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

    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 May-June or continue to King Of The East 2021 September-October.

KING OF THE EAST 2021 JULY-AUGUST


    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 JULY-AUGUST

7/1/2021 Xi Warns Against Foreign Bullying As China Marks Party Centenary by Yew Lun Tian and Ryan Woo
Military band members rehearse before the event marking the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party
of China, on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday warned that foreign forces attempting to bully the nation will “get their heads bashed,” and hailed a “new world” created by its people as the ruling Communist Party marked the centenary of its founding.
    In an hour-long address from Tiananmen Square, Xi pledged to build up China’s military, committed to the “reunification” of Taiwan and said social stability would be ensured in Hong Kong while protecting China’s security and sovereignty.
    “The people of China are not only good at destroying the old world, they have also created a new world,” said Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic.    “Only socialism can save China.”
    Xi and the party are riding high as China recovers briskly from the COVID-19 outbreak and takes a more assertive stance on the global stage.
    But Beijing faces external criticism over its clampdown in Hong Kong and treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and is dealing with a worsening demographic outlook that imperils long-term economic growth.
    A survey of 17 advanced economies released on Wednesday by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center showed that views about China have remained broadly negative and confidence in Xi near historic lows.
    On Thursday, Xi said that the people of China would never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate them.
    “Anyone who dares try to do that will have their heads bashed bloody against the Great Wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people,” he said, sparking applause from an invited audience of 70,000 gathered in the massive square in central Beijing.    The phrase became the top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Thursday morning.
    Tang Renwu, a professor of public management at Beijing Normal University, said the tough talk was in response to U.S. and western efforts to “contain” and “suppress” China.
    “Xi’s stronger-than-usual response would have the effect of invoking even more patriotic and nationalistic sentiment among the Chinese people,” Tang said.
MILITARY MIGHT AND SOVEREIGNTY
    China, whose rapid military modernisation has fuelled growing worry among its neighbours and in the West, will build up its armed forces to safeguard its sovereignty, security and development, elevating them to world-class standards, Xi said.
    “We must accelerate the modernisation of national defense and the armed forces,” said Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, which controls the country’s armed forces.
    Resolving the Taiwan question and realising China’s complete “reunification” is an “unswerving historical task” of the party, Xi said.
    “All sons and daughters of China, including compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, must work together and move forward in solidarity, resolutely smashing any ‘Taiwan independence’ plots,” he said.
    China, which considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its own, has stepped up efforts to assert its sovereignty claims, including sending fighter jets and bombers close to the island.
    Regarding Hong Kong and Macau, Xi said China will “stay true to the letter and spirit of the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’,” under which the two are promised a high degree of autonomy.
    However, a sweeping national security law imposed on Hong Kong a year ago has seen Beijing drastically tighten its grip on the once freewheeling financial hub.    The traditional July 1 protests marking the anniversary of the city’s 1997 handover to Chinese rule were thwarted as police denied permission for a rally, citing coronavirus restrictions.
‘GREAT, GLORIOUS AND HEROIC’
    Thursday’s celebrations began with a flyby of fighter jets and helicopters observed by the nation’s leaders, seated at the southern ramparts of the Forbidden City.    A 3,000-strong chorus sang seven socialist songs during the event.
    The Chinese Communist Party initially recruited peasants and workers but has evolved to embrace markets and entrepreneurship under “socialism with Chinese characteristics” while retaining a Leninist model of authoritarianism.
    Party ranks swelled by 2.43 million in 2020, the largest annual gain since Xi became president in 2013, to 95.15 million members now, data released on Wednesday showed.
    Xi said the “interests and destiny of all people in China” were tied to the party leadership and any attempt to turn the people against the party was bound to fail.
    “The more than more than 1.4 billion Chinese people will never allow such a scenario to come to pass,” he said.
    A 60-year-old teacher surnamed Wang who was photographing the overflying jets from a park on Thursday said he has much admiration for the party.
    “Whether it’s chairman Mao, or Deng Xiaoping, or today’s leaders, it’s not easy for them – if you brought foreign leaders here and show how they manage 1.4 billion people, making sure they all have food to eat and a good life, it’s truly not easy.”
    Xi closed his speech by leading two crowd-rousing cheers: “long live the CCP that is great, glorious and right,” and “long live the people who are great, glorious and heroic.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yew Lun Tian, Lusha Zhang, Colin Qian and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Tony Munroe, Clarence Fernandez and Jane Wardell)

7/1/2021 China’s Xi Pledges ‘Reunification’ With Taiwan, Gets Stern Rebuke by Yew Lun Tian and Yimou Lee
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves next to Premier Li Keqiang and former president Hu Jintao at the end of the event marking the 100th
founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) -Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged on Thursday to complete “reunification” with self-ruled Taiwan and vowed to “smash” any attempts at formal independence, drawing a stern rebuke from Taipei, which lambasted the Communist Party as a dictatorship.
    China, which considers democratically-ruled Taiwan its own territory, has stepped up efforts under Xi to assert its sovereignty claims, including regular flights by fighter jets and bombers close to the island.
    “Solving the Taiwan question and realising the complete reunification of the motherland are the unswerving historical tasks of the Chinese Communist Party and the common aspiration of all Chinese people,” Xi said in a speech on the 100th birthday of the ruling Communist Party.
    “All sons and daughters of China, including compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, must work together and move forward in solidarity, resolutely smashing any ‘Taiwan independence’ plots.”
    In response, Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said while the Communist Party had achieved “certain economic development,” it remained a dictatorship that trampled on people’s freedoms, and should embrace democracy instead.
    “Its historical decision-making errors and persistent harmful actions have caused serious threats to regional security,” it added.
    Taiwan’s people have rejected the “one China principle,” which states the island is part of China, and Beijing should abandon its military intimidation and talk with Taipei on an equal footing, the council said.
    “Our government’s determination to firmly defend the nation’s sovereignty and Taiwan’s democracy and freedom and to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait remains unchanged.”
    While China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, Xi called for a process of “peaceful reunification.”
    Still, he said that nobody should “
    The defeated Republic of China government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s Communist Party.
    Most Taiwanese have shown no interest in being ruled by China.    Taiwan says only the island’s people can decide their future, and has decried Chinese pressure.
    China believes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is a separatist bent on declaring independence.    She says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Clarence Fernandez)

7/1/2021 Kim’s Reshuffles Serve To Keep North Korea Elite In Line As Crises Mount by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: 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
(Corrects spelling in headline)
    SEOUL (Reuters) -What may be the most significant reshuffle of top North Korean officials in years by leader Kim Jong Un serves as a warning to the ruling elite, analysts say, including those he accused this week of causing a “great crisis” with coronavirus lapses.
    Kim called a meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea politburo on Tuesday and berated some party executives’ neglect of duty, including failing to implement long-term measures to fight the pandemic, state media reported.
    State media, often the only source of information on the workings of the secretive country, did not elaborate on the nature of the crisis.
    The gathering included the election of new politburo members and a secretary of the party’s Central Committee, among other changes, though it was not clear if all the ousted officials, who were not identified, were being reprimanded because of the coronavirus lapses.
    The changes came 10 days after state media reported that Kim had used another large meeting to reinforce ruling party discipline and appoint new members of its powerful politburo.
    “The frequency of these meetings and the personnel changes are somewhat extraordinary,” said Michael Madden, a leadership specialist at the U.S.-based 38 North project, which focuses on North Korea.
    Irregular political gatherings and personnel attrition in an authoritarian regime such as North Korea can foreshadow things like fundamental failure of the state apparatus or unsteady political transitions, he said.
    “North Korean political culture is not currently at that point but things like this Political Bureau meeting are held to serve as a warning to     North Korean elites that their behaviour could endanger overall regime cohesion which would threaten their political positions and the benefits they derive from holding high office,” Madden said.
    This seemed to be the largest shakeup since a 2013 purge that saw Kim order the execution of his uncle, but his power base remains solid with plenty of other officials to call on, Thae Yong-ho, a former North Korean diplomat who defected to South Korea where he now serves as a lawmaker, said in an analysis.
CLUES ON TELEVISION
    Since last year, Kim has been waging a war against corruption and a lack of discipline in the party, including by shuffling top officials in a way that is reminiscent of his early years in office when he consolidated power by constantly replacing, demoting, or reinstating senior military leaders, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, another specialist with 38 North.
    “He is publicly demonstrating that those who fail to follow the instructions and rules, and those who fail to lead properly and achieve desired results will be sacked or demoted, no matter how high up in the ranks they are or how long they have been in their current position,” she said.
    Unusually, state media did not specify the officials who were appointed or ousted this week, but some analysts said clues gleaned from state television coverage suggested that Ri Pyong Chol, vice chairman of the party’s Central Military Commission and a member of the politburo’s standing committee; Pak Jong Chon, chief of the military’s general staff and also a politburo member; and Choe Sang Gon, a party secretary and director of the science and education department, were among those who were sacked.
    “There is a possibility of personnel changes involving Ri Pyong Chol, Pak Jong Chon and Choe Sang Gon, as Ri and Pak were not seen participating in the voting process and Choe’s seat was left empty,” an official with South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with the North, said on condition of anonymity.
    Ri played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile programme and Madden said more meetings and events had to be watched in an effort to glean clues as to his fate but his dismissal would be a major development.
    “It would represent the most significant personnel change among the core elite” in years, he said.
    Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said that Ri and Pak could have been involved in failures to release military rice reserves, while Choe appeared to have been fired for failing to coordinate policy and communications regarding the pandemic.
    “By revealing it at the politburo meeting, which is a key executive gathering, Kim seems to be sending a warning to all party officials and a message that he will bring them to account if they do wrong,” Yang said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin)

7/1/2021 Security Tight In HK On China Anniversary, As Official Says City Now Stable
Police officers raise Chinese and Hong Kong flags during a flag-raising ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the former British colony's
return to Chinese rule, on the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, in Hong Kong, China July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong deployed a heavy police presence to the streets on Thursday to prevent any protests on the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule, as its acting leader said a national security law had brought order to the city after “chaos.”
    In many districts there was a palpable security presence, with police vans, water cannon trucks, armoured vehicles and police units patrolling.
    Parts of Victoria Park on Hong Kong island — where the annual march normally kicks off — were shut down to prevent any public processions or public meetings from taking place.
    In the morning, Hong Kong’s acting leader John Lee said in a speech that the authorities would “continue to take a steady stance to protect national security.”
    “Hong Kong absolutely has the conditions to rebound.”
    Beijing imposed the security law just before midnight on June 30 last year to punish anything China deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    The security law was Beijing’s first major step to put the global financial hub onto an authoritarian path, kick-starting a campaign dubbed “patriots rule Hong Kong,” which included moves to reduce democratic representation in the city’s legislature and various screening mechanisms for politicians.
    Lee was speaking for the first time as acting city leader at a flag-raising ceremony marking the 24th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, which coincides with the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party.
    Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other senior officials were invited to Beijing for the party celebrations.    Lee was appointed as her No.2 last week after playing a key role in the city’s crackdown over the past year as security secretary.
    Critics of the government say it has used the security law to crush dissent in the former British colony.
    “On the day of July 1, I am nothing more than one of tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who want their voices heard,” tweeted pro-democracy campaigner and barrister Chow Hang-tung, who was re-arrested on the eve of the sensitive anniversary.
    “They want to kill the monkey to scare the chicken, then we must let them know Hong Kongers won’t give up.”
    Officials in Beijing and Hong Kong say the new law has plugged national security “loopholes” exposed by anti-government demonstrations in 2019.
    So far under the law, described as a “birthday gift” by senior Chinese official Zhang Xiaoming when it was introduced last year, authorities have arrested 117 people, mostly democratic politicians, activists, journalists and students.
    Beijing said it was necessary after mass pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019 that have been described as acts endangering national security.    Many protesters, however, say they were demanding Beijing respect constitutionally guaranteed rights and freedoms.
    Usually on July 1, tens of thousands of people take to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against anything from Beijing’s manoeuvres in the city to unaffordable housing.
    That tradition, which set the semi-autonomous city apart from tightly controlled mainland China, is unlikely to be followed by many people this year after police denied permission for a rally, citing coronavirus restrictions.
    “It is crystal clear that under the NSL (national security law), over a year, it does have a chilling effect on Hong Kong people … less people would have the confidence to go on the street to speak out,” said Raphael Wong, an activist with the League of Social Democrats who held a protest with three others in the morning that was hemmed in by dozens of police officers.
    They held up a yellow banner calling on authorities to “Free all political prisoners.”
(Reporting by Sara Cheng, James Pomfret, and Anne Marie Roantree in HONG KONG; Editing by Stephen Coates & Shri Navaratnam)

7/1/2021 Australia’s NSW State Says Delta Outbreak Grows Despite Lockdown by Renju Jose
Commuters wear protective face masks on public transit at Central Station following the implementation of new public health regulations from the state of
New South Wales, as the city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Thursday warned that significant numbers of new COVID-19 cases were being found in the community, raising fears of fresh clusters as it reported a rise in new infections for a third straight day.
    With state capital Sydney in the middle of a two-week lockdown to contain an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, authorities said half of Thursday’s total of 24 new cases had spent time in the community when infectious.
    “(This) is a cause of concern.    That is what we will be looking at in the next few days and beyond as a measure of our success,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
    Berejiklian said many people with flu-like symptoms were ignoring lockdown orders and “going about their business.”
    “We can’t allow that to happen … assume that you have the virus or that people you come into contact with have the virus and act accordingly,” she said.
    Australia is battling simultaneous flare-ups of infections in several states and nearly half of all Australians are under stay-at-home orders to prevent any major outbreak of the Delta strain.
    Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin imposed lockdowns in the past few days, following months in which Australia had nearly eliminated the virus.
    The remote outback town of Alice Springs, gateway to UNESCO World Heritage-listed Uluru, was also locked down on Wednesday after an infected traveller spent hours in the city’s airport.
    The total number of cases in the latest outbreak in NSW, the worst affected state, neared 200 since the first case was detected more than two weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
    Queensland state on Thursday detected two new local cases, as it tracks four different virus clusters – three of them the Delta variant.    The Northern Territory detected one new case, South Australia and Western Australia recorded no cases.
    Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in containing the novel coronavirus through lockdowns, swift contact tracing and strict social distancing, with just over 30,550 cases and 910 deaths.
    However, a sluggish vaccination drive has put the federal government on the back foot.
    The government earlier this week decided to indemnify doctors who administered AstraZeneca’s vaccine shots to people under 60, in an effort to ramp up inoculation.
    But several states have declined to administer AstraZeneca shots to under 60s due to the higher but still low risk of blood-clotting in younger people.
    Lieutenant General John Frewen, the head of the country’s vaccine taskforce, said more than 2,600 people under 40 years had received AstraZeneca shots since Monday.
    “Right now, they would rather have the available vaccine than wait.    I think all Australians have that right,” Frewen told broadcaster Channel Nine.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Stephen Coates)

7/1/2021 Indonesia To Bring In Emergency Measures After Spike In COVID-19 Cases
Local disaster mitigation agency personnel in personal protective equipment (PPE) carry the coffin of a person who passed away due to
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) during a funeral in Tegal, Central Java province, Indonesia, June 30, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto.
Antara Foto/Oky Lukmansyah via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. INDONESIA OUT.
    JAKARTA (Reuters) - President Joko Widodo said on Thursday that Indonesia will bring in emergency measures running until July 20 aimed at containing an exponential spike in coronavirus cases that has strained the country’s medical system.
    There has been a near vertical climb in virus cases in the world’s fourth most populous nation in recent weeks, prompting health experts to warn that the outbreak could be as bad as India’s devastating second wave if tighter measures are not introduced.
    “With cooperation from all of us and the grace of God, I’m certain that we can suppress COVID-19 transmission and restore people’s lives quickly,” said the president, who is usually known as Jokowi, as he announced the stricter measures.
    The measures, which will start on Saturday, aim to halve the current number of daily virus cases to below 10,000, and include tighter restrictions on movement and air travel, a ban on restaurant dining and closure of non-essential offices, according to a government document.
    They will be applied on the most populous island of Java and on the tourist island of Bali. Further details of the measures will be announced by Indonesia’s minister for maritime affairs and investment, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, later on Thursday, officials said.
    Grappling with the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has reported a series of record daily COVID-19 cases since mid-June, with the 21,807 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily increase.
    Indonesia has recorded 2,178,272 cases overall, among the highest number in Asia, and 58,491 deaths.
    Up to now, Jokowi has been reluctant to bring in measures that might hit the economy and news of the curbs wiped out gains on Indonesia’s main stock index that had earlier been up as much as 0.9%.
    The highly transmissible Delta variant that caused a spike in cases in India in April and May, overwhelming healthcare facilities and swamping crematoriums, is spreading in Indonesia.
    Hospitals across the crowded, main island of Java are being pushed to the brink. In Jakarta, some emergency wards have been moved to tents erected in hospital car parks to free up isolation rooms, while residents have formed queues to buy oxygen tanks for relatives being treated at home.
    The bed occupancy rate in the city’s hospitals hit 93% this week, with hospitals across Java also edging toward full capacity.
‘EMERGENCY BY NAME ONLY’
    But public health experts have questioned whether the proposed measures go far enough.
    “The current proposals are ’emergency’ by name only, but they don’t respond to an emergency situation,” said Dr Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Griffith University in Queensland.
    From outside Java, others experts questioned how effective the selective emergency measures would be.
    “If the government is half-hearted it will just remain the same,” said Defriman Djafri, an epidemiologist at Andalas University in Padang on Sumatra island.
    What was needed, he said, was: “Two weeks total lockdown, no outside activities and no contact, people must stay at home."
    Rather than implement a national lockdown, Indonesia has instead opted for localised restrictions in designated “red zones,” a move the president previously said was designed to avoid “killing” the economy.
    As tougher restrictions are expected to be announced, Mercy Corps Indonesia has expressed concern over the already “dire situation.”
    “Hospitals are overflowing, around one in five tests in Indonesia are reportedly coming back positive, and we’re experiencing more deaths now than at any point of the pandemic so far,” said Ade Soekadis, Mercy Corps’ country director for Indonesia.
    “Worryingly, as we’ve seen in India and Nepal, we know it’s only going to get worse.”
(Reporting by Tabita Diela, Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/1/2021 Japan Likely To Extend COVID-19 Curbs In Tokyo As Infections Rise - Sources by Yoshifumi Takemoto
People walk past a sign for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, at the IBC/MPC media center at Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center in Tokyo, Japan June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is likely to extend by two weeks or more coronavirus containment measures in the greater Tokyo area, four government sources said on Thursday, as infection numbers creep up less than a month before the Summer Olympics start.
    Japan’s capital and three neighbouring prefectures are among areas under a ‘quasi’ state of emergency set to run through July 11, but a recent uptick in infections has officials leaning towards keeping restrictions in place – a move that could affect the number of spectators allowed into Olympic venues, the sources said.
    Depending on the extent of the strain on the medical system, the government could reinstate a full state of emergency for Tokyo, the sources said.    New infections in the Olympics’ host city rose to 714 on Wednesday, the highest in more than a month.
    A decision is expected around July 8, when International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is due to arrive in Japan, the sources said.
    The Olympics are set to start on July 23 but many in Japan remain opposed to holding the event, which medical experts have warned could unleash another wave of infections.
    The ‘quasi’ state of emergency caps spectators at 5,000.    Olympics organisers have said spectators will be allowed up to half of venue capacity or a maximum of 10,000 provided the emergency restrictions are lifted.
    Spectators from overseas have already been banned, and some members of the ruling coalition are beginning to favour having no spectators at the Olympics, the sources said.
(Reporting by Takemoto Yoshifumi, Writing by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim)

7/1/2021 Exclusive-Iran Restricts IAEA Access To Main Enrichment Plant After Attack -Diplomats by John Irish and Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south
of the Iranian capital Tehran, March 30, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    PARIS/VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran has been restricting U.N. nuclear inspectors’ access to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, citing security concerns after what it says was an attack on the site by Israel in April, diplomats say.
    The standoff, which one official said has been going on for weeks, is in the course of being resolved, diplomats said, but it has also raised tensions with the West just as indirect talks between Iran and the United States on reviving the Iran nuclear deal have adjourned without a date set for their resumption.
    It follows various moves by Iran that breach the 2015 nuclear deal or have angered Washington and its allies, ranging from enriching uranium to close to weapons-grade to failing to explain the origin of uranium particles that the U.N. nuclear watchdog found at several undeclared sites.
    “They are provoking us,” said one Western diplomat who follows the International Atomic Energy Agency closely, adding that inspectors should be able to have full access next week.
    Iranian officials were not immediately available for comment.    The IAEA declined to comment, citing its general policy of not commenting on inspection matters.
    Any reasons for Iran’s move beyond the official security and safety concerns it cited as explanations are unclear, but it has quarreled with the IAEA over access before.    Iran in 2020 denied the IAEA access to two locations for snap inspections.    In 2019, Iran held an IAEA inspector and seized her travel documents.
    The IAEA has so far stopped short of reporting the issue to its member states and calling an emergency meeting of its 35-nation Board of Governors as it did in November 2019 when Iran briefly held the IAEA inspector who diplomats say had sought access to Natanz.
    An explosion and power cut in April at Natanz, the heart of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme, appears to have damaged centrifuges at the underground, commercial-scale Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) there.    The last quarterly IAEA report on Iran in May showed its enrichment output had slowed.
    “Because of the accident/sabotage in April, certain accesses have been limited for safety and security reasons,” a Vienna-based diplomat said, adding that the move “had very little impact on the agency’s ability to carry out verification
    The IAEA and Iran have discussed the issue “in order to avoid that these limitations become permanent and therefore start eroding the verification capability,” he added.
    A U.S. official declined comment on the dispute but stressed the importance of Iran adhering to its safeguards agreement that enables the IAEA to verify its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty compliance.    The NPT permits Iran to have a civil nuclear program in return for a commitment not to acquire nuclear weapons.
    “We take nothing more seriously than the full implementation of Iran’s obligations under the NPT and its comprehensive safeguards agreement,” said the U.S. official, who requested anonymity.
CALIBRATED MOVE
    Washington and its European partners have been pressuring Iran over its breaches of the 2015 deal, which was built around lengthening the time Tehran would need to produce a nuclear weapon if it chose to.    Iran insists its nuclear aims are entirely peaceful.
    Inspections and monitoring have also been in the spotlight recently as Iran reduced its cooperation with the agency in February, removing the legal basis for snap IAEA inspections at undeclared facilities that had been introduced by the 2015 deal.
    At the same time, Iran ended IAEA monitoring of some nuclear activities that the deal introduced.    A temporary agreement with the IAEA kept that monitoring going in a black-box-type arrangement under which data continues to be collected but the IAEA will only have access to it at a later date.
    That temporary agreement expired last week, however, and the IAEA has said Iran has not responded when asked about the status of that agreement, which the IAEA hopes to extend.
    The Western diplomat said Iran had now agreed to grant inspectors full access to the FEP, which should happen next week.
Another said the move was carefully calibrated by Iran to create a nuisance without causing a major diplomatic incident.
    “The Iranians are being very tactical,” he said.
(Reporting by John Irish in Paris and Francois Murphy in Vienna; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Writing by Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool)

7/1/2021 U.N. To Myanmar Military: Now Release Aung San Suu Kyi by Doyinsola Oladipo
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) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar’s military on Thursday to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint now, a U.N. spokesperson said on Thursday, a day after thousands of other detainees were freed.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army took power on Feb. 1 and ousted Suu Kyi’s elected government.
    “We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all of those who are arbitrarily detained, and that includes President Win Myint and State councilor Aung San Suu Kyi,” said Eri Kaneko, associate spokesperson for Guterres.
    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.
    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.    Suu Kyi is on trial for a similar offence, among others, and remains in detention.
    “We remain deeply concerned at the continuation of violence and intimidation, including arbitrary arrests, by the security forces,” said Kaneko.
(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo in Washington; Editing by Michelle Nichols and Matthew Lewis)

7/1/2021 Iran Names Hardline Cleric As Top Judge Amid Calls For Probe Into Past Abuses
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei attends the International Conference
of the Prosecutors of Islamic Countries in Tehran April 21, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
(Corrects day to Thursday in first paragraph)
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s supreme leader promoted a hardline cleric to serve as head of the judiciary on Thursday, amid international calls for investigations into allegations of abuses.
    Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei, now the judiciary’s deputy head, will replace Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office in August as president after winning a June 18 election.
    Ejei was put on U.S. and EU sanctions blacklists a decade ago for his role in a crackdown on a popular uprising when he served as intelligence minister during a disputed election.
    The choice of someone with such a high profile as a hardliner could draw further attention to allegations of past abuses by Iran at a time when the new U.S. administration is trying to negotiate a thaw with Tehran.
    This week, a U.N. expert called for a new investigation into Raisi’s alleged role in the deaths of thousands of political prisoners when he served as a judge in the 1980s.    Raisi denies wrongdoing.
    In a statement reported by state media, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption.”
    Rights groups have criticised the election of Raisi in a vote in which prominent rivals were barred from standing.
    In a statement, Khamenei urged Ejei to “promote justice, restore public rights, ensure legitimate freedoms, and oversee the proper implementation of laws, prevent crime, and resolutely fight corruption,” state news agency IRNA reported.
    The U.N. investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, told Reuters this week there should be an independent inquiry into allegations of state-ordered executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, and the role played by Raisi as Tehran deputy prosecutor at the time.
    “As I have described in my reports, 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,” he said.    “There are very few if any real avenues for accountability in line with international standards within domestic channels.”
    Iran has repeatedly dismissed the criticism of its human rights record as baseless and a result of a lack of understanding of its Islamic laws.    It says its legal system is independent and not influenced by political interests.
    Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said last month that Raisi’s election was a blow for human rights and called for him to be investigated over his role in the 1988 executions.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Robin Emmot in Brussels and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by William Maclean and Howard Goller)

7/1/2021 U.S., Japan Begin Joint Military Drills Off Senkaku Islands by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Marines watch the U.S. Navy multipurpose amphibious assault ship ‘USS Wasp’ with F-35 lightning fighter jets on the deck during
the amphibious landing exercises as part of the annual joint U.S.-Philippines military exercise. (TED ALJIBE/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. and Japan have begun joint military exercises amid growing Chinese threats to Taiwan.    According to Financial Times, citing Japanese military officials, the joint drills come as preparation for a possible military conflict with China.
    The exercise is taking place near the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, just 200 miles off the Chinese coast.    This comes after Japanese parliament was allowed to use the nation’s defense force in overseas operations for the first time since World War II.
In this April 12, 2018, file photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, the Liaoning aircraft carrier is accompanied
by navy frigates and submarines conducting an exercises in the South China Sea. Despite the COVID-19 outbreak, China is keeping
up with military exercises around Taiwan at the northern edge of the South China Sea. (Li Gang/Xinhua via AP, File)
    Japan’s defense minister said Chinese threats require a new military strategy.    Additionally, Japanese officials say military cooperation with the U.S. is crucial in order to contain the malicious influence by Communist China in Asia-Pacific.

7/2/2021 U.S. Forces Leave Bagram Base In Afghanistan – Official
FILE PHOTO: A Chinook helicopter flies over the Bagram Air Base north of Kabul February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) -American troops pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, a U.S. defence official said, under an agreement with the Taliban allowing for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country after a two-decade war.
    “All American soldiers and members of NATO forces have left the Bagram air base,” said the senior U.S. security official on condition of anonymity.
    The U.S. military has coordinated its air war and logistical support for its Afghan mission from the Bagram air base, about 60 km (40 miles) north of Kabul, and the withdrawal of the forces symbolises the end of the U.S. military involvement in the country.
    The base is being handed over to the Afghan government as its armed forces face a surging war with the Taliban and questions swirl about their prospects.
    An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over to the government at a ceremony on Saturday.
    The U.S. defence official said General Austin Miller, the top U.S.commander in Afghanistan “still retains all the capabilities and authorities to protect the force” that are stationed in the capital, Kabul.
    Two other U.S. security officials said this week the majority of U.S. military personnel would most likely be gone by July 4, with a residual force remaining to protect the embassy.
    Last month, U.S. President Joe Biden told his Afghan counterpart, Ashraf Ghani, that “Afghans are going to have to decide their future, what they want.”
    Ghani said his job was now to “manage the consequences” of the U.S. withdrawal.
    The agreement with the Taliban on the U.S. pull-out was struck under the administration of President Donald Trump.
    In exchange for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban, fighting to expel foreign forces and oust the U.S.-backed government, have vowed to prevent any international terrorism from Afghan soil.
    They also made a commitment to enter into talks with their Afghan rivals but little progress has been made in negotiations.
‘POSITIVE STEP’
    A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters said he had received reports that the U.S. forces had evacuated the base, which the Taliban welcomed.
    “We consider this withdrawal a positive step.    Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,” he said adding that the withdrawal was also beneficial for the U.S. government.
    The Taliban were ousted weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States by al Qaeda militants after the Taliban refused to hand over al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.
    Most U.S. and other foreign troops arriving at that time on a mission to bring peace and security to war-torn Afghanistan flew in to Bagram. Over subsequent months and years an expanse of prefab facilities, including a U.S. military prison, grew up besides its huge runway.
    The base, on a plain to the south of the snow-capped Hindu Kush mountains, has seen a string of visits by U.S. presidents, other top officials and celebrities visiting troops over the years.
    The final withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan, officially set for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, has not brought a reduction in fighting between the militants and Afghan government forces.
    The insurgents have made advances in several places, particularly in the north, where for years after their ouster, they had a minimal presence.
    Fighting was intensifying between government forces and the Taliban in the northeastern province of Badakshan, officials said on Friday.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel)

7/2/2021 Forced Labour Main Human Trafficking Crime In Malaysia, U.S. Says by Mei Mei Chu and Chayut Setboonsarng
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks on the release of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report as Kari Johnstone, acting director of Office
to Monitor and Combat Trafficing In Persons, listens at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/Pool
    KUALA LUMPUR/BANGKOK (Reuters) – Malaysia’s predominant human trafficking crime is forced labour, the U.S State Department said on Friday, after downgrading the Southeast Asian country to the worst tier in its annual report on human trafficking.
    Malaysia fell to ‘Tier 3’ in this year’s closely watched Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report as it continued to conflate human trafficking and migrant smuggling crimes, and did not adequately address or criminally pursue credible allegations on labour trafficking, the report said.
    Malaysia’s home ministry has not commented publicly on the report and did not immediately respond on Friday to a request from Reuters for comment.
    In a teleconference with reporters, Acting Director of the State Department’s trafficking office Kari Johnstone said the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims in Malaysia are migrant workers, of which there are an estimated 2 million who are documented, and a greater number undocumented.
    “The sectors primarily where we see the greatest forced labour – which is the predominant form of the crime within Malaysia – includes on palm oil and agriculture plantations, in construction sites, in the electronics, garment and rubber product industries,” said Johnstone.
    The downgrade comes after a string of complaints by rights groups and U.S. authorities over alleged exploitation of migrant workers in plantations and factories.
    Neighbouring Thailand was downgraded to ‘Tier 2 Watchlist’ in the report, which found a high number of trafficking victims subjected to forced labour in the fishing and agriculture industry.
    “Trafficking victims are also subjected to sex trafficking in brothels, massage parlours, bars, karaoke lounges, hotels and private residences,” Johnstone said.
    Thailand’s foreign ministry called the downgrade disappointing and said it does not fairly reflect significant efforts and progress it has made to combat human trafficking.
    It said it has taken several measures, including granting workers from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar an extended period of stay during the coronavirus crisis.
    “The TIP Report, after all, unilaterally makes an evaluation from the U.S’ very own view and by no means represents any international standard,” the ministry said in a statement.
    Thailand has faced criticism from rights groups in recent months over a “bubble and seal” COVID-19 containment policy prohibiting migrant workers in factories and construction site from leaving their workplace during an outbreak.
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu and A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur and Chayut Setboonsarng in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty)

7/2/2021 S. Korea’s Few Surviving ‘Comfort Women’ Face Life’s End As Political Fight Rages On by Sangmi Cha
Former South Korean "comfort woman" Lee Yong-soo holds the hand of a statue symbolising "comfort women"
at the Seoul Comfort Women Memorial in Seoul, South Korea, June 29, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Fighting disease, death and disillusionment, members of South Korea’s rapidly dwindling sisterhood of surviving “comfort women” say they are facing the twilight of their lives with diminished camaraderie and will to wage political battles.
    Only 14 of the 240 registered survivors of Japan’s wartime brothels are still alive in South Korea, nearly half the number who were alive just three years ago.
    One major organisation that advocated for them was brought down by a corruption scandal last year, and in April a South Korean court dismissed a case some of the women brought against Tokyo.
    That has left the women more divided than ever over whether to keep seeking greater compensation and contrition from the Japanese government, an issue that has helped sour relations between Seoul and Tokyo and brought intense personal scrutiny and controversy.
    “I just wish I could live at peace for one single day,” said Lee Ok-sun, 91, who has been bedridden for years.
    Under a 2015 deal Tokyo issued an official apology and provided 1 billion yen ($9.3 million) to a fund that helps comfort women victims, with both sides promising to “irreversibly” end the dispute, but South Korea effectively backed out of the deal after some victims said they had been overlooked.
    Some historians estimate up to 200,000 Korean girls and women were forced to provide sex to Japanese troops during the colonial era, sometimes under the pretext of employment or to pay off a relative’s debt.
    The experiences of the women should not be forgotten, said Cho Young-kun, a manager of the House of Sharing, which has served as a shelter for elderly survivors for 26 years.
    “Most of the grandmothers were born in the 1920s and just over a dozen remain nationwide,” he said.    “I’m afraid such accounts will vanish in the mists of history when the remaining ones pass away.”
    After over eight decades, the three women who spoke to Reuters still fought back tears when remembering their past.
    “They treated Koreans worse than a dog.    They kicked and beat me up,” Kang Il-chul, 92, said as she displayed scars on the back of her head.
‘ENDING THE FIGHT’
    The comfort women – a euphemism for women forced into brothels in World War 2 – have been a fixture of South Korean politics since Kim Hak-sun first came forward in 1991 to publicly testify of her experience.
    Since then, victims and activists have lobbied for compensation and apologies from the Japanese government.
    A 1996 UN human rights report concluded that the women had been “military sexual slaves.”    Japan contests that finding, and the 2015 compensation agreement between Japan and South Korea did not address the issue of whether coercion was a policy of imperial Japan.
    In 2018 the South Korean government shut down a fund created under the 2015 deal and vowed to pursue a more “victim-oriented” approach, a move Japan said threatened the two countries’ relations.
    Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment for this article.
    And some say the fight is far from over.    Lee Ok-sun denounced South Korea for participating in the Tokyo Olympics.
    “Don’t go.    What’s the point of going? They shouldn’t go,” said Lee, who said she was forcibly taken for Japan’s brothels at age 16.
    Prominent activist and victim Lee Yong-soo, 92, was among those rejecting the 2015 deal, vowing to seek a judgment from the International Court of Justice.
    “I wish time would wait for me, but I know it won’t,” Lee said.    “I am determined not to die before I resolve this… I need to be alive as much as 200 years to resolve this.”
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/2/2021 S.Korea’s Moon And North’s Kim Exchanged Letters Ahead Of Biden Summit - Newspaper
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) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged letters exploring prospects for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ahead of his own meeting in May with U.S. President Joe Biden, the South’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said on Friday.
    Moon had hoped to use the meeting with Biden as a chance to revive stalled talks with Kim and urge Washington to handle the issue with more urgency.
    He sent a letter to Kim to explore ways to hold a summit, including online, if possible, as he had publicly proposed in January, in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the paper said, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
    It did not say how Kim responded, however.
    Moon’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    “My understanding is that the two leaders exchanged letters around the South Korea-U.S. summit,” the source was quoted as saying.    “I’ve heard that through the letters the two leaders discussed how to hold a summit such as a video conference.”
    Moon and Biden expressed their willingness to engage with North Korea after the May meeting.
    But Biden showed no intention of easing sanctions, in line with Pyongyang’s long-standing demand.    He said he had “no illusions” about the difficulty of getting Kim to abandon nuclear weapons.
    Denuclearisation talks between North Korea and the United States have been halted since Kim’s failed second summit in 2019 with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. That led to souring inter-Korean ties as Moon had offered to play a mediator role.
    North Korea consistently criticises and ridicules Moon and his government, and last year it blew up a cross-border liaison office built on its territory.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/2/2021 Australia To Halve Arrivals From Overseas, Offers COVID-19 Exit Roadmap 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) -Australia will halve the number of arrivals from overseas as its coronavirus hotel quarantine system creaks under pressure from outbreaks of the highly transmissible Delta variant, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
    The new restrictions on travel come as Australia fights outbreaks of the Delta variant simultaneously in three state capital cities, meaning nearly half of all Australians are currently under strict orders to stay at home.    Most recent outbreaks have been traced to leaks in hotel quarantine.
    Australia shut its international borders early last year largely to non-citizens.    Permanent residents and returning Australian travellers, except those exiting New Zealand, have to quarantine in hotels for two weeks at their own expense.
    Morrison said Australia will now only accept about 3,000 travellers from overseas per week.    Lowering the cap will be finalised by July 14, he said, though some states can move earlier.
    Speaking after a meeting of the country’s national cabinet, Morrison also said a four-phase plan had been agreed to reopen Australia after lockdowns triggered by the latest outbreaks.    He said this would be based on achieving vaccination levels aimed at suppressing COVID-19 to a stage where it would be managed like other infectious diseases like the flu.
    “Our mind-set on managing COVID-19 has to change once you move from pre-vaccination to post-vaccination.    That’s the deal for Australians,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
    The four-phased approach could give fully vaccinated people more freedoms, he said, including shorter quarantine period after arriving from overseas.
    New South Wales (NSW) capital Sydney, Australia’s largest city and home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population, is half-way through a two-week lockdown imposed in a bid to contain the Delta variant.
    On Friday it warned residents to brace for an increase in COVID-19 infections over the next few days as it reported the biggest daily rise in locally acquired cases recorded so far this year.
    Thirty-one local cases were reported in NSW on Friday, so far the biggest daily rise in cases during the latest outbreak and for 2021.    Total infections have grown to more than 200 since the first case was detected more than two weeks ago.
    “We are anticipating there could be an increase in numbers over the next few days, then hopefully early next week we should see the impact of the lockdown really turning and having a positive impact,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.
    Queensland officials said lockdown rules will be eased in parts of Queensland from Friday, although they have been extended in state capital Brisbane and a neighbouring region for another day after three new cases were reported.
    Lockdown in Darwin, the Northern Territory capital, will also be lifted on Friday.    Restrictions in Perth will be reviewed later in the day.
    Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and tough social distancing rules have helped Australia to suppress prior outbreaks, but the fast-moving Delta strain has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination drive.
    The rollout, mired in confusion and frustration due to frequent changes in medical advice for the AstraZeneca vaccine, has become a flashpoint in relations between the federal government and state leaders.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

7/2/2021 India’s Death Toll From Coronavirus Crosses 400,000; Vaccination Drive Falters by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Sumit Khanna
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker holding a rose receives an AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine, during the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) vaccination campaign, at a medical centre in Mumbai, India, January 16, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
    MUMBAI/AHMEDABAD (Reuters) -India’s official death toll from the coronavirus reached 400,000 on Friday, though experts say the actual number of dead could have reached one million or even higher, with a possible third wave approaching.
    India added 100,000 deaths in 39 days, a Reuters tally showed, as a brutal second wave of infections swept across cities and into the vast countryside where millions remain vulnerable without a single shot of vaccine.
    Overnight, the country recorded 853 deaths, taking the toll past the 400,000 mark, health ministry data showed.     India’s death toll is the third-highest globally.
    “Undercounting of deaths is something that has happened across states, mostly because of lags in the system, so that means we will never have a true idea of how many people we lost in this second wave,” said Rijo M John, a professor at the Rajagiri College of Social Sciences in the southern city of Kochi.
    While still elevated, the number of new infections has eased to two-month lows since hitting a peak of 400,000 a day in May.
    The government has shifted its focus to mass immunisations amid warnings from disease experts of a looming third wave as the country slowly re-opens and a new variant, locally called the Delta Plus, emerges.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government began a nationwide campaign last week to inoculate all of the country’s adults for free, and aims to reach 950 million people by the end of the year.
    But, the pace of vaccinations has floundered, official data showed.
    India administered an average of 3.5 million doses a day this week, as against 6.6 million doses last week.
    Experts have attributed the peak of 9 million doses on June 21 to states stockpiling for a burst of inoculations to fire up Modi’s campaign.
    Just 6% of all eligible adults in the country were inoculated with the two mandatory doses, official data from the government’s Co-Win portal showed.
STAMPEDES
    In two of the country’s biggest states governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, police were ordered in to control large crowds outside some vaccination centres, as panic spread over shortages of doses.
    In Modi’s home state of Gujarat, several vaccination centres shut down in Ahmedabad, the main industrial city.
    In Madhya Pradesh, governed by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, the pace of vaccinations fell over 40%.    In one district, police were called in to control a stampede that broke out after crowds broke through a shuttered gate at a local vaccination camp, NDTV news channel reported.
    In India’s financial capital of Mumbai, vaccination centres were only open for three hours on Friday and the number of doses available was limited, the city’s civic body said.
    India has recorded 30.45 million cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic last year, and is the second-most affected country behind the United States, which has 33 million cases.
    The United States has over 604,000 deaths, while about 518,000 people have died in Brazil.
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai, Sumit Khanna, Amit Dave in Ahmedabad; Writing by Neha Arora; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/2/2021 Without ICUs, Doctor In Jakarta Hospital Battles To Help COVID-19 Patients by Yuddy Cahya Budiman
Patients with breathing problem are seen outside the emergency ward at a government-run hospital, as the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) cases surges, in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 1, 2021. Picture taken July 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yuddy Cahya Budiman
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian doctor Cheras Sjarfi says the small public hospital where she works in south Jakarta was not ready for the influx of COVID-19 patients who arrived after a surge of new infections in the world’s fourth-most-populous country.
    Only equipped for basic health care, her facility has had to treat COVID-19 patients even though it lacks the life-saving ventilators and intensive care units they sometimes require.
    “We weren’t prepared for this situation,” she said, adding that the situation at smaller hospitals like hers showed how severe things had become.
    The 28-year-old general practitioner said she knew it was getting bad when all the patients classified as suspected coronavirus cases tested positive within a week.
    Grappling with the worst outbreak in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has reported record daily cases in seven of the past 11 days, including on Thursday, with 24,836 new infections and 504 deaths, both new highs.
    The spike has made it harder to transfer severely ill patients, and city hospitals were at 93% capacity this week.    Hospitals across Java are also nearly full.
    “We… receive the incoming patients as best as we can. Give them oxygen, check their blood pressure, and observe them,” she said, adding that if a patient’s condition worsens it is unlikely that other hospitals can take them.
    “The worst case is they die here.    I definitely feel sad even if I have seen… people dying many times,” said Cheras.
    She is working 12-hour shifts, double the normal length, after she said some of her colleagues were infected despite being fully vaccinated.
    Indonesian authorities have announced new curbs starting Saturday, including tighter restrictions on movement and air travel, a ban on restaurant dining and closing non-essential offices.
    Still, despite the huge strain and concerns she could be re-infected with COVID-19, Cheras tries to remains positive.
    “Although we are exhausted and wonder when will this end… I think it still manageable,” she said.
(Writing by Ed Davies. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/2/2021 U.S. Troops Vacate Famed Bagram Air Base In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Soldiers from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne Division disembark from their chinook helicopter
March 12, 2002 after returning to Bagram Air Base from the fighting in eastern Afghanistan. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
    All U.S. troops have now vacated the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.    A senior official verified the base had been handed over to Afghan security forces earlier on Friday amid a full-scale U.S. troop withdrawal from the Middle Eastern nation.
    Reports said the air base served as the states’ flashpoint in its war on terror in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11 attack by Al-Qaeda.    However, after more than 20-years of conflict, which took the lives of around 2,300 U.S. soldiers and more than 100,000 Afghans, many have been worried the country is no more stable than before.
    “For Afghans that is a really big problem, now the war between the Afghan government and the Taliban will be worse,” said Ilyas, a man residing in Kabul who declined to give his last name.
    A total of 650 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, based largely at the U.S. embassy for security.    There have also been discussions around whether 300 additional troops will remain at Kabul’s airport for further security measures.

7/2/2021 Era Ends, Uncertainty Looms As U.S. Forces Quit Main Afghanistan Base
Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bagram U.S. air base, on the day the last of
American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) -American troops pulled out of their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, leaving behind a piece of the World Trade Center they buried 20 years ago in a country that the top U.S. commander has warned may descend into civil war without them.
    The brisk pace of the U.S. withdrawal comes as the Taliban insurgency ramps up its offensive throughout the country while peace talks in Qatar have failed to make significant progress.
    The Pentagon said the turnover of Bagram airbase to Afghan security forces was a “key milestone” in the withdrawal.
    Despite the rapid pace of the pullout, the U.S. military currently still has the authority to protect Afghan forces.
    “Those authorities still exist,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters, but did not give a timeline for when they might end.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said the withdrawal is on track, but some American forces will still be in Afghanistan in September as part of a “rational drawdown with allies.”
    Even so, the Bagram pullout brought an effective end to the longest war in U.S. history.
    The base, an hour’s drive north of Kabul, was where the U.S. military coordinated its air war and logistical support for its entire Afghan mission.    The Taliban thanked them for leaving.
    “We consider this withdrawal a positive step. Afghans can get closer to stability and peace with the full withdrawal of foreign forces,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
    Other Afghans were more circumspect.    “The Americans must leave Afghanistan and there should be peace in this country,” said Kabul resident Javed Arman.
    But he added: “We are in a difficult situation.    Most people have fled their districts and some districts have fallen.    Seven districts in Paktia province have fallen and are now under Taliban control.”
    For the international forces, more than 3,500 of whom were killed in Afghanistan, the exit came with no pageantry.    A Western diplomat in Kabul said Washington and its NATO allies had “won many battles, but have lost the Afghan war.”
    It was at Bagram, on a plain hemmed in by the snow-capped peaks of the Hindu Kush, that New York City firefighters and police buried a piece of the World Trade Center in December 2001, days after the Taliban were toppled for harboring Osama bin Laden.
‘BLACK SITE’
    It was also here that the CIA ran a “black site” detention center where terrorism suspects were subjected to abuse that President Barack Obama subsequently acknowledged as torture.
    The base later swelled into a sprawling fortified city for a huge international military force, with fast food restaurants, gyms and a cafe serving something called “the mother of all coffees.”    Two runways perpetually roared.    Presidents flew in and gave speeches; celebrities came and told jokes.
    An Afghan official said the base would be officially handed over at a ceremony on Saturday.
    U.S. officials have told Reuters that the vast majority of troops have left Afghanistan, ahead of the timetable set by Biden, who had promised they would be home by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack that brought them to Afghanistan.
    Biden said he thinks the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, with whom he held talks at the White House last week, has the capacity to withstand recent Taliban advances.    But he said Ghani’s government should deal with “internal issues,” an apparent reference to infighting among rival political factions.
‘CONSEQUENCES’
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.    Biden rejected advice from generals to hang on until a political agreement could be reached between the insurgents and Ghani’s U.S.-backed government.
    Biden told Ghani in Washington last week the Afghans now must decide their own future.    Ghani said his job was now to “manage the consequences” of the U.S. withdrawal.
    In exchange for the U.S. withdrawal, the Taliban promised not to allow international terrorists to operate from Afghan soil.    They committed to negotiate with the Afghan government, but talks in the Qatari capital Doha made little progress.
    The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan this week said Washington was firmly committed to assisting Afghanistan and would provide security assistance of $3 billion in 2022.
    The Taliban refuse to declare a ceasefire.    Afghan soldiers have been surrendering or abandoning their posts.    Militia groups that fought against the Taliban before the Americans arrived are taking up arms again.
    A senior Western diplomat said the United States has asked three Central Asian nations – Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – to provide a temporary home to about 10,000 Afghans who worked with either U.S. or allied forces.
    Several European nations were also providing refuge to hundreds of Afghan employees and their families as they faced a direct threat from the Taliban.
    Since Biden’s announcement that he would press ahead with Trump’s withdrawal plan, insurgents have advanced across Afghanistan, notably in the north, where for years after their ouster they had a minimal presence.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau and Idrees Ali and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff and Patricia Zengerle, Editing by William Maclean, Timothy Heritage and Daniel Wallis)

7/2/2021 Overseas Tourists Finally Roam Free On Thai Island Of Phuket by Jiraporn Kuhakan
The Kalmar family, tourists from Israel, enjoy in a pool as Phuket reopens to overseas tourists, allowing foreigners fully vaccinated against
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to visit the resort island without quarantine, in Phuket, Thailand July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    PHUKET, Thailand (Reuters) – Newly arrived overseas tourists on Thailand’s island of Phuket were able to roam free without quarantine on Friday for the first time in more than a year, as Thailand launched a special programme for vaccinated visitors to the island.
    Tourists swam in hotel pools and walked along Phuket’s postcard-perfect beaches after receiving a COVID-19 test result within 24 hours of arrival.
    “This is the perfect place to just relax and clean our minds, our heads, after a long time,” said Sigal Baram, lying by the pool, who was visiting from Israel with her husband and friends.    The group was among the first to arrive in the country.
    The ‘Phuket Sandbox’ initiative allows free movement on the island for fully vaccinated tourists, with no quarantine required, although masks are required in most public places.
    While five-star hotels and restaurants welcomed back tourists, local street vendors said they were not benefiting from the plan, because tourists frequent mostly large hotels.
    “There is no way street vendors will get the money from overseas tourists… it will go to hotels and restaurants instead,” said Yupin Papor, a massage therapist who lost her job during the pandemic and became a street vendor selling food on the beach.
    Thailand lost about $50 billion in tourism revenue last year, when foreign arrivals plunged 83%.
    Phuket was hit particularly hard by job losses and business closures.
    “I see the shops closed.    It’s a big difference to me from before,” said Omar Alraeesi from United Arab Emirates, who comes to Phuket every year.
    Millions of people visited Phuket every year before the pandemic and the government and tourism industry hope the reopening will help save its battered economy.
(Additional reporting by Jorge Silva and Artorn Pookasook, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

7/2/2021 From Wasteland To Bustling Base, Last U.S. Forces Say Goodbye To Bagram by Peter Graff
U.S. Army soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division and U.S. contractors prepare Mine Resistant Ambush Protection vehicles, MRAPs, to be transported off
of base in support of the withdrawl mission in Kandahar, Afghanistan, August 21, 2020. U.S. Army/Sgt. Jeffery J. Harris/Handout via REUTERS.
    (Reuters) – This was the moment.    The sky lit up with explosions over Kabul. We could see the headlights of Taliban trucks leaving the capital.
    The Northern Alliance fighters danced in a cloud of hashish smoke.    Their commander grinned.    America had joined the war.
    It was the night of Oct. 7, 2001. We were at the frontline where the Northern Alliance forces had long been separated from their Taliban enemy by a desolate strip of concrete: an abandoned Soviet air base called Bagram.
    Overhead, U.S. war planes had just begun the war that would end on Friday, almost 20 years later, at the exact same spot.
    I’m a New Yorker who had watched the Sept. 11 attacks on TV from Reuters’ Moscow newsroom, and within days was headed on assignment to Afghanistan, where the Taliban government was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the man suspected of masterminding the hijackings.
    The only way in was by helicopter from Tajikistan with the Northern Alliance.    They flew a group of journalists over a high mountain pass to their redoubt, the Panjsher Gorge.    Bagram lay in the fertile plain below, and beyond it were the Taliban.
    Bagram then was a shrapnel-strewn wasteland surrounded by the carcasses of abandoned Soviet planes, bombed-out hangars and watchtowers.    Built in the 1950s by the Soviets, it would serve as their main base after they invaded in 1979, but fell into disuse after they withdrew a decade later.
    When the Taliban captured Kabul in 1996, its strategic location below gorges that could shelter guerrillas turned it into the front in a war of attrition between the Taliban and the former mujahideen fighters of the Northern Alliance.
MEMORIES OF 9/11 VICTIMS
    The American bombing whose start I witnessed that night at Bagram would topple the Taliban within weeks.    I left Afghanistan for a few weeks, and by the time I returned to Bagram, soldiers from the U.S. 10th Mountain Division had turned up to guard it.    Special forces operators in beards and Afghan clothing introduced themselves and joked about the steps they had previously taken to hide from reporters covering the war.
    During this period, a plane landed carrying New York City firefighters and police.    They brought with them photos of comrades killed at the World Trade Center, swapped caps with the soldiers, and buried a piece of one of the collapsed towers in unmarked ground at the base.
    I would return to Bagram often in later years, including during a tour as Reuters bureau chief in Kabul.
    Unlike in Iraq, the U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan stayed small for years.    Bagram remained a remote enough outpost the CIA could use it for so-called “enhanced interrogations” of detainees believed to be linked to al Qaeda that years later President Barack Obama would acknowledge was torture.
    But eventually, during the Obama era, the U.S. and NATO contingent in Afghanistan swelled to 130,000 troops.    It was bizarre to see what Bagram would become.
    From Iraq, I had long become used to big American bases, with their Burger Kings and Green Bean Cafes.    But sipping a frappe in Bagram?
    The base became huge and frenetic, with troops from dozens of NATO countries arriving and departing for remote outposts.
    Beyond its walls, U.S. plans to bring “better governance” to remote Afghan provinces were demanding ever more manpower and expense, and hard-fought achievements rarely lasted.
    I left Afghanistan a decade ago and have not been back.    The U.S.-led force was wound down, and for most of the last seven years its mission was more humble: no longer fighting for mountain valleys, just offering enough firepower and support to keep the government in Kabul from falling.
    And now, like the Russians before them, they have gone.
(Reporting by Peter Graff; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

7/3/2021 South Korea Can Seek Extradition Linked To 2014 Ferry Sinking - U.S. Judge by Jonathan Stempel
FILE PHOTO: A vessel involved in search and rescue operations passes near the upturned
South Korean ferry "Sewol" in the sea off Jindo April 17, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Friday said a South Korean man wanted on embezzlement charges related to a 2014 ferry sinking that killed 304 people, mainly high school students, is subject to extradition to his home country.
    U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith McCarthy said South Korea had demonstrated probable cause to extradite Yoo Hyuk-Kee on all seven counts he faced.
    Yoo will remain in federal custody as the case progresses to a district judge, also in the federal court for the Southern District of New York.
    Yoo, in his late 40s, was a fugitive for six years prior to his arrest last July in a northern suburb of New York City.
    “It’s a lengthy and thoughtful decision, but one that I think is wrong,” Yoo’s lawyer Paul Shechtman said in a phone interview. “Our intention is to appeal.”
    In her 80-page decision, McCarthy also said she lacked authority to decide whether South Korea waited too long to prosecute Yoo. She said that was up to the U.S. Secretary of State as he manages the countries’ diplomatic affairs.
    The office of U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss, which has said Yoo was extraditable, declined to comment.
    Yoo is the second son of Yoo Byung-un, the founder of the Evangelical Baptist Church in South Korea, and whose family controlled the operator of the Sewol ferry that capsized off the country’s southwest coast in April 2014.
    Investigators said the ferry was overloaded, structurally unsound, and traveling too fast.
    The patriarch was found dead of unknown causes in an orchard two months later.    His older son, Yoo Dae-Kyun, received two years in prison for embezzlement, according to court papers.
    South Korean prosecutors accused Yoo Hyuk-Kee of using his power as a business and religious leader to defraud various companies out of 29 billion Korean won ($25.7 million), including money that could have helped make the ferry safe.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jane Wardell)

7/3/2021 Australian Officials Report Biggest Daily COVID-19 Caseload For 2021
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past light rail platforms devoid of waiting passengers in the city centre at morning commute hour
during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s New South Wales state recorded its biggest daily rise in COVID-19 infections this year, even as residents in several major cities across the country were released from snap lockdowns on Saturday.
    Sydney, the New South Wales state capital and home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, has been hit hardest in a flurry of outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant around the country over the past two weeks.
    State Premier Gladys Berejiklian reported 35 new cases, 29 of which were linked to previous cases.    That eclipsed the 31 cases reported a day earlier, taking total infections under the current outbreak to more than 250.
    “While the number of cases are going up, we are seeing a greater proportion of those in isolation which is what we want to see,” Berejiklian told a press conference.
    “We haven’t seen a huge surge in cases … (but) we know the next few days are critical.”
    Sydney is halfway through a two-week lockdown.    Berejiklian said it was still too early to make a decision on whether to extend the lockdown.
    “Health experts are giving myself and my colleagues advice on a daily basis,” she said.    “I anticipate that obviously some time next week we’ll be in a position to tell the community where things are at.”
    Elsewhere in the country, residents enjoyed a taste of freedom as the weekend got underway after lockdowns in Western Australia, the Northern Territory and some areas of Queensland state were lifted on Friday night.
    Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed that a lockdown in Brisbane would be lifted later on Saturday as she reported five new COVID-19 cases in the state.
    Lockdowns, swift contact tracing and tough social distancing rules have helped Australia to suppress prior outbreaks, but the fast-moving Delta strain has alarmed authorities amid a sluggish nationwide vaccination drive.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Jane Wardell)

7/3/2021 Indonesian Police Block Streets On First Day Of Tougher COVID-19 Curbs
A man wearing a protective mask sits on a pedestrian bridge, while Indonesia prepares to impose emergency measures tightening restrictions
in Java and Bali as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases surge, in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian police threw up road blocks and more than 400 checkpoints on the islands of Java and Bali to ensure hundreds of millions of people stayed home on Saturday, the first day of stricter curbs on movement to limit the spread of COVID-19.
    As it battles one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, the world’s fourth most populous nation has seen record new infections on eight of the past 12 days, with Friday bringing 25,830 cases and a high of 539 deaths.
    “We are setting up (patrols) in 21 locations where typically there are crowds,” Istiono, the head of national traffic police, who goes by one name, told a news conference late on Friday.
    “Where there are street stalls and cafes, we will close those streets, maybe from around 6 p.m. until 4 a.m.
    Saturday’s more stringent curbs, from tighter travel checks to a ban on restaurant dining and outdoor sports and the closure of non-essential workplaces, will run until July 20, but could be extended, if needed, to bring daily infections below 10,000.
    More than 21,000 police officers as well as military will fan out across Indonesia’s most populous island of Java and the tourist resort island of Bali to ensure compliance with the new curbs, a police spokesman said.
    At the road blocks and checkpoints on the islands, police will conduct random tests and enforce curfews.
    Vaccinated travellers with a negative swab test will be permitted to make long-distance journeys, however.
    The highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India, where it caused a spike in infections, is spreading in Indonesia and pushing hospitals across Java to the brink.
    Indonesia is set to receive vaccines donated by foreign countries to help speed its vaccination drive, which has covered just 7.6% of a target of 181.5 million people by January.
    Until now, it has relied mainly on a vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech.
    Indonesia’s tally of infections stands at 2.2 million, with a death toll of more than 59,500.
(Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Tabita Diela; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/3/2021 ‘What Was The Point?’ Afghans Rue Decades Of War As U.S. Quits Bagram
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a check post near Bagram U.S. air base, on the
day the last of American troops vacated it, Parwan province, Afghanistan July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – As American troops left their main military base in Afghanistan on Friday, marking a symbolic end to the longest war in U.S. history, locals living in the shadow of the base and in nearby Kabul were left ruing the past and bracing for what comes next.
    Violence has been raging throughout Afghanistan in the weeks since President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw unconditionally by Sept. 11.
    With peace talks in Qatar stuttering, and roughly a quarter of the country’s districts having fallen to the Taliban in recent weeks according to one study, many are concerned that chaos looms.
    Malek Mir, a mechanic in Bagram who saw the Soviet Army and then the Americans come and go, said he had was left with a deep sense of sadness at the futility of a foreign presence.
    “They came with bombing the Taliban and got rid of their regime – but now they have left when the Taliban are so empowered that they will take over any time soon,” he said.
    “What was the point of all the destruction, killing and misery they brought us?    I wish they had never come.”
    More than 3,500 foreign troops have been killed in a two- decade war, which has claimed over 100,000 civilians since 2009 alone, according to United Nations records.
    Some, however, say the presence of foreign troops distorted Afghanistan’s economy and that it is time for the country to stand on its own.
    “The Americans leave a legacy of failure, they’ve failed in containing the Taliban or corruption,” said Sayed Naqibullah, a shop owner in Bagram.    “A small percentage of Afghans got so rich, while the vast majority still live with extreme poverty."
    “In a way, we’re happy they’ve gone … We’re Afghans and we’ll find our way.”
    In the nearby capital, the news was a fresh reminder of the growing panic that has been gripping many parts of Afghan society, particularly in urban areas, since Biden announced the withdrawal in April.
    “All the people are worried that if foreign forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will take over.    Then what will we do?” asked Zumarai Wafa, a Kabul shopkeeper.
    Wafa and others described a slump in business and signs of many urban residents trying to flee the country, with hundreds lined up outside embassies seeking visas.
    Medical student Muzhda, 22, who asked to be identified by only one name for security reasons, said her family had decided to leave the country because of the deterioration in security.
    She said she wondered what future awaited women if the Taliban came back to power and restricted access to education for women, as they did during their previous time in power.
    The Taliban say they have changed and that they will make provisions for women’s rights in line with cultural traditions and religious rules.
    Still, Muzhda said she feels bereft and let down by the American departure.
    “The withdrawal of foreign troops in the current situation is irrational,” she said.    “It is now clear that the Americans came here for their own purposes, not to help and cooperate with Afghanistan.”
    “I’m very sad and disappointed, I had many dreams that will not come true.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Euan Rocha and Mike Harrison)

7/3/2021 IAEA Deputy Head To Visit Iran For ‘Routine’ Matters – Iranian Envoy
FILE PHOTO: 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) – The deputy head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog IAEA is to visit Iran for “routine” matters and no talks are planned, Iran’s envoy said on Saturday according to state media, as the agency awaits a reply from Tehran on an expired monitoring deal.
    In late June, the International Atomic Energy Agency demanded an immediate response from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that had expired.    Iran said this week it was yet to decide whether to extend the deal.
    “(Massimo) Aparo…will visit Iran this coming week.    His visit is in line with routine safeguards activities and within the framework of a comprehensive safeguards accord,” Kazem Gharibabadi said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
    “Although we are in constant contact with the agency, no talks are planned for him in Tehran,” Gharibabadi said.
    The planned visit by Aparo, the IAEA’s inspections chief, comes days after diplomats said that Iran has been restricting U.N. nuclear inspectors’ access to its main uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, citing security concerns after what it says was an attack on the site by Israel in April.
    This follows various moves by Iran that breach its 2015 nuclear deal with major world powers after the United States abandoned the agreement and re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson and Ros Russell)

7/3/2021 Iran At Risk Of Fifth COVID-19 Wave As Delta Variant Spreads – Rouhani
FILE PHOTO: Iranians wearing protective face masks against the coronavirus walk in a crowded area of the
capital Tehran, Iran, March 30, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran may face a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreads through the Middle East’s worst-hit country, President Hassan Rouhani warned on Saturday.
    “There are concerns that the whole country may enter a fifth wave if enough care is not taken in following health protocols.    Today, reports are that just 69% of the people are observing the precautions,” Rouhani said in remarks broadcast on state TV.
    “The Delta variant entered the country from the south and southeast, and we should have been careful to prevent its spread in the country.    All health regulations… must be fully observed, otherwise we will have a problem,” Rouhani said.
    Iran, with a population of 83 million, has recorded 84,627 deaths from coronavirus, the highest toll in the Middle East.
    Health authorities have declared the capital Tehran and 91 other cities and towns as high-risk “red” zones, 30 more than a week ago.    They are ordering internal travel restrictions, the closure of non-essential businesses and limiting work attendance to 30 percent of employees in the capital.
    The government has blamed a slow vaccination drive on U.S. sanctions hampering efforts to buy foreign vaccines and on delays in deliveries.    Rouhani said Iran has received a small portion of the 16.8 million vaccines it has ordered from the COVAX global vaccine-sharing program.
    A spokesman for the coronavirus taskforce told state TV that 7 million doses of vaccines have been distributed, with 2 million people receiving both doses and 4 million just one.
    Iran has licensed for public use two locally produced vaccines, including one together with Cuba, and is working on five more homegrown vaccines.    Tehran is also cooperating with Russia on producing the Sputnik V jab.
    Food, medicine and other humanitarian supplies are exempt from U.S. sanctions reimposed on Tehran in 2018 after President Donald Trump walked away from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.
    But the U.S. measures, which target sectors including oil and financial activities, have deterred some foreign banks from processing financial transactions with Iran. Tehran says this has frequently disrupted efforts to import essential medicines and other humanitarian items.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mike Harrison)

7/3/2021 Pentagon Approves Of Power Transfer Between Generals In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
The Pentagon. (Lolita C. Baldor/AP)
    In a statement on Friday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the Pentagon approved a plan to transfer authority over the military operations in Afghanistan.
    Command is set to switch from Gen. Scott Miller to Gen. Frank McKenzie later this month.    Meanwhile, officials said the move serves as a “key milestone” in the U.S.’s diminished presence in Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of occupying the Middle East nation.
    This comes as U.S. troops are pulling out of their primary base in the country.    Kirby announced the American troops departure from Bagram Airfield on Friday.
    Control of the base was given to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces despite warnings from military commanders that the removal of troops could lead to a civil war within the country.    However, Kirby said the few remaining U.S. forces will continue helping Afghan troops in four specific ways.
    “One, protecting our diplomatic presence in the country.    Two, supporting security requirements at Hamid Karzai International Airport.    Three, continued advice and assistance to Afghan National Defense and Security Forces as appropriate and four, supporting our counterterrorism efforts,” said Kirby.
    The event marks an end of a significant U.S. military presence in Afghanistan since troops were sent to the area following the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda.    Members of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, including Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, testified against Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops in May.
    Inhofe cited former President Obama’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, which led to terrorist exploitation and instability.
    Additionally, U.S. Commander Gen. Austin Miller said civil war for Afghanistan is possible as Taliban members have returned to areas around the country amid U.S. troops return home.
    In the meantime, an Afghan official said the base is set to be officially transferred to the government at a ceremony on Saturday.

7/4/2021 Myanmar Forces Kill 25 In Raid On Town, Residents And Media Say
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers of Karen National Union (KNU) stand guard during the 70th anniversary of Karen National
Revolution Day in Kaw Thoo Lei, Kayin state, Myanmar January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    (Reuters) -Myanmar security forces killed at least 25 people on Friday in a confrontation with opponents of the military junta at a town in the centre of the Southeast Asian nation, two residents and Myanmar media said on Sunday.
    A spokesman for the military did not respond to calls requesting comment on the violence at Depayin in the Sagaing region, about 300 km (200 miles) north of the capital, Naypyidaw.
    The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar said “armed terrorists” had ambushed security forces patrolling there, killing one of them and wounding six.    It said the attackers retreated after retaliation by the security forces.
    Myanmar has been plunged into chaos by the Feb. 1 coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with violence flaring in many parts of the country of more than 53 million people.
    One resident of Depayin, who did not want to be identified for fear of reprisals, said four military trucks dropped soldiers at the village early on Friday.
    Youths from a local People’s Defence Force, formed to oppose the junta, took up positions to confront them.    However, they only had makeshift weapons and were forced back by the security forces’ heavier firepower, the resident said.
    “There were people dying at farms and by the railroad.    They (soldiers) shot everything that moved,” said another resident, who said his uncle was among the dead.
    A total of 25 bodies had been collected after the fighting, both residents said.
    The BBC Burmese service website and Than Lwin Khet News service carried similar accounts.    The Myanmar Now news service put the death toll at not fewer than 31 and said about 10,000 people had fled the area.
    Reuters was not able to verify the details independently.
    The Depayin People’s Defence Force said on its Facebook page that 18 of its members had been killed and 11 wounded.
    People’s Defence Forces have been founded by opponents of the junta in many parts of Myanmar, some of them in association with a National Unity     Government set up underground as a rival to the military administration.
    About two dozen ethnic armed groups have fought for decades in Myanmar’s borderlands, but Depayin is in the heartland of the ethnic Bamar majority, which also dominates the armed forces.
    Violence since the coup has driven more than 230,000 people from their homes, the United Nations says.    It also says more than 880 people have been killed by security forces since the coup and more than 5,200 are in detention.
    The military authorities have said these figures are not true, but have not given their own estimates.
    The army says its assumption of power was in line with the constitution.    It alleged fraud in November elections swept by Suu Kyi’s party, although the accusations were dismissed by the former electoral body.
    In another challenge for the authorities, Myanmar reported a daily record of 2,318 COVID-19 cases on Sunday.    The state health system has foundered after it was deserted by doctors and other health workers in protest at the military takeover.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and David Clarke)

7/4/2021 Some Philippine Troops Jump Before Military Plane Crashes In Flames, Killing At Least 45 by Karen Lema
Residents gather as smoke rises from the wreckage, after a Philippines Air Force Lockheed C-130 transport plane, carrying troops,
crashed on landing in Jolo, Sulu, Philippines July 4, 2021 in this image obtained from social media. Bogs Muhajiran via REUTERS
    MANILA (Reuters) - A Philippines Air Force troop plane crashed and broke up in flames on a southern island on Sunday, killing at least 45 people after some jumped free, officials said, in the country’s worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years.
    Pictures from the scene showed flames and smoke pouring from wreckage strewn among coconut palms as men in combat uniform milled around, while a column of thick black smoke rose into the sky.
    The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft, carrying troops bound for counter-insurgency operations, crashed with 96 people on board.
    The plane had attempted to land at Jolo airport, but overshot the runway without touching down.    It failed to regain enough power and height and crashed at nearby Patikul.
    “A number of soldiers were seen jumping out of the aircraft before it hit the ground, sparing them from the explosion caused by the crash,” the Joint Task Force Sulu said in a statement.
    It was not immediately clear how many jumped or whether they had survived.
    Military chief Cirilito Sobejana said the plane had “missed the runway trying to regain power.”
    The Department of National Defence said 45 people had been killed, including three civilians on the ground, while 53 were injured, including four civilians.    Five military personnel were still missing.
    A military spokesman, Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said there was no sign of any attack on the plane, but an investigation had yet to begin as efforts were focused on rescue and treatment.
    The military command said the soldiers aboard had the rank of private and were being deployed to their battalions.    They were flying to the provincial airport of Jolo from Laguindingan, about 460 km (290 miles) to the northeast.
    The army in the sprawling Philippine archipelago has been fighting a long war against Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf and other factions.
    “They were supposed to join us in our fight against terrorism,” said Commander William N. Gonzales of Joint Task Force Sulu.
    Jolo airport has a 1,200-metre runway that usually takes civilian turboprop flights though occasionally some military flights, according to a Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesperson.
    Jolo island, part of the Sulu archipelago, is about 950 km (600 miles) south of the capital, Manila.
    The Lockheed C-130H Hercules aircraft, with registration 5125, had only recently arrived in the Philippines.
    It was one of two aircraft provided by the U.S. government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government website said in January.    It quoted an air force spokesman as saying the aircraft would boost capability for heavy airlift missions.
    The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988.    The model is a workhorse for armed forces around the world.
    The Philippines armed forces have a patchy air safety record.    Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people.
    A Philippines Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people.    A 2008 crash of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane flown by the Philippines Air Force killed 11 people, the Aviation Safety Network says.
    The country’s worst plane crash was that of an Air Philippines Boeing 737 in 2000, which killed 131 people.
(Reporting by Karen Lema in Manila and Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales: Writing by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by William Mallard, Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

7/5/2021 Eighty Missing After Japan Landslide, Search Races Time, Weather by Daniel Leussink and Elaine Lies
Members of Japanese Self-Defence Forces conduct rescue and search operartion at a mudslide site caused by heavy rain
at Izusan district in Atami, west of Tokyo, Japan July 5, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Rescuers in Japan searched desperately on Monday for survivors among 80 people believed to be still missing two days after landslides tore through the seaside city of Atami, destroying houses and burying roads under mud and rock.
    The official death toll in the city, 90 km (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo, stood at three, according to Mayor Sakae Saito, while the number of missing had come down from 113 earlier on Monday morning.
    The landslides are a reminder of the natural disasters – including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami – that haunt Japan, where the capital Tokyo is to host the summer Olympics beginning this month.
    By Monday, the number of rescuers at the disaster site had risen to 1,500, officials said.
    “We want to rescue as many victims … buried in the rubble as soon as possible,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters, adding that police, firefighters and members of the military were doing all they could to aid the search.
    Mayor Saito said the third confirmed victim was an 82 year old woman who succumbed to her injuries in hospital.
    “My mother is still missing,” one man told NHK public television.    “I never imagined something like this could happen here.”
    One 75-year-old evacuee said the house across from his had been swept away and the couple that lived there was unaccounted for.
    “This is hell,” he said.
    The landslides on Saturday morning were triggered by torrential downpours – with some areas receiving more rain in 24 hours than they would usually get for the whole of July.
    Around 130 buildings were affected by the calamity in Atami, a city of 36,000 people.    Set on a steep slope that leads down to a bay, Atami is a popular hot springs resort.
    The water, mud and debris are thought to have flowed along a river for about 2 km (1.2 miles) to the sea, local media said.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato called on residents to remain vigilant, noting that the saturated earth has been weakened and even light rain could prove dangerous.
    Though Atami city spokesperson Hiroki Onuma told Reuters that the rain had stopped in Atami for now, more is forecast, raising the possibility of further landslides.
    “The situation is unpredictable,” he said.
    Stocks in some engineering firms rose on Monday.
    Raito Kogyo Co Ltd, an expert in slope and foundation improvement, rose 1.3%, while CE Management Integrated Laboratory Co Ltd, which offers geological survey and disaster prevention systems, gained 3.1%.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink, Elaine Lies, and Sakura Murakami; Additional reporting by Hideyuki Sano; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kim Coghill, Christopher Cushing & Simon Cameron-Moore)

7/5/2021 Philippines Orders Probe After Military Plane Crash Kills 50 by Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz
First responders work at the site after a Philippines Air Force Lockheed C-130 plane carrying troops crashed on landing in
Patikul, Sulu province, Philippines July 4, 2021. Armed Forces of the Philippines - Joint Task Force Sulu/Handout via REUTERS
    MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine authorities ordered on Monday an investigation into the crash of an Air Force plane that overshot a runway killing 47 soldiers on board, three civilians on the ground and injuring dozens.
    Some passengers on the Lockheed C-130 jumped free seconds before the plane crashed and burst into flames on the weekend, officials cited witnesses as saying.
    The aircraft, carrying recently graduated troops bound for counter-insurgency operations, had been trying to land at Jolo airport in southern Sulu province.
    All 96 passengers on board had been accounted for, with 49 military personnel injured as well as four civilians on the ground, military spokesman Major General Edgard Arevalo said.
    In a news conference, Arevalo said the plane was in “very good condition” and had 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.
    “We are determined to find out what really transpired in this very tragic incident, because according to available information the aircraft followed the specified protocols,” he said.
    Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana ordered an investigation into the country’s worst military air disaster in nearly 30 years.
    The military command said the soldiers were flying to the provincial airport of Jolo from Laguindingan, about 460 km (290 miles) to the northeast, to be deployed to their battalions.
    The army in the sprawling Philippine archipelago has been fighting a long war in the area against Islamist militants from Abu Sayyaf and other factions.
    There was no sign the plane was brought down by insurgent fire, officials said.
    “We assure our people that we are transparent and the results of the investigation (will be made) available when completed,” added Arevalo, saying that authorities were still searching for the flight recorders.
    Jolo airport has a 1,200-metre runway that usually takes civilian turboprop flights though occasionally some military flights, according to a Civil Aviation Authority.
    The Lockheed aircraft had only recently arrived in the Philippines and was one of two provided by the U.S. government through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a government website said in January.
    It quoted an Air Force spokesman as saying the aircraft would boost capability for heavy airlift missions.
    The website C-130.net said the plane that crashed had first flown in 1988.    The model is a workhorse for armed forces around the world.
    The Philippines armed forces have a patchy air safety record.    Last month a Black Hawk helicopter crashed during a training mission, killing six people.
    A Philippines Air Force C-130 crash in 1993 killed 30 people.    A 2008 crash of the civilian variant of the Lockheed plane flown by the Philippines Air Force killed 11 people, the Aviation Safety Network says.
    The country’s worst plane crash was that of an Air Philippines Boeing 737 in 2000, which killed 131 people.
(Writing by Karen Lema, Ed Davies; Editing by Stephen Coates)

7/5/2021 Exclusive: After Pressuring Telecom Firms, Myanmar’s Junta Bans Executives From Leaving by Fanny Potkin
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers stand next to military vehicles as people gather to protest
against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Senior foreign executives of major telecommunications firms in Myanmar have been told by the junta that they must not leave the country without permission, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.
    A confidential order from Myanmar’s Posts and Telecommunications Department (PTD) in mid-June said senior executives, both foreigners and Myanmar nationals, must seek special authorisation to leave the country, the person said.
    A week later, telecom companies were sent a second letter telling them they had until Monday July 5 to fully implement intercept technology they had previously been asked to install to let authorities spy on calls, messages and web traffic and to track users by themselves, the source said.    Reuters has not seen the orders.
    The directives follow pressure on the companies from the junta, which is facing daily protests from its opponents and a growing number of insurgencies to activate the spyware technology.
    A spokesman for the military did not answer multiple requests for comment.    The junta has never commented on the electronic surveillance effort, but announced soon after seizing power its aim to pass a cybersecurity bill that would require telecoms providers to provide data when requested and remove or block any content deemed to be disrupting “unity, stabilisation, and peace.”    It also amended privacy laws to free security forces to intercept communications.
    The travel ban comes after intensified pressure from military officials to finish the implementation of the surveillance equipment.    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the ban was meant to pressure telecoms firms to finish activating the spyware technology, although the order itself does not specify a reason.
    Three other telecoms sources, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had stepped up pressure on the companies to implement the intercept, but declined to elaborate further.    Two sources said companies had been warned repeatedly by junta officials not to speak publicly or to the media on the intercept.
    Telenor declined to comment. There was no immediate response to requests for comment from Ooredoo, state-owned MPT and Mytel, a joint venture between Vietnam’s Viettel and a Myanmar military-owned conglomerate.
    Months before the Feb. 1 coup, telecom and internet service providers were ordered to install intercept spyware to allow the army to eavesdrop on the communications of citizens, Reuters reported in May.
    Reuters was not able to establish how broadly the surveillance technology has been installed and deployed, but four sources said Norway’s Telenor ASA and Qatar’s Ooredoo QPSC had yet to comply in full.
    Among the military’s first actions on Feb. 1 was to cut internet access and it has still not been fully re-established, with telecoms given regular lists of websites and activist phone numbers to block.
    The moves have left the future unclear for Myanmar’s telecom sector, which had been one of the fastest-growing globally.
    Telenor said on Friday it is evaluating the future of its operations in the country, with a source telling Reuters it is eying a sale of its Myanmar unit.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin in Singapore; Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)

7/5/2021 Exclusive: South Korea In Talks With MRNA Vaccine Makers To Make Up To 1 Billion Doses - Government Official by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: South Korean senior citizens receive their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination centre in Seoul, South Korea April 1, 2021. Chung Sung-Jun/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea is in talks with mRNA vaccine makers including Pfizer and Moderna to produce COVID-19 shots in the country and is ready to offer the capacity to make up to 1 billion doses immediately, a senior government official said.
    The plan, if agreed, would help ease tight global supply of COVID-19 vaccines, particularly in Asia which lags North America and Europe in vaccine rollouts, and put South Korea a step closer to its ambition to become a major vaccine manufacturing centre.
    South Korea already has deals to locally produce three coronavirus vaccines developed by AstraZeneca/Oxford University, Novavax, and Russia.    It also has a vaccine bottling and packaging deal with Moderna.
    “We’ve been holding frequent talks with big pharmaceutical companies to produce mRNA vaccines,” Lee Kang-ho, director general for the global vaccine hub committee under South Korea’s health ministry, told Reuters in an interview.
    “There are only a few mRNA vaccine developers – Pfizer, Moderna, CureVac and BioNTech.    Thus there’s a limit to how much they can produce to meet global demand… South Korea is keen to help by offering its facilities and skilled human resources,” Lee said.
    It’s not immediately clear how advanced these talks are and whether and when a deal will be agreed.
    BioNTech declined to comment, Moderna and CureVac did not reply to Reuters’ requests for comments.
    A Pfizer spokesperson said the company is making efforts to enhance its COVID-19 vaccine supply chain but added “we do not have anything specific to announce at this time.”
    Lee declined to name local vaccine makers which have the capacity to produce mRNA vaccines immediately, but a government source said they include Hanmi Pharmaceuticals Co Ltd and Quratis Co Ltd.
    Hanmi confirmed that it has a big capacity reserved for Sanofi’s diabetes drug and it can be used for COVID-19 vaccine production as the Sanofi project has stalled.
    “,” Kim Soo-jin, senior vice president of Hanmi, told Reuters.
    “It’s very timely that we have a fully ready, GMP, state-of-the-art facility available,” she said, referring to good manufacturing practice.br>     Quratis, which makes a tuberculosis vaccine, said its new factory built last year can now be used for mRNA vaccine production.
    Shares in Hanmi erased early losses and rose nearly 4% on Monday after the Reuters report.
COLLABORATION WITH WHO
    South Korea has stepped up its effort to produce more vaccines since U.S. President Joe Biden in May agreed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on a comprehensive partnership on COVID-19 vaccines.
    Lee said his team is having frequent video conference calls with the vaccine makers and the World Health Organization (WHO).
    WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told Reuters the organisation is “talking with South Korea and other countries,” but did not elaborate.
    The WHO said last month it will set up a hub in South Africa to manufacture mRNA vaccines within 9-12 months that will give companies from poor and middle-income countries the know-how and licenses to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
    Lee said mRNA vaccine makers may be reluctant to share their technology, but they can take advantage of South Korea’s raw material suppliers to address a global shortage of such ingredients as lipids, nucleotides and capping reagents.
    “They’re capable of manufacturing and developing such raw materials to help vaccine makers… and the South Korean government is committed to provide all necessary support including financial and administrative aid.”
    Lee said the country also has a capacity for at least another 500 million doses of fill-and-finish vaccines apart from the deal Moderna announced with Samsung BioLogics in May.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Michael Erman in New York and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/5/2021 Indonesia Turns To Telemedicine For COVID-19 As Hospitals Struggle by Stanley Widianto
Workers wearing protective masks load coffins for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims into an ambulance
to be distributed to a hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will provide free telemedicine services to coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, its health minister said on Monday, in an effort to reduce pressure on a healthcare sector inundated by record numbers of COVID-19 cases.
    With records most days last week and deaths surpassing 500 on several of those, Indonesia is battling one of Asia’s worst COVID-19 epidemics, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant first identified in India.
    Remote services will be provided from Tuesday by telehealth firms such as Alodokter and Halodoc and will include free consultations and medication delivery, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin told a news conference.
    “Positive COVID-19 patients can get medical services on time without waiting in line at hospitals, so that hospitals can be prioritised for patients with medium, heavy, and critical symptoms,” he said.
    Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on Monday said health spending would be raised again to 193.93 trillion rupiah ($13.39 billion) for coronavirus treatment, testing, tracing, drugs, vaccines and protective gear.
    Hospital bed occupancy was at 75% nationwide as of July 2, the health ministry said, but some hospitals on the most populous island of Java have reported over 90% capacity, including in the capital Jakarta.
    Oxygen shortages have also been reported, which authorities attributed to distribution hurdles and limited production capacity.
    Sardjito hospital on Java said 63 patients died after it nearly ran out of oxygen at the weekend, although a spokesman could not determine whether all were coronavirus patients.br>     Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, a senior minister assigned to tackle the case spike on Java and Bali, said oxygen supplies would be ramped up for hospitals and imported if necessary, but said the surge was “under control.”
    Local newspaper headlines on Monday showed alarm over the crisis, with “Java’s health system paralysed” the Jakarta Post’s front page headline in capital letters and “SOS medical services” on the cover of Koran Tempo.
($1 = 14,484.0000 rupiah)
(Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty)

7/5/2021 Afghan Forces Plan Counteroffensive In Northern Provinces – Report
Afghan Commandos arrive to reinforce the security forces in Faizabad the capital of Badakhshan province, after Taliban
captured neighborhood districts of Badakhshan recently, July 4, 2021. Afghanistan Ministry of Defence//Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Afghanistan government forces plan a counteroffensive in the country’s northern provinces after losing ground to the Taliban, Russia’s RIA news agency cited an adviser to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani as saying on Monday.
    National security adviser Hamdullah Mohib told RIA in an interview that government forces had not expected the Taliban offensive but would “absolutely, definitely” counterattack.
(Reporting by Anton Kolodyazhnyy; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/5/2021 Afghan Security Personnel Flee Into Tajikistan As Taliban Advance
    DUSHANBE, Tajikistan/KABUL (Reuters) -More than 1,000 Afghan security personnel have fled across the border into Tajikistan after Taliban advances in northern Afghanistan, the Tajik border guard service said on Monday, while dozens of others were captured by the insurgents.
    The crossings on Sunday underscore a rapidly deteriorating situation in the country as foreign troops near a complete withdrawal after 20 years of war in Afghanistan and with peace negotiations stalled.
    Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled swift Taliban advances in the north. But Sunday’s retreats were the largest confirmed, coming just two days after the United States officially vacated its main base in Afghanistan as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sept. 11.
    The Taliban took over six key districts in the northern province of Badakhshan, which borders both Tajikistan and China, following which 1,037     Afghan servicemen fled across the border with Tajikistan’s permission, its border guard service said.
    On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani spoke to his Tajik counterpart, President Emomali Rakhmon, by phone to discuss the developments.
    “Special attention was paid to the escalation of the situation in Afghanistan’s northern areas adjacent to Tajikistan,” the Tajik president’s office said in a statement.
    It added that Rakhmon expressed concern about “forced crossings” by members of the Afghan security forces.    Tajikistan is looking into setting up camps for potential refugees from Afghanistan, government sources told Reuters.
    Rakhmon also spoke to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday, who reassured him that Moscow would support Dushanbe if necessary, both directly and through a regional security bloc, the Kremlin said in a statement.
    Rakhmon also called fellow Central Asian leaders Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and held a security council meeting where he ordered additional troops to be sent to the Afghan border, his office said.
    A senior Afghan official confirmed there had been hundreds of crossings into Tajikistan but did not know the exact number.    “The Taliban cut off all the roads and these people had nowhere to go but to cross the border,” he told Reuters on Monday.
    Last week, U.S. forces vacated Bagram Air Base – bringing an effective end to the longest war in U.S. history – as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought since ousting the radical Islamist movement from power after the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
    The Taliban has ceased attacks on Western forces but continues to target Afghan government and security installations as it makes rapid territorial gains across the country.
    Peace talks between the two sides remain inconclusive.
    Zabihullah Atiq, a parliamentarian from Badakhshan, told Reuters that the Taliban had captured 26 of the border province’s 28 districts – three of which were handed over to the insurgents without a fight.
    Afghan security force members used various routes to flee, he said, but added that the Taliban captured dozens of personnel in Ishkashem district where Tajik border forces had blocked any crossing into the former Soviet republic.
    Tajik officials said they let in 152 people from Ishkashem, but did not comment on whether anyone was denied entry.
    Afghan National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib, in Moscow on Monday for security talks, said government forces had not anticipated the Taliban offensive but would counterattack.
    Russia, which operates a military base in Tajikistan, said the Russian consulate in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif was suspending operations over security concerns, TASS news agency reported.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov in Dushanbe and Kabul newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

7/5/2021 China’s Xi Tells Macron, Merkel He Hopes To Expand Cooperation With Europe
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping speaks while taking part in an event marking the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People's Volunteer
Army's participation in the Korean War at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel he hoped China and Europe would expand cooperation to better respond to global challenges, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    In a three-way video call, Xi also expressed the hope that Europeans can play a more active role in international affairs, achieve strategic independence and offer a fair, transparent and unbiased environment for Chinese companies, CCTV said.
    Merkel’s office confirmed that the three leaders exchanged views on European Union-China relations.
    “They also discussed international trade, climate protection and biodiversity,” her office added in a statement.
    “The conversation also revolved around cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, global vaccine supply, and international and regional issues.”
    In May, the European Parliament halted ratification of a new 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.
(Reporting by Colin Qian, Ryan Woo; and by Paul Carrel in BerlinEditing by Alison Williams and Thomas Escritt)

7/5/2021 France, Germany And China Call On Negotiators To Seize Opportunity In Iran Talks
    PARIS (Reuters) – The leaders of France, Germany and China, after a three-way video call on Monday, called on all parties involved in the Iran nuclear talks to seize a window of opportunity for an agreement, a French presidency source said on Monday.
    The source said that French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese President Xi Jinping had spoken for more than an hour.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau; Writing by GV De Clercq; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/5/2021 Fire Rages, Mass Evacuation After Thai Factory Blast
Smoke rises from a plastic factory after an explosion in Samut Prakan, outside Bangkok, Thailand July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thousands of people on the outskirts of Thailand’s capital were being evacuated on Monday as firefighters battled blazes for hours after a factory explosion that killed a rescue worker and wounded 29 people, officials said.
    Disaster authorities said 70 houses were damaged and fires were still being fought 15 hours after the explosion in Samut Prakan province in the early hours of Monday.
    The cause of the blast at the Taiwanese-owned factory had yet to be determined.    The nearby Suvarnabhumi international airport, Thailand’s main gateway, said its operations were not affected.
    A large cloud of black smoke could be seen from Bangkok and the city’s water authority warned people against drinking potentially contaminated rainwater.
    Samut Prakan residents living within five kilometres (3.1 miles) of the factory were being moved away as a precaution.
    “At first it felt like lightning.    After that, I heard something drop loudly, and for a while the house started shaking like there was an earthquake,” said Baitong Nisarat, a resident.
    The industry ministry said as much as 700 million baht ($21.79 million) of assets could be lost in the fire.
    Reuters could not reach the factory’s operator and its parent company in Taiwan did mot immediately respond to an request by email for comment.
    The 32-year-old factory makes expandable polystyrene foam.    According to the department of industrial works, styrene monomer, a base chemical needed to make foam, is highly flammable and polystyrene releases toxic chemicals when heated.
($1 = 32.1200 baht)
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Jiraporn Kuhakan; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty)

7/5/2021 Vacated By Americans, Kabul’s Bagram Air Base Bustles Again As Afghans Move In
Parked vehicles are seen in Bagram U.S. air base, after American troops vacated it,
in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Bagram Air Base, hub of U.S. forces in Afghanistan for 20 years until they withdrew last week, buzzed again with activity on Monday as Afghan forces settled into the vast premises, complete with its runways, barracks, control towers and hospital.
    American troops handed the base over to Afghan security forces to bring an effective end to the longest war in U.S. history, following an agreement with the insurgent Islamist Taliban last year.
    “They (Americans) are completely out now and everything is under our control, including watchtowers, air traffic and the hospital,” a senior Afghan government official told Reuters.
    Reuters journalists on Monday visited the heavily fortified compound, long a symbol of Western forces deployed to shore up the Afghan government against the Taliban’s campaign to regain power after being toppled by a U.S. intervention in 2001.
    Dozens of vehicles left behind by the United States stood on the premises while others zipped around with Afghan officials and personnel looking to come to terms with the magnitude of operating the vast base.
    Radars oscillated as soldiers stood on guard, and hundreds of Afghan security personnel moved into barracks that once housed U.S. soldiers.
    Where American entertainers had once visited to boost the morale of U.S. troops, an Afghan soldier strummed a guitar, singing a Pashto language epic on the Afghan homeland, while other Afghan soldiers toured the grounds on bicycles.
    Outside the walls of the vast base, things are not as serene. The Taliban have ramped up offensives against Afghan government forces across the country, particularly in the north where insurgents have gained territory rapidly.
    On Sunday, hundreds of members of the Afghan security forces fled to refuge in neighbouring Tajikistan.
    Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government remain inconclusive, and many fear the country could descend into a full-blown civil war once again.
    Neighbourhoods and markets in the shadow of the base were left ruing the past and bracing for what comes next.
    “It is not a problem for us if there are foreign forces (here) or they leave, but the fact that the Taliban are taking over districts at any moment affects our work,” Wasim Shirzad, a shopkeeper told Reuters.
    Another shopkeeper Nematullah Ferdaws, agreed: “Most shopkeepers do not invest…because they are hesitant about the country’s future.”
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/5/2021 Exclusive-Taliban Aim To Present Written Peace Plan At Talks As Soon As Next Month - Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Taliban delegates shake hands during talks between the Afghan government and
Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban plan to present a written peace proposal to the Afghan government side as soon as next month, a spokesman for the Islamist insurgents said even as they make major territorial gains in the breach left by departing foreign forces.
    Hundreds of Afghan security force members have fled into neighbouring Tajikistan in the face of Taliban advances since the United States vacated its main Afghan base, centrepiece of U.S. and NATO might for almost two decades in the country, as part of a plan to withdraw all foreign troops by Sept. 11.
    While the transfer of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan army added momentum to a Taliban drive to seize control over new districts, Taliban leaders renewed the long stalled talks with Afghan government envoys in Qatar’s capital Doha last week.
    “The peace talks and process will be accelerated in the coming days…and they are expected to enter an important stage, naturally it will be about peace plans,” Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters on Monday.
    “Possibly it will take a month to reach that stage when both sides will share their written peace plan,” he said, adding that the latest round of talks were at a critical juncture.
    “Although we (Taliban) have the upper hand on the battlefield, we are very serious about talks and dialogue.”
    The upsurge in fighting and the flight of thousands of members of the tattered Afghan security forces have raised grave doubt about the U.S.-backed peace negotiations, which began last year under the then-President Donald Trump’s administration.
TALIBAN ADVANCES ON THE GROUND
    Western security officials said insurgent forces have captured more than 100 districts but the Taliban say they have control of more than 200 districts in 34 provinces comprising over half the Central Asian country.
    On Sunday, more than 1,000 Afghan security personnel retreated across the northern border into Tajikistan after Taliban advances, the Tajik border guard service said, while dozens of others were captured by the insurgents.
    Diplomats overseeing the intra-Afghan talks have repeatedly sought neighbouring Pakistan’s help to convince Taliban leaders to offer a written peace plan even if it took a maximalist line, such as the restoration of hardline Islamist rule reminiscent of the group’s 1996-2001 period in power.
    Last month the European Union’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, said time was running out and that a written proposal would be a sign of successful Pakistani leverage over the Taliban.
    Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for Afghanistan’s Ministry for Peace Affairs, confirmed that intra-Afghan talks had resumed and said its representatives were “i>very happy” that Taliban envoys were rejecting the process outright.
    “It is difficult to anticipate that the Taliban will provide us with their written document of a peace plan in a month but let’s be positive.    We hope they present (it) so as to understand what they want,” said Anwari.
    Last month the head of Afghanistan’s official peace council called for the long halting talks on a settlement to decades of devastating violence should not be abandoned despite surging Taliban attacks – unless the insurgents themselves pulled out.
    Last week U.S. forces vacated Bagram Air Base as part of an understanding with the Taliban, against whom it has fought since ousting the radical Islamist movement from power after the Sept. 11, 2001 al Qaeda attacks on the United States.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/5/2021 Chinese Propaganda Pushes ‘Three-Step’ Plan To Seize Taiwan by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. (Ju Peng/Xinhua via AP)
    The Chinese state media released Beijing’s supposed plan of invading Taiwan, which has sparked concerns in Japan and South Korea.    British Newspaper The Sun cited a Chinese propaganda outlet on Monday reporting Beijing’s plans to invade and defeat Taiwan in three steps.     The first step would be a sudden attack of Taiwanese military bases, followed by the second step of cruise-missile strikes on infrastructure.    The third step was described as a bombardment of Taiwan by Chinese warships.
    Japan, a key ally for Taiwan, warned China’s threats may provoke a war it’ll have to fight.
    “This mean they are trying to surround all the Taiwan islands,” Japan’s State Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama explained.    “…How do we solve this issue?    One thing that we can do is we have to show deterrence towards China.”
    Chinese President Xi Jinping recently threatened to “resolve the problem of Taiwan.”    Taiwan responded by saying Beijing will suffer a major defeat if it attempts to invade.

7/6/2021 HK Leader Says ‘Ideologies’ Pose Security Risk, Teenagers Need To Be Monitored by Sharon Abratique and Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference to announce the replacement
of the Police Chief and Security Secretary, in Hong Kong, China June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday “ideologies” posed risks to national security and urged parents, teachers and religious leaders to observe the behaviour of teenagers and report those who break the law to the authorities.
    The financial hub has taken a swift authoritarian turn since China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law last year and changes to its political system to reduce democratic participation and oust people deemed disloyal to Beijing.
    At her weekly news conference, Lam expressed dismay at some residents mourning the death of a 50-year-old who stabbed a policeman before killing himself on July 1, the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule and the Chinese Communist Party’s centenary.
    “For a long time, citizens have been exposed to wrong ideas, such as achieving justice through illegal means,” Lam told reporters, adding that national security risks stemmed not only from “public order” acts, but also from ideology.
    The city has been polarised since protesters took to the streets in 2019 demanding greater democracy and accountability for what activists called police violence. Authorities have said the protests were fuelled by foreign forces and exposed risks to national security.
    Since the security law was introduced, the most prominent government opponents have been jailed or fled abroad.    Critics say the legislation has crushed the city’s wide-ranging rights and freedoms, while supporters say it has restored stability.
    Government departments “shouldn’t allow illegal ideas to filter through to the public through education, broadcasting, arts and culture, beautifying violence and clouding the conscience of the public,” Lam said.
    “I also call on parents, principals, teachers, and even pastors to observe acts of teenagers around them.    If some teens are found to be committing illegal acts, they must be reported.”
    Police and security officials said the stabbing of the 28-year-old policeman was a “terrorist,” lone-wolf attack, based on unspecified materials found on the attacker’s computer.
    People went to the scene of the attack on Friday, some with children, to pay their respects to the attacker and lay flowers, drawing condemnation from Lam and other officials.
    Lam said residents should not be deceived by messages circulating online suggesting the government had any responsibility for the violence, or by slogans such as “there’s no violence, only tyranny.”
    “Do not look for excuses on behalf of the violent,” Lam said.
(Reporting by Hong Kong newsroom; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates)

7/6/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest Nine Suspected Of Terrorist Activities
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police said on Tuesday they had arrested nine people, including six secondary students, on suspicion of terrorist activities, the latest to be targeted under a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on the financial hub last year.
    Police said at a press briefing those arrested were aged 15-39 and also included a university management-level employee, a secondary school teacher and an unemployed person.
    Officers also froze bank funds of around HK$600,000 ($77,237.97), as well as cash that they believed was linked to suspected terrorist activities.
    They also seized triacetone triperoxide (TATP) in a hostel room police described as a laboratory for bomb-making equipment to deploy at a cross-harbour tunnel, railways, court rooms and rubbish bins.
    TATP has been used in attacks by extremists in Israel and London.
    Police said the group, called Returning Valiant, had been renting the room at the hostel in the bustling shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui for about a month.
    “They had a good division of labour among those arrested.    Some of them provided money.    Some are the scientists – the ones who made the TATP in the room,” Senior Superintendent Steve Li told reporters.
    “One is responsible for the sourcing of chemicals and other materials needed for the plan, while another small group of people create the bombs, using chemical equipment.    There is also a surveying team and an action team, which is responsible for laying the bombs.”
    Members of the group had deliberately recruited secondary students who planned to leave Hong Kong for good, Li said.
    Beijing imposed the security law on Hong Kong last year, punishing what it regards as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.    Authorities have repeatedly said it has “restored stability.”
    Critics of the law, including Western governments, lawyers and international human rights groups, say authorities are using it to crush dissent in the former British colony, an assertion Beijing rejects.
    The Hong Kong government has said that freedoms in the global financial hub are respected but not absolute and they cannot endanger the security law.
($1 = 7.7682 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting By Jessie Pang and Sharon Abratique; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/6/2021 Black Box Retrieved From Crashed Philippines Air Force Plane by Karen Lema
FILE PHOTO: Troops secure the personal belongings of the casualties after the Philippines Air Force Lockheed C-130 plane
carrying troops crashed on landing, in Patikul, Sulu province, Philippines July 4, 2021.
Picture taken July 4, 2021. Armed Forces of the Philippines - Joint Task Force Sulu/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Philippine authorities have retrieved a black box from an Air Force plane that crashed at the weekend, killing more than 50 people, Military Chief Cirilito Sobejana told Reuters on Tuesday.
    The pilot in command, who had several years of experience flying a C-130 aircraft, was among those who died in the crash on Jolo island, Sobejana said by telephone.
    The military chief said a black box was retrieved on Monday and should enable investigators to listen to the conversations of the pilots and crew before the plane crashed.
    “I spoke to the survivors and they said the plane bounced two to three times and zig-zagged.    The pilot tried to regain power because he wanted to lift the plane but it was too late.    The right wing hit a tree,” he said.
    Sobejana said no one jumped from the aircraft before it crashed.    There had been earlier accounts from witnesses that some passengers had tried to leap to safety before the aircraft struck the ground.
    He said the front of the aircraft was sliced open and some of the soldiers took advantage of the opening to escape.    But those who were unconscious were unable to get out and the plane burst into flames.
    The Lockheed C-130 transport aircraft was carrying troops bound for counter-insurgency operations in the southern Philippines crashed with 96 aboard.
    The death toll rose on Monday to 52, including three civilians on the ground, after two of the 49 soldiers hurt in the crash succumbed to their injuries, the defence ministry said.
    Military spokesman Edgard Arevalo said the plane was in “very good condition” and had 11,000 flying hours remaining before its next maintenance was due.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Kim Coghill and Ed Davies)

7/6/2021 Rescuers Resume Search For 24 Missing In Japan Landslides
Police officers conduct a rescue and search operation at the site of a mudslide caused by heavy rain
at Izusan district in Atami, Japan July 5, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Rescuers in Japan waded through mud, rock and splintered wood in search of 24 people still missing on Tuesday after heavy rain triggered massive landslides in the seaside city of Atami three days ago, killing four people.
    Police, fire fighters and military personnel resumed rescue operation, suspended for the night on Monday, at around 6:00 a.m. (2100 GMT Monday).
    The landslides occured around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, and time is running out for any survivors trapped beneath the rubble.
    “We have not yet received any new information on survivors … People in the field are working hard in their search and rescue operation,” Atami city spokesperson Hiroki Onuma told Reuters.
    The operation heavily depends on rescuers working with their hands, the use of heavy machinery deemed too dangerous for any survivors who may be alive under mud.
    Atami, with a population of 36,000, is 90 km (60 miles) southwest of Tokyo and famous for a hot springs resort.
    The landslides are a reminder of the natural disasters – including earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami – that afflict Japan, where the capital Tokyo is to host the summer Olympics starting July 23.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Stephen Coates)

7/6/2021 Japan’s Aso: Peaceful Solution Desirable For Any Taiwan Contingency
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) – Japan’s deputy prime minister Taro Aso said on Tuesday that any contingency over Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue, when asked about his earlier remarks that Japan, along with the United States, would defend Taiwan in case of crisis.
    “We are closely monitoring the situation,” Aso, who doubles as finance minister, told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
    Domestic media reported earlier that Aso, in a speech on Monday, said Japan would join forces with the United States if a crisis erupts in Taiwan, a remark likely to upset China.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Ritsuko Ando)

7/6/2021 Sydney COVID Lockdown Call Looms As New Case Numbers Drop
FILE PHOTO: A sign at Central Station notes the implementation of new public health regulations from the state of New South Wales, as the
city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -The premier of Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) said on Tuesday she aims to decide within the next 24 hours whether to extend a COVID-19 lockdown in Sydney that is due to end on Friday as new infections dropped in the country’s most populous state.
    Just 18 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases were detected in NSW on Tuesday, half of the previous day’s number.    But Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the decision would also take into account her administration’s determination to make the current lockdown in the city of five million people the last, as it aims to step up vaccinations.
    “That will factor into our decision-making as to whether it (the two-week lockdown) finishes on Friday or whether we continue for a period longer,” Berejiklian told reporters.    “I hope to be able to communicate to the community tomorrow on what next week looks like.”
    Sydney went into a hard lockdown on June 26 to quash the latest flare-up – an outbreak of the Delta variant of COVID-19 – but officials have been frustrated after finding new infections linked to illegal gatherings and people flouting social distancing rules, raising prospects of an extension.
    Of Tuesday’s cases, 16 were either in isolation throughout or for part of their infectious period.    Two cases spent time in the community while they were infectious.
    With Sydney battling its worst COVID-19 outbreak of 2021, total infections in the flare-up crossed 330 since the first case was detected nearly three weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
    Speedy contact tracing, lockdowns, tough social distancing rules and a high community compliance have kept Australia’s COVID-19 numbers much lower among developed economies, with just over 30,800 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Kenneth Maxwell)

7/6/2021 China’s Xi Takes Dig At U.S. In Speech To Political Parties Around World by Yew Lun Tian
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks via video link at the CPC and World Political Parties Summit, held to commemorate the 100th founding
anniversary of Communist Party of China (CPC), in Beijing, China in this still image taken from a video July 6, 2021. CCTV via Reuters TV
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday urged political parties worldwide to oppose any country that engages in “technology blockades,” an allusion to the United States which views China as its strategic competitor.
    As U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has sought support from like-minded democracies including the European Union and Japan to coordinate a tougher stance against China, Beijing has doubled down on seeking support and affirmation from friendly nations such as North Korea and Serbia.
    “Together, we must oppose all acts of unilateralism in the name of multilateralism, hegemony and power politics,” Xi told a virtual gathering of representatives of 500 parties from 160 countries such as Russia, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Burkina Faso.
    “Looking from the angle of ‘My Country First’, the world is narrow and crowded, and often full of fierce competition,” Xi said in apparent reference to former U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” policy.
    Xi renewed a call to work towards “building a community with a shared future for mankind” and said any country that engages in “technology blockades” and “developmental decoupling” should be rejected.
    Chinese diplomats have often criticised the United States for allegedly trying to hamper China’s development by cutting off its access to U.S. technology.
    Xi, also General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, was speaking at the CPC and World Political Parties Summit, one of many events held by Beijing to commemorate the centenary of the ruling party.
    Tuesday’s virtual gathering was meant to help the international community “adjust more quickly to the rise of China” and for Beijing to gain more “understanding, support and companionship,” said Guo Yezhou, vice minister of the International Department, which organised the event.
    China is increasingly worried about its international image, tarnished by anger towards its initial handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, its maritime and territorial assertiveness towards neighbours, its clampdown in Hong Kong and treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, and its “wolf-warrior” diplomats who engage in a war of words with critics.
    A survey of 17 advanced economies released last Wednesday by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center showed that views about China have remained broadly negative and confidence in Xi near historic lows.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/6/2021 Hong Kong Govt Says Privacy Law Amendments Only Concern ‘Doxxing’ Acts
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference to announce the replacement
of the Police Chief and Security Secretary, in Hong Kong, China June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Hong Kong government said on Tuesday proposed amendments to the city’s privacy law only concern “doxxing acts and law-enforcement powers of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data.
    The statement came after a technology industry group warned that tech companies such as Google and Facebook could stop offering their services in     Hong Kong if it proceeds with plans to change privacy laws.
    Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said earlier the proposed changes will only target illegal “doxxing” behaviour, referring to the practice of the sharing of people’s personal data without their consent.
(Reporting by Meg Shen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/6/2021 After Protests, Iran’s President Apologises Over Power Blackouts
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) – President Hassan Rouhani apologised to Iranians on Tuesday over massive power outages during a heatwave that have drawn widespread criticism and triggered street protests.
    Officials have blamed the blackouts on surging demand for power, along with low rainfall cutting hydroelectric output and illegal cryptocurrency mining farms accessing subsidised electricity.
    “I apologise to our dear people who have faced problems and suffering in the past few days and I urge them to cooperate (by curbing power use).    People complain about power outages and they are right,” Rouhani said in remarks carried by state TV.
    “The Energy Ministry is not at fault… but the minister should come and explain to the people what the problem is and we have to find a solution.”
    Angry residents gathered in several cities to protest against the outages, which often did not follow blackout schedules announced by the state-run electricity companies, according to Iranian news outlets and postings on social media.
    Protests turned political is some areas, with people chanting “Death to the dictator” and “Death to (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali) Khamenei” and other slogans during blackouts, according to videos posted on social media.
    Reuters could not independently verify the videos’ authenticity.
    “Protesters said the frequent power outages had caused many problems, including water cuts in apartments, spoilage of meat and poultry and other items in refrigerators, and damage to household appliances,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported from the northeastern town of Kordkuy. (Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by John Stonestreet)

7/6/2021 China To Move In On Afghanistan After U.S. Troop Removal by OAN Newsroom
A member of the Afghan security forces stands guard after the American military left Bagram air base,
in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    China seems to be moving in to fill the void left by America’s withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan.    The U.S. military left its final base in the region on Friday.
    An anonymous source reported Kabul authorities are now working with China toward a deal, which would invest in Afghanistan’s infrastructure.    The deal, through China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is a trillion dollar program that has provided funding for a variety of infrastructure projects.
    Sources report the deal would also extend the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the flagship project of BRI that involves constructing infrastructure that reaches to Afghanistan.    This comes as the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, said in an interview Saturday that China can play an important role in shaping Afghanistan’s future.
    “Afghanistan, Pakistan and China are neighbors; we are connected geographically,” Karzai stated.    “China plays a very important role, a significant role, in improving the relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in making sure that a synchronized relationship is established between the two countries.”
    It was also reported that China seeks to connect 60 countries through land and sea using BRI, which would potentially enhance China’s influence globally. Due to Afghanistan’s location, it could also prove to be a strategic base for China.    Afghanistan allegedly hadn’t joined the BRI due to being backed by the U.S.    That could now change since U.S. influence is essentially gone.
    However, reports say China’s overall power in Afghanistan could greatly depend on the Taliban, a group that has been responsible for an increase of mounting attacks since the U.S. announced its removal of troops.    This comes as the Taliban have reportedly been retaking territory across Northern Afghanistan while thousands have tried to combat the insurgents.
    While the Taliban have a strong grip on the country, some residents just want to see peace.    The Taliban may then be one of several problems for China in its quest to take on the war-torn country. Both anti-state and pro-state sources of violence are also an issue in the country.

7/6/2021 U.S. Troops Pull Out Of Bagram Airfield Base In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Part of the sprawling Bagram air base is seen after the American military departed, in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan,
Monday, July 5, 2021. The U.S. left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years, winding up its “forever war,”
in the night, without notifying the new Afghan commander until more than two hours after they slipped away. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    American troops reportedly left an airfield in Afghanistan without notifying the new leadership.    After nearly 20 years at Bagram Airfield, U.S. troops reportedly shut off the electricity and didn’t alert the Afghan military of their final plans to leave.
    Afghan military officials said in the time between the withdrawal and them finding out, a small army of looters reportedly ransacked the barracks and rummaged through the storage tents.    The general left in charge of the airfield, Mir Asadullah Kohistani, said the U.S. troops slipped away while leaving behind over 3 million items.
    “After we received some rumors that the Americans left the Bagram with increasing our intelligence report and finally by seven o’clock in the morning, we understood that it was confirmed that they had already left Bagram,” stated Gen. Mir Asadullah Kohistani.
    This comes amid a tumultuous exit from the Middle Eastern country as critics say the Biden administration is leaving the nation worse than when the U.S. entered it nearly two decades ago.

7/6/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest 9 In Connection With Terrorist Plot by OAN Newsroom
Confiscated evidence is displayed during a news conference as several people were arrested over the alleged plot to plant bombs around Hong Kong,
at the police headquarters in Hong Kong, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Hong Kong police on Tuesday said they arrested nine people on suspicion of
engaging in terrorist activity, after uncovering an attempt to make explosives and plant bombs across the city. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
    Police in Hong Kong arrested multiple people in connection with suspected terrorist activity in the city.    Authorities confirmed they took nine people into custody Tuesday after uncovering a plot to plant bombs across the city.
    According to reports, the group intentionally recruited six high school-aged students who planned to leave Hong Kong permanently.    Officers also froze around $77,000 worth of assets and seized materials, which could be used to make explosives, in a hostel room police have described as a “bomb-making laboratory.”
    “The things they (wanted to) do is, they wanted to produce TATP and use it to attack some of the public facilities in Hong Kong,” stated Senior Supt. Steven Li, Hong Kong Police Force.    “Including the cross-harbor tunnel, railways, court rooms and even they wanted to lay the bomb in the rubbish bin on the street with a view to maximize the damage caused to the society.”
    The city’s leader, Carrie Lam, has said she hopes members of the community will openly condemn threats of violence.    She also blamed “ideologies” for stemming national security risks and advised those who observe such behaviors to report them to authorities.
    The suspected terrorist activity follows a sweeping national security law that took affect in Hong Kong last year, which drastically reduced democratic participation in its political system.

7/6/2021 Taliban Surges As U.S. Withdraws From Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Afghan militia forces stand guard at an outpost as they patrol against the Taliban fighters in the Tange Farkhar
area of Taloqan in northern Takhar province on July 6, 2021. (Photo by NASEER SADEQ/AFP via Getty Images)
    Taliban forces have surged as Joe Biden pulled the last of U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. All troops were set to be fully withdrawn by September 11 as the U.S. Central Command announced on Tuesday the drawdown was 90 percent complete.
    Experts warned of a foreign policy disaster as the Taliban continues to push Afghan government forces out of multiple territories and gain control of weapons.    1,000 Afghan military members fled the country to Tajikistan, but efforts have been made for them to rejoin the fight against the Taliban.
    Afghan security forces continue to surrender military hardware, districts and abandoned military bases since the U.S. troop withdrawal.    Taliban forces have taken control of 120 districts since May 1.
    “There are people coming out ready to recruit, ready to join the forces to defend their country throughout,” Afghan National Security adviser Hamdullah Mohib expressed.    “That support for the ANDSF is quite heart-warming and we will continue to defend our people as best as we can.”
    The last U.S. soldiers are expected to remain protecting the Kabul Airport.    The Taliban has warned any remaining foreign troops in the country after the deadline will face consequences.

7/7/2021 China’s Wechat Deletes University LGBT Accounts
FILE PHOTO: Small toy figures are seen in front of WeChat logo in this illustration
picture taken March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeChat social media platform has deleted dozens of LGBT accounts run by university students, saying some had broken rules on information on the internet, sparking fear of a crackdown on gay content online.
    Members of several LGBT groups told Reuters that access to their accounts was blocked late on Tuesday and they later discovered that all of their content had been deleted.
    “Many of us suffered at the same time,” said the account manager of one group who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    “They censored us without any warning.    All of us have been wiped out.”
    Attempts by Reuters to access some accounts were met with a notice from WeChat saying the groups “had violated regulations on the management of accounts offering public information service on the Chinese internet.”
    Other accounts did not show up in search results.
    WeChat did not immediately respond to emailed questions.
    While homosexuality, which was classified as a mental disorder until 2001, is legal in China, same sex marriage is not recognised. Social stigma and pressure still deter people from coming out.
    This year, a court upheld a university’s description of homosexuality as a “psychological disorder,” ruling that it was not a factual error.
    The LGBT community has repeatedly found itself falling foul of censors and the Cyberspace Administration of China recently pledged to clean up the internet to protect minors and crack down on social media groups deemed a “bad influence.”
    The Weibo social media platform, owned by Weibo Corp, has at times removed lesbian content and the online community board platform Zhihu has censored topics on gender and identity.
    Last year, China’s only pride festival was cancelled indefinitely after organisers cited concerns over staff safety.
    “Authorities have been tightening the space available for LGBT advocacy and civil society generally. This is another turning of the screw,” said Darius Longarino, a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai’s China Center, who focuses on LGBT rights and gender equality.
(Reporting by Pak Yiu; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/7/2021 Fiji Police Deliver Groceries, Toilet Paper Amid COVID-19 Spike
FILE PHOTO: An empty downtown street is seen as shops were closed and only essential businesses and restaurants providing takeaway service remained
open as an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) affects Suva, Fiji, June 27, 2021. Picture taken June 27, 2021. REUTERS/David Hotchin
    (Reuters) – Fiji on Wednesday began distributing groceries to some households as it urges people to stay at home amid rising infections of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
    Authorities posted pictures on social media of bags of supermarket supplies – including packaged food and toilet paper – being delivered to homes around the capital, Suva, as they reinforced calls for people to obey social distancing rules and get vaccinated.
    Police and a supermarket “delivered household packs to Fijians in targeted lockdown areas and home isolation," the government said on Twitter as part of a publicity blitz on COVID-19 safety.
    The deliveries were mostly being made in poorer neighbourhoods.    “We are here to ensure that Fijians get assistance,” the government said.
    Since the pandemic began, the country of less than a million people has reported 39 deaths, but most have come since the emergence of the Delta variant in April and case numbers have risen to more than 500 a day, according to the latest figures on Tuesday.
    The government has said some patients are seeking treatment too late and the main hospital’s mortuary was full.    Some victims were also dying at home, it said.
    But the government has resisted calls for a lockdown and instead urged people to take precautions.
    Kate Greenwood, head the Pacific delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said relative to population size, Fiji had been hit harder by the virus than India at the height of its outbreak.
    “The worse it gets, the bigger the warning sign for other Pacific countries about the desperate need at this stage to prepare for what could happen,” Greenwood said by telephone from Suva.
    “There’s a strain on the health system as all resources attempt to cope, from the hospitals to the blood service to the mortuaries,” she said.
    Neil Sharma, a doctor and former Fiji health minister, told Reuters he would like to see a two-week lockdown.
    “Unlike some developed countries where people are able to lock down and stay indoors, people are still running around, some of them without masks, and it’s not an easy situation,” he said.
    Sheldon Yett, the U.N. Children’s Fund representative in the Pacific, told Reuters Fiji was “reeling” but the vaccine rate was rising, with 55% of the population having received at least one shot and just under 10% two shots.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/7/2021 As Lockdown Bites, Malaysians Hoist White Flags In Plea For Help by Ebrahim Harris
Halijah Naemat, 74, puts away a white flag after she received help from others at her home during an enhanced lockdown,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia July 6, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    PETALING JAYA, Malaysia (Reuters) – When Malaysian mother Hadijah Neamat was struggling to cope during the coronavirus lockdown, she hung a scrap of white cloth outside her window in a plea for help.
    The #benderaputih (white flag) campaign has gained momentum on social media in a bid to encourage people to help others in distress during a prolonged lockdown in Malaysia.
    Indeed, shortly after Hadijah, 73, put up the flag a neighbour came by to offer her food and other items.     “I thought it would be outsiders who would come to help, like wealthy people or ministers or important people,” said Hadijah, who lives in a densely populated district of Petaling Jaya in Selangor state near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
    “But they said ‘We are neighbours.    If someone puts up a white flag, of course we need to be concerned’,” she added, saying she was surprised by the act of generosity on her doorstep.
    Hadijah’s husband, Mohd Rusni Kahman, 59, has a disability and has not been able to work since losing his job last year.
    “Sometimes I just stare into space… If I don’t have work, what will I do? I can’t just rely on my son,” he said.
    Malaysia has reported more than 785,000 cases of COVID-19, the third-highest tally in Southeast Asia, and has been in lockdown since June 1.
    The pandemic has put a particular strain on low-income families, with reports of many forced to ration food.
    In response to the white flag campaign, neighbours, businesses, politicians and even celebrities have stepped in to donate.br>     “It takes a lot of courage (to display the white flag)… Because it’s actually telling everyone that you… can’t manage,” lawmaker Maria Chin Abdullah told Reuters.
    “But I think I take it positively – it’s something that this country actually needs because we can’t cover everybody.    So it’s good that… you indicate that you need help and we’ll come to you,” she said.
(Writing by Ed Davies. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/7/2021 Iran Takes Steps To Make Enriched Uranium Metal; U.S., Europe Powers Dismayed by Francois Murphy, Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Iran has begun the process of producing enriched uranium metal, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Tuesday, a move that could help it develop a nuclear weapon and that three European powers said threatened talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Iran’s steps, which were disclosed by the International Atomic Energy Agency and which Tehran said aimed to develop fuel for a research reactor, also drew criticism from the United States, which called them an “unfortunate step backwards.”
    U.S. and European officials made clear that Iran’s decision would complicate, and potentially torpedo, indirect U.S.-Iranian talks seeking to bring both nations back into compliance with the 2015 deal, which was abandoned by former President Donald Trump.
    The deal imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme to make it harder for Tehran to develop fissile material for nuclear weapons in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.    After Trump withdrew, Iran began violating many of the restrictions.
    Tehran has already produced a small amount of uranium metal this year that was not enriched.    That is a breach of the deal, which bans all work on uranium metal since it can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb.
    “Today, Iran informed the Agency that UO2 (uranium oxide) enriched up to 20% U–235 would be shipped to the R&D laboratory at the Fuel Fabrication Plant in Esfahan, where it would be converted to UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) and then to uranium metal enriched to 20% U–235, before using it to manufacture the fuel,” an IAEA statement said.
    A confidential IAEA report seen by Reuters said the agency had confirmed that Iran had taken steps to begin the process of producing enriched uranium metal.
    Britain, France and Germany said on Tuesday they had “grave concern” about Iran’s decision, which violates the nuclear deal, formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
    “Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal R&D and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said in a joint statement issued by Britain’s foreign ministry.
    “With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations,” they said, and urged Iran to return to the talks in the Austrian capital, which began in April and adjourned on June 20.brt> No date has been set for a next round.
    U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Washington was not setting a deadline for the talks, but noted “that as time proceeds Iran’s nuclear advances will have a bearing on our view of returning to the JCPOA.”     Price said the United States found it “worrying” that Iran was continuing to violate the agreement “especially with experiments that have value for nuclear weapons research."
    “It’s another unfortunate step backwards for Iran,” he said.
    Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA, noted the agency’s report on Iran’s latest violation of the 2015 deal as well as the Biden administration’s decision to maintain the Iran sanctions reimposed by Trump, also violations of the accord.
    “The only way out of this vicious circle is resumption of #ViennaTalks without delay and full restoration of #JCPOA,” he wrote on Twitter.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, and Humeyra Pamuk and Arshad Mohammed in Washington;Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis in Washington and David Milliken in London;Writing by Francois Murphy and Arshad MohammedEditing by Sonya Hepinstall and Leslie Adler)

7/7/2021 Taliban Attacks Northwestern Afghan Province by OAN Newsroom
Afghan soldiers pause on a road at the front line of fighting between Taliban and Security forces, in Badghis province,
northwest of Afghanistan, Wednesday, July, 7 2021. From the early hours of Wednesday morning, battles have raged near the
provincial police headquarters and a Qala-e-Naw army base, said Abdul Aziz beg, head of the provincial council in Badghis.(AP Photo/Mirwis Omari)
    The Taliban has attacked the capital of a Northwestern Afghanistan province. On Wednesday, officials reported that the terrorist group struck three different entry points into the city and are describing the country as a state of panic.
    More than 200 prisoners have reportedly escaped from the central prison, which has led to some disarray among the security forces.    As Afghan forces fight back against the assault, council officials have fled to an army camp in the city.
    Leaders in the region, including Badghis province Governor Hesamuddin Shams, have urged the public to remain calm.
    “I want to assure you that all our security and defense forces, including special units and special forces, are defending the city of Qala-e-Naw,” he stated.    “The enemy that is currently fighting with us, they have suffered casualties in some parts of the city and have also been defeated.”
    This occurred as negotiations between the Taliban and Qatar have continued to dissolve.

7/8/2021 Two Weeks Into Lockdown, Sydney Has Its Worst Day For Virus Cases This Year by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: Commuters wear protective face masks as they enter Central Station following the implementation of new public health regulations from
the state of New South Wales, as the city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Thursday reported its biggest daily rise in locally acquired cases of COVID-19 this year as officials struggle to stamp out a growing cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant.
    The spike in cases after two weeks of a hard lockdown in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, raised the prospect of a further extension in restrictions, with officials blaming illegal family visits for a continuing rise in infections.
    NSW reported 38 new local cases, up from 27 a day earlier, with 11 of those having spent time in the community while infectious.
    Given Australia’s slow vaccine rollout, NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian implored residents to not visit homes of family and friends, citing the highly transmissible nature of the Delta strain.
    “It’s really important for all of us to stay the course and follow the health advice to give us the best chance of getting out of this lockdown in a timely way,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
    A strict stay-at-home order has been in force in Sydney, home to a fifth of the country’s 25 million population, since June 26.     Asked if it might be extended beyond its current planned end date of July 16, Berejiklian said it would be “an unrealistic assumption” to control the Delta variant amid low vaccination rates and people flouting social distancing rules.
    The state’s police force will deploy 100 additional officers in Sydney’s south west, from Friday to ensure that residents are wearing masks and not breaking COVID-19 restrictions.
    “Clearly we are stil having members of the community that don’t comply,” Deputy Commissioner Mal Lanyon told a press briefing.
    “Those police will be a very visible presence,” he said.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government would ensure adequate economic support if the lockdown was extended, saying the state was on “shifting sands” and urged patience.
    “I know people are getting tired … getting frustrated.    This is a virus we are dealing with, and it tends to set its own rules,” Morrison said during a televised media conference.
    The latest infections took Sydney’s total in this outbreak to nearly 400 since the first case was detected more than three weeks ago in a limousine driver who transported overseas airline crew.
    Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries in keeping COVID-19 numbers low, with just under 30,900 cases and 910 deaths, however, the country’s slow vaccination rollout has taken some of the shine off this success.
    Just over 9% of people in NSW have been fully vaccinated, while about 29% have had a first dose.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Sam Holmes, Richard Pullin and Edwina Gibbs)

7/8/2021 Japan PM Suga Declares State Of COVID-19 Emergency In Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga formally declared on Thursday a state of emergency in Tokyo, putting restrictions aimed at curbing coronavirus infections in place through August 22.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park; Editing by Alex Richardson)

7/8/2021 Spectators To Face Olympic Ban As Tokyo Declares Coronavirus Emergency-Report
A social distancing sign is seen in front of a police officer before the arrival of International Olympic Committee (IOC) President
Thomas Bach at Haneda Airport ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan July 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Olympic organisers are set to ban all spectators from the Games, the Asahi daily said on Thursday, as Japan declared a coronavirus state of emergency for Tokyo that will run through its hosting of the event to curb a new wave of infections.
    Organisers were set to formally reach the decision on spectators during five-way talks between main parties on Thursday, the newspaper said, citing people involved in the Games.
    If confirmed, the ban on spectators would mark the latest blow to the troubled Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic and plagued by a series of setbacks, including massive budget overruns.
    Medical experts have said for weeks that having no spectators at the Games would be the least risky option amid widespread public fears that an influx of thousands of athletes and officials will fuel a fresh wave of infections.
    “I, of course, support ‘no spectators’ but concerns will never disappear as long as we have a big event like the Games, along with holidays and the vacation season,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor working with the government’s coronavirus experts group.
    Furuse recently projected that new daily cases in Tokyo could increase to 1,000 in July and 2,000 in August, raising the risk of hospitals in the capital region running out of beds.
    Anyone wanting to support athletes has been told clap rather than cheer or sing.    Sponsors are cancelling or scaling back https://www.reuters.com/lifestyle/sports/exclusive-olympics-frustrated-by-delays-tokyo-2020-sponsors-cancel-booths-2021-07-08 booths and events tied to the Games, frustrated by the “very last-minute” decisions by organisers, sources told Reuters.
    The talks, scheduled for 8 p.m. (1100 GMT) will be chaired by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who arrived in     Tokyo on Thursday.    Other participants include the Tokyo and national governments and Paralympic officials.
    “Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
    “Given the situation, we will issue a state of emergency for Tokyo.”
TOKYO INFECTIONS RISE
    Japan has not suffered the kind of explosive COVID-19 outbreaks seen in many other countries but has had more than 810,000 cases and 14,900 deaths.
    A slow vaccine rollout has meant only a quarter of the population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot.
    The new state of emergency in Tokyo comes as the capital announced 896 new daily infections on Thursday, near highs last seen in mid-May.
    The new restrictions in Tokyo, under which restaurants will be asked to stop serving alcohol, will begin on Monday and run through to Aug 22.
    The Games are scheduled to run from July 23 to Aug. 8.
    Underscoring the last-minute nature of preparations, organisers have presented various spectator scenarios to Olympic sponsors as late as Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the situation.
    Sponsors were told that in the case of no spectators, all sports and opening and closing ceremonies would likely be held without fans, meaning tickets allocated to sponsors could not be used.
    The absence of crowds will likely further strain the Games’ budget https://www.reuters.com/article/us-olympics-2020-coronavirus-money-factb-idCAKCN2DY2MI, which has already blown out to an estimated $15.4 billion, with ticket revenues of about $815 million expected to take a big hit.
    The organising committee did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
    Until this week, officials have insisted they could organise the Games safely with some spectators, but a ruling party setback in a Tokyo assembly election on Sunday, which some allies of Suga attributed to public anger over the Olympics, had forced the change of tack, sources said.
    Japan will hold a parliamentary election later this year and the government’s insistence that the Games – postponed last year as the virus spread around the world – should go ahead this year could cost it at the ballot box, they said.
(Additional reporting by Rocky Swift and Eimi Yamamitsu; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

7/8/2021 Analysis-N.Korea Reshuffle Signals Military Policy Not Top Priority Now, Analysts Say by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Report on Enlarged Meeting of the 2nd Political Bureau of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers'
Party of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this image released July 5, 2021 by the country's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – New photos confirm North Korea has demoted a military leader in a reshuffle that left the ruling party’s top body dominated by civilians, possibly signalling leader Kim Jong Un’s focus on the economy and frustration with bureaucratic failures, analysts said.
    Last week, North Korea announced the latest in a series of leadership changes that may be the most significant reshuffle of top officials in years.
    State media has not given details of the personnel changes but analysts believe they included demotions for those Kim blamed for causing an unspecified “great crisis” with coronavirus lapses amid economic problems and food shortages compounded by anti-pandemic border closures.
    Photographs published in state media on Thursday of Kim visiting his family mausoleum appear to confirm that Ri Pyong Chol, a top adviser who plays a leading role in North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, has at least lost his position on the politburo Presidium.
    Ri, who sometimes wears his military uniform, was seen in the photos wearing civilian clothes and standing several rows behind Kim, indicating his new role is unclear.
    A new appointment in his place on the presidium did not appear in the photos, and with those standing next to Kim all civilians, it appeared the military had been “pushed down the pecking order,” said Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership specialist at CNA, a non-profit research and analysis organisation based in the United States.
    The military dominates affairs in North Korea and there is no suggestion that will change in the long term, but the changes may signal that for the time being, Kim is unlikely to resume nuclear brinkmanship while he focuses on problems at home, Gause said.
    “The focus internally is on the economy, not the nuclear programme,” he said.
‘REWIRE THE REGIME’
    It was hard to determine Ri’s fate, let alone draw conclusions about what signal this is meant to send in terms of North Korea’s strategic weapons programme, said Rachel Minyoung Lee, an analyst at the U.S.-based 38 North programme, which studies North Korea, noting that he may be fully reinstated and even reclaim his presidium member title.
    The photos also suggest that Choe Sang Gon, a party secretary and director of the science and education department, lost his position in the politburo, while Kim Song Nam, International Department director, and Ho Chol Man, Cadres Department director, may have been promoted to full members, Lee said.
    Kim Jong Un has been frustrated by officials not accurately carrying out his directives or communicating information up to him, and the personnel changes may fit with broader efforts to “rewire the guts of the regime” by devolving authority – but not power – down the chain of command, Gause said.
    “Kim has tightened his inner circle around a group of technocrats and internal security personnel, the two sectors dedicated to making Juche run at the moment,” he said, referring to the North Korean ideology of self-reliance.
    “It is not a long-term plan, but temporary measure given the extraordinary circumstances the regime is facing.”
    Michael Madden, a leadership expert at 38 North, said that what looked like a demotion could often be part of a routine shuffle aimed at preventing any one official from building up too much of a power base, or an instance of reassigning a competent and trusted official to handle a particular problem in a more hands-on role.
    “Demotions are very common things in North Korea politics,” he said.    “We need to keep in mind that things that look like demotions to us can in fact be something else.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/8/2021 Afghan Forces Retake Provincial Capital After Taliban Incursion - Defence Ministry
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army soldier stands guard at a checkpoint near Bagram Air Base on the day the last
American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan, July 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
(Refiles to remove repeated time reference from lede paragraph)
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan government forces on Thursday wrested back control of a western provincial capital stormed by the Taliban a day earlier and hundreds of fresh troops have been deployed to the region, the defence ministry said.
    It said some fighting was continuing on the fringes of Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province, which borders the central Asian country of Turkmenistan.
    Insurgents had on Wednesday seized key government buildings in the city including police headquarters as part of a dramatic Taliban advance unfolding as foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year-long intervention.
    “The city is fully (back) under our control and we are conducting operations against the Taliban on the outskirts of the city,” Defence Ministry spokesman Fawad Aman said.
    The ministry said 69 Taliban fighters had been killed in fresh operations on the edge of Qala-e-Naw – the first major provincial capital entered by the Islamist insurgents in their latest offensive.
    A large quantity of Taliban arms and ammunition was also seized by government forces, the ministry said on Twitter.
    The rest of Badghis province is in Taliban hands.    Western security officials say the Taliban have captured more than 100 districts in Afghanistan; the Taliban say they hold over 200 districts in 34 provinces comprising over half the country.    Main cities and provincial capitals remain under government control.
    The insurgents have been gaining territory for weeks but accelerated their thrust as the United States vacated its main Afghan base, effectively ending an intervention that began with the ousting of the radical Islamist Taliban government in 2001.
    Taliban advances have been especially dramatic in northern provinces where they had long been kept at bay.    Stop-start peace talks between the government and insurgents remain inconclusive.
    Later on Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to comment on the U.S. withdrawal, which has raised fears of an outbreak of civil war there and drawn criticism.
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/8/2021 Biden’s Pentagon Says 90% Of Afghan Withdrawal Complete, Taliban Advances Gains On The Ground by OAN Newsroom
Afghan army soldiers patrol after the American military left Bagram air base, in Parwan province north of Kabul, Afghanistan,
Monday, July 5, 2021. The U.S. left Afghanistan’s Bagram Airfield after nearly 20 years, winding up its “forever war,”
in the night, without notifying the new Afghan commander until more than two hours after they slipped away. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Joe Biden is set to address the ongoing troop withdrawal in Afghanistan as the Department of Defense announces removal is 90 percent complete.
    According to the U.S. Central Command, it has transferred more than 17,000 pieces of military equipment for disposition.    The U.S. military has also transferred seven facilities over to the Afghan forces.
    This comes as the Taliban is gaining control of the ground with Afghan troops fleeing to neighboring Tajikistan.    Afghan officials insist they have the situation under control as their fight with the Taliban continues.
    “Those that went to Tajikistan are coming back and are, once again, going to be in the service of their people and defense of people, in defense of Fayzabad,” stated Afghani National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib.    “People are standing.    It’s war.    There is pressure; sometimes things work in our way and sometimes they don’t.”
    Meanwhile, Biden’s messy Middle East troop withdrawal has hit another snag as looters ransack Bagram Air Base. Afghan officials said the U.S. military left behind 3.5 million items in their abrupt departure.    These items range from bottles of water to cars, laptops and even small weapons as well as ammunition.
    Dozens of looters reportedly raided the facility once Americans left and made off with some of that equipment.    This has prompted concern that U.S. intelligence and weapons may have fallen into the wrong hands.
    The Pentagon said the exact time of the troop withdrawal was not given due to security reasons.    However, afghan officials said the U.S. military lost 20 years of goodwill in one night leaving the way they did.
    The White House has said that Biden will give an update on the situation, but will not announce any new policies.

7/9/2021 Biden Says Afghans Must Decide Own Future; U.S. To Leave On Aug. 31 by Steve Holland
U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the administration's continued drawdown efforts in Afghanistan
in a speech from the East Room at the White House in Washington U.S., July 8, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday strongly defended his decision to pull U.S. military forces out of Afghanistan, saying the Afghan people must decide their own future and that he would not consign another generation of Americans to the 20-year war.
    Speaking in the White House East Room, Biden said the Afghan military has the ability to repel the Taliban, denying reports that U.S. intelligence had forecast a collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul in six months amid warnings of a civil war.
    Biden set a target date of Aug. 31 for the final withdrawal of U.S. forces, minus about 650 troops to provide security for the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and said thousands of Afghan interpreters will be moved to safety.
    A long-time skeptic of the 20-year military presence in Afghanistan, Biden said the United States had long ago achieved its original rationale for invading the country in 2001: to root out al-Qaeda militants and prevent another attack on the United States like the one launched on Sept.11, 2001.    The mastermind of that attack, Osama bin Laden, was killed by a U.S. military team in neighboring Pakistan in 2011.
    Biden was careful not to declare victory, saying “there’s no mission accomplished.”
    “We achieved those objectives, that’s why we went.    We did not go to Afghanistan to nation build.    And it’s the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country,” he said.
    According to an Ipsos poll from April, a majority of Americans support Biden’s decision to move troops out of Afghanistan, but only 28% of adults agreed that the U.S. accomplished its goals in Afghanistan, and 43% said the U.S. withdrawal now helps Al Qaeda.
    Addressing critics of his decision directly, Biden asked: “How many thousands more Americans, daughters and sons, were you willing to risk?    How long would you have them stay?
    “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,” he said.
    The speech represented Biden’s most extensive comments to date about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan under pressure from critics to give more explanation for his decision to withdraw.    Biden called on countries in the region to help bring about an elusive political settlement between the warring parties.    He said the Afghan government should seek a deal with the Taliban to allow them to coexist peacefully.
    “The likelihood there’s going to be one unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said.
    Biden said the United States plans to move thousands of Afghan interpreters out of the country in August and they can safely apply for U.S. visas.
    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was looking at a range of options to house Afghan interpreters temporarily as they wait for their visas, including potentially military installations on U.S. territory as well as in third countries.
    Kirby said the administration was looking at how to move the interpreters from Afghanistan, but the preferred option was chartered commercial aircraft.
    The United States last weekend abandoned Bagram air base, the longtime staging ground for U.S. military operations in the country, effectively ending America’s longest war.The Pentagon says the withdrawal of U.S. forces is 90% complete.
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.    Biden overruled military leaders who wanted to keep a larger presence to assist Afghan security forces and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a staging ground for extremist groups.
    Taliban fighters seized control on Thursday of a district in western Afghanistan that includes a major border crossing with Iran, Afghan security officials said, as the Islamist insurgents continued their rapid military advances around the country.
    In the last week, the Taliban have overrun areas bordering five countries – Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, China and Pakistan.
    The commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, General Austin Miller, warned last week that the country may be headed toward a civil war.
    But Biden said Afghan troops far outnumber the Taliban, 300,000 to 75,000, and that a Taliban takeover can be stopped.
    “It’s not inevitable,” he said.
    And he said there was no comparison between Taliban forces and the North Vietnamese Army that defeated the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese in the 1970s and prompted a hasty American withdrawal.
    “There’s going to be no circumstance you’re going to see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan.    It is not at all comparable,” he said.
    U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Biden had “only offered more empty promises and no detailed plan of action.”
    “The time for platitudes and casting blame is over.    The American people deserve answers and concrete solutions – not false hope,” McCaul said.
    The U.S. intelligence community believes the Afghan military is weak and that the Kabul government’s prospects for survival in the short term are not good, U.S. government sources familiar with official assessments said. Biden denied that U.S. intelligence had forecast a collapse of the Kabul government in six months.
    Biden’s administration is also grappling with its plan for expedited visas for Afghan people most at risk of being attacked by the Taliban.    Rights groups are pushing to add up to 2,000 vulnerable women to the list.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Jonathan Landay, Idrees Ali and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)

7/9/2021 Australia’s New South Wales Flags Lockdown Extension After Record Cases
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks through the city centre during a lockdown to curb the spread of
a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 7, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The leader of Australia’s New South Wales state on Friday said lockdown restrictions in state capital Sydney would have to be extended beyond July 16 unless there is a “dramatic change”, as the state reported its biggest rise in local cases for the year.
    “New South Wales is facing the biggest challenge we have faced since the pandemic started,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

7/9/2021 S.Korea Raises Seoul COVID-19 Curbs To Top Level, New Cases Set 2nd Straight National Record by Sangmi Cha
People wait in line for a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a testing site which is temporarily
set up at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, July 7, 2021. REUTERS/ Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea will raise anti-coronavirus restrictions to the highest level in Seoul and some neighbouring regions for two weeks from Monday, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Friday, after new COVID-19 cases climbed to a daily record for the second day running.
    The country reported 1,316 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight Thursday, up from Wednesday’s previous record of 1,275 a day. On Thursday a top health official warned the numbers may nearly double by the end of July.
    Under the new curbs, people are advised to stay home as much as possible, schools are closed, public meetings are restricted to two people after 6.00 p.m. and rallies or other events are banned.    Nightclubs and bars would be shut, while restaurants and cafes would be allowed limited seating and only take-out services after 10.00 p.m.
    “Seoul alone saw 500 confirmed cases for the third day,” Kim told a televised government meeting.    “Four out of five infections are from the metropolitan Seoul area.”
    While the new, ‘Level 4’ restrictions – the toughest of all distancing measures – will be imposed on Monday, Kim also advised the public to refrain from any private gatherings starting Friday.
    He also said that during the two-week semi-lockdown the government will suspend a programme introduced earlier this year that allowed mask-free outdoor gatherings for citizens vaccinated with at least one COVID-19 shot.
    South Korea has only given both shots in the dual vaccination process to just over 10% of its 52 million population, while 30% have received at least one dose, the majority of whom are aged over 60.    The country aims to reach herd immunity before November by inoculating 70% of the public with at least one shot by September.
    South Korea’s total COVID-19 infections to date stand at 165,344, with 2,036 deaths.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Kenneth Maxwell)

7/9/2021 Biden Accelerates Afghan Troop Withdrawal To End By Aug. 31 by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden speaks during an East Room event on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan at the
White House July 8, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Joe Biden has decided to speed up the already rocky U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, even as the Taliban continues to gain strength in the region.    Speaking from the White House on Thursday, Biden said troops will be home by Aug. 31, which is earlier than the original deadline of Sept. 11.
    He said there will still be a diplomatic and humanitarian presence in the nation moving forward, but the Afghan military will no longer be supported by U.S. forces. He painted a grim outlook of Afghanistan’s future, insisting no amount of American presence could resolve the country’s vast array of issues.
    “Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that ‘just one more year’ of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution, but a recipe for being there indefinitely,” said Biden.
Afghan security personnel stand guard along the road amid ongoing fight between Afghan security forces
and Taliban fighters in Kandahar on July 9, 2021. (JAVED TANVEER/AFP via Getty Images)
    Biden instead argued American resources are better spent elsewhere, such as improving the U.S.’s counterterrorism measures in other regions of the world.
    “We are repositioning our resources and adapting our counterterrorism posture to meet the threats where they are now significantly higher: in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa,” said the Democrat.
    In the meantime, the Taliban has taken over nearly 10 percent of Afghanistan in just the past week alone, raising questions about Biden’s decision to withdrawal American forces.    However, Biden has continued to defend his decision and claims the U.S. did what it needed to do in Afghanistan, but this is in no way a “mission accomplished” moment.
    The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for 20 years and it remains America’s longest running war.

7/9/2021 Biden Appears To Forget Why U.S. Went To Afghanistan In 2001, Takes Credit For Bin Laden Raid In Pakistan by OAN Newsroom
President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, July 8, 2021, in Washington. Biden is set
to sign an executive order the White House bills as an effort to target anticompetitive practices in tech, health care
and other parts of the economy while boosting workers’ wages and consumer protections. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    Joe Biden appeared to lose his train of thought, yet again, while speaking on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan Thursday.    Specifically, he seemed to not remember why U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
    Biden claimed the U.S. never had an objective to help Afghanistan “nation-build.”    His remarks came despite U.S. officials saying for years that helping Afghanistan become a free and prosperous nation would reduce the threat of terror.
    Biden also tried to take credit for the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden.    In reality, Bin Laden was killed in his hideout in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.    In fact, he opposed that operation back in the day.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban is now gaining ground in Afghanistan after 20 years of U.S. presence.    This also contradicts Biden’s claims of a reduced terror threat in the region.

7/10/2021 Cyberattack Leaves Delays For Iran Train Services by OAN Newsroom
An Iranian woman wearing a face mask waits for a train carriage at a metro station in the
capital Tehran on June 10, 2020 (STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran’s train services were delayed after a cyberattack hit the country’s rail network.    On Friday, hackers posted fake messages about train delays and cancellations on display boards at stations across the country.
    The hackers even listed the phone number for the office of the country’s supreme leader, advising people to call for more information.    They posted messages such as “long delay because of cyberattack” and “canceled.”
    However, a spokesperson for the railway company said the disruption did not cause any immediate issues for the train services.
    It is still unclear whether the reported attack caused any damage or disruptions to Iran’s computer and internet systems.    So far, no group has taken responsibility for the hack.

7/11/2021 Afghan Forces Repel Taliban Assault On Provincial Capital, Governor Says
Armed Afghan militias patrol on the outskirts of Takhar province, Afghanistan July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    KABUL/MUMBAI (Reuters) -Afghan security forces, with the help of air strikes, repelled an assault by Taliban fighters on the provincial centre of a key northern province bordering Tajikistan on Sunday, officials said.
    The Taliban assault was the latest in a string of offensives that has seen insurgents capture territory across Afghanistan as U.S.-led foreign forces are in the final stages of withdrawing troops after almost 20 years of fighting.
    “The enemy’s offensive attacks were repelled, and they suffered heavy and unprecedented casualties, as a result of which 55 enemy soldiers were killed and 90 were wounded,” the governor of Takhar province Abdullah Qarluq said.
    Reuters could not independently confirm his account.
    More than a dozen Taliban fighters were killed in air strikes by the Afghan Air Force on hideouts on the outskirts of Takhar’s provincial center, Taluqan, Afghanistan’s defence ministry said on Twitter.
    “The Taliban attacked Taluqan from four directions last night (Saturday), but were faced with strong resistance from security forces and (local) people,” Khalil Asir, spokesman for Takhar Police Command, told Reuters.
    Taluqan is just the latest provincial capital to come under Taliban pressure.    Earlier this week Taliban fighters entered the capital of the western province of Badghis, seizing police and security facilities and attempting to take over the governor’s office before special forces pushed them back.
    Insurgents have made a fresh push to gain territory in recent weeks, emboldened by the departure of foreign forces.    The Pentagon believes that after taking dozens of district centres, the Taliban will make a push for provincial centres.
    In southern Afghanistan, too, clashes continued.
    India said on Sunday it had temporarily repatriated officials from its consulate in Kandahar, a major city in southern Afghanistan.
    “Due to the intense fighting near Kandahar city, India-based personnel have been brought back for the time being,” Arindam Bagchi, chief spokesperson at India’s foreign ministry, said in a statement.
    “India is closely monitoring the evolving security situation in Afghanistan,” Bagchi said, adding that India’s consulate in Kandahar was being run by local staff temporarily.
    Taliban officials said on Friday that the Sunni Muslim insurgent group had taken control of 85% of Afghanistan’s territory.    Afghan government officials dismissed the assertion as propaganda.
(Reporting by Kabul newsroom, Abhirup Roy and C.K. Nayak; Editing by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis)

7/11/2021 DOD: We’re Looking At Afghanistan With ‘Deep Concern’ by OAN Newsroom
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) talks to reporters follow a House Republican conference meeting in the
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center on May 12, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Critics of Joe Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan have been speaking out against the move, claiming it may not last long.    On Sunday, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), who served in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the Air Force, said the withdrawal symbolizes the resolve of the Taliban.
    Kinzinger went on to say U.S. troops will likely have to re-enter Afghanistan to quell the Taliban’s offensive in the country.    The terrorist organization recently claimed to have recaptured around 85 percent of the Middle Eastern country.
    This includes the key U.S. Bagram Air Base near Kabul, which was vacated by American troops last week.    Kinzinger added, it’s only a matter of time before we see the collapse of the Afghan government.
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier stands guard at Bagram Air Base, after all U.S. and
NATO troops left, some 70 Km north of Kabul on July 2, 2021. (ZAKERIA HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Former Obama-era Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said he believes Biden should leave troops in the country. Johnson advised the Biden administration to leave around 2,500 troops to work counterterrorism.
    However, he remains confident in America’s ability to respond to terrorist threats in Afghanistan even if operations are outside, its borders.
    Additionally, Department of Defense Spokesperson John Kirby has defended the administration’s decision, stressing the U.S. is not walking away from our relationship with the Afghan government.    He said Biden plans on supporting officials with financial and advisory resources.
    He also reflected on the Biden administration’s concern with the Taliban’s momentum and said they are looking into options to deter their rise in the region.    In the meantime, Biden plans to bring forward the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Aug. 31.

7/12/2021 N. Korea Dismisses U.S. Humanitarian Aid As ‘Sinister Scheme’ by Josh Smith
    SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. humanitarian aid is a “sinister political scheme” to put pressure on other countries, a North Korean researcher said, after suggestions from U.S. allies such as South Korea that coronavirus vaccines or other help could promote cooperation.
    North Korea’s foreign ministry published the criticism of U.S. aid on an official website on Sunday, a clear indication that it reflects government thinking.
    Kang Hyon Chol, identified as a senior researcher at the ministry-affiliated Association for the Promotion of International Economic and Technological Exchange, listed a series of examples from around the world that he said highlight a U.S. practice of linking aid to its foreign policy goals or pressure on human rights issues.
    “This vividly reveals that the American ulterior intention of linking ‘humanitarian assistance’ with ‘human rights issue’ is to legitimise their pressure on the sovereign states and achieve their sinister political scheme,” Kang wrote.
    Among the examples he listed was declining American assistance to the government in Afghanistan, where the United States is due to withdraw the last of its troops in coming weeks.
    “In actual practice, many countries have undergone bitter tastes as a result of pinning much hope on the American ‘aid’ and ‘humanitarian assistance’,” Kang said.
    American officials have said they are supportive of humanitarian aid to North Korea but that no efforts are underway to provide direct assistance.
    South Korea has vowed it would provide coronavirus vaccines if requested, and some analysts have argued that such foreign aid could provide an opening to resume diplomatic talks with the North, which has rebuffed most overtures from Seoul and Washington since 2019.
    South Korea’s unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, noted the article was not an official statement and said it would continue to seek ways to cooperate with Pyongyang to ensure health and safety in both Koreas.
    North Korea has shown no public signs of interest in aid from South Korea or the United States, though it has accepted at least limited assistance from China and Russia.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Robert Birsel)

7/12/2021 In Symbolic End To War, U.S. General To Step Down From Command In Afghanistan by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (R) meets General Austin "Scott" Miller, commander of U.S. forces
and NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Kabul, Afghanistan July 2, 2021. Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – The U.S. general leading the war in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, will relinquish command on Monday, U.S. officials say, in a symbolic end to America’s longest conflict even as Taliban insurgents gain momentum.
    Miller will become America’s last four-star general on the ground in Afghanistan in a ceremony in Kabul that will come ahead of a formal end to the military mission there on Aug. 31, a date set by President Joe Biden as he looks to extricate American from the two-decade-old war.
    While the ceremony may offer some sense of closure for U.S. veterans who served in Afghanistan, it’s unclear whether it will succeed in reassuring the Western-backed Afghan government as the Taliban press ground offensives that have given them control of more territory than at any time since the conflict began.
    U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, whose Florida-based Central Command oversees U.S. forces in hot-spots including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, flew into Kabul to underscore America’s future assistance to Afghan security forces.
    “Admittedly, it’s going to be very different than it was in the past.    I’m not going to minimize that,” McKenzie told a small group of reporters.    “But we’re going to support them.”
    But he also cautioned that the Taliban, in his view, appeared to be seeking “a military solution” to a war that the United States has unsuccessfully tried to end with a peace agreement between the Taliban and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
    He cautioned that provincial capitals were at risk but noted that the U.S.-backed Afghan security forces “are determined to fight very hard for those provincial capitals.”
    Even after Miller steps down, McKenzie will still be able to authorise U.S. air strikes against the Taliban through Aug. 31 in support of Ghani’s Western-backed government.
    But after that, the Marine general said when it came to U.S. strikes in Afghanistan, his focus will shift squarely to counter-terrorism operations against al Qaeda and Islamic State.
INTELLIGENCE NETWORK
    Gathering enough intelligence on the ground to prevent another Sept. 11-style attack could become increasingly challenging, as America’s intelligence network weakens with the U.S. withdrawal and as Afghan troops lose territory.
    Democratic Representative Elissa Slotkin, a former senior Pentagon official, said many lawmakers were still looking for answers from the Biden administration about how the U.S. will be able to detect a future al Qaeda plot against the United States.
    “I don’t need them to tell the entire world what our day-after plan is.    But I think it’s important that they let us know some of the details on a private basis,” Slotkin said.
    U.S. officials do not believe the Taliban could be relied upon to prevent al Qaeda from again plotting attacks against the United States from Afghan soil.
    The United Nations said in a report in January there were as many as 500 al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan and that the Taliban maintained a close relationship with the Islamist extremist group.
LONGEST SERVING GENERAL
    As he steps down, Miller, 60, has spent longer on the ground than any of the previous generals to command the war.
    He had a close call in 2018 when a rogue Afghan bodyguard in Kandahar province opened fire in and killed a powerful Afghan police chief standing near Miller. A U.S. brigadier general was wounded as were other Americans but Miller emerged unscathed.
    After Miller leaves the post, the Pentagon has engineered a transition that will allow a series of generals to carry on with supporting the Afghan security forces, mostly from overseas.
    Beyond McKenzie’s overwatch from Florida, a Qatar-based brigadier general, Curtis Buzzard, will focus on administering funding support for the Afghan security forces – including aircraft maintenance support.
    In Kabul, Navy Rear Admiral Peter Vasely will lead a newly created U.S. Forces Afghanistan-Forward, focusing on protecting the embassy and airport.
    Vasely, as a two-star admiral, is higher ranked than usual for a U.S. embassy-based post. But a U.S. defense official added that Afghanistan was a “very unique situation.”
    “There’s no comparable diplomatic security situation in the world with what we’re going to establish,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Still, what happens next in Afghanistan appears to be increasingly out of America’s control.
    Biden acknowledged on Thursday that Afghanistan’s future was far from certain but said the Afghan people must decide their own fate.
    “I will not send another generation of Americans to war in Afghanistan with no reasonable expectation of achieving a different outcome,” he said.
    About 2,400 U.S. service members have been killed in America’s longest war – and many thousands wounded.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/12/2021 Politics, Health Collided In Taiwan’s Tortured BioNTech Vaccine Talks by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Test tubes are seen in front of a displayed Biontech logo in this illustration taken, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – As talks for Taiwan to access BioNTech SE’s COVID-19 vaccine via two major Taiwanese companies reached a head last week, the German firm’s Chinese sales agent put forward a template contract seeking access to Taiwanese medical records.
    The clause sparked alarm, as such a requirement would be anathema for Taiwan’s government, long wary of Beijing’s attempts at influence over the democratic island, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
    “The other side did propose such a contract template, which made negotiators in Taiwan and the Taiwan government feel puzzled and troubled, but after talks, the other side stopped insisting and adjusted it in a short time,” the source said.
    Reuters could not determine why Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co Ltd sent the template, and the company did not respond to requests for comment.
    But the incident highlights how politics became entangled with a public health issue, laying bare wider disagreements between the governments of China and Taiwan.
    The BioNTech issue has challenged China’s efforts to project a benign global image through vaccine diplomacy, especially after Taiwan’s direct deal with BioNTech collapsed in January.
    Shortly after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen accused China in late May of blocking her government’s deal with BioNTech, Japan and the United States announced they would donate millions of vaccines to the island.
    Germany also said it had been helping in Taiwan’s talks with BioNTech.
CONTENTIOUS CONTRACT
    Fosun’s contract template, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, stipulated that it or its “authorised representatives” should have the right to audit the vaccination process, including checking facilities and reviewing documentation.
    It also granted Fosun the right to collect data and interview vaccine recipients, something more akin to a clinical trial than a mass vaccination scheme.
    Two other sources briefed on the talks said that personal information was never going to be sent to China, and that the contract was only a template based on a deal signed with Chinese-run Hong Kong.    “It was just that – a template” and a starting point for negotiations, one of the sources said.    On Sunday, Fosun said an agreement had been signed to provide the vaccines to two Taiwanese tech firms, Foxconn and TSMC.    Taiwan’s government allowed them last month to negotiate on its behalf, after public pressure about the slow pace of vaccines arriving.
    TSMC said the template was not the contract they signed, and declined to comment further.
    A representative for Foxconn’s billionaire founder Terry Gou, who led a high-profile campaign to buy the vaccines and donate them to Taiwan’s government, rejected the idea that the template was a problem, or that detailed data would have been sent to China.
    Other data, such as reporting on patients who have serious reactions to vaccine shots, will be closely protected, she said.
    “The follow-up information exchange shall comply with Taiwan regulations, protect privacy, and be used for medical purposes,” Amanda Liu told Reuters.
    China’s Taiwan Affairs Office referred Reuters to a faxed statement on June 23 in which it denied seeking to block Taiwan from getting vaccines from overseas.
    It said Taiwan’s government “on the one hand refuses mainland vaccines and on the other blames it for the lack of vaccines on the island.”
    BioNTech did not respond to questions about the template contract.    Taiwan’s Presidential Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    China’s government had said repeatedly that if Taiwan wanted the BioNTech vaccine it had to do it through Fosun.
    Chinese state media has also relentlessly focused on how bad the pandemic was in Taiwan, though even the latest outbreak was relatively small and is now well under control.
    The drama has fascinated Taiwan’s public and led news coverage for weeks, even as other vaccines directly purchased by the government from AstraZeneca and Moderna arrive.
    One Taiwan-based official familiar with the vaccine talks said Taiwan arguably did not need vaccine deliveries as urgently as countries such as Indonesia and Thailand, where the virus is spreading fast.
    Moreover, he said, Taiwan’s accusations that China earlier obstructed the BioNTech shots worked in Taipei’s favour because it prompted Washington and Tokyo into action.
    “This was always a political not a health issue,” he said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/12/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ‘Gravely Concerned’ About Coronavirus, Lawyer Says
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
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi is “gravely concerned” about the country’s worsening coronavirus situation, her lawyer said on Monday.
    Khin Maung Zaw said Suu Kyi voiced her concern during a meeting of her legal team before a court appearance on Monday.    Suu Kyi has been detained since a Feb. 1 coup and is on trial charged with multiple offences, which her legal team reject.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies)

7/12/2021 Thailand To Mix Sinovac, AstraZeneca Vaccines To Increase Protection by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um
FILE PHOTO: People sleep under a bridge as they wait for a free coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) test in Bangkok, Thailand July 11, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand said on Monday it will use AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine as a second dose for those who received Sinovac’s shot as their first dose to increase protection against the disease.
    The plan, if implemented, would be the first publicly announced mix and match of a Chinese vaccine and a Western-developed shot.
    “This is to improve protection against the Delta variant and build high level of immunity against the disease,” Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters.
    Thailand and neighbours like Indonesia have reported breakthrough infections among medical and frontline workers inoculated with Sinovac’s inactivated virus vaccine.
    The majority of Thailand’s medical and frontline workers were given Sinovac’s shots after February with the viral vector vaccine from AstraZeneca made more widely available since June.
    The announcement came a day after Thailand’s health ministry said 618 medical workers out of 677,348 personnel who received two doses of Sinovac became infected with COVID-19 from April to July.    One nurse has died and another medical worker is in critical condition.
    The country plans to also give mRNA booster shots to medical workers who received two shots of the Sinovac vaccine.
    Thailand recorded 8,656 infections and 80 deaths on Monday, among the 345,027 cases and 2,791 fatalities overall, the vast majority from an outbreak since early April that is being fueled by the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta COVID-19 variants.
    It implemented its toughest coronavirus restrictions in more than a year on Monday in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, with new curbs on movement and gatherings imposed and widespread suspensions by airlines and bus firms.
    The measures, initially for two weeks, aim to slow the spread of the coronavirus and include a curfew, mall closures and a five-person limit on gatherings, after a period of record or near-record deaths and cases.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)

7/12/2021 In Latest China Regulatory Move, Common Data Platform Planned For Greater Bay Area
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past an office of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC)
in Beijing, China July 8, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s southern Guangdong province said it plans to build a common data platform for the Greater Bay Area that includes Hong Kong and Macau, and will build a data trading market in Shenzhen – part of efforts to regulate data more thoroughly.
    Guangdong will also explore the establishment of a data “customs hub” to review and supervise data that crosses borders, the provincial government said on a notice on its website dated Sunday.
    The government will “promote the circulation and sharing of data between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau and the use of data to benefit industrial development, social governance and services for the people,” the statement said.
    Authorities will also strengthen oversight of data transactions and speed up the introduction of legislation for the digital economy, the Guangdong statement said.
    It was not immediately clear what types of data would be traded in Shenzhen.
    Data regulation, particularly cybersecurity relating to Chinese companies listing or listed in the United States, has become a major focus for Chinese authorities this month with a raft of new measures and initiatives announced.
    That began with the Cybersecurity Administration of China’s sudden announcement of a probe into ride-hailing giant Didi Global Inc just days after its listing in New York and the subsequent order for its app to be removed from app stores.
    On Saturday it said that any company with data of more than 1 million users must undergo a security review before listing its shares overseas.
(Reporting by Emily Chow and Josh Horwitz; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

7/12/2021 Afghan Special Forces Moved In On Taliban, Only To Find They Had Melted Away by Danish Siddiqui
A member of the Afghan Special Forces speaks to a resident as others search his house during a
mission against Taliban, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 12, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Soldiers from Afghanistan’s special forces paused for a short prayer late on Sunday night on a deserted stretch of highway in the southern province of Kandahar. They do so each time they prepare to face Taliban militants in battle.
    The highly trained troops had been called in to flush out insurgents who attacked regular forces and local police hours earlier, only to find that the Taliban had disappeared into the darkness leaving behind a few civilians and wounded soldiers.
    “We received a report that the enemy had infiltrated here and wanted to overthrow the district,” Major Mohammad din Tasir, a member of the special forces unit deployed in the Taliban’s former stronghold of Kandahar, told Reuters after the operation.
    The report had suggested up to 300 Taliban fighters were present in the area, he said.
    “Unfortunately, what we heard in the report and what we saw on the scene did not match.”
    Tasir said the absence of Taliban fighters showed that claims by the group that they now controlled up to 85% of the country’s territory were exaggerated.
    It also underlined the difficulty in facing an enemy that mixes open assaults on checkpoints, villages, towns and cities with hit-and-run tactics that tend to avoid heavy casualties.
    Recent territorial gains by the Taliban come as foreign troops led by the U.S. military withdraw from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, leaving the task of pulling the country from a spiralling security crisis to local forces.
    On Monday, the U.S. general leading the war in Afghanistan, Austin Miller, will relinquish his command, in a symbolic end to America’s longest conflict.
TALIBAN ADVANCES
    Kandahar is one of many provinces to see a recent surge in offensives by the Taliban, which says it wants to be involved in running the country peacefully although it has always opposed the presence of foreign forces.
    In the last week the group has been advancing in the west of the country near the border with Iran and has surrounded the central city of Ghazni.
    The special forces unit had been called in after insurgents attempted to take control of Khan Baba village in the Dand district of Kandahar, unleashing RPGs and heavy machinegun fire at Afghan security forces and local police.
    The soldiers travelled there under cover of darkness, using night vision equipment and moving in Humvee vehicles scarred with bullet holes from previous missions, some of them carried out with U.S. allies.
    When they arrived they found the village largely abandoned.    Air strikes by the Afghan Air Force had helped push back Taliban fighters.
    Special forces personnel moved swiftly and silently from house to house, entering through doors and jumping walls to locate Taliban remnants who may still be hiding in the area.
    They found only a few mainly elderly locals who said that other residents had fled when the fighting began.    The troops also tended to soldiers wounded in the earlier clashes before evacuating them to the nearest military base.
    In the distance sporadic gunfire rang out.
    An Afghan defence official said on Twitter on Monday that 26 insurgents had been killed in operations and air strikes a day earlier in two Kandahar districts, including Dand.
    Reuters could not independently verify this.
    Once the operation was complete, the special forces caught a short rest, before preparing to receive orders for their next mission.
(Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

7/13/2021 Japan Warns Of Crisis Over Taiwan, Growing Risks From U.S.-China Rivalry by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A Type-74 tank fires ammunition during a live fire exercise at Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's (JGSDF's)
training grounds in the East Fuji Maneuver Area in Gotemba, Japan May 22, 2021. Akio Kon/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Growing military tension around Taiwan as well as economic and technological rivalry between China and the United States raises the prospect of crisis in the region as the power balance shifts in China’s favour, Japan said in its annual defence white paper.
    China rejected Japan’s conclusions about what it said was normal military activity, calling them irresponsible.
    The Japanese defence review, which was approved by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government on Tuesday, points to China as Japan’s main national security concern.
    “It is necessary that we pay close attention to the situation with a sense of crisis more than ever,” the paper said in a new section on Taiwan.
    “In particular, competition in technological fields is likely to become even more intense,” it said about U.S.-China rivalry.
    China’s recent increase in military activity around Taiwan has Japan worried since the island lies close to the Okinawa chain at the western end of the Japanese archipelago.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed thanks to Japan for attaching such importance to security in the Taiwan Strait.
    But there was an angry reaction in Beijing which said Japan has “for some time now” been making baseless accusations about China’s normal defence buildup and military activities.
    “This is very wrong and irresponsible.    China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition to this,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping this month pledged to complete the “reunification” with Taiwan and in June criticised the United States as a “risk creator” after it sent a warship through the Taiwan Straits separating the island from the mainland.
    Japan’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, Taro Aso, this month in a speech reported by Japanese media said Japan should join forces with the United States to defend Taiwan from any invasion.    Aso later said any contingency over Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue when asked about the remarks, which drew a rebuke from Beijing.
    As the military rivalry between the United States and China deepens, their economic competition is fuelling a race to take the lead in technologies such as semiconductors, artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
    The technological rivalry poses a challenge for Japan because its economy relies as much on business ties with China as it does with the United States.
    Japan will also have to spend heavily to keep up with government funding for technology development in the United States, China and Europe.
    U.S. Senate lawmakers recently passed the Innovation and Competition Act of 2021, which authorises $190 billion spending on technology including $54 billion to increase chip production.
    U.S. House of Representative lawmakers are debating a separate proposal that also promises generous funding, known as the Ensuring American Global Leadership and Engagement Act, or EAGLE Act.
    The Japanese annual security review for the first time included a section on threats posed by climate change, which it said would increase competition for land and resources and may trigger mass movements of displaced people.
    An increase in disasters linked to global warming could also stretch military capabilities, Japan said, while Arctic Sea ice melting could lead to the militarisation of northern waters.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Stephen Coates)

7/13/2021 China Says It Opposes U.S. Interference In Internal Affairs Related To Hong Kong
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American company
in Beijing, China January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China said on Tuesday it opposed the United States interfering in its internal affairs, in response to a report that Washington will warn U.S. companies of risks of operating in Hong Kong.
    Hong Kong basic law and relevant laws clearly protect the interests of foreign investors, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing.
    The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the U.S. government will this week warn companies of increasing risks of operating in Hong Kong and also update a previously issued warning on Xinjiang.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

7/13/2021 At Least 2 Dead After Heavy Rains Swamp Hilly Northern Indian State
    A view shows damaged houses along Manjhi River after flash floods in Chetru village in the Kangra district
of the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, India, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO ARCHIVES. NO RESALES.
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – At least two people were dead and 10 missing after heavy rains in a hilly northern Indian state triggered landslides and flash floods that destroyed homes, damaged roads and swept away cars, a senior government official said on Tuesday.
    About 50 workers from the National Disaster Response Force and local responders have been deployed to look for survivors in the hard-hit Boh valley in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, said Nipun Jindal, the district’s deputy commissioner.
    “Rescue work there is ongoing,” Jindal told Reuters via telephone.    “They are clearing the muck and the debris.”
    The fast-moving flood waters ripped away buildings’ foundations and threatened to wash away roads. Residents gathered outside in the rain, hauling their belongings away from the flooding.
    With further rains expected, Jindal said that district authorities were on high alert, and that tourists had been told to either postpone visits or to remain where they are if already in Kangra.
    Straddling the Himalayan foothills, Kangra is home to the Tibetan government in exile based in the city of Dharamshala and is a popular tourist destination.
    Television footage from Monday’s flooding showed swirling brown waters flowing through narrow streets at a settlement near Dharamshala, sweeping away a large car that was caught in the torrent.    In another area, flood waters had damaged several homes abutting a stream, forcing residents out on the streets.
    In recent weeks, thousands of tourists have thronged to hillside destinations in northern India, including Dharamshala, prompting warnings from authorities to maintain COVID-19 precautions after a catastrophic second wave of infections in the country.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/14/2021 Afghan Taliban Seize Border Crossing With Pakistan In Major Advance by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
FILE PHOTO: A convoy of Afghan Special Forces is seen during the rescue mission of a policeman besieged at a check post surrounded
by Taliban, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021. Picture taken July 13, 2021.REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters in Afghanistan seized control of a major border crossing with Pakistan on Wednesday, one of the most important objectives they have achieved so far during a rapid advance across the country as U.S. forces pull out.
    Video released by the militants showed their white flag with black Koranic verse flying in place of the Afghanistan flag above the Friendship Gate at the border crossing in the Afghan town of Wesh, opposite the Pakistani town of Chaman.
    “After two decades of the brutality of Americans and their puppets, this gate and the Spin Boldak district were captured by the Taliban,” a fighter said to camera.
    “The strong resistance of the Mujahideen and its people forced the enemy to leave this area.    As you can see, that’s the Islamic Emirate flag, the flag that thousands of Mujahideen shed their blood to raise.”
    The crossing, in the Spin Boldak district south of Afghanistan’s main southern city Kandahar, is the landlocked country’s second busiest entry point and main commercial artery between its sprawling southwest region and Pakistani sea ports.    Afghan government data indicate that the route is used by 900 trucks a day.
    Afghan officials said government forces had pushed back the Taliban and were in control of the district.    But civilians and Pakistani officials said the Taliban remained in control of the crossing.
    “Wesh, which has great importance in Afghan trade with Pakistan and other countries, has been captured by the Taliban,” said a Pakistani security official deployed at the border area.
    Officials in Chaman said the Taliban had suspended all travel through the gate.
    The Taliban have in recent days seized other major border crossings, in Herat, Farah and Kunduz provinces in the north and west.    Control of border posts allows the Taliban to collect revenue, said Shafiqullah Attai, chairman of the Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment in the capital Kabul.
    The Islamist militants, who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster in 2001 by U.S. bombing following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, have since been fighting to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has announced he is pulling out all U.S. troops by August, and American forces left their main base in the country two weeks ago.    Emboldened Taliban have been making a fresh push to surround cities and capture territory.
    U.S. officials told Reuters the United States will send charter flights later this month to start evacuating around 2,500 Afghans who worked as interpreters for the U.S. government and whose lives are now at risk.    The programme has been dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge.”
PRESIDENT VOWS TO BREAK TALIBAN BACKBONE
    President Ashraf Ghani travelled to the northern province of Balkh on Tuesday to assess security after the Taliban pushed government forces out of several districts there.
    Ghani, 72, met civilians and assured them that “the Taliban’s backbone will be broken” and government forces would soon retake areas lost to the militants, the Tolo News network reported.
    In the western province of Herat, a security official said Taliban fighters had fired several mortars at the Salma Dam, a vital hydroelectric and irrigation project.
    Officials at the National Water Affairs Regulation Authority appealed to the Taliban to treat the dam as a “national treasure (that) is the common property of all and should not be damaged in military conflict.”
    Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the Taliban were forcing members of a small ethnic minority to either convert to Islam or leave their homes in the northern province of Badakhshan.
    “These are minority Kerghiz who lived there for centuries…They are now (across the border) in Tajikistan awaiting their fate,” he said on Twitter.
    The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said it was increasingly concerned about reports of rights abuses as the fighting spreads.    “The reports of killing, ill-treatment, persecution and discrimination are widespread and disturbing, creating fear and insecurity,” the mission said in a statement.
    Educated Afghans – especially women and girls who were barred from school and most work under Taliban rule – have voiced alarm at their rapid advance, as have members of ethnic and sectarian minorities persecuted under the Taliban’s severe interpretation of Sunni Islam.
    Taliban spokespeople reject accusations that they abuse rights, and say women will not be mistreated if the Taliban return to power.
    “The best way to end harm to civilians is for peace talks to be reinvigorated in order for a negotiated settlement to be reached,” the U.N. mission said.
    The Taliban made a commitment to negotiate with their Afghan rivals as part of an agreement under which the United States agreed to withdraw.    But little progress has been made towards a ceasefire in several rounds of talks in Qatar.
    Senior politicians from Kabul were preparing to leave for Qatar for more talks this month as Western diplomats urged the rival sides to work towards a power-sharing agreement.
(Additional reporting by Gul Yosuefzai in Quetta, Gibran Peshimam in IslamabadWriting by Rupam Jain and Peter GraffEditing by Robert Birsel, Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff)

7/14/2021 U.S. Will Continue Nuclear Talks With Iran, White House Says
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, in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States will continue nuclear talks with Iran, the White House said on Wednesday, after an Iranian plot to kidnap a U.S.-based journalist was made public.
    A U.S. Justice Department indictment unsealed on Tuesday showed prosecutors have charged four Iranians in a kidnapping plot of the journalist.    The White House condemns the plot, press secretary Jen Psaki said.
(Reporting by Heather Timmons; Editing by Chris Reese)

7/14/2021 China Warns Biden Not To ‘Interfere’ With Hong Kong by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden as they
pose for photos at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AP Photo/Lintao Zhang, Pool, File)
    Communist China has added pressure on Joe Biden by warning against U.S. support for the freedom and democracy of Hong Kong.    On Tuesday, Beijing released a statement on Tuesday, which urged the U.S. not to interfere with what it referred to as China’s internal affairs.
    The warning came in response to a report by the Financial Times, which said the U.S. government may inform companies of operational risks they may face in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.    However, China said Hong Kong’s laws would protect the interests of foreign companies operating there.
China also added Biden’s officials had no place in the Hong Kong Debate.
    “We have stated our position on the Hong Kong issue many times and we oppose the U.S. interference in China’s internal affairs through the Hong Kong issue,” Spokesman for the Foreign Ministry of China Zhao Lijian expressed.    “The Hong Kong Basic Law and related laws clearly protect the rights and interests of foreign investors.”
    Meanwhile, Republican officials are calling for sanctions on corporations that use Xinjiang slave labor and enable political repressions in Hong Kong.

7/14/2021 India Tells China Continuing Border Tensions Not In Either Side’s Interests
FILE PHOTO: India's Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar attends a joint news conference with Russia's
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following their talks in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – The failure of China and India to resolve the standoff over their disputed border in the western Himalayas, despite an agreement last year, is not in the interest of either side, India’s foreign minister told his Chinese counterpart on Wednesday.
    In accordance with last year’s pact, military commanders on both sides completed a pullout of troops, tanks and artillery from the Pangong Lake area in February in a first step towards full withdrawal from other friction points.
    India’s minister of external affairs, S Jaishankar, said friction in these other areas remained unresolved, however.
    “(The minister) recalled that both sides had agreed that a prolongation of the existing situation was not in the interest of either side.    It was visibly impacting the relationship in a negative manner,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
    Jaishankar and China’s Wang Yi met at the sidelines of a gathering of foreign ministers in Tajikistan on Wednesday.
    Thousands of soldiers have been facing off since April 2020 on the Line of Actual Control (LAC), or the de facto border, including at the glacial Pangong Lake, raising fears of a broader conflict between the two countries.
    Both Indian and Chinese soldiers were killed in a clash in June last year – the first combat losses on the disputed border in more than four decades.
    The two ministers agreed to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the problem and ensure stability on the ground by avoiding any unilateral action that could increase tension, the statement said.
(Reporting by Abhirup Roy and C.K. Nayak; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

7/15/2021 Afghan Neighbours Wary Of New Refugee Crisis As Violence Surges by Umar Farooq
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced Afghan girl carries a child near their shelter at a
camp on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani meets regional leaders for talks in Uzbekistan on Thursday as deteriorating security in his country raises fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis with neighbouring Pakistan already ruling out taking any more.
    Several million Afghans have been displaced within their country over years of war, 270,000 of them in fighting since January as U.S.-led foreign forces have been withdrawing, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
    With Taliban insurgents apparently intent on defeating Ghani’s Western-backed government, Afghanistan’s neighbours are on alert for refugees crossing borders as the fighting intensifies and living conditions deteriorate.
    “The meetings in Tashkent will focus on Afghanistan’s future and involve intense diplomacy,” a diplomat briefed on the matter said of the two-day gathering.
    Decades of war have driven Afghans out of their country, most into Pakistan to the east and Iran to the west.
    Pakistan is home to 1.4 million Afghan refugees while Iran hosts nearly a million, according to U.N. refugee agency data from the beginning of the year.    The number of undocumented Afghans in both countries is estimated to be much higher.
    Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, visiting Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on Tuesday said his country, with limited resources, could not be expected to do any more.
    “It cannot afford to welcome more refugees if the situation within Afghanistan deteriorates again,” Qureshi said.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and top government officials from countries across the region are expected at the meeting in Tashkent.
    Foreign ministers from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation met in Dushanbe this week and called for an end to violence against Afghan civilians and urged the government to strengthen its position for the sake of stability.
TENSE BORDERS
    Last week, Tajikistan said it took in more than 1,000 civilians fleeing violence in northern Afghanistan’s Badakhshan province.
    Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon early last week though, also ordered the mobilisation of 20,000 military reservists to secure its border with Afghanistan.
    Rakhmon also called on his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose country has a sizable military presence in Tajikistan, to help stabilise the border with Afghanistan.
    Despite Qureshi’s warning that Pakistan would take no more refugees, Pakistani officials in border areas have begun to identify sites that could be used for refugee camps.
    Pakistan shut its two main border crossings with Afghanistan last week after lawmakers were told by the military that more than 700,000 Afghans could enter in coming months.
    A humanitarian crisis could force Afghans to leave their country just as much as actual fighting.
    Some 18.4 million people, almost half the population, need humanitarian help, according to the United Nations, which has appealed for $1.3 billion in funding for 2021.    It has only received about 23% of that.
    Last week, the World Health Organization warned it was struggling to get medicines and supplies into Afghanistan where facilities have come under attack and some staff have fled.    It estimates that more than 3 million Afghan children are at risk of acute malnutrition.
    “Afghanistan’s on the brink of another humanitarian crisis,” said Babar Baloch, a spokesman of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Tuesday.
    A failure to stem the “violence will lead to further displacement within the country, as well as to neighbouring countries and beyond,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel)

7/15/2021 China Senior Diplomat Urges Pakistan To Investigate Bus Blast by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi listens during a meeting in Manila,
Philippines January 16, 2021. Francis Malasig/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi urged Pakistan to investigate a blast on a bus that killed 13 people, including nine Chinese workers, but stopped short of calling it an attack, according to a post on Thursday on the foreign ministry’s website.
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called the Wednesday blast a bomb attack later that day but Pakistan said a mechanical failure caused a gas leak that led to the explosion.
    The blast sent the bus crashing into a ravine in Khyber-Paktunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan where Chinese engineers have for several years been working on hydroelectric projects as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative.
    China is a close ally and major investor in Pakistan and various militants fighting the Pakistani state have in the past attacked Chinese projects.
    Wang told Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi that if it was indeed a “terrorist attack,” Pakistan should immediately arrest the culprits and punish them severely, according to the Chinese ministry’s summary of a meeting they had in Dushanbe on Wednesday.
    Wang, who is China’s State Councillor and foreign minister, said “lessons should be learned” and both sides should further strengthen security measures for China-Pakistan cooperation projects to ensure their safe and smooth operation.
    The two spoke in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on the sidelines of a foreign ministers meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/15/2021 Thailand Says AstraZeneca Asked To Delay Delivery Of 61 Million Vaccine Doses by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um
FILE PHOTO: People receive the first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at
the Central Vaccination Center, inside the Bang Sue Grand Station, Thailand, June 21, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) -AstraZeneca has asked Thailand to extend the timeline for the delivery of 61 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine by five months, a deputy minister said on Thursday, a move likely to further disrupt the country’s sluggish vaccine rollout.
    The reported request points to a slow production ramp-up at its local manufacturing partner, which had initial production and delivery issues, even as AstraZeneca reassured it would be back on track from this month to meet its supply commitments to Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations.
    The comments come a day after Thailand said it was considering curbing exports of the locally produced AstraZeneca vaccines to fight its own crisis, sparking concerns of vaccine protectionism.
    The Thailand dispute marks a fresh setback for the drugmaker which had other production glitches earlier and is in a legal battle with the European Union over shipment delays, while its vaccine has been linked to rare cases of blood clotting.
    Deputy Health Minister Sathit Pitutacha told MCOT television station that AstraZeneca had requested to delay the delivery of all 61 million doses it pledged to Thailand from its Thai production facility from December this year to May 2022.
    AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sathit’s statement.
    Sathit also said the drugmaker had the capacity to produce 15 million doses of vaccine per month at the Siam Bioscience production facility it is contracted with in Thailand and that capacity could expand in the future.
    AstraZeneca was now promising to deliver 40% of what is produced at that facility to Thailand, Sathit said, adding that Thailand will ask the company for more doses.
    “We must negotiate with them, because in this situation we need more vaccine,” Sathit said.
    “We want 10 million doses because the original plan was 10 million doses,” he said referring to the previous monthly delivery target.
    Thailand is suffering its worst COVID-19 outbreak yet and reported a record 98 coronavirus deaths on Thursday, taking total fatalities to 3,032 since the pandemic began last year.
    It also reported 9,186 new infections, bringing total cases to 372,215.
    Thailand’s main vaccine rollout started last month and only about 5% of its more than 66 million people have been fully vaccinated.
POSSIBLE EXPORT CURBS
    Sathit’s comments on monthly production of 15 million doses are among the first clear statements of the production by Siam Bioscience, which has been shrouded in a veil of secrecy.
    The company is 100% owned by King Maha Vajiralongkorn, and Thai officials have long dodged questions as to whether it was falling short of production goals.    Thailand has strict laws against insulting the monarchy that punish offenders with up to 15 years in prison.
    Responding to a request for comment on possible export curbs, AstraZeneca said late on Wednesday its Thai-manufactured vaccine “is of critical importance” to neighbouring countries where the pandemic is also accelerating.
    “We are actively working with the government in Thailand and governments across Southeast Asia to continue to deliver equitable vaccine access to the region,” it said.
    AstraZeneca does not make its distribution deals public, but its website says its Thai production would supply several countries in Southeast Asia including Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia.    Taiwan also has a deal to purchase Thai-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines.
    “We are continuing to closely observe and pay attention to this. We are also maintaining close touch with AstraZeneca,” Taiwanese Deputy Health Minister Hsueh Jui-yuan told reporters.
    He said that apart from 117,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived from none South Korea earlier this year, the rest of their direct order from the company for 10 million doses is from Thailand.
    A representative of Indonesia’s health ministry said “there doesn’t seem to be an impact” in the shipment of AstraZeneca in light of possible Thailand export curbs.
(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Editing by Ed Davies and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

7/15/2021 Australian COVID-19 Outbreak Threatens Melbourne, Sydney Stabilises by Renju Jose and Jonathan Barrett
People wait in line outside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination centre at
Sydney Olympic Park in Sydney, Australia, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Wardell
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia reported a slowdown in new COVID-19 cases in Sydney on Thursday, while local media said Melbourne would follow it into lockdown as the outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant threatens to take hold in the Victorian capital.
    New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said case numbers in Sydney would need to drop significantly for the city of 5 million to leave lockdown, given 28 out of the 65 new infections reported were people who were infectious while still active in the community.
    “Whilst the case numbers are bouncing around, we are seeing a stabilisation.    They are not growing exponentially,” Berejiklian said in Sydney.
    Berejiklian described the new case numbers as a “welcome drop,” but warned infections could rise due to the growing number of people with the Delta strain moving around in the community, particularly in Sydney’s south-west.
    New South Wales officials said out of the more than 900 people who have been infected during the latest outbreak, 73 have been moved to hospital, with 19 people in intensive care.    Two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
    Sydney’s lockdown started on June 26 and will remain in place until at least July 30.
    Melbourne was meanwhile expected to enter lockdown from midnight, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported, after a team of furniture movers from neighbouring New South Wales travelled through Victoria state while infectious.
    Authorities were yet to decide how long the lockdown in the city would last, the ABC added, without giving further details.
    Victorian authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
VIRUS SPREADS SOUTH
    Dozens of venues in Melbourne including a shopping centre, two public transport routes and a sporting club have been listed as virus-exposed locations, adding pressure on authorities to tighten restrictions.
    On Wednesday, mandatory mask rules indoors were reintroduced for Victoria’s more than 6 million residents after the state recorded 10 new cases.
    Two additional cases were reported in Victoria on Thursday.    Both people were spectators at an Australian Football League game held in Melbourne’s main sports stadium, the MCG, last weekend.
    “We’re certainly confident we’re right on the heels of this particular outbreak,” said Victoria’s coronavirus response commander, Jeroen Weimar, referring to the system of tracking those who may be exposed to the virus.    Melbourne has been the Australian city hardest hit by the pandemic, and a new lockdown would be its fifth.
    In South Australia, authorities have identified a third venue visited by the workers, while two regional towns in New South Wales, including one near the border with Victoria and about 500 kms (310 miles) southwest of Sydney, were on alert after the team stopped at service stations.
    With just over 31,400 cases and 912 deaths since the pandemic began, Australia has handled the COVID-19 crisis better than many other developed countries although its sluggish immunisation drive has taken some of the shine off this success.
    Just over 12% Australia’s adult population of around 20.5 million have been fully vaccinated, with officials pointing to changing medical advice for vaccines and supply constraints.
(Reporting by Renju Jose, Jonathan Barrett and Byron Kaye; editing by Richard Pullin and Lincoln Feast.)

7/15/2021 Indonesia Bracing For Worsening COVID-19 Outbreak by Gayatri Suroyo and Stanley Widianto
Students wearing protective face masks stand in line while waiting to receive their dose of the vaccine against the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), during a mass vaccination program at a school in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    (Reuters) – Indonesia is bracing for its COVID-19 outbreak to get worse after a near vertical climb in cases, a senior minister said on Thursday, warning that infections had spread faster than anticipated due to the more virulent Delta variant.
    The world’s fourth most populous country is struggling to slow virus transmission even after imposing its toughest mobility curbs so far.
    Wednesday’s tally of more than 54,000 cases was the latest of many peaks in the past month, and up more than tenfold on the number of infections at the start of June.
    In a streamed news conference, senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said daily COVID-19 cases could still climb as the Delta variant, first identified in India, has a two- to three- week incubation period.
    “We’re already in our worst-case scenario,” Luhut said.
    “If we’re talking about 60,000 (cases a day) or slightly more than that, we’re okay. We are hoping not for 100,000, but even if we get there, we are preparing for that,” he added.
    The government has converted several buildings into isolation facilities, deployed fresh graduate doctors and nurses to treat COVID-19 patients and imported treatment drugs and oxygen, he said.
    Hospitals in Indonesia’s most populated Java island have been deluged in recent weeks, with many people struggling to get treatment and hundreds dying while self-isolating.
    Cases and bed occupancy rates also have risen in parts of Sumatra and Kalimantan and more remote regions like West Papua, where health facilities are less equipped to handle an outbreak.
    Luhut also said that vaccine efficacy was weaker against the Delta variant that accounted for most infections on Java island, but urged people to get inoculated to help prevent serious illness and death.
    The government was analysing the situation and would decide whether to extend the current emergency coronavirus curbs that will expire on July 20, he said.
    In a separate statement, the country’s COVID-19 task force said there has been a low adherence to health protocols despite the mobility curbs.
(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies)

7/15/2021 Exclusive-Iran Not Ready For Nuclear Talks Until Raisi Takes Over - Source by Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi gestures at a news conference in
Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran is not prepared to resume negotiations on coming back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal until Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi’s administration has begun, a diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran had conveyed this to European officials acting as interlocutors in the indirect U.S.-Iranian negotiations and that the current thinking is the Vienna talks will not resume before mid-August.
    “They are not prepared to come back before the new government,” said the source, saying it was not clear whether this meant until Raisi formally takes over on Aug. 5 or until his government is in place.
    “We are now talking probably not before mid-August,” added the source.
    Talks began in April on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, formally named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but have appeared stuck since their sixth round ended on June 20, with no sign when they may resume.
    The agreement, which Democratic former President Barack Obama negotiated and Republican former President Donald Trump abandoned, struck a balance between Iran accepting limits to its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed that Iran had asked for more time because of its presidential transition.
    “We were prepared to continue negotiating but the Iranians requested more time to deal with their presidential transition,” said the State Department spokesperson.
    “When Iran is done with its process, we are prepared to plan our return to Vienna to continue with our talks,” she added.    “We remain interested in seeking mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA, though as (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) has made clear, this offer will not be on the table indefinitely.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chris Reese and Michael Perry)

7/15/2021 Biden’s State Dept. Fails To Explain Lack Of Support For Afghan Allies by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Nov. 30, 2017, file photo, American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan. The withdrawal of U.S. troops
from Afghanistan is leaving intelligence agencies scrambling for other ways to monitor and stop terrorists. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)
    Joe Biden’s State Department is struggling to explain the relocation of Afghan interpreters and allies to other countries.    During a press briefing Wednesday, department officials faced criticism for not doing enough to protect those who were helping U.S. troops.
    This comes as the Taliban continues to advance amid the pullout of U.S. troops, which critics have said may produce violence and chaos in the country.
    “President Biden has emphasized this ever since he announced the military withdrawal, the U.S. is not abandoning Afghanistan,” claimed State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
    Biden’s officials are reportedly planning to begin “evacuations” of Afghan allies later this month, but their fate remains unclear.

7/15/2021 Analysis: Japan’s Suga In Danger Of Becoming Another Revolving-Door Premier by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Struggling with rising coronavirus cases and a deeply unpopular Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is at risk of becoming the next in a long line of short-term leaders.
    The 72-year-old Suga, long-time right-hand man of former premier Shinzo Abe, has seen his support sink to just over 30% – traditionally considered a danger line for Japanese leaders – from around 70% when he took office last September.
    Suga took over after Abe, citing ill health, ended a tenure that lasted nearly eight years and made him Japan’s longest-serving premier.    Before that, Japan went through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year tenure.
    Suga’s dream scenario was to contain the virus outbreak, preside over a successful Games and call a general election.    That has been upended after a recent surge in COVID-19 infections led to a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo and forced Olympic organisers to ban spectators from almost all venues.
    “He’s not doing a good job at handling the party and policy, and nobody likes him being in power,” said Steven Reed, a professor emeritus at Chuo University.    “All they need is an alternative.”
    New infections in Tokyo surged to a nearly six-month high of 1,308 on Thursday and medical experts have sounded the alarm.    Japan’s mostly voluntary restrictions have failed to curb the movement of people that can spread contagion.
    Efforts by Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura to get bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol as part of anti-COVID-19 measures backfired and caused a public outcry.
    Nishimura, Suga’s point man on pandemic response, was forced to apologise and withdraw requests for banks to pressure establishments that failed to comply with the alcohol request and for liquor wholesalers not to supply such eateries.
    Japan’s vaccination campaign was also initially slow and is now facing supply bottlenecks, adding to dissatisfaction.
    Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has recorded nearly 830,000 COVID-19 cases and about 15,000 deaths.    Only 31% of the public have had at least one shot.
FACE OF ELECTIONS
    For Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party, his biggest failing is an inability to win elections.
    The LDP lost three parliamentary by-elections in April, and this month the party and its allies fell short of a majority in the Tokyo assembly.    The LDP gained far fewer seats than it expected in that vote, seen as a bellwether for national elections.
    “The consensus among the LDP had been that unless the LDP saw significant losses (in the Tokyo election), Suga would be prime minister until next spring,” said a senior bureaucrat with deep knowledge of the party.
    Now, “people in the party are mulling how to replace him,” the bureaucrat said on condition of anonymity.
    No incumbent LDP heavyweight has publicly called for Suga to be replaced.
    Suga won the LDP leadership after all major factions united around him.    But he lacks his own strong base, and party divisions have deepened since he took office.
    His term as LDP president expires in September, although there has been talk of postponing the party vote until after an election for parliament’s powerful lower house.    The general election must be held by November.
    Ditching an incumbent premier is tough and the absence of an obvious successor makes it harder.    Nor are there signs Japan’s powerful business lobbies are unhappy with Suga.
    “If it were obvious who would replace him, he’d probably be in more trouble, but who is the party going to coalesce around?” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think-tank American Progress.    A divided opposition and low turnout could also limit LDP losses in the lower house vote.
    “Is there any reason to think turnout will be better than the last couple elections?    So how bad will LDP losses be?,” Harris said.    “This seems to be the ‘new normal’.”
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto; Editing by David Dolan and William Mallard)

7/15/2021 Analysis-Despite Talk Of Options On Iran, U.S. Has Few Good Ones by Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden has few real diplomatic alternatives to trying to persuade Iran to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal and all appear harder to achieve, current and former U.S. and European officials said.
    Indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the deal have been on hold since the last round ended on June 20 and Iran has made clear it is not ready to resume before Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes over in August.
    The hiatus, which U.S. and European officials attribute to the hard-line cleric’s election, has raised questions about next steps if the talks hit a dead end.    The U.S. State Department has acknowledged it may need to rethink its stance.
    The problem is that experts agree there are few options to the 2015 deal under which Tehran limited its nuclear program to make it harder to acquire nuclear weapons – an ambition it denies – in return for relief from economic sanctions.
    “I think all the alternatives are worse for us.    I think they are worse for Iran.    And frankly, I think, at the end of the day, Iran will suffer – I don’t know if they suffer more than we will – but they will be in a bad situation,” a senior U.S. official told     Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    “Which is why we have argued now for some time that the best option is a strict return to compliance with the (deal).     That’s our analysis,” the U.S. official said.
    Washington would do all it could to revive the deal, the official said, but added, “we have to be prepared to live with the alternatives.”
    When former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement, named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), he reimposed U.S. sanctions that largely deprived Tehran of its ability to export oil and have caused economic misery in Iran.
‘MORE FOR MORE, LESS FOR LESS’
    One alternative to the JCPOA, which former U.S. and European officials called “more for more,” would entail Iran accepting greater limits on its nuclear and perhaps other activities in return for greater sanctions relief.
    It will likely be harder to negotiate such a broader deal than to restore the 2015 accord, whose parameters are at least defined, even if they may need tweaking to reflect Iran’s expanded nuclear work since Trump violated the agreement.
    A version of “more-for-more” would limit the negotiation to the tradeoffs between restricting Iran’s nuclear program and easing economic sanctions.
    A wider and thornier version would entail Iran also curbing its ballistic missile program and support for regional proxies, red lines Iranian officials say they will not cross.
    A second alternative, sometimes called less-for-less, might require fewer limitations to Iran’s nuclear program in return for less sanctions relief.
    This might be the worst of both worlds for Biden, however, since he could be criticized for giving Iran economic benefits and getting fewer nuclear limits in return.
    “An agreement weaker than the 2015 one would be politically unsustainable in the U.S.,” said Gerard Araud, France’s former ambassador to the United States.
    “I don’t see an alternative to the JCPOA other than ‘maximum pressure’ but this regime has shown its resilience and I don’t see it caving to it,” he added.
    He was referring to Trump’s policy of increasing economic pressure in the hopes Iran would capitulate.
    Tehran, for its part, has raised pressure on Washington by starting the process to make enriched uranium metal and by talk of enriching uranium to 90 percent, or weapons grade – both steps that could help it make nuclear arms.
    A senior diplomat involved in the talks said it was vital to convince Raisi’s team that hopes they can negotiate fewer nuclear limits for more sanctions relief, the equivalent of “less for more,” were misplaced.
    “They may think time is on their side,” he said on condition of anonymity.    If that’s the case, he said, “they are mistaken.”
    Former U.S. government Middle East specialist Dennis Ross said Tehran was likely to keep pushing Washington by expanding its nuclear program.
    “When they decide the administration has reached the limits of what it (will) concede, I suspect you will see a deal reconstituting the JCPOA,” Ross said.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Editing by Patricia Zengerle and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/15/2021 Officials, Taliban Strike Ceasefire Deal In Western Afghanistan, Says Provincial Governor by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi
People on vehicles, holding Taliban flags, gather near the Friendship Gate crossing point in the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Abdul Khaliq Achakzai
    KABUL (Reuters) -Government officials in a western Afghan province said on Thursday they had negotiated “an indefinite ceasefire” with the Taliban to prevent further attacks on the capital of the province.
    The move came after fighters from the Islamist group secured complete control over all the districts in Badghis province, reflecting wider gains by the Taliban over territory and infrastructure in the weeks since U.S. President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops by Sept. 11.
    “Ten tribal elders had taken the responsibility of ceasefire, so they first talked to the Taliban, and then talked to the local government and both sides reached a ceasefire,” the provincial governor, Husamuddin Shams, told Reuters.
    The Taliban reached an agreement with the tribal elders to move to the outskirts of Qala-e-Naw, the capital of Badghis, Shams said.
    A spokesman for the Taliban denied they had agreed to a ceasefire but said they had left the city to avoid civilian casualties.
    “Qala-e-Naw is the only city in Afghanistan where the Taliban announced a ceasefire,” said Abdul Aziz Bek, the head of the provincial council in Badghis.
    Afghan officials in the capital, Kabul, were not available to comment.
    There were conflicting reports on Thursday about who was in control of a major trading town on the border with Pakistan.    The Spin Boldak-Chaman border post is the second most important crossing on the Pakistan border and a major source of revenue for the Western-backed government in Kabul.
    A senior Afghan government official said on Thursday security forces had retaken control of the town hours after the Taliban seized it on Wednesday.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid dismissed that and said his forces still held it.
    “It is merely propaganda and a baseless claim by the Kabul administration,” he told Reuters.
    The defence ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
    Pakistan, worried about a spillover of fighting, has shut its side of the Spin Boldak-Chaman border, which lies on the main commercial artery between the second Afghan city of Kandahar and Pakistani ports.
CLASHES HAVE INTENSIFIED
    Clashes between the Taliban and government forces have intensified as U.S.-led international forces have been withdrawing.    The Taliban have captured several districts and border crossings in the north and west.
    The government has accused the Taliban of destroying hundreds of government buildings in 29 of the country’s 34 provinces.    The Taliban deny accusations of extensive destruction by their fighters.
    A senior Afghan government official in Kabul, Nader Nadery, said the security forces were working to push back Taliban fighters and regain control over 190 districts.
    The deteriorating security situation has raised fears of a new Afghan refugee crisis.    President Ashraf Ghani met regional leaders in Uzbekistan on Thursday and Pakistan said it would host a conference of senior Afghan leaders in an effort to find solutions.
    Diplomatic efforts have focused on pushing the rival Afghan sides to make progress towards a ceasefire.
    Pakistan was for years accused of backing the Taliban with the aim of blocking the influence of its old rival India in Afghanistan.    But Pakistan denied that and now says it wants to encourage negotiations to ensure a peaceful outcome.
    Pakistani information minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Twitter that Pakistan was arranging more talks and that important leaders including former President Hamid Karzai, who remains an influential figure, had been invited.
    Chaudhry said Taliban leaders would not be attending as Pakistan was holding separate talks with them.
    Karzai and some top Afghan political leaders are expected to fly to Qatar this weekend for talks with members of the Taliban who have an office in the capital, Doha.
    The Islamist militants ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until they were ousted in 2001, weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.    They have fought since to expel foreign forces and topple the government in Kabul.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul, Writing by Gibran Peshimam, Rupam Jain, Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/16/2021 World Leaders Dial In As New Zealand Hosts Special APEC Meeting On Pandemic by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: Leaders attend the retreat session of the APEC Summit in Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and other world leaders meet virtually on Friday for the Asia-Pacific trade group APEC, seeking collective actions to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.
    New Zealand, the revolving Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation host, said this week it will chair the extraordinary meeting ahead of a formal gathering in November, the first time such an additional meeting has been held.
    The meeting highlights growing concerns around COVID-19 which is raging in the region as countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Australia face new waves of infections.
    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stressed the importance of the 21-economy group working together to navigate a way out of the pandemic in a call with Biden ahead of the meeting.
    But tensions among APEC members – mostly notably between the West and China over the origins of the coronavirus, trade, Xinjiang and South China Sea – could yet upend the agenda.
    A senior Biden administration official said the president will use the forum to demonstrate his commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
    “As one of the first opportunities he has to engage with many of these leaders, he will make clear that the U.S. has an enduring commitment to the region.    He will put forward a vision for the region that is based on our values,” said the official.
    Biden will also discuss how the region can work together to fuel the global economic recovery.
    The meeting will include an ‘interactive’ Q&A session where leaders can ask questions or make comments, a format that is unusual for APEC leaders, where events are usually scripted.
    “We expect a dynamic and interactive discussion among leaders.    That is the intention of such a meeting,” said a regional diplomat.    “We hope through this leaders’ meeting there will be a more concrete programme for mitigating the pandemic.”
    The grouping includes the world’s three largest economies and impoverished nations such as Papua New Guinea, as well as members at vastly different points in the COVID-19 cycle, providing further challenges for building consensus.
    That consensus model of APEC has been tested in recent years, with the group unable to agree on a communique at their 2018 meeting in Papua New Guinea, driven by differences between the United States led by former President Donald Trump, and China.
    The 2019 APEC meeting in Chile was cancelled due to protests while the one in Malaysia last year was side-tracked as officials hastily organised a virtual meeting as the pandemic locked down the world.
    In June, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and expedite the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods, but stopped short of a broad commitment to remove tariffs which New Zealand was pushing for.
    There have been over 50 million cases of COVID-19 within APEC’s borders, with over one million deaths.    APEC-wide GDP contracted by 1.9% in 2020.
(Additional Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington, Tom Allard in Jakarta, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Panu Wongcha-Um in Bangkok; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

7/16/2021 Australian Leaders Under Pressure To Contain COVID-19 Outbreak by Renju Jose and Colin Packham
A woman wearing a protective face mask walks along a deserted city bridge during morning commute hours
on the first day of a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers were under increasing public pressure on Friday to get on top of a fast-growing Delta variant COVID-19 outbreak that poses the country’s biggest threat in months.
    The outbreak has highlighted what critics say were major flaws in Australia’s pandemic response – delays in ordering vaccines, flipflopping guidance that led to widespread vaccine hesitancy, too-soft lockdowns and lax quarantine at the international border.
    Officials reported 103 new cases on Friday, the bulk in Sydney with the remainder in Melbourne, taking total cases since the current outbreak began a month ago to above 1,000.    Two people have died, 75 people are hospitalised with 18 in intensive care.
    Not a huge number on a world scale, it was a sharp turnaround for a country that had experienced only small, localised flare-ups for several months.
    From Friday, 40% of the country’s 25 million people – across Sydney, the outbreak epicentre, and the state of Victoria – were living under some form of lockdown conditions.
    Of major concern to health officials is the fact that the proportion of people out in public while infectious remains stubbornly high despite Sydney residents heading into a fourth week of lockdown.
    “I can’t stress to the community my absolute concern that we need to work harder at reducing mobility and reduce our interactions with others,” New South Wales Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said.
    The situation has fuelled criticism of New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s approach to the crisis, with some health officials saying she was too slow to impose a lockdown in Sydney and then did not make it harsh enough.
    Berejiklian, who has already extended the lockdown twice to a total of five weeks, on Friday pleaded with people to follow stay-home orders and said she would tighten restrictions if necessary.    Her government has repeatedly declined to specify what businesses and personal movements count as essential, saying people should use “common sense.”
    Many homestores and other non-food retailers, which have become virus hotspots, have remained open.
    Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia acting Chief Executive Alexi Boyd said small businesses were caught “in the crossfire.”
    In neighbouring Victoria state, where the virus travelled to Melbourne from Sydney via a returning family and a team of furniture movers, Premier Daniel Andrews kicked off a stricter five-day lockdown on Thursday evening, closing all retail stores.
    “We had no choice,” Andrews said.    “We can see what a thousand cases looks like, and we don’t want that.”
    Both premiers have said the number of people in the community while infectious needed to be close to zero before restrictions were lifted.
    Economists forecast the Sydney lockdown alone would cost Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy around A$1 billion a week.
VACCINE DELAYS
    The fast-moving Delta strain is testing Australia’s previously successful approach of shutting its international border, imposing social distancing rules and swift contact tracing. That strategy had kept its exposure relatively low, with just over 31,500 cases and 912 deaths, but cracks are emerging.
    Patient Zero in the Sydney outbreak was a limousine driver in his 60s who was infected while transporting international flight crews.    The driver was unvaccinated, not wearing a mask, nor being tested regularly – all permissible at the time.
    Morrison is under increasing pressure to speed up a slow inoculation drive that has vaccinated just over 10% of the population, well below many other developed nations.
    While Morrison has blamed supply shortages of Pfizer’s vaccine and restrictions on the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine because of rare blood clot links, critics have said he was too slow to lock in supply.
    Health experts have linked vaccine hesitancy to the government’s changing advice on who was eligible for particular vaccines and when.
    A graphic government television advertisement showing a young woman in a hospital bed hooked up to a ventilator sparked a backlash this week, given people under 40 cannot access a vaccine until the end of the year.
($1 = 1.3473 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Chris Reese and Jane Wardell)

7/16/2021 Chinese Workers Trapped In Flooded Highway Tunnel For Second Day
Rescue workers are seen at an entrance to the flooded Shijingshan tunnel, where construction workers
were trapped, in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China July 16, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Over a dozen workers were trapped in a flooded highway tunnel in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai for a second day as rescuers made slow but steady progress in trying to reach them, according to state media.
    Early on Thursday, water suddenly leaked into the tunnel, which is being built under a reservoir, trapping 14 workers more than a kilometre from the entrance.
    The leak has been sealed, but rescuers have not been able to contact the workers.
    As of noon on Friday, rescuers were 395.3 metres (432 yards) into the Shijingshan tunnel, state media cited Zhuhai’s vice mayor Zhang Yisheng as saying at a news conference.
    Rescuers were still 764.4m from where the workers were trapped, Zhang said.
    Rescue teams were pumping out water from the tunnel, and the reservoir is being drained, according to state media.
    The accident was the second in the tunnel since March, when a collapsed wall killed two workers.
    The tunnel is part of a major expressway in Zhuhai in Guangdong province, linking the coastal city to a bridge to neighbouring Macau and Hong Kong.
    For graphic on Chinese construction workers trapped in a flooded highway tunnel – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-ACCIDENT/TUNNEL/jbyprzgbape/chart.png
(Reporting by Ryan Woo. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/16/2021 Analysis-Unpopular Olympics, COVID-19: Japan’s Suga Risks Becoming Short-Term Premier by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Struggling with rising coronavirus cases and a deeply unpopular Olympics, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is at risk of becoming the next in a long line of short-term leaders.
    The 72-year-old Suga, long-time right-hand man of former premier Shinzo Abe, has seen his support sink to just over 30% – traditionally considered a danger line for Japanese leaders – from around 70% when he took office last September.
    Suga took over after Abe, citing ill health, ended a tenure that lasted nearly eight years and made him Japan’s longest-serving premier.    Before that, Japan went through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year tenure.
    Suga’s dream scenario was to contain the virus outbreak, preside over a successful Games and call a general election.    That has been upended after a recent surge in COVID-19 infections led to a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo and forced Olympic organisers to ban spectators from almost all venues.
    “He’s not doing a good job at handling the party and policy, and nobody likes him being in power,” said Steven Reed, a professor emeritus at     Chuo University.    “All they need is an alternative.”
    New infections in Tokyo surged to a nearly six-month high of 1,308 on Thursday and medical experts have sounded the alarm. Japan’s mostly voluntary restrictions have failed to curb the movement of people that can spread contagion.
    Efforts by Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura to get bars and restaurants to stop serving alcohol as part of anti-COVID-19 measures backfired and caused a public outcry.
    Nishimura, Suga’s point man on pandemic response, was forced to apologise and withdraw requests for banks to pressure establishments that failed to comply with the alcohol request and for liquor wholesalers not to supply such eateries.
    Japan’s vaccination campaign was also initially slow and is now facing supply bottlenecks, adding to dissatisfaction.
    Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has recorded nearly 830,000 COVID-19 cases and about 15,000 deaths.    Only 31% of the public have had at least one shot.
FACE OF ELECTIONS
    For Suga’s Liberal Democratic Party, his biggest failing is an inability to win elections.
    The LDP lost three parliamentary by-elections in April, and this month the party and its allies fell short of a majority in the Tokyo assembly.    The LDP gained far fewer seats than it expected in that vote, seen as a bellwether for national elections.
    “The consensus among the LDP had been that unless the LDP saw significant losses (in the Tokyo election), Suga would be prime minister until next spring,” said a senior bureaucrat with deep knowledge of the party.
    Now, “people in the party are mulling how to replace him,” the bureaucrat said on condition of anonymity.
    No incumbent LDP heavyweight has publicly called for Suga to be replaced.
    Abe led his party to victory in six national elections during his tenure, despite occasional deep dips in his support.
    “Public support for Suga is deteriorating and foreign investors could become wary of Japan’s political risks, which were considered almost non-existent during Shinzo Abe,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
    Suga won the LDP leadership after all major factions united around him.    But he lacks his own strong base, and party divisions have deepened since he took office.
    His term as LDP president expires in September, although there has been talk of postponing the party vote until after an election for parliament’s powerful lower house. The general election must be held by November.
    Ditching an incumbent premier is tough and the absence of an obvious successor makes it harder.    Nor are there signs Japan’s powerful business lobbies are unhappy with Suga.
    “If it were obvious who would replace him, he’d probably be in more trouble, but who is the party going to coalesce around?” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Washington-based think-tank American Progress.    A divided opposition and low turnout could also limit LDP losses in the lower house vote.
    “Is there any reason to think turnout will be better than the last couple elections?    So how bad will LDP losses be?,” Harris said.    “This seems to be the ‘new normal’.”
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto andHideyuki Sano; Editing by David Dolan and William Mallard)

7/16/2021 China Slams Henan, Yunnan Provinces For Environmental Shortcomings
FILE PHOTO: A woman rides a scooter past a steel plant in Anyang, Henan province,
China, February 18, 2019. Picture taken February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The Chinese provinces of Henan and Yunnan have failed to meet public expectations when it comes to tackling pollution and cleaning up their air, rivers and soil, the environment ministry said after the completion of inspections.
    The central government launched its fifth round of environmental audits in late May to see how Henan, Yunnan and six other provinces and regions had managed to comply with laws and regulations.
    The inspection teams set up hotlines for local whistleblowers and are given powers to make spot checks at firms and summon any official for interview.    During the inspections, firms can be punished and fined, and officials even face dismissal or detention in the most serious cases.
    In separate statements referring to the two provinces, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment said both Henan in central China and Yunnan on the southwestern border had made some progress but neither meet “the requirements of the central government or the expectations of the public.”
    Both provinces have been ordered to draw up rectification plans and submit them to the cabinet within 30 working days.    Failure of firms and individuals to rectify the problems will result in fines, closures and potentially criminal punishment.
    The local governments of Henan and Yunnan could not be immediately reached for comment.
    The ministry said Henan, home to some of China’s most smog-prone cities, failed to meet energy efficiency requirements over the 2016-2020 period and did not properly shut down obsolete industry.
    Henan’s Anyang, which ranked as China’s smoggiest city in 2020, failed to meet a requirement to close 6.6 million tonnes of inefficient coking capacity last year, the ministry said.    It also did not meet a target to cut the amount of coking coal used to produce steel, it added.
    In Yunnan, it said, officials “did not have a clear understanding of the fragile and sensitive reality of Yunnan’s ecological environment.”    The province had failed to tackle issues like energy efficiency, sewage treatment and water pollution, and had not protected a number of major lakes from overdevelopment, the ministry added.
    It pointed out that the Dianchi Lake had been “invaded by real estate projects.”    The nearby Changyao Mountain was now covered in high-rise buildings, turning it into a “cement mountain that has basically lost its ecological function,” the ministry said.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

7/16/2021 Slovakia Thanks Taiwan For Masks With Pledge Of 10,000 Vaccine Doses
FILE PHOTO: People wait to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at an exhibition hall in Taipei City, Taiwan, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang/FIle Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan has garnered another donation of COVID-19 vaccines, this time from Slovakia, which has pledged 10,000 doses in what the central European country said was a show of support after a Taiwanese gift of face masks to Slovakia last year.
    Under the slogan “Taiwan can help, Taiwan is helping,” the island has since the pandemic began donated millions of face masks around the world, including to the United States, Asia and European countries, with 700,000 going to Slovakia.
    Since a spike in domestic cases began in Taiwan in May, the government has received almost six million vaccine doses gifted by Japan and the United States, while Lithuania has said it will donate 20,000 doses.
    In a statement on its Facebook page on Friday, the de facto Slovak embassy in Taiwan said the country would be giving Taiwan 10,000 vaccine doses.
    “Slovakia has not forgotten its friends.    A year ago, Taiwan provided help in our time of need and donated masks.    Now Slovakia will also contribute its own humble effort by donating 10,000 doses of vaccine to Taiwan to express support,” it said.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry expressed its thanks and said Slovakia, whose donation is being coordinated by the European Union, is finalising details including which vaccines will be donated and when they will arrive.
    Slovakia, like most countries, has no formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan and only officially recognises Beijing’s government.
    Taiwan is ramping up its vaccination programme after a slow start, initially hampered by supply shortages and accusations Beijing was blocking deliveries, which China denied.
    Around 20% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people have received at least one of the two-shot vaccine regimen so far, and the island’s coronavirus outbreak is now well under control.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Tom Hogue)

7/17/2021 China Official In Hong Kong Says U.S. Sanctions, Business Advisory Have ‘Despicable Intention’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen before a meeting between senior defence officials from both
countries at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong said new U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials and its updated business advisory on the city are “extremely rude” and “extremely unreasonable” bullying acts with “despicable intention
    The United States imposed sanctions on Friday on seven Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, Washington’s latest effort to hold China accountable for what it calls an erosion of rule of law in the former British colony.
    The Biden administration also issued an advisory on Friday to warn U.S. businesses about risks to their operations and activities in Hong Kong after China’s imposition of a new national security law there last year.
    A spokesperson for the Commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong in a statement late on Friday strongly condemned the U.S. actions, saying they were blatant interference in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs.
    “(U.S.) worries about Hong Kong’s business environment is fake; its attempt to destroy Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, endanger China’s national security, and hamper China’s development is real,” he said in the statement.
    He added the implementation of the security law has reinforced Hong Kong’s position as an international financial and business hub, and U.S. sanctions and pressures are no more than “a waste paper” which will not stop China from growing.
    On Saturday, a Hong Kong government spokesman said Washington has repeatedly attempted to slander the legislation over the last year.
    “The U.S. Administration’s latest attempt to issue a so-called ‘advisory’ …based on totally ridiculous and unfounded fear-mongering about the situation in Hong Kong only serves to prove yet again its hypocrisy and double standards, driven by ideological hegemony,” the spokesman said in a statement.
(Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/17/2021 Reuters Journalist Killed Covering Clash Between Afghan Forces, Taliban
News photographers light candles to pay tribute to Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, after he was killed while covering a clash between Afghan
security forces and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan, in Kolkata, India, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) -Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui was killed on Friday while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters near a border crossing with Pakistan, an Afghan commander said.
    Afghan special forces had been fighting to retake the main market area of Spin Boldak when Siddiqui and a senior Afghan officer were killed in what they described as Taliban crossfire, the official told Reuters.
    Siddiqui had been embedded as a journalist since earlier this week with Afghan special forces based in the southern province of Kandahar and had been reporting on fighting between Afghan commandos and Taliban fighters.
    “We are urgently seeking more information, working with authorities in the region,” Reuters President Michael Friedenberg and Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni said in a statement.
    “Danish was an outstanding journalist, a devoted husband and father, and a much-loved colleague. Our thoughts are with his family at this terrible time.”
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said in a statement on Twitter that he was “deeply saddened with the shocking reports” of Siddiqui’s death and extended condolences to his family.
    Siddiqui told Reuters he had been wounded in the arm by shrapnel earlier on Friday while reporting on the clash.    He was treated and Taliban fighters later retreated from the fighting in Spin Boldak.
    Siddiqui had been talking to shopkeepers when the Taliban attacked again, the Afghan commander said.
    Reuters was unable to independently verify the details of the renewed fighting described by the Afghan military official, who asked not to be identified before Afghanistan’s Defence Ministry made a statement.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the Taliban had not been aware there was a journalist reporting from the site of what he described as a “fierce battle” and that it was not clear how Siddiqui had been killed.
PRIZE-WINNING PHOTOGRAPHY
    Siddiqui was part of the Reuters photography team to win the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for documenting the Rohingya refugee crisis, a series described by the judging committee as “shocking photographs that exposed the world to the violence Rohingya refugees faced in fleeing Myanmar.”
    A Reuters photographer since 2010, Siddiqui’s work spanned the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Rohingya refugee crisis, the Hong Kong protests and Nepal earthquakes.    In recent months, his searing photographs capturing the coronavirus pandemic in India have been published across the world.
[Slideshow – ‘I shoot for the common man’: Danish Siddiqui’s finest work https://www.reuters.com/news/picture/i-shoot-for-the-common-man-danish-siddiq-idUSRTXEG1OW]
    Taliban fighters had seized the border area on Wednesday, the second-largest crossing on the border with Pakistan and one of the most important objectives they have achieved during a rapid advance across the country as U.S. forces pull out after 20 years of conflict.
    Thirty-three journalists were killed in Afghanistan between 2018 and 2021, the United Nations said in a report this year.
    Ten journalists were killed on April 30, 2018, including nine reporters and photographers who died in a suicide bomb attack in Kabul, and a journalist working for the Afghan language service of the BBC who was shot in the eastern city of Khost.
    That day was the deadliest for the country’s media since the Taliban were ousted in a U.S.-led campaign in 2001.
    On Nov. 19, 2001, Reuters journalists Harry Burton from Australia and Afghan-born Azizullah Haidari were also killed by gunmen who stopped their convoy on the road to Kabul from the Pakistani border.    They were travelling to Kabul to cover the fall of the Taliban regime.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Rupam Jain in Mumbai; Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad; Writing by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Tattersall)

7/17/2021 Biden To Host Iraq’s Prime Minister At White House On July 26
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi speaks to locals in Tarmiyah, Iraq
July 20, 2020. Khalid Mohammed/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will host Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi at the White House on July 26, the White House said on Friday.
    The visit will highlight the strategic partnership between the two countries and advance bilateral cooperation under a 2008 agreement that governed the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
    Psaki listed areas of shared interest such as energy and health and said Biden looked forward to strengthening cooperation with Iraq on “security issues to include joint efforts to ensure the enduring defeat” of the Islamic State militant group.
    Psaki made no reference to Iran, which exercises influence in neighboring Iraq through its close relations with the Baghdad government and by backing Shi’ite militia forces that mount attacks on military facilities hosting U.S. forces.
    A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander urged Iraqi Shi’ite militias to step up attacks on U.S. targets during a meeting in Baghdad last week, three militia sources and two Iraqi security sources familiar with the gathering said.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Will Dunham)

7/17/2021 World Leaders Pledge To Redouble Pandemic Fight At Special APEC Meeting by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: Leaders attend the retreat session of the APEC Summit in Port Moresby,
Papua New Guinea November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) -Leaders of the Asia-Pacific trade group APEC, including U.S. President Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and China’s Xi Jinping, pledged on Friday to work to expand sharing and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines to fight the global pandemic.
    The leaders, struggling to tame outbreaks exacerbated by the Delta variant of coronavirus, said they would encourage the voluntary transfer of vaccine production technologies “on mutually agreed terms” as the region prepared for future health shocks.
    “The pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on our region’s people and economies,” the leaders said in a joint statement issued after a virtual meeting chaired by New Zealand.
    “We will only overcome this health emergency by accelerating equitable access to safe, effective, quality-assured, and affordable COVID-19 vaccines,” they said.
    The APEC leaders met virtually to discuss collective actions to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.
    New Zealand, the revolving Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation host, said this week it would chair the extraordinary meeting ahead of a formal gathering in November, the first time such an additional meeting has been held.
    “Our discussions moved us beyond vaccine nationalism. Now we are focusing on all aspects of contributing to the global vaccination effort — making vaccines, sharing vaccines and using vaccines,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said after the meeting.    She said the leaders agreed this will not be the world’s last pandemic and that preparedness was critical.
    The meeting highlights growing concerns around COVID-19, which is raging in the region as countries including Indonesia, Thailand and Australia face new waves of infections.
U.S.-CHINA TENSIONS
    The White House said Biden emphasized the importance of multilateral cooperation and his commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
    “President Biden also discussed the importance of investing in better global health security and preparedness so that we are ready the next time we face a pandemic,” it said in a statement.
    Putin told the group that global barriers to vaccine production and deliveries needed to be removed, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed his determination to hold a safe and secure Olympics.
    Despite their show of resolve, there are tensions among APEC members, most notably between the West and China – over issues ranging from the origins of the coronavirus to trade, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.
    Just as the meeting concluded, Washington announced sanctions on seven Chinese individuals over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, its latest effort to hold Beijing accountable for what it calls an erosion of rule of law in the former British colony.
    The United States and China have a troubled relationship and they have had little high-level, face-to-face contact under the Biden administration since a March meeting between senior officials in Alaska, where the Chinese side expressed anger at U.S. sanctions announced just ahead of the talks.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said China’s Xi delivered pre-recorded video remarks at the meeting and was not in attendance.    The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
    The APEC grouping includes the world’s three largest economies and impoverished nations such as Papua New Guinea, as well as members at vastly different points in the COVID-19 cycle, providing further challenges for building consensus.
    That consensus model of APEC has been tested in recent years, with the group unable to agree on a communique at their 2018 meeting in Papua New Guinea, driven by differences between China and the then U.S. president, Donald Trump.
    The 2019 APEC meeting in Chile was cancelled due to protests while the one in Malaysia last year was side-tracked as officials hastily organised a virtual meeting as the pandemic locked down the world.
    In June, APEC trade ministers agreed to review trade barriers and expedite the cross-border transit of COVID-19 vaccines and related goods, but stopped short of a broad commitment to remove tariffs which New Zealand was pushing for.
    There have been over 50 million cases of COVID-19 within APEC’s borders, with over 1 million deaths.    APEC-wide GDP contracted by 1.9% in 2020.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Tom Allard in Jakarta, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Panu Wongcha-Um in Bangkok and Swati Pandey in Sydney; Writing by Jeff Mason and Praveen Menon; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Jon Boyle, Daniel Wallis and Marguerita Choy)

7/17/2021 Afghan Politicians, Taliban Meet In Doha As Fighting Continues
FILE PHOTO: Chairman of Afghanistan's High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah speaks during an
interview with Reuters at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan politicians met with representatives of the Taliban insurgents in Qatar on Saturday with each side calling for peace even as fighting escalates and uproots thousands of people.
    Two decades of conflict have taken a turn for the worse as U.S.-led international forces withdraw and the Taliban launch offensives around Afghanistan, taking districts and border crossings while encircling provincial capitals.
    Negotiatiors have been meeting in Doha since September but failed to make substantive progress with time running out before foreign troops’ full exit by Sept. 11.
    “Let’s … take important steps to continue the peace process, to prevent the killing of the people,” Abdullah Abdullah, head of the government’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said at the start of new high-level talks intended to last two days.
    “Because we cannot pay the price for this in blood and we cannot escape responsibility for it,” Abdullah said.
    Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban’s deputy leader and negotiator, regretted lack of progress.    “But there should still be hope and the Taliban will make efforts for talks to have positive result,” he said.
    In the latest impact of fighting, around 12,000 families in northern Takhar province have had to flee their homes as fighting continues, local officials said.
    Many gathered at a school in the provincial capital with few supplies.    “We were not helped or even given a carpet. Not even a dog can live here,” Mohammad Amin, one of those who had fled, told Reuters.
    In southern Kandahar province heavy fighting has taken place and the Taliban earlier this week seized Spin Boldak, an area on the border with Pakistan, though the Afghan government said on Friday it had regained control of the border crossing.
    Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui was killed on Friday while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in the area.
    Officials on the Pakistan side of the border said the crossing had opened on Saturday, allowing hundreds of Afghans stranded in Pakistan during the fighting to return.
    More than 2,000 people were displaced in Kandahar this month, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency, and Kandahar’s provincial governor on Friday evening declared a curfew in Kandahar city at night due to the fighting.
    The U.N. refugee agency estimates 270,000 Afghans have been displaced inside the country since January, bringing the number of people forced from their homes to more than 3.5 million.
(Reporting by Orooj Hakimi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi in Kabul; Additional reporting by Gul Yousafzai in Quetta; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/18/2021 Thai Youth Activists To Go Ahead With Protest Despite Gatherings Ban
Mock body bags lay on a picture of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to depict casualties of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, during an anti-government march from Democracy Monument to Government House, in Bangkok, Thailand July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai youth activists vowed to stage a protest on Sunday to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, despite a nation-wide ban on public gatherings imposed by the government amid surging coronavirus cases.
    Youth-led demonstrations last year attracted hundreds of thousands of people across the country, but their momentum has stalled after authorities began cracking down on rallies and detaining protest leaders, and after new waves of COVID-19 infections broke out.
    Last year protests also broke traditional taboos by openly criticizing the king, an offence under the country’s strict lese majeste law that makes insulting or defaming the king, queen, heir and regent punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
    Most of the protest leaders who were detained have been released on bail and some took part in anti-government protests last month.
    “We have to drive out Prayuth even if my bail is revoked,” said one protest leader, Arnon Nampa, ahead of the planned Sunday march from Democracy Monument to Government House in Bangkok.
    The protest will also mark the one-year anniversary of the first large-scale street protests led by youth groups demanding Prayuth resign, a new constitution and a major reform to the monarchy.
    The Thai government has earlier imposed a new nationwide ban on public gatherings of more than five people which carries a maximum penalty of a two-year jail term or a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,220), or both.
    The country reported a third straight day of record new cases on Sunday.
    Police urged people not to join the protest and warned that those who breached the law and cause unrest will face charges.
    Street protests against the prime minister have been held in recent weeks by several groups, including Prayuth’s former political allies, as frustrations grow over the mounting wave of infections and prolonged pandemic damage to the economy.
($1 = 32.7900 baht)
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/18/2021 U.S. Accuses Iran Of Trying To Deflect Blame For Nuclear Talks Impasse
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/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/CAIRO (Reuters) -The United States on Saturday accused Tehran of an “outrageous” effort to deflect blame for the impasse in Iran nuclear talks and denied that any agreement had been reached on a prisoner swap.
    Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, said earlier on Twitter that the next round of negotiations in Vienna must wait until the new Iranian administration takes office in August but insisted that a prisoner exchange could take place quickly if the United States and Britain would stop linking it with the nuclear issue.
    Indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 deal have been on hold since the last round ended on June 20, and Araqchi’s comments confirmed that Tehran will not return to the table before President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes over.
    “We’re in a transition period as a democratic transfer of power is under way in our capital.    Vienna talks must thus obviously await our new administration,” he tweeted.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “These comments are an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse.”
    “We stand ready to return to Vienna to complete work on a mutual return to the JCPOA once Iran has made the necessary decisions,” Price said, referring to diplomatic efforts to get both countries back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
    That is the nuclear accord that former President Donald Trump abandoned and his successor, President Joe Biden, seeks to revive.
    Araqchi also urged the United States and Britain to stop linking any exchange of prisoners with the nuclear deal.    “Ten prisoners on all sides may be released tomorrow if US&UK fulfil their part of a deal,” he said.
    In response, Price said: “With respect to the comments on the Americans whom Iran has unjustly held against their will, we see just another cruel effort to raise the hopes of their families … There is no agreed deal yet.”
    “We had been engaged in indirect talks on the detainees in the context of the Vienna process, and the delay in restarting that process is not helping,” Price added.    “While it would be more effective to make progress if we were meeting in Vienna, we are also prepared to continue with talks on detainees during this period.”
    Iran, which is holding a handful of Iranian-Americans, has been accused by rights activists of arresting dual nationals to try to extract a concession from other countries.    Iran has dismissed the charge.
    Iran said earlier this week that it was holding talks on securing the release of Iranian prisoners in American jails and other countries over violations of U.S. sanctions.
    In May, Washington denied a report by Iranian state television that the countries had reached a prisoner swap deal in exchange for the release of $7 billion in frozen Iranian oil funds under U.S. sanctions in other countries.
    The hiatus in nuclear talks, which U.S. and European officials attribute to hard-line Raisi’s election, has raised questions about next steps if the talks hit a dead end.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Arshad Mohammed, writing by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Louise Heavens and Nick Zieminski)

7/18/2021 Iran Insists Prisoner Swap Deal Was Agreed With U.S., Says Ready To Proceed ‘Today’ by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran insisted on Sunday that a prisoner swap deal has been agreed with the United States, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, a day after Washington denied such an agreement had been reached.
    “‘Outrageous’ = the US denying simple fact that there IS an agreed deal on the matter of the detainees.    Even on how to announce it,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a tweet.
    “Humanitarian swap was agreed with US & UK in Vienna-separate from JCPOA (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)- on release of 10 prisoners on all sides.    Iran is ready to proceed TODAY.”
    The United States on Saturday accused Tehran of an “outrageous” effort to deflect blame for the impasse in the nuclear talks and denied that any deal had been reached on a prisoner swap.
    Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, tweeted that the United States and Britain must stop linking a humanitarian exchange with the nuclear talks.
    The talks are aimed at reviving a 2015 deal between Iran and six major powers that curbed Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions on Iran.    Washington abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
    Tehran and President Joe Biden’s administration have been communicating on prisoner exchanges aimed at securing the release of Iranians held in U.S. jails and other countries over violations of U.S. sanctions, and of Americans jailed in Iran.
    Iran has arrested dozens of dual nationals, including several Americans, in recent years, mostly on espionage charges.
    Rights activists accuse the country of trying to use the detentions to win concessions from other countries, though Tehran dismisses the charge.
    The sixth round of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington in Vienna adjourned on June 20.    Iranian and Western officials have said that still significant gaps remain to be resolved.
    Iran has said that the seventh round of the talks will not resume until Iran’s hardline president-elect, Ebrahim Raisi, takes office in early August.
‘HARD LINE’ AT TALKS
    A hardline lawmaker said Raisi, who like Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has backed the talks, will adopt “a hard line” in the Vienna talks.
    “Raisi’s government will not leave the Vienna talks … But the talks will continue only if interests of the Iranian nation is secured,”     Mojtaba Zonnour told Iran’s semi-official Mehr News Agency.    “Biden is trying to keep some 517 sanctions in place.”
    Since 2019, Iran has breached many of the deal’s limits on its nuclear programme.    Tehran says its nuclear steps will only be reversed if all U.S. sanctions are lifted, including those institutions and individuals that Washington has targeted for allegedly supporting terrorism and human rights abuses.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/18/2021 Landslides Kill At Least 30 In Mumbai After Heavy Rains by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Rajendra Jadhav
Rescue workers remove debris as they search for survivors after a residential house collapsed
due to landslide caused by heavy rainfall in Mumbai, India, July 18, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni
    MUMBAI (Reuters) -At least 30 people died in three Mumbai suburbs after several houses collapsed when heavy rain triggered landslides, officials said on Sunday, and forecasts of further downpours could force authorities to relocate people living in danger zones.
    Rescuers resorted to using their hands to dig up the ground in an attempt to find survivors, local television showed, as authorities said more people could be trapped inside the debris.    Emergency workers carried the injured through narrow lanes on makeshift stretchers.
    Several areas of Mumbai have been hit by floods due to heavy rainfall over the past 24 hours, crippling India’s financial capital.    The mega-city and the coast of India’s industrial Maharashtra state are expected to receive heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next four days, the weather department said.
    “We’ll take the decision to shift the people who are living in a dangerous situation to permanent settlements immediately,” said Nawab Malik, a state cabinet minister, according to a tweet by news agency ANI, a Reuters partner.
    Torrential rain, especially during India’s July-September monsoon, often triggers the collapse of buildings, especially older or illegally built structures.
    Within the last 24 hours, authorities have reported 11 incidents of houses or walls collapsing in the Mumbai area, officials said.    In one neighbourhood, about half a dozen shacks located at the base of a hill collapsed on top of each other, they added.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences in a tweet and announced aid for the victims.
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar, Rajendra Jadhav and Neha Arora; Editing by Sam Holmes, Edmund Klamann and Pravin Char)

7/19/2021 Japan, S. Korea Leaders Summit In Limbo Amid Uproar Over Sexual Innuendo by Chang-Ran Kim and Jack Kim
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's official
residence, as the government declares a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) state of emergency in Tokyo almost two weeks
before the start of the Olympic Games, in Tokyo, Japan July 8, 2021. Nicolas Datiche/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    TOKYO/SEOUL (Reuters) -Plans to hold the first in-person summit between the leaders of Japan and South Korea have hit a snag over a disparaging comment by a Japanese diplomat about the South Korean president, the latest flare-up between the fractious neighbours.
    Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported South Korean President Moon Jae-in will visit Tokyo and hold a summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday to coincide with the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
    But both governments on Monday denied a meeting had been finalised, with Moon’s office citing a “last minute obstacle.”
    South Korea reacted with anger and lodged a protest with Tokyo after a broadcaster on Friday quoted a senior diplomat at Japan’s embassy in Seoul as saying Moon was “masturbating” when describing the leader’s efforts to improve ties with Tokyo.
    The political uproar inflamed already fraught diplomatic relations between the two countries over issues including territorial disputes and their wartime history, and cast further doubts over the hope that the Tokyo Games would be an occasion to kickstart momentum for regional cooperation.
    Suga and Moon were planning to discuss issues that have strained relations over generations, including compensation for people forced to work in Japanese firms and military brothels during Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule, the Yomiuri report said.
    Japan is also planning to replace the senior Seoul-based diplomat after his reported comments regarding Moon’s dealings with Japan, the Yomiuri said.
    Japan’s top government spokesperson said the ambassador cautioned his deputy over reported remarks, calling them “inappropriate.”
    “The remarks were inappropriate as a diplomat, and we think it is very regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a regular briefing.
    In response to the report on the diplomat’s removal, Kato said the foreign minister would decide on personnel issues at overseas missions, and did not provide further details.
    A summit between the two leaders had not been decided but if Moon decided to visit, Japan would accommodate him, Kato added.
    South Korea’s presidential Blue House said the two countries were in discussions but that there has been no decision on a trip by Moon.
    “It is still uncertain whether a visit to Japan and a meeting will take place as there has been no satisfactory action taken by the Japanese side over the last-minute obstacle to a (summit) meeting,” it said in a statement.
    South Korea’s vice foreign minister, Choi Jong-kun, summoned Japan’s Ambassador Koichi Aiboshi on Saturday to protest.
    “He also demanded the Japanese government to promptly take tangible and due steps to prevent a recurrence of such situation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    Suga this month called relations between Japan and South Korea “very difficult”, adding that it was up to Seoul to provide a response to the problems.
    Moon had earlier hoped the Olympics may offer an opportunity for North and South Korea to improve relations and revive peace talks, before Pyongyang announced it would not take part because of coronavirus concerns.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Ju-min Park in Tokyo, Sangmi Cha and Jack Kim in Seoul; Editing by William Mallard, Gerry Doyle and Lincoln Feast)

7/19/2021 US And Allies Accuse China Of Global Hacking Spree by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu
FILE PHOTO: Computer code is seen on a screen above a Chinese flag in this
July 12, 2017 illustration photo. REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and its allies accused China on Monday of a global cyberespionage campaign, mustering an unusually broad coalition of countries to publicly call out Beijing for hacking.
    The United States was joined by NATO, the European Union, Britain, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada in condemning the spying, which U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said posed “a major threat to our economic and national security.”
    Simultaneously, the U.S. Department of Justice charged four Chinese nationals – three security officials and one contract hacker – with targeting dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the United States and abroad.
    The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Chinese officials have previously said China is also a victim of hacking and opposes all forms of cyberattacks.
    At an event about the administration’s infrastructure plan, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters: “My understanding is that the Chinese government, not unlike the Russian government, is not doing this themselves, but are protecting those who are doing it.    And maybe even accommodating them being able to do it.”
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki was later asked at her daily briefing why Biden did not directly blame the Chinese government in his response to a reporter’s question.
    “That was not the intention he was trying to project. He takes malicious cyber activity incredibly seriously,” Psaki said.
    Psaki also said the White House does not differentiate between Russia’s and China when it comes to cyber-attacks.
    “We are not holding back; we are not allowing any economic circumstance or consideration to prevent us from taking actions … also we reserve the option to take additional action.” she said.
    While a flurry of statements from Western powers represents a broad alliance, cyber experts said the lack of consequences for China beyond the U.S. indictment was conspicuous.    Just a month ago, summit statements by G7 and NATO warned China and said it posed threats to the international order.
    Adam Segal, a cybersecurity expert at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, called Monday’s announcement a “successful effort to get friends and allies to attribute the action to Beijing, but not very useful without any concrete follow-up.”
    Some of Monday’s statements even seemed to pull their punches.    While Washington and its close allies such as the United Kingdom and Canada held the Chinese state directly responsible for the hacking, others were more circumspect.
    NATO merely said that its members “acknowledge” the allegations being leveled against Beijing by the U.S., Canada, and the UK.    The European Union said it was urging Chinese officials to rein in “malicious cyber activities undertaken from its territory” – a statement that left open the possibility that the Chinese government was itself innocent of directing the espionage.
    The United States was much more specific, formally attributing intrusions such as the one that affected servers running Microsoft Exchange earlier this year to hackers affiliated with China’s Ministry of State Security.    Microsoft had already blamed China.
    U.S. officials said the scope and scale of hacking attributed to China has surprised them, along with China’s use of “criminal contract hackers.”
    “The PRC’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has fostered an ecosystem of criminal contract hackers who carry out both state-sponsored activities and cybercrime for their own financial gain,” Blinken said.
    U.S. security and intelligence agencies outlined more than 50 techniques and procedures that “China state-sponsored actors” use against U.S. networks, a senior administration official said.
    Washington in recent months has focused heavy attention on Russia in accusing Russian hackers of a string of ransomware attacks in the United States.
    The senior administration official said U.S. concerns about Chinese cyber activities have been raised with senior Chinese officials.    “We’re not ruling out further action to hold the PRC accountable,” the official said.
    The United States and China have already been at loggerheads over trade, China’s military buildup, disputes about the South China Sea, a crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong and treatment of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region.
    Blinken cited the Justice Department indictments as an example of how the United States will impose consequences.
    The defendants and officials in the Hainan State Security Department, a regional state security office, tried to hide the Chinese government’s role in the information theft by using a front company, according to the indictment.
    The campaign targeted trade secrets in industries including aviation, defense, education, government, health care, biopharmaceutical and maritime industries, the Justice Department said.
    Victims were in Austria, Cambodia, Canada, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
    “These criminal charges once again highlight that China continues to use cyber-enabled attacks to steal what other countries make, in flagrant disregard of its bilateral and multilateral commitments,” Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in the statement.
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Nandita Bose, David Shepardson and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

7/19/2021 Armenia Becomes Vaccine Tourism Hot Spot For Iranians
Iranian citizens prepare to get vaccinated with AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a mobile vaccination centre in Yerevan, Armenia July 19, 2021. REUTERS/Artem Mikryukov
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Iranians facing a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines at home are travelling to neighbouring Armenia as tourists in growing numbers to get inoculated there for free, according to data from Armenia’s tourism board.
    Armenia has approved three vaccines against COVID-19 – Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s CoronaVac and AstraZeneca’s vaccine and initially offered all of them free to foreign visitors.
    The Armenian Tourism Committee said more than 8,500 Iranian citizens had visited in June, up from 5,000 a month earlier.
    “We didn’t have any special plans to develop vaccine tourism, it happened accidentally,” said Alfred Kocharyan, deputy head of the Armenian Tourism Committee, adding that people were also coming from India to get free shots.
    “But demand for vaccines has created an opportunity for our travel agencies which I encourage them to take.”
    Armenian TV reported long queues of Iranians at mobile vaccination units in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, last week with some Iranian tourists saying they had spent several nights in the street waiting for their turn to get vaccinated.
    “There were too many people there, there were too many Iranians, and we still don’t know if we can get a vaccine or not,” said Shirin Darvish, an Iranian tourist who had been waiting to get a shot for ten days.
    The buildup of overnight queues prompted the authorities to tighten vaccine rules.
    As of July 15, foreigners can only be inoculated in Armenia with the AstraZeneca vaccine and must spend 10 days in the country before becoming eligible.
    Armenia had administered at least 260,813 doses of COVID vaccines by July 10, according to the Armenian authorities.
    Iran, with a population of 83 million, had recorded 87,161 deaths from coronavirus as of July 19, the highest toll in the Middle East.
    According to The Islamic Republic News Agency, around 2.7% of Iran’s population have received both doses of an anti-coronavirus vaccine.
(Reporting by Artem Mikryukov; writing by Maria Vasilyeva; editing by Andrew Osborn and Philippa Fletcher)

7/19/2021 Foreign Missions In Afghanistan Call For Taliban Ceasefire
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan policeman keeps watch at the check post on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) -Fifteen diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Afghanistan urged the Taliban on Monday to halt their military offensives, just hours after the insurgents and the Afghan government failed to agree on a ceasefire at talks in Doha.
    A delegation of Afghan leaders met the Taliban’s political leadership in the Qatari capital over the weekend.    But in a statement late on Sunday, the Taliban made no mention of a halt to Afghanistan’s escalating violence.
    “This Eid al-Adha, the Taliban should lay down their weapons for good and show the world their commitment to the peace process,” the 15 missions and the NATO representative said, referring to Tuesday’s Muslim holiday in Afghanistan.
    The statement was supported by Australia, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union delegation, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Britain and the United States and NATO’s senior civilian representative.
    Over recent Eid holidays, the Taliban have called short ceasefires, saying they wanted to let Afghans spend them in peace.
    This time there has been no such announcement as the Taliban make swift territorial gains in near-unprecedented levels of fighting nationwide as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of fighting.
    Monday’s statement also condemned rights violations, such as efforts to shut schools and media outlets in areas recently captured by the Taliban.    The militants have previously denied such actions.
‘SEEKING A SETTLEMENT’
    The Taliban said on Monday they had captured the Dehrawood district in Uruzgan province, southwest of Kabul, after heavy clashes with government forces the previous night.    Provincial officials confirmed the Taliban advance.
    In the northern province of Samangan, security forces managed to wrest Dara-e-Sof Bala district back from insurgents, the military in the area said, adding that 24 Taliban fighters, including a shadow district governor and two commanders, had been killed.
    Clashes were going on there on Monday.
    Reuters could not independently verify the information provided by the military.
    President Ashraf Ghani on Monday visited the provincial capital of Herat province in the west.    The Taliban have captured all 17 of the province’s districts in recent days barring the capital, Herat city, which is under siege.
    In Doha, political leaders and the Taliban discussed a settlement to end the conflict, the chairman of a council for peace Abdullah Abdullah, who took part in the talks, said on Monday.
    “We agreed to continue the talks, seek a political settlement to the current crisis, avoid civilian casualties, facilitate humanitarian assistance and medical supplies to tackle COVID-19 pandemic,” he said on Twitter.
    In a statement late on Sunday, the Taliban said: “Both sides agreed upon the need for expedition in the peace talks, in order to find a fair and permanent solution for the current issue in Afghanistan as soon as possible.”
    Peace talks between the Taliban and prominent Afghans from the government side started in September last year but have failed to make any progress.
    The Taliban’s spokesman in Doha, Mohammed Naeem, denied media reports that the insurgent group had agreed to an Eid ceasefire in exchange for the release of its prisoners.
    On Monday, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad travelled to Islamabad and met Pakistan’s prime minister and army chief.
    “Ambassador Khalilzad emphasized the urgency of a comprehensive political settlement between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban,” a U.S. Embassy statement said.
    Pakistan is considered a key player in the peace process in Afghanistan given Islamabad’s historical influence over the Taliban.
    The U.S. Embassy statement emphasised that “i>tangible and material support” for the Afghan peace process was vital for its success.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield, Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Alex Richardson)

7/19/2021 Devoured: How Sand Mining Devastated China’s Largest Freshwater Lake by Manas Sharma and Simon Scarr
A worker operates a front loader in an area cleared for sand mining on a dried lake bed
of Poyang Lake in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, China December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song
    (Reuters) – Over two decades, dredging ships have sucked massive amounts of sand from the bed and shores of Poyang Lake in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangxi, drastically altering the ability of its ecosystem to function.
    Decades of mass urbanisation in China have fuelled demand for sand to make glass, concrete and other materials used in construction.    The most desirable sand for industry comes from rivers and lakes rather than deserts and oceans.    Much of the sand used to build the country’s megacities has come from Poyang, China’s largest freshwater lake.
    Reuters worked with Earthrise Media, a non-profit group that analyses satellite imagery, to map changes in the lake’s shoreline since 1997, giving an indication of how much sand has been removed.
(Open https://tmsnrt.rs/2Tiz7wU in a browser to see an interactive graphic showing how the Poyang has been scraped, scarred and left fragile.)
    Poyang Lake is a main flood outlet for the Yangtze River, which overflows during summer and can cause extensive damage to crops and property.    In winter, the lake’s water flows back out into the river.
    Sand mining in the main river and its tributaries and lakes is believed to be responsible for the abnormally low water levels during winters over the past two decades.    It also has made it harder for authorities to control the summertime water flow.
    In March, the government moved to restrict sand mining activities in some areas and arrested illegal miners, but it stopped short of an outright ban on sand mining.
    Low water levels mean farmers have less water for irrigation, while also shrinking habitats for birds and fish.
    President Xi Jinping once described Poyang Lake as a vital “kidney” filtering the country’s water supply.    Today, it looks very different from two decades ago.
    Already decimated by sand mining, the Poyang now faces a new environmental threat.    Plans to build a 3-km (1.9-mile) sluice gate increase the threat to the ecosystem of the lake, which is a national nature reserve and home to endangered species like the Yangtze River, or finless, porpoise.
    Adding a sluice gate to regulate the water flow would disrupt the natural ebb and flow between Poyang and the Yangtze, potentially threatening mud flats that serve as feeding stops for migratory birds.
    Losing the natural water circulation could also hurt Poyang’s ability to flush out nutrients, raising the risk that algae could build up and disrupt the food chain.
(Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley and David Stanway; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Katy Daigle, Christian Schmollinger and Karishma Singh)

7/20/2021 Analysis: Beyond Security Crackdown, Beijing Charts State-Controlled Data Market by Cate Cadell
FILE PHOTO: A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in
Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s sweeping regulatory action against internet giants such as ride-hailing firm Didi Global Inc, which has sent chills through the industry, is part of a broader national project to create a domestic marketplace for the country’s vast troves of big data.
    The plan, fermenting for years but rapidly gaining momentum, is designed to help support China’s economy in the coming decades and includes pilot projects for state-supervised data trading markets, policy documents show.
    It also threatens to further isolate China’s internet industry globally, and ratchet up tensions with Washington.
    Data is becoming a critical battleground between China and the United States, compelled by fears on both sides that unchecked collection by private firms could allow state actors to weaponise information on infrastructure and other national interests.
    This September China is set to implement its Data Security Law, which requires companies that process “critical data” to conduct risk assessments and submit reports. Organisations that process data affecting national security must submit to annual reviews.
    Earlier this month, Chinese regulators pulled Didi from the country’s app stores, days after its U.S. initial public offering, citing security concerns, sending its stock plummeting.
BROADER STRATEGIC PLAN
    But China’s efforts to seize control of data for national security reasons are just one aspect of a strategic goal to create a state-supervised market for such information, including government data as well as that collected by private companies, and help buoy slowing economic growth, experts say.
    Such information could encompass just about any type of data – from health records and court documents to maps and shopping histories.
    “Overseas IPO audits, cross border transfers and open access to certain types of data stand in the way of Beijing’s goal to not only take over supervision of the county’s vast data assets but to commoditise them,” said Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Beijing-based consultancy Trivium China.
    The plans require a huge bureaucratic effort to categorise, standardise and value data, policy documents show, setting foundations for it to be traded domestically while preventing overseas access to the most sensitive information.
    “The user data obtained by a large number of Internet service platforms … are public resources and should be included in the national unified and hierarchical supervision system,” the state-run China Internet Information Center said this month.
THE FIFTH FACTOR
    Plans for a state-controlled data market have been in the works for years.
    In a closed-door 2017 meeting, President Xi Jinping urged policymakers to research global data governance and “propose a Chinese plan” for “opening, transacting, and confirming the ownership and property protection rights for data.”
    The project was supercharged in April 2020, when a State Council document declared data would be the fifth “factor of production” – on par with labour, technology, land and capital in terms of national economic resources.
    That was quickly followed by the draft Data Security Law, which mandates mass auditing of big data.
    “They’re playing four-way chess here,” said Samm Sacks, a cyber policy fellow at think tank New America.
    “It’s not just a national security policy, it’s a much more deliberate plan asking ‘how do we really tap into the value that flows from data from an economic standpoint?'
    A digital economy development plan released by the State Council in March lays out a five-part plan for “experimental stage data markets” and calls for authorities to “implement and strengthen the economic supervision” of internet platforms.
    The powerhouse province of Guangdong last week announced plans to launch one such platform by year-end to trade and oversee the movement of data, including a customs hub for international transfers.
‘BARBARIC’ GROWTH
    Globally, governments have been wrestling over how to manage internet platforms and their vast power, based on their extensive collection of user data.
    In China, which exerts tight control over private companies, such efforts are more straightforward, in principle.
    “The government long wanted to regain control over data that’s held by these private platforms as a strategic asset, and then Didi gave them the perfect opportunity because they flouted these important stakeholders who weren’t ready for the IPO,” Sacks said.
    But China’s efforts carry risks, Sacks said.
    The data law’s broad definition of what could be considered “national key data” is vague, adding to uncertainty for companies, their customers and investors.
    One Chinese tech stock index has tumbled 40% from highs early this year on a widening regulatory crackdown ranging from anti-competitive practices to data security.
    “They’re undermining the trust of customers wary of Beijing having that data.    That ultimately is going to make it harder for these companies to be truly global players and succeed outside of China’s closed system,” Sacks said.
    Foreign firms that collect data within China are required to undergo the same security reviews when transferring data outside the country.
    “Chinese Internet companies must step out of the comfort zone of barbaric growth in the past and adapt to China’s new institutional environment,” said Fang Xingdong, a Zhejiang University academic in a recent editorial in state-owned Global Times.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Tony Munroe and Kim Coghill)

7/20/2021 Britain To Permanently Deploy Two Warships In Asian Waters
Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is welcomed by Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at the start of their meeting
at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, July 20, 2021. Franck Robichon/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Britain said on Tuesday it would permanently deploy two warships in Asia after its Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier arrives in Japan in September, traversing waters at the centre of tension between China, the United States and its ally Japan.
    Plans for the high-profile visit by the carrier leading a Royal Navy flotilla come as London deepens security ties with Tokyo, which has expressed growing alarm in recent months over China’s territorial ambitions in the region, including Taiwan.
    “Following on from the strike group’s inaugural deployment, the United Kingdom will permanently assign two ships in the region from later this year,” Britain’s Defence Minister Ben Wallace said in a joint announcement in Tokyo with his Japanese counterpart Nobuo Kishi.
    After their arrival in Japan, Kishi said, the Queen Elizabeth and its escort ships would split up for separate port calls to key U.S. and Japanese naval bases along the Japanese archipelago.
    The British carrier, which is carrying F-35 stealth jets, will dock at Yokosuka, the home of Japan’s fleet command and the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet’s carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/20/2021 Rockets Land Near Afghan Presidential Palace, Taliban Deny Responsibility
A man looks up as he reacts to the sounds of rocket explosions landing near the presidential palace, during an
outdoor gathering for Eid al-Adha prayers attended by President Ashraf Ghani (front row), in the palace
compound, in Kabul, Afghanistan, July 20, 2021, in this still image taken from TV footage. RTA/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -Rockets hit the Afghan capital on Tuesday, landing near the presidential palace during prayers for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, but President Ashraf Ghani and many others calmly continued praying at an outdoor gathering, TV images showed.
    Three rockets landed outside the palace, said interior ministry spokesperson Mirwais Stanekzai, adding that there were no immediate reports of injuries.
    Taliban insurgents denied they were involved in the attack on the heavily fortified palace.    Spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters in a voice message the fighters were in a “state of defence” during the Eid religious holiday.    Unlike some previous years, the Taliban have not officially declared a ceasefire for Eid this week.
    Mujahid did not immediately reply when asked if the Taliban’s defensive stance constituted a ceasefire.
    Television images showed Ghani and dozens of others kneeling for prayer as the first explosion was heard.    Most continued to pray as security guards could be seen in the background hurrying toward the sound of the blasts.
    Insurgents have for years fired rockets into the city every now and then, usually inflicting only minor damage and few if any casualties.
    In March last year, four rockets fell on the edge of the palace compound during Ghani’s inauguration as president.    Islamic State insurgents claimed responsibility.
    Insecurity has been growing in Afghanistan in recent weeks, largely spurred by fighting in its provinces as U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal and the Taliban launch major offensives, taking districts and border crossings.
    On Monday, 15 diplomatic missions and the NATO representative in Kabul urged the Taliban to halt offensives, just hours after the insurgents and the Afghan government failed to agree on a ceasefire at talks in Doha.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Orooj Hakimi; writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Clarence Fernandez)

7/20/2021 Analysis: Caught Between China And The U.S., Asian Countries Stockpile Powerful New Missiles by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: An Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) fighter jet and missiles are seen at Makung Air Force
Base in Taiwan's offshore island of Penghu, September 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yimou Lee
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Asia is sliding into a dangerous arms race as smaller nations that once stayed on the sidelines build arsenals of advanced long-range missiles, following in the footsteps of powerhouses China and the United States, analysts say.
    China is mass producing its DF-26 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-anniversary-military-idUSKBN1WG342 – a multipurpose weapon with a range of up to 4,000 kilometres – while the United States is developing new weapons aimed at countering Beijing in the Pacific.
    Other countries in the region are buying or developing their own new missiles, driven by security concerns over China and a desire to reduce their reliance on the United States.
    Before the decade is out, Asia will be bristling with conventional missiles that fly farther and faster, hit harder, and are more sophisticated than ever before – a stark and dangerous change from recent years, analysts, diplomats, and military officials say.
    “The missile landscape is changing in Asia, and it’s changing fast,” said David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum.
    Such weapons are increasingly affordable and accurate, and as some countries acquire them, their neighbours don’t want to be left behind, analysts said.    Missiles provide strategic benefits such as deterring enemies and boosting leverage with allies, and can be a lucrative export.
    The long-term implications are uncertain, and there is a slim chance that the new weapons could balance tensions and help maintain peace, Santoro said.
    “More likely is that missile proliferation will fuel suspicions, trigger arms races, increase tensions, and ultimately cause crises and even wars,” he said.
(For graphic on Asia-Pacific missile race – https://graphics.reuters.com/ASIA-MISSILES/xklpyxajkvg/asia-missiles.jpg)
HOMEGROWN MISSILES
    According to unreleased 2021 military briefing documents reviewed by Reuters, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) plans to deploy its new long-range weapons in “highly survivable, precision-strike networks along the First Island Chain,” which includes Japan, Taiwan, and other Pacific islands ringing the east coasts of China and Russia.
    The new weapons include the Long-range Hypersonic Weapon (LRHW), a missile that can deliver a highly manoeuvrable warhead at more than five times the speed of sound to targets more than 2,775 kilometres (1,724 miles) away.
    An INDOPACOM spokesman told Reuters that no decisions had been made as to where to deploy these weapons.    So far, most American allies https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-usa-missiles-idUSKCN1UV0IB in the region have been hesitant to commit to hosting them.    If based in Guam, a U.S. territory, the LRHW would be unable to hit mainland China.
    Japan, home to more than 54,000 U.S. troops, could host some of the new missile batteries on its Okinawan islands, but the United States would probably have to withdraw other forces, a source familiar with Japanese government thinking said, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    Allowing in American missiles – which the U.S. military will control – will also most likely bring an angry response from China, analysts said.
    Some of America’s allies are developing their own arsenals.    Australia recently announced it would spend $100 billion over 20 years developing advanced missiles.
    “COVID and China have shown that depending on such extended global supply chains in times of crisis for key items – and in war, that includes advanced missiles – is a mistake, so it is sensible strategic thinking to have production capacity in Australia,” said Michael Shoebridge of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
    Japan has spent millions on long range air-launched weapons, and is developing a new version of a truck-mounted anti-ship missile, the Type 12 https://www.reuters.com/world/china/japan-develop-longer-range-anti-ship-missiles-china-pressure-mounts-2020-12-18, with an expected range of 1,000 kilometres.
    Among U.S. allies, South Korea fields the most robust domestic ballistic missile programme, which got a boost from a recent agreement with Washington to drop bilateral limits on its capabilities.    Its Hyunmoo-4 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-southkorea-analys-idCAKBN2BM0G8 has an 800-kilometre range, giving it a reach well inside China.
    “When the U.S. allies’ conventional long-range-strike capabilities grow, the chances of their employment in the event of a regional conflict also increase,” Zhao Tong, a strategic security expert in Beijing, wrote in a recent report.
    Despite the concerns, Washington “will continue to encourage its allies and partners to invest in defence capabilities that are compatible with coordinated operations,” U.S. Representative Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, told Reuters.
BLURRED LINES
    Taiwan has not publicly announced a ballistic missile programme, but in December the U.S. State Department approved its request to buy dozens of American short-range ballistic missiles.    Officials say Taipei is mass producing weapons https://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-defence-idUSKBN2BH0IT and developing cruise missiles such as the Yun Feng, which could strike as far as Beijing.
    All this is aimed at “making the spines of (Taiwan’s) porcupine longer as the abilities of China’s military improve,” Wang Ting-yu, a senior lawmaker from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, told Reuters, while insisting that the island’s missiles were not meant to strike deep in China.
    One diplomatic source in Taipei said Taiwan’s armed forces, traditionally focused on defending the island and warding off a Chinese invasion, are beginning to look more offensive.
    “The line between defensive and offensive nature of the weapons is getting thinner and thinner,” the diplomat added.
    South Korea has been in a heated missile race with North Korea.    The North recently tested https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-it-tested-new-tactical-guided-projectile-thursday-kcna-2021-03-25 what appeared to be an improved version of its proven KN-23 missile with a 2.5-ton warhead that analysts say is aimed at besting the 2-ton warhead on the Hyunmoo-4.
    “While North Korea still appears to be the primary driver behind South Korea’s missile expansion, Seoul is pursuing systems with ranges beyond what is necessary to counter North Korea,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association in Washington.
    As proliferation accelerates, analysts say the most worrisome missiles are those that can carry either conventional or nuclear warheads.    China, North Korea and the United States all field such weapons.
    “It is difficult, if not impossible, to determine if a ballistic missile is armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead until it reaches the target,” Davenport said. As the number of such weapons increases, “there is an increased risk of inadvertent escalation to a nuclear strike.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee in Taipei, Tim Kelly in Tokyo, and Idrees Ali in Washington. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/20/2021 U.S. Defense Secretary To Visit Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin testifies on the defense department’s budget request during a Senate
Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Southeast Asia later this month, the Pentagon said, a trip that will include stops in the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the U.S. embassy in Hanoi.
    “Secretary Austin’s visit will demonstrate the importance the Biden-Harris Administration places on Southeast Asia and on ASEAN as an essential part of the Indo-Pacific’s architecture,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc.
    The U.S. embassy in Hanoi said on Tuesday that Austin’s trip would start on July 23.
    “This trip will underscore the enduring U.S. commitment to the region, and our interest in upholding the rules-based international order in the region and promoting ASEAN centrality,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.
    The United States under President Joe Biden is looking to reinforce the need for a U.S. role in a region where China has sizeable influence as the dominant trade partner, but testy relationships as a result of its military activities in the South China Sea.
    Austin has been to preserve decades-old military ties with the Philippines, a defense treaty partner, after repeated threats to downgrade the alliance by its largely pro-China President Rodrigo Duterte, whose term ends next year.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Sandra Maler, Martin Petty)

7/20/2021 China Unveils 600 Kph Maglev Train – State Media
A high-speed maglev train, capable of a top speed of 600 kph, is pictured in Qingdao,
Shandong province, China July 20, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China unveiled a maglev train capable of a top speed of 600 kph on Tuesday, state media said.
    The maximum speed would make the train, self-developed by China and manufactured in the coastal city of Qingdao, the fastest ground vehicle globally.
    Using electro-magnetic force, the maglev train “levitates” above the track with no contact between body and rail.
    China has been using the technology for almost two decades on a very limited scale.    Shanghai has a short maglev line running from one of its airports to town.
    While there are no inter-city or inter-province maglev lines yet in China that could make good use of the higher speeds, some cities including Shanghai and Chengdu have started to conduct research.
    At 600 kph, it would only take 2.5 hours to travel from Beijing to Shanghai by train – a journey of more than 1,000 km (620 miles).
    By comparison, the journey would take 3 hours by plane and 5.5 hours by high-speed rail.
    Countries from Japan to Germany are also looking to build maglev networks, although high costs and incompatibility with current track infrastructure remain hurdles to rapid development.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/20/2021 Subway Passengers Trapped Waist-High In Floodwaters As Chinese River Banks Burst
A resident wearing a rain cover stands on a flooded road in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 20, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) -Heavy rain pounded the central Chinese province of Henan on Tuesday, bursting the banks of major rivers, flooding the streets of a dozen cities and trapping subway passengers waist-high in floodwaters.
    Henan, a populous province double the size of Austria, has been hit by storms since the weekend in an unusually active rainy season.
    No deaths or casualties have been reported, but the daily lives of the province’s 94 million people have been upended by transport closures.
    In Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan on the banks of the Yellow River, more than 200 mm of rain fell in one hour on Tuesday, forcing the city to stop all subway train services.
    Dramatic video shared on social media showed commuters waist-deep in murky floodwaters on a subway train and an underground station turned into a large, churning pool.
    Henan is a major logistics hub but train services were suspended, while many highways were closed and flights delayed or cancelled.
    In Ruzhou, a city southwest of Zhengzhou, streets have been turned into torrents, sweeping away cars and other vehicles, footage on social media showed.
    A rising Yi River also threatened to hit the Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site featuring millennium-old Buddhist statues etched into limestone cliffs near the city of Luoyang.
    Like the Longmen Grottoes, the Shaolin Temple in Dengfeng city, famous in the West for its martial arts, has been temporarily shut.
    Also in Dengfeng, an aluminium alloy plant exploded on Tuesday as water from a river surged into the factory.
    At least 31 large and medium-sized reservoirs in the province have exceeded their warning levels.
    From Saturday to Tuesday, 3,535 weather stations in Henan saw rainfall exceed 50 mm, of which 1,614 registered levels above 100 mm and 151 above 250 mm.
    The highest was in Lushan city, which saw 498 mm of rain, according to the provincial weather bureau.
    “This is the heaviest rain since I was born, with so many familiar places flooded,” said an internet user in the inundated city of Gongyi on Chinese social media.
    Rain is forecast to stop by Thursday.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/20/2021 Iran Govt. Kill Protestors, Biden Advances Talks With Ayatollahs by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
addresses in a televised speech marking the annual Quds, or Jerusalem Day, in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Iranian authorities have killed and tortured peaceful pro-democracy protestors as Joe Biden has advanced talks with the Ayatollah regime.    A flurry of reports from Iranian opposition groups on Monday found mass protests have been on the rise in the Khuzestan province and Tehran.
    Iranian officials have sent tanks to quell the demonstrations.    A number of protestors have been killed by security forces, including minors as young as 17-years-old.
    However, the Biden administration has pushed to restore the nuclear deal with the regime while ignoring pleas for freedom from the Iranian people.
    “The administration in Washington out to look at what the Iranian government is doing on the ground.    It continues to repress its own people,” expressed Chairman Joe Lieberman, United Against Nuclear Iran.    “I think it’s time for the Biden administration to suspend all negotiation with Iran in Vienna about a nuclear deal.”
    Critics argued Biden and his White House have been silent about the latest protests in Iran.    Meanwhile, media outlets have claimed the protests were caused by water shortages and power outages, but have failed to highlight protesters demands for political change.

7/21/2021 U.S., Japan, South Korea Send Clear Message To N. Korea – U.S. Diplomat by Ju-min Park
Japan's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Takeo Mori (C), South Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun and U.S. Deputy Secretary
of State Wendy Sherman pose for photographs prior to their trilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan July 21, 2021. Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -The United States, Japan and South Korea are sending a clear message with their coordination on policy towards North Korea, a senior U.S. official said on Wednesday, despite some recent friction between the two Asian allies.
    “That close coordination sends a very critical message to North Korea in that we are together and shoulder-to-shoulder in our approach to this policy,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters after meeting the vice foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea.
    The three-way talks were held in Tokyo despite frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, largely a result of recriminations by both sides stemming from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of Korea.
    A new chapter of the historic dispute that blew up in 2019 hit trade between the neighbours and threatened to undermine their cooperation on security in the face of a common threat from North Korea and its nuclear and missile programmes.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in recently decided not to visit the Tokyo Olympics, which open on Friday, for what would have been his first summit with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
    Japan’s vice foreign minister, Takeo Mori, said the trilateral cooperation with the United States was crucial for the denuclerisation of North Korea.
    “North Korea’s next move is unpredictable,” Mori said.
    North Korea has rebuffed U.S. entreaties for diplomacy since U.S. President Joe Biden took over from Donald Trump, who had three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, raising hopes for some sort of breakthrough.
    Little concrete progress came as Kim refused to give up his nuclear weapons but he did impose a freeze on testing them.
    Choi Jung Kun, South Korea’s vice foreign minister, described the North Korea nuclear issue as “a long game” that needed patience.
    Sherman said the United States was “ready to engage with North Korea and they know that.”
    “We hope they will respond positively, but as my colleagues have said, we must exercise some patience, perhaps not too much, but some,” Sherman said.
    Sherman did not refer directly to the recent tension between Japan and South Korea but said the United States had “no greater friends” in the region than those two countries.
    Senior diplomats from Japan and South Korea reiterated that their countries would continue dialogue to resolve outstanding issues.
    Choi said South Korea was “deeply impressed” by Japan’s efforts to host the Olympics during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Choi said he, Sherman and Mori had agreed to meet regularly.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Robert Birsel)

7/21/2021 China’s Flood-Hit Henan To Get Nearly $300 Million In Emergency Aid, Donations
People wade through floodwaters on a road amid heavy rainfall in
Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 20, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS
(Corrects Foxconn’s Reuters Instrument Code to 2317.TW in last paragraph)
    BEIJING (Reuters) -A raft of Chinese companies, insurers and a state-backed bank said on Wednesday they had offered donations and emergency aid to local governments in flood-stricken Henan province amounting to 1.935 billion yuan ($299 million).
    Henan, a province with a population of around 109 million, has been hit by storms since the weekend, resulting in 12 deaths reported so far, the bursting of major river banks and flooding of streets in a dozen cities, damaging auto vehicles, property, and upending the daily life of millions.
    More than 20 life insurers and property and casualty insurers said they have opened a fast track for emergency compensation and insurance payouts, according to their respective statements posted on the website of Henan’s Insurance Association.
    Three local branches in the rain-hit Xuchang city of Agricultural Development Bank of China are preparing a contingency loan of 1.1 billion yuan, according to a statement by the Beijing-based policy bank sent to Reuters on Wednesday.
    Tech giants and listed firms also rushed to offer donations, with Alibaba Group, Jack Ma’s foundation, and its fintech affiliated Ant Group offering to donate a combined 250 million yuan.
    Tencent Holdings, ByteDance, Meituan, Didi Chuxing and a unit of Taiwan’s Foxconn, which operates several plants, each said they will donate 100 million yuan.
($1 = 6.4715 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Cheng Leng, Yingzhi Yang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

7/21/2021 Rio Tinto Reaches Deal To Review Bougainville Copper Mine Impact
FILE PHOTO: The Panguna mine is seen in Bougainville, Paua New Guinea, in this Planet Labs satellite
photo received by Reuters September 26, 2017. Trevor Hammond/Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rio Tinto Ltd said on Wednesday it has reached an agreement with stakeholders of the Bougainville community to look into potential environmental damage and human rights breaches at a copper mine it ran decades ago.
    Community and human rights groups have been pushing the miner to review issues https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mining-rio-tinto-bougainville-idUKKBN26J218 around water, land and health arising from the Panguna copper mine that Rio ran for nearly 20 years until 1989.
    Rio was responding to a human rights complaint filed by a group of Bougainville residents last year who said that the massive volume of waste pollution left by the mine was having severe environmental and human rights impacts and putting the lives and livelihoods of communities at risk.
    “Our people have been living with the disastrous impacts of Panguna for many years and the situation is getting worse,” traditional landowner and member of parliament Theonila Roka Matbob said in a statement.
    “The mine continues to poison our rivers with copper.    Our kids get sick from the pollution and communities downstream are now being flooded with mine waste … These problems need to be urgently investigated so solutions can be developed and clean-up can begin,” she said.
    Around 12,000 – 14,000 people live downstream of the Panguna mine along the Jaba-Kawerong river valley, according to Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, which represents the communities.
    Its visit to the mine in 2019-20 documented copper pollution from the abandoned mine flowing directly into the rivers and vast mounds of tailings waste stretching almost 40km downstream to the coast, it said.
    Mine operations ceased in 1989 after a civil war broke out and Rio Tinto has not had access to the mine since, the company said on Wednesday.
    An independent impact report funded largely by the global miner will be overseen by a joint committee of the company and various stakeholders, with the parties discussing recommendations once the assessment is done, Rio said.
    “We take this seriously and are committed to identifying and assessing any involvement we may have had in adverse impacts, in line with our external human rights and environmental commitments and internal policies and standards,” Chief Executive Officer Jakob Stausholm said.
    The miner in 2016 transferred its 53.8% stake in Bougainville Copper Ltd, the company that ran the mine, to the Autonomous Bougainville government and the Papua New Guinea government for no amount.
(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Devika Syamnath and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

7/22/2021 HK Court Denies Bail To Apple Daily Staff Facing National Security Charges
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Lam Man-chung, Executive Editor-in-Chief of Apple Daily reacts on the day of
the newspaper's final edition in Hong Kong, China June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Four staff members from the now-closed pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper were denied bail in a Hong Kong court on Thursday after they were charged with colluding with foreign forces under a national security law that has intensified fears over media freedoms.
    Public broadcaster RTHK said national security judge Victor So rejected their bail applications because there was not enough evidence to show the defendants “will not commit further acts endangering national security.”
    The charges are the latest in a national security probe into media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s newspaper, which folded after several hundred police raided its headquarters on June 17, freezing key assets and bank accounts.
    The case has been adjourned until September 30.
    Police, who typically do not name people under investigation, said late on Wednesday they had charged four individuals, ages 51 to 57, including one who had been arrested earlier in the day.
    RTHK identified the four as staff of the former Apple Daily newspaper, including the former executive editor-in-chief, who was arrested on Wednesday.
    The police force’s national security department said it was charging four people, whom it did not identify, “for the offence of conspiracy to collude with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”
    Media group Next Digital, which published Apple Daily, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The popular tabloid of staunch Beijing critic Lai printed its last edition on June 24 after the police raid and several staff arrests.
    Police have said dozens of the paper’s articles may have violated the city’s China-imposed national security law, the first instance of authorities taking aim at media reports under the legislation.
    Critics of the law, introduced in June 2020, say it has been used to muzzle dissent and erode fundamental freedoms, including those of the media, in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Authorities have denied the erosion of rights and freedoms, including the media, in Hong Kong, but said acts that endangered China’s national security crossed a red line. Security officials have said law enforcement actions are based on evidence and have nothing to do with an individual’s background or profession.
(Writing by Farah Master. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/22/2021 China Rejects WHO Plan For Study Of COVID-19 Origin by Gabriel Crossley
FILE PHOTO: A logo is pictured outside a building of the World Health Organization (WHO) during an executive board meeting on
update on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Geneva, Switzerland, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China rejected on Thursday a World Health Organization (WHO) plan for a second phase of an investigation into the origin of the coronavirus, which includes the hypothesis it could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory, a top health official said.
    The WHO this month proposed a second phase of studies into the origins of the coronavirus in China, including audits of laboratories and markets in the city of Wuhan, calling for transparency from authorities.
    “We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science,” Zeng Yixin, vice minister of the National Health Commission (NHC), told reporters.
    Zeng said he was taken aback when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during research.
    The head of the WHO said earlier in July that investigations into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.
    Zeng reiterated China’s position that some data could not be completely shared due to privacy concerns.
    “We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the COVID-19 virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference,” Zeng said.
    China opposed politicising the study, he said.
    The origin of the virus remains contested among experts.
    The first known cases emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. The virus was believed to have jumped to humans from animals being sold for food at a city market.
    In May, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered aides to find answers to questions over the origin saying that U.S. intelligence agencies were pursuing rival theories potentially including the possibility of a laboratory accident in China.
    Zeng, along with other officials and Chinese experts at the news conference, urged the WHO to expand origin-tracing efforts beyond China to other countries.
    “We believe a lab leak is extremely unlikely and it is not necessary to invest more energy and efforts in this regard,” said Liang Wannian, the Chinese team leader on the WHO joint expert team.    More animal studies should be conducted, in particular in countries with bat populations, he said.
    However, Liang said the lab leak hypothesis could not be entirely discounted but suggested that if evidence warranted, other countries could look into the possibility it leaked from their labs.
    One key part of the lab leak theory has centred on the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s (WIV) decision to take offline its gene sequence and sample databases in 2019.
    When asked about this decision, Yuan Zhiming, professor at WIV and the director of its National Biosafety Laboratory, told reporters that at present the databases were only shared internally due to cyber attack concerns.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Stella Qiu; Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

7/22/2021 Chinese Hackers Stole Mekong River Data From Cambodian Ministry – Sources by Prak Chan Thul and James Pearson
FILE PHOTO: A man washes a cow in the Mekong river in Phnom Penh November 7, 2012. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
    PHNOM PENH/HANOI (Reuters) – Buried in a long U.S. indictment accusing China of a global cyberespionage campaign was a curious detail: Among the governments targeted by Chinese hackers was Cambodia, one of Beijing’s most loyal Asian allies.
    The target of the hack, which two sources with knowledge of the indictment said was Cambodia’s foreign ministry, was also revealing: discussions between China and Cambodia over the use of the Mekong River, a new battleground for U.S. and Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.
    Four Chinese nationals – three security officials and a contract hacker – have been charged for attacks aimed at dozens of companies, universities and government agencies in the United States and abroad, the U.S. Justice Department said on Monday.
    Reaction from the defendants named in the indictment was not immediately available.
    The accusations, which China has said were fabricated and politically motivated, were outlined in a 30-page U.S. court indictment about the activities of what it said was a front company run by Chinese state security in Hainan, a Chinese island province near Southeast Asia.
    Among the hackers’ targets was “Cambodian Government Ministry A,” according to the indictment, from which they “stole data pertaining to discussions between the Governments of China and Cambodia over the use of the Mekong River” in January 2018.
    That ministry was Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two sources with direct knowledge of the indictment told Reuters.
    China’s embassy in Cambodia did not respond to a request from Reuters for comment. The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
    A Cambodian foreign ministry spokesperson referred questions to the telecommunications ministry, which declined to comment.    Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan declined to comment.
‘SECRETS AND DATA’
    The 4,350 km (2,700-mile) long Mekong, known as the Lancang in its upper reaches, flows from China along the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand through Cambodia and Vietnam, where it has supported farming and fishing communities for millennia.
    Like the South China Sea, the Mekong River has become a front in U.S.-China rivalry, with Beijing overtaking Washington in both spending and influence over downstream countries at the mercy of its control of the river’s waters.
    According to the indictment, Chinese hackers obtained data from the Cambodian ministry on the same day Cambodia hosted the China-backed Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders summit with China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam in Phnom Penh on Jan. 10, 2018.
    The data obtained by the hackers pertained to those discussions, the indictment said, without elaborating.
    On the same day, the hackers hid and transmitted “trade secrets and proprietary hydroacoustic data” within digital images of a koala bear and former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to the indictment.    It said the material was sent to an online account controlled by the hackers.
    It was not clear if the hydroacoustic data – data collected by sonar and used to monitor underwater features – was of the Mekong River area.
    Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Southeast Asian foreign ministers the U.S. supported a “free and open Mekong region” under the Washington-backed Mekong-U.S. Partnership.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh and James Pearson in Hanoi; additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/22/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest Five On Suspicion Of Inciting Children’s Hatred by Donny Kwok
A police officer escorts one of five suspects, detained on suspicion of publishing and
distributing seditious material, in Hong Kong, China July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police arrested five people on Thursday on suspicion of conspiring to publish “seditious material” with the intent of inciting public hatred towards the Chinese-ruled city’s government among children.
    Those arrested were members of a speech therapists’ union who produced books for children with wolves and sheep as characters in stories, which may have alluded to events in Hong Kong since pro-democracy protests began in 2019, media reported.
    Reuters could not independently confirm the details.
    Police said the five were two men and three women aged between 25 and 28. They did not identify them.
    “The public must be aware of the facts and must not tolerate or glorify violence, let alone the next generation be incited by false and distorted information and go astray,” police said in a statement.
    The five were arrested under a colonial-era law targeting sedition, which had been rarely used before the anti-government protests began in the former British colony.
    First convictions under the law can carry a maximum penalty of two years in prison, police said.
    The arrests were the latest involving suspected critics of Hong Kong’s government that have raised fears about the shrinking space for dissent since Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law in June last year to put an end to the pro-democracy protests.
    Those arrested are from the General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists, public broadcaster RTHK reported. The union could not be reached for comment.
    Police confirmed that the suspects were members of a trade union but did not give any further details.
    Authorities have denied any erosion of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong – which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula aimed at preserving its freedoms and role as a financial hub – but say China’s national security is a red line.
    Security officials have said law enforcement action is based on evidence and has nothing to do with an individual’s political stance, background or profession.
(Writing by Farah Master)

7/22/2021 Angry Indian Growers Gather Near Parliament To Protest Over Farm Laws by Mayank Bhardwaj
Farmers shout slogans during a sit-in protest against the farm laws, near the
parliament house in New Delhi, India, July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Indian farmers, protesting against new agriculture laws they say threaten their livelihoods, started a sit-in on Thursday near parliament in the capital, renewing a push for repeal of the laws.
    In the longest-running growers’ protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways leading to New Delhi for more than seven months.
    On Thursday, police in New Delhi escorted 200 farmers from protest spots on the outskirts to Jantar Mantar, a large Mughal-era observatory in a central area that doubles as a protest site.
    “We are here to remind the government again that the anti-farmer laws need to be rolled back to protect Indian agriculture and millions of poor farmers from a complete takeover by large corporations,” Rakesh Tikait, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of the largest grouping of farmers, told Reuters.
    Farmers complained that before being allowed to gather at the central site, their identity cards were checked by police, who have tightened security, erecting barricades and check posts to deter violence.
    The protest follows a clash with police by thousands of angry farmers late in January after they drove tractors into security barriers.    One protester was killed and more than 80 police injured citywide.
    “Throughout the monsoon session of parliament, 200 farmers will go to Jantar Mantar every day to hold a farmers’ parliament to remind the government of our long-pending demand,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, another leader of the farmers.
    Parliament ends its monsoon session early in August, and the farmers have been allowed to gather until Aug. 9.
    In parliament, key opposition leaders, such as Rahul Gandhi and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, asked the government to tackle the farmers’ concerns and roll back the three controversial laws.
    Many senior members of Gandhi’s Congress party, which is the main opposition group, gathered in the compound of parliament, carrying placards that read “Save the country, Save the farmers,” and shouting slogans of support.
    The farm laws introduced in September 2020 will help boost growers’ incomes, and the government was willing to talk to the farmers, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters in parliament.
    Farmers, however, say the new laws favour large private retailers by freeing them to buy farm goods outside government-regulated wholesale grain markets.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

7/22/2021 Madagascar Police, After Months Of Investigation, Arrest Six Over Plot To Kill President by Lovasoa Rabary
FILE PHOTO: Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina attends a meeting to discuss the 20th replenishment of the
World Bank's International Development Association, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) - Madagascan police this week arrested six people, including a foreign national, on suspicion of plotting to kill the president, after months of investigation, officials said.
    Andry Rajoelina was sworn in as president of the Indian Ocean island country in 2019 after a hard-fought election and a constitutional court challenge from his rival.
    “According to the evidence in our possession, these individuals had devised a plan for the elimination and neutralization of a number of people including the head of state,” the attorney general said in a statement.
    It added that investigations were under way and further details could not be disclosed.    The arrests were made on Tuesday.
    The extent of the plot, or how far advanced, was not immediately clear.
    The statement did not specify the nationality of the foreign nationals.
    A separate statement by the public security minister on Wednesday said that six people had been arrested: one foreign national, two binationals, and three Madagascan nationals.
    “The police had information for several months, but only now was there an opportunity to arrest them,” the statement read.
(Reporting by Lovasoa RabaryWriting by Maggie Fick;Editing by Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)

7/22/2021 Japan, South Korea, U.S. Work Together To Contain North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Thursday, April 25, 2019 file photo, President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center,
walk past honor guard officers during their meeting in Vladivostok, Russia. (Yuri Kadobnov/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    The U.S. is teaming up with Japan and South Korea in an effort to sent a unified warning to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.    During a press conference in Tokyo, Japan on Tuesday, the three countries announced they are working closely to monitor the growing threat North Korea posses.
    North Korea has reportedly shut down diplomatic communication with the U.S. after the Biden administration took over talks in January.    According toU.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the U.S. is working with Japan and South Korea in an effort to contain the North Korean threat.
    “That close coordination sends a very critical message to North Korea in that we are together and shoulder-to-shoulder in our approach to this policy,” she stated.    “i>The United States has made it clear that we are ready to engage with North Korea; they know that.     We hope they respond positively, but as my colleagues have said, we must exercise some patience.”
    Sherman also discussed her upcoming visit to China, where she hopes to foster a working relationship with the oppressive regime.
    “The United States has been and will continue to explore opportunities to engage PRC officials, including at senior levels as part of our effort to advance U.S. interests and responsibly manage this relationship,” she explained.
    Sherman’s scheduled visit to China comes as Joe Biden faces harsh criticism for his son Hunter’s close ties to the country with critics accusing the Biden family of corruption.
    In the meantime, the Biden administration has seemingly hit a roadblock with North Korea as the communist nation continues to advance its missile and nuclear programs without reproach.

7/23/2021 At Least 112 Dead In India As Rains Trigger Floods, Landslides by Rajendra Jadhav
People use their mobile phones to take pictures of a collapsed building following rains in Mumbai, India, July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    MUMBAI (Reuters) - At least 112 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, authorities said on Friday, after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages.
    Parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.
    “Unexpected very heavy rainfall triggered landslides in many places and flooded rivers,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads Maharashtra’s state government, told journalists.
    “Dams and rivers are overflowing. We are forced to release water from dams, and, accordingly, we are moving people residing near the river banks to safer places.”
    The navy and army were helping with rescue operations in coastal areas, he added.
    At least 38 people were killed in Taliye, 180 km (about 110 miles) southeast of the financial capital Mumbai, when a landslide flattened most of the small village, state government officials said.
    In nine other landslides in other parts of Maharashtra 59 people died and another 15 were killed in accidents linked to the heavy rainfall, they said.
    A few dozen people were also feared to have been trapped in landslides in Satara and Raigad districts, said a state government official who asked not to be named.
    “Rescue operations are going on at various places in Satara, Raigad and Ratnagiri.    Due to heavy rainfall and flooded rivers, we are struggling to move rescue machinery quickly,” he said.
    Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places, another Maharashtra government official said.
    Meanwhile, hundreds of villages and towns were without electricity and drinking water, he said.
    Rivers were also overflowing in the neighbouring southern states of Karnataka and Telangana where authorities were monitoring the situation, government officials there said.
    Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they also deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall and are crucial for farmers.
(Reporting by Rajendra JadhavEditing by Joe Bavier and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 U.S. Top Diplomat Blinken To Visit India, Kuwait
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at Bari Airport in Bari, Italy June 28, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to India next week, the State Department said on Friday, in the top U.S. diplomat’s first visit to the world’s largest democracy and an important U.S. ally in Asia.
    Blinken will also visit Kuwait and meet senior officials there at the end of the July 26-29 trip.
    The United States sees India as an important partner in efforts to stand up to China’s increasingly assertive behavior.    Blinken’s trip will follow a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China and coincide with one to Southeast Asia by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
    In New Delhi on Wednesday, Blinken will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
    Among the subjects on the agenda will be “Indo-Pacific engagement, shared regional security interests, shared democratic values, and addressing the climate crisis” as well as the response to the coronavirus pandemic, a statement said.
    Blinken is likely to discuss plans for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries – Indian, Japan, Australia and the United States – that is seen as a counter to China’s rising influence.    The meeting later this year is expected to focus on ways to develop regional infrastructure in the face of China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
    The United States hosted a virtual summit of the Quad countries in March at which they agreed that Indian drugmaker Biological E Ltd would produce at least a billion coronavirus vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for Southeast Asian and Pacific countries.
    However, India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, was subsequently hit by a catastrophic wave of COVID-19 infections and halted vaccine exports amid intense criticism of Modi’s domestic vaccination efforts.
    Washington sent raw materials for vaccines, medical equipment and protective gear to India after the spike.
    India expects to receive 3-4 million doses of U.S.-made vaccines by August.
    “(India) is such a critical country in the fight against COVID-19,” Blinken told MSNBC on Friday, explaining that India would eventually become a vital source of vaccines to the world.
    “Of course, they’re focused understandably on their own internal challenges now, but when that production engine gets fully going and can distribute again to the rest of the world, that’s going to make a big difference.”
    Last November, India, the United States, Japan and Australia conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade as part of efforts to balance China’s growing military and economic power in the region.
(Reporting by Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Joe Bavier and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 China Retaliates With Sanctions On Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Ross, Others by Tony Munroe and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue
at the State Department in Washington, U.S., September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott/Pool/File Photo
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -China said on Friday that it has imposed counter-sanctions on U.S. individuals including former U.S. commerce secretary Wilbur Ross in response to U.S. sanctions on Chinese officials in Hong Kong.
    The sanctions are the first imposed by China under its new anti-foreign sanction law, passed in June, and come days before U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to visit China amid deeply strained ties.
    China also imposed unspecified “reciprocal counter-sanctions” on current and former representatives of a range of organisations, including the Congressional-Executive Commission on China and the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
    Other institutions named included the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council.
    “The U.S. side concocted the so-called Hong Kong business advisory, baselessly smeared Hong Kong’s commercial environment, and illegally sanctioned Chinese officials in Hong Kong,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    “These actions seriously violated international law and the basic principles of international relations, and seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs,” the ministry said.
    The White House and State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the latest Chinese measures, which came after Washington imposed sanctions last week on more Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong.
    The U.S. government last week also warned of a deteriorating business conditions in the former British colony that return to Chinese control in 1997.
    Ross could not be immediately reached for comment.
    It was the second time this year that China has imposed sanctions on officials who served under former President Donald Trump, who adopted a tough line on Beijing and confronted it over trade, business practices, human rights and other issues.
    Around the time Biden was sworn in as president in January, China announced sanctions against outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and 27 other top Trump officials.
    The Biden administration called that move “unproductive and cynical.”
    Human Rights Watch’s China director Sophie Richardson, who was sanctioned by China by name on Friday, called the move “hollow.”
    “These are diplomatic tantrums that are designed to distract attention away from Beijing’s complicity in crimes against humanity,” she said, referring to China’s alleged human rights abuses in its western region of Xinjiang.    China has dismissed the accusations.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe in Beijing and Michael Martina, David Shepardson, David Brunnstrom, and Karen Freifeld in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens)

7/23/2021 Digger Trucks Drafted In To Rescue People Stranded In China Floods by Emily Chow
A man wades through a flooded road following heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    ZHENGZHOU, China (Reuters) – Workers driving construction vehicles helped to rescue stranded residents and deliver food to those still trapped on Friday after days of torrential rain swamped the central Chinese city of Zhengzhou.
    As floodwaters began to recede, rescuers in the city of 12 million used digger trucks, inflatable boats and makeshift rafts to transport some residents to dry land and deliver provisions to others in high-rise apartment blocks.
    Zhengzhou, the capital of populous Henan province, has borne the brunt of extreme wet weather in central China this week, receiving the equivalent of a year’s worth of rain in just a few days.
    The resulting severe flooding killed 12 people who were trapped in the city’s subway system.    It also downed power supplies and stranded residents at home, in offices and on public transport.
    Some of the rescuers are volunteers using makeshift means like the digger trucks deployed by local construction companies.
    One of the volunteers, Li Kui, 34, said the demand for basic goods and foods was immense.
    “We start our day at 8 a.m. and go on until 2 a.m.    Besides having lunch and using the bathroom, we just go up and down the streets all day,” Li said.
    Asked if he was exhausted, Li said: “Yes, but compared to the people trapped inside, they must be feeling worse.”
    In other areas of the city where the floodwaters had subsided, municipal workers started the clean-up, sweeping away tree branches and clearing up other debris like marooned bicycles and scooters.
    Tens of thousands of rescue workers, including the military, have been deployed across Henan.
    The death toll in Henan currently stands at 56, with five people still missing, according to state media.
    Rescue professionals from neighbouring provinces have been called in, along with specialised vehicles to drain waterlogged streets, intersections and underground road tunnels.
    While the rains in Zhengzhou had eased to a light drizzle, other parts of Henan were still forecast to receive heavy rain on Friday, according to weather reports.
    In Xinxiang, a city north of Zhengzhou, 29 of 30 reservoirs were overflowing, a situation the local water conservancy bureau described as “grim.”
FAMILY RESCUES
    For rescuers, the task was sometimes upsetting. Local media reported that a three-to-four-old infant was pulled from a collapsed home just outside Zhengzhou earlier this week, with the body of the child’s mother found a day later.
    Zhou Xiaozhong, 33, a digger truck driver from nearby Kaifeng city, picked up a mother and her two young children.
    “She was crying,” said Zhou, a father of three.    “I too felt like crying.”
    The devastation and loss of life has sparked public criticism of the slow reaction of Zhengzhou’s subway operator, prompting the Chinese government to order local authorities to immediately improve urban transit flood controls and emergency responses.
    The provincial weather bureau also came under fire for a lack of warning, despite saying said it had issued a forecast two days before the rains arrived.
    A document created by an anonymous user on a Google Docs-like platform owned by tech giant Tencent for people to share real-time information on the flooding in Henan had been accessed more than 6 million times by Friday.
(Reporting by Emily Chow in Zhengzhou, additional reporting by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Muyu Xu in Beijing; Editing by Jane Wardell, Philippa Fletcher and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 French Citizen Among Six Held Over Plan To Kill Madagascar President - Minister by Lovasoa Rabary
FILE PHOTO: Madagascar's President Andry Rajoelina attends a meeting to discuss the 20th replenishment of the
World Bank's International Development Association, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) -A French citizen is among six people arrested on suspicion of involvement in a plot to kill Madagascar’s president, the Indian Ocean island’s public security minister said, and a second official said the president’s security had been tightened.
    “One of the arrested people is French, two of them are bi-national – Malagasy and French.    The three others are Malagasy,” Rodellys Fanomezantsoa Randrianarison told a news conference late on Thursday.
    Madagascar’s attorney general said on Thursday police had arrested the six following what officials said was a months-long investigation.
    Patrick Rajoelina, an adviser to President Andry Rajoelina, told Reuters on Friday that two of those arrested had previously worked in the French military.
    The French Foreign Affairs Ministry said it had been informed of French nationals’ arrests and that they could obtain consular help if they asked for it.
    A spokesman for the French armed forces told Reuters he had no comment.
    Patrick Rajoelina added that unspecified measures had been taken to tighten the president’s security.    “The evidence is tangible and we certainly do not take this lightly,” he said.
    Madagascar has a history of political violence and instability.    Andry Rajoelina, 44, was sworn in as president in 2019 after a hard-fought election and a constitutional court challenge from his rival.
    Rajoelina first took power in the deeply impoverished former French colony of 26 million people in a March 2009 coup, removing Marc Ravalomanana.    He remained in control at the head of a transitional government until 2014.
    In the 2019 elections, Ravalomanana challenged Rajoelina, lost, and said the vote was fraudulent.
(Reporting by Lovasoa Rabary; additional reporting by Matthieu Protard in Paris; writing by George Obulutsa; editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)

7/23/2021 China’s Xi Urges People In Tibet To ‘Follow The Party’ In Rare Visit by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President
Prokopis Pavlopoulos outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s President Xi Jinping made his first visit to the Tibet Autonomous Region as national leader this week, and urged people there to “follow the party,” the official Xinhua news agency said on Friday.
    Xi’s July 21-22 visit – the first to Tibet by a Chinese leader in three decades – comes as the country faces increased security concerns as a result of clashes with India and the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan.
    The visit also shows the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s confidence in having established order and gained support in the once-restive region, analysts say.
    Xi flew into the city of Nyingchi on Wednesday and took a train to the Tibetan capital Lhasa the following day along a section of the high-elevation railway being built to link the mountainous border region with Sichuan province.
    In Lhasa, Xi visited a monastery and the Potala Palace Square, and “” and Tibetan cultural heritage protection, according to Xinhua.
    The palace is the traditional home of Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is in exile and has been branded a dangerous separatist by Beijing.
    State television network CCTV showed a Tibetan woman wiping away tears as she joined a crowd of people dressed in traditional costume clapping enthusiastically to welcome Xi.
    Xi instructed local provincial officials to work towards making people in Tibet identify more with the “great motherland, Chinese people, Chinese culture, the Chinese Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics,” according to Xinhua.
    He also said that only when the people “follow the party” can the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” be realised.
CULTURE AND LOYALTY
    Over 80% of the population in Tibet are ethnic Tibetan while Han Chinese are the minority.    Most Tibetans are also Buddhists.    China’s constitution allows for freedom of religion but the party adheres strictly to atheism.
    In Lhasa, Xi watched a cultural performance which showcased Tibetan culture and loyalty to the party through song and dance, including a famous song with the lyric “sing a folk song for the party, the party is like my mother.”
    In Nyingchi, Xi also inspected rural rejuvenation and environmental protection.
    On China’s border with India, Tibet is seen as having critical strategic importance to Beijing.    Last year China and India saw the most serious clash in decades on their disputed border in the Himalayas, with deaths on both sides.
    Photos released by Xinhua show Xi was accompanied by Zhang Youxia, a vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission and a senior general in the People’s Liberation Army.
    Xi was last in Tibet in 2011, when he was vice president.
    Beijing sent troops into Tibet in 1950 in what it officially terms a peaceful liberation and maintains a heavy security presence in the region, which has been prone to unrest.
    A violent clash in 2008 between Chinese police and Tibetan monks commemorating an anniversary of the 14th Dalai Lama’s exit from Tibet, left local authorities unsure for many years if a visiting Chinese leader would be welcomed or safe, said Yang Chaohui, professor of politics at Peking University.
    Tibet’s high altitude, which can take a toll on leaders not accustomed to the climate, is another reason why China’s top leaders rarely visit, he said.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Sam Holmes, Editing by William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 Iran’s Khamenei: Don’t Blame People Protesting Over Water Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech in
Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that people could not be blamed for protesting over water shortages, and called on officials to deal with the crisis.
    People have taken to the street for more than a week to vent their anger about the shortages, which have come during Iran’s worst drought in half a century and as the economy creaks under U.S. sanctions and COVID-19.
    Overnight the unrest spread from the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan to the town of Aligudarz where one youth was shot dead and seven were injured, a police official said, blaming “counter-revolutionaries” for the violence.
    “The people showed their displeasure, but we cannot really blame the people because the issue of water is not a small one especially in Khuzestan’s hot climate,” Khamenei was quoted by state TV as saying, in reference to the protests
.
    “Now, thank God, all the various agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are working (to resolve the water crisis) and should continue with all seriousness,” Khamenei added.
    Demonstrators in Aligudarz, in Lorestan province, marched to show solidarity for protesters in neighbouring Khuzestan late on Thursday, the eighth night of protests.    Videos ;posted on social media showed protesters chanting slogans against Khamenei.
    The semi-official news agency Fars quoted a police official as saying several people were detained after the violence in Aligudarz.    He said four police officers were shot and injured.
    At least one policeman and three young men had been shot dead in earlier protests, according to Iranian officials who blamed “rioters” for the deaths.
    Amnesty International said, though, that at least eight people had been killed during the unrest.
    “Video footage verified by Amnesty … and consistent accounts from the ground indicate security forces used deadly automatic weapons, shotguns with inherently indiscriminate ammunition, and tear gas to disperse protesters,” it said.
    Reuters has not reviewed the footage.
    U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was “extremely concerned about the deaths and injuries that have occurred over the past week, as well as the widespread arrests and detention.”
    “The impact of the devastating water crisis on life, health and prosperity of the people of Khuzestan should be the focus of the government’s attention, not the protests carried out by people driven to desperation by years of neglect,” she said.
    Internet watchdog NetBlocks reported outages of mobile web access in Khuzestan, a curb often imposed by authorities during protests.
    Iran’s deep drought has affected households, devastated agriculture and livestock farming, and led to power blackouts.
    The country’s economy has been blighted by sanctions imposed by former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic.    Workers, including thousands in the key energy sector, and pensioners have protested for months amid discontent over mismanagement, unemployment and inflation.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Toby Chopra and Pravin Char)
[THIS IS FUNNY SINCE THE MOON WOBBLED WE HAVE HAD RAIN AND FLOODING ALL OVER THE WORLD MOSTLY EUROPEAN NATIONS AND THE FAR EAST AND IT IS AMUSING THAT IRAN HAS NO WATER].

7/23/2021 Pakistan Seeks U.N. Probe Of India’s Use Of Pegasus Spyware by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during an interview with
Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan called on the United Nations on Friday to investigate whether India used Israeli-made Pegasus spyware to spy on public figures including Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    The Pakistani leader’s phone number was on a list of what an investigation by a group of 17 international media organisations and Amnesty International said were potential surveillance targets for countries that bought the spyware.
    Pakistan’s foreign office issued a statement accusing India of “state-sponsored, continuing and widespread surveillance and spying operations in clear breach of global norms of responsible state behaviour.”
    “In view of the gravity of these reports, we call on the relevant UN bodies to thoroughly investigate the matter, bring the facts to light, and hold the Indian perpetrators to account,” it said.
    India’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the statement.
    The Indian government has already faced calls by domestic political opponents to investigate allegations of spying on officials including the main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi.
    Delhi has not responded to the allegations.
    The investigation published by the media organisations on Sunday said spyware made and licensed by Israeli company NSO had been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, government officials and human rights activists.
    NSO has said its product was intended only for use by vetted government intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight terrorism and crime.
    Arch-rivals and neighbours, Pakistan and India have fought two of their three wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, which both claim in full.
    The statement by Pakistan’s foreign office said Delhi had long been using such tactics in Indian-administered Kashmir, an accusation to which India did not immediately respond.
    “We are closely following these revelations and will bring the Indian abuses to the attention of appropriate global platforms,” the statement said.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/23/2021 Azerbaijan Jails 13 Armenian Military Personnel For Six Years - Court
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a settlement in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Francesco Brembati
    BAKU (Reuters) – An Azerbaijan court late on Thursday sentenced 13 members of Armenia’s armed forces to six years in prison, finding them guilty of illegally crossing the border, weapons possession and terrorism offences.
    Armenia had no immediate reaction to the sentencing.
    Azerbaijan and Armenia fought a six-week war last year in which Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had long controlled in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.
    Although the war ended in a ceasefire, Azerbaijan detained more than 60 members of the Armenian military in December, accusing them of illegally entering Azeri territory.    Some of them were later freed.
    The 13 men sentenced this week will be deported after serving their prison terms, according to the decision from Azerbaijan’s serious crimes court.
    Acting Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan discussed the return of servicemen from Azerbaijan during a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, Russia’s TASS news agency reported.
    Earlier this month, Azerbaijan sentenced 14 members of Armenia’s armed forces to various jail terms.
    The fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, ended in a ceasefire brokered by Russia, but clashes on the border have persisted at irregular intervals this year, occasionally causing fatalities.
    Tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, are watched closely abroad for any threat to Azeri gas and oil pipelines and the risk of regional powers Turkey and Russia being dragged into conflict.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/23/2021 Iran’s Khamenei Says Water Crisis Protesters Cannot Be Blamed
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during Friday prayers in Tehran September 14, 2007. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that Iranians protesting over water shortages in the southwest cannot be blamed, and called on officials to deal with the water problem, Iran’s state media reported.
    “The people showed their displeasure … but we cannot really blame the people and their issues must be taken care of,” Khamenei was quoted by Iranian news agencies as saying, in reference to the week-long protests.
    “Now, thank God, all the various agencies, governmental and non-governmental, are working (to resolve the water crisis) and should continue with all seriousness,” Khamenei added.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/23/2021 U.S. Mulls Crackdown On Chinese Imports Of Iranian Oil by Arshad Mohammed and Parisa Hafezi
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
    DUBAI (Reuters) - The United States is considering cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China as it braces for the possibility that Tehran may not return to nuclear talks or may adopt a harder line whenever it does, a U.S. official said.
    Washington told Beijing earlier this year its main aim was to revive compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and, assuming a timely return, there was no need to punish Chinese firms violating U.S. sanctions by buying Iranian crude, the official said.
    That stance is evolving given uncertainty about when Iran may resume indirect talks in Vienna and whether incoming Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi is willing to pick up where the talks ended on June 20 or demands a fresh start.
    The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran – which has said it will not resume talks until Raisi takes over – has been “very murky” about its intentions.
    “If we are back in the JCPOA, then there’s no reason to sanction companies that are importing Iranian oil,” the official told Reuters this week, referring to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action under which Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
    “If we are in a world in which the prospect of an imminent return to the JCPOA seems to be vanishing, then that posture will have to adjust,” the official added.
    The Wall Street Journal first reported Washington was considering tightening enforcement of its Iran sanctions, notably against China.
    Chinese refiners are the biggest importers of Iranian oil.    China’s imports of Iranian crude have averaged between 400,000 and 650,000 barrels per day this year on a monthly basis, according to data intelligence firm Kpler, with May volumes spiking to nearly 1 million bpd.
    Reuters reported on Thursday that the Chinese logistics firm China Concord Petroleum Co has emerged as a central player in the supply of sanctioned oil from Iran and Venezuela.
    That U.S. officials are hinting at a possible crackdown may be a veiled threat that Washington has ways to exact a price from Tehran, said Brookings Institution analyst Robert Einhorn.
    “It’s probably to send a signal to Raisi that if the Iranians are not serious about coming back to the JCPOA, the U.S. has options and there will be costs,” Einhorn said.
    How Beijing, whose relations with Washington are strained over issues from human rights to the South China Sea, might react will depend on whether it blames Iran or the United States for the impasse in the talks, Einhorn said.
WAITING FOR NEW PRESIDENT
    One Iranian official said it was up to Iran’s supreme leader when talks resume, suggesting this could happen when Raisi takes over on Aug. 5 or a few weeks later.    He also said it was unclear if Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, would remain.
    “We should wait for the new president to take office and decide whether he wants to change the nuclear team or not.    It seems that Dr. Araqchi will not be changed, at least during the handover period,” this official said on condition of anonymity.
    A second Iranian official said Raisi and his nuclear team insist on starting from scratch and refuse to pick up the talks where they ended in June.
    “They want their own terms and conditions and they have more demands like keeping the 60% enrichment or chain of advanced centrifuges and not dismantling them as demanded by Washington,” the second Iranian official said.
    The uncertainty is forcing the United States to examine new approaches, even though U.S. and European officials have said there are no good options to reviving the JCPOA.
    “If … we were to conclude that the talks are dragging on for too long and we don’t have a sense of whether they are going to reach a positive outcome, then of course we would have to take a fresh look at our sanctions enforcement, including on Chinese entities that were purchasing Iranian oil,” the U.S. official said, declining to predict the timing of any decision.
    “It’s not … black and white,” he said.    “We’ll make it based on the time it’s taking for Iran to come back and the posture they will take if and when they do come back.”
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn. and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York;Editing by Mary Milliken, Andrea Ricci and Paul Simao)

7/23/2021 Myanmar Junta Replaces Envoy To Britain Who Broke Ranks by John Geddie and Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's ambassador Kyaw Zwar Minn gestures outside the Myanmar Embassy, after he was locked out of the embassy, and sources said his deputy
had shut him out of the building and taken charge on behalf of the military, in London, Britain, April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar has appointed a new temporary head of its embassy in London, Britain’s foreign ministry said on Friday, replacing the previous ambassador who was ousted after breaking ranks with the military government over its Feb. 1 coup.
    The selection of the new “charge d’affaires ad interim” did not require the consent of the British government, a foreign ministry spokesperson told Reuters, which first reported the move earlier on Friday.
    More than 900 people opposing the junta have been killed by security forces since the coup, drawing international condemnation and sanctions including from Britain.
    “The consent of the receiving State is not required,” the spokesperson said in a statement, citing the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.    The statement did not name the new appointee.
    A spokesperson for the military-controlled government in Myanmar did not respond to calls from Reuters seeking comment.
    The Myanmar Accountability Project, a UK-based rights group, said the appointee for the London job was Htun Aung Kyaw, who served as a fighter pilot during a long army career.    A source familiar with the matter also said Htun Aung Kyaw was Myanmar’s new pick, but Reuters could not confirm that.
    In a statement this week the Myanmar Accountability Project urged Britain not to recognise the representative appointed by the military saying it would be “a gross double standard and a moral outrage
    The former ambassador, Kyaw Zwar Minn, was locked out of the London embassy in April after calling for the release of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
    Kyaw Zwar Minn remains in Britain and has urged the British government to refuse to recognise any envoys appointed by the junta and to send them back to Myanmar.
    Britain has imposed sanctions on members of Myanmar’s military and some of its business interests following the coup, and has called for democracy to be restored.
    The military junta said it took power because elections last year were fraudulent, an allegation rejected by the electoral commission.
    Britain on Friday appointed a new ambassador to Myanmar, Pete Vowles, who previously worked in diplomatic and international development roles in Africa and Asia. (Reporting by John Geddie and Poppy McPherson; Additional reporting by William James in London; Editing by Frances Kerry and Giles Elgood)

7/23/2021 Taliban: There Won’t Be Peace Until New Govt. Is Formed by OAN Newsroom
Afghan security forces stand near an armoured vehicle during ongoing fighting between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters in
the Busharan area on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital city of Helmand province. (Photo by SIFATULLAH ZAHIDI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban announced there would not be peace in Afghanistan until a new government has been formed and President Ashraf Ghani removed from power.    In an interview this week, a Taliban spokesman said the group would lay down their weapons when a new government has been acceptable to all sides for negotiation.
    The group said they did not believe in a monopolization of power and asserted this strategy had never led to a prosperous ruling body.
    “I want to make it clear that we do not believe in the monopoly of power because any government who wants to monopolize power in Afghanistan in the past, they were not successful governments,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen explained.    “So, we do not want to repeat that failed formula.”
    This as the radical Islamic group claims to have taken back a majority of Afghanistan amid a U.S. troop withdrawal from the war torn nation.

7/23/2021 Afghan Migrants Crossing Into Turkey To Flee Taliban Violence by OAN Newsroom
A volunteer carries an injured youth to hospital, following a bomb blast in Haska Mina district
of Nangarhar Province on October 18, 2019. (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images)
    A growing number of Afghan citizens have begun fleeing to Turkey in order to escape Taliban violence amid the American troop withdrawal.    Reports said Afghan migrants have continued to pour into Turkey, raising concerns over the influx of refugees in the country.
    Turkish Interior Ministry officials said they detained around 1,600 migrants in just two weeks.    In addition, the U.N. Refugee Agency estimated around 270,000 Afghans have been displaced since January.
    Meanwhile, Afghan migrants said they’re making the trek through Iran to Turkey in hopes of finding work in Istanbul.
    “I came here to work.    There is no money in Afghanistan and there is the Taliban,” said one Afghan migrant.    “They are giving weapons, asking people to fight. We came here to flee that.”
    Turkish, Afghan and Iranian officials held talks on migration last month, but have not come up with a specific solution to address the influx of migrants fleeing Afghanistan.
[WELL IT IS OBVIOUS THAT 20 PLUS YEARS OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATIONS INFLUX INTO AFGHANISTAN TO GET THE PERSONS THAT ATTACKED THE WORLD TRADE CENTER IN NEW YORK AND THE PENTAGON AND WHITE HOUSE IN WASHINGTON HAS TURNED OUT TO BE A TOTAL WAIST OF TIME SINCE TRUMP TRIED TO MAKE A PEACE SYSTEM UNTIL JOE BIDEN DID HIS DEED WHICH HAS TURNED OUT TO BE PART OF THE END OF DAYS AND WILL COME BACK TO HAUNT HIM VERY SOON.].

7/24/2021 Heavy Rain In India Triggers Floods, Landslides; At Least 125 Dead by Rajendra Jadhav and Manoj Kumar
People use their mobile phones to take pictures of a collapsed building following rains in Mumbai, India, July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer.
    MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Rescue teams in India struggled through thick sludge and debris on Saturday to reach dozens of submerged homes as the death toll from landslides and accidents caused by torrential monsoon rain rose to 125.
    Maharashtra state is being hit by the heaviest rain in July in four decades, experts say.    Downpours lasting several days have severely affected the lives of hundreds of thousands, while major rivers are in danger of bursting their banks.
    In Taliye, about 180 km (110 miles) southeast of the financial capital of Mumbai, the death toll rose to 42 with the recovery of four more bodies after landslides flattened most homes in the village, a senior Maharashtra government official said.
    “About 40 people are still trapped.    The possibility of rescuing them alive is thin as they’ve been trapped in mud for more than 36 hours,” said the official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to talk to the media.
    Harsh weather has hit several parts of the world in recent weeks, with floods in China and Western Europe and heat waves in North America, raising new fears about the impact of climate change.
    Parts of India’s west coast have received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rain, forcing authorities to move people out of vulnerable areas as they released water from dams about to overflow.    The hill station of Mahabaleshwar recorded its highest ever rainfall – 60 cm in 24 hours.
    Rescuers were searching for victims of landslides in four other places in the state, the official said.
    “Around 90,000 people were rescued from flood affected areas,” the Maharashtra government said in a statement, as authorities released water from overflowing dams.
    Thousands of trucks were stuck for more than 24 hours on a highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was in anguish over the loss of lives.
    “The situation in Maharashtra due to heavy rains is being closely monitored and assistance is being provided to the affected,” Modi said on Twitter on Friday.
    In the southern state of Telangana, heavy rain caused flooding in the state capital of Hyderabad and other low-lying areas.
    Indian environmentalists have warned that climate change and indiscriminate construction in fragile coastal regions could lead to more disasters.
    “The rain fury that lashed Mahabaleshwar … is a strong warning against any more tampering with the ecologically fragile Western Ghats,” environment economist Devendra Sharma said on Twitter referring to the range of hills along India’s west coast.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jhadav and Manoj Kumar; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/24/2021 Indonesia, Asia’s COVID-19 Epicentre, Considers Relaxing Curbs by Kate Lamb
FILE PHOTO: Gravediggers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) burry a coffin at a burial area
provided by the government for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) victims, as cases surge in Jayapura, Papua,
Indonesia July 20, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto/Indrayadi TH/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Indonesia is suffering a devastating wave of coronavirus infections, driven by the Delta variant, but the government is already talking about relaxing social curbs enacted earlier this month – a move analysts say is largely led by economic considerations.
    The impact of the outbreak has been brutal in Indonesia, with stories of people desperately trying to find hospital beds, oxygen and medicine for loved ones.    The country’s COVID-19 death toll has broken records four times this week, the latest on Friday with 1,566 deaths.
    Nonetheless, and just over a week after Indonesia recorded its highest number of daily infections, President Joko Widodo flagged that current restrictions could be eased from as early as next week if cases start to drop.
WHAT DO HEALTH EXPERTS SAY?
    Easing of restrictions is likely premature and potentially dangerous, say some public health experts.    While cases have dipped – from more than 56,000 in mid-July to 49,000 on July 23 – epidemiologists say testing rates also dropped in the same period, making it difficult to determine whether there has been a true decline.
    Even if cases are flattening, relaxing curbs is inadvisable given hospital occupancy and death rates remain high, they say.
    Indonesia’s death rate is currently three times higher than the global average, according to Our World in Data, while nearly 2,500 people have died in isolation or outside hospitals since June, said independent data initiative, Lapor COVID-19.
WHAT FACTORS DO AUTHORITIES SAY THEY ARE LOOKING AT?
    Social restrictions in place since July 3 such as working from home and closed shopping malls are currently limited to the islands of Java and Bali and other designated ‘red zones’ across the country.
    Senior Minister Luhut Pandjaitan has said these could be eased as early as Monday if cases continue to fall and other indicators improve.    He also said the “sociological condition of the people” would be factored into the decision.
    Concern about the livelihoods of the poor, and a series of small protests in the past week, have raised fears about the risk of social unrest, analysts and government sources say.
    With 60% of the workforce in the informal sector, experts say protests are a manifestation of frustration, not necessarily against restrictions but over how hard it has become to survive.
WILL VACCINATIONS PROVIDE A PATH OUT OF THE CRISIS?
    The government is counting on vaccinations, largely provided by China’s Sinovac, to help reduce the impact of the pandemic.
    While Indonesia worked hard to kick off an early vaccination programme, logistical hurdles, limited supplies and vaccine hesitancy have held back targets – so far only 6% of the population is fully vaccinated.
    Pledges to reach 400,000 tests per day and boost contact tracing have also fallen short, while the positivity rate averaged 28.7% in the past week.
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL RISKS IF INDONESIA RELAXES CURBS?
    The government faces a tricky balancing act in making policy to protect both the economy and the health of 270 million people in the sprawling, developing nation.
    But as cases have surged and graveyards have filled, the government has faced growing criticism that it has prioritised the economy over people’s health.
    Conversely, a failure to reopen also carries economic risks.
    Employer groups have warned of mass layoffs unless curbs are relaxed next week, while credit rating agencies say restrictions could challenge the government’s goal to reduce a fiscal deficit and undermine ratings.
    The big question may come down to timing.
    Public health experts advise that dialling back restrictions too soon could mean that additional support recently provided to health facilities could quickly be undermined, while also allowing the Delta variant to spread to far-flung regions even more ill-equipped to handle a health crisis.
(Additional reporting by Stanley Widianto and Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Kim Coghill)

7/24/2021 China Criticises NBC Olympics Broadcast For ‘Incomplete Map’
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - The Tokyo 2020 Olympics Opening Ceremony - Olympic Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - July 23, 2021. Flag bearers
Zhao Shuai of China and Ting Zhu of China lead their contingent during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony REUTERS/Mike Blake
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China criticised NBC Universal for showing an “incomplete map” of the country in its broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, after a map displayed during the arrival of Chinese athletes included neither Taiwan nor the South China Sea.
    The Chinese consulate in New York said the display “hurt the dignity and emotions of the Chinese people,” in a post on its official Weibo social media platform on Saturday.
    Comcast-owned NBC, which holds U.S. broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games, did not immediately reply to a request for comment sent through its official contacts page.
    The Chinese consulate did not specify why it objected to the map but said: “We urge NBC to recognise the serious nature of this problem and take measures to correct the error.”
    China’s state-controlled Global Times newspaper also criticised the Olympics broadcast and the display of the map.
    Maps’ references to self-ruled Taiwan and the disputed South China Sea have stirred controversy in recent years, with Johns Hopkins University last year reversing a decision to show Taiwan as part of China on a map indicating the spread of the coronavirus.
    Two years ago, U.S. retailer Gap Inc apologised for selling a T-shirt that it said had an incorrect map of China.    A picture posted to social media showed that the T-shirt did not include the island of Taiwan or the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Lun Tian Yew in Beijing and Engen Tham and Zoey Zhang in Shanghai; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

7/24/2021 Sydney To Get Extra Vaccines As COVID Cases Mount by Sonali Paul
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Sydney will get 50,000 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week to battle its worsening COVID outbreak, Canberra said on Saturday, reversing a rebuff by the Australian government and other states the previous day of a plea for more supplies.
    Australia reported 176 new locally acquired COVID cases on Saturday, a third consecutive daily record with nearly all cases in the state of New South Wales, centred in the country’s largest city, Sydney.
    Officials fear the outbreak could jeopardise the rest of the country.
    Defying a statewide stay-at-home order, however, 3,500 mostly maskless protesters clashed with police in downtown Sydney, decrying a month-long lockdown in what the state police minister said was the best case study of a superspreader event since the start of the pandemic.
    “You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to work out that if this is a superspreader event, we can forget about lifting restrictions next week,” New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott told reporters.
    Police arrested 57 people with more under investigation, facing hefty fines and penalties.
    There were protests in Melbourne and Adelaide, also under lockdown, and in Brisbane, where there are no restrictions.    Police arrested six people in Melbourne, including one for assaulting an emergency worker, and fined dozens of others for failing to comply with orders to stay within 5 km of home.
    New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard stressed the state’s urgent need for extra vaccine supply, adding that with so many people flouting the stay-at-home orders it was the only way to stop transmission of the virus.
    “At the moment it’s like fighting a war with both arms behind your back,” he told reporters.
    New South Wales reported 163 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, up from 136 the previous day, with 37 patients in intensive care.
    Hazzard renewed a call for other states to give up some Pfizer vaccines so that younger people in Sydney’s hotspots could be vaccinated, reminding neighbouring states about the help New South Wales had provided during other crises.
    “I can’t quite see the difference between beating back fires and beating back … floods and beating back this COVID virus that could actually, if it gets worse here in New South Wales, could actually create massive problems for the whole country,” he said.
    The health minister of Victoria state, Martin Foley, said it had no spare vaccine for New South Wales but fully supported the federal government sending them extra doses from a national stockpile, as they were clearly in greatest need.
    Of the new cases in New South Wales, at least 45 had spent time in the community while infectious, state health authorities said.    That figure is closely watched as the state weighs whether to extend a lockdown due to end on July 30.
    A particular problem was the spread of the virus through family visits, Hazzard said.    In one case, 18 infections were linked to a single gathering after a family tragedy, NSW Health Director Jeremy McAnulty said.
    Victoria, which includes Melbourne, reported 12 locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Saturday, down from 14 a day earlier, in what Foley called a reassuring sign as the second most populous state weighs whether to lift a hard lockdown from Tuesday night.
    South Australia, also in lockdown, reported one new case, linked to a known outbreak.
    Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of about 32,600 cases and 916 deaths.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel and Edmund Klamann)

7/24/2021 Indonesia’s Bali Running Out Of Oxygen As Government Ponders Curbs
A medical worker pulls an oxygen cylinder to be delivered to the emergency ward at a government-run hospital amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, July 23, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Nyoman Hendra Wibowo/ via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – The Indonesian island of Bali is running out of oxygen for its COVID-19 patients as infections surge, the chief of its health agency said, as Southeast Asia’s biggest country struggles with the region’s worst COVID epidemic.
    Bali, famous for its tourist beaches and temples, along with the main island of Java and 15 other regions are under tight coronavirus restrictions, due to expire on Sunday.    The government is debating whether to extend them or not.
    “We’ve had an oxygen shortage since July 14 and it’s getting critical by the day because of a surge in new cases,” Ketut Suarjaya, the head of Bali’s health agency, said as quoted by Antara state news agency as saying on Friday.
    “There’s an oxygen crisis in Bali.”
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, has had more than 3 million coronavirus infections and 80,598 deaths according to official data.    The spread, driven by the Delta variant, has shown no sign of slowing.
    Research organisation Our World in Data said the country had a death rate three times higher than the global average.
    The debate over coronavirus restrictions has pitted health experts, who say it is premature to ease curbs during the surge of infections, against employer groups that have warned of mass layoffs unless the curbs are relaxed.
    Suarjaya said patients in Bali needed 113.3 tonnes of oxygen on Thursday, while hospitals only had 40.5 tonnes.    He was not immediately available for comment on Saturday.
    Oxygen shortages have also been seen on Java.    The government has begun to import oxygen supplies from countries such as the United States and China.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/24/2021 State Dept. Calls For Taliban To Accept Peace Negotiations Amid Escalating Violence by OAN Newsroom
Members of the Taliban delegation look on during the presentation of the final declaration of the peace talks between
the Afghan government and the Taliban in Qatar’s capital Doha .(Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration sought to take action over the growing unrest in the Middle East.    During an interview on Friday, Principal Deputy State Department spokesperson Jalina Porter condemned the recent upsurge in Taliban attacks following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
    Porter urged the Taliban to come together to negotiate a settlement between the Islamic Republic in order to end 40 years of war.
    “The Taliban must go beyond issuing statements denying territorial offenses and targeted attacks.    If this is truly not Taliban policy, their leadership should condemn these atrocities and violations of basic rights,” she expressed.    “…We continue to call for an immediate end to ongoing violence, which is largely driven by the Taliban.”
    Porter went on to say the State Department has been working to bring the Afghan government and Taliban together for peace talks before violence in the country escalated any further.
    “We continue to do all we can to galvanize and support the diplomatic process toward peace,” she stated.    “Together with the international community, we urge all parties to reach a negotiated political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive cease fire.”
    In response, the Taliban said there wouldn’t be peace until a completely new government was negotiated.    According to a Taliban spokesman on Friday, the terrorist organization believes peace talks are an unrealistic approach and ultimately want the Afghan government to surrender.
    “They don’t want reconciliation, but they want surrendering.    They want, ‘come and have ceasefire and we will continue our government as it is,'” he explained.    “…It is necessary that all Afghans should have or should agree upon a new government and that government would replace this Kabul administration, and that government will be acceptable to us and to other Afghans.”
    Recently, Taliban forces have taken control of strategic border crossings in Afghanistan, which has threatened multiple provincial capitals.

7/24/2021 China Announces Retaliatory Sanctions 2 Days Before U.S. Diplomatic Visit by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by China’s Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping
addresses a high-level party meeting. (Ma Zhancheng/ AP Photo)
    China imposed retaliatory sanctions against several U.S. citizens and entities.    The sanctions were placed on Friday against multiple individuals, including former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
    These have been the first counter-sanctions imposed by China under a recently passed law requiring any foreign sanctions placed on the regime to be reciprocated.    Last week, the White House announced sanctions against seven Chinese individuals and warned U.S. entities of growing risks posed by Beijing.
    During a press briefing on Friday, Joe Biden’s Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded by saying the U.S. would not be deterred by an sanctions placed by China.
    She went on to say, “these actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals and further illustrates the PRC’s deteriorating investment climate and rising political risk.”
    China’s sanctions come just two days before White House officials are expected to travel to Beijing for bilateral talks.    Notably, the sanctions were not placed on any current U.S. diplomats, which shows Beijing still wants to keep an open line of communication.

7/24/2021 Sydney To Get Extra Vaccines As COVID Cases Mount by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: A lone passenger sits at a tram stop on a mostly-empty city centre street on the first day of a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks
to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Sydney will get 50,000 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week to battle its worsening COVID outbreak, Canberra said on Saturday, reversing a rebuff by the Australian government and other states the previous day of a plea for more supplies.
    Australia reported 176 new locally acquired COVID cases on Saturday, a third consecutive daily record with nearly all cases in the state of New South Wales, centred in the country’s largest city, Sydney.
    Officials fear the outbreak could jeopardise the rest of the country.
    Defying a statewide stay-at-home order, however, 3,500 mostly maskless protesters clashed with police in downtown Sydney, decrying a month-long lockdown in what the state police minister said was the best case study of a superspreader event since the start of the pandemic.
    “You don’t have to be an epidemiologist to work out that if this is a superspreader event, we can forget about lifting restrictions next week,” New South Wales Police Minister David Elliott told reporters.
    Police arrested 57 people with more under investigation, facing hefty fines and penalties.
    There were protests in Melbourne and Adelaide, also under lockdown, and in Brisbane, where there are no restrictions.    Police arrested six people in Melbourne, including one for assaulting an emergency worker, and fined dozens of others for failing to comply with orders to stay within 5 km of home.
    New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard stressed the state’s urgent need for extra vaccine supply, adding that with so many people flouting the stay-at-home orders it was the only way to stop transmission of the virus.
    “At the moment it’s like fighting a war with both arms behind your back,” he told reporters.
    New South Wales reported 163 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, up from 136 the previous day, with 37 patients in intensive care.
    Hazzard renewed a call for other states to give up some Pfizer vaccines so that younger people in Sydney’s hotspots could be vaccinated, reminding neighbouring states about the help New South Wales had provided during other crises.
    “I can’t quite see the difference between beating back fires and beating back … floods and beating back this COVID virus that could actually, if it gets worse here in New South Wales, could actually create massive problems for the whole country,” he said.
    The health minister of Victoria state, Martin Foley, said it had no spare vaccine for New South Wales but fully supported the federal government sending them extra doses from a national stockpile, as they were clearly in greatest need.
    Of the new cases in New South Wales, at least 45 had spent time in the community while infectious, state health authorities said.    That figure is closely watched as the state weighs whether to extend a lockdown due to end on July 30.
    A particular problem was the spread of the virus through family visits, Hazzard said.    In one case, 18 infections were linked to a single gathering after a family tragedy, NSW Health Director Jeremy McAnulty said.
    Victoria, which includes Melbourne, reported 12 locally acquired cases of coronavirus on Saturday, down from 14 a day earlier, in what Foley called a reassuring sign as the second most populous state weighs whether to lift a hard lockdown from Tuesday night.
    South Australia, also in lockdown, reported one new case, linked to a known outbreak.
    Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of about 32,600 cases and 916 deaths.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel and Edmund Klamann)

7/24/2021 Philippines Evacuates Thousands As Monsoon Rains Flood Manila, Provinces
A man on a bicycle wades through a flooded street in Manila, Philippines, July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) -Philippine authorities moved thousands of residents in the capital, Manila, out of low-lying communities on Saturday as heavy monsoon rains, compounded by a tropical storm, flooded the city and nearby provinces.
    The national disaster agency said about 15,000 people, most of them from a flood-prone Manila suburb, had moved into evacuation centres.
    “We decided to evacuate early,” said Luzviminda Tayson, 61.
    “We don’t want the waters to rise and be caught,” said Tayson, one of about 2,900 evacuees who were reminded to practice physical distancing as they took refuge in a primary school in Marikina city.
    Harsh weather has hit nearly all corners of the globe in recent weeks, bringing floods to China, India and Western Europe and heat waves to North America, heightening fears about the impact of climate change.
    The Philippines, a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,600 islands, is hit by about 20 tropical storms a year but a warmer Pacific Ocean will make storms more powerful and bring heavier rain, meteorologists say.
    In some parts of the Philippine capital region, an urban sprawl of more than 13 million people, flood waters waters rose waist-high in places and cut off roads to light vehicles.
    The Philippines is also grappling with one of the worst outbreaks of COVID-19 in Asia and has tightened curbs to prevent the spread of the more infectious Delta variant.
    With more than 1.54 million cases and 27,131 deaths, the Philippines has the second highest number of COVID-19 infections and fatalities in Southeast Asia, after Indonesia.
    The public works ministry was busy on Saturday clearing debris and landslides from roads in the provinces, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
    “Some houses were flooded up to the roof,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province south of the capital, told DZMM radio station.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Jay Ereno; Editing by Robert Birsel and Edmund Klamann)

7/25/2021 First Task For Afghan Forces Is To Slow Taliban’s Momentum - Pentagon Chief by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answers reporters questions at the Pentagon as the U.S. military nears
the formal end of its mission in Afghanistan in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
    EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that the Afghan security forces’ first job was to make sure they could slow the Taliban’s momentum before attempting to retake territory, as Afghan forces plan to consolidate forces around strategically important parts of the country.
    Reuters reported that Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure.
    “They are consolidating their forces around the key population centers,” Austin told reporters during a visit to Alaska.
    “In terms of whether or not it will stop the Taliban, I think the first thing to do is to make sure that they can slow the momentum,” Austin said, speaking as the U.S. military is set to end its mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, on orders from President Joe Biden.
    Austin added that he believed the Afghans had the capability and the capacity to make progress, but “we’ll see what happens.”
    The politically perilous strategy appears to be a military necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country.
    Taliban insurgents are gaining control of more and more territory, which the Pentagon estimated on Wednesday now extends to over half of half Afghanistan’s district centers.    The Taliban are also putting pressure on the outskirts of half of the provincial capitals, trying to isolate them.
    The Taliban’s swift territorial gains are rattling Afghans just as the United States withdraws from a war that succeeded in punishing al Qaeda following its Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington but failed to deliver anything close to peace for Afghanistan.
    The United States has continued to carry out air strikes to support Afghan government forces that have been under pressure from the Taliban as U.S.-led foreign forces carry out the final stages of their withdrawal from the country.
    Biden has promised to provide financial assistance to Afghan forces and to redouble diplomatic efforts to revive stalled peace talks.
    Biden on Friday authorized up to $100 million from an emergency fund to meet “unexpected urgent” refugee needs stemming from the situation in Afghanistan, including for Afghan special immigration visa applicants.
For years, the U.S. military has been trying to get Afghan troops off of far-flung checkpoints – static positions that can easily be overrun by Taliban forces.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Leslie Adler)

7/25/2021 Free Speech Or Secession? “Liberate Hong Kong” At Heart Of Landmark Case by James Pomfret
FILE PHOTO: Police officers escort a prison van which is carrying Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under the new national
security law, as he leaves West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts, in Hong Kong, China July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Three Hong Kong judges will rule on Tuesday whether the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong.    Revolution of our Times” is a call for secession when they deliver a verdict on charges against a man arrested at a demonstration last year.
    The landmark ruling could have long-term implications for how a national security law that China imposed on its freest city a year ago against secession, terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign forces reshapes its common law traditions, some legal scholars say.
    Activists say a ruling to outlaw the slogan will tighten limits on free speech.
    The slogan was chanted during pro-democracy protests, posted online, scrawled on walls and printed on everything from pamphlets, books, stickers and T-shirts to coffee mugs.
    During the 15-day trial of 24-year-old waiter Tong Ying-kit, the court heard how he rode a motorcycle, carrying a black flag bearing the slogan into several riot police in central Hong Kong on July 1 last year.
    Tong was the first person charged under the national security law.
    Lead government prosecutor Anthony Chau argued in court that this was a terrorist act, and that Tong had sought to incite people to secession, both “grave” offences under the security law that could bring prison terms of several years to life, if convicted.
    Tong has pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, incitement to commit secession and dangerous driving causing grievous bodily harm.    Chau did not respond to requests for comment. Defence barrister Clive Grossman declined to comment.
    A cornerstone of the trial has been the prosecution’s argument that slogan “connotes Hong Kong independence” – a position unacceptable to China, which considers the financial hub and former British colony an “inalienable” part of its territory.
    During the protests that began in 2019 and paralysed the city, millions took to the streets to oppose a perceived clampdown by China’s Communist Party leaders on the city’s constitutionally enshrined freedoms.    The slogan was ubiquitous.
    When Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997, China’s Communist Party leadership pledged to allow the city to maintain its judicial system and retain a wide degree of autonomy and freedoms as part of a binding deal with Britain.
    Critics say those freedoms are being trampled, an assertion authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong reject.
SEPARATIST OR ACTIVIST?
    In the court hearing, the meaning of the slogan was fiercely debated in exchanges that drew on eclectic references to Chinese emperors, Marxism-Leninism, the ancient Chinese poet Li Bai, Malcolm X, rampaging Mongol barbarians, and former nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek.
    The prosecution told the court the slogan was coined in 2016 by Hong Kong activist Edward Leung, a well-known advocate for Hong Kong independence.    Leung is serving a six-year jail term for rioting and could not be reached for comment.    There was no immediate comment from two lawyers who represented him.
    An expert witness for the prosecution, history professor Lau Chi-pang, testified that the first portion of the Chinese slogan, translated as “liberate,” or “reclaim,” had been used throughout Chinese history from the Qin to the Qing dynasties, and that the meaning, to recover lost territory or to expel an enemy “has not changed throughout a thousand years”
    Lau told the court the words in the slogan, taken alone, or separately, could have but one meaning: “They related to separating the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from the People’s Republic of China.”
    Lau also referred to a rally on July 21, 2019, when protesters, who chanted the slogan, damaged a national emblem outside China’s representative Liaison Office in Hong Kong.    The conduct and use of the slogan that day had “the objective of rejecting the governance of the People’s Republic of China,” the prosecution told the court.
    Lau declined to comment.
    Tong declined to stand as a witness.    The defence called two academics, political science professor Eliza Lee and Francis Lee, a professor and expert in political communication.    They are not related.
    In a report drawing on hundreds of interviews with protesters on site and over the phone, as well as a statistical analysis of more than 25 million online posts, Francis Lee said there was “no substantial linkage” or correlation between the slogan and independence, as maintained by Lau.
    “The subject slogan was understood, really, by many people in many different ways,” Francis Lee told the court.
    Eliza Lee told the court the slogan was meant to “unite freedom-loving people of all ages.”    She accepted, however, that it could have pro-independence connotations to some people.
    Eliza Lee did not respond to a request for comment. Francis Lee declined to comment.
    At one point prosecutor Chau sought to draw parallels between Edward Leung and the U.S. civil rights leader Malcolm X, asking Eliza Lee whether she would consider him to be a separatist?
    “How much do we need to venture into the complicated history of racial segregation in order to understand this,” Lee answered, before one judge, Anthea Pang, interjected.
    “Whether Malcolm X was or could be regarded as a secessionist or separatist is a question far far removed from the issues presented in front of the court.”
    In his closing speech on Tuesday, Grossman said protesters worldwide often held up signs without facing prosecution, and that Tong should be acquitted if the meaning of the slogan was open-ended.
    Grossman said Lau had an “untenable, rigid, mechanical view of history” that paid no heed to rhetoric, and the meaning of the slogan could not be pinned down as Lau was trying to do.
    Pang said the court would consider whether the “natural and reasonable effect” of the slogan could indeed incite others to secession, as well as Tong’s criminal intent, in making its ruling.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/25/2021 Australians May Face Longer Lockdown After “Reckless” Mass Protests by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: A woman exercises on the empty steps in front of the Anzac Memorial at the Pool of Reflection as gyms are closed during a
lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s New South Wales logged its second-highest daily increase of the year in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday amid fears of a wave of new infections after thousands of people joined an anti-lockdown protest.
    “In relation to yesterday’s protests, can I say how absolutely disgusted I was.    It broke my heart,” Gladys Berejiklian, the premier of the country’s most populous state, told reporters.
    “I hope it won’t be a setback, but it could be,” she said.
    There were 141 COVID-19 cases reported, down from 163 a day earlier.    The outbreak, which began in June, is being driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus, and has now infected 2,081 people in New South Wales.    There are 43 people in intensive care, up from 37 a day earlier.
    Under fire for a slow vaccine rollout, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more vaccine supply was not going to ensure New South Wales gets out of lockdown, but what was needed was an effective, properly enforced lockdown.
    “Let me be clear – there’s not an alternative to the lockdown in New South Wales to get this under control.    There is no other magic bullet that’s going to do that,” Morrison told reporters at a televised media conference.
    He called the anti-lockdown protests in Sydney reckless and self-defeating.
    While Berejiklian and other state leaders have blamed Canberra for the slow vaccine rollout, critics have said NSW did not enforce its stay-at-home orders, which has led to Delta variant leaks to other states.
    At least 38 of the new cases in NSW had spent time in the community while infectious, state health authorities said.
    Numbers of such cases have stayed stubbornly high even after four weeks of lockdown in Sydney, now expected to be extended beyond July 30.
    The state reported two deaths overnight, including a woman in her 30s with no pre-existing conditions.
    Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of about 32,600 cases and 918 deaths.
    To help speed up vaccinations in Sydney, the government’s official adviser, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), on Saturday changed its advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine, urging anyone in the city under the age of 60 to strongly consider getting vaccinated with it.
    ATAGI had previously advised against the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 60 due to concerns about blood clots.
    “In the context of the current risk of COVID-19 in NSW and with the ongoing constraints on Comirnaty (Pfizer) vaccine supplies, all adults in greater Sydney should strongly consider the benefits of earlier protection with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca rather than waiting for alternative vaccines,” ATAGI said in a statement.
    Morrison said on Sunday the government has secured an additional 85 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, but they will only be delivered in 2022 and 2023.
    “To have those booster shots pre-ordered means we can go into 2022 with confidence,” he said.
    Australia’s Victoria state reported 11 locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday, down from 12 a day earlier, raising hopes the state will end a hard lockdown imposed 10 days ago.
    State Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to say whether restrictions will be eased on Tuesday, but: “At this stage, though, things are going well.”
    All of the cases were linked to the current outbreak clusters and all of them were in isolation throughout their infectious period, the state’s health department said.
    South Australia reported three new cases on Sunday.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Edwina Gibbs and Christian Schmollinger)

7/25/2021 Indonesia Prepares More ICU Units, Waits To See If COVID Curbs Will Be Extended by Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina
A man wearing a protective mask pushes a trolley at a traditional market amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is preparing more intensive care units after logging several days of record-high COVID-19 deaths last week, while the country waits to see whether the government will extend or loosen tough restrictions due to expire on Sunday.
    Buckling under a Delta variant-driven wave of the virus, Indonesia has become Asia’s COVID-19 epicentre with hospitals deluged, particularly on the densely populated island of Java.
    “Deaths have risen due to a number of factors: full hospitals, patients admitted with low saturation, or dying unmonitored in self-isolation,” Senior Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a statement late on Saturday.
    Luhut, who oversees the COVID response on the islands of Java and Bali, said ICU capacities would be added in areas that have reported the highest fatalities.
    Bali, famous for its tourist beaches and temples, has been grappling with oxygen shortages.
    Indonesia last week reported record-high deaths on four separate days, the last of which was Friday’s 1,566 fatalities, bringing cumulative deaths to more than 82,000.    Total case infections have climbed to over 3.1 million, though health experts say both deaths and case numbers have been undercounted.
    Just under 7% of its population of 270 million has been fully vaccinated, with Southeast Asia’s largest country primarily reliant on shots produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech.
    The debate over whether to loosen restrictions has pitted health experts, who say it is premature to ease curbs during a surge of infections, against employer groups that have warned of mass layoffs unless the curbs are relaxed.
    The government is due to hold a news conference later on Sunday but has not set a time.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina; Additional reporting by Tabita Diela; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

7/25/2021 India Reports 39,742 New COVID-19 Cases In Last 24 Hours: Government
FILE PHOTO: People walk through a crowded market on a rainy day amidst the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Mumbai, India, July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India reported 39,742 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, a government statement said on Sunday.
    The COVID-19 death toll rose by 535 deaths in the last 24 hours, with the total reaching 420,551, health ministry data showed.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

7/25/2021 Secy. Of Defense: Afghan Leadership Committed To Slow Taliban Momentum, Regaining Lost Ground by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news briefing at the
Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Afghan leadership needed to somehow cut the Taliban’s momentum if they wanted to retake the country.    Speaking from an Alaskan Air Force base on Saturday, Austin said Afghan leadership has been consolidating their forces around the country’s key population centers.
    Austin said the first thing the nation needed to do was make sure they slowed the Taliban’s operations and put themselves in a positive position where they could retake some lost ground.    He noted from his engagement with Afghan leaders that they have shown commitment to doing just that.
    “We look forward to them making progress,” he expressed.    “They have the capabilities, they have the capacity to make progress and to really begin to blunt some of the Taliban’s advances, but we’ll see what happens.”
    Recent reports mentioned the Taliban has been steadily retaking territory across Afghanistan.    Around 85 percent of the war torn country was reported to be controlled by Taliban forces.
    This comes as U.S. troops withdraw from the country, with a complete removal set for August 31.

7/25/2021 U.S Offers Further Air Support To Afghan Troops Amid Taliban Offensive
U.S. Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, speaks
during a news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Staff
    KABUL (Reuters) – United States will to continue to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan forces facing attack from the insurgent Taliban, a regional U.S. commander said on Sunday as U.S. and other international forces have drawn down troops in Afghanistan.
    The Taliban escalated its offensive in recent weeks, taking rural districts and surrounding provincial capitals, after U.S. President Joe Biden said in April U.S. troops would be withdrawn by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
    “The United States has increased airstrikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie told a news conference in Kabul.
    McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command, which controls U.S. forces for a region that includes Afghanistan, declined to say whether U.S. forces would continue airstrikes after the end of their military mission on Aug. 31.
    “The government of Afghanistan faces a stern test in the days ahead … The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign,” he said.
    But he said a Taliban victory was not inevitable and a political solution remained a possibility.
    Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital Doha in recent weeks, although diplomats say there have been few signs of substantive process since peace talks began in September.
    Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and U.S. officials have said.
    McKenzie said there would likely be a rise in violence after a lull over a Muslim holiday this week and said the Taliban could focus on populated urban centres.
    “They are going to have to deal with the cities if they want to try and claw their way back into power” he said.    “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they are going to be able to capture these urban areas.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau)

7/26/2021 China Accuses U.S. Of Creating ‘Imaginary Enemy’ In High-Level Talks by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside the building of an American
company in Beijing, China January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
    Amid worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranked U.S. diplomat, arrived on Sunday for the face-to-face meetings in the northern city of Tianjin.
    “The United States wants to reignite the sense of national purpose by establishing China as an ‘imaginary enemy’,” state television quoted Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng as saying in a report on Monday morning’s session, even as talks were underway.
    The United States had mobilised its goverment and society to suppress China, he added.
    “As if once China’s development is suppressed, U.S. domestic and external problems will be resolved, and America will be great again, and America’s hegemony can be continued.”
    Sherman is set to meet State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi later on Monday.
    Her China visit was added late to an Asian itinerary that included stops in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia amid wrangling over protocol between Beijing and Washington.
    On Saturday, Wang had warned that China would not accept the United States taking a “superior” position in the relationship, a day after China unveiled sanctions on former U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.
    Sherman’s expected position during the talks, as outlined by senior U.S. officials, would be that the United States welcomed competition with Beijing but would insist on a level playing field and “guardrails” to avoid conflicts.
    The U.S. government and lawmakers have been critical of China’s policy in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, with the U.S. Senate having passed a bill this month to ban imports from the far western region, citing forced labour concerns.
    Last Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Sherman would be travelling to China “from a position of strength
    On Monday, Xie told Chinese media that he presented a list of requests for the United States to “correct” its past actions on China, such as sanctions on officials.
    Monday’s talks came amid frayed relations between Beijing and Washington that have worsened in the months since an initial diplomatic meeting in March in Anchorage, the first under U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
    At the Alaska meeting, Chinese officials, including Wang, railed against the state of U.S. democracy, while U.S. officials accused the Chinese side of grandstanding.
    Monday’s meeting was held amid stringent Chinese COVID-19 measures, which have meant that foreign officials have met Chinese counterparts outside Beijing, the capital.
    Foreign media were kept at a distance from the site of the talks, but Chinese media were permitted on the premises. (Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Cate Cadell and Tony Munroe; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

7/26/2021 Olympics-Support For Japan’s PM Suga Slides As COVID Casts Shadow Over Tokyo Games by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, June 17, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Millions of Japanese watched the Olympics opening ceremony and many are cheering on their athletes, but the shadow of COVID-19 is so far preventing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga from getting a boost in his soggy support ahead of an election this year.
    Voter support for Suga slid nine points to 34%, its lowest since he took office last September, a July 23-25 Nikkei business daily survey showed on Monday. The Games, postponed last year by the pandemic, opened on Friday.
    Nearly two-thirds of respondents said the country’s rollout of coronavirus vaccinations was not going well.
    The programme has been hampered by a slow start and supply snarls, and less than a quarter are fully vaccinated.
    Suga’s dream scenario had been to contain the virus outbreak, preside over a successful Games and call a general election.    That was upended after a surge in COVID-19 infections led to a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo and forced Olympic organisers to ban spectators from almost all venues.
    Tokyo reported 1,429 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, almost double the number on the same day a week earlier.
    Japan has had some cheering news from the Games, winning six gold medals – including a historic two in judo by Uta Abe and her brother Hifumi on Sunday.
    Yuto Horigome won the men’s street skateboarding on Sunday, the first Olympic gold medal for the sport.    Further success came from 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya, who won gold in the women’s street skateboarding on Monday to become Japan’s youngest-ever gold medal winner.
    Nishiya’s win along with a bronze for compatriot Funa Nakayama, 16, caused Twitter to light up with congratulations.
    Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said the opening ceremony was watched by more than 70 million people in Japan, making it the most watched event in the last decade.
    Organisers were keeping a wary eye on tropical storm Nepartak, which was heading toward Japan’s east coast and forecast to pass to the north of Tokyo.
    They said there was currently no plan to reschedule further events.    Tuesday’s rowing programme was disrupted, with races rescheduled for later in the week. Monday’s rowing events were moved to Sunday in anticipation of the storm.
WORRIES ABOUT CONTAGION
    Many Japanese fear the influx of athletes and officials for the global sporting event will add to the surge in infections, and 31% in the Nikkei survey said the Games should be cancelled or postponed again.
    Some 56% said Japan’s border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were “inappropriate,” the Nikkei survey showed.    The Games are being held under tight quarantine rules to prevent the spread of infections, but a number of cases have emerged involving athletes and others.
    Olympics organisers reported 16 new Games-related COVID-19 cases on Monday, including three athletes, bringing the total since July 1 to 148.
    The Dutch rowing team’s performance director said the team had agreed to separate itself from other competitors after one of its athletes, a coach and a staff member all tested positive for COVID-19.
    A strict “playbook” setting out rules to avoid contagion mandates frequent testing for the virus, restricted movements and wearing masks by athletes and others in most situations.
    The International Olympic Committee said on Sunday, however, that athletes can briefly take off their masks on the podium for 30 seconds for a photo opportunity, as several did after their wins.
    Japanese residents have been encouraged to watch the Games on TV but fans assembled at the open air triathlon route on the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, on Monday in defiance of Olympic staff carrying signs asking them not to gather.
    Commenting on his soggy support, Suga told monthly magazine Hanada; “I am confident what I am doing is not mistaken.    That will not waver,” Kyodo reported.
    Independent analyst Atsuo Ito said public admiration for Olympic athletes was unlikely to translate into higher ratings for Suga, which will probably depend on trends in infections.
    “Even if people applaud the athletes’ performances, that will not link to Suga’s support rate,” Ito said.
    Suga’s term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president expires in September and an election for parliament’s powerful lower house must be held by November.
    Suga came in fifth in the Nikkei’s survey of preferred next prime ministers, with just 5% backing him.
    Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine rollout, topped the list but his rating slipped four points to 19%, virtually tied with former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba.
(Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki, Karolos Grohmann and Sam Nussey; Editing by Michael Perry and Ed Osmond)

7/26/2021 With Eye On China, Pentagon Chief Heads To Southeast Asia by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answers reporters questions at the Pentagon as the U.S. military nears
the formal end of its mission in Afghanistan in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno
    FAIRBANKS, Alaska (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will become the first member of President Joe Biden’s cabinet to visit Southeast Asia this week, seeking to emphasize the importance Washington places on fortifying ties in the region while pushing back against China.
    The United States has put countering China at the heart of its national security policy for years and the Biden administration has called rivalry with Beijing “the biggest geopolitical test” of this century.
    Six months into his presidency, however, Southeast Asian countries are still looking for details of Biden’s strategy as well as his specific plans for economic, trade and military engagement with the Indo-Pacific.
    “You’ll hear me talk a lot about partnerships and the value of partnerships,” Austin told reporters enroute to Alaska.
    “My goal is to strengthen relationships,” he said.
    In a keynote speech in Singapore on Tuesday and meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines, Austin will call out aggressive Chinese behavior in the South China Sea and stress the importance of keeping the wider region free and open.
    His trip follows the first visit by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman to China on Sunday and Monday and coincide with a trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to India, another important partner in U.S. efforts to counter Beijing.
    Experts say Austin’s presence is important to make clear that Southeast Asia is a vital component in Biden’s efforts.
    “The administration does understand that this region is critical, so that’s a big part of it: Just showing up,” said Gregory Poling, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    An Asian diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it appeared the Biden administration was now directing its focus more firmly on Asia after addressing other global issues, such as relations with Russia and Europe.
    Austin had been due to visit the region in June, but was forced to postpone due to COVID-19 restrictions in Singapore.
‘MEAT ON THE BONE’
    So far the Biden administration has broadly sought to rally allies and partners to form a united front against what it says are China’s increasingly coercive economic and foreign policies.
    One pillar of engagement that has been conspicuously lacking has been on the economic and trade side after Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.
    The administration has made clear it is in no rush to rejoin such a pact, which critics say would cost American jobs, but has been discussing the possibility of smaller agreements such as on digital trade.
    The Pentagon has completed a study of its China policy and Austin has issued an internal directive calling for several initiatives, but few details have emerged.
    The U.S. Navy has maintained a steady pattern of freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea and near Taiwan but these appear to have done little to discourage Beijing.
    Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Taiwan all have rival claims to Beijing’s in the South China Sea and largely welcome a U.S. presence in the face of China’s militarization of the waterway and its vast coastguard and fishing fleet.
    Abraham Denmark, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, said Washington was saying “all the right things on competition” with China but there were questions about how it could “translate words into actions and investments.”
    It was still unclear “what’s it’s going to look like in terms of our budget, in terms of our force posture, in terms of our investments in diplomacy and infrastructure, really putting meat on the bone,” he said.
    Austin’s priority in the Philippines will be progress on renewing an agreement governing the presence of U.S. troops there, which is of vital U.S. strategic interest.    A deadline for the pact’s expiration has been extended several times.
    Analysts say Austin will need to strike a balance between stressing the China threat and making clear that Washington sees Southeast Asia as more than just a military theater.
    “The emphasis from the region is yes, having the military around is good and welcome, but you need an economic strategy,” the Asian diplomat said.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/26/2021 China’s New Private Tutoring Rules Put Billions Of Dollars At Stake
FILE PHOTO: People pick up children from a school in Beijing, China, April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -China’s sweeping new rules in private tutoring has left private education firms facing a significant business impact as Beijing steps up regulatory oversight of a $120 billion industry that investors had bet billions of dollars on in recent years.
    The new rules released on Friday bars for-profit tutoring in core school subjects in an effort to boost the country’s birth rate by lowering family living costs.
    The news sent shockwaves through the sector and parents struggled to understand how exactly the move would impact their children in a highly competitive education system.
    Under the new rules, all institutions offering tutoring on the school curriculum will be registered as non-profit organisations, and no new licences will be granted, according to an official document.
    The rule changes, which are much tougher than previously expected, have put at risk billions of dollars of public and private capital ploughed into the sector over the last few years on hopes for continued demand in the world’s most populous country.
    The move triggered a massive fall on Friday in the Hong Kong and New York-listed shares of Chinese private education companies, and the selloff continued on Monday with some of the stock plummeting between 30% and 40%.
    China’s education industry sub-index dropped as much as 14% on Monday.
    U.S.-listed TAL Education Group said on Sunday it expected the new rules to have “material adverse impact on its after-school tutoring services … which in turn may adversely affect” its operations and prospects.    It did not elaborate.
    Gaotu Techedu, New Oriental Education & Technology Group, Koolearn Technology Holding, Scholar Education Group, and China Beststudy Education Group made similar statements on Monday.
    The new rules will result in existing online tutoring firms being subjected to extra scrutiny and after-school tutoring will be prohibited during weekends, public holidays and school vacations, the document said.
    Curriculum-based tutoring institutions would also be barred from raising money through listings or other capital-related activities, while listed companies would be banned from investing in such institutions, it said.
    Scholar Education said that authorities had yet to provide details around the implementation of the rules and there were uncertainties as to when and how such rules will become specifically applicable to the group.
EDUCATION BURDEN
    Goldman Sachs said in a research note its one year price targets on the listed tutoring stocks would be cut by 78% on average.    The impact, the note said, would be mostly due to the ban on weekend and winter and summer holiday tutoring, which brought in up to 80% of the firms’ revenue.
    China’s for-profit education sector has been under scrutiny as part of Beijing’s push to ease pressure on school children and reduce a cost burden on parents that has contributed to a drop in birth rates.
    In May, China said it would allow couples to have up to three children, from two previously.
    More than 75% of students aged from around 6 to 18 in China attended after-school tutoring classes in 2016, according to the most recent figures from the Chinese Society of Education, and anecdotal evidence suggests that percentage has risen over recent years.
    Citing a person in charge at the Ministry of Education, a Xinhua report on Sunday said the move was needed to tackle a huge burden on primary and middle school students and their parents’ finances.
    Dave Wang, portfolio manager at Nuvest Capital in Singapore, said “the Chinese government has always been more particular on sectors that have widespread social implications.”
    Some parents, however, struggled to understand how the new rules will impact the education of their children.
    “In the long run, it is definitely good news for the children as they don’t have to immerse themselves in endless homework,” said Zhu Li, a Chinese parent in Haidian District in Beijing.
    “But on the other hand, it might not be so good if they fail to enter a good university.”
(Reporting by Julie Zhu, Scott Murdoch, Yingzhi Yang, Kane Wu Donny Kwok, and Tom Westbrook; Writing by Sumeet Chatterjee; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

7/26/2021 Indonesia’s Easing Of COVID-19 Curbs Seen Driven By Economics by Kate Lamb
A man wearing protective mask crosses a road at the Sudirman Central Business District (SCBD), as government eases the emergency
restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the capital of Jakarta, Indonesia, July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    (Reuters) – Indonesia’s decision to relax some COVID-19 curbs this week, despite reporting record-high deaths in recent days, is being driven by social and economic concerns rather than epidemiological advice, public health experts said on Monday.
    As the country grapples with the worst coronavirus outbreak in Asia, President Joko Widodo announced on Sunday that while overall curbs in place since July would be extended for a week, some measures would be eased.
    Businesses, including salons, garages, traditional markets and restaurants with outdoor areas will now be allowed to conditionally reopen, while malls will be permitted to operate at 25% capacity outside of designated higher-risk “red zones.”
    “The decision doesn’t seem to be related to the pandemic, but to economics,” said Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, urging people to maintain health protocols.
    Hospitals have been filled with patients in the past month, particularly on the densely populated island of Java and in Bali, but the president on Sunday said infections and hospital occupancy had declined, without specifying by how much.
    The move to ease some curbs comes as the government has faced pressure from business groups to act to avoid mass layoffs, and with several relatively small-scale street demonstrations last week. [L4N2OZ0WG]
    “The problem is that compared to last year the impact of the pandemic, not just on the health sector, but on socio-economic and political aspects is getting bigger by the day because of the Delta variant,” said Dicky Budiman, an epidemiologist at Queensland’s Griffith University.
    As the Delta variant, first identified in India, has spread across Indonesia cases have surged to the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.
    Southeast Asia’s biggest economy posted a record of more than 56,000 daily cases in mid-July, and while reported case numbers have dipped slightly Indonesia registered record-high COVID-19 deaths on four days last week.
    But with more than 50% of Indonesians employed in the informal sector and with limited financial support and mounting pandemic fatigue, the government has few choices, says Dr Dicky.
    “Is it the correct decision? Based on the epidemiological situation, no.    But then the government doesn’t have any option because of the complexity of the situation.”
(Editing by Ed Davies)

7/26/2021 Australia Sees COVID-19 Cases Climb, Police Warn Against Protest Repeat by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: A lone woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks across an unusually quiet city
centre bridge on the first day of a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s most populous state reported a rise in new COVID-19 cases on Monday despite a weeks-long stay-at-home order, while police vowed to crack down on any repeat of a anti-lockdown protest which turned violent at the weekend.
    New South Wales, which has had more than 5 million people in Sydney city under lockdown for a month, reported 145 new cases of the virus, from 141 a day earlier, as it struggles to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant.
    The state also reported two new deaths, a man and a woman both in their 80s, taking its total fatalities to 10 since the flare-up began a month ago and the national total to 920 since the start of the pandemic.
    Of particular concern, 51 of the newly diagnosed were active in the community before testing positive, raising the risk of transmission.    The authorities have said they want that number near zero before lifting the city’s most restrictive lockdown of the pandemic at a July 30 target date.
    “We might need to go harder in some areas and release some settings in others,” state premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a televised news conference, apparently referencing five government areas of Sydney’s suburbs at the epicentre of the outbreak.
    Berejiklian added that she would give an update on movement restrictions in the next few days.
    At the weekend, thousands of people marched in an anti-lockdown protest which turned violent in central Sydney, an event that state chief health officer Kerry Chant called “distressing.”
    As images and videos of the protest circulated on social media, including one image of a man apparently punching a police horse in the head, state police commissioner Mick Fuller said some 10,000 people had called the police hotline to report people suspected of breaking lockdown orders.
    The calls to police were “an amazing outcry by the community, not just in terms of their disgust at the protest but at the way the police were treated,” said Fuller.
    Police knew of plans for a repeat protest and similar behaviour “won’t be tolerated again,” he added.
    Victoria state, also under lockdown, reported 11 new cases, although all were in quarantine during their infectious period.    Authorities said they would decide the next day whether to lift restrictions as hoped.
    Neighbouring South Australia said it was on track to exit its snap one-week lockdown on Wednesday, after reporting one new local case, also in quarantine through their infectious period.
VACCINE RUSH
    The outbreak, sparked by an infected airport transit driver in Sydney, has resulted in thousands of new cases of the fast-moving Delta variant and reimposed lockdown on more than half the country’s 25 million population.
    With only about 16% of Australians aged over 16 years so far fully vaccinated, the country’s main drug regulator on the weekend changed its recommendation to encourage wider takeup of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine.
    The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) had previously recommended restricting the AstraZeneca shot, the main vaccine in the country’s immunisation arsenal, to people aged over 60 due to an extremely rare risk of blood clots in younger people.
    Many Australians including those over 60 had opted to wait for an alternative made by Pfizer Inc which has had its use restricted to people aged 40 to 60 due to supply constraints.
    ATAGI on the weekend recommended that all adults in Sydney should now “strongly consider the benefits of earlier protection” with the AstraZeneca jab.
    The move was supported by lawmakers, with Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg telling reporters that “getting vaccinated is our ticket out of this crisis.”
    AstraZeneca welcomed the change, saying regulators around the world had “stated that the benefit(s) of using our vaccine significantly outweigh the risks.”
    With about 32,900 cases and less than 1,000 deaths, Australia has kept its coronavirus numbers relatively low although the Delta strain and low vaccination numbers among developed economies have worried residents.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Lincoln Feast and Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/26/2021 U.S Offers Further Air Support To Afghan Troops Amid Taliban Offensive
U.S. Marine Corps General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, speaks
during a news conference, in Kabul, Afghanistan July 25, 2021. REUTERS/Staff
    KABUL (Reuters) -The United States will to continue to carry out airstrikes to support Afghan forces facing attack from the insurgent Taliban, a regional U.S. commander said on Sunday as U.S. and other international forces have drawn down troops in Afghanistan.
    The Taliban has escalated its offensive in recent weeks, taking rural districts and surrounding provincial capitals, after U.S. President Joe Biden said in April U.S. troops would be withdrawn by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
    “The United States has increased airstrikes in support of Afghan forces over the last several days and we’re prepared to continue this heightened level of support in the coming weeks if the Taliban continue their attacks,” U.S. Marine General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie told a news conference in Kabul.
    McKenzie, who leads U.S. Central Command, which controls U.S. forces for a region that includes Afghanistan, declined to say whether U.S. forces would continue airstrikes after the end of their military mission on Aug. 31.
    “The government of Afghanistan faces a stern test in the days ahead … The Taliban are attempting to create a sense of inevitability about their campaign,” he said.
    But he said a Taliban victory was not inevitable and a political solution remained a possibility.
    Afghan government and Taliban negotiators have met in Qatar’s capital, Doha, in recent weeks, although diplomats say there have been few signs of substantive process since peace talks began in September.
    Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and U.S. officials have said.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that the Afghan security forces’ first job was to make sure they could slow the Taliban’s momentum before attempting to retake territory.
    McKenzie said there would likely be a rise in violence after a lull over a Muslim holiday this week and said the Taliban could focus on populated urban centres.
    “They are going to have to deal with the cities if they want to try and claw their way back into power” he said.    “I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that they are going to be able to capture these urban areas.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/26/2021 Former Samoa PM Concedes Election Defeat, Ends Political Instability by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi of Samoa arrives to address the 71st United Nations General
Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 23, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) -The former prime minister of Samoa on Monday ended months of political instability by conceding defeat in an election held in April that ended his 22 years in power.
    Samoa descended into chaos earlier this year after then Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi refused to give way after losing a parliamentary election to former deputy prime minister Fiame Naomi Mataafa.
    Samoa’s Court of Appeal ruled last week that a makeshift swearing in ceremony was legal, officially installing Mataafa as the country’s first female prime minister and her Fa’atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (FAST) Party in power.
    “FAST here is the government,” Tuilaepa said in a speech pasted on Facebook.
    The concession followed regional pressure to honour the court ruling, including from Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison amid concerns about ongoing tension.
    “It’s definitely a relief to see this saga finally reach a peaceful conclusion,” said Jonathan Pryke, Director, Pacific     Islands Program at the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think tank.
    “It is also the start of a new era of Samoan politics where the new ruling government faces a robust opposition within the parliamentary chamber for the first time in decades.”
    Mataafa said on Saturday her government would formally take office on Tuesday.
    Samoa, which relies on subsistence farming along with tourism and fish and coconut product exports, has had to depend on foreign aid and is heavily indebted to China, which offered to back a port development by the previous government.
    Fiame told Reuters in May she would shelve the Beijing-backed port development, calling the $100 million project excessive for a small country already deep in debt.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)

7/26/2021 Southeast Asia COVID-19 Cases Hit New Highs, Malaysian Doctors Protest by Mei Mei Chu
Government medical contract doctors participate in a walkout strike at Kuala Lumpur Hospital amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Thailand reported a record number of coronavirus cases on Monday, while Malaysia has notched up more than 1 million infections, as the virulent Delta variant carves a deadly path through Southeast Asia – now a global epicentre for the virus.
    Thailand had 15,376 new coronavirus cases, a daily record for a second consecutive day in the nation of more than 66 million.
    Malaysia, which has one of Southeast Asia’s highest per capita infection rates, reported on Sunday 17,045 new cases, bringing the total to 1,013,438 and nearly 8,000 deaths, despite a being under lockdown since June.
    Like many parts of the region of more than 650 million people, Malaysian hospitals and medical staff have borne the brunt of the outbreak amid shortages of beds, ventilators and oxygen.
    Thousands of Malaysian contract doctors on Monday staged a walkout over the terms of their employment, though they pledged patients would not be affected by the protest.
    The doctors, who want permanent postings, as well as better pay and benefits, said an offer by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to extend their contracts did not go far enough.
    Malaysia’s vaccine rollout, however, has outpaced that of many neighbours, with about 16.9% of its 32 million people fully inoculated.
    Thailand’s government last week imposed tighter lockdown measures in the capital, Bangkok, and 12 high-risk provinces, suspending most domestic fights and expanding curfew area.
    The Thai central bank has said the wave of infections is expected to reduce gross domestic product in the tourism-dependent country by up to 2% this year.
INDONESIA RELAXING SOME CURBS
    Indonesia, the region’s most populous country, with more than 270 million people, has Southeast Asia’s biggest caseload.    It has reported more than 3.1 million infections and 83,000 deaths.
    Still, amid economic pressures, the government on Sunday announced that although coronavirus curbs would be extended by a week, some measures would be relaxed, including allowing traditional markets and restaurants with outdoor areas to reopen.
    Hospitals have been filled with patients in the past month, particularly on the densely populated island of Java and in Bali, but on Sunday President Joko Widodo said infections and hospital occupancy had declined, without specifying by how much.
    “The decision doesn’t seem to be related to the pandemic, but to economics,” said Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, urging people to maintain health protocols.
    Indonesia last week reported record-high deaths on four separate days, the last of which was 1,566 fatalities on Friday, bringing cumulative deaths to more than 83,000, as authorities pledged to add more intensive-care units.
    After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has been facing a renewed outbreak, with southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces accounting for most new infections.
    The health ministry reported 7,531 infections on Sunday, down from Saturday’s record daily increase of 7,968.
    Myanmar has also seen a surge in infections since June and on Sunday reported 355 deaths, a new record, while daily cases topped 6,000 on Thursday last week.
    Medics and people working in the funeral industry there say the actual death toll is far higher, with turmoil since February’s military coup hindering the pandemic response.
    In the Philippines, authorities have been scrambling to curb the spread of the Delta variant.
    Infections have recently started to rise and authorities this week suspended travel from Malaysia and Thailand, as well as tightened restrictions in the Manila area.
(Additional reporting by Southeast Asian bureaus; Writing by Ed Davies and Gerry Doyle)

7/26/2021 Pakistan Reopens Afghanistan Border Crossing Held By Taliban by Gul Yousafzai and Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: People stand in front of a vehicle as an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and a Pakistan's flag
flutter in front of the friendship gate of Afghanistan and Pakistan at the Wesh-Chaman border crossing,
Spin Boldak, Afghanistan July 14, 2021, in this screen grab obtained from a video. TALIBAN HANDOUT via REUTERS
    QUETTA/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) -Pakistan on Monday reopened a major southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan that is currently under Taliban control on the Afghan side, Pakistani customs officials said, allowing over 100 trucks carrying goods to cross into Afghanistan.
    The Chaman-Spin Boldak crossing, a key port for landlocked Afghanistan, had been closed by Pakistan for commercial traffic since fierce fighting for control of the crossing erupted between Taliban insurgents and Afghan security forces earlier this month.
    “Pakistan has opened its border with Afghanistan at Chaman today and resumed Afghan Transit Trade which was suspended since the last one month,” Arif Kakar, a senior official of the Chaman border district, told Reuters.
    He said it would remain open six days a week.
    Two Pakistani customs officials, requesting anonymity, told Reuters that Spin Boldak and the border town of Wesh were still under Taliban control, and they did not know what arrangements were in place across the border or who was clearing the goods through customs.
    They said Pakistani officials were under pressure by traders to let trucks pass through as the goods they were carrying would otherwise perish.
    Afghanistan’s interior and finance ministries, and the Taliban spokesman, did not respond to requests for comment.
    U.S. Marine General Kenneth McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees American forces in Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday that Spin Boldak was a “contested space” and the Afghan government was looking to regain control of it.
    The reopening came hours after 46 Afghan soldiers sought refuge in Pakistan after losing control of military positions further north along the border following advances by Taliban insurgents taking advantage of foreign forces’ withdrawal.
    The Afghan military commander requested refuge at the border crossing in Chitral in the north, the Pakistan army said in a statement, adding safe passage into Pakistan was given on Sunday night after clearance from Afghan authorities.
    Hundreds of Afghan soldiers and civil officials have fled to neighbouring Tajikistan, Iran and Pakistan in recent weeks after Taliban offensives in border areas.
    “Afghan soldiers have been provided food, shelter and necessary medical care as per established military norms,” the statement said.
    Relations between neighbours Afghanistan and Pakistan have taken a sharp downturn in recent weeks, particularly over repeated allegations by Kabul that Pakistan is backing the Taliban – a charge Islamabad denies.
    Afghanistan recalled its diplomats from Pakistan after the brief kidnapping of the Afghan ambassador’s daughter in Islamabad earlier in the month.
    Afghan officials did not respond to a request for comment on the soldiers’ crossing.
    The Taliban has escalated its offensive since the United States announced in April that it would withdraw its troops by September, ending a 20-year foreign military presence.
    Washington has said it will continue to carry out air strikes to support Afghan forces facing insurgent attacks.
    Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have failed to make substantive progress since beginning in September last year.
    Reeling from battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy to concentrate forces around critical areas such as Kabul and other cities, and border crossings.
    The Pakistan army said the soldiers who sought refuge will be returned to Afghanistan after due process, as had occurred in the case of another batch of 35 soldiers earlier in July.
(Reporting by Gul Yousafzai in Quetta and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Additional reporting by Kabul bureau;Editing by Peter Graff and Matthew Lewis)

7/26/2021 In ‘Frank’ Talks, China Accuses U.S. Of Creating ‘Imaginary Enemy’ by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe
FILE PHOTO: Wendy Sherman arrives for a meeting on Syria at the United Nations European
headquarters in Geneva February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) -A top Chinese diplomat took a confrontational tone on Monday in rare high-level talks with the United States, accusing it of creating an “imaginary enemy” to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.
    Amid worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the second-ranking U.S. diplomat, arrived on Sunday for face-to-face meetings in the northern city of Tianjin that the U.S. State Department described as “frank and open.”
    No specific outcomes were agreed and the prospect of a meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping was not discussed, senior U.S. administration officials said following talks that lasted about four hours.
    China seized the early narrative, with state media reporting on confrontational remarks by Vice Foreign Minister Xie Feng soon after the session began, in echoes of a similarly combative opening by senior Chinese officials during high-level talks in March in Alaska.
    Foreign media were kept at a distance from the site of the talks, held outside of Beijing due to COVID-19 protocols, but Chinese media were permitted on the premises.
    “The United States wants to reignite the sense of national purpose by establishing China as an ‘imaginary enemy’,” Xie was quoted as saying while the talks were underway.
    The United States had mobilised its government and society to suppress China, he added.
    “As if once China’s development is suppressed, U.S. domestic and external problems will be resolved, and America will be great again, and America’s hegemony can be continued.”
    Sherman laid out U.S. concerns over China’s actions on issues ranging from Hong Kong and Xinjiang to Tibet and cyber attacks, senior administration officials said, adding that China should not approach areas of global concern, such as climate and     Afghanistan, on a transactional basis.
    Sherman, who also met with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, raised concerns including over what Washington sees as China’s unwillingness to cooperate with the World Health Organization on a second phase investigation of the origins of COVID-19, and foreign media access in China.
    “The Deputy Secretary raised concerns in private – as we have in public – about a range of PRC actions that run counter to our values and interests and those of our allies and partners, and that undermine the international rules-based order,” the State Department said in a statement.
    “It is important for the United States and China to discuss areas where we disagree so that we understand one another’s position, and so that we are clear about where each side is coming from,” a senior administration official said.
    “Reaching agreement or specific outcomes was not the purpose of today’s conversations,” a senior U.S. official said.
PROTOCOL WRANGLE
    Sherman’s China visit was added late to an Asian itinerary that included stops in Japan, South Korea and Mongolia amid wrangling over protocol between Beijing and Washington.
    On Saturday, Wang had warned that China would not accept the United States taking a “superior” position in the relationship, a day after China unveiled sanctions on former U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and others.
    Relations between Beijing and Washington deteriorated sharply under former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the Biden administration has maintained pressure on China in a stance that enjoys bipartisan support but threatens to deepen mistrust.
    “When both countries see each other as an enemy, the danger is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
    Monday’s talks came amid frayed relations between Beijing and Washington that have worsened in the months since an initial diplomatic meeting in March in Anchorage, the first under the Biden administration.
    At the Alaska meeting, Chinese officials, including Wang, railed against the state of U.S. democracy, while U.S. officials accused the Chinese side of grandstanding.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Cate Cadell and Tony Munroe; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Clarence Fernandez and Giles Elgood)

7/27/2021 Foreign Journalists Harassed Covering China Floods, Correspondents’ Club Says
FILE PHOTO: People ride on front loaders as they make their way through a flooded road following
heavy rainfall in Zhengzhou, Henan province, China July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Journalists from several media outlets covering recent floods in China were harassed online and by local residents, with staff from the BBC and Los Angeles Times receiving death threats, according to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC).
    In a statement on Tuesday, the FCCC criticised what it said was growing hostility to foreign media, some of which it said was fanned by official bodies.
    “There must be immediate action by the Chinese government to stop these attacks which continue to endanger foreign journalists,” the BBC said in a statement on Twitter.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the FCCC and BBC statements.
    A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent after office hours.
    In one incident, the local branch of the ruling Communist Party’s Youth League had asked its social media followers to report the whereabouts of a BBC reporter covering the floods, according to the FCCC statement.
    “Rhetoric from organizations affiliated with China’s ruling Communist Party directly endangers the physical safety of foreign journalists in China and hinders free reporting,” it said.
    Chinese nationals working for foreign media have also been threatened and accused of treason online, the FCCC said.
    China’s foreign ministry has publicly criticized what it calls “fake news” from Western news outlets including the BBC.    One BBC journalist, John Sudworth, left the country this year citing threats of legal action, obstruction and intimidation.    China’s foreign ministry said at the time it had never threatened Sudworth.
    Some Reuters journalists are members of the FCCC.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

7/27/2021 South, North Korea Reopen Hotlines As Leaders Seek To Rebuild Ties by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean soldiers stand guard at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized
zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) -South and North Korea have restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago when ties deteriorated sharply, and the two countries’ leaders are renewing efforts to rebuild relations, Seoul’s presidential office said on Tuesday.
    The decision on the hotlines was made by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who have exchanged multiple letters since April when they marked the third anniversary of their first summit, said Moon’s press secretary, Park Soo-hyun.
    North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, also said all inter-Korean communication channels resumed operation at 10 a.m. Tuesday (0100 GMT) in line with an agreement between Moon and Kim.
    The hotlines are a rare tool to bridge the two Koreas, but it was unclear whether their reconnection would expedite any meaningful restart of negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes.
    “The two leaders have explored ways to recover relations by exchanging letters on several occasions, and agreed to restore severed hotlines as a first step for that process,” Park said in a statement.    “They have also agreed to regain trust as soon as possible and foster progress on relations again.”
    KCNA touted the reopening of the hotlines as “a big stride in recovering mutual trust and promoting reconciliation.”
    A senior official of the U.S. administration, which has sought unsuccessfully to persuade North Korea to return to talks over its nuclear program, welcomed the announcement.
    “The United States supports inter-Korean dialogue and engagement,” the official said.    “Diplomacy and dialogue are essential to achieving complete denuclearisation and to establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
NUCLEAR STALEMATE
    North Korea cut the lines in June 2020 as cross-border ties soured after a failed second summit in February 2019 between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.
    Then the North blew up a joint liaison office, launched on its soil in 2018 to foster better ties with the South, plunging relations to their lowest ebb under Moon.
    Seoul’s defence ministry confirmed that twice-daily regular communication was resumed via a military hotline on Tuesday.br>     The Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, also said telephone lines installed at the border truce village of Panmunjom were restored.
    Moon had called for a revival of the hotlines and offered a video summit with Kim to avoid the coronavirus, but Pyongyang has previously responded with scathing criticism, saying it had no intention to talk to Seoul.
    North Korea has not formally confirmed any COVID-19 outbreaks, but it closed its borders and took strict anti-virus measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
    Park said Moon and Kim have agreed to work together to fight the pandemic but did not discuss any possible summit, in-person or virtual.
    The exchange of letters came ahead of Moon’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in May, where the leaders displayed their willingness to engage the North.
    But it still remains to be seen whether Pyongyang was ready to return to negotiations, with Biden’s administration seeking a “reliable, predictable and constructive” way to bring progress.
    “It’s just a reconnection of the lines they’d cut unilaterally,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean military general who previously led inter-Korean talks.
    “North Korea would still wonder what’s the point in talking to the South, as the North wants substantive easing of sanctions, but there’s nothing we can do on that.”
    James Kim of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul said Pyongyang might mean to show some willingness to respond to U.S. overtures, but warned against reading too much into the latest move.
    “We need to see some seriousness on Pyongyang’s part to move towards denuclearisation for us to say that there is genuine progress,” Kim said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha and Jack Kim in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Giles Elgood)

7/27/2021 NATO Secretary-General: NATO Will Continue To Support Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a speech during a memorial service at the Oslo Cathedral ten years
after the Oslo and Utoeya island bomb attack, in Oslo, Norway, July 22, 2021. NTB/Torstein Boee/via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he had spoken to Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani to reassure him that NATO would continue to support the country, where Taliban advances have piled pressure on the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.
    “Good to speak with President @ashrafghani today. The security situation in #Afghanistan remains deeply challenging, and requires a negotiated settlement,” wrote Stoltenberg on his Twitter account on Tuesday.
    “#NATO will continue to support Afghanistan, including with funding; civilian presence; and out-of-country training.”
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/28/2021 Exclusive-North, South Korea In Talks Over Summit, Reopening Liaison Office – Sources by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shake hands at the truce village of Panmunjom
inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North and South Korea are in talks to reopen a joint liaison office that Pyongyang demolished last year and hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations, three South Korean government sources with knowledge of the matter said.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been exploring ways to improve strained ties by exchanging multiple letters since April, the sources said on condition of anonymity due to diplomatic sensitivity.
    The discussions signal an improvement in ties that have deteriorated in the past year after three leaders’ summits in 2018 promised peace and reconciliation.
    Inter-Korean talks could also help restart stalled negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for sanctions relief.
    The issue is key for Moon, who is facing declining support in his final year in office.    Moon staked his legacy on improving relations with North Korea and helped set up historic meetings between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.
    The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, on Tuesday reconnected hotlines the North severed in June last year.
    Both sides are discussing rebuilding their joint liaison office at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border, two sources said. Pyongyang spectacularly destroyed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-southkorea-idUSKBN23M31Q the previous office in its border town of Kaesong in 2020.
    They are also seeking a summit between Moon and Kim, but no time frame or other details have been raised due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sources said.
    North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but it shut borders and imposed strict prevention measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
    “The talks are still ongoing, and COVID-19 should be the biggest factor,” one source said.    “A face-to-face meeting is the best, but hopefully the situation will get better.”
    Moon’s office referred to a briefing on Tuesday by his press secretary, Park Soo-hyun, who said the issue of restoring the liaison office was to be discussed, and that the leaders have not floated plans for any summit so far.
    A second source said a virtual summit could be an option depending on whether North Korea balks at a meeting in person because of COVID-19.
    “If we can do that and the North has that capability, it would make a big difference, and open so many windows of opportunity, something to restart talks with the United States.”
    North Korea, which has not held any meetings with foreign nationals since the pandemic began, restricts outside media access, and its mission to the United Nations was not available for comment.
‘CANDID’ LETTERS
    Moon had called for a revival of the hotlines and offered a video summit with Kim, but Pyongyang had previously responded publicly with scathing criticism, saying it had no intention of talking to Seoul.
    The first source said Moon and Kim have exchanged “candid” letters on more than 10 occasions, which led to an opening of a communication channel between Seoul’s intelligence authorities and Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong.
    Despite “ups and downs” in the consultations, the two sides agreed over the weekend to reactivate hotlines as a first step.
    Kim’s move reflected a willingness to respond to U.S. overtures for talks, as the administration of President Joe Biden vowed a practical approach including not naming an envoy for North Korean human rights issues, the source said.
    “There were some visible elements, including pursuing a phased, action-for-action approach, instead of a grand bargain, and appointing a nuclear negotiator, instead of a human rights envoy,” the source said.    “After all, Washington has unveiled its policy and the North can’t just sit idle, so inter-Korean ties came up as a starting point.”
    The U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined comment, referring queries to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June the Biden administration was determined to appoint a North Korea human rights envoy but did not offer a timeline.
    Washington supports inter-Korean engagement, and diplomacy is essential to achieving complete denuclearisation and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, a spokesperson said on Tuesday in welcoming the opening of the hotlines.
    A third source said the two Koreas only announced the hotline reopenings because little progress was made over other issues, including how the North would apologise for blowing up the liaison office.
    Hit by the pandemic and last year’s typhoons, North Korea faces the worst economic crisis since a famine in the 1990s that killed as many as 3 million.
    However, few deaths have been reported from hunger, the first source said, helped by Chinese aid and the release of military and emergency reserves.
    North Korea is expected to resume trade with China as early as August, involving cargo train services, after scrapping plans to do so in April due chiefly to concerns over more contagious COVID-19 variants, the source said.
    Beijing’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and calls to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul were unanswered.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Tony Munroe in Beijing; Editing by Jack Kim and Lincoln Feast)

7/28/2021 Blinken Starts India Meetings With Address To Civil Society Group by Simon Lewis
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Ambassador to India Atul Keshap deliver remarks to civil society organization
representatives in a meeting room at the Leela Palace Hotel in New Delhi, India, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet his Indian counterpart and other officials on Wednesday before heading to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the China rivals seek to deepen their cooperation and iron out differences.
    Blinken, in his first visit to the country since joining U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration, is expected to discuss supplies of COVID-19 vaccines, the security situation in Afghanistan as well as India’s human rights record.
    Speaking to a group of civil society leaders at a New Delhi hotel, Blinken said that the relationship between the United States and India was “one of the most important in the world.”
    “The Indian people and the American people believe in human dignity and equality of opportunity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms including freedom of religion and belief . . . these are the fundamental tenets of democracies like ours,” he said.
    “And of course, both of our democracies are works in progress. As friends we talk about that.”
    Attendees included religious leaders such as Geshe Dorji Damdul of New Delhi’s Tibet House, a cultural centre of the Dalai Lama.
    Indian foreign ministry sources said ahead of Blinken’s visit that the country was proud of its pluralistic traditions and happy to discuss the issue with him.
    Modi’s government has faced allegations it has suppressed dissent, pursued divisive policies to appeal to its Hindu nationalist base and alienated Muslims, the country’s biggest minority.
    Blinken arrived in India on Tuesday night and leaves for Kuwait later on Wednesday.
(Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/28/2021 Myanmar Junta Seeks International Cooperation Over COVID-19 Crisis
FILE PHOTO: A medical staff wearing a protective suit stands near an ambulance, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Yangon, Myanmar, September 27, 2020. REUTERS/Shwe Paw Mya Tin/File Photo/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.
    Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and “friendly countries”, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
    The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.
    Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.
    There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country.    The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.
    Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,964 cases and 338 deaths reported on Tuesday, according to health ministry data cited in media.    Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias.
    Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.
    Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.
    The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, particularly if it believes strings are attached, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after the devastating cyclone Nargis in 2008.
    Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.
    The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory.    The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.
    But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” army-run MRTV network reported.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/28/2021 Sydney Adds Four Weeks To Lockdown As Australia COVID-19 Cases Grow by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye
Patrolling police officers check ID information of people working out at a Bondi Beach outdoor gym area during a lockdown to
curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s biggest city, Sydney, extended a lockdown by four weeks on Wednesday after an already protracted stay-at-home order failed to douse a COVID-19 outbreak, with authorities warning of tougher policing to stamp out non-compliance.
    Far from a planned exit from lockdown in three days, the city of 5 million people and neighbouring regional centres spanning 200 km (120 miles) of coastline were told to stay home until Aug. 28 following persistently high case numbers since a flare-up of the virulent Delta variant began last month.
    The state of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, reported 177 new cases for Tuesday, from 172 on Monday.
    That is the biggest increase since an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver was said to have sparked the current outbreak.    The state also reported the death of a woman in her 90s, the 11th death of the outbreak.
    Of particular concern, at least 46 of the new cases were people active in the community before being diagnosed, raising the likelihood of transmission, said authorities.    They have cautioned that active community transmission must be near zero before rules are relaxed.
    “I am as upset and frustrated as all of you that we were not able to get the case numbers we would have liked at this point in time but that is the reality,” state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told a televised news conference.
    Berejiklian added police would boost enforcement of wide-ranging social distancing rules and urged people to report suspected wrongdoing, saying “we cannot put up with people continuing to do the wrong thing because it is setting us all back.”
    In one case, a mourning ceremony attended by 50 people in violation of lockdown rules resulted in 45 infections, she said.
    The extension turns what was initially intended to be a “snap” lockdown of Australia’s most populous city into one of the country’s longest since the start of the pandemic, and may spark the second recession of the A$2 trillion ($1.47 trillion) national economy in two years, according to economists.
    To minimise the economic impact, the NSW government said it would lift a ban on non-occupied construction in most of Sydney.    However, it expanded a list of local government areas within the city where the ban would stay because of the prevalence of COVID-19 cases there.
    “It’s getting really difficult, day in and out, day by day, for us to continue running the same business,” said Raihan Ahmed, a convenience store owner at Bankstown, one of the main affected suburbs.    “Somehow we have to survive, and we are trying our best>.”
FEDERAL FALLOUT
    Opinion polls have showed slipping support for Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government amid criticism of a slow vaccination roll-out that has been blamed on changing regulatory advice and supply shortages.
    “There is no other shortcut, there is no other way through, we have to just hunker down and push through,” Morrison said during a televised news conference in the national capital Canberra.
    All Australians who wanted to vaccination would receive it by the end of the year, and “I would expect by Christmas that we would be seeing a very different Australia to what we are seeing now,” he added.
    The NSW government said it was redirecting Pfizer Inc vaccine doses, which have so far been restricted to people aged 40-60, from relatively unaffected regional areas to final-year school students in the worst-affected Sydney neighbourhoods.
    The state and federal governments also said they were expanding relief funding to enable affected companies to keep paying wages through the closure.
    In contrast to New South Wales, the states of Victoria and South Australia began their first day out of shorter lockdowns that halted outbreaks there.    Victoria reported eight new cases, all of them isolated throughout their infectious period, and another case still under investigation.
    Australia has kept its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 33,200 cases and 921 deaths, out of a population of about 25 million, since the pandemic began.
($1 = 1.3594 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; additional reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Editing by Richard Pullin, Christian Schmollinger and Lincoln Feast.)

7/28/2021 S. Korea Reports Highest COVID-19 Daily Count Amid Fourth Wave by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A woman gets a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a coronavirus testing
site in Seoul, South Korea, July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Wednesday reported 1,896 new COVID-19 cases for Tuesday, its highest-ever daily increase, as the country struggles to subdue a fourth wave of outbreaks fanned by the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
    The daily tally broke a previous record set on July 22 as infections are spreading beyond the capital Seoul and its neighbouring regions where the toughest social distancing rules are in place.
    There were 1,823 domestically transmitted cases on Tuesday and 33.5%, or 611, of the were from areas outside the capital regions, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
    This is the first time the number of cases outside the Seoul metropolitan region has exceeded the 600 mark since the first COVID-19 wave emerged from a church in the southeastern city of Daegu.
    Tighter social distancing curbs took effect across most of the country on Tuesday and will last for two weeks.    Those areas will be under Level 3 curbs on a four-level scale, which will mean a 10 p.m. (1300 GMT) dining curfew and ban on gatherings of more than four people.
    The tighter curbs were enacted to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus during South Korea’s peak summer holiday season.
    The great Seoul area region remains under Level 4 curbs that include a ban on gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Christian Schmollinger)

7/28/2021 China Makes Demands Of U.S. At Bilateral Talks by OAN Newsroom
En esta fotografía proporcionada por el Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos, la secretaria de Estado, Wendy Sherman (izquierda) y el
ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de China, Wang Yi, se sientan juntos en Tianjín, China. (Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos vía AP)
    Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is in Asia as part of a State Department trip to meet with leaders there.    During a meeting in China with Chinese officials on Monday, she told her counterpart the U.S. is concerned about recent actions taken by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).    Among the concerning actions are the continued detention of U.S. and Canadian journalists.
    “As I told my colleagues Foreign Minister Wang and Vice Foreign Minister Xie Fang, people are not bargaining chips,” Sherman stated.    “I also raised in both meetings our strong concerns about the increasingly hostile atmosphere for foreign journalists in China.”
    Even more pressing, she implied, is the CCP’s actions in the Taiwan Strait and Hong Kong.    She said she had strong words over these issues with her counterparts during the meeting.
    “And yes, I had frank and direct conversations in many areas with my interlocutors,” stated the deputy secretary of state.    “Including the crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, the anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong, provocative military actions in the Taiwan Strait.”
    The CCP, however, has their own version of events. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, accused the U.S. of misrepresenting China. He said the U.S. needs to “return to a pragmatic policy” towards the CCP.
    Lijian also said the CCP side of the talks made three demands of the U.S.    The first two demands were for the U.S. to stop opposing socialism in China; a system they see as significant to the development of the country.
    “First, the U.S. must not challenge, discredit or even try to subvert the socialist path and system with Chinese characteristics,” stated the Chinese spokesperson.    “Second, it must not try to obstruct or even interrupt China’s development process.”
    The third demand is for the U.S. to stop allegedly interfering in China’s territorial integrity.
    “And third, it must not infringe on China’s national sovereignty, let alone undermining China’s territorial integrity,” Lijian continued.
    The CCP considers both Taiwan and Hong Kong as integral Chinese territory, meaning they perceive all calls by the West for freedom in those territories as interference in their domestic affairs.
    Despite the contentions, the State Department said they support friendly competition between the two nations and are not looking for a conflict with China.

7/28/2021 Pentagon Chief To Nudge Ties With Vietnam As Human Rights Concerns Linger by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answers reporters questions at the Pentagon as the U.S. military nears
the formal end of its mission in Afghanistan in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will on Thursday look to nudge forward security ties with Vietnam that have been slowly deepening as both countries watch China’s activities in the South China Sea with growing alarm.
    Despite growing military relations, more than four decades after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, President Joe Biden’s administration has said there are limits to the relationship until Hanoi makes progress on human rights.
    Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and has received U.S. military hardware, including coastguard cutters.
    “(Vietnam) wants to know that the U.S. is going to remain engaged militarily, it’s going to continue its presence in the South China Sea,” said Greg Poling, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    Lieutenant General Vu Chien Thang, director of the Defense Ministry’s Foreign Relations Department, said on Tuesday the two sides would discuss the coronavirus and measures to “enhance maritime law enforcement capability.”
    A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they would also sign a “memorandum of understanding” for Harvard and Texas Tech University to create a database that would help Vietnamese search for those missing from the war.
    On Sunday, the United States shipped 3 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, raising the amount given by the United States, via the global COVAX vaccine scheme, to 5 million doses.
    Austin will meet his counterpart along with Vietnam’s president and prime minister.
    Poling said there was a limit to how fast and far the Vietnamese were comfortable with deepening ties.
    Experts say there are lingering concerns in Vietnam about Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.
    “That really left a lot of countries standing at the altar for lack of a better way to put it, and especially Vietnam,” Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation, said.
    There are also limits to how far the United States is willing to deepen relations.
    As important as Vietnam is in countering China, the United States has said it needs to improve its human rights record.
    Vietnam has undergone sweeping economic reforms and social change in recent decades, but the ruling Communist Party retains a tight grip over media and tolerates little dissent.
    In Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said the United States would always lead with its values.
    “We will discuss those values with our friends and allies everywhere we go and we don’t make any bones about that,” Austin said.
    This month, Marc Knapper, Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam vowed to boost security ties but said they could only reach their full potential if Hanoi made significant progress on human rights.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/28/221 China Says Taliban Expected To Play ‘Important’ Afghan Peace Role
FILE PHOTO: Mohammad Naeem, spokesman for the Taliban's political office, speaks during a joint
news conference in Moscow, Russia March 19, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -China told a visiting Taliban delegation on Wednesday it expected the insurgent group to play an important role in ending Afghanistan’s war and rebuilding the country, the Chinese foreign ministry said.
    Nine Taliban representatives met Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin on a two-day visit during which the peace process and security issues were discussed, a Taliban spokesperson said.
    Wang said the Taliban is expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan,” according to an account of the meeting from the foreign ministry.
    He also said that he hoped the Taliban would crack down on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement as it was a “direct threat to China’s national security,” referring to a group China says is active in the Xinjiang region in China’s far west.
    The visit was likely to further cement the insurgent group’s recognition on the international stage at a sensitive time even as violence increases in Afghanistan.    The militants have a political office in Qatar where peace talks are taking place and this month sent representatives to Iran where they had meetings with an Afghan government delegation.
    “Politics, economy and issues related to the security of both countries and the current situation of Afghanistan and the peace process were discussed in the meetings,” Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Naeem tweeted about the China visit.
    Naeem added that the group, led by Taliban negotiator and deputy leader Mullah Baradar Akhund, was also meeting China’s special envoy for Afghanistan and that the trip took place after an invitation from Chinese authorities.
    Asked about the Taliban visit, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in New Delhi that it was a “positive thing” if Beijing was promoting a peaceful resolution to the war and “some kind of (Afghan) government … that’s truly representative and inclusive.”
    “No one has an interest in a military takeover by the Taliban, the restoration of an Islamic emirate,” he said in an interview with CNN-News18 television.
    Security in Afghanistan, with which China shares a border, has been deteriorating fast as the United States withdraws its troops by September.    The Taliban has launched a flurry of offensives, taking districts and border crossings around the country while peace talks in Qatar’s capital have not made substantive progress.
    “(The) delegation assured China that they will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China,” Naeem said.    “China also reiterated its commitment of continuation of their assistance with Afghans and said they will not interfere in Afghanistan’s issues but will help to solve the problems and restoration of peace in the country.”
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Additional reporting by Beijing bureau; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean and Grant McCool)

7/29/2021 Malaysian Premier Faces Calls To Resign After Palace Rebuke by Joseph Sipalan
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during opening remarks for virtual APEC
Economic Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin faced calls to resign on Thursday from the opposition and the biggest bloc in the ruling coalition, after a rare rebuke by the king over the government’s handling of emergency ordinances.
    Muhyiddin’s government said earlier this week that on July 21 it had revoked all ordinances that had come into effect since a national state of emergency was imposed in January.
    King Al-Sultan Abdullah imposed the emergency on the advice of Muhyiddin, who had said it was needed to curb the spread of COVID-19. But critics have slammed the move and accused the premier of trying to cling to power amid a slim majority.
    In a statement on Thursday, the palace said the revocation of the ordinances was done without the king’s consent and thus ran counter to the federal constitution and the principles of law.
    Muhyiddin’s office said his government had acted in accordance with the law and the Malaysian constitution.
    The move comes after over a year of political upset in the Southeast Asian country following the unexpected exit of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in February 2020 amid infighting in his governing coalition.
    Muhyiddin has governed with a razor-thin majority and led an unstable ruling coalition since coming to power in March 2020.
    Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the king has a largely ceremonial role, carrying out his duties on advice from the prime minister and cabinet.
    Some analysts say the monarch has discretion over whether an emergency should be declared, however.    Consent from the king, much revered across Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population, is also needed to name a prime minister.
    The UMNO party, the biggest bloc in the ruling alliance, called on Muhyiddin to resign for disobeying the king’s decree to debate the emergency ordinances in parliament and revoking them without his consent.
    UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said Muhyiddin’s actions were a “clear act of treason towards the King.”
    Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim said he had filed a motion of no confidence against Muhyiddin, and claimed a majority of lawmakers no longer supported the prime minister.
    Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the government had the support of 110 of Malaysia’s 222 parliamentarians. (Additional reporting by Liz Lee; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Ed Davies and James Pearson)

7/29/2021 At Pre-Sentencing Hearing For HK National Security Case, Judges Hear Defendant Made ‘Stupid’ Mistake
FILE PHOTO: A prison van which is carrying Tong Ying-kit, the first person charged under the new national
security law, arrives at High Court for a hearing, in Hong Kong, China July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The defence lawyer for the first person charged under Hong Kong’s national security law argued on Thursday at a final mitigation session before sentencing that his client was a “decent young man” who did something very stupid.
    Tong Ying-kit, 24, could be sentenced on Friday to several years to life imprisonment after being found guilty by a panel of three judges in the High Court for “terrorist activities” and “inciting secession” in a watershed ruling with long-term implications for the city’s judicial landscape.
    Former waiter Tong, who lives with his father and younger sister in a public housing estate, was accused of driving his motorcycle into three riot police last year while carrying a flag with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong.    Revolution of our times.”
    Judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan – picked by city leader Carrie Lam to hear national security cases – ruled on Tuesday that this slogan was “capable of inciting others to commit secession.”
    Clive Grossman, who was representing Tong, submitted that any incitement was only of a “minor nature” and none of the police officers were seriously injured, warranting a more lenient sentence.
    He added that although Tong had ridden his motorbike recklessly that day, he was not engaging in a “deliberate attack to try to kill or injure the policemen” that his motorbike hit.
    “He’s learnt a big lesson in prison… his life has been so badly affected. He’s essentially a decent young man who did something very stupid.”
    Grossman added that Tong had been supporting his father and sister financially, and that his grandmother, who has cancer, hoped to give him “one last hug.”
    The prosecution lawyer, Ivan Cheung, submitted to the court a mainland Chinese legal textbook carrying commentaries on Chinese criminal law as a reference for the judges when considering a minimum sentence.
    But justice Esther Toh told the court that such material is “not in any way binding” given established sentencing principles under Hong Kong’s Common Law and the national security law.
    Cheung told reporters outside the court that the prosecution had “not consulted with any Chinese officials” in making their submission on proposed sentences for Tong.
    Cheung declined to name the textbook but said it was similar to the mainland Chinese version of Hong Kong’s main reference book for criminal law, “Archbold Hong Kong.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Aiden Waters; Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/29/2021 Pentagon Chief In Vietnam To Advance Ties But Rights Concerns Linger by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin answers reporters questions at the Pentagon as the U.S. military nears the
formal end of its mission in Afghanistan in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. July 21, 2021. REUTERS/Ken Cedeno/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) -U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin sought on Thursday to nudge forward security ties with Vietnam that have been slowly deepening as both countries watch China’s activities in the South China Sea with growing alarm.
    Despite closer military relations, more than four decades after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, President Joe Biden’s administration has said there are limits to the relationship until Hanoi makes progress on human rights.
    Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and has received U.S. military hardware, including coastguard cutters.
    Before a meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart in Hanoi, Austin said the United States did not ask Vietnam to choose between countries.
    “One of our central goals is ensuring that our allies and partners have the freedom and the space to chart their own futures,” Austin said.
    He did not mention China but there is a perception in Asia that China is making countries chose between it and the United States, as tension rises between those two big powers.
    On Wednesday, a U.S. Navy warship carried out a transit through the Taiwan Strait.    While such operations are routine, they usually anger Beijing.
    “(Vietnam) wants to know that the U.S. is going to remain engaged militarily, it’s going to continue its presence in the South China Sea,” said Greg Poling, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    The two sides signed a “memorandum of understanding” for Harvard and Texas Tech University to create a database that would help Vietnamese search for those missing from the war.
LIMITS
    On Sunday, the United States shipped 3 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, raising the amount given by the United States, via the global COVAX vaccine scheme, to 5 million doses.
    Poling said there was a limit to how fast and far the Vietnamese were comfortable with deepening ties.
    Experts say there are lingering concerns in Vietnam about Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade pact in 2017.
    There are also limits to how far the United States is willing to deepen relations before Vietnam improves its human rights record.
    Vietnam has undergone sweeping economic reforms and social change in recent decades, but the ruling Communist Party retains a tight grip over media and tolerates little dissent.
    In Singapore on Tuesday, Austin said the United States would always lead with its values.
    “We will discuss those values with our friends and allies everywhere we go and we don’t make any bones about that,” Austin said.
    This month, Marc Knapper, Biden’s nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Vietnam vowed to boost security ties but said they could only reach their full potential if Hanoi made significant progress on human rights.
    In a meeting with Austin on Thursday morning, Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he was looking forward to an upcoming visit to Vietnam by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
    Harris could travel to Vietnam and Singapore in August, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.
(Reporting by Idrees AliEditing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)

7/29/2021 Iran’s Khamenei Blames ‘Cowardly’ U.S. For Pause In Nuclear Talks by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
and his cabinet members, in Tehran, Iran July 28, 2021. Official Khamenei Website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s supreme leader on Wednesday declared Tehran would not accept Washington’s “stubborn” demands in talks to revive a 2015 nuclear deal and said the United States had failed to guarantee that it would never abandon the pact again.
    “The Americans acted completely cowardly and maliciously,” state TV quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying.
    “They once violated the nuclear deal at no cost by exiting it. Now they explicitly say that they cannot give guarantees that it would not happen again.”
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement that President Joe Biden’s administration “has been sincere and steadfast in pursuing a path of meaningful diplomacy to achieve a mutual return to compliance” with the agreement.
    Since April 9, Tehran and six world powers have been in talks to revive the nuclear pact ditched three years ago by then U.S. President Donald Trump, who argued it favoured Iran.
    The sixth round of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington adjourned on June 20, two days after hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi was elected president of the Islamic Republic. Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to announce when the next round of negotiations will resume.
    The State Department spokesperson said the United States has made clear it is prepared to return to Vienna to resume negotiations.    “We urge Iran to return to the negotiations soon so that we can seek to conclude this deal,” the spokesperson said.
    Like Khamenei, Raisi has backed the revival of the nuclear pact but officials have said that his government might adopt “a hardline” approach.    Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on Iran’s state matters, including the nuclear policy.
    Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remained to reinstate the deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program to make it harder to obtain fissile material for a weapon in return for relief from tough sanctions.    Iran says it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would.
HARSH SANCTIONS
    Harsh sanctions reimposed by Trump since 2018 have prompted Tehran to violate the deal’s limits. However, Tehran says its nuclear steps are reversible if Washington lifts all sanctions.
    Biden seeks to reinstate and eventually broaden the pact to put more limits on Iran’s nuclear work and its missile development and constrain its regional activities.
    Khamenei again flatly rejected adding any other issues to the deal.
    “In the recent nuclear talks, the Americans staunchly insisted on their obstinate stance.    When making promises and on paper they say they will remove sanctions, but in practice they have not and they will not,” Khamenei said.
    Khamenei said Washington is “stubborn” and insists on adding a sentence to the existing nuclear deal.
    “By adding this sentence, they want to provide an excuse for their further interventions on the nuclear deal and (Iran’s) missile work and regional issues,” Khamenei said.    “Then if we refuse to discuss those issues, Americans will accuse Iran of violating the nuclear deal and they will say the agreement is over.”
(Reporting and writing by Parisa Hafezi; additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Grant McCool)

7/29/2021 Blinken Warns Of Taliban Control, Preaches Path To Peace by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a news conference with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad
Al-Sabah at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kuwait City, Kuwait, Thursday, July 29, 2021. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken addressed the recent Taliban attacks on civilians in Afghanistan.    During a press conference in India on Wednesday, he warned that if the Taliban continues to take power then the country will become isolated on the world stage.
    Recently, Taliban forces have seized multiple strategic border crossings in Afghanistan, in turn, threatening multiple provincial capitals.
    “We have also seen these reports of atrocities committed by the Taliban in areas that it has taken over that are deeply, deeply troubling,” Blinken stated.    “And certainly do not speak well of the Taliban’s intentions for the country as a whole.”
    The Secretary of State went on to say the only way to resolve the conflict peacefully is at the negotiating table.
    “The taking over the country by force and abusing the rights of its people is not the path to achieve those objectives,” he continued.    “There’s only one path and that’s at the negotiating table to resolve the conflict peacefully, and to have an Afghanistan emerged that is governed in a genuinely inclusive way.”
    According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, enemy-initiated attacks have surged from January to March with officials reporting over 10,000 attacks just this year.    In the wake of the rise in violence, representatives for the terrorist organization are looking for support to carry out their campaign.
    On Wednesday, Chinese officials met with a delegation from the Taliban in order to discuss the “peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan.”
    “The Afghan Taliban is an important military and political force in Afghanistan, and is expected to play an important role in the country’s peace, reconciliation and reconstruction process,” stated Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.    “We hope that the Afghan Taliban will put the interests of the country and nation first, hold high the banner of peace talks, set the goal of peace, build a positive image and pursue an inclusive policy.”
    In the meantime, the U.S. said it will conduct airstrikes against the terrorist organization as remaining forces continue to withdraw from Afghanistan.

7/29/2021 GOP Senators Warn Biden Not To Host Iranian President In D.C. by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Friday, June 18, 2021 file photo, Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran’s presidential elections waves
to the media after casting his vote at a polling station in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi, File)
    A group of Senate Republicans are warning Joe Biden’s officials against hosting the new Iranian president in Washington D.C. The GOP senators sent a letter to Biden Tuesday night, noting President Ebrahim Raisi led the 1988 “death commission” and actively advanced political repressions against his own people.
    Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ariz.), who is leading the effort, asserted that Raisi is proud of his past atrocities and human rights violations.    His comments comes as Biden quietly advances talks to restore the nuclear deal with Iran, which is raising a possibility of direct discussions in Washington.    Iranian dissidents, however, agree with the GOP senators.
    “Ayatollah Khamenei is deliberately pouring salt on old wounds,” stated dissident Iraj Mesdaghi.    “Raisi is a known killer.    Even in the 2017 presidential campaign, Rouhani said that killing was all that Raisi has done.    So, he’s a known killer.”
    Sen. Cotton pointed out that back in 2019, President Donald Trump put Raisi on the U.S. sanctions list. The senator stressed that the Iranian leader should remain there. The Arizona lawmaker added, Raisi is not welcome on U.S. soil.

7/30/2021 Philippines’ Duterte Fully Restores Key U.S. Troop Pact by Idrees Ali and Karen Lema
United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and Philippines' Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (R) shake hands after a bilateral
meeting at Camp Aguinaldo military camp in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 30, 2021. Rolex Dela Pena/Pool via REUTERS
    MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has restored a crucial pact governing the presence of U.S. troops in the Southeast Asian nation, the two countries’ defence ministers said on Friday, reversing a decision that had caused increasing concern in Washington and Manila.
    The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides rules for the rotation of thousands of U.S. troops in and out of the Philippines for war drills and exercises.    It has assumed additional importance as the United States and its allies contend with an increasingly assertive China.
    Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was unsure why Duterte had reversed himself but made the decision after meeting U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Manila on Thursday.
    Harry Roque, Duterte’s spokesperson, later said the president’s decision was “based on upholding the Philippines’ strategic core interest…and clarity of U.S. position on its obligations and commitments under the MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty).”
    Duterte’s decision won’t change much on the ground as the pact had not been terminated but it provides stability for both countries.
    “This provides certainty for us going forward, we can do long-range planning and do different types of exercises,” Austin said during a news conference with his Philippine counterpart.
    The Philippines is a U.S. treaty ally, and several military agreements are dependent on the VFA.
    Duterte vowed to terminate the pact after the United States denied a visa to a Philippine senator who is an ally of the president.    But he had repeatedly pushed back the expiration date, the last time last month, maintaining it until the end of the year.
    For the United States, having the ability to rotate in troops is important not only for the defence of the Philippines, but strategically when it comes to countering China’s assertive behaviour in the region.
    “(Duterte’s decision) opens up significant possibilities for strengthening the alliance that were otherwise closed,” said Greg Poling, with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    There are long-standing tensions between the Philippines and China over disputed waters in the South China Sea.
    The United States this month repeated a warning to China that an attack on Philippine forces in the South China Sea would trigger a 1951 U.S.-Philippines mutual defence treaty.
    There are, however, still questions about Duterte’s unpredictability.
    “Some of the celebration is premature… (the VFA) will continue to be under threat so long as Duterte remains president,” said Aaron Connelly, with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
    Philippine presidential elections are set for 2022 and while Duterte is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election, his party has been encouraging him to run again for office, as vice president.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Karen Lema; Editing by Will Dunham and Robert Birsel)

7/30/2021 New Zealand Introduces Bill To Outlaw LGBT Conversion Therapy by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past the New Zealand parliament building known as the Beehive in
central Wellington, New Zealand, July 3, 2017. Picture taken July 3, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand introduced on Friday legislation that proposes up to five years in prison for practices intended to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, known as LGBT conversion therapy.
    The proposed measures were aimed at ending such practices, which do not work, are widely discredited, and cause harm, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said in a statement.
    “Conversion practices have no place in modern New Zealand.    They are based on the false belief that any person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is broken and in need of fixing,” Faafoi said.
    “Health professionals, religious leaders and human rights advocates here and overseas have spoken out against these practices as harmful and having the potential to perpetuate prejudice, discrimination and abuse towards members of rainbow communities,” he added.
    Under the newly proposed bill, anyone performing conversion practices on person younger than 18, or on someone with impaired decision-making capacity, would be subject to up to 3 years imprisonment.
    Conversion practices that cause serious harm would carry a sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment.
    The government said that the bill does not address general expression of religious beliefs or principles about sexuality and gender.
    Laws against conversion therapy have been gaining momentum around the world, including in countries such as Canada, Britain and Australia.
    The United States does not have a federal ban on conversion therapy, but several U.S. states, including California, Colorado, New York, Washington and Utah, prohibit the practice to some degree.    The American Medical Association has condemned the practice as “harmful and ineffective
    Aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, conversion therapy can include talk therapy, hypnosis, electric shocks and fasting.    In extreme cases, exorcism and “corrective rape” for lesbians, have been documented.
    Ending conversion therapy was one New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s campaign promises when she was elected for a second term last year.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/30/2021 India Reports Most New COVID Cases In Three Weeks
FILE PHOTO: Healthcare worker Hemaben Raval collects a swab for a rapid antigen test from farmer Vinod Vajabhai Dabhi
in his field, during a door-to-door vaccination drive amid the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak
in Banaskantha district in the western state of Gujarat, India, July 23, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India reported 44,230 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most in three weeks, the latest evidence of a worrying trend of rising cases that has forced one state to lock down amid fears of another wave of infections.
    India was battered by the Delta variant of the virus in April and May but the rate of spread of infections later eased off.    It has again been rising, with higher numbers in seven of the past eight days.
    The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data. Deaths rose by 555 overnight, taking the overall toll to 423,217.
    Medical experts polled by Reuters in late June said a third wave of coronavirus infections was likely to hit India by October, though it would be better controlled than the devastating April-May outbreak.
    Health experts have called for faster vaccinations to stave off another big surge.
    The government estimates that 67.6% of the 1.35 billion population already have antibodies against the coronavirus, with nearly 38% of the adult population of about 944 million people having received at least one vaccine dose.
    The disease’s estimated reproduction rate, or R value, has also inched up in the past week, the R value hit 1 on July 24 – meaning on average, every 10 people infected will infect 10 other people – for the first time since May when daily infections were near a peak of 400,000.
    The southern state of Kerala announced a new lockdown on Thursday while movement restrictions are in place in some northeastern states reporting a rise in infection rates.
    Other places, including the capital New Delhi, have recently reopened most economic activities.
(Reporting by Shivani Singh, Anuron Kumar Mitra in BENGALURU and Neha Arora in NEW DELHI; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel)

7/30/2021 Taliban Assassinations Of Afghan Pilots ‘Worrisome,’ U.S. Govt Watchdog Says by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan A-29 pilot prepared for flight in the cockpit of his aircraft, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
September 10, 2017. Picture taken Septembeer 10, 2017. U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Taliban assassinations of Afghan pilots detailed by Reuters https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-assassinated-by-taliban-us-withdraws-2021-07-09 this month mark another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting, a U.S. government watchdog said in a report released on Thursday.
    At least seven Afghan pilots have been assassinated off base in recent months, two senior Afghan government officials told Reuters, part of what the Islamist Taliban says is a campaign to see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
    As the United States prepares to formally end its 20-year military mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, Taliban insurgents are quickly seizing territory once controlled by the U.S.-backed government of President Ashraf Ghani, raising fears they could eventually try to take the capital Kabul.
    The Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in its quarterly report to Congress covering the three-month period through June, broadly portrayed an Afghan Air Force (AAF) under growing strain from battling the Taliban amid the U.S. withdrawal – and becoming less ready to fight.
    The AAF’s fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, for example, had a 39 percent readiness rate in June, about half the level of April and May.    All Afghan airframes were flying at least 25 percent over their recommended scheduled-maintenance intervals, SIGAR reported.
    “All aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions and aerial resupply now that the (Afghan military) largely lacks U.S. air support,” it wrote.
    At the same time, air crews remain over-tasked due to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan and a pace of operations that “has only increased,” it said.
    SIGAR also cited the Reuters report.
    “Another worrisome development concerning AAF aircrew was a (Reuters) report that the Taliban is deliberately targeting Afghan pilots,” it said, before presenting the Reuters’ findings without additional comment.
    Along with Afghanistan’s Special Forces, the Afghan Air Force is a pillar of the nation’s strategy for preventing a Taliban takeover of cities.    But special operations forces are also being misused, SIGAR reported.
    It said most Afghan National Army corps refuse to execute missions without support from its elite commandos.    Citing NATO data, SIGAR said that when Afghan commandos arrive, they are misused to perform tasks intended for conventional forces, including route clearance and checkpoint security.
    Still, the report cautioned that it was difficult to evaluate what constituted military misuse of the elite forces when the Afghan government “is fighting for its existence.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/30/2021 Sydney Readies For The Army As Lockdown Fails To Squash Delta Outbreak by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye
A lone bird walks past the quiet Circular Quay train station during a lockdown to curb the spread of
a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Sydney’s poorest neighbourhoods on Friday braced for military enforcement of the city’s toughest and longest lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic as the infection numbers held persistently high five weeks since restrictions began.
    With the city of 5 million people ordered to stay home amid an outbreak of the highly transmissable Delta variant, authorities outlined even tighter restrictions for the worst affected suburbs, including mandatory testing and mask-wearing outdoors.
    From Monday, some 300 Australian army personnel will help police door-knock people who have tested positive to the virus to ensure they are isolating, New South Wales police commissioner Mick Fuller said at a televised news conference.
    “The sheer volume of increase over the last week (means) the level of compliance (enforcement) has gone from hundreds into thousands,” he said.
    The amped-up military and police presence would cover the breadth of Australia’s largest city but mainly eight local government districts in the city’s west – home to 2 million people – where most new cases have been reported.
    As the city entered its sixth week of a planned nine-week lockdown, New South Wales state reported 170 new local cases, most in the state capital Sydney, down from a record 239 a day earlier.    Of the new cases, at least 42 spent time in the community while infectious.
    While new cases fell, state premier Gladys Berejiklian said the high number of infectious people in the community meant “we are expecting to see those numbers bounce around.”
    At the same news conference, state health minister Brad Hazzard said people were waiting too long to get tested after developing symptoms, and that “we are seeing more families coming in with a family member who is presenting not alive but dead.”
    While some people in migrant communities may be distrustful of government, “we are here to support you and our health system is here to support you,” he added.
    Since the outbreak began with an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver last month, NSW has reported 13 deaths, taking the national total to 923 since the pandemic began.
A CITY DIVIDED
    The epicentre of the outbreak has crossed Sydney from the affluent beachside suburb of Bondi to the western suburbs, where local leaders said residents felt unfairly targeted by the heightened enforcement.
    “They’ve got no other ideas than to bring in the military as a last resort because they’re lost for answers on issues they created,” said Steve Christou, mayor of the Cumberland local government area, where 60% of its 240,000 residents were born overseas.
    “They are a poor community, they are a vulnerable community, and they don’t deserve these lockdowns or these extended and harsh measures that they have now been targeted with,” he added in a telephone interview.
    People living in the western suburbs must stay within 5 km (3 miles) of home and have a virus test every three days in order to be allowed to do essential work outside the area.
    Already police have been given sweeping new powers to close businesses breaking rules.    Military officers won’t be armed and will be under police command, police commissioner Fuller said on Friday.    They will also aim to work with community leaders on enforcement strategies, he said.
    An emergency COVID cabinet of state and federal leaders meanwhile began a regular meeting on Friday, with plans to discuss exit strategies from the pandemic – widely expected to centre around getting more people vaccinated.
    Until recently, Australia had handled the coronavirus crisis much better than many other developed countries, with just over 34,000 cases and less than 1,000 dead.    But that standing has been shaken by a sluggish immunisation program that has left just 18% of people aged over 16 fully vaccinated.
    Until that number rises substantially, the country will rely on lockdowns to keep new infections under control, lawmakers have said.    The prime minister, Scott Morrison, said this week he hoped enough people would be vaccinated by the end of the year to do away with lockdowns for good.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Sam Holmes and Richard Pullin)

7/30/2021 Thailand Bans “False Messages” Amid Criticism Of Handling Of Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks queue outside the Central Vaccination Center as Thailand opens walk-in
first dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination scheme for elders, people with a minimum weight
of 100 kg and pregnant women in Bangkok, Thailand, July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand banned on Friday the dissemination of “false messages” that affect security, drawing accusations from media groups that it is trying to crack down on criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said this week that the spread of fake news had become a major problem causing confusion in society and undermining the government’s ability to manage the pandemic.
    An emergency decree that took effect on Friday prohibits the dissemination of false messages and distorted news that cause panic, misunderstanding or confusion “affecting state security, abusing the rights of others, and order or good morality of the people.”
    The decree empowers the state regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), to order service providers to block internet access to individual IP addresses if it believes they are disseminating false news and to inform the police to take legal action.
    The decree comes after the government has faced public criticism over its handling of the pandemic.
    For most of last year Thailand managed to keep the virus at bay but a recent surge of infections, driven by the Delta variant of the virus, has been the deadliest yet.
    A sluggish vaccine roll-out has led to huge crowds queuing up day after day in some places for COVID tests and inoculations.
    The government already has sweeping powers to enforce measures to tackle the coronavirus and rules for control of the internet.    Authorities have been taking legal action against some people, including some celebrities and social media influencers, who have criticised the pandemic response.
    These include 19-year-old rapper, Danupa “Milli” Khanatheerakul, who was fined 2,000 baht ($60) on a charge of “public insult” last week after accusing the government on social media of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis.
    Six media associations said in a joint statement the government’s legal actions showed “an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public.”
    The associations are planning deliver a letter protesting against the government’s new order on Friday.
    The government has said that legal action against “false messages” was not aimed at silencing the media.
($1 = 32.8900 baht)
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel)

7/30/2021 Samoa’s New Leader Confirms Scrapping Of China-Funded Port by Jonathan Barrett
FILE PHOTO: A container ship unloads at the Matautu port, which has been expanded through support from Japan,br> in the Samoan capital of Apia, July 12, 2019. Picture taken July 12, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Barrett
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -The new prime minister of Samoa has confirmed she will cancel a China-backed port project, but hasn’t closed the door to China as she navigates a path for the Pacific nation against a backdrop of intensifying regional competition between Beijing and Washington.
    Fiame Naomi Mataafa indicated she would only approve investments that had clear benefits for her country as she expressed doubts about the upside for the Pacific in being a pawn in a geopolitical tussle between the two superpowers.
    Mataafa said China’s interest in the Pacific had grown as the United States effectively “moved out” of the region.
    “There seems to be a renewed interest in the Pacific, which may be a good thing, but not necessarily,” Mataafa said in an interview over Zoom on Wednesday, days after her election was confirmed, ending a months-long political crisis.
    Samoa, an island nation of around 200,000 reliant on subsistence farming, along with tourism, fish, coconut product exports and foreign remittance, has found itself exposed to external geopolitical jostling, as Washington and its allies respond to a more assertive Beijing in Pacific waters that have been largely uncontested since World War Two.
    Any foreign involvement in critical infrastructure such as ports and airstrips are particularly sensitive, and China’s proposed construction of a wharf in Vaiusu Bay had played a part in April elections.
    Samoa’s former leader, Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, promised to build the port with Chinese help for $100 million, after a similar project was deemed economically unviable by the Asian Development Bank.
    Mataafa told Reuters in May, after her election but before taking office as Malielegaoi disputed the poll result, that she would scrap the project, calling it excessive for a small nation already heavily indebted to China.
    China is the single largest creditor in Samoa, accounting for about 40%, or some $160 million, of its external debt.
    “We’ve indicated that would not be a priority for us at this time and that there would be other areas that we would be more interested in,” Mataafa told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.
    “I’m pleased the outgoing government had not reached a level of agreement with China where that is set in place.”
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that China held preliminary discussions with Samoa on the feasibility of building the port at the request of the former government.
    “China always adheres to the principle of mutual respect and consultation on an equal footing in conducting foreign cooperation,” the statement said.
    “We will continue to strengthen friendly exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields with the new Samoan government in accordance with the above principles to benefit the two countries and peoples.”
    Mataafa said China had been a long-term partner and her government would assess the relationship in the same way it evaluates all of its bilateral relations.
    “I think as a new administration coming in we will do that for China and any other partner that we have,” she said.
    “China just takes the forefront because of the nature of the work that’s being funded.    There’s a lot of infrastructure, mostly building infrastructure which other donors don’t do.”
FIRST FEMALE LEADER
    Mataafa was confirmed on July 23 as Samoa’s first female prime minister, ending a political impasse in place since the April 9 disputed election.    Malielegaoi had governed the Pacific island nation for 22 years, making him one of the world’s longest serving leaders.
    Mataafa said her government would focus on the national budget after the months-long deadlock as the coronavirus pandemic had devastated important industries.
    Her elevation to the country’s leadership was briefly frustrated by a law, ironically, designed to ensure greater female representation in parliament that led to attempts to add an additional member allied to her rival.
    Mataafa said there were ongoing impediments to female participation in politics such as the practice by some villages to deny women chiefly titles, called matai, which is a prerequisite for entering parliament.
    “Fundamentally our electoral system was premised on our traditional matai system,” she said.    “A move away from that would be to seemingly say we want to discard the traditional.    What might be better to do is … change peoples’ perceptions of tradition.”
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; Additional reporting by Cade Cadell; Editing by Jane Wardell)

7/30/2021 Hong Kong Man Jailed For Nine Years In First National Security Case by James Pomfret and Sara Cheng
A prison van arrives as police stand guard for Tong Ying-kit's arrival, the first person charged
under a new national security law, in Hong Kong, China, July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -The first person convicted under Hong Kong’s national security law was jailed for nine years on Friday for terrorist activities and inciting secession, judges said, in a watershed ruling with long-term implications for the city’s judicial landscape.
    Former waiter Tong Ying-kit, 24, was accused of driving his motorcycle into three riot police last year while carrying a flag with the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong.    Revolution of our times.”
    Tong’s lawyer, Clive Grossman, told reporters outside the court the defence would appeal both the verdict and the sentence.    He made no further comment.
    Tong did not testify during the trial.
    After sentencing, however, he urged Hong Kongers to keep persevering like the city’s trail-blazing Olympic Games gold and silver medallists, Cheung Ka-long and Siobhan Haughey.
    “Hang in there everyone, just like Hong Kong’s athletes,” another defence lawyer, Lawrence Lau, quoted him as saying.
    Judges Esther Toh, Anthea Pang and Wilson Chan – picked by city leader Carrie Lam to hear national security cases – ruled on Tuesday that the slogan was “capable of inciting others to commit secession.”
    On Friday, the judges sentenced Tong to 6-1/2 years for inciting secession and eight years for terrorist activities.    Of these, 2-1/2 years will run consecutively, resulting in a total term of nine years.
    “We consider that this overall term should sufficiently reflect the defendant’s culpability in the two offences and the abhorrence of society, at the same time, achieving the deterrent effect required,” they said in a written judgment.
    Human rights groups criticised Tong’s conviction, saying it imposes new limits on free speech, as well as the precedents set by the trial, which they say contrast with Hong Kong’s common law traditions.
    Amnesty International’s Yamini Mishra said in a statement the sentencing showed the security law “is not merely a tool to instil terror into government critics in Hong Kong; it is a weapon that will be used to incarcerate them.”
    Prominent exiled Hong Kong activist Nathan Law said the lengthy sentence was “outrageous.”
    “Tong is not a terrorist, Hong Kong protesters are not terrorists.    The Hong Kong government uses this stigmatization to discredit the democratic movement and justify its suppression,” Law added.
    Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said in a response to Reuters that it welcomed the court’s decision and that anyone who violated the security law will “pay a heavy price and regret it.”
    Security secretary Chris Tang warned people not to use the slogan, given its connotation of Hong Kong independence, telling reporters: “If you say this slogan, you need to bear the consequences.”
‘SECESSIONIST’ AGENDA
    Tong had been denied bail in line with a provision of the national security law that puts the onus on the defendant to prove they would not be a security threat if released.    Tong also did not get a trial by jury because of a perceived risk to the personal safety of jurors.
    Hong Kong and China have repeatedly said that all the rights and freedoms promised to the former British colony upon its return to Chinese rule in 1997 were intact, but that national security was a red line.    All cases have been handled in accordance with the law, both governments have said.
    U.N. human rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said in an email reply to Reuters in Geneva: “We are still analysing the court decision, but we are concerned that the conviction and sentencing under provisions of the National Security Law … raise issues of proportionality and may infringe upon fundamental freedoms, especially the freedom of expression.”
    While the defence had asked for lenience, describing Tong as a decent young man supporting his father and younger sister who had done something stupid, the court dismissed most mitigation arguments as he had pleaded not guilty.
    Tong was also found guilty of terrorist activities, with judges ruling on Tuesday that his motorcycle was potentially a lethal weapon and his actions “a deliberate challenge mounted against the police.”
    “Whoever carries out terrorist activities with a view to intimidating the public in order to pursue political agenda, whatever that is, should be condemned and punished,” they wrote.
    Tong’s trial focused mostly on the meaning of the “Liberate Hong Kong” slogan, which was ubiquitous during the 2019 pro-democracy protests.
    The arguments over interpretation drew on topics such as Chinese history, the U.S. civil rights movement and Malcolm X.
    The defence argued it could mean different things to different people including the desire for democracy and freedom, but the judges ruled that they were “sure that the defendant fully understood the slogan to bear the meaning of Hong Kong independence.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Sara Cheng, Aiden Waters and Jessie Pang; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel and Catherine Evans)

7/30/2021 ‘This Is Like A Nightmare’: Thousands Displaced As Floods Hit Bangladesh Rohingya Camps by Ruma Paul
General view of a flooded area following heavy monsoon rains at Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
July 27, 2021 in this picture taken July 27, 2021. Arakan Times/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -Heavy monsoon rains triggered landslides and flash floods in refugees camps displacing thousands of Rohingya Muslims in southeastern Bangladesh this week, U.N. and other officials said on Friday, with further heavy rainfall expected.
    At least six Rohingya, including three children, died in landslides and flooding while 15 Bangladeshis were killed and more than 200,000 stranded by flooding in Cox’s Bazar, said Mamunur Rashid, the district administrator.
    Nearly one million Rohingya live in crowded camps in the border district of Cox’s Bazar, the world’s largest refugee settlement, after fleeing a military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017.
    The refugees mostly live in shacks made of bamboo and plastic sheets that cling to steep, bare hills.    TV footage showed flooded homes and muddy water cascading down steps and hillsides.    Children played in chest-high waters.
    “This is like a nightmare,” said Rohingya Rokeya Begum.    “I have never seen such flooding in the camps in four years.    When the water came, there was nobody from my family at home to help.    I was alone but I could take my belongings to a safer place.    Now I am staying with another family.”
    The U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said more than 21,000 refugees had been “affected” by the flooding while nearly 4,000 shelters had been damaged or destroyed.
    It said more than 13,000 were forced to relocate in the camps, while thousands of facilities were damaged, including health clinics and toilets.    Access has been hindered due to damage to roads, pathways and bridges.
    And the flooding is likely to get worse.
    “Heavy rainfall is expected during the next few days, and as such, challenges are likely to increase,” said Manuel Marques Pereira, Deputy Chief of Mission in Bangladesh for the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration.
    Refugees, many of them still recovering from massive fires that tore through the camps in March, said landslides and floods left homes “totally covered with mud.”
    “Somehow my family members could evacuate,” said Abu Siddique, who lives in the Balukhali refugee camp.    “The mud that came down from the hill entered my home… All of our belongings inside are covered in mud.”
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/30/2021 UN Compound Attacked In Western Afghanistan, At Least One Guard Killed
People standing on a vehicle hold Taliban flags as people gather near the Friendship Gate crossing point
in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan July 14, 2021. REUTERS/Abdul Khaliq Achakzai
    KABUL (Reuters) - “Anti-government elements” in Afghanistan attacked the main U.N. compound in the capital of the western province of Herat on Friday and at least one security guard was killed, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said.
    The attack, involving rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire, happened hours after Taliban fighters penetrated deep into Herat city, and there were heavy clashes with Afghan security forces near the UNAMA provincial headquarters, officials said.
    It also came as U.S.-led foreign forces near a complete withdrawal of troops and Afghan security forces struggle to hold back Taliban fighters in three major provincial capitals.
    In a statement following the attack, the United Nations said it was urgently seeking to establish a full picture of the assault and was in contact with the relevant parties.
    It was not immediately clear who attacked the compound, but a western security official told Reuters all diplomatic compounds in the city were put on high alert.
    UNAMA said the attack was against the entrances of the compound that were clearly marked as a U.N. facility.
    “This attack against the United Nations is deplorable and we condemn it in the strongest terms,” said Deborah Lyons, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan.
    UNAMA said no U.N. personnel were hurt.
    The Taliban put the incident down to possible crossfire.
    “It is possible that guards could have sustained harm in crossfire due to close proximity of the office to the fighting,” the insurgents’ spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Twitter.
    He added that Taliban fighters had “arrived at the scene” and that the compound was “not under any threat.”
    The Taliban have already captured swaths of the province of Herat, which borders Iran, before entering the capital.
    A high-ranking foreign security official told Reuters Iranian border guards were on high alert as they fear many could flee across the border in coming days.
    Foreign staff in all embassy offices in the city had been advised to observe a strict lockdown, the official added.
LASHKARGAH CLASHES
    Heart city is the second provincial capital the Taliban have entered in the last 24 hours.    Insurgents entered Lashkargah, the capital of the southern province of Helmand, a day earlier, and clashes were under way there.    Civilians rushed to evacuate the city.
    The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have made swift territorial gains over the last two months but have not yet captured any provincial capitals.
    “Since Thursday morning, the Taliban have launched attacks from several directions on Lashkargah city,” a government official told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
    The official said government forces had thus far held back the Taliban with the help of airstrikes, but operations were hampered by the presence of civilians in the area.
    “Hundreds of families have left the area,” Hafiz Ahmad, a resident of Lashkargah, told Reuters.
    He said those unable to move had locked themselves in their homes, and the city wore a deserted look as gun and artillery fire reverberated through neighbourhoods.
    A U.N. report this week said civilian casualties had been surging in recent weeks, with as many killed in May and June as in the previous four months.    The report did not cover casualties in July, when fighting intensified further.
KANDAHAR BATTLES
    Earlier on Friday, UNAMA expressed deep concern at the escalating violence in and around the southern city of Kandahar and warned of grave consequences for civilians.
    It said more than 230 civilians had been wounded, and there were reports that scores had been killed, over the last two weeks.
    A senior government official in Kandahar told Reuters that fighting between the Taliban and government forces had reached the central parts of the city, and residents feared insurgents could take over.
    Airstrikes targeted Taliban positions to ensure security forces’ supply lines remained open in the besieged city, known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
    The United States’ top regional military commander has said the U.S. Air Force had increased airstrikes to support Afghan forces – but declined to say whether this would continue after their military mission ends on Aug. 31.
(Reporting by Kabul bureauEditing by Frances Kerry, William Maclean and Nick Macfie)

7/30/2021 Secy. Blinken: Discussions Underway To Possibly Host Afghan Interpreters In Kuwait, No Deal Reached by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah elbow bump each other during
a press conference at Kuwait’s foreign ministry headquarters in Kuwait City on July 29, 2021. (YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. has continued its talks with Kuwait to house Afghans who have been threatened by the Taliban.    However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken failed to announce whether interpreters who helped American troops in Afghanistan would be coming to Kuwait.
    Meeting with Kuwait’s foreign affairs minister on Thursday, Blinken said they were discussing the possibility of housing as many as 4,000 Afghans on U.S. military installments located in Kuwait, but a deal has not yet been reached.    Afghan allies said they are worried about a bureaucratic nightmare as thousands attempt to obtain immigrant visa’s deemed to be protected due to their cooperation with the U.S. Despite an agreement yet finalized, Kuwait recognized the U.S.’s role in keeping them safe.
    “The United States has proven time and time again its commitment to the security of Kuwait and the region.    Throughout the six decades there are lots of times that the U.S. sought action and total commitment,” said Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, Kuwait’s foreign minister.
    The U.S. has protected Kuwait since 1990 and has now requested the ally country temporarily house the Afghans that assisted the U.S. during the war.    The need for housing comes as Afghan interpreters, guides and other contractors who served alongside the U.S. military are facing threats from the Taliban, as U.S. troops have been withdrawn from the country.    Additionally, Blinken said some of the roughly 20,000 interpreters and allies from Afghanistan would be on their way to the U.S. soon.
    “The United States is committed to helping those who helped us during our time in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.    And indeed, we’ve had very brave Afghans who have stood with us, with our soldiers, with our diplomats, mostly as translators and interpreters, and as a result of that service, benefit from the possibility of securing a visa to come live in the United States,” said Blinken.    “We’re actively engaged in that process and notably in relocation planning.”
    So far, the Biden administration has approved about 750 Afghans and their family members that have already passed security clearances to be brought to the U.S., generating a total of 2,500.    During their talk, Blinken and Kuwait’s foreign minister also reportedly discussed the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, food insecurity and Kuwaiti students in the U.S.

7/31/2021 COVID-19 Cases Surge In Sydney As Police Cordon Deters Protest by Lidia Kelly
Police check the cars heading into the city while conducting a law enforcement operation to prevent
anti-lockdown protesters from gathering during a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in the Annandale suburb of Sydney, Australia, July 31, 2021. REUTERS/Jane Wardell
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Sydney’s coronavirus cases continued to surge on Saturday as police cordoned off the city’s central district, preventing a planned anti-lockdown protest from taking place.
    There were 210 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 reported in Sydney and vicinities that are under a weeks-long strict lockdown while battling an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant. Saturday’s numbers bring the outbreak to 3,190 cases.
    The lockdown, to last at least until the end of August, spurred violent demonstrations last weekend, with protesters vowing to return to the streets on Saturday.
    But the police closed train stations, banned taxis from dropping passengers off downtown and deployed 1,000 officers to set up check points and to disperse any groups.
    Australian media reported that the rally’s organisers urged their followers on Saturday to avoid gathering and regroup on a later date.
    A late-July poll by the NSW-based market research firm Utting Research showed that only 7% of the people support the demonstrations. Compliance with public health rules has been one of the key cited reasons behind Australia’s success in managing the pandemic.
    Despite its struggle with spikes of infections, mostly of the Delta variant, Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of just over 34,000 cases and 924 deaths.
    The country has struggled significantly with its vaccination rollout, with the government indicating on Friday it will be months before Australia’s borders reopen.
    In Sydney, there are 198 people in the hospital, 53 of them in intensive care and 27 requiring ventilation, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.    There was also one death reported, bringing the total number of deaths in the outbreak to 14.
    Parts of the neighbouring state Queensland entered into a three-day snap lockdown on Saturday after the state recorded six new coronavirus cases of the Delta strain, putting a number of football, rugby and other sporting events into a limbo.
    “We have seen from the experience in other states that the only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” the state’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.    “That is now the nationally agreed approach.”
(Additional reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes in Sydney; Writing by Lidia Kelly, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/31/2021 China Reports 55 New COVID-19 Cases As Delta Variant Spreads From Nanjing
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab from a resident for nucleic acid testing at a sports centre in Jiangning
district, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, China July 21, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China reported on Saturday 55 new coronavirus cases in the mainland for July 30, compared with 64 cases a day earlier, the health authority said.
    The National Health Commission said in a statement 30 of the new infections were local cases, compared with 21 the previous day.    There were no new deaths.
    The other 25 cases were imported infections originating overseas.
    A majority of the local cases were reported in Jiangsu province, the authority said.
    The province’s capital city of Nanjing is currently facing an outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant that surfaced earlier this month, traced to airport cleaners who worked on a flight from Russia.
    The Nanjing outbreak has since spread to other cities in Jiangsu, the Chinese capital of Beijing, and to other provinces including Anhui, Sichuan, Liaoning, Guangdong and Hunan.
    Suzhou, a major city in Jiangsu, announced on Saturday it is shutting all games parlours for chess, cards and mahjong, after several people in another Jiangsu city caught the virus while playing in one such parlour.
    To curb the outbreak in Beijing, some schools in the city have asked students on summer vacation to return to Beijing at least fourteen days before the autumn semester starts on August 15, the Beijing Youth Daily reported on Sunday.
    Zhengzhou, the provincial city of Henan province hit by heavy floods this month, announced on Saturday people leaving the city must test negative for COVID. It also reported one asymptomatic case, its first in many months.
    China also reported 19 new asymptomatic patients, compared with 25 a day earlier.
    As of July 30, mainland China had a total of 92,930 confirmed coronavirus cases.
    China’s death toll from the coronavirus remained unchanged at 4,636.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; editing by Richard Pullin and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

7/31/2021 U.S Top Diplomat Blinken To Court Southeast Asia In Virtual Meetings Next Week by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken boards his plane to depart for his return to the United
States from Kuwait International Airport in Kuwait City, Kuwait, July 29, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet virtually with Southeast Asian officials every day next week, a senior state department official said on Saturday, as Washington seeks to show the region it’s a U.S. priority while also addressing the crisis in Myanmar.
    The top U.S. diplomat will attend virtual meetings for five consecutive days, including annual meetings of the 10 foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other nations and separate meetings of the Lower Mekong subregion countries Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
    “I think it’s a clear demonstration of our commitment to the region,” said the official, who briefed Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    In recent years top U.S. officials have not always attended ASEAN meetings and have sometimes sent more junior officials to the region’s summits.
    The virtual meetings come after the Biden administration in its early days was seen as paying little attention to the region of more than 600 million people, which is often overshadowed by neighboring economic giant China, which the administration sees as its major foreign policy challenge.
    But that has been partly addressed by recent visits to the region.    Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman visited Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand in May and June, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Vietnam and the Philippines this week, and Vice President Kamala Harris is set to visit Singapore and Vietnam.
    “That steady flow of high-level engagement is going to pay dividends.    It’s noticed,” the official said, adding that countries in the region “notice when we don’t show up and that’s when you start hearing some complaining maybe about not taking them seriously or taking them for granted.”
    The official said that donations of COVID-19 vaccines to the region had been a “game changer in terms of how our image is perceived.”
    On Sunday, the United States shipped 3 million doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam and it has sent doses to other Southeast Asian countries too, but an agreement it reached in March with Japan and Australia and India to provide a billion doses to the region stalled due to an Indian export ban.
    By mid-next week the United States will have donated 23 million doses to countries in the region, which is experiencing a surge of the coronavirus with vaccination rates well below countries in the West, the official said.
    But none of those doses have gone to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where military generals staged a coup on Feb. 1 and detained elected leaders including Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking sanctions from Washington and other Western capitals.
    The meetings next week will see Blinken in the same virtual meetings as representatives of Myanmar’s military government, but the official said rather than bestowing legitimacy on those officials, this was an opportunity to get messages to the military government.
    “We’re not prepared to walk away from ASEAN because of the bad behavior of a group of generals in Burma,” the official said, adding that U.S. officials were also engaging with the National Unity Government that opposes the military government there.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis; editing by Diane Craft)

7/31/2021 COVID-19 Surge Hits Asia; Tokyo, Thailand, Malaysia Post Record Infections by Zeya Tun
FILE PHOTO: People queue at the Central Vaccination Center as Thailand begins offering first doses of the AstraZeneca
vaccine to at-risk groups amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in Bangkok, Thailand, July 26, 2021. REUTERS/Soe
    (Reuters) -The Olympics host city Tokyo, as well as Thailand and Malaysia, announced record COVID-19 infections on Saturday, mostly driven by the highly transmissible Delta variant of the disease.
    The surge in Delta variant cases is rattling parts of Asia previously relatively successful in containing COVID-19, such as Vietnam, which will from Monday impose strict curbs on movement in several cities and provinces.
    Cases also surged in Sydney, where police cordoned off the central business district to prevent a protest against a strict lockdown that will last until the end of August.
    Police in Sydney closed train stations, banned taxis from dropping passengers off downtown and deployed 1,000 officers to set up checkpoints and to disperse groups.
    The government of New South Wales reported 210 new infections in Sydney and surrounding areas from the Delta variant outbreak.
    Tokyo’s metropolitan government announced a record number of 4,058 infections in the past 24 hours.    Olympics organisers reported 21 new COVID-19 cases related to the Games, bringing the total to 241 since July 1.
    A day earlier Japan extended its state of emergency for Tokyo to the end of August and expanded it to three prefectures near the capital and to the western prefecture of Osaka.
    Olympics organisers said on Saturday they had revoked accreditation of a Games-related person or people for leaving the athletes’ village for sightseeing, a violation of measures imposed to hold the Olympics safely amid the pandemic.
    The organisers did not disclose how many people were involved, if the person or people were athletes, or when the violation took place.
    Malaysia, one of the hotspots of the disease, reported 17,786 coronavirus cases on Saturday, a record high.
    More than 100 people gathered in the centre of Kuala Lumpur expressing dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of the pandemic and calling on Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to quit.
    Protesters carried black flags and held up placards that read “Kerajaan Gagal” (failed government) – a hashtag popular on social media for months.
    Thailand also reported a daily record high of 18,912 new coronavirus infections, bringing its total cases to 597,287.    The country also reported 178 new deaths, also a daily record.
    The government said the Delta variant accounted for more than 60% of the cases in the country and 80% of the cases in Bangkok.    The variant is not necessarily more lethal than other variants, but much more transmissible, said Supakit Sirilak, the director-general of Thailand’s Department of Medical Sciences.
    At Thammasat University Hospital near the capital Bangkok, a morgue overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths has begun storing bodies in refrigerated containers, resorting to a measure it last took in a 2004 tsunami, a hospital director said.
    China is battling an outbreak of the Delta variant in the eastern city of Nanjing which has been traced to airport workers who cleaned a plane which had arrived from Russia.
    Vietnam, grappling with its worst COVID-19 outbreak, announced that from Monday it will impose strict curbs on movement in its business hub Ho Chi Minh City and another 18 cities and provinces throughout its south for another two weeks.
    COVID-19 infections have increased by 80% over the past four weeks in most regions of the world, WHO Director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday.
    “Hard-won gains are in jeopardy or being lost, and health systems in many countries are being overwhelmed,” Tedros told a news conference.
    The Delta variant, first detected in India, is as contagious as chickenpox and far more contagious than the common cold or flu, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said in an internal document reported this week.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat, Chayut Setboonsarng and Orathai Sriring in Bangkok, A. Ananthalakshmi in Kuala Lumpur, Lidia Kelly in Sydney, Makiko Yamazaki in Tokyo, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; editing by Gerry Doyle, Jason Neely, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

7/31/2021 Mastermind Behind Deadly 2019 Kashmir Attack Killed In Shootout - Indian Police by Fayaz Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south
Kashmir's Pulwama district February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Younis Khaliq/File Photo
    SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – The mastermind behind a 2019 attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary troops has been killed in a shootout with security forces, Indian police in Kashmir said on Saturday.
    Mohammad Ismail Alvi, the commander of militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammad was killed south of the regional capital Srinagar, Vijay Kumar, the police chief of Kashmir told Reuters.
    “Mohammad Ismail Alvi alias Lamboo alias Adnan was from the family of Masood Azhar.    He was involved in conspiracy and planning of Lethpora Pulwama attack,” Kumar said.
    A suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on February 14, 2019, killing 40 of them in the deadliest attack in decades on security forces in the disputed region, raising tensions with arch foe Pakistan.
    The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
    The Indian government accused Pakistan of letting militant groups operate from its soil and called on it to take action.    Islamabad said it rejected the suggestion it was linked to the attack.
    Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan.    The neighbours both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Christina Fincher)

7/31/2021 As Cases Surge, Thai Hospital Uses Containers To Store Bodies by Juarawee Kittisilpa
FILE PHOTO: Beds are seen as the Thai government prepares to convert an air cargo warehouse into a coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
field hospital at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A Thai hospital morgue overwhelmed by COVID-19 deaths has begun storing bodies in refrigerated containers, resorting to a measure it last took in a devastating 2004 tsunami, as the country grapples with its biggest coronavirus outbreak.
    Thailand on Saturday reported a daily record of 18,912 new cases and a record of 178 new deaths, bringing total accumulated cases to 597,287 and 4,857 fatalities.
    At Thammasat University Hospital near the capital Bangkok, a 10-freezer morgue usually handles up to seven autopsies a day.    But the latest wave of the coronavirus pandemic means it now has to deal with more than 10 bodies daily.
    “There’s not enough space, so we bought two containers for bodies’ storage,” Pharuhat Tor-udom, a director of the hospital, told Reuters, adding the containers cost about 250,000 baht ($7,601) each.
    Almost 20% of bodies with an unidentified cause of death later tested positive for COVID-19, overwhelming the morgue and medical staff, he said.
    “During the tsunami, we used containers to store bodies waiting to be autopsied for identification.    But we haven’t had to do that (again) until now,” Pharuhat said.
    There were several bodies kept in one container on Saturday, waiting to be retrieved by their relatives, he said.
    “What makes us feel extremely sad is that we were not able to help people who died because of lacking access to medical treatment,” he added.
    Hospitals in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces are running out of capacity due to the surge in infections.
($1 = 32.89 baht)
(Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by William Maclean)

7/31/2021 Myanmar Faces Turmoil, Global Leaders Urge Action by OAN Newsroom
Protesters hold up the three-finger salute during a demonstration against the militarybr> coup in Yangon on July 29, 2021. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
    It has been almost six months since the Myanmar military, the Tatmadaw, has seized power.    Since the coup, the United Nations have called it a “multifaceted crisis.”
    British Diplomat Barbara Woodward explained, “what started as a political coup has now become a multifaceted crisis with political, economic, health and humanitarian dimensions.”
    Woodward said the conflict has escalated, with more than 5,000 people detained. She added the spread of COVID-19 was also concerning.
    “The coup has resulted in a near total collapse of the healthcare system and healthcare workers are being attacked and arrested,” she expressed.    “The virus is spreading through the population very fast indeed, by some estimates in the next two weeks, half of the population of Myanmar could be infected with COVID.”
    The country, which is located in Southeast Asia, has been struggling to gain back control since the military took control and declared a year-long state of emergency.    Protests since then have involved government workers, teachers, lawyers and students.
    In addition, COVID-19 has surged through the country, with unrest stemming from residents and activists who have said the military has been using the pandemic to “consolidate power and crush oppression.”    Medical oxygen supplies have reportedly ran low and the government has stopped distributing personal protection equipment and masks.
    According to reports, anyone who showed support for the democracy movement have not been allowed to be treated in hospitals.    This comes as a senior U.S. diplomat has reportedly asked the U.N. Security Council to press the Myanmar military to “stop violence” as well as suggested with COVID-19, a delay in action could cause more deaths.
    The U.S. ambassador said the military crackdown from the coup has displaced “hundreds of thousands of people and up to 2.8 million additional people may be facing food shortages.”    Many are calling for action and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been set to meet with Southeast Asian officials next week to discuss impending topics, including the crisis in the country.

7/31/2021 Afghanistan’s Key City At Risk Of Falling To The Taliban by OAN Newsroom
Afghan security personnel stand behind a wall during fighting between Taliban and Afghan security
forces in Kunduz city, north of Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Samiullah Quraishi)
    Afghan forces clashed with the Taliban as Islamist militants besieged three of the province’s key cities.    Local Afghan government commanders said military reinforcements began arriving on Saturday as Taliban fighters entered parts of Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gah.
    In Lashkar Gah, insurgents were reportedly only a few hundred meters from the governor’s office.    A clinic has also been bombed, along with several homes destroyed.
    Afghan forces said the Taliban suffered significant casualties in the last two days.    Insurgents have amped up the pressure on several cities in the recent weeks, while tens of thousands have been displaced.

7/31/2021 Thailand, Indonesia Dropping Chinese-Made Vaccines In COVID Fight by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a staff member holds up a sample of a potential
COVID-19 vaccine at a production plant of SinoPharm in Beijing. (Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via AP)
    Two Asian countries have refused to use Chinese-made vaccines and cited concerns over “vaccine failure.”    According to reports, Thailand and Indonesia backed off from using two Chinese vaccines when inoculating health workers.
    Thailand has reportedly embraced the Astra-Zeneca vaccine as the second dose for those who have already received a dose of the Chinese vaccine.    Indonesia has reportedly started to use the Moderna vaccine on its medical workers.
    This comes amid several health worker deaths in those countries, as well as high COVID rates reported in a number of countries who use the Chinese vaccines.

7/31/2021 First Flight Of Afghan Refugees Lands In Va. by OAN Newsroom
Opium farmer Haji Abdul Khan shows off damaged poppies to U.S. Marines and their military interpreter
on March 22, 2009 near remote Qalanderabad in southwest Afghanistan. (John Moore/Getty Images)
    The first group of evacuated Afghans who worked with U.S. forces in Afghanistan officially touched down in Virginia.    A plane carrying 221 Afghans landed at the Dulles International Airport on Friday, marking the first group of Afghans to be evacuated since the U.S. troop pullout.
    The White House said more than 2,500 Afghans will be evacuated to the U.S. in the coming weeks over concerns their work with the U.S. military could lead to retaliation from the Taliban.
    “This White House initiative aims to ensure the safe relocation of Afghans who have worked for the United States over the course of the past two decades,” said Ross Wilson, U.S. Charge d’Affaires for Afghanistan.
    The group was reportedly taken to a nearby Army base for medical screenings.    They are expected to spend at least a week there.

8/1/2021 Myanmar Army Ruler Pledges Elections, ASEAN Cooperation
FILE PHOTO: Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing delivers his speech at the
IX Moscow conference on international security in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing on Sunday again promised new multi-party elections and said his government is ready to work with any special envoy named by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
    He spoke in a televised address six months after the army seized power from a civilian government after disputed elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party, which he called “extremists” and accused of inciting violence.
    “Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework including the dialogue with the ASEAN Special Envoy in Myanmar,” Min Aung Hlaing said.
    ASEAN foreign ministers are to meet on Monday, when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.
    Min Aung Hlaing also repeated a pledge to restore democracy, though again without detailing a time frame.
    “I guarantee the establishment of a union based on democracy and federalism,” he said.
    The army seized power on Feb. 1 from the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argues were tainted by fraud.    It has said its takeover was in line with the constitution.
    The country’s electoral commission has dismissed the fraud allegations.
    Since the coup, military authorities have faced protests, strikes that have paralysed public and private sectors, and a resurgence of armed conflicts in the borderlands.
    The military authorities have branded their opponents terrorists.
    “At present, the whole country is stable except for some terrorist attacks,” Min Aung Hlaing said in his speech.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group has accused the armed forces of killing 939 people in suppressing dissent since the coup and said at least 6,990 military opponents have been arrested.
    The military said the number of protesters killed is far lower and members of the armed forces have also died in violence.    It said its response has met international norms in the face of threats to national security.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff. Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

8/1/2021 Australia’s East Coast Battles Rising COVID-19 Cases by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A lone bird walks past the quiet Circular Quay train station during a lockdown to curb the spread of
a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia’s east coast states of New South Wales and Queensland faced an escalating battle against the COVID-19 Delta variant on Sunday, with millions under strict lockdown and authorities urging more testing and vaccinations to rein in the outbreaks.
    Sydney and its surroundings, under a stay-at-home order for five weeks already, reported 239 new locally acquired cases of the highly infectious Delta strain, matching the record daily number in the current outbreak that was reported on Thursday.
    The city’s 5 million residents and those in neighbouring regional centres spanning 200 km (120 miles) of coastline are to stay home until Aug. 28 at least.    The total number of cases in the outbreak, which began in mid-June, has reached 3,427.
    “I think what is important to know is that there is no roadmap for the Delta variant,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
    “The challenge for us is getting as many people vaccinated in August as possible so by the time 28 of August comes around, we have options as to how we can ease restrictions.”
    Australia’s vaccination drive has been sluggish, with only 18% of adults fully vaccinated so far.    Brad Hazzard, NSW health minister, said that 70% of the state’s population could be fully vaccinated in about four months.
    In neighbouring Queensland, there were nine new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, the biggest daily spike in almost a year.    More than 3 million residents were put into a three-day snap lockdown on Saturday.
    “It is vital (to get tested), anyone with any symptoms at all, it doesn’t matter where you are, because I don’t know where this virus is at the moment,” Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young said.
    Australia has managed to keep its epidemic largely under control with a total of just over 34,000 cases and 924 deaths.    But the slow vaccination drive means that it could be months before the country’s borders reopen.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

8/1/2021 After Months Of Failed Talks, ASEAN Under Pressure To Appoint Envoy by Tom Allard, Panu Wongcha-um and Ain Bandial
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers stand next to military vehicles as people gather to protest against
the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Foreign ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are under pressure to appoint a special envoy to Myanmar this week after months of negotiations have failed to find a consensus candidate.
    Six months after the military toppled Myanmar’s democratically elected government, ASEAN foreign ministers meet on Monday, when diplomats say they aim to finalise a special envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.
    The United Nations, China and the United States, among others, have identified the Southeast Asian bloc, whose 10 members include Myanmar, as best placed to lead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.
    The Southeast Asian nation has been racked by a deadly crackdown on protests, economic collapse and a refugee exodus since the coup.    A surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed Myanmar’s health system, worsening the humanitarian crisis in the past month.
    The search for a special envoy began in April, when ASEAN leaders produced a “five-point consensus” to tackle the turmoil in Myanmar.
    The U.N and U.S. have both urged ASEAN to expedite appointment of the special envoy in recent weeks.
    The second minister for foreign affairs of Brunei, Erywan Yusof, said on Friday night he hoped a final decision would be made on Monday.    Brunei is chair of ASEAN this year.
    “Without the envoy leading the way, it is very difficult” to address the situation in Myanmar, he said.
    ASEAN – whose members include democracies, one-party communist states and authoritarian governments – has been deeply divided on the envoy, and discussed appointing more than one to break the deadlock.
    Four regional diplomatic sources said Erywan was favoured to become envoy and be assisted by “advisers.”    . But a meeting of senior ASEAN officials on Thursday failed to reach agreement, they said.
    As well as the nine other ASEAN members, Myanmar’s military regime will have to approve the appointment, they said.
    “Myanmar is ready to work on ASEAN cooperation within the ASEAN framework including the dialogue with the ASEAN special envoy in Myanmar,” the leader of the country’s ruling military, Min Aung Hlaing, told a news conference on Sunday.
    A spokesman for Myanmar’s National Unity Government which opposes the military junta, Sasa, said the envoy must “put the people of Myanmar front and centre.”
    “Anything that can help alleviate the people’s suffering is welcome,” he said.
    Erywan publicly confirmed he was one of four candidates. Diplomats said the others were Thailand’s deputy foreign minister Weerasak Footrakul, former Indonesian foreign minister Hassan Wirajuda and veteran Malaysian diplomat Razali Ismail.
    ASEAN will also announce a proposal to provide aid to Myanmar, including support to combat the pandemic, diplomats said.
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta, Panu Wonngcha-un in Bangkok and Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

8/1/2021 Cambodia To Mix Vaccines As Booster Shots To Fight COVID
FILE PHOTO: A Cambodian army member vaccinates a person inside a red zone with strict lockdown measures, amidst the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia will begin offering a booster shot against Covid-19, switching between the AstraZeneca and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines in an effort to fight the spread of the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen, launching the vaccination campaign for 12-17 years old, said on Sunday that the third dose will be offered to between 500,000 to one million frontline workers as a priority.
    “People who have already been vaccinated with Sinopharm and Sinovac should be given AstraZeneca as the third booster dose,” Hun Sen said in a speech which was broadcast on social media.    “For Cambodians who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca, Sinovac should be given as the third dose,” he added.
    Hun Sen also said the country will purchase more AstraZeneca vaccines through Covax for the booster shots and the recent U.S funded Johnson & Johnson vaccines will be used to vaccinate indigenous peoples in northeastern Cambodia.
    Cambodia has launched a lockdown in eight provinces bordering Thailand this week in a bid to prevent the spread of the     Delta variant of the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that the Delta variant has been detected amongst migrants returning from Thailand through land borders and is now in the local community.
    “We are racing against new variants.    We must act today, and we must act fast to have no regrets tomorrow,” said Li Ailan, WHO Representative to Cambodia, in a statement on Saturday.
    Cambodia managed to largely contain the virus for most of last year, but an outbreak first detected in late February has driven up total cases to 77,919, with 1,420 deaths.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/1/2021 UN Compound Attacked In Afghanistan by OAN Newsroom
Security personnel stands guard outside United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) office
compound in Guzara district of Herat province on July 31, 2021. (HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    A United Nations compound in western Afghanistan was attacked by so-called anti-government extremists, leaving one person dead.    The attack on Friday was reported to have taken place amid the fighting between the government and the Taliban in the region.
    UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said attacking the UN and its personnel could constitute as a war crime.    White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement saying the UN is operating as a civilian peace keeping force.    He went on to call for an end to all violence in Afghanistan.
    “We reiterate our call for an immediate reduction in violence in Afghanistan, and for all regional actors to encourage the parties to return to negotiations without delay so that the Afghan people can achieve a durable and just political settlement that brings the peace and security they deserve,” said Sullivan.
    In the meantime, the U.S. has completed more than 95 percent of the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.    However, reports said the U.S. will continue to support Afghan forces with combat aircraft.

8/1/2021 N.Korean Leader’s Sister Warns Seoul Against Military Drill With Washington
FILE PHOTO: Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends wreath-laying ceremony
at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/Pool/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said on Sunday that if South Korea carries out a planned joint military exercise with the United States it will damage the resolve of the two Koreas to rebuild relations, state media KCNA reported.
    Kim Yo Jong also said a recent decision to restore hotlines between the two Koreas should not be seen as anything more than reconnecting “physical” ties, and that it would be “thoughtless” to assume that summits are around the corner.
    Her comments come at a time when North and South Korea are in talks to hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations.    Washington and Seoul are due to hold a joint military drill later in August.
    “Our government and military will keep a close eye on whether the South Koreans go ahead with the aggressive war exercises, or make a big decision.    Hope or despair?    That’s not up to us,” Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by KCNA.
    The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, on Tuesday reconnected hotlines the North severed in June last year.
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim, Editing by William Maclean)

8/1/2021 Afghans Fighting Ramps Up As Taliban Lays Siege On Provincial Capitals by OAN Newsroom
Afghan militiamen join Afghan defense and security forces during a gathering in Kabul. (File photo| AP)
    Afghanistan has seen a rise in violence on the ground as fighting intensified between government forces and terror group Taliban.    According to Afghan officials, the security situation has become critical across the country.
    Officials reported Taliban forces made advancements towards at least three provincial capitals.    Kabul has asked the U.S. to increase aerial support to its forces, who have been fighting Taliban in the provinces of Herat, Helmand and Kandahar.
    “In three provinces the security situation is critical, especially in Lashkar Gah.    The enemy has some movements,” explained Gen. Ajmal Omar Shinwari of the Afghan military.    “Security and defensive forces are planning to intercept the enemy’s movements first, then build defensive lines and later launch offensive operations.”
    U.S. military officials said they were ready to provide all necessary support to help Afghan troops hold ground.    However, Taliban’s advances have continued.

8/2/2021 Australia Tightens COVID Curbs As Brisbane Extends Lockdown, Army Patrols Sydney by Renju Jose and Colin Packham
Australian Defence Force personnel and NSW police deliver emergency food parcels for people in lockdown in the
Fairfield suburb in the southwest of Sydney, Australia, August 2, 2021. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s Queensland state on Monday extended a COVID-19 lockdown in Brisbane, while soldiers began patrolling Sydney to enforce stay-at-home rules as Australia struggles to stop the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus spreading.
    Queensland said it had detected 13 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours – the biggest one-day rise the state has recorded in a year.    The lockdown of Brisbane, Australia’s third-biggest city, was due to end on Tuesday but will now stay in place until late on Sunday.
    “It’s starting to become clear that the initial lockdown will be insufficient for the outbreak,” Queensland state Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane.
    Queensland has yet to establish how a school child acquired the virus, but has forced students at several schools and their families, including that of Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton, to stay home.
    Dutton said on Monday he would miss two weeks of parliament after he was told he must quarantine at home for 14 days as his two sons attend a school linked to the outbreak.
    The rising new case numbers in two of the country’s biggest cities come as disquiet grows on how the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is handling the pandemic.
    Although Australia’s vaccination drive has lagged many other developed economies, it has so far fared much better in keeping its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just under 34,400 cases.    The death toll rose to 925 after a man in his 90s died in Sydney.
    Australia is going through a cycle of stop-start lockdowns in several cities after the emergence of the fast-moving Delta strain, and such restrictions are likely to persist until the country reaches a much higher level of vaccination coverage.
    Prime Minister Morrison has promised lockdowns would be “less likely” once the country inoculates 70% of its population above 16 years of age – up from 19% now. Morrison expects to hit the 70% mark by the end of the year.
    Meanwhile the lockdown of Brisbane and several surrounding areas comes as Sydney, the biggest city in the country, begins its sixth week under stay-at-home orders.
    New South Wales state, home to Sydney, said on Monday it detected 207 COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours as daily new cases continue to linger near a 16-month high recorded late last week.
    The state has recorded more than 3,500 infections since the outbreak begun in June, when a limousine driver contracted the virus while transporting an overseas airline crew, and has asked for military personnel to aid efforts to enforce the restrictions.
    Some 300 army personnel, who will be unarmed and under police command, on Monday began door-to-door visits to ensure people who have tested positive are isolating at their homes.    They also accompanied police officers patrolling the areas of Sydney where most COVID-19 cases have been recorded.
    Footage published online showed police asking the few people encountered as to why they were out of their homes in the largely deserted streets in Sydney’s south west.
    Brigadier Mick Garraway, who is leading the military deployment, sought to downplay the army’s presence on the streets of Sydney.
    “I want to say right up front that we are not a law enforcement agency and that is not what we will be doing,” Garraway told reporters in Sydney.
    The military would help in delivering food and setting up vaccination stations, he said.
($1 = 1.3624 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry, Kenneth Maxwell and Sonali Paul)

8/2/2021 S.Korea Says No Decision On Joint U.S. Military Drills, But Exercises Should Not Create N.Korea Tension by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at Yongin,
South Korea, August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Monday no decision has been made on its joint military exercises with the United States but they should not create tension, after North Korea warned the South against holding the exercises amid signs of a thaw in relations.
    South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer, but North Korea has long responded with scathing criticism, calling them a rehearsal for war.
    Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, warned the South on Sunday that holding the drills would undercut efforts to rebuild relations.
    Her warning came days after the two Koreas restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago, as Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.
    Seoul’s defence ministry said on Monday that Seoul and Washington were in talks over the drills but no decision has been made.
    “We have nothing to comment on her statement, but regarding the exercises, the timing and method were not finalised,” ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
    The allies will decide after considering COVID-19, joint defence posture, planned transfer of wartime operational control, and the issue of “supporting diplomatic efforts for establishing lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” Boo added.
    Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman of the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the exercises should not be a “source of military tension in any case,” without elaborating.
    The exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks between North Korea and the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    But the negotiations stalled following a failed second summit in 2019 between Kim and Trump.
    The coronavirus pandemic also had an impact on the drills, with the allies focusing instead on computerised simulations and minimising live field training, without mobilising U.S.-based troops.
    A high-level Unification Ministry official said on Friday that the exercises should be postponed to help restart nuclear talks, but Lee declined to comment when asked if the ministry plans to make a formal recommendation.
    Lee said the South last week proposed setting up a video conference system to expedite inter-Korean dialogue and approved plans by two civilian relief groups to send humanitarian aid to the North.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/2/2021 Indonesia Urges Myanmar To Approve Appointment Of ASEAN Envoy
    (Reuters) – Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi on Monday urged Myanmar to approve the appointment of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) special envoy to the country.
    Six months after the military toppled Myanmar’s democratically elected government, ASEAN foreign ministers met on Monday to finalise the envoy tasked with ending violence and promoting dialogue between the junta and its opponents.
    Retno did not specify who – if anyone – had been selected for the post, but diplomats told Reuters that Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, was strongly favoured to take the position.    As chair of ASEAN this year, Brunei will formally announce the special envoy’s appointment.
(Reporting by Tom Allard and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Ed Davies)

8/2/2021 India’s Monsoon Rains Forecast To Be Average In August, September
FILE PHOTO: A man rows his boat in the tributary waters of Vembanad Lake against the backdrop of pre-monsoon
clouds on the outskirts of     Kochi, India, June 7, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is likely to receive an average amount of rainfall in August and September, the state-run weather office said on Monday, raising expectations of higher crop yields in Asia’s third-biggest economy, which relies heavily on the vast farm sector.
    “As per most parameters, we expect monsoon rains to be normal in August and September this year,” Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General of the state-run India Meteorological Department (IMD), told a news conference.
    The IMD defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 88 cm (34 inches) for the four-month season beginning in June.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Kim Coghill)

8/2/2021 U.S. Offers Refuge To More Afghans Who Aided Americans In New Program by Jonathan Landay and Simon Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Former Afghan interpreters, who worked with U.S. troops in Afghanistan, demonstrate
in front of the U.S. embassy in Kabul June 25, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Thousands more Afghans who may be targets of Taliban violence due to their U.S. affiliations will have the opportunity to resettle as refugees in the United States under a new program announced by the State Department on Monday.
    Reuters first reported earlier on Monday the plans to set up the “Priority Two” refugee program, covering Afghans who worked for U.S.-funded projects and for U.S.-based non-government bodies and media outlets.
    “In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the State Department said in the announcement.
    The program, which the announcement said could help “many thousands” of Afghans, comes as fighting surges in Afghanistan ahead of the formal completion of the U.S. troop withdrawal at the end of this month, with the Taliban pushing to capture key provincial capitals.
    U.S. President Joe Biden has faced pressure from lawmakers and advocacy groups to help Afghans at risk of Taliban retaliation because of their association with the United States during the 20-year war.
    Those who worked as employees of contractors, locally employed staff and interpreters and translators for the U.S. government or armed forces are eligible for the program, as well as Afghans employed by a U.S.-based media organization or non-governmental organization (NGO), the State Department said.
    Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to deliver remarks on the program at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT), the department said.
    The new program for Afghans requires applicants to be referred by a U.S. agency or for the senior-most U.S. citizen employee of an NGO or media organization headquartered in the United States.
    That requirement differs from an existing refugee program for Iraqis, which allows Iraqis to apply directly but has been indefinitely suspended while U.S. officials pursue a sweeping fraud investigation.
POTENTIAL REFUGEE OUTFLOWS
    Once they have applied, Afghans will be contacted by email to let them know they are in a U.S. government system and will then have to make their own way out of Afghanistan to a third country, a senior State Department official said.
    The process from that point involves security screening and can take from 12 to 14 months, said the official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
    “We’ve already been in discussion with neighboring countries, as well as (the U.N. refugee agency), to be prepared for potential outflows,” said another official who briefed reporters, adding that it is important that Pakistan’s borders with Afghanistan remain open, while others might travel to Turkey via Iran.
    Iran and Pakistan have boosted security along their borders, making it more difficult for Afghans trying to take advantage of the program to cross, said Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s refugee and migrant rights division.
    While crossing the long and porous borders is not impossible, it carries risks, Frelick added.
    “If you are forcing people to cross irregularly through difficult terrain, forcing them to put themselves in hands of traffickers or smugglers, that ups the ante in terms of risk,” Frelick said.
    Adam Bates, policy counsel at the International Refugee Assistance Project that provides legal assistance to refugees, said observers will be watching closely how the program works in practice.
    “What we can’t have is a program that exists only on paper that doesn’t help anyone,” Bates said.
    The Priority Two program applies to Afghans who do not qualify for the Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program that covers interpreters and others who worked for the U.S. government, and their families.
    About 200 SIV applicants whose visas are in the final stages of processing and family members flew into the United States last week at the start of an evacuation effort dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge” that could include as many as 50,000 people or more.
    A second plane carrying several hundred more Afghan SIV applicants arrived overnight in the United States and they will join the first arrivals at Fort Lee, Virginia, a U.S. official said on Monday.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Ted Hesson, Jonathan Landay and Idrees Ali, Simon Lewis and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Will Dunham, Timothy Heritage, Giles Elgood and Jonathan Oatis)

8/2/2021 Myanmar Shadow Government Condemns Army Ruler For Taking PM Role
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) – Members of a shadow government set up by opponents of Myanmar’s coup condemned on Monday the country’s military ruler for taking on the role of prime minister in a caretaker government and said the move was designed to try to win legitimacy.
    Military ruler Min Aung Hlaing made the announcement in a speech on Sunday, six months after the army seized power by overthrowing an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
    The “Provisional Government” replaces the State Administration Council (SAC) chaired by Min Aung Hlaing that has run Myanmar since the coup.
    “The transition from a military council to a caretaker government is a reflection of the fact that they are preparing for an international diplomatic battle, trying to prove the fact that they are a government,” said Aung Myo Min, minister for human rights in the National Unity Government (NUG), which was formed in April by various groups including members of Suu Kyi’s party and pro-democracy activists.
    “However, there is no denying the fact that the military is not elected by the people,” Aung Myo Min said in a post on Facebook.
    The creation of the caretaker government was done “in order to perform the country’s duties fast, easily and effectively,” a news reader on state Myawaddy television said on Sunday.
    In his speech, Min Aung Hlaing repeated a pledge to hold elections by 2023 and said his administration was ready to work with a regional envoy on Myanmar.
    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been spearheading diplomatic efforts and ASEAN ministers met on Monday to try to appoint an envoy to help end violence and promote dialogue to end the crisis.
    The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group has accused security forces of killing at least 940 people in suppressing dissent since the coup.    The military has said the number of protesters killed is far lower and members of the armed forces have also died in violence, while calling the NUG a terrorist group.
    Lahpai Maw Htun Aung, the NUG’s deputy minister of electricity and energy, said in a social media post that after six months of violence the junta was trying to win international recognition and legitimacy.
    “Putting a sheep’s skin on a wolf doesn’t make the wolf less of a wolf,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/2/2021 Afghan Forces Battle Taliban For Control Of Southern City
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends Central-South Asia trade
Summit in Tashkent, Uzbekistan July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters pushed deeper into the southern Afghan provincial capital of Lashkargah on Monday and closed in on government buildings, a senior official said, as the insurgents pressed a rapid advance.
    Heavy fighting was raging close to the National Directorate of Security, the prison and the police headquarters in the main city in Helmand province, the government official said, asking not to be named.
    Taliban fighters have moved in on three provincial capitals in the last few days and seized territory nationwide since Washington said it planned a complete withdrawal of troops by September.
    Most of their advances have focused on rural areas and they have yet to take full control of a major city.
    An Afghan military commander said the government forces managed to beat back the Taliban later in the day.
    “In the afternoon the level of intensity of the fighting (in Lashkargah) decreased as the Taliban suffered heavy casualties following the air and ground operations,” Sayed Sami Sadat, the commander of the Maiwand army corps, told Reuters.
    President Ashraf Ghani on Monday blamed the country’s fast-deteriorating security situation on a “sudden” decision by the United States to withdraw its troops.
    “We have had an unexpected situation in the last three months,” he told the Afghan parliament.
    Ghani added that the Afghan government had a US-backed security plan to bring the situation under control within six months. He also accused the Taliban of keeping up its ties with terrorist groups and of stepping up attacks on women.
    The Taliban rejected Ghani’s accusations.
    “Declarations of war, accusations and lies cannot prolong Ghani’s government’s life; his time has run out, God willing,” the movement’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Twitter.
    Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress despite a few rounds.
    The two sides committed to speeding up the talks, at a meeting last month in Doha between a high-level Afghan political delegation and the Taliban.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Andrew Heavens)

8/2/2021 S.Korea Says No Decision On Joint U.S. Military Drills, But Exercises Should Not Create N.Korea Tension by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at Yongin, South Korea,
August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Monday no decision has been made on its joint military exercises with the United States but they should not create tension, after North Korea warned the South against holding the exercises amid signs of a thaw in relations.
    South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer, but North Korea has long responded with scathing criticism, calling them a rehearsal for war.
    Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, warned the South on Sunday that holding the drills would undercut efforts to rebuild relations.
    Her warning came days after the two Koreas restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago, as Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.
    Seoul’s defence ministry said on Monday that Seoul and Washington were in talks over the drills but no decision has been made.
    “We have nothing to comment on her statement, but regarding the exercises, the timing and method were not finalised,” ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
    The allies will decide after considering COVID-19, joint defence posture, planned transfer of wartime operational control, and the issue of “supporting diplomatic efforts for establishing lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” Boo added.
    Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman of the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the exercises should not be a “source of military tension in any case”, without elaborating.
    The exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks between North Korea and the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    But the negotiations stalled following a failed second summit in 2019 between Kim and Trump.
    The coronavirus pandemic also had an impact on the drills, with the allies focusing instead on computerised simulations and minimising live field training, without mobilising U.S.-based troops.
    A high-level Unification Ministry official said on Friday that the exercises should be postponed to help restart nuclear talks, but Lee declined to comment when asked if the ministry plans to make a formal recommendation.
    Lee said the South last week proposed setting up a video conference system to expedite inter-Korean dialogue and approved plans by two civilian relief groups to send humanitarian aid to the North.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

8/2/2021 Iran Warns Of Response If Security Threatened After Ship Attack - TV by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker managed by Israeli-owned
Zodiac Maritime that was attacked off Oman coast as seen in Cape Town, South Africa, December 31, 2015 in this
picture obtained from ship tracker website, MarineTraffic.com. Johan Victor/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran will respond promptly to any threat against its security, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after the United States, Israel and Britain blamed Tehran for an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman.
    Tehran has denied any involvement in the suspected drone attack on Thursday in which two crew members – a Briton and a Romanian – were killed.
    The United States and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to the attack on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the incident as “clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping.”
    “Iran should face up to the consequences of what they’ve done,” Johnson told reporters on Monday.
    Britain summoned the Iranian ambassador on Monday. Later, Iran summoned the British Charge d’Affaires and Romania’s top envoy in Tehran over their countries’ “accusations against the Islamic Republic,” Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported.
    “Iran has no hesitation in protecting its security and national interests and will respond promptly and strongly to any possible adventure,” Iranian state television quoted foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as saying.
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had accused Tehran of “trying to shirk responsibility” for the attack, and called its denial “cowardly.”    Israel’s foreign minister said on Sunday the incident deserved a harsh response.
ISRAEL WILL ‘SETTLE THE SCORE’
    Israel Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the attack was an intensification of what he called Iran’s escalation and accused Tehran of intending to hurt and kill civilians.
    “Israel has a variety of tools and options to defend its citizens, and we will settle the score with anyone who tries to harm us at the time and place and in the way that suits us and our security,” Gantz told the Israeli parliament.
    An unidentified Iranian official told Iran’s Nournews news agency earlier that Tehran considered “the threats of Western officials and the Zionist regime (Israel) to be more of a propaganda gesture.”
    “And Washington and London will be directly responsible for the consequences,” the official told Nournews, which is close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
    In Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken predicted a “collective response” and said he did not think the incident necessarily signaled anything about Iran’s incoming President Ebrahim Raisi, who takes office on Thursday.
    Iran and Israel have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.
    Tensions have increased between Iran and Israel since 2018, when then U.S. President Donald Trump ditched Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    Israel has voiced concerns about efforts by Iran and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to revive the nuclear pact, under which Iran curbed its sensitive nuclear work in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
    “In any agreement, should there be one, with Iran, it must also be based on the removal of its threat on the region,” said Gantz.
(Additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in London and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa HafeziEditing by Peter Graff, William Maclean and Sandra Maler)

8/2/2021 U.S. State Dept.: Taliban Shows Little Regard For Human Life by OAN Newsroom
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district
of Herat province, Afghanistan. (AP Photos/Allauddin Khan, File)
    The U.S. State Department has struggled to keep up with the crumbling situation in Afghanistan.    On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the growing atrocities committed by the Taliban have posed significant problems for diplomats and military personnel in the country.
    “I think it speaks to a larger issue, which is this: the Taliban has repeatedly said that they seek in the future a number of things,” he expressed.    “…None of those things are going to be possible if the Taliban seeks to take the country by force and commits the kind of atrocities that have been reported.”
    This came at the heels of a report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, which detailed the alleged human rights abuses conducted by Taliban militants.    The commission reported the terrorist group killed at least 40 civilians during their capture of the Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province last month.
    Researchers claimed the group targeted the civilians over suspected current and former ties to the Afghan government.    They added many killed reportedly cheered on Afghan forces who were trying to take back the district.
    In response to the report, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said the Taliban violated international humanitarian laws and the group’s leaders should be held accountable.
    “They show little regard for human life, for the rights of the Afghan people, including the basic right of the Afghan people to live in safety and security,” explained U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price.    “The targeted killings, the destruction of buildings and bridges…other violent acts against the people of Afghanistan, we recognize they are in stark contravention to statements from the Taliban leadership.”
    In addition, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani told members of the country’s parliament the situation in the country has worsened over the last three months.    He blamed Joe Biden’s “sudden withdrawal” from the country.
    However, Ghani claimed he would work with American forces to bring the violence under control over the next six months.
    “We are seeking to do all we can to support the arrival at an outcome that is just and then importantly is durable,” Price stated.    “To arrive at a solution and an outcome that is Afghan led, that is Afghan owned, and importantly, a solution that at least in our estimation, has to respect the basic and fundamental rights of the Afghan people.”
    Meanwhile, Secretary Blinken announced a refugee program to help Afghans who have aided the U.S. throughout the 20 year war.    The program has aimed to help the refugees, who have reportedly been under persecution by Taliban forces, resettle in the U.S. with their families.
    Military experts have urged the Biden administration to take significant steps to deter violence from the Taliban.    This includes providing extensive air support, surveillance and intelligence resources as well as not advocating for actions that look like concessions to the terrorist organization.

8/3/2021 N.Korea Wants Sanctions Eased To Restart Talks With U.S. – S.Korea Lawmakers by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the second plenary meeting of the 8th Central Committee
of the Workers' Party in this still image taken from a KRT footage on February 12, 2021. KRT TV via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea wants international sanctions banning its metal exports and imports of refined fuel and other necessities lifted in order to restart denuclearisation talks with the United States, South Korean lawmakers said on Tuesday.
    The North has also demanded the easing of sanctions on its imports of luxury goods to be able to bring in fine liquors and suits, the lawmakers said after being briefed by South Korea’s main intelligence agency.
    The briefing came a week after the two Koreas restored hotlines that North Korea suspended a year ago.
    North Korea’s state-run media made no mention on Tuesday of any new request for the lifting sanctions to restart talks.
    The South Korea legislators said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had both expressed a willingness to rebuild trust and improve ties since April, and Kim had asked to reconnect the hotlines.
    They also said North Korea was in need of some 1 million tons of rice, as its economy was battered by the coronavirus pandemic and bad weather last year.
    South Korea’s central bank said last week North Korea’s economy suffered its biggest contraction in 23 years in 2020 as it was battered by U.N. sanctions, COVID-19 lockdown measures and the weather.
    Moon has made improving diplomatic and economic relations with North Korea a top priority, while the United States has long insisted relations with North Korea can not improve until it gives up its nuclear and missile programmes.
    North Korea has conducted six nuclear tests since 2006 and test-fired missiles capable of hitting the United States.
    The U.N. Security Council has issued a wide range of sanctions against North Korea, including entities and individuals in the reclusive country, for pursuing its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
    The United States, Japan and South Korea have also issued sanctions on North Korea but they are not binding on other countries.
    A senior official in President Joe Biden’s administration told Reuters in March that North Korea had not responded to behind-the-scenes diplomatic outreach since mid-February.
    The Biden administration has been cautious in publicly describing its approach to North Korea, saying it was carrying out a comprehensive policy review following former President Donald Trump’s unprecedented engagement with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    North Korea has not tested a nuclear weapon or its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) since 2017, ahead of an historic meeting in Singapore between leader Kim Jong Un and Trump in 2018.
    That meeting and two subsequent ones failed to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons or its missile programme.
    Independent U.N. sanctions monitors found that North Korea maintained and developed its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes throughout 2020 in violation of sanctions, helping fund them with some $300 million stolen through cyber hacks.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Robert Birsel)

8/3/2021 Japan To Hospitalise Only Most Serious COVID-19 Cases In Surge by Linda Sieg and Akiko Okamoto
Commuters wearing face masks arrive at Shinagawa Station at the start of the working day amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, August 2, 2021.REUTERS/Kevin Coombs
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan will hospitalise only COVID-19 patients who are seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so while others isolate at home, officials said, as worries grew about a strained medical system amid a surge in Olympics host city Tokyo and elsewhere.
    The country has seen a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, and is recording more than 10,000 daily new infections nationwide. Tokyo had a record high of 4,058 on Saturday.
    Tokyo hospitals are already feeling the crunch, Hironori Sagara, director of Showa University Hospital, told Reuters.
    “There are those being rejected repeatedly for admission,” he said in an interview.    “In the midst of excitement over the Olympics, the situation for medical personnel is very severe.”
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters fewer elderly people, most of whom are already vaccinated, are getting infected.
    “On the other hand, infections of younger people are increasing and people in their 40s and 50s with severe symptoms are rising,” he said.    “With people also being admitted to hospital with heat stroke, some people are not able to immediately get admitted and are recovering at home.”
    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced the change on Monday, said the government would ensure people isolating at home can be hospitalised if necessary.    Previous policy had focused on hospitalising a broader category of patients.
    But some worry the shift could lead to more deaths.
    “They call it in-home treatment but it’s actually in-home abandonment,” opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano was quoted as saying by NHK public TV.
    Japan on Monday expanded its state of emergency to include three prefectures near Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka. An existing emergency in Tokyo – its fourth since the pandemic began – and Okinawa is now set to last through Aug. 31.
VACCINATIONS LAG, PUBLIC WEARY
    The country has avoided a devastating outbreak of the virus, with about 932,000 total cases and just over 15,000 deaths as of Sunday.
    But it is now struggling to contain the highly transmissible Delta variant even as the public grows weary of mostly voluntary limits on their activities and the vaccination rollout lags.
    Just under 30% of the population is fully vaccinated, including three-quarters of those 65 and over.
    Nearly 70% of hospital beds for seriously ill COVID-19 patients were filled as of Sunday, Tokyo data showed.
    Showa University Hospital’s Sagara said there was a difference between theoretically available beds and beds that could accept patients immediately.
    “I think the latter is close to zero,” he said, adding that if infections keep rising, hospitals will have to limit surgery and other non-COVID-19 treatments.
    “We must avoid a situation in which the Olympics was held but the medical system collapsed,” he said.    “i>At present, infections are spreading quite a lot and if they spike further, (the Olympics) will be considered a failure.”
    According to health ministry guidelines, seriously ill patients are defined as those admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) or needing artificial respirators.br>     The Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said 12,000 patients were isolating at home, a 12-fold increase in the past month.
    Suga and Olympics organisers say there is no link between the July 23-Aug. 8 Summer Games and the sharp increase in cases.
    Medical experts, however, have said holding the Olympics sent a confusing message about the need to stay home, contributing to the rise.
    Unlike the voluntary restrictions and low vaccination rates elsewhere in Japan, more than 80% of the people in the Olympic village in Tokyo for athletes and coaches are vaccinated, testing is compulsory and movement is curtailed. [L4N2P50YL]
    Organisers on Tuesday announced 18 new Games-related COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since July 1 to 294.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Akiko Okamoto; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando, Ami Miyazaki and Tim Kelly; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

8/3/2021 Malaysia’s Embattled PM Says Will Discuss Debate On Emergency Laws
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during opening remarks for virtual APEC
Economic Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Tuesday his cabinet would discuss holding a debate in parliament to repeal emergency virus laws, amid opposition calls to resign over allegations he disrespected the Southeast Asian country’s king.
    Muhyiddin has been under pressure from opposition parties to debate the move in parliament after his government initially revoked emergency laws, designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, without seeking prior consent from the palace.
    “This proposal will be discussed in the cabinet meeting tomorrow, with the hope of resolving the polemics related to the repeal of the emergency ordinances in a harmonious and constitutional manner,” Muhyiddin said in a statement.
    The debate could be held during a scheduled parliamentary session in September, he added.
    A debate in parliament on revoking the measures, which the government had previously said would not be necessary, could ease some of the pressure on Muhyiddin, who has governed with a razor-thin majority and led an unstable ruling coalition since coming to power in March 2020.
    King Al-Sultan Abdullah, who imposed the emergency ordinances on the advice of Muhyiddin, issued a rare rebuke of the move, which he said ran counter to Malaysia’s constitution, last Thursday.
    Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim filed a no-confidence motion against Muhyiddin following the King’s comments and on Monday, opposition lawmakers attempted to march on Malaysia’s parliament building to demand Muhyiddin’s resignation after he deferred a parliamentary sitting over COVID-19 concerns.
    Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy in which the much-revered king has a largely ceremonial role, carrying out his duties on advice from the prime minister and cabinet.
    Some analysts say the monarch has discretion over whether an emergency should be declared, however. Consent from the king is also needed to name a prime minister.
(Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by James Pearson)

8/3/2021 Japanese PM Flags Growing COVID-19 Infections Among Young People
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, at his official residence during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Coronavirus infections are surging among Japanese in their 20s and 30s while more of those in their 40s and 50s are getting seriously ill, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday.
    The prime minister added that he was determined to protect people’s lives.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

8/3/2021 Incoming Iran President Says He Will Take Steps To Lift ‘Tyrannical’ U.S. Sanctions
Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA
(West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran will take steps to lift “tyrannical” sanctions imposed by the United States, hardline Shi’ite cleric Ebrahim Raisi said on Tuesday after winning the endorsement of the country’s supreme leader to become president.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump ditched Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers three years ago and reimposed sanctions that have devastated Iran’s economy.
    “We will seek to lift the tyrannical sanctions imposed by America,” Raisi, who takes office on Thursday, said in a televised speech, adding that his government would try to improve living conditions which have suffered under the sanctions.
    Iran and six powers have been in talks since April to revive the nuclear pact.    But Iranian and Western officials have said that significant gaps remain.
    The sixth round of indirect talks between Tehran and Washington adjourned on June 20, two days after Raisi was elected president.    Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to announce when the next round of talks in Vienna will resume.
    The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all matters of state, but the change of president will remove the moderating influence on policy-making exercised by Raisi’s pragmatist predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, since 2013.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

8/3/2021 Japan Government Starts To “Name And Shame” Quarantine Rule-Breaker
Commuters wearing face masks arrive at Shinagawa Station at the start of the working day amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, August 2, 2021 .REUTERS/Kevin Coombs TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan has carried out a threat to publicly shame people not complying with coronavirus border control measures, releasing the names of three people who broke quarantine rules after returning from overseas.
    The health ministry said late on Monday the three Japanese nationals named had clearly acted to avoid contact with authorities after recently returning from abroad.
    The announcement, the first of its kind, sparked a flurry of speculation among Twitter users about the details of those identified, such as their jobs and locations.
    Japan is asking all travellers from overseas, including its own citizens, to self-quarantine for two weeks, during which they are asked to use a location-tracking smartphone app and report on their health condition.
(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; editing by Richard Pullin)

8/3/2021 Seoul Says No Decision On U.S. Drills, But Exercises Should Not Create North Korea Tension by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at
Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Monday no decision has yet been made on its joint military exercises with the United States but they should not create tension, after North Korea warned the South against holding the exercises amid signs of a thaw in relations.
    South Korea and the United States regularly stage military exercises, mainly in the spring and summer, which North Korea routinely denounces as rehearsals for war.
    Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a senior official of the ruling Workers’ Party, warned Seoul on Sunday that holding the drills would undercut efforts to rebuild relations.
    Her warning came days after the two Koreas restored hotlines Pyongyang severed a year ago and South Korean officials said Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in were seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.
    South Korea’s defence ministry said Seoul and Washington were in talks over the drills but no decision had yet been made.
    “We have nothing to comment on her statement, but regarding the exercises, the timing and method have not been finalised,” ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
    He said the allies would make a decision after considering COVID-19, joint defence posture, planned transfer of wartime operational control, and the issue of “supporting diplomatic efforts for establishing lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.”
    Lee Jong-joo, spokeswoman of Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the exercises should not be a “source of military tension in any case,” without elaborating.
    The Pentagon also declined to comment on Kim Yo Jong’s statement.    It said it did not comment on “planned or conducted training readiness” but “combined training events” were a bilateral decision “and any decisions will be a mutual agreement.”
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson reiterated that Washington “supports inter-Korean dialogue and engagement, and welcomes the recent developments related to inter-Korean communication,” adding that “diplomacy and dialogue are essential to achieving the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”
    At the same time, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told a news briefing Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to call on Southeast Asian counterparts in a meeting this week to fully implement sanctions on North Korea.
    A U.S. official briefing reporters ahead of a series of virtual regional meetings this week, said North Korea’s foreign minister was expected to attend one, the ASEAN Regional Forum, but Blinken, who would also take part, had no plan to engage with him on any particular issue.
    U.S.-South Korea exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks between North Korea and the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    But the negotiations stalled following a failed second Trump-Kim summit in 2019.
    The pandemic has affected the drills, with the allies focusing on computerised simulations and minimising live field training without mobilising U.S.-based troops.
    A high-level Unification Ministry official said on Friday the exercises should be postponed to help restart talks, but Lee declined to comment when asked if the ministry plans to make a formal recommendation.
    Lee said Seoul last week proposed setting up a video conference system to expedite inter-Korean dialogue and approved plans by two civilian relief groups to send humanitarian aid to North Korea.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry and Sandra Maler)

8/3/2021 Iran’s New President Takes Office, Promises To End U.S. Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, gives his official seal of approval to newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi in an
endorsement ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Iran’s newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi vowed to take steps to lift U.S. sanctions on the regime.    Assuming the presidency on Tuesday, ultra-conservative Raisi promised to enact what he said was the will of the Iranian people.
    Raisi said he believed the people wanted sanctions lifted.
    “We will definitely pursue the lifting of tyrannical sanctions, but we will definitely not allow people’s financial ability and the economy to be impacted by it. We will not link them to outsiders’ wishes,” he asserted.    “…The message on election day was a message of urgency to relieve economic, social and cultural problems of our society.”
In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, newly elected
President Ebrahim Raisi, right, speaks after receiving official seal of approval of Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, in an endorsement ceremony in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)
    Raisi has been personally under sanction by the U.S. for human rights abuses from when he was an Iranian Supreme Court judge.    Sanctions were lifted in 2015, but reimplemented by President Trump in 2018 after the U.S. pulled out from the Iran Nuclear Deal.

8/3/2021 Afghan President Blames Biden For Recent Terror Attacks From The Taliban by OAN Newsroom
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks at an extraordinary meeting of the Parliament
in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is condemning the Biden administration for the lack of peace in the Middle East.    While addressing lawmakers inside the Parliament of Afghanistan on Monday, the Afghan president blamed Joe Biden for pulling out American troops too quickly.
    Over the last three months, Taliban fighters have been advancing throughout the country while threatening key cities and placing pressure on Afghan forces.    Ghani said the speedy pullout has intensified violence throughout the country due to growing terrorist attacks.
    “The situation which we are facing is due to the sudden withdrawal decision,” he stated.    “I told the American president that I respect your decision because it was his decision, but I knew that this decision will have some consequences and the crisis management will be put on Afghans.”
    Ghani then shed a cast of doubt on peace talks with the terrorist organization.    He warned if the Taliban isn’t willing to negotiate, their fighters will be met with violent force.
    “This peace process created doubt and ambiguity, and its result is the situation which we and you see,” stated the Afghan president.    “I want to repeat here that our priority in republic lines is a lasting or just peace, but unfortunately I see the Taliban and their supporters intend sedition.”
    In an effort to counter the terrorist attacks, Ghani announced a plan in hopes of “achieving stability” throughout the country within next six months.    Despite the growing threat of terror, the Biden administration is still committed to completely withdrawing U.S. forces by September.

8/3/2021 Car Bomb Hits Near Kabul ‘Green Zone’; Six Dead Including Attackers
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) -A car bomb blast followed by sporadic gunfire hit Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Tuesday near the heavily fortified “Green Zone,” leaving three civilians and three attackers dead, security officials said amid an upturn in violence by Taliban militants.
    At least seven other people were wounded, said health ministry spokesperson Ghulam Dastagir Nazari. An interior ministry spokesperson said security forces’ operations ended with the death of all attackers.     A senior security official said the blast appeared to have been caused by a car bomb and the target was the acting defence minister’s home and the adjoining residence of a member of parliament.
    The attack – in the heart of one of Kabul’s most secure areas – came during an escalation in violence by the Taliban.
    Attacks have risen sharply since President Joe Biden announced U.S. troops would leave by September even as the Taliban intensified its attacks on major cities.
    Three unidentified gunmen were killed at Tuesday’s attack site which is home to Afghan officials, lawmakers and prominent residents.
    No group immediately claimed responsibility.
    Minutes after the blast, hundreds of civilians in Kabul came out on to the streets and chanted Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest) to express their support for Afghan government forces and opposition to the Taliban.
    The night-time march spilled across the city with mostly men and some women joining in the demonstrations, carrying candles and Afghan flags to signal united opposition to the hardline Islamist group.
    “The whole world can choose to be silent about what is going on in Afghanistan but we can’t and won’t stay quiet anymore…we will stand side by side with our security forces until our last breath,” said a demonstrator in Kabul on condition of anonymity.
    The country’s first Vice President Amrullah Saleh said the demonstrations were “historic moments” of “emotions and patriotism.”
    “Allah o Akbar, death to Talib terrorists & their backer,” he said in a tweet at a time when Afghan forces flushed out militants in the overnight operations.
    Last week, residents in the western province of Herat braved the streets despite nearby fighting to protest against the Taliban.    Other cities quickly organised to join from their homes in the evenings, as a message of support for embattled security forces.
    After Tuesday’s bomb attack, acting Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi said no harm was caused to him and his family members but some of his security guards were injured.
    A Kabul police spokesperson said at least 30 civilians had been rescued from the blast site.    The city’s Emergency Hospital said in a tweet it had so far received 11 people wounded in the attack.
    Afghan forces appealed to residents of the southern city of Lashkar Gah to leave their homes and stay away from areas where the Taliban were taking control, as they intend to launch operations against the group where its fighters were travelling freely.
    The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a huge strategic defeat for the government, which has pledged to defend strategic centres after losing much of the rural parts to the Taliban in recent months.
    The Taliban said their fighters killed a district governor of central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, the latest in a series of killings by the insurgent group aimed at eliminating senior government officials and social activists.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau, Editing by Nick Tattersall, William Maclean and Alistair Bell)

8/3/2021 U.S. Says Afghanistan Civil War One Of Many Concerns
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan security forces member keeps watch as he sits in an army vehicle in Bagram U.S. air base,
after American troops vacated it, in Parwan province, Afghanistan July 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday that one of many concerns about Afghanistan is that it could spiral into civil war.
    Since the United States announced plans in April to withdraw its troops with no conditions by Sept. 11 after nearly 20 years of conflict, violence has escalated throughout the country as the Taliban seeks more territory.
    Peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban negotiators started last year in the Qatari capital of Doha, but have not made any substantive progress.    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Taliban saw “the utility of a negotiated solution, they are engaged in Doha.”
    “If they seek to contravene what they have said, then they will be an international pariah … and the concern on the part of all of us, one of the many concerns is that the result will be civil war,” Price told reporters.
    The Taliban and Afghan government are far apart in the Doha talks, with the insurgents demanding “the lion’s share of power” in any new government, U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier on Tuesday.
    A car bomb blast followed by sporadic gunfire hit Afghanistan’s capital Kabul on Tuesday near the heavily fortified “Green Zone,” leaving three civilians and three attackers dead, security officials said.
    “It does bear all the hallmarks of the spate of Taliban attacks that we have seen in recent weeks,” Price said.    “We unequivocally condemn the bombing.”
    In a statement on Tuesday condemning an attack on the United Nations in Afghanistan last week, the U.N. Security Council also “expressed their deep concern about the high levels of violence in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s military offensive, and called for an immediate reduction of violence.”
    The council called on the Taliban and the Afghan government to “engage meaningfully in an inclusive, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.”
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Doyinsola Oladipo, Simon Lewis and Michelle Nichols; editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

8/3/2021 U.S., Indonesia Commit To South China Sea Defense In ‘Strategic Dialogue’ by Doyinsola Oladipo and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the National Security Commission on Artificial
Intelligence (NSCAI) Global Emerging Technology Summit in Washington, DC, U.S. July 13, 2021. Jim Watson/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Tuesday the launch of a “strategic dialogue” with Indonesia, and Washington said the two countries committed to working together on issues that include defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
    Meeting in Washington, Blinken and Indonesian Foreign Minster Retno Marsudi also committed to work together against COVID-19 and the climate crisis and to boost bilateral trade and economic ties, the State Department said.
    Indonesia is the largest country and economy in the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc Washington sees as key to its efforts to stand up to China’s growing influence in Asia.
    The two sides agreed to establish a “strategic partnership” in 2015, but Blinken told reporters while standing alongside Marsudi that the dialogue was only now actually being initiated.
    “Indonesia is a strong democratic partner to the United States; we are working together on so many different fronts,” he said, adding that Washington appreciated Jakarta’s strong voice within ASEAN.
    Marsudi told Blinken a strong partnership with Indonesia would be “a key asset for your increasing engagement in the region.”
    She said the United States was one of the important partners for ASEAN in implementing its Indo-Pacific outlook.
    “It is my hope, and the Indonesian government’s, to advance the bilateral relationship with the U.S., from health to SDGs, from education, to economy, and beyond,” she said, using the acronym for sustainable development goals.
    A State Department statement on the meeting said the two discussed steps for pandemic recovery.    Blinken noted Washington had donated 8 million vaccine doses to Indonesia, and the countries were also working together on oxygen and therapeutics.
    Marsudi and Blinken also “expressed shared views on maritime security” and committed to “defending freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, and continuing collaboration in cybersecurity and preventing cybercrime,” the statement said.
    It said Blinken commended Indonesia’s efforts to support Afghanistan’s peace negotiations and stressed the importance of restoring ASEAN member Myanmar to the path to democracy.
    On climate, the two sides “discussed opportunities for Indonesia to raise its climate ambition,” it said, without elaborating.
    The talks came before Blinken was to participate in a virtual meeting with ASEAN, several members of which have competing claims in the South China Sea to those of China.    Beijing sees nearly all the strategic waterway as its own and has built up its forces there.
    Blinken is joining a week of meetings with regional counterparts, part of a U.S. effort to show it is serious about engaging with Southeast Asia to push back against China.
    Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there had been little time to develop the strategic partnership agreement reached under the Obama administration before former President Donald Trump took office.
    “Agreements like this weren’t a priority for his administration,” he said of a deal stretching into multiple domains, including defense, energy and broader economic ties.
    “Hammering out details in all these areas will take some time and require considerable focus by senior foreign policy, defense and economic officials.”
(Reporting by Doyinsola Oladipo, Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Chris Reese, Sandra Maler and Dan Grebler)

8/4/2021 Malaysia PM Defies Calls To Quit, Wants Confidence Vote Next Month by Liz Lee and Mei Mei Chu
Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during his cabinet announcement
in Putrajaya, Malaysia March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin defied mounting pressure to quit on Wednesday, saying he retained majority support among lawmakers and that he will prove it when the Southeast Asian nation’s parliament reconvenes next month.
    Speaking in a televised address, Muhyiddin said King Al-Sultan Abdullah agreed that he should remain in power pending the confidence vote, even though some members of his coalition have withdrawn support.
    Muhyiddin’s hold on power has been precarious ever since he emerged as prime minister in March last year, but the influential monarch had hitherto helped him survive in order to avoid political chaos as Malaysia battled surging COVID-19 infections and an economic downturn from multiple lockdowns.
    Pressure on him quit erupted again last week, however, after the king issued a rare rebuke of a government move to revoke emergency laws without his approval, an act the palace said ran counter to the constitution.
    The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) party, the biggest bloc in Muhyiddin’s ruling alliance, said Muhyiddin had lost legitimacy after the rebuke and that some of its lawmakers had written to the king withdrawing their support.
    In a defiant address on national television, Muhyiddin – flanked by nine lawmakers, including the deputy prime minister and UMNO politician Ismail Sabri Yaakob – said there was no question of him resigning.
    “I have informed the king that I have received a number of declarations from lawmakers that convinced me that I still have the confidence of the majority of lawmakers at this time,” Muhyiddin said.
    “However, I am aware that my position as Prime Minister continues to be questioned.    Hence, I have informed the King that I will determine my legitimacy as Prime Minister in Parliament,” he said.
    The UMNO party is split on its support for Muhyiddin, who has governed with a razor-thin majority and led an unstable ruling coalition since coming to power in March 2020.
    The Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, which had fallen earlier due to the political uncertainty, recouped some losses after Muhyiddin’s address.
CORRUPTION CHARGES
    Muhyiddin said the political turmoil was triggered by “certain parties” whose demands he had refused to meet, including freeing individuals facing corruption charges.
    “This includes the push for me to interfere with court matters to free a few individuals who are being prosecuted for criminal offences,” Muhyiddin said, though he did not name them.
    UMNO did not have an immediate comment.
    Several UMNO politicians are facing corruption charges, including former premier Najib Razak and party president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
    Najib was convicted last year and sentenced to 12 years in jail in a case linked to the multi-billion-dollar 1MDB scandal. He has denied wrongdoing and has appealed the ruling.
    Ahmad Zahid is also in the middle of a graft trial.
    The two were among those who withdrew support for Muhyiddin this week.
    Last year, Muhyiddin was picked by the king to form a government along with UMNO and other parties that had been defeated in a 2018 election. But he has constantly been challenged by some UMNO lawmakers.
    Multi-ethnic Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king’s role is rotated among the nine sultans – the traditional Malay rulers.
(Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Ed Davies and Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/4/2021 Blast In Afghan Capital As Taliban Claim Attack On Minister’s Compound
A member of Afghan security forces looks at a damaged car at the site of yesterday's
night-time car bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan August 4, 2021.REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -A blast near the office of Afghanistan’s main security agency wounded three people on Wednesday hours after a bomb and gun attack on a minister’s compound brought surging Taliban violence to the capital.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for the late Tuesday car bomb and gun attack on the home of acting Defence Minister Bismillah Mohammadi. The was no immediate claim for the Wednesday blast.
    Mohammadi survived the attack on his compound in a heavily fortified part of Kabul but the violence was a stark illustration of the deterioration in security as U.S.-led foreign forces complete their withdrawal and the insurgents seize swathes of territory.
    Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said his group targeted the minister’s residence as an important meeting was underway there.
    Government forces battled the attackers for more than four hours and Ministry of Interior said at least eight civilians were killed and 20 wounded.
    The explosion on Wednesday near a facility of the National Directorate of Security wounded two civilians and a security official, police said.
    The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government since April as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war.
    Fighting has been particularly heavy around the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, and Lashkar Gah and Kandahar in the south.
    An Afghan military spokesman said an emergency had been declared in Lashkar Gah and government forces were getting reinforcements and U.S. air support.
    “Special forces have been sent to the area.    They are in good morale,” armed forces spokesman General Ajmal Omar Shinwari told Reuters.
    The loss of Lashkar Gah would be a huge blow for the government, which has pledged to defend strategic centres after losing many rural districts to the Taliban in recent months.
    Scores of families have fled from their homes in the small city, capital of Helmand province, as government forces launched a counterattack against the Taliban.
    The United Nations reported on Tuesday that at least 40 civilians had been killed in Lashkar Gah in the previous 24 hours.
    Taliban fighters had taken control of some radio and TV stations in the city and were moving into homes to stop people from helping government forces, residents said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)

8/4/2021 ASEAN Appoints Brunei Diplomat As Envoy To Myanmar by Tom Allard
Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Erywan Pehin Yusof addresses the 74th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    JAKARTA (Reuters) -Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have appointed Brunei’s second minister for foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, as special envoy to Myanmar,the group said on Wednesday.
    Erywan has been tasked with ending violence in Myanmar, opening dialogue between the military rulers and their opponents in the crisis-torn country, according to a communique released after meetings on Monday and Wednesday by the bloc’s foreign ministers.
    The diplomat will also oversee a humanitarian aid package, although no details of the assistance were announced.    Instead, the communique called for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance to start work on “policy guidance.”
    Myanmar’s military toppled a democratically elected government six months ago, plunging the country into turmoil as security forces suppressed protests and its economy collapsed. The humanitarian crisis worsened in the past month as coronavirus infections surged, overwhelming the health system.
    The United Nations and many countries, including the United States and China, have urged ASEAN, whose 10 members include Myanmar, to spearhead diplomatic efforts to restore stability in Myanmar.
    The appointment of an envoy was central to those efforts but was delayed for months amid deep divisions within the Southeast Asian bloc.
    During a sometimes fractious foreign ministers meeting on Monday, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi questioned the military regime’s status in ASEAN as it baulked at Erywan’s nomination, diplomats said.
    Following further negotiations and Wednesday’s unscheduled meeting, the special envoy was confirmed.
    The military regime’s representative at the meeting also resisted requests from ASEAN members to grant humanitarian workers freedom to deliver aid to areas they believed needed it most, said two sources familiar with the talks.
    Myanmar’s military government could not be immediately reached for comment.
    On Sunday, the head of the junta, Min Aung Hlaing, announced he had been appointed prime minister and repeated a pledge to hold elections by 2023.
(Reporting by Tom AllardEditing by Ed Davies & Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/4/2021 India Deploys Warships In South China Sea As Part Of ‘Act East’ Policy by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: Chinese navy personnel moor the Indian Navy warship INS Kolkata at Qingdao Port for the 70th anniversary celebrations
of the founding of the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), in Qingdao, China, April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India is sending a naval task force to the South China Sea this month to expand security ties with friendly countries, officials said on Wednesday, signalling its intent to play a bigger role in regional efforts to counter China.
    The Indian military has been traditionally wary of antagonising China but the mood has hardened following clashes between troops on the disputed land border last year.    The government has since drawn closer to the United States in efforts to push back against China.
    Four ships including a guided missile destroyer and a missile frigate will be deployed for a two-month period to southeast Asia, the South China Sea and the western Pacific, the navy said in a statement.
    “The deployment of the Indian Navy ships seeks to underscore the operational reach, peaceful presence and solidarity with friendly countries towards ensuring good order in the maritime domain…” the navy said.
    The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the United States, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters.
    In June, a U.S. aircraft carrier group led by the USS Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea as part of a routine mission and a British carrier group is due to undertake exercises in the Philippine Sea this month.
    As part of their deployment, the Indian ships will take part in annual joint war drills involving the United States, Japan and Australia off the coast of Guam, the navy said.
    The four countries make up the Quad, an informal group, that U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is promoting as a way to counter an assertive China.
    “These maritime initiatives enhance synergy and coordination between the Indian Navy and friendly countries, based on common maritime interests and commitment towards Freedom of Navigation at sea,” the Indian navy said in its statement.
    China has in the past criticised multilateral military manoeuvres as destabilising to the region.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Kim Coghill)

8/4/2021 Singapore To Double Police Cameras To More Than 200,000 Over Next Decade
FILE PHOTO: A police surveillance camera is seen in Singapore November 16, 2018. Singapore aims to have more than 200,000 police
cameras by at least 2030, over double the current number of cameras deployed across the island state. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore aims to have more than 200,000 police cameras by at least 2030, Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam said on Tuesday, over double the current number of cameras deployed across the island state.
    With a land area of little over 700 square kilometres (270 square miles), Singapore has strict laws and its surveillance tools include more than 90,000 police cameras already installed across the city.
    “Surveillance cameras deployed by governments whether in Singapore or other countries, are sometimes criticised as being an invasion of privacy,” Shanmugam, who is also the law minister, told parliament.
    “These claims overlook a couple of basic points that most people want to live in an environment which is safe and secure,” he said.
    Singapore, a city-state of about 5.7 million people, is one of the safest countries in the world, according to a 2019 Gallup poll.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by James Pearson)

8/4/2021 India’s Gender Inequity In Vaccinations Narrows
A woman receives a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute
of India, at a drive-in vaccination kiosk in Ahmedabad, India, May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The gender disparity in India’s COVID-19 immunisation drive has narrowed, government data showed on Wednesday, as pregnant women are now allowed to get their shots and authorities try to dispel rumours about fertility.
    Women have received about 47% of the 481 million vaccine doses administered in India, nearly in line https://pqars.nic.in/annex/254/AU1705.pdf with the gender ratio in the country, the data showed. Men have now received 13% more doses than women, compared with about 17% in early June.
    India officially started vaccinating pregnant women only in July and has been running ground-level campaigns to encourage them to get their shots, according to the government https://pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1740788.    It has also sent teams of grassroots health workers to towns and villages to dispel fears that vaccines affect fertility.
    A communication strategy is in place which is being implemented across “sustain vaccine confidence,” the health ministry told parliament on Tuesday, highlighting the efforts to reach out to more women.
    India has administered the most number of coronavirus vaccine doses in the world after China, according to the government’s Co-Win website https://dashboard.cowin.gov.in, but lags many countries in terms of per capita inoculations.    The country wants to immunize all its adult population of 944 million by December and has given at least one dose to nearly 40% of them.
    It has reported about 31.8 million coronavirus infections, the most of any country except the United States, with more than 425,000 deaths.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das)

8/4/2021 U.S. Approves Potential Sales Of Howitzers To Taiwan – Pentagon
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of 40 155mm M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems to Taiwan in a deal valued at up to $750 million, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
    This comes after a series of arms sales last year that included drones and coastal missile defenses meant to upgrade the island’s capabilities and discourage a Chinese invasion.    The Biden administration has approved other direct commercial sales of arms to Taiwan since taking office.
    The package would include the howitzers, 1,698 precision guidance kits for munitions, spares, training, ground stations and upgrades for Taiwan’s previous generation of howitzers, the Pentagon said.
    The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Wednesday.
    Despite approval by the State Department, the notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.
    The Pentagon said BAE Systems PLC was the prime contractor for the weapons.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Dan Grebler)

8/5/2021 Some Japan Advisers Urge National COVID-19 Emergency As Cases Surge - Minister
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Minister in charge of economic revitalisation and measures for the novel coronavirus pandemic
Yasutoshi Nishimura attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Some members of a government expert panel warned that a recent surge in COVID-19 cases was severe enough to impose a nationwide state of emergency, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the pandemic response, said on Thursday.
    Nishimura, at a news conference, said the panel ultimately agreed to a government proposal to expand emergency restrictions to eight more prefectures.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

8/5/2021 Australia To Offer Redress Payments To Some Of Its ‘Stolen Generation’ by Colin Packham and Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Australian Aboriginal community of Ramingining can be seen near their homes in East
Arnhem Land, located east of the Northern Territory city of Darwin, Australia November 24, 2014. REUTERS/David Gray
    CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia said on Thursday it will offer redress payments of A$75,000 ($55,000) to some members of its Indigenous population who were forcibly removed from their families as children.
    More than 100,000 Indigenous children were taken from their families and communities between the early 1900s and about 1970, described by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a “great stain on our nation’s soul” during a formal apology to the so-called ‘Stolen Generation’ in 2008.
    Amid mounting criticism and moves to seek compensation through the courts, Australia said eligible survivors would be entitled to a one-off A$75,000 payment for the harm caused by their forced removal, and a further A$7,000 to support their healing.
    “This is a long called-for step, recognising the bond between healing, dignity and the health and well-being of members of the Stolen Generations, their families and their communities,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison in parliament on Thursday.
    “To say formally, not just that we’re deeply sorry for what happened, but that we will take responsibility for it.”
    The reparations will cover people who are still alive and were under 18 and removed from their families while living in the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. Most Australian states have their own compensation schemes.
    Indigenous groups welcomed the payments, but cautioned more work needs to be done.
    “It’s something, but it’s not everything.    It won’t provide that end state of a healed nation, but there is hope,” said Fiona Cornfort, CEO of the Healing Foundation, a representative group for some members of the Stolen Generation.
    The redress payments came as part of Australia’s pledge to spend an additional A$1 billion to improve the lives of its Indigenous population.
    Australia last year said it would reset its policies towards Indigenous Australians after acknowledging a decade of efforts to improve metrics such as life expectancy and education had failed.
    Australia’s 700,000 Indigenous people track near the bottom of its near 26 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.
    The life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is eight years shorter than for non-Indigenous people and they are over-represented in prison, government statistics show.
($1 = 1.3554 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Karishma Singh)

8/5/2021 Indian Govt Tells States To Impose Local Curbs Ahead Of Festivals by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Neha Arora
FILE PHOTO: Health workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) as they prepare to carry the
body of a person, who died from complications related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), for cremation
at a crematorium in New Delhi, India, June 10, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    MUMBAI (Reuters) -The Indian government has asked state authorities to impose restrictions ahead of festivals across the country, warning that overcrowding could lead to “super spreader” events and a new surge in infections.
    India has reported an average of 30,000 to 40,000 new coronavirus cases every day since July, and the federal government has warned that although cases have dipped from a high of 400,000 daily at the peak of the deadly second wave, the danger has not abated yet.
    “The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR)… have expressed concern regarding the potential of mass gathering events during festivals turning into super-spreader events, thereby leading to a spike in COVID cases,” federal health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to state governments released late on Wednesday.
    India’s busy festival season begins this month, with several celebrations dotting the calendar until November, when the Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, celebrated by millions, takes place.
    Jolted by the devastating second wave that killed thousands in April and May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has asked states to be cautious while opening up their stringent lockdowns this time around, saying the second wave was not yet over.
    The western state of Maharashtra, which was the worst-affected in the second-wave, has significantly eased restrictions in the last month. The state is still reporting the second-highest caseload in the country, behind Kerala.
    “Wherever there are clusters, there should be containment zones,” Vinod Kumar Paul, a top government adviser, said at news conference this week.
    About 129 million people were inoculated in July, but the pace will have to pick up if the government is to meet its stated aim of vaccinating 950 million Indian adults by the end of the year.
    On Thursday, India reported 42,982 new cases of COVID-19 and 533 deaths in the last 24 hours, the federal government said, taking its total caseload to 31.8 million.
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Neha Arora; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Gerry Doyle)

8/5/2021 S. Korea’s Moon Vows To Invest $1.92 Billion By 2025 To Boost Vaccine Capacity - Blue House
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Washington, U.S., May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday he plans to invest 2.2 trillion won ($1.92 billion) to turn the country into one of the world’s five largest vaccine manufacturing bases by 2025, his office said.
($1 = 1,144.4200 won)
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

8/5/2021 U.S. Approves Potential Sales Of Howitzers To Taiwan - Pentagon
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department approved the potential sale of 40 155mm M109A6 Medium Self-Propelled Howitzer artillery systems to Taiwan in a deal valued at up to $750 million, the Pentagon said on Wednesday.
    This comes after a series of arms sales last year that included drones and coastal missile defenses meant to upgrade the island’s capabilities and discourage a Chinese invasion.    The Biden administration has approved other direct commercial sales of arms to Taiwan since taking office.
    The package would include the howitzers, 1,698 precision guidance kits for munitions, spares, training, ground stations and upgrades for Taiwan’s previous generation of howitzers, the Pentagon said.
    The Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Wednesday.
    Taiwan’s defense ministry expressed “sincere gratitude” to the U.S. government in a statement on Thursday, saying the sales would help its ground forces increase their “capacity for speedy reaction and fire support.”
    The ministry called the continuous U.S. arms support a “basis for maintaining regional stability.”
    Like most nations, the United States has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is required by law to provide the Chinese-claimed island with the means to defend itself and is its most important international backer, to Beijing’s anger.
    Despite approval by the State Department, the notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.
    The Pentagon said BAE Systems Plc was the prime contractor for the weapons.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Editing by Dan Grebler and Matthew Lewis)

8/5/2021 Japan To Expand COVID-19 Curbs As Surges Strain Hospitals by Ami Miyazaki and Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing protective face masks make their way at a shopping district on the first day of the country's third
state of emergency, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, April 25, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan was set on Thursday to expand emergency restrictions to eight more prefectures to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases, as worries deepen about strains on the nation’s medical system in Olympics host Tokyo and around the country.
    Coronavirus infections are surging faster than ever before as new cases hit record highs in Tokyo, overshadowing the July 23-Aug. 8 Olympics and fuelling doubts over Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic.
    Tokyo reported a record 4,166 new cases on Wednesday, while the total number of nationwide infections was nearing 1 million, at 966,907.
    “New infections are rising at an unprecedentedly fast pace,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a panel of experts at which he made the new proposal.
    “The situation on the ground (at hospitals) is extremely severe,” Nishimura added, noting that serious cases had doubled in the past two weeks.
    The panel signed off on the proposal, but Nishimura told a news conference some members had warned the situation was severe enough to require a nationwide state of emergency – a stance shared by the head of the Japan Medical Association.
    Six prefectures including Olympic host city Tokyo are already under full states of emergency to last through Aug. 31 while another five are under less strict “quasi-emergency” directives.
    The latest steps, to take effect from Sunday, mean that more than 70% of the population will be under some restrictions.
    The government says the Olympics has not caused the latest surge but experts say holding the Games now has sent a mixed message to an already weary public about the need to stay home.
    Games organisers on Thursday reported 31 new Games-related COVID-19 cases, bringing the total since July 1 to 353.
    It remains to be seen whether the latest COVID-19 restrictions, which are mostly voluntary, will have much impact as the highly transmissible Delta variant spreads and people grow weary of staying home.
    “I do not think that more (quasi-emergency steps) will make much difference – (it’s) simply a political statement,” said Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London.
    The latest expansion follows a sharp backlash against Suga’s plan to limit hospitalisation of COVID-19 patients to those who are seriously ill and those at risk of becoming so, while others are told to isolate at home.
    “The medical system situation is severe and an emergency framework is needed,” Masataka Inoguchi, deputy chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, told a panel of Tokyo advisers.
    The shift in policy is intended to address a hospital bed crunch, but critics say it will lead to an increase in deaths since the condition of patients can worsen rapidly.
    In response to calls from within and outside his ruling coalition to reverse the policy, Suga told reporters on Wednesday that the change was aimed at regions with a surge in COVID-19 cases, such as Tokyo, and was not nationally uniform.
    Suga promised to explain the shift and seek public understanding.    But the backlash is a blow to the premier, whose support rates have already slid to record lows ahead of a ruling party leadership race and general election later this year.
    Just under 31% of residents are fully vaccinated. With 15,221 deaths recorded as of Wednesday, Japan’s COVID-19 mortality rate was about 1.6%, in line with the United States. (This story refiles to fix spelling of prime minister’s name to Yoshihide from Yasuhide in paragraph 2)
(Reporting by Linda Sieg, Ami Miyazaki, Tim Kelly and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Stephen Coates and Gerry Doyle)

8/5/2021 Malaysian PM Does Not Have Majority Support, Say Opposition And Ally
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin speaks during opening remarks for virtual APEC Economic
Leaders Meeting 2020, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin does not have a majority as he has asserted, the main opposition bloc and a key ally said, predicting that he could lose a confidence vote next month.
    On Wednesday, Muhyiddin said he retained majority support among lawmakers and would prove it through a confidence vote when Malaysia’s parliament reconvened next month.    His comments followed the withdrawal of support from some members of his coalition.
    Muhyiddin’s grip on power has been shaky since coming to power in March 2020 as he leads an unstable coalition.    The latest crisis comes as Malaysia sees a resurgence in COVID-19 infections and economic slowdown from lockdowns.
    The main opposition bloc, Pakatan Harapan, disputed Muhyiddin’s majority claim and called for an immediate vote.
    “After Pakatan Harapan leaders made careful calculations with friends from opposition parties and all who do not support Muhyiddin, it is clear that Muhyiddin did not speak the truth,” the bloc said in a statement on Thursday.
    The United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the biggest bloc in Muhyiddin’s ruling alliance, also challenged the premier.
    In a statement on Wednesday, UMNO president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said more than eight lawmakers from the party have withdrawn support.
    UMNO has constantly challenged Muhyiddin even after agreeing to form a government with him last year.    But the party is split on its support for the prime minister – a factor that has kept Muhyiddin in power despite threats from UMNO to quit.
    Deputy prime minister and UMNO politician Ismail Sabri Yaakob has stood by Muhyiddin and appeared along with him in a televised address on Wednesday.
    Muhyiddin said the political turmoil was triggered by “certain parties” whose demands he had refused to meet, including freeing individuals facing corruption charges.
    Several UMNO lawmakers face corruption charges since the party’s defeat in 2018 elections, including former premier Najib Razak and party president Hamidi.
    They have both denied wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Liz Lee and Mei Mei Chu; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/5/2021 Hardline Cleric Raisi Sworn In As Iran President Amid Tensions With West by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a news conference in
Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi took the oath of office before parliament on Thursday, with the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers facing growing crises at home and abroad.
    The mid-ranking Shi’ite cleric formally started his four-year term on Tuesday when supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed his victory in the June election, when most prominent rivals were barred from standing.
    With Raisi’s presidency, all branches of power in Iran will be controlled by anti-Western hardliners loyal to Khamenei.
    “In the presence of the holy Koran and before the nation, I swear to the omnipotent God to safeguard the official religion of the country and the Islamic Republic as well as the country’s constitution,” Raisi told parliament and foreign dignitaries in a ceremony broadcast live on state television.
    Raisi, who is under U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses when he was a judge, has pledged to take steps to lift broader sanctions that have cut Iran’s oil exports and shut it out of the international banking system.
    “The Iranian people expect the new government to improve their livelihoods … All illegal U.S. sanctions against the Iranian nation must be lifted,” Raisi said after being sworn in, vowing to serve the nation and improve ties with its neighbours.
    Iran has been negotiating with six major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal abandoned three years ago by then U.S. President Donald Trump, who said it was too soft on Tehran.
    Under the deal, Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of international sanctions, but Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.    Tehran has since breached limits imposed on its nuclear activities under the agreement.
    Like Khamenei, Raisi has endorsed the nuclear talks, but he is widely expected to adopt a tougher line in talks that have stalled.    The supreme leader has the last say on all state matters including nuclear policy.
    Iranian and Western officials have said significant gaps remain in the nuclear talks and have yet to announce when the talks will resume.
    With economic misery palpable at home and signs of growing anger among Iranians over economic hardships, breaking free of the U.S. sanctions will be Raisi’s top economic goal, political analysts say.
    “The new government will work to improve the economy to resolve the nation’s problems,” Raisi said.
    Tensions have simmered between Iran and the West after a suspected drone attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast that killed two crew members.
    The United States, Israel and Britain blamed the incident on Iran.    Tehran has denied responsibility, and warned it would respond promptly to any threat to its security.
    Iran has also denied involvement in a hijacking incident in the Arabian Sea on Tuesday.    Maritime security sources said they suspected Iranian-backed forces were behind the attack on a Panama-flagged tanker and Washington said it believed Iranians hijacked the vessel but was not in a position to confirm.
    Appointed by Khamenei to run the judiciary in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later for the role he allegedly played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Iran has never acknowledged the killings.
    Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, has said the U.S. sanctions were imposed on him for doing his job as a judge.    Dissidents fear his presidency could usher in more repression in Iran.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage and Giles Elgood)

8/5/2021 Taliban Target Provincial Afghan Cities In Response To U.S. Strikes, Commanders Say
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district
of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said.
    The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of conflict.
    A regional U.S. commander said late last month the United States had increased air strikes to counter growing Taliban attacks, a move condemned by the Islamist group.
    Fighting has been particularly heavy inside the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
    The three Taliban commanders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they were focused on capturing Herat and Kandahar, with Lashkar Gah in their sights.
    “Mullah Yaqoob argued that when U.S. didn’t fulfil their commitment why should Taliban be made to follow the accord?” said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group’s military chief.
    “Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province,” said the commander, saying the military leader’s arguments had won over the group’s political office.
    A Taliban spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.    Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen told Reuters the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas and implementing Islamic Sharia there, rather than focusing on cities.
    The Taliban, who ruled with an iron hand from 1996 until 2001, had said previously they would focus on lucrative border crossings and large rural areas, though they have encircled and at times entered provincial capitals.
    The group has been waging a massive nationwide offensive since April when President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw by September and as officials warned peace talks in Doha were failing to make substantive progress.
    In recent weeks, there have been sustained attacks on Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, stretching Afghan special forces thin and killing dozens of civilians.
FIGHTING ‘NOT LIMITED TO PERIPHERIES’
    “The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat,” the Taliban commander in Kandahar said.
    Officials and experts said they saw signs of a change in strategy last month.
    “Taliban are pushing against the provincial capitals … not just to exert pressure but to capture them,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia analyst from Stanford University.
    “The main evidence is the extent of their breach of these cities.    Fighting is not limited to the peripheries any more.    This switch in Taliban strategy has been formalised after Eid, though Taliban forces were putting serious pressure on Kandahar even before Eid.”
    The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was celebrated last month.
    Kandahar and Herat are the second- and third-largest cities of Afghanistan by population. Experts said their loss would be a major political blow to the government and could potentially trigger major realignments in favour of the Taliban.
    “Capture of Kandahar means a lot to the Taliban.    It was their capital and occupying the city is great morale boost for the Taliban…    This is something they cherish and for Kandahar, Taliban can risk international ire,” said an Asian diplomatic source closely following the Taliban.
    A Western security official said: “The fact they are attacking (cities) is a sharp reaction to air support offered by the U.S. … The Taliban have proven that now they will not just stop with controlling trading points.”
    It is not clear whether U.S. airstrikes would continue after foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
    A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Experts and officials say that for now a military takeover of Kabul would be much more difficult for the Taliban than provincial capitals, but that the group could increase bombings and attacks to undermine security and public morale.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defence minister’s residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence.
(Reporting by Kabul/Peshawar newsrooms; Additional reporting by India newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/5/2021 Xi Says China Aims To Provide 2 Billion COVID-19 Vaccine Doses To World In 2021 - CCTV
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony for Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos
outside the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, China May 14, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday said China will strive to provide 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries in 2021, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    In his written message to an international COVID-19 vaccine cooperation forum, Xi also said China would donate $100 million to the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme, according to the CCTV report.
    China had supplied over 770 million vaccine doses to other countries, a statement on the website of its foreign ministry quoted Foreign Minister Wang Yi as saying at the forum on Thursday.
    Sinovac Biotech, one of the major Chinese vaccine suppliers, has signed cooperation agreements with 20 foreign countries involving nearly 900 million vaccine doses of its shot, its chief executive Yin Weidong said on Thursday in a speech at the forum, according a transcript of his address provided by a Sinovac spokesman.
    Apart from China, Sinovac’s partners in Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia and Egypt will also partake in producing these doses, Yin said, without specifying during which time frame the doses will be delivered.
    Sinovac will apply to regulators in various nations for clinical trials and emergency use authorization for two new versions of its vaccine, tweaked to target the Delta variant and Gamma variant respectively, in the near future, Yin said.
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; writing by Tom Daly and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Nick Zieminski)

8/5/2021 Chaos In Manila As Thousands Rush To Get Vaccine Before Lockdown by Lisa Marie David and Jay Ereno
Filipinos waiting to be vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) gather outside a mall, a day before
stricter lockdown measures are implemented, in Manila, Philippines, August 5, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) -Chaos overtook several COVID-19 vaccination sites in Manila on Thursday as thousands showed up hoping to receive a shot before the Philippines capital heads back into lockdown for two weeks.
    Movement restrictions will be reimposed across greater Manila, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, from midnight on Thursday to try slow the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
    The nearby province of Laguna, and the cities of Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro in the central and southern Philippines, respectively, will also be placed on lockdown, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement, as health facilities are overwhelmed.
    Maricel Bacay, a 59-year-old homemaker, was queueing outside a mall in Antipolo city in Rizal, one of those neighbouring provinces, at 3 a.m. to try beat anticipated crowds.
    “There was news that you can’t get inside the malls or supermarket if you’re not vaccinated,” Bacay told Reuters.
    Photos on social media showed people jostling each other to be the first in line at vaccination centres, prompting police intervention to enforce social distancing rules.
    Ofelia Gonzales, 36, a Manila food vendor, missed the cut-off for a vaccine despite queuing since Wednesday night.
    “If they keep extending the lockdown, who will provide meals if we can’t get out,” she said.
    With around 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 28,000 deaths, the Philippines has the second-worst coronavirus outbreak in Southeast Asia after Indonesia.
    Just 10.3 million people, or 9.3% of the Philippines’ 110 million population, have been fully vaccinated.    The government target is to immunise up to 70 million people this year.
    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened to arrest people who do not get a vaccine.    Last month, he ordered village chiefs to prevent those in their communities who refuse to be vaccinated from leaving home.
    Roque said authorised people, including those buying essential goods, travelling for medical reasons and frontline workers, would be allowed unrestricted movement under the lockdown, even if unvaccinated.
    “Let us not make vaccination a superspreader,” Roque told a media briefing.    “It should save lives, not endanger lives.”
(Reporting by Lisa Marie David, Jay Ereno and Neil Jerome Morales, writing by Karen Lema; editing by James Pearson, Jane Wardell and Kevin Liffey)

8/6/2021 Delta Spreads In Sydney As Australia Widens COVID-19 Restrictions by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: A lone woman, wearing a protective face mask, walks across an unusually quiet city centre bridge on the first day of a lockdown as the state
of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian officials warned Sydney residents on Friday to brace for a surge in COVID-19 cases after the country’s largest city logged record infections for the second straight day despite a weeks-long lockdown to stamp out an outbreak of Delta variant.
    “Just based on the trend in the last few days and where things are going, I am expecting higher case numbers in the next few days and I just want everyone to be prepared for that,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, the state capital.
    Sydney reported a record 279 locally acquired cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, up from the previous high of 259 the day before.    New South Wales reported a record 291 cases, up from 262.    One more person has died, raising the state total to 22 during the latest outbreak, all in Sydney.
    The dead person was an unvaccinated woman in her 60s who died in a Sydney hospital after contracting the coronavirus from a healthcare worker.    There are 304 cases in hospitals in New South Wales, with 50 people in intensive care, 22 of whom require ventilation.
    Of particular concern is the growing number of people positive with the highly infectious Delta strain moving around in the community, particularly in Sydney’s southwestern suburbs.    Around one-fifth of Friday’s cases have spent time outside while infectious.
    Officials in the neighbouring state of Victoria, which on Thursday night entered its sixth lockdown since the pandemic began, warned the state was “in a precarious position” as officials try to trace the source of several unlinked new cases.
    “We have many lines of inquiry actively underway as to where these new cases have been and any further exposure sites,” state Health Minister Martin Foley said in a media conference.
    Faced with another lockdown within weeks, an anti-lockdown protest erupted in state capital Melbourne on Thursday night.
    Victoria reported six locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Friday, down from eight a day earlier, with all linked but not in quarantine during their infectious period.
    In Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, the authorities reported 10 new cases, down from 16 the day before, and added that they were hopeful a lockdown would be lifted as planned on Sunday since all but two cases were isolated before testing positive. LOCKDOWN WOES
    More than 60% of Australia’s 25 million citizens are in hard lockdowns on Friday to try to contain latest surge, including the country’s three largest cities – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
    Snap lockdowns, strict border controls and swift contact tracing have helped Australia keep its coronavirus numbers relatively low, with just over 35,600 cases and 933 deaths.    But recent stop-and-start lockdowns amid a sluggish vaccination rollout, with only about 21% of people above 16 fully vaccinated, have frustrated residents.
    Australia has also enacted tough border controls requiring residents to apply for exemptions to leave and incoming overseas travellers, capped at around 3,000 a week, must go through a two-week mandatory quarantine.
    The rules will further tighten from Aug. 11 by removing an automatic exemption for citizens and permanent residents living outside of Australia to leave, a government statement tabled in the parliament on Thursday showed.
    The change would require all citizens and permanent residents living outside the country to apply for permission to exit.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Richard Pullin and Christian Schmollinger)

8/6/2021 Top Diplomats Of United States, South Korea Discuss Ways To Engage North Korea by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks about refugee programs for Afghans who aided the U.S. during
a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong have discussed efforts to engage with North Korea, including the prospect of humanitarian aid, their offices said on Friday.
    While the allies both want North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and end its missile programme, they have at times disagreed on the approach, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in keen to build economic ties between the two Koreas while the United States has long insisted on action on denuclearisation as a first step.
    South Korea’s foreign ministry, in a statement on the call between Blinken and Chung, said they had agreed to hold detailed discussions on ways to cooperate with North Korea, including humanitarian cooperation, and continue to make efforts to engage with it.
    “The secretary and the minister agreed to continue the coordinated diplomatic efforts … to make substantial progress toward the goal of complete denuclearisation and establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula,” the ministry said.
    Blinken confirmed U.S. support for dialogue and engagement between North Korea and South Korea, the U.S. Department of State said in a statement.
    Last week, the two Koreas restored hotlines that North Korea severed a year ago and South Korean officials said Moon and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un were seeking to repair strained ties and resume summits.
    According to South Korean lawmakers, North Korea is seeking some easing of international sanctions before it resumes negotiations with the United States.    But the United States has shown little inclination to ease sanctions before talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
    Nevertheless, South Korea officials have been encouraged by a declaration by the Biden administration, which earlier this year concluded a review of North Korea policy, that it would pursue “practical” diplomacy with North Korea.
    Blinken plans to call on Southeast Asian counterparts in a virtual meeting later on Friday to fully implement sanctions on North Korea, state department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday.
    About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/6/2021 Explainer: As COVID-19 Cases Surge, Japan Sticks To “Lockdown-Lite” by Linda Sieg
People wearing protective masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
make their way in Tokyo, Japan, August 6, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan decided this week to expand COVID-19 curbs to more than 70% of its population, but in contrast to stringent lockdowns in some countries, authorities are relying mainly on requests for self-restraint and peer pressure.
    With nationwide new cases topping 15,000 a day for the first time this week, expectations are simmering that Prime     Minister Yoshihide Suga may declare a nationwide state of emergency, although he said on Thursday he was not considering this now.
    Some ruling lawmakers have also suggested legal changes to allow stricter enforcement of curbs, but any move to a Western-style “lockdown” would be controversial and take time.
    Below are some key points about Japan’s COVID-19 curbs.
LOCKDOWN-LITE
    Under a nationwide emergency in April-May 2020, Tokyo asked a wide range of facilities to close including gyms, cinemas, bars, and large stores selling non-essential goods. Schools were closed early in the pandemic but reopened.
    While a March 2020 law allows the premier to declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives, Japan has generally shunned stronger enforcement steps and the law did not mandate fines or other punishment.
    The government has sought to juggle containing the virus with minimising damage to the economy, while memories remain strong of civil rights abuses during World War Two.
    Public compliance was initially high, but people are growing weary of curbs and critics say holding the Olympics during the pandemic sent a confused message about the need to stay home.
ON-AGAIN, OFF-AGAIN
    The March 2020 law gives governors authority to tell people to stay home, close public facilities and ask businesses to close and cancel events.
    While it did not initially mandate fines or other punishment for failure to comply, a February 2021 revision allows fines of 300,000 yen ($2,700) on businesses that do not comply.
    The revision also created a new category of lighter “quasi-emergency” curbs, with lower fines for non-compliance.
    Recent curbs have focused on asking eateries to close early and refrain from serving alcohol, but not all bars and restaurants are complying.
    The government has repeatedly imposed and then lifted its curbs as infections fluctuated.    Then-prime minister Shinzo Abe ended the first nationwide emergency in late May 2020 after seven weeks, declaring the “Japan model” a success.
    Later waves of infections prompted additional, more localised measures.    Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency and on Thursday Suga said additional prefectures would be subject to the “quasi-emergency” steps.
STRONGER STEPS?
    As infections surge, some ruling party lawmakers and the top government medical advisor have suggested the need to debate legal changes to allow a “hard lockdown,” although experts note the government is not making full use of its existing authority.
    Suga has said Western-style lockdowns “don’t suit” Japan and has stressed getting the population fully vaccinated was key.
    Suga, whose support rates are at record lows ahead of a general election this year, would need to convene an extra session of parliament, usually held from September, to revise the law now.    But he may be wary of facing opposition criticism of his pandemic response in the legislature, and experts say the move would probably be too late anyway.
($1 = 109.8500 yen)
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; editing by Richard Pullin)

8/6/2021 Japan PM Suga Apologises For Skipping Parts Of Hiroshima Speech
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a news conference on Japan's response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, at his official residence during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 30, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologised on Friday for accidentally skipping parts of a speech in Hiroshima to mark the anniversary of the atomic bombing of the city 76 years ago.
    Media reports said he had skipped over a page, and that the mistake was noticed as public broadcaster NHK stopped displaying subtitles during his speech at the anniversary ceremony.
    The error attracted attention because of the solemnity of the event, held each year to remember those who died from the blast.    Suga is already under pressure from critics for going ahead with the Olympics amid a surge in COVID-19 infections.
    “I want to take this occasion to apologise for having skipped some parts of my speech at the ceremony,” Suga said at a news conference held after the ceremony.
    The skipped parts included Japan being the only nation to have suffered an atomic bombing and its mission to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, according to Kyodo News.
    Suga reiterated during the news conference that the government doesn’t believe hosting the Tokyo Olympics is contributing to the recent increase in COVID-19 infections.
    The government will also discuss with Olympics organisers on the issue of Paralympic spectators after the close of the Olympics, he added.
    The Olympics are scheduled to end on Aug. 8, with the Paralympics slated to start on Aug. 24.
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Christian Schmollinger)

8/6/2021 Australia Will Not Bow To Chinese Demands To Restart Talks-Foreign Minister by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne looks on as she meets with U.S. Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Al Drago
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia will not accept Chinese demands to change policy in order to restart bilateral talks, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
    “We’ve been advised by China that they will only engage in high-level dialogue if we meet certain conditions.    Australia places no conditions on dialogue.    We can’t meet (their) conditions now,” Payne said in a speech late on Thursday in Canberra.
    Relations with China, already rocky after Australia banned Huawei from its nascent 5G broadband networking in 2018, cooled further after Canberra called last year for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, first reported in central China last year.
    China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities, including wine and barley, and limited imports of Australian beef, coal and grapes.
    The Chinese embassy in Canberra did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Payne’s speech.
    Despite the bilateral tensions, China remains Australia’s largest trading partner.
    In the 12 months to March, Australia exported A$149 billion ($110.1 billion) worth of goods to China, down 0.6% from the previous year, but exports have been supported by strong prices for iron ore, the largest single item in trade with China.
($1 = 1.3534 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/6/2021 China Sees Highest Daily Coronavirus Cases In Current Outbreak
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker collects a swab from a resident during a mass testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
at a makeshift testing site at a stadium in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China May 30, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China reported on Friday its highest daily count for new coronavirus cases in its current outbreak, fuelled by a surge in locally transmitted infections.
    China reported 124 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the mainland for Aug. 5, according to the National Health Commission.    That’s up from 85 a day earlier.
    Of the new confirmed infections, 80 were locally transmitted, the health authority said, up from 62 local cases a day earlier.
    The local cases were driven by a surge in infections in eastern Jiangsu province, which reported 61 new cases for Aug. 5, up from 40 a day earlier.    The new infections were mainly in the city of Yangzhou.
    Overall, China reported 58 new asymptomatic coronavirus cases, which it does not classify as confirmed infections, compared with 54 a day earlier.
    No new deaths were reported.
    As of Aug. 5, mainland China has recorded 93,498 confirmed cases.    The cumulative death toll is unchanged at 4,636.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Tom Hogue)

8/6/2021 South Korea Extends Social Distancing Curbs To Reduce COVID-19 Cases by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: A woman gets a coronavirus (COVID-19) test at a coronavirus testing
site in Seoul, South Korea, July 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-J
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will extend its social distancing curbs by two weeks as the government contends with outbreaks nationwide and more people fall severely ill, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said on Friday.
    The government tightened restrictions last week across most of the country ahead of the country’s peak summer holiday period.
    Seoul and surrounding regions have banned private gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m. and any gatherings of more than four people are prohibited in the rest of the country.
    Kim said the restrictions were crucial to stamping out cases and ensuring a safe reopening of schools in two weeks.
    Health experts had called for tougher social distancing rules as the number of severe COVID-19 cases has doubled in three weeks, driven largely by young, unvaccinated people and a slow vaccination drive.
    The mortality rate remains relatively low at 1.02%, while severe cases rose by 7 to 376 as of Thursday.
    With the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant, a rise in movement of people despite the restrictions, and mobilised health personnel focused on the vaccination drive rather than contact tracing, epidemiological work seems to have struggled to catch up, Lee Soon-young, president of the Korean Society of Epidemiology, told Reuters in an e-mail.
    “It is true that the momentum for contact tracing is diminishing due to more movement, a surge in infections from new variants and due to overlapping tasks for vaccination adverse reaction checks, which has resulted in an increase in the number of cases of unknown transmission routes,” Lee wrote.
    The country has administered at least one shot to 40% of its 52 million population, while 14.7% have been fully vaccinated, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) data showed.
    It aims to push up that number to 70% by next month.
    The KDCA on Friday reported 1,704 cases for Thursday, bringing the total to 207,406 infections, with 2,113 deaths.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

8/6/2021 Taliban Target Provincial Afghan Cities In Response To U.S. Strikes, Commanders Say
FILE PHOTO: Afghan security forces keep watch at a checkpoint in the Guzara district
of Herat province, Afghanistan July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jalil Ahmad/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban militants have switched strategy from targeting rural areas of Afghanistan to attacking provincial cities, in response to increased U.S. air strikes after the United States said it was ending its longest war, three militant commanders said.
    The Taliban have stepped up their campaign to defeat the U.S.-backed government as foreign forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of conflict.
    A regional U.S. commander said late last month the United States had increased air strikes to counter growing Taliban attacks, a move condemned by the Islamist group.
    Fighting has been particularly heavy inside the city of Herat, near the western border with Iran, Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest, and Kandahar in the south.
    The three Taliban commanders, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that they were focused on capturing Herat and Kandahar, with Lashkar Gah in their sights.
    “Mullah Yaqoob argued that when U.S. didn’t fulfil their commitment why should Taliban be made to follow the accord?” said one of the commanders, based in Kandahar, referring to the group’s military chief.
    “Mullah Yaqoob has decided to capture Kandahar and Herat and now Helmand and then it could be Kunduz, Khost or any other province,” said the commander, saying the military leader’s arguments had won over the group’s political office.
    A Taliban spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.    Taliban negotiator Suhail Shaheen told Reuters the group was continuing its policy of seizing control of rural areas and implementing Islamic Sharia there, rather than focusing on cities.
    The Taliban, who ruled with an iron hand from 1996 until 2001, had said previously they would focus on lucrative border crossings and large rural areas, though they have encircled and at times entered provincial capitals.
    The group has been waging a massive nationwide offensive since April when President Joe Biden announced troops would withdraw by September and as officials warned peace talks in Doha were failing to make substantive progress.
    In recent weeks, there have been sustained attacks on Herat, Kandahar and Lashkar Gar, stretching Afghan special forces thin and killing dozens of civilians.
FIGHTING ‘NOT LIMITED TO PERIPHERIES’
    “The operations in Kandahar and Herat are very much important to us and our priority is to capture the two crucial airports or airbases in Kandahar and Herat,” the Taliban commander in Kandahar said.
    Officials and experts said they saw signs of a change in strategy last month.
    “Taliban are pushing against the provincial capitals … not just to exert pressure but to capture them,” said Asfandyar Mir, a South Asia analyst from Stanford University.
    “The main evidence is the extent of their breach of these cities. Fighting is not limited to the peripheries any more.    This switch in Taliban strategy has been formalised after Eid, though Taliban forces were putting serious pressure on Kandahar even before Eid.”
    The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha was celebrated last month.
    Kandahar and Herat are the second- and third-largest cities of Afghanistan by population. Experts said their loss would be a major political blow to the government and could potentially trigger major realignments in favour of the Taliban.
    “Capture of Kandahar means a lot to the Taliban.    It was their capital and occupying the city is great morale boost for the Taliban…    This is something they cherish and for Kandahar, Taliban can risk international ire,” said an Asian diplomatic source closely following the Taliban.
    A Western security official said: “The fact they are attacking (cities) is a sharp reaction to air support offered by the U.S. … The Taliban have proven that now they will not just stop with controlling trading points.”
    It is not clear whether U.S. airstrikes would continue after foreign forces complete their withdrawal.
    A spokesperson for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the U.S. embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Experts and officials say that for now a military takeover of Kabul would be much more difficult for the Taliban than provincial capitals, but that the group could increase bombings and attacks to undermine security and public morale.
    The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack at the acting defence minister’s residence on Tuesday and warned of further violence.
(Reporting by Kabul/Peshawar newsrooms; Additional reporting by India newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/6/2021 Resurgent Taliban Take Provincial Capital, Kill Afghan Govt Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019.
Picture taken March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents captured an Afghan provincial capital and killed the government’s senior media officer in Kabul on Friday amid a deteriorating security situation as U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw.
    A police spokesman in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had fallen to the hardline Islamists because of a lack of reinforcements from the Western-backed government.
    Fighting to reimpose a strict Islamic regime 20 years after they were ousted from power by U.S.-led forces, the Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the government.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as the foreign forces pull out.
    In New York, U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the U.N. Security Council the war had entered a deadlier and more destructive phase “reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past.”
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the prospects of Afghanistan slipping into full-scale and protracted civil war “is a stark reality.”
    Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt their offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.
    Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the United States reached a deal with it in February 2020 for a U.S. troop pullout.    A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
    Taliban sources said the group was celebrating and Zaranj’s fall would lift the morale of their fighters.    A Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zaranj has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.
    In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of killings aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.
‘AN AFFRONT’
    U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said he was saddened and disgusted by the death of Menapal, whom he said provided truthful information to all Afghans.
    “These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights & freedom of speech,” he said in a Tweet.
    Scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been killed by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence voices of dissent.
    An official in the federal interior ministry said “savage terrorists” killed Menapal during Friday prayers.
    “He (Menapal) was a young man who stood like a mountain in the face of enemy propaganda, and who was always a major supporter of the (Afghan) regime,” said Mirwais Stanikzai, an Interior Ministry spokesperson.
    Elsewhere Taliban fighters stepped up clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns.
    At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed.
    Deputy governor of Jowzjan province Abdul Qader Malia said the Taliban attacked the outskirts of provincial capital Sheberghan this week.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne and Angus MacSwan)

8/6/2021 Blinken Expresses U.S. Concern About China’s Growing Nuclear Arsenal
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken leaves after speaking about refugee programs for Afghans who aided the United States
during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 2, 2021. Brendan Smialowski/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concern about China’s growing nuclear arsenal during a meeting with foreign ministers of Asian countries and partner nations, the State Department said on Friday.
    Addressing a virtual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), which groups more than two dozen countries, Blinken also called on China to cease “provocative” behavior in the South China Sea and “raised serious concerns about ongoing human rights abuses in     Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang,” the department said in a statement.
    “The Secretary also noted deep concern with the rapid growth of the PRC’s nuclear arsenal which highlights how Beijing has sharply deviated from its decades-old nuclear strategy based on minimum deterrence,” it added, using the acronym for China’s official name, the People’s Republic of China.
    In his address, Blinken urged all ARF member states to press Myanmar’s military government to end violence and support the people of the country as they work to return to democratic governance, the statement said.
    Both the Pentagon and State Department have aired concerns recently about China’s buildup of its nuclear forces following think-tank reports based on satellite imagery saying that China appears to be constructing hundreds of new silos for nuclear missiles.
    Washington has repeatedly called on China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty and last month the State Department urged Beijing to engage with it “on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races.”
    A 2020 Pentagon report estimated China’s nuclear warhead stockpile in “the low 200s” and said it was projected to at least double in size as Beijing expands and modernizes its forces.
    Analysts say the United States has around 3,800 warheads, and according to a State Department factsheet, 1,357 of those were deployed as of March 1.
    Beijing says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia and it is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on strategic security “on the basis of equality and mutual respect.”
    Blinken has taken part in a series of regional meetings this week at which he has sought to reinforce the U.S. message that it is serious about engaging with Asian countries to push back against Beijing.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Matthew Lewis and Dan Grebler)

8/6/2021 G7 Says Iran Behind Tanker Attack, Threatening Peace And Stability
FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows the damaged Mercer Street Tanker moored off the coast of Fujairah,
United Arab Emirates, August 4, 2021. Satellite image copyright 2021 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) -Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven wealthy economies said Iran was threatening international peace and security and that all available evidence showed it was behind an attack on the Mercer Street tanker last week.
    “All available evidence clearly points to Iran.    There is no justification for this attack,” said the statement, issued by current G7 chair, Britain.
    The vessel was a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
    Tehran has denied any involvement in the suspected drone attack in which two crew members – a Briton and a Romanian – were killed.
    In a separate statement, the U.S. military said explosives experts from the Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier – which deployed to assist the Mercer Street – concluded the drone was produced in Iran.
    It said the explosives experts were able to recover several pieces of a drone, including a part of the wing and internal components which it said were nearly identical to previously-collected samples of Iranian attack drones.
    The U.S. military also suggested the attack may have been launched from the Iranian coast, saying the distance to the locations of the attacks “was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack” drones.
    “Some of the material was transferred to U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters in Manama, Bahrain and subsequently to a U.S. national laboratory for further testing and verification,” Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in the region, said in the statement.
    Despite Tehran’s denials, Britain, the United States and others have criticised Iran for the attack.
    “Iran’s behaviour, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security,” the G7 statement said.
    “We call on Iran to stop all activities inconsistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and call on all parties to play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace.”
    Britain raised the issue at a closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Friday.    No action is expected to be taken by the 15-member body.
    “Iran was responsible for this attack.    We know it was deliberate and targeted.    There is no justification for what happened – a state sanctioned attack on a civilian vessel, passing peacefully through international waters,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told reporters after the meeting.
    Iran’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Zahra Ershadi rejected the accusations that Tehran was behind the attack and warned against any retaliation: “Iran will not hesitate to defend itself and secure its national interests.”
(Reporting by William James in London and Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Paul Sandle, Dan Grebler and Angus MacSwan)

8/6/2021 UN: Evidence Shows Iran Behind Deadly Attack On Israeli Tanker by OAN Newsroom
This Jan. 2, 2016 photo shows the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa.
The oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea,
authorities said Friday, July 30, 2021, as details about the incident remained few. (Johan Victor via AP)
    The UN Security Council said evidence shows Iran was behind a deadly attack on an Israeli managed tanker ship in the Gulf of Oman.    That’s according to the council on Friday, which said the attack was carried out by a drone loaded with military grade explosives.
    Both the drone and the munitions used are only manufactured in Iran. The attack on the Mercer Street on July 29 claimed the lives of two crew members.    The UN has criticized Iran’s disregard for international law.
    “The U.K. knows that Iran was responsible for this attack.    We know it was deliberate and targeted,” said UN Ambassador for the U.K., Barbara Woodward.    “There is no justification for what happened, a state sanctioned attack on a civilian vessel passing peacefully through international waters.”
    In the meantime, the State Department released a statement from the G-7 calling it a deliberate and targeted attack and a clear violation of international law.    This comes after hijackers stormed a second tanker in the gulf earlier this week with crew members recorded saying armed Iranians had boarded the ship.

8/6/2021 Taliban Kills Top Afghan Govt. Spokesman, Takes Control Of Provincial Capital by OAN Newsroom
Afghan Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering. (NOORULLAH SHIRZADA/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban has continued to gain strength as it assassinated a top Afghan government spokesman and has taken control of a key region.    Reports on Friday said the terror group took responsibility for murdering the director of Afghanistan’s Government Information Media Center.
    The Taliban also took control of a provincial capital, which is the first since the U.S. troop withdrawal.    Witnesses said the state media director was gunned down while driving his car during Friday prayers.
    Mahmood Sharifi, an eyewitness, said Dawa Khan Menapal got out of his armored vehicle and then moved into a taxi where he believed both him and the driver were shot.    “People who were there to attend prayers tried to stop the attackers, but the attackers said ‘let us go or we will shoot you too.’    When people saw the weapons, they got out of their way,” said Sharifi.
    U.S. Ambassador Ross Wilson condemned the killing, saying the victim was a friend and colleague who dedicated his life to providing truthful information to all Afghans.
    The slaying came just days after the unsuccessful bombing assassination attempt on Afghanistan’s acting defense minister, which killed eight people and wounded 20.    In the meantime, the Taliban has taken over more than half of Afghanistan’s 421 districts.

8/7/2021 Australia Daily COVID-19 At 2021 Record High With Millions In Lockdown
FILE PHOTO: Personnel from the Australian Defence Force and New South Wales Police Force patrol a street in the Bankstown suburb during
an extended lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, August 3, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia reported a record daily number of new coronavirus cases this year on Saturday with the highly infectious Delta variant continuing to spread through the country’s most populous states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
    With about 15 million people in the three states, or 60% of Australia’s population, under a strict lockdown, the country also reported five coronavirus-related deaths, one of the highest this year.
    NSW reported 319 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases, the most since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, with Sydney and neighbouring regional centres spanning 200 km (120 miles) of coastline under a stay-at-home order for six weeks already.
    There are 345 people admitted to hospital in NSW, with 56 in intensive care and 23 under ventilation, state authorities said.
    Neighbouring Victoria saw the highest daily jump in cases this year, with 29 new infections, as the state remains under a snap seven-day lockdown imposed earlier this week, the state’s sixth since the start of the pandemic.
    Victoria Premier Dan Andrews urged people to follow the public health rules that allow residents to leave their house only for essential work, shopping, care, vaccination or two hours of outdoor exercise.
    “This Delta variant spreads so fast,” Andrews said.    “We don’t have enough of people vaccinated, we will finish up with younger people in the hospital, otherwise fit and healthy people.    Our system will be overrun if we don’t bring this under control.”
    Queensland recorded 13 new cases, with all but one isolating while infectious, bringing hopes that the eight-day lockdown in parts of the state will be lifted as planned on Sunday afternoon.
    With just over 36,000 COVID-19 cases and 937 deaths, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries, but its vaccination figures are among the lowest, with only 20% of people aged over 16 fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

8/7/2021 Knife Attacker On Tokyo Commuter Train Wanted To Kill ‘Happy Women’- NHK
Police escort rescue workers carrying a person through a train station after a knife attack on
a train in Tokyo, Japan August 6, 2021 in this still image taken from video obtained by REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The man alleged to have wounded 10 people in a knife attack on a Tokyo commuter train late on Friday told police he became incensed when he saw women who “looked happy” and wanted to kill them, Japanese media reported on Saturday.
    Police arrested the 36-year-old man in another part of Tokyo after he slashed and stabbed people in the attack at about 8:40 pm (1140 GMT) on Friday on a train on the Odakyu Line in the western part of the city, media reported.
    One victim, a female university student, was seriously wounded, while the rest suffered less severe injuries.
    The Sankei newspaper reported that suspect told police: “I began feeling like I wanted to kill women who looked happy about six years ago. Anyone was fine, I just wanted to kill a lot of people.”
    Other media, including broadcaster NHK, reported similar quotes from suspect.
    A police spokesman said they had nothing further to share on the details of case when asked about the media reports on Saturday.
    Violent crime is rare in Japan but there have been a spate of knife attacks by assailants unknown to the victims.
    In June 2008, a man in a light truck drove into a crowd in the popular Akihabara district and then jumped out of the vehicle and started stabbing pedestrians, leaving seven dead.
(Reporting by Mari Saito; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/7/2021 Australian Soldier Seriously Injured In Crocodile Attack In Queensland - Media
Royal Flying Doctors prepare to airlift two men who were attacked by a crocodile late on Friday, in Lockhart River,
Queensland, Australia August 6, 2021. ROYAL FLYING DOCTOR SERVICE (QUEENSLAND SECTION) (RFDS)/Handout via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian Army soldier suffered serious head and chest injuries after being mauled by a crocodile that attacked him late on Friday, Australia media reported, with a colleague who came to his rescue in Queensland’s far north also bitten.
    Australian media said the two soldiers were swimming near a coastal fishing village on the Cape York Peninsula, about 800 kilometres (497 miles) north of Cairns, when attacked.    The Royal Flying Doctor Service saying on Twitter it had flown the men to a hospital in Cairns, with media reporting both were in stable condition.
    “Two blokes have been swimming in croc-infested waters.    One got attacked and the other one tried to help,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), quoted Lockhart River Aboriginal Shire Council Mayor Wayne Butcher as saying.
    The soldier who came to aid his colleague suffered arm and wrist injuries, according to media reports.    It wasn’t immediately clear what happened to the crocodile.
    The defence department told ABC both men are Army personnel, but did not say whether they were on duty when the attack happened.
    Queensland’s Department of Environment and it would further investigate the incident, with a team of wildlife officers was due to reach the remote area only later on Saturday.
    According to data from the Northern Territory government, the state with the highest number of crocodiles in Australia, there are between 100,000 and 200,000 saltwater crocodiles, native to northern Australia, living in the wild in the country.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

8/7/2021 Afghan Air Force Pilot Killed In Kabul Bombing, Attack Claimed By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Youths take pictures next to an Afghan flag on a hilltop overlooking
Kabul, Afghanistan, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) -An Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in Kabul on Saturday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
    The pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, died when a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle detonated, officials said, adding that five civilians were wounded in the explosion.
    Azimi was trained to fly U.S.-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters and had served with the Afghan Air Force for almost four years, the force’s commander, Abdul Fatah Eshaqzai, told Reuters.
    He had moved to Kabul with his family a year ago due to security threats, Eshaqzai added.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid said in a statement that the Taliban carried out the attack.
    Reuters was first to detail a Taliban campaign to assassinate pilots off-base that Afghan officials say claimed the lives of at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s killing.
    The Taliban has confirmed a program that would see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
    U.S. and Afghan officials believe it is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots as fighting escalates across the country.
    The Taliban – who have no air force – want to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives that have seen them swiftly seize territory since May.
    Emboldened by Washington’s announcement that it was ending its military mission by the end of August, the Taliban has launched a military blitz across the country which has gained momentum in recent days.
    On Friday the insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
    As the Taliban eye other cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a crucial role in holding them back.
    Azimi’s death came just days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to the U.S. Congress, said the targeting of pilots detailed by Reuters was another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting.
    In its quarterly report covering the three-month period through June, SIGAR described an air force increasingly under strain and becoming less ready to fight.
    Its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had a 39% readiness rate in June, about half the level of April and May.
    “All aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions and aerial resupply now that the (Afghan military) largely lacks U.S. air support,” the report said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Christina Fincher and Daniel Wallis)

8/7/2021 U.S. Says Plot Against Myanmar U.N. Envoy Fits ‘Disturbing Pattern’ by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations
in Geneva, Switzerland, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States on Saturday condemned a thwarted plot to attack Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador in New York, saying it fits a “disturbing pattern” of authoritarian leaders and their supporters seeking to persecute opponents around the world.     Two Myanmar citizens have been arrested in New York state for plotting with an arms dealer in Thailand – who sells weapons to the Burmese military – to kill or injure Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, U.S. authorities said on Friday.
    Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who represents Myanmar’s elected civilian government which was overthrown by the military in February, told Reuters on Wednesday that a threat had been made against him and U.S. authorities had stepped up his security.
    The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Saturday that the threat “fits a disturbing pattern of authoritarian leaders and their supporters reaching across the globe … to persecute and repress journalists, activists, and others who dare speak or stand against them.”
    Thomas-Greenfield cited Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics and sought refuge in Poland, and a thwarted plot by several Iranians to kidnap a New York journalist and rights activist who was critical of Iran.
    “These are only the most recent acts of transnational repression, and they must be met with the condemnation of the world and with full and certain accountability,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

8/7/2021 Thai Anti-Govt Protesters Clash With Police In Bangkok by Jiraporn Kuhakan and Chayut Setboonsarng
People ride a motorcycle past tear gas during a clash with police at a protest against what they call the government's failure
in handling the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand, August 7, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) -More than a thousand Thai anti-government protesters clashed with police on Saturday, as they demonstrated against the government’s failure to handle coronavirus outbreaks and its impact on the economy.
    About a hundred police officers in riot gear sealed off a road near Victory Monument in the capital Bangkok with containers and used water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets to stop a march toward Government House, the office of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
    “Tear gas and rubber bullets were used for crowd control.    Our goal is to maintain order,” Krisana Pattanacharoen, a police spokesman, told reporters.
    The demonstrators threw ping pong bombs, stones and marbles, he added.
    Dozens of protesters were seen being carried away on motorcycles and in ambulances.    The Erawan Emergency Medical Centre said at least two civilians and three officers had been injured.
    “We want Prayuth to resign because people aren’t getting vaccines,” said a 23-year-old male protester, who only gave his first name “Aom,” for fear of repercussions.
    “We don’t have jobs and income, so we have no choice but protest.”
    Some 6% of Thailand’s population of more than 66 million has been fully vaccinated and most of the country including Bangkok is under lockdown with a night-time curfew.    Gatherings of more than five people are currently banned.
    Nonetheless, street protests against the government have been held in recent weeks by several groups, including Prayuth’s former political allies, as frustrations mount over its management of the health crisis.
    Thailand reported on Saturday a record of nearly 22,000 new COVID-19 infections in a single day and the highest deaths, 212 fatalities.
    The Southeast Asian country has reported 736,522 total cases and 6,066 deaths from the coronavirus since the pandemic began last year.
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Kirsten Donovan)

8/7/2021 Resurgent Taliban Take Provincial Capital, Kill Afghan Govt Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: A general view of green zone in Kabul, Afghanistan March 13, 2019.
Picture taken March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents captured an Afghan provincial capital and killed the government’s senior media officer in Kabul on Friday amid a deteriorating security situation as U.S. and other foreign troops withdraw.
    A police spokesman in southern Nimroz province said the capital Zaranj had fallen to the hardline Islamists because of a lack of reinforcements from the Western-backed government.
    A Taliban spokesman said on Twitter that the insurgents had “completely liberated” the province and had taken control of the governor’s house, police headquarters and other official buildings.
    Later, a top Afghan general leading the counter-offensive in the south of the country said Afghan air force airstrikes had killed the Taliban’s top official for Nimroz along with 14 of his men.    Reuters was unable to immediately verify the claim by General Sami Sadat, commander of the 215 Maiwand Afghan Army Corps, on Twitter.
    Fighting to reimpose a strict Islamic regime 20 years after they were ousted from power by U.S.-led forces, the Taliban have intensified their campaign to defeat the government.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as foreign forces pull out.
    In New York, U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan Deborah Lyons questioned the Taliban’s commitment to a political settlement, telling the U.N. Security Council the war had entered a deadlier and more destructive phase “reminiscent of Syria, recently, or Sarajevo, in the not-so-distant past.”
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the prospect of Afghanistan slipping into full-scale and protracted civil war “is a stark reality.”
    Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis urged the Taliban to halt their offensive, pursue a political settlement and protect Afghanistan’s infrastructure and people.
    Zaranj was the first provincial capital to fall to the Taliban since the United States reached a deal with it in February 2020 for a U.S. troop pullout.
    A local source said the Taliban had seized the governor’s office, the police headquarters and an encampment near the Iranian border.
    Taliban sources said the group was celebrating and Zaranj’s fall would lift the morale of their fighters.    A Taliban commander, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Zaranj has strategic importance as it is on the border with Iran.
    In Kabul, Taliban attackers killed Dawa Khan Menapal, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, in the latest in a series of killings aimed at weakening President Ashraf Ghani’s democratically elected government.
‘AN AFFRONT’
    U.S. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson said he was saddened and disgusted by the killing of Menapal, whom he said provided truthful information to all Afghans.
    “These murders are an affront to Afghans’ human rights & freedom of speech,” he said on Twitter.
    The White House said the Taliban’s actions would not win the group the international legitimacy it seeks.
    “They do not have to stay on this trajectory.    They can choose to devote the same energy to the peace process as they are to their military campaign,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.
    Scores of social activists, journalists, bureaucrats, judges and public figures fighting to sustain a liberal Islamic administration have been killed by Taliban fighters in a bid to silence dissent.
    An official in the federal interior ministry said “savage terrorists” killed Menapal during Friday prayers.
    “He (Menapal) was a young man who stood like a mountain in the face of enemy propaganda, and who was always a major supporter of the (Afghan) regime,” said Mirwais Stanikzai, an Interior Ministry spokesperson.
    Elsewhere Taliban fighters stepped up clashes with Afghan forces and attacked militias allied with the government, officials said, stretching their dominance of border towns.
    At least 10 Afghan soldiers and a commander of armed members belonging to the Abdul Rashid Dostum militia group in the northern province of Jowzjan were killed.
    The deputy governor of Jowzjan, Abdul Qader Malia, said the Taliban attacked the outskirts of provincial capital Sheberghan this week.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay, Trevor Hunnicutt and Simon Lewis in Washington, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Nick Macfie, Andrew Cawthorne, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis)

8/8/2021 N.Korea’s Kim Calls For Relief Campaign In Rain-Hit Areas by Hyonhee Shin
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Report on Enlarged Meeting of the 2nd Political Bureau of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party
of Korea, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this image released July 5, 2021 by the country's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has mobilised the military to carry out relief work in areas recently hit by heavy rains, state media said on Sunday, amid concerns over an economic crisis and food shortage.
    The ruling Worker’s Party’s Central Military Commission held a meeting of its chapter in the eastern province of South Hamgyong to discuss damage and recovery from the downpour, the official KCNA news agency said.
    Kim did not attend the meeting but party officials conveyed his message that the military should kick off a relief campaign and provide necessary supplies in the region, KCNA said.
    “It was also emphasised that he called for awakening and arousing the (party) officials…into waging the recovery campaign skilfully and unyieldingly,” KCNA said.
    KCNA did not specify the extent of rain damage but said the military commission explored emergency measures to rebuild the disaster-stricken areas, stabilise people’s living, prevent the coronavirus and minimise crop injuries.
    The meeting came amid concerns over a crisis in a reclusive economy that has already been dogged by international sanctions, aimed at curbing its nuclear and weapons programmes.
    Kim said in June the country faced a “tense” food situation, citing the coronavirus pandemic and last year’s typhoons, and recently South Korea’s central bank said North Korea’s economy suffered its biggest contraction in 23 years in 2020.
    North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases but closed borders, halted trade and imposed strict prevention measures, seeing the pandemic as an issue of national survival.
    South Korean lawmakers said last week that North Korea needed some 1 million tonnes of rice, with military and emergency reserves running out.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Sam Holmes)

8/8/2021 Australia’s East Coast Continues To Struggle With Delta Outbreaks
FILE PHOTO: A sign at Central Station notes the implementation of new public health regulations from the state of New South Wales, as
the city grapples with an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, June 23, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s three most populous states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland reported a total of 282 COVID-19 new locally acquired infections on Sunday, with authorities struggling to quell outbreaks of the Delta variant.
    NSW reported 262 fresh cases, down from the pandemic high of 319 seen on Saturday, with more than five million people in Sydney regions along the coastline under a lockdown for six weeks already.
    “I urge everybody to please stick to the rules, the health advice, and only leave home if you absolutely have to,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.One woman in her 80s has died overnight bringing the total number of deaths in the current outbreak to 28.
    There are 362 people in hospital in NSW, with 58 in intensive care.    Of the people in intensive care, 54 were unvaccinated.
    Neighbouring Victoria reported 11 new locally acquired coronavirus cases, as the state remains under a seven-day strict lockdown imposed earlier this week. [L8N2PE0VK]
    Queensland recorded nine new local cases, with parts of the state to come out of a lockdown on Sunday, but a fresh three-day lcodown was imposed on the city of Cairns after a report of a case with unknown origin.
    With the highly transmissible Delta variant plaguing Australia’s east coast, states have applied the “go hard, go early” snap lockdown approach, suggested by the federal government last week until at least 70% of the population gets vaccinated.    Only about a fifth of people aged over 16 have been fully vaccinated so far, mainly due to scarce supply of Pfizer shots and public unease about the AstraZeneca vaccine.
    Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday the first million doses of the Moderna vaccine is expected in September.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

8/8/2021 Afghan Air Force Pilot Killed In Kabul Bombing, Attack Claimed By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Youths take pictures next to an Afghan flag on a hilltop overlooking
Kabul, Afghanistan, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan Air Force pilot was killed by a bomb in Kabul on Saturday, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
    The pilot, Hamidullah Azimi, died when a sticky bomb attached to his vehicle detonated, officials said, adding that five civilians were wounded in the explosion.
    Azimi was trained to fly U.S.-made UH60 Black Hawk helicopters and had served with the Afghan Air Force for almost four years, the force’s commander, Abdul Fatah Eshaqzai, told Reuters.
    He had moved to Kabul with his family a year ago due to security threats, Eshaqzai added.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Muhajid said in a statement that the Taliban carried out the attack.
    Reuters was first to detail a Taliban campaign to assassinate pilots off-base that Afghan officials say claimed the lives of at least seven Afghan pilots before Saturday’s killing.
    The Taliban has confirmed a program that would see U.S.-trained Afghan pilots “targeted and eliminated.”
    U.S. and Afghan officials believe it is a deliberate effort to destroy Afghanistan’s corps of U.S.- and NATO-trained military pilots as fighting escalates across the country.
    The Taliban – who have no air force – want to level the playing field as they press major ground offensives that have seen them swiftly seize territory since May.
    Emboldened by Washington’s announcement that it was ending its military mission by the end of August, the Taliban has launched a military blitz across the country which has gained momentum in recent days.
    On Friday the insurgents captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
    As the Taliban eye other cities, the Afghan Air Force has played a crucial role in holding them back.
    Azimi’s death came just days after the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), in a report to the U.S. Congress, said the targeting of pilots detailed by Reuters was another “worrisome development” for the Afghan Air Force as it reels from a surge in fighting.
    In its quarterly report covering the three-month period through June, SIGAR described an air force increasingly under strain and becoming less ready to fight.
    Its fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had a 39% readiness rate in June, about half the level of April and May.
    “All aircraft platforms are overtaxed due to increased requests for close air support, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance missions and aerial resupply now that the (Afghan military) largely lacks U.S. air support,” the report said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau and Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Christina Fincher and Daniel Wallis)

8/8/2021 Taliban Overrun Northern Afghan Cities Of Kunduz, Sar-E Pul, Taloqan
Afghan security forces patrol at the Kunduz, Afghanistan April 30, 2015. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban fighters overran three provincial capitals including the strategic northeastern city of Kunduz on Sunday, local officials said, as the insurgents intensified pressure on the north and threatened further cities.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several provincial capitals, including Herat in the west and Kandahar in the south, as foreign troops withdraw.
    The offensive has gathered momentum in recent days after the United States announced it would end its military mission in the country by the end of August.
    Taliban fighters seized key government buildings in Kunduz, leaving government forces hanging onto control of the airport and their base, a provincial assembly lawmaker said on Sunday, raising fears it could be the latest to fall to the Taliban.
    The city of 270,000, is regarded as a strategic prize as it lies at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.
    “Heavy clashes started yesterday afternoon.    All government headquarters are in control of the Taliban, only the army base and the airport is with ANDSF (Afghan security forces) from where they are resisting the Taliban,” the lawmaker, Amruddin Wali, said.
    A security forces spokesman said on Sunday evening that government forces would launch a large scale operation to retake lost areas of the province as soon as possible.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the group had largely captured the province and were close to the airport.
TAKING GROUND
    Health officials in Kunduz said that 14 bodies, including those of women and children, and more than 30 injured people had been taken to hospital.
    The Taliban have also taken government buildings in the northern provincial capital of Sar-e Pul, driving officials out of the main city to a nearby military base, Mohammad Noor Rahmani, a provincial council member of Sar-e Pul province, said.
    On Friday, they captured their first provincial capital in years when they took control of Zaranj, on the border with     Iran in Afghanistan’s southern Nimroz province.
    In recent days they have escalated attacks on northern provinces, which lie outside their traditional strongholds in the south but where the group has been quickly taking ground, often along the border of Afghanistan’s Central Asian neighbours and trading partners Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
    On Sunday evening, Ashraf Ayni, representative in parliament for Takhar province, said its capital Taloqan had fallen to the Taliban who had freed prisoners and taken control of all government buildings, driving officials to a nearby district.
    On Saturday, heavy fighting took place in Sheberghan, the capital of northern Jawzjan province. The Taliban said they had captured the entire province.
    Jawzjan provincial council member Shir Mohammad said most of Sheberghan, including provincial government buildings, had fallen to the Taliban.    An Afghan security forces spokesman on Saturday had denied the Taliban had taken the city, saying forces were working to defend Sheberghan without causing civilian casualties.    On Sunday, he did not immediately respond to request for comment for an update on the situation.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Edmund Klamann, Raissa Kasolowsky and Emelia Sithole-Matairse)

8/8/2021 Singapore To Tweak Foreign Worker Policies Amid Local Job Concerns
FILE PHOTO: Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attends the 22nd ASEAN Plus Three
Summit in Bangkok, Thailand, November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The Singapore government will adjust foreign worker policies to address concerns among locals over competition for jobs, even as the global business hub remains open to talent from overseas, its prime minister said on Sunday.
    “We have to adjust our policies to manage the quality, numbers and concentrations of foreigners in Singapore,” Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Message.    “If we do this well, we can continue to welcome foreign workers and new immigrants, as we must."
    Foreign labour has long been a hot button issue in Singapore, but uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased employment worries among locals as the city-state recovers from last year’s record recession.
    The issue was also highlighted by opposition parties during last year’s general election campaign as they mounted a historic challenge to Lee’s People’s Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since its independence in 1965.
    Just under 30% of Singapore’s 5.7 million population are non-residents, up from around 10% in 1990, according to government statistics.
    Lee warned that turning inwards would damage Singapore’s standing as a global and regional hub.    “It would cost us jobs and opportunities.”
    His government has been tightening foreign worker policies for several years while taking steps to promote local hiring, including by raising the salary threshold for issuing work permits.
    The number of people living in Singapore declined 0.3% last year, the first drop since 2003, as travel curbs and job losses brought about by the pandemic pushed foreign workers from the country.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/8/2021 Hong Kong Minister Signals Path To Adopting China Anti-Sanctions Law
Hong Kong and Chinese national flags are flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras
outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s justice secretary said on Sunday that a mainland Chinese law to counter foreign sanctions could also be adopted in the China-ruled city by writing it into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, pending a decision by the Chinese parliament.
    Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng’s comments are the strongest official indication so far that Hong Kong would embrace the mainland law, passed in June to counter foreign sanctions as the U.S. and EU step up pressure over trade, technology, Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
    Under the law, individuals or entities involved in making or implementing discriminatory measures against Chinese citizens or entities could be put on an anti-sanctions list by relevant departments in the Chinese government.
    Cheng wrote in an official blog entry that the “most natural and appropriate way” to introduce the anti-sanctions law into Hong Kong would be to add it to an annex of the Basic Law, or Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.
    She added that such a move needed first to be approved by the highest organ of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress.    Local media have reported that a decision would likely be made during a meeting in Beijing on Aug 17-20.
    Critics have warned that the anti-foreign sanctions law could undermine Hong Kong’s reputation as a global financial hub, and tarnish sentiment among foreign firms.
    Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 with a guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms.
    The U.S. government issued a business advisory last month warning firms that they are subject to the territory’s laws, including a China-imposed national security law, under which foreign nationals, including one U.S. citizen, have been arrested.
    The U.S. government has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s freedoms under the sweeping security legislation.
    Without naming the United States directly, Cheng wrote that countermeasures were acceptable.
    “Unilateral coercive measures are without a doubt at odds with the principle of non-intervention, unbecoming of any civilised nation,” she wrote.
    “In the face of international illegal acts, a State is justified in deploying any countermeasures as a response.”
    Under China’s anti-foreign sanctions law, individuals could be denied entry into China or be expelled.    Their assets within China may be seized or frozen.    They could also be restricted from doing business with entities or people within China.
(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

8/8/2021 Fmr. Ambassador To Afghanistan: We Are In Moment Of Crisis by OAN Newsroom
An Afghan security personnel gestures as he stands guard at the site a day after a
car bomb explosion in Kabul. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    A retired top diplomat warned Afghanistan would soon slide into a “prolonged civil war.”    On Sunday, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker told ABC News the Taliban has been successfully creating a climate of fear and panic.
    In addition, former Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Janis Shinwari sounded off a similar tune by saying the situation was especially dangerous for Afghans who helped American forces throughout the 20-year war.
    “The Taliban will kill everybody and they will torture them in front of their family and kill them,” he expressed.    “…When the Taliban took control of a couple cities, they were going and knocking door by door asking for those people who were supporting the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and they were trying to kill them.”
    This comes as Taliban forces recently took over three key cities as U.S. troops have retreated from the country.    Although the Taliban seized similar in the past and were swiftly kicked out, residents have still expressed worry militants would remain in the country’s key provinces for the long haul.
    In response to the rampant violence, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul demanded all U.S. citizens leave the country immediately as diplomats looked for safe haven for Afghan allies to U.S. forces.    Shinwari warned the Biden administration was not acting fast enough on this front as the Taliban has gained immense strength.
    “This process has been too slow and I’ve been in contact with a lot of people in Afghanistan,” Shinwari stated.    “They are waiting for their visas.    Some of them they even did not receive their approval for SIV program.    It means that this program is very slow so far and we should expedite this program.”
    Meanwhile, both Crocker and Shinwari urged Biden to ramp up efforts to evacuate U.S. and Afghan personnel who have been in danger.    They said more planes were needed to get people out and stressed the Taliban has gained control of the narrative.
    In addition, the diplomats said they worried no one would be safe in the country if the violence continued and Taliban forces gained more ground.

8/9/2021 Taliban Capture Sixth Afghan Provincial Capital As U.S. Troops Withdraw
Tanks arrive at battlefield, in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021 in this
still image taken from a video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial Afghan capital on Monday, a lawmaker said, after they ousted Afghan security forces from border towns and trade routes as U.S.-led foreign forces pull out.
    The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw after 20 years of war.
    On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.
    “Right now the Taliban are fighting with Afghan forces to capture the police headquarters and compound of the provincial governor,” said Ziauddin Zia, a lawmaker in Aybak.
    “Several parts of the capital have fallen to the Taliban.”
    The insurgents took three provincial capitals over the weekend – Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz, Sar-e-Pul, in the northern province of the same name, and Taloqan, in northeastern Takhar province.
    They had already taken the northern provincial capital of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
    The Taliban gains have sparked recriminations over the withdrawal of foreign forces.    British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Daily Mail that the accord struck last year between the United States and the Taliban was a “rotten deal.”
    Wallace said his government had asked some NATO allies to keep their troops in Afghanistan once the U.S. troops departed, but failed to garner enough support.
    “Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t.    It became apparent pretty quickly that without the United States as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off,” Wallace said.
    Germany’s defence minister rejected calls for its soldiers to return to Afghanistan after Taliban insurgents took Kunduz where German troops were deployed for a decade.
    Afghan commandoes had launched a counter-attack to try to beat back Taliban fighters who overran Kunduz, with residents fleeing the conflict describing the almost constant sound of gunfire and explosions.
    A Taliban spokesman warned the United States on Sunday against intervening following U.S. air strikes to support beleaguered Afghan government forces.    The United States has vowed to pull out most troops by the end of the month, ending its longest war.
    In the West, near the border with Iran, security officials said heavy fighting was under way on the outskirts of Herat. Arif Jalali, head of Herat Zonal Hospital, said 36 people had been killed and 220 wounded over the past 11 days.    More than half of the wounded were civilians, and women and children were among the dead.
    UNICEF said 20 children were killed and 130 children had been injured in southern Kandahar province in the last 72 hours.
    “The atrocities grow higher by the day,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF’s representative in Afghanistan.
    In Helmand, a hotbed of Taliban activity, security officials reported a loud explosion in Lashkar Gah on Monday morning.
    The insurgents have taken dozens of districts and border crossings in recent months and put pressure on several cities.
    U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while the military had warned President Joe Biden earlier this year that provincial capitals would fall with a withdrawal of troops, they were still surprised at how quickly some of them were being taken by the Taliban.
    The United States carried out less than a dozen strikes over the weekend as the Taliban overran the provincial capitals, in one instance simply destroying equipment.
    The U.S. officials said they had little expectation that American air strikes alone could halt the Taliban gains, especially once insurgents entered densely populated cities.
FAMILIES FLEE
    In Kunduz, many desperate families, some with young children and pregnant women, abandoned their homes, hoping to reach the relative safety of Kabul, 315 km (200 miles) to the south – a drive that would normally take around ten hours.
    Ghulam Rasool, an engineer, was trying to hire a bus to get his family to the capital as the sound of gunfire reverberated through the streets of his hometown.
    “We may just be forced to walk till Kabul, but we are not sure if we could be killed on the way … ground clashes were not just stopping even for 10 minutes,” Rasool told Reuters.
    He and several other residents, and a security official, said Afghan commandoes had launched an operation to clear the insurgents from Kunduz.
    In Kabul itself, suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager, government officials said, the latest in a long line of attacks targeting media workers.
    Thousands were trying to enter Kabul, even after the city has witnessed attacks in diplomatic districts.
    Speaking to Al-Jazeera TV on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem Wardak warned the United States against further intervention to support government forces.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Giles Elgood)

8/9/2021 U.S., China Trade Barbs At U.N. Over South China Sea by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the media prior a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign
Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 5, 2021. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called out bullying in the South China Sea on Monday and warned the U.N. Security Council that a conflict “would have serious global consequences for security and for commerce,” sparking a strong rebuke from China.
    The South China Sea has become one of many flashpoints in the testy relationship between China and the United States, with Washington rejecting what it calls unlawful territorial claims by Beijing in the resource-rich waters.
    “Conflict in the South China Sea, or in any ocean, would have serious global consequences for security, and for commerce,” Blinken told a Security Council meeting on maritime security.    “When a state faces no consequences for ignoring these rules, it fuels greater impunity and instability everywhere.”
    China claims vast swaths of the South China Sea which overlap with the exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.    Trillions of dollars in trade flow every year through the waterway, which also contains rich fishing grounds and gas fields.
    “We have seen dangerous encounters between vessels at sea and provocative actions to advance unlawful maritime claims,” said Blinken, adding that Washington was concerned by actions that “intimidate and bully other states from lawfully accessing their maritime resources.”
    China’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dai Bing accused the United States of “stirring up trouble out nothing, arbitrarily sending advanced military vessels and aircraft into the South China Sea as provocations and publicly trying to drive a wedge into regional countries.”
    “This country itself has become the biggest threat to peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Dai said.
    Blinken said it was the responsibility of all countries, not just claimants to the islands and waters of the South China Sea, to defend the rules they had all agreed to follow to peacefully resolve maritime disputes.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

8/9/2021 Pakistan Urges Look Into ‘Meltdown’ Of Afghan Forces As Taliban Advances
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi gestures as he speaks during an interview with
Reuters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) office in Islamabad, Pakistan March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan on Monday said the international community needed to look into the “meltdown” of Afghan security forces in the face of Taliban offensives across Afghanistan, instead of blaming Pakistan for the fast-deteriorating situation.
    Taliban fighters have swiftly gained territory across Afghanistan since May, including six provincial capitals in the last three days, as international forces near a complete withdrawal from the country after 20 years of fighting.
    “The capacity-building, the training, the equipment … where is it?” Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi asked at a news conference, referring to resources spent by other countries, particularly the United States, on bolstering Afghan national forces.
    “Issues of governance and the meltdown of Afghan national defence forces need to be looked into,” he said.
    Pakistan cannot be held responsible for the failure of others, he said.
    Kabul and several western governments say Pakistan’s support for the Taliban allowed it to weather 20 years of war after being pushed from power in 2001 by a U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.    The group today controls more territory that at any point since 2001.
    Pakistan denies supporting the Taliban.    Qureshi said Islamabad was not taking sides in Afghanistan.
    “The lack of will to fight, the capitulation that we are seeing in Afghanistan … can we be held responsible for that?    No we cannot,” Qureshi said, adding that Pakistan supported a political solution to bring peace to Afghanistan.
    He said Pakistan had been instrumental in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table with the United States and facilitated the resultant agreement between the two in Doha last year.
    Pakistan, Qureshi said, had also helped convene peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government in September last year, which have since stalled.
    Qureshi said Islamabad was concerned at the violence and the lack of progress in the talks, saying that Pakistan had most to lose from an unstable Afghanistan as a direct neighbour.
    Questioning the pullout of U.S. forces, Qureshi said Pakistan thought the withdrawal would be tied to the progress in the peace talks.
    Other regional countries, including Afghanistan, have also blamed what they termed a hasty and unconditional withdrawal of foreign troops for the success of the Taliban.
    Qureshi said there would be a meeting in Doha on Wednesday of the “Troika,” a platform to discuss Afghanistan led by the United States, China, Russia.
    The meeting is three weeks before the Aug. 31 date that Washington set for the official withdrawal of its military forces in Afghanistan.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Grant McCool)

8/9/2021 Myanmar Says Alleged Plot Against U.N. Envoy Was Nothing To Do With The Country
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the
United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s foreign ministry said on Monday that an alleged plot in New York against United Nations ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, an opponent of the ruling junta, had nothing to do with the country and was a U.S. domestic case.
    It was the military government’s first statement since the arrest of two Myanmar citizens in connection with the alleged plot.    It rejected comments made in condemnation by the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield.
    “The event is a domestic case in the United States. Judgment must be made in the United States according to U.S. law.    It has nothing to do with Myanmar,” said the statement, read on state television MRTV.
    Reuters was unable to reach a junta spokesman for further reaction to the alleged plot.
    Two Myanmar citizens have been arrested in New York state for plotting with an arms dealer in Thailand – who sells weapons to the Burmese military – to kill or injure Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, U.S. authorities said on Friday.
    On Saturday, Thomas-Greenfield said the plot fitted a “disturbing pattern” of authoritarian leaders and their supporters seeking to persecute opponents around the world.    She said the United States stood in solidarity with Kyaw Moe Tun and commended him for “remarkable courage and bravery.”
    “Myanmar strongly rejects the statement of U.S. permanent Representative to the U.N. Linda Thomas Greenfield,” the foreign ministry said.
    It added that Kyaw Moe Tun had been dismissed from his post as Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador and currently faced an arrest warrant for treason because he had voiced support for an underground National Unity Government.
    Despite the junta’s protests, Kyaw Moe Tun has continued to serve at the United Nations, representing the elected civilian government which was overthrown by the military in February.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Giles Elgood)

8/9/2021 Indonesia Extends COVID-19 Curbs As Infections Spread In Regions by Stanley Widianto
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a deserted main road during the imposition of large-scale social restrictions by the government
to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 3, 2021. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia extended its COVID-19 curbs on populous Java and Bali islands until Aug. 16, but will ease them in 26 areas, as official data showed infections have plunged in the capital Jakarta but are increasing elsewhere.
    In one of Asia’s worst epidemics, authorities restricted mobility to stem the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus on Java and Bali in early July, and since extended them to other areas with high infection rates.
    “Don’t let the improvement that we’ve achieved laboriously go to waste,” Luhut Pandjaitan, the Cabinet minister overseeing the response in Java and Bali, said late on Monday.
    Malls will reopen at 25% capacity for vaccinated people, except for children and the elderly, and people must show their vaccination proof using a digital application, Luhut said.
    People’s vaccination status will determine which health protocols they must adhere to in sectors like tourism and education, whether they have to wear masks or not, said health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
    Restrictions in areas outside Java and Bali will be extended until Aug. 23 as cases went up by 1.2%, whereas cases on Java and Bali dropped by 27% this month.
    In Jakarta, there were 14,619 infections on July 12, but on Monday, there were 727, government data showed.    Overall bed occupancy rates at the city’s hospitals dropped to 39% from 90%.
    The spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, has put regions with weaker healthcare systems under strain.
    The occupancy of intensive care beds in Gorontalo on Sulawesi island has surpassed 90%, while the level in three regions on Sumatra island was above 80%, health ministry data showed.
    Meanwhile, in East Kalimantan on Borneo island the number of infections has soared from 922 cases in the second week of June to 12,127 in the first week of August, the health agency chief said.
(Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Writing by Kate Lamb and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Grant McCool)

8/9/2021 Virus-Free New Zealand Plans Border Reopening Amid Labour Shortage by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in a televised debate with National leader
Judith Collins at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Under pressure from businesses and public sectors facing a worker shortage that policymakers fear will fuel inflation, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to unveil plans this week to reopen the country’s borders.
    Ardern garnered global praise for containing local transmission of COVID-19 via an elimination strategy, imposing tough lockdowns and slamming New Zealand’s international border shut in March 2020.
    However, that tactic is now straining an economy heavily reliant on an immigrant workforce, leading to higher costs and lower output.
    The dairy, horticulture, housing, services, health and broader public sector have all reported acute staff shortages, and called on the government to raise border blocks.
    The pressures were visible on Monday when around 1,500 hospital midwives walked off the job, citing overwork due to “critical shortages”. More than 30,000 nurses are due to strike later this month for the second time since June, seeking better pay and working conditions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thousands-nurses-go-strike-new-zealand-2021-06-09 amid the staff shortages.
    “We rely on internationally qualified nurses to meet our staffing needs but with the borders closed we are not getting any,” said New Zealand Nurses Organisation industrial services manager Glenda Alexander.
    “Kiwis are not coming into nursing as they are put off by the workload and the low pay,” she added.    “Nurses are burning out, they are getting sick themselves and are constantly worried that they will make mistakes that could affect their patients.”
    The hospitality sector has been similarly stretched.    About 2,000 eateries stopped service and turned off lights https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-industry-ire-grows-closed-borders-worsen-labour-shortages-2021-07-07 last month as part of a two-month campaign to draw the government’s attention to the severe shortages chefs and other skilled labour.
    Ardern has indicated she will remain cautious when she on Thursday outlines her government’s six-month plan for public health and border control.
    “Any changes to border settings will be carefully considered in phases, based on risks,” she said on Monday.    “We have come too far and gained too many freedoms to rush at this next step and go backwards.”
    Ardern last week opened one-way quarantine-free travel for seasonal workers from Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu, all countries with no active COVID cases, to address labour shortages in the horticulture industry.
    New Zealand has recorded about 2,500 COVID-19 cases, including 26 deaths, among the lowest in the world and a track record that helped Ardern retain power in a blowout relection https://news.trust.org/item/20201017103350-zahf7 last October.    The last reported case of local transmission was in February.
    The roadmap will be based on the findings of a report by experts including epidemiologists titled “Reconnecting New Zealanders to the World.”
    Still, businesses are pressing for the plan to include the resumption of labour imports, sooner rather than later.
    The country’s unemployment rate is at pre-COVID levels, with more jobs than skilled workers.    The underutilization rate, a measure of how many people are working less than they would like, is at a record low.
    The labour shortages are pushing up costs as employers pay more to keep staff.    Annual inflation reached a record 3.3% in the second quarter, much higher than central bank predictions.
CHANGING TRACK
    Economists think the pressures will force the Reserve Bank of New Zealand (RBNZ) to tighten monetary policy next week to avoid overheating of the economy.
    “Monetary and fiscal policy quite possibly overachieved in creating demand,” said ANZ Chief Economist Sharon Zollner.
    The government pumped stimulus through wage subsidies while the RBNZ dished out a NZ$100 billion quantitative easing programme in pandemic-induced polices that has caused rising inequality https://www.reuters.com/world/the-great-reboot/how-new-zealands-much-admired-covid-19-response-helped-fuel-housing-crisis-2021-04-16 and worsened a housing crisis.
    A major concern for Ardern and policymakers is the Delta coronavirus variant, which is raging in neighbouring Australia and the world.
    Delta-fuelled outbreaks across Australia led Ardern to last month suspend the so-called “travel bubble” that allowed quarantine-free travel between the two countries.
    Experts have warned that the arrival of Delta into New Zealand would result longer lockdowns, particularly given only 21% of the country has been fully vaccinated.
    “It (Delta) is much more dangerous than other strains of COVID,” Ardern said.    “It changes our risk calculation in the same way that it’s changed everyone’s risk calculation.”
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Jane Wardell)

8/9/2021 At Least 27 Children Killed In Afghanistan, U.N. Says
FILE PHOTO: A UNICEF logo is pictured outside their offices in Geneva, Switzerland, January 30, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 27 children have been killed and 136 injured across three provinces of Afghanistan over the past three days amid escalating violence, the U.N. children’s agency said on Monday.
    “UNICEF is shocked by the rapid escalation of grave violations against children in Afghanistan,” UNICEF country representative Hervé Ludovic De Lys said in an emailed statement.    “The atrocities grow higher by the day.”
    The deaths and injuries were reported in Kandahar, Khost and Pakria provinces.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/10/2021 U.S. Says It Is Up To Afghans To Defend Country As Taliban Take More Territory
Tanks arrive at battlefield, in Kunduz, Afghanistan July 7, 2021 in this still image
taken from a video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) -The United States said it was up to Afghan security forces to defend the country after Taliban militants captured a sixth provincial capital on Monday, along with border towns and trade routes.
    President Joe Biden has said the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan will end on Aug. 31, arguing that the Afghan people must decide their own future and that he would not consign another generation of Americans to the 20-year war.
    U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has left for Qatar where he will “press the Taliban to stop their military offensive and to negotiate a political settlement,” the State Department said on Monday.
    In talks over three days, representatives from governments and multilateral organizations will press for “a reduction of violence and ceasefire and a commitment not to recognize a government imposed by force,” the State Department said.
    The Taliban, fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster, have stepped up their campaign to defeat the government as foreign forces withdraw.
    On Monday, they took Aybak, capital of the northern province of Samangan.
    “Right now the Taliban are fighting with Afghan forces to capture the police headquarters and compound of the provincial governor,” said Ziauddin Zia, a lawmaker in Aybak.
    “Several parts of the capital have fallen to the Taliban.”
    The insurgents took three provincial capitals over the weekend – Zaranj in the southern province of Nimroz, Sar-e-Pul, in the northern province of the same name, and Taloqan, in northeastern Takhar province.
    They had already taken the northern provincial capital of Kunduz and Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States was deeply concerned about the trend but that Afghan security forces had the capability to fight the insurgent group.
    “These are their military forces, these are their provincial capitals, their people to defend and it’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment,” Kirby said.
    Asked what the U.S. military can do if the Afghan security forces are not putting up a fight, Kirby said: “Not much.”
    U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that while the military had warned Biden earlier this year that provincial capitals would fall with a withdrawal of troops, they were still surprised at how quickly some of them were being taken by the Taliban.
    The United States carried out less than a dozen strikes over the weekend as the Taliban overran the provincial capitals, in one instance simply destroying equipment.
    One official said the Afghan forces did not ask for any support as Kunduz was being overtaken.
RECRIMINATIONS
    The Taliban gains have sparked recriminations over the withdrawal of foreign forces. British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the Daily Mail that the accord struck last year between the United States and the Taliban was a “rotten deal.”
    Washington agreed to withdraw in a deal negotiated last year under Biden’s Republican predecessor, Donald Trump.
    Wallace said his government had asked some NATO allies to keep their troops in Afghanistan once the U.S. troops departed, but failed to garner enough support.
    “Some said they were keen, but their parliaments weren’t.    It became apparent pretty quickly that without the United States as the framework nation it had been, these options were closed off,” Wallace said.
    Germany’s defence minister rejected calls for its soldiers to return to Afghanistan after Taliban insurgents took Kunduz where German troops were deployed for a decade.
    Afghan commandoes had launched a counterattack to try to beat back Taliban fighters who overran Kunduz, with residents fleeing the conflict describing the almost constant sound of gunfire and explosions.
    In the west, near the border with Iran, security officials said heavy fighting was under way on the outskirts of Herat.    Arif Jalali, head of Herat Zonal Hospital, said 36 people had been killed and 220 wounded over the past 11 days. More than half of the wounded were civilians.
    UNICEF said 20 children were killed and that 130 children had been injured in southern Kandahar province in the past 72 hours.
    “The atrocities grow higher by the day,” said Hervé Ludovic De Lys, UNICEF’s representative in Afghanistan.
FAMILIES FLEE
    In Kunduz, many desperate families, some with young children and pregnant women, abandoned their homes, hoping to reach the relative safety of Kabul, 315 km (200 miles) to the south – a drive that would normally take around 10 hours.
    Ghulam Rasool, an engineer, was trying to hire a bus to get his family to the capital as the sound of gunfire reverberated through the streets of his hometown.
    “We may just be forced to walk till Kabul, but we are not sure if we could be killed on the way.    … Ground clashes were not just stopping even for 10 minutes,” Rasool told Reuters.
    He and several other residents, and a security official, said Afghan commandoes had launched an operation to clear the insurgents from Kunduz.
    In Kabul itself, suspected Taliban fighters killed an Afghan radio station manager, government officials said, the latest in a long line of attacks targeting media workers.
    Thousands were trying to enter Kabul, even after the city has witnessed attacks in diplomatic districts.
    Speaking to Al Jazeera TV on Sunday, Taliban spokesman Muhammad Naeem Wardak warned the United States against further intervention to support government forces.
(Reporting by Afghanistan bureau and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Giles Elgood and Peter Cooney)

8/10/2021 North Korea Says U.S., South Korea Will Face New Threats For Military Drills by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the North Korean
embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SEOUL (Reuters) -South Korea and the United States will face even greater security threats for going ahead with annual joint military drills due to begin this week, Kim Yo Jong, a powerful North Korean official and sister of leader Kim Jong Un, said on Tuesday.
    South Korea and the United States began preliminary training on Tuesday with larger, computer-simulated exercises scheduled for next week, the Yonhap news agency reported, despite nuclear-armed North Korea’s warning that the exercises would set back progress in improving inter-Korean relations.
    The drills are an “unwelcome, self-destructive action” that threaten the North Korean people and raise tensions on the Korean peninsula, Kim Yo Jong said in a statement carried by state news agency KCNA.
    “The United States and South Korea will face a more serious security threat by ignoring our repeated warnings to push ahead with the dangerous war exercises,” she said.
    She accused South Korea of “treacherous treatment” for going ahead with the drills shortly after a hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul was reconnected in a bid to ease tensions.
    North Korea’s reaction to the drills threatens to upend efforts by South Korean President Moon Jae-in to reopen a joint liaison office https://www.reuters.com/world/china/exclusive-north-south-korea-talks-over-summit-reopening-liaison-office-sources-2021-07-28/?taid=6100faa3cb40370001903d27&utm_campaign=trueAnthem:+Trending+Content&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=twitter that Pyongyang blew up last year and to hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations.
    U.S. Department of Defense spokesman Martin Meiners declined to comment on the North Korean statement and said it was against policy to comment on training.
    “Combined training events are a ROK-U.S. bilateral decision, and any decisions will be a mutual agreement,” he said, using the initials of South Korea’s official name.
    A spokesman for South Korea’s defence ministry declined to comment on the preliminary drills during a briefing on Tuesday, and said the two countries were still discussing the timing, scale and method of the regular exercises.
    The United States stations around 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace deal, leaving the peninsula in a technical state of war.
    The exercises have been scaled back in recent years to facilitate talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    But the negotiations collapsed in 2019, and while both North Korea and the United States say they are open to diplomacy, both also say it is up to the other side to take action.
    Kim said U.S. military actions showed that Washington’s talk of diplomacy is a hypocritical cover for aggression on the peninsula, and that peace would only be possible if the United States dismantled its military force in the South.
    North Korea would boost its “absolute deterrence,” including a “strong pre-emptive strike capability,” to counter the ever-increasing U.S. military threat, she said.
    “The reality has proven that only practical deterrence, not words, can guarantee peace and security of the Korean peninsula, and that it is an imperative for us to build up power to strongly contain external threats,” she said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Stephen Coates)

8/10/2021 China Court Upholds Canadian’s Death Sentence As Huawei Executive Fights Extradition by Yew Lun Tian and David Ljunggren
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Intermediate People's Court of Dalian, where the trial for Robert Lloyd Schellenberg,
a Canadian citizen on drug smuggling charges, will be held, in Liaoning province, China January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING/OTTAWA (Reuters) – A Chinese court upheld on Tuesday a Canadian man’s death sentence for drug smuggling a day before another court is due to rule on the case of another Canadian accused of spying.
    The court proceedings for the two Canadians come as lawyers in Canada representing the detained chief financial officer of telecoms giant Huawei make a final push to convince a court there not to extradite her to the United States, where she faces charges linked to violating sanctions.
    Robert Schellenberg was arrested for drug smuggling in 2014 and jailed for 15 years in late 2018.
    He appealed but a court in the city of Dalian sentenced him to death in January 2019, a month after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested at Vancouver International Airport on a warrant from the United States, charged with misleading HSBC Holdings PLC about Huawei’s business dealings in Iran, potentially causing the bank to violate American economic sanctions.
    Meng, who has said she is innocent, has been fighting her extradition from under house arrest in Vancouver.
    The High Court in the northeast province of Liaoning heard Schellenberg’s appeal against the death sentence in May last year and confirmed the verdict on Tuesday.
    Speaking to reporters by telephone after attending the hearing, Canada’s ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, condemned the decision and called for China to grant clemency.
    “It is not a coincidence that these are happening right now, while the case is going on in Vancouver,” Barton said, referring to Schellenberg’s case and that of another Canadian, Michael Spavor.
    China has rejected the suggestion the cases of the Canadians in China are linked to Meng’s case in Canada though China has warned of unspecified consequences unless Meng was released.
    The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Businessman Spavor was detained in China days Meng’s arrest in Vancouver. He charged with espionage in June last year and went to trial in March.
    Barton said a court in the northeastern city of Dandong, on a river bordering North Korea, is expected to announce a verdict on Spavor on Wednesday.
    Another Canadian, former diplomat Michael Kovrig, was also arrested in China days after Meng’s arrest and charged with espionage.    His trial was conducted in March. His embassy had no news about when he would be sentenced.
    Chinese courts have a conviction rate of more than 99%.<
    Some observers have said the likely convictions of both Spavor and Kovrig could ultimately facilitate an agreement in which they are released and sent back to Canada. (This story refiles to correct Huawei code in paragraph 4)
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

8/10/2021 Hong Kong Leader Supports Adoption Of Anti-Sanctions Law Through Local Legislation
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks at a ceremony marking the
National Security Education Day in Hong Kong, China April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday she supports the implementation of a mainland Chinese law in the former British colony to respond to foreign sanctions, the strongest signal yet that the city is set to adopt the legislation.
    Lam, speaking at her weekly news conference, said she would prefer the law be introduced through Hong Kong legislation rather than Beijing legislation, by adding it to an annex of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.
    “(Hong Kong) will do its utmost to fulfil its constitutional responsibility, including safeguarding the country’s autonomy, safety and interest for its development,” Lam said.
    “We support this nationwide law – the anti-sanctions law – to be listed in Annex 3,” she said, referring to an annex of the Basic law.
    Local enactment would better clarify the legal framework around implementation, she said, adding that Beijing had already consulted her regarding listing the law in Annex 3.
    Beijing adopted a law in June under which individuals or entities involved in making or implementing discriminatory measures against Chinese citizens or entities could be put on a Chinese government anti-sanctions list.
    Under China’s law, such individuals could then be denied entry into China or be expelled.    Their assets in China may be seized or frozen.    They could also be restricted from doing business with entities or people in China.
    The mainland law comes as the United States and European Union step up pressure on China over trade, technology, Hong Kong and the far western region of Xinjiang.
    Critics have warned that Hong Kong’s adoption of the law could undermine its reputation as a global financial hub.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 with a guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms.
    On Sunday, Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng said the “most natural and appropriate way” to introduce the anti-sanctions law into Hong Kong would be to add it to an annex of the Basic Law.
    But that would first have to be approved by the highest organ of China’s parliament, the National People’s Congress, she said.    Media have reported that a decision would likely be made during a meeting in Beijing on Aug. 17-20.
    The U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Hong Kong and Chinese officials over Beijing’s crackdown on the city’s freedoms under a sweeping national security legislation that the central government enacted on the financial hub a year ago.
(Reporting By Sara Cheng and Clare Jim; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/10/2021 ‘We Are Not The Virus’: Two-Tier Delta Lockdowns Divide Sydney by Byron Kaye and Jill Gralow
FILE PHOTO: A woman wearing a protective face mask pulls a shopping trolley down the sidewalk during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak in the Canterbury-Bankstown local government area of southwest Sydney, Australia, August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – On the sands of Bondi Beach, one of Sydney’s wealthiest suburbs, surfers and seaside walkers jostle for space, while joggers clog the nearby promenade and fitness buffs huddle around public exercise equipment.
    To the west, where COVID-19 infections are greatest, stores sit shuttered on empty streets as some of Australia’s most migrant-heavy neighbourhoods endure heightened lockdowns, enforced by high-visibility policing backed up by the military.
    About three-quarters of New South Wales state’s nearly 5,000 active cases come from nine Sydney local government districts, urban sprawl stretching from about 12 km (7.5 miles) southwest of the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Blue Mountains foothills.
    “The community here is really struggling at the moment and they feel there’s a double standard,” said Bilal El-Hayek, a councillor from the city’s west who spends most days helping deliver food packages to people who don’t qualify for pandemic-related support payments.
    “You see photos and videos coming out of the east, people on the beach, whereas here the streets are absolutely empty,” he said.
    As Australia’s largest city struggles to contain its worst outbreak of the pandemic, the harsher restrictions and tougher policing in its most-affected neighbourhoods have stoked resentment in its most vulnerable people.    That feeling is especially raw since the     Delta outbreak began in Bondi, with an unmasked, unvaccinated airport driver.
    Though the whole East Coast city of 5 million is in lockdown, around 1.8 million in its ethnically diverse west are banned from leaving their immediate surroundings and doing any face-to-face work.    Authorised workers must be tested every three days, and masks are mandatory outside homes.
    The rest of the city is getting by with construction and property maintenance allowed, fewer movement restrictions and masks not required outdoors.    Schools, which have been closed citywide since June, are returning everywhere but the west.
    “Even the refugee communities who came here 40 years ago, how do we think these people will feel in a situation like this?” said Elfa Moraitakis, CEO of SydWest Multicultural Services, which provides aged care and settlement services for refugees.
    “Of course they feel targeted.”
    Mervat Altarazi, a Palestinian refugee who is also a SydWest case worker, said the police and army presence had raised doubts in her clients, many of them from countries like Iraq and Syria.
    “It’s like a shock for them as they believed they arrived in a free country and they say, ‘we face same what we face in our (home) country’,” she said.
    “Some of them told me, ‘we are not the virus’.”
    New South Wales Police declined a request for comment, although it has said publicly the 300 defence force personnel helping with “compliance checks” are trained in community engagement and unarmed.
    Tim Soutphommasane, a former federal race discrimination commissioner, called western Sydney “the heartland of multicultural Australia.”
    “If we don’t get this right, we will undermine the social fabric of this city for years to come,” he said in an email.
BUSINESS BUST
    The tougher lockdowns have also dealt an economic blow the federal government – facing its weakest polling in years and with elections due by early 2022 – has said may contribute to a second recession in two years.
    The west, where three-quarters of residents in some suburbs are overseas-born, contributes about 7% to the A$1.6 trillion ($1.2 trillion) national economy, with major logistics and manufacturing hubs there, according to Business Western Sydney (BWS), an industry association.
    Before the lockdowns, three-quarters of the area’s 1 million workers left their neighbourhoods daily to go to jobs.
    “These workers have gone from earning a wage to, for many of them, lining up for welfare for the first time in their lives,” said BWS Executive Director David Borger.
    The state government has said it would let the 80,000 construction workers from the west return to job sites once fully vaccinated, but with supply shortages and changing advice about vaccines for people under 40, less than a sixth of young Australians have had both shots, government figures show.
    After riding a construction boom through the first 20 months of the pandemic, Brickworks Ltd, the country’s top brickmaker, making a million bricks a day, said it pulled two Western Sydney plants offline after the lockdown brought an 80% reduction in demand.
    “If you think about trying to find space to stack 800,000 bricks a day, in the end we get to the point our yards are full,” said Managing Director Lindsay Partridge by phone.
    “We had no choice, we had to come offline.”
    Restaurants across the city are banned from seating customers and rely on takeaway to survive, but the reduced income in the west, coupled with restricted movement, has severely dented sales.
    “One rule applies to the west, one rule applies to the east,” said Abdul Eldick, who has owned Lebanese restaurant Little Tripoli for 12 years.
    “I don’t need the government’s money.    I can make my own money.    Just give me back my business.”
($1 = 1.3604 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Jill Gralow in Sydney; Writing by Byron Kaye; Editing by Tom Hogue)

8/10/2021 China’s Wild Elephants Head To Safety After Long Trek by David Stanway
An aerial view shows a herd of wild Asian elephants crossing the Yuanjiang River in Yuanjiang county of Yuxi,
Yunnan province, China August 8, 2021. The herd of 14 wild Asian elephants is on its way back to its traditional habitat,
according to provincial officials.    Picture taken with a drone August 8, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Fourteen wild elephants are heading south towards their protected habitat in southwest China’s Yunnan province following a 1,300-km (807-mile) trek that captured the public’s imagination, provincial officials said late on Monday.
    Wildlife protection officials told a press briefing the elephants safely crossed a bridge over the Yuan River, returning south towards a nature reserve administered by the city of Puer.
    An emergency committee set up to handle the wild elephants, used electric fences and bait and laid artificial roads to ensure the elephants took the correct route.
    Yang Yingyong, a member of the committee, told reporters the migration route was “scientifically planned.”
    The committee will “strive to allow the elephants to return to their habitat as soon as possible and thrive,” he said.
    Yunnan deployed more than 25,000 police and staff and 1,500 emergency vehicles to track and feed the elephants and guarantee public safety, said Wan Yong, head of the provincial forestry commission.
    More than 150,000 people were evacuated along the migration route and more than 5 million yuan ($771,000) in insurance funds disbursed to cover property damage, he said.
    A herd then consisting of 16 elephants left their home in Xishuangbanna 300 km further south in March last year and eventually settled in a protected habitat in Puer.
    In April this year, 15 of the elephants left Puer and meandered more than 1,300 km through the cities of Yuxi and Honghe before reaching the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming in June.
    State protection efforts have enabled the wild elephant population of Xishuangbanna to double since 1978.    Wan said a ban on hunting activities had also made elephants more willing to enter human communities.
    Experts say natural habitats have shrunk and become fragmented due to rapid urbanisation, new transportation infrastructure and the extension of commercial farming.
    Shen Qingzhong, an expert with the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve Management Bureau, said it is likely the elephants will head north again in the future.
    “The migration and spread of the Asian elephant population is inevitable,” he told the briefing.
($1 = 6.4825 yuan)
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Tom Hogue)

8/10/2021 Oil Recovers After Hitting Three-Week Low Amid Surging COVID-19 Cases by Aaron Sheldrick
FILE PHOTO: A crude oil tanker is seen at Qingdao Port, Shandong province, China, April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Oil prices rose on Tuesday, edging up from a three-week low in the previous session, but gains are likely to be limited on worries that rising COVID-19 cases and restrictions in China will dent fuel demand.
    Brent crude was up by 29 cents, or 0.4%, at $69.33 a barrel by 0359 GMT, after falling 2.3% on Monday.    U.S. oil was up by 46 cents, or 0.7%, at $66.94 a barrel, having fallen by 2.6% in the previous session.
    China on Monday reported more COVID-19 infections in the latest outbreak of the disease that was first detected in the country in late 2019, in what analysts said was the biggest test of Beijing’s zero-infection strategy.
    Some cities in China, the world’s top crude oil importer, have stepped up mass testing as authorities try to stamp out locally transmitted infections of the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus.
    “There is still plenty of uncertainty about how the Covid-19 situation in China will evolve and what this means for oil demand and prices,” ING Economics said in a note, adding that a stronger U.S. dollar was also weighing on prices.
    In the United States, the Senate is set to vote on the passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill later on Tuesday, which, if passed would boost the economy and demand for oil products, analysts said.
    But surging cases of COVID-19 are blighting the outlook for economic growth and overall consumption.
    “Investors are also questioning the recovery in the U.S. amid rising case numbers. U.S. air travel has plateaued for almost two months amid ongoing travel restrictions,” ANZ Research said in a note.
    Still, U.S. crude, gasoline, and other product inventories are likely to have dropped last week, with gasoline stocks forecast to fall for a fourth consecutive period, a preliminary Reuters poll showed on Monday. [EIS/S]
    Crude oil inventories are expected to have fallen by about 1.1 barrels in the week to Aug. 6, according to the average estimate of six analysts polled by Reuters.
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; editing by Richard Pullin & Shri Navaratnam)

8/10/2021 Biden Admin.: Up To Afghanistan To Defend Own Country, Taliban Takes Control Of 6 Provincial Capitals by OAN Newsroom
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province
as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration defended the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as the Taliban has accelerated its gains within the region.    On Monday, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged the terrorist organization captured six provincial capitals in just four days, but claimed it was not the United State’s responsibility to engage in further combat to protect the Afghan people.
    “This is their country.    These are their military forces.    These are their provincial capitals, their people to defend,” he asserted.    “It’s really going to come down to the leadership that they’re willing to exude here at this particular moment.”
    Kirby noted the U.S. would occasionally assist Afghan forces by using air strikes where and when it was feasible.
    However, it has not been clear if the United States would continue with the strikes after Biden’s August 31 deadline to exit the country.
    Kirby added the Biden administration wanted the Afghan people to use their own resources more effectively.    He then listed out a set of advantages Afghan forces have over the terrorist organization.
    “They have an air force.    The Taliban doesn’t.    They have modern weaponry and organizational skills.    The Taliban doesn’t,” he stated.    “They have superior numbers to the Taliban and so, again, they have the advantage, advantages.    It’s really now their time to use those advantages.”
    Even though Afghanistan may have advantages on paper, Afghan officials continue to criticize the Biden administration for pulling out U.S. forces too quickly. They argue the decision has caused the recent surge in violence throughout the country.

8/10/2021 Taliban Control 65% Of Afghanistan, EU Official Says, After Series Of Sudden Gains
An internally displaced child from northern provinces, who fled from his home due the fighting between Taliban and Afghan
security forces, sleeps in a public park that they use as shelter in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban insurgents tightened their grip on captured Afghan territory on Tuesday as civilians hid in their homes, and a European Union official said the militants now control 65% of the country after a string of gains as foreign forces pull out.
    Pul-e-Khumri, capital of the northern province of Baghlan, fell to the Taliban on Tuesday evening, according to residents who reported Afghan security forces retreating towards the Kelagi desert, home to a large Afghan army base.
    Pul-e-Khumri became the seventh regional capital to come under the control of the Taliban in about a week, though the White House said on Tuesday the United States did not see a Taliban takeover of the entire country as inevitable.
    President Ashraf Ghani called on regional strongmen to support his government, while a U.N. official said advances made in human rights in the 20 years since the hardline Islamists were ousted from power were in danger of being erased.
    In the national capital Kabul, Ghani’s aides said he was seeking help from regional militias he has squabbled with for years to defend his government.    He had also appealed to civilians to defend Afghanistan’s “democratic fabric.”
    In the town of Aibak, capital of Samangan province on the main road between the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul, Taliban fighters were consolidating their control, moving into government buildings, residents said.
    Most government security forces appeared to have withdrawn.
    “The only way is self-imposed house arrest or to find a way to leave for Kabul,” said Sher Mohamed Abbas, a provincial tax officer, when asked about living conditions in Aibak.
    “But then even Kabul is not a safe option anymore,” said Abbas, the sole bread winner for a family of nine.
    Abbas said the Taliban had arrived at his office and told workers to go home.    He and other residents said they had neither seen nor heard fighting on Tuesday.
    For years, the north was the most peaceful part of the country with an only minimal Taliban presence.
    The militants’ strategy appears to be to take the north, as well as the main border crossings in the north, west and south, and then close in on Kabul.
    The Taliban, battling to defeat the U.S-backed government and reimpose strict Islamic law with peace talks at an impasse, swept into Aibak on Monday meeting little resistance.
    Taliban forces now control 65% of Afghan territory, are threatening to take 11 provincial capitals and are trying to deprive Kabul of its traditional support from national forces in the north, a senior EU official said on Tuesday.
    The government has withdrawn forces from hard-to-defend rural districts to focus on holding major population centres, while officials have appealed for pressure on neighbouring Pakistan to stop Taliban reinforcements and supplies flowing over the porous border.    Pakistan denies backing the Taliban.
    In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration still felt that only negotiations could bring lasting peace and stability to Afghanistan.
    “Ultimately, our view is that the Afghan national security defense forces have the equipment, numbers and training to fight back, which will strengthen their position at the negotiating table,” Psaki told a regular press briefing.
    “The president continues to believe that it is not inevitable that the Taliban takes over Kabul or the country.”
    The United States has been carrying out a small number of air strikes in support of government troops but said it was up to Afghan forces to defend their country.
    On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Department spokesman John Kirby said the strikes were having a “kinetic” impact on the Taliban but acknowledged their limitations.
    “Nobody has suggested here (at the Pentagon) that air strikes are a panacea, that will solve all the problems of the conditions on the ground. We’ve never said that,” Kirby said.
‘DEEPLY DISTURBING REPORTS’
    Taliban and government officials have confirmed that the Islamist insurgents have overrun six provincial capitals in recent days in the north, west and south.
    Security forces in Pul-e-Khumri, southeast of Aibak, were surrounded as the Taliban closed in on the town at a main junction on the road to Kabul, a security official said.
    Gulam Bahauddin Jailani, head of the national disaster authority, told Reuters fighting was going on in 25 of 34 provinces and 60,000 families had been displaced over the past two months, with most seeking refuge in Kabul.
About 400,000 Afghans have been displaced in recent months and there has been an increase in numbers of people fleeing to Iran over the past 10 days, the EU official said.
    Six EU member states warned the bloc’s executive against halting deportations of rejected Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Europe despite major Taliban advances, fearing a possible replay of a 2015-16 crisis over the chaotic arrival of more than one million migrants, mainly from the Middle East.
    A resident of Farah, the capital and largest city of Farah province in western Afghanistan near the border with Iran, said the Taliban had taken the governor’s compound and there was heavy fighting between Taliban and government forces.
    Civilians said the Taliban had captured all key government buildings in the city.
    U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said reports of violations that could amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity were emerging, including “deeply disturbing reports” of the summary execution of surrendering government troops.
    “People rightly fear that a seizure of power by the Taliban will erase the human rights gains of the past two decades.”
MAJOR NORTHERN CITY IN JEOPARDY
    The Taliban, ousted in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, appeared to be in a position to advance from different directions on Mazar-i-Sharif.    Its fall would deal a devastating blow to Ghani’s government.
    Atta Mohammad Noor, a northern militia commander, vowed to fight to the end, saying there would be “resistance until the last drop of my blood.”    He added on Twitter: “I prefer dying in dignity than dying in despair.”
    India sent a flight to northern Afghanistan to take its citizens home, officials said, asking Indians to leave.    The United States and Britain have already advised their citizens to leave Afghanistan.
    The United States will complete the withdrawal of its forces at the end of this month under a deal with the Taliban, which included the withdrawal of foreign forces in exchange for Taliban promises to prevent Afghanistan being used for international terrorism.
    The Taliban promised not to attack foreign forces as they withdraw but did not agree to a ceasefire with the government.
(Reporting by Afganistan bureau, additional reporting by Emma Farge in Geneva and Sabine Siebold and John Chalmers in Brussels, Andrea Shalal and Trevor Hunnicutt in WashingtonEditing by Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

8/10/2021 Factbox: Afghan Cities Taken Over Or Contested By Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Members of Afghan Special Forces climb down from a humvee as they arrive at their base after heavy clashes with Taliban during
the rescue mission of a police officer besieged at a check post, in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    (Reuters) – Taliban insurgents have made rapid advances across Afghanistan in recent months as U.S. and other foreign forces withdraw.
    Following is a list of provincial capitals that have fallen to, or are being contested by the Islamist militants, who are fighting to reimpose strict Islamic law after they were ousted in 2001.    Afghanistan has 34 provinces in total.
    For a graphic click on: https://tmsnrt.rs/3jGaX8M
PROVINCIAL CAPITALS FALLING TO THE TALIBAN:
– Aug. 6 – ZARANJ. The Taliban take over the city in Nimroz province in the south of the country, the first provincial capital to fall to the insurgents since they stepped up attacks on Afghan forces in early May.
– Aug. 7 – SHEBERGHAN. The Taliban declare they have captured the entire northern province of Jawzjan, including its capital Sheberghan.    Heavy fighting is reported in the city, and government buildings are taken over by the insurgents.    Afghan security forces say they are still fighting there.
– Aug. 8 – SAR-E-PUL. The insurgents take control of Sar-e-Pul, capital of the northern province of the same name.    It is the first of three provincial centres to fall on the same day.
– Aug. 8 – KUNDUZ. Taliban fighters seize control of the northern city of 270,000 people, regarded as a strategic prize as it lies at the gateway to mineral-rich northern provinces and Central Asia.    Government forces say they are resisting the insurgents from an army base and the airport.
– Aug. 8 – TALOQAN. The capital of Takhar province, also in the north, falls to the Taliban in the evening.    They free prisoners and force government officials to flee.
– Aug. 9 – AYBAK. The capital of the northern province of Samangan is overrun by Taliban fighters.
– Aug. 10 – PUL-E-KHUMRI. The capital of the central province of Baghlan falls to the Taliban, according to residents.
PROVINCIAL CAPITALS BEING CONTESTED AS OF AUG. 10:
– FARAH. Capital of the western province of Farah.
– HERAT. Capital of Herat province in the west.
– LASHKARGAH. Capital of Helmand in the south.
– KANDAHAR. Capital of Kandahar province in the south.
(Compiled by Kabul bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/10/2021 Myanmar Junta Leader Aims To Solidify Grip On Power - U.N by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1,
presides an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. special envoy on Myanmar said on Tuesday the country’s military leader appears determined to solidify his grip on power following a February coup and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party could soon be disbanded.
    Christine Schraner Burgener cited military ruler Min Aung Hlaing’s announcement this month that he was now prime minister in a newly formed caretaker government and also a formal annulment of the results of a November election, which was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
    “I fear that we will soon hear also that the NLD party could be disbanded.    This is an attempt to promote legitimacy against lack of intern