccine in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
    A further 410,000 doses of Moderna Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Taiwan on Wednesday, Deputy Minister of the Interior Chen Tsung-yen said earlier on Tuesday, part of its direct order for 5.05 million doses from the company.
    Only around 8% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one of the two shot regimen against COVID-19, and the government has been under pressure to speed up deliveries of the millions of doses it has on order.
    When asked if a government-run research centre is in talks with Moderna to make COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said the government “will not give up any opportunity” and is currently reviewing its vaccine manufacturing capacity for international companies.
    “We are reviewing related capacity, willingness and division of labour domestically.    That will smooth things out in a negotiation,” Chen told a daily news briefing, without giving details.
    Taiwan’s own domestic outbreak of the virus is being brought under control, but it remains wary about a handful of cases of the highly contagious Delta variant in southern Taiwan.
    The island reported 54 new domestic infections on Tuesday, down from 60 a day earlier, marking the smallest daily rise since May 15, when the government raised the alert level for Taipei and its neighbouring city in the wake of a sudden spike of domestic cases.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Michael Martina in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

6/29/2021 Twitter Faces Three Police Cases Amid Growing Challenges In India by Saurabh Sharma and Sankalp Phartiyal
FILE PHOTO: The Twitter App loads on an iPhone in this illustration photograph taken in
Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo/File Photo
    LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Police in India have registered three new cases against Twitter Inc for allegedly hurting sentiments and promoting child pornography, marking an escalation in the row between the U.S. firm and Indian authorities.
    Police in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have named Twitter India chief Manish Maheshwari in complaints after the politically sensitive regions were depicted outside a map of India on its careers website.
    Late on Tuesday, police in the capital New Delhi said in a statement they have registered a case against Twitter for “availability of child sexual abuse and child pornographic material” on its platform.
    Twitter did not comment on cases related to India’s map. On the New Delhi case, Twitter said it has a zero tolerance policy for child sexual exploitation.
    The police cases come as Twitter faces a public relations nightmare and a backlash from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s federal government that has in recent weeks repeatedly criticized it for not complying with a new set of IT rules.
    The tussle, coupled with discontent over the regulatory scrutiny of other U.S. tech firms like WhatsApp and Amazon, has upset the business environment in a key growth markets, so much so that some companies are rethinking expansion plans.
    The latest complaints against Twitter were triggered following an uproar on social media after a map on Twitter’s careers page showed Jammu and Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan, as well as the Buddhist enclave of Ladakh, outside India.    As of Tuesday, the map was no longer visible on its site.
    “This has hurt my sentiments and those of the people of India,” Praveen Bhati, a leader of a hardline Hindu group Bajrang Dal in Uttar Pradesh, said in the complaint which was reviewed by Reuters.    He also called it an act of treason.
    The child pornography case in New Delhi was registered after India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights wrote to police saying it had received a complaint about online threats against a minor girl, and found pornographic material on Twitter, according to a letter written by the rights group to police.
    “Investigation has been taken up,” the Delhi police statement said.
    The cases are set to amplify Twitter’s troubles in India.    Technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has criticised Twitter for its failure to abide by the IT rules in recent weeks, which came into effect in May.
    Companies such as Twitter must now appoint a chief compliance officer, a grievance officer and another executive to liaise with law enforcement and the government on legal requests.    LinkedIn job postings show the three positions are open at Twitter.
    Non-compliance with those rules means Twitter may no longer enjoy the legal privilege in India that allowed it to not be held liable for user-generated content, lawyers and government sources say. Activists however defend Twitter, saying only courts can arrive at that decision.
    Twitter India chief Maheshwari is battling another police case where he has been summoned to answer allegations that include inciting “hate and enmity” between Hindu and Muslim communities in relation to a video that went viral on its platform.    A state court last week said no “coercive action” should be taken against Maheshwari in the case.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma and Sankalp Phartiyal; Additional reporting by Abhirup Roy; Editing by Aditya Kalra, Edwina Gibbs and Nick Macfie)

6/30/2021 North Korea’s Kim Says ‘Great Crisis’ Caused By Pandemic Lapse by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party central committee in Pyongyang,
North Korea in this photo supplied by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 10, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the failure to implement measures to tackle the coronavirus had caused a “great crisis” and he chastised ruling party officials for risking the safety of the country and people, state media reported on Wednesday.
    The report by state news agency KCNA did not elaborate on the nature of the crisis or how it put people at risk.
    North Korea has not officially confirmed any COVID-19 cases, a position questioned by South Korean and U.S. officials.    But the reclusive country has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.
    Kim called a meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea politburo to address some party executives’ neglect of duty, including failing to implement important long-term measures to fight the pandemic, the KCNA state news agency said.
    “He mentioned that senior officials in charge of important state affairs neglected the implementation of the important decisions of the Party … and thus caused a crucial case of creating a great crisis in ensuring the security of the state and safety of the people and entailed grave consequences,” the news agency said.
    Several politburo members, secretaries of the central committee, and officials of several state agencies were replaced at the meeting, though KCNA did not specify if the shakeups were related to the neglect of pandemic-related duty.
    When asked about Kim’s remarks, South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun said officials in Seoul were aware of the report but had nothing to add.
    “During this pandemic era we have publicly expressed our willingness to help (North Korea) ranging from PCR tests to whatever you can imagine,” he told reporters at a briefing.
    North Korea has treated the protection of its people from the coronavirus as a matter of national survival and anti-pandemic decisions are made by some of its most senior leaders, said Harvard Medical School’s Kee B. Park, who has worked on health care projects in North Korea.
    “The main objective of North Korea’s strategy is to prevent the virus from even getting into the country while simultaneously strengthening its treatment capabilities as well as acquiring vaccines,” he said.
    North Korea’s all-of-government, comprehensive approach and the repeated holding of large-scale public gatherings suggest that it may have prevented any major outbreak, Park said.
    “However, the success comes with steep cost to its economy and increased vulnerability for the poorest of the population,” he said.
    Last year, North Korea said it had declared a state of emergency and locked down the border city of Kaesong after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the fortified border with what state media said were symptoms of COVID-19.
    The World Health Organization later said North Korea’s coronavirus test results for the man were inconclusive.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim and Sangmi Cha; Editing by Grant McCool, Himani Sarkar and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

6/30/2021 Afghan Civilians Take Up Arms As U.S.-Led Forces Leave
FILE PHOTO: Armed men attend a gathering to announce their support for Afghan security forces and that they are
ready to fight against the Taliban, on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    PARWAN, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Gun in hand, 55-year-old Dost Mohammad Salangi recites poetry as he leads a small group of men to a look-out post high in the rugged hills of Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital Kabul.
    Heavily bearded and wearing a traditional circular pakol hat to keep off the sun, he has a warning for the Islamist militant Taliban movement, which has increased attacks on Afghan forces and claimed more territory as foreign troops withdraw.
    “If they impose war on us, oppress us and encroach on women and people’s property, even our seven-year-old children will be armed and will stand against them,” he told Reuters.
    Salangi is one of hundreds of former “mujahideen” fighters and civilians who have felt compelled to take up arms to help the army repel a growing Taliban insurgency.
    The group’s ascendancy on the ground comes as the last U.S.-led international forces prepare to leave after two decades of fighting that ended with no clear victory for either side.
    “We have to protect our country … now there is no choice as the foreign forces abandon us,” said Farid Mohammed, a young student who joined a local anti-Taliban leader from Parwan.
    He was speaking as the German military concluded the withdrawal of the second largest contingent of foreign troops after the United States with around 150,000 soldiers deployed over the past two decades, many of them serving more than one tour in the country.
    U.S. President Joe Biden and NATO said in mid-April they would pull out the roughly 10,000 foreign troops still in Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York that prompted the mission.
    The United Nations envoy for Afghanistan said this week the Taliban had taken more than 50 of 370 districts and was positioned to control provincial capitals as the country looked increasingly unstable as foreign military support ended.
    Armed mainly with old assault rifles, pistols and grenade launchers, men like Salangi and Mohammed have joined local shopkeepers and traders as part of a loosely-formed Public Uprising Force trying to reclaim some of those areas.
    Ajmal Omar Shinwari, a spokesman for the Afghan defence and security forces, said Afghans keen to take up arms against the Taliban were being absorbed intro the structure of territorial army forces.
    But some political analysts warn of the growing risk of a return to civil war as more groups took up arms.
    Faced with rising violence, President Ashraf Ghani visited Washington in June to meet Biden, who pledged U.S. support to Afghanistan but said Afghans must decide their own future.
    Talks to try and find a political settlement in Afghanistan have stalled, although the head of the Afghan peace council has said they should not be abandoned despite the surge in Taliban attacks.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

6/30/2021 Joy And Scepticism As Myanmar Frees Hundreds Held Since Coup
Families wait outside Insein prison after Myanmar's authorities announced to free
around 700 prisoners in Yangon, Myanmar June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) -Myanmar freed more than 2,000 detainees on Wednesday, among them journalists and others who the ruling military said had been held on incitement charges for taking part in protests, local media reported.
    The release was described by some activists as a ploy by the ruling military to divert attention from an ongoing security crackdown.
    The army has been under pressure from Western countries and Myanmar’s neighbours to release thousands of people detained during protests since it ousted the elected government of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
    Many of the military’s opponents have been held, some convicted, under a law that criminalises comments that could cause fear or spread false news and is punishable by up to three years in jail.    Suu Kyi is on trial for a similar offence, among others, and remains in detention.
    Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said most of those freed had been charged with incitement for joining protests.
    “A total of 2,296 people have been released.    They took part in protests but not in leading roles.    They didn’t participate in violent acts,” he told Irrawaddy new site.
    Reuters could not reach Zaw Min Tun for further comment.
    Videos posted on social media showed a stream of mostly young detainees pouring off buses from Yangon’s colonial-era Insein prison, smiling, waving and embracing family members who wept as they arrived.
    Others showed a succession of buses leaving the rear entrance of the jail, with passengers leaning from windows and waving at small crowds that gathered outside.
    The military has struggled to impose order since it took power, with daily protests nationwide and paralysing strikes.
    Ethnic insurgencies that beset Myanmar for decades have flared anew and civilians angered by a wave of arrests have taken up arms against security forces.
    Insein prison chief Zaw Zaw had earlier told Reuters that some 700 people would be released, without giving a reason.    He did not respond to subsequent calls seeking comment.
    The news portal Myanmar Now said its reporter Kay Zon Nway was freed after 124 days charged with incitement.
    “Like many other political detainees, she was unfairly arrested. She has suffered a lot in prison. But today, I’m glad to see her again in great spirits,” Swe Win, Myanmar Now’s editor-in-chief said in a text message.
    The Irrawaddy said six journalists were freed altogether.
    State-run MRTV made no mention of the release in its nightly newscast.
    Western countries have demanded political prisoners be freed and condemned the military takeover.    Myanmar’s neighbours in April sought a commitment from its military rulers to initiate dialogue, end the violence and release detainees.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a non-profit based in Thailand, said the mass release was engineered to give the impression the military’s sweeping crackdown had eased.
    “Today’s events intend to make it seem like there has been a relaxation in the junta’s oppression.    This is not the case,” it said in a statement.
    More than 5,200 people are being held, according to AAPP.    It also says 883 people have been killed – a figure challenged by the military leadership, which has blamed the unrest on “terrorists” among supporters of Suu Kyi’s party.    Reuters has been unable to confirm the numbers.
    On Tuesday, the army-run Myawaddy television said authorities had dropped charges against 24 celebrities on wanted lists under the anti-incitement law.
    Salai Za Uk Ling of the Chin Human Rights Organisation, a group from Chin state, a centre of opposition to the takeover by the military, said the release was “quite meaningless” and intended to appease the international community.
    He said people were still being arrested daily in Chin state and elsewhere in Myanmar.    Reuters was not immediately able to confirm his statement.
We will face this same problem until they stop the unlawful arrests,” he added.    “People will not feel safe in their homes.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies and Martin Petty; Editing by Tom Hogue, Simon Cameron-Moore and Philippa Fletcher)

6/30/2021 Myanmar’s Army Rulers Threaten Those Who Call Them Junta
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's military ruler Min Aung Hlaing presides over an army parade on
Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military authorities threatened on Wednesday to take legal action against foreign news organisations that describe them as a junta and their seizure of power in February as a coup d’etat.
    Many foreign publications, including Reuters, have used the terms to describe the army-led State Administration Council and the overthrow of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    The military-controlled Ministry of Information published the warning in its Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
    “Some foreign news agencies were warned not to further apply the usage of military council/military junta/junta for the government in the future and not to quote and exaggerate the false news,” the statement said.
    “Action will be taken against them under the existing laws if they apply wrong usages, quote and exaggerate fake news and disseminate false information.”
    Neither the director of the Ministry of Information nor a spokesman for the ruling council answered calls from Reuters seeking further comment.
    The military government has consistently said that it took power in accordance with the constitution, alleging fraud in elections swept by Suu Kyi’s party in November.    Its allegations had been dismissed by the then electoral commission and international observers.
    Western countries have condemned the takeover as a coup and imposed limited sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers.
    The junta has been criticised by press freedom groups for detaining scores of journalists, revoking the licences of several independent media organisations and restricting internet access.
    Military ruler Min Aung Hlaing has described the media as crucial for freedom of expression and democracy, while also calling on local media to prevent the infiltration of foreign ideas.
    Some journalists were part of a prisoner release on Wednesday.
(Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

6/30/2021 Hong Kong Security Law ‘A Human Rights Emergency’ – Amnesty
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong exile pro-democracy activist Nathan Law wearing a face mask holds a rally with other activist groups
during China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit in Berlin, Germany September 1, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Amnesty International said on Wednesday that Hong Kong authorities have used a new national security law to target dissent and justify “censorship, harassment, arrests and prosecutions that violate human rights” in the year since it was implemented.
    Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law in June last year that sets out punishment for anything it deems as subversion, secession, colluding with foreign forces and terrorism with up to life in prison, setting the city on a more authoritarian path.
    Authorities have said the law would affect an “extremely small minority” of people and that it had restored stability after months of often-violent protests in 2019.    They have said rights and freedoms in the former British colony remain protected but they are not absolute.
    Most high-profile democratic politicians and activists have been arrested under the new law or for protest-related charges, or are in self-exile.
    “In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there,” said Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Regional Director Yamini Mishra.
    “Ultimately, this sweeping and repressive legislation threatens to make the city a human rights wasteland increasingly resembling mainland China.”
    China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular news conference that Amnesty’s statements were “purely malicious slander.”
    The Hong Kong government, in a statement late on Wednesday, said it strongly objected to “the grossly misleading and incorrect remarks by some individuals, organisations and countries upon the anniversary of the Law.”
    It did not name those it referred to.
    “We must reiterate, for the record, that any law enforcement actions … are based on evidence, strictly according to the law, for the acts of the persons or entities concerned, and have nothing to do with their political stance, background or occupation,” the statement said.
    In its 47-page report, the international human rights group cited analysis of court judgments, court hearing notes and interviews with activists, concluding the legislation has been used “to carry out a wide range of human rights violations.”
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy from Beijing and that wide-ranging rights and freedoms would be protected for at least 50 years.
    Mishra said the law “has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives.”
    More than 100 people were arrested and more than 60 charged in the first year under the security law, according to a tally by Reuters.
    “Hong Kong’s NSL has been used as a false pretext to curb dissent,” the rights group said.
(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Marius Zaharia, Robert Birsel and Jonathan Oatis)


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