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

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
Or return to the Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
Or return to King Of The East 2022 March-April or continue to King Of The East 2022 July-August.

KING OF THE EAST 2022 MAY-JUNE


    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the East" is?
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
       
    The spectacular rise of China on the world scene, and achievements are spectacular, indeed.    In just one generation, they have tripled their per capita income, and lifted over 300 million people out of poverty.
    Xi Jinping is still president for life and continues to push "Belt And Road Project" fits the scenerio to fulfil prophecy to go into the Middle East at the appointed time.
    He continues to push the unconditional authority of the Communist Party, and controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, boosted its military capabilities and unveiled a vast international logistics and transportation project called the “Belt and Road” initiative that aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so I believe the The King of the East has made his bed and have become the major competitor for energy and other commodities.
    As to the emergence of India in the global technological culture 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 “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.
    As to kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text, they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates.    Commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced.    The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.


    Since Iran has become more of an issue during 2019 I decided to input the following again regarding Jeremiah 49:35-39 New King James Version (NKJV) PROPHESY OF ELAM to let you know what the Bible says about them and their possible future.
35Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.
36 Against Elam I will bring the four winds From the four quarters of heaven, And scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies And before those who seek their life.    I will bring disaster upon them, My fierce anger,’ says the Lord; ‘And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.
38 I will set My throne in Elam, And will destroy from there the king and the princes,’ says the Lord.
39 ‘But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,’ says the Lord.”
   
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used, for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem.    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9;) is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used (as in Akkadian), for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem (Genesis 10:22).    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.    Their language was not one of the Semitic languages, but is considered a linguistic isolate.
    Elam (the nation) is also mentioned in Genesis 14, describing an ancient war in the time of Abram (father of the tribe, for possibles leaders over time) not Abraham, (father of many nations) involving Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam at that time, and noted that Sarai, Princess of the tribe, who became the final as Sarah.
    The prophecies of the Book of Isaiah (11:11, 21:2, 22:6) and the Book of Jeremiah (25:25) also mention Elam.    The last part of Jeremiah 49 is an apocalyptic oracle against Elam which states that Elam will be scattered to the four winds of the earth, but "will be, in the end of days, that I will return their captivity," a prophecy self-dated to the first year of Zedekiah (597 BC).
    The Book of Jubilees may reflect ancient tradition when it mentions a son (or daughter, in some versions) of 'Elam named "Susan," whose daughter Rasuaya married Arpachshad, progenitor of another branch of Shemites.    Shushan (or Susa) was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. (Dan. 8:2)



2022 MAY-JUNE

5/1/2022 Kim warns N Korea could use nukes by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned again that the North could preemptively use its nuclear weapons if threatened, as he praised his top army officials for a massive military parade in the capital, Pyongyang, last week.
    Kim expressed “firm will” to continue developing his nuclear-armed military so that it could “preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever-escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Saturday.
    KCNA said Kim called his military officials to praise their work during Monday’s parade, where the North showcased the biggest weapons in its nuclear arsenal, including intercontinental ballistic missiles that could potentially reach the U.S.    The North also rolled out a variety of shorter-range solid-fuel missiles designed to be fired from land vehicles or submarines, which pose a growing threat to South Korea and Japan.
    The parade marking the 90th anniversary of North Korea’s 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 parade, Kim vowed to develop his nuclear forces at the “fastest possible speed” and threatened to use them if provoked.    He said his nuclear weapons would “never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent” in situations where the North faces external threats to its “fundamental interests.”
    Kim’s comments suggested he would continue a provocative run-in weapons testing to dial up the pressure on Washington and Seoul.    South Korea will inaugurate a new conservative government in May that could take a harder line on Pyongyang following the engagement polices of outgoing liberal President Moon Jae-in that produced few results.
    Kim’s threat to use his nuclear forces to protect his country’s ambiguously defined “fundamental interests” possibly portends an escalatory nuclear doctrine that could pose greater concern for South Korea, Japan and the United States, experts say.
    North Korea has conducted 13 rounds of weapons launches so far this year, including its first full-range test of an ICBM since 2017, while Kim exploits a favorable environment to push forward its weapons program as the U.N. Security Council remains divided and effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
    U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Jalina Porter said the United States was aware of reports that North Korea could be preparing to conduct a nuclear test, which she said would be deeply destabilizing for the region and undermine the global nonproliferation regime.
    “We urge the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing activity and instead engage in serious and sustained dialogue,” she said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has expressed “firm will” to continue
developing his nuclear-armed military. KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP, FILE

5/1/2022 Beijing shuts dine-in services for holidays to stem outbreak
    BEIJING – Restaurants in Beijing have been ordered to close dine-in services over the May holidays as the Chinese capital grapples with a COVID-19 outbreak.    Authorities said at a news conference Saturday that dining in restaurants has become an infection risk, citing virus transmissions between diners and staff.    Restaurants have been ordered to only provide takeout services from Sunday to Wednesday.    Authorities have also ordered parks, scenic areas and entertainment venue to operate at half capacity during the holiday period.

5/2/2022 Australian opposition launches campaign - Labor Party leader addresses inflation by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s opposition party officially launched its election campaign Sunday with an emphasis on cutting costs of living for voters as inflation surges to its highest rate in 21 years.
    The center-left Labor Party started campaigning in the west coast city of Perth for the first time since World War II, in a demonstration of how important Western Australia state is to the party’s ambition to win control of government in the May 21 elections.
    Opposition leader Anthony Albanese promised lower costs for child care and medicines if he becomes prime minister.
    With many aspiring home owners priced out of the housing market, a Labor government would buy a stake of up to 40% in dwellings bought by thousands of eligible low-and-middle-income earners.    Labor also promised to raise standards in aged care and increase pay for staff.
    “We can do better than this, so much better than this,” Albanese told supporters, referring to the conservative government’s nine years in power.    We will look after the young, we will look after the sick, we will look after our older Australians.
    “No one held back and no one left behind.”
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison attacked Labor’s plan to take a stake in homes, arguing a Labor government would expect to make money out of such deals.
    “They will have equity in your home. And as … your equity goes up, they’re going to keep it,” Morrison said.    “I don’t have a plan to make money off people buying homes.    Quite the opposite.    I want them to own their own home.”
    Official data released last week showed that Australia’s inflation rate rose to 5.1% in the year through March.    It is the highest annual rate since 2001, when a newly introduced 10% federal consumption tax created a temporary hike.    Inflation in the latest March quarter was sharply higher than the 3.7% three months earlier.    The March result was driven by a surge in fuel and housing costs, as well as food shortages created by recent Australian floods.
Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese, right, is met by former prime minister Paul Keating before speaking during the
Labor Party campaign launch in Perth on Sunday. Australia will have a national election on May 21. LUKAS COCH/AAP IMAGE VIA AP

5/2/2022 2 people rescued 50 hours after China building collapses by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – Two people were rescued Sunday from the rubble of a building in central China more than 50 hours after it collapsed, leaving dozens trapped or missing, state media said.
    Separately, police arrested nine people including the building owner on suspicion of causing a major liability accident, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
    State broadcaster CCTV showed video of rescuers bringing a woman out on a stretcher about 4:30 p.m.    Some could be heard shouting words of encouragement during the operation.    She was taken to a hospital and is in stable condition, CCTV said.    State media reported another person was brought out alive later but provided no details.
    Seven people have been rescued from the building, which collapsed Friday afternoon in the inland city of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province.    About 20 others remained trapped, and another 39 had not been accounted for as of late Saturday.
    Besides the owner, police said they had arrested three people in charge of design and construction and five others for what they said was a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.
    In photos the building appeared to have pancaked down to about the second floor, leaving rubble strewn on the sidewalk.    It had stood in a row of buildings about six stories tall.
    Xinhua said the building had eight floors, including a restaurant on the second floor, a cafe on the third floor and residences on the top two floors.    Other media reports said it was a six-story building.    Tenants had made structural modifications to the building, but the cause of the collapse remained under investigation, Xinhua said.
    Police said the Hunan Xiangda Engineering Testing Co. issued the false safety report on April 13.    The arrested included the legal representative of the company.
    Following an increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping said     Saturday that it was necessary to check such structures for any hidden dangers and fix them to prevent major accidents, Xinhua said.
    Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for such disasters.
Rescuers evacuate a woman pulled alive from a collapsed building Sunday in Changsha, in central China’s Hunan Province.
The woman was rescued from the rubble more than 50 hours after the building collapsed, leaving dozens trapped or missing,
state media said. The cause of the collapse is under investigation. SHEN HONG/XINHUA NEWS AGENCY VIA AP

5/4/2022 Sri Lanka opposition declares no confidence in government by Krishan Francis, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s main opposition party on Tuesday issued a no-confidence declaration aiming at ousting Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Cabinet and blaming them of failing in their constitutional duty to provide a decent living standard amid the island nation’s worst economic crisis in memory.
    A group from United People’s Force party, led by leader Sajith Premadasa, delivered the motion demanding the no-confident parliamentary vote to Parliament Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena.
    The move came amid countrywide protests demanding the resignation of Rajapaksa and his younger brother, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who the demonstrators hold responsible for the economic crisis.
    A majority vote in the 225-member Parliament would be needed to remove Rajapaksa and the Cabinet from power.    The United People’s Force can only count on 54 votes but hopes to win votes from smaller opposition parties and defections from the ruling Sri Lanka People’s Front party.    The ruling party had nearly 150 votes but that strength has declined amid the crisis and defections in a no-confidence vote are possible.
    A decision on when to hold the no confidence vote is expected to happen after members of Parliament start meeting on Wednesday.
    The United People’s Force also delivered a no-confidence motion targeting the president but it would not force him to leave office even a majority of lawmakers vote against him.
    Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy after the country’s recent announcement to suspend payments on its foreign loans.    The country faces repayments of $7 billion of foreign loans this year of the $ 25 billion it is scheduled to pay by 2026.
Anti-government protesters march outside the president’s office in Colombo on Tuesday, demanding
the resignation of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

5/5/2022 North Korea launches ballistic missile amid rising animosities by Hyung-Jin Kim, Kim Tong-Hyung and Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
HONG KI-WON/YONHAP VIA AP TOP: A TV at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, shows a news program Wednesday with file
footage of Kim Jong Un. South Korea called North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches “a grave threat.” LEE JIN-MAN/AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to speed up the development of his nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible pace” and threatened to use them against rivals.
    The launch, the North’s 14th round of weapons firing this year, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term.
    South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North’s capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast.    It called North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches “a grave threat” that would undermine international peace and security and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any ballistic launch by the North.
    The statement said that Won In-Choul, the South Korean JCS chief, held a video conference about the launch with Gen. Paul LaCamera, an American general who heads the South Korea-U.S. combined forces command in Seoul, and they agreed to maintain a solid joint defense posture.
    Japan also detected the North Korean launch and quickly condemned it.
    “North Korea’s series of actions that threatens the peace, safety and stability of the international community are impermissible,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters during his visit to Rome.
    Kishida said he’ll discuss the launch when he meets Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi later Wednesday.
    “Naturally, we will exchange views on the regional situation in the Indo-Pacific and East Asia, and I will thoroughly explain the reality of the region including the North Korean missile launch today, to gain understanding about the pressing situation in the East Asia,” he said.
    Japanese Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said that the missile was believed to have landed in waters outside of the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone.    There has been no report of damage or injury reported from vessels and aircraft in the area.
    It wasn’t immediately known what missile was launched by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK, the North’s official name.    South Korea’s military said the missile flew about 290 miles at the apogee of 485 miles, while Oniki of Japan said it traveled about 310 miles at the maximum altitude of 500 miles.
    U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the latest launch and other North Korean activities using ballistic missile technology “only contributes to increasing regional and international tensions.”
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “again urges the DPRK to fully comply with its international obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions,” he said.    “Diplomatic engagement remains the only pathway to sustainable peace and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
    The United States has circulated a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council seeking additional sanctions against North Korea for its spate of tests this year.    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters Tuesday “it is our plan to move forward with that resolution during this month” when the United States holds the rotating council presidency.
    “We’re very concerned about the situation there, the numerous violations of Security Council resolutions that the DPRK has engaged in, and it is our hope that we can keep the council unified in condemning those actions by the DPRK,” she said.
    But diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the resolution faces an uphill struggle because Russia and China, which have veto power in the Security Council, want to see sanctions against North Korea eased – not increased.
    Observers say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations.    They say Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win an international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the U.S. to relax international economic sanctions on the North.
    One of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland.    That missile’s launch broke Kim’s self-imposed 2018 moratorium on big weapons tests.
    There are signs that the North is also preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility.    If made, the nuclear bomb test explosion by North Korea would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017.
    Last week, Kim Jong Un showcased his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles targeting both the United States and its allies during a massive military parade in capital, Pyongyang.    During a speech at the parade, Kim said he would develop his arsenal at the “fastest possible pace” and warned that the North would preemptively use its nuclear weapons if its national interests are threatened.
    North Korea has previously unleased harsh rhetoric threatening to attack its rivals with its nuclear weapons.    But the fact that Kim made the threat himself and in a detailed manner have caused security jitters among some South Koreans.    Taken together with North Korea’s recent tests of short-range nuclear-capable missiles, some experts speculate North Korea’s possibly escalatory nuclear doctrine would allow it to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on South Korea in some cases.
    Wednesday’s launch came before the May 10 inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to boost Seoul’s missile capability and solidify its military alliance with Washington to better cope with increasing North Korean nuclear threats.
    North Korea has a history of raising animosities with weapons tests when Seoul and Washington inaugurate new governments in an apparent bid to boost its leverage in future negotiations.
    Yoon’s power transition office called the latest North Korean launch “a grave provocation” and urged Pyongyang to stop acts that raise tensions and threaten international peace.    It said in a statement that the Yoon government will strongly respond to North Korean provocations in close cooperation with the international community.
    Some experts say the Biden administration’s passive handling of North Korea as it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an intensifying rivalry with China is allowing room for the North to expand its military capabilities.
A U.S. Air Force U-2S spy plane prepares to land at the Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea,
Wednesday. North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters days after
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to speed up the development of his nuclear weapons.

5/5/2022 Beijing closes 10% of subway stations to stem COVID spread
    BEIJING – China’s capital on Wednesday closed 60 subway stations, more than 10% of its vast system, as an additional measure against the spread of the coronavirus.
    Forty stations were closed from the morning, and 20 more were added in the afternoon.    The Beijing subway authority in a brief message said only that the mostly downtown stations were being shut as part of epidemic control measures.    No date for the resumption of service was given.
    Beijing has been on high alert for the spread of COVID-19, with restaurants and bars limited to takeout, gyms closed and classes suspended indefinitely.    Major tourist sites in the city, including the Forbidden City and the Beijing Zoo, have closed their indoor exhibition halls and are operating at only partial capacity.
    A few communities where cases were discovered have been isolated.    People residing in “controlled” areas were told to stay within city limits.
    Beijing on Wednesday recorded just 51 new cases, five asymptomatic.
From wire reports

5/5/2022 Venezuela’s Maduro, others meet with Iran oil minister by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    CARACAS, Venezuela – President Nicolás Maduro and other high-ranking Venezuelan officials have met with the oil minister of Iran to discuss cooperation in energy matters and efforts to defeat economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
    Officials from both oil-producing nations ratified agreements in this week’s meetings in Venezuela, according to a statement from that country’s Petroleum Ministry.    Iran’s delegation was led by Oil Minister Javad Owji.
    Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami praised “the position assumed by the Persian nation in the construction of routes and mechanisms to overcome the unilateral coercive measures imposed by the government of the United States and allied countries,” according to the statement.    Neither country announced the visit in advance.
    Since late President Hugo Chávez won power in 1999 and founded the current leftist government, Venezuela has strengthened relations in the energy, commercial, financial and industrial areas with Iran.    In recent years, Iran has shipped gasoline and other products to the country amid a U.S. sanctions campaign.
    Venezuela has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, but its industry is facing a crisis that officials associate with sanctions imposed by the U.S. to pressure the exit of the Maduro government, but which analysts maintain is due to a fall in production, financial difficulties and lack of investment.
    Maduro on Tuesday tweeted that Venezuela has “always” had the support of Iran.    He added that Iran can count on Venezuela’s “support and commitment to continue advancing along the path of shared benefit and complementarity for our peoples.”
    Owji also tweeted that the countries have a long history and want “to use all capacities to develop mutual relations and cooperation.”

5/6/2022 Hong Kong reopens beaches, Beijing relaxes quarantine rules
    BEIJING – Hong Kong reopened beaches and pools on Thursday in a relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, while China’s capital Beijing began easing quarantine rules for arrivals from overseas.    Hong Kong had closed water sports venues during an outbreak of the omicron variant but has been reducing restrictions as cases decline.    Beijing will now require arrivals from overseas to quarantine at a hotel for 10 days, followed by a week of home isolation.    Previous rules required 21 days of isolation, with at least 14 of them at a hotel.

5/6/2022 US investigators fly to China to aid in plane crash probe by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – U.S. accident investigators arrived in China on Saturday to help authorities look for clues into what caused last month’s crash of a Boeing jetliner with 132 people aboard.
    The seven-member team from the National Transportation Safety Board will participate in the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s investigation of the March 21 crash of a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 because the aircraft was manufactured in the U.S.
    As part of that assistance, the plane’s cockpit voice recorder is being downloaded and analyzed at a U.S. lab in Washington, federal officials said Friday.
    Investigators hope the recording will explain why the plane went into a nosedive from about 29,000 feet over a mountainous region in southeastern China.
    Chinese officials have said that air traffic controllers were unable to get a response from the pilots while the plane was descending.
    The cockpit voice recorder would pick up voices and other sounds from microphones worn by the pilots and another stationed over their heads.
    Searchers also recovered the plane’s flight-data recorder, which constantly captures speed, altitude, heading and other information and the performance of key systems on the aircraft, but that recorder was not being evaluated in Washington on Friday.
    The NTSB said its investigators will limit contact with people outside the investigation so that they can start their work immediately without going through a quarantine period.
    The plane that crashed was not a 737 Max, a newer model that was temporarily grounded worldwide following two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.
    The impact caused by the crash in China created a 65-foot-deep crater, set off a fire in the surrounding forest and smashed the plane into small parts scattered over a wide area, some of them buried underground.    More than 49,000 pieces of debris have been recovered, along with some human remains and personal items.
    A Chinese aviation safety official said a preliminary investigation report would be completed within 30 days of the crash.
Flight MU573
    5 with 123 passengers and nine crew members was headed from the southwestern city of Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, a major city and export manufacturing hub near Hong Kong in southeastern China.
    The 737-800 has an excellent safety record and the Chinese airline industry has had relatively few mishaps in recent years.
    Before last month’s accident, the last fatal crash of a Chinese airliner occurred in August 2010, when an Embraer ERJ 190-100 operated by Henan Airlines hit the ground short of the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire, killing 44 people.    Investigators blamed pilot error.

5/7/2022 Ex-security chief to be Hong Kong’s next leader - China-installed official will take office in July by Kin Cheung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    HONG KONG – China is installing a career security official as the new leader of Hong Kong in the culmination of a sweeping political transformation that has gutted any opposition in the Asian financial center and placed it ever more firmly under Beijing’s control.
    John Lee, formerly the city’s No. 2 official, is the only candidate Sunday in what is an election in name only. Well more than half of the 1,500-member Election Committee that selects the chief executive has already endorsed him and he needs only a simple majority to win.
    Speaking to supporters Friday, Lee acknowledged that Hong Kong has deep-rooted problems and reiterated his intention to bring a “results-oriented” approach.
    “Hong Kong has to seize its opportunity, we cannot afford to wait, we cannot be late,” the 64-year-old former police officer said.    “We will have to consolidate Hong Kong as an international city, to develop Hong Kong’s potential as a free and open society, to connect the mainland of China and the world.”
    Lee will replace Carrie Lam on July 1. Her 5-year term was marked by Hong Kong’s most tumultuous period since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.    The election follows major changes to Hong Kong’s electoral laws last year to ensure that only “patriots” loyal to Beijing can hold office.    That also saw the legislature reorganized to all but eliminate opposition voices.
    The elaborate arrangements surrounding the predetermined outcome speak to Beijing’s desire for a veneer of democracy.    Though they will vote in a secret ballot, Hong Kong’s electors have all been carefully vetted.
    “Even autocracies today feel obligated to go through the motions of staging an election in order to project greater legitimacy to their own population and to the international community,” said Yvonne Chiu, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College who has written extensively about Hong Kong politics.
    Lam implemented Beijing’s orders and was widely seen as the face of the crackdown.    But the career bureaucrat still seemed out of step with China’s hardline president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.    For her successor, Beijing opted for Lee, a former top police official and staunch advocate of the new National Security Law that outlaws subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.    More than 150 activists and others have been arrested since its implementation.
    Following passage of the law in 2020, the United States sanctioned Lee, Lam and other Hong Kong and mainland Chinese government officials, for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly.”
    Almost all government critics have been jailed, fled abroad or been intimidated into silence.    Thousands of residents have voted with their feet, with many professionals and others leaving the city of 7.4 million people.
China is moving to install John Lee as the new leader of Hong Kong in the culmination of a sweeping political transformation that has
gutted the Asian financial center’s democratic institutions and placed it ever more firmly under Beijing’s control. KIN CHEUNG/AP

5/7/2022 Sri Lanka leader declares emergency amid protests by Krishan Francis, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad.
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s president declared a state of emergency on Friday amid widespread public protests demanding his resignation over the country’s worst economic crisis recent memory.
    President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has issued a decree declaring a public emergency effective Friday.
    Sri Lanka is near bankruptcy having announced that it is suspending repayment of its foreign loans and its usable foreign currency reserves plummeting below $50 million.    It has $7 billion foreign loan repayments this year out of $25 billion to be repaid by 2026.
    Rajapaksa’s announcement comes as protesters demonstrate near Parliament while others continue to occupy the entrance to the president’s office, demanding Rajapaksa and his powerful ruling family to quit, holding them responsible for the economic crisis.
    Similar protests have spread to other locations, with people setting up camps opposite the prime minister’s residence and other towns across the country.
    For several months, Sri Lankans have endured long lines to buy fuel, cooking gas, food and medicine, most of which come from abroad.    Shortages of hard currency have also hindered imports of raw materials for manufacturing and worsened inflation, which surged to 18.7% in March.
    As oil prices soar during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Sri Lanka’s fuel stocks are running out.    Authorities have announced countrywide power cuts extending up to 71/2 hours a day because they can’t supply enough fuel to power generating stations.
Sri Lankans demand the resignation of the government in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Friday. Shops, offices
and schools closed and transport came to a near standstill amid nationwide demonstrations against the
government over its alleged inability to resolve the worst economic crisis in decades. Eranga Jayawardena/AP

5/8/2022 Taliban: Women to cover up head to toe by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Saturday ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe clothing in public – a sharp, hard-line pivot that confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and was bound to further complicate Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
    The decree, which calls for women to only show their eyes and recommends they wear the head-to-toe burqa, evoked similar restrictions on women during the Taliban’s previous rule between 1996 and 2001.
    “We want our sisters to live with dignity and safety,” said Khalid Hanafi, acting minister for the Taliban’s vice and virtue ministry.
    The Taliban previously decided against reopening schools to girls above grade 6, reneging on an earlier promise and opting to appease their hard-line base at the expense of further alienating the international community.
    That decision disrupted efforts by the Taliban to win recognition from potential international donors at a time when the country is mired in a worsening humanitarian crisis.
    “For all dignified Afghan women wearing Hijab is necessary and the best Hijab is chadori (the head-to-toe burqa) which is part of our tradition and is respectful,” said Shir Mohammad, an official from the vice and virtue ministry in a statement.
    “Those women who are not too old or young must cover their face, except the eyes,” he said.

5/8/2022 Al-Qaida chief: US to blame for Ukraine war by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BAGHDAD – Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri made an appearance in a pre-recorded video to mark the 11th anniversary of the death of his predecessor Osama bin Laden.
    Al-Zawahri says in the video that “U.S. weakness” was the reason that its ally Ukraine became “prey” for the Russian invasion.
    The 27-minute speech was released Friday according to the SITE Intelligence group, which monitors militant activity.
    Urging Muslim unity, al-Zawahri said the U.S. was in a state of weakness and decline, citing the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.    Bin Laden was the mastermind and financier behind the attacks.
    “Here (the U.S.) is after its defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan, after the economic disasters caused by the 9/11 invasions, after the corona pandemic, and after it left its ally Ukraine as prey for the Russians,” he said.
    Al-Zawahri’s whereabouts are unknown.    He is wanted by the FBI and there is a $25 million reward for information leading to his capture.

5/9/2022 Australia PM mum on reaction to feared Chinese base by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s prime minister on Sunday refused to say how his government might respond if China attempted to establish a military base less than 1,200 miles off the Australian coast on the Solomon Islands.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that a Chinese naval base on the impoverished South Pacific island nation would be a “red line” for both Australia and the United States.    His language was reminiscent to President Barack Obama’s declaration in 2012 that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would be crossing a “red line” requiring American military intervention.
    Morrison was questioned by a journalist during an election campaign debate about a recent security pact be clear tween China and the Solomon Islands.
    Asked what he meant by “red line,” he replied: “It means that was something that Australia believes would be completely against our national interest.”
    “We also believe it will be against the Solomon Islands’ national interest and we share that view in a similar language with the United States,” Morrison added.
    Morrison declined to say whether Australia would attempt to blockade any attempt to build a Chinese base.    “I think it would be very unwise for any government to speculate around these issues,” he said.
    “What is necessary in international environments such as this is to be very about what the various partners’ positions are.    That is United States’ position and certainly our position and I believe it is a broader position of the Pacific islanders family as well,” he said.
    The United States said it would take unspecified action against the Solomons should the agreement with China pose a threat to U.S. or allied interests.
    The Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare told Parliament last week that opponents of the security pact had threatened his country “with invasion.”
    On the threat of invasion, Morrison said last week, “none of that’s true.”
    Sogavare has maintained that there would be no Chinese base in his country and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.
    A draft of the pact, which was leaked online, said Chinese warships could stop in the Solomon Islands for logistical replenishment and China could send police and armed forces there “to assist in maintaining social order.”    The Solomon Islands and China have not released the final version of the agreement.
    Opposition leader Anthony Albanese, who will become prime minister if his center-left Labor Party defeats the ruling conservative coalition in May 21 elections, accused Morrison of a “massive foreign policy failure” in allowing the China-Solomons deal to be sealed.
    Albanese has promised closer engagement between Australia and its South Pacific island neighbors if Labor wins.
    Australia has a bilateral security pact with the Solomon Islands and had sent a peacekeeping force to the capital, Honiara, in November after civil unrest.
Morrison

5/10/2022 US seeks urgent UN Security Council meeting – N Korea’s latest ballistic missile test sparks action by Edith M. Lederer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    UNITED NATIONS – The United States called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday following North Korea’s latest test of a ballistic missile that was likely fired from a submarine.
    The test was the latest sign of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un carrying out a recent vow to escalate development of nuclear weapons.
    The United States holds the rotating presidency of the council this month and called the meeting to discuss the North’s latest launches, a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of an official announcement.
    The meeting is expected to take place Wednesday afternoon and would be open.
    So far this year, North Korea has fired missiles 15 times.    They include the country’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March that demonstrated a potential range to reach the entirety of the U.S. mainland.
    The launch on Saturday was apparently North Korea’s first demonstration of a submarine-launched ballistic missile system since October 2021, when it fired a new short-range missile.
    The latest launch came just ahead of the inauguration on Tuesday of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to take a tougher approach over the North’s nuclear ambitions.
    U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday the United Nations has expressed concern at all missile tests and “we want to call, once again for a return to dialogue among all the parties on the Korean Peninsula so that we can proceed with the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”
    The United States has circulated a draft resolution to the Security Council seeking additional sanctions on North Korea for its spate of tests this year.    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters last Tuesday that “it is our plan to move forward with that resolution during this month” while the U.S. holds the council presidency.
    But diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the resolution faces an uphill struggle because Russia and China, which have veto power in the council, want to see sanctions on North Korea eased – not increased.
    The council originally imposed sanctions after the North’s first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years.
    But last fall, China and Russia called for lifting various sanctions on their neighbor, and in January they blocked the Security Council from imposing sanctions on five North Korean officials.
    Observers said North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons development this year is aimed at advancing its dual goals of modernizing its missile programs and applying pressure on the United States over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations.
    They said Kim is seeking to use his expanded arsenal to win an international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on his country.
    There are signs that North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility.
    If a test is conducted, it would be the seventh explosion of a nuclear weapon by North Korea and the first since 2017.
    Kim warned again in late April that he will continue to develop North Korea’s nuclear-armed military so it could “preemptively and thoroughly contain and frustrate all dangerous attempts and threatening moves, including ever escalating nuclear threats from hostile forces, if necessary,” according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
So far this year, North Korea, under leader Kim Jong Un, has
fired missiles 15 times. KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP FILE

5/10/2022 Sri Lanka Prime Minister Resigns Amid Protests Over Economic Crisis by OAN Newsroom
Sri Lankan government supporters make an attempt to attack anti-government protesters outside
president’s office residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, May 9, 2022. Sri Lankan Prime Minister
Mahinda Rajapaksa resigned Monday following weeks of protests demanding that he and his brother, the
president, step down over the country’s worst economic crisis in decades. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)
    Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has stepped down amid the nation’s worst economic crisis in decades. An aide to the Prime Minister submitted a letter to the President’s Office on Monday confirming his resignation.
    This comes as rampant inflation and shortages of essentials, including food and medicine, have sparked ongoing protests that started in March.    Additionally, the former Prime Minister resigned hours after police announced a nationwide curfew after at least 100 people were sent to the hospital following demonstrations.
    “He is trying to get more and more power,” said Democratic National Alliance Leader Sarath Fonseka.    “Trying to take the country into a dictatorship and take it in a direction where he thinks he can strengthen his family, he can strengthen his own hands and run the country like a dictator.”
    In the meantime, trade unions in the country are calling for more protests throughout the week.

5/11/2022 Marcos Jr. set to win Philippine vote by Jim Gomez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MANILA, Philippines – The namesake son of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos appeared to have been elected Philippine president by a landslide in an astonishing reversal of the 1986 “People Power” pro-democracy revolt that ousted his father.
    Marcos Jr. had more than 30.8 million votes in the unofficial results with more than 97% of the votes tabulated as of Tuesday afternoon.    His nearest challenger, Vice President Leni Robredo, a champion of human rights, had 14.7 million votes in Monday’s election, and boxing great Manny Pacquiao appeared to have the third-highest total with 3.5 million.
    His running mate, Sara Duterte, the daughter of the outgoing president and mayor of southern Davao city, had a formidable lead in the separate vice-presidential race.    The alliance of the scions of two authoritarian leaders combined the voting power of their families’ political strongholds in the north and south but compounded worries of human rights activists.
    Dozens of anti-Marcos protesters rallied at the Commission on Elections, blaming the agency for the breakdown of vote-counting machines and other issues that prevented people from casting their votes.    Election officials said the impact of the malfunctioning machines was minimal.
    A group of activists who suffered under the dictatorship said they were enraged by Marcos’ apparent victory and would oppose it.
    “A possible win based on a campaign built on blatant lies, historical distortions and mass deception is tantamount to cheating your way to victory,” said the group Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law.    “This is not acceptable.”
    Etta Rosales, a former Commission on Human Rights chairwoman who was twice arrested and tortured during martial law in the 1970s, said Marcos Jr.’s apparent victory drove her to tears but would not stop her from continuing efforts to hold the Marcoses to account.
    “I’m just one among the many who were tortured; others were killed, I was raped.    We suffered under the Marcos regime in the fight for justice and freedom and this happens,” Rosales said.
    Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte avoided volatile issues during their campaign and instead stuck steadfastly to a battle cry of national unity, even though their fathers’ presidencies opened some of the most turbulent divisions in the country’s history.
    Marcos Jr. has not claimed victory but thanked his supporters in a late-night “address to the nation” video, where he urged them to stay vigilant until the vote count is completed.    “If we’ll be fortunate, I’ll expect that your help will not wane, your trust will not wane because we have a lot of things to do in the times ahead,” he said.
    Robredo has not conceded defeat but acknowledged the massive Marcos Jr. lead in the unofficial count.
    She asked her supporters to continue to stand up: “Press for the truth.    It took long for the structure of lies to be erected.    We have the time and opportunity now to fight and dismantle this.”
    The election winner will take office on June 30 for a single six-year term.
Demonstrators in Manila, Philippines, protest the legitimacy of the results of the presidential elections. AARON FAVILA/AP

5/12/2022 North Korea confirms 1st COVID-19 case by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea announced its first coronavirus infection more than two years into the pandemic Thursday as leader Kim Jong Un called for raising COVID-19 preventive measures to maximum levels.
    The Korean Central News Agency said tests from an unspecified number of people in the capital Pyongyang confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant.    North Korea had previously claimed a perfect record in keeping out COVID-19, a claim widely doubted by outside experts.
    The agency said Kim called a meeting of the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s Politburo where members decided to raise its anti-virus measures.    Kim during the meeting called for officials to stabilize transmissions and eliminate the infection source as fast as possible.
    Despite the decision to elevate antivirus steps, Kim ordered officials to push ahead with scheduled construction, agricultural development and other state projects while bolstering the country’s defense postures to avoid any security vacuum.
    Kim said officials must also formulate steps to ease any public inconveniences and other negative situations that could flare as a result of the boosted anti-pandemic measures.    Kim said that “the single-minded public unity is the most powerful guarantee that can win in this anti-pandemic fight,” KCNA said.
    To keep the virus from entering its territory, North Korea had closed its border to nearly all trade and visitors for two years that further shocked an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program.
    North Korea in January tentatively reopened railroad freight traffic between its border town of Sinuiju and China’s Dandong, but China announced a halt to the trade last month as it deals with a spread of COVID-19 in Dandong.
    North Korea so far has shunned vaccines offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, possibly because those have international monitoring requirements.

5/13/2022 N Korea reports 6 deaths from COVID-19 - Outbreak hits, but scale is unclear by Kim Tong-Hyung and Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said Friday that six people died and hundreds of thousands of others fell ill amid an explosive spread of fever across the nation, a day after it acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak in a largely unvaccinated population for the first time since the pandemic began.
    The true scale of the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea is still unclear, as North Korea – which lacks COVID-19 diagnostic kits and other medical equipment – said it hasn’t found why the fever has happened.    But some experts say the outbreak can cause major consequences because North Korea’s health care infrastructure remains broken and many of the North’s unvaccinated population are malnourished.
    The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday that more than 350,000 people have been treated for fever that “explosively” spread nationwide since late April and that 162,200 of them were recovered.    It said that 18,000 people were newly found with fever symptoms on Thursday alone.
    It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the cases were COVID-19 as KCNA said the cause of the fever couldn’t be identified.
    KCNA said one of the six people who died was confirmed to have been infected with the omicron variant.
    Currently, it said that 187,800 people in North Korea are being isolated for treatment.
    North Korea imposed a nationwide lockdown on Thursday to control its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak after maintaining a widely doubted claim for more than two years that it completely fended off the virus that has spread to nearly every place in the world.
    State media said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant.    The reports did not specify the number of cases.
    Experts say a failure to slow coronavirus infections could have serious consequences because the country has a poor health care system and its 26 million people are believed to be mostly unvaccinated.
    KCNA said Kim was briefed over the fever during his visit state emergency epidemic prevention headquarters on Thursday and criticized officials for failing to prevent “a vulnerable point in the epidemic prevention system.”
    He said the spread of the fever has been centered around capital Pyongyang and nearby areas and underscored the importance of isolating all work, production and residential units from one another while providing residents with every convenience in curbing the spread of the “malicious virus.”
    “It is the most important challenge and supreme tasks facing our party to reverse the immediate public health crisis situation at an early date, restore the stability of epidemic prevention and protect the health and wellbeing of our people,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
    Describing its anti-coronavirus campaign as a matter of “national existence,” North Korea had severely restricted cross-border traffic and trade for the past two years and is even believed to have ordered troops to shoot on sight any trespassers who cross its borders.
    The border closures further battered an economy already damaged by decades of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile program, pushing Kim to perhaps the toughest moment of his rule since he took power in 2011.
    North Korea in January tentatively reopened railroad freight traffic between its border town of Sinuiju and China’s Dandong, but China announced a halt to the trade last month.
    Hours after North Korea confirmed the outbreak Thursday, North Korea launched three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea, South Korea and Japan said, in what possibly was a show of strength after leader Kim Jong Un publicly acknowledged the virus outbreak.
    It was the North’s 16th round of missile launches this year as it pushes a brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiate sanctions relief and other concessions.

5/13/2022 Price hikes in Iran stir panic, anger - Cooking oil, chicken, eggs, milk see up to 300% increase by Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran abruptly raised prices as much as 300% for a variety of staples such as cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk on Thursday.    Scores of alarmed Iranians waited in long lines to snatch up bundles of food and emptied supermarket shelves across the country in the hours before the price hike took effect.
    Panicked shoppers raided stores and stuffed basic goods into large plastic bags, according to footage shared widely on social media.    Lines in Tehran snaked out of grocery stores late Wednesday.    On Thursday, Iran’s currency dropped to a low of 300,000 rial to the dollar.
    Internet disruptions were reported across Iran as the government braced for possible unrest, advocacy group NetBlocks.org said.    Protests appeared to spring up in the remote and impoverished south, according to videos shared online.    The Associated Press could not verify their authenticity but the footage corresponded to reported events.
    The scenes revealed not only deep anxiety gripping the country and frustration with Iran’s leaders, but also underscored the staggering economic and political challenges facing them.
    Food prices across the Middle East have surged because of global supply chain snarls and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which both export many essentials. Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has kept many farmers from the fields.
    Although Iran produces roughly half of its own wheat, it imports much of the rest from Russia.    The war has added to inflationary pressures.    Smuggling of Iran’s highly subsidized bread into neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has spiked as hunger spreads across the region.
    Drought is already ravaging Iran’s economy.    Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear deal have caused additional difficulties.    Inflation has soared to nearly 40%, the highest level since 1994. Youth unemployment also remains high.    About 30% of Iranian households are below the poverty line, according to Iran’s Statistics Center.
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has promised to create jobs, lift sanctions and rescue the economy, but talks to revive Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers remain deadlocked.     Iranian families have seen their purchasing power rapidly diminish.
    The government is trying to act swiftly to blunt the pain.    Authorities have promised to pay every Iranian citizen about $14 a month to compensate for the price hikes.
    The cost of special and artisan breads, such as French baguette and sandwich bread, has multiplied by 10, bakery owners said.     But authorities are careful not to touch subsidies on the country’s flatbread, which contributes more to the Iranians’ daily diet than anything else.
    Subsidies, and bread subsidies in particular, remain a highly sensitive issue for Iran, which has been roiled by bread riots throughout its history.    In the 1940s, bread shortages triggered mass street protests and a deadly crackdown that brought down Premier Ahmad Qavam.
    Memories of Iran’s fuel price hike three years ago also remain fresh. Widespread protests – the most violent since the creation of the Islamic Republic in 1979 – rocked the country. Hundreds of demonstrators were killed in the crackdown, according to Amnesty International.
    But in recent weeks, the government has allowed prices to surge for almost every other staple, including pasta, until Thursday’s hike for remaining Iranian dinner table basics.
    As Iranians vent about the rising prices of flour, the top trending hashtag on Twitter in recent weeks has been #macaroni – the term Iranians use for all types of pasta.
    “I am sure the government does not care about average people,” Mina Tehrani, a mother of three told the AP as she browsed a supermarket in Tehran.    She stared in shock at a price tag for pasta – now 165,000 rials for a pound, compared to 75,000 rials last month.
    Iranians who had forgone meat or dairy to save money have nothing left to cut, complained Tehran resident Hassan Shahbazzadeh.    “Now even macaroni is taken off their dining table,” he said.
    “This jump in the price of flour has made people crazy,” said Saleh, a grocery store worker in Susangerd, a city in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan, home to an ethnic Arab population that has alleged discrimination and includes a separatist movement.
    Saleh said the price of a sack of 88 pounds of flour had soared to the equivalent of $18 from $2.50 in recent weeks, stoking intense anger in the restive province.
    “Many rushed to groceries to buy macaroni and other things for their daily needs,” he said, giving only his first name for fear of reprisals.
    Tempers have also flared in Iran’s parliament.    “The waves of increasing in prices have made people breathless,” Kamal Hosseinpour, a lawmaker for the Kurdish area, said in a parliament session earlier this week.    “Macaroni, bread and cooking oil are the main staples of Iran’s weaker people.    … Where are the officials and what are they doing?
    Supporters of the government have described the price hikes as “necessary economic surgery” – part of a parliament-approved reform package.    Some social media users have ridiculed the term, saying officials have removed the patient’s heart instead of the tumor.
    As outrage over rising inflation surges online, Iranian authorities appear to be bracing for the worst.
    Internet monitoring group NetBlocks.org told the AP that it was tracking internet disruptions at a “national scale” that “are likely to impact the public’s ability to communicate.”    Article 19, a global research organization that fights censorship, reported on Thursday that authorities appeared to have shut down almost all internet connectivity in cities across Khuzestan province.
    The issue of high prices “is security-related,” lawmaker Majid Nasserinejad said ominously.    “People cannot tolerate it anymore.”
A customer looks at display cases at a bakery in Tehran, Iran, on Wednesday. VAHID SALEMI/AP

5/13/2022 Plane veers off runway in China and catches fire; 36 injured
    BEIJING – A Chinese passenger jet veered off the runway during takeoff and caught fire on Thursday, sending black smoke billowing into the air and injuring more than 30 people.    The Tibet Airlines flight with 122 people on board was departing from the southwestern city of Chongqing for a flight to Nyingchi in China’s Tibet region.    During the evacuation of the Airbus A319-115 jet, 36 people were injured with sprains or scrapes, according to the southwest regional branch of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

5/14/2022 Shanghai to try to ease 7-week virus lockdown - Restrictions were attempt to create ‘zero-COVID’by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – Shanghai will try again to reopen in a few days after it has eliminated COVID-19 transmission among the general population as the outbreak in China’s largest city subsides, an official said Friday.
    The strict lockdown of the city – now in its seventh week, but lifted and reinforced at times to the frustration of residents – is part of the ruling Communist Party’s “zero-COVID” policy that has exacted a mounting economic toll and that even the World     Health Organization says may be unsustainable.    The goal in Shanghai is to achieve “elimination in society,” meaning any new cases would only be in people already in isolation, Vice Mayor Wu Qing said at a news conference.    That would allow an “orderly opening, limited (population) flow, and differentiated management,” Wu said.
    No exact date beyond the middle of the month was given, nor did Wu say how the reopening would occur except that the city intends to gradually restore industrial production, education and medical services.
    Shanghai officials have made similar assurances in the past, only for restrictions to return even as cases wane in the city of 25 million people.
    Complaints about food shortages and other hardships and videos posted online showing people in Shanghai and other areas arguing with police have been deleted by censors.
    In Beijing, which has a much smaller outbreak, more daily testing has been ordered, classes have been suspended, people have been ordered to work from home, restaurants are restricted to takeout service, and many shops, tourist sites, banks and government offices are closed.
    Some residential communities are under lockdown, and residents have been warned to avoid traveling between city districts.
    Shanghai reported 2,096 new COVID- 19 cases on Friday, all but 227 of them in people not showing symptoms. Beijing reported 50 cases, in line with recent daily totals.
    At a Friday briefing, National Health Commission spokesperson Mi Feng said that while case numbers are dropping, local transmission has not been entirely cut in some places and the situation remains “grim and complex.”
    In a sign that testing may become routine in the future, authorities have ordered all cities to set up testing sites that are no more than 15 minutes’ walk from where people live.
North Korea reports deaths
    Six people have died and 350,000 have been treated for a fever that has spread “explosively” across North Korea, state media said Friday, a day after the country acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time in the pandemic.
    The North’s Korean Central News Agency said that, of the 350,000 people who developed fevers since late April, 162,200 have recovered.
    One of the six people who died was infected with the omicron variant, KCNA said.    But it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the total illnesses were COVID-19.
A resident collects food from a delivery worker at a checkpoint on a street during a COVID-19
lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai Friday. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

5/14/2022 EU official has hopes for Iran nuclear deal by Frank Jordans, ASSOCIATED PRESS
EU envoy Enrique Mora, left, and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator,
Ali Bagheri Kani, meet in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP
    WEISSENHAUS, Germany – The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Friday he is hopeful stalled talks with Iran over the country’s nuclear program can reach an agreement.
    The talks between Tehran and world powers are deadlocked in part over Iran’s demand for the U.S. to lift a terrorist designation on the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
    Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the Group of Seven major economies in Germany, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign policy, said an EU envoy visited Tehran this week for talks that had 'gone better than expected.'
    'The negotiations have been stalled for two months due to this disagreement about what to do with the Revolutionary Guard,' Borrell said.    'These kind of things cannot be solved overnight, but let’s say the negotiations were blocked and they have been deblocked.    Which means there is a perspective of reaching agreement.'
    Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian echoed Borrell’s assessment, saying on Twitter the discussions between the EU envoy and Iran’s negotiator 'were another opportunity to focus on initiatives to resolve the remaining issues.'
    'A good and reliable outcome is within reach if US makes its decision & adheres to its commitments,' Abdollahian wrote.
    Meanwhile, the EU’s envoy, Enrique Mora, said Friday he was briefly detained with colleagues at Frankfurt Airport while transiting from Tehran to Brussels, in breach of diplomatic rules.
    Mora said he received 'not a single explanation' from German authorities.    'An EU official on an official mission holding a Spanish diplomatic passport. Took out my passport and my phones,' he wrote on Twitter.
    He said the EU ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna and the head of the EU’s Iran task force were also detained.
    German federal police said the diplomats were singled out by a computerized system because of their travel from Tehran, rather than any information about them as individuals.    They were released after 40 minutes, police said.

5/14/2022 Biden wants ASEAN leaders to speak out against Russia by Aamer Madhani, ASSOCIATED PRESS
'Our hope is to see the war in Ukraine stop as soon as possible.' Retno Marsudi, Indonesian Foreign Minister
    WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden is looking to nudge Southeast Asian leaders to be more outspoken about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but the war is a delicate issue for many members of the region’s 10-country alliance that has deep ties to Moscow.
    Biden welcomed leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to the White House on Thursday night for a dinner to kick off a two-day summit, the first meeting of the group to be held in Washington in its 45-year history.
    The White House is also trying to demonstrate that it is stepping up involvement in the Pacific even as the administration has been focused on the war in Ukraine.
    It announced the United States would commit to more than $150 million in new projects to bolster Southeast Asia’s climate, maritime and public health infrastructure.
    But finding consensus with ASEAN members on the Russian invasion could prove to be difficult.
    White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday said Ukraine would be on the agenda for the leaders’ talks, but she wouldn’t predict whether the group would touch on the Russian invasion in the summit’s concluding communique.
    'I will say that a number of the ASEAN participants have been important partners in calling out the aggressive action of Russia,' she said, and 'in participating and in supporting sanctions and, certainly, abiding by them.'
    Some ASEAN members – Vietnam, Myanmar, and Laos – have depended on Russia for military hardware.    With the exception of Singapore – the only member of the 10-member group to impose direct sanctions against Moscow – the alliance has avoided criticizing President Vladimir Putin or Russia’s prosecution of the war.
    Indonesia has been guarded in its public comments on the invasion, and the Philippines has made clear it won’t impose sanctions against Russia.    Thailand joined a United Nations vote against the invasion of Ukraine but has maintained a position of neutrality in the war.
    'Our hope is to see the war in Ukraine stop as soon as possible, and we give the peaceful resolution of a conflict a chance to succeed,' Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters on Friday at the start of meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
    'Because we know that if the war continues, all of us will suffer.'
    Leaders met with Vice President Kamala Harris at the State Department on Friday for talks, and Biden was to address them later in the afternoon.
    The ASEAN nations whose leaders are attending are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
    The top leaders from ASEAN member Myanmar were barred, and outgoing Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte dispatched Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. to represent his government.
    Harris told the group the Biden administration 'recognizes the vital strategic importance' of the bloc, and she assured the leaders, 'The United States will be present and continue to be engaged in Southeast Asia for generations to come.'
    The summit came just before Biden’s trip next week to South Korea and Japan – his first visit to Asia as president.
    He will hold talks with those two countries’ leaders and also meet with leaders from the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad, made up of Australia, India and Japan in addition to the U.S.

5/14/2022 Iran arrests 22 protesting food price increase by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian authorities have arrested at least 22 demonstrators who had been protesting sudden price hikes of subsidized staple foods in two southern cities, state media reported early Friday.    The arrests follow Iran’s announcement this week that the cost of cooking oil, chicken, eggs and milk would rise by as much as 300%, as food prices surge across the Middle East due to global supply chain snarls and Russia’s invasion of major food exporter Ukraine.
    The state-run IRNA news agency reported that 15 people were arrested overnight in the southwestern city of Dezful in Khuzestan province, as well as seven others in the city of Yasuj in Kohgiluyeh-Boyerahmad Province in the south.    The report also said that 200 people had gathered in another city in Khuzestan province – Andimeshk – where one firefighter was injured after demonstrators threw stones at police and firefighters.
    The situation had calmed in all areas by Friday, IRNA added, posting pictures of President Ebrahim Raisi meeting shoppers in Tehran supermarkets to hear their concerns.
    Before the demonstrations, advocacy group NetBlocks.org said that internet disruptions were reported across the country as the government braced for possible unrest.
    Footage widely circulating on social media showed several other protests in Khuzestan, with some turning violent with protesters burning tires in the street and police firing tear gas to disperse them.    The Associated Press could not immediately verify the videos’ authenticity.
    Iran imports half of its cooking oil from Ukraine, where fighting has kept many farmers from the fields, and almost half of its wheat from Russia.    Smuggling of Iran’s highly subsidized bread into neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan has spiked as hunger spreads across the region.
    Drought is already ravaging Iran’s economy, and Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program have caused additional difficulties.    Inflation has soared to nearly 40%, its highest level since 1994.    Youth unemployment also remains high.    Some 30% of Iranian households live below the poverty line according to Iran’s Statistics Center.

5/14/2022 N Korea confirms 21 new deaths as it fights COVID-19 by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Saturday reported 21 new deaths and 174,440 more people with fever symptoms as the country scrambles to slow the spread of COVID-19 across its unvaccinated population.
    The deaths and cases, which were from Friday, increased total numbers to 27 deaths and 524,440 illnesses amid a rapid spread of fever since late April.    North Korea said 243,630 people had recovered and 280,810 remained in quarantine.    State media didn’t specify how many of the fever cases and deaths were confirmed as COVID- 19 infections.
    The country imposed nationwide lockdowns on Thursday after confirming its first COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a meeting on anti-virus strategies on Saturday described the outbreak as a historically “huge disruption” and called for unity between the government and people to stabilize the outbreak as quickly as possible.
    Experts say a failure to control the spread of COVID-19 could have devastating consequences in North Korea, considering the country’s poor health care system and that its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated.
    State media said tests of virus samples collected Sunday from an unspecified number of people with fevers in the country’s capital, Pyongyang, confirmed they were infected with the omicron variant.    The country has so far officially confirmed one death as linked to an omicron infection.
    The viral spread could have been accelerated after tens of thousands of civilians and troops gathered for a military parade in Pyongyang on April 25.
[DONT TAKE THE VACCINES OR MASKS SINCE THEY DO NOT STOP THE CORONAVIRUS TAKE IVERMECTINE AND OTHER TREATMENTS LIKE MONOCHONALS TO AVOID THE LIES BY THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION.].

5/15/2022 WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has tested positive for COVID-19 but said she still plans to travel to the U.S. later this month for a trade trip and to give the commencement speech at Harvard University.     Ardern on Saturday posted a photo of her positive test result on Instagram and said she was disappointed to miss several political announcements this week.    Ardern, who is fully vaccinated, has been isolating at her home since May 8, after her fiancé Clarke Gayford tested positive.

5/15/2022 NEW DELHI – India has banned exports of wheat effective immediately, citing a risk to its food security, partly due to the war in Ukraine.    A notice in the government gazette by the Directorate of Foreign Trade, dated Friday, said a spike in global prices for wheat was threatening the food security of India and neighboring vulnerable countries.    Even though it is the world’s second largest producer of wheat, India consumes most of the wheat it produces.    It had set a goal of exporting 10 million tons of the grain in 2022-2023.

5/16/2022 Okinawa marks 50 years of end to American rule - Protesters seek speedier reduction of US forces by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Protesters march in Ginowan, Okinawa, on Sunday in opposition to the ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of Okinawa
Prefecture’s return to Japan after 27 years of American rule in the wake of World War II. KYODO NEWS VIA AP
    TOKYO – Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki on Sunday urged Japan’s central government to do more to reduce the U.S. military presence in the southern island group as it marked the 50th anniversary of its return to Japan after 27 years of American rule, amid frustration and bitterness over a lack of support from the mainland.
    Tamaki said Okinawa has come a long way since the devastation of World War II and nearly three decades of U.S. rule, which ended when it reverted to Japan on May 15, 1972.    But the tiny island group’s yearslong demand for the mainland to share its security burden remains unresolved.
    “I call on the central government to share with the entire nation the significance of Okinawa’s reversion and the importance of permanent peace that Okinawans have long craved for,” Tamaki said.
    Ceremonies marking the anniversary were held simultaneously in two locations – one in the Okinawan city of Giowan, home to a disputed U.S. air station, and the other in Tokyo.    The separate ceremonies symbolize the deep divide in views about Okinawa’s history and ongoing suffering.
    Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he takes Okinawa’s concerns seriously and will make efforts to reduce the burden while still maintaining U.S. military deterrence on the islands.
    Kishida and his minister in charge of the islands were in Okinawa, where hundreds of protesters staged a rally Saturday demanding a speedier reduction of U.S. military forces, as fears grow that Okinawa may become a front line of conflict amid rising China tensions.
    More protests were held Sunday on Okinawa Island, including one in the prefectural capital of Naha, where nearly 1,000 people renewed their demands for peace.
    Resentment and frustration run deep in Okinawa over the heavy U.S. presence and Tokyo’s lack of effort to negotiate with Washington to balance the security burden.
    Because of the U.S. bases, Okinawa faces burdens including noise, pollution, accidents and crime related to American troops, Okinawan officials and residents say.
    Adding to Okinawa’s fears is the growing deployment of Japanese missile defense and amphibious capabilities on Okinawa’s outer islands.
    Okinawa was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, which killed about 200,000 people, nearly half of them Okinawa residents.
    Okinawa was sacrificed by Japan’s imperial army to defend the mainland, and many Okinawans are skeptical that the Japanese military would protect them in future conflicts, experts say.
    The U.S. military kept its troop presence on the island group for 20 years longer than most of Japan, until 1972, due to Okinawa’s strategic importance for Pacific security to deter Russia and communism.
    Many Okinawans had hoped that the islands’ return to Japan would improve the economy and human rights situation, as well as base burdens.

5/16/2022 Australian PM launches late campaign by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s embattled prime minister on Sunday officially launched his conservative party’s campaign less than a week before elections, highlighting the nation’s early success in containing the pandemic.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s coalition trails the center-left Labor Party opposition in most opinion polls as the administration seeks a rare fourth three-year term in elections next Saturday.    Morrison focused the party launch on economic management, traditionally regarded as the strength of his conservative Liberal Party.
    He described the election as “a choice between a strong economy or a weaker one that only makes your life harder, not better ... a choice between a stronger future or a more uncertain one in an already terribly uncertain world.”
    Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said in response that “even Scott Morrison is distancing himself from Scott Morrison.”
    “This prime minister won’t change, which is why we need to change the government,” Albanese said.

5/16/2022 Suicide bomber kills 6, gunmen kill 2 Sikhs in NW Pakistan
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide bombing near a security forces vehicle killed three soldiers and three children in northwest Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan on Sunday, while gunmen shot dead two Sikhs in Peshawar, officials said.    A military statement said the suicide bomber triggered his explosives-laden vest near a vehicle on security patrol in a village near the town of Mir Ali in the tribal district of North Waziristan.    The attack ultimately killed three soldiers and three children playing alongside the road.

5/18/2022 WHO: China’s COVID plan is ‘unsustainable’ by ASSOCIATED PRESS
A resident collects food from a delivery worker at a checkpoint on a street during a COVID-19
lockdown in the Jing’an district in Shanghai on Tuesday. HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    GENEVA – The head of the World Health Organization said China’s extreme approach to containing the coronavirus is unsustainable because of the highly infectious nature of the omicron variant, but that it’s up to every country to decide what policy to pursue.
    At a press briefing on Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described China’s “zero-COVID” strategy as “not sustainable” after similar remarks last week drew sharp criticism from China.
    “We know the virus better and we have better tools, including vaccines, so that’s why the handling of the virus should actually be different from what we used to do at the start of the pandemic,” Tedros said.    He added that the virus had changed significantly since it was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, when China largely stopped its spread with lockdowns.
    Tedros said the WHO had repeatedly advised Chinese officials about their recommended COVID containment strategies, but that “regarding their choice of policies, it is up to every country to make that choice.”
    The ruthless and often chaotic implementation of zero-COVID in China has stirred considerable resentment and food shortages in Shanghai, where some residents have been under lockdown for more than a month.
    WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said the agency recognized that China had faced a difficult situation with COVID-19 recently and commended authorities for keeping the number of deaths to a very low level.
    “We understand why the initial response of China was to try and suppress infections to the maximum level (but) that strategy is not sustainable and other elements of the strategic response needs to be amplified,” he said.    Ryan added that vaccination efforts should continue and emphasized that “a suppression-only strategy is not a sustainable way to exit the pandemic for any country.”
    WHO chief Tedros also said the agency was trying to convince North Korea and Eritrea to begin COVID-19 vaccination?
    “WHO is deeply concerned at the risk of further spread in (North Korea),” Tedros said, noting that the population is unvaccinated and there are worrying numbers of people with underlying conditions that put them at risk of severe disease.
    Tedros said the WHO has asked North Korea to share more data about the outbreak there – which state media have reported is affecting more than 1 million people – but has so far had no response.    He said the WHO had offered to send both North Korea and Eritrea vaccines, medicines, tests and technical support, but that neither country’s leader has yet responded.
    Ryan said any unchecked transmission in countries like North Korea and Eritrea could spur the emergence of new variants, but that the WHO was powerless to act unless countries accepted its help.
People wearing face masks walk past a sign reading “Mask on and stay away
from crowds” at a green space in Beijing, Tuesday. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP

5/18/2022 North Korea reports another jump in suspected coronavirus cases by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea on Wednesday reported 232,880 new cases of fever and another six deaths as leader Kim Jong Un accused officials of “immaturity” and “slackness” in handling the escalating COVID-19 outbreak ravaging across the unvaccinated nation.
    The country’s anti-virus headquarters said 62 people have died and more than 1.7 million have fallen ill amid a rapid spread of fever since late April.    It said more than a million people recovered but at least 691,170 remain in quarantine.
    Outside experts say most of the illnesses would be COVID-19, although North Korea has been able to confirm only a small number of COVID-19 cases since acknowledging an omicron outbreak last week, likely because of insufficient testing capabilities.
    A failure to control the outbreak could have dire consequences in North Korea, considering its broken health care system and its rejection of internationally offered vaccines that has left a population of 26 million unimmunized.
    The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the fever tally, considering the lack of tests and resources to monitor the sick, and there’s also suspicion that North Korea is underreporting deaths to soften the blow for Kim, who already was navigating the toughest moment of his decade in power.    The pandemic has further damaged an economy already broken by mismanagement and U.S.-led sanctions over Kim’s nuclear weapons and missiles development.
    The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim during a ruling party Politburo meeting on Tuesday criticized officials over their early pandemic response, which he said underscored “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis” and blamed the vulnerability on their “nonpositive attitude, slackness and nonactivity.”
    He urged officials to strengthen virus controls at workplaces and make “redoubled efforts” to improve the supply of daily necessities and stabilize living conditions, the KCNA said Wednesday.
    Kim’s comments came days after he ripped officials over how they were handling the distribution of medicine released from state reserves and mobilized his army to help transport the supplies to pharmacies in capital Pyongyang, which were made open 24 hours to deal with the crisis.
    Before acknowledging COVID-19 infections last Thursday, North Korea had insisted of a perfect record in keeping out the virus that has reached nearly ever corner of the world, a claim that was widely doubted.
    But its extremely strict border closure, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that stressed anti-virus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have staved off a huge outbreak until now.
    It’s unclear whether the North’s admission of a COVID-19 outbreak communicates a willingness to accept outside help.    Kim’s government had shunned millions of vaccine shots offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because of international monitoring requirements attached to them.
    It has so far ignored rival South Korea’s offer to provide vaccines, medicine and health personnel, but experts say the North may be more willing to accept help from its main ally China.    South Korea’s government said it couldn’t confirm media reports that North Korea flew multiple planes to bring back emergency supplies from China on Tuesday.
    North Korean officials during Tuesday’s meeting continued to express confidence that the country could overcome the crisis on its own.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a ruling party Politburo meeting on Tuesday criticized officials over their early pandemic response, which he said underscored “immaturity in the state capacity for coping with the crisis.”

5/19/2022 US: N. Korea may conduct test during Biden’s Asia trip - Adviser doesn’t say how Washington might react by Aamer Madhani and Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Wednesday that the U.S. is preparing for
North Korea to conduct a “long range missile test, or a nuclear test or frankly both.” SUSAN WALSH/AP
    WASHINGTON – U.S. intelligence shows that it’s a “genuine possibility” that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear test around President Joe Biden’s visit to South Korea and Japan that begins later this week, according to the White House.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Wednesday said that the U.S. is preparing for North Korea to conduct a “long range missile test, or a nuclear test or frankly both” in the days leading up to, during, or after Biden’s trip to the region.    The president is set to arrive in South Korea on Friday before heading to Japan on Sunday.
    “We are preparing for all contingencies including the possibility that such a provocation would occur while we’re in Korea or in Japan,” Sullivan said.    “We are coordinating closely with our allies in both Korea and Japan on this.”
    North Korea in recent months has test-launched a spate of missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure its rivals to accept the country as a nuclear state and relax their sanctions.    The latest tests – the firing of short-range missiles toward the sea – came on the same day last week that Pyongyang acknowledged its first COVID case.
    Sullivan said he spoke with his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, about a potential provocation by the North during a call between the two officials earlier on Wednesday. Beijing has served as North Korea’s closest interlocutor.
    The senior Biden adviser did not specify how the U.S. might react to further testing by North Korea, but said the administration would “make both short and longer term adjustments to our military posture as necessary to ensure that we are providing both defense and deterrence to our allies in the region” in response to Pyongyang.
    North Korea’s recent provocative run-in weapons demonstrations, including its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile in nearly five years, is brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power and negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
    It also comes amid a massive COVID-19 outbreak in the North, the first time during the more than two-year-old pandemic that North Korean officials have acknowledged the virus has been detected within its borders.
    The North Korean nuclear threat is expected to be at the top of the agenda when Biden meets South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
    Kim Tae-hyo, Yoon’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters Wednesday that North Korea probably won’t conduct a nuclear test this week but that its preparations for another ICBM test appeared imminent.
    Kim Jong Un during Tuesday’s Politburo meeting affirmed he would “arouse the whole party like (an) active volcano once again under the state emergency situation” to prove its leadership before history and time and “defend the well-being of the country and the people without fail and demonstrate to the whole world the strength and the spirit of heroic Korea once again,” KCNA said.    The report did not make a direct reference to a major weapons test.

5/19/2022 Pakistani Taliban extend truce by Munir Ahmed, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD – The Pakistani Taliban on Wednesday said they are extending a cease-fire with the government until May 30, after the two sides held talks hosted by the Afghan Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.
    The spokesman for the militant group in Pakistan, Mohammad Khurasani, said the talks between the Pakistani Taliban and the Islamabad government were being facilitated by Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.
    The Taliban in Kabul confirmed the talks and the extension of the ceasefire.    Their spokesman, Bilal Karimi, said they are doing their “best for the continuation and success of the negotiations.”
    The Pakistani militant group – known as Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakista – is separate from but allied with Afghanistan’s Taliban, who seized power in their country last August.
    The TTP has long fought for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in Pakistan, the release of their members in government custody, and a reduction of military presence in the country’s tribal regions.    They have also been emboldened by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and have over the past months stepped up attacks against government forces.
    Khurasani, the TTP spokesman, said the group agreed to extend the cease-fire, which began on May 10, at the request of a delegation of the Pakistani tribal elders who separately met with the TTP this week.

5/19/2022 Pakistan, US envoys both seek closer ties by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    UNITED NATIONS – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Pakistan’s new Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari met for the first time Wednesday and both said they want to strengthen ties between the two countries.    Bhutto Zardari flew to New York to attend a ministerial meeting at U.N. headquarters called by the United States that will be chaired by Blinken on growing food insecurity around the world, which has been exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine.
    The Pakistani minister welcomed the U.S. initiative at the start of his meeting with Blinken at U.N. headquarters, saying “recent geopolitical events have indeed aggravated the situation, and countries like Pakistan have already been facing challenges in food security, water security, energy security because of a whole host of issues ranging from climate change to issues in our neighborhood.”
    “I also look forward to the opportunity to increasing engagement between Pakistan and the United States, working with yourself and your administration to improve trade relations between Pakistan and the United States and create opportunities for American investors and Pakistani investors and Pakistani businessmen and American entrepreneurs to work together,” Bhutto Zardari said.
    Blinken welcomed Pakistan’s participation at the food security event and called his meeting with the foreign minister “an important opportunity for us to talk about the many issues we’re working together.”
    “We want to focus on the work we’re doing to strengthen our economic and commercial ties between the United States and Pakistan,” and to focus on regional security, America’s top diplomat said.
    Pakistan is the current chair of the Group of 77 – a powerful coalition of 134 mainly developing nations and China at the United Nations – and Blinken said “the United States is looking forward to strengthening our own relations and dialogue with the G77.”
    State Department spokesperson Ned Price said later that Blinken met with Bhutto Zardari “to affirm the shared desire for a strong and prosperous bilateral relationship.”
    During the meeting, which lasted about 45 minutes, Price said they discussed “expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade, and health as well as people-to-people ties.”
Bhutto Zardari

5/20/2022 Biden focuses on China with trip to S Korea, Japan - Goal is to send message to Beijing by Aamer Madhani and Josh Boak, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Members of the Progressive Party hold a picture of President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol
during a rally in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday demanding the withdrawal of anti-North Korean policies. Biden will visit
in South Korea on the first leg of his six day, two-stop Asian trip. Then he will visit Japan. LEE JIN-MAN/AP
    WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden embarked Thursday on a six-day trip to South Korea and Japan aiming to build rapport with the two nations’ leaders while also sending an unmistakable message to China: Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine should give Beijing pause about its own saber-rattling in the Pacific.
    Biden’s visit will include meetings with newly elected South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.    Their talks will touch on trade, increasing resilience in the global supply chain, growing concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program and the explosive spread of COVID- 19 in that country.
    While in Japan, Biden will also meet with fellow leaders of the Indo-Pacific strategic alliance known as the Quad, a group that includes Australia, India and Japan.
    The U.S. under Biden has forged a united front with democratic allies that has combined their economic heft to make Russia pay a price for its invasion of Ukraine.    That alliance includes South Korea and Japan.    But even as Biden is to be feted by Yoon at a state dinner and hold intimate conversations with Kishida, the president knows those relationships need to be deepened if they’re to serve as a counterweight to China’s ambitions.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the trip would “show in living color the United States can at once lead the free world in responding to Russia’s war in Ukraine, and that at the same time chart a course for effective, principled American leadership and engagement in a region that will define much of the future of the 21st century.”
    The war in eastern Europe has created a sense of urgency about China among major U.S. allies in the Pacific.    Many have come to see the moment as their own existential crisis – one in which it’s crucial to show China it should not try to seize contested territory through military action.
    In a reminder of how Biden has tried to balance security issues in each hemisphere, shortly before leaving for Asia he played host to Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House to show support for their applications to join NATO.
    “America’s alliances in Europe and in Asia keep us – and I would argue the world – strong and secure,” Biden said in the Rose Garden.    “They’re how we confront the challenges of our time, and deliver for our people today, and harness opportunities for a better tomorrow.”
    Biden’s overseas travel came as he faces strong domestic headwinds: an infant formula shortage, budget-busting inflation, a rising number of COVID- 19 infections, and increasing impatience among a Democratic base bracing for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is likely to result in a rollback of abortion rights.
    The conundrums Biden faces in Asia are no less daunting.
    China’s military assertiveness has grown over the course of Biden’s presidency, with its provocative actions frequently putting the region on edge.
    Last month, China held military drills around Taiwan after a group of U.S. lawmakers arrived for talks on the self-governed island.    Late last year, China stepped up sorties into Taiwan’s air space.    Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, but Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has not ruled out the use of force to achieve unification.
    Japan has reported frequent intrusions by China’s military vessels into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.    The uninhabited islets are controlled by Japan but claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.
    Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday criticized what he called negative moves by Washington and Tokyo against Beijing during a video call with Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi.
    “What arouses attention and vigilance is the fact that, even before the American leader has set out for the meeting, the so-called joint Japan-U.S. anti-China rhetoric is already kicking up dust,” Wang said, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
    Meanwhile, South Korea could tilt closer to the U.S. under Yoon, who took office last week.    The new South Korean president has criticized his predecessor as “subservient” to China by seeking to balance the relationships with Washington and Beijing.    To neutralize North Korea’s nuclear threats, Yoon has pledged to seek a stronger U.S. security commitment.
    The Biden administration has warned China against assisting Russia in its war with Ukraine.    In March, the U.S. informed Asian and European allies that American intelligence determined that China had signaled to Russia a willingness to provide military support and financial backing to reduce the blow of severe sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies.
    Biden administration officials said the Russian invasion has been a clarifying moment for some of the bigger powers in Asia as financial sanctions and export bans have been put in place to check Russia.
    U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, Biden’s top envoy to Japan, said the Japanese have stood out by rallying eight of 10 members of Association of Southeast Nations to back a U.N. vote against the Russian invasion.
    “Japan has been a pacesetter that has picked up and set the pace for South Korea, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and others here in the Indo Pacific area,” Emanuel said of Tokyo’s support of Ukraine following the Russian invasion.
    Biden, who is making his first presidential trip to Asia, met Kishida briefly on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference last year shortly after the Japanese prime minister took office. He has yet to meet with Yoon face-to-face.    The South Korean leader, a former prosecutor who came to office without political or foreign policy experience, was elected in a closely fought election.
    Biden arrives in the midst of an unfolding crisis in North Korea, where a mass COVID-19 outbreak is spreading through its unvaccinated population.    North Korea acknowledged domestic COVID-19 infections for the first-time last week, ending a widely doubted claim it had been virus-free.
    In recent months, North Korea has test-launched a spate of missiles in what experts said is an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure its rivals to accept the country as a nuclear state and relax their sanctions.
    Sullivan said U.S. intelligence officials have determined there’s a “genuine possibility” that North Korea will conduct another ballistic missile test or nuclear test around the time of Biden’s visit to Asia.
    To be certain, China will also be carefully watching for “cracks in the relationship” during Biden’s trip, said Scott Kennedy, a China economic analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    Sullivan confirmed that Biden will use the trip to launch the long-anticipated Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a proposed pact to set rules for trade and digital standards, ensuring reliable supply chains, worker protections, decarbonization and tax and anticorruption issues.    Known as IPEF, it’s a planned substitute for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Donald Trump left in 2017 and that the Biden administration has not rejoined.
    In terms of economic power, the U.S. slightly lags China in the Pacific, according to the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank.    But the institute’s analysis showed the possibility that a trade pact could magnify the combined power of the U.S. and its allies relative to China.    Biden’s challenge is that IPEF would not necessarily cut tariff rates or give allied signatories greater access to U.S. markets, something Asian countries seek.
    In a reminder of how Biden has tried to balance security issues in each hemisphere, shortly before leaving for Asia he hosted Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of Sweden and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland at the White House to show support for their applications to join NATO.

5/20/2022 TECHNOLOGY - Canada moves to ban China’s Huawei from 5G networks by Robert Gillies, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Huawei, the largest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies, has been a symbol of
China’s progress in becoming a technological world power – and a subject of U.S. security concerns. NG HAN GUAN/AP
    TORONTO – Wireless carriers in Canada won’t be allowed to install Huawei equipment in their high-speed 5G networks, the Canadian government said Thursday, joining allies in banning the giant Chinese technology company.
    Canada had been the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence-pooling alliance not to bar or restrict use of equipment from Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. in its 5G networks.    The U.S. and the other members – Britain, Australia and New Zealand – previously banned Huawei.
    “We are announcing our intention to prohibit the inclusion of Huawei and ZTE products and services in Canada’s telecommunications systems,” Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said.
    Canada’s ban also includes ZTE Corp., one of China’s largest tech companies and one that is state-owned.
    Champagne added that “providers who already have this equipment installed will be required to cease its use and remove it.”    He said Canada’s wireless companies won’t be offered compensation.
    Canada’s major wireless companies had started working with other providers.
    “There are many hostile actors who are ready to exploit vulnerabilities in our defenses,” Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said.
    Mendicino said the government did an extensive review and is redoubling efforts to protect Canadians.
    The U.S. government has been lobbying allies like Canada for years to exclude Huawei from new ultra-fast 5G mobile networks over worries that China’s communist rulers could compel the company to help with cyberespionage.    The U.S. has warned it would reconsider intelligence sharing with any countries that use Huawei gear.
    The company has repeatedly denied the allegations.    A spokesman for Huawei said he would refrain comment until he sees what the government is actually doing.
    Huawei is the largest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet companies.    It has been a symbol of China’s progress in becoming a technological world power – and a subject of U.S. security and law enforcement concerns.
    Some analysts said Chinese companies have flouted international rules and norms and stolen technology.
    China, the U.S. and Canada completed what was effectively a high-stakes prisoner swap last year involving a top executive from Huawei who had been charged with fraud by the U.S.
    China jailed two Canadians shortly after Canada arrested Meng Wanzhou, Huawei Technologies’ chief financial officer and the daughter of the company’s founder, on a U.S. extradition request.
    They were sent back to Canada in September, the same day Meng returned to China after reaching a deal with U.S. authorities in her case.
    “The decision should have been taken two or three years ago, but it’s a case of better late than never,” Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, said of the move to ban Huawei.    “We are faced with a China that is a lot more aggressive in the conduct of its foreign policy but also in the way it obtains information to achieve its goals.”
    Saint-Jacques said that under Chinese law no company can refuse a request from the Chinese government to share information, so it would have been impossible to allow Huawei’s participation.
    He said he expects China to retaliate.

5/20/2022 Afghan Taliban order women TV anchors to cover their faces by ASSOCIATED PRESS
News presenter Basira Joya sits during a recording at the Zan TV station in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2017. Now that the
Taliban again rule the country, they have ordered all female TV anchors to cover their faces on air. RAHMAT GUL/AP, FILE
    KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers ordered all female presenters on TV channels to cover their faces on air, the country’s largest media outlet said Thursday.
    The order came in a statement from the Taliban’s Virtue and Vice Ministry, tasked with enforcing the group’s rulings, as well as from the Information and Culture Ministry, the TOLOnews channel said in a tweet.    The statement called the order “final and nonnegotiable,” the channel said.
    The statement was sent to the Moby Group, which owns TOLOnews and several other TV and radio networks, and the tweet said it was being applied to other Afghan media, as well.
    An Afghan local media official confirmed his station had received the order and was told it was not up for discussion.    He said the station has no other option.    He spoke on condition he and his station not be identified for fear of problems with the authorities.
    Several female anchors and presenters posted their photos on social media showing them with their faces covered with masks during presenting programs.    One prominent TOLO presenter, Yalda Ali, posted a video of herself putting on a face mask with a caption: “a woman being erased, on orders from the Virtue and Vice Ministry.”
    On one station, Shamshad TV, implementation of the order was mixed: One woman anchor appeared with a face mask Thursday, and another later in the day went without, showing her face.
    During the Taliban’s first time in power from 1996 to 2001, they imposed overwhelming restrictions on women, requiring them to wear all-encompassing burqas that even covered the eyes with a mesh and barring them from public life and education After they seized power again in Afghanistan in August, the Taliban initially appeared to have moderated somewhat their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women.    But in recent weeks, they have taken a sharp, hard-liner pivot that confirmed the worst fears of rights activists.
    Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered all women in public to wear head-to-toe clothing that leaves only their eyes visible.
    The decree said women should leave the home only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for women’s dress code violations, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail time.
    The Taliban leader also issued a decree barring girl from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises by Taliban officials that girls of all ages would be allowed an education.

5/21/2022 S Korea chip plant a model for US - Biden seeks to deepen ties with Indo-Pacific - 2 Secret Service workers sent home by Aamer Madhani and Josh Boak, ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Joe Biden, left, South Korean President Yoon Suk-youl and Samsung Electronics Co. Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong
visit the Samsung Electronics Pyeongtaek campus on Friday in Pyongtaek, South Korea. Kim Min-Hee/Pool via AP
    Two Secret Service employees in South Korea to prepare for President Joe Biden’s visit have been sent home after being involved in a confrontation with locals that led to a police investigation.
    An agent and an armed physical security specialist were involved in the alcohol-fueled incident that included a heated argument with a taxi driver and led to local law enforcement filing a police report, according to a person familiar with the matter.    Other witnesses also lodged complaints about the federal law enforcement officers’ behavior.
    One of the employees was investigated by local police, but no charges were filed.    The Secret Service is conducting its own investigation.
    'The Secret Service is aware of an off-duty incident involving two employees which may constitute potential policy violations,' spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said. He added that the incident had 'no impact' to the president’s trip. Associated Press
-----------------------
    PYEONGTAEK, South Korea – President Joe Biden opened a trip to Asia on Friday by touring a South Korean computer chip factory that will be the model for another plant in Texas, offering it as a way to deepen ties with the Indo-Pacific and fuel technological innovation and foster vibrant democracies.
    'So much of the future of the world is going to be written here, in the Indo-Pacific, over the next several decades,' Biden said.    'This is the moment, in my view, to invest in one another to deepen our business ties, to bring our people even closer together.'
    Biden’s message was pitched toward the promise of a better tomorrow, yet was also aimed at U.S. voters amid political challenges at home, such as inflation driven higher by the chip shortage, as he tries to show that his administration is delivering on economic growth.
    The Democrat’s first visit to Asia as president came as polling released Friday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public     Affairs Research found Biden’s U.S. approval rating at 39%, the lowest point of his presidency.    The survey also found deepening pessimism about the economy and the state of the United States – especially among Democrats.
    About 2 in 10 U.S. adults say the country is headed in the right direction or described the economy good, down from about 3 in 10 in April.    Among Democrats, just 33% say the country is on the right track, down from 49% last month.
    Samsung, the chip plant’s owner, last November announced plans to open a $17billion semiconductor factory in Texas.    A semiconductor shortage last year hurt the availability of autos, kitchen appliances and other goods, causing higher inflation worldwide and crippling Biden’s public approval among U.S. voters.    The president noted that the Texas plant would add 3,000 high-tech jobs and the construction would include union labor.
    'These little chips,' Biden said in remarks after he toured the plant, 'are the key to propelling us into the next era of humanity’s technological development.'
    Biden was seeking to frame business collaboration and foreign investment in the U.S. as part of his broader economic goals, and also good for him domestically.
    Throughout the five-day visit to South Korea and Japan, Biden will grapple with a multitude of foreign policy issues as he tries to explain their relevance to the American public.    In his remarks Friday, Biden did not mention China, which has emerged as a prime competitor with the U.S., yet he stressed the value of alliances that currently exclude that country.
    Greeting Biden at the plant was South Korea’s new president, Yoon Suk Yeol, and Samsung Electronics Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong.     Yoon is a political newcomer who became president, his first elected office, just this month. He campaigned on taking a tougher stance against North Korea and strengthening the 70-year alliance with the U.S.     Before Biden spoke, Yoon said in remarks that he hoped the U.S.-South Korea partnership evolves into an 'economic and security alliance based on cooperation in advanced technology and supply chains.'
    The chip plant showed the unique nature of manufacturing as visitors were required to don white laboratory coats and blue booties to help keep the facility clean. Biden and Yoon, who did not wear protective clothing, saw a demonstration of the machinery.
    At one point during his tour, Biden received an in-depth explanation of a KLA inspection system on the Samsung plant floor.    The California-based company is a major supplier to Samsung’s semiconductor operations.br>     Part of the computer chip shortage is the result of strong demand as much of the world emerged from the coronavirus pandemic.    But coronavirus outbreaks and other challenges also caused the closure of semiconductor plants. U.S. government officials have estimated that chip production will not be at the levels they would like until early 2023.
    Global computer chip sales totaled $151.7billion during the first three months of this year, a 23% jump from the same period in 2021, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
    The risk of Chinese aggression against Taiwan could possibly cut off the flow of high-end computer chips that are needed in the U.S. for military gear as well as consumer goods.    Similarly, the hermetic North Korea has been test-firing ballistic missiles amid a coronavirus outbreak, a possible risk to South Korea’s manufacturing sector should the brinksmanship escalate.
    The White House said in a fact sheet issued Friday that semiconductor companies have announced nearly $80billion in U.S. investments through 2025.    That sum includes $20billion for Intel’s plant outside Columbus, Ohio, up to $30billion by Texas Instruments, a $1billion expansion by Wolf speed in North Carolina and investments by Global Foundries and SK Group.

5/21/2022 Australia set for May 21 polls - Economy, China, climate remain dominant issues by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
People line up outside a pre-polling center as they vote early in Melbourne on
Friday, ahead of Saturday’s general election. William West/AFP via Getty Images
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australians will go to the polls on Saturday following a six-week campaign that has focused on pandemic-fueled inflation, climate change and fears of a Chinese military outpost being established less than 1,200 miles off Australia’s shore.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition is seeking a rare fourth three-year term.
    He began the campaign in April by urging voters to stick with a government that delivered one of the lowest pandemic death tolls of any advanced economy rather than risk the opposition center-left Labor Party.
    An early election late last year had been widely anticipated, with Morrison expected to reap the political capital from his government’s success in containing the spread of COVID-19 in the first year of the pandemic.
    But his nickname 'ScoMo' was changed by critics to 'SloMo' a year ago when Australia’s vaccine rollout fell months behind schedule.
    Australia has recorded more than double the number of COVID-19 deaths so far this year than it did during the first two years of the pandemic.    Around 8,000 people have died with COVID-19 among Australia’s population of 26million.    Only 2,239 died in 2020 and 2021.    The more transmissible virus variants have tarnished the government’s pandemic record.
    Opposition leader Anthony Albanese noted on Friday that he was the first candidate with a 'non-Anglo Celtic name' to run for prime minister in the 121 years since the office was created.
    Albanese was brought up in Sydney by a single Irish-Australian mother who became pregnant in 1962 during a trip to Europe.    She took the name of the father, who was Italian, and lied that they had been married and that he died in a car accident.    Father and son first met in 2009.
    Albanese has recounted his own childhood hardships in advocating Labor policies of cheaper child care for low-and-middle-income families and better nursing home care for the elderly.     'Part of what I’ve said during this campaign is: no one held back and no one left behind,' Albanese said.    'No one left behind because Labor will always look after the vulnerable and the disadvantaged.'
    The government changed voting regulations on Friday to enable thousands of people who have recently been infected with COVID-19 to vote by phone.
    Some polling booths would be closed on Saturday because many of the 105,000 election workers were sick with the virus or flu. Army reservists have been asked to fill in, an official said.
    The pandemic and the war in Ukraine have pushed up costs of living and cast doubt on the conservatives’ boast of being better economic managers than Labor.
    After the annual inflation rate soared to 5.1% in the March quarter, the central bank lifted its benchmark interest rate for the first time in more than 11 years from 0.1% to 0.35%.
    Two weeks after cash rose by a quarter of a percentage point to 6.75% in November 2007, Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government was voted out of office, ending more than 11 years in power.
    Opposition treasury spokesperson Jim Chalmers described the rate hike this month as a 'full-blown cost of living crisis on Scott Morrison’s watch.'
    Labor has also taken aim at the government’s foreign policy credentials after China and the Solomon Islands confirmed during the election campaign, they had finalized a bilateral security pact.    Labor described it as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
    Australia already has a security pact with the Solomons and is the impoverished South Pacific Island nation’s most generous provider of foreign aid.
    Foreign Minister Marise Payne had proposed in November doubling Australian aid to the Pacific to $2 billion a year to counter China’s rising influence, The Australian newspaper reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.    But she was refused by her Cabinet’s national security committee colleagues.
    Morrison declined to confirm or deny the newspaper report because of the secrecy surrounding the committee’s deliberations.
    Morrison rejected the premise of a question when a reporter asked if he would consider doubling Pacific aid to counter Beijing’s moves.
    'You’re suggesting that if you just double funding in the Pacific then somehow the Chinese government doesn’t have any influence or won’t be successful in seeking to coerce or exert its influence in the southwest Pacific,' he said.    'That‘s your assumption and that assumption doesn’t hold.'
    Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said that there will be no Chinese naval base in his country and China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands.
    Senior government lawmakers have said the timing of the China-Solomons agreement during an election campaign is evidence that Beijing was attempting to undermine the ruling coalition’s prospects for reelection.
    The government maintains that Beijing wants a change of leadership because a Labor administration would be less likely to stand up against Chinese economic coercion.
    As well as campaigning against Labor, Morrison’s conservative Liberal Party is fighting off a new challenge from so-called teal independent candidates to key government lawmakers’ reelection in party strongholds.
    The teal independents are marketed as a greener shade than the Liberal Party’s traditional blue and want stronger action on reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions than either the government or Labor is proposing.
    The government aims to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.    Labor has promised a 43% reduction.
    Recent opinion polls have put Labor narrowly ahead of the coalition.    But the pollsters’ credibility has yet to recover since their spectacular failure in the 2019 election.
    The split of votes between the government and Labor in 2019 was 51.5% to 48.5% – the mirror opposite of the result that Australia’s five most prominent polls predicted.

5/22/2022 Biden signs $40B Ukraine aid bill - Aamer Madhani and Chris Megerian by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – President Joe Biden on Saturday signed legislation to support Ukraine with an additional $40 billion in U.S. assistance as the Russian invasion continues.
    The legislation, which was passed by Congress with bipartisan support, deepens the U.S. commitment to Ukraine at a time of uncertainty about the war’s future.    Ukraine has successfully defended Kyiv, and Russia has refocused its offensive on the country’s east, but American officials warn of the potential for a prolonged conflict.
    The funding is intended to support Ukraine through September, and it dwarfs an earlier emergency measure that provided $13.6 billion.
    The new legislation will provide $20 billion in military assistance, ensuring a steady stream of advanced weapons that have been used to blunt Russia’s advances.    There’s also $8 billion in general economic support, $5 billion to address global food shortages that could result from the collapse of Ukrainian agriculture and more than $1 billion to help refugees.
    Because Biden is in the middle of a trip to Asia, a U.S. official brought the bill on a commercial flight to Seoul for the president to sign.
    The logistics reflect a sense of urgency around continuing U.S. support for Ukraine, but also the overlapping international challenges facing Biden.    Even as he tries to reorient foreign policy to confront China, he’s continuing to direct resources to the largest conflict in Europe since World War II.
[GREAT, SHAME ON YOU JOE YOU JUST SPENT MONEY WE DO NOT HAVE.]

5/22/2022 US, S Korea look to deter North - Countries discuss expanded military drills by Aamer Madhani and Josh Boak, ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Joe Biden, right, attends a state dinner hosted by South Korean
President Yoon Suk Yeol on Saturday in Seoul, South Korea. Evan Vucci/AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said after meeting Saturday that they will consider expanded joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat from North Korea at a time when there’s little hope of real diplomacy on the matter.
    The announcement reflects a shift in direction by both leaders from their predecessors: Former U.S. President Donald Trump had considered scrapping the exercises and expressed affection for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.    And the last South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim to the end of his term despite being repeatedly rebuffed by the North.
    Biden said cooperation between the U.S. and South Korea shows 'our readiness to take on all threats together.'
    North Korea, which has defended its nuclear weapons and missile development as a necessary deterrence against what it describes as U.S. threats, could well respond angrily to Saturday’s announcement.    It has long described joint military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, although the allies have portrayed the drills as defensive.
    Biden and Yoon affirmed in remarks at a joint news conference that their shared goal is the complete denuclearization of North Korea.    The U.S. and South Korea said in a joint statement that they were committed to a 'rules-based international order' following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.    The statement likely sets the stage for how the U.S. and its allies will address any challenges with North Korea.
    Yet Biden also reiterated his offer of vaccines to North Korea as the coronavirus spreads at a dangerously fast speed through that country, including an offer to route them through China if that was more acceptable to North Korea.    Asked if he would be willing to meet with Kim, Biden said that would depend on whether the North Korean leader was 'sincere' and 'serious.'
    'Yes, we’ve offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but China as well,' Biden said.    'We’re prepared to do that immediately.    We’ve gotten no response.'
    The division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II has led to two radically different countries.    In South Korea, Biden is touring factories for computer chips and next-generation autos in a democracy and engaging in talks for greater cooperation.    But in the North, there is a deadly coronavirus outbreak in a largely unvaccinated autocracy that can best command the world’s attention by flexing its nuclear capabilities.
    Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One as Biden flew to South Korea, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. has coordinated with Seoul and Tokyo on how they’ll respond should the North conduct a nuclear test or missile strike while Biden is in the region or soon after.    Sullivan also spoke with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi earlier in the week and urged Beijing to use its influence to persuade the North to cease the tests.
    As part of a five-day visit in Asia, Biden spent Saturday developing his relationship with Yoon, who assumed office little more than a week ago.
    The U.S. president on Saturday laid a wreath at Seoul National Cemetery, wearing white gloves and a somber expression as he also burned incense and then signed a guest book.    Biden then greeted Yoon at the People’s House for a nearly two-hour meeting followed by the news conference.    The leaders capped the day with a dinner at the National Museum of Korea.
    Yoon welcomed Biden with a toast, noting that the alliance 'was forged in blood on the battlefield of the Korean War.'    He said this partnership would go beyond security in Korea to include cutting edge technology and a global strategic partnership, then drew a laugh from Biden by quoting Irish poet William Butler Yeats.
    Biden reciprocated with a toast for the alliance to 'flourish for all the decades ahead.'    Both men ended their toasts with the military motto, 'We go together.'
    Yoon, a political neophyte with no foreign policy experience, came into the talks with Biden less than two weeks after taking office looking to demonstrate his competency on the world stage.    The U.S. president on Saturday also spoke by telephone with Moon, South Korea’s immediate past president.    Biden thanked him for his close partnership, the White House said.
    Biden faces growing disapproval within the U.S. over inflation near a 40-year high, but his administration sees one clear economic win in the contest with China for influence in the Pacific.    Bloomberg Economics Analysis estimates that the U.S. economy will grow faster this year than China for the first time since 1976, a forecast that Biden highlighted at the news conference.
    The U.S. has struggled to knit together a coalition of countries in Asia that can counterbalance China’s growing strength, abandoning the trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership after a political backlash at home.
    Biden sidestepped a question about resurrecting the agreement, but spoke about the potential for closer ties in the region beyond traditional allies like South Korea and Japan.
    'Things have changed,' he said.    'There is a sense among the democracies in the Pacific that there’s a need to cooperate much more closely.    Not just militarily, but in terms of economically and politically.'
    Biden did not explicitly talk in his remarks about the need to counter China, but Beijing on Saturday offered its own counter messaging.
    'We hope that the U.S. will match its words with deeds and work with countries in the region to promote solidarity and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, instead of plotting division and confrontation,' Chinese envoy for Korean affairs Liu Xiaoming, said on Twitter.
    At the start of the administration, many White House officials thought Kim’s nuclear ambitions would prove to be perhaps the administration’s most vexing challenge and that the North Korean leader would aim to test Biden’s mettle early in his time in office.
    White House officials said Biden won’t visit the Demilitarized Zone dividing the Korean Peninsula during the trip.    Instead, he will visit the Air Operations Center’s Combat Operations Floor on Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, on Sunday.

5/22/2022 Australia’s next PM from humble roots - Vows to rehabilitate country’s reputation by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Australian Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese repeatedly referred during the six-week election campaign to the life lessons he learned from
his disadvantaged childhood. “Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had,” he said. RICK RYCROFT/AP
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s Prime Minister-elect Anthony Albanese is a politician molded by his humble start to life as the only child of a single mother who raised him on a pension in gritty inner-Sydney suburbia.
    He is also a hero of multicultural Australia, describing himself as the only candidate with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” to run for prime minister in the 121 years that the office has existed.
    He has promised to rehabilitate Australia’s international reputation as a climate change laggard with steeper cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
    His financially precarious upbringing in government-owned housing in suburban Camperdown fundamentally formed the politician who has led the center-left Australian Labor Party into government for the first time since 2007.    He is still widely known by his childhood nickname, Albo.
    “It says a lot about our great country that a son of a single mom who was a disability pensioner, who grew up in public housing down the road in Camperdown can stand before you tonight as Australia’s prime minister,” Albanese said in his election victory speech on Saturday.
    “Every parent wants more for the next generation than they had.    My mother dreamt of a better life for me.    And I hope that my journey in life inspires Australians to reach for the stars,” he added.
    Albanese repeatedly referred during the six-week election campaign to the life lessons he learned from his disadvantaged childhood.    Labor’s campaign has focused on policies including financial assistance for first home buyers grappling with soaring real estate prices and sluggish wage growth.
    Labor also promised cheaper child care for working parents and better nursing home care for the elderly.
    Albanese this week promised to begin rebuilding trust in Australia when he attends a Tokyo summit on Tuesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
    Albanese said he will be “completely consistent” with Morrison’s current administration on Chinese strategic competition in the region.    But he said Australia had been placed in the “naughty corner” in United Nations’ climate change negotiations by refusing to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets at a November conference.
    “One of the ways that we increase our standing in the region, and in particular in the Pacific, is by taking climate change seriously,” Albanese told the National Press Club.
    Biden’s administration and Australia “will have a strengthened relationship in our common view about climate change and the opportunity that it represents,” Albanese said.
    Albanese blamed Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a “whole series of Australia’s international relations being damaged.”    He said Morrison misled the United States that a secret plan to provide Australia with a fleet of submarines powered with U.S. nuclear technology had the support of Albanese’s Labor Party.    In fact, Labor wasn’t told of the plan until the day before it was announced in September.    Albanese also accused Morrison of leaking to the media personal text messages from Emmanuel Macron to discredit the French president’s complaint that Australia had given no warning that a French submarine contract would be canceled.
    In November, French Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault described the leak a “new low” and a warning to other world leaders that their private communications with the Australian government could be weaponized and used against them.
    Labor also has described a new security pact between China and the Solomon Islands as Australia’s worst foreign policy failure in the Pacific since World War II.
    Morrison’s government had aimed to reduce Australia’s emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Labor’s goal is 43%.
    Albanese was a minister throughout Labor’s most recent six years in power and reached his highest office – deputy prime minister – in his government’s final three months, which ended with the 2013 election.
    But Albanese’s critics argue that it’s not his humble background but his leftwing politics that make him unsuitable to be prime minister.    The conservative government argued he would be the most left-wing Australian leader in almost 50 years since the crash-or-crash through reformer Gough Whitlam, a flawed hero of the Labor Party.
    In 1975, Whitlam became the only Australian prime minister to be ousted from office by a British monarch’s representative in what is described as a constitutional crisis.
    Whitlam had introduced during his brief but tumultuous three years in power free university education, which enabled Albanese to graduate from Sydney University with an economics degree despite his meager financial resources.
    Albanese’s supporters say that while he was from Labor’s so-called Socialist Left faction, he was a pragmatist with a proven ability to deal with more conservative elements of the party.
    Albanese underwent what has been described as a makeover in the past year, opting for more fashionable suits and glasses.    He also shed 40 pounds in what many assume is an effort to make himself more attractive to voters.
Australia PM Scott Morrison, flanked by wife Jenny Morrison and daughters Lily and Abbey, concedes defeat
following the results of the federal election on Sunday in Sydney, Australia. ASANKA RATNAYAKE/GETTY IMAGES

5/23/2022 Biden ends three-day S Korea visit President pushes economic, security goals before heading to Japan by Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani, ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Joe Biden talks with the family of a U.S. service member at
Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on Sunday. Evan Vucci/AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – President Joe Biden tended to business and security interests Sunday as he wrapped up a three-day trip to South Korea, first showcasing Hyundai’s pledge to invest at least $10 billion in the United States and later mingling with troops at a nearby military base.
    Biden’s visit to Osan Air Base, where thousands of U.S. and South Korean service members monitor the rapidly evolving North Korean nuclear threat, was his final stop before he arrived in Tokyo later Sunday.
    'You are the front line, right here in this room,' the president said in a command center with maps of the Korean Peninsula projected across screens on a wall.
    It was a day that brought together two key messages that Biden is trying to project during his first trip to Asia as president.
    At a time of high inflation and simmering dissatisfaction at home, Biden emphasized his global mission to strengthen the American economy by convincing foreign companies such as Hyundai to launch new operations in the United States.    And he wanted to demonstrate solidarity with nervous Asian allies who live in the shadow of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and grew skeptical of U.S. security commitments while President Donald Trump was in office.
    Earlier Sunday, Biden brushed aside questions about any possible provocation by North Korea, such as testing a nuclear weapon or ballistic missile during his trip, saying, 'We are prepared for anything North Korea does.'
    Asked if he had a message for the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a clipped response: 'Hello. Period.'
    Biden’s first appearance of the day was alongside Hyundai chairman Eusiun Chung to highlight the company’s expanded investment in the United States, including $5.5billion for an electric vehicle and battery factory in Georgia.
    'Electric vehicles are good for our climate goals, but they’re also good for jobs,' Biden said.    'And they’re good for business.'
    Chung also said his company would spend another $5 billion on artificial intelligence for autonomous vehicles and other technologies.
    The major U.S. investment by a South Korean company was a reflection of how the countries are leveraging their longstanding military ties into a broader economic partnership.
    Earlier in his trip, Biden toured a computer chip plant run by Samsung, the Korean electronics giant that plans to build a $17billion production facility in Texas.
    Biden has made greater economic cooperation with South Korea a priority, saying Saturday that 'it will bring our two countries even closer together, cooperating even more closely than we already do, and help strengthen our supply chains, secure them against shocks and give our economies a competitive edge.'
    The pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has forced a deeper rethinking of national security and economic alliances.    Coronavirus outbreaks led to shortages of computer chips, autos and other goods that the Biden administration said can ultimately be fixed by having more manufacturing domestically and with trusted allies.
    Hyundai’s Georgia factory is expected to employ 8,100 workers and produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually, with plans for construction to begin early next year and production to start in 2025 near the unincorporated town of Ellabell.
    But the Hyundai plant showed there are also tradeoffs as Biden pursues his economic agenda.
    The president has tried to link the production of electric vehicles to automakers with unionized workforces, and during his trip he called on Korean companies to hire union labor for their U.S. operations.
    However, there has been no guarantee that the Hyundai Georgia plant’s workers will be unionized.
    Georgia is a 'right-to-work' state, meaning workers are not be required to join a union or make payments to a union as a condition of employment.    A Hyundai spokesperson did not respond to an email asking if the Georgia plant would be unionized.
    Biden passed on visiting the demilitarized zone on the North and South’s border, a regular stop for U.S. presidents when visiting Seoul.    Biden had visited the DMZ as vice president and was more interested in seeing Osan Air Base, said White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
    While on base, Biden chatted with the troops and their families at a bowling alley and indulged his passion for ice cream – twice over.    First chocolate chip, then vanilla and chocolate.
    Biden and Korean President Yoon Sook Yeol on Saturday announced they will consider expanded joint military exercises to deter the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.
    The push toward deterrence by Biden and Yoon, who is less than two weeks into his presidency, marks a shift by the leaders from their predecessors.    Trump had considered scrapping the exercises and the last South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, remained committed to dialogue with Kim to the end of his term despite being repeatedly rebuffed by the North.
    Yoon campaigned on a promise to strengthen the U.S.-South Korea relationship.    He reiterated at a dinner Saturday in Biden’s honor that it was his goal to move the relationship 'beyond security' issues with North Korea, which have long dominated the relationship.
    During the Japan leg of Biden’s trip, he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday and lay out his vision for negotiating a new trade agreement, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
    Soon after arriving in Tokyo on Sunday night, Biden stopped by the U.S. chief of mission’s residence to take part in a room dedication for Norman Mineta, the late U.S. transportation secretary.
    Mineta, a former Democratic congressman who served in the Cabinets of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, died earlier this month.    He was a son of Japanese immigrants, and he and his family were among those held by the U.S. government in Japanese internment camps during World War II.

5/23/2022 Taliban enforcing face-cover order on TV by Rahim Faiez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
TV anchor Khatereh Ahmadi wears a face covering as she reads the news
Sunday on TOLOnews in Kabul, Afghanistan. EBRAHIM NOROOZI/AP
    ISLAMABAD – Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers on Sunday began enforcing an order requiring all female TV news anchors in the country to cover their faces while on air.    The move is part of a hard-line shift drawing condemnation from rights activists.
    After the order was announced Thursday, only a handful of outlets complied.    But on Sunday, most female anchors were seen with their faces covered after the Taliban’s Vice and Virtue Ministry began enforcing the decree.
    The Information and Culture Ministry previously announced that the policy was “final and non-negotiable.”
    “It is just an outside culture imposed on us forcing us to wear a mask, and that can create a problem for us while presenting our programs,” said Sonia Niazi, a TV anchor with TOLOnews.
    A local media official confirmed his station had received the order last week, but on Sunday it was forced to implement it after being told it was not up for discussion.    He spoke on condition he and his station remain anonymous for fear of retribution from authorities.
    During the Taliban’s last time in power in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they imposed overwhelming restrictions on women, requiring them to wear the all-encompassing burqa and barring them from public life and education.
    After they seized power again in August following the U.S. troop withdrawal, the Taliban initially appeared to have moderated somewhat their restrictions, announcing no dress code for women.    But in recent weeks, they have made a sharp, hard-line pivot that has confirmed the worst fears of rights activists and further complicated Taliban dealings with an already distrustful international community.
    Earlier this month, the Taliban ordered all women in public to wear head-to-toe clothing that leaves only their eyes visible.    The decree said that women should leave the home only when necessary and that male relatives would face punishment for women’s dress code violations, starting with a summons and escalating to court hearings and jail time.
    The Taliban leadership has also barred girls from attending school after the sixth grade, reversing previous promises by Taliban officials that girls of all ages would be allowed to receive an education.
    A recent report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction says decisions by Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan were the key factors in the collapse of that nation’s military, which enabled the Taliban to take over.
    In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, in which the U.S. promised to fully withdraw its troops by May 2021.    The Taliban committed to several conditions, including stopping attacks on American and coalition forces.
    Just a few months later, Biden announced he would complete the U.S. military withdrawal.        The announcement fueled the Taliban’s campaign to retake the country, aided by the Afghans’ widespread distrust of their government and entrenched corruption that led to low pay, lack of food and poor living conditions among the Afghan troops.
Contributing: Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press
[WELL ITS SAD BUT AT LEAST AFGHANISTAN PEOPLE KNOW WHAT A WOMAN IS MAYBE WE SHOULD DO THAT IN THE U.S. SO THE DEMOCRATS WILL KNOW WHAT A WOMAN IS.].

5/23/2022 Indo-Pacific pact doesn’t include Taiwan by Aamer Madhani and Josh Boak, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TOKYO – President Joe Biden is expected to unveil a list of nations on Monday who will be joining a long-anticipated Indo-Pacific trade pact, but Taiwan won’t be among them.
    White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed that Taiwan isn’t among the governments signed up for the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, a trade pact that’s meant to allow the U.S. to work closely with Asian economies on issues including supply chains, clean energy and anticorruption.    Biden is slated to highlight the launch as he meets with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday.
    Inclusion of the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which China claims as its own, would have irked Beijing.
    “We are looking to deepen our economic partnership with Taiwan including on high technology issues, including on semiconductor supply,” Sullivan said.    “But we’re pursuing that in the first instance on a bilateral basis.”
    The framework is meant to establish Biden’s economic strategy for the region.

5/23/2022 Albanese sworn in as PM in Australia ahead of Tokyo summit by Rod McGuirk, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, left, is congratulated by Australian Governor-General
David Hurley after he was sworn in at Government House in Canberra on Monday. LUKAS COCH/AAP IMAGE VIA AP
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s new prime minister was sworn in Monday ahead of a Tokyo summit with President Joe Biden while vote counting continued to determine whether he will control a majority in a Parliament that is demanding tougher action on climate change.
    Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s center-left Labor Party ousted predecessor Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition at Saturday’s election.    The coalition had been in power under three prime ministers for nine years.
    “I want to lead a government that has the same sentiment of optimism and hope that I think defines the Australian people,” Albanese said in his hometown of Sydney before flying to the national capital Canberra to be sworn in.
    Albanese, who describes himself as the first ever candidate for the office of prime minister with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” and Malaysian-born Penny Wong, Australia’s first foreign minister to be born overseas, were sworn into office by Governor-General David Hurley before the pair flew to Tokyo for a security summit on Tuesday with Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
    Biden rang Albanese to congratulate him on his election win and express the president’s wish to make the countries’ alliance stronger, the White House said.
    Morrison’s decision to resign as prime minister during the early vote counting enabled Hurley, who represents Australia’s head of state, British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, to appoint his replacement without evidence that Albanese can control a majority of seats in parliament’s lower chamber where governments are formed.
    Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles was also sworn in and will act as prime minister while Albanese is in Japan. Katy Gallagher and Jim Chalmers were sworn into economic ministries.
    Labor appears assured of 75 seats, one short of the majority in the 151-seat House of Representatives needed to form an administration. The conservative coalition was on track for 58, unaligned lawmakers 12 and six seats were too close to call, the Australian Electoral Commission said.
    Australia’s two major parties, Labor and the conservative Liberal Party, bled votes to independents and fringe parties in Saturday’s election, continuing a trend of dissatisfaction with the political establishment.
    Terri Butler, who would have been the new government’s environment minister, was replaced by Max Chandler-Mather, of the climate-focused Greens party that now holds as least three seats in the house, two more than in the last parliament.
    Former New South Wales state Premier Kristina Keneally’s bid to move from the senate to the house in what was considered a safe Labor seat in Sydney was defeated by Vietnam-born independent candidate Dai Le, who became the first refugee ever elected to parliament.
    Greens leader Adam Bandt supported a Labor minority government from 2010 until its election defeat in 2013 and was prepared to negotiate with Albanese again.
    Albanese had been the government’s chief negotiator with its outside supporters in the house during those three years and was praised for his collegial approach.
    “Liberal and Labor’s vote went backwards this election.    Labor may get over the line with a majority and may not but their vote went backwards,“ Bandt said.
    “The Greens and independents said we need to take action on coal and gas which are the main causes of the climate crisis and people agree," Bandt added, referring to Australia’s major fossil fuel exports.
    “It’s the end of the two-party system as we know it,” he said.
    The conservative former government lost six traditionally safe seats to so-called teal independents, greener versions of the Liberal Party’s blue color.
    The teals want a more ambitious target that Labor’s promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% below the 2005 level by the end of the decade.
    The previous government had stuck with the same commitment they made at the Paris Agreement in 2015: 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030.
    The Greens’ 2030 target is 75%.

5/24/2022 Iran vows revenge over Guard killing by Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iran’s hard-line president vowed revenge Monday over the killing of a senior Revolutionary Guard member gunned down in the heart of Tehran the day before – a still-mysterious attack on the country’s powerful paramilitary force.    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi hailed Col. Hassan Sayyad Khodaei as a martyr and blamed “the hand of global arrogance,” a reference to the United States and its allies, including Israel, for his slaying.
    There has been no claim of responsibility for the killing, carried out Sunday afternoon by two unidentified gunmen on a motorbike.
    They shot Khodaei five times as he sat in a car, an unarmored SAIPA Pride – among the cheapest, most-common Iranian vehicles.
    But the style of the brazen attack bore the hallmarks of previous slayings in Iran blamed on Israel, such as those targeting the country’s nuclear scientists.
    “I have no doubt that revenge against the criminals for the blood of this martyr is assured,” Raisi said at the airport before leaving Tehran for a state visit to the sultanate of Oman, a strategic Gulf Arab state that traditionally mediates between Tehran and the West.
    His remarks signaled Khodaei’s prominence in the murky structure of the Guard, which exerts extensive control inside Iran and across the Middle East via allied militias.    In yet another sign of Khodaei’s power, Tehran’s city council announced it would name a street after him.

5/24/2022 Biden: US would use military to back Taiwan - Policy doesn’t require use of force if China attacks by Josh Boak, Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller, ASSOCIATED PRESS
At a news conference in Tokyo, President Joe Biden said “yes” when asked if
he was willing to get involved militarily if China invaded Taiwan. EVAN VUCCI/AP
    TOKYO – President Joe Biden said Monday that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, saying the burden to protect Taiwan is “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.    It was one of the most forceful presidential statements in support of self-governing in decades.
    Biden, at a news conference in Tokyo, said “yes” when asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if China invaded.    “That’s the commitment we made,” he added.
    The U.S. traditionally has avoided making such an explicit security guarantee to Taiwan, with which it no longer has a mutual defense treaty, instead maintaining a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about how far it might go if China invaded.    The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act does not require the U.S. to step in militarily to defend Taiwan if China invades but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status in Taiwan by Beijing.
    Biden’s comments, which came at the launch of an Indo-Pacific trade pact, drew a sharp response from the mainland, which has claimed Taiwan to be a rogue province.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin expressed “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to Biden’s comments.
    “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.    “China will take firm action to safeguard its sovereignty and security interests, and we will do what we say.”
    A White House official said Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift.
    Speaking alongside Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden said any effort by China to use force against Taiwan would “just not be appropriate,” adding that it “will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
    China has stepped up its military provocations against democratic Taiwan in recent years aimed at intimidating it into accepting Beijing’s demands to unify with the communist mainland.
    “They’re already flirting with danger right now by flying so close and all the maneuvers that are undertaken,” Biden said of China.
    The U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.    However, the U.S. maintains unofficial contacts including a de facto embassy in Taipei and supplies military equipment for the island’s defense.
    Biden said it is his “expectation” that China would not try to seize Taiwan, but he said that assessment “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”
    He added that deterring China from attacking Taiwan was one reason why it’s important that Russian President Vladimir Putin “pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine,” lest China and other nations get the idea that such action is acceptable.
    Taipei cheered Biden’s remarks, with Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou expressing “sincere welcome and gratitude” for the comments.

5/24/2022 Philippine ferry catches fire; 7 killed by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    MANILA, Philippines – A ferry carrying more than 130 people caught fire in the northeastern Philippines on Monday, killing seven passengers and forcing many survivors to jump into the sea, where they were rescued by other vessels.
    The fire rapidly spread from the engine room to the upper passenger deck of the M/V Mercraft 2 while it was approaching a port in Real, town administrator Filomena Portales said.    It had been en route to the town in Quezon province from Polillo Island.
    Many of the 134 passengers and crew jumped into the water and were plucked from the sea by motorboats and cargo vessels, coast guard officials said.
    “Fishing boats and other vessels were able to approach quickly, and everybody helped, so the rescue was fast,” Portales said by telephone.
    The coast guard said everyone on the ferry had been accounted for, and 24 people who were injured were taken to a hospital.
    Portales said seven passengers died from burns and drowning, and one possibly had a heart attack while floating in the water.

5/24/2022 US stance on Taiwan keeps world guessing - Biden commits to defending island by Chris Megerian and Matthew Lee, ASSOCIATED PRESS
President Joe Biden, reviewing an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Akasaka Palace state guest house
in Tokyo, Japan, has caused waves with his comments about protecting Taiwan for a third time. EUGENE HOSHIKO/AP
    WASHINGTON – For the third time in less than a year, President Joe Biden has stirred controversy with his comments about Taiwan.    The latest example came during his visit to Japan, when a reporter asked if the United States would respond militarily if China invaded the island.
    “Yes,” he said Monday.    “That’s the commitment we made.”
    A White House official said Biden was not outlining a change in U.S. policy toward Taiwan, a self-governing island that China views as a breakaway province that should be reunified with the mainland.
    There is no mutual defense treaty between the U.S. and Taiwan, but America sells the Taiwanese military hardware.    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Biden’s comment “highlighted our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself.”
    Is it that simple?    The confusion is a reminder of Washington’s stance of “strategic ambiguity” when it comes to Taiwan – essentially, leaving China guessing about what exactly the U.S. would do if there was an invasion.
    It’s a sensitive issue in a complex corner of the globe, and it’s gained renewed attention in light of Russian’s invasion of Ukraine.
    A look at how things reached this point:
How did Taiwan’s unusual status come about?
    Taiwan is located about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China.    During China’s civil war, Mao Zedong’s communists forced Chiang Kai-shek and his nationalist forces to flee the mainland for the island in 1949.
    The Taiwanese government in Taipei has become autonomous and democratic, even conducting its own foreign policy.
    Meanwhile, Beijing has never given up its claims.    There’s often talk about peaceful reunification, but the threat of military force remains.
What relationship does the US have with Taiwan?
    Taiwan falls into a gray area of U.S. foreign policy. For decades after Chiang fled to the island, Washington considered the leaders in Taipei as China’s rightful government, and there were no formal ties to Beijing.
    However, President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, beginning a diplomatic thaw that culminated in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter formally recognized the government in Beijing and cut nation-to-nation ties with Taiwan.
    In response, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, creating a benchmark for a continuing relationship.
    The U.S. sells military equipment to Taiwan, and the island is an important trading partner, especially as a major producer of semiconductors for computer chips.
    “We have a deep political, economic and military relationship with a place that we don’t officially recognize,” said Julian Ku, a professor of international law at Hofstra University in New York.    “I don’t think that there’s any place like it in the U.S. foreign policy world.”
    China has for years made the issue of Taiwan a top priority in diplomatic and other conversations with the U.S., according to current and former officials who say their Chinese interlocutors repeatedly raise the same talking points about Taiwan in every meeting.
What has Biden said before?
    This is the third time that Biden has caused waves with his comments about protecting Taiwan.
    During an August interview with ABC News, he compared the U.S. relationship with Taiwan to America’s Article 5 commitment under NATO, which obligates the alliance to defend any member that’s attacked.
    Then, during a CNN town hall in October, Biden said “we have a commitment” to defend Taiwan.
    White House officials walked back his comments both times, but that didn’t stop Biden from using similar language in Japan on Monday.
    And there was Biden’s November trip to New Hampshire, one day after a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. When talking to reporters, Biden described Taiwan as “independent.”
    Later in the day, he clarified.
    “We are not encouraging independence,” he said.
How did China and Taiwan react to the new comments?
    Taiwan welcomed the news.    The island’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement expressing “its sincere welcome and gratitude to President Biden and the U.S. government for reaffirming their rock-solid commitment to Taiwan.”
    “The challenge posed by China to the security of the Taiwan Strait has drawn great concern in the international community,” spokesperson Joanne Ou said.
    Not surprisingly, China responded with an angry statement.
    “China has no room for compromise or concessions on issues involving China’s core interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
What is the chance of a military conflict over Taiwan?
    Biden said Monday he didn’t think China would invade Taiwan, although he also said that “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”
    Others have raised alarm bells.    When Adm. Phil Davidson was the outgoing leader of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command last year, he testified that he thought China could attack “in the next six years.”
    A recurring concern involves Chinese military flights.
    They’ve repeatedly occurred near Taiwan, including on the first day of Biden’s trip in Asia.
What is the US doing for Taiwan’s defense
    The U.S. is a major supplier of weapons to Taiwan, although sales have dropped off in the past year.
    A review of congressional notifications shows that since taking office, the Biden administration has approved less than a billion dollars in arms sales to Taiwan.    By contrast, from October until December of 2020, then-President Donald Trump’s administration greenlit nearly $4.7 billion in sales.
    There’s an ongoing debate over what kind of weapons to sell Taiwan, a source of contention between U.S. policymakers, competing political and military interests in Taipei, and the U.S. defense industry.
    Successive U.S. administrations and a growing number of politicians in Taiwan have argued that Taipei’s security is best served with tactical weapons of the type that Ukraine has used with effect against Russia, not with big-ticket, big-target items such as battleships that the could be destroyed early in a Chinese invasion.
    “We have a deep political, economic and military relationship with a place that we don’t officially recognize.    I don’t think that there’s any place like it in the U.S. foreign policy world.”
Julian Ku, Professor of international law at Hofstra University

5/25/2022 Biden: Leader’s face ‘dark hour’ - Quad summit centered on Ukraine, China by Josh Boak and Aamer Madhani, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, from left, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida
and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attend the 'Quad' summit on Tuesday in Tokyo. Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via AP
    TOKYO – President Joe Biden told fellow Indo-Pacific leaders assembled for a four-country summit Tuesday that they were navigating 'a dark hour in our shared history' due to Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine and he urged the group to make a greater effort to stop Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
    'This is more than just a European issue.    It’s a global issue,' Biden said as the 'Quad' summit with Japan, Australia and India got under way.
    While the president did not directly call out any countries, his message appeared to be pointed, at least in part, at Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom differences persist over how to respond to the Russian invasion.
    Unlike other Quad countries and nearly every other U.S. ally, India has not imposed sanctions or even condemned Russia, its biggest supplier of military hardware.
    With Modi sitting nearby, Biden made the case that the world has a shared responsibility to do something to assist Ukrainian resistance against Russia’s aggression.
    'We’re navigating a dark hour in our shared history,' he said.    'The Russian brutal and unprovoked war against Ukraine has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe and innocent civilians have been killed in the streets and millions of refugees are internally displaced as well as in exile.'
    'The world has to deal with it, and we are,' he added.
    For several of the bigger Asian powers, the invasion has been seen as a crucial moment for the world to demonstrate by a strong response to Russia that China should not try to seize contested territory through military action.
    Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, taking note of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, told the other leaders: 'We cannot let the same thing happen in the Indo-Pacific region.'
    A reminder of tensions in the region came during Biden’s trip.    Chinese and Russian strategic bombers conducted joint flights around Japan on Tuesday.
    Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi described the exercise as a 'threat' and 'an increased level of provocation,' and said the cooperation between China and Russia was 'concerning and unacceptable.'
    The White House has been effusive in its praise of several Pacific countries, including Japan, Singapore and South Korea, for stepping up to hit Russia with tough sanctions and export bans while offering humanitarian and military assistance to Kyiv.
    However, the White House has been disappointed with the relative silence of India, the world’s biggest democracy.
    After a one-on-one meeting with Modi in Japan, Biden said they discussed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 'and the effect it has on the entire global world order.'    Biden added that the U.S. and India will continue to consult 'on how to mitigate these negative effects.'
    But in a reflection of India’s relationship with Moscow, the Quad leaders’ post-summit joint statement made no mention of Russia.
    In his comments, Modi did not refer to the war in Ukraine, instead ticking off several trade and investment programs that he discussed with the president.
    Biden has asked Modi not to accelerate the buying of Russian oil as the U.S. and other allies look to squeeze Moscow’s energy income.    The Indian prime minister made no public commitment to get off from Russian oil, and Biden has publicly referred to India as 'somewhat shaky' in its response to the invasion.
    Facing Western pressure, India has condemned civilian deaths in Ukraine and called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.     Yet it also has compounded fallout from a war that has caused a global food shortage by banning wheat exports at a time when starvation is a growing risk in parts of the world.    The Indian prime minister did not address Russia’s war against Ukraine in his public remarks at the summit.
    Biden has been making his case to Modi for weeks.
    The two spoke about the Russian invasion during a virtual Quad leaders’ meeting in March, and last month they had a short video conversation when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with their Indian counterparts in Washington.
    While Biden and Modi may avoid public confrontation over how to respond to Russia’s aggression, the issue remains a major one as the U.S. and allies are looking to tighten the pressure on Putin, said Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
    The summit came on the final day of Biden’s five-day visit to Japan and South Korea, Biden’s first trip to Asia as president.
    It also marked new Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s first moment on the global stage. The new premier flew to Tokyo on Monday right after being sworn into office.    The center-left Labor Party defeated Prime Minister Scott Morrison over the weekend, ending the conservative leader’s nine-year rule.
    Biden, Modi and Kishida welcomed Albanese to the club and expressed awe at his determination to join the informal security coalition so quickly after assuming office.
    Biden was to meet separately with Albanese later Tuesday.    The four-way partnership has become increasingly relevant as Biden has moved to adjust U.S. foreign policy to put greater focus on the region and to counter China’s rise as an economic and security power.    He held bilateral talks with summit host Kishida on Monday.
    Albanese told his fellow Quad leaders he was dedicated to the group’s mission to maintain a free and open Indo-Pacific.
    Looming over the Quad leaders’ talks was Biden’s blunt statement on Monday that the U.S. would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan, saying the burden to protect Taiwan is 'even stronger’ after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
    The White House insists that Biden’s unusually forceful comments about Taiwan did not amount to a shift in U.S. policy toward the self-ruled island that China claims as its own.
    Asked by the reporters at the summit on Tuesday if his comments on Taiwan a day earlier were meant to mark a policy change, Biden simply replied, 'No.'

5/25/2022 Iran building collapse kills at least 11 by Nasser Karimi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The 10-story Metropol building, seen Tuesda, was under construction in Abadan, Iran. HOSSEIN ABDOLLAH ASL/ TASNIM NEWS AGENCY VIA AP
    TEHRAN, Iran – Rescuers dug through debris Tuesday of a building collapse in southwestern Iran that killed at least 11 people, fearful that many more could still be trapped beneath the rubble as authorities arrested the city’s mayor in a widening probe of the disaster.
    The collapse Monday of an under construction 10-story tower at the Metropol Building exposed its cement blocks and steel beams while also underscoring an ongoing crisis in Iranian construction projects that has seen other disasters in this earthquake-prone nation.
    Video from the initial collapse Monday showed thick dust rise over Abadan, a crucial oil-producing city in Khuzestan province, near Iran’s border with Iraq.    The Metropol Building included two towers, one already built and the other under construction, though its bottom commercial floors had finished and already had tenants.
    On Tuesday, an emergency official interviewed on state television suggested that some 50 people may have been inside of the building at the time of the collapse, including people moving into its basement floors.    However, it wasn’t clear if that figure included those already pulled from the rubble.    At least 39 people were injured, most of them lightly, officials earlier said.
    Aerial drone footage aired Tuesday showed the floors had pancaked on top of each other, leaving a pile of dusty, gray debris.    A construction crane stood still nearby as a single backhoe dug. State TV said at least 11 people had been killed.
    An angry crowd at the site chased and beat Abadan Mayor Hossein Hamidpour immediately after the collapse, according to the semiofficial ILNA news agency and online videos.
    Police later arrested Hamidpour and nine others, Iranian media reported Tuesday.    Initially, authorities said the building’s owner and its general contractor had been arrested as well, though a later report from the judiciary’s Mizan news agency said Tuesday that the two men had been killed in the collapse.    The conflicting reports could not be immediately reconciled.
    Authorities offered no immediate word on whether those detained faced charges, and it wasn’t immediately clear if lawyers represented them.
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi offered his condolences and appealed to the local authorities to get to the bottom of the case.
    Lawmakers opened a separate parliament inquiry into the case Tuesday, trying to determine why the building on Amir Kabir Street collapsed during a sandstorm.    However, there was no major earthquake recorded Monday near Abadan, some 410 miles southwest of Tehran.
    A local journalist in Abadan had repeatedly raised concerns about the building’s construction, beginning last year, publishing images that he said showed sagging floors at the first tower.    He also alleged corruption in the building permits process.
    Later Tuesday, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Faramarz Zoghi, a construction expert and adviser to Iran’s construction engineers league, as saying that “definitely national construction measures were not observed” at the site.

5/25/2022 Seoul: North Korea launches 3 ballistic missiles - Tests come after Biden wraps up trip to Asia by Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, watches a military parade to mark the 90th anniversary of North Korea's army at
the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, on April 25. KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP FILE
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea launched three ballistic missiles toward the sea on Wednesday, its neighbors said, hours after President Joe Biden wrapped up his trip to Asia where he reaffirmed U.S. commitment to defend its allies in the face of the North’s growing nuclear threat.
    The North’s first missile launches in about two weeks also came as the country makes a much-disputed claim that its first domestic COVID-19 outbreak is weakening.
    South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that all three missiles were fired from near Pyongyang and flew toward waters off the North’s eastern coast one after another between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. on Wednesday.
    It said South Korea subsequently boosted its surveillance posture and maintained a military readiness in close coordination with the United States. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol separately called a National Security Council meeting to discuss the North’s launches, his office said.
    The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the missile launches highlight “the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program” though they didn’t pose an immediate threat to U.S. territory and its allies.    A command statement said the U.S. commitment to the defense of the South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad.”
    The White House said Biden has been briefed on the North Korean missile launches and will continue to be briefed as information develops.
    Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the launches were “an act of provocation and absolutely impermissible.”    He accused North Korea of pressing ahead with its weapons development program while “ignoring the people’s suffering amid the spread of the coronavirus in the country.”    Kishi said one missile reached a maximum altitude of 340 miles while traveling 186 miles, while another one flew 470 miles on a lower apogee of 30 miles, before both landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.    The launches were North Korea’s 17th round of missile firings this year.    Experts have said North Korea’s testing is aimed at modernizing its weapons arsenal and at applying pressure on its rivals to wrest sanctions relief and other concessions amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.
    North Korea’s unusual pace in weapons tests this year included its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March.    U.S. and South Korean intelligence officials have said North Korea could soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years as well.
    After their summit in Seoul on Saturday, Biden and Yoon said they would consider expanded military exercises to deter North Korean nuclear threats.
    Biden brushed aside questions about any possible provocation by North Korea during his trip, saying, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”    Asked if he had a message for the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, Biden offered a clipped response: “Hello. Period.”
    After his meetings in Seoul, Biden traveled to Japan and met with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, where the leaders vowed to work closely to address security challenges, including North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic programs, and also what they called China’s “increasingly coercive” behavior in the region.
    Hours before the North’s missile launches, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters in Washington that North Korea may be on the verge of a major weapons test.    “Our concern for another potential provocation, be it an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launch, be a potential seventh nuclear weapons test, our concern has not abated in any way,” he said.

5/25/2022 China wants 10 Pacific nations to endorse sweeping agreement by NICK PERRY, Associated Press
© Provided by Associated Press
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region.
    A draft of the agreement obtained by The Associated Press shows that China wants to train Pacific police officers, team up on “traditional and non-traditional security" and expand law enforcement cooperation.
    China also wants to jointly develop a marine plan for fisheries — which would include the Pacific's lucrative tuna catch — increase cooperation on running the region's internet networks, and set up cultural Confucius Institutes and classrooms.    China also mentions the possibility of setting up a free trade area with the Pacific nations.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Fiji's Prime Minister Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, top left, talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang,
top right, during a signing ceremony between the two countries at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing Tuesday, May 16, 2017.
China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns
is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (Nicolas Asfouri/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    China’s move comes as Foreign Minister Wang Yi and a 20-strong delegation begin a visit to the region this week.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Spectators hold a Chinese flag as they watch a ceremony to mark the opening of
Independence Drive Boulevard in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. China wants 10 small
Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns
is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File)
    Wang is visiting seven of the countries he hopes will endorse the “Common Development Vision” — the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea.
    Wang is also holding virtual meetings with the other three potential signatories — the Cook Islands, Niue and the Federated States of Micronesia.    He is hoping the countries will endorse the pre-written agreement as part of a joint communique after a scheduled May 30 meeting in Fiji he is holding with the foreign ministers from each of the 10 countries.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Vanuatu Prime Minister Charlot Salwai, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, right,
shake hands at a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China Monday, May 27, 2019. China wants
10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader
warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    But Micronesia’s President David Panuelo has written an eight-page letter to the leaders of other Pacific nations saying his nation won't be endorsing the plan and warning of dire consequences if others do.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Members of a Chinese honor guard march in formation before a welcome ceremony for
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2019.
China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what
one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    Panuelo said in his letter, which the AP has obtained, that behind attractive words in the agreement like “equity” and “justice” are many worrying details.
    Among other concerns, he said, is that the agreement opens the door for China to own and control the region's fisheries and communications infrastructure.    He said China could intercept emails and listen in on phone calls.
    Panuelo said in his letter that the agreement is “an intent to shift those of us with diplomatic relations with China very close to Beijing’s orbit, intrinsically tying the whole of our economies and societies to them.”     He warns the agreement would needlessly heighten geopolitical tensions and threaten regional stability.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, left, shakes hands
with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall Of The People Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Beijing. China wants
10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what
one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (Lintao Zhang/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    In his letter, Panuelo said the Common Development Vision is “the single most game-changing proposed agreement in the Pacific in any of our lifetimes,” and it “threatens to bring a new Cold War era at best, and a World War at worst.”
    Panuelo declined to comment on the letter or the proposed agreement.
    US policy toward Taiwan 'has not changed': defense secretary Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Wednesday he didn't know about Panuelo's letter.
    “But I don’t agree at all with the argument that cooperation between China and the South Pacific Island countries will trigger a new Cold War,” he said.
    He said that China "has a long history of friendly relations with the South Pacific Island countries" and had long provided them economic and technical assistance without any political strings attached.
    Like some other countries in the Pacific, Micronesia is finding itself increasingly caught between the competing interests of Washington and Beijing.
    Micronesia has close ties to the U.S. through a Compact of Free Association.    But it also has what Panuelo describes in his letter as a “Great Friendship” with China that he hopes will continue despite his opposition to the agreement.
    The security aspects of the agreement will be particularly troubling to many in the region and beyond, especially after China signed a separate security pact with the Solomon Islands last month.
© Provided by Associated Press File - Ships are docked offshore in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands,
Nov. 24, 2018. The Solomon Islands switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China on Monday, Sept. 16, 2019,
becoming the latest country to leave the dwindling Taiwanese camp. China wants 10 small Pacific nations to
endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns is a
“game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    That pact has raised fears that China could send troops to the island nation or even establish a military base there, not far from Australia.    The Solomon Islands and China say there are no plans for a base.
    The May 30 meeting will be the second between Wang and the Pacific islands' foreign ministers after they held a virtual meeting last October.
    Those who follow China's role in the Pacific will be scrutinizing the wording of the draft agreement.
    Among its provisions: “China will hold intermediate and high-level police training for Pacific Island countries.”
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pose
for a photo before a meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. China wants 10 small
Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns
is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, Pool, File)
    The agreement says the countries will strengthen “cooperation in the fields of traditional and non-traditional security” and will “expand law enforcement cooperation, jointly combat transnational crime, and establish a dialog mechanism on law enforcement capacity and police cooperation."
© Provided by Associated PressFILE - Kiribati's President Taneti Maamau, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk
together during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. China wants 10 small
Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what one leader warns
is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    The agreement would also see the nations “expand exchanges between governments, legislatures and political parties."
    The draft agreement also stipulates that the Pacific countries “firmly abide” by the one-China principle, under which Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy, is considered by Beijing to be part of China.    It would also uphold the “non-interference” principle that China often cites as a deterrent to other nations speaking out about its human rights record.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - A display case of photos is seen outside the Chinese Embassy in Honiara, Solomon Islands, April 2, 2022.
China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what
one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Charley Piringi, File)
    The agreement says that China and the Pacific countries would jointly formulate a marine spatial plan “to optimize the layout of the marine economy, and develop and utilize marine resources rationally, so as to promote a sustainable development of blue economy.”
© Provided by Associated Press the Chinese flags flies at their embassy in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, Monday April 8, 2019.
China wants 10 small Pacific nations to endorse a sweeping agreement covering everything from security to fisheries in what
one leader warns is a “game-changing” bid by Beijing to wrest control of the region. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
    China also promises more investment in the region by mobilizing private capital and encouraging "more competitive and reputable Chinese enterprises to participate in direct investment in Pacific Island countries.”     China also promised to dispatch Chinese language consultants, teachers and volunteers to the islands.
    The AP has also obtained a draft of a five-year action plan that's intended to sit alongside the Common Development Vision, which outlines a number of immediate incentives that China is offering to the Pacific nations.
    In the action plan, China says it will fully implement 2,500 government scholarships through 2025.
    “In 2022, China will hold the first training program for young diplomats from Pacific Island countries, depending on the pandemic situation,” the draft plan states, adding that China will also hold seminars on governance and planning for the Pacific nations.
    In the draft action plan, China says it will build criminal investigation laboratories as needed by the Pacific nations that can be used for fingerprint testing, forensic autopsies, and electronic forensics.
    China also says it will also spend an additional $2 million and send 200 medics to the islands to help fight COVID-19 and promote health, and promises to help the countries in their efforts to combat climate change.

5/26/2022 N Korea fires suspected ICBM, 2 other missiles - Launch could signal progression of arsenal by Hyung-Jin Kim and Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. and South Korean leaders have said they would consider expanded military exercises, such as this joint
training between the two countries, to deter North Korean nuclear threats. SOUTH KOREA DEFENSE MINISTRY VIA AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea test-launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile and two shorter- range weapons toward its eastern waters Wednesday, South Korea said, hours after President Joe Biden ended a trip to Asia where he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend its allies in the face of the North’s nuclear threat.
    The suspected ICBM didn’t fly its full range.    But if confirmed, it would still be North Korea’s first test of an ICBM system in about two months amid stalled nuclear diplomacy with the United States.    The launch suggests North Korea is determined to continue its efforts to modernize its arsenal despite its first COVID-19 outbreak, which has caused outside worries about a humanitarian disaster.
    “North Korea’s sustained provocations can only result in stronger and faster South Korea-U.S. combined deterrence and can only deepen North Korea’s international isolation,” the South Korean government said in a statement after an emergency security meeting.
    Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi called the launches “an act of provocation and absolutely impermissible.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held separate calls with his counterparts from South Korea and Japan during which they condemned the launches as a clear violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions, the State Department said.,br>     Blinken noted Washington’ commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad” as the three allies continue to cooperate to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the statement said.
    “(The launches) were a political message.    They’re saying they feel bad” about Biden’s summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University in South Korea.
    Biden and Yoon said after their meeting Saturday that they would consider expanded military exercises to deter North Korean nuclear threats.
    Biden brushed aside questions about any possible provocation by North Korea during his trip, saying, “We are prepared for anything North Korea does.”    He later met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, and they vowed to work closely to address security challenges.
    According to South Korea’s military, the first missile was likely an ICBM that reached a maximum height of 335 miles while traveling 223 miles.    The statement said the second missile disappeared from South Korean radar at some point and the third flew 472 miles.
    Kim Tae-hyo, South Korea’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters that the first launch involved the North’s biggest Hwasong-17 missile, whose potential range includes the entirety of the U.S. mainland.    He said the missile was fired at a high angle and that its launch appeared aimed at reviewing the weapon’s propellant and stage separations, though he couldn’t conclusively say whether the test was successful.

5/26/2022 IS claims responsibility for minivan explosions in Afghanistan by Rahim Faiez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD – A series of explosions shook Afghanistan on Wednesday, the Taliban said, including a blast inside a mosque in the capital of Kabul that killed at least five worshippers and three bombings of minivans in the country’s north that killed nine.
    The Islamic State group’s local affiliate claimed responsibility for the minivan bombings.
    The Kabul Emergency Hospital said it received 22 victims of the mosque bombing, including five dead.    There were no further details on the blast that struck the Hazrat Zakaria Mosque in the city’s central Police District 4, according to Khalid Zadran, a Taliban police spokesman in Kabul.
    “The blast took place while people were inside the mosque for the evening prayers,” Zadran said, adding that they were waiting for an update.
    The minivans were targeted in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif after explosive devices were placed inside the vehicles, according to Mohammad Asif Waziri, a Taliban-appointed spokesman. He said the explosions killed nine and wounded 15.
    All the victims in Mazar-e-Sharif were from the country’s minority Shiite Muslims, according to a police official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to give details to the media.
    The IS claim of responsibility was posted on the Sunni militant group’s Aamaq news agency.    The statement said IS targeted three buses with improvised explosive devices.
    There was no claim of responsibility for the Kabul Mosque explosion but it also bore the hallmarks of the regional affiliate of the Islamic State group, known as Islamic State in Khorasan Province, or IS-K.

[THIS ARTICLE BELOW IS UNUSUAL SINCE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION HAS BEEN KISSING CHINA’S BUTT FOR YEARS SO WHAT HAPPENED TO CAUSE THEM TO WAKE UP - I KNOW NOW THE 2022 ELECTIONS ARE COMING UP AND THEY DO NOT LOOK VERY WELL NOW AND THEY HAVE TO TRY TO FOOL THE U.S. TO BELIEvE THEY ARE TOUGH ON CHINA.]
5/27/2022 Blinken: US to leverage bloc against China - Ukraine response a template, he says by Matthew Lee, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at George Washington University on Thursday,
outlining the Biden administration’s policy toward China. CAROLYN KASTER/AP
    WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday the Biden administration aims to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.
    In a speech outlining the administration’s China policy, Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach to competing with Beijing in a race to define the 21st century’s economic and military balance.
    While the U.S. sees Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine as the most acute and immediate threat to international stability, Blinken said the administration believes China poses a greater danger.
    “Even as President Putin’s war continues, we will remain focused on the most serious long-term challenge to the international order – and that is the one posed by the People’s Republic of China,” Blinken said.
    “China is the only country with both the intent to reshape the international order – and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it,” he said.    “Beijing’s vision would move us away from the universal values that have sustained so much of the world’s progress over the past 75 years.”
    Thus, Blinken laid out principles for the administration to marshal its resources, friends and allies to push back on increasing Chinese assertiveness around the world. Although he made clear that the U.S. does not seek to change China’s political system, rather it wants to offer a tested alternative.
    “This is not about forcing countries to choose, it’s about giving them a choice,” he said.
    However, he also acknowledged that the U.S. has limited ability to directly influence China’s intentions and ambitions and will instead focus on shaping the strategic environment around China.
    “We can’t rely on Beijing to change its trajectory,” Blinken said in the speech, delivered at George Washington University.    “So we will shape the strategic environment around Beijing to advance our vision for an open and inclusive international system.”    Blinken’s address was delivered overnight in China, and there was no immediate reaction to the speech from the Chinese embassy in Washington.
    The speech followed President Joe Biden’s just-concluded visits to South Korea and Japan, where China loomed large in discussions.    Biden raised eyebrows during that trip when he said that the United States would act militarily to help Taiwan defend itself in the event of an invasion by China, which regards the island as a renegade province.
    The administration scrambled to insist that Biden was not changing American policy, and Blinken restated that the U.S. has not changed its position.    Blinken said Washington still holds to its “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing but allows for unofficial links with and arms sales to Taipei.
    “Our approach has been consistent across decades and administrations.    The United States remains committed to our ‘One China’ policy.    We oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo from either side,” he said, adding that “we do not support Taiwan independence.”
    Blinken said that while U.S. policy on Taiwan has remained consistent, China’s had become increasingly belligerent.
    He made the case that the global response to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine can serve as a template for dealing with China’s efforts to mold a new and unpredictable world order to replace the rules and institutions that have guided relations between states since the end of World War II.
    China, Blinken said, has benefited greatly from that international order but is now trying to subvert it under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party.
    “Rather than using its power to reinforce and revitalize the laws, agreements, principles, and institutions that enabled its success, so other countries can benefit from them, too, Beijing is undermining it,” Blinken said.    “Under President Xi, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has become more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad.”
    Yet, Blinken also decried the rise in anti-Chinese and anti-Asian hate crimes in the United States, saying Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans have the same claim to the U.S. as any other immigrants or their descendants.
    Investment in domestic U.S. infrastructure and technology along with stepping up diplomatic outreach to potentially vulnerable countries are other elements of the policy and are key to the U.S. approach, Blinken said.
    In the latest manifestation of China’s push to expand its reach that has drawn concern from the U.S. and other democracies, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday began an eight-nation tour of Pacific islands during which Beijing hopes to strike a sweeping agreement that covers everything from security to fisheries.
    Wang opened his tour in the Solomon Islands, which last month signed a security cooperation pact with China that some fear could lead to a Chinese military presence there. The agreement was finalized shortly after the Biden administration announced it would open a U.S. embassy in the Solomons as part of its efforts to engage in the greater Indo-Pacific region.
    The Biden administration has largely kept in place confrontational policies toward China adopted by its predecessor in response to Chinese actions in its western Xinjiang region, Hong Kong, Tibet and the South China Sea.
    And, while the administration sees areas for working with Beijing, such as combatting climate change, it will not trade cooperation for compromising on its principles regarding human rights and the rule of law, Blinken said.

5/27/2022 China and Russia veto UN resolution for new North Korea sanctions by Edith M. Lederer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    UNITED NATIONS – China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution sponsored by the United States on Thursday that would have imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea for its spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
    The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-2 and marked a first serious division among the five-veto wielding permanent members of the U.N.’s most powerful body on a North Korea sanctions resolution.
    A united Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years in a total of 10 resolutions seeking – so far unsuccessfully – to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and cut off funding.
    But China and Russia told the Security Council after the vote that they oppose more sanctions, stressing that what’s needed now is renewed dialogue between North Korea and the United States.
    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed disappointment but not surprise at the vote, calling North Korea’s 23 ballistic missile launches this year, including six ICBMs after a five-year suspension, “a grave threat to international peace and security.”
    “The world faces a clear and present danger from the DPRK,” she said, using the initials of the country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and citing its continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
    In the last sanctions resolution adopted by the council in December 2017, members committed to further restricting petroleum exports to North Korea if it conducted a ballistic missile launch capable of reaching intercontinental ranges.
    Before the vote, Thomas-Greenfield urged the council to fulfill its commitment and act against the North’s ICBM launches and its escalating nuclear program.
    China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun blamed the United States for not reciprocating North Korea’s “positive initiatives” during talks with the Trump administration in 2018 and 2019.
    He said it’s the U.S.’ responsibility now to resume its dialogue with Pyongyang and find a political solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, where the 1950-53 war between North Korea and South Korea stopped with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
    “The situation and peninsula have developed to what it is today thanks primarily to the flip-flop of U.S. policies and failure to uphold the results of previous dialogues,” he said.
    Faced with “persistent tension” on the Korean peninsula, Zhang said, “China has been calling on all parties to exercise calm and restraint and to desist from actions that could increase tension and lead to miscalculations.”    He said North Korea faces the harshest sanctions regime and instead of imposing new sanctions China and Russia have proposed lifting some sanctions to improve the dire humanitarian situation of North Koreans.
    Earlier, Zhang alluded to the U.S. “pivot to Asia” aimed at countering the rise of China as an economic and military power and America’s most significant competitor.
    “We do not want to see anyone make use of the DPRK situation or the Korean Peninsula situation as a card for their strategic or geopolitical agenda,” he said.
    Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow had repeatedly told the U.S. that new sanctions against the DPRK were “a path to a dead end,” and had also stressed “the ineffectiveness and the inhumanity of further strengthening the sanctions pressure on Pyongyang.”

5/27/2022 Pakistan’s ex-premier calls off planned sit-in, demands vote by Munir Ahmed, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s defiant former Prime Minister Imran Khan called off a planned, open-ended sit-in in Islamabad on Thursday, temporarily assuaging fears of a protracted civil conflict after he led thousands on a march toward Parliament and demanded the government’s resignation.
    Khan’s followers began converging on the Pakistani capital on Wednesday, with some 10,000 reaching the city center around midnight.    Khan himself entered Islamabad as part of a large convoy of cars, buses and trucks, with demonstrators waving flags and rallying overnight.    Some of his supporters clashed with police outside Parliament.
    Khan gave Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif – who replaced him in April – less than a week to call for new elections, warning that if his government didn’t comply, Khan would return to the capital with 3 million supporters.
    “I am giving you six days,” Khan said from a sound truck parked on the central Jinnah Avenue early Thursday, demanding also the dissolution of Parliament.    “If you don’t do it after six days, I will return,” he said.
    Hours later, Sharif said he was open to talks with Khan but that any decision about an early vote would be made by parliament.    “You cannot dictate to us.    No such blackmailing from you will be accepted,” he said to applause inside the National Assembly.
    Sharif also met with police officers and paramilitary Rangers in Islamabad on Thursday to personally thank them for wisely handling the protesters – without firing a single bullet.    Authorities said more than 100 policemen were injured in clashes with demonstrators on Wednesday.
    Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician, was prime minister for over three and half years until he was ousted last month by a no-confidence vote in Parliament.    Since then, he has held rallies across the country, saying his removal from office was the result of a U.S.-organized plot.    Washington has denied the allegation, and Sharif has called Khan’s claim “a pack of lies.”
    On Wednesday, clashes erupted in the eastern city of Lahore, when riot police fired tear gas and pushed back hundreds of pro-Khan demonstrators who hurled stones as they tried to pass a roadblocked bridge near the city to board buses bound for Islamabad.
    Dozens of Khan’s followers clashed with police in Islamabad, where the demonstrators set fire to bushes lining a main boulevard, sending smoke and flames rising into the sky.    Altercations were also reported elsewhere, including in Karachi, where demonstrators burned a police vehicle.
    The government says it has arrested more than 1,700 Khan supporters in the past 48 hours.
    Life gradually returned to normalcy across the country on Thursday, after Khan called off the sit-in.    That surprised even some of his supporters who continued scuffling with police near the parliament building.
    Khan lost his grip on power in April when some members of his Tehreek-e-Insaf party and a key coalition partner defected ahead of the April no-confidence vote, which he also blamed on the United States.
    His popularity took a dive in the final months of his rule because of increasing inflation – but in the weeks since his ouster, he has regained some of the losses mainly thanks to his rhetoric against the U.S. and Sharif’s government.
    Wednesday’s march on Islamabad was Khan’s largest rally over the past few weeks.    He personally led thousands of supporters from the northwestern city of Peshawar, urging his countrymen to reach Islamabad together with women and children to “liberate” Pakistan from the U.S.-imposed government.
    Khan and his party had been urging crowds to march to the square in front of Parliament, where he was to join them.    He gave no reason for calling off the sit-in.    Authorities claim Khan ended his rally after seeing poor popular response, with the crowd numbering only between 10,000 and 15,000.

5/28/2022 As tension rises, China criticizes US by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – China on Friday criticized a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken focused on relations between the world’s top two economic powers, saying the U.S. was seeking to smear Beijing’s reputation.
    In his Thursday address, Blinken said the administration of President Joe Biden wants to lead the international bloc opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine into a broader coalition to counter what it sees as a more serious, long-term threat to global order from China.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded that the U.S. was “essentially spreading disinformation” and “smearing China’s domestic and foreign policy.”
    The aim of Blinken’s speech was to “contain and suppress China’s development and uphold U.S. hegemony,” Wang said.    “We strongly deplore and reject this.”
    “As to the rules-based international order that the U.S. advocates, all people with insight can see through that they are nothing but the rules formulated by the U.S. and a few other countries with the aim at upholding the U.S.-dominant international order,” Wang added.
    “The U.S. always places its domestic law above international law and follows international rules selectively,” Wang said.
    In his speech outlining the administration’s China policy, Blinken laid out a three-pillar approach to competing with Beijing in a race to define the 21st century’s economic and military balance.    Blinken said the administration believes China poses a major threat to the post-World War II order.

5/28/2022 Bus carrying Indian soldiers falls into remote gorge; 7 dead
    SRINAGAR, India – A bus carrying soldiers fell into a gorge in India’s remote Ladakh region on Friday, killing at least seven and injuring 19 others, officials said.    The bus plunged off a mountainous road and rolled down the 80-foot-deep gorge in the frigid region’s Nubra Valley, police said.    The injured soldiers were flown to a military hospital in the northern city of Chandigarh, the military said. Authorities were investigating whether the accident was caused by a mechanical failure or driver negligence.

5/28/2022 US levels sanctions over N Korea launches by Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
People watch a news program reporting on a recent North Korean missile launch with file footage
of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a train station in Seoul, South Korea. LEE JIN-MAN/AP
    WASHINGTON – The U.S. targeted two Russian banks Friday as part of new sanctions over alleged support for North Korea and its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    The sanctions come after what the U.S. says were three new ballistic missile launches by North Korea on Tuesday, including one intercontinental ballistic missile.
    The launches happened after President Joe Biden ended an Asian trip in which he stressed Washington’s commitment to defending allies from the North’s nuclear threat.
    The U.S. says this week’s launches brought North Korea’s total for this year to 23, as the isolated country pushes to develop and expand the range of its nuclear and missile programs.
    Friday’s sanctions targets include two Russian banks, Far Eastern and Sputnik, that the U.S. says do business with U.S.-sanctioned North Korean entities.    Bank Sputnik also helped North Korea arrange payments for the use of     Russian satellite services, the Treasury Department said in announcing the sanctions.
    The new sanctions also target a Belarus-based North Korea man who the United States says was helping generate funding for the missile launches, and a trading company.
    On Thursday, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by the United States that would have imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea for its spate of intercontinental ballistic missile launches that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.
    Thursday’s vote represented the first serious division among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the U.N.’s most powerful body on a North Korea sanctions resolution.

5/29/2022 China’s foreign minister on Samoa visit by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – China’s foreign minister met with the leaders of Samoa on Saturday on the third stop of an island- hopping tour aimed at deepening China’s ties with Pacific nations.
    The two sides signed an economic and technical cooperation agreement, a handover certificate for an arts and culture center and the Samoa–China Friendship Park, and an exchange of letters for a fingerprint laboratory for the police, a Samoan government news release said.
    Australia and the United States are closely watching the 10-day trip by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, fearful that China could be laying the groundwork for an eventual military presence in the region that would extend its reach farther into the Pacific.    China says its development of economic and security ties with Pacific nations doesn’t pose a threat.
    Wang, who arrived from Kiribati on Friday night and left for Fiji on Saturday afternoon, met with Samoan Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa and paid a courtesy call on head of state Tuimalealiifano Va’aletoa Sualauvi II.    His delegation included representatives of China’s Commerce Ministry and international development agency.
    Fiame and Wang discussed climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and security issues, the Samoan release said.    It described China as a key development partner for Samoa, providing infrastructure for health, education and government, human resource development, sports development and technical assistance in agriculture.
    In Fiji, Wang will host a meeting with Pacific islands’ foreign ministers and hopes to win the endorsement of 10 Pacific nations for a sweeping agreement that would cover everything from security to fisheries.    He started his trip on Thursday in the Solomon Islands.

5/30/2022 Sri Lanka PM invites protesting youth to join governance by Krishan Francis, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Police use tear gas shells to disperse students taking part in an anti-government protest
demanding the resignation of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa over the country’s
crippling economic crisis in Colombo on Sunday. ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s prime minister said Sunday that protesting youth groups will be invited to be part of governance under political reforms he is proposing to solve the country’s political crisis triggered by an economic collapse.
    Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that under proposed constitutional reforms, powers of the president will be clipped and those of Parliament strengthened.
    In a televised statement to the nation, he said that governance will be broad-based through parliamentary committees where lawmakers, youth and experts will work together.
    “The youth are calling for a change in the existing system.    They also want to know the current issues.    Therefore, I propose to appoint four youth representatives to each of these 15 committees,” Wickremesinghe said.
    Protesters consisting of mainly young people have camped out outside the president’s office for more than 50 days.
    They’re demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, holding him and his family responsible for the country’s worst economic crisis.    They also want an overhaul of a system of governance, saying successive administrations since independence from Britain in 1948 have misruled the country leading to economic and social crises.
    Students have led nearly daily protests in capital Colombo and elsewhere as Sri Lanka tethers on the brink of bankruptcy.    It has already defaulted on its foreign loans, and is battling acute shortages of essential goods like cooking gas, fuel and medicines.    People have been forced to wait for hours in long lines to try to buy goods and many still go empty handed.
    The country’s foreign currency reserves have dwindled to just enough to purchase two weeks of needed imports.
    Authorities announced last month that they were suspending repayment of nearly $7 billion foreign debt due this year.    Sri Lanka has to pay up $25 billion through 2026.    Total foreign debt of the Indian Ocean Island nation is $51 billion.
    According to Wickremesinghe’s proposal, one of the youth representatives will be appointed by the so-called “youth parliament” and the other three will come from protesting groups and other activist organizations.

5/30/2022 21 Bodies Recovered From Site Of Plane Crash In Nepal by OAN NEWSROOM
This handout photograph released by Fishtail Air, shows the wreckage of a plane in a gorge in Sanosware in Mustang
district close to the mountain town of Jomsom, west of Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, May 30, 2022. (Fishtail Air via AP)
    Authorities continue their recovery operation after finding the wreckage of a plane in Nepal.
    On Monday, rescue crews searched a mountainside.    They recovered the bodies of 21 of the 22 people who were onboard a plane that crashed Sunday.    One body has yet to be discovered.    Kathmandu Airport spokesman Tek Nath Sitaula said the search for the remaining person will continue.
    “There is very little chance to find survivors,” said Deo Chandra Lal Karna, a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
    The plane took off for a short flight, but air traffic control lost contact 15 minutes into the 20-minute flight.    According to tracking data from flightradar24.com, the 43-year-old aircraft took off from Pokhara at 9:55 a.m. and transmitted its last signal at 10:07 a.m., at an altitude of 12,825 feet.
    Air accidents are not uncommon in Nepal, home to eight of the world’s 14 highest mountains, including Everest.    Nepali terrain and weather patterns make flying particularly difficult.    Cloud cover hindered rescue efforts when the plane first disappeared.
    “There is very thick cloud in the area,” voiced Senior Bureaucrat Netra Prasad Sharma.     The cause of the crash is unknown.

5/31/2022 China sends 30 planes into Taiwan air defence zone by Al Jazeera
    China has made its second-largest incursion into Taiwan’s air defence zone this year, as Taipei signaled it planned to deepen security ties with the United States.
© Provided by Al Jazeera Taiwan says J-11 fighters were among the aircraft
encroaching into its ADIZ on Monday [File: US Navy/Handout via Reuters]
    Taiwan’s defence ministry said that 30 Chinese military aircraft, two-thirds of them fighter jets, entered the southwestern part of its air defence identification zone (ADIZ) on Monday and that it had scrambled its own air force and deployed air defence missile systems in response.
    The incursion was the biggest since January when Beijing sent 39 aircraft into the ADIZ.    Earlier this month, it sent 18 warplanes into the area.
    Beijing claims self-ruled Taiwan as its own and has not ruled out the use of force to take control of the island.
    In recent months, the US has accused China of ratcheting up tensions across the Taiwan Strait, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken singling out aircraft incursions as an example of “increasingly provocative rhetoric and activity.”
    Although the US has no formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan, it is the island’s most prominent international supporter and supplier of weapons, and follows what it calls a policy of “strategic ambiguity.“
    Following the latest incursion, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen on Tuesday said there were plans for “cooperation” between the Taiwan military and the US National Guard.
    Meeting visiting US Senator Tammy Duckworth at her office in Taipei, Tsai noted that Duckworth was one of the main sponsors of the Taiwan Partnership Act.
    The legislation has received bipartisan support in the US Congress, although it has yet to become law.     “As a result, the US Department of Defense is now proactively planning cooperation between the US National Guard and Taiwan’s defence forces,” Tsai said, without elaborating.
    Taiwanese media has previously reported that Taiwan could partner with Hawaii’s National Guard for the programme.
    “We look forward to closer and deeper Taiwan-US cooperation on matters of regional security,” Tsai added.
    Duckworth, a Democrat, said she was visiting to reiterate that her country stands with Taiwan, and that there was “tremendous” support for the island from US legislators.
    Last year, Taiwan recorded 969 incursions by Chinese warplanes into its ADIZ, according to an AFP news agency database, more than double the roughly 380 carried out in 2020.
    So far in 2022, Taiwan has reported 465 incursions, a near 50 percent increase from the same period last year, AFP said.
    The increasing activity is adding to pressure on Taiwan’s air force, which on Tuesday suspended flight training of new pilots after reporting its second fatal accident this year.
    The defence ministry said the AT-3 jet crashed during a training mission from the southern Gangshan airbase, and the body of the 23-year-old pilot had already been found.

5/31/2022 Pakistani-American defends Israel visit amid criticism by Munir Ahmed and Tia Goldenberg, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD – A Pakistani-American woman who came under fire in the Islamic nation for leading a delegation to Israel defended the trip Monday, saying she traveled to Jerusalem with a small group of Muslims and non-Muslims to promote interfaith harmony.
    Anila Ali, a Pakistani-born U.S. citizen living in Washington, responded to growing criticism from Pakistanis, some of whom questioned who was actually behind the visit.    She said the goal of the visit was to seek truth and to reconcile Muslims and Jews.
    “(The president) of Israel received us warmly, and the people of Israel opened up their hearts and homes to us and they knew that we were Muslims and they knew that we were Pakistanis,” she said, adding that Israelis knew that members of her delegation included Sikhs and Christians but they were still welcomed.
    Pakistan is among the countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel because of the lingering issue of Palestinian statehood and Pakistan says no delegation from Pakistan visited Israel.
    Ali said she led a 15-member delegation comprised of Pakistani expatriates to Israel earlier this month. She said that neither Pakistan’s government nor the U.S. was behind the trip.
    The state-run Pakistan Television took to Twitter on Monday to say it fired news anchor Ahmed Qureshi who visited Israel in a “personal capacity.”    Qureshi was part of the delegation that visited Israel with Ali, it said.
    The visit was confirmed by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who said he received the Pakistani expatriates.    He spoke about the visit at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday, saying it “showed me the great change” taking place in the aftermath of the Abraham Accords.
    The Abraham Accords refers to a series of diplomatic pacts brokered by the Trump administration in 2020 that normalized relations between Israel and four Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.    Israel already had peace deals with Jordan and Egypt, with which it fought several wars.
    “This was an amazing experience because we haven’t had a group of Pakistani leaders in Israel ever in such scope and that all stemmed from the Abraham Accords, meaning Jew and Muslim can dwell together in the region,” he said.
    Ali told the AP there was no truth to remarks by Pakistani opposition leader Imran Khan in a speech at a rally Sunday in which he said a Pakistani delegation had gone to Israel.    Khan also alleged without providing evidence that the current rulers in Pakistan “are going to recognize Israel.”
    “We have no intentions of speaking for the Pakistani government whether to normalize relations with Israel or not,” Ali said.    “The matter is between the Israeli government and Pakistan.”
    Ali said the visit was co-sponsored by Sharaka, an Arab-Israeli organization founded by young leaders from Israel and the Gulf region.
    For Israel, while the delegation was small and did not involve Pakistani officials, it marked somewhat of a milestone in its relations with Pakistan coming after other Muslim states have changed course and agreed to normalize ties with Israel.

6/1/2022 Court: Nuclear plant’s tsunami safeguards inadequate by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TOKYO – A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered a utility not to restart a nuclear power plant because of inadequate tsunami safeguards, backing the safety concerns of residents at a time the government is pushing for more reactors to resume power generation after pledging to ban imports of Russian fossil fuels.
    The Sapporo District Court ruled that Hokkaido Electric Power Co. must not operate any of the three reactors at its coastal Tomari nuclear power plant in northern Japan because the inadequate tsunami protection could endanger people’s lives.    The utility said it will appeal the ruling, which it called “regrettable and absolutely unacceptable.”
    A massive earthquake and a tsunami over 49 feet high hit another nuclear power plant in Fukushima in northeastern Japan in 2011, knocking out its cooling systems and causing three reactors to melt and release large amounts of radiation.
    Many of Japan’s nuclear power plants have been shut down since the disaster for safety checks and upgrades.    The reactors at the Tomari plant have not operated since 2012.
    The government has been urging plants to resume operations to replace fossil fuels and reduce global warming.    It is now accelerating that push because of fears of a power crunch following its pledge to phase out imports of Russian coal, liquefied gas and oil as part of international sanctions against Moscow.
    About 1,200 people from the area of the Tomari plant and elsewhere filed a lawsuit in late 2012 demanding that it be decommissioned because of inadequate earthquake and tsunami protections.    In its ruling, the court dismissed that demand.
    Chief Judge Tetsuya Taniguchi said Hokkaido Electric failed to take steps to address safety concerns and demonstrate the adequacy of the plant’s existing seawall, which was built after the Fukushima disaster but has since faced questions about its weak foundation.
    The operator has proposed a new seawall that it says could protect the plant from a tsunami as high as 54 feet, but provided no details about its structure or other plans, the court said.
The Tomari Nuclear Power Plant of Hokkaido Electric Power Co. is seen in Tomari village, northern Japan, in October 2020.
A Japanese court on Tuesday ordered the utility not to restart all three reactors at its nuclear plant in northern
Japan, citing inadequate tsunami measures, upholding residents’ safety worries as the government pushes nuclear
restarts amid concern stemming from its pledge to ban Russian fossil fuel imports. YOHEI FUKAI/KYODO NEWS VIA AP

6/1/2022 Australia’s Labor Party wins enough seats to govern alone
    CANBERRA, Australia – Australia’s center-left Labor Party secured enough seats Tuesday to hold an outright majority in the House as vote counting from an election 10 days ago continued.    That means new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his party will be able to govern alone – although it’s possible they might still seek deals with other parties to strengthen their hand.    The calculus remains different in the Senate, where the Labor Party will likely need help from other liberals to command a majority.

6/1/2022 US to seek UN sanctions if N Korea holds nuke test - It would be nation’s first launch in nearly 5 years by Edith M. Lederer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    UNITED NATIONS – The United States said Tuesday it will push for additional sanctions on North Korea if it conducts a new nuclear test explosion.
    U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have said North Korea could soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years.
    On Thursday, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. resolution sponsored by the United States that would have imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea for a spate of launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear warheads.    The vote in the 15-member Security Council was 13-2 and marked a first serious division among the five veto-wielding permanent members over a North Korea sanctions resolution.
    U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield was asked Tuesday whether the U.S. would seek new sanctions if the North conducted another nuclear test.    “We absolutely will,” she said.
    A united Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea’s nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years in a total of 10 resolutions seeking – so far unsuccessfully – to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs by cutting sources of revenue.
    Last Wednesday, North Korea launched its 17th round of missiles this year, an escalation of weapons tests that experts have said is part of leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to expand the country’s arsenal and apply more pressure on its rivals to obtain relief from current sanctions and other concessions.
    Thomas-Greenfield said sanctions already in place need to be enforced.    And if North Korea tests another nuclear weapon, she added, “We certainly, as we attempted in this last resolution, will push for additional sanctions.”
    She was asked about the timing of last Thursday’s vote, since China and Russia’s opposition to new sanctions was well known.    They had proposed a resolution easing sanctions on North Korea, and some U.S. allies wanted to try to preserve council unity.
    Thomas-Greenfield replied that the U.S. draft resolution had been discussed and considered for nine weeks while North Korea continued to test weapons in violation of Security Council resolutions.
    Under a U.N. General Assembly resolution adopted April 26, the 193-member world body is required for the first time to hold a debate on the situation that sparks a veto in the Security Council within 10 working days.    Precedence on the list of speakers is given to the permanent member or members casting the veto.
    General Assembly spokesperson Paulina Kubiak said the assembly will hold a meeting on the veto of the North Korea resolution on June 8, but she said she wasn’t in a position to confirm whether China or Russia would participate.
    U.S., South Korean and Japanese officials have said North Korea could soon conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years.
A South Korean news program airs a report on a North Korean missile launch with file footage at a train station in Seoul
on May 12. The U.S. said it will push for additional sanctions if North Korea conducts a new nuclear test. LEE JIN-MAN/AP

6/1/2022 WHO: COVID "getting worse, not better" in North Korea by MARIA CHENG, Associated Press
© Provided by Associated Press
    LONDON (AP) — A top official at the World Health Organization said the U.N. health agency assumes the coronavirus outbreak in North Korea is “getting worse, not better,” despite the secretive country's recent claims that COVID-19 is slowing there.
    At a press briefing on Wednesday, WHO's emergencies chief Dr. Mike Ryan appealed to North Korean authorities for more information about the COVID-19 outbreak there, saying “we have real issues in getting access to the raw data and to the actual situation on the ground.”    He said WHO has not received any privileged information about the epidemic - unlike in typical outbreaks when countries may share more sensitive data with the organization so it can evaluate the public health risks for the global community.
    “It is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we don’t have access to the necessary data,” he said.    WHO has previously voiced concerns about the impact of COVID-19 in North Korea's population, which is believed to be largely unvaccinated and whose fragile health systems could struggle to deal with a surge of cases prompted by the super-infectious omicron and its subvariants?
    Ryan said WHO had offered technical assistance and supplies to North Korean official’s multiple times, including offering     COVID-19 vaccines on at least three separate occasions.
    Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials discussed revising stringent anti-epidemic restrictions, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak is slowing.
    The discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting on Sunday suggested it would soon relax a set of draconian curbs imposed after its admission of the omicron outbreak this month out of concern about its food and economic situations.
    North Korea's claims to have controlled COVID-19 without widespread vaccination, lockdowns or drugs have been met with widespread disbelief, particularly its insistence that only dozens have died among many millions infected - a far lower death rate than seen anywhere else in the world.
    The North Korean government has said there are about 3.7 million people with fever or suspected COVID-19.    But it disclosed few details about the severity of illness or how many people have recovered, frustrating public health experts' attempt to understand the extent of the outbreak.
    “We really would appeal for a more open approach so we can come to the assistance of the people of (North Korea), because right now we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” Ryan said.    He said WHO was working with neighboring countries like China and South Korea to ascertain more about what might be happening in North Korea, saying that the epidemic there could potentially have global implications.
    WHO's criticism of North Korea's failure to provide more information about its COVID-19 outbreak stands in contrast to the U.N. health agency's failure to publicly fault China in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
    In early 2020, WHO's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus repeatedly praised China publicly for its speedy response to the emergence of the coronavirus, even as WHO scientists privately grumbled about China's delayed information-sharing and stalled sharing the genetic sequence of COVID-19.

6/1/2022 US Will Push For More Sanctions If North Korea Tests Nuclear Weapon by OAN NEWSROOM
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, a missile is fired during a joint training
between U.S. and South Korea at an undisclosed location in South Korea, Wednesday, May 25, 2022. North Korea
test-launched a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile and two shorter-range weapons into the sea
Wednesday, South Korea said, hours after President Joe Biden ended a trip to Asia where he reaffirmed the U.S.
commitment to defend its allies in the face of the North’s nuclear threat. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)
    The US plans to urge the United Nations to impose further sanctions on North Korea if the hermit nation performs a nuclear weapons test in the future.    While speaking to reporters Tuesday, UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that she would ramp up pressure to put more sanctions in place if the test occurs.
    The UN ambassador’s remarks comes as US, South Korean and Japanese officials believe North Korea may soon carry out its first nuclear weapons test in nearly five years.    Thomas-Greenfield stressed the need to enforce already existing sanctions on North Korea to deter nuclear efforts.
    “We absolutely will,” she stated.    “First of all, we need to enforce the sanctions that we have already authority to enforce.    And we certainly, as we attempted in this last resolution, will push for additional sanctions.”
    Russia and China both oppose new sanctions and, as permanent members of the Security Council, hold veto power over any potential resolution on the issue presented to the panel.

6/2/2022 At least 4 dead in earthquakes in southwestern China
    BEIJING – Two earthquakes killed at least four people and damaged houses in southwestern China on Wednesday, authorities and state media said.    Fourteen others were injured, at least one seriously, state broadcaster CCTV said in an online report.    All of the dead and injured were in Baoxing county in Sichuan province.    A magnitude 6.1 quake struck in Ya’an city, the China Earthquake Network Center said.    A magnitude 4.5 quake, also in Ya’an, followed three minutes later, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

6/2/2022 Shanghai comes back to life as lockdown eases by Emily Wang Fujiyama, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Residents pose for photos along the Bund in Shanghai on Wednesday. People reappeared on
the streets as the city eases a strict two-month COVID-19 lockdown. NG HAN GUAN/AP
    SHANGHAI – Traffic, pedestrians and joggers reappeared on the streets of Shanghai on Wednesday as China’s largest city began returning to normalcy amid the easing of a strict two-month COVID-19 lockdown that has drawn unusual protests over its heavy-handed implementation.
    Shanghai’s Communist Party committee, the city’s most powerful political body, issued a letter online proclaiming the lockdown’s success and thanking citizens for their “support and contributions.”    The move came amid a steady rollback in compulsory measures that have upended daily life for millions while severely disrupting the economy and global supply chains.
    While defending President and Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s hardline “zero-COVID” policy, the country’s leadership appears to be acknowledging the public backlash against measures seen as trampling already severely limited rights to privacy and participation in the workings of government.
    In one such step, the Cabinet’s Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism issued a letter Tuesday laying out rules banning “non-standard, simple and rude indoor disinfection” by mostly untrained teams in Shanghai and elsewhere that have left homes damaged and led to reports of property theft.
    Full bus and subway service in Shanghai was being restored from Wednesday, with rail connections to the rest of China to follow. Still, more than half a million people in the city of 25 million remain under lockdown or in designated control zones because virus cases are still being detected.
    The government says all restrictions will be gradually lifted, but local neighborhood committees still wield considerable power to implement sometimes conflicting and arbitrary policies.    Negative PCR tests for the coronavirus taken within the previous 48 to 72 hours also remain standard in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere for permission to enter public venues.
    That measure didn’t deter people in Shanghai from gathering outside to eat and drink under the watch of police deployed to discourage large crowds from forming.
    “With the lockdown lifting, I feel very happy.    I feel today how I feel during Chinese New Year – that kind of mood and joy,” said Wang Xiaowei, 34, who moved to Shanghai from the inland province of Guizhou just a week before the lockdown began.
    Liu Ruilin, 18, said she wasn’t sure her building’s security guard would let her and others out on Tuesday night.    The restriction ended exactly at midnight, she said.
    “Then we said, ‘Let’s go to the Bund to have fun,’” she said.    “We thought there wouldn’t be too many people here, but we were surprised after coming over that a lot of people are here.    I feel pretty good – quite excited.”
    Schools will partially reopen on a voluntary basis, and shopping malls, supermarkets, convenience stores and drug stores will gradually reopen at no more than 75% of their total capacity.    Cinemas and gyms will remain closed.
    Health authorities on Wednesday reported just 15 new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai, down from a record high of around 20,000 daily cases in April.
    A few malls and markets have reopened, and some residents have been given passes allowing them out for a few hours at a time.
    The lockdown has prompted an exodus of Chinese and foreign residents, with crowds forming outside the city’s Hongqiao Railway Station.
    Even while the rest of the world has opened up, China has stuck to a “zero-COVID” strategy that requires lockdowns, mass testing and isolation at centralized facilities for anyone who is infected or has been in contact with someone who has tested positive.
    The country’s borders also remain largely closed and the government has upped requirements for the issuance of passports and permission to travel abroad.
    At least half of foreign companies in Shanghai are waiting until next week to reopen while they put in place hygiene measures, said Bettina Schoen-Behanzin, a vice president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China.    As a precaution, many companies plan to have only half their workforce on site at a time.
    “There is still quite some uncertainty and a scare that if there is a positive case in the office building or in your compound, you might be locked down again,” said Schoen-Behanzin.

6/2/2022 Group: Iran arrests reporter amid tower collapse unrest by Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Iranian authorities arrested a local journalist at a ceremony for the victims of a building collapse in the southwestern city of Abadan, an international press watchdog reported on Wednesday as the death toll from the disaster rose to 37.
    The collapse has provoked a national outpouring of grief and outrage, adding to a series of mounting political and economic crises facing the Islamic Republic.    With talks to restore Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal still deadlocked, the Iranian currency tumbled in value on Wednesday to its lowest level ever against the dollar.
    Traditional mourning ceremonies commemorating those killed when the still under-construction tower at the Metropol Building in Abadan collapsed last week have repeatedly turned turn into angry protests against top officials, according to footage shared widely online and analyzed by The Associated Press.    Authorities have responded by dispersing demonstrations and disrupting internet access in an apparent effort to limit information on the ground.
    Covering unrest remains highly perilous in a country which Reporters Without Borders describes as the third worst in the world to be a journalist – behind only North Korea and Eritrea.    Foreign-based Farsi-language television channels have described tear gas and other shots being fired as security forces dispersed demonstrations in Abadan.    But the number of casualties and arrests overall remain unclear.
    Last Thursday, at one of the ceremonies near the site of the building collapse, security forces detained freelance reporter Arash Ghaleh-Golab, who has written political commentary and editorials for various local publications, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
    During Ghaleh-Golab’s arrest, security forces beat and kicked him, the New York-based advocacy group reported, adding that it was unclear whether he was covering the event as a journalist or attending as a private citizen.    Most recently, his work was published state-run website Ensaf News.
    Authorities continue to hold Ghaleh-Golab incommunicado, without charges or ability to contact his family, CPJ said Wednesday.
    “Iranian authorities must understand that they can’t hide the country’s difficult realities and problems by silencing and jailing journalists,” said Justin Shilad, CPJ’s senior researcher for Middle East and North Africa.    He urged Iranian authorities to immediately free Ghaleh-Golab.

6/3/2022 Taliban, India talk in Kabul by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    NEW DELHI – Indian officials held talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan for the first time Thursday since the group took control of the country last year to discuss the distribution of humanitarian assistance, the External Affairs Ministry said.
    India has no formal diplomatic ties with the Taliban government, but its envoys have met previously with Taliban representatives in Doha, the capital of Qatar, where they have an office.
    The visit by Indian officials to Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, on Thursday was mainly to oversee the delivery of aid, ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi told reporters.
    India has said it will follow the United Nations’ lead in deciding whether to recognize the Taliban government.
    Acting Afghan Foreign Minister Mawlawi Amir Khan Muttaqi received the Indian delegation in Kabul and called it “a good beginning in ties between the two countries.”
    The meeting focused on bilateral relations, trade and aid, Muttaqi’s spokesperson, Abdul Qahar Balkhi, said in a tweet.    The Indian delegation was led by J.P. Singh, a secretary in the External Affairs Ministry.
    Muttaqi expressed gratitude for Indian humanitarian and medical assistance to Afghanistan, stressing the importance of the resumption of projects by India, its diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and the provision of consular services to Afghans, particularly to Afghan students and medical patients, Balkhi said.
    The Indian officials said they are seeking positive ties with Afghanistan as in the past, the Afghan spokesperson said.

6/4/2022 Security concerns leave Afghan evacuees stuck - Frustration grows in face of uncertain future by Ben Fox, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo is used to house people who have not been allowed
to enter the U.S. because of security concerns. MUHAMMAD ARIF SARWARI VIA AP
    WASHINGTON – For some Afghans who were evacuated as their country fell to the Taliban last summer, the journey to the United States has stalled, and perhaps ended, at a sunbaked cluster of tents and temporary housing on an American base in the Balkans.
    While more than 78,000 Afghans have arrived in the U.S. for resettlement since August, the future for those who have been flagged for additional security vetting and diverted to Camp Bondsteel, in Kosovo, remains up in the air.    The U.S. won’t force the dozens there to return to Afghanistan, where they could face reprisals.
    Their frustration is growing. Some Afghans at the base, which has been shrouded in secrecy, took the unusual step this week of staging a protest, holding up signs with messages such as “we want justice,” according to photos sent to The Associated Press.
    “They just keep repeating the same things, that it takes time and we must be patient,” one of the Afghans, Muhammad Arif Sarwari, said in a text.
    Their complaints open a window into an aspect of the evacuation and resettlement of Afghans that has gotten little attention because U.S. authorities and the government of Kosovo, have been reluctant to say much about the people sent to Bondsteel.
    The base houses a mix of adults and children, because some of the people who have so far failed to get a visa to the U.S. are traveling with family.    Sarwari, a former senior intelligence official with the Afghan government, said there are about 45 people there, representing about 20 or so individual visa cases, after a flight to the U.S. left with 27 of the refugees on Wednesday.
    The Biden administration won’t provide details, but acknowledges that some of the evacuees did not make it through what it calls “a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting process” and won’t be permitted to enter the U.S.     “While the vast majority of Afghan evacuees have been cleared through this process, the small number of individuals who have been denied are examples of the system working exactly as it should,” said Sean Savett, a spokesman for the National Security Council.
    In all, about 600 Afghans have passed through Bondsteel, according to the government of Kosovo, which initially authorized use of the base for evacuees for a year but recently agreed to extend that until August 2023.
    Kosovo, which gained independence from Serbia in 2008 with U.S. support, has also provided little information about the Afghans at Bondsteel, citing the privacy of the refugees.    Prime Minister Albin Kurti said in a statement that the government is proud of its role providing temporary shelter to them.
    The people sent to Bondsteel were stopped and diverted for a host of reasons, including missing or flawed documents or security concerns that emerged during overseas vetting by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, officials have said.
    At the same time, some in Congress have criticized the administration for what they say has been inadequate vetting of Afghan refugees.

6/4/2022 Carbon emissions dip in China, study says - Figure drops vs. year ago for 3rd straight quarter by Christina Larson, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Workers handle a steel frame on the roof of a stadium under construction in Beijing in February. ANDY WONG/AP FILE
    WASHINGTON – China, the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide, has seen a notable dip in its emissions over the past three quarters – but it’s not clear how long the drop will continue.
    A new analysis of China’s economic data shows that carbon emissions dropped 1.4% in the first three months of the year, compared to the prior year, making it the third consecutive quarter to show a drop – and the longest sustained dip in a decade.
    It’s not clear whether China’s emissions will continue to fall this year.    Over the past decade, five shorter dips were followed by rebounding emissions.
    China’s recent emissions decline was driven by decreased output in the cement, steel and power industries, as well as COVID-19 lockdown measures, according to an analysis by Lauri Myllyvirta, a Finland-based climate and energy analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
    “Steel and cement are China’s second and third largest emitting sectors, and the demand for both ... is largely driven by construction activity,” but policy changes on real estate lending and debt have at least temporarily depressed the construction sector, Myllyvirta wrote in an analysis for Carbon Brief.
    Whether China meets its long-term goal to become carbon neutral by 2060 depends in large part on what happens in its power sector.
    And that depends upon how quickly the world’s second-largest economy can move away from coal.
    China’s leaders have recently boosted plans to promote coal-fired power, calling for coal production capacity to increase by 300 million tons this year, or 7% over last year.
    Li Shuo, a senior global policy adviser for Greenpeace, told The Associated Press in April that economic concerns, including those related to China’s zero-COVID policy, meant that China’s leaders were prioritizing energy security over moving away from fossil fuels, at least in the short term.
    “This mentality of ensuring energy security has become dominant, trumping carbon neutrality,” he said.
    The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education.    The AP is solely responsible for all content.

6/5/2022 Iran took oil from Greek tankers in Persian Gulf, supreme leader acknowledges by LA Times
© (Uncredited / Associated Press)
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei acknowledged Saturday that Iran took the oil from two Greek tankers last month in helicopter-launched raids in the Persian Gulf.     “They steal Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave men who don’t fear death respond and seized the enemy’s oil tanker," Khamenei said during an 80-minute speech on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.    “.”
    “Who is the pirate?    You stole our oil, we took it back from you.    Taking back a stolen property is not called stealing,” he added.
    The seizures ratcheted up tensions between Iran and the West already simmering over Iran's tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.    Tehran has been enriching more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, causing concern that negotiators won’t find a way back to the accord and raising the risk of a wider war.
    Iran’s seizure of the tankers was the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions to roil a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes.    The incidents began after then-President Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
    The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.
Related video: Iran, Iraq hold talks on climate change
    Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year and briefly seized and held a Vietnamese tanker in November.
    Tehran denies carrying out the attacks but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has played out in the region’s volatile waters.    Tanker seizures have been a part of it since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the United Kingdom detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar.    Iran released the tanker months later as London also released the Iranian vessel.
    Iran last year also seized and held a South Korean-flagged tanker for months amid a dispute over billions of dollars of frozen assets Seoul holds.
    Satellite images analyzed by the AP on Wednesday confirmed that one of the two tankers remained off the coast of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.    The Planet Labs PBC images from Tuesday showed the Prudent Warrior between Bandar Abbas and Iran’s Qeshm Island near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all the world’s oil traded passes.
    It remained unclear where the second ship, the Delta Poseidon, was.
    Talks in Vienna on the nuclear deal have been stalled since April.    Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has run advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90% — to make one nuclear weapon if it chooses.
    Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though United Nations experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.
    Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, in his speech Saturday also accused the U.S. of supporting recent protests in Iran sparked by price hikes and the slashing of subsidies by the government.    Teachers for weeks also demonstrated in favor of better pay and working conditions.
    The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has been weakening for years but recently tumbled to new lows, reflecting growing anxiety over Iran’s economy, Khamenei criticized what he called the decades-long U.S. opposition to the nation and said Washington pins its hopes to such protests.    Khamenei, 82, said Iran's enemies try to pit Iranian citizens “against the Islamic system” through psychological warfare, the internet and financial support.
    This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

6/5/2022 High-speed train derailment in China kills 1, injures 8
    BEIJING – The driver of a high-speed train in southern China was killed and eight people were injured when two cars derailed early Saturday after hitting a mudslide, state broadcaster CCTV reported.    The accident occurred midmorning as the train was entering a tunnel in the inland southern province of Guizhou.    It had been traveling on a regular route to the coastal business center of Guangzhou.    Those injured were in stable condition and the other 136 people aboard the train were evacuated safely, CCTV said.

6/5/2022 Police patrol Hong Kong park to enforce vigil ban - Some residents wear black to commemorate Tiananmen anniversary by Zen Soo, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Dozens of police officers patrolled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park after authorities for a third consecutive year
banned public commemoration of the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. KIN CHEUNG/AP
    HONG KONG – Heavy police forces patrolled Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Saturday after authorities for a third consecutive year banned public commemoration of the anniversary of the deadly Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, with vigils overseas the only place marking the event.
    For decades, Hong Kong and nearby Macao were the only places in China allowed to commemorate the violent suppression by army troops of student protesters demanding greater democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.    Hundreds, if not thousands, were killed.
    The ban is seen as part of a move to snuff out political dissent and a sign that Hong Kong is losing its freedoms as Beijing tightens its grip over the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
    The vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, disbanded last year after many of its leaders were arrested on suspicion of violating the national security law, which was imposed following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.
    Authorities have cited risks from the coronavirus for banning the public commemoration over the past three years.    Critics say the pandemic is used as an excuse to infringe on the right to assemble.
    A government statement Friday said that parts of Victoria Park, which traditionally served as the venue for the candlelight vigil, will be closed as it may be used for “illegal activities.”    The move was to “prevent any unauthorized assemblies” in the park and to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 spread.
    Earlier in the week, a police superintendent warned that anyone who gathered in a group “at the same place, with the same time and with a common purpose to express certain views” could be considered part of an unauthorized assembly.
    Despite the ban, some residents wore black in a silent show of support, and some even carried bouquets of flowers, held candles or turned on the flashlight on their cellphones.
    “Today, this is to commemorate June 4.    Every year I have to do it,” said Man Yuen, who appeared in a black Tshirt with the words “the people will not forget” while walking down the streets carrying an unlit candle.
    “I am disappointed because although no one organized any commemoration event, the authorities are already on high alert,” said Donald Tam, who was shopping near the park.
    Since the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has been governed under a “one country, two systems” framework that promised it liberties not found on the mainland, including freedom of speech and assembly.    It meant Hong Kong and nearby Macao, the other semi-autonomous territory, were allowed to commemorate the 1989 crackdown.    Elsewhere in China, keywords such as “Tiananmen massacre” and “June 4” are strictly censored online, and people are not allowed to publicly mark the event.

6/5/2022 Cambodians vote amid intimidation, threats - Candidates have faced ‘restrictions,’ ‘reprisals’ by Sopheng Cheang, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cambodian People’s Party supporters in Phnom Penh campaign on motorbikes ahead of Sunday’s communal elections.
Its only serious rival, the Candlelight Party, has candidates in 1,632 communes. PHOTOS BY HENG SINITH/AP
    PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Cambodians headed to the polls Sunday in local elections that are their first chance to vote since the ruling party of long serving Prime Minister Hun Sen swept a 2018 general election that was widely criticized as unfair.
    Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party is certain to sail to easy victory again following what the U.N. Human Rights Office charged Thursday was a pattern of “threats, intimidation and obstruction targeting opposition candidates.”     “Candidates have faced numerous restrictions and reprisals that have hindered their activities, with imprisonment of a number of candidates that appears designed to curb political campaigning,” the agency said. It added that at least six opposition candidates and activists were in detention four days before the polls, awaiting trial, while others summonsed on politically motivated charges had gone into hiding.
    Cambodia’s delegation at the U.N. Geneva offices said in a statement that the criticism was “erroneous, politicized and selective.”    It said “all political parties, including opposition ones, have fully exercised their rights in line with the laws and registered schedules without any threats and obstruction.”
    Hun Sen and his wife cast their ballots Sunday morning in Kandal province near the capital, Phnom Penh.     Hun Sen, an authoritarian ruler in a nominally democratic state, has held power for 37 years.    He said he intends to stay in office until 2028 and has endorsed one of his sons to succeed him.
    His party is the only one to field candidates nationwide in all 1,652 communes.    Its only serious rival, the Candlelight Party, has candidates in 1,632 communes, and the royalist FUNCINPEC Party has challengers in 688 communes.    There are a total of 82,786 candidates from 17 political parties with 9.2 million registered voters.
    The local elections are held a year ahead of the general election, and are regarded as a test of party strength.
    In the last communal elections in 2017, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party made an unexpectedly strong showing, which led Hun Sen’s government to crack down on it as well as independent media.    The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on a charge of treason, widely seen as politically motivated, and the free press was driven out of business or cowed into submission.
    Without the Cambodian National Rescue Party on the ballot, Hun Sen’s party was assured of victory in the general election the following year.
    Several Western nations-imposed sanctions on the government after concluding the 2018 election was neither free nor fair.    The harshest measure came from the European Union, which withdrew some preferential trading privileges.
    The dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose sitting members were also ousted from their political posts, remains banned, with most of its top leaders in exile.
    The Candlelight Party is now seeking to challenge the ruling party by rallying its former supporters, though its activities have remained severely curtailed.
    The original Candlelight Party was founded in 1995 by Sam Rainsy, the main political rival of Hun Sen, and later folded into the Cambodia National Rescue Party.    Sam Rainsy, faced with legal harassment, went into self-exile in France, and the co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, is currently being tried on a thinly supported treason charge.
Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party is certain to sail to easy
victory again. Hun Sen, an authoritarian ruler, has held power for 37 years.

6/5/2022 US, S Korean navies end key exercise by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a naval exercise with South Korea in the Philippine Sea on Saturday, the two militaries said, amid signs that North Korea is possibly preparing to conduct its first nuclear test explosion since 2017.
    The three-day exercise that began Thursday in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa was apparently the allies’ first joint drill involving a U.S. aircraft carrier since November 2017.    The Ronald Reagan then joined the USS Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz in a rare three-carrier exercise with South Korean naval vessels during North Korea’s last provocative run in nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
    The latest drill came weeks after President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in a summit in Seoul vowed to upgrade defense exercises and discuss ways for Washington to protect its ally in the face of growing North Korean threats.
    The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet said that the exercise was aimed at strengthening the interoperability of the two navies.
    On Friday, Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said Washington is “preparing for all contingencies” in close coordination with South Korea and Japan as it monitors North Korean arrangements for a possible nuclear test that could be imminent.
    North Korea has already conducted missile tests 17 times this year, including its first ICBM demonstrations in nearly five years.

6/6/2022 Ruling party seems set to win Cambodian local elections; strong turnout reported by ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen, right, and his wife, Bun Rany, leave after casting their votes at a polling
station during local commune elections in Kandal province on Sunday. TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Early indications showed Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party headed for victory in local elections Sunday as people voted in large numbers for the first time since a 2018 general election that was widely criticized as unfair.
    Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party was virtually certain to capture the lion’s share of 11,622 council seats being contested in 1,652 communes throughout the country.    The party has held an iron grip on power for decades, and has the huge advantage of controlling almost every local government.    Its opponents are less organized, with much fewer resources and have complained of intimidation and threats.
    The preliminary results were set to be announced commune by commune by state media on Sunday night, but an aggregated official tally won’t be given until June 26.
    Several governors quoted by the Fresh News website, which is close to the government, said unofficial results showed Hun Sen’s party winning most council races in their provinces. Earlier, news websites that broadcast counts from polling stations had generally put the ruling party in the lead.
    Turnout was more than 77% out of 9.2 million registered voters, said Prach Chan, chairman of the National Election Committee.
    He said the election was free and fair, without intimidation or threats, contrary to the U.N. Human Rights Office in Geneva that last week said there has been a “pattern of threats, intimidation and obstruction targeting opposition candidates.”
    Hun Sen’s party was the only one to field candidates in all the communes.    Its most serious challenger was the Candlelight Party, which was rallying opposition supporters.
    Hun Sen, an authoritarian ruler in a nominally democratic state, has held power for 37 years.    He and his wife cast their ballots Sunday morning in Kandal province near the capital, Phnom Penh.    Hun Sen has said he intends to stay in office until 2028 and has endorsed one of his sons to succeed him.
    The local elections are held a year ahead of the general election, and are regarded as a test of the parties’ strength.
    In the last communal elections in 2017, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party made an unexpectedly strong showing, which led Hun Sen’s government to crack down on it as well as independent media.    The party was dissolved by the Supreme Court on a charge of treason, widely seen as politically motivated, and the free press was driven out of business or cowed into submission.
    Without the Cambodian National Rescue Party on the ballot, Hun Sen’s party was assured of victory in the general election the following year, taking all the seats in the National Assembly.    Several Western nations imposed sanctions on the government after judging the 2018 election neither free nor fair.
    The dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, whose sitting members were also ousted from their political posts, remains banned, with most of its top leaders in exile.
    The Candlelight Party sought to take its place though it had to hurriedly organize and came under pressure from the government.
    The original Candlelight Party was founded in 1995 by Sam Rainsy, the main political rival of Hun Sen, and later folded into the Cambodia National Rescue Party.    Sam Rainsy, faced with legal harassment, went into self-exile in France, and the co-founder of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, Kem Sokha, is currently being tried on a thinly supported treason charge.

6/6/2022 Australia says Chinese fighter jet threatened safety of plane - May 26 incident took place in international airspace by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIJING – Australia on Sunday said a Chinese fighter jet carried out dangerous maneuvers threatening the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea and forcing it to return to the base.
    Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government expressed concern to China over the May 26 incident, which the Defense Ministry said took place in international airspace where a Chinese J-16 intercepted a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft on routine patrol.
    Defense Minister Richard Marles said the Chinese J-16 flew very close to the Australian plane and released flares and chaff that were ingested by the engines of the Poseidon, a converted Boeing 737-800.
    “The J-16 … accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance,” he told reporters in Melbourne.    “At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminium, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft.    Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.”
    He said the crew of the P-8 responded professionally and returned the aircraft to its base.    There was no official response Sunday from Beijing.
    Such incidents are not unprecedented.    A collision between a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese air force jet in April 2001 resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot and the 10-day detention of the U.S. air crew by China.
    Relations between Australia and China have been poor for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and refused high-level exchanges in response to Canberra enacting rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics.
    Australia and others have also sought to block Chinese inroads into the South Pacific, including Beijing’s signing of a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that could result in China’s stationing of troops and ships in the archipelago, which lies less than 1,200 miles from the Australian coast.
    Last month’s incident comes amid increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese military in border areas and at sea targeting planes, ships and land forces from India, Canada, the United States and the Philippines.
    In February, Australia said a Chinese navy ship fired a laser also at one of its Poseidon surveillance planes, illuminating it while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches and endangering the safety of the crew.
    China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has been steadily ratcheting up pressure against other countries with claims to parts of the strategic waterway.    That has included construction of military facilities on artificial islands and the harassment of foreign fishing vessels and military missions in the air and international sea.

6/6/2022 Kim Jong-Un Fires A Barrage Of Missiles A Day After US-South Korea Joint Military Drill by Shanthi Rexaline – Benzinga
    North Korea was at its belligerent best as it launched multiple ballistic missiles into the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Sunday, reports said, citing South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
© Provided by Benzinga Kim Jong-Un Fires A Barrage Of Missiles A Day After US-South Korea Joint Military Drill
    The barrage of missiles, numbering eight in a single day, were fired between 9:08 am and 9:43 am local time in Seoul.    This brings the total number of ballistic missiles fired in 2022 to 31, marking a record number for a year.
    The launches come a day after South Korea and the U.S. wound up three days of combined military exercises involving the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan.    This marked the first joint military drill since new South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May.     Related video: Kim Jong-Un test-fires 8 missiles in a day after U.S & South Korea joint military drill | Details
    Kim Jong-Un test-fires 8 missiles in a day after U.S & South Korea joint military drill | Details
    North Koreans have long been opposed to joint exercises on the pretext of they serve as rehearsals for an invasion.
    Japan chimed in with a response, saying Pyongyang's latest test firings are "unacceptable."    It also confirmed that the launches took place at multiple locations and that North Korea has been testing missiles at "unprecedently high frequency" this year.
Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Chan and æ嬣é on Flickr

6/7/2022 US, S Korea launch missiles into sea - Show of force matches North Korean display by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, right, ended a
naval exercise with South Korea on Saturday in the Philippine Sea.
    SEOUL, South Korea – The U.S. and South Korean militaries launched eight ballistic missiles into the sea Monday in a show of force matching a North Korean missile display a day earlier that extended a provocative streak in weapons demonstrations.
    South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the allies’ live-fire exercise involved eight Army Tactical Missile System missiles fired into South Korea’s eastern waters across 10 minutes.    It said the drill was aimed at demonstrating an ability to respond swiftly and accurately to North Korean attacks.
    The South’s military on Sunday detected North Korea firing eight short-range missiles over 35 minutes from at least four locations, including from western and eastern coastal areas and two inland areas north of and near the capital, Pyongyang, in what appeared to be a single-day record for the country’s ballistic launches.
    It was North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone – a streak that included the country’s first launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.    South Korean and U.S. officials also said North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017 as leader Kim Jong Un pushes a brinkmanship aimed at cementing the North’s status as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
    U.S. and South Korean forces conducted a similar live-fire drill following North Korea’s previous ballistic launches on May 25, which South Korea’s military said involved an ICBM flown on medium-range trajectory and two short-range weapons.    Those tests came as President Joe Biden wrapped up his trip to South Korea and Japan, where he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend both allies.
    North Korean state media have yet to comment on Sunday’s launches.    They came after the U.S. aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan concluded a three-day naval drill with South Korea in the Philippine Sea on Saturday, apparently their first joint drill involving a carrier since November 2017, as the countries move to upgrade their defense exercises in the face of North Korean threats.
    North Korea has long condemned the allies’ combined military exercises as invasion rehearsals and often countered with its own missile drills, including short-range launches in 2016 and 2017 that simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean ports and U.S. military facilities in Japan.
    Hours after the North Korean launches, Japan and the United States conducted a joint ballistic missile exercise aimed at showing their 'rapid response capability' and 'strong determination' to counter threats, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.
    The United States has vowed to push for additional international sanctions if North Korea conducts a nuclear test, but the prospects for meaningful new punitive measures are dim with the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members divided.
    Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have imposed additional sanctions on North Korea over its latest ballistic tests on May 25, insisting that Washington should instead focus on reviving negotiations with Pyongyang.
    Those talks have stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament steps.
    Despite facing harsh challenges at home, including a decaying economy and a COVID-19 outbreak, Kim has shown no willingness to fully surrender an arsenal he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
    His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s offers for open-ended talks and is clearly intent on converting the dormant denuclearization negotiations into a mutual arms-reduction process, experts said.
South Korea Defense Ministry via AP South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, center, attends the National
Security Council meeting at the presidential office in Seoul on Sunday. South Korea Presidential Office via AP

6/7/2022 Australia says Chinese fighter jet threatened plane by ASSOCIATED PRESS
Australia says a Chinese J-16 fighter jet carried out dangerous maneuvers threatening the safety of
one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea. Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP File
    BEIJING – Australia on Sunday said a Chinese fighter jet carried out dangerous maneuvers threatening the safety of one of its maritime surveillance planes over the South China Sea and forcing it to return to a base.
    Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government expressed concern to China over the May 26 incident, which the Defense     Ministry said took place in international airspace where a Chinese J-16 intercepted a P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft on routine patrol.
    Defense Minister Richard Marles said the Chinese J-16 flew very close to the Australian plane and released flares and chaff that were ingested by the engines of the Poseidon, a converted Boeing 737-800.
    'The J-16 … accelerated and cut across the nose of the P-8, settling in front of the P-8 at very close distance,' he told reporters in Melbourne.    'At that moment, it then released a bundle of chaff, which contains small pieces of aluminum, some of which were ingested into the engine of the P-8 aircraft.    Quite obviously, this is very dangerous.'
    He said the crew of the P-8 responded professionally and returned the aircraft to its base.
    There was no official response Sunday from Beijing.
    Such incidents are not unprecedented. A collision between a U.S. EP-3 surveillance plane and a Chinese air force jet in April 2001 resulted in the death of the Chinese pilot and the 10-day detention of the U.S. air crew by China.
    Relations between Australia and China have been poor for years after Beijing imposed trade barriers and refused high-level exchanges in response to Australia enacting rules targeting foreign interference in its domestic politics.
    Last month’s incident came amid increasingly aggressive behavior by the Chinese military in border areas and at sea targeting planes, ships and land forces from India, Canada, the United States and the Philippines.
    In February, Australia said a Chinese navy ship fired a laser at one of its Poseidon surveillance planes, illuminating it while in flight over Australia’s northern approaches and endangering the safety of the crew.
    China claims the South China Sea virtually in its entirety and has been steadily ratcheting up pressure against other countries with claims to parts of the strategic waterway.    That has included construction of military facilities on artificial islands and the harassment of foreign fishing vessels and military missions in the air and international sea.
    Earlier this year, U.S. Indo-Pacific commander Adm. John C. Aquilino said China has fully militarized at least three of its island holdings, arming them with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missile systems, laser and jamming equipment, and military aircraft.
    The U.S. and its allies have consistently challenged the Chinese claims by staging patrols and military exercises in the area, provoking angry responses from Beijing despite agreements aimed at reducing tensions.
    'We’re operating completely within our rights … most of our trade traverses the South China Sea,' Marles said.    'This incident will not deter Australia from continuing to engage in these activities, which are within our rights and international law to assure that there is freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, because that is fundamentally in our nation’s interest.'

6/8/2022 Japan welcomes NATO, EU solidarity by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TOKYO – Japanese and NATO officials agreed Tuesday to step up military cooperation and joint exercises as they shared concerns that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a deterioration of the security environment in Europe and Asia.
    Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in his meeting with NATO Military Committee chief Rob Bauer that Japan hopes to strengthen its ties with European countries and welcomes NATO’s expanded involvement in the Indo-Pacific region.
    Bauer’s visit in Tokyo comes as Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force is participating in NATO naval exercises in the Mediterranean Sea.
    Later Tuesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Cabinet approved an annual policy plan that calls for a drastic strengthening of defense capabilities and spending within five years, citing growing tensions involving Taiwan and a commitment by NATO members to spend 2% of their gross domestic product on defense – twice as much as Japan’s current military spending.
    The plan calls for preemptive strike capabilities as well as the development and strengthening of space, cyber and electromagnetic defense and of unmanned weapons – a major shift that critics say goes beyond Japan’s self-defense-only principle.
    Kishida, during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden last month, expressed his determination to bolster Japan’s defense capability.

6/9/2022 Taliban arrest well-known fashion model by Rahim Faiez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ajmal Haqiqi, right, watches as Mahal Wak models in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2017. Taliban authorities in Afghanistan have detained Haqiqi
and three colleagues, accusing them of disrespecting Islam and the Quran, the Muslim holy book. RAHMAT GUL/AP FILE
    ISLAMABAD – The Taliban have arrested a well-known Afghan fashion model and three of his colleagues, accusing them of disrespecting Islam and the Quran, the Muslim holy book, according to videos released by Afghanistan’s new rulers.
    Ajmal Haqiqi – known for his fashion shows, YouTube clips and modeling events – appeared handcuffed in videos posted on Twitter by the Taliban intelligence agency on Tuesday.
    In one widely circulated and contentious video, Haqiqi is seen laughing as his colleague Ghulam Sakhi – who is known to have a speech impediment that he uses for humor – recites verses of the Quran in Arabic, in a comical voice.
    After the arrests, the Taliban released a video of Haqiqi and his colleagues, seen standing in light brown jail uniforms and apologizing to the Taliban government and religious scholars.
    The video was accompanied by a tweet in the Dari language, saying: “No one is allowed to insult Quranic verses or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”
    Later Wednesday, Amnesty International released a statement, urging the Taliban to “immediately and unconditionally” release Haqiqi and his colleagues.
    Amnesty has documented several arbitrary detentions by the Taliban in Afghanistan, often accompanied by coerced statements in an attempt to stifle dissent in the country and deter others from expressing their views.
    Samira Hamidi, Amnesty’s South Asia campaigner, denounced the arrests and said that by detaining “Haqiqi and his colleagues and coercing them into apologizing,” the Taliban have undertaken “a blatant attack on the right to freedom of expression.”    Her statement also condemned the Taliban’s “continued censorship of those who wish to freely express their ideas.”
    In Kabul, Taliban officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment and it was not clear what measures the model and his colleagues face under the Taliban-run judiciary.
    The families of the arrested models could also not immediately be reached for comment.
    Since they seized power last August in Afghanistan during the final weeks of the U.S. troop pullout from the country, the Taliban have imposed strict measures and edicts according to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law, particularly curbing the rights of women and minorities.
    The moves have raised international concerns that the radical Islamic group intends to rule as it did the last time the Taliban held power in Afghanistan, in the late 1990s. The Taliban consider criticism and anything perceived as disrespectful of Islam as a punishable crime.
    Amnesty said that since their takeover, the Taliban “have been using intimidation, harassment, and violence on anyone who has expressed support for human rights or modern values, especially human rights defenders, women activists, journalists, and members of academia among others.”
    The rights group also urged the Taliban as the de facto authority in Afghanistan to “abide by international human rights law and respect everyone’s right to freedom of expression without discrimination.”

6/9/2022 India’s central bank raises interest rate to fight inflation
    India’s central bank on Wednesday raised its key interest rate to 4.9% from 4.4%, the second such hike in the last three weeks to contain inflation.
    Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said the decision was aimed at curbing price increases and mitigating the impact of geopolitical tensions, like the war in Ukraine.
    The central bank raised its inflation projection for 2022-23 to 6.7% from 5.7% and kept its forecast for growth this year at 7.2%.
    The war in Ukraine is giving rise to “newer challenges each passing day which is accentuating the existing supply chain disruptions.    As a result, food, energy and commodity prices remain elevated,” Das said.
    The price spikes have impacted consumer spending, which accelerated to an eight-year high of nearly 7.8% in April, according to official data.

6/9/2022 China, Russia defend vetoes - US resolution would sanction North Korea by Edith M. Lederer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    UNITED NATIONS – China and Russia defended their vetoes of a strongly backed U.S resolution that would have imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea at a first-ever General Assembly meeting Wednesday that is now required for any measure that sparks a veto in the Security Council by one of its five permanent members.
    The close allies reiterated their opposition to more sanctions, blaming the United States for rising tensions on the Korean peninsula and insisting that what’s needed now is dialogue between North Korea and the Biden administration.
    Nearly 70 countries signed up to speak at the open meeting which General Assembly President Abdalla Shahid hailed as making the U.N. more efficient and accountable.    “It is with good reason that it has been coined as `revolutionary’ by several world leaders I have recently met,” he said.
    Denmark’s U.N. Ambassador Martin Bille Hermann told the 193-member world body as he started his address on behalf of the Nordic countries: “History is being made today.”
    The Security Council is entrusted with ensuring international peace and security, he said, and the use of a veto to prevent the council from discharging its duties “is a matter of great concern.”
    The General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution on April 26 requiring a debate on the issue not only gives the country or countries casting a veto to explain their reason but it gives all U.N. member nations “a welcome opportunity to share our views on the matter at hand,” Hermann said.
    A united Security Council imposed sanctions after North Korea’s first nuclear test explosion in 2006 and tightened them over the years in a total of 10 resolutions seeking – so far unsuccessfully – to rein in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and cut off funding.
    The 13-2 Security Council vote on May 26 marked a first serious division among its five veto-wielding permanent members – China, Russia, United States, Britain and France – on a North Korea sanctions resolution.
    On Sunday, North Korea fired eight short-range missiles in what appeared to be a single-day record for the country’s ballistic launches.    It was the reclusive north Asian country’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 that included its first launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles in five years.

6/9/2022 3 US companies sanctioned over blueprints sent to China by Eric Tucker, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    WASHINGTON – The Biden administration on Wednesday accused three U.S. companies of sending to China blueprints and technical drawings for satellite and rocket technology and other defense prototypes.
    The Commerce Department leveled the allegations as it blocked the three from exporting items to foreign countries for 180 days.    That punishment, a temporary denial order, is regarded as among the most severe civil sanctions available to the department.
    The companies – Quicksilver Manufacturing Inc., Rapid Cut LLC, and U.S. Prototype Inc. – provide 3-D printing services to customers that include manufacturers of space and defense technology. The Commerce Department says the customers would send blueprints and drawings to the companies that they wanted printed – and that the companies in turn would send that work to China, presumably as a way to cut costs.
    That transaction would have required U.S. government approval, but no permission was requested, the Commerce Department said.
    “Outsourcing 3-D printing of space and defense prototypes to China harms U.S. national security,” Matthew Axelrod, an assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement, said in a statement.    “By sending their customers’ technical drawings and blueprints to China, these companies may have saved a few bucks – but they did so at the collective expense of protecting U.S. military technology.”
    The 11-page Commerce Department order does not allege that the blueprints wound up being exploited by the Chinese military, but it does say the actions present “serious national security concerns.”    U.S. officials have warned in the past about blurred lines between the military and private industry.
    The Commerce Department used customers of the companies to check their records to ensure that their intellectual property was not compromised.
    The companies use the same rental mailbox in Wilmington, North Carolina.    Requests for comments sent through the websites of Quicksilver Manufacturing Inc. and Rapid Cut LLC were not immediately returned.
    “By sending their customers’ technical drawings and blueprints to China, these companies may have saved a few bucks – but they did so at the collective expense of protecting U.S. military technology.”    Matthew Axelrod, Assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement.

6/10/2022 Iran removing UN cameras at nuclear sites - Decision a possible ‘fatal blow’ to deal by Jon Gambrell and Philipp-Moritz Jenne, by ASSOCIATED PRESS
IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Thursday that Iran is removing
27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites in the country. HIRO KOMAE/AP, FILE
    VIENNA – Iran has started removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog said Thursday, warning this could deal a “fatal blow” to the tattered nuclear deal as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
    The development comes a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors censured Tehran for failing to provide “credible information” over man-made nuclear material found at three undeclared sites in the country.     It also follows months of deadlock over stalled talks aimed at restoring the Islamic Republic’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.    Tensions remain high across the wider Middle East over the accord’s collapse as U.S. sanctions and rising global food prices choke Iran’s ailing economy, putting further pressure on its government and its people.
    “This, of course, poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there,” warned Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA’s director-general.
    He added that if an agreement cannot be reached to restore the cameras in three to four weeks, “this would be a fatal blow” to Iran’s tattered nuclear deal.    Already, Grossi warned that without the cameras, Iran could make centrifuges and divert them to unknown locations.
    “When we lose this, then it’s anybody’s guess,” he added.
    Iran did not immediately acknowledge it was removing the 27 cameras, though it earlier threatened it could take more punitive steps.    State media aired footage Thursday of workers disconnected two IAEA cameras from power.
    “We hope that they come to their senses and respond to Iran’s cooperation with cooperation,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, an Iranian nuclear program spokesman, said Wednesday of the IAEA officials.    “It is not acceptable that they show inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate.”
    Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi struck a much more combative tone Thursday while visiting the central city of Shahr-e Kord.
    “Do you assume that we withdraw because of resolutions?” he asked.    “In the name of God and in the name of the nation, Iran will not withdraw from its stance a single step.”
    Grossi made the comments at a suddenly called news conference in Vienna, standing next to an example of the cameras installed across Iran.    Iran will remove IAEA cameras from sites, including in Tehran, the underground Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, the facility in Isfahan and the Arak heavy water reactor in Khondab, he said.
    “Forty-something” IAEA cameras would remain active in Iran, Grossi said, though Tehran already has been withholding IAEA footage since February 2021 as a pressure tactic to restore the atomic accord.
    “We are in a very tense situation with the negotiations on the revival of the (nuclear deal) at a low ebb,” Grossi added.    “Now we are adding this to the picture; so, as you can see, it’s not a very nice one.”
    On Wednesday, Iran said it shut off two devices that the IAEA uses to monitor enrichment at Natanz.    Grossi acknowledged that Thursday, saying that among the devices being removed was the Online Enrichment Monitor and flowmeter.    Those watch the enrichment of uranium gas through piping at enrichment facilities and allowed inspectors to remotely track its work.
    Meanwhile, the IAEA earlier Thursday said Iran informed the agency that it planned to install two new cascades of the IR-6 at Natanz.    A cascade is a series of centrifuges hooked together to rapidly spin uranium gas to enrich it.
    An IR-6 centrifuge spins uranium 10 times faster than the first-generation centrifuges that Iran was once limited to under its nuclear deal with world powers.    As of February, Iran already had been spinning a cascade of IR-6s at its underground facility at Fordo, according to the IAEA.
    Iran earlier said it planned to install one cascade of IR-6s at Natanz.    The IAEA said it “verified” the ongoing installation of that cascade Monday, while the installing of the newly promised two other cascades had yet to begin.
    Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.    In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.
    Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been stalled since April.    Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium.
    Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity – a short technical step from weapons grade levels of 90% – to make one nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.
    Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though U.N. experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.
    Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous.    Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran – and already is suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett praised Wednesday’s IAEA board vote to censure Tehran as “a significant decision that exposes Iran’s true face.”
    The “IAEA vote is a clear warning light to Iran: If Iran continues its activity, the leading countries must bring the matter back to the U.N. Security Council,” said Bennett, who made an unannounced trip Thursday to the United Arab Emirates.
    The crisis risks escalating further, however.
    On Wednesday night, a drone exploded in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil in the northern Kurdish region, slightly wounding three people and damaging cars and a nearby restaurant, officials said.    The Iraqi Kurdish region’s directorate-general of counterterrorism alleged on Thursday that the Iran-backed militia Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, launched the drone.
    The militia later denied launching the drone attack.

6/10/2022 Thailand makes pot legal, but smoking is still discouraged by Tassanee Vejpongsa and Grant Peck, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The first customer, Rittipong Bachkul, celebrates after buying legal marijuana at the Highland Cafe in Bangkok,
Thailand, on Thursday. Measures to legalize cannabis became effective Thursday in the country. SAKCHAI LALIT/AP
    BANGKOK – Thailand made it legal to cultivate and possess marijuana as of Thursday, like a dream come true for an aging generation of pot smokers who recall the kick delivered by the legendary Thai Stick variety.
    The public health minister’s plan to distribute 1million marijuana seedlings, beginning Friday, has added to the impression that Thailand is turning into a weed wonderland.
    The decision by the Food and Drug Administration to remove all of the plant from the category of narcotic drugs makes Thailand the first nation in Asia to decriminalize marijuana for medical and industrial use.
    But it is not following the examples of Uruguay and Canada, the only two countries so far that have legalized recreational marijuana on a national basis.
    So far, it appears there will be no effort to police what people can grow and smoke at home, aside from registering to do so and declaring it is for medical purposes.
    Some Thai advocates celebrated Thursday by buying marijuana at a cafe that had previously been limited to selling products made from the parts of the plant that do not get people high.    The dozen or so people who turned up early at the Highland Cafe were able to choose from a variety of buds with names such as Sugarcane, Bubblegum, Purple Afghani and UFO.
    “I can say it out loud, that I am a cannabis smoker.    I don’t need to hide like in the past when it was branded as a illegal drug,” said 24-year-old Rittipong Bachkul, the day’s first customer.    Marijuana is also known as cannabis or ganja in Thailand.
    “As far as the government is concerned, it’s their job to promote medical use only.    But it is pretty clear that we have come very far and finally are legalizing its use.    The government understands that it’s more pros than cons,” said Rattapon Sanrak, the café’s co-owner and a longtime legalization activist.
    The country is known for its Thai Stick variety, which is named after the way its potent flowers are dried and tied into sticks and is the origin of many strains now grown overseas.
    Thailand’s government has warned those eager to light up for fun that smoking in public could still be considered a nuisance, subject to a potential 3-month jail sentence and $780 fine.    And marijuana extracts, such as oil, remain illegal if they contain more than 0.2% of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that makes people high.
    Tourists should proceed cautiously until the rules become clearer after a new cannabis law is passed, said Prof. Sarana Sommano of Chiang Mai University’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
    “There are still risks.    The problem is that cannabis is no longer considered a narcotic but there are no ministry regulations and rules governing the use of it,” she said.    “There is no mention of limits on use, drug-impaired driving laws.    This could be a mistake by the government in trying to rush out its policy to please voters without really planning the details and explaining to the public what’s going on,” Thailand mainly wants to make a splash in the market for medical marijuana.    It already has a well-developed medical tourism industry and its tropical climate is ideal for growing cannabis.
    “We should know how to use cannabis,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, a marijuana booster, said recently.    “If we have the right awareness, cannabis is like gold, something valuable, and should be promoted.”
    Some immediate beneficiaries of the change are people who have been locked up for breaking the old law.     “From our perspective, a major positive outcome of the legal changes is that at least 4,000 people imprisoned for offenses relating to cannabis will be released,” Gloria Lai, Asia regional director of the International Drug Policy Consortium, said in an email interview.
    “People facing cannabis-related charges will see them dropped, and money and cannabis seized from people charged with cannabis-related offenses will be returned to their owners,” she said.    Her organization is a network of civic groups worldwide advocating drug policies that incorporate human rights, health and development.

6/10/2022 Deadly fire in S Korea may be arson by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – A fire caused by suspected arson spread through an office building Thursday in South Korea’s Daegu city, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens, fire and police officials said.
    Dozens of firefighters and vehicles quickly put out the blaze, which began in the late morning on the second of a seven-floor office building near the city’s district court.
    Seven people were confirmed dead, including an unidentified man who police suspect set the fire in a lawyer’s office.    At least 49 others were hurt, mostly from smoke inhalation, and 31 of them were being treated in hospitals, the Daegu Fire Department said.
    The high number of casualties was possibly because the building didn’t have sprinklers on office floors, according to Park Seok-jin, chief of Daegu’s Suseong district fire department.    He didn’t answer directly when asked whether there were any lapses in legally required safety standards.
    Jeong Hyeon-wook, an official from Daegu Metropolitan Police, said security camera footage shows the suspect leaving his home holding an apparent container with both hands that may have been used to set the blaze.    Jeong said all of the dead were found in the same room and that police were investigating possible motives.    A team from the National Forensic Services was also deployed to the site.
    With the suspect dead, it’s unclear whether anyone will be prosecuted over the fire unless police find an accomplice, Jeong said.    Daegu is South Korea’s fourth-largest city and home to more than 2.4 million people.

6/11/2022 China objects to US-Taiwan arms sale by ASSOCIATED PRESS,br>
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe said the U.S. selling arms
to Taiwan “seriously undermined China’s sovereignty.” ANDY WONG/AP FILE
    SINGAPORE – China’s defense minister complained to his American counterpart on Friday about the latest U.S. arms package for Taiwan and warned of a possible conflict over the self-governing island that China claims as its own territory.
    Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe told U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a meeting in Singapore that the sale “seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests,” according to state broadcaster CCTV’s military channel.
    China “firmly opposes and strongly condemns it,” and the Chinese government and military will “resolutely smash any Taiwan independence plot and resolutely safeguard the reunification of the motherland,” Wei said.
    China and Taiwan split during a civil war in 1949, and China threatens to use force to annex the island republic.
    Despite their lack of formal diplomatic ties, Washington is Taiwan’s strongest backer and source of arms, and U.S. law requires it to treat threats to the island as matters of “grave concern.”
    In the latest arms package, the U.S. announced Wednesday the sale of parts for Taiwanese naval ships at an estimated cost of $120 million.
    “The proposed sale will contribute to the sustainment of the recipient’s surface vessel fleet, enhancing its ability to meet current and future threats,” the State Department said in its announcement of the sale.
    Some in Taiwan have been pushing for more big-ticket items, while the U.S. is focused on selling smaller systems it says would better help repel a Chinese attack, leading to a rare area of disagreement between the two sides.
    In other comments, Wei warned against “using Taiwan to control China” and laid out a list of conditions the U.S. must meet for relations to improve, including “not interfering in China’s internal affairs or harming China’s interests.”    In a further readout of the meeting, Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian quoted Wei as saying China would respond to any move toward formal Taiwan independence by “smashing it even at any price, including war.”
    Wu also accused “outside powers” of stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, which China claims virtually in its entirety, and said Beijing would “resolutely counter” any efforts to harm China’s interests over the issue of Ukraine.    China has refused to criticize the Russian invasion and has accused the West and NATO of provoking Moscow.
    The combative tone, particularly over Taiwan, is typical of Chinese officials when meeting their U.S. counterparts, reflecting the overall deterioration in bilateral ties.    The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shangri-La     Dialogue, a regional security conference held each year in the Southeast Asian city state.
    In contrast, Austin emphasized the need to “responsibly manage competition and maintain open lines of communication,” according to the Department of Defense.
    He said the U.S. remains committed to its longstanding policy on Taiwan and “called on (China) to refrain from further destabilizing actions toward Taiwan,” the DOD said.

6/11/2022 Watchdog: Taliban forces beat civilians by Rahim Faiez, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISLAMABAD – Taliban security forces in northern Afghanistan have unlawfully detained and tortured residents accused of association with an opposition armed group, New York based Human Rights Watch said Friday.
Fighting has escalated in Panjshir province since mid-May as anti-Taliban forces there attacked Taliban units and checkpoints, HRW said in a statement.    The Taliban have responded by deploying thousands of fighters on search operations targeting communities they allege are supporting the opposition forces, the group added.
    “Taliban forces have committed summary executions and enforced disappearances of captured fighters and other detainees, which are war crimes,” both in Panjshir and elsewhere in Afghanistan, it said.
    The force fighting in the Panjshir Valley north of Kabul – a remote region that has defied conquerors before – rose out of the last remnants of Afghanistan’s shattered security forces.    It has vowed to resist the Taliban after they overran the country and seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August.

6/11/2022 Venezuela’s Maduro visits Iran for political, economic talks
    TEHRAN, Iran – Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro arrived Friday in the Iranian capital of Tehran on a two-day state visit, the country’s state-run media reported.    A high-ranking political and economic delegation from Venezuela is accompanying Maduro on the visit, following an invitation from Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.    Maduro is on a Eurasian tour after being rebuffed by Washington, which decided not to invite him to the Summit of the Americas.    His stops earlier this week included Algeria and Turkey.

6/11/2022 Japan eases its foreign tourism ban by Mari Yamaguchi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TOKYO – Japan on Friday eased its borders for foreign tourists and began accepting visa applications, but only for those on guided package tours who are willing to follow mask-wearing and other antivirus measures as the country cautiously tries to balance business and infection worries.
    Friday was the first day to start procedures needed for the entry and arrivals are not expected until late June at the earliest, even though airport immigration and quarantine offices stood by for any possible arrivals.
    The Japan Tourism Agency says tours are being accepted from 98 countries and regions, including the United States, Britain, China, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore, which are deemed as having low infection risks.
    Japan’s partial resumption of international tourism that was halted during the coronavirus pandemic is being carried out under guidelines based on an experiment conducted in late May.    It involved about 50 participants, mostly tour agency employees from Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.
    In one case, a tour for a four-member group was canceled when one of the participants tested positive for COVID- 19 after arriving in Japan.
    “We expect the resumption of inbound tourism will help stimulate the local economy,” Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Tetsuo Saito told reporters Friday.
    Under the guidelines, participants are requested to wear face masks most of the time and to purchase insurance to cover medical costs in case they contract COVID-19.

6/11/2022 N Korea leader reaffirms arms buildup in party meeting by Kim Tong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled down on his arms buildup in the face of what he described as an aggravating security environment as he concluded a major political conference that came as U.S. and South Korean officials say North Korea is pressing ahead with preparations for another nuclear test that could be imminent.
    Kim’s comments published by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency on Saturday didn’t include any direct criticism of the United States or rival South Korea amid a prolonged deadlock in nuclear diplomacy during the three days of discussions that wrapped up Friday.
    Kim defended his accelerating weapons development as a rightful exercise of sovereign rights to self-defense and set forth further “militant tasks” to be pursued by his armed forces and military scientists, according to the agency.
    But the report didn’t mention any specific goals or plans regarding testing activity, including the detonation of a nuclear device.
    The plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee also reviewed key state affairs, including efforts to slow a COVID-19 outbreak the North first acknowledged last month and progress in economic goals Kim is desperate to keep alive amid strengthened virus restrictions.
    “(Kim) said the right to self-defense is an issue of defending sovereignty, clarifying once again the party’s invariable fighting principle of power for power and head-on contest,” KCNA said.
    The meeting came amid a provocative streak in missile demonstrations that jolts an old pattern of brinkmanship aimed at forcing the United States to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
    North Korea for years has mastered the art of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before eventually offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions.
    In a move that may have future foreign policy implications, Kim during the meeting promoted a veteran diplomat with deep experience in handling U.S. affairs as his new foreign minister.
    Choe Sun Hui, who is among the North’s most powerful women along with the leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong, had a major role in preparing Kim Jong Un for his meetings with former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.
    Talks between Pyongyang and Washington derailed after the collapse of Kim’s second meeting with Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major release of U.S.-led sanctions on the North in exchange for limited disarmament steps.

6/12/2022 US: China’s military activity a threat - Says moves around Taiwan threatens region by Syawalludin Zain and David Rising, ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin noted a 'steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity
near Taiwan,' including almost daily military flights near the island by China. Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images
    SINGAPORE – U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin stressed American support for Taiwan on Saturday, suggesting at Asia’s premier defense forum that recent Chinese military activity around the self-governing island threatens to change the status quo.
    Speaking at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Austin noted a 'steady increase in provocative and destabilizing military activity near Taiwan,' including almost daily military flights near the island by the People’s Republic of China.
    'Our policy hasn’t changed, but unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be true for the PRC,' he said.
    Austin said Washington remains committed to the 'one-China policy,' which recognizes Beijing but allows informal relations and defense ties with Taipei.
    Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory and has not ruled out using military force to take it.
    China has stepped up its military provocations against democratic Taiwan in recent years, aimed at intimidating it into accepting Beijing’s demands to unify with the communist mainland.
    'We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait,' Austin said in his address.    'But the PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.'
    He drew a parallel with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying that the 'indefensible assault on a peaceful neighbor has galvanized the world and ... has reminded us all of the dangers of undercutting an international order rooted in rules and respect.'
    Austin said that the 'rules-based international order matters just as much in the Indo-Pacific as it does in Europe.'
    'Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what happens when oppressors trample the rules that protect us all,' he said.    'It’s what happens when big powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbors.    And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.'
    Austin met Friday with Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe on the sidelines of the conference for discussions where Taiwan featured prominently, according to a senior American defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details of the private meeting.
    Austin made clear at the meeting that while the U.S. does not support Taiwanese independence, it also has major concerns about China’s recent behavior and suggested that Beijing might be attempting to change the status quo.
    Wei, meanwhile, complained to Austin about new American arms sales to Taiwan announced this past week, saying it 'seriously undermined China’s sovereignty and security interests,' according to a Chinese state-run CCTV report after the meeting.
    China 'firmly opposes and strongly condemns it,' and the Chinese government and military will 'resolutely smash any Taiwan independence plot and resolutely safeguard the reunification of the motherland,' Wei reportedly told Austin.
    Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Col. Wu Qian quoted Wei as saying China would respond to any move toward formal Taiwan independence by 'smashing it even at any price, including war.'
    In his speech, Austin said the U.S. stands 'firmly behind the principle that cross-strait differences must be resolved by peaceful means,' but also would continue to fulfill its commitments to Taiwan.
    'That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self-defense capability,' he said.
    'And it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.'
    The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which has governed U.S. relations with the island, does not require the U.S. to step in militarily if China invades, but makes it American policy to ensure Taiwan has the resources to defend itself and to prevent any unilateral change of status by Beijing.
    Austin stressed the 'power of partnerships' and said the U.S.’s 'unparalleled network of alliances' in the region has only deepened, noting recent efforts undertaken with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN; the growing importance of the 'Quad' group of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia; and the trilateral security partnership with Australia and the United Kingdom, known as AUKUS.
    He dismissed Chinese allegations that the U.S. intends to start an 'Asian NATO' with its Indo-Pacific outreach.
    'Let me be clear, we do not seek confrontation or conflict and we do not seek a new Cold War, an Asian NATO, or a region split into hostile blocs,' he said.
    Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles told the forum that AUKUS, under which Australia will acquire nuclear-powered submarines from the U.S., was a technology-sharing relationship, and 'not in the set of arrangements as you would describe NATO.'
    Australia abruptly pulled out of a deal with France for submarines to sign on to the AUKUS deal, and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced Saturday that he had agreed to pay Paris $584million in compensation.
    France’s new defense minister, Sebastien Lecornu, suggested his country was willing to put the matter behind it, saying the alliance with Australia was a long one, recalling the sacrifice of the 'young Australians who came to die on French soil during World War I.'
    'There are ups and downs in all relations between countries, but when there were real dramas, Australia was there,' he said.
    'The PRC’s moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.'
Lloyd Austin, U.S. secretary of defense

6/12/2022 N Korea leader defends arms buildup by KimTong-Hyung, ASSOCIATED PRESS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un defended his accelerating weapons development
as an exercise of sovereign rights. KOREAN CENTRAL NEWS AGENCY/KOREA NEWS SERVICE VIA AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubled down on his arms buildup in the face of what he described as an aggravating security environment while outside governments monitor signs of a possibly imminent North Korean nuclear test explosion.
    Kim’s comments during a major three-day political conference that wrapped up Friday didn’t include any direct criticism of the United States or rival South Korea amid a prolonged deadlock in nuclear diplomacy.
    Kim defended his accelerating weapons development as a rightful exercise of sovereign rights to self-defense and set forth further “militant tasks” to be pursued by his armed forces and military scientists, according to state-run Korean Central News Agency.    Saturday’s report didn’t mention specific plans regarding testing activity, including the detonation of a nuclear device.
    The plenary meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee also reviewed key state affairs, including efforts to slow a COVID-19 outbreak the North first acknowledged last month and progress in economic goals Kim is desperate to keep alive amid strengthened virus restrictions.
    “(Kim) said the right to self-defense is an issue of defending sovereignty, clarifying once again the party’s invariable fighting principle of power for power and head-on contest,” KCNA said.
    The meeting came amid a provocative streak in missile demonstrations aimed at forcing the U.S. to accept the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
    North Korea for years has mastered the art of manufacturing diplomatic crises with weapons tests and threats before eventually offering negotiations aimed at extracting concessions.
    In a move that may have future foreign policy implications, Kim during the meeting promoted a veteran diplomat with deep experience in handling U.S. affairs as his new foreign minister.
    Choe Sun Hui, who is among the North’s most powerful women along with the leader’s sister Kim Yo Jong, had a major role in preparing Kim Jong Un for his meetings with former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.    Talks between Pyongyang and Washington derailed after the collapse of Kim’s second meeting with Trump in February 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for dropping U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for limited disarmament steps.
    Choe replaces Ri Son Gwon, a hardliner with a military background who was announced as Kim’s new point person on rival South Korea.
    North Korea has a history of dialing up pressure on Seoul when it doesn’t get what it wants from Washington.    While KCNA’s report on the meeting didn’t include any comments specifically referring to South Korea, it said the participants clarified “principles and strategic and tactical orientations to be maintained in the struggle against the enemy and in the field of foreign affairs.”

6/13/2022 China says it will 'fight to the very end' to stop Taiwanese independence by wyip@insider.com (Waiyee Yip) – Business Insider
© ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images
  • China will "fight to the very end" to stop Taiwan's independence, the Chinese defense minister said.
  • Wei Fenghe's speech was the latest in a series of exchanges between China and the US over Taiwan.
  • On Saturday, the US Defense Secretary accused China of "provocative" military activity near Taiwan.
1 of 7 Photos in Gallery©Wang Gang/VCG via Getty Images.
    Shanghai is finally lifting its lockdown after 7 weeks.    The global economy has yet to feel its full impact, experts warn.
  • City officials in Shanghai are planning to gradually ease lockdown restrictions after seven weeks.
  • The lockdown forced shops and factories to close and disrupted ports.
  • The ripple effects of the lockdown have yet to be fully felt by the global economy, experts warn.
    Shanghai has begun to emerge from a lockdown that has constrained the global economy and created even more turmoil for supply chains.
    The city's deputy mayor, Zong Ming, said in an online news conference on Monday that the city would emerge from restrictions in phases, aiming to return to normal life by June 1, Reuters reported.
    In line with China's zero-COVID strategy, Shanghai entered a strict lockdown on March 28 to combat a rising number of Omicron cases.
    The tough restrictions hit businesses in the manufacturing and commercial hub of Shanghai, not to mention the broader global economy, as factories were shuttered and workers were confined to their homes.    Truckers struggled to move goods in and out of the city's huge port due to restrictions on movement.
    But even when the restrictions lift, experts have warned that the impact of the lockdown will continue to cause ripple effects around the world.
    China will "fight to the very end" to stop Taiwanese independence, the country's defense minister said on Sunday in a combative speech in which he also referred to the US as a "bully."
    "Let me make this clear," Wei Fenghe said at the Shangri-La Dialogue security summit in Singapore, per The Washington Post.    "If anyone dares to secede Taiwan from China, we will not hesitate to fight.    We will fight at all costs. And we will fight to the very end."
    Wei's speech was the latest in a weekend of aggressive exchanges between Chinese and US military chiefs over the issue of Taiwan — the self-ruled, democratic island that China views as part of its territory.
    "No one should ever underestimate the resolve and ability of the Chinese armed forces to safeguard its territorial integrity," Wei said, per AFP.
    Accusing Washington of "interfering in China's internal affairs," he added that "those who pursue Taiwanese independence in an attempt to split China will definitely come to no good end."
    A day earlier, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin accused China of a "steady increase in provocative and destabilizing" military activity near the island.    This includes Chinese military aircraft flying near Taiwan in "record numbers in recent months," he said.
    "We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability, and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait," he said on Saturday at the same event.    "But the PRC's (People's Republic of China's) moves threaten to undermine security, and stability, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific.    And that's crucial for this region, and it's crucial for the wider world."
    "Maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait isn't just a US interest.    It's a matter of international concern," Austin continued.
Read the original article on Business Insider

6/13/2022 WHO report sparks renewed clash with China over COVID-19 origins by Cassidy Morrison, Jerry Dunleavy – Washington Examiner
    The World Health Organization has prompted renewed friction with the Chinese Communist Party after a new report refused to rule out a theory that the COVID-19 pandemic originated because of a lab leak in China.
© Provided by Washington Examiner WHO report sparks renewed clash with China over COVID-19 origins
    The Chinese government has remained on the defensive amid international criticism that the CCP has not been fully cooperative or transparent in global investigations into the origins of the virus.    The prevailing theory among many scientists is that the virus originated in wild animals and migrated to humans, also known as zoonotic transmission, but others argue SARS-CoV-2 most likely started at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
WHO EXPERT GROUP SAYS LAB LEAK THEORY NEEDS MORE STUDY
    The Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens, the 27-member scientific advisory group assembled by the WHO, said in its first report out Thursday that members are missing “key pieces of data that are not yet available for a complete understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
    “The SAGO has agreed, apart from three objections, that it remains important to consider all reasonable scientific data that is available either through published or other official sources to evaluate the possibility of the introduction of SARS-CoV-2 into the human population through a laboratory incident,” the report says.
    Three members of the advisory group, Drs. Yungui Yang, Vladimir Dedkov, and Carlos Morel — from China, Russia, and Brazil, respectively — were the sole dissenters who said further investigation into the lab leak was not necessary, maintaining that there is no new scientific evidence to question the conclusion of a 2021 report.
    Yungui, also the deputy director of the Beijing Institute of Genomics, previously participated from the Chinese side in the WHO’s first joint mission in early 2021, which attempted to dismiss the lab leak possibility.
    The Chinese government, meanwhile, slammed the implication that the lab leak theory still holds water.    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Friday the theory was a politically motivated lie driven by "anti-China" sentiments.
    “The lab leak theory is totally a lie concocted by anti-China forces for political purposes, which has nothing to do with science,” Zhao said.    “We always supported and participated in science-based global virus tracing, but we firmly opposed any forms of political manipulation.”
    He reiterated the unsubstantiated argument that the virus originated in a U.S. military lab, citing “highly suspicious laboratories such as Fort Detrick.”
    The State Department told the Washington Examiner last year that the United States “condemns the PRC’s false, baseless, and unscientific claims which undermine the spirit and purpose of an impartial origins investigation.”
    The new SAGO report marked a departure from a March 2021 report, in which a WHO team sent to China said a lab leak was possible but “extremely unlikely.”    The WHO-China study contended that a jump from animals to humans was most likely, but it was largely dismissed due to a lack of access to key data and Chinese influence over the investigation.    Meeting minutes from discussions between lab scientists and the WHO-China team reveal lab leak concerns were referred to as “conspiracy theories.”
    In July 2021, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus admitted there was a "premature push" to dismiss the lab escape possibility.
    Scientists consulting with the U.S. government early in the pandemic in 2020 believed COVID-19 originating from a lab in Wuhan was possible or even likely, but emails indicate Dr. Anthony Fauci and then-National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins worked to shut the hypothesis down.
    The Office of the Director of National Intelligence released an assessment in the summer of 2021 stating that one U.S. intelligence agency assessed with “moderate confidence” that the virus most likely emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan, while four U.S. spy agencies and the National Intelligence Council believe with “low confidence” that the virus most likely has a natural origin.

6/13/2022 China accuses US of hijacking support by Syawalludin Zain and David Rising, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chinese Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe, left, said on Sunday that Washington is seeking
to advance its interests in the Indo-Pacific region. ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    SINGAPORE – China’s defense minister accused the United States on Sunday of trying to “hijack” the support of countries in the Asia-Pacific region to turn them against Beijing, saying Washington is seeking to advance its own interests “under the guise of multilateralism.”
    Defense Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe lashed out at U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, rejecting his “smearing accusation” the day before at the Shangri- La Dialogue that China was causing instability with its claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan and its increased military activity in the area.
    Austin had stressed the need for multilateral partnerships with nations in the Indo-Pacific, which Wei suggested was an attempt to back China into a corner.
    “No country should impose its will on others or bully others under the guise of multilateralism,” he said.    “The strategy is an attempt to build an exclusive small group in the name of a free and open Indo- Pacific to hijack countries in our region and target one specific country – it is a strategy to create conflict and confrontation to contain and encircle others.”
    China has been modernizing its military and seeking to expand its influence and ambitions in the region, recently signing a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that many fear could lead to a Chinese naval base in the Pacific, and breaking ground this past week on a naval port expansion project in Cambodia that could give Beijing a foothold in the Gulf of Thailand.
    Last year, U.S. officials accused China of testing a hypersonic missile, a weapon harder for missile defense systems to counter, but China insisted it had been a “routine test of a spacecraft.”
    Answering a question about the test on Sunday, Wei came the closest so far to acknowledging it was a hypersonic missile, saying, “As for hypersonic weapons, many countries are developing weapons and I think there’s no surprise that China is doing so.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month said China represented the “most serious long-term challenge to the international order” for the United States, with its claims to Taiwan and efforts to dominate the strategic South China Sea.
    The U.S. and its allies have responded with so-called freedom of navigation patrols in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, sometimes encountering a pushback from China’s military.
    Wei accused the U.S. of “meddling in the affairs of our region” with the patrols, and “flexing the muscles by sending warships and warplanes on a rampage in the South China Sea.”
    China has squared off with the Philippines and Vietnam, among others, over maritime claims and Wei said it was up to the countries in the region to find their own solutions.
    “China calls for turning the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation,” he said.    “This is the shared wish and responsibility of countries in the region.”
    Taiwan and China split during a civil war in 1949, but China claims the island as its own territory, and has not ruled out the use of military force to take it, while maintaining it is a domestic political issue.

6/13/2022 Iran currency drops to lowest value ever amid US sanctions by ASSOCIATED PRESS
Iran’s currency Sunday dropped to its lowest value ever as talks to
revive the country’s tattered nuclear deal remained deadlocked. VAHID SALEMI/AP
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iran’s currency Sunday dropped to its lowest value ever as talks to revive the country’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers remained deadlocked.
    Traders in Tehran exchanged the rial at 332,000 to the U.S. dollar, up from 327,500 on Saturday.    That marked more than a 4.4% change compared to June 1 when it traded at 318,000 to the dollar.
    Iran’s currency was trading at 32,000 rials to the dollar at the time of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    The rial’s new low came as U.S. sanctions against the country are still in force.    Iran’s economy is struggling mightily mostly because of the U.S. pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that restored sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.    Talks in Vienna to renew the agreement have been deadlocked for months.
    In Tehran, dozens of shop owners took to the streets in protest over the worsening economic situation, after many shut their businesses following a recent rise in business taxes.    Police were present but did not intervene.
    Meanwhile, police arrested 31 currency and gold traders accused of creating “false demand” in the market, state TV reported without elaborating.
    Separately, Iran’s Maha Air spokesman denied owning a Boeing 747 that Argentina seized after it landed Monday in Cordoba, Argentina.    Hossein Zolanvari told the official IRNA news agency his company sold the Boeing to a Venezuelan company last year.
    It wasn’t clear if the plane was on a list of Iranian aircraft subject to U.S. sanctions.

6/14/2022 Virus cluster reignites Beijing rules by ASSOCIATED PRESS
A woman wearing a face mask waits for a medical worker to collect coronavirus test samples
Monday at a closed shopping mall as part of COVID-19 controls in Beijing. ANDY WONG/AP
    BEIJING – China’s capital has put school back online in one of its major districts amid a new COVID-19 outbreak linked to a nightclub, while life has yet to return to normal in Shanghai despite the lifting of a more than two-monthlong lockdown.
    China has stuck to its “zero-COVID” policy requiring mass testing, quarantines and the sequestering of anyone who has come into contact with an infected person in concentrated locations where hygiene is generally poor.
    A total of 228 cases have been linked to the Heaven Supermarket club in the downtown Workers Stadium nightlife area after an infected person visited there Thursday.    Of those, 180 were customers, four were staff and 44 were people with whom customers had later contact.
    The entire area, along with the adjacent Sanlitun shopping and dining complex, was shut down until further notice.
    The outbreak prompted authorities in the sprawling Chaoyang district to put school back online, with the exception of students taking middle and high school placement exams.    Sports gatherings in the city have also been put on hold.
    Chaoyang, home to more than 3 million people, has ordered three consecutive days of mass testing, with long lines forming and wait times of two hours or more in some places.
    In the city of Shanghai, 502 people have been linked to three positive tests detected Thursday among patrons of the Red Rose Beauty Salon.    The individuals involved come from 15 districts across the city of 25 million people, prompting the first large-scale restrictions since the lockdown was formally ended June 1.
    With mass testing and restrictions on movement back in force, streets and supermarkets emptied again over the weekend.
    Failure to undergo testing will lead to a yellow code on a person’s health status app, forbidding them access to all public places.
    Most students remain at home and all but a few restaurants are open only for takeout.    Many customers simply partake of their food and drink on the steps beside flower bushes outside the establishments.
    While 22million Shanghai residents were released from lockdown almost two weeks ago, 220,000 people are still restricted to their homes under a rule requiring that no positive cases are found within their residential compounds for more than 10 days.    Another 600,000 are in control zones, where their movements are restricted within their compounds.
    Corrugated steel fences and other barriers continue to block off neighborhoods and businesses, leading to further discontent and complaints from residents who remain in lockdown.
    The strict implementation of lockdowns, along with a lack of information and poor distribution of food and other daily necessities, has led to rarely seen displays of anger and desperation.    Residents have confronted workers and police who have become known as “big whites” for the protective gear they wear, circulated protest videos online and coordinated nightly screaming events to let off steam.

6/14/2022 US Defense Secretary Austin meets Thai leader to boost ties by FROM WIRE REPORTS BANGKOK
    U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Thailand’s prime minister on Monday as part of an effort to strengthen what Austin says is Washington’s “unparalleled network of alliances and partnerships” in the region.    Prime Minister Prayuth Chanocha, who is also defense minister, also met Austin last month in Washington.    A U.S. Defense Department statement said Austin’s visit is an important step toward modernizing the U.S.-Thai alliance and expanding the depth and breadth of military cooperation.

6/14/2022 China's growing nuclear arsenal creates new global threat, may topple 70 year old power dynamic: Expert by Opinion by Peter Aitken – FOX News
© AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
    With that, let us bring in Dan Hoffman, Fox News contributor and China’s nuclear ambitions may lead to a tripolar landscape and further proliferation as it seeks to place itself equal to the U.S. and Russia.
    "It's one thing to have a kind of bilateral nuclear superpowers know the world as it is now, but headed towards a trilateral, trilateral situation the potential for accidents and miscalculations just naturally grows," James Anderson, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Policy under President Trump, told Fox News Digital.    "And that's unfortunate."
    The international landscape has remained in a bipolar dynamic between the U.S. and Russia as the two dominant powers due to a policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD) thanks to their virtually unmatched nuclear arsenals. That power balance has remained in place for over 70 years.
    However, China has recently invested far more heavily in its nuclear arsenal and capabilities, developing a wide array of nuclear weapons in its land, sea and air-based delivery platforms that aim to bring it up to that same level as the U.S. and Russia.    John Kirby in Nov. 2021 said the Pentagon’s "number one pacing challenge is the People’s Republic of China."
    In 2020, the Pentagon estimated China possesses an arsenal in the "low-200s," but that number is set to "at least double" over the next decade.    A report from the Pentagon last year claimed that China "likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size the [Defense Dept.] projected in 2020."
    Should China achieve that level of power, it would upset the bipolar dynamic since MAD would no longer remain effective: If any two powers strike at each other, the third stands to gain significantly from the conflict.    Mutual destruction is no longer assured, and that necessarily forces all nations to alter their behavior and policies.
    The one seeming silver lining rests in the difference between the American, Russian and Chinese arsenals: Even with its aggressive expansion, China still has a lot of ground to make up compared to its rivals.
    "I think if we're using pure numbers, they still have a way to go, especially including on what we kind of consider Russia's reserve capabilities," Matt McInnis from the Institute for the Study of War told Fox News Digital.
    "China still has somewhere in the range of, you know, maybe probably around 300 or so, three or 400," he explained.    "The likelihood is they're going to get up to, based on the current estimates from the US government, up to 700 weapons by 2027, probably a thousand by 2030, and it could be heading north from there … You're not going to really probably get parity until well, until the middle of the century."
© REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President
Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo
    China’s aggressive expansion would lead to a potential tripolar international dynamic, in which it sits equal to the U.S. and Russia and offsetting the delicate balance and potentially leading to greater nuclear proliferation in other countries.
    "I think that's another potential risk that we definitely have to consider," Anderson explained.    "That's certainly a relevant case here, given the Indian-Chinese rivalry.    They have fought border wars and clashed recently, and I think you would be very concerned now and become increasingly so as the PRC embarked upon this nuclear expansion."
    McInnis also pointed to the Middle East as a candidate for accelerated proliferation should China achieve its goals, but speculated that the countries closest to China - namely South Korea and Japan - would certainly consider changing their non-nuclear policies.
US, JAPAN PREPPING STATEMENT TO ‘DETER’ CHINA ACTION IN INDO-PACIFIC REGION: REPORT
    "What Japan and India do is the most interesting question," McInnis said.    "And I think it's something to be aware of - the risk that they are incurring if they continue to pursue other power that dramatically changes the nuclear balance in the region."
    Treaties remain a critical element of the bipolar landscape, but the developing tripolar landscape has not presented a clear opportunity to try and develop similar agreements: Any agreement on arms control would need Russia’s participation, which seems far off with relations between Moscow and Washington at a low following the invasion of Ukraine.
    "I'm personally not optimistic that now is a realistic time for [negotiations], because the Russians obviously are not interested in any type of cooperative negotiations with us while war is raging in Ukraine," Heino Klinck, Senior Advisor to the National Bureau of Asian Research, told Fox News Digital.    "I don't think we would even want to broach anything that smacks of any kind of cooperation with the Russians."
© Sun Zifa/China News Service via Getty Images Chinese naval fleet passes through
naval mine threat area during the China-Russia 'Joint Sea-2021' military drill near the Peter the Great Gulf
on October 15, 2021 in Russia. Sun Zifa/China News Service via Getty Images
    The inability to develop meaningful arms control leaves the U.S. at a disadvantage as it works to find some way to cooperate with China and reign in the pace of proliferation.
    "If you look at Secretary Blinken's recent speech, obviously, the administration is looking where possible for opportunities to cooperate [with China]," Klinck said.    "I think even if an opportunity for some sort of cooperative arms control agreement is unrealistic ... it should be part of standard American talking points when engaging with the Chinese."
    Klinck argued that U.S. is unlikely to get "any kind of positive response" from China.
    "I think they’re just going to push back," he said.
    All three experts also advised that China’s arsenal isn’t the only element that requires strict scrutiny: Any nuclear arsenal is just posturing unless China also changes doctrine.
    A key component of the MAD policy focuses on "first strike," which maintains that a country is capable of destroying an opponent’s arsenal while surviving the weakened retaliation; therefore, rendering their opponent unable to continue the war.
    The opposite, a "no first use" doctrine, instead posits that a country will not use nuclear weapons unless first attacked by such.    China has so far maintained a NFU policy, and would likely change it in the event that it planned to stand equal to the U.S. and Russia.
    "We need to seriously think about … reevaluating our own policy in that regard if we are facing a world power like China willing to adopt a first strike," McInnis said.    "I think that we need to be thinking - we need to be communicating our willingness to shift policy if we see China move in that direction."

6/15/2022 Satellite images suggest Iran preparing for rocket launch by JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press – Associated Press
© Provided by Associated Press
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear program.
    The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
    One set of images showed a rocket on a transporter, preparing to be lifted and put on a launch tower.    A later image Tuesday afternoon showed the rocket apparently on the tower.
    Iran did not acknowledge a forthcoming launch at the spaceport and its mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    However, its state-run IRNA news agency in May said that Iran likely would have seven homemade satellites ready for launch by the end of the Persian calendar year in March 2023.    A Defense Ministry official also recently suggested Iran soon could test its new solid-fueled, satellite-carrying rocket called the Zuljanah.
    It wasn't clear when the launch would take place, though erecting a rocket typically means a launch is imminent.    NASA fire satellites, which detect flashes of light from space, did not immediately see any activity over the site late Tuesday night.
    Asked about the preparations, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that the U.S. urges Iran to de-escalate the situation.
    “Iran has consistently chosen to escalate tensions.    It is Iran that has consistently chosen to take provocative actions," Price said.
    A Pentagon spokesman, U.S. Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, said the American military “will continue to closely monitor Iran’s pursuit of viable space launch technology and how it may relate to advancements in its overall ballistic missile program.”
    "Iranian aggression, to include the demonstrated threat posed by its various missile programs, continues to be a top concern for our forces in the region,” Lodewick said.
    Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space.    The program has seen recent troubles, however.    There have been five failed launches in a row for the Simorgh program, a type of satellite-carrying rocket.    A fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
    The launch pad used in Tuesday's preparations remains scarred from an explosion in August 2019 that even drew the attention of then-President Donald Trump.    He later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure.    Satellite images from February suggested a failed Zuljanah launch earlier this year, though Iran did not acknowledge it.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows vehicles at the checkout building at Imam
Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch
Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
    The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the U.S. “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.”    There’s been no evidence offered, however, to show foul play in any of the failures, and space launches remain challenging even for the world’s most successful programs.
    Meanwhile, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit.    The Guard launched another satellite this March at another site in Semnan province, just east of the Iranian capital of Tehran.
    Judging from the launch pad used, Iran likely is preparing for the Zuljanah test launch, said John Krzyzaniak, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.    Krzyzaniak earlier this week suggested a launch was imminent based on activity at the site.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows an overview of launch pad activity at
Imam Khomeini Space Center southeast of Semnan, Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch
Tuesday as satellite images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
    The rocket's name, Zuljanah, comes from the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Iranian state television aired footage of a successful Zuljanah launch in February 2021.
    The launch preparations also come as the Guard reportedly saw one of its soldiers “martyred” in Semnan province under unclear circumstances over the weekend. Iran's Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ministry, however, later claimed the man worked for it.
    The United States has alleged that Iran’s satellite launches defy a U.N. Security Council resolution and has called on Tehran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.    The U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment, published in March, claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran as it uses “similar technologies.”
    Iran, which has long said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.    U.S. intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
    However, Iran's likely preparations for a launch come as tensions have been heightened in recent days over Tehran's nuclear program.    Iran now says it will remove 27 IAEA surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites as it now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
    Both Iran and the U.S. insist they are willing to re-enter Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw the Islamic Republic drastically curb its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.    Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion a series of attacks and confrontations beginning in 2019 that continue today into the administration of President Joe Biden.
    Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on a “pause” since March.
    Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous.    Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran — and already is suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.
© Provided by Associated Press This satellite image from Maxar Technologies shows a rocket erected at a launch pad at
Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran on Tuesday, June 14, 2022. Iran appeared to be readying for a space launch Tuesday as satellite
images showed a rocket on a rural desert launch pad, just as tensions remain high over Tehran's nuclear
program. The images from Maxar Technologies showed a launch pad at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province,
the site of frequent recent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)
___
    Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twiter.com/jongambrellAP.

6/16/2022 N. Korea reports another disease outbreak amid COVID-19 wave by HYUNG-JIN KIM, Associated Press – Associated Press
© Provided by Associated Press
    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Thursday reported the eruption of another infectious disease in addition to its ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, saying leader Kim Jong Un has donated his private medicines to those stricken with the new disease.
    It’s unclear how serious the new epidemic is, but some outside observers say North Korea likely aims to burnish Kim’s image as a leader caring about public livelihoods as he needs greater public support to overcome pandemic-related hardships.
    Kim on Wednesday offered his family’s reserve medicines for those diagnosed with “an acute enteric epidemic” in the southeastern Haeju city, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.    The North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper separately carried a front-page photo showing Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju reviewing saline solutions and other medicines that they were donating.
    KCNA didn’t elaborate on exactly what the epidemic is and how many people have been infected.     Some observers say the “an enteric epidemic” in North Korea refers to an infectious disease like typhoid, dysentery or cholera, which are intestinal illnesses caused by germs via contaminated food and water or contact with feces of infected people.
N. Korea disinfects factory amid COVID outbreak
    Such diseases routinely occur in North Korea, which lacks good water treatment facilities and whose public healthcare infrastructure largely remains broken since the mid-1990s.
    After North Korea last month reported a rising number of patients with feverish symptoms following its admission of the coronavirus outbreak, South Korea’s spy agency said that “a considerable number” of those fever cases included those sick with diseases like measles, typhoid and pertussis.
    “The outbreak of measles or typhoid isn’t uncommon in North Korea.    I think it’s true there is an outbreak of an infectious disease there but North Korea is using it as an opportunity to emphasize that Kim is caring for his people,” said Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea.    “So it’s more like a political message than medical one.”
    Last month, Kim already sent his family’s medicines to COVID-19 patients, according to state media reports.
    KCNA said more than 4.5 million out of the country’s 26 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 73 died.    The country has identified only a fraction of those as confirmed coronavirus cases due to an apparent lack of test kits in the country.    Many foreign experts question the North’s death toll, saying that’s likely underreported to prevent Kim from any political damage at home.
    During a ruling party conference last week, Kim claimed the pandemic situation has passed the stage of “serious crisis."    But the country still maintains elevated restrictions that some outside experts say will further strain the country’s already troubled economy hit by long-running pandemic-related border shutdowns and U.N. sanctions.

6/16/2022 China’s Xi reasserts support for Russia, Putin - Beijing has refused to criticize invasion by ASSOCIATED PRESS
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call that “all parties
should responsibly push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis.” ALEXEI DRUZHININ, SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL/ AP FILE
    BEIJING – Chinese President Xi Jinping reasserted his country’s support for Russia on issues of sovereignty and security in a phone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, state media said.
    Xi told Putin that “all parties should responsibly push for a proper settlement of the Ukraine crisis,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
    The Kremlin said in its account of the call that Putin “outlined his fundamental assessments of the situation in Ukraine.”    Xi “noted the legitimacy of the actions taken by Russia to protect the fundamental national interests in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces,” according to Moscow’s official statement.
    China has refused to criticize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or even to refer to it in such terms, while accusing NATO and the West of provoking Moscow into attacking.
    Weeks before the Russian attack, Putin and Xi met in Beijing in February and oversaw the signing of an agreement pledging that relations between the sides would have “no limits.”    It remains unclear whether Xi knew at the time of Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine.
    In that meeting, the two leaders pushed back against U.S. pressure, declaring their opposition to any expansion of NATO and affirming that the island of Taiwan is a part of China, as they met hours before the Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing.
    Xi told Putin on Wednesday that China “is willing to work with the Russian side to promote the steady and long-term development of bilateral pragmatic cooperation,” Xinhua reported, “China is willing to, together with Russia, continue to support each other on issues concerning core interests and major concerns such as sovereignty and security.”    While offering its tacit support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China has sought to appear neutral and avoid possible repercussions from supporting the Russian economy amid international sanctions.    Moscow and Beijing have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose liberal democratic forces in Asia, Europe and beyond, making a stand for authoritarian rule with tight borders and little regard for free speech, minority rights or opposition politics.

6/16/2022 Thousands protest ‘bulldozer justice’ against Indian Muslims by Biswajeet Banerjee, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Authorities demolish the residence of activist Javed Ahmad that they say was constructed
illegally in Prayagraj, India, on Sunday. Protests have been erupting in many Indian cities to
condemn the demolition of homes and businesses belonging to Muslims. RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/AP
    LUCKNOW, India – Protests have been erupting in many Indian cities to condemn the demolition of homes and businesses belonging to Muslims, in what critics call a growing pattern of “bulldozer justice” aimed at punishing activists from the minority group.
    On Sunday, authorities in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh rode on a bulldozer to raze the home of Javed Ahmad, who they said was connected to Muslim religious protests that turned violent last Friday.    Police arrested Ahmad on Saturday.
    The protests were sparked by derogatory remarks about Islam and the Prophet Muhammed made recently by two spokespeople of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.    The party suspended one of them and expelled the other, issuing a rare statement saying it “strongly denounces insults of any religious personalities.”
    Bulldozers also crushed the properties of protesters in two other cities in Uttar Pradesh last week.
    In April, authorities in New Delhi used bulldozers to destroy Muslim owned shops days after communal violence in which dozens were arrested.    Similar incidents have been reported in other states.
    “The demolitions are a gross violation of constitutional norms and ethics,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a specialist on Hindu nationalist politics and biographer of Modi, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.    On Tuesday, 12 prominent people, including former Supreme Court and High Court judges and lawyers, sent a letter to India’s chief justice urging him to hold a hearing on the demolitions, calling them illegal and “a form of collective extrajudicial punishment.”    They accused the Uttar Pradesh government of suppressing dissent by using violence against protesters.
    Two people who were protesting the remarks by the governing party spokespeople died of gunshot injuries in clashes with police on Friday in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state.
    Several Muslim-majority countries have also criticized the remarks, and protesters in Bangladesh called for a boycott of Indian products, leaving India’s government scrambling to contain the diplomatic backlash.

6/17/2022 'VERY CONCERNED': Warning to Australia over China's latest military move by Nick Whigham – Yahoo News US
    Australia should be "very concerned" about China's ambition to woo Pacific Island nations and its intention to expand foreign military operations, according to one defence analyst.
    China's state media reported this week President Xi Jinping had signed an order expanding the legal basis for the country's military to conduct "armed forces operations" other than war in other territories.
    Kori Schake, director of foreign and defence policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute based in Washington DC is the latest to warn about China's motives.
    She described what effectively amounts to a new military doctrine for the Chinese People's Liberation Army as "potentially very serious."
© Provided by Yahoo News USXi Jinping has expanded the remit of
China's military, paving the way for more foreign operations. Source: Getty
    "The Chinese are trying to push out their basing and their stationing agreements further and further to complicate a potential defence of Taiwan by the US and other countries," she told ABC Radio on Friday morning.
    "We need to ensure we sustain the ability to provide Taiwan the kind of assistance that will allow it to protect itself against potential Chinese invasion, blockade, or attack."
    When asked about China's charm offensive in Australia's region, Ms Schake didn't mince her words.
Japan's defense minister slams nuclear neighbours
    "I think Australia should be very concerned," she said.
    Ms Schake is steeped in defence history and has formerly worked for US Secretary of State Colin Powell and Senator John McCain, who lost the presidential election to Barack Obama in 2008.
    She believes Australia is a "front line state" in countering China's outward aggression.
  • China's ominous move towards 'military operations other than war'
  • China says it will 'resolutely smash any plot' after latest US move
  • China's defiant message after controversial Pacific deal shelved
    Since coming to power, Australia's new foreign minister Penny Wong has been on a whirlwind trip visiting Pacific island nations in an effort to improve bilateral ties – something which US observers belief is critical to curbing China's "malevolent" expansion.
    "Australia moving so assertively, engagingly and wanting to help countries in the Pacific to sustain their sovereignty against Chinese pressure is really valuable," Ms Schake said.
    "Your country and mine have left the Chinese too much uncontested space to provide investment, to provide security [in the Pacific]."
    The official move by China's leader this week to expand the military remit of his country has raised eyebrows, with some observers likening it to the language used by Vladimir Putin to justify his invasion of Ukraine.

6/18/2022 China defends ‘zero-COVID’ after US envoy warns of costs by ASSOCIATED PRESS
China has sought to completely eliminate COVID outbreaks with restrictions,
while most other countries are relaxing their measures. MARK SCHIEFELBEIN/AP
    BEIJING – China on Friday defended its tough “zero-COVID” policy after the U.S. ambassador said it was causing serious damage to the global economy and foreign business sentiment.
    Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Chinese economy is recovering from the effects of the pandemic and “facts prove” the policy mandating lockdowns, quarantines and mass testing is “suitable for China’s national conditions and has stood the test of history.”
    “We have full confidence that (we can) contain the epidemic, steady the economy and achieve the goal of safe economic development,” Wang said at a daily briefing.
    China has sought to completely eliminate outbreaks of COVID-19 with tough restrictions, while most other countries are relaxing their anti-coronavirus measures to “live with” the disease.
    Ambassador Nicholas Burns said on Thursday that the “zero-COVID” policy has “had a major impact” on business sentiment, singling out as especially damaging a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest city and key financial hub.
    Most of Shanghai’s 25 million people were confined to their homes or immediate neighborhoods, and hundreds of thousands continue to remain under restrictions.    Rolling lockdowns have also continued to Beijing and other cities.
    Critics say the policy is disrupting global supply chains and hurting employment and consumption in China.    The U.N.’s World Health Organization has called it unsustainable.    China denounced the remarks as irresponsible.
    Burns said in a virtual address to the Brookings Institution think tank that there were 40,000 American citizens in the Shanghai area before the pandemic, but that “lots and lots of those people have gone home.”    Diplomats from Europe, Japan and other countries report similar declines, he said.
    “We’re quite cognizant of the need, I think the Chinese government is quite cognizant of the need, to try to get back to a situation of normalcy,” Burns said.
    The U.S. and China recorded $650 billion in trade last year, and around 1,100 American companies are operating in China.

6/18/2022 Aircraft carrier launch is ‘milestone’ for China - New-generation ship part of goal to extend range, power of navy by David Rising and Ken Moritsugu, ASSOCIATED PRESS
The launch ceremony for China’s third aircraft carrier, christened Fujian,
takes place at a dry dock in Shanghai on Friday. LI GANG/XINHUA VIA AP
    BEIJING – China launched a new generation aircraft carrier Friday, the first such ship to be designed and built in the country, in a milestone as it seeks to extend the range and power of its navy.
    The Type 003 carrier christened Fujian left its dry dock at a shipyard outside Shanghai in the morning and tied up at a nearby pier, state media reports said.
    State broadcaster CCTV showed assembled navy personnel standing beneath the massive ship as water jets sprayed over its deck, multicolored streamers flew and colorful smoke was released.
    Equipped with the latest weaponry and aircraft-launch technology, the Type 003 ship’s capabilities are thought to rival those of Western carriers, as Beijing seeks to turn its navy, already the world’s largest, into a multicarrier force.
    Satellite imagery captured by Planet Labs PBC on Thursday and analyzed by the Associated Press showed the carrier in what appeared to be a fully flooded dry dock at the Jiangnan Shipyard, near Shanghai, ready for launch.    It was draped with red bunting, presumably in preparation for the launch ceremony.
    “This is an important milestone for China’s military-industrial complex,” said Ridzwan Rahmat, a Singapore based analyst with the defense intelligence company Janes.
    “This shows that Chinese engineers are now able to indigenously manufacture the full suite of surface combatants associated with modern naval warfare, including corvettes, frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships, and now an aircraft carrier,” he said.    “This ability to construct a very complex warship from the ground up will inevitably result in various spin-offs and benefits for the Chinese shipbuilding industry.”
    China’s first carrier was a repurposed Soviet ship, and its second was built in China but based upon a Soviet design.    Both were built to employ a “ski-jump” launch method for aircraft, with a ramp at the end of the short runway to help planes take off.
    The Type 003 employs a catapult launch, which experts said appears to be an electromagnetic-type system like one originally developed by the U.S. Navy. China’s official Xinhua News Agency confirmed the Fujian employed the electromagnetic system in a report on Friday’s launch.
    Such a system puts less stress on aircraft than older steam-type catapult launch systems, and the use of a catapult means the ship will be able to launch a broader variety of aircraft, which is necessary for China to be able to project naval power at a greater range, Rahmat said.
    “These catapults allow aircraft deployed to carry a more extensive load of weapons in addition to external fuel tanks,” Rahmat said.
    “Once it is fully operational, the PLAN’s third carrier would also be able to deploy a more complete suite of aircraft associated with carrier strike group operations, including carrier onboard delivery transport and airborne early warning and control airframes, such as the KJ-600.”
    China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, has been modernizing for more than a decade to become more of a “blue water” force – one capable of operating globally rather than being restricted to remaining closer to the Chinese mainland.
    At the same time, the U.S. has been increasing its focus on the region, including the South China Sea.
    The vast maritime region has been tense because six governments claim all or part of the strategically vital waterway, through which an estimated $5 trillion in global trade travels each year and which holds rich but fast-declining fishing stocks and significant undersea oil and gas deposits.
    China has been far and away the most aggressive in asserting its claim to virtually the entire waterway, its island features and resources.
    The U.S. Navy has sailed warships past artificial islands China built in the sea that are equipped with airstrips and other military facilities.    China insists its territory extends to those islands, while the U.S. Navy said it conducts the missions there to ensure the free flow of international trade.    In its report to Congress last year on China’s military capabilities, the Department of Defense said the carrier development program was crucial to the Chinese navy’s continued development into a global force, “gradually extending its operational reach beyond East Asia into a sustained ability to operate at increasingly longer ranges.”
    China’s “aircraft carriers and planned follow-on carriers, once operational, will extend air defense coverage beyond the range of coastal and shipboard missile systems and will enable task group operations at increasingly longer ranges,” the Defense Department said.
    In recent years, China has expanded its presence into the Indian Ocean, the Western Pacific and beyond, setting up its first overseas base over the last decade in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti, where the U.S., Japan and others also maintain a military presence.    It also recently signed a security agreement with the Solomon Islands that many fear could give it an outpost in the South Pacific, and is working with Cambodia on expanding a port facility there that could give it a presence in the Gulf of Thailand.
    Xinhua reported the Fujian, which carries the hull number 18, had a fully loaded displacement of 80,000 tons.    In a March report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, however, analysts said that satellite images suggested the Type 003’s displacement was about 100,000 tons, similar to those of U.S. Navy carriers.
    The PLAN has about 355 ships, including submarines, and the U.S. estimated the force will grow to 420 by 2025 and 460 by 2030.
    Despite having the world’s largest navy numerically, however, the PLAN for now still has nowhere near the capabilities of the U.S. Navy and remains far behind in carriers.
    The U.S. Navy is the world’s leader in aircraft carriers, with 11 nuclear-powered vessels.    It also has nine amphibious assault ships that can carry helicopters and vertical-takeoff fighter jets.
    American allies such as Britain and France also have their own carriers, and Japan has four “helicopter destroyers,” which are technically not aircraft carriers, but carry aircraft.    Two are being converted to support short take-off and vertical-landing fighters.
    China’s new carrier was named after the Fujian province on the country’s southeastern coast, following a tradition after naming its first two carriers after the provinces of Liaoning and Shandong.
    Its shipyard-launch ceremony was presided over by Xu Qiliang, a member of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission led by president and party leader Xi Jinping.
    After Xu cut the ribbon for the launch, a bottle of champagne was broken across the Fujian’s bow, Xinhua reported.    The doors of the dry dock then opened and the ship moved out into the water and moored at its pier.
    China’s development of the Type 003 carrier is part of a broader modernization of its military.    As with its space program, China has proceeded cautiously in the development of aircraft carriers, seeking to apply only technologies that have been tested and perfected.
    At the moment, China is not believed to have the aircraft developed to fully realize the potential of the new carrier, Rahmat said.
    It is not known how close China is in the development of its KJ-600 AWACS aircraft, which it began testing in 2020, to have it ready for carrier operations, and there is “little evidence” it has begun work on carrier onboard delivery transport aircraft, he said.
    Now that it is launched, the carrier will have to be fitted out, which could take two to six months.    Then there will be harbor acceptance trials and sea trials, which will likely take another six months before engineers begin launching test loads using the catapult system.
    “The first aircraft will only be launched from this carrier perhaps in late 2023 to 2024, and full operational capability will likely be declared closer to 2025,” Rahmat said.

6/18/2022 Explosion rocks Sikh temple in Kabul by BBC News
© Getty Images
    There are fears for the safety of dozens of worshippers in the Afghan capital of Kabul after a Sikh temple was hit in an explosion.
    The blast occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning and it is unclear if there are casualties.
    One local official at the scene, Gornam Singh, told Reuters news agency there had been up to "30 people inside the temple" at the time of the blast.
    "We don't know how many of them are alive or how many dead," he said.
    "The Taliban are not allowing us to go inside, we don't know what to do," Mr Singh added.
    Local broadcaster Tolo aired footage showing heavy grey plumes of smoke rising from the area.
    The building is the last remining Sikh temple in the capital, and community leaders recently estimated that just 140 Sikhs remain in predominantly Muslim Afghanistan, down from 100,000 in the 1970s.
    The attack is the latest to hit the city since the Taliban reclaimed control of Afghanistan last year.
    In December, more than 20 people were killed and 16 more were injured in a gun and bomb assault on a military hospital in the city.
    And in April, six people were wounded after a grenade was thrown into a mosque.    Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) claimed responsibility for that attack.

6/19/2022 Flooding in Asia leaves millions homeless by Julhas Alam and Wasbir Hussain, ASSOCIATED PRESS
People wade along a road in a flooded area during a monsoon rainfall in Sylhet on Saturday.
Monsoon storms in Bangladesh and India have killed at least 59 people and unleashed devastating floods that
left millions of others stranded, officials said on Saturday. MD ABU SUFIAN JEWEL/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
    DHAKA, Bangladesh – Army troops were called in to rescue thousands of people stranded by massive floods that have ravaged northeastern India and Bangladesh, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links, authorities said Saturday.
    In India’s Assam state, at least nine people were killed in the floods and 2 million saw their homes submerged, according to the state disaster management agency.    Lightning strikes in parts of neighboring Bangladesh have left at least nine dead since Friday.
    Both countries have asked their militaries for help as more flooding looms with rains expected to continue over the weekend.
    In Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh, on the banks of the Surma River, children sat on a window of an inundated house while other family members gathered on a bed inside their flooded home, some wondering how to make it through the ordeal.
    “How can we eat (in this condition)?” said Anjuman Ara Begum, standing in the water inside her kitchen.    “We are living on muri (puffed rice) and chira (flattened rice) and other things given by people. What else can we do? We can’t cook.”
    Flights at Osmani International Airport in Sylhet were suspended for three days as floodwaters almost reached the runway, according to Hafiz Ahmed, the airport manager.    The Sylhet Sunamganj highway also was flooded but motorbikes were moving along.
    Water levels in all major rivers across the country were rising, according to the flood forecasting and warning center in Dhaka, the capital.    The country has about 130 rivers.
    The center said the flood situation is likely to deteriorate in the worst-hit Sunamganj and Sylhet districts in the northeastern region as well as in Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Nilphamari and Rangpur districts in northern Bangladesh.
    The Brahmaputra, one of Asia’s largest rivers, breached its mud embankments, inundating 3,000 villages and croplands in 28 of Assam’s 33 districts across the border in India.
    “We expect moderate to heavy rainfall in several parts of Assam till Sunday.    The volume of rainfall has been unprecedented,” said Sanjay O’Neil, an official at the meteorological station in Gauhati, Assam’s capital.
    Several train services were canceled in India amid the incessant downpour over the past five days.    In southern Assam’s Haflong town, the railway station was underwater and flooded rivers deposited mud and silt along the rail tracks.
    India’s army has been mobilized to assist disaster response agencies in rescuing stranded people and providing food and other essentials.    Soldiers used speedboats and inflatable rafts to navigate through submerged areas.
    Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood, triggered by a rush of water from upstream in India’s northeastern states, hit Bangladesh’s northern and northeastern regions, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads.    The country was just starting to recover when fresh rains flooded the same areas again this week.
    Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people, is low-lying and faces threats from natural disasters such as floods and cyclones, made worse by climate change.    According to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of people in Bangladesh would need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate.

6/19/2022 Iran fighter jet crashes, injuring two crew: reports by AFP
© ATTA KENARE
    An F-14 fighter jet crashed on Saturday while on a mission in central Iran, causing injuries to its two crew members, media in the Islamic republic reported.
    "The fighter jet suffered a technical fault... and the pilot and co-pilot landed with parachutes," said Rassoul Motamedi, spokesman for the military in Isfahan province where the crash occurred.
    "The pilot and co-pilot were injured... and were immediately taken to hospital for treatment," he was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency, adding that the plane was destroyed.
    It was the second such incident in Isfahan province in less than a month, after two air force crewmen were killed when their F-7 training aircraft went down.
    The air force in sanctions-hit Iran has suffered several crashes in recent years, with officials complaining of difficulties in acquiring spare parts to keep its ageing fleet in the air.
    In February, an Iranian F-5 jet crashed in a residential area of the northwestern city of Tabriz, killing three people including its two-man crew.
    Iran has mostly Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets that date back to the Soviet era, as well as some Chinese aircraft, including the F-7, French Mirage jets and American F-4 and F-5 fighter planes.
    The Islamic republic has 80 F-14 Tomcats, a warplane that served in the US Navy from 1972 until 2006, when it was withdrawn.
    Tehran has continued to use them because American sanctions against Iran in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution prevent it from buying more modern Western jets.
ap-pdm/dv/it

6/19/2022 Leviathan: China’s new navy by Alex Gatopoulos – Al Jazeera
© Provided by Al Jazeera
    The Chinese navy, under instruction from President Xi Jinping, has undergone a modernisation and expansion programme that is nothing short of spectacular. Friday’s launch of its third and most advanced aircraft carrier, the Fujian, for sea trials underscores just how far it has come, and how fast.
    The first two carriers, the Liaoning and Shandong, were ex-Soviet designs; the Liaoning initially bought for scrap from Ukraine and refitted.    While antiquated, they have been used to train new generations of naval officers and pilots in the complex science and art of aircraft carrier operations.
    This new design of aircraft carrier is a quantum leap in capabilities from these older models and will greatly enhance China’s combat power.
Larger, more powerful
    The Fujian is colossal: at 316m (1,037ft) long, it will weigh around 100,000 tonnes when fully loaded.    Its electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) will accelerate jets taking off at speed, assisting their take-off with such force the aircraft will be able to carry more fuel and weapons, therefore extending the reach and size of the punch the aircraft carrier packs.    Early warning aircraft will be able to take off and land more easily, enhancing the carrier’s ability to spot its enemies from further away.
    EMALS is also able to launch more aircraft at a greater rate, getting more jets into the air faster than its opponents using older technologies – and is vital for defending itself against incoming attacks.
    This latest feature gives the Fujian a significant edge, as only the United States’ latest Ford-class of aircraft carrier is equipped with it.    France is slowly developing a similar system and India is examining its feasibility, but outside the US, only China employs this system.    Its navy has yet to operate a nuclear-powered carrier, as the US has done for decades.    The Fujian is conventionally powered but predictions are that the next one to be built by China will be nuclear-powered.
    The Fujian has shown the world that China has leapfrogged over several current military technologies, like steam catapult-launching, rejecting them for cutting-edge designs that will set up China’s carrier fleet for years to come.
Diplomacy by other means
    The goal for China’s navy is to have six carrier strike groups operating by 2035, allowing China to project levels of combat power unprecedented in its history wherever it chooses. Aircraft carriers do not operate alone and form the nucleus of a fleet that surrounds the carrier, protecting this mobile airbase while also contributing massive amounts of firepower that can devastate targets on the ocean or hundreds of kilometres inland.
    Their large compliments of long-range land-attack missiles, together with the carrier’s air wing, provide state-of-the-art firepower, giving China a potent weapon at its disposal.    An aircraft carrier strike group’s prime role is to project power far beyond its national borders.    This can be done using actual combat power, or force can be implied, the proximity of an air carrier strike group to a crisis zone acting as a diplomatic barometer.    Either way, they have been effective tools of statecraft for decades.
    China’s naval expansion isn’t just about the number of warships.    The navy’s infrastructure, vital if ships are to be berthed, maintained and refuelled, has slowly been built up over the last decade.    A network of port facilities and dry docks have been constructed across the Indian Ocean with a growing naval fleet in mind.
    The Chinese naval base at Djibouti has been revamped, its piers extended to 340m (1,115ft) and now able to accommodate its growing fleet of aircraft carriers.    Situated at the mouth of the Red Sea near the Horn of Africa, the base is rapidly becoming a logistical supply hub for Chinese naval vessels in one of the world’s most strategically significant waterways.    As China’s economy becomes truly global in scale, its naval fleets are fast moving away from protecting China’s shoreline to long-range force projection.    This has the US increasingly concerned as China negotiates base rights in Equatorial Guinea on Africa’s west coast with the aim of building a naval presence in the Atlantic Ocean.
But wait, there’s more
    Significant as China’s naval ambitions are, this is just the beginning.    The Fujian is a transition model, perfecting a powerful new technology, while Chinese naval propulsion specialists and designers are looking to take the next technological leap. Its fourth carrier is now likely to use nuclear propulsion.    This will allow it to sail without refuelling or refitting for 20 years.    It may however delay the carrier’s construction and eventual induction into the Chinese navy as new technologies, especially nuclear ones, are worked and trialled with great care.
    The design process has already started on this future carrier and construction will begin in the near future at Dalian shipyard.    It is expected to be at least the same size as the Fujian if not larger.    Its expanded air wing will likely fly the latest FC-31 Gyrfalcon naval stealth jets, early warning aircraft and drones.
    Unmanned technology presents a significant challenge, but is tantalising as it may give the country that develops it first a significant strategic advantage.
The unmanned navy
    While the US works on new robot ships, China is not far behind as it looks to develop and expand its unmanned networked fleet.    It has launched the world’s first “drone carrier,” controlled by AI systems.    It will be able to deploy underwater, surface and aerial drones, working to ensure that no adversary can approach it without being detected.    While it is just a test bed for this new generation of automated naval ship, more advanced “carriers” are being designed as unmanned technologies are integrated into the manned Chinese navy.
    An advanced version of the Type 076 Helicopter carrier is being developed with the aim of launching combat drones from its flight deck. While this is a capability being researched by other navies, the Chinese variant will likely carry a naval version of the stealthy combat drone the GJ-11 “Sharp Sword”, which is able to fly at close to the speed of sound, undetected by its enemies.     At over 11m (36ft) long and with a range of 4,000km (2,485 miles), it can carry over two tonnes of precision-guided munitions in its internal weapons bays – and is designed to penetrate deep into hostile territory and destroy high-value targets.
© Provided by Al Jazeera A Gongji-11 (GJ-11) unmanned stealth combat drone on display at the 13th China International Aviation
and Aerospace Exhibition on September 28, 2021, in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province [Photo by Yang Suping/VCG via Getty Images]
    Powerful unmanned mini-destroyers are also being designed, with advanced radars, torpedo tubes and the latest surface-to-air missiles.    They are able to pack a powerful punch, especially when networked together, and analysts consider this a rival to the US’s unmanned surface vehicle (USV), the Sea Hunter.
    China is competing neck and neck with the US in unmanned weapons systems.    There is a fierce debate within Chinese military circles about where to put its significant yet finite resources to the greatest effect.    Many argue for funding to go to the large, visible ships like aircraft carriers and cruisers.    However, there is a growing voice within the People’s Liberation Army that argues for smaller, smarter, well-armed vessels.    While nothing in themselves, when networked together in a coordinated “swarm” fleet of distributed firepower, they become overwhelming.    Like an army of ants, several might be destroyed, but acting together, they eventually overpower a much larger force, and China is at the forefront of this vital technology.
    This kind of strategic planning is crucial if China is to win the next war fought on the ocean.    Future conflicts will not be won with today’s weapons, but with tomorrows.    The country that invents these new systems and trains realistically on how to use them to their best advantage, will prevail.
    With the launch of the Fujian, the naval arms race in the Pacific Ocean has just picked up the pace and shows no sign of slowing down.    China’s production of new and advanced warships is growing by the day.    This new leviathan now aims to challenge the might of the US navy, not content to be a regional player but a superpower in its own right.

6/20/2022 'No future for us,' say Afghan Sikhs after temple attack by AFP
© Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN
    Adozen Afghan Sikhs gathered Monday in a room behind the charred ruins of their temple in Kabul, hoping to be swiftly evacuated having finally given up on the country of their birth.
© Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN Several rooms and the temple's main prayer hall were heavily damaged
    "There is no future for us here.    I have lost all hope," said Ragbir Singh, who was wounded when gunmen stormed the temple Saturday in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.
© Ahmad SAHEL ARMAN Ragbir Singh (left) was wounded when gunmen stormed the temple Saturday
    "Everywhere we are under threat."
    When the Taliban seized power in August, many Sikhs sought refuge at the complex, living communally or in family groups scattered around the building.
    The Sikh community had been a target before.
    In March 2020, at least 25 people were killed when gunmen stormed a different temple in Kabul.
    And in 2018 at least 19 people, most of them Sikhs, were killed by a suicide bombing in the eastern city of Jalalabad.
    Both attacks were claimed by IS, which regularly targets members of Afghanistan's minority communities -- including Shiites and Sufis.
    The number of Sikhs and Hindus living in Afghanistan had dwindled to around 200 by late last year, compared with about half a million in the 1970s.
    Most of those who remained were traders involved in selling herbal medicines and electronic goods brought from India and Pakistan.
    For Manmohan Singh Sethi, who was born in Afghanistan, the temple was not just a place of worship, but home to the entire Sikh community.
- Meeting as family -
    "This used to be the main gurdwara (Sikh temple) where we all used to meet as a family," said Sethi, who is in his 70s.
    But the peace was shattered Saturday with one member of the community killed and seven others -- including Singh -- wounded in the early-morning raid.
    A Taliban fighter also died, in a counter-operation launched soon after.
    Gunmen first fired at the main gate of the complex, killing a guard, before storming inside, shooting, and throwing grenades, survivors said.
    Minutes later a car bomb exploded outside the complex, shattering walls and windows of nearby buildings.
    When the raid began, some escaped through a back door and took refuge in nearby buildings.
    In the ensuing chaos, Singh -- who was on the fourth floor of the complex -- fell to the ground, injuring his legs and a hand.
    Now, several rooms and the main prayer hall of the complex are heavily damaged by bullets, grenades and a fire that engulfed a section during the raid.
    The attack came days after a delegation from New Delhi visited Kabul to discuss the possibility of reopening the Indian embassy.
    Indian government sources told AFP in Delhi that emergency visas had been given to around 100 Afghan Hindus and Sikhs but Sethi said none in the frightened community were aware of the offer.
    He said the community was now unsure where even to pray for their future.
    "If we all gather to perform rituals at a specific place we might face another such incident," he said.
    "We have been attacked thrice already... We can't be careless."
    latest incident has impacted us in a big way," said Sethi.
    "Afghanistan is my homeland and I never wanted to leave... but now I am leaving."
jd-abh-fox/leg

6/20/2022 Court in Japan rules upholds ban on same-sex marriage by Caitlin O'Kane, CBS News
    A district court in Japan has upheld the country's ban on same-sex marriage.    The ruling is a blow to LGBTQ activists in the country, who reached a small victory when a court in Sapporo last year found the government's failure to recognize same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
© Marc Bruxelle / EyeEm Close-Up Of Rainbow Flag With Crowd In Background During Parade
    Three same-sex couples filed a suit in Osaka, claiming that being unable to marry was unconstitutional, and they asked for 1 million yen (about $7,406) in damages for each couple, according to BBC News.    They argued that under the current law that prevented them from getting married, they suffered "unjust discrimination."
    The Osaka court, however, ruled the ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional, since Japan's constitution defines marriage as one between "both sexes."
    "I actually wonder if the legal system in this country is really working," one of the plaintiffs, Machi Sakata, told Reuters.    Sakata was able to marry her partner, who is a United States citizen, in the U.S.    They are expecting a baby.    "I think there's the possibility this ruling may really corner us," she said.
    While the court did not legalize same-sex marriage, it did acknowledge it could be possible. "From the perspective of individual dignity, it can be said that it is necessary to realize the benefits of same-sex couples being publicly recognized through official recognition," the court said in its ruling, BBC News reports.
    "Public debate on what kind of system is appropriate for this has not been thoroughly carried out," the court said.
    The majority of Japan is for same-sex marriage and some cities, like Tokyo, have begun issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples.    These can help them rent properties and gain hospital visitation rights, according to BBC News.
    However, since same-sex couples cannot legally marry, they can't inherit each other's assets and they have no parental rights over each other's children, Reuters reports.
    In the 2021 suit in Sapporo, the plaintiffs also asked for $9,100 each for the difficulties they've suffered.    While the court ruled the "legal benefits stemming from marriages should equally benefit both homosexuals and heterosexuals," they did not award the plaintiffs the money.
    Several same-sex couples have filed similar suits, the Japan Times reports.    Many filed their suits on Valentine's Day 2019.
    Marriage equality is legal in 31 countries, according to Human Rights Campaign.    Japan is the only country in the G7, a group of the world's largest developed nations, that doesn't allow same-sex couples to wed.

6/21/2022 Relief efforts underway in South Asia villages - Flooded region in need of food, clean water by Julhas Alam and Wasbir Hussain, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A house is marooned by floodwaters in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Monday. MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU/AP
    DHAKA, Bangladesh – Authorities in India and Bangladesh struggled Monday to deliver food and drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes in days of flooding that have submerged wide swaths of the countries.
    The floods triggered by monsoon rains have killed more than a dozen people, marooned millions and flooded millions of houses.
    In Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh along the Surma River, villagers waded through streets flooded up to their knees.    One man stood in the doorway of his flooded shop, where the top shelves were crammed with items in an effort to keep them above water. Local TV said millions remained without electricity.
    Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster and relief, said up to 100,000 people have been evacuated in the worst-hit districts, including Sylhet.    About 4 million are marooned, the United News of Bangladesh said.
    Flooding also ravaged India’s northeastern Assam state, where two policemen involved in rescue operations were washed away by floodwaters on Sunday, state officials said.    They said about 200,000 people were taking shelter in 700 relief camps.    Water in all major rivers in the state was above danger levels.
    Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Monday his administration is using military helicopters to airlift food and fuel to badly affected parts of the state.
    Assam has already been reeling from massive floods after torrential rains over the past few weeks caused the Brahmaputra River to break its banks, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links.
    The Brahmaputra flows from Tibet through India and into Bangladesh, with a nearly 500-mile journey through Assam.
    Major roads in affected regions of Bangladesh were submerged, leaving people stranded.
    “There isn’t much to say about the situation.    You can see the water with your own eyes.    The water level inside the room has dropped a bit.    It used to be up to my waist,” said Muhit Ahmed, owner of a grocery shop in Sylhet.
    Bangladesh called in soldiers on Friday to help evacuate people, but Ahmed said he hasn’t seen any yet.
    “We are in a great disaster.    Neither the Sylhet City Corporation nor anyone else came here to inquire about us,” he said.    “I am trying to save my belongings as much as I can.    We don’t have the ability to do any more now.”
    Officials said floodwaters have started receding in the northeast but are posing a threat to the central region, where water flows south to the Bay of Bengal.
    Media reports said villagers in remote areas are struggling to obtain drinking water and food.
    BRAC, a private nonprofit group, opened a center Monday to prepare food as part of plans to feed 5,000 families in one district, but the arrangements were inadequate, senior director Arinjoy Dhar said.    In a video posted online, Dhar asked for help in providing food for flood-affected people.

6/21/2022 Australian Prime Minister Refuses To Demand US Drop Prosecution Of WikiLeaks Founder Assange by OAN NEWSROOM
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gestures during a press conference in Sydney, Australia,
Friday, June 10, 2022. Prime Minister Albanese on Monday rejected calls for him to publicly demand the United States
drop its prosecution of WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
    Australian Prime Minister Michael Albanese declined to call on the US to cease it’s prosecution of WikiLeaks founder and Australian citizen Julian Assange.    While speaking to reporters on Monday, the prime minister appeared to rule out intervening in Assange’s case amid the British government’s approval of his extradition to the US.
    Albanese told reporters he intends to lead a government that engages diplomatically and appropriately with other nations, but refused to say if he’s reached out to President Joe Biden about the matter.    The prime minister’s remarks come as former Foreign Minister Bobb Carr continues to urge the government to demand Assange’s release.
    “If the Australian public see an Australian being persecuted in this fashion, if they see footage of Assange in chains being taken out on the tarmac of an airport in the U.K. to be put on a CIA aircraft and taken to the U.S. for trial and a long trial, a drawn-out trial and one that’s going to be allegedly stacked against him, and then imprisonment in a very harsh U.S. federal penitentiary, there will be a big public reaction in Australia,” Carr asserted.
    Assange plans to appeal the British government’s extradition decision.    The detained journalist’s wife highlighted the serious implications for those working in media. She pointed to human rights and stated, “We are not at the end of the road, we will fight until justice is served.”

6/21/2022 South Korea launches new rocket, opening ‘new era’ by ABC
    South Korea successfully launched and put its homegrown space rocket into orbit Tuesday, becoming the seventh nation capable of launching practical satellites using a self-developed propulsion system.
On Location: June 20, 2022
    “The Nuri rocket launch was a success,” Lee Sang-ryul, director of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute told the press after the launch.    “After the launch, Nuri’s flight process proceeded according to the planned flight sequence.”
    KARI set off its 200-ton homegrown space rocket from the Naro Space Center in the Southern coastal village of Goheung.    The launch was delayed from the original test date last Thursday due to weather conditions and a technical glitch.
© Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP The Nuri rocket, the first domestically produced space rocket,
lifts off from a launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    Loaded with a 162.5-kilogram (358-pound) performance-verification satellite -- as well as four cube satellites for academic research and a 1.3-ton dummy satellite -- Nuri reached its target orbit of 700 kilometers (435 miles) above the Earth.    All three stages of its engine were combusted according to plan, separating the mounted satellites at the arranged moment.
    With Tuesday's launch, South Korea joined the U.S., Russia, France, China, Japan and India in its self-developed propulsion capabilities, according to officials.
    “The launch opens up a new era for South Korea’s space program and science technology,” Aerospace Engineering professor Cho Donghyun of Pusan National University told ABC News.
© Lee Jin-man/AP People watch a TV screen showing a news program about
the country's rocket launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    The Nuri Development Project, also known as the Korean Launch Vehicle project, commenced in 2010.    The completion of its three-stage launch vehicle system technology enabled the team to test-fire South Korea’s first homemade rocket last October.
    Back then, the rocket made it to the target altitude of 700 kilometers but failed to put a dummy satellite into orbit, making the launch a half-success. The rocket launched on Tuesday stably settled the performance-verification satellite into orbit.
© Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP The Nuri rocket, South Korea's first domestically built space rocket,
lifts off from a launch pad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung, South Korea, June 21, 2022.
    “The Nuri spacecraft is fired up by not just one engine but a clustering of four 75-ton grade liquid engines.    This gives potential to build larger projectiles with more engines in the future,” Cho said.
    A latecomer in the aerospace industry, South Korea’s rocket-launch journey began in 2013 when it blasted its first carrier rocket, Naro-1, to achieve orbit.    The aircraft was a collaborative project with Russia’s Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center and KARI.
    In the 12 years since that collaboration, South Korea developed its very own space rocket.    South Korea invested $616 million on space research in 2021, according to South Korea's Ministry of Science and ICT, a figure considerably less than the $48 billion the U.S. spent in the same period.
© Korea Pool/Yonhap via Reuters South Korea's domestically produced Nuri space rocket
is on its launchpad at the Naro Space Center in Goheung County, South Korea, June 21, 2021.
    “We have set the stage for us to travel to space whenever we’d like, without having to rent a launchpad or a projectile from another country,” Minister of Science and ICT Lee Jong Ho said.    “The South Korean government plans to enhance the technical reliability of the Nuri rocket through four additional launches until 2027.”     ABC News' Eunseo Nam contributed to this report.

6/22/2022 Iran’s Raisi pushes regional diplomacy as nuclear tensions rise by Maziar Motamedi – Al Jazeera
    Tehran, Iran – The administration of President Ebrahim Raisi in Iran is continuing its push for regional diplomacy as tensions with the West over its nuclear programme continue to build up.
© Provided by Al Jazeera Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi came to power in August 2021 with the promise
of 'extending a hand of friendship and brotherhood' to other nations in the region [File: Reuters]
    The conservative president came to power in August 2021 with the promise of “extending a hand of friendship and brotherhood” to other nations, with a special focus on the region.
    His officials continue to advocate for a “balanced” foreign policy approach that does not neglect any opportunity to improve relations – with the exception of Israel – but his administration has so far been mostly only successful in strengthening ties with only the east.
    Tehran has seen a flurry of diplomatic activity in the past year, and Raisi has dedicated all his foreign travels as president to allies and potential friends in the east – with an emphasis on boosting economic cooperation.
    The Iranian capital hosted three presidents in June alone.
    Last week, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, president of Kazakhstan, met Raisi and led a high-level delegation that signed several cooperation agreements.
    The 40-year-old new president of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, also led a top-tier political and economic delegation during his state visit last week at the invitation of Raisi.    The two sides signed eight agreements on political, economic and cultural cooperation, according to the Iranian president’s office.
    Raisi has called for moving towards signing decades-long cooperation accords with both nations.
    Iran’s only major ally in South America, President Nicolas Maduro of fellow United States-sanctioned Venezuela, was also in Tehran earlier this month to sign a 20-year cooperation plan, echo a message of fighting imperialism, and discuss furthering relations in trade, energy, tourism, and technology.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad renewed his support for Iran’s regional stances, especially on Palestine, as he made a surprise visit in May, his second since the war in Syria war began more than a decade ago.
    Moreover, Raisi has capitalised on an opportunity to boost ties with Qatar, which has grown significantly closer to Iran as the latter backed it during a years-long blockade by a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.    Raisi signed 14 agreements during a trip to Doha in February, and the Qatari emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, travelled to Tehran weeks later as the two also explore cooperation during the upcoming football World Cup tournament.
    All those leaders were also granted an audience with the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicating the country’s seriousness in trying to deepen ties.
    Iran and Oman also pledged to strengthen relations and signed 12 agreements in May, when Raisi made the first state visit by an Iranian president to Muscat since the 2020 passing of Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
    Next in line, Iran has Turkey in its sights, as a visit by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in discussion since last year.    It has yet to work out, however, among other things because of Turkey’s relations with Israel.
    But Iran’s biggest pivot has been towards China, the largest purchaser of its oil under US sanctions, and Russia, which may be perceived as more eager to expand ties especially after facing Western sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.
    Iran said in January that its 20-year cooperation accord with China has entered the implementation stage, while Raisi offered Iran’s proposals for renewing a 20-year agreement to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a visit to the Kremlin the same month.
‘The economic aspect’
    The word “region” has always been important in Iran’s foreign policy approach, but Raisi has introduced a major focus on “geoeconomics” to it, according to Mohsen Shariatinia, assistant professor of international relations at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University.
    “The Raisi administration pursues two goals,” he told Al Jazeera.    “To maintain Iran’s position in the fragile balance of power in the region, and to intertwine Iran’s economy with those of its surrounding environment.    The economic aspect is relatively new.”
    Shariatinia pointed out there cannot be much “balance” in Iran’s foreign policy approach at the moment as power centres in Tehran are increasingly of the belief that Washington lacks the will to lift its harsh sanctions.
    Just last week, the US introduced new sanctions aimed at hurting a network of Iranian petrochemical producers.
    This is while talks aimed at restoring Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which began in April 2021, continue to be stalled as Tehran and Washington have failed to find a way to an agreement.
    Both sides continue to maintain the other needs to make a concession in order to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the accord the US unilaterally abandoned in 2018, embarking on a “maximum pressure” campaign still in effect today.
    On the other hand, the US and its European allies introduced a censure at the latest board meeting of the global nuclear watchdog earlier this month to condemn Iran’s nuclear advances.    Iran responded by restricting nuclear inspections and installing new centrifuges, further complicating a return to the original accord.
‘Alternatives for the West’
    Since the prospects of restoring the nuclear deal remain gloomy, finding alternatives to the West is still the main driver behind Iran’s recent regional push, according to Hamidreza Azizi, a CATS fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.
    But at the same time, he said if Iran enjoyed better relations with the West, closer ties with most countries in the region would come automatically as a result, without extra effort from the Iranian side.
    “The reason is that most of Iran’s neighbours, especially Arab states of the Persian Gulf, prioritise their relations with the United States over cooperation with Iran,” Azizi told Al Jazeera.
    The case may be somewhat different for Central Asian countries, some of whose leaders have recently visited Tehran, as they traditionally enjoy closer ties with Moscow, according to Azizi.
    “But still, they have also never wanted to be caught in the crossfire of a confrontation between Iran and the West; hence they are always cautious when it comes to any actual cooperation with Iran – beyond political agreements and statements.”
    Moreover, he said, Central Asian states cannot finance big projects with Iran while most others are often unwilling to take up that role for fear of US sanctions.    And some Arab neighbours may be unwilling to enter into meaningful economic cooperation amid lingering tensions with the West.
    “As such, the best Iran can get out of the recent high-ranking visits is some room for political manoeuvring, in terms of signalling to the world that US pressure cannot isolate Iran on the international stage and Tehran has other options to develop friendly relationships.”
    Shariatinia, the Tehran-based university professor, said if the nuclear deal is not restored and tensions grow even higher, Raisi’s recent agreements and efforts to strengthen ties across the region will be affected.
    “But it depends on the agreements, their subjects and who’s signed them,” he said.    “For instance, it likely won’t have an impact on Iran’s relations with Russia, but relations with countries like the UAE could be clearly impacted.”

6/22/2022 At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model by Liam Gibson – Al Jazeera
    China will host the 14th BRICS Summit on Thursday in what analysts see as a chance for Beijing to promote its governance and development model at a time of global instability.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping will join with the leaders of Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa via video link to discuss issues of mutual concern as part of the summit themed around ushering in a “new era” for global development.
    Ahead of the summit in Beijing, Chinese state media have praised the BRICS – an acronym for the five emerging economies that together account for about one-quarter of the global economy – for boosting “multilateral cooperation with non-Western styles, forms and principles,” and stressed the importance of the bloc at a time when “the US (is) pulling its Western allies to ‘rebel’ against globalisation.”
    In May, Xi called on the group to “reject Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all.”
    Despite their substantial differences, the leaders of the five countries maintain a certain distance from the United States-led liberal order.
    None of the leaders of Brazil, China, India, or South Africa openly condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for his country’s invasion of Ukraine earlier in the year.
    Set against a complex geopolitical backdrop that includes war in Europe and growing economic decoupling between China and the US, the 2022 summit provides Beijing with a timely platform to promote its vision for how international relations should be conducted, according to analysts.
    “BRICS is a kind of diplomatic counteroffensive by China to both the revival of NATO and the increase in Indo-Pacific mechanisms that are designed to keep its power in check,” Huang Yanzhong, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera.
    “Beijing is feeling increasingly isolated right now, as tensions with the US and its allies continue as a result of its tacit support for Russia’s invasion.”
    Phar Kim Beng, former director of the Political-Security Community at ASEAN’s secretariat in Jakarta, said Beijing would use the summit to “highlight and criticise the ubiquitous nature of American sanctions that are imposed on thousands of individuals and entities around the world.”
    “This is particularly relevant at a forum focused on the Global South,” Phar Kim Beng told Al Jazeera.    “Through BRICS, China continues to draw on its legacy of ‘always siding with the third world,’ as Deng Xiaoping famously said.    So, I expect they’ll use this as another chance to critique American economic sanctions and to try to say ‘stop it’.”
© Provided by Al Jazeera Chinese President Xi Jinping has called on emerging economies to ‘reject Cold War mentality
and bloc confrontation, and work together to build a global community of security for all’ [File: Greg Baker/AFP]
    Other than criticising the US, China is also expected to highlight its own role in the global economy.
    This year’s agenda covers a range of topics, but particular emphasis will be given to renewing multilateralism for global economic recovery, deepening coordination on climate action, and strengthening coordination on pandemics and public health.
    “In terms of the issue area that’s most important for Beijing right now, I think it is about global economic recovery, and keeping markets open,” Stephen Nagy, an Indo-Pacific specialist and senior fellow at the MacDonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa, Canada, told Al Jazeera.
    “China’s economy depends on international trade for its prosperity.    What we’re seeing is states consciously diversify their supply chains away from China and form new standards-setting agreements such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or proactively create coalitions that are trading with each other to ensure safe and reliable flows of energy-critical material, minerals, as well as rare earth materials,” Nagy said, referring to US President Joe Biden’s signature economic initiative unveiled last month in Tokyo.
    “Beijing wants to stop this and I think any kind of momentum toward reversing China’s isolation from the global economy is a net plus from their point of view,” Nagy added.
    Huang said he expects economic recovery to be the top issue, with public health coming a close second.
    “China is being left out of some of the Biden administration’s initiatives on pandemic readiness, so I think vaccine diplomacy will also be key since other BRICS countries like Russia and India have strong vaccine development capacity,” he said.
BRICS expansion
    China proposed expanding the BRICS grouping during a meeting of the bloc’s foreign ministers in May.    Though the suggestion was welcomed by other member countries, there have been no official announcements of who the new members might be.
    “We can get a sense of which countries might be invited by looking at their position on Ukraine and their voting behaviour regarding the conflict at the United Nations,” Huang said.    “Those developing countries who abstained or supported Russia may be recruited to join.”
    Yet China may have its work cut out for it to make BRICS an attractive option as rivals compete with it for influence over emerging economies, according to some analysts.
    “Much of what China is promoting through BRICS is attractive to emerging countries, but the challenge for Beijing is there is a growing number of alternatives for them … whether it is the free and open Indo-Pacific Vision with emphasis on infrastructure connectivity, standard setting, healthy infrastructure, tools for good governance, or alternative financing, as well as Japan-led and EU-led infrastructure connectivity projects,” Nagy said.
    “There are a lot of different projects and initiatives that can allow emerging countries to drive development and make them less reliant on the Chinese,” he added.
    “This competition could push China to be more transparent and more rules-based about its agreements along the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] and through the ADB [Asian Development Bank], which I think will be important in diluting their geopolitical influence from the outside.”

6/24/2022 N Korea talks hint at nuke deployment – S Korea suggests it would be target along border by Hyung-Jin Kim, ASSOCIATED PRESS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a meeting Wednesday of the Central Military Commission
of the Workers’ Party in Pyongyang. Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP
    SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea discussed assigning additional duties to its frontline army units at a key military meeting, state media said Thursday, a suggestion the country may want to deploy battlefield nuclear weapons targeting South Korea along the rivals’ tense border.
    The discussion comes as South Korea officials said North Korea has finished preparation for its first nuclear test in five years as part of its possible efforts to build a warhead to be mounted on short-range weapons capable of hitting targets in South Korea.
    During an ongoing meeting of the Central Military Commission of the ruling Workers’ Party on Wednesday, leader Kim Jong Un and other top military officers discussed 'the work of additionally confirming the operation duties of the frontline units of the Korean People’s Army and modifying the operation plans,' according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
    Kim also ordered steps to be taken to 'enhance the operational capabilities of the frontline units,' KCNA said.    A KCNA photo showed what appeared to be a big map of the Korean Peninsula’s eastern coast including border sites standing near the conference table.
    'I can assess the issue of forward-deploying tactical nuclear weapons were discussed at the meeting in an in-depth manner,' said Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute.
    In April, when North Korea test-fired a new type of tactical guided weapon,' it said the weapon has 'great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the front-line long-range artillery units, enhancing the efficiency in the operation of (North Korea’s) tactical nukes and diversification of their firepower missions.'
    Its use of the words 'tactical nukes' suggested the weapon is likely a short-range weapons system armed with a nuclear warhead.    Some experts said at the time that North Korea intended to deploy such weapons threatening key facilitates in South Korea, including U.S. military bases there.
    Later in April, Kim said North Korea could preemptively use its nuclear weapons if threatened, saying his nukes would 'never be confined to the single mission of war deterrent' in situations where the North faces external threats to its 'fundamental interests.'    The possibility of North Korea having an escalatory nuclear doctrine could pose greater concern for South Korea, Japan and the United States.
    Kim convened the Central Military Commission meeting earlier this week to confirm 'crucial and urgent tasks' to expand military capabilities and implement key defense policies, state media said.
    Cheong, the analyst, said North Korea is expected to perform its seventh nuclear test after the meeting, saying that its third nuclear test in 2013 also came days after another Central Military Commission meeting.
    Before this week’s meeting, Kim had convened a meeting of the Central Military Commission 16 times since he took power in late 2011 but this is the first lasting more than two days, Cheong said.
    Wednesday was the second-day session, and KCNA said discussions were continuing on the agenda, indicating the meeting would continue on Thursday.
    Earlier this year, North Korea test-launched a spate of missiles with potential ranges placing both the U.S. mainland and its Asian allies like South Korea and Japan within striking distances.    North Korea has intercontinental ballistic missiles potentially capable of reaching the United States, but experts say the country still needs to master reentry capability and other technologies to make them functioning weapons.
    Some experts say the North’s weapons launches were meant to modernize its weapons systems and boost its leverage in future negotiations with the United States to win sanctions relief and other concessions.
    South Korean and U.S. officials have warned North Korea to face consequences if it goes ahead with a nuclear test.    But the divisions between permanent members of the U.N. Security Council make the prospects for fresh punitive international sanctions on North Korea unclear.
    Russia and China this year vetoed U.S.-sponsored resolutions that would have increased sanctions, insisting Washington should focus on reviving dialogue.

6/25/2022 China's Xi to visit Hong Kong for handover anniversary by JOE McDONALD, Associated Press
    BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leader Xi Jinping will visit Hong Kong to celebrate next week's 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China following a crackdown on a pro-democracy movement that has inflamed tension with Washington and Europe.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, and Hong Kong's new Chief Executive
Carrie Lam attend the ceremony of administering the oath for a five-year term in office at the Hong Kong Convention
and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017. Xi will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 25th
anniversary of the former British colony's 1997 return to China, a state news agency said Saturday, June 25, 2022,
in his first trip outside the mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
    Xi will attend an anniversary gathering and the first meeting of the new government of Chief Executive John Lee, the official Xinhua News Agency announced Saturday.    It gave no indication how long Xi, who is president and general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, might stay or other details.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping inspects the People's Liberation Army soldiers
at a camp in Hong Kong on June 30, 2017. Xi will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the
former British colony's 1997 return to China, a state news agency said Saturday, June 25, 2022, in his first trip
outside the mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
    Xi has avoided trips outside the Chinese mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago.    His decision to go to Hong Kong, which struggled to contain a surge in infections this year, reflects the anniversary's importance to Xi, who wants to be seen as leading a “national rejuvenation” amid a military buildup and more assertive Chinese policy abroad.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, administers the oath to Hong Kong's
new Chief Executive Carrie Lam's new cabinet in office at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center in
Hong Kong on July 1, 2017. Xi will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the
former British colony's 1997 return to China, a state news agency said Saturday, June 25, 2022, in his first trip
outside the mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
    The anniversary follows a crackdown led in part by Lee, a former Hong Kong security chief, to crush pro-democracy sentiment.    Activists have been sentenced to prison, scores of others arrested and Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy newspaper shut down.
    The tighter controls under a national security law imposed in 2020 have prompted some people to leave for Taiwan, Britain and other countries.
    That has prompted warnings the ruling party is ruining Hong Kong’s status as a global business and financial center.
    Hong Kong, one of Asia's richest cities and a global business center with thriving film, publishing and other creative industries, returned to China on July 1, 1997 under an agreement that promised a “high degree of autonomy.” for 50 years.
© Provided by Associated Press FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, looks at Hong Kong's new
Chief Executive Carrie Lam after administering the oath for a five-year term in office at the Hong Kong Convention
and Exhibition Center in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017. Xi will visit Hong Kong this week to celebrate the 25th anniversary
of the former British colony's 1997 return to China, a state news agency said Saturday, June 25, 2022, in his first
trip outside the mainland since the start of the coronavirus pandemic 2 1/2 years ago. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
    Activists and foreign governments say Beijing has reneged on that commitment.    The United States suspended agreements that treated Hong Kong as a separate territory for trade, saying the city no longer had enough autonomy from control by Beijing.
    Two years later, the neighboring Portuguese territory of Macao returned to China in 1999, allowing the ruling party to say it had ended foreign colonialism.
    Since the Hong Kong handover, ordinary people in the territory have struggled with soaring living costs that inflamed political tension.
    Beijing imposed the National Security Law in 2020 following protests that erupted over a proposed extradition law and spread to include demands for more democracy.    The territory has banned commemorations of the ruling party's violent 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.
    Those sentenced to prison include Jimmy Lai, former publisher of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, and Hong Kong's 90-year-old former Roman Catholic bishop, Joseph Zen.
    The crackdown adds to tension between Beijing and the United States, Europe, Japan and other Asian governments over human rights, Taiwan and conflicts with its neighbors over Chinese territorial claims in the South China and East China seas.
    Hong Kong’s final British colonial governor, Chris Patten, expressed heartbreak this month over the crackdown.
    “I thought there was a prospect that (China) would keep its word, and I’m sorry that it hasn’t,” Patten told The Associated Press on June 20 in London.    “I just find it intensely difficult.    I do believe that Hong Kong is a great city, I hope it will be a great city again.”
[DO YOU GET THE IMAGE THAT HONG KONG IS SO CIVILIZED UNDER CHINA CONTROL TO LET TAIWAN TO SEE WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE IF CHINA TAKES THEM OVER BUT WE DO NOT GET TO SEE WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING WITH NO ONE AIRING THEIR OPINION ANYMORE ON THE STREETS OR THEY HAVE ALL BEEN PUT INTO CONCENTRATION CAMPS SO TAIWAN KNOWS WHAT CAN HAPPEN.].

6/26/2022 Destruction everywhere, help scarce after Afghanistan quake by EBRAHIM NOROOZI and RAHIM FAIEZ, Associated Press
    GAYAN, Afghanistan (AP) — When the ground heaved from last week’s earthquake in Afghanistan, Nahim Gul’s stone-and-mud house collapsed on top of him.
© Provided by Associated Press Afghan girl carries a donated matrace after an earthquake in Gayan village,
in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday, June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged,
mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    He clawed through the rubble in the pre-dawn darkness, choking on dust as he searched for his father and two sisters. He doesn't know how many hours of digging passed before he caught a glimpse of their bodies under the ruins.    They were dead.
    Now, days after a 6 magnitude quake that devastated a remote region of southeast Afghanistan and killed at least 1,150 people and injured hundreds more, Gul sees destruction everywhere and help in short supply. His niece and nephew were also killed in the quake, crushed by the walls of their house.
© Provided by Associated Press Afghan man carries his child amid destruction after an earthquake
in Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck
a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    “I don’t know what will happen to us or how we should restart our lives,” Gul told The Associated Press on Sunday, his hands bruised and his shoulder injured.    “We don’t have any money to rebuild.”
    It’s a fear shared among thousands in the impoverished villages where the fury of the quake has fallen most heavily — in Paktika and Khost provinces, along the jagged mountains that straddle the country’s border with Pakistan.
© Provided by Associated Press Afghan child stands in front of a makeshift shelter after an earthquake
in Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged,
mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    Those who were barely scraping by have lost everything.    Many have yet to be visited by aid groups, which are struggling to reach the afflicted area on rutted roads — some made impassable by landslides and damage.     Aware of its constraints, the cash-strapped Taliban have called for foreign assistance.    The United Nations and an array of international aid groups and countries have mobilized to send help.
    China pledged Saturday to send nearly $7.5 million in emergency humanitarian aid, joining nations including Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in dispatching a planeload of tents, towels, beds and other badly needed supplies to the quake-hit area.
    U.N. Deputy Special Representative Ramiz Alakbarov toured the affected Paktika province on Saturday to assess the damage and distribute food, medicine and tents.    U.N. helicopters and trucks laden with bread, flour, rice and blankets have trickled into the stricken areas.
© Provided by Associated Press Afghan woman cleans up after an earthquake in Gayan village,
in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged,
mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    But the relief effort remains patchy due to funding and access constraints.    The Taliban, which seized power last August from a government sustained for 20 years by a U.S.-led military coalition, appears overwhelmed by the logistical complexities of issues like debris removal in what is shaping up to be a major test of its capacity to govern.
© Provided by Associated Press Afghan children sit among their salvaged belongings after an earthquake
in Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a rugged,
mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    Villagers have dug out their dead loved ones with their bare hands, buried them in mass graves and slept in the woods despite the rain.    Nearly 800 families are living out in the open, according to the U.N.’s humanitarian coordination organization OCHA.
Earthquake kills more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan
    Gul received a tent and blankets from a local charity in the Gayan district, but he and his surviving relatives have had to fend for themselves.    Terrified as the earth still rumbles from aftershocks like one on Friday that claimed five more lives, he said his children in Gayan refuse to go indoors.
© Provided by Associated Press A man walks out of his damaged house after an earthquake in
Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday, June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck
a rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in
the country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    The earthquake was the latest calamity to convulse Afghanistan, which has been reeling from a dire economic crisis since the Taliban took control of the country as the U.S. and its NATO allies were withdrawing their forces.    Foreign aid — a mainstay of Afghanistan's economy for decades — stopped practically overnight.
© Provided by Associated Press A humanitarian aid is lined up for distribution after an earthquake
in Gayan village, in Paktika province, Afghanistan, Friday June 24, 2022. A powerful earthquake struck a
rugged, mountainous region of eastern Afghanistan early Wednesday, flattening stone and mud-brick homes in the
country's deadliest quake in two decades, the state-run news agency reported. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Nooroozi)
    World governments piled on sanctions, halted bank transfers and paralyzed trade, refusing to recognize the Taliban government and demanding they allow a more inclusive rule and respect human rights.    The Biden administration cut off the Taliban's access to $7 billion in foreign currency reserves held in the United States.
    The former insurgents have resisted the pressure, imposing restrictions on the freedoms of women and girls that recall their first time in power in the late 1990s.
    Now, around half the country’s 39 million people are facing life-threatening levels of food insecurity because of poverty.    Most civil servants, including doctors, nurses and teachers, have not been paid for months.
    U.N. agencies and other remaining organizations have scrambled to keep Afghanistan from the brink of starvation with a humanitarian program that has fed millions and kept the medical system afloat.    But with international donors lagging, U.N. agencies face a $3 billion funding shortfall this year.
    Reeling from war and impoverished long before the Taliban takeover, the far-flung areas hit by last Wednesday’s earthquake are particularly ill-equipped to cope.
    Some local businessmen have swung into action.    The Afghanistan Chamber of Commerce and Investment said on Sunday it had raised over $1.5 million for Pakitka and Khost provinces.
    Still, for those whose homes have been obliterated, the help may not be enough.
    “We have nothing left,” Gul said.
___
    Faiez reported from Islamabad.    Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

6/26/2022 Iran and EU say Vienna nuke talks will resume by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEHRAN, Iran – The European Union and Iran agreed on Saturday to resume negotiations in Vienna in the coming days over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
    The agreement could help relieve tensions after the talks stalled for months, while Iran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels under decreasing international oversight.
    At a joint press conference with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell, said the negotiations would restart soon.
    “The coming days means the coming days, I mean quickly, immediately,” Borell said, adding that the United States, which unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, should also return to the negotiations.
    “Negotiations must resume, and this is a decision that must be made in Tehran and Washington,” he said.
    Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused a “tectonic change” in geopolitics, making it more urgent than ever to reach an agreement that would allow Iran to sell its oil to world markets.
    Amirabdollahian said his country is ready to resume talks: “We’ll try to resolve the issues and differences… what is important for the Islamic Republic of Iran is economically benefiting from the agreement reached in 2015 in full.”
    Earlier this month, Iran removed 27 surveillance cameras of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency in what its director warned could deal a “fatal blow” to the nuclear accord.

6/27/2022 Iran launches rocket as talks to resume by Nasser Karimi and Isabel Debre, ASSOCIATED PRESS
An Iranian state TV on Sunday aired the launch of the solid-fueled rocket,
which drew a rebuke from Washington. IRINN VIA AP
    TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian state television said Sunday that Tehran had launched a solid-fueled rocket into space, drawing a rebuke from Washington ahead of the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
    It’s unclear when or where the rocket was launched, but the announcement came after satellite photos showed preparations at Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s rural Semnan province, the site of Iran’s frequent failed attempts to put a satellite into orbit.
    State-run media aired dramatic footage of the blastoff against the backdrop of heightened tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, which is racing ahead under decreasing international oversight.
    Iran had previously acknowledged that it planned more tests for the satellite-carrying rocket, which it first launched in February of last year.
    Ahmad Hosseini, spokesman for Iran’s Defense Ministry, said Zuljanah, a 25.5 meter-long rocket, was capable of carrying a satellite of 485 pounds that would gather data in low-earth orbit and promote Iran’s space industry.    Zuljanah is named for the horse of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad.
    The White House said it was aware of Iran’s announcement and criticized the move as “unhelpful and destabilizing.”    It said it was committed to using sanctions and other measures to prevent further advances in Iran’s ballistic missile program.
    The launch comes just a day after the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, traveled to Tehran in a push to resuscitate negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program that have stalemated for months.    A few significant sticking points remain, including Tehran’s demand that Washington lift terrorism sanctions on its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.
    Borrell said on Saturday that talks over the nuclear deal would resume in an unnamed Persian Gulf country in the coming days, with Iranian media reporting that Qatar would likely host the negotiations.
    Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed crushing sanctions on Iran.    Tehran responded by greatly ramping up its nuclear work and now enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
    In a further escalation that limits the international community’s view into its nuclear program, Iran removed over two dozen International Atomic Energy Agency cameras from its nuclear sites this month.    The agency’s director called the move a “fatal blow” to the tattered nuclear deal.
    Tehran’s rocket launches have raised alarm in Washington amid the unraveling of the nuclear deal.    The U.S. warns the launches defy a United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Iran to steer clear of any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
    The U.S. intelligence community’s 2022 threat assessment, published in March, claims such a satellite launch vehicle “shortens the timeline” to an intercontinental ballistic missile for Iran as it uses “similar technologies.”
    Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, maintains its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component.
[EVERYONE FORGETS THAT TRUMP DID TO IRAN JUST LIKE RONALD REAGON DID TO RUSSIA AND BOTH WERE SUCCESSFUL IN SHUTING DOWN COUNTRIES WHO THINK THEY CAN ATTACK ANYONE SO NOW WE HAVE BIDEN WHO IS LETTING THEM DO WHATEVER THEY WANT TO WITHOUT ANY BACKLASH.]

6/27/2022 Iran Launches Rocket Amid Biden’s Push To Restore 2015 Deal by OAN NEWSROOM
In this frame grab from video footage released Sunday, June 26, 2022 by Iran state TV, IRINN, shows an
Iranian satellite-carrier rocket, called “Zuljanah,” blasting off from an undisclosed location in Iran.
State TV on Sunday aired the launch of the solid-fueled rocket, which drew a rebuke from Washington ahead of
the expected resumption of stalled talks over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. (IRINN via AP)
    Iran launched a space rocket with a satellite carrier amid the Biden administration’s efforts to restore the failed 2015 nuclear deal.    According to Iranian media Sunday, the solid-fuel rocket was successfully launched from a launch pad in the desert in an undisclosed part of the country.
    Earlier on Sunday, Iranian and European Union diplomats agreed to resume working on bringing back the 2015 nuclear deal.    EU officials appeared unfazed by advances in Iran’s missile program that security experts need to be part of the nuclear deal.
    “In the coming days, they will start again with close contacts between the US and the Iranians,” stated Josep Borrell, Chief of EU Diplomacy.    “That’s good news and let’s hope that this will bring the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) again on track.”
    Iranian officials have insisted the rocket launch does not violate a United Nations Security Council resolution, which bars the country from conducting activities involving ballistic missiles.    Despite this, the US believes it, in fact, does violate the agreement and the move could lead to the delivery of nuclear weapons.
    The US and Iran are expected to negotiate in the coming days with many expecting attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was abandoned under the Trump administration.    The 45th president called the deal “horrible” and “one-sided.”

6/28/2022 Sri Lanka seeks fuel from Russia by Bharatha Mallawarachi, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka is sending two government ministers to Russia to negotiate for fuel – one of the necessities nearly exhausted as a result of the Indian Ocean nation’s economic collapse.
    The plan comes as Washington and its allies aim to cut off energy imports from Russia in line with sanctions over its war against Ukraine.    Since its invasion in late February, global oil prices have skyrocketed, prompting a number of countries to seek out Russian crude, which is being offered at steep discounts.
    Power and Energy Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said the two ministers would leave for Russia on Monday to continue talks that Sri Lanka has been having with Russian authorities to directly purchase fuel, among other related issues.
    He urged people on Saturday not to line up for fuel, saying only small amounts will be distributed to limited numbers of stations through the coming week. He said until the next shipments arrive, “public transport, power generators and industries will be given a priority.”
    Residents have had to wait in line for hours and sometimes days to get fuel, sometimes resorting to burning charcoal or palm fronds for cooking.
    Wijesekera’s comments came as a U.S. delegation was visiting Sri Lanka, seeking ways to help the island nation cope with an unprecedented economic crisis and severe shortages of essential supplies.    President Gotabaya Rajapaksa held separate talks on Monday with diplomats from the United States and Russia.

6/29/2022 Hong Kong transforming again - Executives have left city over travel controls by Zen Soo and Joe McDonald, ASSOCIATED PRESS
A worker waters a decoration of flowers celebrating the 25th anniversary
of Hong Kong’s handover to China, in Hong Kong, Monday.
    HONG KONG – Every few generations, Hong Kong transforms itself, evolving from a swampy fishing village to 19th century colonial port, to capitalist outpost and factory after China’s 1949 revolution, to 21st century financial center.br>     As the former British colony marks the 25th anniversary of its return to China, reeling from pandemic curbs that devastated business and a crackdown on its pro-democracy movement, Hong Kong leaders say it is time to transform again.    They say the city should become a leader in technology that relies more on its ties with nearby Chinese factory cities than on global trade.
    Chief Executive-elect John Lee’s government is under pressure to generate new sources of economic growth, looking beyond COVID outbreaks and antivirus controls that have devastated tourism and business and uncertainty about the legal climate after a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement.
    In April, during his election campaign, Lee promised to “start a new chapter” for the city better known as one of Asia’s busiest ports and biggest stock markets and “strengthen its competitiveness” in technology and innovation as well as trade and finance.
    Lee gave no details but pointed to the Greater Bay Area, a Chinese government initiative to link Hong Kong with neighboring mainland cities including the technology and finance hub of Shenzhen and the manufacturing powerhouses of Dongguan and Foshan.
    “There are great opportunities in the Greater Bay Area that haven’t been realized yet,” said David Graham, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.    “It is a big opportunity for Hong Kong, and it will be very hard to replicate in other cities like Singapore or Dubai.”
    Adding to the urgency for Lee to roll out a long-term strategy, executives frustrated with Hong Kong’s travel controls are leaving the city, business groups say.    Some companies are moving for good to Singapore, Bangkok, Dubai or other business centers.
    “Hong Kong’s strength as a global connector has been greatly reduced,” said Joseph Armas, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.    Executives have left for cities where “travel is feasible.”
    Armas appealed to Lee for a “concrete roadmap” to revive Hong Kong, which remains, together with mainland China and Taiwan, one of the few places that still requires inbound travelers to serve mandatory quarantines.
    For Michael Chan, who manages a fashion goods manufacturing business, the restrictions have extended what used to be one-week trips to factories in Bangladesh or China to a month or two, since it makes no sense to spend weeks in quarantine for a short work trip.
    Chan has considered temporarily relocating to Singapore, whose controls are much less strict.
    “When I meet government officials, I often have to meet them face to face and talk about things,” said Chan, a veteran of multiple quarantines.    “It’s not like in the U.S. where I can just use Zoom for a video call.”
    Hong Kong lost nearly 90,000 of its 7.5 million population in 2021, according to government figures.    More than 100,000 people left in February and March of this year, during the city’s worst COVID wave.
    The angst over Hong Kong’s travel controls “presents an opportunity for others to dip into our talent pool,” said Sally Wong, CEO of the Hong Kong Investment Funds Association.
    Activists and foreign governments complain the ruling Communist Party is chipping away at the 50 years of autonomy Beijing promised after 1997.    The freedoms afforded to Hong Kong and its leeway for self-governance had helped it keep its status as a center for Asian headquarters of global companies even as rent and other costs soared to record levels and levels of inequality widened.
    Hong Kong still has a skilled workforce, an efficient port and a Western style legal system considered to be impartial and reliable.
    But its status as a global hub for trade and business center is waning.
    One in 20 companies surveyed by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong plan to move their global or regional headquarters out of Hong Kong, the chamber reported in January.    It said half were uncertain about whether to go.
    Some businesses are watching to see how law enforcement and the free flow of information and people that are crucial to commerce and finance might change.    Two out of five companies surveyed said they worry they will lose free internet access, vital for a trading center that relies on the flow of information.
    “There is a perception that foreign businesses are less welcome,” the report said.        “More than half our respondents feel the government is ‘unconcerned’ or ‘dismissive’ about business concerns.”
    Until now, Hong Kong has been largely free of the censorship on the mainland, where internet barriers known as the “Great Firewall” are used by the ruling party to block China’s public from seeing foreign websites run by news outfits, governments and human rights activists.    But the territory’s leading prodemocracy newspaper, Apple Daily, was shut down during the crackdown and its publisher, Jimmy Lai, sentenced to prison.
    Kurt Tong, a former U.S. consul general in Hong Kong who is managing partner of The Asia Group, a consulting firm, said that so far the city’s national security law, though used to stifle dissent, has not had much impact on business and finance.
    But the effect of the law and Beijing’s overhaul of the territory’s political system bear watching, he said.
    “People who care about the Hong Kong financial system need to think about that,” Tong said.
    Hong Kong thrived as the trade gateway to China for decades, but it was eclipsed as the world’s busiest container port in 2000 by facilities in the Chinese mainland.    Two decades later, with cargo volume barely 10% above its 2000 level, Hong Kong’s port ranks 8th in the world.    Shanghai, Shenzhen and three other Chinese ports are bigger.
    Hong Kong’s stock market, once Asia’s biggest outside Japan, also has grown steadily but has slipped behind regional rivals.
    Companies traded in Hong Kong have a total market value of $5.4 trillion, compared with $8.2 trillion for the Shanghai Stock Exchange.    Companies on China’s second exchange in Shenzhen are worth $6.2 trillion, according to the World Federation of Exchanges.
    The city is meanwhile nurturing its role as a center for innovation, setting up research centers that have helped incubate dozens of start-up companies.
    A vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Rocky S. Tuan, pointed to medical and biotechnology research as one of the city’s less well-known strengths.    Writing in the newspaper South China Morning Post, he said “Hong Kong offers access to capital, expertise, global regulatory recognition of its clinical trial data and a network of world-class universities.”
Hong Kong still has a skilled workforce, an efficient port and a Western-style
legal system considered to be impartial and reliable. PHOTOS BY KIN CHEUNG/AP

6/30/2022 New Zealand designates Proud Boys a terrorist organization by NICK PERRY, Associated Press
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand's government has declared that American far-right groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations.
© Provided by Associated Press New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins during his press conference at
Parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, June 30, 2022. New Zealand's government has declared that American far-right
groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)
    The two groups join 18 others including Islamic State that have been given an official terrorist designation, making it illegal in New Zealand to fund, recruit or participate in the groups, and obligating authorities to take action against them.
    The U.S. groups are not known to be active in New Zealand, although the South Pacific nation has become more attuned to threats from the far right after a white supremacist shot and killed 51 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques in 2019.
    The New Zealand massacre inspired other white supremacists around the world, including a white gunman who killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
    In the U.S., the State Department only lists foreign groups as terrorist entities.    But the Proud Boys were last year named a terrorist group in Canada, while The Base has previously been declared a terrorist group in Britain, Canada and Australia.
    In a 29-page explanation of the Proud Boys designation published Thursday, New Zealand authorities said the group's involvement in the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 amounted to an act of terrorism.
    The statement said that while several militia groups were involved, it was the Proud Boys who incited crowds, coordinated attacks on law enforcement officers and led other rioters to where they could break into the building.
    The statement said there are unlinked but ideologically affiliated chapters of the Proud Boys operating in Canada and Australia.
    New Zealand authorities argued that before the Capitol attack, the Proud Boys had a history of using street rallies and social media to intimidate opponents and recruit young men through demonstrations of violence.    It said the group had put up various smoke screens to hide its extremism.
    Earlier this month, the former leader of the Proud Boys, Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, and four others linked to the group were charged in the U.S. with seditious conspiracy for what federal prosecutors say was a coordinated attack on the Capitol.
    The indictment alleges that the Proud Boys conspired to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power.    The five are scheduled to stand trial in August in Washington, D.C.’s federal court.
    Asked by media Thursday in New Zealand if the Proud Boys weren't better known for protest actions rather than extreme violence, New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins said: “Well, violent protests attempting to overthrow the government, clearly there is evidence of that.”
© Provided by Associated Press New Zealand Police Minister Chris Hipkins during his press conference at
Parliament, Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, June 30, 2022.New Zealand's government has declared that American far-right
groups the Proud Boys and The Base are terrorist organizations. (Mark Mitchell/New Zealand Herald via AP)
    In making its case against The Base, New Zealand authorities said a key goal of the group was to “train a cadre of extremists capable of accelerationist violence.”
    The statement said founder Rinaldo Nazzaro “has repetitively counselled members online about violence, the acquisition of weapons, and actions to accelerate the collapse of the U.S. government and survive the consequent period of chaos and violence."


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