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

    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 September-October.

KING OF THE EAST 2021 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER


    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 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

11/1/2021 Thailand, Australia, Israel Ease Travel Curbs As Lockdowns Bite Elsewhere by Jiraporn Kuhakan and Jonathan Barrett
Travellers arriving on the first quarantine free international flights are embraced by family
at Sydney International Airport, November 1, 2021. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi via REUTERS
    BANGKOK/SYDNEY (Reuters) - Thailand, Australia and Israel eased international border restrictions significantly on Monday for the first time in 18 months, offering a broad test of demand for travel worldwide amid the coronavirus pandemic.
    The relaxation contrasts with tightening lockdowns elsewhere, notably in eastern Europe where infections have hit record numbers, and in parts of China, which has taken a zero-tolerance approach to COVID-19 despite relatively few cases.
    Hundreds of vaccinated foreign tourists arrived in the Thai capital https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/bangkok-welcomes-first-tourists-quarantine-free-holiday-2021-11-01 for quarantine-free travel after the Southeast Asian nation approved visitors from more than 60 countries, including China and the United States.
    Several European nations are also on the list as Thailand, one of Asia’s most popular holiday destinations, looks to capitalise on the approach of winter in the northern hemisphere.
    “We just picked this flight and it is quite surprising that we are the first flight to arrive,” said German tourist Simon Raithel, 41, who planned to head to the Thai south.
    In Sydney https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-eases-international-border-ban-first-time-since-march-2020-2021-10-31, hundreds of citizens were greeted by family and friends as they became the first since April 2020 to arrive from abroad without a permit or the need to quarantine.
    “(It’s a) little bit scary and exciting,” said Ethan Carter, who flew in from Los Angeles.    “I’ve come home to see my mum ’cause she’s not well.”
    While travel is initially limited to just a few states and to Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families and New Zealand nationals, it heralds a plan to re-open to international tourists and workers.
‘WE MISSED YOU GUYS’
    Israel also relaxed travel rules on Monday but tourists should read the fine print before booking.
    “Welcome to Israel,” the government said in a tweet next to a big blue heart.    “We missed you guys.”
    Individual tourists are allowed in if they have received vaccine boosters – but not if more than six months have lapsed since their last dose, with some exceptions.
    That has tempered excitement among hoteliers.
    “How many tourists out in the world have actually gotten boosters or are sitting in that six-month period following their second dose?” Israel Hotel Association CEO Yael Danieli said in the days leading up to the relaxation.
    “Even if both parents in a family are vaccinated, their children under 12 are not, so they mostly can’t come to Israel.”
    Members of tour groups are exempted from the six-month rule but will have to take PCR or antigen tests every 72 hours for the first two weeks of their stay.
    Despite the eased curbs, world travel in full swing is a long way off.
    China’s tourism sector is suffering from the country’s zero tolerance for COVID-19 as cities with infections, or even with concerns about infections, close entertainment venues, restrict travel or delay cultural events.    Shanghai Disneyland stopped admitting visitors on Monday.
    Eastern Europe is grappling with its worst outbreak since the pandemic started.    The Russian capital introduced its strictest lockdown measures in more than a year last Thursday as the daily tally of cases and deaths nationwide hit new highs.
    But many Russians have decided that now is an ideal time to fly off for a foreign holiday, with a sharp increase in bookings to destinations where Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine is recognised or where COVID entry requirements are cheap and easy.
    “Don’t quarantine, but holiday on the beach!” travel company Orange Sun Tour proclaims on its website osttour.ru, which offers breaks in Cyprus, Egypt, Cuba and elsewhere.
    Rules aimed at moving South Korea towards “living with COVID-19” came into effect on Monday, with the easing of a range of curbs and the introduction of vaccine passports at gyms, saunas and bars.
    “The return path to everyday life, to which we’re taking the first step today, is a path we’ve never been on,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told an intra-agency COVID-19 meeting.
    The Netherlands will impose new coronavirus restrictions this week in a bid to curb a recent surge in infections, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said, without giving details.
    Britain on Monday removed the last seven countries on its coronavirus “red list,” which required newly arrived travellers to spend 10 days in hotel quarantine.
    The United States will lift international travel restrictions for vaccinated travellers on Nov. 8.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett, Jamie Freed, Rami Ayyub, Jill Gralow, Jiraporn Kuhakan, Orathai Sriring and Artorn Pookasook; Writing by Jane Wardell and Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

11/1/2021 China’s Xi Calls For Stronger Action On Climate Change
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins//File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday called on all parties to take stronger action to jointly tackle the climate challenge, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
    In a written statement delivered at the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow, which Xi is not attending in person, the Chinese president also urged developed countries to not only do more but also support developing nations to do better on climate change, Xinhua said.
(Reporting by Beijing Newswroom; writing by Tom Daly; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/1/2021 China, Russia Revive Push To Lift U.N. Sanctions On North Korea by Michelle Nichols
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
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – China and Russia are pushing the U.N. Security Council to ease sanctions on North Korea by reviving a 2019 attempt to remove a ban on Pyongyang’s exports of statues, seafood and textiles and expanding it to include lifting a refined petroleum imports cap.
    In a reworked draft resolution, seen by Reuters on Monday, China and Russia want the 15-member council to remove those sanctions “with the intent of enhancing the livelihood of the civilian population” in the isolated Asian state.
    North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    The draft resolution also includes other measures first proposed by Russia and China nearly two years ago, including lifting a ban on North Koreans working abroad and exempting inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from sanctions.
    Several U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the refreshed draft resolution would find little support.    In 2019 Russia and China held two informal rounds of talks on the draft resolution, but never formally tabled it for a vote.
    Diplomats said on Monday that China and Russia have not yet scheduled any talks on their new draft resolution.    A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Britain, Russia or China to pass.
    The U.N. missions of Russia and China did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new text, which diplomats said was circulated to council members on Friday.
    “It has been always China’s will that we should also address the humanitarian dimension caused by the sanctions imposed by the Security Council,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters last month, adding again that the 2019 draft resolution “remains on the table.”
‘DIFFICULT SITUATION’
    A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on private council discussions, but added that all U.N. members should be focused on addressing those who are violating the sanctions already in place.
    “The Security Council has repeatedly affirmed that it is prepared to modify, suspend, or lift the measures as may be needed in light of the DPRK’s compliance,” the spokesperson said.    “Yet the DPRK has taken no steps to comply with the Security Council’s demands regarding its prohibited nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”
    North Korea is formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    The U.N. Security Council does already allow for humanitarian exemptions.    A U.N. rights investigator last month called for sanctions to be eased as North Korea’s most vulnerable risk starvation after it slipped deeper into isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    The sanctions on industries that Russia and China have proposed lifting previously earned North Korea hundreds of millions of dollars.    They were put in place in 2016 and 2017 to try to cut off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
    North Korea continued developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs during the first half of 2021 in violation of U.N. sanctions and despite the country’s worsening economic situation, U.N. sanctions monitors reported in August.
    The country has long suffered from food insecurity, with observers saying that mismanagement of the economy is exacerbated by sanctions and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted unprecedented border lockdowns there.
    The new draft resolution would have the council acknowledge “the difficult situation of economy and livelihood of the DPRK in recent years, underscoring the necessity to respect the legitimate security concerns of the DPRK, and ensure the welfare, inherent dignity, and rights of people in the DPRK.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Peter Cooney and Richard Pullin)

11/2/2021 China Urges Families To Keep Stocks Of Daily Necessities Ahead Of Winter by Brenda Goh and Dominique Patton
FILE PHOTO: A staff member arranges cartons of milk on refrigerator shelves at a supermarket
in Beijing, China, May 21, 2021. Picture taken May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese government has told families to keep daily necessities in stock in case of emergencies after unusually heavy rains caused vegetable prices to surge and raised concerns about supply shortages.
    A Commerce Ministry statement late on Monday urged local authorities to do a good job in ensuring supply and stable prices, and to give early warnings of any supply problems.
    The central government typically makes extra effort to boost the supply of fresh vegetables and pork in the run-up to China’s most important holiday, the Lunar New Year, which will fall in early February next year.
    But this year those efforts have become more urgent after extreme weather in early October destroyed crops in Shandong – the country’s biggest vegetable growing region – and as outbreaks of COVID-19 cases stretching from the northwest to the northeast of the country threaten to disrupt food supplies.
    Last week, the prices of cucumbers, spinach and broccoli had more than doubled from early October.     Spinach was more expensive than some cuts of pork at 16.67 yuan ($2.60) per kilogramme, according to a vegetable price index in Shouguang, a key trading hub in Shandong.
    Although prices have eased in recent days, economists expect a significant year-on-year increase in consumer price inflation for October, the first in five months.
    The pandemic has brought an increased focus on food security for Beijing.    The government is currently drafting a food security law and has also outlined new efforts to curb food waste after making the problem a priority last year.
    The Commerce Ministry added that local authorities should purchase vegetables that can be stored well in advance and also look to strengthen emergency delivery networks to guarantee smooth and efficient distribution channels.
    It added that information related to the prices and supply and demand of commodities should be released in a timely manner to stabilise the public’s expectations.
    China also plans to release vegetable reserves “at an appropriate time” to counter rising prices, according to a state TV report late on Monday.
    It is not clear which vegetables China holds in reserves and how big those reserves are.
    The state planning body has called for the timely replanting of vegetables, urging local governments to support fast-growing produce, according to the report.
    Currently China has about 100 million mu (6.67 million hectares) planted with vegetables, the agriculture ministry has said.
($1 = 6.3999 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Dominique Patton; Editing by Michael Perry and Edwina Gibbs)

11/2/2021 ‘Information Combat’: Inside The Fight For Myanmar’s Soul by Fanny Potkin and Wa Lone
FILE PHOTO: A slogan is written on a street as a protest after the coup in Yangon, Myanmar
February 21, 2021. Picture taken with iPhone panoramic mode. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – As Myanmar’s military seeks to put down protest on the streets, a parallel battle is playing out on social media, with the junta using fake accounts to denounce opponents and press its message that it seized power to save the nation from election fraud, eight people with knowledge of the tactics said.
    The army, which was banned by the country’s dominant online platform Facebook after the Feb. 1 coup, has tasked thousands of soldiers with conducting what is widely referred to in the military as “information combat,” according to the people, who include four military sources.
    The mission of the social media drive, part of the military’s broader propaganda operations, is to spread the junta’s view among the population, as well as to monitor dissenters and attack them online as traitors, the people told Reuters.
    “Soldiers are asked to create several fake accounts and are given content segments and talking points that they have to post,” said Captain Nyi Thuta, who defected from the army to join rebel forces at the end of February.    “They also monitor activity online and join (anti-coup) online groups to track them.”
    The 31-year-old said he was part of the army’s propaganda operations until his defection, writing speeches for military chief Min Aung Hlaing.
    A spokesperson for the military government did not respond to repeated requests for comment on its social media tactics.    In September, a junta spokesperson on army-owned Myawaddy TV accused media groups and opposition activists of spreading “fake news” about the situation in Myanmar.
    The eight people with knowledge of the social media drive all asked to remain anonymous, citing fears of retaliation, with the exception of Nyi Thuta and Captain Lin Htet Aung, who defected from the army in April.
    The military, known as the Tatmadaw, is pushing its campaign online even as it puts down protests on the streets, nine months after it ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying her National League for Democracy had fraudulently won the November 2020 vote. International election watchdogs said in a May report https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmars-election-reflected-peoples-will-monitoring-group-says-2021-05-17 that the vote was fair.
    A Reuters review of thousands of social media posts in 2021 found that about 200 military personnel, using their personal accounts on platforms including Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter and Telegram, regularly posted messages or videos alleging fraud at the election and denouncing anti-coup protesters as traitors.
    In over 100 cases, the messages or videos were duplicated across dozens of copycat accounts within minutes, as well as on online groups, purported fan channels for Myanmar celebrities and sports teams and purported news outlets, data from Facebook-owned online tracking tool Crowdtangle showed.
    Posts often referred to people who opposed the junta as “enemies of the state” and “terrorists,” and variously said they wanted to destroy the army, the country and the Buddhist religion.
    Many opposition activists are using some similar methods, creating duplicate accounts to fill “Twitter teams” with hundreds of thousands of members and making anti-junta hashtags trend, according to the review and four activist sources.
    While such tactics are common worldwide, they can be particularly influential in Myanmar, according to four researchers interviewed by Reuters who said the population receives most of its information via social media rather than directly from established news outlets, and Facebook is regularly used by over half the population.
‘AGGRESSIVELY REMOVED’
    The Tatmadaw has killed more than 1,000 civilians and jailed thousands since the coup, according to the United Nations, though the army says these estimates are exaggerated and that soldiers have also been killed by rebel forces.
    Rafael Frankel, Facebook’s director of public policy emerging countries, Asia Pacific, told Reuters the company “proactively” detected almost 98 percent of the hate speech removed from its platform in Myanmar.br>     “Our ban of the Tatmadaw and repeated disruption of coordinated inauthentic behavior has made it harder for people to misuse our services to cause harm,” he added, responding to questions on the army’s continued use of fake accounts.
    “This is a highly adversarial issue and we are working hard to calibrate our systems to properly enforce the ban at scale.”
    Facebook says it has taken down hundreds of accounts and pages linked to Myanmar army personnel since 2018, after the New York Times reported that military officials were behind fake pages https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/15/technology/myanmar-facebook-genocide.html inciting violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority, 700,000 fled an army crackdown in 2017, and a Reuters investigation https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/myanmar-facebook-hate found Facebook was failing to police anti-Rohingya hate speech.
    YouTube said it had “terminated” two pro-military channels posing as news outlets flagged by Reuters and that it was monitoring for “violative” content, while TikTok said it had “aggressively removed” thousands of Myanmar accounts that breached its guidelines.
    Twitter said it remained vigilant against attempted manipulation.    Telegram did not respond to a request for comment.
‘INFORMATION WARFARE’
    The information combat drive is being coordinated from the capital Naypyidaw by the army’s Public Relations and Information Production Unit, known under the acronym Ka Ka Com, which has hundreds of solders there, said Nyi Thuta and Lin Htet Aung.
    “Ka Ka Com gives a person’s information to military intelligence if they believe they should be arrested or subject to on the ground surveillance,” said Lin Htet Aung.
    The central unit coordinates the work of dozens of smaller social media teams deployed across the country at regional military commands and battalions, according to the defectors.
    The military has imposed some temporary restrictions https://graphics.reuters.com/MYANMAR-POLITICS/INTERNET-RESTRICTION/rlgpdbreepo on the internet since the coup and banned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-facebook-focus-idUSKBN2A42RY the use of Facebook in February yet 20 million people in the country continued to use the platform in July, according to Facebook data.
    That figure compares with 28 million in January, with many users getting around the ban by using virtual private networks (VPNs), according to researchers.
    Nyi Thuta and Lin Htet Aung said those monitoring for signs of trouble were particularly vigilant for any dissent among other soldiers to prevent defections.    They said “monitoring teams” were often staffed in part by female soldiers, who are not allowed combat roles.
    Both ahead of the election and after the coup, soldiers and their families were told to report their social media accounts to the army and warned not to post content critical of the junta or supportive of Aung San Suu Kyi, according to the two defectors plus another military source.
    Nyi Thuta said he and other soldiers who did leave the army had been the targets of online attacks.
    Reuters reviewed two Telegram groups with thousands of soldiers in them, who shared the identities, photos and social media details of people they said they suspected of being “watermelons,” pro-military on the outside but secretly supportive of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party’s colors are red.
    Both Lin Htet Aung and Nyi Thuta said they left the army of their own accord in protest at the coup. Lin Htet Aung now helps to train rebel forces in Myanmar.
    Nyi Thuta, who declined to specify his location, said he had launched an online support organization for military personnel who wanted to defect, called People’s Soldiers.    The group, which has over a quarter of a million followers on Facebook, estimates that 2,000 soldiers have defected since the coup, a figure that Reuters was unable to confirm.
    “I’m using the information warfare tactics I learned in the army against them,” he said.
(Reporting by Fanny Potkin and Wa Lone; Editing by Pravin Char)

11/2/2021 Japan Eases COVID-19 Border Curbs, Trails Major Partners
Kimono-clad tourists wearing protective face masks are seen at a temple at Asakusa district, a popular sightseeing
spot, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Files
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan on Tuesday confirmed plans to gradually ease COVID-19 border restrictions, but fell short of calls from business lobbies to open up the country in line with its major trading partners.
    The government has decided to review border controls in stages, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters, responding to media reports that quarantine for business travellers would be cut from 10 days to 3.
    The easing may go into effect from next Monday, while daily border entrants would be raised from 3,500 people to 5,000 later this month, national broadcaster NHK said.
    Domestic and foreign business groups in Japan have lobbied the government to ease border restrictions to be more on the same terms as other countries. The United States and European Union allow entry to travellers from most countries as long as they have proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
    While the shorter quarantine would be welcome, it would only benefit business travellers and Japanese nationals, said Michael Mroczek, president of the European Business Council in Japan. The bigger issue is the remaining hold on long-term visas.
    “Not being able to bring essential personnel to Japan is currently the number one issue for European industry,” he said.
    Japan shortened its quarantine period for vaccinated people to 10 days from 14 last month when it lifted state of emergency measures over much of the country.
    COVID-19 cases have fallen dramatically in Japan as the nation’s vaccination rate has pushed past 70% of the population.    New infections in Tokyo fell to 9 on Monday, down from more than 5,000 a day during a wave in August driven by the infectious Delta variant.
    Vaccine checks and coronavirus testing before and after international trips should be enough to contain infections now that the pandemic has ebbed in Japan and elsewhere, said Haruka Sakamoto, a physician and researcher at Keio University.
    “People who have received two doses of vaccine should not be quarantined,” she said.    “I strongly agree that strict border controls currently taking place in Japan are causing a significant negative impact on Japan’s business and international students.”
    Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, Thailand and Australia on Monday eased international border restrictions significantly for the first time in 18 months.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift and Kantaro Komiya; Editing by Kim Coghill and Richard Pullin)

11/2/2021 COVID-19 Restrictions In Sydney To Ease Weeks Ahead Of Schedule
Passengers of flight SQ237 from Singapore are seen exiting the international arrivals terminal at Tullamarine Airport as the first
passengers travelling without quarantine restrictions have begun arriving at Melbourne Airport, Australia. James Ross/AAP via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s biggest city will lift more COVID-19 curbs for vaccinated residents ahead of schedule next week, while delaying freedoms it has promised for unvaccinated Sydneysiders as officials aim to boost inoculations.
    Vaccinated people in the harbour city of around 5 million will be allowed unlimited numbers of guests in their homes from Nov. 8.
    Pubs and clubs will also be able to accommodate more guests and reopen dance floors, in changes that were initially planned to come into force on Dec. 1.
    In contrast, unvaccinated people, who are currently barred from restaurants, non-critical retail stores, bars, gyms and other recreational facilities, will remain under the tougher restrictions until Dec. 15, or when     New South Wales state’s double vaccination rate reaches 95%.
    “We have always wanted to open up in a measured way and incentivise vaccination rates,” State Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters in Sydney.
    Around 88% of the state’s population aged 16 and over has been fully vaccinated, but the first dose vaccination rate has been slowing as it nears 94%.
    Australia on Monday lifted a ban on its residents flying overseas after more than 18 months and allowed quarantine-free entry https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-eases-international-border-ban-first-time-since-march-2020-2021-10-31 for fully vaccinated international travellers.
    However, the changes initially affect only Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra, with other states and territories targeting differing timelines for reopening.
    Australia had stayed largely virus-free for most of this year until a third wave in late June, spurred by the Delta variant, triggering further extended lockdowns.
    The country has recorded about 173,000 cases and 1,756 deaths, with about 82% of infections attributed to the Delta wave.
    New South Wales reported 173 cases on Tuesday, up from 135 a day earlier, while Victoria logged 989 cases, the lowest rise in more than a month.    The Australian Capital Territory logged eight new cases.    Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Jane Wardell)

11/2/2021 Factbox: Asia-Pacific Countries Begin To Open Selectively For International Travel
Hotel workers wearing protective suits hold up signs as they wait for foreign tourists during the
first day of the country's reopening campaign, part of the government's plan to jump start the
pandemic-hit tourism sector in Bangkok, Thailand November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Chalinee Thirasupa
    (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific countries, which have had some of the world’s strictest border controls and quarantine rules during the pandemic, are starting to open selectively to fully vaccinated international travellers as well as their unvaccinated children.
THAILAND
    Thailand opened to fully vaccinated tourists from more than 60 countries on Nov. 1 after a more limited quarantine-free trial on the island of Phuket.
    Under the new national programme, visitors must await a negative COVID-19 test on arrival, then can travel freely the following day.
SINGAPORE
    Singapore in September began the progressive opening of quarantine-free vaccinated travel lanes with nearly a dozen countries, which now include the United States, Britain, Germany, South Korea and Australia.
    Arrivals are capped at 4,000 a day from all countries combined.
AUSTRALIA
    Australia on Nov. 1 allowed fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents to exit the country without special permission for the first time since March 2020.
    Fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents arriving in the states of New South Wales and Victoria do not need to quarantine, nor do New Zealand citizens.    From Nov. 21, Singapore citizens will also be allowed in quarantine-free to those states, including as tourists.
    Other Australian states still have quarantine requirements.
FIJI
    Fiji on Dec. 1 will open to fully vaccinated tourists from several countries, including Australia, New Zealand and the United States, who have confirmed three-night bookings at approved resorts.
    Arrivals must take a mandatory rapid COVID-19 test at their resort 48 hours after arrival.    Before the test, visitors can use the facilities within the resort and book day trips with some operators.
(Reporting by Jamie Freed. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/2/2021 Dozens Killed And Wounded As Blasts And Gunfire Hit Kabul Hospital by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
Smoke billows near the Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan National Military Hospital after an
explosion in central Kabul, Afghanistan November 2, 2021. PHOTO OBTAINED BY REUTERS/Handout via
REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KABUL (Reuters) -At least 25 people were killed and more than 50 wounded when gunmen attacked Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital after two heavy explosions at the site in central Kabul, officials said.
    The explosions hit the entrance of the 400-bed Sardar Mohammad Daud Khan hospital and were followed with an assault by a group of Islamic State gunmen, all of whom were killed within 15 minutes, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.
    He said Taliban special forces dropped by helicopter had prevented the attackers from entering the hospital itself, with all killed at the entrance or in the courtyard.    Earlier another spokesman said one of the attackers was captured.
    The blasts add to a growing list of attacks and killings since the Taliban completed their victory over the Western-backed government in August, undermining their claim to have restored security to Afghanistan after decades of war.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the operation was typical of the complex attacks mounted by Islamic State.    It follows a string of bombings by the group which has emerged as the biggest threat to Taliban control of Afghanistan.
    A Taliban security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said at least 25 people had been killed and more than 50 wounded in the assault but there was no officially confirmed casualty toll.
    Among the dead was Mawlawi Hamdullah Mukhlis, head of the Kabul military corps and one of the first senior Taliban commanders to enter the abandoned presidential palace when the city fell, Taliban officials said.
    Photographs shared by residents showed a plume of smoke over the area of the blasts near the former diplomatic zone in the Wazir Akbar Khan area of the city.
    Witnesses said at least two helicopters flew over the area as the assault went on, one of the first times Taliban forces have used aircraft captured from the Western-backed government in a military operation.
    A health worker at the hospital, who managed to escape, said he heard a large explosion followed by gunfire and a second, larger explosion about 10 minutes later.
    Islamic State, which has carried out a series of attacks on mosques and other targets since the Taliban’s seizure of Kabul in August, mounted a complex attack on the hospital in 2017, killing more than 30 people.
CONDEMNATION
    The group’s attacks have caused mounting worries outside Afghanistan about the potential for the country to become a haven for militant groups as it was when an al Qaeda group attacked the United States in 2001.
    “It’s just about the biggest concern at the moment for everyone, in the region and in the West,” a senior Western diplomat said.
    The United Nations’ mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), along with countries including Pakistan, condemned the attack.
    “Attacks targeting medical personnel and civilians seeking treatment are violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.    Those responsible need to be held to account,” UNAMA said in a tweet.
    The concern has been worsened by a spiralling economic crisis that has threatened millions with poverty as winter approaches and left thousands of former fighters with no employment.
    The abrupt withdrawal of international support following the Taliban victory has brought Afghanistan’s fragile economy to the brink of collapse just as a severe drought has threatened millions with hunger.
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Islamabad newsroom; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Nick Macfie)

11/2/2021 Taliban Ban Use Of Foreign Currency In Afghanistan - Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan currency exchange dealer checks banknotes in front of a man
at the market in Kabul, Afghanistan October 24, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    Kabul (Reuters) – The Taliban announced a complete ban on the use of foreign currency in Afghanistan on Tuesday, a move sure to cause further disruption to an economy pushed to the brink of collapse by the abrupt withdrawal of international support.
    The surprise move came hours after at least 25 people were killed and more than 50 wounded when gunmen attacked Afghanistan’s biggest military hospital after two heavy explosions at the site in central Kabul.
    “The economic situation and national interests in the country require that all Afghans use Afghan currency in their every trade,” the Taliban said in a statement shared with journalists by one of their spokesmen.
    The use of U.S. dollars is widespread in Afghanistan’s markets, while border areas use the currency of neighbouring countries such as Pakistan for trade.
    The Taliban government is pressing for the release of billions of dollars of central bank reserves as the drought-stricken nation faces a cash crunch, mass starvation and a new migration crisis.
    Afghanistan parked billions of dollars in assets overseas with the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks in Europe, but that money has been frozen since the Islamist Taliban ousted the Western-backed government in August.
    The departure of U.S.-led forces and many international donors left the country without grants that financed three quarters of public spending.
    The finance ministry said it had a daily tax take of roughly 400 million Afghanis ($4.4 million).
    Although Western powers want to avert a humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan, they have refused to officially recognise the Taliban government.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Peter Graff and Gareth Jones)

11/2/2021 Pakistan Reopens Chaman Border Crossing To Afghanistan
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
    QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) – One of the main crossings between Afghanistan and Pakistan has reopened after being closed for almost a month, officials said on Tuesday, offering hope for an end to a standoff that has caused heavy losses to traders and left thousands stranded.
    The Chaman crossing is a major transit point for truckers moving fruit exports from around the southern Afghan city of Kandahar and its closure for the past 27 days has come at a high cost for farmers unable to get their produce to market.
    “The Afghan transit trade and other trade and economic activities continue,” a senior Pakistan border official said.
    The reopening should come as a relief to the Taliban government in Kabul, which desperately needs the customs revenues from the border posts.    Its cash-strapped economy has few other legitimate sources of foreign revenue.
    As Afghanistan has sunk deeper into economic crisis, with the abrupt withdrawal of foreign aid following the Taliban victory in August, Pakistani officials have been increasingly concerned by the prospect of a new wave of refugees.
    Pakistani authorities originally closed the borders due to security threats, but disputes over issues ranging from COVID-19 to the validity of Afghan travel documents prevented reopening for weeks, despite pledges of action.
(Reporting by Gul Yousufzai; writing by James Mackenzie; editing by Susan Fenton)

11/2/2021 Businesses In Bangkok Tourist Hotspot Anxiously Waiting For Visitors’ Return
People walk on Khaosan Road as tourist are allowed to visit the country for the first time in 18 months after
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions were eased, in Bangkok, Thailand November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Bangkok’s once bustling Khaosan Road has been a shadow of its former self since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but business owners are hoping Thailand’s reopening to tourism this week will soon restore its buzz.
    The early signs, however, are that they may need to wait a little longer.
    Thailand, one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations, has enforced strict entry curbs during the past 18 months, but from Monday allowed vaccinated travellers from more than 60 countries to visit without having to quarantine.
    “Khaosan Road is Bangkok’s landmark for foreign visitors. For us all business owners, they are our hope,” Thapanee Pansodsaicharoenkit, owner of the ‘Rocco’ restaurant, told Reuters on Tuesday.
    Before the pandemic, Khaosan Road was heaving with people on weekends and at night with cheap beer bars, tattoo parlours, street vendors, hostels and buzzing nightlife drawing budget travellers and tour groups alike.
    When Reuters visited on Tuesday evening there were a few people visiting the restaurants and bars, but the street remained quiet, with around 90% of shops closed indefinitely.
    “Yeah, we’ve been sitting and waiting for (foreign) visitors,” said 38-year-old waitress Walaiporn Roemthong, who has been working along the popular street for eight years.    “It’s not like before, where we didn’t have to wait for them, they’d just arrive and take their seats.”
    Business along the Khaosan Road has been on pause for the past 18 months, Prasit Singhdamrong, president of Khaosan Business Association, told Reuters by phone, with only 10% of businesses able to remain open.     Despite this week’s relaxation, some restrictions remain.
    Restaurants certified by the tourism authorities can serve alcohol until 9 p.m. but bars will remain closed, the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority said in a statement Saturday.
    That means many will still struggle, said Prasit, because some make only 1-5% of their sales on food with the bulk of their business coming from alcohol sales.
    “Khaosan is not a place where people come to eat, because we’re not Michelin-star eateries,” said Prasit.
    For some, however, there is still hope.
    “I think it won’t be long for tourists to fill the street again, unless there’s another outbreak,” said 36-year-old     Papot Meecharoen, as he waited for customers at his hair braiding stall.
(Reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/2/2021 China Optimistic On Climate Markets Deal After “Wasted” Years by Jake Spring and David Stanway
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins//File Photo
    GLASGOW (Reuters) - China’s top climate negotiator said on Tuesday a broad deal on carbon markets was possible at the U.N. COP26 https://www.reuters.com/business/cop climate talks despite the tensions between Beijing and Washington.
    Some delegates say the U.S.-China relationship is crucial for meaningful progress on global climate action at the summit.
    It is the first global gathering of leaders to discuss climate change since former President Donald Trump, who antagonised China and quit the 2015 Paris Agreement the meeting is expected to build on, left office.
    “China-U.S. joint efforts resulted in the Paris Agreement … it was hard-fought, you can’t just give up, but the U.S. gave up,” Chinese climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told reporters at the Glasgow talks.
    “Five years were wasted, but now we need to work harder and catch up.”
    Xie said he expected countries to reach a deal in Glasgow to agree on the rules around carbon market that fall under Article 6 https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/toughest-tasks-un-climate-talks-article-6-co2-markets-2021-10-26 of the Paris Agreement.
    That goal that has eluded negotiators since 2015, holding up the establishment of a global carbon market that could yield huge investments in projects to combat climate change.
    Xie criticised rich nations for failing to make good on a pledge to mobilise $100 billion by 2020 in annual climate financing https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/climate-finance-could-make-or-break-cop26-summit-heres-why-2021-11-01 for developing countries.
    Last week, COP26 President Alok Sharma said the goal would be met by 2023 https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/developed-nations-say-they-can-deliver-100-bln-climate-change-fund-by-2023-three-2021-10-25, but Xie said some negotiators since have suggested it could happen by 2022.
    French President Emmanuel Macron emphasised the importance of China and the U.S. patching up relations, which were strained under Trump by issues including trade disputes and China’s human rights record.
    “The most important is the Sino-American dialogue on this subject and the Sino-American ability to build an alliance on this subject,” Macron told reporters late on Monday.
    “If there can be this Sino-American rapprochement, we can have results.”
SANCTIONS TENSION
    But there are still signs that tensions between the two biggest emitters of climate-warming greenhouse gases could be a stumbling block at the talks.
    Beijing has rejected Washington’s efforts to separate climate from wider conflicts between the two sides, with senior diplomat Wang Yi telling U.S. climate envoy John Kerry in September that there was still a “desert” threatening the “oasis” of climate cooperation.
    One particular point of contention for China has been the U.S. imposition of sanctions on Chinese companies, including solar equipment suppliers, with links to the Xinjiang region.
    China rejects Western allegations of human rights abuses in the region.
    “You can’t ask China to cut coal production on the one hand, while at the same time imposing sanctions on Chinese photovoltaic enterprises,” Wang said Tuesday.
    The Global Times, part of the Communist Party-run People’s Daily stable of newspapers, said in an editorial on Monday that the United States should not expect to be able to influence Beijing on climate, while attacking it on human rights and other issues.
    Washington’s attitude towards China has made it “impossible for China to see any potential to have fair negotiation amid the tensions,” the paper said.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is not attending the U.N. meeting in person, delivered a written statement https://unfccc.int/documents/308159 for Monday’s opening event, featuring speeches by government leaders.     Xi offered no additional pledges, while urging other countries to keep their promises and to “strengthen mutual trust and cooperation.”
    China said Tuesday that Xi sent the statement after not being given the chance to make a video address to the delegates.
    A UK government spokesperson said Britain wanted people to attend COP26 in person, and that leaders could not join virtually but could offer recorded addresses or statements.
    Some climate activists and negotiators have expressed concern that Xi’s physical absence might mean China would offer no more concessions during this round of climate talks.
    Beijing has noted it made several major pledges https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/china-submits-updated-climate-pledges-united-nations-2021-10-28 in the past year, promising to reach an emissions peak by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2060, among other ambitions.
(Reporting by Jake Spring and Elizabeth Pineau in Glasgow, David Stanway and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper in Glasgow; Editing by Alexander Smith and Alison Williams)

11/2/2021 Pakistan To Allow Banned Islamist Group To Contest Votes To End Clashes by Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) run amid the smoke of
tear gas during a protest demanding the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons
depicting the Prophet Mohammad, in Lahore, Pakistan, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan is to free more than 2,000 jailed activists of a banned Islamist militant group and allow the movement to contest elections, under a deal with the government struck to end weeks of violent clashes, negotiators on both sides said.
    In return, the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan has agreed to shun the politics of violence and withdraw its longstanding demand to have France’s ambassador expelled over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by a French satirical magazine, they told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    The caricatures have triggered repeated demonstrations by the group to protest at what it considers blasphemy.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government banned the TLP after its protests turned violent earlier this year, designated it a terrorist group and arrested its chief Saad Rizvi.
    The government and the movement said at the weekend they had reached an agreement to help end the clashes, but neither side gave details.
    Two members of the TLP’s negotiating team and one from the government side told Reuters the centrepiece of the deal was to lift the ban and allow the group to contest elections.
    “The state has acknowledged that the TLP is neither a terrorist group nor a banned outfit,” another member of the TLP negotiation team, Bashir Farooqi, separately told local Dunya News TV.
    In addition, the government has agreed not to contest the release of the group’s jailed leader as well as nearly 2,300 activists and to remove their names from a terrorist watch list, the three negotiators told Reuters.
    Punjab province Law Minister Raja Basharat said nearly 1,000 of the activists had already been released.
    Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry did not respond to a request for comment.
    The settlement came after seven police officers were killed and hundreds more were wounded as they confronted thousands of TLP demonstrators marching up Pakistan’s busiest highway from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital Islamabad.
    The group, which can mobilise thousands of supporters, was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to seek the release of a police guard who assassinated a provincial governor in 2011 over his calls to reform blasphemy legislation.
    It entered politics in 2017 and surprised the political elite by securing over 2 million votes in the 2018 election.
    The next national election is scheduled for 2023, and analysts expect political groups to start gearing up from early next year.
    Despite the agreement, TLP demonstrators have refused to clear the Grand Trunk Road highway, which they have blocked for more than two weeks, until the government showed good progress on the agreement, its leaders said.
(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore, Pakistan; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/2/2021 Explainer: Who Are The Pakistani Islamists Shouting “Death To Blasphemers”? by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of the banned Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) chant slogans
demandig the release of their leader and the expulsion of the French ambassador over cartoons depicting the
Prophet Mohammed, during a protest rally in Lahore, Pakistan October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Thousands of activists from the banned Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) have clashed with security forces in Pakistan over the past two weeks, shouting “death to blasphemers” during demonstrations that have blocked the country’s busiest highway and seen at least seven police killed in exchanges of gunfire.
WHAT IS TEHRIK-E-LABAIK?
    Tehrik-e-Labaik (Movement of the Prophet’s Followers) is an extremist Sunni Islamist group whose main focus is protecting Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws and punishing blasphemers.
    The movement was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to seek the release of Mumtaz Qadri, a police guard who assassinated Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 over his calls to reform blasphemy legislation. Qadri was later executed.
    The group founded a political party at Qadri’s funeral in 2016 attended by tens of thousands of people.
    Following violent clashes in April, authorities designated the TLP a terrorist movement and arrested its leader, Saad Rizvi, who has been in detention ever since. WHY IS TLP PROTESTING?
    This is the group’s third protests since 2017 over a series of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad published in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo.
    Charlie Hebdo first published the cartoons, considered deeply insulting by Muslims around the world, in 2006.    It republished them last year to mark the opening of a trial over a deadly attack on the magazine by Islamist militants in 2015.
WHAT DO THE PROTESTERS WANT?
    The TLP is demanding the release of Rizvi from detention and the expulsion of France’s ambassador over the publication of the cartoons.
    It is also seeking the removal of the group from the terrorist list and authorisation to take part in politics.
WHAT ARE THE ACTIVISTS DOING NOW?
    The protesters have camped out on the Grand Trunk Road leading to the capital Islamabad, waiting for the government to fulfil demands agreed in a deal on Sunday, or else march on the city as earlier planned.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government struck a deal with the militants over the weekend to end the protests.    Neither side has disclosed details.
WHAT IS THE BIGGER PICTURE?
    Although the declared target of the protests is the caricatures, many analysts see a connection with the wider problems facing the prime minister.
    The government is grappling with a chronic economic crisis and rising inflation and has been at odds with the powerful military establishment over the appointment of a new head of the Inter Services Intelligence agency, who was finally confirmed after weeks of delay.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/3/2021 China’s COVID-19 Cases Spike Ahead Of Communist Party Conclave
People line up outside a vaccination site after the city started offering booster shots of the vaccine against the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to vaccinated residents, in Beijing, China October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) -China’s new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases spiked to a near three-month high and tighter curbs to contain the spread are expected in the capital Beijing ahead of a key gathering of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party next week.
    The National Health Commission confirmed on Wednesday 93 new local symptomatic cases for Nov. 2, up from 54 a day earlier and the highest daily count since Aug. 9 at the peak of China’s last major outbreak.
    Beijing reported nine new local infections, the biggest one-day increase in the capital this year.
    While new daily cases in Beijing since late October have remained very modest compared to outside of China, the country’s zero-tolerance policy has meant the imposition of strict measures to contain the spread of the virus at all costs.
    Temperature screening has been set up at entrances of shopping malls, supermarkets, hotels, cinemas and subway stations, while a legion of personnel on the ground check the health codes of visiting individuals on their mobile phones.
    Beijing authorities have also repeatedly told residents to refrain from travelling out of the city, postpone weddings, simplify funeral arrangements, and cut back on all non-essential gatherings.
    Of the flights scheduled on Wednesday at Beijing Daxing Airport, 60.4% have been cancelled as of the morning, while 49.8% of flights at Beijing Capital International Airport have been scrapped.
    Air China is offering free cancellations for flights to and from Beijing until Dec. 1.
    The rise in Beijing infections comes as the 300-plus members of the Communist Party’s Central Committee prepare to gather in a major closed-door meeting on Nov. 8-11.    It will be the committee’s sixth and penultimate so-called plenum of its five-year term before the next big Party Congress in 2022.
    At the plenum, President Xi Jinping is expected to push through a resolution that will cement his authority and legacy and strengthen his case for a precedent-breaking third term starting next year.
    Outside of Beijing, new local infections were reported in the north, northeast and northwest in provinces and areas including Heilongjiang, Hebei, Gansu, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia and Qinghai.
    New cases were also seen the southwest of China, in the municipality of Chongqing as well as the provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan.
    The southern province of Jiangxi reported two new cases.
    Carriers including China Southern Airlines, Air China and China Eastern Airlines are offering free cancellations for flights to and from some COVID-hit cities including Chongqing and Chengdu.
    Inclusive of cases imported from overseas, China reported 109 new confirmed infections for Nov. 2 compared with 71 a day earlier.
    As of Nov. 2, mainland China had 97,423 confirmed cases.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Liangping Gao and Stella QiuEditing by Shri Navaratnam, Michael Perry and Lincoln Feast.)

11/3/2021 South Korean Teens Drive Up COVID-19 Cases Ahead Of Full School Reopening by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: A man who got a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine leaves
a COVID-19 vaccination center in Seoul, South Korea, October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Wednesday it would ramp up COVID-19 testing at schools after a sharp rise of infections among children, weeks ahead of a plan to fully reopen schools nationwide.
    The surge comes as new social distancing rules aimed at a phased return to normal came into effect on Monday as a part of the country’s plan to gradually move toward living with COVID-19 on the back of high vaccination rates.
    South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 90% of its adult population but only began inoculating children aged between 12 and 17 in recent weeks, administering just 0.6% of the age group with both doses so far.
    “There is a growing concern as the frequency of new cluster outbreaks has been increasing, centred on educational facilities such as private tuition centres and schools,” Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol said.
    The government would expand the use of portable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) diagnostic tests for COVID-19 in schools in Seoul and neighbouring regions, and mobilise more virus-prevention personnel in overcrowded schools, he said.
    South Korea plans to fully reopen schools nationwide from Nov. 22.
    The country reported 2,667 new cases for Tuesday, an increase of more than 1,000 from the day earlier.    Nearly one fourth of the new cases were found in teenagers, officials said.
    “The teenagers spend a lot of time in communal living such as schools and tuition centres and they are also active in social activities,” Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a briefing.
    “We believe that the risk of infection will inevitably rise and the confirmed cases will continue to surge stemming from these teenagers.”
    South Korea has not seen a noticeable increase in seriously ill cases among teens, with just one out of 378 severe COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals. South Korea has also reported a relatively low mortality rate of 0.78%.
    Vaccination for the 12-17 age group began in October, using Pfizer/BioNTech, shots.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)

11/3/2021 Former Leader Of Hong Kong Pro-Independence Group Found Guilty Of Secession by Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: Former convenor of pro-independence group Studentlocalism, Tony Chung Hon-lam
arrives at West Kowloon Magistrates‘ Courts in a police van after he was arrested under the
national security law, in Hong Kong, China October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court ruled on Wednesday that the former leader of pro-independence group Studentlocalism was guilty of secession under the city’s sweeping national security law, as well as money laundering, following a plea bargain with the prosecution.
    Tony Chung, 20, was charged with the offences in October last year and denied bail. Local media reported at the time he was taken away along with two others from a coffee shop close to the U.S. consulate by unidentified men and was believed to be preparing for an asylum application.
    Chung entered a plea bargain, admitting guilt on the charge of secession and one count of money laundering and pleading not guilty to a sedition charge and another money laundering accusation.
    Prosecutor Ivan Cheung said he acted as an administrator for the Facebook pages of the U.S. branch of Studentlocalism and an organisation called the Initiative Independence Party.
    Pro-independence T-shirts, flags and books were also seized from his home, the prosecutor said.    The money laundering charge is related to donations he received via PayPal.
    “I have a clear conscience,” Chung said in his plea.
    District Court Judge Stanley Chan said the sentence will be announced on Nov. 23.
    Like other anti-government organisations, Studentlocalism disbanded before Beijing imposed the security law in June 2020, to punish anything it deems as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.
    The vast majority of Hong Kong people do not support independence, but any mention of the idea is anathema to Beijing.
    Since the enactment of the law, Hong Kong has taken a swift authoritarian turn, with most democratic politicians now in jail or in self-exile, dozens of civil society organisations folding, and international rights groups leaving the city.
    Chinese and Hong Kong authorities deny the security law tramples individual rights and say the legislation was necessary to restore stability after mass protests in 2019 when millions took to the streets over many months.
    The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the promise of a high degree of autonomy, which democracy activists and Western governments say was broken — an allegation China vehemently denies.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/3/2021 Myanmar Defies International Pressure, Rejects Suu Kyi Visit
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
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ruling military on Wednesday stood by its decision to deny a Southeast Asian envoy access to detained former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, resisting growing international pressure to comply with a regional peace plan agreed in April.
    Vice-Senior General Soe Win, the second in command of the junta that seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February, said allowing a foreigner access to someone charged with crimes was against domestic law.
    “I believe no country will allow anyone to do Note: state media’s translation beyond the existing law like this,” he said in a speech published in state media.
    His remarks follow last week’s virtual Asian leader summits hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Myanmar did not attend, in protest at junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s exclusion for not honouring the peace deal.
    It called that a breach of ASEAN’s code of consensus and non-interference and refused to send junior representation.
    Soe Win rejected the allegation of non-compliance and said the April agreement with ASEAN had been contingent on it considering Myanmar’s “current internal affairs,” with the envoy’s access to the country “based on internal stability.”
    Soe Win’s rebuttal was delivered at a virtual meeting on Tuesday of ASEAN auditors.
    He said demands on Myanmar made at last week’s Asian summits were “found to be suspicious of violating the images of ASEAN’s solidarity.”
    Myanmar has been paralysed by protests, strikes and violence since the coup, with the junta struggling to govern and facing armed resistance from militias and ethnic minority rebels allied with a shadow government that it calls “terrorists.”
    More than 1,200 civilians have been killed by security forces, according to a local monitoring group cited by the United Nations, which the junta has accused of bias.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Sanjeev Miglani)

11/3/2021 Dreams On Hold: Afghan Girls, Women Desperate To Get Back To Class by Zohra Bensemra
Hawa, 20, a third-year Russian literature student at the Burhanuddin Rabbani University (which was
renamed by the Taliban to Kabul Education University), reads a book with her sister on a
windowsill at their home in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    KABUL (Reuters) – To fill her days and keep her mind occupied, university student Hawa sits by the window in her Kabul home and pores over a book.
    Like hundreds of thousands of other Afghan girls and young women, the 20-year-old Russian literature undergraduate has not been allowed to return to her studies since the Taliban seized power in mid-August.
    And like many of her peers, she is feeling a mixture of frustration and anger that her aspirations to study and work are being thwarted.
    “We are not born to sit at home,” Hawa told Reuters in her family’s house in the Afghan capital, where she has been cooped up spending her days drawing, reading and doing chores.
    “If we can nurture babies we can provide for our families too. In this situation, I do not see my dreams coming true.”
    (Open https://reut.rs/3nPWv0a in an external browser to see a picture package on Afghan women and girls unable to study)
    The hardline Islamist Taliban movement, which stormed to power earlier this year after ousting the Western-backed government, has allowed all boys and younger girls back to class, but has not let girls attend secondary school.
    Most public universities are not functioning at all, or only partially.
    Officials have tried to assure Afghans and foreign donors that people’s rights will be honoured, including allowing girls to go to school and women to study and work once details on how to do so in accordance with Islamic law are thrashed out.
    They have also blamed https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/we-are-not-deleting-them-afghanistans-taliban-promise-progress-girls-schooling-2021-11-02 the international community for cutting off aid, making it harder to fund the reopening of schools and universities for all.
    More than three months into their rule, that has not happened, and some are skeptical of a group that, when it was last in power from 1996-2001, banned all girls from school and women from paid employment.
DREAMS ON HOLD
    Fewer than 40% of Afghan girls attended secondary school in 2018 even though it was allowed then, according to the most recent figures from UNESCO.
    Much of the country remains deeply conservative, despite 20 years of Western-backed rule and billions of dollars in foreign aid aimed partly at promoting equality and civil rights.
    But in urban centres in particular, girls and women have enjoyed greater freedoms since 2001, and they are reluctant to let them go.
    “Those of us who went to university and also had jobs, were helping our families, of course nothing will come of us, because they (the Taliban) say that whatever we studied in the last 20 years is useless,” Hawa said.
    Across town, 17-year-old Sahar is also stuck at home. She wants to become an engineer, but, for now at least, has to learn at home as best she can.
    “I am trying to continue my lessons at home but nevertheless the environment at school, the classroom, our friends and teachers is something different compared to being at home.”
    She proudly showed Reuters around her old classroom – a school manager on the premises that day allowed Sahar in.
    “I would love to come back to my class, resume my studies, to be with my classmates and teachers,” she said, looking wistfully around the room where desks and benches gathered dust.
    When her younger brother and sister return from school each day, Sahar helps with their homework.
    “They … come home and do their homework, talk about their classmates and their studies.    But I feel sad inside that I can’t go to school myself.”
    Her sister Hadia, who is 10, has noticed that some of her former teachers and classmates are no longer around – she assumes they were among thousands of Afghans who fled Kabul in the chaotic weeks that followed the Taliban’s conquest.
    Even at her age, she recognises the difficulties ahead.
    “I’m in the 4th grade. I want to be a doctor, but if in two years’ time I am not allowed to continue my studies like my sister, I won’t be able to fulfil my dream,” said Hadia.    “That already scares me.”
(Writing and editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/3/2021 Taiwan Welcomes First Official European Parliament Delegation
Taiwan flags can be seen at a square ahead of the national day celebration
in Taoyuan, Taiwan, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang/Files
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan on Wednesday welcomed the first European Parliament delegation to visit the island, calling the trip significant and its latest move towards stronger ties with Europe amid heightened tensions between Taipei and Beijing.
    Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory and has not ruled out taking by force, does not have formal diplomatic relations with any European countries apart from Vatican City.    But it is keen to deepen ties with European Union democracies.
    “The delegation was the first official delegation dispatched by the European Parliament to Taiwan in history, which is of great significance,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
    The delegation, led by French Member of the European Parliament Raphael Glucksmann, will discuss complex threats including disinformation and cyber attacks with Taiwan officials, the ministry added.
    The three-day visit was organised by a European Parliament committee on foreign interference such as disinformation in democratic processes.
    Taiwan’s Presidential Office said in a statement the government will share experiences in dealing with challenges including “foreign infiltration” with the delegation.
    “The experience of Taiwan in addressing repeated and sophisticated attacks through the mobilisation of its whole society, and without restricting its democracy, is unique,” Glucksmann said in a statement before departing for Taiwan.
    President Tsai Ing-wen has warned of increasing Chinese efforts to gain influence in the democratic island and has asked security agencies to counter the infiltration efforts.
    The EU lawmakers’ visit comes after Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu made a rare trip to Europe last month that angered Beijing, which warned the host countries against undermining their bilateral relations with China.
    The European Parliament last month adopted a non-binding resolution to deepen ties with Taiwan, including looking into a bilateral investment agreement.
    The delegation will meet Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang later on Wednesday before a meeting with Tsai on Thursday.
(Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/3/2021 Indonesia Could Phase Out Coal By 2040 With Financial Help, Finance Minister Says by John Geddie
FILE PHOTO: Smoke and steam billows from the coal-fired power plant owned by Indonesia Power, next to an area for Java 9 and 10 Coal-Fired
Steam Power Plant Project in Suralaya, Banten province, Indonesia, July 11, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Indonesia could phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040 if it gets sufficient financial help from the international community, the finance minister told Reuters.
    The Southeast Asian archipelago is the world’s fourth-most populous country and eighth biggest emitter of greenhouse gas, with coal making up about 65% of its energy mix. It is also the world’s biggest coal exporter.
    Visiting the Scottish city of Glasgow for the COP26 conference, Sri Mulyani Indrawati said Indonesia would announce on Wednesday detailed plans to move to cleaner energy, with the phase-out of coal being the key issue.
    Previously, Indonesia said it planned to phase out coal for electricity by 2056, as part of a plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060 or earlier.
    “If we are going to put forward until 2040, then we need to have funding to retire coal earlier and to build the new capacity of renewable energy,” Sri Mulyani said.
    “That is exactly what has now become the core issue and I’m now as the finance minister calculating what does it mean to retire coal earlier.    How much does it cost us?” she said.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week told the UK parliament Engagements that President Joko Widodo had said Indonesia was going to bring forward the abolition of coal use to 2040.
    Indonesia had not previously confirmed such a plan.
    Sri Mulyani told Reuters that meeting such a target was conditional on getting financial help from multilateral institutions, the private sector and developed countries.
    She said the plans to be announced on Wednesday moved Indonesia’s climate targets beyond “rhetoric” into the technical details and that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other financial institutions were “very excited” with their ideas.
    The ADB is leading a group of financial institutions to devise plans to speed up the closings of coal-fired power plants in Asia, including in Indonesia, by buying the assets and winding them down.
    Jakarta has identified 5.5 gigawatts of coal power plants that could be retired early in the next 8 years, estimating this would cost $25 billion to $30 billion.
    Sri Mulyani said the country would also need international support to ensure electricity remains affordable when it switches to renewable sources, citing a temporary calculation of a need for $10 billion to $23 billion in “implicit subsidies” for renewable power projects until 2030.
    “If this is all supposed to be financed from my taxpayers’ money, that won’t work.    The world is asking us, so now the question is what the world could do to help Indonesia.”
    “The president always says, ‘I’m going to be ambitious if the international (community) also aligns with this ambition’,” she added.
(Reporting by John Geddie; Additional reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by David Gregorio and Gerry Doyle)

11/3/2021 UNICEF To Directly Fund Afghan Teachers, Bypassing Taliban Authorities by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
FILE PHOTO: Waheedullah Hashimi, Director of External Programmes and Aid at the Ministry of Education, speaks during an
interview in Kabul, Afghanistan October 31, 2021. Picture taken on October 31, 2021. REUTERS/Yosri Al Jamal/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The United Nations children’s agency said it was planning to set up a system to directly fund Afghan teachers, after the international community placed a freeze on funding to the Taliban-led administration.
    “UNICEF is setting up a system that will allow direct payments to teachers without the funds being channelled through the de facto authorities,” Jeannette Vogelaar, UNICEF Afghanistan’s Chief of Education, told Reuters in an email.
    In preparation, she said, UNICEF would begin registering all public school teachers.
    “The best way to support the education of girls in Afghanistan is to continue supporting their schools and teachers.    UNICEF is calling upon donors not to let Afghanistan’s children down,” Vogelaar added.
    Afghanistan’s public services, in particular health and education, have been plunged into crisis since the Islamist Taliban movement took over the country on Aug. 15.
    Many foreign governments have placed a ban on funding outside of humanitarian aid that is channelled through multilateral agencies.
    That has generally been limited to urgent supplies such as wheat and blankets, leaving public service workers including teachers without pay for months.    Billions of dollars in Afghan central bank funds held overseas have also been frozen.
    The international community has raised alarm that the Taliban might restrict female education, and high schools for girls in many parts of the country have remained closed even while those for boys have been allowed to open.
    A Taliban official told Reuters this week there would be “good news” soon on older girls being allowed to go back to school, and that they were working with UNICEF and other international organisations on the issue.
    “We are working especially with UNICEF and some other international organisations … to come up with a good solution … we have meetings on a daily basis,” said Waheedullah Hashimi, Director of External Programmes and Aid at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education.
    “We have a problem that economically we are not good … that is why we are requesting the international community, international organisations, especially those who have funds for emergency situations, to help us in this regard,” he added.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshiman; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/3/2021 Iranian Claims That U.S. Tried To Detain Tanker False, Pentagon Says
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform is seen alongside
an Iranian flag in the Gulf July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) -The Pentagon on Wednesday rejected claims by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that they thwarted an attempt by the United States to detain a tanker carrying the Islamic Republic’s oil in the Sea of Oman.
    “I’ve seen the Iranian claims, they are absolutely totally false and untrue … it’s a bogus claim,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
    “The only seizing that was done was by Iran,” Kirby said.
    American officials said that in reality Iranian forces had seized a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker last month, and U.S. naval forces were just monitoring the situation.
    "With the timely and authoritative action of the Guards naval forces, the U.S. terrorist Navy’s operation to steal Iranian oil in the Sea of Oman failed,” Iran’s elite Guards said in a statement published by Iranian state media earlier on Wednesday.
    “The tanker carrying Iran’s oil docked at the port of Bandar Abbas on October 25.”
    While Iranian media identified the seized tanker as “SOTHYS” — the name tanker tracking websites give for a Vietnam-flagged vessel — state TV aired footage showing a red tanker surrounded by about 10 speedboats.    It also included a recording of what TV said was the encounter between Iranian and U.S. forces.
    Iran has repeatedly warned the United States about its military activities in the Gulf, saying that the Guards’ naval forces have increased patrols to also secure the passage of Iranian ships and combat fuel smuggling.
DRONES
    Giving details of the reported incident, Press TV said the Guards had reacted “promptly” when the Iranian oil tanker was detained in the Sea of Oman.
    “Members of the Guards naval forces carried out a heliborne operation on the detained tanker’s deck, gained control of the vessel, and directed it back toward Iran’s territorial waters,” Press TV reported.
    Separately, American officials told Reuters that several drones, believed to be Iranian, had come close to the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship Essex in the Strait of Hormuz in the past 24 hours.
    Tensions have risen between Tehran and Washington amid stalled talks on reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, under which Tehran curtailed its uranium enrichment programme in exchange for a lifting of global sanctions.
    Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani said on Wednesday the talks would fail unless U.S. President Joe Biden could guarantee Washington would not renege on the nuclear agreement in the future.
    The deal has eroded since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to breach various limits on uranium enrichment set by the pact.
    Shamkhani tweeted: “The U.S. president, lacking authority, is not ready to give guarantees. If the current status quo continues, the result of negotiations is clear.”
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Dubai newsroom and Idrees Ali in WashingtonWriting by Parisa HafeziEditing by William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)

11/3/2021 Talks On Reviving 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal To Resume Nov. 29 by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flies in front of the U.N. nuclear watchdog (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria, May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal will resume on Nov. 29, the country’s top nuclear negotiator said on Wednesday, as Western concerns over Tehran’s nuclear advances grow.
    “We agreed to start the negotiations aiming at removal of unlawful & inhumane sanctions on 29 November in Vienna,” Ali Bagheri Kani wrote in a tweet later confirmed in U.S. and EU statements.
    Tehran and six powers started to discuss ways to salvage the nuclear pact in April.    It has eroded since 2018, when then-U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from it and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to breach mandated limits on uranium enrichment the following year.
    Negotiations have been on hold since the June election of hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who is expected to take a tough approach when they resume in Vienna.
    The six rounds of talks held so far have been indirect, with chiefly European diplomats shuttling between U.S. and Iranian officials because Iran refuses direct contact with the United States.
    In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States hoped Tehran would return in good faith and ready to negotiate. Washington believed they should resume where they adjourned in June.
    “We believe it remains possible to quickly reach and implement an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the JCPOA by closing the relatively small number of issues that remained outstanding at the end of June,” Price told a news briefing.
    “We believe that if the Iranians are serious, we can manage to do that in relatively short order.    (However)… this window of opportunity will not be open forever, especially if Iran continues to take provocative nuclear steps.” he added.
    Named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the pact required Iran to take steps to restrict its nuclear program in return for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. economic sanctions.
    Earlier on Wednesday, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council suggested negotiations to revive the deal would fail unless U.S. President Joe Biden could guarantee that Washington would not again abandon the pact.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and John Stonestreet)

11/4/2021 Japan PM Kishida Says He May Act As Foreign Minister Until New Cabinet Formed
Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)
in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. Adrian Dennis/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Thursday he may take on the additional role of foreign minister until a new cabinet is formed later this month, as the incumbent foreign minister is set to take over a key ruling party post.
    Kishida has tapped Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-foreign-minister-motegi-become-ruling-party-secretary-general-2021-11-02 for the No.2 post in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a powerful role that includes shaping policy.
    The LDP will convene an executive board meeting later on Thursday to confirm that appointment.
    Kishida led the LDP to better-than-expected election results https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/japan-votes-test-new-pm-kishida-political-stability-2021-10-30 on Sunday, with the party retaining its strong majority in the lower house.
    The parliament is set to convene a special session on Nov. 10 to confirm Kishida as prime minister.    He is expected to name a new cabinet, which is likely to remain largely unchanged except for the post of foreign minister, shortly afterwards.
    “Until the new cabinet, I am thinking of working as foreign minister as well,” Kishida, who previously served as foreign minister, told reporters.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies; Editing by Richard Pullin)

11/4/2021 N.Korea Can Produce More Uranium Than Current Rate, Report Says by 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 can get all the uranium it needs for nuclear weapons through its existing Pyongsan mill, and satellite imagery of tailings piles suggests the country can produce far more nuclear fuel than it is, a new academic study concludes.
    Despite a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests since 2017, North Korea has said it is continuing to build its arsenal, and this year it appeared to have restarted https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-appears-have-restarted-nuclear-reactor-iaea-says-2021-08-29 a reactor that is widely believed to have produced weapons-grade plutonium.
    According to research published last month in the journal Science & Global Security by researchers at Stanford University and an Arizona-based mining consulting company, North Korea may be able to increase production, and has no need for other uranium mills.
    “It is clear that the DPRK appears to have substantially more milling capacity than it has been using to date,” said the report, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.    “This means that the DPRK could produce much greater quantities of milled natural uranium if desired.”
    The Pyongsan Uranium Concentration Plant and its associated mine are North Korea’s only publicly acknowledged source of yellowcake, or uranium ore, according to analysts.
    The report comes as other satellite imagery shows North Korea is building a large expansion at its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which analysts say may be used to produce weapons-grade uranium.
    “Given the DPRK’s active nuclear program, it is of utmost importance to assess and understand its nuclear materials production capabilities,” wrote the report’s authors, who submitted their findings in April.
    These capabilities govern the rate at which North Korea might expand its nuclear arsenal, determine the magnitude of the threat to international security and the challenge of potential nuclear disarmament, and measure North Korea’s ability to fuel its future nuclear energy program, the report said.
GROWING NUCLEAR ARSENAL
    The question over how many nuclear weapons North Korea possesses is a key issue for intelligence agencies in South Korea and the United States, as well as for any talks aimed at limiting or reducing North Korea’s arsenal.
    The United States, which wants Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear arsenal, has said it is open to meeting with North Korea without preconditions.    North Korea says talks are only possible after the United States and its allies drop hostile policies.
    Intelligence on North Korean nuclear weapons is limited, but David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, has told Reuters he estimates the country has the capacity to produce material for four to six warheads a year.
    The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in September https://www.reuters.com/article/northkorea-nuclear-iaea-idINV9N2IE02B that North Korea’s “nuclear programme goes full steam ahead with work on plutonium separation, uranium enrichment and other activities.”
    There have been no reported accounts of outside inspector access to the Pyongsan uranium mine after the IAEA visited in 1992, leaving details of the mill uncertain, the academic report said.
    The authors used artificial intelligence algorithms developed by Orbital Insight, a California-based geospatial analytics company, to analyse satellite imagery for land use patterns around the Pyongsan facility.
    Yellowcake from the mine and mill is a key component of North Korea’s nuclear fuel production, including its 5-megawatt (MW) reactor, which is seen as capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
    The IAEA and other analysts reported over the summer that the reactor appeared to be operating for the first time since 2018.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/4/2021 Top Hong Kong Court Rules Against Government Bid To Expand Riot Prosecutions by Greg Torode
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Two International Finance Centre (IFC), HSBC headquarters
and Bank of China in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s top court on Thursday quashed attempts by the city’s government to prosecute people for rioting or illegal assembly even without being present at the scene – a ruling lawyers described as a landmark.
    The five-judge panel in Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal, headed by Chief Justice Andrew Cheung, unanimously rejected an earlier ruling by a lower appeal court that people, such as supporters, could be criminally liable without being actually present under the common law doctrine of “joint enterprise.”
    Criminal lawyers said Thursday’s ruling was highly significant, impacting future prosecutions, and will be closely scrutinised amid an intensifying national security crackdown in the former British colony.
    “They’ve effectively raised the bar for the prosecutors – and maybe even stopped a flood of sweeping and hasty charges,” one criminal barrister said.
    “That does not mean that the government won’t try to bring different charges though after going back to the drawing board.”
    Activists, diplomats and the foreign business community are also closely watching court developments after Beijing’s imposition on the city of a sweeping national security law last year, with some fearing it could threaten a legal system seen as the bedrock underpinning the Asian financial hub.
    Britain handed Hong Kong back to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 amid guarantees that its social and commercial freedoms – and separate legal system – would be maintained under a “one country/two systems” formula.
    Both Chinese and Hong Kong officials said the new security law was vital to stop any future violent movements from exploiting the city’s freedoms.
    The appeal, in part, was brought by Tong Wai-hung, who was earlier acquitted of rioting in July 2019 – one of more than 10,000 people arrested during months of sometimes-violent anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong that year.
    While Hong Kong’s Department of Justice did not seek to overturn Tong’s acquittal they won an earlier appeal to show that a person’s presence at a riot or illegal assembly was not necessary for a conviction, under the “joint enterprise” doctrine.
    In Thursday’s judgment, the Court of Final Appeal panel notes the “taking part” is key to both the public order offences of rioting and illegal assembly, and could not be overridden by the joint enterprise doctrine.
    “Both offences are participatory in nature,” it says.    “There is no requirement for the persons taking part to share some extraneous common purpose.”
    It also said that those offenders – both present and absent – who encouraged, promoted or organised criminal assemblies could be still be guilty of different and more serious offences, such as conspiracy or incitement.
    Court of Appeal judges earlier approved Tong’s demand to question their ruling, saying the question had “far reaching implications for the prosecution of the offences of riot and illegal assembly in the future.”
(Reporting By Greg Torode; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/4/2021 China Keeps Close Vigil At Ports To Cut COVID-19 Risks
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker in protective suit collects a swab during the fifth round of mass nucleic acid
testing for residents of Aihui district following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Heihe,
Heilongjiang province, China October 31, 2021. Picture taken October 31, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is on high alert at its ports as strict policies on travel in and out of the country are enforced to reduce COVID-19 risks amid a fresh domestic outbreak, less than 100 days out from the open of the Beijing Winter Olympics.
    The National Immigration Administration (NIA) said on Thursday it would continue to guide citizens not to go abroad for non-urgent and non-essential reasons.
    The dramatic drop in Chinese travellers since early last year has left a $255 billion annual spending hole in the global tourism market.
    The Chinese immigration authority also vowed to strictly implement COVID-19 restrictions on the movement of people involved in the Winter Olympics in and out of China.
    China aims to ensure no outbreaks among people arriving from overseas for the Winter Olympics, according to a recent state television report, citing Huang Chun, an official on the Beijing organising committee for the event.
    Authorities will strive to avoid failures in virus control for the Games that would then disrupt the event or lead to clusters among residents, Huang said.
    COVID-19 curbs are also tightening in the Chinese capital ahead of a major gathering of the highest-ranking members of the Communist Party next week.
    Over 700 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms have been reported in China since mid-October in 19 province-level regions, with the geographical spread of the cases triggering a flurry of curbs on tourism and leisure businesses under Beijing’s zero-tolerance policy.
(Graphic: Major China COVID-19 outbreaks in 2021, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA/dwpkrerrdvm/chart.png)
    Officials say many cases in northwestern parts of China and a separate cluster in northeastern Heilongjiang province traced back to sources brought in from outside the country.
    Checks on flights, ships as well as cargo at land ports will be strictly implemented, the immigration authority said.
    The NIA also said it will adjust measures on foreigners arriving in China in accordance with changes in the COVID-19 situation, without providing details.
    While some countries have removed quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers, China still insists that most people arriving from outside the mainland to be quarantined for weeks, regardless of their vaccination status.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Lincoln Feast.)

11/4/2021 Australian Man Likely To Be Charged Over Girl Who Went Missing From Outback Camp
Bodycam footage shows a security officer carrying 4-year-old Cleo Smith, who went missing from an Australian
outback campsite more than two weeks ago and was found in a locked house on November 3, as she is being
rescued, in Carnarvon, Australia, November 3, 2021. Western Australia Police Force/Handout via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police said a 36-year-old man will likely be charged on Thursday with the disappearance of a four-year-old girl from an outback campsite who was eventually found safe in a locked house after missing for 18 days.
    The man was taken to the hospital for an injury but he was now back at the police station and being interviewed by police, authorities said.
    “There is still a lot of work to do … the investigation continues,” Western Australia state Police Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said during a media conference.
    Cleo Smith was last seen in her family’s tent in the early hours of Oct. 16 at the remote Blowholes Shacks campsite in Macleod, sparking an extensive 18-day search involving land and air crews, roadblocks and CCTV footage.
    She was eventually found safe early on Wednesday when police broke into a house in Carnarvon, a town about 100 km (62 miles) south of the campsite on the far northwest coast of the state.    The house is just 3 km (2 miles) from her family home, Australian media reported.
    Police on Thursday released an audio recording of when they entered the house and found Cleo in one of the rooms.    “We’ve got her.    We’ve got her,” an officer could be heard saying.
    State Premier Mark McGowan said Cleo is a “very bright, upbeat, sweet little girl” and looked “very well adjusted” considering the ordeal, after meeting the family.
    #CleoSmith has been trending on Twitter since Wednesday with a photo posted by the police of a smiling Cleo waving from her hospital bed getting nearly 54,000 likes.    Many landmarks in Perth, the Western Australia state capital, were lit up in blue on Wednesday night to thank the police for helping find Cleo.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/4/2021 ‘You Are Not Alone’: EU Parliament Delegation Tells Taiwan On First Official Visit by Sarah Wu
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen and Raphael Glucksmann, head of the European Parliament's special committee on foreign
interference, attend a meeting in Taipei, Taiwan November 4, 2021. Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The European Parliament’s first official delegation to Taiwan said on Thursday the diplomatically isolated island is not alone and called for bolder actions to strengthen EU-Taiwan ties as Taipei faces rising pressure from Beijing.
    Taiwan, which does not have formal diplomatic ties with any European nations except tiny Vatican City, is keen to deepen relations with members of the European Union.
    The visit comes at a time when China has ramped up military pressure, including repeated missions by Chinese warplanes https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-says-eight-chinese-air-force-planes-entered-its-air-defence-zone-2021-10-31 near democratic Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own and has not ruled out taking by force.
    “We came here with a very simple, very clear message: You are not alone. Europe is standing with you,” Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament, told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in a meeting broadcast live on Facebook.
    “Our visit should be considered as an important first step,” said Glucksmann, who is leading the delegation.    “But next we need a very concrete agenda of high-level meetings and high-level concrete steps together to build a much stronger EU-Taiwan partnership.”
    The three-day visit, organised by a committee of the European Parliament on foreign interference in democratic processes, will include exchanges with Taiwanese officials on threats such as disinformation and cyber attacks.
    Tsai has warned https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-taiwan-idUSKCN1SG08F of increasing Chinese efforts to gain influence in Taiwan, asking security agencies to counter infiltration efforts.
    “We hope to establish a democratic alliance against disinformation,” Tsai told the delegation in the Presidential Office.
    “We believe Taiwan and the EU can certainly continue strengthening our partnership in all domains.”
    Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu made a rare trip https://www.reuters.com/world/china/europe-trip-taiwan-foreign-minister-calls-collaboration-facing-china-2021-10-29 to Europe last month that angered Beijing, which warned the host countries against undermining relations with China.
    Fearing retaliation from Beijing, most countries are unwilling to host senior Taiwanese ministers or send high-level officials to the island.
    Last month, the European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution to deepen ties with Taiwan, with steps such as looking into an investment agreement.
(Reporting by Sarah Wu and Yimou Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/5/2021 Hong Kong Leader Expects Mainland China Border To Reopen In Feb – Broadcaster
FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong, China July 13, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Friday she expected the border with mainland China to largely reopen in February next year as the two governments stick to their zero COVID-19 policies, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
    Despite barely recording any local coronavirus cases in recent months, authorities in the global financial hub have tightened up quarantine and patient discharge rules to convince Beijing to allow cross-border travel.
    Hong Kong is following Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel curbs, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.
    RTHK said Lam’s remarks were made during a forum about China’s Greater Bay Area.
    International business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong could lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it relaxes its restrictions on travel.
    Lam has repeatedly said opening the border with mainland China, Hong Kong’s main source of growth, was her priority.
    Hong Kong’s government said in a statement late on Thursday that a video call between health experts and officials from Hong Kong and the mainland was “constructive, heading towards the goal of resumption of quarantine-free travel” in a “gradual” manner.
    Hong Kong requires hotel quarantine of up to 21 days for arrivals from most countries at the travellers’ cost.
    Those who test positive are immediately admitted to hospital regardless of their condition.    Since last month they have been required to spend a further 14 days in a designated facility after leaving the hospital.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu; writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

11/5/2021 Supporters Of Taiwan Independence Will Be Liable For Life, Says China by Yew Lun Tian
Taiwan flags can be seen at a square ahead of the national day
celebration in Taoyuan, Taiwan, October 8, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang/Files
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will make people who support “Taiwan independence” criminally liable for life, a spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office said on Friday, drawing anger from the island amid heightened tension across the sensitive Taiwan Strait.
    This was the first time that China has spelt out concretely punishment for people deemed to be pro-Taiwan independence, as tensions rise between China and the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
    China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control, despite the democratic island’s claim that it’s an independent country and that it will defend its freedom and democracy.
    The office named Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang, Parliament Speaker You Si-kun and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as people who are “stubbornly pro-Taiwan independence,” and made public for the first time it has drawn up a list of people who fall into this category.
    China will enforce punishment on the people on the list, by not letting them enter the mainland and China’s Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong and Macau, said spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian in a statement on Friday.
    The blacklisted people will not be allowed to cooperate with entities or people from the mainland, nor will their companies or entities who fund them be allowed to profit from the mainland, she said.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council admonished China, saying Taiwan is a democratic society with rule of law and not ruled by Beijing.
    “We do not accept intimidation and threats from an autocratic and authoritarian region,” the council said, adding it will take “necessary countermeasures to safeguard the safety and wellbeing of the people
    Zhu said the message China wants to send to supporters of Taiwan independence is: “Those who forget their ancestors, betray the motherland and split the country, will never end up well and will be spurned by the people and judged by history.”
    China believes Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is a separatist bent on declaring formal independence.    She says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Additional reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)

11/5/2021 AIIB To Continue Vaccine Funding For Developing Nations In 2022 by Aaron Saldanha
FILE PHOTO: The sign of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is
pictured at its headquarters in Beijing, China July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    (Reuters) – China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) will continue to finance developing countries acquire COVID-19 vaccines, a senior executive said on Thursday.
    Last year, AIIB had set up a funding facility to help public and private sectors fight the pandemic.    The investment bank has approved 42 projects amounting to over $10.3 billion, as of Nov. 5.
    Its Crisis Recovery Facility has up to $13 billion allocated to support AIIB members and clients in withstanding economic and health impacts of the health crisis.
    Speaking on the sidelines of COP26 in Glasgow, Danny Alexander, vice president for policy and strategy at AIIB, told Reuters that vaccine financing has a massive development impact.
    “Until you can get the pandemic under control, all these other things (environmental funding) we’re talking about can’t happen,” Alexander said.
    Last month, the bank said https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/aiib-fully-align-with-paris-agreement-climate-goals-by-mid-2023-2021-10-26 it planned to fully align its operations with the Paris Agreement climate goals by July 1, 2023.
    The bank said it expects to approve $50 billion in climate finance-related projects by 2030, a four-fold increase in annual climate finance commitments since it started publicly reporting the number in 2019.
    Alexander said the investment bank is looking to encourage private investments in its green projects through equity, providing guarantees on equity investments and syndicating loans from financiers.
(Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

11/5/2021 The Party’s Over: Diwali Leaves Delhi Wheezing In Dangerously Unhealthy Air by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj
Traffic moves on a flyover on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India,
November 4, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – New Delhi residents woke up on Friday under a blanket of smog darkening the city, the most dangerous air pollution of the year after Diwali revellers defied – as usual – a fireworks ban during     India’s annual Hindu festival of lights.
    New Delhi has the worst air quality of all world capitals, but even by its sorry standards Friday’s reading – the morning after the end of Diwali – was extra bad, the price for celebrating India’s biggest festival in the noisiest and smokiest way.
    The Air Quality Index (AQI) surged to 463 on a scale of 500 – the maximum recorded in 2021, indicating “severe” conditions that affect even healthy people let alone those with existing respiratory diseases.
    The AQI measures the concentration of poisonous particulate matter PM2.5 in a cubic metre of air.    In Delhi, a city of nearly 20 million people, the PM2.5 reading on Friday averaged 706 micrograms, whereas the World Health Organization deems anything above an annual average of 5 micrograms as unsafe.
    Airborne PM2.5 can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.    And, in India, toxic air kills more than a million people annually.
    On the morning after the close of Diwali, thick smog turned daylight into dusk in and around Delhi, with car and building lights only barely penetrating the murk, and the ubiquitous detritus of firecrackers coating the ground.
    “The firecracker ban didn’t seem to be successful in Delhi, which led to hazardous pollution levels adding on top of existing perennial sources,” said Sunil Dahiya, analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA).
    Every year, either government authorities or India’s Supreme Court slap a ban on firecrackers.    But the bans only rarely appear to be enforced.
    “No country delights more in passing laws and then bypassing them than ours.    Today Delhi particularly is facing the consequences of this feature of our lives,” Jairam Ramesh, a lawmaker and a leader of the main opposition Congress Party, said in a Twitter post.
    Delhi environment chief Gopal Rai said authorities planned to install 20 anti-smog guns to spray water into the air to help dilute the smog. But there have been calls for more stringent measures such as a temporary ban on construction activities and shutdowns of high-polluting factories.
FROM FARM TO FIRE
    Making matters worse, Diwali is held in a period when farmers in New Delhi’s neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana burn the stubble left after harvesting to prepare their fields for the next crop.
    Stubble fires accounted for up to 35% of New Delhi’s PM2.5 levels, according to monitoring data issued under the aegis of the federal Ministry of Earth Sciences.
    A rare spell of clear skies in October due to intermittent rains and strong winds treated Delhi residents to their cleanest air in at least four years.
    But over the winter months pollution levels surge in northern India, as lower temperatures and a drop in wind speed tend to trap pollutants in the air longer.
    Fed up with the lack of effective commitment to making the capital more liveable, Ambrish Mithal, a doctor at the Max HealthCare hospital in New Delhi, vented his frustration over the deteriorating AQI readings.
    “It’s terrible for those with allergies and asthma.    We will continue to squabble over reasons and are doomed to suffer,” he wrote in a post on Twitter.
    Indian governments are often accused of not doing enough to curb pollution as they prioritise economic growth to lift living standards in the world’s second most populous country.
    On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow that India would achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2070, but some experts reckoned that target was at least two decades too late.
(Reporting by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

11/5/2021 Visibility Deteriorates As Pollution Cloaks China’s Capital
A surveillance camera points at a terrace of a shopping mall overlooking the skyline of the Central
Business District on a polluted day in Beijing, China, November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Visibility in parts of Beijing was less than 200 metres (219 yards) on Friday as heavy pollution shrouded the Chinese capital, forcing the closure of some highways.
    Beijing issued its first heavy pollution alert for the fall and winter on Thursday, requiring the suspension of some outdoor construction, factory operations and outdoor school activities.
    Visibility has been severely limited with the top of the city’s tallest buildings vanishing in the haze.
    The heavily industrialised Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region often suffers from heavy smog in the fall and winter, especially on days without wind.
    A cold wave arriving from Siberia over the weekend is expected to disperse the pollution.
    China aims to cut concentrations of hazardous, small airborne particles known as PM2.5 by an average of 4% year on year in main cities this winter, the environment ministry said last month.
    The PM2.5 level in urban areas reached as high as 234 micrograms per cubic metre on Friday, according to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, indicating very unhealthy air.
    China’s overall 2021-22 winter campaign against pollution will be waged in as many as 64 cities throughout the industrialised, smog-prone north, the ministry said in September.
    China is due to host the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the nearby city of Zhangjiakou on Feb. 4-20. (Reporting by Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/6/2021 Rallies In Sydney, Melbourne Protest Against Australia’s Climate Policy by James Redmayne and Lidia Kelly
Extinction Rebellion activists hold a koala funeral to mark climate change, in Melbourne, Australia November 6, 2021
in this picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of Extinction Rebellion Australia/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – More than 1,000 people demonstrated on Saturday in Australia’s biggest cities of Sydney and Melbourne to protest against the government’s climate policies and the strategies it offered at a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow.
    Sydney’s first legal protest after a months-long COVID-19 lockdown saw about 1,000 people march in support of global action day for climate justice, a worldwide movement mobilised during the COP26 meeting.
    “We’re all out here to show that we want more from our government,” said Georgia, one of the protesters.
    Marchers carried signs reading, “We need human change, not climate change” and “Code Red for Humanity,” in images shown by media.
    A week of government speeches and pledges at the two-week gathering in Glasgow brought promises to phase out coal, slash emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane and cut deforestation.
    Australia, however, has rejected the global methane pledge and campaigners and pressure groups have not been impressed by the commitments of other world leaders.
    “The COP 26 agreements were happening and it’s not turning out the best for Australia at the moment,” added Georgia, the Sydney protester, who gave only one name.
    Melbourne’s protest was smaller than Sydney’s, with just a few hundred people turning out for a rally that featured a giant koala bear emitting plumes of smoke, and protesters dressed as skeletons on bikes.
    Several smaller events were held elsewhere in Australia.
    Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg was among thousands of young campaigners who marched in Glasgow on Friday, demanding urgent action.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/6/2021 China’s Xinhua Lauds Xi Ahead Of Key Communist Party Meeting
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai
Revolution at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s state news agency Xinhua lauded President Xi Jinping on Saturday as a tireless, selfless and scholarly servant of the people, ahead of a key meeting of the ruling Communist Party that is expected to further cement his authority.
    Xi is “a man of determination and action, a man of profound thoughts and feelings, a man who inherited a legacy and dares to innovate, and a man who has forward-looking vision and is committed to working tirelessly,” Xinhua said.
    The party’s 300-plus member Central Committee, meeting Monday through Thursday, is expected to pave the way for Xi to secure an unprecedented third five-year term as president at the 20th Party Congress next year.
    It is also expected to discuss and ratify a “historical resolution https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-xi-cement-authority-legacy-communist-party-resolution-2021-11-02” focusing on “the important achievements and historical experiences of the Party’s 100 years of struggle.”
    Xinhua’s profile, headlined “Xi Jinping, the man who leads CPC (Communist Party of China) on new journey”, portrayed the president as a man with “little time for himself,” for whom “happiness is achieved through hard work.”
    The article, more than 5,000 words long in English translation, features praise from foreign media as well as domestic academics and experts.
    It covers Xi’s early career as a village official in the provinces of Shaanxi and Hebei, irrigating farms by day and devouring Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in his spare time. It extols Xi’s “signature anti-corruption campaign,” his commitment to “intra-party democracy” and his role in the nation’s “rejuvenation.”
    Ignoring China’s early missteps in dealing with COVID-19, the profile praises Xi’s “people-centred philosophy” and its role in the country’s “unwavering efforts to save people’s lives at all costs.”
    Xi, regarded as China’s most powerful leader since Chairman Mao Zedong, has been consolidating his authority and legacy further this year, with “Xi Jinping Thought” now officially incorporated into the national school curriculum.
    He also vowed to uphold his own “core” leadership https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-add-xi-jinping-thought-national-curriculum-2021-08-25 at a speech to mark the centenary of the Communist Party in July.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by William Mallard)

11/6/2021 New Zealand PM Ardern Welcomes Signs Of U.S. Greater Presence In Indo-Pacific
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in a televised debate with National leader
Judith Collins at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern welcomed signs from the United States of a bigger engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, saying in an interview that her government has “mature” ties with China that allow for disagreement.
    Ardern will host an online summit next week of leaders from the Asia-Pacific, including the United States, China and Japan, to discuss how the region can recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis.
    In the interview to air on Sunday on the U.S. network NBC, Ardern said that under President Joe Biden, the United States has “an incredibly important role” to play in strategic defence, economy and trade ties in the region.
    “We welcome that physical presence, being part of important talks in our region,” she told the “Meet the Press” programme.    “And we have seen, we have seen that greater … engagement in recent times.”
    Ardern reiterated https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-wants-mature-relationship-with-china-foreign-minister-says-2021-05-07 her government’s position that New Zealand – which has major trade ties to China and has long been touted by Beijing as a model of its relations with Western countries – will pursue a policy of “integrity” with China.
    “We do still believe that we have the maturity in our relationship to raise issues that we’re concerned about, be it human rights issues, be it labour issues, be it environmental issues,” Ardern said.
    “And it’s very important to us that we continue to be able to do that and do that regardless of those trading ties.”
    Ties between New Zealand’s neighbour Australia and China have worsened markedly since 2018, when Canberra banned Huawei Technologies Co from its nascent 5G broadband network. Relations cooled further last year when Australia called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, first reported in central China in 2019.
    China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities, including wine and barley, and limited imports of Australian beef, coal and grapes – moves the United States called “economic coercion https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-will-not-leave-australia-alone-face-china-coercion-blinken-2021-05-13.”
    This has not affected China’s ties with New Zealand, however, as both nations upgraded a free trade agreement in January, although New Zealand united https://www.reuters.com/world/china/australia-new-zealand-unite-over-china-human-rights-issues-2021-05-31 with Australia over China human rights issues.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

11/6/2021 New Zealand’s Daily Coronavirus Cases Cross 200 For First Time In Pandemic
FILE PHOTO: A vaccination centre sign directs the public during a lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Auckland, New Zealand, August 26, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall/File Photo
    (Reuters) – New Zealand’s 206 new daily community infections on Saturday carried it past the double-hundred mark for the first time during the coronavirus pandemic, as the nation scrambles to vaccinate its population of 5 million.
    The most populous city of Auckland, which reported 200 of the new cases, has lived under COVID-19 curbs for nearly three months as it battles an outbreak of the infectious Delta variant, although restrictions are expected to ease on Monday.
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she wanted Auckland residents to be able to travel for the southern hemisphere summer and Christmas.
    “We will not keep Aucklanders isolated to Auckland through that period – we simply cannot do that,” Ardern told a news conference at the national gathering of her Labour Party.
    Saturday’s cases served to remind people of the importance of vaccination as the number one protection against the virus, the health ministry said in a statement.
    It said 78% of New Zealanders aged 12 and above had been fully vaccinated, while 89% had a first dose by Friday.
    Once praised globally for stamping out COVID-19, New Zealand has been unable to vanquish the Delta outbreak in Auckland, forcing Ardern to abandon a strategy of eliminating the virus in favour of efforts to live with it.
    Still, it has fared far better than many other countries, with tough curbs that kept infections to just under 7,000 and a toll of 31 deaths.
(Reporting in Melbourne by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/7/2021 Taliban Appoint Members As 44 Governors, Police Chiefs Around Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: A Taliban fighter displays their flag as his comrade watches,
at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban appointed 44 of its members to key roles including provincial governors and police chiefs on Sunday, a key step in shoring up its governance as the country grapples with growing security and economic problems.
    It is first large-scale round of appointments announced since the cabinet was formed in September.
    The Taliban released the list of its members’ new roles, including Qari Baryal to serve as governor of Kabul and Wali Jan Hamza as the city’s police chief.
    The previous commander in charge of Kabul’s security, Mawlawi Hamdullah Mukhlis, was killed this month in an attack on Afghanistan’s largest military hospital in downtown Kabul.
    The Taliban took over the country on Aug. 15 but have faced an uphill battle in their promise to restore order and security after decades of war.    Islamic State have carried out a spate of attacks around the country, while the economy has been plunged into crisis.
    There have been international calls for the group to negotiate with other political players to form an inclusive government including minorities and women, although substantive progress on that has so far not materialised.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

11/8/2021 China Builds Mockups Of U.S. Navy Ships In Area Used For Missile Target Practice by Yew Lun Tian
A satellite picture shows a carrier target in Ruoqiang, Xinjiang, China,
October 20, 2021. Satellite Image ©2021 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s military has built mockups in the shape of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and other U.S. warships, possibly as training targets, in the desert of Xinjiang, satellite images by Maxar showed on Sunday.
    These mockups reflect China’s efforts to build up anti-carrier capabilities, specifically against the U.S. Navy, as tensions remain high with Washington over Taiwan and the South China Sea.
    The satellite images showed a full-scale outline of a U.S. carrier and at least two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers had been built at what appears to be a new target range complex in the Taklamakan Desert.
    The complex has been used for ballistic missile testing, the U.S. Naval Institute reported https://news.usni.org/2021/11/07/china-builds-missile-targets-shaped-like-u-s-aircraft-carrier-destroyers-in-remote-desert, quoting geospatial intelligence company All Source Analysis.
    China’s anti-ship missile programs are overseen by the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF).    China’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    According to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military, the PLARF conducted its first confirmed live-fire launch into the South China Sea in July 2020, firing six DF-21 anti-ship ballistic missiles into the waters north of the Spratly Islands, where China has territorial disputes with Taiwan and four Southeast Asian countries.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in July this year that the United States will defend the Philippines if it comes under attack in the South China Sea and warned China to cease its “provocative behaviour.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/8/2021 New Zealand Hosts Virtual APEC Leaders’ Summit, Focusing On Pandemic Recovery by Praveen Menon and David Brunnstrom
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/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leaders of the Asia-Pacific trade group APEC will focus on the region’s economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising supply chain support and decarbonising economies, at virtual talks that begin on Monday.
    Tensions are expected, however, during this week’s talks among the 21-economy group over Taiwan’s bid to join a regional trade pact and the United States’ bid to host the 2023 round of meetings.
    New Zealand is hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Week entirely online thanks to its hardline pandemic response that has kept the international border shut to almost all travellers for 18 months.
    “This meeting will focus on charting a path to recovery out of this once-in-a-century crisis,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in a statement.
    Talks will first be held between trade and foreign ministers of the 21-economy group, which includes the United States, China and Russia, before state leaders meet online on Friday night.
    APEC’s member economies account for around 38% of the world’s population and more than 60% of its gross domestic product.
    “Together we are continuing to keep supply chains functioning and are supporting trade in critical medical supplies – including testing kits, PPE and now vaccines,” Ardern said.
    APEC members pledged at a special meeting in June to expand sharing and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and lift trade barriers for medicines.
    The APEC gathering comes in the shadow of the high profile G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, both attended in person by leaders.
    In a news conference on Monday, Ardern acknowledged the virtual event meant the country misses out on making a big splash.
    “It means our ability to put New Zealand on the world stage isn’t quite what it would have been if we had an in-person event,” Ardern said, adding that it did allow better participation of business leaders.
    Tensions are expected around Taiwan’s stated aim to use the gathering to garner support for its bid to join a regional trade pact, Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
    China, which has also applied to join the pact, opposes Taiwan’s membership https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-woo-backers-apec-bid-join-pacific-trade-pact-2021-11-02 and has increased military activities near the island which Beijing claims and has not ruled out taking by force.
U.S. HOST BID
    Also likely to raise tensions is the U.S. offer to host APEC in 2023, which would be the country’s first time since former President Barack Obama led the group in Hawaii in 2011.
    Diverting attention and resources to the region has become a centrepiece of President Joe Biden’s administration, as it turns away from old security preoccupations with the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.     But Russia is yet to officially support the U.S. proposal, a source aware of the discussions said, creating an unusual situation for the bloc, which usually agrees hosting venues well in advance.
    Russia has sought an assurance that its representatives will be able to attend a U.S. gathering even if some of them are under sanctions, the source said, adding that China has neither agreed or rejected the U.S. offer.     Neither country has commented publicly on the proposal.    The Russian foreign ministry could not immediately be reached, while China’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
    “I’m sure the U.S. and New Zealand would like to resolve this before (the) Leaders’ Meeting, but the dispute shouldn’t hold up the communiqué, since leaders can always say they look forward to meeting in Thailand next year and leave it at that,” said Matthew Goodman, an adviser at the Washington-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
    A Leaders’ Declaration has been issued after every annual APEC leaders’ meeting since the first in 1993, expect in Papua New Guinea in 2018 due to disagreements between U.S. and China.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and David Brunnstrom in Washington; editing by Jane Wardell)

11/8/2021 Australia Begins Vaccine Booster Rollout As More Curbs Ease In Sydney by Jill Gralow and Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: Patrons dine-in at a bar by the harbour in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations easing,
following an extended lockdown to curb an outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia began administering booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine on Monday as millions of people in its largest city, Sydney, woke up to more freedom amid an accelerating immunisation drive.
    Australia’s vaccination rate has picked up pace since July, after widely missing its initial targets, when its southeast was hit by a third wave of infections triggered by the highly infectious Delta variant forcing months-long lockdowns.
    Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities and worst hit by the Delta wave, have been racing through their inoculations before gradually relaxing restrictions.    Life returned close to normal on Monday in New South Wales, home to Sydney, as the state nears its 90% dual-dose vaccinations in people above 16.
    “There’s a sense of optimism and enthusiasm with the customers.    They are showing up in droves and they’re not afraid to spend,” said Rodney Sen, owner of the Barzura restaurant in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
    There are now no limits on the number of fully vaccinated guests at homes, while restaurants and entertainment venues can allow more patrons.    Stadiums can operate at full capacity.
    After more than 18 months of some of the world’s strictest containment policies, border restrictions have started to ease, setting in motion a plan to reopen the country to travellers amid a gaping hole in the market for casual workers.
    Sen told Reuters on Monday that the restaurant had increased its pay rates to retain and attract staff.
    “The public have actually got the money to spend, however we are struggling to find the staff to serve them.    This is a very familiar story in the restaurant industry through Sydney,” he said.
    With about 181,600 cases and 1,827 deaths, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are among the lowest in the developed world.
    Most new cases are being detected in Victoria, which logged 1,126 new cases on Monday.    Neighbouring New South Wales reported 187 infections. Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.
    The booster doses will be given to people 18 and over who took their second shot more than six months ago.
(Reporting by Jill Gralow and Renju Jose; writing by Jonathan Barrett; editing by Diane Craft and Stephen Coates)

11/8/2021 Beijing Residents Stock Up On Cabbages In Uncertain Times by Dominique Patton
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak shop
for vegetables near an image of Beijing Communist Party Secretary Cai Qi at a market in
Beijing, China January 15, 2021. Picture taken January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Older residents in Beijing recently stocked up on cabbage, giving a tradition a new lease of life after the government advised people to keep enough basic goods at home in case of emergencies.
    People have for years bought up dozens of large cabbages, which can be kept fresh for months and are widely used in local cuisine, in early November to see them through freezing winters.
    A government notice https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/chinese-stock-up-food-temperatures-fall-covid-19-spreads-2021-11-03 issued last Monday advising households to stock up on daily necessities and a snow forecast reinforced the rush this year, with long early morning queues forming outside supermarkets in downtown Beijing last week.
    “Every year at this time the (cabbage) sales volume is high.    But after the report came out, everyone rushed to buy even more,” said Jia Jinzhi, a grower who sells cabbage at Beijing’s Xinfadi wholesale market.
    Supermarkets capped sales at three cabbages per person, but even then, shoppers arriving after 9 am (1 am GMT) left empty-handed.
    The bright green cabbages, known as Chinese cabbage or Napa cabbage, used to be piled high in backyards, in apartment block hallways or even in homemade shelters dug underground, with neighbours striving to outdo each other on the size of their cabbage stocks.
    Freezing temperatures and the tough outer leaves kept the two-kilogramme brassicas fresh for months.
    The cabbage piles have shrunk over the years as sophisticated logistics transport fresh vegetables across China all-year round and as families increasingly live in small high-rise apartments rather than houses, but the tradition lives on.
    “This is a Beijing custom,” said a woman surnamed Zhao, leaving a Wumart supermarket with three cabbages.
    Wumart customers said they were paying about three times what they paid last year, or 1 yuan per half kilo.
    But if they didn’t buy now, prices would double further into winter, said another shopper surnamed Sun.
    “You can keep it for two or three months.    You put it outside, find a cotton blanket to cover it,” he said.
    Wrapping the cabbage in newspaper also helps to keep it fresh, said Zhao, who stores it on her balcony.
    The shopping spree comes as Beijing residents bought a series of staples last week after the government’s advice on stocking up on basic supplies prompted some confusion.
    It was part of a seasonal notice put out by the Ministry of Commerce encouraging authorities to secure food supplies and stable prices ahead of winter, following a recent spike in vegetable prices and a growing COVID-19 outbreak.
    Retirees, who don’t use China’s ubiquitous shopping apps, were the ones predominantly willing to stand in line for the cabbages.
    “If it rains or snows and you can’t go out, you have some vegetables at home,” said a 62-year-old woman, waiting in a long line outside Wumart.    “Anyway, what else am I doing?
(Reporting by Dominique Patton; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

11/8/2021 Japan Has Zero Daily COVID-19 Deaths For First Time In 15 Months – Media
FILE PHOTO: People walk at a crossing in Shibuya shopping area, amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan August 7, 2021. REUTERS/Androniki Christodoulou/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan recorded no daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in more than a year on Sunday, according to local media.
    Prior to Sunday, there hadn’t been a day without a COVID-19 death since Aug. 2, 2020, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK.    The latest figures from the health ministry showed three deaths on Saturday.
    COVID-19 cases and deaths have fallen dramatically throughout Japan as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population.
    New daily infections peaked at more than 25,000 during an August wave driven by the infectious Delta variant.    The country has had more than 18,000 deaths from the disease during the course of the pandemic.
    To gird against a possible rebound this winter, the government plans to start booster vaccine shots next month and is working to secure pill-based treatments for milder cases to reduce hospitalisations.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/8/2021 WHO, UNICEF Launch Afghan Polio Vaccine Campaign With Taliban Backing
FILE PHOTO: A child receives a polio vaccination during an anti-polio campaign
on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Afghanistan, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Parwiz
(Corrects organisation of Naikwali Shah Momim from WHO to Afghanistan’s ministry of health)
    KABUL (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations children’s agency kicked off a polio vaccination campaign in Afghanistan on Monday, the first nationwide campaign to fight the disease in three years.
    Naikwali Shah Momim, the National Emergency Operations Coordinator for the polio programme at Afghanistan’s health ministry, told Reuters the campaign had started in various parts of the country on Monday, but added there were several hurdles around a shortage of trained staff.
    The campaign, which is aimed at reaching over 3 million children, had received Taliban backing, which would allow teams to reach children in previously inaccessible parts of the country, the WHO said.
    “The urgency with which the Taliban leadership wants the polio campaign to proceed demonstrates a joint commitment to maintain the health system and restart essential immunizations to avert further outbreaks of preventable diseases,” said Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, in a statement.
    However, Momim said that more training was needed for teams in remote areas, so the programme would initially start in places such as Kabul.
    Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and highly infectious disease transmitted through sewage that can cause crippling paralysis in young children.
    Polio has been virtually eliminated globally through a decades-long inoculation drive.    But insecurity, inaccessible terrain, mass displacement and suspicion of outside interference have hampered mass vaccination in Afghanistan and some areas of Pakistan.
    Several polio workers have been killed by gunmen in eastern Afghanistan this year, though it was not clear who was behind the attacks.
    According to WHO figures compiled before the collapse of the Western-backed government in August, there was one reported case of the one wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) in Afghanistan in 2021, compared with 56 in 2020.
    Until the disease is eliminated completely, it remains a threat to human health in all countries, especially those with vulnerable health systems because of the risk of importing the disease, according to health experts. (This story corrects organisation of Naikwali Shah Momim from WHO to Afghanistan’s ministry of health)
(Reporting by Gibran Peshiman; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

11/8/2021 Japan PM Kishida To Appoint Ex-Defence Chief Human Rights Aide
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's
official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 14, 2021. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese former defence minister who is in favour of introducing a law to punish foreign violators of human rights is to be appointed the prime minister’s aide on rights, a cabinet official said on Monday.
    New Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said Japan should stand firm for democracy in the Chinese-ruled city of Hong Kong and that he supported a parliamentary resolution condemning China’s treatment of members of its Uyghur Muslim minority.
    Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki, asked about a meeting earlier in the day between Kishida and a former defence minister amid speculation he would become the prime minister’s aide on rights, said arrangements were being made to appoint Gen Nakatani to the post on Wednesday.
    Nakatani, 64, wants to introduce a Japanese version of the U.S. Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that allows punishment of foreign human rights violators with U.S. asset freezes and bans on travel to the United States.
    “As lawmaker, I’ve been tackling a fair amount of human rights issues. I’d like to try and make appropriate advice based on my knowledge and experience,” Nakatani told reporters following his meeting with Kishida
    Close U.S. ally Japan has been taking a more assertive stand on China in recent months as relations between China and the United States have become strained over various disagreements.
    Chinese authorities have been accused of facilitating forced labour by detaining about a million Uyghurs and other primarily Muslim minorities in camps since 2016.    China denies wrongdoing, saying it has set up vocational training centres to combat Islamist militancy.
    Nakatani’s appointment is set for Wednesday, when parliament will hold a special session to re-elect Kishida as prime minister following an Oct. 31 election victory by his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/8/2021 Singapore To Decide On COVID-19 Vaccine For Children Aged 5 To 11 This Month
FILE PHOTO: Children wearing protective face masks sanitise their hands as they
attend preschool classes at St James' Church Kindergarten
as schools reopen amid
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Singapore June 2, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) -Singapore is expecting its expert committee on COVID-19 vaccines to make a recommendation on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot for children aged 5 to 11 years old later this month, the country’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday.
    The city-state is considering a plan to give children one-third of the adult dosage, similar to the United States, Ong added.
    About 8,000 of Singapore’s cumulative 218,333 COVID-19 cases have involved children below the age of 12, with five severe infections, according to the health ministry.
    Singapore, where 85% of the 5.45 million population has been fully vaccinated, has been pushing to get as many inoculated as possible and live with the virus.
    On Monday, the country said those who remained unvaccinated by choice would have to foot their medical bills from next month.
    The government also announced a further easing of rules for dining out, allowing up to five vaccinated individuals from the same household to eat together at restaurants.    Current rules only allow up to two vaccinated persons to eat out together.
    Authorities will also allow soft recorded music to be played in restaurants after having banned it for months, citing higher chances of virus transmission if people spoke loudly over the music.
    Singapore will also allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated people from its closest neighbour Malaysia https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/singapore-malaysia-allow-quarantine-free-travel-between-both-countries-2021-11-08, Sweden and Finland from late this month.
    The country has been reporting more than 3,000 daily infections in recent weeks, most are asymptomatic or mild.
(Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/8/2021 Indian Capital’s Dangerous Air Ruins Return To School As Pandemic Curbs Eased by Manoj Kumar
FILE PHOTO: A couple poses during a pre-wedding photo shoot near India's Presidential Palace
which is shrouded in smog, in New Delhi, India, November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Many students in New Delhi stayed at home on Monday rather than return to reopened schools as a toxic smog shrouded the city.
    New Delhi has the worst air quality of any capital city but even by its standards the past few days have been extraordinarily bad.
    Although authorities eased restrictions on schools imposed when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck India in March last year, many parents decided against sending their children back.
    “The pollution in Delhi is hazardous.    We as parents are afraid of sending our children to school,” parent Kamlesh Sharma wrote on Twitter.
    For air to be deemed safe, the Air Quality Index (AQI), which has a scale of 500, should be below 50.    In New Delhi on Monday evening it was 392, well into hazardous territory.    That was a marginal improvement on the 451 registered last week as moderate winds helped disperse some of the pollution.
    While some schools had resumed classes for higher grades, pupils aged 14 and below were allowed back for the first time on Monday as part of a staggered re-opening.
    But many schools reported attendance below 40% on the first day back due to parents fears over the hazardous air and the coronavirus risks.
    “After COVID, pollution has emerged a major threat for public health particularly for children and senior citizens,” Ashok Agarwal, national president, All India Parents Association, said, expressing frustration with the lack of enforcement and political will to improve Delhi’s air.
    Many supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party opposed a blanket ban on fire-crackers while blaming the opposition-ruled state governments of Delhi and Punjab for worsening pollution.
    Environmentalists said both federal and state governments were reluctant to take tough steps because they feared loss of support among their voters.
    In a letter to the federal and state authorities, the Central Pollution Control Board Chairman Tanmay Kumar regretted that they were not “taking sufficient measures to control pollution” and asked them to curb all air polluting activities.
    Exposure to pollution was causing more harm than the use of tobacco or of smoking, Randeep Guleria, director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told India Today TV channel.
    “If you have higher levels of air pollution then the chances of having more severe COVID and dying from it goes up,” he said.
    Airborne particles of pollution can cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases such as lung cancer.    In India, toxic air kills more than a million people annually.
    The severe deterioration in air quality during the past week was caused by farmers violating a ban on stubble burning in agricultural states surrounding the capital and people ignoring a ban on fireworks to celebrate     Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
    Nearly 80% of families in Delhi region, with a population of about 20 million, reported ailments like headaches, problems in breathing, and runny noses due to the air pollution, according a survey of 34,000 respondents by a private agency, Local Circles.
    “With in-person schools finally opening after a long period of online classes, many parents seem reluctant to send children to school in the coming weeks due to the dual risk of COVID and pollution,” said Sachin Taparia, head of Local Circles.
(Additional reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Angus MacSwan)

11/8/2021 Beijing Says U.S. Spying Charges Against Chinese Citizen ‘Pure Fabrication’
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news
conference in Beijing, China December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Monday labelled the charges against a Chinese citizen convicted in the United States of stealing trade secrets as “pure fabrication.”
    The U.S. Justice Department said on Friday that Xu Yanjun had been convicted by a federal jury of plotting to steal trade secrets from several U.S. aviation and aerospace companies.
    “The allegation is pure fabrication,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing.
    “We demand that the U.S. handle the case according to the law and in a just manner to ensure the rights and interests of the Chinese citizen.”
    Xu was convicted of two counts of conspiring and attempting to commit economic espionage, in addition to a count of conspiracy to commit trade secret theft and two counts of attempted theft of trade secrets.
    Xu faces a maximum 60 years in prison and fines totalling more than $5 million, according to a press release.    He will be sentenced by a federal district court judge.
    Going back as far as 2013, Xu was accused of using multiple aliases to carry out economic espionage and steal trade secrets on behalf of China.    Multiple U.S. aviation and aerospace companies, including GE Aviation, a unit of General Electric Co, were his targets, the release said.
(This story refiles to reinsert dropped word from headline)
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/8/2021 Australia Pledges Three Million COVID-19 Vaccines To Cambodia
FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen speaks with media during a news conference
at the Government Office in Hanoi, Vietnam October 4, 2019. REUTERS/Kham
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Australia has pledged more than three million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Monday, which would help the Southeast nation give booster shots to its people.
    The assurance came during a visit by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne aimed at expanding bilateral ties.
    Cambodia has vaccinated 87% of its more than 16 million people, one of Asia’s highest inoculation rates.
    “The Australian government has decided to provide Cambodia with 3,250,000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, of which 1 million will be delivered to Cambodia before the end of this year,” Hun Sen said on his official Facebook page.
    The country has already given two million booster shots and begun inoculating children.    Payne met Hun Sun and her counterpart Prak Sokhonn.
    Hun Sen declared the country fully open last week and the government has said tourist locations for vaccinated travellers will also be reopened by the end of this month.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/8/2021 Japan Has Zero Daily COVID-19 Deaths For First Time In 15 Months – Media
FILE PHOTO: People walk at a crossing in Shibuya shopping area, amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan August 7, 2021. REUTERS/Androniki Christodoulou/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan recorded no daily deaths from COVID-19 for the first time in more than a year on Sunday, local media said.
    Prior to Sunday, there had not been a day without a COVID-19 death since Aug. 2, 2020, according to a tally by national broadcaster NHK.
    COVID-19 cases and deaths have fallen dramatically throughout Japan as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population.
    New daily infections peaked at more than 25,000 during an August wave driven by the infectious Delta variant.    The country has had more than 18,000 deaths from the disease during the course of the pandemic.
    To gird against a possible rebound this winter, the government plans to start booster vaccine shots next month and is working to secure pill-based treatments for milder cases to reduce hospitalisations.
    Shigeru Omi, the nation’s top health adviser, on Monday sketched out a new scale for measuring the seriousness of coronavirus infections and a tool for predicting the hospital beds that may be needed in a new wave.
    “We’ve learned over the past two years that we need to take strong, fast and intensive measures,” Omi told reporters.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; editing by Richard Pullin and Giles Elgood)

11/8/2021 India’s Latest Zika Outbreak Sees Surge Of Nearly 100 Cases by Saurabh Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Chimneys of leather tanneries are seen in Kanpur, India, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    LUCKNOW (Reuters) – At least 89 people, including 17 children, have tested positive for the Zika virus in a surge of cases in the Indian city of Kanpur, its health department said on Monday.
    First discovered in 1947, the mosquito-borne virus Zika virus reached epidemic proportions in Brazil in 2015, when thousands of babies were born with microcephaly, a disorder that causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains.
    “There has been a surge in cases of the Zika virus and the health department has formed several teams to contain the spread,” Dr Nepal Singh, chief medical officer of Kanpur district in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, told Reuters.
    “There is one woman who is pregnant and we are paying special attention towards her.”
    Cases have been reported in several Indian states in recent years, though Amit Mohan Prasad, Uttar Pradesh’s top government bureaucrat for health and family welfare, told Reuters this was the first outbreak in the state.
    The first Zika case in the industrial city of Kanpur was detected on Oct. 23 and the number of cases has increased over the past week.
    “People are testing positive because we are doing very aggressive contact tracing,” said Prasad.
    Authorities were increasing their surveillance of the outbreak and eliminating breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that transmit the virus, Singh said.
(Reporting by Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; Editing by Alasdair Pal, Robert Birsel)

11/8/2021 Chinese City Orders COVID Tests For Visitors To Sprawling Commercial Centre
People line up at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site near a residential compound under
lockdown following local cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chengdu, Sichuan province,
China November 3, 2021. Picture taken November 3, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s southwestern city of Chengdu on Monday required visitors at a mega entertainment centre to undergo COVID tests, in the country’s second mass screening for the coronavirus at a large venue in days.
    Those who were tested for COVID-19 were required to return home to await their results and not venture outdoors until advised, local authorities in Chengdu said in a notice.
    It was unclear how many visitors were at the New Century Global Center, which houses numerous shops, offices, a massive water park, and a university. At 1.7 million square metres, the building is the world’s largest, spanning a floor area the equivalent of four Vatican Cities.
    Early in November, Shanghai Disneyland was shut for two days and more than 30,000 visitors tested, after a visitor to the theme park was found to be carrying the virus.
    China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19, determined that the cost of limiting local cases as they are found outweighs the inconvenience and disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected.
    Chengdu, a city of more than 20 million people, has found a few local cases of COVID-19 in recent days.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

11/8/2021 U.S. Says Worried About Increase In Attacks By ISIS-K In Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: Taliban fighters stand as they hold a checkpoint in Kabul,
Afghanistan November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is worried about the uptick in attacks by ISIS-K in Afghanistan and wants the Taliban to be successful against them, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West said on Monday.
    Speaking to reporters in a telephonic briefing, West said Washington was also getting ready for its next round of inter-agency engagement with the Taliban but he did not provide a date for when that would take place.    He also added that Washington was not seriously considering reopening its Kabul embassy right now.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay)

11/8/2021 Pakistan, Local Taliban Agree On A Complete Ceasefire – Information Minister
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) – Pakistan’s government has reached an agreement on a “complete ceasefire” with Taliban militants in the country, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said on Monday.
    He said authorities in neighbouring Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had facilitated the talks.
    “The ceasefire will keep on extending with the progress in the negotiations,” Chaudhry said in a statement.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

11/8/2021 U.N. Aid Chief Says Myanmar Deteriorating, Security Council Meets by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Police stand on a road during an anti-coup protest
in Mandalay, Myanmar, March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths warned on Monday that the humanitarian situation in Myanmar was deteriorating with more than 3 million people in need of life-saving aid due to a growing conflict and failing economy.
    The U.N. Security Council also met behind closed-doors on Monday to discuss Myanmar.    The meeting coincides with the first anniversary of the re-election of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, which was then ousted by the military in a Feb. 1 coup.
    “Those polls were deemed free and fair by domestic and international observers,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday.    “The United Nations reiterates its call on the military to respect the will of the people and put the country back on track to democratic transition.”
    Britain requested the council meeting because “we are particularly concerned about the build up of military action in the northwest of the country, and we are concerned that this rather mirrors the activity we saw four years ago ahead of the atrocities that were committed in Rakhine against the Rohingya,” Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador James Kariuki told reporters.
    Myanmar is facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice over a 2017 military crackdown on the Rohingya that forced more than 730,000 people to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.    Myanmar denies genocide and says its armed forces were legitimately targeting militants who attacked police posts.
    Griffiths also said in a statement that the situation in the northwest of the Myanmar had become “extremely concerning” as fighting escalated between the Myanmar military and the Chinland Defence Force in Chin state and the Myanmar military and the People’s Defence Forces in Magway and Sagaing regions.
    “More than 37,000 people, including women and children, have been newly displaced, and more than 160 homes have been burned, including churches and the offices of a humanitarian organization,” Griffiths said.
    He said attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian workers and facilities, are banned under international humanitarian law and “must stop immediately.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio and Bernadette Baum)

11/9/2021 Islamic State Violence Dents Taliban Claims Of Safer Afghanistan by James Mackenzie
FILE PHOTO: A member of Taliban security forces stands guard among crowds of people walking
past in a street in Kabul, Afghanistan September 4, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Last month, the family of Mawlavi Ezzatullah, a member of Afghanistan’s Hizb-e Islami party, received a WhatsApp message from his phone: “We have slaughtered your Mawlavi Ezzat, come and collect his body.”
    Ezzatullah’s killing, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, was one of a steady stream of assassinations and bombings that have undermined Taliban claims that they have brought greater security to Afghanistan after 40 years of war.
    Victims have ranged from former security officials from the ousted government to journalists, civil society activists, mullahs, Taliban fighters and apparently random targets like Ezzatullah, whose family said he had no enemies they knew of.
    The Taliban have said their victory has brought stability to Afghanistan, where thousands of people were killed in fighting between the group and Western-backed forces between 2001 and 2021 before the hardline Islamists emerged victorious.
    But on just one day last week, pictures from Jalalabad – the provincial capital of Nangarhar – appeared online showing two bodies swinging from a rope. Residents also reported a mullah’s murder and video footage was circulated of a group of gunmen firing into a car, apparently killing its occupants, one of whom was identified by local journalists as a Taliban official.
    Reuters was unable to verify the images and footage independently.
    On Sunday, according to locals, three bodies were brought into a hospital in Jalalabad after a roadside bomb explosion that apparently targeted Taliban fighters in a pickup truck.
    Later that day, gunmen shot a former Afghan army soldier in front of his house, killing him and two friends standing nearby.
    The Taliban have downplayed such incidents, saying that after decades of war, it will take time for the country to be completely pacified.
    “There are 34 provinces in the country and in a week, 20 cases will be prevented for every one that takes place,” said spokesman Bilal Karimi.    “We have had 20 years of revolution and invasion and the level of these incidents will go down.”
    Some former soldiers and intelligence officers from the ousted government blame members of the Taliban for targeting them since taking over.    The group has promised there would be no reprisals, but accepts rogue fighters may have acted alone.
    Many targeted killings remain unclaimed and some may be the result of local vendettas.
    But others look the result of increasingly open conflict between the Taliban and a local affiliate of Islamic State, a development which the new U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tom West, said on Monday was causing concern https://www.reuters.com/world/us-says-worried-about-increase-attacks-by-isis-k-afghanistan-2021-11-08 in Washington.
    The militant jihadi group has claimed some of the deadliest attacks in Afghanistan in recent months in which hundreds of people have been killed, mainly in big cities.
    “They are trying to undermine and discredit the Taliban Emirate.    The Emirate promised security and they’re trying to show they can’t deliver it,” said Antonio Giustozzi, a specialist in jihadi groups from the Royal United Services Institute in London.
    He said Islamic State, which he estimated to have around 4,000 fighters, had been carrying out a campaign of targeted killings since around the summer of 2020 and had continued since the Taliban victory in August on a “roughly comparable scale.”
‘BIDEN HIRELINGS’
    For many going about their business, the violence feels particularly menacing.
    “I have never been as terrified as I am now,” said a university professor in Nangarhar who has also worked as a journalist and who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted.    He described events in Nangarhar as “total chaos.”
    The violence has fuelled fears that Afghanistan could collapse into anarchy and even return to a new phase of civil war, creating a haven for militant groups to launch attacks in neighbouring countries and the West.
    “This is the scenario that has everyone worried,” said one Western official with long experience of the region.
    Islamic State, which first appeared in Afghanistan in late 2014 and adopted the title Islamic State Khorasan after an ancient name for the region, has been trying to recover from a bruising series of defeats in 2018 and 2019.
    The group has claimed a series of strikes against Shi’ite mosques and other targets since the Taliban’s victory in August, most recently on the main military hospital in Kabul which killed at least 25 people.
    Less commonly reported are frequent, smaller atrocities which have been taking place not only in Nangarhar, long a stronghold of Islamic State.
    Areas affected include Ghazni in central Afghanistan, Herat in the west, Balkh in the north, and Paktia, Paktika and Khost in the southeast.
    “The Taliban militia are lost in panic, they do not know how to conceal their shame,” an Islamic State video posted on the group’s Telegram channel on Sunday said, accusing the Taliban of being “Biden hirelings.”
    As an insurgency the Taliban proved an effective and cohesive fighting force. Keeping the peace in a country in crisis presents fresh challenges, including uniting different factions, values and norms within the movement.
    Giustozzi, who wrote a book on Islamic State in Afghanistan, said the group, which had retreated into remote strongholds in the east and northeast of the country, was trying to hit the Taliban while the group is still grappling with the transition from insurgency to government.
    “They know that if they allow the Taliban Emirate to consolidate, next spring the Taliban will move to destroy them,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Islamabad newsroom; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/9/2021 Taiwan Says China Can Blockade Its Key Harbours, Warns Of ‘Grave’ Threat by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese domestically built Indigenous Defense Fighters (IDF) take part in the live-fire, anti-landing Han Kuang
military exercise, which simulates an enemy invasion, in Taichung, Taiwan July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s armed forces are capable of blockading Taiwan’s key harbours and airports, the island’s defence ministry said on Tuesday, offering its latest assessment of what it describes as a “grave” military threat posed by its giant neighbour.
    China has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control and has been ramping up military activity around the island, including repeatedly flying war planes into Taiwan’s air defence zone.
    Taiwan’s defence ministry, in a report it issues every two years, said China had launched what it called “gray zone” warfare, citing 554 “intrusions” by Chinese war planes into its southwestern theatre of air defence identification zone between September last year and the end of August.
    Military analysts say the tactic is aimed at subduing Taiwan through exhaustion, Reuters reported last year.
    At the same time, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is aiming to complete the modernisation of its forces by 2035 to “obtain superiority in possible operations against Taiwan and viable capabilities to deny foreign forces, posing a grave challenge to our national security,” the Taiwan ministry said.
    “At present, the PLA is capable of performing local joint blockade against our critical harbours, airports, and outbound flight routes, to cut off our air and sea lines of communication and impact the flow of our military supplies and logistic resources,” the ministry said.
    China views Taiwan as Chinese territory.    Its defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen says Taiwan is already an independent country and vows to defend its freedom and democracy.
    Tsai has made bolstering Taiwan’s defences a priority, pledging to produce more domestically developed weapons, including submarines, and buying more equipment from the United States, the island’s most important arms supplier and international backer.
    In October, Taiwan reported 148 Chinese air force planes in the southern and southwestern theatre of the zone over a four-day period, marking a dramatic escalation of tension between Taipei and Beijing.
    The recent increase in China’s military exercises in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone is part of what Taipei views as a carefully planned strategy of harassment.
    “Its intimidating behavior does not only consume our combat power and shake our faith and morale, but also attempts to alter or challenge the status quo in the Taiwan Strait to ultimately achieve its goal of ‘seizing Taiwan without a fight’,” the ministry said.
    To counter China’s attempt to “seize Taiwan swiftly whilst denying foreign interventions,” the ministry vowed to deepen its efforts on “asymmetric warfare” to make any attack as painful and as difficult for China as possible.
    That includes precision strikes by long-range missiles on targets in China, deployment of coastal minefields as well as boosting reserve training.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian; editing by Robert Birsel)

11/9/2021 Thousands Protest In New Zealand Against COVID-19 Rules by Praveen Menon and Shashwat Awasthi
Protesters rally against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions and vaccine
mandates in Wellington, New Zealand, November 9, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand beefed up security measures at its parliament on Tuesday as thousands of people gathered to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and government lockdowns aimed at controlling the pandemic.
    All but two entrances to the parliament building, known as the Beehive, were closed off in unprecedented security measures, as mostly unmasked protesters marched through central Wellington and congregated outside parliament.
    While the demonstration was peaceful, many people were seen holding signs and placards with messages like “Freedom” and “Kiwis are not lab rats” and shouting slogans as they demanded the government roll back compulsory vaccination and lift restrictions.
    Placards showing support to former U.S. President Donald Trump and slamming the media as “fake” and lying were also displayed.
    “I will not be coerced and I will not be forced into taking something I don’t want in my body,” a protester said outside parliament.
    “I’m asking (the government) to give us back 2018. Simple as that.    I want my freedoms back.”
    New Zealand has struggled to fight off a highly infectious outbreak of the Delta variant this year, forcing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to move from its strategy of elimination through lockdowns to living with the virus with higher vaccinations.
    Ardern last month said the country would require teachers and workers in the health and disability sectors to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, inviting criticism from people calling for more freedoms and for ending mandatory vaccine requirements.
    “Treat us like people!” another protester exclaimed when asked about the government’s stance on mandating the vaccine.
    “I’m here for freedom.    The government, what they’re doing, is anti-freedom.”
    Speaking to reporters inside parliament, Ardern said: “What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders.”
    But the prime minister has been facing growing political pressure and public protests to ease pandemic measures ahead of the Christmas holidays.
    She plans to travel to Auckland on Wednesday when the lockdown measures enforced on the city nearly three months ago eases.    She is expected to face more protests during her visit.
    New Zealand still has among the lowest COVID-19 cases in the world with under 8,000 cases reported so far and 32 deaths.    It reported 125 new cases on Tuesday and its total double-dose vaccination rate had reached nearly 80% of its eligible population.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon in Wellington and Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/9/2021 Iran Says It Warned Off U.S. Drones Near Its Gulf Drills
FILE PHOTO: Fighter jets are seen during an Iranian Army exercise dubbed 'Zulfiqar 1400', in the coastal area of the Gulf of Oman,
Iran, in this picture obtained on November 7, 2021. Iranian Army/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s military warned off U.S. drones trying to approach Iranian war games near the mouth of the Gulf, state broadcaster IRIB said on Tuesday.
    The annual exercises concluded on Tuesday, a few weeks before resumption of talks between Tehran and world powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.
    “These aircraft (RQ-4 and MQ-9 U.S. drones) changed their route after approaching the borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran following the air defence’s interception and decisive warning,” IRIB reported.
    The exercises stretched from the east of the Strait of Hormuz to the north of the Indian Ocean and parts of the Red Sea.    About a fifth of oil that is consumed globally passes through the strategic Strait of Hormuz waterway in the Gulf.
    Periodic confrontations have taken place between Iran’s military and U.S. forces in the Gulf since 2018, when former U.S. President Donald Trump exited the nuclear pact and reimposed harsh sanctions against Tehran.
    Iran has reacted by breaching the deal’s limits on its nuclear programme.
    Indirect talks between Iran and U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration to revive the pact, which were put on hold since the election of Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi in June, are set to resume in Vienna on Nov. 29.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/9/2021 Thailand Plans To Reopen Borders To Foreign Workers Amid Shortage by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Chayut Setboonsarng
FILE PHOTO: Migrant construction workers are transported in a truck amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bangkok, Thailand May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand plans to reopen its borders to workers from neighbouring Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, a government official said on Tuesday, in a bid to ease a labour shortage that is hurting its export and tourism-dependent economy.
    Pairote Chotikasathien, from the Ministry of Labor, said the rules relating to vaccination status for the migrant workers, quarantine procedures and COVID-19 testing will be decided on Wednesday.
    Thailand’s big exporting industries such as food and rubber production rely heavily on migrant labour.    But strict border controls and quarantine rules have virtually halted all labour migration.
    Pairote estimated the country needed 420,000 foreign workers at this time, mostly in the construction, manufacturing and seafood industries. Many workers left the country as it battled its worst COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year and have not returned.
    Some workers who remained in the country were placed in “bubble and seal” policies under factory and construction quarantine schemes.
    Thailand has nearly 2 million confirmed infections and 19,764 deaths, the majority of which came after April when the Delta variant was detected among migrant workers in a construction camp.
(Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/9/2021 Exclusive: Facebook Unblocks ‘#Saltbae’ Hashtag After Vietnamese Minister’s Golden Steak by James Pearson
FILE PHOTO: Newly elected Politburo member To Lam, in white uniform, poses on the podium along with
all other new Vietnam Communist Party's central committee members at the closing ceremony of the
8-day-long national congress of the party in Hanoi, January 28, 2016. REUTERS/Hoang Dinh Nam/Pool
    HANOI (Reuters) – Facebook’s parent company said on Tuesday it had unblocked the hashtag for celebrity chef Nusret Gokce’s nickname ‘#saltbae’, having found the tag had been blocked globally days after a video was posted online of Gokce feeding a gold-encrusted steak to a senior Vietnamese Communist Party official in London.
    “We’ve unblocked this hashtag on Facebook and we’re investigating why this happened,” a spokesperson for Facebook operator Meta told Reuters, confirming the tag had been blocked for all Facebook users around the world, not just in Vietnam.
    It wasn’t immediately clear why the tag had been blocked, and the spokesperson declined to comment on potential reasons.    While it was blocked, a search for the hashtag generated a message saying community standards had been violated.
    In a U.S. Congress hearing earlier this year, Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said artificial intelligence plays a major role in “content moderation,” responsible for taking down more than 90% of content deemed to be against Facebook guidelines.
    The video, originally posted on Gokce’s official TikTok account, showed Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security, To Lam, filmed last week being fed a gold leaf encrusted steak by the Instagram-famous chef – often pictured theatrically seasoning and slicing cuts of meat – at his London restaurant, where a steak sells for up to 1,450 pounds ($1,960).
    Lam, 64, was in Britain during a visit by senior Vietnamese officials to the U.N. climate conference, COP26, in Glasgow.    But images of him chewing on the gilded beef caused a stir both on and offline in Vietnam, with many questioning how such a high-ranking Party official allowed himself to be caught on camera indulging in food carrying such a high price tag amid a state crackdown on corruption.
    In one Facebook post, user Nguyen Lan Thang, with nearly 150,000 followers, changed his profile picture to a screenshot of the video, and pointed out that local media had been staying quiet over the incident.
    “Security officers following this account, have you seen the video of minister To Lam eating salt-sprayed beef?    Do you know how many months salary you’d have to spend for just one piece of that steak?”    Thang wrote in one post.
    It was not clear who paid for the meal.    To Lam did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Vietnam’s foreign ministry, which handles foreign media enquiries.
    The original video was removed from Gokce’s TikTok account shortly after it was uploaded, and further copies have been removed from the app for violating “community standards,” Vietnamese TikTok users told Reuters.
    TikTok and Gokce declined to comment.
    “It’s not unusual that a government official is super-rich in Vietnam, but a minister seen widely opening his mouth to bite a golden steak is shameful,” said a customer at one cafe in northern Vietnam who declined to be named, citing safety concerns.
    Vietnam is defined as a lower middle income country by the World Bank.    A minister in the country is paid an official monthly salary of around 16 million dong ($705.47).
SHUTDOWN THREAT
    Vietnam routinely asks social media companies to censor content it deems to be “anti-state.”    Last year, Vietnam threatened to shut down Facebook in the country if it did not remove more local political content from its platform.
    Facebook declined to comment on whether the Vietnamese government had requested that the video be removed.
    Vietnam operates one of the largest and most sophisticated online influence networks in Southeast Asia.
    Earlier this year, Facebook said it had removed some groups identified by Reuters as being part of a government influence operation for “coordinating attempts to mass-report content.”
    To Lam is one of the most powerful officials in Vietnam, his ministry containing both Vietnam’s police and the agencies tasked with suppressing dissent and investigating corruption.
    He had been touted as a potential candidate for state president in January’s leadership reshuffle, and has in his capacity as security minister worked to arrest Vietnamese officials accused of corruption and overt displays of opulence.
    Earlier last week, To Lam had led a delegation of officials to the grave of Karl Marx to “remember the source of the water we drink,” the Communist-ruled country’s state media reported, citing a Vietnamese proverb about paying respects, “General To Lam’s visit to Karl Marx’s grave affirms the Vietnamese people’s tradition of ‘remembering the source of the water we drink’ for the figures who contributed to the direction of a dominated and suppressed nation,” the security ministry’s official mouthpiece said.
(Reporting by James Pearson; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

11/9/2021 Japan, Once A Leader On Climate, Under Fire For Coal Use At COP26 by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi
FILE PHOTO: General view shows JERA's Hekinan thermal power station
in Hekinan, central Japan October 18, 2021. REUTERS/Yuka Obayashi
    TOKYO (Reuters) – More than 20 countries agreed to phase out coal power at the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow, but not Japan – a “leap backwards” for a country that once led the way on the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
    The pact was among a raft of pledges made at the COP26 summit in the last week. Japan, the world’s third-biggest importer of the dirtiest fossil fuel, declined to sign because it needed to preserve all its options for power generation, officials said.
    Critics called that short-sighted, even as new the prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has agreed to step up other environmental measures.
    “Despite Prime Minister Kishida pledging to direct increased funding to climate finance, we are disappointed that he failed to address the elephant in the room – Japan’s dependency on coal,” said Eric Christian Pedersen, head of responsible investments at Danish fund manager Nordea Asset Management.
    The criticism highlights the shift in Japan’s circumstances.    It led climate change efforts during the 1990s Kyoto Protocol era, but has been burning more coal and other fossil fuels after the Fukushima disaster 10 years ago left many nuclear plants idle.
    GRAPHIC: Japan’s electricity mix by source since 1985 https://graphics.reuters.com/JAPAN-POLITICS/jnpweyllqpw/chart.png
    Not phasing out coal has “positioned Japan to take a leap backwards by signalling thermal power plants can keep running based on new technologies that do not exist,” said Kiran Aziz, head of responsible investments at KLP, Norway’s largest pension fund.
    China, the world’s biggest source of climate change-fuelling gases, did not sign the pact and President Xi Jinping did not attend the conference.    The country has said it would reduce its use of coal for electricity by 1.8 percent over the next five years.
    Japan has pledged billions of dollars for vulnerable countries and to support building infrastructure in Asia for renewables and cleaner-burning fuels.    It has also cut targets for coal use and raised those for renewables.
    “In Japan, where resources are scarce and the country is surrounded by the sea, there is no single perfect energy source,” Noboru Takemoto, an industry ministry deputy director, told Reuters.    “For this reason, Japan does not support the statement” on coal.
    The ministry said last year it would accelerate shutdowns of coal-fired plants by 2030, later setting minimum efficiency standards and requiring companies to submit annual updates on phase-outs.
    But companies are resisting such plans, a senior executive at a major Japanese generator said.
    “It is being delayed and dragged out because a lot of companies are saying these units still work and are cheaper,” the executive said, adding that “a leadership push is needed.”
    A Reuters survey of Japanese companies operating old coal power units, including Hokuriku Electric Power and Hokkaido Electric Power, showed that most of them have not decided schedules to shut them down.
    Hokuriku Electric plans to shut just one 250-megawatt coal unit in 2024, a spokesperson told Reuters, “Our coal-fired thermal power plants play an important role,” in maintaining stable electricity supplies, the spokesperson said.
    Hokkaido Electric, which shut two coal units in 2019, has no closings planned, while the other five companies surveyed said they have no firm proposals.    Some are looking at using cleaner fuels, such as ammonia, to burn with coal and other technologies to keep them operating more cleanly.
    “For pro-coal corporate Japan, what’s more important is business, not the planet,” said Mutsuyoshi Nishimura, a former senior Japanese government official and chief climate change negotiator.    “It’s sad to see there is no vision for a better, more sustainable and more competitive Japan.”
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Yuka Obayashi. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/9/2021 Pakistan Agrees One-Month ‘Complete Ceasefire’ With Local Taliban Militants by Asif Shahzad
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) - Pakistan and local Taliban militants have agreed a one-month ceasefire which may be extended if both sides agree, spokesmen said on Monday, opening the possibility of a fuller peace accord to help end years of bloodshed.
    The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule the South Asian nation of 220 million with their own brand of Islamic Sharia law.
    There have been numerous failed attempts to reach peace agreements in the past.    The latest talks were opened following the victory of the Afghan Taliban in August and the two sides have been meeting across the border in Afghanistan, with the aid of Afghan Taliban leaders.
    “The government of Pakistan and banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan have agreed on a complete ceasefire,” Pakistan’s Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a statement, adding that the ceasefire would be extended as the talks progressed.
    Best known in the West for attempting to kill Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work promoting girls’ education, the TTP has killed thousands of military personnel and civilians over the years in bombings and suicide attacks.
    Among its attacks was a 2014 assault on a military-run school in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, which killed 149 people including 132 children.
    As recently as Saturday, it claimed a bomb blast that killed four soldiers and wounded another in North Waziristan tribal district.    It said the attack was in revenge for the killing of four of its fighters two days earlier.
    Chaudhry said the ceasefire agreement would be under the Constitution of Pakistan and would ensure state sovereignty and national integrity.
    The TTP, which sources said had been demanding the release of a number of prisoners as a condition for full ceasefire negotiations, said it was “ready for a dialogue that will lead to lasting peace in the country.”
    It said the ceasefire would come into force from Tuesday and last until Dec. 9 and could be extended if both sides agreed.    Special committees had been set up to try to map out the negotiation process.
    The agreement comes days after the government in Islamabad reached an accord with another militant group Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan or TLP, after weeks of violent clashes.
    The TTP, which is on a U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist organisations, has carried out a brutal campaign of oppression in tribal districts along the Afghan-Pakistan border, including public floggings and executions to enforce its harsh version of Sharia.
    The group was badly weakened by Pakistan military offensives which drove it from its stronghold in the tribal districts but it is estimated to control some 4,000-5,000 fighters, many based across the border in Afghanistan.
    Both Pakistan and the former Western-backed government in Kabul regularly accuse each other of providing shelter to Taliban groups and allowing them to conduct cross-border attacks.
(Additional Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Saud Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Nick Macfie and Bernadette Baum)

11/9/2021 Japan LDP, Komeito Agree To Offer Vouchers, Cash To Youth – Jiji
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister and ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leader Fumio Kishida speaks during a news
conference at the party headquarters after his party won majority seats (in coalition with the Komeito party) at
Japan’s lower house in the general elections, in Tokyo, Japan, November 1, 2021. Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s ruling party and its coalition partner agreed to offer a combined 100,000 yen ($882) worth of vouchers and cash payouts to children aged 18 or younger as part of the government’s stimulus package, Jiji news agency said on Tuesday.
    In a meeting of executives, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and coalition partner Komeito also agreed to offer 100,000 yen in cash payouts to low-income households hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, Jiji reported.
    Kishida told party executives earlier on Tuesday that he wants to compile the stimulus package on Nov. 19 and an extra budget to fund the spending by the end of this month, according to Kyodo news agency.
    The Komeito called for blanket 100,000 yen cash payouts to children aged 18 or younger as part of the package, while LDP officials wanted to set an income cap.
    As a compromise, the two parties agreed to offer half the sum in the form of a voucher.    The other half will be paid in cash, though the two parties remain undecided on whether to set an annual income limit for those who are eligible, Jiji said.
($1 = 113.3500 yen)
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Jane Wardell)

11/9/2021 Exclusive-Detained Afghan Pilots Fly Out Of Tajikistan On U.S.-Brokered Flight by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: A pregnant U.S.-trained Afghan pilot, who is being held in Tajikistan, asked that her face and
name be concealed due to security concerns, poses for a photo on October 5, 2021. REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S.-trained Afghan pilots and other personnel boarded a U.S.-brokered flight out of Tajikistan on Tuesday, ending a nearly three-month detention ordeal that began when they escaped there in their aircraft during the Taliban takeover, Afghan sources said.
    The plight of the pilots had attracted U.S. congressional scrutiny – with lawmakers and military veterans frustrated by what they believed was a sluggish U.S. relocation effort.
    One pilot shared images of the group boarding the aircraft, saying it was destined for the United Arab Emirates.    Flight-tracking data showed it had left the country.
    “It’s a relief,” said David Hicks, a retired U.S. brigadier general who is helping lead a charity called Operation Sacred Promise working to evacuate and resettle Afghan air force personnel.
    The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represented the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots who fled abroad and were still known to be in limbo.
    The group of evacuees included a U.S.-trained Afghan pilot at an advanced stage of pregnancy, who had expressed fear for her unborn baby in an interview with Reuters https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-stranded-tajik-sanatorium-pregnant-afghan-pilot-fears-unborn-baby-2021-10-06.
    The group flew to Tajikistan in military aircraft at the end of the war, was detained by Tajik authorities and had been awaiting a U.S. relocation – hoping the transfer to the Middle East will lead to eventual U.S. resettlement.
    Reuters detailed accounts from the pregnant pilot and other members of the group https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-echoes-uncertainty-afghan-pilots-await-us-help-tajikistan-2021-09-22 about their frustrations with their detention, and was first to report U.S. plans to relocate them https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-us-hopes-soon-relocate-afghan-pilots-who-fled-tajikistan-official-says-2021-10-22.
    The Pentagon estimated that the expected group of evacuees totaled about 191 – larger than the more than 150 Afghans previously known to be at two sites in Tajikistan.    It did not explain the figures.
    Afghan air force personnel flew dozens of military aircraft to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-theyll-kill-us-afghan-pilots-held-uzbek-camp-fear-deadly-homecoming-2021-09-03 in August as the Taliban swept to power.
    In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-start-leaving-uzbekistan-uae-despite-taliban-pressure-source-2021-09-12 to the United Arab Emirates.
    Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war.    The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/afghan-pilots-assassinated-by-taliban-us-withdraws-2021-07-09.
    Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm. But pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.
SMUGGLED CELLPHONES
    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a congressional hearing in September he was concerned about the pilots in Tajikistan and would work with the State Department to “see if we can move this forward.”
    But the process of relocating the Afghans from Tajikistan proved to be more time-consuming and complex than the similar effort in Uzbekistan.
    A U.S. official told Reuters that the United States faced difficulty securing Tajik authorization to access the pilots.
    Republican U.S. Representative Austin Scott, who raised the case of the pregnant pilot in a hearing, expressed relief that the Afghan air force personnel “are no longer stranded in Tajikistan.”
    “I would like to thank everyone who made this release possible for their assistance, especially officials from the Defense Department,” Scott said.
    Most of the Afghan pilots and other personnel were held at a sanatorium in Tajikistan.    Those in that group who communicated with Reuters did so on cellphones kept hidden from guards and said the Tajik authorities took away their identity documents.
    The pregnant pilot, who is 29, had voiced concerns to Reuters about risks to her and her unborn child at the remote sanatorium.    She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pregnant-afghan-pilot-who-voiced-fears-reuters-moved-tajik-hospital-2021-10-10 before being transferred back to the sanatorium ahead of her departure.
    “We are like prisoners here.    Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants.    We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said last month.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Peter Graff and Peter Cooney)

11/9/2021 APEC Affirms Stand Against Vaccine Nationalism, Driven To Manage Climate Change
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during an
interview in Wellington, New Zealand December 15, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathon Molloy
    (Reuters) – Members of Asia-Pacific trade group APEC have reiterated a “strong stance” against vaccine nationalism to support the region’s recovery from the pandemic and are committed to tackle climate change, host New Zealand said on Wednesday.
    New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Trade Damien O’Connor said all 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries had contributed to the region’s pandemic response and work towards progress on trade.
    Members had not yet reached a consensus on the United States’ offer to host the APEC summit in 2023, they said in a joint media conference.
(Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru and Praveen Menon in Wellington)

11/10/2021 Dalai Lama: China’s Leaders ‘Don’t Understand Variety Of Cultures’ by Antoni Slodkowski and Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama attends a press meeting
in Malmo, Sweden September 12, 2018. TT News Agency/Johan Nilsson via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Tibet’s spiritual leader the Dalai Lama criticised the leaders of China on Wednesday saying they “don’t understand the variety of different cultures” there and there is too much control by the main Han ethnic group.
    But he also said he had nothing against “Chinese brothers and sisters” as fellow humans and he broadly supported the ideas behind Communism and Marxism.
    The 86-year-old Dalai Lama, taking part in an online news conference anchored in Tokyo, was answering a question about whether the international community should consider boycotting the Beijing Winter Olympics over the suppression of minorities, including those in the western region of Xinjiang.
    “I know Communist Party leaders since Mao Zedong. Their ideas (are) good.    But sometimes they do much extreme, tight control,” he said from his base in India, adding he thought things would change in China under a new generation of leaders.
    “Regarding Tibet and also Xinjiang, we have our own unique culture, so the more narrow-minded Chinese Communist leaders, they do not understand the variety of different cultures.”
    Noting that China consisted not only of ethnic Han people but also other, different, groups, he added: “In reality, too much control by Han people.”
    China seized control of Tibet after its troops entered the region in 1950 in what it calls a “peaceful liberation.”    Tibet has since become one of the most restricted and sensitive areas in the country.
    Beijing regards the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, as a dangerous “splittist” or separatist.    He has worked for decades to draw global support for linguistic and cultural autonomy in his remote, mountainous homeland.
    The Dalai Lama said he broadly supported the ideas of Communism and Marxism, laughing as he related an anecdote about how he once thought of joining the Communist Party but was dissuaded by a friend.
‘QUITE DELICATE’
    When asked about Taiwan, the centre of increased military tension in the region, he said he thought the island was the true repository of China’s ancient culture and traditions since on the mainland it was now “too politicised.”
    “Economically Taiwan gets a lot of help from mainland China,” he said.    “And culture, Chinese culture, including Buddhism, I think mainland Chinese brothers and sisters can learn a lot from Taiwanese brothers and sisters.”
    Though the Dalai Lama said he had no plan to meet China’s leader, Xi Jinping, he said he would like to visit again to see old friends since “I am growing older” – but would avoid Taiwan since relations between it and China are “quite delicate.”
    “I prefer to remain here in India, peacefully,” he said, praising it as a centre of religious harmony – despite complaints from Muslims in recent years.
    In the end, though, he said believed all religions had the same message.
    “All religions carry the message of love and use a different philosophy of views.    So now the problem (is) the politicians, in cases some economists … use this difference of religion.    So now, religion is also politicised – so that is a problem.”
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel)

11/10/2021 Japan PM Kishida To Unveil Plans To Revive Economy After Pandemic by Antoni Slodkowski
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime
minister's official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 14, 2021. Eugene Hoshiko/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will outline plans on Wednesday to revive a pandemic-hit economy after his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a strong majority in last month’s election.
    A post-election boost for the softly-spoken former banker from the nuclear memorial city of Hiroshima has pushed up government support ratings to 53% in an opinion poll this week by public broadcaster NHK.    Two weeks ago support was at 46%.
    Kishida, who is set to lay out his plans at a news conference on Wednesday evening, has stressed that his immediate priority was to revive growth, with fiscal reform later.
    Solid ratings, a planned economic stimulus that could be worth more than 30 trillion yen ($264.7 billion), coupled with high vaccination rates and few infections could help Kishida solidify his power base in the party and avoid the fate of his predecessor Yoshihide Suga who lasted only a year in the job.
    On Wednesday, Kishida was re-elected by the parliament in whose powerful lower chamber the LDP won 261 out of 465 seats.    The vote was a formality given the dominance in parliament of the party and its junior coalition partner.
    In Japan, a prime minister is elected by members of parliament, and not by national election.
    Kishida is also set to reappoint all but one of the ministers from the previous line-up, announced last month after he was first elected by the parliament following his victory in the LDP chief race triggered by Suga’s resignation in September.
    One change is in the position of the foreign minister, where Kishida is expected to replace Toshimitsu Motegi, who has moved to a key party post, with another LDP heavyweight former Education Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
    Most of Kishida’s ministers have no prior cabinet experience, in line with his pledge to give a chance to new people, but the majority of important jobs have gone to allies of two party grandees: conservative former premier Shinzo Abe, or ex-finance minister Taro Aso.
    In a further move bolstering the position of conservatives in the LDP following Abe’s record-long tenure in the top job, the ex-PM agreed on Wednesday to take over as the head of the party’s largest faction, domestic media said.
    With elections out of the way, Kishida is setting an ambitious agenda to pass economic stimulus on Nov. 19, and an extra budget to fund the spending by the end of this month.
    One pillar of the planned stimulus is a payout of 100,000 yen in cash and vouchers for children aged 18 or younger, for which the coalition agreed on Wednesday a cap of 9.6 million yen in annual income.
    On Tuesday, Kishida vowed to put the economy on track by boosting private-sector investment and disposable income to achieve a “virtuous cycle” of economic growth and distribution of wealth.
    He has said he wants to revamp the medical system and provide booster shots to better protect against the next wave of COVID-19 infections.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Kantaro Komiya, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/10/2021 China Urges U.S. To Stop Official Interaction With Taiwan
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting
in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that a visit to Taiwan by a U.S. congressional delegation violates the One China policy, and that the United States must immediately stop all forms of official interaction with Taiwan.
    It is a dangerous game to collude with pro-independence forces in Taiwan, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman at the Chinese foreign ministry, said at a regular media briefing.
    Cross-strait tensions have risen in recent months, with Taiwan complaining for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
    China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control, despite the island’s claim that it is an independent country that will defend its freedom and democracy.
(Reporting by Josh Horwitz; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/10/2021 Xi Says China Is Ready To Work With U.S. To Manage Differences
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for a ceremony at the Monument to the People's Heroes on
Tiananmen Square to mark Martyrs' Day, in Beijing, China September 30, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China is ready to properly manage differences with the United States, President Xi Jinping has said, ahead of a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.
    In a letter read on Tuesday by China’s ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, at a dinner of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations in Washington, Xi said China was ready to cooperate with the United States on regional and global issues.
    A date has not been announced for the Xi-Biden meeting but a person briefed on the matter said it was expected to be as soon as next week.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

11/10/2021 South Korea Urges COVID-19 Booster Shots, As Severe Cases Hit Record by Sangmi Cha
A man undergoes a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a testing site
in Seoul, South Korea, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea encouraged its citizens to take COVID-19 booster shots on Wednesday, as more of the elderly fell ill and reported vaccine breakthrough infections, driving serious and critical cases to a record.
    Severe coronavirus cases jumped from the mid-300s in October to 460 on Wednesday, official data showed. Of the severely ill patients, more than 82% were aged 60 and older.
    Son Young-rae, a senior health ministry official, told a news conference that the increase is not posing a threat to the country’s healthcare system yet, as there are nearly 500 ICU beds available.
    He said the speed of the rise in severe cases and the size of total infections, especially among the unvaccinated, are the major points to consider in deciding its future response to the healthcare system.
    South Korea’s overall rate of vaccine breakthrough infections remains low at 85.5 people per every 100,000 inoculated.
    But it has steadily risen in recent weeks, led by the elderly, as vaccine protection wanes over time and the group’s weaker immune system makes them more vulnerable to infections.
    Of the total serious and critical patients with vaccine breakthrough infections in the past eight weeks, 93% were from those aged 60 and above, according to the government data.
    The country has inoculated 640,232 people with a booster shot, since the programme began last month, mainly using vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
    South Korea started a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions this month, as it has fully vaccinated nearly 90% of its adult population, or 77% of its 52 million people.
    The authorities have said a circuit breaker will be issued when there is a major strain on the number of hospital beds to treat serious cases, but have not revealed the exact threshold.
    The country reported 2,425 new cases for Tuesday.    It has recorded a total of 385,831 infections, with 3,012 deaths so far.
(Editing by Miyoung Kim and Jacqueline Wong)

11/10/2021 U.S. Journalist Held In Myanmar Charged With Terrorism, Sedition – Lawyer
FILE PHOTO: Managing editor for Frontier Myanmar Danny Fenster is pictured in this undated handout
obtained May 25, 2021. The 37-year-old American is currently detained in Myanmar. Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – An American journalist detained in military-ruled Myanmar accused of incitement is facing new charges of sedition and terrorism, his lawyer said on Wednesday, in a setback for U.S. efforts to secure his release.
    Danny Fenster, 37, who was managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, a top independent news site, was detained at Yangon’s international airport in May as he attempted to take a flight out of the country.
    It was not immediately clear what Fenster was accused of in regard to the new charges, which are the most serious levelled against him.
    If found guilty, he could be jailed for up to 20 years under a terrorism law and 20 years for sedition.
    “We don’t understand why they added more charges but it is definitely not good that they are adding charges,” his lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told Reuters.
    “Danny also felt disappointed and sad regarding these new charges.”
    The United States has repeatedly pushed for the release of Fenster, who was initially charged with incitement and breaches of a colonial-era unlawful associations act.    He is being held at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison.
    Authorities overlooked him in a recent amnesty for hundreds of people detained over anti-junta protests, which included some media personnel.
    The military has rescinded media licenses, imposed curbs on the internet and satellite broadcasts and arrested dozens of journalists since its Feb. 1 coup, in what human rights groups have called an assault on the truth.
    “We are as heartbroken about these charges as we have been about the other charges brought against Danny,” his brother, Bryan Fenster, said in a text message.
    A spokesperson for the ruling military council did not answer calls seeking comment.
    The U.S. embassy in Yangon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/10/2021 Vietnam Approves India’s COVID-19 Vaccine Covaxin
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare worker fills a syringe with a dose of Bharat Biotech's COVID-19 vaccine
called COVAXIN, during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination campaign at All India Institute of Medical
Sciences (AIIMS) hospital in New Delhi, India, January 16, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has approved India’s Covaxin vaccine for emergency use, the ninth to be endorsed in the country, the country’s health ministry said on Wednesday.
    The government said in July it was seeking to secure 15 million doses of the Covaxin vaccine made by Bharat Biotech.
(Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/10/2020 China Holds Combat Readiness Patrol As U.S. Lawmakers Visit Taiwan
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
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) - China’s military said on Tuesday it had conducted a combat readiness patrol in the direction of the Taiwan Strait, after its defence ministry condemned a visit to Taiwan by a U.S. congressional delegation it said had arrived on a military aircraft.
    The patrol was aimed at the “seriously wrong” words and actions of “relevant countries” on the Taiwan issue and the activities of pro-independence forces in Taiwan, a Chinese military spokesperson said in a statement.
    Cross-strait tensions have been rising in recent months, with Taiwan complaining for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
    Taiwan’s defence ministry said six Chinese military aircraft entered its southwestern air defence zone on Tuesday, including four J-16 fighter jets and two surveillance planes.
    Several Taiwan media outlets reported on Tuesday that unspecified members from both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate had arrived in Taipei on a U.S. military plane.
    When asked about the visit, Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told reporters on Wednesday that Taiwan-U.S. relations are “very important” and that he respects “mutual visits between friends.”
    The government will make “appropriate arrangement” based on each others’ need, he said, without elaborating.
    The American Institute in Taiwan, the de facto U.S. embassy in the absence of formal diplomatic ties, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    China’s defence ministry said in a statement that members of the U.S. Congress had arrived in Taiwan by military plane.
    “We firmly oppose and strongly condemn this,” it said.
    A spokeswoman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office similarly condemned the visit, but played down the notion that war is imminent.
    “We urge everyone not to believe or spread rumours,” spokeswoman Zhu Fenglian told a regular press briefing on Wednesday.
    In Washington, the Pentagon said it was not uncommon for congressional delegations to be transported in military aircraft.
    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not provide details on who was on the flight, but said this was the second such congressional trip to Taiwan this year.     “It’s not unusual,” Kirby said.
    China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control, despite the island’s claim that it is an independent country that will defend its freedom and democracy.
    In June, China’s defence ministry denounced a brief weekend visit by three U.S. senators to Taiwan on a U.S. military aircraft, calling it a “vile political provocation” that was irresponsible and dangerous.
(Reporting by Meg Shen in Hong Kong, Ryan Woo and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, Yimou Lee in Taipei, David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Alex Richardson, Nick Macfie, Jonathan Oatis and Gerry Doyle)

11/10/2021 India Could Ship Vaccines To COVAX In A Few Weeks, Say Sources by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: A health official draws a dose of the AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of
India, at Infectious Diseases Hospital in Colombo, Sri Lanka January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte//File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India could resume deliveries of COVID-19 shots to global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX in a few weeks for the first time since April, two health industry sources said, ending a suspension of supplies that has hurt https://www.reuters.com/world/covax-vaccine-2021-delivery-target-cut-1425-billion-doses-2021-09-08 poor countries.
    The World Health Organization (WHO), which co-leads COVAX, has been urging India https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-considers-resuming-vaccine-exports-soon-focus-africa-says-source-2021-09-15 to restart supplies for the programme, especially after it sent about 4 million doses https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-resumes-vaccine-exports-domestic-stocks-build-up-officials-2021-10-13 to its neighbours and partners in October.
    Based on an informal approval from India, COVAX officials have started planning allocations of the Covishield shot for various countries, said one of the sources, both of whom declining to be identified pending a final agreement.
    Covishield is a licensed version of the AstraZeneca shot made by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker.
    SII has nearly quadrupled its output of Covishield to up to 240 million doses a month since April, when India stopped all exports in order to inoculate its own people during a surge of cases.
    “There will need to be purchase orders confirmed to SII, labelling and packing, export authorisation granted for each of these shipments,” said the source.    “So the first deliveries, assuming the Indian government grants export authorisation, won’t happen until a few weeks from now.”
    A WHO spokesperson said in an email that a new COVAX supply forecast would be published next week. SII and India’s health ministry did not respond to requests for comment.
    The ministry said in a statement earlier in the day that Indian states had more than 159 million unutilised doses of various vaccines, as inoculations have slowed after 79% of the country’s 944 million adults got one dose and 37% got two doses.
    SII CEO Adar Poonawalla told Reuters last month that the company could send 20 million to 30 million doses a month to COVAX in November and December, which would increase to “large volumes” from January once India’s own needs were met.
    WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday https://twitter.com/DrTedros/status/1456376882790899713 that COVAX had the money and the contracts to buy vaccines for low-income countries but “manufacturers have not played their part.”
    COVAX in September cut its 2021 delivery target by nearly 30% to 1.425 billion doses.
(Reporting by Krishna N. DasEditing by Robert Birsel)

11/10/2021 Indonesia Recruits Farmers, Teachers To Battle Anti-Palm Oil Sentiment by Fathin Ungku and Bernadette Christina
FILE PHOTO: A palm oil plantation is pictured next to a burnt forest near Banjarmasin
in South Kalimantan province, Indonesia, September 29, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Indonesia’s giant palm oil industry, long a target of global green groups, is shoring up its defences closer to home as it tries to counter growing anti-palm oil sentiment among a more environmentally conscious generation of young Indonesians.
    Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil producer, is training farmers and teachers and running social media campaigns to highlight the “positive aspects” of the $50 billion industry.
    “We must tell the world about the benefits of palm oil,” Achmad Maulizal, the corporate division head of BPDP, a government body in charge of collecting export taxes, told a media training workshop for farmers in Kalimantan via Zoom.
    Palm oil, which is found in many consumer products from potato crisps to soap, has been linked by environmentalists to land clearance, habitat destruction and forest fires.
    Indonesia has the world’s third biggest rainforest area, vast wildernesses seen as crucial to limiting the effects of climate change, and home to vulnerable species including orangutans, tigers and rhinoceros.
    At least 1.6 million hectares of forest and other land were burned in 2019 and losses were estimated at $5.2 billion as a choking haze blanketed Indonesia and neighbouring countries.
    Greenpeace analysis shows about a third of forest fires in Indonesia are in palm and pulp areas.
    But the government is keen to highlight the positive aspects of the industry which employs more than 15 million Indonesians and generates around 13% of the country’s exports.
    The BPDP has teamed up with the Smallholder Farmers Association to provide palm farmers with a media training programme to enable them to contribute to news articles and social media content that touches on innovation in the palm oil industry, as well as its importance to the national economy and to Indonesians’ livelihoods.
    The BPDP has also teamed up with Indonesia’s Teachers Association to conduct workshops for teachers across the archipelago to “Unravel Myths and Facts” about palm oil.
    “In my understanding, palm oil is the largest foreign exchange earner, but… there’s also information that may be a bit negative,” said Sukiter, a teacher based in Yogyakarta city who attended the programme said.
    “But (based on) the explanation earlier (at the workshop), there are so many benefits of palm oil,” she said on a promotional video for the programme.
YOUNG AND GREEN
    Environmental activists have for decades tried to spread anti-palm oil messages among young Indonesians, who have become more receptive to global calls via the internet and social media to combat climate change.
    That has prompted Indonesia’s palm industry to try to counter what it sees as one-sided information spreading at home, Toggar Sitanggang, the vice chairman of Indonesia’s Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) told Reuters.
    “This makes us more urgent to balance out the information out there,” Sitanggang said.
    “We need to spread positive information among these youngsters and get them to be more questioning about the information that they get.”
    More than 50% of Indonesians are aged nine to 40 – populations known as Gen Z and Millennials.
    In a survey of Gen Z and Millennials conducted by pollster Indikator Politik Indonesia, 95% of respondents are at least “a bit concerned” about climate issues – far more than older groups.
    The climate crisis, the study showed, is seen as the second most pressing issue in the country, after corruption.
    Helga Angelina, the 30-year-old founder of vegan restaurant chain Burgreens and manufacturer of palm oil-free vegan mock meats Green Rebel Foods, said the trend towards making more eco-conscious choices has seen her revenue jump 20 times since she started out in 2013.
    Burgreens now has 15 outlets across the city and its mock meat manufacturing business now supplies to international food giants such as coffee chain Starbucks and furniture giant IKEA.
    “In the past two years, we’ve attracted this Gen Z group, which is a new generation of customers… they are more driven by the environment,” Helga told Reuters.    Previously, her clientele was mostly health conscious expatriates or upper-middle class Indonesians.
    Some business owners Reuters spoke to who avoid palm oil say while they are wary about bad practices linked to the industry, they are open to sustainable palm oil when it becomes more readily available and cost competitive.
    The need to stem anti-palm oil sentiment in Indonesia is made more urgent by its increasing dependence on the domestic market to sop up palm supplies.
    Almost a third of Indonesia’s palm oil supply is locally consumed, compared to 23.4% in 2015, official data showed.
    That is expected to jump to 40% by 2025, GAPKI’s Sitanggang said, and up to 70% in 2030 if Indonesia’s plans to mandate 40% palm oil content in its biodiesel comes into fruition.
    Although calls to totally boycott palm are relatively muted in Indonesia compared to other countries, younger Indonesians are demanding for more sustainable practices.
    “We know business-as-usual can no longer continue,” Melati Wijsen, a 19-year-old climate activist and founder of Bali-based non-profit Youthtopia, told Reuters.
    “These issues aren’t some faraway or distant story that we hear about it’s something that we live with.    It’s our reality.”
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku and Bernadette Christina; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/10/2021 Japan Reports First Bird Flu Outbreak Of Season, Culling 143,000 Chickens
FILE PHOTO: Officials in protective suits head to a poultry farm for a suspected bird flu case in
Higashikagawa, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo November 8, 2020. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan has detected its first outbreak of bird flu for the 2021 winter season, with confirmation of a case of “highly pathogenic avian influenza” at a poultry farm in the northeast of the country, the agriculture ministry said on Wednesday.
    About 143,000 egg-laying chickens are being exterminated at the farm in Yokote city in Akita Prefecture, the ministry said in a statement on its website, adding that restricted zones up to 10 km (6.2 miles) from the site have been established.
    “Under the current situation in Japan, we do not believe that there is any possibility of avian influenza being transmitted to humans through the consumption of chicken meat or eggs,” the ministry said.
    But an increase in the number of people in China getting infected from bird flu this year is turning into a source of concern among epidemiological experts, especially as the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    China has reported 21 human infections with the H5N6 subtype of avian influenza in 2021 to the World Health Organization, compared with only five last year, it said, with six dead and many of the others critically ill.
    Outbreaks of bird flu have also been reported in recent days and weeks in Europe with farms in     Poland the latest locations for infections, totalling 650,000 poultry.
    Last winter, Japan had its worst season of winter flu on farms yet, with more than 3 million chickens culled and a quarter of the country’s prefectures affected.
    Japan has an egg-laying flock of around 185 million hens and a broiler population of 138 million, according to the ministry of agriculture.
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/10/2021 Chinese City Says It Mass Tested 30,000 For COVID-19 At Mega Centre, Rounded-Up Runaways
FILE PHOTO: People line up at a makeshift nucleic acid testing site near a residential compound under lockdown following local cases
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chengdu, Sichuan province, China November 3, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s southwestern city of Chengdu said on Wednesday it had conducted 30,000 COVID-19 tests on visitors at a mega entertainment centre, and rounded-up those who tried to flee the site, in the second mass screening at a large venue in days.
    All COVID-19 tests returned negative results, reported the official China Central Television (CCTV) on Tuesday.
    Those present were required to return home to await their results and not venture outdoors until advised, local authorities in Chengdu said in a notice.
    It was unclear how many visitors were at the New Century Global Center, which houses numerous shops, offices, a massive water park, and a university.    At 1.7 million square metres, the floor area is equivalent to four Vatican Cities.
    Some people left the temporarily controlled area without authorisation, said CCTV, but were located via tracking services and tested.
    Mass testing was conducted at Shanghai Disneyland at the end of October, with guests in the park required to undergo COVID-19 tests at the exit when they left, Shanghai Disneyland said on its Chinese social media account.
    Shanghai Disneyland shuttered for a few days to cooperate with COVID-19 investigations linked to other Chinese provinces and cities.
    China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19, determined that the cost of limiting local cases as they are found outweighs the inconvenience and disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected.
    Chengdu, a city of more than 20 million people, has found a few local cases of COVID-19 in recent days.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Engen Tham in Shanghai; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/10/2021 APEC Affirms Stand Against Vaccine Nationalism, Driven To Manage Climate Change
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta co-chairs the 2021 APEC Ministerial Meeting in
Wellington, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. Jeff Tollan/APEC New Zealand/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Members of Asia-Pacific trade group APEC have reiterated a “strong stance” against vaccine nationalism to support the region’s recovery from the pandemic and are committed to tackle climate change, host New Zealand said on Wednesday.
    New Zealand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta and Minister of Trade Damien O’Connor said all 21 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) member countries had contributed to the region’s pandemic response and work towards progress on trade.
    Members had not yet reached a consensus on the United States’ offer to host the APEC summit in 2023, they said in a joint media conference.
(Reporting by Shashwat Awasthi in Bengaluru and Praveen Menon in Wellington)

11/10/2021 China’s Communist Party To Wrap Up Key Meeting As Xi Strengthens Power by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on television screens at a media centre as
he delivers a speech via video at the opening ceremony of the China International
Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 4, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Galbraith/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Communist Party will wrap up a meeting on Thursday that is set to culminate with a resolution that consolidates President Xi Jinping’s authority, a year before he is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term as party leader.
    The sixth plenum of the central committee, a group of some 370 party members that chooses its new leaders every five years, has been meeting since Monday behind closed doors in Beijing, accompanied by a drumbeat of state media propaganda.
    The “historical resolution,” only the party’s third since its founding in 1921, is officially about its achievements over 100 years but will also uphold the authority of Xi as the party’s “core,” further reinforcing his grip on power and laying the ground for what analysts widely expect to be a third term a year from now.
    While there has been no official media coverage of the plenum’s discussions, state news outlets have been filled with celebrations of the achievements of Xi and the party.
    The People’s Daily has run a series of lengthy front-page commentaries saluting Xi every day since Nov. 1.
    The first hailed Xi as a “Marxist politician, thinker, strategist” who has “immense political courage, intense sense of historical accountability and deep love of the people,” embodying the party’s quality of “not fearing a strong enemy, not fearing risks” and “daring to fight and win.”
    Sprinkled with comments from Xi and admirers, the People’s Daily commentaries cumulatively run to more than 140,000 characters, lauding Xi for controlling COVID-19, strengthening the economy and military, eradicating poverty and fighting corruption.
    The only two previous such party “historical resolutions”, in 1945 and 1981, had the effect of consolidating the authority of leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, respectively.
    The first news about this week’s meeting is likely to be in state media on Thursday, and a news conference is scheduled for Friday.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

11/11/2021 ‘Troika Plus’ Group Holds Conference On Afghanistan In Pakistani Capital
Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (not pictured) on the sidelines
of the 76th Session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, U.S. September 23, 2021. Kena Betancur/Pool via REUTERS/Files
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan held a meeting on Afghanistan with envoys from the United States, China and Russia on Thursday as the Pakistani foreign minister warned its neighbour was on the brink of economic collapse.
    The grouping of countries, known as the “Troika Plus” met formally for the first time since the Taliban took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15.
    “The engagement with Afghanistan must not only continue but should be enhanced for multiple reasons,” Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said in opening remarks at the meeting in Islamabad.
    “Nobody wishes to see a relapse into civil war, no one wants an economic collapse that will spur instability; everyone wants terrorist elements operating inside Afghanistan to be tackled effectively and we all want to prevent a new refugee crisis,” he said.
    Humanitarian agencies are increasingly raising the alarm that Afghanistan is slipping into a dire humanitarian crisis as the economy slumps due to a stall in most aid and restrictions on the banking system put in place by international governments since the Taliban took over.
    Pakistan has called on governments, including the United States, to allow development assistance to flow into Afghanistan to prevent collapse.    It has also called on them to unfreeze the billions of dollars of assets that Afghanistan’s central bank has overseas.
    “Today, Afghanistan stands at the brink of an economic collapse,” Qureshi said.
    Pakistan has also discussed the idea of Afghanistan joining CPEC, its multi-billion dollar infrastructure project with China, which comes under the banner of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
    Thursday’s conference is the latest in a series of diplomatic meetings in the region.
    Afghanistan’s Taliban-appointed acting foreign minister carried out a three-day visit to Islamabad to discuss trade and other ties this week, while neighbouring India held a conference for regional countries on Wednesday, though arch-rival Pakistan did not attend that meeting.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

11/11/2021 Indonesia To ‘Walk The Talk’ On Deforestation, Despite COP26 U-Turn
British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss signs a guest book as Indonesian Foreign Minister
Retno Marsudi watches before their meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia, November 11, 2021.
Courtesy of Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Handout via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s foreign minister on Thursday defended her country’s objection to a global deforestation pledge made last week, promising during a visit by her British counterpart to “walk the talk” on climate commitments.
    Indonesia, home to a third of the world’s rainforests, was among 137 countries at the COP26 climate summit in Britain that signed an agreement to end deforestation by 2030.
    But days later Indonesia backtracked, making clear that its own interpretation of the pledge was less absolute than ending deforestation completely.
    Highlighting progress in reducing deforestation to its lowest in two decades, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss that Indonesia would transform its forest and land-use sectors.
    “Indonesia’s concrete achievements on forestry sector is beyond doubt,” she told a news conference in Jakarta after meeting Truss.
    “I underlined that Indonesia does not want to be trapped in rhetoric.    We prefer to walk the talk.”    Forest fires had dropped by 82% in 2020, while emissions in 2019 fell by 40.9% compared to four years earlier, she said.
    Environmentalists criticised Indonesia’s chaotic about-face, saying it was at odds with the Glasgow declaration.
    Environment minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, who attended the summit, had caused a stir by saying the pledge that Indonesia agreed to was “clearly inappropriate and unfair.”
    Vice foreign minister Mahendra Siregar later said the pledge did not mean deforestation would be halted completely, but referred instead to “sustainable forest management.”
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/11/2021 Malaysia To Reopen To International Visitors By January 1 – Government Council
FILE PHOTO: Tourists visit the Sky Bridge as it reopens to domestic tourists amid the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Langkawi, Malaysia, September 16, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia will reopen its borders to international visitors by Jan. 1 at the latest, a government advisory council said on Thursday, as the country seeks to revive its ailing tourism sector.
    The Southeast Asian country has gradually reopened its economy in recent weeks as coronavirus infection rates have slowed amid a ramped-up vaccination programme.
    More than three-quarters of Malaysia’s 32 million population are vaccinated, government statistics show.
    Former prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who chairs a council tasked with spearheading Malaysia’s economic recovery programme, told reporters the tourism industry was recovering too slowly without foreigners and noted that operators needed time to resume businesses.
    Muhyiddin, however, said infection control measures such as COVID-19 tests will remain in place, with authorities to determine entry based on the COVID-19 situation in originating countries, and other factors.
    He did not state when a firm date for reopening will be announced, but said the decision was still being detailed by health and security agencies.
    Malaysia this week announced it would launch a vaccinated travel lane with neighbouring Singapore on Nov. 29, allowing quarantine-free travel for inoculated people between both countries.
    It has also agreed with Indonesia to introduce a similar travel corridor on a gradual basis.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/11/2021 Taiwan Says Outgoing Honduran President To Visit Island
FILE PHOTO: Honduras' President Juan Orlando Hernandez speaks during a joint message with U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
acting Secretary Chad Wolf (not pictured), at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez will visit Taiwan, the island’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, as Taipei seeks to maintain relations with Honduras amid an escalating diplomatic tug-of-war between China and Taiwan.
    Honduras is one of just 15 countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory with no right to state-to-state relations.
    Taiwan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it welcomed Hernandez’s visit, which was first announced by the Central American country’s presidential palace.    The ministry did not give further details.
    It is not immediately clear when the visit will take place. Honduras is set to hold a presidential election on November 28 and its main opposition party has said it will establish diplomatic relations with China if it wins.
    Taiwan, which says it is an independent country, accused China in September of seeking to use the Honduran election to “create controversy” and undermine Taiwan’s long-standing ties with the country.
    Taiwan’s foreign ministry, which had previously warned Honduras not to be drawn in by China’s “flashy and false” promises, said Hernandez’s visit would help deepen ties between the two countries as they celebrate their 80-year friendship this year.
    China and Taiwan have for years traded accusations of “dollar diplomacy” as they seek support around the world, offering aid packages in return for diplomatic recognition.
    China’s efforts to win over Taiwan’s remaining allies have alarmed Washington, which has been especially concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in Central America and the Caribbean.
    El Salvador, in 2018, is the most recent country in the region to ditch Taipei in favour of Beijing.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/11/2021 Taiwan Holds Emergency Nuclear Drills With Residents by OAN Newsroom
FILE – A Taiwanese military officer salutes to Taiwan’s flag onboard Navy’s 124th fleet Lafayette
frigate during military exercises off Kaohsiung, southern of Taiwan. (AP Photo/Chiang Ying-ying, File)
    Residents in Northeastern Taiwan recently took part in emergency drills in case of a potential nuclear accident.    More than 100 residents of New Taipei City took part in the exercises on Wednesday.
    Participants, acting as evacuees, were given pills to swallow in the event of a nuclear power plant meltdown and were taught how to decontaminate themselves.    Plant officials assured residents, who took part in the drills over concerns of nearby nuclear plants, that the exercise would be beneficial.
    “We compare our power plant with the Fukushima incident in Japan to see what we can do to ensure the safety of our nuclear energy, so that our people can rest assured,” explained Wilson Wang, manager of the North Exhibition Center of Kuosheng Nuclear Power Plant.    “So come to understand us more and get more knowledge.    You will get a rational understanding of our nuclear energy as well as the advantages and disadvantages of various power generation methods.”
    The drills come ahead of a referendum in December on whether the government should continue construction of a fourth nuclear power plant in the country.

11/12/2021 Thick, Toxic Smog Over Indian Capital As Temperatures, Wind Speed Drop by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj
A metro train passes through the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Center as it approaches Rithala
metro station on a smoggy morning in Delhi, India November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – New Delhi’s air quality plummeted again on Friday, and a thick haze of toxic smog hung over India’s capital due to a drop in temperature and wind speed, and a spike in the burning of crop waste in surrounding farmlands.
    The haze reduced visibility and the Air Quality Index (AQI) hit 461 on a scale of 500, according to the federal pollution control board.    This level of pollution means the air will affect healthy people and seriously impact those with existing diseases.
    The concentration of poisonous PM2.5 particulate matter averaged 329 micrograms per cubic meter of air.    The government prescribes a “safe” PM2.5 reading at 60 micrograms per cubic meter of air over a period of 24 hours.
    PM2.5 is small enough to travel deep into the lungs, enter the bloodstream and can cause severe respiratory diseases, including lung cancer.
    “This is becoming a nightmare,” said Gufran Beig, founder project director of air quality and weather monitor SAFAR that falls under the Ministry of Earth Science.
    “Fire counts are in the range of 3,000-5,000 and not declining,” Beig told Reuters, referring to crop stubble fires in the regions around the capital.
    He said current severe conditions may ease by Saturday, but air quality would remain “very poor” until Nov. 17.
    Air quality might worsen if farm fires continued, as the SAFAR model forecasts calm wind conditions, Beig said.
    India’s efforts to reduce crop-waste burning, a major source of air pollution during winter, by spending billions of rupees over the past four years have done little to avert a sharp deterioration in air quality.
    Delhi, often ranked the world’s most polluted capital, faces extremely bad air in winter due to the crop stubble burning, emissions from transport, coal-fired plants outside the city and other industrial emissions, open garbage burning and dust.
    Residents of Delhi endured this year’s worst air on Nov. 5, a day after revellers burnt firecrackers during the Diwali festival, as AQI levels surged to 463 on a scale of 500.
    Vehicular emissions contributed more than half of Delhi’s particulate pollution between October 24-November 8, the Centre for Science and Environment think tank said in its report published on Thursday.
(Reporting by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj)

11/12/2021 Northeastern Chinese Port City Battles Growing COVID-19 Cluster
People line up for nucleic acid testing in the snow at a testing site in Jinpu New Area, following cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dalian, Liaoning province, China November 8, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A growing COVID-19 cluster in China’s Dalian has spurred the northeastern port city to limit outbound travel, cut offline school classes and close a few cultural venues after being told by national authorities to contain the outbreak more quickly.
    Dalian reported 52 locally transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms on Thursday, a daily count higher than any other Chinese city affected in an ongoing nationwide outbreak since mid-October, and more than doubling from 21 cases a day earlier, official data showed on Friday.
    A total of 1,149 local cases were found in China between Oct. 17 and Nov 11.    While the number is tiny compared with many outbreaks outside the country, local authorities have exerted resources to put out the flare-up with Beijing not expected to change its zero-tolerance policy any time soon.
    “Various measures should be quickened and their quality should be improved, in order to get the outbreak under control in a shorter amount of time and to minimise the outbreak’s impact on manufacturing and life of the general public,” the National Health Commission said on Thursday, citing a meeting chaired by the commission’s director in Dalian.
    The number of people travelling out of Dalian has dropped by 96.5% to 918 per day on average, a local transportation official said late on Thursday, after the city of 7.5 million people imposed curbs on public transport and warned residents against leaving Dalian for unnecessary reasons.
    The city has demanded kindergartens and primary and high schools halt offline lessons, closed a number of libraries and museums, and started a second round of city-wide mass testing campaign.
    On Friday, Dalian called on its residents not to leave their home unless it is necessary.
    Dalian, a leading port for seafood shipments as well as fruit and some meats, has also ordered all businesses handling imported chilled and frozen foods to suspend operations, according to the state-backed newspaper Global Times.
    As of Nov. 11, mainland China had reported 98,099 confirmed symptomatic COVID-19 patients, including both local cases and those arriving from abroad.    The total death number remained at 4,636.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Ryan Woo and Albee Zhang; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/12/2021 Biden, Xi To Address Asia-Pacific Leaders On Trade, COVID Recovery by Praveen Menon and Shashwat Awasthi
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to address leaders of the Pacific Rim late on Friday amid heightened regional trade and geopolitical tensions.
    China set the tone for the 21 member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting this week, with Xi warning in a video recording on Thursday that the region must not return to the tensions of the Cold War era.
    The comment was seen as a reference to efforts by the United States and its regional allies to blunt what they see as China’s growing coercive economic and military influence.
    Biden is expected to address the gathering that begins midnight New Zealand time, the White House confirmed in a statement, adding he will discuss ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic and support global economic recovery.
    “The President’s participation demonstrates U.S. commitment to the Indo-Pacific region and to multilateral cooperation,” the statement said.
    Chinese foreign ministry has also confirmed that Xi will speak at the meeting via video link.
    Xi will take the virtual podium a day after China’s ruling Communist Party approved a rare resolution that amplified his status and authority, bolstering the likelihood of securing an unprecedented third leadership term next year.
    The APEC gathering comes ahead of a much-anticipated online summit between Biden and Xi on Monday, as the super powers look to prevent growing tensions between the world’s two biggest economies from spiralling toward conflict.
    APEC is the last multi-lateral meeting of the year and comes after a flurry of gatherings including the high-profile G20 summit in Rome and the COP26 climate meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.
    APEC in 2021 was hosted entirely online due to host New Zealand’s hardline pandemic control measures and saw political and business leaders emphasize the need to fight COVID-19, decarbonise economies and grow sustainably.
    During a session on Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated the importance of vaccinations in the fight against the pandemic.    New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern then paid tribute to the outgoing chancellor.
    The APEC summit will be held in Thailand next year.
    The United States has offered to host the 2023 round of APEC meetings for the first time in over a decade, although a consensus has not been reached on this proposal, officials have said.
    Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Canadian President Justin Trudeau are also expected to speak at the meeting.
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Andrea Shalal in Washington; editing by Michael Perry)

11/12/2021 China’s Communist Party Hails President Xi As ‘Helmsman’ by Yew Lun Tian
A man holds a mobile phone in front of an image of Chinese President Xi Jinping displayed at the Museum
of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, China November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Communist Party officials called President Xi Jinping a “helmsman” and “people’s leader” on Friday, in a show of support for his continuing leadership.
    Xi is almost certain to secure a precedent-breaking third term as party leader next year.
    At the end of a four-day, closed-door meeting on Thursday, the party passed a “historical resolution” which highlighted its achievements under Xi’s leadership and amplified his authority.
    The full text of the resolution is yet to be released.
    “Helmsman” and “people’s leader” were descriptions used over 50 years ago during a personality cult of Mao Zedong, who led the party to power in 1949. Party propagandists used personality cult to drum up support for the leader.
    “As long as we uphold Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, … the giant vessel of Chinese rejuvenation will have a helmsman and will be able to brave any storms,” Jiang Jinquan, who heads the party’s policy research office, told a press conference about this week’s meeting, known as the Sixth Plenum.
    He said Xi “fully deserves” to be called a “people’s leader.”
    The party reflected on its achievements in the 100 years since its founding and concluded that it must rally around Xi more closely, according to a communique of the plenum released on Thursday.
    Absent from the communique were mentions of darker moments in the party’s history, which include the Great Leap Forward, an ambitious campaign Mao started in 1958 to increase grain yields which went wrong and led to millions of people starving to death.
    But a party official mentioned the Great Leap Forward at Friday’s press conference to explain why the country must not overreach when trying to solve today’s problems of reducing carbon emissions and income gap.
    “In learning the lesson of the Great Leap Forward and People’s Commune campaign in the 1950s, we must seek progress while maintaining stability in our efforts to achieve carbon peak, carbon neutrality and Common Prosperity,” said Han Wenxiu, deputy head of the party’s office for financial and economic affairs.
    “Even if we were to distribute the gross national income equally to everyone now, we won’t be able to achieve Common Prosperity,” he said, noting that China’s GDP per capita is not yet at the level of high-income countries.
    Xi has called for China to achieve “common prosperity,” seeking to narrow a yawning wealth gap that threatens the country’s economic ascent and the legitimacy of Communist Party rule.    “Common prosperity” as an idea is not new in China. It was first mentioned in the 1950s by Mao.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/12/2021 Japan Prepares Beds, Booster Shots In COVID-19 Lull Before Winter by Rocky Swift
FILE PHOTO: A patient is seen inside the ICU of Seibu Hospital, marked with a sign indicating that he is
suspected of having COVID-19, in Yokohama, Japan June 18, 2020. Picture taken on June 18, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
(Corrects typos in second paragraph)
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida outlined on Friday an urgent plan to increase hospital beds and medical resources in preparation for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 infections this winter.
    After a deadly fifth wave of infections almost overwhelmed the medical system during the summer, infections and deaths have fallen dramatically as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population.
    Emergency measures covering most of the country were lifted last month, but health experts warn that cases will likely rebound, as they did in Japan last winter.    Ahead of that, the government plans to boost hospital bed capacity by about 30%, bolster in-home care, and collect data to predict which hospitals will come under pressure.
    “In parallel with strengthening the medical system, from December will use IT systems to make public the number of hospital beds and conditions at each hospital,” Kishida told reporters.
    Kishida said earlier this week that the “trump card” in the government’s pandemic fight was the procurement of oral treatments that could prevent the need for hospitalisation.
    Japan will pay about $1.2 billion to Merck & Co Inc for 1.6 million courses of the COVID-19 antiviral pill molnupiravir, according to terms announced on Wednesday.
    That’s about half the supply that has been secured by the United States and compares with a total of 1.7 million coronavirus cases seen in Japan since the start of the pandemic.
    Meanwhile, vaccine booster shots are due to start from next month, and the government is considering expanding inoculations to children as young as five.
    Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many countries, with just over 18,000 deaths so far and without the imposition of stringent lockdowns.
    But the government faced heavy criticism over a spate of deaths at home among patients due to hospitals’ inability to handle the rash of cases during the summer.    Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigned in September over his handling of the crisis.
    To stave off the bed shortage, the health ministry has adopted a system that uses past and present infection data to predict when and where medical resources will come under strain.
    “A sixth wave is a question of when rather than if,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor who developed the predictive tool.
    “Because the current situation in Japan is calm, it seems okay to lift some restrictions now.
    However, I am concerned about whether people can go back to a ‘voluntary self-restraint state’ again when needed
,” he added.
(Corrects typos in second paragraph)
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/12/2021 Rights Group Urges Beijing Games Sponsors To Press China On Xinjiang
The Chinese and Olympic flags flutter at the headquarters of the Beijing Organising Committee for the
2022 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing, China November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Suen
    BEIJING (Reuters) – New York-based Human Rights Watch on Friday criticised corporations sponsoring the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics for ignoring what it says are China’s crimes against humanity in its far western region of Xinjiang.
    The group said in an online news conference that major sponsors of the Feb. 4-20 Winter Olympics should press China’s government and the International Olympics Committee (IOC) on the host nation’s human rights violations.
    “The time for quiet diplomacy is over,” said Minky Worden, director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
    Multinationals including U.S.-based Coca-Cola, Intel, and AirBnB are among 13 “Olympic Partners,” the highest level of sponsorship, collectively paying hundreds of millions of dollars.    The three firms did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside U.S. business hours.
    Rights groups and U.S. lawmakers have called on the IOC to postpone the Games and relocate them unless China ends what the United States deems genocide against ethnic Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minority groups.
    U.N. rights experts have said that at least 1 million Muslims were detained in camps in Xinjiang since 2017.
    China denies all accusations of abuse of Uyghurs and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism. China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Human Rights Watch statements.
    In July, a U.S. Congressional panel denounced U.S.-based Games sponsors, accusing them of putting profits ahead of human rights.    Asked then whether the Games should be relocated or postponed, all of the sponsors declined to say, or said they had no responsibility over site selection.
    China, the world’s second largest economy, has grown increasingly perilous for global companies caught between the market opportunity and pressure over rights.
    In March, retailer H&M faced a consumer boycott after it decided to divest its supply chains from Xinjiang, where researchers say forced labour practices are imposed upon Uyghurs, mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language.
    Enes Kanter, a Turkish basketball player for the Boston Celtics, has since last month posted more than a dozen messages and videos on Twitter, criticizing China’s rights record and accusing President Xi Jinping of being a “brutal dictator.”
    In October, Kanter posted four pictures of custom-made basketball shoes that had written on them the slogans “No Beijing 2022,” “Move The Games,” and “No Rights No Games.”
    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman criticised Kanter in October as “trying to get attention” and said his remarks were “not worth refuting.”
    China’s Tencent Holdings, which pays millions to the NBA to stream games exclusively, stopped streaming Celtics games.
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/12/2021 China’s Singles’ Day Loses Lustre As Growth Slumps To Single Digit Amid Crackdown by Brenda Goh and Sophie Yu
FILE PHOTO: People walk along a main shopping area during the Alibaba's Singles'
Day shopping festival in Shanghai, China November 11, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) -After more than a decade of explosive growth, China’s Singles’ Day, the world’s biggest online shopping fest, is losing its gloss and bracing for more modest growth in coming years, hurt by a slower economy and tighter regulatory scrutiny.
    E-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Friday its sales – or gross merchandise value – during the 11 day event grew just 8.5%, the slowest rate ever, underscoring the headwinds for China’s tech firms.
    GMV had grown by at least double digits every year since Alibaba founded the festival in 2009 and built it into a global online shopping fest, dwarfing Cyber Monday in the United States. Last year, it extended the one-day event to 11.
    But the state-backed Securities Daily newspaper criticised the focus on high turnover from sales for being unsustainable, chaotic and incompatible with China’s new development path.
    “The ‘worship of turnover’ is not only unsustainable in terms of digital growth but is also inextricably linked to chaos,” the newspaper said.
    Analysts said the weak performance this year also reflected how Chinese consumers have increasingly become weary and wary of the day’s promotions and the quality of service.
    Shoppers have also become more cautious about spending in general due to new coronavirus outbreaks and supply disruptions that have hurt sales and contributed to China’s economy suffering its slowest growth in a year in the third quarter.
    “The magic of Double 11 is fading,” said Sharry Wu, Greater China consulting business transformation leader at consulting firm EY, referring to Nov. 11, which was originally an unofficial day to celebrate being romantically unattached.
    “Brands have to understand after years of practice, Singles’ Day is not their guaranteed sales booster.”
    The event has historically been headlined by eye-catching bargains and livestreaming promotions.    It is also a big sales boost for companies such as Apple and L’Oreal, which sold more than 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) worth of products each over the 11-day event this year.
STRONGER RIVALS
    Alibaba’s dominance of the e-commerce market is also being chipped away at by rivals such as JD.com and Pinduoduo, which have aggressively competed for new shoppers in China’s lower-tier cities.
    JD.com, which holds its own 11-day Singles Day shopping event, recorded 349.1 billion yuan worth of transactions, up 28.6% from the previous year.
    Over the past year, regulators have accused Alibaba and its e-commerce rivals of treating their customers poorly by spamming them with promotions, unfairly restricting their choices and allowing merchants to fake discounts, punishing them with fines in some cases.
    Under such a spectre of regulatory scrutiny, Alibaba toned down the marketing hype this year, doing away with a rolling tally tracking transactions that had taken centre stage in previous years and said it was focused on sustainability.
    Still, Alibaba said a record 290,000 brands and 900 million consumers participated this year and 78 businesses saw their GMV grow more than 10 times compared with last year to more than 100 million yuan.    A record number of luxury brands joined in, including Max Mara and Saint Laurent for the first time.
    Citi analysts said that while the event’s GMV missed their expectations, they were happy enough with more modest growth.
    “Following an unprecedented year of multiple headwinds, we are relieved to see Singles Day momentum settle with a new norm of moderated growth,” they said.
($1 = 6.3903 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Gerry Doyle)

11/12/2021 Tiananmen Statue Creator Asks For Immunity From Hong Kong Security Law by Jessie Pang
The eight-metre-high "Pillar of Shame" by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot to pay tribute to the victims
of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989 is seen before it is set to be removed
at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in Hong Kong, China October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/Files
(Fixes typo first par, no change to text)
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Danish sculptor of a statue that commemorates pro-democracy protesters killed during China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 has asked Hong Kong authorities for immunity from a national security law so he can come and take it back to Denmark.
    Jens Galschiot loaned the eight-metre high, two-tonne copper sculpture called “Pillar of Shame” to a local civil society group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, in perpetuity.
    The statue, depicting dozens of torn and twisted bodies, has been on display at the University of Hong Kong for more than two decades.    After the Alliance disbanded in September with some members accused of national security offences, the university requested the group remove the statue from its premises.
    In an open letter on Friday, Galschiot, who values the statue at around $1.4 million, said he was willing to take it back to Denmark, but that his presence in Hong Kong was necessary for the complex operation to go well.
    Cooperation from the university and city authorities for technical assistance, roadblocks and permits was also needed, he said.
    The university, the government’s Security Bureau, and the Immigration Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    The university gave the Alliance a deadline for the statue’s removal, which expired a month ago.    It said at the time it was seeking legal advice on what to do with it.
    Democratic activists and some Western governments say the security law is a tool to silence dissent and push Hong Kong firmly on an authoritarian path.    Chinese and city authorities maintain Hong Kong is still governed by the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms remain intact.
(This story corrects typo in first par)
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/12/2021 A Million Afghan Children At Risk Of Dying Amid Acute Malnutrition, WHO Says by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Afghan children play outside their shelter, amid the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kabul, Afghanistan May 7, 2020.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) -Around 3.2 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan by the end of this year, with 1 million of them at risk of dying as temperatures drop, a World Health Organization spokesperson said on Friday.
    Aid agencies have warned of famine as a drought coincides with a failing economy following the withdrawal of Western financial support in the aftermath of a Taliban takeover in August.    The health sector has been hit especially hard, with many healthcare workers fleeing due to unpaid salaries.
    “It’s an uphill battle as starvation grips the country,” Margaret Harris told Geneva-based journalists by telephone from the capital Kabul.    “The world must not and cannot afford to turn its back on Afghanistan.”
    Nighttime temperatures are falling below zero degrees Celsius and colder temperatures are expected to make the old and the young more susceptible to other diseases, Harris said.    In some places, people are chopping down trees to provide fuel for the hospitals amid widespread shortages, she added.
    Harris did not have numbers for the number of children who had already died from malnutrition but described “wards filled with tiny little children,” including with a seven-month old baby whom she described as “smaller than a newborn.”
    Measles cases are rising in the country and WHO data shows 24,000 clinical cases had so far been reported.
    “For malnourished children, measles is a death sentence.    We will see so many more deaths if we don’t move on this quickly,” Harris said.
(Reporting by Emma Farge;Editing by Alison Williams and Toby Chopra)

11/13/2021 China Warns U.S. Not To Support Taiwan Independence – Chinese Foreign Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi poses for a picture before his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State
Antony Blinken, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Rome, Italy October 31, 2021. Tiziana Fabi/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken not to “send wrong signals” to Taiwan pro-independence forces, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
    Both men also spoke about the virtual meeting that Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Joe Biden would have on Tuesday Asia time.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/13/2021 Economist Magazine Regrets Hong Kong Rejecting Its Journalist’s Visa
FILE PHOTO: A Hong Kong flag is flown behind a pair of surveillance cameras outside the
Central Government Offices in Hong Kong, China July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – The Economist said on Saturday that Hong Kong declined to renew the visa of one its journalists, urging the city to maintain foreign media access as concerns grow about media freedoms in the global financial hub.
    Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor in chief, said in a statement the magazine was proud of correspondent Sue-Lin Wong’s journalism and regretted the decision by the immigration authorities, which it said was given without explanation.
    “We urge the government of Hong Kong to maintain access for the foreign press, which is vital to the territory’s standing as an international city,” Beddoes wrote.
    The Hong Kong government and immigration department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Since Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong last year, democracy activists, newspaper editors and journalists have been arrested.    Critics of the legislation say it is being used to crush dissent in the city – claims the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities reject.
    Fears over freedom of the press in the former British colony are increasing, months after the city’s most vocal pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was forced to shut after its tycoon owner, Jimmy Lai, and other staff were arrested under the national security law.
    Australian passport holder Wong, a former Reuters correspondent, wrote on Twitter from London: “Very sad I won’t be able to continue reporting from Hong Kong.    I loved getting to know the city and its people.    I will miss you all.”
    In 2018, the visa of the Financial Times’ Asia editor, Victor Mallet, was not renewed by Hong Kong after he moderated a speech by a pro-independence activist at an event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in the city.    The move alarmed some diplomats and business groups in Hong Kong.
    As of April, 628 foreign employees working for overseas media held work visas in Hong Kong, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
    Hong Kong is guaranteed freedom of speech and the press under Article 27 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution agreed by China when it took back control of Hong Kong in 1997.
    Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has denied the security legislation would curtail media freedom, saying that “freedom of expression, freedom of protest, freedom of journalism, will stay.”
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Jessie Pang; Editing by William Mallard)

11/13/2021 India’s Top Court Says New Delhi Air Pollution Situation Is ‘Very Serious’ by Suchitra Mohanty
A view of Rajpath is seen on a smoggy day in New Delhi, India, November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Chief Justice of India on Saturday asked the central government to come up with an emergency plan to tackle New Delhi’s toxic air quality and dangerous smog conditions, calling the situation “very serious.”
    On Friday, India’s federal pollution control board ordered states and local bodies https://www.reuters.com/world/india/thick-toxic-smog-over-indian-capital-temperatures-wind-speed-drop-2021-11-12 to be in “complete readiness” for emergency measures to tackle worsening smog conditions in the capital.
    “We have been forced to wear masks at home also, the situation is very serious,” the top legal officer in the Supreme Court of India N. V. Ramana said while seeking clarity on the measures initiated by the government so far.
    “Delhi air quality will become severe and increase in surface wind may help .. another two to three days it will increase further.    Take an emergency decision,” he said.
    Delhi, often ranked the world’s most polluted capital, faces extremely bad air in winter due to crop stubble burning, emissions from transport, coal-fired plants outside the city and other industrial emissions, as well as open garbage burning and dust.
    While the smog reduced visibility, the Air Quality Index (AQI) in and around capital city hit 470 to 490 on a scale of 500, according to the federal pollution control board data on Saturday.
    This level of pollution means the air will affect healthy people and seriously impact those with existing diseases.
    A special bench of the Supreme Court has started hearing a plea filed by a student concerning rising levels of air pollution.
    Ramana said the government should consider a two-day lockdown to protect citizens from the rising toxicity and inform the court on Monday about the emergency steps taken to improve air quality.
    In a notification on Friday, the pollution control board said the government and private offices should reduce the use of private transport by 30% and advised the city’s residents to limit outdoor exposure.
(Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Swati Bhat and Lincoln Feast)

11/13/2021 Australia Vaccine-Mandate Protesters Compare State Govt To Nazis – Media by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A nurse immuniser administers the AstraZeneca vaccine to a patient at a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccination clinic at the Bankstown Sports Club during a lockdown to curb an
outbreak of cases in Sydney, Australia, August 25, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Several thousand people rallied in Melbourne against new vaccination mandates on Saturday, with a few comparing the state government to Nazis and calling for violence against politicians, local media said.
    In Australia, where 83% of people aged 16 and above have been fully inoculated against the coronavirus, nationwide vaccinations are voluntary. But states and territories have mandated vaccinations for many occupations and barred the unvaccinated from activities such as dining out and concerts.
    The Melbourne demonstration against the vaccination mandate that came into effect on Saturday – requiring construction workers in Victoria state to be fully inoculated – was peaceful, with no immediate reports of unruly behaviour or arrests.
    But a reporter at The Age posted video on Twitter of a protester carrying a mock gallows with three nooses hanging from it, and the newspaper showed a protester carrying a poster depicting Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews with a Hitler moustache and the hashtag #DictatorDan.
    “We’re being governed by insane medical bureaucrats,” Craig Kelly, former Liberal Party member of parliament and now the leader of United Australia Party, told the rally, media reported.
    The Age said some protesters called for violence against politicians but did not offer specifics.
    An Australian singer Claire Woodley dedicated a song to “victims of satanic ritual abuse” – a rhetoric common in the QAnon conspiracy theory about abducting children for satanic rites.
    Andrews’ office and protest organisers could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Australia has seen frequent, occasionally violent, anti-vaccine rallies in recent months, though the movement remains small, with polls showing nationwide opposition in the single digits.
    Victoria, the second-most populous state with a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, has an 87% vaccination rate and has endured six COVID-19 lockdowns totalling nearly nine months.
    There were 1,221 new infections reported on Saturday in Victoria and four deaths, and 250 daily cases in New South Wales.
    Despite Delta outbreaks that led to months of lockdown in the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, the national tally of just under 190,000 infections and 1,591 deaths is far lower than that of many developed nations.
    Neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the coronavirus through high vaccination rates, reported 175 new cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 8,121.    There have been 33 deaths in total.
    In major cities across New Zealand, several anti-government protests against COVID-19 measures took place, with people driving slowly on main roads to cause traffic congestion.
    “Crass and stupid but what else would you expect!” Auckland Mayor Phil Goff said in a message on his Facebook page.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard and Jacqueline Wong)

11/13/2021 ‘We Are Real Friends’: Honduran President Says In Taiwan Visit Amid China Tension
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen walks next to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez,
during their meeting in Taipei, Taiwan, November 13, 2021. Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Honduras’ outgoing president said on Saturday he hoped his country would continue its friendship with Taiwan, as Taipei seeks to maintain relations with the Central American country amid a diplomatic tug-of-war with Beijing.
    Honduras is one of just 15 countries that maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, which China claims as its territory with no right to state-to-state relations.
    Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s party faces a tough challenge in a November 28 election https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/honduran-opposition-unites-behind-candidate-president-major-shift-2021-10-13 to retain the presidency as a candidate backed by main opposition parties is leading in opinion polls.
    If elected, Xiomara Castro has vowed to bring about changes, including establishing official relationship with China.
    “At this very moment amid tensions in the region, Honduras is here to demonstrate that we are real friends and only real friendship can be seen at difficult times,” told Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen at the presidential office in Taipei in a meeting broadcast live on Facebook.
    “We hope to deepen such friendship and diplomatic ties either within or after my presidency,” said Hernandez, who is completing the second of his two four year terms.
    China has sharply increased its military and political pressure https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/taiwan-china-wargames on Taiwan in recent months, including almost daily campaign of military exercises and patrols near the democratic island.
    Tsai called Hernandez’s three-day visit “significant” and said she hoped the two countries would continue to “help each other” on the international stage.
    Taiwan, which says it is an independent country, had accused China of seeking to use the Honduran election to “create controversy” and warned Honduras not to be drawn in by Beijing’s “flashy and false” promises.
    China and Taiwan have for years traded accusations of “dollar diplomacy” as they seek support, offering aid packages in return for diplomatic recognition.
    China’s efforts to win over Taiwan’s remaining allies have alarmed Washington, which has been especially concerned about Beijing’s growing influence in Central America and the Caribbean.
    There has been widespread speculation about Hernandez’s future and whether a Castro government would allow for him to be extradited to the United States, where he is a target of a narcotics investigation https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-honduras-idUSKBN2A8291.
    The president has vehemently denied any links to drugs cartels.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/13/2021 Australia PM, Criticised On Climate, Urges Firms To Curb Costs
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks as National Statements
are delivered as a part of the World Leaders' Summit at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26)
in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Ian Forsyth/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, facing growing domestic and global disapproval of his climate policies, urged multinational companies on Saturday to start offering cheaper and more sustainable solutions to combat climate change.
    Pressure intensified this week after Morrison’s government announced financial aid https://www.reuters.com/business/sustainable-business/australia-set-up-740-mln-fund-develop-low-emissions-technology-2021-11-09 to support electric vehicles that some critics said came far short of what is needed.
    Australia, one of world’s top producers of coal and gas, was named the “colossal fossil” of the United Nations COP26 climate talks in Glasgow on Friday by Climate Action Network activists for “its appalling approach to climate change policy.”
    Morrison told The Age newspaper that businesses should change their “corporate mindset,” drive down costs to help stop climate change and stop relying on taxpayer subsidies.
    “Consumers’ choices I think are pretty clear now, and the corporate sector has got to change their mindset,” Morrison said.
    “There are 20 million people in Australia, we’re an affluent society and economy,” he said.    “You sell us a car at the right price and we’ll buy it.”
    Morrison last month adopted a target https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/australia-unveil-2050-net-zero-target-ahead-un-climate-summit-2021-10-26 of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but said he would not legislate that goal, instead relying on consumers and companies to drive emission reductions.
    His government also rejected a global pledge, led by the European Union and the United States, to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
    Morrison said governments cannot solve the emissions reduction issue through imposing mandates or through the pricing of carbon.
    “The world’s companies are going to solve this problem because they’re the ones who make electric cars,” Morrison said.    “The governments don’t do any of those things."
    “That doesn’t mean government doesn’t have a role, of course it does, but it’s not the answer.    It’s helping support the answer.    And ultimately, consumer choice will drive it.”
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

11/13/2021 Japan Foreign Minister Says Blinken Gave U.S. Commitment To Defend Japan
FILE PHOTO: Japan's new Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi arrives at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's
official residence in Tokyo, Japan November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s new foreign minister, Yoshimasa Hayashi, said on Saturday U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured him in a phone call that the U.S. commitment to defending Japan, including southern islets claimed by China, was unwavering.
    Japan’s ties with China have been plagued by a territorial dispute over a group of Japanese-administered islands in the East China Sea, called the Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, as well as the legacy of Japan’s past military aggression.
    “Secretary Blinken stated that U.S. commitment to defending Japan, including the application of Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty for the Senkaku islands, was unwavering,” Hayashi told reporters.
    The treaty’s article 5 says each party recognises an armed attack on territories under Japan’s administration would be dangerous to its peace and safety, and it would act to meet the common danger.
    Hayashi said he and Blinken shared the view that the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait was important.
    Cross-strait tensions have been rising in recent months, with Taiwan complaining for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as its own.
    Hayashi and Blinken strongly opposed China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas, and agreed on close cooperation between the two allies in responding to issues regarding China, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a written statement.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard)

11/13/2021 ‘Inconceivable’ Australia Would Not Join U.S. To Defend Taiwan – Australian Defence Minister
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/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – It would be “inconceivable” for Australia not to join the United States should Washington take action to defend Taiwan, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton said on Saturday.
    On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the United States and its allies would take unspecified “action” https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-allies-would-take-action-if-taiwan-attacked-blinken-2021-11-10 if China were to use force to alter the status quo over Taiwan.
    “It would be inconceivable that we wouldn’t support the U.S. in an action if the U.S. chose to take that action,” Dutton told The Australian newspaper in an interview.
    “And, again, I think we should be very frank and honest about that, look at all of the facts and circumstances without pre-committing, and maybe there are circumstances where we wouldn’t take up that option, (but) I can’t conceive of those circumstances.”
    China’s military said on Tuesday it conducted a combat readiness patrol https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-opposes-us-legislators-visiting-taiwan-by-military-plane-state-media-2021-11-09 in the direction of the Taiwan Strait, after its Defence Ministry condemned a visit by a U.S. congressional delegation to Taiwan, the democratically governed island claimed by Beijing.
    “(China’s) been very clear about their intent to go into Taiwan and we need to make sure that there is a high level of preparedness, a greater sense of deterrence by our capability, and that is how I think we put our country in a position of strength,” Dutton told the newspaper.
    China has not ruled out using force to bring Taiwan under its control, but has played down the notion that war is imminent.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/13/2021 Thousands Protest Against COVID-19 Bill In Melbourne, Australia by OAN Newsroom
Anti-vaccination and lockdown protesters hold a rally at the gates at the Flemington racecourse in Melbourne on
November 2, 2021, ahead of the running of the Melbourne Cup horse race. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
    Thousands took to the streets of Melbourne, Australia to protest the city’s COVID restrictions.
    Demonstrators marched through downtown Melbourne on Saturday, expressing their outrage over a proposed bill which would expand the state’s emergency powers.    The proposed “Pandemic Management Bill 2021” would give Victoria leadership more powers, including the ability to declare a pandemic and impose further travel restrictions and mask mandates.
    Opponents of the bill question the science behind the law, asserting the lockdowns have had major affects on young people.
    “These past two years have been pure hell for our families.    The isolation, segregation and breaking of the family unit needs to desist,” announced one activist to the crowd.    “What are the true statistics on our children and young mental health?    I would love it if they would report the increase of the suicide rates amongst our young people.”
    The Victorian opposition noted the bill would hand the premier too much power, with the proposed legislation giving them power for an “indefinite period of time.”    In the meantime, the existing state emergency powers given during the pandemic are set to expire on Dec. 15.

11/14/2021 Shipowners Make Payoffs To Free Vessels Held By Indonesian Navy Near Singapore- Sources by Joe Brock
FILE PHOTO: A bird's-eye view of ships along the coast in Singapore July 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – More than a dozen shipowners have made payments of about $300,000 apiece to release vessels detained by the Indonesian navy, which said they were anchored illegally in Indonesian waters near Singapore, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
    The dozen sources include shipowners, crew and maritime security sources all involved in the detentions and payments, which they say were either made in cash to naval officers or via bank transfer to intermediaries who told them they represented the Indonesian navy.
    Reuters was not able to independently confirm that payments were made to naval officers or establish who the final recipients of the payments were.
    The detentions and payments were first reported by Lloyd’s List Intelligence, an industry website.    Rear Admiral Arsyad Abdullah, the Indonesian naval fleet commander for the region, said in a written response to Reuters’ questions that no payments were made to the navy and also that it did not employ any intermediaries in legal cases.
    “It is not true that the Indonesian navy received or asked for payment to release the ships,” Abdullah said.
    He said there had been an increasing number of detentions of ships in the past three months for anchoring without permission in Indonesian waters, deviating from the sailing route or stopping mid-course for an unreasonable amount of time.    All the detentions were in accordance with Indonesian law, Abdullah said.
    The Singapore Strait, one of the busiest waterways in the world, is crowded with vessels waiting for days or weeks to dock at Singapore, a regional shipping hub where the COVID-19 pandemic has led to long delays.
(Graphic: Singapore’s waterways are among the busiest in the world – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/mypmnkaewvr/SingaporeWaterways.png)
    Ships have for years anchored in waters to the east of the Strait while they wait to port, believing they are in international waters and therefore not responsible for any port fees, two maritime analysts and two shipowners said.
    The Indonesian navy says this area comes within its territorial waters and it intends to crack down harder on vessels anchoring there without a licence.
    A spokesperson for the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, a government agency, declined to comment.
CRAMPED DETENTION
    Around 30 ships, including tankers, bulk carriers and a pipeline layer, have been detained by the Indonesian navy in the last three months and the majority have since been released after making payments of $250,000 to $300,000, according to two shipowners and two maritime security sources involved.
    Making these payments is cheaper than potentially losing out on revenue from ships carrying valuable cargo, like oil or grain, if they are tied up for months while a case is heard in Indonesian court, two shipowners said.
    Two crew members of detained ships said armed navy sailors approached their vessels on warships, boarded them and escorted the ships to naval bases on Batam or Bintan, Indonesian islands south of Singapore, across the Strait.
    The ship captains and often crew members were detained in cramped, sweltering rooms, sometimes for weeks, until shipowners organised cash to be delivered or a bank transfer was made to an intermediary of the navy, two detained crew members said.
    Abdullah, the Indonesian naval officer, said ship crew members were not detained.
    “During the legal process, all crew of the ships were on board their ships, except for questioning at the naval base.    After the questioning, they were sent back to the ships,” he said.
(Graphic: Path of vessels that were detained near Singapore and then released by Indonesian authorities – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/dwvkrezolpm/VesselPathfromIndonesia.png)
    Stephen Askins, a London-based maritime lawyer who has advised owners whose vessels have been detained in Indonesia, said the navy was entitled to protect its waters but if a ship was detained, then some form of prosecution should follow.
    “In a situation where the Indonesian navy seems to be detaining vessels with an intention to extort money it is difficult to see how such a detention could be lawful,” Askins told Reuters in an email. He declined to give details about his clients.
    Marine Lieutenant Colonel La Ode Muhamad Holib, an Indonesian navy spokesperson, told Reuters in a written response to questions that some vessels detained in the last three months had been released without charge due to insufficient evidence.
    Five ship captains were being prosecuted and two others had been given short prison sentences and fined 100 million rupiah ($7,000) and 25 million rupiah, respectively, Holib said, declining to elaborate further on the specific cases.
($1 = 14,240 rupiah)
(Reporting by Joe Brock in Singapore; additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi; graphics by Gavin Maguire; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/14/2021 Japan Prepares Beds, Booster Shots In COVID-19 Lull Before Winter by Rocky Swift
FILE PHOTO: St. Marianna University Yokohama Seibu Hospital department of emergency and critical care
medicine doctor Hiroki Saito draws plastic curtain at emergency and critical care room inside the
hospital where patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are being treated in Yokohama,
south of Tokyo, Japan May 25, 2021. Picture taken May 25, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida outlined on Friday an urgent plan to increase hospital beds and medical resources in preparation for a possible resurgence of COVID-19 infections this winter.
    After a deadly fifth wave of infections almost overwhelmed the medical system during the summer, infections and deaths have fallen dramatically as vaccinations have increased to cover more than 70% of the population.
    Emergency measures covering most of the country were lifted last month, but health experts warn that cases will likely rebound, as they did in Japan last winter.    Ahead of that, the government plans to boost hospital bed capacity by about 30%, bolster in-home care, and collect data to predict which hospitals will come under pressure.
    “In parallel with strengthening the medical system, from December we will use IT systems to make public the number of hospital beds and conditions at each hospital,” Kishida told reporters.
    Kishida said earlier this week that the “trump card” in the government’s pandemic fight was the procurement of oral treatments that could prevent the need for hospitalisation.
    Japan will pay about $1.2 billion for 1.6 million courses of the COVID-19 antiviral pill molnupiravir developed by Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, according to terms announced on Wednesday.
    That’s about half the supply that has been secured by the United States and compares with a total of 1.7 million coronavirus cases seen in Japan since the start of the pandemic.
    Meanwhile, vaccine booster shots are due to start from next month, and the government is considering expanding inoculations to children as young as five.
    Japan has weathered the pandemic better than many countries, with just over 18,000 deaths so far and without the imposition of stringent lockdowns.
    But the government faced heavy criticism over a spate of deaths at home among patients due to hospitals’ inability to handle the rash of cases during the summer.    Former Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga resigned in September over his handling of the crisis.
    To stave off the bed shortage, the health ministry has adopted a system that uses past and present infection data to predict when and where medical resources will come under strain.     “A sixth wave is a question of when rather than if,” said Yuki Furuse, a Kyoto University professor who developed the predictive tool.
    “Because the current situation in Japan is calm, it seems okay to lift some restrictions now.    However, I am concerned about whether people can go back to a ‘voluntary self-restraint state’ again when needed,” he added.
(Reporting by Rocky Swift; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/14/2021 Australia Aims To Vaccinate Children Under 12 Against COVID-19 From January by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a
medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic//File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia, quickly becoming one of most-vaccinated nations against COVID-19, will likely start administering the shots for children under the age of 12 in January, officials said on Sunday.
    Health Minister Greg Hunt said medical regulators are still reviewing the health and safety data for the vaccinations to be administered for children between the ages of five and 11 and are unlikely to decide this year.
    “The expectation that they have set is the first part of January, hopefully early January,” Hunt told the Australian Broadcast Corp’s Insiders programme.    “But they’re going as quickly as possible.”
    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month recommended https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-cdc-advisers-vote-covid-19-vaccine-young-children-2021-11-02 the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE shot for broad use in the 5-11 age group, after it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
    Army Lieutenant-General John Frewen, Australia’s COVID-19 Taskforce commander told The Age newspaper that Australia has secured the necessary supplies.    “We have actually purchased sufficient supply for doses and boosters down to infants,” Frewen said.
    On Friday, Australia crossed the 90% single-dose mark for those aged 16 and over, with 83% having two shots.    The country has also vaccinated 57.7% of children between the ages of 12 and 15, according to health ministry data.
    Australia’s high vaccination rates were key to its decision to partially reopen international borders this month for the first time since the start of the pandemic, despite ongoing Delta variant outbreaks in the most populous states, New South Wales and Victoria.
    On Sunday, there were 1,100 infections reported in the two states, home to nearly 60% of the country’s population.    Five more people died.
    However, despite the Delta outbreaks that led to months of lockdown in the two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, the national tally of just 191,000 infections and 1,596 deaths is far lower than those of many other developed nations.
    Neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the coronavirus through high vaccination rates, reported 207 new cases and one death, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 8,331 infections and 34 deaths.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

11/14/2021 Japan Considering Resuming Domestic Travel Subsidies Mid-Jan – Nikkei
FILE PHOTO: Kimono-clad tourists wearing protective face masks walk along Nakamise Street at Asakusa district, a popular sightseeing
spot, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo, Japan October 13, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government is considering resuming subsidies aimed at promoting domestic tourism as early as mid-January, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Sunday.
    The move will ease the strain on airlines and hotels hit by shrinking travel from the coronavirus pandemic, and underscore hopes among policymakers to reflate the economy out of the doldrums through pent-up demand.
    The subsidies will be part of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s new pandemic-relief programme expected to be compiled on Friday.
    As COVID-19 infections began to rise, Japan halted in December a programme that used taxpayers’ money to offer domestic tourists discounts for hotels and domestic travel fees.
    On request from the tourism industry, the government will consider resuming the programme from mid-January or February, until around late April, the Nikkei said.
    The government will offer bigger discounts for travel during the weekdays compared with those on the weekend, to avoid trips being concentrated during the weekend, the paper said.
    It will also lower the maximum amount of discount offered per travel compared with the previous programme, the Nikkei said without citing sources.
    The government was not immediately available to comment.
    Japan’s economy likely contracted an annualised 0.8% in the third quarter as supply constraints and state of emergency curbs to combat the pandemic hit exports and consumption, according to a Reuters poll.
    Analysts expect consumption to pick up after the Sept. 30 end of the curbs, though slowing Chinese growth and lingering supply bottlenecks cloud the outlook for the export-reliant economy.    The government will release preliminary third-quarter gross domestic product data on Monday.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

11/14/2021 Taliban Hold Military Parade With U.S.-Made Weapons In Kabul In Show Of Strength by Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam
Taliban forces ride in a car during a Taliban military parade in
Kabul, Afghanistan November 14, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban forces held a military parade in Kabul on Sunday using captured American-made armoured vehicles and Russian helicopters in a display that showed their ongoing transformation from an insurgent force to a regular standing army.
    The Taliban operated as insurgent fighters for two decades but have used the large stock of weapons and equipment left behind when the former Western-backed government collapsed in August to overhaul their forces.
    The parade was linked to the graduation of 250 freshly trained soldiers, defence ministry spokesman Enayatullah Khwarazmi said.
    The exercise involved dozens of U.S.-made M117 armoured security vehicles driving slowly up and down a major Kabul road with MI-17 helicopters patrolling overhead. Many soldiers carried American made-M4 assault rifles.
    Most of the weapons and equipment the Taliban forces are now using are those supplied by Washington to the American-backed government in Kabul in a bid to construct an Afghan national force capable of fighting the Taliban.
    Those forces melted away with the fleeing of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani from Afghanistan – leaving the Taliban to take over major military assets.
    Taliban officials have said that pilots, mechanics and other specialists from the former Afghan National Army would be integrated into a new force, which has also started wearing conventional military uniforms in place of the traditional Afghan clothing normally worn by their fighters.
    According to a report late last year by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (Sigar), the U.S. government transferred to the Afghan government more than $28 billion worth of defence articles and services, including weapons, ammunition, vehicles, night-vision devices, aircraft, and surveillance systems, from 2002 to 2017.
    Some of the aircraft were flown into neighbouring Central Asian Countries by fleeing Afghan forces, but the Taliban have inherited other aircraft.    It remains unclear how many are operational.
    As the U.S. troops departed, they destroyed more than 70 aircraft, dozens of armoured vehicles and disabled air defences before flying out of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport following a chaotic evacuation operation.
(Additional reporting by Kabul bureau; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/15/2021 China’s Xi Expected To Prioritise Taiwan Issue In Biden Discussion by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to use his first virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden to warn the United States to “step back” on the Taiwan issue, according to Chinese state media editorials printed on Monday.
    Xi and Biden are scheduled to meet virtually on Tuesday morning Beijing time – Monday evening in Washington – as friction between the countries persist across a range of issues including trade, technology, Xinjiang and especially Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China.
    An editorial in the English language China Daily on Monday said that it was likely that Xi would impress upon Biden that Beijing is resolved to “realise national reunification in the foreseeable future no matter the cost.”
    State media outlets such as China Daily are briefed by authorities on important issues such as China-U.S. relations and have been accurate in reflecting the priorities of Chinese leaders.
    “The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China,” wrote a Monday editorial by Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily.
    “In order to reduce the risk of a strategic collision between China and the U.S., the latter must take a step back from the Taiwan question and show its restraint,” it wrote.
    In a call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi warned Washington against sending the wrong signals to Taiwan pro-independence forces.
    Some experts said China’s emphasis on Taiwan amidst other friction points reflects its reluctance to be drawn into armed conflict with the United States unnecessarily, despite its recent words and actions, including sending an unprecedented number of planes into Taiwan’s air defence zone.
    “Chinese leaders are aware that China has not completed its modernisation and still faces many challenges in its domestic economy,” said Li Mingjiang, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
    “A war could severely disrupt this modernisation and set back its rise,” he told Reuters.
    China also does not have full confidence that it can secure a clear military victory at this stage, Li said.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Michael Perry)

11/15/2021 Philippines On Edge As Deadline For Presidential Candidates Looms
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Philippine Senator Christopher "Bong" Go gather outside the Commission
on Elections after he filed his certificate of candidacy for president for the 2022
national election, in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) – A deadline for Philippine political parties on Monday to finalise candidates for next year’s election is keeping voters on the edge with last-minute changes likely in unpredictable presidential and vice presidential races.
    President Rodrigo Duterte, according to his spokesperson Harry Roque, will announce his election plans at the Commission on Elections’ office later on Monday.
    Roque did not elaborate but Duterte’s communications chief said on Saturday he plans to register to run for vice president before the deadline, and challenge his daughter, Sara Duterte-Carpio, who is vying for the same position.
    His 43-year-old daughter had been expected to run to succeed him as president.    He is not allowed to seek re-election.    However, she filed her candidacy for vice president despite leading opinion polls for most preferred presidential contenders.
    Nevertheless, she could still change her mind.
    It was not yet clear who Duterte-Carpio will run with, but presidential aspirant and son of late strongman, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has said he wants her to be his running mate.
    In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately.
    Dozens of supporters of Duterte-Carpio in green T-shirts, the colour associated with her, were outside the polling body’s office on Monday to make a last ditch attempt to convince her to change her mind and run for the presidency.
    Candidates have until 0900 GMT on Monday to withdraw or switch positions by way of substitution.     The Southeast Asian nation of 110 million people holds elections in May 2022 for positions from president down to governors, mayors and local officials.    The next government faces the uphill task of reviving a pandemic-battered economy.
    The older Duterte’s choice of successor is his long-time aide, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, who on Saturday quit the vice presidential race to run for the country’s top job.
    Go will square off with more seasoned and popular rivals, like Marcos and boxing hero Manny Pacquiao, who are both ahead of him in opinion polls.
    “Even though Go is not as competitive as Sara, Duterte has a lot of resources at his disposal and could count on the Mindanao base,” said Richard Heydarian, an author, columnist and academic who specialises in politics, referring to the southern Philippine island which is the base for both Duterte and his daughter.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/15/2021 New Zealand’s Maori Ask Anti-Vaccine Protesters To Stop Using Haka
FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions and
vaccine mandates in Wellington, New Zealand, November 9, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – A Maori tribe that claims New Zealand’s most famous haka as its heritage on Monday told anti-vaccine protesters to stop using the traditional performance to promote their message.
    Vaccine protesters have performed the “Ka Mate,” a Maori haka composed in about 1820 by Te Rauparaha, war leader of the Ngati Toa tribe, at their rallies over the past few weeks against vaccine mandates and pandemic restrictions.
    “We do not support their position and we do not want our tupuna or our iwi associated with their messages,” the Ngati Toa tribe, or “iwi” in Maori, said in a statement, referring to the tribe’s ancestry or “tupuna.”
    “Our message to protesters who wish to use Ka Mate is to use a different haka.    We do not endorse the use of Ka Mate for this purpose.”
    Although there are many forms of haka composed by different tribes for various uses and occasions, the “Ka Mate” is the most widely known because it has been performed by the All Blacks at international rugby test matches for decades.
    It involves a fearsome display of rhythmic foot-stamping and chanting, eye-rolling and sticking tongues out.
    New Zealand, which has among the lowest rates of COVID-19 in the world, has struggled to fight off the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus this year, forcing Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to move from a strategy of elimination through lockdowns to living with the virus with higher vaccinations.
    Ardern has set a target of vaccinating 90% of those eligible before ending lockdowns.
    About 81% of the eligible population has received two vaccine doses but Ardern said on Monday that health authorities were struggling to reach some young Maori due to misinformation about vaccines.
    “So it’s not just an access issue.    We are trying to overcome much more than that and from the provider conversations I’ve had, that is one of the things we’re all struggling with,” Ardern told state broadcaster TVNZ, referring to disinformation.
    As of Nov. 13, 76% of Maori have received one dose of a vaccine while 60% were fully vaccinated.
    Authorities reported 173 new COVID-19 cases on Monday taking New Zealand’s total number of infections to more than 8,500.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/15/2021 China Fights Biggest Delta Outbreak As Cases Grow In City Of Dalian
FILE PHOTO: People line up for nucleic acid testing at a residential compound following local cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dalian, Liaoning province, China November 10, 2021. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China is battling the spread of its biggest COVID-19 outbreak caused by the Delta variant, according to numbers announced on Monday, with travellers from a city where infections have grown faster than elsewhere in the country subject to tough quarantine rules in nearby areas.
    Chinese authorities said 32 new domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms have been reported for Nov. 14, most of which were in northeastern Dalian city.    That brings the tally of local cases since Oct. 17 to 1,308, Reuters calculations based on official data showed, surpassing the 1,280 local cases from a summer Delta outbreak.
    This marks China’s most widespread Delta outbreak, which has affected 21 provinces, regions and municipalities.    While it is smaller than many outbreaks in other countries, Chinese authorities are anxious to block any further transmissions under the government’s zero-tolerance guidance.
    A dozen province-level regions contained their flare-ups within weeks in the current outbreak, thanks to quick implementation of a complex set of curbs, including rigorous contact tracing, multiple rounds of testing of people in at risk areas, the closure of entertainment and cultural venues and restrictions on tourism and public transport.
    However, Dalian remains locked in a struggle with the virus, Wu Liangyou, an official at the National Health Commission has said.
    Since Dalian’s first local symptomatic patients from the latest outbreak was reported on Nov. 4, the port city of 7.5 million people has detected an average of about 24 new local cases a day, more than any other Chinese cities, according to Reuters calculations.
    A few cities near Dalian, including Dandong, Anshan and Shenyang, have said people arriving from Dalian have to be quarantined at centralised facilities for 14 days before they can move freely, in an unusually cautious measure.
    As of Nov. 14, mainland China had reported 98,315 confirmed coronavirus cases with symptoms, including domestically transmitted infections and those from overseas.    There have been 4,636 deaths.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and Ella Cao; Editing by Kim Coghill and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/15/2021 Biden To Tell Xi That China Must Play By The Rules – Senior U.S. Official by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom and Alexandra Alper
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden will tell Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a virtual meeting on Monday meant to reduce the chances of a superpower conflict that China must “play by the rules of the road” like a responsible nation, a senior U.S. administration official said.
    The video dialogue, initiated by Biden and expected by the United States to run for several hours on Monday evening, Washington time, will be about setting terms for future U.S.-China competition, the official told reporters.
    Both sides hope the most extensive talks between the leaders since Biden became president in January will make the relationship less acrimonious.
    The United States and China, the world’s biggest economies, disagree on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beijing’s expanding nuclear arsenal and its stepped-up pressure on Taiwan, among other issues.
    “This is an opportunity for President Biden to tell President Xi directly that he expects him to play by the rules of the road, which is what other responsible nations do,” the U.S. official told reporters, citing a litany of U.S. concerns, including China’s economic “coercion” of U.S. allies and alleged human rights abuses.
    Biden is focused on writing those rules “in a way that is favorable to our interests and our values and those of our allies and partners,” the official said, adding that talks with China must be “substantive and not symbolic.”
    “This is not a meeting where we expect deliverables to be coming out,” the official added.
    U.S. officials have played down the possibility of progress on trade, where China is lagging in a commitment to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services.    Not on Biden’s agenda are U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods that Beijing and business groups hope to be scaled back.
    The official declined to answer questions on whether the United States will send officials to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. Activists and U.S. lawmakers have urged the Biden administration to boycott the Olympics.
‘DEEP SUSPICION’
    Xi, looking ahead to the Games and a Communist Party Congress next year where he is expected to secure an unprecedented third term, is also keen to avoid heightened tensions with the United States, while pushing back over the Taiwan issue.
    “The Taiwan question is the ultimate red line of China,” the Global Times, a tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, wrote in a Monday editorial.
    Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing on Monday: “It is hoped that the United States and China will meet each other halfway, strengthen dialogue and cooperation, effectively manage differences, properly handle sensitive issues, and explore ways of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.”
    Xi and Biden last week outlined competing visions, with Biden stressing the U.S. commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which Washington says faces increasing Chinese “coercion,” while Xi warned against a return to Cold War tensions.
    “Both sides hold the other with deep suspicion and are taking substantive steps to compete against the other in economics, security and politics,” said Scott Kennedy, a China expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    Democrats in Congress want Biden to make nuclear risk reduction measures with China a top priority, after the Pentagon reported that Beijing was significantly expanding its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
    Beijing argues its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia, and says it is ready for dialogue if Washington reduces its nuclear stockpile to China’s level.
    Taiwan is likely to play heavily in the talks, with Beijing and Washington increasingly clashing over the self-ruled island, which China claims as its own.
    The Biden administration has been trying to carve out more space for Taiwan in the international system.    Beijing has vowed to bring the island back under mainland control, by force if necessary.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last week that Washington and its allies would take unspecified “action” if China were to use force to alter the Taiwan status quo, further muddying the long-held U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” as to whether the United States would respond militarily.
    In a call with Blinken on Saturday, senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi warned Washington against sending the wrong signals Biden and China’s Xi will hold virtual meeting to Taiwan pro-independence forces.br>     Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, who served as ambassador to Japan under former President Donald Trump, said Biden needed to show a firm hand with Xi.
    “This is President Biden’s opportunity to show steel, show strength on America’s side, to make it clear that we are going to stand by our allies and that we will not endorse or condone the malign behavior that China has engaged in,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, David Brunnstrom, Andrea Shalal and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Heather Timmons, Michael Perry and Mark Heinrich)

11/15/2021 India’s Top Court Orders ‘Work From Home’ Over Pollution In Capital by Suchitra Mohanty
A man rows a boat as buildings shrouded in smog are seen in the background
on the outskirts of Delhi, India, November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court told authorities on Monday to shut offices in the capital and nearby cities, allowing millions to work from home as officials seek ways to reduce hazardous air pollution that led to the closure of schools.
    Its action came after city authorities in New Delhi, which has been battling a toxic haze since early November, took emergency measures on Saturday, ordering the closure of schools and building work for four days.
    “We direct the centre and states of the national capital region to impose work from home for the meantime,” said Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, head of a panel of three judges considering a petition by a city resident.
    The court also sought urgent steps to rein in crop waste fires in the neighbouring states of Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, set by hundreds of thousands of farmers looking to clear fields for a new sowing season.
    “We want action on the issue,” said Justice Surya Kant.    Although the court did not set a deadline for the action by authorities, it will next take up the pollution issue on Wednesday.
    India’s efforts to reduce the burning of crop waste, a major source of air pollution during winter, have had little benefit, despite its expenditure of billions of rupees over the past four years.
    An index of air quality stood at 343 on a scale of 500 in Delhi on Monday, a sign of “very poor” conditions that can cause respiratory illness on prolonged exposure.
    The capital experienced severe conditions late last week as temperatures dropped and the index reached 499.
    The Supreme Court also ordered measures to halt vehicle traffic that is not essential, cut industrial pollution and limit dust.
    Contributors to the poor air quality in Delhi, often ranked the world’s most polluted capital, include coal-fired plants outside the city as well as the burning of garbage in the open.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/16/2021 Myanmar’s Suu Kyi To Face New Charges Of Electoral Fraud
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends Invest
Myanmar in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military authorities are adding new electoral fraud charges to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of her administration for abuse of power, according to a state media announcement on Tuesday.
    Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi was arrested in an early morning raid before the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew her elected government.    She so far is facing 11 criminal cases, including two of corruption and one of violating the Official Secrets Act.
    Her charges, which she has denied, carry a total maximum of more than 100 years’ prison sentence.
    Her trials are ongoing behind closed doors and defence lawyers, the only source of information on the proceedings, are under gag orders imposed by the authorities.
    An announcement in state media said Suu Kyi was one of 16 people, many of those former election commissioners, prosecuted for being involved in “electoral processes, electoral fraud and lawless actions” some of which involved threatening regional election officials.
    Suu Kyi led a non-violent struggle against dictatorship in the last two decades of the military’s 1962-2011.
    The military said it acted because Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party’s (NLD) victory was based on a manipulated vote, though the electoral commission at that time had rejected its complaints.
    The NLD says it won fairly.
(Editing by Kay Johnson and Martin Petty)

11/16/2021 Kabul Passport Office Suspends Work As Demand Crashes System
FILE PHOTO: Afghans gather outside the passport office after Taliban officials announced they will start issuing
passports to its citizens again, following months of delays that hampered attempts by those trying to flee
the country after the Taliban seized control, in Kabul, Afghanistan October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Kabul passport office has been forced to suspend operations after equipment used for issuing biometric documents broke down under the pressure of processing thousands of applications a day, the head of the office said.
    Worries about the future of Afghanistan under the new Taliban government and a gathering economic and humanitarian crisis that threatens millions with joblessness and hunger have fuelled an exodus, with thousands crossing the border every day.
    Alam Gul Haqqani, director of the passport department, said as many as 15,000-20,000 people a day were camped outside the office in Kabul, five or six times more than the office was able to handle, with many sleeping on the pavement overnight.
    Many were forced to come back day after day after failing to file their application and the biometric machines regularly broke down as they processed the documents, causing further delays, he said.
    “To stop people suffering this and to avoid disturbance, we have decided to stop the activities of the passport department activities for a few days,” he told Tolo News television on Monday night, adding that the office would re-open soon.
    On Tuesday, the interior ministry said 60 people, including a number of members of the passport department, had been arrested for using forged or fake documents to obtain a passport.    There have also been growing complaints of people being forced to pay bribes to officials to get their applications approved.
    International flights have slowly begun operating again with regular services from Kabul to Dubai and Islamabad offered by state-owned Ariana Afghan Airlines and privately owned Kam Air, in addition to charter services from other carriers.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/16/2021 With Borders Closed, Australian Winemakers Raise A Glass To The Home Crowd by Stefica Nicol Bikes
Petersons Wines cellar door assistant Jessica Kim conducts a wine tasting for patrons, as wineries in the
Hunter Valley region re-open following widespread coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in the state of
New South Wales, in Mount View, Australia, November 14, 2021. Picture taken November 14, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    POKOLBIN, AUSTRALIA (Reuters) – As Australia’s most populous state emerges from a lengthy COVID-19 lockdown, winemakers in its top grape-growing district, the Hunter Valley, have started toasting an influx of guests from travel-starved Sydney.
    Although the country largely avoided the high pandemic death rates of many other countries, the state of New South Wales, home to a third of Australia’s population, entered one of the world’s longest lockdowns in June as the Delta strain tore through the community.
    That included bans on people leaving Sydney and the Central Coast to the north, but with high vaccination takeup those restrictions are mostly lifted. Since national borders remain closed, people are seeking tourism thrills closer to home.
    “A lot of people were like ‘Oh, we can’t wait, we are escaping Sydney or the Central Coast,’ or wherever their home is, so they were definitely very excited to come and get out and about and especially to the beautiful Hunter Valley,” Savannah Estate cellar door manager Kurt Nilon said on a recent busy Saturday.
    Since a step-by-step easing of lockdown began on Oct. 11, restaurants and cellar doors have been following patron limits.    Stephen Drayton, owner of Ivanhoe Wines, said the pandemic rules had helped streamline the experience.
    “The days have gone where you do just rock up at a winery and stand at a bar and taste wines,” Drayton said.    “You have to book in to have a wine tasting.    There’s more one on one service.”
    Sydney resident Jean Maree Furtado said she traveled 170 km (100 miles) for a leisurely wine tasting.
    “If I didn’t want that experience then I could just go to the bottle shop and read the notes, but it’s lovely hearing the story from the winemakers,” she said during a tasting at Peterson’s Wines.
    Restaurants in the valley have also experienced a surge of diners.    One restaurant, Baume, which is attached to a winery, said it was fully booked every weekend until February 2022.
    “The phones don’t stop ringing,” said Baume operations manager Joe Spagnolo.    “Given that we’ve still got the 2-square-metre rules in place, it limits us a little bit but it has been outstanding.”
(Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Writing by Byron Kaye. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/16/2021 Japan Distances Itself From Report Its Envoy Helped Free U.S. Reporter by Antoni Slodkowski
FILE PHOTO: Managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar, U.S. journalist Danny Fenster,
is pictured in an unknown location in this undated handout picture made available
to Reuters on November 12, 2021. Frontier Myanmar/Handout via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan on Tuesday distanced itself from a visit to Myanmar by its special envoy during which, according to military-run media in Myanmar, he played a role in the release from jail of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster.
    Fenster, 37, the managing editor of magazine Frontier Myanmar, was freed https://www.reuters.com/world/american-journalist-fenster-out-prison-myanmar-employer-says-2021-11-15 on Monday three days after being sentenced to 11 years for incitement and violations of laws on immigration and unlawful assembly.
    He had been detained since May, spurring an international campaign for his release that has highlighted the plight of media in the Southeast Asian nation roiled by internal strife since the military takeover in February threw it into chaos.
    Myanmar’s military-owned Myawaddy TV said on Monday Fenster had been granted an amnesty following requests from former U.S. state governor and diplomat with longstanding Myanmar ties Bill Richardson, who has been openly linked with the release effort.
    But in a surprise, it also credited for the release Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation who doubles as Japan’s special envoy on Myanmar for national reconciliation, as well as former Japanese minister Hideo Watanabe http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/12/09/JapanMyanmar.pdf.
    Both Sasakawa and Watanabe have for years cultivated close ties to the Myanmar military.    Sasakawa met coup leader Min Aung Hlaing over the weekend, but his Nippon Foundation declined to comment on the talks, citing political sensitivity.
    Myawaddy TV said Fenster was released in response to requests by Sasakawa, Watanabe and Richardson to “maintain the friendship between the countries and to emphasize humanitarian grounds.”
    Japanese foreign minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, asked at a news conference about the reports of Sasakawa’s involvement in the release, said the envoy was on visit to Myanmar in a personal capacity.
    Hayashi said he was aware of Sasakawa’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing but said the visit “was not carried out in his capacity as the government representative” and his ministry was not involved in arranging it.
    “The government has traditionally maintained a level of contact with Mr Sasakawa, but I would like to refrain from making the details of these communications public,” said Hayashi.
    He did not refer to Fenster’s release but said Japan would continue its efforts towards improving and resolving the situation in Myanmar, including considering further humanitarian aid in coordination with international agencies.
    The office of Watanabe’s Japan-Myanmar Association declined to comment.    In recent years Watanabe has been key to creating a special economic zone close to Myanmar’s main city of Yangon that helped spur Japanese investment.
‘IMPROVING RELATIONS’
    Sasakawa’s talks came amid a breakdown https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/myanmar-says-no-suu-kyi-visit-envoy-would-be-unlawful-2021-11-03 in a Southeast Asian peace process that Myanmar’s neighbours say the junta has failed to follow, which led to the unprecedented decision to exclude Min Aung Hlaing from a regional summit last month.
    Central to the decision was the military’s refusal https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/myanmar-says-no-suu-kyi-visit-envoy-would-be-unlawful-2021-11-03 to grant a special Southeast Asian envoy access to the detained leader of Myanmar’s ousted government, Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
    It was unclear whether Sasakawa had asked to meet Suu Kyi or made any other conditions ahead of his talks with the isolated junta chief.    Myanmar’s main state-run newspaper reported the meeting on its front page, using Sasakawa’s full title as Japan’s envoy.
    During his trip Sasakawa also met Myanmar’s health minister, state media said, to discuss “conditions for Japan to donate COVID-19 vaccine to Myanmar, and issues that can be done to improve Japan-Myanmar relations.”
    Sasakawa also travelled to the northwestern Rakhine region riven by ethnic tensions where, according to media, he said that he had told junta officials his foundation would donate $8.5 million for internally displaced people.
    Media also said Sasakawa promised a donation of $3 million-worth of COVID-19 vaccines for Myanmar.    It was not clear whether the vaccines would be provided by the foundation or the government of Japan.
    Hayashi did not directly address the question of any vaccine donation.
    According to rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 10,143 people have been arrested since the coup in Myanmar and 1,260 people killed in violence, most of them in a crackdown by security forces on protests and dissent.
(Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Reuters staff; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel)

11/16/2021 Biden Tells Xi Must Ensure Relations Do Not Veer Into Open Conflict
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from
the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden said at the start of a virtual meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Monday that they both have a responsibility as leaders to ensure that relations between China and the United States do not veer into open conflict.
    Xi told Biden in the video conference the two countries face multiple challenges together and must increase communication and cooperation.
(Reporting Andrea Shalal, Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/16/2021 ‘Old Friends?’ For Xi And Biden, Not Necessarily
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks virtually with Chinese leader Xi Jinping from
the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Chinese leader Xi Jinping greeted U.S. President Joe Biden as “old friend” at the start of their first video meeting, using an expression that Biden has pushed back on.
    In China, the expression “lao peng you” connotes fondness and shows a level of familiarity and trust, and when said by Xi, 68, reflects a shared history that dates to August 2011, when the two held hours of conversations and travelled in Sichuan province – before either had reached the highest office.
    Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, said Xi’s use of the expression is a show of genuine goodwill.
    Daniel Russel, the top U.S. diplomat for Asia under former President Barack Obama, said it was part of each leader’s seeking the “narrative high ground” at the opening.
    “Xi deliberately greeting Biden as ‘my old friend’ – after Biden went on record this summer expressly denying that they are ‘friends.’    And Biden, with a toothy smile, reminding Xi that all countries – including China – ‘have to play by the same rules of the road’,” Russel said.
    Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University of China, noted Xi’s use of the term despite the difficult state of relations.
    “When we Chinese call someone an old friend, we mean we’ve known him for a long time.    But an ‘old friend’ doesn’t necessarily mean he is still a real friend,” Shi said.
    Given current diplomatic tensions, Biden may not want to be seen by U.S. allies and his political opponents as too much of a “friend.”
    In June, a reporter asked Biden, 78, whether he might call Xi – “old friend to old friend” – seeking access for World Health Organization investigators searching for the origins of COVID-19.
    “Let’s get something straight.    We know each other well; we’re not old friends.    It’s just pure business,” Biden said at the time.
    Ahead of the meeting on Monday, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked about that exchange.
    “Well … I can confirm … he still does not consider him an ‘old friend,’ so that remains consistent,” she said.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe in Beijing and Trevor Hunnicutt and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/16/2021 Biden, Xi Jinping Hold Virtual Meeting by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency Chinese President Xi Jinping, fourth from right waves
as he greets U.S. President Joe Biden via video link from Beijing, China on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021.
Biden opened his virtual meeting with Xi by saying the goal of the two world leaders should be to
ensure that competition between the two superpowers “does not veer into conflict.” (Ding Lin/Xinhua via AP)
    Joe Biden and and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, held a virtual meeting to work through areas of disagreement between the world’s two largest economies.    Biden hosted the meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Monday night with a number of top officials.
    “As I’ve said before, it seems to be our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden stated.
    This comes as the U.S and China have clashed in recent months over issues regarding Taiwan’s independence, China’s treatment of Hong Kong protesters and human rights abuses against the Uyghur Muslims.    President Xi stressed he would like to bolster communication channels with the U.S. and form a more cooperative relationship with the Biden administration.
    “Right now, both China and the United States are at critical stages of development, and humanity lives in a global village and we face multiple challenges together,” stated the Chinese leader.    “As the world’s two largest economies and the permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and the United States want to increase communication and cooperation.    We should each run our domestic affairs well and at the same time should have our share of international responsibilities and work together to advance the noble course of world peace and development.”
    Additionally, Xi said he hopes to tackle issues in order to move China and U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.
    “This is a shared desire of the people of our two countries and around the world, and the joint mission of Chinese and American leaders,” he stated.    “A sound and steady China-U.S. relationship is required, but advancing our two countries respective development and for safeguarding a peaceful and stable international environment, including finding effective responses to global challenges such as climate change which you referenced and the COVID pandemic.”
    While the two global leaders didn’t discuss substantive policy proposals, Biden said he looks forward to getting down to business on the extensive and substantive agenda ahead of them.

11/16/2021 Biden, Xi Stick To Their Positions But Turn Down The Heat In Three-Hour Talk by Andrea Shalal, Michael Martina and Yew Lun Tian
A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden
via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden pressed his Chinese counterpart on human rights in a video call lasting more than three hours, while Xi Jinping warned that China would respond to provocations on Taiwan, according to official accounts of the exchange.
    The closely scrutinized conversation between the leaders of the world’s biggest economies was described by both sides as frank and direct as the two sides tried to lower the temperature and avoid conflict.
    The talks, which began on Monday evening in Washington – Tuesday morning in Beijing – appeared to yield no immediate outcomes, but gave the two leaders opportunity to nudge their relations away from icy confrontation, even as they stuck to entrenched positions.
    They discussed North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, global energy markets, trade and competition, climate, military issues, the pandemic and other areas where they frequently disagree.
    Xi, who has not left his country since COVID-19 spread worldwide from the central Chinese city of Wuhan nearly two years ago, compared the two countries to “two giant ships sailing in the sea” that needed to be steadied so they didn’t collide, Chinese state media reported.
    “I hope that, Mr. President, you can exercise political leadership to return the United States’ China policy to a rational and pragmatic track,” Xi told Biden, according to Xinhua, a reference to tough-on-China policies that Beijing hoped would be rolled back after Biden came to office.
    Biden spoke of avoiding conflict as well.
    “It seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States is to ensure that our competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended,” Biden said during a short exchange observed by reporters at the start of the meeting.    “Just simple, straightforward competition.”
    The leaders had a “healthy debate,” a senior U.S. official said afterwards.    Biden stressed the importance of China fulfilling its commitments under a trade pact negotiated with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, the U.S. official said.
    China is lagging in a commitment to buy $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services, but Xi told Biden that it was important to avoid politicizing the issue.
    The two also discussed taking measures to address global energy supplies, U.S. officials said.
    The contentious issue of whether the United States will send White House envoys to the Beijing Winter Olympics in February did not come up, the U.S. official said.
    Chinese state media struck an upbeat tone.
    “The summit could be taken as a sign that the two economic and political heavyweights could at least avoid a further deterioration in their ties after four years of damage caused by the reckless Trump administration,” Wen Sheng, a Global Times editor, wrote in a commentary.
RED LINE FOR TAIWAN
    Sharp differences over the self-ruled island of Taiwan remain.
    While Biden reiterated long-standing U.S. support for the “One China” policy https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/biden-says-he-chinas-xi-have-agreed-abide-by-taiwan-agreement-2021-10-05 under which it officially recognises Beijing rather than Taipei, he also said he “strongly opposes unilateral efforts to change the status quo or undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait,” the White House said.
    Xi said those in Taiwan who seek independence, and their supporters in the United States, were “playing with fire,” according to Xinhua.
    “China is patient and seeks peaceful reunification with great sincerity and effort, but if Taiwan secessionists provoke, or even cross the red line, we will have to take decisive measures,” he said.
    A U.S. official said “there was nothing new established in the form of guard rails or any other understandings” on Taiwan, though Biden raised “very clear concerns.”
    China claims the island as its own. Beijing has vowed to bring the island under Chinese control, by force if necessary, and tensions across the Taiwan Strait have escalated in recent months.
    Beijing objects to Washington’s efforts to carve out more space for Taiwan in the international system, and recent comments by Biden that the United States would defend Taiwan in certain cases also inflamed tensions.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, responding to Xi’s remarks, denounced China’s “pressure and intimidation,” saying the island’s people would not give in to threats.
    Biden raised other issues that Beijing regards as domestic concerns, including its handling of Tibet, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, where China’s policies face frequent censure by foreign rights groups.
    Biden and Xi have not had a face-to-face meeting since Biden became president and the last time they spoke was by telephone in September.    The U.S. president smiled broadly as the Chinese president appeared on a large screen in the White House conference room.
    The tone of the meeting lifted investor sentiment, with global stocks hitting new peaks.
    “At least they are talking,” economist Wellian Wiranto of OCBC Bank in Singapore wrote during the talks.    “That seems to be the main expectation by global markets when it comes to any concrete outcome – or a lack thereof.”
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, David Brunnstrom and Michael Martina in Washington, and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Ryan Woo, Tony Munroe, Ben Blanchard and Trevor Hunnicutt; Writing by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Heather Timmons and Michael Perry)

11/16/2021 Biden, Xi Discuss How To ‘Align’ Stances On Iran Nuclear Issue
A screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending a virtual meeting with U.S. President
Joe Biden via video link, at a restaurant in Beijing, China November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about how they might harmonize their positions ahead of the Nov. 29 resumption of indirect U.S.-Iranian talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a top U.S. official said on Tuesday.
    Officials from Iran and the six nations that struck the pact – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – will meet in Vienna to see if Tehran and Washington can agree to resume compliance with the deal under which Iran curbed its nuclear program to gain relief from U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions.
    In 2018 then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the pact among the major powers known as the P5+1 and Iran and restored harsh U.S. sanctions, prompting Tehran to begin violating its nuclear restrictions about a year later.
    “The two presidents had the chance to talk about how we can align our perspectives heading into that (Nov. 29) meeting so that the P5+1 is united in dealing with Iran and trying to pave the way for a return to the (deal),” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a virtual think tank appearance.
    The U.S.-Iranian talks are indirect, with officials from the other nations shuttling between them, because Iran refuses direct contact with U.S. officials.
    While China favors reviving the agreement, it has tended to place the onus on the United States, rather than Iran, blaming Washington for having abandoned the deal and giving Tehran an economic lifeline by buying Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

11/17/2021 How COVID-19 Became A ‘Boon’ For A Battered Indian Hospital by Krishna N. Das
Doctors walk towards the main building of the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital in Bhagalpur district in
the eastern state of Bihar, India, November 12, 2021. Picture taken November 12, 2021. REUTERS/Krishna N. Das
    BHAGALPUR, India (Reuters) – At the height of the first COVID-19 wave in India last year, the Jawaharlal Nehru Medical College and Hospital (JLNMCH) in the eastern district of Bhagalpur exemplified the sorry state of healthcare in most of the countryside.
    Wards and ICUs were so swamped with patients and relatives that armed escorts went with doctors on their rounds, in case violence erupted. Doctors said when a second wave pummelled India this year, the government hospital with some 800 beds and meant to serve millions of people, barely pulled through.
    But thanks to the misery the pandemic brought, JLNMCH is getting a new lease of life as authorities try to address India’s chronic under-investment in health, especially in Bhagalpur’s home state of Bihar where healthcare infrastructure is among the worst in the country.
    The hospital has now set up its own oxygen generators that will meet nearly all its demand, hired dozens of new nurses, nearly doubled its ICU capacity, and linked hundreds of beds to piped oxygen for the first time in years.    Its pink, badly-peeling exterior also might get a fresh coat of paint, the hospital superintendent said.
    Work on a swanky new 200-bed advanced-care hospital, which started a few years ago, accelerated this year and is likely to be finished by the first half of next year.
    “COVID has been a boon for us,” Asim Kumar Das, medical superintendent of JLNMCH, told Reuters in an interview at the hospital.    “Although it destroyed mankind and brought huge suffering, it has given us so many changes in the infrastructure of the hospital.”
    Das said the hospital was in talks with the state government for 200 more beds in the main complex, along with additional human resources as there was an “acute shortage” of doctors and paramedics.
    Health infrastructure is starting to get similar attention across many parts of India, government figures show.
FUNDS FLOW TO OXYGEN
    Heavily criticised over record coronavirus infections and deaths in April and May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, along with states and government-run companies, have provided funds for hospitals so that all of India’s nearly 750 districts have at least one oxygen-generation plant.
    Some 4,000 of them have been commissioned in recent months, according to the federal government.
    The government has also pledged to build many new hospitals and upgrade existing ones in the next few years with the investment of around $9 billion – part of a bigger plan to double the number of hospital beds to two per 1,000 people.
    Many states are also planning to double their health spending, says the federal government, which wants to raise its public health spending to 2.5% of GDP by 2024/25 from 1.2% this fiscal year.
    India’s public health budget is among the lowest in the world, which means its citizens’ out-of-pocket expenditure is among the highest, according to World Bank data.
‘GOOD BEGINNING’
    By next year, Bihar alone has pledged to finish building 1,600 new government hospitals at the cost of nearly $500 million. As of 2018, the state had fewer than 80 big sub-district and district hospitals.
    “It’s a good beginning, there’s no doubt about it,” said cardiologist and epidemiologist K. Srinath Reddy, president of the non-profit Public Health Foundation of India.
    “But without the human resources – they should be adequate in numbers, well trained and well distributed across the country – infrastructure alone will not deliver.    So this element needs to be focused upon as quickly as possible.”
    The Bhagalpur hospital now has 60 ICU beds, but during a recent visit by Reuters, multiple rooms were either locked or empty.
    “We are short of human resources,” the department’s doctor-in-charge Mahesh Kumar said in one of the unoccupied rooms where 16 beds were made up with blue mattresses.    “We need trained doctors and paramedics. If we get them, we can easily keep all the ICU rooms running.”
    Bihar’s government-run district hospitals have one of the worst ratios of doctors and nurses relative to patients, according to government data released in August.
    New Delhi is staffed more than twice the national average, which falls short of the federal government’s own parameters.
    In a report presenting the data, the government identified the shortage of human resources as one of the main problems and says it is working to correct it.
    Inaugurating nine medical colleges in the county’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh late last month, Modi said India would be able to churn out more doctors in the next 10-12 years than the first 70 years of India’s independence from British rule in 1947.
    A plunge in COVID-19 cases has given India some time.
    Bhagalpur’s JLNMCH, on the banks of the holy Ganga river, has not admitted a single COVID-19 patient in the past two months, a reflection of the low number of new cases in the Bihar where a huge majority of its people were estimated to have been naturally infected by July.
    A building block reserved to admit some 100 COVID-19 patients was completely empty, while in the paediatric ICU, 16 beds were kept empty in case another wave hits children, as is feared.
    “Since the second wave, there has been an improvement in our infrastructure as well as the competency of the medical staff,” said Kumar Gaurav, a psychiatrist who ran the hospital during the last two waves because most senior doctors had either contracted the virus or were reluctant to handle the responsibility.
    “If a third wave materialises, or anything else comes, we will be able to handle it much better.”
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/17/2021 Philippines Group Seeks To Bar Marcos Jr. From Election For Tax Evasion
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster during a protest following the presidential bid announcement
of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, at the Commission of Human Rights,
in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines October 6, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – A group opposing the candidacy of the son of late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos for next year’s presidential race will ask the election commission on Wednesday to bar him from running because he has been convicted for tax evasion.
    Called the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, the group will file a petition for the disqualification of Ferdinand Marcos Jr after he emerged as the frontrunner https://reut.rs/3cgfgEC for the May election.
    Former congressman Satur Ocampo, one of the group’s convenors, said the petition, like one filed by another group, is grounded on Marcos’s over two-decade old conviction for tax evasion.
    “Public officials who violate the internal revenue code are perpetually disqualified from holding any public office and participating in election,” Ocampo, who fought the Marcos dictatorship, told Reuters, citing an article of the code.
    The late dictator ruled the Philippines for almost two decades until his 1986 overthrow in the “people power” revolution.    He died in exile in 1989.
    His wife and children have repeatedly denied allegations that billions of dollars of state wealth were plundered while Marcos was in power, estimated in 1987 to be worth $10 billion.
    A trial court convicted Marcos Jr of tax evasion in 1995 for failing to file his income tax returns from 1982 to 1985.    The conviction was upheld by an appeals court in 1997.
    However, Marcos Jr has been elected governor, congressman, and in 2010, as a senator.
    Although he ran for public office previously in the past, despite the conviction, Ocampo said “this does not mean it can’t be raised anymore.”
    The poll body has scheduled a preliminary conference for Nov. 26 on the earlier disqualification complaint filed by a group representing political detainees, human rights and medical organisations against Marcos.
    Marcos, 64, has said the petition “is without merit and has no legal basis.”
    He announced on Tuesday that the daughter of President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to be his vice presidential running mate, confirming weeks of speculation of an alliance between two powerful families.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/17/2021 Thai Lawmakers Reject Bill Aimed At Weakening Military’s Political Role
FILE PHOTO: A pro-democracy protester holds a sign at a rally to demand the government to resign,
to dissolve the parliament and to hold new elections under a revised constitution, near the
Democracy Monument in Bangkok, Thailand, August 16, 2020. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s legislature shot down on Wednesday a draft bill aimed at strengthening democracy, in which its backers sought to scrap or overhaul of key institutions they said had been hijacked by the military elite.
    A joint session of the lower house of parliament and the Senate voted 473-206 to reject the bill, with six abstentions, which called for a constitution passed under a military junta in 2017 to be changed to ensure a clear separation of powers.
    Thailand’s government is still led by the architects of a 2014 coup, who remained in power after a 2019 election that its rivals say was stacked in the military’s favour.
    Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, the coup leader, has denied that.
    The draft was backed by 130,000 petitioners and sought to abolish the 250-seat, junta-appointed Senate, and restructure the Constitutional Court and key state agencies.
    The government’s critics, including a formidable student-led protest movement that emerged last year, say democracy has been subverted by the military and its royalists allies, who wield influence over independent institutions.
    “The 2017 constitution protects and enables General Prayuth to extend his power by providing mechanisms of control through the Senate and independent agencies,” one of the bill’s proponents, Parit Wacharasindhu, told legislators.
    Since 2019, 21 bills have been proposed to parliament seeking constitutional amendments, only one of which has passed, which sought changes to the balloting system.
    Pro-government lawmakers defended the constitution, reiterating that it was endorsed in a referendum and that the coup was necessary to address a political crisis.
    “To only fix the problem of coup and its consequences without addressing the political problems that came before that, will that lead to a perfect democracy?” lawmaker Wanchai Sornsiri said during the debate.
    Thailand has seen 20 constitutions and 13 coups since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

11/17/2021 Cambodia Frees 26 Opposition Activists And Political Prisoners by Prak Chan Thul
Environment activists pose for photos after being released from the Correctional center in
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 12, 2021. Picture taken November 12, 2021. LICADHO/Raksmey Sok Handout
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES NO ARCHIVE.
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia has released 26 political, environmental and youth activists facing charges of incitement against the government, which human rights groups said was a positive step but that many more remained incarcerated.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 36 years, is facing calls to improve his administration’s human rights record ahead of an Asia Europe summit that it hosts this month.
    A justice ministry spokesman, confirming the release of the jailed activists, denied any international pressure and said they were freed partly to reduce overcrowding in prisons.
    “This is a normal court procedure, the court didn’t pay attention to whether you are activists or not,” Chin Malin told Reuters on Wednesday.
    “This is a campaign to help solve cases that are stuck in courts and reduce the capacity in crowded prisons,” he added.
    Among those released between November 5 and 12, 2021 were members of the environment group Mother Nature Cambodia, opposition party activists and the union leader Rong Chhun, Human Rights Watch said.    But charges against them have not been dropped.
    “The release of 26 wrongfully detained political prisoners is good news, but there is nothing to stop the Cambodian authorities from rearresting them at any time,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
    Another 60 political prisoners remain in custody, the rights group said.
    “We appeal to the government to release other youth and political activists unconditionally as they should never have been imprisoned for raising critical issues about the environment or rule of law in Cambodia in the public domain,” said Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group LICADHO.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/17/2021 India Temporarily Shuts Five Coal-Fired Power Plants Around New Delhi by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj
Humayun's Tomb is seen shrouded in smog in New Delhi, India, November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India has temporarily shut down five coal-fired power plants around the capital New Delhi as part of its drive to combat air pollution, according to an order from the federal environment ministry panel on air pollution.
    The Commission for Air Quality Management has also banned trucks carrying non-essential goods and stopped construction in Delhi and its neighbouring cities.
    In its latest order, the panel said there was a “compelling” need to ensure that air quality does not deteriorate any further.
    Pollution levels surged to “severe” levels this month, with the Air Quality Index in New Delhi going as high as 499 on a scale of 500, indicating healthy people were also at risk of developing respiratory illnesses.
    Delhi, among the world’s most polluted capital cities, battles chronic winter smog every year as a drop in temperatures trap deadly pollutants from coal-fired plants outside the city, fumes from vehicles and open burning of garbage.
    To protect students from a worsening air pollution crisis, the Delhi government on Saturday said schools would be closed for a week, but the Commission for Air Quality Management has extended the curb until further notice.
    The Commission also said at least 50% of government employees should work from home until Nov. 21.
    India’s Supreme Court on Monday asked the Commission to suggest measures to cut pollution in northern India.
    The Court also rapped the federal and local area governments over its failure to mitigate pollution in the city of 20 million people who endure toxic air almost every winter.
    Conditions worsen in November when there is a surge in the concentration of fine particulate matter measuring 2.5 microns in width, known as PM2.5 and small enough to enter the blood stream when inhaled into the lungs, partly because of farmers burning off crop waste ahead of a new sowing season.
(Reporting by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/17/2021 Aboriginal Groups Criticise Australian State’s Heritage Bill by Melanie Burton
FILE PHOTO: Aboriginal groups' members carry Australian Aboriginal flags while taking part in a march
against what they say is a lack of detail and consultation on new heritage protection laws, after the Rio Tinto
mining group destroyed ancient rock shelters for an iron ore mine last year, in Perth, Australia
August 19, 2021. Courtesy Gabrielle Timmins/Kimberley Land Council/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Resource-rich Western Australia state on Wednesday unveiled a long-awaited bill aimed at protecting Indigenous heritage, but drew immediate fire from Aboriginal groups because a government minister will keep final say over development decisions.
    Indigenous heritage protection has become a hot button issue since miner Rio Tinto legally destroyed culturally significant rock shelters for an iron ore mine 18 months ago, sparking widespread public outrage.
    “It’s a devastating day for Aboriginal heritage,” said Tyronne Garstone, chief executive of the Kimberley Land Council.
    “Fundamentally, this bill will not protect Aboriginal cultural heritage and will continue a pattern of systematic structural racial discrimination against Aboriginal people.”
    Western Australia produces more than half of the world’s traded iron ore, a key steel-making ingredient and Australia’s most lucrative export, worth A$153 billion ($111 billion) in the year to end-June.
    The new state legislation is at odds with the findings of a national inquiry into Rio’s destruction last year of rock shelters at Juukan Gorge that showed evidence of continual human habitation stretching back 46,000 years into the last Ice Age.
    The inquiry urged a new national protection framework and said Aboriginal traditional owners should be the top decision makers on development applications that could impact their heritage and have the power to withhold consent.
    The bill, which has been under revision for three years, was introduced to state parliament on Wednesday.
    The state premier’s department said it will focus on reaching agreement with Aboriginal groups and on obtaining full, prior and informed consent for development.
    Aboriginal groups, however, said they had not been adequately consulted and they did not gain a right of appeal to a ministerial decision, a cornerstone of modernising the laws.    Miners and developers will also be unable to appeal any ministerial decision.
    In the decade to July 2020, miners submitted more than 460 applications to impact Aboriginal heritage sites and all but one were approved.
    “What we have been delivered is … the Minister making unchallenged decisions on whether cultural heritage may be destroyed,” Tony Bevan, acting chief executive of the Wintawari Guruma Aboriginal Corp, said in a statement.
    The bill also put a lot of extra bureaucratic requirements on poorly resourced and financed Aboriginal groups that many would be unable to meet, he added.
    The Chamber of Minerals and Energy, which represents miners including Rio, BHP Group and Fortescue Metals Group noted “extensive consultation” with government ministers, and said it could work with the new laws.
    “We acknowledge that our industry hasn’t always got things right, at times with deeply regrettable consequences,” Chamber Chief Executive Paul Everingham said in a statement, adding that it remained committed to “respond to the priorities of local Indigenous people.”
    The rock shelters that Rio destroyed at Juukan Gorge had contained remnants of a 4,000 year old plaited hair belt that showed a genetic connection with the area’s traditional owners.
    Amid a public uproar, three senior executives including then chief executive Jean-Sébastien Jacques left the company and parliament launched a national enquiry into the incident.
($1=A$1.3736)
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Michael Perry and Richard Pullin)

11/17/2021 Australia Toughens Rules On Foreign Interference At Universities by Kirsty Needham
Visitors take pictures of the main building at the University of Sydney
in Australia, August 5, 2016. REUTERS/Jason Reed AUNI
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia says it has toughened foreign interference rules for universities to stop self-censorship on campuses and the covert transfer of sensitive technology, before hundreds of thousands of international students are expected to return as borders closed by the COVID-19 pandemic re-open.
    International education is Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, with China the biggest source of fee-paying students.
    Home Affairs minister Karen Andrews said on Wednesday the foreign interference guidelines will protect universities and students from “hostile foreign actors and intelligence services; who have been known to target sensitive research, muzzle debate, and intimidate foreign students.”
    Australia is concerned its commercial advantage could be lost by unwanted technology transfer, and by researchers not declaring affiliations with militaries or governments in countries that don’t rank highly on transparency or democracy indices, the guidelines said.
    Universities will determine which staff will be required to undergo checks on their links to foreign governments or companies.
    High numbers of Chinese students at Australian universities have created an environment of self-censorship with lecturers avoiding criticism of Beijing and Chinese students staying silent in fear of harassment, Human Rights Watch said in June.
    The new guidelines don’t name China, but feature case studies that parallel incidents involving China and the harassment of Hong Kong protesters on Australian campuses since 2019, as well as pressure on a university from a country’s consulate to retract an academic paper on COVID-19 because it embarrassed the foreign government.
    Australia, which passed its first foreign interference law in 2018, sparking a dispute with China, defines the term as activity that is coercive, clandestine or corrupting, and distinct from the normal lobbying activity of a foreign government.
    The tougher rules come after ties worsened last year when Australia called for an independent probe into the origins of the novel coronavirus, sparking trade reprisals hitting Australian goods ranging from barley and coal to wine.
    The European Commission has said it is also developing foreign interference rules for European universities.
    The Chinese embassy in Canberra wrote to Australia’s parliament to complain that Senator James Paterson, chair of its intelligence committee, last week gave a speech to the European Parliament outlining how Australia’s foreign interference rules were a response to the threat from China.
    The “so-called security threat of China’s influence in Australia” was false information, a copy of the Chinese complaint reviewed by Reuters said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/17/2021 New Zealand Police Find Human Remains In Disaster-Stricken Mine After 11 Years
FILE PHOTO: A flame burns from the end of a ventilation shaft of the Pike River coal mine near
Greymouth on New Zealand's west coast November 30, 2010. REUTERS/The Press/Iain McGregor/Pool
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Human remains have been found in a New Zealand coal mine, police said on Wednesday, more than a decade after one of the country’s worst industrial disasters.
    Twenty-nine men were killed after a series of blasts ignited by methane gas ripped through the Pike River mine on the west coast of the South Island in November 2010. Two men managed to escape.
    The mine was shuttered and entry barred for years because of safety concerns.    Investigators were eventually allowed access in 2019 following calls from the families of the miners.
    Police said images taken late last week during deep boring in the mine confirmed two bodies, with the possibility of a third. However, the remains were far from the mine entrance and could not be recovered.
    “While we have been unable to identify the remains, we are working with forensic experts to see what we can do to confirm their identities,” said Detective Superintendent Peter Read.
    Investigators believe there were six to eight people working in the area where the remains were found, he added.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Jane Wardell)

11/17/2021 Hong Kong Disneyland Closes For One Day As Staff Take COVID-19 Tests
FILE PHOTO: A locked gate is seen after the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park has been closed, following
the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong, China January 26, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Disneyland will close for a day on Wednesday for staff to take compulsory COVID-19 tests after authorities found one person who visited the theme park over the weekend was infected with the coronavirus.
    Disneyland, majority-owned by the city government with Walt Disney holding a minority stake, said in a statement the closure was out of “an abundance of caution” and advised visitors to reschedule.
    Any person who visited the park, which had to close multiple times for prolonged periods since the start of the pandemic, on Nov. 14 between 11:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. would also have to get tested by Thursday, the government said separately.
    Despite barely recording any local coronavirus cases in recent months, authorities in the global financial hub have tightened up quarantine and patient discharge rules.
    Hong Kong is following Beijing’s lead in retaining strict travel curbs, in contrast to a global trend of opening up and living with the coronavirus.    The city government hopes the tighter rules would convince China, its main source of economic growth, to gradually open its border with Hong Kong.
    At Shanghai Disneyland last month, guests who were already inside were told to undergo tests at the exit related to COVID-19 investigations linked to other Chinese provinces and cities.
    International business lobby groups have warned Hong Kong could lose talent and investment, as well as competitive ground to rival finance hubs such as Singapore, unless it relaxes its restrictions on travel.
    The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said on Tuesday she is resigning as she cannot appeal to authorities to ease COVID-19 restrictions at the same time as having to undergo quarantine herself.
    JPMorgan Chase & Co Chief Executive Jamie Dimon, who was in Hong Kong on Monday and was exempt from quarantine under current rules for some executives, said the city’s COVID-19 policy was making it tougher to retain staff.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/17/2021 Indian Forces Kill Nine Suspected Militants In Kashmir by Fayaz Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel check the bags of a scooterist
as part of security checking in Srinagar, October 12, 2021. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian troops have killed seven suspected militants in Kashmir this week, including a district commander, in an offensive following recent killings by militants, police said on Wednesday.
    Security forces said they had also killed two others suspected of helping the militants, but relatives said the two dead men were innocent and held a candle-light protest in Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar.
    Kashmir Police Chief Vijay Kumar said five militants believed to belong to a group named The Resistance Front (TRF), which claimed recent killings of migrants in the disputed territory, had been killed on Wednesday in two gun battles south of Srinagar.
    He said two other suspected militants and two men believed to have assisted them had been killed in a shootout in Srinagar.
    The two men’s families denied they had had any links with militants and said the bodies had not been handed over for burial.    Police said they had buried all four men north of Srinagar.
    The Indian-ruled part of Kashmir is India’s only Muslim-majority region, and more than 30 people have been killed in a rise in violence in recent weeks, including minority Hindus and Sikhs and migrant workers.
    Pakistan also controls part of Kashmir, which has been at the heart of seven decades of tension between the two neighbours.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari; Writing by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

11/17/2021 U.N. Envoy Says Islamic State Now Appears Present In All Afghan Provinces by Jonathan Landay
A Taliban fighter stands guard at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan, November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan on Wednesday delivered a bleak assessment of the situation following the Taliban takeover, saying that an affiliate of the Islamic State group has grown and now appears present in nearly all 34 provinces.
    U.N. Special Representative Deborah Lyons told the U.N. Security Council that the Taliban’s response to Islamic State-Khorasan Province’s (ISKP) expansion “appears to rely heavily on extrajudicial detentions and killings” of suspected ISKP fighters.
    “This is an area deserving more attention from the international community,” she said.
    Her comments came hours after the group — an ideological foe of the Taliban — claimed responsibility for two blasts that killed at least one person and wounded six others in a heavily Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Kabul.     The Taliban, she said, has been unable to stem ISKP’s growth.
    “Once limited to a few provinces and the capital, ISKP now seems to be present in nearly all provinces, and increasingly active,” Lyons said, adding that the number of the group’s attacks have increased from 60 strikes in 2020 to 334 this year.
    While the Taliban is making “genuine efforts to present itself as a government” since seizing Kabul in August after a 20-year war with the United States, they continue excluding representatives of other sectors of society and curtailing the rights of women and girls.
    The U.N. mission regularly receives credible reports of house searches and the “extrajudicial killings” of former security personnel and officials, she said.
    Lyons warned anew of a humanitarian catastrophe as winter looms due to a failing economy and drought.
    She implored the international community to find ways to fund the salaries of healthcare workers, teachers and humanitarian workers, saying humanitarian aid is insufficient.
    The economic collapse will fuel illicit drug, arms and human trafficking and unregulated money exchanges that “can only help facilitate terrorism,” Lyons said.
    “These pathologies will first affect Afghanistan,” she said.    “Then they will infect the region.”
(Reporting by Jonathan LandayEditing by Alistair Bell)

11/18/2021 Philippines Tells China To ‘Back Off’ After South China Sea Standoff
FILE PHOTO: Philippines' Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. speaks during a press briefing with Japanese
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi after their meeting in Manila, Philippines, January 9, 2020. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines on Thursday condemned “in strongest terms” the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the South China Sea.
    Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said no one was hurt during Tuesday’s incident at the Second Thomas Shoal but the Philippines boats, which were transporting food to military personnel based there, had to abort their mission.
    “China has no law enforcement rights in and around these areas.    They must take heed and back off,” Locsin said in a statement, reminding China that a public vessel is covered by a Philippines-United States Mutual Defense Treaty.
    Locsin said he had conveyed “i>in the strongest terms” to China’s ambassador in Manila “our outrage, condemnation and protest of the incident.”
    China’s embassy did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
    The Second Thomas Shoal, 105 nautical miles (195 km) off Palawan, is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and a small contingent of military have occupied it since 1999 having intentionally grounded a navy ship on the reef.
    China regards the shoal as its territory as it falls within the “nine-dash line” that it uses on maps denoting its claim to almost the entire South China Sea.    A 2016 international arbitration ruling, however, said the Chinese line had no legal basis.
    Locsin said China’s failure to exercise self-restraint “threatens the special relationship” between the two countries.
    The office of President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been a staunch supporter of China, said it was aware of the incident at the shoal.
    “We will continue to assert our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction,” acting spokesperson Karlo Nograles said.
    Before the incident, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said authorities had noticed an unusual presence of Chinese maritime militia near the atoll and Philippine-occupied Thitu island. China has denied operating a militia.
    There were 19 vessels near Second Thomas Shoal last week, and 45 near Thitu Island, Esperon told reporters, describing those as “very aggressive.”

11/18/2021 Japan Diplomat Pulls Out Of U.S. News Conference Over Islet Dispute With S.Korea
FILE PHOTO: Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman departs after speaking on the situation in Afghanistan
at the State Department in Washington, DC, U.S. August 18, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japan’s vice foreign minister pulled out of a planned news conference with his South Korean and U.S. counterparts in Washington on Wednesday over a territorial dispute between the two U.S. allies, a Japanese Embassy spokesperson said.
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman was left to answer questions on her own in the absence of South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori, with whom she had just met for three hours.
    Sherman began by noting that “there are some bilateral differences between Japan and the Republic of Korea that are continuing to be resolved,” but said the cancellation of the joint news conference was not related to the earlier trilateral meeting, which she called “constructive (and) substantive.”
    The three officials discussed freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea and their countries’ commitment to advancing democratic values and human rights, and restated their commitment to maintaining an inclusive, free, peaceful, stable and open Indo-Pacific region, Sherman said.
    Japanese Embassy spokesperson Masashi Mizobuchi said Tokyo had “lodged a strong protest” on Tuesday over a visit by South Korea’s head of police to disputed islets between the countries, known as Takeshima in Japan.    The cluster of windswept volcanic rocks is controlled by Seoul, which calls them Dokdo, but are also claimed by Japan.
    “Under these circumstances, we have decided that it is inappropriate to hold a joint press conference,” Mizobuchi said in an email.
    Choi told reporters in Washington that the Japanese side informed them of its decision not to participate in the news conference shortly before the trilateral talks began.
    A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said he had nothing to add to Choi’s remarks but that Seoul’s stance remains unchanged that Dokdo is the country’s territory historically, geographically and under international law.
    Ties between the two nations have also frayed https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southkorea-japan-history-explainer-idCAKBN1XW19K over Japan’s 1910-1945 occupation of Korea, including over “comfort women,” Japan’s euphemism for mostly Korean women forced to work in its wartime brothels.    The historic dispute has sparked tit-for-tat trade restrictions in recent years.
    The trip to the island by National Police Agency Commissioner-General Kim Chang-yong was done in consultation with the foreign ministry given the diplomatic sensitivities, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified police sources.
    But it was not meant to be publicized and only became known when it was inadvertently listed on his public weekly schedule, the report said.
    The visit to the island, which is manned by a small detachment of South Korean police, was the first by a national police chief since 2009, Yonhap said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Stephen Coates, Peter Cooney and Kim Coghill)

11/18/2021 Taiwan Commissions Advanced New F-16s As China Threat Grows by Ann Wang
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen oversees the commission of the first squadron of the upgraded
F-16V fighters in Chiayi Air Force Base, Chiayi, Taiwan, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    CHIAYI, Taiwan (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen lauded military cooperation with Washington on Thursday as she commissioned the first combat wing of F-16 fighters upgraded with U.S. help to bolster the island’s defences during rising tensions between Taipei and Beijing.
    Frequent Chinese and U.S. military exercises in the region have raised fears of conflict touched off by a crisis over democratically-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory.
    Tsai told a ceremony at an air base in the southern Taiwanese city of Chiayi to unveil the first squadron of its most advanced F-16s, the F-16V, that the project showed the firm commitment of the Taiwan-U.S. partnership.
    “I believe that as long as we adhere to the values of democracy and freedom, there will be more like-minded countries standing on the same front with us,” she said, speaking on the same stage as the top U.S. diplomat in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk.
    The United States has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is the island’s main international backer and arms supplier, to Beijing’s fury.
    The T$110 billion ($3.96 billion) F-16 ugrade is led by manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp and Taiwan’s Aerospace Industrial Development Corp (AIDC), and is the latest example of military cooperation between Washington and Taipei.
    Taiwan has been converting 141 F-16A/B jets into the F-16V type, 64 of which have already been upgraded, and has additionally ordered 66 new F-16Vs, which have new avionics, weapons and radar systems to better face down the Chinese air force, including its J-20 stealth fighter.
    The F-16Vs can carry Raytheon Technologies Corp’s advanced AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles.
    To a backdrop of dance music broadcast over the air base, the F-16s showed off their metal with combat take offs and landings, and flying low in formation above the runway.
    Tsai said that as more F-16Vs entered service, Taiwan’s defences would be “even stronger.”
    Taiwan’s air force is well trained but dwarfed by China’s.
    The United States in 2019 approved an $8 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a deal that would take the island’s F-16 fleet to more than 200 jets, the largest in Asia.
    China has announced sanctions on Lockheed Martin for selling arms to Taiwan.
($1 = 27.7470 Taiwan dollars)
(Reporting by Ann Wang; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/18/2021 Thousands Of S.Koreans Take Gruelling College Exam In Pandemic’s Shadow by Yeni Seo and Daewoung Kim
Students wait to take the annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT), a nationwide university entrance exam, amid coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at a school in Seoul, South Korea November 18, 2021. Jung Yeon-je/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – More than half a million South Koreans sat for the annual national college entrance exams on Thursday, pandemic rules adding stress to the eight-hour event seen as life-defining in Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
    This year’s test-takers didn’t face the delays and uncertainties of the first pandemic-era exams last year, but COVID-19 measures have left their mark on the College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) widely considered as indispensable for landing one of a limited number of jobs in a competitive society.
    “I couldn’t go to private institutes, study rooms, nor school properly due to coronavirus,” said 17-year-old Ahn Jeong-min.    “Still, I’m vaccinated, and everyone will wear face masks and use partitions during the exam, so I think I can take the exam well, feeling comfortable rather than much concern.”
    More than 509,000 high school seniors, graduates and others have signed up to take the single-day, five-session exam held at 1,251 test sites nationwide, according to the education ministry.
    At least 173 people who tested positive for the coronavirus or otherwise required isolation will take the test at hospitals or separate exam centres, the ministry said.
    Thursday morning saw traditional society-wide efforts to help the test-takers, with the country’s financial markets opening an hour later than usual to ease traffic.
    Commercial air traffic was scheduled to be suspended during a key period in the afternoon, warplanes from the South Korean and U.S. militaries will be grounded, and live-fire exercises shut down throughout the day, officials said.
    “We’re doing our part to keep distractions down so you can keep your scores up!” tweeted U.S. Forces-Korea (USFK), which includes about 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.
    Pandemic measures meant other, louder traditions to wish the test-takers well were missing.
    Outside schools in Seoul, there was none of the customary cheering by high school juniors, praying parents, or schoolmates who typically beat drums and hand out sweets to participants.
    Lee Eu-gene, a mother who said she had an older child take the test last year, said her son sitting for the exam this year seemed to be better off because schools had more in-person learning.
    “He studied in this situation, so it’s in the mother’s heart that I hope he will get good results and happily expand his future,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Minwoo Park; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Karishma Singh)

11/18/2021 ‘Life Back To Normal’: More COVID-19 Curbs Eased In Melbourne
FILE PHOTO: Diners eat outside St Kilda's Rococo restaurant on the second day of eased
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations, following a lockdown to curb an outbreak,
in Melbourne, Australia, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Melbourne’s pubs and cafes can have unlimited patrons from Thursday night, while stadiums can return to full capacity as authorities lifted nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions for the vaccinated residents in Australia’s second-largest city.
    Victoria, the state that is home to Melbourne, has been gradually easing curbs when dual-dose inoculations reached 70%, 80% and 90%, with the latest relaxations part of a shift in strategy towards living with the coronavirus.    The full vaccination level for the eligible population is expected to reach 90% over the weekend.
    “Your life will be back to normal, you will be able to enjoy all the things that you have yearned for and missed,” State Premier Daniel Andrews said during a media conference.
    Under more relaxed rules, people can hit the dance floor and there will be no limits on home gatherings.    But masks will remain mandatory in health facilities, public transport and retail stores.
    Eased restrictions mean major summer sports events like the Boxing Day cricket test match and the Australian Open tennis will be able to welcome capacity crowds.
    Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across Sydney and Melbourne, its largest cities, and the national capital of Canberra, forcing months-long lockdowns.    They have since come out of lockdowns racing through their inoculations.
    Even with the Delta wave, Australia has recorded about 194,000 cases and 1,922 deaths, far lower than many comparable countries.
    New South Wales, which includes Sydney, logged 262 cases on Thursday and Victoria 1,007 new infections, while the Australian Capital Territory reported 25.    Fifteen deaths were registered.
    The Northern Territory is battling to contain a fresh outbreak as authorities look to accelerate vaccinations to prevent the spread of the virus in remote communities. Other states and territories are COVID-free.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

11/18/2021 Japan Looks To Accept More Foreigners In Key Policy Shift
FILE PHOTO: Workers from Thailand work at Green Leaf farm, in Showa Village, Gunma
Prefecture, Japan, June 6, 2018. Picture taken June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Malcolm Foster/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -In a major shift for a country long closed to immigrants, Japan is looking to allow foreigners in certain blue-collar jobs to stay indefinitely starting as early as the 2022 fiscal year, a justice ministry official said on Thursday.
    Under a law that took effect in 2019, a category of “specified skilled workers” in 14 sectors such as farming, nursing care and sanitation have been granted visas but stays have been limited to five years and without family members for workers in all but the construction and shipbuilding sectors.
    Companies had cited those restrictions among reasons they were hesitant to hire such help https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-japan-companies-foreignworkers-idUKKCN1SS310, and the government had been looking to ease those restrictions in the other fields.
    If the revision takes effect, such workers – many from Vietnam and China – would be allowed to renew their visas indefinitely and bring their families with them.
    Top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno stressed, however, that any such change would not mean automatic permanent residency, which would require a separate application process.
    Immigration has long been taboo in Japan as many prize ethnic homogeneity, but pressure has mounted to open up its borders due to an acute labour shortage given its dwindling and ageing population.
    “As the shrinking population becomes a more serious problem and if Japan wants to be seen as a good option for overseas workers, it needs to communicate that it has the proper structure in place to welcome them,”     Toshihiro Menju, managing director of think tank Japan Center for International Exchange, told Reuters.
    The 2019 law was meant to attract some 345,000 “specified skilled workers” over five years, but the intake has hovered at around 3,000 per month before the COVID-19 pandemic sealed the borders, according to government data.
    As of late 2020, Japan housed 1.72 million foreign workers, out of a total population of 125.8 million and just 2.5% of its working population.
(Reporting by Ami Miyazaki and Kantaro Komiya, Writing by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/18/2021 Indonesia Arrests Senior Cleric For Ties To Jemaah Islamiah
FILE PHOTO: An anti terror policeman stands guard as a security sweep is conducted during Chinese New Year
celebrations at a temple in Chinatown in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 16, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s counter-terrorism police have arrested a member of a top Islamic council on charges of raising funds for the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) group blamed for deadly bombings, police said on Wednesday.
    The raid was carried out near Jakarta on Tuesday during which Ahmad Zain An-Najah, a member of the Indonesian Ulema Council, was arrested along with two associates, national police spokesperson Rusdi Hartono said.
    JI set up a charity organisation to get funding “for education, social activities…some of the funds are used to mobilise JI,” Rusdi told a news conference, adding that Ahmad was a member of the charity’s religious board.
    The organisation operated in cities on Sumatra and Java islands, including Jakarta, he said.
    Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country and a resurgence in militant attacks in recent years has been linked to hundreds of Indonesians who went to Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State before returning.
    JI is accused of orchestrating the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs, which killed more than 200 people.
    Ahmad was a member of the Ulema Council’s commission that issues Islamic edicts, said the body’s head Cholil Nafis.    His work at the council had nothing to do with militant activities, he said.
(This story corrects paragraph 3 to show the charity was set up by JI, not by Ahmad, who was a member of the charity’s religious board)
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/18/2021 Hong Kong Authorities Begin Boar Hunt Amid Public Safety Fears
A wildlife officer uses a flashlight to point a wild boar, after the government announced they would catch and
cull all wild boars found in the urban areas, in Hong Kong, China November 17, 2021. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong authorities captured and euthanised seven wild boars late on Wednesday as they began a campaign to reduce their numbers in urban areas around the financial centre after one bit a policeman last week.
    The boar roundup in a district where authorities said some residents were spotted feeding them marks a policy shift in controlling the most commonly seen wild animals in the city.
    “Veterinarians used dart guns to capture seven wild pigs for humane dispatch through medicine injection,” the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said in a statement.
    It said boars in the residential area less than 30 minutes’ drive from the heart of the financial district were “accustomed to wandering along the road and looking for food from passers-by or even chasing vehicles.”
    Last week, a wild boar knocked down a police officer and bit his leg, causing a deep wound and prompting Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to warn the government would increase penalties for those who feed them.
    That animal subsequently fell off the edge of a carpark, plunging about 10m (33 feet) to its death.
    About 30 boar attacks have been reported in recent years, authorities said.
    Hong Kong’s policy had been to capture the animals, then sterilise and relocate them to remote, unpopulated areas.    The city is home to about 3,000 wild boars, according to government data, and they are not a protected species.
    Boars have at times been seen on subway trains, or waiting for the traffic light to turn green at pedestrian crossings by the harbour. At the start of the coronavirus pandemic last year, when most Hong Kong people were working from home, a video of a boar family bathing in a fountain in between the financial district’s skyscrapers went viral.
    The shift in policy has sparked criticism from animal rights groups.
    Roni Wong, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Wild Boar Concern Group, told reporters the boar problem was caused by the government, which had failed to allocate resources to deal with the animals peacefully.
    “Now the animals have to pay for the cost,” Wong said.
    Lam said this week she understood many in Hong Kong loved wild animals, but “ultimately, our society has to ensure the safety of residents.”
    “As a responsible government, we need to take action,” she told reporters at her weekly news conference on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Tyrone Siu, Twinnie Siu and Jessie Pang; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle)

11/18/2021 U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Chief To Visit Tehran On Tuesday, IAEA Confirms
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) – U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi will hold meetings with Iranian officials in Tehran on Tuesday, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed on Thursday, more than two months after Iran promised to host him.
    Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told state media on Wednesday Grossi would meet Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and nuclear energy chief Mohammad Eslami.    The IAEA did not say in its statement whom Grossi would meet.
    “We can confirm that Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi will meet with high-level Iranian government officials in Tehran on Tuesday, 23 November,” the IAEA said.
    The visit will be on the eve of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors and before indirect talks between Iran and the United States on Nov. 29 on reviving their nuclear deal.
    Two IAEA reports to member states on Wednesday detailed a range of conflicts between the agency and Iran, ranging from Tehran’s continued failure to explain the origin of uranium particles found at apparently old but undeclared sites, to its refusal to let the IAEA re-install surveillance cameras at a workshop hit by apparent sabotage in June.
    One of the reports also said Iranian security officials had continued to subject IAEA inspectors to “excessively invasive searches, which resulted in them feeling intimidated.”
    Grossi told a news conference on Nov. 12 that aside from technical exchanges with Eslami this will be a first opportunity to have a “serious conversation” with the administration of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August.    He added that it was “astonishing” it had taken this long.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/19/2021 India’s Modi Backs Down On Farm Reforms In Surprise Victory For Protesters
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Friday he would repeal controversial farm laws that farmers have protested for more than a year, a significant climbdown for the combative leader.
    The sudden concession on the three laws comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, and two other northern states with large rural populations.
    “Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation.
    “In the parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws.”
    The legislation, introduced in September last year, was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.
    Farmers, fearing the overhaul would cut the pries they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from outside India, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and U.S. singer Rihanna.
    Modi’s capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford.    It could also raise questions for investors about how economic policy is being overwhelmed by political interests.
    Many of the biggest protests are centred around the capital New Delhi, where farmers have been camped by the roadside since last November, demanding the laws’ repeal.
    Rakesh Tikait, a farmers’ group leader, said the protests were not being called off.    “We will wait for parliament to repeal the laws,” he said on Twitter.
    Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government said last year that there was no question of repealing the laws.    It attempted to break the impasse with farmer groups by offering to dilute the legislation, but protracted negotiations failed.
VIOLENT TURN
    The protests took a violent turn on Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, when thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and went on to storm the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.
    One protester was killed and scores of farmers and policemen were injured.
    Small farmers say the changes make them vulnerable to competition from big business and that they could eventually lose price support for staples such as wheat and rice.
    The government says reform of the sector, which accounts for about 15% of the $2.7 trillion economy, means new opportunities and better prices for farmers.
    The government failed to convince small groups of farmers of its intentions, Modi said in a speech after greeting the country on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism.
    Many of the protesting farmers are Sikh.
    “We welcome the announcement made by the prime minister, but we need to know the government’s stand on our other key demand of making (minimum support prices) compulsory for all crops,” said Darshan Pal, another farmers’ leader.
    Minimum support prices are state-set prices at which the government buys rice and wheat from farmers.
    The expanded demand for minimum prices on all crops has gained traction among farmers from across the country, not just the northern grain belt.
    Opposition parties congratulated the farmers.    Rahul Gandhi of the Congress, India’s main opposition party, said their firm stand forced the “arrogant” government to concede.
    “Whether it was fear of losing UP or finally facing up to conscience @BJP govt rolls back farm laws. Just the beginning of many more victories for people’s voices.” Mahua Moitra, a lawmaker from the Trinamool Congress     Party and one of Modi’s staunchest critics, said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj; Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/19/2021 Indian Farmers’ Protests Against Agricultural Laws
FILE PHOTO: Police officers use water cannon to disperse farmers protesting against the newly passed
farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Farmers in India have protested for over a year over laws passed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to allow farmers to sell produce directly to bulk buyers and make contract farming easier.     Here is a timeline of events around the passing of the laws and the escalating protests: June 2020: Three emergency executive orders are introduced, which Modi’s cabinet says are aimed at giving farmers the freedom to sell directly to institutional buyers such as big trading houses, large retailers and food processors.br> Sept. 17: India’s lower house of parliament passes the orders.    India’s food processing minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigns, calling the legislation “anti-farmer.”
Sept. 18: Modi defends the new legislation, saying it will “unshackle” millions of farmers and help them get better prices.
Sept. 20: India’s parliament passes the bills, despite growing protest from opposition parties, who say farmers’ bargaining power will be diminished.
Sept. 24: Farmers from some of India’s big northern heartland states – key producers of wheat and rice – block railway tracks.    Bigger demonstrations are held across the country the next day, with growers blocking highways leading to the capital New Delhi with trucks, tractors and combine harvesters.
Nov. 30: Modi resists calls to repeal the laws, dismissing as misplaced fears the government will eventually abolish the wholesale markets.
Dec. 1: In talks lasting several hours, ministers and representatives of the protesting farmers fail to break a deadlock over the farm laws.
    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks of the protests in a video message, saying his government had reached out to Indian authorities.    In response, India’s foreign ministry said Canadian leaders were “ill-informed.”
Dec. 7: Thousands protest and block traffic converge on the Indian embassy and march around Trafalgar Square area in central London over the Indian reforms.    Police arrest 13 over breaches of COVID regulations.
Dec. 8: Protests spread across India, as farm organisations call for a nationwide strike after inconclusive talks with the government.
Dec. 16: A 65-year-old Sikh priest commits suicide at one of the protest sites.
Dec. 17: The protests expand to the Sikh diaspora, with 250 to 300 Sikhs and other Indians taking part in a rally in Melbourne.    Protests take place over a few days in nearly 50 different cities around the world.
Dec. 21: Farmers’ leaders begin a 24-hour relay hunger strike. More than 30 protesters camping out in the open on key national highways have died, mainly due to the cold with temperatures falling to 4 degree Celsius, farmer leaders said.
Jan. 12, 2021: India’s Supreme Court orders an indefinite stay on the implementation of the new agricultural laws, saying it wanted to protect farmers and would hear their objections.
Jan. 26: Farmers overwhelm police and storm into New Delhi’s historic Red Fort complex after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.    Police fire tear gas in an unsuccessful bid to force the protesters back.    One protester was killed, a witness said, and Delhi police said 86 officers had been injured across the city.
Feb. 2: Singer Rihanna tweets using the hashtag #FarmersProtest, saying: “Why aren’t we talking about this?!”    Others follow, including Greta Thunberg and Meena Harris, niece of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.    India’s foreign ministry slams the comments, urging a proper understanding of the issues at hand.
Feb. 15: Politicians and activists condemn the arrest of Disha Ravi, a 22-year-old climate campaigner accused of sedition for helping edit an online document Sweden’s Greta Thunberg had promoted in support of the protesting farmers.    She is later granted bail, a court saying there was “scanty and sketchy evidence” of sedition in her efforts.
July 22: Farmers start a sit-in at Jantar Mantar, a large Mughal-era observatory near parliament in New Delhi, renewing a push for the repeal.
Sept. 5: More than 500,000 farmers gather in Uttar Pradesh state, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations.
Nov. 19: Modi says he will repeal the controversial laws farmers have protested against for over a year.
(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/19/2021 Market In China’s Wuhan Likely Origin Of COVID-19 Outbreak – Study
FILE PHOTO: People visit a street market almost a year after the global outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) in Wuhan, Hubei province, China December 7, 2020. Picture taken December 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The first known COVID-19 case was a market vendor in the Chinese city of Wuhan, not an accountant who appeared to have no link to the market but whose case contributed to speculation the virus could have leaked from a lab, according to a U.S. study.
    The origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 remains a mystery and a major source of tension between China and the United States.
    A joint study by China and the World Health Organization (WHO) this year all but ruled out the theory that COVID-19 originated in a laboratory, saying that the most likely hypothesis was that it infected humans naturally, probably via the wildlife trade.
    A WHO-led team of experts spent four weeks in and around the central city of Wuhan with Chinese scientists and said in a joint report in March that the SARS-CoV-2 virus had probably been transmitted from bats to humans through another animal but that further research was needed.
    The accountant, who was widely thought to be the first person with COVID-19, reported that his first symptoms appeared on Dec. 16, several days later than initially known, Michael Worobey, head of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, said in the study published in the journal Science on Thursday.
    The confusion was caused by a dental problem he had on Dec. 8.
    “His symptom onset came after multiple cases in workers at Huanan Market, making a female seafood vendor there the earliest known case, with illness onset 11 December,” the study said.
    It said most early symptomatic cases were linked to the market, specifically to the western section where raccoon dogs were caged, and it provided strong evidence of a live-animal market origin of the pandemic.
    The WHO proposed last month a new expert panel to investigate the source of the coronavirus.
(Reporting by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[WE STILL DO NOT TRUST THE WHO TO INVESTIGATE THIS ISSUE DUE TO PREJUDICE AND ANYONE FOLLOWING THE CORONAVIRUS FROM WUHAN TO ALL THE SPREAD TO THE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS WHERE ITALY ROME WAS HIT THE HARDEST FIRST FROM FLIGHTS FROM WUHAN AND THEN SPREAD TO OTHER COUNTRIES FROM FLIGHTS THERE TO OTHER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS, ETC., ETC. TO ALL THE OTHER NATIONS.].

11/19/2021 Australia Calls For Global Action To Fight Online Misinformation by Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne arrives as G7 foreign ministers
meet at Lancaster House in London, Britain, May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Friday called for governments around the world to agree on “rules of the road” to fight the spread of misinformation and state-backed disinformation online.
    Foreign Minister Marise Payne said blocs like the Quad group – the United States, India, Japan and Australia – and global bodies like the United Nations were already working to strike a balance between harmful content and free expression online.
    But time was running out to agree on rules of what was permissable.
    “We should be starting yesterday,” Payne told a panel at the Sydney Dialogue virtual event alongside Facebook Inc’s global affairs boss.
    “We do have to be very clear that the rule of law that applies offline has to apply online.    Rules of the road are what enable road users to stay safe, same with users online.    Being able to identify the difference between free speech and malicious disinformation … is important,” she added.
    Misinformation and government-sponsored attempts to stoke social disharmony online have become a hot political issue with critics accusing platforms like Facebook of failing to stop democracy being skewed by the content they host.
    A former Facebook employee went public last month as having leaked documents which she said showed the company put profit over public safety, despite public pronouncements to the contrary, and enbled the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in the United States by turning off safety systems.
    Facebook head of global affairs Nick Clegg told the panel it was up to governments to set misinformation rules.
    “It is clearly not right that people like me, or sometimes (Facebook founder) Mark Zuckerberg or others, are having to make decisions about what sort of content can stay up or be taken down,” said Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister.
    “Not all regulation is good, but of course regulation needs to be introduced.”
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Stephen Coates)
[GIVE US A BREAK THERE WILL NEVER BE SUCH A THING AS THE GLOBALIST SOCIALIST ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT SPEECH POLICE WHICH SEEMS TO BE THE ENTITIES THAT WANT TO CREATE SUCH A THING.].

11/19/2021 Ex-Japan PM Abe Calls For Tokyo’s Cooperation With AUKUS In AI, Cyber by Kiyoshi Takenaka
FILE PHOTO: Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Yasukuni
Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Former Japanese premier Shinzo Abe, who remains influential in the ruling party, said on Friday Japan should cooperate with the AUKUS security partners the United States, Britain and Australia on artificial intelligence and cyber capabilities.
    The AUKUS pact, which was agreed in September and will see Australia acquiring technology to deploy nuclear-powered submarines, is widely seen as a response to Chinese militarisation in the region, particularly in the strategically important South China Sea.
    Japan aims to strengthen ties with ally the United States and other friendly nations while bolstering its own defence posture, as it faces Chinese military expansion.
    “A key to realising a free and open Indo-Pacific is ensuring like-minded countries’ mid- to long-term engagement with the Indo-Pacific region.    From this standpoint, I welcome the formation of AUKUS,” Abe said in a speech at an online forum.
    “It is extremely important to carry out multi-layered efforts to promote the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.    I believe Japan should engage in AUKUS cooperation in such areas as cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence and quantum technologies.”
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said although AUKUS partnership will begin with nuclear-powered submarines, alliance members expect to accelerate the development of other advanced defence systems including in cyber, AI and quantum computing.
    Japan forms the Quad grouping with India and two of the AUKUS members – Australia and the United States.    Quad leaders in September held their first in-person summit, which presented a united front amid shared concerns about China.
    On Japan’s ties with Australia, Abe said the two countries need to deepen further their special strategic partnership.
    “Given the regional security environment which has become increasingly severe, there is a need to elevate Japan-Australia bilateral security and defence cooperation to a new level.”
    Abe, Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, stepped down last year due to ill health, but stayed on as a lawmaker and this month took over as the head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s largest faction.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka)

11/19/2021 New Delhi To Consider Curbing Private Vehicles To Fight Dangerous Smog by Neha Arora and Mayank Bhardwaj
People ride on boats on the Yamuna river on a smoggy morning in
New Delhi, India, November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -New Delhi will consider restricting private vehicles to driving on alternate days from next week if severe air pollution continues to plague India’s capital, its environment minister told Reuters on Thursday.
    As choking smog enveloped the city of 20 million people this month, its government initiated a clutch of measures such as shutting down schools, banning construction and garbage burning, allowing people to work from home, and launching various dust-control steps such as using fire trucks to spray water.
    “If air pollution levels stay high, we will look at new measures like the odd-even (vehicle) system,” Gopal Rai, the capital’s Minister for Environment, Forest and Wildlife Development, said in the interview.
    Under the odd-even system, private vehicles can be driven only on alternating days, depending on the last digit of their number plate.
    “We’ll see if there’s a need for a complete lockdown to tackle pollution.    But these measures will not work if Delhi’s neighbouring cities do not reciprocate,” Rai said.
    More children are in hospital with breathing problems due to dangerously heavy smog in New Delhi, doctors warned on Wednesday https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-temporarily-shuts-five-coal-fired-power-plants-around-new-delhi-2021-11-17, and the government shut five power stations and extended school closures to try to contain the crisis.
    Citing a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment research body, Rai said only 30% of pollutants in Delhi’s air stem from the city itself, with the rest coming from the vast urban sprawl around it where tens of thousands of big and small industries operate.
    “Even if we take more measures in Delhi, air quality will not improve if our neighbouring states do not ensure that pollution levels come down in the cities that surround Delhi.”
    Rai said the federal government should call a meeting of Delhi and the state governments of neighbouring Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to prepare “a joint action plan” to deal with air pollution.
    “Once the joint action plan is ready, there should be an independent panel to monitor the progress on the ground.”
    Neither the Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs at the federal level, nor the main opposition Congress is in power in the capital, giving them little incentive to cooperate with the city government run by the Aam Aadmi (Common Man) Party (AAP).
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Neha Arora, editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/19/2021 S.Korea’s Beaches Face Threat From Development, Rising Seas by Hyonhee Shin
People stand at erosion-affected Sacheon beach where there used to be a
long sand beach, in Gangneung, South Korea, November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    GANGNEUNG/SAMCHEOK, South Korea (Reuters) – For years, the crystalline blue water and soft sand of South Korea’s Sacheonjin beach has been favoured by surfers and vacationers seeking a quieter experience than more crowded options on the east coast.
    But Choi Jong-min, who runs a guest house Sacheonjin, was shocked when high waves washed away major portions of the beach this year, including during a typhoon in August.
    “The waters have never been this close and the waves never so high for the past 12 years,” Choi said at his guest house, looking out the window.    “This place was famous for calm waves, but look, they’re widely breaking now.”
    Fast economic expansion is chewing away at some of South Korea’s most popular beaches, officials and residents say – a trend exacerbated by climate change, which has brought rising water levels and unpredictable weather.
    Sacheonjin, in the eastern Gangwon province, is one of 43 such beaches designated as having “serious” coastal erosion as of 2020, up from 12 in 2018, according to a survey of 250 beaches by the oceans and fisheries ministry.
    The eastern coastal provinces are among the hardest hit by erosion, accounting for 25 of the 43 worst-hit beaches.
    “Coastal erosion has been accelerating due to the government’s lack of willingness to step up beach maintenance,” lawmaker Kim Tae-heum said.    “It should secure and funnel more funds and take over the municipal programmes if necessary.”
VANISHING BEACHES
    Until 2019, Sacheonjin beach was as wide as 40 meters (131.2 ft), Choi said.
    But during a recent visit by Reuters, the beach had narrowed to about 3 meters, pounded by waves.
    As water swallowed the sand, some businesses were forced to relocate.    In other spots, steep dunes as high as 5 meters formed, triggering safety concerns and disrupting tourism.
    Early development plans lacked environmental protections, and the Coast Management Act of 1999 failed to protect shorelines, unlike tighter measures imposed in places like the United States and Japan, said Kim In-ho, a professor who has been leading Gangwon province’s survey.
    Kim chiefly blamed a coastal drive and seawall built too close to the shore, as well as a nearby breakwater, for accelerating changes to Sacheonjin’s coastline.
    “Those unscientifically designed structures intensified the waves and undercut sand dunes, which help mitigate erosion and storm surges,” he said.
    Chang Sung-yeol, a coastal engineer who works with Kim, said this year’s erosion was aggravated by August’s typhoon and unusually strong waves from the east northeast.
    South Korea’s east sea waters have risen by 3.83 millimetres per year from 1980-2020, according to the state-run Korea Hydrographic and Oceanographic Agency.
TOURISM AT STAKE
    Lim Won-ik, a local official with responsibility for Sacheonjin, said almost 60% of the beach’s sand has been restored since August, when erosion peaked.
    Authorities plan to supply more sand and flatten beaches in all affected areas while devising long-term recovery plans, he added.
    The country’s busiest beach, Haeundae, in the southeastern city of Busan, lost nearly a quarter of its white sand since 2016 because of rapid coastal erosion, the ministry survey showed.
    In Samcheok, just south of Sacheonjin, a 2020 study by the environment ministry concluded that the beach had shrunk to its smallest level since 2005, with piles of sand bags now it and the coastal forest.
    That erosion was partly exacerbated by the construction of a floating dock designed to supply coal to a nearby power plant, and activists fear a planned breakwater at the site could cause further damage.
    “We heavily rely on tourism, as people come here to swim, fish, and catch surf clams,” said Ha Tae-sung, a local resident who leads protests against the power plant.    “But you can’t go in there anymore, clams died en masse, and it’s noisy and stinks because of construction and waste.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Josh Smith and Gerry Doyle)

11/19/2021 Pakistan Frees Hardline Islamist Under A Deal To End Violence by Mubasher Bukhari
Saad Hussain Rizvi, chief of Islamist political party Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), gestures to his
supporters after being released from jail in Lahore, Pakistan, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Mohsin Raza
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan freed a hardline Islamist leader on Thursday, a week after removing his name from a terrorism watch list under a deal to end weeks of deadly protests by his followers, the government and his lawyer said.
    Saad Hussain Rizvi, the chief of a Sunni militant group – Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) – was released from a jail in Lahore city, a government spokesman, Hasaan Khawar, told Reuters. His lawyer Muhammad Rizwan confirmed the release.
    “By the grace of God, he is a free man now,” he said.
    The release came two weeks after the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan agreed to free over 2,000 detained members of the TLP movement, lifted a ban on the group and agreed to let it contest elections.
    In return, the TLP would shun the politics of violence and withdraw a demand to have France’s ambassador expelled over the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by a French magazine, negotiators have said.
    The TLP took to the streets in mid-October, kicking off weeks of protests and clashes that killed at least seven policemen, injured scores on both sides and blocked the country’s busiest highway.
    Khan’s government had designated the TLP a terrorist group and arrested Rizvi amid similar violent protests earlier this year.
    The TLP, which can mobilise thousands of supporters, was born in 2015 out of a protest campaign to seek the release of a police guard who assassinated a provincial governor in 2011 over his calls to reform blasphemy legislation.
    It entered politics in 2017 and surprised the political elite by securing more than 2 million votes in the 2018 election.
    The next national election is scheduled for 2023, and analysts expect political groups to start gearing up from early next year.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/19/2021 Taiwan Opens Office In Lithuania, Brushing Aside China Opposition
FILE PHOTO: A Taiwanese flag flaps in the wind in Taoyuan, Taiwan, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in Lithuania on Thursday in a diplomatic breakthrough for the Chinese-claimed island, brushing aside Beijing’s strong opposition to the move which again expressed its anger and warned of consequences.
    China demanded in August that the Baltic state withdraw its ambassador to Beijing and said it would recall China’s envoy in Vilnius after Taiwan announced its office in the city would be called the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania.
    Other Taiwan offices in Europe and the United States use the name of the city Taipei, avoiding a reference to the island itself, which China claims as its own territory.
    China has stepped up efforts to get other countries to limit their interactions with Taiwan, or cut them off altogether. Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
    Beijing has also been angered by Lithuania’s decision to open its own representative office in Taiwan, though no firm date has been set for that yet.
    Taiwan’s foreign ministry said the opening of the office would “charter a new and promising course” for ties between it and Lithuania.
    There was huge potential for cooperation in industries including semi-conductors, lasers and fintech, it said.
    “Taiwan will cherish and promote this new friendship based on our shared values.”
    China’s Foreign Ministry said the move was a “crude inference” in the country’s internal affairs.
    “The Lithuanian side is responsible for all consequences arising therefrom,” it said.    “We demand the Lithuanian side immediately correct its mistaken decision.”
    The dispute with Lithuania over Taiwan has also sucked in the United States, which has offered its support to Vilnius to withstand Chinese pressure.
    Many other countries maintain de facto embassies in Taipei, including several of Lithuania’s fellow European Union member states, Britain, Australia and the United States.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Michael Perry)

11/19/2021 Thousands Rally In Central Iran To Protest Water Shortages
FILE PHOTO: Farmers work in a field as smoke from an oil refinery rises in the background, in
Tehran, Iran June 3, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Thousands of farmers and their supporters gathered in the central Iranian city of Isfahan on Friday, state TV reported, in a major protest over water shortages in the drought-stricken region.
    “Let Isfahan breathe again, revive Zayandeh Rud,” chanted some of the demonstrators in a video posted on social media as crowds gathered in the dry bed of the river where protesting farmers have set up a tent city.     “Our children want water to provide food for your children,” read a sign carried by a woman.
    Iran’s energy minister apologised for the water shortages.    “I apologise to all of our dear farmers, and I feel ashamed for not being able to provide the water needed for their crops.    With God’s help, I hope we can overcome these shortcomings in the next few months,” Ali Akbar Mehrabian told state TV.
    The farmers in Isfahan province have for years protested against the diversion of water from the Zayandeh Rud river to supply other areas, leaving their farms dry and threatening their livelihoods.    A pipeline carrying water to Yazd province has been repeatedly damaged, according to Iranian media.
    In July, street protests broke out over water shortages in the oil-producing southwestern province of Khuzestan, with the United Nations’ human rights chief criticising the fatal shooting of protesters. Iran rejected the criticism.
    Iran has blamed its worst drought in 50 years for the water shortages while critics also point to mismanagement.
    With an economy crippled by U.S. sanctions, Iran has been the Middle East’s worst-hit country in the COVID-19 pandemic.    The drought has forced Iran to import a record volume of wheat.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/20/2021 ICC Prosecutor Suspends Probe Into Philippines Drugs War
FILE PHOTO: Activists take part in a rally protesting at an escalation of President Rodrigo Duterte's war
on drugs, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, August 18, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/File Photo
    THE HAGUE/MANILA (Reuters) -The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has suspended a probe at Manila’s request into suspected rights abuses during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs.
    ICC judges approved a probe https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/international-court-approves-investigation-into-philippines-war-drugs-2021-09-15 in September into the campaign in which thousands of suspected drug peddlers have died.    Activists say many have been executed by law enforcement agencies with the tacit backing of the president.
    Philippine authorities say the killings were in self-defence and that the ICC has no right to meddle.
    Court documents released by the ICC and confirmed by Philippine officials on Saturday showed that Manila filed the deferral request on Nov. 10, citing the country’s own investigations into drug war killings.
    “The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request,” ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan wrote, adding that it would seek additional information from the Philippines.
    Governments can ask the ICC to defer a case if they are implementing their own investigations and prosecutions for the same acts.
    Duterte, 76, pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2018 and has said the international court has no jurisdiction https://www.reuters.com/article/us-philippines-drugs-icct-idUSKCN1GJ0ER to indict him. The ICC maintains it has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed while Manila was a member and up until 2019.
    The Manila request for the deferral follows repeated statements by the Duterte government that it would not cooperate with the ICC.
    “We welcome the judiciousness of the new ICC prosecutor who has deemed it fit to give the matter a fresh look, and we trust that the matter will be resolved in favor of the exoneration of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system,” Karlo Nograles, acting spokesperson for Duterte, said in a statement on Saturday.
    A Philippine lawyers group called on the ICC not to remove the glimmer of hope for families of drug-war victims.
    “We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration,” the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represents some victims’ families, said in a statement.
    The Philippine justice system is “extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims”, it said.
    Human Rights Watch said the government’s claim that existing domestic mechanisms afford citizens justice was absurd. “Let’s hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is,” Brad Adam, its Asia director, said in a statement.
LOOMING ELECTIONS
    The ICC decision is a boost for Duterte, who this week launched a run for the Senate https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-edge-deadline-presidential-candidates-looms-2021-11-15 in elections next year.    He is barred by the constitution from seeking re-election as president.
    “It will of course provide some relief in the raucous elections,” political analyst Ramon Casiple, vice president of consulting and research firm Novo Trends PH, told Reuters.    “However, it may not enable (him) to do more after the elections, particularly if the incoming government chooses to cooperate with the ICC process.”
    In its nearly two-decade existence, the ICC has convicted five men for war crimes and crimes against humanity, all African militia leaders from Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and Uganda.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague, and Neil Jerome Morales in Manila; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Mallard and Jane Wardell)

11/20/2021 China Has Given 76.3% Of Population Complete COVID-19 Vaccine Doses
FILE PHOTO: A nurse holds a syringe containing a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine made by the Beijing
Institute of Biological Products, a unit of Sinopharm subsidiary China National Biotec Group (CNBG), at a
vaccination center during a government-organized visit, in Beijing, China, April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China had given 76.3% of its population complete COVID-19 vaccine doses by Nov. 19, Wu Liangyou, an official at the National Health Commission (NHC) said on Saturday.
    A total of 1.076 billion people in the country have received the required number of doses for their COVID vaccination, the NHC spokesperson Mi Feng said in a news briefing.
    A total of 65.73 million people have received a booster vaccine dose, Wu said.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/20/2021 Indian Farmers In No Mood To Forgive Despite Modi’s U-Turn On Reforms by Saurabh Sharma
Guru Sevak Singh, a farmer, poses with a photograph of his brother Guruvinder Singh, who was
killed during a farmers protest in Lakhimpur Kheri last month, in Mohraniya village of the
Bahraich district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Saurabh Sharma
    MOHRANIYA, India (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have caved in https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indias-modi-repeal-controversial-farm-laws-2021-11-19 to farmers’ demands that he scraps laws they say threaten their livelihoods.
    But reaction to the shock U-turn in India’s rural north, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) faces key elections next year, has been less than positive, a worrying sign for a leader seeking to maintain his grip on national politics.
    In the village of Mohraniya, some 500 km by road east of the capital New Delhi and located in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, farmer Guru Sevak Singh said that he and others like him lost faith in Modi and his party.
    “Today Prime Minister Modi realised that he was committing blunder, but it took him a year to recognise this and only because he now knows farmers will not vote for his party ever again,” said Singh.
    For the young farmer, the matter is deeply personal.
    Singh’s 19-year-old brother Guruvinder was killed in October https://www.reuters.com/world/india/son-india-govt-minister-arrested-accused-killing-farmers-2021-10-10 when a car ploughed into a crowd protesting against the farm legislation, one of eight people who died in a spate of violence related to the farmers’ uprising.
    Thousands of agricultural workers have protested outside the capital New Delhi and beyond for more than a year, shrugging off the pandemic to disrupt traffic and pile pressure on Modi and the BJP who say the new laws were key to modernising the sector.
    “Today I can announce that my brother is a martyr,” Singh told Reuters, weeping as he held a picture of his dead brother.
    “My brother is among those brave farmers who sacrificed their lives to prove that the government was implementing laws to destroy the agrarian economy,” he added.
    Around him were several police officers, who Singh said were provided after his brother and three others were killed by the car.    Ashish Mishra, son of junior home minister Ajay, is in police custody in relation to the incident.
    Ajay Mishra Teni said at the time that his son was not at the site and that a car driven by “our driver” had lost control and hit the farmers after “miscreants” pelted it with stones and attacked it with sticks and swords.
‘HOW CAN WE FORGET?’
    In 2020, Modi’s government passed three farm laws in a bid to overhaul the agriculture sector that employs about 60% of India’s workforce but is deeply inefficient, in debt and prone to pricing wars.
    Angry farmers took to the streets, saying the reforms put their jobs at risk and handed control over crops and prices to private corporations.
    The resulting protest movement became one of the country’s biggest and most protracted.
    Leaders of six farmer unions who spearheaded the movement in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab states said they would not forgive a government that labelled protesting farmers as terrorists and anti-nationals.
    “Farmers were beaten with sticks, rods and detained for demanding legitimate rights … farmers were mowed down by a speeding car belonging to a minister’s family … tell me how can we forget it all?” said Sudhakar Rai, a senior member of a farmers’ union in Uttar Pradesh.
    Rai said at least 170 farmers were killed during anti-farm law protests across the country.    There are no official data to verify his claims.
    A senior BJP member who declined to be named said the decision to repeal the laws was taken by Modi after he consulted a top farmers’ association affiliated to his party.
    The politician, who was at the meeting when the party agreed to back down, said those present conceded the BJP had failed to communicate the benefits of the new laws clearly enough.
    Leaders of the opposition and some analysts said Modi’s move was linked to state elections next year in Uttar Pradesh – which accounts for more parliamentary seats than any other state – and Punjab.
    “What cannot be achieved by democratic protests can be achieved by the fear of impending elections!” wrote P. Chidambaram, a senior figure in the opposition Congress party, on Twitter.
    But farmers like Singh warned that the government could pay a price for its treatment of farmers.
    “We are the backbone of the country and Modi has today accepted that his policies were against farmers,” said Singh.    “I lost my brother in this mess and no one can bring him back.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Rupam Jain in Mumbai; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/20/2021 Taliban To Start Paying Overdue Salaries Of Afghan Government Workers
A Taliban fighter displays their flag as his comrade watches, at a
checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban administration will begin paying the overdue salaries of government workers from Saturday, officials said.
    Thousands of Afghan government workers are owed at least three months of salary, one of the many crises faced by the Taliban since the Islamist movement took over the country in August.
    “The finance ministry says that, starting today, the past three months salaries of all government workers and staff will be paid totally,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Twitter.
    It was not immediately clear where the funds to pay the salaries would come from.
    Even before the Taliban seized control last in August, many public sector workers said they had not been paid for weeks.    After the movement took power, billions of dollars of Afghan government funds parked abroad in the United States and Europe were frozen.
    Foreign governments have been unwilling to fund the Taliban-led administration directly to help with financial commitments such as payment of workers.    Global financial institutions have also halted funding.
    After a meeting on Thursday between the special envoys of Germany and the Netherlands and Taliban officials in Kabul, the envoys expressed willingness to explore paying health and education sector workers directly through international organisations.
    It is unclear if the Taliban’s announcement on Saturday is related to this.
    Another Taliban spokesman, Inamullah Samangani, said on Twitter on Saturday that the daily revenue collections of the Taliban administration had been increasing daily.
    “The finance ministry says that in the last 78 working days of the last three months, we have generated income of about 26.915 billion Afghanis ($288 million),” he said.
    “We collected 557 million Afghanis ($5.9 million) in revenue on Wednesday alone,” Samangani said, quoting the finance ministry, adding the payment of pensions of retired workers would also resume soon.
($1 = 93.3 Afganis)
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Ros Russell)

11/21/2021 Japan’s Foreign Minister Says China Invited Him For Visit by Kevin Buckland
FILE PHOTO: Japan's new Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi arrives at Prime Minister
Fumio Kishida's official residence in Tokyo, Japan November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on Sunday he has been invited to visit China.
    Hayashi said in an interview on Fuji TV that his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi invited him during a phone call on Thursday.    He said he was considering his response and nothing had been decided yet, the network said.
    Asked about U.S. President Joe Biden’s proposed “diplomatic boycott” of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Hayashi said Japan will proceed based on its own situation and point of view.
(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by William Mallard)

11/21/2021 China Reports 17 New Coronavirus Cases For Nov 20 Vs 23 Day Earlier
FILE PHOTO: People wait at an observation area after receiving booster shots of the vaccine against the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) at a vaccination site in Beijing, China October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China reported 17 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Nov. 20, down from 23 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.
    Of the new infections, four were locally transmitted cases, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, up from three a day earlier.
    China reported eight new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, down from 16 a day earlier.
    There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636.
    As of Nov. 20, mainland China had 98,467 confirmed coronavirus cases.
(Reporting by Cheng Leng and Norihiko Shirouzu; Editing by William Mallard)

11/21/2021 China Downgrades Diplomatic Ties With Lithuania Over Taiwan by Norihiko Shirouzu and Andrius Sytas
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese flags are displayed alongside a military airplane
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    BEIJING/VILNIUS (Reuters) – China downgraded its diplomatic ties with Lithuania on Sunday, expressing strong dissatisfaction with the Baltic State after Taiwan opened a de facto embassy there, escalating a row that has sucked in Washington.
    China views self-ruled and democratically governed Taiwan as its territory with no right to the trappings of a state and has stepped up pressure on countries to downgrade or sever their relations with the island, even non-official ones.
    Lithuania expressed regret over China’s move but defended its right to expand cooperation with Taiwan, while respecting Beijing’s “One China” policy, and said its foreign minister would go to Washington to discuss trade and investment projects.
    Taiwan, meanwhile, reported that two Chinese nuclear-capable H-6 bombers had flown to the south of the island on Sunday, part of a pattern of what Taipei views as military harassment designed to pressure the government.
    Beijing had already expressed its anger this summer with Lithuania – which has formal relations with China and not Taiwan – after it allowed the island to open an office in the country using the name Taiwan. China recalled its ambassador in August.
    Other Taiwan offices in Europe and the United States use the name of the city Taipei, avoiding reference to the island itself.    However, the Taiwanese Representative Office in Lithuania finally opened on Thursday.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a brusque statement that Lithuania had ignored China’s “solemn stance” and the basic norms of international relations.
    Beijing said relations would be downgraded to the level of charge d’affaires, a rung below ambassador.
    The move “undermined China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs,” creating a “bad precedent internationally,” it said.
    “We urge the Lithuanian side to correct its mistakes immediately and not to underestimate the Chinese people’s firm determination and staunch resolve to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” China’s foreign ministry said.
    No matter what Taiwan does, it cannot change the fact that it is part of China, it said.
WASHINGTON VISIT
    Lithuania’s Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said on Sunday that the opening of the representative office, which does not have a formal diplomatic status, should not have come as a surprise to anyone.
    “Our government’s programme says Lithuania wants a more intense economic, cultural and scientific relationship with Taiwan,” she said.    “I want to emphasise that this step does not mean any conflict or disagreement with the ‘One China’ policy.”
    The prime minister of Lithuania’s larger EU neighbour Poland said on Sunday that it supported the stance taken by Vilnius.
    The European Commission spokesperson said the EU executive “has stood by Lithuania in the face of sustained coercive measures from China” since the summer.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name, and that the People’s Republic of China has never ruled it and has no right to speak for it.
    Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council denounced China’s “rudeness and arrogance,” saying Beijing had no right to comment on something that was not an internal Chinese affair and purely a matter between Taiwan and Lithuania.
    Taiwan has been heartened by growing international support in the face of China’s military and diplomatic pressure, especially from the United States and some of its allies.
    Washington rejects attempts by other countries to interfere in Lithuania’s relationship with Taiwan, U.S. Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya told a news conference in Vilnius on Friday.
    Lithuania Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis will go to Washington on Tuesday where he expects to discuss the opening of the U.S. market to Lithuanian goods and developing common investment projects, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
    Landsbergis will meet U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Jose W. Fernandez “to discuss possibilities to expand and deepen mutually beneficial economic ties,” it said.
    Washington has offered Vilnius support to withstand Chinese pressure and Lithuania will sign a $600 million https://www.reuters.com/business/lithuania-get-us-trade-support-it-faces-china-fury-over-taiwan-2021-11-19 export credit agreement with the U.S. Export-Import Bank on Wednesday.
    Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
    Taipei could lose another ally to Beijing after the Honduran presidential election later this month, where a candidate backed by main opposition parties is leading in opinion polls.
    If elected, Xiomara Castro has vowed to establish official relations with China.
(Reporting by Norihiko Shirouzu and Cheng Leng in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius; Editing by David Clarke and Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/22/2021 Xi Tells Southeast Asian Leaders China Does Not Seek ‘Hegemony’
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting commemorating the 110th anniversary of Xinhai Revolution
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a summit on Monday that Beijing would not “bully” its smaller regional neighbours, amid rising tension over the South China Sea.
    Beijing’s territorial claims over the sea clash with those of several Southeast Asian nations and have raised alarm from Washington to Tokyo.
    But Xi said China would never seek hegemony nor take advantage of its size to coerce smaller countries, and would work with ASEAN to eliminate “interference.”
    “China was, is, and will always be a good neighbour, good friend, and good partner of ASEAN,” Chinse state media quoted Xi as saying.
    China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea has set it against ASEAN members Vietnam and the Philippines, while Brunei, Taiwan and Malaysia also lay claim to parts.
    The Philippines on Thursday condemned https://www.reuters.com/world/china/philippines-condemns-chinese-coast-guards-action-south-china-sea-2021-11-18 the actions of three Chinese coast guard vessels that it said blocked and used water cannon on resupply boats headed towards a Philippine-occupied atoll in the sea.
    The United States on Friday called the Chinese actions “dangerous, provocative, and unjustified,” and warned that an armed attack on Philippine vessels would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments.
    Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told the summit hosted by Xi that he “abhors” the altercation and said the rule of law was the only way out of the dispute.    He referred to a 2016 international arbitration ruling which found China’s maritime claim to the sea had no legal basis.
    “This does not speak well of the relations between our nations,” said Duterte, who will leave office next year and has been criticised in the past for failing to condemn China’s conduct in the disputed waters.
    ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
MYANMAR NO SHOW
    Xi told the summit that China and ASEAN had “cast off the gloom of the Cold War” – when the region was wracked by superpower competition and conflicts such as the Vietnam War – and had jointly maintained regional stability.
    China frequently criticises the United States for “Cold War thinking” when Washington engages its regional allies to push back against Beijing’s growing military and economic influence.
    U.S. President Joe Biden joined ASEAN leaders for a virtual summit in October and pledged greater engagement with the region.
    The summit was held without a representative from Myanmar, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Monday.    The reason for the non-attendance was not immediately clear, and a spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government did not answer calls seeking comment.
    ASEAN sidelined Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, who has led a bloody crackdown on dissent since seizing power on Feb. 1, from virtual summits last month over his failure to make inroads in implementing an agreed peace plan, in an unprecedented exclusion for the bloc.
    Myanmar refused to send junior representation and blamed ASEAN for departing from its non-interference principle and caving to Western pressure.
    China lobbied for Min to attend the summit, according to diplomatic sources.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Rozanna Latiff and Martin Petty; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/22/2021 Exclusive-U.N. Warns Of ‘Colossal’ Collapse Of Afghan Banking System by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Afghan money exchange dealers wait for customers at a money exchange market, following banks and markets
reopening after the Taliban took over in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 4, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations on Monday pushed for urgent action to prop up Afghanistan’s banks, warning that a spike in people unable to repay loans, lower deposits and a cash liquidity crunch could cause the financial system to collapse within months.
    In a three-page report on Afghanistan’s banking and financial system seen by Reuters, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) said the economic cost of a banking system collapse – and consequent negative social impact – “would be colossal.”
    An abrupt withdrawal of most foreign development support after the Taliban seized power on Aug. 15 from Afghanistan’s Western-backed government has sent the economy into freefall, putting a severe strain on the banking system which set weekly withdrawal limits to stop a run on deposits.
    “Afghanistan’s financial and bank payment systems are in disarray.    The bank-run problem must be resolved quickly to improve Afghanistan’s limited production capacity and prevent the banking system from collapsing,” the UNDP report said.
    Finding a way to avert a collapse is complicated by international and unilateral sanctions on Taliban leaders.
    “We need to find a way to make sure that if we support the banking sector, we are not supporting Taliban,” Abdallah al Dardari, head of UNDP in Afghanistan, told Reuters.
    “We are in such a dire situation that we need to think of all possible options and we have to think outside the box,” he said.    “What used to be three months ago unthinkable has to become thinkable now.”
    Afghanistan’s banking system was already vulnerable before the Taliban came to power.    But since then development aid has dried up, billions of dollars in Afghan assets have been frozen abroad, and the United Nations and aid groups are now struggling to get enough cash into the country.
‘UNDER THE MATTRESS’
    The UNDP’s proposals to save the banking system include a deposit insurance scheme, measures to ensure adequate liquidity for short- and medium-term needs, as well as credit guarantees and loan repayment delay options.
    “Coordination with the International Financial Institutions, with their extensive experience of the Afghan financial system, would be critical to this process,” UNDP said in its report, referring to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
    The United Nations has repeatedly warned since the Taliban took over that Afghanistan’s economy is on the brink of a collapse that would likely further fuel a refugee crisis.    UNDP said that if the banking system fails, it could take decades to rebuild.
    The UNDP report said that with current trends and withdrawal restrictions, about 40% of Afghanistan’s deposit base will be lost by the end of the year.    It said banks have stopped extending new credit, and that non-performing loans had almost doubled to 57% in September from the end of 2020.
    “If this rate continues of non-performing loans, the banks may not have a chance to survive in the next six months.    And I am being optimistic,” al Dardari said.
    Liquidity has also been a problem.    Afghan banks heavily relied on physical shipments of U.S. dollars, which have stopped.    When it comes to the local afghani currency, al     Dardari said that while there is about $4 billion worth of afghanis in the economy, only about $500,000 worth is in circulation.
    “The rest is sitting under the mattress or under the pillow because people are afraid,” he said.
    As the United Nations seeks to avert famine in Afghanistan, al Dardari also warned about the consequences of a banking collapse for trade finance.
    “Afghanistan last year imported about $7 billion worth of goods and products and services, mostly foodstuff … If there is no trade finance the interruption is huge,” he said.    “Without the banking system, none of this can happen.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

11/22/2021 Indian Farmers Hold Mass Rally, Keep Pressure On Modi Despite Climbdown by Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj
FILE PHOTO: Farmers and protesters pull a blockade using tractor during a tractor rally to protest against farm laws on the occasion
of India's Republic Day at Tikri border near New Delhi, India, January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Flushed with victory after Prime Minister Narendra Modi caved into demands for agricultural reform laws to be repealed, Indian farmers held a mass rally on Monday to demand minimum support prices be extended to all produce, not just rice and wheat.
    The protest movement launched by farmers more than a year ago became the most serious political challenge to the Hindu nationalist government, and resulted in Modi making a surprise commitment on Friday to roll back the reforms.
    Thousands gathered for the latest rally in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will seek to hold onto power in state elections due early next year.
    Since late 2020, thousands of farmers have camped on the outskirts of New Delhi as part of a mass agitation to pressurise Modi into rolling back the reforms.
    His climbdown sparked celebrations by farmers, but their leaders immediately warned that the protests would continue until the government promised to introduce a law that would guarantee minimum prices for all crops.
    Currently, the government mainly buys rice and wheat at Minimum Support Prices or guaranteed prices, but the safety net benefits barely 6% of India’s millions of farmers.
    In a letter addressed to Modi one Sunday, the main farmers’ body said: “Minimum Support Price, based on the comprehensive cost of production, should be made a legal entitlement of all farmers (and) for all agricultural produce . . .
    Farmers also asked for the federal government to withdraw a draft electricity bill, that they fear would lead to state governments withdrawing their right to free or subsidised power, used mainly for irrigation.
    The northern state of Punjab, part of India’s grain belt, gives free electricity to the agriculture sector, while some states subsidise power to farmers.
    Growers have also asked the government to drop fines and other penalties for burning their fields after harvesting to remove stalk and chaff.    The smoke has become a major source of air pollution in Delhi and satellite towns bordering the crop growing northern states.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/22/2021 Sri Lanka Begins Trials Connected To 2019 Easter Bombings Case by Uditha Jayasinghe
FILE PHOTO: A family member of a victim of the 2019 Easter Sunday bomb attacks reacts near a mass
graveyard next to St. Sebastian's Church, one of the churches that was attacked, during the second
anniversary in Katuwapitiya, Sri Lanka, April 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – A Sri Lankan court on Monday began the first of three trials connected to bombings that killed nearly 270 people on the island in 2019, amidst appeals for greater accountability from victim support groups.
    In this trial, former national police chief Pujith Jayasundara is charged with failing to act on repeated intelligence warnings of a possible terror attack.
    A total of 855 charges of murder and attempted murder were read out as Jayasundara stood in the dock at the back of the courtroom.    A total of 1,215 witnesses have been listed to give evidence but not all may be called, his lawyer said.
    “Our position is the former police chief is not guilty. He did not intentionally aid or abet the attacks and there was no omission on his part that caused the attacks,” attorney Ranjith Dehiwala told Reuters.
    Ex-Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, the top official in the defence ministry at the time, faces similar charges in a trial beginning later on Monday.    Neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.     Both men are out on bail.
    The trial of 24 men accused of carrying out the attacks begins on Tuesday.
    Police filed over 23,000 charges against those suspects, including conspiring to murder, aiding and abetting the attacks, and collecting arms and ammunition.    The group also includes Mohammad Naufer, who officials say masterminded the attacks and is linked to Islamic State.
    The string of attacks carried out on 21 April 2019, Easter Sunday, targeted three churches and three hotels, killing 267 people, including at least 45 foreign nationals.    The attacks, the worst in Sri Lanka’s turbulent history, also injured about 500 people, mostly belonging to the island’s minority Christian community.
    On Sunday, dozens of Catholic community members held protests and laid flowers at multiple events organized to remember those lost in the attacks.
    Participants appealed to the government to support survivors and ensure the trials are allowed to proceed without political interference.
    “We want genuine justice from this process.    That is what we are appealing for the officials to deliver.    We have been waiting a long time and we want the real people responsible held accountable for what happened,” said Eranga Gunasekera, a member of a victims support group, during a remembrance ceremony held in Colombo.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe in Colombo; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/22/2021 Singapore Health Minister Says Return To Strict COVID-19 Curbs A Last Resort by Aradhana Aravindan
FILE PHOTO: People wearing face masks pass the Marina Bay Sands hotel during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A return to stricter COVID-19 curbs in Singapore will be a “last resort,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday, as the city-state partially eased limits on social gatherings and dining out under its calibrated reopening approach.
    Ong also said the international travel and tourism hub would continue to open “travel lanes” with more countries for vaccinated visitors.
    Singapore is gradually granting small groups of vaccinated people increased liberties, resuming in-person business events and permitting quarantine-free travel from select countries as it ramps up its vaccine booster programme.
    “I feel it’s important to do it this way, because it minimizes the chance of us having to backpedal too frequently,” Ong told Reuters in an interview on Monday for the upcoming Reuters Next https://reutersevents.com/events/next conference.
    “You can’t rule out having to throttle back sometimes, but it should always be a last resort, because it’s extremely frustrating for people.”
    Singapore has vacillated between tightening and easing restrictions for its population of 5.45 million in recent months as, like many countries, it was hit by a fresh wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant.
    Ong said it was too difficult to put a timeframe on when Singapore would reach a “new normal,” but he hoped the country’s high vaccination rates and the current roll-out of booster shots meant it would continue to ease restrictions.
    “I hope that whatever liberty that we now gradually, progressively can return back to the people, we can keep them for next year, even as a new wave arrives,” said Ong.
    Singapore was one of several so-called COVID-zero countries that enforced some of the world’s strictest measures to keep infections and deaths from the pandemic – at around 252,200 and 662, respectively – relatively low.
    This year, it switched to a strategy of living with the virus as endemic.    Around 94% of those eligible have been vaccinated, while 23% of the total population has received a booster shot.
    Among its latest easing measures, limits on social gatherings and dining out were eased from two to five people, still restrictive compared to many other countries.
    Authorities have also tightened measures against unvaccinated people, effectively barring them from dining out or entering malls and will begin to charge them for COVID-19 treatment if they refused a vaccine by choice.
TRAVEL HUB
    Singapore has been expanding quarantine free travel from more than a dozen countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States via so-called vaccinated “travel lanes.”
    It will start these lanes with Malaysia and India at the end of the month.    The lanes allow fully vaccinated people to enter the island without quarantining if they pass their COVID-19 tests.
    “It is important for us to establish this, as such a small outwardly oriented country, we need to connect with the world,” said Ong.    “For the foreseeable future, I think vaccinated travel lanes will be the norm.”
    To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; editing by Jane Wardell)

11/22/2021 New Zealand To End Tough COVID Curbs, Adopt New Virus-Fighting System by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO:Shoppers walk through a retail district in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
lockdown restrictions being eased in Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand will adopt a new system of living with the coronavirus virus from Dec. 3, which will end tough restrictions and allow businesses to operate in its biggest city, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
    New Zealand remained largely COVID-19 free until August but has been unable to beat an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant, forcing Ardern to abandon an elimination strategy and switch to treating the virus as endemic.
    Its biggest city Auckland has been in lockdown for over 90 days, although some measures were eased recently.
    “The hard truth is that Delta is here and not going away, but New Zealand is well set to tackle it because of our high vaccination rates and our latest safety measures including the traffic light system and Vaccine Pass,” Ardern said in a statement.
    The new system will rate regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates.    Auckland, the epicentre of the Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
    Ardern said about 83% of eligible New Zealanders are fully vaccinated, while 88% have had their first shot.
    The government previously said the country would drop lockdown measures and move to the traffic-light system to manage outbreaks after 90% of the eligible population was fully vaccinated.
    Along with its geographic isolation, New Zealand enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations, limiting the spread of COVID-19 and helping its economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.
    The country of 5 million has so far reported about 7,000 cases in all and just 39 deaths.
    Its international border is still shut and it is unclear when it will reopen.
    Air New Zealand said on Monday it has cancelled more than 1,000 flights to neighbouring Australia through to the end of the year due to border uncertainty.
    New Zealand ended quarantine free travel with Australia in August after a new Delta outbreak there, and has kept its borders tightly sealed.
    “This will be particularly tough news for families and friends who were hoping to catch up over Christmas,” said Air New Zealand Chief Customer and Sales Officer Leanne Geraghty.
    “Our hands are tied until border restrictions ease, and we receive further clarity from the New Zealand government.”
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Richard Pullin)

11/22/2021 Australia To Reopen To Foreign Visa Holders In Bid To Revive Economy by Colin Packham and Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: International travellers arrive at Sydney Airport in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
border restrictions easing, with fully vaccinated Australians being allowed into Sydney from overseas without quarantine
for the first time since March 2020, in Sydney, Australia, November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy
    CANBERRA/SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia will allow foreign visa holders to enter the country from the start of December, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, the latest step to restart international travel and support its economy.
    Australia shut its international border in May 2020 and allowed only restricted numbers of citizens and permanent residents to enter in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
    The rules were relaxed in recent weeks to allow foreign family members of citizens to enter, and Morrison said this will be scaled up from Dec. 1 to allow vaccinated students, business visa holders and refugees to arrive.
    “The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.    Australia will also allow in vaccinated tourists from South Korea and Japan from Dec 1, he said.
    The return of foreign students, who are worth about A$35 billion ($25 billion) a year to the Australian economy, will be a major boost for the education sector.br>     More than 235,000 foreigners, including about 160,000 students, held visas for Australia at the end of October, government data showed.
    Many Australian universities have come to rely on foreign students, who make up about 21% of total enrolments, and the border closure led higher education facilities to lay off hundreds of staff.
    Many students locked out of Australia have said they would switch to alternative universities if they were unable to begin face-to-face learning in 2022.
    The relaxation of the border rules is also expected to ease labour shortages, which threaten to stymie an economic rebound.
    “This will be critical relief for businesses who are struggling to find workers just to keep their doors open and for those who need highly specialised skills to unlock big projects,” said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the industry body, the Business Council.
    Border rules, swift lockdowns and tough social distancing rules helped Australia to keep its coronavirus numbers far lower than many other comparable countries, with around 200,000 cases and 1,948 deaths.
    Most new infections are being reported in Victoria state, which logged 1,029 cases on Monday.    New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported 180 cases. Other states and territories are COVID-free or have very few cases.
($1 = 1.3824 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin)

11/22/2021 S.Korean Schools Resume Full In-Person Classes by Josh Smith
Children attend a class at an elementary school in Daejeon, South Korea, November 22, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – For the first time since South Korea began battling its coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, all schools across the country resumed full-time in-person classes on Monday.
    As the first country outside China to face a major outbreak of the virus, South Korea’s schools have seen various stages of shutdowns, remote learning, and hybrid arrangements.
    Widespread testing, intensive contact tracing and tracking apps have enabled South Korea to limit the spread of the virus without the extensive lockdowns seen in other countries, but previous efforts at fully opening schools have been hampered by new waves of infections.
    The fully reopened schools come as part of South Korea’s “living with COVID-19” plan, adopted after it reached its vaccination goals last month.    Overall 78.8% of the population is fully vaccinated, though that number drops to 12.8% for those ages 12-17.
    “It is true that many concerns remain,” South Korean education minister Yoo Eun-hye said during a visit to an elementary school in Seoul on Monday.
    Even as it eased social distancing amid high vaccination rates, the country has battled some of the highest daily case numbers yet, including a record number of severe cases.
    South Korea reported 2,827 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight Sunday, down slightly from nearly a week of daily totals over 3,000, including a record high 3,292 new cases on Thursday.
    Most worrisome for health officials is an uptick in serious cases requiring hospitalization, which have lingered near record highs of more than 500.
    Schools still can move back to remote learning or other hybrid arrangements if the coronavirus situation requires it.    Precautions such as masks, dividers and other distancing measures remain in place.
    “As the number of new confirmed cases increase, we ask parents and family members to pay extra attention to prevention measures,” Yoo said.    “The education ministry and education offices will thoroughly check the prevention measures and will support areas in need.”
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Hyunyoung Yi. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/22/2021 Myanmar Junta Chief To Be Absent From China-ASEAN Leader Summit - Sources
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing is not attending a virtual China-ASEAN leaders’ summit on Monday, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting.
    The sources, from governments of the attending countries, said Myanmar was to be represented instead by its ambassador to China.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and Yew Lun Tian; Writing by Martin Petty)

11/22/2021 Anger Among Philippine Victims’ Families As ICC Suspends War On Drugs Probe by Karen Lema
FILE PHOTO: Protesters calling to stop extra-judicial killings march towards the presidential
Malacanang Palace during a protest to commemorate President Rodrigo Duterte's final year
in office, in Manila, Philippines, June 30, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Relatives of people killed in the Philippines’ war on drugs have accused the government of attempting to evade accountability by asking the International Criminal Court (ICC) to defer its investigation.
    The ICC, which in September approved an investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in which thousands of people have died, on Saturday temporarily suspended the probe at Manila’s request.
    “I am gripped by anger.    I almost threw my cellphone when I read the news,” said Normita Lopez, 57, whose son died in the anti-drugs campaign, her voice cracking with emotion.
    “They are obviously scared of being investigated” she said.
    The government, which previously refused to cooperate with the ICC, told the court on Nov. 10, that its legal system was more than capable of addressing suspected rights abuses.
    “The Court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fail to do so, which is certainly not the case in the Philippines,” its letter to the ICC said.
    Governments can ask the ICC to defer a case if they are implementing their own investigations.    A few weeks after ICC judges approved its probe, the Philippines said it had reviewed 50 cases that indicated foul play.
    Still, Kristina Conti, who represents Lopez and other relatives of victims, expects the ICC to resume its probe.
    “Our bet is that the ICC will determine the investigation is not genuine,” Conti told Reuters.
    Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he had encouraged the victims’ families to file complaints directly with the ministry and make use of a witness protection programme.
    The release of details of the 50 drug war deaths marked a rare admission by the state that abuses may have taken place.
    “Why is the government only doing this now?    Is it because they were rattled by the ICC?,” asked Llore Pasco, 67, whose two sons were killed in the crackdown.    “They should have started investigating soon as the killings began in 2016.”
    Since Duterte unleashed his drugs war, security forces say more than 6,000 suspected drug dealers have been killed because they fought back violently. Rights groups say authorities summarily executed them.
    Among those killed was high-school student Kian delos Santos, whose death in 2017 led to the first convictions of police officers in the drug war, and featured in a report by a former ICC prosecutor.
    “The families look at the ICC as a source of hope,” said delos Santos’ uncle, Randy.
(Reporting by Karen Lema, Editing by Ed Davies and Angus MacSwan)

11/22/2021 Red Cross ‘Livid’ That Sanctions, Frozen Aid Stoking Afghan Crisis by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan evacuee carrying a child walks at a holding centre run by the Italian Red Cross, where she
carries out a quarantine with others, in Avezzano, Italy, August 30, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A senior Red Cross official said he was furious that sanctions and donor freezes are cutting off basic services in Afghanistan, and he called on donors to find creative ways to prevent a “massive humanitarian crisis.”
    Humanitarian workers say that U.N. and unilateral sanctions on the Islamist Taliban, which seized power in August, are causing confusion and hesitation among donors despite some efforts to grant licenses to ease aid flows.
    Dominik Stillhart, operators director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the charity this week began paying salaries and distributing medical supplies to 18 medical facilities in Afghanistan to prevent them from collapsing.
    “I am livid,” he said on Monday in a statement from Kabul after a six-day field visit to hospitals.     “As winter sets in, policies that were meant to avoid supporting those in power are now instead freezing out millions of Afghans from the very basic needs they require to survive.”
    Salaries in government-run hospitals have been unpaid for months, meaning the nurses who have not abandoned their posts are walking to work for two hours because they cannot afford transport, Stillhart told journalists.
    “Every single person I spoke to, be it hospital staff, patients, people in the street – they are seriously worried about how to make ends meet in the coming months,” he said after a visit to a pediatric ward in Kandahar Province.
    Cases of severe malnutrition, pneumonia and dehydration have doubled since August and September in the facility, where up to three children are squeezed in each bed, he added.
    Stillhart urged donors to find “creative solutions,” saying the formation of a trust fund might help get money flowing.
    “… Pulling the plug, turning off the generator and throwing away the key in my view is a recipe for disaster.”
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/23/2021 U.S. Warship Again Transits Sensitive Taiwan Strait
FILE PHOTO: The USS Milius (DDG69) guided-missile destroyer arrives to join the Forward Deployed Naval
Force (FDNS) at the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan May 22, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – A U.S. warship again sailed through the sensitive Taiwan Strait on Tuesday, part of what the U.S. military calls routine activity but which always riles China whose government believes Washington is trying to stir regional tensions.
    The U.S. Navy said the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Milius conducted a “routine Taiwan Strait transit” through international waters in accordance with international law.
    “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.    The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows,” it added.
    There was no immediate response from China.
    Last month, the Chinese military condemned the United States and Canada for each sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, saying they were threatening peace and stability in the region.
    China claims democratically ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year or so, provoking anger in Taipei.
    The United States like most countries has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan but is its most important international backer and arms supplier.
    Beijing calls Taiwan the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with Washington.
    U.S. Navy ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing. U.S. allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including Britain in September.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Peter Cooney)

11/23/2021 Myanmar Opposition Raises $6.3 Million On Launch Of ‘Revolution’ Bonds
FILE PHOTO: Anti-government protesters hold placards to show their support and welcome the
new National Unity Government found by ousted NLD legislators and call to continue strike from
traditional new year in Myanmar, in Yangon, Myanmar, April 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – A shadow government in Myanmar said it has raised $6.3 million on the opening day of its inaugural bonds sale, in its biggest move yet to generate funds for its “revolution” to topple the ruling military junta.
    Myanmar has been in bloody turmoil since the military’s Feb. 1 coup and movements that have sprang up to challenge the junta have been mainly supported by public donations.
    The National Unity Government (NUG), an alliance of pro-democracy groups, ethnic minority armies and remnants of the ousted civilian government, said bonds went on sale on Monday to mainly Myanmar nationals overseas in denominations of $100, $500, $1,000 and $5,000, with two-year tenures.
    Even though the bonds will generate no interest income for buyers, $3 million worth were sold in the first three hours, the NUG said, increasing to $6.3 million by the end of the day.    Its overall target is $1 billion.
    “From this, I witness the enthusiasm of people in the case of uprooting the fascist military,” NUG spokesman, Dr. Sasa, said on Facebook.
    The junta has outlawed the NUG and designated it a “terrorist” movement.
    The NUG has not disclosed how the funds would be used.
    A spokesperson for the junta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Opposition groups have been trying to stifle the military’s efforts to consolidate power by encouraging people not to pay taxes and to join protests, a civil disobedience campaign and boycotts of army-linked businesses and a national lottery.
    Buyers of the bonds made payments via international transfers to an account in the Czech Republic, the NUG said.
    A 27-year-old Myanmar citizen, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said she invested $500 in the bonds.
    “We do not expect to get money back after two years.    We are buying it because we want to contribute to the revolution,” she said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Martin Petty and Richard Pullin)

11/23/2021 UN Criticises ‘Disturbing’ Arrest Of Rights Activist In Indian Kashmir by Fayaz Bukhari and Alasdair Pal
FILE PHOTO: Barbed wire is seen laid on a deserted road during restrictions
in Srinagar, August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Rights groups including the United Nations have criticised the arrest of a prominent activist in Indian-administered Kashmir on terror funding charges.
    Khurram Parvez was arrested late on Monday by India’s federal National Investigation Agency (NIA), an Indian official briefed on the situation told Reuters.
    His residence and office were searched and a mobile phone, laptop and books seized, he added.
    A spokesperson for the NIA confirmed Parvez’s arrest on Tuesday.
    He is being held under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, that allows for detention of up to six months without trial.
    His lawyer, Parvez Imroz, could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, called Parvez’s arrest “disturbing.”
    “He’s not a terrorist, he’s a human rights defender,” she said in a tweet.
    Parvez, one of Kashmir’s best known activists, is head of Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a group of rights organisations working in the region.
    He was arrested and detained on similar charges in 2016, after being prevented from boarding a flight to attend a UN human rights forum in Geneva. He was eventually released without being convicted of any crime.
    The Muslim-majority Kashmir region has been the source of decades of tensions between nuclear-armed neighbours India and Pakistan.
    Both countries claim the Himalayan territory in full but rule it in part, and have fought two wars against each other there.
    India has long faced allegations of rights abuses in its portion of the territory, charges New Delhi denies.
    It tightly controls access to Kashmir for foreign observers, including the UN.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar and Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Sam Holmes)

11/23/2021 Taiwan Says It Will Respect Honduras Vote Outcome, Warns Again On China
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Xiomara Castro, presidential candidate for the opposition Libre Party, gather during
the closing rally of her electoral campaign in San Pedro Sula, Honduras November 20, 2021. REUTERS/Yoseph Amaya
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will respect the outcome of the Honduras election but the country should be aware of getting sucked in by China’s “false” promises, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday ahead of a vote which could see Taipei lose a steadfast ally to Beijing.
    Honduras is one of only 15 countries that still maintain formal diplomatic ties with Chinese-claimed Taiwan.    The two have a relationship dating back to 1941, before the Republic of China government fled to Taiwan after losing the Chinese civil war.
    But poll leader Xiomara Castro, of the leftist opposition Libre Party, says she plans to open relations with China if elected, giving Beijing another foothold in what is traditionally the U.S. back yard.
    Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told reporters that based on democratic principles they would respect the outcome of the election, but would also strengthen communication with all sides in Honduras including the opposition.
    “We will continue to explain, and let them know, that only Taiwan is a partner worthy of trust for Honduras.    At the same time we will remind Honduras to pay attention to China’s flashy and false promises.”
    Outgoing Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez visited Taiwan earlier this month https://www.reuters.com/world/china/we-are-real-friends-honduran-president-says-taiwan-visit-amid-china-tension-2021-11-13 and met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, saying he hoped his country would continue its friendship with Taiwan.
    China has been gradually whittling away at Taiwan’s remaining allies, especially in its former stronghold of Central America, where Taiwan now only has official relations with Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize.
    China’s efforts have alarmed and angered Washington, which is concerned about Beijing’s growing international influence.
    Pacific island nations Kiribati and the Solomon Islands were the last countries to cut ties with Taipei in September 2019.
    China views democratically ruled Taiwan as one of its provinces with no right to the trappings of a state.
    Taiwan says it is an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name, and that Beijing has no right to speak for it.
(This story corrects typographical error in first paragraph)
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

11/23/2021 Australian Government Playing Dangerous Game Over Taiwan – Opposition
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks as National Statements are
delivered as a part of the World Leaders' Summit at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in
Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Ian Forsyth/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – The government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is deploying a “dangerous election tactic” with its comments about joining the United States in any war over Taiwan, the opposition party’s foreign affairs spokesperson said on Tuesday.
    Australia’s Minister for Defence Peter Dutton earlier this month said it was “inconceivable” that Canberra would not join the United States in military action should China attack Taiwan, the democratically ruled island Beijing views as a wayward province.
    Penny Wong, the foreign affairs spokesperson for the opposition Labor party, said Dutton’s comments were part of the government’s strategy for an election that must happen before May 2022.
    “Amping up the prospect of war against a superpower is the most dangerous election tactic in Australian history – a tactic employed by irresponsible politicians who are desperate to hang on to power at any cost,” Wong said in a speech to the Australian National University on Tuesday.
    Wong said Morrison’s government has in recent weeks sought to portray Labor as pro-China.
    Relations with China, already rocky after Australia banned Huawei from its nascent 5G broadband networking in 2018, cooled further after Canberra in 2020 called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, first reported in central China in 2019.
    China responded by imposing tariffs on Australian commodities, including wine and barley and limited imports of Australian beef, coal and grapes, moves described by the United States as “economic coercion.”
    Wong said Taiwan is the greatest risk to stability in the Indo-Pacific region, and any conflict there would be “catastrophic for humanity.”
(Reporting by Colin Packham)

11/23/2021 China Says Will More Tightly Regulate Celebrities’ Online Information
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s cyberspace regulator said on Tuesday it will more tightly regulate the online information of celebrities, including the publishing of their personal details and the placements of their advertisements on internet sites.
    The Cyberspace Administration of China said this was aimed at creating a positive and healthy internet environment, describing the proliferation of gossip and star-chasing as impacting mainstream values.
    Chinese authorities in recent months have moved to dampen what they have called the country’s “chaotic” celebrity fan culture, ordering broadcasters, online platforms and artists to help curb the phenomenon.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Wang Jing; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

11/23/2021 Taliban Release Media Guidelines, Ban Shows With Female Actors
FILE PHOTO: Hadia (Centre), 10, a 4th grade primary school student, leaves school after
a class in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 25, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban administration has released a set of restrictions on Afghan media, including banning television dramas that included female actors and ordering women news presenters to wear “Islamic hijab.”
    Afghanistan’s Ministry of Vice and Virtue set out nine rules this week, a Taliban administration spokesman said on Tuesday, largely centred on banning any media that contravened “Islamic or Afghan values.”
    Some edicts were targeted specifically at women, a move likely to raise concerns among the international community.
    “Those dramas…or programmes in which women have acted, should not be aired,” the rules said, adding that female journalists on air should wear “Islamic hijab” without defining what that meant.
    Though most women in Afghanistan wear headscarves in public, the Taliban’s statements that women should wear “Islamic hijab” have often in the past worried women’s rights activists who say the term is vague and could be interpreted conservatively.
    The rules drew criticism from international rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW), which said media freedom was deteriorating in the country.
    “The disappearance of any space for dissent and worsening restrictions for women in the media and arts is devastating,” said Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at HRW, in a statement.
    Though Taliban officials have sought to sought to publicly assure women and the international community that women’s rights will be protected since they took over Afghanistan on Aug. 15, many advocates and women have remained skeptical.
    During the Taliban’s previous rule, strict curbs were placed on women’s ability to leave the house, unless accompanied by a male relative, or to receive education.
(Reporting by Kabul bureau; additional reporting by Jibran Ahmed in Peshawar; writing by Charlotte Greenfield)

11/24/2021 New Zealand Sets Date For Reopening To Tourists After Nearly Two Years by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian weariing a face mask walks past a storefront reading "Welcome Back!"
as shoppers return to the Newmarket retail district in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown
restrictions being eased in Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) -New Zealand will keep its borders closed to most international travellers for a further five months, the government said on Wednesday, outlining a cautious easing of coronavirus border curbs that have been in place for nearly two years.
    Along with its geographic isolation, the South Pacific country enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations, limiting the spread of COVID-19 and helping its economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.
    Fully vaccinated international travellers will be allowed to enter the country from April 30, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference.    The travellers will have to self-isolate for seven days on arrival.
    Vaccinated New Zealanders and residence visa holders in neighbouring Australia can travel to New Zealand from Jan. 16, while vaccinated New Zealanders and residence visa holders most from other countries will be allowed in from Feb. 13.
    “A phased approach to reconnecting with the world is the safest approach to ensure risk is carefully managed,” Hipkins said.
    “This reduces any potential impacts on vulnerable communities and the New Zealand health system.”
    Travellers will no longer be required to stay at state quarantine facilities, he said, but other measures will be put in place including self-isolation, a negative pre-departure test, proof of being fully vaccinated, and a COVID-19 test on arrival.
    Pressure has been mounting on Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to reopen international borders ahead of the Christmas holidays so that expatriate New Zealanders could return home.
    Air New Zealand said last week it had cancelled about 1,000 flights to Australia due to border uncertainty.
    Many industries have also campaigned to reopen borders more quickly as they struggle to fill job vacancies https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/new-zealand-unemployment-rate-drops-record-low-q3-2021-11-02.
    New Zealand has recorded just over 10,000 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began, and 40 deaths – far fewer than most comparable countries.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Tom Hogue and Lincoln Feast)

11/24/2021 Myanmar Troops Arrest 18 Medics For Treating ‘Terrorists’ In Church
FILE PHOTO: Nurses take part in a protest against the military coup and to demand the release of
elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military has arrested 18 medics for providing treatment to patients who were members of “terrorist organisations,” a state-run newspaper said Wednesday, referring to outlawed anti-junta groups.
    Troops made the arrests during a raid on Monday on a church in Loikaw in eastern Kayah state, where they discovered 48 patients who were receiving treatment, seven suffering from COVID-19.
    “It was learned that unofficial medical treatment was being provided to the injured persons and patients from the terrorist organisations,” said the Global New Light of Myanmar, the junta’s mouthpiece.
    The report did not name the organisations.    It said the 18 medics arrested would be dealt with according to the law.
    Myanmar’s healthcare system has been close to collapse since the army overthrew an elected government in a Feb. 1 coup.
    Many medical workers joined a civil disobedience movement and have refused to work in military-run hospitals in protest at the junta’s rule.
    Many healthcare facilities and workers have been targeted by security forces https://reut.rs/3HKNiiV, according to human rights groups.
    The military has appealed to doctors to return to work.
    Some of the four doctors, four nurses and 10 nursing aides arrested at the church had previously been charged with incitement over their refusal to work, the report said.
    Close to 1,300 civilians have been killed and more than 10,000 arrested since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking post-coup events in Myanmar.
    The military has dismissed the AAPP’s data, which has been cited by the United Nations, and accuses it of bias.    A junta spokesman last week said 200 soldiers have been killed during the conflict.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/24/2021 Fall In COVID-19 Testing Worries Indian Authorities
FILE PHOTO: People stand in a queue to receive a dose of COVISHIELD vaccine, manufactured by
Serum Institute of India, outside a vaccination centre in Siliguri in the eastern state of
West Bengal, India, October 7, 2021. Picture taken on October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An alarming fall in testing for COVID-19 threatens to undermine India’s efforts to contain the pandemic, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday in a letter to state governments, as worries grew over fresh waves of infection abroad.
    India reported on Wednesday 9,283 new COVID-19 cases, a day after recording 7,579 infections – the lowest in 543 days.    But testing has hovered around 1 million per day for the past few weeks, less than half the capacity.
    “In the absence of sustained levels of sufficient testing, it is very difficult to determine the true level of infection spread in a geography,” Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter sent to the northeastern state of Nagaland, which has reduced testing by more than a third in two months.
    “With a majority of countries seeing multiple surges in COVID cases in recent times and a few developed countries facing even fourth and fifth waves despite high levels of COVID vaccination, there is a need for continued vigil given the unpredictable and contagious nature of the disease.”
    The ministry delivered the same warning to other states, though each letter contained observations specific to the various states’ circumstances.
    India has so far reported 34.5 million infections.    The United States has the only higher total number of cases.    Deaths in India rose by 437 on Wednesday to 466,584.
    Health workers have started a door-to-door vaccination campaign in India as tens of millions of Indians have not taken their second dose by the due date.
    India has so far administered 1.18 billion vaccine doses – at least one dose in 82% of its 944 million adults and two in 44%.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/24/2021 Indo-Pacific A Priority For France’s EU Presidency, Foreign Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends a news conference following a meeting with Greek Foreign
Minister Nikos Dendias at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, November 19, 2021. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – The Indo-Pacific region will be a priority for France when it takes the presidency of the European Union next year, its foreign minister said on Wednesday during a visit to Indonesia.
    Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France wants to be the “go-between” of Indo-Pacific and European countries and that strategic cooperation is one its priorities for the presidency of the EU bloc.
    The visit comes as France goes on an offensive https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/post-aukus-france-turns-indonesia-eyes-rafale-jet-sale-2021-11-23 to boost its relationships in Asia following the loss of strategic deal with Australia in September.
    “The heart of this commitment is our vision of an Indo-Pacific which is free and open, based on the rule of law, and a respect for the sovereignty of every state,” he told a news conference through an interpreter.
    Le Drian also said France had agreed to commit 500 million euros ($562.10 million) worth of investment in energy transition projects in the Southeast Asian country. He did not provide details.
    He was speaking with his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi and earlier met the country’s defence minister.
    Le Drian was scheduled to meet President Joko Widodo later on Wednesday.
    France has accused Australia of backstabbing after it opted for submarines built with U.S. and British technology instead of that of France.
    Australia excluded France when it embarked on a trilateral security alliance (AUKUS) with Britain and the United States, a pact ostensibly aimed at checking China’s military rise in the region.
($1 = 0.8895 euros)
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/24/2021 Australia Defence Minister Awarded $25,000 Over Defamatory Six-Word Tweet by Byron Kaye
FILE PHOTO: Australian Minister of Defense Peter Dutton speaks during a news conference with Australian Foreign
Minister Marise Payne, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (not pictured)
at the State Department in Washington, U.S., September 16, 2021. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s defence minister won a defamation lawsuit on Wednesday against a refugee advocate who described him as a “rape apologist” in a tweet, a small advance in the conservative government’s effort to curb damaging commentary on social media.
    Peter Dutton, an outspoken cabinet minister, experienced “hurt and distress” when shown the Feb. 25 Twitter post by a staff member, although his public profile would have meant most people viewed it as opinion rather than a fact, a federal court judge ruled.
    The lawmaker was awarded A$35,000 ($25,000) in damages, a fraction of the maximum amount possible, after the judge found that Dutton had been defamed but his day-to-day life was not impacted by the now-deleted tweet.
    The ruling marks another milestone in a campaign by the government to rein in what it has called a “coward’s palace” of vindictive shared on social media.    Earlier this year, former attorney general Christian Porter settled a defamation action against the Australian Broadcasting Corp over Twitter posts about a historic rape allegation which he denied.
    Dutton’s lawsuit against activist Shane Bazzi was over a midnight tweet on a day when the politician, who was then immigration minister, defended in media appearances his handling of a complaint about sexual assault inside parliament house.
    Bazzi tweeted a link to a 2019 article in which Dutton suggested some refugees claiming to be rape victims were “trying it on” to be allowed into Australia, coupled with the sentence “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist,”
    Dutton was accustomed to the “rough-and-tumble of politics” but “deeply offended by the tweet,” noting that Bazzi’s account had a blue tick, indicating that he was a verified user, said the judge, Richard White in his published ruling.
    The “description of Mr Dutton as a person who excuses rape was no doubt a serious defamation” but “he did not claim to have suffered more serious consequences by reason of the publication of the Tweet or even that his hurt and distress had continued to the date of trial,” the judge added.
    A representative for Dutton was not immediately available for comment.    Bazzi said in a tweet that was he “very disappointed with the outcome” and would consider his options.
($1 = 1.3847 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Kim Coghill.)

11/25/2021 Death Of S.Korean Dictator Leaves Brutal Legacy Unresolved by Hyonhee Shin and Yeni Seo
FILE PHOTO: Former South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan, standing outside the walls of Anyang Prison, makes a point shortly
after being released from the jail on a special pardon in Anyang December 22, 1997. REUTERS/Paul Barker
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The death this week of South Korea’s last military dictator, Chun Doo-hwan, marks the end of a divisive chapter in the country’s modern history but leaves survivors of his regime’s violence no closer to reconciliation or resolution.
    Chun died on Tuesday https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/former-south-korean-military-dictator-chun-doo-hwan-dies-90-2021-11-23 at the age of 90.
    Hundreds of people are estimated to have died or gone missing when the South Korean government violently put down the Gwangju uprising by pro-democracy protesters in May 1980, when Chun was the de facto leader of the country after leading a military coup.
    Years after the massacre, many details remain unconfirmed, including who gave the orders for troops to open fire on protesters. Many victims remain unidentified.
    A lack of contrition and cooperation by former members of the regime, including Chun, has hampered efforts to find the full truth, victims said.
    “I’m very worried that a lot of truth will be hidden with Chun Doo-hwan’s death,” said 57-year-old Kim Young-man, who still carries a scar on his head from where a police officer struck him with a baton.
    Kim holds out hope that former members of the regime will come forward to shine light on the bloody crackdown, but like many other victims, was disheartened that Chun died without showing significant remorse.
    Months after leaving office in 1988 amid growing calls for democracy, Chun offered a formal apology for abuses during his leadership, including Gwangju.
    But later he appeared to walk back some of that contrition, prompting victims to doubt the sincerity of that apology as he embraced a defiant and defensive stance to the end.
    “Chun Doo-hwan was not the type of person to apologise,” Kim said.    “Yet if he had apologised, I think there would have been a possibility that Gwangju citizens who have been heartbroken for 41 years feel a little better.”
    In 1996 Chun was sentenced to death on charges of corruption and treason, but the sentence was reduced to life in prison and later commuted.
    More recently he was involved in other legal disputes, including being found guilty in 2020 of defaming a priest who claimed to have witnessed the Gwangju crackdown.
    On Wednesday, a day after Chun’s death, a group of 70 Gwangju survivors, including Kim, filed a lawsuit against the government seeking compensation for emotional damage.
    Some victims have received compensation for their loss of work, but other claims for compensation for emotional and psychological trauma faced legal barriers until a Supreme Court ruling in September, said Lee Ki-bong, an official at the May 18 Memorial Foundation who works with the families.
    A group of victims rallied on Thursday outside the hospital where Chun’s body was taken, holding signs telling him to “go to hell.”    They condemned some of Chun’s former aides who call the uprising a plot inspired by North Korean communists.
    In November the main conservative party’s presidential nominee, Yoon Suk-yeol, travelled to Gwangju to apologise after appearing to excuse or praise Chun by saying many people thought the former president “was really good at politics aside from the coup and the events of May 1980.”
    Chun will not be given a state funeral, and officials said his treason conviction made him ineligible to be buried in a national cemetery.
    “Upon Chun Doo-hwan’s death, South Korean news appear to be pure emotion, disbelief at how he never apologised,” tweeted Korean-American author Suki Kim.
    “It’s an odd thing to want an apology from a ruthless dictator, decades later, as though expecting justice by (a) universe which had allowed that dictator.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Yeni Seo; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/25/2021 Australia Introduces Contentious Religious Anti-Discrimination Legislation by Renju Jose and Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks with the media following a day of meetings with
foreign counterparts at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia on Thursday introduced contentious religious anti-discrimination legislation to parliament that if approved would allow faith-based organisations to prioritise the hiring and enrolment of people from their faith.
    Religious freedom has been in the spotlight in Australia since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017.
    In a move seen as targeting religious voters with an election just months away, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the legislation would protect people who express their religious faith outside of the workplace as long as it did not cause financial damage to their employer.
    “People should not be cancelled or persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s,” said Morrison, a devout Pentecostal Christian, while introducing the bill in the parliament’s lower house.
    Morrison said the legislation would also protect Australians who make “statements of belief” from discrimination laws, but only if those statements do not “threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group
    Australia’s existing Sex Discrimination Act allows schools to expel students or sack teachers for being gay.    Morrison pledged in 2018 to reform the legislation.
    LGBT groups support reforming the Act but have criticised the new bill saying it would enable discrimination against gay students and teachers as it permits prioritising the hiring and enrolment of people based on faith.
    “It will wind back hard-fought protections for women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people, and even people of faith,” said Anna Brown, Chief Executive of the representative body, Equality Australia
.
    The bill has also divided the parliament, with some conservatives government lawmakers threatening to vote against the legislation until Morrison moves to abolish state mandates requiring COVID-19 vaccines.
    The legislation is expected to be put to a vote next week in the lower house, but it is far from guaranteed to pass into law.    The bill is expected to be reviewed before being voted on in the upper house Senate sometime in 2022-23.
    Australia’s parliament is in its last sitting fortnight for the year and Morrison could call an election before it resumes in 2022. Morrison must return to the polls by May 2022.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/25/2021 Australia To Deploy Police, Military To Solomon Islands As Protests Spread by Byron Kaye and Colin Packham
Debris is seen on a highway, after protests against the government in Honiara, Solomon Islands, November
24, 2021, in this screen grab obtained by Reuters from social media video. Georgina Kekea via REUTERS
(Recasts with details of Australian assistance)
    SYDNEY/CANBERRA (Reuters) -Australia will deploy more than 100 police and military personnel to aid the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday, as protesters in the Pacific Island nation defied a curfew to protest for a second consecutive day.
    Morrison said Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had requested Australian assistance, which Canberra’s national security committee quickly approved.
    Australia will send 23 police officers immediately to assist with riot control, Morrison said, with a further 50 personnel to enforce security at critical infrastructure.
    Morrison said another 43 military troops will be sent to aid Australian police officers.
    “Our purpose here is to provide stability and security to enable the normal constitutional processes, within the Solomon Islands, to be able to deal with the various issues that have arisen,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
    “It is not the Australian government’s intention in any way to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands, that is for them to resolve.”
    The deployment of Australian personnel comes amid reports and images shared on social media showing crowds of protesters and burning buildings in the Chinatown district of Honiara.
    Many protesters travelled from the most populous province Malaita to the capital because of concern about being overlooked by the national government, according to media reports.
    The province opposed a 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China, resulting in an independence referendum last year which the national government has dismissed as illegitimate.
    The Solomons, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the Second World War, experienced major rioting in 2006 following disputed elections, with many Chinese-owned businesses in Honiara burnt and looted.
    Sogavare on Wednesday declared a 36-hour lockdown in Honiara after the latest unrest, calling it “another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down.”
    The lockdown, which would run until 7 a.m. on Friday, would “allow our law enforcement agencies to fully investigate the perpetrators of today’s events and to prevent further lawless destruction,” Sogavare said.
    The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) urged people attending schools and businesses around Honiara to stay home to avoid being affected by unrest.
    “We want to make sure that our streets, schools and businesses will reopen soon after the lockdown,” said RSIPF deputy commissioner Juanita Matanga in a statement.
    “I am asking for your cooperation until the situation turns normal.”
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Leslie Adler)

11/25/2021 A Month After Reopening, Thailand Sees Gradual Tourism Recovery by Chayut Setboonsarng and Jiraporn Kuhakan
An AirAsia airplane is seen at the airport of popular tourist destination Chiang Mai, as the country reopens its borders to
vaccinated tourists in Bangkok, Thailand November 16, 2021. Picture taken on November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand was among the first countries in Asia to reopen for foreign arrivals, and it is seeing a slow recovery, including new hotels touting longer stays for individual travellers.
    In the first 10 months of 2021, Thailand saw 106,117 foreign tourists https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/thailand-has-over-20000-foreign-visitors-oct-after-gradual-reopening-2021-11-23, a drop from 6.7 million in 2020. Before the pandemic, Thailand saw about 40 million visitors a year.
    Hospitality firms like Asset World Corporation Pcl, which opened its 19th property https://www.reuters.com/markets/asia/thailands-awc-targets-luxury-long-stays-tourism-recovery-2021-11-22 this month, saw the majority of its bookings come from Western countries and the Middle East.
    “About 70% of total bookings came from Europe, including Germany, UK, Scandinavian countries, followed by the U.S., Middle East, and Asia,” chief executive Wallapa Traisorat told Reuters, adding that domestic travel helped. “For November, we should see 30% occupancy, and in the fourth quarter we hope to see better momentum from the reopening.”
    Thailand, one of the region’s most popular destinations, is heavily dependent on tourism.    In 2019, 40 million arrivals spent 1.91 trillion baht ($57.3 billion).
    Centara Hotels and Resorts is moving ahead with plans to open a 1.1 billion baht hotel on the island of Samui in December.
    Initially the property expects most guests to be locals on longer stays, said Centara Hotels chief financial officer Gun Srisompong.
    “Demand patterns have changed.    Individual travellers on longer stays and ‘workations’ need more personalisation,” Srisompong said.
    Thailand expects only 200,000 foreign tourists this year, and 5 million in 2022.
    Thinner crowds and discounts made for a more pleasant experience, said German tourist Markus Klarer.
    “It’s a good time to come back to Thailand again,” Klarer said.
    Despite the reopening, some businesses said COVID rules still made some things hard.
    “Tourists are not fully confident and still confused with government regulations,” said Chitchai Senwong, a restaurant manager in Bangkok, citing a government rule that prohibits alcohol consumption after 9 p.m.
($1 = 33.34 baht)
(Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/25/2021 African Swine Fever Outbreak Spreading Widely In Vietnam – Government
FILE PHOTO: Pigs are seen at a farm outside Hanoi, Vietnam June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – An African swine fever outbreak is spreading widely in Vietnam and is hurting the local farming industry, the government said on Thursday.
    The outbreak has this year spread to 57 out of the country’s 63 cities and provinces, the government said in a statement, adding that the authorities have so far this year culled 230,000 hogs, three times higher than a year earlier.
(Editing by Martin Petty)

11/25/2021 New Zealand Main Opposition Party Ousts Leader
FILE PHOTO: National leader Judith Collins participates in a televised debate with New Zealand Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand’s National Party opposition leader Judith Collins has been dumped by the party as it grapples with instability that has helped strengthen Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s position even more after her historic election win last year.
    The conservative National Party will now have to elect its fifth leader in four years after the majority ousted Collins, hours after she relieved Simon Bridges, a former party leader, from her shadow cabinet following allegations of misconduct.
    “It’s been a privilege to take over the leadership of (National Party) during the worst of times and to do so for 16 months,” Collins said in a tweet.
    “It has taken huge stamina and resolve & has been particularly difficult because of a variety of factors.”
    Collins was named the leader of the National Party in July 2020 just months before the general election, which Ardern’s centre-left Labour Party won convincingly.
    Collins said in a statement issued late Wednesday that her decision to demote Bridges “relates to comments made by (him) to a female caucus colleague at a function a number of years ago.”
    “I knew when I was confided in by a female colleague regarding her allegation of serious misconduct against a senior colleague, that I would likely lose the leadership by taking the matter so seriously,” Collins said in the tweet on Thursday.
    Deputy Shane Reti has been appointed the interim boss with the National Party expected to elect a new leader next Tuesday, the New Zealand media reported.
    Ardern said the leadership change in the National Party was an internal matter for the opposition.
    “We’re in the middle of a global pandemic and so my focus needs to be on managing that,” she was quoted as saying in a report in the New Zealand Herald.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/25/2021 Australia Considers Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Winter Olympics - Sydney Morning Herald
Artists chat near a sign of Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games, before an event marking the 100-day countdown to
the opening of the Games, at the National Aquatics Centre, in Beijing, China November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Suen
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia is considering not sending any government officials to the Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing next year amid growing calls from lawmakers for an official diplomatic boycott, the Sydney Morning Herald said in a report on Thursday.
    Australian politicians from the ruling Liberal-National coalition and the opposition Labor party are urging the federal government to boycott the event, which will be held in February, the newspaper reported without citing a source.
    A diplomatic boycott would involve not sending a delegation of officials, but allowing athletes to participate.
    “A decision on (Australia’s) representation at the Beijing Winter Olympics is yet to be made,” a spokesperson for Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said in an emailed response.    Australia’s foreign affairs department did not respond to a request seeking comment.
    President Joe Biden last week said the United States is considering a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, a move that would be aimed at protesting China’s human rights record, including what Washington says is genocide against minority Muslims.
    Britain has not yet made any decision on who will represent its government at the Olympics but Prime     Minister Boris Johnson does not support the idea of boycotts, said his spokesman earlier this week.
    The Australian government is awaiting the decision by the Biden administration before it makes a call on a diplomatic boycott, the report in the Sydney Morning Herald said.
    Both the United States and Britain are close allies of Australia and the countries in September entered into a security partnership to help Australia build nuclear submarines.    The trilateral deal riled China, the major rising power in the Indo-Pacific region.
    Australia’s relationship with China, its largest trading partner, soured after it banned Huawei Technologies Co Ltd from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and called for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19.    Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on several Australian commodities.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Michael Perry)

11/26/2021 Tepco Finds Melting Of Ice Wall At Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Plant
FILE PHOTO: An employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) looks up at a tank reserved for storing treated water at the tsunami-crippled
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Sakura Murakami
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) will launch remedial works at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to strengthen an ice wall intended to halt the flow of groundwater after testing indicated partial melting.
    The work could begin as early as the start of December, according to a presentation from the plant operator dated Thursday, part of a costly and troubled effort to secure the site following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
    The ice wall is intended to limit the seepage of groundwater into the plant, which has created large amounts of toxic water being stored by Tepco in tanks.
    Japan plans to release https://www.reuters.com/article/disaster-fukushima-water-release-idTRNIKBN2HQ0FT more than 1 million tonnes of water into the sea after treating it.    The water contains the radioactive isotope tritium, which cannot be removed.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami and Sam Nussey; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Stephen Coates)

11/26/2021 Concerned By New Variant, Asian Countries Move To Tighten COVID-19 Measures
FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers assist patients being treated at a makeshift hospital run by charity organisation The Gift of the Givers,
during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Johannesburg, South Africa, July 11, 2021. REUTERS/ Sumaya Hisham
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian countries rushed to tighten restrictions after a new and possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant was detected in South Africa, with Singapore and India announcing stricter border controls and more rigorous COVID-19 testing on Friday.
    Scientists are still finding out more about the new variant, first identified at the start of this week, but the news pummeled financial markets on Friday, with stocks in Asia suffering their sharpest drop in three months and oil plunging more than 3%.
    The variant, called B.1.1.529, has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong, according to the UK Health Security Agency.
    Alarmed by the variant, Britain temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini from Friday, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.
    Singapore swiftly joined Britain, with the health ministry saying on Friday it would restrict arrivals from South Africa and countries nearby as a precaution.
    Japan’s government also decided to tighten border controls for visitors from South Africa and five other African countries, the Jiji news service reported.    Its foreign ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
    After easing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month, India’s central government issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other “at risk” countries.
    Asian countries have fared better than those in other regions in containing the pandemic by enforcing strict preventive measures, rigorous testing and strict border controls.
    The new variant has a spike protein that is dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on, the UK Health Security Agency added.
    Taiwan said travellers from “high-risk” southern African countries will have to go into government-run quarantine facilities for 14 days.
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told Reuters that New Zealand was well prepared for the new variant. Earlier this week, New Zealand said it would reopen its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers from April 30.
    Asked whether those plans would have to be delayed due to the new variant, Ardern said the country had “a number of inbuilt measures to act as a layer of protection.”
    “All of our planning around COVID, we have built into it the possibility of variants in the future,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.
(Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore, Neha Arora in New Delhi, Rocky Swift in Tokyo, Ben Blanchard in Taipei, and Jane Wardell in Sydney; Writing by Miyoung Kim; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

11/26/2021 Australian Police Take Control Of Solomon Islands Capital After Days Of Unrest-Witnesses by Kirsty Needham and Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen after buildings were set on fire in Chinatown, as Solomon Islanders defied a
government-imposed lockdown and protested in the capital, in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 25, 2021,
in this still image taken from video provided on social media. Mandatory credit Georgina Kekea/via REUTERS
    CANBERRA (Reuters) - A night curfew will be re-imposed in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara after Australian police began taking control of hotspots following three days of violent protests in the South Pacific island nation, witnesses said.
    The Ministry of Health said in a statement that city clinics were closed and urged “all Honiara residents involved in arson, rioting, looting to please stop immediately” after its ambulances were stoned.
    Tear gas was deployed in Chinatown where looting and the burning of buildings had continued on Friday morning, a resident told Reuters.
    A night curfew would begin at 7pm, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said in a statement.
    Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who requested help from Australia, on Friday blamed foreign countries for stoking the violent protests, but did not name any.
    Many of the protesters come from the most populous province Malaita and feel overlooked by the government in Guadalcanal province and oppose its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China.
    Malaita premier Daniel Suidani said in a statement this week that Sogavare had “elevated the interest of foreigners above those of Solomon Islanders” and should resign.
    “I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are fed with false and deliberate lies about the switch,” Sogavare told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
    “These very countries that are now influencing Malaita are the countries that don’t want ties with the People’s Republic of China.”
    China and Taiwan have been rivals in the South Pacific for decades with some island nations switching allegiances.
    China views Taiwan as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties, which the government in Taipei hotly disputes.    Only 15 countries maintain formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan.    The last two to ditch Taipei in favour of Beijing were the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in September 2019.
    Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement to Reuters: “We have nothing to do with the unrest.”
    Solomon Island resident Transform Aqorau said more than a hundred people were on Friday looting shops, before Australian Federal Police officers arrived.
    “The scenes here are really chaotic.    It is like a war zone,” Aqorau told Reuters by telephone on Friday morning.
    “There is no public transport and it is a struggle with the heat and the smoke.    Buildings are still burning.”
    He said later Australian police were “taking control of Chinatown.”
    Neighbouring Papua New Guinea also sent 35 police and security officers to Honiara on Friday.
    Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was sending 100 police personnel and was “clearly focused on stability in our region.”
    Australian police were previously deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2003 under a peace keeping mission authorised by a Pacific Island Forum declaration and stayed for a decade.
    Severe internal unrest and armed conflict from 1998 to 2003 involved militant groups from Guadalcanal and the neighbouring island of Malaita, and fighting on the outskirts of Honiara.
(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra, Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/26/2021 Japan To Supplement Military Spending In Rush To Bolster Air And Sea Defences by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during his press conference, after the
parliament re-elected him as prime minister following an election victory last month by his ruling
Liberal Democratic Party, in Kantei, Japan November 10, 2021. Stanislav Kogiku/ Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan plans to add $6.75 billion to its already record annual military spending in a rush to bolster air and maritime defences as it becomes more concerned about threats posed by China and North Korea.
    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government on Friday approved the outlay as part of a supplementary budget.    While such additions to defence spending are common, the 774 billion yen that lawmakers will be asked to approve is the largest amount ever, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defence.
    “As the security environment around Japan worsens at unprecedented speed, our urgent task is to accelerate the implementation of various projects,” the defence ministry said in its spending proposal.
    The cash injection will let Japan, three months earlier than planned, upgrade surface to air missile launchers on islands at the edge of the East China Sea and Patriot PAC-3 missile batteries elsewhere that are the last line of defence against any incoming North Korean warheads.
    China’s increasing pressure on Taiwan is causing jitters in Japan because Beijing’s control of the island would bring Chinese forces within around 100 kilometres (62 miles) of its territory and would threaten key maritime trade routes that supply Japan with oil and other goods.    It would also provide China with bases for unfettered access to the western Pacific.
    The extra spending will also let Japan more quickly acquire anti-submarine missiles, maritime patrol planes and military cargo jets, the defence ministry said.
    The additional military outlay comes after Kishida’s ruling party in October included a goal of almost doubling defence spending to 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in election pledges.
    For decades the pacifist nation has stuck to a policy of keeping defence spending within 1% of GDP, easing concern both at home and overseas about any revival of the militarism that led Japan into World War Two.
    The additional spending plan approved by Kishida’s government on Friday also includes pre-payments to defence contractors for equipment to help them deal with coronavirus pandemic disruptions that have hurt their finances.
    The proposed supplemental spending combined with defence outlays approved for the year to March 31 comes to about 1.3% of Japan’s GDP.
($1 = 114.6300 yen)
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/26/2021 Indian Farmers Reinforce Protest Sites To Mark Year Of Demonstrations by Mayank Bhardwaj
Farmers gather to mark the first anniversary of their protests on the outskirts of Delhi
at Pakora Chowk near Tikri border, India, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Indian farmers marched overnight to reinforce protesting colleagues camping on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi to mark a year of sustained demonstrations against three farm laws introduced last year.
    Seeking to end the longest-running farmers’ protest that galvanised growers across the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week bowed to the protesters’ demand to repeal the controversial laws introduced in September 2020.
    Modi, striking a conciliatory note, promised his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament, starting next week.
    Farmers celebrated the retreat but said the protest would only be called off when parliament repealed the laws and the government promised legislation that would ensure state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for all produce, not just rice and wheat.
    “Farmers from across the country have reached the campsites to celebrate one year of our historic protest,” said Rakesh Tikait, a prominent leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of the largest farmers’ unions.
    “We thank the government for its decision to repeal the laws, but our protest will continue until there’s a decision on MSPs for all crops.    We also demand a committee that should look into our other demands like taking back legal cases against the farmers.”
    Currently, the government mainly buys rice and wheat at MSPs, but the safety net benefits barely cover 6% of India’s millions of farmers.
    Tikait said nearly 700 farmers lost their lives during the protest and the government must announce compensations for their families.
    Tens of thousands of protesters, including many elderly growers and women farmers, have been sitting in encampments for the last one year, braving a scorching summer, frigid winter and severe second wave of coronavirus infections.
    Over the months, the main protest sites have come to resemble semi-permanent settlements, replete with community kitchens, barbershops and a reasonably well equipped hospital with an onsite doctor.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/26/2021 New Zealand PM Ardern Backs Five Eyes, Open To Other Alliances
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses supporters at a Labour Party event
in Wellington, New Zealand, October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Praveen Menon/File Photo
    (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern expressed support on Friday for its Five Eyes alliance with Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, but said her country would also consider other economic alliances in the Pacific region.
    New Zealand has faced increasing pressure from some elements among Western allies over its reluctance to use the Five Eyes intelligence and security alliance to criticise its top trading partner, China.
    “We do have important alliances we are part of and we consider fit for purpose and we consider need to be used for the functions for which they were originally established,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming     Reuters Next https://reutersevents.com/events/next conference.
    “Beyond that, we consider that there’s benefit to seeing a range of other actors in our region showing greater interest, not just in the strategic environment but the economic architecture for example of our region,” she added.
    “We welcome other countries becoming more closely aligned through multilateral trade agreements, through bilateral trade agreements.”
    New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta raised eyebrows earlier this year when she said she was uncomfortable about expanding the role of Five Eyes https://www.reuters.com/world/china/new-zealand-says-uncomfortable-with-expanding-five-eyes-2021-04-19 beyond a security and intelligence framework.
    Mahuta also said New Zealand needed to maintain and respect China’s “particular customs, traditions and values.”
    China, which takes almost one-third of New Zealand’s exports, has accused Five Eyes of ganging up on it by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uyhgurs in Xinjiang.
    Ardern, who earlier this year said that differences with China were “becoming harder to reconcile,” said on Friday there was “no question that China’s posture has changed in many ways.”
    “Over the last decade, I do think that we’ve seen a different dynamic, and a different range of leaders with a strategic interest in our region and that does pose challenges,” she said.
    “New Zealand, though, has been utterly consistent.    We’ve always jealously guarded our foreign policy independent positions and continue to do so.”
    To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by William Mallard)

11/26/2021 New Zealand PM Says Facebook, Others Must Do More Against Online Hate
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern participates in a televised debate with National leader
Judith Collins at TVNZ in Auckland, New Zealand, September 22, 2020. Fiona Goodall/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Tech giants like Meta’s Facebook and world leaders needed to do “much more” to stamp out violent extremism and radicalisation online, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday.
    Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019 after a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch while live-streaming his rampage on Facebook.
    This Christchurch Call initiative has been supported by more than 50 countries, international organisations and tech firms, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.
    Ardern said on Friday the initiative had been successful in its first aim of establishing a crisis protocol, including a 24/7 network between platforms to quickly remove content, in response to events like those in Christchurch.
    “We have had real world stress-testing of those systems and they have worked very effectively,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next https://reutersevents.com/events/next conference.
    “I am confident that we are operating more effectively than we have before,” she added.    “The next challenge though, is to go further again.”
    Asked what tech companies should be doing, Ardern replied: “much more.”
    Ardern said the next step was to focus on prevention, looking at how people are finding or coming across hateful or terror-motivating content online and perhaps becoming radicalised.
    “That’s where we are really interested in the ongoing work around algorithms and the role that we can all play to ensure that online platforms don’t become a place of radicalisation,” she said.
    A Christchurch Call conference earlier this year was attended by the United States and Britain.
    To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by William Mallard)

11/26/2021 India To Tighten COVID-19 Testing For Tourists Amid New Variant Concerns by Neha Arora
FILE PHOTO: An advisory encouraging people to maintain social distancing and weara a protective face mask
is seen, after the government allowed domestic flight services to resume from coming Monday, during an
extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Indira Gandhi
International (IGI) Airport, in New Delhi, India, May 23, 2020. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India issued an advisory to all states to rigorously test and screen international travellers from South Africa and other “at risk” countries amid concerns over a new coronavirus variant, after easing some of its travel restrictions earlier this month.
    The federal health ministry said reports of mutations in the new variant, identified as B.1.1.529, had “serious public health implications.”
    “This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel,” health secretary Rajesh Bhushan said in a letter to states late on Thursday.
    While some major Asian countries rushed to tighten border controls and restrict travellers, India had not yet issued a notification, a senior government source said.
    “This has not been studied fully by Ministry of Health,” the source told Reuters, declining to be identified in line with policy.
    The federal health and foreign ministries did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on whether India will ban foreign travellers.
    On Friday, the UK Health Security Agency https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/uk-flags-concern-over-newly-identified-coronavirus-variant-2021-11-25 said the new variant has a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on. And it could make existing vaccines less effective.
    Britain has banned flights from six African countries, and asked returning British travellers from those destinations to quarantine.
    India, the world’s second-worst affected country by COVID-19, posted the smallest rise in new cases https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-logs-slimmest-rise-covid-19-cases-543-days-despite-festivals-2021-11-23 in one-and-a-half years this week, due to rising vaccinations and antibodies in a large section of its population from previous infections.
    The country’s total cases of the coronavirus reached 34.56 million on Friday.    India’s daily caseload has halved since September and the country reported 10,549 new cases on Friday.
    Earlier this month, India identified 10 countries “at risk” that includes Europe, Britain, China, South Africa, and New Zealand, among others.    And has opened its borders to 99 countries overall.
    Indian shares tumbled more than 2% on Friday, as investors fled risky assets panicking over the impact of the new variant.    The losses were in line with steep falls seen in markets across Asia.
(Reporting by Neha Arora; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Giles Elgood)

11/26/2021 Philippines To Reopen To Some Foreign Tourists From Next Week
FILE PHOTO: Tourists watch sunset aboard sailboats, one day before the temporary closure
of the holiday island Boracay, in the Philippines April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Erik De Castro
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines will reopen its borders to tourists from some countries on a trial basis from Dec. 1, its government said on Friday, as part of efforts to rebuild an economy hit hard by the pandemic.
    Foreigners vaccinated against COVID-19 from countries designated low risk https://dfa.gov.ph/list-of-countries-for-21-day-visa by the Philippines will be allowed entry over an initial 15-day period, Karlo Nograles, acting presidential spokesperson, told a regular news conference.
    “This is something we are doing step by step,” Nograles said, adding that the two-week window could be extended.
    The Philippines, popular for its white sand beaches and rich marine life, shut its doors to foreign tourists at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020.
    Its tourism arrivals from top markets Japan, South Korea and China slumped 83% drop to 1.4 million last year.
    In Southeast Asia, Thailand https://www.reuters.com/business/aerospace-defense/bangkok-welcomes-first-tourists-quarantine-free-holiday-2021-11-01, Vietnam https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/vietnam-welcome-more-vaccinated-travellers-december-2021-10-06, Cambodia https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/cambodia-ends-quarantine-vaccinated-arrivals-revive-tourism-2021-11-15, Malaysia https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/malaysia-reopen-international-visitors-by-jan-1-govt-council-2021-11-11, Singapore https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/singapore-welcomes-more-travellers-under-quarantine-free-programme-2021-10-20 and Indonesia https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/doubts-over-demand-eve-indonesias-bali-reopening-2021-10-13 have reopened borders to foreign tourists.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/26/2021 New Zealand PM Ardern Says Prepared For New COVID-19 Variants
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks at a news conference on the coronavirus
pandemic in Wellington, New Zealand, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Praveen Menon/File Photo
    (Reuters) – New Zealand is well prepared for the discovery of new coronavirus variants that may be resistant to vaccines, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday, including the strain currently spreading in South Africa.
    “All of our planning around COVID, we have built into it the possibility of variants in the future,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.
    “That is why we are maintaining levels of public health protections.    It’s why we’ve maintained requirements at our border.”
    Britain on Thursday drew attention to a newly identified coronavirus variant in South Africa with a spike protein that was dramatically different to the one in the original coronavirus that COVID-19 vaccines are based on.
    The discovery of the B.1.1.529 strain, which has more mutations than the highly transmissible Delta variant, prompted Britain to rush in travel restrictions on South Africa and five neighbouring countries.
    Ardern’s government, under mounting pressure from the tourism industry and other businesses, announced earlier this week it would reopen its borders https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealand-reopen-foreign-travellers-april-30-2021-11-24 to fully vaccinated international travellers from April 30.
    When asked on Friday if the new variant would likely delay that timetable, Ardern said the country will had “a number of inbuilt measures to act as a layer of protection.”
    “With all our changes, we constantly monitor what is happening with the pandemic as we go and we’ll continue to do that,” she added.
    New Zealand’s border has been closed for almost two years.    Along with its geographic isolation, the South Pacific country enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations, limiting the spread of COVID-19 and helping its economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.
    Ardern also said New Zealand had already benefited from being able to observe seasonal impacts of the coronavirus in other countries.
    “It gives us the ability to see the impact of things like waning immunity, to see what happens with public health restrictions,” Ardern said.
    “We are transitioning into a phase now where we see the vaccine do some heavy lifting, but we are maintaining a level of public health restriction.”
    To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/27/2021 Australia Sets Out Curbs For Travellers From Virus-Hit Southern Africa
FILE PHOTO: People sit in the arrivals section of the international terminal of Kingsford
Smith International Airport in Sydney, Australia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) -Australia imposed new restrictions on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries, as the new Omicron variant https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/japan-tighten-border-controls-s-africa-others-new-virus-variant-jiji-2021-11-26 of COVID-19 raises concerns about another wave of the pandemic.
    The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
    Effective immediately, the government will ban non-citizens who have been in those countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from the countries, said Health Minister Greg Hunt.
    These restrictions also apply to people such as international students and skilled migrants arriving from countries with which Australia has travel bubbles, who have been in any of the nine countries within the past 14 days.
    “If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them.     And that may involve strengthening or expanding the restrictions,” he said.
    Anyone who has already arrived in Australia and who has been in any of those countries within the past 14 days must immediately isolate and be tested.
    The Australian government will also suspend all flights from the nine southern African countries for two weeks.
    Twenty travellers from South Africa are in quarantine in the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, 19 of whom have returned negative coronavirus tests.    It is not yet known if the one positive test result is the Omicron variant, Hunt said.
    The discovery of the variant – which has a spike protein dramatically different from the one that existing vaccines are based on – triggered global alarm on Friday as countries rushed to suspend travel from southern     Africa and stock markets suffered their biggest falls in more than a year.
    Australia early this month eased its international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic allowing fully vaccinated residents to return to the country without quarantine after higher vaccination levels.
    Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across its east.    About 205,000 cases and 1,985 deaths have been recorded so far, lower than many other countries in the developed world.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Sam Holmes and William Mallard)

11/27/2021 Thailand Bans Entry From 8 African Countries Over COVID Omicron Variant
FILE PHOTO: Foreign tourists arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport during the first day of the
country's reopening campaign, part of the government's plan to jump start the pandemic-hit
tourism sector in Bangkok, Thailand November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand said on Saturday it would ban the entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/japan-tighten-border-controls-s-africa-others-new-virus-variant-jiji-2021-11-26 variant of COVID-19.
    Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference.
    Thailand will not allow travellers from these countries to register to travel to Thailand starting on Saturday, he said.
    The announcement comes as other countries in Asia tighten borders https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/covid-19-japan-tightens-border-controls-arrivals-six-countries-2021-11-26 over worries about the B 1.1.529 variant.    The World Health Organization designated it the latest “variant of concern,” saying it may spread more quickly than other forms.
    “We have notified airlines and these countries,” Opas said adding that travellers from other African countries will not be allowed to use the country’s quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated travellers.
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and William Mallard)

11/27/2021 Macau Police Question Junket Mogul Chau After China City Issues Warrant by Clare Jim
FILE PHOTO: A logo of Macau junket operator Suncity Group is seen at a
gaming fair in Macau, China November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Macau said police were questioning Alvin Chau on Saturday, after a Chinese city issued an arrest warrant for the junket mogul, accusing him of operating gambling activities in mainland China.
    The Macau government said in a statement that Chau, founder of the special administrative region’s biggest junket operator Suncity, was taken to the police station in the morning, based on earlier evidence and after it received a notification about the arrest warrant from the mainland authorities.
    Suncity operates VIP gambling rooms across Asia. Junket operators are go-betweens who bring high rollers to play at casinos, extending them credit and collecting on their debts.
    Casino gambling is illegal in China outside Macau, the world’s largest gambling hub.
    Authorities in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou said on Friday their investigation had found Chau formed a junket agent network in the mainland to help citizens engage in offshore and cross-border gambling activities.
    Chau also set up an asset management company in the mainland to help gamblers to make cross-border fund transfers, the Wenzhou City Public Security Bureau in the coastal city in Zhejiang province said on its Weibo account.
    Chau and Suncity could not be reached by phone for comment, and did not immediately respond to email inquiries.
    GGRAsia, a news outlet on the Asia casino industry, quoted a Suncity spokesperson as saying by email early on Saturday that “all businesses are normally operating in accordance with the law and under the supervision of the Macau Special Administrative Region Government.”
    Suncity’s publicly listed entity in Hong Kong, Suncity Group Holdings Ltd, does not include its junket operations.
    The Wenzhou authority said that as of July 2020, the “crime syndicate” led by Chau had 199 shareholder-level agents, more than 12,000 gambling agents and over 80,000 punter members.
    “The amount of money involved was exceptionally large, seriously damaging our country’s social management order,” the security bureau said.    “The security authorities urges (Chau) to surrender himself as soon as possible, in order to get a lenient treatment.”
    Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told Reuters, “Chau’s arrest warrant is no doubt sending shockwaves through organised crime in Hong Kong and Macau, but also Cambodia, Laos and the Philippines."
    Douglas said Suncity has been linked to major drug traffickers and money laundering for many years.
    Chau has grown Suncity from operating a high-roller table in Wynn Macau’s casino in 2007 to a sprawling conglomerate with thousands of employees and businesses ranging from property to autos.
    In 2019, Suncity was singled out https://www.reuters.com/article/china-casinos-idINL4N24A13F by state-backed Chinese media which attacked online gambling for causing what it described as great harm to China’s social economic order.    Suncity said it did not operate any online gaming at the time.
(Additional reporting by Tom Allard in Sydney; Editing by William Mallard)

11/27/2021 Malaysia Police To Look Into Claim ATA Whistleblower Beaten By Police
FILE PHOTO: A Dyson employee shows a Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner without its cover during
the IFA Electronics show in Berlin September 4, 2014. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysian police said on Saturday it will look into a claim a factory worker of Dyson supplier ATA IMS Bhd was beaten at its station but that it had not received any formal complaints.
    British home appliance maker Dyson https://www.reuters.com/business/exclusive-dyson-terminates-relationship-with-malaysian-supplier-ata-over-labour-2021-11-25 told Reuters that it was ending its contract with ATA after an audit of the company’s labour practices and allegations by a whistleblower.
    Dhan Kumar Limbu, a former ATA worker, told Reuters on Thursday that ATA officials took him to a police station in June, where he was questioned about sharing information about conditions at the factory with activists and then beaten by police.
    The police department in the southern Johor state, where ATA’s factory is located, said it has not received any reports on the matter.
    “Johor police takes note of the issue that was reported and will conduct an investigation if what was reported exists,” it said in a statement on Facebook.
    ATA said on Friday it had appointed consultants https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/analysts-see-years-losses-malaysias-ata-after-major-client-dyson-cuts-ties-2021-11-26 to review findings of forced labour in an audit summary it received from Dyson and claims of physical abuse raised by a former worker.
    The manufacturer said it had hired a law firm in Malaysia to conduct an independent review of the allegations of physical abuse by the former worker, and a detailed report would be finalised soon.
    Malaysia’s human resources minister said the ministry will investigate Dyson’s decision to sever ties with ATA IMS.
    In interviews with Reuters, seven current and former ATA employees said they had worked overtime in excess of limits under Malaysian law and paid recruitment fees in their home countries to labour brokers, a practice activists have criticised as a form of debt bondage.
    Dyson contributes around 80% of ATA’s revenue.    Shares in ATA, which makes parts for Dyson’s vacuum cleaners and air purifiers, have plunged 55% since the Reuters report.
(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu; Editing by William Mallard)

11/27/2021 Philippines Cuts Target For Ambitious Three-Day Vaccination Sprint
FILE PHOTO: Health workers in hazmat suits walk outside the Manila COVID-19
Field Hospital in Manila, Philippines, September 7, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines has slashed its inoculation target for an ambitious three-day national vaccination push due to a shortage of supplies and other logistical challenges, authorities said on Saturday.
    The Southeast Asian nation is facing the region’s second-highest COVID-19 infections and deaths, and officials tagged vaccination as key to a sustainable economic recovery in what was one of the region’s fastest growing economies before the pandemic.
    Target vaccination output for the Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 “National Vaccination Days” was cut to nine million from 15 million, the national task force said in a statement.    The targeted three million shots a day is nearly four times the country’s 829,000 average daily doses for November.
    “There is currently a shortage in ancillary supplies, particularly syringes for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and other logistical challenges,” the task force said.
    While 95% of the capital region’s eligible population were already fully vaccinated, barely half of residents in the provinces have completed their inoculation, government data show.    The Philippines has so far fully inoculated roughly 35 million or 45% of its eligible population.
    To achieve its goal of inoculating 54 million Filipinos by year-end, the government will hold another three-day national inoculation event on Dec. 15 to 17.
    The national vaccination days aim to increase the Philippines’ first-dose coverage to 70% from 58% and increase the booster jabs, while the Dec. 15 to 17 activities will focus on second doses and boosters.
    “Again, we enjoin everyone to get vaccinated and be a hero to your family and loved ones,” the task force said.
    Since the start of the pandemic, the Philippines has reported 2.83 million infections and 48,017 coronavirus-related deaths, as it remains on alert for Omicron https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/who-meeting-friday-designate-new-variant-b11529-2021-11-26, which the World Health Organization has described as a “variant of concern.”
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Sam Holmes)
[WELL AS USUAL THE WHO IS MAKING COMMENTS SUCH AS "VARIANT OF CONCERN" WHICH MEANS NOTHING SINCE NO ONE IS DYING FROM A CONCERN OR MANY OF THESE NEW VARIANTS BUT THE REAL ISSUE IS THAT THESE SO-CALLED VACCINES ARE NOT STOPPING THEM.].

11/27/2021 Sri Lanka Bans Travellers From 6 African Nations Due To Omicron COVID Variant
FILE PHOTO: A security officer wearing protective gear stands next to passenger temperature scanning machine where
she is on duty as Sri Lanka's government scheduled to reopen the country's airports for tourists from January 21, 2021,
as they were closed since March 2020 due to spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Bandaranaike
International Airport in Katunayake, Sri Lanka January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Sri Lanka said on Saturday it was barring travellers from six Southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/japan-tighten-border-controls-s-africa-others-new-virus-variant-jiji-2021-11-26 variant of COVID-19.     From Monday, travellers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, Colombo said in a statement.
    Travellers who arrived from these six countries over the past two days will have to undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine.
    The World Health Organization on Friday declared the new coronavirus variant to be “of concern.”
    It was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday and has been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by William Mallard)

11/27/2021 Australia Starts 14-Day Quarantine For Citizens Travelling From Southern Africa
FILE PHOTO: Patrons dine-in at a bar by the harbour in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations easing, following
an extended lockdown to curb an outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will introduce 14-day quarantine for citizens and their dependents travelling from nine countries in southern Africa due to the new coronavirus variant, its health minister said on Saturday.
    “Anyone who is not a citizen of Australia or their dependents, and who has been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told a press briefing.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Sam Holmes)

11/27/2021 Solomon Islands Police Find 3 Bodies, Make Arrests
People walk on a street next to destroyed objects after days of unrest
in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Osifelo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Solomon Islands police have found three bodies in a burned-out building, Australian media said on Saturday, as police made more than a hundred arrests following rioting in the South Pacific capital in the past several days.
    Charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district late on Friday, Australia’s national broadcaster ABC said, citing a report from a security guard.
    Many of the protesters come from the most populous province of Malaita, where there is resentment toward the government and opposition to its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China.
    Forensic teams have launched an investigation and were still on the scene, but the cause of the deaths was unclear, ABC quoted police as saying.
    Buildings in the Chinatown neighbourhood were looted and burnt during the rioting in the capital. More than a hundred people were arrested for rioting and looting linked to the current protests, the Royal Solomon     Islands Police Force said in a statement on Saturday.
    Local police have been backed up by arrivals from Papua New Guinea and Australia.
    Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary arrived in Honiara on Friday, a day after Australia sent its own forces to the capital, both in response to requests from the Solomon Islands government.
    “Australia and Papua New Guinea are concerned about the violent turn that protests have taken in Honiara and jointly emphasise the importance of resolving tensions peacefully,” said Papua New Guinea’s minister for foreign affairs Soroi Eoe, and Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
    “We are aiming to help restore calm and allow normal constitutional processes to operate,” they said in a joint statement on Saturday.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and William Mallard)

11/28/2021 Calm Returns As Clean-Up Begins In Solomon Islands - Media
Destroyed building is pictured after days of unrest in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 27, 2021
in this still image obtained from a video. Jone Tuiipelehaki/via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Soldiers and police from Australia and Papua New Guinea were helping to restore calm in the Solomon Islands as clean-up operations started, after several days of rioting left three dead and led to dozens of arrests, local media reported.
    The Solomon Star newspaper said Australian soldiers and police and troops from Papua New Guinea had helped to restore normalcy in the country’s capital Honiara, halting the looting, rioting and burning of buildings and shops.
    Overnight, clean up operations began in earnest in areas that were particularly hard hit, including the city’s Chinatown, the newspaper said. Footage obtained by Reuters showed heavy machinery moving rubble from burned out shops.
    Three charred bodies were discovered in a store on Friday in the Chinatown district, an area targeted by protesters still resentful the government in 2019 ended diplomatic ties with Taiwan to establish formal links with China.
    More Australian Federal Police would arrive in the South Pacific nation on Sunday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a televised news conference.
    “Although things are very unstable at this point … plans, we know, are being made, to ensure there can be calm,” he said.
    Some 50 officers from the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary arrived in Honiara on Friday, a day after Australia sent its own forces to the capital, both in response to requests from the Solomon Islands government for help.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Tom Hogue)

11/28/2021 Maldives Bans Travellers From 7 African Nations Due To Omicron COVID Variant
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of Maldives capital Male December 9, 2009. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause/File photo/File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Maldives said it was barring travellers from seven African countries from Sunday over concerns about the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/japan-tighten-border-controls-s-africa-others-new-virus-variant-jiji-2021-11-26 variant of COVID-19.
    Travellers will not be allowed into Maldives from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, the health ministry said in a statement.
    Travellers who arrived from these countries over the past two days will have to undergo 14 days of quarantine.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday declared the new coronavirus variant to be “of concern” and many countries have slapped travel restrictions on various African nations.
    The new variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa last week and has so far been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.
(Reporting by Colombo bureau; Editing by Tom Hogue)
[HERE WE GO AGAIN AS THE LEFT IS TRYING TO CREATE ANOTHER MORE DANGEROUS VIRUS' OF CONCERN BUT NO ONE IS DYING FROM IT AS MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE ABOVE.].

11/28/2021 China Study Warns Of ‘Colossal’ COVID Outbreak If It Opens Up Like U.S., France
A security guard blocks an exit as he directs people to scan a QR code to track their health status
at Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station, following new cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
in Shanghai, China, November 25, 2021. Picture taken November 25, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians.
    In the report published in China CDC Weekly by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.
    Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.
    China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.
    And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.
    “The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.
    “Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”
    The mathematicians cautioned that their estimates were based on basic arithmetic calculations and that more sophisticated models were needed to study the evolution of the pandemic if travel restrictions were lifted.
    China has maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards COVID-19, saying the importance of containing local cases when they are found outweighs the disruptions caused by efforts to trace, isolate and treat the infected.
    China reported 23 new confirmed coronavirus cases for Nov. 27, down from 25 a day earlier, its health authority said on Sunday.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday designated a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa with a large number of mutations as being “of concern,” prompting some countries to impose travel curbs.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao; Editing by Tom Hogue)

11/28/2021 Indonesia Bans Arrivals From 8 African Countries To Curb Omicron Variant - Document
FILE PHOTO: An empty view of Ngurah Rai International Airport is seen as Indonesia's resort island of Bali reopens
for international flights, following border closures brought about by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in
Badung, Bali, Indonesia October 14, 2021, in this photo taken by Antara Foto/Fikri Yusuf/via REUTERS/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia will ban the arrival of travellers who have been in eight African countries, to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, an official document showed on Sunday.
    Indonesia, home to popular tourist island Bali, will not allow people who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini or Nigeria in the past 14 days.
    The restriction takes effect on Monday, the document says.
    Delegates attending G20 meetings, which Indonesia chairs, will not be affected by the ban.
(Reporting by Nilufar Rizki; Writing by Fathin Ungku; Editing by William Mallard)
[AGAIN NO OUTBREAKS OR ANYONE DYING FROM OMICRON.].

11/28/2021 Fruit Galore: Thai Monkey Festival Returns As Tourists Come Back
Monkeys eat fruit during the annual Monkey Festival which resumed after a two-year gap caused by
the COVID-19 pandemic, in Lopburi province, Thailand, November 28, 2021. REUTERS/Jiraporn Kuhakan
    LOPBURI, Thailand (Reuters) – Watched by tourists and locals, thousands of monkeys in Lopburi in central Thailand feasted on two tonnes fruits and vegetables after the town’s Monkey Festival resumed following a two year hiatus caused by the pandemic.
    Hundreds of macaques, also known as long-tailed monkeys, were seen climbing on people and stacks of fruit, munching away on bananas and pineapples.
    The feast, which cost over 100,000 baht ($3,000), is an annual tradition for locals to thank the monkeys for doing their part in drawing in tourists to Lopburi, which is sometimes known as “Monkey Province.”
    “Today’s special is durian, which is expensive. Lopburi monkeys like expensive things,” said Yongyuth Kitwatanausont who has previously organised over 30 monkey festivals.
    The theme for this year’s festival was wheelchair monkeys, and Yongyuth planned to donate 100 wheelchairs to needy people.
    Tourists have been gradually https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/month-after-reopening-thailand-sees-gradual-tourism-recovery-2021-11-25 returning to Thailand after the government launched a quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated tourists in November, and the festival proved a popular draw.
    Thailand saw more than 100,000 inbound travellers https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/thailand-doubles-2021-visitor-numbers-after-easing-quarantine-rules-2021-11-26 in November, as high as the number of arrivals in the first ten months combined.
    “I’m really happy to get to see this and now I’m thinking about going to the next festival,” said Moroccan tourist Ayoub Boukhari.
    “It’s quite unexpected and the monkeys are quite silly.”
    Some tourists were seen playing with the monkeys with their cameras.    The resumption of the tradition also pleased locals.
    “It’s the first time in two years that monkeys get to eat all kinds of fruits and vegetables,” said Thanida Phudjeeb.    “I’m happy for them.”
($1 = 33.7600 baht)
(Reporting by Vorasit Satienlerk and Jiraporn Kuhakan; writing by Chayut Setboonsarng)

11/28/2021 Philippines To Buy Extra 20 Million Doses Of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines will buy an additional 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, seeking to fully inoculate more than 80% of its population by mid-2022, a government official said on Sunday.
    A deal has been signed with Pfizer, bringing the government’s total purchases of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 60 million doses, said Carlito Galvez Jr, who is in charge of the Southeast Asian country’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement.
    The additional Pfizer-BioNTech doses will be used as booster shots and for paediatric vaccinations, Galvez said at a virtual media briefing a day before the start of a downscaled three-day national inoculation drive https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-cuts-target-ambitious-three-day-vaccination-sprint-2021-11-27.
    BioNTech said on Friday it expects more data on the Omicron https://www.reuters.com/world/concerns-over-covid-variant-trigger-more-travel-curbs-southern-africa-2021-11-27 coronavirus “variant of concern” within two weeks to help determine whether its vaccine produced with Pfizer would have to be reworked.
    Galvez said the country has now received about 142 million doses of vaccines via purchases and donations.    The Philippines has so far fully inoculated more than 35 million individuals, or about 46% of the targeted population, he said.
    The government’s goal is to inoculate 54 million Filipinos by year-end, or 70% of the targeted population, Galvez said.
    The next goal is to hit the 77 million threshold by the end of March 2022, and then 90 million, or 82% of the country’s population, by the end of June, he said.
    Galvez said the government was looking to expand the coverage of booster shots, which currently is limited to healthcare workers and senior citizens, to include government personnel and “economic frontliners” starting next month.
    The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the Philippines, which has suspended inbound flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique until Dec. 15.
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Tom Hogue)

11/28/2021 Australia To Introduce New Laws To Force Media Platforms To Unmask Online Trolls
FILE PHOTO: A man takes a mobile phone picture of the windowed ceiling
at a shopping mall in Sydney, Australia, July 3, 2017. REUTERS/Steven Saphore
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will introduce legislation to make social media giants provide details of users who post defamatory comments, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
    The government has been looking at the extent of the responsibility of platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, for defamatory material published on their sites and comes after the country’s highest court ruled that publishers can be held liable for public comments on online forums.
    The ruling caused some news companies like CNN to deny Australians access to their Facebook pages.
    “The online world should not be a wild west where bots and bigots and trolls and others are anonymously going around and can harm people,” Morrison said at a televised press briefing.
    “That is not what can happen in the real world, and there is no case for it to be able to be happening in the digital world.”
    The new legislation will introduce a complaints mechanism, so that if somebody thinks they are being defamed, bullied or attacked on social media, they will be able to require the platform to take the material down.
    If the content is not withdrawn, a court process could force a social media platform to provide details of the commenter.
    “Digital platforms – these online companies – must have proper processes to enable the takedown of this content,” Morrison said.
    “They have created the space and they need to make it safe, and if they won’t, we will make them (through) laws such as this.”
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Leslie Adler)

11/29/2021 Japan Joins Israel In Barring Foreigners As Omicron Worries Spread
People wait in front of an "Appointment Desk" for quarantine and coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test appointments
inside Schiphol Airport, after Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on flights
from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 27, 2021. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    TOKYO/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Japan said on Monday it would close its borders to foreigners, as the world’s third-largest economy joined Israel in taking the toughest measures against the new coronavirus variant Omicron, which also cast a cloud over Australia’s re-opening plans.
    Markets, however, regained some composure as investors await more details of the variant, after sinking last week on fears it could bring fresh curbs, threatening a nascent economic revival from a two-year pandemic. [MKTS/GLOB]
    Potentially more contagious than prior variants, Omicron, first identified in South Africa, has been found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands.
    It could take “days to several weeks” to understand the level of severity of Omicron, says the World Health Organization (WHO), which flagged it as a “variant of concern.”
    As a precaution to avert a worst-case scenario, Japan will close its borders to foreigners from Tuesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, adding that he was ready for criticism that he was being too cautious.
    “These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida told reporters.     He did not say how long the restriction would stay.    Japanese returning from specified nations would face quarantine in designated facilities, Kishida added.
    While Japan has not yet found any Omicron infections, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said tests were being run to determine if the new variant had infected a traveller from Namibia who tested positive for the virus.
    Israel’s ban took effect from midnight on Sunday.    It has also vowed to use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to combat the new variant.
    Australia said it would review plans to reopen its borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, after reporting its first Omicron cases.
    A national security panel is to meet later in the day to assess border easing due from Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but added that it was a “bit too early” to reinstate two-week hotel quarantine for foreign travellers.
    “So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told broadcaster Nine News.
    Symptoms of Omicron are so far mild and could be treated at home, a South African doctor, one of the first to suspect a different variant, has said.
TRAVEL CURBS
    Morocco will ban all inbound international passenger flights for two weeks from Nov. 29, the government said on Sunday.
    Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in view of their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, its health ministry said.
    The wealthy southeast Asian city-state and neighbouring Malaysia re-opened their land border, one of the world’s busiest, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after a shutdown that lasted nearly two years.
    Britain said it would call an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday.
    President Joe Biden is to provide fresh details of the variant and the U.S. response on Monday, the White House said in a statement.
    South Africa has denounced the measures as unfair and potentially harmful to the economy, saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants early.
    “The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday.
    “The only thing (it) … will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries.” (Reporting by Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Renju Jose in Sydney, Chen Lin in Singapore and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Himani Sarkar; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/29/2021 Singapore, Malaysia Reopen Land Border Amid Worries Over The Omicron Variant by Joe Brock and Chen Lin
FILE PHOTO: Commuters take the Woodlands Causeway to Singapore from Johor a day before Malaysia imposes a
lockdown on travel due to the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Although travellers welcomed the chance to reunite with family and friends, there were concerns the border might be closed again due to the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
    As many as 300,000 Malaysians commuted daily to Singapore before the pandemic.    The sudden closing of the border in March 2020 left tens of thousands stranded on both sides, separated from families and fearing for their jobs.
    At the Queen Street bus terminal in Singapore, a few dozen people waiting to board the first buses to Malaysia expressed caution.
    “The borders may close soon because of the new variant,” said Eugene Ho, a 31-year-old banker leaving Singapore for the first time in nearly two years.    “I am actually very worried about getting stuck.”
    Travellers must test negative for COVID-19 before departure, and also take an on-arrival test.
    Malaysia’s health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Monday one traveller had tested positive to a rapid antigen test, noting some COVID-19 cases were inevitable.
    “What’s important is our diagnostic capabilities and requirements, and the risk assessment steps to be taken when something like this happens,” he said.
    Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob was welcomed by Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at one of the land border crossings on Monday, his first official visit as premier to Singapore.
    Both countries were aiming to include general travellers in this reopening plan from mid-December onwards, Lee said during a joint news conference.
    Under the latest arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from either side can cross the land border per day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country.
    Siva Kumar, a 41-year-old engineer in the semiconductor industry based in Singapore, said he had been inundated with calls from his two teenage sons waiting eagerly for his return to Malaysia.
    “All morning they keep calling, ‘Where are you now?    Have you taken the bus yet?’,” Kumar said.    “(I want to) hug them, kiss them.    I’ve really missed them.”
    The first flights operating under an air travel lane for vaccinated passengers between the two countries also arrived in both countries on Monday.
    Singapore has vaccinated 85% of its entire population, while about 80% of Malaysia’s population has been inoculated.
    With an aging population of 5.5 million, Singapore relies heavily on Malaysians living in the southern state of Johor to staff businesses ranging from restaurants to semiconductor manufacturing.
    Singapore reported 747 locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Sunday, its lowest tally since mid-September.    Malaysia reported 4,239 cases on Sunday, the smallest number since early November.
(Reporting by Joe Brock, Chen Lin; Additional reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by John Geddie, Ed Davies, Karishma Singh and Gerry Doyle)

11/29/2021 New Zealand To Ease COVID Measures This Week Despite Omicron Threat – PM
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addresses supporters at a Labour Party
event in Wellington, New Zealand, October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Praveen Menon/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new Omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world.
    There were no cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.
    “Omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders,” Ardern said at the news conference.
    New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world and plans to keep borders closed to most international travellers for a further five months.
    It also introduced fresh border measures for travellers from nine southern African nation on the weekend, announcing that only citizens from these countries can travel to New Zealand and will have to stay in state quarantine for 14 days.
    Ardern said a lot of evidence still needed to be gathered to know the impact of the Omicron variant.
    “It may impact on our vaccines, but it may not.    It may be more severe or it may be more mild than Delta … we simply dont know,” Ardern said.
    Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said authorities were looking at whether more needed to be done at the borders to keep Omicron away.
    “It’s really just looking to keep it (Omicron) out while we learn more about it,” Bloomfield told reporters at the news conference.
    New Zealand moves into a new “traffic light” system from Friday that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates.    Auckland, the epicentre of the country’s     Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
    New Zealand has had about 11,000 cases so far and 43 related deaths.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Stephen Coates)

11/29/2021 Taiwan Says China Military Trying To Wear It Out, But It Can Respond by Sarah Wu
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese flags are displayed alongside a military airplane in this
illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration//File Photo/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s military is trying to wear out Taiwan’s armed forces with its repeated missions nearby, but Taiwan is capable of responding, Taipei’s defence minister said on Monday after a renewed spike in Chinese air force activity.
    Taiwan scrambled https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taiwan-reports-27-chinese-air-force-planes-air-defence-zone-2021-11-28 fighters again on Sunday after 27 Chinese air force planes again entered its air defence identification zone, or ADIZ.
    “Their intention is to slowly exhaust, to let you know that we have this power,” Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng told reporters on the sidelines of a parliamentary briefing for lawmakers, when asked about the latest incursion.
    “Our national forces have shown that, while you may have this power, we have countermeasures.”
    Taiwan has complained for a year or more of repeated missions by China’s air force near the democratically governed island and in its ADIZ – not its territorial air space, but a broader area Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
    Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own and has not ruled out taking by force, calls China’s activities “grey zone” warfare.
    Chiu, who described the situation as “very serious,” said Taiwan will continue to analyse the types of aircraft China uses to inform future plans.
    The latest Chinese mission included 18 fighters jets plus five nuclear-capable H-6 bombers, as well as, unusually, a Y-20 aerial refuelling aircraft, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said.
    The bombers and six of the fighters flew to the south of Taiwan into the Bashi Channel which separates the island from the Philippines, then out into the Pacific before heading back to China, according to a map the ministry provided.
    Those aircraft were accompanied by the refuelling aircraft, suggesting China refuelled the shorter-ranged fighters inflight, a skill the country’s air force is still working to hone to enable it to project power further from China’s shores.
    Taiwan sent combat aircraft to warn away the Chinese aircraft, while missile systems were deployed to monitor them, the ministry said.
    China has previously said such missions are designed to protect the country’s sovereignty.
(Reporting by Sarah Wu; Editing by Ben Blanchard and Lincoln Feast.)

11/29/2021 Solomon Islands Province ‘Not Happy’ At Australian Police Presence – Political Aide
A destroyed building is pictured after days of unrest in Honiara, Solomon Islands
November 27, 2021 in this still image obtained from a video. Jone Tuiipelehaki/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Solomon Islands most populous province, the source of anti-government protestors who converged on the capital Honiara last week, is unhappy Australia sent in police and soldiers at the request of the Pacific island nation’s prime minister, a provincial political aide told Reuters.
    Dozens of buildings were burnt down and shops looted in the capital’s Chinatown as protests against prime minister Manasseh Sogavare turned to rioting in which four people died.    The arrival of 100 Australian police and soldiers on Friday, and a contingent of 50 from Papua New Guinea, to support overwhelmed local police has largely restored calm but tensions remain high.    Fiji said on Monday it would also send 50 troops on Tuesday.
    Many of the protesters were from Malaita province, which has a history of disputes with Guadalcanal province where the national government is based, and which opposed the switch by Sogavare’s government in 2019 to formally recognise China instead of Taiwan. Malaita’s premier Daniel Suidani has banned Chinese companies from the province and accepted development aid from the United States.
    A political advisor to Suidani said in an interview on Monday that Suidani was unhappy with the arrival of Australian police and soldiers amid a political crisis.
    “Their presence on the ground gives a very strong moral boost to Prime Minister Sogavare and his government.    They are here at the invitation of Sogavare – how can you be neutral?” said the advisor, Celsus Talifilu, by phone from Malaita province.
    “Malaitans were surprised, we are the last ones standing for democracy in the Solomons.    We were thinking Australia would see the stand we were taking,” he added.
    Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday Canberra wanted to provide a stable environment so the people of the Solomon Islands could resolve the situation peacefully.
    “We do not take sides in these differences, nor do we take a position on other countries choices about their diplomatic relationships,” Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne told parliament on Monday.    An Australian naval ship will arrive on Tuesday.
    Four government members of the Solomon Islands parliament resigned at the weekend, including a minister.    A no-confidence motion in Sogavare has been filed in parliament by Opposition leader Matthew Wale but cannot be debated for seven days.    Another 10 government MPs would have to resign for the motion to succeed.
    A spokesman from Sogavare’s office told Reuters in an email on Monday he “will not resign under pressure from political opponents that use violence to remove him.”
    “The Opposition leader has every right to file a motion of no confidence given the fact the he does not have the numbers to succeed,” he added.
    Sogavare last week blamed interference by unnamed foreign powers for the protests, and in a speech on Sunday said the rioting caused $200 million in damages.
    The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said more than 100 people had been arrested on suspicion of looting and burning buildings.
    The violence broke out after protesters from a group called Malaita for Democracy travelled to Honiara and called for Sogavare to address them last Wednesday.    The protest “got out of control” as anger rose and “opportunists” began rioting and outnumbered police, said Talifilu.
    Eyewitnesses told Reuters the rioters included young men from Honiara’s outskirt settlements which have no running water.
    Honiara resident and academic Transform Aqorau said the eruption of violence was caused by multiple issues including high unemployment, overcrowded housing, tensions over the switch from Taiwan to China, and foreign companies failing to provide local jobs.
    “There is huge disparity and a sense of alienation too.    People want to be heard,” he said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/29/2021 Japan To Bar Foreign Visitors Due To Omicron Threat
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during his press conference, after the
parliament re-elected him as prime minister following an election victory last month by his ruling
Liberal Democratic Party, in Kantei, Japan November 10, 2021. Stanislav Kogiku/ Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan said on Monday it would shut its borders to foreigners to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since the variant’s discovery in South Africa.
    Japan would bar entry to foreigners from midnight on Monday, and Japanese returnees from a number of specified nations would have to quarantine in designated facilities, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
    “These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida told reporters.
    “I’m prepared to bear all criticism from those saying the Kishida administration is being too cautious.”
    The move marked a rapid escalation of restrictions since Friday when Japan said it would tighten border controls on people arriving from six African nations, even though no cases of Omicron have been detected in the country and much about the new variant remains unknown.
    It comes just a few weeks after Kishida’s administration eased quarantine measures on foreign business travellers to help boost the economy.
    Nations around the world have enacted border curbs since the WHO dubbed Omicron a “variant of concern.”    Japan’s are among the strongest, following Israel in banning entry of foreigners, and Morocco which has halted all inbound flights for two weeks.
    Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said a traveller from Namibia was found to be positive for the novel coronavirus but further tests were needed to find out if it was from the new variant.
    After a slow start, Japan’s vaccination rate is now the highest among Group of Seven economies, and COVID-19 infections have fallen dramatically since a deadly fifth wave which peaked in August.
    Even so, health experts are concerned about a possible rebound this winter, and a round of booster shots are scheduled to start next month.
    The World Health Organisation (WHO) says it could take “days to several weeks” to determine the severity of the new variant in the absence of information that its symptoms differed from those of other variants.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Rocky Swift; Editing by Tom Hogue and Stephen Coates)

11/29/2021 Australia’s Reopening Plans In Doubt After Omicron Cases by Renju Jose
FILE PHOTO: People sit in the arrivals section of the international terminal of Kingsford Smith International Airport
the morning after Australia implemented an entry ban on non-citizens and non-residents intended to curb the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, March 21, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will review its plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, after the country reported its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
    Two people who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa tested positive on Sunday for the newly identified variant as officials ordered 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from nine African countries.
    Morrison said “it is a bit too early” to reinstate two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign travellers, urging people to remain calm as data had not yet fully determined the severity, transmissibility and vaccine resistance of the Omicron strain.
    “So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told Nine News.
    Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants.    But experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.
    Morrison said the national security committee will meet later on Monday to assess the border reopening relaxations due from Wednesday.    A meeting of leaders of all states and territories will be held by Tuesday, he said.
    Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked the country’s immunisation advisory group to review the time frame for COVID-19 booster shots.    About 87% of Australia’s population above 16 years of age have been fully vaccinated, above the rates seen in the United States, Britain and many countries in Western Europe.
    Health officials in New South Wales said three people who arrived on Sunday from southern Africa had tested positive for COVID-19 and that genomic sequencing was underway to check if they were infected with the Omicron strain.
    The new variant has emerged as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s largest cities, had begun to allow vaccinated citizens entry from overseas without quarantine from Nov. 1, having shut their borders for more than 18 months.
    Both cities have tightened their travel rules with all international travellers ordered to quarantine for 72 hours.    Other states have not opened their borders to foreign travellers yet due to varying vaccination rates.     Australia has so far recorded about 209,000 coronavirus cases and 1,997 deaths since the pandemic began.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by David Gregorio and Stephen Coates)

11/29/2021 Taiwan, Europe Must Defend Democracy Together, President Says
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen oversees the commission of the first squadron of the upgraded
F-16V fighters in Chiayi Air Force Base, Chiayi, Taiwan, November 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan and Europe must work together to defend against authoritarianism and disinformation, President Tsai Ing-wen told visiting lawmakers from the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Monday.
    Lithuania has faced sustained pressure from China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory, since allowing the opening of a de facto Taiwanese embassy in its capital.
    Beijing has ramped up military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei to accept Chinese sovereignty claims and to limit its international participation, though Tsai says Taiwan will not bow to threats and will defend its freedom and democracy.
    Tsai told the lawmakers at the Presidential Office that Taiwan and the Baltic nations – once part of the Soviet Union – share similar experiences of breaking free from authoritarian rule and of fighting for freedom.
    “The democracy we enjoy today was hard earned.    This is something we all understand most profoundly,” she said.
    “Now the world faces challenges posed by the expansion of authoritarianism and threat of disinformation.    Taiwan is more than willing to share its experience at combating disinformation with its European friends.    We must safeguard our shared values to ensure our free and democratic way of life.”
    Matas Maldeikis, leader of the Lithuanian parliament’s Taiwan Friendship Group, told Tsai in response their group was in Taipei to express their solidarity with the island.
    “Lithuanian government policy towards Taiwan has wide support in our society. Preserving freedom and the rules-based international order is in the vital interests for both Taiwan and Lithuania,” he said.
    There is much opportunity for economic and cultural cooperation, added Maldeikis, whose trip has been condemned by China.
    No European Union member state has official ties with Taiwan.
    The United States has strongly backed its NATO ally Lithuania in its spat with China.
    Lithuania faces problems too with pressure from Russia and Belarus, with migrants on its border with Belarus.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/29/2021 Exclusive: Chinese Province Targets Journalists, Foreign Students With Planned New Surveillance System
A security surveillance camera overlooks a street as cars drive by in Beijing, China
November 24, 2021. Picture taken November 24, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Security officials in one of China’s largest provinces have commissioned a surveillance system they say they want to use to track journalists and international students among other “suspicious people,” documents reviewed by Reuters showed.
    A July 29 tender document published on the Henan provincial government’s procurement website – reported in the media for the first time – details plans for a system that can compile individual files on such persons of interest coming to Henan using 3,000 facial recognition cameras that connect to various national and regional databases.
    A 5 million yuan ($782,000) contract was awarded on Sept. 17 to Chinese tech company Neusoft, which was required to finish building the system within two months of signing the contract, separate documents published on the Henan government procurement website showed.    Reuters was unable to establish if the system is currently operating.
    Shenyang-based Neusoft did not respond to requests for comment.
    China is trying to build what some security experts describe as one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance technology networks https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-monitoring-insight-idUSKBN1KZ0R3, with millions of cameras in public places and increasing use of techniques such as smartphone monitoring and facial recognition.
    U.S.-based surveillance research firm IPVM, which has closely tracked the network’s expansion and first identified the Henan document, said the tender was unique in specifying journalists as surveillance targets and providing a blueprint for public security authorities to quickly locate them and obstruct their work.
    “While the PRC has a documented history of detaining and punishing journalists for doing their jobs, this document illustrates the first known instance of the PRC building custom security technology to streamline state suppression of journalists,” said IPVM’S Head of Operations Donald Maye, using the initials of the People’s Republic of China.
    Reuters was unable to find any documents identifying journalists or foreigners as specific targets of surveillance systems in other parts of China.
    The Henan provincial government and police did not respond to requests for comment.    The Ministry of Public Security and China’s Foreign Ministry also did not comment.
TAILED AND CONTROLLED
    The near-200 page tender document from the Henan Public Security Department does not give reasons why it wants to track journalists or international students.    Another category of people it said it wants to track were “women from neighbouring countries that are illegal residents.”
    Public access to the tender document was disabled on Monday.
    The tender document specified cameras must be able to build a relatively accurate file for individuals whose faces are partially covered by a mask or glasses, and those targeted must be searchable on the database by simply uploading a picture or searching their facial attributes.
    The system will be operated by at least 2,000 officials and policemen, and specifies that journalists will be divided into three categories: red, yellow, green, in decreasing order of risk, according to the tender.
    Different police forces covering all of Henan, whose 99 million inhabitants makes it China’s third-largest province by population, will be connected to the platform in order to spring into action in the event of a warning being set off, the tender explains.
    Warnings will be set off if a journalist while in Henan registers into a hotel, buys a ticket, or crosses the provincial border, according to the tender.
    “Suspicious persons must be tailed and controlled, dynamic research analyses and risk assessments made, and the journalists dealt with according to their category,” the tender reads.
    The tender also detailed different early warning systems for the other groups.
MEDIA CONTROL
    Some press freedom groups say the ruling Chinese Communist Party has tightened control over media since Chinese President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.
    In February, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) said China used coronavirus prevention measures https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-media-idUSKCN2AT182, intimidation and visa curbs to limit foreign reporting in 2020, citing responses to an annual survey of correspondents and interviews with bureau chiefs.
    The Chinese foreign ministry at the time called the FCCC report “baseless” and said China always welcomed media and journalists from all countries to cover news in China according to the law.    “What we oppose is ideological bias against China and fake news in the name of press freedom,” a spokesman said.
    While most of the Henan document refers to journalists, several segments specify “foreign journalists.”
    In October last year, the Henan government published on its procurement platform for prospective suppliers a short summary of the intended project in which it said the system would be “centred on foreigners” and help “protect national sovereignty, security, and interests.”
    The contract was put out for tender on July 29, days after foreign journalists from the BBC, LA Times, Agence France-Presse and others reporting on devastating floods in Henan were targeted by a nationalist campaign on China’s heavily censored social media platform Weibo.
    The FCCC said at the time https://twitter.com/fccchina/status/1419946356995629057 it was “very concerned to witness the online and offline harassment of journalists” covering the floods.    It described how, for instance, one Weibo account asked its 1.6 million followers to report the whereabouts of a foreign journalist who was reporting about the floods.
    The tender also said the system should be able to track the movements of international students through methods such as mobile phone positioning and travel bookings – particularly during key dates such as the country’s national day or annual session of parliament.
    “On…sensitive dates, launch a wartime early warning mechanism,” it read.
($1 = 6.3924 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/29/2021 Myanmar Court To Deliver First Verdicts In Aung San Suu Kyi Trial
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during an event at the
Asia Society Policy Institute in New York City, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb
    (Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar is due to deliver the first verdicts on Tuesday in nearly a dozen cases against deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on trial for offences that carry combined maximum jail sentences of more than 100 years.
    The popular Nobel Peace Prize laureate led an elected civilian government that was ousted in a Feb. 1 military coup and has been held incommunicado and on trial since June https://reut.rs/3E7cXzT, with court hearings behind closed doors.
    According to a source with knowledge of the proceedings, a judge will rule on Tuesday on charges of incitement and of breaking a natural disasters law by violating COVID-19 protocols, which carry jail terms of up to two and three years respectively.
    Facing the same fate if found guilty is co-defendant Win Myint https://reut.rs/3DHDxPp, the ousted president and Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party ally.
    Neither the junta nor state media has provided information on the proceedings and a gag order has been imposed on the defendants’ lawyers. Suu Kyi is also charged with corruption https://reut.rs/3o51L1j and breaches of an official secrets https://reut.rs/2Zxy2o3 act.
    The United States and experts from the United Nations have condemned the indictments and demanded the defendants’ release.
    The junta’s spokesman did not respond on Monday to calls, but has previously said Suu Kyi was being afforded due process by an independent judiciary.
    Supporters of Suu Kyi, 76, say the cases are politically motivated and designed to end the political life of a woman who championed democracy for decades under previous military rulers, much of the time under house arrest.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since her overthrow, with the junta struggling to consolidate power amid protests, strikes and armed resistance by militias https://reut.rs/3o1SIhu allied with a shadow government https://reut.rs/3zWzZY7 in retaliation for the military’s use of deadly force.
    The incitement case centres on an unsigned letter sent by the NLD while Suu Kyi was in detention, which urged embassies not to recognise the junta.
    The other alleges COVID-19 violations during election campaigning last year.    The two deny wrongdoing.
    Richard Horsey, a Myanmar expert at the International Crisis Group, said the charges were designed to sideline a popularly elected leader.
    “The generals know that these verdicts will convince no one, and their purpose is instead a display of regime power.    But it is likely to only strengthen the resolve of the popular resistance movement,” he said.
    Political analyst Khin Zaw Win said that regardless of Tuesday’s verdicts, a revolution was already under way in Myanmar that went beyond Suu Kyi.
    “They are trying to make sure that she can no longer return to politics,” he said.
    “They (the military) demonstrated atrocities and still continues.    This can no longer be solved politically… The revolution is no longer about the NLD government or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.”
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/29/2021 U.N. Urges Philippines To Let Nobel Laureate Ressa Travel To Norway
FILE PHOTO: Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, one of 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners, speaks
during an interview in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations on Monday urged the Philippines to allow Nobel Prize winning journalist Maria Ressa to travel to Norway next month to accept the award.
    Ressa https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nobel-prize-shines-light-dark-time-philippines-ressa-2021-10-08, the first Nobel laureate from the Philippines, shared the Peace Prize with Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov, a move widely seen as an endorsement of free speech rights, which are under fire worldwide.
    Ressa has requested government approval to travel to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize on Dec. 10.
    Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the United Nations was “very concerned” about travel restrictions placed on Ressa by the government.
    “We urge the government of the Philippines to immediately withdraw any such restrictions and allow her to travel to Oslo,” Dujarric told reporters in New York.
    The license for Ressa’s news site, Rappler, has been suspended and she has faced legal action for various reasons.    Supporters say she has been targeted for her scrutiny of government policies, including a bloody war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.
    The ranking of the Philippines in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index dropped two notches to 138 out of 180 countries, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh in the world in its impunity index, which tracks deaths of media members whose killers go free.
    The government denies hounding media and says any problems faced by organisations are legal, not political. It says it believes in free speech.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

11/29/2021 Travel Sector Sees Recovery Slip From Grasp Amid New Coronavirus Scare by Jamie Freed, Clara-Laeila Laudette and Rajesh Kumar Singh
Travellers arrive at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin
    (Reuters) – Airlines are scrambling to limit the impact of the latest coronavirus variant on their networks, while delays in bookings are threatening an already-fragile recovery for global tourism.
    Shares in airlines bounced back with the rest of the market on Monday after a sharp sell-off on Friday when the discovery of a new coronavirus mutation took a heavy toll on stocks.
    The latest outbreak, first reported in southern Africa, dealt a blow to the industry just as it had recovery in its sights, especially following the easing of U.S.-bound travel.
    Multiple countries including Japan, the United States, Britain and Israel have imposed travel curbs in order to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
    “The hope for U.S. and European carriers had been that opening the Atlantic would allow them to operate long-haul routes on a cash-positive basis, but border restrictions make it even harder to get the demand in,” said James Halstead, managing partner at consultancy Aviation Strategy.
    A pickup in long-haul traffic is seen critical for many carriers, which have been left with severely strained balance sheets following the plunge in air travel last year.
    Southern Africa accounts for only a tiny portion of the world’s international travel, but sudden border restrictions and route suspensions have left some carriers with an uncertain future.
    Spain’s Air Europa, caught in a months-long acquisition process by IAG-owned rival Iberia, which British and European regulators have so far been loath to approve, is especially vulnerable to renewed travel curbs.
    President Joe Biden said while the restrictions were needed to give the United States time to get more people vaccinated, he did not anticipate the need for additional curbs.
    But Willie Walsh, head of global airlines industry body IATA, called the restrictions a “knee-jerk reaction.”    In an interview with BBC Radio, he urged authorities to institute “sensible” testing regimes and avoid measures that have caused “massive” financial damage to the industry in the past.
    “This virus cannot be beaten in the way some of these measures would have people believe,” said Walsh.    “We have to adjust. We have to take sensible measures.”
    Rising COVID-19 cases as well as the new border restrictions have prompted analysts to adjust their outlook for the industry.    Analysts at HSBC, for example, expect the industry’s recovery would be pushed back by a year.
    It is a setback for companies including the interconnecting Gulf carriers and Lufthansa, which depends heavily on transit traffic at its Frankfurt base, analysts said.
    Big carriers acted swiftly to protect their hubs by curbing passenger travel from southern Africa, fearing that the spread of a new virus would trigger restrictions from other destinations beyond the immediately affected regions, industry sources said.
    “Your whole network is at risk when running a hub,” Halstead said.
BOOKINGS DELAYED
    Singapore deferred plans to open its borders to vaccinated travellers from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia because those countries are transit hubs for African travel.
    Singapore Airlines said it had converted some of its flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town to cargo-only.
    Qatar Airways said it would no longer accept passengers travelling from five southern African countries, but would fly passengers to those countries in line with current restrictions.
    Concerns have also been raised about future bookings.
    Some Australian travellers booked through Flight Centre Travel Group Ltd have cancelled or delayed trips amid new requirements for arrivals to isolate at home or a hotel for 72 hours while awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test, a spokesperson for the travel agency said.
    In Germany, DER Touristik said that after very positive bookings at the beginning of autumn it had seen a reluctance to book, including for southern African destinations.
    Some companies seemed exasperated by the latest threat to business-as-usual.
    “It’s too early to make any predictions,” a spokesperson for Spanish carrier Iberia said.    “As for contingency plans, do the flexibility and capacity to adapt that we have demonstrated throughout the pandemic seem insignificant to you?
(Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Chen Lin in Singapore, Tommy Lund in London, Clara-Laeila Laudette in Madrid, Ilona Wissenbach in Frankfurt, Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Leslie Adler)

11/29/2021 China Says It Backs Strengthening Existing WHO Pact And New Agreement
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – China said on Monday that it agreed in principle with proposals to strengthen compliance and sharing of information under amendments to the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations of 2005.
    “China agrees in principle with the ideas of further strengthening compliance, financing, sharing and information management in the IHR amendment process,” Shen Hongbing, vice commissioner of China’s National Administration of Disease Prevention and Control, told a WHO ministerial assembly.
    “China reiterates that the IHR remains and will remain the most critical legal document in global health governance for the present and near future.”
    But China was also open to strengthening global cooperation to prevent pandemics, he told the Geneva forum which is expected to launch negotiations this week on a new agreement.
    “We stand ready to maintain communication and coordination with all parties on developing a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument and hope that the relevant process will be steadily advanced … to ensure the universal participation of all member states, while avoiding politicisation, stigmatisation and instrumentalisation.”
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/30/2021 Moderna CEO Warns COVID-19 Shots Less Effective Against Omicron, Spooks Markets by Marius Zaharia and Renju Jose
People wearing face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
ride in a bus in Hong Kong, China November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Lam Yik
    HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) -Drugmaker Moderna’s CEO set off fresh alarm bells in financial markets on Tuesday after he warned that COVID-19 vaccines were unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant as they have been against the Delta version.
    Crude oil futures shed more than a dollar, the Australian currency hit a year low, and Nikkei gave up gains as Stéphane Bancel’s comments spurred fears that vaccine resistance could lead to more sickness and hospitalisations, prolonging the pandemic. [MKTS/GLOB][USD/][O/R]
    “There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Moderna CEO Bancel told the Financial Times https://www.ft.com/content/27def1b9-b9c8-47a5-8e06-72e432e0838f in an interview.
    “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.    But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘this is not going to be good’,” Bancel said.
    Moderna did not reply to a Reuters’ request for comment on the interview and on when it expects to have data on the effectiveness of its vaccine against Omicron, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says carries a “very high” risk https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/omicron-poses-very-high-global-risk-countries-must-prepare-who-2021-11-29 of infection surges.
    Bancel had earlier said on CNBC https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL4N2SK37Y that there should be more clarity on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron in about two weeks, and that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that work against the new variant.
    The WHO and scientists https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/how-fast-does-it-spread-scientists-ask-whether-omicron-can-outrun-delta-2021-11-29 have also said it could take days to several weeks to understand the level of severity of the variant and its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines.
    “Vaccination will likely still keep you out of the hospital,” said John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in Philadelphia.
    The uncertainty about the new variant has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.
    News of its emergence wiped roughly $2 trillion off the value of global stocks on Friday, but some calm was restored this week as investors waited for more data on Omicron.
    Remarks by President Joe Biden that the United States would not reinstate lockdowns had also helped soothe markets before comments from the Moderna CEO spooked investors.
    Biden has called for wider vaccination, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged everyone aged 18 years and older to get a booster shot. Britain too has expanded its COVID-19 booster programme amid Omicron fears.
    First reported on Nov. 24 from South Africa, Omicron has since spread to over a dozen countries. Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, has confirmed its first case.
HONG KONG EXPANDS CURBS
    Countries around the world have moved quickly to tighten border controls to prevent a recurrence of last year’s strict lockdowns and steep economic downturns.
    Hong Kong has expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries.    It said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter as of Nov. 30.
    Additionally, it said non-residents who have been to Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy in the past 21 days would not be allowed to enter the city from Dec. 2.
    The global financial hub, among the last places pursuing a zero-COVID strategy, has already banned non-residents arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.
    In Australia, five travellers tested positive for Omicron.
    Singapore’s health ministry said two travellers from Johannesburg who tested positive for the variant in Sydney had transited through its Changi https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/singapore-says-two-travellers-sydney-with-omicron-transited-changi-2021-11-30 airport.
    Australian authorities have also identified a sixth traveller who was most likely infected with the variant and had spent time in the community.
    Canberra delayed on Monday the reopening of the nation’s borders for international students and skilled migrants, less than 36 hours before they were due to be allowed back in.
    “We’re doing this out of an abundance of caution but our overwhelming view is that whilst (Omicron) is an emerging variant, it is a manageable variant,” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
    The global curbs on travellers from southern Africa also raised concerns about vaccine inequality.
    “The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/un-chief-concerned-about-southern-africa-isolation-over-omicron-2021-11-29 in a statement.
    India, home to the world’s largest vaccine maker, has approved supplies of COVID-19 vaccines to many African countries and said it stands ready to “expeditiously” send more.    China too has pledged https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/chinas-xi-pledges-10-bln-credit-line-african-financial-institutions-2021-11-29 1 billion doses to the continent.
(Reporting by Marius Zaharia in Hong Kong, Renju Jose in Sydney, Tom Westbrook in Singapore and Reuters bureaus; Writing by Himani Sarkar; Editing by Shri Navratnam)

11/30/2021 Philippine Leader Duterte’s Preferred Successor Quits Presidential Race by Karen Lema
FILE PHOTO: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte raises the hand of Philippine Senator Christopher "Bong"
Go after filing his certificate of candidacy for president for the 2022 national election, at the
Commission on Elections, in Manila, Philippines, November 13, 2021. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) -Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte’s preferred successor, Senator Christopher “Bong” Go, announced on Tuesday he was dropping out of the presidential race, leaving the administration without a candidate in next year’s polls.
    Go, Duterte’s long-time aide, had recently hinted he may pull out of the presidential contest and said the president respected his decision.
    His withdrawal raises questions over who the popular Duterte will now support in the May 2022 election.    The 76-year old leader is not eligible to seek re-election, but will be standing for a senator’s seat.
    “I and President Duterte are ready to support whoever will truly serve and can continue and protect Duterte’s legacy towards a more comfortable and safe and prosperous life for our children,” Go said in a speech streamed on Facebook.
    Analysts have said Duterte wants to ensure an ally succeeds him so he can be insulated from potential legal action at home or by the International Criminal Court, which has launched a probe into the https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/international-court-approves-investigation-into-philippines-war-drugs-2021-09-15 thousands of killings in his “war on drugs.”
    Duterte’s daughter, Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, is running for the largely ceremonial deputy post https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/duterte-daughter-joins-marcos-running-mate-philippines-presidential-election-2021-11-16 alongside the son of late Philippine dictator and namesake, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who has emerged as an early frontrunner https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/after-dust-settles-son-of-late-philippine-dictator-emerges-as-presidential-frontrunner/ar-AAQLbkM.
    Political observers say Go’s withdrawal from the race would likely benefit the Marcos/Duterte-Carpio ticket as it would consolidate the Dutertes’ voter base behind the 43-year-old mayor and that support could extend to Marcos.
    “There is no more confusion in terms of administration support,” said Aries Arugay, visiting fellow at the ISEAS Yusof-Ishak Institute and political science professor at the University of the Philippines.
    Marcos is up against other presidential aspirants, including former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, vice president Leni Robredo, Manila mayor Francisco Domagoso, and senator Panfilo Lacson.    He is facing several disqualification cases https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/philippines-group-seeks-bar-marcos-jr-election-tax-evasion-2021-11-17 grounded on a nearly three-decade old conviction for tax evasion.
(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Ed Davies and Lincoln Feast)

11/30/2021 Myanmar Court Defers First Verdicts In Aung San Suu Kyi Trial
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during an event at the
Asia Society Policy Institute in New York City, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb
    (Reuters) - A court in military-ruled Myanmar deferred on Tuesday the first verdicts in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Dec. 6, a source familiar with the proceedings said.
    The Nobel Peace laureate, who led an elected civilian government that was ousted in a Feb. 1 military coup, has been held incommunicado and on trial since June https://reut.rs/3E7cXzT, with court hearings behind closed doors.
    On Tuesday, the court had been due to rule on charges of incitement and violations of COVID-19 protocols under a natural disasters law, among nearly a dozen cases against Suu Kyi, 76, who has rejected all the charges.
    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give a reason for the deferral.
    The court in the capital, Naypyitaw, could not immediately be reached and a spokesperson for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls early on Tuesday.
    Suu Kyi’s supporters say the cases against her are politically motivated.
    Neither the junta nor state media have provided information on the proceedings and a gag order has been imposed on the defendants’ lawyers.    Suu Kyi is also charged with corruption https://reut.rs/3o51L1j and breaches of an official secrets https://reut.rs/2Zxy2o3 act.
    Myanmar has been in chaos since her overthrow, with the junta struggling to consolidate power amid protests, strikes and armed resistance by militias https://reut.rs/3o1SIhu allied with a shadow government https://reut.rs/3zWzZY7 in retaliation for the military’s use of deadly force.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty)

11/30/2021 Singapore Boosts Testing, Holds Off On Further Reopening Over Omicron Variant
A bus driver sprays disinfectant on the luggage of passengers travelling to Malaysia as the
Vaccinated Travel Lane between Singapore and Malaysia opens after the land border between the two
countries reopened following nearly two years of being shut down due to the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, at a bus station in Singapore November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore will hold off on more reopening measures while it evaluates the Omicron COVID-19 variant and will increase testing of travelers and frontline workers to reduce the risk of local transmission, authorities said on Tuesday.
    A quarantine-free entry policy for vaccinated arrivals in the Asian financial and travel hub will not be extended to more countries for now, while current social distancing measures will remain in place, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said.
    “This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty,” Ong told a media briefing, adding the variant had not yet been detected locally.
    Singapore will be prioritising use of COVID-19 Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests produced by Thermo Fisher on travelers.    Thermo Fisher said it is able to detect the Omicron variant.
    Any Omicron cases found in Singapore will be placed in government healthcare facilities rather than the home isolation so far used for mild COVID-19 cases.
    Ong said Singapore’s high vaccination rate should offer some protection against the variant.
    The city-state had earlier restricted arrivals from South African countries, and deferred the expansion of the quarantine-free entry programme for vaccinated travelers from several Middle East countries, given “their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries.”
(Reporting by Chen Lin; Editing by Martin Petty)

11/30/2021 New Zealand Opposition Picks Former Airline Boss To Take On Ardern by Praveen Menon
Air New Zealand’s Chief Executive Officer, Christopher Luxon (C) arrives at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) -New Zealand’s main opposition National Party selected on Tuesday a former chief executive of the national carrier as its new leader to face Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in the next election expected in 2023.
    Christopher Luxon, who helmed Air New Zealand for seven years until September 2019, was elevated to the top job just a year after entering parliament following a leadership crisis at the National Party that has seen four leaders replaced in as many years.
    He comes in after Judith Collins, who headed the National’s campaign in its worst election defeat in 2020, was dumped last week.
    “Today we are drawing a line under the events of the last four years, and we are putting them behind us,” Luxon said in his speech after he was appointed leader.
    Luxon’s elevation will put pressure on Ardern, whose popularity has taken a hit in recent weeks due to a perceived failure in quickly vaccinating the population and growing anger over her government’s tough pandemic curbs and border closures.
    Ardern has enjoyed enormous personal support but a recent 1News Colmar Brunton poll showed her rating as preferred prime minister had fallen 5 points from September to 39%.
    National has been in turmoil since losing power to Ardern in 2017, besieged by infighting, leadership changes and scandals.
    Luxon, 51, held senior roles at global consumer goods firm Unilever before moving to Air New Zealand and leading the airline between 2012 and 2019, during which time it produced consistent profits.
    He was elected to Parliament for the Botany electorate only in the 2020 election.
    “I have built a career out of reversing the fortunes of under-performing companies and I’ll bring that real-world experience to this role,” he said.
    A protege of former Prime Minister John Key, Luxon defended his Christian faith in his maiden press conference saying his faith had been “misrepresented and portrayed very negatively.”
    “I want to be very clear, we have separation between politics and faith,” he told reporters.
    Luxon has said he does not support euthanasia in a referendum or abortion reform.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/30/2021 Sexual Harassment Rife Inside Australian Parliament, Report Finds by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives at Haneda airport
in Tokyo, Japan, November 17, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – One in three people working in Australia’s parliament have experienced sexual harassment, a report published on Tuesday said, following an independent inquiry into parliamentary workplace culture.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who ordered the review in February after his party came under pressure over its handling of an alleged rape inside the building, said the findings were “appalling” and “disturbing.”
    The review detailed widespread improper behaviour, and found that more than half of the people who responded had experienced at least one incident of sexual harassment, bullying or actual or attempted sexual assault.
    “Such experiences leave a trail of devastation for individuals and their teams and undermine the performance of our parliament to the nation’s detriment,” it said.
    Morrison said parliament must clean up its act.
    “Like anyone who works in this building, I find the statistics that are presented here, of course appalling and disturbing,” he told reporters in Canberra.
    “I wish I found them more surprising.”
    Morrison is under pressure to address parliamentary culture ahead of an election due in the first half of next year.    Support for his conservative coalition government fell in the wake of the rape allegation, while thousands of women marched across the country calling for greater equality.
    The report made 28 recommendations, including greater gender balance among both lawmakers and their staff, new alcohol policies and the creation of a new human resources office to deal with complaints.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/30/2021 Myanmar Court Defers Verdicts In Suu Kyi Trial To Dec 6 – Source
FILE PHOTO: A person holds a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi as Myanmar citizens protest against the military coup in front
of the UN office in Bangkok, Thailand February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo To match Special Report
    (Reuters) – A court in military-ruled Myanmar deferred on Tuesday verdicts in the trial of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to Dec. 6, a source familiar with the proceedings said.
    The court had been due to rule on charges of incitement and violations of a law on natural disasters, accusations that Suu Kyi has rejected.    The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not give a reason for the deferral.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/30/2021 Taiwan Defense Minister Says Chinese Invasion Will Be Repelled by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen
gestures during a meeting with lawmakers from Baltic states at the Presidential Office in Taipei, Taiwan
on Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Lawmakers from all three Baltic states met with Tsai on Monday in a sign of
further cooperation between European Union nations and Taiwan. (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)
    The defense minister of Taiwan said his nation alone will successfully repel any invasion by Mainland China.    While talking to reporters on Monday, Taiwan’s top defense official said Beijing wants to “slowly exhaust” the island nation, but it will not succeed.
    The defense minister then stressed Taiwan’s defense force has efficient counter-measures in place to contain and defeat China’s plans of annexation. His remarks came after 27 Chinese warplanes violated the Taiwanese Air Defense Zone on Sunday.
    Separately, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said all freedom-loving nations must stand by Taiwan.
    “Taiwan is willing to share its experiences in fighting disinformation with its European friends and fight along with them to protect commonly shared values to ensure our democratic and free style of living,” she stated.
    Taiwanese officials recently moved to improve defense ties with the EU and Japan amid mounting doubt of the Biden administration’s ability to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party.

12/1/2021 Exclusive-China Protested Indonesian Drilling, Military Exercises by Tom Allard, Kate Lamb and Agustinus Beo Da Costa
FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's Deputy Minister for Maritime Affairs Arif Havas Oegroseno points at the
location of North Natuna Sea on a new map of Indonesia during talks with reporters
in Jakarta, Indonesia, July 14, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo
    SYDNEY/JAKARTA (Reuters) – China told Indonesia to stop drilling for oil and natural gas in maritime territory that both countries regard as their own during a months-long standoff in the South China Sea earlier this year, four people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
    The unprecedented demand, which has not previously been reported, elevated tensions over natural resources between the two countries in a volatile area of global strategic and economic importance.
    One letter from Chinese diplomats to Indonesia’s foreign ministry clearly told Indonesia to halt drilling at a temporary offshore rig because it was taking place in Chinese territory, according to Muhammad Farhan, an Indonesian lawmaker on parliament’s national security committee, which was briefed on the letter.
    “Our reply was very firm, that we are not going to stop the drilling because it is our sovereign right,” Farhan told Reuters.
    A spokesman for Indonesia’s foreign ministry said: “Any diplomatic communication between states is private in nature and its content cannot be shared.” He declined further comment.
    China’s foreign ministry, defence ministry and embassy in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Three other people, who said they were briefed on the matter, confirmed the existence of the letter.    Two of those people said China made repeated demands that Indonesia stop drilling.
    Southeast Asia’s biggest nation says the southern end of the South China Sea is its exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and named the area as the North Natuna Sea in 2017.
    China objected to the name change and insists the waterway is within its expansive territorial claim in the South China Sea that it marks with a U-shaped “nine-dash line,” a boundary found to have no legal basis by the     Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague in 2016.
    “It (the letter) was a bit threatening because it was the first effort of China’s diplomats to push their nine-dash line agenda against our rights under the Law of the Sea,” Farhan told Reuters.
    China is Indonesia’s biggest trade partner and second-largest source of investment, making it a key part of Indonesia’s ambition to become a top-tier economy. Indonesian leaders kept quiet about the matter in order to avoid conflict or a diplomatic spat with China, Farhan and two of the other people who spoke to Reuters said.
    Farhan said that China, in a separate letter, also protested against the predominantly land-based Garuda Shield military exercises in August, which took place during the standoff.
    The exercises, involving 4,500 troops from the United States and Indonesia, have been a regular event since 2009.    This was China’s first protest against them, according to Farhan.    “In their formal letter, the     Chinese government was expressing their concern about the security stability in the area,” he said.
TENSIONS AT SEA
    Within days of the Noble Clyde Boudreaux semi-submersible rig arriving at the Tuna Block in the Natuna Sea to drill two appraisal wells on June 30, a Chinese Coast Guard vessel was at the scene, according to ship movement data.    It was soon joined by an Indonesian Coast Guard vessel.
    Over the next four months, Chinese and Indonesian ships shadowed each other around the oil and gas field, frequently coming within 1 nautical mile of each other, according to an analysis of ship identification data and satellite imagery by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), a project run by the U.S.-based Center for     Strategic and International Studies.
    Data and images reviewed by AMTI and the Indonesia Ocean Justice Initiative (IOJI), a Jakarta-based independent think-tank, shows a Chinese research ship, Haiyang Dizhi 10, arrived in the area in late August, spending most of the next seven weeks moving slowly in a grid pattern of the adjacent D-Alpha Block, an oil and gas reserve also in contested waters, valued at $500 billion by Indonesian government studies.     “Based on the pattern of movement, nature, and ownership of the vessel, it looked like it was conducting a scientific survey of the D-Alpha reserve,” said Jeremia Humolong, a researcher at the IOJI.
    On Sept. 25, the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan came within 7 nautical miles of the Tuna Block drilling rig.    “This is the first observed instance of a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in such proximity to an ongoing standoff” in the South China Sea, AMTI said in a report published in November.
    Four Chinese warships were also deployed to the area, according to the IOJI and local fishermen.
    A spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Strike Group 5/Task Force 70 declined to disclose the carrier’s distance from the rig.
‘NEVER SURRENDER’
    China is in negotiations with 10 Southeast Asian states, including Indonesia, to hammer out a code of conduct for the South China Sea, a waterway rich in natural resources carrying at least $3.4 trillion in annual trade.    The talks, under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), restarted this year after being stopped due to the pandemic.
    Beijing’s increasingly aggressive stance in the South China Sea has sparked concern in Jakarta, four sources told Reuters.
    Indonesia has not made any formal claim to areas of the South China Sea under United Nations rules, believing the extent of its waters is already clearly set by international law.
    Chinese president Xi Jinping has tried to play down tensions between it and Southeast Asian states, telling a China-ASEAN leaders summit last month that China “absolutely will not seek hegemony or even less, bully the small” in the region.
    Farhan told Reuters Indonesia’s government played down the tension of the standoff publicly.    Its leaders wanted to be “as silent as possible because, if it was leaked to any media, it would create a diplomatic incident,” he said.
    The temporary rig operated until Nov. 19, after which it went to Malaysian waters.    Indonesian security minister Mahfud M.D. went to the Natuna Sea last week.    He said his visit had nothing to do with China, but said in a public statement that Indonesia would “never surrender an inch” of territory.
    The drilling was completed on time, according to a spokesman for Harbour Energy, the operator of the Tuna Block.    In a similar confrontation with China in 2017, Vietnam abandoned exploration activities.    Harbour Energy is expected to issue an update on the drilling results on Dec. 9.
(Reporting by Tom Allard and Kate Lamb in Sydney, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta; Editing by Bill Rigby)

12/1/2021 Former PM Abe Says Japan, U.S. Could Not Stand By If China Attacked Taiwan by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visits Yasukuni
Shrine in Tokyo, Japan August 15, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    TAIPEI (Reuters) -Japan and the United States could not stand by if China attacked Taiwan, and Beijing needs to understand this, former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday.
    Tensions over Chinese-claimed Taiwan have risen as President Xi Jinping seeks to assert his country’s sovereignty claims against the democratically ruled island. Taiwan’s government says it wants peace, but will defend itself if needed.
    Speaking virtually to a forum organised by Taiwanese think tank the Institute for National Policy Research, Abe noted the Senkaku islands – which China calls the Diaoyu Islands – Sakishima islands and Yonaguni island are a mere 100 km (62 miles) or so away from Taiwan.
    An armed invasion of Taiwan would be a grave danger to Japan, he added.
    “A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-U.S. alliance.    People in Beijing, President Xi Jinping in particular, should never have a misunderstanding in recognising this,” Abe said.
    Japan is host to major U.S. military bases, including on the southern island of Okinawa, a short flight from Taiwan, which would be crucial for any U.S. support during a Chinese attack.
    The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, though there is ambiguity about whether it would send forces to help Taiwan in a war with China.
    The United States and its allies would take unspecified “action
https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-taiwan-idAFKBN2HV2PU if China were to use force to alter the status quo over Taiwan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month.
    Abe, who stepped down as prime minister last year, is head of the largest faction of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and remains influential within the party.
    On Sino-Japanese relations going forward, Abe said Japan should advance its ties with China while firmly saying to its giant neighbour what needs to be said, echoing incumbent Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
    “Japan, Taiwan and all the people who believe in democracy need to keep urging President Xi Jinping and other Chinese Communist Party leaders repeatedly not to step onto a wrong path,” Abe said.
    Japan and Taiwan must work together to protect freedom and democracy, added Abe, speaking to an audience that included Cheng Wen-tsan, mayor of the northern Taiwanese city of Taoyuan, tipped as a possible future presidential candidate.
    “A stronger Taiwan, a thriving Taiwan, and a Taiwan that guarantees freedom and human rights are also in Japan’s interests.    Of course, this is also in the interests of the whole world,” Abe said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Editing by Tom Hogue and Gerry Doyle)

12/1/2021 Fiji Reopens To Foreign Tourists For First Time In Nearly Two Years by Colin Packham
Performers greet travellers in the terminal upon arrival at Nadi Airport, Fiji in this still
frame obtained from handout video dated December 1, 2021. FIJI AIRWAYS /Handout via REUTERS
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Fiji reopened its border to international travellers for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday, as the Pacific Island country seeks to revive its dominant tourism industry.
    Fiji shut its border to all foreign nationals in March 2020 to curb the spread of COVID-19 in a desperate bid to stop its limited medical facilities being overrun.
    With about 90% of all Fijian adults now fully vaccinated, the Pacific Island reopened its border to tourists from a small number of countries – much to the relief of tourism operators.
    “To see the Fiji Airways plane full up and for us to welcome those tourists today was so amazing. It was a great, great feeling and I’m glad to have been there personally,” James Sowane, director of the Fiji tourism company, Tewaka, told Reuters.
    Tourists arriving will have to stay three nights in an approved resort and undergo rapid testing.    They can move around designated areas, including bars and restaurants within the hotels, while they can embark on some day trips and activities.
    Although limited, the resumption of tourism is a boost to many of the island nation’s 1 million people.
    Tourism accounts for 40% of Fiji’s economy and the border closure saw an estimated 10% of the population unemployed.
    Still the reopening marks a risk to Fiji with Australia one of a few countries to record cases of the Omicron variant.
    Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama hailed the return of tourists, who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and tested for infection.
    “Today, we are proud and most importantly prepared to welcome the first tourists to fly to Fiji in almost two years.    Our message to every fully vaccinated, COVID-tested traveller who arrives to our shores is simple: Welcome Home,” Bainimarama said in a post on Facebook.
(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/1/2021 Australia To Raise Possibility Of More Legislation On Tech Giants With New Inquiry by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is displayed behind a smartphone with the Facebook logo
in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
(Corrects typographical error in second paragraph)
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Wednesday announce a parliamentary inquiry into the behaviour of the world’s largest technology companies and the need for new legislation.    Australia has led global efforts to rein in the powers of the likes of Alphabet and Facebook, installing legislation that has been heralded as a model for others to copy.
    Raising the possibility of additional regulation, Morrison will say on Wednesday that the new inquiry will have a wide scope, but will include asking the committee lawmakers to investigate the algorithms used by social media platforms, how the companies verify identification and age and the extent to which restrictions on these are being enforced.
    “Big tech has big questions to answer,” Morrison will say, according to extracts of his planned announcement, seen by Reuters.    “Big tech created these platforms, they have a responsibility to ensure they’re safe.”
    The announcement of a new inquiry is likely to stoke tensions between Australia’s government and Facebook, which recently changed its name to Meta, and Google.    Earlier this year Australia implemented tough new legislation that made both tech companies pay local media for content, while Canberra has proposed laws that would force them to share the identities of people with anonymous accounts if another person accuses them of defamation.    When Australia proposed legislation forcing both companies to pay local media for news content, Google threatened to close its Australian search engine, while Facebook cut all third-party content from Australian accounts for more than a week.    Both eventually struck deals with Australian media companies after a series of amendments to the legislation were offered.
    The committee in charge of the new inquiry will report back its findings by Feb. 15, 2022.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Susan Fenton)

12/1/2021 South Korea Reports Daily Record Of Over 5,000 New COVID-19 Infections by Sangmi Cha
Women wearing masks walk in a shopping district amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic in Seoul, South Korea, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported on Wednesday a new daily record of 5,123 new coronavirus cases, as it battles to contain a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms and stave off the Omicron.
    The surge began in early November after the country started relaxing COVID-19 rules, and the government said on Monday it would hold off a further easing because of the strain on its healthcare system and the possible threat posed by the new variant.br>     Experts warned that cases would continue to rise until unvaccinated people obtained immunity through infections, as the country has fully inoculated nearly 92% of its adults and now focuses on vaccinating children and a booster programme.
    Although neighbouring Japan has contained transmission, and kept new cases in Tokyo to a single-digit numbers, South Korea is following a trend seen in many other countries, experts said.
    Singapore, which has among the world’s highest vaccination rates and maintains strict COVID-19 rules, had a surge in infections and deaths for more than two months until it started stabilising recently.
    “To slow the pace of the current wave of infections, the authorities could bring down the number of cases by re-introducing some of the social distancing measures,” Jung Jae-hun, a professor of preventive medicine at Gachon University.
    South Korea said hospitals were treating 723 patients with severe COVID-19, a record number.
    That is a steep rise in severe cases compared with just under 400 in early November. Now nearly 90% of ICU beds in the greater Seoul area are occupied, with 842 patients waiting for beds.
    To ease the strain on hospitals and care centres, South Korea this week began making at-home treatment the default for people with mild infections, with only more severe cases transferred to hospitals.    Residential treatment centres will also be expanded.
    The Korean Medical Association (KMA) urged the government to set up treatment facilities and allow antibody treatment for high-risk patients before they develop severe symptoms.
    It also urged the government to suspend quarantine exemptions temporarily for some entries to prevent the Omicron variant.
    South Korea has not reported any confirmed Omicron cases so far but is investigating suspected cases in travellers coming from Nigeria.
    Authorities will mobilise the administrative structure to secure hospital beds, at least an additional 1,300 by mid-December, Interior and Safety Minister Jeon Hae-cheol told a COVID-19 response meeting.
    More than 84% of the severely ill COVID-19 patients were aged 60 and above.    Experts had pointed to waning antibody levels from the vaccines and urged the elderly to get booster shots.
    Tuesday’s new cases bring the coronavirus infections in the country to 452,350 cases, with 3,658 deaths.    Despite the rising hospitalisation rate, the mortality rate remains relatively low at 0.81%, according to the government data.
    South Korea has fully vaccinated nearly 80% of its 52 million people, and will expand its booster programme to adults ages 18 to 49 on Saturday.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Miyoung Kim, Shri Navaratnam and Gerry Doyle)

12/1/2021 U.S. Military Leaders In S.Korea For Talks Over N.Korea, Alliance
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin attends a NATO Defence Ministers meeting at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, October 21, 2021. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and other top military officials were set to gather in South Korea on Wednesday to discuss the future of their military alliance and plans to counter threats from North Korea.
    Austin was due to arrive on Wednesday afternoon, while General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived earlier.
    The two were scheduled to participate in annual consultative meetings with South Korea, which hosts around 28,500 American troops as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
    The meetings are the first official “Security Consultative Meeting” between the allies since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January.
    Seoul is seeking to persuade Washington to back an “end of war declaration” as a way to jumpstart stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea. U.S. officials have signalled support for such a declaration, but say there may be disagreements with South Korea over the sequence of such measures.
    North Korea accuses South Korea and the United States of driving tensions with their joint military activities, while the allies say their forces are needed to deter the North.
    Another issue expected to top the agenda in Seoul is South Korea’s efforts to win wartime “operational control” of combined military forces. Currently, a U.S. general would command those forces during a war.
    That transition has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to key military drills and other meetings being cancelled.
    On Wednesday, Milley met with General In-Choul Won, South Korea’s Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to joint statement.
    “During the discussions, General Milley and General Won recognised the enduring alliance and highlighted significant advancements made to strengthen cooperation,” the statement said.
    Milley also emphasized the United States’ commitment to providing “extended deterrence” to South Korea, a reference to Washington’s vow to defend its ally with nuclear weapons if necessary.
    Austin is scheduled to meet with Defence Minister Suh Wook on Thursday, as well as attend ceremonial events.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Writing by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

12/1/2021 New Zealand Joins Regional Effort To Calm Restive Solomon Islands
FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises above buildings after days of unrest in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 25, 2021 in this still image
obtained from a video recorded on November 25, 2021 and obtained November 27, 2021. Jone Tuiipelehaki/via REUTERS
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – New Zealand said on Wednesday that it will deploy military and police personnel in the Solomon Islands, joining efforts by Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea to help restore peace in the Pacific island nation following anti-government rioting.
    An initial military assessment team of approximately 15 personnel would be deployed from Thursday followed by a larger group of up to 50 military and police personnel at the weekend, the New Zealand government said in a statement.
    “We are deeply concerned by the recent civil unrest and rioting in Honiara, and following yesterday’s request of the Solomon Islands Government, we have moved quickly to provide urgent assistance to help restore sustained peace and security,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said in the statement.
    The Solomon Islands government had formally requested assistance from New Zealand earlier this week.
    Dozens of buildings were burnt down and shops looted in the capital Honiara last week as protests against prime minister Manasseh Sogavare turned to rioting in which four people died.
    Australia and Papua New Guinea have already sent security personnel to the Solomon Islands to help restore order in Honiara, following an earlier request from Sogavare’s government.    Fiji has said it would also send 50 troops on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon)

12/1/2021 China Local COVID-19 Cases Jump To Most In Nearly A Month
FILE PHOTO: People line up outside a vaccination site after the city started offering
booster shots of the vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) to vaccinated
residents, in Beijing, China October 29, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China detected 91 domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, marking the highest daily count since Nov. 2 and a significant jump from 21 cases a day earlier, as the country fights a fresh outbreak in the north.
    All of the 91 local symptomatic cases were reported in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, data from the National Health Commission showed on Wednesday.
    Mainland China has not detected any infections caused by the Omicron variant, Xu Wenbo, an official at Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Tuesday at a news briefing.
    Inner Mongolia reported a total of 132 local symptomatic cases during the Nov.28-30 period, more than 70% of them in Manzhouli, a small city next to the border with Russia.
    Although the number is low compared with many outbreaks outside China, Manzhouli has quickly banned residents from leaving town, halted some non-containerised imports by rail and closed a flurry of public venues, as     Beijing sticks with its zero tolerance approach towards letting infections spread.
    The latest resurgence in cases comes only a few weeks after Inner Mongolia contained a cluster that was part of China’s biggest Delta outbreak between mid-October and mid-November.
    The early local infections in Manzhouli were found in routine screening test among workers who handled imported goods, a health official in Inner Mongolia told state television late on Tuesday, adding that authorities are confident to contain the flare-up within 14 days.
    As of Nov. 30, mainland China had confirmed 98,824 symptomatic cases, including both local ones and those arriving from abroad.    The death toll remained unchanged at 4,636.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Gabriel Crossley; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Lincoln Feast.)

12/1/2021 Sydney Braces For More Omicron Cases But No Lockdowns For Now
Travellers and flight crew members arrive at the international terminal at Sydney Airport,
as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, in Sydney, Australia, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian authorities on Wednesday flagged another probable case of the Omicron variant in Sydney as they braced for more infections after at least two international travellers visited several locations in the city while likely infectious.
    Officials in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, said initial testing “strongly indicates” a man in his 40s, who arrived from southern Africa on Nov. 25, had been infected with the Omicron variant and had spent time in the community.
    “We believe it is likely it will be confirmed later this afternoon as a definite Omicron case,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters, but he ruled out lockdowns to contain the newly identified variant.
    “I feel like it’s time for a change in approach. We don’t know how many more variants of this virus are going to come,” Hazzard said.
    Sydney, Australia’s largest city, came out of nearly four months of lockdown in early October to contain a Delta outbreak and has been gradually easing curbs after higher vaccinations.
    Omicron has prompted Australia to delay by two weeks its plans to reopen its borders from Wednesday to skilled migrants and foreign students.    Mandatory two-week quarantine has been enforced for citizens returning from southern African countries.
    Vaccinated Australians reaching Sydney and Melbourne from all other countries must now quarantine for 72 hours.    Other states have not opened their international borders yet.
    “It’s very confusing, it was very emotional … I did lots of praying.    I just thought I’m going to land here and see what happens,” Lorelle Molde, who returned to Australia from the United States, told Reuters at the Sydney airport.
    When confirmed, the latest probable case would bring the total number of confirmed infections in Australia to seven, with six detected in NSW.
    The other person who contracted the Omicron variant is in isolation in the quarantine facility in the remote Northern Territory.    Police said three people were taken into custody after escaping from the facility early Wednesday morning.
    Authorities on Tuesday confirmed the country’s first community case of the new variant but the national cabinet decided against more restrictions and to wait for more data on its severity and transmissibility.
    Australia has recorded around 212,000 cases and 2,012 deaths from COVID-19.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Stefica Nicol Bikes; Editing by Stephen Coates)

12/1/2021 Singapore Close To Vaccinating All Eligible People Against COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: People wait at an observation area after their vaccination at a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in Singapore March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rate has risen to 96% of the eligible population and authorities are now racing ahead to administer booster shots amid concerns over the Omicron variant.
    The health ministry of the city-state, which has among the highest vaccination rates in the world, said late on Tuesday that it had updated the official vaccination rate to account for a small drop in the population.
    As of Nov. 29, 96% of the eligible population had completed the full vaccination regimen, updated from 94%, the ministry said.    That translates to about 86% of the total population of about 5.5 million.
    About two months ago, 82% of the total population had been fully vaccinated against the virus.
    Singapore had barred unvaccinated people from entering shopping malls from mid-October, and authorities have said they will further tighten rules from Jan. 1, including only allowing vaccinated individuals to enter workplaces.
    The country has administered boosters to 26% of the population.
    Singapore has not detected any cases of Omicron yet.
    On Tuesday, it said that two travellers from Johannesburg who tested positive for the coronavirus variant in Sydney had transited through Changi.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan and Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

12/1/2021 Beijing Wanted To ‘Break’ Australia - U.S. Indo-Pacific Adviser by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: The Asia Group Chairman and CEO Kurt M. Campbell attends the China
Development Forum in Beijing, China March 23, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – China is conducting “dramatic economic warfare” against Australia and has tried to “break” the U.S. ally, contributing to increased anxiety about Beijing in the region, the White House’s Indo Pacific coordinator, Kurt Campbell, said in a speech to a Sydney think tank on Wednesday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden raised the treatment of Australia, which has been subject to trade reprisals by Beijing, in his meeting with Chinese president Xi Jinping as an example of behaviour that was backfiring because Xi’s advisers were not providing effective feedback, Campbell told the Lowy Institute foreign policy institute.
    “China’s preference would have been to break Australia. To drive Australia to its knees,” Campbell said.
    Campbell underlined the United States’ commitment to new security and economic alliances in the Indo Pacific, including the defence technology pact with Australia and Britain, known as AUKUS, and the Quad of India, Japan, U.S. and Australia.
    These groups would also focus on technology, education, climate and pandemic cooperation, to show the U.S. was bringing value to Asia, he said.
    “The United States is not leaving the Indo-Pacific, and we’re not in decline,” he said, adding there appeared to be a belief among “ideological advisers around President Xi that somehow the United States is in this hurtling decline.”
    Beijing’s lack of communication over its build up of nuclear deterrent capabilities, hypersonic and anti-satellite systems was of concern to the U.S., he said, calling them “practices, that, if they continue, run risks of triggering an unforeseen crisis, or a misunderstanding.”
    The U.S. was seeking dialogue on the issue, he said, and had told Beijing it wanted competition that was conducted peacefully.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

12/1/2021 For Stranded Father, Bittersweet Reunion As Singapore-Malaysia Border Reopens by Ebrahim Harris and Joseph Campbell
FILE PHOTO: A Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) bus plies the causeway between Singapore and Malaysia, as it reopens after
nearly two years amidst the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Singapore November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
    JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia/SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Before the coronavirus pandemic, Mohammad Faris Abdullah’s daily commute between his home in Malaysia and his job in Singapore took just 30 minutes.
    But when the countries’ border shut without warning in March 2020, the 37-year-old food delivery driver was left stranded and homeless in the city-state.    Almost two years later, an easing of restrictions this week finally allowed him to see his family again.
    “It is like you have been locked up in the prison… then you finally get to see your son and family,” said Mohammad Faris, speaking from Singapore before heading to Malaysia’s southernmost border city, Johor Bahru.
    He was one among tens of thousands in both countries left stranded by the closure of one of the world’s busiest land borders, separated from families and fearing for their jobs.
    His son was four when Mohammad Faris last saw him.
    “I was surprised.    He is very tall and his shoes are also big,” he said, during an emotional reunion with the now six-year-old.
    “I have to spend more time to understand him better,” Mohammad Faris said, expressing regret over the time spent apart.
    His son, Muhammad Ishaq bin Mohammad Faris, was simply pleased to see this father again.    “I missed papa and I’m happy papa is here.”
    The father, who was forced to sleep in his car near a beach in Singapore for six months before moving in with his brother, said he made friends with others who were stranded like him.
    Despite cross-border land and air travel resuming for vaccinated citizens this week, returning to his home just across the border was still not straightforward.
    As a Singaporean, Mohammad Faris was not eligible to use the land crossing into Malaysia, currently restricted to citizens with long-term passes in both countries.
    Instead, he had to fly around 350 km (220 miles) to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, before driving a similar distance back down the peninsula to see his family.
    Malaysia and Singapore aim to open the land border to all travellers from mid-December, but there are concerns the plan could be postponed due to the Omicron coronavirus variant.
(Writing by Lee Ying Shan/Angie Teo; Editing by Ed Davies and John Stonestreet)

12/1/2021 Iran Makes Nuclear Advance Despite Talks To Save 2015 Deal by Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is seen at the IAEA headquarters,
amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Vienna, Austria May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more efficient advanced centrifuges at its Fordow plant dug into a mountain, the U.N. atomic watchdog said on Wednesday, further eroding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal during talks with the West on saving it.
    The announcement appeared to undercut indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both fully back into the battered deal that resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi.
    Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.
    On the third day of this round of talks, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20% purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow.    Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.
    Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that pact does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all.    Until now it had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product.
    It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.
    A more comprehensive IAEA report circulated to member states and seen by Reuters said that as a result of Iran’s move the nuclear watchdog planned to step up inspections at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) that houses the centrifuges, but the details still need to be ironed out.
    Iran played down the report as routine despite the fact that the IAEA, which does not explicitly give a reason for such reports, typically issues them only for significant developments such as fresh breaches of the deal’s nuclear restrictions.
    “The recent report of the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear activities, is an ordinary update in line with regular verification in Iran,” Iran’s permanent mission to the U.N. organizations in Vienna said on Twitter.
    Iran and major powers are trying to revive the 2015 deal under which Tehran limited its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from U.S., EU and U.N. economic sanctions.
    Then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, angering Iran and dismaying the other parties: Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia.
    This week’s indirect talks between Tehran and Washington – with others shuttling between them because Iran refuses to meet U.S. officials – have made no visible progress.
    Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson on Wednesday accused Israel of “trumpeting lies to poison” the talks.
    While it was unclear what the spokesperson was referring to, a Tel Aviv-based reporter for U.S. news organization Axios on Monday reported Israel had shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the United States and European allies suggesting Iran was taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.
    Iran says its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in ParisWriting by Francois Murphy and Arshad MohammedEditing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Mark Potter)

12/2/2021 New Zealand’s COVID-19 Re-Opening Plans Leave Maori Feeling Exposed by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: A vaccination centre sign directs the public 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) - As New Zealand prepares to ease its COVID-19 pandemic controls and global isolation after nearly two years, health risks for its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori are posing a challenge for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
    Some of the world’s toughest pandemic measures enforced by the South Pacific nation are easing on Friday New Zealand to ease COVID measures this week despite Omicron threat – PM, with businesses reopening nationwide after Ardern’s government abandoned its elimination strategy in the face of the contagious Delta variant.
    Domestic border curbs in the pandemic epicentre Auckland are due to end mid-December and international borders restrictions will loosen progressively from January.
    But as businesses and New Zealand’s majority ethnic European population largely welcome the reopening ahead of the Christmas holidays, some Maori fear further marginalisation.
    “It seems like Maori are the most expendable in this country,” Maori Party co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer told Reuters.    “The prime minister is intent on opening up before Christmas even if it’s at the expense of Maori.”
    Maori, who make up around 15% of New Zealand’s 5 million population, now account for the highest proportion of new COVID-19 cases, averaging around 200 a day.
    Like many indigenous peoples, Maori fare worse than the rest of the population when it comes to health and well-being measures.    Only about 69% of eligible Maori are fully vaccinated https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-data-and-statistics/covid-19-vaccine-data compared to nearly 90% of the rest of New Zealand.
    Some community leaders blame the low uptake on the government’s vaccination strategy, which included prioritising shots for elderly. About 70% of Maori are under the age of 40.
    This, coupled with institutional racism, a high mistrust in government and poor health access for Maori living in smaller towns, meant many were slow to get vaccinated or simply left out, Maori leaders say.     “We experience every systemic failure just by being Maori,” said Ngarewa-Packer.
RED LIGHT, GREEN LIGHT
    The new Omicron variant is increasing concerns among Maori, but has yet to be seen in New Zealand, or impact re-opening plans.
    New Zealand will ease into a new “traffic light system” from Friday with regions put into red, orange and green zones depending on vaccination rates and COVID-19 cases.
    Some Maori leaders have slammed the plan, comparing it to the traffic light system on popular Netflix series ‘Squid Game’, where players who lose games are killed.
    “The PM says no one will be left behind. What she means, is no one will be left behind, except for Maori,” another Maori Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi said in an Instagram post with a picture from the Squid Game show.
    New Zealand emerged virtually unscathed from the first wave of infections last year.    Ardern said the government had factored in Maori vulnerability early in its pandemic response.
    “We knew it would have a disproportionate impact on our Maori and Pacific population, which is why we took an approach to lessen the impact as much as we could and that led to our elimination strategy,” Ardern said in an interview with Reuters.
    Older Maori vaccination rates have been in line with the broader population, she said.
    “It has been our younger people in some parts of the country where we haven’t had those higher rates,” she added.
    The government did step up efforts to speed Maori vaccinations, including setting up Maori pandemic response groups – moves critics say were too little, too late.
    Now, as 1.7 million Aucklanders who were locked down for nearly 100 days prepare to spread out for summer break, some Maori leaders are taking steps to minimise the impact.
    In Northland, a popular holiday region with a large Maori population, indigenous leaders are working with police to set up check points to keep unvaccinated visitors out.
    “I think the reality is that Maori are worried – whanau (community) are scared of what they see coming and they don’t see anything good coming,” Hone Harawira, a former parliamentarian and founder of Te Tai Tokerau Border Control told Newshub’s AM Show.
    “They want to know that their people are going to be protected first and foremost.”
(Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/2/2021 Laos Gives Buddhist Blessings To Its New High-Speed Rail Line
A sign on a train is pictured during a Buddhist ceremony one day prior to the handover
ceremony of the high-speed rail project linking the Chinese southwestern city of Kunming
with Vientiane, in Vientiane, Laos, December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Phoonsab Thevongsa
    VIENTIANE (Reuters) – Laos held a Buddhist ceremony on Thursday to bless its new $6 billion high-speed rail line, a Chinese-led initiative that marks one of the biggest leaps towards modernisation by one of Asia’s least-developed nations.
    The rail connects China’s southeastern city of Kunming to the Laos capital Vientiane, stretching more than 1,000 km (621.37 miles), and traversing mountains ranges and water systems.
    Laos state news agency KPL on Thursday said the project was part of the government’s strategy to convert Laos “from a landlocked country to a land-linked one
    The rail line, which China hopes to eventually extend to Singapore, is part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
    On Lao National Day on Thursday, Buddhist monks chanted at a new railway platform and blessed a train car with water and auspicious markings ahead of Friday’s official opening.
    With a population of 7 million and gross domestic product of just $18 billion in 2019, communist Laos is one of Asia’s poorest nations.
    Economists have warned the rail project could complicate its challenges in repaying external debt, much of it to China.
    China holds a 70% stake in the rail joint venture established in 2015.
    Total investment was 50.55 billion yuan ($7.93 billion), according to an article by China’s Belt and Road Portal earlier this year.    KPL put the value at $5.98 billion.
    For Nokphone Photsavang, 35, who works in the hotel sector, the rail project will be a boon for Laos
.
    “I believe the railway will bring a lot of opportunities and I’m looking forward to the economic growth,” Nokphone said.
    “It also eases travel between towns and will bring families closer together.”
(Reporting by Phoonsab Thevongsa in Vientiane; Additional reporting by Ella Cao in Beijing; Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Martin Petty)

12/2/2021 China’s Pursuit Of Hypersonic Weapons Raises Regional Tensions by OAN Newsroom
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – DECEMBER 02: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (L) and South Korean Defense
Minister Suh Wook (R) attend a news conference after the 53rd Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) at the
Defense Ministry on December 02, 2021 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Kim Hong-Ji – Pool/Getty Images)
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said China’s increased pursuit of hypersonic weapons has raised “tensions in the region.”
    Following security talks alongside his South Korean counterpart in Seoul Thursday, Austin said the U.S. has concerns regarding China’s military capabilities.    However, Austin ensured the U.S. would maintain the capabilities to defend and deter against a range of potential threats from the country.
    “We have concerns about the military capabilities that the PRC continues to pursue and the pursuit of those capabilities in increasing tensions in the region.    We know that China conducted a test of hypersonic weapons on the 27th of July.    It just underscores why we consider the PRC to be our pacing challenge,” stated Austin.
    While concern comes after China tested its hypersonic weapons over the summer, North Korea also successfully tested hypersonic missiles back in September.    Austin said the South Korean defense minister said the developments of North Korea’s weapons program is “increasingly destabilizing for regional security.”
    “We also reaffirmed our shared assessment that the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is continuing to advance its missile and weapons programs.    The United States and ROK [Republic of Korea] remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK,” Austin said.    “And we continue to call upon DPRK to engage in dialogue.”
    Meanwhile, the Biden administration has come under fire from Republicans for being too soft in its stance on both China and North Korea, compared with former President Trump.

12/2/2021 Australian Man Arrested For Escaping Quarantine Camp by OAN Newsroom
DARWIN, AUSTRALIA – MAY 15: Passengers from flight QF112 are transported to the Howard Springs
Quarantine Facility on May 15, 2021 in Darwin, Australia. (Photo by Steven Hoare/Getty Images)
    An Australian man has been arrested after a large-scale manhunt ensued following his escape from a COVID quarantine camp.
    Reports on Thursday found the 27-year-old man escaped from a COVID camp in Australia’s Northern Territory last Friday, after testing negative for the virus a day prior.    The man jumped the fence and went to the city of Darwin before being arrested on Wednesday. This comes despite posing no risk of COVID spread.
    Separately, a group of teenagers also escaped from the same camp after testing negative for the virus. They were also arrested.
    Meanwhile, critics have said Australia’s quarantine camps are a violation of human rights.
    “It’s horrible, it’s a horrible feeling.    It’s inhumane what they’re doing,” said former detainee, Hayley Hodgson.    “As I said, you’re in a box.    Your mind’s just going. You feel like you’ve done something wrong when you haven’t.”
    Quarantine camp inmates are required to stay inside for two weeks and they face a $5,000 fine if they refuse the “voluntary” isolation.

12/3/2021 WHO Tells Asia-Pacific To Brace For Omicron As Variant Spreads
FILE PHOTO: People wait in a line to undergo coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at its
testing site in central Seoul, South Korea, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    MANILA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) warned Asia-Pacific countries on Friday to boost healthcare capacity and fully vaccinate their people to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant spreads globally despite travel curbs.
    Despite shutting its borders to travel from high-risk southern African countries, Australia became the latest country to report community transmission of the new variant, a day after it was found locally in five U.S. states.
    Omicron started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported in India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
    Many governments have tightened travel rules to keep the new variant out, but the WHO’s warning to the Asia-Pacific, a region of about 650 million people, stressed that border controls could only buy them time.
    “People should not only rely on border measures,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the western Pacific, told a virtual media briefing.
    “What is most important is to prepare for these variants with potential high transmissibility. So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach.”
    Vaccination rates vary from country to country in the Asia-Pacific but there are worrying gaps.
    Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country and once Asia’s COVID-19 epicentre, has fully inoculated only about 35% of its population of 270 million people.
    Australia’s chief medical officer said Omicron was likely to become the dominant variant globally within months, but at this stage there was no evidence it was any more dangerous than Delta which swept the world earlier this year.
    “I suspect within the (next few) months, Omicron will be the new virus in the world,” Paul Kelly, the top medical advisor to the Australian government, told reporters.
    In the United States, the Biden administration unveiled a suite of measures to guard against the virus spreading.    From 12:01 a.m. ET (0501 GMT) on Monday, international air travellers arriving in the United will have to obtain a negative COVID-19 test within one day of travel.
    “We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” President Joe Biden said on Thursday as he told Americans to prepare for a rise in infections during winter.
    Less than 60% of the U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.
INFLATION FEARS
    Global travel curbs have accelerated with Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia, among others, announcing fresh measures on Thursday. Malaysia said on Friday that it would tighten restrictions further.
    Aside from wreaking havoc in the travel industry, the clamp-down has pounded financial markets and undermined major economies just as they were beginning to recover from the lockdowns triggered by Delta.
    Shares in India, Japan, and South Korea fell on Friday after overnight losses on Wall Street, but traders will need to wait at least another week or so for answers from global health authorities on the variant’s virulence or vaccine resistance.
    Oil prices climbed although they were still on course for a sixth week of declines amid concerns that demand could fall due to measures to contain Omicron.
    The variant threatened to fuel soaring inflation in the United States by further pressuring supply chains and worsening worker shortages, Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester told the Financial Times.
    Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, said it would bar the unvaccinated from all but essential businesses, and legislation to make vaccination mandatory would be drafted for early next year.
    Several countries including Britain and the United States were bringing forward plans to offer booster shots, but, like travel bans, this is controversial.    Australian authorities said on Friday there was “no evidence” such moves would be effective.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that despite such uncertainty, the variant could slow global economic growth by exacerbating supply chain problems and depressing demand.
    “There’s a lot of uncertainty, but it could cause significant problems.    We’re still evaluating that,” she told the Reuters Next conference on Thursday.
    GRAPHIC-Omicron variant map-https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-VARIANT/zdvxonlxxpx/Omicron.jpg
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Stephen Coates; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/3/2021 Philippines Court To Allow Nobel Laureate Ressa To Go To Norway
FILE PHOTO: Filipino journalist and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, one of 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winners, poses for
a portrait in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, October 9, 2021. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine journalist Maria Ressa will be allowed to travel so she can accept her Nobel Peace Prize in person after a court gave her permission to leave the Southeast Asian country to visit Norway later this month.
    Ressa, who is subject to travel restrictions due to the legal cases she faces in the Philippines, shared the Peace Prize with Russian investigative journalist Dmitry Muratov, in an endorsement of free speech under fire worldwide.
    The prize is the first Nobel Peace Prize for journalists since the German Carl von Ossietzky won it in 1935 for revealing his country’s secret post-war rearmament programme.
    In its ruling on Friday, the Philippine Court of Appeals granted Ressa’s request to travel to receive the award on Dec. 10, noting that “she is not a flight risk.”
    The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided this year’s award ceremony will be an in-person event taking place in Oslo City Hall.
    Ressa’s news site, Rappler, has had its licence suspended and she is embroiled in various legal cases.    Supporters say she is being targeted due to her scrutiny of government policies, including a bloody war on drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.
    Free on bail as she appeals against a six-year prison sentence handed down last year for a libel conviction, Ressa is facing five tax evasion charges and a corporate case with the regulator.
    The Philippines saw its ranking in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index drop two notches to 138 out of 180 countries, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines seventh in the world in its impunity index, which tracks deaths of media members whose killers go free.
    The government denies hounding media and says any problems organisations face are legal, not political.    It says it believes in free speech.
    The United Nations on Monday had urged the Philippines to allow Ressa to travel to Norway to accept the award.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Ed Davies)

12/3/2021 India Sees Impact Of Omicron Blunted By Vaccination, Prior Infections by Krishna N. Das
Students apply finishing touches to paintings made to create an awareness against the new coronavirus
Omicron variant, in Mumbai, India, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Niharika Kulkarni/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India expects the Omicron variant of coronavirus to cause less severe disease, the health ministry said https://www.mohfw.gov.in/pdf/FAQsonOmicron.pdf on Friday, thanks to vaccinations and high prior exposure to the Delta variant that infected nearly 70% of the population by July.
    Junior doctors protested to demand that staff numbers be beefed up, warning of a disastrous situation if the new variant overwhelmed health care facilities, although nearly half of India’s 944 million adults have been fully vaccinated.
    As many as 84% have received at least one dose, with more than 125 million people due for a second by the end of November, as the government pushes more to get inoculated in the face of Omicron.
    “Given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to Delta variant … the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low,” the ministry said in a statement.    “However, scientific evidence is still evolving.”
    Both of India’s first two Omicron patients, reported on Thursday, showed mild symptoms, the ministry added.
    But concern over the prospect of a third wave of infections has grown after the variant was found in the southern state of Karnataka, in one person with no recent travel history.
    The ministry told parliament its immunisation experts were weighing the need for booster doses, after many lawmakers demanded a third shot for healthcare workers and the vulnerable.
    It added that discussions on vaccinating the 145 million children aged between 12 and 17 were underway.
    New cases have plateaued at about 10,000 in the last few weeks after hospitals and health care facilities were swamped in April and May by a record second surge of infections and deaths unleashed by the Delta variant.
    New COVID-19 infections stood at 9,216 on Friday, as some resident doctors kept away from non-critical work to press a demand to add staff by enrolling new post-graduate students.
    “We want justice https://twitter.com/joymalabagchi/status/1466632738333605891,” shouted some students holding a protest at the Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the capital, while placards nearby read, “We are human, not robot.”
    An aide to Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    “Healthcare institutions across the nation are running short of adequate workforce of resident doctors,” a national grouping of such doctors at dozens of government hospitals told the minister in a letter.
    “With the possibility of a future COVID-19 pandemic wave looming large, the situation will be disastrous.”
    The government has had to delay student admissions over legal disputes on issues such as reserving places for poor applicants.
    India has one of the world’s worst doctor-to-patient ratios https://www.reuters.com/world/india/state-play-indias-healthcare-sector-exposed-by-covid-19-2021-11-17, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said it will turn out more doctors https://www.reuters.com/world/india/how-covid-19-became-boon-battered-indian-hospital-2021-11-17 in the next decade or so than during the first 70 years since independence from Britain.
    India’s tally of COVID-19 infections is 34.62 million, government figures show, with the death toll rising 391 on Friday to 470,115.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Anuron Kumar Mitra; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez)

12/3/2021 WHO Urges Asia-Pacific To Ready For Omicron-Driven Surge In Infections
FILE PHOTO: Women wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk under a Christmas
illumination at a shopping district in central Seoul, South Korea, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    MANILA (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific countries should boost their healthcare capacity and fully vaccinate their people to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the Omicron variant, officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
    First detected in southern Africa last month and dubbed a “variant of concern” by the WHO, scientists are still gathering data to establish how contagious Omicron is, and the severity of the illness it causes.
    It has been reported in at least two dozen countries, and started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India. Many governments have responded by tightening travel rules.
    “Border controls can buy time but every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the western Pacific, told a virtual media briefing.
    “People should not only rely on border measures.    What is most important is to prepare for these variants with potential high transmissibility. So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach,” Kasai said.
    Kasai said countries must utilise lessons learned from dealing with the Delta variant and urged them to fully vaccinate vulnerable groups and implement preventive measures such as mask wearing and social distancing rules.
    Despite restrictions on international visitors, Australia became the latest country on Friday to report community transmission of Omicron, a day after it was found locally in five U.S. states.
(Reporting by Karen Lema and Enrico dela Cruz; Editing by Miyoung Kim & Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/3/2021 Nightclubs, Cafes And Casinos Reopen In Auckland As Marathon Lockdown Ends
FILE PHOTO: Shoppers walk through a retail district in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
lockdown restrictions being eased in Auckland, New Zealand, November 10, 2021. REUTERS/Fiona Goodall
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – Aucklanders returned to nightclubs, cinemas and cafes on Friday as New Zealand’s biggest city exited pandemic lockdown after more than 100 days.
    Retailers threw open their doors to vaccinated customers as the country ended lockdowns and moved into a new ‘traffic light system’ that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccination rates.
    Auckland, the epicentre of the country’s Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings at public places.
    Bars, nightclubs and restaurants can open to guests with vaccine certificates but with a limit of 100 people and 1 metre social distancing.    Outdoor events are allowed.
    “I’ve missed it a lot, I can’t wait to smash a Guinness and have a boogie,” one nightclub attendee in Auckland said.
    Along with its geographic isolation, New Zealand enforced some of the tightest pandemic restrictions among OECD nations in 2020, keeping the country largely COVID-19 free and helping its economy bounce back faster than many of its peers.
    But it failed to control an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta variant this year and shifted to a strategy of living with the virus with vaccinations and other measures.    Some 90% of eligible Aucklanders are now fully vaccinated.
    Auckland’s domestic border curbs are still in place and will ease on Dec 15 allowing residents to travel across the country for Christmas and the summer break.
    With an average 150 new Delta cases reported each week, mostly in Auckland, its reopening has raised concerns that COVID-19 will spread more rapidly across the country and pose risks to the marginalised Maori community https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/new-zealands-covid-19-re-opening-plans-leave-maori-feeling-exposed-2021-12-02.
    But for now, businesses are cheering the move.
    “It’s a beautiful space that we’ve got and it’s really nice just to be able to open that up to the neighbourhood again, so that’s cool,” Nigel Cottle, owner of Auckland based cafe ‘Crave.’
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

12/3/2021 China Top Representative In Macau To Advise Govt On National Security-State Media
FILE PHOTO: A visitor walks inside Macau Tower overlooking the skyline of Macau
peninsula, China October 8, 2015. Picture taken October 8, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top representative in the semiautonomous gambling hub of Macau will begin advising the former Portuguese colony’s government on national security matters, state news agency Xinhua reported on Friday.
    The move highlights increased scrutiny from Beijing over Macau affairs after the central government declared outflows of Chinese gambling-related funds into Macau and other gaming hubs a national security risk.
    Last week Macau authorities arrested Alvin Chau https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/gambling-group-suncitys-shares-set-rise-61-after-arrested-chairman-resigns-2021-12-02, the founder of Macau’s biggest junket operator, which brings in high rollers to play at casinos, along with 10 others, for allegedly using Macau as a base for an illegal “live web betting platform.”
    A warrant for Chau’s arrest has also been issued by the mainland Chinese city of Wenzhou, accusing him of forming an extensive junket agent network that helps citizens engage in gambling activities and of setting up a company that helps gamblers make cross-border fund transfers.
    The move was seen as a warning that Macau and mainland Chinese authorities were adopting a zero-tolerance approach to the promotion of gambling in mainland China where it is illegal.
    Xinhua said Macau asked Beijing to appoint a national security affairs adviser in the city and that Beijing tasked the head of its Liaison Office Fu Ziying to “supervise, guide, coordinate, and support” the government on the matter.
    Beijing will also appoint three national security technical advisers from within the Liaison Office, which is Beijing’s main representative institution in Macau.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/3/2021 Australia Records First Omicron Community Case, Authorities Hold Nerve For Now
FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians walk through a shopping plaza in the city centre, as the state of New South Wales
surpasses the 90 percent double-dose coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination target
for its population aged 16 and over, in Sydney, Australia, November 9, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia on Friday reported its first community transmission of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, but authorities held steady on a plan to reopen the economy amid hopes it would prove to be milder than previous strains.
    The new case, a school student from Sydney, was the first confirmed Omicron infection of a person who had not travelled overseas, a sign the variant was now in the community, authorities in New South Wales state said.
    “Transmission is always a concern but we again need to keep it in perspective,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters, explaining why Australia’s most populous state was not reversing its staged reopening from strict lockdowns imposed in July due to the Delta variant.
    “Worldwide there is no clarity around whether this particular variant is going to cause us anywhere near the problems that the earlier variants caused us.”
    Australia now has nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, eight in NSW, where a third of the country’s 25 million people live.    Although some states have tightened domestic border controls, the federal government is hoping to avoid a return to stop-start lockdowns.
    Even so, it has postponed by two weeks a plan to let foreign students and skilled migrants into the country, and Australians returning from southern Africa must complete two weeks of hotel quarantine.
    Asked if the federal government would stop targeting arrivals from southern Africa, now that the new variant was no longer limited to people who had been there, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said “we will continue to review the medical advice, but we follow it because it has kept Australia safe.”
    Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, the government’s top health adviser, said Australia would not recommend bringing forward vaccine booster shots, as other countries have done, as there was “no evidence” this would improve protection against Omicron.
    Australia’s aggressive COVID-19 response has helped it avoid the high numbers of COVID-19 deaths recorded in many other countries, with about 212,000 cases and 2,000 deaths.
    The country’s remote Northern Territory, which is home to most of its indigenous population, recorded its first COVID-19 death, an indigenous woman in her 70s.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sam Holmes and Stephen Coates)

12/3/2021 As U.S. Promotes Democracy, China Touts Its Own Version by Yew Lun Tian
Zhang Weiwei, Director of the China Institute at Fudan University, speaks during a dialogue event on
democracy in Beijing, China, December 2, 2021. Picture taken December 2, 2021. REUTERS/Yew Lun Tian
    BEIJING (Reuters) – As U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to host more than 100 participants in the initial “Summit for Democracy,” China – which was not invited – has increasingly talked up the advantages of its own “whole-process democracy.”
    Chinese state media and diplomats in recent weeks have ramped up criticism of democracy in the United States, touting what they describe as preferable outcomes in its system of “socialist democracy with Chinese characteristics” on measures ranging from COVID-19 management to social mobility.
    Communist Party-ruled China, widely considered to have become increasingly authoritarian under President Xi Jinping, first used the phrase “whole-process democracy” in 2019, and the concept was enshrined in law this past March.
    China was not asked to take part in the Dec. 9-10 event hosted by Biden, but Beijing-claimed Taiwan was.
    Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng described the Washington event as the “very opposite of democracy” because, he said, it is divisive and “points fingers” at other countries.
    “China’s whole-process people’s democracy is not the kind that wakes up at the time of voting and goes back to dormant afterwards,” Le told foreign media at an event in Beijing on Thursday.
    China, which will release a white paper on democracy on Saturday, defines its version as consultative, with voting permitted at the very local level and public feedback collected before any law is implemented.
    The definition does not include an independent judiciary, free media, or universal suffrage for national office.
    Zhang Weiwei, director of the China Institute at Fudan University, said at the same event that it is “too naive” to equate democracy with elections, which can be manipulated by interest groups, money, or disinformation on social media.
    China’s boosterism for its own political model is intended to strengthen political legitimacy domestically while expanding its appeal to developing countries, several foreign analysts said, just as it prepares to stage the Winter Olympics in February amid Western criticism over its human rights record.
    “Xi has long used the claim that party’s governance is superior to that of the West in order to legitimise the party’s monopoly of power,” Charles Parton, a former British diplomat and a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, told Reuters.
    Asked at Thursday’s event why Beijing seems obsessed with comparing itself to Washington, Eric Li, a Chinese venture capitalist who founded a current affairs website known for its nationalistic stance, joked: “We are just unhappy we didn’t get invited to the party next week.”
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Tony Munroe and Mark Heinrich)

12/3/2021 China And Laos Open $6 Billion High-Speed Rail Link
A train is ready on the station during the handover ceremony of the high-speed rail project linking the Chinese
southwestern city of Kunming with Vientiane, in Vientiane, Laos, December 3, 2021. REUTERS/Phoonsab Thevongsa
    VIENTIANE (Reuters) – A $6 billion high-speed rail line connecting China with its Southeast Asian neighbour Laos opened on Friday, a milestone in Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure plans.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping and Lao counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith attended a virtual ceremony to mark the maiden voyages on the line, which stretches from the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to the Laotian capital Vientiane.
    China, which holds a 70% stake in the joint venture project signed in 2015, hopes the 1,000-km (621.37-mile) line will eventually expand through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.
    In a video meeting between the two leaders earlier on Friday, Xi said the countries stood at “a new historical starting point.”
    “China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with Laos, promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and continue to build an unbreakable China-Laos community with a shared future,” he said in comments published by China’s state broadcaster CCTV.
    Economists have warned that the rail project could make it difficult for communist Laos, one of Asia’s poorest nations, to repay external debt, much of it owed to China.
    Laos state news agency KPL said on Thursday the project was part of the government’s strategy to convert Laos “from a landlocked country to a land-linked one.”
(Reporting by Phoonsab Thevongsa and Ella Cao; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/4/2021 Australia Omicron Variant Spreads, Testing Reopening Plans by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker carries RT-PCR swab tests at a pre-departure coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) testing facility, as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant, outside the international
terminal at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Omicron coronavirus variant spread in Australia on Saturday, testing plans to reopen the economy as a cluster in Sydney grew to 13 cases and an infection was suspected in the state of Queensland.
    Federal authorities are sticking with a plan to reopen the economy on the hope that the new variant proves to be milder than previous strains, but some state and territory governments have moved to tighten their domestic border controls.
    Australia reported its first community transmission of Omicron on Friday at a school in Sydney. Authorities are investigating the source and said more cases were expected.
    Queensland authorities suspected its first Omicron case in a person who travelled from South Africa and that genome sequencing was ongoing.
    “The public health unit have ruled out that it is Delta but we haven’t been able to confirm if it is Omicron,” state Health Minister Yvette D’Ath.    “But it is being treated as if it is.”
    Authorities in South Australia said on Saturday that arrivals from New South Wales, Victoria and the capital territory will be tested.    The state reopened its domestic borders only days ago for the first time in months.
    Several thousand people protested vaccination mandates in Melbourne, with the demonstrations now a weekly event that has been attracting groups of regular citizens, as well as far-right and conspiracy theory supporters.
    A smaller counter-protest called to stop the far-right movement in the city and support vaccinations.
    The state of Victoria, home to Melbourne, requires full vaccination to access most hospitality services and non-essential retail, as well as to work in health care and many other industries.
    Nearly 88% of Australians over the age of 16 have been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
    Anti-vaccination supporters number in single digits in Australia, according to polls.    But unvaccinated patients make up the vast majority of those hospitalised with the coronavirus.    In Victoria, 90% of the 44 people in the intensive care have not been fully vaccinated, health data showed.
    Despite battling many outbreaks this year, leading to months of lockdown in Sydney and Melbourne – Australia’s largest cities – the country has had only about 834 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation, a fraction of many other developed nations.
    Australia has had just under 215,000 cases in total and 2,042 deaths.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard and Kim Coghill)

12/4/2021 S.Korea Reports Record-High COVID-19 Cases, Deaths by Sangmi Cha
FILE PHOTO: A girl waits for his father undergoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at
its testing site in central Seoul, South Korea, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea reported a record daily 5,352 new COVID-19 infections and 70 deaths, while a nationwide total of nine cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Saturday.
    The government on Friday announced that people visiting restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes.    It is also reducing the limit on private gatherings to six people in the greater Seoul area, from 10 currently, and to eight from 12 for those residing outside of the capital, starting next Monday.
    The hospitalisation rate was rising rapidly led by severe cases of COVID-19, with the number of serious and critical patients at 752 as of Friday, KDCA said.
    South Korea has also confirmed three additional Omicron cases, bringing the total to nine after a fully vaccinated couple tested positive for the variant after travelling from Nigeria last week.
    To fend off the new variant, authorities on Friday announced a 10-day mandatory quarantine requirement for all inbound travellers for two weeks, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people.
    South Korea has been battling the worst wave of infections since July, when the daily cases stood below 2,000 until the government switched to “living with COVID-19.”    The cases hit 5,000s for the first time this week, putting a strain on the healthcare system.
    The country, which has fully inoculated 91.7% of its adult population, has so far reported a total of 467,907 COVID-19 infections, with 3,809 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

12/4/2021 Japan PM Kishida Likely To Cancel U.S. Visit Due To Omicron – NHK
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to media at his official residence
in Tokyo, Japan November 24, 2021. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is likely to cancel a planned trip to the United States for talks with President Joe Biden this month due to the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, public broadcaster NHK said on Saturday.
    Kishida and Biden met in Glasgow last month on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit, agreeing to meet formally by the end of the year to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as China, Japanese media reported at the time.
    But given the rapid spread of the new coronavirus variant as well as the U.S. political situation, Kishida is considering rescheduling the meeting after the new year, NHK said, without citing sources for its information.
(Reporting by Junko Fujita; Editing by William Mallard)

12/4/2021 Democracy Activist Law Urges Hong Kong Voters To Ignore Dec. 19 Election
FILE PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law is interviewed by journalists outside the Final Court of
Appeal after being granted bail in Hong Kong, China October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Hong Kong democracy activist Nathan Law called on voters in his home city to ignore a legislative election this month, the first under sweeping new rules imposed by Beijing, saying they should not lend the vote any legitimacy.
    China announced in March broad changes to the former British colony’s electoral system, reducing the number of directly elected representatives and increasing the number of Beijing-approved officials in an expanded legislature.
    Candidates in the election, scheduled for Dec. 19 after being postponed for more than a year due to the coronavirus, are also vetted for their patriotism.
    “Just ignore them,” Law said in an interview from London at  the  Reuters Next conference.    “We should not give any legitimacy to the election, we should not pretend we have an election – it is just a selection by Beijing.”
    A spokesman for the Chinese embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Law’s remarks.    Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam said in September that the aim of changes to the electoral system is to ensure “patriots administer Hong Kong.”
    China has said Law is a “criminal suspect wanted by the Hong Kong police” for national security offences.
    In the interview, Law, who fled Hong Kong in 2020 and was granted asylum by the United Kingdom, cast Chinese President Xi Jinping as an “emperor” who tolerated no dissent.
    The system of democracy in Hong Kong, he said, was dead but its spirit lived on in the hearts of the people.
    “Democracy, if you are talking about a system, it is definitely not there – but if you are talking about the spirit of the people, fighting for democracy, it is still there.”
    To watch the Reuters Next conference please register here https://reutersevents.com/events/next/
(Editing by Nick Tattersall)

12/5/2021 Five Dead After Myanmar Security Forces Ram Car Into Yangon Protest – Media
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Police stand on a road during an anti-coup protest
in Mandalay, Myanmar, March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Five people were killed and at least 15 arrested after Myanmar security forces in a car rammed into an anti-coup protest on Sunday morning in Yangon, local news portal Myanmar Now reported.
    Witnesses on the scene told Reuters dozens had been injured. Photos and videos on social media show a vehicle that crashed through the protesters and bodies lying on the road.
    Another protest was held in Yangon in the afternoon despite the morning violence.
    Anti-military protests are continuing despite the killing of more than 1,300 people since the Feb. 1 coup.    The scattered protests are often small groups voicing opposition to the overthrow of an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the return of military rule.
    The opposition’s shadow government said it was heartbroken to see peaceful protesters crashed and shot to death.
    “We will strongly respond to the terrorist military who brutally, inhumanly killed the unarmed peaceful protesters,” the National Unity Government’s defence ministry said in a statement on social media after Sunday’s attack.
    In the incident, a “flash mob” protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, was rammed minutes after it started, witnesses said.
    “I got hit and fell down in front of a truck.    A soldier beat me with his rifle but I defended and pushed him back.    Then he immediately shot at me as I ran away in a zig-zag pattern.    Fortunately, I escaped,” a protester who asked not to be identified for security reasons told Reuters by phone.
    A car occupied by soldiers hit the crowd from the back, two witnesses said, and followed the scattered protesters arresting and beating them. Some were seriously injured with head wounds and unconscious, according to the witnesses.
    A spokesman for the ruling junta did not answer calls seeking comment on Sunday.
    The military has said that protesters who have been killed instigated the violence.    It says it staged the coup because a November election won by Suu Kyi’s party was rigged.    The election commission has dismissed the assertion.
    Wars with ethnic minority insurgents in remote frontier regions in the north and east have intensified significantly since the coup, displacing tens of thousands of civilians, according to United Nations estimates.
    Suu Kyi, 76, faces a dozen cases against her including incitement and violations of COVID-19 protocols.
    She has rejected all the charges to date.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by Kim Coghill and William Mallard)

12/5/2021 India Detects Seven More Omicron Cases, Making 12 In All
FILE PHOTO: A woman and her son walk past a graffiti on a street, amidst the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, in Mumbai, India, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Hemanshi Kamani/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s tally of reported cases of the heavily mutated Omicron variant of the coronavirus rose to 12 on Sunday after the state of Maharashtra said it had detected seven new cases.
    Local media also said a new case had been reported in New Delhi.
    India expects Omicron, which scientists say appears to be the most contagious variant so far, to be less damaging than the currently dominant Delta, which caused a devastating wave of infections in March and April.
    More than 70% of the population are believed to have been infected with previous variants and this, along with vaccinations, is likely to have increased immunity levels.
    The federal health ministry said 50% of India’s adult population of 950 million were now fully vaccinated.
    India has so far registered more than 470,000 deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic, and some experts say many COVID-19 deaths go unreported.
    The eastern state of Bihar on Sunday appended 2,426 previously unrecorded COVID-19 deaths to its total, while the southern state of Kerala added another 263, a federal health ministry spokesperson said.
(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar in Mumbai; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/5/2021 COVID-19 Curbs China’s Power In Indo-Pacific, Risks Of War ‘Significant’ – Report
People wearing protective masks walk on a street, following the new cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai, China, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The coronavirus pandemic has weakened China’s power in the Indo-Pacific, and the region’s deepening security uncertainties present a “significant” risk of war, the Lowy Institute said in a report on Sunday.
    U.S. allies in the region and key balancing powers such as India have never been more dependent on American capacity and willingness to sustain a military and strategic counterweight in response to China’s rise, said the Sydney-based foreign policy think tank.
    At the same time, Beijing has sought to dissuade Southeast Asian countries from joining the U.S. coalition, while upgrading its military exchanges with Russia and Pakistan as well as North Korea and creating as such a formidable trio of China-aligned nuclear-armed powers in the region.
    “Whether the emerging balance of military power contributes to deterrence and strategic stability in the Indo-Pacific is an open question,” the report said.
    “The depth of hostilities, the breadth of U.S.–China competition and the presence of multiple potential flashpoints means the risk of war is significant.”
    The impact from the pandemic has undermined the overall region’s prosperity, weakening China’s comprehensive power.
    “Beijing is now less likely to pull ahead of its peer competitor in comprehensive power by the end of the decade – this suggests that there is nothing inevitable about China’s rise in the world,” the report said.    “It appears very unlikely China will ever be as dominant as the United States once was.”
    The think tank said Australia, whose relations with China have deteriorated significantly in recent years, has weathered China’s growing power better than most U.S. partners – but is growing more reliant on Washington.
    In 2018, Australia banned Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Co from its 5G telecommunications network.    Relations worsened last year when Canberra called for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, prompting a series of trade reprisals from China.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard)

12/5/2021 S. Korea Reports 3 More Omicron Cases
FILE PHOTO: A couple wearing masks to prevent contracting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
walk over a zebra crossing as empty bus stops are seen in the background at the
Incheon International Airport in Incheon, South Korea, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea on Sunday reported three more Omicron coronavirus variant cases, bringing its total confirmed so far to 12, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.
    It reported 5,128 new COVID-19 cases for Saturday, a slight decline after reporting a record daily tally of 5,352 a day earlier.
    The country has reported a total of 473,034 cases, with 3,852 deaths.
    From Monday, people visiting 14 designated public spaces, including hospitality and entertainment venues, will have to show their vaccine passes, as the government sets out a plan to reduce the risk of community spread.    The public will have a grace period of a week to get used to the new rules.
(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Kim Coghill)

12/5/2021 Pakistan Receives $3 Billion Loan From Saudi Arabia by Syed Raza Hassan
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, October 15, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan on Saturday received a $3 billion loan from Saudi Arabia, the prime minister’s finance adviser said, as part of an economic support package.
    The South Asian country has faced growing economic challenges, with high inflation, sliding forex reserves, a widening current account deficit and a depreciating currency.
    Pakistan’s total liquid foreign reserves stand at $22,498.8 million, based on central bank data. Shaukat Tarin, finance adviser to Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan, said in a tweet: “I want to thank His Excellency Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the kind gesture.”
    The loan from Saudi Arabia will be for one year at a 4% interest rate under the terms of the package, which was signed last month.
    “This is positive news … and will help bolster both the foreign exchange reserves and sentiments in the forex market,” Saad Hashemy, executive director at BMA Capital said.
    The loan comes a week after the International Monetary Fund agreed with Pakistan on measures needed to revive a stalled $6 billion funding programme.
    The completion of the review, pending since earlier this year, would make available 750 million in IMF special drawing rights, or around $1 billion, bringing total disbursements so far to about $3 billion.
    Pakistan’s central bank has raised its benchmark interest rate by 150 basis points to 8.75% to counter inflationary pressures.
    Inflation had reached 11.5% in November, up from 9.2% a month earlier.
    The Pakistani rupee, which closed on Friday at 176.77 at inter-bank against a dollar, has depreciated more than 11% since the start of this year.
(This story corrects reserves in third paragraph from billion to million.)
(Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan. Editing by Jane Merriman)

12/5/2021 Analysis-Modi’s Farm Reform Reversal To Deter Investment In India’s Agriculture by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav
FILE PHOTO: Farmers gather to mark the first anniversary of their protests on the outskirts of
Delhi at Pakora Chowk near Tikri border, India, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s repeal of agriculture laws aimed at deregulating produce markets will starve its vast farm sector of much-needed private investment and saddle the government with budget-sapping subsidies for years, economists said.
    Late last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government introduced three laws meant to open up agriculture markets to companies and attract private investment, triggering India’s longest-running protest by farmers who said the reforms would allow corporations to exploit them.
    With an eye on a critical election in populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi agreed to rescind the laws in November, hoping to smooth relations with the powerful farm lobby which sustains nearly half the country’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for about 15% of the $2.7 trillion economy.
    But by shelving the most ambitious overhaul in decades, Modi’s backtracking now seemingly rules out much-needed upgrades of the creaky post-harvest supply chain to cut wastage, spur crop diversification, and boost farmers’ incomes, economists said.
    “This is not good for agriculture, this is not good for India,” said Gautam Chikermane, a senior economist and vice president at New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation.
    “All incentives to shift towards a more efficient, market-linked system (in agriculture) have been smothered.”
    The u-turn does allay farmers’ fears of losing the minimum price system for basic crops, which growers say guarantees India’s grain self-sufficiency.
    “It appears the government realised that there’s merit in the farmers’ argument that opening up the sector would make them vulnerable to large companies, hammer commodities prices and hit farmers’ income,” said Devinder Sharma, a farm policy expert who has supported the growers’ movement.
    But the gruelling year-long standoff also means no political party will attempt any similar reforms for at least a quarter-century, Chikermane said.
    And, in the absence of private investment, “inefficiencies in the system will continue to deliver wastage and food will continue to rot,” he warned.
COLOSSAL WASTE
    India ranks 101 out of 116 countries on the Global Hunger Index, with malnutrition accounting for 68% of child deaths.
    Yet it wastes around 67 million tonnes of food every year, worth about $12.25 billion – nearly five times that of most large economies – according to various studies.
    Inadequate cold-chain storage, shortages of refrigerated trucks and insufficient food processing facilities are the main causes of waste.
    The farm laws promised to allow private traders, retailers and food processors to buy directly from farmers, bypassing more than 7,000 government-regulated wholesale markets where middlemen’s commissions and market fees add to consumer costs.
    Ending the rule that food must flow through the approved markets would have encouraged private participation in the supply chain, giving both Indian and global companies incentives to invest in the sector, traders and economists said.
    “The agriculture laws would have removed the biggest impediment to large-scale purchases of farm goods by big corporations,” said Harish Galipelli, director at ILA Commodities India Pvt Ltd, which trades farm goods.    “And that would have encouraged corporations to bring investment to revamp and modernise the whole food supply chain.”
    Galipelli’s firm will now have to re-evaluate its plans.
    “We have had plans to scale up our business,” said Galipelli.    “We would have expanded had the laws stayed.”
    Other firms specialising in warehousing, food processing and trading are also expected to review their expansion strategies, he said.
PERISHABLE PRICES YO-YO
    Poor post-harvest handling of produce also causes prices of perishables to yo-yo in India.    Only three months ago, farmers dumped tomatoes on the road as prices crashed, but now consumers are paying a steep 100 rupees ($1.34) a kg.
    The laws would have helped the $34 billion food processing sector grow exponentially, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), an industry group.
    Demand for fruits and vegetables would have gone up.    And that would have cut surplus rice and wheat output, slicing bulging stocks of the staples worth billions of dollars in state warehouses, economists said.
    “Crop diversification would also have helped rein in subsidy spending and narrow the fiscal deficit,” said Sandip Das, a New Delhi-based researcher and farm policy analyst.
    Food Corporation of India (FCI), the state crop procurement agency, racked up a record 3.81 trillion rupees ($51.83 billion) in debt by last fiscal year, alarming policymakers and inflating the country’s food subsidy bill to a record 5.25 trillion rupees ($70.16 billion) in the year to March 2021.
    However, while the federal government now has limited scope for change, local authorities “can opt for reforms provided they have the political will to do so,” said Bidisha Ganguly, an economist at CII.
    Similarly, venture capital-funded startups have also expressed interest in India’s agriculture sector.
    “Agritech, if it is allowed to take root, has the potential to enable a better handshake of farmers and consumers through their technological platforms,” Chikermane said.
(1 = 74.83 rupees)
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav; additional reporting by Aftab Ahmed; editing by Gavin Maguire and Kim Coghill)

12/6/2021 Solomon Islands Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote After Riots by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Royal Solomon Islands Police Force officers stand at a checkpoint after days
of unrest in Honiara, Solomon Islands November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Elizabeth Osifelo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Monday survived a no confidence motion in parliament, after accusing the Pacific island nation’s most populous province of being “Taiwan’s agent”, and anti-government protesters of attempting a coup.
    Dozens of buildings were burnt and shops looted in the capital of the Pacific island nation just over a week ago, in violence that killed four after Sogavare refused to speak with protesters who had travelled from Malaita province.
    Domestic issues and disagreement over a 2019 switch of diplomatic ties to China from Taiwan have fuelled a dispute between the national government and Malaita, and church leaders have urged talks.
    Amid fears that the result of Monday’s no-confidence vote could trigger more violence, boats have been banned from Honiara harbour, and more than 200 police and soldiers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea are on alert.
    The no-confidence motion by the Opposition failed, with 15 MPs voting in support, 32 against, and two abstaining.
    Sogavare, now in his fourth stint in office, rejected graft accusations, saying he would not submit to “calls to resign by Taiwan’s agents
    “The call for me to resign and this motion was made against the backdrop of an illegal attempted coup,” he said, blaming the Malaita provincial government.
    Taiwan has denied involvement in the unrest.
    Sogavare said his cabinet made the decision to switch ties because China was an economic powerhouse, adding that it was unlawful for provinces to engage in diplomatic relations with other countries.
    China had agreed to upgrade the Solomon Islands’ hospital and universities, parliament heard.
    China’s embassy in the Solomons said any attempt to damage bilateral ties between China and the Solomon Islands was doomed to fail.    China-Solomons Islands ties will overcome all difficulties, a statement from the embassy said.
    Earlier, opposition leader Matthew Wale had told parliament Sogavare was “in the service of a foreign power,” accusing him of using money from China in a national fund to prop up his political strength before the vote.
    “The prime minister is dependent on the National Development Fund (NDF) money to maintain his political strength,” Wale said.    “How can he make decisions only in the interests of the Solomon Islands?
    Citizens are angry at inadequate healthcare, prime land being taken by foreigners, and logging companies overriding local interests, Wale said.
    The looting and violence that erupted on Nov. 24 must be condemned, he added, but said, “It pales in comparison to the looting that happens at the top.”
    Malaita has a history of disputes with Guadalcanal province, where the national government is based, and opposed the 2019 switch of ties.
    Its premier, Daniel Suidani, has banned Chinese companies from working in Malaita and has accepted U.S. aid.
    About 1,000 people gathered in the provincial capital of Auki to listen to a livestream of the parliament session, a political aide to Suidani told Reuters.
    Suidani is expected to make an announcement on Tuesday outlining a referendum for independence for Malaita, the adviser, Celsus Talifilu, said by telephone.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

12/6/2021 Myanmar’s Ousted Suu Kyi Jailed For Four Years In First Case Against Her
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's 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
    (Reuters) -A court in military-ruled Myanmar jailed deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi for four years on Monday on charges of incitement and breaching coronavirus restrictions, a source familiar with the proceedings said, in a case that critics dismissed as a farce.
    President Win Myint was also sentenced to four years in prison, the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, as the court delivered its first verdicts in numerous cases against Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders detained by the military in a coup on Feb. 1.
    Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup against Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government sparked widespread protests and raised international concern about the halt to tentative political reforms following decades of military rule.
    Nobel peace prize winner Suu Kyi, 76, has been detained since the coup along with most senior leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Others are abroad or in hiding and no party spokesperson was available for comment.
    Rights group Amnesty International said the charges against Suu Kyi were bogus and described the jail sentence as the latest example of the military’s determination to eliminate all opposition and suffocate freedoms.
    “The court’s farcical and corrupt decision is part of a devastating pattern of arbitrary punishment that has seen more than 1,300 people killed and thousands arrested since the military coup,” the group’s deputy regional director for Campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said in a statement.
    A military spokesman did not respond to attempts by Reuters to reach him for comment on the sentencing, which was widely reported in domestic media.
    The military has not given details of where Suu Kyi has been detained and it was not immediately clear if the sentencing would mean any immediate change in her circumstances.
    The trial in the capital, Naypyitaw, has been closed to the media and the junta’s public information outlets have not mentioned the proceedings.    Suu Kyi’s lawyers have been barred from communicating with the media and public.
    Suu Kyi faces a dozen cases that include multiple corruption https://reut.rs/3o51L1j charges plus violations of a state secrets https://reut.rs/2Zxy2o3 act, a telecoms law and COVID-19 regulations, which carry combined maximum sentences of more than a century in prison.
    Suu Kyi and co-defendant Win Myint https://reut.rs/3DHDxPp received jail terms of two years for incitement and the same term for breaches of coronavirus protocols.    They had denied the charges.
‘ILLEGAL POWER GRAB’
    Suu Kyi’s supporters say the cases are baseless and designed to end her political career and tie her up in legal proceedings while the military consolidates power.
    Her jailing had been widely expected.
    “I don’t expect anything out of this broken justice system,” Maw Htun Aung, a deputy minister in an opposition parallel government, told Reuters after the sentencing.
    The junta says Suu Kyi is being given due process by an independent court led by a judge appointed by her own administration.
    Suu Kyi, the daughter of the hero of Myanmar’s independence from British colonial rule, spent years under house arrest for her opposition to military rule but was freed in 2010 and led her NLD to a landslide victory in a 2015 election.
    Her party won again in November last year but the military said the vote was rigged and seized power weeks later.    The election commission at the time dismissed the military’s complaint of vote fraud.
    Historian and author Thant Myint U said military leaders thought their predecessors who launched reforms more than a decade ago had gone too far in allowing Suu Kyi back into politics and the entire reason for the coup was to exclude her.
    “She remains far and away most popular in Myanmar politics and may still be a potent force in what’s to come,” he told Reuters.
    Western states have demanded Suu Kyi’s release and condemned the violence since the coup.
    Matthew Smith, chief executive of the Fortify Rights group, said the sentencing was “part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population” and called for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.
    The group ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights said no-one was fooled by the outcome of the trial.
    “Since the day of the coup, it’s been clear that the charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and the dozens of other detained MPs, have been nothing more than an excuse by the junta to justify their illegal power grab,” it said in a statement.
(Writing by Martin Petty, Ed Davies and Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/6/2021 The Trials Of Aung San Suu Kyi, From Heroine To Villain To Convict
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's National League for Democracy Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives
at a news conference at her home in Yangon November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Put on trial by the generals who overthrew her elected government in a coup that cut short democratic reforms she had fought for decades to bring about, Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced on Monday to four years in prison.
    She was convicted of incitement and violations of a law on natural disasters in the first verdict in more than a dozen criminal cases filed against her since the Feb. C1 military takeover. Suu Kyi is 76 years old.
    Just 14 months before the coup, she had travelled to the U.N. International Court of Justice in the Hague to defend those same generals against charges of genocide over a 2017 military offensive that drove ethnic Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar.
    Suu Kyi’s long struggle for democracy made her a heroine in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and the mostly Western criticism she faced over the plight of the Rohingya had no negative impact on her popularity at home.
    Known as “the Lady,” Suu Kyi had fulfilled the dreams of millions when her party first won a landslide election in 2015 that established the Southeast Asian nation’s first civilian government in half a century.
    She spent 15 years under house arrest in the struggle for democracy, but her administration had to cohabit with the generals who retained control of defence and security.
    That hybrid government failed to unite Myanmar’s many ethnic groups or end its decade-long civil wars, and Suu Kyi also oversaw tightening restrictions on the press and civil society while falling out with some former allies.
    But her second election victory in November unnerved the military – and it seized power on Feb. 1, alleging voter fraud by her National League for Democracy party despite rejection of the army’s claims by the election commission and monitors.
    The first criminal cases filed against Suu Kyi included breaching coronavirus restrictions and possession of unlicensed walkie-talkies.
    More serious charges were to follow, including incitement, corruption and breaching the Official Secrets Act.    She now faces a dozen cases with combined maximum sentences of more 100 years.
    Protesters have taken to the streets in her name, calling for the release of “Mother Suu” despite hundreds of killings and thousands of detentions since the coup.
LADY BY THE LAKE
    The daughter of independence hero Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947 when she was 2 years old, Suu Kyi spent much of her young life overseas.    She attended Oxford University, met her husband, the British academic Michael Aris, and had two sons.
    Before they married, she asked Aris to promise he would not stop her if she needed to return home.    In 1988, she got the phone call that changed their lives: her mother was dying.
    In the capital Yangon, then known as Rangoon, she was swept up in a student-led revolution against the then junta that had plunged the country into a ruinous isolation.
    An eloquent public speaker, Suu Kyi became the leader of the new movement, quoting her father’s dream to “build up a free Burma.”
    The revolution was crushed, its leaders killed and jailed, and Suu Kyi was confined to her lakeside home.    Speaking her name in public could earn her supporters a prison sentence, so they called her “the Lady.”
    Slightly built and soft-spoken, she played a crucial role in keeping world attention on Myanmar’s junta and its human rights record, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
    Aris died in 1997, but she did not attend his funeral, fearful she would not be allowed to return.
    During a brief release from house arrest in 1998 she attempted to travel outside Yangon to visit supporters and was blocked by the army.    She sat inside her van for several days and nights, despite dehydration in the sweltering heat, and was said to have caught rainwater in an open umbrella.
    She survived an assassination attempt in 2003 when pro-military men wielding spikes and rods attacked a convoy she was travelling in, killing and wounding some of her supporters.
    The army again placed her under house arrest and from behind the gates, she gave weekly addresses to supporters, standing on rickety tables and talking about democracy under the watchful eyes of police.
    A devout Buddhist, she sometimes spoke of her struggle in spiritual terms.
    In 2010, the military began a series of democratic reforms and Suu Kyi was released before thousands of weeping, cheering supporters.
    In the West, she was feted. Barack Obama became the first U.S president to visit Myanmar in 2012, calling her an “inspiration to people all around the world, including myself.”    U.S economic sanctions on Myanmar were eased, though Suu Kyi remained cautious about the extent of reforms.
    But the Western optimism generated by Suu Kyi’s 2015 election win evaporated two years later, when Rohingya militants attacked security forces and the military responded with an offensive that eventually expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from Myanmar.
    U.N. investigators in an August 2018 report said the Myanmar military had carried out killings and mass rape.
    In December 2019, Suu Kyi defended the military operation before the U.N. International Court of Justice, describing it as a counterterrorism response and asking the court to dismiss a genocide accusation brought by Gambia.
(Reporting by Reuters staff; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/6/2021 Analysis-Australian PM, Behind In Polls And Beset By Division, Faces Tough Road To Re-Election by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison leaves Downing Street
in London, Britain, June 15, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – A chaotic parliament session has left Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison seeking a reset as his conservative coalition trails in opinion polls and infighting derails his legislative agenda less than six months before an election.
    Morrison had planned to use the last sitting of 2021 to pass bills that would create sharp differences with the opposition Labor Party, including a controversial religious freedom bill that was promised after same-sex marriage became law.
    Instead, the final two weeks of parliament saw his coalition fractured, as his own lawmakers crossed the floor to vote against the government, forcing a delay to the religious freedom bill and other legislation, possibly until after the election.
    “The events of the past few days have shown the government may be effectively unable to govern until the next election,” said Haydon Manning, a professor of political science at Flinders University in South Australia.
    “It can’t pass legislation and the prime minister will have to decide whether to wait or call an early election.”
    With little time left for Morrison to reverse his fortunes, as he has to go to the polls by May 2022, the prime minister has embarked on a series of unofficial campaign events.
    It is not a new situation for Morrison – three years ago he had just become prime minister after his predecessor was rolled in a party-room vote and he was trailing in polls.    Yet he secured a stunning election win in May 2019.
    On Monday the closely watched Newspoll showed Morrison’s coalition government would lose office to Labor.    That, and a budget scheduled for late March, suggest Morrison will leave his run as late as possible, just as he did in 2019.
QUESTIONS OF INTEGRITY
    The divisions in Morrison’s government over issues such as the religious freedom bill and climate policy came despite his calls for unity.
    He warned his backbench lawmakers last week that fractures would cost the election, a source familiar with his comments in meeting of his ruling Liberal Party said.
    Morrison is also struggling to appeal to female voters, polls show.    The government was damaged after allegations this year of a rape in parliament house, fed by criticism of how senior government lawmakers handled the complaint.
    Spurred by public anger, Morrison commissioned a report into the workplace culture of parliament house.    Published last week, it showed that one in three of those working there had experienced sexual harassment.
    The issue grew when the minister for education stood aside last week pending an investigation into allegations of abusive behaviour during an extramarital affair with a staffer, accusations the minister strongly denied.
    Morrison has also been wounded by attacks on his integrity after French President Emmanuel Macron said the prime minister had lied to him over a cancelled submarine deal.
    Labor used parliament to repeatedly raise questions of Morrison’s credibility and trustworthiness, and the issue seems to have gained some traction with voters. [L4N2RR0V1]
    Morrison concedes he is the underdog in the election, but government sources say the he is confident he can repeat the miracle win of 2019.
    “He is a good campaigner, he does have that everyman feel to him, and people like him in key parts of the country,” said Peter Chen, a professor of political science at the University of Sydney.    “He can definitely turn this around.”
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

12/6/2021 Japan PM Seeks To Boost Workers’ Wages, Defence Capability by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Kiyoshi Takenaka
FILE PHOTO: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during his press conference, after the
parliament re-elected him as prime minister following an election victory last month by his ruling
Liberal Democratic Party, in Kantei, Japan November 10, 2021. Stanislav Kogiku/ Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed on Monday to ensure worker wage hikes to protect the economy from rising global inflation, while strengthening the country’s defences as it deals with an assertive China and unpredictable North Korea.
    Kishida made the remarks on the opening day of parliament’s extra session convened to debate a supplementary budget to cushion the blow from the COVID-19 pandemic as he aims to restore the economy and then tackle fiscal reform.
    Wage hikes hold the key to the premier’s aim of defeating deflation by reversing a cycle of tame wage growth and weak consumer spending while encouraging Japanese firms to spend their record cash piles on boosting wages and investment.
    Since he took office in October, Kishida has piled pressure on Japanese firms, urging those whose earnings have recovered to pre-pandemic levels to raise wages by 3% or more.
    The government will lay the groundwork to help private-sector firms hike wages by strengthening taxation and give bold deductions for companies that raise pay, he added.
    “As anxiety has grown that rising global inflation may have ripple effects on Japan, I will do the utmost to (realise) wage hikes in order to protect the Japanese economy,” Kishida said.
DEFENCE CAPABILITY
    On security policy, Japan will fundamentally strengthen its defence posture by looking into options including acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases, Kishida said.
    “In order to safeguard the people’s lives and livelihood, we’ll examine all the options including capability to attack enemy bases … and strengthen our defence posture fundamentally with a sense of speed,” Kishida said.
    Such capability would mark a shift in Japan’s military posture as Tokyo, constrained by its post-World War II pacifist constitution, is to play a role of the shield in its security alliance with the United States, while Washington is to play a role of the spear.
    Obtaining capabilities to strike enemy bases has been floated in recent Japanese governments and Kishida was warm to the idea even when he was running in an ruling party leadership election in September as missiles become increasingly capable of evading interceptors.
    As part of effort to boost Japan’s defence capacity, the government will renew three main documents laying out the nation’s security policy – the National Security Strategy, National Defence Programme Guidelines and Medium-Term Defence Programme – in a year, Kishida said.
    On Japan’s coronavirus response, Kishida said he planned to make it possible to get a booster shot without waiting for the end of the current waiting period, set by the government, of eight months after the second shot.
    Calls for early booster shots have been mounting in Japan as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is spreading globally, although daily COVID-19 cases have remained low in recent weeks.
    If infections start picking up pace again, the government will respond swiftly with such measures as stricter restrictions on activities, “while seeking the people’s understanding carefully,” Kishida said.
    His policy of promptly taking anti-coronavirus steps appears to have paid off as voter support for his cabinet ticked up after the government last week enforced tighter border controls against Omicron, the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said on Monday.
($1 = 113.2800 yen)
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/6/2021 U.S. Embassy In Tokyo Warns Of ‘Suspected Racial Profiling’ By Japanese Police by Chang-Ran Kim and Elaine Lies
FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand guard near the U.S. embassy in Tokyo, as
U.S. President Donald Trump visits Japan, November 5, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The United States Embassy in Tokyo on Monday warned in a tweet of incidents of suspected racial profiling of non-Japanese by Japanese police.
    Japan is a mostly ethnically homogeneous country where some people equate more immigrants with a rise in crime, although foreign labour is increasingly needed to make up for a declining and ageing population.
    “The U.S. Embassy has received reports of foreigners stopped and searched by Japanese police in suspected racial profiling incidents. Several were detained, questioned, and searched,” the tweet said.
    “U.S. citizens should carry proof of immigration and request consular notification if detained.”
    The tweet is an unusual move from the United States, a key Japanese ally.
    A U.S. Embassy spokesperson said the embassy had nothing further to add to the tweet, and the National Police Agency could not immediately comment.
    Asked about the U.S. embassy warning, top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said only that police question suspicious individuals based on various factors but that those decisions are not based on a person’s ethnicity or nationality.
    A week ago, Japan closed its borders to all non-resident foreigners in one of the strongest global measures taken to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
    Naomi Kawahara, founder of advocacy group Japan for Black Lives, said racial profiling by Japanese police was nothing new, particularly for foreigners or mixed-race Japanese people of colour.
    “I had a friend who was questioned by police more than 30 times in the six years that he lived here,” she told Reuters of her African-American friend, who left Japan a few years ago.
    “Sometimes it was in front of his house, as he was about to walk his dog.”
(Reporting by Chang-ran Kim, Sakura Murakami and Elaine Lies; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

12/6/2021 Blinken To Visit Indonesia And Malaysia Next Week by Stanley Widianto and Rozanna Latiff
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines
of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Stockholm, Sweden, December 2, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    JAKARTA/KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit Indonesia and Malaysia next week as the Biden administration ramps up engagement in Southeast Asia, a bloc it sees as central to its efforts to counter China’s growing influence.
    I Gede Ngurah Swajaya, Indonesia’s director general for American and European Affairs, told reporters on Monday that Blinken will visit Jakarta on Dec. 13-14, the third and most senior U.S. official to visit the region in two months.
    Two Southeast Asian diplomatic sources, who requested anonymity, said Blinken was also expected to visit Malaysia on Dec. 14-15 in his maiden trip to the region.
    During his Indonesia leg, Blinken is due to deliver a speech on health, investment, and infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific, Ngurah said.    Blinken will also participate virtually in the Bali Democracy Forum on Dec. 9.
    It was not immediately clear whether Blinken will be visiting other countries in the region. A U.S. embassy spokesman in Jakarta declined to comment.
    At a meeting https://www.reuters.com/world/us/blinken-says-us-soon-will-release-new-strategy-indo-pacific-region-2021-09-23 with Southeast Asian foreign ministers at the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September, Blinken said Washington would soon release a new strategy for the wider Indo-Pacific region, that would build “on our shared vision for a free, open, interconnected, resilient and secure region.”
    Daniel Kritenbrink, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, said last week https://www.reuters.com/world/us-diplomat-says-not-asking-asian-allies-choose-washington-over-beijing-2021-12-03 in Thailand that Washington was not asking its allies to choose between it and China, promoting instead a shared vision of a rules-based order “where large countries don’t bully the weak.”    Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also visited the region in mid-November promoting economies ties https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/us-malaysia-agree-transparency-semiconductor-manufacturing-supply-chains-2021-11-18.
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto and Rozanna Latiff in Kuala Lumpur; Editing by John Geddie)

12/6/2021 India, Russia Strike Trade, Arms Deals During Putin Visit by Alasdair Pal and Neha Arora
Russia's President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of
their meeting at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, December 6, 2021. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Russia and India signed a flurry of trade and arms deals during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to New Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, including one that will see India produce more than 600,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.
    Putin travelled to India with Russia’s defence and foreign ministers in a visit that saw the two countries reinforce their ties with a military and technical cooperation pact until 2031 and a pledge to boost annual trade to $30 billion by 2025.
    The Russian president is visiting India amid increasingly strained relations between Russia and the United States, also a key Indian ally, which has expressed reservations about the growing military cooperation between Moscow and New Delhi.
    A joint statement published after the talks said Russia and India had “reiterated their intention to strengthen defence cooperation, including in the joint development of production of military equipment.”
    In addition to the deal for India to produce AK-203 assault rifles, Russia said it was interested in continuing to provide S-400 air defence missile systems.
    India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla said the two countries had signed 28 investment pacts, including deals on steel, shipbuilding, coal and energy.    He added that a 2018 contract for the S-400 missile systems was currently being implemented.
    “Supplies have begun this month, and will continue to happen,” he said, referring to the S-400.
    The deal with Moscow puts India at risk of sanctions from the United States under a 2017 U.S. law aimed at deterring countries from buying Russian military hardware.
    Russian oil company Rosneft said it signed a contract with Indian Oil to supply up to 2 million tonnes of oil to India by the end of 2022.
    The countries also signed a memorandum of understanding for Russia to send an uninterrupted supply of coal to India to support its steel production, among other deals.
    Putin and Modi also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, voicing their commitment to ensure that the country will never become a safe haven for international terrorism.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal in New Delhi and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Alex Richardson and Paul Simao)

12/6/2021 ‘Ashamed’: Pakistan Grapples With Fallout From Mob Killing
Police officers gather near a van carrying men who, according to a police statement, are the suspects
accused of an attack on a Sri Lankan manager of a garment factory in Sialkot, as they appear
before the anti-terrorist court, in Gujranwala, Pakistan December 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A shocking and deadly mob attack on a Sri Lankan factory manager accused of blasphemy in eastern Pakistan last week prompted days of soul searching as the man’s remains were flown to his home country.
    The violence, which was condemned by rights watchdogs including Amnesty International, also drew intense responses from politicians, celebrities and journalists on social media.
    “Ashamed!!    Sick to my stomach!!,” actress Mahira Khan wrote on Twitter shortly after the lynching.
    The mob of factory employees in Pakistan’s Punjab province tortured and burned a Sri Lankan manager on Friday in an attack that Prime Minister Imran Khan said brought shame on the country.
    The killing raised alarm over the potential for accusations of blasphemy to fuel crowd violence in Pakistan, coming just weeks after at least seven policemen were killed in clashes with the radical TLP movement, which has built its identity on fighting what it sees as blasphemy.
    Mob killings over accusations of blasphemy are frequent in Muslim-majority Pakistan, where the crime can carry the death sentence.
    Other politicians and the country’s powerful military also released statements condemning the attack.
    “Mob violence cannot be acceptable under any circumstance as (the) state has laws to deal with all offences,” said Human Rights Minister Shireen Mazari on Twitter.
    The victim’s body was returned to Sri Lankan officials over the weekend and then flown to his home country, a government source in Punjab province told Reuters.
    Punjab’s police said arrests were continuing.
    “In the last 12 hours, police have arrested seven more key figures, including one involved in planning an attack on a     Sri Lankan manager,” they said in a statement.
    Some politicians and activists argued that broader societal and political change was needed, beyond legal consequences for those involved.
    “Arrests should of course be made, but there has to be a clear appraisal of why mobs feel the impunity,” said Senator Sherry Rehman, a member of the opposition Pakistan People’s Party (PPP).
    In an editorial entitled “Horror in Sialkot,” leading newspaper Dawn on Sunday criticised Pakistan for “appeasing religious extremists.”
    “Once again, we are reminded how far this nation has descended into the abyss,” the editorial said.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

12/6/2021 UAE Security Official Pays Rare Visit To Iran To Discuss Ties, Regional Issues by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria May 23, 2021. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) - The United Arab Emirates’ senior national security adviser met his Iranian counterpart and hardline President Ebrahim Raisi in a rare visit to Iran on Monday, a move aimed at overcoming their long-standing differences and increasing cooperation.
    Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s visit took place days after Tehran and world powers broke off talks in Vienna as Western officials voiced dismay about Iran’s sweeping demands for salvaging the 2015 nuclear pact, which the United States abandoned three years ago, reimposing harsh sanctions on Tehran.
    “Improving ties with the regional countries is my government’s priority, therefore we welcome improving ties with the UAE,” Raisi told Sheikh Tahnoon, according to Iranian state television.
    “The security of the regional countries is intertwined, and Iran supports the security of the Persian Gulf states.”
    With business ties to Iran stretching back over a century, the emirate of Dubai, 150 km (100 miles) across the Gulf, has long been one of Iran’s main links to the outside world.
    But they have been on different sides of geo-political rivalries in the Middle East including Yemen’s war.    The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition backing Yemen’s internationally recognised government against Iran-aligned Houthi fighters.
    Sheikh Tahnoon, a brother of the UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, expressed hope that the visit would be a “turning point” in Iranian-UAE relations, Iran’s state news agency IRNA reported.    IRNA said Raisi received an official invitation to visit the UAE.
    Sheikh Tahnoon had earlier discussed expanding bilateral relations and tackled regional issues with Iran’s top security official Ali Shamkhani.
‘CONTINUOUS DIALOGUE’
    “Stability and security can only be established through continuous dialogue and cooperation between the regional countries,” Shamkhani said, according to state TV.
    “Improving economic, trade and investment ties are the main priorities of Iran’s foreign policy.”     Shamkhani added that joint efforts were needed to “end some of the military and security crises in the region…Dialogue should replace military approaches to resolve disputes
    Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours want an end to Tehran’s push for dominance in the region, where it competes with main rival Saudi Arabia for influence from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Bahrain.
    Taking a hawkish stance on Iran, the UAE swiftly backed the decision in 2018 of then-U.S. President Donald Trump to ditch world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran. But in 2019, the UAE began engaging with Tehran’s clerical rulers following attacks on tankers off Gulf waters and on Saudi energy infrastructure.
    The region’s main Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia began direct talks with Shi’ite Muslim Iran in April, with Riyadh describing the talks as “cordial” but largely exploratory.
    “Developing warm and brotherly relations between Abu Dhabi and Tehran is one of the UAE’s priorities,” Sheikh Tahnoon said during his meeting with Shamkhani, according to Iranian media.
    Analysts said Tehran could ill-afford to lose Dubai as a trade route, particularly since U.S. sanctions have drastically reduced its oil exports and made doing international business increasingly complicated.
    Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE president, said in a tweet on Monday that Sheikh Tahnoon’s visit to Tehran “comes as a continuation of the UAE’s efforts to strengthen bridges of communication and cooperation in the region which would serve the national interest.”
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

12/6/2021 N.Korea’s Kim Calls For ‘Absolutely Loyal’ Military Officers
FILE PHOTO: Senior military officials watch a parade as portraits of late North Korean
leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are seen in the background at the main Kim Il Sung square
in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the country’s military education system must redouble efforts to turn out officers who “remain absolutely loyal” to the country’s ruling party, state media reported on Tuesday.
    Kim made the remarks at the Eighth Conference of Military Educationists of the Korean People’s Army held in Pyongyang over the weekend, state news agency KCNA said.
    “He underscored the need to prepare all the military educationists to be true soldiers immensely loyal to the idea and leadership of the Party and to organise and provide the military education, strictly guided by the Party’s idea, policy and method so as to bring up all the cadets to be commanding officers who remain absolutely loyal to the Party Central Committee,” KCNA reported.
    The conference also reviewed “some deviations witnessed in the military education due to the lack of ideological awareness,” the report said, without elaborating.
    It was the latest in a series of events and public relations campaigns focused on boosting political loyalty as Kim prepares to mark 10 years in power this month.
    In November North Korea held a conference where Kim announced plans to expand a loyalty reward system, and state media has broadcast a series of stories on wayward youth who found redemption through hard physical labour for the party.
    The country has been grappling with compounding economic crises caused by self-imposed anti-pandemic border lockdowns, natural disasters, and international sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Sandra Maler)

12/7/2021 No One Above The Law, Myanmar Junta Minister Says Of Suu Kyi Sentence by Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's Minister of Foreign Affairs Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during an event at the
Asia Society Policy Institute in New York City, U.S. September 21, 2016. REUTERS/Bria Webb
    (Reuters) - A senior Myanmar junta official said on Tuesday the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi showed that no one was above the law and the army chief had commuted her sentence on “grounds of humanity.”
    Information Minister Maung Maung Ohn also told a virtual briefing that Myanmar’s judicial system was impartial and Monday’s sentencing of the Nobel laureate and former leader was according to the law.
    Suu Kyi, 76, was sentenced to four years in prison for incitement and breaching coronavirus regulations but the military junta leaders reduced it to a two-year term of detention in her current location.
    “There is no one above the law,” Maung Maung Ohn said on Tuesday, adding that Myanmar’s judicial system “has no partiality.”
    He was speaking at a rare media briefing on the economy during which he and the junta’s investment minister said the situation in the country was stabilising.
    They said preparations for elections to be held before August 2023 were under way but would not confirm whether Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, would be allowed to compete.
    The party is under investigation by the election commission, which Maung Maung Ohn said was due to report back early next year.
    Myanmar has been in crisis since the military seized power in a Feb.1 coup, arresting Suu Kyi and most of her government.
    Security forces seeking to crush opposition have since killed more than 1,200 people, according to monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, and armed rebellions have sprung up across the country.
    On Sunday, security forces in a truck rammed into a flash mob protest in the commercial capital of Yangon, killing at least five people, the news website Myanmar Now reported.
    Maung Maung Ohn said the protest was the result of pressure from anti-coup groups “so that young people get emotional” but that crowd management by authorities “is sometimes handled unintentionally.”
    “Such kind of protests should be prevented according to the law,” he said.
(Reporting by Poppy McPherson in Bangkok; Editing by Martin Petty and Nick Macfie)

12/7/2021 Japan Billionaire Maezawa To Fulfil Childhood Dream With Space Flight
Japanese entrepreneur and space flight participant Yusaku Maezawa gestures behind a glass wall
during a news conference in Baikonur, Kazakhstan December 7, 2021. Maezawa, Roscosmos
cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and flight participant Yozo Hirano take part in a mission to the
International Space Station (ISS) scheduled for December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov/Pool
    Baikonur, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa said he could barely contain his excitement a day ahead of blasting off to the International Space Station in a prelude to a more ambitious trip around the moon with Elon Musk’s SpaceX planned in 2023.    The 46-year-old fashion magnate and art collector has been training at a space centre outside Moscow in recent months before becoming the first space tourist to travel to the ISS in more than a decade.
    Maezawa will travel aboard a Soyuz spacecraft, which will launch from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, accompanied by his assistant Yozo Hirano, who will document the journey, and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin.    Speaking from Baikonur ahead of his 12-day space journey, Maezawa said flying into space had been a childhood dream.
    “I’m excited.    I feel like an elementary school student about to go on a outing,” Maezawa said at a news conference.    “I didn’t think I would be able to go to space.    I used to like the starry sky and heavenly bodies.    I feel fortunate to have this opportunity and to finally fulfil my dream.”
    The billionaire has been chronicling his preparations, including demonstrating his space suit and riding a centrifuge, in social media posts, with plans to post more from space.
    During his 100 days in training, Maezawa said he had enjoyed parabolic flight, where weightlessness is induced for short periods on an adapted plane, but found training in a spinning chair tough.
    The entrepreneur, who was wearing a blue flight suit with a badge reading “world peace,” said he had struggled to learn Russian to communicate with his trainers and looked forward to eating sushi when he returns to Earth.
    Maezawa will become the first private passenger on the SpaceX moon trip, as commercial firms including Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin usher in a new age of space travel for wealthy clients.    The billionaire, who sold his online fashion business Zozo to SoftBank in 2019, is searching for eight people who will join him in his moon voyage in 2023, requiring applicants to pass medical tests and an interview.
    Maezawa has become a household name in Japan through his penchant for private jets and supercars, cash giveaways to Twitter followers and celebrity girlfriends in a country known for its conformist, corporate culture.
    Maezawa will be the first Japanese private citizen in space since TV journalist Toyohiro Akiyama visited the Mir space station in 1990.
(Reporting by Shamil Zhumatov in Baikonur; Additional reporting by Sam Nussey in Tokyo and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

12/7/2021 Japan Lawmakers Visit Yasukuni Shrine, South Korea Protests
A Shinto priest accompanies a group of Japanese lawmakers as they visit the Yasukuni shrine to pay respects to the
country's war dead in Tokyo, Japan December 7, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Nearly 100 Japanese lawmakers from several political parties visited the controversial Yasukuni Shrine for war dead in Tokyo on Tuesday, prompting the South Korean government to express “deep concern and regret.”
    The shrine is seen by Seoul and Beijing as a symbol of Japan’s past military aggression because it honours – among some 2.5 million war dead – 14 Japanese World War Two leaders convicted as war criminals by an Allied tribunal.
    Ninety-nine lawmakers, all members of a group that makes periodic mass visits to the shrine, usually visits the shrine for its spring and autumn festivals, as well as the August 15 anniversary of Japan’s surrender, but had put off visits since October 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    The group included nine junior ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. It was not clear why the group decided to visit the shrine specifically on Tuesday.
    South Korea’s foreign ministry expressed in a statement “deep regret and concern for the visit to Yasukuni Shrine, which beautifies the colonial invasion and war of aggression.”
    “We are again strongly pointing out that the international community could trust Japan when it faces up to history correctly and demonstrates its humble reflection of the past and sincere remorse through actions,” it said.
    Kishida, who became prime minister in early October, sent a ritual offering to Yasukuni for the autumn festival but followed the example of previous Japanese leaders, who have refrained from visiting in person during the spring and autumn festivals or on the anniversary of Japan’s surrender to avoid angering China or South Korea.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Ju-min Park; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/8/2021 Malaysia Court Upholds Guilty Verdict For Former PM Najib by Rozanna Latiff and Mei Mei Chu
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's former Prime Minister Najib Razak speaks during an interview with Reuters in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia September 18, 2021. Picture taken September 18, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – A Malaysian court on Wednesday upheld former premier Najib Razak’s conviction on corruption charges over a multi-billion dollar scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), dealing a blow to his hopes of a political comeback.
    Najib was appealing a 12-year prison sentence and $50 million fine imposed by Kuala Lumpur High Court last year for criminal breach of trust, abuse of power and money laundering, one of five trials he is facing over corruption allegations.
    The 1MDB case, which a U.S. attorney-general described as the worst form of kleptocracy, has cast a shadow over Malaysian politics since questions about the fund first emerged years ago.
    U.S. and Malaysian authorities say $4.5 billion was believed to have been stolen and more than $1 billion made its way into Najib’s personal accounts.
    Najib has consistently denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty at the trial last year though the court found he had illegally received about $10 million from SRC International, a former unit of now-defunct 1MDB.
    Court of Appeal Judge Abdul Karim Abdul Jalil, who led a three-member panel on the decision, said they agreed unanimously with the high court on Najib’s conviction and sentencing, and dismissed his defence that all his actions regarding SRC were in the national interest.
    “There is no national interest here, just a national embarrassment,” Abdul Karim said.
    The judge also said the evidence showed Najib knew or had reason to believe the funds in his accounts were proceeds of illegal activities and had failed to take steps to determine them as such.
    Wearing a black suit, Najib showed no emotion as the judgment was read out and was seen taking notes occasionally during the hearing.
    His appeal has been closely watched amid fears that ruling party leaders facing criminal charges could secure leniency after the return of Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), to power in August.
‘I DID NOT KNOW’
    Najib has been free on bail pending the appeal, and Abdul Karim agreed to his request to be released on bail again and stayed the sentence.
    At a virtual briefing after the verdict, Najib said he was disappointed with the decision and would appeal at the Federal Court, Malaysia’s top tribunal.
    “I did not know and I did not ask and I did not order anyone to move the 42 million ringgit ($9.95 million) to my account,” Najib said.
    Prosecutor V. Sithambaram told reporters Najib’s appeal process at the top court could take up to nine months.
    Najib faces a total of 42 criminal charges and five trials, including the SRC case, but remains influential and has been eyeing a political comeback, telling Reuters in September he has not ruled out seeking re-election to parliament.
    He remains a lawmaker despite the conviction but the constitution bars him from contesting elections unless he gets a pardon or a reprieve from the country’s monarch.
    Adib Zalkapli, director of political risk consultancy BowerGroupAsia, said an acquittal would have given Najib the chance to reclaim the top job.
    “But with the court’s decision to uphold the guilty verdict, he has to wait a little longer before he could potentially make a credible comeback,” he said.
    Polls are not due until 2023 but analysts have said they could be called as early as the middle of next year, when a cooperation pact signed between the government and the opposition expires.
    Asked if he would contest the next election, Najib told the news conference: “We will cross the bridge when we come to it.”
($1 = 4.2200 ringgit)
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff, Mei Mei Chu and Ebrahim Harris; writing by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Ed Davies, Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast)

12/8/2021 Australia Joins Diplomatic Boycott Of Beijing Winter Games by Renju Jose and Yew Lun Tian
A woman flies a ribbon near the logos of the Beijing 2022 Olympic and Paralympic Games
in a park in Beijing, China, December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – Australia will join the United States in a diplomatic boycott of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, as other allies weighed similar moves to protest China’s human rights record.
    The United States has said its government officials will boycott February’s Beijing Olympics because of China’s human rights “atrocities,” just weeks after talks aimed at easing tense relations between the world’s two largest economies.
    China said the United States would “pay the price” for its decision and warned of countermeasures in response, but gave no details.
    Morrison said Wednesday’s decision came because of Australia’s struggles to re-open diplomatic channels with China to discuss alleged human rights abuses in the far western region of Xinjiang and Beijing’s moves against Australian imports.
    Announcing the plans, Morrison said Beijing had not responded to several issues raised by Canberra, including the rights abuse accusations.
    “So it is not surprising therefore that Australian government officials would not be going to China for those Games,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney. Australian athletes will attend.
    China has denied any wrongdoing in Xinjiang and said allegations are fabricated.
    Its foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a daily briefing in Beijing that Australian politicians were engaged in “political posturing.”
    “Whether they come or not, nobody cares,” he added.
    The Australian Olympic Committee said the boycott would have no impact on athletes’ preparations for the Games, which run from Feb. 4 to 20, adding that “diplomatic options” were a matter for governments.
    Other U.S. allies have been slow to commit to joining the boycott.
    Britain is considering approving limited government attendance at the event in the Chinese capital that would stop short of a full diplomatic boycott, the Telegraph newspaper said on Wednesday.
    An outright ban on ministerial and diplomatic representation at the Winter Games remains a possibility, it added.
    Japan is considering not sending cabinet members to Games after the United States announced its diplomatic boycott, the Sankei Shimbun daily said on Wednesday, citing unidentified government sources.
    A South Korean presidential official said the country is currently not considering a diplomatic boycott.
    President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region.    China denies all rights abuses.
    The Winter Games will begin about six months after the Summer Games wrapped up in the Japanese capital of Tokyo following a year’s delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “We always ask for as much respect as possible and least possible interference from the political world,” said Juan Antonio Samaranch, who heads the International Olympic Committee’s coordination panel for the Beijing event.
    “We have to be reciprocal.    We respect the political decisions taken by political bodies.”
    The United States is set to host the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and is preparing to bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
    The American diplomatic boycott, encouraged for months by some members of the U.S. Congress and rights groups, comes despite an effort to stabilise the two nations’ ties, with a video meeting last month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping.
‘THE ONLY OPTION’
    Unless other countries joined the boycott it would undermine the message that China’s human rights abuses are unacceptable, said Bonnie Glaser, a China expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.
    “The only option really that is available to us is to try to get as many countries as we can to stand with us in this coalition,” Glaser told a U.S. congressional hearing on Tuesday.
    Ties between Australia and its top trade partner, China, are at a low ebb after Canberra banned Huawei Technologies from its 5G broadband network in 2018 and sought an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19.
    Beijing responded with tariffs on Australian commodities such as barley, beef, coal and wine.
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Renju Jose; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Clarence Fernandez.)

12/8/2021 Hong Kong’s Planned Legal Aid Changes Could Breach Constitution – Bar Association
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong government proposal to change the legal aid system could violate the constitutionally guaranteed right of people to choose legal representation in the event that they cannot afford a lawyer, according to the city’s Bar Association.
    In October, the government proposed changes that would see defendants no longer able to choose a lawyer unless under “exceptional circumstances,” in addition to other amendments.
    Representing more than 1,500 barristers, the association said in a submission on Tuesday that the proposed changes may constitute a violation of Article 35 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, as well as Articles 10 and 11 of the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.
    The director of legal aid and the Hong Kong government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Activists, business groups and diplomats are closely monitoring developments, fearing sweeping changes to Hong Kong’s legal aid traditions could further threaten the rule of law that is seen as the bedrock underpinning the Asian financial hub.
    Scores of pro-democracy activists arrested during protests in 2019, and since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the former British colony last year, have sought legal aid.
    “Reform and making more qualified lawyers available on the legal aid panel must not come at the expense of the right for people to choose their own lawyers,” the association said.
    While it supports “the idea of legal aid reform and enlarging the pool of qualified lawyers in principle,” it does not see “any justification” for the aid recipient only being allowed to choose a lawyer under exceptional circumstances, it said.
    The submission appears to back the private views of some prominent human rights lawyers who say the changes could effectively end Hong Kong’s strong tradition of legal activism.
    For decades, ordinary people have been able to legally challenge government decisions with the help of specialist lawyers hired under legal aid.
    “It is going to kill my practice,” said a veteran human rights legal specialist.    “It has never been lucrative but you could build a career.    No longer if these changes go through.”
    Article 35 stipulates that residents have the right to a “choice of lawyers,” while Articles 10 and 11 guarantee that an individual is entitled to a “fair and public hearing” and is given sufficient time to “choose and contact a lawyer
    The government said the changes were aimed at enhancing the management of legal aid applications and enlarging the pool of qualified lawyers to take up legal aid cases, among other reasons.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Greg Torode; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/8/2021 Japan Finds Fourth Case Of Omicron Variant – TV Asahi
FILE PHOTO: A notice about COVID-19 safety measures is pictured next to closed doors at a departure hall
of Narita international airport on the first day of closed borders to prevent the spread of the new
coronavirus Omicron variant in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan has reported its fourth case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, TV Asahi said on Wednesday.
    The fresh case was a man in his 50s who had stayed in Nigeria, the network reported.
    The Japanese government has enforced tighter border controls against the Omicron variant.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park, Sakura Murakami; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

12/9/2021 U.S. Says Will Take A Few Days To Judge Iran Stance In Nuclear Talks
Deputy Secretary General of the European External Action Service (EEAS) Enrique Mora and Iran's
chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani with delegations wait for the start of a meeting of the
JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna, Austria December 9, 2021. EU Delegation in Vienna/EEAS/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – It will take a few days to judge whether Iran is showing flexibility in talks about Tehran and Washington resuming compliance with the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters on Thursday.
    “It will probably (be) another couple of days until we have sense of where the Iranians are in the context of the restart of this round and … the flexibility that they may or may not be willing to show,” Price said.
    Asked if Iran might be playing for time in the talks and seeking to exploit U.S. weakness, he said: “I can assure you that if the Iranian regime suspects the United States of weakness, they will be sorely surprised.”
    Price sought to deflect criticism that Iran has been stringing the major powers along in the negotiations while making advances to its nuclear program.
    “We have been very clear that Iran will not be able to play for time, that Iran’s nuclear escalations and its provocations won’t give Iran any additional leverage in these negotiations,” he said, referring to talks in Vienna between Iranian officials and major powers on reviving the 2015 deal.
    “The only thing these provocations and these escalations will do is to bring us closer to the point of a potential crisis.    And we are not looking for a crisis,” Price added, saying Washington wanted a diplomatic solution and that he hoped Iran was not looking for a crisis.
    Talks in Vienna are between Iran and the five powers still in the deal – Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – following then-President Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to withdraw the United States.    Under the accord, Iran curbed its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
(Reporting By Daphne Psaledakis, Arshad Mohammed and Mohammad Zarghan; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; editing by Diane Craft and Mark Porter)

12/9/2021 ICC Prosecutor Defends War Crimes Probe Of Afghanistan’s Taliban by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: A Taliban fighter displays their flag as his comrade watches,
at a checkpoint in Kabul, Afghanistan November 5, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Thursday denied bowing to political pressure when he decided to focus an Afghan war crimes investigation on alleged crimes by the Taliban and Islamic State Khorasan rather than by U.S. or former Afghan government troops.
    Prosecutor Karim Khan, who took office in June, said he had to consider his budget as well as whether prosecutions could lead to a conviction and the gravity of the crimes alleged.
    “I am not making a decision based on any timidity,” Khan told journalists during the court’s annual gathering of member states.
    In September Khan announced he would ask judges to push ahead with the Afghanistan investigation begun under his predecessor.    But he said he would focus on crimes by the Taliban and ISIS-K and “deprioritize” looking into suspected crimes by U.S. forces and Afghan government troops.
    That decision was criticized by victims’ groups and some international law experts.
    “Looking at the scale and the gravity I am not apologetic that the more serious crimes and continuing violations were Taliban and ISIS K,” he said.
    Khan said his office is running 11 investigations in different countries and another 16 preliminary examinations and must make choices about what to prioritize.
    “We have a budget that is not in proportion with the responsibility,” Khan said, in a signal to the ICC’s member states who gathered in The Hague to vote on next year’s funding.
    Khan is overseeing investigations such as Israel in the Palestinian Territories and Russia in Ukraine.    Khan said he was reviewing cases with an eye to pursuing those that involve the worst atrocities or are most likely to end in convictions.
    The ICC is a court of last resort, intervening only when a member country is unable or unwilling itself to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

12/9/2021 Pakistan Taliban Declare End To Ceasefire
FILE PHOTO: An army soldier inspects the Army Public School, which was attacked
by Taliban gunmen, in Peshawar, December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra /File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Taliban militants in Pakistan declared an end to a month-long ceasefire arranged with the aid of the Afghan Taliban, accusing the government of breaching terms including a prisoner release agreement and the formation of negotiating committees.
    The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), are a separate movement from the Afghan Taliban and have fought for years to overthrow the government in Islamabad and rule with their own brand of Islamic Sharia law.
    Last month’s ceasefire, which was always set to run until Thursday with the possibility of extending if both parties agreed, was the latest in a series of attempts to broker a settlement to end a conflict that has killed thousands.
    The Afghan Taliban’s shock overthrow of the Western-backed government in August gave the talks fresh impetus but the TTP accused Islamabad of failing to respect the ceasefire agreement.
    It said the government had not released more than 100 prisoners as promised and had not appointed negotiating teams to conduct talks.    It also said security forces had carried out raids while the ceasefire was in force.
    “Now let the Pakistani people decide whether it is the TTP or the Pakistani army and establishment that is not abiding by the agreements?” the group said in a statement.
    “In these circumstances, it is not possible to advance the ceasefire,” it said.
    Best known in the West for attacking Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl who went on to win the Nobel Prize for her work promoting girls’ education, the TTP has killed thousands of military personnel and civilians over the years in bombings and suicide attacks.
    Among its attacks was a 2014 assault on a military-run school in Peshawar, near the border with Afghanistan, which killed 149 people including 132 children.
(Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alistair Bell)

12/9/2021 New Zealand To Ban Cigarette Sales For Future Generations
FILE PHOTO: A woman lights a cigarette in this illustration picture. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    (Reuters) - New Zealand plans to ban young people from ever buying cigarettes in their lifetime in one of the world’s toughest crackdowns on the tobacco industry, arguing that other efforts to extinguish smoking were taking too long.
    People aged 14 and under in 2027 will never be allowed to purchase cigarettes https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/how-will-new-zealands-lifetime-ban-cigarette-sales-work-2021-12-09 in the Pacific country of 5 million, part of proposals unveiled on Thursday that will also curb the number of retailers authorised to sell tobacco and cut nicotine levels in all products.
    “We want to make sure young people never start smoking so we will make it an offence to sell or supply smoked tobacco products to new cohorts of youth,” New Zealand Associate Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall said in a statement.
    “If nothing changes, it would be decades till Maori smoking rates fall below 5%, and this government is not prepared to leave people behind.”
    Currently, 11.6% of all New Zealanders aged over 15 smoke, a proportion that rises to 29% among indigenous Maori adults, according to government figures.
    The government will consult with a Maori health task force in the coming months before introducing legislation into parliament in June next year, with the aim of making it law by the end of 2022.
    The restrictions would then be rolled out in stages from 2024, beginning with a sharp reduction in the number of authorised sellers, followed by reduced nicotine requirements in 2025 and the creation of the “smoke-free” generation from 2027.
    The package of measures will make New Zealand’s retail tobacco industry one of the most restricted in the world, just behind Bhutan where cigarette sales are banned outright.    New Zealand’s neighbour Australia was the first country in the world to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes in 2012.
    The New Zealand government said while existing measures like plain packaging and levies on sales had slowed tobacco consumption, the tougher steps were necessary to achieve its goal of fewer than 5% of the population smoking daily by 2025.
    The new rules would halve the country’s smoking rates in as few as 10 years from when they take effect, the government said.
NEW ZEALAND TEMPLATE
    Like New Zealand, the United Kingdom has set goals to go smoke-free by 2030 while Canada and Sweden have targets to bring down smoking prevalence to less than 5% of their populations.
    “All these aggressive targets are being introduced, yet, to date, we have still to see any country implement a coherent strategy likely to achieve a tobacco end-game. New Zealand might be a template for just that,” Jefferies analyst Owen Bennett said.
    However, he did not expect the legislation to have a near-term impact on tobacco groups.
    “It will be minimal, in our view.    New Zealand is a very small market,” he said.
    Smoking kills about 5,000 people a year in New Zealand, making it one of the country’s top causes of preventable death.    Four in five smokers started before age 18, the country’s government said.
    Vaping, often seen as a safer alternative to smoking and a useful aid to quitting, is also tightly regulated with sales only allowed to over 18s.
BLACK MARKET COULD EMERGE
    Health authorities welcomed the crackdown, while retailers and tobacco companies expressed concern about the impact on their businesses and warned of the emergence of a black market.
    “We welcome the New Zealand government’s recognition that excessive excise increases disproportionately impact smokers on lower incomes,” tobacco group Imperial Brands said, adding it was concerned about proposals to reduce nicotine levels and eventually prohibit sales.
    “Prohibitions of any kind tend to play into the hands of criminal traders who peddle unregulated illicit products,” it also said.
    Marlboro maker Philip Morris, which has previously said it would stop sales in the country if required by law, said it was reviewing the legislative proposal.
    According to brokerage Citi, Dunhill maker British American Tobacco (BAT) is the market leader in New Zealand, with a 67% share by volume, while Imperial Brands, which sells JPS, Riverstone and Horizon cigarettes, accounts for 21%, generating about 1%-2% of its group earnings before taxes.
    BAT did not respond to requests for comment.
    The government did not detail how the new rules would be policed or whether they would apply to visitors to the country.
    “Cigarette smoking kills 14 New Zealanders every day and two out of three smokers will die as a result of smoking,” said New Zealand Medical Association chair Alistair Humphrey in a statement.
    However, the Dairy and Business Owners Group, a lobby group for local convenience stores, said while it supported a smoke-free country, the government’s plan would destroy many businesses.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye in Sydney and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; editing by Jane Wardell, Kirsten Donovan and Lisa Shumaker)

12/10/2021 China And Nicaragua Re-Establish Ties In Blow To U.S. And Taiwan by Yew Lun Tian and Ben Blanchard
Flags of Taiwan and foreign countries flutter at the Diplomatic Quarter which houses the former
Nicaraguan embassy and other foreign embassies, in Taipei, Taiwan December 10, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Wu
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) -China and Nicaragua re-established diplomatic ties on Friday after the Central American country broke relations with Chinese-claimed Taiwan, boosting Beijing in a part of the world long considered the United States’ backyard and angering Washington.
    China has increased military and political pressure on Taiwan to accept its sovereignty claims, drawing anger from the democratically ruled island, which has repeatedly said it would not be bullied and has the right to international participation.
    China’s Foreign Ministry, announcing the decision after meetings with Nicaragua’s finance minister and two of President Daniel Ortega’s sons in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin, said the country had made the “correct choice.”
    The break with Taiwan shrinks the island’s dwindling pool of international allies and is a blow to the United States.
    It follows months of worsening ties between Ortega and Washington, and came on the day the U.S. State Department said it had applied sanctions on Nestor Moncada Lau, a national security adviser to Ortega, alleging he operates an import and customs fraud scheme to enrich members of Ortega’s government.
    The U.S. State Department said Nicaragua’s decision did not reflect the will of the Nicaraguan people because its government was not freely elected.
    “We do know, however, that this deprives Nicaragua’s people of a steadfast partner in its democratic and economic growth,” spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.    “We encourage all countries that value democratic institutions, transparency, the rule of law, and promoting economic prosperity for their citizens to expand engagement with Taiwan.”
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Taiwan’s allies – now only 14 countries – have stayed with Taipei only because of pressure from the United States and Taiwan’s “dollar diplomacy,” accusations Taipei denies.
    Nicaragua’s congress in 2019 accepted a $100 million loan from Taiwan, but Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday that money, designed for economic reconstruction, has never been paid because of “procedural issues with allocation requirements” by the bank, which it did not name.
    China’s Foreign Ministry, asked if China would give financial aid to Nicaragua, said the resumption in ties was a “political decision, definitely not a bargaining chip.”
‘MARCH TOWARDS THE WORLD’
    Taiwan’s government said it was unbowed by Nicaragua’s decision.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said the island would not bend to pressure or change the determination to uphold democracy and freedom and “march towards the world.”
    “The more successful Taiwan’s democracy is, the stronger the international support, and the greater the pressure from the authoritarian camp,” she said in Taipei.
    A senior Taiwan official familiar with the matter told Reuters the timing was “provocative,” coming during the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy, which Taiwan is attending, and a week before four referendums on the island, though they are on domestic issues like energy and pork imports.
    At the now-defunct Nicaraguan embassy in Taipei, in a building in the leafy suburb of Tianmu, staff said the former ambassador was not in. Nicaragua’s flag outside had been removed by the time a Reuters reporter arrived mid-morning.
    Ortega first cut ties with Taiwan in 1985, but they were re-established with the island in 1990 under then-Nicaraguan President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.
    One Taiwan-based diplomatic source, familiar with the region, said the move was not a surprise given Washington’s lack of leverage with Ortega due to the sanctions, and that looking to China for aid and support was a natural course of action.
    “It appears that Ortega had had enough,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Attention will now turn to another Taiwan friend, Honduras.
    Aides for the incoming president Xiomara Castro have said she would not establish ties with China, backtracking from Castro’s earlier comments that she was open to starting formal relations with Beijing.
    A second Taiwan-based diplomatic source told Reuters it was still a case of “watch this space” whether Honduras would ultimately go with Beijing.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, and Ben Blanchard, Yimou Lee and Sarah Wu; Additional reporting by Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; additional reporting by the Mexico City newsroom; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Gerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

12/10/2021 Myanmar Anti-Coup Activists Protest Against Junta With ‘Silent Strike’
People walk on an empty street as locals stage a "silent strike",
in Yangon, Myanmar December 10, 2021, in this image obtained by Reuters.
    (Reuters) – Protesters in Myanmar closed businesses and stayed off the streets on Friday in a “silent strike” against rule by the military and its ousting of the Southeast Asian country’s democratically elected government in a February coup.
    Photos published by Myanmar media showed deserted streets and markets in towns across the country, while protesters in the northern city of Shwebo wore black clothes and marched in silence.
    “We need to send a message to the world about Myanmar’s terrible human rights violations,” protest leader Khin Sandar told media.
    “Silence is the loudest shout.    We want our rights back.    We want revolution.    We express sadness for our fallen heroes,” she said.
    Myanmar was plunged into crisis when the military overthrew leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her government on Feb. 1, triggering daily protests in towns and cities and fighting in borderlands between the military and ethnic minority insurgents.
    Nobel laureate Suu Kyi, 76, is facing various charges and was sentenced to four years in prison on Monday on the first of them – incitement and breaching coronavirus regulations – drawing international condemnation of what critics described https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/un-rights-boss-bachelet-deplores-suu-kyi-conviction-sham-trial-statement-2021-12-06 as a “sham trial.”
    The junta chief later reduced her sentence https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/no-one-above-law-myanmar-junta-minister-says-suu-kyi-verdict-2021-12-07 by two years on “grounds of humanity” but the charges she still faces could see her jailed for many years.
    Junta forces seeking to crush opposition have killed more than 1,300 people, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.
    Last Sunday, five people were killed and at least 15 arrested after soldiers used a car to crash through https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/myanmar-security-forces-ram-car-into-protest-yangon-deaths-feared-2021-12-05 an anti-coup protest in the city of Yangon.    Myanmar’s state media has dismissed reports of the incident as disinformation.
    Minn Khant Kyaw Linn, a student activist from the General Strikes Collaboration Body protest group said participation in the “silent strike” had been widespread.
    “You can see how much people hate the junta,” he said.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

12/10/2021 China’s Xi Responsible For Uyghur ‘Genocide’, Unofficial Tribunal Says
FILE PHOTO: Ethnic Uighur demonstrators take part in a protest against
China, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 1, 2021. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya/File Photo
    BEIJING/LONDON (Reuters) – An unofficial tribunal of lawyers and campaigners said Chinese President Xi Jinping bore primary responsibility for what it said was genocide, crimes against humanity and torture of Uyghurs and members of other minorities in the Xinjiang region.
    China dismissed the tribunal, which is headed by British lawyer Geoffrey Nice and has no powers of sanction or enforcement, as a “farce” being used by its enemies to spread lies.
    “The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has committed genocide, crimes against humanity and torture against Uyghur, Kazakh and other ethnic minority citizens in the north west region of China known as Xinjiang,” the     British-based Uyghur Tribunal said on Thursday.
    “The Tribunal is satisfied that President Xi Jinping … and other very senior officials in the PRC and CCP (Chinese Communist Party) bear primary responsibility for acts that have occurred in Xinjiang.”
    The World Uyghur Congress (WUC), which represents the interests of the mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang and around the world, asked Nice in 2020 to set up an independent tribunal to investigate accusations of abuse in Xinjiang.
    Some foreign lawmakers and parliaments, as well as the U.S. secretaries of state in both the Biden and Trump administrations, have labelled the treatment of Uyghurs as genocide.
    But China vehemently denies that.
    In a statement on Thursday, its foreign ministry dismissed the WUC as a separatist organization under the control and funding of anti-China forces in the United States and the West.
    “This so-called court has no legal credentials nor any credibility,” a ministry spokesperson said, describing the testimony given as false and the final judgment as a “political farce performed by a few clowns.”
    “Lies cannot conceal the truth, cannot deceive the international community nor stop the historic course of … Xinjiang’s stability, development and prosperity,” the ministry spokesperson said of the Uyghur tribunal.
    U.N. experts and rights groups estimate more than a million people, mainly Uyghurs and members of other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in Xinjiang.
    China initially denied the camps existed but later said they were vocational centres and designed to combat extremism.    In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated.”
    The Munich-based WUC welcomed the tribunal’s judgment.
    The Chinese embassy in London said the tribunal was a tool of China’s enemies who were spreading lies.
    It is “nothing but a political tool used by a few anti-China and separatist elements to deceive and mislead the public,” an embassy spokesman said.
    “Anyone with conscience and reason will not be deceived or fooled,” the spokesman said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing and Guy Faulconbridge in London; Additional reporting by Beijing Newsroom; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

12/10/2021 Indonesian Muslims Hold Friday Prayers In Shadow Of Deadly Volcano by Prasto Wardoyo
Abdul Ghofar, 47, a local resident who is affected by the eruption of Mount Semeru volcano,
walks after Friday prayers at a temporary shelter in Penanggal, Candipuro district,
Lumajang, East Java province, Indonesia, December 10, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    PENANGGAL, Indonesia (Reuters) -Indonesian Muslims gathered for Friday prayers in an evacuation centre on the slopes of Mount Semeru, where thousands of people remain in limbo after a series of eruptions in the past week by the volcano left thousands homeless.
    The 3,676-metre (12,060 foot) volcano erupted spectacularly on Saturday, sending a towering cloud of ash into the sky and dangerous pyroclastic flows into villages below.
    In the Penanggal evacuation centre, Abdul Ghofar joined several hundred others displaced by the disaster for Friday prayers in a makeshift mosque set up using a tent in a field.
    “I usually pray at my village … I can’t believe this is what has happened to me,” said Ghofar, 47, who recounted hearing a loud boom on the day of the eruption before a black cloud of ash turned everything dark in his village of Curah Kobokan.
    Ghofar, who was working as a food vendor, thought he and his mother might die, but then some light appeared in the sky and they managed to flee without any possessions.
    He said his cousin, who worked as a sand miner near the volcano, was still missing and he was now waiting to be relocated.
    At least 45 people were killed and hundreds injured.    More than 6,500 were evacuated, many of them uncertain whether they will ever be able to live in the area again.
    In a field kitchen set up at the evacuation centre, volunteers chopped vegetables and cooked rice and eggs, to place in around 2,000 food parcels a day for the people sheltering in the area.
    Sukur, 70, who uses one name, was among a number of the displaced sheltering in a tent at the centre this week.
    “In this situation we feel happy as well as sad.    Happy because we are gathered with many people, but sad because we remember now we don’t have a house,” said Sukur, who despite the difficult conditions was dressed immaculately in a blue batik shirt and a traditional Indonesian peci hat.
(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

12/10/2020 Factbox-U.S. Legislative Clamp-Down On Products From China’s Xinjiang
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter outside a company building in Shanghai, China November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. legislation to ban imports from China’s western Xinjiang region passed the U.S. House of Representatives this week and could have ramifications for goods from textiles to solar panel materials.
    The House passed the act on concerns over forced labour in Xinjiang, in Washington’s continued pushback against alleged abuses of the Uyghur Muslim minority by Beijing.
    Human rights organisations have accused China of exploiting forced labour from Uyghurs and other minority groups, as well as setting up a system of detention camps.
    China has repeatedly denied the accusations and said its measures in Xinjiang are necessary to fight terrorism.
WHAT DOES THE ACT SAY?
    Under the “Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act,” goods from Xinjiang, a region in China’s far west about the size of Mongolia and with a population of some 25 million, would be presumed to be made using forced labour, and so banned from ports of entry into the United States.
    Exceptions to the ban could be granted if “clear and convincing evidence” was provided that the goods were not made using any forced labour.
    Some goods – like cotton, tomatoes, and polysilicon, a material used in solar panel manufacturing – would be designated “high priority” for enforcement action.
    Efforts to contravene the import ban would be met with sanctions.
    To become law, the act must also pass the Senate and be signed by President Joe Biden.
HOW MUCH TRADE WOULD BE AFFECTED?
    Xinjiang’s overall exports fell 12.2% to $15.8 billion last year, from 2019, with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to customs data from the region.
    But shipments to the United States surged 116% in 2020 to $653.5 million even as it stepped up its rhetoric on alleged human rights abuses.
    Last year, Xinjiang’s exports to the United States accounted for about 4% of the region’s outbound shipments by value, up from less than 2% in 2019.
    The region’s customs data did not give a breakdown of what products were shipped to U.S. customers.
    Overall, electronics products led Xinjiang’s exports in 2020 by value, accounting for nearly a third of the region’s outbound shipments.    That was followed by clothing and accessories, footwear and cultural products.
    Lower down the list was farm produce, which accounted for about 5% of Xinjiang’s exports, with a total value of $867.3 million.
    Exports of textile yarns, fabrics and related products reached $774.5 million, or almost 5% of the region’s overall outbound shipments.
POLYSILICON, COTTON AND TOMATOES
    Analysts estimate that 45% of the world’s solar panel-grade polysilicon comes from Xinjiang – an increasingly important material as countries ramp up their renewable energy capacity.
    The Biden administration has already banned imports from Chinese-based Hoshine Silicon Industry Co but stopped short of imposing a ban on all imports from the region.
    Agricultural products are also in focus, after allegations from some researchers and foreign lawmakers that Xinjiang authorities use coercive labour programmes to meet seasonal cotton-picking needs.
    The Trump administration announced an import ban on all cotton and tomato products from the region in January.
    U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimated in January that about $9 billion of cotton products and $10 million worth of tomato products were imported from China into the United States in the preceding year.
WHAT HAS CHINA’S RESPONSE BEEN?
    China strongly denies the claims made in the act and says all labour in Xinjiang is consensual and contract-based.
    “This is in essence political manipulation and economic bullying in the name of human rights,” Wang Wenbin, a foreign ministry spokesman, said on Thursday.
    “The U.S.’s intention is to undermine Xinjiang’s prosperity, stability and ethnic solidarity, and contain China’s development.”
(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley, Ryan Woo, Emily Chow and Beijing newsroom; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/10/2021 Australia To Offer COVID-19 Shots To Children Aged 5-11 From January
FILE PHOTO: A healthcare professional prepares a dose of the Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccine as high-risk workers receive the first vaccines in the state of Victoria's
rollout of the program, in Melbourne, Australia, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will begin administering COVID-19 vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 from Jan. 10, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday, after the rollout cleared final regulatory hurdles.
    “This will be welcome news for millions of families across the country who want the opportunity for their children to be vaccinated,” Morrison said in a statement.
    After reviewing clinical data from Canada, the country’s vaccination advisory group recommended an eight-week interval between the two doses, which can be shortened to three weeks if there is an outbreak.
    Pfizer doses will be administered in the initial phase, while regulators assess the suitability of Moderna shots.    A decision is expected in the coming weeks.
    The decision comes as Australia seeks to accelerate the rollout of booster shots after becoming one of the world’s most-vaccinated countries against COVID-19, inoculating nearly 90% of its population above 16 with two doses.    Some 70% of children aged 12 to 15 have been fully vaccinated.
    Authorities have been urging people to take the booster shot concerned about the new, more transmissible Omicron variant amid a steady rise in infections in Sydney, Australia’s largest city.
    New South Wales state, which includes Sydney, reported 516 new cases on Friday, its biggest rise in two months.
    Most were caused by the Delta variant but the number of Omicron infections has been creeping up since Australia reported its first case about two weeks ago. Some 50 cases have been detected so far, the majority in Sydney.
    Australia has reported about 225,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,084 deaths, far fewer than many comparable countries.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin)

12/10/2021 In Myanmar’s Chin State, A Grassroots Rebellion Grows by Devjyot Ghoshal and Chanchinmawia
FILE PHOTO: A Chinland Defence Force fighter poses for a photograph at an undisclosed location near the
India-Myanmar border, in the northeastern state of Mizoram, India, November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    CHAMPHAI, India (Reuters) – The former boxer said he and his comrades were perched on a hillside near the town of Mindat, in Myanmar’s northwest, and preparing to ambush a patrol of soldiers when the troops opened fire and a bullet smashed into his forearm.
    “I tried to run but I got shot again in the upper arm,” Za Latt Thwey, who requested that he be identified by the name he uses as a boxer, told Reuters near a safe house in India’s Mizoram state, which borders Myanmar.
    An Indian orthopaedic surgeon’s note said the 25-year-old had suffered a gunshot wound and an X-ray showed where his bone had been shattered.
    That skirmish in mid-May was part of what seven people involved in the rebellion, including five fighters, said was a growing popular resistance to Myanmar’s military in Chin state.
    Their accounts include previously unreported details of how the rebellion there began and expanded.
    As in other parts of the country, civilians enraged by the military coup in February and subsequent crackdown on protesters are taking up arms.    The junta appears to be worried about the threat they pose in Chin.
    In the last few weeks, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has sent reinforcements to Chin, which had been largely peaceful for years, and launched a major offensive against rebels, according to some analysts and rights groups.
    More than a dozen so-called Chinland Defence Force (CDF) opposition groups have sprung up in the state, according to three of the sources, who described an expanding network of fighters whose knowledge of local terrain is a major advantage.
    They said the groups had established supply chains, food stockpiles and weapon depots and linked up with a long-established ethnic group called the Chin National Front (CNF) to train in combat and better coordinate operations.
    The military has said all resistance forces and the shadow government are “terrorists.”
    CNF spokesman Salai Htet Ni told Reuters the group had helped train Chin youth and protesters in basic guerrilla warfare after the military coup.
    “Our unity and public support is our strength,” said a 32-year-old fighter from Chin’s capital Hakha.
    Reuters was not able to independently verify some claims made by the sources about the strength of the rebellion and scale of the Tatmadaw’s response.
    Myanmar’s military spokesperson and the Ministry of Information did not respond to requests for comment on the growing resistance in Chin or the armed forces’ deployments.
    The Tatmadaw’s response to resistance in Chin and elsewhere has prompted warnings from the United Nations and United States that the brutal clampdown on Rohingya Muslims in neighbouring Rakhine state in 2017 risked being repeated.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine that year and refugees accused the military of mass killings and rape.    UN investigators said the military had carried out the atrocities with “genocidal intent.”
    Myanmar authorities said they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
    The military has not released details of overall battlefield losses since the February coup. NOODLES AND SHOTGUNS
    Before he took up arms, the fighter from Hakha said he was a postgraduate student of history who joined widespread public demonstrations against the February coup.
    Like the four other fighters Reuters interviewed in Mizoram, he said his decision to join the resistance was triggered by the military’s suppression of peaceful protests that demanded civilian rule be restored.
    Local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says junta forces have killed more than 1,300 people and detained thousands in a bid to crush opposition to the coup.
    The military has outlawed AAPP, saying it is biased and uses exaggerated data. The AAPP has not responded to that accusation.
    Groups of young protesters in Hakha began stockpiling food including rice, oil and noodles and medical supplies in multiple locations in the jungle surrounding the township of around 50,000 people, two of the fighters said.
    In April, some CDF groups met in Camp Victoria, the CNF’s headquarters, to coordinate armed resistance against the Tatmadaw, according to the fighter from Hakha.
    The CNF, which has a military wing, has become pivotal to the resistance, providing training and other support to several CDF groups across the state, said two fighters and a senior leader of the National Unity Government (NUG).
    The NUG, effectively a shadow government, comprises pro-democracy groups and remnants of the ousted civilian administration.    It has held talks with foreign officials, including from the United States.
    In the early months of the resistance, nearly 2,000 volunteers from Hakha were sent to Camp Victoria for combat training under the CNF, the two fighters said, a level of coordination not previously reported.
NEW KIND OF CRISIS
    By May, three of the CDF fighters said they were taking on the Tatmadaw in several parts of Chin, a 36,000 square kilometre province with nine major townships.
    Outside Mindat, Za Latt Thwey said he was among the guerrillas, some trained by the CNF, who targeted Tatmadaw patrols.
    In cellphone footage taken by fighters, and shown to Reuters by Za Latt Thwey, small groups of young men could be seen perched on wooded hillsides firing homemade guns and automatic rifles. Reuters could not independently verify the footage.
    Financial support for the rebels in Mindat has mostly come from the Chin diaspora and the NUG, said an ousted Chin lawmaker, who declined to be named.
    Through multiple routes, including from India, the lawmaker said food, clothes, medicine and equipment were reaching the rebels each month.
    Weapons and explosives were the hardest to procure, according to the lawmaker, the NUG leader and three of the fighters.
    The CDF Hakha, with some 2,000 volunteers, is run by a 21-member council that oversees command stations, smaller camps and supporting units, two of the rebels said.
    Across Chin violence has escalated in the last four months as the Tatmadaw clashes with a rising number of rebel groups, according to analysis from the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO).
    “We have never had this kind of crisis before in Chin,” said CHRO’s Salai Za Uk Ling.
    Once a thriving settlement of some 10,000 people, the hilltop town of Thantlang is now virtually deserted, surrounded by soldiers who set alight more than 500 buildings since early September, according to two former residents and the CHRO.
    The U.S. State Department singled out events in Chin, and Thantlang in particular, in a statement last month urging the military to end the violence.
    Pa Hein, 55, who said he was among the last people to leave the town in late September, told Reuters by telephone that he saw Tatmadaw troops ransack shops and set buildings on fire.
    The Myanmar military has denied the accusations, and blamed insurgents for instigating fighting in Thantlang and burning homes.
SEEKING TREATMENT
    After the first police defectors trickled into India’s Mizoram state in early March, followed by Myanmar lawmakers and thousands of others seeking shelter, the mountainous border province has become a buffer zone for Chin guerrillas.
    The Indian government did not respond to a request for comment.
    Mizoram authorities estimate around 12,900 people have crossed over from Myanmar, including 30 ousted state and federal lawmakers, according to a senior Mizoram police official who declined to be named.
    Some of the lawmakers and leaders have been helping the resistance, and as fighting intensifies they are seeking to unify and support the rebels.
    The NUG wants to bring all armed resistance groups under a single command with the assistance of the CNF, said the Chin lawmaker and senior NUG leader.
    CNF’s Salai Htet Ni said the group and the NUG had agreed to work together, with the CNF “taking a leadership role in Chin State’s defence and military warfare.”
    After he was shot, Za Latt Thwey said he tried for months to find a safe route to the Myanmar city of Mandalay, but eventually deemed the journey too risky.
    In early November, he collected money from family and friends and undertook a five-day journey, mostly by motorcycle, to cross into India.
    “I can’t box anymore,” Za Latt Thwey said.    “But I need my arm to be fixed so that I can continue my normal life, so that I can farm.”
(Additional reporting by Myanmar bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

12/11/2021 Australia Treasurer Calls For Easing Covid Curbs Despite Rising Cases by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Patrons dine-in at a bar by the harbour in the wake of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) regulations easing,
following an extended lockdown to curb an outbreak, in Sydney, Australia, October 22, 2021. REUTERS/Jaimi Joy/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia must loosen COVID-19 restrictions to bolster its economic recovery, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Saturday, even as daily infections rose to a six-week high.
    “States need to keep calm and carry on.    And not overreact to the Omicron variant,” Frydenberg told reporters in Melbourne.
    Australia is one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, with nearly 90% of people over 16 fully inoculated.    Still, Australia said it found 1,753 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, up about 3% in the last week and the highest daily total since Oct 29.
    Frydenberg said state and territory leaders must loosen curbs implemented to slow the spread of the virus, emphasising the need to accelerate Australia’s economic growth while he played down concerns about the Omicron variant.
    “Our economic recovery depends upon it.    We have the vaccination rates now at record highs and that has proven to be a vital defence against Covid.”
    While some measures have been eased as vaccines were rolled out, interstate travel is still prohibited between several states and capacity limits in shops and restaurants are strictly enforced.
    Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.4 trillion) economy was badly damaged by lockdowns in the country’s two largest states with gross domestic product falling 1.9% in the third quarter.
    Economists and policy makers expect Australia’s economy to rebound sharply in 2022 as it reopens its international borders, boosting tourism and the education sector.
    Australia last month delayed allowing foreign visa holders to enter until at least mid-December.
Frydenberg said on Saturday a decision on whether to reopen would be made in the next few days.
($1 = 1.3945 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

12/11/2021 China Orders COVID-19 Tests For Travel With Some Border Cities
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing face masks get off a train at Suifenhe railway station,
a city of Heilongjiang province on the border with Russia, as the spread of the novel
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in the country, China April 11, 2020. REUTERS/Huizhong Wu
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China has ordered some border cities to beef up vigilance against COVID-19 with measures such as mandatory testing for travellers, in its effort to prevent clusters caused by viruses arriving from abroad.
    mid-October, locally-transmitted symptomatic cases have risen to more than 2,000, with several small northern towns on the borders with Russia or Mongolia, among the hardest-hit, as health resources there are sparser than in major cities.
    “There have been multiple local outbreaks in China recently, all caused by viruses imported from overseas via cities with ports of entry,” the government said in a notice, citing local areas’ weaknesses in monitoring and failure to enforce measures.
    People who intend to leave from border cities with overland ports of entry must show proof of negative test results within 48 hours before departure, said the notice, which excluded those from cities with ports of entry linked to Hong Kong or Macau.
    Arrivals in such cities must take at least one COVID-19 test, added the notice by national authorities in charge of COVID-19 control.
    The testing measures will run until March 15 next year.
    In November, authorities in Beijing urged people not to travel unnecessarily to the Chinese capital from counties with overland ports of entry.
    Some cities with entry ports could have tight curbs in “buffer” areas, but less tough measures outside, Saturday’s notice said.
    The measures aim to reduce disruption to livelihoods in areas dependent on cross-border trade, the national health authority said in a statement published alongside the notice.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

12/11/2021 Donors Back $280 Million Transfer For Afghan Food, Health by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: A boy sleeps as he rides a bicycle in Kabul, Afghanistan October 18, 2021. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donors agreed on Friday to transfer $280 million from a frozen, trust fund to the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF to support nutrition and health in Afghanistan, the World Bank said as it seeks to help a country facing famine and economic freefall.
    The World Bank-administered Afghan Reconstruction Trust Fund will this year give $180 million to WFP to scale up food security and nutrition operations and $100 million to UNICEF to provide essential health services, the bank said in a statement.
    The money would aim to support food security and health programs in Afghanistan as it sinks into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis that accelerated in August when the Taliban overran the country as the Western-backed government collapsed and the last U.S. troops withdrew.
    The United States and other donors cut off financial aid on which Afghanistan became dependent during 20 years of war and more than $9 billion of the country’s hard currency assets were frozen.
    The United Nations is warning that nearly 23 million people – about 55% of the population – are facing extreme levels of hunger, with nearly 9 million at risk of famine as winter takes hold in the impoverished, landlocked country.
    Using reconstruction trust fund money and channeling it through the WFP and UNICEF, both part of the U.N. family, appears to be a way to get funding into the country for basic needs in a manner that does not necessarily implicate U.S. sanctions against the Taliban.
    “This decision is the first step to repurpose funds in the ARTF portfolio to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan at this critical time,” the bank said, saying the agencies had presence on the ground to deliver services directly to Afghans in line “with their own policies and procedures.”
    “These ARTF funds will enable UNICEF to provide 12.5 million people with basic and essential health services and vaccinate 1 million people, while WFP will be able to provide 2.7 million people with food assistance and nearly 840,000 mothers and children with nutrition assistance,” it added.
    Earlier on Friday, Reuters reported exclusively that the donors were expected to approve the $280 million transfer. On Dec. 1, Reuters reported that the World Bank board had backed transferring the ARTF funds to the two agencies.
    In its statement, the bank said it would “continue to work with ARTF donors to unlock additional ARTF funds to support the Afghan people.”
    Laurel Miller, a former acting U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, criticized the decision to tap the ARTF for strictly humanitarian aid, saying money should come from other sources and the $1.5 billion fund should be used for a major initiative to halt the collapse of state institutions whose workers have not been paid for months.
    “We’re talking about a collapse of public services that serve the Afghan people,” said Miller, who oversees the Asia program of the International Crisis Group, a think tank.    “That’s not about helping the Taliban.
    That’s about helping Afghans who need a functioning state.    They need more than food aid
.”
(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed, Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Jonathan Oatis)

12/11/2021 Iran Is Serious In Nuclear Talks With World Powers – President
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a meeting with Syria's Foreign Minister
Faisal Mekdad in Tehran, Iran, December 6, 2021. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) - Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Saturday that Tehran was serious in its nuclear talks with world powers in Vienna, the official IRNA news agency reported.
    Indirect U.S.-Iranian talks to revive a 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed on Thursday in the Austrian capital.    Diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China shuttle between the two sides because Tehran refuses direct contact with Washington.
    A European source, speaking on condition of anonymity, suggested on Friday that Iran had agreed to continue talks from where they left off in June.    Iranian officials denied this.
    Under the original deal that then-U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018, Iran limited its nuclear programme in return for relief from U.S., European Union and U.N. sanctions.
    “The fact that we presented the text of Iran’s proposal to the negotiating parties shows that we are serious in the talks, and if the other side is also serious about the removal of [U.S.] sanctions, we will achieve a good agreement.    We are definitely after a good agreement,” IRNA quoted Raisi as saying.
    A year after Trump’s reimposition of sanctions on Iran, Tehran began to gradually violate nuclear limits of the agreement.    Iran wants all sanctions to be lifted.
    Iran’s top negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, told Reuters on Friday that Tehran was standing firm on the position it laid out last week, when the talks broke off.    European and U.S. officials accused Iran of making new demands and of reneging on compromises worked out earlier this year.
    Asked whether new draft proposals that Iran had put forward last week were being discussed, Bagheri Kani said: “Yes, the drafts we proposed last week are being discussed now in meetings with other parties.”
    A senior European Union official said on Friday the talks were moving forward and that various key matters were still open for a deal on a final text.
(Editing by Ros Russell)

12/11/2021 India Modi’s Personal Twitter Handle ‘Briefly Compromised’ -Prime Minister’s Office
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a meeting during the UN Climate Change
Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble/Pool
    (Reuters) – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal Twitter handle was “very briefly compromised,” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said in a tweet early on Sunday.
    The matter was escalated to Twitter and the Prime Minister’s personal twitter handle @narendramodi was immediately secured, PMO India’s tweet said, adding any tweet shared during the brief period when the account was compromised must be ignored.
    It was not immediately known how long the personal Twitter handle of Modi, which has over 73 million followers, was compromised.
    Twitter took the necessary steps to secure the compromised account as soon as it became aware of the activity, a Twitter spokesperson said in an emailed statement to Reuters, adding an investigation revealed no signs of any other impacted accounts at present.
    A similar incident had occurred with the Twitter handle of Modi’s personal website @narendramodi_in in September 2020, with a series of tweets asking followers to donate to a relief fund through cryptocurrency.
(Reporting by Anirudh Saligrama in Bengaluru; Editing by Chris Reese)

12/11/2021 Japan, U.S. Agree To Boost Alliance Amid Tougher Security Environment
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi pose as they meet during the G7
summit of foreign and development ministers in Liverpool, Britain December 11, 2021. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed on Saturday on the need to fortify their countries’ alliance amid a tougher regional security environment, a Japanese government official said.
    Hayashi and Blinken held talks on the sidelines of a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) foreign ministers in the English city of Liverpool.
    “The ministers, in light of the increasingly severe security environment in the region, agreed it is indispensable to boost the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” the official said in a media briefing.
    Faced with China’s military build-up and North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday he plans to fundamentally strengthen Japan’s defence posture by looking into options including acquiring the capability to strike enemy bases.
    Hayashi and Blinken did not discuss the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the official said.
    Earlier this week, Canada joined Australia, Britain and the United States in saying they would not send top officials to the Games, citing longstanding concerns over China’s human rights record, while Japan has yet to make its stance clear.
    Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun daily reported on Saturday, citing multiple sources with knowledge of the matter, that senior Japanese government officials will likely skip the Games, joining the United States and others in a diplomatic boycott.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi TakenakaEditing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

[AS WE HAVE SEEN IN THE KING OF THE NORTH SEEMS TO BE IN PROCESS TO RESTORE HISTORIC RUSSIA IN OUR TIMES AND AS WE ARE NOW SEEING THAT THE EUPHRATES RIVER HAS DRIED UP AND IT LOOKS LIKE THE KINGS OF THE EAST HAVE BEEN RELEASED TO SPREAD WESTWARD WITH INTENT TO CONQUER THE REST OF THE WORLD IF THEY HAVE NOT ALREADY BUT WOULD BE IN PLAY WITH BOTH THE KING OF THE SOUTH AND THE NORTH WHILE THE KING OF THE WEST IS IN THEIR CROSSHAIRS.].

12/12/2021 New Caledonia Votes In Independence Referendum by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: Secretary General of the Elysee Palace Alexis Kohler, French President
Emmanuel Macron and French Overseas Minister Sebastien Lecornu meet with New Caledonia representatives
at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France June 1, 2021. Bertrand Guay/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    CANBERRA (Reuters) -The French territory of New Caledonia voted on Sunday in an independence referendum, the third and final ballot on the issue, amid heightened fears of violence in the tiny Pacific island.
    The final vote is expected to be tight, after two previous polls, in 2018 and 2020, narrowed the “No” vote from 57% to 53%.
    However, the indigenous Kanak population, who largely favour independence, have called for non-participation in the referendum as they are in a 12-month mourning period following September’s surge in Delta infections of the coronavirus.
    “Early signs in New Caledonia that the independence movement call for ‘non-participation’ is being heeded,” a journalist in the Pacific, Nic Maclellan, said on Twitter.
    “While there are queues of voters at Noumea town hall in the capital, few voters are turning out so far in Kanak-majority areas in the Loyalty Islands and Northern Province.”
    Just over 41% of eligible voters had cast their ballots by 5 p.m. local time (0600 GMT), the French embassy in New Caledonia said.    That was well below the figure at the same time during the 2020 vote, when nearly 80% of votes had been cast.
    Analysts fear a “no” vote will drive anger among those who support independence, stoking instability.
    One of five island territories spanning the Indo-Pacific held by France, New Caledonia is the centrepiece of President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to increase its influence in the Pacific.
    Sunday’s vote is the third prescribed by a deal hammered out a decade after talks on the island’s future began in 1988, and which called for a series of independence referendums.
    Fighting erupted in the 1980s in the nickel-rich territory, 1,200 km (750 miles) east of Australia and 20,000 km (12,000 miles) from France, between supporters of independence and those who wanted to stay French.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

12/12/2021 Australia Shortens Wait Time For COVID-19 Booster Doses As Omicron Cases Rise by Colin Packham
Travellers receive tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pre-departure testing facility,
as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant, outside the international terminal
at Sydney Airport in Sydney, Australia, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott
    CANBERRA (Reuters) -Australia said on Sunday it will shorten the wait time for people to receive a COVID-19 booster following a rise in cases of the Omicron variant.
    Australia had previously said it would offer the booster to everyone over 18 who had had their second dose of the vaccine six months earlier.
    But with rising cases of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the time interval will be shortened to five months after the second dose.
    “A booster dose five or more months after the second dose will make sure that the protection from the primary course is even stronger and longer lasting and should help prevent spread of the virus,” Hunt said in an emailed statement.
    “Data from Israel shows boosters supporting reductions in the rate of infection in eligible age groups, severe disease in those aged over 40 years and deaths in those over 60 years.”
    Australia will use both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna in its booster programme.
    Australia is one of the most vaccinated countries, with about 90% of people over 16 fully inoculated.
    Still, Australia on Sunday reported 1,556 cases in the previous 24 hours as infections lingered near the six-week high reported a day earlier.
    Australia has recorded about 229,000 COVID-19 infections, well below the toll of other nations, and 2,100 deaths.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Chris Reese and William Mallard)

12/12/2021 The Curious Case Of A Map And A Disappearing Taiwan Minister At U.S. Democracy Summit by Humeyra Pamuk, Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and Taiwanese flags are displayed alongside a military airplane
in this illustration taken April 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A video feed of a Taiwanese minister was cut during U.S. President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy last week after a map in her slide presentation showed Taiwan in a different color to China, which claims the island as its own.
    Sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that Friday’s slide show by Taiwanese Digital Minister Audrey Tang caused consternation among U.S. officials after the map appeared in her video feed for about a minute.
    The sources, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the video feed showing Tang was cut during an ongoing panel discussion and replaced with audio only – at the behest of the White House.
    The White House was concerned that differentiating Taiwan and China on a map in a U.S.-hosted conference – to which Taiwan had been invited in a show of support at a time when it is under intense pressure from Beijing – could be seen as being at odds with Washington’s “one-China” policy, which avoids taking a position as to whether Taiwan is part of China, the sources said.
    The White House offered no formal comment, but the State Department said “confusion” over screen-sharing resulted in Tang’s video feed being dropped, calling it “an honest mistake.”
    “We valued Minister Tang’s participation, which showcased Taiwan’s world-class expertise on issues of transparent governance, human rights, and countering disinformation,” a spokesperson said.
    Tang’s presentation included a color-coded map from South African NGO CIVICUS, ranking the world by openness on civil rights.
    Most of Asia was shown, with Taiwan colored green, making it the only regional entity portrayed as “open,” while all the others, including several U.S. allies and partners, were labeled as being “closed,” “repressed,” “obstructed” or “narrowed.”
    China, Laos, Vietnam and North Korea were colored red and labeled “closed.”
    When the moderator returned to Tang a few minutes later, there was no video of her, just audio, and a screenshot captioned: “Minister Audrey Tang Taiwan.”    An onscreen disclaimer later declared: “Any opinions expressed by individuals on this panel are those of the individual, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States government.”
    One source told Reuters the map generated an instant email flurry among U.S. officials and the White House National Security Council angrily contacted the State Department, concerned it appeared to show Taiwan as a distinct country.
    Washington complained to Taiwan’s government, which in turn was angry that Tang’s video had been cut.
    The source called the U.S. move an over-reaction as the map was not inherently about national boundaries, but the NSC was also angry as the slide had not appeared in “dry-run” versions of the presentation before the summit, raising questions as to whether there was intentional messaging by Tang and Taiwan.
    “They choked,” the source said of the White House reaction.
    A second source directly involved in the summit said the video booth operator acted on White House instructions.    “It was clearly policy concerns,” the source said, adding: “This was completely an internal overreaction.”
    The sources saw the move during a panel on “countering digital authoritarianism” as at odds with the summit’s mission of bolstering democracy in the face of challenges from China and others.    They also said it could signal that the administration’s support for Taiwan was not as “rock solid” as it has repeatedly stated.
    Asked whether she believed the U.S. government cut the video due to the slide, Tang told Reuters in an email: “No, I do not believe that this has anything to do with the CIVICUS map in my slides, or U.S. allies in Asia for that matter.”
    Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry blamed “technical problems.”
    The issue comes at a highly sensitive time for U.S.-Taiwan relations, when some Biden administration critics and foreign policy experts are calling for more overt shows of support for the island, including an end to a long-held policy of “strategic ambiguity” as to whether the United States would defend it militarily.
    Taiwan experts said they did not see the color-coding of the map as a violation of unofficial U.S. guidelines, which bar use of overt symbols of sovereignty, such as Taiwan’s flag.
    “It was clearly not to distinguish sovereignty, but the degree of democratic expression,” said Douglas Paal, a former unofficial U.S. ambassador to Taiwan.
    Bonnie Glaser, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, doubted there was a reference in U.S. guidelines on using different colors for China and Taiwan on a map, “but that would be consistent with the idea of not endorsing a position on whether or not Taiwan is part of China.”
    “It seems to me that a decision was made at the outset that Taiwan could/should be included in the Summit for Democracy, but only in ways consistent with U.S. policy.”
(Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

12/13/2021 Blinken In Indonesia As U.S. Seeks To Shore-Up Southeast Asia Ties by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Antony Blinken waves, as boards his plane following the G7 foreign
ministers summit, at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, Britain December 12, 2021. Olivier Douliery /Pool via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Indonesia on Monday, kicking off a visit to Southeast Asia aimed at strengthening ties in a region that has become a strategic battleground between Washington and Beijing.
    In his first Southeast Asia trip since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, Blinken will be in Malaysia and Thailand this week after visiting Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, where he will meet President Joko Widodo and will deliver a speech on U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy on Tuesday.
    Southeast Asia is a key stage for a rivalry between the United States and China, the world’s two biggest economies, with a heated battle for influence as the Biden administration seeks to reconnect with a region to which U.S. commitment was questioned under President Donald Trump.
    Blinken will pursue Biden’s aim of elevating engagement with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc and discuss the president’s vision for an Indo-Pacific economic framework, a top U.S. diplomat for Asia said ahead of the trip.
    The United States and Western allies are pushing back against Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, a conduit for a third of global trade, and accuse its vast coastguard fleet of bullying countries including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia by disrupting energy and fishing activities.
    China claims almost the entire sea as its own, and has rejected U.S. actions as meddling by an outside power.
    The Biden administration sees closer engagement in Southeast Asia as vital to its efforts to push back against China’s growing power, but Trump’s withdrawal from a regional trade deal in 2017 has limited its ability to exert economic influence, while Beijing has sought to bolster its trade ties.
    The administration has yet to spell out what exactly Biden’s envisaged economic framework will entail.
(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Martin Petty; Editing by Stephen Coates)

12/13/2021 Australia Signs $717 Million Defence Deal With South Korea’s Hanwha by Colin Packham
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pose for photographs with
representatives of Hanwha Group and Members of the Australian Defence Force during a signing ceremony
at Parliament House, in Canberra, Australia December 13, 2021. Lukas Coch/Pool via REUTERS
    CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia signed a A$1 billion ($716.5 million) defence deal with South Korea on Monday, boosting Seoul’s efforts to grow its military exports.
    Under the terms of the deal, South Korean defence company Hanwha Corp will build 30 self-propelled howitzers and 15 armoured ammunition resupply vehicles for Australia.
    “It’s an important further chapter in the defence industry story for Australia as we continue to build our sovereign capability and (South) Korea is an important partner in that journey,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
    The deal positions Hanwha as a frontrunner for Australia’s planned A$30 billion contract to build infantry fighting vehicles for its army.
    Shares in Hanwha were up 3% following the announcement.
    While the defence deal is the headline of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s four-day trip to Australia, both countries said they have also agreed to work closely to help ensure supplies of Australian critical minerals exports for South Korea’s tech sector.
    Western allies have in recent months moved to reduce their dependency on China amid heightened concern about Beijing’s control over the critical minerals sector.
    South Korea needs critical mineral supplies, having pledged to become a global battery manufacturing powerhouse by 2030 as part of its plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.
    Australia supplies around 40% of South Korea’s critical mineral imports, which are crucial for many of the components needed to drive the world’s economies to net zero emissions by 2050.
($1 = 1.3957 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/13/2021 Taiwan Says Confident Chinese Invasion Would Be Very Hard by 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) – A full Chinese invasion of Taiwan with troops landed and ports and airports seized would be very difficult to achieve due to problems China would have in landing and supplying troops, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said in its latest threat assessment.
    Tensions between Taipei and Beijing, which claims the democratically-ruled island as its own territory, have risen in the past two years as China steps up military activities near Taiwan to pressure it to accept Chinese rule.
    In a report to lawmakers, Taiwan’s Defence Ministry said China’s transport capacity was at present limited, it would not be able to land all its forces in one go, and would have to rely on “non-standard” roll-on, roll-off ships that would need to use port facilities and transport aircraft that would need airports.
    “However, the nation’s military strongly defends ports and airports, and they will not be easy to occupy in a short time.    Landing operations will face extremely high risks,” the ministry said in its report, a copy of which was reviewed by Reuters.
    China’s logistics face challenges too, as any landing forces would need to be resupplied with weapons, food and medicines across the Taiwan Strait that separates the two, it added.
    “The nation’s military has the advantage of the Taiwan Strait being a natural moat and can use joint intercept operations, cutting off the Communist military’s supplies, severely reducing the combat effectiveness and endurance of the landing forces.”
    China would also need to keep some of its forces in reserve to prevent any foreign forces joining in to help Taiwan and to keep close watch on other fractious areas of China’s border, like with India and in the South China Sea, the ministry said.
    “U.S. and Japanese military bases are close to Taiwan, and any Chinese Communist attack would necessarily be closely monitored, plus it would need to reserve forces to prevent foreign military intervention,” it added.
    “It is difficult to concentrate all its efforts on fighting with Taiwan.”
    Experts say though that China has other means at its disposal to bring Taiwan to its knees short of a full out invasion, including a blockade or targeted missile attacks.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is overseeing a military modernisation programme to make the island harder to attack, making the military more mobile and with precision weapons like longer-range missiles to take out an attacking force.
    The government is planning an extra T$240 billion ($8.66 billion) over the next five years in military spending to go mostly toward naval weapons, including missiles and warships.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

12/13/2021 More Border Rules Ease In Australia Ahead Of Christmas Holidays
ILE PHOTO: Travellers and flight crew members arrive at the international terminal at Sydney Airport,
as countries react to the new coronavirus Omicron variant amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, in Sydney, Australia, November 30, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - Coronavirus-free Queensland state opened its domestic borders to all vaccinated people on Monday for the first time in nearly five months, as Australians gear up for quarantine-free travel across most of the country during the busy Christmas period.
    Hundreds of cars queued up at the state’s southern border with New South Wales well before the rules were set to relax at 1 a.m. local time (1400 GMT, Sunday), television footage showed.
    Queensland, Australia’s third most populous state, shut its border to New South Wales in July and then later to people coming from Victoria to protect against a Delta outbreak that rocked the country’s east for several months.
    “We will live with COVID – but on our terms,” state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a tweet as the state topped its goal of having 80% of people over 16 fully vaccinated – a prerequisite for relaxing rules.
    Qantas said it would fly nearly 10,000 passengers to and from Queensland on Monday in about 100 flights, with most fully booked.
    The easing of border restrictions comes just days before school summer holidays begin and will be a boost for the state’s lucrative tourism sector which has been badly hit by the internal border curbs.
    Australian states have been relaxing border rules after reaching higher vaccination levels despite the threat from the new Omicron variant.
    Tasmania is set to reopen its borders to other states later this week, while Western Australia said it would reopen its border on Feb. 5.    South Australia has been welcoming interstate arrivals since late November.
    Australia has recorded nearly 229,000 cases of COVID-19 and 2,104 deaths, far fewer than many comparable countries. Around 70 cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the country so far, mainly in Sydney.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; Additional reporting by Sonali Paul; editing by Richard Pullin)

12/13/2021 Final Results Of New Caledonia Referendum Shows Most Voters Stayed Away
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting with New Caledonia representatives
to discuss the consequences of the referendum on New Caledonia self-determination,
at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France June 1, 2021. Bertrand Guay/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Final results of an independence referendum in the French territory of New Caledonia show almost two-thirds of voters abstained or returned blank or null ballots, after a call for a boycott by supporters of independence.
    The referendum result showed 96.5% of those who did vote on Sunday opposed independence, after a big drop in turnout due to the boycott call.
    The indigenous Kanak population, who largely favour independence, had called for non-participation in the vote after France declined a request to delay the ballot to allow for a traditional mourning period following a September surge in coronavirus infections.
    France’s decision to hold the vote against the wishes of Kanaks drew condemnation in neighbouring Pacific islands where sensitivities over colonisation are high.
    Final results published by the French High Commission in Noumea on Monday showed turnout of 43.9%. Abstentions stood at 56.13%, blank ballots at 1.43% and null ballots at 1.56%.
    The vote, the third and final ballot on the issue, follows two previous polls in 2018 and 2020 in which the “no” vote got 57% and 53% respectively.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/13/2021 Kabul Passport Office Head Urges Patience As Anxious Crowds Keep Gathering
Alam Gul Haqqani, Head of Afghanistan Passport Office, checks documents at his office
in Kabul, Afghanistan December 12, 2021. Picture taken December 12, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara
    KABUL (Reuters) – The head of the Kabul Passport Office has asked for patience from thousands of Afghans waiting for documents that would let them leave the country as large crowds continue to gather outside, a month after the office suspended operations.
    As winter closes in and economic crisis deepens in the wake of the abrupt withdrawal of foreign aid after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the crowds around the biggest passport issuing centre in the country underline the desperate desire of large numbers of citizens to leave.
    “We have done our best to reopen the office but we are still facing some equipment shortages,” passport office head Alam Gul Haqqani told Reuters in an interview on Sunday.
    Last month the office was forced to close after equipment used for issuing biometric documents broke down under the pressure of processing thousands of applications a day but demand has built steadily.
    Even though the office has been closed for weeks, hundreds of people still gather outside the fortified compound clutching plastic document files, regularly beaten back from the crash barriers by Taliban security forces.
    “I am sure the office will restart and we will fulfil all applications,” Haqqani said.    “I assure the nation that no-one will leave our office with any reason to be upset.”
    He appealed to people to stay away until the office is operational again.
    “I am really sorry about this, I am upset because people are facing hardship.    They’re wasting their money and standing here uselessly,” Haqqani said.
    “The office is closed, our systems are not operational.”
    A number of provincial passport offices are still open and officials in Kabul are processing around 2,000-3,000 passports from these offices each day, he said, but it was still unclear when the Kabul office would reopen.
    As well as the equipment issues, Haqqani said officials were working on stamping out corruption and rooting out the so-called ‘Commissionkar’ – commission agents who promise to ensure swift treatment of applications for a fee.
    “We have arrested bribe takers, from inside and outside the office,” he said.    “We will use any possible way to clean the country of bribe takers everywhere.”
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Mohammad Yunus Yawar; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

12/13/2021 U.S. Ambassador To Solomons Warns Of Aid That Goes To ‘One Bank Account’ by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Solomon Islands' Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare remotely addresses the 76th Session of the U.N. General
Assembly by pre-recorded video in New York City, U.S., September 25, 2021. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – The U.S. ambassador to the Solomon Islands has warned Pacific Islands against “aid that benefits one person, one party and one bank account” – remarks that come after the Solomons were beset with riots last month blamed in part on discontent with China.
    Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was accused last week by the leader of the opposition in parliament of using money from a national development fund that comes from China to prop up his political strength. He has rejected graft allegations.
    Sogavare has blamed foreign powers that opposed his 2019 decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China for influencing anti-government protesters from Malaita province.
    Under-developed Malaita has been historically at odds with Guadalcanal province, where the national government is based, and opposed the 2019 switch of ties.    It has banned Chinese construction and companies, and in 2020 accepted a $25 million U.S. Aid program.
    Malaita protesters last month sparked riots by residents of the capital Honiara, where there is discontent over foreign companies failing to provide local jobs.    Large sections of Chinatown burnt down.
    In her first public comments on the riots, U.S. ambassador to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, Erin McKee said in a statement that the loss of life and destruction of property in Honiara was tragic and “should not have happened.”
    McKee said the U.S. aid project resulted from an exchange of letters between Sogavare and then U.S. vice president Mike Pence, and aid and defence officials travelled to the Solomon Islands in August 2019.
    Solomon Islands broke relations with Taiwan and recognised China the next month.    Delays to the U.S. project occurred after the switch. It has since commenced operations although the entry of U.S. Peace Corps volunteers is still being negotiated.
    U.S. aid contractors worked in partnership with communities so they could build local infrastructure such as roads and maintain it “without outside help,” the statement said.
    “Do you want aid that benefits one person, one party, and one bank account?    Or do you want assistance that empowers entire families, strengthens entire communities, and enriches entire nations?” she said.
    “As democratic and independent states, you have a choice of who to partner with.    And I believe that the choice is obvious.”
    The Chinese embassy, which opened in Honiara in September last year, said on its website hundreds of Chinese families were left homeless by the riots.
    “Any attempt to sabotage the relationship is doomed to failure,” it added.
    Over 200 police and soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Fiji are in Honiara at the request of Sogavare to maintain order.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

12/13/2021 Some Chinese Companies Suspend Production In Zhejiang Province On Virus Outbreak
FILE PHOTO: Lines of trucks are seen at a container terminal of Ningbo Zhoushan port in Zhejiang
province, China, August 15, 2021. Picture taken August 15, 2021. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) -More than a dozen Chinese-listed companies said they had suspended production in coronavirus-hit parts of China’s eastern Zhejiang province in response to local government’s tightened COVID-19 curbs, causing their share prices to plunge.
    Zhejiang reported a total of 173 locally transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms during the Dec. 6-12 period, official numbers showed on Monday, marking the province’s first domestic cluster outbreak this year.
    In October, the province reported just one local case.
    A slew of companies, including Ningbo Homelink Eco-Itech Co Ltd, Zhejiang Zhongxin Fluoride Materials Co Ltd, Zhejiang Jingsheng Mechanical & Electrical Co Ltd and Zhejiang Fenglong Electric Co Ltd, announced the production suspension through exchange filings over the weekend.
    Their shares fell sharply in early trading on Monday.    Zhejiang Chunhui Intelligent Control Co Ltd and Zhejiang Yankon Group Co suffered the biggest losses, with their shares falling more than 7% each.
    China reported 80 new locally-transmitted cases with symptoms on the mainland for Dec. 12, including 74 identified in Zhejiang.
    Ningbo Homelink, which makes plastic products, said in an exchange filing late on Sunday that it had halted production in its home city Ningbo at the request of local authorities, and is taking measures to minimise the negative impact on its business.
    Zhejiang Jindun Fans Co, a Chinese maker of ventilation system equipment, said on Sunday that production at its subsidiary in Zhejiang’s Shaoxing city had been suspended due to local government’s anti-virus measures.
    The company said there would be some delay in product deliveries and a hit to business this month, but that the fallout on this year’s annual results would be limited.
    All the companies that announced production halt vowed to fully cooperate with the local government, which will decide when production can be resumed.
(Reporting by Samuel Shen and Brenda Goh; additioinal reporting by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)

12/13/2021 In Myanmar’s Chin State, A Grassroots Rebellion Grows by Devjyot Ghoshal and Chanchinmawia
FILE PHOTO: A Chinland Defence Force fighter poses for a photograph at an undisclosed location near the
India-Myanmar border, in the northeastern state of Mizoram, India, November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    CHAMPHAI, India (Reuters) - The former boxer said he and his comrades were perched on a hillside near the town of Mindat, in Myanmar’s northwest, and preparing to ambush a patrol of soldiers when the troops opened fire and a bullet smashed into his forearm.
    “I tried to run but I got shot again in the upper arm,” Za Latt Thwey, who requested that he be identified by the name he uses as a boxer, told Reuters near a safe house in India’s Mizoram state, which borders Myanmar.
    An Indian orthopaedic surgeon’s note said the 25-year-old had suffered a gunshot wound and an X-ray showed where his bone had been shattered.
    That skirmish in mid-May was part of what seven people involved in the rebellion, including five fighters, said was a growing popular resistance to Myanmar’s military in Chin state.
    Their accounts include previously unreported details of how the rebellion there began and expanded.
    As in other parts of the country, civilians enraged by the military coup in February and subsequent crackdown on protesters are taking up arms. The junta appears to be worried about the threat they pose in Chin.
    In the last few weeks, the military, known as the Tatmadaw, has sent reinforcements to Chin, which had been largely peaceful for years, and launched a major offensive against rebels, according to some analysts and rights groups.
    More than a dozen so-called Chinland Defence Force (CDF) opposition groups have sprung up in the state, according to three of the sources, who described an expanding network of fighters whose knowledge of local terrain is a major advantage.
    They said the groups had established supply chains, food stockpiles and weapon depots and linked up with a long-established ethnic group called the Chin National Front (CNF) to train in combat and better coordinate operations.
    The military has said all resistance forces and the shadow government are “terrorists.”
    CNF spokesman Salai Htet Ni told Reuters the group had helped train Chin youth and protesters in basic guerrilla warfare after the military coup.
    “Our unity and public support is our strength,” said a 32-year-old fighter from Chin’s capital Hakha.
    Reuters was not able to independently verify some claims made by the sources about the strength of the rebellion and scale of the Tatmadaw’s response.
    Myanmar’s military spokesperson and the Ministry of Information did not respond to requests for comment on the growing resistance in Chin or the armed forces’ deployments.
    The Tatmadaw’s response to resistance in Chin and elsewhere has prompted warnings from the United Nations and United States that the brutal clampdown on Rohingya Muslims in neighbouring Rakhine state in 2017 risked being repeated.
    More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Rakhine that year and refugees accused the military of mass killings and rape. UN investigators said the military had carried out the atrocities with “genocidal intent.”
    Myanmar authorities said they were battling an insurgency and deny carrying out systematic atrocities.
    The military has not released details of overall battlefield losses since the February coup.
NOODLES AND SHOTGUNS
    Before he took up arms, the fighter from Hakha said he was a postgraduate student of history who joined widespread public demonstrations against the February coup.
    Like the four other fighters Reuters interviewed in Mizoram, he said his decision to join the resistance was triggered by the military’s suppression of peaceful protests that demanded civilian rule be restored.
    Local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says junta forces have killed more than 1,300 people and detained thousands in a bid to crush opposition to the coup.
    The military has outlawed AAPP, saying it is biased and uses exaggerated data. The AAPP has not responded to that accusation.
    Groups of young protesters in Hakha began stockpiling food including rice, oil and noodles and medical supplies in multiple locations in the jungle surrounding the township of around 50,000 people, two of the fighters said.
    In April, some CDF groups met in Camp Victoria, the CNF’s headquarters, to coordinate armed resistance against the Tatmadaw, according to the fighter from Hakha.
    The CNF, which has a military wing, has become pivotal to the resistance, providing training and other support to several CDF groups across the state, said two fighters and a senior leader of the National Unity Government (NUG).
    The NUG, effectively a shadow government, comprises pro-democracy groups and remnants of the ousted civilian administration. It has held talks with foreign officials, including from the United States.
    In the early months of the resistance, nearly 2,000 volunteers from Hakha were sent to Camp Victoria for combat training under the CNF, the two fighters said, a level of coordination not previously reported.
NEW KIND OF CRISIS
    By May, three of the CDF fighters said they were taking on the Tatmadaw in several parts of Chin, a 36,000 square kilometre province with nine major townships.
    Outside Mindat, Za Latt Thwey said he was among the guerrillas, some trained by the CNF, who targeted Tatmadaw patrols.
    In cellphone footage taken by fighters, and shown to Reuters by Za Latt Thwey, small groups of young men could be seen perched on wooded hillsides firing homemade guns and automatic rifles.    Reuters could not independently verify the footage.
    Financial support for the rebels in Mindat has mostly come from the Chin diaspora and the NUG, said an ousted Chin lawmaker, who declined to be named.
    Through multiple routes, including from India, the lawmaker said food, clothes, medicine and equipment were reaching the rebels each month.
    Weapons and explosives were the hardest to procure, according to the lawmaker, the NUG leader and three of the fighters.
    The CDF Hakha, with some 2,000 volunteers, is run by a 21-member council that oversees command stations, smaller camps and supporting units, two of the rebels said.
    Across Chin violence has escalated in the last four months as the Tatmadaw clashes with a rising number of rebel groups, according to analysis from the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO).
    “We have never had this kind of crisis before in Chin,” said CHRO’s Salai Za Uk Ling.
    Once a thriving settlement of some 10,000 people, the hilltop town of Thantlang is now virtually deserted, surrounded by soldiers who set alight more than 500 buildings since early September, according to two former residents and the CHRO.
    The U.S. State Department singled out events in Chin, and Thantlang in particular, in a statement last month urging the military to end the violence.
    Pa Hein, 55, who said he was among the last people to leave the town in late September, told Reuters by telephone that he saw Tatmadaw troops ransack shops and set buildings on fire.
    The Myanmar military has denied the accusations, and blamed insurgents for instigating fighting in Thantlang and burning homes.
SEEKING TREATMENT
    After the first police defectors trickled into India’s Mizoram state in early March, followed by Myanmar lawmakers and thousands of others seeking shelter, the mountainous border province has become a buffer zone for Chin guerrillas.
    The Indian government did not respond to a request for comment.
    Mizoram authorities estimate around 12,900 people have crossed over from Myanmar, including 30 ousted state and federal lawmakers, according to a senior Mizoram police official who declined to be named.
    Some of the lawmakers and leaders have been helping the resistance, and as fighting intensifies they are seeking to unify and support the rebels.
    The NUG wants to bring all armed resistance groups under a single command with the assistance of the CNF, said the Chin lawmaker and senior NUG leader.
    CNF’s Salai Htet Ni said the group and the NUG had agreed to work together, with the CNF “taking a leadership role in Chin State’s defence and military warfare.”
    After he was shot, Za Latt Thwey said he tried for months to find a safe route to the Myanmar city of Mandalay, but eventually deemed the journey too risky.
    In early November, he collected money from family and friends and undertook a five-day journey, mostly by motorcycle, to cross into India.
    “I can’t box anymore,” Za Latt Thwey said.    “But I need my arm to be fixed so that I can continue my normal life, so that I can farm.”
(Additional reporting by Myanmar bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

12/13/2021 Hong Kong Activists Get Up To 14 Months In Prison For Banned Tiananmen Vigil by Jessie Pang and Edmond Ng
FILE PHOTO: Media tycoon Jimmy Lai arrives at the West Kowloon Courts before entering a courtroom to face charges
related to illegal assembly during Tiananmen vigil, in Hong Kong, China September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Eight Hong Kong pro-democracy activists were sentenced to up to 14 months in prison on Monday for organising, taking part in and inciting participation in a banned vigil last year for victims of China’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.
    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 police have rejected applications for the last two vigils, citing coronavirus restrictions.
    Critics said authorities used the pandemic restrictions as an excuse to block the commemoration.    The city government rejected that.
    The sentencing is the latest blow to the city’s democracy movement, which has seen dozens of activists arrested, jailed or flee the Chinese-ruled territory since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law last year.
    Judge Amanda Woodcock said the defendants “ignored and belittled a genuine public health crisis” and “wrongly and arrogantly believed” in commemorating June 4 rather than protecting the health of the community.
    Media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 74, who is already in jail, barrister Chow Hang Tung, 36, and activist Gwyneth Ho, 31, received sentences of 13, 12 and 6 months, respectively.    They were found guilty by the court last Thursday.
    The three, the highest profile of the eight, had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
    “If commemorate (sic) those who died because of injustice is a crime, then inflict on me that crime and let me suffer the punishment of this crime, so I may share the burden and glory of those young men and women who shed their blood on June 4th to proclaim truth, justice and goodness,” Lai said in a mitigation letter, handwritten in prison, ahead of sentencing.
    Chow, in her mitigation said: “If those in power had wished to kill the movement with prosecution and imprisonment, they shall be sorely disappointed.    Indeed what they have done is breathe new life into the movement, rallying a new generation to this long struggle for truth, justice and democracy.”
    Five others who had pleaded guilty, including Lee Cheuk-yan, leader of the now-disbanded vigil organiser Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, were sentenced to between just over 4 months and 14 months.
    “If there was a provocateur, it is the regime that fired at its own people,” an emotional Lee, who received the highest sentence of 14 months, told the court on Nov. 17.
    “If I must go to jail to affirm my will, then so be it.”
    All sentences will be served concurrently with any the defendants are already facing in other cases.
    Sixteen other activists are already serving sentences of 4-10 months related to the 2020 vigil.    Two democracy campaigners facing similar charges over the vigil, Nathan Law and Sunny Cheung, have fled Hong Kong.
    After mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, the global financial hub has taken a swift authoritarian turn with Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law last year impacting many aspects of life in the city.
    China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown on protest there that centred on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
    The death toll given by officials days later was about 300, most of them soldiers, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands of protesters may have been killed.
(Reporting by Jessie Pang and Edmond Ng; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Robert Birsel)

12/13/2021 Over 900 American Citizens, Permanent Residents Left Afghanistan With U.S. Help - Agency
U.S. Soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, prepare