From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2022 MARCH-APRIL"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from ďBeast That Came Out Of The SeaĒ - 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.    Or return to King Of The East 2022 January-February or continue to King Of The East 2022 May-June.

KING OF THE EAST 2022 MARCH-APRIL


    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the East" is?
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
       
    The spectacular rise of China on the world scene, and achievements are spectacular, indeed.    In just one generation, they have tripled their per capita income, and lifted over 300 million people out of poverty.
    Xi Jinping is still president for life and continues to push "Belt And Road Project" fits the scenerio to fulfil prophecy to go into the Middle East at the appointed time.
    He continues to push the unconditional authority of the Communist Party, and controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, boosted its military capabilities and unveiled a vast international logistics and transportation project called the ďBelt and RoadĒ 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 Idid 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 ďtwo hundred millionĒ 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.
35 ďThus says the Lord of hosts: ĎBehold, 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,í says the Lord; ĎAnd 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,í says the Lord.
39 ĎBut it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,í 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)



2022 MARCH-APRIL

3/1/2022 Iranís Supreme Leader Criticises U.S. On Ukraine Crisis by OAN Newsroom
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks during a meeting via video conference with people from East Azarbaijan
in Tehran, Iran, February 17, 2022. Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranís Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that the war in Ukraine should be stopped and accused the United States, which he called a ďmafia-like regime,Ē of creating the crisis.
    Iranís top political authority also said that the roots of the conflict must be acknowledged.
    Khamenei blasted Washington and other Western nations as talks in Vienna between Iran and world powers on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal have reached a critical stage.
    Iran said on Monday efforts to revive the pact could succeed if the United States took a political decision to meet Tehranís remaining demands, as months of negotiations enter what one Iranian diplomat called a ďnow or neverĒ stage.
    ďThe United States is a regime that lives on crises Ö, in my view, Ukraine is a victim of the crises concocted by the U.S.,Ē said Khamenei.
    ďThere are two lessons to be learnt here. States which depend on the support of the U.S. and Western powers need to know they cannot trust such countries.    It is people that matter; if Ukrainians supported their government, the situation would have been different from the current crisis
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alex Richardson)

3/1/2022 Hong Kong Residents Brace For Citywide Lockdown As Leader Calls For Calm by Farah Master
Customers wearing masks shop in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong residents braced for a city-wide lockdown, emptying supermarkets and pharmacies on Tuesday, even as leader Carrie Lam called for calm and appealed for the public not to worry over a compulsory mass COVID-19 testing plan.
    Mass testing for the cityís 7.4 million residents is set to take place over nine days starting in the second half of March, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, citing an unidentified source.
    The news sparked concerns many people will be forced to isolate and families with members testing positive would be separated.
    Officials are planning to test people three times over nine days, with the government still deliberating whether a lockdown would be done on a district basis or citywide, the SCMP said.
    Exemptions would be made for those who buy food, seek medical treatment and maintain societal operations.    Hong Kongís stock market would continue to operate, Sing Tao newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.
    Lam had previously said she was not considering a city-wide lockdown.
    On Tuesday, she appealed to the public ďnot to fall prey to rumours to avoid unnecessary fears being stirredĒ, saying the supply of food and goods remaining normal.
    ďThere is no need for members of the public to worry, they should stay vigilant and pay attention to the information disseminated by the government so as to avoid being misled by rumours,Ē Lam said in a statement.
    Despite her comments, dozens of people queued to enter pharmacies and banks across the city, while many scoured empty shelves in grocery stores to stock up on whatever essentials they could.
    Streets and shopping malls in the heart of the cityís Central financial district were eerily quiet in what would typically be a busy lunchtime period.
    The Chinese ruled city has seen coronavirus infections surge some 34 times to over 34,000 on Monday from just over 100 at the start of February.    Deaths are also climbing, with facilities for storing dead bodies at hospitals and public mortuaries at maximum capacity.
    Hong Kong continues to stick to a COVID policy of ďdynamic zero,Ē the same as mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks at any cost.    The Chinese ruled territory has implemented its most draconian measures since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
    The rules have exacerbated separation fears among many families, with many fleeing ahead of the mass testing scheme and the build out of tens of thousands of isolation centres.
    The former British colony has reported over 205,000 coronavirus infections and 744 deaths in total, however over 400 deaths have been in the past week, with the majority being unvaccinated residents.
    Lam, who inspected a mainland Chinese built isolation centre on Monday, said the team had raced against the clock to ďcreate a miracleĒ in the cityís construction industry.
    The Tsing Yi facility, located in the northwest of the city, would provide around 3,900 rooms for infected people with mild or no symptoms and others who need to isolate, she said.
(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree and Jessie Pang; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/1/2022 Taliban Restrict Afghans Going Abroad, Raises Concern From U.S. And UK
FILE PHOTO: Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid speaks during a news
conference in Kabul, Afghanistan September 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban administrationís announcement that it would restrict Afghans from leaving the country under certain circumstances drew concern from the United States and the United Kingdom this week amidst fears they could hamper ongoing evacuation efforts.
    The Taliban administrationís spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid had said at a media conference on Sunday that Afghans would not be allowed to leave the country unless they had a clear destination and that women could not travel overseas for study without a male guardian.
    Hugo Shorter, the UK charge díaffaires for Afghanistan, said in a Tweet on Monday they had seen the Talibanís statements.
    ďThese would be unacceptable restrictions on freedom of movement,Ē he said.    ďI call on the Taliban to clarify their remarks urgently
    It was not immediately clear whether the plans would hamper the efforts by international governments and organisations to evacuate thousands of Afghans who had worked with foreign embassies, militaries and projects and were eligible for asylum in Western countries but still in Afghanistan.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said late on Monday they were engaging with the Taliban over the issue.
    ďWe have seen the Taliban statements reported in the press and have raised our concerns with the Taliban,Ē the spokesperson said.
    ďOur ability to facilitate relocation for our Afghan allies depends on the Taliban living up to its commitment of free passage,Ē the spokesperson added.
    Mujahid said the Talibanís travel restrictions would apply to Afghans who worked with NATO and American forces, but did not elaborate under what, if any, circumstances they would be able to evacuate.
    ďWe will not allow Afghans to leave the country unless their destinations are known,Ē Mujahid said.
    Mujahid blamed poor conditions in countries where some Afghans were being held while their visas were processed after thousands were evacuated, at times without finalised visas, by withdrawing foreign forces in the wake of the Talibanís take-over of the country in August.
    Regular evacuation flights organised by the United States via Qatar were largely stopped in December over disagreement by the Taliban administration on who should be able to board, sources had told Reuters.
(Reporting by KABUL Newsroom; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Michael Perry)

3/1/2022 Hong Kong Leader Calls For Calm, After Supermarkets Emptied Ahead Of Mass COVID Testing
A customer wearing a mask shops in front of partially empty shelves at a supermarket during the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hong Kong, China February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kongís leader Carrie Lam called for calm on Tuesday after residents emptied supermarkets, stocking up on produce ahead of reports of compulsory mass COVID-19 testing and rumours of a city-wide lockdown.
    Local media reported compulsory COVID testing would start after March 17, sparking concerns many people will be forced to isolate and families with members testing positive would be separated.
    Lam appealed to the public ďnot to fall prey to rumours to avoid unnecessary fears being stirred,Ē with the supply of food and goods remaining normal, according to a statement on Tuesday.
    ďThere is no need for members of the public to worry, they should stay vigilant and pay attention to the information disseminated by the government so as to avoid being misled by rumours
    Officials are planning to test the cityís 7.4 million people three times over nine days, with the government recommending that people stay home during the period, Sing Tao newspaper reported, citing unidentified sources.
    Exemptions would be made for those who buy food, seek medical treatment and maintain societal operations.    Hong Kongís stock market would continue to operate, the paper said.
    Lam had previously said she was not considering a city-wide lockdown.
    The Chinese ruled city has seen coronavirus infections surge some 34 times to over 34,000 on Monday from just over 100 at the start of February.
    Deaths are also climbing, with facilities for storing dead bodies at hospitals and public mortuaries at maximum capacity.
    Hong Kong continues to stick to a COVID policy of ďdynamic zero,Ē the same as mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks at any cost.    The Chinese ruled territory has implemented its most draconian measures since the start of the pandemic in 2020.
    The rules have exacerbated separation fears among many families, with many fleeing ahead of the mass testing scheme and the build out of tens of thousands of isolation centres.
    Lam, who inspected a mainland Chinese built isolation centre on Monday, said the team had raced against the clock to ďcreate a miracleĒ in the cityís construction industry.
    The Tsing Yi facility, located in the northwest of the city, would provide around 3,900 rooms for infected people with mild or no symptoms and others who need to isolate, she said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/1/2022 Australia Steps Up Flood Relief Efforts As Sydney Braces For Heavy Rains
Flooding in the town of Lismore after heavy rains in northeastern New
South Wales, Australia February 28, 2022. Jason O'Brien/AAP Image/Photog via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) -Military helicopters airlifted stranded people from rooftops of flooded neighbourhoods in eastern Australia and a tenth victim was found on Tuesday following days of torrential rain as the wild weather slowly shifts south toward Sydney.
    The death toll rose to 10 after a woman believed in her 80s was found dead inside a flooded property, police said.
    Floodwater from the deluge, which began late last week, submerged several towns and bridges in Queensland and New South Wales, and was moving to the south with heavy rains and possible flash flooding forecast for Sydney.
    ďThis rather significant weather system Ö we will see it come into the central coast of Sydney and we are already experiencing elements of that right now,Ē Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a media briefing.
    Sydney, Australiaís largest city and home to more than 5 million people, could receive up to 150 mm (6 inches) of rains within a six-hour period on Tuesday afternoon, the Bureau of Meteorology said. Sydneyís mean rainfall for March is 138 mm, according to official data.
    New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet described the extreme weather as a ďone-in-a-one thousand-year eventĒ and said emergency crews carried out more than 1,000 rescues in the state after receiving 6,000 calls for help so far.
    Hundreds of people are still stuck at their homes in the northern New South Wales city of Lismore, facing its worst floods on record, amid reports of some spending the night on rooftops.    Mayor Steve Krieg told Channel Seven that nine people were still missing with 400 rescues yet to be carried out.
    Around 50 people were rescued after they became stuck on a bridge overnight when fast rising waters submerged both ends, authorities said.
    Australiaís east coast summer has been dominated by the La Nina climate pattern, which is typically associated with greater rainfall, for a second straight year.
    Brisbane, Australiaís third largest city, received around 80% of its annual rainfall over the last three days, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/1/2022 Japan, U.S. Finance Chiefs Pledge ďMaximum CostsĒ For Russia
FILE PHOTO: Japan's new Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki wearing a protective mask, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
outbreak, speaks at a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan and the United States pledged on Tuesday to work together to force Russia to ďpay the high priceĒ for its invasion of Ukraine, Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki said on Tuesday.
    Speaking shortly after his online talks with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Suzuki said both sides agreed to continue to coordinate with each other in acting against Russia, which invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24.
    The fact that Russian central bank raised interest rates showed that sanctions were having an impact, he added.
    Yellen pledged to work closely with Japan and other G7 wealthy democracies to isolate Russia from the global financial system and ďimpose maximum costsĒ on Moscow, the U.S. Treasury said in a statement after her call with Suzuki.
    G7 finance ministers are due to meet virtually on Tuesday to discuss the financial sanctions against Russia.
    ďSecretary Yellen highlighted the force of the unprecedented and coordinated measures from the U.S. and its partners and allies, including Japan, and welcomed Japanís recent action towards the Central Bank of Russia and intention to take action against Belarus,Ē the Treasury said in a statement.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and David Lawder; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Jane Wardell)

3/2/2022 Taiwan President To Donate A Monthís Salary For Ukraine Relief Efforts
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks at a rank conferral ceremony for military officials from the
Army, Navy and Air Force, at the defence ministry in Taipei, Taiwan December 28, 2021. REUTERS/Annabelle Chih
    TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday that she, Vice President William Lai and Premier Su Tseng-chang will each donate one monthís salary to aid humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine as it seeks to repel an invasion by Russia.
    The war has generated widespread sympathy in Taiwan for Ukraineís people, due to the threat the island says it faces on a daily basis from giant neighbour China.    Beijing views Taiwan as its own territory and has stepped up its military pressure to assert those claims.
    Tsai, whose government this week send its first batch of aid in the form of 27 tonnes of medical supplies, told a meeting of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party that the determination of Ukraineís people has moved the world and Taiwanís people too.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a ďspecial operation
    The forces of global democracy supporting Ukraine are growing stronger, Tsai said.
    ďAs a member of the global partners of democracy, Taiwan is not absent, and we fully support Ukraine
    The Foreign Ministry will provide details of a bank account set up by Taiwanís Relieve Disaster Association for Ukraine relief donations into which Tsai said she, Lai and Su will each donate a monthís salary.
    A person familiar with the situation told Reuters that Tsai as president receives around T$400,000 ($14,250) a month in pay.
    Taiwanís Foreign Ministry said separately it has asked its de facto embassy in Warsaw, the Polish government and its ďdesignatedĒ non-government organisations to help distribute the funds to aid Ukrainian refugees.
    Taiwan last week also announced it was joined Western-led sanctions on Russia, though its own trade with the country is minimal.
    ďI hope that our compatriots, as well as all our party partners in public office, can fully respond to this action and firmly express to the world that Taiwan stands with Ukraine, and Taiwan stands with democracy and freedom,Ē Tsai said.
    Taiwan is largely excluded from global organisations like the United Nations due to Chinese pressure, but aspires to show it is a responsible member of the international community despite its diplomatic isolation.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Kenneth Maxwell)

3/2/2022 China Tells Its Citizens In U.S. To Pay Close Attention To Security
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese flag flutters outside the Chinese foreign ministry
in Beijing, China February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė Chinaís embassy in the United States has warned its citizens in the country to pay close attention to their personal safety, citing a ďworryingĒ security situation there.
    There is much ďhatredĒ against China in the United States and many Asians face ďmaliciousĒ attacks, seriously compromising the safety of Chinese nationals, the embassy said in Tuesdayís statement on its website.
    It mentioned international students and employees of Chinese-funded institutions among those at risk.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/2/2022 Indonesia Dismisses U.N. Expertsí Call To Probe Alleged Abuses In Papua
FILE PHOTO: Police officers wearing protective suits form a line near Papuan activists taking part in a
rally calling for their right to self-determination in the Indonesian controlled part of Papua, during
commemorations on the anniversary of West Papua's declaration of independence from Dutch colonial rule,
outside the National Monument complex in Jakarta, Indonesia, December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    JAKARTA (Reuters) Ė Indonesia has dismissed a call by United Nations human rights experts for independent investigations into reports of ďshocking abusesĒ against indigenous Papuans, saying that the Southeast Asian nation has already tackled the accusations.
    Separatists have waged a low-level campaign for independence in the resource-rich region for decades, saying a 1969 vote overseen by the United Nations that brought the former Dutch colony under Indonesian control was illegitimate.
    In a statement on Tuesday, three independent U.N. experts said that between April and November 2021 they had received allegations that indicated several instances of extrajudicial killings, including young children, enforced disappearance, torture and enforced displacement of at least 5,000 Papuans.
    The statement from the U.N. experts cited estimates that 60,000 to 100,000 people had been internally displaced in Papua since an escalation of violence in December 2018.
    ďThousands of displaced villagers have fled to the forests where they are exposed to the harsh climate in the highlands without access to food, healthcare and education facilities,Ē said the experts.
    In a letter sent to Indonesiaís government on Dec. 27, the experts also highlighted increasing violence since 2021 and said there has been a ďsurgeĒ in raids to capture armed separatists that led to arbitrary arrests and detentions.
    One of the cases cited was that of a two-year old who died after a gunfight, though separatists and security forces had differing accounts as to how the child died.
    Citing reports that aid to displaced Papuans was being obstructed, the experts called for humanitarian access and for independent monitors and journalists to be allowed access.
    ďThe experts called for urgent humanitarian access to the region, and urged the Indonesian government to conduct full and independent investigations into abuses against the indigenous peoples
    Describing the U.N. expertsí statement as ďbiased,Ē Indonesiaís permanent mission to Geneva in a statement said the news release disregarded ďverifiable data and informationĒ that has already been submitted by Indonesia on the same allegations.
    It denied authorities had obstructed aid or carried out forced displacements and said people had been displaced due to a range of factors including natural disasters and tribal conflict.
    The statement said security forces needed to be deployed in some areas because of attacks against civilians by ďarmed criminal groups
(This story was refiled to correct spelling error in paragraph 1.)
(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Editing by Ed Davies and Michael Perry)

3/2/2022 Hong Kong Urges Residents Fretting Over COVID Measures Not To Panic by Farah Master
FILE PHOTO: A customer wearing a mask buys fresh meat at a supermarket ahead of mass
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing in Hong Kong, China March 1, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kongís government said any decision to impose a COVID-19 lockdown would take into account the global financial hubís status and ensure basic needs, and it urged anxious residents who thronged supermarkets this week not to panic.
    Health authorities are due to report more than 50,000 new infections on Wednesday, setting a new daily record, broadcaster TVB reported.    Infections have surged since the beginning of February when there were about 100 daily cases.
    The government said it was still planning and ďrefiningĒ a compulsory mass COVID testing scheme and would announce details when they had been confirmed.
    The government would ďsafeguard the status of Hong Kong as a financial centre when implementing the Compulsory Universal Testing scheme (CUT),Ē it said.
    ďThe experience of implementing a CUT initiative in other parts of the world shows that the basic needs of citizens such as food, necessities and the seeking of medical attention outside home should be addressed
    Citizens should not ďpanic nor scramble or stockpile the relevant suppliesĒ
    The government statement, released late on Tuesday, comes amid widespread confusion and chaos with many residents frustrated with the mixed messaging and almost daily tweaking of coronavirus rules.
    Leader Carrie Lam had previously said that a citywide lockdown and compulsory testing were not being considered.
    However, Health Secretary Sophia Chan said on Monday a lockdown had not been ruled out, fuelling rumours and sparking a rush for groceries, pharmacy products and banking services.
    Hong Kong has stuck firmly to a ďdynamic zeroĒ coronavirus policy, like in mainland China, seeking to stamp out all outbreaks with sweeping restrictions and quarantine.
    But the highly infectious Omicron variant of the virus has breached defences time and again and some business leaders and medical experts have questioned the sustainability of a zero COVID policy as cases surge.
    Hospitals and mortuaries are operating at maximum capacity as deaths climb.
    Authorities have been racing to build tens of thousands of isolation units to quarantine those with mild or no symptoms, further worrying some residents who see the rest of the world choosing a ďlive with the virusĒ approach, relying on high levels of vaccination and mitigation measures such as masks to try to pull through their Omicron surges.
    The former British colony has reported more than 238,000 coronavirus infections and about 1,000 deaths since the pandemic began in 2020.    About 600 of those deaths have been in the past week, with the majority unvaccinated people.
    Health experts from the University of Hong Kong said there were about 1.7 million people already infected as of Monday, with a peak of about 183,000 daily infections expected in the coming week.
    Prominent businessman Allan Zeman said in a letter circulated online that Hong Kongís international reputation had been ďvery damagedĒ and the confusing messages from the government were creating ďwidespread panic
    ďThere are too many rumours floating around and such a feeling of uncertainty,Ē Zeman said in a letter addressed to Lam.    He said he was worried that Chinese-ruled Hong Kongís role as an international city with its ďone country, two systemsĒ formula could disappear.
    ďChina needs an international Hong Kong and not just another city of 7 million people,Ē he wrote.
    ďWe need very clear messaging giving people hope and direction for an end to this nightmare
    Zeman verified the letter to Reuters but said it was private and not meant to be circulated.
    Worries over the planned mass testing scheme sparked concerns many people will be forced to isolate and families with members testing positive would be separated.
    The U.S. Consulate General for Hong Kong and Macau issued a travel advisory update on Wednesday urging people not to travel to Hong Kong due to COVID-19 and related restrictions, ďincluding the risk of parents and children being separated
    Separately HSBC told staff in an internal email seen by Reuters, that they must have a valid vaccine pass by March 28 to enter the companyís premises. An HSBC spokesperson confirmed the contents of the memo.
(Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Scott Murdoch, Marius Zaharia and Jessie Pang; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

3/2/2022 China Says Over 2,500 Of Its Citizens In Ukraine Have Been Relocated
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news
conference in Beijing, China November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė More than 2,500 Chinese nationals in Ukraine have been moved out of the country, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular media briefing on Wednesday.
    China has said previously that there were about 6,000 Chinese citizens living in the country.
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

3/2/2022 New Zealandís Parliament Protest Ends With Clashes, Arrests by Lucy Craymer and Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: Protesters against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions and vaccine mandates gather as
they camp in front of the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Praveen Menon
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand police on Wednesday ended an anti-vaccine mandate protest that had disrupted the capital for the past three weeks, dismantling an encampment outside parliament, towing away vehicles and arresting dozens.
    Several fires broke out among tents just metres from the parliament building, sending up billows of smoke before being doused by police, a Reuters witness said, as officers tried to clear the grounds.
    ďIt was an attack on our front-line police, it was an attack on our parliament, it was an attack on our values, and it was wrong,Ē Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a news conference after saying earlier it was time for the protest to end.
    Protesters had been given ample opportunity to leave, she said, adding that the gathering had been fuelled by misinformation and conspiracy theories.
    Taking inspiration from truckersí demonstrations in Canada, hundreds of protesters have been blocking streets with trucks, cars and motorcycles, in a protest that has led to clashes.
    While some protesters packed up their tents and left, others resisted by throwing water bottles, fire extinguishers and chairs, and shouting abuse at police.
    Police finally used sponge bullets to drive off the remaining protesters.    They also used pepper spray on some of them before gaining control of the grounds and the streets around parliament, bringing the protest to an end.
    Police said they made 65 arrests for a range of offences including trespass, wilful damage, and possession of restricted weapons.    At least three officers were injured, police said.
    Police towed away up to 50 vehicles.
    The protest began as a stand against COVID-19 vaccine mandates but was later joined by groups calling for an end to all pandemic restrictions.
    ďWe are fighting for our standard of life. We want our sovereign right to our bodies,Ē anti-vaccine activist Kate Siegert said earlier as she watched protesters move forward to block police advances.
    Siegert, who has made several trips from her home in Auckland 640 km (400 miles) away to join the protest, said she lost her job because of mandates requiring vaccination for those working in the health industry.
    At least 10 children were seen within the protest area and police said they had concerns for their wellbeing.
    A country of five million people, New Zealand imposed tough anti-virus curbs that restricted its cases to just over 118,000 and 56 deaths, far lower than in many developed countries.
    But fuelled by the Omicron variant, daily infections are hovering near record levels.
    About 95% of eligible people are vaccinated with two doses, with shots mandatory for some staff in front-line jobs.
    Julie Thompson, who said she was a registered nurse and unvaccinated, stood watching the fires as she nursed a swollen finger that she said had been broken when police pushed her off a park bench.
    ďThis is the end result of not talking to your people,Ē she told Reuters.    ďIt has galvanized people
(Reporting by Praveen Menon and Lucy Craymer, with additional reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Richard Pullin, Robert Birsel)

3/3/2022 Thai Democracy Activists Sign Up To Fight ĎTyrannyí In Ukraine by Panu Wongcha-um and Jiraporn Kuhakan
Chanaphong Phongpai, 28, and friends who want to volunteer to fight in Ukraine following Russia's invasion of the country,
wait outside the Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, March 2, 2022. Picture taken March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) Ė Far-off Thailand might not seem an obvious place for recruits to Ukraineís efforts to raise an international volunteer force to defend against Russiaís invasion.
    But for former Thai Air Force conscript turned political activist Chanaphong ďBallĒ Phongpai, the cause is a natural fit for members of the pro-democracy movement that emerged in 2020 to protest a military-backed government in the Southeast Asian country.
    Chanaphong, 28, said he felt upset for the Ukrainian people, particularly after reports of Russian attacks on civilians.
    ďI have been involved in demanding democracy in my country Ö and opposing tyranny,Ē Chanaphong told Reuters in an interview.
    ďThey (Ukrainians) are also fighting for democracy and is now invaded by a superpower and a tyrant, so I asked myself what I can do for them,Ē he said.
    Chanaphong and five friends visited the Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday and met with a staff member there after registering on a site gathering information on potential recruits.
    In a single day this week, a Thai-language online group gathered more than 2,000 names of people interested in volunteering for Ukraine, the groupís organiser told Reuters.
    The Ukrainian embassy in Bangkok did not reply to a request for details from Reuters.
    But the staff member who met with Chanaphongís group, who asked that she not be named, said that officials are considering applicants who need to submit online documents, including proof of military training and a clean criminal record.
    The staff member also asked potential volunteers to apply by email, not call or visit the embassy.
    After completing his mandatory Thai military service, Chanaphong worked as a private security consultant.    He said his training from two years in the air force could help the Ukrainians evacuate civilians, guard areas and secure supply lines.
    ďOther men and I have some basics weapons training, so I think I might be useful to help save the Ukrainians from this crisis,Ē he said.
    His more recent experiences in clashing with Thai riot police during anti-government protests could also be useful.
    ďWe need to switch from holding bottle bombs to holding guns,Ē he said.
    Thai government spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said that there is no law preventing Thai citizens from joining foreign volunteer forces but that people should consider the potential grave danger as Russian forces pound Ukrainian cities with heavy weapons.
    Thailand was among 141 countries at the United Nations General Assembly that voted on Wednesday to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine and demand that Moscow stop fighting and withdraw its military forces.    Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has otherwise maintained a neutral stance since the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24.
    It is not clear whether Chanaphong or his friends will be accepted into the Ukraine ďinternational legion,Ē but they already begun to prepare.
    This week, heís been upping his usual running regimen to make sure he is in peak physical condition.
    ďWe fight for democracy here.    They fight for their democracy there,Ē he said.    ďWe are like friends.    Its the same feeling, the same ideology
(Writing by Panu Wongcha-um. Editing by Kay Johnson and Gerry Doyle)

3/3/2022 Taiwan Honours Former Top U.S. Diplomat Pompeo, China Calls Him ĎLiarí
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walk together at the
presidential building in Taipei, Taiwan, March 3, 2022. Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via REUTERS
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen bestowed a presidential honour on former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday for his contribution to boosting relations with the island, as Chinaís top newspaper lambasted him again as a ďliar
    China placed sanctions on Pompeo when he left office at the end of the Trump presidency last year, angered by his repeated criticism of the country, especially its ruling Communist Party, and support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
    Meeting Pompeo at the presidential office in Taipei, Tsai thanked him for his long-time support of Taiwan.
    ďA visit from such a good friend as Secretary Pompeo attests to the strong Taiwan-U.S. friendship,Ē she said.
    Tsai bestowed on him the Order of the Brilliant Star with Grand Cordon, one of Taiwanís top honours.    Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is another previous honouree.
    Pompeo, wearing a face mask with U.S. and Taiwanese flags emblazoned upon it, said he was proud of his achievements while in office to try and normalise relations with Taiwan, including sending U.S. officials to visit.
    ďIt is not provocative to say that one demands freedom. Indeed to walk away from these things demonstrate the absence of resolve,Ē he said.
    China put sanctions on ďlying and cheatingĒ Pompeo and 27 other top Trump-era officials as President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
    Chinaís top newspaper, the partyís official Peopleís Daily, called Pompeo in a commentary on Thursday an ďextremely notoriousĒ anti-China politician who ďtook pride in lying and deceitĒ while in office.
    ďCollusion with external forces cannot bring security or well-being for the Taiwanese people,Ē it said of his trip.
    The Donald Trump administration gave strong backing to Taiwan, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, including high-profile arms sales and visits by top U.S. officials to Taipei.    China has stepped up its military and diplomatic pressure against Taiwan over the past two years, seeking to force the island to accept its sovereignty.    Taiwanís democratically-elected government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked, and that only the islandís people have the right to decide their future.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/3/2022 Philippines Approves Revival Of Nuclear Power To Help Replace Coal
FILE PHOTO: The Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) is seen during a media tour around the BNPP compound
in Morong town, Bataan province, Philippines September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) Ė Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order to include nuclear power in the countryís energy mix, as authorities prepare for the phasing out of coal-fired power plants and after earlier efforts failed due to safety concerns.
    The Feb. 28 order, made public on Thursday, could be a major milestone for an economy which suffers seasonal power outages and high electricity prices but will concern opponents of the move.
    Signed three months before Duterte ends his single six-year term, the order also directs an inter-agency panel to look into reopening the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP).
    ďThe national government commits to the introduction of nuclear power energy into the stateís energy mix,Ē it stated.
    Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi has backed nuclear power and said it could help alleviate supply issues and high costs.
    Duterte said nuclear power would be tapped as a viable alternative baseload power source as the Philippines seeks to retire coal plants to help meet climate goals.
    Previous attempts to pursue nuclear energy in the Philippines were halted over safety concerns, but the new plan is anchored to a proposal to revive BNPP, built in response to an energy crisis during the rule of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
    Completed in 1984, the plant was mothballed two years later following Marcosí ouster and the deadly Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
    Since 2009, BNPP has operated as a tourist attraction, helping defray the cost of maintaining it.
    ďThe Duterte administration is about to leave a tarred legacy and is setting us up for another horror story like Chernobyl and Fukushima,Ē Greenpeace campaigner Khevin Yu said, referring to the worldís worst nuclear disasters.
    Energy Undersecretary Gerardo Erguiza Jr said a regulatory framework for nuclear power still required legislation and its future also hinged on the agenda of the next administration.
    The late dictatorís son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who is the front-runner in the May presidential election, has said he plans to ďrevisitĒ the BNPP project, local media has reported.
(Reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Ed Davies)

3/3/2022 China Says Reports On Chinese-Russian Coordination On Ukraine ĎFake Newsí
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news
conference in Beijing, China November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė The Chinese foreign ministry said on Thursday that reports on Chinese and Russian coordination ahead of Russiaís attack on Ukraine are ďfake news.Ē     Such practices of diverting attention and shifting blame are ďdespicableĒ, said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson at the foreign ministry, at a regular media briefing.     Senior Chinese officials told senior Russian officials in early February not to invade Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, the New York Times reported, quoting Biden administration officials and a European official who cited a Western intelligence report.
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

3/3/2022 New Zealandís Ardern Faces Down Frustration Over Pandemic Curbs by Praveen Menon
FILE PHOTO: Police stand guard as protesters against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions and vaccine mandates
gather in front of the parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, March 2, 2022,. REUTERS/Praveen Menon/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) Ė New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern sought to cool simmering resentment over the slow unlocking of the countryís pandemic restrictions on Thursday, a day after police cleared a weeks-long Canada-style protest outside parliament.
    Police in riot gear battled protesters late into the night on Wednesday, finally bringing an end to the occupation which, despite acts of violence and extremist elements, helped rally some support for its calls to end pandemic restrictions.
    In a special session of parliament to discuss the protest, the most violent in decades in the normally peaceful city, Ardern promised things would change, but gave no timeframe for easing curbs.
    ďOur people are coming home.    Soon, tourists will return.    Vaccine passes, mandates, restrictions Ė they will all change.    There is reason to feel hopeful,Ē she said.
    A one-time poster child for tackling the coronavirus, New Zealandís swift response to the pandemic and its geographic isolation kept the country largely COVID-19 free until the end of last year, winning Ardern strong support.    Total deaths stand at just 56.
    However, anger over vaccine mandates for people working in sectors such as health and education and strict border closures have put pressure on the government to now soften its stance in line with much of the rest of the world.
    ďArdern has to weave a path between acknowledging some of the governmentís mistakes without appearing like the protesters had a point,Ē said Andrew Hughes from the Research School of Management at Australian National University.
    ďShe canít be seen condoning their behaviour but she also canít be seen as tone deaf
    A Horizon Research snap poll released on Feb. 18 found 30% of those polled supported the protests and about the same percentage was opposed to Ardernís vaccine mandate policy.
    Some local businesses helped fund the encampment and well known figures such as Olympic yachtsman Russell Coutts, Winston Peters, a former deputy prime minister under Ardern, and former prime minister Jim Bolger urged dialogue.
    ďIím not anti-vaccine (Iím vaccinated) but Iím definitely against forced vaccinations,Ē Coutts said in a Facebook post two weeks ago.
    Ardern refused to meet the protesters, who she said had resorted to violence and bullying.
OMICRON SHIFT
    The country of 5 million has a high COVID vaccination rate, with more than 95% of the eligible population double vaccinated. More than 70% of people have had a booster dose.
    COVID-19 cases were restricted to fewer than 15,000 in total by end-2021 through a strict elimination approach, but the arrival of the Omicron variant has seen cases top 20,000 a day, reaching a cumulative total of nearly 150,000 on Thursday.
    The government says restrictions that have frayed the publicís patience are set to stay in place until at least mid-March, when the Omicron surge is expected to peak.
    The saga has dented Ardernís popularity since she won a second term in a landslide election victory in 2020.
    Her support fell to 35%, its lowest level since she became prime minister in 2017, according to a 1News Kantar Public poll at the end of January.    However, Ardern remains preferred prime minister and her centre-left coalition government is still on course to win the next election in late 2023.
    The government has made some changes to its tough stand on borders that prevented many Kiwis from returning home due to a compulsory stay in limited quarantine facilities.
    But the border remains closed to foreigners, unlike in neighbouring Australia which relaxed curbs this month.
    Ardern said last week that her cabinet may bring forward the entry of foreign tourists from the current proposed date of October, but again gave no timeframe.
    ďUnquestionably Ardernís elimination strategy was a massive success and saved lots of lives,Ē said Martin Newell, a spokesman for Grounded Kiwis, representing overseas New Zealanders.
    ďBut with Omicron the government just seems to have been mentally unprepared for a shift in its approach
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

3/3/2022 Iran Nuclear Talks Appear Near Climax, But No Deal Yet by Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Austrian police officer stands outside Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks
with Iran take place in Vienna, Austria, February 28, 2022. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) Ė Talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal appeared to near a climax with talk of an imminent ministerial meeting as a U.N. report on Thursday showed Iran is most of the way to amassing enough enriched uranium for one bomb if purified further.
    ďWe are close to a possible deal,Ē Jalina Porter, the U.S. State Departmentís principal deputy spokesperson, told reporters but cautioned that unsolved issues remained and that time was of the essence given the pace of Iranís nuclear advances.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report showed Iranís stock of uranium enriched up to 60% fissile purity had almost doubled to 33.2 kg (110 pounds), which a senior diplomat said was around three-quarters of the amount needed, if enriched further, for a nuclear bomb according to a common yardstick.
    The U.N. nuclear watchdog report was seen by Reuters as negotiators seek to resurrect the deal between world powers and Iran under which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions that slashed its oil exports.
    Global oil prices, which had surged to their highest levels in roughly a decade because of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine, steadied on expectations the deal may be restored, allowing more Iranian oil to flow into a tight market.
    However, U.S., Iranian and European officials all said an agreement had not yet been struck even as some participants were upbeat.
    ďThere are some issues that need to be finalised Ö the outstanding issues are relatively small, but not yet settled,Ē said Russiaís envoy, Mikhail Ulyanov, who in public has been the most optimistic participant in the 11 months of talks.
    Ulyanov told reporters that he did not believe the talks would now collapse and a ministerial meeting Ė typically where a deal would be blessed Ė was likely but he could not say if it would be on Saturday, Sunday or Monday.
    An Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson said more work was needed, however, and a White House official said there was ďno changeĒ from Wednesday, when it had said all sides were working to clarify the most difficult issues.
    ďSome relevant issues are still open and success is never guaranteed,Ē Enrique Mora, the European Union diplomat coordinating the talks, wrote on Twitter.    ďWe are definitely not there yet
    Another wild card is an effort by the IAEA to resolve questions about nuclear material that the Vienna-based agency suspects Iran failed to declare, another obstacle to reaching an agreement to revive the deal.
    The IAEA has found particles of processed uranium at three apparently old sites that Iran never declared and has repeatedly said Tehran has not provided satisfactory answers.
    Iran wants the IAEA investigation ended as part of an agreement but Western powers have argued that issue is beyond the scope of the 2015 deal, to which the IAEA is not a party.
    IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi will travel to Tehran on Saturday hoping to agree on a process that would lead to the end of the investigation, potentially clearing a way for the wider agreement, diplomats said.
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel, which opposes revival of the deal with its arch-foe Iran, said he spoke with Grossi about the unexplained traces.
    The agreement between Iran and world powers was designed to make it harder for Iran to accumulate the fissile material for a bomb, an ambition it has long denied.
    Then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018, reimposing tough economic sanctions on Tehran.    Iran responded by breaching many of the dealís restrictions.
    Western powers have said Iranís nuclear progress may soon make the talks pointless, a possibility illustrated by the IAEA report.    It showed Iranís stock of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity rose by 15.5 kg to 33.2 kg (46 to 110 pounds).
    A common yardstick is that 25 kg of uranium enriched to 90% is what is theoretically needed for one bomb.
    How much is required in real life would depend on further processes the material would still have to go through to make an actual bomb, said the senior diplomat on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna; Additional Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington, John Irish in Paris and Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Grant McCool)

3/4/2022 U.S. Should Recognise Taiwan, Former Top Diplomat Pompeo Says by Ben Blanchard
Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gives a speech in Taipei, Taiwan, March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė The United States should formally recognise Taiwan as a country, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Friday during a speech in Taipei.
    ďThe United States government should immediately take necessary and long overdue steps to do the right and obvious thing: that is to offer the Republic of China, Taiwan, Americaís diplomatic recognition as a free and sovereign country,Ē Pompeo said in a speech organised by a Taiwan think-tank.
    Washington ended formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 when it recognised the Peopleís Republic of China.
    While Taiwanís official name is the Republic of China, politicians often add ďTaiwanĒ in their public comments.
    ďWhile the United States should continue to engage with the Peopleís Republic of China as a sovereign government, Americaís diplomatic recognition of the 23 million freedom-loving Taiwanese people and its legal, democratically-elected government can no longer be ignored, avoided, or treated as secondary,Ē Pompeo said.
    Pompeoís comments cross a sensitive red line for China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory and has never renounced the use of force to bring it under Chinese control.
    China says Taiwan is the most important and sensitive issue in its relations with Washington.
    China placed sanctions on Pompeo when he left office at the end of the Trump presidency last year, angered by his repeated criticism of the country, especially its ruling Communist Party, and support for Chinese-claimed Taiwan.
    He met Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Thursday, who bestowed a presidential honour on him.
    China put sanctions on ďlying and cheatingĒ Pompeo and 27 other top Trump-era officials as President Joe Biden took office in January 2021.
    The Donald Trump administration gave strong backing to Taiwan, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, including high-profile arms sales and visits by top U.S. officials to Taipei.
    China has stepped up its military and diplomatic pressure against Taiwan over the past two years, seeking to force the island to accept its sovereignty.
    Taiwanís democratically-elected government says it wants peace but will defend itself if attacked, and that only the islandís people have the right to decide their future.
    Pompeo said after Beijingís ďbrutally successful takeover of Hong Kong,Ē Chinese President Xi Jinping feels more powerful and ďwonít be satisfied stopping at Hong Kong
    ďTaking over Taiwan, a necessary mission, is not only to boost Xiís egomaniacal claim of greatness, but indeed to solidify it,Ē Pompeo said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Writing by Sarah Wu; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/4/2022 Early Voting For S.Korea President Begins In Shadow Of COVID by Ju-min Park
Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of South Korea's ruling Democratic Party, casts his early vote for the upcoming
March 9 presidential election at a polling station in Seoul, South Korea, March 4, 2022. Lee Hee-hoon/Pool via Reuters
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė South Korea began early voting on Friday for a presidential election in the shadow of the pandemic, as up to a million people with COVID-19 are expected to cast ballots during a spike driving one of the worldís highest caseloads.
    Election workers have been deployed in protective equipment including full-body suits and safety glasses, and voters with COVID or exposed to the virus will spray hand sanitisers and wear gloves before casting ballots, according to the national election commission.
    With more than 800,000 under home treatment for the coronavirus and nearly 800 in hospital intensive care, the government and health officials have sought to accommodate infected voters, including revising the election law last month.
    People infected or in quarantine can walk in or take taxis or ambulances provided by local offices to the polling stations to vote in isolated booths.    They are allocated an hour at the end of the second day of early voting and an hour and a half on the final day on Wednesday.
    South Korea had early success in containing outbreaks and surges with aggressive testing and contact tracing.    Although the governmentís pandemic management was not a major campaign focus, the omicron spike of the past week is affecting the voting as it drives cases to record highs.    On Friday, it broke another record of daily cases and deaths.[nL3N2V704Y]
    Voters are choosing a replacement for liberal President Moon Jae-in, who cannot run for reelection due to term limits.
    Yoon Suk-yeol got a boost on Thursday when a fellow conservative dropped out and threw his support behind Yoon, in a move that could tip the balance of the closely fought election away from the ruling liberals.    Moonís ruling party is represented by Lee Jae-myung.
    The race has focussed on seeking a leader to clean up polarised politics and corruption, and tackle the runaway housing prices and deepening inequality that have dogged Asiaís fourth-largest economy.
    Yoon has encouraged people with COVID or isolating to vote, saying they could amount to millions out of more than 40 million eligible voters.
    Yoon and his rival Lee, as well as President Moon all cast their votes on Friday morning.
    While the pandemic did not prevent big campaign rallies, leading presidential runners have run ďcontact-freeĒ campaigns. Lee met supporters at a drive-in movie theatre.
    Yoonís main opposition party launched a phone app that allows voters to watch campaign rallies where its candidate is a featured speaker.
    South Korea held a national election in 2020 and regional polls last year, with infected people required to mail in their ballots or use special polling stations at hospitals.    Daily COVID infections were in the hundreds at most at that time. This week they topped 200,000.
    But while case numbers have surged, South Korea has rolled back some restrictions in recent days and suspended the use of a digital-tracking scheme credited with the early success in containing the virus.
    ďThe situation has changed a lot since the last general election, with far more cases,Ē said a disease control agency official.    ďAnd their political rights have to be protected
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Jack Kim, William Mallard)

3/4/2022 Hong Kong Retail Chains Ration Staples To Curb COVID Panic Buying by Donny Kwok and Twinnie Siu
FILE PHOTO: Customers wearing face masks queue up to pay at a supermarket, ahead of mass
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing, in Hong Kong, China March 2, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Two of Hong Kongís largest consumer retail chains started rationing some food and drug items on Friday to curb panic buying that has plagued the city over the past week amid fears of a citywide lockdown as COVID-19 cases soar.
    Supermarket chain ParknShop announced limits of five items per customer on staples such as rice, canned food and toilet paper while pharmacy Watsons put the same limits on medication for pain, fever and colds.
    ďEffective today, ParKnShoP and Watsons Hong Kong will impose purchase restrictions on selected products and medication at all stores,Ē Watsons said in a statement.
    Both ParknShop and Watsons are units of the Hong Kong listed conglomerate CK Hutchison.
    On Wednesday, ParknShop announced shorter opening hours, with some of its 200 branches shutting at 3 p.m. Ė by which time many shops across the Asian financial hub have been stripped of fresh and frozen meat and vegetables in recent days.
    Hong Kong officials have repeatedly urged people against panic buying this week, saying supplies were adequate.
    Amid public complaints of confused official messaging, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said her government had no plan for a ďcomplete lockdownĒ while it plots compulsory testing of the cityís 7.4 million residents.
    The government would announce details of the plan when finalised, she said.
    Authorities reported a new daily record of 56,827 new infections and 144 deaths on Thursday, an exponential rise from about 100 in early February.
    The surge in cases and fears of a lockdown have sparked mass departures of people from the city, where authorities are clinging to a ďdynamic zeroĒ policy that seeks to eradicate all outbreaks at all costs.
    Hong Kong saw a net outflow of more than 71,000 people in February, the most since the beginning of the pandemic, according to government data, compared with 16,879 in December.
    On the other hand, bans on flights from nine countries including the United States, Britain and Australia are in place until April 20, leaving some residents who had left temporarily stranded, unable to get back in.
    Many restaurants and shops are shuttered, while its Central financial district is eerily quiet and few people are out in normally bustling neighbourhoods.
    Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said on Tuesday the cityís international reputation had been ďvery damagedĒ and alarm had been created by the confusing messages.
    Hong Kong has recorded about 350,000 cases of COVID since the coronavirus emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019 and some 1,400 deaths, still far fewer than many other cities.
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu and Donny Kwok; Writing by Greg Torode and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/4/2022 Analysis-Iranian Oil Could Take Months To Flow After A Nuclear Deal by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Julia Payne
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a unit of South Pars Gas field in Asalouyeh Seaport,
north of Persian Gulf, Iran November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA
    LONDON (Reuters) Ė A deal to limit Iranís nuclear programme would lead to sanctions on its oil sector being lifted but it could take several months for any more Iranian crude to flow, and even then it may only offer short-term respite to tight oil markets, analysts said.
    Oil soared this week to almost $120 a barrel for the first time in a decade as the West slapped sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, before hopes that a deal with Iran could be announced within days knocked crude from its highs. [O/R]     The nuclear talks appeared to near a climax on Friday with talk of an imminent ministerial meeting.     But even if a deal were struck next week, it could take several months to confirm Iranís compliance so sanctions could be lifted, meaning it is unlikely any additional Iranian oil would hit the market until May or June, analysts said.
    When the first deal between major world powers and Tehran was signed in 2015, for example, sanctions were only fully lifted six months later, once Iranís nuclear-related measures had been verified by the U.N.ís watchdog.
    Most refiners around the world have also shunned Iranian oil for several years and they would need two to three months to finalise technical arrangements to enable imports from Iran to resume, analysts said.
    As and when Iranís compliance with any deal is certified, however, it would not need to wait to boost output from oilfields to export more as it could release crude in storage and help offset some of the pressure on oil prices caused by the slowdown in Russian supplies due to sanctions on Moscow.
    Data firm Kpler estimates that Iran had 100 million barrels in floating storage as of mid-February, meaning it could add 1 million barrels per day (bpd), or 1% of global supply, for about three months, but that would only be a short-lived boost.
GETTING IN POSITION
    Iran is expected to ramp up its output following a deal too but analysts warn it could take three to six months to raise exports by 1 million to 1.3 million bpd Ė with further increases in production taking years and depending on major investment in ageing oil infrastructure.
    Still, Iranís crude in floating storage could hit the market quickly and Tehran has been moving it into place, analysts said.
    ďWe have seen a notable jump in Iranian oil held in floating storage in Chinese waters, from 7.8 million barrels in early January to 14 million barrels now.    Their location seems to indicate they are waiting to discharge in the coming days or weeks,Ē said Homayoun Falakshahi, a senior analyst at Kpler.
    Iran has also moved some of its floating stocks of condensate from anchorage to its oil terminal on Kharg Island, in anticipation of imminent export, Sara Vakhshouri, president of SVB Energy International, said.
    ďThis is about 20 million barrels as of now, and at least another additional 50 million barrels of stored liquid is available for immediate export,Ē she said.
    Kpler and energy consultancy FGE estimate that if a nuclear deal is reached in early March and sanctions are lifted in the direct aftermath, the boost to exports would mostly be seen from May and June.
    Ehsan Khoman, analyst at MUFG Bank, also expects at least two to three months for verification of Iranís compliance, followed by another month for diplomatic adoption of the deal and its implementation.
    A European trading source said, however, that the process might be faster than 2015 ďas there is impetus due to the crisis in UkraineĒ and disruptions to Russian oil exports.
SIX TO NINE MONTHS
    Iran sits on the worldís fourth-largest oil reserves and relies heavily on oil revenues.
    Iranís oil exports, the governmentís main source of income, plummeted from a peak of 2.8 million bpd in 2018 to as low as 200,000 bpd after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions.
    Iranian Oil Minister Javad Owji vowed on Thursday that the country would ďreach the highest oil export capacity within one or two monthsĒ after any nuclear deal, according to the oil ministryís news agency SHANA.
    Iran has been gradually increasing production in the last six months due to rising exports to China and also in anticipation of the lifting of sanctions.
    At the moment, Iran is estimated to be producing about 2.5 million barrels a day but only about 700,000 barrels are available for export once domestic demand is taken into account, with most of that going to China.
    Bjornar Tonhaugen, head of oil markets at Rystad Energy, said he expected Iranís crude exports to increase by 1 million bpd in a six-to-nine month period once the process of lifting sanctions has completed.
    FGE also said it would take time for production to rise and exports to increase
    ďIran will technically be able to increase its production to some 3.4 million bpd by August/September 2022 Ö and then to 3.7 to 3.8 by end-2022,Ē FGE said.
    Longer term, Iran is hopeful that major oil firms will return to Iran after the lifting of sanctions and help boost production at its aging oilfields.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Julia Payne; Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar; Editing by David Clarke)

3/5/2022 China Pledges Peaceful Growth Of Taiwan Ties, But Opposes Foreign Interference by Yew Lun Tian
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is seen on a screen during a news conference held via video link, following the
closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) in Beijing, China March 11, 2021. REUTERS/Martin Pollard
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pledged on Saturday to advance peaceful growth in relations with Taiwan and ďreunification,Ē and said his government firmly opposes any separatist activities or foreign interference, drawing a firm rebuke from Taipei.
    China, which claims democratic Taiwan as its own territory, has increased military activity near the island over the past two years, responding to what it calls ďcollusionĒ between Taipei and Washington, Taiwanís main international backer and arms supplier.
    Speaking at the opening of the annual meeting of Chinaís parliament, Li said Beijing stands by the ďone ChinaĒ principle, which states Taiwan is part of China.
    ďWe will advance the peaceful growth of relations across the Taiwan Strait and the reunification of China,Ē he said.    ďWe firmly oppose any separatist activities seeking ĎTaiwan independenceí and firmly oppose foreign interference
    ďAll of us, Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, should come together to advance the great and glorious cause of Chinaís rejuvenation
    Taiwanís Mainland Affairs Council responded by saying China should focus more on addressing the real concerns of its people and promoting democracy rather than ďundermining international rules and order
    ďTaiwanese public opinion firmly opposes the political framework, military intimidation and diplomatic suppression imposed by China,Ē it said.    ďDemocratic Taiwan is a force for regional peace and stability
    Most Taiwanese people have shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.
    Liu Guoshen, an expert on Taiwan as Chinaís Xiamen University, said Liís wording was largely similar to previous years.
    ďNo matter what games the United States or the Democratic Progressive Party play, they wonít affect the resolve of the Chinese government on the line they have set for work on Taiwan,Ē Liu added, referring to Taiwanís ruling party.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected by a landslide in 2020 on a promise of defending the islandís democracy and standing up to China.
    China says Tsai wishes to push for Taiwanís formal independence, a red line for the Chinese government, which has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under Beijingís control, and has refused Tsaiís offers of talks.
    Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its formal name.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, writing and additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; editing by Jane Wardell and William Mallard)

3/5/2022 China Plans 7.1% Defence Spending Rise This Year, Outpacing GDP Target by Yew Lun Tian
Military delegates attend the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the
Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China will spend 7.1% more on defence this year, outpacing last yearís hike and the governmentís modest economic growth forecast as Premier Li Keqiang seeks to safeguard the countryís sovereignty, security and development interests.
    Li pledged to enhance military training and combat readiness for the Peopleís Liberation Army, which is developing an array of weapons from stealth fighters to aircraft carriers.
    The spending figure, set at 1.45 trillion yuan ($229.47 billion) in the national budget released on Saturday, is closely watched by Chinaís neighbours and in Washington as a barometer of how aggressively the country will beef up its military.
    This yearís 7.1% hike marks the seventh consecutive single-digit increase, but is the fastest pace since the 7.5% proposed for 2019.
    It also comes in above targeted slower economic growth of around 5.5% amid domestic headwinds for the worldís second largest economy, including a downturn in the countryís vast real estate sector and lacklustre consumption.
    China is nervous about challenges on several fronts, ranging from Chinese-claimed Taiwan to U.S. naval and air missions in the disputed South China Sea near Chinese-occupied islands and a festering border dispute with India.
    Li, in his state-of-the-nation address to the largely rubber-stamp legislature, said this year the government would move faster to modernise the militaryís logistics and asset management systems, and build a modern weaponry and equipment management system.
    ďWe will continue the reform of national defence and the military and step up innovations in defence science and technology,Ē he added.
    ďGovernment at all levels must give strong support to the development of national defence and the armed forces, so unity between the military and government and between the military and the people will remain rock solid
    The budget gives only a raw figure for military expenditure, with no breakdown.    Many diplomats and foreign experts believe Beijing under-reports the real number.
    Chinaís reported defence budget in 2022 is less than a third of proposed U.S. spending.
ARMS RACE?
    Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Japanís Takushoku University, said the spending increase was ďsignificant
    ďWe will see how the U.S. responds to the increase in the defence budget, and how much China will increase its defence budget next year, but it looks like it will result in an arms race
    President Joe Biden is expected to ask Congress for a U.S. defence budget exceeding $770 billion for the next fiscal year as the Pentagon seeks to modernize the military, sources told Reuters last month.
    China has long argued that it needs to close the gap with the United States.    China, for example, has two aircraft carriers, compared with 11 in active service for the United States.
    Beijing routinely says that spending for defensive purposes is a comparatively low percentage of its GDP and that critics want to demonize it as a threat to world peace.
    Kuo Yu-jen, a security expert at Taiwanís National Sun Yat-sen Universityís Institute of China and Asia-Pacific Studies, said Beijing was being forced to spend more on research and development in light of the China-U.S. technology war.
    ďCosts for Chinaís third and fourth aircraft carriers are going up, too,Ē he added.
($1 = 6.3188 Chinese yuan renminbi)
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; editing by Jane Wardell and Kim Coghill)

3/5/2022 Singapore Sanctions Russia Over ĎUnprovoked Attackí On Ukraine
A view shows a building, which city officials and locals said was damaged by recent shelling, as Russia's
invasion of Ukraine continues, in Kharkiv, Ukraine March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Oleksandr Lapshyn
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) Ė Singapore announced sanctions against Russia on Saturday that include four banks and an export ban on electronics, computers and military items, in a rare move by the Asian financial hub in response to what it said was Moscowís ďdangerous precedentĒ in Ukraine.
    The tiny city-state, an international shipping hub, rarely imposes sanctions of its own but said it would not allow export of items that could inflict harm on or subjugate Ukrainians, or help Russia launch cyber attacks.
    ďWe cannot accept the Russian governmentís violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another sovereign state,Ē its foreign ministry said in a statement, which gave no timeframe for when the sanctions would take effect.
    ďFor a small state like Singapore, this is not a theoretical principle, but a dangerous precedent.    This is why Singapore has strongly condemned Russiaís unprovoked attack
    The restrictions bar Singaporeís financial institutions including its central bank, from dealing with Russiaís central bank as well as VTB Bank Public Joint Stock Company, The Corporation Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs Vnesheconombank, Promsvyazbank Public Joint Stock Company and Bank Rossiya. The measures also cover cryptocurrencies.
    Singaporeís stand against Russiaís invasion is the strongest so far by a Southeast Asia country.
    A statement https://bit.ly/3sGjb6D on Thursday by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Singapore is a member, called for a ceasefire in the Ukraine crisis, but made no mention of Russiaís involvement.
    Asked by Reuters about its exposure to Russia, Singaporeís sovereign wealth fund GIC reiterated the new measures, which it said would also apply to the governmentís funds managed by GIC.
    ďGIC continues to assess the Russian-Ukrainian situation and will ensure compliance,Ē it said in an emailed response.
(Reporting by Chen Lin and Anshuman Daga; Editing by Martin Petty and Kim Coghill)

3/5/2022 N.Korea Conducts Ninth Missile Test Of The Year Ahead Of S.Korea Election by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea conducted its ninth weapons test of the year on Saturday, firing a suspected ballistic missile toward the sea to the east of the Korean peninsula just days before South Koreaís presidential election.
    The launch drew condemnation from governments in the United States, South Korea, and Japan, which fear the North is preparing to conduct a major weapons test in coming months.
    With denuclearisation talks stalled, North Korea conducted a record number of missile launches in January, and after a pause for most of February, resumed tests with a launch on Feb. 27.
    It appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite in the near future, and has suggested it could resume testing of nuclear weapons or its longest range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017.
    ďThe significant pace at which North Korea is developing its missile-launching technology is not something our country and the surrounding regions can overlook,Ē Japanís Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said after the latest launch.
    In South Korea, where citizens are already casting early votes ahead of Wednesdayís presidential election, the National Security Council (NSC) condemned North Koreaís ďunprecedented repeated firing of ballistic missilesĒ as going against peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
    South Korea will ďeven more closely monitor North Koreaís nuclear and missile-related facilitiesĒ including its main nuclear reactor facility at Yongbyon and the Punggye-ri nuclear weapons test side, the NSC said, according to a statement from the presidential Blue House.
    It was not immediately clear what prompted the increased monitoring of the nuclear sites.
    On Friday, the U.S.-based 38 North project, which monitors North Korea, said operations at Yongbyon are in full swing, producing fuel for potential nuclear weapons and an expansion of its nuclear production facilities.
    Punggye-ri has been shuttered since North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests in 2018.    Leader Kim Jong Un, however, has said he no longer feels bound by that moratorium as denuclearisation talks are stalled.
    South Korea has reported a series of small, natural earthquakes near Punggye-ri this year, highlighting what experts say is geological instability caused by the last and largest nuclear test in 2017.    Experts have also said that instability would not necessarily prevent North Korea from resuming tests at the site.
MISSILE TESTS
    The U.S. State Department condemned the latest launch as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which have imposed sanctions on North Korea over its weapons programmes.
    The launch demonstrates the threat that North Koreaís illicit weapons of mass destruction and missile programmes pose to the its neighbours and the region as a whole, a State Department spokesperson said.
    The South Korean military said Saturdayís launch came from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyangís international airport is located.    The region has been the site of previous tests, including the last launch on Feb. 27, when North Korea said it tested systems for a reconnaissance satellite.
    Kishi said the North Korean projectile reached a height of 550 km (340 miles) and flew 300 km (190 miles), similar to the South Korean militaryís estimate of 560 km height and 270 km distance.
    The launch underscores the challenges facing whoever wins Wednesdayís presidential election in South Korea.
    Both leading candidates have said they would unveil roadmaps to try to jumpstart stalled talks, but have also raised the prospect of a harder line ranging from more openly calling the Northís missile tests ďprovocationsĒ to developing more military capacity for preemptive strikes if necessary to counter an imminent threat.
    Analysts say North Korea could use the upcoming presidential transition in South Korea or a big national holiday on April 15 to launch a satellite or test fire a major new missile or other weapon.
    ďThe timing of North Koreaís missile testing may seem odd to us, given the global focus on Ukraine,Ē Jean Lee, a fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said on Twitter.    ďBut it makes perfect sense in North Korea, where scientists are focused on perfect new weapons for Kim to show off at a big military parade in mid-April
    The United States has said it is open to talks without preconditions, but Pyongyang says talks are only possible after Washington and its allies drop hostile policies.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Josh Smith in Seoul, Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; Editing by Sandra Maler, Jane Wardell, William Mallard and Kim Coghill)

3/5/2022 At Least 58 Killed In Suicide Bombing At Shiíite Mosque In Pakistan by Jibran Ahmad
A general view of the prayer hall after a bomb blast inside a mosque
during Friday prayers in Peshawar, Pakistan, March 4, 2022. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -A suicide bombing at a Shiíite Muslim mosque during Friday prayers in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar killed at least 58 people and injured nearly 200, hospital officials said.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the bombing in a statement, which would make it one of the biggest attacks carried out by the group inside Pakistan.
    An armed man who arrived near the mosque on a motorcycle opened fire when he was stopped by police, before forcing his way into a crowded hall and detonating his suicide vest, senior police official Haroon Rasheed said.
    The attacker first shot at the police guards at the mosqueís entrance, killing one of them, he said.    ďThe armed man entered the mosque and started firing on the worshippers and finally blew himself up,Ē Rasheed added.
    Previously, police had said they were two men on the motorcycle.
    The attack is one of the deadliest in years on Pakistanís Shiíite minority, which has long been targeted by Sunni Muslim Islamist militants, including Islamic State and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban.
    The Pakistani Taliban distanced themselves from the attack in a message sent to Reuters.
    Many of the injured were in critical condition, officials at the nearby Lady Reading Hospital said, updating the previous toll.
    Sardar Hussain, who lost three relatives in the blast, said the mosque was the only place of worship for the Shiíite community in Peshawarís old city.
    Attacks by Islamist insurgents had become an almost daily occurrence in Pakistan until the military launched a crackdown on militants in 2014.
ĎPANIC SPREADí
    Worshippers at the mosque in Peshawar had gathered for Friday prayers, when congregations are usually the largest.
    ďPanic spread among the worshippers when the firing started.    I ran to save my life,Ē one man, who did not give his name, told Reuters at a hospital where he was being treated for his injuries.
    ďSuddenly a man came in and started firingÖ He shot many people (and) then closed his eyes and blew himself up.    After that, I have no idea what happened,Ē he said.
    Pakistanís Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing, according to his office.
    The attack comes as the Australian cricket team are touring Pakistan for the first time in over two decades and staying in Islamabad, 140 kilometres (87 miles) from Peshawar.
    Pakistan recently started hosting international teams again after security concerns forced them to shift many of their high profile international events to the UAE.
    Following the blast, the Australian cricket coach Andrew McDonald said the team touring Pakistan will be guided by security experts.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Additional reporting by Reuters TV and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Bill Berkrot and Kim Coghill)

3/5/2022 North Korea Says It Conducted Second ĎImportantí Spy Satellite Test by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea's firing a ballistic
missile off its east coast, in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė North Korea said it conducted ďanother importantĒ test for reconnaissance satellite systems, state news agency KCNA reported on Sunday, a day after regional military authorities reported the launch of a ballistic missile from the country for the second time in a week.
    The launch drew condemnation from governments in the United States, South Korea, and Japan, which fear the North is preparing to conduct a major weapons test in coming months.    They see the Northís satellite launches as thinly veiled tests of ballistic missile technology banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
    North Koreaís National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defence Science conducted the launch ďunder the plan of developing a reconnaissance satellite,Ē KCNA reported.
    It was the second such launch in a week to test satellite equipment, and the ninth missile launch this year.
    ďThrough the test, the NADA confirmed the reliability of data transmission and reception system of the satellite, its control command system and various ground-based control systems,Ē KCNA said.
    Like the last test on Feb. 27, KCNA did not elaborate on the type of rocket used in the launch, but authorities in South Korea said it appeared to be a ballistic missile fired from an area near Pyongyang where its international airport is located.
    South Koreaís military said the North Korean missile reached a height of about 560 km (350 miles) and flew 270 km (170 miles).
    Amid stalled denuclearisation talks, North Korea conducted a record number of weapons launches in January, and has suggested it could resume testing nuclear weapons or its longest range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017.
    Saturdayís test came just days ahead of a presidential election on Wednesday in South Korea, where officials are bracing for a North Korean attempt to launch its spy satellite into orbit in the near future.
    ďAny satellite launch would bring serious repercussions, as itís the same technology used to launch an ICBM,Ē Lee Jong-seok, the top foreign policy advisor to ruling party candidate Lee Jae-myung, has told Reuters.
    South Korea is also pushing ahead with plans for its own space launch vehicles, which are not banned by the UNSC.
    It plans to test a solid-fuel space projectile this month as part of a project to deploy its own military surveillance satellites to monitor the North, Yonhap news agency reported.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

3/6/2022 Japan May Take More Action Vs Russia, Could Impact Energy Sector - Lawmaker
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko leaves the European Commission headquarters
after a meeting on steel overcapacity, in Brussels, Belgium March 10, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts
    TOKYO (Reuters) Ė Japan may take more action in response to Russiaís invasion of Ukraine which could significantly impact Japanís energy sector, a senior ruling-party lawmaker said on Sunday, while expressing caution toward a complete end to Russia oil and gas usage.
    Sanctions against Moscow Ė such as freezing assets, banning exports of high-tech goods and excluding some Russian banks from the SWIFT international payments network Ė are having a major impact, said Hiroshige Seko, upper house secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party.
    ďWhatís important above all is to let Russia change action,Ē Seko said.    ďThereís a possibility we may impose further sanctions, which could have ramifications for the energy sector through financial institutions involved with transactions
    ďSanctions could have a big impact on (Japanese) peopleís livelihoods, so we would have to seek their understanding for the sake of solidarity with Ukraine,Ē Seko told a political debate programme on public broadcaster NHK.
    Russiaís invasion of Ukraine over a week ago has led to a string of big companies halting their businesses in Russia.
    Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a ďspecial operation
    The Japanese government and companies own stakes in oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in Russia, including two on Sakhalin Island from which partners Exxon Mobil Corp and Shell PLC have announced they will exit.
    ďIf we exit from Sakhalin 1 and 2 projects, (oil and natural gas) supply would be disrupted while countries like China who are desperate for LNG would get it cheaply,Ē Seko said, considering the costs Japan bore developing the projects.    ďWe must consider it realistically
    Japan decided on Thursday to freeze the assets of four Russian banks from April 2, taking to seven the total number Tokyo has slapped with such sanctions.
    The government has frozen assets of Russian oligarchs as well as Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko who has backed Russiaís invasion.    It also decided to ban Belarus-bound exports.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

3/7/2022 China And India Should Not ďDrain Each Othersí EnergiesĒ, Says Chinese Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: China's State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a news conference following his meeting with Greek
Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, Greece, October 27, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė China and India should help each other accomplish goals, instead of ďdraining each othersí energiesĒ, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday.     Ties between the two Asian giants deteriorated after a fatal border clash in the Galwan valley in June 2020 left at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers dead.
    At an annual press briefing in Beijing, Wang acknowledged that ties with India had ďmet with some setbacksĒ in recent years.
    He said that ďsome forcesĒ have tried to create conflict and division between China and India.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/7/2022 Explainer-Why North Koreaís Satellite Launches Are So Controversial by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: People watch a TV broadcasting file footage of a news report on North Korea firing what
appeared to be a ballistic missile, in Seoul, South Korea, February 27, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė North Korea appears preparing to launch a reconnaissance satellite, a move that may prove as controversial as the nuclear-armed countryís weapons tests because they use the same banned ballistic missile technology, experts say.
    North Korea conducted a record number of missile launches in January, and has suggested it could resume testing of nuclear weapons or its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time since 2017.
    After a test of satellite-related systems during a missile launch on Sunday Ė the second such test in a week Ė some experts think it is just a matter of time before North Korea attempts to put a satellite in orbit.
    Hereís what we know about North Koreaís race for space, and why itís so controversial:
HISTORY OF LAUNCHES
    Since 1998 North Korea has launched five satellites, of which two appeared to have been successfully placed in orbit, including its last in 2016.
    International observers said the satellite appeared to be under control, but there was lingering debate over whether it had sent any transmissions.
    Experts at the time of the 2016 launch said that North Korea had used a three-stage rocket booster like the Unha-3 of previous launches, but that a new launch pad was clearly built for a larger rocket.
    A senior official at North Koreaís space agency said after the launch that it planned to put more advanced satellites into orbit by 2020 and eventually ďplant the flag of (North Korea) on the moon.Ē    The country has not launched any more satellites since then, however.
    During a party congress in January 2021, leader Kim Jong Un revealed a wish list that included developing military reconnaissance satellites.
DUAL-USE TECHNOLOGY
    The United States and its allies called North Koreaís latest tests of satellite systems clear violations of United Nations Security Council resolutions, which prohibit any development of technology applicable to North Koreaís ballistic missile programmes.
    North Korea has said its space programme and defence activities are its sovereign right.
    At the time of the 2016 space launch, North Korea had yet to fire an ICBM.    The satellite launch was condemned by governments in the United States and South Korea as a disguised test of ballistic missile technology capable of striking the continental United States.
    ďThe obvious concern is that North Korea is testing ballistic missiles and only pretending to care about satellites,Ē the U.S.-based monitoring program 38 North said in a report at the time.
    The report said the Unha-3 system would be ungainly to use as a weapon because it required a fixed launching site and a long period for preparation, and predicted that North Korea would not develop an operational road-mobile ICBM until some time after 2020.
    North Korea launched its first road-mobile ICBM the next year, and later test fired several more.
    North Korea has not test fired an ICBM since 2017, but now officials in Washington and Seoul fear a new satellite launch could help the country further improve its ballistic missiles.
    ďIn the future, if North Korea launches intercontinental ballistic missiles under the pretext of launching a satellite, it will face stronger pressure from the international community,Ē Yoon Suk-yeol, the main conservative candidate in Wednesdayís presidential election in South Korea, said in a statement after the latest launch.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/7/2022 Leader Of S.Koreaís Ruling Party Attacked Ahead Of Presidential Election by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential election candidate of South Korea's main opposition People Power Party (PPP), casts his early
vote for the upcoming March 9 presidential election, at a polling station in Busan, South Korea, March 4, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė The leader of South Koreaís ruling party was hospitalised on Monday after being attacked while campaigning for this weekís presidential election, a race already overshadowed by controversy and in which early voting has been marred by irregularities.
    Democratic Party leader Song Young-gil was attacked in Seoul by a man wearing a traditional robe who approached him from behind and struck him on the head with a smaller hammer, a video uploaded to YouTube by a Democrat campaigner showed.
    Reuters could not independently verify the images, but party officials said Song was in a stable condition and a suspect was in police custody.
    In a contest characterised by scandals, smear tactics and gaffes, the Democratsí Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Suk-yeol of the conservative main opposition People Power Party are running neck-and-neck.
    Both men on Monday condemned the attack on Song, who is also Leeís campaign manager.
    ďViolence harms democracy, it can never be accepted,Ē Lee told another rally in the southeastern port city of Busan, and wished Song a rapid recovery.
    Yoon issued a statement saying any violence interfering in the election could not be justified, and hoping for Songís speedy recovery and all campaignersí safety.
    President Moon Jae-in called the attack a ďterror against democracy,Ē his spokeswoman said.
    The attack came after early balloting that ended on Saturday was blighted by long waits for coronavirus sufferers, while some voters received used ballots.
    The two days of voting drew a record of nearly 37% of the electorate but also tarnished South Korea 35-year democratic history of tight and relatively transparent management of elections, and a mostly successful fight against COVID-19.
ĎSLOPPYí ORGANISATION
    Yoonís campaign said ďan elementary classroom election could not be sloppier,Ē while the countryís National Election Commission (NEC) issued repeated apologies and hurriedly tightened its voting procedures.
    As daily COVID-19 infections hover near unprecedented levels above 200,000 and more than 1 million receive treatment at home, parliament agreed to ease in-person voting by such patients.
    Chaos erupted at many polling places during Saturdayís special early voting for infected voters.    Instead of letting the voters directly cast ballots, some election workers collected and carried them in a shopping bag or plastic bucket to place in ballot boxes, the NEC said.
    Some voters received papers that had already been used, while others had to wait in long queues in the cold, with at least one reported to have fainted.
    ďAll the problems resulted from our failure at thorough preparations, and we are fully responsible for falling short,Ē the NEC said in a statement.
    There was however no evidence of foul play, it added.
    Following an emergency meeting, it said it would allow remaining COVID patients to vote at formal polling stations, not the temporary booths used for early voting, after regular voters leave by 6 p.m.
    Leeís party dismissed an opposition demand for the NECís chairwoman, Noh Jeong-hee, to step down, but demanded steps to avert more confusion.
    Moon on Sunday ordered the NEC to fully explain the errors and guarantee all peopleís right to vote.
    A group of four civic groups staged a protest on Monday, calling for a strict investigation into the lapses and punishment for those responsible.
    About 44 million South Koreans are eligible to vote for a successor to Moon, who is legally barred from re-election at a time of growing frustration over skyrocketing home prices, polarised politics and graft scandals.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and John Stonestreet)

3/7/2022 Indiaís Modi Urges Russiaís Putin To Hold Direct Talks With Ukraine President Ė Source
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi participates in a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in
the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) Ė Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold direct talks with Ukraineís Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone conversation on Monday, according to an Indian government source.
    ďPresident Putin briefed Prime Minister Modi on the status of negotiations between the Ukrainian and Russian teams,Ē the source said, declining to be named ahead of an official statement.
    ďPrime Minister Modi urged President Putin to hold direct talks with President Zelensky of Ukraine, in addition to the ongoing negotiations between their teams
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Toby Chopra)

3/7/2022 Iranís Top Security Official Says Outlook For Vienna Talks ĎUnclearí
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    (Reuters) Ė The outlook for nuclear talks underway in Vienna ďremains unclear,Ē Iranís top security official said on Monday, accusing the United States of delaying them.
    "The priority for Iran at the talks is to resolve Ďred-line issuesí,Ē Ali Shamkhani said on Twitter, adding that ďnew initiativesĒ are required by all parties at the negotiations in order to quickly reach a strong agreement.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/7/2022 Thailand Bids To Avert ĎPopulation Crisisí As Birth Rate Crashes by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat
FILE PHOTO: Newborn babies wearing dog costumes to celebrate the New Year of the Dog are pictured at the nursery
room of Paolo Chokchai 4 Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, December 28, 2017. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) Ė Thailand is scrambling to encourage its people to have more babies to arrest a slumping birth rate, offering parents childcare and fertility centres, while also tapping social media influencers to showcase the joys of family life.
    The campaign comes as the number of births has dropped by nearly a third since 2013, when they started declining.    Last year saw 544,000 births, the lowest in at least six decades and below the 563,000 deaths, which were also swelled by coronavirus-related fatalities.
    While Thailandís demographic path is similar to other Asian economies like Japan or Singapore, as an emerging market relying on cheap labour and a growing middle class the implications for Southeast Asiaís second-biggest economy are far more profound.
    ďThe data reflects a population crisis Ö where the mindset towards having children has changed,Ē said Teera Sindecharak, an expert on demography at Thammasat University.
    Senior health official Suwannachai Wattanayingcharoenchai told Reuters the government recognised a need to intervene.
    ďWe are trying to slow down the decline in births and reverse the trend by getting families that are ready to have children faster,Ē he said, describing plans to introduce policies so that newborns get the full support of the state.
    The plans include opening fertility centres, currently limited to Bangkok and other major cities, in 76 provinces and also using social media influencers to back up the message, officials said.
    Such policies may come too late for people like Chinthathip Nantavong, 44, who decided with her partner of 14 years not to have children.
    ďRaising one child costs a lot.    A semester for kindergarten is already 50,000 to 60,000 baht ($1,520 to $1,850) and then it reaches millions later,Ē she said, adding that other countries have better care facilities and welfare policies.
ďSUPER-AGED SOCIETYĒ
    Thailand is not alone in the region struggling with low fertility rates, but is less wealthy than some more developed countries that have been forced to rely on migrant workers to support their economies.
    Experts said it is hard to reverse a situation where social conditions have changed and attitudes towards having children are now coloured by concerns over rising debt and elderly care.
    Thailand is heading towards becoming a ďsuper-aged societyĒ where the number of people over 60 will account for more than a fifth of the population, academic Teera said. About 18% of Thailandís population is aged over 60.
    The ratio of working-aged to elderly people last year was 3.4, but by 2040 officials forecast it could be 1.7.
    ďThe manufacturing sector will face productivity slumps Ö so we have to develop skilled labour and adopt the use of automated technologies,Ē the head of the state-planning agency, Danucha Pichayanan, told a recent business forum.    Thailand is a major regional manufacturing sector for automotive and electronics.
    Danucha also noted the demographic trend could also strain government finances and experts have said welfare for the elderly is not seen as sufficient even today, with monthly allowances of 600 to 1,000 baht.
ďWE HAVE A CATĒ
    ďItís become more difficult in deciding to have children,Ē said Teera, noting in the last decade the economy had been sluggish, while living costs increased and income growth slowed.
    Political division, rising debt and education costs were also major factors determining attitudes towards having children, and short-term remedies may not be enough, experts said.
    Household debt has grown to nearly 90% of gross domestic product, from 59% in 2010, Bank of Thailand data showed.
    Thailand has also been rocked by political instability over most of the past two decades, with two military coups and large anti-government protests.
    But for many like Chinthathip, who has chosen not to have children, the expense remains the main issue.
    ďThe middle class, office workers or people that are trying make ends meet think the same way,Ē said Chinthathip.
    ďRight now we have a cat and itís not as costly as a child
($1 = 32.4700 baht)
(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Ed Davies and Christopher Cushing)

3/8/2022 Construction Spotted At N.Korea Nuclear Test Site For First Time Since 2018 - Report by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong,
in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised
zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) - Satellite imagery shows construction at North Koreaís nuclear testing site for the first time since it was closed in 2018, analysts said on Tuesday, as a U.S. intelligence report warned the country could resume major weapons tests this year.
    Images captured by commercial satellite on Friday showed very early signs of activity at the Punggye-ri site, including construction of a new building, repair of another building, and what is possibly some lumber and sawdust, specialists at the California-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) said in a report.
    ďThe construction and repair work indicate that North Korea has made some decision about the status of the test site,Ē the report said.
    North Korea tested a record number of missiles in January, including its largest weapon since 2017, and appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite.
    International monitors have also reported the Northís main nuclear reactor facility at Yongbyon appears to be in full swing, potentially creating fuel for nuclear weapons.
    North Koreaís missile launches could be groundwork for a return to intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and nuclear bomb tests this year, the U.S. Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) said in its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment.
    The report did not mention Punggye-ri but said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un remains strongly committed to expanding the countryís nuclear weapons arsenal.
    Punggye-ri has been shuttered since North Korea declared a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests in 2018.    Kim, however, has said he no longer feels bound by that moratorium with denuclearisation talks stalled since 2019.
    At the time, North Korea said it was closing the siteís tunnels with explosions, blocking its entrances, and removing all observation facilities, research buildings and security posts.    It invited a handful of foreign media to observe the demolition, but refused to allow international inspectors, leading to speculation the facilities could be restored.
    In South Korea, where voters will elect a new president on Wednesday, the National Security Council said on Sunday it was paying particularly close attention to Yongbyon and Punggye-ri, without elaborating.
    The CNS analysts said the changes at Punggye-ri occurred only in the past few days, and it is still difficult to conclude what precisely is being built or why.
    ďOne possibility is that North Korea plans to bring the test site back to a state of readiness to resume nuclear explosive testing,Ē the report said.
    The CNS analysts cautioned the test site is many months, if not years, from being ready for new nuclear explosions.
    ďHow long it would take North Korea to resume explosive testing at the site depends on the extent of the damage to the tunnels themselves, something we do not know with confidence,Ē they wrote in the report.    ďIt is also possible that North Korea will resume nuclear testing at another location
    Punggye-ri is North Koreaís only known nuclear test site. It conducted six nuclear weapons tests in tunnels at the site from 2006 to 2017.    North Koreaís last and largest nuclear test appeared to trigger geological instability that has since caused multiple small earthquakes, but analysts and U.S. intelligence officials have said the site could likely be used again.
    A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners declined to comment on matters of intelligence or commercial imagery analysis.
    ďHowever, we have been very clear on the threat posed by the Democratic Peopleís Republic of Korea (DPRK) missile programs, and our commitment to the defence of the ROK, Japan, and the U.S. homeland, and our commitment to uphold regional peace and stability,Ē he said, using the initials of the official names of North and South Korea.
    The United States says it is open to talks without preconditions, but North Korea says Washington and its allies must first stop their ďhostile policies
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Richard Pullin and Lincoln Feast.)

3/8/2022 China Says Hong Kongís Priority Is To Cut COVID Infections, Deaths
Workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) isolation facility
in Tsing Yi, during the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong needs to stick to its ďdynamic zeroĒ coronavirus strategy, focused on reducing infections, severe illnesses and death, a senior Chinese health official said, as the city braced for details of an expected mass testing plan this month.
    Liang Wannian from Chinaís National Health Commission, who is in Hong Kong to coordinate efforts to battle a growing outbreak, said the mass testing needed to be done at the right time with all details carefully arranged, the official Xinhua news agency said.
    ďReducing infection, severe cases and deaths is Hong Kongís most urgent and top priority at the current stage,Ē it quoted him as saying.    ďAfter we achieve the first target, we will then move on to the second and third goals
    Dynamic zero does not mean zero infections with COVID transmissions so strong, Liang said.    However the city should do its best to reduce infections and take measures to cut off further transmissions.
    Liangís comments come as infections in the Asian financial hub have surged to record highs with a total of around 500,000 cases and more than 2,200 deaths Ė most of which have been in the past two weeks.
    Authorities have given contradictory and confusing messages about a compulsory mass testing scheme and whether it would coincide with a city-wide lockdown.
    Food prices in the city have shot up and supermarket shelves have been emptied every day for a week as anxious residentsí stock up, worried about a potential lockdown.
    Hong Kong is expected to report tens of thousands of new coronavirus infections on Tuesday after the launch of a self reporting website on Monday night where people can register if they are infected with the coronavirus.
    After registering on the governmentís website, authorities will try and admit people to isolation facilities if their homes are too crowded, officials said.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/9/2022 China Blames NATO For Pushing Russia-Ukraine Tension To ĎBreaking Pointí
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė Moves by U.S.-led NATO have pushed tension between Russia and Ukraine to a ďbreaking point,Ē Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday.
    At a daily news briefing, he urged the United States to take Chinaís concerns seriously and avoid undermining its rights or interests in handling the Ukraine issue and ties with Russia.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/9/2022 S.Korea Votes For New Leader To Battle COVID, Home Prices, Inequality by Hyonhee Shin
A man holding his child casts his vote at a polling station during the
presidential elections in Seoul, South Korea, March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) - South Koreans went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new president who will shape Asiaís fourth-largest economy riven by gender and generational divides, face off with a confrontational North Korea, and guide the countryís rising status in the world.
    The campaign was marked by surprises, scandals and smears, but the policy stakes are high for the countryís 52 million residents, and whoever they elect to be president for the next five years.
    The winner will face mounting challenges including handling the effects of South Koreaís worst wave of COVID-19 infections, deepening inequality and surging housing prices, and navigating the increasingly tense rivalry between China and the United States.
    Voters are looking for a leader who can root out corruption and initiate negotiations to curb North Koreaís nuclear ambitions.
    The contest is shaping as a tight two-way race between Lee Jae-myung, the standard-bearer of the ruling Democratic Party, and Yoon Suk-yeol, from the conservative main opposition People Power Party.
    They are vying to succeed incumbent President Moon Jae-in, who is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.
    A win by the conservative opposition would represent a remarkable turnaround for a party that was in disarray after the last election in 2017, held early after the impeachment and dismissal of President Park Geun-hye.
    Moonís liberal Democratic Party, meanwhile, is fighting to protect and continue his agenda, and also to head off threats by Yoon to investigate the outgoing presidentís administration for corruption if elected.
    The two presidents before Moon, including Park, were imprisoned after they left office.    Moon faces no specific allegations of wrongdoing, but his administration faced several major corruption scandals among top officials.
    Polls last week showed a slight edge for Yoon, who secured a surprise, last-minute boost when a fellow conservative running a distant third dropped out and threw Yoon his support.
    In the absence of opinion polls over the past six days, Yoonís camp said on Monday it expected to win with a 10% margin, while Leeís team predicted it would come out on top by 1-2%.
    Out of about 44 million eligible voters nationwide, more than 61% had cast their votes by 1 p.m. on Wednesday, election authorities said.    That number includes record turnout in early voting that began on Friday.
SWING VOTERS
    A former prosecutor general, Yoon has vowed to fight corruption, foster justice and create a more level playing field, while seeking a harder line toward North Korea and a ďresetĒ with China.
    Lee was governor of the most populous province of Gyeonggi and shot to fame with his aggressive coronavirus responses and advocacy for universal basic income.
    Both candidatesí disapproval ratings matched their popularity as scandals, mud-slinging and gaffes dominated what was dubbed the ďunlikeable election
    Young voters who backed Moon but became disillusioned with economic problems and corruption scandals are seen as a key bloc.
    Lee Sung-jin, 33, said he had heard that the turnout among people in their 20s and 30s would be important.
    ďAs the current problems for young people concerning employment and housing prices are serious, I voted for a candidate who made a pledge to come up with solutions,Ē he said as he cast his vote in Seoul, without specifying who he voted for.
VOTING WITH COVID-19
    South Korea reported a record daily high 342,446 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday but the surge has hardly registered as an election issue, beyond some debate over how to compensate citizens and businesses.
    With more than 1 million COVID patients treating themselves at home, election authorities tightened voting procedures on Monday amid uproar over early voting irregularities.
    During Saturdayís special early voting for infected voters, some election workers collected ballots in shopping bags or plastic buckets to place in ballot boxes, and some voters reported receiving papers that had already been used.
    Officials said there was no evidence of foul play but the chaos threatened to tarnish South Korea 35-year democratic history of tight and relatively transparent elections.
    The race has already faced a number of disruptions.
    In a rare incident of violence in a South Korean election, a man with a hammer assaulted the leader of the Democrat Party and slightly injured him on Monday while he was campaigning for Lee.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Josh Smith, Daewoung Kim and Yeni Seo; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

3/10/2022 Russian Tourists In Indonesia Without Cash As Sanctions Bite by Sultan Anshori
Visitors are seen inside a cafe frequently visited by the Russians in Badung regency, Bali,
Indonesia, March 8, 2022. Picture taken March 8, 2022. REUTERS/Sultan Anshori NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    KUTA, Indonesia (Reuters) Ė When Russian tourist Konstantin Ivanov tried to withdraw money from his home bank account at a cash machine on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, the transaction was blocked.
    Unprecedented sanctions against Russiaís banks over its invasion of Ukraine are taking a toll on its citizens overseas, who have been left scrambling to find cash or turn to crypto transactions to get by.
    ďThis has created a huge problem for us.    We have been left completely stripped of our finances Ė itís like they have been completely frozen and we cannot use them at all over here,Ē said Ivanov, 27, adding that he might have to look for a job in Indonesia.
    Bali is a popular holiday destination with Russian tourists, who flocked to the island by the tens of thousands before the pandemic and were among the first to return when borders partially reopened last year.
    About 1,150 Russians entered Indonesia in January 2022, according to data from the statistics bureau.
    Rifki Saldi Yanto, the manager of a local cafe, said he had noticed a decline in Russian customers in recent days and many now pay with cash instead of credit card.
    Russiaís embassy in Jakarta said it was providing information and assistance to any citizen who faced problems.
    Denis Tetiushin, an embassy spokesperson, said Russiaís Pochta Bank was now offering a virtual card using Chinaís UnionPay system instead of Visa or Mastercard.
    ďItís free of charge and people may open it wherever they are,Ē he said in a text message.
    Meanwhile more than 7,000 Russians were stranded in Thailand, another popular beach destination because of flight cancellations, a rouble currency in free-fall and payment issues. [L3N2VB1KZ]
    Russiaís economy is facing its gravest crisis since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, after western countries moved in recent days to isolate it from the global financial system.    International payments system SWIFT has disconnected several Russian banks from its network, while Visa and Mastercard said they were blocking overseas use of their cards issued by Russian banks from March 9.
(Reporting by Sultan Anshori in Bali and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Additional reporting by Pedja Stanisic and Sunil Kataria; Writing by Angie Teo; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor, Alexandra Hudson and Ed Davies)

3/10/2022 China-Taiwan War Would End In ĎMiserable Victoryí - Taiwan Minister
Taiwan's Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng sits beside
Director-General of National Security Bureau Chen Ming-tong
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė No matter who wins in any future war between Taiwan and China, it will be a ďmiserable victory,Ē Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Thursday, adding it was best if everyone avoided conflict.
    Speaking to reporters before a parliament session on the security implications of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine, Chiu said both sides would pay a heavy price in the event of conflict between China and Taiwan, which Beijing has vowed to reclaim, by force if necessary.
    ďIf thereís a war, to be frank, everyone will be miserable, even for the victors,Ē he said.
    ďOne really needs to think this through,Ē Chiu added.    ďEveryone should avoid wars
    While Taiwan has stepped up its alert level since the war in Ukraine, it has reported no unusual Chinese military activities, though Chinaís air force has continued to mount occasional missions into Taiwanís air defence identification zone.
    ďWe watch the changes calmly and we are prepared accordingly,Ē Chiu said of China.
    Taiwanís China-policy making Mainland Affairs Council said on Wednesday in a report to the parliamentary session that China was too busy with ensuring stability for a key Communist Party congress at the end of the year to suddenly escalate tensions with Taiwan.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/10/2022 Modiís BJP Set To Win Indiaís Biggest State Election As Vote Count Begins by Krishna N. Das and Saurabh Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, addresses his party supporters during
an election campaign rally in Sambhal district of the northern state, India, February 10, 2022. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) Ė Prime Minister Narendra Modiís party is set to keep control of Indiaís most populous state with a big majority, according to the count on Thursday of a state assembly vote that could offer clues to the national mood before a 2024 general election.
    The Bharatiya Janata Partyís (BJP) coalition was leading in about 250 of the 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, news channels reported citing counting data, while the Election Commission said the party was ahead in enough seats to hold onto power.
    ďEveryone will he surprised by the mandate because we are going to win with a thumping majority,Ē said Uttar Pradesh BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi.
    Uttar Pradesh is home to about a fifth of Indiaís 1.35 billion people and sends the most legislators to parliament of any state.
    The victory in the northern state has come despite the state and federal governmentís much-criticised handling of COVID-19, high unemployment, and anger over farm reforms that Modi cancelled last year after protests.
    The BJP has long predicted it would retain the state because of policies such as free staples for the poor during the pandemic, a crackdown on crime, and its popularity among the Hindu majority reinforced by the construction of a temple on the site of a razed mosque.
    In elections in four smaller states over the past month, the Aam Aadmi Party that governs the national capital territory of Delhi is headed for a landslide victory in Punjab, while the races are tight but in favour of the BJP in Manipur, Goa and Uttarakhand.
    Aam Aadmi Party leaders said they were ready to take on Modi nationally.
    It has long been assumed in Indian politics that without winning Uttar Pradesh and the neighbouring state of Bihar, no party or coalition has much hope of securing a majority in parliament. The BJP has been in power in both.
    For decades, Uttar Pradesh was a stronghold of the main opposition Congress party but it has been unable to stem a slide in its popularity over recent years.
    A win in Uttar Pradesh would be a seal of approval for Hindu monk Yogi Adityanath, who was surprisingly chosen as chief minister for the state five year ago and is seen as a future prime ministerial candidate for the BJP.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Saurabh Sharma; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/10/2022 S.Korea Elects Conservative Outsider As President In Tectonic Shift by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
Yoon Suk Yeol, the presidential candidate of the main opposition People Power Party, who was elected
South Koreaís new president on Thursday, speaks as he is congratulated by partyís members and
lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea March 10, 2022. Lee Jin-man/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) -Conservative South Korean opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol rode to victory in a tight presidential election on a wave of discontent over economic policy, scandals and gender wars, reshaping the political future of Asiaís fourth-largest economy.
    His victory in Wednesdayís bitterly fought election marks a stunning turnaround for the main conservative bloc, now known as the People Power Party, which has regrouped since the 2017 snap election after the impeachment and ouster of then President Park Geun-hye.
    Yoon is a former prosecutor-general involved with Parkís case who fell out with outgoing President Moon Jae-in after being appointed by him, gaining notoriety for his investigations of top presidential aides.
    ďThe people put me here with hope in my conviction that I have not yielded to any power for fairness and justice for 26 years,Ē Yoon said in a speech of his career as a prosecutor.
    Yoon has pledged to stamp out graft, foster justice and create a more level economic playing field, while seeking a ďresetĒ with China and a tougher stance towards reclusive North Korea, which has launched a record number of missile tests in recent months.
    He faces the challenge of uniting a country of 52 million riven by gender and generational divisions, growing inequality and surging home prices.
    ďReal estate prices, housing policy, jobs, and tax policies will top his domestic agenda,Ē said Duyeon Kim, a Seoul-based expert with the Center for a New American Security.
    Yoon will need to restore public trust in Koreaís institutions and is likely to conduct major ďhousecleaningĒ by following through on a campaign pledge to investigate Moonís administration for corruption, she added.
    Official results showed Yoon, 61, edged out the ruling centre-left Democratic Partyís Lee Jae-myung to replace Moon, whose single five-year term ends in May.
    Yoonís lack of elected political experience was seen as both a liability and an asset.
    While his campaign was marked by gaffes and controversy, the race became a referendum on Moonís economic policies from jobs to housing to wealth inequality.
    The benchmark KOSPI rose more than 2%, its sharpest daily rise in at least three months, with Yoon expected to speed deregulation in South Koreaís capital markets.
    The election was one of the closest in recent history and came after an unusually bitter campaign marred by scandals and smears.    Both candidatesí disapproval ratings matched their popularity as scandals, mud-slinging and gaffes dominated what was dubbed the ďunlikeable election
CONFRONTING CRISIS
    Leeís loss casts doubt on Moonís legacy, including his signature efforts to engage with North Korea, which have largely been stalled since talks fell apart in 2019.
    The new president will likely face an almost immediate crisis with Pyongyang, which appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite and has suggested it could resume testing of long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons for the first time since 2017.
    Yoon has vowed to forge even closer ties with the United States Ė South Koreaís only treaty ally Ė in the face of increased missile activity by North Korea and competition with China, which is the Southís largest trading partner.
    The White House congratulated Yoon, saying President Joe Biden looked forward to working closely with him to bolster the alliance.
    Yoon and Biden spoke by telephone on Thursday, the White House later added.
    ďWe can expect the alliance to run more smoothly and be in sync for the most part on North Korea, China, and regional and global issues,Ē said Kim from the Center for a New American Security.
    Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida welcomed Yoonís win, and said he hoped to work closely with him to rebuild healthier ties with its neighbour amid tensions over historic and economic disputes dating to Japanís 1910-1945 occupation of Korea.
    More than 77% of South Koreaís 44 million eligible voters cast ballots to pick their next leader, despite an record surge in new COVID-19 cases this week.
    Yoon said he would work with opposition parties to heal polarised politics and foster unity.
    ďOur competition is over for now,Ē he said in an acceptance speech, thanking and consoling Lee and other rivals.    ďWe have to join hands and unite into one for the people and the country
    At a separate ceremony with supporters, Yoon said he would put top priority on ďnational unity,Ē adding all people should be treated equally regardless of their regional, political and socioeconomic differences.
    Lee had conceded defeat and congratulated his opponent.
    ďI did my best, but failed to live up to your expectations,Ē he told a news conference, blaming his ďshortcomingsĒ
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Cynthia Kim, Ju-min Park, Daewoung Kim and Yeni Seo; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Nick Macfie, Sandra Maler, Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feast.)

3/10/2022 Analysis-S.Koreaís President-Elect Harnessed Voter Discontent. Now Comes The Hard Part by Josh Smith and Cynthia Kim
South Korea's president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a news conference at
the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė South Koreaís new president-elect harnessed widespread public discontent and disillusionment to win Wednesdayís election but the same volatile forces that brought him to power may complicate his efforts to enact reforms, analysts said.
    Conservative People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor-general who had never run for office before, won in the closest election in decades after a bruising campaign marred by scandals and gaffes.
    The close result, the fact the rival Democratic Party will still control the one-house National Assembly, and his vow to investigate the outgoing administration means Yoon will be hard-pressed to move beyond policy failures and political battles, analysts said.
    ďAfter a divided electorate has produced a divided government, Seoul may struggle to pursue policies of reform rather than politics of retribution,Ē said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
    Yoon, 61, is also expected to take a harder line on North Korea though he says he is open to talks while boosting deterrence and ďresettingĒ ties with China.
    At the centre of the voter frustration that propelled Yoon to victory are soaring housing prices and growing inequality.
    Polls have shown for months that South Koreans wanted change, as voters who helped centre-left incumbent Moon Jae-in win in 2017 grew frustrated with his administrationís failure to curb runaway home prices and narrow economic divides.
    South Koreaís economy is forecast to expand 3% this year, the slowest in five years, while one in four young South Koreans are effectively jobless.
    A fast-aging society is a growing threat to public finances when small businesses and families are demanding more government subsidies to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Yoon is also facing calls to get tough on trade unions to help conglomerates add jobs, and reverse plans to gradually ditch nuclear power stations.
    Yoon has promised to rein in property prices, implement a 100-day emergency plan for the pandemic-hit economy, build more than 2.5 million apartments, cut capital gains taxes and deregulate knock-and-rebuild homes.
    His success hinges on his ability to find common ground across the political spectrum, as Democrats still hold nearly 60% of 295 seats in the National Assembly.
    ďYoon Suk-yeolís victory Ö should lead to a shift away from the bigger, and more active state that began under President Moon,Ē London-based research firm Capital Economics said in a report.
    ďBut the lack of a parliamentary majority means he will struggle to pass large parts of his reform agenda
ANGRY YOUNG MEN
    On top of perceived policy failures, several corruption and sexual abuse scandals involving top presidential aides and ruling party officials meant Moonís Democratic Party struggled to differentiate itself from his conservative predecessor, Park Gun-shy, who was impeached, removed from office, and imprisoned in a corruption scandal, analysts said.     ďIt feeds into this idea that the liberals are similar to the conservatives, so it doesnít make much difference who you vote for,Ē said Ramon Pacheco Pardon, a Korea expert at Kingís College, London.
    Yoon helped prosecute Park and in 2019 Moon appointed him prosecutor-general.    He then became a household name when he clashed with the president amid investigations into senior administration figures, including a justice minister who was forced to resign.
    In an unprecedented move, Moon approved suspending Yoon over allegations of abuse of power and other misconduct but a court overturned the suspension.
    Yoon then resigned and was quickly wooed by the conservative opposition seeking to capitalize on the backlash against Moonís government.
    Yoon tapped into voter anger over perceived hypocrisy by Moonís party, and also courted young men who have spearheaded a backlash against equality measures in a country with stark gender divides.
    Complaints that the Democratic Party was encouraging ďreverse discriminationĒ that compounded economic struggles, helped lead to a major drop in support among young men who had helped Moon win in 2017.
    Exit polls showed Yoon won about 58% of men in their 20s, while his liberal opponent won the same percentage of women in their 20s.
    ďThat resentment helped some people think the government equals injustice,Ē said Kim Nae-hoon, author of a book on South Koreaís young voters.
    ďMost people didnít know what Yoon Suk-yeol was doing exactly, but they vaguely came to like Yoon because they think Ďhe is someone hated by those we hateí
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Cynthia Kim; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/10/2022 Hong Kong Leader Plans To Reopen City After Controlling Latest COVID Outbreak
A general view of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) isolation facility in Tsing Yi, amid the
COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 9, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday it was not the time to lift a ban on flights from nine countries including the United States and Britain, with plans to reopen the city only after the government controls a deepening coronavirus outbreak.
    The global financial hub has some of the most draconian restrictions in place to combat a surge in coronavirus cases that has seen the city suffer the most deaths globally per million people in the week to March 7, according to the Our World in Data publication.
    Total infections have surged to about 600,000, including more than 2,800 deaths Ė most in the past two weeks.
    The Chinese territory has had its borders effectively sealed since 2020 with few flights able to land and passengers banned from transitting.
    ďThis is not the time to lift the ban.    A lot of people will rush to come backÖthere will be infected cases and that will add a lot of pressure to our public hospital system,Ē Lam said.
    Her comments come a day after she announced a shift in her governmentís approach to tackling the coronavirus, devoting more medical resources to elderly people as infections and deaths climb rapidly amongst the cityís mainly unvaccinated seniors.
    Hong Kongís government had previously focused its resources on identifying, treating and isolating all cases, even those that are asymptomatic and mild, adding pressure on its hospitals and healthcare system.
    Until recently, the government said it was focusing its efforts on carrying out compulsory mass testing for Hong Kongís 7.4 million residents sometime this month.
    Contradictory messages from authorities over the scheme and plans for a city-wide lockdown have sparked panic buying by residents, who have been emptying supermarket shelves for over 11 days.
    There was now no time frame for the testing, Lam said on Wednesday.
    The change in approach came after a top Chinese official said that Hong Kong had to prioritise reducing infections, severe illnesses and deaths.
    Hong Kong, like mainland China, has adopted a ďdynamic zeroĒ strategy that seeks to curb infections with strict mitigation measures.    The approach has been severely tested by the fast spreading Omicron variant.
    China has seen a rise of locally transmitted coronavirus infections reporting 402 for March 9, nearly doubling from the daily count a day earlier.
(Reporting by Farah Master, Jessie Pang and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/11/2022 U.S. Says North Korea Tested ICBM System As Leader Expands Space Effort by Hyonhee Shin and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: Kim Jong Un, North Korea's leader, attends a meeting with Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, chairwoman of Vietnam's
National Assembly, at the National Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday, March 1, 2019. SeongJoon Cho/Pool via Reuters
    SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) Ė North Korea recently used what would be its largest ever intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) system in two secretive launches, likely paving the way for a resumption of long-range tests, U.S. and South Korean officials said.
    North Korea froze its ICBM and nuclear tests in 2017 after launching its first missiles capable of reaching the United States.    It has also not tested a nuclear weapon since then but leader Kim Jong Un has warned of a return to testing both.
    The escalation in North Korea tensions comes as South Korea on Wednesday elected a new conservative president.
    Yoon Suk-yeol has said preemptive strikes may be needed to counter any imminent attack by the North and has vowed to buy American THAAD missile interceptors, while remaining open to restarting stalled denuclearisation talks.
    In launches on Feb. 27 and March 5, North Korea did not specify what missile was used, but said they tested components for reconnaissance satellites Kim said would soon be launched to monitor military activity by the United States and its allies.
    ďThe purpose of these tests, which did not demonstrate ICBM range, was likely to evaluate this new system before conducting a test at full range in the future, potentially disguised as a space launch,Ē Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
    The U.S. Treasury, which has imposed a range of sanctions on North Korea over its weapons programmes, will announce new actions on Friday to help prevent North Korea ďaccessing foreign items and technology that enable it to advance its weapons programmes,Ē a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    These steps would be followed by a range of further actions in coming days, the official added, without giving any details of the measures.
    Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Yoon said they had agreed to ramp up three-way ties with the United States in responding to North Koreaís evolving military threat.
    Japan is also considering imposing additional sanctions against North Korea, as well as other diplomatic options, Kishida told reporters after a phone call with the South Korean president-elect.
ROCKETS AND SATELLITES
    The United States and South Korea both said the missile system, known as the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at an October 2020 military parade in Pyongyang and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
    The Hwasong-17 would be North Koreaís longest-range weapon, carried on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, with some analysts calling it a ďmonster
    Analysts said the tests likely only used only one stage of the Hwasong-17, and may have adjusted its fuel use to fly at lower altitudes.
    Washington called the ICBM tests a ďserious escalation requiring a united global response.Ē    Seoul issued strong condemnation and urged Pyongyang to immediately stop actions that heighten tension.
    The intelligence assessments, released simultaneously by the United States and South Korea, came as North Korean state media reported Kim had inspected the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground.
    The facility has been used to put a satellite in orbit and also to test various missile components including rocket engines and space launch vehicles that South Korean and U.S. officials say require similar technology to that used in ICBMs.
    North Korea ďhas historically used its space launches to try to hide its attempted advancements of its ICBM programme,Ē the U.S. official told reporters.
    At the Sohae station, Kim inspected facilities and ordered modernising and expanding it to ensure that ďvarious rockets could be launched to carry multi-purpose satellites, including a military reconnaissance satellite,Ē the Northís KCNA news agency reported.
    ďI think that the North Koreans are genuinely working on a set of technologies that have applications across both ICBMs and satellites,Ē said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    South Koreaís unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it was monitoring Kimís movements and urged North Korea to refrain from further stoking tension.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul and David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

3/11/2022 After S.Korea Election Loss, Moonís Ruling Party Scrambles To Regroup by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a ceremony of the 103rd anniversary of the March 1st
Independence Movement Day in Seoul, South Korea, March 1, 2022. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė The party of outgoing South Korea President Moon Jae-in scrambled to regroup on Friday as its leadership resigned in en masse after its devastating election defeat, but still holds enough seats to potentially thwart the new presidentís agenda.
    Conservative opposition candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, a former prosecutor-general and political novice, won South Koreaís closest election in decades on Wednesday, tapping voter disillusionment over spiralling housing prices, deepening inequality and scandals involving Moonís aides.
    The governing Democratic Partyís entire leadership team resigned on Thursday, taking responsibility for the result, leaving the partyís 172 lawmakers and other officials to gather on Friday to analyse the failure and chart the way forward.
    There were signs of discord among the Democrats.
    Some called for soul searching and the need to shake off perceptions of arrogance, while others said the top priority should be placed on the June election of heads of local governments nationwide, not the leadership change.
    Despite the defeat, the Democrats will retain their solid majority in the 300-seat, single chamber parliament until the next election in 2024, meaning their support is essential for Yoon to pass new legislation, approve budgets and appoint cabinet ministers.
    ďThe government will change, but the power balance in parliament will not,Ē said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.
    ďHow Yoon would handle the lopsided structure would be key, and in order to draw the oppositionís cooperation, he would need strong public support behind any policy drive
AGENDA IN CHECK
    Yoon promised after his victory to heal polarised politics, embrace foes and work with the Democrats.
    But the bruising campaign marred by scandals, smears and gaffes exposed some bitter feelings harboured by both sides, highlighting the challenges Yoon faces when he is sworn in May.
    Before his resignation, the Democrat chairman said last week Yoon would be a ďvegetative presidentĒ who would struggle to run the government with the ruling party occupying just 105 seats.
    Yoon told a rally on Tuesday there was talk among some Democrats that if he was elected they would disrupt his government and rally dissenters in his party.
    The Democrats are exploring how to keep Yoonís conservative agenda in check, including his pledge to buy an additional THAAD U.S. missile system, which Yoonís campaign estimated would cost up to 1.5 trillion won. ($1.2 billion)
    Yoon has said the system was necessary to bolster capital area defences against North Koreaís evolving missile threats.
    But the Democrats have voiced stiff resistance, saying it risks economic retaliation from China which argues the equipmentís powerful radar could penetrate into its territory.
    Shin said an early test could be the local government election in June, and confirmation hearings when Yoon nominates cabinet ministers after taking office.
    Moon had been criticised for appointing the highest number of nominees without bipartisan approval in the countryís democratic history.
    ďThe ruling party had faced backlash after using its majority to press ahead with its agenda without consensus,Ē Shin said.    ďThey would know they still play a role in fostering bipartisan politics, with their power in parliament
($1 = 1,233.3300 won)
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Yeni Seo; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/11/2022 S.Koreaís Nuclear Power At Inflection Point As Advocate Wins Presidency by Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO: Power transmission towers are seen near the plant of new Shin Kori No. 3 reactor
and No. 4 reactor of state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO) in Ulsan, about 410 km (255 miles)
southeast of Seoul, September 3, 2013. REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won (SOUTH KOREA)/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė South Koreaís nuclear power industry is at an inflection point after Yoon Suk-yeol triumphed in the nationís presidential vote this week, as a platform pledge to revive the fortunes of a once-dominant sector faces stiff business hurdles.
    Itís the second U-turn in less than a decade for the industry, which has been left in tatters with major talent and business losses during liberal President Moon Jae-inís policy to ďexitĒ nuclear energy.
    Yoon has rejected the idea of phasing out nuclear energy and made it a key pledge of his campaign to boost investment in the industry and restore its earlier preeminence as an exporter of lean and safe reactors.
    The rethink of the countryís energy mix comes at a time the crisis in Ukraine has highlighted the risks of over-reliance on imports of oil and gas and the EUís inclusion of nuclear power in sustainable carbon neutrality goals.
    But policy uncertainty caused by a constitutional limit of a single five-year presidential term has magnified the business risks in an industry that relies on long-term investment and commitment.
    ďWeíve lost all capacity for construction.    Others have lost 80% of revenue,Ē said Cho Seung-eun, CEO of Moojin Keeyeon, a nuclear power subcontractor whose 100 employees five years ago have dwindled to 50.
    ďNuclear plants take 3-4 years of advance planning, so five years mean a lot of manpower left for jobs with clearer future, took their expertise with them
SWEEPING PROMISES
    Those challenges sit uncomfortably with Yoonís sweeping pledges.
    Currently, nuclear power makes up roughly 27% of the countryís power mix, with 35% coal and 29% liquefied natural gas.
    Yoon has promised to lift nuclear powerís contribution to 30% by restarting construction and extending reactorsí lives, and export 10 nuclear power plants by 2030.
    However, success is by no means assured, say industry experts, who credit nuclear energy with playing a major role in powering the growth of key South Korean industries such as semiconductors to global success.
    ďNuclear power has played a big role in providing low-cost electricity 24-hours-a-day,Ē said Yang-Hoon Sonn, professor of economics at Incheon National University.
    ďBut the decision to Ďexití nuclear power, plus the global direction away from fossil fuels, led to an overt focus on renewable energy that severely weakened the utilities operatorís finances and was not letting Korea do what it does well Ė build nuclear plants
    The nation is the fifth-largest nuclear power generator after the United States, China, France and Russia, according to International Atomic Energy Agency data.
    It has 24 reactors and six that began construction, but work to lengthen the life of existing reactors or finish constructing new ones had dwindled sharply during the Moon administration, industry sources said.
NO MORE LOW COST POWER?
    South Koreaís ďnet zero scenarioĒ announced during Moonís administration projected nuclear power in 2050 electricity demand at 6.1%-7.2%; renewable energy at 60.9-70.8%.
    Nuclear proponents say South Koreaís small land mass Ė about the size of the U.S. state of Indiana Ė and changeable weather means solar, wind or geothermal power wonít be a viable alternative for many more years.
    Nuclear power cost 61.5 won per kWh, while solar power cost 149.9 won in January according to Korea Power Exchange.
    Champions of renewable energy say state-run utility Korea Electric Power Corpís (KEPCO) dominance in nuclear power and decentralised, politically-driven regional government policies keep renewable energy from becoming cost-effective.
    Power cost remains a key advantage for industries such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix.    A single power failure can cause hundreds of millions of dollars in wafer losses and even global disruption in chip supply.
    South Korean businesses paid $0.075 per kWh of electricity as of June 2021, less than $0.120 in the U.S. and $0.254 in Germany, according to Global Petrol Prices.
    But this is likely unsustainable.    KEPCOís earnings have deteriorated sharply since 2020 with more losses expected this year.
    And few expect Yoonís election to immediately revive the boom days for exports of nuclear plants, like the one in 2009, when a South Korean-led consortium won a $20 billion contract to build four nuclear power reactors in the United Arab Emirates.
    Government policy ďkeeps changing and changing,Ē said an official at a 55-person nuclear subcontractor who declined to be identified.
    ďNo one wants to come to work here, so thereís no manpower to replace people leaving
($1 = 1,205.5100 won)
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Jack Kim and Shri Navaratna)

3/11/2022 Pakistan Warns Arch-Rival India Over Mystery Flying Object by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) rehearses flag masting at the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah before the Defence Day
ceremonies, or Pakistan's Memorial Day, in Karachi, Pakistan September 6, 2020. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) Ė Pakistan on Friday warned New Delhi of ďunpleasant consequencesĒ over what it said was an Indian-originated, but unidentified high-altitude supersonic object that crashed in Pakistani territory.
    Pakistan foreign office said in a statement it summoned on Friday Indiaís charge díaffaires in Islamabad to lodge a protest over what it said was the unprovoked violation of its airspace.    Pakistan called for an investigation of the incident, which it said could have endangered passenger flights and civilian lives.
    Pakistan warned India in the statement ďto be mindful of the unpleasant consequences of such negligence and take effective measures to avoid the recurrence off such violations in future
    The two nuclear-armed neighbours have fought three wars and have engaged in numerous military clashes, most recently in 2019 which saw the air forces of the two engage in combat.
    In a hurriedly called news conference late on Thursday night, Pakistan military spokesman Major-General Babar Iftikhar said, ďOn 9 March a high-speed flying object was picked up inside Indian territory by air defence operations centre of the Pakistan air force
    He said the military was not sure of the nature of the object, which he said crashed near the eastern Pakistani city of Mian Channu and originated from the Indian city of Sirsa, in Indiaís western Haryana province.
    Pakistan also called on India to share outcome of the investigation into the incident.
    There was no immediate response from Indiaís Ministry of External Affairs to a Reutersí query on the matter.
    ďThe flight path of this object endangered many national and international passenger flights both in Indian and Pakistani airspace as well as human life and property of ground,Ē said military spokesman Iftikhar.
    A Pakistan air force official at the news conference said the object was being analysed forensically and initial studies suggested it was a surface-to-surface supersonic missile, but was unarmed.
    He said it travelled at an altitude of 40,000 feet, at Mach 3, and flew 124 kilometres (77 miles) in Pakistani airspace before crashing.
    Iftikhar said the military would not jump to conclusions until they got an explanation from India, but said that Pakistan strongly protested against a ďflagrant violationĒ of its airspace.
    ďWhatever caused this incident to happen, it is for the Indians to explain,Ē Iftikhar said.
(Additional Reporting by Syed Raza Hasan and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by William Maclean and Kenneth Maxwell)

3/12/2022 China Approves Five COVID-19 Antigen Kits For Self-Testing Ė CCTV
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker collects a swab sample from a person at a mobile nucleic acid testing site for the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), following the outbreak, in Beijing, China February 23, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė China has granted approval to five COVID-19 antigen kits made by local companies to be used for self-testing, state broadcaster CCTV said on Saturday, as it tweaks its testing regime that has been pressured by Omicron.
    Chinaís National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) published a notice on Friday saying Beijing Huaketai Biotechnology had been allowed to make changes to its COVID-19 antigen test kitís device certificate.
    It published a similar approval for four other companies, Nanjing Vazyme Biotech, Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech, Beijing Jinwofu Bioengineering Technology and a BGI Genomics subsidiary, Shenzhen Huada Yinyuan Pharmaceutical Technology, on Saturday.
    While the NMPA did not provide more information, CCTV said the NMPA approvals marked the official market launch of new COVID-19 antigen self-test kits.
    The approvals come after the countryís health regulator on Friday said it would allow the general public to buy COVID-19 antigen self-test kits in stores and online for the first time.
    In the past two years, medical workers in many Chinese cities have swabbed hundreds of thousands of noses and throats within days after just a handful of cases emerged, using nucleic acid tests that require labs to process samples.    The scale of effort has helped China keep its caseload tiny by global standards.
    However, some experts said it has become increasingly challenging for that strategy to keep up with the spread of the Omicron variant.    Chinaís daily rise of domestically transmitted cases reached a two-year high this week with many asymptomatic carriers.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Roxanne Liu; Editing by Stephen Coates)

3/12/2022 China Daily Local COVID Cases Hit Two-Year High Of Over 1,500
Residents line up outside a nucleic acid testing site of a hospital, following cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai, China March 11, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė Mainland China reported more than 1,500 new local COVID-19 infections on Saturday, the most since the initial nationwide outbreak at the start of 2020, as the Omicron variant prompts cities across the country to further tighten measures.
    Chinaís 588 daily cases were far fewer than those of many other countries, but the growing number could complicate Beijingís ďdynamic-clearanceĒ ambition to suppress contagion as quickly as possible.
    Of the daily total, 476 were locally transmitted, the National Health Commission said, including five people initially classified as asymptomatic who developed symptoms later.
    The country reported 1,048 domestically transmitted asymptomatic infections, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, for Friday, the health authority said, up from 703 a day earlier.
    Several cities have taken measures such as cancelling group events, launching rounds of mass testing and cutting face-to-face classes in school.
    The northeastern province of Jilin, one of the hardest-hit regions, said it had dismissed the mayor of Jilin city and a district head in the capital, Changchun.
    Changchun has ordered all but essential businesses to halt operations and banned its 9 million residents from leaving their residential compounds for non-essential reasons.    Similar measures have been applied in urban areas of Jilin city.
    In the financial hub of Shanghai, the Disneyland resort said it would reduce its guest capacity and from Sunday require visitors to present negative nucleic acid test results taken within 24 hours.
    The venue for the Canton Fair, Chinaís oldest and biggest trade fair, has been temporarily closed as it was recently visited by a suspected confirmed case, local authorities in Guangzhou said.
    A meeting convened by a government taskforce, which coordinates Chinaís COVID-19 response, said on Friday all localities needed to tighten prevention and control measures, and to treat this as their top political task.
    ďThe hard-to-come-by results of prevention and control must not be allowed to go to waste,Ē said state broadcaster CCTV.    ďDo not relax, resolutely hold to the bottom line that there cannot be a large-scale rebound of the epidemic
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, additional reporting by Roxanne Liu and Steven Bian; Editing by William Mallard)

3/12/2022 Hong Kong Leader Says City Is Not Yet Past COVID Peak
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference at the
government headquarters in Hong Kong, China March 9, 2022. Peter Parks/Pool via REUTERS
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Saturday that the cityís COVID-19 outbreak wasnít yet past its peak despite recent daily case numbers showing a slight levelling off.
    ďAt this moment, we could not comfortably say that we have past the peak,Ē Lam told reporters.
    Health authorities reported 29,381 new infections on Friday, compared with 31,402 new cases on Thursday.
    Lam added that fresh food supplies from mainland China had largely been restored to previous levels, after panic buying by the public in recent weeks had seen some supermarket shelves emptied on a daily basis.
    In total since early 2020, the global financial hub has recorded almost 650,000 COVID-19 infections and about 3,500 deaths Ė most of them in the past two weeks.
    Hong Kong, like mainland China, has adopted a ďdynamic zeroĒ strategy that seeks to curb infections with strict mitigation measures, even as most other major cities learn to live with the virus.    China and Hong Kongís approach has been severely tested by the fast spreading Omicron variant.
    Hong Kong registered the most deaths per million people globally in the week to March 9, according to data publication Our World in Data.    Most have been unvaccinated senior citizens.
    A senior Chinese official overseeing Hong Kong affairs, Xia Baolong, who has been helping coordinate Chinaís response to aid Hong Kong in trying to contain the outbreak, was cited by the China News Agency as saying the cityís COVID-19 situation was still severe and to adequately prepare oneself mentally for this ďlong-term war
    He added that the government needed to do carry out its anti-epidemic work in a precise manner like ďacupunctureĒ and to strengthen inter-departmental coordination.
    Responding to the remarks, Lam said ďI can assure him Ö that we are putting in every effort to fight this epidemic,Ē while dismissing the view that the Hong Kong government wasnít working effectively and in unison to battle the outbreak.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Hong Kong Bureau; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/12/2022 Australia Nears Living With COVID Like Flu Ė PM Morrison
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at
Kirribilli House in Sydney, Australia, February 24, 2022. AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi via REUTERS
ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE. NEW ZEALAND OUT. NO COMMERCIA
L OR EDITORIAL SALES IN NEW ZEALAND. AUSTRALIA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN AUSTRALIA
    SYDNEY (Reuters) Ė Australiaís Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the nationís political leaders want to move to a new phase of living with COVID-19 as though it were the flu, but would consult health experts.
    A day after meeting with the national cabinet of state and federal leaders, Morrison told reporters on Saturday morning they had discussed moving to ďPhase DĒ of the national pandemic response plan.
    ďOur airports are open again, international arrivals can come, there are waivers now on quarantine for people returning, so we are pretty much in Phase D,Ē he said.
    The leaders wanted to drop the isolation requirement for close contacts of COVID-19 cases and would seek further advice on this from an expert panel, he said.
    The isolation rule was ďstarving businesses of staff,Ē said Morrison, whose conservative government faces an election in May.
    ďWe believe we are pretty much in Phase D now, there are a few exceptions to that.    Phase D, remember, means living with the virus like the flu,Ē he said.
    Western Australia and the Northern Territory would lag the eastern states by a month in dropping restrictions, he said.
    Health officials in New South Wales, the most populous state, this week flagged concern about a rise in the new BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron they said could bring a doubling of daily cases by the monthís end from the latest figures around 15,000.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

3/13/2022 ĎMission Impossibleí: U.N. In Cambodia Showed Early Limit Of Nation Building by Kate Lamb
FILE PHOTO: U.N. peacekeepers patrol the streets of Phnom Penh in an
armoured personnel carrier, Cambodia August 27, 1993. REUTERS
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) Ė Just over 30 years ago, a crackling radio in a refugee camp on the Thai border brought Sam Sophal word that the United Nations was coming to his war-ravaged homeland of Cambodia.
    For Sam Sophal, who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide only because his mother bribed Khmer Rouge executioners with her silver watch, the promise of peace was irresistible.
    The U.N. Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) arrived on March 15, 1992, with great expectations, the first U.N. nation-building operation after the collapse of the Soviet Union sparked hope that democracy would flourish around the world.
    But long before last yearís shambolic fall of Afghanistan and the costly international missions in Iraq, Kosovo and elsewhere, Cambodia would serve as an early warning of the flaws and limitations of nation building.
    At the time, UNTAC was the most ambitious and expensive U.N. mission but despite its $1.6 billion cost and $20 billion in subsequent international aid, hopes of creating a vibrant democracy faded long ago.
    ďI felt very proud during the UNTAC time because I was the first generation to bring peace to Cambodia,Ē says Sam Sophal, 60, who got a job as a translator with the mission soon after its launch.
    ďNow I see we have gone backwards.    To one-party rule,Ē he said under the shade of a Jujube tree in his Phnom Penh backyard.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen, the same man in power before the UNTAC mission, remains leader, presiding over what critics call an authoritarian government with most opposition leaders in exile or in jail.
    Government spokesman Phay Siphan rejects accusations that Hun Sen is an autocrat, saying he has worked for peace and democracy since 1979.
    The United Nations said in a statement UNTACís original mandate of ďrestoring to the Cambodian people and their democratically elected leaders their primary responsibility for peace, stability, national reconciliation and reconstruction had been fulfilled
BLUE SKY
    A prophecy that foretold of a ďgod with blue eyesĒ that would one day bless and restore the land had spread through villages during Cambodiaís darkest years.
    So when UNTAC arrived with their sky-blue flag and helmets they were seen as an incarnation of that deity, some even painting their homes a U.N. shade of blue, recalled Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
    ďConflict, genocide, invasions, refugees Ö and then suddenly there was blue sky,Ē he said.
    A former French colony, by the early 1990s Cambodia had endured decades of devastation after getting sucked into the Vietnam War.    During the four-year Khmer Rouge ďkilling fieldsĒ regime an estimated 1.7 million people, about a fifth of the population, perished.
    A Vietnamese invasion toppled the Khmer Rouge in 1979, setting off a war in which the ousted Maoists and two other factions battled the invaders and their Cambodian allies.
    UNTACís main triumphs were bringing hundreds of thousands of refugees home from border camps in time for the May 1993 election, when almost 90% of voters turned out.
    ďFor the first time we felt very free,Ē said Youk Chhang, who spent two weeks in an electoral office guarding ballots.
    ďIt was a beautiful feeling
    But Hun Sen, prime minister before UNTAC, came second and quickly complained of vote-rigging.    The polls, he said, were worse than the pain of losing an eye in battle.
    Threatening to break up the country, Hun Sen forced a power-sharing deal that saw the man who had won the vote, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and Hun Sen taking the roles of first and second prime ministers.
    ďIn the world there is no such thing as two prime ministers,Ē said Sam Sophal, still bemused by the arrangement.
    ďThink about one car and two drivers, who is going to take over?Ē
    The coalition eventually disintegrated in bloodshed, with armed forces loyal to Hun Sen ousting Ranariddh in a 1997 coup.
ĎOUT OF THEIR MINDSí
    In retrospect, UNTAC was criticised for caving in to Hun Sen and then just leaving in September 1993.    But even at the time, many say it was evident its mandate was fanciful.
    ďThe people who planned it were out of their minds.    It was definitely a mission impossible,Ē says academic and author Craig Etcheson.
    ďTo expect all these people to parachute into a destroyed country, an alien culture with no language skills and to accomplish anything was pretty crazy
    UNTACís goal of democracy was always complicated by Hun Sen ambition.
    ďHe was so far from being a democrat that you knew it wasnít likely to end well,Ē recalled Tim Carney, who ran UNTACís information division.    He now describes Hun Sen as a ďdictator
    Hun Sen is one of the worldís longest serving leaders and presides over a single-party parliament.
    In 2017, a court dissolved the main opposition party while a feisty media that blossomed under UNTAC was tamed.
    Since the great Cambodian experiment, democracy has been in retreat around the world.
    According to the Bertelsmann Transformation Index, for the first time since 2004, there are more autocratic states than democracies.
†     Like many U.N. missions, expectations in Cambodia were improbably high, said ex-military observer J Floyd Carter, who was detained by the Khmer Rouge during his UNTAC posting.
    ďHaving been in Cambodia and then in Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Haiti, there were similar disappointments Ö It achieves 55% of what it sets out to do,Ē Carter said of the United Nations.
    Carney said the United Nations was more realistic these days.    Following last yearís coup in South Sudan, it prioritised dialogue rather than democratic masterplans.
    ďThey are just trying to get a conversation started,Ē he said.    ďWhich in my mind is about the most that foreigners can do
    When UNTAC was wound up, it left Cambodia with a fraught political arrangement that was almost bound to go awry.
    ďUNTAC was the first test,Ē says Sam Sophal, ďBut they didnít complete the mission
    Now retired after 24 years with the United Nations, Sam Sophal says corruption and nepotism have left Cambodians with no political alternatives. ďPeople in this country believe in democracy and human rights but who is going to lead them?Ē he asked.
(Reporting by Kate Lamb; Editing by Kay Johnson and Robert Birsel)

3/13/2022 China Daily Local Symptomatic COVID Cases More Than Triple
Residents line up outside a nucleic acid testing site of a hospital, following cases of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Shanghai, China March 11, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė Mainland China reported 1,807 new local symptomatic COVID-19 cases on Sunday, more than triple the caseload of the previous day, and the highest in about two years, as surging infections in a northeastern province squeeze health resources.
    The number of domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms reported for Saturday rose sharply from 476 the previous day, data from the National Health Commission showed on Sunday.    The 1,807 daily count included 114 initially classified as asymptomatic who developed symptoms later on Saturday.
    Chinaís current case count is far fewer than those of many other countries, but the growing number could complicate Beijingís ďdynamic-clearanceĒ ambition to suppress contagion as quickly as possible.
    Omicron has prompted health authorities to allow the general public to buy rapid self-test kits for the first time to help detect infections quickly, as some experts said Chinaís earlier testing strategy based on nucleic acid test that requires medical workers to take samples has become harder with the fast-spreading variant.
    The northeastern province of Jilin reported 1,412 new local symptomatic cases on Saturday, accounting for 78% of the national total and up from 134 a day earlier.
    ď[The increase] showed that some local areas, facing a rapid rise of epidemic, lacked the capacity to expand medical resources, resulting in limited admission of infections to centralized facilities within a short period of time,Ē a Jilin provincial official told a news briefing on Sunday.
    Authorities in Changchun, the provincial capital already under lockdown, have been conducting mass testing and working on turning an exhibition centre into a temporary hospital with 1,500 beds, according to the local official and state media reports.
    The southern tech hub of Shenzhen reported 60 new local cases with confirmed symptoms for Saturday, the highest daily rise of such cases for the city since China contained the first outbreak in early 2020.
    All nine districts in Shenzhen have halted dining in restaurants, closed a flurry of indoor entertainment venues, and demanded that companies should have employees work from home from March 14-18 if remote working is possible, with exceptions for those in essential sectors.
    Six officials with local government or Communist Party authorities in the southern city of Dongguan have been removed from their roles for doing a poor job in COVID prevention and control, state media said on Sunday.
    The number of new locally transmitted asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, rose to 1,315 on Saturday from 1,048 a day earlier, the fourth consecutive day of increases, the NHC data showed.
    There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. As of March 12, mainland China had reported 115,466 cases with confirmed symptoms, including both local ones and those arriving from outside mainland.
(Reporting by Kevin Yao and Roxanne Liu; Editing by William Mallard and Gerry Doyle)

3/13/2022 Australiaís Vaccine Diplomacy In Pacific Islands Wards Off Beijing Ė PM Morrison
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media at Melbourne Commonwealth Parliament
Office, in Melbourne, Australia February 11, 2022. Darrian Traynor/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) Ė Australia has been able to stop an ďincursionĒ by Beijing into the Pacific islands by talking with leaders there weekly and offering vaccine aid, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
    Concern over Chinaís military ambitions for the region, after it provided police and riot equipment to the Solomon Islands, prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to last month announce Washington would open a Solomon Islands embassy.
    Morrison said China had been ďvery clearĒ about aspirations to build a military base in the Pacific islands, but this had not occurred.
    This was because Australia worked closely with the region, including providing COVID-19 vaccines before others could offer support, he said in a TV interview with Nineís Weekend Today.
    ďI talk to Pacific leaders every single week and that is what ensures that we can block the incursion into our region, because we share values with the Pacific,Ē he said.
    Australia is historically the largest aid donor to the Pacific islands, although China has increased infrastructure lending and aid, and provided military equipment to regional hub Fiji.
    Beijing has previously said Australia and the United States are ďresurrecting a Cold War mentality,Ē while Chinaís assistance would ďbuild a community with a shared future for China and Pacific island countries
    Tensions between Australia and China, who are significant trading partners, have risen as Beijing sanctioned Australian products in reprisal for Canberra calling for an investigation into the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Morrison, who faces an election in May, has put his governmentís tough rhetoric on China at the forefront of his campaign for re-election.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; editing by Richard Pullin)

3/14/2022 Taiwan Says ASUS Will ĎEvacuateí Russia After Ukraine Urges Exit
A logo of Taiwanese multinational computer hardware and electronics company Asus is seen on a notebook computer
during the annual Computex computer exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė Taiwanese personal computer maker ASUS will consider its reputation and put in place a plan to ďevacuateĒ its staff and business in Russia, Taiwanís economy minister said on Monday, after a Ukraine minister asked it to leave the country.
    Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraineís deputy prime minister and minister of digital transformation, tweeted a letter on Thursday to ASUS Chairman Jonney Shih calling on the company to end its business in Russia. Moscow has invaded Ukraine in what the Russian government calls a ďspecial operation
    ď@ASUS, Russians have no moral right to use your brilliant technology!    Itís for peace, not for war!Ē Fedorov added in a separate tweet.
    Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-hua, asked about the letter, said Taiwan stands with other democracies and has taken action against Russia, but could not comment on what individual companies were doing.
    The company, formally called ASUSTeK Computer Inc, did not respond to a request for comment.
    Wang said her ďinitial understandingĒ was that the company would conduct ďrelevant business and personnel evacuation as soon as possibleĒ following the outbreak of the war.
    ďThe company will give overall consideration to its reputation,Ē she told reporters, speaking on the sidelines of a parliament session to discuss the impact of the war on Taiwanís economy.
    ASUS has faced calls on its social media channels for a boycott after the letter was tweeted, and began being picked by Taiwanese media late on Saturday.
    The criticism is embarrassing for Taiwan, which has joined in Western-led sanctions against Russia for invading Ukraine amid cross-party sympathy and support for Kyiv.    Many Taiwanese see parallels with the military threat Taiwan faces from China, which views the island as its own.
    Russia is not a big market for any major Taiwanese firm.
    ASUS does not provide breakdown of revenue by country.    For the third quarter of last year, it reported Europe accounted for only a third of revenue.
    The company does have a fully owned Russian sales unit, though it has similar units all over the world, and in Ukraine it has a product support unit, according to its latest quarterly report.
    Its shares fell more than 2% early on Monday, while the broader market was flat.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Sarah Wu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/14/2022 South Korea Sees Imminent Prospect Of North ICBM Test - Newspaper by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea's firing a ballistic missile
off its east coast, in Seoul, South Korea, March 5, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė The South Korean government believes North Korea could test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as soon as this week, domestic media said, citing unidentified sources.
    Tension on the Korean peninsula has been rising amid growing signs that Pyongyang could soon follow through on its threats to restart such tests, breaking a self-imposed 2017 moratorium.
    The office of outgoing President Moon Jae-in has told president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol a test launch was imminent and that it would not be a surprise if it took place on Monday, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper said.
    Yonhap news agency said separately that both South Korea and the United States had detected signs of an upcoming test.
    The comment was made as Moonís national security adviser, Suh Hoon, briefed Yoon on Saturday about foreign policy and security issues, the report said, citing an unnamed official at the president-electís office.
    ďIt is so imminent that it would be no surprise if they fire it on Monday,Ē it quoted Suh as saying.
    ďWe are taking the situation seriously
    A spokesperson for Moonís office said Suh had briefed Yoon on North Koreaís recent movements, including recent missile launches, and the Ukraine crisis, among other issues, but declined to comment on the Chosun Ilbo report.
    Yoon spokesperson Kim Eun-hye told reporters that there could be additional briefings for the president-elect but did not confirm details of security issues.
    At a meeting with senior aides, Moon called for Pyongyang to stop escalating tensions and seek diplomacy, and vowed to keep up a solid security posture.
    Seoulís Unification Ministry handling inter-Korean affairs also urged the North to immediately halt actions that ďrun counter to peace and stabilityĒ on the peninsula.
    On Friday, the United States and South Korea said in a rare joint announcement that the North had used its largest-ever ICBM in two recent launches, in the guise of satellite launch preparations.
    The missile system, the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at a military parade in Pyongyang in 2020 and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
    The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper also reported on Monday, citing unnamed government sources, that a transporter-erector-launcher used to fire road-mobile missiles such as the Hwasong-17 had been spotted around the Pyongyang airport, where the two recent tests were held.
    Yoon, who was elected president last week, had signalled a tougher line against Pyongyang.
    While staying open to restarting stalled denuclearisation talks, he has said pre-emptive strikes might be needed to counter an imminent North Korean missile attack, and vowed to buy additional U.S. THAAD missile interceptors.
    Before the election, Yoon also warned of ďeven stronger pressure from the international community if North Korea fires an ICBM under colour of a satellite launchĒ
    He declined to make additional comment on Sunday.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)

3/14/2022 Marcos Jr Holds Big Lead In Poll For Philippines Presidency
FILE PHOTO: Philippine presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, gestures as he
speaks during a campaign rally in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, February 14, 2022. REUTERS/Lisa Marie David/File Photo
    MANILA (Reuters) Ė The son and namesake of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos has maintained a strong lead in the Philippinesí presidential election race, according to an opinion poll published on Monday.
    The Feb 18-23 survey by independent pollster Pulse Asia showed Marcos cornering 60% of support from 2,400 respondents, unchanged from January, with his closest rival Leni Robredo, the incumbent vice president, sliding from 16% to 15%.
    The other main presidential contenders for the May 9 contest Ė Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso, boxing great Manny Pacquiao and Senator Panfilo Lacson Ė received 10%, 8% and 2%, respectively.
    Sara Duterte-Carpio, the daughter of incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, remained the top choice for vice president, with a 29-point lead over her closest rival, Senate speaker Vicente Sotto.
    Duterte-Carpio is the running mate of Marcos. In the Philippines, the vice president is elected separately to the president.
    More than 67 million Filipinos, including 1.7 million overseas, have registered to vote in the elections, which historically have a high turnout.
    Posts contested include the presidency, vice presidency, 12 senate seats, 300 lower house seats, and roughly 18,000 local positions.    Official campaigning began on Feb. 8.
(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Martin Petty)

3/14/2022 Australia, Netherlands Start Legal Action Against Russia For Downing Of MH17 by Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a memorial to victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane crash near
the village of Hrabove in Donetsk region, Ukraine March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko
    SYDNEY (Reuters) Ė Australia and the Netherlands said they had begun joint legal action against Russia at the International Civil Aviation Organisation over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 eight years ago.
    Russia was responsible under international law for the downing of the flight, and action in the United Nations aviation council was a step forward in the fight for justice for 298 victims, including 38 Australians, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement on Monday.
    Australia said the incident was a clear breach of a convention to protect civilian aircraft from weapons fire.
    The Dutch government said in a statement the UN Security Council had also been informed of the step.
    Dutch Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in the statement: ďThe death of 298 civilians, including 196 Dutch, cannot and should not remain without consequences
    ďThe current events in Ukraine underscore the vital importance of this
    The joint action under Article 84 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation is separate to a Dutch murder trial for four suspects over their individual criminal responsibility.
    Australia said it was seeking full reparations from Russia for the injury caused, and the suspension of Russiaís voting power in the aviation council, which sets standards for civilian air travel.
    ďRussiaís unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine and the escalation of its aggression underscores the need to continue our enduring efforts to hold Russia to account for its blatant violation of international law and the UN Charter, including threats to Ukraineís sovereignty and airspace,Ē Morrison and Payne said in the statement.
    MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was hit over rebel-held eastern Ukraine by what international investigators and prosecutors say was a Russian-made surface-to-air missile.
    Moscow has always denied involvement and has promoted a range of alternative theories, which international investigators have rejected as unsupported by evidence.
    A verdict in the murder trial, involving three Russians and a Ukrainian who remain at large, is expected later this year.    None of the defendants have attended the Dutch court.
    Australia and the Netherlands would rely on evidence MH17 was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile system transported from Russia to an area of eastern Ukraine under the control of Russian-backed separatists, and it was accompanied by a Russian military crew, the statement said.
    The missile system was returned to Russia shortly after the downing of MH17, it said.
    ďRussia has to date refused to take responsibility for its clear role in this incident,Ē Payne told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
    Australia and the Netherlands had pursued negotiations with Russia in good faith over the incident, but Russia unilaterally withdrew from the talks in 2020, she said.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/15/2022 Japan Imposes Sanctions On 17 More Russians, Including Billionaire
FILE PHOTO: Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg attends a session of the
St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia June 6, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    TOKYO (Reuters) Ė Japan has decided to freeze assets of an additional 17 Russian individuals, bringing the total number targeted by sanctions over Russiaís invasion of Ukraine to 61, the Ministry of Finance said on Tuesday.
    The step was taken after the United States on Friday imposed sanctions on a slew of Russian individuals including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and 12 members of the Duma, Russiaís lower house of parliament.
    Vekselberg was also targeted in the sanctions by Japan, as well as 11 members of the Duma and five family members of banker Yuri Kovalchuk, the finance ministry said.
    Japan will act in line with other Group of Seven (G7) nations on sanctions, said the governmentís top spokesman, Hirokazu Matsuno.
    ďAs for sanctions hereafter, weíll continue to watch conditions and, along with other G7 nations, respond appropriately,Ē Matsuno told reporters at a news conference.
    Tokyo has also imposed sanctions on Russiaís central bank and seven private banks, among other organisations, as well as various Belarusian individuals and banks and organisations from the country over its support of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.
    Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters that the Ukraine crisis showed the need to reform the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has a permanent seat, and he said Japan would press its case to become a permanent member.
    As part of stronger curbs against Moscow, Japan also said it will widen an export ban to Russia by including 31 items such as semiconductors, communication equipment, sensors and radar, as well as 26 technology packages from Friday.
(Reporting by Daniel Leussink, Kantaro Komiya, Tetsushi Kajimoto and Elaine Lies; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim,Edwina Gibbs & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/15/2022 U.S. Troops In S.Korea Step Up Missile Defence Drills Amid Signs Of N.Korea Test by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and North Korean national flags are seen at the Capella Hotel
on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė U.S. forces stationed in South Korea said on Tuesday they have enhanced the intensity of exercises for their Patriot missile air defence system amid signs that North Korea might soon conduct another long-range missile test.
    Tension on the Korean Peninsula has been growing amid speculation North Korea could test its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) as soon as this week at full range, after threatening to break a self-imposed 2017 moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear testing.
    U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said its air defence artillery brigade stationed in the Osan air base has recently increased the intensity of its certification exercise to demonstrate its capabilities following North Koreaís recent missile tests.
    ďDPRKís significant increase in its missile testing activity undermines peace, security and destabilises the Northeast Asia region,Ē USFK said, using the acronym of North Koreaís official name, the Democratic Peopleís Republic of Korea.
    ďWhile this type of training is routinely conducted by U.S. Patriot batteries Ö its increased intensity of its certification underscores the seriousness USFK takes against the DPRKís recent missile launch behaviour,Ē USFK said.
    A spokesman for South Koreaís defence ministry said it was also closely monitoring North Koreaís movements and maintaining a robust combined readiness posture with the U.S. military.
    On Friday, Washington and Seoul said in a rare joint announcement that Pyongyang had used its largest-ever ICBM in two recent launches, in the guise of satellite launch preparations.
    But the launches did not demonstrate the missileís full range, and analysts said the North might have used only one stage of the missile or adjusted its fuel volume to fly at lower altitudes.
    The missile system, the Hwasong-17, was unveiled at a military parade in 2020 and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
    USFK also said the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command has recently enhanced its ballistic missile defence directive.
    The U.S. military in Japan on Tuesday flew its RC-135S Cobra Ball spy aircraft over the Korean peninsula, a day after sending an RC-135V Rivet Joint reconnaissance plane, the Yonhap news agency said, citing a flight-tracking website.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Tom Hogue)

3/15/2022 Japanese, U.S. Marines Practise Airborne Assaults In Sign Of Deepening Cooperation by Tim Kelly
A member of the Japanese Self-Defense Forceís Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade takes a position
while U.S. Marine Corps members get out of its MV-22 Osprey during a joint airborne landing exercise with
the U.S. Marine Corps in Gotemba, west of Tokyo, Japan March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) Ė In a sign of deepening military cooperation between Japan and the United States, amphibious Japanese troops and U.S. Marines on Tuesday practised airborne landing assaults together for the first time.
    Japan is revising a decade-old national security strategy this year in the face of Chinaís growing military assertiveness.    The upgrade to defence policy guidelines is expected to call for the country to take a more active role alongside Washington in regional security.
    The drills in the foothills of Mount Fuji on Tuesday involved 400 troops from Japanís Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), and 600 U.S. marines, and is part of a three-week joint exercise to hone interoperability between the allies.    Tilt-rotor Osprey troop carriers were used during the drills.
    ďThe real significance from this training is that the Marines and the ARDB are doing serious combat training of a sort that would have been unthinkable a decade ago,Ē said Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel who advised Japan as a liaison officer when it set up its amphibious force.
    ďIt demonstrates a more solidly linked U.S. and Japan
    Activated in 2018, the ARDB troops are Japanís first marines since World War Two and were formed to reinforce its defence along its southwest islands at the edge of the East China Sea.
    Trained to take back captured islands using helicopters, Ospreys and amphibious landing craft, the force of around 1,500 soldiers would likely be one of the first in action to counter any Chinese attack on Japanís islands.
    China, which is locked in a territorial dispute with Japan over uninhabited islands controlled by Tokyo in the East China Sea, routinely dispatches ships to assert its claims.
    The joint drills also come as Russiaís invasion of Ukraine raises fresh security concerns in East Asia where China is putting pressure on Taiwan following its crackdown on Hong Kong.    Japan also faces Russiaís forces operating from Far East bases that are increasingly cooperating with Chinaís military.
    Moscow describes its military action in Ukraine as a ďspecial operation
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Karishma Singh)

3/15/2022 India Court Upholds State Hijab Ban In Schools, Could Set National Precedent by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: Hijab-wearing students arrive to attend classes as a policewoman stands guard outside a government girls school
after the recent hijab ban, in Udupi town in the southern state of Karnataka, India, February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Sunil Kataria
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -An Indian court upheld on Tuesday a ban on wearing of the hijab in classrooms in the southern state of Karnataka, a ruling that could set a precedent for the rest of the country which has a big Muslim minority.
    The ban last month by the state had sparked protests by some Muslim students and parents, and counter-protests by Hindu students.    Critics of the ban say it is another way of marginalising a community that accounts for about 13% of Hindu-majority Indiaís 1.35 billion people.
    ďWe are of the considered opinion that wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form a part of essential religious practice in Islamic faith,Ē Chief Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi of the High Court of Karnataka said in the judgement.
    He said the government had the power to prescribe uniform guidelines, dismissing various petitions challenging the ban ordered by Karnataka.
    ďWe are of the considered opinion that the prescription of school uniform is only a reasonable restriction constitutionally permissible which the students cannot object to,Ē Awasthi said.
    Ayesha Imthiaz, a third-year undergraduate student in the Karnataka district of Udupi where the protests began, said she would either drop out of her government-aided college or opt for a correspondence course.    She said her fellow Muslim female students were planning to do the same.
    ďWe canít take off the hijab, we wonít take off the hijab,Ē she said.    ďWe have fifth semester exams next month.    We will have to sit that out unless things change by then
    Ahead of the verdict, Karnataka authorities announced closures of schools and colleges and imposed restrictions on public gatherings in some parts of the state to prevent potential trouble.
NATIONAL PRECEDENT
    Last month, Federal Home Minister Amit Shah said he preferred students sticking to school uniforms instead of any religious attire.    Currently, there is no central law or rule on school uniforms across the country, but the Karnataka ruling could prompt more states to issue such guidelines.
    The Students Islamic Organisation of India, which represents thousands of Muslim students across the country, said their fear was that Tuesdayís verdict would encourage more states to ban the hijab in class.
    ďWe donít want it to set a national precedent and we want it overturned,Ē its national secretary Musab Qazi said.    ďThe court verdict might embolden more states to ban it.    So in all likelihood, we will approach the Supreme Court
    Karnataka, home to the tech hub of Bengaluru, is the only southern state ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modiís Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and holds state assembly elections next year.
    Critics say the BJP could benefit from the division between Hindus and Muslims, though the party says the hijab ban had nothing to do with their political ambitions.
ĎDEEPLY DISAPPOINTINGí
    Students who had challenged the ban in court had said wearing the hijab was a fundamental right guaranteed under Indiaís constitution and an essential practice of Islam.    Reuters could not immediately contact the challengers.
    Muslim politicians, including the former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir state, Mehbooba Mufti, called the verdict ďdeeply disappointing
    ďOn one hand we talk about empowering women yet we are denying them the right to a simple choice,Ē she wrote on Twitter.    ďIt isnít just about religion but the freedom to choose
    Karnataka ministers told reporters that Muslim female students who are staying away from class in protest against the ban should respect the judgement and rejoin school.
    The ban had led to protests in some other parts of the country too and drew criticism from the United States and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Sunil Kataria; Editing by Christopher Cushing & Shri Navaratnam)

3/15/2022 India Reviews Procedures After Accidental Firing Of Missile Into Pakistan by Devjyot Ghoshal
People work around what Pakistani security sources say is the remains of a missile fired into Pakistan
from India, near Mian Channu, Pakistan, March 9, 2022. Pakistani security sources/Handout via REUTERS
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India is reviewing its standard operating procedures for weapons systems and will immediately fix any shortcomings after accidentally launching a missile into Pakistan last week, its defence minister said on Tuesday.
    Although tension between India and Pakistan had calmed in recent months, military experts have previously warned against the risk of accidents or miscalculations by the nuclear-armed arch rivals, who have fought three wars.
    The missile, released around 7 p.m. last Wednesday during routine maintenance and inspection, landed in Pakistan without causing any casualties, the minister, Rajnath Singh, told parliament.
    ďWe attach the highest priority to the safety and security of our weapon systems,Ē Singh said in the first public statement by an Indian official on the incident first reported by Pakistanís military on Thursday.
    ďI would also like to state that a review of the standard operating procedures for operations, maintenance and inspections is being conducted,Ē Singh added.
    A spokesman for Pakistanís foreign office, which has sought a joint probe into the incident, said it was reviewing the Indian ministerís statement.
    Pakistan has demanded clarification from New Delhi over its safety mechanism to prevent accidental missile launches and urged the international community to help maintain regional stability.
    China urged the South Asian neighbours to set up a reporting mechanism to avoid such incidents and share information, said Zhao Lijian, a spokesman of its foreign ministry.
    ďPakistan and India are both important countries in South Asia, bearing responsibilities for maintaining regional security and stability,Ē he told reporters on Monday.
    Delivering short statements in both houses of Indiaís parliament, Singh said the safety procedures and protocols for the countryís missile systems were of the highest standard and reviewed periodically.
    ďI can assure the House that the missile system is very reliable and safe,Ē he said, without saying which missile had been accidentally launched.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI, additional reporting by Asif Shahzad in ISLAMABAD; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

3/16/2022 China Says Taiwan ĎTaking Advantageí Of Ukraine As Island Sends More Aid
FILE PHOTO: People attend a rally against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in
Taipei, Taiwan, March 13, 2022. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė Chinaís government on Wednesday lambasted Taiwanís humanitarian aid for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia as ďtaking advantage of otherís difficultiesĒ after the island announced it was sending more funds donated by the public for refugees.
    The war in Ukraine has garnered broad sympathy in Taiwan, with many seeing parallels between Russiaís invasion and the military threat posed by China, which views the democratically governed island as its own territory.
    Taiwan has joined in Western-led sanctions on Russia.
    Asked about Taiwanís aid and sanctions at a news conference in Beijing, Zhu Fenglian, a spokesperson for     Chinaís Taiwan Affairs Office, said Taiwanís government was trying to latch onto the issue for its own purposes.
    ďThe Democratic Progressive Party authorities are using the Ukraine issue to validate their existence and piggy back on a hot issue, taking advantage of otherís difficulties,Ē she said, referring to Taiwanís ruling party.
    ďTheir attempts to incite confrontation and create hostility through political manipulation will not succeed
    Taiwanís government says that on Ukraine it has a duty to stand with other democracies.
    Late on Tuesday, Taiwanís Foreign Ministry announced a second $11.5 million donation to help refugees after an initial donation this month of $3.5 million.    President Tsai Ing-wen has gifted one month of her salary.
    ďDuring this conflict, the Taiwanese people have shown boundless compassion,Ē the ministry cited Foreign Minister Joseph Wu as saying at an event attended by several senior Taipei-based Western diplomats, including the de facto European Union ambassador.
    China, which has refused to condemn the Russian invasion, said last week the Chinese Red Cross would provide humanitarian assistance worth 5 million yuan ($786,000) to Ukraine, its first publicly announced aid to the country since the war.
($1 = 6.3610 Chinese yuan)
(Reporting by Beijing newsroom and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

3/16/2022 N. Korea Courts Disaster With Missile Tests From International Airport by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: People watch a TV broadcasting file footage of a news report on North Korea firing what
appeared to be a ballistic missile, in Seoul, South Korea, February 27, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė North Koreaís decision to use the international airport near its capital city as a site for test-firing large missiles is ďabsolutely bonkersĒ and may be a way for leader Kim Jong Un to keep a close eye on his most prized weapons, analysts said.
    Debris fell in or near Pyongyang after a failed test-fire from the airport on Wednesday, Seoul-based NK News reported, citing unnamed witnesses and a photograph of the test showing a red-tinted ball of smoke at the end of a zig-zagging rocket launch trail in the sky above the city.
    There was no immediate confirmation of damage or casualties.
    The launch underscored the danger behind North Koreaís decision to use the airport as a major site for test firing large missiles.    The airport is in Sunan about 17 km (10 miles) northwest of the North Korean capital.
    ďThe idea of placing a dedicated facility to support developmental missile testing at North Koreaís major international airport is absolutely bonkers,Ē Jeffrey Lewis, a missile researcher at the James Martin Center for     Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said in a report on Sunday.
    ďThis is a very strange airport,Ē he added.    ďAnd itís been getting progressively stranger all the time
    Since Aug 2017, North Korea has conducted an increasing number of major tests from the Sunan airport, including a pair of launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 that U.S. officials believe are developmental tests for the Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile.
    With the construction of what analysts believe is a ballistic missile support facility, the airport could take on a major role as North Korea prepares to potentially conduct its first full-scale ICBM test since 2017.
    Even before the COVID-19 pandemic ended international travel in and out of North Korea, the airport was hardly busy, with a handful of flights operating to cities in China and Russia.
    But North Korea appears to be the only country to have conducted missile tests from its primary international airport, and could be planning to use the site to develop technology specifically related to its ICBMs, Lewis said.
    In 2016 North Korea began constructing a facility next to the airport that appeared to be for ballistic missiles.
    A high-bay building within the facility is tall enough to allow for North Koreaís largest ICBMs on launch vehicles to be easily elevated into the firing position to allow for testing of both, as well as the training of maintenance and ground crews, the U.S.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a 2020 report, citing satellite imagery.
    Dubbed the Sil-li Ballistic Missile Support Facility by CSIS, the complex also includes an unusually large covered rail terminal and buildings that are linked by drive-through access.    The facility is also relatively close to ballistic missile component manufacturing plants in the Pyongyang area.
    ďThe airport is likely favoured for its proximity to the capital, allowing Kim Jong Un potentially to attend and observe these launches, without his presence being reported,Ē said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.    ďAirports also provided large, paved areas for safely operating road-mobile launch vehicles
    The Vienna-based Open Nuclear Network disputed media reports this week that said North Korea had built concrete pads to accommodate the launch of ICBMs at the airport, saying the activity was more consistent with agricultural development.
    Wednesdayís failed launch is concerning given the airportís proximity to Pyongyang, Panda said, noting that in 2017 a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile fired from a different location failed after launch and crashed into a populated area.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Stephen Coates)

3/16/2022 Analysis-Chinaís COVID Governance Under Pressure As Omicron Spreads by Ryan Woo, Roxanne Liu and David Stanway
FILE PHOTO: Residents line up at a nucleic acid testing site during a mass testing for the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), at a residential compound in Dalian, Liaoning province, China March 16, 2022. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė Chinaís public health governance is expected to come under acute pressure in coming weeks as the biggest wave of COVID-19 cases since the 2020 Wuhan outbreak stretches medical resources, tests the countryís ability to contain infections and strains the economy.
    In the past 10 weeks, China has reported more new local symptomatic cases Ė more than 14,000 Ė than in all of 2021 amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, fuelling fears of hard lockdowns of cities and economic instability.
    Some parts of China are already feeling the crunch as they scramble to test local populations and quarantine the infected under Chinaís strict COVID-19 playbook, despite relatively low caseloads by global standards.
    In the northeastern province of Jilin, the hardest-hit region in the current outbreak, affected cities are racing to prepare temporary hospitals.    A local official said on Tuesday the provinceís epidemic prevention supplies will run dry in two to three days.
    ďThe next two weeks are key to determining whether existing policies can really be effective in curbing infection growth or even reaching completely zero cases in one city as we saw last year,Ē said Chen Zhengmin, professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford.
    China has stood firmly by its ďdynamicĒ zero-COVID policy Ė rigorously identifying infections and blocking them as they emerge but not insisting on zero infections Ė for both public health and political reasons.
    Although China has a vaccination rate of nearly 90%, Chinese experts said not enough elderly people have received boosters, risking deaths and severe cases.    It is also unclear how well Chinese vaccines reduce the risk of developing the disease caused by the Omicron variant.
    Chinaís leadership has staked much on its COVID-19 battle, and would be loath to alter course in a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is set to secure a third term.
    ďPreventing and controlling epidemics has become more difficult,Ē National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said on Tuesday.    But he stressed ďit has been proved in practiceĒ that Chinaís current virus measures are still effective against Omicron.
    The country is also struggling to balance pandemic measures with an economic recovery.    Citi analysts estimate the latest wave will shave 0.5-0.8 percentage point from first-quarter GDP growth.
    China should consider less disruptive or resource-consuming measures, including allowing asymptomatic infections to quarantine at home, though such a move is unlikely to happen soon, some experts say.
    ďThe old way has been very effective, regardless of the cost, and [epidemic prevention] is the biggest political task,Ē Chen said.    ďAlso, if such a change is made, the general public might misinterpret that as giving up
    Some experts already say Chinaís COVID approach is no longer sustainable.
    Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, who led an early Wuhan study in 2020, said he was ďnot very optimistic,Ē even if strict lockdowns slow the spread.
    ďMultiple introductions (of Omicron) in mainland China would be unavoidable,Ē Nishiura said.
(GRAPHIC: COVID-19 cases in mainland China (2021-2022) Ė https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA/znvnenaadpl/chart.png)
HIGH STAKES
    China is trying to strike a balance between targeted curbs to stop the virusís spread and ensuring disruptions do not worsen an already uncertain economic outlook.
    Shanghai and Shenzhen have adopted tougher restrictions rare for those two cities Ė one closing all primary, middle and high schools and the other suspending non-essential businesses Ė but stopped short of a harsh lockdown such as the one in Wuhan in 2020.
    Chinaís COVID-19 policy has not completely broken down, but daily increases of over 1,000 cases are a warning sign, said University of Hong Kong professor Jin Dong-Yan.
    To bolster Chinaís testing ability, authorities last week approved the use of self-administered antigen testing kits as a supplement to polymerase chain reaction tests.
    China said late on Tuesday that patients with mild symptoms will be quarantined at centralised facilities, revising an earlier requirement of moving them to hospitals, in response to concerns about medical resources.
    ďThe worst-case scenario for them is that Omicron will overload the Chinese health-care system, and the entire country is inundated with COVID cases,Ē said Huang Yanzhong, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
    In mainland China, the official death toll has been largely static since 2020, with only two fatalities reported in 2021 and none this year.
    The elderly in China are vulnerable to Omicron variants, so ďa substantial number of cases and deaths would be expected,Ē said Kyoto Universityís Nishiura.
ECONOMIC TOLL
    There are signs some cities are taking a harder line.
    Shenzhen, home to about 17.6 million people, said on Monday only one member of a household could venture out every two to three days to stock up on necessities.
    ďI think there is no way to stop Omicron now,Ē said Peter, 49, a Shenzhen resident and owner of a VR startup.    ďThe only way is to maintain normalcy and welcome the virus.    You see abroad, the coronavirus is like a cold.    Many people have recovered and travelled everywhere.    Why are we trapped here?Ē
    In Shanghai, 106 international inbound flights scheduled from March 21 and May 1 will be diverted to other Chinese cities.
    Businesses from automaker BYD to KFC operator Yum China say their operations have already been hit, with more disruptions expected as cases mount.
    In the locked-down city of Changchun, the impact of curbs has been hard.
    Guo, owner of a pedicure and beauty salon, said she was worried about her loans and her workersí salaries.
    ďIím feeling very overwhelmed right now,Ē Guo said.    ďOnly those who are in an epidemic zone would understand this feeling
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, David Stanway and Ryan Woo; Additional reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing, Rocky Swift in Tokyo and Beijing newsroom. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/16/2022 Hindu Hardliners Seek Wider India Ban On Hijab In Class After Court Verdict by Sumit Khanna and Saurabh Sharma
FILE PHOTO: Hijab-wearing students arrive to attend classes as a policewoman stands guard outside a government girls school after the recent
hijab ban, in Udupi town in the southern state of Karnataka, India, February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Sunil Kataria/File Photo
    AHMEDABAD/LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) Ė Hardline Hindu groups are demanding restrictions on wearing the hijab in classrooms in more Indian states after a court upheld a ban on the traditional Islamic head-scarf in Karnataka state, worrying Muslim students who had protested against the ban.
    The Karnataka High Court decision on Tuesday, backing the southern stateís ban on the hijab in February, has also been welcomed by top federal ministers from Prime Minister Narendra Modiís Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who say students should avoid wearing religious clothing in class. [L2N2VI09V]
    There is no national guideline on uniforms in India, and states often leave it to schools to decide what their students should wear.
    ďWe are a Hindu nation and we do not want to see any kind of religious outfit in educational institutes of the country,Ē said Rishi Trivedi, president of the Hindu-first group Akhil Bharat Hindu MahaSabha.
    ďWe welcome the court verdict and want the same rule to be followed throughout the country
    The ban in BJP-ruled Karnataka had sparked protests by some Muslim students and parents, and counter-protests by Hindu students.    Critics of the ban say it is another way of marginalising the Muslim community that accounts for about 13% of Hindu-majority Indiaís 1.35 billion people.
    Leaders of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), an affiliate of the RSS, the BJPís parent organisation, said they have asked for a hijab ban in Modiís home state of Gujarat and would soon write to the countryís most populous state, Uttar Pradesh.    The BJP is in power in both states.
    ďThe hijab is not allowed in the defence forces, police, and government offices, then why the insistence on hijab in schools and colleges?Ē said VHPís Gujarat secretary, Ashok Raval.    ďIt is an attempt to raise communal tensions
    Gujarat Education Minister Jitu Vaghani declined to comment.    A state minister and a bureaucrat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no immediate plan to ban the hijab in schools.
    Officials in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP retained control in recent state elections, declined to comment saying a decision will only be taken by the next administration which should be in place in days.
    Ayesha Hajeera Almas Ė who had challenged the Karnataka ban in court and is now considering approaching the countryís highest court to get the ban overturned Ė said there is a real fear that the hijab ban will now go national.
    The 18-year-old said she has not attended school since late December after its authorities barred Muslim girls from wearing the hijab, even before the state-wide ban came in early February.
    ďIncreasingly, we feel we are living in an India where its citizens are not treated equally,Ē Almas said from the Karnataka district of Udupi, from where the protests began.
    ďI am fighting for myself, fighting for my sisters, fighting for my religion.    Iím scared that there will be changes like this in the whole country. But I hope it does not happen
(Additional reporting and writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/16/2022 Suspected N.Korea Missile ĎExplodes In Mid-Airí After Launch Near Pyongyang by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A North Korea flag flutters next to concertina wire at the
North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 9, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su//File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea launched a suspected missile that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff in the skies over Pyongyang on Wednesday, South Koreaís military said, amid reports that the nuclear-armed North was seeking to test-fire its largest missile yet.
    The United States and South Korea have warned that North Korea may be preparing to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at full range for the first time since 2017, in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.
    The projectile was fired from the international airport in Sunan, outside the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
    ďIt is presumed that it failed immediately after launch,Ē the statement said. It was presumed to be a ballistic missile and seemed to explode in mid-air while still in its booster phase, at an altitude below 20 kilometres (12 miles), a JCS official told Reuters.
    A U.S. Department of State spokesperson said it was a ďballistic missile launchĒ and condemned it as a violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions, but declined to comment when asked about the reported failure.
    Debris fell in or near Pyongyang after the failed test, Seoul-based NK News reported, citing unnamed witnesses and a photograph of the test showing a red-tinted ball of smoke at the end of a zig-zagging plume that traced the rocketís launch trajectory in the sky above the city.
    The failed launch underscored the danger behind North Koreaís decision to use an airport so close to heavily populated civilian areas as a site for test firing large missiles, analysts said.
    In 2017, an intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from another location in North Korea failed shortly after liftoff and crashed into an industrial or agriculture complex in the city of Tokchon.
    The Sunan airport has been the site of several recent launches, including on Feb. 27 and March 5. North Korea said those tests were for developing components of a reconnaissance satellite and did not identify what rocket it used, but Seoul and Washington said they were tests of a new ICBM system.
SERIES OF NEW MISSILE TESTS
    Reclusive North Korea has fired missiles at an unprecedented frequency this year, conducting its ninth weapons test on March 5, drawing condemnation from the United States, South Korea and Japan.
    The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier led military exercises in the Yellow Sea, and air defence artillery at Osan air base in South Korea intensified drills in response to the increased North Korean missile activity, U.S. forces in Asia said on Tuesday.
    South Korean Defence Minister Suh Wook and U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) Commander Gen. Paul LaCamera called for maintaining strong defence posture during Suhís visit to Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, the largest U.S. overseas military base.
    ďOur combined military forces provide a credible military deterrence to any adversary or threat who oppose us,Ē LaCamera said, according to a statement released by USFK.
    North Koreaís newest and largest ICBM system, the Hwasong-17, was first unveiled at a military parade in 2020 and reappeared at a defence exhibition in October 2021.
    The Feb. 27 and March 5 launches did not demonstrate the missileís full range, and analysts said the North might have used only one stage of the missile or adjusted its fuel volume to fly at lower altitudes.
    North Korea has not tested an ICBM or nuclear bomb since 2017, but has said that it could resume such testing because denuclearisation talks with the United States are stalled.
    The government also appears to be restoring some tunnels at its shuttered nuclear test site, U.S. and South Korean officials said last week.
REGIONAL RESPONSE
    U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan voiced Washingtonís serious concerns about the recent escalatory actionsĒ by North Korea during discussions with Chinaís top diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome on Monday, while holding talks that focused on Ukraine.
    Last week, the United States and 10 other countries bemoaned the failure of the U.N. Security Council to condemn North Koreaís repeated missile launches.
    Washington imposed fresh North Korea-related sanctions on Friday, targeting Russian individuals and companies after the two recent launches.
    Russia and China, which backed U.N. sanctions after North Koreaís last ICBM and nuclear tests in 2017, have since argued that sanctions should be eased to encourage dialogue.
(Reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul, Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim, Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/18/2022 Australia Sanctions Russian Billionaires With Mining Industry Links
FILE PHOTO: Russian tycoon Oleg Deripaska attends a session of the St. Petersburg International
Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, June 3, 2021. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina/File Photo
    SYDNEY (Reuters) Ė Australia imposed sanctions on Friday on two Russian oligarchs with links to its mining industry, one of them a billionaire with an investment connection to Rio Tintoís Gladstone alumina refinery joint venture.
    Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was working in close cooperation with international partners to increase sanctions pressure on oligarchs close to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine.
    ďAustralia has now added two billionaires with links to business interests in Australia, Oleg Deripaska and Viktor Vekselberg,Ē Payne said in a statement.
    The measures are in addition to curbs on 41 oligarchs and immediate family members who already face targeted financial sanctions and travel bans, she said.
    Payne said the government welcomed Australian companies taking a principled stand with moves to cut ties with Russia ďin protest of Moscowís illegal, indefensible war against Ukraine
    Russia says it is carrying out ďa special military operationĒ to stop the Ukrainian government from committing ďgenocideĒ Ė an accusation the West calls a fabrication.
    Vekselberg is an investor in the Russian energy sector, who has interests in a company working with Origin Energy on a gas project in the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory.
    Origin said it was seeking clarification on the sanctions from the Australian government, and told Reuters the Beetaloo Basin project was not a producing asset and had no earnings.
    ďOrigin reiterates that it is appalled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and will comply with all Australian rules and laws,Ē Origin said in a statement.
    It said Vekselberg owned Lamesa Holdings, which was a minority shareholder in Falcon Oil & Gas, the parent company of Originís junior partner in the Beetaloo Basin.
    ďNeither Lamesa Holdings nor Mr Vekselberg are a party to the Beetaloo Basin joint venture.    They have no role in, involvement or dealings with, Origin or the Beetaloo Basin joint venture,Ē it said.
    Big Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the impact of the sanctions on Deripaska, who holds 44.9% of EN+ Group, a Russian aluminium and power group.
    EN+ Group is the major shareholder in Russian company Rusal, which has a 20% share in the Queensland Alumina Limited (QAL) refinery in Gladstone, in a joint venture with Rio Tinto.
    Rio Tinto previously said it was cutting ties with Rusal as part of its overall withdrawal from Russia.
    Queensland Alumina Ltd did not respond to a request for comment.
    Deripaska reduced his controlling stake in EN+ Group from 70% in 2019 Ė to lift a prior round of U.S. sanctions from the major aluminium producer.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Renju Jose; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

3/18/2022 Shanghai Pushes Ahead With Mass COVID Tests As New Cases Spike
People ride bikes on a street amid snowfall, following the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė The Chinese commercial hub of Shanghai is pushing ahead with a mass testing initiative as it tries to curb a new spike in COVID-19 infections, but some districts were easing lockdown rules in an effort to minimise disruptions.
    The city, home to about 25 million people, saw symptomatic local community infections hit 57 on March 17, with another 203 domestically transmitted asymptomatic cases, up from eight and 150 respectively a day earlier.
    Shanghai, which has up to now remained relatively unscathed by the coronavirus, has shut schools and launched a city-wide testing programme that has seen dozens of residential compounds sealed off for at least 48 hours.
    China has been battling its worst COVID outbreak since the virus first emerged in Wuhan in 2020.    It reported 2,388 new local cases with confirmed symptoms on March 17, almost double the count a day earlier.
    The outbreak is small by international standards and analysts have been debating how much Chinaís uncompromising ďzero-COVIDĒ response will hurt the economy at home and in the world at large.
    President Xi Jinping signalled late on Thursday that the ďdynamic clearanceĒ policy to contain the outbreak would not be ditched.
    ďVictory comes from perseverance,Ē Xi told a Politburo standing committee meeting while calling for more effective measures and efforts to minimise the economic impact, state media reported.
    The Shanghai government, while stressing there would be no city-wide lockdown as in other cities, said it would test residents on a neighbourhood by neighbourhood basis, and order 48-hour lockdowns while they waited for their results.
    On Friday, there were some signs it was easing up on its restrictions, with some compounds no longer required to go into a 48-hour lockdown while residents were tested.
    The head of one residential committee in Changning district said her compound would not be sealed off this weekend as originally planned.    At least two other compounds also said testing would be postponed.
    While officials said on Thursday that Shanghai has ramped up its testing capacity to 3 million per day and planned to increase it to 5.5 million in the near future, some districts also reported shortages of qualified testing personnel.
    Some residents complained about the lack of clarity when it came to the rules. One family quarantined in the district of Hongqiao said they were still locked in despite two negative tests, with a guard said he was awaiting instructions from the government.
    As of March 17, mainland China had reported 126,234 cases with confirmed symptoms, including both local ones and those arriving from outside the mainland.    There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll unchanged at 4,636.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Brenda Goh, Engen Tham and the Shanghai newsroom; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu and Albee Zhang; Editing by Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feast)

3/18/2022 East Timorís Ramos-Horta Makes Pitch For Stability Ahead Of Election
FILE PHOTO: Former East Timor's leader and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, who is the presidential
candidate of East Timor, salutes during a campaign rally ahead of the country's presidential election,
20 years after its independence from Indonesia, in Dili, East Timor, March 15, 2022. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca
    DILI (Reuters) Ė The frontrunner in East Timorís presidential election, independence figure and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta, has said he hopes to restore political stability to Asiaís youngest democracy, as the nation prepares to head to the polls.
    East Timor will hold its fifth presidential election on Saturday since gaining independence, after a campaign also focused on economic security and jobs.
    In a streamed address to the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia late on Thursday, the 72-year-old former prime minister and president said he felt compelled to run to safeguard the constitutional integrity of East Timor.
    ďWhat happened in the past few years is that the president exceeded his powers,Ē said Ramos-Horta, referring to prolonged political tensions that have hampered efforts to cut poverty, tackle corruption and develop rich energy resources.
    In 2018, incumbent president and former resistance fighter Francisco ďLu OloĒ Guterres refused to swear in seven ministers from the National Congress of the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), a political party led by the countryís first president and former resistance leader Xanana Gusmao.
    Guterres said his actions were justified given judicial inquiries into alleged misconduct, but the move entrenched party divisions and led to a prolonged political impasse.
    Patricio da Silva, a supporter of the president, said during a recent campaign rally he still had ďhigh hopesĒ that Guterres would be able to win another term in office.
    Ramos-Horta, Guterres and a former army commander are the top contenders in the election, according to a poll by the National University in East Timor.
    The survey showed Ramos-Horta, who is backed by Xananaís CNRT party, in the lead with 39%.
    If none of the 16 candidates wins a majority, a second-round runoff will be held between the top two candidates on April 19.
    Approaching 20 years of independence after a brutal occupation by Indonesia, the role of young voters has been in focus with an estimated 20% of the electorate first-time voters in the country of 1.3 million.
    ďThe big issue in a society with a median age of 18 is that it has to produce a lot more jobs and educational opportunities,Ē said Michael Leach, an academic from Australiaís Swinburne University, who also cites the urgency for East Timor to reduce its dependence on oil and gas revenues.
(Reporting and Writing by Kate Lamb in Sydney; Additional reporting by Francisco Ismenio in Dili.; Editing by Ed Davies)

3/19/2022 Xi Says Improper Handling Of Taiwan Issues Will Hit China-U.S. Ties
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives for the closing session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative
Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China March 10, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Xi Jinping told his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden on Friday that the Taiwan issue needs to be handled properly to avoid a negative impact on Sino-U.S. relations, according to Chinese media.
    China says Taiwan, which it views as a breakaway province to be brought back to the fold, by force if necessary, is the most sensitive and important issue in its relations with the United States.
    Washington, which is seeking Beijingís help in restoring peace in Ukraine after Russiaís Feb. 24 invasion, has no formal diplomatic ties with Taipei but is Taiwanís most important international backer and arms supplier.
    ďSome individuals in the United States are sending the wrong signals to pro-independence forces in Taiwan, and thatís very dangerous,Ē Xi told Biden on a video call.
    ďIf the Taiwan issue is not handled properly, it will have a subversive impact on the relationship between the two countries
    China sailed its aircraft carrier Shandong through the Taiwan Strait, shadowed by a U.S. destroyer, on Friday, a source with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters, just hours before the Chinese and U.S. presidents were due to talk.
    A White House statement said Biden reiterated in the call with Xi that U.S. policy on Taiwan has not changed, and emphasized that Washington ďcontinues to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo
    China has over the past two years stepped up its military activity near the island to assert its sovereignty claims.
    ď(We) hope the U.S. side will pay adequate attentionĒ to the issue, Xi told Biden.
    Taiwanís Foreign Ministry expressed thanks to Biden for his ďemphasis on maintaining the status quo of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, as well as his firm support for Taiwanís security
    It called on China to take concrete actions and condemn Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.    Taiwan, which rejects Chinaís sovereignty claims, has joined in Western-led sanctions against Russia and sent humanitarian aid for Ukrainian refugees.
    Xi also told Biden that the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible, according to Chinese state media.
    All parties should jointly support the Russia-Ukraine dialogue while the United States and NATO should also conduct talks with Russia to solve the ďcruxĒ of the Ukraine crisis, Xi said.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing by Nick Macfie, Chizu Nomiyama and William Mallard)

3/19/2022 East Timor, Asiaís Youngest Nation, Votes For President
Election officers transport ballot boxes to the polling station of the East Timorese
presidential election at Dili, East Timor, March 18, 2022. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca
    DILI (Reuters) - Polls opened in East Timor on Saturday, as Asiaís youngest nation held its fifth presidential elections since independence, with concerns over political stability and economic security at the forefront.
    The 16 presidential hopefuls include former resistance fighter and incumbent President Francisco ďLu OloĒ Guterres as well as independence figure and Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta and a former Catholic priest.
    At polling booths in the capital Dili, Timorese donned masks and queued patiently as they waited to vote.
    ďWe must choose a new generation so that we can build this country,Ē said one voter, Jorge Mendonca Soares, 42, of his desire for change.
    While the nationís independence figures still dominate the field, for the first time there are also four female candidates, including deputy prime minister Armanda Berta Dos Santos.
    A recent poll by the national university showed that Ramos-Horta, 72, former defence forces commander Lere Anan Timur and Guterres are the favourites.
    Polls close at 3 p.m. with early indicators of who is leading the vote expected to come late Saturday.
    If no candidate wins an outright majority, the vote will proceed to a run-off on April 19 between the top two contenders.
    Approaching twenty years since independence after the end of a brutal occupation by Indonesia, East Timor has for long spells struggled with political instability.
    After the last elections in 2018, Guterres refused to swear in some ministers from the National Congress of the Reconstruction of East Timor (CNRT), a political party led by former prime minister Xanana Gusmao.
    The move led to an ongoing political stalemate.
    Ramos-Horta, who is backed by Xananaís CNRT party, said earlier this week he was running because he felt the current president had ďexceeded his powers
    In East Timorís political system, the president appoints a government and has the power to veto ministers or dissolve parliament.
    During a recent election debate, Guterres pledged to ensure peace and stability, defend East Timorís sovereignty and follow the constitution if he won a new term.
    Heavily dependent on dwindling supplies of oil and gas, economic diversification and the role of young voters have also been key election issues, with an estimated 20% of voters reaching the voting age of 17 and casting their ballot for the first time.
    First-time voter Marco de Jesus, 17, said he felt nervous but relaxed after help from polling staff.
    ďI feel proud to have carried out my function as a voter,Ē he said, speaing outside a polling station on Diliís waterfront.
    ďI hope my choice can bring positive and useful change
(Reporting by Kate Lamb in Sydney; Additional reporting by Nelson Da Cruz and Francisco Ismenio in Dili; Editing by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/19/2022 Japan PM Kishida To Stress Unity On Ukraine In Meet With Indiaís Modi
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's
official residence on February 25, 2022, Tokyo, Japan. Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) Ė Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will encourage a unified approach on Ukraine when he meets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Saturday, while aiming to strengthen security ties across the Indo-Pacific region.
    ďSince the Russian invasion of Ukraine coincides with this trip, Iíd like to emphasise the importance of international unity and confirm that Japan and India will work together on various issues,Ē Kishida said ahead of his visit.
    India and Japan are party to the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), a security framework that also includes the United States and Australia.
    Japan has imposed sanctions on dozens of Russian individuals and organisations since the Ukraine invasion that began on Feb. 24 and has been receiving Ukrainian refugees.    India, however, is the only one of the four Quad members that has not condemned the invasion.
    Kishida will also aim to reinforce security and economic ties with India, the worldís second most populous country and Asiaís third-largest economy.
    He is expected to announce a plan to invest 5 trillion yen ($42 billion) in India over five years during this visit, Japanís Nikkei newspaper reported.
    Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 announced 3.5 trillion yen in investment and financing over five years during a visit to India.
    Japan has been supporting Indiaís urban infrastructure development and a high-speed railway based on its bullet train technology.
    Japan and India in 2020 signed an acquisition and cross-servicing agreement that allows for reciprocal stocks of food, fuel and other supplies between defence forces.
(Reporting by Kentaro Sugiyama in Tokyo and Abhirup Roy in Mumbai; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

3/20/2022 N. Korea Fires Multiple-Rocket Launcher, South Says by Josh Smith and Minwoo Park
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance at the Seohae satellite launch site, in North
Korea, in this photo released on March 11, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė North Korea appeared to have fired a short-range multiple rocket launcher on Sunday, South Koreaís military said, amid heightened military tensions on the peninsula after a spate of larger missile launches by the nuclear-armed North.
    While they garner much less attention than the massive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), North Korea has displayed several new types of multiple launch rocket systems in recent years, adding to an already large arsenal of artillery and rockets ideal for potentially striking targets in the South.
    ďThis morning there was firing in North Korea which is assumed to be multiple rocket launcher shots, and our military was monitoring the related situation and maintaining a readiness posture,Ē South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, without elaborating.
    North Koreaís military fired four shots around 7:20 a.m. (2220 GMT on Saturday) for about an hour toward its west coast from an unidentified location in South Pyongan Province, Yonhap news agency reported.
    South Koreaís National Security Council held an emergency vice-ministerial meeting over the launches.
    Last year South Korea approved plans to pursue a $2.6-billion artillery interception system, similar to Israelís ďIron Dome,Ē designed to protect against North Koreaís arsenal of long-range guns and rockets.
    About half of South Koreaís 52 million people live in the capital Seoul and the surrounding areas, within range of the neighbourís long-range guns and multiple rocket launchers.
    Pyongyang has conducted an unusually high pace of missile launches this year.
    South Korea and the United States warn that the North could resume test-firing its largest ICBMs for the first time since 2017 amid stalled denuclearisation talks.    North Korea also appears to be preparing to launch a spy satellite, and new construction has been spotted at its shuttered nuclear test site.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Minwoo Park; Editing by William Mallard)

3/20/2022 China On The Right Side Of History Over Ukraine War Ė Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi poses for a picture prior to meeting 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
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė China stands on the right side of history over the Ukraine crisis as time will tell, and its position is in line with the wishes of most countries, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
    ďChina will never accept any external coercion or pressure, and opposes any unfounded accusations and suspicions against China,Ē Wang told reporters on Saturday evening, according to a statement published by his ministry on Sunday.
    Wangís comments came after U.S. President Joe Biden warned his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on Friday of ďconsequencesĒ if Beijing gave material support to Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.
    During the video call, Xi told Biden the war in Ukraine must end as soon as possible and called on NATO nations to hold a dialogue with Moscow.    He did not, however, assign blame to Russia, according to Beijingís statements about the call.
    Wang said the most important message Xi sent was that China has always been a force for maintaining world peace.
    ďWe have always stood for maintaining peace and opposing war,Ē Wang said, reiterating that China will make independent judgements.
    ďChinaís position is objective and fair, and is in line with the wishes of most countries.    Time will prove that Chinaís claims are on the right side of history
    Also on Saturday, Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said that sanctions imposed by Western nations on Russia over Ukraine were increasingly ďoutrageous
    The United States and its European and Asian allies have imposed sweeping sanctions on Russia for the Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour, which they call a war of aggression by President Vladimir Putin. He says he launched a ďspecial operationĒ to demilitarise and ďdenazifyĒ Ukraine.
    While saying it recognises Ukraineís sovereignty, Beijing has repeatedly said that Russia has legitimate security concerns that should be addressed and urged a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
(This story corrects spelling of ďsuspicionsĒ in second paragraph)
(Reporting by Shanghai and Beijing Newsroom; Editing by William Mallard)

3/20/2022 S. Koreaís Yoon Says He Will Move Presidential Office To Defence Ministry by Josh Smith and Minwoo Park
South Korea's president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol speaks during a news conference to address his relocation plans of the
presidential office, at his transition team office, in Seoul, South Korea, March 20, 2022.Jung Yeon-je/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, breaking with decades of tradition, said on Sunday he will move the presidential office from the Blue House to the defence ministry compound, a step estimated to cost $40 million.
    Yoon, who narrowly won a bitter March 9 election, had pledged to relocate the office to a more accessible place, and open the Blue House in Seoul to the public.
    He also said on Sunday he would move his official residence to Hannam-dong, a neighbourhood that houses many business executives and diplomats.
    Yoonís plans have met with mixed reactions from South Koreans, as even supporters urge Yoon to limit the inconvenience to people and businesses near the new locations.
    The Blue House move whipped up a fierce debate among feng shui experts after some rival Democratic Party officials accused Yoon of being influenced by masters of the ancient form of geomancy that originated in China.
    The defence ministry headquarters is in the Yongsan neighbourhood of the capital, next to a massive former U.S. military base that has largely closed down and moved to south of the city.
    ďItís difficult, but itís a decision I made for the future of the country,Ē Yoon told a news conference.    ďI earnestly ask the people to understand that this is not simply a relocation of the place but my determination to serve the people, work properly and keep my promise with the people
    Feng shui masters have said the Blue House location was inauspicious.    Four of the six presidents in the countryís 25-year democratic history have been imprisoned or killed themselves after leaving office.
    Yoonís team has dismissed any suggestions the move was influenced by such considerations, saying it would improve public access and communications with aides, and that the Blue House executive mansion had become a ďroyal palace,Ē isolated and enclosed by forests and tight security.
    Outgoing President Moon Jae-in had also said he would find a new office but abandoned the plan for security and logistical reasons.
    Yoon said the defence ministry compound is already well equipped with national security and command facilities, making it easy to transition there without compromising security or inconveniencing residents.
    The Ministry of Economy and Finance estimates the move will cost 49.6 billion won ($40.1 million), including relocating the defence ministry and renovating both the new office and official residence.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Minwoo Park; Editing by William Mallard)

3/20/2022 Australia Bans Alumina Exports To Russia, Sources Coal For Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: Ships wait to be loaded at the Rio Tinto alumina refinery in Gove, also known as Nhulunbuy, located 650 km (404 miles)
east of Darwin in Australia's Northern Territory July 16, 2013. Picture taken July 16, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray
    (Reuters) Ė Australia has imposed an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminum ores, including bauxite, to Russia, the government said on Sunday as part of its ongoing sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.
    ďRussia relies on Australia for nearly 20 percent of its alumina needs,Ē the Australian government said in a joint statement from several ministries, including the prime ministerís office.    It added that the move will limit Russiaís capacity to produce aluminium, which is a critical export for Russia.
    ďThe Government will work closely with exporters and peak bodies that will be affected by the ban to find new and expand existing markets,Ē the statement said.
    Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto owns an 80% stake in Queensland Alumina Ltd (QAL) in a joint venture with Russiaís Rusal International PJSC, the worldís second-largest aluminum producer.
    Last week, Australia imposed sanctions on two Russian businessmen with links to its mining industry, one of them being billionaire Oleg Deripaska who holds stakes in QAL.
    Australia has so far imposed a total of 476 sanctions on 443 individuals, including businessmen close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 33 entities, including most of Russiaís banking sector and all entities responsible for the countryís sovereign debt, the statement said.
    The government also said it will donate at least 70,000 tonnes of thermal coal to Ukraine to meet its energy needs.
    Australian coal producers have been bombarded with calls for supply over the past few weeks from Ukraine and other countries like Poland that have been reliant on Russian supplies.
    ďThe Australian Government has worked with the Australian coal industry to source supplies,Ē the statement said.
    Whitehaven Coal has quickly arranged a shipment, and the Government is now working with the company and the Ukrainian and Polish Governments to deliver the supplies at the earliest available opportunity, the statement said.
    The government also pledged additional military equipment and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

3/21/2022 Shanghaiís Disney Resort Shut Amid Record Daily Local COVID Infections
FILE PHOTO: Staff members wearing face masks stand outside the Shanghai Disneyland theme park as it reopens following a shutdown
due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai, China May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė Chinaís financial hub of Shanghai reported on Monday a record daily surge in local COVID-19 infections as authorities scrambled to test residents and rein in the Omicron variant, while closing its Disney resort until further notice.
    Until recent weeks relatively unscathed by coronavirus, Shanghai reported 24 new domestically transmitted COVID cases with confirmed symptoms for Sunday and 734 local asymptomatic infections, official data showed on Monday.
    It is the fourth consecutive day that Shanghaiís local asymptomatic infections have increased.
    Although the tally of infections is tiny by global standards, Shanghai has quickly followed Chinaís ďdynamic clearanceĒ policies, shutting schools and testing residential compounds in the effort to limit the spread of the virus.
    ďWhen it comes to the entire situation of epidemic control and prevention that we are facing, it is very complex and serious, and it is also a very big test for us,Ē city health official Wu Jinglei told a news briefing.
    Shanghai will stick with ďdynamic clearance,Ē Wu added, saying he hoped for continued public support for the policy.
    The city also shut the Shanghai Disney Resort from Monday until further notice.
    But there were signs of frustration with the cityís ad hoc, district-by-district approach.
    ďHong Kong, Shanghai and Shenzhen have had three different epidemic response models,Ē said a user of Chinaís Twitter-like Weibo network.
    ďHong Kong is the worst but will be the first to open up,Ē the writer, going by the name zangyn, said in a widely shared post.     ďShenzhen is the most effective, and Shanghai may be the most tiring, and even the most miserable
    The severity of outbreak responses by Shanghaiís compounds and residential districts varied, with some opting for lockdowns as long as two weeks.    Some people in other sealed-off districts said they were not told how long they would have to stay home.
    Residentsí committees helping to organise testing programmes also encountered challenges.    One compound distributed tokens to foil outsidersí attempts to take free tests.
    Including Shanghai infections, mainland China reported a total of 1,947 new locally transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms on Sunday, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed, up from 1,656 a day earlier.
    The top steelmaking city of Tangshan, with just 12 local infections since March. 19, is allowing only essential vehicles on roads smaller than expressways, while people with special needs who must use vehicles have to seek approval.
    The southern manufacturing hub of Shenzhen has allowed work and production activities, as well as bus and subway services in most areas, to resume after daily local case numbers dropped following three rounds of city-wide testing. Tight curbs remain in some places, however.
    Shenzhen residents still need to show negative tests in order to use public transport from Monday until March 27, a period in which non-essential indoor services will stay closed, the city government has said.
    Vaccine candidates to target Omicron specifically, or among variants of concern, are in studies prior to clinical trials, a national health official said on Saturday, without identifying the companies involved.
    Chinaís new local asymptomatic cases, which it does not classify as confirmed cases, was 2,384, up from 2,177 a day earlier.    The death toll was unchanged at 4,638, with no new deaths.
    By Sunday, mainland China had reported 132,226 cases with confirmed symptoms, both among locals and arrivals from outside.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Yifan Wang, Brenda Goh, Engen Tham and the Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/21/2022 Hong Kong To Ease Strict COVID Measures From April, Lifts Flight Ban by Farah Master and Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference at the
government headquarters in Hong Kong, China March 9, 2022. Peter Parks/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong plans to relax some anti-COVID-19 measures next month, lifting a ban on flights from nine countries, reducing quarantine for arrivals from abroad and reopening schools.
    The moves, announced on Monday by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, come after a backlash from businesses and residents who see the rest of the world shifting to ďliving with the virusĒ
    Residents in the Chinese ruled territory have become increasingly frustrated with the stringent measures, many of which have been in place for over two years.
    A ban on flights from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and the United States would be lifted from April 1.
    ďThe flight ban is no longer timely and appropriateÖit will bring huge disturbances to Hong Kong people who are stuck in these nine countries if we continue the ban,Ē Lam told a news briefing.
    Hotel quarantine for arrivals could be cut to seven days from 14 if residents tested negative, Lam said.    She had previously said measures would be in place until April 20.
    Schools would resume face to face classes from April 19, after the Easter holidays while public venues including sports facilities would also reopen from April 21, she said.
    Hong Kongís border has effectively been shut since 2020 with few flights able to land and hardly any passengers allowed to transit, isolating a city that had built a reputation as a global financial hub.
    Businesses and the cityís economy are reeling from widespread closures, while doctors say many of the cityís 7.4 million residents are grappling with rising mental health issues, particularly among low income families.
    Lamís policy turnaround comes after her administration has been scolded repeatedly by politicians, pro-Beijing media and on Chinese social media, just weeks before the city is due to hold an election on May 8 to choose who will lead the territory for the next five years.
    She declined to comment on whether she will run for a new term.
EXIT STRATEGY
    A plan to carry out mass coronavirus testing would be put on hold, Lam said, citing experts who said it was not a suitable time.    Hong Kong needs to have a clear exit strategy rather than trying to completely eradicate the virus, experts said.
    While the former British colony has officially stuck to the ďdynamic zeroĒ coronavirus policy, similar to mainland China, which seeks to curb all outbreaks, it has been shifting to mitigation strategies as deaths skyrocketed.
    Hong Kong has registered the most deaths per million people globally in recent weeks Ė more than 24 times that of rival Singapore Ė due to a large proportion of elderly who were unvaccinated as the highly transmissible Omicron variant ripped through care homes since February.
    The densely packed city has recorded more than 1 million infections since the pandemic started and about 5,000 deaths Ė most of them in the past month.
    As many as 4 million people could be infected according to estimates from health experts as many residents have contracted the virus and isolated at home without notifying authorities.
    Lam said social distancing measures would be eased in phases starting April 21, allowing restaurant dining after 6 p.m. with tables of four people from two currently.
    Nightclubs, pubs and beaches would be allowed to open in the second phase while people would be allowed to exercise outdoors without a mask.    Masks are currently compulsory everywhere outside the home.
    Until this year, Hong Kong had been far more successful at controlling the coronavirus than many other cities its size, but the latest wave of infections swamped its world class medical system, morgues are overflowing and public confidence in the city government is at an all-time low.
(Reporting by Farah Master, Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang, Anne Marie Roantree and Queenie Garcia; Editing by Christopher Cushing & Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/21/2022 Ramos-Horta Leads In East Timor Election, With Chance Of Runoff
FILE PHOTO: East Timor president candidate Jose Ramos Horta shows his inked finger after casting his vote during
the East Timorese presidential election at Dili, East Timor, March 19, 2022. REUTERS/Lirio da Fonseca/File Photo
    (Reuters) Ė Nobel laureate Jose Ramos-Horta secured a commanding lead in East Timorís presidential poll at the weekend with two-thirds of the vote counted, but with the possibility of a second round if no candidate secures a majority.
    Asiaís youngest nation held its fifth presidential election since independence from Indonesia in 2002, with resistance figure Ramos-Horta leading with 45.7% after 64% of the votes had been counted, data from the countryís election administration body showed.
    The next closest candidate was incumbent president and former guerrilla fighter Fransisco ďLu OloĒ Guterres, with 22.5%.
    A more definitive picture of the results is expected later on Monday, but if no candidate secures more than 50% of votes, the poll will proceed to a runoff on April 19 between the top two contenders.
    Speaking in the capital, Dili, on Sunday, Ramos-Horta said he was confident of an early victory.
    ďMy election in the first roundÖwill in fact cause a political earthquake in the national parliament, that will cause a disintegration of current alliances,Ē he said.
    The 72-year-old, who previously served as president from 2007 to 2012, said last week that he felt compelled to run again after he deemed actions by the incumbent president had violated the constitution.
    In East Timor, the president is responsible for appointing the government and also has the power to veto ministers and dissolve parliament.
    In 2018, incumbent president Guterres refused to swear in seven ministers on the grounds of judicial inquiries into their alleged misconduct, a move that has sparked an ongoing political stalemate.
    Nearing twenty years since independence after a brutal occupation by Indonesia, East Timor, an oil and gas dependent nation of 1.3 million, has struggled with political stability and development.
(Reporting by Kate Lamb; Additional reporting by Nelson Da Cruz in DILI; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)

3/22/2022 ĎRefuse Quarantine!í: Frustrations Mount As China Replays COVID Controls
Workers in protective suits stand near boxes outside a sealed off area following the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Beijing, China March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė In footage shared on social media last week, a crowd of people in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang bang against the windows of a clothing market as they shout in frustration at the announcement of yet another round of COVID-19 tests.
    Though the local government quickly urged people not to ďspread rumoursĒ about the incident, the response from netizens was immediate.    ďRefuse quarantine!Ē said one.    ďMany people have awoken to the truth,Ē said another.
    ďItís actually over,Ē said a netizen posting on WeChat under the username ďJasmine Tea.Ē    ďThe common cold is more serious than thisÖ The testing agencies want this to go on.    The vaccine companies want to inoculate forever.Ē
    The comments reflect the growing frustrations throughout China as authorities use all the tactics in their ďzero-COVIDĒ playbook to grapple with the more infectious Omicron variant.
    As case numbers surge, members of the public are wondering whether the governmentís increasingly complex ďdynamic clearanceĒ methods Ė including the continuous testing of residents Ė still work.
    At a briefing last week, Wang Hesheng, vice-head of the countryís National Health Commission, said Chinaís increasingly refined tactics had reduced inconvenience.
    ďIt shows that at the cost of the normal activities of very small numbers of people, and the control of movement in very small areas, what comes in exchange is normal production and normal life for the widest range of regions and people,Ē he said.
    But there have been signs that a lack of clarity and consistency is exasperating the public, and Chinaís social media censors have been working overtime to try to clear the tide of complaints.
    In Yanjiao in Hebei province, a dormitory town for workers in Beijing, residents have been struggling to get home amid stringent lockdowns.
    Images shared online, many of which have already been deleted, showed residents queuing in heavy snow for test results to get out of the capital.    The posts drew hundreds of comments.
    ďItís been three years since the outbreak and the government is still so ineffective in handling it Ė lazy one-size-fits-all government in complete disregard for the life and death of the people,Ē said one netizen, posting on Chinaís Twitter-like Weibo platform under the username Aobei.
    Economic hardships have also been mounting.    A courier surnamed Mao in the badly hit city of Changchun in northeastern Jilin province told Reuters that 90% of the neighbourhoods have been shut down, and he couldnít earn a living.
    ďI donít have any choice, I can only wait for them to unseal the city Ė itís hopeless,Ē he said.
ARBITRARY CONTROLS
    Residents have also complained about the arbitrary nature of the rules as well as the unchecked power of the neighbourhood residential committees responsible for enforcing them.
    In Beijing, one family said their residential committee was about to install a monitoring device on their apartment door to ensure they complied with an order to stay home for two weeks.    The order came after a family member entered a supermarket that had been visited two days before by a confirmed COVID-19 case.
    In Shanghai, residents were also bewildered by the uneven testing standards and lockdown thresholds imposed by apartment blocks and compounds across the city.
    But Chinaís policies have caused more than mere inconvenience, with netizens increasingly willing to discuss how lockdowns led to tragedy.
    A widely shared post on Weibo last week reported that a patient undergoing chemotherapy at the Shanghai Cancer Hospital died while locked down in her lodgings next to the hospital.
    In posts since deleted, bereaved citizens also shared stories about the death of loved ones caused by COVID-related disruptions.
    ďMy dad died of a stroke at the end of last year,Ē said one, posting under the name MaDDNa.    ďThere was some hope of treatment.    Unfortunately, we had to wait for a nucleic acid test report and missed the best treatment time
(Reporting by David Stanway; Additional reporting by the Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/22/2022 Shanghaiís Local Asymptomatic COVID Cases Climb To 5th Straight Daily Record
A man wearing a face mask walks in the rain outside Shanghai Railway Station following the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song
    BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinaís financial hub Shanghai on Tuesday reported a fifth consecutive daily record for locally transmitted COVID-19 asymptomatic cases as the highly infectious Omicron variant complicates efforts to stop the virus spreading.
    Shanghai reported 865 domestically transmitted asymptomatic infections for Monday, official data showed, up from 734 a day earlier.
    Shanghai also reported 31 new local cases with confirmed symptoms, which China counts separately, on Monday, including one person who was initially reported as asymptomatic infection and showed symptoms later, according to data from the National Health Commission (NHC).
    The infection uptick is small compared with those in many outbreaks overseas, but comes as Shanghai bids to double-down on efforts to follow Chinaís ďdynamic-clearanceĒ policy that aims to curb each flare-up, continuing the cityís mass testing scheme block by block after having completed more than 30 million tests.
    Including Shanghai infections, mainland China reported on Monday 2,281 new locally transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms, the NHC said, compared with 1,947 a day earlier.
    The majority of the new cases were found in the northeastern province of Jilin.
    The number of new local asymptomatic cases stood at 2,313 compared with 2,384 a day earlier.
    There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,638.
    As of March 21, mainland China had reported 134,564 cases with confirmed symptoms, including both local infections and those arriving from outside the mainland.
(Reporting by Roxanne Liu, Stella Qiu, Yifan Wang and David Stanway; Editing by Christopher Cushing and Kenneth Maxwell)

3/22/2022 Biden Says India ĎSomewhat Shakyí On Russia Over Ukraine
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden listens as India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks
during a 'Quad nations' meeting at the Leaders' Summit of the Quadrilateral Framework held in the East Room
at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) Ė U.S. President Joe Biden has said only India among the Quad group of countries was ďsomewhat shakyĒ in acting against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, as India tries to balance its ties with Russia and the West.
    While the other Quad countries Ė the United States, Japan and Australia Ė have sanctioned Russian entities or people, India has not imposed sanction or even condemned Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.
    ďIn response to his aggression, we have presented a united front throughout the NATO and in the Pacific,Ē Biden told a business forum on Monday, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    ďThe Quad Ė with the possible exception of India being somewhat shaky on some of these Ė but Japan has been extremely strong, so is Australia in terms of dealing with Putinís aggression
    Putin says Russia is carrying out ďa special military operationĒ to stop the Ukrainian government from committing ďgenocideĒ Ė an accusation the West calls a baseless fabrication.
    After a virtual summit between Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on Monday, Indiaís foreign ministry said Australia understood Indiaís position on Ukraine, which ďreflected our own situation, our own considerations
    India has urged an end to the violence in Ukraine but has abstained from voting against its old Cold War ally Russia.
    Even though India has grown close to the United States in recent years, it still depends on Russia for a continuous supply of arms and ammunition amid a Himalayan border standoff with China and perennial tension with Pakistan.
    India is also considering buying more Russian oil at a discount, with two Indian state companies recently ordering 5 million barrels.
    Indian analysts and government officials point out that European countries are buying gas from Russia.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/22/2022 Chinese Boeing Jet Crashes In Mountains With 132 On Board, No Sign Of Survivors by Martin Quin Pollard
The logo of China Eastern Airlines at Beijing Capital International Airport
in Beijing, China March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Tingshu Wangvv
    GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) - A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in mountains in southern China on Monday after a sudden plunge from cruising altitude at about the time when it would normally start to descend ahead of its landing.
    Media said there were no signs of survivors on the domestic flight.
    The airline said it deeply mourned the passengers and crew, without specifying how many people had been killed on the jet, an earlier model to the 737 MAX with a strong safety record.
    Boeing said it was ready to assist China Eastern and was in contact with U.S. transportation safety regulators over the incident.
    Chinese media carried brief highway video footage from a vehicleís dashcam apparently showing a jet diving to the ground behind trees at an angle of about 35 degrees off vertical.    Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
    Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, bordering Hong Kong, when it crashed.
    China Eastern said the cause of the crash was under investigation.    Such accidents typically involve multiple factors and experts warned it was far too early to draw any conclusions on the potential causes, especially in light of the scarce information available.
    Investigators will be scouring the wreckage and flight recorders for factors that could have caused the plane to plummet vertically and slam into the mountains at high speed.
    The airline said it had sent a working group to the site.    There were no foreigners on the flight, Chinese state television reported, citing China Eastern.
    Relatives, friends and colleagues of passengers gathered late on Monday in a cordoned off area at the jetís destination, Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.
    One man surnamed Yan said that a colleague had been on the plane, and that he had notified the 29-year-oldís mother.
    ďWhen she picked up the phone, she choked up,Ē said Yan, adding that he had a ďheavy heartĒ when he heard the news.
    China Eastern staff were making arrangements for relatives who wished to travel to the crash site on Tuesday, Yan said. Reuters was not able to independently verify Yanís identity.
    The aircraft, with 123 passengers and nine crew on board, lost contact over the city of Wuzhou, Chinaís Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the airline said.
    The flight left Kunming at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT), FlightRadar24 data showed, and had been due to land in Guangzhou at 3:05 p.m. (0705 GMT).
    The plane, which the flight tracking service said was six years old, had been cruising at 29,100 feet at 0620 GMT.    The same flight number a day earlier began a normal gradual descent from the same altitude, also at 0620 GMT, and landed safely in Guangzhou, according to Flightradar24.
    The flight that crashed instead began a rapid descent to 7,425 feet before recovering briefly to 8,600 feet and then descended rapidly again, FlightRadar24 data showed.    The last tracked altitude was 3,225 feet above sea level.
    Media cited a rescue official as saying the plane had disintegrated and caused a fire destroying bamboo trees.    The Peopleís Daily quoted a provincial firefighting department official as saying there was no sign of life among the debris.
    State media showed a piece of the plane on a scarred, earthen hillside.    There was no sign of a fire or personal belongings.
DESCENT STAGE
    Crashes during the cruise phase of flights are relatively rare, even though this period accounts for the majority of flight time.    Crashes during the descent stage when the plane first leaves cruising altitude are even more uncommon.
    Boeing said last year 13% of fatal commercial accidents globally between 2011 and 2020 occurred during the cruise phase, whereas 3% occurred on descent, none on initial approach, 28% on final approach and 26% on landing.
    Online weather data showed partly cloudy conditions with good visibility in Wuzhou at the time of the crash.
    President Xi Jinping called for investigators to determine the cause of the crash as soon as possible, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
    Boeing said in a statement that its thoughts were with the passengers and crew.
    ďBoeing is in contact with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and our technical experts are prepared to assist with the investigation led by (CAAC),Ē the company said.
    The disaster comes as Boeing seeks to rebound from several overlapping crises including the coronavirus pandemic and crashes involving its 737 MAX model.    Shares of the planemaker closed 3.6% lower.
    China Eastern has grounded its fleet of 737-800 planes, state media reported.    It has 109 of the aircraft, according to FlightRadar24.
    Shares of China Eastern Airlines in Hong Kong closed down 6.5% after news of the crash emerged, while its U.S.-listed shares closed 6.3% lower.
ĎGOOD RECORDí
    Aviation data provider OAG said this month that state-owned China Eastern Airlines was the worldís sixth-largest carrier by scheduled weekly seat capacity.
    The 737-800 has a good safety record and is the predecessor to the 737 MAX model that has been grounded in China for more than three years after fatal crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
    The crash has again thrust the U.S. manufacturerís most sold aircraft family into the spotlight and comes as it works to emerge from the 737 MAX safety crisis and global pandemic, which decimated air travel demand and strained its finances.
    Investigators will search for the planeís black boxes Ė the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder Ė to shed light on the crash.
    The U.S. NTSB said it had appointed a senior air safety investigator as an accredited U.S. representative to Chinaís probe.
    Air crash investigations are typically led by the country of the accident and include participation by the planeís country of origin, so U.S. investigators would be expected to join the probe of the U.S.-made Boeing jet.
    Chinaís airline safety record has been among the best in the world for a decade, although it is less transparent than in countries like the U.S. and Australia where regulators release detailed reports on non-fatal incidents, according to Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at industry publication Flightglobal.
(Reporting by Beijing and Shanghai newsrooms and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Eric M. Johnson in Seattle, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Writing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Hugh Lawson and Bernard Orr)

3/22/2022 Japan Warns Of Blackouts, Issues Dire Plea To Save Energy As Temperatures Drop by Yuka Obayashi and Kantaro Komiya
FILE PHOTO: Houses and buildings are seen in an electric stoppage at the area after an
earthquake at Toshima ward in Tokyo, Japan March 17, 2022. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Tuesday issued an emergency plea for citizens, businesses and local authorities to conserve energy, warning of potential blackouts after a massive earthquake idled several power plants and unseasonably cold weather boosted demand.
    As snow fell in Tokyo and the temperature dropped sharply to four degrees Celsius (39 Fahrenheit), Tokyo Electric Power Co said 2-3 million households could lose power after 8 p.m. (1100 GMT) at the current power usage rate.
    ďAt this rate, we are coming closer to a state where we will have to conduct power outages similar to those that took place after the quake (last week),Ē said Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) Koichi Hagiuda.
    At a hastily called news conference, Hagiuda called for an additional 5% or so of power savings every hour from 3 to 8 p.m., equivalent to about 2 million kilowatts per hour.
    Electronics retailer Bic Camera said it had turned off about half of the TV sets at more than 30 of its stores in eastern Japan.
    The magnitude 7.4 tremor last Wednesday off the northeastern coast Ė the same region devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011 Ė temporarily cut power to about 2 million households, including hundreds of thousands in the capital, Tokyo.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno earlier called on residents in eastern Japan impacted by the power crisis to save energy.
    ďWe request your cooperation Ö such as by setting your thermostats at around 20 degrees Celsius (68 Fahrenheit) and switching off any unnecessary lights,Ē Matsuno told a news conference.
    He added that the request to save energy was unlikely to extend beyond Tuesday given the expected rise in temperatures and the addition of more solar power generation as the weather improves.
    ďI use the heater a lot so I will try to do my part to save energy,Ē 22-year-old college student Shuntaro Ishinabe told Reuters.
    Last weekís earthquake left six thermal plants un-operational in Tepco and Tohoku Electric Power Coís coverage areas, and the damage to equipment could keep some idle for weeks or months, Hagiuda said.
    Tepco said 100% of power generation capacity was forecast to be used to meet peak demand in its service area between 4-5 p.m.    It had requested seven regional utilities to provide electricity supply of up to 1.42 million kilowatts to ease the crunch.
(Reporting by Yuka Obayashi and Kantaro Komiya; Additional reporting by Ritsuko Shimizu, Sakura Murakami and Irene Chang; Writing by Chang-Ran Kim Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Michael Perry)

3/22/2022 Crisis-Hit Sri Lanka Sends Troops To Oversee Fuel Distribution by Uditha Jayasinghe
People stand in a long queue to buy kerosene oil for kerosene cookers amid a shortage of domestic gas due to
country's economic crisis, at a fuel station in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) -Sri Lanka ordered its military to post soldiers at hundreds of gas stations on Tuesday, to help distribute fuel after a sudden rise in prices of key commodities and the accompanying shortages forced tens of thousands of people to queue for hours.
    Indian Ocean island nation is battling a foreign exchange crisis that forced the devaluation of its currency and hit payments for essential imports such as food, medicine and fuel, prompting the government to approach the IMF.
    The decision to position troops near petrol pumps and kerosene supply points came after three elderly people dropped dead during their wait in long queues, officials said.
    ďAt least two army personnel will be deployed at every fuel pump,Ē military spokesman Nilantha Premaratne told Reuters, adding that the soldiers would help organise fuel distribution, but would not be involved in crowd control.
    The move was a response to complaints of stockpiling and inefficient distribution, said government spokesman Ramesh Pathirana.
    ďThe military has been deployed to help the public, not to curtail their human rights,Ē he added.
    Tension over scarcity of supplies has led to sporadic violence among residents jostling to buy fuel and other essential items.
    Police said a man was stabbed to death on Monday in an argument with the driver of a three-wheeled vehicle, while last week three elderly men died while queuing to buy fuel in sweltering heat.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by Rupam Jain and Clarence Fernandez)

3/22/2022 China Searches For Survivors From Plane Crash With Cause Still Unclear by Martin Quin Pollard
People stand in an area where relatives of the passengers of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane,
which crashed in Wuzhou flying from Kunming to Guangzhou, wait for news, at Guangzhou Baiyun
International Airport in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    WUZHOU, China (Reuters) - Rescuers in southern China searched for survivors from a China Eastern Airlines jet on Tuesday after it crashed with 132 people on board and authorities said severe damage to the aircraft would make it difficult to establish the cause of the crash.
    Flight MU5735 was headed on Monday for the port city of Guangzhou from Kunming, capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan, when it plunged from cruising altitude to crash in the mountains of Guangxi less than an hour before landing time.
    A jet appeared to dive to the ground at an angle of about 35 degrees from the vertical in video images from a vehicleís dashboard camera, according to Chinese media.    Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.
    No survivors have been found yet, said Zhu Tao, director of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told reporters.
    ďThe jet was seriously damaged during the crash, and investigations will face a very high level of difficulty,Ē Zhu said at the first government briefing on the disaster.
    ďGiven the information currently available, we still do not have a clear assessment of the cause for the crash,Ē he said, adding that the aircraft did not respond to repeated calls from air controllers during its rapid descent.
    On Tuesday, rescuers combed heavily forested mountain slopes in southern China, using shovels and torches in their search for victims and flight recorders from the jet that crashed with 132 people on board.
    About 600 soldiers, firefighters and police marched to the crash site, a patch of about 1 sq km in a location hemmed in by mountains on three sides, after excavators cleared a path, state television said.
    It added that the search for the recorders, or ďblack boxes,Ē of the Boeing 737-800 involved in Chinaís first crash of a commercial jetliner since 2010, would be carried out in grid-by-grid fashion, probably through the night.
ĎBANG, BANGí
    Si, 64, a villager near the crash site who declined to give his first name, told Reuters he heard a ďbang, bangĒ at the time of the crash.
    ďIt was like thunder,Ē he said.
    State television has shown images of plane debris strewn among trees charred by fire.    Burnt remains of identity cards and wallets were also seen.
    Rain was forecast in the area this week.
    Police set up a checkpoint at Lu village, on the approach to the site, and barred journalists from entering.    Several people gathered for a small Buddhist ceremony nearby to pray for the victims.
    The last commercial jetliner to crash in China was in 2010, when an Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines went down, killing 44 of the 96 aboard.
    Highlighting the top-level concern, Vice Premier Liu He went to Guangxi on Monday night to oversee search and rescue operations.    An official of the same rank was similarly sent to the site of the 2010 crash in northeast China.
    ďThat B737-800 jet met airworthiness standards before taking off and technical conditions were stable,Ē Sun Shiying, a China Eastern official, said at the briefing.
    ďThe crew members were in good health, and their flying experience was in line with regulatory requirements,Ē he said.
PLANES GROUNDED
    The disaster comes as Boeing seeks to rebound from several crises, notably the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on air travel and safety concerns over its 737 MAX model following two deadly crashes.
    ďAccidents that start at cruise altitude are usually caused by weather, deliberate sabotage, or pilot error,Ē Dan Elwell, a former head of U.S. regulator the Federal Aviation Administration, told Reuters.
    Elwell, who led the FAA during the 737-MAX crisis, said mechanical failures in modern commercial jets were rare at cruise altitude.
    The 737-800 was delivered on June 22, 2015, and accumulated 18,239 hours of flight time after 8,986 flights, said Zhu.
    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) on Monday appointed an investigator, as the Boeing aircraft was produced in the United States, but it was unclear if the investigator would travel to China.
    On Monday, China Eastern and two subsidiaries grounded its fleet of 737-800 planes.    The group has 225 of the aircraft, data from British aviation consultancy IBA shows.
(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu, Albee Zhang and Ryan Woo in Beijing, Jason Xue and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Eric M Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Clarence Fernandez and Raissa Kasolowsky)

3/23/2022 Black Box Found From Crashed China Eastern Jet Ė Chinese Aviation Regulator
Plane debris is seen at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane flying from Kunming to
Guangzhou crashed, in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China March 21, 2022. cnsphoto via REUTERS
    WUZHOU, China (Reuters) Ė China has found one of the two black boxes belonging to the China Eastern Airlines plane that crashed on Monday, an official of the aviation regulator told reporters on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard; writing by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/23/2022 Taliban Orders Girl High Schools Remain Closed, Leaving Students In Tears
A Taliban fighter gestures to a colleague as he stands by the entrance to a school, in Kabul, Afghanistan,
October 25, 2021. 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. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra SEARCH "BENSEMRA EDUCATION" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES
    KABUL (Reuters) Ė The Taliban on Wednesday backtracked on their announcement that high schools would open for girls, saying they would remain closed until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law for them to reopen.
    Teachers and students from three high schools around the capital Kabul said girls had returned in excitement to campuses on Wednesday morning, but were ordered to go home.    They said many students left in tears.
    ďWe all got disappointed and we all became totally hopeless when the principal told us, she was also crying,Ē said a student, not being named for security reasons.
    The last time the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, from 1996 to 2001, they banned female education and most employment.
    The international community has made the education of girls a key demand for any future recognition of the Taliban administration, which took over the country in August as foreign forces withdrew.    The United Nations and United States condemend the reported closures on Wednesday.
    The Ministry of Education had announced last week that schools for all students, including girls, would open around the country on Wednesday after months of restrictions on education for high school-aged girls.
    On Tuesday evening a Ministry of Education spokesman released a video congratulating all students on their returning to class.
    However on Wednesday a Ministry of Education notice said schools for girls would be closed until a plan was drawn up in accordance with Islamic law and Afghan culture, according to Bakhtar News, a government news agency.
    ďWe inform all girls high schools and those schools that are having female students above class six that they are off until the next order,Ē said the notice.
    The countryís ministry of education spokesman did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.    A Taliban administration source confirmed to Reuters that schools for girls in Kabul would be closed for now, without elaborating.
    The Taliban is seeking to run the country according to its interpretation of Islamic law while at the same time accessing billions of dollars in aid that it desperately needs to stave off widespread poverty and hunger.
    ďThe UN in Afghanistan deplores todayís reported announcement by the Taliban that they are further extending their indefinite ban on female students above the 6th grade being permitted to return school,Ē the United Nationsí Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement.
    The U.S. Chargť díAffaires for Afghanistan, Ian McCary, currently based in Qatar, said in a tweet that he was deeply troubled by the reports.
    ďThis is very disappointing & contradicts many Taliban assurances & statements,Ē he said.
(Reporting by Kabul Newsroom; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/23/2022 S.Koreaís Total COVID Cases Top 10 Million As Crematoria, Funeral Homes Overwhelmed by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to undergo the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test at a testing site which is
temporarily set up at a public health center in Seoul, South Korea, February 24, 2022. REUTERS/Heo Ran/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė South Koreaís total coronavirus infections topped 10 million, or nearly 20% of its population, authorities said on Wednesday, as surging severe cases and deaths increasingly put a strain on crematories and funeral homes nationwide.
    The country has been battling a record COVID-19 wave driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant even as it largely scrapped its once aggressive tracing and quarantine efforts and eased social distancing curbs.
    The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 490,881 cases for Tuesday, the second highest daily tally after it peaked at 621,205 on March 16.    The total caseload rose to 10,427,247, with 13,432 deaths, up 291 a day before.
    The countryís infection and death rates are still far below those recorded elsewhere, as almost 87% of its 52 million residents are fully vaccinated and 63% have received booster shots.
    But the death toll nearly doubled in just about six weeks, with daily fatalities peaking at 429 last Friday, fuelling demand for funeral arrangements.
    The health ministry on Monday instructed the 60 crematories nationwide to operate for longer hours to burn up to seven bodies from five, and the 1,136 funeral parlours capable of storing some 8,700 bodies to expand their facilities.
    ďCrematoriesí capacity is increasing,Ē ministry official Son Young-rae said.    ďBut there are still regional differences
    Authorities have already boosted the combined daily cremation capacity from about 1,000 to 1,400 per day starting last week.    But a large backlog of bodies and a long wait continued to be reported in the densely populated greater Seoul area, Son said.
    Health ministry data showed that the 28 crematories in Seoul city were operating at 114.2% capacity as of Monday, while the ratio stood at about 83% in other regions such as Sejong and Jeju.
    Crematories will be temporarily allowed to receive reservations from outside their regions, which is currently banned by some local governments, to ease the pileup, Son said.
    The number of critically ill patients has been hovering above 1,000 over the past two weeks, but it could go up to 2,000 in early April, another health ministry official Park Hyang said.    Around 64.4% of the intensive care unit beds are occupied as of Wednesday, compared with some 59% two weeks earlier.
    As part of efforts to curb severe cases and deaths, South Koreaís drug safety agency granted emergency approval for the use of Merck & Co Incís COVID-19 treatment pill for adults.
    The molnupiravir tablet, branded as Lagevrio, is the second oral antiviral to be authorised in South Korea after Pfizer Incís Paxlovid.
    Lagevrio will only be allowed for patients who are aged 18 or older and not pregnant and cannot be treated with injection medications or the highly effective Paxlovid, the drug safety agency said.
    The health ministry said the first shipment of Lagevrio pills for 20,000 people is expected to arrive on Thursday.
    ďThe medical system is under substantial pressure, though it is still operated within a manageable range,Ē Park told a briefing on Wednesday.
    ďWe would focus more on high risk groups going forward, and make constant checks to ensure that there is no blind spot
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/23/2022 Taiwan Weighs Extending Compulsory Military Service Beyond 4 Months
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng speaks at a rank conferral ceremony for military officials from the
Army, Navy and Air Force, at the defence ministry in Taipei, Taiwan December 28, 2021. REUTERS/Annabelle Chih/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan is considering extending compulsory military service beyond four months, Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Wednesday, as the war in Ukraine renewed discussion about how best to respond to Chinaís military pressure.
    Taiwan has been gradually shifting from a conscript military to a volunteer-dominated professional force, but Chinaís growing assertiveness towards the island it claims as its own, as well as Russiaís invasion of Ukraine, have prompted debate about how to boost defence.
    Answering lawmakersí questions in parliament, Chiu said a proposal to extend military service was still under consideration and there would ďdefinitelyĒ be a plan put forward this year.
    ďWe must consider the enemy situation and our defensive operations in terms of military strength,Ē he said.
    Any changes would not come into effect until a year after they were proposed, Chiu added.
    Previous governments under the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the main opposition Kuomintang cut compulsory service for men from more than two years to the current four months to please younger voters as tension eased between Taipei and Beijing.
    But China has stepped up its military activities near the island over the past two years or so, seeking to press it to accept its sovereignty claims.
    Taiwanís presidential office said in a statement later on Wednesday that the defence ministry was considering everyoneís views, but nothing had been finalised.
    Training content must be reformed so those undergoing military service are able to effectively respond to the needs of modern warfare, and to strengthen the armed forcesí concept of ďasymmetric warfare,Ē it added.
    President Tsai Ing-wen is overseeing a broad modernisation programme, championing the idea of ďasymmetric warfare,Ē to make the islandís forces more mobile, agile and harder to attack.
    Taiwanís military is dwarfed by that of Chinaís, but strategists hope superior training could help give it the edge in a conflict.    The government is also working on a programme to reform reservist training.
    New weapons are important too.
    Lee Shih-chiang, head of the ministryís strategic planning department, speaking at the same session as Chiu, said he expected the first batch of U.S.-made MQ-9 Reaper drones, which can be armed with missiles and operate at long range, will enter service with Taiwan by 2025.
    China does not recognise Taiwanís democratically elected government or any claims of Taiwanese sovereignty and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under Chinese control.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee. Editing by Gerry Doyle, Robert Birsel)

3/23/2022 Russiaís Ambassador To Indonesia Says Putin Plans To Attend G20 Summit by Angie Teo and Stanley Widianto
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a concert marking the eighth anniversary of Russia's annexation of
Crimea at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2022. RIA Novosti Host Photo Agency/Alexander Vilf via REUTERS/File Photo
    JAKARTA (Reuters) Ė Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to attend a G20 summit in Indonesia later this year, Russiaís ambassador to Indonesia said on Wednesday, dismissing suggestions by some G20 members that Russia could be barred from the group.
    The United States and its Western allies are assessing whether Russia should remain within the Group of Twenty major economies following its invasion of Ukraine, sources involved in the discussions told Reuters.
    But any bid to exclude Russia would likely be vetoed by others in the group, raising the prospect of some countries instead skipping G20 meetings, the sources said.
    Russiaís ambassador to Indonesia, which currently holds the rotating G20 chair, said Putin intended to travel to the Indonesian resort island of Bali for the G20 summit in November.
    ďIt will depend on many, many things, including the COVID situation, that is getting better.    So far, his intention is Ö he wants to,Ē ambassador Lyudmila Vorobieva told a news conference.
    Asked about suggestions Russia could be excluded from the G20, she said it was a forum to discuss economic issues and not a crisis like Ukraine.
    ďOf course expulsion of Russia from this kind of forum will not help these economic problems to be resolved. On the contrary, without Russia it would be difficult to do so
    Indonesiaís foreign ministry declined to comment on calls for Russia to be excluded from the G20.
    Russia launched its invasion of its southern neighbour on Feb. 24.
    Putin says Russia is carrying out ďa special military operationĒ to stop the Ukrainian government from committing genocide Ė an accusation the West calls a baseless fabrication.
    Vorobieva urged Indonesia not to be swayed by pressure from Western countries.
    ďWe really hope that the Indonesian government will not give in to the horrible pressure thatís being applied not only to Indonesia but so many other countries in the world by the West,Ē said Vorobieva, who said Russia was actively taking part in all G20 meetings.
ĎBUSY WITH SOMETHING ELSEí
    Russia is facing an onslaught of international sanctions led by Western countries aiming at isolating it from the global economy, including shutting it out of the SWIFT global bank messaging system and restricting dealings by its central bank.
    On Tuesday, Poland said it had suggested to U.S. commerce officials that it replace Russia within the G20 group and that the suggestion had received a ďpositive response
    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said G20 members would have to decide but the issue was not a priority now.
    ďWhen it comes to the question of how to proceed with the WTO and the G20, it is imperative to discuss this question with the countries that are involved and not to decide individually,Ē Scholz said.
    ďIt is quite clear that we are busy with something else than coming together in such meetings.    We urgently need a ceasefire
    U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan, asked if President Joe Biden would move to push Russia out of the G20 when he meets allies in Brussels this week, told reporters at the White House: ďWe believe that it cannot be business as usual for Russia in international institutions and in the international community
    However, the United States plans to consult allies before any other pronouncements, he said.
    A European Union source separately confirmed the discussions about Russiaís status at G20 meetings.
    ďIt has been made very clear to Indonesia that Russiaís presence at forthcoming ministerial meetings would be highly problematic for European countries,Ē said the source, adding there was, however, no clear process for excluding a country.
    Indonesiaís deputy central bank governor, Dody Budi Waluyo, said on Monday Indonesiaís position was one of neutrality and it would use its G20 leadership to try to resolve problems but Russia had a ďstrong commitmentĒ to attend and other members could not forbid it from doing so.
(Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Alex Alper in Washington, Marek Strzeleck in Warsaw, Jan Strupczewski in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Gayatri Suroyo in Jakarta, Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/23/2022 ASEAN Envoy Says Urged Restraint From Myanmar Military, Discussed Suu Kyi Access by Prak Chan Thul
FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn talks during his news conference after the ASEAN
foreign ministers' meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 17, 2022. REUTERS/Cindy Liu/File Photo
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) Ė A Southeast Asian envoy said on Wednesday he had urged Myanmarís ruling military to show restraint during offensives and was told by the junta leader there would be no access to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi while her trial was ongoing.
    Prak Sokhonn, special envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said he sought the release of prisoners including Australian economist Sean Turnell, and junta boss Min Aung Hlaing told him he would consider a request to see Suu Kyi and other detainees in future.
    Suu Kyi was overthrown by the military in a coup last year that sparked chaos and bloodshed in the country after a decade of tentative democratic reform.
    The Nobel laureate is on trial for more than a dozen offences including violating a state secrets act and multiple counts of corruption.    She has been found guilty of several crimes already, but has rejected all charges.
    Prak Sokhonn said he understood that critics viewed his trip to Myanmar this week as legitimising the junta.    But he added he sees the two-day visit as a positive step towards resolving the crisis, which he said could not be done during Cambodiaís ASEAN chairmanship this year.
    ďThe Myanmar issue is complicated, it needs a long time to solve, we canít solve it during one chairmanship or the current chairmanship,Ē he told reporters on his return to Cambodia.
    ďI know of various levels of expectations on the visit, I also know of people who want to see a ceasefire and me meeting all involved parties, and the return to normalcy of democracy,Ē he said.
    ďI understand reasons behind criticism, they donít want me being giving legitimacy to the state councilors,Ē he said, referring to the junta.
    Prak Sokhonnís trip has frustrated opponents to Myanmarís junta because it was centred largely on the generals, with most meetings with other parties cancelled.
    ASEAN has barred the generals from attending its summits until they see progress in a five-point ďconsensusĒ agreed last year to end the violence.
    The United Nations last week said the army had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity and was deliberately targeting civilians.    The military has yet to respond.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies and Kanupriya Kapoor)

3/23/2022 Chinese Foreign Minister To Make Surprise Visit To India After Clash Two Years Ago - Source by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi answers reporter's questions during a Reuters
interview in Munich, Germany, February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) -Chinaís foreign minister will make a surprise stop for talks in New Delhi on Friday, an Indian official said, though neither side has formally announced what would be the highest level visit since border clashes soured relations two years ago.
    Foreign Minister Wang Yi has attended a conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Pakistan this week and is set to also visit Nepal on Friday, as part of a tour of South Asia.
    The Indian government source, who requested anonymity, said Wang was expected to meet with Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, and while the agenda was unclear, discussions over the Ukraine conflict were expected.
    Indiaís foreign ministry declined to comment.    A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said at a daily news briefing on Wednesday that he had no information to offer at the moment.
    Neither China or India have condemned Russiaís invasion of Ukraine. Russia, which refers to its actions as a ďspecial military operation,Ē counts both China and India as friendly powers, having cultivated diplomatic and economic ties since the Cold War era.
    Relations between China and Indian became fraught in June 2020, when 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed during a high altitude clash in a disputed section of the western Himalayas.
    India has restricted many Chinese firms from operating in the country since then.
    Wang said at an annual news briefing in Beijing this month that Asiaís two largest nations should help each other accomplish goals, instead of ďdraining each othersí energies
    Without naming anyone, he said that ďsome forcesĒ had tried to create conflict and division between the two countries.
    Aside from the tensions in the Himalayas, Indiaís mistrust of China stems from Beijingís support of old foe Pakistan, the competition for influence in Nepal, and concern over Chinaís economic clout in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.
    In recent weeks, India has received a flurry of visits and phone calls from senior officials from Australia, Britain, Japan and the United States, while China has also stepped up diplomatic activity to set out its position over the conflict in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/24/2022 Chinese Search For Second Black Box From Crashed Jet by Martin Quin Pollard
Rescue workers work at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane flying from Kunming to Guangzhou
crashed, in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    WUZHOU, China (Reuters) -Recovery crews searched in light rain for a second black box from a China Eastern Airlines passenger plane that plunged into a mountainside with 132 people on board, as more information emerged about the pilots of the flight.
    A first black box found on Wednesday was the cockpit voice recorder based on an early assessment, a Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) official told reporters.
    The recording material appeared to have survived the impact in relatively good shape, and was being sent to Beijing for analysis, the official said.
    The cockpit voice recorder would provide investigators with details of the communications between the flightís three pilots, which is one more than is normally required on board a Boeing 737-800 plane.
    Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou on the coast on Monday when the plane suddenly plunged from cruising altitude at about the time when it should have started its descent before landing.
    According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane briefly appeared to pull out of its nosedive, before plunging again into a heavily forested slope in the mountainous Guangxi region of southern China.
    Chinese authorities said the pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers during the rapid descent.
    It is too early to determine the cause of the crash, which experts say are usually the result of a combination of factors. No survivors have been found.
    The flightís captain, hired in January 2018, had 6,709 hours flying experience, while the first and second officers had 31,769 hours and 556 hours, respectively, a China Eastern official said on Wednesday.    One co-pilot was an observer to build up experience, the airline said, without disclosing the names of the pilots.
    Phoenix Weekly, a magazine published by a Phoenix TV, a pro-Beijing private sector broadcaster, cited an aviation expert who identified the captain as Yang Hongda, the son of a former China Eastern captain, and the first officer as Zhang Zhengping, a pilot with 40 years of experience who mentored other pilots.
    Southern Weekly, a large Guangdong-based newspaper, which only identified the crew by their surnames, reported Yang, 32, had a one-year-old daughter, while Zhang, 59, was a veteran pilot with an impeccable safety record and had been expected to retire this year.    The newspaper said the less experienced second officerís surname was Ni.
    Jimu News, an arm of the Hubei Daily newspaper, identified him as Ni Gongtao, 27.
    China Eastern did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the reports.
    The central government on Thursday called for stronger safety management in high-risk industries and quick emergency responses to disasters following the countryís first fatal airline crash in more than a decade.
    Approriate punishment would be administered when necessary, the State Council added in a statement.
THERMAL CAMERAS AND DRONES
    Mist and low lying clouds hovered over the small, tree-covered hills in the mainly rural area surrounding the crash site on Thursday, where state media reported part of one of the planeís engines was recovered.
    Search teams combed ground vegetation and soil with sticks and even their bare hands on the rain-sodden slopes, according to state television. Some of them also carried thermal cameras to detect signs of life.
    Drones were readied for deployment to survey the core area of the crash site and capture images to be assessed by experts, state media said.    Other drones that can be airborne for more than 12 hours will be deployed to provide night-time light.
    The crash investigation is being led by China but the United States was invited to take part because the plane was designed and manufactured there.
    The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said on Wednesday it had not yet determined if investigators would travel to China in light of strict visa and quarantine requirements.
(Additional reporting by Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Ryan Woo, Stella Qiu and Ella Cao in Beijing and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/24/2022 N. Korea Returns To Long-Range Launches With Largest ICBM Test by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers opening remarks during the 2nd Conference
of Secretaries of Primary Committees of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), in this photo released on
February 27, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) -North Korea conducted what is thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test ever on Thursday, militaries in South Korea and Japan said, marking a dramatic end to a self-imposed moratorium on long-range testing.
    It would be the first full-capability launch of the nuclear-armed stateís largest missiles since 2017, and represents a major step in the Northís development of weapons that might be able to deliver nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States.
    The Northís return to major weapons tests also poses a new national security headache for U.S. President Joe Biden as he responds to Russiaís invasion of Ukraine, and presents a challenge to South Koreaís incoming conservative administration.
    Japanese authorities said the launch appeared to be a ďnew typeĒ of ICBM that flew for about 71 minutes to an altitude of about 6,000km (3,728 miles) and a range of 1,100km (684 miles) from its launch site.
    It landed inside Japanís exclusive economic zone (EEZ), 170 km (106 miles) west of the northern prefecture of Aomori, at 3:44 p.m. (0644 GMT), the coast guard said.
    South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff put the missileís maximum altitude at 6,200km and its range at 1,080km.
    That is further and longer than North Koreaís last ICBM test in 2017, when it launched a Hwasong-15 missile that flew for 53 minutes to an altitude of about 4,475km and range of 950km
    Thursdayís ICBM launch prompted South Korea to test fire a volley of its own, smaller ballistic and air-to-ground missiles to demonstrate it has the ďcapability and readinessĒ to precisely strike missile launch sites, command and support facilities, and other targets in North Korea if necessary, South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
    South Korean deputy national security advisor Suh Choo-suk condemned the launch as ďa clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and a reversal of the moratorium on ICBM launches, which North Korea had promised to the international community
    South Koreaís JCS said the latest missile was launched from near Sunan, where Pyongyangís international airport is located.    On March 16, North Korea launched a suspected missile from that airport that appeared to explode shortly after liftoff, South Koreaís military said.
NEW ICBM?
    U.S. and South Korean officials have warned recently that North Korea had been preparing to test fire its largest ICBM yet, the Hwasong-17.
    U.S. officials said at least two recent tests, on Feb. 27 and March 5, featured the Hwasong-17 system, but did not demonstrate full ICBM range or capability.
    Pyongyang did not identify the missile system used in those launches, but said they were testing components for a reconnaissance satellite system.
    This month, leader Kim Jong Un said North Korea would soon launch multiple satellites to monitor military movements by the United States and its allies.
    Thursdayís launch would be at least the 11th North Korean missile test this year, an unprecedented frequency that has drawn condemnation from the United States, South Korea and Japan.
    Analysts say the Hwasong-17 is ďconsiderably largerĒ than the Hwasong-15.    It was first unveiled in October 2020 and displayed a second time in October 2021.
    The missile, which has been shown on a transporter vehicle with 11 axles, would be one of the worldís largest road-mobile ICBMs.
ĎSERIOUS PROGRESSí
    Amid a flurry of diplomacy in 2018, Kim declared a self-imposed moratorium on testing ICBMs and nuclear weapons, but suggested the North could resume such testing amid stalled denuclearisation talks.
    That moratorium had often been touted as a success by former U.S. President Donald Trump, who held several historic summits with Kim in 2018 and 2019, but never gained a concrete pact to limit the Northís nuclear or missile arsenals.
    On Jan. 19, North Korea said it would bolster its defences against the United States and consider resuming ďall temporally suspended activities,Ē according to state news agency KCNA, an apparent reference to the self-imposed moratorium.
    New construction has also been spotted at North Koreaís only known nuclear test site, which was shuttered in 2018.
    The looming prospect of possible nuclear tests, more joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, and the new conservative South Korean president mean ďall conditions are present for a tit-for-tat chain reaction of escalatory steps,Ē said Chad OíCarroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea.
    ďThough Biden would prefer to focus exclusively on the Ukraine crisis, itís likely he will soon face crisis-level tensions between the Koreas,Ē he said.
    With the sanctions regime at an impasse at the U.N. Security Council and North Korea opposed to talks on denuclearisation for the foreseeable future, Pyongyang is now likely capable of making serious progress on its weapons development programme with little risk of substantive punishment, OíCarroll added.
(Reporting by Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin, and Ju-min Park in Seoul, and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Clarence Fernandez)

3/24/2022 South Koreaís Disgraced Ex-President Park Returns Home After Prison by Hyonhee Shin
South Korea's former President Park Geun-hye speaks to reporters as she
leaves the Samsung Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea, March 24, 2022. REUTERS/ Heo Ran
    SEOUL (Reuters) - Former South Korean President Park Geun-hye left hospital on Thursday three months after she was released from prison where she spent nearly five years following a conviction on corruption charges.
    Park, 70, became the countryís first democratically elected leader to be forced from office when the Constitutional Court upheld a parliament vote in 2017 to impeach her over a scandal that also landed the chiefs of two conglomerates, Samsung and Lotte, in jail.
    ďAs president, I tried to work hard for the country and the people but there are many dreams that were not achieved,Ē Park, dressed in a dark navy coat and holding a purse, told hundreds of cheering supporters after arriving at her home in the southeastern city of Daegu.
    ďBut those dreams are tasks for others,Ē Park said, signalling no intention of returning to the political fray.    ďI will provide support so that talented people can contribute to the development of my hometown of Daegu and the country
    Park is the daughter of former dictator Park Chung-hee and her imprisonment divided a country in which old Cold War rivalry between right and left still shapes politics.
    An unidentified object was thrown at Park shortly after she began delivering her televised remarks from a podium but she smiled and thanked the crowd.
    ďI am extremely grateful that so many people came to warmly greet me even though I had numerous shortcomings and disappointed you,Ē she said.
    The Supreme Court last year upheld Parkís sentence of 20 years in prison for colluding with a friend, who was also jailed, to receive millions of dollars from the companies, mostly to fund her friendís family and non-profit groups.
    Outgoing President Moon Jae-in, who heads a liberal administration, granted Park a special pardon in December, citing her deteriorating health and his hopes to move past the ďunfortunate historyĒ and promote national unity.
    Earlier, as Park left the Samsung Medical Centre in Seoul, she told some 40 supporters that her health had improved.    Dozens of officials who served in her administration and her conservative political party also gathered to offer their best wishes.
    Park then visited her fatherís grave before heading home.
    Parkís release comes days after a presidential election won by conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol.
    President-elect Yoon, who was in involved in the investigation of the corruption charges against Park when he served as prosecutor-general, said during the election campaign that he was sorry about what happened to her.
    On Thursday, he said he hoped to meet her and would invite her to his inauguration in May.
    Moonís office said he had sent Park an orchid and wished her well.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin;Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/24/2022 ĎHave To Eat Halfí: Sri Lankans Feel Pain Of Spiralling Economic Crisis
FILE PHOTO: An Uber driver waits at a Ceylon Petroleum Corporation fuel station to buy fuel after his bike
ran out of petrol on the road, in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 22, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    MINUWANGODA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) Ė Thusitha Hadaragama stood at a corner store near his home in Sri Lankaís Minuwangoda town this week and surveyed groceries to buy for his family of five, including two school-age children, who live on his monthly salary of 50,000 rupees ($181.82).
    ďPrices have gone up again.    I will buy a little bit,Ē said the 43-year-old driver, who works in Sri Lankaís commercial capital of Colombo, 40 kilometres away.    ďWe will have to eat half of what we ate before
    Across Sri Lanka, families like Hadaragamaís are feeling the growing pain of the countryís worst economic crisis in years, which has driven up prices of essentials and triggered shortages of everything from food to fuel.
    Historically weak government finances, badly timed tax cuts and the COVID-19 pandemic, which pummelled the tourism industry and foreign remittances, have wreaked havoc on the economy.
    The country is left with foreign reserves of only around $2.31 billion as of February, even as it faces debt payments of about $4 billion through the rest of the year.
    ďThe reason for the shortages is not a shortage of any commodity but the shortage of dollars,Ē said Dhananath Fernando, chief operating officer of Colombo think-tank Advocata Institute.
    Shedding months of resistance, Sri Lankaís government last week said it would begin talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a way out of the crisis.
    The country of 22 million people has also sought assistance from India and China.
    But for ordinary Sri Lankans, everyday chores have become an ordeal.    To fill up his motorcycle, Hadaragama now must stand in long queues and pay more than double for a litre of petrol compared to three months ago.
    At home, his wife, Varuni, has cut down on how much she cooks to feed her family, which includes two teenage boys and a daughter.
    ďEarlier I cooked three potatoes,Ē she said.    ďNow I make only two
($1 = 275.0000 Sri Lankan rupees)
(Reporting by Waruna Karunatilake; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal.    Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/24/2022 Taiwan Says ĎReunification Lawí Would Put Too Much Pressure On China
Chess pieces are seen in front of displayed China and Taiwan's flags in this
illustration taken January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė A senior Taiwanese official said on Thursday he did not see China adopting a ďreunification lawĒ as it would put too much pressure on Beijing to set a timetable for bringing the island under its control, which could severely raise tensions.
    China, which views democratically run Taiwan as its own territory, has not officially proposed such legislation, which would be a follow-up to a 2005 law giving Beijing the legal basis for military action if it judges Taiwan to have seceded or to be about to.
    But it has been discussed in state media, and last week a spokesperson for Chinaís Taiwan Affairs Office, asked about a suggestion from a political adviser for such a law, said they ďcarefully listen to and study opinions and suggestionsĒ
    Taiwan rejects Chinaís sovereignty claims and says only its people can decide the islandís future.
    Taiwanís National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong, taking questions from lawmakers in parliament, said a Chinese proposal for such legislation had generated a lot of discussion previously.
    ďItís equivalent to setting a timetable.    In the past, during the Deng Xiaoping era, they tried to set a timetable, but in the end thought it best not to, as it would put pressure on them,Ē Chen said, referring to the Chinese leader who died in 1997.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping told a Taiwanese envoy in 2013 that a political solution to their standoff on sovereignty could not be postponed forever, though he has never set a timetable.
    China has ramped up its military pressure against Taiwan over the last two years or so, and the Taiwan Strait that separates the two remains a potentially dangerous military flashpoint.
    Chen, whose last job was head of Taiwanís China-policy- making Mainland Affairs Council, said he did not think China was gearing up for an attack this year, as Xi was getting ready for a key Communist Party congress at the end of the year to confirm him for a third term in office.
    ďHe needs to maintain stability,Ē Chen said.
(Reporting by Roger Tung and Ben Blanchard)

3/24/2022 Myanmar ĎSpecial Commandí Authorised Lethal Attacks On Civilians Ė Report
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers stand next to military vehicles as people gather to protest
against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) Ė Myanmarís junta chief created a special command a day after last yearís coup that was solely responsible for deployment and operations of troops in urban areas, and authorised lethal attacks on unarmed civilians, human rights investigators said.
    The group Fortify Rights and Yale Law Schoolís Schell Center said after a joint investigation the junta leadership deployed snipers to kill protesters to instil fear, while soldiers were instructed to commit crimes and given a ďfieldcraftĒ manual that contained no guidance on rules of war.
    The investigators, in a 193-page report released on Thursday, analysed leaked documents and 128 testimonies from various sources including survivors, medical workers, witnesses and former military and police personnel, about the turmoil in Myanmar in the six months after the coup on Feb. 1 last year.
    They said they had obtained and verified internal memos to police ordering them to arbitrarily arrest protesters, activists and members of the ousted ruling party, and cited testimony from victims of torture and other abuses.
    ďAll individuals responsible for these crimes should be sanctioned and prosecuted,Ē said Matthew Smith, head of Fortify Rights and co-author of the report, which recommends members of the United Nations push for a global arms embargo on Myanmar and international legal action against its generals.
    A spokesman for Myanmarís military did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on the reportís findings.
    Fortify Rights is an independent non-profit organisation based in Southeast Asia and founded in 2013, funded by donations from Europe, Asia and the United States, including from private foundations.    It has carried out extensive work on Myanmar.
    The Schell Center was set up at Yale Law School in 1989 for law students and graduates to specialise in international human rights and to assist human rights organisations.
    The investigation will add to global pressure on the military to halt its crackdown on opponents and the use of air strikes and shelling in civilian areas.
    It comes a week after a U.N. report concluded that the Myanmar army was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity.    The junta has yet to respond but has previously dismissed accusations of atrocities as foreign interference based on falsehoods.
    The report, called ďNowhere is Safe,Ē also identified 61 military and police commanders who the researchers said should be investigated for crimes against humanity, helped by information from security sources about the chain of command.
    Among those were six active-duty army personnel, including a colonel and two majors.
    The researchers said they established locations of more than 1,000 military units at the time of the crackdown, which they said could help prosecutors geo-locate perpetrators of crimes.
    Junta chief Min Aung Hlaingís new ďspecial commandĒ in the capital Naypyitaw was run by four of his top generals, it said, with no others authorised to take decisions on operations by troops deployed in towns and cities.
    ďWithout a concerted effort to stop ongoing atrocities and to hold the junta accountable for the crimes it has committed to date, the junta will undoubtedly continue to persecute its opponents, murder civilians, and devastate the social, health, and economic wellbeing of Myanmar,Ē said Roger Polack, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center and co-author of the report.
(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/25/2022 China Renews Search For Second Black Box From Crashed Plane by Martin Quin Pollard
Workers carry a case at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane flying from Kunming to Guangzhou
crashed, in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    WUZHOU, China (Reuters) Ė Search and rescue work in the wake of the China Eastern Airlines crash entered its fourth day as storm clouds retreated with efforts focusing on retrieving the second black box while the first was being decoded and analysed in Beijing.
    Emergency workers on the ground have been scouring the forest-clad mountains of Chinaís southern Guangxi region for victims of Flight MU5735 that crashed on Monday.    No survivors have been found so far in a tragedy that has shocked the nation.
    The jet was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou on the coast when it plummeted from cruising altitude at about the time when it should have started its descent to its destination.
    Rescuers recovered one of the two black boxes on Wednesday.    The device, the planeís cockpit voice recorder, has been sent to Beijing.    It could take 10 to 15 days to arrive at a preliminary analysis, and longer before a final conclusion can be presented in a report, according to Chinese state media.
    ďOur work priority is still on search and rescue,Ē said Zhu Tao, head of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), on Thursday.
    The investigation is being led by China but the United States was invited to take part because the Boeing 737-800 was designed and manufactured there.
    ďWhen we enter the accident investigation stage, we will invite relevant parties to participate in the accident investigation according to relevant regulations,Ē Zhu said.
    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said Wednesday that Chinese authorities had invited the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to take part in the investigation, adding that he was very encouraged by the invitation to be on the ground in China.
    The NTSB, however, later said it had not yet determined if investigators would travel to China in light of visa and quarantine requirements.
DISTRAUGHT
    More than 200 distraught family members of the 132 people on board the doomed flight have since visited the crash site.
    Debris from the jetliner including engine blades, horizontal tail stabilisers and other wing remnants was concentrated within 30 metres (90 feet) of the main impact point, which was 20 metres (60 feet) deep.
    A 1.3 metre-long fragment suspected to be from the plane was found about 10 km (six miles) away, prompting a significant expansion of the search area.
    Some human remains and personal belongings of the passengers have also been found.
    As rainy weather retreated on Friday, emergency workers renewed their search for the victims and the flight data recorder.
    According to flight tracking website FlightRadar24, the plane briefly appeared to pull out of its nosedive, before plunging again into a heavily forested slope in Guangxi.
    Authorities said the pilots did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers during the rapid descent.
    It was too early to determine the cause of the crash, which experts say are usually the result of a combination of factors.
(Additional reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Michael Perry)

3/25/2022 Analysis-With Largest Test Yet, N.Koreaís ICBM Programme Hits New Heights by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: General view during the test firing of what state media report is a North Korean "new type"
of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in this undated photo released on March 24, 2022
by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė North Koreaís resumption of long-range missile tests Ė including a flight of its largest-ever weapon Ė puts it closer than ever to having a reliable way of delivering multiple nuclear warheads anywhere in the United States, analysts say.
    North Koreaís latest launch was the Hwasong-17, a huge new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), fired on Thursday in a test that leader Kim Jong Un said was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any U.S. military moves.
    It was the first full-scale ICBM test launch since 2017.    There were two launches in February that U.S. officials said were preliminary tests of the Hwasong-17.
    With a range that the Japanese government said probably exceeds 15,000 km (9,320 miles), the missile could strike targets anywhere in the world outside of a few countries in South America and parts of Antarctica.
    That range Ė and its massive size Ė suggest North Korea plans to tip it with multiple warheads that could hit several targets or deploy decoys to confuse defenders, analysts say. North Koreaís smaller Hwasong-15 ICBM, tested in 2017, can reach any part of the United States, but cannot carry as large of a payload.
    ďSince there arenít any good targets farther away, this missile is likely about carrying more weight ó in the form of multiple nuclear warheads,Ē said Melissa Hanham, a researcher at Stanford Universityís Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) in California.    ďThis makes U.S. ballistic missile defence even more difficult to achieve
    Along with other new weapons such as hypersonic missiles, smaller nuclear warheads, and drones, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has made deployment of a 15,000km-range ICBM with multiple warheads a goal.
    ďThe offensive arithmetic will be in their favour soon; they may be able to keep up with advances in American defences,Ē said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    U.S. officials have predicted such advancements, and last year selected Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to compete to build a Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) designed to shoot down missiles from ďrogue nationsĒ such as North Korea and Iran, said Thomas Karako, the director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
    ďThis (new missile) gives North Korea more options,Ē he said, noting that the longer range could also allow it to be fired at the United States using more indirect flight paths, potentially confusing defenders.
    South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has vowed to boost missile defences to counter North Korean weapons, and has suggested that developing a preemptive strike capability may be the only way to prevent a missile attack.
ĎCREDIBLE DETERRENCEí
    The ďloftedĒ tests North Korea has conducted, which send missiles high into space rather than far away, help confirm some elements of the system, such as full engine burns and staging.    But other elements, such as accuracy and the survivability of the reentry vehicles that would carry a nuclear warhead, remain less verifiable in such tests, said Joseph Dempsey, a defence researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
    ďTypically there would be dozens of partial and full flight tests through a full spectrum of operational parameters before a system is accepted and mass produced for service,Ē he said, noting that North Korea faces diplomatic and geographical constraints on long-range tests.    ďHowever, even limited successful tests can still provide enough minimal credible deterrence value
    For instance, lofted tests expose reentry vehicles to much more heat and stress than a normal attack trajectory, meaning they might not survive or perform as designed.    North Korea said it fired Thursdayís missile ďin a vertical launch modeĒ to ensure the safety of neighbouring countries.
    Rachel Minyoung Lee, with the Washington-based 38 North programme that monitors North Korea, said Pyongyangís goal seems to be to strengthen its leverage so it can turn denuclearization talks into nuclear-reduction talks.
    ďThe message of the North Korean readout of yesterdayís ICBM launch is clear: North Korea will continue to develop its nuclear arsenal,Ē she said.
A MISSILE THATíS TOO BIG?
    The Hwasong-17 had already been unveiled at military parades and defence expos, giving experts a good idea of what to expect.
    Thursdayís launch revealed for the first time, however, that the Hwasong-17 was launched directly from its massive transporter, erector, launcher (TEL) vehicle, which has 11 axles.
    Previous North Korean ICBMs were transported and raised by such vehicles, but then usually fired from detachable platforms.    TELs make it easer to conceal missiles until they are deployed for use, but Panda said the Hwasong-17 is so large there could be serious concerns about its operational practicality.
    ďThereís a reason that no other country has ever decided to deploy a liquid-fuelled missile thatís this big on a road-mobile launcher: itís unsafe and operationally unwieldy,Ē Panda said, while noting North Korea seems to accept the risk.    ďA silo, which might make more sense for a missile this size, would be strategically worse for the North Koreans given its vulnerability to prompt preemption
    The next step for North Korea would be building solid-fuel missiles, which are more stable and can be launched with almost no warning or preparation time.
(Reporting by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/25/2022 Chinese Foreign Minister On First India Visit Since 2020 Clash by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi listens during a meeting in
Manila, Philippines January 16, 2021. Francis Malasig/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi will meet his Indian counterpart in New Delhi on Friday, Indiaís foreign ministry said, after he arrived in the capital on the first visit by a top Chinese official since border clashes in 2020.
    Wang will meet Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar at 11 a.m. (0530 GMT), a ministry spokesperson told Reuters, without giving details.    Media said he had already met Indiaís powerful national security adviser, Ajit Doval.
    The top Chinese diplomat visited Pakistan and Afghanistan this week and is set to fly to Nepal later in the day on a whirlwind tour of South Asia where China is trying to deepen its influence.
    Relations between old rivals India and China took a serious turn for the worse with a June 2020 clash in the Ladakh region on their Himalayan border in which at least 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were killed.
    Jaishankar noted in a speech on Thursday the deterioration in ties and stressed the importance of the coordination of foreign and defence policies, which he said were ďjoined at the hip
    ďFew would have anticipated Ö the turn that Indiaís relations with China have taken in the last two years,Ē he said.
    ďAny prudent policy therefore backs its posture with capabilities and deterrence.    A big responsibility of Indian diplomacy, therefore, is to create the widest set of options for such contingencies.Ē     Neither China nor India announced Wangís visit before he landed in New Delhi late on Thursday.     Footage from Reuters partner ANI indicated he arrived through the commercial airport rather than a defence facility nearby where most foreign dignitaries land.
    Wang drew a rebuke from the Indian government ahead of his trip for remarks in Pakistan this week on the disputed Kashmir region.    India and Pakistan rule Muslim-majority Kashmir in part but claim in full, and China has generally backed close ally Pakistan.
    The two sides are expected to discuss their border tension as well as Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.
    Both consider Russia a friend and both have rejected Western calls for condemnation of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine. Russia calls it action a ďspecial military operation
    Thousands of Indian and Chinese troops are deployed on their high-altitude border.    Senior military officers have held more than a dozen rounds of talks to defuse the standoff but progress has been limited.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by C.K. Nayak; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel)

3/25/2022 Maldivesí Former President Plots Comeback With ĎIndia Outí Campaign by Alasdair Pal and Mohamed Junayd
FILE PHOTO: A man rides a motorcycle past an image of Abdulla Yameen on a road ahead
of the presidential election in Male, Maldives September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ashwa Faheem/File Photo
    MALE (Reuters) Ė A former Maldives president jailed on corruption charges has returned to politics with a campaign against Indian influence in the country, worrying New Delhi, which is battling China for supremacy in its own back yard.
    Abdulla Yameen wants to cancel defence deals signed with India, with which Maldives shares decades of close and friendly ties.
    He alleges New Delhi has developed a major military presence in the archipelago off the coast of Sri Lanka Ė claims the ruling party denies.
    But the growth of the campaign since a graft conviction against Yameen was overturned in November has drawn large crowds at rallies and galvanized his Progressive Party of Maldives, seen as being closer to Beijing.
    ďIt not only endangers our national security but also impedes our progress and development,Ē Yameen told Reuters in a rare interview in the capital Male, referring to Indiaís military presence.
    ďItís imperative that we get the Indian military out before the end of this year.    We certainly donít like to play second fiddle here in our own country
    ďI donít want the Indian Ocean especially in our neighbourhood to be militarized.    I like this area to be a demilitarized zone.    We donít like to see any foreign power here,Ē he said, adding it could encourage other nations like China and the United States to build up its presence in the region.
    Defence minister Mariya Didi told Reuters Indiaís military presence in the country was limited to the operation and maintenance of three search-and-rescue and surveillance aircraft used by Maldivesí defence forces, as well as a medical team at a military hospital.
    ďThere is no additional foreign military presence in Maldives,Ē she said.
    Some of the deals with India Yameen is seeking to cancel were signed during his own time in power, she added.
    A spokesperson for Indiaís foreign ministry declined to comment on Yameenís claims.    The ministry said last year that India ďremains committed to deepening its traditionally friendly relationship with Maldives
KEY BATTLEGROUND
    Lying near strategic shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, Maldives is critical in the battle for influence between India and China, which have repeatedly clashed along their disputed Himalayan border in recent years.
    Indiaís Bollywood film industry and music are popular among locals, and the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has pursued what it has called an ďIndia-firstĒ foreign policy, but China has made increasing inroads since Yameenís five-year term.
    Yameen said he was still considering whether to contest presidential polls due next year.
    ďI have returned.    I donít think I ever left and I donít think people left me either
    The half-brother of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen has long played a major role in the islandsí fractious politics.
    He helped to oust the countryís first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, in 2012, taking power in an election a year later.
    During his term, he made Maldives a part of Beijingís Belt and Road infrastructure initiative Ė a program the United States sees as a way to trap smaller countries into debt.
    China financed and built a bridge linking Male to the international airport, as well as other critical infrastructure.
    ďLetís be frank with this.    Europe or the U.S., they donít hand out parcels of money for development.    Itís only China that does that,Ē Yameen said.
    Since his release, Yameen has been touring islands across the archipelago in support of his campaign.
    Local media reported threats have been made to Indian teachers working on two different islands Ė a claim Yameen calls ďtotal rubbish
ĎTRUMPED UP CHARGESí
    After losing power in 2018, Yameen was sentenced to five years in jail and fined $5 million in 2019 for embezzling $1 million in state funds, allegedly acquired through the lease of resort development rights.
    He was shifted to house arrest in 2020 and freed months later after irregularities in that case were found, though prosecutors hope to secure a conviction on two outstanding charges by the summer.
    ďThose are all trumped up charges,Ē Yameen said of the outstanding cases against him, a diamond-encrusted watch on his right wrist.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Mohamed Junayd; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

3/25/2022 Explainer-How The China Eastern Crash Investigation Will Be Carried Out by Jamie Freed and Allison Lampert
Rescue workers work at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane flying from Kunming to Guangzhou
crashed, in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    (Reuters) Ė China has launched an investigation into the crash of a China Eastern Airlines jet that plunged rapidly from cruising altitude into a mountainside with 132 people on board.
    The crash of the Boeing 737-800 is Chinaís first deadly aviation accident since 2010 in a country that has had one of the worldís strongest safety records over that period.
    There are international standards governing some parts of air crash investigations, but the practical management of them differs by country.
    China will lead the investigation because the crash occurred on its territory and the United States has the right to participate because the plane was designed and manufactured there.
CHINAíS CHAIN OF COMMAND
    Chinaís State Council, the cabinet led by Premier Li Keqiang, has set up an investigation team led by the     Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the Ministry of Emergency Management.    The search and rescue response also involves multiple other ministries.
    The aviation safety office of CAAC, which has an accident investigation department, is leading the technical work.
    The State Council oversees major industrial accidents and natural disasters, giving it a more direct political oversight element than crash investigations in places like the United States.
    Zheng Lie, chair of the aviation department at Australiaís Swinburne University of Technology, said the high-level involvement signified the government was taking the situation seriously and would also help improve cooperation throughout Chinaís extensive bureaucracy.
    CAAC is only at the vice minister level, he said, so the State Council would allow for minister-level involvement.
HOW DOES CAAC COMPARE TO FOREIGN COUNTERPARTS?
    CAAC performs a dual role as the aviation regulator and crash investigator, whereas the United States splits those roles between the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB).
    U.S.-based aviation analyst Robert Mann said he was unconcerned by CAACís dual role given it is common elsewhere.    The United Arab Emirates and the Philippines, for example, do not split the roles.
    Christopher Hart, a former NTSB head, said he believes it is important to have separate agencies because the factors behind accidents often include errors and ommissions by the regulator that may be less likely to be included in a final report written by the regulator.
    However, a State Council report into Chinaís last deadly crash, involving a Henan Airlines Embraer regional jet in 2010, did point out deficiencies in CAAC oversight.
WHEN WILL CHINA RELEASE MORE INFORMATION PUBLICLY?
    Under international standards, a preliminary report into an accident needs to be lodged with U.N. aviation agency ICAO within 30 days.
    Such initial reports tend to be factual and brief, laying out the information known to date from maintenance records, air traffic control recordings and the black boxes if found, rather than a cause of the crash.
    There is no requirement to make the preliminary report public, though Indonesia, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Iran have done so in more recent crashes.    India did not publicly release a preliminary report into a deadly 2020 crash of an Air India Express plane.
    Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said he hoped CAAC produced a public 30-day report given the global interest.
    CAAC has not responded to Reuters questions on whether it plans to do so and if it would be available in English.
    A final report is due within a year, according to ICAO guidelines, though sometimes they can take longer.
    China is the worldís biggest operator of 737-800s with more than 1,200 in service, so it could release any broader safety information involving the model more quickly, analysts said.
WHAT STEPS DOES CHINA TAKE AFTER AIR CRASHES?
    In most countries, an accident report makes safety recommendations to the airline, regulator and manufacturer as appropriate but does not assign blame or call for punishment.
    Prosecutions can occur after a crash.
    The State Councilís final report into the 2010 Henan Airlines crash recommended demotions and demerits for many airline and regulatory officials and prosecution of the captain, who survived the crash that killed 44 of 96 people on board.
    Lie, of Swinburne, said a punitive approach was common in China, where there was a desire to see the people responsible punished when accidents occurred.
    ďI think thatís the convention just to remind people about their accountability for the area they are looking after,Ē he said.
    Depending on the investigation results, China Eastern also risks consequences including fines, aircraft groundings and unfavourable treatment when applying for new routes and airport slots, Morningstar analyst Cheng Weng said.
(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney and Allison Lampert in Montreal; additional reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Martin Quin Pollard in Wuzhou and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

3/25/2022 China Urges Restraint By ĎAll Sidesí On North Koreaís Missile Tests
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin speaks during a news
conference in Beijing, China March 3, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė China has urged ďall sidesĒ to exercise restraint regarding North Koreaís long-range missiles tests, the foreign ministry said on Friday.
    ďWe express concern at the present situation,Ē ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said, when asked about the tests at a daily briefing.
    On Thursday, North Korea fired a Hwasong-17, a huge new intercontinental ballistic missile, in a test that leader Kim Jong Un said was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any U.S. military moves.
(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, Writing by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

3/25/2022 N.Korea Tests New Intercontinental Missile For ĎLongí Confrontation With U.S by Josh Smith
People watch a TV broadcasting a news report on North Korea's intercontinental ballistic
missile (ICBM) test, in Seoul, South Korea, March 24, 2022. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) - North Koreaís latest launch was a huge, new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), state media reported on Friday, in a test leader Kim Jong Un said was designed to demonstrate the might of its nuclear force and deter any U.S. military moves.
    It was the first full ICBM test by nuclear-armed North Korea since 2017.    Flight data indicated the missile flew higher and longer than any of North Koreaís previous tests before crashing into the sea west of Japan.
    Dubbed the Hwasong-17, the ICBM is the largest liquid-fuelled missile ever launched by any country from a road-mobile launcher, analysts say.
    Its long range and massive size also suggest North Korea plans to tip it with multiple warheads that could hit several targets or deploy decoys to confuse defenders, according to analysts.
    Kim ordered the test because of the ďdaily-escalating military tension in and around the Korean peninsulaĒ and the ďinevitability of the long-standing confrontation with the U.S. imperialists accompanied by the danger of a nuclear war,Ē state news agency KCNA reported.
    ďThe strategic forces of the DPRK are fully ready to thoroughly curb and contain any dangerous military attempts of the U.S. imperialists,Ē Kim said while personally overseeing the launch, according to KCNA.
    DPRK are the initials of North Koreaís official name.
    North Koreaís return to major weapons tests capable of potentially striking the United States poses a direct challenge to U.S. President Joe Biden as he responds to Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.    And it raises the prospect of a new crisis following the election of a new, conservative South Korean administration that has pledged a more muscular military strategy to counter Pyongyang.
    South Koreaís President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who will speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping later on Friday, said North Korea had nothing to gain from provocation.
    China, North Koreaís sole major ally and neighbour, urged restraint by ďall sidesĒ after the missile test.
    The launch drew condemnation from leaders in the United States, Japan, and South Korea.
    South Korea staged a so-called ďelephant walkĒ drill using F-35 fighter jets on Friday.
    Kim said the test would help convince the world of the modern features of the countryís strategic forces.
    ďAny forces should be made to be well aware of the fact that they will have to pay a very dear price before daring to attempt to infringe upon the security of our country,Ē he said.
    There was no immediate comment from the White House or State Department on Kimís remarks.
NEW SANCTIONS
    Responding to North Koreaís banned ICBM launch through the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) will be far more difficult now than after the last test in 2017.
    World powers on the council are currently at odds over the Ukraine war, making the kind of sanctions that were imposed on North Korea by the UNSC after the 2017 test a far more complicated process.
    The U.N. Security Council will meet on Friday afternoon to discuss the launch.    On Thursday, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Pyongyang ďto desist from taking any further counter-productive actions
    On Thursday, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on two Russian companies, a Russian and a North Korean individual, and North Koreaís Second Academy of Natural Science Foreign Affairs Bureau for transferring sensitive items to North Koreaís missile programme.
NEW MISSILE
    Photos released by state media showed a massive missile, painted black with a white nosecone, rising on a column of flame from a launch vehicle.
    The Hwasong-17 flew for 1,090 km (680 miles) to a maximum altitude of 6,248.5 km (3,905 miles) and precisely hit a target in the sea, KCNA reported.    Those numbers are similar to data reported by Japan and South Korea.
    KCNA called the successful test a ďstriking demonstration of great military muscle,Ē while Kim said it was a ďmiraculousĒ and ďpricelessĒ victory by the Korean people.
    North Korea first presented the previously unseen ICBM at an unprecedented pre-dawn military parade in October 2020, with analysts saying it appeared ďconsiderably largerĒ than North Koreaís last new ICBM, the Hwasong-15, which was test fired in November 2017.
    It was displayed a second time at a defence exhibition in Pyongyang in October 2021.
    Officials in Seoul and Washington have previously said launches on Feb. 27 and March 5 involved parts of the Hwasong-17 ICBM system, likely in preparation for eventually conducting a full test like the one on Thursday.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park in Seoul, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Chris Reese, Alistair Bell, Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feast)

3/26/2022 Chinese Minister Seeks Normal India Ties, Delhi Says Ease Border Tension First by Krishna N. Das and Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi listens during a meeting in
Manila, Philippines January 16, 2021. Francis Malasig/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India said ties with China could not be normal until their troops pulled back from each other on the disputed border, but Beijing struck a conciliatory note during a meeting of their foreign ministers in New Delhi on Friday.
    Both nations have deployed thousands of troops on the high-altitude border since hand-to-hand fights killed 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers northern Himalayan region of Ladakh in June 2020.    Talks between senior military officers have made little progress.
    ďI was very honest in my discussions with the Chinese foreign minister, especially in conveying our national sentiments,Ē Indiaís Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told a news briefing after his three-hour meeting with Wang Yi.
    ďThe frictions and tensions that arise from Chinaís deployments since April 2020 cannot be reconciled with a normal relationship between the two neighbours
    In a statement, Wang said China and India should work together to promote peace and stability around the world.
    ďThe two sides should Ö put the differences on the boundary issue in an appropriate position in bilateral relations, and adhere to the correct development direction of bilateral relations,Ē he said.
    ďChina does not pursue the so-called 'unipolar Asia' and respects Indiaís traditional role in the region. The whole world will pay attention when China and India work hand in hand
    Jaishankar, a former ambassador to Beijing, said it was at Chinaís request that India did not announce Wangís trip before his arrival in the capital late on Thursday.
    Wang met Indiaís national security adviser, Ajit Doval, who also pressed him for a de-escalation at the border.
    It was not immediately clear if India offered to pull back its troops if China did.
    In a statement on Saturday, Chinaís foreign ministry said Wang called for transitioning the border issue from a state of emergency response to normal management as soon as possible.
    Both agreed to speed up the resolution of remaining issues, properly manage the situation on the ground and avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations, it added.
    Wang and Jaishankar also discussed their nationsí approaches to tackling Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.
    ďBoth of us agreed on the importance of an immediate ceasefire, as well as a return to diplomacy,Ē Jaishankar said.
    India and China each consider Russia a friend and have rejected Western calls for condemnation of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a ďspecial military operation
    Wang, who visited Pakistan and Afghanistan earlier this week, is set to fly to the Himalayan nation of Nepal later on Friday during a whirlwind tour of South Asia, where China is trying to strengthen its influence.
    Before his arrival, Wang drew a rebuke from India for remarks in Pakistan on disputed Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region each rules in part but claims in full, an issue on which China has generally backed its close ally, Pakistan.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Sanjeev Miglani, Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Additional reporting by C.K. Nayak; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Philippa Fletcher and Lincoln Feast)

3/26/2022 ĎGreat Concerní Over China-Solomon Islands Deal: Australia PM
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison gestures as he makes a statement at the UN Climate
Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 1, 2021. Alastair Grant/Pool via REUTERS
    (Reuters) Ė Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday there was ďgreat concernĒ across the Pacific after Solomon Islands confirmed it was creating a security partnership with China.
    The Pacific island nation on Friday said it was expanding ties with China to combat security threats and ensure a safe environment for investment as it diversifies security relations.
    A potential China security pact with Solomon Island has sparked concerns among U.S. allies Australia and New Zealand about Chinese influence a region where they have for decades held strong sway.
    Asked by reporters in Sydney about the matter, Morrison said ďthere is great concern across the Pacific family because we are in constant contact with our Pacific family
    ďI will be in further discussions with leaders over the course of this weekend, there was a meeting yesterday with our head of mission and Prime Minister (Manasseh) Sogavare,Ē he said.
    Morrison said Sogavare on Friday indicated to Canberra that he appreciated Australiaís ongoing support for Solomon Islands.
    ďWe are the Solomon Islandsí single largest development partner, daylight second, third, fourth,Ē Morrison said.
    Australia has previously expressed concern about the impact on regional security of military cooperation between China and Solomon Islands after a draft document outlining the proposed cooperation was leaked this week.
    On Thursday, a Solomon Islands official told Reuters a security deal with China covering the military would be sent to its cabinet for consideration.    The Solomons has already signed a policing deal with China.
    Solomon Islands, a small island nation around 2,000 km (1,240 miles) northeast of Australia, switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019, signalling Chinaís growing influence in the Pacific.
    Washington last month said it would open an embassy in nationís the capital Honiara amid fears China was seeking to strengthen military relations there.
(Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

3/27/2022 Myanmar Junta Chief Vows No Talks With Opposition ďTerroristsĒ
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's junta chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who ousted the elected government in a coup on February 1,
2021, presides over an army parade on Armed Forces Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    (Reuters) Ė Myanmarís junta chief on Sunday said the military would not negotiate with ďterroristĒ opposition forces, vowing to annihilate them during a speech on Armed Forces Day, as opponents of last yearís coup vowed they would fight on.
    The military, known as the Tatmadaw, celebrated with a parade of troops and weapons in the capital, Naypyitaw, for the second year since overthrowing the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, 2021.
    Anti-coup protesters came out on streets in Myanmar on Sunday morning carrying signs saying ďuproot the fascist military
    Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in his speech rejected any talks with ďterroristĒ opposition.    A five-point peace plan by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations calls for talks on all sides, but so far has seen little progress.
    ďI would like to say Tatmadaw will no longer take into account negotiation with the terrorist group and their supporters for killing innocent people Ö and will annihilate them into an end,Ē he said.
    The junta accuses opposition militants of killing civilians and security forces in its resistance campaign, while activists say the military has killed hundreds in crackdowns since the coup.
    The shadow government of the ousted administration, the National Unity Government (NUG), said on Sunday that Myanmar people will rip out the military and its fascism root and stem.
    ďTogether with the souls of our lost heroes, we will fight to the bitter end,Ē NUG spokesman Dr. Sasa said in a statement.
    Myanmar has been plagued by violence since the military seized power, upending a decade of tentative democratic and economic reforms.
    More than 1,700 people have been killed and almost 13,000 arrested, according to rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
    Military authorities have said the AAPP figures are exaggerated.
    The United Nations last week said the army was committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/27/2022 Exclusive: US Cancels Talks With Taliban Over U-Turn On Girlsí Education by Charlotte Greenfield and Jonathan Landay
An Afghan schoolgirl reads from her book inside a house in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 23, 2022. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield
    KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) Ė The United States abruptly cancelled meetings with the Taliban in Doha that were set to address key economic issues, officials said on Friday, after Afghanistanís Islamist rulers reversed a decision to allow all girls to return to high school classes.
    The cancellation of talks was the first concrete sign that recent Taliban moves on human rights and inclusivity could directly impact the international communityís willingness to help the group, some of whose leaders are under U.S. sanctions.
    ďTheir decision was a deeply disappointing and inexplicable reversal of commitments to the Afghan people, first and foremost, and also to the international community,Ē a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters.
    ďWe have cancelled some of our engagements, including planned meetings in Doha, and made clear that we see this decision as a potential turning point in our engagement
    Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that the series of meeting between U.S. and Taliban administration officials were set to take place on the sidelines of a conference in Qatarís capital on Saturday and Sunday.
    Some of the meetings were to have included United Nations and World Bank representatives, the sources added.
    An Afghan foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that a Taliban delegation, including the acting foreign minister, had been expecting to go to Doha.
    The talks were designed to cover issues including the independence of the Afghan central bank and the printing of Afghani currency bank notes.
    Also up for discussion were a humanitarian exchange facility to free up cash and hundreds of millions of dollars of funding currently held in a World Bank Trust Fund that is earmarked for Afghanistanís education sector, according to the three sources.
    They declined to be named because they were not authorised to speak with the media.
    ďThe Qatari jet that was meant to collect Muttaqiís delegation in Kabul has not turned up,Ē said a diplomatic source, referring to Acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi.
    The Qatari governmentís communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ĎTRAGICí CONSEQUENCES
    The move shows the headwinds the Taliban administration faces in accessing foreign aid and freeing up the banking sector. Hard currency shortages have fuelled inflation and worsened the economic crisis.
    The Taliban have also been unable to access billions of dollars in foreign reserves held overseas as governments including the United States refuse to fully recognise them.
    In addition to the crippled financial system, the sharp drop in development funding that once amounted to billions of dollars and helped the Afghan government to function has exacerbated food shortages and poverty.
    Roughly 23 million people are experiencing acute hunger and 95% of the population are not eating enough food, according to the United Nations.
    Washington and its allies have insisted that the Taliban, who banned girls from school and most women from work the last time they ruled, improve their human rights record.
    The Taliban, who fought an insurgency that toppled the Western-backed government last August, have also been accused of suppressing free speech, violently breaking up protests and exacting deadly revenge on their former foes.
    The group says it will honour everyoneís rights within its interpretation of Islamic law and has vowed to investigate specific allegations of abuse.
    The Taliban on Wednesday backtracked on their previous commitment to open high schools to girls, saying that they would remain closed until a plan was drawn up for them to reopen.
    The U-turn shocked many, leaving students in tears and sparking small protests by girls in Kabul.    It also drew condemnation from humanitarian agencies and foreign governments.
    ďThey are definitely shooting themselves in the foot,Ē said Graeme Smith, a senior consultant at International Crisis Group, of the decision on girlsí education.
    A major donor summit for humanitarian aid is set to take place this month, co-hosted by Britain, in an effort to help raise $4.4 billion in funding the United Nations says it needs to meet urgent needs in the country.
    Diplomats and aid groups fear that the war in Ukraine, combined with the Talibanís decision on girlsí schooling, will make it harder to raise the money.
    ďThe decision is understandable,Ē John Sifton of Human Rights Watch said of the U.S. move.    ďThe U.S. and other donors need to communicate to the Taliban that their actions are unacceptable
    ďAt the same time, the cancellation of this important meeting is tragic Ö The Afghan economy has collapsed, and millions are facing acute malnutrition.    People are dying of starvation every day
(Additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

3/27/2022 Hong Kong Says To Halve Flight Suspension Rule To Seven Days
FILE PHOTO: A traveller walks in the departure hall at the Hong Kong International Airport amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Hong Kong, China, March 21, 2022. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong said on Sunday it is shortening the ban on airlines that are found to have carried three or more passengers who test positive for COVID-19 upon arrival, as the number of local cases continues to ease from its peak.
    Starting on Friday, the ban on individual airline routes will be reduced to seven days, from 14 previously, as part of its ongoing ďflight suspension mechanism,Ē the government said in a statement.
    The change came after the government said last week a ban on flights from nine countries Ė Canada, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Britain, the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines Ė would be lifted on April 1.
    If there is at least one positive test and at least one case of non-compliance with pre-departure testing on any single flight, the airline will also be suspended from flying the route for seven days.
    Hong Kong reported 8,841 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, down from 10,405 on Friday, as its latest wave of infections continues to ease.
(Reporting by Clare Jim; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/28/2022 Chinaís Shanghai Launches Two-Phase Lockdown As COVID Surges by Andrew Galbraith and David Stanway
A man walks past Lujiazui financial district, seen across the Huangpu river, amid the lockdown in Pudong area to
contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Shanghai, China March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinaís financial hub of Shanghai launched a two-stage lockdown of its 26 million people on Monday, closing bridges and tunnels, and restricting highway traffic in a scramble to contain surging COVID-19 cases.
    The snap lockdown, announced by Shanghaiís city government on Sunday, will split the city in two roughly along the Huangpu River for nine days to allow for ďstaggeredĒ testing.    It is the biggest COVID-related disruption to hit the city.
    The order marks a turnaround for the city government, which as late as Saturday denied that Shanghai would be locked down as it pursued a more piecemeal ďslicing and griddingĒ approach to try to rein in infections.
    Wu Fan, a member of Shanghaiís expert COVID team, told a briefing recent mass testing had found ďlarge scaleĒ infections throughout the city, triggering the stronger response.
    ďContaining the large scale outbreak in our city is very important because once infected people are put under control, we have blocked transmission,Ē she said, adding that testing would be carried out until all risks were eliminated.
    A record 3,450 asymptomatic COVID cases were reported in Shanghai on Sunday, accounting for nearly 70% of the nationwide total, along with 50 symptomatic cases, the city government said.
    Nationwide, there were 5,134 new asymptomatic and 1,219 symptomatic cases on Sunday,the health authority said in its regular bulletin.
DISRUPTIONS
    As a major engine of Chinaís economy, Shanghai has been trying to heed President Xi Jinpingís call to minimise the impact of COVID controls on businesses and peopleís lives.
    Wu told a briefing on Saturday that Shanghai could not be locked down for long because of the important role it played in the national and even global economy.
    But following Sundayís about-turn, mass testing has disrupted transport, healthcare and a wide range of economic activities, with citywide land sales also halted on Monday.
    Shanghaiís Public Security Bureau said it was closing cross-river bridges and tunnels, and highway tollbooths concentrated in the cityís east until April 1.
    Areas to the west of the Huangpu River will have similar restrictions imposed from April 1 to April 5.
    The bureau said traffic controls would be implemented on highways into and out of the city, and people leaving would have to show proof of negative results from nucleic acid tests taken within the previous 48 hours.
    The city government said on Sunday it would suspend public transport, including ride-hailing services, in locked down areas.    It also ordered the suspension of work at firms and factories, with the exception of those offering public services or supplying food.
    Services at several hospitals throughout Shanghai were also suspended as they release staff and other resources to assist with mass testing.
    U.S. automaker Tesla is suspending production at its factory in the city for four days, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters.    The factory is in an area of Shanghai impacted by the first stage of the lockdown.
    Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Chinese chipmaker Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, however, said operations at its Shanghai factories were normal.
    The recent surge of COVID cases in China has added to pressure on the worldís second-largest economy, likely further chilling consumer spending.
    ďDue to the high transmissibility of Omicron and strengthened (zero-COVID strategy), markets need to especially be concerned about a slide in growth in Q2,Ē analysts from Nomura said in a note on Saturday.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and David Stanway in Shanghai; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel)

3/28/2022 New Zealandís Ardern Says Solomon Islands-China Deal ĎGravely Concerningí by Kirsty Needham and Lucy Craymer
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
    SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) Ė New Zealand is gravely concerned about the possible militarization of the Pacific following a decision by the Solomon Islands government to form a security partnership with China, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
    Confirmation on Friday by the Solomon Islands government that it was ďdiversifyingĒ its security relationships beyond Australia has prompted alarm in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
    ďWe see such acts as a potential militarization of the region and also see very little reason in terms of the Pacific security for such a need and such a presence,Ē Ardern told Radio NZ when asked if it would be acceptable for China to station its military vessels in the Pacific country.
    ďWe do see this as gravely concerning
    Solomon Islands opposition leader Matthew Wale said in an interview with ABC television he was disappointed Australia had not acted to stop a deal with China, after he warned Australiaís high commissioner, or ambassador, last year.
    High Commissioner Lachlan Strahan responded on Monday, writing on Twitter: ďAustralia has raised its concerns with (the Solomons) about the proposed Solomons-China security cooperation agreement regularly and respectfully
    The ďPacific familyĒ was best placed to provide security assistance to the Solomon Islands, he added, with Australiaís Foreign Minister Marise Payne quickly ďlikingĒ the tweet.
    Washington has also expressed concern about China forming a military relationship, with U.S. officials citing this in February as a reason to re-open a U.S. embassy in Honiara, the capital of the Solomons.
    Australiaís Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters he would speak with his counterparts in Papua New Guinea and Fiji about the matter on Monday.
    ďThis is an issue of concern for the region, but it has not come as a surprise,Ē he said.
    The Pacific Island nation of fewer than a million people, 2,000 km (1,240 miles) northeast of Australia, switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taiwan in 2019, signalling Chinaís growing influence in the Pacific.
    Its principal island is Guadalcanal, the scene of bitter fighting between U.S. and Japanese forces in 1942-43.
(Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/28/2022 Taiwan Sees Ukraine War Helping Chinese Yuanís Internationalisation
FILE PHOTO: Yuan banknotes are seen in this illustrative photograph taken in Beijing July 26, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    TAIPEI (Reuters) Ė The war in Ukraine and Russiaís effective exclusion from the global currency system could be an opportunity for China to raise the profile of its currency in a challenge to the U.S. dollar, a senior Taiwanese security official said on Monday.
    Russia has said it is counting on China to help it withstand the blow to its economy from Western sanctions, and will use Chinese yuan from its foreign exchange reserves after the sanctions blocked its access to its U.S. dollars and euros reserves.
    Taking questions in parliament, National Security Bureau Director-General Chen Ming-tong said China had always wanted a way to throw off the domination of the U.S. dollar, and the war could boost the use of the yuan.
    ďWhether in renminbi trade or currency issuance system, this is an opportunity that must be takenĒ by China, Chen said, using the yuanís formal name.
    Taiwan, which China claims as its own territory, has raised its security alert level since the war, wary of Beijing making a similar move against it, and Taiwanese officials have been studying the lessons both they and China could learn from the conflict.
    Chen said the war could actually improve China-U.S. relations if China chose to stand with the United States in the same way it did after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks which earned U.S. goodwill.
    ďThe Ukraine-Russia war is maybe another 911-style opportunity,Ē he said.
    Beijing has repeatedly voiced opposition to the sanctions on russia and has insisted it will maintain normal economic and trade exchanges.    It has declined to condemn Moscowís action in Ukraine or call it an invasion.
    But behind the scenes, China is wary of its companies running afoul of sanctions and is pressing companies to tread carefully with investment in Russia, its second-largest oil supplier and third-largest gas provider.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Roger Tung)

3/28/2022 Support For Japan Government Rises On Response To Ukraine Invasion Ė Survey
FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks during a news conference at the prime minister's
official residence on February 25, 2022, Tokyo, Japan. Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) Ė Support for Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishidaís government rose overall for the first time in three months, with crucial elections just months away, as nearly 70% of respondents said they approved of his response to Russiaís invasion of Ukraine.
    Some 67% of respondents to a weekend survey conducted by the Nikkei daily and TV Tokyo said they approved of the governmentís response to the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a ďspecial military operation.Ē    Only 22% disapproved in the survey, conducted on a monthly basis.
    Overall, support for Kishida, who took office in October, stood at 61%, a rise of 6 points from a month ago.
    Japan has slapped sanctions on a broad range of Russian individuals and organisations, as well as saying it will revoke Russiaís most-favoured nation trade status Ė a contrast to its lukewarm response to Russiaís seizure of the Crimea in 2014 under former prime minister Shinzo Abe.
    The strong support is also good news for Kishida, a former foreign minister, ahead of a crucial election for the upper house of parliament in July.    A strong win for his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would allow him several election-free, politically stable years in which to pursue his policy goals.
    The government also won plaudits for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic amid a recent fall in new cases.    Some 64% said they approved, a rise of 8 points from a February survey Ė and the highest since the question was introduced in the survey in February 2020.
    The government of Kishidaís predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, was plagued by public perceptions that it had bungled Japanís response to the pandemic sank.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/28/2022 Analysts Investigate Possibility Of N.Korea Missile Test ĎDeceptioní by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: An overview of what state media reports is the launch of the "Hwasong-17" intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)
in this undated photo released on March 25, 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė Reports suggest North Koreaís biggest missile test ever may not have been what it seemed, raising new questions over the secretive countryís banned weapons programme.
    North Korea said it had test-fired its new Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Thursday, the first test of a missile that size since 2017.
    North Korean state media heralded the launch as an ďunprecedented miracleĒ, and South Korean and Japanese officials independently confirmed flight data that showed it flew higher and longer than any previous test.
    But new details Ė including discrepancies spotted in the Northís heavily stylized video featuring leader Kim Jong Un overseeing the launch in a leather jacket and sunglasses Ė have poked holes in Pyongyangís claims.
    ďThe biggest question now is what was launched on March 24,Ē said Colin Zwirko, a senior analytical correspondent with NK Pro, a Seoul-based website that monitors North Korea.
    He has examined commercial satellite imagery and footage released by state media and he says discrepancies in weather, sunlight, and other factors suggest the launch shown by North Korea happened on another day.
    ďIíve been able to determine that thereís some sort of deception going on, but the question remains: did they test another Hwasong-17 and theyíre just not showing us, or did they test something else?Ē Zwirko said.
    The U.S.-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) concluded that some of the North Korean footage is most likely from a test on the morning of March 16 that South Korea said failed shortly after launch, exploding in midair over Pyongyang.    North Korea never acknowledged that launch or a failure.
    South Koreaís Yonhap news agency has cited unnamed sources who said intelligence officials in Seoul and Washington believed that North Korea then tested a Hwasong-15 ICBM on Thursday, an older and slightly smaller type it had last launched in late 2017.
    South Koreaís defense ministry has not confirmed that conclusion.    On Friday, a senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, deflected when asked whether the latest launch was really the new missile.
    ďWe know this is a test of a long-range ballistic missile and clearly they try to learn from each of these tests to try to develop their capability further,Ē the official said.    ďBut I am going to refrain from talking about it too specifically as weíre still analyzing our own intelligence on it
    North Korea has a history of doctoring footage or reusing old images, but it would be ďa whole new levelĒ if they were lying about the successful test of a major new weapon such as the Hwasong-17, Zwirko said.    North Korea has not responded to any outside reports that the launch may have been deceptive.
    ďI think itís likely that the March 16 launch was meant to have been the inaugural launch of the Hwasong-17, but it failed shortly after ignition,Ē said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.    ďThis left the North Koreans with sufficient video footage and imagery to build a propaganda narrative after the March 24 launch succeeded
    The March 24 missile may have featured a light payload, or none at all, to achieve a higher altitude and longer flight time than the 2017 Hwasong-15 test, he added.
    ďThe North Korean state media report included specific numbers on how high and far the missile flew, suggesting that there was an intent to engineer a launch that would look like a larger missile than the Hwasong-15, even if it wasnít,Ē Panda said.br>     Hong Min, director of North Korean Research Division of Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said no matter which ICBM was tested, North Korea has proved it can launch missiles that can strike the far side of the planet.
    ďWe will need to check thoroughly if the video was fabricated, but itís not like the threat is reduced at all,Ē Hong said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in Washington and Heejung Jung in Seoul. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/28/2022 Taliban Bars Government Employees Without Beards From Work by Charlotte Greenfield
FILE PHOTO: A Taliban fighter guards a street in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Khara/fFle Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) Ė Afghanistanís Taliban has instructed all government employees to wear a beard and adhere to a dress code or risk being fired, three sources told Reuters, the latest of several new restrictions imposed by the hardline Islamist administration.
    The sources said representatives from the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were patrolling the entrances to government offices on Monday to check that employees were in compliance with the new rules.
    Employees were being instructed not to shave their beards and to wear local clothing consisting of a long, loose top and trousers, and a hat or turban.    They were also told to ensure they prayed at the correct times, two of the sources said.
    Workers were told they would from now on be unable to enter offices and would eventually be fired if they did not meet the dress codes, the sources said.
    A spokesman for the public morality ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    Last week, the Taliban banned women from taking flights without a male chaperone and failed to open girlsí schools as promised.
    On Sunday it ordered parks to be segregated by sex, with women allowed to enter three days a week, and men the other four days, including the weekend, meaning even married couples and families cannot visit together.
    The Taliban administration has drawn criticism at home and from Western governments for forcing its hardline interpretation of Islamic law onto all Afghans.
    The Taliban say they will respect everyoneís rights in line with Islamic law and Afghan customs and that they have changed since their 1996-2001 rule, when they barred women from leaving the house without a male relative and forced men to grow beards.
    Wednesdayís u-turn on girlsí schools led to protests from the international community, including the United States, which pulled out of planned meetings with Taliban officials in Qatar to discuss key economic issues.
    The Taliban needs Western countries to lift sanctions that are crippling the Afghan economy.
(Reporting by Kabul Newsroom and Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by John Stonestreet and Catherine Evans)

3/29/2022 Shanghai Tightens COVID Lockdown On Second Day Of Curbs by David Stanway and Brenda Goh
A police officer in a protective suit keeps watch next to a bridge leading to the Pudong area
across the Huangpu river, after traffic restrictions amid the lockdown to contain the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Shanghai, China March 28, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Chinaís most populous city tightened the first phase of a two-stage COVID-19 lockdown on Tuesday, asking some residents to stay indoors unless they are getting tested as the number of new daily cases exceeded 4,400.
    The financial hub of Shanghai, home to 26 million people, is in its second day of a lockdown authorities are imposing by dividing the city roughly along the Huangpu River, splitting the historic centre from the eastern financial and industrial district of Pudong to allow for staggered testing.
    While Shanghaiís caseload remains modest by global standards Ė a record 4,381 asymptomatic cases and 96 symptomatic cases for Monday Ė the city has become a testing ground for Chinaís ďzero-COVIDĒ strategy as it tries to bring the highly infectious Omicron variant under control.
    Residents east of the Huangpu were locked down in their housing compounds on Monday but were mostly allowed to roam within them.     On Tuesday, however, three residents told Reuters neighbourhood committees had told them they were no longer allowed to step outside their homes.
    ďChildren were still having picnics yesterday and having fun,Ē said one of them, who declined to be identified, citing privacy concerns.
    Wu Qianyu, an official with the municipal health commission, told a briefing that a ďclear requestĒ had been made to residents not to leave their apartments, even to take pets for a walk or throw out trash, during ďa key stage in nucleic acid testing
    She said 8.26 million tests were performed by as many as 17,000 testing personnel in the cityís locked-down districts on Monday.
    ďThe vast numbers of medical staff, grass-roots cadres, community workers and volunteers shared the very hard work on the front line of epidemic prevention and control, and should be thanked,Ē Wu said.
    There were growing signs of frustration on Chinaís social media and dozens of residents flocked to the Weibo platform to seek help for relatives, with some struggling to access medical services.
    Though China is sticking to its plan for crushing the outbreak, experts overseas remain sceptical about the efficacy of lockdowns in the face of a highly infectious new variant.
    ďIt is clear from Australia and elsewhere in the world that lockdowns are simply not effective against Omicron Ė so expect a big wave coming,Ē said Adrian Esterman, an expert in biostatistics at the University of South Australia.
STOCKING UP
    Drone footage published by state media showed empty streets below the skyscrapers of the cityís Lujiazui financial district.    Public transport in the east has been shut and all unapproved vehicles ordered off the streets.
    The Shanghai Stock Exchange, in the west of the city, said it has kept a skeleton staff in place in the bourse for key operations while others work from home.
    General Motorsís joint venture has managed to maintain production by asking workers to sleep on factory floors, people familiar with the matter said.
    Residents in the west of the city have been stocking up at shops and markets in anticipation of their lockdown from April 1.
    But U.S. hypermarket chain Costco Wholesale Corp, whose Shanghai store has in recent days attracted throngs of shoppers, said it was closing from Tuesday, along with some gyms and shopping malls also in western districts.
    The city government rolled out new measures to try to support COVID-affected businesses, including rent exemptions and tax rebates.
    The Communist Party tabloid the Global Times quoted Peking University economist Cao Heping as saying that while the cityís growth would be hit, the national economy would not suffer greatly.
    Elsewhere, the city of Changchun, capital of Jilin province in the northeast, apologised to its 8.5 million residents for food shortages related to disruption caused by containment measures.
    The manufacturing hub of Shenzhen is starting to get back on its feet after shutdowns but many firms are worried about the near-term outlook, the Securities Times reported.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Samuel Shen, Winni Zhou, Engen Tham, Eduardo Baptista, David Stanway and the Shanghai and Beijing newsrooms; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Robert Birsel)

3/29/2022 Singapore Court Rejects Malaysianís Appeal In High-Profile Execution Case by Chen Lin
FILE PHOTO: An activist holds a poster against the execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam,
a Malaysian whose intellect, his defence and human rights groups have argued, was at a level recognised as a
mental disability, for drug trafficking in Singapore, as activists submit a clemency petition at the
Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 9, 2022. REUTERS/Hasnoor Hussain/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) Ė A Singapore court rejected on Tuesday an appeal against the execution of a Malaysian convicted of drugs smuggling, dismissing an argument put forward by his legal team that he should be spared because he was mentally impaired.
    Nagaenthran Dharmalingam has been on death row for more than a decade for trafficking about 42.7 grammes (1.5 oz) of heroin into Singapore, which has some of the worldís toughest narcotics laws.
    His plight has attracted international attention with a group of United Nations experts and British billionaire Richard Branson joining Malaysiaís prime minister and human rights activists to urge Singapore to commute his death sentence.
    Dharmalingamís lawyer Violet Netto had objected to presenting her clientís prison medical records at the last hearing, citing confidentiality, and instead requested an independent psychiatric review.
    But at Tuesdayís hearing Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon said the bid to prevent the disclosure of medical reports was unreasonable and there was no admissible evidence showing any decline in his mental condition.
    The court also dismissed the request for an independent psychiatric review.
    ďThe appellant has been afforded due process under law, and it is not open to him to challenge the outcome of that process when he has put nothing forward to suggest that he does have a case to be considered,Ē the five-judge panel said in its ruling.
    Dharmalingam, who was wearing a purple prison uniform, did not appear to show any reaction to the ruling.
    M Ravi, Dharmalingamís former lawyer who has continued to assist in the case, told reporters that the Malaysian had exhausted legal options to escape the death penalty.
    Anti-death penalty group Reprieve said it believed Nagaenthran† is intellectually disabled and should be protected from the death penalty.
    In a statement, Reprieve director Maya Foa called on Singapore President Halimah Yacob ďto listen to the cries for mercy within Singapore and around the world
    It was not immediately clear when the execution would be carried out.
    From 2016 to 2019, Singapore hanged 25 people Ė the majority for drug-related offences, according to official data.
(Reporting by Chen Lin in Singapore; Editing by Ed Davies)

3/29/2022 New Zealand, Fiji Agree To Work Together On Security, Economy, Other Areas by Lucy Craymer
FILE PHOTO: New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta speaks during a session of the UN Human Rights
Council in Geneva, Switzerland February 28, 2022. Fabrice Coffrini/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WELLINGTON (Reuters) Ė New Zealand and Fiji signed a partnership statement on Tuesday that will see the two countries work more closely together in areas such as security, protecting shared interests and economic resilience.
    The announcement between the two countries came days after the Solomon Islands government confirmed it was ďdiversifyingĒ its security relationships beyond Australia, which prompted alarm in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
    ďAotearoa New Zealand is committed to working alongside Fiji and supporting common goals ó both in Fiji and in the Pacific region,Ē New Zealandís Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said in a statement after the agreement was signed.
    The partnership statement outlines a broad range of priorities such as pursuing greater understanding and coordination on foreign policy priorities; building economic resilience; supporting capability to uphold sovereign authority, according to a New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade statement.
    ďThis strategic cooperation is timely, as our region paves its way forward to progressive socio-economic recovery,Ē said Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
(Reporting by Lucy Craymer. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

3/29/2022 Capital Of Chinaís Jilin Province Apologises For Food Shortages Due To COVID Curbs
FILE PHOTO: A man undergoes nucleic acid testing during a citywide mass testing for the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19), in Changchun, Jilin province, China March 13, 2022. cnsphoto via REUTERS/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė The Chinese city of Changchun, capital of the COVID-hit northeastern province of Jilin, on Tuesday apologised to its 8.5 million residents for food shortages related to shutdowns and disruption caused by COVID-related containment measures.
    Due to COVID-19, two major wholesale food markets in Changchun have shuttered, leading to a shortfall in food supply, said the cityís deputy Communist Party secretary, Liu Renyuan, a problem aggravated by a shortage of workers that has delayed deliveries to homes.
    ďWe are particularly anxious and angry about this, and we express our deep apologies to the public for the impact and inconvenience caused,Ē Liu said at a local news conference.
    To ease the dearth of sorting and delivery personnel, the provincial government of Jilin has organised about 1,000 tonnes of ďvegetable bagsĒ to be delivered to Changchun each day, he said.
    Changchun and the rest of Jilin have been battling with COVID cases increasing by thousands almost every day since mid-March.
    In what they have called a ďlast-ditch battleĒ against the virus, authorities have put the entire province under lockdown and conducted mass testing to isolate infections.
    Changchun itself has completed more than 10 rounds of citywide testing of its residents.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/30/2022 China Hosts Russia, U.S. Officials For Talks On Afghanistan
FILE PHOTO: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi answers reporter's questions during a Reuters
interview in Munich, Germany, February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui, where China was set to host two days of meetings on Afghanistan, state broadcaster CGTN reported.
    The report gave no other details on their meeting.
    Lavrov had arrived earlier in China for talks hosted by Wang that were set to include representatives from Afghanistanís ruling Taliban as well as Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
    Tom West, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan, will attend a separate meeting at the same venue of the so-called Extended Troika: the China, Russia and the United States plus Pakistan, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said.
    That meeting does not include Lavrov and Wang.
    The talks come against the backdrop of Russiaís invasion of Ukraine and as Afghanistan suffers an economic and humanitarian crisis worsened by a financial aid cutoff following the Taliban takeover as U.S.-led troops departed in August.
    They also come amid widespread condemnation of the Talibanís U-turn last week on allowing girls to attend public high schools, which has sparked consternation among funders ahead of a key aid donors conference.
    The retention of the ban prompted U.S. officials to cancel talks in Doha with the Taliban and a State Department warning that Washington saw the decision as ďa potential turning point in our engagementĒ with the militants.
    The United States believes that it shares with other Extended Troika members an interest in the Taliban making good on commitments to form an inclusive government, cooperate on counterterrorism and rebuild the Afghan economy, the State Department spokesperson said.
    Last week, Wang visited Kabul, where he met acting Afghan foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi to discuss political and economic ties, including starting work in the mining sector and Afghanistanís possible role in Chinaís Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, the Afghan foreign ministry said.
    Muttaqi was set to attend the meeting in China.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/30/2022 Hong Kong Leader Says Cityís Brain Drain ĎUnarguableí
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to reporters' questions during
a news conference in Hong Kong, China, March 21, 2022. Vincent Yu/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) Ė Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said it was ďunarguableĒ that the global financial hub was seeing a brain drain due to stringent coronavirus rules, but said she valued the cityís international status and envisioned a ďbetter developmentĒ after the pandemic.
    Lamís comments come amid a backlash from businesses and residents who see the rest of the world shifting to living with the virus while Hong Kong officially sticks to a ďdynamic zeroĒ COVID-19 strategy which seeks to curb all outbreaks as soon as they occur.
    Lam said no one valued the international status of Hong Kong more than herself, but the government had to adopt anti-pandemic measures to protect residents.
    ďThese measures have certain influence on corporates and individuals, although we donít have a figureÖitís an unarguable fact that we have a brain drain and some senior management of some corporates have left Hong Kong,Ē she told a daily news briefing on Wednesday.
    ďThe most important thing is Hong Kong keeps its advantages.    I believe after the pandemic, Hong Kong can have a better development
    Lam said ďstreamliningĒ certain measures, including lifting a ban on flights from nine countries and reducing quarantine for arrivals from abroad, would help ease concerns about the cityís international status.
    At the start of this year, Hong Kong implemented its most draconian measures since the pandemic began over two years ago, frustrating many residents who have been largely compliant with various COVID regulations in the hope of resuming travel internationally and with the mainland.
    Hong Kongís border has effectively been shut since 2020 with few flights able to land and hardly any passengers allowed to transit, isolating a city that had built a reputation as a global financial and travel hub.
    Lamís comments come just weeks before the city is due to hold an election on May 8 to choose who will lead the territory for the next five years.
    She declined to comment on whether she will run for a new term.
    The rules, together with mixed messaging from the government including whether a citywide lockdown and mass testing would take place, have triggered an exodus of residents in the past two months.
    The former British colony has reported more than 1.1 million coronavirus infections and more than 7,500 deaths, most of them occurring in the past five weeks.
(Reporting by Farah Master and Jessie Pang; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/30/2022 COVID Cases In Asia Surpass 100 Million Ė Reuters Tally by Rittik Biswas and Roshan Abraham
FILE PHOTO: People pass food to residents over the barriers of an area under lockdown, amid the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Shanghai, China March 25, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    (Reuters) Ė Coronavirus infections in Asia passed 100 million on Wednesday, according to a Reuters tally, as the region records a resurgence in cases, dominated by the BA.2 Omicron sub-variant.
    The region is reporting over 1 million new COVID-19 cases about every two days, according to a Reuters analysis.    With more than half of the worldís population, Asia contributes 21% of all reported COVID-19 cases.
    The highly contagious but less deadly BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron has pushed the figures to greater highs in recent weeks in countries such as South Korea, China and Vietnam.    BA.2 now represents nearly 86% of all sequenced cases, according to the World Health Organization.
    South Korea leads the world in the daily average number of new cases reported, accounting for one in every four infections reported globally each day, as per Reuters analysis.
    While the number of cases has levelled off since earlier in March, the country is still reporting over 300 deaths on average each day, with authorities ordering crematoriums nationwide to operate longer.
    China is trying to tame its worst outbreak since the pandemic began.    The rise in COVID cases in Shanghai, fuelled by the BA.2 substrain, has prompted the financial hub to go into lockdown.    The city moved into a two-staged lockdown of its 26 million residents on Monday, restricting movement through bridges and highways to contain the spread.
    China has reported over 45,000 new cases since the start of this year, a figure higher than it reported in all of 2021.    Even though China has inoculated 90% of its population, not enough elderly people have received booster doses, making them susceptible to reinfections.
    Though China is sticking to its plan for crushing the outbreak, experts overseas remain sceptical about the efficacy of lockdowns in the face of the highly infectious Omicron variant.
    ďIt is clear from Australia and elsewhere in the world that lockdowns are simply not effective against Omicron Ė so expect a big wave coming,Ē said Adrian Esterman, an expert in biostatistics at the University of South Australia.
    India alone accounts for 43 million COVID cases, more than the total in the next three worst-hit Asian countries of Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.
    India has reported fewer than 2,000 cases per day for the past 11 days versus its peak this year in January of over 300,000 cases on average per day.
    Earlier in March, Asia passed 1 million COVID-related deaths.    There have now been 1,027,586 million COVID-related deaths across the continent.
    Vaccines are considered less effective against the BA.2 subvariant compared to its predecessors.    Studies have shown Omicron can reinfect people previously diagnosed with different coronavirus variants.
(Reporting by Rittik Biswas and Roshan Abraham)

3/30/2022 Shanghai Expands COVID Lockdown As New Daily Caseload Surges By A Third
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows a bridge over the Huangpu river, amid traffic restrictions
and a lockdown in the Pudong area to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
in Shanghai, China, March 29, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) Ė Authorities began locking down some western areas of Shanghai two days ahead of schedule, as new COVID-19 cases in Chinaís most populous city jumped by a third despite stringent measures already in place to try to stop the virus spreading.
    Home to 26 million people, Chinaís financial hub is in its third day of a lockdown officials are imposing by dividing the city roughly along the Huangpu River, splitting the historic centre west of the river from the eastern financial and industrial district of Pudong to allow for staggered mass tests.
    While residents in the east have been locked down since Monday, those in the west were previously scheduled to start their four-day lockdown on Friday.
    Locking down a major metropolis like Shanghai full-scale would result in a 4% reduction in the national real gross domestic product, economists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Tsinghua University and other institutes estimated https://michaelzsong.weebly.com/uploads/4/8/1/4/48141215/truck_flow_and_covid19_220315.pdf in mid-March.
    On Wednesday Shanghai reported a record 5,656 asymptomatic COVID cases and 326 symptomatic cases for March 29, up from 4,381 new asymptomatic cases and 96 new cases with symptoms for the prior day.    China reclassifies asymptomatic cases if and when they later develop symptoms.
    Several residents living in western districts on Tuesday received notice from their housing committees that they would be stopped from leaving their compounds for the next seven days.
    ďWe will resume normal life soon, but in the next period of time we ask everyone to adhere closely to pandemic control measures, do not gather, and reduce movements,Ē said one housing committee notice seen by Reuters.
    Meanwhile the cityís southwestern district of Minhang, home to more than 2.5 million people, said it would suspend public bus services until April 5.
    Shanghai authorities told a press conference on Wednesday that since the lockdown began on Monday they had conducted 9.1 million nucleic acid tests.
    They also said they were starting to disinfect places such as office buildings, construction sites, wet markets and schools in a month-long campaign.
    GRAPHIC: 2022 COVID-19 cases in Shanghai, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/CHINA-SHANGHAI/znvneqlerpl/chart.png
ĎPUDONG PANDEMICí
    Business life has already been seriously disrupted.
    The lockdown has roiled auto production in the city as two major components suppliers, Aptiv and Thyssenkrupp joined Tesla in shutting plants due to COVID control measures.
    Meanwhile Chinese firms have halted a wave of planned domestic initial public offerings, filings show, as the current case surge hampered due diligence and information gathering Ė affecting an estimated $9 billion-plus in fundraising.
    The Shanghai government said on its official WeChat account late on Tuesday that those who refused to comply with nucleic acid testing could be found legally liable.    It also warned it would crack down on any price gouging, after people rushed to stock up on food and medical items in anticipation of the lockdowns.
    Across mainland China, the daily numbers of new local infections in the past two weeks were much higher than those seen in the first two months this year, marking the biggest case wave since the 2020 one centred on Wuhan.
    The eastern city of Xuzhou, which reported a total of less than 20 local infections in the past week, has imposed a three-day lockdown in most areas starting Wednesday.
    The Xuzhou government said each household in those areas should only send one person to go out to shop for necessities every other day, while non-essential companies should either shut operation, have employees work from home, or operate in a closed-loop manner.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Roxanne Liu, additional reporting by David Stanway and the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/30/2022 Pakistani PMís Main Ally Strikes Pact With Opposition Ahead Of Confidence Vote
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan gestures during an interview
with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan, June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) Ė A main ally of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khanís government has reached a pact with opposition parties seeking to oust him, a party official said on Wednesday, signalling Khan may be running out of options as he tries to stay on in power.
    Former cricket star Khan, 69, is battling a series of defections from his ruling alliance and an increasingly united opposition trying to force him from office in a no-confidence vote due on Monday.
    The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Khanís largest ally in the National Assembly, said it has reached an agreement with the main opposition bloc, and would announce details later in the day.
    ďAn agreement between the united opposition and MQM has taken final shape,Ē MQM Senator Faisal Subzwari said on Twitter, adding party officials of the two sides were reviewing the agreement.
    Khanís party does not have a simple majority in parliament by itself and needs the support of coalition allies.
    Opposition parties accuse Khan of mismanaging the economy, foreign policy and resorting to heavy-handed measures against critics.
(Reporting by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)

3/31/2022 China Almost Done With Airline Crash Search And Rescue, Working On Report
FILE PHOTO: rescue workers work at the site where a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane flying from Kunming to
Guangzhou crashed, in Wuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China March 24, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) - China has completed the main search and rescue work at the site of a China Eastern Airlines plane crash last week, and plans to complete a preliminary report within 30 days of the event, an aviation official said on Thursday.
    A final report into the crash of the Boeing 737-800 will be completed and made public after the investigation is concluded, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) safety head Zhu Tao told reporters.
    The plane crashed into a mountainside in southern China on March 21, killing all 132 people onboard.
    Under international rules, a 30-day report must be lodged with the U.N. aviation agency ICAO but it does not need to be public.    A final report is due within a year of the crash, though sometimes it can take longer.
    Zhu said authorities have done preliminary analyses of the crash, such as predicting the possible trajectory, position and impact force of the airplane when it hit the ground and reading data from air traffic control radar systems.
    CAAC investigators are also working to decode the data from both the black boxes, he added.
    Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are set to travel to China to support the CAACís investigation into mainland Chinaís deadliest aviation disaster in 28 years.
    Over 40,000 pieces of aircraft wreckage and debris have been found and a majority of the pieces have been transported to a hangar, Zhu said.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in SydneyEditing by Shri Navaratnam and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

3/31/2022 U.N. Seeks Stronger Afghanistan Aid Funding Despite Concerns On Taliban
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced man, who is working as a street food vendor wheels his cart
in Sarai Shamali IDP'S camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 31, 2021. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    (Reuters) Ė The United Nations is seeking $4.4 billion for Afghanistan at an international virtual event on Thursday in the largest humanitarian appeal launched for a single country even as concerns mount over Taliban rule.
    Ahead of the drive, Britain pledged 286 million pounds ($374 million) for Afghanistan, where six out of every 10 Afghans need aid, much of it food, amid an economic crisis worsened by a financial aid cutoff following the Taliban takeover in August.
    ďAfghans need our help in enabling their economy, sustaining their agriculture and enabling the basic functioning of social services,Ē U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths told a news briefing ahead of the event co-hosted with Britain, Germany and Qatar.
    The U.N. says funds under the appeal ó three times the amount requested in 2021 and only 13% funded so far ó go directly to aid agencies and none are channelled through the de facto authorities who swept to power as the last U.S. troops withdrew.
    In a sign that recent Taliban moves on human rights and inclusivity may directly impact willingness to help the group, the United States cancelled meetings with them in Qatar after the movement reversed a decision on girls returning to high school study.
    ďWe want to see those prohibitions, those constraints removed.    I hope it will not mean that the pledges that we have from this conference are limited by that because I can tell you that there are efforts ongoing,Ē Griffiths said.
    He urged political engagement with the hardline Islamist administration, saying that based on his talks in Kabul they want ďa constructive path forwardĒ with the global community, and that isolating Afghanistan would only bring more suffering.
    Roughly 23 million people face acute food insecurity as Afghanistan also experiences its worst drought in 30 years.
    ď(I) call on the world to come in with us to pledge substantially and at the same time not forget that the Taliban Ö have to live up to their responsibilities,Ē German foreign ministry official Ricklef Beutin told the briefing.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

3/31/2022 Shanghai Urges COVID Lockdown Patience As Case Numbers Drop For First Time In 2 Weeks by Brenda Goh and Winni Zhou
People practise social distancing as they line up behind a cordon to buy food, following the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Shanghai, China March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Shanghai authorities on Thursday appealed to residents to keep cooperating with tight curbs imposed to stop COVID-19 spreading, saying they recognised their frustrations as Chinaís most populous city entered the fourth day of a two-stage lockdown.
    The plea for patience came as the Chinese financial hub, home to 26 million people, said its overall daily COVID caseload eased, for the first time in about two weeks, in an outbreak of the highly contagious Omicron variant that began about a month ago.
    It reported 5,298 locally transmitted new asymptomatic cases and 355 symptomatic cases for Wednesday, compared with 5,656 local asymptomatic cases and 326 new cases with symptoms reported a day earlier.    Shanghai accounted for almost 80% of local asymptomatic cases reported across the whole of China for Wednesday, and about 20% of those with symptoms.
    In a letter to the cityís residents, the Shanghai government saying it was grateful for citizensí efforts and acknowledged their sacrifices, as it sticks with Chinaís ďdynamic clearanceĒ approach Ė detecting the virus, tracing contacts and centrally quarantining all positive cases.
    ďPandemic prevention and control work have brought much inconvenience to people,Ē it said in the letter, posted to its official WeChat social media account on Thursday.
    ďSome of you have been in quarantine and lockdown for a long time.    The city deeply appreciates everyoneís understanding and cooperation
    Shanghai is being locked down by splitting the city into two roughly along the Huangpu River, dividing the historic centre west of the river from the eastern financial and industrial district of Pudong.    Authorities say this allows for staggered mass testing.
    Movement curbs on residents in the eastern districts started on Monday and are set to be lifted at 05:00 local time (21:00 GMT) on Friday.
    Ma Chunlei, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai government, told a daily news conference on Thursday that officials would look at testing results and confer with experts to determine how the lifting of the first stage of the lockdown would be carried out.
    Areas west of the river will be locked down from 03:00 on the same day, though some housing compounds in western districts already directed residents to stay home from Wednesday.
    Many across the city have taken to social media to vent their frustrations in lockdown, posting videos and images of crowded quarantine centres and also issuing calls for help with medical treatment and purchasing food.
    Business has also been disrupted.    Volkswagen said it would partially shut production at its Shanghai factory on Thursday, due to a lack of parts from suppliers.
    Shanghai government official Ma acknowledged that the city could have done more, and that authorities were trying to improve provision of food supplies as well as addressing issues with seeking medical help.
    ďOur knowledge about the highly contagious Omicron variant has been insufficient, we were inadequately prepared for the fast-rising number of infected patients, and our control measures have not been up to speed,Ē he said.
    Still, despite the irritation among some in Shanghai who question its practicality, the ďdynamic clearanceĒ approach adopted by China will not be relaxed, state news agency Xinhua said in a commentary late on Wednesday.    The tactic was essential to protect lives and the peopleís health, Xinhua said.
    In Shanghai the city government said it would try its best to prevent the pandemic from spreading further.
    ďWe implore residents to keep cooperating and follow the pandemic control and prevention guidelines.    We can only safeguard our home and our city through everyoneís efforts
(Reporting by Brenda Goh; Additional reporting by Roxanne Liu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

3/31/2022 Hong Kong Leader Says British Judgesí Resignation ĎPolitically Motivatedí by Farah Master and Kirsty Needham
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam speaks during a news conference at the government
headquarters in Hong Kong, China March 9, 2022. Peter Parks/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    HONG KONG/SYDNEY (Reuters) - The resignation of two senior British judges was politically motivated, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday, adding that she was confident all levels of the judiciary in the Asian financial hub would be free from political interference.
    The judges resigned from Hong Kongís highest court on Wednesday because of a sweeping national security law imposed by China in 2020 that cracks down on dissent in the former British colony.
    ďThe resignations are politically motivated,Ē Lam told a daily news briefing.
    ďThey have been put under political pressure and that is a kind of political manipulation,Ē she said, without elaborating on the pressure.
    British judges have long served among the foreign jurists appointed to the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal (CFA), an arrangement to maintain confidence in a legal system widely seen as the bedrock of the cityís social and commercial freedoms.
    On Wednesday, Robert Reed, the head of Britainís top judicial body, said he and colleague Patrick Hodge would relinquish with immediate effect their roles as non-permanent judges on the CFA.
    Lam said she regretted their decision, adding that foreign judges were much valued to help safeguard judicial independence.
    ďI remain very confident that we still have very fine judges in the judiciary, both local and from overseas.    Hong Kong will continue to benefit significantly,Ē she said.
    Neither Reed nor Hodge could immediately be reached for comment.
ĎDEPARTED FROM VALUESí
    The national security law, which punishes offences like subversion with up to life imprisonment, has drawn widespread criticism from pro-democracy politicians in Hong Kong and from Western countries, including the United States and Britain.
    Critics say it has been used to curb dissent and various freedoms.
    Lam and the Hong Kong government deny that, saying the law, introduced after months of at times violent pro-democracy demonstrations, is necessary to maintain order, preserve the cityís economic success and guard against foreign interference.
    Lam pointed out that the law does not prohibit overseas judges from serving and hearing security cases, adding that judgesí independence meant that foreign judges, either by their oath or judgements, in no way endorsed her government.
    Reed said earlier that while Hong Kongís courts were respected for their commitment to the rule of law, judges could not serve in the city ďwithout appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression, to which the justices of the Supreme Court are deeply committed
    Canadaís former top judge, Beverley McLachlin, is set to remain serving on Hong Kongís Court of Final Appeal, Lam said, citing her as saying her appointment had no connection to the Hong Kong administration.
    Retired former Australian Chief Justice Robert French told Reuters in an email he would be continuing on the bench.
    ďI believe that the Chief Justice and Resident Permanent Justices of the (CFA) Court are committed to their judicial independence and I support them in that commitment,Ē he wrote.
    Britain, which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997, says the national security law is a breach of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that paved the way for the cityís return to China in 1997 under a ďone country, two systemsĒ formula.
    Many of the cityís democratic campaigners have been arrested, detained or forced into exile, civil society groups have shut down and liberal media outlets forced to close in a security crackdown following the introduction of the law.
(Additional reporting by Anne Marie Roantree, Greg Torode and James Pomfret in Hong Kong; Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

3/31/2022 U.S., S.Korea Seen Resuming Major Military Drills As N.Korea Tensions Rise by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin
F-35A fighter jets are seen during a military exercise "Elephant Walk" at an airbase, in this handout provided
by the South Korean Defense Ministry on March 25, 2022. South Korean Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė Joint South Korean and U.S. military drills set to kick off next month could for the first time in years include more weaponry and troops, and more aggressive messaging as tensions with North Korea rise.
    Neither the South Korean or U.S. militaries have confirmed what this yearís annual drills may entail, but a recent series of unusual displays of military might in and around the Korean peninsula suggest a more muscular show could be in the works, analysts said.
    North Korea conducted a full intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test for the first time since 2017 last week, and South Korean officials have reported new construction at the Northís only known nuclear test site, which was shuttered in 2018.
    Monitors in the United States also reported this week ďunusualĒ activity by a North Korean ballistic missile submarine at its base, suggesting repairs, modifications, or preparations for a new missile launch.
    South Korea conducted rare missile drills and an unprecedented F-35A fighter jet display in explicit response to North Koreaís latest ICBM test, warning Pyongyang it has the willingness and capability to respond and ďpunishĒ the North if necessary.
    This follows the U.S. military saying it was stepping up its military efforts in the Yellow Sea, and conducted an aircraft carrier drill in a demonstration of force against North Korea.
    In a report on North Koreaís ICBM launch provided to lawmakers this week and obtained by Reuters, South Koreaís ministry of defence said deterring future actions by North Korea requires not only displays of the Southís military power, but also ďtimely manifestationĒ of strong capabilities and posture at the South Korea-U.S. alliance level.
    It is a stark contrast with recent years when the two allies played down their military exercises, holding computer-based training, scaling down field exercises, avoiding major weapons and not publicising some of the drills, at least partly as they sought to placate Pyongyang and restart stalled denuclearisation talks.
    Col. Lee Peters, a spokesman for U.S. Forces Korea (USFK), said its policy is not to comment on planned or executed combined exercises, but said training is something all militaries conduct to maintain readiness, proficiency, credibility and trust.
    ďAny decision regarding combined training will be made by the U.S.-ROK Alliance,Ē he said, using the initials for South Koreaís official name.
    South Koreaís ministry of defence said the drills have yet to be finalised.
    It denied local media reports there had been discussions about holding trilateral exercises with the United States and Japan, according to Yonhap news agency.
    The exercises will likely return to a more normal pre-COVID tempo amid eased pandemic restrictions and diminished political benefit to cancelling or limiting the drills given the diplomatic deadlock with North Korea, said Daniel Pinkston, a Seoul-based lecturer for Alabamaís Troy University.
    ďThe North Korea threat continues to increase while ROK and USFK military readiness arguably has declined because of insufficient training,Ē he said.
    A coalition of U.S. and South Korean peace activists have called for the upcoming drills to be scrapped.
    ďSuspending these costly and highly provocative military exercises will be a crucial step toward restarting genuine diplomacy with North Korea,Ē the groups said in a statement they plan to send to U.S. and South Korean leaders.
    Yonhap reported South Korea and the United States are ďleaving all possibilities openĒ for responding to a possible resumption of nuclear testing by the North.
    They have also discussed resuming ďBlue LightningĒ exercises involving strategic bombers, including some that are nuclear capable, which have been on hold for about five years, Yonhap reported.
    President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office in May, has vowed to ďnormaliseĒ joint drills and to boost South Koreaís military deterrent against the North, but has said the April drills will be decided by the current administration in consultation with the United States.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

3/31/2022 Pakistan Parliament To Begin Debate Of No-Confidence In PM Khan by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks during a joint news conference with Malaysia's Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) in Putrajaya, Malaysia, February 4, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) Ė Pakistanís parliament will on Thursday begin a debate of no-confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan, which could see the former cricket star ousted and the return of political uncertainty in the nuclear-armed country.
    Khan, 69, has been facing mounting criticism of his performance, including his management of an economy beset by high inflation and rising deficits, and he lost his majority in parliament on Wednesday when a main ally quit his coalition.
    ďThe prime minister is as good as gone,Ē the influential English-language Dawn newspaper said in an editorial on the front page of its website.
    Parliament will begin debate on Khanís leadership at 4 p.m. (1100 GMT).    A vote on the motion must be held by Monday.
    On Wednesday, Khanís main parliamentary ally, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), abandoned his coalition and threw its lot in with the opposition seeking to oust him.
    Opposition leaders had called on Khan to resign even before he lost his majority in parliament, but his aides have said he will not quit.
    Khanís ouster could mean another round of instability in a country in which the military has a long record of intervening in politics and no prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term.
    Political analysts said Khan enjoyed the support of the military when he won an election to become prime minister in 2018 but he later lost the generalsí favour over various wrangles.
    Khan has denied ever having the backing of the military and the military, which has ruled Pakistan for about half its history, denies involvement in civilian politics.
    EXPLAINER-Pakistan PM Khan faces difficult no confidence vote https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-pm-khan-faces-difficult-no-confidence-vote-2022-03-30
    NEWSMAKER-Pakistan cricket star Imran Khan in danger of dropping the ball as PM https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-cricket-star-imran-khan-danger-dropping-ball-pm-2022-03-30
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad in Islamabad; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

3/31/2022 Power Cuts In Sri Lanka Could Continue Into May Ė Minister
A woman works inside a shop attached to her house during the power
cut in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) Ė Sri Lankaís power minister said on Thursday that power cuts could continue into May, as many parts of the crisis-hit country currently faced up to 13 hours without electricity due to a shortage of foreign currency to import fuel.
    Pavithra Wanniarachchi said that a diesel shipment under a $500 million credit line from India is expected to arrive on Saturday.
    ďOnce that arrives we will be able to reduce load shedding hours but until we receive rains, probably sometime in May, power cuts will have to continue.    There is nothing else we can do,Ē Wanniarachchi said.
(Reporting Uditha Jayasinghe; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

3/31/2022 Sri Lanka To Turn Off Street Lights As Economic Crisis Deepens by Uditha Jayasinghe
A man walks along a road using his mobile phone's torch light during the
power cut in Colombo, Sri Lanka March 30, 2022. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) Ė Sri Lanka is turning off its street lights to save electricity, a minister said on Thursday, as its worst economic crisis in decades brought more power cuts and gloom to its main stock market, triggering a halt in trade as prices slid.
    The island nation of 22 million people is struggling with rolling power cuts for up to 13 hours a day as the government is unable to make payments for fuel imports because of a lack of foreign exchange.
    ďWe have already instructed officials to shut off street lights around the country to help conserve power,Ē Power Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi told reporters.
    A diesel shipment under a $500 million credit line from neighbouring India is expected to arrive on Saturday, Wanniarachchi said, but she warned that the situation was not likely to improve any time soon.
    ďOnce that arrives we will be able to reduce load shedding hours but until we receive rains, probably some time in May, power cuts will have to continue,Ē Wanniarachchi told reporters, referring to the rolling power cuts.
    ďThereís nothing else we can do
    Water levels at reservoirs feeding hydro-electric projects had fallen to record lows, while demand had also hit record levels during the hot, dry season, she said.
ĎDRIVING THE DROPí
    The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) cut daily trading to two hours from the usual four-and-a-half because of the power cuts for the rest of this week at the request of brokers, the bourse said in a statement.
    But shares slid after the market opened on Thursday and the CSE halted trading for 30 minutes Ė the third suspension in two days Ė after an index tracking leading companies dropped by more than 5%.
    ďConcerns on the macro side, together with news of shorter trading hours plus increased power cuts is driving negative sentiment,Ē said Roshini Gamage, an analyst at brokerage firm Lanka Securities.
    ďOverall weak sentiment is driving the drop,Ē Gamage said.     The CSE halted trading twice on Wednesday as worries deepened over the economy and the power cuts.
    The crisis is a result of badly timed tax cuts and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic coupled with historically weak government finances, leading to foreign exchange reserves dropping by 70% in the last two years.
    Sri Lanka was left with reserves of $2.31 billion as of February, forcing the government to seek help from the International Monetary Fund and other countries, including India and China.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe, Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

3/31/2022 China To Restrict Visas Of U.S. Officials, Says Foreign Ministry
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags flutter near The Bund, before U.S. trade delegation meet their
Chinese counterparts for talks in Shanghai, China July 30, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) Ė China has decided to restrict the visas for U.S. officials, in response to the U.S. visa restrictions on some China officials, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said on Thursday.
    The United States was restricting visas of some Chinese officials for involvement in ďrepressive actsĒ against ethnic and religious minority groups, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said this month.
(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Writing by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/31/2022 S.Korean Court Upholds Tattooing Ban by Yeni Seo and Minwoo Park
FILE PHOTO: A tattooed man and a woman wear heavy boots as they walk in the trendy
shopping district of Hongdae in Seoul, May 3, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) Ė The Constitutional Court in Seoul upheld a ban on tattooing on Thursday, confirming South Korea as the only developed country that permits no one but medical professionals to perform the procedure.
    Tattoo artists derided the decision, calling it backward and lacking cultural understanding.
    Despite the decades-old ban, South Korea has nearly 50,000 tattoo artists, who risk police raids and prosecution for practising their trade.
    Violating the ban is punishable by fines of up to 50 million won ($41,300) and prison terms Ė usually two years, though the law provides for as much as life.
    Tattooist associations have initiated a series of court actions since 2017 challenging the law, saying it breaches their freedom of expression and right to engage in an occupation.
    In a 5-4 vote, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday that the law was constitutional.    It dismissed the suits, saying tattooing brings potential side effects and safety issues.
    ďThe limited medical knowledge and skills involved in tattooing cannot ensure the levels of treatment that medical professionals can provide, treatment that may be needed before or after the procedure,Ē the verdict said.
    A union of 650 tattoo artists issued a statement condemning the decision, calling it ďretrogradeĒ and ďnot worth a penny
    ďThe court is still walking on four feet when all citizens walk upright,Ē said Kim Do-yoon, the unionís chief, a renowned tattooist better known as Doy.
    Kim said the court had failed to advance since a 1992 Supreme Court decision that copied a Japanese verdict stipulating that tattooing was medical activity, even though Japanese courts have since overturned that ruling.
    Kim Sho-yun, vice president of the Korea Tattoo Federation, also criticised the latest ruling, saying the current law is ďnonsenseĒ especially given the countryís growing tattoo market and rising global status.
    ďWhy do they insist tattooing is a medical procedure even though doctors canít and donít do that?Ē she tearfully told a news conference in front of the courthouse, vowing to continue the fight.
    The popularity of ďK-tattoosĒ has been surging at home and abroad in recent years thanks to their fine-line designs, delicate details and use of bold colours.
    While tattoos are usually covered up on television, many Korean celebrities, including members of K-pop bands, have flaunted them on social media.
    Polls show most South Koreans support legalisation of tattooing, but medical associations oppose it, saying its use of needles is an invasive procedure that could damage the body.
    President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol expressed support before this monthís election for legalising so-called cosmetic tattoos, which are semi-permanent and popular for enhancing eyebrows, eyelines and hairlines.
($1 = 1,212 won)
(Reporting by Yeni Seo, Daewoung Kim and Minwoo Park; Writing by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Bradley Perrett)

[A MESSAGE FROM JIM A. CORNWELL, THE LEFTIST DEMOCRAT PARTY WHO HAVE CONTROL OF MANY SERVICES USED THEIR ASSUMED POWER FORCED AT&T WHO OWN DIRECTV SERVICES WHICH I HAVE HAD FOR MANY YEARS ON CHANNEL 347 OF ONE AMERICA NETWORK AND DISCONTINUED THAT SERVICE WHICH I WILL CLAIM WAS THE MOST ACCURATE NEWS SERVICE WHO PROMOTE IT TRUTHFULLY EVEN TRUMP SAID THAT COMPARED TO ALL THE OTHER FAKE NEWS SERVICES THAT NO ONE IS WATCHING ANYMORE UNLESS THEY ARE AS STUPID THAT I THINK THEY ARE, SO THE LEFT CANNOT CONTROL THE INTERNET WHICH ALLOWED OANN TO BEGIN TO GET THEIR NEWS OUT AGAIN BY APRIL 7, 2022 AND IS REBUILDING IT UP AND WILL RISE AGAIN TO HAUNT THEM FOREVER.]

4/8/2022 China is Russiaís most powerful weapon for information warfare by Elizabeth Dwoskin, The Washington Post
    Russian propaganda about the war in Ukraine cratered last month after Russian state news channels were blocked in Europe and restricted globally.    But in recent weeks, China has emerged as a potent outlet for Kremlin disinformation, researchers say, portraying Ukraine and NATO as the aggressors and sharing false claims about neo-Nazi control of the Ukrainian government.
    With over a billion followers on Facebook alone, Chinaís state-controlled channels offer Russian President Vladimir Putin a powerful megaphone for shaping global understanding of the war ó often called a ďspecial operationĒ in line with Kremlin rhetoric.    Since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, researchers say, Chinese channels have touted the false claim that the United States runs bioweapons labs in Ukraine, have asserted that Ukrainian neo-Nazis bombed a childrenís hospital which was in fact bombed by Russian troops, and have suggested that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was being manipulated by U.S. billionaire George Soros.
    Chinese channels also have given airtime and amplification to high-ranking Russian government officials and to presenters from Russian government channels whose shows have been restricted or blocked.    Last month, after a host on Sputnik, the Russian state news outlet, posted a video on his personal YouTube channel discussing how neo-Nazis were on the rise in Ukraine, the clip was tweeted by Frontline, a Chinese government outlet.
    ďWith governments and tech platforms moving to censor or limit the spread of Russian propaganda, pro-Kremlin talking points are now being laundered through influencers and proxies, including Chinese officials and state media outlets that obviously do not face the same restrictions that have been placed on Russian state media outlets,Ē said Bret Schafer, senior fellow and head of the information manipulation team at the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a nonpartisan initiative housed at the U.S. German Marshall Fund that tracks Chinese and Russian state media.    ďThis has allowed the Kremlin to effectively skirt bans meant to limit the spread of Russian propaganda
    Putinís success in seeding some of these misleading narratives through proxies and allies is casting doubt on the ability of Western governments and the tech giants to effectively rein in the most pernicious forms of authoritarian propaganda.    With Chinaís help, experts say, Russia also is regaining its ability to cloud the narrative around Europeís biggest conflict since World War II.
    ďWhile the worldís eyes are still on Ukraine, and the journalists are there, itís going to be hard for the Russian government to make great progress.    But they can make progress on the edges,Ē said Kate Starbird, an associate professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington.    ďAnd in the long run, if the public is confused enough about what happened, then we might not give our leadership a clear message to take action
Social platformsí bans muffle Russian state media propaganda
    Since the warís early days, when the European Commission blocked Russian state channels and Twitter, YouTube and Facebook restricted their reach, Russia has raced to create workarounds.    Journalists have uncovered a coordinated campaign to pay TikTok influencers to push pro-Kremlin views, while researchers from the data science company Trementum Analytics have documented pro-Russia trolls spamming YouTube videos about Ukraine with pro-Russian comments.
    The Russian government also has used its embassies to push out misinformation to tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the messaging app Telegram. According to the Israeli disinformation research group FakeReporter, Russian embassies have created at least 65 new Telegram channels since the war began.    Twitter stopped recommending these accounts this week.
    Fox News and other right-leaning American outlets also have picked up Russiaís talking points ó notably when Fox host Tucker Carlson last month promoted to his prime-time audience the baseless claim that Ukraine was developing biological weapons with the assistance of the U.S. government.    According to disinformation researchers and the fact-checking group PolitiFact, that claim, which has been circulating for years, is a misleading reference to a public health research partnership between the United States and Ukraine; the White House has called it ďpreposterous
    Last week, the New York Post wrote an article tying the discredited biolab claim to President Bidenís son Hunter, claiming that the younger Biden had helped secure funds for a start-up that worked on the research biolabs in Ukraine.    The Washington Post has reported that Hunter Biden ďwas not part of a decision" to invest in the start-up.
    Meanwhile, highly active online communities, such as anti-vaccine activists and adherents of the radicalized movement QAnon, have seized on the biolab claim and other Russian narratives.    An early, prolific spreader of the theory, according to the Anti-Defamation League, was a Virginia man with ties to QAnon.
The truth about Hunter Biden and the Ukrainian Ďbio labsí
    China is, by far, the Kremlinís biggest promoter, however.    The top four Chinese outlets ó CGTN, Global Times, Xinhua News and T-House ó command a massive audience with a combined follower count on Facebook of 283 million, according to research from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).    All told, Chinese outlets on Facebook have over 1 billion followers, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy ó far more than the roughly 85 million total followers for Russiaís main channels.
    Asked how Facebook was addressing Chinaís emergence as a vector for Russian propaganda, Facebook shared several examples of fact checks applied to misleading pro-Russian content from Chinese state media.    The company did not respond to questions about whether it has restricted Chinese state media accounts or has plans to do so.
    Twitter spokeswoman Madeline Broas said the company had placed some limits on Chinese state media for several years, and that ó beginning last Friday ó it had begun putting highly-visible labels on any tweet that contained a link to Chinese state media. (Previously, such labels were shown only to people who searched for the account.)
    YouTube declined to answer questions about Chinese state media.    Spokeswoman Elena Hernandez said the company does fact-check misinformation and that it prohibits content that minimizes, trivializes, or denies the existence of well-documented, violent historical events.
    The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
    China and Russia have long been allies, extending back to the Cold War, and view their alliance as a bulwark against Western power.    The two countries strengthened their bond ahead of the Ukraine invasion, issuing a joint statement on Feb. 4 describing their relationship as a ďno limitsĒ friendship.
    Russia has refused to acknowledge the invasion, referring to its actions in Ukraine as a ďspecial operation.Ē    Chinese state media immediately adopted that term, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracyís tracker, with Chinese accounts using it 180 times between Feb. 24 and March 12.    The term ďinvasionĒ was mentioned 145 times, but more than the third were references to the U.S. invasion of Iraq ó an attempt to equate Russian and American military actions.
    Silicon Valley companies have been rewriting their rules during the war in Ukraine.    Russia is retaliating.
    Chinese media also began to take up neo-Nazi storylines, according to ASD.    Chinese diplomats and state media have tweeted about     Nazis more than 140 times since the start of the war, according to the tracker. In the year preceding the war, Chinese state-affiliated accounts tracked by the group tweeted about Nazis only twice.    The Azov Battalion, a group partially made up of anti-Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis, has been part of Ukraineís military since 2014.    But experts say the controversial battalion does not have major influence in the country whose president, Zelensky, is Jewish.
    Lately, China has focused more attention on blaming NATO for the conflict, researchers say.    A recent Facebook post from T-House, a millennial-focused outlet, compared Ukraineís potential membership in NATO to Hitlerís attempt to conquer Ukraine, according to research by the Center for Countering Digital Hate.    ďThe moves by the US-led #NATO have pushed the #Russia-Ukraine tension to the breaking point,Ē said a recent tweet by Chinaís ambassador to the Asia-Pacific region.
    In late March, NATO was the tenth most used key phrase in Chinese tweets, according to the ASD tracker.
    Meanwhile, Chinaís consul general in Belfast recently tweeted a false claim from Russian state media that Zelensky is hiding in Poland, a NATO member.
    China also is giving a boost to Russian presenters whose audiences appear to have been limited by Western bans.    The personal talk show for U.K. presenter George Galloway, host of the ďMother of All Talk ShowsĒ on Sputnik, been shared numerous times by several large Chinese outlets such as Global Times.    Currently, the Sputnik website that hosted Gallowayís show appeared to be blocked in the United Kingdom, according to ASD.    But his personal YouTube channel, which does not make visible references to his Sputnik backing, continues to stream it.
    Galloway did not respond to a request for comment.    In a tweet on Wednesday, Galloway tweeted in response to Twitterís decision to label his account ďRussian state media,Ē saying, ďDear @TwitterSupport I am not 'Russian State Affiliated media'.    I work for NO #Russian media.    I have 400,000 followers.    Iím the leader of a British political party and spent nearly 30 years in the British parliament.    If you do not remove this designation I will take legal action
    Experts disagree about how the tech companies should police China and other Russian proxies.
Right-wing Azov Battalion emerges as a controversial defender of Ukraine
    The tech companies have cast their crackdowns on Russian media as drastic actions taken under extraordinary circumstances; they largely do not want to impose blanket bans on state outlets.    Experts also have noted that if state outlets are banned for disinformation, the tech companies would face increasing pressure to ban nonstate channels that spread misinformation, such as Fox News.
    Instead, the tech companies more recently have opted for transparency, such as fact-checking and labeling.    In 2018, YouTube began labeling state media outlets.    Twitter did so in 2020, as did Facebook.
    But labeling is premised on the idea that informed users will make wise decisions about whether to trust content, and that has had mixed results.
    In 2020, George Washington University researchers studying the impact of YouTube labels on content from RT found that they were effective at making people more aware of misinformation, but only when the labels were prominently displayed.    A separate study from the Election Integrity Partnership, a consortium of prominent disinformation researchers, found that labeling was inconsistent and that tech platforms failed to prominently show the labels in search results.
    Since the Ukraine war began, Twitter has added more prominent labels, saying the move has reduced the reach of Russian propaganda by 30 percent.    But some advocates said transparency measures are insufficient in the face of Chinaís global disinformation campaign, and called on the tech giants to do more.
    ďWhen there is clear disinformation targeted at foreign populations, the tech companies have a perfectly legitimate moral case for limiting or removing that propaganda,Ē said Imran Ahmed, chief executive of CCDH, which has researched Chinese state media.
Pro-Russia rebels are still using Facebook to recruit fighters, spread propaganda
    Not all companies have embraced the same level of transparency.    TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is Chinese-owned, started its first pilot project to label a few dozen Russian state outlets last month, and the company has plans to start labeling     Chinese outlets.    Researchers say state propaganda probably has a massive presence on its service ó but it is difficult to detect with such limited labels and without providing researchers the ability to review the platformís data.    The company says it is still developing a state media policy.
    Rather than adopting ad hoc policies during an emergency like the Ukraine war, platforms should have distinguished long ago between media outlets run by authoritarian governments and outlets, such as PBS or the BBC, that receive support from democratic governments, said Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, which is a member of the Election Integrity Partnership.
    Stamos, who once was Facebookís chief security officer, argued that social media companies should not give a megaphone to state media outlets from countries, such as China, where free speech is suppressed.    Russia would now also fall into that category, he said.
    ďThis is the time," Stamos said, ďfor the tech platforms to finally create rules about state media run by authoritarian governments
    Microsoft may earn an Affiliate Commission if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.

4/9/2022 Xi says South China Sea issues handled Ďproperlyí - Sporadic territorial spats have persisted by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Seeking to put a positive spin on a relationship that never quite produced the hoped-for benefits, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told outgoing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday that the two nations have ďproperlyĒ handled the sensitive issue of the disputed South China Sea.
    Xi made his remarks in a phone conversation with Duterte, who nurtured closer ties with Beijing after taking office in 2016.
    Despite cozier relations, however, sporadic territorial spats have persisted, and Beijing has had limited success separating the Philippines from its treaty ally, the United States.
    Xi made no mention of disputes, saying the sides ďhave adhered to the important consensus reached, adhered to good-neighborly and friendly cooperation, insisted on properly handling differences, and insisted on working together for common development
    ďThe proper handling of the South China Sea issue by both sides has provided an important foundation for China-Philippines friendly cooperation, benefited the two peoples, and effectively safeguarded regional peace and stability,Ē Xi was quoted as saying by the official Xinhua News Agency.
    ďChinaís policy toward the Philippines maintains continuity and stability, and (China) is willing to work with the Philippines to promote the continuous and sound development of China-Philippines relations and continuously advance to a new level,Ē Xi said.    Xi also took a swipe at Manilaís security pact with Washington, saying that recent developments showed that ďregional security cannot be achieved by strengthening military alliances
    ďChina is willing to work with the Philippines and regional countries to adhere to the concept of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security,Ē Xi said.
    Duterte is limited to one term, and the Philippines holds presidential elections on May 9.
    China claims virtually the entire South China Sea, along with its rich fishing stocks and undersea mineral resources.    That has locked it into an increasingly tense territorial standoff with rival claimants the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei.
    Chinaís seizure of Scarborough Shoal prompted the Philippines to bring the disputes to international arbitration before Duterte took office.    In 2016, a U.N.backed tribunal invalidated most of Chinaís claims and said it has violated the right of Filipinos to fish at the shoal.
    China dismissed the ruling and continues to defy it, but allowed Filipino fishermen to return under Duterte.
    In March, U.S. Indo-Pacific Commander Adm. John C. Aquilino told The Associated Press on board a U.S. Navy reconnaissance aircraft that China has fully militarized three of the seven islands it built in the disputed Spratlys archipelago in the South China Sea, despite a promise by Xi not to do so.
    China responded by saying that its deployment of ďnecessary national defense facilities on its own territory is a right entitled to every sovereign country and is in line with international law, which is beyond reproach
A Chinese Coast Guard ship sails near a Philippine Coast Guard vessel
off the northwestern Philippines in March. PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD VIA AP

4/10/2022 Pakistanís embattled PM ousted in no-confidence vote - Economic problems in country led to vote by Kathy Gannon and Munir Ahmed, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD Ė Pakistanís political opposition ousted the countryís embattled prime minister in a no-confidence vote early Sunday, which they won after several of Imran Khanís allies and a key coalition party deserted him.
    The combined opposition that spans the political spectrum from the left to the radically religious will form the new government, with the head of one of the largest parties, the Pakistani Muslim League, taking over as prime minister.
    Anticipating his loss, Khan, who charged the opposition colluded with the United States to unseat him, has called on his supporters to stage rallies nationwide on Sunday.    Khanís options are limited and should he see a big turnout in his support, he may try to keep the momentum of street protests as a way to pressure Parliament to hold early elections.
    Khan earlier had tried to sidestep the vote by dissolving Parliament and calling early elections but a Supreme Court ruling ordered the vote to go ahead.
    The vote comes amid cooling relations between Khan and a powerful military who many of his political opponents allege helped him come to power in general elections in 2018.    The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75 years and wields considerable power over civilian governments, who worry a disgruntled army could unseat them.
    The opposition called for Khanís ouster charging economic mismanagement as inflation soars and the Pakistani rupee plummets in value.    The vote caps months of political turmoil and a constitutional crisis that required the Supreme Court to sort out.
    In an impassioned speech Friday, Khan doubled down on his accusations that his opponents colluded with the United States to unseat him over his foreign policy choices, which often seemed to favor China and Russia and defied the U.S.     Khan said Washington opposed his Feb. 24 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin hours after tanks rolled into Ukraine, launching a devastating war in the heart of Europe.
    Ahead of the vote his lawmakers addressed Parliament attack a letter Khan said told of a senior U.S. official, who was not named, who informed top Pakistani diplomats that Washingtonís relations with Pakistan would improve if Khan was ousted.    Human rights minister Shireen Mazari said the memo named Khan and said that if he was out of power ďall would be forgiven
    She went on to ask: ďForgiven for what? What is our sin?Ē
    The U.S. State Department has denied any involvement in Pakistanís internal politics.    Deputy State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters on Friday there was ďabsolutely no truth to these allegations
    Still, Khan urged his supporters to take to the streets, particularly the youth who have been the backbone of his support since the former cricket star turned conservative Islamist politician came to power in 2018.    He said they needed to protect Pakistanís sovereignty and oppose U.S. dictations.
    ďYou have to come out to protect your own future.    It is you who have to protect your democracy, your sovereignty and your independence. Ö This is your duty,Ē he said.    ďI will not accept an imposed government
    Khanís allegations of U.S. involvement are likely to resonate with many in Pakistan, says Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington -based Wilson Center ďKhanís conspiracy allegations will resonate in a country where thereís a tendency to ascribe the worst possible motives to U.S. policy, especially because there is a past history of U.S. meddling in Pakistani politics,Ē said Kugelman.
    Khanís insistence there is U.S. involvement in attempts to oust him also exploits a deep-seated mistrust among many in Pakistan of U.S. intentions, particularly following 9/11.
    Washington has often berated Pakistan for doing too little to fight Islamic militants, even as thousands of Pakistanis have died at their hands and the army has lost more than 5,000 soldiers.    Pakistan has been attacked for aiding Afghanistanís Taliban insurgents while also being asked to bring them to the peace table.
    The no-confidence vote loss for Khan brings to power some unlikely partners.
    Among them is a radically religious party that runs scores of religious schools.    The Jamiat-e-Ulema-Islam, or Assembly of Clerics, teaches a deeply conservative brand of Islam in its schools.    Many of Afghanistanís Taliban and Pakistanís own homegrown violent Taliban graduated from JUI schools.
    The largest among the opposition parties Ė the Pakistan Peopleís Party, led by the son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League Ė have been tainted by allegations of widespread corruption.
    Pakistan Muslim League leader and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted of corruption after being named in the so-called Panama Papers.    Thatís a collection of leaked secret financial documents showing how some of the worldís richest hide their money and involving a global law firm based in Panama.    Sharif was disqualified by Pakistanís Supreme Court from holding office.    The new prime minister is expected to be Sharif ís brother Shahbaz Sharif after a vote for the new prime minister is held in Parliament on Monday.
    ďThis would be the first time in Pakistanís history that a no-confidence vote succeeds in ousting a Prime Minister Ė the fulfilment of a constitutional process that was far from guaranteed after Khanís attempts to derail the vote,Ē said Elizabeth Threlkeld, Pakistan expert at the U.S.-based The Stimson Center.    ďThat, in itself, is significant, and could give Pakistan something to build on going forward
    Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Kathy Gannon on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Kathygannon
Opposition parties supporters celebrate the dismissed Pakistan's Prime Minister
Imran Khan in Karachi. RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Police officers detain a supporter of Khan outside the National Assembly
in Islamabad, Pakistan, after no-confidence vote on Sunday. ANJUM NAVEED/AP

4/11/2022 China delivers missiles to Serbia by Dusan Stojanovic, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BELGRADE, Serbia Ė Russian ally Serbia took the delivery of a sophisticated Chinese anti-aircraft system in a veiled operation this weekend, amid Western concerns that an arms buildup in the Balkans at the time of the war in Ukraine could threaten the fragile peace in the region.
    Media and military experts said Sunday that six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed at Belgradeís civilian airport early Saturday, reportedly carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems for the Serbian military.
    The Chinese cargo planes with military markings were pictured at Belgradeís Nikola Tesla airport.    Serbiaís defense ministry did not immediately respond to APís request for comment.
    The arms delivery over the territory of at least two NATO member states, Turkey and Bulgaria, was seen by experts as a demonstration of Chinaís growing global reach.
    ďThe Y-20sí appearance raised eyebrows because they flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-aircraft flights,Ē wrote The Warzone online magazine.    ďThe Y-20ís presence in Europe in any numbers is also still a fairly new development
    Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic all but confirmed the delivery of the medium-range system that was agreed in 2019, saying on Saturday that he will present ďthe newest prideĒ of the Serbian military on Tuesday or Wednesday.
[MY UNDERSTANDING THIS IS CHINA'S SNEAKY WAY TO GET MISSILES TO RUSSIA NOT TO HELP UKRAINE.].

4/12/2022 US orders consular to leave China - Shanghai facing COVID-19 surge by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė The U.S. has ordered all non-emergency consular staff to leave Shanghai, which is under a tight lockdown to contain a COVID-19 surge.     The State Department said the order is an upgrade from the ďauthorizedĒ departure issued last week that made the decision voluntary.
    The order covers ďnon-emergency U.S. government employees and their family members from U.S. Consulate General Shanghai
    In its late Monday announcement, the department said, ďOur change in posture reflects our assessment that it is best for our employees and their families to be reduced in number and our operations to be scaled down as we deal with the changing circumstances on the ground
    The department also issued a series of advisories for Americans in Shanghai, including that they ensure they have a ďsufficient supply of money, medication, food, and other necessities for your family in the event of sudden restrictions or quarantine
    Many residents in the city of 26 million have been confined to their homes for up to three weeks.    Many describe an increasingly desperate situation, with families unable to leave their homes or obtain supplies of food and daily necessities, while people who test positive for the virus have been forced into mass quarantine centers where conditions have at times been described as crowded and unsanitary.
    Despite the complaints, China has stuck to its ďzero-COVIDĒ strategy of handling outbreaks with strict isolation and mass testing.
    Chinaís government and the entirely state-controlled media are growing increasingly defensive about complaints over the COVID-19 prevention measures.
    Beijing responded angrily to last weekís voluntary departure advisory, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian saying China was ďstrongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to the U.S. sideís groundless accusation against Chinaís epidemic response
    In that announcement, the State Department advised Americans to reconsider traveling to China due to ďarbitrary enforcementĒ of local laws and COVID- 19 restrictions, particularly in Hong Kong, Jilin province and Shanghai. U.S. officials cited a risk of ďparents and children being separated
    Despite that, and indications the hardline policy is being dictated by head of the ruling Communist Party Xi Jinping, China has rejected any notion that its response is political in nature.    Xi has demanded social stability above all else in the runup to a key party congress later this year at which he is expected to bestow on himself an unprecedented third-term as party leader.
    Shanghai authorities also say they have secured daily supplies for residents, following complaints about deliveries of food and other necessities.
    Residents have resorted to group buying of groceries because they are not allowed to leave their buildings, with only partial success in obtaining needed items.
    Shanghai says it will gradually lifted some restrictions on neighborhoods where no new infections have been reported over the past two weeks.    Residents will be able to travel around their districts but not meet in groups. Others will be restricted to their immediate neighborhoods.
    The capital, Beijing, has seen relatively few restrictions, although the Erjiefang neighborhood including the famed 798 art district has been cordoned off and classified as high risk after eight infections were reported there over the past two weeks.
    China is facing one of its worst local outbreaks since the pandemic began.    China is still mostly closed to international travel, even as most of the world has sought ways to live with the virus.
Residents line up for COVID-19 tests Monday in Guangzhou, China, as the
area battles the countryís latest major coronavirus surge. CHINATOPIX VIA AP
[AS I TOLD ALL WHEN WUHAN WAS ON LOCKDOWN AND SOME WELDED INTO THEIR HOUSES WHEN THE CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK CAME ON AND THE INTERNATIONAL FLIGHTS FLEW TO ROME ITALY AND IT SPREAD TO THE WORLD THEN TO THE WORLD INTERNATIONAL AIRPORTS IF ANYONE BOTHERED TO STOP IT ESPECIALLY DEMOCRATS AND NOW WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND BACK TO CHINA TO HAUNT IT.].

4/13/2022 Shanghai eases shutdown, letting some residents out - But health official warns virus is not under control by Joe McDonald, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Some residents of Shanghai were allowed out of their homes as the city of 25 million eased a two-weekold shutdown Tuesday after a video posted online showed what was said to be people who ran out of food breaking into a supermarket.
    About 6.6 million people can go outdoors, but some must stay in their own neighborhoods, the online news outlet The Paper reported, citing city officials.    The government said some markets and pharmacies would reopen.
    A health official warned Shanghai doesnít have the virus under control despite easing restrictions.
    ďThe epidemic is in a period of rapid growth,Ē said Lei Zhenglong of the National Health Commission at a news conference.    ďCommunity transmission has not been effectively contained
    The abrupt closure of most businesses starting March 28 and orders to stay home left the public fuming about lack of access to food and medicine.    People who test positive for the virus are forced into sprawling temporary quarantine facilities criticized by some as crowded and unsanitary.
    Meanwhile, the American government announced all ďnon-emergency U.S. government employeesĒ would be withdrawn from its Shanghai Consulate.    A foreign ministry spokesman defended Chinaís handling of the outbreak and accused Washington of politicizing its evacuation.
    Also Tuesday, the government of Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trading center northwest of Hong Kong, announced a new round of virus testing for its 19 million people. Most access to the city was stopped after 27 infections were found Monday.
    The unusual severity of Shanghaiís shutdown appeared to be driven as much by politics as by public health concerns.
    The struggle in Chinaís richest city is an embarrassment during a politically sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling Communist Party.
    Chinaís case numbers are relatively low, but the ruling party is enforcing a ďzero-toleranceĒ strategy aimed at isolating every case.    Some officials have been fired for failing to act aggressively enough, which gives others an incentive to impose extreme measures.
    The government reported 24,659 new cases through midnight Monday, including 23,387 with no symptoms. That included 23,346 in Shanghai, only 998 of whom had symptoms.
    In Shanghai, more than 200,000 cases but no deaths have been reported in the latest wave of infections.
    The government eased restrictions by announcing residents of areas with no cases for at least two weeks can leave their homes starting Tuesday.    It said they could go to other areas that also had no new cases during that time but were urged to stay home when possible.
    Such ďprevention areasĒ have about 4.8 million people, The Paper reported, citing city officials.    It said all but 500,000 of those were in less crowded suburbs.
    An additional 1.8 million people in ďcontrol areasĒ with no new cases in the past week are allowed out but canít leave their neighborhoods, the report said.
    Another 15 million people in ďquarantine areasĒ that have had infections in the past week still are barred from leaving their homes.    The report gave no indication of the status of the remaining 3.4 million people in the official population.
    The shutdown of Shanghai, home of the worldís busiest port and Chinaís main stock exchange, has prompted fears manufacturing and global trade might be disrupted.
    Automakers in Shanghai, a manufacturing center, have suspended or reduced production due to interruptions in supplies of components.    The portís management says operations are normal, but European Union Chamber of Commerce in China has estimated the volume of cargo it handles every day has fallen 40%.
    Residents complained the shutdown left them without access to food or medicine and unable to look after elderly relatives who lived alone.
    The government distributed packages of vegetables and other food for a few days at least twice to some households. Others said they received nothing.
    A video that circulated online Saturday showed what a caption said were people in the Songjiang district breaking into a supermarket and carrying away cartons of food.
    Police denied the event occurred in Shanghai.    A police statement Tuesday said the video was posted by a man in Kunshan, west of Shanghai, but not when or where it was shot.    It said the man received unspecified ďadministrative penaltiesĒ for ďdisrupting public order by fabricated facts
    The Associated Press was unable to find the source of the video or when and where it was shot.
A banner reading ďpersistence is victory!Ē is displayed at a makeshift hospital
and quarantine facility Monday in Shanghai. DING TING/XINHUA VIA AP

4/14/2022 Shanghai releases more from observation by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Shanghai released 6,000 more people from the central facilities where they were under medical observation to guard against the coronavirus, the government said Wednesday, though the lockdown of most of Chinaís largest city was continuing in its third week.
    About 6.6 million people in the city of 25 million were allowed to leave their homes Tuesday, but some were restricted to their own neighborhoods.    Some housing compounds also appeared to still be keeping residents locked inside, and no further lifting of restrictions was apparent Wednesday.
    Officials warn that Shanghai still doesnít have its latest surge in cases of the omicron variant under control, despite its ďzero-toleranceĒ approach that has seen some residents confined to their homes for three weeks or longer.
    China also requires anyone who tests positive or is a close contact of such a person to spend at least a week in centralized observation centers in pre-fabricated buildings or gymnasiums and exhibition halls to limit the virus spread.
    The cityís health bureau said Wednesday that 6,044 people had been allowed the day before to leave observation centers and return home, although health monitoring will continue.
    The number of newly detected daily cases in the city edged upward to 26,338, all but 1,189 of them in people showing no symptoms.    With more than 200,000 total cases, the ongoing outbreak is Chinaís biggest of the pandemic.    But the mass testing has caught many asymptomatic cases, and no deaths have been reported in Shanghai.
    The lockdown has led to frustration among residents in Shanghai about running out of food and being unable to get deliveries.
With more than 200,000 total cases, the ongoing outbreak is Chinaís biggest of the pandemic.
But some got outside, anyway, on Wednesday. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP

4/14/2022 Japan, US hold navy drills amid nuke fears by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TOKYO Ė U.S. and Japanese warships, led by the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, are conducting their joint naval exercise in waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula for the first time in five years, in a show of their close military alliance amid growing speculation of North Koreaís missile or nuclear testing later this week.
    The U.S. 7th Fleet and Japanís Maritime Self-Defense Force said Wednesday they conducted a joint naval exercise at the Sea of Japan on Tuesday and Wednesday.    It was the first time the U.S. aircraft carrier held the exercise in the area since 2017 and is seen as an apparent attempt to deter North Koreaís provocation.
    Defense experts have warned that North Korea may launch another missile or even conduct a nuclear test as early as this week when Pyongyang marks the birth anniversary of its founding leader Kim Il Sung.    Tension is rising in the region ahead of an annual joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea.
    Japan has also stepped up joint military exercises with its closest ally, the United States, as well as regional partners in recent years amid rising concern over Chinaís increasingly assertive military actions in the regional seas.
    Japanís Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the ongoing joint exercise is ďaimed at strengthening military cooperation between Japan and the United States, and is not keeping in mind a specific country.    Ö We will continue to strengthen deterrence and response capability of the Japan-U.S. alliance and to do utmost for the defense of our country
    Details of the exercise will be released by the Japanese Defense Ministry ďwhen the situation allows a disclosure
    Japanís Maritime Self-Defense Force said its destroyer JS Kongo and JS Inazuma, as well as Japanese F-2 fighters joined USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group ďin order to strengthen the capability of Japan-US alliance for effective deterrence and response
    ďOur works contribute to the regional peace and stability,Ē the Japanese navy tweeted.
The USS Abraham Lincoln and other warships sail in formation during a
U.S.-Japan bilateral exercise at the Sea of Japan. U.S. NAVY VIA AP

4/14/2022 China Reaffirms Ties With Russia As Mutual Trade Surges by OAN Newsroom
(AP Photo)
    Mutual trade between Russia and China surged in March in response to Western sanctions.    According to Chinese customs data, Russian-Chinese trade rose to an equivalent of $38.2 billion last month, which is a 28 percent increase from a year ago.
    Chinaís imports from Russia rose by 31 percent and Chinese exports to Russia increased by 25.9 percent.    This came after Moscow and Beijing unveiled a new payments system based off national currencies instead of the US dollar.    China also reaffirmed its commitment to quote ďrock solidĒ economic relations with Russia.
    ďAs for the impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on trade, our relevant departments have responded to it and we will keep on watching it,Ē stated Li Kuiwen, spokesman for the Chinese General Administration of Customs.    ďThe customs will continue to serve Chinaís normal trade cooperation with Russia and Ukraine as well as other relevant countries
    China also rejected threats of secondary US sanctions over its ties with Russia in defiance of multiple pleas by the Biden administration.    Meanwhile, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is urging U.S. cooperation with China to prevent a Russian-Chinese economic alliance.
    While speaking at the Atlantic Council on Wednesday, she said better ties between Russia and China may create a ďbipolar systemĒ in global finance.    Her remarks came after Russia and China unveiled the new payments system based in national currencies and bypassing the US dollar.
    Yellen also reiterated support for so-called green agenda in the US, despite its risks to US manufacturing.    The US Treasury Secretary also threatened Beijing with ďlosing its standing in the worldĒ if it continues to partner with Russia.

4/15/2022 China rejects US Ďpressureí over Russia by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė China on Thursday said it would reject ďany pressure or coercionĒ over its relationship with Russia, in response to a call from U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for Beijing to use its ďspecial relationship with RussiaĒ to persuade Moscow to end the war in Ukraine.
    Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian defended Chinaís position on the war, saying it had ďmade considerable effĀorts to de-escalate the situation, defuse the crisis and rebuild peace
    ďChina is playing a constructive role in the Ukraine issue,Ē Zhao told reporters at a daily briefiŹng.
    China has refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine by strategic partner Russia, or even refer to the conflźict as a war in deference to Moscow, which uses the term ďspecial military operation
    ďWe oppose unfounded accusations and suspicions against China, nor will we accept any pressure or coercion,Ē Zhao said.    ďTime will tell that Chinaís claims are on the right side of history
    China has also amplifiŹed Russian propaganda about the war, including unsupported claims that the U.S. and Ukraine have been developing biological weapons.
    It has staunchly opposed economic sanctions against Russia and has abstained or sided with Moscow in U.N. votes following the beginning of the war on Feb. 24.
    In a speech Wednesday, Yellen said Beijing ďcannot expect the global community to respect its appeals to the principles of sovereignty ... if it does not respect these principles now

4/15/2022 Shutdowns in China spread as infections keep rising by Joe McDonald, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Anti-virus controls that have shut down some of Chinaís biggest cities and fueled public irritation are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and prompting warnings of possible global shockwaves.
    Shanghai is easing rules that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes after complaints they had trouble getting food.
    But most of its businesses still are closed.    Access to Guangzhou, an industrial center of 19 million people near Hong Kong, was suspended this week.    Other cities are cutting off access or closing factories and schools.
    Spring planting by Chinese farmers who feed 1.4 billion people might be disrupted, Nomura economists warned Thursday.    That could boost demand for imported wheat and other food, pushing up already high global prices.
    The closures are an embarrassment to the ruling Communist Party and a setback for official efforts to shore up slumping growth in the worldís second- largest economy.    They come during a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader.
    Beijing has promised to reduce the human and economic cost of its ďzero-COVIDĒ strategy, but Xi on Wednesday ruled out joining the United States and other governments that are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
    ďPrevention and control work cannot be relaxed,Ē Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.    ďPersistence is victory.Ē    The risk that China might tumble into recession is increasing, Ting Lu, Jing Wang and Harrison Zhang of Nomura warned in a report.
    ďThe logistics crunch is worsening,Ē they said.    ďThe markets should also be concerned about the delayed spring planting of grain in China
    The government reported 29,411 new cases Thursday, all but 3,020 with no symptoms.    Shanghai accounted for 95% of that total, or 27,719 cases.    All but 2,573 had no symptoms.
    A health official warned Wednesday that Shanghai didnít have the virus under control despite its easing restrictions.
    Some 6.6 million people were allowed to leave their homes in areas that had no new cases for at least a week.
    But at least 15 million others still are barred from going outdoors.
    Most people have obeyed despite grumbling about shortages of food, medicine and access to elderly relatives who need help.    But videos on the popular Sina Weibo social media service show some trading punches with police.
A mask-wearing photographer snaps shots at a public park in Beijing on Thursday. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP

4/16/2022 China stages military exercises by Huizhong Wu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TAIPEI, Taiwan Ė China said its military staged exercises Friday to reinforce its threat to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, as U.S. lawmakers visiting Taiwan made a pointed and public declaration of their support for the self-governing island democracy while issuing a warning to China.
    The six lawmakers met with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday morning and were also scheduled to meet with the islandís defense minister.
    The military drills conducted by the Peopleís Liberation Armyís Eastern Theater Command in areas opposite Taiwan were ďa countermeasure to the recent negative actions of the U.S., including the visit of a delegation of lawmakers to Taiwan,Ē Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said.
    China would ďcontinue to take strong measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity,Ē Zhao added.     China is against any official exchanges between Taiwanís government and other foreign governments because it claims Taiwan is part of its national territory and not an independent country.    China and Taiwan split after a civil war in 1949.
    The Eastern Theater Command described the exercises in a statement as ďa necessary action based on the present security situation in the Taiwan Strait and the need to safeguard national sovereignty

4/16/2022 Anti-virus shutdowns in China spread as infections rise - Shanghai easing restrictions after reports of food issues by Joe McDonald, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Anti-virus controls that have shut down some of Chinaís biggest cities and fueled public irritation are spreading as infections rise, hurting a weak economy and prompting warnings of possible global shockwaves.
    Shanghai is easing rules that confined most of its 25 million people to their homes after complaints they had trouble getting food.    But most of its businesses still are closed. Access to Guangzhou, an industrial center of 19 million people near Hong Kong, was suspended this week. Other cities are cutting off access or closing factories and schools.
    Spring planting by Chinese farmers who feed 1.4 billion people might be disrupted, Nomura economists warned Thursday.    That could boost demand for imported wheat and other food, pushing up already high global prices.
    The closures are an embarrassment to the ruling Communist Party and a setback for official efforts to shore up slumping growth in the worldís second largest economy.    They come during a sensitive year when President Xi Jinping is expected to try to break with tradition and award himself a third five-year term as leader.
    Beijing has promised to reduce the human and economic cost of its ďzero-COVIDĒ strategy, but Xi on Wednesday ruled out joining the United States and other governments that are dropping restrictions and trying to live with the virus.
    ďPrevention and control work cannot be relaxed,Ē Xi said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.    ďPersistence is victory
    The risk that China might tumble into recession is increasing, Ting Lu, Jing Wang and Harrison Zhang of Nomura warned in a report.
    ďThe logistics crunch is worsening,Ē they said.    ďThe markets should also be concerned about the delayed spring planting of grain in China
    The government reported 29,411 new cases Thursday, all but 3,020 with no symptoms.    Shanghai accounted for 95% of that total, or 27,719 cases.    All but 2,573 had no symptoms.
    A health official warned Wednesday that Shanghai didnít have the virus under control despite its easing restrictions.
    Some 6.6million people were allowed to leave their homes in areas that had no new cases for at least a week. But at least 15 million others still are barred from going outdoors.
    Most people have obeyed despite grumbling about shortages of food, medicine and access to elderly relatives who need help.    But videos on the popular Sina Weibo social media service show some trading punches with police.
A person takes a COVID-19 test at a makeshift hospital in Shanghai on Friday. YANG YOUZONG/XINHUA VIA AP

4/17/2022 North Korea says it tested new tactical guided weapon - Dispatch says itís likely capable of carrying nuclear warhead by Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė North Korea said Sunday it has successfully test-fired a newly developed tactical guided weapon, the latest in a spate of launches that came just after the country passed its biggest state anniversary without an expected military parade, which it typically uses to unveil provocative weapons systems.
    The latest testing activity came amid concerns that North Korea may soon conduct a larger provocation like a nuclear explosive test in an effort to expand the countryís nuclear arsenal and increase pressure on its rivals amid stalled diplomacy.
    The official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un observed the launch, which it said would bolster the effective operation of the countryís tactical nuclear forces and firepower of its long-range artillery corps.
    The dispatch suggested the weapon tested is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, but KCNA didnít elaborate.    It also didnít say when and where the launch occurred.
    South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Sunday that it had detected two projectile launches from the Northís eastern coastal town of Hamhung early Saturday evening.
    It said the projectiles flew about 68 miles at an apogee of 16 miles and at a maximum speed of Mach 4.    The statement said South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing additional details of the launches.    It said South Korean officials separately held an emergency meeting to discuss the launches.
    North Korea has started this year with a slew of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017.    South Korean and U.S. officials said Pyongyang could soon launch additional provocations like another ICBM test, a rocket launch to put a spy satellite into orbit or even a nuclear test explosion that would be the seventh of its kind.    South Koreaís military said it has detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before it entered now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018.
    Sundayís KCNA dispatch quoted Kim as presenting unspecified tasks to boost North Koreaís nuclear fighting and military capability after praising what he called successive progress in its efforts to reinforce the countryís war deterrence power.
    On Friday, Kim attended a massive civilian parade in Pyongyang that marked the milestone 110th birth anniversary of his state-founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung.    It appeared the country passed its biggest holiday without an expected military parade to showcase its new weapons systems.
    South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles flew about 68 miles at an apogee of 16 miles and at a maximum speed of Mach 4.    The statement said South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities are analyzing additional details of the launches.    It said South Korean officials separately held an emergency meeting to discuss the launches.
A TV screen shows a news program reporting about a test-firing of a newly developed tactical guided weapon at a train
station in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday. North Korea said that it has successfully test-fired a newly developed tactical
guided weapon, the latest in a spate of launches that came just after the country passed its biggest state anniversary
without an expected military parade, which it typically uses to unveil provocative weapons systems. LEE JIN-MAN/AP

4/18/2022 N Korea tests new weapon, boosting nuclear capability - Denuclearization talks with US remain stalled by Hyung-Jin, Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė North Korea has test-fired a new type of tactical guided weapon designed to boost its nuclear fighting capability, state media reported Sunday, a day before the United States and South Korea begin annual drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal.
    The 13th weapons test this year came amid concerns that North Korea may soon conduct an even larger provocation.    That may include a nuclear test in an effort to expand the countryís arsenal and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul while denuclearization talks remain stalled.
    The official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un observed what it called the weaponís successful launch.    It released a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping his hands with military officers.
    KCNA said the weapon tested has ďgreat significance in drastically improving the firepower of the front-line long-range artillery units, enhancing the efficiency in the operation of (North Koreaís) tactical nukes and diversification of their firepower missions.Ē     KCNA didnít elaborate, but its use of the words ďtactical nukesĒ suggested the weapon is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including U.S. military installations.    The KCNA dispatch didnít say when and where the launch occurred.
    ďNorth Korea is trying to deploy not only long-range nuclear missiles aimed at American cities but also tactical nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul and U.S. bases in Asia,Ē said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
    ďPyongyangís purposes likely exceed deterrence and regime survival. Like Russia employs the fear it could use tactical nukes, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation and limiting the willingness of other countries to intervene in a conflict,Ē he said.
    Some observers said the weapon showed in North Korean photos suggested it might be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile that has a highly maneuverable flight aimed at defeating missile defense systems.    Others said it could be a new missile that combines the technical characteristics of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called the KN-24.
    South Koreaís Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it had detected two launches from the Northís coastal town of Hamhung early Saturday evening.
    It said the missiles flew about 68 miles at an altitude of 16 miles and a maximum speed of Mach 4.    South Koreaís presidential office said officials have met twice this weekend to discuss the North Korean military activities.
    South Koreaís military said later Sunday that its nine-day springtime drills with the United States will start Monday.    It said the allies decided to hold computer-simulated command post exercises that donít involve field training.
People in Seoul, South Korea, watch a news program reporting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed a test-firing of a newly
developed tactical guided weapon, the latest in a spate of launches that came just after the country passed its biggest
state anniversary without an expected military parade, which it typically uses to unveil provocative weapons systems. LEE JIN-MAN/AP

4/18/2022 China sending up more astronauts in June to its newest space station
    BEIJING Ė China will launch three more astronauts to its newest space station in June after the latest crew returned this weekend following a six-month stay in orbit, an official said Sunday.    The crew of the Shenzhou 14 capsule will spend six months on the Tiangong to add two modules to the station, Hao Chun, director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, said at a news conference.    The core module of the Tiangong, or Heavenly Palace, was launched in April 2021.    Plans call for completing construction this year.

4/18/2022 Pakistan warns Afghan rulers by Kathy Gannon by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD Ė Pakistan fired off a sharp warning Sunday to Afghanistanís hard-line religious rulers to stop sheltering homegrown Pakistani Taliban militants who have staged increasingly deadly attacks against the countryís military.
    The warning followed Afghan reports that Pakistani aircraft late Friday carried out bombing raids in Afghanistanís eastern Khost and Kunar provinces, killing civilians.
    Pakistan has so far refused to comment on the Afghan allegations, instead accusing the Afghan Taliban of doing nothing to stop attacks against Pakistan by militants in Afghanistan.
    Pakistan was often accused of harboring Afghanistanís Taliban fighters before they swept to power last August as America ended its 20-year war.    Since their takeover, Islamabad has led the way in pressing the world to engage with the Afghan government.
    Itís not clear, however, whether Pakistanís new Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif will be as supportive of the Afghan Taliban as was his predecessor, Imran Khan.
    On Saturday the Taliban Foreign Ministry called in Pakistanís ambassador to complain of civilians killed in raids it said happened Friday.
    Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid warned Pakistan ďnot to test the patience of Afghans on such issues and not repeat the same mistake again otherwise it will have bad consequences

4/18/2022 Iran: Centrifuge workshop now underground by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran Ė Iran has confirmed it relocated a centrifuge facility to its underground Natanz nuclear site, state media reported, days after the U.N. atomic watchdog said it installed surveillance cameras to monitor the new workshop at Tehranís request.
    The late Saturday report by the official IRNA news agency comes as diplomatic efforts to restore Iranís tattered nuclear deal appear stalled.
    The news agency quoted the spokesman for Iranís atomic energy organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, as saying authorities had moved the operation to a safer place. Iranís centrifuge facility in Karaj found itself targeted in what Iran described as a sabotage attack in June.    Natanz itself has twice been targeted in sabotage attacks amid uncertainty over the nuclear deal.
    ďUnfortunately because of a terrorist operation that took place against Karaj, we were obliged to intensify security measures under which we moved an important part of the machines and transferred the rest to Natanz and Isfahan,Ē said Kamalvandi.    Isfahan is the location of another Iranian nuclear facility.

4/18/2022 Iran President Raisi Warns Israel Against Military Action by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Ebrahim Raisi reviews
the army troops parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah
    Khomeini Monday, April 18, 2022, outside Tehran, Iran. Raisi warned that Israel will be targeted by his
countryís armed forces if it makes ďthe tiniest moveĒ against Iran. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is warning Israel against military escalation amid ongoing mutual tensions. While speaking at a military parade in Tehran Monday, he warned of possible strikes against ďthe heart of Israel in case of an armed escalation.Ē     The Iranian president then stressed; his nationís armed forces would respond to any military move by Israel.    His remarks came after Israeli officials reportedly discussed strikes on Iranís nuclear objects if the Islamic Republic reinstates a nuclear deal with the Biden administration.
    The Iranian President also issued a warning to the Biden administration directly.
    ďI speak to the Americans: What the White House spokesman announced in front of the world that they have been disgracefully defeated in all of their sanctions in the maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran,Ē he stated.    ďThis is the destiny of those who want to challenge the sacred order of the Islamic Republic
    Raisi also claimed that Iran defeated the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq back in the 1980s and he claimed the same could happen to Israel.

4/19/2022 US, S Korea meet after Northís missile tests by Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė The U.S. special envoy for North Korea said Monday that Washington and Seoul agreed on the need for a strong response to Pyongyangís recent spate of missile tests, though they remain open to dialogue with the country.
    Sung Kim flew to South Korea for talks two days after North Korea conducted a new type of missile test in its 13th round of weapons firing this year.    Experts say North Korea wants to advance its weapons arsenal and wrest concessions like sanctions relief from its rivals.
    Weapons tested include nuclear capable missiles targeting both the U.S. mainland and its allies such as South Korea and Japan.    There are concerns that North Korea may conduct a nuclear test soon to intensify its pressure campaign.
    ďWe agreed on the need for a strong response to the destabilizing behavior we have seen fromĒ North Korea, Kim told reporters after a meeting with his South Korean counterpart.    ď(We) also agreed on the need to maintain the strongest possible joint deterrent capability on the peninsula
    South Korean nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk said he and Kim shared concerns that North Korea will likely continue to engage in acts that raise regional tensions.    He urged North Korea to return to talks.
    Kim said the allies ďhave not closed the door on diplomacyĒ with North Korea and have ďno hostile intents towardĒ the country.    He repeated his earlier statement that the United States is ready to meet North Korea ďanywhere, without any conditions
    North Korea has so far rejected Kimís outreach, saying the United States must first drop its hostile policy before talks can resume. Some experts say North Korea wants the U.S. to relax sanctions or suspend its regular military drills with South Korea, which it views as an invasion rehearsal.
    Earlier Monday, the U.S. and South Korean militaries kicked off their springtime computer-simulated command post exercise.    North Korea has previously responded to such drills with missile tests and warlike rhetoric.
    North Korea said Sunday it tested a new tactical guided weapon a day earlier, which would boost its nuclear fighting capability.    Some analysts said the weapon is likely a short-range ballistic missile to be mounted with a tactical nuclear warhead that targets South Korea.
    Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the U.S. homeland in its first test since November 2017.    U.S.-led diplomacy meant to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions remain largely stalemated.
U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim, left, speaks during a briefing
at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. AHN YOUNG-JOON/AP

4/20/2022 Blasts in Kabul kill at least 6, hurt 17 by Mohammad Shoaib Amin, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    KABUL, Afghanistan Ė Explosions targeting educational institutions killed at least six people, including students, and injured 17 Tuesday in a mostly Shiite neighborhood of Afghanistanís capital city, police said.
    The blasts, which occurred in rapid succession, were being investigated, and more casualties were feared, according to Kabul police spokesperson Khalid Zadran and the cityís Emergency Hospital. Several of the wounded were in serious condition; others had been treated and released.
    The explosions occurred inside the Abdul Rahim Shaheed High School and near the Mumtaz Education Center several miles away, both in the predominantly Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi.    There were no immediate reports of casualties at the Mumtaz Center.
    Guards in the narrow street leading to the two-story high school said they saw 10 casualties.    Inside the school, an Associated Press video journalist saw walls splattered with blood, burned notebooks and childrenís shoes.
    The AP spoke to several private guards in the area, but they refused to give their names, fearing repercussions from the Taliban security force cordoning off the area.
    It appeared a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the sprawling compound, which can house up to 1,000 students, witnesses said.    It wasnít immediately clear how many children were in the school at the time of the explosion.
    The school is teaching students only until the sixth grade after Afghanistanís hard-line Taliban rulers went back on a promise to allow all girls to attend school.
    No one immediately claimed responsibility.    The area has been targeted in the past by Afghanistanís deadly Islamic State affiliate, which reviles Shiite Muslims as heretics.
    Save the Children in Afghanistan issued a statement ďstrongly condemningĒ the attack and saying ďno school should be deliberately targeted, and no child should fear physical harm at or on the way to school
    The Islamic State affiliate known as IS in Khorasan Province, or IS-K, has previously targeted schools.    In May last year, months before the Taliban took power in Kabul, more than 60 children, mostly girls, were killed when two bombs were detonated outside their school, also in the Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood.
    IS-K first emerged in 2014 in eastern Afghanistan.    By 2019, it held significant territory in Nangarhar province and had pushed into neighboring Kunar province.    The U.S. military waged a massive air campaign against it.
    But IS survived, and it presented the greatest security challenge to the Taliban when they seized power in Afghanistan last August.
    IS-K is a longtime enemy of the Taliban.    The Taliban espouse a harsh interpretation of Islamic law and often used suicide attacks in their nearly 20-year insurgency against the U.S. and its Afghan allies.    But they have reached out to Shiites.    IS, meanwhile, opposes any group that does not accept its more radical, deeply anti-Shiite ideology.    IS, unlike the Taliban, sees its battle as one to establish a unified Muslim world under a caliphate.
A Taliban fighter stands guard beside a school that was the target of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday. EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AP

4/22/2022 Rival Korean leaders exchange letters of hope amid tensions by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė The leaders of the rival Koreas exchanged letters expressing hope for improved bilateral relations, which plummeted in the past three years amid a freeze in nuclear negotiations and North Koreaís accelerating weapons development.
    North Koreaís state media said leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday received a personal letter from outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in and replied on Thursday with his own letter appreciating Moonís peace efforts during his term.
    Pyongyangís official Korean Central News Agency said their exchange of letters showed their ďdeep trust.Ē    Moonís office also confirmed that he exchanged letters with Kim but didnít immediately say what was said.
    Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen since a series of North Korean weapons tests this year, including its first flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March.
    South Koreaís military has also detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before Kimís first meeting with then-President Donald Trump in June 2018, a possible indicator that the country is preparing to resume nuclear explosive tests.
    Moon met Kim three times in 2018 and lobbied hard to help set up Kimís meetings with Trump.    But the diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Koreaís demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility.
    Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent to counter ďgangsterlikeĒ U.S. pressure and sped up his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties.
    North Korea also severed all cooperation with Moonís government while expressing anger over the continuation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which were curtailed in recent years to promote diplomacy with the North, and Seoulís inability to wrest concessions from Washington on its behalf.
    South Koreaís next leader could take a harder line toward Pyongyang.    Conservative President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has rejected pursuing ďtalks for talksí sakeĒ with North Korea and vowed to bolster Seoulís alliance with Washington and resume their full-scale military exercises to counter the Northís nuclear threat.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, poses with South Korean President Moon Jae-in inside the Peace House at
the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in April 2018. KOREA SUMMIT PRESS/POOL VIA AP, FILE

4/23/2022 Death toll in mosque bombing rises to 33 by Kathy Gannon and Mohammad Shaob Amin, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A Taliban fighter stands guard outside the site of an explosion in
a mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif province in Afghanistan on Thursday. AP
    KABUL, Afghanistan Ė A Taliban official said a bombing at a mosque and religious school in northern Afghanistan on Friday killed at least 33 people, including students of the school.
    Zabihullah Mujahid, the Talibanís deputy culture and information minister, said the bombing in the town of Imam Saheb, in Kunduz Province, also wounded 43, many of them students.
    No one claimed responsibility, but Afghanistanís Islamic State affiliate on Friday claimed a series of bombings that happened Thursday, the worst of which was an attack on a Shiite Mosque in northern Mazar-e-Sharif that killed at least 12 Shiite Muslim worshippers and wounded scores more.
    Earlier the Kunduz provincial police spokesman put the death toll at the Malawi Bashir Ahmad Mosque and madrassa compound in Imam Saheb at two dead and six injured.    Mujahid later tweeted the higher casualty numbers tweeting 'we condemn this crime ... and express our deepest condolences to the victims.'
    Fridayís bombing is the latest in a series of deadly attacks across Afghanistan.    Mujahid called the perpetrators of the Kunduz attack 'seditionists and evil elements.'    The United Nations called the attack 'horrific.'    Deputy special representative to Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said in a tweet that 'killings must stop now and perpetrators brought to justice.'
    Since sweeping to power in August, the Taliban have been fighting the upstart Islamic State affiliate known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province or IS-K which is proving to be an intractable security challenge for Afghanistanís religiously driven government.
    In a statement Friday, the IS-K said the explosive device that devastated Mazar-e-Sharifís Sai Doken mosque was hidden in a bag left inside among scores of worshippers.    As they knelt in prayer, it exploded.
    The Taliban said they have arrested a former IS-K leader in northern Balkh province, of which Mazar-e-Sharif is the capital.     Zabihullah Noorani, information and culture department chief in Balkh province, said Abdul Hamid Sangaryar was arrested in connection with Thursdayís Mosque attack.

4/24/2022 Beijing on alert after COVID-19 cases discovered in school
    BEIJING Ė Beijing is on alert after 10 middle school students tested positive for COVID-19, in what city officials said was an initial round of testing.    City officials suspended classes in the school for a week following the positive test results on Friday.    The Chinese capital also reported four other confirmed cases that day.    Mainland China reported 24,326 new infections on Saturday, with the vast majority of them asymptomatic cases in Shanghai, where enforcement of a strict ďzero-COVIDĒ strategy has drawn global attention.

4/24/2022 7 people from missing tour boat in Japan found by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fishing boats leave a port to search for a missing tour boat in Shari, in the northern island
of Hokkaido, Japan, on Sunday. The Japanese Coast Guard says their helicopters found seven
of the 26 people on the boat thatís been missing since Saturday. KYODO NEWS VIA AP
    TOKYO Ė The Japanese Coast Guard said Sunday that rescue helicopters found seven of the 26 people from a tour boat missing in the frigid waters of northern Japan since the day before, but their conditions are unknown.
    Rescuers found four people near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula earlier Sunday and then three more people in the same area a few hours later, but the coast guard said it could not confirm whether they were rescued alive.    NHK public television said they were unconscious.
    The coast guard said all seven people were found in the same area near the tip of the peninsula north of where the boat sent a distress call Saturday. The location is known as a difficult place to maneuver boats because of its rocky coastline.    The same tour boat had an accident there last year.
    Footage on NHK showed one of the rescued people arriving on a helicopter and being transferred to an ambulance on a stretcher, and rescuers held up blue plastic shields for privacy.
    The boat carrying 24 passengers, including two children, and two crew members had gone missing after sending a distress call, saying it took on water and was beginning to sink.
    Sundayís rescue came after nearly 19 hours of intense search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers.    The coast guard said the search continued through the night.
    The 19-ton Kazu 1 made an emergency call in the early afternoon Saturday, saying the shipís bow had flooded and it was beginning to sink and tilt while traveling off the western coast of Shiretoko Peninsula on the northern island of Hokkaido, the coast guard said.
    The tour boat has since lost contact, according to the coast guard. Nineteen people are still missing.     Average April sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing.
    An official for the vesselís operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, said he could not comment because he had to respond to calls from worried families of the passengers.    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who was attending a two-day summit in Kumamoto in southern Japan, canceled his program for the second day and returned to Tokyo. He told reporters in the early hours of Sunday that he instructed officials ďto do everything they can for the rescue
    The cause of the accident is still under investigation, but experts suspect the boat ran aground and was damaged in rough seas in an area known for strong currents and a rocky coastline.
    High waves and strong winds were observed in the area around noon, according to a local fisheries cooperative.    Japanese media reports said fishing boats had returned to port before noon because of the bad weather.
    NHK said there was a warning for high waves of up to 9 feet.
    A tour boat crew belonging to another operator told NHK that he warned of rough seas when he spotted the Kazu 1 crew and told them not to go. He said the same boat went aground last year and suffered a crack on its bow.
    The coast guard confirmed that the same boat went aground in the area last June, though no one was injured in that accident.

4/25/2022 10 found dead, 16 missing after Japan tour boat sinks - Sightseeing vessel entered harsh waters by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fishing boats search for missing people Sunday, a day after the Kazu 1 ran into trouble while
traveling off the western coast of Shiretoko Peninsula, Japan. JIJI PRESS/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    TOKYO Ė Rescuers said that 10 people who were retrieved Sunday from the frigid sea and the rocky coast of a northern Japanese national park had died, a day after a tour boat with 26 aboard apparently sank in rough waters, triggering questions why it was allowed to sail.
    The search for the others is still ongoing after the boat sent a distress call on Saturday afternoon saying it was sinking.    The location, near the Kashuni Waterfall, is known as a difficult place to maneuver boats because of its rocky coastline and strong tide.
    There were two crew and 24 passengers, including two children, on the 19-ton Kazu 1 when it ran into troubles while traveling off the western coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula.    The coast guard said the 10 victims Ė seven men and three women Ė were adults.
    The Transport Ministry launched an investigation into the boatís operator, which had two accidents last year.    The ministry said it was looking into safety standards and the decision to conduct the tour despite rough weather on Saturday.
    The operator, Shiretoko Pleasure Cruise, had been instructed to take steps to improve its safety following earlier accidents in which it ran aground in June without causing injuries, and another in May, when three passengers suffered minor injuries when the boat collided with an object.
    ďWe will thoroughly investigate what caused this situation and what kind of safety oversight was involved to allow the tour in order to prevent another accident,Ē Transport Minister Tetsuo Saito, who visited the area Sunday, said.
    Following an intensive search involving six patrol boats, several aircraft and divers that went through the night, rescuers on early Sunday found four people near the tip of Shiretoko Peninsula and later six more in the same area, about 8.7 miles north from where the boat sent a distress call.    Some of them were plucked from the sea, while others were washed onto the rocky coast.
    An orange-colored, square-shaped lifesaving float with the boatís name on it was also found near the rocks, the coast guard said.
    Footage on public broadcaster NHK showed one of the victims arriving on a helicopter and being transferred to an ambulance on a stretcher.    Rescuers held up blue plastic shields to protect the victimís privacy.
    The sightseeing vessel made an emergency call early Saturday afternoon, saying its bow had flooded and that it was beginning to sink and tilt, the coast guard said.    Contact with the boat had since been lost.    The coast guard said the operator told them that everyone on the boat was wearing a life vest, but some of the victims found were without them.
    Average April Sea temperatures in Shiretoko National Park are just above freezing, which experts say would cause hypothermia.
    ďItís a very severe condition especially when they are wet,Ē Jun Abe, vice chairman of the Society of Water Rescue and Survival Research, told TBS TV.

4/25/2022 Indiaís PM visits disputed Kashmir by Aijaz Hussain, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SRINAGAR, India Ė Indiaís Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Himalayan Kashmir on Sunday for his first public event since New Delhi stripped the disputed regionís semi-autonomy and took direct control in 2019.
    Modi remotely inaugurated a tunnel and work on two hydropower projects before delivering a speech that was punctuated by his governmentís developmental achievements.    He said that the territory was put on a path of unprecedented development since 2019 but made no political commitments to the regionís people, who have been without an elected local government for four years.
    ďLet me assure the youth of the valley that they will not face difficulties and tribulations that their parents and grandparents faced,Ē Modi said, referring to the Kashmir Valley, the heartland of anti-India sentiment.    His speech was a part of a function to commemorate the annual Panchayati Raj, or grassroots democracy, Day.
    One of the power projects he laid foundation to on Sunday was first commissioned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2013.
    Tens of thousands of people and elected officials from local councils across the region assembled in Palli village near Jammu city for the speech, which was held amid tight security.    The area visited by Modi generally welcomed the Indian governmentís changes of Kashmirís status nearly three years ago.
    Officials say the councils represent grassroots governance but its members have no legislative powers.
    Government forces fanned out across Kashmir to thwart any violence.    On Friday, two suspected militants and a paramilitary officer were killed in a gunfight some 9 miles from Palli.
    Police chief Dilbag Singh said the slain militants were a ďsuicide squad from PakistanĒ likely sent to sabotage Modiís visit. He did not offer any evidence to back up his claim.
    Modiís two previous visits after Kashmirís status was changed were to military camps to celebrate a Hindu festival with soldiers.    In 2019, Modiís government revoked the regionís semi-autonomous status, annulled its separate constitution, split the area into two federal territories Ė Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir Ė and removed inherited protections on land and jobs amid unprecedented lockdown.
    The region has remained on edge since, as authorities put in place a slew of new laws that critics and many residents fear could change majority-Muslim Kashmirís demographics.
    Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan and both rivals claim the region in its entirety.    Rebels have been fighting against Indian rule since 1989.    Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebel goal that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country.    India insists the Kashmir militancy is Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.    Pakistan denies the charge, and most Kashmiris consider it a legitimate freedom struggle.    Tens of thousands of civilians, rebels and government forces have been killed in the conflict.
Indiaís Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks Sunday at a function to commemorate the annual
Panchayati Raj, or grassroots democracy, Day in Palli village near Jammu, India. CHANNI ANAND/AP

4/26/2022 Beijing set to mass-test most of its 21M citizens - As COVID-19 cases rise, few districts exempted by Emily Wang and Ken Moritsugu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Residents shop in Beijingís Chaoyang district Monday. People who live and work
in the district need to be tested for the coronavirus by Friday. NG HAN GUAN/AP
    BEIJING Ė Beijing will conduct mass testing of most of its 21 million people, authorities announced Monday, as a new COVID-19 outbreak sparked stockpiling of food by residents worried about the possibility of a Shanghai style lockdown.
    The Chinese capital began mass testing people in one of its 16 districts where most of the new cases have been found.    The city also imposed lockdowns on individual residential buildings and one section of the city.    Late in the day, health officials said the testing would be expanded Tuesday to all but five outlying districts.
    While only 70 cases have been found since the outbreak surfaced Friday, authorities have rolled out strict measures under Chinaís ďzero-COVIDĒ approach to try to prevent a further spread of the virus.
    Some residents worked from home, and many stocked up on food as a safeguard against the possibility that they could be confined indoors, as has happened in multiple cities, including the financial hub of Shanghai.    The city of Anyang in central China and Dandong on the border with North Korea became the latest to start lockdowns as the omicron variant spreads across the vast country of 1.4 billion people.
    Shanghai, which has been locked down for more than two weeks, reported more than 19,000 new infections and 51 deaths in the latest 24-hour period, pushing its announced death toll from the ongoing outbreak to 138.
    Beijing residents snapped up rice, noodles, vegetables and other food items as long lines formed in supermarkets and store workers hastily restocked some empty shelves.    State media issued reports saying supplies remained plentiful despite the buying surge.
    Shoppers appeared concerned but not yet panicked.    One woman, carrying two bags of vegetables, eggs and frozen dumplings, said she was buying a little more than usual.        A man said he isnít worried but is just being cautious since he has a 2-year-old daughter.
    Beijing health officials said 29 new cases had been identified in the 24 hours through 4 p.m. Monday, raising the total to 70 since Friday.
    The city has ordered mass testing across sprawling Chaoyang district, where 46 of the cases have been found.    The 3.5 million residents of Chaoyang, as well as people who work in the district, need to be tested on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
    Testing sites were set up overnight and in the early morning in Chaoyang at residential complexes and office buildings around the district.    Residents and workers lined up at the temporary outdoor stations for a quick throat swab by a worker in full protective gear.    The testing is free.
    Shanghai has buckled under a strict lockdown that has driven residents to band together to get food delivered through group buying.
    Beijing locked down residents in an area about 1 by 2 miles, telling them to work from home and stay in their residential compounds.    It wasnít a total lockdown, but cinemas, karaoke bars and other entertainment venues were ordered closed.
    Elsewhere, the city also shut down some or all buildings in five residential compounds, adding to others that were locked down on Sunday.

4/26/2022 North Korea begins military parade amid revived tensions by Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A submarine-launched ballistic missile is displayed in Kim Il Sung Square during a military parade
in Pyongyang, North Korea, in 2017 to celebrate the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the countryís late
founder and grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un. North Korea began a much-anticipated military parade
in its capital on Monday, marking the 90th anniversary of its armyís founding. WONG MAYE-E/AP FILE
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė North Korea began a much-anticipated military parade in its capital on Monday to mark the 90th anniversary of its armyís founding, with outside experts saying it was likely to display powerful missiles and other weapons capable of targeting the United States and its allies.
    South Koreaís military said the march began late Monday evening in Pyongyang after a pre-parade ceremony.    It didnít immediately provide other details, such as whether North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was present.
    NK News, a North Korea-focused news site, cited unidentified sources as saying that 12 illuminated flying objects, possibly drones or helicopters, were seen in the sky above Pyongyang, followed by the sounds of fireworks.
    In past parades, North Korea has often displayed newly built nuclear-capable missiles and goose-stepping soldiers in an attempt to intimidate its rivals and bolster internal unity. Kim has also given speeches highlighting his commitment to boosting the armed forces to cope with what he calls U.S. hostility.
    The parade comes as Kim is reviving nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and remove crippling economic sanctions.    Analysts say North Korea is exploiting a favorable environment to push forward its weapons program as the United Nations Security Council remains divided over Russiaís war in Ukraine.
    Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since 2019 because of disagreements over the potential easing of U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps.    Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the countryís dismal economy in face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to fully surren- der a nuclear arsenal he sees as his biggest guarantee of survival.    North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons tests this year, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017.
    There are also signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground that was last active in 2017, possibly in preparation for a resumption of testing.    It could also conduct a banned launch of a long-range rocket to put a spy satellite into orbit or test-fly missiles over Japan, experts say.    North Korean state media did not immediately report the parade.    Earlier Monday, official newspapers ran editorials calling for stronger public support of Kim.
    ďThe respected Comrade Kim Jong Un is the symbol of the mightiness of our party, state and revolutionary armed forces and the representative of their great dignity,Ē the main Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an editorial.    ďAll happiness and rosy future lie in following the respected General Secretary Kim Jong Un.Ē    North Koreaís recently tested weapons are potentially capable of striking the U.S. homeland as well as South Korea and Japan.    The North has spent much of the past three years focusing on expanding its short-range arsenal targeting South Korea as nuclear negotiations with the United States stalled.
    Kimís aggressive military push could also be motivated by domestic politics since he doesnít otherwise have significant accomplishments to show to his people as he marks a decade in power.    He failed to win badly needed sanctions relief from his diplomacy with former U.S. President Donald Trump, and the COVID-19 pandemic unleashed further shocks to the countryís broken economy, forcing him to acknowledge last year that North Korea was facing its ďworst-ever situation

4/27/2022 Australian opposition party vows to train Pacific armies by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    CANBERRA, Australia Ė Australiaís opposition party promised Tuesday to establish a Pacific defense school to train neighboring armies in response to Chinaís potential military presence on the Solomon Islands.
    The school was among a range of measures that the center-left Labor Party has promised to increase Australiaís engagement in its region if the opposition wins elections on May 21.
    Labor has criticized Prime Minister Scott Morrisonís conservative government over a security pact announced last week between China and the Solomon Islands.
    Australia and the United States fear the deal could result in a Chinese naval presence less than 1,200 miles from the northeast Australian coast.
    There are also concerns that other Pacific island countries financially weakened by the pandemic and its impact on tourism could be lured by China into similar deals.
    Labor foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong said Australia needed to restore its place as the partner of choice in the Pacific region.     ďLetís be clear, the prospect of a Chinese base less than 2,000 kilometers from Australiaís coastline is dramatically detrimental to Australiaís security interests,Ē Wong said.    ďThat has occurred on Mr. Morrisonís watch
    The Australia-Pacific Defense School would deepen institutional links between the Australian Defense Force and its regional counterparts while supporting the regionís needs, a policy statement said.
    Opposition defense spokesperson Brendan OíConnor said Australia currently only provided some training for its neighborsí commissioned military officers and none for lower ranks.
    ďIn recent years, this government has been derelict when it comes to its relationship with Ö Pacific Island countries,Ē OíConnor said.
    Morrison stood by his governmentís record during its nine years in office, saying Australia provided the Pacific with 1.8 billion Australian dollars ($1.3 billion) a year in aid.
    Australia was the only country in the world that had a diplomatic mission in each of the countries that make up the Pacific Islands Forum and has provided every country with naval patrol boats.
    A Labor government would double funding for Australiaís aerial surveillance of its neighborsí territorial waters to reduce illegal fishing and help finance clean energy infrastructure projects.
    ďWhat theyíre effectively saying is theyíre going to keep doing what weíve been doing,Ē Morrison said, referring to Laborís Pacific proposals.
    Labor also promised to spend an additional $379 million over four years on aid to Pacific countries plus East Timor.
    The state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corp. would be funded to take more Australian television, radio and online media content to a broader Pacific audience.    Partnerships would be built with Pacific broadcasters to carry Australian voices, values and identities to the region to counter Chinese television and radio.
    Changes to Australian visas would also make it easier for Pacific Islanders to work and settle in Australia.
    Australia is the Solomon Islandsí main security partner and largest donor of foreign aid.    Labor has described the Chinese security pact with the island nation as Australiaís biggest policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
    President Joe Bidenís administration has warned that the United States will take unspecified action against the Solomon Islands should the Chinese pact pose a threat to U.S. or allied interests.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood by his governmentís record, saying itís provided the
Pacific with 1.8 billion Australian dollars ($1.3 billion) a year in aid. MICK TSIKAS/AAP IMAGE VIA AP

4/29/2022 Beijing orders schools closed by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING Ė Beijing is closing all city schools in a further tightening of COVID- 19 restrictions, as Chinaís capital seeks to prevent a wider outbreak.
    The city of 21 million has already ordered three rounds of mass testing this week, with the third coming Friday.
    On Thursday, the cityís Education Bureau ordered all schools to end classes from Friday and said it hadnít determined when they would resume.
    It also wasnít clear whether schools would be able to offer classes online or allow students facing crucial exams to return to class.
    Beijing announced 50 new cases on Thursday, two of them asymptomatic, bringing its total in the latest wave of infections to around 150.    Students make up more than 30% of total cases, with clusters linked to six schools and two kindergartens in Chaoyang.
    Also Thursday, residents of two housing compounds in Beijingís Chaoyang district were ordered to stay inside and some clinics and businesses shut down.    Beijing has moved more swiftly than many Chinese cities to impose restrictions while case numbers remain low and the scale of the outbreak is still manageable.
    The goal is to avoid the sort of sweeping measures imposed on Shanghai, where the highly transmissible omicron variant has torn through the city of 25 million.    Restrictions confining many Shanghai residents to their homes are now in their fourth week and all schools have been online since last month.

4/29/2022 Explosions in Afghanistan kill at least 9, wound 13
    KABUL, Afghanistan Ė Two explosions, within minutes of each other, killed at least nine people and wounded 13 in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, a spokesman for a Taliban-appointed police chief said.    The blasts targeted two vehicles in Mazar-e-Sharif, the capital of Balkh province, according to Mohammad Asif Waziri, the spokesman.    The source of the blasts was not immediately clear and the spokesman provided no further details.    No one claimed responsibility for the attack.    Taliban security cordoned off the area.

4/30/2022 Kim warns N. Korea would Ďpreemptivelyí use nuclear weapons - US-Pyongyang talks have been stalled since 2019 by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea Ė North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned yet again that the North could preemptively use its nuclear weapons if threatened, as he praised his top military officials over the staging of a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang, this week.
    Kim expressed ďfirm willĒ to continue developing his nuclear-armed military so that it could ďpreemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary,Ē the Northís official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.
    KCNA said Kim called his military officials to praise their work on Mondayís parade, where the North showcased the biggest weapons in its militaryís nuclear program, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the U.S. homeland and a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles that pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan.    KCNA didnít say when the meeting took place.
    The parade marking the 90th anniversary of North Koreaís army came as Kim revives nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of his country as a nuclear power and remove crippling economic sanctions.
    Speaking to thousands of troops and spectators mobilized for the event, Kim vowed to develop his nuclear forces at the ďfastest possible speedĒ and threatened to use them if provoked.
    He said his nukes would ďnever be confined to the single mission of war deterrentĒ in situations where the North faces external threats to its unspecified ďfundamental interests
    North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons launches in 2022 alone, including its first full-range test of an ICBM since 2017, as Kim exploits a favorable environment to push forward its weapons program as the U.N. Security Council remains divided and effectively paralyzed over Russiaís war in Ukraine.
    Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been stalled since 2019 because of disagreements over a potential easing of U.S.led sanctions in exchange for North Korean disarmament steps.
    Kim has stuck to his goals of simultaneously developing nuclear weapons and the countryís dismal economy in the face of international pressure and has shown no willingness to fully surrender a nuclear arsenal he sees as his biggest guarantee of survival.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed ďfirm willĒ to continue developing his
nuclear-armed military. KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP FILE


    This page created on 3/1/2022, and updated each month by 3/31/2022, 4/30/2022.

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