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

    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 July-August or continue to King Of The East 2021 November-Deceember.

KING OF THE EAST 2021 SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER


    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 SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER

9/1/2021 In Indonesia, Drone Deliveries Provide Lifeline For Isolating COVID Patients by Rahman Muchtar
Volunteer of the Makassar Recover Medic Drone flies an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to deliver medical supplies for coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) patients in Makassar, South Sulawesi province, Indonesia, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Abd. Rahman Muchtar
    MAKASSAR, Indonesia (Reuters) – A group of drone enthusiasts in Indonesia are using their aerial skills to help during the pandemic by providing a contactless medicine and food delivery service to COVID-19 patients isolating at home.
    Armed with five drones, the seven-member team have been working around the clock in Makassar, the capital of the South Sulawesi province, since early July to provide deliveries.
    Hartati, who along with her family, has been self-isolating since she tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-August, welcomed the innovative service.
    “I think the medicine received from a drone is more sterile,” said the 50-year-old housewife, who uses one name, noting how the system avoided the need for any direct contact when receiving goods.
    The family of four is living in an area where up to 80 percent of residents are COVID-19 positive, according to data from Makassar’s coronavirus task force. Indonesia is one of the countries worst affected by the pandemic in Asia.
    The ‘Makassar Recover Drone Medic’ team is working with the local coronavirus task force to deliver medicine at least five times a day, said its founder and coordinator Muhammad Dasysyara Dahyar. During the peak of the latest outbreak in July, they made up to 25 rounds of deliveries in one day.
    Mobility restrictions remain in place in many Indonesian cities, including Makassar, in a bid to contain a devastating wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Delta variant.
    Indonesia has reported more than four million cases and 131,000 fatalities since the pandemic started.
    Makassar’s mayor Mohammad Ramdhan Pomato said authorities planned to expand the use of drones to nearby islands and also provide deliveries to around 800 people staying in isolation in a ship https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/indonesian-ferry-turns-floating-isolation-centre-covid-19-patients-2021-08-13 docked off Makassar.
    “The range of (each) drone is around seven kilometres (4.35 miles), so it is possible to reach the islands,” said Pomato.
    The drones also help monitor traffic and the movement of people in the city and pinpoint areas to target with COVID-19 tests.
    “This mission is a matter of pride. It’s not every day that we are needed and participate in disaster management to tackle the spread of COVID-19,” said the drone team’s founder Dahyar.
(Writing by Angie Teo; Editing by Ed Davies and Ana Nicolaci da COsta)

9/1/2021 Philippines Health Workers Protest Neglect As COVID-19 Strains Hospitals by Adrian Portugal
Healthcare workers hold a protest outside the Philippines' Department of Health, demanding better wages and benefits
amid rising coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Manila, Philippines, September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    MANILA (Reuters) – Scores of healthcare workers protested in the Philippine capital on Wednesday to demand an end to what they called government neglect and unpaid benefits, as pressure builds at hospitals fighting one of Asia’s longest-running coronavirus epidemics.
    Protesters wearing protective medical gear gathered around the Department of Health (DOH) and held placards demanding their risk allowances and hazard pay, and the resignation of Health Secretary Francisco Duque.
    Medical staff have been overwhelmed during the pandemic and 103 have died from COVID-19, among some 33,400 coronavirus fatalities in the Philippines.
    “It is sad that many of us have died, many of us became sick, and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DOH to give us our benefits,” Robert Mendoza, president of the Alliance of Health Workers, said from the back of a pickup truck.
    President Rodrigo Duterte gave health and budget ministries 10 days from Aug. 21 to pay health workers https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-duterte-orders-payment-healthcare-workers-benefits-2021-08-21, following nurses’ threats to resign and unions warning of strikes.
    “The government promised it will give the benefits today but up to now, it has not.    I pity us because we are the ones begging,” said nurse Nico Oba.
    The Philippine Nurses Association held its own protest virtually to demand better working conditions and more hospital staff.
    Many facilities are overstretched as the highly transmissible Delta variant sees deaths climb and cases soar, like elsewhere in Southeast Asia, where vaccination rates are low compared to Europe and North America.
    The Philippines was the first country outside China to report a coronavirus death and has since logged nearly 2 million cases, including a daily record https://news.trust.org/item/20210830080201-ezhx1 22,366 on Monday.
    Duterte has stood by Duque during repeated calls for his resignation as far back as last year, the latest after state auditors flagged “deficiencies” in more than $1 billion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippine-health-ministry-says-no-corruption-13-bln-pandemic-funds-2021-08-14 in COVID-19 spending.
(Writing by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

9/1/2021 Pakistan Frets Over Security Threats From Neighbouring Afghanistan by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
FILE PHOTO: General view of Pakistan and Taliban flags at the Friendship Gate crossing point in the
Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan August 27, 2021. REUTERS/Saeed Ali Achakzai/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – There is growing concern among Pakistani officials about security in neighbouring Afghanistan, as the Taliban tries to form a government and stabilise the country following the departure of U.S. and other foreign forces.
    Islamabad is particularly worried about militant fighters from a separate, Pakistani Taliban group crossing from Afghanistan and launching lethal attacks on its territory.    Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in jihadist violence in the last two decades.
    Underlining the security threat within Afghanistan, in the last few days a suicide bombing claimed by an Afghan offshoot of Islamic State outside Kabul airport killed more than 100 people, including 13 U.S. troops.
    A rocket attack on the airport followed, and on Sunday militant gunfire from across the border in Afghanistan killed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/militant-fire-across-afghan-border-kills-two-pakistan-soldiers-says-army-2021-08-29 two Pakistani soldiers.
    “The next two to three months are critical,” a senior Pakistani official said, adding that Islamabad feared a rise in militant attacks along the Afghan-Pakistan border, as the Taliban tried to fill a vacuum left by the collapse of Afghan forces and the Western-backed administration.
    “We (the international community) have to assist the Taliban in reorganising their army in order for them to control their territory,” the source added, referring to the threat posed by resurgent rival militant groups including Islamic State.
    U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of supporting the Afghan Taliban, which fought in a civil war in the mid-1990s before seizing power in 1996.
    Islamabad, one of the few capitals to recognise the Taliban government that was toppled in 2001, denies the charge.
    Pakistan’s government has said that its influence over the movement has waned, particularly since the Taliban grew in confidence once Washington announced the date for the complete withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops.
    The official, who has direct knowledge of the country’s security decisions, said Pakistan planned to send security and intelligence officials, possibly even the head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, to Kabul to help the Taliban reorganise the Afghan military.
    An Afghan Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on security relations with Pakistan.
PAKISTAN EXPECTS TALIBAN COOPERATION
    Though recognition of a new Taliban government was not immediately on the table, the official said, the world should not abandon Afghanistan.
    “Whether we recognise the Taliban government or not, stability in Afghanistan is very important.”
    The official warned that Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K), a loosely-affiliated offshoot of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, was actively looking to launch attacks and recruit new fighters.
    Left unhindered, it would almost certainly grow from relatively small numbers currently.
    The United States recently launched two drone strikes targeting ISIS-K militants, including one in Kabul and one near the eastern border with Pakistan.
    The strikes followed a pledge by President Joe Biden that the United States would hunt down the militants behind the recent suicide bombing.
    The Taliban criticised the strikes as a “clear attack on Afghan territory.”
    Pakistan, whose armed forces also possess unmanned drones as well as conventional aircraft, will avoid intervening directly in Afghanistan if at all possible, said the official.
    The Afghan Taliban have reassured their neighbour that they will not allow their territory to be used by anyone planning attacks on Pakistan or any other country.
    But Islamabad expected the Afghan Taliban to hand over militants planning attacks against Pakistan, the official added, or at least force them from their mutual border, where Pakistani troops have been on high alert in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/1/2021 With No Evacuation Flights, Afghans Weigh Risky Overland Trips To Borders by Jonathan Landay and Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Afghan nationals stand at the Dowqarun border crossing between Iran and Afghanistan, Razavi Khorasan
Province, Iran August 29, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS ATTENTION
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the last U.S. troops prepared to leave Afghanistan, Hussain, a U.S. passport holder who worked with the U.S. military, scrambled with his six daughters through Taliban checkpoints to the gates of Kabul airport for several days in a row, hoping to catch a flight to safety.
    He had called and emailed the U.S. Embassy for days without a response.    Then a U.S. soldier phoned him to say his only chance for a flight out was alone, without his daughters who are not U.S. citizens.    Hussain’s wife had died in July of COVID-19, and leaving would mean abandoning them.
    On Monday night, the family stood in the throngs outside Kabul airport, listening to the roar of the final U.S. C-17 aircraft taking off, ending America’s two decade-long military intervention in Afghanistan.
    Hussain now is among an untold number in Afghanistan weighing a potentially hazardous overland journey, he told Reuters Tuesday, speaking through a translator.
    “I hear from news and relatives that thousands are waiting at the Afghanistan borders with Pakistan and trying to get into Pakistan,” said Hussain, who requested that his last name be withheld for security reasons. “I do not know, should I go to Tajikistan,” he wondered, worrying how he will be able to look after his daughters on the road if he goes.
    With U.S. troops gone, U.S. evacuation flights over, and commercial fights avoiding Kabul’s airport, which has no air traffic control https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/faa-says-kabul-airport-now-uncontrolled-us-carriers-barred-flights-2021-08-30, ad hoc private efforts to save thousands of Afghans unmoved by Taliban security assurances are increasingly focused on arranging safe passage across the land-locked country’s borders.
    It could be days or weeks before the negotiations between the Taliban, Qatar and Turkey on how to run the airport are finalised.
    Many have already set out for Pakistan to the east and south, while others are trying to reach Afghanistan’s borders with Central Asian states, say people involved in private evacuation efforts, who requested anonymity for security reasons.
    The journeys, through Taliban checkpoints over hundreds of miles of rough roads via a patchwork of private cars, public buses and mini buses, are risk-filled, especially for former military and security officers and government officials.    Foreign passport holders like Hussain, Afghans with visas and bribe-payers were among those who have made it out so far.
    “There are just brick walls around the country right now,” said a former U.S. official who belongs to informal networks that helped American citizens, green card holders and at-risk Afghans navigate the chaos around Hamid Karzai International Airport and onto evacuation flights.
    The U.N. refugee agency has said up to half a million Afghans could flee https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/half-million-afghans-could-flee-across-borders-unhcr-2021-08-27 their homeland by year’s end.
THE ONLY OPTION
    More than 122,000 people, including around 6,000 Americans, were flown out of Kabul since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban overran the capital.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday vowed to pursue a “relentless effort” to help an estimated 200 Americans remaining in the country, and at-risk Afghans leave.
    Helping people travel overland will be tough, he said.    “This will be an entirely different phase from the evacuation that just concluded.”
    Tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for the U.S. government and applied for Special Immigration Visas (SIVs) and many other at-risk Afghans are still in the country.
    The State Department on Sunday published a declaration by around 100 countries committed to helping Afghans reach destinations outside Afghanistan. However, none of Afghanistan’s neighbors signed up.
    Tajikistan has pledged to accept 100,000 Afghan refugees, while Uzbekistan committed to allow transit through its territory for Americans and potentially others from Afghanistan.    But it wasn’t clear how many people, if any yet, both countries have actually allowed in.
    Pakistan – home to more than 1.4 million Afghan refugees – has admitted some 2,000 Afghans employed by foreign missions, international institutions, and non-governmental groups on one-month transit visas, said a diplomatic source on condition of anonymity.
    “The (overland) option is the only thing that’s possible right now,” said a U.S. military veteran involved in helping to evacuate at-risk Afghans.
    But the Taliban have set up more checkpoints on the main road leading north toward Uzbekistan and Tajikistan since the U.S. evacuation from Kabul airport ended, the former U.S. official said. The militants are banning travel by women unaccompanied by male family members.
    Some private groups helping Afghans escape said they are advising people not to try to reach the country’s frontiers unless they know that they are being pursued by the Taliban.
    “Unless you are someone who is being actively hunted, the rest of the people should lay low,” said the former U.S. official.    “I know that is impossible to say to a population that is very scared for the future.”
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay; Editing by Heather Timmons and Lincoln Feast.)

9/1/2021 Taiwan Says China Can ‘Paralyse’ Its Defences, Threat Worsening by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwan domestically-built Indigenous Defense Fighter (IDF) releases flares during annual
Han Kuang military drill simulating the China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) invading the island,
in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan August 25, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s armed forces can “paralyse” Taiwan’s defences and are able to fully monitor its deployments, the island’s defence ministry said, offering a stark assessment of the rising threat posed by its giant neighbour.
    Beijing is stepping up military activities around the island, which it views as Chinese territory. It has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control.
    In its annual report to parliament on China’s military, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry presented a far graver view than it did last year, when the report said China still lacked the capability to launch a full assault on Taiwan.
    This year’s report said that China can launch what it termed “soft and hard electronic attacks,” including blocking communications across the western part of the first island chain, the string of islands that run from the Japanese archipelago, through Taiwan and down to the Philippines.
    China “can combine with its internet army to launch wired and wireless attacks against the global internet, which would initially paralyse our air defences, command of the sea and counter-attack system abilities, presenting a huge threat to us.”
    China has also improved its reconnaissance abilities using Beidou, China’s answer to the U.S.-owned GPS navigation system, the ministry added.
    This means Beijing can monitor movements around Taiwan, helped by China’s regular use of its own spy planes, drones and intelligence gathering ships, it said.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Although Taiwan’s report noted, like last year, that China still lacked transport abilities and logistical support for a large-scale invasion, the Chinese military is working to boost those abilities.
    With precision missile attacks that can hit anywhere on the island, China is also capable of “paralysing” Taiwan military command centres and combat capacity of its naval and air forces, it said.
    Chinese spies in Taiwan could launch a “decapitation strike” to destroy political and economic infrastructure, it added.
    With the deployment of mid- and long-range missiles and more exercises involving its aircraft carriers, China is trying to position itself to delay “foreign military intervention” in an attack on Taiwan, the ministry said.
    President Tsai Ing-wen has made bolstering Taiwan’s own defences a priority, building up its domestic defence industry and buying more equipment from the United States, the island’s most important arms supplier and international backer.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/1/2021 Taliban Says It Has Surrounded Afghan Resistance Fighters, Calls For Peace by James Mackenzie and Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: Ahmad Massoud, son of the slain hero of the anti-Soviet resistance Ahmad Shah Massoud, waves as he arrives to
attend a new political movement in Bazarak, Panjshir province Afghanistan September 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    (Reuters) - The Taliban has surrounded the only remaining province resisting its rule, a senior leader said on Wednesday, calling on rebels to negotiate a settlement with the group.
    Since the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15, mountainous Panjshir has been the only province to hold out against the Islamist group, although there has also been fighting in neighbouring Baghlan province between Taliban and local militia forces.
    Under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud, son of a former Mujahideen commander, several thousand members of local militias and remnants of army and special forces units have been holding out against the Taliban.
    In a recorded speech addressed to Afghans in Panjshir, senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi called on the rebels to put down their weapons.
    “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans,” he said.
    The Taliban have declared an amnesty for all Afghans who worked with foreign forces during the past two decades but crowds fearing reprisals have continued to flock to the borders in an attempt to flee the land-locked country.
    Motaqi said the Taliban had made many efforts to negotiate with leaders of the opposition forces in Panjshir, “but unfortunately, unfortunately, without any result.”
NO REASON TO FIGHT
    Taliban forces are making preparations around the four sides of the Panjshir valley and there is no reason to fight, Motaqi said, adding that the anti-Taliban forces should keep in mind that it had not been possible to defeat the Taliban even with the support of NATO and U.S. forces.
    “But we are still trying to ensure that there is no war and that the issue in Panjshir is resolved calmly and peacefully,” Motaqi said.
    The remarks came after at least seven Taliban fighters were killed during an attempt to advance into the valley, according to two resistance leaders.
    Italian aid group Emergency said four dead and five wounded had been delivered to its trauma hospital in Kabul from the fighting around the Gulbahar area at the entrance to Panjshir.
    A spokesman for the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, which groups the forces in the Panjshir valley, said on Wednesday Taliban forces had launched an offensive two days ago, and had been attacking in three or four different areas but had so far been pushed back.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Alasdair PalEditing by Gareth Jones and Jonathan Oatis)

9/1/2021 New Era For Afghanistan Starts With Long Queues, Rising Prices by James Mackenzie
FILE PHOTO: People march in protest near the Central Kabul Bank, in Kabul, Afghanistan,
August 28, 2021, in this still image obtained by Reuters from a social media video.
    (Reuters) – As Kabul began a new era of Taliban rule, long queues outside banks and soaring prices in the bazaars underlined the everyday worries now facing its population after the spectacular seizure of the city two weeks ago.
    For the Taliban, growing economic hardship is emerging as their biggest challenge, with a sinking currency and rising inflation adding misery to a country where more than a third of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
    Even for the relatively well-off, with many offices and shops still shut and salaries unpaid for weeks the daily struggle to put food on the table has become an overwhelming preoccupation.
    “Everything is expensive now, prices are going up every day,” said Kabul resident Zelgai, who said tomatoes which cost 50 afghani the day before were now selling for 80.
    In an effort to get the economy moving again, banks which closed as soon as the Taliban took Kabul have been ordered to re-open.    But strict weekly limits on cash withdrawals have been imposed and many people still faced hours of queuing https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghanistans-banks-brace-bedlam-after-taliban-takeover-2021-08-25 to get at their cash.
    Outside the city, humanitarian organizations have warned of impending catastrophe as severe drought has hit farmers and forced thousands of rural poor to seek shelter in the cities.
    People huddling in tent shelters by roadsides and in parks are a common sight, residents said.
    In a cash-based economy heavily dependent on imports for food and basic necessities and now deprived of billions of dollars in foreign aid, pressure on the currency has been relentless.
    The afghani was recently valued at around 93-95 to the dollar in both Kabul and the eastern city of Jalalabad, compared with around 80 just before the fall of the city. But the rate is only an indicator, because normal money trading has dried up.
    In the Pakistani city of Peshawar, close to the border, many money traders are refusing to handle the Afghan currency, which has become too volatile to value properly.
    Only the sheer scarcity of cash has kept it from falling further, with international shipments of afghanis and dollars yet to resume.
    “In the bazaar you can exchange for a bit over 90 but it goes up and down because it’s not official,” said one trader.    “If they open the exchanges again it will go up over 100, I’m sure of it.”
STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS
    The fall in the exchange rate has seen prices for many basic foodstuffs ratchet up daily, squeezing people who have seen their salaries disappear and their savings put out of reach by the closure of banks.
    Kabul market traders said a 50 kg bag of flour was selling for 2,200 afghanis, around 30% above its price before the fall of the city, with similar rises for other essentials like cooking oil or rice. Prices for vegetables were up to 50% higher, while petrol prices were up by 75%.
    Remittances from abroad have also been cut off by the closure of money transfer operators like Western Union, and increasing numbers of people have been trying to sell jewellery or household goods, even if they have to accept a fraction of their value.
    “Two weeks ago, people were buying but the situation now is not good and no one is buying,” said one vendor.    “People’s money is stuck in the banks and no one has money to buy anything.”
    Taliban officials have said the problems will ease once a new government is in place to restore order to the market and have appealed to other countries to maintain economic relations. But the structural problems run deep.
    Even when its economy was floating on a tide of foreign money, growth was not keeping pace with the rise in Afghanistan’s population.
    Apart from illegal narcotics, the country has no significant exports to generate revenue, and aid, which accounted for more than 40% of economic output, has abruptly disappeared.
    A new central bank chief has been appointed but bankers outside Afghanistan said it would be difficult to get the financial system running again without the specialists who joined the exodus out of Kabul.
    “I don’t know how they will manage it because all the technical staff, including senior management, has left the country,” one banker said.
    In a sign of the pressure on Afghanistan’s currency reserves, the Taliban have announced a ban on taking dollars and valuable artefacts out of the country and said anyone intercepted would have their goods confiscated.
    Some $9 billion in foreign reserves is held outside the country and out of reach of the Taliban’s embryonic government, which has still not been officially appointed, let alone recognized internationally.
    To add to the problems, a recent suicide attack by an Afghan offshoot of Islamic State on crowds waiting to get a place on evacuation flights brought a chilling reminder that the bombings that were a regular feature of life in the past may not be over.
    “The market situation had slightly improved in the last few days,” said one vendor at a Kabul street market where people sell household goods to raise cash.    “But it completely collapsed after the suicide attack near the airport.”
(James Mackenzie reported from Milan; Additional reporting by Islamabad bureau and Tom Arnold in London; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/1/2021 Exclusive-Taliban Launch Charm Offensive With Afghan Banks Amid Funding Fears by Tom Arnold, Marc Jones and Karin Strohecker
A money changer holds a stack of Afghan currency on a street in central Kabul April 2, 2014. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/Files
    LONDON (Reuters) – The new, Taliban-appointed head of Afghanistan’s central bank has sought to reassure banks the group wants a fully-functioning financial system, but has so far provided little detail on how it will supply funds to sustain it, said four bankers familiar with the matter.
    The acting central bank governor, Haji Mohammad Idris, met members of the Afghanistan Banks Association and other bankers this week, and told them that the Taliban viewed the banking sector as imperative, said two bankers who attended the meeting.
    Uncertainty over the Taliban’s relationship with the international community is raising doubts over its ability to revive an economy shattered by 40 years of war and reliant on aid and foreign currency reserves, the latter largely out of reach in the United States.
    The militant group which now controls the country was working to find solutions for liquidity and rising inflation, the bankers quoted Idris as saying.
    “They were very charming and asked banks what their concerns were,” said one of the bankers who requested anonymity.
    Under the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001, Afghanistan had little functioning banking sector and although a handful of commercial banks retained licences none were operational and few loans were made.
    Idris, a Taliban loyalist who has no formal financial training or higher education, was appointed to head the central bank last week.
    He and his team did not tell the bankers how much cash Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the central bank, had access to, nor did they give any indication about how the Taliban would approach its relationship with the United States, one of the bankers said.
    The central bank provided liquidity to banks in recent days, said two of the bankers, with one adding that DAB paid a portion of the amount each bank requested.
    “They invited banks to send requests they may have via official letter,” said one of the bankers.
    It appears unlikely that the militants will get quick access to most of the roughly $10 billion in assets held by DAB, which are mostly outside of the country.
    “Around 80% of transactions done by banks are in dollars, so it’s very critical the new government should make the relationship with the U.S.,” said the banker.
    Another banker who attended the meeting said an initial rush by customers to access bank accounts after the Taliban captured Kabul had eased slightly.    A key priority for the central bank was now to have its international accounts “unblocked” and get access to its reserves, to allow it to keep enough money circulating.
    “We are in close contact and negotiations with the central bank,” said the second banker.
    Banks have mainly re-opened this week, but are operating with limited services, including $200 weekly limits on withdrawals and few wire transfers amid liquidity worries and correspondent banks cutting ties, say bankers.
    Idris also offered reassurances about banks’ female staff, telling them that the Taliban was not planning to stipulate whether they could employ women or not, said one of the bankers.
    Women account for around 20% of staff in some banks, but some have stayed away from offices amid concerns the movement will repeat the stance of their previous government before 2001 when women were not allowed to work.
    As a result of the assurances, some banks were inviting their female staff back to the office, the banker said.
(Reporting by Tom Arnold, Marc Jones and Karin Strohecker; Editing by Peter Graff and Jonathan Oatis)

9/1/2021 EU Says It Will Not Rush Into Recognising The Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces patrol near the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport,
a day after U.S troops withdrawal, in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will need to engage with the Taliban but it will not rush into formally recognising the Islamist militant group as the new rulers of Afghanistan, a senior European Union official said on Wednesday.
    Gunnar Wiegand, the European Commission’s managing director for Asia and the Pacific, also said the EU executive plans to secure funding of 300 million euros both this year and next to pave the way for resettlement of around 30,000 Afghans.
    Wiegand said official relations with the Taliban would only come about if the group meets specific conditions, including respect for human rights and unfettered access for aid workers.
    “There is no doubt among (EU) member states and in the G7 context: we need to engage with the Taliban, we need to communicate with the Taliban, we need to influence the Taliban, we need to make use of the leverages which we have,” he said.
    “i>But we will not rush into recognising this new formation, nor into establishing official relations,” he told members of the European Parliament in Brussels.
    Wiegand said it was unclear whether the Taliban will be able to govern effectively, but for the EU a key condition for official relations will be establishment of an inclusive and representative transitional government.
    Two weeks after seizing control of the capital, Kabul, the Taliban has yet to name an administration or reveal how they intend to govern.
    Wiegand said other conditions for recognising the Taliban will be allowing free passage to Afghans wishing to leave the country; refraining from retaliation against those affiliated to foreign powers or the former government; and preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists.
    There are concerns Afghanistan will see a repeat of the migration crisis that overwhelmed Europe in 2015-16.
    Wiegand said a European Commission plan to secure 300 million euros in 2021 and 2022 should “underpin resettlement and humanitarian admissions” to resettle of about 30,000 people.    He gave no details about where the funds would be raised or spent.
    He called for an assessment of what went wrong with the West’s 20-year engagement with Afghanistan, referring to the chaotic evacuation of civilians and foreign forces after the Taliban’s sweep into Kabul.
    “We have to make an assessment of the reasons why such a meltdown was possible,” Wiegand said.    “We have to learn lessons for similar situations, and this will be an assessment which is starting now.”
(Reporting by John Chalmers; Editing by David Gregorio)

9/1/2021 Taliban Grapple With Afghan Economy In Chaos, Humanitarian Crisis
A commercial airplane is seen at the Hamid Karzai International Airport a day after
U.S troops withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers struggled to keep the country functioning on Wednesday after the final withdrawal of U.S. forces, with foreign donors alarmed about an impending humanitarian crisis.
    Two weeks since the Taliban’s sweep into the capital Kabul brought a chaotic end to 20 years of warfare, the Islamist militants have yet to name a new government or reveal how they intend to rule.
    In an administrative vacuum, prices have soared and crowds have gathered at banks to withdraw cash.
    Heavily-armed fighters have imposed control on Kabul, but Taliban officials were grappling with keeping hospitals and government machinery running following the end of a huge airlift of foreigners and Afghans who had helped Western forces.
    The new, Taliban-appointed central bank head has sought to reassure banks the group wants a fully-functioning financial system, but has so far given little detail on how it will supply funds for it, bankers familiar with the matter said.
    Qatar’s Al Jazeera television reported that Qatari technical experts had arrived at the Taliban’s request to discuss resuming operations at Kabul airport, currently inoperable.
    The foreign minister of neighbouring Pakistan, which has close ties to the Taliban, said he expected Afghanistan to have a new “consensus government” within days.
    Meanwhile, people fearful of life under Taliban rule rushed to the borders.
    And in Panjshir province, members of local militias and remnants of former military units were still holding out under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud. Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi called on them to put down weapons and negotiate.
    “The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans,” he said in a speech.
    The Taliban have declared an amnesty for all Afghans who worked with foreign forces during the war that started when they were ousted from power in 2001 over their refusal to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
    Taliban leaders have called on Afghans to return home and help rebuild.    They have promised to protect human rights in an effort to present a more moderate face than their first government, which enforced radical Islamic law, including banning women from education and employment.
PRICES SOAR
    But the more immediate concern for them now is staving off economic collapse. Afghanistan desperately needs money, and the Taliban are unlikely to get swift access to the roughly $10 billion in assets https://www.reuters.com/business/afghanistan-central-bank-board-member-urges-biden-imf-release-funds-2021-09-01 mostly held abroad by the Afghan central bank.
    The Taliban have ordered banks to re-open but strict weekly limits on withdrawals have been imposed.
    Acting central bank governor Haji Mohammad Idris met members of the Afghanistan Banks Association and other financiers this week, said two bankers who attended the meeting.    The militant group was working to find solutions for liquidity and rising inflation, they quoted Idris as saying.
    “They were very charming and asked banks what their concerns were,” said one of the bankers who requested anonymity.
    Long lines have formed at banks, the currency is sinking, inflation is rising, and many offices and shops remain shut.
    “Everything is expensive now, prices are going up every day,” said Kabul resident Zelgai.
    Outside the capital, humanitarian organizations have warned of impending catastrophe as severe drought has hit farmers and forced thousands of rural poor to seek shelter in the cities.    But foreign donors are unsure about whom to speak to.
    Taliban officials have said the problems will ease once a new government is in place, and have appealed to other countries to maintain economic relations.
    Bankers outside Afghanistan said it would be difficult to get the financial system running again without the specialists who joined the exodus. “I don’t know how they will manage it because all the technical staff, including senior management, has left the country,” one banker said.
LEFT BEHIND
    More than 123,000 people were evacuated from Kabul in the U.S.-led airlift after the Taliban seized the city in mid-August but tens of thousands of Afghans at risk remained behind.
    With Kabul’s airport out of action, efforts to help Afghans fearful of the Taliban focused on arranging safe passage across the borders with Iran, Pakistan and central Asia.
    At Torkham, a crossing with Pakistan just east of the Khyber Pass, a Pakistani official said: “A large number of people are waiting on the Afghanistan side for the opening of the gate.”
    Uzbekistan’s border with northern Afghanistan remained shut.
    Britain and India held separate talks with Taliban officials in Doha amid fears that up to half a million Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/half-million-afghans-could-flee-across-borders-unhcr-2021-08-27 could flee.
    The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Wednesday Afghans have so far largely stayed within Afghanistan and so far only small numbers had fled to neighbouring countries.    It called for $300 million in international funding for the humanitarian emergency.
    Washington said it would use its leverage, including access to the global marketplace, over the Taliban as it seeks to get the remaining Americans and allies out of Afghanistan.
    The Taliban also said it had surrounded forces in Panjshir, the only province still resisting its rule, and it called on them to negotiate a settlement.    Taliban leader Motaqi urged the fighters to lay down their weapons.
    Some Taliban leaders mocked the United States.
    “Your power is gone, your gold is gone,” Anas Haqqani, who has emerged as one of the group’s most prominent leaders, said on Twitter.
    Haqqani posted a photograph of himself holding discarded prison shackles as he toured Bagram prison, where he spent years kept in solitary confinement by U.S. forces.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Angus MacSwan and William Maclean; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/2/2021 Taliban Prepare To Reveal New Afghan Government Amid Economic Turmoil
Taliban soldiers are seen at one of the main city squares of Kabul, Afghanistan,
September 1, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers were preparing on Thursday to unveil their new government as the economy teetered on the edge of collapse more than two weeks after the Islamist militia captured Kabul and brought a chaotic end to 20 years of war.
    Taliban official Ahmadullah Muttaqi said on social media a ceremony was being prepared at the presidential palace in Kabul, while private broadcaster Tolo said an announcement on a new government was imminent.
    The legitimacy of the new government in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for the economy as the country battles drought and the ravages of a conflict that took the lives of an estimated 240,000 Afghans.
    The Taliban has promised to allow safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the massive airlift which ended with the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops on Monday, but with Kabul airport still closed many were seeking to flee overland to neighbouring countries.
    A Qatari technical team had arrived in Kabul to discuss the resumption of operations at the airport, which would facilitate humanitarian assistance and further evacuations, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
    British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will visit Doha on Thursday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan with Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, Raab’s office said.
    “The prospects of getting Kabul airport up and running and safe passage for foreign nationals and Afghans across land borders (are) top of the agenda,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
    The Taliban’s supreme leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, is expected to have ultimate power over a new governing council https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-council-may-rule-afghanistan-taliban-reach-out-soldiers-pilots-senior-2021-08-18, with a president below him, a senior Taliban official told Reuters last month.
    The supreme Taliban leader has three deputies: Mawlavi Yaqoob, son of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar; Sirajuddin Haqqani, leader of the powerful Haqqani network; and Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the founding members of the group.
    An unelected leadership council is how the Taliban ran their first government which brutally enforced a radical form of Sharia law from 1996 until its ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
    The Taliban have tried to present a more moderate face to the world since they swept aside the U.S.-backed government and returned to power last month, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
    But the United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government – and the economic aid that would flow from that – is contingent on action.
    “We’re not going to take them at their word, we’re going to take them at their deeds,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Wednesday.
    “So they’ve got a lot to prove based on their own track record … now they also have a lot to gain, if they can run Afghanistan, far, far differently than they did the last time they were in power.”
    Gunnar Wiegand, the European Commission’s managing director for Asia and the Pacific, said the European Union would not formally recognise the Islamist group until it met conditions including the formation of an inclusive government, respect for human rights and unfettered access for aid workers.
ECONOMIC COLLAPSE
    Humanitarian organisations have warned of catastrophe as severe drought and the upheavals of war have forced thousands of families to flee their homes.
    Afghanistan desperately needs money, and the Taliban are unlikely to get swift access to the roughly $10 billion in assets https://www.reuters.com/business/afghanistan-central-bank-board-member-urges-biden-imf-release-funds-2021-09-01 mostly held abroad by the Afghan central bank.
    The new, Taliban-appointed central bank head has sought to reassure banks https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-taliban-launch-charm-offensive-with-afghan-banks-amid-funding-fears-2021-09-01 the group wants a fully functioning financial system, but has given little detail on how it will provide the liquidity needed, bankers familiar with the matter said.
    Afghanistan’s real gross domestic product is expected to shrink by 9.7% this financial year, with a further drop of 5.2% seen next year, said analysts in a report from Fitch Solutions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/chaotic-us-exit-likely-crush-afghan-economy-fitch-2021-09-02, the research arm of ratings agency Fitch Group.
    Foreign investment would be needed to support a more optimistic outlook, a scenario which assumed “some major economies, namely China and potentially Russia, would accept the Taliban as the legitimate government,” Fitch said.
    While the Taliban are cementing control of Kabul and provincial capitals, they are fighting with opposition groups and remnants of the Afghan army holding out in mountains north of the capital.
    Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Motaqi called on the rebels in Panjshir province to surrender, saying “the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is home for all Afghans,” referring to the Taliban-run state.
    Opposition leader Ahmad Massoud, son of a former mujahideen commander who fought against the Taliban in northeastern Afghanistan in the late 1990s, told CNN his forces were fighting for a “decentralised state where power is equally distributed between the different ethnic and sectarian groups”
    “Unfortunately, the Taliban have not changed, and they still are after dominance throughout the country,” he said.,br> (Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen CoatesEditing by Robert Birsel)

9/2/2021 Satellite Imagery Shows North Korean Troops Preparing For Military Parade – Reports by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of the 160-metre tall tower at North Korea's propaganda village
of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the
demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean troops have been spotted in commercial satellite imagery preparing for a likely military parade, according to two organisations that track the country.
    Possible dates for such an event are unconfirmed, but North Korea has used recent parades to unveil new military hardware, including large ballistic missiles.
    “Practice for big parades generally begins 1-2 months in advance (sometimes more),” the U.S.-based 38 North programme said in a tweet on Thursday https://twitter.com/38NorthNK/status/1433099602924818441, citing a satellite photo that showed troop formations at Mirim Parade Training Ground in Pyongyang.
    This could indicate an upcoming military parade in October, as was seen last year, the group added.
    At that parade leader Kim Jong Un unveiled previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles in an unprecedented predawn event that showcased the country’s long-range weapons for the first time in two years.
    Another nighttime military parade was held in January.
    Talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have stalled in recent years.    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearization, but shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
    “North Korea has used military parades in the past to boost internal resolve and show off its latest weapon developments to the world,” NK Pro, a Seoul-based organisation, said in a report on Thursday.
    The NK Pro report https://www.nknews.org/pro/north-korea-preparing-to-hold-military-parade-in-coming-months-imagery/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter said satellite imagery showed what appeared to be dozens of military trucks and at least 14 groups of about 300 soldiers each inside the parade training grounds on Monday, and troops were seen again in images from Wednesday.
    “Since daily satellite imagery became commercially available in recent years, the combination of troop formation training and a full parking lot has only appeared just prior to a military parade taking place,” the report said.
    Upcoming holidays in North Korea include its national foundation day on Sept. 9, and the anniversary of the ruling party’s founding on Oct. 10.
    North Korea may also be looking to commemorate Oct. 8, when Kim will celebrate the 10th anniversary of becoming supreme commander of the armed forces, NK Pro said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill)

9/2/2021 China Warns U.S. Climate Co-Operation At Risk Over Political Tension by David Stanway
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry is seen on a screen with Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister
Wang Yi during a meeting via video link as Kerry visits Tianjin, China September 1, 2021. U.S. Department of State/Handout via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi has warned the United States that political tension between Beijing and Washington could undermine efforts by the world’s top two sources of greenhouse gas to co-operate in the fight against climate change.
    The United States, which has resumed its role in global climate diplomacy after a four-year hiatus under President Donald Trump, has long hoped to keep climate issues separate from its disputes with China on issues such as trade, human rights and the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    China’s State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. climate envoy John Kerry that the United States saw the two sides’ joint efforts against global warming as an “oasis,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    “But surrounding the oasis is a desert, and the oasis could be desertified very soon,” he said, speaking by video link on Wednesday.    “China-U.S. climate co-operation cannot be separated from the wider environment of China-U.S. relations."
    “Everyone who met with you will have to spend two weeks in quarantine, but we’re willing to pay that price, to discuss co-operation with the U.S. on affairs of mutual concerns,” state broadcaster CCTV quoted Wang as saying.
    Kerry told Wang that Washington wanted China to do more on climate, a State Department spokesperson said.
    “Secretary Kerry affirmed that the United States remains committed to co-operating with the world to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands, and encouraged the PRC to take additional steps to reduce emissions,” the spokesperson said.
    Kerry is in the northern city of Tianjin for face-to-face talks with Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy, on the countries’ joint response to the climate crisis.
    In a separate video meeting with Kerry, Chinese vice premier Han Zheng urged the United States to “create a good atmosphere of co-operation,” state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday.
    Kerry responded that the United States was willing to improve communications between the two, it added.
    Climate watchers hope the talks will bring more ambitious pledges from both countries to fight greenhouse gas emissions.
    “The G2 (China and the United States) need to realise that beyond their bilateral oasis and desert, the whole planet is at stake,” said Li Shuo, a senior climate adviser with environmental group Greenpeace.
    “If they don’t make joint climate progress fast enough, it is soon all going to be desert.”
    The Tianjin meeting is the second between Kerry and Xie, following one in April in Shanghai.    Kerry’s remit is limited to climate change issues.
    Though Wang warned that climate change could now be tied to other diplomatic issues, China has said its efforts to cut emissions and adopt cleaner forms of energy are vital to its ambitious domestic agenda.
    “Chinese leaders have long said they are engaged in climate action not because of outside pressure, but because it benefits China and the world at large,” said Alex Wang, a climate expert and professor at UCLA.
    “If that is so, then U.S.-China tensions should not slow Chinese climate action.”
(Additional reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Clarence Fernandez)
[JOHN KERRY YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME CHINA IS THE BIGGEST POLLUTERS IN THE WORLD AND IF THEY GET A CHANCE THEY WOULD DO THE SAME THING TO THE UNITED STATES WHEN YOUR ADMINISTRATION LETS THEM TAKE OVER ALL INDUSTRIES EVENTUALLY AND YOU WILL WISH TRUMP WAS BACK TO FIX THAT.].

9/2/2021 India Locks Down Restive Kashmir After Burial Of Separatist Leader by Fayaz Bukhari
Indian security force personnel patrol near the residence of Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a veteran separatist
politician from Kashmir, after his death in Srinagar, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indian Kashmir veteran separatist politician Syed Ali Shah Geelani was laid to rest early on Thursday in Srinagar, as authorities blanketed the region with troops and clamped down on communications to prevent protests.
    Geelani, 91, was buried in a graveyard near his home before dawn with only a few hundred people, including his family and neighbours, allowed to attend the funeral, a government official said.
    “There was heavy security at the funeral, including plain clothes policemen,” the official said.
    Geelani, who died on Wednesday, had been unwell for some time, his family said.
    Among the most prominent political leaders in Kashmir – a Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan in full, but ruled in parts – Geelani for years led an umbrella alliance of secessionists known as the Hurriyat Conference.
    But the group split in 2003, when hardliners led by Geelani, who advocated Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan, walked out after moderates decided to hold talks with New Delhi. He was kept under house arrest more than a decade after leading several anti-India protests.
    Around Geelani’s home and elsewhere in Srinagar, armed troops lined main roads and manned checkpoints, a Reuters witness said, as authorities sought to prevent protests in the wake of his passing.
    The city’s main business area remained deserted, with most shops closed, and the movement of vehicles restricted, the witness said. Authorities also cut internet connections and mobile networks in the Kashmir valley since late on Wednesday.
    The clamp down echoes restrictions that were imposed in August 2019 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi split Jammu and Kashmir – then the country’s only Muslim majority state – into two federally-administered territories.
    The shock move was opposed within Kashmir, including by the likes of Geelani who quit his hard line Hurriyat Conference faction, saying that it had failed to counter New Delhi’s efforts to tighten its grip on the disputed region.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari and Altaf Bhat, Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/2/2021 Japanese PM’s Rival Kishida Urges Coronavirus Stimulus Package by Tetsushi Kajimoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Kantaro Komiya
FILE PHOTO: Japanese former Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida walks off after casting his ballot at the Liberal Democratic
Party's (LDP) leadership election in Tokyo, Japan September 14, 2020. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who is challenging Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as ruling party chief, said on Thursday an economic stimulus package worth “tens of trillions of yen” was needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.
    Kishida also said Japan must maintain ultra-low interest rates to support the pandemic-hit economy, offering the clearest sign to date that expansionary fiscal and monetary policies would remain in place if he replaced Suga.
    The winner of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race is all but assured to become premier given the party’s majority in parliament’s powerful lower chamber.
    “Many countries are signalling that they will maintain expansionary fiscal and monetary policy steps for the time being.     Japan must not fall behind,” he told a news conference, shifting away from his prior remarks signalling the need to dial back the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose policy.
    Kishida also said that as party chief, he would aim to bring socio-economic activities back to near normalcy by early 2022, criticising the current handling of the pandemic as too little and too slow.
    Kishida said the stimulus package must be compiled “swiftly” and include cash payments to non-permanent workers and others who will be affected by steps to contain the flow of people.
    The party leader contest is slated for Sept. 29, and the government is considering a plan to hold the general election on Oct. 17.
‘WORST-CASE SCENARIO’
    Late on Wednesday, Japan’s minister for digital transformation became the first serving cabinet member to openly back Kishida.
    The move marked another turn in the rollercoaster week that saw the unpopular Suga come to the brink of calling a snap election on Tuesday night, only to deny the reports by Wednesday morning after party grandees, including his powerful predecessor Shinzo Abe, intervened to stop him.
    In a series of manoeuvres to cling on to his job, Suga is set to remove his unpopular long-term ally Toshihiro Nikai from a key LDP post.    It is a part of a reshuffle expected next week that will likely bring several high-profile names to both party executive positions and Suga’s cabinet as the premier strives to shore up his support.
    Kishida said Suga’s coronavirus policies were fragmented and piecemeal and said the government should move with urgency.
    “In crisis management, being more thorough in assuming the worst-case scenario, rather than believing enough has been done, is necessary,” he said.
    Kishida laid out plans to set up a new government agency overseeing health crisis management, complete vaccinations by November, and to provide government aid for the development of oral drugs for COVID-19 treatment.
    “I would have legislation revised so state and local governments have strong authority to curb people’s movement and secure medical resources,” Kishida said.
    When launching his candidacy last https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-suga-faces-likely-challenge-sept-29-party-poll-2021-08-25 week, he said he wanted to reduce income gaps and support the economically vulnerable such as workers in insecure jobs and women, in contrast with Suga, who has stressed self-reliance before public support.
    “Suga has been focused on helping businesses, such as aids for corporate loans.    Kishida, by contrast, emphasises support for household income rather than companies,” said Daiju Aoki, chief Japan economist at UBS SuMi TRUST Wealth Management.    “While both are calling for expansionary fiscal policies, this point is clearly different.”
    The low-key Kishida, 64, has ranked poorly in surveys of voters’ preferred next premier, but the head of an LDP faction is now viewed as a promising rallying point for lawmakers seeking a new leader ahead of the lower house election.
    Suga, 72, took office last September with support of about 70% but his ratings have sunk to record lows below 30% as Japan battles its worst wave of COVID-19 infections and many of his LDP lawmakers fear for their seats.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)

9/2/2021 Thai Royalist Turns Protester As Anti-Government Movement Broadens by Panu Wongcha-um and Juarawee Kittisilpa
Tanat "Nat" Thanakitamnuay, 29, known as "Hi-so Luk Nat", who was blinded in the right eye during clashes with riot police, participates
in a protest over the government's handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and demanding Thai Prime Minister
Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, in Bangkok, Thailand, August 28, 2021. Picture taken August 28, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Often seen at the wheel of one of his supercars, Thai ultra-royalist Tanat “Nat” Thanakitamnuay became a well-known face at demonstrations that ushered in Thailand’s 2014 coup.
    Now he is back on the streets demanding the removal of coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha as prime minister and reforms to the monarchy – a change of heart that points to the broadening of Thailand’s latest anti-government movement.
    “It’s bad for your mental health to see an incompetent PM,” said Nat, 29, who was blinded permanently in his right eye last month after being hit by a teargas canister at a protest.
    He switched sides in part because of anger over the government’s widely-criticised handling of the latest coronavirus outbreak, which has brought severe economic hardship as well as nearly 12,000 deaths.
    That has given new life to a student-led protest movement that emerged last year with demands to limit the powers of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s monarchy and remove Prayuth, a former army chief who seized power in 2014 after months of protests against the elected government of Yingluck Shinawatra.
    After a lull due to coronavirus restrictions on gatherings, demonstrations against Prayuth have gathered renewed steam in recent weeks. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thai-protest-leaders-detained-ahead-planned-car-mob-rally-2021-08-10     “The protests have broadened due to COVID-19 and its economic consequences,” Titipol Phakdeewanich, dean of Ubon Ratchathani University’s political science faculty, told Reuters.    “That prompted a more diverse group of people to join.”
    Defending the government’s handling of the pandemic, Anucha Burapachaisri, deputy secretary to the prime minister, told Reuters that all necessary measures to contain the spread of infections had been taken.
    But a recent poll said fewer than 30% of people thought they could rely on the government of Prayuth, who rejects the accusations of opponents that he manipulated a 2019 election to keep power he had taken by force.
    “Everybody suffers from the lack of democracy, regardless of how much their income changes,” said Nat.
‘HISO’
    Income is not a problem for Nat, a member of a Thai elite widely known as “HiSo” (High Society).
    The son of a real-estate billionaire, he was educated at a British private school and has enjoyed a playboy lifestyle with his supercars, celebrity dates and his own rock band.
    He said he had now cut himself off from his family, while dabbling in the stock market and cryptocurrencies.
    His appearance at protests is very different to that of the youth activists as he drives in his Range Rover along with a bodyguard and a secretary.
    “It shocked us initially, but we thought that him joining us was very useful because it paved the way for others,” student activist Songpon “Yajai” Sonthirak told Reuters.    “It shows how people can reform themselves and how we are inclusive.”
    Nat said his time as a politician with the pro-establishment Democrat Party had made him suspicious of all those proclaiming loyalty to the monarchy.
    He has joined calls for the removal of the lese majeste law outlawing criticism of the king, which can mean 15 years in jail and has been used against most of the youth protest leaders.
    After losing his eye, Nat sports a black eyepatch marked with three white dashes representing the “Hunger Games” salute adopted by pro-democracy campaigners.
    “We have to do whatever we can, whatever it takes,” he told Reuters.    “If it will cost me another eye then so be it.”
(Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Alex Richardson)

9/2/2021 China Slams “Incorrect” Politics In Show Business, High Actor Pay by Gabriel Crossley
FILE PHOTO: Police officers remove fans standing outside the opening ceremony
of the 17th Shanghai International Film Festival, June 14, 2014. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China told broadcasters on Thursday to shun artists with “incorrect political positions” and effeminate styles, and said a “patriotic atmosphere” needed to be cultivated, as part of a wider crack down on its booming entertainment industry.
    China’s communist authorities can censor anything they believe violates core socialist values, and already have stringent rules on content ranging from video games to movies to music.
    The latest moves cracking down on the entertainment industry come in the wake of a series of celebrity scandals involving tax evasion and sexual assault.
    Two government ministries and an industry association published fresh guidelines on Thursday, including the National Radio and Television Administration.
    The NRTA, a ministry level body, said it will strengthen regulation over stars’ salaries and punish tax evaders.    It also said it would weed out any content in cultural programmes that it deems to be unhealthy.
    Last week, China’s internet regulator said it was taking action against what it described as a “chaotic” celebrity fan culture.
    The selection of actors and guests should be carefully controlled, with political literacy and moral conduct included as criteria, NRTA said, adding that performers should be encouraged to participate in public welfare programmes and assume social responsibilities.
    The notice also said that programmes portraying “effeminate” behaviour and other content deemed “warped” should be stopped, along with shows built around scandals, ostentatious wealth and “vulgar” internet celebrities.
    Unhealthy fan culture should be deterred, and strict controls placed on programmes with voting segments, and any that encourage fans to spend money to vote should be forbidden, it added.
    After years of runaway growth in the world’s second largest economy, regulators have been to trying to strengthen control over Chinese society by tightening oversight over a broad swathe of industries ranging from technology to education.    They have urged for measures to be taken to reduce gaping inequality.
    Separate notices also published on Thursday by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and the China Association of Performing Arts said that performers, such as livestreaming stars, should undergo periodic training on professional ethics while agencies should terminate contracts with performers who “lack moral discipline.”
    Besides criticising the culture of celebrity worship, authorities and state media have criticised male stars who favour heavy make up and project a feminine image, saying Chinese boys should become more manly.
    Chinese celebrities have attended government-arranged courses to learn about Communist Party history and carried out “self criticism” in the past two months in response to the crackdown.
    At an event in Beijing in late August, movie stars Zhou Dongyu and Du Jiang read aloud a statement criticising stars who had “i>crossed the bottom line,” calling on entertainers to never become “slaves of the market” and to be responsible to society, according to a video in local media.
    Entertainers should “bravely scale artistic heights under the leadership of the (Communist) Party!” they said, to applause.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Brenda Goh and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Michael Perry, Kim Coghill & Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/2/2021 Japan Ruling Party Head Candidate Kishida Calls For Big Stimulus Package
FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former foreign minister, attends a news conference
as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan must compile an economic stimulus package worth “tens of trillions of yen” to combat the coronavirus pandemic, former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who is challenging Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in the race for ruling party chief, said on Thursday.
    The package must be compiled “swiftly” and include cash payouts to non-permanent workers and others who will be affected by steps to contain the flow of people, Kishida said in a news conference.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka, writing by Leika Kihara; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

9/3/2021 Japan’s Struggling PM Suga Steps Down, Sets Stage For New Leader by Antoni Slodkowski and Tetsushi Kajimoto
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks to media after he annouced to pull out of a party
leadership race at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan, September 3, 2021. Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday he would step down, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/fall-japan-pm-suga-triggered-by-criticism-over-pandemic-failure-communicate-2021-09-03 marred by an unpopular COVID-19 response and rapidly dwindling public support.
    Suga, who took over after Shinzo Abe resigned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-politics-abe-resignation/japans-shinzo-abe-says-to-step-down-as-pm-apologies-from-bottom-of-my-heart-idUSKBN25O0ZX last September citing ill health, has seen his support ratings sink to below 30% as the nation struggles with its worst wave of COVID-19 infections ahead of a general election this year.
    Suga did not capitalise on his last major achievement – hosting the Olympics, which were postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic months before Suga took office as coronavirus cases surged.
    Suga’s decision to not run in a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) election in September means the party will choose a new leader, who will become prime minister.
    Before Abe – Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, with an eight-year tenure – the country had gone through six prime ministers in as many years, including Abe’s own troubled first one-year tenure.
    Japan’s Nikkei average futures https://www.reuters.com/article/global-markets/global-markets-japanese-shares-gain-on-sugas-resignation-as-markets-look-to-u-s-jobs-data-idUSL1N2Q50BG jumped 2% immediately after media reports that Suga would not run, while the broader Topix Index extended its gains and hit its highest levels since 1991 following the news.
    “I want to focus on coronavirus response, so I told the LDP executive meeting that I’ve decided not to run in the party leadership race,” Suga told reporters.
    “I judged that I cannot juggle both and I should concentrate on either of them,” Suga said.    He added that he would hold a news conference as early as next week.
    The address ended a rollercoaster week https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japanese-pm-suga-says-dissolving-lower-house-not-possible-now-2021-09-01 in which Suga pulled out all the stops to save his job, including suggestions he would sack his long-term party ally, as well as plans to dissolve parliament https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-pm-suga-considering-party-reshuffle-nikkei-2021-08-31 and reshuffle party executive and his cabinet.
    Ruling LDP officials said Suga would stay on until his successor is chosen in party-wide election slated for Sept. 29.
    The winner of the contest is all but assured of being premier because of the LDP’s majority in the lower house. The government has been considering holding the general election on Oct. 17.
RACE FOR LEADER
    Suga’s decision opens up the party chief race https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/potential-candidates-become-japans-next-prime-minister-2021-09-03, as there is no clear favourite to replace the outgoing leader.
    Fumio Kishida, a soft-spoken former foreign minister, is one of the only two lawmakers who have so far declared their candidacy.    On Thursday, he criticised https://www.reuters.com/article/us-japan-politics-idAFKBN2FY01W Suga’s coronavirus response and urged a stimulus package to combat the pandemic.
    “Kishida is the top runner for the time being but that doesn’t mean his victory is assured,” said Koichi Nakano, political science professor at Sophia University.
    Nakano said popular Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono could run if he gets backing of his faction leader, Finance Minister Taro Aso, while former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba could also run but looks at a disadvantage.
    Kono has led Japan’s rocky vaccination rollout but remains high on the list of lawmakers voters want to see succeed Suga.
    The former foreign and defence minister, Kono is popular with younger voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3 million followers – a rarity in Japanese politics dominated by men in their 60s or older.
    Ishiba is a soft-spoken former defence minister and rare LDP critic of Abe when the latter was in office.
    Abe’s stance will be closely watched given his influence inside two largest factions of the LDP – his own Hosoda group and the second-largest faction led by Finance Minister Taro Aso – as well as among the conservative MPs, experts say.
    Unlike last year, grassroots LDP members will vote along with the party’s members of parliament, which makes the outcome of the party leader race harder to predict.
    The LDP-led coalition is not expected to lose its majority in the powerful lower house, but forecasts suggest that the LDP could lose the majority that it holds on its own, an outcome that would weaken whoever is leading the party next.
    “Stock prices are rising based on a view that the chance of LDP’s defeat in the general election has diminished because anyone other than Suga will be able to regain popularity,” said senior economist at Daiwa Securities Toru Suehiro.
    Suga’s image as a savvy political operator capable of pushing through reforms and taking on the stodgy bureaucracy propelled his support to 74 percent when he took office.
    Initially, populist promises such as lower mobile phone rates and insurance for fertility treatments were applauded.
    But removing scholars critical of the government from an advisory panel and compromising with a junior coalition partner on policy for healthcare costs for the elderly drew criticism.
    His delay in halting the “Go To” domestic travel programme – which experts say may have helped spread coronavirus around Japan – hit hard, while the public grew weary of states of emergency that hurt businesses.
(Reporting by Tokyo bureau. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/3/2021 Japan’s Yoshihide Suga: Return Of The One-Year Premier
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga attends a meeting with president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC)
Andrew Parsons in Tokyo, Japan September 3, 2021, following his announcement that he will not seek
re-election for Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership this month. Behrouz Mehri/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday he would step down https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-ruling-party-execs-meet-pm-suga-struggles-ahead-election-2021-09-03, setting the stage for a new premier after a one-year tenure marred by an unpopular COVID-19 response and sinking public support.
    Suga took over after Shinzo Abe resigned last September.    Before Abe’s record eight-year tenure, the role of prime minister was a revolving door https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-suga-danger-becoming-another-revolving-door-premier-2021-07-15, with six premiers in as many years.
    Here is a timeline of some of the key events in Suga’s term:
Sept. 14, 2020: Suga wins the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election by a landslide, ensuring he will be premier.    He promises to continue Abe’s main policies while pursuing reforms, including deregulation and breaking down bureaucratic silos.
Sept. 16: Suga is chosen prime minister by parliament and says Japanese people want to contain the coronavirus outbreak and revive the economy.    Polls a day later show Suga’s government is backed by at least two-thirds of respondents.
Oct. 5: Suga comes under fire for rejecting six scholars for a science advisory panel, an unprecedented move criticised as a violation of the constitution’s principle of academic freedom.    Suga says his decision was legitimate.
Oct. 26: Japan aims to become carbon-neutral by 2050, Suga says, unveiling a major shift in the country’s position on climate change.
Oct. 29: Japan tops 100,000 coronavirus cases.
Nov. 10: Suga tells his cabinet to compile an economic stimulus package to revitalise the pandemic-hit economy.
Nov. 17: Japan and Australia agree on a breakthrough defence pact during a visit to Tokyo by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Nov. 21: Suga reverses his decision and suspends a campaign encouraging domestic travel in areas hit hardest by COVID-19, as cases hit a record high. His approval ratings subsequently drop.
Dec. 4: In his first news conference since the surge in infections, Suga defends the travel subsidy campaign.    The next week he announces the stimulus package will be worth some $700 billion.
Dec. 16: Suga draws further criticism for joining year-end get-togethers after begging the public to avoid parties due to the coronavirus.    He later apologises, urging people to have a quiet, distanced New Year, and announces a $2.6 billion package for hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
Jan. 7, 2021: Suga declares a state of emergency for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures to combat the rise in coronavirus infections.    States of emergency are alternatively lifted and reimposed in the capital in subsequent months tracking infection numbers.
Jan. 18: Despite growing public opposition to the Olympics, Suga vows to forge ahead with the Games, which had been postponed a year by the pandemic.
April 16: Suga meets Joe Biden in the new U.S. president’s first face-to-face White House summit since taking office.    China tops the agenda.
May 10: Voter support for Suga’s government hits a new low as vaccinations progress slowly.
June 9: Suga laments taking the heat for the decision to go ahead with the Olympics while COVID-19 rages.
July 4: The LDP and allies fare badly in a local election in Tokyo seen as a key test of voter sentiment ahead of national polls.
July 19: South Korean President Moon Jae-in scraps plans for his first summit with Suga over disparaging remarks by a senior diplomat at Japan’s embassy in Seoul.
July 26: Suga’s support slides further as the Olympics begin in the shadow of the pandemic.
Aug. 3: Japan shifts COVID-19 policy to focus on hospitalising patients who are seriously ill or at risk of becoming so.
Aug. 6: Japan’s COVID-19 cases hit 1 million.
Aug. 26: Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida challenges Suga in the LDP leadership election scheduled for Sept. 29.    The winner must call a general election and lead the LDP in it by Nov. 28.
(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by William Mallard)

9/3/2021 Mullah Baradar To Lead New Afghanistan Government – Taliban Sources
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members attend
the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Mullah Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office, will lead the new government in Afghanistan, at least three sources in the Islamist group said on Friday.
    Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai will take senior positions in the government, the sources said.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

9/3/2021 Taliban Co-Founder Baradar To Lead New Afghanistan Govt – Sources
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, speaks during talks between
the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    (Reuters) - Taliban co-founder Mullah Baradar will lead a new Afghan government set to be announced shortly, sources in the Islamist group said on Friday, as it battled rebel fighters in the Panjshir Valley and strived to ward off economic collapse.
    Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office, will be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, in senior positions in the government, three sources said.
    “All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government,” one Taliban official told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.
    Haibatullah Akhunzada, the Taliban’s surpreme religious leader, will focus on religious matters and governance within the framework of Islam, another Taliban source said.
    The Taliban, which seized Kabul on Aug. 15 after sweeping across most of the country, have faced resistance in the Panjshir Valley, north of the capital, with reports of heavy fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-afghan-rebels-claim-heavy-casualties-fighting-over-valley-2021-09-02 and casualties.
    Several thousand fighters of regional militias and remnants of the government’s armed forces have massed in the rugged valley under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/son-slain-afghan-hero-massoud-vows-resistance-seeks-support-2021-08-19, the son of former Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
    Efforts to negotiate a settlement appear to have broken down, with each side blaming the other for the failure.
HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE
    The government’s legitimacy in the eyes of international donors and investors will be crucial for an economy grappling with drought and the ravages of a conflict that killed an estimated 240,000 Afghans.
    Humanitarian groups have warned of impending catastrophe and the economy, reliant for years on many millions of dollars of foreign aid, is close to collapse.
    Many Afghans were struggling to feed their families amid severe drought well before the Taliban took power and millions may now face starvation, aid agencies say.
    “Since August 15, we have seen the crisis accelerate and magnify, with the imminent economic collapse that is coming this country’s way,” Mary-Ellen McGroarty https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/drought-leaves-afghans-hungry-economic-collapse-looms-un-2021-09-02, the director of the World Food Programme in Afghanistan, told Reuters from Kabul.
    The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has no plans to release billions in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves parked in the United States that it froze after the Taliban’s takeover.
    In a positive development, a senior executive of Western Union Co said the firm was resuming money-transfer services https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-western-union-resuming-services-afghanistan-senior-exec-2021-09-02 to Afghanistan in line with a U.S. push to keep up humanitarian work.
RECOGNITION
    The Taliban enforced a radical form of sharia, or Islamic law, when it ruled from 1996 to 2001.
    But this time around, the movement has tried to present a more moderate face to the world, promising to protect human rights and refrain from reprisals against old enemies.
    The United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on such assurances, saying formal recognition of the new government, and the resultant flow of economic aid, was contingent on action.
    The Taliban have promised safe passage out of the country for any foreigners or Afghans left behind by the huge airlift that ended when U.S. troops withdrew ahead of an Aug 31 deadline.    But, with Kabul airport still closed, many were seeking to flee https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/an-afghanistan-border-crossing-people-face-uncertainty-long-wait-2021-09-02 over land.
    Thousands of Afghans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/evacuated-afghans-hoping-resettle-us-face-extended-limbo-third-countries-2021-09-02, some without documents, others with pending U.S. visa applications or whose families have mixed immigration status, also wait in “transit hubs” in third countries.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/3/2021 New Zealand Police Kill “Extremist” Who Stabbed Six In Supermarket 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
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) -New Zealand police on Friday shot and killed a “violent extremist” who was known to authorities, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, after he stabbed and wounded at least six people in a supermarket.
    The attacker, a Sri Lankan national who had been in New Zealand for 10 years, was inspired by the Islamic State militant group and was being monitored constantly, Ardern said.
    “A violent extremist undertook a terrorist attack on innocent New Zealanders,” Ardern told a briefing.
    “He obviously was a supporter of ISIS ideology,” she said, referring to Islamic State.
    The attacker, who was not identified, had been a “person of interest” for about five years, Ardern said, adding that he had been killed within 60 seconds of beginning his attack in the city of Auckland.
    Police following the man thought he had gone into the New Lynn supermarket to do some shopping but he pulled out a large knife and started “running around like a lunatic” stabbing people, shopper Michelle Miller told the Stuff online news outlet.
    Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told the briefing the man was acting alone and police were confident there was no further threat to the public.
    “We were doing absolutely everything possible to monitor him and indeed the fact that we were able to intervene so quickly, in roughly 60 seconds, shows just how closely we were watching him,” Coster said.
    New Zealand has been on alert for attacks since a white supremacist gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch on March 15, 2019.
    Ardern, asked if the Friday attack could have been revenge for the 2019 mosque shootings, said it was not clear.    The man alone who was responsible for the violence, not a faith, she said.
    “It was hateful, it was wrong.    It was carried out by an individual, not a faith,” Ardern said.    “He alone carries the responsibility for these acts.”
    “It would be wrong to direct any frustration to anyone beyond this individual.”
‘SOMEBODY GOT STABBED’
    A video posted on social media showed shoppers in the supermarket seconds after the attacker struck.
    “There’s someone here with a knife … he’s got a knife,” a woman can be heard saying.    “Somebody got stabbed.”
    A guard asked people to leave the shopping mall shortly before about 10 quick shots rang out.
    Ardern’s compassionate response to the 2019 mosque shootings united her shocked country but the Friday violence is likely to lead to questions about why the attacker was allowed to remain free if the authorities had suspicions about him.
    Ardern said the man had not committed offences that would have led to his arrest.
    “If he had committed a criminal act that would have allowed him to be in prison, that’s where he would have been.    Unfortunately, he didn’t.    That is why instead he was being monitored constantly, constantly, and followed,” she said.
    Asked if, since authorities were aware of the man, she was disappointed when she heard news of the attack, she said:
    “Yes, because I know we have been doing everything we could … so I was absolutely gutted.”
    Of the six wounded people, three were in critical condition, one in serious condition and two were in moderate condition, the St John ambulance service said.
    Another witness, Amit Nand, told the Newshub outlet he had seen the attacker and told him to drop the knife just before police arrived.
    “This undercover cop came to me … I was going to hit him …. The cop is like ‘get back’ and he started shooting him,” Nand said.
(Reporting by Praveen MenonEditing by Robert Birsel)

9/3/2021 Japan LDP’s Ishiba Says He Is Ready To Take On Premier’s Job If Conditions Are Right
FILE PHOTO: Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership candidate and former Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba
attends a debate for the LDP leadership election in Tokyo, Japan September 12, 2020. Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Former Japanese Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba, who regularly comes in high in lists of lawmakers that voters favour as premier, said on Friday he was ready to serve as prime minister if the conditions and environment are right.
    Following Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s decision earlier in the day to step down, Ishiba said on Nippon Television Network’s evening programme: “We have entered a brand new phase.    I need to think hard about what to do next.”
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

9/3/2021 Thai Activists Push For PM To Quit As Confidence Vote Looms
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator participates in a protest over Thai government's handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
and to demand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha's resignation, in Bangkok, Thailand, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters planned more demonstrations on Friday to demand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha resigns, as lawmakers challenged the premier and five ministers over their handling of a coronavirus crisis on the last day of a house censure debate.
    Activists vowed to protest daily until Prayuth leaves office, after staging one of this year’s biggest rallies https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thousands-join-protest-bangkok-demanding-prime-ministers-resignation-2021-09-02 on Thursday at the Asoke intersection in central Bangkok, defying a ban on big gatherings in place to contain a COVID-19 outbreak.
    “We will use Asoke as a fort to hold activities against Prayuth every day,” said a protest organiser, Sombat Boonngamanong.
    “We will do this every day until Prayuth resigns,” he said.
    The protests have gathered steam since late June as university students who sought Prayuth’s removal last year return with broader support from other political groups and people angered by a worsening coronavirus situation.
    The overwhelming majority of Thailand’s 1.24 million cases and 12,374 deaths came after April, following a year of successful containment.    It has since been hit by the Alpha and Delta variants and has struggled to get hold of enough vaccines.
    More than 600 people face protest-related charges for various violations in July and August, police said on Friday.
    A big rally is planned for Saturday, when a confidence vote is scheduled in parliament, which is expected to go Prayuth’s way because of his coalition’s clear majority.
    Former army chief and 2014 coup leader Prayuth and his ministers have rejected the opposition’s allegations of corruption, economic mismanagement and a bungled coronavirus response.
    Prayuth on Friday said he will neither resign nor call a snap election.
    “The country has to move forward,” he told reporters.
    “As long as the people wants me, I will continue to move forward.”
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Martin Petty)

9/3/2021 Exclusive: U.S. Funding Tapped For Pacific Undersea Cable After China Rebuffed by Jonathan Barrett
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's plane makes its landing approach on Pohnpei International
Airport in Kolonia, Federated States of Micronesia August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Federated States of Micronesia will tap a U.S. funding facility to construct a Pacific undersea communications cable, two sources told Reuters, after rejecting a Chinese company-led proposal that was deemed a security threat by U.S. officials.
    The United States has taken great interest in several plans in recent years to lay optic fibre cables across the Pacific, projects that would bring vastly improved communications to island nations.
    The undersea cables have far greater data capacity than satellites, leading Washington to raise concerns https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pacific-exclusive-idUKKBN28R0L2 that the involvement of Chinese firms would compromise regional security.    Beijing has consistently denied any intent to use cable infrastructure for spying.
    Two sources with knowledge of the plans said FSM would use U.S. funds to construct a line between two of its four states, Kosrae to Pohnpei, replicating part of a route proposed under a previous $72.6 million project backed by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.
    Reuters reported in June that project, which also encompassed Nauru and Kiribati, was scuppered https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pacific-exclusive-idAFKCN2DU06W after Washington raised concerns the contract would be awarded to Huawei Marine, now called HMN Technologies and majority owned by Shanghai-listed Hengtong Optic-Electric Co Ltd.
    One source told Reuters that FSM would draw around $14 million from the American Rescue Plan, a U.S. facility created by President Joe Biden to distribute funds both at home and abroad to combat the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    FSM said it was committed to providing fibre connectivity to the State of Kosrae, and onward connectivity to Kiribati and Nauru.    It did not respond directly to questions about U.S. funding.
    The U.S. State Department declined to comment.
    The United States and FSM have a long geopolitical relationship, enshrined in the Compact of Free Association, a decades-old agreement between the United States and its former Pacific trust territories.    Under that agreement, Washington is responsible for the island nation’s defence.
    The second source said the U.S. funded cable would likely connect to the HANTRU-1 undersea cable, a line primarily used by the U.S. government that connects to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
    Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak publicly.
    The World Bank said in a statement it was working with FSM and Kiribati to map out their next steps after the original tender for the larger project concluded with no contract awarded.
PACIFIC POLITICS
    Undersea cables represent one of the newest and most sensitive fronts in the rivalry between China and the U.S. in the strategic waters of the Pacific.
    While FSM has close ties to the United States, it also has long-standing diplomatic and trade relations with China.
    Prominent U.S. lawmakers have warned that Chinese companies could undermine competitive tenders by offering state-subsidised bids Reuters previously reported.
    The U.S. Commerce Department publicly lists Huawei Marine on its so-called “Entity List” – known as a blacklist – which restricts the sale of U.S. goods and technology to the company.    The Department told Reuters that Huawei’s new owner, HMN Tech, would also be captured under these restrictions.
    China has strongly refuted the allegations. China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement to Reuters that Chinese companies had a good record in cybersecurity.
    “The so-called security threat [alleged] by the U.S. is totally groundless, and has ulterior motives,” the statement said.    “Who the ‘hacker empire’ really is – engaging in spying and stealing secrets – is plain to the world.”
    Australia, a strong regional ally to the United States, has ramped up its presence in the Pacific through the creation of a A$2 billion ($1.48 billion) infrastructure financing facility that island nations can potentially access for cable projects.
    Nauru has been negotiating plans https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-pacific-island-turns-australia-undersea-cable-after-spurning-china-2021-06-24 to tap into the Australian-backed Coral Sea Cable system, via Solomon Islands, sources told Reuters in June.
($1 = 1.3510 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett; additional reporting by Beijing bureau; editing by Jane Wardell)

9/3/2021 Japan Considering Easing Some COVID-19 Emergency Restrictions – Media
FILE PHOTO: Woman who does street surveys wears a mask and a face shield, during a state of emergency amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan August 29, 2021. REUTERS/Androniki Christodoulou
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government is considering easing restrictions on alcohol sales in restaurants and lengthening their opening hours in areas under COVID-19 state of emergency measures, local media reported on Friday.
    The restrictions could be eased between October and November depending on the progress in vaccinations, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing recommendations by health experts.    The government may announce the easing plan after a coronavirus task force meeting on Friday.
    Japan is battling its fifth and largest wave of COVID-19 cases, driven by the highly infectious Delta variant.    Tokyo and much of the country remain under a state of emergency that is due to expire on Sept. 12.
    Under the current measures, restaurants have been requested to shorten their hours and refrain from selling alcohol in an effort to reduce foot traffic and behaviours that can lead to contagion.
    A panel of experts said on Wednesday that while the overall pace of infections has slowed recently, infections among younger people are high and serious cases remain near record levels, putting serious pressure on the medical system.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; editing by Richard Pullin)

9/3/2021 Reports: China To Keep Kabul Embassy, Extend Aid To Taliban by OAN Newsroom
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid (L) gestures as he speaks during the first press conference in Kabul on August 17, 2021
following the Taliban stunning takeover of Afghanistan. (Photo by Hoshang Hashimi / AFP) (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    China is pushing to extend influence over the Taliban following Joe Biden’s botched Afghan withdrawal.
    A Taliban spokesman told Italian media on Thursday that China will keep its embassy in Kabul open after the U.S. pullout despite other major nations evacuating their diplomats.    He added, China will increase financial and political support to the Taliban.
    This comes after critics warned that Biden handed Afghanistan over to China with his incompetent withdrawal of U.S. forces.    Even Chinese experts have said Beijing seeks political leverage over the Taliban before launching any economic projects.
    “Obviously, there’s a political support from the Chinese side and that is like if there is an establishment of a new government, let’s say inclusive government lead by Taliban leaders,” explained Qinduo Xu, senior fellow at the Pangoal Institution.    "I think international support or encouragement or even guidance for the new government to be moderate and to pursue the democrat polices…that will be easier for them (Taliban) to gain international recognition.”
    According to some estimates, Afghanistan may have up to $3 trillion worth of deposits of rare minerals, which may be attracting China’s interest.    The Taliban has admitted it plans to rely on Chinese investment to rebuild the Afghan economy and society.

9/3/2021 Taliban Sources Say Last Afghan Holdout Region Has Fallen
Afghan women's rights defenders and civil activists protest to call on the Taliban for the preservation of their
achievements and education, in front of the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan September 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) -Three Taliban sources said the Islamist militia had on Friday seized the Panjshir valley north of Kabul, the last province of Afghanistan holding out against it, although a resistance leader denied it had fallen.
    “By the grace of Allah Almighty, we are in control of the entire Afghanistan.    The troublemakers have been defeated and Panjshir is now under our command,” said one Taliban commander.
    It was not immediately possible to confirm the reports, but deafening volleys of celebratory gunfire resounded all over Kabul and Facebook accounts were full of mentions of the fall of Panjshir.
    A BBC World journalist posted a video clip on Twitter in which former Vice President Amrullah Saleh, one of the leaders of the opposition forces, said he was still in the valley.
    “There is no doubt we are in a difficult situation.    We are under invasion by the Taliban,” he said.    “We have held the ground, we have resisted.”
    He also tweeted to say: “The RESISTANCE is continuing and will continue.    I am here with my soil, for my soil & defending its dignity.”
    His son Ebadullah Saleh also dismissed reports of the fall of Panjshir, where thousands of fighters from regional militias and remnants of the old government’s forces had massed under the leadership of Ahmad Massoud https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/son-slain-afghan-hero-massoud-vows-resistance-seeks-support-2021-08-19, the son of late Mujahideen commander Ahmad Shah Massoud.
    Massoud himself tweeted: “News of Panjshir conquests is circulating on Pakistani media. This is a lie.”
    There had been reports of heavy fighting https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-afghan-rebels-claim-heavy-casualties-fighting-over-valley-2021-09-02 and casualties in the valley, which is walled off by mountains except for a narrow entrance and had held out against Soviet occupation as well as the previous Taliban government that was ousted in 2001.
    The Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15 after rapid advances across Afghanistan.
NEW GOVERNMENT
    Earlier, Taliban sources said the group’s co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would lead a new Afghan government set to be announced soon.
    Its immediate priority may be to avert the collapse of an economy grappling with drought and the ravages of a 20-year conflict that killed around 240,000 Afghans before U.S. forces completed a tumultuous pullout on Aug. 30.
    Afghanistan is facing not only humanitarian disaster https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-taliban-victory-brings-new-challenge-governing-country-crisis-2021-09-03 but also threats to its security from rival jihadist groups, including a local offshoot of Islamic State.
    Baradar would be joined by Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the son of late Taliban co-founder Mullah Omar, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai in senior positions, three sources said.
    “All the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government,” a Taliban official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Haibatullah Akhundzada, the Taliban’s supreme religious leader, would focus on religious matters and governance, another Taliban source said.
    While Taliban officials have spoken of wanting to form a consensus government, a source close to the movement said the interim government would consist solely of Taliban members.
    It would comprise 25 ministries, with a consultative council, or shura, of 12 Muslim scholars, the source added.
    Also being planned within six to eight months is a loya jirga, or grand assembly, bringing together representatives from across Afghan society to discuss a constitution and the structure of the future government, the source said.
    Without the aid that has sustained the country for years, the Taliban will find it hard to avert economic collapse.
    Western powers say they are prepared to engage with the Taliban and send humanitarian aid, but that formal recognition of the government and broader economic assistance will depend on action – not just promises – to safeguard human rights.
    When they were in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban imposed violent punishments and barred women and older girls from school and work.
    This time, the movement has tried to present a more conciliatory face to the world, promising to protect human rights and avoid vendettas, although it has yet to explain what social rules it will enforce.
    The United States, the European Union and others have cast doubt on its assurances.
RIGHTS OF WOMEN
    On Friday, dozens of women protested near the presidential palace, urging the Taliban to respect the rights of women and their significant gains in education and the workforce over the past two decades.
    “Our demonstrations are because without the presence of women, no society will prosper,” said Fatema Etemadi, one of the protesters.
    Footage obtained by Reuters showed most of the women dispersing after an armed Taliban militant intervened.
    Afghanistan’s 250 female judges https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-conflict-judges/hunted-by-the-men-they-jailed-afghanistans-women-judges-seek-escape-idUSKBN2FZ0YX are particularly afraid of men they jailed who have now been freed by the Taliban.
    “Four or five Taliban members came and asked people in my house: ‘Where is this woman judge?’    These were people who I had put in jail,” a judge who had escaped to Europe said from an undisclosed location, asking not to be identified.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Peter Graff and Alex Richardson)

9/3/2021 Analysis-Afghan Taliban Victory Brings New Challenge: Governing A Country In Crisis by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
An Afghan man rides on his bicycle as he holds the Taliban flag in Kabul,
Afghanistan, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    (Reuters) – After a lightning military triumph and the departure of the last U.S. flight on Monday, the Taliban faces the challenge of forming a government that can unite different factions and rebuild Afghanistan after 40 years of war.
    The movement is expected to announce the makeup of its government https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-co-founder-baradar-lead-new-afghanistan-govt-sources-2021-09-03 in the next few days.
    At stake is its ability to govern a country facing deep economic crisis, a humanitarian disaster caused by drought and hunger and threats to security and stability from rival jihadist groups, including a local offshoot of Islamic State.
    Caught by surprise by the speed of the outgoing government’s collapse, the Taliban were left scrambling to keep order in Kabul after President Ashraf Ghani fled and security forces melted away, and they have taken weeks to form a new administration.
    “A guerrilla war is one day here, one day there.    This is different,” said a senior Pakistani official with knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan.    “It will take time.”    While the Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada has remained silent, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, one of the group’s founders who is now head of the political commission in Doha, has been the public face of the leadership.
    A government headed by Baradar under the spiritual guidance of Akhundzada is expected but the Taliban are made up of different elements whose interests and priorities must be reconciled, sources in the movement say.
    On Tuesday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the senior leadership wrapped up a three-day meeting in Kandahar to discuss the path ahead.
    Mujahid did not respond to requests for further comment on the discussions or on balancing the priorities of different elements of the Taliban.
    But he said separately that preparations were in their final stages and the announcement of the government was expected “in a few days.”
    Zahid Hussain, a Pakistani specialist on the movement, said the Taliban had changed from the monolithic group commanded by its founder Mullah Omar in the 1990s.
    “Mullah Omar had absolute power.    Whatever he would say was basically obligatory for everyone to follow,” he said.
    The movement now had distinct political and military operations that must coordinate.
    Leaders who have spent years in the political office in Doha negotiating with international powers will now have to work with younger commanders who fought the war and who could now expect a say in shaping the peace will be one issue, Hussain said.
    As Taliban fighters entered Kabul on Aug. 15 to find the presidential palace abandoned and the city left to its fate, the jubilation of those streaming into the capital hid differences that need to be dealt with carefully, according to a senior Taliban commander.
    Some of the group’s core leaders, from regions near the Taliban’s birthplace in the southern city of Kandahar, were wary of the growing political role assumed by the Haqqani group whose Badri313 special forces unit spearheaded the seizure of Kabul.
    Taliban sources said the unit captured a series of important buildings including the presidential palace and the defence ministry, increasing the influence of the Haqqanis, a powerful group from the borderlands with Pakistan designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.
    “The Kandahar and Zabul faction was previously more powerful in the decision making process, but now the Haqqani group is more dominant as they seized control of Kabul,” said the commander, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
‘NOT MONOLITHIC’
    Even among the core southern leadership group, there are different allegiances around senior figures like Baradar and others including Mullah Omar’s son Yaqoob, who has his own supporters in Kandahar.
    The fall of Kabul has now also seen newer figures emerging like Anas Haqqani, youngest son of one of the founders of the Haqqani network, which has been blamed for some of the worst suicide bombing attacks of the war.
    “They are not monolithic, and they are not monolithic within their own divisions,” said one Western diplomat with long experience in the region.
    In the days following the fall of Kabul, Anas Haqqani has taken an increasingly visible political role, emerging from the shadow of his brother Sirajuddin Haqqani, the deputy leader of the Taliban, who has a $10 million U.S. bounty on his head and has not appeared in public.
    Boosted by the successes of Badri313 unit, Haqqani has been one of the most prominent Taliban faces on social media since the fall of Kabul, posing for photographs everywhere from the newly secured airport to a meeting with members of Afghanistan’s popular cricket team.
    Reuters was not able to contact Anas Haqqani directly but in an interview with Turkish television station TRT World he said he would like to be a soldier or to work and serve the people but added: “If they tell me to stand aside, I will.”
    For years, the U.S. military and the Western-backed government in Kabul tried to exploit divisions within the Taliban by appealing to commanders perceived to be more open to negotiations, without succeeding in fracturing the movement.
    Outside Afghanistan, countries trying to understand the new Taliban order say they are closely watching to see if different groups can maintain a common purpose as the challenges of running a country mount.
    “For the Taliban, speed is of the essence,” said a senior regional diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.     “Marshalling revenues and breathing life into the economy will be their biggest challenge.”
    The deep economic crisis, made worse by the loss of thousands of trained and educated specialists in the flight from Kabul, and an emerging security challenge posed by a local affiliate of Islamic State are the most pressing challenges.
    One of the poorest countries in the world, Afghanistan now faces being cut off from the billions of dollars in foreign aid that kept the economy afloat, just as severe drought threatens to create a humanitarian catastrophe.
    The group has promised an amnesty for former opponents and rights for women compatible with Islamic law.    It has pledged to allow people to travel freely and asked for diplomatic relations with foreign powers including the United States.
    Overtures have also been made to former leaders like ex-President Hamid Karzai, but whether figures associated with the former administration will have more than a symbolic presence remains to be seen.
    Among the names that have surfaced as potential ministers, most appear to be veteran commanders from the southern provinces, whose presence in government would do little to suggest a more open approach.
    It is also unclear how they will treat ethnic groups like Persian-speaking Tajiks or the mainly Shi’ite Hazara, many of whom are deeply mistrustful of Pashtuns who dominate the Taliban and who have traditionally provided Afghanistan’s rulers.
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie and Jonathan Landay; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/3/2021 Hunted By The Men They Jailed, Afghanistan’s Women Judges Seek Escape by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Relatives carry the body of a female judge shot dead by unknown gunmen
in Kabul, Afghanistan January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s 250 women judges fear for their lives, with men they once jailed now freed by the victorious Taliban to hunt them down.
    While some women judges were able to flee in recent weeks, most were left behind and are still trying to get out, said judges and activists working around the clock to help them escape.
    The militants, who swept into power last month as the United States withdrew its troops, banned women from most work when they last ruled the country 20 years ago.    They have said women’s rights will be protected, but have yet to provide details.
    Women who work in justice have already been high profile targets.    Two female Supreme Court justices were gunned down in January.
    Now, the Taliban have released prisoners across the country, which “really put the lives of women judges in danger,” a high-level Afghan women judge who fled to Europe said from an undisclosed location.
    In Kabul, “four or five Taliban members came and asked people in my house: ‘Where is this woman judge?’    These were people who I had put in jail,” she told Reuters in an interview, asking not to be identified.
    She was among a small group of Afghan women judges to have made it out in recent weeks with the help of a collective of human rights volunteers and foreign colleagues at the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ).
    Since then she has been in touch with colleagues back home: “Their messages are of fear and complete terror.    They tell me if they do not get rescued their lives are in direct danger.”
    In addition to the judges, there are around a thousand other women human rights defenders who could also be in the Taliban’s cross hairs, said Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan human rights activist.
    Freed prisoners “are calling with death threats to women judges, women prosecutors and women police officers, saying ‘we will come after you’,” she said.
FEARFUL
    British Justice Minister Robert Buckland said last week London had evacuated nine female judges and was working to provide safe passage for more of the “very vulnerable people
    “A lot of these judges were responsible for administering the rule of law and quite rightly they are fearful about the consequences that could now face them with the rise of the Taliban,” he said.
    Human rights and legal activists said Western countries did not make the evacuation of women judges and human rights defenders a priority in the chaos after Kabul fell.
    “Governments had zero interest in evacuating people that were not their own nationals,” said Sarah Kay, a Belfast-based human rights lawyer and member of the Atlas Women network of international lawyers.
    She is working with an online group of volunteer veterans known as the “digital Dunkirk,” named for the World War Two evacuation of British troops from Nazi-occupied France.    It has helped hundreds of people escape with the help of chat groups and personal contacts.
    At the IAWJ, a team of six foreign judges has also been coordinating information, lobbying governments and arranging evacuations.
    “The responsibility that we bear is almost unbearable at the moment because we are one of the few people taking responsibility for this group,” one of the effort’s leaders, Patricia Whalen, an American judge who helped train Afghan female judges in a 10-year programme, told Reuters.
    “I am furious about that.    None of us should be in this position.”
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Kylie MacLellan in London; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Peter Graff)

9/4/2021 China Vows To Curb Urban Demolitions, Preserve Cultural Heritage
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese flag flutters at Xinhuamen Gate of Zhongnanhai leadership compound
in central Beijing, China December 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China will put an end to large-scale urban demolitions and preserve old historical buildings as part of a programme to protect its cultural heritage, it said in new policy guidelines published late on Friday.
    China’s rapid economic development has relied on breakneck rates of urban expansion and renewal, destroying entire neighbourhoods and replacing thousands of old buildings with towerblocks and shopping malls.
    The State Council, China’s cabinet, said the aim of the new guidelines was to “systematically protect and pass on” the country’s cultural heritage and “tell the stories of China and the Communist Party comprehensively and accurately.”
    China’s President Xi Jinping said in June that China had to improve the way it “tells stories” about itself in order to better reflect its status on the world stage.    Since then, the phrase has appeared in a number of government statements and policy documents.
    The new urban planning guidelines said it was now forbidden to “demolish the real and construct the fake,” chop down old trees, randomly change old place names or make changes to lake or river systems.
    It said effective measures should also be put in place to protect buildings that “reflect important historical events and bring together the emotional memories of the public.”
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

9/4/2021 Three Of Seven New Zealand Attack Victims Are In Critical Condition – PM
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern holds a press conference at New Zealand Parliament, in response to what she characterised as a terror attack
by a violent extremist at an Auckland mall, in Auckland, New Zealand, September 3, 2021. AAP Image/Stuff Pool, Robert Kitchin via REUTERS
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Saturday that a total seven people were wounded in an attack by an Islamist militant in an Auckland shopping mall and three are in critical condition.
    Ardern released more details about the attacker, who police shot dead on Friday moments after he launched his stabbing spree, but said his name could not be revealed due to a court order.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/4/2021 Japan PM Suga To Back Vaccine Minister Kono In LDP Leadership Race – Media
FILE PHOTO: Japanese 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) -Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will back the popular minister in charge of Japan’s vaccination rollout, Taro Kono, for the Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) leadership race this month, broadcaster Nippon News Network reported on Saturday.
    The leader of the ruling party will replace Suga as prime minister.
    Suga announced on Friday that he would not run in a party leadership contest slated for Sept. 29, meaning he will also be replaced as prime minister.
    Suga, who is expected to stay on until his successor is chosen in the party election, had a medical checkup on Saturday but there was nothing wrong with his health, the Kyodo news agency said, citing unidentified people around him.
    Hours after Suga’s announcement, broadcaster TBS reported, without citing sources, that Kono intended to run in the leadership race.
    But Kono stopped short of declaring his candidacy, telling reporters that he wanted to consult party colleagues first.
    A former foreign and defence minister, Kono, 58, is popular among young voters after building support through Twitter, where he has 2.3 million followers – a rarity in Japanese politics, which is dominated by older men less adept with social media.
    Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida has already thrown his hat in the ring, while several others have voiced interest in running in the race.
    Kishida said on Saturday he would leave a national sales tax at its 10% rate if elected as premier, reiterating that he would fund a new economic package worth tens of trillion yen by issuing more government bonds.
    “I’m not thinking of touching the sales tax for the time being,” Kishida told a Nippon News Network programme.    “We then must consider Japan’s finances from the standpoint of how to make use of the fruit of economic growth.”
    Japan had six prime ministers in as many years before Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe’s record eight-year tenure.
(Reporting by Tetsushi KajimotoEditing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel)

9/4/2021 Taliban, Opposition Fight For Afghan Holdout Province Of Panjshir
FILE PHOTO: Men prepare for defense against the Taliban in Panjshir, Afghanistan
August 22, 2021. Aamaj News Agency via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Taliban and opposition forces battled on Saturday to control the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul, the last Afghan province holding out against the Islamist group, with both sides claiming to have the upper hand without producing conclusive evidence.
    The Taliban, which took power in the rest of the country three weeks ago, were never able to control the valley when they last ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001.
    Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said the districts of Khinj and Unabah had been taken, giving Taliban forces control of four of the province’s seven districts.    “The Mujahideen (Taliban fighters) are advancing toward the centre (of the province),” he said on Twitter.
    But the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan, grouping forces loyal to local leader Ahmad Massoud, said it surrounded “thousands of terrorists” in Khawak pass and the Taliban had abandoned vehicles and equipment in the Dashte Rewak area.
    Front spokesman Fahim Dashti added “heavy clashes” were going on.
    In a Facebook post, Massoud insisted Panjshir “continues to stand strongly.”    Praising “our honourable sisters,” he said demonstrations by women in the western city of Herat calling for their rights showed Afghans had not given up demands for justice and “they fear no threats.”
    Earlier, a Taliban source said the group’s advance was slowed by landmines placed on the road to the provincial capital, Bazarak.
    Emergency, an Italian medical aid organisation, said that during Friday night, Taliban forces had pushed further into the Panjshir Valley, reaching the village of Anabah where the group has a surgical centre and a maternity centre.
    “We have received a small number of wounded people at the Anabah Surgical Centre,” Emergency said in a statement, adding that many people fled from local villages in recent days.
    It was not immediately possible to get further independent confirmation of events in Panjshir, which is walled off by mountains except for a narrow entrance.
CELEBRATIONS
    Celebratory gunfire resounded in Kabul on Friday as reports spread of the Taliban’s takeover of Panjshir, and news agencies said https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/least-17-killed-celebratory-gunfire-kabul-reports-2021-09-04 at least 17 people were killed and 41 hurt in the firing.
    Pakistan’s spy chief Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed flew into Kabul on Saturday. It was not clear what his agenda was, but a senior official in Pakistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-frets-over-security-threats-neighbouring-afghanistan-2021-09-01 said earlier in the week that Hameed, who heads the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, could help the Taliban reorganise the Afghan military.
    Washington has accused Pakistan and the ISI of backing the Taliban in the group’s two-decade fight against the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, although Islamabad has denied the charges.
    In Kabul, Taliban fighters broke up a demonstration by about a dozen women urging the group to respect women’s rights to education and jobs, according to private broadcaster Tolo news.
    Footage showed women confronted by armed militants covering their mouths and coughing, and one demonstrator said the fighters had used tear gas and tasers against the participants, who had been carrying banners and a bouquet of flowers.
    “They also hit women on the head with a gun magazine, and the women became bloody,” said a demonstrator who gave her name as Soraya.
    The Taliban imposed violent punishments and barred women and older girls from school and work when previously in power, but have sought to present a more moderate face this time.
GOVERNMENT NEXT WEEK
    The Taliban source also said the announcement of a new government would be pushed back to next week.
    Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, reported by some Taliban sources to be in line to lead the new government, said in remarks on Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel that the new administration will include all factions of Afghans.
    “We are doing our utmost efforts to improve their living conditions.    The government will provide security, because it is necessary for economic development,” he said.
    Meanwhile, some signs of normality returned to Kabul.
    Qatar’s ambassador to Afghanistan said a technical team was able to reopen Kabul airport https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/kabul-airport-reopens-receive-aid-civilian-flights-operate-soon-qatari-2021-09-04 to receive aid, according to Al Jazeera, which also cited its correspondent as saying domestic flights had restarted.
    The airport has been closed since the United States on Aug. 30 completed U.S-led evacuations of more than 120,000 U.S. citizens, other foreigners and Afghans deemed at risk from the Taliban, and withdrew the last of its troops.
    The Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, also said one of the main foreign exchange dealers in Kabul had reopened.
    Afghanistan’s economy has been thrown into disarray by the Taliban’s takeover.    Many banks are closed and cash is scarce.
    The United Nations said it will convene an international aid conference https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-convene-afghanistan-aid-conference-sept-13-2021-09-04 on Sept. 13 to help avert what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
    Western powers say they are prepared to engage with the Taliban and send humanitarian aid, but that formal recognition of the government and broader economic assistance will depend on action – not just promises – to safeguard human rights.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and William Maclean; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)

9/4/2021 ASEAN’s Myanmar Envoy In Talks With Junta Over Visit And Access To Suu Kyi by Ain Bandial
FILE PHOTO: 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
    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Reuters) – The Brunei diplomat appointed by a Southeast Asian regional bloc as its special envoy to Myanmar said on Saturday he is still negotiating with the military on the terms of a visit and has sought access to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.br>     The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been trying to end violence in Myanmar and open a dialogue between the military rulers and their opponents following the overthrow of Suu Kyi in February.
    ASEAN tasked Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s second foreign affairs minister, last month with leading these efforts.
    “There is an urgent need to go now to Myanmar.    But I think before all that, I need to have assurances,” Erywan told Reuters.    “I need to be able to have a clear picture of what I’m supposed to do, what they are going to allow me to do when I visit.”
    Erywan wants to visit before late October when ASEAN leaders are to meet, but said no date has been finalised.
    “They haven’t put a condition yet but they haven’t been clear about it,” he said.
‘NEED TO TALK TO ALL’
    Requests seeking access to Suu Kyi have been made to the State Administrative Council, chaired by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, Erywan said.    But access to the deposed leader was not a requirement under a five-point consensus reached by ASEAN in April, he added.
    The consensus included an end to violence and the start of peace talks among all parties.
    “That’s the thing that I have been saying to the current authorities in Myanmar, I need to talk to all the parties concerned and that’s still under negotiation,” Erywan said.
    A military spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
    Erywan said his consultations with the junta and other parties on the ground were “progressing quite well.”
    He said he was looking to establish a team of advisors to support his role as envoy. The team could include Myanmar’s neighbours, including India and Bangladesh, he said.
    When it took power, the military alleged irregularities in an election swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in November 2020.    The then electoral commission and international monitors said the army accusations were wrong.
    The military authorities say their seizure of power should not be called a coup because it was in line with the constitution.
(Reporting by Ain Bandial in Brunei; Writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Andrew Cawthorne)

9/4/2021 Kabul Airport Reopens To Receive Aid, Domestic Flights Restart
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Ariana Afghan Airlines resumed some flights in Afghanistan between Kabul and three major provincial cities on Saturday, the carrier said, after a technical team from Qatar reopened the capital’s airport for aid and domestic services.
    Flights between Kabul and the western city of Herat, Mazar-i Sharif in northern Afghanistan and Kandahar in the south have started, the airline said in a statement on its Facebook page.
    “Ariana Afghan Airlines is proud to resume its domestic flights,” it said.
    Earlier, Qatar’s ambassador to Afghanistan said a technical team was able to reopen Kabul airport to receive aid, according to Qatar’s Al Jazeera news channel.
    The airport’s runway has been repaired in cooperation with authorities in Afghanistan, the ambassador said, according to Al Jazeera, in a further small step towards a return to relative normality after the turmoil of the past three weeks.
    Reopening the airport, a vital lifeline with both the outside world and across Afghanistan’s mountainous territory has been a high priority for the Taliban as they seek to restore order after their lightning seizure of Kabul on Aug. 15.
    Kabul airport had been closed since the end of the massive U.S.-led airlift of its citizens, other Western nationals and Afghans who helped Western countries.    The end of that evacuation of tens of thousands of people marked the withdrawal of the last U.S. forces from Afghanistan after 20 years of war.
    Thousands of people wanting to leave Afghanistan, fearful of life under Taliban rule, were left behind when the evacuation operation ended at the end of August.
    The Taliban, the West’s adversary in the two-decade war that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, have promised safe passage for those wanting to leave.
(Reporting by Yousef Saba; Editing by Mark Potter, Editing by William Maclean and John Stonestreet)

9/4/2021 At Least 17 Killed In Celebratory Gunfire In Kabul – Reports
A member of the Taliban sits while holding his gun in Kabul, Afghanistan,
September 4, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – At least 17 people were killed in celebratory gunfire in Kabul, news agencies said on Saturday, after Taliban sources said their fighters had seized control of Panjshir, the last province in Afghanistan holding out against the Islamist group.
    Leaders of opposition to the Taliban have denied that the province has fallen.
    The Shamshad news agency said “aerial shooting” in Kabul on Friday killed 17 people and wounded 41.    Tolo news agency gave a similar toll.
    At least 14 people were injured in celebratory firing in Nangarhar province east of the capital, said Gulzada Sangar, spokesman for an area hospital in the provincial capital of Jalalabad.
    The gunfire drew a rebuke from the main Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid.
    “Avoid shooting in the air and thank God instead,” Mujahid said in a message on Twitter.    “Bullets can harm civilians, so don’t shoot unnecessarily.”
(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by William Mallard)

9/4/2021 China Premier Urges Major Powers To ‘Take Responsibility’ For Environment
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is seen on a screen during a news conference held via video link, following the closing
session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Martin Pollard
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang urged major powers to “show responsibility” and play a leading role in improving global environmental governance and addressing such challenges as climate change.
    Speaking via video link at the opening ceremony of the IUCN World Conservation Congress on Friday, Li said countries should use the United Nations to draw up global rules and create a governance system that is fair, reasonable and benefit-sharing.
    “The international community must use unprecedented determination and action to promote the construction of a beautiful world in which humanity is in harmony with nature,” he added.
    China has been promoting the concept of “harmony with nature” and the use of “nature-based solutions” as it prepares to host global negotiations on a new biodiversity accord, set to get underway in the southwestern city of Kunming in October.
    Beijing submitted a draft “Kunming Declaration https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-submits-draft-biodiversity-declaration-united-nations-2021-08-27” to international partners last week, which included several slogans and concepts now being promoted by China’s ruling Communist Party.
    U.S. climate envoy John Kerry held two days of talks with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, in Tianjin this week, urging Chinese leaders to ensure that politics was kept out of climate change discussions.
    Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told Kerry that climate “cannot be separated” from the wider diplomatic issues between the two countries.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by William Mallard)

9/4/2021 Raisi Says Iran Ready For Talks But Not With Western ‘Pressure’
FILE PHOTO: Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office as Iran's president this month, speaks during a news
conference in Tehran, Iran June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday Iran was ready to hold talks with world powers to revive its 2015 nuclear accord but not under Western “pressure,” adding Tehran was seeking negotiations leading to a lifting of U.S. sanctions.
    France and Germany have urged Iran to return to negotiations after a break in talks following Iranian elections in June, with Paris demanding an immediate restart amid Western concerns over Tehran’s expanding atomic work.
    Last month, France, Germany and Britain voiced concern about reports from the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirming Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% fissile purity for the first time and lifted production capacity of uranium enriched to 60%.
    Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful, that it has informed the watchdog about its activities, and that its moves away from the 2015 deal would be reversed if the United States returned to the accord and lifted sanctions.
    “The Westerners and the Americans are after talks together with pressure … What kind of talks is that?    I have already announced that we will have talks on our government’s agenda but not with … pressure,” Raisi told state television.
    “Talks are on the agenda … We are seeking goal-oriented negotiations … so unjust sanctions on the Iranian people are lifted … and their lives can flourish,” he added.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by David Holmes)

9/4/2021 Prominent Terrorist To Lead Taliban Govt by OAN Newsroom
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in Qatar’s capital Doha. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Terrorist leader of the Taliban Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar would head the new Afghan government.    According to reports from the Taliban on Friday, Baradar returned to Afghanistan after over a decade in exile to lead the country following the Taliban takeover.
    Baradar was originally in prison, but was released in 2018 to lead the group in peace talks with the U.S. He masterminded multiple IED attacks over his years in power and referred to the bombs as “flowers.”
    While the Taliban initially discussed forming a coalition, they have reportedly begun to lean towards governing by themselves.
    One Taliban official went on to say, “all the top leaders have arrived in Kabul, where preparations are in final stages to announce the new government.”
    Baradar stands as the only Taliban leader still alive and is in charge of the terrorist group’s political office.

9/5/2021 Japan PM Candidate Kishida Wants To Delay Economic Stimulus Debate
FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former foreign minister, announces his candidacy
for the party's presidential election at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Fumio Kishida, a key contender to succeed Yoshihide Suga as Japan’s prime minister, said on Sunday that debate on funding economic stimulus measures he has proposed should wait until after a general election later this year.
    The former foreign minister’s remark underscores the rising risk of a delay in compiling the budget for next fiscal year as economic policy is in limbo during the campaign for premier after Suga’s abrupt withdrawal https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-ruling-party-execs-meet-pm-suga-struggles-ahead-election-2021-09-03 last week.
    “I’ll lay out the general direction of my stimulus package idea, but it won’t be easy for the government to boil down details of the plan,” Kishida said in a television programme.    “How to fund the package … will be something that will be discussed once the general election is over.”
    In a surprise announcement on Friday, Suga said he will not run for reelection as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The party president becomes prime minister because of the LDP’s majority in parliament.
    The winner of the now wide-open LDP race must call a general election by Nov. 28.
    Suga’s exit has heightened uncertainty on the outlook for economic policy https://www.reuters.com/article/japan-politics-economy/factbox-key-economic-policy-stances-of-japans-next-pm-candidates-idUSL4N2Q51I6 as contenders emerge to replace him.     Kishida has said he would compile a spending package worth several tens of trillions of yen (hundreds of billions of dollars) to cushion the blow from the coronavirus pandemic, which is surging in a fourth wave in Japan.
    The timing of the general election could affect procedures for drafting the budget and additional pandemic-relief spending plans.    The government usually compiles a budget in late December, after months of preparation, to submit to parliament in January for enactment before the April start of the fiscal year.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by William Mallard)

9/5/2021 Leader Of Afghan Holdout Region Says He Is Ready To Talk With Taliban
FILE PHOTO: A truck with National Resistance Front markings is seen on a mountain top near Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan in this
still image obtained from an undated video handout. NATIONAL RESISTANCE FRONT OF AFGHANISTAN HANDOUT/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The leader of the Afghan opposition group resisting Taliban forces in the Panjshir valley north of Kabul said on Sunday he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement to end the fighting.
    Ahmad Massoud, head of the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), made the announcement on the group’s Facebook page.    Earlier, Taliban forces said they had fought their way into the provincial capital of Panjshir after securing the surrounding districts.
    The Islamist Taliban took control of the rest of Afghanistan three weeks ago, taking power in Kabul on Aug. 15 after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
    “The NRF in principle agree to solve the current problems and put an immediate end to the fighting and continue negotiations,” Massoud said in the Facebook post.
    “To reach a lasting peace, the NRF is ready to stop fighting on condition that Taliban also stop their attacks and military movements on Panjshir and Andarab,” he said, referring to a district in the neighbouring province of Baghlan.
    A large gathering of all sides with the Ulema council of religious scholars could then be held, he said.
    Earlier, Afghan media outlets reported that religious scholars had called on the Taliban to accept a negotiated settlement to end the fighting in Panjshir.
    There was no immediate response from the Taliban.
    On Sunday, the NRFA also confirmed that its main spokesman, Fahim Dashti, had been killed during the day.    Dashti had survived the suicide attack that killed Massoud’s father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, on Sept. 9, 2001, just days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
    He had been one of the main sources of updates from the area as the Taliban pressed in on opposition forces, issuing a defiant series of statements on Twitter, vowing that resistance would continue.
    Massoud, who leads a force made up of remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters, called for a negotiated settlement with the Taliban before the fighting broke out around a week ago.
    Several attempts at talks were held but eventually broke down, with each side blaming the other for their failure.
    Taliban spokesman Bilal Karimi said earlier on Sunday that their forces had made it into the provincial capital, Bazarak, and had captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
RUGGED VALLEY
    Panjshir, a rugged mountain valley still littered with the wreckage of Soviet tanks destroyed during the long war in the 1980s to oust the Soviet presence, has proved very difficult to overcome in the past.
    Under Ahmad Shah Massoud, the region long resisted control by both the invading Soviet army and by the Taliban government that previously ruled from 1996 to 2001.
    But that effort was helped by supply routes leading north to the border, which were closed off by the Taliban’s sweeping victory last month.
    The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban.    But small individual protests for women’s rights or in defence of the green, red and black flag of Afghanistan have also been held in different cities.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Philippa Fletcher, Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

9/5/2021 Taiwan Scrambles Jets Against Renewed Chinese Military Activity
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwan-built fighter releases flares during a drill simulating China invading
the island, in Pingtung county, southern Taiwan Aug. 25, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s air force scrambled on Sunday against renewed Chinese military activity, with its defence ministry reporting that 19 aircraft including nuclear-capable bombers had flown into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    The latest Chinese mission involved 10 J-16 and four Su-30 fighters, as well as four H-6 bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, and an anti-submarine aircraft, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said.
    Taiwanese combat aircraft were dispatched to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.
    The Chinese aircraft flew in an area closer to the Chinese than Taiwanese coast, roughly northeast of the Pratas, according to a map provided by Taiwan’s defence ministry.
    There was no immediate comment from China.
    The last such large-scale activity, on June 15, involved 28 Chinese air force aircraft, the largest incursion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-largest-incursion-yet-by-chinese-air-force-2021-06-15 reported by Taiwan to date.
    China often mounts such missions to express displeasure at something Taiwan has done or at shows of international support for the democratically ruled island, especially by the United States, Taiwan’s main arms provider.
    It was not clear what might have prompted China to launch its aircraft this time, though a U.S. warship and a U.S. Coast Guard cutter sailed through https://www.reuters.com/world/us-warship-transits-taiwan-strait-after-chinese-assault-drills-2021-08-27 the Taiwan Strait late last month.
    China has described its activities as necessary to protect the country’s sovereignty and deal with “collusion” between Taipei and Washington.
    Taiwan’s defence ministry warned https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-says-china-can-paralyse-its-defences-threat-worsening-2021-09-01 last week that the threat from China was growing, saying China’s armed forces can “paralyse” Taiwan’s defences and are able to fully monitor its deployments.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by William Mallard)

9/5/2021 Hundreds Of Thousands Of Indian Farmers Rally Against Farm Laws by Mayank Bhardwaj
People arrive to attend a Maha Panchayat or grand village council meeting as part of a farmers' protest against
farm laws in Muzaffarnagar in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, September 5, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    MUZAFFARNAGAR, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of farmers gathered in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations to press Narendra Modi’s government to repeal three new agricultural laws.
    More than 500,000 farmers attended the rally in the city of Muzaffarnagar, according to local police.
    The demonstration in Uttar Pradesh, a predominantly agricultural state that’s home to 240 million people, will breathe fresh life into the protest movement, said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent farmers’ leader.
    “We’ll intensify our protest by going to every single city and town of Uttar Pradesh to convey the message that Modi’s government is anti-farmer,” he added.
    Over the past eight months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped on major highways to the capital, New Delhi to oppose the laws, in India’s longest-running farmer’ protest against the government.
    The measures, introduced last September, allow farmers to directly sell their produce, outside government-regulated wholesale markets, to big buyers.    The government says this will unshackle farmers and help them get better prices.
    Farmers, however, say the legislation will hurt their livelihood and leave them with scant bargaining power against big private retailers and food processors.
    Farming is a vast sector that sustains almost half of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, and accounts for about 15% to the country’s $2.7 trillion economy.
    Balbir Singh Rajewal, another farmers’ leader, said Sunday’s rally was a warning for Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party, which next year will a contest state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, often seen as a barometer of the popularity of the federal government.
    “Our message is very clear – either repeal the laws or face defeat in the state election,” he added.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj in Muzaffarnagar; Additional reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow and Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Editing by Pravin Char)

9/5/2021 Taliban Violently Breaks Up Afghan Women’s Protest by OAN Newsroom
Afghan women take part in a protest march for their rights under the Taliban rule in the
downtown area of Kabul on September 3, 2021. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban violently broke up a women’s rights protest in Kabul. On Saturday, the group used tear gas, rifle butts and metal clubs to break up an all women protest, which marked the second demonstration in two days.
    Attendees reported being beaten by Taliban fighters using sharp metal devices.    They added shots were fired into the air to restrain the protest.
    The women demanded rights to go to school, work and to participate in government.    Demonstrators however described the backlash to be bloody.
    “Together with a group of our colleagues, we wanted to go near a former government office for a protest, but before we got there the Taliban hit women with electric tasers, and they used tear gas against women,” Soraya, a former government employee and attendee of the protest said.    “There was no one to ask why.”
TOPSHOT – An Afghan woman protester (3L) speaks with a member (R) of the Taliban
during a protest in Herat on September 2, 2021. (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban has claimed they would not prevent women from participating in government activities.    However, many Afghans remain skeptical those promises will be kept.    Farhat Popalzai, 24, told the Associated Press she demonstrated for the women who may be too afraid to protest.
    “I am the voice of the women who are unable to speak,” said Popalzai.    “They think this is a man’s country, but it is not, it is a woman’s country too.”

9/5/2021 Iran Ready To Discuss Nuclear Issues Without Pressure From West by OAN Newsroom
BUSHEHR, IRAN – AUGUST 21: This handout image supplied by the IIPA (Iran International Photo Agency) shows a view of the reactor building at the Russian-built
Bushehr nuclear power plant as the first fuel is loaded, on August 21, 2010 in Bushehr, southern Iran. (Photo by IIPA via Getty Images)
    The President of Iran said the country is ready to discuss its nuclear projects, but without the pressure from Western countries.    In a recent interview, former Iranian Diplomat Amir Mousavi issued the threat that Iran could present great danger to Western nations if the U.S. doesn’t agree with their nuclear deal conditions.
    He stated if the U.S. follows its commitments, Iran would return to the deal.    However, if the U.S. continued to procrastinate, Iran would continue to escalate the situation.
    “Iran will simply be stronger as long as they delay their return,” said Mousavi of the U.S.    “By now, we have seen that from 3.5 percent enrichment Iran reached 20 percent, and now 60 percent and maybe it will reach 90 percent.”
    Mousavi claimed a nuclear bomb isn’t something that is “part of Iran’s plans.”    Although, he warned any technological progress in the country would be detrimental to the West.
    This comes as Iran’s president on Sunday, accused the U.S. and EU of coercive talks, saying they’re more interested in putting pressure on the nation.

9/5/2021 Taliban Say U.N. Promises Aid After Meeting With Officials In Kabul
FILE PHOTO: Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen leaves after a news conference
in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    (Reuters) – Senior Taliban officials met in Kabul on Sunday with the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, who promised to maintain assistance for the Afghan people, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said.
    Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the Taliban’s political office and other officials met Martin Griffiths as Afghanistan faces a potentially catastrophic humanitarian crisis caused by severe drought and a collapsing economy.
    “The U.N. delegation promised continuation of humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, saying he would call for further assistance to Afghanistan during the coming meeting of donor countries,” Shaheen said on Twitter.
    Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign aid following the collapse of the Western-backed government and the victory of the Taliban last month.
    Shaheen said the Taliban assured the U.N. delegation of “cooperation and provision of needed facilities.”
    The United Nations is expected to convene an international aid conference in Geneva on Sept. 13 to help avert what U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a “looming humanitarian catastrophe.”
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Peter Cooney)

9/6/2021 Over 1,000 Await Flight Clearance To Leave Afghan City Of Mazar-I-Sharif - Organizer
Six commercial airplanes are seen near the main terminal of the Mazar-i-Sharif airport,
in northern Afghanistan, September 3 2021. Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for their charter flights to leave, an organizer told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.
    The confusion was the latest flashpoint following a chaotic U.S. military withdrawal completed after Taliban Islamist insurgents seized power in Kabul on Aug. 15, after the Western-backed government collapsed.
    Exasperated by the delays, the organizer said the State Department had failed to tell the Taliban of its approval for flight departures from the international airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif or validate a landing site.
    “They need to be held accountable for putting these people’s lives in danger,” said the organizer, who sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    Reuters could not independently verify the details of the account.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, challenged the idea that Americans were at risk, saying the U.S. government “has not confirmed any Americans are in Mazar-i-Sharif trying to leave from the airport.”
    Asked about charter flights, a State Department spokesperson did not address specific accusations but stressed the United States did not have personnel on the ground and so lacked a reliable means to confirm the basic details of charter flights.
    That includes verifying the number of U.S. citizens and others aboard, the accuracy of the rest of the manifest or “where they plan to land, among many other issues.”
    The spokesperson added, “We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan.”
    Earlier on Sunday, the senior Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Mike McCaul, told “Fox News Sunday” that six airplanes were stuck at Mazar-i-Sharif airport with Americans and Afghan interpreters aboard, unable to take off as they had not received Taliban clearance.
    He said the Taliban were holding passengers “hostage for demands,” but multiple sources disputed that account, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    Another Republican U.S. representative, Mike Waltz, called on the State Department to work with non-government groups he said were trying to clear charter flights to evacuate Americans and Afghans at risk.
    There were manifested charter flights “available, funded, and ready to fly” people out, Waltz told Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter, citing remarks of several NGOs.
    The United States’ two decades-long invasion in Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organized airlift that left behind thousands of U.S.-allied Afghans.    Washington completed the withdrawal on Aug. 31.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/6/2021 Taliban Claim Complete Control Of Afghan Province Of Panjshir
FILE PHOTO: Still frame from an undated video seen by Reuters shows people with guns next to Humvees adorned with the Taliban flag on
the mountaintops close to Golbahar, near the southern entrance of Panjshir valley, Afghanistan. Video obtained from social media.
    (Reuters) – The Taliban have taken complete control of Panjshir province, the last area in Afghanistan being held by resistance forces, the Islamist militant group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said on Monday.
    Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound.
    There was no immediate word from Ahmad Massoud, the leader of the opposition group resisting Taliban forces.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/6/2021 Japan’s COVID-19 Vaccine Minister Has Public Support In PM Race by Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Japan's vaccination programme chief Taro Kono attends a news conference on the country's preparations to begin vaccinating
health workers, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese voters strongly support Taro Kono, minister in charge of fighting COVID-19, as the next prime minister according to a second opinion poll, as potential candidates prepare to join what has become a wide-open contest for ruling party leader.
    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s shock Friday announcement he was stepping down has thrown a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership race set for Sept 29 into disarray, with a wide array of candidates set to vie for the top job.
    The LDP’s majority in parliament guarantees the winner will become prime minister.
    According to the survey by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily published on Monday, 23% of respondents said Kono, the minister in charge of vaccines, was the most suitable person to take over – echoing a Sunday poll that had 31.9% favouring Kono.
    Kono held a narrow edge over former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, with 21%.    Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who has already formally announced his candidacy, trailed with 12%.
    A former foreign and defence minister, the 58-year-old Kono, educated at Georgetown University and a fluent English speaker, has built a popular following among young voters with an active social media presence in two languages and 2.3 million followers on his Japanese page alone.
    Kono has long been a favoured candidate among voters for prime minister and has made no secret of wanting the job, but party elders are wary of him for his outspokenness and reputation as a maverick.    Others feel he is still too young for the job.
    Over the weekend, though, one TV network reported that Kono had gained Suga’s backing.
    Former defence minister Ishiba, 64, has had strong support among rank-and-file party members in the past, defeating Suga’s predecessor Shinzo Abe in the first round of a 2012 leadership race. He lost in a later round, when only lawmakers could vote, and has since lost two more leadership contests.
    Kishida, also 64, was seen as likely heir last year when Abe quit due to illness, but his low-key, soft-spoken style typically lands him low in voter surveys.    He has called for reducing income disparities and pledged support for the economically vulnerable.
    Unlike last year’s leadership race, when Suga emerged the winner, this time ordinary party members at the prefectural level will also be able to vote, which could make the outcome harder to predict.
    Potential candidates spent a busy weekend meeting with other lawmakers, sounding them out for support, media said. Each needs to gather 20 supporters by Sept 17 to become a formal candidate, with the vote on Sept 29.
    Should the results be close, a second round would be held with only lawmakers allowed to vote.    The winner will choose when to call a general election, likely to come anywhere from Oct 17 to as late as Nov 28.
    Abe’s actions are being closely watched for signs of whom he will support.    Japan’s longest-serving prime minister still retains influence in the party’s two largest factions and among conservative lawmakers.
    Japanese media has reported that Abe will be backing former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi, who hopes to become Japan’s first woman prime minister.
    But Monday’s Yomiuri survey had Takaichi trailing badly at 3% – just behind Abe himself, at 5%.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/6/2021 Australia Sees Strong Future For Coal Beyond 2030 Despite U.N. Call
FILE PHOTO: Coal is unloaded onto large piles at the Ulan Coal mines near the central
New South Wales rural town of Mudgee in Australia, March 8, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Coal will be a major contributor to Australia’s economy well beyond 2030 given growth in global demand, the country’s resources minister said on Monday, a day after a United Nations envoy called on the country to phase out the fossil fuel.
    Without greater efforts to cut coal, climate change will dramatically damage Australia’s economy, Selwin Hart, the United Nations special adviser on climate change, said in a speech https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/un-urges-australia-speed-up-efforts-drop-coal-2021-09-05 in the capital Canberra on Sunday.
    Australia’s heavy reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but its conservative government has steadfastly backed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/barnaby-joyce-be-australias-new-deputy-prime-minister-reports-2021-06-21 fossil fuel industries, saying tougher action on emissions would cost jobs.
    Australia’s latest export figures show “the reports of coal’s impending death are greatly exaggerated and its future is assured well beyond 2030,” Resources Minister Keith Pitt said in a statement.
    In the three months to July, Australian coal exports grew 26% in value to A$12.5 billion ($9.3 billion), he noted.    Coal prices have climbed as global economies recover from COVID-19 restrictions.
    “The future of this crucial industry will be decided by the Australian government, not a foreign body that wants to shut it down costing thousands of jobs and billions of export dollars for our economy,” Pitt added.
    The U.N. has called for phasing out coal by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, which include Australia.
    In July, energy and environment ministers from the Group of 20 big economies failed to deliver a deal to phase out coal by 2025.    But some experts said there were chances of progress at U.N. climate talks https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/strained-g20-climate-talks-could-yet-deliver-progress-coal-2021-07-26 in Glasgow in November.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is on a path to net zero carbon emissions but has stopped short of committing to a timeline.    He has said that Australia would update its 2030 emissions projections going into the Glasgow talks.
($1 = 1.3454 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; editing by Richard Pullin)

9/6/2021 Taliban Claim Control Of Panjshir As Evacuation Flights Await Clearance
FILE PHOTO: Members of National Resistance Front observe by a house near Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan in this still
image obtained from an undated video handout. NATIONAL RESISTANCE FRONT OF AFGHANISTAN HANDOUT/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The Taliban claimed victory on Monday over opposition forces in the Panjshir valley northeast of Kabul, completing their takeover of the country following the stunning capture of Kabul last month and the chaotic withdrawal of foreign troops.
    Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound after fighting over the weekend with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), led by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
    “Panjshir province completely fell to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” the Islamist militant group’s spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said in a tweet on Monday, adding that some enemy fighters had been killed in battle and others had fled.
    “With this victory and latest efforts our country has come out of the whirlpool of the war and our people will have a happy life in peace, liberty and freedom in the entire country.”
    The Taliban assured the people of Panjshir, who are ethnically distinct from the Pashtun-dominated Taliban and fought against the Islamists during their 1996-2001 rule, that there would be no “discriminatory act against them.”
    “They are our brothers and would work together for a joint purpose and welfare of the country,” Mujahid said.
    There was no immediate word from Massoud, who leads a force made up of remnants of regular Afghan army and special forces units as well as local militia fighters.
    Ali Maisam Nazary, head of foreign relations at NRFA, said the Taliban’s claim of victory was false and opposition forces continued to fight.
    “The NRF forces are present in all strategic positions across the valley to continue the fight,” he said on his Facebook page.
    The Taliban earlier said their forces had made it into the provincial capital, Bazarak, and had captured large quantities of weapons and ammunition.
    As fighting raged in the valley on Sunday, Massoud said he welcomed proposals from religious scholars for a negotiated settlement.    Several attempts at talks were held after clashes erupted about two weeks ago but eventually broke down, with each side blaming the other for their failure.
    The Taliban seized control of the rest of Afghanistan three weeks ago, taking power in Kabul on Aug. 15 after the Western-backed government collapsed and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
    Panjshir was the last pocket of armed resistance against the Taliban.    It has a history of being difficult for enemies to take.    The rugged mountain valley is still littered with the wreckage of tanks destroyed during the long war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s.
    The NRFA said on Sunday its main spokesman, Fahim Dashti, had been killed in the fighting.
    Dashti had survived the suicide attack that killed Massoud’s father, Ahmad Shah Massoud, on Sept. 9, 2001, just days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
    The Panjshir fighting has been the most prominent example of resistance to the Taliban.
    But small, isolated protests for women’s rights or in defence of the green, red and black flag of the vanquished Afghan republic have also been held in different cities.
    The Taliban imposed violent punishments and barred women and older girls from school and work when previously in power, but have sought to present a more moderate face this time.
EVACUATION FLIGHTS
    U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans in the weeks before the last U.S. troops left Kabul, but tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.
    About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for their charter flights to leave, an organiser told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.
    The organiser of the flights said the State Department had failed to tell the Taliban of its approval for flight departures from the international airport in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif or validate a landing site.
    “They need to be held accountable for putting these people’s lives in danger,” said the person, who sought anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
    Reuters could not independently verify the details of the account.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, challenged the idea that Americans were at risk, saying the U.S. government “has not confirmed any Americans are in Mazar-i-Sharif trying to leave from the airport.”
    The United States did not have personnel on the ground and could not confirm the basic details of charter flights, the spokesperson said.
    “We will hold the Taliban to its pledge to let people freely depart Afghanistan,” the spokesperson added.
    Western powers say they are prepared to engage with the Taliban and send humanitarian aid to people displaced by drought and war, but that formal recognition of the government and broader economic assistance will depend on action – not just promises – to safeguard human rights.
    The United Nations said it will convene an international aid conference https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-convene-afghanistan-aid-conference-sept-13-2021-09-04 on Sept. 13 to help avert what U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called a looming humanitarian catastrophe.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/6/2021 U.N. Works Out Deal With Taliban To Continue Aid For Afghan People by OAN Newsroom
Afghan families gather to receive food stuff distributing by an Islamabad-based Christian organization
on the outskirts of Chaman, a border town in the Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province. (AP Photo)
    The United Nations promised to continue offering aid to the Afghan people.    According to a statement released by the U.N. on Sunday, half of Afghanistan’s 18 million people were in need of humanitarian assistance in order to survive.
    A spokesman for the secretary general met directly with Taliban leadership to discuss the continued aid.    Both sides reached an agreement to keep U.N.’s funds flowing, including funds provided by the U.S., so long as it goes to the people and not to the Taliban.
    “An urgent scale-up in funding is required so the lifesaving humanitarian operation can continue,” the statement read.    “The United Nations continues to stand in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan.”
    This follows the World Health Organization, who have been working with Taliban leaders to get medicine to Afghans in need.

9/7/2021 North Korea Promotes General To Ruling Party’s Powerful Presidium – KCNA by Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes part in the third enlarged meeting of the political bureau
of the 8th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang, North Korea September 2, 2021
in this image supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on September 3, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea has elevated a general long seen as a rising star in the country’s powerful military and a major player in its missile programme to a position in the presidium of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) politburo, state media reported on Tuesday.
    Pak Jong Chon will also serve as secretary of the WPK Central Committee, KCNA news agency said.
    His election to the presidium, one of the most powerful decision-making bodies in North Korea, came after he appeared to have been given a reprimand or demotion in July, along with other senior figures, after leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of causing a “great crisis” with unspecified coronavirus lapses.
    North Korea has not reported any confirmed cases of the virus, and never elaborated on what the crises or the lapses were.
    Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Pak’s apparent demotion in July may have been something of a formality to show the people that he was taking responsibility for failures.
    “His position was likely to be reinstated at any time,” Yang said.
    In recent years Pak was promoted to a full four-star Army general, led the military as chief of the general staff of the army, and made prominent appearances alongside Kim, including on a famous horse ride up North Korea’s sacred Mt. Paektu.
    Analysts attributed his rise in part to his role in North Korea’s short-range missile development, which surged ahead after Kim suspended long-range ballistic missile tests in 2018 amid talks with the United States.
    Pak appears to have replaced Ri Pyong-chol, another powerful general who played a major role in North Korea’s ballistic missile programme, on the presidium, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
    Analysts said the reshuffling in July was the most significant personnel change among the core elite in years, and was seen as a likely warning to them that Kim would hold them accountable and maintain checks on their power.
    Rim Kwang-il, who served as head of North Korea’s military intelligence agency, was named as chief of the general staff of the army, while army general Jang Jong-nam was elected as the Minister of Social Security, KCNA said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by Richard Pullin)

9/7/2021 Taliban Claim Control Of Panjshir, Opposition Says Resistance Will Continue
FILE PHOTO: Members of National Resistance Front observe by a house near Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan in this still
image obtained from an undated video handout. NATIONAL RESISTANCE FRONT OF AFGHANISTAN HANDOUT/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The Taliban claimed victory on Monday in the last part of Afghanistan still holding out against their rule, declaring that the capture of the Panjshir valley completed their takeover of the country and they would unveil a new government soon.
    Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the gate of the Panjshir provincial governor’s compound after days of fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), commanded by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
    “Panjshir, which was the last hideout of the escapee enemy, is captured,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference.
    Massoud did not concede defeat, saying his force, drawn from the remnants of the regular Afghan army as well as local militia fighters, was still fighting.
    “We are in Panjshir and our Resistance will continue,” he said on Twitter.    He also said he was safe, but gave no details on his whereabouts.
    The steep valley north of Kabul was long famed for holding out against attack, including both by Soviet troops in the 1980s and the Taliban during their previous rule in the 1990s.    It was the main redoubt of the Northern Alliance resistance fighters who toppled the Taliban with U.S. air support in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
    The Taliban assured the people of the valley – who are ethnically distinct from the mainly Pashtun Taliban – that there would be no “discriminatory act against them.”
    “They are our brothers and would work together for a joint purpose and welfare of the country,” Mujahid said.
CURTAINS IN CLASSES
    The Taliban have repeatedly sought to reassure Afghans and foreign countries that they will not reimpose the brutal rule of their last period in power, when they carried out violent public punishments and barred women and girls from public life.
    But more than three weeks after they swept into Kabul, they have yet to announce a government or give details about the social restrictions they will now enforce.
    Asked whether the United States would recognise the Taliban, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters at the White House late Monday: “That’s a long way off.”
    Teachers and students at universities in Afghanistan’s largest cities – Kabul, Kandahar and Herat – told Reuters that female students were being segregated in class with curtains https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/curtain-divides-male-female-students-afghan-universities-reopen-2021-09-06, taught separately or restricted to certain parts of the campus.
    One female student said women sat apart from males in university classes before the Taliban took over, but classrooms were not physically divided.
    “Putting up curtains is not acceptable,” Anjila, the 21-year-old student at Kabul University, told Reuters by telephone.     “I really felt terrible when I entered the class … We are gradually going back to 20 years ago.”
HUMANITARIAN AID
    Inside Afghanistan, hundreds of medical facilities are at risk of closure because the Western donors are barred from dealing with the Taliban, a World Health Organization official said.
    The WHO is trying fill the gap by providing supplies, equipment and financing to 500 health centres, and was liaising with Qatar for medical deliveries, the UN health agency’s regional emergency director, Rick Brennan, told Reuters.
    U.S.-led foreign forces evacuated about 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans in the weeks before the last U.S. troops left Kabul, but tens of thousands who fear Taliban retribution were left behind.
    About 1,000 people, including Americans, have been stuck in northern Afghanistan for days awaiting clearance for charter flights to leave, an organiser told Reuters, blaming the delay on the U.S. State Department.    Reuters could not independently verify the details of the account.
    UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the agency had registered 300 children who had been separated from their families during the chaotic evacuations from Kabul airport.
    “Some of these children were evacuated on flights to Germany, Qatar and other countries … We expect this number to rise through ongoing identification efforts,” she said in a statement.
    Inside Afghanistan, drought and war have forced about 5.5 million people to flee their homes, including more than 550,000 newly displaced in 2021, according to the International Organization for Migration.
    Western powers say they are prepared to send humanitarian aid, but broader economic engagement would depend on the make-up of the Islamists’ new government in Kabul.
    China’s ambassador to Afghanistan promised to provide humanitarian aid during a meeting with senior Taliban official Mawlawi Abdul Salam Hanifi in Kabul on Monday, Tolo news reported.
    China has not officially recognised the Taliban as Afghanistan’s new rulers, but Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi last month hosted Mullah Baradar, chief of the group’s political office, and has said the world should guide the new government rather than pressure it.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin meanwhile met Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, as Washington seeks to build a consensus among allies on how to respond to Taliban rule.
    Blinken also spoke on Monday with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, and thanked him for Kuwait’s assistance with evacuations, the State Department said.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by James Oliphant and Stephen Coates; Editing by Peter Graff, Lincoln Feast and Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/7/2021 Myanmar Shadow Government Calls For Revolt Against Military Rule
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
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s shadow government, formed by opponents of military rule, called for a revolt against the junta on Tuesday, setting out a strategy that included action by armed militias and ethnic forces and urging bureaucrats to leave their posts.
    Duwa Lashi La, the acting president of the National Unity Government, said in a speech that the shadow government, which is made up of members in exile or in hiding, was declaring a state of emergency.
    Myanmar’s military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, triggering a wave of protests by pro-democracy supporters, and hundreds of deaths as security forces tried to quell the demonstrations.
    Some opponents of military rule have formed armed groups, under the banner of the People’s Defence Forces, and have forged alliances with some ethnic militias that have long seen Myanmar’s army as their enemy.
    Declaring it was launching a “defensive war,” Duwa Lashi La called for a “revolt against the rule of the military terrorists led by Min Aung Hlaing in every corner of the country.”
    Myanmar’s military ruler Min Aung Hlaing last month took on the role of prime minister in a newly formed caretaker government and pledged to hold new elections by 2023.
    The junta has itself branded the NUG and People’s Defence Forces as terrorist groups.
    Military-appointed administrators should “immediately leave your positions,” Duwa Lashi La said in his 14-point speech, in which he urged members of the security forces to join them and for ethnic forces in border areas to attack the military.
    Soon after February’s coup, a civil disobedience movement was set up in a bid to undermine military rule.
    Hastily formed militias have also been involved in regular skirmishes with the army though often appear to operate independently, while it is also unclear how much coordination there is among ethnic forces that have been fighting the army on and off for decades.
    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been leading diplomatic efforts to end the violence and open a dialogue between the military rulers and their opponents.
    ASEAN’s envoy to Myanmar, Erywan Yusof, said in an interview with Kyodo news agency that the military had accepted his proposal for a ceasefire until the end of the year to ensure distribution of humanitarian aid.
    A pro-democracy activist and another member of the NUG said the junta could not be trusted to honour such a deal.
    A military spokesman did not answer calls from Reuters to seek comment on the reported ceasefire or the speech by the NUG.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Kim Coghill & Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/7/2021 Taliban Name New Afghan Government, Interior Minister On U.S. Sanctions List
People run away at a street as Taliban open fire on anti-Pakistan protesters, in Kabul, Afghanistan
in this still image obtained from a social media video. Asvaka News Agency/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The Taliban drew from its inner high echelons to fill top posts in Afghanistan’s new government on Tuesday, including an associate of the Islamist militant movement’s founder as premier and a wanted man on a U.S. terrorism list as interior minister.
    World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government that would back up the movement’s pledges of a more conciliatory approach, upholding human rights, after a previous 1996-2001 period in power marked by bloody vendettas and oppression of women.
    Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, in his first public statement since the Aug. 15 seizure of the capital Kabul by the Islamist insurgents, said the Taliban were committed to all international laws, treaties and commitments not in conflict with Islamic law.
    “In the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Sharia,” he said in a statement, in which he also congratulated Afghans on what he called the country’s liberation from foreign rule.
    The names announced for the new government, three weeks after the Taliban swept to military victory as U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew and the weak Western-backed government collapsed, gave no sign of an olive branch to its opponents.
    Afghans who enjoyed major progress in education and civil liberties over the 20 years of U.S.-backed government remain fearful of Taliban intentions and daily protests have continued since the Taliban takeover, challenging the new rulers.
    On Tuesday, as the new government was being announced, a group of Afghan women in a Kabul street took cover after Taliban gunmen fired into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters.
    The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, girls could not attend school and women were banned from work and education.    Religious police would flog anyone breaking the rules and public executions were carried out.
    The Taliban has urged Afghans to be patient and vowed to be more tolerant this time – a commitment many Afghans and foreign powers will be scrutinising as a condition for aid and investment desperately needed in Afghanistan.
LATE FOUNDER’S LEGACY IN NEW GOVERNMENT
    Mullah Hasan Akhund, named as prime minister, like many in the Taliban leadership derives much of his prestige from his close link to the movement’s reclusive late founder Mullah Omar, who presided over its rule two decades ago.
    Akhund is longtime chief of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura, or leadership council.    He was foreign minister and then deputy prime minister when the Taliban were last in power and, like many of the incoming cabinet, is under U.N. sanctions for his role in that government.
    Sirajuddin Haqqani, the new interior minister, is the son of the founder of the Haqqani network, classified as a terrorist group by Washington.    He is one of the FBI’s most wanted men due to his involvement in suicide attacks and ties with Al Qaeda.
    Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement’s political office who was given his nom de guerre “brother,” or Baradar, by Mullah Omar, was appointed as Akhund’s deputy, main Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.
    The passing over of Baradar for the top government job came as a surprise to some as he had been responsible for negotiating the U.S. withdrawal at talks in Qatar and presenting the face of the Taliban to the outside world.
    Baradar was previously a senior Taliban commander in the long insurgency against U.S. forces.    He was arrested and imprisoned in Pakistan in 2010, becoming head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha after his release in 2018.
    Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, a son of Mullah Omar, was named as defence minister.    All the appointments were in an acting capacity, Mujahid said.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One, as President Joe Biden flew to New York, that there would be no recognition of the Taliban government soon.
ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
    Taliban spokesman Mujahid, speaking against a backdrop of collapsing public services and economic meltdown amidst the chaos of the tumultuous foreign pullout, said an acting cabinet had been formed to respond to the Afghan people’s primary needs.
    He said some ministries remained to be filled pending a hunt for qualified people.
    The United Nations said earlier on Tuesday that basic services were unravelling in Afghanistan and food and other aid were about to run out.    More than half a million people have been displaced internally in Afghanistan this year.
    An international donor conference is scheduled in Geneva on Sept. 13.    Western powers say they are prepared to send humanitarian aid, but that broader economic engagement depends on the shape and actions of the Taliban government.
‘RESISTANCE WILL CONTINUE’
    On Monday, the Taliban claimed victory in the Panjshir valley, the last province holding out against it.
    Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the Panjshir governor’s compound after days of fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), commanded by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
    Massoud denied that his force, consisting of remnants of the Afghan army as well as local militia fighters, was beaten, and tweeted that “our resistance will continue.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Clarence Fernandez, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Alex Richardson and Jon Boyle)

9/7/2021 Afghan Protests Persist, Posing A Problem For New Taliban Government
People from the local Afghan community demonstrate against the Taliban takeover of
Afghanistan, at Syntagma square in Athens, Greece, August 28, 2021. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    (Reuters) – A group of Afghan women crouched on the side of a Kabul street and took cover after armed members of the Taliban fired shots into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters.
    One of them spoke rapidly at the camera filming them.
    “These people (the Taliban) are very unjust, and they are not human at all,” she said.    “They do not give us the right to demonstrate; they are not Muslims but infidels.”
    Heavy gunfire resumed, leading to more panic.
    There were no known casualties from the firing, and video footage from Tuesday’s protests, some of it shared on social media, showed Taliban pointing their rifles in the air before they pull the trigger.
    But the protests, nearly a month after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, along with daily, smaller demonstrations around the country often led by women, pose a challenge to the new Afghan government https://www.reuters.com/world/india/taliban-fire-air-scatter-kabul-protesters-no-reports-injuries-2021-09-07 announced late on Tuesday.
    The hardline Islamist group has urged Afghans to be patient, allowing it time to form a government before it addresses people’s demands.
    “They were asked to be a little patient and when the system has been established and the organisations are functioning then they will get back to you,” a Taliban spokesperson said this week, referring to women protesters.
    Now ministers have been named, the expectations of a society where civil rights have been strengthened over the last two decades are only likely to grow.
    The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996-2001, girls could not attend school and women were banned from work and education.    Religious police would flog anyone breaking the rules, and public executions were carried out.
    The group has promised to be more tolerant this time – a commitment many Afghans and foreign donors will be monitoring closely.
    Protesters’ demands vary.
    Female students in the western city of Herat said they would lobby loudly for greater representation in the new government and for their rights to be respected.
    “Women have to come out to save our jobs and status in society.    It is really now or never situation,” said Dariya Imani, a student at a business school at Herat University.
    She said her cousins were part of the protest in Kabul today.
    “We are not brave, we are just desperate to protect our basic rights,” Imani said.
    Taliban leaders have vowed to honour women’s rights in accordance with sharia, or Islamic law.    But they also indicated there would not be any women among senior government positions, and none have been announced so far.
    On Tuesday, men and women also denounced what they see as Pakistan’s guiding hand behind the Taliban – support that Islamabad denies.
    Some referenced the only remaining armed resistance to the Taliban – fighters in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul who have been dislodged from the main towns but who have vowed to carry on fighting from their mountain hideouts.
(Reporting by India and Islamabad bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

9/7/2021 Factbox: Taliban Announces Makeup Of New Afghan Government
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members
attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – The Taliban announced Afghanistan’s new government on Tuesday, naming Mullah Hasan Akhund, a close associate of the movement’s late founder Mullah Omar, as acting prime minister.
    The Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said all those named were holding their positions in an ‘acting’ capacity.    Herewith the full list published by the Islamist movement:
Prime Minister – Mullah Mohammed Hasan Akhund
1st Deputy Prime Minister – Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar
2nd Deputy Prime Minister – Mawlavi Abdul Salam Hanafi
Foreign Minister – Mawlavi Amir Khan Muttaqi
Defence Minister – Mawlavi Mohammed Yaqoob
Interior Minister – Mullah Sirajuddin Haqqani
Justice Minister – Mawlavi Abdul Hakim Sharie
Borders and Tribal Affairs Minister – Mullah Noorullah Noor
Head of Intelligence – Mullah Abdul Haq Wasiq
Finance Minister – Mullah Hedayatullah Badri
Economy Minister – Qari Din Mohammed Hanif
Central Bank Governor – Haji Mohammed Idris
Energy & Water Minister – Mullah Abdul Latif Mansoor
Rural Rehabilitation Minister – Mullah Younus Akhundzada
Public Works Minister – Mullah Abdul Manan Omari
Mines and Petroleum – Mullah Mohammed Esa Akhund
Culture & Information Minister – Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa
Deputy Culture and Information Minister – Zabihullah Mujahid
Communications Minister – Mawlavi Najibullah Haqqani
Higher Education Minister – Abdul Baqi Haqqani
Refugee & Repatriation Minister – Haji Khalil ur Rahman Haqqani
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

9/7/2021 Taliban Hopes To Establish Good Relationship With China by OAN Newsroom
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a press conference in
Kabul, Afghanistan Monday, Sept. 6, 2021.(AP Photo/Muhammad Farooq)
    The Taliban is rapidly moving to establish itself on the world stage. During a press briefing on Monday, a spokesperson for the group announced the war in Afghanistan is over after fighters for the terrorist regime took control of the last resistance stronghold in the country over the the weekend.
    The spokesperson then said Taliban officials are working to form a new government and expects to make an official announcement in the coming days.    According to a senior official for the Taliban, the terrorist organization is planning to hold a special ceremony to inaugurate the new government and will invite representatives from other nations to attend.
    “Work is underway on technical issues, so that the new government is announced,” stated Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.    “We are also waiting (for that), but efforts are being made to do the basic work.    I hope we will see the announcement of the government in the next few nights.”
    The spokesman then expressed how the Taliban has the extreme desire to ally with China, saying “China should cooperate with us in many fields and aspects in the future.”    He also highlighted the many infrastructure projects that need to be addressed along with how China can help with trade as well as the Afghan economy.
    In a separate briefing on Monday, China’s spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin, said the communist country supports the formation of a new government in Afghanistan.
    “China’s position on the Afghan issue is clear and consistent: we have always respected Afghanistan’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” stated the Chinese official.    “And supported Afghan people in seeking a development path suited to its national conditions.    We always support Afghanistan in forming an open, inclusive and broadly-representative government.”
    Meanwhile, opposition forces in Afghanistan said they will continue to resist and fight the Taliban.

9/8/2021 Fire In Indonesia Prison Kills 41 In Block Crowded To More Than 3 Times Capacity by Yuddy Cahya Budiman and Stanley Widianto
An ambulance is seen at the main entrance gate of Tangerang prison following a fire overnight at an overcrowded
jail in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana
    TANGERANG, Indonesia (Reuters) - A fire killed 41 inmates in an overcrowded prison block in Indonesia’s Banten province, a government minister said on Wednesday, injuring scores more in a blaze that police said may have been caused by an electrical fault.
    The fire, the country’s most deadly since 47 perished in a firework factory disaster in 2017, broke out at 1.45 a.m. local time in a Tangerang Prison block, said Indonesian law and human rights minister Yasonna Laoly, after visiting the scene.     “We’re working together with relevant authorities to look into the causes of the fire and of course formulating prevention strategies so that severe catastrophes like this won’t happen again,” the minister said in a statement.
    The minister said two of the dead were foreign nationals, one each from South Africa and Portugal, and confirmed the prison was operating in overcapacity when the fire broke out.    Cells were locked at the time, the minister said, but with the fire raging uncontrollably, “some rooms couldn’t be opened.”
    Earlier on Wednesday, Rika Aprianti, a spokeswoman for the ministry’s prison department, said 122 were being detained on drug-related offences in a block built to hold 38.
    Rika said all 41 fatalities were inmates, adding authorities were still evacuating the facility as of 9.00 a.m. local time.
    Prisons in Indonesia are notoriously overcrowded, with experts saying the phenomenon is partly due to the emphasis on incarceration rather than rehabilitation of those convicted of drug-related offences under the country’s strict narcotics laws.
    On Wednesday morning local TV showed footage of flames engulfing the detention facility, and later, the building’s charred remains as victims were pulled from the scene in orange body bags.
    Dr. Hilwani from Tangerang General Hospital told Reuters that some of the bodies had been so badly burned they were unidentifiable.
    Metro TV cited a police report saying that 73 people also had suffered light injuries.    “The initial suspicion is this was because of an electrical short circuit,” police spokesman Yusri Yunus told the broadcaster.
    The electrical wiring at the prison had not been upgraded since 1972 when the prison was built, minister Yasonna told Wednesday’s briefing.
    The prison in Tangerang, an industrial and manufacturing hub on the outskirts of Jakarta, housed more than 2,000 inmates in total, far exceeding its 600 capacity, according to government data as of September.
    Leopold Sudaryono, a criminologist and PhD candidate at the Australian National University, said that overcrowding also complicated emergency evacuation efforts.
    “At the Tangerang prison there are only five guards working one shift to guard a prison with 2,079 people” he said.    “So fire detection efforts and evacuations are difficult.”
    The head of the prison was not immediately available for comment on the ratio of inmates to guards, nor the capacity of the facility.    Prison department spokeswoman Rika told local media that 13 guards had been on duty at the facility at the time of the blaze.
    There have been several deadly fires in Indonesia in recent years.    As well as the 2017 Tangerang fireworks factory blaze, a 2019 fire at a matchstick factory in North Sumatra killed 30 people.
(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Fransiska Nangoy and Johan Purnomo; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo and Kate Lamb; Editing by Ed Davies and and Kenneth Maxwell)

9/8/2021 Myanmar Urged To Avoid Violence After Junta Opponents Declare Revolt
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) – Southeast Asian and Western countries have urged all sides in Myanmar to refrain from violence and allow in humanitarian aid, after a shadow government, formed by opponents of military rule, declared a nationwide uprising against the junta.
    The National Unity Government (NUG) said on Tuesday it was launching a “people’s defensive war,” signalling what appeared to be a bid to coordinate groups fighting the military as well as calls for troops and officials to switch sides.
    A military spokesman dismissed the call for revolt as a ploy to gain world attention and said it would not succeed.
    There were no immediate reports of violence on Wednesday, though security forces were out in strength in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon.    A day earlier, there were protests and a flare-up in fighting between the army and ethnic minority insurgents.
    “All parties must prioritize the safety and well-being of the Myanmar people,” Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told Reuters, noting humanitarian assistance could only be distributed if the situation on the ground was secure.
    Indonesia has taken the lead among Myanmar’s neighbours in trying to resolve a crisis triggered when the military toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.
    The security forces have killed hundreds of protesting democracy supporters and some opponents of military rule have formed armed groups under the banner of People’s Defence Forces.
    They have also forged alliances with ethnic minority groups fighting for self-determination who have long seen Myanmar’s army as their enemy.
    But it remains to be seen to what extent the NUG can influence the course of events.
    “The NUG declaration has received strong support on Myanmar social media,” said Richard Horsey, a Myanmar expert at the International Crisis Group.
    But he said it was not clear if opposition forces had the capacity to escalate the fight against Myanmar’s well-equipped military and the NUG’s declaration of “war” might backfire by making it harder for some countries to support it.
‘BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD’
    Britain’s Ambassador to Myanmar Pete Vowles said in a post on Facebook “we strongly condemn the junta’s coup and brutality” and urge “all sides to engage in dialogue.”
    While Western countries have imposed sanctions to press the junta, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been leading efforts for a diplomatic solution, but some members of the bloc have become exasperated by the lack of progress.
    “I can only say that we are frustrated that the five-point consensus could not be implemented as quickly as possible,” Malaysian foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah, referring to a plan the block put forward to the junta in April to end the violence, told an online news conference.
    But referring to the NUG’s call for a revolt, he said: “Now with the latest event, you really have to go back to the drawing board.”
    An ASEAN envoy to Myanmar was quoted as saying on the weekend that the military had accepted his proposal for a ceasefire https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmar-junta-agrees-asean-call-ceasefire-distribute-aid-kyodo-2021-09-06 until the end of the year to ensure distribution of humanitarian aid.
    But no side in the conflict has confirmed this.
    In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesperson noted the declaration of a “people’s defensive war” but called for peace to allow the delivery of aid and medicine, the U.S.-funded RFA (Radio Free Asia) reported.
    “The United States does not condone violence as a solution to the current crisis … and calls on all sides to remain peaceful,” said the spokesman.
    As opposed to most Western countries that have condemned the army for ousting Suu Kyi’s government, China which has considerable economic interests in Myanmar has taken a softer line and said its priorities are stability and not interfering in its neighbour.
    China’s state-run Global Times newspaper warned that if Western countries backed anti-junta forces militarily it may trigger violent turmoil.
    “If armed clashes are indulged and political extremist action is encouraged, then the country will be plagued by endless battles and trouble,” it said in an opinion piece.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/8/2021 Japan PM Contender Kishida Urges New Form Of Capitalism To End Disparity, Recover From Pandemic by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Daniel Leussink
FILE PHOTO: Japan's new International Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi arrives at Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan should strive for a new form of capitalism to reduce income disparity that has worsened under the coronavirus pandemic, says former foreign minister Fumio Kishida who hopes to become leader of the ruling party and next prime minister.
    Kishida is the only Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member to announce his candidacy in a leadership vote on Sept. 29, after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga last Friday said he would step down.    The winner of the vote is all but assured to be Japan’s next prime minister.
    Popular COVID-19 vaccination minister Taro Kono and former internal minister Sanae Takaichi have signalled their ambition to run.
    Takaichi, 60, is expected to announce her candidacy later on Wednesday and if successful would become Japan’s first female leader.
    Kishida said deregulation during the reform era in the early 2000s widened the gap between the haves and have-nots and that former prime minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics,” that sought to fix tattered finances by achieving high growth and boosting tax revenues, did not see benefits trickle down.
    “Without distribution of wealth there won’t be a rise in consumption and demand…there won’t be further growth if distribution of wealth is lost,” Kishida said at a presentation of his economic proposals in Tokyo on Wednesday.
    “I’ll aim to build new Japan-style capitalism. The biggest challenge in macroeconomic policy is to end deflation.    I’ll stick to three-pronged steps of bold monetary policy, flexible fiscal spending and growth strategy,” he said.
    “There’s no doubt Abenomics has brought a major achievement on growth but in terms of distribution of wealth, trickle-down has not yet happened.”
    Kishida repeated a call for an economic stimulus package worth “tens of trillions of yen” to combat the coronavirus pandemic.    He said he would use fiscal spending for achieving economic stability while not giving up on fiscal consolidation.
    He said the Bank of Japan should maintain its 2% inflation target as “it is a global standard” and changing it would send a wrong message to markets, and would leave the sales tax untouched for the time being.
    Kishida also called for setting up a 10 trillion-yen ($90.7 billion) university fund to stimulate science and promotion of renewable energy, while retaining nuclear power technology, which he said should be considered as a clean energy option.
TAKAICHI TO JOIN RACE
    Takaichi has the backing of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, local media said, and would base her challenge on policies to fend off China’s technology threat and help strengthen an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Takaichi became the first female internal affairs minister in the second Abe administration in 2014.
    But even as local media have said influential Abe has thrown his support behind Takaichi helping her obtain the 20 lawmaker backers needed to run in the leadership election, she has ranked poorly in popularity ratings, which could hamper her chances.
    Grass-roots LDP members will vote in the leadership election along with the party’s members of parliament, and whoever wins will lead the party to the lower house election that must be held by Nov. 28, making public appeal an important factor in choosing the new leader.
    Takaichi has said she wanted to work on issues left unresolved by previous administrations, such as achieving 2% inflation, and introducing legislation “that prevents the leakage of sensitive information to China.”
    She said an extra budget needed to be compiled as soon as possible to bolster Japan’s medical system, which is under strain because of the pandemic.
    A member of the party’s most conservative wing, she often visits the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japan’s war dead.
    Such visits by Japanese leaders infuriate old wartime foes such as China and South Korea.
    She has also opposed allowing married couples to keep separate surnames, to the disappointment of promoters of women’s rights.
    Takaichi is due to speak at 4 p.m. local time (7:00 GMT).
($1 = 110.2500 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Daniel Leussink; Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/8/2021 Hong Kong Police Arrest 4 Members Of Group Behind Tiananmen Vigil
Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Vice-Chairwoman Tonyee Chow Hang-tung
is seen inside a vehicle after being detained in Hong Kong, China, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested four members of a pro-democracy group that organises the annual June 4 rally to commemorate those who died in the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in the latest blow to the opposition movement.
    Activist and barrister Chow Hang Tung of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China was arrested along with three others, the group said.
    “I want to tell Hong Kongers that we need to continue to resist, don’t surrender to the unreasonable power quickly and easily,” Chow told media on Tuesday when she went to police headquarters to tell officers she would not provide information they had requested.
    Police sent a letter to the alliance in August requesting information about its membership, finances and activities by Sept. 7, according to a copy the group sent to reporters.
    The letter accused the alliance of being “an agent of foreign forces.”    Failure to provide the information by the deadline could result in a HK$100,000 fine and six months in jail, the letter said.
    The National Security Department said it had arrested three men and one woman, aged 36 to 57, for failing to comply with national security law requirements.    It did not identify them.
    The department said investigations were ongoing and it did not rule out further arrests.
    The national security law punishes what authorities broadly refer to as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    Chow’s arrest came hours before she was due to represent detained opposition politician Gwyneth Ho, who is charged with conspiracy to commit subversion under a Beijing-imposed national security law, at a bail hearing.
    Ho withdrew her bail application at the High Court after Judge Esther Toh declined her request to lift reporting restrictions for the hearing.
    Alliance leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan are already in jail over their roles in anti-government protests that roiled the city in 2019.
    The group said in July that it had laid off staff members to ensure their safety and that half of its committee members had resigned.
(Reporting By Tyrone Siu and Jessie Pang, Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/8/2021 Taliban Name New Afghan Government, Interior Minister On U.S. Sanctions List
People run away at a street as Taliban open fire on anti-Pakistan protesters, in Kabul, Afghanistan
in this still image obtained from a social media video. Asvaka News Agency/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) -The Taliban drew from its inner high echelons to fill top posts in Afghanistan’s new government on Tuesday, including an associate of the Islamist militant group’s founder as premier and a wanted man on a U.S. terrorism list as interior minister.
    World powers have told the Taliban the key to peace and development is an inclusive government that would back up its pledges of a more conciliatory approach, upholding human rights, after a previous 1996-2001 period in power marked by bloody vendettas and oppression of women.
    Taliban supreme leader Haibatullah Akhundzada, in his first public statement since the Aug. 15 seizure of the capital Kabul by the insurgents, said the Taliban were committed to all international laws, treaties and commitments not in conflict with Islamic law.
    “In the future, all matters of governance and life in Afghanistan will be regulated by the laws of the Holy Sharia,” he said in a statement, in which he also congratulated Afghans on what he called the country’s liberation from foreign rule.
    The names announced for the new government, three weeks after the Taliban swept to military victory as U.S.-led foreign forces withdrew and the weak Western-backed government collapsed, gave no sign of an olive branch to its opponents.
    The United States said it was concerned by the track records of some of the Cabinet members and noted that no women had been included.    “The world is watching closely,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.
    Afghans who enjoyed major progress in education and civil liberties over the 20 years of U.S.-backed government remain fearful of Taliban intentions and daily protests have continued since the Taliban takeover, challenging the new rulers.
    On Tuesday, as the new government was being announced, a group of Afghan women in a Kabul street took cover after Taliban gunmen fired into the air to disperse hundreds of protesters.
    The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, girls could not attend school and women were banned from work and education.    Religious police would flog anyone breaking the rules and public executions were carried out.
    The Taliban has urged Afghans to be patient and vowed to be more tolerant this time – a commitment many Afghans and foreign powers will be scrutinising as a condition for aid and investment desperately needed in Afghanistan.
LATE FOUNDER’S LEGACY IN NEW GOVERNMENT
    Mullah Hasan Akhund, named as prime minister, like many in the Taliban leadership derives much of his prestige from his close link to the movement’s reclusive late founder Mullah Omar, who presided over its rule two decades ago.
    Akhund is longtime chief of the Taliban’s powerful decision-making body Rehbari Shura, or leadership council.    He was foreign minister and then deputy prime minister when the Taliban were last in power and, like many of the incoming Cabinet, is under U.N. sanctions for his role in that government.
    Sirajuddin Haqqani, the new interior minister, is the son of the founder of the Haqqani network, classified as a terrorist group by Washington. He is one of the FBI’s most wanted men due to his involvement in suicide attacks and ties with Al Qaeda.
    Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, head of the movement’s political office who was given his nom de guerre “brother,” or Baradar, by Mullah Omar, was appointed as Akhund’s deputy, main Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference in Kabul.
    The passing over of Baradar for the top government job came as a surprise to some as he had been responsible for negotiating the U.S. withdrawal at talks in Qatar and presenting the face of the Taliban to the outside world.
    Baradar was previously a senior Taliban commander in the long insurgency against U.S. forces.    He was arrested and imprisoned in Pakistan in 2010, becoming head of the Taliban’s political office in Doha after his release in 2018.
    Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, a son of Mullah Omar, was named as defence minister.    All the appointments were in an acting capacity, Mujahid said.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One, as President Joe Biden flew to New York, that there would be no recognition of the Taliban government soon.
ECONOMIC MELTDOWN
    Taliban spokesman Mujahid, speaking against a backdrop of collapsing public services and economic meltdown amidst the chaos of the tumultuous foreign pullout, said an acting cabinet had been formed to respond to the Afghan people’s primary needs.
    He said some ministries remained to be filled pending a hunt for qualified people.
    The United Nations said earlier on Tuesday that basic services were unravelling in Afghanistan and food and other aid were about to run out.    More than half a million people have been displaced internally in Afghanistan this year.
    An international donor conference is scheduled in Geneva on Sept. 13.    Western powers say they are prepared to send humanitarian aid, but that broader economic engagement depends on the shape and actions of the Taliban government.
‘RESISTANCE WILL CONTINUE’
    On Monday, the Taliban claimed victory in the Panjshir valley, the last province holding out against it.
    Pictures on social media showed Taliban members standing in front of the Panjshir governor’s compound after days of fighting with the National Resistance Front of Afghanistan (NRFA), commanded by Panjshiri leader Ahmad Massoud.
    Massoud denied that his force, consisting of remnants of the Afghan army as well as local militia fighters, was beaten, and tweeted that “our resistance will continue.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Clarence Fernandez, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Alex Richardson, Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

9/8/2021 As Its Rivers Shrink, Iraq Thirsts For Regional Cooperation by Charlotte Bruneau and Ahmed Rasheed
Nabil Musa, an Iraqi Kurdish environmental activist, walks near Sirwan River on the outskirt
of Halabja, Iraq June 13, 2021. Picture taken June 13, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudanib
    HALABJA, Iraq (Reuters) – “Where we are standing right now, there should be a river,” says Nabil Musa, gesturing at a dried-up riverbed in northern Iraq.
    For the environmental activist, the reason the once swirling Sirwan river has dwindled to a trickle lies across the border in Iran, which he says is “controlling all” of the river’s water.
    With this year’s lack of rainfall, Iraq is badly short of water, and officials trying to revive rivers like the Sirwan say lower flows from upstream neighbours Iran and Turkey are worsening home-grown problems such as leaks, ageing pipes and illegal siphoning off of supplies.
    Iran and Turkey are building big dams to solve their own lack of water, but regional cooperation on the issue is patchy.
    Iraqi officials said the Daryan dam across the border in Iran is diverting parts of the Sirwan back into Iranian lands through a 48 km (29 mile)-long tunnel.
    Contacted by Reuters, Iranian officials declined to comment on the allegation.    Iran has said the dam is still being built.
    Local Iraqi villagers say they have felt the impact of reduced volumes from Iran for two years, complaining that the fall has had a punishing effect on communities downstream especially during increasingly frequent years of drought.
    “It’s been two years since I had to stop fishing,” fisherman Ahmed Mahmud told Reuters from the nearby village of Imami Zamen.    With the river drying up, most of the village’s 70 families have already left.    The primary school closed.
    “If it continues like this, we will have to leave as well,” he said.
    The Sirwan begins in Iran and runs along its border with Iraq before flowing into Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and then on south to join the Tigris.    Once abundant, it’s now dotted with measuring poles showing where water once reached.
    As a heatwave baked the drought-hit region in July, Iraq said the situation in the downstream province of Diyala would worsen without agreement with Iran, where about 18% of Iraq’s Tigris river originates, on ways to share “damage” from lower flows.
    To try to cope, Baghdad limited this summer’s cultivated surfaces in Diyala in both irrigated and rainfed areas to 30% of last year’s and dug water wells to support struggling farmers.
    Asked about Iraqi allegations that Iran is reluctant to discuss the water crisis, a senior Iranian foreign ministry official noted that drought in Iran had “caused blackouts and protest.”    He told Reuters that following the recent formation of Iran’s new government, scheduling meetings would take time.
    “However, I should underline that because of the water crisis, our first priority would be meeting our domestic need and then our neighbours,” the official added.
    Iraq’s water crisis has been in the making for nearly two decades.    Outdated infrastructure and short-term policies made Baghdad vulnerable to climate change and lower flows from Iran and Turkey, source of about 70% of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-turkey-dam-idUSKCN1US194
    Iraqi water ministry spokesperson Aoun Dhiab told Reuters that from June, water flows from Iran and Turkey had halved.
    The Turkish Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Negotiations with Turkey on how much water it will allow downstream to Iraq are difficult, but at least they are taking place, Iraqi officials say.    In contrast, there are no talks on the subject with Iran, which in the last three decades has contracted the construction of at least 600 dams nationwide.
    Musa said Iran occasionally released water to Iraq.    “But we don’t know (in advance) when and how much,” he said.
    Iraqi water officials last June attempted without success to have a meeting with Tehran to discuss water shortages and seek information about Iran’s water management strategy.
    “We do get information using satellite imagery, on the status of dams and the size of reserves, whether in Turkey or Iran.    But we would prefer to get it through diplomatic channels,” Dhiab told Reuters.
    At a summit in Baghdad on August 28, Middle East countries including Iran discussed regional cooperation, but the issue of regional water policies didn’t make it on to the agenda.
    “We avoided controversial topics that pit them against each other, such as water,” said an Iraqi diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to media.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

9/8/2021 Iran Warns West Of IAEA Move As U.S Says Time Running Out To Save Nuclear Deal by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Ebrahim Raisi, who assumed office as Iran's president in August, speaks during a news
conference in Tehran, Iran, June 21, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (Reuters) – Iran’s president on Wednesday warned Western states against rebuking Tehran at the U.N. atomic watchdog after its latest reports criticised his country, while the top U.S. diplomat said time was running out to revive a nuclear deal with world powers.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency said in reports to member states reviewed by Reuters on Tuesday that there had been no progress on two central issues: explaining uranium traces found at several old, undeclared sites and getting urgent access to some monitoring equipment so that the IAEA can continue to keep track of parts of Iran’s nuclear programme.
    “In the event of a counterproductive approach at the IAEA, it would not make sense to expect Iran to react constructively.    Counterproductive measures are naturally disruptive to the negotiation path also,” President Ebrahim Raisi said in a phone call with European Council President Charles Michel, according to Iranian state media.
    Tuesday’s criticism by the IAEA means the United States and its European allies must now decide whether to push for a resolution at next week’s meeting of the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors pressuring Iran to yield.
    In 2018 then-President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    The Islamic Republic responded to the Trump administration’s withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions by violating many of those restrictions.
TIME RUNNING SHORT
    Indirect talks between U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and Iran on how both countries could return to compliance with the deal have not resumed since Raisi, an anti-Western hardliner, took office on Aug. 5.    France and Germany have called on Iran to return soon https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iran-says-nuclear-talks-progressing-some-issues-need-more-discussion-2021-06-20 and Raisi has said Tehran is prepared to but not under Western “pressure.”
    A resolution could make resuming talks on the deal harder, since Tehran usually bristles at such moves.
    Speaking in Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said time was running out for Iran to return to that accord.
    “I’m not going to put a date on it but we are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA (nuclear deal) does not reproduce the benefits that agreement achieved.”
    Western diplomats have said that a decision on how to respond to the IAEA reports has yet to be reached.
    “We find ourselves at a moment of discussing with all our partners in the agreement how to react to this,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said alongside Blinken.
    Senior diplomats from France, Britain and Germany will meet on Friday in Paris with the U.S. envoy on Iran to discuss the matter.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and John Irish in Paris, Writing by John Irish; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Gareth Jones)

9/8/2021 Analysis: Taliban Choices In New Cabinet Could Hamper Recognition By West by Rupam Jain and Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members
attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s new rulers have rewarded Taliban veterans and hardliners with plum posts in the cabinet despite promising an inclusive government, but the choices could pose obstacles in the country getting Western recognition and aid.
    At least three members named in what was described as an acting cabinet on Tuesday were among the Taliban Five, long-term detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay who were freed in 2014 in exchange for an American soldier in Taliban custody.
    The interior ministry went to Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani Network, who is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a bounty of up to $10 million.
    His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.
    The 33-strong cabinet was dominated by Pashtun men, mostly battle-hardened veterans of the two-decade war against the U.S.-backed government.
    There were no women and just three members from minorities, although these included the powerful positions of deputy prime minister, held by the Uzbek Abdul Salam Hanafi, and army chief, held by the Tajik Qari Faseeh udin.
    “The way they have set about constituting a government sends the wrong signal,” said Rohan Gunaratna, professor of security studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, adding that the choices made it extremely difficult for the international community to recognise the new government.
    “Afghanistan will not achieve a seat in the U.N.,” he said.
    Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/world-wary-taliban-government-afghans-urge-action-rights-economy-2021-09-08.
    The European Union said it was ready to continue with emergency aid to Afghanistan, but will keep a close eye on the new Taliban government.
    Afghanistan faces the collapse of basic services and food and other aid is about to run out, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
THE HAQQANIS
    The three “Taliban Five” members in the cabinet were Head of Intelligence Abdul Haq Wasiq, Borders and Tribal Affairs Minister Noorullah Noori and Culture Minister Khairullah Khairkhwa.
    The rising stature of the Haqqanis, whose fighters were at the forefront when the Taliban captured Kabul last month, was also a matter of concern, some analysts said.
    The Haqqani network is described as a terrorist organisation by the United States, which has also said it receives support from neighbouring Pakistan, especially its ISI spy agency. Islamabad has denied the accusations.
    However, some analysts noted that ISI chief Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed visited Kabul at the weekend, just ahead of the announcement of the cabinet.
    “The elevation of Sirajuddin (Haqqani) to Interior Minister and his uncle Khalil to a ministry reflects the fact that finance and protection from the ISI have leveraged the Haqqani Network into a powerful position at the heart of the new administration,” said Michael Semple, an Afghanistan expert at Queen’s University in Belfast.
    The choice of Mullah Hasan Akhund as prime minister came as a surprise.
    Although not known as a hardliner, he was favoured over Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the head of the Taliban’s political office and the public face of its negotiations with the United States and other governments.
    Baradar is deputy prime minister, but Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia programme at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, said: “We can perhaps read this move as a successful effort by hardline Taliban factions to sideline Baradar, who is a relative moderate within the Taliban.”
    The other power centre in the Taliban, said Asfandyar Mir, an analyst at the United States Institute of Peace, was with old-timers from the Kandahar region in southern Afghanistan who draw their clout from their proximity to Mullah Omar, the late founder of the movement.
    “What happens is in terms of inter-tribal dynamics, what region you’re from, how long you’ve been around and what’s your association with Mullah Omar,” Mir said.
    “A lot of those factors continue to be more important than the developments of recent months, or years,” he said, referring to the moderates.
(Additional reporting and writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/8/2021 North Korea Appears To Stage Night-Time Military Parade - Media
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea appears to have staged a night-time military parade of a type it has used in the past to unveil new military hardware including large ballistic missiles, South Korean and other media focused on the country reported on Thursday.
    South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said the parade appeared to have taken place in Pyongyang on Thursday, while the specialist NK News online publication quoted multiple sources as saying a parade had been due to start at midnight.    Sept. 9 is North Korea’s national day.
    NK News said citizens were seen late in the evening preparing for the parade near Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square.    It said roads were closed and no regular vehicles seen.
    It said sources reported fireworks in downtown Pyongyang at midnight and again around 1 a.m. on Thursday, suggesting the event took place during that time.
    Yonhap quoted an unnamed military source as saying: “There have been signs that the North carried out a military parade in Pyongyang after midnight.    The (South Korean) military is analyzing those signs.”
    Last week, NK News and 38 North, another organization that tracks events in secretive North Korea, said troops had been spotted in commercial satellite imagery preparing for a likely military parade.
    Last October, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unveiled previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles in a predawn military parade that showcased the country’s long-range weapons for the first time in two years.
    Another night-time military parade was held in January.
    Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have stalled in recent years.    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearization, but has shown no willingness to meet North Korean demands for an easing of sanctions.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Peter Cooney)

9/8/2021 Resistance Leaders Massoud, Saleh Still In Afghanistan, Diplomat Says
Afghan ambassador to Tajikistan Mohammad Zahir Aghbar attends a news conference at the embassy in Dushanbe, Tajikistan September 8, 2021.
The portraits show former Mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, Vice President Amrullah Saleh and King Amanullah Khan. REUTERS/Didor Sadulloev
    DUSHANBE (Reuters) – Panjshiri leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and former Afghan Vice President Amrullah Saleh have not fled Afghanistan and their resistance forces are still fighting the Taliban, the ousted Afghan government’s ambassador to Tajikistan said on Wednesday.
    Zahir Aghbar, envoy to Dushanbe under the government of ousted Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, told a news conference in Tajikistan’s capital that he was in regular contact with Saleh and that the resistance leaders were out of general communication for security reasons.
    “Ahmad Massoud and Amrullah Saleh have not fled to Tajikistan.    The news that Ahmad Massoud has left Panjshir is not true; he is inside Afghanistan,” Aghbar said.
    “I am in constant contact with Amrullah Saleh, who is currently in Panjshir and running the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s government,” he said.
    The Taliban swept to power last month and the militant group has said they have captured the Panjshir valley, a last holdout province, though the resistance has not conceded defeat.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

9/9/2021 Taliban To Allow 200 Americans, Other Civilians To Leave Afghanistan - U.S. Official
FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces stand guard at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport a day
after U.S troops withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Taliban authorities have agreed to let 200 American civilians and third country nationals who remained in Afghanistan after the end of the U.S. evacuation operation to depart on charter flights from Kabul airport, a U.S. official said.
    The Taliban were pressed to allow the departures by U.S. Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, said the official, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    The departures were expected on Thursday.    The official could not say whether these Americans and third country nationals were among people stranded for days in Mazar-i-Sharif because their private charters have not been allowed to depart.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

9/9/2021 World Wary Of Taliban Government As Afghans Urge Action On Rights And Economy
FILE PHOTO: Taliban soldiers stand in front of protesters during the anti-Pakistan
protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 7, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Foreign countries greeted the makeup of the new government in Afghanistan with caution and dismay on Wednesday after the Taliban appointed hardline veteran figures to an all-male cabinet, including several with a U.S. bounty on their heads.
    As the newly appointed ministers and their deputies set to work after they were named late on Tuesday, acting Premier Mohammad Hasan Akhund urged former officials who fled Afghanistan to return, saying their safety would be guaranteed.
    “We have suffered heavy losses for this historic moment and the era of bloodshed in Afghanistan is over,” he told Al Jazeera.
    Tens of thousands of people left after the Taliban seized power in mid-August following a lightning military campaign, many of them professionals fearing reprisals because of their association with the Western-backed government.
    In Kabul, dozens of women took to the streets again to demand representation in the new administration and for their rights to be protected.
    More broadly, people urged the leadership to revive the Afghan economy, which faces steep inflation, food shortages exacerbated by drought and the prospect of international aid being slashed as countries distance themselves from the Taliban.
    The United States underscored its wariness on Wednesday.    “This is a caretaker Cabinet,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.    “No one in this administration, not the president nor anyone on the national security team, would suggest that the Taliban are respected and valued members of the global community.”
    The Islamist militant movement swept to power in a victory hastened by the withdrawal of U.S. military support to Afghan government forces.
    The Taliban’s announcement of a new government on Tuesday was widely seen as a signal they were not looking to broaden their base and present a more tolerant face to the world.
    Analysts said the make-up of the cabinet https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-choices-new-cabinet-could-hamper-recognition-by-west-2021-09-08 could hamper recognition by Western governments.
    The Taliban has promised to respect people’s rights and not seek vendettas, but it has been criticised for its heavy-handed response to protests and its part in a chaotic evacuation of thousands of people from Kabul airport.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was assessing https://www.reuters.com/world/blinken-calls-taliban-allow-charter-flights-take-off-2021-09-08 the Cabinet announcement. “But despite professing that a new government would be inclusive, the announced list of names consists exclusively of individuals who are members of the Taliban or their close associates, and no women,” he said during a visit to a U.S. air base in Germany that has been a transit point for evacuees from Afghanistan.
    The European Union voiced its disapproval https://www.reuters.com/world/eu-ready-continue-afghanistan-aid-watching-new-government-2021-09-08 at the appointments, but said it was ready to continue humanitarian assistance.    Longer-term aid would depend on the Taliban upholding basic freedoms.
    Saudi Arabia expressed hope https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/saudi-arabia-hopes-new-afghan-government-can-bring-stability-minister-2021-09-08 the new government would help Afghanistan achieve “security and stability, rejecting violence and extremism
.”
    The new acting Cabinet includes former detainees of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, while the interior minister, Sirajuddin Haqqani, is wanted by the United States on terrorism charges and carries a reward of $10 million.
    His uncle, with a bounty of $5 million, is the minister for refugees and repatriation.
MORE PROTESTS
    The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, women were banned from work and girls from school.    The group carried out public executions and its religious police enforced a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
    Taliban leaders have vowed to respect people’s rights, including those of women, in accordance with sharia, but those who have won greater freedoms over the past two decades are worried about losing them.
    Alison Davidian, deputy head of UN Women in Afghanistan, said some women were being prevented from leaving home without a male relative or were forced to stop work.    The activity “has generated incredible fear https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/incredible-fear-among-women-across-afghanistan-un-official-2021-09-08.    And this fear is palpable across the country,” Davidian, speaking from Kabul, told reporters in New York.
    In an interview with Australia’s SBS News, a senior Taliban official said women would not be allowed to play cricket – a popular sport in Afghanistan – or possibly any other sport because it was “not necessary” and their bodies might be exposed.
    Australia’s cricket board said it will scrap a planned test https://www.nasdaq.com/articles/cricket-australia-board-will-cancel-afghanistan-test-if-womens-cricket-banned-2021-09-09 match against the Afghanistan men’s team if the Asian country’s Taliban rulers do not allow women to play the sport.
    In Kabul, a group of women bearing signs reading: “A Cabinet without women is a failure,” held another protest in the Pul-e Surkh area of the city.    Larger demonstrations on Tuesday were broken up when Taliban gunmen fired warning shots https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-protests-persist-posing-problem-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07 into the air.
    “The Cabinet was announced and there were no women in the Cabinet. And some journalists who came to cover the protest were all arrested and taken to the police station,” said a woman in a video shared on social media.
    A statement from the new Taliban Interior Ministry said that in order to avoid disturbances and security problems, anyone holding a demonstration should apply for clearance 24 hours beforehand.
    For many Afghans, more pressing than the composition of the Cabinet was the economic fallout of the chaos triggered by the Taliban’s conquest.
    Shukrullah Khan, manager of a restaurant at Qargha Lake, a popular local resort near Kabul, said business had slumped to next to nothing. “The banks are closed, there’s no jobs, people no longer spend money.    Where does the money come from so that people can have fun here?” he said.
    Ousted President Ashraf Ghani, who fled Kabul as Taliban forces reached its outskirts, apologised on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exiled-ghani-apologizes-afghan-people-2021-09-08 for the abrupt fall of his government, but again denied he had taken millions of dollars with him.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Cooney)

9/9/2021 Sydney Pubs To Open In Mid-Oct As End Of COVID Lockdown Looms – With Cases Set To Rise by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian 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, September 7, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Sydney’s cafes, restaurants and pubs are set to reopen in the second half of October after months of strict COVID-19 lockdown, even as the Prime Minister warned higher case numbers will follow the easing of curbs and leaders must “hold their nerve.”
    Authorities said Sydney bars and eateries, as well as gyms, across the city of five million people will be able to reopen at reduced capacity within days New South Wales (NSW) reached a 70% double-vaccination target, now expected around mid-October.
    Stay-at-home orders for the fully vaccinated will be lifted on the Monday after the target is achieved, the officials said.
    The plans come as daily infections linger near record levels in NSW amid a spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with the state registering 1,405 new local cases on Thursday, down from 1,480 a day earlier.    Five new deaths were recorded.
    “Living with COVID means you have a cautious and staged reopening once you get to those high rates of vaccination in your adult population,” NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.
    Berejiklian expects cases to rise when restrictions ease and warned of localised lockdowns if “there is a concentration of disease in any suburb.”    Lockdown rules in several regions outside greater Sydney have been lifted from Saturday after low case numbers there.
    Under the plan, pubs and cafes in Sydney could reopen before schools, which will begin classes for younger aged-groups from Oct. 25.
    “(School reopening) date is fixed because we need to provide certainty and planning for school communities … but for adults, we have the capacity to be more flexible,” she said.
    Berejiklian had initially pursued a COVID-zero strategy to quell an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant that began in mid-June, but has since shifted to focusing on increasing inoculation rates.
    About 43% of the population above 16 in the state, Australia’s most populous, have been fully vaccinated, slightly higher than the national average of 40%.
STAGGERED REOPENING
    Sydney’s staggered reopening plans bring some certainty for businesses, with lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, threatening to push the A$2 trillion ($1.47 trillion) economy into its second recession in as many years.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the reopening efforts of New South Wales align with the four-stage national plan unveiled in July that promised more freedoms once the country reaches 70%-80% inoculation.
    “The next stage will be hard … we’ll see case numbers rise and that will be challenging,” Morrison said in Canberra.    “But if you want to live with the virus you inevitably have to pass down that tunnel.”
    Morrison urged state leaders to “hold their nerve” when they begin to live with the virus, although some virus-free states have hinted they may delay their reopening even after reaching higher vaccination coverage.
    Australia’s COVID numbers are far lower than in many other countries, with just over 68,000 cases and 1,066 deaths.    Increased vaccination levels have kept the death rate at 0.41% in the Delta outbreak, data shows, below previous outbreaks.
    Victoria state, where Melbourne is the capital, reported 324 new cases on Thursday, up from 221 on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

9/9/2021 N.Korea Puts Hazmat Suits On Parade For National Day, But No Missiles by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters at the North Korean embassy in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its foundation with a night time military parade in the capital, state media reported on Thursday, publishing photographs of marching rows of personnel in orange hazmat suits but no ballistic missiles.
    Kim Jong Un, the leader of the reclusive state, attended the event as paramilitary and public security forces of the Worker-Peasant Red Guards, the country’s largest civilian defence force, began marching in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung square at midnight Wednesday, the official KCNA news agency said.
    Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Worker’s Party’s newspaper, published photographs of people in orange hazmat suits with medical-grade masks in an apparent symbol of anti-coronavirus efforts, and troops holding rifles marching together.
    Some conventional weapons were also on display, including multiple rocket launchers and tractors carrying anti-tank missiles.
    But no ballistic missiles were seen or mentioned in the reports, and Kim did not deliver any speech, unlike last October when he boasted of the country’s nuclear capabilities and showcased previously unseen intercontinental ballistic missiles during a pre-dawn military parade.
    “The columns of emergency epidemic prevention and the Ministry of Public Health were full of patriotic enthusiasm to display the advantages of the socialist system all over the world, while firmly protecting the security of the country and its people from the worldwide pandemic,” the KCNA said.
    North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but closed borders and imposed strict prevention measures, seeing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
    It was the first time since 2013 that North Korea staged a parade with the 5.7 million strong Worker-Peasant Red Guards, launched as reserve forces after the exit of Chinese forces who fought for the North in the 1950-53 Korean War.
    Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the perceived absence of strategic weapons and the focus on public security forces showed Kim is focused on domestic issues such as COVID-19 and the economy.
    “The parade seems to be strictly designed as a domestic festival aimed at promoting national unity and solidarity of the regime,” Yang said.
    “There were no nuclear weapons and Kim didn’t give a message while being there, which could be meant to keep the event low-key and leave room for manoeuvre for future talks with the United States and South Korea.”
    Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals have stalled since 2019.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearisation, but has shown no willingness to meet North Korean demands for an easing of sanctions.
    A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes for a restart of the denuclearisation talks.    But the North stopped answering the calls as South Korea and the United States held their annual military exercises last month, which Pyongyang has warned could trigger a security crisis.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

9/9/2021 Japan To Extend COVID-19 Emergency Curbs In Tokyo, Other Areas
FILE PHOTO: People walk in Shibuya shopping area, during a state of emergency amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan August 29, 2021. REUTERS/Androniki?Christodoulou
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan said on Thursday it will extend emergency COVID-19 restrictions in Tokyo and other regions until the end of this month to curb infections and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, saying it was too early to let down its guard.
    Japan has been struggling with a fifth wave of the virus and last month extended its long-running curbs until Sept. 12 to cover about 80% of its population.
    However, the number of severe cases and the strain on the medical system have not eased sufficiently in Tokyo and surrounding areas to allow restrictions to be lifted.
    The government will extend the measures until Sept. 30, including for Osaka in the west, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said after meeting with an advisory panel, which ratified the plan.
    Japan’s emergency curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol, while urging residents to telework as much as possible and refrain from travel.
    Some signs of improvement around the nation mean that two prefectures out of 21 will move from the state of emergency measures to more targeted restrictions, while a number of other prefectures will remove all curbs.
    “I believe we’re starting to see results, but it’s still too early to lower our guard,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said at the meeting.
    The plan will be formalised at a government task force meeting later on Thursday and announced by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga at a news conference.
    The Nikkei newspaper, meanwhile, reported that the government is moving towards easing international entry restrictions by reducing quarantine times for vaccinated travelers.    The move has been urged by Keidanren, Japan’s main business lobby, as well as foreign chambers of commerce.
    “We welcome any proposal to re-open Japan’s borders to business travel, as part of a science-based approach to preserving public health,” Christopher LaFleur, special advisor to the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, said in a statement.
    Many of Japan’s top trade partners allow vaccinated travelers to enter freely and mandate quarantines of just 10 days for those without the shots, and it’s “reasonable that Japan adopt the same policy,” LaFleur added.
    Local media have reported that the government may allow restaurants to resume regular business hours and alcohol sales as the vaccination push nears completion in October and November.
    Authorities are considering plans that would reward businesses that maintain current infection controls, such as foot traffic limits, or alternatively to encouraging in-store checks of vaccination and testing status.
    Japan’s vaccine rollout took place later than with many other nations but roughly half of the population has now been fully vaccinated.
    Tokyo’s new daily coronavirus infections totaled 1,834 on Wednesday.    The country has reported around 1.6 million cases in total and 16,436 deaths, although the death rate has declined in the latest outbreak.    That 1% fatality rate compares with 1.6% in the United States and 1.9% in Britain.
    Shigeru Omi, the nation’s chief health advisor, said on Wednesday the pandemic fight is shifting to focus more on the threat of new viral variants or a possible decline in the effectiveness of vaccines.
    The fact that Japan has had five waves of contagion points to the nation’s challenges in tackling the pandemic, said Denis Kinane, an immunologist and co-founder of British testing company Cignpost Diagnostics.    And as in other nations, vaccination alone is no path out of the crisis.
    “What is clear now is that achieving herd immunity for COVID-19 is impossible,” Kinane said.    “It is possible for a gradual return to what was regarded as normal in the pre-COVID world, but only if we continue to act cautiously.”
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Chang-Ran Kim, and Rocky Swift; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)

9/9/2021 China’s President Xi Sends Congratulatory Message To North Korea Leader Kim - State Media
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Pyongyang International Airport in Pyongyang,
North Korea, in this undated photo released on June 21, 2019 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping on Thursday sent a congratulatory message to North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on the 73rd anniversary of the country’s founding, according to state TV China Central Television.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

9/9/2021 Taliban Wants Relationship With China, Hopes To Work Together by OAN Newsroom
Taliban fighters walk through the tarmac after a Qatar Airways aircraft took off
from the airport in Kabul on September 9, 2021. (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Taliban has continued to express interest in having a close relationship with China. As the Taliban makes way with preparations for its new interim government’s inauguration ceremony, China has extended its hand to the terrorist regime.
    While speaking on Chinese State Media on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Taliban said the terrorist organization is extremely interested in working with China in order to rebuild Afghanistan.
    “Our policy is to have a good relation with China.    This is based on our policy,” said Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman.
    The spokesman then said the Taliban ultimately wants for Afghanistan to be a “point of connectivity” for China and other surrounding countries.
    “We want Afghanistan to be a point of connectivity and to start the phase of reconstruction in the country, the phase of economic development, rehabilitation of the country.    So it is necessary that we establish stability in the country,” said Shaheen.
    In a separate briefing on Wednesday, a Chinese spokesman heavily criticized the U.S.’s recent foreign policy decisions in Afghanistan.    He stressed how China must stand by the Taliban and help prevent any threats that may be posed by the international community.
    “The 20-year-long U.S. military presence in Afghanistan is a vivid example of what consequences could be produced by wanton military interference in other countries and imposing one’s ideology and values on others,” said the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Wang Wenbin.    “Afghanistan now is turning a new page in its history and it is necessary for the international community to think profoundly about how to prevent the recurrence of the tragedy in Afghanistan.”
    In the meantime, China announced it’s providing Afghanistan with at least $31 million in emergency aid as the Taliban continues to rebuild the country.

9/9/2021 Afghan Journalists Beaten In Taliban Detention, Editor Says
Journalists show their injuries after being beaten by the Taliban in Kabul, Afghanistan
September 8, 2021 in this picture obtained from social media. Etilaatroz/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Two Afghan journalists were beaten in police custody this week after covering a protest by women in Kabul where they were detained by the Taliban, their editor said.
    Zaki Daryabi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Etilaat Roz newspaper, shared images on social media of two male reporters, one with large, red welts across his lower back and legs and the other with similar marks on his shoulder and arm.
    Both men’s faces were also bruised and cut in the pictures, which were verified by Reuters.
    When asked about the incident, an acting Taliban minister, who was named in his post when the new government https://www.reuters.com/world/india/taliban-fire-air-scatter-kabul-protesters-no-reports-injuries-2021-09-07 was announced on Tuesday, said that any attack on journalists would be investigated.    He declined to be identified.
    Daryabi said the beatings sent a chilling message to the media in Afghanistan, where an independent press, much of it funded by Western donors, has flourished in the last 20 years.
    “Five colleagues were kept in a detention centre for more than 4 hours, and during these four hours two of our colleagues were beaten and tortured brutally,” he told Reuters on Thursday, the day after the incident.
    He said the injured reporters were taken to hospital and advised by doctors to take two weeks’ rest.
    The Taliban, who swept into the capital Kabul on Aug. 15 and now rule Afghanistan again after fighting a 20-year insurgency against foreign and Afghan forces, have vowed to allow the media to operate and respect people’s human rights.
    But incidents of abuse since they came to power have raised doubts among some Afghans.
    Taqi Daryabi, one of the two Etilaat Roz journalists, said seven or eight people beat them for about 10 minutes.
    “They would raise sticks and beat us with all of their strength.    After they beat us, they saw that we had passed out.
    They took us to lock us up in a cell with a few others
,” he said.    Reuters could not independently verify his account.
    The last time the Taliban ruled the country from 1996-2001 there was no independent media and the Internet was in its infancy.
    Several journalists have complained https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/actions-or-words-afghan-journalists-question-talibans-free-press-pledge-2021-08-19 of assault since the Taliban returned to power, and some women have said they were not allowed to carry on working in media jobs.
    Under the first Taliban rule, women were banned from work and education.    The group has said in recent weeks that women will be allowed to work and attend university within the parameters of Islamic law.
    “With the sudden collapse of the government, Etilaat Roz initially decided to stay and operate in the hope that there would be no big issue for media and journalists,” Daryabi said.
    “But with the yesterday’s incident, that little hope I had for the future of media and journalists in country is destroyed.”
(Reporting by Islamabad, Mumbai bureaus; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

9/9/2021 Unleashing Reforms, Xi Returns To China’s Socialist Roots by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping during a show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the
founding of the Communist Party of China at the National Stadium in Beijing, China June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) -When Xi Jinping took command of the Communist Party in late 2012 and proclaimed “only socialism can save China,” it was largely ignored as the perfunctory mention of an antiquated slogan – not to be taken literally in a modern-day, market-powered economy.
    But sweeping new policy moves – from crackdowns https://www.reuters.com/world/china/education-bitcoin-chinas-season-regulatory-crackdown-2021-07-27 on internet companies, for-profit education https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-says-private-tutors-will-not-be-able-offer-classes-online-2021-09-08, online gaming https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-rolls-out-new-rules-minors-online-gaming-xinhua-2021-08-30 and property market excesses, to the promulgation of “Common Prosperity” – show Xi’s seriousness in steering China back towards its socialist roots.
    Having done away with term limits in 2018, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong is pushing what some observers describe as a mini “revolution,” curbing the excesses of capitalism and shedding negative cultural influences of the West.
    The effort, touching everything from school curriculums – including the newly required study of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – to tighter regulation of the property sector and a squeeze on what the government sees as unwholesome entertainment https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-radio-tv-body-strengthen-regulation-cultural-programmes-salaries-2021-09-02, has rattled investors and prompted officials and state media to try to assuage markets.
    On Wednesday, for example, the official People’s Daily sought to reassure the private sector that support for it “had not changed”: recent regulatory actions were meant to “rectify market order,” promote fair competition, protect consumer rights and “perfect the socialist market economy system.”
    But the intent, observers say, is clear.
    “Xi wants to address a very contemporary issue, the way in which neoliberal reforms have made China much less equal, and bring back the sense of mission that shaped early Maoist China,” said Rana Mitter, a professor of Chinese history and politics at Oxford University.
    That inequality, as well as the vast wealth and power accumulated by some industries, threatened to undermine social stability and ultimately the party’s legitimacy if left unchecked, some analysts said.
    The timing of the reforms reflects confidence that China can solve its problems through its own hybrid system instead of following the model of the West, whose shortcomings – from managing COVID-19 to the chaos of the U.S. election and withdrawal from Afghanistan – are repeatedly depicted in China as evidence of systemic decay.
    “The state control model did seem to serve China well in the fight against COVID,” said Chen Daoyin, a political commentator who is based in Chile and was formerly an associate professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.
    Xi is confident of striking a balance between government and markets, and between power and capital, Chen said.
    “The danger is when the state can’t resist reaching out its visible hand … it creates unpredictability and political risk for capital,” Chen said.
    The Hong Kong market, where many Chinese tech firms targeted by the crackdown are listed, has lost over $600 billion in value since July, with investors whipsawed by new regulations and scouring old speeches for clues as to what may be coming.
    Xi’s activist populism also demonstrates confidence that he can afford to alienate elites who fall on the wrong side of his policies as he solidifies his case for a third five-year term – not that there is any visible competition.
    But his calculus goes even beyond that, analysts say.
    “Xi is an ambitious leader with a grand vision who genuinely wants to go down in history as the man who saved the party and made China strong,” said Yang Chaohui, a lecturer in politics at Peking University.
    China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
MR. FIX-IT?
    Under Mao, the earliest iterations of party doctrine aspired to free people from the exploitation of capital, destroy private ownership and defeat American imperialism.
    Deng Xiaoping, Mao’s successor, took a pragmatic turn, allowing market forces to incentivise production and unleashing four decades of breakneck growth that fuelled massive wealth accumulation – but also deep inequality.
    This summer’s reforms are enabled by Xi’s consolidation of control since taking office: he unleashed a massive anti-corruption campaign, eliminated space for public dissent, and reasserted Communist Party power – with himself at the “core” – across all aspects of society.
    With that power, Xi is addressing a spate of societal woes, from people not having enough babies and an unhealthy obsession with educational achievement to young adults so stressed by the rat-race that they would rather drop out and “lie flat.”    New rules curb young people spending too much time playing online games and too much money promoting their idols.
    “Xi has set out to tackle the problems that cause anguish for the common people, such as corrupt officials and the rich-poor gap,” said Chen.
    While many in China express scepticism that Beijing can get people to have more babies or make big-city housing more affordable, some of the moves appear popular: many parents welcome an easing of the educational burden and the new three-hour-per-week time limit for children to play online games.
    “Championing the common people gives him a moral high ground to consolidate his authority within the party and makes it hard for his political opponents to attack him.    After all who can be against social equality?
(Reporting by Yew Lun TianEditing by Tony Munroe and Lincoln Feast)

9/10/2021 Afghanistan Commercial Flights Resume As U.N. Accuses Taliban Of Harassment
FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces stand guard at the entrance gate of Hamid Karzai International Airport
a day after U.S troops withdrawal in Kabul, Afghanistan August 31, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) -The first international commercial flight under Afghanistan’s new Taliban interim government departed Kabul on Thursday carrying more than 100 foreigners, including some U.S. citizens left behind after last month’s chaotic Western airlift.
    The flight marked an important step in the Taliban’s efforts to create a functioning state after they seized power last month, although there were growing reports of violence against women, foreigners and journalists at the hands of the Islamists.
    U.N. Special Envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons told the Security Council that nongovernmental organisations supporting women were being targeted, women’s freedoms had been restricted and the United Nations’ Afghan staff were being harassed and intimidated https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-says-afghan-staff-increasingly-harassed-intimidated-since-taliban-takeover-2021-09-09.
    “The U.N. cannot conduct its work – work that is so essential to the Afghan people – if its personnel are subjected to intimidation, fear for their lives, and cannot move freely,” Lyons told the Security Council.
    An internal U.N. security document seen by Reuters on Aug. 25 described dozens of incidents including veiled threats, the looting of U.N. offices and physical abuse of staff since Aug. 10, five days before the Taliban swept to power.
    Senior U.S. diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis told the Security Council the United States was “outraged at reports that members of the Taliban have engaged in reprisals against U.N. staff throughout the country.    This is simply unacceptable.”
    The harassment of U.N staff came as the country was in danger of “a total breakdown of the economy and social order” without an infusion of money, Lyons said.
    She also said there were rising reports of the Taliban imposing curbs on women similar to those when they ruled from 1996 to 2001, despite a promise by leaders to respect women’s rights in accordance with sharia, or Islamic law.
    About 113 people were aboard the flight from Kabul to Doha operated by state-owned Qatar Airways, officials said.    The passengers included U.S., Canadian, Ukrainian, German and British citizens, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
    Ten U.S. citizens and 11 permanent residents were on the flight, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Twitter, out of “the 39 we invited.”
    Qatar and Turkey have helped the Taliban reopen the airport and a source said the passengers were transported in a Qatari convoy after safe passage was agreed with the Taliban.    In Doha, they will initially stay in a compound hosting Afghan and other evacuees.
    International flights have flown in and out with officials, technicians and aid in recent days, but this was the first such civilian flight since the hectic evacuation of 124,000 foreigners and at-risk Afghans that followed the collapse of the U.S.-backed government.
    “Hopefully, life is becoming normal in Afghanistan,” Qatari special envoy Mutlaq bin Majed al-Qahtani said from the tarmac, quoted by Al Jazeera.
    There would also be a flight on Friday, he said.
‘SEVERE DOWNTURN’
    The departure of foreigners from Kabul airport will mean little to Afghans still barred from leaving the country and fearful for the future under the Taliban’s radical interpretation of Islamic law.
    The previous Taliban government was ousted by a U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States masterminded by al Qaeda leaders based in Afghanistan.
    The Taliban’s all-male interim government announced this week includes hardline members of that administration as well as militants wanted in the United States on terrorism charges, raising doubts it will receive recognition by the West.
    The United States and its allies view Afghan assets overseas as a key lever to pressure the Taliban.    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has no plans to release billions in Afghan gold, investments and foreign currency reserves that it has frozen.
    The United Nations warned that the freezing overseas of some $10 billion in Afghan assets – to keep it out of Taliban hands – would cause “a severe economic downturn” and could push millions more Afghans into poverty and hunger.
    “The economy must be allowed to breathe for a few more months, giving the Taliban a chance to demonstrate flexibility and a genuine will to do things differently this time, notably from a human rights, gender and counterterrorism perspective,” Lyons told the Security Council.
    A newspaper editor said two of his journalists were beaten in police custody this week after covering the women’s protest in Kabul where they were detained by the Taliban.
    Zaki Daryabi, founder and editor-in-chief of the Etilaat Roz newspaper, shared images on social media of two male reporters, one with large, red welts across his lower back and legs and the other with similar marks on his shoulder and arm.
    Both men’s faces were also bruised and cut in the pictures, which were verified by Reuters.
(Reporting by Reuter bureaux; Writing by Angus MacSwan, Cynthia Osterman and Stephen Coates; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Cooney)

9/10/2021 Japan’s Popular Vaccine Minister Kono Set To Enter Race For Next Leader by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Ju-min Park
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Defence Minister Taro Kono attends a news conference at Prime Minister
Shinzo Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan September 11, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s popular coronavirus vaccination minister, Taro Kono, is expected to officially announce his candidacy on Friday to lead the ruling party and, by extension, become the next prime minister.
    Kono becomes the third candidate to throw his hat in the ring for the leadership of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which opened up last week when Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would step down.
    Kono appears to have an edge over former foreign minister Fumio Kishida and former internal affairs minister Sanae Takaichi in the race.
    Nearly a third of respondents in a poll by major domestic media last week said the Georgetown University-educated Kono, 58, was the most suitable to succeed Suga.
    Kono had informed Suga of his intention to run, local media reported, several hours before a news conference at which he is set to make a formal announcement.
    Previously known as a strong critic of nuclear energy, Kono sounded a more cautious tone in a two-page policy brief handed out to reporters gathered to hear him declare his candidacy.
    “We will carry out a realistic energy policy which will be reassuring for industry,” said the paper, which also highlighted the importance of promoting digitalisation and green technologies.
    Kono promised to strengthen the country’s deterrence against “unilateral attempts to shift the status quo” as Japanese officials have warned Beijing against its assertiveness in the East and South China Seas.
    The winner of the Sept. 29 vote of grass-roots LDP members and its lawmakers is virtually assured the premiership because the LDP has a majority in parliament’s lower house, which must hold an election by Nov. 28.
    Lawmakers are counting on the new leader to boost the party’s support after Suga’s ratings hit record lows.
    While Suga’s support was undermined by his haphazard handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Kono, who has been in charge of a rocky vaccination rollout, has remained popular, particularly among younger voters.
    That is partly thanks to his ability to reach out to the public through Twitter, where he has 2.3 million followers – a rarity in heavily scripted Japanese politics dominated by older men less adept with social media.
    In the policy paper, Kono vowed to continue the fight against the coronavirus by acquiring COVID-19 booster shots for Japan.
    Some in the LDP feel Kono is too young, given the average age of prime ministers taking office since 2000 was about 62.    Their concerns include his lone-wolf style in a system that runs on consensus, and an outspoken streak that can occasionally see him challenge the party line.
    Despite that reputation, Kono toed the line on Abe’s key policies when he served as both defence and foreign ministers in his cabinets.
    He has differentiated his conservative stances from those of his father, former chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono, who authored a landmark 1993 apology to “comfort women,” a euphemism for women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
    Kishida is reasonably popular and can count on the support of his faction of the party, while Takaichi, hoping to become Japan’s first woman prime minister, has support on the party’s conservative flank, including that of influential former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
    One remaining question is whether former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba, who is also well-liked among party members, will run on his own or back Kono.
    Kono is due to announce his candidacy at 4 p.m. in Tokyo (7:00 GMT), according to his office.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; editing by Jane Wardell and Robert Birsel)

9/10/2021 Politicians Swear Loyalty To Hong Kong, But Face Govt Patriotic Test by Sara Cheng
FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two dozen democratically-elected politicians swore loyalty to Hong Kong on Friday under a new patriotic law, but some opposition councillors may face disqualification if their oaths are judged insincere.
    The government enacted a law earlier this year that tightened patriotic loyalty tests by forcing all civil servants to take an oath of allegiance to Hong Kong and its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
    Under a drive to place “patriots” at the helm of Hong Kong’s institutions, authorities have previously disqualified opposition lawmakers and candidates in elections deeming similar oaths as insincere, citing media statements or campaign speeches they said had a “tendency” to undermine the overall interests in Hong Kong.
    Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui told reporters the government will issue a statement later on Friday on how many of the politicians who had taken the oath passed the loyalty test.
    Of the 24 politicians elected in 2019 as district councillors making their oaths on Friday, 15 were from the democratic opposition camp.    A 25th politician scheduled to take his oath did not turn up.
    “My aim has always been to monitor the government, not pledging allegiance to the regime,” Peter Choi wrote in a Facebook post which he ended with democratic slogans popular during mass 2019 anti-government protests.
    While district councils decide little beyond community-level issues, such as garbage collection and bus stops, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have stressed that all public institutions in the city must be run by people loyal to Beijing.
    Some 90% of the 452 district council seats in Hong Kong went to opposition pro-democracy politicians after a humiliating 2019 election for the pro-Beijing camp in the midst of huge anti-government protests.
    But more than 250 district councillors have already resigned, either due to investigations against them under a new national security law, or amid unconfirmed media reports that disqualification may force them to give back any public funds they received while in office.
    Beijing effectively ended Hong Kong people’s greatest yet push for democracy with the imposition last year of a sweeping national security law to punish anything it deems as subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces.
    China then followed through with radical changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system and political structure, reducing democratic participation and introducing a vetting and screening mechanism that ensures all politicians and those who aspire to public office are “patriotic.”
    Pro-Beijing district councillor Kwok Wai-keung said Friday’s ceremony marked “one of the milestones of enforcing ‘patriots rule Hong Kong'.”
    Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang has defined patriotism as “holistic love” for China, including love for the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership.
    The district councils are the only fully democratic institution in Hong Kong.    Its Legislative Council is stacked with pro-Beijing figures, while its chief executive is not directly elected.
    Disqualified councillors will be immediately suspended from office and, upon a court conviction, ousted and then barred from standing for an election for five years.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/10/2021 Vietnam To Reopen Resort Island To Foreign Tourists To Boost Economy
FILE PHOTO: A sunset is seen in a resort after the Vietnamese government eased the lockdown following the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Phu Quoc island, Vietnam May 8, 2020. REUTERS/James Pearson
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam plans to reopen the beach-fringed island of Phu Quoc to foreign tourists from next month, authorities said, as the country looks at ways to revive an economy suffering from extended lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    The island, 10 km (6 miles) off the coast of Cambodia https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-vietnam-tourism-idUSL4N2D019E, is expected to open for a trial period of six months, the government said in a statement issued late on Thursday.
    Vietnam, which is currently shut to all visitors apart from returning citizens and investors, had managed to contain the virus for much of the pandemic but in the past three months has faced a surge in infections driven by the Delta variant.
    “The prolonged pandemic has seriously hurt the tourism industry,” Vietnam’s tourism and culture minister Nguyen Van Hung said.
    Fully vaccinated tourists with a negative coronavirus test will be eligible to visit Phu Quoc, the statement said, adding they could fly to the island on chartered or commercial flights.
    Foreign arrivals to Vietnam slumped from 18 million in 2019, when tourism revenue was $31 billion, or nearly 12% of its gross domestic product, to 3.8 million last year.
    At the same time, lockdowns in recent months have prompted companies to suspend operations.    August industrial output fell 7.4% from a year earlier, while exports were down 5.4% and retail sales plunged by 33.7%.
    Vietnam will fully vaccinate all residents on Phu Quoc before opening, the tourism ministry said, adding that the island had not reported any community infections and had sufficient COVID-19 quarantine and treatment facilities.
    Neighbouring Thailand has already partially reopened to foreign tourists, including on the resort island of Phuket https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thailand-reports-daily-record-covid-19-deaths-some-tourists-return-2021-07-01, where about 70% of the population were required to be vaccinated.
    Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh conceded this month that Vietnam was facing a lengthy battle against the coronavirus, which has infected over 570,000 people and killed 14,400, so could not just rely on lockdowns and quarantine.
    Meanwhile, the foreign ministry said on Thursday Ho Chi Minh City, the epicentre of the latest outbreak, has allowed restaurants to offer takeaway meals and shippers to operate more widely in a slight relaxation of a tough lockdown.
(Editing by Ed Davies)

9/11/2021 Taliban Have Their Work Cut Out To Win Hearts And Minds In Kabul
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Taliban forces points his gun at protesters, as Afghan demonstrators shout slogans during an
anti-Pakistan protest, near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan September 7, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – After 20 years of fighting, the Taliban have tried to present a conciliatory face to the world.
    Afghanistan’s new rulers have a problem closer to home: winning the hearts and minds of their own people, starting in the capital.
    Since the group entered Kabul on Aug. 15, armed members have roamed the streets in battlefield dress, often with no obvious chain of command.    Many city dwellers are not used to the sight, and heavy-handed security https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-journalists-beaten-taliban-detention-editor-says-2021-09-09 tactics have not helped.
    Ahmad, a Kabul teacher who was a small child when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan 20 years ago, has adjusted to the shock of seeing their fighters on the streets.    But weeks after the city fell, he feels no more reconciled to their presence.
    “People in Kabul hate them,” he said, with a city dweller’s distaste for rough fighters who have descended from the countryside.    Ahmad declined to give his surname for fear of retribution.
    “You should see them, they are wild-looking people, dirty, uneducated with long hair and dirty clothes.    They have no manners at all.”
    After 20 years of Western presence, Kabul is no longer the bombed-out shell the Taliban took over in 1996.
    While it remains scruffy and traffic-snarled, with overflowing drains, patchy electricity and no running water in many areas, it has a lively urban culture far removed from the austere rural background of most Taliban fighters.
    A fan of Barcelona’s soccer team with a taste for Bollywood, Ahmad reluctantly let his beard grow and exchanged the Western-style clothes he used to wear for a traditional perahan tunban to avoid standing out when he runs into a Taliban checkpoint.
    Instead of Dari, the language mainly spoken in Kabul, he is careful to address any Taliban he meets in Pashto, the language of the south and east where most of the fighters come from.
    “They have never been in a city and many of them don’t speak Dari – as well as Pashto you hear Arabic or Urdu and other languages,” he said.    “They beat people in the street with their weapons.    People are very afraid of them.”
REASSURANCE
    Taliban leaders say they want Kabul residents to feel secure, but they acknowledge they were surprised by the swift collapse of the Western-backed government, leaving next to no time to plan the running of a city of over 5 million people.
    They also admit that their fighters, most of whom have known little but years of war, are not trained police used to dealing with the public.
    The group says its government is different from the hardline Islamist administration that ruled from 1996 to 2001, and it has promised there would be no arbitrary punishments and that patrols had been ordered to treat people with respect.
    “If there is a problem in any area, whether it is a thief or an oppressor or a gunman or a tyrant, let the people know that we have shared our contact numbers everywhere,” said Seyed Rahman Heydari, a Taliban patrol commander in Kabul’s police district 6.
    “Just let us know when facing such issues; we will follow up seriously and arrest the criminals.”
    When they were last in power, Taliban religious police would beat people breaking the rules, and the group became notorious internationally for its public amputations and executions.
    This time, several street protests have been broken up https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-protests-persist-posing-problem-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07 by gunmen firing warning shots into the air. People have been detained and beaten with rifle butts and rods and pipes.
    Taliban leaders have vowed to investigate any instances of abuse, but have ordered demonstrators to seek permission before holding protests.
    For some Afghans, the reputation for swift and harsh justice has provided reassurance in a city which, alongside regular Taliban suicide attacks, has seen kidnappings, murders and violent robberies increase in recent years.
    “I can see that the security conditions have changed since the coming of the Islamic Emirate government,” said driver Abdul Sattar, who drives passengers around the Darul Aman Square area.
    “Previously there were lots of mobile phone thieves in the area, but now there’s less of that.”
    With no corrupt local police to bribe, he said he had even been able to drop prices to 10 afghanis per passenger from 20-30 previously.
BEATINGS
    However, demonstrations in Kabul and the Taliban’s sometimes violent response to protesters and journalists covering them have undermined confidence in the group’s promises to treat the public with respect.
    “Obviously when children and women see them, they would be afraid of them, because their previous government was terrible,” said Kabul resident Rahmatullah Khan.
    The new government https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/who-are-key-figures-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07, made up mainly of southern and eastern ethnic Pashtun men who joined the Taliban in the 1990s, also tempered hopes of an inclusive administration that reflects the concerns of people who grew up in the post-2001 era.
    While Afghan society remains profoundly conservative with regard to women’s rights even outside the Taliban’s ranks, protests by women in Kabul and other cities have underlined how determined some are to preserve the gains of the past 20 years.
    On Wednesday, women in Kabul carrying signs reading “A cabinet without women is a failure” underlined scepticism of the Taliban’s assurances of the value of women in society and the respect due to them.
    Heydari, the Taliban commander, said people “should not have any fear in their hearts.    We are at their service day and night.”
    It is a message some are unwilling to believe.
    Ayesha, a 22-year-old who worked for a media group before Kabul fell, said she had seen women beaten several times by Taliban and would only go out of her house when absolutely necessary.
    “These are very dangerous people, they will beat women and insult them.    I don’t care what their leaders say, they are completely wild.”
(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by James Mackenze; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/11/2021 China, Vietnam Should Avoid Magnifying S. China Sea Disputes – China’s Wang Yi
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi listens during a meeting in Manila,
Philippines January 16, 2021. Francis Malasig/Pool via REUTERS//File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China and Vietnam should refrain from unilateral actions regarding the South China Sea that could complicate the situation and magnify disputes, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told a Vietnamese official, China’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.
    State Councillor Wang was speaking with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh during a visit to Vietnam, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
    China says it has historical sovereignty over most of the waterway, but its neighbours and the United States say that claim has no basis in international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory.
    Wang said the two countries should cherish the hard-won peace and stability achieved in the South China Sea and be vigilant to resist the intervention of extraterritorial forces, the ministry’s statement said.
    On Friday, Vietnam said China will donate 3 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/vietnam-says-china-donate-3-mln-more-coronavirus-vaccines-2021-09-10 to Vietnam this year, raising China’s total vaccine donations to the Southeast Asian country to 5.7 million doses.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by William Mallard)

9/11/2021 U.S., Japan, S.Korea To Meet Over N.Korea Nuclear Standoff by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: Sung Kim (L), US Special Representative for North Korea, Noh Kyu-duk (C), South Korea's
Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, and Takehiro Funakoshi (R), Director-General
of the Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, pose for a photo during their
trilateral meeting at a hotel in Seoul, South Korea June 21, 2021. Jung Yeon-Je/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) -Officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan will hold a meeting on North Korea next week in Tokyo, South Korea’s foreign ministry confirmed on Friday.
    The three countries have been discussing ways to break a standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have drawn international sanctions.
    Noh Kyu-duk, Seoul’s special representative for Korean peninsula peace and security affairs, will travel to Japan on Sunday for a three-day visit, the ministry said in a statement.
    While there, he will meet with U.S. envoy for North Korea Sung Kim, and Takehiro Funakoshi, director-general of the Japanese foreign ministry’s Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.
    The officials will discuss the North Korean nuclear issue as well as cooperation between their countries, Seoul said.
    “The three countries are expected to have in-depth discussions on ways to promote cooperation to stably manage the situation of the Korean Peninsula and resume the peninsula peace process at an early date,” the statement said.
    A statement from the U.S. State Department said Sung Kim would travel to Tokyo from Sept. 13–15 and would discuss “the U.S. commitment to the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula” and the issue of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will explore diplomacy to achieve North Korean denuclearisation, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
    During a visit to Seoul in August, Sung Kim said he was ready to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, at any time
    Pyongyang has also said it is open to diplomacy, but that it sees no sign of policy changes from the United States, citing issues such as sanctions as well as joint military drills with South Korea.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washiington; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alistair Bell)

9/11/2021 On 9/11 Anniversary, Afghans Blame Departed US Forces For Their Woes
FILE PHOTO: Taliban soldiers are seen in a street in Herat, Afghanistan
September 10, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – War-weary residents of Kabul expressed anger and feelings of betrayal by the United States on Saturday, as the world marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that prompted a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the toppling of its Taliban rulers.
    After a two-decade occupation, U.S. forces abruptly pulled out of Afghanistan last month, triggering the collapse of its Western-backed government and the Taliban’s dramatic return to power.
    “The misfortunes we are currently experiencing are because of America,” said Abdul Waris, a Kabul resident, as the white flags of the Taliban emblazoned with lines from the Koran hung from nearby lampposts.
    Some of the mostly young men who spoke to Reuters complained that U.S. forces had not tried to help the Afghan people.
    “After the September 11 events took place, the Americans were in our country for 20 years for their own benefit,” said Jalil Ahmad.
    “They took the benefits they had in mind for 20 years while we did not get any benefit from them.    They have left the country in a state of confusion.”
    Bearded Taliban fighters with guns slung over their shoulders were visible around the capital but the mood was quiet and calm following the dramatic changes of recent weeks.
    “Now there is security and security is good… May God give the Taliban more strength to maintain this (calm) forever,” said resident Gul Agha Laghmni.
‘A LOT OF COMMOTION’
    U.S. forces toppled the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks because they had provided sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, leader of al Qaeda, which carried out the attacks.
    Since returning to power last month, the Taliban has appointed an acting cabinet including several former militants held by the United States in Guantanamo Bay.
    Western leaders have expressed concern over the outlook for human rights, especially for women, under Taliban rule.    Several street protests led by women have been broken up in the past two weeks, and some people have been detained and beaten.    The Taliban have promised to investigate such incidents.
    When they were last in power from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban imposed a strict version of Islamic law and often punished people with public floggings, amputations and executions.    Women’s rights to work and education were severely restricted.
    There were relatively few women on the streets of Kabul on Saturday, and all those who were out had their heads covered – a fact welcomed by residents such as Shah Raoof.
    “In the presence of America, there was a lot of commotion in our country.    Women were unveiled,” he said.
    “The majority of our youth fled, a number were martyred and a number of others were afflicted by America through war and misery.”
(Reporting by Islamabad bureau; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[WELL YOU WILL HAVE TO BLAME THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION FOR YOUR MISERY AS I WOULD EXPECT YOU TO DO.].

9/11/2021 Afghanistan Remittance Payouts Limited To Local Currency – Sources by Tom Arnold
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the Taliban's deputy leader and negotiator, and other delegation members
attend the Afghan peace conference in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s central bank has ordered banks to pay out remittances in local currency only, the latest move to preserve scarce U.S. dollars, say sources familiar with the matter.     Hard currency remittances have formed an important source of external finance for Afghanistan over the years but dollar availability has dried up in the aftermath of the Taliban’s conquest of the country.
    Western Union Co’s agent banking partners in Afghanistan received a directive from the country’s central bank in the last few days to pay out remittances in afghani only, said a source close to a money exchange provider.
    Remittances sent before the directive and selected by the sender for dollar payout can continue to be paid in dollars, the source said.
    MoneyGram International Inc said it was paying out in afghani only, without elaborating further.     Both resumed money-transfer services to Afghanistan last week, having suspended services in August after the Islamist militia captured Kabul.
    No comment was immediately available from the central bank.
    Under the leadership of acting central bank governor, Haji Mohammad Idris, a Taliban loyalist who has no formal financial training, the central bank has been moving to restrict dollar outflows amid a pause in foreign aid and a scramble by some Afghanis to get savings out of the country.
    Further controls are expected to hasten the afghani’s depreciation against the dollar, exacerbating inflation in a country where more than a third of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
    “It’s a matter of concern that the remaining physical cash of U.S. dollars is going to reduce further,” said an Afghani banker.    “With the restrictions we are predicting the dollar will reach more than 100 afghanis to the dollar.”
    The afghani was trading at around 80 to the dollar just before the fall of Kabul on Aug. 15.
    Banks were told by the central bank last week to restrict withdrawals by corporate customers to local currency only, capped at around 20% of each customer’s weekly operating costs, said the banker.
    With around 80% of banking deposits in dollars, bankers say controls should minimise the risk of insolvency.
    Since re-opening in the second half of August, banks have been operating with limited services, including $200 weekly limits on withdrawals and few wire transfers.
(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Christina Fincher)

9/12/2021 Japan’s Vaccines Minister Kono Leads Opinion Poll On Succeeding Suga
FILE PHOTO: Taro Kono, Japan's vaccination programme chief and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, attends a news
conference as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, September 10, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s minister in charge of vaccines, Taro Kono, led a public opinion poll on who should succeed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga as head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
    Kono had 27% support in the poll by the Nikkei newspaper and TV Tokyo that asked who would be “the right person” to lead the party and become the next prime minister.
    The results of the Sept. 9-11 poll were released on Saturday.
    Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba was next with 17%, and ex-policy chief Fumio Kishida was third with 14%.    Former Interior Minister Sanae Takaichi was fifth with 7%.
    Kono, who also serves as minister of administrative reform, announced his candidacy on Friday, the third to make his intention official after Kishida and Takaichi.
    Ishiba may not run for the party’s leadership and instead will likely support another candidate, the Jiji news service said Saturday, citing sources close to him.
    Suga, in a surprise move, said on Sept. 3 he would step down, marking an end to a one-year tenure that was marred by plunging public support and dissatisfaction with his coronavirus response.
    That set the stage for a Sept. 29 leadership vote among grassroots LDP members and lawmakers.    The winner is virtually assured the premiership because the LDP has a majority in parliament’s lower house.br>     Following the LDP leadership vote, Japan will likely hold a general election in the first half of November, Kyodo reported citing ruling party lawmakers.
    The Nikkei/TV Tokyo poll follows earlier ones showing strong public support for Kono, 58, to succeed Suga.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

9/12/2021 Japan Says Suspected Chinese Submarine Seen Near Territorial Waters
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi attends a news conference
in Tokyo, Japan, September 16, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
(Corrects date to Sunday in fifth paragraph)
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s defence ministry said on Sunday that a submarine believed to be from China was spotted in waters near its southern islands, as maritime tensions persist in the Pacific.
    Japan’s navy on Friday morning identified a submerged vessel sailing northwest just outside territorial waters near Amami Oshima island, part of Kagoshima prefecture, the ministry said in a statement.    A Chinese destroyer was also spotted in the vicinity.
    Tokyo has complained https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-japan-china-navy-idUKKBN26W0BF of numerous intrusions by Chinese vessels of its territorial waters and near disputed islands in recent years. China has often reacted angrily to U.S. ships sailing through disputed areas of the South China Sea in what Washington calls displays of freedom of navigation https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-says-drove-away-us-warship-schina-sea-2021-07-12.
    Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi, visiting Vietnam during a Southeast Asia trip, said those two countries should refrain https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-vietnam-should-avoid-magnifying-s-china-sea-disputes-chinas-wang-yi-2021-09-11 from unilateral actions regarding the South China Sea that could complicate and magnify disputes.
    Sunday’s announcement said Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force identified the vessels in a contiguous zone, which is outside territorial waters where vessels are required to identify themselves.    Still, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi instructed his staff “gather information and maintain vigilant surveillance with a sense of urgency,” the statement said.
    Officials at the Chinese embassy could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.
    The submarine continued underwater westward in the ocean near Yokoate Island, the ministry said.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by William Mallard)

9/12/2021 Australia Buys Additional 1 Million Doses Of Moderna’s COVID-19 Vaccine by Colin Packham
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
    CANBERRA (Reuters) -Australia has purchased an additional 1 million doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine from the European Union, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, as the country accelerates its inoculation programme to fight record high infections.
    The purchase is a boost for Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy, which is at risk of slipping into its second recession in as many years as a result of lockdowns of the country’s two most populous cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
    These lockdowns will remain until 70% of the country’s near 26 million population are fully vaccinated, which is not expected until late October.
    But Morrison said the million doses will arrive later this week.    Australia has ordered 25 million vaccines from Moderna.
    “Some good news today. A family sized dose of hope for our vaccination programme,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
    The purchase comes as Australia struggles to contain an outbreak of the highly transmissible Delta variant, with daily infections on Saturday topping 2,000 cases for the first time.
    Australia has recorded 73,610 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic begun.    The death toll rose by 7 to 1,091.
    Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, reported on Sunday 1,262 locally acquired COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, down from 1,599 infections recorded a day earlier.
    Neighbouring Victoria reported 392 COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, down slightly from the 450 cases recorded in the state the day before.
    Meanwhile, Queensland, Australia’s third most populous state, said on Sunday it does not need to order a lockdown after it detected zero COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours.
    The state on Saturday reported five cases of COVID-19, with state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warning that a lockdown could be needed to stop the spread of the virus.
    However, the state said testing had yet to detect any further cases, avoiding the need for such a measure.
    “We’re not out of the woods yet, but this is the best result we could have hoped for at this point in the outbreak,” Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles told reporters in Brisbane.
($1 = 1.3596 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Paul Simao and Jacqueline Wong)

9/12/2021 Taliban Say Women Can Study At University But Classes Must Be Segregated
Afghan women walk at a mosque in Herat, Afghanistan September 10, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
(Corrects spelling of women in headline)
    (Reuters) - Women in Afghanistan will be allowed to study in universities as the country seeks to rebuild after decades of war but gender-segregation and Islamic dress code will be mandatory, the Taliban’s new Higher Education minister said on Sunday.
    The minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, said the new Taliban government, named last week, would “start building the country on what exists today” and did not want to turn the clock back 20 years to when the movement was last in power.
    He said female students would be taught by women wherever possible and classrooms would remain separated, in accordance with the movement’s interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
    “Thanks to God we have a high number of women teachers.    We will not face any problems in this.    All efforts will be made to find and provide women teachers for female students,” he told a news conference in Kabul.
    The issue of women’s education has been one of the central questions facing the Taliban as they seek to persuade the world that they have changed since the harsh fundamentalist rule they imposed in the 1990s when women were largely banned from studying or working outside the home.
    Taliban officials have said women will be able to study and work in accordance with sharia law and local cultural traditions but strict dress rules will apply.    Haqqani said hijab religious veils would be mandatory for all female students but did not specify if this meant headscarves or compulsory face coverings.
    On Saturday, a group, apparently made up of women students in black robes that covered them completely from head to foot, demonstrated in Kabul in support of the rules on dress and separate classrooms.
    Haqqani said where no women teachers were available special measures would be adopted to ensure separation.
    “When there is really a need, men can also teach (women) but in accordance with sharia, they should observe the veil,” he said.    Classrooms would be curtained off to divide male and female students where necessary and teaching could also be done through streaming or closed circuit TV.
    Classrooms divided by curtains https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/curtain-divides-male-female-students-afghan-universities-reopen-2021-09-06 have already been seen in many places since the Western-backed government collapse and the Taliban seized Kabul last month.
    Haqqani told reporters that gender segregation would be enforced across Afghanistan and all subjects taught at colleges would also be reviewed in the coming months.
(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom. Editing by Jane Merriman)
[IS IT AMUSING THAT ALL THOSE AMERICAN WOMEN FOR WOMEN RIGHTS GO NUTS IN THE MEDIA FOR THE SILLISEST THINGS BUT NOW WHEN THEY SEE WOMEN IN AFGHANISTAN IN FULL BODY BLACK COVERING ARE MOST LIKELY FAKE SHOOTS GET TO GO TO SCHOOL AND THEY ARE SITTING ON THEIR BEHINDS IN HOLLYWOOD AND NOT ONE IS SPEWING OF HATE TOWARD JOE BIDEN AND HIS COHORTS FOR LETTING THAT HAPPEN OR MAYBE THEY LIKE IT AND WANT IT TO HAPPEN IN THE U.S.].

9/12/2021 Iran To Allow IAEA To Service Nuclear Monitoring Cameras After Talks
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi meets with head of Iran's Atomic Energy
Organization Mohammad Eslami, in Tehran, Iran, September 12, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran has agreed to let the U.N.’s atomic watchdog service monitoring cameras at Iranian nuclear sites, both sides said, after talks held on Sunday to try to ease a standoff between Tehran and the West.
    The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency had accused Iran last week of stonewalling an investigation into past activities and jeopardising monitoring work, possibly complicating efforts to resume negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.
    The IAEA had said there had been no progress getting urgent access to monitoring equipment needed to let the agency continue to keep track of parts of Iran’s nuclear programmes as per the 2015 deal.
    Iran announced the agreement about the cameras after IAEA head Rafael Grossi met Mohammad Eslami, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), in Tehran.
    “We agreed over the replacement of the memory cards of the agency’s cameras,” Eslami was quoted as saying by Iranian state media.
    “IAEA’s inspectors are permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the nuclear bodies said in a joint statement.
    EU political director Enrique Mora, who is coordinating negotiations about reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, called the announcement “a positive step towards ensuring continuity of knowledge on Iran’s nuclear programme.”
    “Gives space for diplomacy.    I appreciate the efforts>,” Mora added on Twitter.
    Grossi is expected to hold a news conference at Vienna airport around 8:30 p.m. (1830 GMT) after returning later on Sunday, the IAEA said.
PRESSURE
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 atomic accord, under which Iran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    Tehran responded to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions by violating many of those restrictions.
    Indirect talks between the United States and Iran on both countries returning to compliance have stopped while Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi has taken office.
    But France and Germany have called on Iran to return soon and Raisi has said Tehran is prepared to but not under Western “pressure.”
    Western powers must decide whether to push for a resolution criticising Iran and raising pressure on it for stonewalling the IAEA a meeting of the agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors starting on Monday.
    Any such resolution could jeopardise the resumption of negotiations on the deal as Tehran bristles at such moves.
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in televised remarks on Sunday that last week’s reports from the IAEA “were the official stamp on what we have been saying for a long time already: The Iranians are advancing unobstructed on the nuclear (weapon) project
    Iran has dismissed accusations that it is trying to develop a nuclear bomb and said its atomic programme is peaceful.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Andrew Heavens)

9/12/2021 Iraqi PM Becomes First Foreign Leader To Meet Iran’s Raisi
Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi meets Iraq's Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in
Tehran, Iran, September 12, 2021. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi became the first foreign leader on Sunday to visit and meet with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi since the hardliner took office in August.
    Iraq has been trying to mediate between Tehran and its Gulf Arab foes, including Saudi Arabia, in the hope of stopping its neighbours settling scores on its territory.
    Iraq has become the playground of rivalries between Iran on one side and the United States, Israel and Gulf Arab states on the other, with attacks against U.S. forces and assassinations of Iranian and Iraqi paramilitary leaders.
    “I hope despite the aims of the enemies of the two countries, we will witness expansion of good relations between Iran and Iraq,” Raisi said in a joint news conference in Tehran.
    Raisi said Iraq had agreed to waive visas for Iranian pilgrims to Shi’ite holy sites in Iraq later this month on the occasion of Arbaeen marking the end of the 40-day mourning period for Imam Hussein, Prophet Mohammed’s grandson.
    “Decisions were also made about the two countries’ financial issues that should be adopted,” Raisi said, without elaborating.
    Iraq relies on Iranian gas and electricity, but imports have been irregular recently due to outstanding payments.
    Iran’s state gas company said late last year that it had slashed supplies to Iraq over more than $6 billion arrears, placing Baghdad and other cities at risk of power shortages.
    Iraq’s electricity ministry said last month that Iranian gas supplied to the central region was reduced from 3 million to 2 million cubic meters per day, while to the southern region it was reduced from 17 million to 5 million cubic meters per day.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

9/12/2021 Taliban Allows Females To Attend School Under Gender Segregation by OAN Newsroom
Veiled students hold Taliban flags as they listen a speaker before a pro-Taliban rally at the
Shaheed Rabbani Education University in Kabul. (Photo by AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images)
    The last time the Taliban came into power over 20 years ago, women were banned from attending school.    As the recent Taliban takeover has left many women questioning their future this time around, they have expressed hope to see a different result.
    On Sunday, steps were taken in the right direction as the Taliban’s acting higher education minister granted female students rights to continue their higher education.
    Taliban Higher Education Minister Abdul Baqi Haqqani stated, “any female students who continues their studies with Islamic hijab, the Islamic Emirate has no problem with them.”
    Haqqani added women could continue to study at universities, but the classrooms would be female only including teachers.    Hijabs would also be required to be worn.
    “Thanks to God, we have a high number of women teachers,” Haqqani expressed.    “We will not face any problems in this.    All efforts will be made to find and provide women teachers for female students.”
Afghan women take part in a protest march for their rights under the Taliban rule in the
downtown area of Kabul. (Photo by HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Not only would men and women have separate classes, but they also must be taught at separate places or have separate times for attending class.    However, the Taliban has insisted they have changed their attitudes towards women, despite using violence in recent days against female protestors demanding equal right.
    “The Islamic Emirate is committed to having a positive vision towards anything which is not in conflict with Islam and national values, in any walk of life,” Haqqani explained.    “In the field of education, anything which is not in conflict with Islam and the national values, the Islamic Emirate will not be against it.”
    Even as the Taliban has allowed women the right to an education, many were still concerned their future opportunities could potentially be restricted under the terror group’s rule.

9/12/2021 Analysis-As West Ponders Aid For Afghanistan, China And Pakistan Quick To Provide Relief by Charlotte Greenfield
FILE PHOTO: Labourers unload boxes of pomegranates from Afghanistan, from a truck at the 'Friendship Gate' crossing point,
in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border town of Chaman, Pakistan, September 7, 2021. REUTERS/Saeed Ali Achakzai/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – As international donors gather in Geneva on Monday to discuss humanitarian relief for Afghanistan under Taliban rule, neighbours China and Pakistan have already reached out with aid and discussions of future assistance.
    The economy in the war-torn country is in crisis and a humanitarian crisis is looming, experts say.
    Yet the United States and other Western nations are reluctant to provide the Taliban with funds until the Islamist militant movement provides assurances that it will uphold human rights, and in particular the rights of women.
    The country’s roughly $10 billion in foreign assets, held overseas, are also frozen.
    “The understandable purpose is to deny these funds to the de facto Taliban administration,” Deborah Lyons, the U.N. Secretary General’s special representative for Afghanistan, told the U.N. Security Council this week.
    “The inevitable effect, however, will be a severe economic downturn that could throw many more millions into poverty and hunger, may generate a massive wave of refugees from Afghanistan, and indeed set Afghanistan back for generations.”
    Another possible effect could be to drive Afghanistan closer to its neighbours and close allies Pakistan and China, who have already sent planeloads of supplies to Afghanistan.    They have also signalled they are open to ramped-up engagement.
    China announced last week it would send $31 million worth of food and health supplies to Afghanistan, among the first foreign aid pledges since the Taliban took power last month.
    Pakistan last week sent supplies such as cooking oil and medicine to authorities in Kabul, while the country’s foreign minister called on the international community to provide assistance without conditions and to unfreeze Afghanistan’s assets.
MINERALS AND MILITANCY
    Pakistan has had deep ties with the Taliban and has been accused of supporting the group as it battled the U.S.-backed government in Kabul for 20 years – charges denied by Islamabad.
    China, with a strong alliance with Pakistan, has also been engaging with the Taliban.    Some analysts said it was enticed by the country’s mineral wealth, including large reserves of lithium, a key component for electric vehicles.
    China has also expressed concern about militancy that could spill over from Afghanistan across its border, which it wants the Taliban administration to help contain.
    Beyond humanitarian aid, some experts and officials in the region say China’s huge Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) could provide Afghanistan with long-term economic viability.
    One possibility is Afghanistan joining the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a central part of the BRI, under which Beijing has pledged over $60 billion for infrastructure projects in Pakistan, much of it in the form of loans.
    “The Taliban would welcome joining CPEC, China would also be very happy,” said Rustam Shah Mohmand, Pakistan’s former ambassador to Afghanistan.
    China has not made any comment on the BRI but Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said Beijing is ready to actively discuss the resumption of China-Afghanistan freight trains and facilitate Afghanistan’s interaction with the outside world, especially its access to humanitarian supplies.
    Pakistan’s foreign office and a Taliban spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment.
TALIBAN, CHINA TALK – SOURCE
    Taliban leaders in recent weeks have said they want good relations with China.
    A senior Taliban source said discussions have taken place with China in Doha about possible investment opportunities.    China is interested in mining in particular but any activity in the sector will be open to tender, the source said.
    “The Taliban welcomes foreign investment that will benefit the country,” he said.
    Two sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan familiar with the matter said China had been proactively encouraging Afghanistan to join CPEC for years but had been met with a non-committal response from the previous U.S.-backed government.
    The Taliban, with a need for economic stimulus and international recognition, seems more keen.
    “The best way forward and the immediately available alternative option for Afghanistan’s economic development is CPEC, which includes Pakistan and China,” said Mushahid Hussain Sayed, a Pakistani senator and former chairman of the China-Pakistan Institute.
    “The new administration in Kabul would also be receptive to this and they are keen on it.”
    For China, though, which already has mining interests in Afghanistan that have struggled to get off the ground, any further investment would come with risks attached, given the uncertain security situation in the country.
    “Absolutely the security and stability of Afghanistan is also of importance to China,” said Wang Huiyao, president of the Centre for China and Globalisation, a think-tank.
    “But also links to Central Asia and the connectivity through the Belt and Road, it’s all related for the regional stability and prosperity…There’s a stake there for China.”
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

9/12/2021 N. Korea Tests New Cruise Missile After 2-Year Break Under Trump by OAN Newsroom
This combination of photos provided by the North Korean government on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, shows long-range cruise missiles
tests held on Sept. 11 -12, 2021 in an undisclosed location of North Korea. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    North Korea announced it has tested a new cruise ballistic missile as part of its ongoing nuclear program.    According to Pyongyang’s state newspaper “Worker’s Daily,” on Monday local time the projectile was launched over the weekend and it traveled more than 900 miles before crash-landing at an unknown location.    The report added the missile spent a total of 1.5 hours in the air.
    “Cruise missiles are often detected after the tests are conducted for their low flight altitudes.    North Korea had conducted two cruise missile tests already this year, but we did not disclose them as we do not disclose all cruise missile tests we detect,” said a South Korean Defense Ministry official.
    The launch was first reported by South Korean media and it comes after a two-year pause in Pyongyang’s missile program under President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2020. North Korea did not mention Kim Jong Un in the report, saying the test launch was overseen by a senior Politburo member.
    The Indo-Pacific Command suggested other countries keep an eye on the missile activity.
    “This activity highlights DPRK’s continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community,” the Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement.

9/12/2021 Chinese Communist Party Official Mocks U.S. Over Afghan Fiasco by OAN Newsroom
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the closing session of the
National People’s Congress in Beijing on Thursday, March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
    Officials from the Chinese Communist Party have continued to ridicule the U.S. over Joe Biden’s failed Afghan pullout.    In a recent tweet, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Lijian Zhao, said “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires and their war machines.”    Zhao also shared a video in which he said Taliban fighters turned U.S. planes into “swings and toys.”
    Last month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry commented on Biden’s botched withdrawal, saying the U.S. shouldn’t be interfering with other countries internal affairs.    Meanwhile, U.S. allies said China is feeling emboldened by Biden’s actions.
    “You see the Chinese minister for foreign affairs now meeting the Taliban.    They have now recognized the Taliban.    So, what are we dealing with here?    That would have gone out under President Xi’s directive, they know that.    They’re belief now is ‘we will not stand up for freedom,'” said Sir Iain Duncan Smith, MP, former opposition leader of the U.K.
    The Chinese Foreign Ministry has pledged closer cooperation with the Taliban and has ramped up threats against Taiwan in recent weeks, which are believed to be the first results of Biden’s withdrawal.

9/13/2021 N.Korea Tests First ‘Strategic’ Cruise Missile With Possible Nuclear Capability by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO - A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of
North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Picture
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea carried out successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media said on Monday, seen by analysts as possibly the country’s first such weapon with a nuclear capability.
    The missiles are “a strategic weapon of great significance” and flew 1,500 km (930 miles) before hitting their targets and falling into the country’s territorial waters during the tests on Saturday and Sunday, KCNA said.
    The latest test highlighted steady progress in Pyongyang’s weapons programme https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northkorea-missiles-southkorea-analys-idUSKBN2BM0G8 amid a gridlock over talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief. The talks have stalled since 2019.
    North Korea’s cruise missiles usually generate less interest than ballistic missiles because they are not explicitly banned under U.N. Nations Security Council Resolutions.
    “This would be the first cruise missile in North Korea to be explicitly designated a ‘strategic’ role,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.    “This is a common euphemism for nuclear-capable system.”
    It is unclear whether North Korea has mastered the technology needed to build warheads small enough to be carried on a cruise missile, but leader Kim Jong Un said earlier this year that developing smaller bombs is a top goal.
    The two Koreas have been locked in an accelerating arms race that analysts fear will leave the region littered with powerful new missiles.    https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/caught-between-china-us-asian-countries-stockpile-powerful-new-missiles-2021-07-20
    South Korea’s military did not disclose whether it had detected the North’s latest tests, but said on Monday it was conducting a detailed analysis in cooperation with the United States.
    The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) said it was aware of the reports and was coordinating with its allies and partners.
    “This activity highlights (North Korea’s) continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbours and the international community,” INDOPACOM said in a statement.
    Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, ran photos of the new cruise missile flying and being fired from a transporter-erector-launcher.
    The test provides “strategic significance of possessing another effective deterrence means for more reliably guaranteeing the security of our state and strongly containing the military manoeuvres of the hostile forces,” KCNA said.
    It was seen as the North’s first missile launch after it tested a new tactical short-range ballistic missile in March.    North Korea also conducted a cruise missile test just hours after U.S. President Joe Biden took office in late January.
SERIOUS CAPABILITY
    Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said intermediate-range land-attack cruise missiles were no less a threat than ballistic missiles and were a pretty serious capability for North Korea.
    “This is another system that is designed to fly under missile defence radars or around them,” Lewis said on Twitter.
    Cruise missiles and short-range ballistic missiles that can be armed with either conventional or nuclear bombs are particularly destabilising in the event of conflict as it can be unclear which kind of warhead they are carrying, analysts said.
    Kim Jong Un did not appear to have attended the test, with KCNA saying Pak Jong Chon, a member of the Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo and a secretary of its central committee, oversaw it.
    The reclusive North has long accused the United States and South Korea of “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.
    The unveiling of the test came just a day before chief nuclear negotiators from the United States, South Korea and Japan meet in Tokyo to explore ways to break the standoff with North Korea.
    China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, is also scheduled to visit Seoul on Tuesday for talks with his counterpart, Chung Eui-yong.
    Biden’s administration has said it is open to diplomacy to achieve North Korea’s denuclearisation, but has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
    Sung Kim, the U.S. envoy for North Korea, said in August in Seoul that he was ready to meet with North Korean officials “anywhere, at any time.”
    A reactivation of inter-Korean hotlines in July raised hopes for a restart of the negotiations, but the North stopped answering calls as annual South Korea-U.S. military exercises began last month, which Pyongyang had warned could trigger a security crisis.
    In recent weeks South Korea became the first non-nuclear state to develop and test a submarine-launched ballistic missile.
https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/skorea-blazes-new-path-with-most-potent-conventional-missile-submarine-2021-09-08
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Peter Cooney and Lincoln Feast.)

9/13/2021 Japan PM Contender Kishida Aims To Boost Security, With China In Mind
FILE PHOTO: Taro Kono, Japan's vaccination programme chief and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, attends a news
conference as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, September 10, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan needs to let its coast guard work smoothly with self-defence forces, in the face of assertiveness by giant neighbour China, Fumio Kishida, a contender to head the ruling party, and so become the next prime minister, said on Monday.
    Only lawmakers and grassroots members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will vote for its chief in a Sept 29 election, but candidates’ popularity with the public counts, as the winner will lead it into general elections this year.
    “The security environment around Japan is getting tougher,” Kishida told a news conference.
    “We need to strive to ensure maritime safety through such measures as bolstering coast guard capability and allowing them to work with the Self-Defence Forces.”
    Acquiring the capability to strike enemy targets was one option, Kishida said, adding that he would not blindly adhere to holding defence spending below 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary to protect citizens.
    The remarks follow a surprise announcement this month by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that he would step down, ending a one-year term in which his support crumbled as coronavirus infections surged.
    The LDP’s dominant position in the lower house of parliament ensures the post of prime minister for its leader.
    Kishida stressed the importance of protecting human rights, democracy and freedom, adding that, if elected, he would appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor China’s treatment of its Uyghur ethnic minority.
    “Through cooperation with countries with which Japan shares universal values, I would raise high the torch of freedom and democracy,” the former foreign minister said.
    In weekend opinion polls on the choice of successor to Suga as head of the ruling party, the minister in charge of vaccines, Taro Kono, emerged as the favoured candidate.
    He was chosen by 33% of respondents in a weekend survey by the Asahi daily, followed by 16% for former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba and 14% for Kishida.
    The survey also showed that 58% of respondents believed the next LDP leader should not take over the policies of Suga and Shinzo Abe, who preceded Suga.
    A similar poll by the Nikkei business daily also put Kono ahead, backed by 27% of respondents, with 17% for Ishiba and 14% for Kishida.
    Kono and Kishida have declared their candidacy for the top party post, while Ishiba has not revealed his intention.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Clarence Fernandez)

9/13/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Skips Court Over Dizziness – Lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting
at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was unable to attend a scheduled court hearing for health reasons, a member of her legal team said on Monday, describing her condition as dizziness caused by motion sickness.
    Min Min Soe told Reuters Suu Kyi, 76, who has been detained on various charges since the Feb. 1 army coup, did not have the coronavirus but felt ill having not traveled in a vehicle for a long time.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies)

9/13/2021 Australia’s NSW State Says Coronavirus Vaccination Pace Slows by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: A sign advertises the availability of COVID-19 vaccine doses at a city centre pharmacy during a lockdown to curb the
spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The government of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) said on Monday the pace of COVID-19 vaccinations had slowed as first-dose coverage neared 80% and urged the unvaccinated to get shots soon or risk missing out on freedoms when curbs ease.
    Premier Gladys Berejiklian has promised to relax some restrictions for the state’s 8 million residents once two-dose vaccination rates hit 70%, expected to be around the middle of next month.    So far, about 46% of the state’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, above the national average of 42%.
    “For those of you who choose not to be vaccinated, that is your choice, but don’t expect to do everything that vaccinated people do when we hit 80%,” Berejiklian said at a media briefing in Sydney, the state capital.
    “Our vaccination rates keep increasing, however there has been a slight slowdown.    So we encourage everybody to come forward and get vaccinated.”
    Some curbs were eased for fully vaccinated residents in Sydney from Monday.    Five people will be allowed to meet outside while members from the same family in Sydney’s 12 hardest-hit suburbs can gather outside for two hours.
    Australia is scrambling to control outbreaks of the highly infectious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus that began in Sydney in June and spread to Melbourne and Canberra, plunging nearly half the population of 25 million into lockdown. Other state capitals, however, have few or zero cases.
    The steady rise in infections has turned up the heat on the federal government to procure emergency vaccine supplies.    An additional 1 million doses of Moderna was bought from the European Union on Sunday while vaccine swap deals with Britain and Singapore were executed over the last two weeks.
    Lieutenant General John Frewen, head of the federal government’s vaccination taskforce, said there would be enough vaccines from the middle of October to fully inoculate every eligible person.    The COVID-19 vaccination drive was expanded on Monday to include around one million children aged 12-15.
    Australian biotech company CSL, which locally produces the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, said a positive case was detected at its Melbourne facility but production would not be interrupted.
    Australia’s total cases stand at around 75,300, including 1,098 deaths, although the mortality rate in the latest outbreak is lower than last year.
    A total of 1,257 new cases were registered in New South Wales on Monday, while neighbouring Victoria reported 473 new infections, its biggest one-day rise for 2021.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates)

9/13/2021 Exclusive-Afghan Women Should Not Work Alongside Men, Senior Taliban Figure Says by Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: Waheedullah Hashimi (C), a senior Taliban commander, gestures as he speaks with Reuters during an interview at
an undisclosed location near Afghanistan-Pakistan border August 17, 2021. Picture taken August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Afghan women should not be allowed to work alongside men, a senior figure in the ruling Taliban said, a position which, if formally implemented, would effectively bar them from employment in government offices, banks, media companies and beyond.
    Waheedullah Hashimi, a senior figure in the Taliban who is close to the leadership, told Reuters the group would fully implement its version of sharia, or Islamic law, despite pressure from the international community to allow women the right to work where they want.
    Since the movement swept to power last month, Taliban officials have said women would be able to work and study within the limits laid down by sharia.
    But there has been widespread uncertainty about what practical effect that will have on their ability to keep their jobs.    When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, women were barred from employment and education.
    The issue is of major importance to the international community and could impact the amount of aid https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-seeks-600-million-avert-afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis-2021-09-12 and other assistance that is given to Afghanistan, which is in the throes of economic crisis.
    “We have fought for almost 40 years to bring (the) sharia law system to Afghanistan,” Hashimi said in an interview.     “Sharia … does not allow men and women to get together or sit together under one roof."
    “Men and women cannot work together.    That is clear.    They are not allowed to come to our offices and work in our ministries.”
    It was unclear to what extent Hashimi’s comments reflected the new government’s policies, although they appeared to go further than public comments made by some other officials.
    In the days following the Taliban’s conquest of Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters that women were an important part of the community and they would work “in different sectors.”
    He also specifically included women employees in a call for government bureaucrats to return to their jobs.
ALL-MEN CABINET
    However, the cabinet appointments announced on Sept. 7 did not include any women and there have been widespread reports of women being sent back home from their workplaces.
    Hashimi said the ban on women would also apply to sectors like media https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/actions-or-words-afghan-journalists-question-talibans-free-press-pledge-2021-08-19 and banking https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-women-bankers-forced-roles-taliban-takes-control-2021-08-13, where women have become increasingly prominent since the Taliban fell in 2001 and a Western-backed government was installed.
    Contact between men and women outside the home will be allowed in certain circumstances, for example when seeing a male doctor, he added.
    Women should also be allowed to study https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/taliban-say-woman-can-study-university-classes-must-be-segregated-2021-09-12 and work in the education and medical sectors, where separate facilities can be set up for their exclusive use.
    “We will of course need women, for example in medicine, in education.    We will have separate institutions for them, separate hospitals, separate universities maybe, separate schools, separate madrassas.”
    On Sunday, the Taliban’s new education minister said women could study at university, but must be segregated https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/taliban-say-woman-can-study-university-classes-must-be-segregated-2021-09-12 from men.
    Women have staged several protests https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-protests-persist-posing-problem-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07 across Afghanistan, demanding that the rights they won over the last two decades be preserved.    Some rallies have been broken up by Taliban gunmen firing shots into the air.
    Improved women’s rights – more noticeable in urban centres than deeply conservative rural areas – were repeatedly cited by the United States as one of the biggest successes of its 20-year operation in the country that officially ended on Aug. 31.
    The female labour participation rate stood at 23% in 2020, according to the World Bank, up from effectively zero when the Taliban last ruled.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/13/2021 U.N. Faces Rival Claims For Myanmar Seat, Doubts Over Afghanistan by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's U.N. ambassador Ghulam Isaczai addresses the United Nations Security Council regarding the situation
in Afghanistan at the United Nations in New York City, New York, U.S., August 16, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations is faced with rival claims to Myanmar’s seat at the 193-member world body as the ruling junta seeks to cement its coup with international legitimacy by ousting the U.N. ambassador appointed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
    Ahead of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York next week, there is also uncertainty over who will fill Afghanistan’s seat for the 76th General Assembly session, which no one has yet formally claimed.
    United Nations credentials give weight to a government.
    “It is ultimately about legitimacy.    It is a ticket to acceptability in the international community. The alternative is pariah status,” said Richard Gowan, U.N. director at the Crisis Group think tank.
    Myanmar’s junta has put forward military veteran Aung Thurein to be its U.N. envoy, while Suu Kyi’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun has asked to renew his U.N. accreditation, despite being the target of a plot to kill or injure him over his opposition to the coup.
    U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq confirmed that the world body “has received two sets of communications concerning Myanmar’s representation at the 76th session of the General Assembly” starting on Tuesday.
    But a decision won’t be made quickly.
    Credentials are dealt with by a nine-member committee appointed at the start of each General Assembly session.    It routinely includes Russia, China and the United States and traditionally does not meet until October or November.
    The U.N. committee considers the credentials of all 193-members and submits a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year.    The committee and General Assembly usually operate by consensus on credentials, diplomats said.
    Until a decision is made on Myanmar’s accreditation, Suu Kyi’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun will remain in the seat, according to the General Assembly rules.
    While the junta requested that its foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin lead a delegation to the high-level U.N. gathering it will likely be Kyaw Moe Tun who addresses the world body on Sept. 27, diplomats said.
    The Myanmar military toppled Suu Kyi’s government on Feb. 1, detaining her and other leaders.    Security forces have killed hundreds of protesters since the coup and a shadow government last week declared a nationwide uprising against the junta.
AFGHANISTAN SEAT
    Comparisons have been drawn between the situation in Myanmar and Afghanistan, where the Taliban seized power last month.    However, diplomats said that unlike in Myanmar the ousted government crumbled after President Ashraf Ghani fled.
    “The situations are comparable in a way.    Let’s see,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters on Thursday when asked about the U.N. credentials of Afghanistan and Myanmar, noting that it would be up to the committee to discuss.
    Haq said that no requests for credentials for Afghanistan’s U.N. seat for the 76th session had yet been received from either the current U.N. Ambassador Ghulam Isaczai, who was appointed by Ghani, or the Taliban.
    When the Taliban last ruled between 1996 and 2001 the ambassador of the Afghan government they ousted remained the U.N. representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.
    The decision was postponed “on the understanding that the current representatives of Afghanistan accredited to the United Nations would continue to participate in the work of the General Assembly,” according to the committee report.
    The committee also appears to have the option of leaving a seat empty.    In 1997 it deferred a decision on rival claims to represent Cambodia and left the seat empty for that session.    A coalition government was formed in Cambodia the following year, which then filled the seat.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

9/14/2021 Self-Belief And Strategy: Japan’s Taro Kono Upends Race For Next Premier by Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Taro Kono, Japan's vaccination programme chief and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker, attends a news
conference as he announces his candidacy for the party's presidential election in Tokyo, Japan, September 10, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – When Taro Kono, Japan’s leading contender to be prime minister, was a senior in high school, he asked his father to send him overseas for university, but was flatly refused.
    Instead, the elder Kono, a leading politician in the ruling party, took his son to a U.S. embassy reception in a bid to prove his English was not good enough.
    But the move backfired.
    “I went around the room telling people enthusiastically, in my broken English, how I wanted to study abroad but my father was against it, so I had a problem,” Kono wrote in a recent book.
    Everyone said no, he should wait.    But that response, and perhaps his son’s audacity, somehow convinced the father, and Kono wound up spending four years at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
    Now 58, Japan’s popular vaccines minister is fluent in English and hopes to parlay that early combination of self-belief, strategy and stubbornness into becoming leader of the conservative ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and prime minister.
    In addition to a resume studded with high-profile portfolios such as foreign affairs and defence, he runs a Twitter feed in two languages and, in a world of staid politicians, speaks bluntly, by contrast with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
    “Kono’s a tight communicator, he’s talking,” said Corey Wallace, a foreign policy specialist at Kanagawa University.
    “He’s always out there, giving press conferences on the vaccine rollout and so on,” Wallace added.    “Suga looked like he only communicated when he absolutely had to.”
    Kono regularly tops opinion polls as voters’ choice for the next prime minister, which will help him with both rank-and-file members in the LDP contest, and young lawmakers worried about keeping their jobs as a general election looms this year.
    Image, at which Kono excels, could trump policy, said Airo Hino, a professor of political science at Waseda University.
    “Lawmakers are definitely going to pick who they think is better for re-election,” Hino added.
    “They’re thinking of election posters, and their faces on them with the LDP president.    This is especially true in urban areas, and with the young.”
SOCIAL MEDIA REACH
    Kono’s outreach has flourished on social media, where he has garnered 2.4 million followers on Twitter.
    The whimsical posts of early this year, featuring memes, his lunch, or a mask with a dinosaur skull, have shifted to promoting the vaccine and highlighting online policy meetings.
    That Kono had forged a genuine connection with those who do not usually care about politicians became clear when debate erupted online after he blocked some of those who disagreed with him on Twitter.
    But that incident also throws light on one of his biggest weaknesses, say analysts.
    “He wants you to like him, and he wants to like you, and he wants to engage, but he has a little bit of an angry streak and it can be a liability,” Wallace said.
    In 2019, when foreign minister, Kono berated the South Korean ambassador during a meeting in front of cameras, telling him he was “extremely rude.”
    These memories stir consternation in South Korea, already nervous about the conservative stance Kono took on key policies when a cabinet minister.
    That is a contrast with his father, Yohei Kono, the chief cabinet secretary who authored a landmark apology in 1993 to “comfort women,” a euphemism for those forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels.
    South Korean media have played up his hardline stance, and some commentators fear already-strained ties might not improve.
    But at home there is hope that Kono, whose maverick nature brings to mind the wildly popular Junichiro Koizumi, prime minister from 2001 to 2006, may be able to get things done.br>     Analysts say most of the blame for Japan’s handling of the pandemic has landed on Suga, sinking his cabinet, while Kono has built an image of working hard on the vaccine rollout.
    Japan’s emergency measures achieved little until recently to curb virus infections that swamped its hospitals, but after a slow start vaccination rates have risen to a little more than half, pulling close to the United States and other G7 nations.
    “He … overcame all the hurdles and bureaucratic excuses notably made by the ministry of health,” said Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, who directed municipal vaccinations in Fukushima prefecture, north of Tokyo, the capital.
    “I think he is the only candidate who can challenge the status quo.”
    But first Kono must win, which means he will have to overcome the deep-seated fears of party elders that he could be difficult to keep in check.
    “That’s not to say Kono is completely against what the party wants to do,” Wallace added.    “But he will be his own prime minister, one way or another.”
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Rocky Swift; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/14/2021 ‘S. Korea’s Bernie Sanders’ Tops Presidential Polls With Talk Of Universal Basic Income by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: Gyeonggi Province Governor Lee Jae-myung speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Suwon, South Korea, December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A South Korean politician who once said he aspired to be a “successful Bernie Sanders” is leading the field to replace Moon Jae-in as president after rising to prominence with an aggressive pandemic response and a populist economic agenda.
    Lee Jae-myung, the governor of Gyeonggi province, has led in many recent national polls and dominated the early rounds of the ruling liberal Democratic Party primary, including the latest voting over the weekend.
    As governor, Lee advocated for universal basic income and instituted cash payments to all 24-year-old people for a year.    When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, all province residents also received regular payments.
    Under Lee, Gyeonggi also took aggressive steps to combat the pandemic, introducing restrictions on gatherings that were later adopted by the national government, raiding a church at the centre of a large outbreak, and imposing a controversial requirement that all foreign residents be tested.
    His outsider image was once seen as a liability in the face of establishment competitors with closer ties to the outgoingMoon.
    But with many South Koreans disillusioned by runaway housing prices, a poor employment outlook for young people and a string of corruption scandals, that populist message has driven him to the head of the pack as he looks to blunt conservatives’ efforts to capitalise on voter discontent.
    Lee no longer compares himself to Sanders, the progressive senator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. president, and has expressed willingness to adjust his policies to avoid strife while embracing “compromise and consensus.”
    But he still casts himself as someone who will take on the establishment – which at the moment is largely his own party.
    “Only politicians who have the courage and driving force to put up with the resistance and backlash from the establishment can keep and fulfil promises and achieve results,” Lee said during a primary in the eastern province of Gangwon on Sunday.    “And I have never made a promise that I could not keep.”
EXPANDING WELFARE STATE
    Born to an impoverished farming family in a remote mountain village in the country’s southeast, Lee, 56, attributes his focus on economic equality to an early life as a child labourer in chemical factories that left him with impaired hearing and a wrist deformity.
    When elected mayor of Seongnam, one of the largest cities in Gyeonggi, in 2010, he initiated a plan to establish a new, larger public hospital with unprecedented numbers of negative pressure rooms and intensive care beds.    The facility now serves as a national COVID-19 centre and has treated more than 3,000 patients.
    “Keeping people from disasters and infectious diseases by providing public medical service is one of the government’s most fundamental duties, and my political career began from there,” Lee told Reuters in December.
    A longtime advocate of universal basic income, Lee vowed to provide 1 million won ($850) to all citizens and another 1 million to people aged 19-29 every year if he takes office.
    He also pledged to boost housing supply by building more than 2.5 million homes, including 1 million to be distributed under a “basic home” scheme, aimed at allowing non-homeowners to live in high-quality public housing at low prices for up to 30 years.
    To bankroll the programmes, Lee proposed a carbon tax and a national land tax scheme to increase taxes for all property holders and cut transaction costs.
    “I will adopt universal basic income as a national policy to pave the way for a grand transition from a low burden, low welfare state to a medium burden, medium welfare state, while minimising tax resistance,” he told a news conference in late July.
FROM OUTSIDER TO FRONTRUNNER
    Lee, who came in third during the Democratic Party’s last presidential primary in 2017, has been dogged by personal controversy while in office, including allegations of an affair with an actress, which he has denied.
    As proof of their alleged relationship, the actress said the governor had a large mole on his body.    In 2018, Lee publicly undertook an examination to refute that claim, with doctors concluding he had no such mark.
    A lawsuit by the actress demanding 300 million won ($255,000) in compensation from Lee is pending in court.
    Lee’s rise has been driven chiefly by young and politically independent South Koreans who propelled Moon to victory in 2017 but have since grown disillusioned.
    This year Lee has pulled past party bigwigs such as former prime minister Lee Nak-yon, who were seen as favourites of insiders seeking a trusted nominee who can protect Moon’s political legacy.
    The conservative opposition, meanwhile, remains in disarray with no one emerging as a potent contender yet.
    “Despite mainstream Democrats’ efforts to keep him at bay, Lee’s experience and outsider image cater to many voters’ craving for a candidate who can get the job done,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a political science professor at Myongji University in Seoul.
($1 = 1,175.9000 won)
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Lincoln Feast.)

9/14/2021 Nuclear Envoys From Japan, U.S., And S.Korea Met After N. Korea Missile Test
FILE PHOTO: The Academy of National Defense Science conducts long-range cruise missile tests in North Korea, as pictured in this
combination of undated photos supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 13, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Top nuclear envoys from Japan, the United States and South Korea held talks in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss how to rein in North Korea’s missile and nuclear programmes, a day after Pyongyang said it conducted a new long-range missile test https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-test-fires-long-range-cruise-missile-kcna-2021-09-12.
    North Korea’s state media announced on Monday what it said were successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile that analysts said could be the country’s first such weapon with nuclear capabilities.
    “The recent developments in the DPRK are a reminder of the importance of close communication and cooperation from the three countries,” Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said in his opening remarks, using the initials of the Democratic     People’s Republic of Korea, its official name.
    The three countries have been discussing ways to break a standoff with North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which have drawn international sanctions.
    In meeting with his Japanese counterpart Takehiro Funakoshi and South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk, Kim said Washington remained open to diplomacy to deal with North Korea issues.
    The White House said they were still prepared to engage with Pyongyang despite the recent missile test, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has shown no willingness to ease sanctions.
    Pyongyang has said it sees no sign of policy changes from the United States, citing issues such as sanctions as well as joint military drills with South Korea, which it says are preparation for an attack.
    While Washington is a close military and economic ally of both Japan and South Korea, ties between the Asian neighbours have often been strained over issues including sovereignty disputes, Japan’s 1910-45 occupation of the Korean peninsula, and their wartime history.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Akiko Okamoto, writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

9/14/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Back In Court After Absence, Still ‘Somewhat Dizzy’ - Lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over
Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi returned to court on Tuesday, a day after a non-appearance on health grounds, seeming relieved, but saying she was still “somewhat dizzy”, her lawyer said.
    Suu Kyi, 76, who is on trial over multiple charges filed since her removal in a Feb. 1 military coup, was unable to appear on Monday due to dizziness and drowsiness that her legal team said was caused by motion sickness while being driven to court.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies)

9/14/2021 Philippines To Test Localised Lockdowns In Capital Region
An aerial view shows minimal traffic in a roundabout in Quezon City, during a two-week lockdown following a surge in coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) cases, in Metro Manila, Philippines August 9, 2021. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Adrian Portugal/Files
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ capital region will exit wide-scale coronavirus restrictions from Thursday, as the government launches a pilot test of localised lockdowns, amid efforts to balance reopening the economy and containing the spread of the coronavirus.
    The localised lockdown would be accompanied by five alert levels designating the range of businesses allowed to operate, including activities targeted at fully vaccinated individuals, officials said.
    If successful, the same formula could be applied across the Philippines, which is battling one of Asia’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
    The shift in the government’s COVID-19 strategy could soon pave the way for limited face-to-face school classes and the reopening of indoor entertainment facilities in areas with low virus transmission and adequate hospital capacity.
    From Thursday, the alert level would be changed in Metro Manila, allowing outdoor dining at 30% capacity, and indoor dining for small groups of fully immunised people, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergerie told a briefing.
    Religious gatherings and personal care services will be allowed at 30% of building capacity.
    The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, is the country’s coronavirus epicentre, accounting for a third of cases and one in every four deaths.    Three-fifths of the area’s population have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, government data showed.
    The shift followed calls by some health professionals for tighter curbs to give stretched hospitals a breathing space.
    “Up to now, cases are still increasing.    It’s just like the Olympics, we are waiting for when we will hit a new record high,” Geneve Rivera-Reyes, a public physician, told Reuters.
    Metro Manila’s overall infections in the past 30 days alone accounted for more than a fifth of the country’s total of 2.2 million cases, while overall deaths have reached 35,145.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies)

9/14/2021 Grateful For Vaccines, Taiwan Minister To Lead Europe Investment Delegation
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker administers a dose of the domestically developed Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp's coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccine at a vaccination site in Taipei, Taiwan August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Annabelle Chih
(Corrects typo in 6th paragraph to ‘as’ not ‘has’)
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Grateful for COVID-19 vaccine gifts and other support, Taiwan will send a senior minister to head an investment delegation to three central and eastern European countries next month to boost business ties, Taiwan’s foreign ministry announced on Tuesday.
    Remus Chen, head of the ministry’s Europe department, told reporters the 65-person group would travel by chartered flight to Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Lithuania, who have together pledged a total of 60,000 shots to Taiwan, from Oct. 20-30.
    It will be led by Kung Ming-hsin, who runs the National Development Council which is in charge of Taiwan’s industrial development policy, Chen added.
    Taiwan’s relations with the three countries have continued to improve, he said, pointing to not only the vaccine donations but also last year’s visit of the head of the Czech Senate and Lithuania’s decision to allow Taiwan to set up a de facto embassy, with Lithuania planning the same in Taipei.
    “This shows the unity of international democratic partners and friendship,” Chen said.
    China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, has been angered by these interactions, with Lithuania most recently feeling the brunt of Beijing’s displeasure.
    Chen said the delegation would include representatives of tech firms in particular, including electric vehicle makers, though he did not say which companies would participate.
    “Taiwan has many great industries and companies.    The government must be a firm backer to help them go out into the world,” he added.
    Major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn already has plants in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
    Taiwan has been heartened by the support of the three European Union members, as well as Poland which donated 400,000 vaccines doses earlier this month, though the bloc has not moved on Taiwan’s request to push forward with a stalled proposal for a bilateral investment agreement.
    The EU has however been trying to boost cooperation on semiconductor production, tight supplies of which have especially affected global auto makers, including in Europe.
    Taiwan is one of the world’s most important chip makers.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates)

9/14/2021 New Zealand Looks To Boost COVID-19 Vaccinations As New Cases Ease
FILE PHOTO: A normally busy road is deserted during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked New Zealanders on Tuesday to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as it was the only way to beat the spread of coronavirus and see curbs lifted in the biggest city of Auckland.
    Tuesday’s 15 new infections in New Zealand were a drop from Monday’s figure of 33, but about 1.7 million people will stay in lockdown in Auckland until next week, as the government battles to hold down a cluster of the highly infectious Delta variant.
    “The vaccine is the best tool we have in our toolbox and our ticket to greater freedom,” Ardern told a news conference.    “The more people who are vaccinated, the fewer restrictions you have to have.”
    Auckland’s lockdown has shut schools, offices and public places, with people allowed to leave home only for exercise or to buy essential items.    In the rest of the country, the lockdown was lifted last week.
    New Zealand had been largely virus-free for months until a Delta outbreak forced a snap lockdown on Aug. 17.    It has infected 970 people so far, most of them in Auckland.
    The lockdowns and international border closure since March 2020 have been credited with holding down COVID-19, but a slow vaccination effort has spurred criticism for Ardern. Just 34% of the population of 5.1 million have been fully vaccinated.
    To boost the programme, New Zealand has bought doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Spain and Denmark.
    “There is nothing holding us back in Auckland when it comes to vaccines,” Ardern added.    “There’s capacity to administer 220,000 doses of vaccine in the region this week.”
    Vaccine buses will begin plying this week to reach more people, she said.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

9/14/2021 COVID-19 Cases In Southeast China More Than Double As Delta Spreads
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk along The Bund in front of the Lujiazui financial district of Pudong,
following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai, China August 25, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) - New local COVID-19 infections more than doubled in China’s southeastern province of Fujian, health authorities said on Tuesday, prompting officials to quickly roll out measures including travel restrictions to halt the spread of the virus.
    The National Health Commission said 59 new locally transmitted cases were reported for Sept. 13, up from 22 infections a day earlier.    All of them were in Fujian, a province bordered by Zhejiang to the north and Guangdong to the south.
    In just four days, a total of 102 community infections have been reported in three Fujian cities, including Xiamen, a tourist and transport hub with a population of 5 million.
    The infections come ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a major tourist season.    The last domestic outbreak in late July to August disrupted travel, hitting the tourism, hospitality and transportion sectors.
    Fujian’s outbreak began in Putian, a city of 3.2 million, with the first case reported on Sept. 10.    Preliminary tests on samples from some Putian cases showed patients had contracted the highly transmissible Delta variant.
    The virus has since spread south to Xiamen, which reported 32 new cases of community transmission for Sept. 13 compared with just one infection a day earlier.
    “The Putian government is a big client of ours,” said a staff at a Xiamen building survey firm, declining to be named.
    “About half of our company went to Putian last week. They are now isolated at home, while the rest have gone to do their Covid tests.”
LOCKDOWN
    Like Putian, Xiamen has locked down some areas of higher virus risk, cut offline classes at kindergartens, primary schools and high schools, closed public venues such as cinemas, gyms and bars, and told residents not to leave the city for non-essential reasons.
    The first patient in the Xiamen cluster was a close contact of a case in Putian, Xiamen authorities said late on Monday.
    Known for its mild weather and a laid-back lifestyle, Xiamen is a popular tourist destination domestically.
    The Xiamen Gaoqi International Airport is also a key transportation hub linking the Yangtze and Pearl River Delta.    About 60% of flights to and from Xiamen were cancelled on Tuesday, according to aviation data provider Variflight.
    Both Putian and Xiamen began city-wide testing for the coronavirus on Tuesday.    The cities, however, are yet to announce tough city-wide lockdowns as seen in early 2020 in China.
    Three new cases of community transmission were also reported in nearby Quanzhou city, versus six infections a day earlier.    Variflight data showed 70% of Quanzhou’s flights were cancelled.
    One district in Quanzhou, where many of the cases work in or have visited Putian, has halted bus services, shut some public venues, suspended dining at restaurants, and required residents to avoid unnecessary trips out of the district.
    “One wave after another,” said a bank manager in Xiamen.    “It feels like the new normal now.”
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu, Kevin Huang, Stella Qiu, Yan Shen and Liangping Gao; Editing by Stephen Coates and Michael Perry)

9/14/2021 Taliban Deny Their Deputy Prime Minister, Mullah Baradar, Is Dead
FILE PHOTO: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban delegation, speaks during talks between
the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    (Reuters) – The Taliban have denied that one of their top leaders has been killed in a shootout with rivals, following rumours about internal splits in the movement nearly a month after its lightning victory over the Western-backed government in Kabul.
    Sulail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, said Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, former head of the Taliban political office who was named deputy prime minister last week, issued a voice message rejecting claims he had been killed or injured in a clash.
    “He says it is lies and totally baseless,” Shaheen said in a message on Twitter.
    The Taliban also released video footage purportedly showing Baradar at meetings in the southern city of Kandahar. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
    The denials follow days of rumours that supporters of Baradar had clashed with those of Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the Haqqani network that is based near the border with Pakistan and was blamed for some of the worst suicide attacks of the war.
    The rumours follow speculation over possible rivalries between military commanders like Haqqani and leaders from the political office in Doha like Baradar, who led diplomatic efforts to reach a settlement with the United States.
    The Taliban have repeatedly denied the speculation over internal divisions.
    Baradar, once seen as the likely head of a Taliban government, had not been seen in public for some time and was not part of the ministerial delegation which met Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in Kabul on Sunday.
    The movement’s supreme leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, has also not been seen in public since the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, although he issued a public statement when the new government was formed last week.
    Speculation over Taliban leaders has been fed by the circumstances surrounding the death of the movement’s founder, Mullah Omar, which was only made public in 2015 two years after it happened, setting off bitter recriminations among the leadership. (Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/14/2021 Chinese Ambassador Barred From UK Parliament Over Sanctions Row by William James and Andrew MacAskill
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Zheng Zeguang attends a news conference on the state
of trade negotiations between China and U.S. in Beijing, China December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    LONDON (Reuters) -The Chinese ambassador to Britain has been banned from attending an event in the British parliament because Beijing imposed sanctions on lawmakers who highlighted alleged human right abuses in Xinjiang.
    China placed the sanctions on nine British politicians, lawyers and an academic in March for spreading what it said were “lies and disinformation” the over the treatment of Uighur Muslims in the country’s far west.
    Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, and John McFall, the speaker of the House of Lords, stepped in to prevent Zheng Zeguang from speaking at an event in parliament.
    “I regularly hold meetings with ambassadors from across the world to establish enduring ties between countries and parliamentarians,” Hoyle said.
    “But I do not feel it’s appropriate for the ambassador for China to meet on the Commons estate and in our place of work when his country has imposed sanctions against some of our members.”
    A Chinese embassy spokesperson criticised the move.
    “The despicable and cowardly action of certain individuals of the UK Parliament to obstruct normal exchanges and cooperation between China and the UK for personal political gains is against the wishes and harmful to the interests of the peoples of both countries,” a Chinese statement said.
    Hoyle said he was not banning the Chinese ambassador permanently, but only while the sanctions remained in place.
    Richard Graham, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary China Group, had given an invitation to Zeguang during the summer, the Daily Telegraph said.
    Graham did not respond to a request for comment.    The All Party Parliamentary China Group declined to comment.
PARALLEL SANCTIONS
    China sanctioned five British lawmakers, including former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith and Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
    The targeted individuals and their immediate family members are prohibited from entering Chinese territory and Chinese citizens and institutions are prohibited from doing business with them.
    China took the action after Britain, the United States, the European Union and Canada imposed parallel sanctions on senior Chinese officials accused of the mass internment of Uighurs in Xinjiang.
    Tim Loughton, a Conservative politician targeted by the sanctions, welcomed the decision to bar the ambassador from the event.
    He said China could not think “they can shut down free speech by parliamentarians in a democracy.”
    At the time the sanctions were imposed, Britain condemned the move as an attempt by Beijing to stifle criticism.
    London and Beijing have been trading angry words over a range of issues, including China’s reforms in former British colony Hong Kong and China’s trade policy.
    Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least a million Muslims have been detained in camps in Xinjiang.    The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations.
    China has repeatedly denied all accusations of abuse and says its camps offer vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.
(Reporting by William James and Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Costas Pitas, Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

9/14/2021 IAEA Calls Iran’s Treatment Of Watchdog’s Inspectors ‘Unacceptable’ by Francois Murphy
FILE PHOTO: A cleaning staff works before a news conference attended by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi
during an IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog on Tuesday described as “unacceptable” incidents in Iran involving its inspectors, in which diplomats say security staff subjected female inspectors to inappropriate searches that the United States is calling harassment.
    In a first case this year at the Natanz nuclear site, a female inspector was subjected to an unnecessarily intrusive search by security staff, diplomats who follow the International Atomic Energy Agency have said.
    Details of the episode in June remain unclear as does the number of repeat incidents since at Natanz, where an explosion and power cut that Iran has blamed on Israel damaged machines in its main, underground uranium-enrichment plant in April.
    “In recent months, there have been some incidents related to security checks of Agency inspectors at one Iranian facility,” the IAEA said in a statement issued in response to a Wall Street Journal report on the episodes.
    The IAEA, which treats details of inspections as confidential, did not specify the inspectors’ gender or say what happened.
    “The Agency immediately and firmly raised this issue with Iran to explain in very clear and unequivocal terms that such security-related incidents involving Agency staff are unacceptable and must not happen again,” the IAEA said.
    “Iran has provided explanations related to reinforced security procedures following events at one of their facilities.    As a result of this exchange between the Agency and Iran there have been no further incidents.”
    Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said https://twitter.com/Gharibabadi/status/1437813023192780800?s=20 on Twitter: “Security measures at the nuclear facilities in Iran are, reasonably, tightened.    The IAEA inspectors have gradually come up with the new rules and regulations.”
    It is not the first time there have been tensions between the IAEA and Iran over access to Natanz and the treatment of female inspectors.
    In 2019, Iran for the first time briefly held https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-inspector-exclusive-idUSKBN1XG1XM and confiscated the travel papers of a female inspector.    Tehran later said it had been concerned she might be carrying “suspicious material.”
    After the apparent attack in April, Iran also restricted inspectors’ access to the main, underground enrichment plant there, citing security concerns – a standoff that lasted until July.
    “IAEA inspectors continue to experience inappropriate harassment from Iranian security officials at nuclear facilities,” the United States said in a position paper to other countries on the IAEA Board of Governors meeting this week.
    That paper, seen by Reuters, added: “Harassment of IAEA inspectors is absolutely unacceptable.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Paul Simao)

9/14/2021 Thousands Protest Against Taliban In Kandahar Over Evictions
People hold a protest march against the Taliban's decision to force them to leave their homes in Kandahar,
Afghanistan September 14, 2021, in this still image taken from video. ASVAKA News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Thousands of Afghans protested against the Taliban in the southern city of Kandahar on Tuesday, according to a former government official and local television footage, after residents were asked to vacate a residential army colony.
    Protesters gathered in front of the governor’s house in Kandahar after around 3,000 families were asked to leave the colony, according to the former government official who witnessed the crowds.
    Footage from local media showed crowds of people blocking a road in the city.
    The affected area is predominantly occupied by the families of retired army generals and other members of the Afghan security forces.
    The families, some of whom had lived in the district for almost 30 years, had been given three days to vacate, the official, who had spoken to some of those affected, said.
    Taliban spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the evictions.
    Sporadic protests against the Taliban, who swept to power in Afghanistan with the capture of Kabul almost a month ago, have ended in occasionally deadly clashes, although there were no confirmed reports of violence on Tuesday.
    Taliban leaders have vowed to investigate any instances of abuse, but have ordered demonstrators to seek permission before holding protests.
    The United Nations said on Friday the Taliban’s response to peaceful protests was becoming increasingly violent.
(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/15/2021 N. Korea Tests Ballistic Missiles Amid Deadlocked Nuclear Talks by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of
North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, ratcheting up regional tensions just days after testing a cruise missile https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-test-fires-long-range-cruise-missile-kcna-2021-09-12 with possible nuclear capabilities.
    Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons programme amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    The negotiations, initiated between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, have stalled since 2019.
    “North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region toward the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
    South Korea’s military has raised its level of surveillance, and is maintaining a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, the JCS added.
    Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous,” and strongly condemned the action as a threat to peace and security of the region.
    Japan’s Coast Guard said the missiles landed outside its exclusive economic zone.
    Both Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in would convene sessions of their national security councils to discuss the launches, according to their offices.
FLURRY OF DIPLOMACY
    The ballistic missile tests are North Korea’s first since March https://tmsnrt.rs/2PFT4eW this year and a further breach of U.N. sanctions.
    “Despite its self-imposed pandemic lockdown, North Korea continues to prioritise military modernisation,” said Leif-Eric Easley, international studies professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
    The latest launch came as foreign ministers of South Korea and China held talks in Seoul amid concerns over North Korea’s recent cruise missile test and the stalled denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
    North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend, calling it “a strategic weapon of great significance.”    Analysts say that weapon could be the country’s first cruise missile with a nuclear capability.
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the earlier cruise missile tests, said all parties should work to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
    “Not only North Korea but other countries are carrying out military activity,” he told reporters.    “All of us should make efforts in a way that helps resume dialogue.”
    In a meeting with Wang on Wednesday, Moon asked for China’s support to restart dialogue, saying North Korea has not been responding to offers from South Korea and the United States for talks or engagement such as humanitarian aid, Moon’s spokesperson said.
    The nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan, and the United States were meeting in Tokyo this week as well.
    U.S. envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said on Tuesday the United States has no hostile intent towards Pyongyang and hopes it responds positively to offers for talks on its weapons programmes.
    Kim was due to meet with his Japanese counterpart for a bilateral meeting on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando in Tokyo; editing by Lincoln Feast)

9/15/2021 North Korea’s Tests And Summits Over Recent Years
People watch a TV broadcasting file footage of a news report on North Korea firing what appeared to be a pair
of ballistic missiles off its east coast, in Seoul, South Korea, September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    (Reuters) – North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan, South Korea’s military said on Wednesday, ratcheting up tensions just days after testing a long-range cruise missile.
    Following are key moments in North Korea’s missile tests and its foreign relations, in particular with the United States, over the past few years.
2017
July 4 North Korea test-fires the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
July 28 North Korea conducts another Hwasong-14 ICBM test.
Aug. 8 U.S. President Donald Trump warns North Korea might face “fire and fury.”
Aug. 29 North Korea fires Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).
Sept. 3 North Korea carries out its sixth nuclear test, saying it has mastered hydrogen bomb technology.
Sept. 14 North Korea fires a Hwasong-12 IRBM.
Sept. 19 Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea.
Sept. 21 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called Trump as a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
Sept. 23 U.S. B-1B bomber flies over the Korean Demilitarized Zone.
Nov. 29 North Korea test-fires Hwasong-15 ICBM, capable of reaching the entire United States, and declares it has become a nuclear power.
2018
Feb. 25 North Korean official Kim Yong Chol expresses willingness for U.S. talks while visiting South Korea for the Winter Olympics.
March 8 South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s envoy delivers Kim’s invitation for Trump to visit North Korea; Trump agrees to meet Kim.
April 27 North Korea’s Kim and South Korean President Moon meet for first inter-Korean summit in more than a decade, pledging to work for “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”    They meet again in May and September.
May 10 Trump announces a June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore.
June 12 Kim, Trump hold their first summit, in Singapore, agreeing to denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula in exchange for U.S. security guarantees.
June 19 South Korea, U.S. announce suspension of joint military exercises.
July 27 North Korea returns remains of 55 U.S. soldiers,
Sept. 9 North Korea displays floats and flowers but no long-range missiles at military parade.
Sept. 10 White House unveils Kim’s proposal for second summit.
Nov. 16 Kim guides test of “cutting-edge tactical weapon.”
2019
Jan. 1 Kim says he’s ready to meet Trump but warns of taking new path.
Feb. 28 Trump and Kim end their second summit in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi without an agreement due to differences over demands by Pyongyang for sanctions relief and by Washington for North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.
May 4 Kim supervises tests of rockets and a new short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) in first such tests since the November 2017 ICBM launch.
May 9 North Korea fires two KN-23 SRBMs
May 10 Trump said he did not consider the North’s missile tests “breach of trust,” calling it “standard stuff.”
June 30 Trump and Kim meet for the third time in DMZ on the Korean peninsula.
July 23 Kim inspects a large, new submarine, possibly designed for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).
July 25, 31 North Korea launches KN-23 SRBMs.
Aug. 2 North Korea fires two more KN-23 SRBMs; Trump says the tests do not violate his agreement with Kim.
Aug. 6, 10, 16 North Korea fires more KN-23 and tactical missiles.
Aug. 24 Kim oversees the test of a new “super-large” multiple launch rocket system (MLRS).
Sept. 10 North Korea tests “super-large” MLRS.
Oct. 2 North Korea test-fires new Pukguksong-3 SLBMs.
Oct. 21 Trump says Kim and he get along well and “like” and “respect” each other.
Oct. 31 North Korea tests the “super-large” MLRS.
Dec. 3 North Korea says it is up to U.S. to decide what “Christmas gift” it wants.
2020
Jan. 1 Kim vows to further develop nuclear programmes and introduce a “new strategic weapon.”
March 3, 9, 14 North Korea tests MLRS and short-range missiles.
March 21 Kim supervises test of new tactical guided weapon; Trump sends letter to Kim offering help on the new coronavirus.
March 29 North Korea tests “super-large” MLRS.
Oct. 3 Kim sends a get-well message to Trump who tested positive for COVID-19.
Oct. 10 North Korea unveils a new ICBM and SLBM at military parade.
Oct. 22 Trump says he has a very good relationship with Kim and stopped war; Biden likens Kim to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler and calls him a “thug.”
2021
March 21 North Korea fires two short-range cruise missiles but the United States plays down the first such tests under President Joe Biden and said it was still open to dialogue.
Sept. 13 North Korea carried out successful tests of a new long-range cruise missile over the weekend, state media said, seen by analysts as possibly the country’s first such weapon with a nuclear capability.
Sept. 15 North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles off its east coast, South Korea’s military said, ratcheting up tensions just days after testing a cruise missile with possible nuclear capabilities.
(Complited by Reuters staff; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

9/15/2021 One Month After Fall Of Kabul, Economic Crisis Stalks Taliban
FILE PHOTO: Taliban forces patrol in front of Hamid Karzai International
Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 2, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – A month after seizing Kabul, the Taliban face daunting problems as they seek to convert their lightning military victory into a durable peacetime government.
    After four decades of war and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, security has largely improved, but Afghanistan’s economy is in ruins despite hundreds of billions of dollars in development spending over the past 20 years.
    Drought and famine are driving thousands https://www.reuters.com/video/watch/idPxFY?now=true from the country to the cities, and the World Food Programme fears food could run out by the end of the month, pushing up to 14 million people to the brink of starvation.
    While much attention in the West has focused on whether the new Taliban government will keep its promises to protect women’s rights or offer shelter to militant groups like al Qaeda, for many Afghans the main priority is simple survival.
    “Every Afghan, kids, they are hungry, they don’t have a single bag of flour or cooking oil,” said Kabul resident Abdullah.
    Long lines still form outside banks, where weekly withdrawal limits of $200 or 20,000 afghani have been imposed to protect the country’s dwindling reserves.
    Impromptu markets where people sell household goods for cash have sprung up across Kabul, although buyers are in short supply.
    Even with billions of dollars in foreign aid, Afghanistan’s economy had been struggling, with growth failing to keep pace with the steady increase in population.    Jobs are scarce and many government workers have been unpaid since at least July.
    While most people appear to have welcomed the end of fighting, any relief has been tempered by the near-shutdown of the economy.
    “Security is quite good at the moment but we aren’t earning anything,” said a butcher from the Bibi Mahro area of Kabul, who declined to give his name.    “Every day, things get worse for us, more bitter.    It’s a really bad situation.”
AID FLIGHTS
    Following the chaotic foreign evacuation of Kabul last month, the first aid flights have started to arrive as the airport reopens.
    International donors have pledged over $1 billion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-seeks-600-million-avert-afghanistan-humanitarian-crisis-2021-09-12 to prevent what United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned could be “the collapse of an entire country.”
    But world reaction to the government of Taliban veterans and hardliners announced last week has been cool https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/world-wary-taliban-government-afghans-urge-action-rights-economy-2021-09-08, and there has been no sign of international recognition or moves to unblock more than $9 billion in foreign reserves held outside Afghanistan.
    Although Taliban officials have said they do not intend a repeat of the harsh fundamentalist rule of the previous government, toppled by a U.S.-led campaign following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, they have struggled to convince the outside world that they have really changed.
    Widespread reports of civilians being killed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-rights-boss-says-has-credible-reports-taliban-executions-2021-08-24 and journalists and others being beaten, and doubts about whether the rights of women really will be respected under the Taliban’s interpretation of Islamic law, have undermined confidence.
    In addition, there has been deep mistrust of senior government figures like the new interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani, designated by the United States as a global terrorist with a $10 million bounty on his head.
    To make matters worse for the Taliban, the movement has had to fight speculation over deep internal splits in its own ranks, denying rumours https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-deny-their-deputy-prime-minister-mullah-baradar-is-dead-2021-09-14 that Deputy Prime Minister Abdul Ghani Baradar had been killed in a shootout with Haqqani supporters.
    Officials say the government is working to get services up and running again and that the streets are now safe, but as the war recedes, resolving the economic crisis is looming as a bigger problem.
    “Thefts have disappeared.    But bread has also disappeared,” said one shopkeeper.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

9/15/2021 The Dramatic First Month Of The Taliban’s Rule In Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: A woman carries a child as passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 816th Expeditionary
Airlift Squadron in support of the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan,
August 24, 2021. Picture taken August 24, 2021. U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – It has been a month since the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan, seizing the capital Kabul with barely a fight.
    Following are the main events in Afghanistan over the last month:
Aug. 15 – Taliban fighters enter the capital Kabul, completing a lightning offensive that saw provincial capitals fall to the insurgents like dominoes.    The speed and ease of their conquest surprised even the Taliban.
– There is an immediate scramble by foreigners and Afghans to leave the country, leading to chaos at the international airport. Several people are killed.
Aug. 17 – U.S. President Joe Biden breaks his silence on the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan which presaged the Taliban’s return to power.    Desperate scenes at the airport lead to recriminations against Washington from around the world.
– Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid gives the first press conference by the Taliban since their victory. He seeks to reassure Afghans and the international community, saying women’s rights will be respected and there will be no reprisals.
Aug. 18 – Anti-Taliban protests erupt in the eastern city of Jalalabad. At least three people are killed.
Aug. 19 – Scenes of chaos at Kabul airport persist, dominating global headlines. Several more people are killed as Taliban members open fire and people stampede.
– Despite Taliban assurances, reports of former enemies being rounded up for questioning persist and journalists complain of beatings and, in the case of some women, being turned away from work.
– Anti-Taliban protests break out in Asadabad and Kabul.
Aug. 21 – The Taliban say the group will investigate reports of atrocities and protect people’s rights.    They also say the airport chaos is not their fault and that they are trying to provide a smooth exit for those with correct paperwork.
Aug. 23 – Haji Mohammad Idris is named acting governor of the central bank amid economic turmoil. Many businesses and banks remain shut and prices for staples climb rapidly.
Aug. 24 – The World Food Programme says millions of Afghans could soon face starvation, given the security situation, COVID-19 and drought.
Aug. 26 – A suicide bomb attack near the airport in Kabul kills scores of people, including 13 U.S. troops.    Some Western media reports put the final death toll at nearly 200.    The attack was claimed by a local offshoot of Islamic State.
Aug. 27 – The U.S. military says it launches a drone strike against an Islamic State “planner.”
Aug. 29 – A U.S. drone strike targets a suspected suicide bomber who the Pentagon said was preparing to attack Kabul airport.    The Taliban later condemn the attack and say there were civilian casualties.
Aug. 30 – U.S. General Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, announces completion of the U.S. troop withdrawal, ending the 20-year war.
– The Taliban declare independence for Afghanistan.    Aug. 31 – Long queues at banks, rising prices for staples and people taking risky land routes to try to leave Afghanistan are among the first challenges for the Taliban.
Sept. 3 – The Taliban say they have seized control of the mountainous Panjshir province north of Kabul, the final holdout held by anti-Taliban fighters.    The self-proclaimed resistance movement says they are still fighting.
Sept. 4 – Kabul airport reopens for aid flights and domestic services.
Sept. 7 – The Taliban announce their new government, ending weeks of talks and speculation.    Veteran members of the movement dominate the new cabinet, including several who were held in Guantanamo Bay and a minister on a U.S. terrorism wanted list.
Sept. 9 – The first commercial international flight under the new Taliban government leaves Kabul carrying more than 100 foreigners.
Sept. 13 – Donors pledge $1.1 billion for Afghanistan as aid dries up and countries remain wary of dealing directly with the Taliban.
Sept. 14 – Thousands of people protest in the southern city of Kandahar over Taliban plans to evict families from a former military colony.
(Compiled by Mike Collett-White)

9/15/2021 Nine Hong Kong Activists Get 6-10 Months In Prison For Unauthorised Tiananmen Vigil by Sara Cheng
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China Vice-Chairwoman Tonyee Chow Hang-tung
is seen inside a vehicle after being detained in Hong Kong, China, September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Nine Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison on Wednesday for taking part in an unauthorised assembly at last year’s vigil for the victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on protesters.
    The former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of wide-ranging freedoms, traditionally holds the largest June 4 vigil in the world.
    But, the last two vigils were banned by police citing coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.    But coming after the mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, the ban was seen by many activists as an attempt to shut down any display of defiance to Beijing. Hong Kong authorities denied that was the reason.
    Despite the ban, thousands turned up to light candles across the city in 2020, and smaller crowds did the same in 2021.
    “The defendants ignored and belittled a genuine public health crisis,” District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said.
    “They wrongly and arrogantly believed their common purpose was more important than protecting the community or the public’s right to protection from a serious health risk.”
    Three other activists received suspended sentences.
    All 12, including veteran vigil organiser Albert Ho, former lawmaker Eddie Chu and Figo Chan, a former leader of the Civil Human Rights Front known for organising large-scale pro-democracy rallies, had pleaded guilty.
    Last week, police arrested members of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, the organiser of the vigils, under national security legislation imposed by Beijing last year.    Police accuses the Alliance of being an “agent of foreign forces,” which the Alliance denies.
    Alliance leaders Albert Ho, Lee Cheuk-yan and Chow Hang Tung were charged last week with inciting subversion.    Ho and Lee are already in jail over their role in the protests in 2019. Chow was denied bail.
    Police last week also raided the premises of the closed June 4th museum dedicated to the Tiananmen victims.
    The museum, which closed on June 2 due to an investigation by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department into its licensing, reopened online as “8964 Museum” and now operates independently from the Alliance.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/15/2021 China Shows Off Defence Diplomacy With Multinational Peacekeeping Drill by Yew Lun Tian
Armored vehicles with flags of the United Nations and China are seen during a multinational U.N. peacekeeping
military exercise with troops of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA), Pakistan, Mongolia and
Thailand, on the outskirts of Zhumadian, Henan province, China September 15, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    QUESHAN, China (Reuters) – China’s armed forces concluded their first multinational peacekeeping exercise on Wednesday, showing off their combat prowess with drones and mine-clearing robots while seeking to project a more benign image.
    As the Asian giant modernises and beefs up its military by pumping hundreds of billions of dollars annually into its defence budget, it has also strived to assure other countries that its military is a force for good, not a threat.
    About 1,000 troops from China, Pakistan, Mongolia and Thailand participated in the 10-day exercise at a People’s Liberation Army training base in Queshan county in the central province of Henan, though most of the soldiers appeared to be Chinese.
    The exercise, codenamed “Shared Destiny 2021,” underscored China’s position as a “staunch defender of world peace and international order,” Senior Colonel Lu Jianxin, a Chinese military expert on peacekeeping, told reporters at the base.
    The soldiers, in front of a small group of journalists, enacted clashes between terrorists and peacekeepers in the strife-torn fictitious country of Carana.
    The exercise was based on a 2016 incident in Mali when Chinese peacekeepers were attacked and one of them was killed.
    The troops also reenacted a scene based on another 2016 incident in South Sudan, when peacekeepers had to protect civilians caught up in fighting between factions.
    In another scenario, drones buzzed the battlefield to spot bombs, which when found were disposed of by robots.    Drones also doubled up as loudspeakers and released multi-coloured leaflets to urge people to stop fighting.
    The exercise was also a showcase for Chinese military hardware.    The foreign troops trained with Chinese weapons and other equipment.
    “The use of Chinese equipment by foreign troops can be touted as a sign of enhanced military interoperability … and also for the purpose of marketing them to foreign militaries,” said Collin Koh, a defence research fellow with Singapore’s Rajaratnam     School of International Studies.
    China has repeatedly sought to dispel worries in neighbouring countries and further afield about its military intentions, even as it drills regularly near Chinese-claimed Taiwan and in the disputed South China Sea.
    China takes prides in being the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops among major powers as represented by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
    As the second largest financial contributor, China footed 15% of the total expenses for U.N. peacekeeping operations in 2020.
    Since 1990, it has sent 50,000 troops to participate in 25 peacekeeping missions globally, built or fixed 17,000 km (10,600 miles) of roads and more than 300 bridges, and removed 18,000 mined, said expert Lu.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Ben Blanchard, Robert Birsel)

9/15/2021 S.Korea, China Hold Talks Over N.Korea Missile Test, Stalled Diplomacy by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: The Academy of National Defense Science conducts long-range cruise missile tests in North Korea, as pictured in this
combination of undated photos supplied by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 13, 2021. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of South Korea and China held talks in Seoul on Wednesday amid concerns over North Korea’s recent missile test and stalled denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
    The meeting came days after North Korea said it successfully tested a new, strategic long-range cruise missile last weekend, which analysts say could be the country’s first such weapon with a nuclear capability.
    The test underscored steady progress in Pyongyang’s weapons programme amid a deadlock over talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    South Korea’s Chung Eui-yong met Wang Yi, who is also a state councillor, on the second day of a two-day visit, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.
    Chung vowed to continue fostering peace with the North, expressing hopes that the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing could provide a chance to kick-start that effort.
    “We expect China will consistently support our government’s Korea peninsula peace process,” he told Wang at the start of the talks.
    “We wish that the Northeast Asia relay of the Olympics, from Pyeongchang in 2018 to Tokyo in 2021 to Beijing in 2022, will be held successfully as an epidemic-free, safe and peaceful Games.”
    Wang asked for further cooperation to expand common interests and “more quickly, stably and fully” strengthen diplomatic ties which mark their 30th anniversary next year.
    Both sides held a separate meeting to map out steps to boost cultural exchanges, which have been scaled back in recent years amid China’s backlash over a U.S. missile defence system installed in South Korea.
    Seoul and Washington say the equipment is designed to counter North Korean missiles, but Beijing argues the system’s powerful radar can penetrate into its territory.
    On Tuesday, the chief nuclear negotiators of South Korea, the United States and Japan met in Tokyo, during which they agreed on the urgent need for dialogue and diplomacy to resume denuclearisation talks, according to South Korea’s foreign ministry.
    The U.S. envoy, Sung Kim, said during the meeting that Washington has no hostile intent toward Pyongyang and hopes it will respond to offers for talks.
    China, North Korea’s sole major ally, has played a key role in efforts to press it to dismantle its nuclear programmes.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/15/2021 Taiwan Lands Fighters On Highway As Annual Drills Reach Peak
A Taiwanese Air Force F-16V fighter jet takes off on a highway that is converted as a runway, during the take-off and landing drill
as part of the annual Han Kuang drill in Pingtung, Taiwan, 15 September 2021. TAIWAN MILITARY NEWS AGENCY/Handout via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwanese fighter jets landed on a makeshift runway on a highway strip on Wednesday overseen by President Tsai Ing-wen as annual drills reached their peak, skills that would be needed in the event China attacks and targets Taiwan’s vulnerable air bases.
    China has been ramping up its military pressure against the island it claims as “sacred” Chinese territory, hoping to force the democratically elected government to accept Beijing’s sovereignty, including with repeated exercises near Taiwan.
    Tsai, re-elected by a landslide last year on a pledge to stand up to China, has made modernising Taiwan’s mainly U.S.-equipped military a priority, turning it into a “porcupine,” both highly mobile and hard to attack.
    Three fighters – an F-16, French-made Mirage and a Ching-kuo Indigenous Defence Fighter – plus an E-2 Hawkeye early warning aircraft landed in rural southern Pingtung county on a highway strip specially designed to be straight and flat for rapid conversion from a road into a runway.
    “Such splendid combat skills and rapid and real actions come from solid everyday training and also demonstrate the confidence of the Republic of China Air Force in defending its airspace,” Tsai wrote on Facebook, referencing Taiwan’s formal name.
    Taiwan has five emergency highway runways across the island which can be pressed into service in the event a Chinese attack takes out air force bases, meaning the air force will still be able to operate.
    The majority of Taiwan’s air bases are on its flat west coast, facing China, and would likely come under almost immediate heavy missile and aerial bombardment in case of war.
    Taiwan’s mountainous east coast is home to two other air bases, with hangers hewn deep into the rock, providing much more solid protection.
    The week-long Han Kuang drills are taking place around Taiwan, with other exercises to practise repelling a Chinese invasion, protecting critical infrastructure and night operations, though the highway drills are the most dramatic.
    Taiwan’s air force scrambles on an almost daily basis to intercept Chinese aircraft that fly into the island’s air defence zone, mostly close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top part of the South China Sea.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates)

9/16/2021 Australia To Build Eight Nuclear-Powered Submarines Under New Indo-Pacific Security Pact by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Australian and Chinese flags are seen at the third China International
Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under a new Indo-Pacific security partnership with the United States and Britain that analysts say will likely rile China, which will see the pact as an attempt to contain it.
    Australia will be only the second country after Britain in 1958 to be given access to U.S. nuclear technology to build nuclear-powered submarines. [L1N2QH2X7]
    “Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific,” said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
    “To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”
    In announcing the new security group on Wednesday, the leaders of the United States, Australia and Britain did not mention China, but Washington and its allies are seeking to push back against its growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
    China’s U.S. embassy said that countries “should not build exclusionary blocs targeting or harming the interests of third parties.”
    “In particular, they should shake off their Cold-War mentality and ideological prejudice,” it said.
    The trilateral pact, including access to U.S. nuclear submarine technology, will be seen in Beijing as a threat, said Asia Society Policy Institute senior fellow Richard Maude.
    “China will see the suit of announcements today as further evidence of a strengthening coalition to balance its power.    It will object, but its own assertive and uncompromising behaviour is driving these new alignments.”
    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on the Indo-Pacific but said Australia’s new nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters under a long-standing nuclear free policy.
    “I am pleased to see that the eye has been turned to our region from partners we work closely with.    It’s a contested region and there is a role that others can play in taking an interest in our region,” Ardern said at a news conference.
SHOT ACROSS BOW
    Morrison said Australia would scrap a $40 billion deal with France to develop conventional submarines to replace its ageing Collins-class fleet and negotiate over 18 months with the United States and Britain to build eight nuclear powered submarines.     The submarines will not carry nuclear weapons.
    Nuclear-powered submarines can spend longer underwater, allowing for stealth in potential flashpoint areas with China such as the South China Sea, security analysts said.
    “Beijing will certainly interpret the new subs as a shot across China’s bow,” Bates Gill, head of Asia-Pacific Security Studies at Macquarie University, told Reuters.
    “Like the recently announced plan to acquire long-range anti-ship missiles, this move is intended to deter hostile maritime forces from approaching Australia.    China is currently the only country that could pose that kind of threat to Australia,” Gill said.
    The submarine decision “reflects growing concern in the government about China’s military build-up, future intentions in the region and willingness to use coercion,” said Maude.
    The trilateral security pact could worsen Australia’s strained trade ties with its biggest export customer China but its insatiable appetite for resources may limit its punitive responses, say analysts.
    China has in recent years imposed hefty tariffs and restrictions on Australian exports of items including wine, beef and barley, and outright banned coal imports to express its anger over Australia’s foreign policies.
    Morrison will travel to Washington this month to meet leaders of the Quad, a group that includes India and Japan and has been criticised by China, to discuss security.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/16/2021 Australia’s New US-UK Security Pact Risks China Trade by Wayne Cole
FILE PHOTO: A train loaded with iron ore travels towards the Rio Tinto Parker Point iron ore facility as an empty train
leaves in Dampier at the Pilbarra region in western Australia April 20, 2011. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz//File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s new security pact with the United States and the UK, seen as a move to contain China, may worsen strained ties with its biggest export customer, but China’s insatiable appetite for resources may limit its punitive responses, say analysts.
    The security pact with the Western powers, including access to U.S. nuclear submarine technology, will be seen by Beijing, which is embroiled in a long-running trade spat with Canberra, as a threat, said Michael Sullivan, International Relations Lecturer at Flinders University.
    “China will view the decision to expand defence cooperation with the US and UK and, in the future, base US strategic strike capabilities in Australia as confirmation that we are a growing military threat to its interests, such as the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Sullivan.
    China has in recent years imposed hefty tariffs and restrictions on Australian exports including wine, beef and barley, and outright banned coal imports to express its displeasure over Canberra’s foreign policies, though with only limited success so far.
    The sums at risk are massive as Australia exported a record A$173 billion ($127 billion) of mostly resources to China in the 12 months to July, accounting for more than 35% of Australia’s total exports. Australia bought just A$87 billion of, mostly manufactured, goods from China in the same period.
    That torrent of cash has blessed Australia with a run of current account surpluses, while boosting miners’ profits and dividends.    It’s also been a vital windfall to government tax receipts at a time when it is running huge budget deficits to fund emergency support for citizens in coronavirus lockdowns.
    By far the biggest export earner has been iron ore as China’s demand for steel drove prices for the mineral to all-time highs in May.    Australia’s metal ore exports in July alone reached A$19 billion, or more than 40% of total earnings.
    China has partly turned the tables in recent months by clamping down on steel output and warning of stricter controls on major carbon emitters, steps that have seen iron ore prices plunge 45% from their peaks.
    Still, China has few options other than to keep buying Australian iron ore.    Its own mines produce only 15% of the ore it consumes and the only other major international source is Brazil which is hitting capacity constraints.
    “If China just stopped importing iron ore, that would be a disaster for Australia,” said Shane Oliver, chief economist at AMP Capital.    “But it would essentially mean China would have to shut much of its own economy as well.”
    “Australia has also been able to find new markets for its exports,” he added.    “So while tensions with China are a threat, the impact hasn’t really been severe so far.”
    Another point of pressure on Australia had been Beijing’s control over Chinese tourists and students that used to spend time and money in the country.
    The pandemic has put paid to that for now by effectively closing Australia’s international borders, though the local tourism and education sectors are pushing hard for a re-opening by the end of this year.
($1 = 1.3624 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/16/2021 Taiwan Plans $9 Billion Boost In Arms Spending, Warns Of ‘Severe Threat’ by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers march to position during an anti-invasion drill on the beach during
the annual Han Kuang military drill in Tainan, Taiwan, September 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan proposed on Thursday extra defence spending of T$240 billion ($8.69 billion) over the next five years, including on new missiles, as it warned of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from giant neighbour China.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernising the armed forces – well-armed but dwarfed by China’s – and increasing defence spending a priority, especially as Beijing ramps up its military and diplomatic pressure against the island it claims as “sacred” Chinese territory.
    The new money, which comes on top of planned military spending of T$471.7 billion for 2022, will need to be approved by parliament where Tsai’s ruling party has a large majority, meaning its passage should be smooth.
    “The Chinese Communists have continued to invest heavily in national defence budgets, its military strength has grown rapidly, and it has frequently dispatched aircraft and ships to invade and harass our seas and airspace,” Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said in a statement after a weekly Cabinet meeting.
    “In the face of severe threats from the enemy, the nation’s military is actively engaged in military building and preparation work, and it is urgent to obtain mature and rapid mass production weapons and equipment in a short period of time.”
    Deputy Defence Minister Wang Shin-lung told reporters the new arms would all be made domestically, as Taiwan boosts its own production prowess, though the United States will probably remain an important parts and technology provider.
    Taiwan has been keen to demonstrate that it can defend itself, especially amid questions about whether the United States would come to its aid if China attacked.
    “Only if we ensure our security and show determination will the international community think well of us,” said Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng.    “Others will only help us if we help ourselves.”
    The weapons Taiwan aims to buy with the money include cruise missiles and warships, the ministry added.
    Taiwan has been testing new, long-range missiles off its southern and eastern coasts, and while it has not given details, diplomats and experts have said they are likely to be able to hit targets far into China.
    The additional cash will likely be well received in Washington, which has been pushing Taiwan to modernise its military to make it more mobile so it can become a “porcupine,” hard for China to attack.
    Taiwan has already put into service a new class of highly agile stealth warships, which Taiwan refers to as an “aircraft carrier killer” due to its missile complement, and is developing its own submarines.
    The announcement comes as Taiwan is in the middle of its annual Han Kuang military drills.
    On Thursday, Taiwan’s army simulated fending off an invasion, firing artillery out to sea from a beach on its southern coast.
($1 = 27.6330 Taiwan dollars)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Roger Tung and Jeanny Kao; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Sam Holmes)

9/16/2021 In Remote Indian Village, Teacher Turns Walls Into Blackboards To Close School Gap by Rupak De Chowdhuri
Children, who do not have access to internet facilities and gadgets, use microscopes as they attend an open-air
class outside houses with the walls converted into black boards following the closure of their schools due to the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Joba Attpara village in Paschim Bardhaman district in the eastern
state of West Bengal, India, September 13, 2021. Picture taken September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    PASCHIM BARDHAMAN, (INDIA), (Reuters) – In a small tribal village on the eastern tip of India, an enterprising teacher has turned walls into blackboards and roads into classrooms, trying to close the gap in learning brought on by prolonged school shutdowns in the country.
    Deep Narayan Nayak, 34, a teacher in the tribal village of Joba Attpara in Paschim Bardhaman district of the eastern state of West Bengal, has painted blackboards on the walls of houses and taught children on the streets for the past year.    The local school shut down after strict COVID-19 restrictions were imposed across the country in March 2020.
    On a recent morning, children wrote on one such wall with chalk and peered into a microscope as Nayak watched over them.
    “The education of our children stopped ever since the lockdown was imposed.    The children used to just loiter around.    The teacher came and started teaching them,” Kiran Turi, whose child learns with Nayak, told Reuters.
    Nayak teaches everything from popular nursery rhymes to the importance of masks and hand-washing to about 60 students and is popularly known as the “Teacher of the Street” to the grateful villagers.
    Schools across the country have gradually begun reopening starting last month.    Some epidemiologists and social scientists are calling for them to open fully prevent further loss of learning in children.
    An August survey of nearly 1,400 schoolchildren done by a scholars’ group https://roadscholarz.net found that in rural areas, only 8% were studying online regularly, 37% were not studying at all, and about half were unable to read more than a few words.    Most parents wanted schools to reopen as soon as possible, it said.
    Nayak said he was worried that his students, most of whom are first-generation learners and whose parents are daily wage-earners, would away from the education system if they didn’t continue with school.
    “I would see children loitering about the village, taking cattle for grazing, and I wanted to make sure their learning doesn’t stop,” he told Reuters.
(Writing by Shilpa Jamkhandikar. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/16/2021 China Decries U.S., Britain, Australia Security Partnership
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian attends a news conference
in Beijing, China September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry on Thursday decried a new U.S.-Britain-Australia security partnership that will involve helping Canberra acquire nuclear-powered submarines, saying the three countries are damaging regional peace and stability.
    China will closely monitor the situation, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Toby Chopra)

9/16/2021 Malaysians Enjoy Taste Of Travel After Lockdown In Tourism Restart by Ebrahim Harris
Tourists arrive at the airport as Langkawi reopens to domestic tourists, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Malaysia September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    LANGKAWI, Malaysia (Reuters) – The first plane carrying tourists in more than four months touched down on the Malaysian island of Langkawi on Thursday and was greeted by a twin water cannon “salute,” in the launch of a programme to revive a travel sector frozen by the pandemic.
    The first batch of 159 travellers from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, arrived eager for a vacation after a monthslong, nationwide lockdown imposed to address one of Asia’s highest per-capital coronavirus infection rates.
    Known for its beaches, geoparks, bird life and impressive rock formations, Langkawi, a group of 99 islands, is the test case https://reut.rs/397k6Cn in a drive to allow vaccinated domestic travellers to take part in holiday activities under agreed health protocols.
    “My last holiday was last year … countless months already, I felt like I’ll go mental also soon,” said Beverly Tiew, 42, from Kuala Lumpur.    “So I’m excited and super, super happy and I’m thankful that the government is open about it and we can come and travel.”
    The project is similar to Thailand, which has opened Phuket https://reut.rs/3nioKWn and Samui islands to vaccinated foreign tourists, while Indonesia’s Bali https://reut.rs/2XoGOn7 and Vietnam’s idyllic Phu Quoc https://reut.rs/3tMCme4 island plan to follow suit.    Malaysia, however, has yet to allow foreign tourists to return.
    Langkawi, in the Straits of Malacca, is not expecting huge visitor numbers initially, with a target of 400,000 people by the end of the year, and projections they will spend 165 million ringgit ($39.66 million).
    Malaysia has vaccinated more than half of its 32 million population against COVID-19.    It has recorded over 2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths.
    Visitor Hasan Kamil, 58, said the bubble was well-timed as it came during school holidays.
    “This is a good opportunity to bring my daughter for a short holiday because she has been staying home you know for almost two years now,” he said.
(Writing by Martin Petty. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/16/2021 Iran President Selects Hardline Cabinet To Drive Hard Bargain With U.S. by Michael Georgy
Iran's deputy negotiator Ali Bagheri speaks during a news conference in Almaty April 5, 2013. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran, emboldened by the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, is betting that its new hardline cabinet — including Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani — can force concessions in talks on Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    Bagheri, a hardline senior diplomat, was named on Tuesday to replace Abbas Araqchi, a seasoned pragmatist diplomat and chief negotiator in the negotiations that Tehran hopes will lead to a lifting of U.S. sanctions.
    “Kani is an extension of the hardline deep state that is now in charge across all institutions in Iran and can more readily negotiate with the West as he is not just representing the government but has the empowerment of the inner circle,” said Andreas Krieg, associate professor at the School of Security at King’s College in London.
    “It (the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan) has given the regime in Tehran more confidence in their regional surrogate warfare approach while showing that the U.S. is on the backfoot in the region.”
    Iran has alarmed Washington and its Gulf Arab allies by relying on proxies in Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon, to steadily spread its influence across the Middle East.
    Bagheri, who was named deputy foreign minister for political affairs, had been a senior negotiator in the nuclear talks under former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from 2007 to 2013.    He is a relative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Iran’s parliament in late August approved all but one of President Ebrahim Raisi’s big-name nominees for a cabinet of hardliners that will have the task of implementing his plans to ease U.S. sanctions and tackle worsening economic hardship.
    Indirect talks between Iran and the United States stopped in June, days after Raisi was elected president of Iran.    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week said time was running out for Iran to return to the nuclear accord.
    An official involved in the talks said Iran’s enrichment with large numbers of advanced centrifuges is an unresolved issue, as is Iran’s demand that it “verify” U.S. compliance before curbing its nuclear program.
    This official said verification meant the easing of U.S. sanctions, Iran’s export of some of oil and its payment through an international bank before Tehran would take steps to make its program less capable of being used to make nuclear weapons Western powers on Monday scrapped plans for a resolution criticising Iran at the U.N. atomic watchdog after Tehran agreed to prolong monitoring of some nuclear activities, even though the watchdog said Iran made no “promise” on another key issue.
    During a last-minute visit to Tehran this weekend by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi, Iran agreed to grant his agency overdue access to its equipment in Iran that monitors some sensitive areas of its nuclear programme.    Inspectors will swap out memory cards more than two weeks after they were due to be replaced.    Grossi said on Sunday that the agreement solved “the most urgent issue” between the IAEA and Iran.
    He made clear on Monday, however, that on another source of concern – Iran’s failure to explain uranium traces found at several old but undeclared sites – he had obtained no firm commitments.
    Nicki Siamaki, analyst at Control Risks, said Bagheri’s appointment, particularly if he replaces Araqchi as chief nuclear negotiator, could prolong the process of reaching a deal with the United States as his masters would raise the stakes to reach a deal they see meets their conditions.
    The 2015 nuclear agreement-imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions against Tehran.
    Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, re-imposing tough economic sanctions on Iran.    Tehran responded as of a year later by breaching many of the agreement’s restrictions and later enriching uranium to purity levels much closer to weapons-grade.
    Mohanad Hage Ali, fellow at the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center, said the Iranian narrative is to persevere with their demands and they will emerge victorious against a weakening United States.
    Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah paramilitary group, he said, has been using the images of people falling from a U.S. plane departing from Afghanistan to suggest that those who bet on U.S. power will suffer the same fate.
    “The images from Kabul’s airport sent shockwaves, and have consequences,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in DubaiEditing by Alistair Bell)

9/16/2021 U.S., U.K. To Help Australia Get Nuclear Submarines by OAN Newsroom
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, appears on stage with video links to Britain’s Prime Minister
Boris Johnson, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden at a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra,
Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The leaders are announcing a security alliance that will allow for greater sharing of
defense capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)
    The United States, Britain and Australia have come to a trilateral partnership called Aukus as China influence grows.    During a meeting Wednesday, the U.S. said it would help Australia acquire “conventionally armed submarines that are powered by nuclear reactors” for its Navy. Leaders have said this would be an effort to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
    “Our nations will update and enhance our shared ability to take on the threats of the 21st Century, just as we did in the 20th Century, together,” stated Joe Biden.
    According to the group’s joint statement, Aukus said the U.S. and U.K. will build on their current bilateral ties to leverage their expertise from their own submarine programs to help Australia reach nuclear sub capability as soon as possible.    The decision comes over ongoing tensions with China over the South China Sea and Taiwan, though China was not alluded to specifically during the meeting.
    “Aukus will bring together our sailors, our scientists and our industries to maintain and expand our edge in military capabilities,” Biden continued.    “And critical technology such as cyber, Artificial Intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea domains.”
    The three countries are to launch an 18-month effort to work out further details. Critics have said the new nuclear-powered submarine deal has everything to do with China.

9/16/2021 China, France Denounce U.S. Nuclear Sub Pact With Britain, Australia by Trevor Hunnicutt, Nandita Bose, David Brunnstrom and Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Navy personel walks past the USS North Carolina (SSN-777) submarine docked at Changi Naval Base
in Singapore April 28, 2014. The U.S. Navy Virginia-class nuclear submarine arrived in Singapore April 26
for a routine visit as part of its second deployment to the Western Pacific. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    WASHINGTON/CANBERRA (Reuters) – China on Thursday denounced a new Indo-Pacific security alliance between the United States, Britain and Australia, saying such partnerships should not target third countries and warning of an intensified arms race in the region.
    Under the arrangement, dubbed AUKUS, the United States and Britain will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
    France, which loses its own submarine deal with Australia, called the plans brutal and unpredictable.
    The United States and its allies are looking for ways to push back against China’s growing power and influence, particularly its military buildup, pressure on Taiwan and deployments in the contested South China Sea.
    U.S. President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not mention China by name in the joint announcement and senior Biden administration officials, who briefed reporters ahead of time, said the partnership was not aimed at countering Beijing.
    But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the three countries were “severely damaging regional peace and stability, intensifying an arms race, and damaging international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”
    “China always believes that any regional mechanism should conform to the trend of peace and development of the times and help enhance mutual trust and cooperation… It should not target any third party or undermine its interests,” he told a regular briefing in Beijing.
    Johnson said the pact was not meant to be adversarial and said it would reduce the costs of Britain’s next generation of nuclear submarines.
    “Now that we have created AUKUS we expect to accelerate the development of other advanced defence systems including in cyber, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and undersea capabilities,” Johnson told parliament.
    The partnership ends Australia’s 2016 deal with French shipbuilder Naval Group to build it a new submarine fleet worth $40 billion to replace its more than two-decades-old Collins submarines, a spokesperson for Morrison told Reuters.
France accused Biden of stabbing it in the back and acting like his predecessor Donald Trump https://www.reuters.com/world/us-move-dislodge-france-australia-submarine-deal-is-incoherent-french-ministers-2021-09-15.
    “This brutal, unilateral and unpredictable decision reminds me a lot of what Mr Trump used to do,” Le Drian told franceinfo radio.    “I am angry and bitter.    This isn’t done between allies.”
    The three leaders stressed Australia would not be fielding nuclear weapons but using nuclear propulsion systems for the vessels to guard against threats.
    “We all recognise the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term,” Biden said.
    “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region, and how it may evolve because the future of each of our nations and indeed the world depends on a free and open Indo-Pacific enduring and flourishing in the decades ahead,” he said.
    Morrison said Australia would meet all its nuclear non-proliferation obligations.
‘STRONG ROLE’
    One U.S. official said the partnership was the result of months of engagements by military and political leaders during which Britain – which recently sent an aircraft carrier to Asia – had indicated it wanted to do more in the region.
    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed the focus on the Indo-Pacific but said Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines would not be allowed in its territorial waters.
    Singapore said it had long had relations with Australia, Britain and the United States and hoped their grouping would contribute to peace and stability.
    Japan said the three countries’ strengthening of security and defence cooperation was important for peace and security.
    A U.S. official briefing before the announcement said Biden had not mentioned the plans “in any specific terms” to Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a call last Thursday, but did “underscore our determination to play a strong role in the Indo-Pacific.”
    U.S. officials said nuclear propulsion would allow the Australian navy to operate more quietly, for longer periods, and provide deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the new partnership, on which the EU was not consulted, showed the need for a more assertive European foreign policy.
    “We must survive on our own, as others do,” Borrell said as he presented a new EU strategy for the Indo-Pacific region.    “I understand the extent to which the French government must be disappointed.”
    Biden said the three governments would launch an 18-month consultation period “to determine every element of this programme, from workforce, to training requirements, to production timelines” and to ensure full compliance with non-proliferation commitments.
    Among the U.S. firms that could benefit are General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.
    General Dynamics’ Electric Boat business does much of the design work for U.S. submarines, but critical subsystems such as electronics and nuclear power plants are made by BWX Technologies Inc U.S. officials did not give a time frame for when Australia would deploy a nuclear-powered submarine, or how many would be built.
    A U.S. official said Washington had shared nuclear propulsion technology only once before – with Britain in 1958.
    “This is frankly an exception to our policy in many respects… We view this as a one-off.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Nandita Bose, David Brunnstrom, Mike Stone, Trevor Hunnicutt in Washington and Colin Packham in Canberra; Additional reporting by John Irish and Matthieu Protard in Paris and Gabriel Crossley and Judy Hua in Beijing; Editing by Alistair Bell, Richard Pullin, Jon Boyle and Nick Macfie)

9/16/2021 Kono Seen As Top Contender As Japan PM Race Set To Start by Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Vaccine Minister Taro Kono, who is running to replace Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga,
attends a group interview in Tokyo, Japan September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Candidates to become Japan’s prime minister officially launch their campaigns on Friday, with popular vaccine minister Taro Kono expected to be the top contender to replace Yoshihide Suga.
    The leadership race for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) took an unexpected turn two weeks ago when Suga said he would step down https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-ruling-party-execs-meet-pm-suga-struggles-ahead-election-2021-09-03, setting off a heated fight.
    The winner of the Sept. 29 election will become prime minister by virtue of the party’s majority in the lower house of parliament.
    The LDP’s image has been battered by public perceptions that Suga bungled his handling of COVID-19.    After his one year in office, party members are keen for a fresh face the carry them to victory in general elections expected within two months.
    The popular Kono https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/self-belief-strategy-japans-taro-kono-upends-race-next-premier-2021-09-13, whose resume https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/five-facts-about-japan-prime-minister-hopeful-taro-kono-2021-09-10 is studded with jobs including the foreign and defence portfolios, faces off against former foreign minister Fumio Kishida https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-vaccines-minister-kono-favoured-next-pm-opinion-polls-2021-09-13, Sanae Takaichi https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-lawmaker-takaichi-announces-run-party-leadership-replace-pm-suga-2021-09-08, who held the internal affairs ministry post, and Seiko Noda https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-noda-former-gender-equality-minister-joins-pm-race-2021-09-16, a former minister for gender equality.
    Unlike in last year’s race, grassroots LDP members will join lawmakers in casting ballots.
    The media-savvy, U.S.-educated Kono, at 58 on the younger side for a Japanese premier, is widely seen as the frontrunner due to his popularity with the public, who regularly choose him as their favourite https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-vaccines-minister-kono-leads-opinion-poll-succeeding-suga-2021-09-12 for prime minister.    Investors https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-investors-raise-bets-kono-leadership-race-2021-09-13 have also recently warmed to Kono at Kishida’s expense.
    His chances were bolstered this week when LDP heavyweight Shigeru Ishiba https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-ldps-ishiba-formally-announces-support-pm-contender-kono-2021-09-15, who is popular with the party rank and file and had been considering his own candidacy, threw his support behind Kono.
    But Kono has a reputation as a maverick, and elders in the faction-ridden LDP may favour the soft-spoken Kishida, 64, who hails from one of the party’s move dovish factions, due to perceptions he may be better than Kono at building consensus.
    Takaichi, 60, who is aiming to become Japan’s first female premier, is a disciple of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, and a member of the LDP’s most conservative wing.
    Noda, 60, who joined the race on Thursday after winning the support of the required 20 lawmakers to throw her hat in the ring, is seen as a long shot.    But she but could have an outsized impact on the race by making it harder for one candidate to win a majority in the first round.
    On economic policy https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/key-economic-policy-stances-japans-next-pm-candidates-2021-09-10, where Japan is struggling to recover from successive waves of the coronavirus, Kono wants any further stimulus https://www.reuters.com/article/japan-politics/update-2-japan-pm-contender-kono-wants-stimulus-to-focus-on-energy-5g-idUKL1N2QI04A to prioritise renewable energy and expansion of 5G networks, while Kishida says Japan should strive for a new form of capitalism to reduce income disparity https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/former-japanese-minister-sanae-takaichi-seek-party-leadership-opening-prospect-2021-09-08.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by William Mallard)

9/17/20021 With Tighter Grip, Beijing Sends Message To Hong Kong Tycoons: Fall In Line by Clare Jim and Farah Master
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings, meets journalists as he formally retires
after the company's Annual General Meeting in Hong Kong, China May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – As Beijing seeks to tighten its grip over Hong Kong, it has a new mandate for the city’s powerful property tycoons: pour resources and influence into backing Beijing’s interests, and help solve a potentially destabilising housing shortage.
    Chinese officials delivered the message in closed meetings this year amid broader efforts to bring the city to heel under a sweeping national security law and make it more “patriotic,” according to three major developers and a Hong Kong government adviser familiar with the talks.
    “The rules of the game have changed,” they were told, according to a source close to mainland officials, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.    Beijing is no longer willing to tolerate “monopoly behaviour,” the source added.
    For Hong Kong’s biggest property firms, that would be a big shift.    The companies have long exerted outsized power under the city’s hybrid political system, helping choose its leaders, shaping government policies, and reaping the benefits of a land auction system that kept supply tight and property prices among the world’s highest.
    The sprawling businesses of the four major developers, CK Asset, Henderson Land Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties and New World Development, extend their influence even further into society. For example, the empire of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing of CK Assets, includes property, supermarkets, pharmacies and utilities.
    Because the tycoons are so deeply intertwined with the city’s economy and politics, it would be difficult for Beijing to sideline them completely, said CY Leung, former Hong Kong leader and now a vice-chairman of China’s top advisory body.
    “They are a major component of our political and economic ecosystem, so we need to be careful,” Leung told Reuters.    “I think we need to be judicious with what we do and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
INFLECTION POINT
    Some Chinese officials and state media have blamed tycoons for failing to prevent anti-government protests in 2019 that they say were rooted in sky-high property prices.
    The protests, joined by millions of all ages and social strata, demanded greater democracy and less meddling by Beijing in Hong Kong, which had been promised wide-ranging freedoms until 2047.
    The new directives mark an inflection point in the power play between Beijing and the tycoons, who once held kingmaking sway in Hong Kong’s political leadership race.
    “Now the focus is on contribution to the country; this is not what the traditional business sector in Hong Kong is used to,” said Raymond Tsoi, chairman of Asia Property Holdings (HK) and a member of the advisory group Chinese People’s Political     Consultative Conference Shanxi Committee.
    In March, Beijing made sweeping electoral changes.    In a new election committee, responsible for choosing the next leader of Hong Kong and some of its lawmakers, a greater “patriotic” force has emerged, while many of the prominent tycoons, including Li, 93, will be absent for the first time since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said the new election committee would be more broadly representative of Hong Kong, going beyond the vested interests of specific sectors, specific districts and specific groups, which it called “inadequacies” in the system.
    The source close to Chinese government officials told Reuters a team in the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the Liaison Office (HKMAO) had sought to curtail the influence of groups perceived to have done little for Beijing’s interests in the city.
    HKMAO and the Liaison Office did not respond to requests for comment.
    Sun Hung Kai said it was confident about the future of Hong Kong and would continue to invest there and in mainland cities.    Henderson Land and New World Development declined to comment, while CK Holdings did not respond to request for comment.    Li did not respond to a request for comment.
‘GIVE BACK MORE’
    Developers have already taken measures to show the message was received.
    New World and Henderson Land have donated rural land as reserves for social housing. In recent weeks, Nan Fung Group, Sun Hung Kai, Henderson Land and Wheelock applied for a public-private partnership scheme, the first applications since the programme was launched in May 2020.
    The programme offers developers an opportunity to build on a higher percentage of open land, but they must use at least 70% of the extra floor area for public housing.    Several told Reuters last year that the programme was unattractive because there were many restrictions and a risk of higher costs.
    “Beijing is not telling us what to do, but saying you need to solve this problem,” Hopewell Holdings’ Gordon Wu told Reuters, adding that “it won’t be impatient but it will give you pressure.”
    Another developer source, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Chinese officials had laid out expectations, but no strategy or deadline.
    “We can continue our businesses as long as we give back more to society,” said the source, a senior official at a top developer in Hong Kong.    The sector needs to step up efforts to ease the housing shortage, he added.
    Most of the developers have published statements and newspaper advertisements, along with other Chinese corporations, to support the national security legislation and electoral changes.
    Critics of the moves said they crushed democratic dreams, while authorities said they were necessary to restore stability after the 2019 demonstrations.
    Adrian Cheng, 41, who took over as chief executive of New World, founded by his grandfather, told Reuters late last year the company needs to become more relevant to society, especially in a new environment where firms have to carefully balance the interests of various parties.
    “It’s not easy.    I have a lot of grey hair you can’t see,” Cheng said.
(Additional reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Gerry Doyle)

9/17/2021 Indonesia’s Demographic Dividend Threatened By Lengthy COVID-19 School Closures by Tom Allard and Wayan Sukarda
Ni Luh Nael, 13-years-old, helps her grandmother after dropping out of school during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic
in Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia, September 11, 2021. Picture taken September 11, 2021. REUTERS/Wayan Sukarda NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    JAKARTA/DENPASAR (Reuters) – Ni Kadek Suriani was looking forward to starting her second year of junior high school last year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.    Then her parents lost their jobs and she was forced to help scratch a living on Indonesia’s holiday island of Bali.
    “I had time selling tissues at traffic lights,” the 13-year-old, wearing a black Metallica T-shirt, recalled at the headquarters of local charity Bali Street Mums, which now sponsors her studies.
    Experts say a pandemic-induced economic shock and closing of schools for more than a year has been devastating blow for many of Indonesia’s 68 million students.
    It also threatens to undermine Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s plan to create a top-five global economy by 2045 driven by a skilled workforce.
    “Indonesia had a major learning crisis prior to the pandemic, and our model indicates that it has gotten much worse,” Noah Yarrow, an education specialist at the World Bank and co-author of a report released on Friday, told Reuters.
    “Children are learning much less than they should for a competitive globalised economy.”
    Highlighting Indonesia’s shift from bad education outcomes to dreadful ones, a World Bank report released on Friday calculated the pandemic will leave more than 80% of 15-year-olds below the minimum reading proficiency level identified by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
    That’s a sharp rise from the 70% of students who could not reach the basic literacy benchmark in testing by the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018, which put Indonesia in the bottom 8% of 77 participating nations.
    Before the pandemic, and despite going to school for more than 12 years, the average Indonesian student had effective learning for only 7.8 years, the World Bank said.    That fell to 6.9 years by July this year according to the Bank’s most optimistic modelling.
    The loss of learning during the pandemic will cost students at least $253 billion in lifetime earnings, the report estimated.
    Indonesia’s education ministry acknowledged school closures had a “great impact on children’s learning results.”
    “It is a global phenomenon, not only in Indonesia,” it said in a statement.    “We are currently encouraging schools to start a limited face-to-face learning so that children will get back to school, interact with their teachers and friends, and have their spirit of learning rebuilt.”
DEMOGRAPHIC CURSE
    Indonesian schools were closed for 55 weeks to August 4, compared with 25 weeks in Vietnam, 37 weeks in Japan and 57 weeks in the Philippines, according to World Bank data.    Many schools remain closed in Indonesia, with the remainder open for limited hours.
    With schools shut, Indonesia developed an emergency, simplified curriculum and set up online lessons along with internet credits to help families defray the costs of distance learning.    Educational TV and radio programmes augmented the distance learning.
    But the World Bank study found, on average, students only learned for 2.2 to 2.7 hours per day.    Less than half of students did any online lessons, although more than 90% received assignments, often sent by teachers via messaging apps.
    Researchers and social workers told Reuters the assignments were often rudimentary at best.
    Indonesia has widespread internet coverage but Florischa Ayu Tresnatri, a researcher at the Jakarta-based SMERU Institute, said access to online lessons was plagued by patchy connectivity.    Many families only had one basic smartphone, often needed by a parent for work, she added.
    Teacher absenteeism and the ongoing cost of school fees and supplies were other reasons for students struggling to learn, or opting out of classes altogether during the pandemic, experts said.
    Tresnatri said the learning deficit was concerning for elementary school students, and the future prosperity of Indonesia.
    “Before the pandemic they were able to read a sentence but after the pandemic they were tested (on) the same sentence again and they were not able to read,” she said.    “There’s also the same problem in writing.”
    Indonesia has one of the youngest populations in the world.    By 2035, 64% will be of working age, providing Indonesia with a natural economic advantage.
    But many risk not being well educated enough to be part of the highly skilled workforce the Indonesian government wants for a modern, top-tier economy, says Tresnatri.
    “The demographic dividend that we used to proudly claim, it would turn out to be a demographic curse if we don’t do something to mitigate this learning loss,” she said.
FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE
    Indonesia has more than doubled education spending in real terms in the past two decades.    While there has been a rise in students continuing to secondary schools, there has been almost no improvement in the country’s average PISA scores over the same period, the World Bank said in a 2020 study.
    A skills certification programme doubled the salaries of teachers more than a decade ago but, said Yarrow, there was “absolutely no effect on student learning outcomes.”    Almost 25% of teachers didn’t turn up to lessons on any given day, according to a 2019 survey.
    These fundamental problems need to be urgently addressed by targeting poorly performing districts and improving teacher training and recruitment, Yarrow said.
    “It’s not just about recapturing what was lost during the pandemic but actually improving on the learning outcomes pre-pandemic.”
(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Wayan Sukarda in Denpasar. Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

9/17/2021 Australian PM Says He Made Clear To France Possibility Of Scrapping Submarine Deal by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks on during a news conference with French President
Emmanuel Macron in front of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he had raised the possibility that Australia might scrap a 2016 submarine deal with a French company in talks with the French president in June, rejecting French criticism that it had not been warned.
    Australia on Thursday said it would scrap the $40 billion deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the decision as a stab in the back.
    On Thursday, Morrison said France had been informed of the decision ahead of the announcement but France denied that.
    Morrison on Friday acknowledged the damage to Australia-France ties but insisted he had told French President Emmanuel Macron in June that Australia had revised its thinking on the deal and might have to make another decision.
    “I made it very clear, we had a lengthy dinner there in Paris, about our very significant concerns about the capabilities of conventional submarines to deal with the new strategic environment we’re faced with,” Morrison told 5aa Radio.
    “I made it very clear that this was a matter that Australia would need to make a decision on in our national interest,” he said.
    Strained Australia-French ties come as the United States and its allies seek additional support in the Asia and the Pacific amid concern about the rising influence of a more assertive China.
    France is about to take over the presidency of the European Union, which on Thursday released its strategy for the Indo-Pacific, pledging to seek a trade deal with Taiwan and to deploy more ships to keep sea routes open.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/17/2021 India Tells China Border Troop Pullback Needed For Better Ties by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: A man walks inside a conference room used for meetings between military commanders of China and India, at the Indian side
of the Indo-China border at Bumla, in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, November 11, 2009.
REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India has told China that their bilateral relations will only develop when both countries pull their troops back from a confrontation on their disputed Himalayan border, the Indian foreign minister said.
    Subrahmanyam Jaishankar discussed the possibility of both sides when he met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on the sidelines of a regional conference in Dushanbe on Thursday.
    “Discussed disengagement in our border areas.    Underlined that progress in this regard is essential for restoration of peace and tranquillity, which is the basis for development of bilateral ties,” Jaishankar said on Twitter.
    Thousands of Indian and Chinese soldiers have been locked in confrontation in the western Himalayas since last year when animosity over a decades-old border dispute blew up.
    In June last year, tension erupted into hand-to-hand fighting resulting in deaths on both sides, the first between them in decades.
    After several rounds of talks between their commanders, their forces have stepped back on some sections of the border, including the Pangong Tso lake, a contested area near the site of last year’s clashes.
    But troops backed by artillery remain dug in in close proximity in other sectors.
    “China has always handled the China-India border issue properly and with a positive attitude,” Wang said.
    “(Both sides should) work together to maintain peace and tranquility in the border areas, and stop border incidents from recurring.”
    As two major emerging economies, China and India should push bilateral ties back to a healthy and stable track, a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry cited Wang as saying.
    China and India went to war over their border in 1962 and have never resolved the dispute.    Even so, in recent years, trade ties have flourished.
    Jaishankar said he also discussed recent global events with Wang. He did not give details.
    While China’s close military ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan have been a source of tension, Jaishankar said India-China relations should be seen in bilateral terms.
    “It is also essential that China does not view its relations with India through the lens of a third country,” he said he told Wang.
    The two top officials are in Dushanbe for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.    President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are due to speak at the gathering through video link later on Friday.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel and Raissa Kasolowsky)

9/17/2021 Taiwan Calls For Quick Start To Trade Talks With EU
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s government called on the European Union to quickly begin trade talks after the bloc pledged to seek a trade deal with the tech-heavyweight island, something Taipei has long angled for.
    The EU included Taiwan on its list of trade partners for a potential bilateral investment agreement in 2015, the year before President Tsai Ing-wen first became Taiwan’s president, but has not held talks with Taiwan on the issue since then.
    Responding to the EU’s newly announced strategy to boost its presence in the Indo-Pacific, including seeking a trade deal with Taiwan, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday talks should start soon.    The European Parliament has already given its backing to a EU trade deal with Taiwan.
    “We call on the European Union to initiate the pre-negotiation work of impact assessment, public consultation and scope definition for a Bilateral Investment Agreement with Taiwan as soon as possible in accordance with the resolutions of the European     Parliament,” it said.
    “As a like-minded partner of the EU’s with core values such as democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law, Taiwan will continue to strengthen cooperation in the supply chain reorganisation of semiconductors and other related strategic industries, digital economy, green energy, and post-epidemic economic recovery.”
    EU member states and the EU itself have no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan due to objections from China, which considers the island one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of statehood, so any investment deal could be tricky politically for the EU.
    But the EU’s relations with China have worsened.
    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 the world’s second-largest economy.
    The EU has also been looking to boost cooperation with Taiwan on semiconductors, as a chip shortage roils supply chains and shuts some auto production lines, including in Europe.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

9/17/2021 Chinese Embassy Says Opposes US, Australia Interference
A street view of the front of the Chinese Embassy in Canberra is seen in this May 26, 2005 file picture. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Chinese embassy in Australia rejected on Friday s “unfounded accusations” against China made by the defence and foreign ministers of Australia and their U.S. counterparts after annual talks in Washington.
    The two countries, in a statement after Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations, expressed concern over China’s “expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea that are without legal basis,” and stated their intention to strengthen ties with their “critical partner” Taiwan.
    The comments from Australia and the United States came a day after they announced a submarine deal as part of a security partnership that includes Britain, which China denounced as intensifying a regional arms race.
    Australia and the United States also criticised China’s imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong last year that they said had weakened its electoral system, suppressed media freedom, and undermined the former British colony’s “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    They also expressed “grave concerns" about China’s “campaign of repression against Uyghurs,” a mostly Muslim ethnic minority in western China’s Xinjiang region.
    The Chinese embassy dismissed their accusations as a futile pressure tactic.
    “This petty move to put pressure on China will be of no avail but a staged farce,” a spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in Canberra said in a statement.
    “We firmly oppose and reject the unfounded accusations and erroneous remarks against China on issues related to the South China Sea, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and other China-related issues.”
    Taiwan’s government welcomed the show of support from Washington and Canberra.
    “Our country’s government will, on the existing solid foundation, continue to work closely with the United States, Australia and other like-minded countries to expand Taiwan’s international space, defend the democratic system and shared values,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.
    Speaking after the meetings in Washington, Australia and the United States also announced expanded military cooperation, including rotational deployments of all types of U.S. military aircraft to Australia.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

9/17/2021 Taliban Replaces Women’s Ministry With Ministry Of Virtue And Vice by Alasdair Pal
A group of women gather for a protest in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 16, 2021 in this screengrab
obtained from a social media video. Video taken September 16, 2021. ZAKIA KAWYAN/via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Workers in the Afghan capital Kabul replaced signs for the country’s women’s ministry with those for the Taliban’s moral police on Friday, as female former employees of the department said they had been locked out of the building.     A sign for the building was covered by a replacement in a mixture of Dari and Arabic, reading “Ministries of Prayer and Guidance and the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice” on Friday, according to photographs and Reuters witnesses.
    Female employees said they had been trying to come to work for several weeks only to be told to return to their homes, according to videos filmed outside the building seen by Reuters.
    The gates of the building were finally locked on Thursday, one of the women said.
    “I am the only breadwinner in my family,” said a second woman, who also said she worked in the department.    “When there is no ministry, what should an Afghan woman do?
    Taliban spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
    When the Taliban, who seized control of Afghanistan last month last amid the chaos following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, were last in power from 1996-2001 girls were not allowed to attend school and women were banned from work and education.
    During that period its Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice became known as the group’s moral police, enforcing its interpretation of sharia that included a strict dress code and public executions and floggings.
    A list of cabinet posts announced by the Taliban on Sept. 7 included an acting minister for the promotion of virtue and prevention of vice and made no mention of a women’s minister, but the group did not confirm the department had been disbanded.
    A senior Taliban leader said earlier this week that women would not be allowed to work in government ministries with men.
(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Alex Richardson)

9/18/2021 Japan PM Candidates Differ On Same-Sex, Women Rights Issues
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows the contenders for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP),
Japan's State Minister In Charge Of Administrative Reform Taro Kono, Japan's former Foreign Minister
Fumio Kishida, Japan's former Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi, and Japan's former Internal Affairs Minister
Seiko Noda, during a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, 17 September 2021. Kimimasa Mayama/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Candidates to become Japan’s next prime minister all said they would have better policies to fight the pandemic and reduce the income gap during television debates on Friday, but they were split on diversity issues from same-sex marriage to married couples having separate surnames.
    Whoever wins the Liberal Democratic Party presidency on Sept. 29 will become prime minister because of the LDP’s majority in the lower house of parliament, and campaigning began in earnest on Friday with a series of televised debates.
    Widely seen as the leading contender, vaccine minister Taro Kono (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/self-belief-strategy-japans-taro-kono-upends-race-next-premier-2021-09-13), 58, recently veered from mainstream thinking in the conservative party by saying he favours the introduction of same-sex marriage, and during a debate broadcast by TV Asahi, he asked his main contender about his stance on the issue.
    Former foreign minister Fumio Kishida, 64, answered by saying he had “not reach to the point of accepting same-sex marriage
    The two other candidates (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/potential-candidates-become-japans-next-prime-minister-2021-09-03) in the race are both women; Seiko Noda, a 61-year-old former gender equality minister, and Sanae Takaichi, 60, an ultra-conservative former internal affairs minister.
    While they are not seen as frontrunners the contest is still regarded as unpredictable, and if either were to pull off a surprise win they would become Japan’s first female prime minister.
    The four candidates will line up for another televised debate on Saturday as they battle to expand support in a party that has suffered a sharp drop in approval ratings due to the handling of the pandemic under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s leadership.
    Among the more divisive issues separating the candidates is whether to allow married couples to have separate surnames.
    Advocates for women, including lawmakers across the political spectrum want women to be able to choose which name they use, but it is not possible under Japanese law.
    Takaichi, the more conservative of the two female candidates, said in a debate on Fuji TV that the country should continue the existing system in order to avoid confusion among couples, and their children, with different family names.
    The two male candidates adopted a different stance.    Kono supports allowing married couples to have different surnames, while Kishida said the public’s opinion should be understood before parliament decides.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/18/2021 COVID-Hit Chinese City Tells Residents To Stay Home As Holiday Starts
FILE PHOTO: Medical workers conduct nucleic acid tests for residents, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at a testing site inside a culture and art centre in Xiamen, Fujian province, China September 14, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A city in southeast China hit by COVID-19 told residents on Saturday to stay home and closed various venues, as infections spread in the country’s latest hotspot during a key holiday travel season.
    The government of Xiamen, in a series of notices, told residents not to leave home unnecessarily, closed parks, scenic spots and sports venues, and halted mass activities including tours, fairs and performances.
    The measures – short of a full lockdown – came on the first of the four-day Mid-Autumn Festival holidays, a peak travel season across China.
    Xiamen, a scenic city of 5 million, is one of four cities in the Fujian province – China’s latest coronavirus hotspot – that have reported cases in recent days.
    Visitors to Xiamen’s residential compounds are not allowed without approval, non-essential vehicle traffic in and out of residential areas is forbidden, and dining in at restaurants, cafes and other venues is prohibited.
    Also a transport hub for southeast China, Xiamen has reported 92 locally transmitted infections in the past week.     That is about half the number of nearby Putian, where the first infection in this outbreak was reported on Sept. 10.
    The first patient in the Xiamen cluster was a close contact of a case in Putian, Xiamen authorities said on Monday.
    Both cities kicked off city-wide testing for the coronavirus on Tuesday.
    Since Sept. 10, Fujian province has reported 292 community infections.
    The outbreak comes ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a far busier tourist season than the Mid-Autumn festival.
    The last domestic outbreak in late July to August spread to tens of Chinese cities, hammering China’s tourism, hospitality and transportation sectors.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by William Mallard)

9/18/2021 Singapore Primary Schools To Shift Online As COVID-19 Cases Rise
FILE PHOTO: A man receives his vaccination at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccination center in Singapore March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    (Reuters) -Singapore’s primary schools will shift to home-based learning for 10 days ahead of a key national examination, the education ministry said on Saturday, as the country reported 935 new COVID-19 cases the previous day, the highest since April last year.
    Primary 1 to 5 students will move to home-based learning from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6.
    Primary 6 students will go on a study break for a few days from Sept. 25 before sitting for the national examination to minimise risk of school-based transmissions and reduce the number of students placed in quarantine.
    “With the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) written paper examinations approaching, we will undertake further measures to protect students who are not yet medically eligible for vaccination and give parents and students greater peace of mind,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.
    A recent rise in cases after the relaxation of some COVID-19 measures has prompted Singapore to pause on further reopening.    More than 80% of its population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.
    The country is looking at vaccinating children under 12 years in early 2022.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore and Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel and Richard Pullin)

9/18/2021 China Enters Taiwan Air Defence Zone A Day After Military Budget Boost
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military
airplane in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s air force scrambled on Friday to warn away 10 Chinese aircraft that entered its air defence zone, Taiwan’s defence ministry said, the day after the island announced a $9 billion boost to military spending to counter the threat from China.
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    The latest Chinese mission involved 6 J-16 and 2 J-11 fighters plus one anti-submarine and one reconnaissance aircraft, the Taiwan ministry said.
    Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.
    The Chinese fighters flew in an area close to the Pratas, while the anti-submarine and reconnaissance aircraft flew into the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, according to a map that the ministry issued.
    Warships, early warning aircraft and bombers were deployed on Friday in patrols and drills aimed at improving the joint combat capabilities of China’s military in the area, a spokesman for China’s Eastern Theater Command said in a statement on Saturday.
‘SEVERE THREAT’
    The incident came a day after Taiwan proposed boosting military spending https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-proposes-extra-87-bln-defence-spending-over-5-years-2021-09-16 by $8.7 billion over the next five years, including on new missiles, warning of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from China.
    The Chinese patrols and drills also coincided a transit by a U.S. destroyer in the Taiwan Strait on Friday, which the U.S. Navy called a “routine” passage through international waters.
    The Eastern Theater Command, which overseas Chinese military in eastern China, said on Saturday in a separate statement that the USS Barry was monitored on its entire course.
    Speaking on Friday, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang said the government had to take the threat from China seriously.
    “The Chinese Communists plot against us constantly,” he said.
    Taiwan’s defence spending “is based on safeguarding national sovereignty, national security, and national security.    We must not relax.    We must have the best preparations so that no war will occur,” he added.
    China’s government, for its part, criticised Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu on Friday for comments this week in which he said Taiwan was a “sea fortress https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-is-sea-fortress-against-china-minister-tells-us-audience-2021-09-15” blocking China’s expansion into the Pacific.
    Wu’s “aim is to deceive public opinion, to rope in and collude with anti-China foreign forces,” China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel and William Mallard)

9/18/2021 Japan To Take Action Against China If Taiwan Is Taken by OAN Newsroom
YOKOSUKA, JAPAN – SEPTEMBER 06: Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s Defense Minister, center, Peter van der Vliet, Netherlands’
ambassador to Japan, right, and Rick Ongering, commanding officer of Royal Netherlands Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen frigate,
left, inspect on the board Royal Netherlands Navy’s HNLMS Evertsen frigate at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
(JMSDF) naval base in Yokosuka on September 6, 2021 in Yokosuka, Japan. (Photo by Kiyoshi Ota – Pool/Getty Images)
    Tensions are rising between China and Japan over the Senkaku Islands.    Although, if the Chinese Communist Party tries to take Taiwan, Japan has promised to defend its island neighbor.    According to Japan’s defense minister on Thursday, a free Taiwan is integral to maintaining peace and stability in the region.
    Most energy imports to Japan go around Taiwan, leaving it in Japan’s best interest to keep Taiwan free of China’s control.    However, China isn’t only posturing against Taiwan, but also a Japanese island chain in Taiwan Straits.
    The CCP has claimed the islands for themselves, but Japan hasn’t recognized the claims and said they would push back against China if the claims were acted on.
    “The Senkaku Islands are an integral part of Japanese sovereign territory, both according to international law and looking historically,” said Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi.    “There is no territorial dispute relating to the Senkaku Islands between Japan and other countries.”
This aerial shot taken on September 15, 2010 shows the disputed islands known as Senkaku
in Japan and Diaoyu in China in the East China Sea. (JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)
    According to Kishi, Chinese Coast Guard ships have previously entered Japanese waters around the island chain.
    Meanwhile, he promised that Japan is on high alert and ready to engage if the CCP tries to take any part of the region by force.

9/18/2021 Some Afghan Girls Return To School, Others Face Anxious Wait
FILE PHOTO: School girls walk on a hilltop as they head home in Kabul
April 12, 2015. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Some Afghan girls returned to primary schools with gender-segregated classes on Saturday, but older girls faced an anxious wait with no clarity over if and when they would be able to resume their studies at the secondary school level.
    Most schools in the capital Kabul have stayed shut since the Taliban captured the city just over a month ago.
    Taliban officials say they will not return to the fundamentalist policies – including a ban on girls receiving an education – when they last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.
    They have now promised that girls will be able to study – but only in segregated classrooms.
    Nazife, a teacher at a private school in Kabul which had mixed classrooms before the Taliban takeover, said they had made changes in order to reopen.
    “Girls study in the morning and boys in the afternoon,” she said.    “Male teachers teach boys and female teachers teach girls.”
    However, there was uncertainty for many other girls at the school, which teaches at both primary and secondary level.
    On Friday the education ministry said boys’ secondary schools would soon reopen, but made no mention of girls.
    “Their spirits are down and they are waiting for government announcements so they can resume studying,” said Hadis Rezaei, who teaches the school’s female secondary-level pupils.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the local Bakhtar News Agency on Saturday that arrangements were being made to reopen girls’ secondary schools but he gave no date.
    “The education of girls is fixing a generation.    The education of boys may affect a family but the education of girls affects society,” said the school’s principal, Mohammadreza.
    “We are very closely following the matter so that girls can resume their education and complete their studies.”
(Reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Gareth Jones)

9/18/2021 ‘Quad’ Countries To Agree On Secure Microchip Supply Chains - Media
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers holds a semiconductor chip as he speaks prior to signing an
executive order, aimed at addressing a global semiconductor chip shortage, in the State Dining Room at the
White House in Washington, U.S., February 24, 2021.     REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Leaders of the United States, Japan, India and Australia will agree to take steps to build secure semiconductor supply chains when they meet in Washington next week, the Nikkei business daily said on Saturday, citing a draft of the joint statement.
    U.S. President Joe Biden will host a first in-person summit of leaders of the “Quad” countries, which have sought to boost co-operation to push back against China’s growing assertiveness.
    The draft says that in order to create robust supply chains, the four countries will ascertain their semiconductor supply capacities and identify vulnerability, the Nikkei said, without unveiling how it had obtained the document.
    The statement also says the use of advanced technologies should be based on the rule of respecting human rights, the newspaper said on its web site.
    The draft does not name China, but the move is aimed at preventing China’s way of utilising technologies for maintaining an authoritarian regime from spreading to the rest of the world, the Nikkei said.
    The United States and China are at odds over issues across the board, including trade and technology, while Biden said in April his country and Japan, a U.S. ally, will invest together in areas such as 5G and semiconductor supply chains.
    No officials were immediately available for comment at the Japanese foreign ministry.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, editing by Louise Heavens)

9/18/2021 Malaysia Warns New Indo-Pacific Pact May Trigger Nuclear Arms Race
FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian flag flies outside Prime Minister's office,
in Putrajaya, Malaysia September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia on Saturday expressed concerns that Australia’s plan to build nuclear-powered submarines under a new pact with Britain and the United States could catalyze a nuclear arms race in the Indo-Pacific region.
    Australia will build eight nuclear-powered submarines under an Indo-Pacific security partnership that has riled China.
    “It will provoke other powers to also act more aggressively in the region, especially in the South China Sea,” Malaysia’s Prime Minister Office said in a statement.
    The statement did not mention China, but Beijing’s foreign policy in the region has been increasingly assertive, particularly its maritime claims in the resource-rich South China Sea, some of which conflict with Malaysia’s own claims.
    “As a country within ASEAN, Malaysia holds the principle of maintaining ASEAN as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOFPAN),” the statement said.
    Malaysia urged all parties to avoid any provocation and arms competition in the region.
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by Christina Fincher)

9/19/2021 Australia Says It Was ‘Upfront’ With France Over Submarine Deal As Crisis Continues by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves Downing Street
in London, Britain, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia was “upfront, open and honest” with France about its concerns over a deal for French submarines, its defence minister said on Sunday, as a new deal with the United States and Britain continued to fuel a multinational diplomatic crisis.
    Australia ditched the 2016 deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines, announcing on Thursday a plan to build at least eight nuclear-powered ones with U.S. and British technology in a trilateral security partnership.
    The move infuriated France, a NATO ally of the United States and Britain, prompting it to recall its ambassadors (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australian-pm-says-he-made-clear-france-possibility-scrapping-submarine-deal-2021-09-17) from Washington and Canberra, and riled China (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-get-us-nuclear-submarine-technology-china-looms-large-2021-09-15), the major rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.
    The deal has put Washington in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France that analysts say could do lasting damage to the U.S. alliance with France and Europe, throwing also throws into doubt the united front (https://www.reuters.com/world/french-break-up-blow-bidens-china-focused-alliance-rebuilding-2021-09-18) that the Biden administration has been seeking to forge against China’s growing power.
    Paris has called the cancellation a stab in the back (https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/australia-made-huge-mistake-cancelling-submarine-deal-says-french-ambassador-2021-09-18), with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian saying relations with the United States and Australia were in a “crisis.”
    But Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Sunday that Australia had been raising concerns with France over the order – valued at $40 billion in 2016 and reckoned to cost much more today – for a couple of years.
    “Suggestions that the concerns hadn’t been flagged by the Australian government, just defy, frankly, what’s on the public record and certainly what they’ve said publicly over a long period of time,” Dutton told Sky News.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday he had expressed “very significant concerns” about the deal to French President Emmanuel Macron in June and made clear Australia “would need to make a decision on in our national interest.”
    Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said Australia had informed France of the deal but acknowledged on Sunday the negotiations had been secret, given the “enormous sensitivities.”
    Dutton and Birmingham declined to reveal costs of the new pact, although Dutton said “it’s not going to be a cheap project.”
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

9/19/2021 Exclusive-Malaysia’s Najib May Seek Re-Election To Parliament Despite Conviction by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff
Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during an interview with
Reuters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia September 18, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has not ruled out seeking re-election to parliament within the next two years, he told Reuters in an interview, despite a corruption conviction that would block him from running.
    Najib’s graft-tainted party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), clinched the premiership (https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/malaysias-king-expected-name-new-pm-after-rulers-meet-2021-08-20) last month after it was ousted from power three years ago over a multi-billion dollar scandal.    Opponents had expressed fears that party leaders facing criminal charges could secure leniency once back in control.
    Najib, who served as premier for nine years until 2018, was found guilty of corruption (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-politics-najib-idUSKCN24T042) last year and sentenced to 12 years in jail over one of many cases over the misappropriation of money from now-defunct state fund 1MDB.    He has denied wrongdoing and has appealed the verdict, while calling for a probe of his prosecution which he says was politically motivated.
    He is still a member of parliament but the constitution bars him from contesting elections unless he gets a pardon or a reprieve from the country’s monarch.
    Speaking to Reuters on Saturday, Najib challenged his disqualification, saying: “It is subject to interpretation.”
    “It depends on interpretation in terms of the law, the constitution and whatever happens in court proceedings,” Najib said.
    Asked if he would contest the next elections due by 2023, he said: “Any politician who would want to play a role would want a seat in parliament.”
    He declined to specify, however, how he could get around the constitutional barriers.
PUBLIC TRUST
    UMNO, which held power for more than 60 years until outrage over the 1MDB scandal and the opulence displayed by Najib’s family helped to dislodge it, is eager to regain public trust under Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s nascent government, which must also address factional infighting.
    Najib has pursued a public relations campaign to shed his image as an elite and to portray himself as a man of the people.    He remains a popular figure on social media, where his critique of past governments has earned him praise.
    Najib said in the interview that he has discussed with Ismail Sabri a possible role for him in government. Media reports have said he could be made an economic adviser.
    The former premier would not say if he would accept a position, saying his priority was on clearing his name.
    He also said UMNO’s return to power guarantees “temporary political stability” and that he would not call for early elections, like he had with Ismail Sabri’s predecessor Muhyiddin Yassin. Muhyiddin’s government collapsed when Najib and some UMNO lawmakers withdrew their support.
    Malaysia has seen political instability since the 2018 polls, with two coalitions collapsing because of infighting.
CONSTITUTIONAL BARRIERS
    A future Najib candidacy would face a constitutional provision that any person sentenced to imprisonment for more than one year or fined more than 2,000 ringgit ($480) is disqualified from contesting a parliamentary election.
    Constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew said Najib can run only if he succeeds in his appeal, receives a royal pardon, or if the king uses his discretion to remove the disqualification despite the conviction remaining in place.
    Malaysian and U.S. authorities say more than $4.5 billion was stolen from 1MDB, some of which went into Najib’s bank accounts.    The U.S. Department of Justice has described the scandal as “kleptocracy at its worst” (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-malaysia-scandal-doj-idUSKBN1DZ0MX).
    Najib, who faces more than 40 charges of abuse of power, money laundering and other offences mostly linked to 1MDB, said he can prove his innocence even as many entities and individuals around the world have admitted guilt or paid hefty penalties and settlements over the scandal.
    Malaysian prosecutors have said Najib, who co-founded 1MDB in 2009, played a central role.
    Since his election defeat, the United States has returned to Malaysia more than $1 billion in funds it recouped from assets bought with stolen 1MDB money.
    Najib said the charges against him were politically motivated and he is pushing for a royal commission of inquiry (RCI) into former Attorney General Tommy Thomas of the post-UMNO government, who first brought the cases against him in 2018.
    “I’ve been insisting on it.    The RCI is to establish that it will be a fair and just trial for everyone, not just for me,” he said.
    Thomas did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
    Najib said he had discussed the proposal with Ismail Sabri, who has so far not agreed to it, and he had also discussed it with Muhyiddin, who rejected it.
    Spokespersons for Ismail Sabri and Muhyiddin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
($1 = 4.1700 ringgit)
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

9/19/2021 Hong Kong’s First ‘Patriots-Only’ Election Kicks Off by Sara Cheng and Alun John
FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Fewer than 5,000 Hong Kong people from mostly pro-establishment circles began voting on Sunday for candidates to an election committee, vetted as loyal to Beijing, who will pick the city’s next China-backed leader and some of its legislature.
    Pro-democracy candidates are nearly absent from Hong Kong’s first election since Beijing overhauled the city’s electoral system to ensure that “only patriots” rule China’s freest city.
    “The whole objective of improving the electoral system is to ensure patriots administer Hong Kong,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said on Sunday morning.
    “I doubt very much that another government or country will allow the public election to their local legislature of people whose mission is to undermine the national interest or national security.”
    The election committee will select 40 seats in the revamped Legislative Council in December, and choose a chief executive in March.
    Police have ramped up security across the city, with local media reporting 6,000 officers are expected to be deployed to ensure a smooth vote, in which about 4,900 people are expected to cast ballots.
    Changes to the political system are the latest in a string of moves – including a national security law that punishes anything Beijing deems as subversion, secession, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces – that have placed the international financial hub on an authoritarian path.
    Most prominent democratic activists and politicians are now in jail or have fled abroad.
    China’s rubber-stamp parliament in May changed Hong Kong’s electoral system, reducing democratic representation in institutions and introducing the vetting mechanism for election candidates and winners.    This all but removed any influence the opposition was able to exert.
    The changes also dramatically reduced the influence of the city’s powerful tycoons https://www.reuters.com/article/hongkong-security-tycoons/with-tighter-grip-beijing-sends-message-to-hong-kong-tycoons-fall-in-line-idUSKBN2GD08D, although groups close to their business interests retain a presence in the 1,500-strong committee that selects Hong Kong’s chief executive.
TYCOONS OUT, SONS REMAIN
    China promised universal suffrage as an ultimate goal for Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which also states the city has wide-ranging autonomy from Beijing.
    Democracy campaigners and Western countries say the political overhaul moves the city in the opposite direction, leaving the democratic opposition with its most limited space since Britain handed the former colony back to China in 1997.
    Committee membership for 117 community-level district councillors, dominated by democrats, was scrapped, while more than 500 seats designated for Chinese business, political and grassroots groups were added.
    The new electoral list includes community-level organisations such as Modern Mummy Group and Chinese Arts Papercutting Association, Cable TV reported.
    Representation from professional subsectors that traditionally had a bigger pro-democracy presence was diluted by the addition of ex-officio members, reducing the number of elected seats.
    About 70% of the nominees did not feature in the last two polls for the committee, which will expand by 300 members to 1,500, Reuters calculations based on the election committee website showed.
    Many prominent tycoons, including Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka-shing, will not be on the election committee for the first time, as Beijing seeks to rebalance power from big conglomerates to small businesses.
    Three property moguls – Li, 93, of CK Asset Holdings, Lee Shau-kee, also 93, of Henderson Land, and Henry Cheng, 74, of New World Development – withdrew from the race, although their sons will retain their seats.
(Reporting by Sara Cheng and Alun John; Additional reporting by Greg Torode; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by William Mallard and Edmund Klamann)

9/19/2021 Australia Reports 1,607 COVID-19 Cases As States Learn To Live With Virus by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Health personnel work inside a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination clinic set up for residents
of surrounding public housing towers in the Redfern suburb, where authorities are working to contain an emerging
cluster of cases, as widespread lockdown continues in Sydney, Australia, September 17, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases on Sunday as states and territories gradually shift from trying to eliminate outbreaks to living with the virus.
    Victoria, home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, recorded 507 cases as its premier said a weeks-long lockdown will end once 70% of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, whether or not there are new cases.
    Premier Daniel Andrews said the state might reach that vaccination threshold around Oct. 26.    About 43% Victorians have been fully vaccinated and just over 46% people nationwide.
    “We will do so cautiously, but make no mistake, we are opening this place up.    There is no alternative,” Andrews said.    We “cannot perennially or permanently suppress this virus.    Lockdowns have been about buying time to get to 70% and 80% vaccination.”
    Many social distancing restrictions will remain and retail and hospitality venues will be limited, but people will be free to leave their house without a reason.
    Andrews said the authorities aim to have 80% of the state’s eligible population fully vaccinated in time for the Nov. 2 Melbourne Cup, leaving the door open for crowds on track at Australia’s most famous horse race.
    The COVID-19 plan follows a federal scheme that will end lockdowns at a 70% vaccination rate and gradually reopen international borders at 80%.
    New South Wales has adopted a similar plan.    Australia’s most-populous state reported 1,083 cases on Sunday as it uses lockdowns and vaccination blitzes to fight an outbreak of the Delta variant that began in mid-June.
    The state, home to Sydney, eased some restrictions on gathering on Sunday. Some 52% of people have been vaccinated in New South Wales.
    After eliminating COVID-19 outbreaks last year through lockdowns, border closures and strict public health measures, Australia has acknowledged in recent months that it may not be able to eradicate Delta outbreaks.
    The country has had just over 84,000 coronavirus cases, but two-thirds of the infections have occurred this year, mostly since June. There have been 1,162 deaths COVID-19 deaths.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

9/19/2021 Taiwan Threatens To Take China To WTO In New Spat Over Fruit
Sugar apples are displayed in a market in Recife June 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo
    TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) -Taiwan threatened to take China to the World Trade Organization on Sunday after Beijing said it would suspend sugar apple and wax apple imports from the island on pest concerns, in the latest spat between the two over fruit.
    Relations between Taipei and Beijing, which claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, are at their lowest in decades, with China increasing political and military pressure to get the island to accept its sovereignty.
    China’s customs administration said it had repeatedly detected pests called “Planococcus minor” in sugar apples, also known as sweetsops or custard apples, and wax apples from Taiwan.    It asked its Guangdong branch and all directly affiliated offices to stop customs clearance of those products from Monday.
    Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture Minister Chen Chi-chung said China had behaved unilaterally without providing scientific evidence, and criticised the announcement for coming during the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrated by Taiwan and China.
    “We cannot accept this,” Chen told reporters in Taipei about the decision, which he said his office had only received at 9 a.m. (0100 GMT) on Sunday.
    Taiwan has told China it will take the country to the WTO under the body’s dispute resolution mechanism if Beijing does not respond to Taipei’s request to resolve the issue under their existing bilateral framework before Sept. 30, he added.
    Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu tweeted that, following its military threats, China was now “weaponising trade” and the move should cast doubt over its application last week https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-officially-applies-join-cptpp-trade-pact-2021-09-16 to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade group.
    “China wants to join the high-standard CPTPP? Is this a joke?” Wu said.
    Sugar apples and wax apples are Taiwan specialities, although most are consumed domestically.    The island is also known for its mangoes.
    This is the second time this year China has stopped fruit imports from Taiwan.
    In February, China banned imports of pineapples https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-taiwan-pineapple-idUSKCN2AT2DY from Taiwan, citing “harmful creatures” that could come with the fruit. Taiwan had said there was nothing wrong with the pineapples and accused Beijing https://www.reuters.com/world/china/forbidden-fruit-taiwan-urges-people-eat-more-pineapples-after-china-ban-2021-02-26 of playing politics.
(Reporting by Min Zhang and Tony Munroe in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Edmund Klamann)

9/19/2021 Several Blasts Leave 3 Dead, Several Injured In Eastern Afghan City by OAN Newsroom
Taliban members inspect near the site of a blast in Jalalabad on September 18,2021. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Several explosions in an eastern Afghanistan city killed at least three people and injured several others.    A series of five blasts rocked the ISIS-K stronghold of Jalalabad on Saturday, where an Islamic State group is allegedly active.
    This reportedly was a suspected attack on a Taliban convoy traveling through the region. ISIS-K has since claimed responsibility for the attack.
    This comes after the Taliban promised to restore peace to the war-torn nation.    However, Leon Panetta, Defense Secretary during the Obama administration, said he doesn’t trust the Taliban will honor their statements.
    “I am reading and those actions and the other actions that are being taken to shut down protests and really inhibit women’s rights there, that this is a Taliban that will indeed continue to provide a safe haven for terrorists, and that spells trouble for the United States,” said Panetta.

9/20/2021 Cambodia Bat Researchers On Mission To Track Origin Of COVID-19 by Cindy Liu and Prak Chan Thul
A researcher from the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge takes an oral swab from a bat that was captured at
Chhngauk Hill, Thala Borivat District, Steung Treng Province, Cambodia, August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Cindy Liu
    STUNG TRENG, Cambodia (Reuters) – Researchers are collecting samples from bats in northern Cambodia in a bid to understand the coronavirus pandemic, returning to a region where a very similar virus was found in the animals a decade ago.
    Two samples from horseshoe bats were collected in 2010 in Stung Treng province near Laos and kept in freezers at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC) in Phnom Penh.
    Tests done on them last year revealed a close relative to the coronavirus that has killed more than 4.6 million people worldwide.
    An eight-member IPC research team has been collecting samples from bats and logging their species, sex, age and other details for a week. Similar research https://reut.rs/3EsZXVO is going on in the Philippines.
    “We hope that the result from this study can help the world to have a better understanding about COVID-19,” field coordinator Thavry Hoem told Reuters, as she held a net to catch bats.
    Host species such as bats typically display no symptoms of pathogens, but these can be devastating if transmitted https://tmsnrt.rs/3lvfsE9 to humans or other animals.
    Dr. Veasna Duong, Head of Virology at the IPC, said his institute had made four such trips in the past two years, hoping for clues about the origin and evolution of the bat-borne virus.
    “We want to find out whether the virus is still there and … to know how the virus has evolved,” he told Reuters.
    Deadly viruses originating from bats include Ebola and other coronaviruses such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
    But Veasna Duong said humans were responsible for the devastation caused by COVID-19, due to interference and destruction of natural habitats.
    “If we try to be near wildlife, the chances of getting the virus carried by wildlife are more than normal.    The chances of the virus transforming to infect humans are also more,” he said.
    The French-funded project also aims to look at how the wildlife trade could be playing a part, said Julia Guillebaud, a research engineer at the IPC’s virology unit.
    “(The project) aims to provide new knowledge on wild meat trade chains in Cambodia, document the diversity of betacoronaviruses circulating through these chains, and develop a flexible and integrated early-detection system of viral spill-over events,” Gillebaud said.
(Reportin by Cindy Liu in Stung Treng and Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh; Editing by Martin Petty and Andrew Heavens)

9/20/2021 N.Korea Derides South’s Submarine-Launched Missile As Clumsy, Rudimentary by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of
North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean military think tank on Monday dismissed South Korea’s recently tested submarine-launched ballistic missile as clumsy and rudimentary but warned its development would rekindle cross-border tension.
    Both South and North Korea, which have been developing increasingly sophisticated weapons amid stalled efforts to ease tension on the peninsula, tested ballistic missiles on Wednesday.
    Jang Chang Ha, chief of the Academy of the National Defence Science, a North Korean state-run weapons development and procurement centre, said in a commentary on the official KCNA news agency that media photographs of the latest South Korean missile showed a “sloppy” weapon that did not even have the shape of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
    The missile seemed to be a version of the South’s Hyunmoo surface-to-surface ballistic missiles with the warhead part an imitation of India’s K-15 SLBM, Jang said.
    The photographs of the test indicated that South Korea had yet to achieve key technologies for the underwater launch including complicated fluid flow analysis, he said.
    “In a word, it should be called some clumsy work,” Jang said.    “If it’s indeed an SLBM, it would only be in its rudimentary, infant stage.”
    South Korea’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Jang said the weapon had not reached a phase where it had strategic and tactical value and would thus pose a threat to the North but questioned the intent of the South’s ongoing missile development.
    “The South’s enthusiastic efforts to improve submarine weapons systems clearly presage intensified military tension on the Korean peninsula,” Jang said.    “And at the same time, it awakens us again and makes us sure of what we ought to do.”
    Jang’s comments came days after Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, derided the South for criticising the North for what she said were “routine defensive measures” while developing its own missiles.
    North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems, raising the stakes for talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    The negotiations, initiated between Kim Jong Un and former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018, have stalled since 2019.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/20/2021 Australian PM Departs For Quad Meeting Amid French Submarine Deal Fallout by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison adjusts his mask during a news conference he holds with French President
Emmanuel Macron in front of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday departed for Washington to meet with leaders of the Quad grouping amid criticism over his government’s decision to abandon a $40 billion submarine deal with France.
    Australia last week said it would scrap a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and would instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership.
    France has said the relationship with Australia and the United States is in “crisis” and has recalled its ambassadors from both countries.
    While Australia has moved to dampen tensions, expressing its regret over the incident, Morrison’s meeting with fellow Quad leaders British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden threatens to inflame French irritation.
    “The French are very unimpressed and the sight of Morrison, Biden and Johnson together will do little to repair ties,” said Haydon Manning, a political science professor at Flinders University in South Australia.
    Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will also attend the leaders’ meeting of the Quad group later this week.
    The Quad will discuss COVID-19, climate change and regional security, two sources familiar with the schedule told Reuters.
    “This is all about ensuring that Australia’s sovereign interests will be put first to ensure that Australians here can live peacefully with the many others in our region,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney as he boarded the plane to Washington.
    New agreements furthering cooperation between the four countries are expected, but Australia will not announce strengthened climate targets sought by the United States, one senior government source said.
    Morrison has rejected setting a target of net zero emissions by 2050 and is under pressure to do more ahead of a United Nations climate summit in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.
    Morrison is also facing growing pressure at home following the resignation of Christian Porter as minister for innovation and science after he accepted an anonymous donation to partially fund his fees when he launched defamation action against Australia’s public broadcaster.
    Morrison had sought advice on whether the donation – which stoked concerns about donor could seek outsized sway over the minister – could breach ministerial rules, but Porter on Sunday resigned.
    Morrison must return to the polls by May 2022 and a widely watched poll on Monday showed the opposition centre-left Labor party on course to win power for the first time since 2013.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/20/2021 Sydney COVID-19 Cases Fall As Curbs Ease In Virus Hotspots
FILE PHOTO: 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) -Australia’s New South Wales (NSW) state on Monday reported its lowest rise in daily COVID-19 cases in more than three weeks as some lockdown restrictions were eased in Sydney, the state capital, amid higher vaccination levels.
    NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 935 new cases had been detected in the state, the lowest daily tally since Aug. 27, and down from 1,083 on Sunday. The state reported four more deaths.
    “We’re feeling more positive than we have in a couple of weeks … but I don’t want any of us to sit back and think the worst is behind us,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney, warning of more deaths in the days ahead.
    “Because we have seen the accumulation of so many cases, we know that October is going to be very challenging for our hospital system.”
    Nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people is in lockdown after the Delta variant spread rapidly in Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, forcing officials there to abandon a COVID-zero target and shift to rapid vaccinations to ease curbs.
    As the vaccine rollout gathers speed, with 53% of NSW’s adult population fully vaccinated, some restrictions were relaxed on Monday in 12 of the worst-hit suburbs in Sydney’s west.    Time limits for outdoor exercise were lifted, while fully vaccinated people can gather outside in groups of five.
    Neighbouring Victoria state, which includes Melbourne, logged one new death and 567 new infections, its biggest daily rise this year, a day after revealing its roadmap back to freedom when vaccinations reach 70%, expected around Oct. 26.
    So far, 44% of people in the state have been fully vaccinated, below the national average of 47%.
    Meanwhile, several workers protested outside a union office in Melbourne against Victoria’s mandatory vaccination rule in the construction sector, local media reported.
    The New Zealand Breakers basketball team, which play in Australia’s National Basketball League, released guard Tai Webster on Monday after he decided not to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
    Australia has largely lived in COVID-zero for much of the pandemic, recording 1,167 deaths and some 87,000 cases.
    About 56,000 cases have been registered since mid-June when the first Delta infection was detected in Sydney.
    While NSW and Victoria bear the brunt of the Delta outbreak, most other states with little or no community transmission fear opening up too soon could overwhelm their hospital systems.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Stephen Coates and Michael Perry)

9/20/2021 EU Foreign Ministers To Discuss Submarine Dispute On Monday
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers will on Monday discuss Australia’s scrapping of a $40 billion submarine order with France, a move that has enraged Paris and cast a shadow over free trade talks between the EU and Australia.
    The meeting will take place on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York at 2200 GMT (6 p.m. local time), a spokesperson for the European Commission told reporters in Brussels.
    Australia said last week it would cancel an order for conventional submarines from France and instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-SECURITY/AUSTRALIA-FRANCE/jnpweyabzpw/USA-SECURITY-AUSTRALIA.jpg with U.S. and British technology after striking a security partnership with those countries under the name AUKUS.
    To show its displeasure, France recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington.
    It is not clear if the dispute will have implications for the next round of EU-Australia trade talks, scheduled for Oct. 12.
    “We are analysing the impact of the AUKUS announcement and what the impact would be on this schedule,” a Commission spokesperson said.
    Some officials in Brussels interpreted the U.S.-led security deal as a wake-up call and a warning not to rely too much on a complete reversal of U.S. policies after the departure of former President Donald Trump from the White House.
    “The AUKUS agreement is a case in point: It shows that there is some continuity in an ‘America First’ approach despite the change of administration in the U.S.,” an EU diplomat said.
    “The United States isn’t pulling out of Europe. However, the U.S. focus has clearly shifted to China and the Indo-Pacific region.    One of the consequences of this shift is that Europe will have to do more for its own defence.”
    Earlier, the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan had prompted fresh calls for a European rapid reaction force to reduce the bloc’s dependence on the U.S. military.
    The United States has sought to assuage the anger in France, a NATO ally.    The French government said on Sunday that     President Emmanuel Macron would have a call with U.S. President Joe Biden in the next few days.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Giles Elgood)

9/21/2021 Hong Kong’s Patriots-Only Government To Tackle Housing Woes, Lam Says by Clare Jim and Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference following
the annual policy address in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) -Solving Hong Kong’s shortage of housing and increasing land supply will be key priorities for authorities under the new, “patriots only” political system imposed by Beijing, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday.
    Lam’s remarks come after Reuters reported last week that Chinese officials have told Hong Kong’s powerful tycoons in several private meetings this year that they should pour resources and influence into backing Beijing’s interests and helping solve the city’s housing shortage.
    On Sunday, Hong Kong held its first vote since China overhauled the former British colony’s electoral system to ensure that only those loyal to Beijing run the city.
    The changes dramatically reduced the tycoons’ influence in the 1,500-strong committee that selects Hong Kong’s China-backed chief executive, although groups close to their business interests retain a presence.
    Asked about the Reuters report at her weekly news conference, Lam told reporters she could not confirm or comment on “rumours.”
    “I can only say the central government cares about social issues very much,” Lam said.
    “After improving the election system, government efficiency can increase.    Once efficiency is raised, of course it will want to solve people’s problems,” she said, namely border reopening in the near future and housing issues longer term.
    Shares of Hong Kong’s four major developers, CK Asset, Henderson Land Development, Sun Hung Kai Properties (SHKP) and New World Development, dropped between 9% and 12% on Monday, with analysts citing market worries about potential regulation curbing their growth.    The market was more stable on Tuesday.
    In a statement late on Monday, SHKP said it did not receive pressure from the central government in Beijing and that it has been cooperating with the Hong Kong government and fulfilling its “commitments” to society, including on housing.
    “SKHP has never supported the act of market monopoly,” its statement said.
    Henderson Land declined to comment.    CK Asset and New World Development did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
‘WILLING TO COOPERATE’
    Raymond Cheng, head of Hong Kong research at CGS-CIMB Securities, said investors were concerned that Beijing would ask Hong Kong to impose measures such as price caps or home purchase restrictions akin to recent rules introduced in mainland China.
    But “adopting those China housing policies in Hong Kong is unlikely,” Cheng said.
    Citi analysts said that developers’ shares were oversold on the back of the report but that “without any near-term actions to remove policy risk concerns … the sector may not see any sustainable rebounds.”
    The Reuters report made no mention of any potential regulatory intervention emerging from several meetings this year between Chinese officials and developers.
    Big property firms have long exerted outsized power in Hong Kong, helping choose its leaders, shaping government policies, and reaping the benefits of a land auction system that kept supply tight and property prices among the world’s highest.
    Beijing has partly blamed the conglomerates’ “monopolistic behaviour” for the city’s housing woes, which it believes have played a big role in stirring discontent with the government and fuel mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Lam said the main factor behind the housing shortage was land supply and that the government could use existing legislation to take back land for public housing.
    “I feel today (the developers) are very willing to cooperate with the Hong Kong government’s policies,” Lam said.    “I hope this kind of public-private-partnership to solve social issues, after perfecting the electoral system, will yield more results.”
(Writing by Marius Zaharia. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/21/2021 Philippines Supports Australia Nuclear Sub Pact To Counter China
FILE PHOTO: Filipino soldiers stand at attention near a Philippine flag at Thitu island
in disputed South China Sea April 21, 2017. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines is backing a new defence partnership between the United States, Britain and Australia, hoping it can maintain the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region, a view that contrasts sharply with some of its neighbours.
    Known as AUKUS, the alliance will see Australia get technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines as part of the agreement intended to respond to growing Chinese power.
    “The enhancement of a near-abroad ally’s ability to project power should restore and keep the balance rather than destabilise it,” Philippines foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, said in a statement on Tuesday.
    Locsin’s remarks, dated Sept. 19, differ to the stance of Indonesia and Malaysia, which sounded the alarm https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/indonesia-warns-against-arms-race-after-australian-nuclear-sub-pact-2021-09-17 about the nuclear power submarines amid a burgeoning superpower rivalry in Southeast Asia.
    Locsin said that without an actual presence of nuclear weapons, the AUKUS move would not violate a 1995 treaty to keep nuclear arms out of Southeast Asia.
    The South China Sea continues to be a source of tension, with the United States – a defence treaty partner of the Philippines – and Western allies regularly conducting “freedom of navigation” operations that China has reacted angrily to.
    China sees those as outside interference in waters it claims as its own, in conflict with other coastal states, like the Philippines and Vietnam, which have accused China of harassing fishermen and energy activities.
    A brief period of rapprochement is all but over this year, with the Philippines furious about the “threatening” presence of hundreds of Chinese “maritime militia” https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-flags-incursions-by-nearly-300-chinese-militia-boats-2021-05-12 vessels inside its exclusive economic zone.
    “Proximity breeds brevity in response time; thereby enhancing an ASEAN near friend and ally’s military capacity to respond to a threat to the region or challenge the status quo,” Locsin added, without specifying the threat.
    “This requires enhancing Australia’s ability, added to that of its main military ally, to achieve that calibration.”
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

9/21/2021 Australia PM Says No Opportunity For Meeting With French President In New York by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison hold a news
conference as they meet at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he will not speak with the French president at the United Nations this week even though French anger over cancellation of a $40 billion defence contract could threaten an Australian-EU trade deal.
    Australia last week scrapped a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership with those two countries.
    The cancellation of the deal has angered France, which accused both Australia and the United States of stabbing it in the back, and it recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.
    While U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to speak to French President Emmanuel Macron to ease tension, Morrison said he would not hold a separate bilateral meeting with the French leader.
    “There is not an opportunity for that at this time.    I’m sure that opportunity will come in time,” Morrison told reporters in New York when asked if he would speak to Macron on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
    European Union countries expressed solidarity with France on Monday in a show of unity seen as threatening Australia’s bid for a free trade deal with the bloc.
    Australia and the EU are set to hold the next round of talks on a trade deal on Oct 12.
    Australian Minister for Trade Dan Tehan on Monday said he expected those talks to go ahead as scheduled despite the French disappointment.
    Morrison will meet Biden and European leaders on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York before travelling to Washington for a meeting of the Quad group of countries – India, Japan, the United States and Australia – later this week.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/21/2021 Cricket-‘Western Bloc’ Has Let Pakistan Down, Board Chief Says
FILE PHOTO: Cricket - MCC World Cricket committee Press Conference - London, Britain - July 4, 2017 Ramiz Raja
during the MCC World Cricket committee press conference Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan have been let down by the “Western bloc” and the back-to-back pullouts by New Zealand and England could have a “domino effect” for cricket in the South Asian country, Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) chairman Ramiz Raja said.
    England on Monday cancelled their men’s and women’s teams tour of Pakistan next month citing “mental and physical well-being” of the players.
    It followed New Zealand’s abrupt abandonment of their tour minutes before the opening fixture in Rawalpindi on Friday following a security alert from their government.
    “I am very disappointed by England’s withdrawal but it was expected because this Western bloc gets united unfortunately and tries to back each other,” Raja, who took over as PCB chief earlier this month, said in a video shared by the PCB.
    “You can take any decision on the basis of security threat and perception."
    “But there’s a lesson for us.    We go out of our way to accommodate and pamper these sides when they visit…from now on, we’ll tour only when it serves our interest.”
    The former Pakistan captain said there was a sense of anger in his country as New Zealand refused to share the exact threat, which necessitated a step that has far-reaching consequences for the hosts.
    “It can have a domino effect.    It can hit the tour by West Indies, and Australia are already reconsidering their tour next year,” Raja said.
    “England, Australia, New Zealand – they are part of one bloc.    Who can we complain to? We thought they were our own but they haven’t accepted us as theirs.”
    According to media reports, the PCB is facing a loss that could be anything between $15-25 million after the twin pullouts but Raja said he was determined to claim compensation from New Zealand Cricket.
    Pakistan could have hosted Zimbabwe and a second-string Bangladesh team to fill the void but the PCB would not resort to such “desperation,” he said.
    Pakistan would have been treated better had PCB had more financial clout, the 59-year-old said.
    “We have to improve and expand our cricket economy so that these countries remain interested in playing us,” he said.
    “They come to the Pakistan Super League where they don’t get spooked or fatigued but collectively they have a different mindset together toward Pakistan.”
(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Sam Holmes)

9/21/2021 Australian Documents Showed French Submarine Project Was At Risk For Years by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: (File Photo) A Rivercat ferry passes by the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class submarine HMAS Waller
as it leaves Sydney Harbour on May 4, 2020. The Australian government has considered extending the life
of the Collins class as it examines the fate of its next-generation sub program./File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - France should not have been surprised that Australia cancelled a submarine contract, as major concerns about delays, cost overruns and suitability had been aired officially and publicly for years, Australian politicians said.
    Paris has recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, saying it was blindsided by Canberra’s decision to build nuclear-powered submarines with the United States and Britain rather than stick with its contract for French diesel submarines.
    Yet as early as September 2018, an independent oversight board led by a former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter had advised Australia to look at alternatives, and questioned whether the project was in the national interest, a 2020 public report from the country’s Auditor-General shows.
    Australian parliamentary hearings and reports on the project, first priced at $40 billion and more recently at $60 billion, even before construction had begun, also showed problems emerging.    In June the defence secretary told parliament “contingency planning” for the programme was under way.
    “They would have to have their eyes shut not to realise the danger they were facing,” said Rex Patrick, an independent senator for South Australia, referring to France.
    Government ministers said this week Canberra had been “up front” with Paris about the problems.
    A French lawmaker also raised questions in parliament in June about Australian concerns over delays, and whether Australia might be considering submarine alternatives, French parliamentary records show.
    “We chose not to go through a gate in a contract,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters when he arrived in New York on Monday.    “The contract was set up that way, and we chose not to go through it because we believed to do so would ultimately not be in Australia’s interests.”
    French officials deny that the contract had been plagued with problems for years, saying that at each stage difficulties had been resolved and that they had expected that the contract for the detailed design phase would be signed in September.
    France’s Armed Forces Ministry spokesman Herve Grandjean made that point clear on Tuesday.
    “On the same day as the #AUKUS announcement, the Australians wrote to France to say that they were satisfied with the submarine’s achievable performance and with the progress of the program.    In short: forward to launching the next phase of the contract,” he said on Twitter.
    The Australian and French defence and foreign ministers had “underlined the importance” of the deal, according to a joint statement on Aug. 30.
    French officials have not disputed that there were difficulties, like with any big contract, but say there was 18 months of “subterfuge” and “trickery” by Australian authorities who concealed the rival deal with Britain and the United States.
    They said that at no point did Canberra suggest to Paris to offer an alternative programme with nuclear propulsion despite French officials bringing the subject over the past few months.
    An official from the French Embassy in Canberra said an intergovernmental agreement should have allowed for confidential discussions between ministers about changes to political or strategic circumstances.
    “No warning, no proposals for discussion were offered,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
OFF-RAMPS AND GATES
    The deal was first announced in 2016. A pre-design review was delayed in 2018 because the “work provided to Defence by Naval Group did not meet Defence’s requirements,” the Australian audit said, citing lack of design detail, operational requirements and 63 studies not completed.
    The contract between Australia and Naval Group, majority owned by the French government, was signed 16 months late in February 2019.
    It included contractual off-ramps in which Australia could pay to exit the project, and established “control gates” whereby Naval Group must meet criteria before progressing to the next phase.    The defence department considered these “hold points” for assessing the project’s risk, the Auditor-General said.
    In September 2019, with A$446 million ($325 million) already spent in France, the defence department told the auditor it had examined extending the life of Australia’s Collins-class submarine fleet “and the time this would allow to develop a new acquisition strategy.”
    The 2020 Auditor-General’s report examining the submarine deal – the Department of Defence’s biggest ever – found the department had been “frank and timely” in communicating concerns with Naval Group.
    Naval Group said in a statement to Reuters that it was aware of public discussion, but that official declarations were supportive of the submarine programme.    It said Morrison was “very clear that the decision was not a result of difficulties with the Future Submarine Program or Naval Group.”
    “Naval Group delivered on its commitments to the Commonwealth of Australia as acknowledged by the letter for termination ‘for convenience’ we received,” the statement said.
REVIEW PANEL
    According to the Auditor-General’s report, the most recent major milestone in the French contract – a preliminary design review – was in January 2021.
    An industry source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters that Naval Group Australia provided material to Defence in “late January or February,” but that Australia did not consider it to meet requirements.
    Morrison’s office created a panel in January to advise an inner circle of his Cabinet on how to proceed with the programme, contract notices and parliament records show.
    In June, senators, including Patrick, asked panel chairman William Hilarides, a former vice admiral in the U.S. Navy, if it had advised the government to cancel the French contract.
    Hilarides, who had overseen ship and submarine construction for the U.S. Navy, said the panel’s advice was confidential.
    The former head of BAE Systems Submarines, Murray Easton, who had turned around a delayed British nuclear submarine programme, joined the panel in February, contract notices show.
    It met by videoconference 10 times by June, including confidential briefings for its U.S. members at the Australian embassy in Washington, the parliament was told.
    Easton and Hilarides did not respond to requests for comment.
($1 = 1.3755 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Alison Williams)

9/21/2021 Taliban Expand Economic Team As Afghan Crisis Deepens
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan money exchange dealer carries bundles of banknotes at an exchange market, following banks and
markets reopening after the Taliban took over in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 4, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban government bolstered its economic team on Tuesday, naming a commerce minister and two deputies as the group tries to revive a financial system in shock from the abrupt end to billions of dollars in foreign aid.
    Nooruddin Azizi, a businessman from Panjshir province north of Kabul, was named as acting minister of commerce and industry and would start work immediately, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told a news conference.
    Azizi joins the acting finance minister and minister for economic affairs, both of whom were announced previously, in a team facing a daunting task.
    Exacerbated by a drought that threatens to leave millions of people hungry, the economic crisis is among the biggest challenges facing the Taliban 20 years after they were driven from power by a U.S.-led campaign in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
    “We are working day and night on this and on making sure that the economic issue is resolved as soon as possible,” Mujahid told reporters.
    He did not give concrete proposals as to how this could be achieved, but did promise that government workers who have been unpaid since at least July would start receiving salaries soon.
    Underlining the economic pressures building on Afghanistan’s new government, prices for staples like flour, fuel and rice have risen and long queues are still forming outside banks as they strictly ration withdrawals.
    Some humanitarian aid has started to arrive and limited trade has returned across land borders with Pakistan, but a severe cash shortage is crippling day-to-day economic activity and decades of war have left much infrastructure in tatters.
    Foreign aid payments, which accounted for 40% of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product, have all but stopped as the West considers how to deal with a group that, until August, led a deadly insurgency against the U.S.-backed government.
    Amruddin, a former member of the provincial council in the northern city of Kunduz, said farmers caught up in the war during the harvest season and the dire state of some of the country’s roads meant much of the produce had gone to waste.
    “Kunduz is known as the bread basket of Afghanistan, but the economic situation, especially the agriculture situation in Kunduz, is miserable,” he said.    “Farmers could not get products like melon and grapes to Kabul due to all the problems.”
BUSINESS DOWN
    In the cities, normally bustling commercial areas are unusually quiet, and impromptu markets have sprung up where people try to sell their household goods to raise cash.
    Even before the Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, 47% of the population lived in poverty, according to the Asian Development Bank, and a third survived on the equivalent of $1.90 a day.
    While many people welcomed the end to 20 years of fighting between the Taliban and ousted Afghan forces supported by foreign troops, the economic crisis is causing the new government increasing concern.
    Afghanistan’s central bank has been blocked from accessing more than $9 billion in foreign reserves held outside the country, and Mujahid said millions of dollars belonging to the state had disappeared before the Taliban entered the capital.
    He said officials were making efforts to find out what happened to the missing cash that he said had been taken out of banks before the government of President Ashraf Ghani collapsed.
    Banks are limiting withdrawals to $200 or 20,000 afghani a week for private citizens and many people say they cannot even access that.    Potentially more serious in the longer term is the lack of work.
    “Unfortunately, there are no job opportunities for us,” said one Kabul resident, who declined to give his name.    He said he earned 1,000-1,500 afghani a day before the Taliban arrived but now had nothing.
(Writing by James Mackenzie)

9/21/2021 Taliban Appoint Hardline Battlefield Commanders To Key Afghan Posts
FILE PHOTO: A Taliban soldier walks on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan,
September 17, 2021. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers announced several senior appointments on Tuesday, naming two veteran battlefield commanders from the movement’s southern heartlands as deputies in important ministries.
    Main Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir will be deputy defence minister, while Sadr Ibrahim was named deputy minister for the interior. Both men had been expected to take major positions in the new government but neither was named in the main list of ministers announced this month.
    The two were identified in U.N. reports as being among battlefield commanders loyal to the former Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour who were pressing the leadership to step up the war against the Western-backed government.
    The appointments add to the roster of hardliners in the main group of ministers, which included figures like Sirajuddin Haqqani, head of the militant Haqqani network, blamed for a string of attacks on civilian targets.
    But the appointments also appear to reflect concern within the Taliban to secure unity by balancing the regional and personal differences that have surfaced as the movement transitions from a wartime guerrilla force to a peacetime administration.
    According to a U.N. Security Council report from June, both Zakir and Sadr commanded significant forces of their own, called mahaz, that traditionally operated across several provinces.
    They were considered so powerful and independent that there were concerns within the leadership that this could stoke tension over the loyalties of certain groups, particularly in the south and southwest of the country.
    Zakir, a former detainee in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, was a close associate of late Taliban founder Mullah Omar.    He was captured when U.S.-led forces swept through in Afghanistan in 2001 and was incarcerated in Guantanamo until 2007, according to media reports.
    He was released and handed over to the Afghan government and was widely tipped to become defence minister in the new government before Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, was appointed to the post.
    Sadr, a former head of the Taliban military commission from the southern province of Helmand, will be deputy to Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose family comes from the eastern borderlands with Pakistan.
(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and James Mackenzie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

9/22/2021 Australia Says Trade Pact Would Benefit EU In Indo-Pacific Amid Submarine Deal Fallout by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: (File Photo) A Rivercat ferry passes by the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class submarine HMAS Waller
as it leaves Sydney Harbour on May 4, 2020. The Australian government has considered extending
the life of the Collins class as it examines the fate of its next-generation sub program.
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – An Australian-EU trade deal would be mutually beneficial and allow EU members a greater presence in the Indo-Pacific, said Australia’s trade minister, as Canberra tries to repair ties with Paris after the scrapping of a $40 billion submarine deal.
    Australia last week cancelled a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology after striking a trilateral security partnership with those two countries.
    The cancellation has angered France, which accused both Australia and the United States of stabbing it in the back, and it recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.
    In solidarity with France, EU lawmakers have publicly questioned whether a trade deal with Australia could be possible.
    Australia’s Minister for Trade Dan Tehan on Wednesday urged the EU to progress ahead with a trade deal.
    “The Australia-EU FTA is in the best interests of all parties,” Tehan said in a speech in Canberra.
    “The EU will use it as a way to strengthen its engagement with the Indo-Pacific because they realise that the region carries the economic weight of the world.”
    Australia and the EU are set to hold the next round of talks on a trade deal on Oct 12.
    Australia expects those talks to go ahead, though the depth of anger was on stark display in New York at the United Nations when a senior EU lawmaker dispelled with normal pleasantries when speaking to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday.
    “For us transparency and loyalty are fundamental principles in order to build stronger partnerships and stronger alliances,” European Council President Charles Michel told Morrison in a bilateral meeting in New York on Tuesday.
    Morrison is in the United States to attend the quadrilateral security dialogue, made up of India, Japan, the United States and Australia – which convenes later this week.
    He met with U.S. President Joe Biden in New York but Morrison said he would not be able to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/22/2021 Exclusive-Taliban Names Afghan U.N. Envoy, Asks To Speak To World Leaders by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen leaves after a news conference
in Moscow, Russia July 9, 2021. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The Taliban have asked to address world leaders at the United Nations in New York this week and nominated their Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
    Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi made the request in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday.    Muttaqi asked to speak during the annual high-level meeting of the General Assembly, which finishes on Monday.
    Guterres’ spokesperson, Farhan Haq, confirmed Muttaqi’s letter.    The move sets up a showdown with Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. ambassador in New York representing Afghanistan’s government ousted last month by the Taliban.
    Haq said the rival requests for Afghanistan’s U.N. seat had been sent to a nine-member credentials committee, whose members include the United States, China and Russia.    The committee is unlikely to meet on the issue before Monday, so it is doubtful that the Taliban foreign minister will address the world body.
    Eventual U.N. acceptance of the ambassador of the Taliban would be an important step in the hardline Islamist group’s bid for international recognition, which could help unlock badly needed funds for the cash-strapped Afghan economy.
    Guterres has said that the Taliban’s desire for international recognition is the only leverage other countries have to press for inclusive government and respect for rights, particularly for women, in Afghanistan.
    The Taliban letter said Isaczai’s mission “is considered over and that he no longer represents Afghanistan,” said Haq.
    Until a decision is made by the credentials committee Isaczai will remain in the seat, according to the General Assembly rules.    He is currently scheduled to address the final day of the meeting on Sept. 27, but it was not immediately clear if any countries might object in the wake of the Taliban letter.
    The committee traditionally meets in October or November to assess the credentials of all U.N. members before submitting a report for General Assembly approval before the end of the year. The committee and General Assembly usually operate by consensus on credentials, diplomats said.
    Others members of the committee are the Bahamas, Bhutan, Chile, Namibia, Sierra Leone and Sweden.
    When the Taliban last ruled between 1996 and 2001 the ambassador of the Afghan government they toppled remained the U.N. representative after the credentials committee deferred its decision on rival claims to the seat.
    The decision was postponed “on the understanding that the current representatives of Afghanistan accredited to the United Nations would continue to participate in the work of the General Assembly,” according to the committee report.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)

9/22/2021 In Climate Pledge, Xi Says China Will Not Build New Coal-Fired Power Projects Abroad by Valerie Volcovici, David Brunnstrom and Michelle Nichols
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
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping said on Tuesday that China would not build new coal-fired power projects abroad, using his address at the United Nations General Assembly to add to pledges to deal with climate change.
    Xi provided no details, but depending on how the policy is implemented, the move could significantly limit the financing of coal plants in the developing world.
    China has been under heavy diplomatic pressure to put an end to its coal financing overseas because it could make it easier for the world to stay on course to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
    Xi’s announcement followed similar moves by South Korea and Japan earlier this year, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry have urged China to follow the lead of its Asian counterparts.
    “China will step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy, and will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad,” Xi said in his pre-recorded video address at the annual U.N. gathering, in which he stressed China’s peaceful intentions in international relations.
    Kerry quickly welcomed Xi’s announcement, calling it a “great contribution” and a good beginning to efforts needed to achieve success at the Oct. 31-Nov. 12 COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
    “We’ve been talking to China for quite some period of time about this. And I’m absolutely delighted to hear that President Xi has made this important decision,” Kerry said in a statement.
    Alok Sharma, the head of COP26, also hailed the announcement.
    “It is clear the writing is on the wall for coal power.    I welcome President Xi’s commitment to stop building new coal projects abroad – a key topic of my discussions during my visit to China,” he said on Twitter.
    Xi spoke after U.S. President Joe Biden gave his first United Nations address.    Biden mapped out a new era of vigorous competition without a new Cold War despite China’s ascendance.
    In a measured speech, Xi made no direct mention of China’s often bitter rivalry with the United States, where the Biden administration has made policies on climate change mitigation a top priority and sought to cooperate with Beijing.
    Xi repeated pledges from last year that China would achieve a peak in carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and carbon neutrality before 2060.
    Some experts have criticized those targets as not ambitious enough, though it allowed Beijing to claim moral high ground on the issue after then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who had called climate change a “hoax,” had withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement.
    China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, is still heavily reliant on coal for it’s domestic energy needs.
    One of Biden’s first moves after assuming office in January was to reassert U.S. leadership on climate change and return the United States to the Paris agreement.
    China was the last man standing.    If there’s no public finance of coal from China, there’s little to no global coal expansion,” Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project, a group advocating for a global transition from coal and fossil fuels, said of Xi’s promise.
    Guterres welcomed both Xi’s move on coal and Biden’s pledge to work with the U.S. Congress to double funds by 2024 to $11.4 billion per year to help developing nations deal with climate change.
    “Accelerating the global phase out of coal is the single most important step to keep the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement within reach," he said in a statement.
‘BREATHE FREE’
    Hours earlier, without mentioning China by name, Biden said democracy would not be defeated by authoritarianism.
    “The future will belong to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron hand,” Biden said.
    “We all must call out and condemn the targeting and oppression of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, whether it occurs in Xinjiang or northern Ethiopia, or anywhere in the world,” he said, referring to the western Chinese region where authorities have created a network of internment camps for Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.    China denies allegations of abuses in Xinjiang.
    Ties between the world’s two biggest economies have been languishing at their lowest point in decades over issues ranging from human rights to transparency over the origins of COVID-19.
    Xi said there was a need to “reject the practice of forming small circles or zero-sum games,” a possible reference to the U.S.-led Quad forum of Australia, India, Japan and the United States seen as a means of pushing back against     China’s rise, which is due to meet at leader level in Washington on Friday.
China last week warned of an intensified arms race in the region after the United States, Britain and Australia announced a new Indo-Pacific security alliance, dubbed AUKUS, which will provide Australia with the technology and capability to deploy nuclear-powered submarines.
    Biden’s image has taken a battering over the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he has said the end to America’s longest war will allow the United States to refocus resources and attention to the Indo-Pacific.
    “Military intervention from the outside and so-called democratic transformation entail nothing but harm,” Xi said, in an apparent swipe at the United States.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici, David Brunnstrom, Michael Martina and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

9/22/2021 Locked-Down Melbourne Tightens Security For COVID-19 Protests 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) - Police fanned out across the centre of Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne on Wednesday in a bid to keep a lid on a third day of protests over COVID-19 lockdown curbs, as the state of Victoria recorded another rise in infections.
    Police made more than 60 arrests on Tuesday after more than 2,000 protesters damaged property, blocked a busy freeway and injured three police after authorities shut construction sites for two weeks to limit the spread of the disease.
    Protesters again gathered in groups roaming across city streets on Wednesday despite pleas for them to remain home, but largely avoided clashes with busloads of police, while state police chief Shane Patton vowed to prevent more violence.
    “I’m not going to talk about the tactics we’ll deploy today,” Patton told media in Melbourne.    “I want them to be completely unaware of what we’re going to do and what capacity they may face.”
    By early afternoon, television footage showed several hundred protesters had gathered at the Shrine of Remembrance, a memorial near the city centre honouring service in war, under the watch of police.
    “There has been a couple of arrests,” Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent told radio station 3AW.
    The protests followed a decision by authorities to make vaccines mandatory for construction workers and to enforce the closure of building sites from Tuesday, citing non-compliance with health rules.
    Authorities and union officials have said extremist and far-right groups had joined the protest.
    “There were some people there who you would say were from the building industry.    There were others who were not … they are not there to protest, they are there for a fight, pretend to be protesting,” said the state’s premier, Daniel Andrews.
    Protesters have refused to speak to reporters on the scene, chanting “fake news” when approached, media said.
RE-OPENING PLANS
    Australia’s largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne, as well as its capital, Canberra, have been in lockdown for weeks to contain a Delta outbreak.
    It is the sixth lockdown for Melbourne, the most of any Australian city since the pandemic began.
    Authorities aim to resume daily activities in Sydney and Melbourne in a staggered fashion, easing some curbs when the share of fully vaccinated adults in the population reaches 70%, which is expected next month.
    Further relaxations will follow when the figure hits 80%.
    Some 54% of people aged 16 and above are fully vaccinated in the most populous state of New South Wales and 45% in Victoria.
    Despite the easing talk, Sydney cancelled plans for a traditional 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve fireworks display for a second year in a row, but will probably stick with plans for a separate midnight display.
    A city spokesperson said authorities aimed to limit the “mixing of crowds” between the two.
    Victoria recorded 628 new infections on Wednesday, the year’s biggest one-day rise, exceeding the previous high of 603 a day before.    New South Wales, whose capital is Sydney, had a total of 1,035 new infections, up from 1,022 on Tuesday.
    Australia’s tally of infections stands at about 90,300, including 1,186 deaths, with eight new deaths reported.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Richard Pullin)

9/22/2021 Thailand To Accelerate Vaccinations, Stimulus Measures – PM
FILE PHOTO: A view of Bangkok's port along Chao Phraya River is photographed during
sunset in Bangkok, Thailand, June 2, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand will speed up vaccinations and introduce urgent stimulus measures to mitigate the impact of the country’s biggest coronavirus outbreak to date, the country’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
    The government will try its best to tackle the outbreak and expects the situation to return to normal quickly, Prayuth Chan-ocha told a conference hosted by the state planning agency.
(Reporting by Orathai Sriring, Satawasin Staporncharnchai; Editing by Ed Davies)

9/22/2021 Thai Monks Bring Grocery Store To The Poor As Pandemic Hits Incomes by Jiraporn Kuhakan
Buddhist monks from Wat Siriphong Thamma Nimit temple wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) donate food and other
necessities to vulnerable people whose livelihoods have been hit hard by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the
outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand, September 18, 2021. Picture taken September 18, 2021. REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – A group of Thai monks and volunteers wearing protective clothing carefully navigate the bumpy roads of a Bangkok suburb in a golf cart, towing a trailer loaded with fresh vegetables.
    “Groceries are here!    Groceries are here!” a monk announces through a loudspeaker.
    Their mission is to donate food and necessities to vulnerable people hard hit by the pandemic.
    Monk Pornchai Kabmalee, 28, came up with the idea a few months ago when he saw hardship in a community near his temple, Wat Siriphong Thamma Nimit.
    “I can say our truck basically has everything that a supermarket has,” he said.
    “I feel scared (of the virus) just like other human beings, but to me, I’m more scared of not being able to help others.”
    The truck goes out on Sundays, making multiple trips and reaching hundreds, potentially thousands of people each month, Pornchai said.
    As the truck arrives, residents start to gather, each allowed to pick five sacks of produce, such as tomatoes, pumpkins, garlic and chillies, along with other goods like soap, rice and eggs.
    “This food will make me feel less hungry for a couple of days,” said Montri Boontheab, who drove a bus for Chinese visitors before the coronavirus put the brakes on tourism.
    “I have been unemployed for a year and I don’t see my future yet.”
    Thailand has recorded more than 1.5 million COVID-19 infections and 15,600 deaths, 99% of those since April, putting a big strain on its economy.
    The produce costs at least 50,000 baht ($1,498) per week, which the monks’ say initially came from their own pockets.    But as word of mouth spreads, more donations are coming.
    Pornchai is not sure how much longer the temple will provide the service, but is looking forward to the day when it will no longer be necessary.
    “When people are able to smile again, that’s when I’ll know that the mission has been accomplished,” he said.
(Editing by Martin Petty and Philippa Fletcher)

9/22/2021 Overseas Uyghurs Struggle To Locate Relatives In Xinjiang Prisons by Cate Cadell
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) listens as Rushan Abbas, Executive Director of Campaign for Uyghurs, testifies during the
Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's
Issues/Subcommittee on East Asia, The Pacific, And International Cybersecurity Policy joint hearing "Atrocities in Xinjiang:
Where Do We Go From Here?" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 10, 2021. Murat's mother Gulshan Abbas was sentenced
for crimes of terrorism and "disrupting social order", according to China's Foreign Ministry. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    URUMQI, China (Reuters) – When Ziba Murat last saw her mother, retired Uyghur doctor Gulshan Abbas, at Ronald Reagan Washington National airport in 2016, she begged her not to return to Xinjiang, where reports were emerging about the detention of ethnic minorities.
    “My heart started to beat so fast.    I told her not to go,” said Murat.    “We had already started to hear about the camps being built, but she thought she was safe.”
    Shortly after returning home, Abbas told her daughter that her passport was confiscated, without providing details.    Murat said their daily video calls became tense, and at times, Abbas would shake her head and cry for no apparent reason.
    “I feel so guilty, I think she was trying to send me messages,” said Murat in a phone interview with Reuters.
    Murat said she last spoke to her mother on September 10, 2018. The day after, Abbas stopped picking up her phone.
    Abbas disappeared six days after her sister, Rushan Abbas, a high profile U.S-based Uyghur activist, spoke on a public panel at the Hudson Institute, a Washington think tank, about the unfolding internment campaign in Xinjiang.    Murat and Rushan Abbas believe the events are linked, which Reuters was unable to independently confirm.
    Rights groups and U.N. experts estimate more than one million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities were interned in a network of camps since 2016.    China described the camps as vocational training centres to combat religious extremism and says they were closed in late 2019.
    Murat is one of eight Uyghur people who told Reuters they have spent years searching for information on relatives who were detained and have since been charged and imprisoned in Xinjiang.
    At media conferences in Beijing this year, spokesmen for the Xinjiang government have repeatedly said China will help Uyghurs living abroad who are unable to contact their relatives, urging them to reach out to Chinese embassies and consulates for assistance.
    Almost five years after the internment campaign began, relatives interviewed by Reuters say such requests have fallen on deaf ears.    Reuters was unable to independently confirm all aspects of their accounts.
    “If all we have to do is call the consulate then pick up the phone when we call,” said Murat.    She shared with Reuters a copy of a letter she sent to the Chinese embassy in Washington on August 5, 2020, appealing for information on her mother’s whereabouts that she says went unanswered.
    The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
    China denies it has hampered efforts by relatives to find information on detained relatives.
    “Some of these Xinjiang natives abroad are bewitched or coerced … and deliberately made up lies about these so-called lost contacts,” Xinjiang government spokesman Zulhayat Ismayil told a media conference in Beijing in February.
    China’s foreign ministry declined to comment on its policies on communicating with overseas relatives of people detained in China, and referred Reuters to Xinjiang authorities.
    The Xinjiang government and its spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment.
    China hasn’t released figures on the number of those sentenced to prison for terrorism or crimes of inciting ethnic hatred – common charges linked to the anti-extremism campaign – since the campaign began in 2016, or the number of people detained in the camps.
    Of the eight relatives of detained Uyghurs Reuters spoke to, six were based in the United States, all of whom said appeals to the Chinese embassy in Washington went unanswered.
    For five of the six detained people, relatives said they have received no official information at all on the location of their loved ones or the length of their prison terms.
    There is no publicly available documentation on the trials or sentencing of any of the detained people on China’s judicial websites, according to the relatives and Reuters’ checks.
UNKNOWN WHEREABOUTS
    Murat says the only official confirmation of her mother’s arrest is a one-line statement made by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official at a 2020 media conference in Beijing, who said Abbas had been sentenced on crimes of terrorism and “disrupting social order.”
    Murat said they had earlier received credible information from a non-official source whom she declined to identify that Abbas had been sentenced to 20 years.    China has not publicly confirmed the sentence length and China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not respond to requests on the sentence length.
    When Reuters visited the former family home still owned by her mother in Urumqi in May, the door was still sealed shut with police tape that bore the name of a police bureau in Artux, a region near the Kazakh border over 1,000 km (600 miles) from Urumqi.
    “Report to the community office if you ever return,” read a notice on the door.
    Reuters was unable to contact the police bureau in Artux or the community authority in charge of the building, and questions to the Xinjiang government and ministry of foreign affairs about the notice were not answered.
    Rayhan Asat, whose brother Ekpar Asat was detained in 2016, said it took four years for her family to receive information from an official source confirming her brother was detained in Aksu, around 670 km (400 miles) from Urumqi.
    “We did everything we could, reached every police station, every state organ to try and find out what happened,” said U.S.-based Asat, whose parents still live in Urumqi.
    “We were so confused.    Why would he be in Aksu?    …I think it is a desire to further uproot people and break their spirit,” she said.
    Rayhan Asat and her family only learned that Ekpar was sentenced to 15 years for “inciting ethnic hatred and ethnic discrimination” in January 2020 when Chinese officials responded to an enquiry from a U.S. senator, Asat said.
    This year, for the first time, her parents were permitted three video calls between three and 10 minutes long with their son, calling from a Chinese police station, said Rayhan Asat.    Prison officials told the parents Ekpar has been in solitary confinement since January 2019 for undisclosed reasons, she said.
    Ekpar was arrested within weeks of returning from the United States where he had undertaken the U.S. State Department sponsored International Visitor Leadership program.
    Rayhan Asat, a Harvard-trained lawyer, said multiple efforts to correspond with the Chinese embassy in Washington have been fruitless.    In 2020, she sent a copy of an open letter appealing for Ekpar’s release, signed by 70 student organisations at Harvard University.
    “They opened it, put it in a new FedEx package and sent it back to me,” she said.    The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
    Some relatives say China’s public attempts to discredit Uyghur claims of rights abuses have become a key way to learn more about their relatives detained in Xinjiang.
    Officials have released dozens of videos this year including footage of jailed Uyghurs reciting pro-government statements and clips of family members criticising their Uyghur relatives abroad or pleading with them to return to China.
    Murat said seeing her mother in such a video would be painful, but still welcome.
    “I’m sure I’d be heartbroken but at least she’s alive, then we’d have hope. At this point, I just want to know she’s alive.”
(Reporting by Cate Cadell; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

9/22/2021 Taiwan Applies To Join Pacific Trade Pact Week After China
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan has formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the government said on Wednesday, less than a week after China said it too had submitted an application.
    Taiwan has been angling to join the grouping for a while and had already been discussing the issue informally with the bloc’s existing members.
    Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng said they had informed the CPTPP’s members of their decision to apply to seek their support, and that Premier Su Tseng-chang had asked ministries to make preparations for talks.
    “Applying to join the CPTPP is an important economic and trade policy that the government has worked hard to promote for a long time,” Lo said in a statement.
    More details will be given on Thursday following a weekly Cabinet meeting, he added.
    Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua last week expressed concern about China’s “sudden” decision to apply to join CPTPP, and said she hoped it did not affect the island’s own application.
    The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence.
    But the TPP was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the pact.
EXCLUDED
    The grouping, which was renamed the CPTPP, currently links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
    Britain is also keen to join https://www.reuters.com/world/uk/first-meeting-uks-cptpp-inclusion-be-held-month-japan-minister-says-2021-09-01 the trans-Pacific trade deal and in June began negotiations.
    Taiwan is excluded from many international bodies because of China’s insistence that it is part of “one-China” rather than a separate country. China views Taiwan as its own territory.
    But Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping.
    Taiwan has been heartened by recent progress towards trade agreements with the United States and the European Union, which are both frustrated with China’s lack of progress in opening its economy and are keen to show their support for     Taiwan’s democracy and much freer market policies.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

9/23/2021 Australia Says Will Be Patient On Rebuilding Ties With France
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison adjusts his mask during a news conference he holds with French
President Emmanuel Macron in front of the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he has tried to arrange a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron but has been unsuccessful so far, a week after his cancellation of a major submarine deal sparked a diplomatic row with Paris.
    Morrison, speaking in Washington on Wednesday, said he would be patient in rebuilding ties with France.     Paris has recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, saying it was blindsided by Australia’s decision to build nuclear-powered submarines with the United States and Britain rather than stick with its contract for French diesel submarines.
    Macron and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by telephone on Wednesday to smooth relations, and France said its ambassador would return to Washington next week.
    However Morrison, who is in the United States for a series of meetings this week, said he had tried to arrange his own call with the French President but had not yet been successful.
    “Yes, we have.    And the opportunity for that call is not yet.    But we’ll be patient,” Morrison said after meeting U.S. lawmakers to discuss the submarine deal and a new security alliance with the United States and Britain dubbed AUKUS.
    Morrison said he understood France’s disappointment and noted the cancellation of the submarine contract, initially valued at $40 billion and more recently at $60 billion, meant the issues were different to those between Washington and Paris, and they would take more time to work through.
    “I look forward and when the time is right and when the opportunity presents that we will have a similar discussion,” he said.
    Morrison said both the deal for Australia to establish a nuclear-powered submarine fleet and the new Australia, UK, U.S. tripartite security alliance (AUKUS) had received bipartisan support during his meetings with U.S. lawmakers and officials.
(Reporting by John Mair; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/23/2021 New Zealand’s Ardern Says Lockdowns Can End With High Vaccine Uptake
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses supporters at a Labour Party
event in Wellington, New Zealand, October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Praveen Menon/
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.
    New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.
    With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.
    “If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.
    The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.
    After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.
    Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.
    The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

9/24/2021 Taiwan Blasts ‘Arch Criminal’ China For Pacific Trade Pact Threats
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China is an “arch criminal” intent on bullying Taiwan and has no right to oppose or comment on its bid to join a pan-Pacific trade pact, Taiwan’s government said in an escalating war of words over Taipei and Beijing’s decision to apply.
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan said on Wednesday it had formally applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), less than a week after China submitted its application.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said it opposed Taiwan “entering into any official treaty or organisation,” and on Thursday Taiwan said China sent 24 military aircraft into the island’s air defence zone, part of what Taipei says is an almost daily pattern of harassment.
    In a statement late on Thursday, Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said China had “no right to speak” about Taiwan’s bid.
    “The Chinese government only wants to bully Taiwan in the international community, and is the arch criminal in increased hostility across the Taiwan Strait,” it said.
    China is not a member of the CPTPP and its trade system has been widely questioned globally for not meeting the high standards of the bloc, the ministry added.
    China sent its air force to menace Taiwan shortly after the application announcement, it said.
    “This pattern of behaviour could only come from China,” it said.
    In a statement also issued late Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said China’s entry into the CPTPP would benefit the post-pandemic global economic recovery.
    China opposes Taiwan using trade to push its “international space” or engage in independence activities, it added.
    “We hope relevant countries appropriately handle Taiwan related matters and not give convenience or provide a platform for Taiwan independence activities,” it said.
    The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence.
    But the TPP was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States.
    The grouping, which was renamed the CPTPP, links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates)

9/24/2021 Australia Hits Vaccine Milestone As Melbourne Cases Hover Near Record Levels by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker walks down stairs at the Kings Park townhouse complex locked down in response to an
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Melbourne, Australia, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -More than half of Australia’s adult population were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of Friday, authorities said, as they step up inoculations in hopes of easing restrictions while cases linger near daily record levels in Victoria.
    Australia is grappling with a third wave of infections from the highly infectious Delta variant that has led to lockdowns in its two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital, Canberra, affecting nearly half the country’s 25 million people.
    These tough curbs and a decision to shut construction sites for two weeks over the rapid spread of the virus among workers triggered anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, for three straight days.
    Police made some arrests in Melbourne on Friday, local media reported, as they look to prevent more protests.
    As most of Australia’s southeast remains under strict stay-at-home restrictions, virus-free Western Australia is gearing up to host the Australian Rules Football Grand Final for the first time, in front of 60,000 fans at Perth Stadium on Saturday.
    Melbourne, which had hosted every Grand Final since 1898, was the sport’s spiritual home until the pandemic forced a shift to Brisbane last year.
    Victoria on Friday reported one new death and 733 new infections, its second biggest daily rise in the pandemic, down from the record high of 766 on Thursday.    Most cases were detected in Melbourne.
    Both New South Wales (NSW) and Victorian leaders have pledged more freedom to residents once full vaccinations in people older than 16 reach 70%, expected next month.    So far, 57% have been fully vaccinated in NSW, above the national average of 50.1%.    Two million doses were administered in country in the last seven days.
    Daily cases may have stabilised in NSW, the epicentre of the country’s worst outbreak, as it reported 1,043 new infections, down from 1,063 on Thursday.
    “We are seeing pleasing declines … hopefully we will see numbers decrease in coming days and weeks,” state Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said during a media briefing in Sydney.
    But officials flagged any easing of curbs in NSW would be done “cautiously and moderately” when the state hits its 70% dual-dose target, around Oct. 6, to avoid spikes in cases that could overwhelm its health systems.
    Even with the fast-moving Delta outbreak, Australia has largely avoided high numbers seen in many comparable countries, with some 94,000 cases and 1,208 deaths, and the death rate is lower than last year because of higher vaccination rates.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/24/2021 Japan’s Ruling Party Race Puts Legacy Of Abenomics In Focus by Leika Kihara
FILE PHOTO: Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, embroiled in a case against his secretary over
unreported political funds, holds a news conference in Tokyo, Japan December 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s widening wealth gap has emerged as a key issue in a ruling party leadership contest that will decide who becomes the next prime minister, with candidates forced to reassess the legacy of former premier Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” policies.
    Under Abenomics, a mix of expansionary fiscal and monetary policies and a growth strategy deployed by Abe in 2013, share prices and corporate profits boomed, but a government survey published earlier this year showed households hardly benefited.
    Mindful of the flaws of Abenomics, frontrunners in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race – vaccination minister Taro Kono and former foreign minister Fumio Kishida – have pledged to focus more on boosting household wealth.
    “What’s important is to deliver the benefits of economic growth to a wider population,” Kishida said on Thursday.    “We must create a virtual cycle of growth and distribution.”
    But the candidates are thin on details over how to do this with Japan’s economic policy tool-kit depleted by years of massive monetary and fiscal stimulus.
    Kono calls for rewarding companies that boost wages with a cut in corporate tax, while Kishida wants to expand Japan’s middle class with targeted payouts to low-income households.
    The winner of the LDP leadership vote on Sept. 29 is assured of becoming Japan’s next prime minister because of the party’s parliamentary majority.    Two women – Sanae Takaichi, 60, a former internal affairs minister, and Seiko Noda, 61, a former minister for gender equality – are the other candidates in a four-way race.
    Parliament is expected to convene on Oct. 4 to vote in a successor to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who announced his decision to quit less than a year after taking over from Abe.
    A government survey, conducted once every five years and released in February, has drawn increasing attention to trends in inequality during Abe’s time.
    Shigeto Nagai, head of Japan economics at Oxford Economics, said the survey revealed “the stark failure of Abenomics to boost household wealth through asset price growth.”
    Average wealth among households fell by 3.5% from 2014 to 2019 with only the top 10% wealthiest enjoying an increase, according to survey conducted once every five years.
    Japanese households’ traditional aversion to risk meant they did not benefit from the stock market rally, with the balance of their financial assets down 8.1% in the five years from 2014, the survey showed.
    “We think the new premier will need to consider the failures of Abenomics and recognise the myth that reflation policies relying on aggressive monetary easing will not solve all Japan’s problems without tackling endemic structural issues,” Nagai said.
    Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda defended Abenomics and said the pandemic, not slow wage growth, was mainly to blame for sluggish consumption.
    “Unlike in the United States and Europe, Japanese firms protected jobs even when the pandemic hit,” Kuroda said when asked why the trickle-down to households has been weak.
    “Wage growth has been fairly modest, but that’s not the main reason consumption is weak,” he told a briefing on Wednesday.    “As the pandemic subsides, consumption will likely strengthen.”
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

9/24/2021 Japan Approaching End Of COVID-19 Emergency In Most Areas – Health Minister
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, make
their way at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s COVID-19 infection situation is improving such that emergency conditions could soon be lifted in most parts of the country, the health minister said on Friday.
    Hospitalisation rates and patient bed availability will factor into whether the state of emergency prevailing over Tokyo and much of the country can be lifted at the end of this month, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.
    “After hearing the opinions of experts, the Cabinet will make a final decision,” he said.
    The infectious Delta variant sparked a fifth wave of COVID-19 in Japan that drove infections to record levels last month.    To prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, the government extended emergency restrictions covering about 80% of the population until the end of September.
    The curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol.    Residents are being urged to work from home as much as possible and refrain from travel.
    The government is considering using checks of inoculation status or negative COVID-19 results as a means to ease restrictions on businesses and human mobility.
    A demonstration project of a vaccine confirmation system will be carried out in 13 prefectures, Economy Minster Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday, according to the Jiji news service.
    New daily cases in Tokyo have declined to about 550 in recent days, a tenth of their peak last month.    At a meeting of health experts on Friday, Governor Yuriko Koike stressed the need to press on with inoculations, saying some 80% of COVID-19 fatalities in Tokyo since August were among the unvaccinated.
    “If the number of new positive cases starts to increase, there is a fear that the healthcare system will be in a crisis situation again,” she said.
(Reporting Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/24/2021 North Korea Says Call To Declare End Of Korean War Is Premature by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a tower at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea,
in this picture taken near the truce village of Panmunjom, South Korea, August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s call to declare a formal end to the Korean War is premature as there is no guarantee it would lead to the withdrawal of the “U.S. hostile policy” toward Pyongyang, North Korea state media KCNA reported on Friday, citing Vice Foreign Minister Ri Thae Song.
    South Korea President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday repeated a call for a formal end to the Korean War in an address to the U.N. General Assembly and proposed that the two Koreas with the United States, or with the United States and China, make such a declaration.
    The two Koreas are still technically at war after their 1950-1953 conflict ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty.
    “Nothing will change as long as the political circumstances around the DPRK remains unchanged and the U.S. hostile policy is not shifted, although the termination of the war is declared hundreds of times,” Ri said on KCNA, using North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    “The U.S. withdrawal of its double-standards and hostile policy is the top priority in stabilizing the situation of the Korean peninsula and ensuring peace on it.”
    On Friday, Moon said he was confident that Pyongyang will realise it is in its interest to come to dialogue with Washington, but not certain that moment will come during his term, which ends in 2022.    Moon was speaking to reporters aboard South Korea’s presidential jet as he flew back to Seoul from the United States after addressing the U.N. General Assembly.
    “It seems that North Korea is still weighing options while keeping the door open for talks, since it is only raising tension at a low level, just enough for the U.S. to not break off all contact.”
    On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden addressed the U.N. assembly and said the United States wants “sustained diplomacy” to resolve the crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    North Korea has rejected U.S. overtures to engage in dialogue and the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said this week that Pyongyang’s nuclear program is going “full steam ahead.”
    North Korea and South Korea test fired ballistic missiles last week, the latest volley in an arms race in which both nations have developed increasingly sophisticated weapons amid fruitless efforts to start talks to defuse tensions.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Chris Reese and Richard Pullin)

9/24/2021 Doctors Scale Rockslides, Invoke Gods To Vaccinate Himalayan Villages by Adnan Abidi
Nirma Devi, 31, and Phula Devi, 30, hold boxes containing COVISHIELD vaccines as they pose for a picture at Malana village in
Kullu district in the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, India, September 14, 2021. Despite the hostile terrain, the northern
state of Himachal Pradesh became the first in India to administer at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in all its adults.
The steep topography was a challenge overcome by health workers walking for hours or days to reach remote villages. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    MALANA, India (Reuters) – To visit the Indian village of Malana deep in the Himalayas, a COVID-19 vaccination team scrambled over a landslide that blocked the road the day before, scaled a retaining wall and then began a three-hour trek down and up a river valley.
    Despite the hostile terrain, the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, where Malana is located, earlier this month became the first in India to administer at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose in all its adults.
    The steep topography was one challenge overcome by health workers walking for hours or days to reach remote villages and another was religious beliefs, as the tourism-dependent state immunised its roughly 5 million adults.
    On Sept. 14, a team of five led by district health officer Dr Atul Gupta set out to Malana to administer second vaccine doses.
    Blocked by the landslide, they left their vehicle with two blue vaccine boxes slung over their shoulders to manoeuvre over the rubble, climb the wall and then walk to the trailhead leading to the village, accompanied by a Reuters photographer.
    Before beginning the trek to the village, Gupta and his team placed the boxes onto a gondola connected to pulleys to carry the medicine across the river gorge that separates Malana from the road.    That lightened their walk considerably as they set off to cross the gorge which drops down about 100 metres (330 feet).
    During a rest break on the trek, Gupta said that to convince Malana’s 1,100 adults to take their first shots in August, its district chief had priests invoke a local Hindu deity. This helped health workers cover up to 700 people in three days, he said.
    When Gupta’s team reached the village on Sept. 14, nearly three dozen people, who took their first shots before the invocation, lined up to get their second shots just opposite an ancient temple to the deity.
    “People were initially scared to take the vaccine, worried they would fall sick or die,” said village head Rajuram, who gave just one name, sitting by the carved wood and concrete walls of the temple.    “Then I took it and others also mustered the courage.”
    Himachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur pins the state’s vaccination success to its village-to-village drive, its decision to involve local-level politicians, and the federal government’s push to prioritise immunisations in tourist hotspots.
    India wants to vaccinate nearly all of its adults by December, having administered at least one dose to two-thirds of people and two doses in less than a quarter.    Thakur wants Himachal Pradesh to be the fastest state to reach the two-dose milestone, hopefully by November.
(Additional reporting and writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

9/24/2021 China Draws Up List Of 100 Instances Of U.S. “Interference” In Hong Kong by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: An Apple Daily supporter reads the final edition of the newspaper at a
shopping mall in Hong Kong, China June 24, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China on Friday listed more than 100 instances of what it said was U.S. interference in Hong Kong affairs, including President Joe Biden’s show of support for a pro-democracy newspaper.
    U.S. politicians and officials have denounced China over its tightening control of the former British colony of Hong Kong, especially the imposition of a sweeping national security law last year cracking down on dissent.
    “The United States must not tolerate any force that is anti-China and stirs troubles in Hong Kong, or else it will only be lifting a stone to hit one’s foot,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing on Friday.
    The ministry posted a list on its website which detailed instances of U.S. interference since 2019, including the signing of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act in 2020 by then-President Donald Trump.
    Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the financial hub, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee of continued freedoms.
    China criticised Biden for calling the closure of the Apple Daily newspaper “a sad day for media freedom” and a sign of “intensified repression by Beijing.”
    The Apple Daily, a popular pro-democracy tabloid founded by tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is in jail and awaiting trial on national security charges, was forced to fold following a raid by 500 police on its headquarters in June 17 and the freezing of key assets and bank accounts.
    Authorities say dozens of the paper’s articles may have violated the national security law which critics say has been used to stifle free speech and erode other fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the territory’s “Basic Law” mini-constitution.
    Chinese and Hong Kong officials deny the charge and say the law has returned order to Hong Kong which was hit by months of sometimes violent pro-democracy, anti-China protests in 2019.
    Other U.S. officials named on China’s list include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his successor, Anthony Blinken.
    The foreign ministry did not explain why the list was released now or whether it would take punitive action against those named on the list.
    China passed an anti-foreign sanctions law in June under which those involved in making or implementing discriminatory measures against Chinese citizens or entities could be put on a mainland anti-sanctions list.
    Such individuals could then be denied entry into China or be expelled. Their assets in China may be seized or frozen.
    Biden last month offered temporary “safe haven” to Hong Kong residents in the United States, allowing what could be thousands of people to extend their stay in response to Beijing’s “assault” on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Nick Macfie)

9/24/2021 Iran Says Nuclear Talks To Resume ‘Very Soon,’ Gives No Date by Michelle Nichols and Arshad Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -Iran will return to talks on resuming compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal “very soon,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters on Friday, but gave no specific date.
    “The Islamic Republic of Iran will return to the table of negotiations.    We are reviewing the Vienna negotiations files currently and, very soon, Iran’s negotiations with the ‘four plus one’ countries will recommence,” Amirabdollahian said.
    He was referring to talks that began in April between Iran and the five other nations still in the 2015 deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.    European diplomats have served as chief intermediaries between Washington and Tehran, which has refused to negotiate directly with U.S. officials.
    The Iranian foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the Vienna talks would resume in a few weeks, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
    European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who met with Amirabdollahian in New York, said on Friday that he also expected Iran would soon return to negotiations, adding that he was “optimistic” about the prospects for the nuclear deal.
    Under the deal Iran curbed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.    In 2018 then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and re-imposed sanctions, crippling Iran’s economy and prompting Iran to take steps to violate its nuclear limits.
    The Vienna talks, which aim to bring both Washington and Tehran back into compliance with the deal, were adjourned in June after hardliner Ebrahim Raisi was elected Iran’s president.
    “We believe that Mr. President (Joe) Biden keeps carrying close to his heart a thick file of the Trump sanctions against Iran, even while seemingly pursuing negotiations and simultaneously levying new sanctions,” Amirabdollahian said.
    “This paradoxical behavior has not been, and is not, a positive message or constructive message for the new administration in Tehran,” he said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Thursday that Washington has been “very sincere and very steadfast” in its bid to revive the nuclear deal, but warned the possibility a return to mutual compliance “is not indefinite.”
    During Trump’s presidency tensions between Washington and Tehran culminated in 2020 with the U.S. killing of Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani and a retaliatory Iranian ballistic missile attack against U.S. forces in Iraq.
    “We have received this message several times from diplomatic channels – that the current U.S. officials say that had we been in charge then, we would have not issued the command to assassinate General Soleimani,” Amirabdollahian said.
    Speaking on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, the foreign minister also described conversations between officials of regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia as “constructive” and he said Tehran had put forward dynamic proposals towards achieving peace in Yemen.    The war in Yemen is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting By Michelle Nichols; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

9/24/2021 Police Clash With Australian Vaccine Mandate Protesters by OAN Newsroom
Protestors are seen walking past police outside Flinders Street station as thousands march through Melbourne after State Government
announces construction shutdown on September 21, 2021 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)
    Police officers clashed with Australians protesting compulsory vaccinations for construction workers.    Sky News Australia reported Victoria Police censored media coverage of Melbourne’s protests by banning the livestreaming of aerial footage.
    Meanwhile, social media has shown officers firing pepper spray and rubber bullets in the backs of fleeing protesters.    Some in Australian media have come out against the blackout by calling it a pathetic attempt by an overzealous police force, which has lost control of its own city.
    “We have to be able to show people what is happening.    It’s not what we do,” stated Darren Wick, news director of Nine News.    “We are not a police state, so it’s very unprecedented and it’s very uncomfortable the decision being made to ban the helicopter coverage of this for the next several days is over reach and its a very dangerous precedent.”
    Protests across Australia have been the most active largely due to the restrictions by left-wing Premier Dan Andrews.
[AMERICANS YOU BETTER UNDERSTAND WHAT IS HAPPENING IN AUSTRALIA BECAUSE IF WE DO NOT STOP JOE BIDEN'S ADMINISTRATION OF THEIR OVER-REACHING AND VIOLATING OUR CONSTITUTION FOR OUR RIGHTS AND USING THE PRESS, BIG TECH AND JUDICIAL SYSTEM TO TAKE AWAY OUR RIGHTS YOU AND ME MAY FIND OURSELVES DOING THE SAME THING THAT THE PEOPLE YOU SEE IN THE IMAGE ABOVE ARE DOING, AND EVEN IN RUSSIA AND BELARUS.].

9/26/2021 Bolton: Taliban May Seize Nuclear Weapons From Pakistan, Says Pakistani Military Has Radical Islamists In Its Ranks by OAN Newsroom
Taliban fighters stand guard on the backdrop of shops selling antiques and decorative merchandise
at Chicken Street in Kabul on September 26, 2021.(Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    Former National Security Adviser John Bolton has stirred up the latest fears of war with claims of nuclear proliferation in Afghanistan.    In an interview on Sunday, Bolton said the Taliban would be able to obtain nuclear weapons by expanding its influence into the neighboring Pakistan.
    Pakistan claimed to have some nuclear warheads, although its nuclear status was not recognized by the U.N. Bolton stressed key U.S. ally India could be put under pressure by the hostile Pakistan as well, along with China solidifying its ties with the Taliban.
    “The Taliban in control of Afghanistan threatens the possibility of terrorists taking control of Pakistan too and there are already a lot of radicals in the Pakistani military,” he explained.    “If the whole country gets taken over by terrorists that means maybe 150 nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists, which is a real threat to us and our friends.”
    Bolton also highlighted the Quad Group alliance, which is centered around India, by saying it may help the U.S. protect its security interests in South Asia.

9/26/2021 Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Group Closes After Pressure By Beijing Democracy Alliance Votes 41-4 To Shut Down by OAN Newsroom
Richard Tsoi (C), a former standing committee member of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements
of China, speaks to the media after police officers from the National Security Department raided the June 4
museum dedicated to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, in Hong Kong. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Chinese Communist Party ramped up the harassment and persecution of political dissent in Hong Kong.    The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China announced this weekend it has disbanded after a freeze of $283,000 of its assets by Beijing.
    The group has also been faced with criminal charges under the new national security law imposed on Hong Kong by the communist party.    The Democracy Alliance has been the organizer of Tiananmen commemorations in Hong Kong for the past 32 years.
Simon Leung (2nd left), a standing committee member of Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China,
is taken away by police officers from the National Security Department in Hong Kong. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)
    “75% of the participants vote in favor of the resolution of voluntary winding up,” announced Richard Tsoi, Secretary of the Hong Kong Alliance.    “Thus, Hong Kong Alliance is now under the situation of the winding up procedure.”
    The group called on Hong Kong residents to continue the resistance against the Chinese Communist Party.

9/27/2021 U.S. To Iran: Grant Inspectors Access To Workshop Or Face Action At IAEA by Francois Murphy
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 (Reuters) – Iran must stop denying the U.N. nuclear watchdog access to a workshop making centrifuge parts as agreed two weeks ago or face diplomatic retaliation at the agency’s Board of Governors within days, the United States said on Monday.     The workshop at the TESA Karaj complex makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, and was hit by apparent sabotage in June in which one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras there was destroyed. Iran removed them and the destroyed camera’s footage is missing https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iaea-pressures-iran-fate-talks-nuclear-deal-hangs-balance-2021-09-07.     TESA Karaj was one of several sites to which Iran agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment and replace memory cards just as they were due to fill up with data such as camera footage.    The Sept. 12 accord helped avoid a diplomatic escalation https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/iaea-chief-iran-talks-before-showdown-with-west-2021-09-12 between Iran and the West.
    “We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a U.S. statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
    It was responding to an IAEA report to member states on Sunday that said Iran had granted access to sites as agreed on Sept. 12 but not to the workshop, where IAEA inspectors were denied access on Sunday.    They had planned to check if the workshop was ready to operate and re-install cameras if it was.
    Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said overnight on Twitter https://twitter.com/Gharibabadi/status/1442253099507326979?s=20 that before the deal with the IAEA, Iran indicated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” because of ongoing investigations and Sunday’s report “goes beyond the agreed terms of the JS (Joint Statement).”
‘WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY’
    The European Union told the IAEA board that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
    A resolution criticising Iran at the Board of Governors could kill hopes of resuming indirect talks between Iran and the United States to bring both sides back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    Iran usually bristles at such resolutions and its news hardline President Ebrahim Raisi has said Iran is prepared to return to the negotiating table but not under Western “pressure.”    Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said on Friday Iran would return to the talks “very soon.”
    “We call on Iran to provide the IAEA with needed access without further delay,” the U.S. statement said.    “If Iran fails to do so, we will be closely consulting with other board members in the coming days on an appropriate response.”
    The European Union also called on Iran to grant access “without any further delay.”
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

9/27/2021 Taiwan Says Needs Long-Range Weapons To Deter China
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen waves to the media aboard the PFG-1112 Ming Chuan, a Perry-class guided missile
frigate, after a commissioning ceremony at Kaohsiung's Zuoying naval base, Taiwan November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan needs to have long-range, accurate weapons in order to properly deter a China that is rapidly developing its systems to attack the island, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Monday.
    Taiwan this month proposed extra defence spending of almost $9 billion over the next five years, including on new missiles, as it warned of an urgent need to upgrade weapons in the face of a “severe threat” from giant neighbour China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.
    Speaking in parliament, Chiu said Taiwan needed to be able to let China know they could defend themselves.
    “The development of equipment must be long range, precise, and mobile, so that the enemy can sense that we are prepared as soon as they dispatch their troops,” he added, referring to Taiwan’s missile capability.
    In a written report to parliament to accompany Chiu’s appearance, the ministry said both medium-and long-range missiles were being used in intercept drills at a key test facility on Taiwan’s southeastern coast.
    Chiu declined to give details to reporters of how far Taiwan’s missiles could reach, something the government has always keep well under wraps.
    Taiwan offered an unusually stark assessment of China’s abilities in its annual report on China’s military, saying they could “paralyse” Taiwan’s defences and are able to fully monitor its deployments.
    Chiu said it was important that Taiwan’s people were aware of the danger facing them.
    Asked what China would attack first in the event of a war, Chiu answered that it would be Taiwan’s command and communications abilities.
    “On this the Chinese Communists’ abilities have rapidly increased.    They can disrupt our command, control, communications and intelligence systems, for example with fixed radar stations certainly being attacked first,” he said.
    “So we must be mobile, stealthy and able to change positions.”
    President Tsai Ing-wen has made bolstering and modernising defences a priority, to make the island into a “porcupine” that is hard to attack.
    Taiwan has complained for months of repeated Chinese military activity near it, particularly of air force jets entering Taiwan’s air defence zone.
    China has been ramping up efforts to force the democratically governed island to accept Chinese sovereignty.    Most Taiwanese have not shown no desire to be ruled by autocratic Beijing.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; addititional reporting by Roger Tung; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[TAIWAN GIVE CHINA A FEW STINGER ATTACKS AND DARE THEM TO TRY TO TAKE OVER THEIR COUNTRY AND IF TRY TO ATTACK YOU THEY WILL THEN BECOME A NATION THAT THE REST OF THE WORLD WILL HATE.].

9/27/2021 No One From Afghanistan Will Address World Leaders At U.N. by Michelle Nichols
The UN General Assembly Hall is empty before the start of the SDG Moment event as part of the UN General Assembly 76th session
General Debate at United Nations Headquarters, in New York, U.S., September 20, 2021. John Angelillo/Pool via REUTERS
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – No representative from Afghanistan will address the annual high-level U.N. General Assembly in New York after the ambassador for the government ousted by the Taliban – who was due to speak on Monday – withdrew his name.
    The move comes amid competing claims for Afghanistan’s U.N. seat in New York after the Taliban seized power last month.
    Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi last week asked to address the gathering of world leaders at the United Nations and nominated the Islamist group’s Doha-based spokesman Suhail Shaheen as Afghanistan’s U.N. ambassador.
    Ghulam Isaczai is the current U.N. ambassador, who represents Afghanistan’s government ousted by the Taliban, and has also asked to renew his accreditation.    He was scheduled to address the final day of the high-level U.N. gathering on Monday, but withdrew late on Sunday, diplomats said.
    Isaczai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Rival claims have also been made for Myanmar’s U.N. seat after a military coup in February ousted the elected government.    No representative from Myanmar will address the high-level General Assembly meeting.
    U.N. accreditation issues are dealt with by a nine-member committee, whose members include the United States, China and Russia.    It traditionally meets in October or November.
    Until a decision is made by the credentials committee on both Afghanistan and Myanmar, Isaczai and Myanmar’s U.N. envoy representing the ousted government, Kyaw Moe Tun, will remain in the seats, according to the General Assembly rules.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alex Richardson)

9/27/2021 China Condemns Britain For Taiwan Strait Warship Mission
FILE PHOTO: Officers of the Indonesian Navy greet the crew of the visiting British Royal Navy
ship HMS Richmond docked at Tanjung Priok harbour in Jakarta May 22, 2011. REUTERS/Supri
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China strongly condemned Britain on Monday for sailing a warship through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, saying it was behaviour that “harboured evil intentions” and that the Chinese military followed the vessel and warned it away.     A post on the ship’s Twitter account said HMS Richmond passed through the strait en route to Vietnam.    It had been deployed in the East China Sea while taking part in United Nations sanctions enforcement operations against North Korea.
    China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has stepped up military and political pressure to try and force the democratically ruled island to accept Chinese sovereignty.
    While U.S. warships pass through the strait on an almost monthly basis, despite Chinese opposition, U.S. allies have generally been reluctant to follow suit.
    The People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said it has organised air and naval forces to follow the Richmond and warn it.
    “This kind of behaviour harbours evil intentions and damages peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” it said.    “Theatre command forces always maintain a high level of alert and resolutely counter all threats and provocations.”
    Relations between Beijing and London are already strained over a long list of issues, from trade to human rights.
    In Taipei, Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng did not comment directly when asked about the British warship, saying he did not know what missions foreign ships in the Taiwan Strait were carrying out.
    “When they pass through the Taiwan Strait our nation’s military will have a grasp of the situation, but will not interfere,” he told reporters, adding they keep a close watch on all movements near Taiwan.
    China has been ramping up its exercises around Taiwan and flies air force aircraft almost daily into the southwestern part of Taiwan’s air defence zone.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Kim Coghill, Lincoln Feast, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

9/28/2021 N. Korea Fires Missile, Accuses U.S. Of ‘Double Standards’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission
of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea fired a missile towards the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, as Pyongyang called on the United States and South Korea to scrap their “double standards” on weapons programmes to restart talks.
    The missile was launched from the central north province of Jagang at around 6:40 a.m. (2140 GMT), the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.    Japan’s defence ministry said it appeared to be a ballistic missile, without elaborating.
    The latest test underscored the steady development of North Korea’s weapons systems, raising the stakes for stalled talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    The launch came just before North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations urged the United States to give up its hostile policy towards Pyongyang and said no one could deny his country’s right to self defence and to test weapons.
    South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered aides to conduct a detailed analysis of the North’s recent moves.
    “We regret that the missile was fired at a time when it was very important to stabilise the situation of the Korean peninsula,” defence ministry spokesman Boo Seung-chan told a briefing.
    The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launch highlighted “the destabilising impact” of the North’s illicit weapons programmes, while the U.S. State Department also condemned the test.
‘DOUBLE STANDARDS’
    At the U.N. General Assembly, North Korea’s U.N. envoy, Kim Song, said the country was shoring up its self-defence and if the United States dropped its hostile policy and “double standards,” it would respond “willingly at any time” to offers to talks.
    “But it is our judgment that there is no prospect at the present stage for the U.S. to really withdraw its hostile policy,” Kim said.
    Referring to a call by Moon last week for a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, Kim said Washington needed to permanently stop joint military exercises with South Korea and remove “all kinds of strategic weapons” on and around the peninsula.
    The United States stations various cutting edge military assets including nuclear bombers and fighter jets in South Korea, Guam and Japan as part of efforts to keep not only North Korea but also an increasingly assertive China in check.
    Kim’s speech was in line with Pyongyang’s recent criticism that Seoul and Washington denounce its weapons development while continuing their own military activities.
    Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has said the North is willing to improve inter-Korean ties and consider another summit if Seoul abandons its double standards and hostile policy toward Pyongyang.
    “The conditions she suggested were essentially to demand that the North be accepted as a nuclear weapons state,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul.
    “Their goal is to achieve that prestige and drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington, taking advantage of Moon’s craving for diplomatic legacy as his term is running out.”
    Moon, a liberal who has prioritised inter-Korean ties, sees declaring an end to the Korean War, even without a peace treaty to replace an armistice, as a way to revive denuclearisation negotiations between the North and the United States.
    However, Moon, who has been in office for a single term, faces sagging popularity ahead of a presidential election in March.
    Hopes for ending the war were raised after a historic summit between Kim Jong Un and then U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in 2018. But that possibility, and the momentum for talks came to nothing, with talks stalled since 2019.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additionl reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington, Michelle Nichols in New York and Kim Chang-Ran in Tokyo; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Richard Pullin)

9/29/2021 N. Korea Joins Race For New Hypersonic Missile With Latest Test by Sangmi Cha
The newly developed hypersonic missile Hwasong-8 is test-fired by the Academy of Defence Science
of the DPRK in Toyang-ri, Ryongrim County of Jagang Province, North Korea, in this undated photo released
on September 29, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea test-fired a newly developed hypersonic missile earlier this week, state news media KCNA reported on Wednesday, joining a race headed by major military powers to deploy the advanced weapons system.
    North Korea fired the missile off its east coast towards the sea, South Korea’s military said on Tuesday, as Pyongyang called on the United States and South Korea to scrap their “double standards” on weapons programmes to restart diplomatic talks.
    North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/an-intensifying-arms-race-asia-2021-09-29 amid an impasse over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    Unlike ballistic missiles that fly into outer space before returning on steep trajectories, hypersonic weapons fly towards targets at lower altitudes and can achieve more than five times the speed of sound – or about 6,200 km per hour (3,853 miles per hour).
    The North’s hypersonic missile is at an early stage of development judged by detected velocity and other data, and would take a “considerable period of time” until it could be deployed in combat, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday.
    The development of the weapons system increases North Korea’s defence capabilities, KCNA said, describing the hypersonic missile as “strategic weapon.”
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not inspect the launch, according to the report.
    “In the first test-launch, national defence scientists confirmed the navigational control and stability of the missile,” the report said.
    It said the missile, called Hwasong-8, performed to its technical targets “including the guiding maneuverability and the gliding flight characteristics of the detached hypersonic gliding warhead.”
NEXT GENERATION OF ARMS
    Hypersonic weapons are considered the next generation of arms that aim to rob adversaries of reaction time and traditional defeat mechanisms.
    The test could mean the North is entering an accelerating race to deploy the weapon now involving the United States, Russia and China.
    The United States on Monday said it had tested an air-breathing hypersonic weapon https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-successfully-flight-tests-raytheon-hypersonic-weapon-pentagon-2021-09-27, marking the first successful test of the class of weapon since 2013.
    In July, Russia successfully tested a Tsirkon(Zircon) hypersonic cruise missile https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-conducts-ship-based-hypersonic-missile-test-ifax-cites-defence-ministry-2021-07-19, a weapon     President Vladimir Putin touted as part of a new generation of missile systems without equal in the world.
    Chang Young-keun, a missile specialist at the Korea Aerospace University, said the North’s test of the hypersonic gliding vehicle (HGV) was likely a failure, given the flight was clocked at Mach 2.5, citing reported assessment by South Korean military intelligence.
    “The North’s HGV technology is not comparable to those of the U.S., Russia or China and for now seems to aim for short-range that can target South Korea or Japan,” Chang said.
    North Korea last week said it was willing to consider another summit with South if mutual respect between the neighbours can be assured, following South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s call for a declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War.
    The denuclearisation negotiations, initiated between former U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018, have stalled since 2019.
    The two Koreas both test fired ballistic missiles on Sept 15 https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/nkorea-fired-unidentified-projectile-yonhap-citing-skorea-military-2021-09-15, part of an arms race in which both nations have developed increasingly sophisticated weapons while efforts prove fruitless to get talks going on defusing tensions.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast.)

9/29/2021 New Zealand’s COVID Cases Jump As Its Battles Delta Variant
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker administers a COVID-19 test at a testing clinic during a lockdown to curb the spread
of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s daily coronavirus cases jumped to their highest level in weeks on Wednesday, a setback to the South Pacific nation’s battle to eliminate the highly infectious Delta variant from its shores.
    Health authorities reported 45 new cases, all in the biggest city, Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,230.
    It’s much higher than the eight reported on Tuesday, and the highest number of daily cases since Sept 2. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins urged New Zealanders to stay calm, saying: “We do expect from time to time there will be blips.”
    Hipkins said at least 33 of the new cases are known household or close contacts of existing cases and most have been isolating at home or in quarantine facilities while infectious.
    “I would encourage people not to read too much into it.    We are still aiming to run this into the ground,” Hipkins said at a news conference.
    The continuing emergence of daily cases has raised questions whether New Zealand can eliminate the virus.
    A top health official said last week that the country may never be back to zero cases again.
    New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.    Auckland has been in lockdown for over a month.
    A delayed a vaccine rollout, however, means more people are at risk in the latest outbreak.
    Ardern is now facing pressure from expatriate Kiwis and their families back home to drop her “zero tolerance” strategy and reopen borders.
    The opposition National Party said on Wednesday that it would end lockdowns and reopen borders before Christmas.
    “Delta is here, it may not be possible to eliminate it, and it would almost inevitably arrive into the community again.    Whatever happens, we need to reopen to the world and National’s plan outlines how we can do that,” National Party leader Judith Collins said.
    Ardern has announced a phased reopening plan for early next year.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Gerry Doyle)

9/29/2021 In Triumph For Japan’s Establishment, Kishida Becomes Ruling-Party Head by Antoni Slodkowski, Ju-min Park and Kiyoshi Takenaka
FILE PHOTO: Taro Kono, (L) the cabinet minister in charge of vaccinations, and Fumio Kishida, (R) former foreign minister,
two of candidates for the presidential election of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party pose prior to a debate
session held by Japan National Press Club September 18, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) anointed former foreign minister Fumio Kishida as its new leader on Wednesday, a victory for the party elite that virtually ensures the soft-spoken consensus-builder will become prime minister within days.
    Although he enjoys only moderate popular support and is saddled with a bland image, Kishida drew critical backing from some party heavyweights, allowing him to stop the momentum of outspoken rising star Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the coronavirus vaccine roll-out.
    The Hiroshima lawmaker succeeds unpopular Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who did not seek re-election as party leader after just one year in office.    Kishida is almost certain to become premier at a parliamentary session on Monday because of the LDP’s majority in the lower house.
    It was not clear if Kishida’s tepid profile might spell problems for the LDP in a general election due by Nov. 28.
    He focused on populist issues – such as the need to forge a new kind of capitalism and ease divisions of wealth – in his first news conference.br>     “We can’t achieve strong growth if wealth is concentrated in the hands of a small group of people,” he said, citing a need to create a “virtuous cycle” of growth and wealth distribution.
    “We will strive to achieve economic growth and distribution,” of wealth, Kishida added, promising housing and education aid to address income disparity.
    He has proposed a spending package of more than 30 trillion yen ($270 billion), and on Wednesday he said that stimulus https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-new-premier-kishida-sustain-big-fiscal-monetary-support-now-2021-09-29 must be compiled by the year-end.
    Kishida is expected to form a new cabinet and reshuffle the LDP executive in early October.
    Parliament’s lower chamber will probably be dissolved in mid-October with an election on either Nov. 7 or Nov. 14, Japanese media said, quoting LDP executives.
ESTABLISHMENT VICTORY
    “A win for the establishment.    Kishida stands for stability, for not rocking the boat and most importantly, doing what elite technocrats tell him to do,” said Jesper Koll, expert director at Monex Group.
    Kishida’s rival Kono, a fluent English speaker with a large following on Twitter and reputation for being forthright and headstrong, has been seen as something of a maverick and therefore not seen as the top choice of some LDP powerbrokers.
    Kono set himself apart from the mainstream of the party establishment on social issues by supporting legislation that would recognise gay marriage, something Kishida has not backed.
    Two female contenders, Sanae Takaichi, 60, and Seiko Noda, 61, dropped out of the leadership race after the first round.
    Kishida is unlikely to go out on a limb with major policy shifts as Japan seeks to cope with an assertive China and revive an economy hit by the pandemic.
    He shares a broad consensus on the need to boost Japan’s defences and strengthen security ties with the United States and other partners including the QUAD grouping of Japan, the United States, Australia and India, while preserving trade ties with China.
    Kishida wants to beef up Japan’s coast guard and favours passing a resolution condemning China’s treatment of members of its Uyghur minority.    He also aims to appoint a prime ministerial aide to monitor the Uyghur human rights situation.
    Kishida was “the best possible option for Beijing,” CGTN, the English-language channel of China’s state television CGTV, said in a commentary after the leadership result.
    His victory offers an opportunity for relations between the two countries to improve, it said.
($1 = 110.7420 yen)
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Leika Kihara, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Linda Sieg, Chang-Ran Kim, Ju-min Park, Daniel Leussink, Ritsuko Ando, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Elaine Lies and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel, David Dolan and Mark Heinrich)

9/29/2021 Rohingya Community Leader Shot Dead In Bangladesh Refugee Camp by Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: Mohib Ullah, a leader of Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, talks on the
phone in Kutupalong camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh April 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    (Reuters) – Gunmen shot and killed a prominent Rohingya Muslim leader in a refugee camp in southern Bangladesh on Wednesday, a United Nations spokesperson and a local police official said, following months of worsening violence in the world’s largest refugee settlement.
    Mohib Ullah, who was in his late 40s, led one of the largest of several community groups to emerge since more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar after a military crackdown in August 2017.
    Invited to the White House and to speak to the United Nations Human Rights Council, he was one of the most high-profile advocates for the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has faced persecution for generations.
    Rafiqul Islam, a deputy police superintendent in the nearby town of Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters by phone that Mohib Ullah had been shot dead but had no additional details.
    A spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said the agency was “deeply saddened” by the killing of Mohib Ullah.    “We are in continuous contact with law enforcement authorities in charge of maintaining peace and security in the camps,” the spokesperson said.
    Mohib Ullah’s group, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, made its name documenting atrocities the Rohingya suffered during the Myanmar crackdown, which the U.N. has said was carried out with genocidal intent.
    At the Bangladesh refugee camps, Mohib Ullah went from hut to hut to build a tally of killings, rape and arson that was shared with international investigators.
    His organization worked to give refugees more of a voice inside the camps and internationally.    Speaking to the U.N. Human Rights Council, he said the Rohingya wanted more of a say over their own future.
    But his high profile made him a target of hardliners and he received death threats, he told Reuters in 2019.    “If I die, I’m fine.    I will give my life,” he said at the time.
    The sprawling camps in Bangladesh have become increasingly violent, residents say, with armed men vying for power, kidnapping critics, and warning women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.
    Aung Kyaw Moe, a Rohingya civil society activist and an adviser to Myanmar’s National Unity Government, the parallel civilian government established after February’s coup, said Mohib Ullah’s death was a “big loss for the Rohingya community.”
    “He was always aware there is a threat, but he thinks that despite the threat if he is not doing the work he is doing, no one else would,” he said.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul and Poppy McPherson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

9/30/2021 N.Korea’s Kim Offers To Reopen Inter-Korean Hotline, Slams U.S. ‘Hostile Policy’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a policy speech at the second-day sitting of the 5th Session of the 14th Supreme
People's Assembly (SPA) of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang,
North Korea, in this undated photo released on September 30, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is willing to restore severed inter-Korean hotlines next month, but accused the United States of proposing talks without changing its “hostile policy” to the country, state media KCNA reported on Thursday.
    Kim made the remarks at the reclusive country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, which gathered for a second day to discuss the government’s political, economic and social agenda.
    North Korea this week test-fired a previously unseen hypersonic missile, joining a race for the advanced weapons system led by major military powers, and again demanded that Seoul and Washington scrap their “double standards” over weapons development.
    Kim expressed his willingness to reconnect inter-Korean hotlines starting from October, but criticised the South’s “delusion” over what it calls military provocations from the North.
    North Korea severed the hotlines in early August in protest against joint South Korea-U.S. military drills, just days after reopening them for the first time in a year.
    The decision to reactivate the lines is to help “realise the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation” for recovery and durable peace in cross-border relations, Kim said.
    “We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it,” he said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry responsible for inter-Korean affairs welcomed Kim’s offer on the hotlines, but did not comment on his other remarks.
    Kim took a tougher tone toward Washington, accusing President Joe Biden’s new administration of “employing more cunning ways and methods” in pursuing military threats while still offering talks.
    “The U.S. is touting ‘diplomatic engagement’ and ‘dialogue without preconditions’ but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts,” Kim said.
    The Biden administration has said it reached out to Pyongyang to break an impasse over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    It has criticised North Korea’s recent missile launches as “destabilising” and “threats.”
SECURITY COUNCIL MEETS
    The U.N. Security Council will meet behind closed-doors on Thursday over the North’s latest test following requests from the United States, Britain and France, diplomats said.
    Analysts say the North’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at securing international recognition as a nuclear weapons state and driving a wedge between Seoul and Washington, taking advantage of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s desire for a diplomatic legacy before his term ends in May.
    “The North seems upset about the Biden administration having not made any concrete, tempting proposal to resume negotiations,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
    Pyongyang was attempting to foster a more positive mood towards North Korea in Seoul ahead of the upcoming presidential election and press Moon to help shift U.S. attitudes, he said.
    Kim did not refer to the North’s recent missile tests, but touted “ultra-modern weapons which are being developed at an extremely fast speed” and capable of containing “hostile forces.”
    He also said that in order to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War, as suggested by Moon at the recent U.N. General Assembly, both Koreas should withdraw “unfair and double-dealing attitude and hostile viewpoint and policies” toward each other.
    KCNA separately reported that Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s powerful sister, was named as a new member of the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body created in 2016 and chaired by Kim Jong Un, as part of a personnel reshuffle unveiled on the sidelines of the parliament meeting.
    Kim Yo Jong, 32, has risen rapidly since her brother took power in 2011, becoming a senior official at the ruling Workers’ Party handling propaganda and ideological messaging in 2014.
    She has taken on a more diplomatic role, especially on inter-Korean affairs since she visited the South for the 2018 Winter Olympics.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Richard Pullin)

9/30/2021 China’s High-End Military Technology Touted At Biggest Air Show by David Kirton
Models of GJ-11 stealth armed reconnaissance drone and J-20 stealth fighter jet are displayed at the China International
Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition, or Airshow China, in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, China September 29, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    ZHUHAI, China (Reuters) – China put on an extravagant display of once-secret high-end military technology at its largest air show this week, while broadcasting its growing ambitions in space exploration and for self-sufficiency in commercial aircraft.
    Pandemic-related travel restrictions meant Airshow China in the southern city of Zhuhai was a largely domestic affair, but foreign observers kept a close eye on developments from afar as China builds its military strength.
    “Key platforms in service with the PLAAF – having been operated in tight secrecy previously – being shown to the public for the first time have attracted considerable attention from the international audience,” said Kelvin Wong, a Singapore-based defence editor at Janes.
    He pointed to WZ-7 Xianglong, a high-altitude long-endurance reconnaissance drone roughly analogous to the U.S.-made Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk but with inferior engines.    The WZ-7 has been sighted operating out of airbases close to the Sino-Indian border, the North Korean border and the South China Sea, Wong said.
    China has been working hard to improve the performance of its homegrown engines, which have lagged Western technology.    At the show, it flew its J-20 fighter jets with Chinese engines rather than Russian ones for the first time.
    Testing is also under way for two types of domestic engines for its Y-20 transport plane, the plane’s chief designer told the Global Times on Wednesday.
    The J-16D electronic warfare fighter, its closest equivalent to the U.S.-made EA-18G Growler, was on ground display, showcasing a capability that experts say could help it erode Taiwan’s anti-aircraft defences in the event of conflict.
    Wong said at least three types of jamming pods were hung on the plane, suggesting that each was designed to disrupt different parts of the electronic spectrum.
    China also revealed it is pursuing a “loyal wingman” drone to help protect pricier crewed fighter jets, in line with rival projects in the United States, Britain, Australia, India and Russia.
    The developer did not say whether that drone, the Feihong FH-97 concept, would be exported, but the presentation was attended by many foreign observers.
THE NEXT FRONTIERS
    China also revealed it expected to launch its next generation of heavy-duty rockets, powerful enough to send a crewed spacecraft to the moon, in 2028 – two years earlier than previously expected.
    In commercial aircraft, China is stepping up efforts to become more self-sufficient in key technologies amid trade tensions with the United States.
    Aero Engine Corp of China displayed a rotating, full-size model of the CJ1000 engine under development for the C919 narrowbody plane, which could eventually replace the imported CFM International LEAP-1C engines.
    The C919 has found it harder to meet certification and production targets thanks to tough U.S. export rules, Reuters reported on Monday, citing sources with knowledge of the situation.
    “With an unrivalled domestic market and increasingly participation of private investment, it is only a matter of time for China to resolve external tech blockages,” Wang Yanan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times in response to the Reuters story.
    Western planemakers are also finding it increasingly difficult to gain certification for new models that would compete against Chinese-made planes.
    The Airbus A220, Embraer E-Jet E2 series and ATR 42-600 turboprop have not yet been approved by China’s aviation regulator despite being in service elsewhere for years, hindering the chances of local sales.
    Boeing, however, said at the show it remained hopeful the 737 MAX would receive approvals for its return in China by the end of the year after being grounded for more than two years.
(Reporting by David Kirton; additional reporting by Stella Qiu; additional reporting and writing by Jamie Freed in Sydney. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

9/30/2021 New Zealand Tightens Terror Law After Recent IS-Linked Attack by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Police respond to the scene of an attack carried out by a man shot dead by police after he injured multiple
people at a shopping mall in Auckland, New Zealand, September 3, 2021. Stuff Limited/Ricky Wilson via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – New Zealand on Thursday passed a new security law to criminalise preparing a terror attack, tightening a loophole that was exposed by a man who went on to conduct a mass stabbing in the country’s most populated city.
    New Zealand has for months been moving to strengthen its security laws amid heightened fears of lone wolf terror attacks, but the new law was rushed through its parliament after Aathil Mohamed Samsudeen stabbed and wounded seven people in a supermarket in Auckland earlier this month.
    It is now an offence to plot and prepare a terror attack, which Kris Faafoi, New Zealand’s Minister of Justice, said brings security laws in line with most other countries.
    “The nature of terrorism has changed. Across the world there are more lone actors, rather than larger organised groups,” Faafoi said in an emailed statement.
    The new law comes less than a month after police shot dead Samsudeen, a 32-year-old Sri Lankan national, moments after he launched his attack.
    Samsudeen had been convicted and imprisoned for about three years before being released in July.
    New Zealand had in 2020 unsuccessfully sought to charge Samsudeen with terrorism offences after he bought a hunting knife and was found with Islamic State videos.
    However, a judge ruled Samsudeen did not convene New Zealand’s terror laws at the time.    He was released, though he was placed under 24-hour police surveillance.
(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

9/30/2021 Singapore’s Main Opposition Party Seeks Changes To Foreign Interference Law
FILE PHOTO: People take photos as helicopters fly past with a Singapore flag during
the 54th National Day Parade in Singapore August 9, 2019. REUTERS/Feline Lim
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s main opposition, The Workers’ Party, has called for changes to be made to a draft foreign interference law, citing a need for more transparency, after experts and rights groups also raised concerns about the law’s broad provisions.
    The government this month proposed the legislation to tackle foreign interference with powers that include compelling entities such as internet, social media service providers and those who run websites to disclose user information, block content and remove applications.
    “While The Workers’ Party believes in the legitimate need to counter malign acts of foreign interference, we disagree with the current form of the Bill in achieving the said objective,” the party said in a statement late on Wednesday.
    Singapore, a small and open city-state, says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling.    But some experts and rights groups have raised concerns over the proposed law’s broad provisions and limitations on judicial review.
    The Workers’ Party said its suggested amendments will result in oversight of executive action by the judiciary and a more precise scoping of executive powers to significantly lower the likelihood of abuse of power.
    The proposed changes will provide: “Greater clarity and transparency on the identities of the entities and individuals against whom, and reasons for which, any directive, order or decision under this Bill is made.”
    The ministry of home affairs has said the law would not apply to Singaporeans expressing political views, unless they were agents of a foreign entity.
    Neither would it apply to foreign individuals or foreign publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way,” even if critical of Singapore or its government.
    The ministry said on Wednesday the proposals by The Workers’ Party would be discussed in parliament next week.
    The legislation is likely to be passed due to the ruling People’s Action Party’s parliamentary majority.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Ed Davies)

9/30/2021 At Event With U.N. Envoy, U.S. Says Committed To Taiwan’s International Participation
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting in
Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The United States remains committed to expanding Taiwan’s space for international participation, a senior U.S. diplomat said at an event with Taiwan’s foreign minister that was also attended by the deputy U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
    China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, blocks the island from taking part in most global bodies such as the United Nations, saying it is a Chinese province with no right to the trappings of a state.
    Speaking at a virtual panel on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals on Wednesday, Jeremy Cornforth, deputy director of the de facto U.S. embassy the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), said tech heavyweight Taiwan was committed to using its technological prowess “for the common good
    Cornforth noted Taiwan was prevented from meaningful participation in bodies including the World Health Assembly, but said the event would highlight how Taiwan is using its technological prowess to help the international community solve shared challenges.
    “The United States remains committed to expanding Taiwan’s international space,” he added, in comments released by AIT on Thursday.
    AIT said Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Jeffrey Prescott gave closing remarks, though gave no details. Washington has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its strongest international backer and routinely denounces Chinese pressure against the island.
    Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told the same event that Taiwan was an “indispensable” member of the international community.
    “It is now the time for the United Nations to take action to resolve Taiwan’s improper exclusion from the United Nations system,” his ministry cited him as saying.
    This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s formal name – being replaced at the United Nations by the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, which continues to claim the right to represent Taiwan globally.
    The democratically elected government of Taiwan says only its people have the right to speak for it on the world stage.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

9/30/2021 Melbourne Cases Hit Record Despite Two Months Of Lockdown by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: 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//File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Melbourne’s COVID-19 cases surged to record levels on Thursday with officials blaming illegal home gatherings to watch a key sporting event for the spike as a hard lockdown to combat the spread of the Delta variant neared two months.
    Authorities in Victoria, home to Melbourne, estimated nearly a third of Thursday’s 1,438 new infections could be traced back to home parties last weekend to watch the Australian Rules Football Grand Final on television.
    “Many of these cases were completely avoidable … I’m not trying to blame anyone, I’m simply trying to explain because a lot of people will be scratching their heads – how could it have gone up by so much, so fast,” state Premier Daniel Andrews said during a media briefing.
    Officials admitted Thursday’s numbers, a 50% jump to Wednesday’s 950 cases, is a “major setback” in managing the flare-up, as they race to vaccinate the state’s 5.5 million adult population.
    Half of the state’s population above 16 have received their first dose, below the national average of 53%, as officials halved the intervals between Pfizer shots in state-run vaccine hubs to three weeks after supplies rose.
    Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra are in a weeks-long lockdown to combat a third wave of infections fuelled by the fast-moving Delta variant.    Authorities have ditched a COVID-zero strategy and are looking at higher vaccination as their exit strategy from lockdowns.
    A total of 941 new cases were reported in New South Wales on Thursday, the majority in state capital Sydney, while Queensland recorded six and the Australian Capital Territory 31 infections.
EASING FINANCIAL SUPPORT
    The record cases in Victoria come as the federal government on Thursday decided to phase out its emergency financial support for businesses impacted by the lockdowns, in line with its plan to end support to virus-impacted employees.
    Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the temporary payments will stop once 80% of the adult population in states and territories becomes fully vaccinated.
    But Victoria’s businesses will receive a fresh A$2.27 billion ($1.65 billion) support from the federal government through the next six weeks at which point the state should hit that dosage target, from around 50% now.
    “We can’t eliminate the virus, we need to learn to live with it in a COVID-safe way,” Frydenberg said in a statement.     The federal government decision to wind down support payments, shared equally between states and Canberra, will put pressure on virus-free states to keep their economies open and avoid lockdowns to fight future outbreaks.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been pressing all states and territories to begin living with the virus once full inoculations reach 70%-80% but Queensland and Western Australia, largely COVID-free, flagged they may delay their reopening.
    Despite the latest Delta outbreaks, total cases in Australia stand at around 105,000 and deaths at 1,291, well below other comparable nations.    Eleven new deaths were recorded in the country.
($1 = 1.3778 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose; additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

9/30/2021 China’s Golden Week Travel Not Expected To Return To Pre-COVID Levels This Year by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh
People arrive at Beijing Railway Station after an eight-day National Day holiday following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Beijing, China, October 9, 2020 REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Golden Week holiday this year is unlikely to see domestic travel rebound to pre-COVID levels, industry estimates show, hurt by uncertainty over pandemic curbs and consumer fears about the health of the economy.
    The seven-day holiday from Oct. 1 to mark the founding of modern China is traditionally one of its busiest times for travel and is closely watched as a barometer of consumer demand in the world’s second-largest economy.
    Chinese travel booking site LY.com said it is expecting some 650 million trips, about 80% of the number made for the same period in 2019 and the lowest level since 2017. That is only a tad higher than the 637 million trips made last year when the holiday was eight days long.
    “The impact of COVID-19 is big and is long,” said Zhang Qidi, visiting researcher at the Center of International Finance Studies at the Central University of Finance and Economics in Beijing.
    “Citizens are heavily indebted because of their home and car loans and that has resulted in a decline in disposable income.”
    While China’s economy has rebounded from last year’s coronavirus-led slump, momentum in that recovery has slowed over the past few months – in part due to COVID-19 curbs imposed in several provinces and more recently due to power shortages.
    For those who are travelling, cheaper shorter trips are in vogue.
    Online searches for “niche travel destination” have surged in the run-up to the holiday, according to Chinese lifestyle site Little Red Book, and domestic online travel company Trip.com Group said last week that more than half of the tourists using its platform were preferring to take shorter distance trips.
    “Going to fifth-tier cities is the new choice for the long holiday,” Trip.com said in a report, referring to some of the country’s least-developed and rural areas.
    China’s commerce ministry said this month it would strengthen efforts to boost consumer spending.    At least 20 local governments have handed out coupons that can used at shopping malls, convenience stores and restaurants to encourage spending from late September’s Mid-Autumn Festival through to Golden Week, state media has said.
(Reporting by Sophie Yu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

9/30/2021 Access To Website Dedicated To Tiananmen Victims Appears Restricted In Hong Kong by Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: A police officer patrols in Tiananmen Square in front of a portrait of late Chinese chairman
Mao Zedong in Beijing, China, June 3, 2021. Picture shot through a window. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Access to an online museum dedicated to the victims of China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square appeared to be restricted in Hong Kong, with the website accusing authorities of censorship.
    The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the organisers of annual June 4 vigils in the global financial hub, announced the opening of https://8964museum.com last month.    The website operated independently from the Alliance, it said.
    Hong Kong users have not been able to access the website from the city since Thursday without using virtual private networks.    Internet service provider PCCW declined comment.    Providers HKBN and 3HK did not respond to requests to comment.
    “This is a disgraceful act to erase historical memory,” the online museum said in a statement.
    Hong Kong police said it could not comment on individual cases, but said national security legislation states that “police may require service providers to take actions to prohibit electronic messages posted on electronic platforms that are likely to endanger national security.”
    While the internet in mainland China is heavily censored and access to foreign social media platforms and news sites is blocked, Hong Kong residents have so far enjoyed greater freedoms under the “one country, two systems” framework agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
    The first censorship case under the security law Beijing imposed on the city in 2020 emerged in January when authorities blocked access to protests-related website HKChronicles.
    The June 4th Museum’s physical location in Hong Kong closed in June over a licensing probe and has since been added to a list of assets and bank accounts frozen by authorities as part of a national security investigation against The Alliance.
    The organisation said last week it would disband after police accused it of being “an agent of foreign forces,” raided the museum’s premises, and charged the group with inciting subversion under the national security law.
    The Alliance, which denies the allegations, was the latest of dozens of civil society bodies to fold over the past year.br>     Its leaders Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, like dozens of other pro-democracy activists and politicians, are in jail over large anti-government protests that roiled the city in 2019 and also face national security charges.
    Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly denied curbing human rights and freedoms, saying law enforcement has been based on evidence and has nothing to do with the background, profession or political beliefs of those arrested.
    Hong Kong traditionally holds the world’s largest annual June 4 vigil, although police banned the last two events over coronavirus concerns.    Mainland China bans commemorations and heavily censors the topic.
    China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown.    Officials gave a death toll of about 300 days afterwards, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

9/30/2021 Killing Of Top Rohingya Leader Underscores Violence In Bangladesh Camps by Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul
Rohingya Muslims carry the body of Mohib Ullah, leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights after
he has been gunned down in Kutupalang camp, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mushfiqul Alam
    (Reuters) – For years, Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah, one of the most prominent advocates for the persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar, predicted he would be killed by the hardliners who regularly sent him death threats.
    “If I die, I’m fine.    I will give my life,” he told Reuters in 2019 in his office in a bamboo hut in one of the Bangladesh refugee camps outside the port of Cox’s Bazar.    “If suddenly there’s an ‘accident’, no problem. Every community worker gives his life at last.”
    On Wednesday night, gunmen shot him dead in the same office where he held community meetings.    In a video circulated on social media, his brother, Habib Ullah, who said he witnessed the shooting, blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group active in the camps.
    “They killed him as he is the leader and all Rohingya abide by him,” Habib Ullah said in the video.    Before opening fire, “they said he cannot be a leader of Rohingya and there cannot be any leaders for Rohingya,” he said.
    Reuters could not independently verify his account.
    Mohib Ullah was known as a moderate who advocated for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar with rights they were previously denied during decades of persecution. He was the leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH), which was founded in 2017 to document atrocities against Rohingya in their native Myanmar and give them a voice in international talks about their future.
    Gunmen fired on Mohib Ullah, who was in his late-40s and was married with young children, after evening prayers, a police official told Reuters by phone.
    “They fired five rounds of bullets and fled immediately. Our search mission is on to arrest the killers,” added Rafiqul Islam, deputy police chief in Cox’s Bazar. He said further that extra police had been deployed at the camps.
    Representatives of ARSA, which portrays itself as an ethnic freedom fighter organisation, could not be reached for comment.
    The killing has ignited grief and anger in the camps, the world’s largest refugee settlement, where some residents interviewed by Reuters say the murder is the latest evidence of mounting violence as armed gangs and extremists vie for power.
    Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia Campaigner, said the violence had been increasing.
    “Armed groups operating drug cartels have killed people and held hostages.    The authorities must take immediate action to prevent further bloodshed.”
    More than a million Rohingya live in the camps, the vast majority having fled neighbouring Myanmar during a military crackdown in 2017 that the United Nations has said was carried out with genocidal intent.
    Myanmar denies genocide, saying it was waging a legitimate campaign against insurgents who attacked police posts.
    “He (Mohib Ullah) was the voice of the Rohingya community,” said a refugee, asking not to be named for fear of retribution.    “He lived in fear but never gave up… Everyone is in fear.    If a leader like him was shot dead, who else is safe?    No one.”
    A close associate of the slain leader told Reuters in a message he feared for his life.
‘NIGHT GOVERNMENT’
    Mohib Ullah came to prominence after going hut to hut in the camps collecting evidence of abuses against Rohingya in Myanmar, including mass killings and gang rapes, that has been shared with international investigators.    He spoke at the White House and U.N Human Rights Council, asking for Rohingya to be given more of a voice in their future.
    One ARSPH leader told Reuters in 2019 Mohib Ullah was being threatened by ARSA, whose attacks on security posts in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state preceded the army campaign that drove hundreds of thousands across the border.
    Violent men claiming affiliation to ARSA and other armed gangs rule the camps at night, he and other refugees said, kidnapping critics and warning women against breaking conservative Islamic norms.
    Several Rohingya have told Reuters in recent months ARSA and other armed gangs are behind the violence.
    A close friend said on Thursday Mohib Ullah referred to ARSA as the “night government” and had continued to move from place to place to avoid being targeted by them. He said the activist had asked for protection from Bangladesh authorities and the United Nations.
    ARSA, which couldn’t be reached for comment, has previously denied responsibility for criminality in the camps.
    UNHCR said in a statement on Thursday it was “deeply shocked and saddened” by Mohib Ullah’s death and had “enhanced its staff presence in the camps to ensure that the Rohingya refugees have direct access to support services and can report their concerns.”
    Rafiqul Islam, the police official, said Mohib Ullah had not filed complaints about the threats or sought police protection.
    “If he did, we could have considered that,” he said.
    Bangladesh government officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    Eva Buzo, an Australian barrister representing Mohib Ullah and other victims in international criminal cases against Myanmar, said she and others had pleaded with the U.N refugee agency and foreign embassies in Bangladesh to offer him protection.
    She said he was given travel permits for brief visits – in 2019 he went to meet Donald Trump at the White House and to speak to the U.N Human Rights Council – but not when he needed to escape the camp.
    Diplomats and U.N officials, she said, “elevated Mohib Ullah as a moderate Rohingya leader and when he was receiving death threats no one was there to offer him protection.”
(Reporting by Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jon Boyle)

9/30/2021 Philippines Kicks Off Election Season Under Pandemic Cloud by Karen Lema
FILE PHOTO: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte arrives with daughter and first lady Sara Duterte-Carpio to attend the
enthronement ceremony of Japan's Emperor Naruhito in Tokyo, Japan October 22, 2019. Carl Court/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines opens a week-long window on Friday for filing of candidacy for thousands of political posts, from the presidency down to town councillors, kicking off what is expected to be a hotly contested election in May next year.
    The process should put an end to months of speculation over who will vie to succeed firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte, 76, who under the constitution cannot seek reelection and will contest the vice presidency race instead.
    https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippine-senator-first-declare-2022-run-presidency-2021-09-08     What is usually a festive event with big crowds will be more sober this year, with restrictions in place to fight one of Asia’s deadliest COVID-19 epidemics.
    So far, just three contenders have declared their intention to run for president, the most famous, senator and newly retired https://reut.rs/3EYCDzw boxing icon, Manny Pacquiao https://reut.rs/3kRUMHu.
    Manila Mayor Francisco “Isko Moreno” Domagoso, https://reut.rs/3FgtdzN a former actor, and Senator Panfilo Lacson, an ex police chief, have also confirmed they will run.
    But the spotlight will be on Sara Duterte-Carpio, the president’s daughter, despite her ruling out running for higher office next year https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/duterte-daughter-denies-philippine-succession-interest-expectation-rises-2021-09-09.
    Duterte-Carpio, 43, replaced her father as Davao City mayor when he became president, and she remains by far the most popular presidential prospect, according to successive opinion polls https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/support-dutertes-declines-philippines-election-survey-2021-09-29 this year.
    Analysts say it is crucial her father’s successor is a loyalist, to insulate him from potential legal action at home or by the International Criminal Court, over the thousands of state killings in his war on drugs since 2016.
    Critics say his interest in the vice presidency is also a self-preservation move. Duterte says his motivation is public service, not power.
    Vice president, Leni Robredo https://reut.rs/3l2o2vf, who leads the opposition, is also being urged by supporters to run for the top post.
    “In the coming days, please pray with me so that our decision will be what is best for our country,” she said.
    More than 60 million Filipinos will vote in May 2022 for a new president, vice president, and more than 18,000 lawmakers and local government officials.
    Candidates have until Oct. 8 to register, but withdrawals and substitutions are allowed until Nov. 15, leaving scope for last-minute changes of heart, like the 11th hour entry of Duterte for the 2016 election, which he won by a huge margin.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

10/1/2021 China Gorges On American Grain-Fed Beef Amid Shrinking Supplies From Down Under by Dominique Patton and Tom Polansek
A chef cooks beef steaks at the kitchen of Wolfgang's Steakhouse restaurant which specialises in high quality
U.S. beef, in Beijing, China September 8, 2021. Picture taken September 8, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING/CHICAGO (Reuters) – As Australian beef exports to China wither amid diplomatic tensions, demand there for U.S. grain-fed beef has soared, fuelled by the appetites of a growing Chinese middle class.
    Hotpot restaurants, Japanese barbecue chains and steakhouses, all expanding in the world’s No. 2 economy, are swapping out Australian beef for U.S. meat. Several Australian suppliers were banned last year and shipments from others take too long to clear customs.
    Beef imports from the U.S. have grown to 83,000 tonnes in the first eight months of 2021, nine times the amount in the same period a year ago, according to Chinese customs data, and are set to be worth more than $1 billion this year.    Australia also fell behind the United States this year as the top exporter of grain-fed beef to China.
    “They don’t have a lot of other options when it comes to the well-marbled, grain-fed product,” said Joe Schuele, spokesman at the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).    “That’s the product that really stands out in China.”
    Deteriorating relations between Beijing and Canberra have hurt supplies from Australia.    Five of its largest factories were suspended by Beijing last year for reasons such as poor labelling and contamination with a banned substance.
    Though other plants are still allowed to ship to China, importers say they face long delays.
    Beef imports from Australia in the first eight months fell to 96,000 tonnes, half of what they were in the same period last year, China customs data shows.
    “We’ve been told it will take at least 85 days to clear,” said a Beijing-based importer who has six containers of frozen Australian beef stuck in Shanghai port and has begun offering Tyson beef to his restaurant clients.
    That compares with about one week for meat from other origins.    China’s General Administration of Customs did not respond to a request for comment.
    Sino-Australian ties have been strained since 2018 and worsened last year when Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the novel coronavirus, prompting trade reprisals from China.
GRAIN-FED DEMAND
    Grass-fed beef, a premium product in other markets, typically goes to cheaper channels in China, such as mass-market restaurants and supermarkets.
    Last year imports accounted for 40% of China’s beef consumption, or about 2 million tonnes.    Though supplies are dominated by low-cost grass-fed producers Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, demand from mass-market consumers is slowing amid a weaker economy.
    China’s mid- to high-end market – where grain-fed rules – continues to grow, however, as consumers “trade up, eat better”, said Pan Chenjun, senior analyst at Rabobank.
    China’s middle class spent $7.3 trillion in 2020, more than any other country’s, according to a report by U.S. research group Brookings, and is still growing, with young people accounting for more spending than in other countries.
    New York chain Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, which has two restaurants in Beijing, opened another in the southern city of Shenzhen this year and has plans for a fourth in Hangzhou.
    The restaurant flies in chilled U.S. beef before ageing it.    Its 800g rib-eyes cost $150 apiece.
    “Young people like meat, especially 20- and 30-year-olds who come here on dates,” said Glen Feng, manager of the Beijing outlets.
    China beef imports by supplier, January-August https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-BEEF/klvykgrnrvg/chart.png
TRADE TIES
    Even as China’s beef demand has surged in recent years, driven by a growing middle class, politics have reshuffled the country’s top importers.
    Domestic production costs, meanwhile, make local supplies of grain-fed beef erratic, said Zhong Dingming, the manager of Jingli hotpot restaurant in Beijing. He said imported beef like the Tyson short ribs he buys offers better quality for a slightly higher price.
    In last year’s Phase 1 trade deal between Beijing and Washington, China agreed that U.S.-approved processing plants could access its market without Chinese inspections.
    The number of facilities allowed to ship to China has jumped to more than 500.
    TREX Corp, a U.S. meat exporter owned by Greater Omaha Packing Co, is buying meat from other packers to ship to China as demand climbs, said Henry Davis, chief executive of Greater Omaha.
    In China, USMEF has doubled the number of training events teaching local chefs how best to cut and slice, said Joel Haggard, senior vice president for the Asia Pacific.
    Value of U.S. beef exports to China https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-BEEF/lbvgngxjmpq/chart.png Shanghai-based retailer Swiss Butchery said it had stocked up on American beef as Australian supplies became less reliable.    The store now sells American wagyu for 1,430 yuan ($221.87)per kilogramme, on occasion selling 10 kilogrammes at a time, said general manager Jaap Zuidervliet.
    U.S. beef that meets China’s import standards is in tight supply and the European Union is competing to buy the same meat, said Omaha’s Davis.
    And though Australia’s beef exporters have turned to Japan and South Korea, a well-established reputation means customers in China could quickly return if things change.
    “Australian beef still has a reputation for top quality and being natural.    Long-term we’re still really bullish on China,” said Andrew Cox, general manager of international markets at trade body Meat and Livestock Australia.
($1 = 6.4452 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Dominique Patton in Beijing and Tom Polansek in Chicago. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

10/1/2021 Japan’s Takeda Says ‘Human Error’ Caused Contamination Of Moderna Vaccines by Rocky Swift
FILE PHOTO: A Takeda logo is seen in its research hub in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., November 26, 2018. REUTERS/Julie Steenhuysen
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd said on Friday that “human error” caused metal contaminants to get into Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccine doses, leading to a recall.
    Takeda, which imports and distributes the vaccine in Japan, and Moderna said in a new report that a Spanish manufacturer discovered contaminants in some vials in July, but supplies from the same production were allowed to be shipped to Japan.
    Japanese authorities in August suspended the use of three batches of Moderna shots containing 1.63 million doses after being notified of the contamination.    Moderna conducted an investigation in partnership with Takeda and Spanish manufacturer Rovi, which operates the plant where the contamination occurred.
    The new report said that the problem stemmed from “incorrect assembly and was due to human error specific to visually misjudging the required 1mm gap between the star-wheel and the stopper” of machinery that put the tops on vaccine vials.
    A total of five, sequential lots of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at Rovi between June 27 and July 3 were investigated.    The first three were shipped to Japan and later recalled after the discovery of particles, later determined to be stainless steel, inside 39 vials.
    But a fourth lot failed inspection after the discovery of particles on July 2, and a fifth lot was also held back by Rovi.    The problems with Lots 4 and 5 were reported to Moderna, Takeda and Japan’s health ministry, but the first three lots were released for use because they “had passed inspection and were not considered to be impacted.”
    In fact the incorrect set-up “led to the issue persisting throughout the series of five batches,” the investigation showed.
    Improved operating procedures and the use of a new precision tool will help prevent the issue from recurring, the report said.
    The companies and Japan’s health ministry have said the particles of stainless steel did not pose any additional health risk.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/1/2021 Taiwan Questions China’s Suitability For Pacific Trade Pact, Fears ‘Obstruction’ by Ben Blanchard, Yimou Lee and Jeanny Kao
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s restrictive practices present fundamental problems for its application to join a major pan-Pacific free trade pact, and if it joins before Taiwan there is a risk it could block their application, the island’s economy minister said.
    Taiwan and China both applied last month to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), but China says it opposes Taiwan – which it claims as its own territory – joining.
    “If China enters first, certainly there is a risk of them obstructing Taiwan,” Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday.    “Taiwan joining anything, they oppose.”
    China says it has the right to represent Taiwan’s 23.5 million people in international bodies regardless of the island’s claim that it is an independent country
.
    Beijing has numerous issues, from internet censorship to labour rights, that call into question whether it can reach the CPTPP’s high standards, she added, saying those requirements are set to “challenge China’s very fundamental systems.”
    “If China can change these, I think changing this system and then entering (the trade pact) is not a bad thing. But the prerequisite is that if this system is not changed, why can they enter CPTPP?    This is an issue I don’t really understand,” she added.
    “Look at their information – nothing can enter.    Facebook can’t enter, Google can’t enter,” Wang said, referring to China’s blocking of both major sites, which it does to a slew of Western internet firms including Twitter, all in the name of national security.
    The original 12-member agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was seen as an important economic counterweight to China’s growing influence.
    But the TPP was thrown into limbo in early 2017 when then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States.     The grouping, which was renamed the CPTPP, links Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
    Taiwan, a major semiconductor producer, has applied to join under the name it uses in the World Trade Organization (WTO) – the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu.    Taiwan is also a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping.
    Wang said Taiwan was not aware of any CPTPP member objecting to their application, in contrast to the disquiet expressed by Japan in particular about China’s bid.
    “At the very least after we submitted the written application, we’ve not heard that any member opposes, not like after China applied, when some countries brought it up.”
    Taiwan has been angling for free trade deals with other countries, especially other democracies.    Wang said if it joined, it would not need to seek a separate agreement with Australia, or fellow CPTPP applicant Britain.
    While talks to enter the WTO went on for more than a decade, Wang said she did not think it would take that long for the CPTPP, but added it was hard to give a timetable.
    “I think if the political obstacles can be reduced as much as possible, I don’t believe talks will go on for decades.”
(Reporting by Jeanny Kao, Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by William Mallard)

10/1/2021 N.Korea Says It Fired ‘Remarkable’ New Anti-Aircraft Missile In Test by Hyonhee Shin
A newly developed anti-aircraft missile is seen during a test conducted by the Academy of Defence Science, in this
undated photo released on October 1, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea fired a newly developed anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, state media KCNA reported, the latest in a recent series of weapons tests that has come as denuclearisation talks with the United States have been in deadlock.
    It was North Korea’s second known weapons test this week after the launch of a previously unseen hypersonic missile on Tuesday https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-it-test-fired-new-hypersonic-missile-kcna-2021-09-28. It has also fired ballistic missiles https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/nkorea-fired-unidentified-projectile-yonhap-citing-skorea-military-2021-09-15 and a cruise missile with potential nuclear capabilities https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-test-fires-long-range-cruise-missile-kcna-2021-09-12 in recent weeks.
    The tests highlighted how North Korea has been steadily developing increasingly sophisticated weapons, raising the stakes for efforts to press it to give up its nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    The Academy of Defence Science, a military weapons developer, said the test was aimed at confirming the practical functionality of the missile’s launcher, radar, comprehensive battle command vehicle and combat performance, the official KCNA news agency reported on Friday.
    The missile has new key technologies such as twin rudder control and double impulse flight engine, it said.
    South Korea’s military said detailed analysis was needed to verify the KCNA report.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not appear to have attended the test, which was instead overseen by Pak Jong Chon, a member of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo and Central Committee.
    “The remarkable combat performance of the new-type anti-aircraft missile with features of rapid responsiveness and guidance accuracy of missile control system as well as the substantial increase in the distance of downing air targets has been verified,” KCNA said, citing the academy.
    North Korea has said in recent weeks that its weapons tests are aimed at boosting its defence capabilities just as other countries do, accusing the United States and South Korea of “double standards” and “hostile policy” toward it.
    On Wednesday, Kim said he has no reasons to attack South Korea and was willing to reopen severed inter-Korean hotlines.    But it criticised U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration for using “more cunning ways and methods” in pursuing hostile policy while proposing dialogue.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is in charge of North Korean affairs, said the North did not answer the lines on Friday but it vowed to continue efforts to restore the channels and resume talks.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in a speech celebrating the 73rd Armed Forces Day on Friday, did not refer to North Korea but said he was committed to fostering lasting peace while sternly responding to any life-threatening action.
    Analysts say the North’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at securing international recognition as a nuclear weapons state and driving a wedge between the United States and South Korea, with an eye on Moon’s desire for a diplomatic legacy before his term ends in May.
    The Biden administration has said it has no hostile intent toward North Korea and has called on it to accept its offers of talks to break the impasse over denuclearisation negotiations.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Sandra Maler, Robert Birsel)

10/1/2021 Evoking Mao, China Likens Taiwan Foreign Minister To A ‘Shrilling’ Fly
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu attends a news conference
for foreign journalists in Taipei, Taiwan April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China has launched a vituperative attack on Taiwan’s foreign minister, evoking the words of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong to denounce him as a “shrilling” fly for his efforts to promote Taiwan internationally.
    Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, a fluent English speaker, is an outspoken supporter of the island’s efforts to push back against pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own, and regularly appears on think-tank and other panels.
    In a lengthy denouncement of Wu late on Thursday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said he was a “diehard” supporter of Taiwan independence who peddled lies that Taiwan is a sovereign country.
    It quoted a poem written by Mao in 1963, The River All Red, which was a denunciation of the Soviet Union and United States.
    “All forms of comments on Taiwan independence are but flies ‘humming, with a burst of shrilling and a fit of sobbing,'” the Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office said.
    Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the attack was “not worthy” of commenting on.
    However, Taiwan’s China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council denounced it as “slander and abuse.”
    “This kind of verbal violence, unprecedented in the international community, only highlights the overstepping of the rules of the Taiwan-related body on the other side of the Taiwan Strait and how far away it is from civilized society.”
    China has stepped up military and political pressure to try and force the democratically ruled island to accept Chinese sovereignty.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/1/2021 S. Korea Extends Social Distancing Curbs As COVID-19 Cases Rise In Seoul by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: People rest as they keep social distancing to avoid the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a park in Seoul, South Korea, September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea extended social distancing curbs to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Friday for two weeks, offering more incentives to people to get vaccinated as it battles thousands of new cases each day, particularly in the capital.
    The rapid resurgence in the greater Seoul area prompted authorities to extend distancing restrictions until Oct. 17, including a ban in the region on dining out after 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m.
    The country recorded 2,486 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), with the daily tally having topped 3,000 for the first time last week.
    The daily average exceeded 2,635 over the past week – the highest-ever level and easily more than twice the level a month before, the KDCA said.
    The capital Seoul and neighbouring regions remain the hotspot, reporting almost 2,000 cases every day for the last week, up about 42% within just one week.
    “We’re in a very dangerous situation where the virus is spreading surrounding the Seoul metropolitan area,” said Lee Ki-il, deputy minister of health care policy, speaking during a briefing.
    The upcoming two weeks is an important period as the government is revamping its anti-virus policy to facilitate a phased return to normal activities starting November, he added.
    Among new incentives introduced to encourage people to get vaccinated, the deputy minister said wedding ceremonies can be held with up to 199 attendees if they included 150 fully vaccinated people.
    “If the vaccination rate constantly rises and the scales of outbreaks are stably controlled for the next two weeks, we should be able to set out on phased back to normal in earnest,” Lee said.
    Around 77% of South Korea’s 52 million population had received one shot of vaccine as of Thursday, with about 50% fully vaccinated, as the country has quickly ramped up its inoculation campaign despite a shaky start.
    The government aims to vaccinate 80% of all adults by the end of October, and is considering introducing a ‘vaccine pass’ to allow those who have been fully inoculated to use public facilities and travel more freely.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

10/1/2021 Australia To Ease International Border Restrictions From November by Colin Packham and Jamie Freed
FILE PHOTO: A mostly empty domestic terminal at Sydney Airport is seen after surrounding states shut their borders to New South Wales
in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    CANBERRA/SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday announced an 18-month ban on Australians travelling abroad will be lifted from next month, easing one of the toughest COVID-19 restrictions imposed globally.
    Reopening the international border for citizens and permanent residents will be linked to the establishment of home quarantine in Australia’s eight states and territories, Morrison said, meaning that some parts of the country will reopen sooner than others.
    The first phase of the plan will focus on citizens and permanent residents being allowed to leave Australia, with further changes expected to permit foreign travellers to enter the country.
    “It’s time to give Australians their lives back. We’ve saved lives,” Morrison said during a televised media conference.    “We’ve saved livelihoods, but we must work together to ensure that Australians can reclaim the lives that they once had in this country.”
    Morrison slammed the international border shut in March 2020. Since then, only a limited number of people have been granted a permit to leave the country for critical business or humanitarian reasons.
    Citizens and permanent residents have been allowed to return from abroad, subject to quota limits and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their own expense.    There have also been a few high-profile exceptions granted for entry for business purposes, including Hollywood actors to film movies and TV shows.
    Morrison said he expects the first home quarantine systems to be up and running in November, but the timetable will be set by individual states and territories.
    He has previously said it wants all state and international borders reopened when the national vaccination rate for people aged over 16 reaches 80%, expected by the end of next month.
    However, a Delta variant-fuelled outbreak that has locked down the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra for weeks has divided state and territory leaders.    Some presiding over virus-free parts of the country have indicated they will defy the federal plan.
    Under the plan announced on Friday, Australians who are fully vaccinated will be able to travel abroad and complete a 7-day quarantine at home on their return.    People who are not vaccinated will be required to undertake 14 days of quarantine at a hotel when they return.
    Morrison said his government was working towards quarantine free travel with countries such as New Zealand when “safe to do so.”
    An Australian government source said plans were being discussed to allow foreign visitors to enter the country, but it was not possible to yet state a timetable.
VACCINE APPROVAL
    Australia’s strict border closure has been credited with keeping both fatalities and infections relatively low.    It has recorded just over 107,000 COVID-19 cases and about 1,300 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
    The country on Friday reported 2,084 new COVID-19 cases, the bulk of which were detected in New South Wales and Victoria states.    The results marked a small decline in case numbers from those reported one day earlier, but authorities warned against complacency.
    Australia will also expand its list of authorised COVID-19 vaccines, allowing thousands of citizens and permanent residents still abroad to return via the home quarantine system, Morrison said.
    Australia currently only recognises vaccines produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.    The source said China’s Sinovac and Covishield, a version of AstraZeneca’s vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, would be added to the list.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Jamie Freed in Sydney, and Colin Packham in Canberra; editing by Richard Pullin and Jane Wardell)

10/1/2021 Philippines Loosens Coronavirus Curbs In Capital Region
FILE PHOTO: A Filipino Muslim wearing a face mask as protection against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) carries a cat after the morning prayers on Eid al-Adha, outside the Blue Mosque in
Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 20, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines further loosened coronavirus restrictions in the capital region on Friday, allowing restaurants to accept more guests and gyms to reopen after recording a decline in daily COVID 19 cases.
    The Philippines, which is battling one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Asia, is gradually relaxing curbs to allow the recovery of the economy.
    An alert level system first and small-scale lockdown system imposed on the capital region on Sept. 16 to allow for greater mobility and more businesses to reopen will remain in place up to Oct. 15.
    Restaurants and personal care services were permitted to double their allowable operating capacity to 20%, while fitness studios and gyms were allowed to reopen their doors, but only to fully vaccinated clients.
    “This is one step towards the recovery of the economy.    People are enthusiastic about opening up,” Benjamin Abalos, chairperson of the capital’s council of mayors, told Reuters.
    The capital region, an urban sprawl of 16 cities that is home to 13 million people, is the country’s coronavirus epicentre, accounting for a third of confirmed infections and one in every four deaths.    Nearly four-fifths of the area’s population have already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, government data showed.
    The capital region is under a moderate risk case classification but intensive care utilisation is still under a high risk level, the health ministry said.
    New COVID-19 infections in the Philippines have shown signs of easing, with confirmed cases averaging 1,700 daily in the past week from nearly 4,300 in the previous week.
    The Philippines, which has nearly 2.5 million COVID-19 cases and 38,294 deaths, has the second-highest infections and casualties in Southeast Asia, next to Indonesia.
    “Be careful, my countrymen, because COVID will stay here for quite a while,” Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said in a national address aired on Friday.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Moralesl Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/1/2021 Malaysia Posts Record Monthly COVID-19 Deaths As Authorities Cite Backlog by Rozanna Latiff
FILE PHOTO: Undertakers wearing protective suits bury a victim of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a cemetery in Klang, Malaysia August 5, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia recorded 9,671 deaths due to COVID-19 in September, the deadliest month since the pandemic began, government data showed on Friday, though authorities have said the increase was mostly due to the delayed inclusion of fatalities from previous months.
    The spike has pushed Malaysia’s death toll to among the highest per capita in Asia, even as new infections have slowed in recent weeks amid a ramped-up vaccination programme.
    September’s figure accounted for more than a third of the 26,335 total COVID-19 deaths reported in Malaysia, which has recorded over 2.2 million infections, the third-highest number in Southeast Asia.
    Health ministry officials, however, say the reporting of many deaths have been delayed – some up to several months – as rising cases overwhelmed hospitals and testing labs.
    The ministry in September began releasing daily data according to the time of deaths, as well as their reporting date, in a bid to improve transparency and clear the backlog.
    Although Malaysia reported a daily average of 322 COVID-19 fatalities in September, actual daily deaths fell to 89 as of Thursday based on a seven-day rolling average, the data showed.br>     Authorities have pledged to reduce the lags by imposing time limits on hospitals to confirm cause of death.
    The previously unreported fatalities exposed systemic gaps, despite Malaysia having one of the fastest vaccine rollouts in Southeast Asia, University of Malaya infectious diseases expert Adeeba Kamarulzaman told Reuters.
    These include uneven vaccination rates in different states, inadequate monitoring of COVID-19 patients in home quarantine, as well as limited access to healthcare among undocumented migrants, she said.
    “Many in the migrant population either lack information about the disease or fear coming forward for care, in case they are arrested,” Adeeba said.
    Malaysia also has high rates of obesity, diabetes and hypertension, particularly among younger adults who were vaccinated later, which increased their risk of contracting severe COVID-19 infections, she added.
    About 62% of Malaysia’s 32 million population are now fully vaccinated, including 86% of adults.    The country began inoculating teenagers between the ages of 12-17 last month.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Ed Davies)

10/2/2021 Global COVID-19 Deaths Hit 5 Million As Delta Variant Sweeps The World by Kavya B and Roshan Abraham
FILE PHOTO: Grave diggers bury a man who, according to his son, died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as Senegal records
more COVID-19 deaths, at the Christian Saint-Lazare Cemetery in Dakar, Senegal August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    (Reuters) - Worldwide deaths related to COVID-19 surpassed 5 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, with unvaccinated people particularly exposed to the virulent Delta strain.
    The variant has exposed the wide disparities in vaccination rates between rich and poor nations, and the upshot of vaccine hesitancy in some western nations.
    More than half of all global deaths reported on a seven-day average were in the United States, Russia, Brazil, Mexico and India.
    While it took just over a year for the COVID-19 death toll https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi to hit 2.5 million, the next 2.5 million deaths were recorded in just under eight months, according to a Reuters analysis.
    An average of 8,000 deaths were reported daily across the world over the last week, or around five deaths every minute.    However, the global death rate has been slowing in recent weeks.
    There has been increasing focus in recent days on getting vaccines to poorer nations, where many people are yet to receive a first dose, even as their richer counterparts have begun giving booster shots.
    More than half of the world has yet to receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/covid-vaccinations.
    The World Health Organization this week said its COVAX distribution programme would, for the first time, distribute shots only to countries with the lowest levels of coverage.
    Co-led by the WHO, COVAX has since January largely allocated doses proportionally among its 140-plus beneficiary states according to population size.
    “For the October supply we designed a different methodology, only covering participants with low sources of supply,” Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director General for Access to Vaccines, said in a recording of a conference presentation last week posted on the WHO’s website.
    The United States, which has been battling vaccine misinformation that has caused about one-third of the population to avoid inoculations, surpassed 700,000 deaths on Friday, the highest toll of any country.
    U.S. cases and hospitalizations have been trending lower, but health officials are bracing for a possible resurgence as cooler weather forces more activities indoors.
    Russia reported 887 coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, the largest single-day death toll it has recorded since the pandemic began and the fourth day in a row it has set that record.    Only 33% of Russia’s eligible population has received a first vaccine dose.
    As a region, South America has the highest death toll in the world accounting for 21% of all reported deaths, followed by North America and Eastern Europe contributing more than 14% of all fatalities each, according to Reuters analysis.
    However, India, one of the first countries ravaged by the Delta variant, has gone from an average of 4,000 deaths a day to less than 300 as its vaccination campaign is rolled out.
    About 47% of India’s eligible population has received a first shot, with officials administering around 7,896,950 doses per day over the past week, a Reuters analysis of Our World in Data showed.
    The Delta variant is now the dominant strain around the globe and has been reported in 187 out of 194 World Health Organization member countries.
(Reporting by Kavya B and Roshan Abraham in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Jane Wardell)

10/2/2021 Taiwan Angered After Largest Ever Incursion By Chinese Air Force by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military airplane
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan sharply criticised China on Saturday after Beijing marked the founding of the People’s Republic of China with the largest ever incursion by the Chinese air force into the island’s air defence zone.
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    Taiwanese fighters scrambled against 38 Chinese aircraft in two waves on Friday, the Taiwan Defence Ministry said.    It said Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
    “China has been wantonly engaged in military aggression, damaging regional peace,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Saturday morning.
    The first wave of incursions comprised 18 J-16 and four Su-30 fighter jets plus two nuclear-capable H-6 bombers and an anti-submarine aircraft, while the second had 10 J-16s, 2 H-6s and an early warning aircraft, the ministry said.
    The first batch of Chinese aircraft all flew in an area close to the Pratas Islands, with the two bombers flying closest to the atoll, according to a map issued by the ministry.
    The second group flew down into the Bashi Channel that separates Taiwan from the Philippines, a key waterway that links the Pacific with the disputed South China Sea.
    China has yet to comment.    It has previously said such flights were to protect the country’s sovereignty and aimed at “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States, the island’s most important international backer.
    The previous largest incursion happened in June, involving 28 Chinese air force aircraft.
    China’s latest mission came less than a day after its government launched a attack on Taiwan’s foreign minister, evoking the words of revolutionary leader Mao Zedong to denounce him as a “shrilling” fly for his efforts to promote Taiwan internationally.
    China has stepped up military and political pressure to try and force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jane Wardell and William Mallard)

10/2/2021 N. Korea Says It Fired ‘Remarkable’ New Anti-Aircraft Missile In Test by Hyonhee Shin
A newly developed anti-aircraft missile is seen during a test conducted by the Academy of Defence Science, in this
undated photo released on October 1, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired a newly developed anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, state media KCNA reported, the latest in a recent series of weapons tests that has come as denuclearisation talks with the United States have deadlocked.
    It was North Korea’s second known weapons test this week after the launch of a previously unseen hypersonic missile on Tuesday.    It has also fired ballistic missiles and a cruise missile with potential nuclear capabilities in recent weeks.
    The U.N. Security Council met behind closed doors on Friday to discuss the latest tests and Washington said it was assessing the missile launches.
    The tests highlighted how North Korea has been steadily developing increasingly sophisticated weapons, raising the stakes for efforts to press it to give up its nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    The Academy of Defence Science, a military weapons developer, said the test was aimed at confirming the practical functionality of the missile’s launcher, radar, comprehensive battle command vehicle and combat performance, the official KCNA news agency reported on Friday.
    The missile has new key technologies such as twin rudder control and double impulse flight engine, it said. South Korea’s military said detailed analysis was needed to verify the KCNA report.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not appear to have attended the test, which was instead overseen by Pak Jong Chon, a member of the ruling Workers’ Party’s powerful politburo and Central Committee.
    “The remarkable combat performance of the new-type anti-aircraft missile with features of rapid responsiveness and guidance accuracy of missile control system as well as the substantial increase in the distance of downing air targets has been verified,” KCNA said, citing the academy.
    North Korea has said in recent weeks that its weapons tests are aimed at boosting its defence capabilities just as other countries do, accusing the United States and South Korea of “double standards” and “hostile policy” toward it.
    On Wednesday, Kim said he has no reasons to attack South Korea and was willing to reopen severed inter-Korean hotlines.    But it criticised U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration for using “more cunning ways and methods” in pursuing hostile policy while proposing dialogue.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is in charge of North Korean affairs, said the North did not answer the lines on Friday but it vowed to continue efforts to restore the channels and resume talks.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in a speech celebrating the 73rd Armed Forces Day on Friday, did not refer to North Korea but said he was committed to fostering lasting peace while sternly responding to any life-threatening action.
    Analysts say the North’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at securing international recognition as a nuclear weapons state and driving a wedge between the United States and South Korea, with an eye on Moon’s desire for a diplomatic legacy before his term ends in May.
    The Biden administration has said it has no hostile intent toward North Korea and has called on it to accept its offers of talks to break the impasse over denuclearisation negotiations.
    “We’ve made specific proposals for discussions with the North Koreans, but have not received a response to date and we remain prepared to discuss the full range of issues,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.    “We’re assessing the specific nature of these launch events.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Jeff Mason and Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Sandra Maler, Robert Birsel and Daniel Wallis)

10/2/2021 China Anti-Graft Watchdog Probes Former Justice Minister
FILE PHOTO: Fu Zhenghua, is pictured during a meeting in Beijing, China on Jan. 17, 2011,
when he was head of Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s top anti-corruption watchdog said on Saturday it is investigating a former justice minister, Fu Zhenghua, for suspected serious violations of discipline and national laws.
    The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection announced the probe in a statement that did not give details about the investigation.
    Fu, 66, and the commission could not be reached for comment.
    He was also a deputy head of the Ministry of Public Security before becoming minister in 2018.    He had led a number of high-profile investigations and crackdowns, including a probe into former security czar Zhou Yongkang, who was found guilty of corruption.
(Reporting by Judy Hua and Yew Lun Tian; Editing by William Mallard)

10/2/2021 Fmr. Ambassador: China Using One Belt One Road Initiative In Africa To Spread Authoritarianism Globally by OAN Newsroom
Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, speaks during a news conference at the
State Department in Washington, D.C. on June 10, 2020. (Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    A top diplomat under President Trump has sounded the alarm on China’s pursuit for global dominance.    On Friday, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Freedom Sam Brownback warned China is using its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative in Africa to leverage its economic power in order to phase America out of the international stage.    Brownback added U.S. lawmakers need to move fast to secure America’s position as top superpower.
    China began pumping billions of dollars into Africa’s infrastructure beginning as early as the year 2000, before the Chinese Communist Party head, Xi Jingping, officially announced the initiative in 2013.    The program aimed to bolster China’s relationships with several countries including Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya.
    Additionally, the CCP’s funds helped develop infrastructure projects such as transportation networks, port facilities and telecommunications infrastructure.
    “They want that model of authoritarian control to expand around the world and they’re playing big in Africa.    That hurts us if you get more countries going to this authoritarian model,” said Brownback.    “Plus, there’s just the raw resource issue that China has been after for decades now in Africa, tying up these raw resources for their global economic dominance that they seek.”
BEIJING, CHINA – APRIL 27: Chinese President Xi Jinping gives a speech at a press conference after the Belt and Road Forum at the
China National Convention Center at the Yanqi Lake venue on April 27, 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Wang Zhao – Pool/Getty Images)
    Chinese leaders touted the One Belt One Road initiative as a path towards establishing strong economic partnerships.    However, Brownback argued China aims to exploit the region’s natural resources and lay down its authoritarian roots in the region, hoping to spread its influence throughout the world.
    Experts have suggested the initiative has lost traction amid commodity prices plaguing African countries’ economies before the pandemic, and the near total halt of economic activity once COVID-19 struck their communities.    Researchers say this is hindering African leaders’ abilities to pay off their debts to China.
    Studies have predicted this could buy time for other superpowers to undermine China’s influence.    Brownback stressed America needs to take steps to challenge China’s role in the region and promote religious, economic and personal freedom in Africa.
    In the meantime, the former ambassador said he believes the American public will welcome this approach, as long as policy makers promote these ideals without acting as state builders.

10/2/2021 Psaki: North Korea Is Not Responding To Biden Admin. by OAN Newsroom
People watch a television news broadcast showing file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station
in Seoul on September 28, 2021, after North Korea fired an ‘unidentified projectile’ into the sea off its east coast
according to the South’s military. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
    The Biden administration admitted North Korea was ignoring them as the regime has continued to test missiles. During a press conference on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said despite the U.S. continuous outreach to leader Kim Jung Un, there has been no response to date.
    Reporters pressed Psaki to explain the Biden administration’s plan to contain the dangerous nation.    However, she declined to provide a clear path forward.
    Rather, Psaki simply said the U.S. was aware of North Korea’s recent missile launches and has been assessing the situation.
    “We’ve made specific proposals for discussion with the North Koreans, but have not received a response to date,” she stated.    “So in our outreach from the United States, we remain prepared to discuss the full range of issues.”
    In April, Psaki called the administration’s handling of the situation a “calibrated, practical approach.”
[PSAKI TELL BIDEN HE MAY HAVE TO GET TRUMP TO TALK TO N. KOREA BECAUSE HE LIKES HIM AND WE DO NOT BLAME HIM AT ALL IF HE HATES YOU BUT THEN TRUMP WILL HAVE TO HAVE BIDEN STOP PUNISHING MILITARY PERSONNEL WHO GO TO A TRUMP RALLY OR HE MAY JUST TELL N. KOREA TO AIM AT THE WHITE HOUSE JOKINGLY BECAUSE IF HE THOUGHT THAT WAS TRUE HE WOULD BE HIDEN BIDEN UNTIL 2024.].

10/2/2021 Afghans Plead For Humanitarian Relief by OAN Newsroom
Children watch people at a camp for internally displaced people (IDP) where new apartment
buildings are located in Kabul on June 21, 2021. (Photo by ADEK BERRY / AFP)
    As economic pressure continues to build in Afghanistan, Kabul residents have called on the Taliban government for help. Reports on Saturday said the cry for help comes as rising prices for food and fuel have continued to cripple an already battered economy.
    Humanitarian aid arrived on Saturday in the form of the Red Crescent, which is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, carrying rice, sugar and other food items.    The items were given to Afghan officials where the hope is it will go to help nearly 16,000 people in the country.
    However, reports have indicated nearly half a million people have been displaced from their homes recently with officials saying this number could grow if the economy doesn’t hold up.
    Meanwhile, health services are also facing a potential collapse.    According to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, food shortages have been provoked by drought, monetary deficiencies and the COVID-19 pandemic.    This comes after the Taliban seized power in August from a country that was already struggling.
    Now, officials say nearly 18 million Afghans are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.

10/2/2021 Iran Asked U.S. To Unfreeze $10 Billion To Show Good Will, Iran Official 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
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Saturday that U.S. officials tried to discuss restarting nuclear talks last month, but he insisted Washington must first release $10 billion of Tehran’s frozen funds as a sign of good will.
    Iran has rejected direct talks with the United States, and indirect talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear accord aimed at keeping Iran from being able to develop a nuclear weapon stopped in June.
    The United States used intermediaries at the United Nations last month to attempt to make contact, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told state television.
    Iran has been unable to obtain tens of billions of dollars of its assets in foreign banks, mainly from exports of oil and gas, due to U.S. sanctions on its banking and energy sectors.
    “The Americans tried to contact us through different channels (at the U.N. General Assembly) in New York, and I told the mediators if America’s intentions are serious then a serious indication was needed … by releasing at least $10 billion of blocked money,” the minister said.
    “They are not willing to free $10 billion belonging to the Iranian nation so that we can say that the Americans once in the past several decades considered the interests of the Iranian nation,” Amirabdollahian said in the TV interview.
    Western powers have urged Iran to return to negotiations and said time is running out as Tehran’s nuclear programme is advancing well beyond the limits set by the deal.
    Amirabdollahian reiterated that Iran would “soon” return to the stalled nuclear talks in Vienna, declining to give a date.
    Tehran says its nuclear steps are reversible if Washington lifts all sanctions.    Iranian and Western officials have said many issues remain to be resolved before the accord can be revived.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)
[WELL HERE WE GO AGAIN TO SEE IF THE BIDEN EXTENDED FROM THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION WILL MAKE THE SAME STUPID MISTAKES THEY DID IN THE PAST AND THE WAY IT HAS GONE SOUTH ON EVERYTHING THEY DO I WOULD EXPECT IT HERE TO AS THEY ARE ALREADY ASKING FOR BILLIONS.].

10/3/2021 N. Korea Accuses U.N. Security Council Of Double Standards Over Missile Test by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A newly developed anti-aircraft missile is seen during a test conducted by the Academy of Defence Science,
in this undated photo released on October 1, 2021 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Sunday the United Nations Security Council applied double standards over military activities among U.N. member states, state media KCNA said, amid international criticism over its recent missile tests.
    The Council met behind closed doors on Friday upon requests from the United States and other countries over the North’s missile launches.
    The meeting came a day after Pyongyang fired a newly developed anti-aircraft missile, the latest in a recent series of weapons tests including the launches of a previously unseen hypersonic missile, ballistic missiles and a cruise missile with potential nuclear capabilities.
    Jo Chol Su, director of the North Korean foreign ministry’s Department of International Organisations, said the UNSC meeting means an “open ignorance of and wanton encroachment” on its sovereignty and “serious intolerable provocation.”
    Jo accused the Council of double standards as it remains silent about U.S. joint military exercises and weapons tests with allies, while taking issue with the North’s “self-defensive” activities.
    “This is a denial of impartiality, objectivity and equilibrium, lifelines of the U.N. activities, and an evident manifestation of double-dealing standard,” Jo said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by William Mallard and Michael Perry)

10/3/2021 At 39 Aircraft, China Sets New High For Taiwan Defence Zone Incursion
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen waves to the media aboard the PFG-1112 Ming Chuan, a Perry-class guided missile
frigate, after a commissioning ceremony at Kaohsiung's Zuoying naval base, Taiwan November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – A total of 39 Chinese air force aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence zone on Saturday, the defence ministry in Taipei said, setting a new high for missions which have infuriated the island’s government and further raised tensions with Beijing.
    Taiwan, a democratically governed island that is claimed by China, has complained for over a year of repeated missions near it by China’s air force, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    Taiwanese fighters scrambled against the 39 Chinese aircraft in two waves on Saturday, the Taiwan Defence Ministry said. It said Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them.
    That was one more aircraft than on Friday, the day China marked its national day, which was at the time more planes than the country had ever sent before to harry Taiwan’s air defence zone.
    Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said that on Saturday the Chinese aircraft first came during the day – 20 aircraft – followed on Saturday night by a further 19. Most of the aircraft were J-16 and Su-30 fighters, it added.
    The aircraft on both missions flew near the Pratas, the ministry said, in separate statements late Saturday and early Sunday morning.
    Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang condemned China for its actions on Saturday, saying the country was engaging in military aggression and damaging regional peace.
    China has yet to comment.
    It has previously said such flights were to protect the country’s sovereignty and aimed against “collusion” between Taiwan and the United States, the island’s most important international backer.
    Taiwan marks its national day next Sunday, with a major speech by President Tsai Ing-wen and military parade in central Taipei, which will include a fly-by of fighter jets.
    China has stepped up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept Chinese sovereignty.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

10/3/2021 New Zealand’s Delta Outbreak Spreads Outside Auckland
FILE PHOTO: The normally bustling High Street in Auckland’s CBD is largely deserted during a lockdown to curb the spread
of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand’s Delta variant outbreak spread beyond the largest city of Auckland, prompting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Sunday to put additional regions into a snap lockdown.
    There were 32 new coronavirus cases on Sunday in Auckland, which has been in lockdown since mid-August, and two cases in the Waikato region, some 147 kilometres (91 miles) south of Auckland.    Ardern said parts of the region will go into a five-day lockdown.
    She added that the government will decide on Monday whether Auckland’s 1.7 million residents will remain sealed off from the rest of New Zealand.
    Ardern enforced what was meant to be a “short and sharp” nationwide lockdown in mid-August in response to the Auckland outbreak, which now stands at 1,328 cases.
    But while the rest of the country has largely returned to normal life, the North Island city has remained in lockdown.
    “We are doing everything that we can to keep cases confined to Auckland, and managing them there,” Ardern said.
    While New Zealand was among just a handful of countries to bring COVID-19 cases down to zero last year and largely stayed virus-free until the latest outbreak in August, difficulties in quashing the Delta variant have put Ardern’s elimination strategy in question.
    Amid mounting pressure, Ardern has said her strategy was never to have zero cases, but to aggressively stamp out the virus.
    She has said strict lockdowns can end if 90% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, contrasting with the current 46%.
    Full vaccination will become a requirement for non-New Zealand citizens arriving in the country from Nov. 1, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Sunday.
    Air New Zealand said on Sunday it will require passengers on its international flights to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
    “We have a different approach to COVID within our sights, and in our hands,” Ardern said on Sunday.
    “So as we all look ahead and think about summer, and the plans we are making, make the first step a vaccine.    It is the thing that will make those summer plans possible.”
(This story was refiled to correct spelling in reporting credit line, no change to story text.)
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

10/3/2021 Australia’s Delta Outbreak Spreads To New States
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks pass through a transit station in the city centre during a lockdown to
curb the spread of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia reported more than 1,900 new infections of the Delta coronavirus on Sunday, health data showed, with authorities struggling to quell the outbreak in the two most populous states and cases spreading to new states.
    Victoria and New South Wales, which have been under lockdown for weeks, reported 1,887 cases and 13 deaths.
    The island state of Tasmania, which has not had a case for 58 days, reported a new local infection late on Saturday, and there were new cases in South Australia state over the weekend.
    Queensland state has been largely COVID-19-free and reported no new infections, allowing the National Rugby League grand final to kick off in Brisbane on Sunday night, albeit with crowd numbers cut to 75% of capacity to 39,000 people.
    Victoria and New South Wales are expected to open up once 80% vaccination is reached, but authorities have warned case numbers are expected to soar and hospitals will come under strain as Australia learns to live with COVID-19.
    New South Wales expects to reach that target by the end of October or early November, with Victoria a few weeks later.
    “It will be hardest and most challenging time for our nurses, and ambulance workers and doctors,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews warned on Sunday.
    Australia is also set to gradually lift its 18-month ban on international travel from next month for some states when 80% of people aged 16 and over are fully vaccinated.    As of Saturday, 56% of Australians nationally were fully inoculated and 80% have received at least one shot.
    Australia closed its international borders in March 2020, allowing only a limited number of people to leave or citizens and permanent residents abroad to return nations.    All arriving passengers have been subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period in a hotel at their expense.
    Despite the new cases reaching record daily levels in recent months, Australia has avoided the high caseloads of other developed countries, with just over 110,000 infections total since the start of the pandemic and 1,334 deaths.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/3/2021 Taliban Government Behaviour ‘Not Encouraging’, Says EU Foreign Policy Chief by Raya Jalabi
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a joint news conference with Saudi Arabia's
Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 3, 2021. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – The European Union foreign policy chief said on Sunday the Taliban government’s behaviour up to now was “not very encouraging,” and any economic collapse in Afghanistan would raise the risk of terrorism and other threats.
    Josep Borrell, speaking at a joint news conference with his Saudi Arabian counterpart, also said he hoped nuclear talks between global powers and Iran would restart in Vienna “soon.”
    The EU diplomat, who is in Riyadh following visits to Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, said he briefed his partners on the prospects for restarting nuclear talks and exchanged views with Saudi officials on Yemen and Afghanistan.
    The EU has increased its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan since the Taliban took power, but halted development assistance – a move also taken by other countries and the World Bank.
    “Certainly it’s a dilemma.    Because if you want to contribute to avoid the collapse of an economy, in a certain way, you can consider supporting the government … Depending on their behaviour. And their behaviour until now is not very encouraging,” Borrell said.
    “If the economy collapses, then the humanitarian situation will be much worse.    The tension for people to leave the country will be bigger, the threats the terrorist threat will be bigger and so the risks emanating from Afghanistan affecting the international community will be bigger,” he added.
    Turning to the region, he said the EU was ready to pursue trade deals with Gulf countries, saying the bloc supported Saudi Arabia’s modernisation drive.
    Brussels was also engaging on human rights and voiced hope the dialogue would produce “real results,” he added.
    Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reform drive has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, which drew intense international scrutiny following the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
    Riyadh has also faced criticism over Yemen, where it leads a military coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for over six years.
    Describing Yemen as a “terrible tragedy,” Borrell voiced support for a peaceful settlement of the conflict, largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud said Riyadh has a “very robust” dialogue with the United States to end the war.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

10/4/2021 In Surprise Move, New Japan PM To Call Oct 31 Election – NHK by Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Former Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida poses for a picture following a press conference at the Liberal Democratic
Party (LPD) headquarters after he was elected as the party president in Tokyo, Japan September 29, 2021. Du Xiaoyi/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, exchanged fist bumps with lawmakers after he was formally elected by parliament on Monday, as public broadcaster NHK said he was set to dissolve the body next week and call an election for Oct 31.
    The surprise move, amid widespread expectations for a poll in November, appears to be aimed at exploiting a traditional honeymoon period accorded to new governments and a sharp drop in the number of coronavirus infections.
    Outgoing prime minister Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70% soon after taking office about a year ago, but was pummelled by criticism of his handling of the pandemic, leading him to make way for a new face to lead the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) through the election.
    Kishida, 64, a former foreign minister with an image as a low-key consensus builder, beat out three contenders https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japans-ruling-party-votes-new-leader-who-will-almost-certainly-be-next-pm-2021-09-28 last week to lead the party and will become prime minister as it has a majority in parliament.
    He is set to dissolve parliament on Oct. 14 and will announce the election in his first news conference as prime minister later on Monday, NHK television said.
    The ruling party’s new secretary-general, Akira Amari, told reporters that while he had not heard anything for certain, he believed Kishida would move in that direction.
    “Kishida’s not wasting any time at all,” Tobias Harris, a senior fellow of the Center for American Progress, said on Twitter.
    “October 31 puts the opposition on its heels, takes advantage of a honeymoon in the polls, plus a better chance of lower case numbers.”
    Harris added, “If he wins comfortably in the general election and can hold things together well enough to win the upper house elections next year, he’ll have up to three years without an election.”
    Kishida’s poll decision was probably influenced by not wanting to repeat a mistake made by Suga, who did not call an election when his backing was still strong, analysts said.
    “I believe he aims to hold the election before the general atmosphere (towards the new cabinet) turns cold,” said Zentaro Kamei, a senior fellow at the PHP Institute.
ABE’S SHADOW
    Later on Monday, Kishida is set to unveil a cabinet featuring allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, so ensuring the influence of the latter’s conservative base.
    Of the 20 posts, 13 will be filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to give chances to new people, but the majority of heavyweight jobs will go to allies of Abe, or outgoing finance minister Taro Aso.
    “He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito, adding that Kishida tended to rate safety over bold action.
    One of those closest to Abe is Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, told reporters on Monday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and COVID-19.
    “It’s not just Japan, but the divisions in society have increased during the coronavirus pandemic and many people are worried,” Amari said.
    “So we need to empathise with the people and share their pain and our leader needs to show the path to unite society and to make it one again.”
    Set to replace Aso is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform.
    Other jobs destined for Abe allies are the trade and industry portfolio, to be held by current education minister Koichi Hagiuda, who is close to Abe.
    Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, will retain his position, as will Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.
    There are three women in the line-up, one more than Suga had, but none holds a heavyweight portfolio.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Ju-min Park, Chang-ran Kim and Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/4/2021 Profiles Of Japanese Ministers In PM Kishida’s Cabinet
Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives at his official
residence in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, voted in by parliament on Monday, unveiled a cabinet line-up featuring stalwarts of the ruling party and allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso. Here are brief profiles of the ministers:
FUMIO KISHIDA, PRIME MINISTER
    A former foreign minister, Kishida has long spoken of his desire to become prime minister.    He is seen as a soft-spoken, dovish consensus-builder, but lacks wide popularity.
    As foreign minister, he oversaw the signing of a pact with South Korea on those forced to work in Japan’s wartime brothels, and arranged the visit of former U. S. President Barack Obama to the nuclear bomb memorial city of Hiroshima.
TOSHIMITSU MOTEGI, FOREIGN MINISTER
    One of the few cabinet ministers in prime minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration to keep his post, Motegi, 65, served as economy and trade minister before Abe named him to the foreign ministry in a 2019 cabinet reshuffle.
    As trade minister, he tackled negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade pact.
    Educated at Harvard and the University of Tokyo, the English-speaking Motegi was first elected to the lower house in 1993 from the then-opposition Japan New Party.    He joined the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 1995.
NOBUO KISHI, DEFENCE MINISTER
    The younger brother of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, 62-year-old Kishi was adopted by his childless uncle – the eldest son of ex-premier Nobusuke Kishi – soon after birth.
    He worked in the United States, Australia, and Vietnam when employed by a trading firm before entering politics in 2004.
    Kishi, ideologically aligned with his conservative brother Abe, has voiced support for constitutional revision as well as concerns over assertive neighbour China. He is also known to have friendly ties with Taiwan.
    He graduated from Keio University in 1981 with a degree in economics.
SHUNICHI SUZUKI, FINANCE MINISTER
    A little-known but well-connected politician who has previously served as Olympics Minister, Suzuki is the brother-in-law of current finance minister Taro Aso and the son of former prime Minister Zenko Suzuki.
    He is widely expected to avoid straying from the government line and continue its efforts to balance growth spending with fiscal reform.
    A graduate of Waseda University, he was first elected to parliament in 1990.
KOICHI HAGIUDA, ECONOMY AND TRADE MINISTER
    Hagiuda, 58, is a close ally of former premier Abe.
    As education minister since 2019, he served under both Abe and Suga.    Previous government stints include serving as deputy chief cabinet secretary in Abe’s administration and a role as his special adviser from 2013 to 2015.
    First elected to the lower house of parliament in 2003, he had previously served as an assembly member of local governments in Tokyo.
NORIKO HORIUCHI, VACCINE MINISTER
    Horiuchi, 55, will take her first ministerial post as one of three women in Kishida’s cabinet lineup.    She was vice minister for environment and state minister of the Cabinet Office under Suga.
    Her foray into politics started when she was asked to take over the district of her father-in-law, and former trade minister, Mitsuo Horiuchi after he retired.    She was first elected to the lower house in 2012.
TAKAYUKI KOBAYASHI, ECONOMIC SECURITY MINISTER
    A graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Tokyo University, 46-year-old Kobayashi started a career at the finance ministry that included a stint at Japan’s embassy in the United States, before switching to politics in 2010.
    First elected to the lower house in 2012, he was parliamentary vice-minister of defence under Abe.
    His appointment will reflect the clout of Akira Amari, the newly-appointed secretary general of the LDP and an Abe ally, who is an architect of Japan’s economic security policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.
DAISHIRO YAMAGIWA, ECONOMIC REVITALIZATION MINISTER
    One of 13 fresh faces in Kishida’s cabinet, Yamagiwa, 53, began his career in politics soon after graduating from Tokyo University with a degree in veterinary science.
    He became a lower house lawmaker in 2003, and briefly served as vice trade minister in Abe’s government.
    Yamagiwa is seen as close to Amari, joining his grouping before following him into Aso’s faction in 2017.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Barbara Lewis)

10/4/2021 Two Koreas Reopen Hotlines As North Urges South To Mend Ties by Hyonhee Shin
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) -The two Koreas on Monday restored their hotlines that the North severed months ago, with Pyongyang urging Seoul to step up efforts to improve relations after criticising what it called double standards over weapons development.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkoreas-kim-expresses-willingness-restore-inter-korean-hotline-kcna-2021-09-29 last week to reactivate the hotlines, which North Korea cut off in early August https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-us-skorea-face-security-threats-with-military-drills-2021-08-09 in protest against joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, just days after reopening them for the first time in a year.
    Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency had said the telephone links would be reconnected on Monday at 9:00 a.m. (0000 GMT).
    The South confirmed that twice-daily regular communication was restarted on time via military hotlines and others run by the Unification Ministry, except for the navy channel set up on an international network for merchant ships.
    The hotlines are a rare tool to bridge the rivals https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/what-we-know-about-inter-korean-hotlines-unique-symbol-testy-ties-2021-07-27, but it was unclear whether their reconnection would facilitate any meaningful return to talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for U.S. sanctions relief.
    KCNA called for Seoul to fulfil its “tasks” to mend strained cross-border ties, repeating Kim’s speech last week that he had decided to recover the lines to help realise people’s hopes for a thaw and peace.
    In that speech, Kim urged South Korea to abandon its “double standards” https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-suggestion-declare-end-korean-war-is-premature-kcna-2021-09-23 and “delusion” https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkoreas-kim-expresses-willingness-restore-inter-korean-hotline-kcna-2021-09-29 over the     North’s self-defensive military activities while developing its own weapons.
    “The South Korean authorities should make positive efforts to put the north-south ties on a right track and settle the important tasks which must be prioritised to open up the bright prospect in the future,” KCNA said.
HOTLINES REDUCE TENSIONS
    Seoul’s defence ministry said the hotlines have contributed to preventing unexpected clashes and their reopening would hopefully lead to substantive easing of military tension.
    The Unification Ministry, responsible for inter-Korean affairs, expressed hopes that it would be able to resume dialogue soon on ways to recover relations and foster peace.
    In Washington, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said it strongly supports inter-Korean cooperation, calling the reconnected lines “an important component in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula.”
    Tension had flared since the hotlines were severed, with North Korea warning of a security crisis https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-warns-security-crisis-if-us-skorea-escalate-tensions-2021-08-10 and firing a series of new missiles, including a hypersonic https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-it-conducted-anti-aircraft-missile-test-yesterday-kcna-2021-09-30 missile, an anti-aircraft https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-says-it-conducted-anti-aircraft-missile-test-yesterday-kcna-2021-09-30 missile, and a “strategic” cruise https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-test-fires-long-range-cruise-missile-kcna-2021-09-12 missile with potential nuclear capabilities.
    The launches underlined how the isolated country has been constantly developing increasingly sophisticated weapons, raising the stakes for stalled denuclearisation negotiations.
    While accusing Washington of “hostile policy,” Pyongyang has said it is willing to mend inter-Korean relations https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkorea-could-consider-an-inter-korean-summit-if-respect-assured-kcna-2021-09-25 and consider another summit https://www.reuters.com/world/china/exclusive-north-south-korea-talks-over-summit-reopening-liaison-office-sources-2021-07-28 if Seoul drops double standards.
    Analysts say the North’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at securing international recognition as a nuclear weapons state and driving a wedge between the United States and South Korea, counting on South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s eagerness to forge a diplomatic legacy before his term ends in May.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lincoln Feast.)

10/4/2021 Singapore Parliament Debates Bill To Tackle Foreign Interference
FILE PHOTO: Singapore's Law Minister K. Shanmugam speaks to Reuters in Singapore July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Singapore’s parliament began discussion on Monday of a proposed law to counter foreign interference that has sparked concern from opposition parties, rights groups and experts about its broad scope and limits on judicial review.
    The small and open city-state, which says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling, targeted fake news with a far-reaching law in 2019, and joins nations such as Australia https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-security-review-china-idUSKBN1JN0BY and Russia https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-internet-idUSKBN1YN23Z that have passed laws in recent years to deter foreign interference.
    It allows authorities to compel internet, social media service providers and website operators to provide user information, block content and remove applications, and is likely to be passed, as the ruling party has a majority in parliament.
    But some critics say its broad language risks capturing even legitimate activities, while rights group Reporters Without Borders said the law could ensnare independent media outlets.
    “The pre-emptive powers … and broad scoping of provisions could potentially provide the government with significant wherewithal to curb legitimate civil society activity,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.
    “FICA has the makings of being the most intrusive law on the statute books,” he said of the bill, to be formally known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA).
    In response to a Reuters query, the home ministry said the bill did not cover discussion or advocacy by Singapore citizens, or the vast array of their collaborations with foreigners.
    But orders can be issued if a citizen acts for a foreign principal in a manner contrary to the public interest, it added, saying the law set out clear thresholds.
    The bill lets the home minister order investigations in the public interest to “expose hostile information campaigns,” based on suspicion of foreign interference.
    Instead of open court, an independent panel, chaired by a judge, will hear appeals against the minister’s decisions, a move the government says is necessary as matters may involve sensitive intelligence with implications for national security.
GROWING THREAT
    As use of social media and communications technology increases, experts and opposition parties have agreed on the need to counter a growing threat of foreign interference in domestic affairs.
    Critics have said Russia’s ‘sovereign internet’ 2019 law allows authorities the discretion to limit access to resources and information, while Australian laws target lobbyists for foreign countries.
    In parliament on Monday, Singapore home minister K. Shanmugam pointed to examples of spurts in online activity over the years 2016 and 2017 as well as 2018 and 2019 that aimed to influence sentiment or create artificial impressions of Singapore’s positions, but he did not name any countries.
    In 2016, Singapore went through a choppy period in ties with China over Taiwan and the disputed South China Sea, while 2018 saw it embroiled in a dispute over airspace and maritime boundaries with neighbouring Malaysia.
    Singapore’s bill is unique in targeting foreign interference through the internet as well as individuals, but not as extensive as U.S. or Australian laws on transparency and regulation of individuals, Chong Ja Ian, a political analyst at National University of Singapore.
    Besides aiming to remove content that threatens immediate and significant harm, it imposes obligations on those considered “politically significant persons,” who are directly involved in Singapore’s political processes, such as MPs.
    Others may be included in the category if their activities are directed towards a political end, however.
    The main opposition Workers’ Party has called for changes to the draft law, such as narrowing the scope of executive powers to reduce the chance of an abuse of power.
    Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said the bill would not apply to foreign individuals or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way.”
    Rights groups had warned the 2019 law on fake news could hurt freedom of expression.    The government said legitimate criticism and free speech are unaffected.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/4/2021 ‘We Are Tired’: Workers Flee Vietnam’s Largest City As Long Lockdown Eases
People, mostly migrant workers who are planning to return to their hometowns, wait at a checkpoint
to leave Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam October 1, 2021. Picture taken October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    HANOI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people, mostly migrant workers, left Ho Chi Minh City over the weekend as the largest metropolis in Vietnam eased a months-long COVID-19 lockdown https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnams-biggest-city-start-lifting-covid-19-curbs-revive-business-2021-09-30, triggering fears of labour shortages and more disruption to manufacturing.
    The mass exodus comes as the city and its nearby industrial provinces struggle to ensure sufficient workers to help revive the country’s economy, which posted a record GDP slump https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnam-posts-record-gdp-slump-q3-due-covid-19-curbs-2021-09-29 in the third quarter due to COVID-19 curbs.
    “We left our home behind for the city in search for better jobs but now we are tired,” said Tran Thi Them, 32, as she queued for a compulsory COVID-19 test before leaving.
    “We are going home to farm and raise cattle,” she said, as she headed to her village in Dong Thap province in the Mekong River Delta with her husband and their 8-month-old baby.
    Them lost her job at a garment factory in July, when the city began imposing curbs, and has been confined to her 10-square-metre rented room amid restrictions on leaving the house.
    Nearly 90,000 people have left Ho Chi Minh City since Friday, state media reports show, on worries they would get stuck again if there was another wave of infections.    The city eased curbs from late Thursday.
    “Please don’t leave, and stay to work,” said vice chairman of the city’s People’s Committee, Le Hoa Binh.     “The city is facing serious labour shortages.”
‘DIFFICULT TO RECRUIT’
    Such shortages would add to the woes of labour-intensive businesses that are already struggling due to the lockdown.
    “We are facing a huge labour shortage,” a sub-contractor of Coteccons Construction said from Ho Chi Minh City on condition of anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to media.
    “We have only 60% of the labour force needed for our projects, and it’s difficult to recruit more workers now.”
    Suppliers for Nike and Adidas suspended operations in Vietnam earlier this year.    Nike has cut its fiscal 2022 sales expectations https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/nike-misses-estimates-quarterly-revenue-shares-fall-2021-09-23 and warned of holiday delays.
    Buyers of Apple’s new iPhone 13 face longer-than-expected delivery https://www.reuters.com/business/delivery-times-iphone-13-stretch-covid-19-hits-vietnam-suppliers-nikkei-2021-09-29 times because of the outbreak in Vietnam, where components for the device’s new camera module are assembled.
    Fashion brands are also increasingly turning away https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/how-global-supply-chains-are-falling-out-fashion-2021-09-30 from low-cost manufacturing hubs in Asia.
    Vietnam has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, with less than 11% of its 98 million people having received at least two doses.
    It has reported 808,000 cases and more than 19,700 COVID-19 deaths, with Ho Chi Minh City accounting for nearly half and 77% of them, respectively.
    “We are heading home as that is a safer place,” Them said.
(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

10/4/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi Requests Less Court Time Over ‘Strained Health’ - Lawyer
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) – Myanmar’s detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday asked a judge to reduce the frequency of her court hearings due to strained health, her lawyer said.
    Suu Kyi, who is on trial and attending court sessions in multiple cases, requested they each be heard every two weeks, not every week, chief lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said by text message.    He did not specify how Suu Kyi’s health was impacted.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies)

10/4/2021 China Mounts Largest Incursion Yet Near Taiwan, Blames U.S. For Tensions by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside a military airplane
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China blamed the United States on Monday for increased tensions over Taiwan, as the island fingered Beijing as the “chief culprit” after reporting the largest ever incursion by China’s air force into its air defence zone at 56 aircraft.
    Chinese-claimed Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island, often in the southwestern part of its air defence zone close to the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
    But since Friday, when China marked its national day, the country has embarked upon a massive ramping up of its missions, with almost 150 aircraft flying into the defence zone over the space of four days.
    The latest mission included 34 J-16 fighters and 12 nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, which all flew in an area in the vicinity of the Pratas Islands, according to a map provided by the ministry.    A further four Chinese fighters were spotted on Monday night, taking the total to the day to 56 aircraft.
    Taiwanese fighter jets scrambled to warn away the Chinese planes, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, it added.
    The United States on Sunday urged China to stop its “provocative” military activities near Taiwan, while the island’s government has also condemned Beijing.
    China’s Foreign Ministry, responding to the U.S. statement, said it was the United States which was being provocative and harming regional peace, with its arms sales to Taiwan and warships sailing regularly through the Taiwan Strait.
    “China is resolutely opposed to this and takes necessary countermeasures,” it added.
    “Engaging in Taiwan independence is a dead end.    China will take all steps needed and firmly smash any Taiwan independence plots,” the ministry said.    “China’s determination and will to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.”
    The United States should stop supporting and “inflating” Taiwan separatist forces, it added. ‘CHIEF CULPRIT’
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council demanded China immediately stop its “irresponsible provocations” as the “chief culprit” behind the recent tensions.
    “We sternly tell the Chinese Communists, the Republic of China on Taiwan is determined to firmly defend national sovereignty and dignity and peace across the Taiwan Strait,” it said, referring to Taiwan’s formal name.
    “We have a full grasp of the communist military’s movements and have made appropriate responses.    We have also been actively communicating and cooperating with friendly countries to jointly contain the Chinese communist’s malicious provocations.”
    China has stepped up military and political pressure to try to force Taiwan to accept Chinese rule.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedom and democracy.
    The government said on Monday it was actively communicating with friendly countries to jointly contain Beijing’s “malicious provocations.”
    Taiwan has termed China’s activities as “grey zone” warfare, designed to wear down Taiwanese forces and test their abilities.
    A Taiwan-based source familiar with security matters in the region told Reuters earlier on Monday the Chinese planes were possibly conducting simulated attacks on U.S. carrier fleets, drills the source said that China has repeatedly carried out near Taiwan in the past few months.
    The U.S. Department of Defense said China’s increasing military activities near Taiwan were “destabilising and increase the risk of miscalculation>.”
    “Our commitment to Taiwan is rock-solid and contributes to the maintenance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and within the region,” it added.
    The carrier the USS Ronald Reagan entered the South China Sea late last month. On Monday Japan’s defence ministry said that ship, along with another carrier the USS Carl Vinson, had carried out multinational joint exercises in waters southwest of Okinawa, though it gave no exact location.
    Along with U.S. and Japanese ships, vessels from Britain, the Netherlands, Canada and New Zealand took part in those exercises, the ministry said.
    The Taiwan-based source said Monday’s flights by the Chinese aircraft were aimed at conducting simulated attacks on that fleet.
    Okinawa is home to a major U.S. military base and lies just to the northeast of Taiwan.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Tom Daly, and Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Alex Richardson, Andrew Heavens, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, William Maclean)

10/4/2021 Taliban Say Forces Destroy Islamic State Cell Hours After Kabul Blast by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
A member of Taliban force stands guard at the site of yesterday's blast in Kabul, Afghanistan October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Staff
    KABUL (Reuters) -Taliban government forces destroyed an Islamic State cell in the north of Kabul late on Sunday in a prolonged assault that broke the calm of a normally quiet area of the capital with hours of explosions and gunfire, officials and local residents said.
    With Afghanistan’s economy close to collapse and large areas of the country in danger of famine, the presence of an apparently well-armed militant cell in Kabul underlined the daunting scale of the challenge facing the new government.
    The Taliban operation came after a bomb attack near a mosque in Kabul earlier on Sunday that was later claimed by Islamic State.    That blast killed and wounded a number of civilians in what appeared to be the worst attack in the Afghan capital since the withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of August.
    The local affiliate of Islamic State, known as ISIS-Khorasan after an ancient name for the region, has already claimed to have carried out attacks on Taliban targets and remains unreconciled to the Afghan Islamist movement.
    Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said a special Taliban unit carried out an operation against ISIS elements in Kabul’s 17th district, in the city’s north, destroying their base and killing all those in it.
    Local residents said the Taliban forces cordoned off the area before beginning their assault at around 7.30 p.m., before a firefight that lasted several hours, interrupted by at least two blasts as the suspected ISIS fighters detonated explosives.
    “For about three hours the clashes were very intense and several powerful explosions also took place,” said Hashmatullah, a local shopkeeper.
    One local resident, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said a final blast occurred at around 11.30 p.m. when an explosives-packed car blew up, apparently killing all the ISIS fighters in the building where they were holed up.
    He said sporadic gunfire could be heard late into the night and early morning near the compound.
    As pickup trucks carried furniture and other items out of the partially destroyed compound on Monday, Taliban soldiers sealed off the area, ushering away bystanders.
LINGERING SECURITY THREATS
    The Taliban, who are also fighting the remnants of forces loyal to Ahmad Massoud, an opposition leader from the Panjshir region north of Kabul, have said they have almost complete control of the country.
    But Sunday’s violence, and a string of smaller incidents in recent days in areas including Nangarhar on the border with Pakistan and Parwan north of Kabul, have shown that security threats have not disappeared.
    Islamic State’s Amaq news agency said on Telegram the group carried out the mosque bombing.
    IS has also claimed responsibility for bomb attacks in the eastern city of Jalalabad as well as a suicide attack in late August that killed 13 U.S. soldiers and scores of Afghan civilians who were crowded outside the Kabul airport gates, desperate to secure seats on evacuation flights.
    Samiullah, a resident of Kabul who runs a street vendor cart near the mosque, said that, initially, even if the economic situation had worsened since the Taliban takeover, the improved security situation was a consolation.
    “We regret that the situation has gone from bad to worse,” he told Reuters close to the mosque premises after being ordered to move away from his usual spot.    “The situation is not normal yet. No one is allowed in this area except for the Taliban.”
(Editing by James Mackenzie and Mark Heinrich)

10/4/2021 Protests Get Harder For Afghan Women Amid Risks And Red Tape by Zeba Siddiqui and Parniyan Zemaryalai
People protest in front of members of the Taliban in Herat, Afghanistan, September 7, 2021,
in this still image obtained from a social media video by Reuters on October 4, 2021.
    (Reuters) – Women in Afghanistan who object to what the Taliban have said and done since returning to power are finding it harder to protest, now that impromptu demonstrations have been banned and previous rallies were broken up by gunfire and beatings.
    Resistance within families and concerns over sharing information over social media that could identify people involved are also acting as deterrents, according to six female protesters Reuters spoke to across the country.
    Sporadic demonstrations by women demanding that the Taliban respect their civil freedoms have been captured on social media, as have the sometimes violent responses https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-protests-persist-posing-problem-new-taliban-government-2021-09-07, drawing the world’s attention to issues of equality and human rights.
    The last time the Taliban ruled in the 1990s, they banned women from work and girls from school, allowed women to leave their homes only when accompanied by a male relative and insisted that women wore all-enveloping burqas.
    Those who broke the rules were sometimes whipped in public by the Islamist militants’ “moral police.”
    This time the Taliban are promising greater freedom https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/evacuation-flights-resume-kabul-airport-biden-defends-us-withdrawal-2021-08-17 for women, including in education and employment, in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law.
    Yet older girls are still not back at school, there are no women in senior positions in the new government, the Women’s Ministry in Kabul has been shut and the Taliban have said women will only be allowed to work in a small number of jobs.
    Women wanting to express their anger publicly are struggling to do so.    Six who took part in demonstrations after the Taliban stormed to power on Aug. 15 said they had not done so since early September.
    “We have a lot of plans to stage more protests, but unfortunately due to security concerns, we are not going out much right now,” said Nasima Bakhtiary, a former commerce ministry worker in Kabul.
    “We have seen so much harassment … regarding our protests … we have to be careful.”
    Earlier this month, the Taliban said protests were not banned, but that those wanting to hold demonstrations needed to seek prior permission and provide details of place, timings and slogans that would be chanted.
    Taliban spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
PROTESTS FADE
    Based on interviews with organisers, social media posts and advocacy groups, Reuters counted seven significant women-led protests between Aug. 15, when the Taliban came to power, and Sept 8. when they made permission necessary.
    Since Sept. 8, Reuters has counted one https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-activists-protest-outside-shuttered-women-affairs-ministry-2021-09-19, on Sept. 19 outside the women’s ministry building in Kabul after it was shut down.    The sign outside has been switched to that of the Ministry for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – the moral police.
    Maryam Sadat, a 23-year-old law student and protest organiser in Kabul, said she and a small number of others had tried to stage a demonstration on Sept. 30, but it was dispersed by members of the Taliban.
    Women have also been involved in broader protests, some of which have involved hundreds of people.    Several people have been killed, some demonstrators have been beaten and the Taliban have fired warning shots in the air to disperse crowds.
    The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last month condemned the violence against protesters, including women.
    “As Afghan women and men take to the streets during this time of great uncertainty in their country to press peacefully for their human rights to be respected … it is crucial that those in power listen to their voices,” it said.
    Women like Taranom Seyedi said they were scared to continue to demonstrate.
    The 34-year-old women’s rights activist in Kabul who helped organise some of the protests there said she had received letters saying the Taliban had made a list of all the women who protested and would conduct house searches for them.
    She does not know who sent the letters, but has erased protest-related content from her social media accounts as a precaution, and said others had done so too.
    Sadat went further.
    “Since my participation in the protest, I’ve had to relocate twice … My family is terrified, and even my neighbours are concerned and urging me not to join.”
    Others spoke of pushback from those close to them, including Zulaikha Akrami, a 24-year-old international relations graduate who worked at a foreign non-profit organisation in the northeastern province of Badakhshan.
    “My mother tried to threaten me not to go and said if you go, don’t call me mother,” said Akrami, referring to a demonstration she attended in Badakhshan on Sept. 8.
    She said she recalled her younger brother telling her: “If they beat you to death, I won’t be there to pick up your body off the street.”
(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui and Parniyan Zemaryalai; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

10/4/2021 Japan’s New PM Calls Oct. 31 Election, Vows To Fight Pandemic by Antoni Slodkowski, Sakura Murakami and Kiyoshi Takenaka
Newly elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida poses with his cabinet members for a photo session at the
prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. Yoshikazu Tsuno/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s new prime minister, Fumio Kishida, on Monday called a parliamentary election for Oct. 31 and vowed to bolster the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, shortly after being formally confirmed by lawmakers in the top job.
    Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, earlier unveiled a cabinet line-up dominated by allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso.
    “I want to ensure we implement large-scale, bold coronavirus countermeasures and economic policies.    To do that, we must ask the people whether they trust me, Kishida, to carry out these policies,” he said at his inaugural news conference.
    “I would like to pursue a politics of trust and compassion with the people’s mandate,” he said, drawing on the main theme in his campaign to become leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), making politics more accessible to the public.
    While Kishida may enjoy a honeymoon period usually afforded new governments, analysts said he probably didn’t want to lose time, given risks posed by the pandemic.
    His decision to call an election came as a surprise to most analysts who had expected the election to be held in November.    Parliament will now be dissolved on Oct. 14.
    Kishida said he would consider COVID-19 relief payouts, adding he had also instructed ministers overseeing the pandemic response to come up with policies on vaccinations, to strengthen the medical system and to expand testing to help reopen the economy.
    New coronavirus cases in Tokyo on Monday totalled 87, the lowest since Nov. 2 last year.
    Kishida’s predecessor Yoshihide Suga enjoyed support ratings of about 70% soon after taking office a year ago, but came under heavy fire over his handling of the pandemic.    Following Suga’s decision to make way for a new face, Kishida beat three contenders for the LDP leadership last week, paving the way for parliament to formally elect him premier on Monday.
ABE’S SHADOW
    Kishida’s cabinet features allies of Abe, Japan’s longest-serving premier, who quit last year citing ill health as his dream of another term faded.
    Of the 20 posts, 13 were filled by people with no prior cabinet experience, in line with Kishida’s pledge to promote fresh faces, but many heavyweight jobs went to allies of Abe or of outgoing finance minister Aso.
    “He won the election with the support of Abe and Aso, so now it’s time for him to return the favour, it’s not the time for him to cut them off,” said political analyst Atsuo Ito.
    Aso’s replacement at the finance ministry is his low-profile brother-in-law, Shunichi Suzuki, who is viewed as likely to continue the government’s policy of tempering growth spending with fiscal reform.
    Kishida said he wanted to pursue policies that achieve “a new type of capitalism” that distributes more wealth to households and tackles Japan’s widening income gap, adding that tweaking the financial income tax rate – which is levied on investment income – was among options he would consider.
    One of those closest to Abe, former economy minister Akira Amari, became the ruling party’s powerful secretary-general.
    Amari, who has promised a big extra budget after the election, told reporters on Monday it would need to include steps to ameliorate social divisions and COVID-19.
    Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, who is Abe’s brother, retained his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe and Suga’s push to boost the nation’s security ties with the United States while preserving trade ties with China.
    President Joe Biden congratulated Kishida, describing the U.S.-Japan alliance as a “cornerstone” of peace and stability in the region. Chinese President Xi Jinping said he hoped for “friendly and cooperative” ties with Japan, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    Kishida said Japan should continue discussions with China, but expressed concerns over Beijing’s moves to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas.
    Kishida also created a new post of economy security minister and filled it with a close ally of Amari, the architect of policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.
    There are three women in the line-up, one more than Suga had, but none of them hold a heavyweight portfolio.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Elaine Lies, Sakura Murakami, Chang-ran Kim and Ritsuko Ando; additional reporting by reporting by Hongwei Li and Tom Daly; Writing by Mari Saito, Ju-min Park; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Simon Cameron-Moore and Gareth Jones)

[AS YOU CAN SEE WHY THEY ARE TRYING TO DIS THE USE OF IVERMECTINE FOR PENNIES INSTEAD OF THE VACCINE BECAUSE IT IS WHO IS NOT GETTING THE MONEY FROM IT AS YOU SEE IN THE ARTICLE BELOW 'U.S. government contract to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course' AND GIVES YOU A GOOD REASON TO TELL THE CDC AND FAUCI WHERE TO STICK IT.].
10/4/2021 Thailand Joins Asian Nations In Rush To Buy Merck’s COVID-19 Pill by Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: An experimental COVID-19 treatment pill called molnupiravir being developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics LP,
is seen in this undated handout photo released by Merck & Co Inc and obtained by Reuters May 17, 2021. Merck & Co Inc/Handout via REUTERS
    BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s government is in talks with Merck & Co to buy 200,000 courses of its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 treatment, the latest Asian nation to scramble for supplies of the drug after lagging behind Western countries for vaccines.
    Somsak Akksilp, director-general of the Department of Medical Services, told Reuters that Thailand is currently working on a purchasing agreement for the antiviral drug, known as molnupiravir.br>     South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia said they are also in talks to buy the potential treatment, while the Philippines, which is running a trial on the pill, said it hopes its domestic study would allow access to the treatment.
    They all declined to provide details on purchase negotiations.
    The rush to order the drug comes after data from interim clinical trials released on Friday indicated https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/mercks-covid-19-pill-cuts-risk-death-hospitalization-by-50-study-2021-10-01 it could reduce by around 50% the chance of hospitalisation or death for patients at risk of severe disease from COVID-19.
    The molnupiravir pills, designed to introduce errors into the genetic code of the virus, would be the first oral antiviral medication for COVID-19.
    Many Asian countries want to lock in supplies early after they were hit by tight supplies in their vaccine rollouts this year, putting them behind wealthier countries which bought hundreds of millions of doses.
    “We are now working on a purchasing agreement with Merck that is expected to be completed by this week … we have pre-booked 200,000 courses,” Somsak said.br><     He said the pills could arrive as soon as December, though the deal would be subject to the pills’ approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration and the Thai regulator.
    Representatives at Merck’s Thailand office were not immediately reachable.
    Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases in Thailand fell below 10,000 on Monday for the first time since mid-July.U.S. government contract to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course The country has administered 55.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far, fully inoculating about 31% of the population.
    Merck has said it expects to produce 10 million courses of the treatment by the end of 2021.U.S. government contract to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course It has a U.S. government contract to supply 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir at a price of $700 per course.
    The company has said it plans a tiered pricing approach based on country income criteria.
    In the Philippines, Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire told a regular news conference on Monday that, “We see we can have more access to this medicine because we have this clinical trial counterpart.”
    A spokesman for the European Commission said Brussels may launch a joint procurement of the therapy for the bloc, a similar strategy used to buy COVID-19 vaccines, but there was no particular information on Merck’s drug.
    A German health ministry spokesperson said the government monitors the development of new therapies, but declined to comment on whether Germany plans to order Merck’s pill.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in Manila, Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Patpicha Tanakasempipat in Bangkok, Francesco Guarascio in Brussels and Andreas Rinke in Berlin;Writing by Kay Johnson and Josephine Mason; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Himani Sarkar and Chizu Nomiyama)

10/4/2021 9 Dead Following Protest In India by OAN Newsroom
Activists of Congress party’s youth wing protesting against Sunday’s killing of four farmers in Uttar Pradesh state after being run
over by a car owned by India’s junior home minister shout slogans in New Delhi, India, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
    Protests turned deadly in India when clashes between farmers and government officials drastically escalated. On Sunday, a car owned by a ruling party minister rammed through the crowd, in turn, killing four farmers participating in year-long protests against a farm reform bill.
    Following the incident, the Indian government suspended internet and barred political leaders from entering the region where the protests are occurring.    Members of the opposition party called the events a tragedy and said that all of India is ashamed of how far the violence has gone.
    “So many farmers are not amongst us today, they were mowed down by a car,” said Vandana Singh, a Congress Party worker.    “Today the whole country is ashamed of this.    The country that praised its soldiers and farmers has today put its farmers in such a bad condition.”
    The Indian minister who’s car was involved in the incident claimed he was not in the vehicle at the time.    He also said that his driver along with three members of the ruling party were killed by the protestors.

10/4/2021 New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern Admits ‘Zero COVID’ Strategy Failed by OAN Newsroom
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses a post-Cabinet press conference at Parliament in
Wellington, New Zealand, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021. New Zealand’s government has acknowledged what most other countries
did long ago, It can no longer completely get rid of the coronavirus. (Mark Mitchell/Pool Photo via AP)
    New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted her policies to fight COVID-19 have failed after more than 18 months of draconian lockdowns.    On Monday, Ardern called for mass vaccinations and ongoing testing to reveal more cases of COVID-19.
    Ardern went on to say, “in fact, for this outbreak, it’s clear that long periods of heavy restrictions has not got us to zero cases, but that is okay.”
    New Zealand moved to ease its COVID-19 lockdown earlier on Monday to offset the downturn in economic activity.    However, Ardern said retail stores and bars would remain closed for now.
    “That’s why we need to continue to contain and control the virus as much as possible while we make our transition from a place where we only use heavy restrictions to a place where we use vaccines and everyday public health measures,” she expressed.    “We need to keep using the tools we have.    We need to vaccinate.    We need to test.    We need to find cases.”
    New Zealand’s exports of services have plunged 43 percent from December 2019 due to stringent lockdowns, which has been a severe blow to employment and economic growth.

10/5/2021 Taiwan Says It Needs To Be Alert To ‘Over The Top’ Military Activities By China by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese national flags are displayed alongside military airplanes
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan needs to be on alert for China’s “over the top” military activities, the premier said on Tuesday, after a record 56 Chinese aircraft https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-surge-chinese-aircraft-defence-zone-2021-10-04 flew into Taiwan’s air defence zone, while the president said the island would do what it took to defend itself.
    Taiwan has reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern part of its air defence zone over a four day period beginning on Friday, the same day China marked a key patriotic holiday, National Day.
    China claims Taiwan as its own territory, which should be taken by force if necessary.    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy, blaming China for the tensions.
    The tensions are being viewed with increasing concern by the international community.    Japan and Australia on Tuesday urged the two to talk, while the United States said it has been “conveying clear messages” after what it described as destabilising activities by China.
    Taiwan calls China’s repeated nearby military activities “grey zone” warfare, designed to both wear out Taiwan’s forces by making them repeatedly scramble, and also to test Taiwan’s responses.
    “Taiwan must be on alert. China is more and more over the top,” Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters in Taipei. “The world has also seen China’s repeated violations of regional peace and pressure on Taiwan.”
    Taiwan needs to “strengthen itself” and come together as one, he added.
    “Only then will countries that want to annex Taiwan not dare to easily resort to force.    Only when we help ourselves can others help us.”
    The Chinese aircraft have not been flying in Taiwan’s air space, but its air defence identification zone or ADIZ, a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has made modernising the armed forces a priority, focusing on the use of new, mobile weapons to make any attack by China as costly as possible, turning Taiwan into a “porcupine.”
    In an article for the U.S. magazine Foreign Affairs https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-president-warns-catastrophic-consequences-if-it-falls-china-2021-10-05 released on Tuesday, Tsai said Taiwan falling to China would trigger “catastrophic” consequences for peace in Asia.
    Taiwan does not seek military confrontation, Tsai said, “but if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.”
JAPAN, AUSTRALIA CONCERN
    The United States, Taiwan’s main military supplier, has its “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan.
    China has blamed the United States for the tensions due to its arms sales and support for the island.
    In a sign of the fraught atmosphere, a security source confirmed reports in Taiwanese media that a Chinese pilot responded to a radio warning to fly away on Sunday with an expletive.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Japan also weighed in on Tuesday, saying it was watching the situation closely and hoped Taiwan and China could resolve their differences through talks.
    “Japan believes that it is crucial for the situation surrounding Taiwan to be peaceful and stable,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in Tokyo.
    “Additionally, instead of simply monitoring the situation, we hope to weigh the various possible scenarios that may arise to consider what options we have, as well as the preparations we must make.”
    The Japanese, U.S., British, Dutch, Canadian and New Zealand navies held joint drills near Okinawa over the weekend, including U.S. and British aircraft carriers.
    Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs said it too was concerned by China’s increased air incursions.
    “Resolution of differences over Taiwan and other regional issues must be achieved peacefully through dialogue and without the threat or use of force or coercion,” it said.
    Taiwan has lived under the threat of invasion since the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists.    No peace treaty or armistice has ever been signed.
    Taiwanese people are well used to China’s threats and there has been no sign of panic on the island because of the stepped up military activity, nor undermining of investor confidence on the stock market.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami in Tokyo, Colin Packham in Canberra and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

10/5/2021 New Japan PM Kishida Confirms Strong Alliance With US In Talks With Biden by Antoni Slodkowski
FILE PHOTO: A Japan Coast Guard boat (front) and vessel sail as Uotsuri island, one of the disputed islands, called Senkaku
in Japan and Diaoyu in China, is pictured in the background, in the East China Sea August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Ruairidh Villar
    TOKYO (Reuters) - New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday that he received a “strong” message from President Joe Biden about the United States’ commitment to defending the disputed East China Sea islets known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.
    In phone talks on Tuesday morning that lasted roughly 20 minutes, the allies also confirmed their cooperation toward achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific, Kishida told reporters at the prime minister’s official residence.
    The call came a day after Kishida called a parliamentary election for Oct. 31 and vowed to bolster the country’s response to the pandemic. He was voted in by lawmakers on Monday as the nation’s new prime minister.
    “We confirmed that we would work together toward the strengthening of the Japan-US alliance and free and open Indo-Pacific,” Kishida said.    “We also confirmed we would work closely on issues related to China and North Korea.”
    “Especially, the president made a strong comment on the U.S. commitment to defend Japan, including the Article 5 of the U.S.-Japan security treaty,” Kishida added, referring to U.S. defence obligations to Japan, which cover the uninhabited island.
    Japan has become increasingly concerned about Chinese activity in the East China Sea, including incursions into waters around the disputed islands, known as the Diaoyus in China.
    Kishida, a 64-year-old former foreign minister with an image as a consensus builder, unveiled a cabinet lineup https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/profiles-likely-japanese-cabinet-ministers-2021-10-04 dominated by allies of former prime minister Shinzo Abe and ex-finance minister Taro Aso.
    Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi, Abe’s brother, kept his position, as did Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, reflecting Kishida’s intention to continue Abe’s push to boost security ties with Washington while preserving trade ties with China.
    The new prime minister is also expected to deepen engagement with the United States, Australia, India and Japan – known as the Quad – which Beijing sees as an effort to contain its rise.
    Kishida, who is from a traditionally dovish LDP faction, had tacked to the right as he campaigned to be the leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), reflecting a broader shift in the LDP spurred by Abe’s record-long tenure.
    Kishida has said that acquiring the ability to strike enemy bases, a controversial step backed by Abe, was a viable option and that he would appoint an aide to monitor China’s treatment of its Uyghur minority.    China denies accusations of abuse.
    One of Kishida’s appointments garnering most attention is that of the new post of economy security minister. Kishida filled it with Takayuki Kobayashi, a 46-year-old graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School and Tokyo University, who has worked on policies aimed at protecting sensitive technology from China in areas such as supply chains and cyber security.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Gerry Doyle)

10/5/2021 Son Of Late Philippines Dictator Marcos To Run For President by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema
FILE PHOTO: Former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr and son of late former dictator Ferdinand Marcos is greeted by
his supporters upon his arrival at the Supreme Court in metro Manila, Philippines April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
    MANILA (Reuters) – The son and namesake of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos announced on Tuesday he will run for president in next year’s elections, ending months of speculation over his political ambitions.
    Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is popularly known as “Bongbong,” had been touted as a potential candidate for either the presidency or the vice presidency, having been involved in politics since his return in 1991 from exile following his father’s 1986 overthrow.
    “Join me in this noblest of causes and we will succeed.    Together, we will rise again,” the 64-year-old said in a speech streamed on social media.
    Marcos has served as provincial governor, congressman and senator and ran unsuccessfully for the vice presidency in 2016, a defeat he challenged in the courts. His sister Imee is a senator and mother Imelda a former congresswoman.
    He is the fourth candidate to announce a run for the presidency.
    Manila City mayor Francisco Domagoso registered on Monday, following newly retired boxing icon Manny Pacquiao https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-kicks-off-election-season-under-pandemic-cloud-2021-09-30.
    Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, also intends to run in the contest to replace President Rodrigo Duterte, who is not permitted to run for a second term under the constitution, and has decided to retire.
    Marcos on Tuesday took an oath as chairman of a political party that had earlier nominated him as its presidential candidate.
    His run for the top post would be a big step in a country where many are still healing from the 1970s martial rule era of the elder Marcos.
    His family, one of the most famous in the Philippines, has long sought to rebuild its image and has repeatedly denied allegations it plundered billions of dollars of state wealth when in power, which ended in a People’s Power uprising.
(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)

10/5/2021 Singapore Parliament Approves Law To Tackle Foreign Interference
A general view of the Parliament House in Singapore June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s parliament has approved a law that gives broad powers to the government to deal with foreign interference that has sparked concern from the opposition and experts about its wide scope and limits on judicial review.
    The small and open city-state, which says it is vulnerable to foreign meddling, targeted fake news with a far-reaching law in 2019, and joins nations such as Australia https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-security-review-china-idUSKBN1JN0BY and Russia https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-internet-idUSKBN1YN23Z that have passed laws in recent years to deter foreign interference.
    The bill, formally known as the Foreign Interference Countermeasures Act (FICA), was passed late on Monday with 75 members voting in favour, 11 opposition members objecting and two abstaining, local media reported.
    Among the measures, FICA allows authorities to compel internet, social media service providers and website operators to provide user information, block content and remove applications.
    Those deemed or designated as “politically significant persons” under the law will have to comply with strict rules relating to donations and declare their links to foreign entities.
    Instead of court, an independent tribunal, chaired by a judge, will hear appeals against the minister’s decisions, a move the government says is necessary to protect national security.
    The tribunal’s decisions will be final.
    The government said FICA does not cover the building of overseas partnerships, soliciting overseas businesses, networking with foreigners, sourcing for donations or those discussing policies or political matters that affect their businesses with foreign colleagues or business partners, or supporting charities.
    “As long as they are done in an open and transparent manner, and not part of an attempt to manipulate our political discourse or undermine public interest such as security,” K Shanmugam, minister for home affairs, said in parliament.
    It will also not affect Singaporeans expressing their own views or engaging in advocacy.    The home affairs ministry has also previously said it would not apply to foreign individuals or publications “reporting or commenting on Singapore politics, in an open, transparent and attributable way.”
    But some critics say its broad language risks capturing even legitimate activities, while rights group Reporters Without Borders said the law could ensnare independent media outlets.
    Experts and Singapore’s opposition parties have called for narrowing the scope of executive powers and more oversight through the judiciary.
    The bill was passed without strengthening “the circumscribed checks and balances, particularly judicial review,” said Eugene Tan, a law professor at Singapore Management University.    “While assurances were given, they could have been given unequivocal expression through legislative codification.”
    However, Shanmugam said the bill represented the “best balance…between dealing with the risks and providing checks against abuse.”
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

10/5/2021 Taiwan President Warns Of ‘Catastrophic’ Consequences If It Falls To China
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen makes a speech ahead of the light show at the Presidential
Office building for the National Day celebration in Taipei, Taiwan, October 6, 2020. REUTER/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan falling to China would trigger “catastrophic” consequences for peace in Asia, President Tsai Ing-wen wrote in a piece for Foreign Affairs published on Tuesday, and if threatened Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.
    Taiwan, which is claimed by China as its sovereign territory, has faced a massive stepping https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-surge-chinese-aircraft-defence-zone-2021-10-04 up of pressure from Beijing since Friday, with 148 Chinese air force aircraft flying into Taiwan’s air defence zone over a four-day period.
    China has blamed the United States, Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier, for the rise in tensions, while Taiwan has called China the “chief culprit” in the current situation.
    Writing in Foreign Affairs, Tsai said as countries increasingly recognise the threat China’s Communist Party poses, they should understand the value of working with the island.
    “And they should remember that if Taiwan were to fall, the consequences would be catastrophic for regional peace and the democratic alliance system.    It would signal that in today’s global contest of values, authoritarianism has the upper hand over democracy,” Tsai wrote.
    China believes Tsai is a separatist for refusing to accept that Taiwan is part of “one China,” and has cut off dialogue.
    Tsai says Taiwan is an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
    Taiwan does not seek military confrontation, and wants peaceful, stable, predictable and mutually beneficial coexistence with its neighbours, she wrote.
    “But if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself,” Tsai said, adding Taiwanese people would “rise up” should Taiwan’s existence be threatened having made clear that democracy is non-negotiable.
    She reiterated a call for talks with China, as long as it happens in a spirit of equality and without political preconditions, something Beijing has repeatedly rejected.
    “Amid almost daily intrusions by the People’s Liberation Army, our position on cross-strait relations remains constant: Taiwan will not bend to pressure, but nor will it turn adventurist, even when it accumulates support from the international community.”
    Taiwan is both vibrantly democratic and Western, but influenced by Chinese civilization and shaped by Asian traditions, Tsai wrote.
    “Taiwan, by virtue of both its very existence and its continued prosperity, represents at once an affront to the narrative and an impediment to the regional ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

10/5/2021 Hong Kong Leader Says Beijing Has No Timetable For Anti-Sanctions Law
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference following the
annual policy address in Hong Kong, China November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that Beijing has no timetable to extend an anti-sanctions law to the global financial hub, where financial institutions are concerned over the impact it could have on their operations.
    Lam, speaking at her weekly news briefing, said Beijing would take into account the city’s status as an international financial centre if it decides to extend the law to Hong Kong.
    Beijing was expected to formally approve the law for the Chinese-ruled city in August to counter actions by foreign governments amid escalating geopolitical tensions, but postponed a vote on the issue.
(Reporting by Clare Jim and Donny Kwok; Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/5/2021 U.N.: Afghan Children Face Severe Starvation After Taliban Takeover by OAN Newsroom
A child suffering from malnutrition receives treatment at the Mirwais hospital
in Kandahar on September 27, 2021. – (Photo by BULENT KILIC/AFP via Getty Images)
    The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in Afghanistan after Joe Biden’s botched pullout handed the country over to the Taliban.    On Tuesday, a top UNICEF official said half of Afghan children under the age of five would starve under Taliban rule, while COVID-19 also posed a risk to residents.
    The U.N. warned Afghanistan could become a “failed state.”
    “It’s not just only health, but also other social services.    Food shortage, medical shortage.    And we heard that there will be fuel shortages.    So the whole country is going to collapse if they don’t get support immediately.”
    The U.N. also observed a children’s hospital in Kabul was overrun with young patients who are severely malnourished while the Taliban has not addressed the issued.

10/6/2021 New Japan PM Kishida Off To Rocky Start In Polling
FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan's prime minister, speaks during a news conference at the
prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, October 4, 2021. Toru Hanai/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s new Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, is struggling to find his footing with voters just two days after he was voted into office and launched his new government, multiple polls by local media showed on Tuesday.
    On the lower end, the daily Asahi put Kishida’s approval rating at 45% while Mainichi put it at 49%.    The more conservative-leaning Yomiuri said 56% supported his government, while the Nikkei had 59%.
    In all the polls, support for Kishida’s new government was lower than that of his predecessor Yoshihide Suga’s administration when it came into power last year, with the Asahi reporting a 20 percentage-point difference.
    “I’m aware of the polling results, but also believe that there is quite a gap depending on the company that conducted the survey,” said Kishida to reporters on Wednesday morning.
    “Regardless, I will reflect on my actions based on these results – including the low approval ratings – and continue to work hard toward the upcoming election,” he added.
    Although Kishida’s ratings are low for a fresh administration, they are still higher than the most immediate ratings for Suga, who became deeply unpopular during his tenure as he struggled to contain a fifth wave of coronavirus infections, exacerbated by the Delta variant.
    Kishida said he would dissolve the lower house of parliament on Oct. 14, and a general election is scheduled for Oct. 31, with the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery set to become key issues.
    For single-seat districts, the Mainichi poll said that 41% of respondents would vote for the ruling coalition, while 34% would vote for the opposition and 24% were undecided.    The Yomiuri put support for Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party at 43%, up 7 percentage points from the previous poll.
    The premier unveiled his new cabinet on Monday.    Although more than half of the ministerial roles were filled with fresh faces, the line-up also featured allies of former premiers Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso heavily, signalling their ongoing influence.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

10/6/2021 Taiwan Defence Minister Says Tensions With China Are The Worst In Four Decades
FILE PHOTO: Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng speaks to lawmakers at the
parliament in Taipei, Taiwan, March 25, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Military tensions with China are at their worst in more than 40 years, Taiwan’s defence minister said on Wednesday, days after record numbers of Chinese aircraft flew into the island’s air defence zone.
    Tensions have hit a new high between Taipei and Beijing, which claims the democratic island as its own territory, and Chinese military aircraft have repeatedly flown through Taiwan’s air defence identification zone.
    Over a four day period beginning last Friday, Taiwan reported close to 150 Chinese air force aircraft https://tmsnrt.rs/3ld6TyI entered its air defence zone, part of a pattern of what Taipei calls Beijing’s continued harassment of the island.    Just one incursion was reported on Tuesday.
    Asked by a lawmaker on the current military tensions with China at the parliament, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said the situation was “the most serious” in more than 40 years since he joined the military, adding there was a risk of a “misfire” across the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
    “For me as a military man, the urgency is right in front of me,” he told a parliamentary committee reviewing a special military spending https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwans-special-defence-budget-go-mostly-anti-ship-capabilities-2021-10-05 of T$240 billion ($8.6 billion) for home-made weapons including missiles and warships.
    China says Taiwan should be taken by force if necessary.    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its freedoms and democracy, blaming China for the tensions.
    Chiu said China already has the ability to invade Taiwan and it will be capable of mounting a “full scale” invasion by 2025.
    “By 2025, China will bring the cost and attrition to its lowest.    It has the capacity now, but it will not start a war easily, having to take many other things into consideration.”
    The United States, Taiwan’s main military supplier, has confirmed its “rock-solid” commitment to Taiwan and also criticised China.    Beijing blames Washington’s policies of supporting Taiwan with arms sales and sending warships through the Taiwan Strait for raising tensions.
    U.S. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday he had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/biden-says-he-chinas-xi-have-agreed-abide-by-taiwan-agreement-2021-10-05 and they agreed to abide by the Taiwan agreement.
    Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing “one-China policy” under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

10/6/2021 Hong Kong Leader Unveils Ambitious Housing Plan At ‘New Start’ For Development by Twinnie Siu and Clare Jim
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is seen on a tv screen as she delivers her annual policy
address at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Wednesday the city was at a new starting point for development under a national security law imposed last year and her priority is to focus on tackling a long-standing housing shortage in the Chinese-ruled city.
    Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have long blamed unaffordable housing in the former British colony for deep-rooted social problems that they say helped fuel anti-government protests in 2019.
    At the centre of plans unveiled by Lam in her last policy address in this term of office was a new city in northern Hong Kong, on the border with the mainland’s technology hub of Shenzhen, covering 300 square kilometers with, ultimately, up to 926,000 residential units for some 2.5 million people.
    the implementation of the National Security Law and the improvement to our electoral system have restored safety and stability in society.    Hong Kong is now ready again for a new start for economic development,” Lam said.
    Beijing imposed the law in June last year.    It punishes what authorities broadly define as secession, sedition and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in jail.
    Critics say it is being used to crush freedoms promised under the “one country, two systems” formula agreed when the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997.    Beijing and the city government say the law is needed to safeguard prosperity and stability and guard against outside interference.    Lam’s focus in her speech was on ensuring affordable housing for the city’s 7.5 million people, with the highlight the plan for the Northern Metropolis, to be developed into an international innovation and technology hub with the creation of more than 500,000 jobs and complementing the city’s role as an financial centre, Lam said.
    “(It) will be the most important area in Hong Kong that facilitates our development integration with Shenzhen and connection with the GBA,” she said, referring to what is known as the Greater Bay Area.
    Lam said she was confident that Hong Kong would be able to meet a shortfall of land in the medium to long term with policies including land reclamations and the Northern Metropolis.
    Hong Kong already plans artificial islands, estimated to cost at least HK$624 billion ($80.5 billion) – the city’s most expensive infrastructure project – with up to 400,000 housing units across 1,700 hectares of reclaimed land between Lantau island, where the city’s airport is located, and the main Hong Kong island.
‘GROSS INTERFERENCE’
    Making housing more affordable has been a priority for all Hong Kong’s leaders since 1997, although the prospect of owning a home is still a distant dream for many.
    Even residents with good jobs and salaries have struggled to get on the property ladder.
    Private home prices hit a record high in July, buoyed by limited supply and large flows of capital from mainland buyers.
    Last month, Reuters reported that Beijing had given a new mandate to the city’s powerful tycoons in a series of meetings this year that they should pour resources and influence into helping solve the housing shortage.
    The average waiting time for public housing in Hong Kong has climbed steadily and now stands at more than 5.5 years.
    Compounding the problem, home prices in former farming areas about an hour’s commute from the heart of the financial centre have also surged, buoyed in part by mainland parents eager to educate their children in the city.
    At the end of her address, Lam thanked Beijing and her family for support during “unprecedented pressure” she faced since 2019 due to circumstances including the anti-government protests and “the incessant and gross interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces.”
    “The driving force backing me up in overcoming all these challenges comes from the earnest words of the central Government that it will always provide staunch support to Hong Kong, my pledge to always stand by the side of the people of Hong Kong when I took office, and the unfailing trust and support of my family,” she said tearfully.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Clare Jim and Donny Kwok; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Robert Birsel)

10/6/2021 ASEAN Discusses Excluding Myanmar Junta Chief From Summit - Envoy by Ain Bandial
Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar's armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing attends the IX Moscow conference
on international security in Moscow, Russia June 23, 2021. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS
    BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN (Reuters) -Southeast Asian countries are discussing not inviting the head of Myanmar’s junta to a summit later this month, due to a lack of progress on an agreed roadmap to restore peace in the strife-torn country, a regional envoy said on Wednesday.
    The junta’s inaction on a five-point plan it agreed in April with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was “tantamount to backtracking,” Erywan Yusof, the bloc’s special envoy to Myanmar, told a news conference.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since a Feb. 1 coup led by military chief Min Aung Hlaing that ended a decade of tentative democracy and the return of military rule has prompted outrage at home and abroad.
    Erywan, the second foreign minister of ASEAN chair Brunei, said the bloc was in “deep in discussions” about not inviting the junta to participate in a virtual summit on Oct. 26-28, after the issue was raised by Malaysia and some other member countries.
    “Up until today there has been no progress on the implementation of the five-point consensus, and this has raised a concern,” Erywan said.
    Myanmar junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun did not respond to calls from Reuters on Wednesday.    Last week he told a news conference that Myanmar was cooperating with ASEAN “without compromising the country’s sovereignty.”
    The bloc’s effort to engage with Myanmar’s military has been criticised by supporters of democracy, with a committee of ousted Myanmar lawmakers declaring the junta a terrorist group and saying ASEAN’s engagement would give it legitimacy.
    Still, excluding a leader from the summit would be a big step for ASEAN, which operates under consensus decision-making principles and prefers engagement, rather than confrontation, with member countries.
    Erywan said the junta had not directly responded to his requests to meet detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government was overthrown in the coup.
    He added that he had proposed a programme for his visit to Myanmar to the military appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin last week, but the junta has not yet responded.
    A source close to the Malaysian government said the ASEAN envoy was unlikely to visit Myanmar before the summit as the bloc had initially targeted.
    More than 1,100 people have been killed since the coup, according to the United Nations, many during a crackdown by security forces on pro-democracy strikes and protests, during which thousands have been arrested.    The junta says that estimate is exaggerated and members of its security forces have also been killed.
    The ASEAN roadmap included a commitment to dialogue with all parties, allowing humanitarian access and ceasing hostilities.
    Myanmar’s long history of military dictatorship and alleged human rights abuses has been ASEAN’s most tricky issue, testing the limits of its unity and its policy of non-interference.
    But the foreign ministers meeting virtually on Monday voiced disappointment https://reut.rs/3Bi7JQj about the lack of progress made by the State Administrative Council (SAC), as Myanmar’s junta is known.
    On Monday, Malaysia’s top diplomat Saifuddin Abdullah on Twitter said that without progress, “it would be difficult to have the chairman of the SAC at the ASEAN summit.”
    He reiterated this stance in parliament on Wednesday and said the ASEAN envoy was doing “whatever is humanly possible” to make progress on the roadmap.
(Reporting by Ain Bandial in Bandar Seri Begawan, Tom Allard in Jakarta, Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Writing by Martin Petty and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/6/2021 U.S. Envoy Sullivan To Meet China’s Top Diplomat Amid High Tensions by Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan holds a news briefing about the
situation in Afghanistan at the White House in Washington, U.S., August 17, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security adviser will hold talks with China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Switzerland on Wednesday, upholding a pledge by both countries to boost communication amid a deepening strategic rivalry.
    The Zurich meeting comes at a time of heightened tensions between the world’s two largest economies over a range of issues including Taiwan.    It will be U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan’s first face-to-face meeting with Yang since their acrimonious exchanges (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-alaska/tough-u-s-china-talks-signal-rocky-start-to-relations-under-biden-idUSKBN2BB216) in Alaska in March, which also involved U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
    The White House said in a statement that the meeting follows up on Biden’s Sept. 9 call (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/biden-chinas-xi-discuss-managing-competition-avoiding-conflict-call-2021-09-10) with Chinese President Xi Jinping “as we continue to seek to responsibly manage the competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.”
    That call ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and they discussed the need to ensure that competition between the two – with relations sinking to their lowest level in decades – does not veer into conflict.
    In a brief statement on Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry said Yang and Sullivan will “exchange views on China-U.S. relations and relevant issues” during their Zurich meeting.
    Blinken, currently visiting Paris, held a call with Yang (https://www.reuters.com/world/china-us-top-diplomats-hold-phone-call-chinese-state-media-2021-06-11) in June, stressing the need for cooperation and transparency over the origins of COVID-19 and raised other contentious topics, including China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
    Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper quoted an official familiar with the arrangements for the Zurich meeting as saying the objective is “to rebuild communication channels and implement consensus reached” between Xi and Biden.
    With trade tensions also at the top of the U.S.-China agenda, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in Paris for Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meetings, has said she hopes to hold discussions soon with Chinese counterparts.
    On Monday, Tai unveiled the results of a months-long “top-to-bottom” review of China trade policy, pledging to hold “frank” talks with Beijing about its failure to keep promises made in former President Donald Trump’s trade deal and end harmful industrial policies.
    The Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid, said China is willing to build mutually beneficial trade with the United States but will not make concessions on principle and is not afraid of a drawn-out contest.
    “The China-U.S. trade war has lasted for more than three-and-a-half years.    Instead of being weakened, China’s economy has taken a step forward in comparison with the scale of the U.S.,” it said.
LITTLE PROGRESS
    Talks between officials from the two powers since Biden took office in January have shown little concrete progress.    U.S. officials said the Biden-Xi call was a test of whether direct top-level engagement could end a stalemate in ties.,br>     After that call, Biden denied (https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-failed-secure-summit-with-chinas-xi-call-last-week-ft-2021-09-14) a media report that Xi turned down an offer from Biden for a first face-to-face meeting as leaders.
    Since then, the United States has taken a series of steps to strengthen its hand against China in coordination with allies.
    These have included the announcement of a trilateral partnership with Britain and Australia, called AUKUS, to provide the latter with nuclear-powered submarines.    Biden hosted a first in-person summit (https://www.reuters.com/world/china/quad-leaders-meet-white-house-amid-shared-china-concerns-2021-09-24) with Australia, India and Japan in which the “Quad” leaders vowed to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific region “undaunted by coercion.”
    The White House said Sullivan will also visit Brussels for meetings with NATO and European Union officials, as well as Paris, and will brief the Europeans on his meeting with Yang.
    It said that at NATO he will discuss implementation of a decision at the June NATO summit to modernize the alliance and strategic challenges, and he will talk with EU officials about trade, technology and global economic issues.
    Biden’s administration is also pursuing a massive domestic spending proposal aimed at rebuilding domestic infrastructure and industry, in part to boost U.S. competitiveness with China.
    “It’s not a thaw.    It’s not a re-embrace of engagement,” Evan Medeiros, an Asia specialist during former President Barack Obama’s administration, said of the Zurich meeting.    “It’s about getting serious and systematic about competition.    That means being very clear about boundaries, our perceptions of their behavior, particularly the recent number of air force strike packages around Taiwan.”
    China has blamed the United States for increased tensions over the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing, even as it has conducted an unprecedented number of incursions by its air force into Taiwan’s air defense zone.
    Analysts said increased communication between senior U.S. and Chinese officials could allow progress in some aspects of ties, for example, letting more journalists return to each other’s countries and reopening shuttered consulates in Houston and Chengdu.
    The month-end G20 summit in Italy has been talked about as a possible venue for a face-to-face Biden-Xi meeting.
    “I think the hope is that it will lead to a Biden-Xi Jinping meeting, which may have to be virtual,” said Asia expert Bonnie Glaser of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru and Steve Holland, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina in Washington; Editing by Heather Timmons, Will Dunham, Alistair Bell, Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterman)

10/6/2021 Biden, Xi Plan U.S.-China Virtual Summit Before Year’s End, U.S. Says by John Revill and Steve Holland
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan leaves from the Hyatt Regency Zurich Airport
hotel, in Zurich, Switzerland, October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
    ZURICH/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and China have agreed in principle for their presidents to hold a virtual meeting before the end of the year, a senior U.S. administration official said on Wednesday, after high-level talks aimed at improving communication between the two countries.
    The closed-door meeting at an airport hotel in the Swiss city of Zurich between U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi was their first face-to-face encounter since an unusually public and acrid airing of grievances in Alaska in March.
    U.S. officials had suggested that the meeting was a follow-on from President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 call with Chinese President Xi Jinping, prior to which the world’s top two economies appeared to have been locked in a stalemate.
    The White House said Sullivan raised concerns about contentious issues such as China’s actions in the South China Sea, as well as on human rights and Beijing’s stances on Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Taiwan.
    At the end of the day, however, both Beijing and Washington said the talks, which lasted six hours, were constructive and candid.    The U.S. side said the tone was very different from Alaska.
    “We do have out of today’s conversation an agreement in principle to hold a virtual bilateral (summit) meeting before the end of the year,” the U.S. official told reporters.
    Asked for further details, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “We’re still working through what that would look like, when and of course the final details we don’t quite have them yet.”
    Early speculation had been that the two might meet in person at the G20 summit in Italy in October, but Xi has not left China since the outbreak of the pandemic early last year.
    “Today’s conversation, broadly speaking, was a more meaningful and substantive engagement than we’ve had to date below the leader level,” the official said, adding that Washington hoped it would be a “model for future encounters.”
    The official said it shouldn’t be seen as a thaw in relations, however.
    “What we are trying to achieve is a steady state between the United States and China where we are able to compete intensely but to manage that competition responsibly,” the official said.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Yang told Sullivan that confrontation would damage both countries and the world.
    “The two sides agreed to take action … to strengthen strategic communication, properly manage differences, avoid conflict and confrontation,” the ministry statement said.
TAIWAN TENSIONS
    Biden’s call with Xi in September ended a nearly seven-month gap in direct communication between the leaders, and the two discussed the need to ensure that their competition does not veer into conflict.
    Biden said on Tuesday that he spoke to Xi about Taiwanand they agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement,” as tensions ratchet up between Taipei and Beijing.
    Taiwan has reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern part of its air defence zone over a four-day period beginning on Friday, the same day China marked a patriotic holiday, National Day.
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry, which had sought clarification from the United States about Biden’s comments, said on Wednesday that Washington reassured them that its approach to Taiwan had not changed, and that its commitment to the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing was “rock solid.”
    In his comments on Tuesday, Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s long-standing policy under which it officially recognizes Beijing rather than Taipei, and the Taiwan Relations Act, which makes clear that the U.S. decision to establish diplomatic ties with Beijing instead of Taiwan rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.
    The White House said Sullivan will also visit Brussels formeetings with NATO and European Union officials, as well asParis, and will brief the Europeans on his meeting with Yang.
    With trade tensions also at the top of the U.S.-Chinaagenda, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, in Paris forOrganisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meetings,has said she hopes to hold discussions soon with Chinesecounterparts.
    On Monday, Tai unveiled the results of a months-long ”top-to-bottom” review of China trade policy, pledging to hold ”frank” talks with Beijing about its failure to keep promisesmade in former President Donald Trump’s trade deal and endharmful industrial policies.
(Reporting by John Revill, Arnd Wiegmann and Michael Shields in Zurich, Ryan Woo and Tom Daly in Beijing, Michael Martina, Steve Holland, Daphne Psaledakis, and David Brunnstrom in Washington; and Simon Lewis in Paris; Writing by Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Martina; Editing by William Maclean and Sonya Hepinstall)

10/7/2021 Taiwan Seeks International Support After Chinese Incursions by Ben Blanchard
French Senator Alain Richard leads a group of delegates arriving at Taoyuan International
airport in Taoyuan, Taiwan, October 6, 2021. Central News Agency/Pool via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will ensure regional peace and stability and seeks to work with other like-minded democracies, President Tsai Ing-wen told senior French and Australian dignitaries on Thursday, days after a dramatic spike in tensions with China.
    The trips by four French senators and former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott come after four straight days, beginning last Friday, of massed Chinese air force incursions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-surge-chinese-aircraft-defence-zone-2021-10-04 into Taiwan’s air defence zone, moves met with concern by Washington and its allies.
    Democratically ruled Taiwan has sought support from other democracies, especially the United States and it allies, amid the growing military and political pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.
    Speaking at the presidential office to the French senators, lead by former defence minister Alain Richard, Tsai thanked France for its concern about the situation in the Taiwan Strait and support for its international participation.
    “We will continue to fulfil our responsibilities as members of the international community to ensure peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. We also hope to make more contributions to the world along with France,” she added.
    Richard discussed the “essential contribution of Taiwan in the important field of human progress” but did not mention the rising military tensions with China in remarks carried live on the presidential office’s Facebook page.
    Tsai gave a similar message in later remarks to Abbott, who told her he was in Taiwan to help end its international isolation, praising its democracy and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “Of course not everyone and not everywhere is pleased at Taiwan’s progress, and I do note that Taiwan is challenged on an almost daily basis by its giant neighbour,” Abbott said.
    The French senators arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday, despite the strong objections of China which is always angered by visits of foreign officials.
    Richard, head of the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, was the country’s defence minister from 1997 to 2002 under President Jacques Chirac.
    Tsai said Taiwan was “very moved” Richard decided to come, despite what she described as “pressure” – a reference to China.
    In March, the Chinese embassy in Paris warned against lawmakers meeting Taiwanese officials, prompting a rebuff from the French foreign ministry, which said French senators are free to meet whomever they wish when they travel.
    Tsai did not directly mention the recent Chinese air force activities in public comments at her meetings with the senators or Abbott.
    Neither France nor Australia have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, like most countries.
    Separately, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said it would pay close attention to a planned summit https://www.reuters.com/world/china/us-says-agreed-with-china-virtual-biden-xi-summit-before-years-end-2021-10-06 between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the United States being Taiwan’s most important backer.
    “We will continue to coordinate closely with the United States in Taipei and Washington to ensure that U.S. policy toward Taiwan remains unchanged,” said ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou.
    Taiwan’s government has denounced China’s moves against it, and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, and that only     Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

10/7/2021 Philippines Vice President Robredo To Run For President In 2022
President Rodrigo Duterte (C) with Vice-President Leni Robredo attend the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) graduation
ceremony in Camp Castaneda, Silang town in Cavite city, south of Manila, Philippines March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco
    MANILA (Reuters) -Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo said on Thursday she will run for the presidency in a 2022 election.
    Robredo, 56, a human rights lawyer and widow of a former interior minister, leads the opposition and has been critical of incumbent Rodrigo Duterte and his bloody war on drugs. https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-philippines-politics-idUKKBN1X21YT     “I pledge to give all my strength not just in this election but in my remaining days (as vice president) to fight for the Philippines,” Robredo said in a 15-minute speech streamed live on social media, adding that she was ready to embark on a bigger fight.
    Vice presidents are elected separately from presidents in the Philippines and Robredo has been at loggerheads with Duterte on a range of issues.
    Duterte can not run for president in May due to rules on term limits. He had said he would run for vice president but announced on Saturday he would retire from politics https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippine-president-duterte-says-he-is-retiring-politics-2021-10-02.
    Robredo, a mother of three, is expected to file her candidacy papers later on Thursday.    She will become the fifth candidate to officially enter the race.
    Should she win, Robredo would be the third woman to lead the Philippines after democracy champion Corazon Aquino in 1986 and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001.
    Under Duterte, Robredo served as a housing minister but quit https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-politics-idUSKBN13T0IM after being excluded from cabinet meetings.
    After criticising what she called “senseless killings” in his war on drugs, Duterte appointed her “drugs tsar,” but sacked her after 18 days https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-drugs-idUSKBN1XY0BJ.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel)

10/7/2021 Former Australia PM Abbott Says In Taiwan To Help End Its Isolation
Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture on "Our Common Challenges:
Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore June 29, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday he was in Taiwan to help end its international isolation, offering his support to the democratically run island even in the face of what he called China’s “challenges.”
    Abbott, who made the comments to President Tsai Ing-wen at her office in Taipei, is not visiting in any official capacity, but his trip comes as Western democracies seek to support the island in the face of growing pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.
    Abbott praised Taiwan’s success at controlling the COVID-19 pandemic despite its absence from global bodies such as the World Health Organization, its membership being blocked by China as it views Taiwan as one of its provinces, not a country.
    “It is in large measure to try to help to end this isolation from which Taiwan has been suffering for so many decades that I am here in this country and I do hope that this will be the first of many visits,” he said.
    Taiwan shows others in the region it is possible to be both rich and free, and democracies should stand together, Abbott added.
    “Of course not everyone and not everywhere is pleased at Taiwan’s progress, and I do note that Taiwan is challenged on an almost daily basis by its giant neighbour,” he said.
    Abbott’s visit comes after China carried out four days of mass air force incursions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-surge-chinese-aircraft-defence-zone-2021-10-04 into Taiwan’s air defence zone beginning last Friday.
    Australia, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but has joined its ally the United States in expressing concern at Chinese pressure, especially militarily.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend itself if China attacks.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

10/7/2021 Indonesian Parliament Passes Major Tax Overhaul Bill, VAT To Rise Next Year by Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy
FILE PHOTO: Seats at the main assembly room at the parliament building are left largely empty as attendance is limited to curb the spread
of the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19) during the delivery of the annual State of the Nation Address by Indonesian President Joko Widodo,
ahead of the country's Independence Day, at the parliament building in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 16, 2021. Achmad Ibrahim/Pool via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) - The Indonesian parliament passed into law one of the country’s most ambitious tax overhauls on Thursday, including raising the value added tax rate next year, a new carbon tax and cancelling a planned corporate tax cut.
    The law is aimed at optimising revenue collection and improving tax compliance, after state coffers took a big hit last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Law Minister Yasonna Laoly told parliament after the vote.
    But some business groups and analysts have questioned the timing of planned tax hikes, with the economic recovery from the pandemic seen as still fragile.
    The law calls for the VAT rate for sales of nearly all goods and services to be raised from 10% now to 11% next April and to 12% by 2025, according to a copy reviewed by Reuters.
    It would also keep the corporate tax rate unchanged at 22%, compared with a earlier plan to cut it to 20% next year.
    Other measures approved by parliament include a higher income tax rate for wealthy individuals, an income tax cut for most other people, a new carbon tax and a new tax amnesty programme.
    Only one of 9 political parties opposed the passage in parliament, which is controlled by President Joko Widodo’s coalition.
    “The COVID-19 pandemic has given momentum and new perspectives in rearranging … the tax system to make it stronger,” Yasonna said.
    The government has made some concessions from its original proposals.    Initially, it had sought to raise VAT to 12% in one go and proposed a minimum tax for loss-making companies suspected of tax avoidance.
    “Indonesia’s revenue dynamics are likely to get a boost from the proposed tax reforms depending on when these are implemented,” said Radhika Rao, an economist with DBS, noting that next year’s deficit may come in better than the budgeted 4.85% of gross domestic product (GDP).
    “A phased increase in the VAT rate will be less onerous on consumers, considering that the post-pandemic recovery will be fragile and uneven,” she added.
(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo and by Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/7/2021 Exclusive-U.S. Electronics Firm Struck Deal To Transport And Hire Uyghur Workers by Cate Cadell
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a manufacturing plant of Universal Electronics Inc
in Qinzhou, Guangxi Autonomous Region, China, April 13, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    QINZHOU, China (Reuters) – U.S. remote-control maker Universal Electronics Inc told Reuters it struck a deal with authorities in Xinjiang to transport hundreds of Uyghur workers to its plant in the southern Chinese city of Qinzhou, the first confirmed instance of an American company participating in a transfer program described by some rights groups as forced labor.
    The Nasdaq-listed firm, which has sold its equipment and software to Sony, Samsung, LG, Microsoft and other tech and broadcast companies, has employed at least 400 Uyghur workers from the far-western region of Xinjiang as part of an ongoing worker-transfer agreement, according to the company and local officials in Qinzhou and Xinjiang, government notices and local state media.
    In at least one instance, Xinjiang authorities paid for a charter flight that delivered the Uyghur workers under police escort from Xinjiang’s Hotan city – where the workers are from – to the UEI plant, according to officials in Qinzhou and Hotan interviewed by Reuters.    The transfer is also described in a notice posted on an official Qinzhou police social media account in February 2020 at the time of the transfer.
    Responding to Reuters’ questions about the transfer, a UEI spokeswoman said the company currently employs 365 Uyghur workers at the Qinzhou plant.    It said it treated them the same as other workers in China and said it did not regard any of its employees as forced labor.
    Sony Group Corp, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, LG Corp and Microsoft Corp each say in social responsibility reports they prohibit the use of forced labor in their supply chains and are taking steps to prevent it.
    Sony declined to comment on specific suppliers.    In a statement to Reuters, it said if any supplier is confirmed to have committed a major violation of its code of conduct, which prohibits the use of forced labor, then “Sony will take appropriate countermeasures including request for implementing corrective actions and termination of business with such supplier.”
    A Microsoft spokesperson said the company takes action against any supplier that violates its code of conduct, up to termination of its business relationship, but that UEI was no longer an active supplier.    “We have not used hardware from the supplier since 2016 and have had no association with the factory in question,” the spokesperson said.
    A Samsung spokesman said the company prohibits its suppliers from using all forms of forced labor and requires that all employment be freely chosen.    He declined to comment on UEI.
    LG did not reply to requests for comment.
    The UEI spokeswoman said the company covers the cost of the transfer of workers to its Qinzhou plant from a local airport or train station in Guangxi, the region in which Qinzhou is located.    She said the company does not know how the workers are trained in Xinjiang or who pays for their transport to Guangxi.
    Reuters was unable to interview plant workers and therefore was not able to determine whether they are being compelled to work at UEI.    The conditions they face, however, bear hallmarks of standard definitions of forced labor, such as working in isolation, under police guard and with restricted freedom of movement.
    UEI’s Uyghur workers are under surveillance by police during their transportation and life at the factory, where they eat and sleep in segregated quarters, according to details in Qinzhou government notices and local state media.
    Programs like this have transferred thousands of Uyghur laborers to factories in Xinjiang and elsewhere.    Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups, citing leaked Chinese government documents and testimony from detainees who say they were forced into such jobs, say the programs are coercive and part of China’s overall plan to control the majority-Uyghur population in the region.
    In response to Reuters’ questions, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not address employment at UEI, but denied forced labor exists anywhere in the country.
    “This so-called ‘forced labor’ is a completely fabricated lie,” the ministry said in a statement.    “Xinjiang migrant workers in other parts of China, like all workers, enjoy the right to employment in accordance with the law.    The right to sign a labor contract, the right to labor remuneration, the right to rest and vacation, the right to labor safety and health protection, the right to obtain insurance and welfare rights and other legal rights.”
    Xinjiang authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
    The U.S. Department of State, which has criticized China and several other governments for condoning forced labor, said the United States has found “credible reports of state-sponsored forced labor practices employed by the (Chinese) government in Xinjiang, as well as situations of forced labor involving members of these groups outside Xinjiang.”
    A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on UEI, but said wittingly benefiting from forced labor in the United States was a crime under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
    That law “criminalizes the act of knowingly benefiting, financially or by receiving anything of value, from participation in a venture, where the defendant knew or recklessly disregarded the fact that the venture engaged in forced labor,” the spokesperson said in a statement.    The law imposes criminal liability on individuals or entities present in the United     States, the statement added, even when the forced labor occurs in another country.
    The State Department referred Reuters to the Justice Department for further comment on UEI; Justice did not respond.
    The import of goods into the United States made wholly or in part by forced labor is also a crime under Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930.    UEI told Reuters “a very small quantity” of products made at its Qinzhou factory are exported to the United States.    It did not specify who purchases the goods.
    The law is enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which can seize imports and start a criminal investigation of the importer.    Customs said it does not comment on whether specific entities are under investigation.
    Legal experts told Reuters there have been very few forced labor prosecutions in the United States over abuses overseas, given the difficulty of proving an offense.    “As the law currently stands, there’s very little that the U.S. government can do to hold American companies accountable when they build, manage and profit from supply chains that engage in forced labor and other human rights abuses outside the United States,” said David McKean, deputy director of the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable, a coalition of rights groups.
    Legislation before the U.S. Congress, called the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, was designed to toughen up restrictions by creating the legal presumption that any products made in Xinjiang are the result of forced labor, putting the burden on importers to prove they are not.    The latest version of the legislation was passed by the Senate this year but has yet to pass the House of Representatives.
    The UEI spokeswoman told Reuters the company does not conduct independent due diligence on where and how its workers are trained in Xinjiang.    She said the arrangement is vetted by a third-party agent working with the Xinjiang government, who brokered the deal.    She declined to identify that agent.    Reuters could not determine if the agent is independent or works for the Xinjiang government.
‘VOCATIONAL’ INTERNMENT CAMPS
China has detained over 1 million Uyghurs in a system of camps since 2017 as part of what it calls an anti-extremism campaign, according to estimates by researchers and United Nations experts.    China describes internment camps in the region as vocational education and training centers and denies accusations of rights abuses.
    Organized transfers of Uyghur laborers to other parts of China date back to the early 2000s, according to state media and government notices from the time.    The program has expanded since about 2016, Xinjiang officials said in late July, around the time the mass internment program began.
    Xinjiang officials told reporters at a Beijing media conference in late July that transfers of workers outside of Xinjiang are common and voluntary.    “There are many labor-intensive industries that fit the skills of people in Xinjiang,” said Xu Guixiang, a spokesman for the provincial government.    “They go where the market needs them.”
    Suppliers for some U.S. companies have been accused of using forced laborers transported from Xinjiang.    The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), a think tank, last year released a report identifying 83 brands linked to Uyghur labor transfer programs, citing Chinese-language documents, satellite-imagery analysis and media reports.    None of the U.S. companies were directly involved in the transfers, however.
    Aside from remote-control technology, UEI also makes home security products under the Ecolink brand.    It has more than 3,800 employees in 30 countries and a market value of about $670 million.    Its headquarters are in Scottsdale, Arizona, but the company has no plants in the United States.
    The company’s two largest investors are funds run by BlackRock Inc and Eagle Asset Management, an affiliate of Carillon Tower Advisers.
    BlackRock declined to comment.    A spokesman for Eagle Asset Management said: “Since becoming aware of purported labor issues involving one of our investments, we immediately approached the company’s senior leadership and they have provided assurances that labor is paid, treated humanely and employed at-will.    Should we learn otherwise, we will take appropriate action.”
GOVERNMENT FUNDING
    Six groups of workers were transported from Xinjiang to the UEI factory between May 2019 and February 2020, according to Qinzhou government notices, confirmed to Reuters by government officials in Xinjiang and Guangxi.
    In early 2020, as the new coronavirus began to spread in China and lockdowns crippled manufacturing, about 1,300 Uyghurs were transported from Xinjiang’s southern Hotan region.    They were sent to factories around the country to alleviate labor shortages and help get them running again, according to officials cited by Chinese state media outlet Economic Daily in February 2020.
    The police-escorted charter flights were funded by the Xinjiang government, according to Qinzhou government notices and an official in Hotan who spoke to Reuters in May.
    UEI’s Qinzhou factory took more than 100 workers in the February 2020 transfer, according to notices on the Qinzhou government website, state media and Qinzhou officials.    That was one of several transfers made under an agreement struck some nine months earlier between UEI and Xinjiang authorities.    Reuters could not determine exactly where the workers came from.
    UEI’s operation underscores the role played by agents in supplying companies with Uyghur workers.
    The UEI spokeswoman confirmed the company entered into an agreement with Xinjiang authorities in 2019 after being approached by the third-party agent.    UEI said the same agent hires and pays the workers and that UEI does not sign individual contracts with the workers.
    The spokeswoman declined to disclose what the Uyghur workers are paid, beyond saying that they receive the same as others at the facility, which is “higher than Qinzhou local minimum wage.”
    The Economic Daily reported that workers sent in UEI’s February 2020 transfer are expected to make around 3,000 yuan ($465) a month.    That compares with the average manufacturing wage in the province of Guangxi of 3,719 yuan, according to China’s national bureau of statistics.
    UEI’s Uyghur employees are part of a much bigger system. Two separate labor agents hired by Hotan and Kashgar authorities in Xinjiang told Reuters they had each been set targets of placing as many as 20,000 Uyghurs annually with companies outside the region.
    They, and one other agent, showed Reuters copies of three contracts for transfers already completed this year.    These included a January contract to transport 1,000 workers to an auto parts factory in Xiaogan, Hubei province, who had to undergo “political screening” prior to transfer.
    The three agents told Reuters that separate dormitories, police escorts and payments overseen by third-party agents are routine elements in such transfers.
    “Uyghur workers are the most convenient workers for companies,” one of the agents told Reuters.    “Everything is managed by the government.”
    The Uyghurs of UEI are kept under tight watch all along this labor-supply chain.
    Photographs published online by the Economic Daily and an official social media account of Qinzhou police, dated Feb. 28, 2020, show the workers lining up before dawn outside the airport in the city of Hotan before taking the flight.
    “Get to work quickly and get rich through hard work using both hands,” one manager employed by Xinjiang authorities told the gathered workers, according to an account published online by the Qinzhou Daily.    Accompanying photos show the workers dressed in blue and red uniforms.
    More than a dozen uniformed police officers escorted the same workers through the Nanning Wuxu airport and onto buses, according to posts on a social media account of a Qinzhou police unit and a post by the Qinzhou government.    The buses were then escorted by police vehicles to the UEI factory in Qinzhou, some 75 miles (120 km) away.
SEPARATE DORMS, POLICE ‘EDUCATION’
    The mostly young Uyghur laborers at UEI’s plant sleep in separate dormitories and eat in a segregated canteen under the watch of managers assigned by Xinjiang authorities.    Non-Uyghur laborers are not subject to such monitoring.    The managers stay with the Uyghur workers throughout their employment, according to state media, local police notices and government officials who spoke to Reuters.
    UEI said the canteens were established to provide local Uyghur food, and says it allows Xinjiang workers to share dormitories “as they wish.”
    The Uyghurs must participate in what are described as “education activities” run by Qinzhou police and judicial authorities within the UEI facility, as part of the agreement between the U.S. firm and local authorities, according to notices on the government website of the Qinzhou district where UEI’s factory is located.
    Reuters could not determine what those activities involve.    Beijing has said that legal education is a key aspect of the training programs in Xinjiang’s camps.    The education activities in UEI’s factory only apply to the Uyghur workers, according to two Qinzhou government notices.
    The UEI spokeswoman said UEI is “not aware of specific legal education activities” that Uyghurs take part in at its plant.
‘TERRORISTS, XINJIANG PEOPLE AND MENTAL PATIENTS’
    Two Reuters journalists visited the Qinzhou factory in April during a local public holiday when the plant was not running.    Women in Uyghur ethnic dress were visible inside the compound.
    Half a dozen police arrived, followed by a delegation of officials from the Qinzhou Foreign Affairs Office.    The officials confirmed that Uyghur laborers worked in the factory, which is run by UEI’s wholly owned China subsidiary Gemstar Technology.    The officials said Gemstar had taken the lead in setting up the May 2019 agreement to transfer workers.    The officials told Reuters not to take photos of Uyghurs in the factory.
    The district of Qinzhou where UEI is located has surveillance measures targeting Uyghurs that predate the transfers.    A June 2018 procurement document seen by Reuters shows police there purchased a 4.3 million yuan ($670,000) system that establishes blacklists of “high-risk” people.    These include “terrorists, Xinjiang people and mental patents.”
    The document also lists a specific need for “automatic alarms” – a computer system that sends alerts via an internal messaging system to police when Uyghurs from Xinjiang are detected in the area.
    According to a March 2020 post on the official Qinzhou police website, UEI agreed to provide daily reports on the workers to police.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell in QINZHOU, China; Editing by Reuters staff)

10/7/2021 UN Rights Body Establishes Investigator For Afghanistan by Stephanie Nebehay
An Afghan map with the Taliban flag an graffiti reading: 'The Emirate is the achievement of sacred ideals' is seen
on the concrete walls of the abandoned U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. Human Rights Council agreed on Thursday to appoint a special rapporteur on Afghanistan to probe alleged violations committed by the Taliban and other parties to the conflict there.
    In adopting the resolution brought by the European Union, the forum signalled that it would maintain a spotlight on the country, especially on the rights of women and ethnic minorities living under Taliban rule.
    But activists regretted that the resolution fell short of the full fact-finding mission that they had sought in order to document reports of targeted killings by the Taliban and their restrictions on women and on free speech.
    The vote was 28 states in favour with five – including China, Pakistan and Russia – against and 14 abstentions at the 47-member state forum.
    In a statement, the EU said that its resolution “sends a strong signal that the international community will continue to stand by the Afghan people.”
    The special rapporteur is to start work in March and be supported by U.N. experts in legal analysis, forensics and women’s rights, according to the EU resolution.
    U.N. High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet already has a mandate from the Council to monitor the situation in Afghanistan until March, derived from a resolution brought by Pakistan on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in August.
    Pakistan’s ambassador Khalil ur Rahman Hashmi said on Thursday that his country could not support the establishment of an “unnecessarily duplicative” special rapporteur.
    China’s diplomat Jiang Duan said that the EU resolution had “serious defects.”    The United States was the party responsible for committing human rights violations in Afghanistan over the past two decades, he said.
    Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said that “given the gravity of the human rights crisis enveloping Afghanistan,” the latest resolution fell short.
    “An independent, international investigative mechanism, with powers to document and gather evidence for future prosecutions, is critical to ensure justice, truth and reparation for the crimes under international law and human rights violations that are being committed,” she said in a statement.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)

10/7/2021 U.S. Troops Rotating Into Taiwan For Training - Sources
A man walks on an overpass decorated with Taiwan flags to celebrate the upcoming
National Day in Taipei, Taiwan, October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Small numbers of U.S. special operations forces have been rotating into Taiwan on a temporary basis to carry out training of Taiwanese forces, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The Pentagon, which historically has not disclosed details about U.S. training or advising of Taiwanese forces, did not specifically comment on or confirm the deployment.
    “I don’t have any comments on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would like to highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” said Pentagon spokesman John Supple.
    The sources declined to say how long the training had been going on but suggested it predated the Biden administration, which came into office in January.
    While at least one Asian media outlet has previously reported on such training, any kind of official U.S. confirmation could further aggravate U.S.-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out muscular military exercises near Taiwan.    The Wall Street Journal published details on the training, citing unnamed U.S. officials, earlier on Thursday.
    “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Beijing is aware of this,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, noting a social media post during the Trump administration about training by special operations forces.
    “Making this public will compel the Chinese to react, and they will likely do so by stepping up pressure on Taiwan.”
    Democratic Representative Ami Bera, who leads the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Asia, was asked at a defense conference if he had been made aware of the deployment.
    “Not particularly this deployment, if I call it a deployment.    I think we have special operators and others there, and we have in the past that are there training (Taiwan’s) military, working with them,” Bera said.
    Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the same event he had not been made specifically aware and had only seen public reports, but added: “Actually I would be happier if that number was in the hundreds.”
    The United States is Taiwan’s largest supplier of weaponry and has long offered some degree of training on weapons systems, as well as detailed advice on ways to strengthen its military to guard against an invasion by China’s Peoples Liberation Army.
    China sees Taiwan as a renegade province and has not ruled out taking the island by force.
    Chinese military aircraft have repeatedly flown in recent days through Taiwan’s expansive air defense identification zone, which extends well outside Taiwan’s airspace.
    But China appears to have avoided Taiwanese airspace, no shots have been fired and there have been no known close calls between Chinese and Taiwanese aircraft.
    The Taiwanese government has denounced China’s military exercises and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, insisting that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom; Editing by Dan Grebler)

10/7/2021 Exclusive-U.N. Expert Calls For N.Korea Sanctions To Be Eased As Starvation Risk Looms by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: A general view of a rice field in North Korea's propaganda village Kaepoong in this picture
taken from the top of the Aegibong Peak Observatory, south of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), separating
the two Koreas in Gimpo, South Korea, October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea’s most vulnerable risk starvation after it slipped deeper into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and U.N. sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile programmes should be eased, a U.N. rights investigator said in report seen by Reuters.
    The worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis and it is coinciding with a global “creeping apathy” about the plight of North Korea’s people, said Tomas Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    “Sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council should be reviewed and eased when necessary to both facilitate humanitarian and lifesaving assistance and to enable the promotion of the right to an adequate standard of living of ordinary citizens,” he said in a final report to the U.N. General Assembly, to be presented on Oct. 22.
    North Korea does not recognise Ojea Quintana’s mandate or cooperate with him and its mission in Geneva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    The government in Pyongyang does not take questions from foreign media.
    Leader Kim Jong Un in June said the food situation was “tense” because of natural disasters last year and acknowledged that citizens had faced sacrifices during the pandemic.    In April, North Korean officials called a U.N. report on child malnutrition a “sheer lie
    North Korea has not reported any COVID-19 cases and has imposed strict anti-virus measures, including border closures and domestic travel curbs.
    But many North Koreans relying on commercial activities along the border with China have lost their incomes, and that has been compounded by the impact of sanctions, Ojea Quintana said.
    “People’s access to food is a serious concern and the most vulnerable children and elderly are at risk of starvation,” he said, adding that North Koreans “should not have to choose between the fear of hunger and the fear of COVID-19.”
    “Essential medicines and medical supplies are in short supply and prices have increased several fold as they stopped coming in from China, and humanitarian organisations have been unable to bring in medicines and other supplies.”
    Most diplomats and aid workers have left North Korea amid strict travel restrictions and a shortage of essential goods and health facilities, Ojea Quintana said.
    Progress in vaccination, women and children’s health and water and sanitation was eroding, he said.
    “The current worsening humanitarian situation could turn into a crisis and must be averted,” he said.
‘CREEPING APATHY’
    He also voiced concern that growing challenges to obtaining information were “leading to a creeping apathy in global attention to the worsening human rights situation there.”
    Ojea Quintana called for easing military tension on the divided peninsula and urged the United States and South Korea to “send clear signals” to revive diplomacy aimed at securing the North’s denuclearisation.
    In recent weeks, North Korea carried out a series of weapons tests including ballistic missiles and a cruise missile with potential nuclear capabilities.
    Ojea Quintana welcomed a pledge by U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Moon Jae-in last May to work to improve North Korea’s rights situation.
    “In any possible upcoming peace negotiations, the Republic of Korea and the United States of America should secure commitments with measurable benchmarks … to a meaningful process of engagement on human rights,” he said.
    North Koreans are still detained in political prison camps, along with their families, while some have been released from labour training centres due to the unavailability of food and work, he said.    The camps, known as kwanliso, the existence of which is denied by the state, can be qualified as constituting crimes against humanity, he said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/8/2021 Taiwan Does Not Seek Military Confrontation, Says President
A man walks on an overpass decorated with Taiwan flags to celebrate the upcoming
National Day in Taipei, Taiwan, October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan does not seek military confrontation, but will do whatever it takes to defend its freedom, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday, amid a rise in tensions with China that has sparked alarm around the world.
    Taiwan, claimed by China as its own territory, reported close to 150 Chinese air force aircraft flew into its air defence zone over a four-day period beginning last Friday, though those missions have since ended.
    Taiwan has complained for more than a year of such activities, which it views as “grey zone warfare,” designed to wear out Taiwan’s armed forces and test their ability to respond.
    “Taiwan does not seek military confrontation,” Tsai told a security forum in Taipei.
    “It hopes for a peaceful, stable, predictable and mutually-beneficial coexistence with its neighbours.    But Taiwan will also do whatever it takes to defend its freedom and democratic way of life.”
    China says it is acting to protect its security and sovereignty, and has blamed the United States, Taiwan’s most important international backer and arms supplier, for the current tensions.
    Tsai said that prosperity in the Indo-Pacific needs a peaceful, stable and transparent environment and there are many opportunities in the region.
    “But this also brings new tensions and systemic contradictions that could have a devastating effect on international security and the global economy if they are not handled carefully.”
    Taiwan will work together with other regional countries to ensure stability, she added.
    “Taiwan is fully committed to collaborating with regional players to prevent armed conflict in the East China, South China Seas and in the Taiwan Strait.”
    Taiwan has been seeking the support of other democracies as the stand-off with China worsens, and is this week playing host to four French senators and former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, though he is visiting in a personal capacity.
    Abbott, speaking at the same forum, condemned China for its aggressive actions, aimed not only as his country but also Taiwan.
    “Its relative power might have peaked with its population aging, its economy slowing and its finances creaking.    It is quite possible that Beijing could lash out disastrously quite soon,” he said.
    Abbott added that he did not believe the United States could sit by and watch China “swallow up” Taiwan.
    “I don’t believe Australia should be indifferent to the fate of a fellow democracy of almost 25 million people.”
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Michael Perry)

10/8/2021 Japan PM Kishida Vows To Devote Himself To Ending COVID-19 Crisis by Kiyoshi Takenaka
Japan's newly-elected Prime Minister Fumio Kishida arrives at his
official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 4, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday he would do his utmost to lead Japan out of the COVID-19 crisis, while protecting its territory and people in an increasingly tough security environment.
    Kishida took the top job in the world’s third-largest economy on Monday, replacing Yoshihide Suga, who had seen his support undermined by surging COVID-19 infections.    Daily cases have recently fallen and a long state of emergency was lifted this month.
    “I’m determined to devote body-and-soul to overcome this national crisis with the people, carve out a new era and pass on to the next generation a country whose citizens are rich at heart,” Kishida said in his first policy speech to parliament.
    A big early test for him will be leading his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) into a general election on Oct 31.
    The 64-year-old former foreign minister, who has a reputation as a low-key consensus builder, said the government would quickly put together a stimulus package to support those hit hard by the pandemic and take legislative steps to secure medical resources.
    He did not specify the size of the stimulus package in his speech but last month he suggested a sum of 30 trillion yen ($268 billion).
    Earlier, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said he hoped to compile an extra budget to fund the stimulus immediately after the elections and have it approved by parliament by year-end.
    Kishida underscored the need to support those in need to win public cooperation and he called for cash payouts to companies hit hard by the pandemic.
    He also pledged to give cash payouts to so-called non-regular workers, families with children, and those struggling to make ends meet because of the pandemic.
    Kishida reiterated his resolve to overcome deflation and said he would press on with bold monetary easing, expeditious fiscal spending and a strategy for growth.
    “We will conduct fiscal spending without hesitation to respond to crises and make sure all possible measures are taken,” he said.
    On national security and foreign affairs, Kishida said he would protect Japan’s peace and stability.
    “With the security environment surrounding the country getting tougher, I will resolutely protect our territory, territorial waters, air space and the people’s lives and property,” he told parliament.
    Japan faces China’s rapid military buildup and aggressive maritime expansion, as the threat from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
    Kishida said he planned to update national security strategy and aimed to bolster the coast guard and missile defence capabilities.
    On ties with giant neighbour China, Kishida said building stable relations and maintaining dialogue were important but Japan would not mince words when necessary.
    “While working with countries with which we share universal values, we say what needs to be said to China and demand firmly that it behave responsibly. We also maintain dialogue and continue cooperating with them in tackling common issues,” he said.
    China claims almost all of the energy-rich waters of the South China Sea, where it has established military outposts on artificial islands.    It also claims a group of Japanese-administered islets in the East China Sea.
cornerstone of world peace and prosperity,” Kishida said he intended to build on that alliance.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Additional reporting by Tetsushi KajimotoEditing by Chang-Ran Kim)

10/8/2021 Singapore Eyes Quarantine-Free Travel With U.S. Before Year-End
People, some of them wearing protective face masks, walk at Singapore's Changi Airport, following
the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore is working on allowing quarantine-free entry to travelers from the United States who are vaccinated against COVID-19 before the end of the year, its minister for trade and industry said on Thursday.
    Singapore, a travel and tourism hub, began a similar programme for travellers from Germany and Brunei last month as part of a gradual easing of its COVID-19 border controls.
    “We have had successful pilots of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) with Germany and Brunei to facilitate the entry of fully vaccinated individuals into Singapore for business and leisure,” said Gan Kim Yong said in a speech during a visit to Washington DC.
    “We are now working on a VTL with the U.S. as soon as possible, and certainly before the end of the year.”
    Vaccinated visitors in the VTL can bypass the isolation requirements if they test negative in polymerase chain reaction tests.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Kim Coghill)

10/8/2021 Tokyo Trains Crowded But Little Other Damage Day After Strong Quake
People wait for the train service resumption as it was suspended due to an earthquake
at Shinagawa station in Tokyo, Japan, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo area commuters faced packed trains on Friday on some lines due to delays, but there was little other impact after a strong quake rocked the Japanese capital late the night before, although authorities warned of aftershocks for up to a week.
    The quake struck at 10:41 p.m. (1341 GMT), centred just east of Tokyo and registering as a “Strong 5” on Japan’s intensity scale, which can cause power cuts and damage to buildings.
    The Japan Meteorological Agency revised down the magnitude to 5.9 from an initial 6.1.
    There were scattered reports of water main breaks and about 250 buildings in downtown Tokyo briefly lost power.    One of the biggest commuter train stations, Shinagawa, lost power as well, forcing people into long lines for cabs as they tried to get home on Thursday night.
    Several dozen people were injured, mainly by falls or being struck by falling objects.    Most of the injuries were minor.
    By Friday morning everything was back to normal except on some train lines that were running late or with limited capacity.    Waiting commuters overflowed into the streets outside due to crowding.
    The Japan Meteorological Agency said aftershocks, possibly of similar strength, could occur for up to a week.
    The hashtag “Because of the Quake,” in Japanese, was trending on Twitter as Tokyoites, normally inured to tremors, tried to put the quake behind them by jokingly blaming it for everything from missing glasses to terrified cats.    Many, though, said they hadn’t slept.
    “It looks like commuting is really crowded thanks to the quake,” wrote user “Nobiyo.”    “The only bit of luck in this is that most people have now had at least one dose of the (coronavirus) vaccine,” Nobiyo added.
    Earthquakes are common in Japan, which accounts for about 20% of the world’s earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.
    On March 11, 2011, an earthquake of magnitude 9 struck Japan’s northeast coast, strongest on record for the country, causing a massive tsunami and killing nearly 20,000 people.
    The quake and tsunami also severely damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl a quarter of a century earlier.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Tom Hogue)

10/8/2021 As Sydney Readies To Exit Lockdown, Doctors Fret Re-Opening Is Moving Too Fast by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: A person in protective face mask walks along the harbour waterfront across from the Sydney Opera House during a lockdown to
curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Sydney, Australia, October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian doctors warned a too-rapid easing of COVID-19 curbs in Sydney could put pressure on health systems and risk lives, as the city prepares for key restrictions to be relaxed next week after more than 100 days in lockdown.
    Stay-at-home orders are due to be lifted on Monday after New South Wales state this week hit its 70% target of full vaccination for its adult population, and owners of restaurants and other public venues are now scrambling to arrange supplies and staffing.
    While an easing of restrictions on travel for Sydneysiders outside of their local government areas had previously been flagged, authorities on Thursday also decided to bump up permitted limits for home gatherings, weddings and funerals – earning the ire of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
    “New South Wales must not be reckless at this critical time,” AMA President Omar Khorshid said in a statement, adding that “too fast or too early” could result in avoidable deaths and the reintroduction of lockdowns.
    State Premier Dominic Perrottet has defended his decision to bring forward the easing of several restrictions amid a steady fall in infections, saying the pandemic “is an economic crisis too.”
    Officials have a staggered plan to ease limits on gatherings as full inoculation hits 70%, 80% and 90% of adults and while movement around the city will be permitted from Monday, restrictions on travelling to regional areas remain.
    Stuart Knox, owner of Fix Wine, a downtown restaurant and bar, said it was exciting to be re-opening even if preparing was difficult.
    “We’re still flying blind, we’ve got no idea as a CBD restaurant how many people are coming back and it’s all murky what we’re going to deal with,” he said.
    He added he was still unsure how to check patrons’ vaccination status as required since a promised smartphone app was not yet operational.
    Daily infections in New South Wales rose on Friday to 646 cases, the majority in Sydney, up from 587 on Thursday.
    They had previously fallen for the past seven days as first-dose inoculations in people over 16 near 90%.    Eleven new deaths were registered.
    State Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said genomic sequencing has uncovered a new Delta strain in eight new cases and more tests will be conducted to trace the source.
    “There is no indication that this new strain presents any differences regarding transmission, vaccine effectiveness or severity,” she said.
    Victoria state logged a record 1,838 new cases on Friday, the highest number of any state in the country since the pandemic began, exceeding the previous high of 1,763 set three days earlier.    There were five new deaths.
    The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews – one of the most vocal proponents of tough restrictions to rein in outbreaks – was fined A$400 ($300) on Friday for breaching the state’s mask mandate after media photographed him walking mask-free from his car to two news conferences this week.
    “Whilst this was an oversight, oversights matter.    Everyone needs to follow the rules and I am sorry it occurred,” the Australian newspaper quoted Andrews saying.
    Australia is fighting a third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant.    In addition to Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra have also had lockdowns imposed, forcing the closure of thousands of businesses.
    The country’s cumulative COVID-19 numbers are, however, still far lower than many comparable countries, with some 122,500 cases and 1,405 deaths.
    Neighbouring New Zealand, which had stayed largely virus-free for most of the pandemic until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, reported 44 new local cases, up from 29 on Thursday.
($1 = 1.3702 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Richard Pullin and Edwina Gibbs)

10/8/2021 Japan Ruling Party Manifesto Calls For Sharp Rise In Defence Spending - Asahi
FILE PHOTO: Fumio Kishida, Japan's prime minister, speaks during a news conference at the
prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, October 4, 2021. Toru Hanai/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will call for a sharp rise in the country’s defence spending in its election manifesto to be unveiled ahead of the Oct. 31 national lower house election, the Asahi Shimbun daily said on Friday.
    New Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who leads the LDP, said during last month’s campaign for the party presidency that the government will likely need to raise its defence expenditure due to a severe regional security environment.
    Japan faces China’s rapid military buildup and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
    The LDP says in its manifesto that it aims to raise the defence budget, which has been around one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in recent decades, “with an eye on bringing it even above two percent,” the newspaper reported.
    The daily said the manifesto will be unveiled next week after approval by senior LDP party executives.
    The LDP also says in its policy platform that it will bolster Japan’s coast guard and missile defence capabilities, the paper added.
    On the coronavirus response, the party pledges to take legislative steps to give the government stronger authority to secure medical resources and curb people’s movement, the paper said.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Richard Pullin)

10/8/2021 Suicide Bomber Kills Scores In Afghan Mosque Attack
A view shows a mosque after a blast, in Kunduz, Afghanistan October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    KABUL (Reuters) - A suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Afghanistan’s northeastern Kunduz province on Friday, killing scores of worshippers in the country’s third attack this week on a religious institution.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for an attack that state-run Bakhtar news agency said had killed 46 people and wounded 143. Two health officials told Reuters the death toll could be between 70 and 80.
    Video footage showed bodies surrounded by debris inside the mosque, which is used by the minority Shi’ite Muslim community.
    The blast, which the United Nations’ mission in Afghanistan called part of a disturbing pattern of violence, follows others in recent days at a mosque in Kabul and a religious school in the eastern province of Khost.
    There have been similar attacks in recent weeks, some of which have also been claimed by Islamic State, whose fighters are Sunni Muslims.
    The attacks underscore security challenges facing the Taliban, which took over the country in August and have since carried out operations against Islamic State cells in Kabul.
(Reporting by Kabul and Islamabad newsrooms; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield and Alasdair Pal; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Andrew Heavens)

10/8/2021 Call Taiwan A Country, French Senator Says, Angering China
Alain Richard, head of the French Senate's Taiwan Friendship Group and former French defence minister, and other
members of the French delegation attend a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Yimou Lee
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan should be called a country, a senior French senator said on Friday during a visit to Taipei, doubling down on earlier comments that have angered Beijing, which views the island as one of its provinces, not a country.
    Taiwan’s name is a tricky issue.
    Formally called the Republic of China, it is not recognised by most of the world, which has diplomatic ties with Beijing.    Its de facto embassies generally use the name “Taipei” to describe the island, to ensure host nations do not upset China.
    Meeting President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday, former French defence minister Alain Richard said Taiwan’s representative office in Paris was doing “a very good job in representing your country.”
    In Beijing, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said to call Taiwan a country was a “flagrant violation of the universal consensus of the international community, including France.”
    The spokesman, Zhao Lijian, added: “People like Richard either lack the most basic respect and understanding of international relations norms, or they kidnap state-to-state relations based on personal selfishness."
    “China strongly condemns and firmly opposes this.”
    Speaking to reporters on Friday, Richard, who heads the French Senate’s Taiwan Friendship Group, acknowledged that what to call Taiwan’s representative offices was a tricky issue.
    “It’s a fine diplomatic issue, but what is striking to me is that the name of this island and this country is Taiwan,” he said, speaking in English.
    “So there is no big point in trying to, you know, prevent this country to use its name.”
    He added in French that the word “country,” in French, means first of all a geographical space, not a political one.
    The remarks come at a time of growing international concern over rising tension between Taiwan and China after almost 150 Chinese aircraft flew into the former’s air defence zone over a four-day period since last Friday.
    Taiwan has lived under the threat of invasion by China since the defeated Republic of China government fled to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war with the Communists.    No peace treaty or armistice has ever been signed.
    France has official relations only with Beijing, not Taipei, but maintains a relatively large de facto embassy on the island staffed with diplomats.
    Richard, who was French defence minister from 1997 to 2002 under President Jacques Chirac, has visited Taiwan twice before.
    He is being accompanied by three other French senators on his visit, despite strong warnings against it this year by China’s embassy in Paris after the trip was first mooted.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/8/2021 ICC Judges Ask U.N. For Help Identifying Who Represents Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: International Criminal Court is seen in The Hague, Netherlands September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court on Friday said it cannot rule on a prosecutor’s request to resume a war crimes investigation of Afghanistan until it can decide who represents the country in international bodies.
    The judges asked U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres and the ICC’s governing body for help identifying which group officially rules Afghanistan from an international law standpoint.    It asked for a response by Nov. 8.
    Prosecutor Karim Khan had asked the ICC to proceed and said there was no need to decide who runs Afghanistan.
    In response, the court wrote on Friday: “The request cannot be legally adjudicated without addressing the question of which entity actually constitutes the state authorities of Afghanistan since 15 August 2021.”
    The question of who represents Afghanistan at the United Nations has yet to be settled amid competing claims.
    The U.N. ambassador representing Afghanistan’s ousted government, Ghulam Isaczai, last month asked to remain in his U.N. seat, setting up a showdown with the Taliban, who seized control of Afghanistan in August.
    U.N. accreditation issues are dealt with by a nine-member committee that includes the United States, China and Russia.    The committee is due to meet later this month or in November and Isaczai remains in the seat until they decide.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Howard Goller)

10/8/2021 U.S. Troops Rotating Into Taiwan For Training - Sources
A man walks on an overpass decorated with Taiwan flags to celebrate the
upcoming National Day in Taipei, Taiwan, October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Small numbers of U.S. special operations forces have been rotating into Taiwan on a temporary basis to train with Taiwanese forces, two sources familiar with the matter said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The Pentagon, which historically has not disclosed details about U.S. training or advising of Taiwan forces, did not specifically comment on or confirm the deployment.
    “I don’t have any comments on specific operations, engagements, or training, but I would like to highlight that our support for and defense relationship with Taiwan remains aligned against the current threat posed by the People’s Republic of China,” said Pentagon spokesman John Supple.
    Taiwan’s Defense Ministry declined to comment, saying only that “all military exchanges are carried out in accordance with annual plans.”
    Asked on Friday about reports on the U.S. troops, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that the United States should cease military ties and arms sales to Taiwan to avoid damaging bilateral relations.
    “The U.S. side should fully recognize the great sensitivity of the Taiwan issue,” he told a regular daily briefing.
    “China will take all necessary measures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
    China sees Taiwan as a wayward province and has not ruled out taking the island by force.    Taiwan says it is an independent country and will defend its democracy and freedom.
    The sources declined to say how long the training had been going on but suggested it predated the Biden administration, which came into office in January.
    While at least one Asian media outlet has previously reported on such training, any kind of official U.S. confirmation could further aggravate U.S.-China relations at a time when Beijing is carrying out muscular military exercises near Taiwan.    The Wall Street Journal published details on the training, citing unidentified U.S. officials, earlier on Thursday.
    “I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that Beijing is aware of this,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund, noting a social media post during the Trump administration about training by special operations forces.
    “Making this public will compel the Chinese to react, and they will likely do so by stepping up pressure on Taiwan.”
    Democratic Representative Ami Bera, who leads the House Foreign Affairs’ subcommittee on Asia, was asked at a defense conference if he had been made aware of the deployment.
    “Not particularly this deployment, if I call it a deployment.    I think we have special operators and others there, and we have in the past that are there training (Taiwan’s) military, working with them    ,” Bera said.
    Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who is on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the same event he had not been made specifically aware and had only seen public reports, but added: “Actually I would be happier if that number was in the hundreds.”
    The United States is Taiwan’s largest supplier of weaponry and has long offered some degree of training on weapons systems, as well as detailed advice on ways to strengthen its military to guard against an invasion by China’s Peoples Liberation Army.
    Chinese military aircraft have repeatedly flown in recent days through Taiwan’s expansive air defense identification zone, which extends well outside Taiwan’s airspace.
    But China has avoided Taiwanese airspace, no shots have been fired and there have been no known close calls between Chinese and Taiwanese aircraft.
    The Taiwanese government has denounced China’s military exercises and says it will defend the island’s freedom and democracy, insisting that only Taiwan’s people can decide their future.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Dan Grebler and Kim Coghill)

10/8/2021 EU Warns Of Security Risks Linked To Migration From Afghanistan
European Commissioner