From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2018"

    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.

KING OF THE EAST

  • WTO REGION 3 IN 1995 APEC (18 nation originally in 1989) 15 S. Pacific Forum: AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, CHINA, SOUTH KOREA, NORTH KOREA, INDONESIA (note OPEC), MONGOLIA.
    • Today the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is an inter-governmental forum for 21 Pacific Rim member economies that promotes free trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region, which are the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, China-Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan; Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, The Philippines, Russia, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipe, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

  • WTO REGION 7 IN 1995 ASEAN (9 nation) SE ASIA: THAILAND, BANGLADESH, CAMBODIA, INDIA, LAOS, VIETNAM, BURMA, NEPAL, PAKISTAN, AFGHANISTAN, IRAN, IRAQ.
    • Today the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional intergovernmental organization comprising ten Southeast Asian countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.
    • Other sources state the 10 nations as Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. 1 Observer – Papua New Guinea.
    • Asia is a much larger continent which includes places like India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Tibet, Nepal and most of Russia.

  • WTO REGION 8 IN 1995 Orient: JAPAN.
    • The Orient is the eastern part of Asia and includes countries and regions like Japan, China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

  • This union was formed before 2010 called BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa] with Afghanistan, Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico and Turkey, as well as Egypt, Iran, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Bangladesh and Greece have considered joining it as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [created in June 2001, members Pakistan, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajkistan, Kyrgystan, India].
  • In 2018 China is negotiating on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), showcased to be a free trade deal that will encompass more than a third of the world’s GDP, includes 16 countries, including ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but not the United States.
  • In 2018, November 25th, negotiations developed on the Comprehensive Indonesia-European Free Trade Association Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IE-CEPA) between Indonesia and EFTA members – Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland.

2018

1/6/2018 Hard-line cleric says unrest in Iran was fueled by social media
    A hard-line cleric leading Friday prayers in Iran’s capital blamed popular messaging apps for the unrest that accompanied days of protests over the country’s flagging economy.
    The demonstrations began Dec. 28 and quickly spread across the country, prompting the government to suspend access to the messaging app Telegram, which was used to publicize the protests.    Twitter and Facebook were already banned.
    “Cyberspace was kindling the fire of the battle,” Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami told thousands of worshipers gathered in Tehran.    “When cyberspace was closed down, the sedition was stopped.”

1/21/2018 China says U.S. warship violated sovereignty near disputed shoal
    The Chinese government on Saturday accused the U.S. of trespassing in its territorial waters when a U.S. guided missile destroyer sailed near a disputed South China Sea shoal.    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China would take “necessary measures” to protect its sovereignty.

3/12/2018 China makes historic move to let Xi rule indefinitely by John Bacon, USA TODAY
    China’s national legislature approved constitutional changes Sunday that could allow Xi Jinping to remain president for life and retain indefinitely his iron grip on the world’s most populous nation.
    The National People’s Congress approved elimination of a two-term limit on the presidency with little dissent.    Only two of the almost 3,000 handpicked members voted against the changes.
    The vote took place at the Great Hall of the People on iconic Tiananmen Square, where almost 30 years ago student- led pro-democracy protests were crushed by the Communist regime.
    The changes end term limits adopted in 1982 to prevent the type of totalitarian repression highlighted by Mao Zedong during his brutal Cultural Revolution.    The constitutional changes also adopt Xi’s Thoughts on Socialism” and recognize the unconditional authority of the Communist Party.
    Xi has won widespread support in China for his pragmatic approach to economic growth and his crackdown on corruption.    But Cary Huang, a columnist with the South China Morning Post, warns that Xi has expanded his crackdown to include political dissent, citing a “broader crusade to root out anyone disloyal or who fails to comply with his orders.”
    Under Xi, China has asserted itself in Asian affairs, including a controversial effort to renew its territorial claims in the South China Sea.    It has 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.    Xi also has by used China’s relationship with North Korea as leverage with the U.S., and China has taken some credit for tentative inroads in the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang.
    [The King of the East has made his bed.]

3/18/2018 Xi Jinping reappointed China’s president without term limits
    China’s rubber-stamp legislature unanimously approved the reappointment of Xi Jinping as president Saturday, with no limit on the number of terms he can serve. The National People’s Congress also appointed close Xi ally Wang Qishan to the formerly ceremonial post of vice president.
MORE OF CHINA’S OPPRESSION, SUPPRESSION AND DEPRESSION (Prelude To the ‘Mark of the Beast’)
    China’s National Development and Reform Commission’s website, stating China will begin using their social credit system effective May 1, 2018, against those who disobey the rules.
    Chinese dictator-President Xi Jinping and his watchdogs, of its new social credit system in place, people could have their train and flight transportation privileges quashed and will be prohibited from purchasing property, among other penalties.    If one causes trouble, to hold expired tickets, spread false information about terrorism, caught smoking on trains, or perhaps failed to pay their bills, those individuals will face suspension of their travel privileges.    In the face of such restrictions, who would want to report suspected acts of terrorism? A person might be wrong, then end up stranded without transportation.
    That should help Muslim terrorists in China, because “Once untrustworthy, always restricted.”
    The Supreme People’s Court in China stated that 6.15 million Chinese citizens had been banned from taking flights for social misdeeds, reported Reuters.com.
    If this type of oppression, suppression and depression inflicted on citizens by their government appeals to you, by all means vote for Hillary or Bernie the next time they run for office!
    These laws are extremely oppressive and, in that the penalties prohibit some commerce, the system is very much like, and on its way to, the antichrist’s “mark of the beast” system for buying and selling, as described in the Word of God.
    By the way, if you don’t believe in God, consider the fact that more than 2,000 years ago, the Prophet John wrote about this type of technocracy.    How did he know there would be a cashless society in the last days, by way of a mark placed in the right hand, or forehead, unless God revealed it to him?    John’s prophecy was not even possible in his day, until we had computer technology in these last days.
    John the Revelator wrote,
    “He (the antichrist’s false prophet) causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads, that no man might buy or sell, except he who has the mark, the name of the beast (antichrist), or the number of his name.    Here is wisdom.    Let him who has understanding count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is six hundred, sixty-sixRevelation 13:16-18.
    John also prophesied,
    “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them, and I saw the souls of those who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and who had not worshiped the beast, neither his image, neither received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand yearsRevelation 20:4.
    This prophecy stating everyone would receive a mark in their foreheads, or in their right hands, in order to buy or sell, is remarkable, having been written 2,000 years ago.    It is also profound that Muslims are set to take over the world by demographics alone, and they behead people, just as John prophesied!
    God will allow this to happen during the time of His great wrath, because of the sins of the world, which Jesus foretold:
    “Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall beMatthew 24:21.
    The good news is that the Lord has made a way of escape for His “jewels” (Malachi 3:17), those who love the Lord and are watching for His return (Luke 21:36).
    Those who aren’t prepared spiritually will be left behind, even some who say they are Christians (Matthew 25).

3/28/2018 North Korea’s Kim visits China for talks with Xi Jinping.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un arrived in China for a historic visit Wednesday, traveling via a mysterious armored train for a rendezvous that so far has been cloaked in secrecy.
    Officials in Beijing confirmed that the reclusive leader was in China, his first trip outside of his own country since taking power in late 2011.
    China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Kim met with President Xi Jinping at Xi’s request.
    Xi held talks with Kim at the Great Hall of the People and he and his wife Peng Liyuan hosted a banquet for Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju, Xinhua said.

5/16/2018 U.S. hits leader of Iran’s central bank with terror sanctions
    The USA escalated its financial pressure on Iran Tuesday by slapping sanctions on the head of its central bank and barring anyone around the world from doing business with him.
    The move underscores President Trump’s hard line after his withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear accord upset European allies.    Valiollah Seif, the governor of the Iranian central bank, was named a “specially designated global terrorist” along with another senior central bank official, Ali Tarzali.

6/17/2018 China slaps tariffs on $34B in US goods - ‘Doesn’t want’ trade war but fires back at Trump by Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
    Barely 24 hours after the U.S. hit China with new tariffs on imports, Beijing fired a return salvo Saturday in a growing trade dispute with President Donald Trump by imposing duties on a $34 billion list of U.S. goods ranging from soybeans to whiskey to cigars.
    Beginning July 6, China will slap an extra 25 percent tariff on 545 products from the United States including soybeans, electric cars, orange juice, whiskey, salmon and cigars, according to the Ministry of Finance.
    China said additional tariffs on 114 more U.S. items, covering chemical products, medical equipment and energy, will be announced later.
    “The Chinese side doesn’t want to fight a trade war, but facing the shortsightedness of the U.S. side, China has to fight back strongly,” its Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.
    The ministry also said it was scrapping an earlier deal to buy more American farm goods, natural gas and other products that had been aimed at narrowing Beijing’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States.
    The statement said the U.S. step Friday violated “the relevant rules of the World Trade Organization” and went against a consensus reached in bilateral economic and trade agreements.
    Such a move, it said, “seriously infringes upon the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese side and undermines the interests of China and its people.”
    “The Chinese side firmly opposes that,” the statement said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.    The U.S. move on 25 percent tariffs, which covered an array of Chinese made goods from jet engines to dishwasher parts, sent markets plunging on fears of a trade war.
    The Chinese announcement is the latest volley in a trade dispute between China and the U.S. that has been escalating for months.    In April, China raised import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. products including pork and apples. Chinese officials have threatened further retaliation, sparking fears of a trade war between the two countries.
    In May, tensions had eased temporarily after Chinese negotiators agreed to buy more American farm goods, natural gas and other products.    American officials said they would suspend threatened tariff increases on up to $150 billion of Chinese goods.
    But the dispute flared up after the White House renewed its plan for a tariff hike on $50 billion of Chinese goods as part of a technology dispute.    The Chinese government had warned after another round of talks June 3 that it would scrap the farm purchase deals if new tariffs went ahead.
    Washington, along with Europe, Japan and other trading partners, have complained that Beijing’s economic gamesmanship includes outright theft of foreign technology and subsidies and protection from competition for fledgling Chinese industries.
    They say those violate Chinese market- opening commitments under the World Trade Organization.
    Citing what he described as unfair trading practices and China’s “theft of intellectual property,” Trump threatened Friday to take tougher measures if Beijing retaliated with trade barriers of its own.
    “This situation is no longer sustainable,” Trump said.    “The United States can no longer tolerate losing our technology and intellectual property through unfair economic practices.”
    Trump officials said the products to be hit with tariffs include those that benefit from the “Made in China 2025” policy, an effort by Beijing to ramp up aerospace, robotics and other manufacturing industries.    Officials said the list of products does not include common consumer products, such as cellphones and TVs.
    In all, 818 products representing $34 billion in U.S. imports will fall under the new tariffs – less than the roughly 1,300 products the administration had initially considered.    Administration officials said an additional 284 products are under review.
    The current dollar amount of U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese goods is tiny, however, compared to the $18 trillion U.S. economy.    The $50 billion in tariffs will likely mean just a tenth of a percentage point hit “at most” on annual U.S. economic growth and a similar jump in overall consumer prices, according to data from Barclays, the British bank.
    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer described the tariffs Friday as a “defensive” action.
    “China’s government is aggressively working to undermine America’s high-tech industries and our economic leadership through unfair trade practices and industrial policies,” Lighthizer said.
    Business people and economists say Chinese leaders are less likely to compromise on the technology dispute.    They view plans for state-led development of companies capable of competing globally in fields including electric cars, renewable energy and biotech as a route to prosperity and to restoring China to its rightful role as a world leader.
    Beijing also has announced plans to cut import duties on autos and some consumer goods and to ease limits on foreign ownership in auto manufacturing, insurance and some other industries, though those don’t directly address U.S. complaints.
    On Thursday, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said some exporters were rushing to fill orders due to concern trade conditions might change but said they were “not the mainstream.”

6/6/2018 Iran informs U.N. it’s increasing nuclear enrichment capacity
    Iran has informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with world powers.    The steps announced Tuesday appeared to signal that Iran could resume its enrichment drive if the nuclear accord comes unraveled.

IRANIAN GENERAL: ISLAMIC ARMY IN SYRIA AWAITS ORDERS TO DESTROY ISRAEL
    The Deputy Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Hossein Salami recently said,
    “Today an international Islamic army has formed in Syria and the voices of Muslims are heard near the Golan.    Orders are awaited, so that… the eradication of the evil regime (Israel) will land the life of this regime, will be ended for good.    The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now,” this was reported by The Times of Israel.
    Salami also said that Tehran-backed Hezbollah terrorists have 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
    “We are creating might in Lebanon because we want to fight our enemy from there with all our strength.    Hezbollah today has tremendous might on the ground that can, on its own, break the Zionist regime.    The Zionist regime has no strategic-defensive depth.”
    (Translation of Salami’s statements: Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI]).
    “The Zionist regime has no strategic-defensive depth?
    At a sermon in Tehran that aired on IRIB TV on July 1, 2016, Salami stated that "Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground – with the grace of God – for the annihilation, the wiping out, and the collapse of the Zionist regime."    Salami claimed that "only in Lebanon, more than 100,000 Qaem missiles are ready for launch… so that any time the Zionist regime seeks to repeat its previous mistakes with miscalculations, these missiles would… come down on the heart of the Zionist regime and be the prelude for a big collapse in the modern era... They are just waiting for the command, so that when the trigger is pulled, the accursed black dot will be wiped off the geopolitical map of the world, once and for all.”

7/7/2018 China promptly fires back as Trump trade war starts - Few specifics about retaliation offered as president moves to address deficit by Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
    The Chinese government said Friday it “immediately” retaliated against increased U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports as President Donald Trump’s administration effectively launched a trade war with its most important trading partner.     China’s foreign ministry in Beijing said that tit-for-tat duties on U.S. goods took effect straight away after Washington’s 25 percent tariff on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in at 12:01 a.m. EDT Friday.
    The ministry gave few other details.
    Beijing had previously flagged that China would make a “necessary counterattack” if needed on a similar amount of U.S. exports, including soybeans and cars.    The U.S. levies mostly target China’s industrial goods and some electronic components. A long list of targeted Chinese products directly purchased by Americans such as TVs, printers and washing machines was revised in June following a trade hearing.    Trump is not happy with the large U.S. trade deficit with China and insists Beijing has used unfair and predatory tactics such as requiring U.S. companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to China’s market.    China rejects the allegation.
    Many analysts and economists believe the new tariffs are counterproductive and will chiefly harm one particular segment of society: consumers.
    “The decision to impose tariffs on Chinese goods will harm American consumers and businesses without addressing discriminatory and systemic Chinese trade practices and policies,” said Josh Kallmer, executive vice president for policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, a trade association for the communications technology industry.    “It is troubling that the (Trump administration) continues to assume that the imposition of tariffs will convince China to resolve complex trade issues and irresponsible to downplay the impact on American workers and businesses,” he said.
    Maarten-Jan Bakkum, a strategist at NN Investment Partners, a Netherlands- based asset manager, said in an email that “protectionist measures by one country could potentially spiral out of control, leading to more retaliation by more countries, eventually affecting a bigger share of Chinese (emerging market) and global exports.”
    The United States had a record $375 billion trade deficit with China in 2017, according to Bloomberg data.    Beijing is Washington’s largest single-country trading partner, followed by Canada and Mexico.    The 28-nation European Union political bloc is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, representing more than $1.1 trillion in goods and services in 2016, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
    Trump has already complicated relations with allies by raising import duties on steel, aluminum and autos from Europe, Canada, Mexico and Japan.
    Beijng’s official state newspaper China Daily accused the Trump administration of “behaving like a gang of hoodlums” for increasing the tariffs and said the White House risked damaging the global economy.
    “There should be no doubting Beijing’s resolve,” the newspaper said.
    China’s ministry of commerce said Trump had started “the largest trade war in history.”
    The White House has not yet commented on China’s retaliatory measures, although William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, appealed in a statement to both sides to negotiate a settlement.
    Financial markets in Asia fell sharply before erasing some of those early losses as investors responded with calm.    The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S& P 500 closed higher Friday.
    “The market is acting very calmly,” Francis Lun, chief executive of GEO Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong, told The Associated Press.    “But of course, the talk of a trade war already depressed the market for about 1,000 points in the past month.”

7/2/2018 Trump’s tariffs on China may lead to uptick in prices by Nathan Bomey, USA TODAY
    President Donald Trump’s tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods took effect Friday, setting the stage for potential price increases on those products for U.S companies and consumers.
    A tariff is essentially a tax on an imported good.    Companies affected by tariffs can respond by absorbing the extra expense, increasing prices, moving production to other countries or some combination of the three.
    While the direct impact on consumer goods appears to be limited for now, Trump’s 25 percent tariffs on Chinese goods will hit products sold to certain U.S. manufacturers, medical device makers and farmers, among others.
    China’s immediate blow-for-blow retaliation signaled that the trade dispute could quickly escalate into a full blown trade war if negotiators can’t reach an agreement on concessions.
    Trump says China’s trade policies give its companies an unfair advantage in the global marketplace.    China says the U.S. tariffs are irresponsible but has offered to buy more U.S. goods in response.     For Chinese consumers, prices of American goods could spike after China applied tariffs on U.S. items such as pork and soybeans.    If sales of those goods fall – or if China finds alternative sources at a cheaper price – American farmers will get pinched.
    Taken together, the actions add to a growing list of global trade disputes.
Key foreign imports affected:     Will those costs be passed along to consumers?    That’s harder to assess.

7/19/218 Iran’s nuclear chief says uranium stockpile reaches 950 tons
    Iran continues to acquire uranium and is close to finishing a factory where it can build more centrifuges to enrich it, the country’s nuclear chief said Wednesday. He added that uranium stockpiles have nearly doubled in the past few years.     The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, came as Tehran is in talks with major powers on preserving a 2015 deal meant to keep the country from developing nuclear weapons.

7/24/218 Trump, Iran in war of words - Heated exchange brings questions about intent by Kim Hjelmgaard and David Jackson, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – Since taking office, President Donald Trump has developed a reputation for firing off heated tweets that seem to escalate disputes with world leaders at odds with the United States.
    On Monday, Trump trained his social media ire on Iran, prompting observers to wonder whether the president was seeking a confrontation with the country or trying to change the subject politically.
    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders described Trump’s near-midnight tweet Sunday as a response to an Iranian threat and said, “If anybody’s inciting anything, look no further than to Iran.”
    Asked Monday afternoon if he had any worries about provoking tensions with Iran, Trump said “none at all” as he toured the Made in America exhibition on the White House South Lawn.
    Ayatollah Amoli Larijani, Iran’s chief judiciary official, said the United States needed to know that if it attacked Iran, it would “receive a response that would be written in history,” according to comments carried by IRNA, a state-run news agency.
    Larijani said Trump’s remarks were not unexpected from a “foolish person like Trump.”
    John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, said he has spoken with Trump for “several days” about Iran, and the president “told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price that few countries have ever paid before.”
    Foreign policy analysts wondered whether Trump was looking to move past a spate of political troubles, including fallout from last week’s meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, or was serious about confronting Iraq.
    As Washington prepared to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran after its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear accord, Trump ratcheted up tensions late Sunday night with a stark tweet written in all capital letters.
    “NEVER EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKE OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE,” Trump wrote.
    Trump was responding to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said earlier in the day that “American(s) must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”    Rouhani cautioned Trump to stop “playing with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it.”
    Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers in May despite objections from China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom.    The deal was intended to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon.
    Trump ordered increased American sanctions after those sanctions had been suspended as part of the accord.    The first part of the sanctions – affecting Iran’s access to U.S. dollars, its trade in gold and other commodities and its car industry – will snap back on Aug. 4.    Sanctions on Iran’s oil industry will be reimposed in November.
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has lashed out against Trump for threatening to reimpose the sanctions; for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; and for banning travel to the U.S. from certain Muslim-majority countries.
    Some analysts said Trump may be seeking a replay of his approach to North Korea.    After months of attacking its leader, Kim Jong Un, Trump suddenly agreed to a meeting with Kim last month.
    Colin Kahl, national security adviser to Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration, said Trump has “appeased” Russia and “gone soft” on North Korea while abandoning the Iran nuclear deal without a backup plan.
    “Now the Administration is pushing regime change & the 2 sides are exchanging threats like this,” Kahl tweeted. “Very dangerous.”
Iran’s Hassan Rouhani has cautioned President Trump to stop “playing with the lion’s tail or else you will regret it.”

8/18/2017 Pentagon says China probably training for strikes against US
    China’s military is “likely training for strikes” against the United States and its allies, according to a Pentagon report.
    A report to Congress published this week also said China’s air force “has been re-assigned a nuclear mission.”
    “The deployment and integration of nuclear capable bombers would, for the first time, provide China with a nuclear ‘triad’ of delivery systems dispersed across land, sea, and air,” the report said.    The report also said that China is “willing to employ coercive measures – both military and non-military – to advance its interests and mitigate opposition from other countries.”

8/24/2018 US, China boosting tariffs as trade talks continue by Michael Collins, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – The U.S. and China hit each other with a fresh round of tariffs Thursday as midlevel envoys between the two nations prepared to meet for a second consecutive day to look for ways to end a trade standoff that shows no signs of letting up.
    The Trump administration levied 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion in Chinese imports, a move that could mean U.S. consumers will pay more for dozens of products including farm equipment, motorcycles, mopeds, electronics and plastics.
    China retaliated with an equal amount of tariffs on more U.S. imports, including large passenger cars, motorcycles and baby carriages.    The Chinese government also criticized the new round of U.S. tariffs as a violation of World Trade Organization rules and said it would file a legal challenge.
    In Washington, a Chinese delegation led by Vice Minister Wang Shouwen was preparing to sit down for a second day of trade talks with U.S. officials led by David Malpass, a Treasury undersecretary.    The talks are not expected to produce concrete results but could lead to negotiations later this year.
    The new tariffs are the second round of $50 billion in duties the Trump administration announced earlier this summer in a broader dispute involving complaints of Chinese theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property.    The first wave of tariffs took effect in July and affected $34 billion in Chinese imports, including farm equipment, motor vehicles, medical equipment, and products made of aluminum and steel.
    China answered the first wave by slapping a 25 percent duty on 545 products from the United States, including soybeans, electric cars, orange juice, whiskey, salmon and cigars.
    Beijing is expected to retaliate for the second round of tariffs by placing duties on more U.S. products.

9/10/2018 China’s trade surplus with US hits record $31B despite tariff hikes
    China’s trade surplus with the United States widened to a record $31 billion in August as exports surged despite American tariff hikes, potentially adding fuel to President Donald Trump’s battle with Beijing.

9/11/2018 Taliban attack Afghan security forces in north, killing at least 52
    Taliban insurgents launched separate attacks on Afghan security forces in the country’s north, killing at least 52, provincial officials said Monday.

9/12/2018 Suicide bomber kills 32, injures about 130 in Afghanistan
    A suicide bomber detonated his explosives- filled vest among a group of people who had gathered to complain about a local police commander in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday, killing 32 and wounding about 130, a provincial official said.    Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said all 32 people killed were civilians.    No group has claimed responsibility.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2018/05/04/editorials/china-india-make-progress/#.W6T_DeTQaM8
May 4, 2018 China and India make progress
    While attention was focused last week on the summit between North and South Korea, another important encounter was taking place in the southern Chinese city of Wuhan.    There, Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an attempt to put their bilateral relationship on solid ground.    Good relations between the two countries are critical — they account for 35 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of its economy — and Japan must understand that relationship as it formulates its regional strategy, especially given the growing significance of New Delhi in Tokyo’s foreign policy.
    Relations between China and India have been fraught.    The two countries have long battled for regional primacy, a rivalry that has manifested in three border wars and a 10-week standoff last summer over a contested border.    India is unnerved by China’s support for Pakistan, its longtime adversary, and the growing Chinese political and naval presence in the Indian Ocean.
    Beijing protests India’s support for the Dalai Lama, whose government in exile is in northern India.    China claims more than 90,000 square kilometers ruled by India in the eastern Himalayas, while India counters that China occupies 38,000 square kilometers of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west.    India counted 426 incidents along the two countries’ 3,500-kilometer border, a near doubling of the 273 incidents in 2016.
    The Wuhan summit was an effort to smooth those wrinkles.    The talks were modeled after the shirt-sleeves Sunnylands summit that Xi held with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2013.    The two men met far from their capitals, in an informal setting, with no agenda and few aides.    The fact that Xi played host was an olive branch of sorts, since Beijing has long insisted that China’s premier was the appropriate interlocutor for the Indian leader; this is the first time that a Chinese president hosted his Indian counterpart for an entire visit.
    In fact, both governments have made gestures to defuse tensions.    In March, Modi offered warm congratulations after Xi’s reappointment as president.    Last month, India for the first-time banned Tibetans from holding a rally with the Dalai Lama in New Delhi to mark the 60th anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese rule, and told officials to stay away from the event.    China ended objections to international efforts to put Pakistan on a “gray list” of countries that were not working to stop terrorist financing.    Beijing also offered to resume sharing hydrological data on rivers that run into India.    The two militaries are proceeding with a long-sought hotline between their central headquarters and an annual bilateral military exercise is set to resume.
    The meeting served up warm feelings and some progress. The two men agreed that solid China-India relations “are an important factor for global peace and stability,” and promised to “engage in even closer strategic communication.”    While they endorsed the work of the special representatives “to find a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable settlement” to the border dispute, there were no concrete agreements.
    Another problem in the relationship is a swelling trade imbalance that has reached $500 billion in China’s favor.    One easy fix would be for India to join the Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing’s project to build infrastructure that would connect Asia and Europe.    New Delhi objects to the BRI because it considers the project an attempt to extend Chinese influence into South Asia — and India’s periphery — and because some projects run through territory in Pakistan that India claims.
    Geopolitical considerations are an important part of the calculus.    China is concerned by the prospect of cooperation between India, Japan, the United States and Australia — the “Quad” that has re-emerged — as well as the “Indo-Pacific strategic construct” that some view as a means to contain China and counter its spreading influence.    Beijing would also like to enlist New Delhi in a front against U.S. President Donald Trump as he tries to rectify U.S. trade imbalances.    New Delhi worries that its rapprochement with Washington could be derailed if Beijing proves to be a more valuable partner in U.S. efforts to force North Korea’s denuclearization.
    Japan must grasp the complexities of those considerations.    Its foreign policy seems to assume antagonism between India and China and has been building a relationship with India on the belief that it has a ready ally in efforts to contain Chinese influence.    There is rivalry, but China and India agree on the need to restructure the international order, and both are members in the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa], as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [created in June 2001, members Pakistan, Russia, China, Kazakhstqan, Uzbekistan, Tajkistan, Kyrgystan, India].    New Delhi can be as suspicious of Washington as it is of Beijing and will not take any action that might be seen as compromising its diplomatic independence or sovereignty.    In many respects, Japan may be the best partner for India, but it must be ever alert to self-imposed limits on Indian diplomacy.

https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/china-counters-donald-trump-by-mending-fences-from-japan-to-india/articleshow/64154838.cms
May 14, 2018 China counters Donald Trump by mending fences from Japan to India By Isabel Reynolds and Keith Zhai
    When Chinese Premier Li Keqiang smiled and clinked glasses with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at a reception in Tokyo last week, it served as a reminder of just how rare these types of warm gestures have been between the Asian neighbors.
    The first visit by a Chinese premier to Japan in seven years was the latest step in Beijing’s attempt to shore up fraught ties with other powers to counter escalating tensions with the U.S.    It came after an equally congenial visit to Indonesia, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s unexpected rapprochements with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
    “It’s inevitable there will be differences of opinion and friction,” Li told executives at a reception marking the 40th anniversary of a friendship treaty with Japan.    “But I want to maintain the overall direction of friendship, keep to the spirit of the treaty and build a bright future together,” NHK reported him as saying.
    Threatened by looming trade sanctions from Washington, China is seeking support from other nations to counter U.S. pressure.    A Chinese official told Bloomberg News last month that the government was considering offering major concessions on trade and investment to the European Union and countries such as Japan and Mexico.
‘Bad Situation’
    “China is trying to make an opportunity out of a bad situation.    The Trump administration’s moves on trade could negatively affect the Chinese economy at a time when it faces many internal challenges,” said Mary Gallagher, director of the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.    “But the U.S. has also antagonized many of its important trading partners and allies, so China is smart to try to counter the U.S.
    The shift has required China to lay aside some of its most intense foreign disputes.    Chinese and Indian soldiers faced off in the Doklam region along their border last year and Beijing and Tokyo still haven’t resolved their 2012 confrontation over control of East China Sea islands that plunged relations to their lowest point in decades.
    In Xi’s meeting with Modi in April, the two emphasized that they would avoid border clashes.    Meanwhile, Japan and China signed a memorandum on a maritime communication mechanism aimed at avoiding unintended clashes at sea.
    "By changing the Japan-China relationship from one of competition to one of harmony, we can contribute greatly to the peace and stability of the Asian region, as well as to its prosperity," Abe told parliament Monday.
Lingering Disputes
    How far China can take the strategy remains to be seen.    Many of China’s neighbors, including Japan and India, are concerned about Beijing’s rising might, especially its willingness to use coercive economic policies to punish countries that run afoul of its goals.    South Korea experienced that last year after deploying a U.S. missile shield.
    Even as Xi and Li mend fences with Japan and India, they’ve seen tensions rise with Australia over its efforts to limit perceived Chinese political meddling.    And revelations that missiles and other military equipment have been deployed on China’s South China Sea outposts have rekindled concerns about its efforts to establish control over that disputed water body.    In a demonstration of its growing military prowess, China’s first domestically built aircraft carrier began sea trials Sunday morning, Xinhua news agency said.
    “The smile diplomacy can be successful, but only within certain limits,” said June Teufel Dreyer, a University of Miami political science professor and author of “Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun” -- a 2016 book on China-Japan ties.    “There are restraints on how much Beijing’s willing to make concessions, as well as on other sides’ willingness to make reciprocal gestures.”
Japan Deals
    Officials from Beijing are trying to cast themselves as defenders of the multilateral trade system, countering U.S.-led criticism of restricted access to Beijing’s markets.
    “Both China and Indonesia believe in globalization and free trade,” Li told more than 600 business people at a China-Indonesia business summit earlier in the week, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.    “We both support the rules-based multilateral trading regime and stand for equal consultation in settling trade disputes.”
    Li and Abe oversaw the signing of a raft of agreements, including one allowing the transfer of two crested ibises from China as a symbol of a friendship recovering from its worst crisis in decades. China also granted Japanese financial institutions the status of renminbi-qualified foreign institutional investor, enabling them to directly invest in Chinese securities and finally placing Japan on the same footing as Western economies.
    Abe accompanied the Chinese premier on a trip to the northern island of Hokkaido, where they emphasized business ties by touring a Toyota Motor Corp. plant together.    The visit underscored the shared interest in free trade between the world’s second and third largest economies.
    “The current tension between China and the U.S. has required China to have a greater degree of interdependence with its neighbors,” said Yang Bojiang, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a state research institution.    “The strengthening of China’s international cooperation is a response to U.S. trade protectionism, unilateralism, and other trends that do not conform to the times.”

7/31/2018 China’s smile diplomacy woos India and Japan by Frank Ching, Special to The Globe and Mail
    While having lunch with an Asian diplomat a couple of weeks ago, I happened to mention the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, which comprises the United States, Japan, India and Australia and is commonly known as the Quad.    That on-and-off security dialogue focused on China when it started in 2007 and was seen as the democratic countries’ response to China’s increasingly assertive rise.    The dialogue ended when Australia pulled out but, after a 10-year hiatus, it was revived in 2017 when the free and open Indo-Pacific strategy was launched.
    The term Indo-Pacific was introduced into the vocabulary of U.S. President Donald Trump and other Pacific leaders to replace “Asia-Pacific” to make it clear that India, and the Indian Ocean, are part and parcel of the security interest of these countries.    In late May, the United States announced that the U.S. Pacific Command had been renamed the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
    Given this background, it was a little surprising to hear my lunch companion chuckle and respond: “Only the United States and Australia are left in the Quad.    India and Japan are gone.”     It was generally assumed that the Quad’s raison d’être was China, though this was not openly said.    China knew it and protested to all four members back in 2007, when the dialogue also saw parallel joint military exercises on a large scale.
    So it is not surprising that, after its revival in 2017, one of China’s goals may have been to nip it in the bud quickly and quietly.    And this it seems to have achieved quite successfully, through diplomacy, without use of force.
    It turns out that China’s President, Xi Jinping, spent two days quietly talking with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last April.    They discussed a range of issues, including trade, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the intractable border issue.    At the end of the meeting, while the problems hadn’t been resolved, they had agreed at least on how they should be approached.    Mr. Modi called that meeting a “milestone.”    Since then, India has been noticeably quiet about China.
    Japan, too, was the beneficiary of the resumption of China’s smile diplomacy.    In mid-April, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a rare visit to Japan and accepted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s proposal for an exchange of summit visits.    The following month, Premier Li Keqiang visited Japan as part of a trilateral summit involving China, Japan and South Korea, but Mr. Li stayed on beyond the meeting to pay an official visit to Japan.
    With that, the ice was broken. Mr. Li invited Mr. Abe to visit China and Mr. Xi has agreed to visit Japan next year.
    Japan has also agreed to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative – a proposal of Chinese-built infrastructure connecting Asia, Europe and Africa.    Some Japanese companies are interested in exploring co-operation with China in a third country since both Japan and China have much experience with infrastructure construction and financing.    Japan had been one of the few countries reluctant to take part in the Chinese initiative and that was a factor in delaying the thaw between the two countries.
    So, China has greatly improved relations with India and Japan.    But underlying realities remain, such as both countries’ opposition to Chinese actions in the South China Sea as well as Beijing’s construction and militarization of islands in the Spratly Archipelago.    What China has achieved isn’t a change in the fundamental position of these countries so much as a willingness to co-operate and to manage differences.
    China’s diplomacy was the focus of attention last month when the Communist Party held a rare meeting called the Central Conference on Work Relating to Foreign Affairs.
    After the conference, one scholar, Zhang Zhirong, a professor at the School of International Studies, Peking University, recounted with relish Mr. Xi’s report of his successful diplomacy, saying, “China has defused the tensions with some neighbouring countries, including India and Japan, thanks to its correct foreign policy.”    There was no mention of the Quad.
    China’s improvement of relations with India and Japan is to be applauded.    However, it doesn’t mean that those two countries will remain quiet if China should overstep its bounds, say, in the South China Sea, the East China Sea or the Indian Ocean.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (L) and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi hold a replica of a brick during the India-Japan Annual Summit, in Gandhinagar, India, September 14, 2017.

9/15/2018 Iran OPEC chief: 'Saudi and Russia are taking oil market hostage'
    Iran's OPEC chief Hossein Kazempour Ardebili says Saudi and Russian actions are a result of US attempts to cut Iran off.
Ardebili has accused Russia, Iran and the UAE of welcoming US sanctions on Iran for their own gain [File: Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters]
    Iran's OPEC governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, has accused fellow OPEC country Saudi Arabia and non-OPEC country Russia of taking the global oil market hostage.
    Their actions are a direct result of attempts by the United States to cut Iran's access to the global market off, he said.
    "Russia and Saudi Arabia claim they seek to balance the global oil market, but they are trying to take over a part of Iran's share," Ardebili told Iran's oil news agency SHANA.
    "Trump's efforts to cut Iran's access to the global crude market has prompted Russia and Saudi Arabia to take the market hostage," he added.
    "The American bullish behavior will certainly not end with Iran becoming another Venezuela, as it was not the case with Iraq and Kuwait."
    Ardebili went on and accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE of welcoming US sanctions on Iran for their own gain and claimed the organisation is losing its power.
    "Saudi Arabia and UAE are turning the OPEC into a US tool," he said.
    "It is a fact that OPEC is losing its organizational character and is becoming a forum," he added.
    "Simply said, nobody is afraid of a toothless lion that growls from time to time, and it does not harm anyone."
Iran and the oil market
    Iran is currently OPEC's third-largest producer, but the US wants to cut its production down to zero by November as part of sanctions imposed on the country.
    US officials are pressing allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, to adhere to the sanctions, which are aimed at pressuring Iran to negotiate a new agreement to halt its nuclear program.
    In June, India, the largest buyer of Iranian oil after China, said it expects to import less oil from Iran in the coming months because it wants to protect its exposure to the US financial system.
    If Iran's oil production does go down to zero, other countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia are expected to produce more to keep oil prices stable.
    The US, led by President Donald Trump, has also pressured OPEC to raise output in an attempt to reduce oil prices in recent months.
    Iran demanded the organization reject calls from Trump for an increase in oil supply, arguing that the US has contributed to a recent rise in prices by imposing sanctions on Iran and fellow member Venezuela.

9/16/2018 Are pro-Iran parties on the rise in Iraq?    US-backed Haider al-Abadi appears to be losing grip on power as Tehran furthers its influence in Baghdad by Rob Matheson.
    Iraqis could finally be getting a working parliament.    On Saturday, MPs elected a new speaker, ending months of political deadlock following May's election.
    But concern is growing that control of Iraq's politics may be swinging towards pro-Iranian parties.
   
Muqtada al-Sadr was a young Shiite Muslim cleric, little known to the American troops who toppled Saddam Hussein and ushered in a tumultuous new Iraq.

9/20/2018 Koreas’ leaders move toward ‘era of no war’ - Analysts: Deal vague, but it’s progress by Thomas Maresca, Special to USA TODAY
    SEOUL – South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a broad agreement in Pyongyang on Wednesday that both said would usher in a new era of peace on the Korean Peninsula.
    North Korea agreed to take further steps toward denuclearization, including permanently dismantling its Dongchang-ri missile engine test site and launch pad and allowing international inspectors to observe the process, Moon announced at a joint news conference with Kim following the signing ceremony.
    Kim said the two sides have taken active measures to free the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons and threats and turn it into a “land of peace.”
    According to the text of the Pyongyang agreement, the North also said it was willing to take additional measures such as decommissioning its Yongbyon nuclear facility if the United States made further concessions “in the spirit of the June 12 North Korea-U.S. joint statement” signed by Kim and President Donald Trump at a historic summit in Singapore.
    That meeting between Trump and Kim ended with promises to work toward establishing “a lasting and stable peace regime” and completely denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula but without a road map to get there.
    Momentum between the U.S. and North Korea has sputtered since, with Pyongyang hoping for a peace declaration officially ending the Korean War after 65 years and relief from punishing international sanctions, but Washington holding firm on demands for complete denuclearization first.
    “I hope summit talks between the United States and North Korea will resume soon and I hope they can find a point of agreement,” Moon said at Wednesday’s news conference.
    Trump weighed in on Twitter, calling the developments “Very exciting!”     “Kim Jong Un has agreed to allow Nuclear inspections, subject to final negotiations, and to permanently dismantle a test site and launch pad in the presence of international experts,” he wrote.    It was unclear what Trump meant by “nuclear inspections,” as that did not appear in the Pyongyang agreement.
    Other reactions to the announcement were more muted.
    Paul Carroll, director of nuclear security with NSquare, a San Franciscobased collaborative working to reduce nuclear risks, said the agreement was vague enough that it leaves “the North lots of leeway before doing anything.”
    “Overall, it is good that the two leaders are meeting, but direct involvement with U.S. negotiators needs to happen,” he said.
    “There may be more things the North offers, but at the end it will be important to see how President Moon conveys things to President Trump and what our own response is.    For example, will Secretary of State Mike Pompeo go back?    Will there be other steps the U.S. takes?” he added.
    Moon is scheduled to meet with Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Monday, Moon spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Wednesday.
    “President Moon will be able to relay what was not publicly disclosed to President Trump,” Yoon said, referring to Wednesday’s meeting with Kim.
    “I think (Moon) understands that he needs to hold some things close to the chest to be able to bring to Donald Trump,” said Harry Kazianis, director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, a Washington, D.C., foreign policy think tank.
    “Maybe additional concessions, maybe Kim Jong Un made some other proposals that we don’t know about today,” Kazianis added.
    He said that the agreement Wednesday, while lacking a major concession from Kim, still marks a giant leap forward in an inter-Korean relationship that seemed on the brink of war just a year ago.
    “Do we have massive denuclearization by Kim Jong Un?    No, we don’t at the moment,” Kazianis said.    “But we do have the auspices of the two Koreas talking on levels that we haven’t seen.    That is progress.”
    The two Korean leaders also announced Wednesday that Kim would visit Seoul in the near future, which would mark the first trip by a North Korean leader to the city, and that the nations would file a bid to jointly host the 2032 Summer Olympics.
    Steps toward joint economic cooperation were also part of the deal, with the countries agreeing to begin reconnecting their road and railway links by the end of the year.
    The agreement called for the reopening of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, an inter-Korean joint manufacturing zone that was shuttered in 2016, and for restarting tourism programs to the North’s Mount Kumgang when “conditions are met.”
    A separate agreement signed by the two countries’ defense ministers outlined measures to reduce military tensions along the heavily militarized border that divides the peninsula, including the removal of land mines and guard posts from the Joint Security Area inside the truce village of Panmunjon.
    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Tuesday that the Trump administration was hoping to see “meaningful, verifiable steps toward the denuclearization of North Korea” emerge from the summit.
    Kim has requested a second summit with Trump.    No dates have been set.
    Moon was scheduled to attend North Korea’s Mass Games following the meeting with Kim on Wednesday, an enormous synchronized music, dance and gymnastics spectacle that is expected to draw 150,000 spectators.
    On Thursday, the last day of Moon’s visit, the two leaders are scheduled to visit Mount Paektu, a volcano sacred to the North.    The crater lake-topped volcano lies at the heart of the mythology used to legitimize the Kim family’s rule in North Korea.
    Direct involvement with U.S. negotiators needs to happen.” Paul Carroll, Director of nuclear security with NSquare.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as they leave a news conference held to discuss the new agreement Wednesday in Pyongyang, North Korea. EPA-EFE

9/23/2018 At least 25 killed when gunmen attack military parade in Iran by Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
    Gunmen opened fire on an annual Iranian military parade Saturday in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, killing at least 25 people and wounding 53 others, local media reported.
    Four gunmen began shooting at people from behind the viewing stand, according to ISNA, the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.    The semiofficial Fars news agency, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, reported, however, that two gunmen on a motorcycle wearing khaki uniforms carried out the attack.
    According to the deputy governor of Khuzestan Province, Ali Hossein Hosseinzadeh, 25 people were killed and more than 60 others injured in the attack.
    Khuzestan Gov. Gholamreza Shariati said two gunmen were killed and another two arrested, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed the attack on regional countries and their “U.S. masters,” further raising tensions as Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers is in jeopardy after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord.
    A spokesman for an Arab separatist group in Iran said members of his organization carried out the attack, the Associated Press reported.
    Yacoub Hor al-Tostari, a spokesman for the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahvaz, told the AP his group wants that area of southwest Iran to be its own nation.
    He described his group as leading an umbrella organization for other Ahvaz groups, including the militants who carried out Saturday’s attack.    Al-Tostari said the assault undermined the Iranian government “on the day it wants to give a message to the world that it is powerful and in control.”
    Arab separatist groups in the region have attacked oil pipelines there in the past.    The separatists also accuse Iran’s Shiite theocracy of discriminating against its Sunni Arab citizens.    Iran has blamed its Mideast archrival, the Sunni kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for funding their activity.
    Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps spokesman Ramezan Sharif had earlier blamed the attack on an Arab separatist group supported by Saudi Arabia, according to Press TV, Iran’s English-language news outlet, which is affiliated with state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.
    Press TV published a video purportedly showing the moment the attack started.    Images on state television showed journalists and onlookers turning to look toward the first shots; then the rows of marchers broke as soldiers and civilians sought cover under sustained gunfire.
    “Oh God!    Go go go!    Lie down!    Lie down!” one man screamed as a woman fled with her baby.
    Paramedics rushed to tend to the wounded as soldiers, some bloodied in their dress uniforms, helped their comrades to ambulances.
    “We suddenly realized that some armed people wearing fake military outfits started attacking the comrades from behind (the stage) and then opened fire on women and children,” an unnamed wounded soldier told state TV.    “They were just aimlessly shooting around and did not have a specific target.”
    No officials at the parade were injured “due to the fast reaction of the security forces,” Shariati told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
    IRNA reported that a number of civilians, including women and children, who were watching the military parade were among those killed.
    Among various groups blamed for the attack, state television described the assailants as “takfiri gunmen,” a term previously used to describe the Islamic State group.    Iran has been deeply involved in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and has aided embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad in his country’s long war.
    Zarif tweeted that the gunmen were “terrorists recruited, trained, armed & paid by a foreign regime.”    He did not immediately elaborate.
Iranian soldiers march Saturday in Tehran in the annual military parade marking the 1980 Iraqi invasion, which led to an 8-year war. ABEDIN TAHERKENAREHEH/EPA-EFE

9/28/2018 China says ‘no cause for panic’ over U.S. ties, but won’t be blackmailed by David Brunnstrom and Rodrigo Campos
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi addresses the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
    UNITED NATIONS/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Chinese government’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, said on Friday there was “no cause for panic” over friction between Beijing and Washington, but warned that China would not be blackmailed or yield to pressure over trade.
    At a U.N. Security Council meeting on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump escalated tensions with Beijing by accusing it of seeking to meddle in the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections to stop him and his Republican Party from doing well because of his China trade policies.    At the same meeting, Wang rejected the charge.
    “Protectionism will only hurt oneself, and unilateral moves will bring damage to all,” Wang said in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday.
    “Regarding trade frictions, China stands for a proper settlement based on rules and consensus through dialogue and consultation on an equal footing. China will not be blackmailed or yield to pressure.”
    Trump, who accuses China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, limiting access to its own market and unfairly subsidizing state-owned industries, has escalated his trade war with China and U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked in on Monday, prompting Beijing to retaliate with additional tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. products.
    Wang earlier told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that concrete actions had to be taken to maintain relations between the United States and China.
    “The closer our engagement, the more closely entwined our interests, maybe various suspicions and even frictions may ensue,” Wang said.
    “This is not surprising and it is also no cause for panic.    What is important is how these differences should be viewed, evaluated and handled.”
    Wang, who holds the twin titles of foreign minister and state councilor, dismissed any suggestion there was forced technology transfer from foreign firms in China and played down complaints by some U.S. firms about market conditions in China.
    “A small number of companies that are not so satisfied may speak up louder, but I don’t think they represent the majority of the companies in the Chinese market,” he said.
    Further cooperation between the United States and China was key in pursuing denuclearization of its ally North Korea, Wang said, while urging the creation of a peace mechanism and for the United States to give North Korea more incentives.
    “We believe it is … right for the U.S. to make timely and positive responses so as to truly meet North Korea halfway,” Wang said in his U.N. speech.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned members of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday that they must “set the example” by enforcing sanctions on North Korea as China and Russia suggested the council consider easing the tough measures because progress had been made.
    Wang warned that scrapping the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which China and other powers are fighting to save after Trump pulled out of it in May, could lead to a regional arms race.
    He said China was fostering closer economic ties with Russia as the two economies were complimentary and Moscow and Beijing were also on the same page on international issues.
    “We want to build a new kind of relationship featuring non-confrontation, non-conflict and no targeting any third country,” he said.    “Russia is our largest neighbor, and there’s need for normal and friendly ties between neighbors."
    “Certainly, the two economies are highly complementary.    We need the Russian energy like oil and natural gas and they need Chinese processed goods … and inexpensive Chinese goods.”
    Wang said China had exercised “utmost restraint” in the South China Sea and seeks peaceful solutions to disputes there.    He said Beijing’s sovereignty over the South China Sea islands was “very clear” and that people there felt the need for enhanced defenses given “heavy” U.S. military patrols, Wang said.
    China claims most of the South China Sea, through which about $3 trillion worth of trade passes every year.    Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei also claim parts of the sea, which has oil and gas deposits and rich fishing grounds.
    Wang said that while Asia belonged to the people of Asia, China did not seek a closed continent or to create “a new order” or hegemony.
    “China will not, repeat, not repeat the old practice of a strong country seeking hegemony,” Wang said.    “I don’t think China will become the United States and China will not challenge the United States, still less will China take the place of the United States.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Rodrigo Campos; writing by John Irish and Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis)

9/28/2018 Iran strongly denies having secret nuclear weapons site near Tehran by OAN Newsroom
    Things got heated at the UN General Assembly Thursday when Iran strongly denied hiding a warehouse full of nuclear materials.
    The Iranian delegation accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of lying after he disclosed the location of alleged atomic sites outside Tehran.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows guided missile sites in Beirut
during his address of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
    Netanyahu claimed he was forced to act, because the international body tasked with monitoring Iran has refused to act on the information.
    “Today, I am disclosing for the first time that Iran has another secret facility in Tehran,” he proclaimed.    “A secret atomic warehouse for storing massive amounts of equipment and material from Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program.”
    The Israeli prime minister took Iran’s denial in stride, accusing officials of spreading nuclear material across Tehran to hide the evidence.

9/29/2018 ‘Turbulence’ in ties threatens U.S.-China security meeting By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina
China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the Chinese delegation listen to U.S. President Donald Trump address
the U.N. Security Council meeting at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A key diplomatic and security meeting between China and the United States next month may not take place due to tensions in relations, sources briefed on the matter said, potentially the latest casualty of worsening ties.
Beijing and Washington are locked in a spiraling trade war that has seen them level increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other’s imports.
    Friction between the world’s top two economies is now moving beyond trade, with U.S. President Donald Trump accusing Beijing this week of seeking to interfere in congressional elections, marking what U.S. officials told Reuters was a new phase in an escalating campaign by Washington to put pressure on China.
    On the military front, China has been infuriated by the United States putting sanctions on the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for buying weapons from Russia, and by what Beijing sees as stepped up U.S. support for self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory.     Two Beijing-based diplomatic sources familiar with the plans said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were both due in Beijing next month for the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, which first took place last year in Washington, a reboot of earlier high-level talks under previous administrations.
    However, both sources said that this meeting was now in doubt.
    “There is a lot of uncertainty because of the turbulence in the relationship,” said one the sources.
    The second source said that the People’s Liberation Army was especially unhappy with the United States at the moment because of the U.S. sanctions on the Chinese military and U.S. support for Taiwan, including approving a new round of arms sales this week.
    “The PLA is fed up over the Taiwan issue.    They’re increasingly hardline on this,” the source said.
    Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity as the trips have not been made public.    They also cautioned the meetings may still take place as planned, and that no final decisions have been reached.
    China’s Defence Ministry said it was talking to the United States about the dialogue.
    “China and the United States have all along maintained communication about the diplomatic and security dialogue,” it said in a statement to Reuters, without elaborating.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a short statement sent to Reuters that the two countries were in “close contact” about the dialogue, and that if it had any other information it would release it in a timely manner.
    The U.S. Embassy in Beijing declined to comment, as did the U.S. State Department.    The Pentagon said it does not discuss future travel plans.
DECOUPLING?
    In his latest broadside on Wednesday, Trump accused China of seeking to interfere in the Nov. 6 U.S. congressional elections, saying that Beijing did not want him or his Republican Party to do well because of his pugnacious stance on trade.
    While China has denounced what it called his “slander”, it has so far held off taking any direct steps to retaliate.
    However, prior to Trump’s remarks Beijing canceled a previously set round of military talks with Washington over the sanctions on China’s military, and has denied a U.S. warship permission to visit Hong Kong in October.
    The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said on Friday there was “no cause for panic” over friction between Beijing and Washington, but warned that China would not be blackmailed or yield to pressure over trade.
    President Xi Jinping said this week that, with the rise of unilateralism and trade protectionism, China should embark on a path of self-reliance, a startling aim for a country that has sought to project itself on the world stage and touts the benefits of global free trade.
    China had already been trying to reduce its reliance on foreign technology through its Made in China 2025 initiative, though it stopped openly touting the plan earlier this year in the face of blowback from the United States.
    “Divorce is the word I use,” Tu Xinquan, a trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics who has advised the Chinese government, told Reuters recently.
    “Now, most people believe Trump is trying to contain China.    Many government officials think this way.”
    Last week, Jack Ma, chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said bilateral trade frictions could last two decades, and that the firm could no longer meet its promise to create 1 million American jobs.
    “I think there are leaders in the U.S. government who believe that so long as the Chinese system is not willing to change, then the next best scenario for the United States is a gradual decoupling of the economies,” Tim Stratford, managing partner of law firm Covington & Burling’s Beijing office and a former senior U.S. trade diplomat, said in a recent podcast.
    China has insisted it wants to resolve all its disputes with the United States.
    Ruan Zongze, a former Chinese diplomat now with the China Institute of International Studies, a think-tank affiliated with the Foreign Ministry, called it unrealistic to think the two countries could “decouple” considering how inter-connected they were.
    “It’s like two people having an argument,” said Ruan.    “Can you really resolve it if you stop speaking to each other?
(Editing by Tony Munroe and Alex Richardson)

10/1/2018 European, Asian factory growth sputters on weakening exports by Rahul Karunakar and Leika Kihara
FILE PHOTO: Shipping containers are seen at a port in Shanghai, China July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    BENGALURU/TOKYO (Reuters) – Growth in factory activity slowed across Europe and Asia in September, with export orders weakening before the latest escalation in the U.S.-China trade conflict, in another sign the global economy is shifting into lower gear.
    Business surveys released on Sunday and Monday showed the pace of expansion slowing across European and Asian factories.    Gauges of future activity offered little hope for a turnaround in the next few months.
    Some of the gloom will be offset by news that the United States and Canada clinched a deal on Sunday to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement, removing one near-term risk to the global outlook.
    But with neither Beijing nor Washington ready to compromise and the latest tariffs on each other’s goods already imposed, that conflict is a worrying backdrop to a weakening factory expansion in Europe and Asia.
    Manufacturing growth in the euro zone slowed to a two-year low at the end of the third quarter, according to the latest IHS Markit purchasing managers’ indices.
    “Overall, the picture remains for a less buoyant manufacturing sector in Q3, with not very strong signs yet of a better outlook for the end of the year,” noted Nicola Nobile, a senior economist at Oxford Economics.
    “A slowdown in world trade and continuing concerns about the escalation of trade tensions between the U.S. and China continue to weigh on manufacturing sentiment.”
    German manufacturing growth slowed to just over a two-year low in September, grew at the slowest pace in three months in France and stagnated in Italy, marking the first time in two years of no expansion.
    Weaker export order growth was a common explanation for the slowdown across the euro zone.
    And while British factories perked up unexpectedly in September, halting a three-month run of slowing growth, the bigger picture was subdued performance, just six months before the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union.
ASIA GROWTH FALTERING
    Two manufacturing surveys from China on Sunday pointed to weakening in its vast manufacturing sector.    A private poll showed factory growth stalled after 15 months of expansion, while an official gauge confirmed manufacturing was losing steam under the weight of shrinking export orders.
    The first major readings on China for September suggest the world’s second-largest economy is continuing to lose momentum as domestic demand weakens and U.S. tariffs bite.    The combination is likely to prompt Beijing to roll out more growth-support measures in coming months.
    However, analysts don’t expect additional stimulus to start stabilizing China’s economy until at least early next year.
    Elsewhere in Asia, manufacturing also faltered in Vietnam, Taiwan and Indonesia last month, with Taiwan’s factories expanding at the slowest pace in more than two years on sluggish export orders, business surveys showed on Monday.
    Major economies likeJapan and South Korea saw headline activity readings hold up, but also suffered declines in export orders, suggesting that increasing protectionism and concerns of slowing Chinese demand were weighing on Asia’s biggest economies.
    “Global growth is now cooling, which we think is weighing on foreign demand for Chinese goods irrespective of tariffs,” Capital Economics said in a note to clients.
    India was among the few bright spots in Asia.    Its factory activity expanded more quickly in September on strong domestic and export order growth, a welcome sign as policymakers worry about a sharp drop in the rupee and fallout from global trade frictions.
    While rising protectionism is expected to deal the world economy a relatively modest blow this year, analysts expect risks will intensify in 2019 as tougher U.S. tariffs kick in and global borrowing costs rise.
    “Countries that saw their currencies slump may be suffering from rising import costs.    There are also signs China’s slowdown and the trade friction are starting to hurt sentiment,” said Koji Kobayashi, senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.
    “It would take time for companies to relocate production from China to other countries.    That means the initial impact of the trade friction on Asian economies would be negative.”
(Reporting by Rahul Karunakar and Leika Kihara; editing by Kim Coghill and Larry King)

10/1/2018 As Chinese influence grows, Japanese warship visits Sri Lanka by Tim Kelly
Japanese destroyer Inazuma is seen behind one of its ship inspection teams on a small patrol boat in the Indian Ocean, September 27, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Japan’s largest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, sailed into Sri Lanka’s Colombo harbor this weekend, marking Tokyo’s highest profile salvo in a diplomatic battle with China for influence along the region’s vital commercial sea lanes.
    Japan has long provided low-interest loans and aid to Sri Lanka, helping it transform Colombo into a major trans-shipment port tapping the artery of global trade just south of the island that links Europe and the Middle East with Asia.
    Beijing has, however, emerged as a powerful rival across South Asia and beyond as it implements its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.
    Both China and Japan are also flexing their military muscles further from home.    China’s navy is increasingly venturing beyond the Western Pacific and into the Indian Ocean as it targets a world-class blue water fleet by 2050, while Japan’s military diplomacy is flourishing under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
    “Japan’s government is promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific and this deployment in the Asia Pacific is a component of that strategy,” Rear Admiral Tatsuya Fukuda, the commander of the Kaga and its destroyer escort, said in his cabin as the carrier steamed for Colombo through the Indian Ocean.
    “Maritime security and stability is of critical importance” to an island nation like Japan, he added.
    On its way to Sri Lanka, the 248 meter (814 ft) ship was shadowed by Chinese frigates in the South China Sea and carried out naval drills in the Philippines and Indonesia.    It also drilled with a British Navy frigate before docking in Colombo on Sunday with 500 sailors and four submarine hunting helicopters aboard.
    As part of the goodwill visit, the Kaga’s crew also brought packets of colorful origami paper, crafting flowers for local children who came to tour the ship soon after it docked.
TUSSLE WITH CHINA
    The visit was intended to reassure Sri Lanka of Japan’s willingness and capability to dispatch its most powerful military assets to a region where China is growing in influence.
    “Sri Lanka, as a hub in the Indian Ocean, and upholding its commitment to a free and open Indian Ocean, welcomes naval vessels from all our partner nations, to interact with Sri Lanka’s Navy,” said Sri Lankan foreign ministry spokeswoman Mahishini Colonne.    “Several navy vessels from our partner countries have visited Sri Lanka this year already and the ship from Japan, a close bilateral partner, is welcomed in the same spirit.”
    Sri Lanka recently agreed to cede control of the new $1.5 billion Hambantota port on its southern coast to China Merchants Port Holdings in a bid to ease the debt burden it has accumulated with Beijing.
    China’s Foreign Ministry denies it engages in unsustainable or unwanted lending and says the port project will help Sri Lanka become an Indian Ocean logistics hub.
    Tokyo’s diplomatic counter-offensive has included a visit in January by Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono, the first by a top Japanese diplomat in 16 years.    In August, Japan’s defense minister also went to Sri Lanka and visited Hambantota.
    “Sri Lanka is a key country within the region and a core part of Japan’s open and free Indo-Pacific strategy.    A monopoly by any country at a Sri Lankan port would run counter to that,” a foreign ministry official told Reuters, asking not to be identified because he is not authorized to talk to the media.
    In March, Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena visited Tokyo for talks with Abe, who despite being constrained by a constitution that forbids the use of force overseas, has sought a greater role for his military in the region.
    That has worried China, and could be an issue as Abe prepares to travel to Beijing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.
    “The message to China is that Japan with India and the United States and of course Sri Lanka has the capacity to engage militarily,” said Nozomu Yoshitomi, a professor at Nihon University in Tokyo, and a former Ground Self Defence Force major general who advised the Japanese cabinet.
OPPOSITION AT HOME
    Such naval forays are a recent change that for some veteran sailors on the Kaga was unexpected.
    “When I joined, we would sail out for the day and train from morning till night.    I never imagined that we would be deployed on actual missions like this,” said Command Master Chief, Yasuhara Tohno, a 35 year navy veteran.
    The Kaga is half-way through a two-month deployment that will see it visit India next.
    In the last five years, Japanese naval vessels have stopped in Sri Lanka 50 times, according to Fukuda.
    But the Kaga’s new role as a big stick of Japanese diplomacy is for some influential military experts in Japan foolhardy because it means deploying ships away from where they are needed more.
    “I am strongly against it,” said Yoji Koda, a retired admiral who is now a fellow at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard.    “Our navy was tasked to kill submarines in the Western Pacific and guarantee the safety of U.S. naval forces.    That is enough, we can’t do anymore things.”
    Japan has one of the biggest and most advanced navies in the world with more than 40 destroyers, four helicopter carriers and around 20 submarines.
    “We undertake far more missions than we did in the past.    That means we are stretched in some areas but it is our job to complete the job with the equipment we have,” said Fukuda, Kaga’s commander.
CARRIER AMBITION
    While arguments over the future role of Japan’s navy rage on within the MSDF and defense ministry, proponents of overseas operations appear for now to have gained the upper hand as Abe seeks a larger regional security role for his country.
    That could eventually lead to the acquisition of fixed wing aircraft carriers, two military officials told Reuters, asking not to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
    Doing so would put it in an exclusive club of countries including the United States, Russia, Britain and more recently China that able to project air power over long distances.
    Details on Tokyo’s plans may come before the end of the year, when Japan’s defense ministry will publish two papers outlining its security goals and military procurement plans for the five years beginning in April 2019.
    Separate military sources earlier told Reuters those documents will include a commitment to acquire vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) F-35B stealth fighters that could be flown from the deck of the Kaga or its sister ship the Izumo.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly. Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

10/2/2018 2 Koreas begin removing DMZ mines to ease military tensions
    North and South Korean troops began removing some of the land mines planted at their heavily fortified border Monday, Seoul officials said, in the first implementation of recent agreements aimed at easing their decadeslong military standoff.    The demining comes amid resumed diplomacy over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program after weeks of stalemated negotiations.

10/3/2018 Seoul estimates North Korea has built 20-60 nuclear weapons
    A top South Korean official told lawmakers that North Korea is estimated to have up to 60 nuclear weapons, in Seoul’s first public comment about the size of the North’s secrecy-shrouded weapons arsenal.
    Unification Minister Cho Myounggyon told Parliament on Monday the estimates on the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal range from 20 bombs to as many as 60.

10/3/2018 India risks U.S. sanctions with $5-billion purchase of Russian missiles by Sanjeev Miglani and Lesley Wroughton
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen drive S-400 missile air defence systems during the Victory Day parade,
marking the 73rd anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War Two,
at Red Square in Moscow, Russia May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has warned India against a planned purchase of S-400 surface-to-air missiles from Russia when President Vladimir Putin’s visits New Delhi this week, saying such an acquisition would attract sanctions under U.S. law.
    India’s military wants the missile batteries, both as a deterrent against China and to gain an edge over traditional rival, Pakistan, as they are able to track and shoot down combat aircraft, even stealth planes, at unprecedented ranges.
    India and Russia will sign the missile deal, estimated at more than $5 billion, during Putin’s visit for annual summit talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi beginning on Thursday, a Kremlin aide said.
    But the United States has warned countries trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors they would face automatic sanctions under a sweeping legislation called Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) that President Donald Trump signed into law last August.
    The law is designed to punish Putin for the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, involvement in the Syrian civil war and meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
    “We urge all of our allies and partners to forgo transactions with Russia that would trigger sanctions under the CAATSA,” a U.S. State Department representative said.
    “The administration has indicated that a focus area for the implementation of CAATSA Section 231 is new or qualitative upgrades in capability – including the S-400 air and missile defense system.”
    Last month, the United States imposed sanctions on China’s military for its purchase of combat fighters as well as the S-400 missile system it bought from Russia this year.
    The United States is also concerned about NATO ally Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian missile system, seeing it as incompatible with the alliance systems.
    Modi’s government, caught in the U.S.-Russia crossfire, hopes the Trump administration will give it a pass on the proposed arms transfer from Russia, officials in New Delhi said.
    Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told reporters India was closing in on the deal to buy the air defense system from Russia, with which it has long-standing military ties.
    “Negotiation on S-400 air defense systems has been on for a long while and it is at a stage where it can be finalised,” Sitharaman said last week.    “We have a big legacy of buying defense equipment from Russia.”
    More than 80 percent of India’s military equipment was of Soviet origin during the days of the Cold War, but since its breakup New Delhi has diversified its weaponry.
    The United States is one of its top arms suppliers, closing $15 billion worth of deals in just the last decade.
    U.S. firms Lockheed Martin and Boeing lead the race to sell the Indian military hundreds of aircraft to replace its aging Russian MiG planes.
    The Modi government hopes the Trump administration will not disrupt burgeoning defense ties with the world’s biggest arm importer by levying sanctions the U.S. Congress has sought.
    The Trump administration faced competing pressures from Congress pursuing a hard line on Russia, said Jeff Smith, a specialist on South Asia at the Heritage Foundation.
    “The administration was critical of the CAATSA and fought hard for a national security waiver at the cabinet secretary level but was denied by Congress,” he said.
    “The administration is not only trying to navigate competing geopolitical interests but relatively stringent conditions imposed by a Congress determined to tie its hands on Russia policy.”
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in MOSCOW; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/3/2018 Deepening farm crisis in India could hurt Modi’s re-election bidby Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj
FILE PHOTO: Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File photo
    MUMBAI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The financial squeeze on India’s farmers is set to worsen because of record high fuel prices and surging costs of fertilisers, posing a challenge to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in an election that must be held by May.
    The rise in input prices could not have come at worse time for farmers, already grappling with falling domestic product prices due to rising yields and abundant harvests.
    Yet, the government has few easy options to respond.    Rival global producers have complained about Indian state support and falling global farm product prices undermine export prospects.
    Indian farmers voted overwhelmingly for Modi in 2014.    But a fall in rural incomes risks damaging that support next year.
    Thousands of farmers marched on New Delhi on Tuesday to demand better prices for their produce.    Police responded with teargas and water cannon. Farmers suspended their protests after talks with officials that ran into early Wednesday morning.
    But their demands and those of other agriculture workers, who together make up about half India’s 1.3 billion people, have not gone away.
    “Although we have decided to end our protest, we still believe that the government is not serious about addressing the concerns of the farmers,” Anil Talan, national secretary of farmers body Bhartiya Kisan Union, said after the march.
    Diesel prices have surged 26 percent this year, making tilling fields, harvesting and transporting crops expensive for India’s 263 million farmers who mostly use diesel tractors.
    Alongside rising diesel costs, prices of key fertilisers such as potash and phosphate have jumped nearly 15 and 17 percent respectively in a year, as companies pass on the rise in global prices and the impact of the weak rupee to farmers.
    India, the world’s second-biggest producer of staples such as rice and wheat, imports all its potash needs and relies on foreign supplies for nearly 90 percent of the phosphate it uses.
    “It’s a double whammy for farmers who have to bear the brunt of lower crop prices and higher input costs,” said Devinder Sharma, an independent food and trade policy analyst, saying this explained “why farmers’ anger has come to the fore.”
    Diesel demand is rising as farmers have started harvesting summer crops.    After tilling, they will plant wheat and rapeseed, the main winter crops.
    Union official Talan said the government needed to prop up commodity prices and keep a lid on farmers’ costs to support the agricultural industry, which accounts for about 16 percent of India’s $2.6 trillion economy.
COUNTING THE COST
    “Because of higher diesel prices I need to spend nearly 20 percent more on harvesting soybean but soybean prices have crashed this year,” said Uttam Jagdale, a farmer from Pune, about 150 km (94 miles) south of Mumbai.
    Nilesh Sable, a cane farmer from Sangli in the western state of Maharashtra, said fertilizer prices were rising each month.
    Fertilizer firms say they have little choice but to pass on at least some extra costs due to a sharp fall in the rupee and a 20 percent rise in international potash and phosphate prices.
    “Still, we are not passing the entire burden to farmers,” said an official with a state-run fertilizer company, asking not to be named in line with government policy.
    Greater farm efficiency is partly to blame. Mechanized farming, high-yielding seed varieties and increased use of pesticides have pushed up harvests.    Output of most crops has soared to record levels each year.
    India’s production of pulses, such as lentils and beans, surged to 24.51 million tonnes in the year to June 2018, up from 23.13 million tonnes in the previous 12 months.
    Imports of pulses, such as lentils from Canada, Australia and Russia, fell to 1.2 million tonnes in the financial year to March 2019, the lowest since 2000/01 and well below the 6.6 million tonnes imported in 2016/17 after back-to-back failures in the monsoon.
    Plentiful supplies extend to other crops.    India is set to surpass Brazil as the world’s top sugar producer in the 2018/19 season, but rising output has driven down local sugar prices by 15 percent and left mills nursing losses.
    In bid to help the sector, the government unveiled measures last week such as transport subsidies and incentives to export at least 5 million tonnes of sugar.    Brazil, Thailand, Australia and other rival producers were quick to complain.
    Vegetable prices, especially onions, cabbage and tomatoes, have also fallen 25 percent from last year, largely because of overproduction.    Without enough refrigerated trucks, excess production cannot be stored.
    Domestic milk prices dived more than 25 percent in the past year, but a global glut has made Indian exports uncompetitive.
    Harish Galipelli, head of commodities and currencies at Inditrade Derivatives & Commodities in Mumbai, said India needed to find markets abroad to reduce its inventories.
    “But exports will not be easy, as global prices are depressed, and there is no export parity for most commodities,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Promit Mukherjee; Editing by Martin Howell and Edmund Blair)

10/4/2018 Iran faces sensitive time due to America, economic woes: Khamenei by Babak Dehghanpisheh
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech to thousands of Basij members at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran October 4, 2018. Khamenei.ir/ Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The people of Iran face a sensitive time because of pressure from America and economic problems, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an address broadcast by state television on Thursday.
    Khamenei was speaking to tens of thousands of members of the Basij militia and top Revolutionary Guards leaders gathered in a stadium in Tehran.
    Discord between Iran and the United States has worsened since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    “The situation of the nation, region and world is sensitive, especially for us the people of Iran,” Khamenei said.
    “Sensitive in this respect that on one hand we have the shouting of the arrogant powers and politicians of imperialist America … on another hand the economic problems of the nation and the tightness of the livelihood of a large portion of the weak people in the country.”
    The Iranian rial has lost approximately 75 percent of its value since the beginning of 2018.
    The United States has said it plans to impose new sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector on Nov. 4 with the aim of stopping Iran’s involvement in conflicts in Syria and Iraq and bringing the Islamic Republic to the negotiating table for its ballistic missile program.
    Iranian officials have said they are involved in the Syrian conflict at the request of President Bashar al-Assad and have refused any negotiations on their missile program.
    At a press briefing in Geneva on Thursday, Robert Wood, the U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, said: “We want to see Iran no longer operating in Syria … And we will continue to tighten sanctions on Iran – you will be seeing some new steps in November, and we’ll go from there.”
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized U.S. foreign policy in a Twitter post on Thursday.
    “President Trump repeatedly humiliates the Saudis by saying they can’t last 2 weeks without his support.    This is the recompense for the delusion that one’s security can be outsourced,” Zarif wrote.    “We again extend our hand to our neighbors: let’s build a “strong region” and stop this conceit.”
    Iran and Saudi Arabia are regional rivals and have supported opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen and different political factions in Iraq and Lebanon.
    In his speech in Tehran, Khamenei also said that Iran must deliver a slap to America by defeating sanctions.
    “With the kindness of God we will defeat sanctions and the defeat of sanctions is the defeat of America,” Khamenei said.    “And America must receive another slap from the people of Iran with the defeat of sanctions.”
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/6/2018 China silent as French police probe disappearance of Interpol chief by Ingrid Melander
FILE PHOTO: INTERPOL President Meng Hongwei poses during a visit to the headquarters
of International Police Organisation in Lyon, France, May 8, 2018. Jeff Pachoud/Pool via Reuters
    PARIS (Reuters) – French police are investigating the disappearance of Interpol chief, Meng Hongwei, who was reported missing after traveling from France to his native China, and they have placed his wife under protection after threats, the interior ministry said on Friday.
    Meng’s wife contacted police in Lyon, the French city where the international police agency is based, after not hearing from him since Sept. 25, and after receiving threats by phone and on social media, the ministry said.
    A person familiar with the investigation into the disappearance said the initial working assumption of Western investigators was that Meng had antagonized Chinese authorities in some way and had been detained as a result.
    “France is puzzled about the situation of Interpol’s president and concerned about the threats made to his wife,” the ministry said.
    Meng’s wife, who has remained in Lyon with their children according to police sources, was receiving protection, it said.    “Exchanges with Chinese authorities continue,” the ministry added.
    China has not commented officially on Meng’s disappearance and there was no mention of him in official media on Saturday.
    China’s Ministry of Public Security did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment.
    There have been several cases in recent years of senior Chinese officials vanishing without explanation, only for the government to announce weeks or even months later that they have been put under investigation, often for suspected corruption.
    It was not clear why Meng, 64, who was named Interpol’s president two years ago, had traveled to China.
    Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post quoted an unnamed source as saying Meng had been taken for questioning as soon as he landed in China, but it also was not clear why.
    French police are investigating what is officially termed in France a “worrying disappearance.”
    Interpol, which groups 192 countries and which is usually focused on finding people who are missing or wanted, said it was aware of reports about Meng’s “alleged disappearance.”
    “This is a matter for the relevant authorities in both France and China,” the agency said in a statement.
‘BIZARRE’
    Roderic Broadhurst, a professor of criminology at Australian National University, said Meng’s disappearance would be “pretty disconcerting” for people in international bodies that work with China, and could ultimately damage China’s efforts to develop cooperative legal assistance measures with other countries.
    “It is bizarre,” Broadhurst said on Saturday, adding that China was likely to “brush off” any political damage that it would cause to Beijing’s involvement in international bodies.
    “It’s a price that might have to be paid, but I guess they would see that as a cost worth bearing,” Broadhurst said.
    Presidents of Interpol are seconded from their national administrations and remain in their home post while representing the international policing body.
    Meng is listed on the website of China’s Ministry of Public Security as a vice-minister, but lost his seat on its key Communist Party Committee in April, the South China Morning Post reported.
    Meng has almost 40 years’ experience in criminal justice and policing, and has overseen matters related to legal institutions, narcotics control and counter-terrorism, according to Interpol’s website.
    Interpol staff can carry special passports to help speed deployment in emergency situations but that would not have given Meng any specific rights or immunity in his home country.
    When Meng was named Interpol’s president in Nov. 2016, human rights groups expressed concern that Beijing might try to leverage his position to pursue dissidents abroad.    Beijing has in the past pressed countries to arrest and deport to China citizens it accuses of crimes, from corruption to terrorism.
    At the time, Amnesty International called Meng’s appointment “at odds with Interpol’s mandate to work in the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
    Diplomats say the role of Interpol president is largely ceremonial, with day-to-day work carried out by its secretary general, Juergen Stock, and his staff.
(Reporting by Catherine Lagrange in Lyon, Richard Lough, Simon Carraud and Sarah White in Paris, Mark Hosenball in London, Yawen Chen and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

10/6/2018 Pakistan’s opposition leader jailed for 10 days ahead of by-elections by Mubasher Bukhari
Shehbaz Sharif, brother of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif,
at the Parliament house in Islamabad, Pakistan August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
    LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistani opposition leader Shehbaz Sharif was ordered jailed on Saturday for 10 days after being arrested in a corruption case, his lawyer said, meaning he will not be able to campaign for his party ahead of crucial by-elections next week.
    Sharif is the younger brother of ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years in prison by an anti-corruption court after the Supreme Court removed him from power.
    Friday’s arrest of Shehbaz Sharif by agents of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) in Lahore involved a case of alleged corruption in a low-cost housing scheme when Sharif was chief minister of Punjab province.
    A NAB court on Saturday heard charges that Sharif in 2014 illegally canceled a contract with a construction company and sought to award it to another company, allegedly for a bribe.
    The court ordered him remanded in custody for 10 days to be interrogated, his lawyer Azam Nazir Tarar said.
    Hundreds of activists from Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz gathered outside the court, chanting pro-Sharif slogans as police and army Rangers guarded the venue.
    Sharif denies any wrongdoing, and his brother has denounced corruption cases against him and other party leaders as politically motivated.
    Lawyer Tarar said that Sharif was improperly arrested on a warrant that was kept secret.    Sharif went to the court for questioning in another corruption case involving a water purification scheme but instead was arrested on the housing project warrant.
    “They cannot arrest the leader of the opposition in this manner,” the lawyer said.
    Ex-premier Nawaz Sharif was arrested 10 days before the July 25 general election, which was won by cricket star turned politician Imran Khan, who now leads the new government.    He was released from prison last month pending an appeal.
    The Sharifs’ Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz came in second place in the general election.    Their party denounced the polls as rigged, alleging the military and courts tipped the scale in favor of Khan’s party, a charge the army and judiciary deny.
    The PML-N says that the arrest of Shehbaz Sharif was intended to weaken the party before by-elections to be held on Oct. 14.
    The by-elections are for 11 parliamentary seats and 19 provincial assembly seats.
    The voting could affect the slim majority Khan’s coalition government holds in parliament, though many of the constituencies are considered strongholds of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.
    The contests are considered to be closer in the provincial assemblies and could result in the PML-N winning back control of Punjab.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

10/6/2018 India seeks to reassure markets on deregulation of fuel prices
A worker holds a nozzle to pump petrol into a vehicle at a fuel station in Mumbai, India, May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India on Saturday sought to assure investors that the government would not go back to regulating fuel prices, a day after oil company shares tumbled on concerns about a return to a regime that has hurt their profits in the past.
    The government said on Thursday it was cutting gasoline and diesel by 2.50 rupees per liter to help Indians struggling to pay fuel prices that had climbed on the back of a rise in global crude prices and a weakening rupee.
    The move was seen as a reversal of a 2014 decision to scrap regulated fuel prices – a regime that was blamed for deterring state oil marketing firms from expanding and for choking off investment in domestic oil fields by India’s biggest oil producer.
    “Let me categorically assure all that there is no going back on deregulation of oil prices,” India’s finance minister Arun Jaitley said in a Facebook post on Saturday.    https://bit.ly/2Cuykza
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi freed up the price of diesel in October 2014 after a decade of regulation, saying it would encourage competition among vehicle fuel retailers and enhance efficiency in oil company services.
    Experts said it was one of his most far reaching reforms after previous governments failed to free the price of diesel, India’s most widely used transport fuel.    Petrol prices were freed up by the former government of the Congress party in 2010.
    The price cut reduced the government’s excise duty by 1.50 rupees per liter and cut one rupee per liter on the amount charged by state-run oil marketing firms Indian Oil Corp , Bharat Petroleum Corp and Hindustan Petroleum Corp .
    Shares in the companies fell more than 20 percent to multi-year lows on Friday before recovering marginally.
(Reporting by Aditi Shah; Editing by Andrew Bolton).

10/7/2018 India’s Rohingya refugees struggle with hatred, fear as first group is expelled by Krishna N. Das
Sahidullah, a man from the Rohingya community, holds his son on his lap as he speaks with Reuters
inside his shack at a camp on the outskirts of Jammu October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
    JAMMU, India (Reuters) – Hours after Indian TV channels flashed that the country was deporting seven Rohingya Muslims to Myanmar, Sahidullah said he received a call from his nephew: “Uncle, please get us out of here.    They will send us back too.”
    Sahidullah, a Rohingya living in the far north of India after fleeing what he called persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2010, said his relative, Sadiur Rahman, 40, was lodged in one of several detention centers for illegal immigrants in the distant northeastern state of Assam.
    Rahman, he said, had been incarcerated with his brother and eight other relatives since being caught in 2012 at a railway station as they fled to India via Bangladesh.    Sahidullah had taken the same route two years earlier, but like many others had escaped detection.
    He said Rahman made the phone call when he was taken out for a routine medical checkup on Oct. 3, the day when India moved the seven Rohingya men out of a similar detention center and took them to the border.
    They were handed to the Myanmar authorities the next day, the first ever such deportations of Rohingya here, spreading panic among an estimated 40,000 refugees who have fled to India from its neighbor.
    About 16,500 of the refugees, including Sahidullah, have been issued identity cards by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that it says helps them “prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation.”
    India says it does not recognize the cards and has rejected the UN’s stand that deporting the Rohingya violates the principle of refoulement – sending back refugees to a place where they face danger.
    “Anyone who has entered the country without a valid legal permit is considered illegal,” said A. Bharat Bhushan Babu, a spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs.    “As per the law, anyone illegal will have to be sent back.    As per law they will be repatriated.”
    In recent days, Reuters interviewed dozens of Rohingya in two settlements, one in the northern city of Jammu and a smaller one in the capital, Delhi, and found communities who feel they are being increasingly vilified.
    Many now fear Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government is about to act on its stated position – that it wants to deport all Rohingya Muslims from the country.    With a general election due by next May, they worry that targeting them will be a populist tactic used by Modi and his allies.
HATRED GROWING
    Sahidullah – who like many Rohingya goes by only one name – is not just worried about his detained relatives but also his family living in a mainly Hindu region of India’s only Muslim-dominated state, Jammu & Kashmir, in the country’s northern tip.
    The restive Himalayan state that borders Pakistan and is home to Muslim separatists battling Indian rule, has the biggest population of Rohingya in the country with around 7,000 people scattered in various makeshift settlements, largely in the Jammu region.
    “We came to India because people told us things were better here, there’s more work and one could move freely unlike back home,” said Sahidullah, who works as a cleaner at a car showroom in Jammu city to support his aging amnesiac mother, wife and four children.
    “All that’s true and we are thankful to India for letting us live here.    But hatred against us is growing,” he told Reuters as he sat on a colorful linen sheet laid on the floor of his self-made wood and plastic-sheet house built on a rented plot of land.
    Mohammed Arfaat, a 24-year-old Rohingya youth leader in Jammu, said that locals often accuse them of having links with militants without any proof.
    “They want us out of here and that has got our families worried,” said Arfaat, switching between English and Hindi as nearly a dozen community elders seated around him on the rough concrete floor of a Rohingya house started leaving for Friday prayers.    “Everybody here is aware of the deportation and is afraid.”
    Indian authorities said that the repatriation of the seven was a routine procedure and that it sends all illegal foreigners back home.
    But the UNHCR voiced deep concern on Friday about the safety and security of those expelled, saying they had been denied access to legal counsel and a chance to have their asylum claims assessed.
    “Current conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not conducive for safe, dignified and sustainable return of stateless Rohingya refugees,” said UNHCR spokesman Andrej Mahecic.
    Most Rohingya used to live in Rakhine.
    In August last year, attacks by Rohingya fighters on security posts in Rakhine led to a bloody military crackdown that caused around 700,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
    The United Nations has accused Myanmar of acting against the Rohingya with “genocidal intent,” a charge Myanmar refutes, saying its military did not use excessive force and was reacting to militant attacks.
INCREASINGLY UGLY
    The atmosphere facing the Rohingya in India has been getting increasingly ugly.
    Jammu’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry last year threatened to launch an “identify and kill movement” against the settlers, which it said pushed the government into taking the issue of Rohingya more seriously.
    The chamber’s president, Rakesh Gupta, told Reuters on Friday that there was nothing new in taking the law into one’s hands if “someone becomes a threat to our security, to the nation’s security, and the security forces don’t tackle them."
    In some of the more virulent parts of India’s media, the Rohingya are not only accused of being terrorists but also of trafficking in drugs and humans, and of having the money to elbow out local businesses.
    The Pioneer newspaper, which supports Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said in an editorial on Saturday that “the Rohingya are a problem,” declaring that those that are radicalized Islamist extremists need to be dealt with ruthlessly and the rest are economic migrants that India cannot afford to help.
    India, which considers itself a victim of Islamist militancy and is trying to boost economic ties with Myanmar to counter China, said late last year that it shared Myanmar’s concern about “extremist violence” by Rohingya militants.
    India’s home ministry has told the Supreme Court that it had reports from security agencies and other authentic sources “indicating linkages of some of the unauthorized Rohingya immigrants with Pakistan-based terror organizations and similar organizations operating in other countries.”
    “It’s definitely an election issue,” said Kavinder Gupta, a BJP legislator in Jammu & Kashmir and former deputy chief minister of the state.
    “It’s our decision to throw them out keeping in mind the security situation of the state,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of a campaign meeting for municipal elections.    “We have made the home ministry aware of the need to send them back to their country.”
    Senior Jammu police officials said on condition of anonymity that they had identified all Rohingya in the area in preparation for their eventual deportation.    They added they had not found any link of Rohingya with militants.
    Around 600 km (370 miles) south of Jammu, residents of a makeshift refugee camp in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh also said they fear deportation.
    “We don’t want to leave India.    Where will we go?” said Mohammed Harun, a 47-year-old Rohingya elder in Delhi.    “There are refugees from other countries in India too.    Why are we being targeted?    Why do they send us to jail?    It is only because we are Muslims.    They don’t do this to the other refugees.”
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das in JAMMU; Additional reporting by Blassy Boben in NEW DELHI; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

10/7/2018 Taliban kill at least 10 police in central Afghanistan clashes
Security Humvees are seen after an attack by Taliban in Sayeed Abad district, Wardak Province, Afghanistan,
in this still image taken from video on October 7, 2018. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – At least 10 policemen were killed in clashes with Taliban fighters in the central Afghan province of Wardak, officials said on Sunday, amid fighting to wrest control of arterial highways a day after Taliban fighters blew up bridges.
    The Taliban set fire to a government building in Wardak’s Sayeed Abad district and killed the district police chief along with nine other policemen on Saturday night, a senior police official said.
    Repeated assaults by insurgents on strategically important provinces, such as Wardak and nearby Ghazni have underscored how volatile security remains in Afghanistan two weeks before nationwide parliamentary elections.
    At least 25 Taliban insurgents were killed by Afghan security forces, government officials said, and reinforcements from neighboring provinces were deployed to regain control of contested highways.
    Officials said Afghan forces had driven out Taliban insurgents from the highway that connects Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, to the major southern city of Kandahar.
    Abdul Rahman Mangal, a spokesman for the Wardak governor’s office, said the Taliban raided some civilian houses after killing 10 policemen in that province, destroyed newly built checkpoints and cut power to some parts of the city.
    Government forces counter-attacked to stop the insurgents from approaching the city, Mangal said.
    Afghanistan’s power supply company, Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, said in a statement major power lines serving Wardak and Ghazni had been cut.    The power cuts also affected parts of the nearby provinces of Logar and Paktia.
    It said teams would be sent to repair the lines as soon as security improves.
    A statement from the Taliban’s main spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, said the insurgents had taken the centre of Sayeed Abad in Wardak and all surrounding security checkpoints, killing numerous members of the security forces and seizing weapons, ammunition and vehicles.
    Mohammad Arif Noori, a spokesman for Ghazni’s governor, said one soldier was killed by Taliban fighters as they tried to gain control over parts of the province nearly two months after being pushed back from the city by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
    The Taliban attacked Ghazni, a strategically important centre straddling the main highway linking Kabul with Afghanistan’s south, in August.    It was the largest tactical operation launched by the Taliban since they overran the northern city of Kunduz in 2015.
    That confrontation killed 150 members of Afghanistan’s security forces and 95 civilians, as well as hundreds of Taliban fighters.
(Reporting by Mustafa Andalib, Abdul Qadir Sediqi,; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Paul Tait)

10/6/2018 Secy of state coordinates with Japan ahead of potential summit with NK by OAN Newsroom
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledges to coordinate with Japan in upcoming talks with Kim Jong Un. Speaking with reporters in Tokyo Saturday, Pompeo vowed to address the issue of abducted Japanese citizens with the North Korean leader.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands prior to a meeting
at Abe’s office in Tokyo Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Pompeo has arrived in Tokyo
for talks with Japanese officials ahead of his trip to North Korea. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, Pool)
    The secretary of state went on to say, it was important to hear from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before heading to Pyongyang.
    He added, the meeting ensures the U.S. and Japan share a coordinated and unified view on denuclearization.
    “As I travel to Pyongyang to make sure that we’re fully in sync with respect to missile programmes, CBW (chemical- and biological-weapons) programmes.    We’ll bring up the issue of the abductees as well, and we’ll share with you how we hope to proceed when we are in Pyongyang tomorrow, so we will have a fully coordinated, unified view of how to proceed, which will be what is needed if it is going to be successful in denuclearizing North Korea.” -Mike Pompeo
    This, as Japan’s Defense Ministry said it still considers North Korea a threat to its security.

10/8/2018 Pompeo says North Korea ready to let inspectors into missile, nuclear sites by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang
in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 7, 2018. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was ready to allow international inspectors into the North’s nuclear and missile testing sites, one of the main sticking points over an earlier denuclearization pledge.
    Pompeo, who met Kim during a short trip to Pyongyang on Sunday, said the inspectors would visit a missile engine test facility and the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site as soon as the two sides agree on logistics.
    “There’s a lot of logistics that will be required to execute that,” Pompeo told a news briefing in Seoul before leaving for Beijing.
    The top U.S. diplomat also said both sides were “pretty close” to agreement on the details of a second summit, which Kim proposed to U.S. President Donald Trump in a letter last month.
    Trump and Kim held an historic first summit in Singapore in June.
    “Most importantly, both the leaders believe there’s real progress that can be made, substantive progress that can be made at the next summit,” Pompeo said.
    Stephen Biegun, new U.S. nuclear envoy who was accompanying the secretary, said he offered on Sunday to meet his counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, “as soon as possible” and they were in discussion over specific dates and location.
    Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, his fourth this year, followed a stalemate as North Korea resisted Washington’s demands for irreversible steps to give up its nuclear arsenal, including a complete inventory of its weapons and facilities.
    He told South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday his latest trip to Pyongyang was “another step forward” to denuclearization but there are “many steps along the way.”
INSPECTION
    At last month’s inter-Korean summit, the North expressed its willingness to close the Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington takes corresponding action, which Moon said would include a declaration of an end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
    Pompeo declined to comment whether there was progress on a shutdown of the Yongbyon site.
    Moon also said the North will “permanently dismantle” its missile engine testing site and launch platform in the northwestern town of Tongchang-ri in the presence of experts from “concerned countries.”
    But Pyongyang failed to keep its pledge to allow international inspections of its demolition of the Punggye-ri site in May, fanning criticism that the move could be reversed.
    In July, satellite imagery indicated the North has begun dismantling the engine test site in Tongchang-ri, but without allowing outsiders access for verification.    And the Stimson Centre’s 38 North said last week that no dismantling activity was spotted since Aug. 3.
    Some experts say that opening the Tongchang-ri or Punggye-ri sites for inspection could be a goodwill gesture but has little significance in quickening denuclearization.
    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement Kim had invited inspectors to visit the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm it had been irreversibly dismantled.    The statement did not provide further details.
SMILES, HANDSHAKES
    In a more upbeat note, Pyongyang’s state media said on Monday Kim lauded his talks with Pompeo, where Kim “explained in detail the proposals for solving the denuclearization issue.”
    “Kim Jong Un expressed satisfaction over the productive and wonderful talks with Mike Pompeo at which mutual stands were fully understood and opinions exchanged,” North Korean news agency KCNA said.
    Kim said the bilateral dialogue would continue to develop “based on the deep confidence between the two leaders,” and expressed gratitude to Trump for making a sincere effort to implement the agreement made at their June summit, KCNA said.
    KCNA also said the two sides agreed to hold working negotiations for the second summit as early as possible.
    But it did not mention any inspection-related issue.
    Commenting on Pompeo’s meeting with Kim, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Kim was expected to visit Russia soon.    He said Chinese leader Xi Jinping was also expected to travel to North Korea but did not elaborate further.
    North Korea’s state newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, featured eight photos of the meeting on its front page, including shots of Kim and Pompeo smiling and shaking hands, as well as some with Kim’s sister Kim Yo Jong.
    North Korea denounced Pompeo on his previous trip to Pyongyang in July for making “gangster-like demands.”    Pompeo did not meet Kim on that trip.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Peter Cooney, Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

10/8/2018 Chill in the air as Pompeo meets Chinese counterparts in Beijing by Michael Martina
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
before a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China October 8, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via Reuters
    BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi aired their grievances in the open on Monday during a brief visit to Beijing by Washington’s top diplomat, amid worsening relations.
    While the exchange included typical diplomatic pleasantries, and the two officials emphasized the need for cooperation, their remarks before journalists at the start of their meeting at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guest House were unusually pointed.
    “Recently, as the U.S. side has been constantly escalating trade friction toward China, it has also adopted a series of actions on the Taiwan issue that harm China’s rights and interests, and has made groundless criticism of China’s domestic and foreign policies,” Wang said at a joint appearance with Pompeo.
    “We believe this has been a direct attack on our mutual trust, and has cast a shadow on China-U.S. relations,” he added.    “We demand that the U.S. side stop this kind of mistaken action.”
    Wang also urged the United States to stop selling arms to Taiwan and to cut off official visits and military ties with the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.
    Pompeo, who was briefing Wang following his visit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said, “The issues that you characterized, we have a fundamental disagreement."
    “We have great concerns about the actions that China has taken, and I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship.”
    Pompeo and Wang openly disagreed over which side had called off a two-way security dialogue that had been planned in Beijing this month.
PROFOUND CHANGES
    Last week, Vice President Mike Pence stepped up the U.S. pressure campaign against Beijing, going beyond the trade war by accusing China of both “malign” efforts to undermine President Donald Trump ahead of next month’s congressional elections and of reckless military action in the South China Sea.
    Pompeo also met China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi, a Politburo member who heads the ruling Communist Party’s foreign affairs commission, though remarks before reporters took a more conventional tone, even as both agreed relations faced many challenges.
    Pompeo did not have a scheduled meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a fact that a senior U.S. State Department official on the trip said was not strange, even though top U.S. officials often meet Chinese heads of state on visits.
    Pompeo wished Xi a happy birthday when the two met on a trip to Beijing in June.
    But the senior U.S. official said the United States still expected cooperation with Beijing on efforts to denuclearize North Korea, whose chief ally is China.
    “I would certainly expect so,” the official said.    “That’s a very important issue, and they recognize that, and accept that, and realize that.”
    If ties between the two countries continued to deteriorate, there could be “profound changes” in the strategic environment for such regional issues as North Korea, China’s state-backed Global Times tabloid warned in an editorial.
    “For Asia, the severity of China-U.S. frictions is taking up much attention and is, to some extent, diluting attention paid to the Korean peninsula issue,” it said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

10/8/2018 Pakistan Islamists warn of ‘terrible consequences’ of blasphemy appeal by Saad Sayeed and Drazen Jorgic
FILE PHOTO: Governor of the Punjab Province Salman Taseer is reflected as he spoke to media after meeting with Asia Bibi,
a Pakistani Christian woman who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy, at a jail in Sheikhupura,
located in Pakistan's Punjab Province November 20, 2010. REUTERS/Asad Karim
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A hardline Pakistani Islamist group has warned of “terrible consequences” if a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy is granted leniency in an appeal heard on Monday, a case that has drawn global headlines and indignation.
    Asia Bibi, a mother of four, in 2010 became the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws.
    She appealed to the Supreme Court which concluded proceedings on Monday but reserved its judgment.    The court did not specify when it would announce a ruling.
    Her case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated, including Punjab governor Salman Taseer, who was shot by his own bodyguard.
    The ultra-religious Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party, which makes punishing blasphemy its main campaign rallying cry and lionizes the bodyguard who killed Taseer, warned the court against any “concession or softness” for Bibi.
    “If there is any attempt to hand her over to a foreign country, there will be terrible consequences,” TLP said in a statement.
    Insulting Islam’s prophet is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions that they are almost impossible to defend against.    Dozens have been killed following blasphemy claims, sometimes by mobs of men.
[THIS SOUNDS LIKE THE MOB DEMOCRATS DEMONSTRATION AGAINST SUPREME COURT NOMINEE BRETT KAVANAUGH].
    TLP won more than two million votes in the July 25 elections, though it has no parliamentarians in the National Assembly and only holds two provincial seats.    But it wields outsized influence due to street power of its die-hard supporters.
    In November, TLP staged a crippling blockade of the capital after a tweak to a religious oath, which it claims was tantamount to blasphemy.    Seven people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with the police and TLP’s supporters only dispersed after striking a deal with the military.
    In May, an extremist linked to TLP shot and wounded Pakistan’s then-Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal.
    Bibi was sentenced to death for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    Bibi has always denied blaspheming and her representatives have claimed she was involved in a dispute with her neighbors and that her accusers had contradicted themselves.
    Rights groups say the blasphemy law is increasingly exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.    The law does not define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offence.
    “Aasia Bibi has become a symbol of all that happens to religious minorities where class and prejudice intersect and a dysfunctional justice system is unable to protect Pakistan’s non-Muslim citizens,” the English-language Daily Times said in an editorial on Monday.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/8/2018 Tough new Bangladesh measure becomes law, seen curbing free speech by Serajul Quadir
FILE PHOTO: Bangladesh's President Abdul Hamid (R) enters a car after attended a wreath-laying ceremony
at the mausoleum of the late Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam August 9, 2015. REUTERS/Kham
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid on Monday gave his assent to a ,b>controversial new law that media groups fear could cripple press freedom and curb free speech in the South Asian nation.
    Parliament passed the Digital Security Act on Sept. 19, combining the colonial-era Official Secrets Act with tough new provisions such as arrests without a warrant.
    “The president has given his assent to the Digital Security Act today, making it law,” his press secretary, Joynal Abedin, told Reuters.
    Last month, media groups canceled protests against the law after the government promised to amend it.    But their concerns were not addressed, said Manzurul Ahsan Bulbul, a former president of the Bangladesh Federal Journalist Union who took part in talks with the government.
    “We are frustrated as, during the meeting, we placed several proposals but none was reflected in the law,” he told Reuters.    “Now we will see what the cabinet decides and accordingly will take action.”
    Abedin said the government could only consider amending the measure after it became law.
    “The law can be amended at any time if cabinet desires, so the journalist community need not to be worried,” Anisul Haq, the law minister, told Reuters.
    New York-based Human Rights Watch has called the law a “tool ripe for abuse and a clear violation of the country’s obligations under international law to protect free speech.”
    Opponents say the digital law is the latest authoritarian move by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, criticized for suppressing student protests in August and a war on drugs that has prompted accusations of extrajudicial killings by security forces, a charge the government denies.
    Hasina has defended the digital law as necessary to combat cyber crime.
    “The journalists are only thinking about their interest, not about society and only for that they are raising their voices,” Hasina said this week.
    Scores of people, including journalists, have been jailed for online criticism of the government since Hasina returned to power in 2009.
    The law has also drawn opposition internationally.
    The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, Marcia Bernicat, said last month the “Digital Security Act could be used to suppress and criminalize free speech, all to the detriment of Bangladesh’s democracy, development and prosperity.”
(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

10/8/2018 Tehran says Saudi Arabia unable to replace lost Iranian oil
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh arrives for an OPEC meeting
in Vienna, Austria, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh has dismissed as “nonsense” claims by the Saudi crown prince that Saudi Arabia can replace sanctions-hit Iranian oil in the market.
    “(Mohammed) bin Salman’s remarks and such bragging can only satisfy (U.S. President Donald) Trump.    No one else will believe him.    Iran’s oil cannot be replaced by Saudi Arabia nor any other country,” Zanganeh was quoted as saying on his ministry’s website.
    Prince Mohammed told Bloomberg on Friday that the kingdom had met its promise to Washington to make up for Iranian oil supplies lost through U.S. sanctions, reimposed when the United States exited a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six powers.
    Washington is pushing allies to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero and will impose a new round of sanctions on Iranian oil sales in November.
    But Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, has repeatedly said that its oil exports cannot be reduced to zero because of high demand levels in the market and has blamed Trump for an oil price rally caused by imposing sanctions on Tehran.
    “The price hike in the market is the best evidence to state that … the market faces a supply shortage and it is worried,” Zanganeh said.
    Zanganeh accused Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia of bowing to U.S. pressure, saying such remarks had no “real impact on the market” but were part of a psychological war launched against Iran.
    “Any country that makes such claims … just wants to display its support for the U.S. sanctions against Iran,” Zanganeh was quoted as saying.
    “What the Saudis had been supplying the market with, were not from Riyadh’s spare capacity but from tapping its oil stocks,” Zanganeh said, according to the website.
    Iran has warned that if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. pressure, then no other regional country will be allowed to do so either, threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz.
    A U.S. government official said on Friday that the administration was considering waivers on Iran’s oil sanctions.    Oil dropped to around $83 a barrel on Monday.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by Dale Hudson and Jason Neely)

10/8/2018 Secretary Pompeo: We have great concerns about China’s actions, disagreements by OAN Newsroom
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited “fundamental” disagreement with China’s foreign minister amid rising tensions between the two nations.
    At a meeting in Beijing Monday, Pompeo said the White House has “great concerns about China’s actions.”
    China’s foreign minister argued the U.S. is responsible for escalating trade conflicts.    He also urged the administration to stop selling arms to neighboring Taiwan, which China views as its territory.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi’s speech
at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, Monday, Oct. 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
    Meanwhile, Secretary Pompeo urged China to set aside their aggression over trade in order to help foster relations with North Korea.
    “China has always been devoted to promoting the goal of denuclearization on the peninsula, protecting peace and stability, and resolving the issue through dialogue and consultations,” stated Lu Kang, spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry.    “This position, regardless of changes in the regional or international situation, has never changed.”
    This comes after Vice President Mike Pence accused China of attempted meddling in U.S. midterm elections and domestic policies.

10/8/2018 President Moon Jae-in: Conditions are set for second U.S.-North Korea summit by OAN Newsroom
    The second summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is now one step closer as conditions for the meeting have officially been set.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in made the announcement Monday, following a productive visit with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    While the official conditions have yet to be revealed, Moon advised members of his cabinet to work proficiently to ensure the summit is held as soon as possible.
    He also emphasized the possibility of future meetings between North Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during their meeting at the
presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (Kim Hong-ji/Pool Photo via AP)
    “With Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to North Korea, the conditions for the second North Korea-U.S. summit have been created,” stated President Moon.    “I want all of you to work closely with the U.S. and put in maximum efforts into making the second North Korea-U.S. summit happen as soon as possible and make progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and peace process.”
    The South Korean president hopes the summit will allow a new order to be created throughout the Korean peninsula, eventually leading into Northeast Asia.

10/9/2018 10/9/2018 Pompeo talks trade, Taiwan with China - Secretary of state says US has ‘grave concerns by Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tangled with his Chinese counterparts over trade, Taiwan and other contentious issues during a high-stakes stop Monday.
    With Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at his side, Pompeo said the two countries had “fundamental disagreements” to discuss behind closed doors.
    “We have grave concerns about the actions that China has taken,” Pompeo said before reporters were escorted out of the Beijing meeting.    “I look forward to having the opportunity to discuss each of those today because this is an incredibly important relationship.”
    Pompeo’s visit to China was the last stop on a four-country diplomatic tour that focused mostly on U.S. efforts to negotiate a denuclearization agreement with North Korea.    In China, the agenda was much broader – including the Trump administration’s support for Taiwan, China’s territorial claims on the South China Sea and the two countries’ escalating battle over trade.
    The administration slapped tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods shipped into the USA.    China retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S.-made goods.
    Vice President Mike Pence escalated the administration’s rhetoric last week in a speech that accused the Chinese government of meddling in American democracy and trying to undermine Trump’s presidency. Pence blasted China’s regional military aggression and efforts to expand its influence across Africa and elsewhere.
    Chinese officials denied Pence’s accusations of election meddling, calling it “malicious slander.”
    Wang appealed to Pompeo to cease actions that Beijing sees as threatening its interests; otherwise, they could disrupt cooperation over North Korea and other issues, according to the Associated Press.    “While the U.S. side has constantly escalated trade frictions with China, it has also taken actions regarding Taiwan that harm China’s core interests,” Wang said.
    Pompeo met later with another top official in China’s ruling Communist Party, Yang Jiechi, who also expressed frustration with Washington.
    Yang told Pompeo that U.S.-Chinese relations are “facing challenges,” and the two countries should try to “meet each other halfway” to resolve their differences, the AP reported.
    The Trump administration needs China’s cooperation to make progress with North Korea on denuclearization.
    China has significant leverage over its communist ally – being able to squeeze or support the Kim regime economically.
    “There is the beginning of some talk that we are really moving toward a renewed cold war, this time between the U.S. and China,” Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert suggested Monday’s meetings were productive and candid.    She said there was no friction over the effort to persuade Kim Jong Un to give up North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi meets U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, in Beijing on Monday.
Pompeo said the two countries had “fundamental disagreements” to discuss. GETTY IMAGES

10/9/2018 Iran is new transit point for Somali charcoal in illicit trade taxed by militants: U.N. report by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A Somalian soldier walks past a consignment of charcoal destined
for the export market in Barawe October 12, 2014. REUTERS/Feisal Omar (SOMALIA)/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Criminal networks are using Iran as a transit point for illicit Somali charcoal exports that earn Islamist militants al Shabaab millions of dollars annually in tax, U.N. sanctions monitors said in a report seen by Reuters.
    In the unpublished annual report to the U.N. Security Council, the monitors add that domestic revenue generation by al Qaeda-affiliated al Shabaabis more geographically diversified and systematic” than that of Somalia’s federal government.
    The report says that since March the main destination for shipments – using fake country of origin certificates from Comoros, Ivory Coast and Ghana – has been ports in Iran, where the charcoal is packaged into white bags labeled “Product of Iran.”
    “The bags were then reloaded onto smaller, Iran-flagged dhows (boats), and exported to Port Al Hamriya, Dubai, UAE, using certificates of origin falsely indicating the ‘country of manufacture’ of the charcoal as Iran,” the monitors wrote.
    Iran became a transit point for the shipments — which breach a U.N. ban on Somali charcoal exports — after Oman tightened its customs procedures, said the report.
    The monitors, who track compliance with U.N. sanctions on Somalia and Eritrea, said Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) did not “substantively engage” when the monitors raised concerns about the transshipment of Somali charcoal.
    The report estimated the wholesale value of illicit Somali charcoal to be $150 million a year in the UAE, where it is widely used for cooking and smoking shisha water pipes, also known as hookah or nargile.    They also estimated that about three million bags of charcoal were exported from Somalia in the past year.
    “The charcoal trade continues to be a significant source of revenue for al Shabaab, generating at least $7.5 million from checkpoint taxation,” they wrote.
    UAE Ambassador to the U.N. Lana Nusseibeh said she could not comment because the report had not yet been published.
    “That being said, the UAE is fully aware of all Security Council resolutions and is in full compliance with the sanctions imposed,” she told Reuters.    “We also reaffirm our continued cooperation with the Monitoring Group throughout its mandate.”
    The Iranian mission to the U.N. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The U.N. Security Council banned charcoal exports from Somalia in 2012 in a bid to cut off funds for al Shabaab, an al Qaeda-affiliated group trying to topple Somalia’s Western-backed central government and impose its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.
    The Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Somalia in 1992 to cut a flow of arms to feuding warlords, who ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and plunged the country into war.
SOPHISTICATED ACCOUNTING SYSTEM
    In addition to earnings from charcoal, al Shabaab is making millions of dollars annually via tolls on vehicles in areas where they man checkpoints and through taxes on businesses, agriculture and livestock.
    All this “generates more than enough revenue to sustain its insurgency,” the monitors wrote.
    Despite controlling far less territory than it did at the height of a decade-long insurgency, “the group’s ability to carry out complex asymmetric attacks in Somalia remains undiminished,” the monitors wrote.
    Al Shabaab’s most lucrative checkpoint is about 160 km (100 miles) north-west of the capital Mogidishu on the road to Baidoa, the monitors said, citing an al Shabaab defector who reported that the location earns the group approximately $30,000 per day — $10 million a year.
    “Employing mafia-style tactics, the group is able to levy taxation via a network of hinterland checkpoints, with collection of taxes enforced through violence and intimidation,” said the monitors, adding that truck drivers risked execution if they tried to avoid checkpoints.
    Earlier this year the monitors obtained ledgers belonging to al Shabaab that were recovered after one of the group’s senior accountants was killed in an attack by the Somali National Army and African Union peacekeepers.
    They wrote that the ledgers detail al Shabaab’s revenue and expenses in one region, Hiran, in central Somalia, from October 2014 to March 2018 and “display a sophisticated accounting system” in which the militants transfer funds using the mobile money system operated by mobile network Hormuud Telecom.
    The monitors said that the militants’ tax generation system “is more geographically diversified and systematic” than that of the federal government, and that due to the militants’ provision of receipts, the taxation system is “accountable and predictable,” in contrast to the network of checkpoints manned by the government’s armed forces in some parts of the country.
    Under an International Monetary Fund program, the government in Mogadishu is implementing public finance reforms, and domestic revenues have quadrupled since 2012 to the end of 2017 according to the finance ministry.
    Reuters however reported last year that the United States had decided to suspend food and fuel aid to most of Somalia’s armed forces over corruption concerns.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean)

10/9/2018 Iranian tanker discharges oil into storage in China ahead of U.S. sanctions by Chen Aizhu and Meng Meng
FILE PHOTO - Vessels sail past Malta-flagged Iranian crude oil supertanker
"Delvar" (L) anchoring off Singapore March 1, 2012. REUTERS/Tim Chong
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A vessel carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil discharged the crude into a bonded storage tank at the port of Dalian in northeast China on Monday, according to Refinitiv Eikon data and a shipping agent with knowledge of the matter.
    Iran, the third-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), is finding fewer takers for its crude ahead of U.S. sanctions on its oil exports that will go into effect on Nov. 4.    The country previously held oil in storage at Dalian during the last round of sanctions in 2014 that was later sold to buyers in South Korea and India.
    The very large crude carrier Dune, operated by National Iranian Tanker Co, offloaded oil into a bonded storage site at the Xingang section of the port, according to a shipping source based in Dalian, adding this was the first Iranian oil to discharge into bonded storage in nearly four years.
    The tanker left the Iranian oil port at Kharg Island on Sept. 12, according to ship-tracking data.
    The Xingang area is home to several tank farms including commercial and strategic reserves.    China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) [CNPC.UL] and Dalian Port PDA Co Ltd <601880.SS> both operate commercial storage in the area, according to information on their company websites.
    An investor relations official at Dalian Port declined to comment.
    A manager at the bonded crude storage site operated by Dalian Port declined to comment whether Iranian oil were moved to the tanks, calling it the “worst time” to give any comment regarding Iranian crude because of the U.S. sanctions.
    A person at the CNPC-owned storage site who refused to identify himself when contacted by Reuters said it is “impossible” that the oil is stored there.
    A spokesman for CNPC said he had no information on this matter.
    An executive with the China office of National Iranian Oil Co (NIOC) declined to comment.    NIOC also did not respond to an email request seeking comment if it is storing oil at Dalian.
    The shipping source said there is no buyer earmarked for the cargo.
    Three other NITC tankers are set to arrive in Dalian in the next week or two, the ship-tracking data shows.    Some of those cargoes are also likely to end up in bonded storage as the refineries in the region, controlled by CNPC, are not equipped to process Iranian oil, said three sources at state-run Chinese refiners.
    China’s Iranian oil buyers, including state-owned refiner Sinopec <0386.HK> and state trader Zhuhai Zhenrong Corp, have shifted their cargoes to vessels owned by NITC since July to keep supplies flowing as the U.S. sanctions have been re-imposed.
    Keeping oil in bonded storage gives the shipment owner the option to sell into China or to other buyers in the region.
    In early 2014, NIOC leased bonded tanks in Dalian and oil from there was shipped to South Korea and India, Reuters reported. https://reut.rs/2yo9Se6
(GRAPHIC: Track of the NITC tanker Dune – https://reut.rs/2OcNqzB)
(Reporting by Chen Aizhu and Meng Meng; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

10/9/2018 Oil prices rise as Iranian crude exports fall by Christopher Johnson
FILE PHOTO: An oil pump is seen at sunset outside Vaudoy-en-Brie, near Paris, France April 23, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Tuesday on growing evidence of falling crude exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, before the imposition of new U.S. sanctions and a partial shutdown in the Gulf of Mexico due to Hurricane Michael.
    Benchmark Brent crude jumped $1.13 a barrel to a high of $85.04 before easing back to trade at $84.71, up 80 cents, by 1030 GMT.    Brent hit a four-year high of $86.74 last week but slipped as low as $82.66 on Monday.
    U.S. light crude was up 50 cents at $74.79.
    “The oil market mood is exceptionally bullish, with fears growing that the U.S. demands for an Iran oil embargo could cause a significant supply shortfall,” said Julius Baer commodities research analyst Carsten Menke.
    Iran’s crude exports fell further in the first week of October, according to tanker data and an industry source, as buyers sought alternatives ahead of U.S. sanctions that take effect on Nov. 4.
    Iran exported 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude in that seven-day period, Refinitiv Eikon data showed.    An industry source who also tracks exports said October shipments were so far below 1 million bpd.
    That is down from at least 2.5 million bpd in April, before President Donald Trump in May withdrew the United States from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions.    The figure also marks a further fall from 1.6 million bpd in September.
    Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, said last week it would increase crude output next month to 10.7 million bpd, a record.
    “Iranian barrels are declining fast, and Saudi Arabia’s promise to balance will face a reality check in a month’s time,” JP Morgan analysts said in a note.
    Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh on Monday called a Saudi claim that the kingdom could replace Iran’s crude exports “nonsense.”
    Meanwhile, oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico shut down nearly 20 percent of oil production as Hurricane Michael moved towards eastern Gulf states including Florida.
    If forecasts prove accurate, the hurricane would largely miss major oil-producing assets in the Gulf, analysts said, but a change of track could widen the impact.
    The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday cut its global economic growth forecasts for 2018 and 2019, saying trade tensions and rising import tariffs were taking a toll on commerce while emerging markets struggle with tighter financial conditions and capital outflows.
(Reporting by Christopher Johnson in LONDON and Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO; Editing by Dale Hudson and Jason Neely)

10/10/2018 China launches anti-halal campaign in Xinjiang
FILE PHOTO: An Uighur vendor cuts meat at a street market in Kashgar, Xinjiang province August 3, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The capital of China’s Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, has launched a campaign against halal products to stop Islam penetrating secular life and fueling “extremism.”
    In a meeting on Monday, the Communist Party leaders of Urumqi led cadres to swear an oath to “fight a decisive battle against ‘pan-halalization’,” according to a notice posed on the city’s official WeChat account.
    Everyday halal products, like food and toothpaste, must be produced according to Islamic law.
    China has been subject to heavy criticism from rights groups and foreign governments amid reports of a punitive crackdown that has seen the detention of as many as 1 million mostly Muslim ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang.
    Beijing has denied it is systematically violating the rights of Xinjiang’s Muslims, saying it is only cracking down on extremism and “splittism” in the region.
    The official Global Times said on Wednesday that the “demand that things be halal which cannot really be halal” was fuelling hostility toward religion and allowing Islam to penetrate secular life.
    As part of the anti-halal campaign, Ilshat Osman, Urumqi’s ethnically Uighur head prosecutor, penned an essay entitled: “Friend, you do not need to find a halal restaurant specially for me.”
    According to the WeChat post government employees should not have any diet problems and work canteens would be changed so that officials could try all kinds of cuisine.
    The Urumqi Communist Party leaders also said they would require government officials and party members to firmly believe in Marxism-Leninism, and not religion, and to speak standard Mandarin Chinese in public.
    Chinese citizens are theoretically free to practice any religion, but they have been subject to increasing levels of surveillance as the government tries to bring religious worship under stricter state control.
    The Communist Party in August issued a revised set of regulations governing its members behavior, threatening punishments or expulsion for anyone who clung to religious beliefs.
(Reporting by David Stanway and Christian Shepherd; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/10/2018 Some Hong Kong lawmakers walk out of policy address over media ‘persecution’ by James Pomfret
Protesters mock Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam as they demonstrate against an East Lantau Metropolis project and demand
a universal pension scheme outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Some Hong Kong lawmakers walked out of the Legislative Council as city leader Carrie Lam was about to give her annual policy address on Wednesday, protesting against the rejection of a work visa for a senior British journalist.
    Chanting “Protect media freedoms” and holding placards that said “Free Press.    No Persecution,” around a dozen pro-democracy lawmakers left the chamber before Lam gave a 45-minute speech laying out policy priorities for the former British colony.
    The protest came after Hong Kong last week rejected a visa renewal application from Victor Mallet, the Asia editor for the Financial Times newspaper, who in August hosted a speech at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club by a pro-independence activist.
    Hong Kong authorities and Lam have so far refused to explain the visa decision.
    Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle, with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms, including freedom of the press, not enjoyed elsewhere in China.
    But talk of independence is anathema to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
    “We were expressing our anger and disgust at Carrie Lam,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo who took part in the protest.
    “She is practically turning Hong Kong into an international joke … She’s quite determined to rule by fear.”
    The FCC, one of Asia’s leading press clubs, said it neither endorsed nor opposed the views of its speakers, but was an institution defending the right to free speech.
    The visa denial has kicked off a storm of protest and has drawn criticism from the United States and Britain.    British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Tuesday suggested the visa rejection was “politically motivated” and he called on authorities to reconsider.
    Critics say China’s authoritarian reach is creeping further into Hong Kong.
    “Authorities in mainland China routinely restrict people’s ability to engage in peaceful advocacy and public discussions on grounds of ‘national security’ by using this vaguely and broadly defined concept as a pretence to place unjustified restrictions on the exercise of these freedoms,” Amnesty International wrote in a statement.
    “The government in Hong Kong also seems to be pursuing a broadened concept of ‘national security’.”
RED LINE
    Since taking office last July, Lam has faced several challenges including an economy and financial markets left vulnerable by the U.S.-China trade war, and one of the world’s most expensive property markets.
    Political tensions between democracy and independence activists resisting China’s tightening grip on the city have continued to simmer.
    In her speech, Lam gave her strongest warning yet against those seeking to split Hong Kong from China.
    “Hong Kong will not tolerate any acts that advocate Hong Kong’s independence and threaten the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests."
    “We will fearlessly take actions against such acts according to the law in order to safeguard the interests of the country and Hong Kong,” Lam wrote in a full text version of her address.
    Senior Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping have warned any undermining of national sovereignty is a “red line” that cannot be crossed.
    Some Chinese officials and pro-Beijing politicians have stepped up calls in recent months for Hong Kong to enact new national security laws under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
    This provision states that Hong Kong must enact laws to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government
.
    An attempt to introduce such legislation in 2003, however, drew nearly half a million protesters on to the streets, leading to its eventual shelving.
    Lam reiterated in her policy address that Hong Kong is duty-bound to enact such laws, but only when there is a “favorable social environment.”
    She didn’t specify a timeframe.
    “This issue has aroused extensive public concern and intense discussion on the legislation for Article 23,” she said.    “I will listen to these views earnestly and explore ways to enable the Hong Kong society to respond positively to this constitutional requirement.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Neil Fullick and Nick Macfie)

10/10/2018 Taiwan pledges to enhance national security amid China pressure by Jess Macy Yu and Yimou Lee
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen attends National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen vowed on Wednesday to boost national security, saying her government would not submit to Chinese suppression as Beijing ramps up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the self-ruled island.
    Tsai’s remarks came weeks ahead of islandwide local elections in late November that are seen as a bellwether for her ruling party’s performance in presidential elections due in 2020.     “At this time, China’s intimidation and diplomatic pressure not only hurts relations between both sides, but seriously challenges the peaceful stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said in a National Day speech in Taipei.
    Taiwan will increase its defence budget every year to ensure it can defend its sovereignty, Tsai said, by upgrading military capabilities and self-sufficiency, including resuming domestic development of advanced training aircraft and submarines.
    China, which views Taiwan as a wayward province, has increased military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei, leading to a difficult period for the president and her independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
    Three former allies – El Salvador, Burkina Faso and Dominican Republic – switched their allegiances to Beijing this year, and the Chinese military has stepped up encirclement drills around Taiwan, which Tapei has denounced as intimidation.
    Taiwan must work with other countries to build a coalition to defend democracy, Tsai said, thanking the European Parliament and the United States for their support.
    Last month, the U.S. State Department approved the sale to Taiwan of spare parts for F-16 fighter planes and other military aircraft worth up to $330 million, a move China has said jeopardises Sino-U.S. cooperation.
    China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control and regularly calls the island its most sensitive issue in its ties with the United States.
    Relations with Beijing have nosedived since Tsai came into office in 2016, with China suspecting that she wants to push for formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
    For her part, Tsai has repeatedly emphasized maintaining the status quo since coming to power.
    On Wednesday she called for a multi-national effort to fight some types of infiltration, such as the circulation of fake news by certain countries, which she did not name.
    “I would like to pledge to everyone that we will not rashly increase antagonism, but we won’t submit or yield,” she said.
(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu and Yimou Lee; editing by Darren Schuettler and Clarence Fernandez)

10/10/2018 China September exports seen slowing further as U.S. tariffs bite: Reuters poll
FILE PHOTO: A cargo ship is seen behind containers at an automated container terminal in Qingdao port, Shandong province, China October 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s export growth is expected to have further slowed in September, weighed down by a faster decline in orders as an intensifying trade war with the United States starts to hurt Chinese shipments, a Reuters poll showed.
    Import growth also likely came off recent highs, which would be a worrying sign for Chinese policymakers counting on domestic demand to shore up economic growth at a time of slower external demand.
    Economists see any further slowing in China’s growth pace could prompt Beijing to roll out more stimulus measures, particularly steps to bolster small and medium-sized firms, a major source of employment.
    China’s September export growth likely slowed to 8.9 percent from a year earlier from August’s 9.8 percent gain, according to the median estimate of 32 economists in the Reuters poll.
    Import growth is also expected to have slowed, to 15 percent versus a 19.9 percent gain in August.
    “We expect export growth to slow further in September as rising trade protectionism bites.    This September has one less working day than last year, which should also add downside pressure on exports,” economists at Nomura said in a recent note.
    “In the medium-to-long term, if China-U.S. trade tensions sustain, China’s growth would likely be hit beyond the scale indicated by these trade data.”
    China’s overall trade surplus is expected to have shrunk to $19.4 billion in September from $27.89 billion in the previous month.
STALLING FACTORY GROWTH
    Growth in China’s factory sector in September stalled after 15 months of expansion, with export orders falling the most in more than two years, a private business survey showed.    An official survey also confirmed a further manufacturing weakening.
    In Guangdong, China’s biggest province by gross domestic product and one of the most export-oriented provinces, manufacturing activity barely expanded in September after contracting the previous month, the provincial government said.
    The State Council, or cabinet, has pledged to raise tax rebates for exporters for the second time this year, and Chinese officials have promised additional steps to help struggling domestic firms.
    While official export data has proved surprisingly resilient this year, many analysts believe companies have rushed out shipments to the United States to beat successive rounds of tariffs, raising the risk of a sharp drop-off after duties are actually imposed.
    The world’s two biggest economies last slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods on Sept. 24.    There is no specific date set for the next round of tariffs, even as U.S. President Donald Trump has made repeated threats to impose them on virtually all Chinese goods.
    On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund cut its global economic growth forecasts for this year and next, saying the U.S-China trade war was taking a toll.    It also reduced China’s growth forecast for next year to 6.2 percent from 6.4 percent.
    To help shore up the economy, China on Sunday announced its fourth cut this year in the amount of cash banks have to set aside as reserves, reinforcing expectations of more policy easing ahead to counter the blow from the trade war with the United States.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Ryan Woo; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

10/11/2018 South Korea says no change on North Korean sanctions by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk during a luncheon, in this photo
released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 21, 2018. KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea never considered lifting sanctions against North Korea imposed over the 2010 sinking of a South Korean warship, the country’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said on Thursday.
    South Korea’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on Wednesday that the sanctions, imposed against Pyongyang following a torpedo attack on a corvette that killed 46 South Korean sailors in 2010, were under review.
    North Korea has denied any involvement in the sinking.
    Kang’s remarks on sanctions, retracted after criticism from South Korean lawmakers, prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to say South Korea would need U.S. approval to relieve sanctions.
    “They won’t do it without our approval.    They do nothing without our approval,” Trump told reporters, when asked about her comments.
    Trump has said sanctions will remain in place until North Korea it denuclearizes.
    Kang backtracked on her remarks after facing criticism from some conservative lawmakers that the sanctions cannot be removed unless North Korea first apologized for the attack, a stance adopted by former South Korean governments.
    The sanctions ban all North Korean ships entering South Korean ports and cut off most inter-Korean exchanges, including tourism, trade and aid.
    “There will need to be action regarding the issue of the Cheonan warship, which was the cause (of the sanctions),” Cho said during a parliamentary audit.
    Trump’s comments triggered heated debate in South Korea, with some conservative lawmakers calling them an “insult.”
    “‘Approval’ is a strong and insulting word meant to say that we are progressing too fast with the North without seeking consensus with the United States,” said Kim Jae-kyung from a conservative opposition party.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in has pursued a thaw in cross-border ties, holding three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un this year.    Last month’s third summit in Pyongyang was partly aimed at salvaging faltering nuclear talks between the North and the United States.
    At their latest meeting, Moon and Kim agreed to resume economic cooperation, with construction work to be started within this year to reconnect rail and road links.    They also agreed to reopen a joint factory park in the North’s border city of Kaesong and the Mount Kumgang tours, when conditions are met.
    In a rare sign of discord between Seoul and Washington, Kang said on Wednesday that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had expressed “discontent” with an inter-Korean military pact reached during a summit last month.
    Cho refused to comment on Trump’s remarks, but said Washington was not opposed to inter-Korean dialogue and exchanges, and the allies are in close consultation.
    China, Russia and North Korea believe it is necessary to consider adjusting U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang at an appropriate time, China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
(The story is refiled to reflect timing of Kang’s correction of remarks.)
(Reporting by Joyce Lee and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/11/2018 Cambodia calls EU trade threat ‘extreme injustice’
FILE PHOTO: Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting
at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia’s foreign ministry on Thursday said a decision by the European Union to ramp up trade pressure on Cambodia over human rights concerns was an “extreme injustice,” adding it risked destroying decades of development progress in the country.
    The European Union last week said Cambodia would lose its special access to the world’s largest trading bloc as a response to human rights concerns surrounding a July election which extended Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three decade rule.
    “The Cambodian government can only take this decision as an extreme injustice when the EU blatantly disregards the considerable progress made by the country, despite its recent tragic past,” Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
    “By implementing these withdrawal measures, the European Commission risks negating twenty year’s worth of development efforts,” it added.
    The EU announced that Cambodia would lose its special access to European markets under the so-called Everything But Arms (EBA) preferential trade scheme after it conducts a six-month review of Cambodia’s duty-free status.
    Cambodia emerged from decades of war and the genocidal Khmer Rouge years in the early 1990s.
    Over the past two decades it has been the world’s sixth fastest-growing economy, with average GDP growth rate of 7.6 percent, according to the World Bank, largely due to its garment exports which are mostly bound for the EU and the United States.
    Cambodia’s exports to the European Union were worth 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) last year, according to EU data, up from negligible levels less than a decade ago, with the EU using its trade policy to help develop Cambodia’s economy.
    Rights groups said the July general election was not fair because of the lack of a credible opposition.
    The main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the country’s Supreme Court at the government’s request last year and did not take part in the election.
    Following the CNRP dissolution Hun Sen’s allies ramped up a crackdown against critics, including opposition politicians and independent media.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/11/2018 Iran’s Khamenei orders officials to resolve economic crisis by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO - Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei waves his hand to thousands of Basij members
at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran October 4, 2018. Khamenei.ir/ Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered officials to urgently find solutions to ease an economic crisis spurred by the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, the semi-official Fars news agency reported on Thursday.
    Washington reintroduced steps against Iran’s currency trade, metals and auto sectors in August after the U.S. withdrawal from a multinational 2015 deal that lifted sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. curbs on Iran’s oil exports are set to come into force in November.
    Combined with rising inflation, growing unemployment, a slump in the rial and state corruption, this has caused Iran’s economy to deteriorate.    The International Monetary Fund predicts it will shrink 1.5 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2019, before recovering slowly.
    “There are no problems in the country that we cannot resolve … Officials should find solutions to overcome the existing economic hardship and to disappoint the enemy by resolving it,” Fars quoted Khamenei as telling officials on Wednesday night.
    “With unity we can overcome all crises.”
    Khamenei also said Iran could resist the pressure of U.S. sanctions by relying on its own natural and human resources.
    “We need extraordinary efforts … to find solutions for those domestic economic challenges and to confront cruel American sanctions.    Serious decisions should be made,” he said, state TV reported.
    The reimposition of sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, the backbone of the country’s economy, will likely make matters worse.
    Iran’s pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani championed the 2015 nuclear deal but has been lambasted by his anti-Western hardline rivals for failing to bring economic prosperity to Iran in the years since.
    “The soaring prices and the drop of purchasing power of those lower-income Iranians have put pressure on them,” Khamenei said.
    The cost of living has soared in Iran in the past months and economic grievances have led to sporadic demonstrations against profiteering and corruption, with many protesters chanting anti-government slogans.
    Iranian officials have accused arch-foes the United States and Israel, as well as regional rival Saudi Arabia and government opponents living in exile of fomenting unrest and waging an economic war to destabilize Iran.
    Three people were sentenced to death last month in a drive against financial crime after Khamenei called for “swift and just” legal action to confront the “economic war” by foreign enemies.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Riassa kasolowsky)

10/11/2018 Tomato squeeze: U.S. sanctions begin to distort Iran’s economy by Andrew Torchia and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
A shop worker arranges the cans of Iranian tomato paste at a super market in the city of Najaf, Iraq October 7, 2018. Picture taken October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Tomato paste is not the most obvious economic indicator, but in Iran, where it is a staple that some people have started panic-buying, it says a lot about the impact of renewed U.S. sanctions.
    While Iran makes its own paste from an abundant crop of locally grown tomatoes, sanctions reimposed by U.S. President Donald Trump since August have played havoc with supply.
    A 70 percent slide in the rial this year has prompted a scramble for foreign currency that has made exports much more valuable in local terms than selling produce at home.
    Some shops are limiting purchases of tomato paste, which is used in many Persian dishes, and some lines have sold out as people buy up existing stock.
    The government has responded by banning tomato exports, one of a raft of interventions to try to limit economic instability that has fueled public protests and criticism of the government this year.
    But the tomato policy is not working.    An industry representative said tomatoes were being smuggled abroad.
    “We have heard that trucks full of tomatoes are still leaving the country, especially to Iraq,” Mohammad Mir-Razavi, head of the Syndicate of Canning Industry, said by telephone.
    “They put boxes of greenhouse tomatoes on top and hide normal tomatoes at the bottom,” he said, referring to an exemption for hot-house grown tomatoes that left a loophole.
    It is one of many ways in which the sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians while benefiting those with access to hard currency.
    Washington reintroduced steps against Iran’s currency trade, metals and auto sectors in August after the U.S. withdrawal from a deal that lifted sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.    Trump said the deal was not strict enough.
    With U.S. curbs on Iran’s oil exports set to come into force next month, some Iranians fear their country is entering an economic slump that may prove worse than the period from 2012 to 2015, when it last faced major sanctions.
    “i>There is an emerging consensus that the economy will go through a period of austerity similar to that recorded during the Iran-Iraq war,” said Mehrdad Emadi, an Iranian economist who heads energy risk analysis at London’s Betamatrix consultancy.
COMING SOON
    Jumps in prices are occurring in a range of goods — particularly imports such as mobile telephones and other consumer electronics, but also some staples.    A bottle of milk, 15,000 rials last year, now sells for 36,000.    An 800-gramme (28-ounce) can of tomato paste was selling in Tehran stores for around 60,000 rials in March; it is now 180,000 rials, or $1.24 at the unofficial rate, prompting a scramble by households to stock up. The price of tomatoes has increased more than five-fold compared to last year.
    Signs on the shelves of some stores limit each customer to two cans.    Iranian online shopping site Digikala lists the top nine tomato paste items as out of stock, and the rest as “coming soon.”    In supermarkets in Najaf in neighboring Iraq, meanwhile, supplies of Iranian tomato paste are plentiful.
    Adding to the pressure is a fourfold rise in the price of cans, Mir-Razavi said.    Traders importing material to make cans sought to buy dollars at a little-used official rate of 42,000 rials; authorities asked them to use a more expensive rate.    The issue has delayed shipments of material to factories.
    The government is mounting a campaign against price-gouging, periodically ordering shopkeepers to sell at lower prices.    But some shopkeepers respond by not selling at all, believing prices will eventually rise again as the sanctions bite.
    U.S. dollar versus Iranian rial in unofficial market – https://tmsnrt.rs/2OCUtkd
BANKS STABILIZED
    Iran, a big oil producer with a diverse economy, has shown its farming, manufacturing and distribution sectors can ride out long periods of war and sanctions.
    The Tehran Stock Exchange index has soared 83 percent this year as shares of exporting companies have rocketed.    Urban real estate prices have also risen as Iranians plow their savings into property rather than keeping them in depreciating rials.
    The rial’s plunge, which in the unofficial market has taken it to around 145,000 against the dollar from 42,890 at the end of 2017, according to currency tracking website bonbast.com, may even have strengthened the financial system in one way.
    Banks and pension funds have been struggling with massive debts. Emadi said the rial’s slide, to as low as 190,000 in late September, had given the government huge windfall profits on its dollar holdings; authorities appear to have injected some of those profits into insolvent banks to shore them up, he said.
    But while official data for the last few months has not yet been released, Emadi said he believed the economy was already in a recession that could deepen in coming months.
GEOPOLITICS
    The International Monetary Fund predicted this week that the economy would shrink 1.5 percent this year and 3.6 percent in 2019, before recovering slowly.
    That would make the slump less deep than the recession of 2012, when the economy shrank over 7 percent, and not nearly as damaging as the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988, when it shrank by about a quarter.
    The IMF also forecast the average inflation rate would jump to a peak above 34 percent next year, briefly returning to its level in 2013.
    How much the current recession resembles past periods of economic pain for Iran will depend on the extent to which Washington can use the sanctions to push other countries into cutting oil and non-oil trade with the Islamic Republic.
    U.S. officials have said the sanctions will be tougher than the steps in 2012-2015.    They aim to reduce Iranian oil exports more sharply, and to disrupt exports to Iran from trading hubs such as Dubai more aggressively.
    “I think the return of the sanctions has had a devastating effect on their economy and I think it’s going to get worse,” Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters in late August.
    But Emadi said that if European nations succeeded in creating a special payments system permitting trade with Iran to continue, and if Tehran cracked down on endemic corruption, the economy might start recovering gradually a year from now.
    In the meantime, many Iranians may continue to struggle with surging prices and an unstable currency.
    Peyman Mohammadian, 28, an unemployed university graduate in the western city of Andimeshk, said he had tried to protect 5 billion rials in savings by converting them into dollars last month at a rate of 183,000.
    Since then, the rial has partially rebounded as authorities have sold dollars to support it and threatened currency speculators with arrest.    Mohammadian said this left him in a quandary.
    “On one hand, I want the dollar to rise so I don’t lose my money.    But on the other hand, I want it to drop below 100,000 — otherwise inflation will be so high that I won’t be able to get married for 10 years.”
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

10/12/2018 North Korea intends to abolish all nuclear weapons, South says by Hyonhee Shin
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after signing
the joint statement in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 19, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un intends to abolish all nuclear weapons, materials and facilities to achieve “complete” denuclearization, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who held his third summit with Kim last month, said on Friday.
    Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to work towards denuclearization at their landmark June summit in Singapore, but the agreement was short on specifics.    Negotiations have made little headway since, with the North refusing to declare its nuclear weapons and facilities or agree to a concrete timeline.
    Moon emphasized Kim’s resolve to abandon nuclear and missile programs, that the North pursued in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and focus on the economy if regime security is guaranteed.
    “By complete denuclearization, he meant to start by stopping additional nuclear and missile tests, and then abolish the facilities that produce the nukes and develop the missiles, and all the existing nuclear weapons and materials,” Moon said, according to a script of his interview with BBC shared by his office.
    After his third summit in Pyongyang, Moon said the North was ready to invite international experts to watch the dismantling of a key missile site and would close the main Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington took reciprocal actions.
    The actions could include putting a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, opening of a U.S. liaison office in North Korea, humanitarian aid and an exchange of economic experts, Moon said.
    Reclusive North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.
    And when the North makes substantial progress in denuclearization, a gradual easing of economic sanctions Pyongyang should be “seriously considered,” Moon said.
    The United States has insisted on irreversible steps towards denuclearization first.
MATTER OF TIME
    “Ending the war is a sort of a political declaration to terminate the longstanding hostile relationship between the United States and North Korea, and it would kick off peace negotiations depending on the denuclearization process,” Moon said.
    “There is consensus between South Korea and the United States that it is desirable to make the end-of-war declaration at an earliest possible date, so I think it’s a matter of time but it will definitely happen.”
    His comments come amid U.S. concerns that inter-Korean relations may be warming too fast relative to negotiations to dismantle North Korea’s weapons programs.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has expressed “discontent” with an inter-Korean military pact reached during last month’s summit in a rare sign of disagreement between the allies.
    The two Koreas agreed in that accord to halt military drills, set up a no-fly zone near the border and gradually remove landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarised Zone, among other steps.
    Moon also said Pyongyang and Washington were in working-level discussions to arrange a second summit as soon as the U.S. midterm elections are over.
    Trump said on Tuesday his second summit with Kim would be held after the elections slated for Nov. 6.    It remains unclear what steps the United States plans to take towards denuclearization “of the Korean peninsula,” a reference North Korea has used in the past to include the U.S. nuclear umbrella in the region.
    Seoul’s Unification Ministry said on Friday the two Koreas would hold high-level talks on Monday at the border village of Panmunjom.
    At last month’s meeting, Moon and Kim agreed to resume economic cooperation, including relinking railways and roads and reopening a joint factory park and tours to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort, when conditions are met.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/12/2018 Japan’s Abe pursues China thaw as U.S-Beijing ties in deep freeze by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: China's President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during their meeting
at the Great Hall of the People, on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings, in Beijing November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – While U.S. President Donald Trump appears to wage a trade “Cold War” on China, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will promote a thaw with Beijing at a summit this month where business ties will be in the spotlight.
    A tough line on China helped Abe to regain office in 2012 during a row over tiny East China Sea isles that put ties in a deep chill.    Now, Abe hopes to build on a rapprochement welcomed by Beijing, which is locked in an escalating trade war with Washington.
    Japan shares U.S. concerns about Beijing’s maritime assertiveness and is extending its military reach to counter China.    Japanese firms worry also about Chinese violations of intellectual property rights and technology theft.
    Still, business ties with China, the world’s second largest economy, are vital for Japan.
    “To ensure that Japan has sustainable economic growth, you cannot ignore economic relations with China,” said a Japanese foreign ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Abe has met Chinese President Xi Jinping many times since their first chilly conversation in 2014 on the sidelines of an Asia leaders’ summit in Beijing.
    Abe’s Oct. 26 meeting with Xi, officially confirmed on Friday, will be the first full-scale Sino-Japanese summit since 2011.    Both sides hope more mutual visits will follow.
    The thaw has been linked to a shift in Beijing’s diplomacy since late 2017 and increasing U.S.-China friction over trade.
SHIFTING WINDS
    Japanese firms want to see ties normalized so they can compete with U.S. and European rivals.
    An executive at automaker Toyota, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the mood had changed from the “China risk” theme of the past few years.    “The sentiment…is shifting very fast, leading to more for us to do in China,” he said.
    China is Japan’s biggest trading partner.    Japan is China’s second largest trading partner, after the United States, and fourth biggest investor.
    Japan’s direct investment in China rose in 2017 for the first time in five years, a trend that continued in the first eight months of 2018, the Japan External Trade Organization said in a report that also flagged growing Japanese exports to China.
    A highlight of Abe’s visit is expected to be a forum attended by up to 1,000 executives and trade officials to discuss China-Japan economic cooperation in third countries.
    China expects Abe to make a relatively supportive statement on its Belt and Road initiative, a vehicle to fund and build global transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.
    “We really hope that Japan on this issue is not in vicious competition with China,” said Wang Yiwei of Renmin University in Beijing.    “It could be positive competition or even cooperation.”
    Belt and Road has come under fire for saddling poor nations with unsustainable debt through big projects that are not economically viable. Beijing rejects the criticism.
    Japanese participation could help Belt and Road’s image and allay the fears of debtor nations, experts and officials said.
    Abe may, however, shun the Belt and Road label.
    Japanese defense officials are wary of its military implications, and Tokyo is pushing its Free and Open Pacific Strategy to promote free trade and infrastructure across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
    Japan wants to ensure joint projects with China are transparent, open, economically viable and fiscally sound for debtor countries, officials said.
    “This is not ‘support’ for Belt and Road. We will not ease global standards,” a Japanese trade official said.
    Several non-binding agreements, known as MOUs, are expected from the forum, including one on a project in Thailand, a Japanese source involved in the forum planning said.
    Such agreements “would be a symbol of improving ties,” said Koji Sako, a senior economist at Mizuho Research Institute.
POISON PILL
    Japan is involved in efforts to forge a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership among 16 nations including China, as well as in talks on a China-Japan-South Korea free trade pact.
    Tokyo would thus balk at the sort of “poison pill” found in a new U.S.-Canada-Mexico free trade pact, Japanese officials said.
    The provision effectively gives Washington veto power over any free trade deal with China. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has said they might seek a similar clause with other countries.
    Abe and Trump have agreed to start talks on a new Japan-U.S. trade deal that Washington hopes will cut its trade deficit, while Tokyo aims to avert higher tariffs on its auto exports.
    “I can’t imagine a situation in which we’d accept such a course,” said another Japanese government source when asked about the poison pill provision.
    The U.S. State Department and White House declined to comment when asked about the coming Abe-Xi summit.
    A U.S. push to get Japan to join efforts to isolate China would present Tokyo with a dilemma, although officials said Abe could tell Trump that Japan was taking a different approach with the same goal – convincing China to play by global rules.
    Such U.S. pressure could find support inside Japan.
    Many conservative politicians are deeply wary of China, as are many Japanese voters.    A survey published on Thursday showed 86 percent of Japanese had a “bad image” of China.
    “There are some in Japan who think the security relationship with the United States takes precedence over Japan’s economic issues,” said Kiyoyuki Seguchi, research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies.
    “But if one…asks whether economic development is possible without cooperative development with China, the answer is ‘No’.”
(Additional reporting by Gao Liangping and Norihiko Shirouzu in Beijing; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

10/12/2018 ‘Winter is coming’: Indonesia warns world finance leaders over trade war by Ed Davies and David Lawder
FILE PHOTO - Indonesia president Joko Widodo speaks to journalist after bilateral meeting with Singapore during the International Monitary Fund (IMF)
and World Bank annual meetings in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, October 11, 2018. Sonny Tumbelaka/Pool via REUTERS
    NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Just in case any of the global central bankers and finance ministers gathered in Indonesia missed the message delivered repeatedly this week, the host nation said it again on Friday: Everyone stands to lose if trade wars are allowed to escalate.
    Indonesian President Joko Widodo didn’t mention the United States or China, the world’s two largest economies, but it was clear who he was talking about in an address to the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on the island of Bali.
    “Lately it feels like the relations among the major economies are becoming more and more like “Game of Thrones",” Widodo said in a speech peppered with references to the HBO series about dynasties and kingdoms battling for power.    “Are we so busy fighting with each other and competing against each other that we fail to notice the things which are increasingly threatening, all of us alike, rich and poor, large and small,” he said.
    Poorer and populous emerging market countries like his are among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the ongoing U.S.-Sino tariff war, and rising U.S. interest rates that are drawing investors away and driving down currencies.
    “All these troubles in the world economy, are enough to make us feel like saying: ‘Winter is Coming',” Widodo said, using a phrase that characters in the popular fantasy series constantly repeat to refer to spectral dangers that could destroy them all.
    With rivalry growing in the world economy, Widodo said “the situation could be more critical compared to the global financial crisis 10 years ago.”
    The market ructions have now cascaded through to developed markets with Wall Street extending a slide into a sixth session on Thursday amid the trade war fears.
    The United States and China have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods over the past few months.
    The tariffs stem from the Trump administration’s demands that China make sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, rein in high-technology industrial subsidies, open its markets to more foreign competition and take steps to cut a politically sensitive U.S. goods trade surplus.
    Rubbing salt in U.S. wounds, China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record $34.13 billion trade surplus with the United States.
CHINA TRADE TALKS MUST INCLUDE YUAN: MNUCHIN
    In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he told China’s central bank chief that currency issues need to be part of any further U.S.-China trade talks and expressed his concerns about the yuan’s recent weakness.
    Mnuchin also said that China needs to identify concrete “action items” to rebalance the two countries’ trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes can resume.
    The U.S. Treasury chief and People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang extensively discussed currency issues on the sidelines of the meetings in Bali.
    Mnuchin’s comments on China’s currency come ahead of next week’s scheduled release of a hotly anticipated Treasury report on currency manipulation, the first since a significant weakening of yuan began this spring.
    Mnuchin said re-launching trade talks would require China to commit to taking action on structural reforms to its economy.
    If the relationship could be rebalanced, he said the U.S.-China total annual trade relationship could grow to $1 trillion from $650 billion currently, with $500 billion of exports from each country.
G20 MEMBERS MUST RESOLVE TRADE ISSUES
    Meanwhile, the chairman of a meeting of finance leaders from the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies admitted that the trade tensions within the group could only be solved by the countries directly involved.
    “The G20 can play a role in providing the platform for discussions.    But the differences that still persist should be resolved by the members that are directly involved in the tensions,” Nicolas Dujovne, Argentina’s Treasury Minister, told a news conference after chairing the G20 meeting in Bali.
    More than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some leaders, were attending the IMF-World Bank meetings, and Widodo asked them to “cushion the blows from trade wars, technical disruption and market turmoil.”
    “I hope, you will each do your part to nudge our various leaders, in the right direction,” Widodo said, adding that “confrontation and collision impose a tragic price.”
    The IMF’s twice-yearly report on the Asia Pacific region, released on Thursday, warned that the market rout seen in emerging economies could worsen if the Federal Reserve and other major central banks tightened monetary policy more quickly than expected.
    At Friday’s plenary, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde estimated that the escalation of current trade tensions could reduce global GDP by almost one percent over the next two years.
    IMF forecasts of global economic growth for both 2018 and 2019 were cut to 3.7 percent, from 3.9 percent in its July forecast.
    “Clearly, we need to de-escalate these disputes,” Lagarde told the plenary session.
(Additional reporting by Leika Kihara, Gayatri Suroyo and Yawen Chen; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/12/2018 China auto sales post biggest drop in 7 years as growth engine stalls by Yilei Sun and Norihiko Shirouzu
FILE PHOTO: A delivery driver rides his electric vehicle past Chinese and foreign car dealerships in Beijing, China October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s car sales fell the most in nearly seven years in September, stoking concerns the world’s biggest auto market could contract for the first time in decades this year amid cooling economic growth and a biting trade war.
    Vehicle sales slumped by 11.6 percent to 2.39 million units last month, the third straight decline, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said on Friday.    It cited a sluggish economy, deleveraging and a tough pollution crackdown as reasons for the steep fall.
    A stalling of China’s giant auto sector will be a concern for the country’s leaders in Beijing.    It is a major driver of the economy and an important barometer of Chinese consumers’ willingness to open their purse strings.
    “The automotive industry has been a driver of China’s economic growth for years.    Now it is pulling back,” Xu Haidong, CAAM assistant secretary general, said at a briefing in Beijing.
    China’s top auto industry body said its already meager forecast for full-year growth would be missed, though the market should avoid a sales decline.    Analysts have predicted the market could contract this year for the first time since at least the early 1990s.
    The downtrend in sales underscores how international car makers, from General Motors to Toyota Motor <7203.T>, are in for a tough ride at a time when they are increasingly looking towards China as a driver of growth.
    It also exemplifies the impact of the trade war, with autos being among the sectors hardest hit by tariffs.    CAAM said last month sales were impacted by a sluggish economy and the knock-on effects of the trade war.
    China’s economic malaise has seen the domestic stock markets plunge and the country’s factory sector stall last month after over a year of expansion.    The International Monetary Fund also cut China’s growth forecast for next year to 6.2 percent from 6.4 percent.
    Beijing, concerned about the slowdown, has already opened the taps to boost liquidity in the market.
    The slide in September auto sales follows a 3.8 percent fall in August and a 4.0 percent drop in July.    Vehicle sales increased 4.8 percent in June.
    September’s drop was the most since a 26.4 percent tumble in January 2012, which was in part due to the timing of the China New Year holiday that year.
    Sales for the first nine months of the year totaled 20.49 million vehicles, up 1.5 percent from the same period a year earlier.
    CAAM’s Xu said that 2018 sales growth would miss the association’s previous forecast of a 3 percent rise.    Sales were also up 3 percent last year, but sharply down from a 13.7 percent gain in 2016.
    Amid the slowdown, an army of Chinese car dealers is feeling the squeeze and is pushing for government support to revitalize growth.
    Yale Zhang, head of Shanghai-based consultancy Automotive Foresight, said that if sales actually shrink this year it would be a “watershed moment” for the industry.
    “It’s very alarming and is even causing panic among some automakers and suppliers.    That’s because the market has been growing non-stop every year for more than twenty years, and those companies make plans based on growth,” he said.
    “They don’t know what to do and worry about survival.”
WINNERS AND LOSERS
    GM, one of the most successful global car makers in China for decades, said earlier this month that September sales were down a sharp 14.9 percent from a year earlier.    German car maker Volkswagen AG said earlier this week that China sales were down 10.5 percent last month.
    Ford Motor Co , which has been struggling to turn around falling sales in the market, said on Friday that September sales in China were down 43 percent.
    China’s broader economic woes have led to a particular slowdown in the demand for cars in smaller, lower-tier cities across China, some car makers have said, which until now were the engine of growth for the country’s auto industry.
    Zhang of Automotive Foresight said that several factors had combined to cause this, including high gas prices this year which had stymied growth in lower-tier cities.
    The industry is also facing a shake-up as decades-old rules change to allow foreign car makers to own majority stakes in local joint ventures.    Luxury German car maker BMW said on Thursday it would take control of its main China venture in a $4.2 billion deal.
    The changing auto landscape is throwing up distinct winners and losers in the market, a major shift from the golden years of growth where most players were guaranteed decent returns.
    Among those struggling in China the most are Peugeot , Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> and its sister brand Kia Motors <000270.KS>, Ford and Japanese car maker Honda Motor Co Ltd <7267.T>.
    Sales of new-energy vehicles – a category comprising electric battery cars and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles – remained strong, up 54.8 percent in September, slightly faster than a month earlier.
    That took new-energy vehicle sales in the first nine months of this year to 721,000 vehicles, up 81.1 percent from the same period a year earlier.
(Reporting by Yilei Sun and Norihiko Shirouzu; Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

10/12/2018 IMF warns trade friction, market turmoil to hurt Asian growth by Leika Kihara
FILE PHOTO - A panel displaying stock indices of Asian markets at Hong Kong Exchanges in Hong Kong, China November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    NUSA DUA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Sustained trade tensions could slash Asia’s economic growth by up to 0.9 percentage point in coming years, the International Monetary Fund said, urging policymakers in the region to liberalize markets to offset the fall in export sales.
    The IMF also warned in its twice-yearly report on the Asia Pacific region that the market rout seen in emerging economies could worsen if the U.S. Federal Reserve and other major central banks tightened monetary policy more quickly than expected.
    “Turmoil already seen in some emerging market economies could worsen, with negative spillovers to Asia through reduced capital flows and higher funding costs,” it said.
    Changyong Rhee, director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific Department, said there would be no winners in Asia from the global trade frictions, as other countries won’t be able to compensate fully for supply chain disruptions in China and the United States – the world’s top two economies.
    “Today’s growth headwinds, from financial market tightening to trade tensions, could persist for some time,” he told a briefing on the report.
    “For this reason, it will be important for policymakers to save their ammunition for when it is truly needed,” he said.
    The IMF maintained its forecast that Asia’s economy will expand by 5.6 percent this year but cut its projection for next year to 5.4 percent, down by 0.2 point from April.
    The downgrade was due to the impact of financial market stress and monetary tightening in some economies, as well as the damage from the tit-for-tat tariff actions between the United States and China, the IMF said.
    Existing, proposed and new retaliatory tariffs could cause maximum gross domestic product (GDP) losses of 1.6 percent in China and close to 1 percent in the United States, it said.
    Other countries in Asia, many of which supply goods to China through global value chains, would also see their economies slow substantially, the IMF said.
    With all these factors combined, growth in Asia could drop by up to 0.9 point over the next couple of years, the IMF estimated.
    “Sustained trade tensions could further undermine confidence, hurt financial markets, disrupt supply chains, and discourage investment and trade,” the report said.
    While short-term stimulus measures are likely to offset much of the impact, policymakers in the region could also mitigate the damage by liberalizing their own markets, particularly in the service sector, the IMF said.
    “There will be winners and losers, and effecting such reforms will be difficult and will take time, but the aggregate welfare gains would be substantial,” it said.
(Reporting by Leika Kihara; editing by Eric Meijer & Shri Navaratnam)

10/13/2018 Exclusive: Two U.S. senators urge India to soften data localization stance – letter by Aditya Kalra
Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX reacts to Sen. Jeff Flake's R-AZ remarks during Senate Judiciary Committee meeting
to vote on the nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court
of the United States.in Washington, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Two U.S. senators have called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to soften India’s stance on data localization, warning that measures requiring it represent “key trade barriers” between the two nations.
    In a letter to Modi dated Friday and seen by Reuters, U.S. Senators John Cornyn and Mark Warner – co-chairmen of the Senate’s India caucus – urged India to instead adopt a “light touch” regulatory framework that would allow data to flow freely across borders.
    The letter comes as relations between Washington and New Delhi are strained over multiple issues, including an Indo-Russian defense contract, Indian tariffs on electronics and other items, and India’s push to purchase oil from Iran despite upcoming U.S. sanctions.
    Global tech companies including Mastercard, Visa and American Express have been lobbying India’s finance ministry and the Reserve Bank of India to relax proposed guidelines that mandate all payment data on domestic transactions in India be stored inside the country by October 15.
    The letter is most likely a last-ditch effort after the RBI told officials at top payment companies this week that the central bank would implement, in full, its data localization directive without extending the deadline or allowing data to be stored offshore as well as locally.
    “We see this as a fundamental issue to the further development of digital trade and one that is crucial to our economic partnership,” the U.S. senators said in its letter.
    Modi’s office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
(Editing by Euan Rocha and Gerry Doyle)

10/13/2018 Australia says delivery of F-35 jets not disrupted by Sept. crash
FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian Defence Force on Saturday said its deliveries of F-35 fighter jets from the United States were still on track, despite the planes being grounded after one of the aircraft crashed in September.
    All U.S. and international F-35 jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp were grounded this week so that fuel tubes could be examined in an investigation of the crash on Sept. 28 in South Carolina.
    The pause in operations of the warplanes would not “affect the delivery of aircraft to Australia,” the ADF said in a statement, according to broadcaster ABC TV.
    Australia has taken delivery of nine F-35 jet fighters and has committed to buy 72, with all aircraft expected to be fully operational by 2023.    The nine planes remain grounded at a training base in Arizona.
    “Australian F-35 aircraft currently based in the United States will return to flying operations once safety inspections are complete,” the ADF said.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/13/2018 Australia seeks to ban schools from expelling gay students by Lidia Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a news conference at
Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, September 19, 2018. AAP/Lukas Coch/via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia aims to ban private or religious schools from expelling students on the basis of their sexuality, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday.
    Debate over personal rights is growing ahead of a crucial by-election for Morrison’s ruling Liberal-National coalition in the blue-ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth on Oct. 20.
    “I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality,” Morrison said in a statement.
    The statement, which urged parliament to tackle the issue over the next two weeks, follows an offer of support by the largest opposition party, Labour, to repeal legal exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate.
    Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, called this week for equality in school employment and enrolment.
    “Once employed or enrolled, people within a Catholic school community are expected to adhere to the school’s mission and values,” the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper quoted him as saying.
    Australia’s parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage in December after a nationwide postal survey returned an overwhelming majority in favor of the unions.
    Morrison said the government was working through its responses to the recommendations of a review panel to examine if the change to the law had restricted religious freedom.    The recommendations have not been publicly disclosed.
    “Our government does not support expulsion of students from religious non-state schools on the basis of their sexuality,” he added.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/13/2018 Afghan Taliban say will continue talks with U.S. peace envoy by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, leads a panel
discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban leaders will continue to have discussions with the newly appointed U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, the group said on Saturday, a move that could accelerate diplomatic engagement between the warring sides.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat, met Taliban leaders in Qatar on Friday in an effort to find a way to end the 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.
    “Both sides spoke (about) an end to the occupation and a peaceful solution to the Afghan issue … Both sides agreed to continue meeting in the future,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.
    Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Saturday and briefed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani about his 10-day tour of four countries, which ended with the meeting with leaders of the hardline Islamist militant group.
    According to Taliban sources, the two sides arrived with tough conditions.
    “It was an introductory meeting in which an eight-member U.S. delegation held a detailed meeting with members of our political office,” said a senior Taliban member.
    Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, who is the head of Taliban’s Qatar office, led the discussions, he said.
    Another senior member of the Taliban said Khalilzad had asked the Taliban leadership, based in the Qatari capital Doha, to declare a ceasefire in Afghanistan for six months, starting before the Oct.20 parliamentary polls.
    “Both sides discussed prospects for peace, and the U.S presence in Afghanistan,” said another Taliban official, requesting anonymity.
    In exchange, the Taliban want the Afghan government to release fighters from jails across the country and the swift removal of foreign forces fighting alongside Afghan troops.
    A Taliban source said the U.S. delegation proposed forming different committees to handle the release of prisoners.
    “Neither side agreed to accept the other’s demands immediately, but they agreed to meet again and find a solution to the conflict,” he said.
KEY ROLE
    Khalilzad was appointed last month, as President Donald Trump’s administration launched fresh efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban.
    A senior official working with the Afghan president said Khalilzad had briefed Ghani about his meetings with senior ministers and top diplomats in four countries who could play a key role.
    Khalilzad’s trip started in Afghanistan and he traveled to Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar before returning to Kabul.
    A statement about Khalilzad’s diplomatic tour released by the U.S. embassy in Kabul did not confirm his meeting with the Taliban.
    “The United States shares the aspirations of all Afghans for a peaceful Afghanistan where all Afghans see themselves included.    All citizens of Afghanistan must be a part of this reconciliation process,” said Khalilzad, according to the embassy statement at the end of his four-nation tour.
    Continued fighting has raised questions about the viability of the U.S. strategy to end the war, which for the past year has focused on forcing the militants to the negotiating table, largely via more air strikes.
    Last week the Taliban demanded a complete withdrawal of foreign forces as the only solution to end the war that began with the 2001 ousting of the former Taliban government by U.S.-led forces after it refused to hand over Osama bin Laden following the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
    They have ramped up attacks in strategic provinces and have also directed Afghans to boycott the parliamentary elections.
    At least 8,050 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of 2018, almost half of them targeted by suicide bomb attacks and other improvised devices that may amount to war crimes, the United Nations said last week.
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmed; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Andrew Bolton)

10/14/2018 U.S. wants ‘regime change’ in Iran: Rouhani
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session
of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The United States is seeking “regime change” in Iran, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, adding that the current U.S. administration is the most hostile that the Islamic Republic has faced in its four decades.
    Tensions have increased between Iran and America after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multi-lateral agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May.
    “In the past 40 years there has not been a more spiteful team than the current U.S. government team toward Iran, Iranians and the Islamic Republic,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast on state TV.
    “There was a time when there was one person who had enmity.    The rest were moderate.    Now … the worst have gathered around each other,” he added in a speech marking the beginning of the academic year at Tehran University.
    Rouhani accused the Americans of using psychological and economic warfare and questioning the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.
    “Reducing the legitimacy of the system is their final goal.    When they say getting rid of, regime change in their own words, how does regime change happen?    Through reducing legitimacy, otherwise a regime doesn’t change,” He used the English phrase “regime change” to emphasize his point.
    Washington reintroduced steps against Iran’s currency trade, metals and auto sectors in August.
    With U.S. curbs on Iran’s oil exports set to come into force next month, some Iranians fear their country is entering an economic slump that may prove worse than the period from 2012 to 2015, when it last faced major sanctions.
    Vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri played down the impact of the planned restrictions.    Iran has been able to find new partners to buy its oil even though some countries have stopped purchases, Jahangiri said on Sunday, according to Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).
    “America will certainly not be able to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero,” he said.
    “America thinks Saudi Arabia can replace this oil.    But right now Iran’s oil has reached more than $80 and with half the previous exports we will have the same income as before,” he added on comments on the IRIB website.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Jason Neely, Mark Potter and Keith Weir)

10/15/2018 North, South Korea agree to reconnect roads, rail amid U.S. concern over easing sanctions by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: Head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon shakes hands with South Korean counterpart Cho Myoung-gyon
as they exchange documents after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom
in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Korea Pool/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea agreed on Monday to begin reconnecting rail and road links, another step in an improving relationship that has raised U.S. concern about the possible undermining of its bid to press the North to give up its nuclear program.
    The agreement on transport links came during talks in the border village of Panmunjom aimed at following up on the third summit this year between South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, last month.
    “The South and North reached the agreement after sincerely discussing action plans to develop inter-Korean relations to a new, higher stage,” said a joint statement released by the South’s Unification Ministry.
    They agreed to hold ceremonies in late November or early December to inaugurate work on reconnecting the railways and roads that have been cut since the 1950-53 Korean War.
    The two sides will carry out joint field studies on the transport plans from late this month, according to the statement.
    They also agreed to discuss late this month a plan to pursue a bid to co-host the 2032 Olympic Games, and to explore in November ways to restart webcam reunions and video exchanges for families separated by the Korean War.
    Military officials from both sides are to meet “in the near to craft follow-on steps to a military pact struck at last month’s summit.
    The accord includes the reinstatement of a joint military commission, the halting of military exercises, a no-fly zone near their border and the gradual removal of landmines and guard posts within the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).
    Meetings will also be held on reforestation on Oct. 22, and on health and disease prevention in late October at a joint liaison office opened last month in the North’s border city of Kaesong.
    The talks were led by the South’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon and Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the North’s committee for peaceful reunification that handles cross-border affairs.
    “We are at a very critical moment for the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and the advancement of inter-Korean relations, and there’s also a second North Korea-U.S. summit coming up,” Cho told reporters before leaving for Panmunjom.
    In June Kim met U.S. President Donald Trump in an unprecedented summit in Singapore and the two sides are arranging a second meeting, which Trump said was likely after U.S. congressional elections on Nov. 6.
    Despite the meeting between Kim and Trump, Washington is still pursuing a policy of “maximum pressure” to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles that Pyongyang says can hit the continental United States.
‘PROBLEMS SHOULD BE FIXED’
    The thaw in ties between the neighbors has sparked U.S. concerns that it may be outpacing negotiations to dismantle the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
    In August, a joint inspection plan for the rail project was scrapped after the United Nations Command (UNC), which overlaps with U.S. forces in the South and oversees affairs in the DMZ, refused passage for a test train, military sources said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed “discontent” over the inter-Korean military agreement, South Korea’s foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha said last week.
    Kang’s remarks amounted to a rare confirmation of discord between Seoul and Washington, though the allies have said they remain in lockstep on North Korea.
    In final remarks on Monday, the North struck a sour note, with Ri blaming Seoul for hurdles in implementing their pacts.
    “If we look back at the projects we have been carrying out so far, there are problems that should be fixed, and the South side knows better,” Ri said, without elaborating.
    Asked later about the remarks, Cho said there was no “special background” but attributed delays in the rail and road initiative and other cultural exchanges to “each other’s circumstances.”
    The rail and road initiative and the joint Olympics bid were agreed by Moon and Kim at their latest summit, in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
    Moon also said the North would permanently abolish key missile facilities in the presence of foreign experts.
    Trump said on Wednesday South Korea would not lift sanctions on North Korea without U.S. approval.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joint Press Corps; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

10/15/2018 Heeding China’s call, Hong Kong tightens grip on dissent by James Pomfret and Greg Torode
FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan poses in Hong Kong, China July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – As Hong Kong’s government hews closer to Beijing, officials are taking a tough line on perceived national security threats, even deploying an elite police unit for political monitoring and surveillance – a sharp escalation in rhetoric and action.
    In just the last few months, the special administrative region has banned the Hong Kong National Party, which espouses separation from China, and barred some activists from standing in local elections.
    The Education Bureau sent all secondary schools in the Special Administrative Region letters on Sept 24 saying they must prohibit “the penetration” of the National Party or risk prosecution.
    And this month, Hong Kong refused to renew the work visa of Victor Mallet, Asia news editor for the British-based Financial Times newspaper, after he hosted a speech by an independence activist.
    “We can see them (the government) being much more assertive in using these powers and in shaping their policy decisions to reflect the national interests,” said Professor Simon Young of the University of Hong Kong’s law school, saying the courts may be a last line of defense against government overreach.
    Serving and retired police officers, lawyers and lawmakers describe intensifying political operations by the police force’s Security Wing, an elite unit that officially handles sensitive tasks including VIP protection and counter-terrorism investigations.
    Sources familiar with the wing’s work say it led surveillance and monitoring operations against the National Party and more than a dozen other groups.
    The Hong Kong Journalists Association recently described the prospect of tougher national security enforcement as “a sword dangled above the heads” of reporters.
    The Financial Times said it was appealing the decision denying Mallet a work visa.    In his role as first vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong, Mallet in August hosted Andy Chan, head of the National Party.
    The party was banned last month as an “imminent threat to national security” as the government invoked little-known clauses of a law regulating private groups and societies.
    Authorities have so far refused to explain their decision on Mallet, except to say that no independence advocacy will be tolerated.
    Chan, a bespectacled 28-year-old interior decorator, says that his ideology springs from China’s broken promises toward Hong Kong and that claims he might destabilize China are preposterous.
    But Hong Kong’s government is treating even the consideration of independence as a vital threat.
    “Worryingly, they have been parroting the ideological and authoritarian line of Beijing … irreparably undermining their reputation,” one diplomat said of the city’s government.
    In the letter to schools last month, the Education Bureau said, “should students have erroneous and extreme thoughts, principals and teachers should correct them with facts.”    Some teachers described this to Reuters as a “gagging order.”
    That appears to run contrary to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, which stresses freedoms of speech and assembly.
    Some youths who drove the pro-democracy “Umbrella Revolution” street demonstrations in 2014 say there is a growing sense of despair at the pressure on civil society and individual rights.
    Daniel Cheung, a 29-year-old photographer who worked on “Chronicle of a Summer,” a documentary on activists such as jailed independence leader Edward Leung, said the situation was worsening fast.
    “Put simply, if you see Hong Kong as a house built by the British, this house is now crumbling and leaking. It has been hit by a typhoon and close to toppling over,” Cheung said.
“BACK TO THE FUTURE”
    The Basic Law requires the city to create laws against treason, secession and subversion of the national government, effectively updating those from the colonial era.
    The laws from British rule, while broad, do not outlaw calls for independence or self-determination.
    Previous attempts to draft a harsher new national security law, known as Article 23, were met with mass protests and abandoned.    Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who took office last year, has not yet proposed a new version, a reflection in part of lingering public concern.
    But many observers say the government is using the Security Wing to tighten its grip even without Article 23.
    The wing’s officers were deeply involved in producing the 700-page dossier the government used to justify banning the National Party.    The document tracked its statements, public appearances and activities.
    For some, that has echoes of the colonial-era Special Branch, which monitored potentially subversive Chinese and Russian communist activity across Hong Kong during the Cold War.    The agency was disbanded in 1995, two years before Britain handed Hong Kong back to China.
    “It is clear it (Security Wing) is doing much more political work now,” said James To, a veteran democracy advocate who has spent much of his 27 years in the city’s parliament scrutinizing the government’s security policies.
    “My worry is that when you monitor people’s political life and thoughts you are going against the spirit of the human rights provisions of the Basic Law.    There is a need for balance,” To said.
    To said the government had repeatedly refused requests by Hong Kong’s legislators to discuss the Security Wing’s operations in detail.
    Headed by an assistant commissioner, the Wing has over 700 staff, according to government information provided to lawmakers in recent years, some of whom have close ties with mainland Chinese counterparts as well as foreign diplomats based in Hong Kong.
    One former senior officer familiar with the branch’s work said he was witnessing a sea change in the government’s previously hands-off approach.
    “It is back to the future,” he said.    “It is eerie to see them embark on the same kind of monitoring and control operations that we used to do with an entirely new generation.”
    Police declined to comment on whether other activists or groups, including those calling for greater autonomy in the longer term such as Joshua Wong, were being targeted, saying the department wouldn’t “disclose details of operations and investigations.”
    Some observers see an expanding clampdown as inevitable given the political climate.
    “They (the police) are clear what China’s thinking is on this issue,” said a senior police source, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the issue.
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Greg Torode in Hong Kong; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

10/15/2018 Taiwan invites Pope Francis to visit, following landmark China-Vatican pact
Pope Francis waves as he leaves after leading a Mass for the canonisation of the Pope Paul VI and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Vatican October 14, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan has invited Pope Francis to visit, its President Tsai Ing-wen said, just weeks after the Vatican reached a milestone deal on the appointment of bishops with China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own.
    Last month’s deal gives the Holy See, Taiwan’s last remaining diplomatic ally in Europe, a long-sought say over such appointments, although both sides call it “provisional” and sources have said some key issues remain unresolved.
    Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen met Francis on Sunday and invited him to visit, Tsai’s office said in a statement, adding that the pope had replied he would pray for Taiwan.    But it gave no date for the proposed visit.
    Chen emphasized the provisional nature of the agreement between the Vatican and China, saying it did not involve a “diplomatic element” or affect the friendship between Taiwan and the Vatican, the statement added.
    “We urge everyone not to excessively interpret and worry about this (deal),” it quoted Chen as saying.
    On social media, Tsai thanked the pope for his blessings.    “We will take active and concrete actions to support the pope and to transmit our common values of freedom, justice, peace and care to all corners of the world,” she wrote.
    Although the Vatican says its Sept. 22 deal is not political, some Taiwan officials worry it could be a prelude to establishing diplomatic ties with Beijing, and Taiwan’s Vatican envoy has said China wants to make the island irrelevant.
    Taipei has routinely accused China, which considers it a breakaway province and has never ruled out the use of force to return it to the fold, of using dollar diplomacy and bullying to lure away its allies, charges Beijing has denied.
    This year, former allies El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic switched ties to Beijing from Taipei, leaving it with just 17 formal allies, mostly less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.
    On Oct. 1, in the first sign of a thaw after the pact, which was more than 10 years in the making, the Vatican said Beijing would, for the first time, allow Chinese bishops to attend a major Vatican meeting.
    The meeting, known as a synod, began on Oct. 3 and runs until Oct. 28.
    However, Michael Yeung, the bishop of Hong Kong, told Reuters it will take time to tackle issues beyond the appointment of bishops and he feared suppression of Catholics in mainland China would continue despite the accord.
    About a dozen bishops and priests, some elderly, remain in detention in China.    Some have not been heard from in decades.    Beijing has provided little clear information about their fate.
(The story is refiled to change dateline to Taipei.)
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Jess Macy Yu in Taipei; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/15/2018 Head of South Korea’s ruling party says Pope wishes to visit North Korea: Yonhap
    Pope Francis waves as he leaves after leading a Mass for the canonisation of the Pope Paul VI and El Salvador's Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Vatican October 14, 2018.
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The head of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Party of Korea Lee Hae-chan said he had heard that the Pope wishes to visit North Korea next spring, Yonhap news agency reported on Monday.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in is visiting Europe and is expected to pass on to the Vatican North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s wish to meet Pope Francis.    South Korea’s presidential office said that wish was expressed during a meeting last month.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Paul Tait)

10/15/2018 France says it could help North Korea denuclearize if it sees real commitment by John Irish and Marine Pennetier
French President Emmanuel Macron and South Korean President Moon Jae-in shake hands during a joint news conference
at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/Pool
    PARIS (Reuters) – France is ready to help in North Korea’s denuclearization efforts, but Pyongyang must first show some detailed commitments and real desire to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic arsenal, President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday.
    France, a nuclear power and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, is not directly involved in talks between North Korea, South Korea and the United States to work toward the region’s denuclearization.
    However, diplomats have said that given Paris’ nuclear know-how it could play a role in the dismantling of nuclear warheads or receiving nuclear materials.
    “We are waiting for precise commitments from Pyongyang to demonstrate its real desire to engage in a dismantlement of its nuclear and ballistic programs,” Macron told a news conference alongside his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in.
    “We are ready to put forward our expertise and play an active role if a negotiation process is started.”    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged at a landmark summit in Singapore in June to work toward denuclearization.
    But the agreement was short on specifics and talks have made little headway since, with the North refusing to declare its nuclear weapons and facilities or agree to a concrete timeline.
    “We have scientific, technical, operational, nuclear expertise which, in the context of a denuclearization, is very useful and which we want to make available if it appears to be relevant,” Macron said.
    Moon said in an interview on Sunday that Kim was sincere in abandoning nuclear weapons.    Speaking alongside Macron, he said it was crucial countries on the Security Council give North Korea confidence that “it had made the right decision” to give up its weapons program.
    Macron said that Security Council resolutions needed to remain in place and should only evolve with a complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization process.
    While Pyongyang has stopped nuclear and missile tests this year, it failed to keep its promise to allow international inspections of its dismantling of the Punggye-ri site in May, stirring criticism that the move could be reversed.
    The reclusive communist state has no official diplomatic relations with France, one of only two European Union countries along with Estonia to cut ties with North Korea until it abandons its nuclear weapons program and improves its human rights record.
    “Depending on how this evolves … we will envisage on the one hand changes in terms of our bilateral diplomatic relations and on the other hand changes to sanctions policy,” Macron said.
    “I think it’s good to keep seep some pressure levers to make sure there are changes,” he said.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

10/15/2018 Japan manufacturers’ mood rises, trade worries weigh on outlook: Reuters Tankan by Tetsushi Kajimoto
FILE PHOTO: A humanoid robot works side by side with employees in the assembly line at a factory of Glory Ltd.,
a manufacturer of automatic change dispensers, in Kazo, north of Tokyo, Japan, July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Confidence among Japanese manufacturers rose in October from September and is expected to remain flat over the coming three months, a Reuters poll found, suggesting caution over the effect of global trade frictions on the economic outlook.
    The monthly poll, which tracks the Bank of Japan’s (BOJ) closely watched tankan quarterly survey, found non-manufacturers confidence sliding to its lowest in nearly two years as recent natural disasters hit consumers and some firms hard.
    But the Reuters Tankan showed non-manufacturers’ mood was expected to recover, endorsing market views that a hit from natural disasters should be temporary, although external risks to the outlook are mounting.
    The sentiment index for manufacturers stood at 28, up two points from the previous month, led by metal products/machinery and textiles/paper, according to the survey taken Sept 27 to Oct 10.    The index was seen to stay flat in January.
    In the poll of 282 large-and mid-sized firms, in which 252 firms responded on condition of anonymity, managers complained about global trade tensions, rising raw materials prices and difficulty of passing on costs due to weak private consumption.
    “Exchanges of hefty tariffs between the United States and China have raised input costs at our U.S. operations,” a manager of a transport equipment firm wrote in the survey.
    “The direct impact has been small at present but the future remains uncertain as we may need to shift production, depending on whether the United States will impose heavy tariffs against its imports from Japan.”
    The non-manufacturers’ index tumbled to 24 in October from 33 in the previous month, dragged down by the transport/utility and retail/wholesale sectors.    The index was expected to bounce to 29 in January.
    The BOJ’s last tankan showed this month sentiment at big manufacturers soured in the September quarter to hit the lowest level in nearly a year, as firms faced rising raw material costs and a string of natural disasters that disrupted production.
    The central bank’s survey suggested that the specter of a full-blown global trade war weighed on companies’ business outlook.
    The International Monetary Fund this month cut Japan’s economic growth forecast for 2018, warning that the country faced increased risks from uncertainty over global trade and the impact of a sales tax hike planned for next year.
    The Reuters Tankan indexes are calculated by subtracting the percentage of pessimistic respondents from optimistic ones.    A negative figure means pessimists outnumber optimists.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; editing by Eric Meijer)

10/16/2018 Two Koreas, U.N. Command wrap up first session of talks on disarming border by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in talk while taking a walk at
Samjiyon Guesthouse in Ryanggang province, North Korea, September 20, 2018. Pyeongyang Press Corps/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea held their first three-way talks with the United Nations Command (UNC) on Tuesday to discuss ways to demilitarize the border as the neighbors push for peace, Seoul’s defense ministry said.
    The two sides agreed this week to begin reconnecting rail and road links, in spite of U.S. concerns that a rapid thaw in relations could undermine efforts to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
    Tuesday’s meeting followed their agreement at a summit in Pyongyang last month to hold talks with the UNC, which overlaps with U.S. forces in the South and oversees affairs in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), to smooth the way to disarming one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers.
    The meeting lasted for about two hours at the border village of Panmunjom, and was led by military officials of the rank of colonel from each side, including Burke Hamilton, secretary of the UNC Military Armistice Commission, the ministry said.
    “They discussed practical issues regarding demilitarization steps to be conducted in the future,” it said in a statement after the talks.
    The steps ranged from withdrawing firearms and guard posts to reducing personnel and adjusting surveillance equipment, the ministry said, adding that the three-way channel would be used for further discussions.
    North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty.
    As an initial step toward last month’s pact, the neighbors are looking to pull out 11 guard posts within a 1-km (0.6-mile) radius of the Military Demarcation Line by year end.
    They began demining in several small areas this month and will build roads for a pilot project set for April to excavate the remains of soldiers missing from the Korean War.
    Both sides will also withdraw all firearms from the Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom, cut to 35 each the numbers of personnel stationed there, in line with the armistice pact, and share information on surveillance gear.
    Tourists will be allowed to freely access the JSA.
    The measures, aimed to be adopted within one month, would transform the border into a “place of peace and reconciliation,” the ministry has said.
    “Most of the operations will actually be executed by the two Koreas, but ensuring UNC support matters, as it has U.S. elements and also manages the Military Armistice Commission,” a South Korean military source said on condition of anonymity.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Stephen Coates and Clarence Fernandez)

10/16/2018 Chinese bishops at Vatican meeting invite pope to make landmark visit by Philip Pullella
FILE PHOTO: Chinese bishops John Baptist Yang Xiaoting and Joseph Guo Jincai attend a mass
for the opening of a synodal meeting in Saint Peter's square, at the Vatican, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Tony Gentile
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Two Catholic bishops from China who for the first time were allowed by the Beijing government to attend a Vatican meeting have invited Pope Francis to visit their country, a Catholic newspaper said on Tuesday.
    Joseph Guo Jincai and John Baptist Yang Xiaoting attended the first two weeks of a meeting of bishops from around the world, known as a synod, and saw the pope daily.
    Their presence was the first concrete sign of a thaw between the Holy See and Beijing following a landmark agreement last month on the naming of bishops in the communist country.
    “While we were here, we invited Pope Francis to come to China,” Guo said in an interview with Avvenire, the daily newspaper of the Italian bishops conference.
    “We are waiting for him,” Guo said.
    The deal, which was in the making for more than 10 years and signed on Sept. 22, gives the Vatican a long-sought say in the choice of bishops in China, though critics have labeled it a sellout to the Communist government.
    China’s approximately 12 million Catholics have been split between an underground Church swearing loyalty to the Vatican and the state-supervised Catholic Patriotic Association.
    Guo has close ties to the government because he was ordained into the Catholic Patriotic Association without papal permission and had been excommunicated by the Vatican.
    As part of the Sept. 22 agreement, the pope lifted his excommunication and recognized his legitimacy, making Guo an important interlocutor between both sides.
    Guo said he did not know when a trip could take place but said he and his brother bishop Yang believe it was possible and were praying for it.
    “Our presence here was considered impossible but it became possible,” he said.The pope is expected to visit Japan next year and on Thursday he will meet with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who will be carrying an invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for the pope to visit Pyongyang.
    Vatican officials have stressed that last month’s deal between the Holy See and China was pastoral and not political.    But many believe it is a precursor to the restoration of diplomatic ties between the Vatican and Beijing after more than 70 years.
    That would mean breaking relations with Taiwan.    The Vatican is the self-ruled island’s last remaining diplomatic ally in Europe.
    Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province, has formal relations with 16 other countries, many of them small, less developed nations in Central America and the Pacific.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella, editing by Ed Osmond)

10/16/2018 Australian PM criticized for possibly recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli capital by Tom Westbrook
Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House
in Canberra, Australia, October 16, 2018. AAP/Mick Tsikas/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whose government faces a crucial by-election in four days, said on Tuesday Canberra was open to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prompting concern from Indonesian and Palestinian officials.
    Morrison’s comments about recognizing Jerusalem and possibly moving Australia’s embassy there, just like U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial decision in December, would reverse decades of foreign policy and inflame tension with some of Australia’s Asian neighbors.
    Australia is due to a sign a trade deal this year with Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, where the Palestinian question is a sensitive issue and tens of thousands protested against Trump’s decision.
    Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, speaking at a joint news conference with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki in Jakarta, reaffirmed Indonesia’s support for a two-state solution to the Middle East dispute and warned Australia against the risk of insecurity.
    “Indonesia asks Australia and other countries to support peace talks … and not take steps that would threaten that peace process and stability of world security,” Marsudi said.
    Morrison told parliament on Tuesday he had been in touch with Indonesian President Joko Widodo to explain his position.
    Maliki said he was saddened that Australia might violate international law and disrespect a U.N. Security Council resolution.
    “They are risking Australia’s trade and business relationship with the rest of the world, in particular (the) Arab and Muslim world,” he said.
    Ambassadors from 13 Arab countries met in Canberra on Tuesday and agreed to send a letter to Australia’s foreign minister expressing their concern, Egyptian ambassador to Australia Mohamed Khairat said.
    Morrison’s openness to recognizing Jerusalem and moving Australia’s embassy there comes four days before a by-election in Sydney at which his center-right coalition runs the risk of losing its tenuous hold on power.
    The by-election is in the Sydney harborside seat of Wentworth vacated by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, who was ousted in a party-room coup by members of Morrison’s Liberal party, the senior partner in a Liberal-National coalition, in August.
    Census figures show 12.5 percent of people in Wentworth are Jewish, a significantly larger proportion than elsewhere in Australia.    The Liberal candidate contesting the by-election on Saturday, Dave Sharma, is a former Australian ambassador to Israel who has floated the idea in the past.
    Morrison will have to negotiate with independent lawmakers in order to continue governing in a minority if the coalition loses Saturday’s by-election.
‘PRETTY BLATANT’
    Morrison said earlier on Tuesday the political orthodoxy that drove such debates suggested that discussion of the Israeli capital was “taboo.”    He said no decision had been made and he was simply being open to the suggestion.
    The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper described his apparent change of heart as “unprincipled and craven
    University of Sydney political analyst Rod Tiffen said the shift in position was being driven by domestic politics.
    “It’s a big change, it is out of step with everyone, except America,” said Tiffen.
    “But three days out from the Wentworth by-election, it’s pretty blatant … to the extent that there is a Jewish vote there, it probably helps.”
    The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.    Israel regards all of the city, including the eastern sector that it annexed after the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.
    Trump’s decision in December enraged Palestinians and upset the Arab world and Western allies.    Australia refused to follow its closest ally’s example and has so far kept its mission in Tel Aviv.
    The apparent change of policy was welcomed by Israel but swiftly criticized by Palestinian representatives.
    Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Morrison had telephoned to explain his shift, said on Twitter he was “very thankful” Morrison was considering the move.
    Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they hope to establish in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.    Peace talks between the parties broke down in 2014.
    The U.S. Embassy became the only foreign embassy in Jerusalem in May, but Netanyahu has attempted to persuade others to follow suit.
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Additional reporting by Ori Lewis in JERUSALEM, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in JAKARTA; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

10/16/2018 Indonesia arrests nine in bribery probe linked to $21 billion Lippo Group project by Agustinus Beo Da Costa
A worker rides a bicycle in the Meikarta development in Cikarang, Bekasi, east of Jakarta, Indonesia,
October 15, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Risky Andrianto/ via REUTERS
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency has arrested nine people, including a top district government official and a company director, in a bribery investigation linked to the Lippo Group’s $21 billion Meikarta real estate project near Jakarta.
    In a sting operation on Sunday, the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested two Lippo Group consultants and an employee accused of trying to pay off city officials to obtain property permits for Meikarta, KPK chairman Laode Muhammad Syarif told a news conference late on Monday.
    Costing $21 billion and billed as the “Shenzhen of Indonesia,” after the booming Chinese city, Meikarta is Lippo’s largest project to date and is meant to be a center for the automotive and electronic industries, while including five-star hotels, shopping malls and universities.
    Shares in Lippo Group’s Lippo Cikarang, a parent company for Meikarta, dropped almost 15 percent after the news and ended down 13.36 percent on Tuesday.
    Syarif told reporters that Lippo director Billy Sindoro was arrested and named as the prime suspect in the case after detained Lippo employees said they had been acting on his instructions to bribe a top district government official.
    Syarif identified that official as Neneng Hasanah Yasin, who is the regent for West Java’s Bekasi area where the Meikarta project is located, saying he was also arrested.
    Through the sting operation, investigators had confiscated 513 million rupiah ($33,772) and S$90,000 ($65,378) that had been intended as bribe money, Syarif said.
    Neither Sindoro nor Yasin could immediately be reached for comment through their lawyers.
    A lawyer for Meikarta said there was no tolerance for corruption and pledged to collaborate with KPK investigators.    Meikarta would also conduct its own internal investigation.
    “In the event we find that there was deviation from our anti-corruption principles, we will not hesitate to strictly sanction anyone found guilty according to employment law,” counsel Denny Indrayana said in Tuesday’s statement.
    The anti-graft agency has given limited details of the others arrested in connection with the investigation but four of them are civil servants, the agency said.
    The complexity of the Meikarta project, involving numerous government agencies in the issuance of its permits, made it more vulnerable to corruption and the KPK suspected there have been other instances of bribery, Syarif said.
    Sindoro was convicted in 2009 for bribing an official at the anti-monopoly agency to obtain broadcasting rights for the English Premier League.
    He was then president of First Media, another unit of the Lippo Group.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Ed Davies and Robert Birsel)

10/16/2018 Poll: China exporters worried about trade war, rising costs at home by Sue-Lin Wong and David Stanway
Cars to be exported are seen at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China May 31, 2018.
REUTERS/Stringer ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT.
    GUANGZHOU, China (Reuters) – Chinese exporters are mostly confident they can weather a trade war with the United States, but worry about collateral damage it might cause throughout the global economy, according to a Reuters poll of participants at China’s largest trade fair.
    Representatives from 91 firms involved in sectors ranging from industrial machinery to home appliances, motorcycles and new energy vehicles were surveyed during the Canton Import and Export Fair on Oct 15-16.
    Just over 60 percent said they were worried about the trade war in the first poll carried out by Reuters since the United States imposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods late last month, escalating the tariff war between the world’s two largest economies.
    “We wanted to expand this year into the United States, but the trade war has really thrown a spanner in the works,” said Heidi Tan, sales director at Motoma Power which makes batteries for mobile phones, including iPhones.
    Phone batteries have been hit by U.S. tariffs, and Tan says customers are already looking to buy from other countries.
    “It is only be a matter of time before factories in Southeast Asia will be able to make the same batteries,” she said.
    Still, firms surveyed remained broadly optimistic about foreign markets despite mounting challenges, with only 28 percent expecting orders to decline this year, and just 21 percent expecting declines in 2019.
    When the twice-yearly fair, which draws thousands of companies, was last held in April, a Reuters poll found 65 percent of respondents were concerned about escalating trade tensions, and only 26 percent had anticipated a full-blown trade war.
    In the latest survey, more than 60 percent expected the trade war to last at least another year, though some said it depends on how long President Donald Trump remains in the White House.
    “The question isn’t how long the trade war will last,” said Charles Zhu of Taizhou Jieba Cleaning Products.    “The question is how long will Trump be in power for.”
    Fifty-five percent of respondents said the government should “proactively engage in discussions” to try to end the trade war.
    Just three respondents thought China should retaliate by restricting competition.
    “One massive advantage China has is our ability to work hard and endure hardship, we thrive under competition,” said Michael Zhuo of Yuyao Ghost Audio, adding around two thirds of his customers are in the United States.
    “I’m not sure whether the U.S. has factored this into their thinking.”
    Just under half of the firms surveyed had no business in the United States.
KNOCK-ON EFFECT
    Many exporters in sectors like solar power and machinery said their shipments to the United States were negligible, partly as a result of previous punitive tariffs that forced them to look at markets elsewhere.
    But some exporters still expressed worries over how the trade war was undermining confidence globally.
    “The trade war first of all hurts the Chinese economy, where we have customers, and it could also affect the economies of the countries we do business with,” said Todd Cao, vice-president of Jiangsu Spanl Co. Ltd, which exports building materials.
    Partly as a result of the trade conflict, economists polled by Reuters earlier this month predicted that China’s third-quarter growth be its weakest since the global financial crisis.
    And for many exporters surveyed, the rising costs of doing business in China, including growing costs of raw materials and high staff turnover, were more worrying than the Sino-U.S. trade war.
    Respondents also listed problems like the crackdown on peer-to-peer lending and tightening environmental regulations.
    Some exporters said customers in emerging market economies were suffering from a squeeze on dollars that made it harder for them to buy their products.
    “Orders from Turkey, South Africa, Argentina, Iran, Syria and Libya are all down,” said Tory Mak, a sales manager at Guangzhou HD Electronics, blaming weakening economic conditions in these countries and knock-on effects from the trade war.
    Some firms not directly hurt by the new tariff regime were suffering the effects of other U.S. policy shifts, including the imposition of sanctions on Iran.
    Firms in the textiles, electric equipment and solar sectors all said that their business was suffering because they were no longer allowed to export to the Middle Eastern country.
    “We’ve not been hit by the tariffs but by the sanctions, which have cut our trade (with Iran) to zero,” said one sales manager who did not want to be named.
(Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong and David Stanway; Additional reporting by Shenzhen newsroom; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/16/2018 Growing impact: a third of Japan Inc hurt by U.S.-China trade war – Reuters poll by Tetsushi Kajimoto
A man cycles past chimneys of facotries at the Keihin Industrial Zone in Kawasaki, Japan September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The number of Japanese companies affected by the U.S.-Sino trade war has jumped to a third, soaring from just 3 percent in May with firms fretting about prospects for their exports from China as well as slower Chinese demand, a Reuters poll found.
    The survey also showed 53 percent of firms were worried about the fallout from the escalating trade friction and that some, albeit still a small percentage, had begun looking at shifting production of exports out of China to other countries.
    Of the companies citing an impact, the vast majority said they were feeling the effect ‘to some extent’, with only 2 percent calling the impact large.
    The fear is, however, that the fallout will become much worse.
If it does become a fully fledged trade war, then this could hit Japanese exports and supply chains, in turn hurting capital expenditure and dampening consumer spending and potentially damaging Japan’s entire economy,” said Masaki Kuwahara, senior economist at Nomura Securities, who reviewed the survey results.
    Washington in September levied tariffs of up to 25 percent on $250 billion of Chinese goods as punishment for what it says are unfair trade practices, while Beijing has hit back with tariffs on about $60 billion of U.S. imports.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has since threatened to slap tariffs on an additional $267 billion of Chinese imports.
    “The trade friction is having a big impact on exports from China of the raw materials used to build products in the United States,” a manager at an auto-sector firm wrote.
    “Even if we consider measures to avoid tariffs, there’s a limit to what we can do,” the manager added.
    The survey, conducted Sept. 27-Oct. 10, showed non-manufacturers firms were just as worried as manufacturers about the fallout.
    “Any direct impact may be small, but sluggish business conditions and anxiety about the future could cause a decline in demand in the medium to long term,” wrote a manager at a construction firm.
    Companies responded anonymously to the survey, conducted for Reuters by Nikkei Research.    It polled 482 large and mid-sized non-financial firms, about 240 of which responded to the question about on the extent of the impact of the trade war.
    Asked if they had an export base in China and were thinking of moving any facilities out of the country, 13 out of 97 firms that responded to the question said they were considering such a move.
    Among the firms looking at shifting production, most said they were considering Southeast Asia as an alternative, while some were thinking about bringing output back home.    None chose the United States.
    Firms that have publicly said they could shift production include Toshiba Machine Co <6104.T> which has said it plans to move output of U.S.-bound plastic moulding machines from China to Japan or Thailand.    Mitsubishi Electric Corp <6503.T> is shifting output of U.S.-bound machine tools from its base in Dalian, in northeastern China, to a Japanese plant in Nagoya.
    The survey also found that 40 percent of Japanese firms thought the trade conflict could disrupt supply chains over the next three years, with many citing fears that prices for imports of raw materials and parts could surge.
    “If major U.S. companies like Google, Amazon and Apple start bringing production home, that could destroy Chinese parts makers with which we do business,” a manager at a machinery maker also wrote.
    Only 11 percent of firms said, however, that they were currently considering steps to deal with a potential escalation of trade spats.
    Of those considering contingency measures, shifting production as well as diversifying sales and procurement routes were the most often cited.
    The International Monetary Fund last week lowered its global economic growth forecasts for this year and next, predicting 3.7 percent for both years instead of 3.9 percent, citing trade policy tensions and the imposition of tariffs as a key factor behind the cut.
(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Malcolm Foster and Edwina Gibbs)

10/17/2018 Scuffles break out at Indian temple town over entry of menstrual age women by Jose Devasia
Hindu devotees gather at a temple during a protest against the lifting of ban by Supreme Court that
allowed entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple, at the Nilakkal Base Camp
in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V
    NILAKKAL, India (Reuters) – Hundreds of police guarded the main gateway to an Indian hill temple on Wednesday to prevent clashes between women of menstrual age entering for the first time in centuries and conservative Hindu groups out to stop them.
    The Sabarimala temple in the southern state of Kerala has been the cause of tension since India’s top court ruled last month that banning some women from entering infringed on freedom to worship.
    Hardline Hindu groups have threatened to commit mass suicide to prevent women from entering in a cultural battle between the Supreme Court, that has recently delivered landmark judgments legalizing gay sex and adultery, and traditional groups that still hold sway in a deeply religious country.
    The groups, that include Shiv Sena, a former ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, say the prohibition on women of menstrual age entering is required to appease the temple’s chief deity, Ayyappan, depicted as a yoga-practising God considered eternally celibate by followers.
    Police said on Wednesday around 500 police, including 100 women, have been deployed at Nilakkal, the gateway to the temple around 18 km (11 miles) from the site, where many of the protests have been taking place.
    “Nobody will be allowed to prevent anybody.    We will do everything possible to implement the law of the land,” said Inspector General of Police Manoj Abraham.    “None will be allowed to take law into their hands.”
    But some female worshippers were prevented from proceeding to the temple site on Wednesday.
    A lone woman traveling to Sabarimala by bus was stopped at the bus stand near the gateway by a group of protesters.
    The woman, identified as Libi by local language channel Asianet News, came from the neighboring district of Alappuzha.
    “When democracy and the Supreme Court order are being defied by protesters, I have come with the firm intent of visiting Sabarimala,” Libi, who uses only one name, told the channel.
    “I am not scared.    The police are providing full security.    I have come alone,” she said, adding she was ready to face trouble.
    Police have registered cases against more than 50 people in connection with the incident, media reports said.
    A family of four from neighboring Andhra Pradesh state, including at least one woman, were shielded by police carrying sticks after protesters shouting slogans prevented them from reaching the temple.
    Overnight, police cleared hundreds of protesters from a site in Nilakkal and said no new protesters would be allowed to gather near the temple.    There were at least six arrests, with a group of three arrested in connection with an assault on a woman and her husband from the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu.
    Pilgrims have for centuries visited the Sabarimala temple, in a remote tiger reserve in the Western Ghats mountain range.
    Many of those visiting the site take a vow of celibacy for 41 days before beginning a trek through the mountains to the temple, located around 3,000 feet above sea level, according to the temple’s website.
(Reporting by Jose Devasia in NILAKKAL, additional reporting by Malini Menon in NEW DELHI, writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie)

10/17/2018 Thai army chief says no need to intervene if politics stable
Thailand's Royal Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong gestures during a news conference at the
Thai Army headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s new army chief on Wednesday did not rule out another military intervention if there was political conflict after the return of civilian rule in a general election next year.
    General Apirat Kongsompong, who took up his post this month, said the army was being closely watched and would strive to remain neutral.
    “We have to tread carefully….We cannot let politics use us,” Apirat told reporters in Bangkok.
    When asked by a reporter if he was prepared to launch another coup, Apirat said: “If politics does not create conflict like in the past, there is no need for us to intervene.”
    Thailand has been under military rule since a May 2014 coup which the army said was necessary to restore order after months of pro and anti-government protests.
    The government, led by former army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, the current prime minister, has repeatedly delayed elections with the latest poll date now set for February 2019.
    The Southeast Asian country has a history of military interference starting in 1932 with the overthrow of the absolute monarchy through a bloodless revolt.
    In 2006, the military ousted popularly elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications billionaire.
    The latest 2014 putsch saw his sister, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ejected from power.
    The coups were part of a long-running power struggle between Shinawatra supporters and the military-backed royalist elite.
(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

10/17/2018 Iran says it has killed mastermind of deadly attack on parade
A general view of the attack during the military parade in Ahvaz, Iran September 22, 2018. Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Tuesday they had killed the “mastermind” behind an attack on a military parade in the Iranian city of Ahvaz last month which left 25 people dead, nearly half of them members of the Guards.
    The Guards said in a statement published on state media their forces had killed a man named Abu Zaha and four other militants in Diyala province in Iraq.    One news website run by Iran’s state television said Abu Zaha was a member of Islamic State.
    Both Islamic State and an Iranian ethnic Arab opposition movement called the Ahwaz National Resistance, which seeks a separate state in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, have claimed responsibility for the Sept. 22 attack.    Neither group has provided conclusive evidence to back up its claim.
    On Oct. 1, Iran said it had killed several Islamic State leaders in eastern Syria in a missile strike and destroyed the militants’ supplies and infrastructure.
    The Sunni Muslim Islamic State group, in decline in Iraq and Syria, considers the majority Shi’ite Muslims of Iran to be heretics.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said those responsible for the parade attack were paid by Sunni Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and that Iran will “severely punish” those behind the violence.
    Saudi Arabia and the UAE have denied involvement in the attack.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Andrew Roche)

10/17/2018 Iran calls U.S. efforts to cut its oil exports to zero ‘political bluff’
FILE PHOTO: A gas flare on an oil production platform in the Soroush oil fields is seen alongside
an Iranian flag in the Gulf, Iran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Statements by the United States that it would reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero are a “political bluff,” the head of state-run National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said, according to a report published by Tasnim news agency on Wednesday.
    U.S. officials have said they aim to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero to force its leaders to change their behavior in the region.    U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports are scheduled to kick in on Nov. 4.
    NIOC head Ali Kardor said U.S. President Donald Trump had been trying to reduce Iran’s oil exports for months.
    “The president of America has done whatever he can and he knows very well that getting Iran’s oil exports to zero was a political bluff,” Kardor said.
    The U.S. administration has been pushing its allies to cut Iranian oil imports and encouraging Saudi Arabia, other OPEC states and Russia to pump more oil to meet any shortfall.
    Kardor said Iran did not have any difficulties receiving payments for oil exports and said the Islamic Republic could accept payments in euros instead of dollars if necessary.
    “There is no problem on this issue,” Kardor said, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported.    “With European support there will not be a problem.”
    European powers have been trying to salvage a nuclear accord with Iran after the United States withdrew in May.
    The European Union said last month it was considering setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran and said it could be in place before November.
    European diplomats have said the SPV would create a barter system, similar to one used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to exchange Iranian oil for European goods without money changing hands.
    Kardor said Iran was scheduled to sign a new oil contract with a foreign company within two weeks, ISNA reported.    He did not provide any additional information.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Louise Heavens and Edmund Blair)

10/18/2018 Pope gets invite to North Korea, indicates will consider it by Philip Pullella
Pope Francis meets South Korean President Moon Jae-in during a private audience at the Vatican, October 18, 2018. Alessandro Di Meo/ Pool via Reuters
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Thursday received an invitation to visit North Korea and the pontiff indicated that he would consider making what would be a landmark trip to the hermit nation, according to South Korean officials.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in relayed the invitation from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the pope verbally during a 35-minute meeting in the Vatican.
    Any visit would be the first by a pope to the reclusive state which does not allow priests to be permanently stationed there.    There is little information on how many of its citizens are Catholic, or how they practice their faith.
    Kim told Moon, a Catholic, of his wish to meet the pontiff during a meeting last month and the South Korean leader announced before the trip that he would be relaying a message.
    According to the president’s office, Francis expressed his strong support for efforts to bring peace to the Korean peninsula.    Moon’s office quoted the pope as telling Moon: “Do not stop, move forward.    Do not be afraid.”
    Asked if Kim should send a formal invitation, Moon’s office quoted the pope as responding to Moon: “your message is already sufficient but it would be good for him to send a formal invitation.”
    “I will definitely answer if I get the invitation, and I can go,” the president’s office quoted the pope as saying.
RECONCILIATION
    The pope is expected to be in Asia during a trip to Japan next year.
    A Vatican statement made no mention of the verbal invitation from Kim.
    It spoke only of “the promotion of dialogue and reconciliation between Koreans” and “the common commitment to fostering all useful initiatives to overcome the tensions that still exist in the Korean Peninsula, in order to usher in a new season of peace and development.”
    The two Koreas have held three summits this year.    Kim also held an unprecedented summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June, and promised to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    Any trip to the North, however brief, could be contentious for the pope.
    North Korea’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion as long as it does not undermine the state.    But beyond a handful of state-controlled places of worship, no open religious activity is allowed.
    Aides close to the pope have said he is open to taking what they call first steps in places where the Church has been persecuted in the hope that the situation could improve.
    Church officials estimate that North Korea had a Catholic community of about 55,000 just before the 1950-53 Korean War.
    Religious agencies have estimated the number remaining from the few hundreds to about 4,000.
(Additional reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Heavens)

10/18/2018 Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan target of attack by OAN Newsroom
    The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan recently escaped an attack by the Taliban, which claimed the lives of at least two Afghanistan security officials.
    A gunman wearing an Afghan army uniform opened fired Thursday after a meeting between General Scott Miller and Afghan officials in a southern province.    Miller is said to have been the target of the attack, but was not injured.
In this September 2, 2018 photo, provided by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army Gen. Scott Miller,
commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, delivers remarks during the Resolute Support mission
change of command ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Sharida Jackson, via AP)
    Officials confirmed three Americans were hurt — a service member, a civilian and a contractor — but the injuries are not life threatening.
    However, at least two Afghan security officials were killed, including the region’s police chief and intelligence chief.
    “I very much regret to say that several high level officials have been killed,” announced Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.    “I express my deepest sympathy and grief with all people of Afghanistan, especially with residents of the town.”
    The attack comes ahead of parliamentary elections Saturday, which the Taliban has threatened to disrupt.

10/19/2018 Southeast Asia hails world’s first multilateral air encounter code by John Geddie
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen meet ASEAN defence ministers
during a lunch meeting at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting in Singapore October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asian countries agreed on Friday to guidelines to manage unexpected encounters between their military aircraft, with host Singapore calling the pact a world first and saying they would encourage their international partners to join.
    The agreement, signed by defense ministers of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at a conference in Singapore, includes a region-wide pact on the exchange of information on terrorism threats.
    The voluntary, non-binding guidelines on air encounters build on an existing code to manage sea encounters adopted last year by ASEAN and its “plus” partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
    “I am happy to announce the first multilateral guidelines for air encounters between military aircraft have been adopted,” Singapore’s defense minister, Ng Eng Hen, told a news conference.
    “This is a significant achievement.”
    The ASEAN ministers will meet their eight international partners on Saturday and Ng said they would “seek their agreement” on the guidelines.
    The framework for the guidelines said a pact was needed because Asia’s rising growth and prosperity had spurred an increase of maritime and air traffic in the region.
    The United States and China in 2015 signed a pact on a military hotline and rules governing air-to-air encounters.
    But even with the existing guidelines, tensions remain, especially in the hotly contested South China Sea.
    China claims almost all of the busy waterway while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the potentially energy-rich maritime territory.
    Taiwan also claims the sea.
    This month, China expressed anger after a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands it claims, saying it resolutely opposed an operation that it called a threat to its sovereignty.
    Asked if the sea guidelines were working, Ng said, “In a way they are like seatbelts, not completely protected, but at least they provide some protection.”
    At a lunch meeting with his ASEAN counterparts, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the United States wanted a “constructive relationship” with China but remained concerned by what it saw as the militarization of the South China Sea.
    In August, Southeast Asian nations and China adopted a negotiating framework for a broader code of conduct in the South China Sea.
    That framework seeks to advance a 2002 Declaration of Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which has mostly been ignored by claimant states, particularly China, which has built seven islands in disputed waters, three of them equipped with runways, surface-to-air missiles and radars
    The ASEAN states also agreed to adopt the “our eyes” initiative as a platform to exchange information on “terrorism, radicalism, and violent extremism, and other non-traditional threats.”
    They also agreed to set up a “i>virtual” network of chemical, biological and radiological defense experts to “better share best practices and make quick contact during crises.”
(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/19/2018 In China’s Catholic heartland, Vatican deal brings Communist Party closer by Christian Shepherd
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag flies in front of an underground Catholic church in the village
of Huangtugang, Hebei province, China, September 30, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo
    DONGLU VILLAGE, China (Reuters) – In 1996, a tiny village with a huge Gothic-style church in China’s Catholic heartland of northern Hebei province was the scene of a tense stand-off between the ruling Communist Party and the faithful.
    Authorities surrounded Donglu village’s Our Lady of China Catholic Church, blocking thousands of pilgrims and detaining Vatican-ordained Bishop Su Zhimin, who was a member of the “underground” Church, not the state-backed official Church which did not recognize the pope’s authority to name bishops.
    Despite repeated appeals to Chinese authorities from Vatican officials and underground clergy, it is unclear whether Su, who would now be 86, is still being held or is even alive.
    Decades on, the Donglu church’s ties with officials are now convivial, according to Diao Ligang, a local priest, reflecting a generational shift toward acceptance of the ruling Communist Party’s authority over China’s Catholics.
    “Before, it was as if they kept wanting to see what we were hiding in our fist,” said Diao.    “But then we opened it and they realized there was nothing dangerous in there in the first place.”
    Last month’s secretive deal with the Vatican, which gives the Holy See a long-sought and decisive say over the appointment of new bishops, sets the stage for Beijing to recognize some underground congregations.    Details of how and when this process might happen have not been released.
    Interviews with five underground priests and two dozen believers in Hebei suggest previously stark divisions between underground Catholics loyal to the Vatican and churches officially registered with the Chinese authorities have blurred in recent years.
    The coming together reflects growing, if grudging, acceptance of government oversight by the faithful, as the Vatican pushes for a reconciliation with Beijing and many of the older generation that had expressed staunch opposition to the party are either silenced or dead.
    Still, Cardinal Joseph Zen, 86, the outspoken former archbishop of Hong Kong, has led an international chorus of conservative critics who say the deal is a sellout to the Communist Party and an insult to those who had suffered under oppression.
    He and other opponents of the secretive deal warn the expected gradual folding of unofficial churches into a government system of control risks abandoning a group of “loyalist” bishops and priests, who for decades resisted joining the Catholic Patriotic Association, as the state-backed church is known, and have been punished as a result.
BLURRED LINES
    China says there are six million Catholics in the country, across 98 officially approved dioceses.    The Holy Spirit Study Centre, run by the diocese of Hong Kong, estimates that there are 10 million believers spread over 144 dioceses.
    Such discrepancies have been the subject of closed-door negotiations for more than a decade between Beijing and the Vatican, which wants to preserve and expand the Catholic community in China.
    The Vatican went ahead with the provisional deal, despite it failing to address some outstanding points of contention, because it feared the two Churches would split even further apart, resulting in a schism that would become irreparable, Vatican sources told Reuters.
    At four recent services attended by Reuters journalists, three official and one at an “underground” church, there was little that was discernibly different between those at churches loyal to Beijing or the Vatican.
    Donglu is now run under the leadership of Bishop An Shuxin, who had been an “underground” coadjutor bishop alongside Su, meaning he had been granted right of succession by the Vatican.
    An was also detained in the 1996 crackdown but reappeared a decade later, and in 2009 announced he had joined the Patriotic Association.    In 2010, he became the officially recognized bishop of Baoding diocese, where Donglu is located.
    An declined to be interviewed when contacted by Reuters, citing health problems.
    For Diao, the village priest, An’s experience and that of the local Church in Donglu represents hope for an end to the divisions that have riven the church in China since Beijing in 1951 cut ties with the Vatican and banished its diplomatic mission.
    “These divisions are made by people who want to say they have more faith than others,” Diao told Reuters during an interview in Donglu church, built in 1992 to replace the original shrine destroyed by Japanese bombers during World War Two.
    “If people have faith, then they have faith.    That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t also follow the law.”
    The church remains one of China’s most important Catholic pilgrimage sites and thousands travel there every May to celebrate a claimed miraculous appearance of the Vigin Mary in 1900.
    A depiction of Our Lady of China and the Baby Jesus, a painted image of a Chinese woman holding a baby, both dressed in the yellow imperial robes of the Qing dynasty, which ruled China until 1912, hangs in the church.
    Since 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping has overseen a tightening of restrictions on religious belief in China, with Muslims and Christians being targeted most.
    Regular weekend classes and week-long summer camps for children at one church had been canceled by the authorities over the summer, one underground priest from a village near Hebei’s Zhangjiakou city said, declining to be named for fear of retribution from the authorities.
    In light of the Vatican deal, he preached patience and acceptance of government restrictions: “I told my parishioners, this is not about the millions of us who already believe; it is about those who do not yet believe. We must have the foresight to think about how to let them find faith.”
FRAGILE ACCORD
    The deal between Beijing and the Vatican was struck without resolution of some long-held Church concerns over clerics in detention, Catholic Church sources familiar with the substance of the deal have told Reuters.
    As part of the deal, the Vatican approved seven excommunicated Patriotic Association bishops ordained without church approval, meaning all Beijing-approved Bishops have now been accepted by the Holy See.
    It is unclear what, if any, immediate change the deal made for Beijing’s attitude toward China’s approximately 30 underground bishops, whose uncertain fate could still scupper the accord, said Yang Fenggang, a professor at Purdue University in the United States specializing in religion in China.
    “This is a baby step and the relationship looks very fragile,” he said.
    However, the acceptance of government-backed bishops by the Holy See had already started to blur the lines, as more bishops were seen as both Vatican and Beijing-approved, he added.
    Wang Meixiu, an expert on China-Vatican relations at the state-affiliated Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said for the agreement to move forward the pope will have to call for unofficial churches to “abandon former hatred” and be good citizens.
    “The eyes of the government are still on those churches that have not registered and those underground clerics that have not been approved,” she said.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd. Additional reporting byStella Qiu.; Editing by Tony Munroe and Lincoln Feast.)

10/19/2018 Afghanistan delays vote in Kandahar after killing of commander by Rupam Jain and Hamid Shalizi
Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint a day before parliamentary elections in Kabul, Afghanistan October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Saturday’s parliamentary election in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar will be delayed by a week after the assassination of one of the country’s most powerful security chiefs dealt a stunning blow to the Western-backed government.
    General Abdul Razeq, the Kandahar police commander, was killed outside the provincial governor’s office on Thursday, when a bodyguard opened fire on a group of officials as they left a meeting with General Scott Miller, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
    Miller was not injured but the regional intelligence agency commander was killed and the provincial governor severely wounded, decimating the leadership of one of the country’s most strategically important provinces.
    Although nominally a provincial police chief, Razeq was one of the most powerful political figures in Afghanistan and a formidable opponent of the Taliban, with unchallenged authority across the volatile south of the country.
    The decision to suspend the vote in Kandahar province was taken over the objections of some officials who warned that any delay would threaten the whole process and hand the Taliban a major propaganda victory.
    Saturday’s election had been seen as a major test of the government’s credibility and ability to organize a nationwide ballot ahead of the more important presidential election next April.
    But the shock of Razeq’s death meant the people of Kandahar were “morally not ready to vote,” Hafizullah Hashimi, spokesman of the Independent Election Commission, said.
    The Taliban issued a fresh warning not to take part in the election on Friday, telling people to stay at home and saying it would shut down roads and would be “closely monitoring all developments.”
    The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) issued a statement of its own expressing concern at Taliban statements pledging attacks on schools and other buildings used as polling centers.
    “UNAMA urges the Taliban to respect and protect civilians and not to threaten them or carry out violence should they engage in their constitutional right to participate in elections,” it said.
    On top of the mounting security concerns, the elections were already dogged by serious technical and organizational problems, notably around the use of untested biometric voter verification equipment rushed in after allegations of widespread voter fraud.
PRECARIOUS
    Thursday’s attack underlined how precarious the situation remains in Afghanistan after more than 17 years of war despite preliminary contacts between Taliban and U.S. officials to find a basis for future peace talks.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said it was too soon to say what effect Razeq’s death would have but added that the U.S. military’s mission was unaltered.
    “We need to find who’s done this,” Mattis told reporters traveling with him in the southeast Asian city-state of Singapore.    “But right now, we are going toward the election and we will continue to defend the Afghan people.”
    He said he did not believe the attack would affect U.S. military movements around Afghanistan or General Miller’s security arrangements.
    It was unclear how the attack would affect moves toward a peace process, following a meeting last week of Taliban officials and the U.S. special envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, but it complicates an already difficult situation.
    “You’re going to start asking questions about, ‘Well, how trustworthy are they?    What influence do they really have?'” said one former Defense Department official who left the Pentagon recently, referring to the Taliban.
    “And you know the bottomline question is, ‘Why are we still dealing with them?’ or ‘Should we deal with them?'
    Mattis was cautious about whether the Thursday attack could hit voter turnout but said the U.S. aim of finding a negotiated, Afghan-led political solution to the conflict was unchanged.
    “We remain absolutely committed to an Afghan-led Afghan reconciliation,” he said.
ELECTION THREAT
    Miller, who knew Razeq well from his previous tours of duty in Afghanistan, issued a statement saluting a “great friend.”
    “Afghanistan lost a patriot,” he said on Twitter.    “The good he did for Afghanistan and the Afghan people cannot be undone.”
    A disarmingly youthful-looking figure, with a toothy smile belying a fearsome reputation, the 39-year-old Razeq was regularly accused of building a fortune from extracting millions of dollars from traders and businesses.
    He was also accused of torturing prisoners and other abuses, which he denied.
    Last year, the United Nations Committee against Torture cited “numerous and credible allegations” that Razeq was complicit in severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and secret detention centers.
    He clashed frequently with President Ashraf Ghani, defying attempts to sack him, but he enjoyed popular support in Kandahar and the surrounding provinces and was adept at navigating the region’s complex tribal politics.
    He was also highly respected by U.S. officers who saw his ruthless methods as the most effective weapon against the Taliban in both Kandahar and the wider south.
    “Razeq was, kind of, the embodiment of security, not just in Kandahar.    It is Uruzgan, it’s Zabul province,” said the recently retired Defense Department official.
    “He had a lot of sway over other senior officials and certainly in the police.”
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart in SINGAPORE, Idrees Ali in WASHINGTON; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

10/19/2018 China moves to lift confidence as economic growth hits weakest pace since 2009 by Kevin Yao and Elias Glenn
Workers help to dock a China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) container ship at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province, China October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s economic growth cooled to its weakest quarterly pace since the global financial crisis, with regulators moving quickly to calm nervous investors as a years-long campaign to tackle debt risks and the trade war with the United States began to bite.
    Chinese authorities are trying to navigate through numerous challenges, as the trade war fears have sparked a blistering selloff in domestic stock markets and a steep decline in the value of the yuan versus the dollar, heightening worries about the growth outlook.
    The economy grew 6.5 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier, below an expected 6.6 percent rate, and slower than 6.7 percent in the second quarter, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Friday.
    It marked the weakest year-on-year quarterly gross domestic product growth since the first quarter of 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis.
    “The trend of slowdown is strengthening despite Chinese authorities’ pledge to encourage domestic investment to support the economy.    Domestic demand turned out weaker than unexpectedly solid exports,” said Kota Hirayama, senior emerging markets economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.
    After another big decline in Chinese stocks on Thursday, policymakers launched a coordinated attempt to soothe markets, with central bank governor Yi Gang saying equity valuations are not in line with economic fundamentals.
    Beijing has already been increasing policy support in the last few months to prop up growth.
    Yi and senior regulators pledged targeted measures to help ease firms’ financing problems and encourage commercial banks to boost lending to private firms. China’s Vice Premier Liu He, who oversees the economy and financial sector, also chimed in to bolster sentiment.
    The Shanghai Composite index <.SSEC>, which slumped more than 1 percent in early Friday deals, rallied strongly in afternoon trading to finish up 2.6 percent.
    Third quarter growth was hurt by the weakest factory output since February 2016 in September as automobile makers cut production by over 10 percent amid a sales slowdown.
    “Weakness is largely coming from the secondary industry- most notably manufacturing.    We may review our Q4 forecasts,” said Betty Wang, senior China economist at ANZ in Hong Kong.
    On a quarterly basis, growth cooled to 1.6 percent from a revised 1.7 percent in the second quarter, meeting expectations.
    Importantly, second quarter sequential growth was revised down from the previously reported 1.8 percent, suggesting the economy carried over less momentum into the second half than many analysts had expected.
    Before the data release, economists had expected China’s full-year growth to come in at 6.6 percent this year – comfortably meeting the government’s 6.5 percent target – and 6.3 percent next year.
    But now some say growth could slow even more dramatically next year.
    “Looking ahead, the economic outlook is not optimistic with exports facing further headwinds as U.S. tariffs kick in and demand from emerging countries ebbs.    GDP growth is likely to slow to 6.0-6.2 percent next year,” said Nie Wen, an analyst at Hwabao Trust Shanghai.
    China’s once high-flying automakers are now feeling the brunt of weaker consumer spending.    Car sales fell the most in nearly seven years in September, data showed last week, with GM and Volkswagen reporting double-digit declines.
TRADE WAR STING
    Beijing and Washington have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on each other’s goods in recent months, sparked by U.S. President Donald Trump’s demands for sweeping changes to China’s intellectual property, industrial subsidy and trade policies.
    Plans for bilateral trade talks to resolve the dispute have stalled, triggering a domestic equities rout and putting pressure on China’s already softening economy and weakening currency.
    China’s exports unexpectedly kicked accelerated in September, largely as firms front-loaded shipments to dodge stiffer U.S. duties, though analysts see pressure building in coming months.
    “We expect an adverse impact from the trade tension will appear more clearly in data after the start of new year,” SMBC Nikko Securities’ Hirayama said.
    Separate data on Friday showed China’s factory output growth weakened to 5.8 percent in September from a year earlier, while fixed-asset investment expanded at a slightly faster-than-expected 5.4 percent in the first nine months of the year.
    Infrastructure investment rose 3.3 percent year-on-year for Jan-Sept, slower than 4.2 percent growth in the first eight months of the year.
    Retail sales rose 9.2 percent in September from a year earlier, bouncing after several months of lackluster growth.
    Faced with rising headwinds to the economy, policymakers are shifting their priorities to reducing risks to growth by gradually easing monetary and fiscal policy.
    An official with China’s top economic planning agency said in July that China’s economy needs to maintain around 6.5 percent growth in order to ensure enough jobs are created, an indication that Beijing may not be comfortable with growth much below current levels.
    Last week the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) announced the fourth reserve requirement ratio (RRR) cut this year, stepping up moves to lower financing costs.
    And more support steps look likely, analysts say, as China starts to bear the full brunt of the trade dispute with the United States.
    “China is pulling on all the levers to support domestic demand in the face of this trade pressure.    There’s already a big acceleration in lending underway and now the PBOC is announcing new steps,” said Ray Attrill, head of currency strategy at NAB in Sydney.
    “In the end, China will do what it takes to safeguard their economy and show the U.S.: ‘Hey, we don’t need you.'
(Reporting by Kevin Yao; additional reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing, Vatsal Srivastava in Singapore and Kaori Kaneko in Tokyo.; Writing by Elias Glenn; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

10/19/2018 China’s GDP growth at weakest level in almost a decade amid trade war by OAN Newsroom
    China’s GDP has dropped to its weakest level in almost nine years as U.S. tariffs appear to hit their mark.
    According to figures released by Beijing Friday, the country’s economy only grew by 6.5-percent in the third quarter, which is down by 0.2-percent. That’s the lowest reading since the height of the global financial crisis in 2009.
In this Oct. 8, 2018, photo, tugboats move a container ship to the dockyard of a seaport
in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong province. (Chinatopix via AP)
    Despite signs of a cooling economy, Chinese officials are optimistic past growth will help Beijing survive its trade dispute with the U.S.
    “There is more uncertainty from China-U.S. trade tensions, so economic performance is facing downwards pressure,” said Mao Shengyong, spokesman for the National Bureau of Statistics.    “But at the same time, we have to be clear that there are many certainties for our economy — for example, China’s economy is resilient, we enjoy good fundamentals, these are all certainties.”
    According to experts, the trade war has caused investors to drop Chinese stocks and has taken a hit on the value of China’s currency compared to the dollar.

10/19/2018 Secretary Mattis: Too early to tell how attack will affect Afghanistan’s election by OAN Newsroom
    Defense Secretary James Mattis hailed Afghanistan’s police commissioner as a “patriot” after he was gunned down outside the local governor’s office.
    Mattis told reporters early Friday that it’s too soon to know how the attack will affect voter turnout in Saturday’s elections.
Afghan policemen stand guard at a checkpoint a day before parliamentary elections in Kabul, Afghanistan October 19, 2018. (Photo/REUTERS/Omar Sobhani)
    He added, the U.S. will continue to hunt down those behind Thursday’s assassination of Afghan General Abdul Razeq.    The police commissioner had just left a meeting with the top U.S. military commander in the country when the shooting took place.
    While the Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack as a way to disrupt the elections, the U.S. is still investigating those claims.
    “It’s the loss of a patriot, but we remain absolutely committed to an Afghan led Afghan reconciliation,” said Mattis.    “We need to find who’s done this, but right now we are going toward the election and we will continue to defend the Afghan people.”
    The defense secretary said the attack will not change the United States’s mission in the country to negotiate an agreement between the Afghan government and Taliban forces.

10/20/2018 Afghans vote amid chaos, corruption and Taliban threats by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Afghan police officers stand guard while election commission workers prepare ballot boxes
and election material at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghans voted on Saturday in parliamentary elections overshadowed by chaotic organization, allegations of corruption and violence that has forced a postponement of the vote in the strategic southern province of Kandahar.
    With Taliban insurgents in control of large areas of the country, thousands killed in the fighting and doubts about the success of the U.S. strategy to force the insurgents to accept peace talks by stepping up air strikes, the credibility of the Western-backed government is at stake.
    Several security incidents marred the polling day, with more than 30 incidents recorded.    In the northern city of Kunduz 53 people were wounded and three killed in various incidents.    In Nangarhar in the east, seven people were wounded in a blast and Ghor in the west at least 11 police were killed.
    However by early afternoon there had been no major attack.
    Wider election concerns have centered on technical and organizational problems with biometric voter registration equipment, polling stations not opening on time, missing election materials and delays forcing lengthy waits.
    The Independent Election Commission (IEC), the body overseeing the ballot, said voting hours would be extended in some centers to cope with demand and some polling stations, which had not opened at all, would be open on Sunday.
    “The biggest problem is with the biometric machines, there are some sites where they’re not working and a lot of voters have been discouraged and have gone home,” said Nasibullah Sayedi, a voter in the western city of Herat.
    There were similar reports from other areas including the capital Kabul.    The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a civil action group, said its team of observers found almost a third of polling centers were not in a position to use the biometric equipment.
    The untried technology, aimed at preventing election fraud, was rushed in at the last minute, over the objections of foreign partners who said there was not enough time to set up the system.
    The organizational headaches come on top of fears of violence, particularly following the assassination of the police chief of Kandahar on Thursday, which forced authorities to delay the election in the province by a week.
    Taliban militants have issued a series of statements telling people not to take part in what they consider a foreign-imposed process and warning election centers may be attacked.
FRAUD FEARS
    Afghanistan’s political scene is still tainted by the aftermath of a disputed presidential vote in 2014 that forced the two main rival groupings to form an unstable partnership. Both sides were accused of massive electoral cheating.
    The widespread allegations of voter fraud made before Saturday’s election present a challenge to the legitimacy of the process, seen by Afghanistan’s international partners as a vital step ahead of more important presidential elections next year.
    Due to the difficulty of collecting and collating results across Afghanistan, the overall results will not be known for at least two weeks.
    But Western diplomats expressed cautious optimism that the process, while messy, had not been disastrous.
    Apparently high numbers turning out to vote suggested fears of voter apathy may have been overstated.
    “I want candidates to serve the country and hear the voices of the disabled and the poor,” said Abdullah, a wheelchair-bound voter in Herat.    “People ask what difference one person’s vote will make but I say, if a million disabled people come out to vote, don’t you think that will make a difference?
    In Baghlan province in northern Afghanistan, men and women came out in numbers to vote and created human chains around six polling stations to prevent the entry of suicide bombers.
    Some 8.8 million voters have been registered but an unknown number, by some estimates as many as 50 percent or more, are believed to be fraudulently or incorrectly registered.
    About 2,450 candidates are competing for places in the lower house, which has 250 seats, including one reserved for a candidate from the Sikh minority.    Under the constitution, parliament reviews and ratifies laws but has little real power.
    Election authorities originally planned 7,355 polling centers but only 5,100 will be able to open due to security concerns, according to the IEC.
    Voting has also been delayed in Ghazni province, by arguments about the representation of different ethnic groups.
(Additional reporting by Storay Karimi in HERAT, Mohammad Stanekzai in LASHKAR GAH; Sardar Razmal in KUNDUZ; Zaker Noory in Baghlan, Qiam Shams in in CHARIKAR and Akram Walizada, Sayed Hassib, Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Sam Holmes and Ros Russell)

10/20/2018 U.S., China, others tentatively agree to multilateral air encounter code
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen meet ASEAN defence ministers
during a lunch meeting at the ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting in Singapore October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Several countries including the United States and China agreed “in principle” on Saturday to multilateral guidelines to manage unexpected encounters between their military aircraft, joining 10 Southeast Asian nations already in the pact.
    The world’s two biggest economies as well as Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea tentatively joined the agreement, which was initially adopted on Friday by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to a joint statement issued after a meeting of defense ministers from the 18 countries in Singapore.
    The voluntary, non-binding guidelines build on an existing code to manage sea encounters adopted by all 18 countries last year, which was designed to mitigate risks following a boom in the region’s maritime and air traffic in recent years.
    “We all know that if there is a physical incident it changes the name of the game…it creates a cascade of activities that you cannot control,” Singapore defense minister Ng Eng Hen, the host, said at a press briefing following the meeting.
    The air code has been hailed as the first multilateral deal of its kind, although such arrangements exist at bilateral levels.    The U.S. and China, for instance, in 2015 signed a pact on a military hotline and rules governing air-to-air encounters.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe, on Thursday that their countries needed to deepen high-level ties so as to navigate tension and rein in the risk of inadvertent conflict.
    The U.S. military flew B-52 bombers across the South China Sea in September.    Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy destroyer sailed near islands China claims, drawing the ire of Beijing.
(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Sam Holmes)

10/20/2018 Exclusive: U.S. weighs new warship passage through Taiwan Strait by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce
speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    SINGAPORE/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is considering a new operation to send warships through the Taiwan Strait, U.S. officials tell Reuters, a mission aimed at ensuring free passage through the strategic waterway but which risks heightening tensions with China.
    The U.S. Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait’s international waters in July and any repeat would be seen in self-ruled Taiwan as a fresh expression of support by President Donald Trump’s government.
    The U.S. military declined comment and U.S. officials who discussed the deliberations, which have not been previously reported, did so on condition of anonymity.    They did not discuss the potential timing for any fresh passage through the strait.
    China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island.    It raised concerns over U.S. policy toward Taiwan in talks this week with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore.
    Even as Washington mulls ordering a fresh passage through the strait, it has been trying to explain to Beijing that its policies toward Taiwan are unchanged.
    Mattis delivered that message to China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe personally on Thursday, on the sidelines of an Asian security forum.
    “Minister Wei raised Taiwan and concerns about our policy.    The Secretary reassured Minister Wei that we haven’t changed our Taiwan policy, our one China policy,” said Randall Schriver, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense who helps guide Pentagon policy in Asia.
    “So it was, I think, a familiar exchange.”
    Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms.    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
U.S.-CHINA FLASHPOINTS
    Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
    Mattis told Wei on Thursday that the world’s two largest economies needed to deepen high-level military ties so as to navigate tension and rein in the risk of inadvertent conflict.
    Some current and former U.S. officials say U.S. warship passages in the Taiwan Strait are still too infrequent, and note that a U.S. aircraft carrier hasn’t transited the Taiwan Strait since 2007, during the administration of George W. Bush.
    When the last two U.S. warships, both destroyers, sailed through the Taiwan Strait in July, it was the first such operation in about a year.
    Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, responded to the July passage with a warning to the United States to avoid jeopardizing “peace and stability” in the strategic waterway.
    It has also viewed U.S. overtures toward Taiwan with alarm, including its unveiling a new de facto embassy in Taiwan and passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages U.S. officials to visit the island.
    Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China’s favor in recent years, and China could easily overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to Taiwan’s aid.
    China has also alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its aircraft carrier through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating it from Taiwan.
    Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen said last week the island will increase its defense budget every year to ensure it can defend its sovereignty, including resuming domestic development of advanced training aircraft and submarines.
    “At this time, China’s intimidation and diplomatic pressure not only hurts relations between both sides, but seriously challenges the peaceful stability in the Taiwan Strait,” she said in a National Day speech in Taipei on Oct. 10.
    Her remarks came ahead of island-wide local elections in late November that are seen as a bellwether for her ruling party’s performance in presidential elections due in 2020.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/20/2018 Thousands rally in Taiwan, call for referendum on independence from China by Jess Macy Yu
Pro-independence supporters take part in a rally to protest against what they claim are annexation efforts by China,
and to call for a referendum, in Taipei, Taiwan October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Judy Peng
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Several thousand pro-independence demonstrators rallied in Taiwan’s capital on Saturday to protest against Beijing’s “bullying” and called for a referendum on whether the self-ruled island should formally declare independence from China.
    The rally, one of the largest seen on Taiwan this year, was organized by a group called Formosa Alliance founded six months ago, and the protesters gathered near the headquarters of President Tsai Ing-wen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
    Kenny Chung, a spokesman for Formosa Alliance, described the turnout as “very successful.”
    Relations with Beijing have deteriorated since Tsai came into office in 2016, with China suspecting that she wants to push for formal independence, a red line for Beijing.
    China views Taiwan as a wayward province and has never renounced the use of force to bring democratic Taiwan under its control.    This year, China increased military and diplomatic pressure, conducting air and sea military exercises around the island and persuading three of the few governments still supporting Taiwan to drop their backing.
    Protesters said Tsai’s government should push back against Beijing, and advocated a referendum on independence to avoid being “swallowed up.”    Some carried placards bearing the message: “No more bullying; no more annexation.”
    The next presidential election is not due until 2020, but the ruling DPP will draw some indication of support from island-wide local elections that are set to take place in late November.
    Tsai said last week she will maintain the status quo with Beijing, but she also vowed to boost Taiwan’s national security and said her government would not submit to Chinese suppression.
    Beijing has already been irked by the Taiwanese government’s approval for a referendum next month to decide whether to enter future Olympics events as “Taiwan” rather than “Chinese Taipei,” the name agreed under a compromise struck in the late 1970s.
(This story has been refiled to change word in final paragraph to “approval” instead of “plan”)
(Additional reporting by Yimou Lee, Fabian Hamacher and Judy Peng; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/20/2018 Indonesia to renegotiate fighter jet deal with South Korea to ease forex burden
FILE PHOTO - Indonesia Chief Security Minister Wiranto delivers a speech during a meeting between
former militants and victims in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is seeking “lighter” financial terms in a renegotiated project with South Korea to jointly develop a mid-level fighter jet, in a move aimed at supporting the rupiah by reducing use of the country’s foreign exchange reserves, a senior official said.
    The Indonesian government has rolled out a number of policies to support the ailing rupiah, which include cutting energy imports and delaying a number of infrastructure projects, as the currency trades near a 20-year low.
    “Due to national economic condition, the president has decided to renegotiate to make Indonesia’s position lighter for matters related to funding,” chief security minister Wiranto said in a statement published on the ministry’s official website on Friday.
    Indonesia and South Korea agreed in 2014 to develop a fighter jet, in a project estimated to be worth around $7.9 billion.    Indonesia had agreed to pay 20 percent of the development costs. (https://reut.rs/2q3GtSO)
    Wiranto said negotiations will cover issues such as the amount of Indonesia’s contribution to the development costs, production expenses, technology transfers to Indonesia, intellectual property rights and marketing.
    He added President Joko Widodo had communicated the plan to President Moon Jae-in during his visit to South Korea in September.
    Indonesia’s investment coordinating board chief Thomas Lembong said the government will form a team responsible for the renegotiation while looking to maintain South Korean investors’ confidence in the Southeast Asian economy, according to the statement.
(Reporting by Tabita Diela; writing by Fransiska Nangoy; editing by Sam Holmes)

10/20/2018 Chinese premier tells European, Asian leaders Beijing will continue reform
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrives at the ASEM leaders
summit in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said at a meeting between Asian and European leaders in Brussels that China will continue to open up its economy, push forward reforms and improve its business environment, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Saturday.
    Li said Asian and European countries need to safeguard multilateralism and the rules-based free trade system, Xinhua reported.
    China is in the midst of a worsening trade war with the United States, with U.S. President Donald Trump demanding sweeping changes to China’s intellectual property, industrial subsidy and trade policies.
    Brussels shares Washington’s concern about China’s trade practices, but differs with the U.S. on how to force Chinese reform.
    Li said that China’s economy is healthy but is facing challenges including changes to the external environment.
    He said China will continue to move toward a market-oriented exchange rate, will not engage in competitive devaluation, and that the yuan can remain basically stable at a reasonable level.
    The Chinese premier said he supports improvements to the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but that changes must be carried out on the basis of the WTO’s existing rules and the interests of developing countries must be respected, Xinhua reported.
(Reporting by Elias Glenn and Jenny Su; Editing by Sam Holmes)

10/21/2018 Chaotic Afghan elections draw to a close after violence, chaos
    Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections in eight years suffered from violence and chaos Saturday, with attacks killing at least 36 people, key election workers failing to show up and many polling stations staying open hours late to handle long lines.
    Problems surrounding the elections – already three years overdue – threaten to compromise the credibility of polls, which an independent monitor said were also marred by ballot stuffing and intimidation by armed men.

10/21/2018 China says must balance stable growth and risk prevention
FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen amid steel bars at a construction site of a highway in Zhaotong,
Yunnan province, China April 20, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China must balance the need for stable growth while managing risks and maintain a prudent and neutral monetary policy, the State Council, the country’s cabinet, said on Sunday following a meeting of top economic and financial policymakers.
    Data released on Friday showed the world’s second largest economy growing at its weakest pace since the global financial crisis, underscoring challenges for Beijing amid an escalating trade war with the United States and sluggish domestic demand.
    The State Council Financial Stability and Development Commission held a special meeting on Saturday led by Vice Premier Liu He to discuss fending off financial risks, according to a statement published by the State Council.
    Senior officials in the commission said China must properly balance needs for growth, de-leveraging and strengthening supervision, the statement said.
    China has been gradually easing monetary and fiscal policy in recent months to support growth.    The central bank earlier in October announced its fourth reserve requirement ratio cut of 2018 to cut funding costs, while the government has signaled it would increase infrastructure spending.
    Regulators have emphasized in recent months the need to ensure proper funding support for smaller companies. Sunday’s statement on the state council commission’s meeting said China will focus on resolving financing difficulties of smaller firms and the private sector, adding that loans to promising companies facing short-term difficulties should not be blindly cut off.
    It also said the government will encourage qualified private entities to set up funds that would support the private economy without elaborating further.
(Reporting by Se Young Lee and Min Zhang; editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/21/2018 Iran names new economy minister in reshuffle as U.S. sanctions bite by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session
of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appointed Farhad Dejpasand as the new economy and finance minister in a cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, state television reported, as the country faces mounting U.S. sanctions.
    The proposed cabinet changes come as the government faces intense pressure over the economic instability mostly caused by U.S. sanctions.    The economy has markedly deteriorated in the past year, suffering rising inflation and unemployment, a slump in the rial currency and state corruption.
    Rouhani also named a new urban development and roads minister, an industry, mines, and trade minister, and a new labor minister.    The new appointments need approval from parliament before they can take effect.
    Mohammad Shariatmadari, the outgoing industries minister, has been nominated to head the Labour, Cooperatives and Social Affairs Ministry.
    Mohammad Eslami was named to head the Urban Development and Roads Ministry, and Reza Rahmani, who has earlier headed the parliament’s commission on mining and industry, was named as the new industry, mines, and trade minister.
    Dejpasand, the proposed economy minister, has also worked as deputy head of the state Plan and Budget Organization, among other postings, and is widely seen as a technocrat.
    Washington reintroduced sanctions against Iran’s currency trade, metals and auto sectors in August after the U.S. withdrawal from a multinational 2015 deal that lifted sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.    U.S. curbs on Iran’s vital oil exports are set to come into force in November.     Iranian political analyst Hamid Farahvashi said Rouhani had nominated lesser known ministers to ease tensions with parliament which sacked the ministers of labor and of economy and finance earlier this year, blaming them for the collapse of the rial currency and surging inflation.
    “Rouhani faces a dilemma.    He cannot improve the economy even if he changes all the relevant ministers because of sanctions, corruption in the country and the mismanagement."
    “He has to allay tension and that is why he has selected less political and unknown figures,” Farahvashi told Reuters from Tehran.
    Earlier this year, anger over the government’s handling of the economy erupted into public protests across Iran.    Some turned violent and at least 25 people were killed.    Hundreds were arrested but officials say most have been released.
    Reformist analyst Ali Shakourirad said the reshuffle was brought about by this week’s resignation of the ministers of economy and finance, and roads who faced public pressure because of the soaring cost of living and alleged mismanagement.
    “Rouhani was forced into announcing this reshuffle after public pressure led to the resignation of two ministers,” Shakourirad said.
    The International Monetary Fund predicts that Iran’s economy would shrink 1.5 percent this year following the reimposition of U.S. sanctions with a drop of 3.6 percent seen in 2019, before recovering slowly.
    State media said parliament was expected to discuss the nominations and vote on the new proposed ministers on Saturday.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered officials to urgently find solutions to ease the economic crisis spurred by the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions, saying arch-enemy Washington was waging an “economic war” on the Islamic Republic.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

10/22/2018 North Korea bought at least $640 million in luxury goods from China in 2017, South Korea lawmaker says by Hyonhee Shin
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea imported at least $640 million worth of luxury goods from China last year, in defiance of U.N. sanctions outlawing such trade over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, a South Korean lawmaker said on Monday.
    The United States has urged strict implementation of sanctions as part of a “maximum pressure” campaign which Washington has credited with bringing impoverished North Korea to the negotiating table.
    But there have been signs the campaign has been losing steam since North Korea suspended nuclear and missile tests and leader Kim Jong Un vowed steps towards denuclearization at a U.S.-North Korean summit in June – and as China and Russia called for relaxed sanctions.
    Kim has bought lavish items from China and other places like a seaplane for not only his own family, and also expensive musical instruments, high-quality TVs, sedans, liquor, watches and fur as gifts for the elites who prop up his regime,” opposition lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said in a statement.
    “With the growing loophole, Kim would be able to near his goal of neutralizing sanctions soon without giving up the nuclear weapons.”
    Last year, North Korea spent at least $640 million on luxury goods from China, according to Yoon.
    China does not provide breakdowns of its customs figures.    Yoon compiled data based on a list of banned items crafted by Seoul in line with a 2009 U.N. resolution.
    Beijing’s customs agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Beijing has said it strictly abides by international sanctions against North Korea.
    The 2017 luxury trade volume was down from the 2014 peak of $800 million, but was only a 3.8 percent drop from $666.4 million in 2016, according to Yoon.
    The luxury items accounted for 17.8 percent of North Korea’s entire imports from China last year which totaled $3.7 billion, Yoon said.
    Purchases of electronic products such as high-end TVs made up for more than half of the total transactions, worth $340 million, followed by cars with $204 million and liquors with $35 million.
    China’s trade with North Korea from January to August this year tumbled 57.8 percent from the year-earlier figure to $1.51 billion, China’s customs agency said last month.
    But Yoon’s analysis also shows North Korea funneled more than $4 billion into luxury shopping in China since Kim took power at the end of 2011.
    Yoon accused China of loosening enforcement of sanctions, and criticized South Korea’s recent request for U.N. and U.S. exemptions to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.
    When asked on Monday about the possibility of discord with the United States over sanctions, a senior official at South Korea’s presidential office said the two countries would “eventually be on the same path” towards denuclearization though there might be a “procedural difference.”
    Last week, Singapore charged a citizen, a North Korean and three companies with supplying prohibited luxury items to North Korea.    The charges involve hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of perfumes, wines and watches, court documents seen by Reuters show.
(Additional reporting by Stella Qiu in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/22/2018 China says United States is wrong to pull out of nuclear arms pact
U.S. President Donald Trump rallies with supporters at Elko Regional Airport in Elko, Nevada, U.S. October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    BEIJING (Reuters) – It is wrong of the United States to unilaterally pull out of a landmark Cold War-ear treaty that eliminated nuclear missiles from Europe, China said on Monday.
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing that China was opposed to the withdrawal.
    On Sunday, President Donald Trump said Washington would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987.
    The pact provided for elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/22/2018 Two Koreas, U.N. forces agree to remove weapons at border by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean soldier patrols at the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ)
separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 18, 2018. Picture taken on April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North and South Korea and the U.N. Command agreed on Monday to withdraw firearms and guard posts in the demilitarized zone village of Panmunjom this week, Seoul’s defense ministry said, the latest move in a fast-improving relationship.
    The three sides held their second round of talks at Panmunjom to discuss ways to demilitarize the border in line with a recent inter-Korean pact reached at last month’s summit in Pyongyang.
    The U.S.-led UNC, which has overseen affairs in the DMZ since the end of hostilities in the 1950-53 Korean War, was not immediately available for comment, but it said on Friday it supports the two Koreas’ efforts to implement their military deal.
    The announcement comes amid U.S. concerns that the inter-Korean military initiative could undermine defense readiness and comes without substantial progress on North Korea’s promised denuclearization.
    The neighbors are looking to withdraw 11 guard posts within a 1-km (0.6-mile) radius of the Military Demarcation Line on their border by the end of the year.
    They also plan to pull out all firearms from a Joint Security Area (JSA) at Panmunjom and cut to 35 each the numbers of personnel stationed there and share information on surveillance equipment.
    At Monday’s meeting, the three sides agreed to remove firearms and guard posts from the JSA by Thursday, and carry out a joint inspection over the following two days, the ministry said.
    The two Koreas have been removing landmines around the area as part of the agreement and they confirmed the completion of the demining operation at the talks with the UNC.
    “We discussed the timeline of the pullout of firearms and guard posts, as well as ways to adjust the number of guard personnel and conduct joint inspections,” the ministry said in a statement.
    The agreement also includes a halt in “all hostile acts” and a no-fly zone around the border.
    North and South Korea are technically still at war because the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, but relations have improved considerably in the last year.
    After his third summit in Pyongyang, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the North was ready to invite international experts to watch the dismantling of a key missile site and would close the main Yongbyon nuclear complex if Washington took reciprocal actions.
    Those actions could include putting a formal end to the 1950-53 war, opening of a U.S. liaison office in North Korea, humanitarian aid and an exchange of economic experts, Moon said.
    But Washington demands North Korea takes irreversible steps to scrap its arsenal, such as a full disclosure of nuclear facilities and material.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/22/2018 Imran Khan leaves for Saudi conference saying Pakistan ‘desperate’ for loans by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI),
speaks after voting in the general election in Islamabad, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan left for Saudi Arabia to attend an investment conference boycotted by other leaders over the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
    Khan told an interviewer before leaving he was concerned at Khashoggi’s death but could not skip the conference because “we’re desperate” for possible Saudi loans to shore up Pakistan’s economy.
    It is Khan’s second visit to Saudi Arabia in just over a month, but he has not succeeded in securing significant financial assistance to stave off a looming balance of payments crisis.
    Khan told the Middle East Eye in an interview published on Monday that he could not pass up the invitation to meet Saudi leaders again.
    “The reason I feel I have to avail myself of this opportunity is because in a country of 210 million people right now we have the worst debt crisis in our history,” he was quoted as saying.
    “Unless we get loans from friendly countries or the IMF (International Monetary Fund), we actually won’t have in another two or three months enough foreign exchange to service our debts or to pay for our imports.    So we’re desperate at the moment.”
    Islamabad has already asked the IMF to open negotiations for the country’s second potential bailout in five years.
    Khan, who took office in July, still has been seeking alternatives to the tough conditions the IMF is likely to impose for loans, limiting his vision of an Islamic welfare state.
    The central bank’s foreign reserves dropped this month to $8.1 billion, a four-year low and barely enough to cover sovereign debt payments due through the end of the year.    The current account deficit has swelled to about $18 billion.
    Khan has blamed the previous government’s policies for the ballooning current account deficit.
    He told the Middle East Eye that he was concerned over the “shocking” death of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist, after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
    “The Saudi government will have to come up with an answer… We wait for whatever the Saudi explanation is,” he was quoted as saying.    “We hope there is an explanation that satisfies people and those responsible are punished.”
    Khan also called on Washington to abandon its push for new sanctions against Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, saying the move could lead to wider conflict.
    “The last thing the Muslim world needs is another conflict.    The Trump administration is moving towards one,” he told the newspaper.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Nick Macfie and Toby Chopra)

10/22/2018 Japan, India negotiating military logistics pact in tightening of ties by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: Indian Navy officers hoist the ensign aboard the INS Chennai, India's third indigenously designed guided missile
destroyer, during its commissioning ceremony in Mumbai, India, November 21, 2016. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Japan hopes to clinch a military logistics pact with India that will allow access to each other’s bases, Tokyo’s envoy said on Monday, in a tightening of security ties seen as designed to balance China’s growing weight in the region.
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Japan this weekend for an annual summit with his counterpart Shinzo Abe, and the proposed Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement between the two militaries is on the agenda.
    Under Modi and Abe, bilateral relations have rapidly expanded and the two countries conduct three-way naval exercises involving the United States in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
    Japan’s ambassador to India, Kenji Hiramatsu, said it was only natural for the two militaries to have a logistics-sharing agreement because of the large number of maneuvers they were carrying out each year.
    “We hope to start formal negotiations with regard to signing of the ACSA.    It is high time we had mutual logistics support,” he said.
    Under such a pact, Japanese ships would get access to fuel and servicing at major Indian naval bases including the Andaman and Nicobar islands, which lie near the Malacca Straits through which a large amount of Japan’s but also China’s trade and fuel supplies is shipped.
    India’s navy, which is increasingly sending ships further out as a way to counter China’s expanding presence in the Indian Ocean, would get access to Japanese facilities for maintenance.
    Modi’s government signed a similar agreement with the United States in 2016 ending years of hesitation by previous administrations that worried about upsetting China.
    Beijing has in the past expressed concern about multilateral and complex exercises, calling them destabilizing to the region.
    Hiramatsu said Japan and India had a great deal of convergence with respect to freedom of navigation and transparency in the Indio-Pacific region.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/22/2018 China denounces Pompeo’s ‘malicious’ Latam comments amid influence battle by Adam Jourdan
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press before boarding his plane at
Mexico City International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico, October 19, 2018. Brendan Smialowski/Pool/via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese state media sharply criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday after he made comments in Latin America warning about the hidden risks of seeking Chinese investment amid a growing battle for influence in the region.
    Pompeo was on a Latin America tour at the end of last week, meeting heads of state in Panama and Mexico.    Pompeo told reporters during the trip that “when China comes calling it’s not always to the good of your citizens.”
    “When they show up with deals that seem to be too good to be true it’s often the case that they, in fact, are,” he said on Thursday in Mexico City, according to comments posted on the U.S. State Department’s website.
    In an editorial on Monday, the state-run China Daily newspaper said Pompeo’s comments were “ignorant and malicious” and criticism that its ambitions Belt and Road infrastructure initiative was creating debt traps in other countries was false.
    China has been gaining ground in resource-rich Latin America, raising concern in Washington that the world’s second-largest economy is building up influence amid a tense trade war between the two countries.
    President Xi Jinping has been pushing the plan to expand trade corridors along a modern-day Silk Road linking Asia, Europe and Africa, pumping credit into building roads, railways and ports in a trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative.
    China is keen to bring Latin American countries on board as well, though the initiative has started to face rising scepticism as some countries, such as Sri Lanka, have become saddled with debt that they are struggling to repay.
    Pompeo said the United States welcomed competition from China, but criticized a lack of transparency at its state-owned enterprises and what he called “predatory economic activity.”
    In comments in Panama, he said countries should have their “eyes wide open” when it came to Chinese investment.
    “It’s simply the case that in parts of the world China has invested in ways that have left countries worse off, and that should never be the case,” he said.
‘DISAPPOINTED’
    China’s state-owned Global Times said in an editorial on Monday that Pompeo’s comments were “disrespectful,” adding that the United States was trying to “drive a wedge” into growing Sino-Latin American relations.
    China criticized Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, in February after he said Latin America “does not need new imperial powers” and that China was “using economic statecraft to pull the region into its orbit.”
    In April, China’s ambassador to Peru said that it would be disrespectful for the United States to drag Latin America into its trade dispute with China.
    While the United States has traditionally had strong political influence in the region, China has become a major trading partner for many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
    Taiwan, the self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, has accused China of luring smaller countries to its side with offers of generous aid.
    China claims Taiwan as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state relations.
    Three Latin American countries – El Salvador, Panama, and the Dominican Republic – have switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to Beijing in the past two years, prompting warnings from Washington.
    “Most countries are disappointed with the U.S. and want to shed themselves of U.S. dependence,” the Global Times said.
    “Latin American countries know how to weigh their interests.”
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

10/23/2018 Australia slaps sanctions on Myanmar army top brass
FILE PHOTO: The remains of a burned Rohingya village is seen in this aerial photograph near Maungdaw,
north of Rakhine State, Myanmar September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    SYDNEY/YANGON (Reuters) – Australia on Tuesday slapped travel and financial sanctions on five top Myanmar military officers, accused of overseeing brutal violence against Rohingya Muslims by units under their command, following similar moves by the European Union and United States.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Buddhist-majority Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh last year, according to U.N. agencies, following a counter-insurgency operation launched by Myanmar’s military after attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in August last year.
    A recent U.N. report accused Myanmar’s military of gang rapes and mass killings with “genocidal intent” and called for its commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law.
    Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report, blaming Rohingya “terrorists” for most accounts of atrocities.
    However Australia, which has previously provided training for Myanmar’s army and refrained from imposing sanctions, on Tuesday responded to the U.N. report by targeting four of the men named, and one other senior commander.
    “I have now imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans against five Myanmar military officers responsible for human rights violations committed by units under their command,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement.
    A separate document named the officers; Aung Kyaw Zaw, Aung Aung, Maung Maung Soe, Than Oo and Khin Maung Soe.    It said financial dealings with them can now attract penalties of A$1.7 million ($1.2 million) for companies and 10 years jail for individuals.
    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not pick up a call seeking comment on Tuesday.
    The United States imposed similar restrictions on top generals in August.    Like the United States, Australia omitted Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing from the sanctions.
    The European Union imposed similar restrictions in June.
($1 = 1.4168 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/23/2018 U.S. warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions by Yimou Lee, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce
speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday in the second such operation this year, as the U.S. military increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
    The voyage risks further heightening tensions with China but will likely be viewed in self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from President Donald Trump’s government amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
    Reuters was first to report U.S. consideration of the sensitive operation on Saturday.
    “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” Commander Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman for U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
    “The U.S. Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” he added.
    Taiwan’s defense ministry said it closely monitored the operation and was able to “maintain the security of the seas and the airspace” as it occurred.
    Beijing, which considers Taiwan a breakaway province of “one China,” had already expressed “serious concern” to the United States, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Tuesday.
    “The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territory, and is the most important, most sensitive issue in China-U.S. relations,” she said.
    China urged the United States to cautiously and appropriately handle the Taiwan issue to promote peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, she added.
    The U.S. Navy conducted a similar mission in the strait’s international waters in July, which had been the first such voyage in about a year.    The latest operation shows the U.S. Navy is increasing the pace of strait passages.
    Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms.    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
STATUS QUO?
    China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island.    It raised concerns over U.S. policy toward Taiwan in talks last week with U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis in Singapore.
    As the United States prepared for a fresh passage through the strait, it told China’s military that its overall policy toward Taiwan was unchanged.
    Mattis delivered that message to China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe personally on Thursday, on the sidelines of an Asian security forum.
    “Minister Wei raised Taiwan and concerns about our policy.    The Secretary reassured Minister Wei that we haven’t changed our Taiwan policy, our one China policy,” Randall Schriver, a U.S. assistant secretary of defense who helps guide Pentagon policy in Asia, told reporters traveling with Mattis.
    “So it was, I think, a familiar exchange.”
    Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a bitter trade war, U.S. sanctions, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
    Taiwan’s relations with China have deteriorated since the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen from the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party swept to power in 2016.
    Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, responded to the July passage with a warning to the United States to avoid jeopardizing “peace and stability” in the strategic waterway.
    It has also viewed U.S. overtures toward Taiwan with alarm, including its unveiling a new de facto embassy in Taiwan and passage of the Taiwan Travel Act, which encourages U.S. officials to visit the island.
    Military experts say the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China’s favor in recent years, and China could easily overwhelm the island unless U.S. forces came quickly to Taiwan’s aid.
    China has also alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee in Taipei and Lee Chyen Yee in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Phil Stewart in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra, Bill Berkrot and Nick Macfie)

10/23/2018 Vietnam elects communist party leader as president by Khanh Vu
FILE PHOTO: Vietnam's Communist Party's Generel Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong is seen in Hanoi, Vietnam April 2, REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s National Assembly on Tuesday elected ruling Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong, the architect of an ongoing crackdown on corruption, as the country’s new president.
    The election was largely procedural as the party had unanimously nominated him as the only candidate for the position earlier this month.
    Trong, 74, became the first Vietnamese leader to hold the two titles since founding president and revolutionary Ho Chi Minh.
    “There won’t be any immediate major changes in Vietnam’s policies,” said Ha Hoang Hop, a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a visiting senior fellow at Singapore-based ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
    “Trong being voted as president is only a provisional situation, and I don’t think he can do much before the presidential term expires in more than two years.”
    Former president Tran Dai Quang died on Sept. 21 after a prolonged illness.
    Trong, who became party boss in 2011, has presided over a crackdown on corruption that has seen state executives and a member of the politburo face trial over allegations of financial mismanagement and embezzlement.
    “I will try my best to fulfill the tasks assigned by the party, the state and the people,” Trong said as he took his oath of office.
    Hop said Trong would maintain relations with China and the United States, Vietnam’s two top trading partners, but would not lean towards either.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu and Mai Nguyen; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/23/2018 Iran’s oil minister says U.S. sanctions cannot stop crude exports
Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh talks to journalists at the beginning of an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – The United States cannot stop Iranian oil exports by imposing sanctions on Tehran, Iran’s oil minister said on Tuesday, warning that such restrictions will ensure the market remains volatile.
    Washington plans new sanctions targeting Iran’s oil sector from Nov. 4 with the aim of stopping the country’s involvement in conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and bringing Tehran to the negotiating table over its ballistic missile program.
    “As long as America targets Iran, one of the biggest crude producers, with sanctions, the volatility in the oil market will continue,” Tasnim news agency quoted Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh as saying.
    “Iranian oil exports cannot be stopped,” Zanganeh said.
    Zanganeh reiterated his Monday remarks that Iranian oil output cannot be replaced by that of other oil-producing countries if Tehran is hit by U.S. sanctions.
    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in an interview with Reuters on Sunday, dismissed concerns that oil prices could rise, saying the market had already factored in the supply losses.
    Iran’s regional rival, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, says Riyadh has the capacity to increase output to 12 million barrels per day (bpd) from the current 10.7 million bpd.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, of which Saudi Arabia and Iran are members, agreed in June to boost supply to make up for the expected disruption to Iranian exports.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Susan Fenton and Dale Hudson)

10/23/2018 2 U.S. warships sail in disputed waters by OAN Newsroom
    Two U.S. warships recently cruised through highly contested waters between Taiwan and China amid tension with Beijing.
    The USS Antietam and USS Curtis Wilbur sailed north through the Taiwan Strait Monday.
    In a follow up statement, the Navy explained the exercise was done in accordance with international law and is necessary for keeping the Indo-Pacific region “free and open.”
USS Curtis Wilbur. (Photo/ U.S. Navy/handout)
    China’s foreign ministry has since responded, “expressing concern” at the presence of U.S. warships in the strait.
    “China monitored the entire progress of the U.S. warships passing through the Taiwan Strait, and has already expressed serious concern to the United States about this,” stated Chinese Foreign Minister Hua Chunying.    “The Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and is the most important and most sensitive issue in U.S.-China relations.”
    Chinese security experts blasted the move by saying it suggests Washington would stand by Taiwan in case of a crisis with China.

10/24/2018 Pakistan to seek IMF bailout despite $6 billion Saudi rescue
FILE PHOTO: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) logo is seen outside the headquarters
building in Washington, U.S. September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan still plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) despite a Saudi Arabian offer of a $6 billion rescue package, Pakistan’s finance ministry said on Wednesday.
    “Yes, we are going ahead into program negotiations with (IMF) in the first week of November,” Noor Ahmed, spokesman for the ministry, told Reuters in a text message.
    On Tuesday, Pakistan announced Saudi Arabia had agreed to give Pakistan $3 billion in foreign currency support for a year and a further loan worth up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports to help stave off a current account crisis.
    Pakistan’s main stock market index shot up 3.3 percent in early trading on the news of the Saudi help.
    Prime Minister Imran Khan said this week Pakistan was seeking help from “friendly nations,” which is usually a reference to close allies Saudi Arabia and China, to go with any IMF program.
    Khan is due to travel to China in the first week of November, where he is expected to seek further assistance.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/24/2018 Japan October manufacturing rises on bounce in new export orders: flash PMI
A worker is seen in front of facilities and chimneys of factories at the Keihin Industrial Zone
in Kawasaki, Japan September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    TOKYO, (Reuters) – Japanese manufacturing activity expanded in October at the fastest rate in six months as new export orders returned to growth, a preliminary survey showed on Wednesday, a sign most companies have so far avoided damage from trade frictions.
    The Flash Markit/Nikkei Japan Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) rose to a seasonally adjusted 53.1 in October from a final 52.5 in September.
    The index remained above the 50 threshold that separates contraction from expansion for the 26th consecutive month and reached the highest level since April.
    “Export sales rose for the first time since May, despite several respondents highlighting problems arising from global trade tensions,” said Joe Hayes, economist at IHS Markit, which compiles the survey.
    “That said, next month’s data will be important to assess whether the latest growth rebound is a transitory response to weakness resulting from recent natural disasters.”
    The index for new export orders rose to a preliminary 51.7 from a final 49.8 in September.
    The United States and China have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on each other in recent months, and plans for bilateral trade talks to resolve the dispute have stalled.
    Japan is potentially at risk as it exports to exports manufacturing equipment and electronic parts, which are used to make finished goods for the United States and other markets.
    Confidence among Japanese manufacturers rose in October from September but is expected to remain flat over the coming three months, a Reuters tankan survey showed last week.
    That suggested there is still some caution about over how the trade row between the United States and China will affect the global economy.
(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Richard Borsuk)

10/25/2018 China says military will act ‘at any cost’ to prevent Taiwan split by Ben Blanchard
Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe salutes after addressing the Xiangshan Forum
in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s military will take action “at any cost” to foil any attempt to separate the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own, the country’s defense minister said on Thursday.
    China has been infuriated by recent U.S. sanctions on its military, one of a growing number of flashpoints in Sino-U.S. ties that include a bitter trade war, the issue of Taiwan, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
    On Monday, the United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait in the second such operation this year and the latest in a series of U.S. gestures in support of democratic Taiwan.
    “The Taiwan issue is related to China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and touches upon China’s core interests,” Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe said at the opening of the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, which China styles as its answer to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore.
    “On this issue, it is extremely dangerous to repeatedly challenge China’s bottom line.    If someone tries to separate out Taiwan, China’s army will take the necessary actions at any cost.”
    China-Taiwan relations have deteriorated since the island’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, swept to power in 2016.
    Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo with China but will not be bullied.
    Beijing, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, has also viewed U.S. overtures toward the island with alarm, such as a new de facto embassy there and passage of a law to encourage visits by U.S. officials.
    China’s military ties with the United States are important and sensitive, Wei said, adding that China would never give up an inch of its territory.
    Beijing opposed displays of strength and provocation in the South China Sea by “nations from outside the region” carried out under the pretence of protecting freedom of flight and navigation, he added.
    The world’s two largest economies needed to deepen high-level ties so as to navigate tension and rein in the risk of inadvertent conflict, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told his Chinese counterpart in Singapore last week.
    Mattis saw firsthand last month how mounting Sino-U.S. friction can undermine military contacts, when Beijing upended plans for him to meet Wei in October in Beijing at a security dialogue.
    However, speaking at a monthly briefing, Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian described the Wei-Mattis talks as positive and constructive, adding that Mattis had again invited Wei to visit the United States.
    China has been angered by the U.S. sanctions on its military for buying weapons from Russia, China has also expressed concern after U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States would withdraw from a Cold War-era treaty that eliminated nuclear missiles from Europe because Russia was violating the pact.
    China is not a party to that treaty, but Trump has also suggested China’s military strength played a role in his decision, which China has described as “completely wrong.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Writing by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Michael Perry)

10/25/2018 China, Japan seek warmer ties against backdrop of U.S. trade friction by Linda Sieg
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge
in Zhuhai, China, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s prime minister arrived in Beijing on Thursday for his first formal bilateral summit with Chinese leaders in seven years as the Asian rivals seek to build on a thaw in ties against a backdrop of trade friction with the United States.
    Near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, flags of both countries lined Changan Avenue, a thoroughfare that cuts through the heart of the capital.
    Abe’s three-day visit is expected to carve out new scope for cooperation between Asia’s two biggest economies.    It is also expected to promote trust, which has been fragile at times since they restored diplomatic relations in 1972.
    In the past year, China has stepped up its outreach to Japan and others as it locked horns over trade with the United States.
    While Japan, worried about China’s growing naval power, is keen for closer economic ties with its biggest trading partner, it must manage that rapprochement without upsetting its key security ally, the United States, with which it has trade problems of its own.
    Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who returned to power in 2012 when Sino-Japanese ties were in tatters due to a feud over East China Sea islands, has met Chinese President Xi Jinping many times since their first chilly conversation in 2014 on the sidelines of a regional summit in Beijing.
    But his meeting with Xi on Friday will be the first full-scale Sino-Japanese summit since 2011.
    “Through this visit, I want to raise relations between the two countries to a new level,” Abe said ahead of his departure.
    Abe will meet Premier Li Keqiang and attend a reception to mark the 40th anniversary of a peace and friendship treaty.    Both sides hope more visits will follow.
    “If Xi promises to come to Japan next year, that would be very big,” said Kiyoyuki Seguchi, research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies in Tokyo.
    “If that is realized, the improvement in Japan-China relations will accelerate.”
    A slew of agreements are expected, from a currency swap arrangement and a new dialogue on innovation and intellectual property protection to better communication between their militaries.
    Japan also hopes for progress toward implementing a 2008 agreement on jointly developing gasfields in disputed waters, and wants China to ease import limits on produce from areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
    A business forum on private sector cooperation in third countries is expected to yield some 50 non-binding agreements, a Japanese government source said.
    China may be hoping that Abe makes a positive statement about its Belt and Road initiative, a vehicle to fund and build transport and trade links in more than 60 countries.
‘STRATEGIC TARGETS’
    The Belt and Road project has come under fire for saddling poor nations with debt through big projects that are not economically viable.    China rejects the criticism.
    Japanese defense officials are also wary of its military implications, and Tokyo is pushing its Free and Open Pacific Strategy to promote trade and infrastructure in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
    Japan wants to ensure any joint projects with China are transparent, open and fiscally sound, officials said.
    In a symbol of China’s economic rise, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said this week Japan was ending its development assistance to China, after halting the bulk of aid more than a decade ago.    Instead, they will seek ways to help others.
    Despite the thaw, mistrust persists.
    War-time history still rankles, with China often complaining that Japan has not fully atoned for its occupation of parts of China before and during World War Two.
    “Just looking how the flags of both countries are hung next to each other on Changan Avenue makes me uncomfortable,” said a user on China’s Weibo microblog platform.
    “Japan’s wartime aggression is still deeply hurting.”
    Some other users urged caution during Abe’s visit, accusing an “ambitious” Japan of being a two-faced neighbor.
    Japan is wary of China’s military spending and its dominance of the South China Sea, through which much of Japan’s trade flows.
    “Abe will try to develop relations,” said Akio Takahara, a China specialist at the University of Tokyo.
    “But at the end of the day, if strategic targets are different, we won’t be able to establish a stable relationship.”
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in BEIJING; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/25/2018 North Korean general gets warm welcome in China as ties improve by Ben Blanchard
North Korea's Vice Minister of the People's Armed Forces Kim Hyong Ryong (2-R) speaks with
Venezuela's Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez (L) at the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A North Korean general got a warm welcome in Beijing on Thursday, a rare high-profile showing at an international military forum by his normally reclusive country, underscoring an improvement in ties with China and the world.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump held a landmark summit in Singapore in June as they both look to set aside decades of hostility and bring peace to the Korean peninsula.
    The two Koreas have also held three summits this year, while Kim has also met Chinese President Xi Jinping three times in 2018.
    Attending the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, which China styles as its answer to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue security forum in Singapore, Kim Hyong Ryong, vice minister of North Korea’s People’s Armed Forces, was greeted warmly by other attendees, including Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
    Addressing the forum, Kim said peace was the priority.
    “Until only a year ago, the danger of military conflict lingered on the Korean Peninsula but today we are witnessing a series of events beyond all our expectations giving rise to the warm atmosphere of reconciliation, unity and peace,” he said, in comments translated into English.
    “Today’s dramatic reality of the Korean Peninsula is the fruition of chairman Kim Jong Un’s determination and bold decision to turn the Korean Peninsula into a cradle of peace without any nuclear weapons or nuclear threats and achieve national reunification,” Kim said.
    Chinese state media said it was the first time a North Korean general had attended the forum, which senior Western officials are traditionally largely absent from.
    Kim said North Korea was making “sincere efforts” to successfully implement agreements reached by leader Kim and Trump in Singapore.
    That summit was an “event of epochal significance” putting an end to their hostility and opening up a new chapter in ties, he said.
    North Korea wants to turn the peninsula into a “cradle for peace and prosperity that contributes to the security of Asia and the globe by thoroughly implementing the DPRK-US joint statement,” Kim added, referring to his country’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    “The important reason the DPRK put forward a new strategic policy line of concentrating all efforts on socialist economic construction is to contribute to peace and stability of the region and the whole world,” he said.
    “The DPRK will continue to fulfil its obligations and role in order to ease tensions and achieve stable peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/25/2018 Iraq’s new PM struggles at first hurdle: forming a government by Ahmed Rasheed and Ahmed Aboulenein
Iraq's Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi holds his first cabinet session in Baghdad,
Iraq October 25, 2018. Iraqi Prime Minister Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    Sulaimaniya, Iraq/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s new premier Adel Abdul Mahdi has had an early taste of the partisan politics he hopes to rein in, failing so far to win parliament’s approval of a full government to begin to tackle the destruction of years of war and rampant corruption.
    At a heated session on Wednesday night, MPs rejected key cabinet picks and accused some nominees of links to late dictator Saddam Hussein.
    The session ended after midnight with Abdul Mahdi sworn in as prime minister but with only a part-government, extending the wrangling over power that has followed an inconclusive election in May.
    Iraq’s defense and interior ministers and six others have yet to be decided before the government can address daunting challenges.
    The oil-rich country has suffered for decades under the rule of Saddam and U.N. sanctions, the U.S. invasion and civil war it unleashed, and the battle against Islamic State (IS), which was declared won last year.    Graft is widespread and basic services like power and water lacking.
    Rivalry between the two blocs that emerged strongest from the election – an Iran-backed alliance and a populist bloc led by former firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr – could prove particularly difficult for the prime minister to manage.
    Abdul Mahdi told journalists on Thursday there had been “political differences” in approving his cabinet, but that having it partly in place was better than missing the constitutional deadline of Nov. 2.
    “Abdul Mahdi came under tremendous pressure from party leaders … he submitted to the moods of parties by nominating partisan ministers,” said Huda Sajjad, of outgoing premier Haider al-Abadi’s Victory list.
    Victory came in third in May.
    Sajjad said the choice of ministers undermined Abdul Mahdi’s promises to appoint a government of independent technocrats – a key demand of the Sadrist-led bloc.
    Parliament approved Abdul Mahdi’s government program, which aims to reform government institutions, bring semi-autonomous militias under state control and streamline the oil sector of OPEC’s second largest producer.
    But personalities were the sticking point.
    Lawmakers walked out before parliament could vote on defense nominee Faisal al-Jarba.    MPs circulated a photo of him smiling alongside Saddam, who was toppled by the 2003 U.S. invasion.
    Abdul Mahdi’s proposed communications minister was also accused of being a Saddam stalwart in a document leaked during the session.    Other choices were alleged by some parties to be corrupt.
    “The prime minister put forward ministers who aren’t fit for the job,” said Sabah al-Saidi, a lawmaker for the Sadrist-led bloc, Saeroon.
    Saeroon campaigned on an anti-corruption platform that appealed to many poor Iraqis made destitute by conflict or squeezed by unemployment
MUTUAL REJECTION
    Sadr, in a Tweet, urged MPs not to approve ministerial candidates seen as partisan or sectarian.
    Politicians linked to Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias, however, feel they have earned a right to be in the incoming government given the big role they played alongside Iraqi forces in defeating Islamic State militarily last year.
    “Rejecting Faleh al-Fayad as interior minister was not justified.    He led the Hashid Shaabi (an alliance of militias) in defeating Daesh (IS) and this is the least reward he should get,” an MP affiliated with the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia said.
    “In return we objected to their (Saeroon and Victory) candidates.”
    Iraq’s new prime minister will have to contend with the zero-sum game that has dominated politics for years, according to analysts.
“It’s hard to see how if the big political parties demand posts which they view as their livelihood, how they could just be excluded,” said Renad Mansour, research fellow at Chatham House in London.
    Abdul Mahdi and new President Barham Salihare going to face a lot of pressure – we’ve seen that in the appointment process,” he said.
    Parliament is to vote again on Nov. 6 to approve the remainder of Abdul Mahdi’s 22-member cabinet.    He currently has 14 ministers.    He said on Thursday a complete cabinet would soon be in place.
    The United States welcomed the new government.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Abdul Mahdi on Thursday to congratulate him, his office said.
    One Western diplomat in Baghdad said Abdul Mahdi had scored victories in some key appointments, such as Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban and Finance Minister Fuad Hussein.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Sulaimaniya and Ahmed Aboulenein in Baghdad; writing and additional reporting by John Davison; editing by Andrew Roche)

10/25/2018 Iraq will prioritise own interests regarding Iran sanctions: new PM by Ahmed Aboulenein
Iraq's Prime Minister-designate Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks to parliament he announces his new cabinet
at the parliament headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq October 24, 2018. Iraqi Parliament Office/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq will prioritise its own interests and independence when it comes to helping the United States enforce sanctions against Iran, new Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday.
    President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international nuclear accord with Tehran in May and reimpose sanctions has put Abdul Mahdi’s incoming government in a difficult position, since Iraq’s economy is closely intertwined with neighbouring Iran’s.
    “We want to secure Iraq from any interference in issues, affairs of other countries, whether it’s a neighbouring country or it’s any other country in the world,” Abdul Mahdi told a news conference in Baghdad.
    The United States and Iran, increasingly at odds, are Iraq’s two biggest allies, and Washington has said there will be consequences for countries that do not respect the sanctions.
    Abdul Mahdi’s statement on Thursday did not deviate much from the stance of his predecessor, Haider al-Abadi.
    In August Abadi said Iraq was against the sanctions “as a matter of principle,” but that the country would follow them.
    “We consider them a strategic mistake and incorrect but we will abide by them to protect the interests of our people.    We will not interact with them or support them but we will abide by them,” he said.
    Abadi’s government later asked Washington for permission to ignore some sanctions on its neighbour.    Abdul Mahdi did not say on Thursday whether his government would continue to seek the exemptions.
    The next wave of sanctions are due to come into effect on Nov 4.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Abdul Mahdi on Thursday to congratulate him on his swearing in.    They also discussed the enhancement of bilateral relations, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s media office.
    Abdul Mahdi was speaking at his first news conference since being sworn in just past midnight on Thursday.    He also announced that he would be moving the prime minister’s office and cabinet outside Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
    “All of Iraq should be a green zone.    Security and beauty should be everywhere in Iraq.
    Officials must share everything with citizens, the good and the bad. We should share everything with our people
.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and David Stamp)

10/26/2018 Indonesian Muslims hold protest to demand justice for flag burning by Kanupriya Kapoor
Indonesian Muslims shout slogans during a protest against the burning of a flag bearing an Islamic tenet
by members of the country's biggest Muslim organisation in Jakarta, Indonesia October 26, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – About 1,000 Indonesian Muslims held a rally in the capital, Jakarta, on Friday to protest against the burning by members of the country’s biggest Muslim organization of a flag bearing an Islamic tenet.
    The protest comes after a video went viral in Indonesia this week showing members of the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) burning a rival group’s flag with the Tauhid, an Islamic concept asserting that there is only one God.
    The peaceful protest was a reminder of the ardor that can arise as the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country approaches important elections.
    Leaders of the rally urged people to defend Islam as protesters, many wearing white robes, chanted “There is no God but Allah” and waved black and white flags.
    “We want justice for the burning of the flag, for those who are responsible,” said Fahruh Rozi, 47, a member of Forum Masjid Al Falah, one of a number of conservative groups at the rally.
    “We want to raise awareness for respect for Islam.    It’s not to do with politics or elections,” said Rozi, who wore a white shirt and skull cap with a black bandana bearing the creed.
    Indonesia holds presidential and parliamentary elections next April and parties and candidates have been courting the votes from members of the dominant religion.
    President Joko Widodo, who is seeking a second term, has sought to strengthen his ties with moderate Islamic leaders and appointed Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his running mate.
    A loose grouping of Islamists were behind protests that culminated in the election defeat and jailing for blasphemy in 2017 of Jakarta’s ethnic-Chinese and Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Widodo ally known as Ahok.
    “The difference with the case of Ahok is that in this case there was a flag that was burned.    We want to ensure this doesn’t happen again.    In Ahok’s case it was blasphemy,” said Rozi.
    There have been sporadic tensions between more moderate organizations like NU, which says it has about 40 million members, and other more hardline groups.
    The flag burning happened in West Java after members of the youth wing of NU objected to a man carrying a flag from Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which is seeking an Islamic caliphate and has been banned in the country.
(Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/26/2018 White House limiting access to North Korea info by OAN Newsroom
    The White House is restructuring the way Capitol Hill receives intelligence reports as well as determining who has access to those documents.
    The Trump administration is reportedly limiting intelligence sharing with congressional leaders over the state of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.    This means only Senate and House leaders are authorized to review sensitive reports such as members of the Foreign Intelligence Committee.
    Some on Capitol Hill are reportedly wondering if this means the north is adding to its nuclear arsenal instead taking steps to dismantle it.    However, the White House has taken steps to dispel those rumors.
    “For decades North Korea has depended on their nuclear arsenal, or the promise thereof, as their linchpin for their security,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.    “So, to make that transition decision, to make that strategic decision, that Chairman Kim tells us he has made that says we no longer need our nuclear arsenal for our country to be successful is a very difficult challenge for a North Korean leader.”
South Korean Maj. Gen. Kim Do-gyun, front left, shakes hands with his North Korean counterpart Lt. Gen. An Ik San
after a meeting at the border village of Panmunjom, North Korea, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. The North and South Korean militaries
agreed Friday to completely destroy 11 front-line guard posts by the end of November as they discussed their next steps
in implementing a wide-ranging military agreement signed last month to reduce tensions. (Korea Pool/Yonhap via AP)
    In fact, the rule comes one month after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to specific terms of denuclearization for the first time ever during a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
    As a result, intelligence officials say they are taking steps to fix the way previous administrations handled sensitive information following recent media leaks.
    The Departments of Defense, Energy and State haven’t commented on how this will impact each agency in the future or if they’ve received authorization to view the intelligence reports.

10/27/2018 Iran’s Rouhani says U.S. isolated against Iran: state TV
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session
of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that the United States was isolated among its traditional allies in its confrontation with Iran, and that even Europe was siding with Tehran against the reimposition of U.S. sanctions.
    “It does not happen often that the U.S. makes a decision and its traditional allies abandon it,” Rouhani told parliament in a speech carried live on state TV, in a session to discuss a cabinet reshuffle.    “A year ago no one would have believed … that Europe would stand with Iran and against America.”
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/27/2018 Hundreds of thousands march for marriage equality in Taiwan amid referendum debate
Participants take part in a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride parade to support
same-sex marriage in Taipei, Taiwan, October 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands marched through Taiwan’s capital on Saturday to press the government to deliver on its promise of marriage equality amid an increasingly heated debate over whether civil laws should recognize same-sex marriage.
    In Asia’s first such ruling, Taiwan’s constitutional court declared in May last year that same-sex couples had the right to legally marry, and set a two-year deadline for legalization.
    But the self-ruled island will hold a series of public votes on same-sex marriage on November 24, after its election authority approved separate referendum petitions from both conservative and rights groups.
    The move has revived a debate over a possible separate law for civil unions between gay couples and presents a challenge to President Tsai Ing-wen, who rights activists say has made little progress on the issue despite campaigning on a promise of marriage equality in the run-up to elections in 2016.
    The 16th annual parade in Taipei, the largest of its kind in East Asia, featured colorful costumes, musical performances and rainbow flags as protesters gathered near the Presidential Office.
    Many called the proposal to make a separate law for gay marriage “discriminatory,” citing the 2017 ruling that current laws violate the right to freedom of marriage and equality.
    Carrying banners that said “vote for your happy future,” the marchers shouted “defeat discrimination.”
    “We will use our vote to tell Tsai Ing-wen’s government that people want marriage equality,” said Miao Poya, who joined the parade and was one of the activists who proposed a referendum in favor of same-sex marriage.
    Organizers said some 137,000 attended the Saturday parade.
    Society is still divided on same-sex marriage, Tsai said this year, but the government would abide by the constitutional court ruling of May 2017.
    The public votes will coincide with mayoral and magisterial elections on the democratic island, which is seen as a beacon of liberalism in the region.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/27/2018 Sri Lanka president suspends parliament after sacking PM as political rift deepens by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena gestures as he speaks during a meeting with his
Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev//File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena on Saturday suspended parliament till Nov. 16, a day after removing Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and replacing him with former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa in a surprise move that signals escalating political tensions in the South Asian nation.
    “The president has prorogued the parliament,” cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne told reporters.
    Minutes earlier Wickremesinghe, who says he remains prime minister, urged the speaker to convene parliament to prove he retained his parliamentary majority.
    “I have the majority in the parliament, convene the parliament to resolve this,” Wickremesinghe told a press conference in Colombo on Saturday, flanked by all his coalition partners except Sirisena’s party.
    “Only parliament can show who has the majority,” he said.
    The parliament suspension means Wickremesinghe will not immediately have an opportunity to prove his majority, amid speculation that some of his party members would cross over to back Rajapaksa for perks and ministerial portfolios.
    The island nation’s Media and Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Friday condemned Rajapaksa’s appointment as “an anti-democratic coup” and violation of the constitution.
    A delegation of the European Union said on Saturday that it was closely following the events in Sri Lanka.
    “We urge all parties to fully act in accordance with Sri Lanka’s constitution, to refrain from violence, to follow due institutional process, to respect the independence of institutions, and freedom of media.”
    Sirisena administered the oath of office to Rajapaksa on Friday after sacking Wickremesinghe, who was away touring the south of the country.    Under Sri Lanka’s constitution, the prime minister heads parliament and the president has executive powers.
    The political rift, which comes amid weakening economic growth in Sri Lanka, follows months of infighting in the ruling coalition.
    Relations between Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP) and Sirisensa’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) have been strained recently after Sirisensa criticized Wickremesinghe’s for not adequately investigating an assassination plot against the president.    The UPFA had threatened to quit the ruling coalition.
    Sirisena accused India’s intelligence services of involvement in that plot, a claim New Delhi and Colombo have both denied.
    There was no immediate reaction from India which has long seen Sri Lanka, located just off its southern tip, as part of its area of influence.    India’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request seeking comment on the change of leadership in Sri Lanka.
    India has been concerned about Rajapaksa’s wooing of China — he ushered in billions of dollars of investment from Beijing to help rebuild the country following the end of a 26-year-long civil war against Tamil separatists in 2009.
    That investment has since put the island nation deep in debt and forced it to hand over control of a strategic southern port to China, drawing criticism from India and the United States.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Michael Perry)

10/27/2018 Robots to make robots at ABB’s new $150 million factory in China by John Miller
FILE PHOTO: Humanoid robot YuMi conducts the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra performing a concert alongside
Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli (unseen) at the Verdi Theatre in Pisa, Italy September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
    ZURICH (Reuters) – Robots will make robots at a new ABB factory in China, which the Swiss engineering group said on Saturday it plans to build for $150 million in Shanghai as it defends its place as the country’s largest maker of industrial robots.
    The factory, located near ABB’s China robotics campus, is due to be operating by the end of 2020 and will produce robots for China as well as for export elsewhere in Asia.    China is ABB’s No. 2 market after the United States.
    “Shanghai has become a vital center for advanced technology leadership – for ABB and the world,” ABB Chief Executive Ulrich Spiesshofer said in a statement announcing the project.
    With the expansion, ABB is banking on Chinese robots sales defying concerns over trade tensions with the United States that some fear could dent demand for electronics, auto parts and other items that require automated manufacturing and robots.
    China is expanding its robot workforce, as wages for human workers there rise and the country seeks to compete with lower-cost countries via greater automation. In 2017, one of every three robots sold in the world went to China, which purchased nearly 138,000 units, ABB said.
    ABB’s new 75,000-square-foot factory will use software meant to allow people and robots to work safely in close proximity, the company said, adding its YuMi robots — designed to work side-by-side with people — will also be deployed on many of the small parts assembly tasks needed to manufacture an ABB robot.
    Rival Kuka , taken over in 2016 by China’s Midea <000333.SZ> two years ago, has also been expanding in the country, including by building a robot park in Shunde near Hong Kong.
    ABB, whose industrial robots are used, among other things, to build automobiles as well as to assemble electronic devices, will build robots for numerous industries at the Shanghai factory, a spokesman said.
    It did not give a new employee count for the factory, but said it will boost robotics employment that now sits at more than 2,000 ABB workers in China.
(Reporting by John Miller; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/28/2018 2018 Protesters burn Hindu religious center in southern India
    Protesters have set fire to a Hindu religious center in southern India for supporting a Supreme Court decision allowing women of menstruating age at one of the world’s largest Hindu pilgrimage sites.    Swami Sandeepananda Giri, who runs the center in Kerala state, blamed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu Nationalist party, which has called for the state’s ruling Communist Party of India to appeal the court’s decision.
    The state government says it arrested about 2,000 people for blocking the entry of women ages 10-50 when the temple opened for prayers last week.
    Seen here is the article dated on 10/17/2018 Scuffles break out at Indian temple town over entry of menstrual age women by Jose Devasia, and image seen below in Nilakkal, India with hundreds of police guarded the main gateway to an Indian hill temple on Wednesday to prevent clashes between women of menstrual age entering for the first time in centuries and conservative Hindu groups out to stop them.
Hindu devotees gather at a temple during a protest against the lifting of ban by Supreme Court that
allowed entry of women of menstruating age to the Sabarimala temple, at the Nilakkal Base Camp
in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

10/28/2018 Iran’s Khamenei calls for fight against enemy ‘infiltration’
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech
to thousands of Basij members at Azadi stadium in Tehran, Iran October 4, 2018. Khamenei.ir/ Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Sunday for the stepping up of efforts to fight enemy “infiltration in a speech to officials in charge of cyber defense, state television reported.
    “In the face of the enemy’s complex practices, our civil defense should … confront infiltration through scientific, accurate, and up-to-date … action,” Ayatollah Khamenei told civil defense officials, who are in charge of areas including cyber defense.
    The television report did not give details of the “infiltration” Khamenei was referring to.
    Iranian officials have long warned about Western cultural influences through entertainment, social media and the Internet as a threat against Islamic and revolutionary values.
    A decade ago, Iran’s nuclear program was hit by Stuxnet, a virus which was deployed by U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies against a uranium enrichment facility.
    Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s civil defense agency, said on Sunday that Iran had recently neutralized a new version of Stuxnet.
    “Recently we discovered a new generation of Stuxnet which consisted of several parts … and was trying to enter our systems,” Jalali was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency at a news conference marking Iran’s civil defense day.    He did not give further details.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra)

10/28/2018 Chinese privately developed rocket fails to reach orbit
Zhuque-1, a privately developed Chinese carrier rocket by Beijing-based Landspace,
lifts off from the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province, China October 27, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A privately developed Chinese carrier rocket failed to reach orbit after lifting off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Saturday, in a blow to the country’s nascent attempts by private companies to rival Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
    The three-stage rocket, Zhuque-1, was developed by Beijing-based Landspace.    The company said in a microblog post after nominal first and second stages that the spacecraft failed to reach orbit as a result of an issue with the third stage.
    “Before Zhuque carrier rocket was launched, its mission was already completed,” the company said in the post on Saturday, without giving further details.
    Landspace was founded in 2015 and soon aimed to be the first Chinese private company to deliver a satellite into orbit.    The company said it was the first private licensed company in China to launch carrier rockets.
    Zhuque-1 was carrying a satellite named “Future” built for state media China Central Television.
    In May, China launched “Chongqing Liangjiang Star” into space, the first rocket developed by Beijing-based private firm OneSpace Technology.
    Since coming to office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has made becoming a “space flight superpower” a priority for the government, which has a goal of sending a permanent manned space station into orbit by around 2022.
(Reporting by Pei Li and Aizhu Chen; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

10/28/2018 Sri Lanka crisis worsens as ex-minister’s guard opens fire, wounding three
Supporters of sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe wait outside the
Prime Minister official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 28, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – The security guard of a minister in the sacked Sri Lankan government opened fire at an office on Sunday wounding three people, worsening a constitutional crisis in the island nation days after the president ousted the prime minister and appointed a new one.
    Police said the guard began shooting as Arjuna Ranatunga, petroleum minister in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, tried to enter his office at the state-run Ceylon Petroleum Corp.
    Wickremesinghe maintains he is still prime minister.
    Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera told Reuters the guard had been arrested and an investigation launched.
    Ranatunga was safe but the security guard’s motive was not immediately clear, he added.
    The tiny South Asian country off the southern tip of India plunged into political turmoil late on Friday after President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and swore in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa as his replacement.
    On Saturday, Sirisena ordered to suspend parliament until Nov. 16, in a move widely seen as an attempt to stop Wickremesinghe from trying to prove he maintains a parliamentary majority.
    Security has been tightened around key government institutions as trade unions linked to Rajapaksa’s political party have blocked access to some Wickremesinghe-party ministers entering their respective ministries.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Eritng by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Toby Chopra)

10/29/2018 Islamic State claims blast near election commission in Afghan capital: Amaq
Afghan policemen keep watch at the site of a suicide attack in Kabul, Afghanistan October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Islamic State claimed responsibility on Monday for a blast near the election commission in Afghan capital Kabul, according to a statement on the group’s Amaq news agency.
    The bomber detonated an explosive vest and after approaching several official vehicles close to the election commission, the statement said.    At least six people were wounded in the blast, Afghan officials said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/29/2018 China’s first attempt at private rocket launch fails in third stage
    The first attempt by a private Chinese company to send a rocket into space has failed.
    Beijing-based Landscape said Saturday that the first and second stage of its ZQ-1 rocket worked normally, but something went wrong with the final of the three-stage rocket.

10/29/2018 China says leaders from 18 countries to participate in import fair next week
Workers put up a sign inside the National Exhibition and Convention Center, the venue for the
upcoming China International Import Expo (CIIE), in Shanghai, China October 28, 2018. China Daily via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A total of 18 countries’ leaders will be coming to next week’s major import expo in China’s commercial hub of Shanghai, the government said on Monday, ranging from Russia and Pakistan to the tiny Cook Islands, though none from major Western nations.
    Set to run from Nov. 5 to Nov. 10, the China International Import Expo will bring together thousands of foreign and Chinese companies, aiming to boost imports, allay foreign concern about China’s trade practices and show readiness to narrow trade gaps.     But the United States does not plan to send senior government officials to the fair, a U.S. embassy spokesman said last week.    China said that the decision was “hard to understand.”
    The two countries are locked in a bitter trade war.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said leaders would be coming from the Czech Republic, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Lithuania, Panama, El Salvador, Switzerland, the Cook Islands, Croatia, Egypt, Hungary, Georgia, Laos, Malta, Pakistan, Russia and Vietnam.
    El Salvador and the Dominican Republic both switched recognition from Taiwan to China this year.
    Some are sending presidents, including the Czech Republic and Kenya, while others, such as Russia and Pakistan, are sending their prime ministers.
    Asked why certain countries’ leaders had been invited specifically, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said everyone was very enthusiastic about attending the trade fair, but as to who represents which country was up to the countries to decide after “friendly consultations” with China.
    “Certainly, it has received broad attention and has been broadly welcomed by the international community,” he said.
    China holding an import fair shows the Chinese government’s determination to further open up the country and to share the benefits of China’s development, Lu added.
    China says more 130 countries and 2,800 companies have decided to take part, including 180 U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp, Disney and Intel Corp.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the import expo in early 2017 and will speak at its opening.
    However, some critics have dismissed the event, which China plans to hold every year, as largely a propaganda effort.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

10/29/2018 Doomed Indonesian plane with 189 on board had asked to return to base by Fergus Jensen and Tommy Ardiansyah
Relatives of passengers of Lion Air flight JT610 that crashed into the sea, arrive at crisis center
at Soekarno Hatta International airport near Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan
    PAKISJAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – An Indonesian aircraft with 189 people on board crashed into the sea on Monday as it tried to circle back to the capital, Jakarta, from where it had taken off minutes earlier, and there were likely no survivors, officials said.
    Lion Air flight JT610, an almost new Boeing 737 MAX 8, was en route to Pangkal Pinang, capital of the Bangka-Belitung tin mining region.    Rescue officials said they had recovered some human remains from the crash site, about 15 km (9 miles) off the coast.
    Indonesia is one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, but its safety record is patchy.    If all aboard have died, the crash will be the country’s second-worst air disaster since 1997, industry experts said.
(Graphic: Flight path of Indonesia’s Lion Air flight JT610 – https://tmsnrt.rs/2OV3w18)
    The pilot had asked to return to base (RTB) after the plane took off from Jakarta.    It lost contact with ground staff after 13 minutes.
    “It’s correct that an RTB was requested and had been approved but we’re still trying to figure out the reason,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s transport safety committee, told reporters, referring to the pilot’s request.
    “We hope the black box is not far from the main wreckage so it can be found soon,” he said, referring to the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.
    Search and rescue agency head Muhmmad Syaugi told a news conference earlier that no distress signal had been received from the aircraft’s emergency transmitter.
    Yusuf Latief, spokesman of national search and rescue agency, said there were likely no survivors.
    At least 23 government officials, four employees of state tin miner PT Timah and three employees of a Timah subsidiary, were on the plane.    A Lion Air official said one Italian passenger and one Indian pilot were on board.
    The plane went down in waters about 30 meters to 35 meters (98 to 115 ft) deep.    Items such as handphones and life vests were found, along with the body parts.
    Ambulances were lined up at Karawang, on the coast east of Jakarta, and police were preparing rubber dinghies, a Reuters reporter said.    Fishing boats were being used to help search.
    Edward Sirait, chief executive of Lion Air Group, told reporters the aircraft had had a technical problem on a flight from the resort island of Bali to Jakarta but it had been “resolved according to procedure.”
    Sirait declined to specify the nature of the issue but said none of its other aircraft of that model had the same problem.    Lion had operated 11 Boeing 737 MAX 8s and it had no plan to ground the rest of them, he said.
    The accident is the first to be reported involving the widely sold Boeing 737 MAX, an updated, more fuel-efficient version of the manufacturer’s workhorse single-aisle jet.
    Privately owned Lion Air said the aircraft had been in operation since August, was airworthy, with its pilot and co-pilot together having accumulated 11,000 hours of flying time.
‘BE PATIENT’
    Safety experts say nearly all accidents are caused by a combination of factors and only rarely have a single identifiable cause.
    The flight took off in clear weather at around 6.20 a.m. and was due to have landed in Pangkal Pinang at 7.20 a.m.
    Distraught relatives of those on board arrived at the airport in Jakarta and Pangkal Pinang.
    “Be patient, pray the best for papa,” one woman arriving at Jakarta airport told a sobbing girl.
    The woman declined to speak to reporters.
    President Joko Widodo told a news conference authorities were focusing on the search and rescue, and he called for the country’s prayers and support.
    The effort to find the wreckage and retrieve the black boxes represents a major challenge for investigators in Indonesia, where an AirAsia Airbus jet crashed in the Java Sea in December 2014.
    Under international rules, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will automatically assist with the inquiry, backed up by technical advisers from Boeing and U.S.-French engine maker CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran.
    Boeing was deeply saddened by the loss, it said in a statement, and was ready to provide technical assistance for the investigation.
    Data from FlightRadar24 shows the first sign of something amiss was around two minutes into the flight, when the plane had reached 2,000 feet (610 m).
    It descended more than 500 feet (152 m) and veered to the left before climbing again to 5,000 feet (1,524 m), where it stayed during most of the rest of the flight.
    It began gaining speed in the final moments and reached 345 knots (397 mph) before data was lost when it was at 3,650 feet (1,113 m).
    Indonesia’s worst air disaster was in 1997, when a Garuda Indonesia A300 crashed in the city of Medan, killing 214 people.
    Founded in 1999, Lion Air’s only fatal accident was in 2004, when an MD-82 crashed upon landing at Solo City, killing 25 of the 163 on board, the Flight Safety Foundation’s Aviation Safety Network says.
    In April, the airline announced a firm order to buy 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10 narrowbody jets with a list price of $6.24 billion.    It is one of the U.S. planemaker’s largest customers globally.
(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Cindy Silviana, Gayatri Suroyo and Fransiska Nangoy, Bernadette Christina in JAKARTA, Jamie Freed in SINGAPORE and Tim Hepher in HONG KONG; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

10/29/2018 Top U.S., South Korean officials seek to drive momentum in North Korea talks by Hyonhee Shin
U.S. special representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun shakes hands with South Korea's Special Representative
for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lee Do-hoon during a meeting to discuss North Korea nuclear issues
at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, October 29, 2018. Ahn Young-joon/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The top U.S. envoy for North Korea sought to inject momentum to nuclear talks with Pyongyang, saying he is “absolutely certain” Washington and Seoul can work together to achieve their objective of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was in Seoul to meet with senior South Korean officials, including his counterpart Lee Do-hoon.
    “We have a shared goal here, which is to bring an end to 70 years of war and hostilities on the Korean peninsula,” Biegun told Lee at the start of their meeting.
    “And the primary requirement for us to get to the end point is to achieve final, fully, verified denuclearization of North Korea… I am absolutely certain we can do this together.”
    Over recent weeks, the administration of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in has forged ahead with efforts to engage with the North, stoking U.S. concern over a range of issues, from sanctions enforcement to plans for a no-fly zone between the two Koreas.
    Lee said that Washington and Seoul are working to ensure that both countries engage North Korea with a united front.
    “Because the denuclearization process is at a critical juncture we need to meet up as often as possible to make sure there is no daylight whatsoever between our two allies,” Lee said.
    While Biegun is not scheduled to visit the North, he said he was eager to begin “working-level negotiations” with the reclusive state as soon as possible.
    He said early this month that he had offered to meet his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to work toward denuclearization during an unprecedented June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, but the North’s actions have failed to satisfy U.S. demands for irreversible steps to scrap its arsenal, including a full disclosure of nuclear facilities and material.
    The United States suspended some of its annual military drills with South Korea, but has been wary of providing Pyongyang big economic benefits until it takes further concrete disarmament steps.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in North Korea earlier this month, said he was coordinating with allies for a second summit between Trump and Kim though there have been little detail about any breakthrough since then.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Writing by Josh Smith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

10/29/2018 Philippines doubts ASEAN, China can come up with legally binding South China sea code
FILE PHOTO: Philippines' Secretary for Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr attends a news conference after
the ASEM leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines’ new foreign minister said on Monday the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China would unlikely be able to arrive at a legally binding code of conduct for the South China Sea.
ASEAN and China this year started formal negotiations for a code of conduct to ease tensions brought by conflicting claims over a strategic waterway where about $3 trillion worth of sea-borne goods passes every year.
    “Perhaps we will not be able to arrive at a legally binding code of conduct,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin told a news conference in southern Davao City after holding talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi.
    “But, it will be the standard on how people of ASEAN, governments of ASEAN will behave toward each other – always with honor, never with aggression and always for the mutual progress.”
    Locsin did not elaborate his statement on why raised doubts a binding agreement will be reached.
    China, which claims almost the entire South China Sea, has put up artificial islands turning them into garrisons.    Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims on the rich fishing grounds. Australia, Japan and the United States have urged ASEAN and China to ensure the code is “legally binding,” while critics have said failure to make it enforceable creates doubts about how effective it can be.
    China’s top diplomat assured ASEAN it will abide by whatever will be agreed in ongoing negotiations.
    China is hoping to conclude negotiations by 2021.
    Wang also assured the Philippines it will not be threat to its smaller neighbor.    “China has never been and will never be a rival for the Philippines,” he said as both top diplomats discussed President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Manila next month.
(Reporting By Manuel Mogato and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Nick Macfie)

10/29/2018 Sri Lanka’s political crisis trigger major economic concerns by Shihar Aneez and Abhirup Roy
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena listens to a speech during a Parliament session marking
the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Government, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    COLOMBO/MUMBAI (Reuters) – A decision by Sri Lanka’s president to fire the prime minister has raised doubts among global investors and credit analysts about the near-term economic health of a country already grappling with slow growth and a falling currency.
    Among key concerns for investors are Sri Lanka’s ability to repay its massive external debt amid the reduced likelihood of continued economic reforms.
    President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and swore in ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him, plunging the country into turmoil.
    Wickremesinghe said his sacking was illegal and he maintained that he was still prime minister and had the support of a majority of members of parliament.    Rajapaksa, meanwhile, assumed his duties at the prime minister’s office.
    “The ability to execute reforms could slow down given the political developments and the fact that presidential elections are due by the end of 2019, which would be negative for Sri Lankan assets,” DBS analysts said in a note on Monday.
    According to DBS, Sri Lanka, which relies on foreign support, has debts of $15 billion maturing between 2019 and 2022.    Debt service costs are also set to rise given the lower currency, according to a report by Morgan Stanley.
    India and western countries have expressed concern about Rajapaksa’s ties to China, as he ushered in billions of dollars of investments from Beijing during his tenure as president, to help rebuild the country after a 26-year civil war against ethnic Tamil separatists ended in 2009.
    Those investments have put the country deep in debt and forced it to hand over control of a strategic southern port to China.
    Credit rating agency Moody’s said policy uncertainty could hurt investor sentiments and make it difficult for the country to refinance debt that comes due in early 2019 at an affordable rate.
    “The current political crisis in Sri Lanka is credit negative for the sovereign,” said Matthew Circosta, an analyst with Moody’s Sovereign Risk Group.
    “And at a time when global financial markets are turbulent, uncertainty about the direction of future policy could have a large and lasting negative impact on international investor confidence.”
DROUGHTS AND FLOODS
    Tight monetary and fiscal conditions and a farm sector that has faced a spate of difficult weather – including both droughts and floods – has led to the island nation’s stuttering economic growth that fell to a 16-year low of 3.3 percent last year.
    This month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) revised down its projection for 2018 economic growth to under 4 percent, from June’s forecast of 4 percent.
    Following a review of Sri Lanka’s economic program supported by a three-year $1.5 billion loan, IMF mission chief Manuela Goretti said given significant vulnerabilities, reforms needed to accelerate to strengthen the economy’s resilience.
    In recent years, the country has introduced tax reforms, financial discipline in government institutions, reforms of loss-making state-owned enterprises, and adopted a fuel price formula that is adjusted monthly.
    However, Nomura, in a note last month, said Sri Lanka was most at risk of a currency crisis among the 30 countries it covered given its large refinancing needs due to high short-term debt and modest foreign-exchange reserves.
    On Monday, the Sri Lankan rupee slumped to a record low of 174.30 per dollar.    It ended at 173.75/90 per dollar on Monday, compared with its previous close of 173.05/20.
    The currency has weakened 12.8 percent so far this year, Refinitiv Eikon data shows.
    Last month, Sri Lanka imposed a raft of measures to restrict imports with immediate effect in an effort to curb dollar outflows and take pressure off the rupee.
    But with the unfolding political crisis, market sources said traders were bringing their dollar trades forward by purchasing the greenback expecting a further fall in the rupee.
($1 = 173.4000 Sri Lankan rupees)
(Editing by Martin Howell and Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

10/29/2018 Indian government very upset with central bank for making rift public: sources by Manoj Kumar
FILE PHOTO: A guard stands next to the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) logo outside its headquarters
in Mumbai, India, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Francis Mascarenhas/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian government officials are very upset with the central bank for publicly talking about a rift with the government, fearing it could tarnish the country’s image among investors, senior officials said on Monday.
    On Friday night, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Deputy Governor Viral Acharya warned that undermining a central bank’s independence could be “potentially catastrophic,” in an indication that it is pushing back hard against government pressure to relax its policies and reduce its powers.
    In a speech to top industrialists Acharya cited the Argentine government’s meddling in its central bank’s affairs in 2010 as an example of what can go wrong.    That led to a surge in bond yields that badly hurt the South American economy.
    “Governments that do not respect central bank independence will sooner or later incur the wrath of financial markets, ignite economic fire, and come to rue the day they undermined an important regulatory institution,” Acharya said.
    The government officials Reuters spoke to on Monday declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
    One said that it was vital that what happened between the government in New Delhi and the RBI in Mumbai was kept confidential.    “The government respects the autonomy and independence of the RBI but they must understand their responsibility,” the official said.
    A second official, based in Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office, said it was “very unfortunate” that the RBI took the matters public.    “The government is very upset.    It was not expected from the RBI,” the official added.
    An RBI spokesman was not immediately available for comments after business hours.
    Government officials have recently called for the RBI to relax its lending restrictions on some banks, and New Delhi has also been trying to trim the RBI’s regulatory powers by setting up a new regulator for the country’s payments system.
    The Modi administration has also been pushing the central bank to part with some of its 3.6 trillion rupees ($49 billion) surplus to help bridge the fiscal deficit and finance its welfare programs.
JAPAN TRIP
    The officials in New Delhi were particularly angry that Acharya launched the attack while Modi was about to head to Japan for talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the first source said.
    Finance ministry officials remained largely silent in response to the speech at the weekend, as they didn’t want to aggravate the issue when Modi and top officials were in Japan, this official said.
    Government officials believe that RBI Governor Urjit Patel has some responsibility for the controversy, and he cannot expect an extension of his current three-year term – which ends next September – “as his right,” one of the officials added.
    Acharya had three of his fellow deputy governors in the audience and also thanked Governor Patel for his “suggestion to explore this theme for a speech,” in a show of unity from an institution typically known for its restraint.
    The official in the prime minister’s office said Patel could face a tough time when he appears before a parliamentary standing committee on Nov. 12.
    Top government officials said they were surprised that Patel, who was appointed by the Modi administration in 2016, and initially cooperated with New Delhi, is creating tensions when the government is facing criticism over handling of the economy before a national election, due by next May.
    On Monday, a third government source said the finance ministry was worried how markets would respond to Acharya’s public comments, but felt more relaxed after they rose.    The gains were largely a result of a separate announcement by the RBI about an injection of liquidity through government bond buying.
    The benchmark stock index <.BSESN> rose as much as 2.15 percent and the yields on the 10-year benchmark fell to 7.81 percent, compared with 7.88 percent on Friday.
    Modi’s government is pushing the central bank to relax lending norms for small businesses and pump more liquidity into the market to bolster economic growth before key state elections due in the next few weeks and the general election.
    It is worried that the central bank’s hawkish monetary stance and stringent regulations on lending by state banks could push economic growth below 7 percent in the October-December quarter – the last quarter for which data would be available ahead of the general election.
    “When we are facing problems on the external front like high crude oil prices, trade tensions putting pressure on our current account balance, can we afford another domestic crisis?” the third government source said.
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; editing by David Stamp)

10/30/2018 Angry Sri Lankans rally to support ousted PM, denounce ‘coup’ by Shihar Aneez
Sri Lanka's ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (3rd L) waves at his supporters with his party members during a protest
against his removal, near the Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – More than 10,000 protesting supporters of Sri Lanka’s ousted prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, brought parts of the capital, Colombo, to a standstill on Tuesday as political turmoil on the island entered its fifth day.
    Sri Lanka was plunged into crisis on Friday when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and swore in ex-president Mahinda Rajapaksa to replace him, breaking up a fragile coalition governing the country.
    Sirisena also suspended parliament, to the fury of Wickremesinghe’s supporters, who say the president is trying to prevent lawmakers from keeping him in power.
    On Tuesday, thousands of protesters gathered near Wickremesinghe’s residence to hear the ousted prime minister speak, holding signs demanding that Sirisena to preserve democracy.
    “He has broken his promise and taken the executive powers into his hands,” Wickremesinghe told the crowd, referring to Sirisena.
    “He has sidelined parliamentary power.”
    The crowd, which police estimated at more than 10,000, blocked several roads in the city-center neighborhood that includes embassies, high-end stores and hotels, according to a Reuters witness.
    “This is a coup.    It has all the characteristics of a coup,” one of the protesters, Deepanjalie Abeywardene, told Reuters, while holding a sign which read “reconvene the parliament.”
    “This is a third-grade act by Sirisena.    We voted him as the president to ensure democracy,” said P. Ariyadasa, a 62-year-old farmer from Mesawachchiya, 230 km from Colombo.
LEGAL WRANGLE
    Sirisena maintains his sacking of Wickremesinghe without the approval of parliament was constitutional.
    The government’s new spokesman, Mahinda Samarasinghe, told a news conference that Sirisena had met foreign diplomats on Monday and told them the constitution allowed for the removal of Wickremesinghe.
    Sirisena named a new cabinet on Monday with Rajapaksa in charge of finance.
    Rajapaksa’s crushing of a 26-year insurgency by ethnic Tamil separatists in 2009 won him support among the island nation’s Sinhalese majority, and he has a strong following.
    Some of Wickremesinghe’s ousted ministers have refused to accept his sacking.
    On Sunday, former oil minister Arjuna Ranatunga attempted to enter his office, leading to violence that left two dead.
    The speaker of parliament, Karu Jayasuriya, has also refused to recognize Rajapaksa as the new prime minister, warning of “bloodshed” if the standoff moves to the streets.
    The power struggle in Sri Lanka comes at a critical time for its economy, with credit rating agencies warning that turmoil could raise financing costs and lower foreign capital inflows as it attempts to refinance sizable government debts.
    Sri Lanka is also a key state in a battle for influence in south Asia between traditional ally India and China.    The Chinese government has been one of the few to congratulate the pro-Beijing Rajapaksa on becoming prime minister.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez, Ranga Sirilal in COLOMBO; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Edited by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel)

10/30/2018 Female suicide bomber wounds 9 in Tunisia’s capital
    A female suicide bomber wounded nine people, mostly police officers, on a busy avenue in Tunisia’s capital on Monday, authorities said.
    The 30-year-old woman set off the blast in Tunis about 2 p.m., the Interior Ministry said.
    The bomber blew herself up near a police patrol, a ministry statement said.    It said eight police officers and one civilian were wounded.

10/30/2018 Indonesia plane crash search finds remains, debris at sea
    Rescuers in inflatable boats retrieved human remains, pieces of aircraft and personal belongings from the Java Sea on Monday after a Boeing jet operated by an Indonesian budget airline crashed minutes after takeoff, killing all 189 people on board.
    An air transport official, Novie Riyanto, said the flight was cleared to return to Jakarta after the pilot made a “return to base” request about two minutes after taking off.    It plunged into the sea about 10 minutes later.

10/30/2018 For Taiwan youth, military service is a hard sell despite China tension by Yimou Lee
A solider puts a child into a military vehicle during a public fair which displays military equipments,
in Taipei, Taiwan September 29, 2018. Picture taken September 29, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan Air Force Staff Sergeant Jiang Pin-shiuan’s pitch to freshmen at Taipei’s Tamkang University seemed compelling: join the island’s armed forces and get a state-sponsored degree, 110 days of leave each year and annual savings of T$312,500 ($10,200).
    But many listening students showed little interest, arguing national service was a “waste of time” and prospects of the self-ruled island standing up economically or militarily to an increasingly aggressive China were slim.
    “China could simply crush Taiwan with its economic power.    There’s no need for a war, which wastes money,” said 18-year-old Chen Fang-yi, an engineering major.    “I do not have much confidence and expectation for the national army.”
    From lectures in universities and high schools across the island, life-size dancing dolls to a flash mob performance by a special forces unit, Taiwan’s military is working hard to recruit soldiers as it moves to a fully volunteer force after decades of conscription.
    Taiwan vowed in 2011 to phase out conscription to cut costs and boost the professionalism of its forces as it tries to better deter the Chinese threat through enhanced cyber warfare capabilities and other high-tech weapons.
    The island’s defense ministry said it will be able to reach a target of enlisting 81 percent of the estimated 188,000 volunteer troops needed to defend against any attack by Beijing by year-end. It hopes to raise that to 90 percent by 2020.
    Beijing sees self-ruled Taiwan as a wayward province and has never renounced the use of force to bring it to heel.
    But military experts and government auditors say recruitment is proving challenging and the growth in voluntary recruitment isn’t fast enough to catch up with a worsening military imbalance across the strait.
    China, whose official defense budget grew to roughly 15 times that of Taiwan’s last year, has alarmed Taipei by flying bombers around the island and luring away members of its dwindling band of diplomatic allies.
    In a report from December, three government auditors warned the growth of voluntary recruits had been slow, raising concerns about Taiwan’s combat power.
    “The government needs to think whether it’s necessary to bring conscription back if they think national security matters,” said Lin Yu-fang, a convener for the Taipei-based National Policy Foundation and former head of Taiwan’s congressional defense and foreign committee.
    “We will pay a heavy price for the move…We won’t be able to find enough soldiers.”
    The island’s defense ministry told Reuters it will continue to raise the quantity and quality of its armed forces and has made all necessary plans for possible military actions from China. It also urged the public to give “support and encouragement” to the transition.
DODGING TRAINING
    Convincing more young people to join the armed forces is made more difficult by Taiwan’s past as a military dictatorship.    The death of a young conscript in 2013 after being punished for misconduct, which triggered large protests, also dealt a blow to the army.
    The service is so unpopular that more than 1,000 reservists were charged in the last three years for dodging mandatory retraining.
    “It raises a very difficult question about national morale.    If there ever is a conflict, what are people going to do?” said William Stanton, professor at National Taiwan University and former head of the de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei.
    Taiwan last year spent nearly 47 percent of its defense budget of T$319.3 billion on manpower-related costs.
    Military experts said that squeezed the budget for weapon acquisitions.
    The island’s goal to move to an all volunteer force by 2019 will be “costlier than anticipated,” diverting funds from defense acquisition and readiness, the U.S. Defense Department said in a report to Congress in May.
    Taiwan has shortened its mandatory service to a four-month training, from three years, a move analysts said was made to placate young voters who prioritize personal liberty over civil obligations.
    But for some, even the reduced training is seen as an exercise in futility.
    “We won’t win a war with China anyway,” said 20-year-old graduate Hsu Kai-wen, a reluctant conscript who was recently assigned a four-month service in the navy after drawing lots.    “Why do I need to waste my time in the army?
(Additional reporting by Judy Peng and Fabian Hamacher; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

10/30/2018 Thai PM says ban on political activity to be lifted by December
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha adjusts his headphones ahead of an APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC)
dialogue at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Wally Santana/Pool
    CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha said on Tuesday a ban on political activity will be lifted by December in anticipation of a general election next year.
    The military government has imposed a strict ban on all political activity since a 2014 military coup, citing the need for peace and order after months of street protests against a civilian government of prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
    Opponents of military rule say the ban, backed up by legal action against those who violate it, has stifled dissent.
    Last month, the government relaxed some restrictions, allowing political parties to resume organizing ahead of a general election due by May next year but still maintain a ban on public gathering of more than five people and political campaigning.
    “On the lifting of the ban on political activities, we will consider it sometime at the end of November or early December depending on suitability,” Prayut told reporters after a meeting of his cabinet was held in the northern town of Chiang Rai.
    The ban forbids all political activity including the holding of gatherings and campaigning.
    The junta has said the ban on political activity has been necessary to preserve stability after more than a decade of at times violent rivalry between supporters of ousted premiers Thaksin Shinawatra, and his sister, Yingluck, and the Bangkok-based royalist establishment.
    Political parties are gearing up for next year’s general election, being held under a military-drafted constitution that critics say will prolong military influence over civilian politics.
    Last month, Prayut said he was interested in having a political role after the general election, fueling speculation he aims to stay on as prime minister.
    Four of his cabinet ministers have launched a political party that could back Prayut.
    On Sunday, Thaksin’s old Puea Thai Party chose new leaders to take it into the election.
An election date has not been set but senior government official have said that it would likely be on Feb. 24.
(Reporting by Pracha Harirakspitak and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/30/2016 Iran’s foreign minister says U.S. imposed sanctions will have severe consequences for world order by OAN Newsroom
    Iran is continuing to condemn U.S. imposed sanctions days before they take effect on Tehran’s oil exports.
    At a press conference Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed the sanctions pose a global threat.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (AP/Photo/Craig Ruttle/File)
    This comes as the sanctions on Iran’s energy and banking sectors work to eliminate oil purchases from the Islamic Republic.
    Earlier this year, the White House reintroduced sanctions against Iran after the U.S. pulled from the Iran Nuclear Deal.
    President Trump claimed the deal did not cover Iran’s ballistic missiles, its role in regional wars or a plan for after the nuclear pact expires in 2025.
    “Can the United States punish other countries because they abide by law?” Zarif asked.    “This method will have severe consequences for the world order in the future, and that is why you see all countries, both our good neighbors and Europeans nations along with other countries have resisted against these sanctions.”
    This comes as Iran’s foreign minister insisted many countries oppose the sanctions.

10/30/2018 China pushing to hold trade talks with U.S. at G20 summit in Argentina by OAN Newsroom
    Beijing recently announced it’s in talks with U.S. officials about a possible meeting in Argentina.
    At a press conference Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Lu Kang said the country’s president plans to meet President Trump at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires next month.
    The proposed talks will focus on striking a deal to resolve trade tensions between the two nations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang answers questions during a news conference in Beijing, China April 23, 2018. (REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo)
    Kang insisted the potential trade deal must be a “win-win” for both nations.
    “Of course if the relevant side is no longer willing to continue promoting such a mutually beneficial cooperation in the spirit of equality and mutual benefit, China is confident enough to stick to our own path, to continue reforms and opening up and developing ourselves,” stated the Chinese foreign minister.
    This comes after President Trump claimed he would impose over $200 billion worth of new tariffs on China if fair deal is not locked down.

[IF YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE IF YOU ALLOWED SHARIA LAW TO TAKE OVER IN YOUR AREA READ THE AERTICLE BELOW.]
10/31/2018 Pakistan Islamists protest as Christian woman cleared of blasphemy by Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Islamabad, Pakistan April 20, 2017. REUTERS/Caren Firouz
    ISLAMABAD/LAHORE (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Wednesday freed a Christian woman from a death sentence for blasphemy against Islam and overturned her conviction, sparking angry protests and death threats from an ultra-religious party and cheers from human rights advocates.
    Asia Bibi, a mother of four, had been living on death row since 2010 when she became the first woman to be sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy laws, which critics say are too harsh and often misused.
    She was condemned for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    Bibi has always denied blasphemy.
    The case outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.
    Chief Justice Saqib Nasir, who headed a special three-person bench set up for the appeal, cited the Koran in his ruling, writing “Tolerance is the basic principle of Islam” and noting the religion condemns injustice and oppression.
DEATH THREATS
    Supporters of Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP), which was founded to support blasphemy laws, immediately condemned the ruling and blocked roads in major cities, pelting police with stones in the eastern city of Lahore.
    The TLP’s leadership called for the death of Nasif, the chief justice, and two other judges on the panel.
    “The patron in chief of TLP, Muhammad Afzal Qadri, has issued the edict that says the chief justice and all those who ordered the release of Asia deserve death,” said party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi.
    The party also called for the ouster of the government of new Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Lahore provincial governor Salman Taseer for advocating for Bibi in 2011.    Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release.
    Bibi’s lawyer on Wednesday called the court ruling “great news” for Pakistan.
    “Asia Bibi has finally been served justice,” lawyer Saiful Mulook told Reuters.    “Pakistan’s Supreme Court must be appreciated that it upheld the law of the land and didn’t succumb to any pressure.”
    Street protests and blockades of major roads were spreading by mid-afternoon, paralyzing parts of Islamabad, Lahore and other cities.    Some schools in Islamabad sent students home early and long lines of cars formed at fuel stations as residents worried about prolonged protests.
    In November, TLP staged a crippling blockade of Islamabad after small changes to a religious oath, which it claims was tantamount to blasphemy.    Seven people were killed and more than 200 wounded in clashes with the police and TLP’s supporters only dispersed after striking a deal with the military.
BLASPHEMY LAW CRITICIZED
    Insulting Islam’s prophet is punishable by death under Pakistani law, and blasphemy accusations stir such emotions that they are almost impossible to defend against.    Dozens have been killed following blasphemy claims, sometimes by mobs of men.
    Rights groups say the blasphemy law is exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.    The law does not clearly define blasphemy and evidence might not be reproduced in court for fear of committing a fresh offense.
    Bibi’s representatives have claimed she was involved in a dispute with her neighbors and that her accusers had contradicted themselves.
    In February, Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, and one of her daughters met Pope Francis shortly before Rome’s ancient Coliseum was lit in red one evening in solidarity with persecuted Christians, and Bibi in particular.
    The pope told Bibi’s daughter: “I think often of your mother and I pray for her.”
    Christians make up only about 2 percent of Pakistan’s population and are sometimes discriminated against.
    “This is a landmark verdict.    For the past eight years, Asia Bibi’s life languished in limbo,” said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International.
    “The message must go out that the blasphemy laws will no longer be used to persecute the country’s most vulnerable minorities.”
(Writing by Kay Johnson and Drazen Jorgic. Editing by Lincoln Feast, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

10/31/2018 North Korea readies nuclear, missile sites for international inspectors: Yonhap by Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a TV broadcasting a news report on the dismantling of the
Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, in Seoul, South Korea, May 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s spy agency has observed preparations by North Korea for international inspections at several of its nuclear and missile test sites, the Yonhap news agency said on Wednesday, citing a South Korean lawmaker.
    Kim Min-ki of the ruling Democratic Party told reporters that intelligence officials had observed what they believed to be preparations for possible inspections at Punggye-ri nuclear test site and the Sohae Satellite launching ground.
    The South’s National Intelligence Service observed North Koreans “conducting preparation and intelligence activities that seem to be in preparation for foreign inspectors’ visit,” the lawmaker added, but no major movements were seen at Yongbyon.
    Yongbyon is the North’s main nuclear complex.
    North Korea has stopped nuclear and missile tests in the past year, but it did not allow international inspections of its dismantling of Punggye-ri in May, drawing criticism that the action was merely for show and could be reversed.
    In September, its leader Kim Jong Un pledged at a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to also close Sohae and allow experts to observe the dismantling of the missile engine testing site and a launch pad.
    At the time, Moon said North Korea agreed to let international inspectors observe a “permanent dismantlement” of key missile facilities, and take further steps, such as closing Yongbyon, in return for reciprocal moves by the United States.
    Washington has demanded steps such as a full disclosure of the North’s nuclear and missile facilities, before agreeing to Pyongyang’s key goals, including an easing of international sanctions and an official end to the Korean War.
    American officials have been skeptical of Kim’s commitment to giving up nuclear weapons, but the North’s pledge at the summit with the South drew an enthusiastic response from President Donald Trump.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/31/2018 Vietnam cyber law will guard against fake news, terrorism: security ministry
FILE PHOTO: A Facebook panel is seen during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, in Cannes, France, June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard/File Photo
    HANOI (Reuters) – A Vietnamese cybersecurity law that global technology companies and rights groups have warned could undermine development and stifle innovation, will protect the country from increasing cyber threats, the security ministry has said.
    Legislators approved the law in June, overriding strong objections from companies like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google, rights groups and Western governments including the United States.
    But the Ministry of Public Security, which administers the police, said the Communist nation was threatened by tens of thousands of large-scale cyber attacks that directly cause serious economic losses and threaten security and social order.
    “The enactment of the Cybersecurity Law is essential to meet the urgent requirement to protect cybersecurity,” the ministry said in a question-and-answer session posted on its website.
    The law, which comes into effect next year, requites foreign technology firms to set up offices and store data in Vietnam.
    Facebook and Google, both widely used in the country, do not have local offices or local data storage facilities.
    The ministry said there had been no effective way to control things such as fake news and slander which caused “unfortunate consequences.”
    It also said unidentified “enemy” and “reactionary” forces were using cyber space to call for protests and incite riots and terrorism.
    Despite sweeping economic reforms and increasing openness to social change, Vietnam’s Communist Party retains tight media censorship and does not tolerate dissent.
    Officials from private companies have privately expressed concern that the law will make it easier for authorities to seize customer data and expose local employees to arrest.
    The ministry said people’s information would not be disclosed and firms would only be asked to provide user information for investigations or law enforcement under strict procedures.
    The law would not prevent people from accessing Facebook or Google, the ministry said, but anyone who violated it would be dealt with strictly.
(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Robert Birsel)

10/31/2018 U.S. says gravely concerned by any non-peaceful means of deciding Taiwan’s future
FILE PHOTO: An audience waves Taiwanese flags during the National Day celebrations in Taipei, Taiwan October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Efforts to decide self-ruled Taiwan’s future by “other than peaceful means” are a grave concern to the United States, a senior American diplomat said on Wednesday, amid renewed tension between China and the island it considers a wayward province.
    Washington does not have diplomatic ties with Taipei, but is its main arms supplier and strongest international backer.
    This month, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen vowed to boost national security and said her government would not submit to Chinese suppression.
    “Any effort to determine Taiwan’s future by other than peaceful means…is of grave concern to the United States,” Brent Christensen, the director of the United States’ de facto embassy in Taipei, told reporters.    He did not elaborate.
    China, which has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control, has boosted military and diplomatic pressure on Taipei.
    The Chinese military has stepped up encirclement drills around Taiwan, which the island has denounced as intimidation, and three former allies, El Salvador, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic, switched ties to Beijing this year.
    The United States’ new $256-million representative office in Taiwan’s capital is an “important symbol” of their partnership, Christensen said, adding that Washington would keep backing Taiwan’s “substantive role” in the international community.
    China has been infuriated by recent U.S. sanctions on its military, among several flashpoints in ties ranging from a bitter trade war and the issue of Taiwan to China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
    Last week, the United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait in its second such operation this year, despite opposition from China.
    In Beijing, a spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office said the Taiwan issue was about China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
    “We resolutely opposed any official exchanges or military contacts between the U.S. side and the Taiwan region,” Ma Xiaoguang told a regular news briefing shortly before Christensen’s comments.
    “I would like here to stress again – the consequences will be reaped by relying on foreigners to build yourselves up, or colluding with foreign forces to damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he added, referring to Taiwan’s government.
(Reporting by Jess Macy Yu; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Writing by Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/31/2018 Rouhani tells Iranians to brace for hard times under U.S. sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani listens during a news conference at the
United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has warned Iranians they face hard times when new U.S. sanctions take effect on Sunday but said the government would do its best to alleviate them.
    Washington reimposed a number of sanctions on Iran in May after pulling out of an international 2015 agreement intended to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. U.S. officials have said they aim to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero.
    The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) news agency on Wednesday quoted Rouhani as calling the move “a new injustice” which the government did not fear.
    But he added: “In the past few months our people have faced difficult times and it’s possible that the next few months will be difficult.    But the government will use all its power to reduce these problems.”
    The cost of living has soared in recent months, leading to demonstrations against profiteering and corruption in which protesters have chanted anti-government slogans.
    The rial currency has also sunk against the U.S. dollar due to the sanctions threat, with a heavy demand for dollars among ordinary Iranians trying to protect their savings.
    Iran began selling crude oil to private companies for export on Sunday as part of a strategy to counter the planned sanctions.
    “You will not be able to reach any of your goals with regard to Iran’s oil,” Rouhani said, according to IRIB.    “You will not be able to bring it to zero or reduce it.”
    Separately, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said on Wednesday 280,000 barrels of oil had been sold on Iran’s energy bourse and an additional 720,000 barrels would be offered for sale again on the exchange, according to Oil Ministry news site SHANA.
    European powers will implement a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) under consideration to facilitate trade with Iran next week, Mahmoud Vaezi, the presidency office head, said Wednesday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
    The SPV aims to keep trade flowing when U.S. sanctions hit Tehran.
    European diplomats have described the SPV proposal as a means to create a barter system, similar to one used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to exchange Iranian oil for European goods without money changing hands.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Dale Hudson and Angus MacSwan)

10/31/2018 Oil prices rise ahead of U.S. sanctions on Iran by Christopher Johnson
FILE PHOTO: An oil well pump jack is seen at an oil field supply yard near Denver, Colorado, U.S., February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Oil prices rose on Wednesday, recovering some ground after two days of losses, as markets braced for the imposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran next week and stock markets clawed back some of their recent losses.
    Benchmark Brent crude oil was up 35 cents at $76.26 a barrel by 1115 GMT.    The contract fell 1.8 percent on Tuesday, at one point touching its lowest since Aug. 24 at $75.09.
    U.S. light crude was 25 cents higher at $66.43.    It hit a two-month low of $65.33 a barrel on Tuesday.
    New U.S. sanctions on Iran begin on Nov. 4 and Washington has made it clear to Tehran’s customers that it expects them to stop buying any Iranian crude oil from that date.
    Imports of Iranian crude by major buyers in Asia hit a 32-month low in September, as China, South Korea and Japan sharply cut their purchases ahead of the sanctions, government and ship-tracking data showed.
    Oil market sentiment also received some support from equity markets, which pulled back from 20-month lows on Wednesday after pledges by China to support its markets.
    “The bullish argument for crude still centers on Iran sanctions which are due to begin in November, and continued output declines from Venezuela,” said William O’Loughlin, investment analyst at Rivkin Securities.
    Despite the rally on Wednesday, both crude benchmarks are around $10 below four-year highs reached on Oct. 3 and on track for their worst monthly performance since July 2016.
    Oil has been caught in the global financial market slump this month, with equities under pressure from the trade war between the world’s two largest economies, the United States and China.
    The United States has already imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods, and China has responded with retaliatory duties on $110 billion worth of U.S. goods.
    Global oil supply is rising with the top three producers, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States, pumping 33 million barrels per day (bpd) in September, Refinitiv data show, an increase of 10 million bpd since the start of the decade.     Inventories are rising and the American Petroleum Institute reported U.S. crude stocks rose 5.7 million barrels last week, above analysts’ forecasts. Official U.S. data on inventories will be published at 10:30 a.m. EDT (1430 GMT).
    Hedge funds are still overwhelmingly long oil and may have to liquidate positions if prices keep falling, accelerating a market sell-off, analysts say.
    “i>Signs of price angst are pervasive and given the herding mentality of market players, the worse may not yet be over,” said Stephen Brennock, analyst at London brokerage PVM Oil.
(Reporting by Christopher Johnson in LONDON, Aaron Sheldrick in TOKYO and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE; Editing by Alexander Smith)

10/31/2018 China to take more steps to support economy: politburo
A cargo boat sails along the Bund on the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China October 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will take more timely steps to support its economy, which faces increasing pressures, the politburo, a top decision-making body of the ruling Communist Party, said on Wednesday in remarks carried by the state news agency Xinhua.
    The government has in recent months unveiled a raft of measures, including cuts in reserve requirements for lenders, tax cuts and more infrastructure spending, in a bid to ward off a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.
    “The downward pressure on the economy has increased. Some enterprises have more operational difficulties, and the long-term accumulated risks are exposed,” Xinhua said, citing a Politburo meeting presided over by President Xi Jinping.
    “We must attach great importance to this, enhance predictability, and take timely measures.”
    The government will stabilize employment, finance, foreign trade and investment, the politburo said, reaffirming a pro-active fiscal policy and prudent monetary policy.
    China will make use of foreign investment, safeguard foreign firms’ interests, it added.
    The government would also resolve difficulties facing small and private firms, and promote the long-term healthy development of capital markets, it said.
    China’s manufacturing sector in October expanded at its weakest pace in more than two years, hurt by slowing domestic and external demand, exacerbated by an intensifying trade dispute with the United States.
    The economy grew by a slower-than-expected 6.5 percent in the third quarter, its weakest since the global financial crisis, and analysts believe business conditions will get worse before they get better.
(Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk, Yawen Chen and Kevin Yao; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

10/31/2018 Iran sanctions seen keeping oil above $75, but 2019 demand outlook darkens by Eileen Soreng
FILE PHOTO: Oil pours out of a spout from Edwin Drake's original 1859 well that launched the modern petroleum industry at the
Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pennsylvania U.S., October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Oil is likely to stay above $75 a barrel, fueled by supply disruptions exacerbated by U.S. sanctions on Iran, but further gains could be limited as economists and analysts see demand growth slowing next year due to trade wars and economic weakness.
    A survey of 46 economists and analysts forecast Brent crude to average $76.88 a barrel in 2019, up from the $73.75 forecast in September.    The price is expected to average $74.48 in 2018, versus the $73.57 average so far this year.
    Analysts who spoke to Reuters said demand is expected to decelerate in 2019, if concern over a widespread economic slowdown proves to be justified.
    Overall, global oil demand is projected to grow by between 1.1 and 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, a range that generally falls short of the 1.4 million bpd forecast for next year by the Paris-based International Energy Agency in October.
    Brent neared $87 a barrel earlier in the year following U.S. efforts to isolate Iran through renewed sanctions, but prices have since edged off those highs and Brent is now around $76.
    Analysts worry that there is a lack of spare capacity to deal with potential outages elsewhere once the sanctions take effect on Nov. 4.
    “On the supply side, concerns (about) falling supplies from a number of OPEC producers – primarily Iran, owing to the renewed U.S. sanctions – and also Venezuela, Angola, Libya and Nigeria, will maintain upward pressure on prices,” said Cailin Birch, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
    The U.S. sanctions against Iran’s crude exports are expected to tighten supply, especially to Asia, which takes most of the country’s shipments.
    Apart from Saudi Arabia and Russia, few producers can fill any gap left by Iran, according to Frank Schallenberger, head of commodity research at LBBW.
    “I expect (Saudi Arabia and Russia) to raise output if necessary – as a shortage on the supply side and an even higher oil price could be a major risk to the global economy in 2019,” Schallenberger added.
DEMAND DECELERATION?
    Despite concerns about supply, analysts said headwinds to global growth could hurt demand in the coming year, particularly as the United States and China engage in a trade war that has imposed billions of dollars in tariffs on each other’s goods.
    On Tuesday, at the Reuters Commodities Summit, Vitol Chief Executive Russell Hardy said the firm had lowered its outlook for oil demand growth to 1.3 million bpd from 1.5 million previously.
    “Potential variables for global oil demand include U.S.-China trade protectionist policies, emerging-market currency woes and the effects of tighter monetary policy,” said Benjamin Lu, a commodities analyst with Phillip Futures.
    The IEA said world oil consumption would top 100 million bpd in the final quarter of this year, putting upward pressure on prices, although emerging-market crises and trade disputes could dent this demand.
    Major producers led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) agreed in June to relax their oil production cuts, but the group said it may need to change course because of rising inventories and economic uncertainties.
    Six of the analysts surveyed expected supply from non-OPEC producers to increase by an average 1.6 million bpd next year, mainly driven by gains in U.S. shale output, which has been constrained by a lack of available transportation capacity.
    “Current pipeline bottlenecks (in the U.S.) prove to be a short-term obstacle … The situation should improve next year thanks to the commissioning of additional pipeline capacities,” said Carsten Fritsch, senior commodity analyst at Commerzbank.
    The price gap between Brent and WTI crude is expected to narrow as a result of new pipeline capacity coming onstream in the U.S. Midwest next year that will release new U.S. supply on to the global market, Fritsch said.
    U.S. crude futures were forecast to average $70.15 a barrel in 2019, compared with the $67.48 consensus last month.
(Reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Amanda Cooper, David Gaffen and Dale Hudson)

10/31/2018 China urges Taiwan to halt contact with U.S. by OAN Newsroom
    China is urging the U.S. and Taiwan to halt communication.    At a press conference in Beijing Wednesday, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office warned the island against “teaming up with foreign forces.”
    This comes in response to a statement from the U.S. claiming the White House will not tolerate any non-peaceful attempts to determine Taiwan’s future.
    China has reportedly suggested using force to bring Taiwan under its control, and has boosted military and diplomatic pressure on the island.
Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, speaks at a news conference in Beijing. (AP/Photo)
    Meanwhile, Beijing is claiming the Taiwan issue threatens China’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
    “We firmly oppose any official and military contact between the United States and Taiwan — our position is consistent and explicit,” stated Chinese spokesman Ma Xiaoguang.    “Here I want to reiterate that by relying on other countries, and colluding external powers to damage the cross-Straits peace and stability, Taiwan authorities will surely take the consequences.”
    The warning is the latest escalation of Beijing’s enforcement under the “One China” policy, which Taiwan is accused of violating.

10/31/2018 Rouhani: Iran does not fear new U.S. sanctions on energy, banking sectors by OAN Newsroom
    Iran said it does not fear the impending U.S. sanctions that are set to go into effect next week.    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made the comments Wednesday.    The leader said it’s possible Iran will face more difficult times ahead, but asserted that the government will use all its power to reduce any problems.
    Rouhani pushed back against the upcoming sanctions, claiming America will reveal itself as guilty of unlawful actions in just a few days.
    “November 4 sees a new injustice from the Americans, but our nation has always stood strong and on November 4 it will stand strong again,” stated the Iranian president.    “The people of Iran should know with certainty that the government has no fear of the new American threats.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during parliament’s open session on confidence vote for
four new ministers, in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Rouhani urged Parliament to approve four new ministers and help his government
resist” and “fight” the U.S. as it reinstates sanctions against the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
    His comments come just one day after the country’s foreign minister said U.S. sanctions will have “severe consequences.”
    Washington reimposed sanctions on Tehran after President Trump pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal earlier this year.    Since then, the Iranian rial hit record lows against the U.S. dollar.
    The U.S. is set to impose more sanctions on Iran, specifically the banking and energy sectors, which will be in effect starting Monday.

10/31/2018 Governor of Okinawa to travel to U.S. to protest military bases on island by OAN Newsroom
    The newly elected governor of Okinawa is expected to travel to the U.S. to protest against the construction of more military bases on the Japanese island.
    During an interview Wednesday, Governor Denny Tamaki said he wants to make a win-win situation for President Trump and Okinawa.
    He announced his plans to visit New York and other cities next month to discuss disputed military bases in Japan.
FILE – This Aug. 2018, file aerial photo shows preliminary construction work off Henoko,
in Nago city, Okinawa prefecture, Japan, where the Japanese government plans to relocate a U.S. air base
from one area of Okinawa’s main island to another. (Koji Harada/Kyodo News via AP, File)
    This comes as about 64-percent of Okinawa’s land is occupied by the U.S. military.
    Tamaki was overwhelmingly elected into office earlier this month after campaigning for the removal of a U.S. Marine airbase on the island.

11/1/2018 Pakistan Islamists protest for second day after Christian acquitted of blasphemy by Syed Raza Hassan
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of religious and political party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) chants slogans with others
after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death
for blasphemy against Islam, during a protest in Karachi, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) – Islamist protesters blocked roads in Pakistan’s major cities for a second day on Thursday, opposing a Supreme Court decision the previous day to acquit a Christian woman on death row for blasphemy allegations, media said.
    Knots of protesters from an ultra-Islamist party blocked roughly 10 key roads in the southern city of Karachi and others in eastern Lahore, Geo TV and other channels said.    Private schools in both cites were shut, as well as in the capital.
    Groups of about 200 protesters from the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party sat under large tents, listening to speeches on two blocked roads in Karachi, a Reuters witness said.
    In one speech, a TLP speaker exhorted supporters to light new fires if the police managed to douse burning tires and other objects they had already set ablaze.
    The demonstrators were protesting against the court’s decision to free Asia Bibi, a mother of four, who had been living on death row since 2010, as the first woman sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s tough blasphemy laws.
    Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    But a three-judge panel set up to hear the appeal, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, ruled the evidence was insufficient.
    The case has divided Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated, and outraged Christians worldwide, with Pope Francis saying he personally prayed for Bibi.
    In a televised national broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan warned the protesters the government would act against any prolonged blockade.
    “We will not allow any damages.    We will not allow traffic to be blocked,” Khan said.    “I appeal to you, do not push the state to the extent that it is forced to take action.”
    Khan’s broadcast followed comments by a senior leader of the Islamist TLP group, calling for Chief Justice Nisar and the other two judges to be killed.
    They all three deserve to be killed,” TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told a protest in Lahore.    “Either their security, their driver, or their cook should kill them.”
    He also called for the ouster of Khan’s new government and urged army officers to rise up against powerful military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa.
    Hafiz Saeed, an influential Islamist whom the U.S. accuses of being the mastermind of attacks in Mumbai in 2008 that killed 166, has called for protests after Friday afternoon prayers.
    Another Islamist group, the Milli Yakjehti Council, is also meeting on Thursday to discuss Bibi’s case and may launch protests.
    The whereabouts of Bibi and her family are unclear, and speculation is growing that she will leave Pakistan with her family, who have been in hiding for much of the past eight years.
(Writnig by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/1/2018 China exports its restrictive internet policies to dozens of countries: report by Paresh Dave
FILE PHOTO: A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen
showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. Picture taken January 2, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo
    SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – China’s restrictive internet policy and digital surveillance has spread worldwide over the last two years, with its government training emerging market countries on process and its companies furnishing the tools, a democracy watchdog group’s annual report says.
    Freedom House, whose main financier is the U.S. government, said in its report on Wednesday that China’s export of “digital authoritarianism” had become a major threat to sustaining democratic governance in some countries.
    Freedom House research director Adrian Shahbaz said that governments had begun justifying increased censorship and diminished digital privacy protections by saying the policies combat the spread of fake news and help catch criminals.
    In effect, countries are using the curbs to violate human rights, he said.
    Freedom House said China has been leading the charge.    It has hosted seminars on cyberspace management since early 2017 with representatives from 36 out of 65 countries tracked by Freedom House, including nations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.    The 65 countries represent 87 percent of the world’s internet users, the group said.
    Discussions with Chinese officials preceded new cybersecurity measures in Vietnam, Uganda and Tanzania over the last year, Freedom House said after reviewing Chinese state media articles and government press releases.
    Meanwhile, Chinese technology companies have provided or are set to provide internet equipment to at least 38 of the tracked countries and artificial intelligence systems for law enforcement in 18 countries, the report said.
    “Beijing has been on a clear charm offensive to woo government officials and media elites,” Shahbaz said.    “Officials in Beijing hope to cultivate allies to follow its lead on global internet policy.”
    Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the accusations made in the report were “unprofessional and irresponsible” and had “no foundation in fact.”    He didn’t elaborate.
    To be sure, declining internet freedom has been a consistent global trend for nearly a decade.    And Chinese foreign investment and influence efforts are not new.
    But Freedom House said the threat to human rights has grown in severity as powerful technology becomes more accessible to governments and their people.
    As fake news on social media has become a deadly problem, governments are using it as an “opening wedge for censorship,” Michael Chertoff, the group’s chairman and a former U.S. secretary for Homeland Security, told reporters by phone.
    Thirteen countries, including Rwanda and Bangladesh, prosecuted people this year for allegedly spreading false information, Freedom House said.
    Chertoff said governments should emphasize digital hygiene education and called on multinational firms to take a stand against governments going too far.
    Freedom House senior officials said they were dismayed that the United States under President Donald Trump had emboldened attacks on democratic media and limited net neutrality, adding to the global trend.
(Reporting by Paresh Dave; Additional reporting by Philip Wen in Beijing; Editing by Neil Fullick)

11/1/2018 Japan’s nuclear industry growing, but slower than government hoped by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori
Hitachi logos are seen on Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power) Oma Nuclear Power Station
under construction in Oma town, Aomori prefecture, Japan December 4, 2015. REUTERS/Kentaro Hamada
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry will miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, a Reuters analysis shows.
    With eight reactors running and one more set to come online in November, nuclear has this year overtaken non-hydro renewables in power output for the first time since the 2011 catastrophe, when all of the country’s nuclear plants were idled.
    Yet operators can expect as few as six units to restart in the next five years, and fewer than 20 by 2030, the analysis shows.    That is far short of the 30 needed to meet the government target reiterated this year.
    Based on the analysis, the world’s third-largest economy may get about 15 percent of its power from nuclear in 2030, compared with a government target of 20-22 percent.
    “It’s impossible to meet the target, that’s pretty much confirmed,” said Takeo Kikkawa, an energy studies professor at Tokyo University of Science, who sat on an official panel that reviewed Japan’s energy policy this year.
    He said he did not expect another round of restarts before 2020.
    One major trading house predicts nuclear will account for 14 percent of power production in 2030, according to a presentation given at a private seminar this year and shown to Reuters.
    Nuclear remains an unpopular energy option in Japan and the country will reboot only a fraction of the 54 reactors it had before the disaster.
    Six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are being dismantled in a decades-long exercise that is fraught with technological challenges and radioactive waste.    Operators have decided to decommission another 10 units across the country since Fukushima.
    The Nuclear Regulation Authority created new safety standards from scratch after the disaster highlighted failings in the industry and its overseers.    All reactors must be relicensed before restarting.
    Yet Japan’s nuclear industry, which before Fukushima operated the world’s third-largest number of reactors and provided about 30 percent of the country’s electricity, has staged a significant recovery.
    The turnaround has exceeded expectations of analysts and the utilities themselves.    Kansai Electric Power and Kyushu Electric Power, for instance, have won approval to restart or are on course to win approval for all the reactors they applied to relicense.
    Those units are far from Tokyo and pressurised water reactors (PWR), unlike the boiling water reactor (BWR) designs favoured in eastern Japan, including those that melted down at Fukushima.
    Many court cases are pending for reactors in the east of the country.    Local political support varies, and the regulator is locked in disputes with operators over earthquake risk assessment.
    The older BWR technology used in many of the reactors under review is also an issue because the stigma of Fukushima hangs over them.
    “When you come to the BWRs, the issue becomes very politicized,” said Nobuo Tanaka, the chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation who was the head of the International Energy Agency between 2007 and 2011 after a stint in Japan’s industry ministry.
    The reputation of Tepco, which operates two nuclear plants that have been damaged in natural disasters, also looms large, Tanaka said.
    “Tepco does not have any support as a nuclear operator,” he said.    The utility has to be removed from the equation before progress on BWR reactors can be made, he said.
    Tepco has reached the first stage of approval, but faces strong opposition from local residents.    But Japan’s utility lobby group said progress was being made.
    “The safety reviews of PWR plants took time but they have been progressing steadily and there have been some developments in the BWR category as well,” Satoru Katsuno, the chairman of Japan’s federation of electric utilities and president of Chubu Electric, said of the outlook for restart approvals.
    Chubu Electric has been locked in a dispute for years with the regulator over disaster resilience measures at its Hamaoka plant, which uses BWR reactors.    (For graphic on Status of Japan’s reactor fleet, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2OTpNfA)
    The analysis suggests that Japan will rely on fossil fuels, particularly liquefied natural gas and coal, as the pace of renewables expansion slows.    That will make it harder to meet its emissions targets under international agreement.
    The government estimates costs for replacement fuel – mostly liquefied natural gas – to compensate for idled reactors totalled 14.6 trillion yen ($130 billion) across the industry in the six years through March.
    The lack of realistic energy targets makes it harder for the industry to plan for investment, utility officials say.
    And the issue of disaster resilience is not going away: a big earthquake struck the northern island of Hokkaido in September and left a nuclear plant reliant on backup generators.
(For graphic on Japan electrcity output by source, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2OYYa51)
(For graphic on status of Japan’s reactor fleet, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2OTpNfA)
(For graphic on the global nuclear industry, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2n69ZIr)
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/1/2018 Sri Lanka’s ‘lord of the rings’ back in power, pro-China strongman wiped out Tamil rebels by Shihar Aneez and Sanjeev Miglani
Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa waves at the staff after participating in the ceremony to assume
his duties as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs at the Finance Ministry in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Just three years after being voted out in a presidential election in Sri Lanka, strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa is back at the center of power, appointed prime minister by the man who defeated him.
President Maithripala Sirisena named the pro-China 72-year-old as his number two on Friday after abruptly dismissing the government of incumbent Ranil Wickremesinghe.    Wickremesinghe has said his removal is unconstitutional and has demanded he be allowed to prove his parliamentary majority.
    A mustachioed man usually dressed in a spotless white shirt, sarong and trademark maroon sash, Rajapaksa is seen as a hero by many in Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority.    He wears rings as lucky charms, sometimes as many as eight, and he has been called the “lord of the rings.”
    Rajapaksa has been accused by diplomats of serious human rights abuses in the war against rebels from the Tamil minority, one of Asia’s longest-running conflicts that ended during his tenure as president, in 2009.    More than 100,000 people were killed in the 26-year war.
    Rajapaksa said in a statement after he was sworn in he wanted to end religious and ethnic divisions in the country of 21 million people.
    “We will eschew the politics of hate and set up an interim government that will protect the human rights of all citizens, that will protect the independence of the judiciary and establish law and order in the country,” he said.
    Almost immediately after he was sworn in, supporters of Rajapaksa invaded state media outlets in Colombo to take control of them, journalists there told Reuters.
    Reporters Without Borders has called Rajapaksa “one of the world’s biggest press freedom predators” during his two terms as president from 2005 to 2015.
    Mavai Senathirajah, a legislator from the main Tamil political party, said it was a shock to the community that makes up 13 percent of the population that Rajapaksa was back in power in three years.
    “There are a number of accusations against him including war crimes.    The president who accused Rajapaksa of corruption and rights abuses during the last election now has appointed him as his prime minister.”
FAMILY AFFAIR
    Born into a family of nine siblings in the southern village of Weeraketiya, Rajapaksa has spent four decades in politics, along with many of his relatives.
    A lawyer by training, he followed his father into parliament in 1970, then the youngest-ever legislator, while several of his brothers and sons have held key roles in domestic and international politics.
    His son Namal, a London-educated lawyer, took his record as the youngest MP in 2010.
    Earlier in his career, Rajapaksa was known as a strong defender of human rights and participated in many left-wing and radical protests.
    Before becoming president in 2005, he held a number of ministerial portfolios, and served as leader of the opposition from March 2002 until he was appointed prime minister in 2004.
    He soon turned his attention to the civil war, boosting troop numbers and pushing into territory held by the Tamil Tiger rebels, leading to their surrender in 2009 and a landslide election win for Rajapaksa the year after.
    The United Nations has said that thousands of civilians were killed in the last year of the war after heavy shelling by government forces.    It has long sought a judicial investigation involving foreign judges and prosecutors to probe the alleged war crimes.
    In a leaked diplomatic cable written in 2010, the United States’ ambassador to Sri Lanka Patricia Butenis said that responsibility for alleged crimes against civilians during the war “rests with the country’s senior civilian and military leadership, including President Rajapaksa and his brothers.”
    Rajapaksa’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was Defence Secretary during the final stages of the war, has faced allegations he maintained death squads.
    The brothers rejected the allegations and said the military only targeted the Tamil Tigers, one of the most violent insurgent groups in the world at the time.
SECOND TERM
    After winning a two-thirds majority in his second term in 2010, Rajapaksa amended the constitution to remove checks on the presidency, including the presidential two-term limit.
    Rajapaksa is also known for drawing the country closer to China, borrowing billions of dollars from Beijing to the alarm of Sri Lanka’s traditional ally India.
    He opened up the country’s main port to Chinese submarines when he was president, which stoked anger in India, while a huge new port funded by Chinese investment led to concerns Beijing’s investment program was a debt trap.
    Rajapaksa blamed the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing for rallying his opponents against him, leading to his loss in the 2015 election.
    His return to power has drawn concern in New Delhi that China would tighten its grip on Sri Lanka, which is strategically placed at the head of the Indian Ocean.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/1/2018 China’s Xi hopes to see U.S. and North Korea advance denuclearization: state media
Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony of the
Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge in Zhuhai, China, October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes the United States and North Korea will further promote the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and push for peace, Chinese state media reported on Thursday.
    In a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump, Xi also said China would continue to play a constructive role in the process.
    China and the United States are locked in an increasingly bitter trade war, and both countries have already placed tariffs on some of each other’s imports.    Xi also said in the phone call that he hoped the two world’s largest economies will be able to promote a steady and healthy relationship.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh, Yawen Chen and Michael Martina; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

11/1/2018 China Premier Li Keqiang is optimistic on U.S.-China relations by OAN Newsroom
    Officials are working to resolve differences ahead of upcoming talks between President Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
    On Thursday, a delegation of Republican senators discussed bilateral relations with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.
    Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander told the official the U.S. and China are competitors not adversaries and suggested they can prosper together.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang, right, speaks next to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander during a meeting with a group
of U.S. Republican senators and Congress members at Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018. (Jason Lee/Pool Photo via AP)
    Although U.S.-China relations have been rocky, Keqiang said he is optimistic both nations can work together in the spirit of mutual respect.
    “I hope that China and the U.S. will meet each other halfway and will appropriately handle their differences with mutual respect and equal cooperation,” stated the Chinese premier.    “We have the capability and the wisdom to overcome barriers and push China-U.S. relations back to a normal track — this isn’t just beneficial for both countries, but also the world.”
    President Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods so far this year.

11/2/2018 Killings in India’s northeast raise tension over citizenship survey by Krishna N. Das
Activists of Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) shout slogans during a protest
against the killings of five Bengali-speaking Hindu men by suspected Indian militants
in Assam's Tinsukia district, in Guwahati, India November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Suspected Indian militants shot dead five Bengali-speaking Hindu men in a sensitive border state late on Thursday, police said, as tension grows over a controversial citizenship test to identify illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
    India’s northeastern state of Assam, home to 33 million people, has suffered years of violence as residents, including tribal groups, have clashed with suspected Hindu and Muslim settlers they accuse of plundering resources and grabbing jobs.
    The state’s draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) released in July excluded 4 million mostly Bengali-speaking Muslims and Hindus.
    On Friday, police said the five men killed were Indian citizens who had been shot one by one after being taken to a low-lying area by a road in Assam’s district of Tinsukia.
    One young man, picked up by a group of men in army fatigues but presumably left for dead when he passed out at the start of the shooting, said he was lucky to be alive.
    “I woke up minutes later and saw the five bodies lying in ditches,” Sahadeb Namashudra, also a Bengali Hindu, told reporters at the incident site.    “They were in army fatigues and carrying long guns.”
    Police have not yet made any arrests in the investigation, said a spokesman, Deepak Deka.    The situation was tense in Tinsukia because of a 12-hour shutdown called by Bengali associations there, he added.
    The government has promised strong action against the perpetrators.
    The United Liberation Front of Asom (Independent), which has in the past championed the separation of tea and oil-rich Assam from India and is now trying to make a comeback there, denied responsibility for the killings in a statement.    No other group has claimed responsibility.
    Work on the NRC accelerated under the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which wants to give all Hindus citizenship, infuriating many Assamese, who want all illegal immigrants expelled.
    India, which does not have a deportation pact with Bangladesh, has said it will decide on the fate of those eventually deemed foreigners in consultation with the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the registration process.
    Mamata Banerjee, a staunch Modi critic whose party rules India’s eastern state of West Bengal, said it would hold rallies all over the Bengali-majority state to protest against the killings in neighboring Assam.
    The state will shelter Assam’s Bengali-speaking people if the NRC process deems them stateless, she added.
    “Terrible news coming out of Assam,” Banerjee, the state’s chief minister, told reporters.    “We strongly condemn the brutal attack in Tinsukia and the killings.    Is this the outcome of NRC development?
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Subrata Nag Choudhury in Kolkata; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

11/2/2018 Pakistan’s Khan tells China’s Xi of ‘very difficult’ economy by Ben Blanchard
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – New Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday of his country’s “very difficult” economic situation, on a trip seen as vital to Islamabad’s efforts to obtain fresh loans.
    Pakistan’s foreign reserves have plunged 42 percent since the start of the year and now stand at about $8 billion, or less than two months of import cover.
    Last month, Pakistan received a $6 billion rescue package from Saudi Arabia, but officials say it is not enough and the country still plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avert a balance of payments crisis.
    It would be Pakistan’s 13th rescue package from the multilateral lender since the late 1980s.
    Meeting Xi in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Khan said he’d come to China to learn.
    “My party has only been in power for two months.    Unfortunately we have inherited a very difficult economic situation,” Khan said.
    “Countries go in cycles.    They have their high points, they have their low points.    Unfortunately, our country is going through a low point at the moment with two very big deficits, a fiscal deficit and a current account deficit.    And so we, as I’ve said, have come to learn.”
    Xi told Khan that he highly valued the two country’s relations, reaffirming they were “all-weather” friends.
    “I attach great importance to China-Pakistan relations and am willing to work together with the prime minister to strengthen the China-Pakistan all-weather strategic partnership and build a new era of China-Pakistan destiny,” Xi said.
    Neither man mentioned any economic aid in comments made in front of reporters.
    Khan, accompanied by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday, when the two countries are expected to sign a series of agreements.
    Though China is Pakistan’s closest ally, Khan’s newly elected government has sought to re-think the two countries’ signature project, the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Beijing touts as the flagship infrastructure program in its vast Belt and Road Initiative.
    Pakistan has sought to amend CPEC to put greater emphasis on projects that focus on social development, rather than purely on infrastructure.
    After visiting Beijing, Khan is set to be a key note speaker at a major import fair in Shanghai, an event being touted by China as an opportunity to show the world the country welcomes foreign companies and their products.
    Khan is in China amid unrest at home over the acquittal of a Pakistani Christian woman on death row for blasphemy, which has prompted an ultra-Islamist party to block roads in protest.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/2/2018 Myanmar by-elections a test for leader buffeted by crises by Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends joint press
remarks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not in picture) after their bilateral meeting at the
Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool via Reuters
    MYITKYINA, Myanmar (Reuters) – Asked what Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has changed since becoming Myanmar’s leader two years ago, most residents of Kachin state in the far north say the roads: new tarmac smoothes the path for cars, motorbikes and campaign trucks ahead of a by-election set for Saturday.
    But beyond the city limits, near-perpetual civil war rumbles on.    Many here say the administration’s inability to tackle the country’s toughest problems, including continued ethnic fighting, has soured the mood among voters ahead of polls this weekend being closely watched as a barometer on Suu Kyi’s government and the future of Myanmar’s democratic transition.
    Suu Kyi swept to power pledging that a peace process to end Myanmar’s myriad ethnic conflicts was her top priority.    But since then Kachin has seen some of the most intense fighting between the military and ethnic rebels since a ceasefire broke down seven years ago, with thousands of people displaced.
    “We voted for her and she won and came into power,” said 40-year-old Htu Lun, who was driven from her home in 2011 and has since lived in one of dozens of displacement camps in Myitkyina, the state capital.
    “But in reality, nothing has changed.    Now the election time has come again, we will choose the party that serves our interest.”
    Thirteen seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament and regional assemblies across Myanmar are being contested in Saturday’s by-elections.    Eleven fell vacant when legislators died in office, a reflection of Myanmar’s aging political leadership, while one MP, Win Myint, became president.
    The election of the NLD in late 2015 brought an end to half-a-century of junta rule but the new government, which must still share power with the military, is now facing multiple crises.
    The army has been accused by U.N. rights investigators of acting with “genocidal intent” against Rohingya Muslims in a crackdown in western Rakhine state last year.    Meanwhile, the economy has slowed and peace talks with rebels from Kachin and other ethnic minority areas have faltered.
    Suu Kyi’s administration has no control over the army, but has denied almost all the allegations against troops in Rakhine.    NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters economic progress has stalled but not reversed, and the expectations of the people were too high.    Making peace is the government’s top priority, he said, but all parties, including ethnic leaders and the military, have to co-operate.
    While several of the seats up for grabs on Saturday lie in the country’s Buddhist heartland and are likely to remain under NLD control, representatives of the ruling party have voiced jitters about areas where they face stiff competition from ascendant ethnic parties.
    Low turnout in some places could skew the result against the NLD, analysts said.    Though Myitkyina is one of the most hotly contested seats, several people there whom Reuters spoke to were not aware a by-election was taking place, while others said they did not plan to vote.
    “This time we have to struggle for victory – it will not be easy,” said Aung Shin, a spokesman for the NLD.
    Late last month, Suu Kyi flew to Myitkyina, visiting displacement camps and a drug rehabilitation center funded by her charity.
    Yan Hkawn, the party’s candidate in the city, said the vote would likely be split.
    Suu Kyi is trying to solve all the country’s problems, she said.    “It’s not easy to achieve that by walking alone, by herself,” she said.
ETHNIC ALLIANCE
    While supporters say the government needs more time to effect change, disillusionment runs high in ethnic areas, where residents harbor longstanding distrust of the Bamar Buddhist majority.
    “Daw Suu Kyi promised us, ‘We will change everything, everyone will get equal rights’,” said Win Aung, an 80-year-old Muslim leader, sitting by the side of the road after watching campaign trucks bearing her face pass by.
    But religious discrimination against Christians – the majority in Kachin state – and Muslims has continued, he said.
    “We need permission when we are planning a religious ceremony,” he said.    “Still now, we never get permission.”
    NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said the government was working to bridge religious and racial divides.
    “The person who understands Myanmar politics will know that a huge number of religious fanatics exist,” he told Reuters.    “We can’t change that in a short time.”
    As well as more than 700,000 Rohingya forced to flee Rakhine for Bangladesh after the military crackdown in 2017, more than 68,000 people have been internally displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan state since January 2017, according to the U.N. Organisation for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
    In an October report published by the independent election monitoring group PACE, a quarter of respondents said ethnic conflict had worsened since the NLD took power.
    Six of the seats being contested on Saturday are in ethnic areas, and analysts are watching the result for signs of what might happen when the country goes to the polls in the next general election in 2020.
    In recent months, minority parties that previously competed against one another have merged to run under one banner, forming alliances that could pose a strong challenge to the NLD, which currently holds a comfortable majority in parliament despite the constitution reserving 25 percent of seats for the military.
    “We can see that the ethnic movement in the election is quite powerful,” said Yangon-based analyst Maung Maung Soe.    “If there is no landslide win like in 2015, it will be difficult for the NLD to form a government by itself.    We have to prepare for an alliance or to combine with the ethnic parties.”
    In Kachin, four ethnic parties are competing under the banner of the Kachin Democratic Party, after a recent merger that resulted from five years of negotiation, according to its leader, Gumgrawng Awng Hkam.
    The former activist, who spent years in exile under the junta, was once a strident supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi.    He said her government had failed to be transparent in its response to allegations of human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine or express sympathy for the suffering of ethnic Kachin.
    “She dropped the hand of ethnic and democratic allies and took the hand of the military,” he said, sitting in the party headquarters in Myitkyina.
    His vision is for a grand alliance of ethnic parties that could mount a strong challenge to the NLD in 2020.
    “We cannot form a government by ethnic forces by ourselves,” he said.    “We will make an alliance with the party which is harmonious for us … There are no constant enemies, no constant friends in politics.”
(Reporting by Thu Thu Aung and Poppy McPherson; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/2/2018 Pakistani Islamists to call off protests over Christian woman by Mubasher Bukhari and Saad Sayeed
Supporters of the Tehrik-e-Labaik Pakistan Islamist political party block the Faizabad junction
to protest after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman sentenced
to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan, November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
    LAHORE/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – A Pakistani Islamist party said on Friday it will call off protests over the acquittal of a Christian woman who faced hanging on blasphemy charges, striking a deal with the government to end three days of protests in major cities.
    Under the deal, the government agreed to seek to bar Asia Bibi, a mother of five who has been on death row since 2010, from leaving the country, according to a document of the agreement shared by the ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group.
    “We have reached on an agreement with the government,” Ejaz Ashrafi, spokesman for TLP, told Reuters.    “An announcement will be made shortly by our leadership.”
    The government confirmed the agreement, with religious affairs minister Noor-ul-Qadri telling Geo TV that “the protest will end tonight.”
    Bibi’s case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where two politicians who sought to help Bibi were assassinated.
    Islamist parties such as TLP, whose rallying cry is for blasphemers to be killed, have framed Bibi’s release as Pakistan’s government caving into Western demands.
    Bibi was accused of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.    But a three-judge panel set up to hear the appeal, headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, ruled the evidence was insufficient.
    The top court’s decision had enraged TLP, whose leaders have taken to the streets to call for the death of the judges who made the decision and the ouster of the government.
    Bibi’s whereabouts were not known on Friday. Her family has been in hiding this week, with speculation rife that she would be secretly sent out of the country by the authorities.
    The prospect of Bibi being allowed to leave Pakistan was unacceptable to the TLP’s political chief, Khadim Hussain Rizvi.    “There will be a war if they send Asia out of the country,” Rizvi said.
    As part of the agreement, anyone arrested during the protests would also be released and legal steps would work to place Bibi on Pakistan’s “exit control list,” which means she would be barred from leaving the country.
    “TLP apologies if anyone is hurt without any reason during this incident,” the agreement adds.
    During the three days of protests, TLP blockaded major roads across the coastal metropolis of Karachi, eastern city of Lahore, and capital Islamabad. Other cities were also affected.
    On Friday, Pakistan suspended mobile phone networks in major cities and many schools were closed.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel, Peter Graff and David Stamp)
[SO AS YOU CAN SEE THE GOVERNMENT CAVED IN TO THE ISLAMIC SHARIA LAW AND THE WOMAN IS NOW IN SIGHT FOR ASSASSINATION BY THAT SAME SO-CALLED RELIGION.]

11/2/2018 Struggling to cope, Iranians fear more misery from U.S. sanctions by Parisa Hafezi and Tuqa Khalid
FILE PHOTO: Iranians shout slogans during a protest against President Donald Trump's decision
to walk out of a 2015 nuclear deal, in Tehran, Iran, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Tasnim News Agency
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians fear an even more painful squeeze on living costs after additional U.S. sanctions take effect on Monday, from businesses struggling to buy raw materials to the sick and elderly unable to afford life-saving medicines.
    The United States will reapply curbs to the country’s vital petroleum and banking sectors on Monday in an effort to rein in its arch foe’s nuclear, missile and regional activities.
    Iran’s clerical rulers have played down the U.S. move, but many ordinary Iranians appear apprehensive.
    “All the prices are going higher every day … I cannot imagine what will happen after 13 Aban (Nov. 4).    I am scared.    I am worried.    I am desperate,” said elementary school teacher Pejman Sarafnejad, 43, a father of three in Tehran.
    “I cannot even buy rice to feed my children or pay my rent.”
    The daily struggle to make ends meet has been getting harder for months: The economy was battered by the reimposition of a first raft of U.S. curbs in August after Washington’s pullout from a nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers in May.
    Foreign businesses of all types, ranging from oil companies, trading houses to shipping, have stopped doing business with Iran for fear of incurring U.S. penalties.
    A Tehran Grand bazaar grocery shop owner said: “I am very nervous because already there is shortage of some goods in the market and the rial has lost so much value."
    “What will happen after the reimposition of new sanctions?
    Iran’s leadership says Tehran will not succumb to pressure to halt its missile programs or to change its regional policy.
POLITICAL SLOGANS
    Yet while some Iranians back their leaders’ defiance, others are fearful that the economy, weakened by years of sanctions, mismanagement and corruption, may collapse when the U.S. puts more pressure on the world’s Number 3 crude exporter.
    “Statements by government officials that … the sanctions (will) have no impact are political slogans,” said Washington-based lawyer Farhad Alavi, who focuses on U.S. trade regulation and sanctions.
    “The fact is that these restrictions significantly increase transaction costs for Iranians.”
    Since the reimposition of the first round of curbs in August, prices of bread, cooking oil and other staples have soared and the rial national currency has fallen sharply.
    Rice, one of the staples of Iran’s diet, has more than tripled in price since last year because of the rial’s fall.
    Ordinary Iranians fear cuts in Iran’s oil sales could be the ultimate hammer blow to the economy, since energy exports are still the country’s main source of earnings.
    Iranian leaders hope sanctions waivers granted to eight buyers of Iranian crude, combined with rising oil prices, will compensate for a reduction oil export volumes.
    But even without the new measures due on Monday, Iranian businessmen have been finding it harder to cope.
    Some 70 percent of small factories, businesses and workshops have already started to shut down in the past months due to lack of raw materials and hard currency, according to Iranian media.
LIFE GROWS HARDER
    “I had to close my business.    Those European companies that were racing to ink a deal with me last year, now refuse to return my calls,” said a businessman in Tehran, who declined to be named.
    Mohammad Reza Sadoughi says ordinary people will bear the brunt of the sanctions, in terms of medicines for the sick such as cancer patients and food shortages and currency problems.
    “My father has cancer, and with sanctions, the cancer-treatment medicine that his life depends on will only be available in the black market for a higher price,” said the 38-year-old government employee in the northern city of Sari.
    The U.S. sanctions permits trade in humanitarian goods such as food and pharmaceuticals.    Yet measures imposed on banks and trade restrictions will make life hard for Iranian patients.
    “At the end of the day, it’s the Iranian people with their aspiration to lead a good life who are suffering due to lack of good sense from their own regime who are not ready to compromise with the world power (U.S.),” said Dubai-based businessman Aftab Hasan, a member of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai.
    However analysts say that economic grievances are unlikely to revive anti-government unrest such as the demonstrations in December that turned into anti-government rallies.
    “I don’t care about politics.    I don’t care who is responsible for our problems.    I don’t want a regime change.    I just want to live peacefully with my family in my country,” said housewife Fariba Shakouri, 51, in the central city of Yazd.
(This story corrects to change the title of Aftab Hassan in paragraph 24.)
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/3/2018 U.S. carrier leads warships in biggest ever Japan defense war game by Tim Kelly
U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan conducts military drills during Keen Sword,
a joint field-training exercise involving U.S. military, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
personnel and Royal Canadian Navy, at sea November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Tim Kelly
    ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN (Reuters) – U.S. fighter jets darted over the Western Pacific on Saturday as the nuclear powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier joined Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship for the biggest combat readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan.
    Japan and the United States have mobilized 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen for the biennial Keen Sword exercise, 11,000 more than in 2016, with simulated air combat, amphibious landings and ballistic missile defense drills.
    Japan’s contingent of 47,000 personnel represents a fifth of the nation’s armed forces.
    “We are here to stabilize, and preserve our capability should it be needed.    Exercises like Keen Sword are exactly the kind of thing we need to do,” Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, the commander of the carrier strike group, said during a press briefing in the Reagan’s focsle as F-18 fighter jets catapulted off the flight deck above him.
    Eight other ships joined the carrier for anti-submarine warfare drills in a show of force in waters that Washington and Tokyo fear will increasingly come under Beijing’s influence.
    “The U.S.-Japan alliance is essential for stability in this region and the wider Indo Pacific,” Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, the commander of the Japanese ships said aboard the Reagan Based in Yokosuka near Tokyo, it is the biggest U.S. warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors and around 90 F-18 Super Hornets fighters.
CANADA JOINS
    A Canadian naval supply ship is also taking part in Keen Sword along with the frigate that sailed with the Reagan on Saturday.
    Canadian participation is taking a bilateral drill which began in 1986 “into the realm of multilateral exercises,” Canada’s defense attache in Japan, Captain Hugues Canuel said in Tokyo.    Participation in Keen Sword, he added, reflects Canada’s desire to have a military presence in Asia.
    Canada isn’t the only western nation looking to take a bigger security role in the region.    Britain and France are also sending more ships as China’s military presence in the South China Sea grows and its influence over the Indo Pacific and its key trade routes expands.
    British, French, Australian and South Korean observers will also monitor Keen Sword, which began Monday and ends on Thursday.
BOLDER JAPAN
    Growing foreign interest in Asian security, including North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, coincides with greater Japanese willingness to back up its regional diplomacy with a show of military muscle.
    Tokyo this year sent its biggest warship, the Kaga helicopter carrier, on a two-month tour of the Indo Pacific, including flag-waving stops in the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and Singapore.
    The 248 meter (813.65 ft) long Maritime Self Defence Force ship and its two destroyer escorts also conducted drills with a Japanese submarine in the contested South China Sea.
    At the same time, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has engaged China in dialogue to reduce tension between their militaries in the East China Sea and to increase economic cooperation between Asia’s two leading economies.
    Amid a background of trade friction with Washington, Abe last month traveled to Beijing, the first such trip by a Japanese leader in seven years, for talks with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.    Abe told them that China and Japan shared responsibility for regional security, including tackling North Korean.
    Japan, however, still views China as a potentially much larger and more challenging foe than Pyongyang as its expanding navy consolidates control of the South China Sea and ventures deeper into the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.
    Beijing this year plans to spend 1.11 trillion yuan ($160 billion) on its armed forces, more than three times as much as Japan and about a third of what the U.S. pays for a military that helps defend the Japanese islands.
    Keen Sword “remains an expression of the commitment of like minded allies and partners.    To really see what we can do in terms of demonstrating advanced capabilities together to ensure peace and stability in the Indo Pacific,” Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson said on Thursday in Australia during a telephone press briefing.
($1 = 6.9523 Chinese yuan)
(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/3/2018 Iran’s Khamenei says the world opposes Trump’s decisions: TV by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the death anniversary
of the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Tehran, Iran, June 4, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s top leader said on Saturday U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies face opposition across the world as Washington prepared to reimpose sanctions on Iran’s vital oil-exporting and financial sectors, state television reported.
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said Iran’s arch-adversary the United States had failed to reassert its domination over Iran since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.
    “The world opposes every decision made by Trump,” Iranian state television quoted Khamenei as saying during a meeting with thousands of students.
    “America’s goal has been to re-establish the domination it had (before 1979) but it has failed.    America has been defeated by the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years.”
    Washington will on Monday reintroduce far-reaching sanctions on Iran’s vital oil sales and banking sectors to try to force the Islamic Republic into negotiations to scrap its nuclear energy and ballistic missile programs and end its support for proxies in conflicts across the Middle East.
    However, the Trump administration said on Friday that eight importing countries would temporarily be allowed to keep buying Iranian oil when sanctions come back into effect. Iran is the world’s No. 3 oil exporter.     Turkey said on Saturday that Ankara had received initial indications from Washington that it would be granted a waiver, but is awaiting clarification on Monday.
    Most international sanctions on Iran were lifted in early 2016 under a deal Iran signed with world powers the year before under which it curbed its uranium enrichment program, widely seen abroad as a disguised effort to develop an atomic bomb.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif spoke by telephone with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and his counterparts from Germany, Sweden and Denmark about European measures to counter the U.S. sanctions, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
    “Mogherini and the European ministers … highlighted the importance of the finance ministers’ commitment to Europe’s financial mechanism to save the Iran nuclear deal and said the mechanism will be operational in the coming days,” IRNA said.
    Diplomats told Reuters last week that the new EU mechanism to facilitate payments for Iranian exports should be legally in place by Nov. 4, when the next phase of U.S. sanctions hit, but will not be operational until early next year.
    The EU, France, Germany and Britain – all co-signatories, along with Russia and China, to the nuclear deal with Iran – said in a joint statement on Friday they regretted Trump’s decision to restore sanctions on Iran.
    With the sanctions clampdown, Trump is seeking to push Iran to end uranium enrichment outright, and halt its ballistic missile development and support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
    “Iran … will not permit the Trump regime, which has made American foreign policy devoid of any principles, to reach its illegitimate goals,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by IRNA.
    Trump denounced the nuclear deal, approved by his predecessor Barack Obama, as flawed in Iran’s favor and withdrew Washington from the pact in May.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/3/2018 Iran seeks European assurances as U.S. oil sanctions loom
FILE PHOTO: Gas flares from an oil production platform at the Soroush oil fields
in the Persian Gulf, south of the capital Tehran, July 25, 2005. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran called on Saturday for European assurances of support in the face of Washington’s intent to reimpose sanctions on vital Iranian oil sales to force Tehran to curb its nuclear, missile and regional activities.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke by telephone with the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and his counterparts from Germany, Sweden and Denmark about European measures to counter the U.S. sanctions, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
    “Mogherini and the European ministers … highlighted the importance of the finance ministers’ commitment to Europe’s financial mechanism to save the Iran nuclear deal and said the mechanism will be operational in the coming days,” IRNA said.
    Washington will reapply far-reaching sanctions on Iran’s petroleum and banking sectors starting on Monday.
    Diplomats told Reuters last week that the new EU mechanism to facilitate payments for Iranian exports should be legally in place by Nov. 4, when the next phase of U.S. sanctions hit, but will not be operational until early next year.
    The EU, France, Germany and Britain, said in a joint statement on Friday they regretted U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to restore sanctions on Iran, the world’s No. 3 oil exporter.
    “Our aim is to protect European economic actors who have legitimate commercial exchanges with Iran, in line with European legislation and the United Nations’ Security Council resolution 2231,” Mogherini and the foreign ministers and finance ministers of the three countries said in their statement.
    The three biggest European powers are co-signatories, along with Russia and China, to an international 2015 deal with Iran that reined in its nuclear work in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions on Tehran.
    With the sanctions clampdown, Trump is seeking to push Iran into stricter curbs on its nuclear program and a halt to its missile development activity and support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East.
    Trump denounced the nuclear deal, signed before he took office, as flawed in Iran’s favor and withdrew Washington from the pact in May.
    Meanwhile, Iranian state television reported that the Islamic Republic had started production of the locally-designed Kowsar fighter plane for use in its air force.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/3/2018 China says more talks needed on economic aid for Pakistan
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (centre L) and China's Premier Li Keqiang attend
a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will provide Pakistan with economic aid but more talks will take place to fix the details, a senior Chinese diplomat said, after new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday.
    Pakistan’s foreign reserves have plunged 42 percent since the start of the year and now stand at about $8 billion, or less than two months of import cover.
    Last month, Pakistan received a $6 billion rescue package from Saudi Arabia, but officials say it is not enough and the country still plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to avert a balance of payments crisis.
    It would be Pakistan’s 13th rescue package from the multilateral lender since the late 1980s.
    Speaking to reporters in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People following Khan’s talks with Li, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou said his country would help.
    “During the visit the two sides have made it clear in principle that the Chinese government will provide necessary support and assistance to Pakistan in tiding over the current economic difficulties,” Kong said.
    “As for specific measures to be taken, the relevant authorities of the two sides will have detailed discussions,” he added, without giving details.
    Khan told Chinese President Xi Jinping the previous day that he had inherited “a very difficult economic situation” at home.
    Though b>China is Pakistan’s closest ally, Khan’s newly elected government has sought to re-think the two countries’ signature project, the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which Beijing touts as the flagship infrastructure program in its vast Belt and Road Initiative.
    Pakistan has looked to amend CPEC to put greater emphasis on projects that focus on social development, rather than purely on infrastructure.
    Kong said there would be no change in the number of projects under CPEC.
    “There is no change at all.    If there were, it would only be to increase, not decrease” the number of projects, he added.
    However the scope of the project would increase and will tilt in favor of people’s livelihoods, Kong said, also without elaborating.
    After visiting Beijing, Khan is set to be a key note speaker at a major import fair in Shanghai, an event that China hopes will show the world the country welcomes foreign companies and their products.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

    The Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the One Belt One Road or the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, is a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in countries in Europe, Asia and Africa as seen below.
    The above project reminds me that 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.
[DOES ANY OF THE ABOVE IGNITE YOUR MIND THAT THE PLANS OF A COMMUNIST NATION AND SEVERAL ISLAMIST NATIONS MAY BE PLANNING FOR FUTURE MIDDLE EAST INVOLVEMENT]

11/3/2018 Fearing ‘angry mob’, lawyer of freed Christian woman leaves Pakistan by Saad Sayeed and Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: Saiful Mulook (L) the lawyer of Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy
against Islam, leaves after the Court overturned the conviction, in Islamabad, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped a Christian woman overturn her death sentence for blasphemy said on Saturday he had left the country in fear of his life after her acquittal earlier this week sparked street protests by Islamists.
    Leaders of the ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group blocked main roads in Pakistan’s biggest cites for three days, calling for the murder of the Supreme Court judges who acquitted Asia Bibi on Wednesday — urging their cooks and servants to kill them.
    Saiful Mulook had kept a low profile during the years he represented Bibi, a mother-of-five who has been on death row since 2010, due to the highly sensitive nature of the case.    Two politicians who had tried to help her have been assassinated.
    Mulook told Reuters in a WhatsApp message he had gone abroad “just to save (my) life from angry mob” and because of fears for the safety of his family.
    “I consulted and everybody is of this opinion (that I should leave),” he said, adding that he would return to the country to continue his work on the case if he was given protection by security forces.
    The TLP called off the protests late on Friday after striking a deal with the government that would see authorities seek to put Bibi on an ‘exit control list’ barring her from leaving the country.
    Bibi’s whereabouts are unknown, but Islamists have warned the authorities against taking her out of the country.
    “There will be a war if they send Asia out of country,” TLP leader Khadim Hussain Rizvi said after the deal was reached.
    Earlier in the week one of Rizvi’s deputies called for Pakistan’s Chief Justice Saqib Nisar and two other judges who ruled in the case to be murdered.
    “Whoever, who has got any access to them, kill them before the evening,” TLP co-founder Muhammad Afzal Qadri told supporters.
    The TLP was founded out of a movement supporting a bodyguard who assassinated Punjab provincial governor Salman Taseer after he spoke in Bibi’s defence in 2011.    Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was also killed after calling for her release.
    Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbours objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.    She always denied having committed blasphemy.
    The case has outraged Christians worldwide and been a source of division within Pakistan, where Islamist parties such as the TLP have framed Bibi’s release as Pakistan’s government caving into Western demands.
    Bibi’s acquittal is being reviewed, though it is extremely rare for a review to overturn a Supreme Court ruling.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Helen Popper)
[THIS ARTICLE IS A GOOD REASON WHY SHARIA LAW SHOULD NEVER SEE DAYLIGHT IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AS IT IS NOTHING BUT A MOB RULE WITH HERETICAL ISLAMISTS IN CONTROL OF THE SO-CALLED RELIGION.].

11/3/2018 U.S. armed forces member killed in Afghanistan insider attack: NATO
A NATO helicopter flies over the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan November 3, 2018.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – A member of the U.S. armed forces was killed and another was wounded on Saturday in an apparent insider attack in the Afghan capital Kabul, the NATO-led Resolute Support mission said.
    The attack is the latest in a series of “green-on-blue” attacks in which members of the Afghan forces have killed U.S. or coalition advisers this year and follows the death of a Czech soldier in the western province of Herat last month.
    “Initial reports indicate the attacker was a member of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.    Initial reports also indicate the attacker was immediately killed by other Afghan Forces,” the NATO-led mission said in a statement.
    It said the incident was being investigated and the wounded service member was in a stable condition, but did not release the identity of the service member who had been killed.
    U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said in September that training and vetting of Afghan forces was being stepped up to minimize insider attacks and some training and advisory operations have been scaled back while security is assessed.
    Last month, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Scott Miller, escaped unhurt when the bodyguard of a provincial governor opened fire on a group of U.S. and Afghan officials in the southern province of Kandahar.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alexander Smith)

11/3/2018 China says willing to meet U.S. over trade issues on equal footing
Shipping containers are seen at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China is willing to resolve trade issues with the United States through mutually respectful talks and on an equal footing, said one of the country’s vice commerce ministers Wang Bingnan on Saturday.
    Beijing will jointly promote the healthy and stable development of China-U.S. relations, Wang told reporters at a news conference.
(Reporting by Li Zheng and Engen Tham; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

11/4/2018 China’s boulevard to nowhere: The battle for influence in APEC’s Pacific host by Jonathan Barrett and Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the APEC Haus building in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea,
August 10, 2018, in this picture obtained by Reuters on October 25, 2018 from social media. Jim Fitzpatrick Architects/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Workers are putting the finishing touches on a Beijing-funded boulevard designed to showcase Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) capital to visiting world leaders at this month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
    Critics say the six-lane road – complete with wide, illuminated footpaths – is emblematic of a regional power play whereby donor countries vie for influence with show-stopper gifts, even as deeper problems plague the Pacific nation.
    Australia, PNG’s traditional partner and a close Washington ally, is lifting aid and has plowed more than A$120 million ($86.5 million) into APEC, seeking to keep its sway over its neighbor.
    Allan Bird, a parliamentarian and governor of PNG’s second largest province, said the boulevard outside parliament house had little practical benefit.
    “Whatever the Chinese government spent on it, it could have been better spent somewhere else, buying medicine or building a school,” Bird told Reuters.
    Bird said such gifts put pressure on traditional partners such as Australia to place less restrictions around donated funds and refrain from criticizing PNG’s own spending, which controversially includes buying 40 Maseratis and three Bentleys for APEC.
    “There is no transparency around the use of public finances,” Bird said.
    “The government can turn to other donors and tell them to ‘toe the line or else we’ll be quite happy to take Chinese money’.    They use it as leverage.”
    The PNG government did not respond to questions on funding for the boulevard project or other aspects of APEC.    PNG has previously thanked China for its infrastructure funding and aid, and denied Beijing had asserted any diplomatic pressure.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said people should be supportive of the PNG government’s efforts to promote regional economic integration by hosting the summit.
    “At the request of the Papua New Guinea side, China has proactively provided support and help for the hosting, which I can tell you has been warmly welcomed by the Papua New Guinea government and people,” Lu told reporters in response to Reuters questions, without providing a figure.
    Speaking in Port Moresby on Wednesday, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in recent years his country had helped build more than 100 projects in PNG and other Pacific island nations, including schools and hospitals, which these countries had greatly appreciated.
    “Whether China’s aid is good or not, the governments and people of those countries being aided have the most right to speak,” Wang said, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
AIDING AND INDEBTING
    If the region – pivotal in the Pacific battles of World War II – is a strategic treasure, PNG is one of its jewels.
    It controls large swaths of ocean, is rich in mineral resources and is close to both U.S. military bases on the island of Guam and to Australia.
    Formerly administered by Canberra, PNG has in recent years turned increasingly to China for financing as Beijing becomes a bigger player in the region.
    PNG has the largest debt to China in the South Pacific, at almost $590 million, representing about one-quarter of its total external debt.
    When world leaders arrive in the capital of Port Moresby for APEC, the contributions of donors will be obvious.
    Australia will provide security personnel, naval patrol boats and a helicopter-docking ship; and the city will have an upgraded sewerage system care of the Japanese government.
    Beijing has refurbished the show-piece convention center and gifted coaches, mini-buses and fire-engines.
    China also rebuilt city’s main highway, which according to Moresby-based think tank the Institute of National Affairs, didn’t really need an upgrade.
    The institute’s executive director, Paul Barker, said the resurfaced streets and new boulevard had little public benefit.
    “It’s hard to imagine the boulevard will have any use other than marches or grand displays from time to time,” he said.
    “It’s not really a road that goes from anywhere to anywhere.”
    While the exact cost of each project is unclear, a Reuters analysis of PNG government announcements shows China’s total bill would be several tens of millions of dollars.
    Australia’s A$120 million contribution to the event represents nearly a third of what Canberra spent when hosting world leaders for G20 in 2014.
    Australian foreign aid to PNG is budgeted to hit a record A$572 million this year as Canberra diverts more capital to the Pacific at the expense of other regions.
    On Thursday, Australia announced it would help fund a PNG navy base that China had expressed an interest in funding.
    “Over the last year, we have seen Australia and New Zealand aggressively expand their focus on the Pacific, which is something we are very pleased about,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne declined to comment on Canberra’s funding for APEC.
    Australia has previously said it was “partnering” with PNG to showcase trade, tourism and investment opportunities.
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS
    “(PNG Prime Minister) Peter O’Neill sees APEC as putting PNG on the world stage,” a British official told Reuters.    “If a donor wants to win favor with O’Neill, assisting with APEC is the way to do it.”
    Yet, while gifts pour in, parts of PNG are still struggling to recover after a massive earthquake in February killed more than 100 people, destroying crops and infrastructure.
    Polio, a potentially deadly and highly infectious viral disease almost eradicated globally, also re-emerged in PNG in recent weeks.
    Faced with such challenges, the purchase by the PNG government of a fleet of luxury vehicles has sparked public protests.
    Retailing in Australia at more than A$200,000 ($141,560), a Maserati is well beyond the reach of a typical PNG local, who earns on average $2,400 each year, according to U.N. data.
    PNG’s government has said it has agreements in place to sell the cars immediately after APEC and taxpayers will bear no financial loss.
    Diplomatic sources told Reuters nearly all leaders attending the event would travel in special armored vehicles, making it unclear what the sports cars will be used for.
    Donors have so far largely refrained from public comment.
    “Some are worried about rocking the boat and don’t want to threaten bilateral relations by publicly criticizing O’Neill for buying luxury cars,” said the senior British diplomatic source.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

11/4/2018 Guards chief says Iran will resist, defeat U.S. sanctions: state TV
FILE PHOTO: Mohammad Ali Jafari, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp,
attends a news conference in Tehran February 7, 2011. REUTERS/STRINGER
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The top commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said on Sunday Iran would resist and defeat a U.S. “psychological war” and sanctions against its vital oil sector.
    “America has launched an economic and psychological war as a last resort … But America’s plots and its plans for sanctions will be defeated through continued resistance,” Jafari said at a rally marking the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, which was broadcast live on state television.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/3/2018 IranAir looking for planes not needing U.S. sales permit – website
FILE PHOTO: A Sukhoi Superjet 100 regional jet is seen on the tarmac at the MAKS 2017 air show
in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 18, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – IranAir is looking to buy planes from any company not requiring U.S. sales permits and may consider Russia’s Sukhoi Superjet 100, the flag carrier’s head was quoted as saying, as Iran tries to renew its aging fleet despite facing U.S. sanctions.
    The U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) revoked licenses for Boeing Co and Airbus to sell passenger jets to Iran after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement in May and reimposed sanctions.
    “We welcome any (company) which is able to provide the planes needed by IranAir.    We even have gone after planes such as Sukhoi 100 or planes made by non-European countries,” said IranAir Chief Executive Farzaneh Sharafbafi, quoted by Iran’s Roads Ministry website.
    Most modern commercial planes have more than 10 percent in U.S. parts, the threshold for needing U.S. Treasury approval.    But Russian officials have been reported as saying Sukhoi is working on reducing the number of U.S. parts in the hopes of winning an Iranian order for up to 100 aircraft.
    “We will consider plane purchases if these companies can sell planes to Iran without an OFAC license, and are willing to negotiate,” Sharafbafi added.    She gave no further details.
    IranAir had ordered 200 passenger aircraft – 100 from Airbus, 80 from Boeing and 20 from Franco-Italian turboprop maker ATR.    All the deals were dependent on U.S. licenses because of the heavy use of American parts in commercial planes.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris; Editing by Edmund Blair)

11/4/2018 Iranian marchers chant ‘Death to America’ on eve of U.S. oil sanctions by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO - A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers
and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union
during the Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Thousands of Iranians chanting “Death to America” rallied on Sunday to mark the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy during the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the imminent reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil sector.
    Students attending the government-organized rally in the capital Tehran, broadcast live by state television, burned the Stars and Stripes, an effigy of Uncle Sam and pictures of President Donald Trump outside the former embassy compound.
    Hardline students stormed the embassy on Nov. 4, 1979, soon after the fall of the U.S.-backed shah, and 52 Americans were held hostage there for 444 days.    The two countries have been enemies ever since.
    State media said millions turned out for rallies in towns and cities, swearing allegiance to the clerical establishment and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.    The figure could not be independently confirmed by Reuters.
    Rallies are staged on the embassy takeover anniversary every year.    But rancour is especially strong this time following Trump’s decision in May to withdraw from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
    The deal brought about the lifting of most international financial and economic sanctions in return for Tehran curbing its disputed nuclear activity under U.N. surveillance.
    Trump said the deal was weak and favored Iran.    The other signatories – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – remain committed to the accord.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the penalties set to return on Monday “are the toughest sanctions ever put in place on the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
    Interviewed on “Fox News Sunday,” Pompeo said, “There’s a handful of places where countries already have made significant reductions in their crude oil exports and need a little more time to get to zero.    And we’re going to provide that to them.”    He did not elaborate.
    Pompeo noted that oil sanctions would be coupled with financial sanctions involving “over 600 designations of individuals and companies in Iran.”
    The Iranian military said it would launch two days of air defense drills on Monday and assured Iranians that it could neutralize any threats, the state news agency IRNA reported.
    “We can assure our people that the enemy will not be able to carry out its threats against our country,” IRNA quoted Habibollah Sayyari, the coordinating officer, as saying.
DONALD SALMAN
    Among the anniversary events was an exhibition of cartoons in Tehran called “Donald Salman” – a reference to the close ties between the U.S. president and King Salman, ruler of Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia.
    “It’s black humor, but the audience can also be brought to reflect on the contradictions in the behavior of Trump and (the royal house of) Al Saud,” artist Masoud Shojaei Tabatabai told state television in Tehran.
    The restoration of U.S. sanctions on Monday targeting Iran’s oil sales and banking sector is part of an effort by Trump to force Iran to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs outright, as well as its support for proxy forces in conflicts across the Middle East.
    In a speech on Saturday, Khamenei said Trump’s policies faced opposition around the world.    “America’s goal has been to re-establish the domination it had, but it has failed.    America has been defeated by the Islamic Republic over the past 40 years,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom and Richard Cowan in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Daniel Wallis)

11/4/2018 U.S., South Korea set delayed military drills; North Korea urges end to pressure by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok,
in this undated photo released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea will begin small-scale military drills on Monday that were delayed during talks with North Korea, days after Pyongyang threatened to restart work on its nuclear program if international pressure does not ease.
    The Korean Marine Exchange Program was among the training drills that were indefinitely suspended in June after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and promised to end joint, U.S.-South Korea military exercises often criticized by the North.
    A spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Defence confirmed a round of training would begin near the southern city of Pohang, with no media access expected.
    About 500 American and South Korean marines will participate in the maneuvers, the Yonhap news agency reported.
    In Washington last week, South Korea’s defense minister said Washington and Seoul would make a decision by December on major joint military exercises for 2019.    Vigilant Ace, suspended earlier this month, is one of several such exercises that have been halted to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang.
    The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan has gone ahead, however, with nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan — another key player in the effort to pressure North Korea.
    North Korea warned on Friday that it could restart development of its nuclear program if the United States does not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.
    “The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” a foreign ministry official said in a statement released through state-run KCNA news agency.    “The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ lead to ‘denuclearization.’    We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea.”
    North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site with plans to dismantle several more facilities.
    In recent weeks, North Korea has pressed more sharply for what it sees as reciprocal concessions by the United States and other countries.
    “As shown, the U.S. is totally to blame for all the problems on the Korean peninsula including the nuclear issue and therefore, the very one that caused all those must untie the knot it made,” Friday’s statement said.
    American officials have remained skeptical of Kim’s commitment to give up the nuclear arsenal he has already amassed, however, and Washington says it won’t support easing international sanctions until more verified progress is made.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in, meanwhile, has forged ahead with efforts to engage with North Korea in recent months, raising U.S. concerns that Seoul could weaken pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/4/2018 Sri Lanka’s president summons parliament on Nov. 14 as pressure over PM’s sacking grows
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's President Maithripala Sirisena listens to a speech during a Parliament session marking
the 70th anniversary of Sri Lanka's Government, in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has ordered the suspended parliament to reconvene on Nov. 14, clearing the way for a vote on his decision to sack the elected prime minister and replace him with wartime nationalist Mahinda Rajapaksa.
    Sirisena abruptly fired Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Oct.26 and appointed former president Rajapaksa to lead the ruling coalition instead, raising fears at home and abroad that this could derail Sri Lanka’s halting national reconciliation process.
    Wickremesinghe says his dismissal is unconstitutional.    His United National Party submitted a motion to that effect to parliament but Sirisena suspended its session until Nov. 16, citing a need for Rajapaksa to make arrangements for the new government prevented the vote.
    Sirisena’s decree for the house to reconvene on Nov. 14 was published in the official gazette on Sunday.
    It was not clear if and when the 225-member parliament would vote on the UNP’s motion that Wickremesinghe’s dismissal was illegal.
    Rajapaksa led Sri Lanka to a military defeat of Tamil separatist guerrillas in 2009 but has since faced widespread allegations of human rights abuse and targeting of Tamil civilians.
    Wickremesinghe told Reuters earlier on Sunday that the United States and Japan had frozen more than a billion dollars of development aid after his abrupt dismissal raised doubts about the future of democracy in the island.
    This follows a warning from the EU that it could withdraw duty-free concessions for Sri Lankan exports if it didn’t stick to commitments on national reconciliation.
    Sirisena’s summons comes after Wickremesinghe’s UNP said on Friday that 118 lawmakers had met the speaker to demand parliament be allowed to convene.
    Before Wickremesinghe’s dismissal, the UNP held 107 seats.    Of those, eight have defected to support Rajapaksa.    One out of 16 Tamil MPs also joined Rajapaksa.
    Among the causes for the animosity between Wickremesinghe and Sirisena is Wickremesinghe’s refusal to back the president’s bid to stand in the next election in late 2019.    Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe’s government of not taking seriously an alleged assassination plot against him.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/4/2018 Sri Lanka’s ousted PM says U.S., Japan freeze aid over political crisis by Sanjeev Miglani and Shihar Aneez
Sri Lanka's ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe gestures during an interview with Reuters at the
Prime Minister's official residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 3, 2018. Picture taken November 3,2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s deposed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the United States and Japan had frozen more than a billion dollars of development aid after his abrupt dismissal raised doubts about the future of democracy in the island.
    The move to hold back project financing, along with the EU’s warning it could withdraw duty-free concessions for Sri Lankan exports if it didn’t stick to commitments on national reconciliation, will further strain the economy, Wickremesinghe told Reuters in an interview.
    President Maithripala Sirisena fired him last month after months of tensions within the government and appointed Mahinda Rajapaksa as premier in a shock move that has plunged the nation into a political crisis.
    Rajapaksa is a former president who led the country to a military defeat of Tamil separatist guerrillas in 2009 but who has since faced widespread allegations of human rights abuse and targeting of Tamil civilians.
    Wickremesinghe, who has challenged his dismissal and vowed to remain prime minister until parliament voted him out, said there were international concerns about a government led by Rajapaksa.
    “Countries are sensitive, they have concerns (about a government led by Rajapaksa) democratic countries have concerns,” he said in the interview conducted in the prime minister’s official residence in a colonial-era bungalow where Wickremesinghe is camping along with his supporters.
    The United States has held off on a nearly $500 million aid program for building of highways and improving land administration by the government-funded Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Wickremesinghe said.
    Japan had also put on hold plans to extend a soft loan of $1.4 billion for a light railway project, he said.    “A lot of projects are held up, the Millennium Challenge, the Japanese loan,” he said.
    The Sri Lankan embassy in Washington has been informally told by the MCC that around $480 million will be on hold because of the latest situation in the country, a Sri Lankan foreign ministry official separately confirmed to Reuters.
    An official at the Sri Lankan ministry of Megapolis and Western Development also confirmed the freeze to Reuters on the Japanese loan, imperiling the project.
    An official at the Japan International Cooperation Agency said the agency was closely monitoring political developments and the railway project loan had been withheld.
    The U.S. embassy in Colombo had no immediate comment when asked if Washington is taking any measures due to the Sri Lankan political crisis.
    The United States and the EU have urged the president to immediately summon parliament and let deputies decide who is to lead the country.    Sirisena suspended parliament until Nov. 16 and has made no public statement on his plans.
    While Wickremesinghe is staying on in the premier’s residence called Temple Trees, Rajapaksa has taken over the offices of the prime minister following his swearing in.
    Wickremesinghe said his party will step up a public campaign for parliament to be called and he be allowed to prove his majority.    “We are all contemplating alternative actions, this includes a big mobilization of people.    Ultimately this has to be decided in parliament.”
    Soon after taking over Rajapaksa said he wanted to end the “politics of hate” in the country and that his government will work for justice for all citizens.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)

11/4/2018 Pres. Trump Set To Slap ‘Toughest Ever’ Sanctions, Oil Embargo On Iran On Monday by OAN Newsroom
COMBO – This combination of two pictures shows U.S. President Donald Trump, left,
on July 22, 2018, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Feb. 6, 2018. (AP Photo)
    The Trump administration is preparing to impose a new round of sanctions against Iran.
    The new restrictions will affect Iran’s oil exports, shipping industry and the financial sector.
    The new sanctions sparked anti-American demonstrations across the Islamic republic, as the restrictions are expected to have a devastating effect on the Iranian economy.
    President trump said Iran must abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and come to the negotiating table, before the sanctions could be lifted.
    “The Iran sanctions are very strong,” said the president.    They are the strongest sanctions we’ve ever imposed.    "When I came to office, if you go a day before, it looked like Iran was going to take over the Middle East.    It was a question of literally less than years, very quickly.    And now nobody’s talking about that.”
    The oil embargo and a broader sanctions package against Iran will go into effect at midnight Monday.

11/5/2018 Iran says it will defy ‘economic war’ as U.S. reimposes curbs by Lesley Wroughton and Parisa Hafezi
Iranian rials, U.S. dollars and Iraqi dinars are seen at a currency exchange shop
in Basra, Iraq November 3, 2018. Picture taken November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    WASHINGTON/DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said it would defy the reimposition of more U.S. sanctions on Monday, condemning as “economic war” Washington’s attempt to curb Tehran’s missile and nuclear programs and weaken its influence in the Middle East.
    The U.S. move restores sanctions lifted under a 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by the administration of President Barack Obama and five other world powers.    It adds 300 new designations in Iran’s oil, shipping, insurance and banking sectors.
    The European Union, which continues to back the nuclear deal, said it opposed the reimposition of sanctions and big oil buyer China said it regretted the move.
    The restoration of sanctions is part of a wider effort by U.S. President Donald Trump to force Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs as well as its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday the penalties set to return on Monday “are the toughest sanctions ever put in place on the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
    However, Iran’s clerical rulers have dismissed concerns about the impact of sanctions on the economy.
    “Today the enemy (the United States) is targeting our economy…the main target of sanctions is our people,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said.
    “America wanted to cut to zero Iran’s oil sales…but we will continue to sell our oil…to break sanctions,” Rouhani told economists at a meeting broadcast live on state television.
    The sanctions were illegal and unfair, he said.
    “This is an economic war against Iran but … America should learn that it cannot use the language of force against Iran … We are prepared to resist any pressure,” Rouhani said.
    Trump announced in May his government was withdrawing from what he called the “worst ever” agreement negotiated by the United States.    Other parties to the deal, including Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, say they will not leave.
    The deal had seen most international financial and economic sanctions on Iran lifted in return for Tehran curbing its disputed nuclear activity under U.N. surveillance.
    Details of the sanctions will be released at a news conference scheduled for 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT) with Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
    The European Union is opposed to the U.S. decision to reimpose oil and financial sanctions, European Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said.    “The European Union does not approve of it,” Moscovici told franceinfo radio.
    China, India, South Korea, Japan and Turkey – all top importers of Iranian oil – are among eight countries expected to be given temporary exemptions from the sanctions to ensure crude oil prices are not destabilized.
    The countries will deposit Iran’s revenue in an escrow account, U.S. officials have said.
    The curbs come as the United States is focused on U.S. congressional and gubernatorial elections on Tuesday.
    Campaigning in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Sunday, Trump said his “maximum pressure” against Iran was working.
    “Iran is a much different country than it was when I took office,” said Trump, adding: “They wanted to take over the whole Middle East.    Right now they just want to survive.”
    To keep the deal alive, the remaining parties to the Iran accord are trying to maintain trade with Tehran, despite scepticism that this is possible.
    Diplomats told Reuters last month that a new EU mechanism to facilitate payments for Iranian oil exports should be legally in place by Nov. 4 but not operational until early next year.
    They cautioned, however, that no country had volunteered to host the entity, which was delaying the process.
    “We are in regular contact with other signatories of the nuclear deal…setting up (a) mechanism to continue trade with the European Union will take time,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi said in Tehran.
(Editing by William Maclean and Angus MacSwan)

11/5/2018 Reuters reporters in Myanmar appeal against conviction in state secrets case
FILE PHOTO: Reuters journalist Wa Lone departs Insein court after
his verdict announcement in Yangon, Myanmar, September 3, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    YANGON (Reuters) – Lawyers for two Reuters reporters jailed for seven years in Myanmar lodged an appeal on Monday against their conviction on charges of breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act.
    The appeal cited evidence of a police set-up and lack of proof of a crime.
    “We filed an appeal … because the trial court’s ruling was wrong,” said Reuters President and Editor-in-Chief, Stephen J. Adler in a statement.    “In condemning them as spies, it ignored compelling evidence of a police set-up, serious due process violations, and the prosecution’s failure to prove any of the key elements of the crime.”
(Read the full appeal in English, https://tmsnrt.rs/2Pf5Vny)
(Read the full appeal in Burmese, https://tmsnrt.rs/2P9ouct)
    He added the court shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and called on Myanmar to “uphold its stated dedication to rule of law, freedom of the press, and democracy by ordering the release of our colleagues.”
    Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty in September after a trial at a Yangon district court in a landmark case that has raised questions about Myanmar’s progress toward democracy and sparked an outcry from diplomats and human rights advocates.
    Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in September that the jailing of the reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression.    In comments made the week after their conviction, she said they had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists.”
    Government spokesman Zaw Htay declined comment on the appeal.
    Defence lawyers filed the appeal on Monday morning at the Yangon-based High Court.    If the court rules to allow the appeal, an appellate judge would take written and oral arguments from prosecution and defense lawyers before handing down a decision.
    Before their arrest, the reporters had been working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state during an army crackdown that began in August last year.    The operation sent more than 700,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh.
    During eight months of hearings, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo testified that two policemen they had not met before handed them papers rolled up in a newspaper during a meeting at a Yangon restaurant on Dec. 12.    Almost immediately afterwards, they said, they were bundled into a car by plainclothes officers.
    On Feb. 1, a police witness said under cross-examination that information in the documents had already been published in newspapers.    In April, a prosecution witness testified that a senior officer had ordered subordinates to plant documents on Wa Lone to “trap” the reporter.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Alex Richardson and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/5/2018 U.S., South Korea marines hold small-scale exercise ahead of North Korea talks by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO: South Korean marines march during a military exercise as a part of the annual
joint military training called Foal Eagle between South Korea and the U.S. in Pohang, South Korea, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – About 500 United States and South Korean marines began small-scale military drills on Monday, just days before U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is set to hold talks with North Korea on denuclearization and plans for a second summit of their leaders.
    The Korean Marine Exchange Program was among the training drills indefinitely suspended in June after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and promised to end joint, U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
    Although larger exercises were suspended, the two countries have continued small-scale drills, the South’s Ministry of National Defense said on Monday, adding that the marines were holding a training round near the southern city of Pohang.
    Pompeo, interviewed on broadcaster CBS’s “Face the Nation,” said on Sunday he would be in New York City at the end of this week to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol.
    “I expect we’ll make some real progress, including an effort to make sure that the summit between our two leaders can take place, where we can make substantial steps towards denuclearization,” he added.
    In Washington last week, South Korea’s defence minister said the two countries would decide by December on major joint military exercises for 2019.    Vigilant Ace, suspended this month, is one of several such exercises halted to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang, which has criticised joint U.S.-South Korea exercises in the past.
    The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan has gone ahead, however, with nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan, another key player in the effort to pressure North Korea.
    This week’s exercises follow a warning by North Korea on Friday that it could resume development of its nuclear programme if the United States did not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.
    “The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” a foreign ministry official said in a statement released through state-run KCNA news agency.
    “The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ lead to ‘denuclearization.’    We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea.”
    South Korea hopes the North and the United States will make “big progress” during the talks set for this week, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said on Monday, but declined to comment on the North’s Friday statement.
    North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site with plans to dismantle several more facilities.
    In recent weeks, North Korea has pressed harder for what it sees as reciprocal concessions by the United States and other countries.
    “As shown, the U.S. is totally to blame for all the problems on the Korean peninsula, including the nuclear issue and therefore, the very one that caused all those must untie the knot it made,” it said on Friday.
    American officials have remained sceptical of Kim’s commitment to give up his nuclear arsenal, however, and Washington says it will not support easing international sanctions until more verified progress is made.
    Pompeo, interviewed on television’s “Fox News Sunday,” said the Trump administration wants a full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, adding that Trump insisted on “no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective.”
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s continuing efforts to engage with North Korea have fanned U.S. concerns that Seoul could weaken pressure on North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Catherine Evans and Lisa Shumaker)

11/5/2018 Australian foreign minister to visit China as frosty relations thaw by Colin Packham and Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne addresses the 73rd session
of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
    SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne will travel to China this week, the two governments announced on Monday, as China ended an unofficial suspension for more than six months of visits by top Australian government ministers.
    Ties between the two countries, which compete for influence in Asia and particularly in the Pacific, have been strained since Australia accused China of meddling in its domestic affairs late last year.
    Ending the stand-off, China’s foreign ministry said Payne’s visit, which begins on Wednesday, will include talks with State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
    Her trip is being seen in Australia as a bid by China to seek warmer ties with Australia’s recently installed Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
    “I am looking forward to discussions with Minister Wang to enhance bilateral understanding and cooperation across the full range of Australia’s interests, spanning strategic, economic and people-to-people connections,” Payne said in a statement.
    In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying noted that Payne and Wang had met in September on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and had reached “an important consensus” on ties.
    “We are willing to work hard with the Australian side on the basis of mutual respect, equality and benefit to expand exchanges and cooperation in all fields, to promote Sino-Australian relations to achieve new developments,” Hua told reporters.
    In August, Morrison become Australia’s sixth different prime minister in the last decade after a backbench revolt ousted his predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, who criticized China and banned its Huawei Technologies Co [HWT.UL] from Australia’s broadband network.
    Morrison has steered clear of foreign affairs.
    “Morrison has been entirely focused on domestic politics, avoiding a lot of Turnbull’s foreign policy.    No doubt this has been warmly received by China,” said Michael O’Keefe, head of politics at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
    Signs of warmer ties will cheer Australia’s business community after the diplomatic row spilled over to hit two-way trade, most notably, sales of Australian wine.
    Australian wine shipments, including those produced by Treasury Wine Estates and Pernod Ricard, in June experienced temporary Chinese custom delays.
    China is Australia’s top goods and services trading partner, accounting for 24 percent, or A$183.4 billion ($131.88 billion), of total trade in 2017, according to data from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
    “China sees an opportunity to seek a reset of the bilateral relationship on its preferred terms,” John Lee, previous foreign minister Julie Bishop’s former principle adviser, told Reuters.
    China never officially announced a block on visits by Australian officials but in June, Australia asked China to facilitate a visit for Bishop to travel for biennial talks with her counterpart.
    China never formally responded and Bishop never made the trip.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen in Beijing and Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

11/5/2018 China’s Xi promises to raise imports amid trade row with U.S. by Michael Martina and Winni Zhou
Chinese President Xi Jinping is seen on a live broadcast at the canteen of the media center during the opening ceremony
for the China International Import Expo held in Shanghai, Monday, Nov. 5, 2018. Ng Han Guan/Pool via Reuters
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping promised on Monday to lower tariffs, broaden market access and import more from overseas at the start of a trade expo designed to demonstrate goodwill amid mounting frictions with the United States and others.
    The Nov. 5-10 China International Import Expo, or CIIE, brings thousands of foreign companies together with Chinese buyers in a bid to demonstrate the importing potential of the world’s second-biggest economy.
    In a speech that largely echoed previous promises, Xi said China would accelerate opening of the education, telecommunications and cultural sectors, while protecting foreign companies’ interests and punishing violations of intellectual property rights.
    He also said he expects China to import $30 trillion worth of goods and $10 trillion worth of services in the next 15 years.    Last year, Xi estimated that China would import $24 trillion worth of goods over the coming 15 years.
    “CIIE is a major initiative by China to pro-actively open up its market to the world,” Xi said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has railed against China for what he sees as intellectual property theft, entry barriers to U.S. business and a gaping trade deficit.
    Foreign business groups, too, have grown weary of Chinese reform promises, and while opposing Trump’s tariffs, have longed warned that China would invite retaliation if it didn’t match the openness of its trading partners.
    Xi said the expo showed China’s desire to support global free trade, adding – without mentioning the United States – that countries must oppose protectionism.
    He said “multilateralism and the free trade system is under attack, factors of instability and uncertainty are numerous, and risks and obstacles are increasing.”
    “With the deepening development today of economic globalisation, ‘the weak falling prey to the strong’ and ‘winner takes all’ are dead-end alleys,” he said.
    Louis Kuijs, head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said the speech was meaningful, if short on fresh initiatives.
    “I don’t think that there were necessarily path-breaking new reforms announced by him today, but I guess I would take this as a confirmation that China is very keen to be seen as continuing to open up further and committing to that stance,” he said.
    China imported $1.84 trillion of goods in 2017, up 16 percent, or $255 billion, from a year earlier.    Of that total, China imported about $130 billion of goods from the United States.    The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said in March that China would import $8 trillion of goods in the next five years.
FOCUS ON G20
    Expectations had been low that Xi would announce bold new policies of the kind that many foreign governments and businesses have been seeking.
    The European Union, which shares U.S. concerns over China’s trade practices if not Trump’s tariff strategy to address them, on Thursday called on China to take concrete steps to further open its market to foreign firms and provide a level playing field, adding that it would not sign up to any political statement at the forum.
    With little in the way of fresh policies from Xi on Monday, all eyes now turn to an expected meeting between him and Trump at the G20 summit in Argentina at the end of the month.
    “It seems like what (Xi) is actually doing is saving up all of his goodies to trade away with Trump as opposed to doing anything unilateral,” said Scott Kennedy, a Chinese economic expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    “Now everything is focused on the G20.”
    Trump has said that if a deal is not made with China, he could impose tariffs on another $267 billion of Chinese imports into the United States.
    In a sign the trade row is starting to bite, export orders to the United States recorded during China’s biggest trade show, the Canton Fair in October, dropped 30.3 percent from a year earlier by value, the fair’s organiser China Foreign Trade Center said.
    Presidents or prime ministers from 17 countries were set to attend the expo, ranging from Russia and Pakistan to the Cook Islands, though none from major Western nations.    Government ministers from several other countries were also coming, but no senior U.S. officials were set to attend.
    Swiss President Alain Berset did not make the trip to China, despite being announced as among attendees by China’s foreign ministry last week.    The Swiss government said in a statement to Reuters on Sunday that his visit had never been confirmed.
    Some Western diplomats and businesses have been quietly critical of the expo, arguing it is window dressing to what they see as Beijing’s long-standing trade abuses.
    Exhibitors from around 140 countries and regions will be on hand, including 404 from Japan, the most of any country.    From the United States, some 136 exhibitors will attend, including Google, Dell Inc, Ford and General Electric .
    A handful of countries are being represented by a single exhibitor selling one product.
    For Iraq, it’s crude oil.    Iran, saffron.    Jamaica will be marketing its famed blue mountain coffee and Chad is selling bauxite.    Tiny Sao Tome is selling package holidays.
(Reporting by Michael Martina and Winni Zhou; Additional reporting by Engen Tham in Shanghai and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Nick Macfie)

11/5/2018 Iran sends a message to the U.S. amid sanctions by OAN Newsroom
    The president of Iran is vowing to block the latest round of sanctions from the Trump administration.    The new restrictions went into effect Monday and target Iran’s oil industry.
    In response to the move, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani accused the U.S. of inciting an “economic war.”    During a press conference, he proclaimed Iran would continue to sell oil “by any means necessary.”
    “We have been selling our oil and will continue to sell it under any circumstances.    We have the power to do that.    They say that Iran bypasses the sanctions.    Yes, we announce it proudly that we bypass your illegal and oppressive sanctions.    Your sanctions are wrong and oppressive and are against international regulations.” — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
    Iran retaliated by launching a series of air and artillery drills in protest of the sanctions.    Footage of air defense systems were televised in Iran, showing military drills involving anti-aircraft exercises.    These military drills are set to continue through Tuesday.
In this photo provided Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, by the Iranian Army, a Sayyad 2 missile is fired by the Talash air defense system
during drills in an undisclosed location in Iran.    Iran greeted the re-imposition of U.S. sanctions on Monday with air defense
drills and a statement from President Hassan Rouhani that the nation faces a “war situation,” raising Mideast tensions
as America’s approach to the Islamic Republic takes hold. (Iranian Army via AP)
    The sanctions by President Trump will particularly hit Iran’s oil industry, which is massively pivotal for the region’s economy going forward.
    This comes as the Iranian economy has continues to plummet in recent months.    Iran is already on the edge of an economic crisis, though these sanctions could potentially push Iran off a financial cliff.

11/5/2018 U.S. backs disarmament steps along Korean demilitarized zone: general by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee
General Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the US Forces Korea (USFK) speaks
during the mutual repatriation ceremony of soldiers' remains between South Korean and U.S at the
Seoul National Cemetery in Seoul, South Korea, 13 July 2018. Jeon Heon-kyun/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The outgoing commander of American troops in South Korea voiced support on Monday for controversial measures to reduce military activity along the border with North Korea, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo prepared for talks with North Korean officials on denuclearization and plans for a second leaders’ summit.
    Writing in a South Korean military publication, U.S. General Vincent Brooks said recent steps by South and North Korea to disarm areas along the so-called demilitarized zone between the two nations have “the support and agreement of the United States.”
    Last week a no-fly zone went into effect along the border, despite private concerns by U.S. officials that the move could restrict training and the ability to monitor the border.    Other steps included disarming some areas of the border and removing some landmines and guard posts.
    “Together, these activities demonstrate a shared commitment to positive action and work to develop the trust essential to the next steps along the road to a lasting and stable peace,” Brooks wrote.
    Pompeo previously expressed “discontent” with the deal that created the no-fly zone, which South Korean sources said became a key sticking point for the United States because it would effectively prevent close air support drills.
    Brooks’ comments came as U.S. and South Korean marines conducted military drills under the Korean Marine Exchange Program for the first time in months, according to the South Korean ministry of defense.
    The exercises were among the training drills indefinitely suspended in June after U.S. President Donald Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore and promised to end U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
    Although larger exercises were suspended, the two countries have continued small-scale drills, the South’s Ministry of National Defence said on Monday, adding that the marines were holding a training round near the southern city of Pohang.
    Pompeo, interviewed on broadcaster CBS’s “Face the Nation” program said on Sunday he would be in New York at the end of this week to meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Yong Chol.
    “I expect we’ll make some real progress, including an effort to make sure that the summit between our two leaders can take place, where we can make substantial steps towards denuclearization,” he added.
    North Korea has not tested a ballistic missile or nuclear weapon for nearly a year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site and plans to dismantle several more facilities.
    In recent weeks, North Korea has pressed harder for what it sees as reciprocal concessions by the United States and other countries.
    Over the weekend, Kim hosted President Miguel Diaz-Canel of Cuba – another country under U.S. sanctions – during a lavish visit in Pyongyang, where the two leaders vowed to boost their cooperation.
    During a banquet on Sunday, Kim said the “two countries are in the same trench in the struggle for defending sovereignty and dignity of their countries and safeguarding international justice,” according to a state media report.
    Diaz-Canel, meanwhile, “voiced his will to meet all challenges by the hostile forces” alongside North Korea, according to the report.
‘NO ECONOMIC RELIEF’
    On Friday North Korea warned that it could resume development of its nuclear program if the United States did not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.
    “The improvement of relations and sanctions are incompatible,” a foreign ministry official said in a statement released through state-run KCNA news agency.
    “The U.S. thinks that its oft-repeated ‘sanctions and pressure’ lead to ‘denuclearization.’    We cannot help laughing at such a foolish idea.”
    South Korea hopes the North and the United States will make “big progress” during the talks set for this week, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said on Monday, but declined to comment on the North’s Friday statement.
    American officials have remained skeptical of Kim’s commitment to give up his nuclear arsenal, however, and Washington says it will not support easing international sanctions until more verified progress is made.
    Pompeo, interviewed on television’s “Fox News Sunday,” said the Trump administration wants a full, verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, adding that Trump insisted on “no economic relief until we have achieved our ultimate objective.”
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s continuing efforts to engage with North Korea have fanned U.S. concerns that Seoul could weaken pressure on North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.
    In Washington last week, South Korea’s defense minister said the two countries would decide by December on major joint military exercises for 2019.    Vigilant Ace, suspended this month, is one of several such exercises halted to encourage dialogue with Pyongyang, which has criticized joint U.S.-South Korea exercises in the past.
    The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan has gone ahead, however, with nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan, another key player in the effort to pressure North Korea.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)

11/5/2018 Lawyer of freed Christian woman leaves Pakistan a ‘prime target’ by Bart H. Meijer
Saiful Mulook, lawyer of Christian woman Asia Bibi, addresses a news conference at the
International Press Centre in The Hague, the Netherlands November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The Pakistani lawyer who helped free a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy said on Monday he had been forced to flee to the Netherlands for his life, and has no idea where his client is.
    Lawyer Saiful Mulook, who defended Asia Bibi in a case that has led to the assassination of two Pakistani politicians, said local United Nations staff had urged him to leave the country on Saturday following her acquittal last week.
    “I was put on a plane against my wishes,” Mulook told reporters in The Hague.    “I am not happy to be without her.    I would have been much happier if I was in the same place as her.    But everybody said I was a prime target.”
    Mulook said he did not know whether Bibi had already been released from prison, or where she would want to seek asylum after being acquitted by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
    “Ask the people of the U.N.,” Mulook said.    “They are not telling me, for security reasons.”
    Bibi was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Islam during an argument with her neighbors, and had been on death row since then.
    The court’s decision to overturn the verdict led to violent protests throughout Pakistan by angry mobs calling for the judges in the case to be killed.
    Several parties in the Dutch parliament have said they support providing temporary shelter to Bibi if she flees there.
    Mulook said Italy had offered asylum to both Bibi and her family and his own family, but that they had not accepted the offer straightaway, as U.N. staff said they would make arrangements.
    Islamists have shut down major cities in Pakistan through days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal.    They have said they would escalate the protests if she were permitted to leave the country.    The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; editing by David Stamp)

11/5/02018 Iran accuses Israel of failed cyber attack
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is seen during a meeting with students
at the Hussayniyeh of Imam Khomeini in Tehran, Iran, November 3, 2018. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s telecommunications minister accused Israel on Monday of a new cyber attack on its telecommunications infrastructure, and vowed to respond with legal action.
    This followed comments from another official last week that Iran had uncovered a new generation of Stuxnet, a virus which was used against the country’s nuclear program more than a decade ago.
    “The Zionist regime (Israel), with its record of using cyber weapons such as Stuxnet computer virus, launched a cyber attack on Iran on Monday to harm Iran’s communication infrastructures,” Telecommunications Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said.
    “Thanks to our vigilant technical teams, it failed,” he said on Twitter.    Iran would take legal action against Israel at international bodies, he added, without giving details.
    His deputy Hamid Fattahi said more details would be revealed in the coming days, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
    Stuxnet, which is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered in 2010 after it was used to attack a uranium enrichment facility at Iran’s Natanz underground nuclear site.
    It was the first publicly known example of a virus being used to attack industrial machinery.
    Last week, Gholamreza Jalali, head of Iran’s civil defense agency, said Iran had neutralized a version of Stuxnet.
    “Recently we discovered a new generation of Stuxnet which consisted of several parts … and was trying to enter our systems,” Jalali was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.    He gave no further details.
    In 2013, researchers at Symantec Corp uncovered a version of the Stuxnet that was used to attack the Iranian nuclear program in November 2007.
    Tehran agreed under a 2015 deal with world powers to curb the program but President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of it in May, with Israel’s backing.    Washington fully restored sanctions on Tehran on Monday.
    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week called for stepped up efforts to fight enemy “infiltration” in a speech to officials in charge of cyber defense, state television reported.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by David Stamp)

11/5/2018 EU-Japan trade deal clears hurdle on way to 2019 start by Philip Blenkinsop
FILE PHOTO - Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) is welcomed by European Council President Donald Tusk
at the start of a European Union-Japan summit in Brussels, Belgium July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union and Japanese plans to form the world’s largest free trade area cleared a significant hurdle on Monday when EU lawmakers specializing in trade backed a deal that could enter force next year.
The European Parliament’s international trade committee voted 25 in favor to 10 against to clear the deal for a final vote in the parliament’s full chamber set for December 13.
    An agreement would bind two economies accounting for about a third of global gross domestic product and also signal their rejection of protectionism.
    Both have faced trade tensions with Washington and remain subject to U.S. tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on imports of steel and aluminum.
    Japan had been part of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump rejected on his first day in office, turning Tokyo’s focus to other potential partners – such as the European Union.
    The EU has also sought other partners after freezing TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) negotiations with the United States in 2016.    It concluded an updated trade deal with Mexico earlier this year.
    Both have since agreed to start trade talks with Washington.
    The EU-Japan agreement will remove EU tariffs of 10 percent on Japanese cars and 3 percent for most car parts.    It would also scrap Japanese duties of some 30 percent on EU cheese and 15 percent on wines and open access to public tenders in Japan.
    It will also open up services markets, in particular financial services, telecoms, e-commerce and transport.
    The EU is mindful of protests against and criticism of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in 2016, which culminated in a region of Belgium threatening to destroy the deal.    It finally entered force in 2017.
    Critics say the EU-Japan agreement will give too much power to multinationals and could undermine environmental and labor standards, the latter because they say Japanese employees face tougher conditions and less adequate union representation.    Belgium’s regions have though given their backing.
    Both Brussels and Tokyo want the agreement to enter force early in 2019, before Britain leaves the EU at the end of March.
    If it does, it could apply automatically to Britain during a transition period until the end of 2020 and offer comfort to the many Japanese car makers serving the EU from British bases.
($1 = 0.8773 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Editing by Alastair Macdonald, William Maclean)

11/5/2018 U.S. snaps back Iran sanctions, grants oil waivers to China, seven others by Humeyra Pamuk and Jane Chung
FILE PHOTO: A general view of an oil dock is seen from a ship at the port of Kalantari in the city of Chabahar,
300km (186 miles) east of the Strait of Hormuz January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States snapped sanctions back in place on Monday to choke off Iran’s oil and shipping industry, while temporarily allowing top customers such as China and India to keep buying crude from the Islamic Republic.
    Having abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, U.S. President Donald Trump is trying to cripple Iran’s oil-dependent economy and force Tehran to quash not only its nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile program but its support for militant proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
    Washington has pledged to completely stop purchases of crude oil from Iran eventually, but for now it said eight countries – China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey – can continue imports for now without penalty.    Crude exports contribute one-third of Iran’s government revenues.
    “More than 20 importing nations have zeroed out their imports of crude oil already, taking more than 1 million barrels crude per day off the market,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters in a briefing.    “The regime to date since May has lost over $2.5 billions in oil revenue.”
    “We have decided to issue temporary allotments to a handful countries responsive to the specific circumstances and to ensure a well supplied oil market,” Pompeo said.    “Each of those countries have already demonstrated significant reduction of the purchase of Iranian crude over the past six months.”
    The exemptions are designed to last up to 180 days.
    U.S. officials have said the countries given temporary exemptions from the sanctions will deposit Iran’s revenue in escrow accounts and Tehran will be able to use the funds for humanitarian purposes.
    Iran’s exports peaked at 2.8 million barrels per day in April, including 300,000 barrels per day of condensate, a lighter form of oil that when underground tends to exists as gas.    Overall exports have fallen to 1.8 million bpd since then, according to energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, which expects volumes to drop further to 1 million bpd.
    Oil prices rallied above $85 per barrel in October on fears of a steep decline in Iranian exports.    Prices have fallen off since then on expectations that some buyers would receive exemptions and as supply from the world’s largest producers has increased.
    On Monday, international benchmark Brent crude was up by more than $1 to a session high of $73.92 a barrel.    U.S. crude futures were up about 1 percent at $63.85 a barrel.
    The sanctions cover 50 Iranian banks and subsidiaries, more than 200 people and vessels in its shipping sector, and targets Tehran’s national airline, Iran Air, and more than 65 of its aircraft, a U.S. Treasury statement said.
(GRAPHIC: Iran’s nuclear deal – https://tmsnrt.rs/2rvkaq6)
    Iran’s biggest oil buyers in recent years have been China, India, South Korea, Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and Japan.
    Casting the U.S. sanctions as “economic war,” Tehran vowed to defy them while Iranian clerical rulers have dismissed concerns about the impact on the economy.
    “It will be difficult for Iran to maximize exports when virtually all trade in oil is cleared in U.S. dollars, putting international oil companies, many national oil companies, traders and banks off limits,” said Homayoun Falakshahi, analyst at Wood Mackenzie.
(Reporting By Jane Chung in SEOUL, Kaori Kaneko and Osamu Tsukimori in TOKYO, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Additional Reporting by Nidhi Verma in NEW DELHI and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Henning Gloystein and Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by David Gaffen and Bill Trott)

11/6/2018 Security spending soars in China’s troubled Xinjiang region: report
FILE PHOTO: Chinese soldiers participate in an anti-terror drill in
Hami, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, July 8, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Spending on security-related construction tripled in 2017 in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, where Beijing is accused of detaining as many as one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims, an academic analysis of government expenditure found.
    Beijing says its “vocational training centers” in Xinjiang camps teach employment skills and legal knowledge aimed at curbing religious extremism.
    The report published on Monday by U.S. think-tank the Jamestown Foundation examined government budget data and found spending on security-related construction in Xinjiang rose last year by nearly 20 billion yuan ($2.90 billion), or 213 percent.
    “Xinjiang’s budget figures do not reflect increased spending on vocational education … as the region ramped up camp construction; nor do they reflect an increase in criminal cases handled by courts and prosecutors,” said the report’s author, Adrian Zenz, an anthropologist at the European School of Culture and Theology in Germany.
    “Rather, they reflect patterns of spending consistent with the construction and operation of highly secure political re-education camps designed to imprison hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs with minimal due process.”
    It also found that despite the purported large “vocational training” campaign, employment outcomes had not markedly improved, according to Xinjiang’s own official employment figures.
    Whatever training the facilities do provide, Zenz said, it appeared it was not administered or paid for by the vocational education system.
    The Xinjiang government and the State Council Information Office, which doubles as the Communist Party’s spokesman’s office, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    On Tuesday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she did not personally know how much Xinjiang’s security expenditure was.
    Speaking at a daily news briefing, she asked whether Jamestown had also looked into how much money the Xinjiang local government had spent “developing the economy and improving lives.”
    Reports of mass detentions and strict surveillance of ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have prompted the United States to consider sanctions against officials and companies linked to accusations of human rights abuses.
    After initial blanket denials, Chinese officials said in recent weeks they were not enforcing arbitrary detention and political re-education across a network of secret camps, but rather that some citizens guilty of “minor offences” were sent to vocational centers to provide employment opportunities.
    While prison expenditure doubled between 2016 and 2017, spending on prosecution on criminal suspects was largely flat, Zenz said, indicating it was likely that few of the so-called criminals involved only in minor offences were put on formal trial.
    China’s record will be examined by the U.N. Human Rights Council on Tuesday, the first time since 2013, in a regular review expected to focus on its treatment of ethnic minorities, especially Uighurs and Tibetans.
(Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

11/6/2018 Taliban tax collectors help tighten insurgents’ grip in Afghanistan by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghan men sit in front of supply trucks carrying containers
for export at the Customhouse in Jalalabad, Afghanistan May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Parwiz/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Every two months, Mohammaddin visits a tax collector in Chardara district, in northern Afghanistan, and is given receipts to show he has paid his tax and utility bills.
    The service is professional, he says, though the paperwork he receives does not bear the name of state-owned power company Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, which provides the electricity, but instead carries the printed logo of the Taliban.
    “Given the strictness of Taliban regarding implementation of their rules and regulations, I think they raise more from tax collection than the Afghan government,” said Mohammaddin, a resident of the district outside Kunduz city, which is largely under Taliban control despite repeated operations by government forces to try to push the insurgents back.    “They have proper tax collection and people cannot disobey them in areas they control.”
    How much of Afghanistan is under effective Taliban control is disputed, but there is little doubt it has been growing and the insurgents are increasing their presence in the everyday lives of millions of ordinary Afghans such as Mohammaddin.
    According to data from the NATO-led Resolute Support mission published last week, the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has control or influence over 65 percent of the population but only 55.5 percent of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, less than at any time since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001.    The Taliban says it controls 70 percent of the country.
    As the insurgents have won ground, levies on land and day-to-day economic activities have added to funds raised from illegal mining and the drug trade, allowing the Taliban to bolster its credentials as a government-in-waiting.
    “The Taliban have the power to just easily extort however much they want but that’s not quite what they do.    They try to look and behave like a state,” said Ashley Jackson, author of “Life Under the Taliban Shadow Government,” a study published this year by the British-based Overseas Development Institute.
    The Taliban has tended to take over two traditional Islamic levies: zakat, an obligation on Muslims to donate 2.5 percent of their income to the poor; and ushur, a 10 percent tax on harvests or produce taken to market.
    In addition, electricity and mobile phone bills, which the insurgents collect in return for leaving power pylons and phone masts alone, and small levies on businesses selling daily necessities such as bakeries or flour mills, weave Taliban authority firmly into everyday life.
    Wahid Tawhidi, a spokesman for Breshna Sherkat said the group estimated it lost around 5 million afghani ($66,500) a year from payments diverted to the Taliban, particularly in the provinces of Kunduz, Baghlan, Helmand and Kandahar.    But it considered itself a national power provider that had a duty to ensure equal service to all parts of the country, he said.
    Ahmad, 37, who lives in the Taliban-controlled district of Dasht-e Archi, outside Kunduz, but owns a grocery shop in the city, which is under government control, says he pays 5 afghani (7 cents) per box of items in his shop, a total of around 600-700 afghani a month.
    “I don’t know what they call it, but I pay,” he said.
LEVIES
    Shahussain Murtazawi, spokesman for the President’s Office in Kabul, said the Taliban still depended on foreign support from countries such as Pakistan and income from drugs and illegal mines, but acknowledged that the insurgents’ ability to levy taxes was a reality in swathes of the country.
    “Unfortunately we often receive complaints about Taliban’s extortions and forcefully imposed taxes on people living in Taliban-controlled areas,” he said.
    Alongside courts, which even many people in government-controlled areas consider more reliable and fair than the official justice system, taxation is at the heart of Taliban efforts to build a state-in-waiting.
    “The Taliban have a proper system of government,” said Islamuddin, a truck driver from Nawzad district in Helmand, the volatile southern province on the other side of the country from Kunduz, who was stopping in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah.
    “Just as the government collects taxes here in Lashkar Gah, the Taliban do it in areas they control in Nawzad.”
    In exchange, the insurgents seek to portray themselves as effective guarantors of justice and security in areas where Islamic State, also known as Daesh, or loosely pro-government militias can ravage unprotected villages.
    “We have mobile custom teams that normally get assigned in specific locations on large highways close to the borders to collect the tax, especially from large trucks importing or exporting goods,” said Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid.
    “In most areas, based on agreement with the traders, we provide them security and they pay us 2 percent of the value of their goods.”
    In the eastern province of Nangarhar, where Islamic State militants have struck repeatedly against schools, teachers have been forced to arm themselves and in many cases have turned to the Taliban for help.
    “When the government failed to protect schools after a number of attacks by Daesh, the elders had to ask the Taliban to help protect schools,” said Hasibullah Shinwari, director of education in Nangarhar, who regularly carries a weapon to work.
    For many in the growing number of Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, where 40 years of war have eroded the state’s ability to provide basic services, the twin approach of taxes and protection has resulted in an increasing acceptance of Taliban government as a normal state of affairs.
    “For people living in Taliban-controlled areas, it’s normal to pay taxes to the Taliban, because the Taliban are trying to properly govern the areas under their control,” said Abdul, a 42-year-old from Aqtash district in Kunduz, who like others did not want his full name to be quoted for fear of reprisals.
(Additional reporting by Mohammad Stanekzai in Lashkar Gah and Ahmad Sultan in Jalalabad; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/6/2018 West calls on China to close Uighur detention camps by Stephanie Nebehay
People demonstrate against China during its Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council
in front of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Western countries including Canada, France and Germany called on China on Tuesday to close down detention camps, which activists say hold 1 million Uighurs and other Muslims.
    At a debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva — which reports on human rights in each U.N. member state every five years and is reviewing China’s record this week — Beijing said it protected the freedoms of ethnic minorities.
    But one after another, Western countries spoke out against what they described as a deterioration in China’s human rights since the last review, especially over its treatment of Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang.
    Beijing should “halt massive imprisonment” and “guarantee freedom of religion and belief, including in Tibet and Xinjiang,” France’s ambassador Francois Rivasseau said.    Germany called for an end to “all unlawful detention including unconstitutional mass detention of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang.”
    Canada’s envoy Rosemary McCarney said Ottawa was “deeply concerned by credible reports of mass detention, repression and surveillance of Uighurs and other Muslims in Xinjiang."
    “Canada recommends that China release Uighurs and other Muslims who have been detained arbitrarily and without due process for their ethnicity or religion,” she said.    Similar statements were made by diplomats from Australia and Japan.
    In his opening speech, Le Yucheng, China’s vice minister for foreign affairs, made no mention of the allegations of mass detentions.
    “We protect the rights of ethnic minorities in accordance with law, all 55 ethnic groups are represented in the National Congress and Chinese Communist Party,” he said.
    A United Nations panel of human rights experts said on Aug. 10 it had received many credible reports that 1 million ethnic Uighurs in China were being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp that is shrouded in secrecy.”
    China has said in the past that Xinjiang faces a threat from Islamist militants and separatists.    It rejects all accusations of mistreatment and denies mass internment, although Chinese officials have said some citizens guilty of minor offences were being sent to vocational centers to work.
    Around 1,000 Tibetan and Uighur protesters from around Europe protested outside the U.N. headquarters in Geneva during the debate.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/6/2018 Oil down $0.04 to $63.10, DOW up 191 to 25,462

11/6/2018 Iran wants US talks, but respect first by Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
    ANTALYA, Turkey – As Iranians braced for the full restoration of economic sanctions imposed Monday by the Trump administration, their government signaled it would be open to talking to the United States about a new nuclear arms accord if Washington changes its approach to discussing the agreement it abandoned this year.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s top diplomat, told USA TODAY in an exclusive interview over the weekend that his government would consider diplomacy if there were “foundations for a fruitful dialogue” on the nuclear reduction deal.    In May, President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact made with world powers and Iran.    Other signatories stayed in.
    “Mutual trust is not a requirement to start negotiations – mutual respect is a requirement,” Zarif said in a wide-ranging, 45-minute interview.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on state TV in August that he would be willing to meet with Trump over the collapsing deal, but Rouhani questioned Trump’s “sincerity” in any possible talks.    U.S. national security adviser John Bolton dismissed Rouhani’s comments as propaganda.    The United States and Iran effectively broke off all diplomatic contact when Trump decided to exit the agreement.
    The Trump “administration does not believe in diplomacy.    It believes in imposition,” Zarif said in the interview before the White House reimposed crushing economic sanctions on Iran’s energy and banking sectors Monday.
    The administration said the sanctions, lifted under the agreement Iran signed with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany when Barack Obama was president, are aimed at taking stronger steps to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, its missile activity and the billions of dollars it spends funding terrorism and sowing discord across the Middle East.
    The White House did not respond to a request to address Zarif’s remarks.    The State Department declined to comment.    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday: “The Iranian regime has a choice.    It can either do a 180-degree turn from its outlaw course of action and act like a normal country, or it can see its economy crumble.    We hope a new agreement with Iran is possible.”
    Rouhani said Monday that his nation faces a “war situation” and vowed that Iran “will sell” its oil.    Iran’s military announced it will hold defense drills to prove its capabilities.
    “Mutual respect starts with respecting yourself, with respecting your signature, respecting your own word,” Zarif said, referring to various international agreements Trump has abandoned or renegotiated.
    Iran’s foreign minister spoke to USA TODAY in Antalya, a resort town on Turkey’s southwestern Mediterranean coast.
    For U.S.-Iranian talks, “it doesn’t have to be a different administration, but it does require a different approach,” Zarif said.
    Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, the founder of Bourse & Bazaar, a media firm that supports business diplomacy between Europe and Iran, said: “Zarif doesn’t say things unless he wants to signal where Iran’s thinking is. ... What’s significant is he is saying this on the eve of the sanctions being reapplied. ... Iran can’t be seen to be begging the U.S. to come back into the deal, but it is clear there is an undercurrent in the diplomacy, which is that Iran is open to this if the U.S. shows itself to be reasonable about respecting” the nuclear deal."
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s minister of foreign affairs, speaks with USA TODAY in Antalya, Turkey. NEALE HAYNES FOR USA TODAY

11/7/2018 EU observers say Madagascar presidential vote going smoothly by Lovasoa Rabary
Voters queue as they wait to be processed by the electoral commission officials before casting
their ballots during the presidential election at a polling centre in Antananarivo, Madagascar November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Malin Palm
    ANTANANARIVO (Reuters) – Millions of voters in Madagascar queued on Wednesday to cast their ballots for a president to tackle unemployment, poverty and corruption on the Indian Ocean island.
    President Hery Rajaonarimampianina is seeking a second term in office and his two main challengers are former heads of state: Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina.
    The head of the European Union’s observer mission, Cristian Preda, said his team deployed across the country had not yet detected any anomalies in the polls, which he said were key for the restoration of Madagascar’s democratic credentials.
    Observers are hoping for the second peaceful election since the upheaval of 2009, when Ravalomanana was forced out of office by protests led by Rajoelina in what international organizations such as the African Union said was a coup.
    Those events prompted an exodus of foreign investors from a country that is one of the world’s poorest despite reserves of nickel, cobalt, gold, uranium and other minerals.
    Defense Minister Beni Xavier Rasolofonirina said 10,000 security personnel had been deployed across the country to bolster security as people cast their ballots.
    Voter Sahondramalala Nirisoa, a nurse in the capital, told Reuters: “I hope and I pray for change.”
    Another voter, Erick Ralaiarimanana, 40, an information technology worker in the capital, said he hoped the next president would work for “the good of the Malagasy people.”
    Each of the three main candidates has pledged to accelerate recovery for an economy the International Monetary Fund forecasts will grow at more than 5 percent this year, its highest rate in a decade.
    Since a peaceful election in 2013, investors and donor governments have started to reengage following a four-year freeze that began after Rajoelina came to power.
    But the island was hit by a fresh political crisis in April, sparked by a legal amendment by Rajaonarimampianina’s government that would have prevented Ravalomanana from standing for office.    Rajaonarimampianina later removed that provision.
    Civil society groups accuse the three wealthy frontrunners of enriching themselves in office, something each denies.
    The groups say a fisheries deal the incumbent signed with Chinese firms in September is opaque and will impoverish local fishermen.
    Turnout at noon was estimated at 30-35 percent, Ernest Razafindraibe, spokesman for the electoral commission, said.
    There are nearly 10 million registered voters in the country of 25 million people, electoral commission data shows.
    Ravalomanana said he was “delighted” with the way voting was unfolding.    “This election is a turning point for the country,” Ravalomanana said after voting in the capital Antananarivo.
    Few analysts expect an outright winner from the 36 total who are contesting.
    If the poll needs to go to a second round, it will involve only the two top candidates and take place on Dec. 19.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri and Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/7/2018 Bangladesh rejects opposition plea for caretaker government by Serajul Quadir
FILE PHOTO: Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina speaks during an interview
at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S. September 25, 2018. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/File Photo
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh’s ruling party has rejected an opposition party’s demand for a caretaker government it says is essential for a free and fair general election due to be held in December.
    Although Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League had agreed to unprecedented talks last week with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to discuss the arrangement, on Wednesday it declared the demand was unconstitutional.
    “Our prime minister told them there is no provision in our constitution to form such a caretaker government,” said Obaidul Quader, her party’s secretary general.
    The BNP, which is in disarray after the jailing of its chief, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, on corruption charges, also pressed for a caretaker government at the last general election in 2014.
    When that demand was not met, it boycotted the poll.
    The party and its allies were still undecided whether to participate in the election, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told Reuters.
    Quader said the Awami League would ensure a level playing field by preventing ministers from using government buildings or vehicles for the next three months.
    Hasina and Khaleda, who between them have ruled Bangladesh for decades, are bitter rivals and the BNP says its leader has been jailed on trumped-up charges to keep her out of politics.
    On Wednesday the Awami League also rejected BNP demands to reconsider Khaleda’s sentence, which was doubled to 10 years on October 30, so ruling her out of December’s contest.
    “We told them the High Court already announced its verdict about Khaleda Zia,” Quader said.
(Reporting by Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)

11/7/2018 Thailand’s Shinawatra clan, allies form new party ahead of polls
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's former premier Thaksin Shinawatra speaks during
a group interview in Tokyo August 23, 2011. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao/File Photo
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Relatives and allies of ousted Thai premiers Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, Yingluck, formed a new political party on Wednesday ahead of a general election set for early next year, seen as a strategy to win more seats.
    The military government has promised to hold elections between February and May after repeated delays.
    The race is set to be a contest between supporters of the military and royalist establishment and populist forces led by the Puea Thai Party that was ousted in a 2014 coup.
    Members of the new Thai Raksa Chart Party include Thaksin and Yingluck’s nephew and niece, close aides, and the younger generation of the clan’s political allies.    It will be headed by Preechapol Pongpanich, an ex-member of parliament with the Puea Thai Party.
    “It’s a political strategy for Puea Thai under the new electoral system to win more seats,” political scientist Yuttaporn Issarachai told Reuters.
    Parties linked to the Shinawatras have won every election in the past decade.    But the military government’s new constitution, which the military said aims to weaken major political parties, effectively cuts constituency seats in provinces where the Shinwatras have previously held dominance.
    He said the party would also serve as a “back-up” should Puea Thai be dissolved.
    The Puea Thai Party faces dissolution after the junta ordered the Election Commission to investigate whether Thaksin was still controlling Puea Thai.
    The former telecommunications tycoon was ousted in a 2006 coup and has since lived in self-imposed exile to avoid a graft conviction in 2008 he says was politically motivated.    He faces separate corruption charges from 2008 and 2012.
    Yingluck fled Thailand in August last year just before a court found her guilty of criminal negligence.    She was handed down a five-year jail term in absentia.
    Parties linked to the Shinawatras have won every election in the past decade.    But the military government’s new constitution, which the military said aims to weaken major political parties, effectively cuts constituency seats in provinces where the Shinawatras have previously held dominance.
    But the Shinawatras remain immensely popular, especially in the rural northeastern provinces.
(Reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat and Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Nick Macfie)

11/7/2018 Cambodia’s Hun Sen eases pressure on unions, as EU sanctions threat looms by Prak Chan Thul
Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives at the ASEM leaders summit
in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told his ministers to ease pressure on labor union leaders on Wednesday, after threats by the European Union to remove the Southeast Asian country’s duty-free trading access.
    The EU began a formal procedure last month to strip Cambodia of its “Everything but Arms (EBA)” initiative, following a July general election that returned Hun Sen to power after 33 years in office and gave his party all parliamentary seats.
    In a speech to 20,000 factory workers on Wednesday, Hun Sen urged his ministries of justice and labor to speed up or drop any pending court cases against union leaders.
    “Cases that should be handled, handle them quickly.    Cases that are not being handled, drop them, finish them, so that those union leaders don’t feel like hostages,” Hun Sen said.
    “This will open up some freedom space for the unions,” he said.    “Let’s make reconciliation and understanding of each other a priority.”
    Hun Sen did not refer to the EU threat to remove trade preferences.
    The world’s largest trading bloc has launched a six-month review of Cambodia’s duty-free access, meaning its garments, sugar and other exports could face tariffs within 12 months, under EU rules.
    Representatives from major apparel and footwear companies, including Adidas , New Balance, Nike , Puma , Under Armour, and VF Corporation, met Cambodian government ministers on Oct. 19.
    The companies urged the government to drop what are widely seen as politically motivated criminal charges against trade unionists.
    “The prime minister has made a step toward honoring human rights obligations under the EBA agreement with the EU while wooing workers’ support for his rule,” said political analyst Lao Mong Hay said.
    The repercussions of any EU sanctions on Cambodian garments could devastate an export industry which accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
    Ath Thon, the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, who has 7 pending lawsuits against him and another 50 against his colleagues over labor strikes, said he welcomed Hun Sen’s comments.
    “Let’s wait and see how they will resolve this,” Ath Thon told Reuters.
    “i>It could be that, firstly, the election is over and the situation is better so they want to solve problems and, secondly, that they want to respond to what development partners want/i>.”
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

11/7/2018 Facing new sanctions, Iranians vent anger at rich and powerful by Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: Iranian rials, U.S. dollars and Iraqi dinars are seen at
a currency exchange shopÊin Basra, Iraq November 3, 2018. Picture taken November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    GENEVA (Reuters) – More Iranians are using social media to vent anger at what they see as the corruption and extravagance of a privileged few, while the majority struggles to get by in an economy facing tighter U.S. sanctions.
    The country has been hit by a wave of protests during the last year, some of them violent, but as economic pressures rise, people are increasingly pointing fingers at the rich and powerful, including clerics, diplomats, officials and their families.
    One person channeling that resentment is Seyed Mahdi Sadrossadati, a relatively obscure cleric who has amassed 256,000 followers on his Instagram account with a series of scathing posts aimed at children of the elite.
    In one recent post, he blasted the luxury life” of a Revolutionary Guards commander and his son, who posted a selfie online in front of a tiger lying on the balcony of a mansion.
    Openly criticizing a well-known member of the powerful military unit that answers to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in itself an unusual act of defiance.
    “A house tiger?    What’s going on?” Sadrossadati wrote.    “And this from a 25-year-old youth who could not gain such wealth.    People are having serious difficulty getting diapers for their child.”
    The Iranian rial currency has hit 149,000 to the U.S. dollar on the black market used for most transactions, down from around 43,000 at the start of 2018, as U.S. President Donald Trump vowed to pull out of the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers aimed at curbing its nuclear program.
    That has sent living costs sharply higher and made imports less accessible, while the threat of financial punishment from the United States has prompted many foreign companies to pull out of Iran or stay away.
    The situation could get worse, as additional sanctions come into force this week.
(For graphic on plunging rial, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2D4zCA5)
SULTAN OF COINS
    Wary of growing frustration over the relative wealth of a few among the population of 81 million, Khamenei has approved the establishment of special courts focused on financial crimes.
    The courts have handed out at least seven death sentences since they were set up in August, and some of the trials have been broadcast live on television.
    Among those sentenced to death was Vahid Mazloumin, dubbed the “sultan of coins” by local media, a trader accused of manipulating the currency market and who was allegedly caught with two tons of gold coins, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA).
    The tough sentences have not been enough to quell frustration, however, with high profile officials and clerics in the firing line.
    “Because the economic situation is deteriorating, people are looking for someone to blame and in this way get revenge from the leaders and officials of the country,” said Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based economist and political analyst
    Washington is likely to welcome signs of pressure on Iran’s political and religious establishment, as it hopes that by squeezing the economy it can force Tehran to curb its nuclear program and row back on military and political expansion in the Middle East.
    Public anger among Iranians has been building for some time.
    Demonstrations over economic hardships began late last year, spreading to more than 80 cities and towns and resulting in at least 25 deaths.
CLERICS
    In addition to his written contributions, Sadrossadati has posted videos of debates between himself and some of those he has criticized.
    In one, he confronted Mehdi Mazaheri, the son of a former central bank governor who was criticized online after a photograph appeared showing him wearing a large gold watch.
    In a heated exchange, Sadrossadati shouted: “How did you get rich?    How much money did you start out with and how much money do you have now?    How many loans have you taken?
    Mazaheri, barely able to get in a reply, said he would be willing to share documents about his finances.
    Children of more than a dozen other officials have been criticized online and are often referred to as “aghazadeh” – literally “noble-born” in Farsi but also a derogatory term used to describe their perceived extravagance.
    High-profile clerics have also been targeted.
    Mohammad Naghi Lotfi, who held the prestigious position of leading Friday prayers at a mosque in Ilam, west Iran, resigned in October after he was criticized on social media for being photographed stepping out of a luxury sports utility vehicle.
    Facebook posts labeled Lotfi a hypocrite for highlighting ways that ordinary Iranians could get through the economic crisis during his speeches.    The outcry was a major factor in his decision to resign from a post he had held for 18 years.
    “The hype that was presented against me in this position … made me resign, lest in the creation of this hype the position of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution be damaged,” Lotfi told state media after stepping down.
    “The issue of the vehicle … was all lies that they created in cyberspace,” he added.
    He was one of at least four clerics in charge of Friday prayers who have resigned in the last year after being accused on social media of profligacy or financial impropriety.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/7/2018 Australia’s far-right One Nation recruits former Labor leader
FILE PHOTO: Australian opposition Labor leader Mark Latham makes a concession speech
to the Labor party's election evening rally in Sydney. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A former leader of Australia’s main opposition Labor party said on Wednesday he will join the country’s most prominent far-right political party, One Nation, in a move that may re-energize nationalist politics.
    Mark Latham, who led Australia’s center-left Labor to defeat at the 2004 national election, said he will join Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, and will run as a candidate in the New South Wales (NSW) state election due early next year.
    “Labor and the coalition (government) have got the same policies,” Latham told Australia’s Channel 9 television.    “i>It’s important to give people a third choice.”
    Latham’s move is a boost to right-wing politics in Australia, a movement that has failed at the ballot box in recent years.
    Hanson’s One Nation briefly enjoyed the balance of power in Australia’s upper house Senate in 2016 though the party split with the resignation of several lawmakers.
    One Nation has traditionally enjoyed strong support in Australia’s northeast, but saw support wane at last year’s state election in Hanson’s home state of Queensland.    It also flopped at the 2017 Western Australia state election.
    Latham – who in early 2004 looked on course to become Australian prime minister – is a likely boost to the movement.
    “Latham will get a lot of attention.    He has signaled he will campaign on the issue of immigration, which will resonate with voters,” said Peter Chen, professor of politics at the University of Sydney.
    Immigration is expected to be a centerpiece of the NSW state election and the next national ballot, amid growing voter frustration at urban congestion and soaring house prices.
    Nearly 70 percent of the 186,000 migrants who settled in Australia last year all moved to Sydney or Melbourne, according to government data.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison must call a national election by May 2019, with Labor predicted to win a landslide victory according to opinion polls.
    His conservative government lost its parliamentary majority on Monday, when an independent candidate was confirmed the winner in a critical by-election in Sydney, and now relies on six independents to stay in power.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/7/2018 Iran able to flourish under sanctions: Revolutionary Guard
FILE PHOTO: Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard,
speaks during Tehran's Friday prayers July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran can flourish under sanctions and will defeat the United States in the economic war it has launched, the deputy head of the Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday.
    The United States on Monday re-imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil, banking and transport sectors and threatened more action to stop Tehran’s missile and nuclear programs and curb its influence in countries such as Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
    “The enemy is trying to strike a blow against Iran through a soft war and an economic war but they will face a heavy defeat,” Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Hossein Salami was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
    “Iran has been able to advance in any area that the enemy has placed sanctions on Islamic Iran,” he said.    Separately, Salami said Lebanon’s Hezbollah had Israel in a “death grip,”    “Today the Zionists are surrounded and are flailing between life and death,” he said.
    Iran and Hezbollah are key military supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.    Israel has staged repeated air raids against Iran’s military and allied militia in Syria.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
[Big talk but no action, as seen below.]

    As seen back on 6/6/2018 for the article Iran informs U.N. it’s increasing nuclear enrichment capacity
    Iran has informed the U.N. nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set by the 2015 agreement with world powers.    The steps announced Tuesday appeared to signal that Iran could resume its enrichment drive if the nuclear accord comes unraveled.

IRANIAN GENERAL: ISLAMIC ARMY IN SYRIA AWAITS ORDERS TO DESTROY ISRAEL
    The Deputy Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) Hossein Salami recently said,
    “Today an international Islamic army has formed in Syria and the voices of Muslims are heard near the Golan.    Orders are awaited, so that… the eradication of the evil regime (Israel) will land the life of this regime, will be ended for good.    The life of the Zionist regime was never in danger as it is now,” this was reported by The Times of Israel.
    Salami also said that Tehran-backed Hezbollah terrorists have 100,000 missiles aimed at Israel.
    “We are creating might in Lebanon because we want to fight our enemy from there with all our strength.    Hezbollah today has tremendous might on the ground that can, on its own, break the Zionist regime.    The Zionist regime has no strategic-defensive depth.”
    (Translation of Salami’s statements: Middle East Media Research Institute [MEMRI]).
    “The Zionist regime has no strategic-defensive depth?
    At a sermon in Tehran that aired on IRIB TV on July 1, 2016, Salami stated that "Today, more than ever, there is fertile ground – with the grace of God – for the annihilation, the wiping out, and the collapse of the Zionist regime."    Salami claimed that "only in Lebanon, more than 100,000 Qaem missiles are ready for launch… so that any time the Zionist regime seeks to repeat its previous mistakes with miscalculations, these missiles would… come down on the heart of the Zionist regime and be the prelude for a big collapse in the modern era... They are just waiting for the command, so that when the trigger is pulled, the accursed black dot will be wiped off the geopolitical map of the world, once and for all.”


11/8/2018 Oil prices stable as talk of OPEC output cuts supports, but soaring U.S. production drags by Henning Gloystein
FILE PHOTO - A general view of the Zueitina oil terminal is seen in Zueitina, west of Benghazi April 7, 2014. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices were stable on Thursday, supported by rumblings from within OPEC that production curbs may become necessary again to prevent a return of global oversupply.
    But soaring U.S. crude output, which hit a record 11.6 million barrels per day (bpd) last week, kept a lid on prices.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $61.75 per barrel at 0120 GMT, up 8 cents from their last settlement.
    Front-month Brent crude oil futures were up 6 cents at $72.13 a barrel.Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as Russia decided last June to relax output curbs in place since 2017, after pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to reduce oil prices and make up for supply losses from Iran.
    But with Iran sanctions now in place and oil still in ample availability, OPEC-led production cuts next year cannot be ruled out, two OPEC sources said on Wednesday.
    “OPEC and Russia may use cuts to support $70 per barrel,” said Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank.
    “The introduction of U.S. sanctions earlier this week against Iran failed to lift the market given the announcement that eight countries, including three of the world’s biggest importers, would receive waivers to carry on buying Iranian crude for up to six months,” Hansen said.
    U.S. crude oil output hits record 11.6 mln bpd: – https://tmsnrt.rs/2PfIZEH
THE ONLY WAY IS UP
    Preventing oil prices from rising any further has been a relentless rise in U.S. crude output, which hit a record 11.6 million bpd in the week ending Nov. 2, according to Energy Information Administration (EIA) data released on Wednesday.
    That’s a threefold increase from the U.S. low reached a decade ago, and a 22.2 percent rise just this year.    It makes the United States the world’s biggest producer of crude oil.
    That has impacted U.S. crude inventories, which rose by 5.8 million barrels in the week ending Nov. 2, to 431.79 million barrels, the EIA said.
    Crude stocks moved back above their five-year average levels in October.
    Production has not just risen in the United States, but also in many other countries, including Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Brazil, stoking producer concerns of a return of oversupply that depressed oil prices between 2014 and 2017.
    “Producers are concerned about the potential oversupply … after EIA reported that crude inventories rose by 5.8 million barrels,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia-Pacific at futures brokerage Oanda in Singapore.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Joseph Radford)

11/8/2018 Dollar trades in narrow range as investors await Fed rate decision by Vatsal Srivastava
FILE PHOTO: A woman counts U.S. dollar bills in August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar traded in a narrow range versus major peers on Thursday as investors took in the U.S. midterm election results, and turned their focus to the Federal Reserve’s monetary tightening path.
    The election results were as the market expected; a split Congress with Democrats winning control of the House of Representatives and Republicans cementing their majority in the Senate.
    Traders initially reacted to this result by selling the dollar on Wednesday as the likelihood of further fiscal stimulus faded.
    However, the dollar recouped most of its losses versus the euro and yen by the U.S. close as focus shifted away from politics to the Fed’s monetary policy.    The central bank’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) is due to release its latest policy decision on Thursday after of a two-day meeting.
    The Fed has raised rates three times this year as the U.S. economy boomed and inflation started to pick up.    It has signaled a rate rise in December, with two more hikes by mid-2019.
    “The dollar is likely to benefit as we still expect the Fed to maintain its hawkish stance.    The U.S. economy needs rising rates as wage pressures are building and there is a risk of an overheating of the economy,” said Sim Moh Siong, currency strategist at Bank of Singapore.
    The dollar index <.DXY>, a gauge of its value versus six major peers traded at 96.19 on Thursday, gaining 0.21 percent.
    The dollar strengthened 0.1 versus the yen to trade at 113.61 on Wednesday.    The dollar has gained around 1.9 percent over the Japanese currency over the last nine trading sessions due to the diverging monetary policies of the U.S. Fed and the Bank of Japan (BoJ).
    While the Fed is on track to raise interest rates the Bank of Japan will press on with ultra loose monetary policy because of low growth and inflation.
    The widening interest rate differential between U.S. and Japanese bonds has made the dollar a more attractive bet than the yen, which is often a funding currency for carry trades.
    The euro traded at $1.1429 on Thursday.    The single currency had touched an intra-day high of $1.15 on Wednesday, due to dollar weakness rather than any substantial improvements in the euro zone’s economic fundamentals.
    The standoff between the EU and Rome over Italy’s budget deficit and concerns over Europe’s slowing economic growth have dragged the euro which has fallen 4 percent versus the dollar over the last six months.
    The pound traded flat at $1.3124 in early Asian trade after gaining 3.36 percent versus the dollar in the last six trading sessions, as traders bet a Brexit agreement was close.
    The New Zealand dollar traded 0.15 percent lower versus the greenback at $0.6776.    The central bank kept rates on hold at 1.75 percent on Thursday.
    The Australian dollar traded marginally lower at $0.7272 on Thursday after gaining on the greenback over the previous three trading sessions.
    However, traders expect upside in the Aussie dollar will be limited by rising trade tensions between the United States and China, Australia’s major trading partner.
(Reporting by Vatsal Srivastava; editing by Eric Meijer)

11/8/2018 Japan machinery orders hit by worst-ever slump in September, raise capex doubts by Stanley White
FILE PHOTO: Excavators are seen at a construction site in Tokyo, Japan June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s core machinery orders tumbled by the most on record in September, the Cabinet office said on Thursday, after a severe earthquake and typhoons disrupted business activity.
    The 18.3 percent slump in machinery orders far outpaced the median market estimate for a 10.0 percent decline and follows a 6.8 percent increase in August.
    Despite the slump, manufacturers surveyed by the government expect core machinery orders to rise 3.6 percent in October-December after a 0.9 percent increase in July-September, but some economists worry this forecast is overly optimistic.
    The northern island of Hokkaido lost power after a severe earthquake in September, which followed a series of typhoons and floods that damaged infrastructure in western Japan.
    Businesses quickly resumed operations after these natural disasters, but a 12.5 percent decline in machinery orders from overseas suggests weakening export demand.
    Orders from manufacturers fell 17.3 in September after a 6.6 percent in August, due to declining orders from makers of chemicals, electronics, and autos, the data showed.
    Service-sector orders fell 17.1 percent, versus a 6.0 percent increase in the previous month, due to a decline in orders for railway cars, heavy machinery, and computers.
    “Core” machinery orders exclude those for ships and from electricity utilities.
    The government changed its assessment of machinery orders to say they are recovering but fell sharply in September.
    The machinery orders data followed news that Japan’s index of coincident economic indicators worsened in September.
    The coincident index, which consists of indicators such as industrial output, jobs figures and retail sales data, fell a preliminary 2.1 points in September from the previous month, the Cabinet Office said on Wednesday.
    The government cut its assessment of the coincident index for the first time since May 2015, saying it is stalling.
    Japan’s economy is expected to have contracted an annualized 1.0 percent in July-September due to the natural disasters and a slowdown in overseas demand, a Reuters poll found.    The government will release the data on Nov. 14.
    Analysts believe Japan’s economy will recover from the setbacks caused by the quarter’s natural disasters.
    However, there is a risk companies will curb capital expenditure if overseas demand weakens further.
    Declining momentum in the global economy and possible spillover effects from the US-China trade dispute pose risks to the outlook.
(Reporting by Stanley White, editing by Eric Meijer)

11/8/2018 Canada joins effort to counter China with Asian warship drills by Tim Kelly
Royal Canadian Navy's Halifax-class frigate HMCS Calgary (FFH335) is moored at
the U.S. naval base in Yokosuka, Japan November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato
    YOKOSUKA (Reuters) – Built to hunt Russian submarines, Canadian frigate HMCS Calgary is instead chasing Japanese and U.S. subs in western Pacific drills as Canada joins other maritime nations in seeking to contain Chinese influence in the Indo Pacific.
    “The expectation is to see one, if not two ships, on a year round basis doing a variety of things with a variety of partners in the region,” Commander Blair Saltel, the captain of Calgary, said in Yokosuka, Japan.
    His ship, docked at the naval base near Tokyo along with Canadian navy supply ship the Asterix, left Canada in July on a mission that has taken it through the East China Sea, to Australia and into the contested South China Sea, where it encountered curious Chinese warships.
    Last week, it joined Japanese and U.S. warships, including the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, for anti-submarine warfare exercises in the Western Pacific that were part of the biggest combat readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan.
    “There’s an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate that we have experience working with allies within coalitions,” said Saltel.
    Canada’s decision to deploy ships to Asian naval exercises comes as other nations, including Britain and France, bolster their presence in a region, fearing China’s growing military power could see vital commercial sea lanes come under Beijing’s sway.
    London this year has dispatched three warships to the Indo Pacific, including its largest amphibious assault ship, HMS Albion.    On its return journey west following a visit to Japan, the 22,000 ton vessel, with a contingent of 120 Royal Marines on board, sailed close to islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.
    Beijing, which says its presence on island bases there is peaceful, slammed the operation as a “provocatio.”
    Japan, which operates the second largest navy in Asia, this year dispatched the Kaga helicopter on a two-month tour through the South China Sea, and into Indian Ocean, where it sailed with the latest British warship to travel to the region, the Argyll.
    Before returning to Canada, the Calgary this month will sail to Sasebo in western Japan, another key base for both the U.S. and Japanese navies, for more anti-submarine warfare drills.
    “It’s a steady progression toward a mutual agreement to make sure we can share information, share logistics and be able to cooperate at a moment’s notice should our navies require,” Saltel said on the Calgary’s bridge as his crew and local Japanese engineers carried out maintenance work.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/8/2018 Rohingya crisis, Suu Kyi under the microscope at Southeast Asia summit by John Geddie and Thu Thu Aung
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends joint press remarks with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not in picture)
after their bilateral meeting at the Akasaka Palace state guest house in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Toshifumi Kitamura/Pool via Reuters
    SINGAPORE/YANGON (Reuters) – The customary cordiality of Southeast Asian summits may be missing when the region’s leaders meet next week due to sharp differences over Myanmar, whose military has been accused of genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
    Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to attend the Nov. 11-15 Singapore meeting, and Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, a doyen of the group, has served notice he has lost faith in the Nobel peace laureate because of the Rohingya issue.
    “We have made it quite clear we don’t really support her any more,” Mahathir said in an interview with Turkish news channel TRT World just over a month ago.
    “Our policy in ASEAN is non-interference in the internal affairs of the countries, but this is … grossly unjust,” he said, referring to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
    The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967, and it is one of the thorniest issues yet faced by a group that traditionally works by consensus.
    Many diplomats and rights activists say ASEAN’s credibility is at risk if it fails to tackle the matter head-on.
    A U.N. report in August detailed mass killings and gang rapes with genocidal intent in a military crackdown that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh.
    Outrage over what the United Nations branded “ethnic cleansing” has brought demands from Western nations for criminal charges and sanctions.
    “ASEAN credibility and its international standing would be severely tarnished if ASEAN remains indifferent to the Rakhine crisis,” said Kavi Chongkittavorn, a former special assistant to the ASEAN secretary-general and a veteran Thai journalist who has worked in Myanmar.
    The Rohingya issue comes at an important juncture for a region pushing for more economic integration in response to rising protectionism and a trade dispute between the United States and China.
    ASEAN’s Muslim-majority members – Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – tend to take the toughest line on the Rohingya question, while Myanmar has close regional allies in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.    Under military control in recent years, Thailand has also provided cover for Myanmar.
    In remarks delivered alongside Suu Kyi at a forum in Hanoi in September, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said countries outside Indochina were too critical of politics in the region and questioned whether they understood Myanmar.
UNCOMFORTABLE SCRUTINY
    Richard Horsey, a former U.N. diplomat in Myanmar and a political analyst based in Yangon, said leaders from outside the region who will attend the meetings in Singapore will be asking difficult questions about Myanmar.
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those expected to join ASEAN leaders in meetings later in the week.
    “Beyond this uncomfortable scrutiny, and possible distraction from other ASEAN priorities, some ASEAN elders also worry about the risk of the group polarizing along religious lines,” Horsey said.
    Singapore will deliver the chairman’s remarks next week so its role in the tone that ASEAN strikes will be pivotal.
    A source close to pre-summit discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Singapore is leaning toward a stronger stance because it is the most internationally engaged member of ASEAN and feels responsibility as host to protect its credibility.
    Asked for comment, Singapore’s Foreign Ministry said ASEAN leaders are expected to discuss the situation in Rakhine state when they meet next week and, as chair, Singapore supported discussions on the matter.
    “However, ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Myanmar government and the relevant stakeholders to reach a comprehensive, viable and durable political solution to this situation,” a spokeswoman said in an email response to Reuters.
    Earlier this year, Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan said the group had urged Myanmar to give a full mandate to a commission of inquiry to hold accountable those responsible for the crisis in Rakhine state.
    That was a toughening of rhetoric that had previously focused on repatriation of displaced persons to Myanmar and reconciliation among communities.
    “The shift in language, especially the recent calls for more accountability, reflect to a certain extent that ASEAN views the Myanmar issue as an indicator of its own ‘accountability’ in dealing with a recalcitrant member,” said Moe Thuzar, a lead researcher at Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies who specializes in ASEAN and Myanmar issues.
    A government source in Thailand, which takes over as chair of ASEAN next year, also said the group’s credibility was at stake, especially after the U.N. report on the Rohingya crisis. A third source close to the discussions said the issue “is a problem and we know it is a problem.”
    Myo Nyunt, spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said Myanmar would explain the situation at the summit.
    “We accept there are different views, but we have to make decisions for further plans based on the real situation of our country.    I want them to understand that there are some parts we cannot handle,” he said.
    Suu Kyi has previously said her civilian government should not bear all responsibility for the crisis because the military retains a powerful political role under the constitution.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Fathin Ungku in SINGAPORE, Thu Thu Aung, Poppy McPherson and Shoon Naing in YANGON, Panu Wongcha-um in BANGKOK and Rozanna Latiff in KUALA LUMPUR; Editing by John Chalmers and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/8/2018 Behind Sri Lanka’s turmoil, a China-India struggle for investments and influence by Sanjeev Miglani and Shihar Aneez
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Colombo Port City construction site, which is backed by
Chinese investment is seen, in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Gleaming cranes stretch out on the waterfront in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo as Chinese companies construct a $1.5 billion new commercial district, including hotels, marinas and a motor racing track.    They have already built a giant container terminal nearby and a huge port in the south.
    Now India, the traditional power in the region, is muscling into port and other projects, pushing back hard against China.
    The big fear for India is that Sri Lanka, just off its southern coast and on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, could become a Chinese military outpost.
    But the battle is creating political turmoil in Sri Lanka.    A bust-up between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe over how far to accommodate Indian interests is a key reason the nation’s unity government has just fallen apart, government officials and foreign diplomats said.
    Wickremesinghe, who was fired on Oct. 26 and replaced by veteran pro-China politician Mahinda Rajapaksa, told Reuters about arguments at a cabinet meeting chaired by the president last month over a proposal to grant development of a Colombo port project to a Japan-India joint venture.
    “There are arguments in the cabinet, sometimes heated arguments,” he said.
    Wickremesinghe did not name the president but said: “There was a paper put forth to not give it to India, Japan.”
    He added that he insisted that the ultimate decision should respect a memorandum of understanding signed between India, Japan and Sri Lanka.
    It was the first account of what transpired in the Oct 16 meeting and the government’s pushback against India.    Wickremesinghe declined to respond when asked if he believed the China-India struggle was behind his firing.    But Rajitha Senaratne, a former government minister who attended, confirmed the president and the prime minister had argued at the meeting.
    Two Sri Lankan officials, as well as a Western diplomat and an Indian government source, who were all briefed on the meeting, corroborated the minister’s account.
    The president’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Sirisena told a public meeting on Monday his political rivals were trying to drive a wedge between him and the Indian government by painting him as anti-India.
    The Indian foreign ministry said Delhi was committed to giving developmental assistance to Sri Lanka.
    In a statement last week, the Chinese embassy in Colombo rejected allegations China was involved in a conspiracy to change Sri Lanka’s leadership, saying it does not believe in such interference.
    Japan did not respond to a request for comment on the sacking of the government.    But Wickremesinghe and an official from the Japan International Cooperation Agency said a $1.4 billion soft loan for a light railway project in Colombo was on hold.
SECOND TERMINAL
    India had been pushing Sri Lanka for the award of an estimated $1 billion contract for a second foreign-operated container terminal in Colombo.    It has pointed to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) Sri Lanka signed in April 2017.
    Reuters has reviewed unpublished documents from that MOU and it lays out a blueprint for projects India would be involved in, including an oil refinery, roads, power stations and the container terminal.    The agreement also includes room for Indian involvement in the development of industrial zones.
    The cabinet meeting was supposed to give clearance for the port project but President Sirisena said the country, already mired in $8 billion of Chinese debt, couldn’t give any more of its assets to foreigners, according to Senaratne.
    “There was a misunderstanding between the president and the prime minister,” said Senaratne, who was the health minister in the deposed cabinet.    The Colombo terminal should be left to the state-owned Sri Lanka Port Authority, which was already developing the facilities, he quoted the president as saying.
    Tension had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe even before the clash over the port project.    The president did not approve of some economic reforms, such as opening up the services sector to foreign investment, being introduced by the prime minister.
    Sri Lanka is only one of a number of South Asian countries where the China-India rivalry has roiled domestic politics.
    China has been constructing ports, power stations and highways in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Nepal, much of it now tied to its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative to connect China with countries cross Asia and beyond.
    In September, the leader of the Maldives – who had courted Chinese investments – lost an election in a result seen as a setback to Beijing’s ambitions for the islands.
DEBT DIPLOMACY
    One of the officials briefed on the cabinet meeting said he was told Sirisena quoted U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s warning last month that China was using “debt diplomacy” and the Hambantota port in the south could become a Chinese forward military base.
    Sirisena told the cabinet Sri Lanka didn’t want this kind of international attention and vowed he wasn’t going to compound the problem by granting the Colombo deal to an outside party, this official said.
    But Wickremesinghe, who has forged close ties with India and Japan to balance ties with China, said at the meeting that the cabinet had already approved the broader pact with India a year ago, he told Reuters.
    He said the debt-burdened Sri Lanka Port Authority wasn’t in a position to build the terminal on its own, Wickremesinghe said he told the meeting.
    “It wasn’t even an Indian project, Japan was going to be the majority partner with India at 20 percent,” Wickremesinghe said in the interview.
    But the president not only rejected the proposal but shocked those present by turning on New Delhi, saying he was the target of an assassination plot and suggesting India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was behind it, said officials who attended the meeting.
    The Sri Lankan government later denied Sirisena named the agency, India’s equivalent of the CIA.    India’s foreign ministry said Sirisena spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the issue to ensure it didn’t lead to a diplomatic crisis.
    But ten days after the cabinet meeting, Wickremesinghe was out and former president Rajapaksa was named in his place.    Rajapaksa had ushered in Chinese investment when he was president from 2005-2015 and lost a presidential election to Sirisena after reports that RAW had helped build a coalition against him.
CHANGING LANDSCAPE
    In Colombo, the increasing Chinese influence is there for all to see.
    On the city’s ocean front, a part of the ocean is blocked from view because of the reclamation project that will eventually turn into the new commercial district.    Giant billboards and wire mesh, including some signs in Chinese, close off the largest construction site in the capital.
    There is a growing Chinese community of about 12,000 expatriates, up from barely a few hundred a few years ago.    They are scattered in Colombo and Hambantota.
    Modi’s government is determined to start to turn back the tide.    It is aggressively pitching for projects next to Chinese investments, so China’s military does not get a free pass.
    “India can ill afford to ignore the strategic advantage China has gained in Sri Lanka so close to peninsular India,” said Colonel R. Hariharan, a retired Indian army intelligence officer.
    The Colombo port isn’t the only priority.    In Hambantota, India is bidding to take control of an airport built next to the Chinese seaport even though it handles hardly any flights.
    “We are fully in the game,” said an Indian government source. It kept its profile low, though, because of local sensitivities, the source said.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
[The above article is definitely a good example of who will become the KING OF THE EAST and how it is unfolding.]

11/8/2018 Pakistani Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy ‘secure’, out of jail by Asif Shahzad and Mubasher Bukhari
FILE PHOTO: Rangers arrive at the Supreme Court after the court overturned the conviction of a Christian woman
sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Islamabad, Pakistan October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD/LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – A Pakistani Christian woman has been freed from prison a week after the Supreme Court overturned her conviction and death sentence for blasphemy against Islam, and she is at a secure location in the country, officials said on Thursday.
    Officials dismissed some media reports that the woman, Asia Bibi, had been flown abroad, which would enrage hardline Islamists who have been protesting against her release and calling for her to be banned from leaving.
    The release overnight of the mother of five prompted immediate anger from an Islamist party that has threatened to paralyze the country with street protests if her acquittal is not reversed.
    Bibi, 53, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations she made derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    She always denied having committed blasphemy.
    The case has outraged Christians worldwide, and Pope Francis met Bibi’s family this year, saying he prayed for her.    Italy said on Tuesday it would try to help Bibi, who is Catholic, to leave Pakistan.
    Pakistan’s foreign ministry denied reports that Bibi had left the country and pointed out that a review of the Supreme Court decision to free her was pending.
    “Asia Bibi is completely secure at a safe place in Pakistan,” said ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal.
    “Her writ is in court, when that is decided, Asia Bibi can go anywhere she wants to, she is a free national … if she wants to go abroad, no harm in it.”
    In Rome, the Catholic aid agency Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) said Bibi has been able to see her husband in an undisclosed location.
    Their daughters were “close by” but had not yet seen their mother as of early afternoon, Pakistan time.
    The agency, which arranged a meeting for Bibi’s husband and daughter with Pope Francis at the Vatican this year, said the family was awaiting visas but declined to disclose from which country for security reasons.
    Insulting Islam’s Prophet Mohammad carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan, which is about 95 percent Muslim and has among the harshest blasphemy laws in the world.
    No executions for blasphemy have been carried out in Pakistan but enraged mobs sometimes kill people accused of blasphemy.
    Rights groups say the blasphemy law is exploited by hardliners as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores.
    Christians make up about 2 percent of the population.
‘AGITATED’
    Security officials told Reuters early on Thursday that Bibi had been released from a prison in Multan, a city in the south of Punjab province.
    She was flown to Islamabad and was in protective custody because of threats to her life, said three officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Bibi’s lawyer, who has fled Pakistan and this week sought asylum in the Netherlands, confirmed she was no longer in prison.
    “All I can tell you is that she has been released,” lawyer Saif-ul-Mulook told Reuters by phone from the Netherlands, where the government said on Thursday it had offered him temporary asylum.
    A spokesman for the hard-line Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) party, which took to the streets after the Supreme Court ruling, said her release violated a deal with the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan to end the protests.
    “The TLP activists are agitated as the government has breached the agreement with our party.    The rulers have showed their dishonesty,” party spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters.
    Under the deal, the government said it would not block a petition to the Supreme Court to review Bibi’s acquittal in light of sharia, Islamic religious law, the TLP said.
    It also said the government promised to work to ensure Bibi could not leave the country.
    If the government allows Bibi to leave, it would likely face more paralyzing protests from the TLP and other Islamist parties.
(Reporting by Asif Shahzad and Saad Sayeed in ISLAMABAD, and Philip Pullella in ROME, Bart Meijer in AMSTERDAM; Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel)

11/8/2018 Respect our choices, China’s Xi says ahead of Trump G20 meeting by Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen
FILE PHOTO: Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi speaks during a meeting with South Korea's National Security Advisor Chung Eui-Yong
(not pictured) and South Korean ambassador to China Noh Young-min (not pictured) at the Diaoyutai state guesthouse on March 12, 2018 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Etienne Oliveau/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China wants to resolve problems with the United States through talks but it must respect China’s choice of development path and interests, President Xi Jinping said on Thursday ahead of a meeting with the U.S. leader in Argentina.
    China and the United States have put tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods and U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to set tariffs on the remainder of China’s $500 billion-plus exports to the United States if their blistering trade dispute cannot be resolved.
    Trump’s administration has also accused China of interfering in U.S. politics, charges China strongly denies, and the two have sparred over the disputed South China Sea and self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims.
    Still, Trump and Xi plan to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit, which is being held in Argentina at the end of November and early December, for high-stakes talks as the two countries try tentatively to get ties back on track.
    Meeting former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in Beijing, Xi said he and Trump would have a “deep exchange of views” in Argentina, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
    China and the United States should correctly judge each other’s strategic intentions, and while China wanted to resolve problems via talks, the United States should respect China’s choice of development path and legitimate interests, Xi added.
    Xi said attention should be paid to “the increase in negative voices related to China in the United States,” without elaborating.
    Speaking earlier, the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, said Xi and Trump reached an important consensus on the healthy and stable development of bilateral ties in a telephone call last week.    Their meeting at the G20 summit would be of “great significance” in resolving bilateral problems, Wang said.
    “That will be of great significance for both sides to manage differences effectively and resolve issues in a practical way,” Wang told reporters.
    Wang said China stood ready to work with the United States to remove disruptions, build trust and prepare fully for the meeting.
    “We believe that meeting will help chart the course for China-U.S. relations,” he said, following talks with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
    Wang added that the more complex the situation is, the more important it is for both sides to remain “level-headed.”
XI-TRUMP CALL
    Relations between the two countries have warmed since the Xi-Trump telephone call, laying the ground for their G20 meeting.
    In a further sign of improving ties, Chinese Politburo member Yang Jiechi and Defence Minister Wei Fenghe are set to hold a security and diplomatic dialogue with U.S. officials in Washington on Friday.
    Meeting U.S. national security adviser John Bolton in Washington ahead of those talks, Yang said on Wednesday that the two sides should “properly manage differences and carefully prepare to ensure positive results in the Argentina meeting,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    “China is committed to working with the U.S. to achieve a no-confrontational, conflict-free, mutually respectful co-operation in which both sides win,” added Yang, who heads the ruling Communist Party’s foreign affairs commission and outranks Wang.
    However, speaking in Singapore at a forum on Wednesday, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said there was a risk of an economic “Iron Curtain” falling between China and the United States unless China carried out reforms and that some people in the United States would like to “divorce” China.
    Beijing can help avoid this happening by ending practices like forced technology transfers, and providing better protection for intellectual property, and by also genuinely allowing market forces to drive key decisions.
    “If China doesn’t move quickly, I suspect the calls for divorce will intensify,” Paulson said.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Philip Wen; Additional reporting by Engen Tham and Wang Jing in Shanghai; Editing by Robert Birsel and Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/8/2018 China to keep 2019 growth within reasonable range: premier
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attends a joint news conference with Russian Prime
Minister Dmitry Medvedev (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing November 7, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will strive to keep economic growth within a reasonable range next year, even as the economy faces downward pressure, state radio quoted Premier Li Keqiang as saying on Thursday.
    Policymakers have in recent months taken steps to boost bank lending, cut taxes and quicken infrastructure spending to ward off a sharp slowdown in economic growth pressured by a trade dispute with the United States.
    “We will carefully plan next year’s development and ensure the smooth economic operation within a reasonable range,” Li was quoted as saying during a meeting with entrepreneurs and economists.
    The economy grew an annual 6.5 percent in the third quarter, its weakest since the global financial crisis, and analysts expect growth to slow further in the coming quarters.
    The government aims for annual growth of around 6.5 percent this year.
    The government will ensure economic policy continuity, improve policy coordination and take further steps to ease funding difficulties facing small and private firms, Li said.
    The government would focus more on promoting employment, Li added.
(Reporting by China Monitoring Desk and Kevin Yao; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/8/2018 China shuns rivalry in Pacific as Australia says ‘this is our patch’ by Philip Wen and Colin Packham
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne meets her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi at the
Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/Pool
    BEIJING/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Beijing and Canberra should be cooperating in the South Pacific and not be cast as strategic rivals, China’s top diplomat said on Thursday, after Australia launched a multi-billion dollar fund to counter China’s rising influence in the region.
    Standing alongside Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi made the conciliatory remarks after a meeting in Beijing widely billed as a step toward re-setting bilateral ties after a lengthy diplomatic chill.
    Wang said that he had agreed with Payne that the two countries could combine their respective strengths and embark on trilateral cooperation with Pacific island countries.
    “We are not rivals, and we can absolutely become cooperation partners,” Wang told reporters, describing the meeting as important after the recent “ups and downs” in the relationship.
    Payne said the discussions were “valuable, full and candid.”
    “We’ve realistically acknowledged today that in a relationship as dynamic as ours … there will be from time to time differences,” she said later at a separate news briefing.
    “But what is important about that is how we manage those and we are focused on managing them respectfully, mindful of the tremendous opportunities the relationship presents to both our nations.”
    Ties became strained late last year, when the previous Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, accused China of interfering in its domestic affairs.    The two countries have also been vying for influence in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich ocean.
    But even as his foreign minister visited Beijing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison characterized the Pacific as its domain while offering the region up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in cheap infrastructure loans and grants.
    “This is our patch, this is our part of the world,” Morrison said in his most detailed foreign policy speech since becoming prime minister in August.
    Speaking in Queensland, Morrison said Australia would invest in telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects in the region.
    He also said Australia would also expand its diplomatic presence in the Pacific, posting staff to Palau, the Marshall Islands, French Polynesia, Niue and the Cook Islands.
    There are also plans to strengthen Australia’s defense and security ties with Pacific islands through joint exercises and training.
    Morrison did not name China in the speech, but analysts said it was a clear response to China’s spreading influence.
    “Australia is reacting to what China is doing. Australia needs more tools to engage with the Pacific,” said Jonathan Pryke, a Pacific Islands foreign policy expert with the Lowy Institute, an Australian think-tank.
    China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.
    On Wednesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia would oppose a A$13 billion buyout of APA Group, Australia’s biggest gas pipeline company, by Hong Kong’s CK Group on grounds that it would be against the national interest.
    While reiterating the government’s stand on APA, Payne said Australia remained open to Chinese investment.    Wang said Beijing welcomed that assurance.
    Last December, Beijing took umbrage at Turnbull’s comments and the subsequent introduction of legislation to counter foreign interference, which appeared to be directed in large part at China.
    Prior to Payne’s visit, China had unofficially suspended accepting visits by senior Australian ministers, and Chinese state media had carried numerous anti-Australian articles.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/8/2018 Iran’s economy to suffer but likely ride out U.S. sanctions storm by Parisa Hafezi and Jonathan Saul
A money changer holds Iranian rial banknotes as he waits for customers
in Tehran's business district January 7, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Iran is likely to ride out the storm from U.S. oil sanctions, suffering recession but no economic meltdown, thanks to rising crude prices and deepening divisions between the United States and other major powers, officials and analysts say.
    “Iran’s situation is better than pre-2016 because of high oil prices and the fact that the U.S. is isolated this time,” said a European diplomat who asked not to be further identified.
    Iran emerged in early 2016 from years of global sanctions under a deal with world powers that curbed its disputed nuclear program.    But President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in May, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, and reimposed far-reaching U.S. sanctions in phases, with the most damaging oil and banking penalties taking effect on Nov. 5.
    Trump aims to force Washington’s longtime adversary to accept tougher restrictions on its nuclear activity, drop its ballistic missile program and scale back support for militant proxies in Middle East conflicts from Yemen to Syria.
    But the broadly united front of world powers that enforced sanctions on Iran previously, pushing Iran into nuclear restraint, has unraveled since Trump took office and clashed with allies over everything from trade to collective security.
    The other signatories to the nuclear deal – Germany, France, Britain, the European Union, Russia and China – have condemned Trump’s walkout from the pact.    The EU is preparing a special mechanism to enable payments for Iranian oil and other exports without U.S. dollars, possibly through a barter system.
    “It will be a difficult period but Iran’s economy will withstand it for various reasons,” a second diplomat said, “including (the fact of) Russia being under (U.S. and EU)sanctions, Saudi Arabia having its own financial and political issues, and (trade war) between China and the United States.”
    Big power disunity and EU moves to circumvent Trump’s sanctions regime have given Tehran a psychological boost – but not dissuaded foreign businesses ranging from oil majors to trading houses and shipping concerns from pulling out of Iran for fear of incurring new U.S. penalties.
RECESSION BUT NO MELTDOWN
    Still, while the U.S. clampdown will probably trigger recession in Iran next year, economic meltdown should be avoided, with a reduced but still significant volume of oil exports continuing, a Fitch solutions analyst said.
    “Tehran is still likely to see a substantial share of its foreign exchange earnings maintained,” Andrine Skjelland told Reuters. “This will enable Tehran to continue subsidizing imports of selected basic goods, keeping the costs of these down and thus limiting inflation to some extent.”
    In hopes of mitigating the immediate economic hit, Iranian authorities have hinted that Tehran might have to sell its oil at a discount to entice buyers going forward.
    “Oil revenues might decline but (they) will still be enough to run the country,” said an official involved in Iran’s international commerce.    “If we sell our oil for $1 less than market price, it will have tens of buyers.”
    In another counter-measure made possible by state control of the oil sector, Iranian authorities are using special exchange centers to sell dollars at cheaper rates to importers of basic foods, medicine and other essential goods.
    IHS Markit senior economist Patrick Schneider doubted that Iran could cushion the economic blow in the near term.
    “Despite the rhetoric and attempts to mitigate the downside effects…, uncertainty will remain prevalent for the next 6-12 months,” he told Reuters.
    The International Monetary Fund has forecast that Iran’s economy will contract in 2018 by 1.5 percent and by 3.6 percent in 2019 due to the dwindling of oil revenues.
    At the same time the World Bank anticipates inflation in Iran jumping to 23.8 percent in 2018-19 from 9.6 percent in 2017-18, and to 31.2 percent in 2019-20.
DEFIANCE
    But Iranian officials are defiant, citing Trump’s isolation in repudiating the nuclear deal, climbing oil prices and Trump’s agreement to grant sanctions waivers to eight countries especially dependent on Iranian crude.
    “Crude prices are rising.    Even if Iran’s oil sales drop to 800,000 barrels per day (bpd), we will be able to run the economy.    But we will send much more than that.    Our economy will be far from collapse,” said a senior Iranian official.
    “Our budget is based on oil of $57 per barrel and is now over $75 per barrel.”
    In October, Iran’s crude exports were estimated at 1.82 million bpd by data intelligence company Kpler and 1.5 million bpd by another firm that traces Iranian shipments.
    Trump granted 180-day sanctions waivers to China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey, which together took in over 80 percent of Iran oil exports last year, Refinitiv Eikon data shows.
    “Even without the exemptions, we will sell our oil.    We will bypass sanctions.    We have so many countries that are on our side.    America cannot do a damn thing,” said a senior official close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    The sanctions, however, will inevitably erode Iran’s state finances and raise already high inflation and jobless rates, making life harder for ordinary Iranians.
    Since May, when Trump took Washington out of the nuclear deal, prices of bread, cooking oil and other staples have soared and the value of the rial currency has plunged.
    The rial’s weakness has sent prices of some imports rocketing, destroying jobs as some factories using imported parts have folded.    Around 70 percent of small factories, businesses and workshops have begun to close down in the past few months due to scarcity of raw materials and hard currency, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA.
    Moreover, Trump’s sanctions against Iran’s financial sector essentially make 30 banks and their subsidiaries off-limits to foreign lenders, undermining its means to facilitate trade.
    Still, Iran demonstrated considerable resilience and ingenuity in coping with earlier international sanctions, and there is little to suggest Tehran could not do this again.
    While ordinary Iranians struggled, Iran’s clerical and security establishment and business world sought kept the economy running by means including resorting to barter as well as foreign currencies other than the U.S. dollar.
(Additional reporting by Tuqa Khalid; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Jonathan Saul; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/9/2018 Truck full of gas cylinders set on fire, three stabbed in Australia terror attack by Tom Westbrook and Sonali Paul
Emergency rescue personnel can be seen near the Bourke Street mall in
central Melbourne, Australia, November 9, 2018. AAP/James Ross/via REUTERS
    SYDNEY/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A Somali-born man set fire to a pickup truck laden with gas cylinders in the center of the Australian city of Melbourne on Friday and stabbed three people, killing one, before he was shot by police in a rampage they called an act of terrorism.
    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, without providing any evidence.
    The utility truck carrying barbecue gas cylinders burned on busy Bourke Street just before the evening rush hour as the driver stabbed bystanders and attacked police.
    The cylinders did not explode and the fire was put out in 10 minutes, by which point the attack was over.
    “We are still trying to piece together whether the vehicle was lit then he got out the car or whether he got out the car and then the vehicle took flame,” Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.
    Video posted to Twitter and broadcast on television showed the man swinging a knife at two police officers, while his truck burned in the background.
    One of the officers shot the man and he collapsed to the ground clutching his chest, the video showed.    Other footage showed two stab victims lying on the ground nearby.
    The attacker died in hospital, as did one of the victims, Ashton said.    “From what we know of that individual, we are treating this as a terrorism incident,” he said of the attacker.
    Victoria police declined to comment when contacted about Islamic State’s claim.    The militant group also claimed responsibility for a deadly siege in the city in 2017 when a Somali man was killed by police after taking a woman hostage.
INVESTIGATION BEGUN
    Police gave no information identifying the Melbourne attacker but Ashton said the man was known to them and intelligence authorities because of family associations.
    All of the victims were men, Ashton said. He declined to release their names because police were still in the process of contacting families.
    Asked if the man had recently traveled to Syria he said: “That is something we might be able to talk more about tomorrow.”
    A staunch U.S. ally, Australia has been on alert for such violence after a Sydney cafe siege in 2014, and its intelligence agencies have stepped up scrutiny, though there was no warning of the latest attack.
    Authorities say Australia’s vigilance has helped to foil at least a dozen plots, including a plan to attack downtown Melbourne at Christmas in 2016.
    Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement released on Twitter: “Australia will never be intimidated by these appalling attacks.”
    Ashton said there was no longer a threat to the public, but that security would be boosted at horse races and Remembrance Day memorials over the weekend.
TEN MINUTES OF CHAOS
    Video posted to social media showed chaotic scenes as bystanders scattered while the attacker fought with police and his victims lay bleeding on the footpath.
    One man charged at the tall attacker, wearing a long black shirt, with a shopping trolley just before police drew their weapons.
    A witness, Markel Villasin, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio: “Bystanders were yelling out ‘just shoot him, just shoot him’.”    They did.
    Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the attack was “an evil, terrifying thing that’s happened in our city.”
    Warning text messages were sent after the attack and police sealed off the downtown area, usually busy with shoppers and diners on a Friday evening.    Some cordons were lifted later, though the immediate crime scene would be sealed until Saturday, police said.
    Memories remain fresh of a fatal but not terror-related attack on the same street last year, in which a man drove his car at pedestrians at high speed, killing six people and wounding about 30.    That prompted the city to install hundreds of security bollards.    The driver is currently on trial.
    In December 2014, two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney.
(Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

11/9/2018 Afghan Peace Council tells Taliban it is ready for talks: RIA
Head of Afghanistan delegation and Deputy Chairman of High Peace Council,
Hajji Din Mohammad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pose for a family photo during
the multilateral peace talks on Afghanistan in Moscow, Russia November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, a body overseeing peace efforts, met Taliban officials at a conference in Moscow on Friday and repeated President Ashraf Ghani’s offer of peace talks without pre-conditions.
    For the first time, the meeting of regional officials on ways to end the war included a Taliban delegation, as moves toward achieving a political settlement pick up.
    “We discussed the subject of direct talks with the Taliban and asked them to choose the place and the starting time,” said Ehsan Tahiri, High Peace Council spokesman, according to Russia’s RIA news agency.
    The meeting, which underlines Russia’s desire to be involved in any settlement in Afghanistan, took place as U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad prepared for a fresh round of talks with Taliban officials in Qatar.
    The Russian Foreign Ministry said that “we reaffirm our position on the lack of alternative to a political settlement in Afghanistan and the need for active coordinated efforts by Afghanistan’s neighboring countries and regional partners.”
    Western officials and Ghani’s government view the Moscow meeting with some suspicion, seeing it as an attempt by Russia to push its way into a process that they say must be led by Afghanistan.
    As well as the five-member Taliban delegation, Russia brought to the meeting several senior Afghan political figures, including some who have clashed with Ghani in the past.    Ghani’s government sent only a delegation from the High Peace Council, a group set up to coordinate reconciliation efforts.
    The Taliban issued a statement this week saying the conference was “not about negotiating with any particular side.”
    It said the meeting was “about holding comprehensive discussions on finding a peaceful solution to the Afghan quandary and ending the American occupation.”
    Ghani offered in February to talk to the Taliban without pre-conditions but the insurgents, who regard his government as a foreign-controlled regime, have refused, saying they will deal only with the United States.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

11/9/2018 Exclusive: ‘Can’t eat, can’t sleep’ – Rohingya on Myanmar repatriation list by Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the
one year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo
    COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – For Nurul Amin, a Rohingya Muslim living in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, the days since learning he and his family were among a group of people set to potentially be repatriated to Myanmar have been among the most frightening since they fled their home.
    “I can hardly sleep at night for fear of getting forcibly repatriated.    Since the time I heard that my name is on the list I can’t even eat,” says Amin, 35, who has four daughters, a wife and sister with him in the Jamtoli Camp in southeast Bangladesh.
    Reuters identified and spoke to more than 20 of the roughly 2,000 Rohingya refugees on a list of people Myanmar has agreed to take back.    Though officials say no-one will be forced to return against their will, all say they have been terrified since learning this month their names were on the list prepared by Bangladeshi officials and vetted by Myanmar.
    The list has not been made public and not all those whose names are on it have been informed, say Bangladeshi camp officials, due to concerns of sparking widespread panic in a camp that shelters 52,000 refugees.
    Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in late October to this month begin the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled across the border to escape a Myanmar army crackdown, even though the United Nations’ refugee agency and aid groups say doubts persist about their safety and conditions in Myanmar should they return.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims crossed from Rakhine state, in mostly Buddhist Myanmar, into Bangladesh from August last year after Rohingya insurgent attacks on security forces triggered a sweeping military response.
    Refugees said soldiers and local Buddhists carried out mass killings and rape during the violence in 2017, while U.N.-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign with “genocidal intent.”
    Myanmar has denied almost all the allegations.    It has rejected the U.N. findings as one-sided, and said the military action was a legitimate counterinsurgency operation.
WILLING TO RETURN?
    This week, the U.N.’s human rights investigator on Myanmar urged Bangladesh to drop the repatriation plan, warning that Rohingya still faced a high risk of persecution in Myanmar.
    A Bangladesh foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named, said on Friday the country would not send any Rohingya back forcefully.
    “The Bangladesh government is in talks with them to motivate them,” he said.
    Separately, another foreign ministry official told Reuters the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would verify whether those shortlisted were willing to return.
    Firas Al-Khateeb, a UNHCR representative in Cox’s Bazar, told Reuters that effort would start within a few days.
    “We have not started the process yet but we will be carrying out an assessment of the voluntariness,” he said.
    Dr Min Thein, director of the disaster management department at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement in Myanmar, said his team was preparing for 2,000 people to return.
    “The Immigration Department is doing the scrutinizing,” said Min Thein.    An official at Myanmar’s Immigration Department declined to answer questions over the phone.
    In late October, a delegation from Myanmar visited the camps in an effort to urge Rohingya to participate in the repatriation process.
THROW US INTO THE SEA
    Refugees who spoke to Reuters said they did not trust the Myanmar authorities to guarantee their safety.    Some said refugees would go back only if they got to return to their own land and were given citizenship.
    “I’ll just consume poison if I am forced to go back.    I saw my cousin shot dead by military … What is the guarantee that we’ll not be persecuted again?” said Abdur Rahim, 47, who previously owned a shop and 2 acres of land in Rakhine.
    Nur Kaida, 25, who is the mother of a 19-month-old girl, said it “would be better to die in the camps rather go back and get killed or raped.”
    On Friday, an alliance of humanitarian and civil society groups working in Rakhine and in refugee camps in Bangladesh, in a joint statement, warned sending people back would be “dangerous and premature.”
    The group called on the governments of the two countries to ensure that refugees in Bangladesh were able to make a free and informed choice about their return.    It also said U.N. agencies should have unimpeded access to all parts of Rakhine in order to monitor the situation in areas of potential return.
    Recent days have seen dozens of Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh attempting to flee via sea to Malaysia, raising fears of a fresh wave of dangerous voyages.
    But despite poor conditions in the camps prompting some to risk such a perilous route out, those like Muhammed Wares, 75, whose name is on the list, say it is better than going back.
    “Why are they sending us back?” said Wares.    “They may as well throw us into the sea.”
(Reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir in Dhaka and Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/9/2018 Sri Lankan Tamil parties reject president’s call to support controversial new PM by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena wave at their
supporters during a rally near the parliament in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte/File Photo
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s main Tamil parties have turned down a call from President Maithripala Sirisena to support his newly appointed prime minister in a likely floor test in parliament this month, the parties said on Friday.
    Sirisena triggered off a political crisis on the island by sacking Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and appointing controversial opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa to the job last month.
    Wickremesinghe has challenged his ouster as unconstitutional and sought a session of parliament to determine who holds a majority.    Sirisena met the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to persuade the main minority group to drop its opposition to Rajapaksa who led the country to a crushing defeat of Tamil separatist guerrillas when he was president, but who is accused of human rights violations.
    “President asked the TNA to abstain from voting, but we said the abstention would lead to legitimising an unconstitutional move,” M.A. Sumanthiran, a TNA spokesman, told Reuters.
    Buddhists make up about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 percent.    Muslims and other communities make up the rest.
    Western nations led by the European Union are concerned that Sri Lanka’s halting steps toward a national reconciliation and justice for the victims of the war crimes will be endangered by the return of Rajapaksa.
    Sirisena has faced criticism for sacking the premier in a sudden move last month and plunging the country into a political crisis.    Since then he’s been trying to bolster the new administration.
    Mano Ganeshan, the leader of another minority Tamil party, said the president had suggested three options at the meeting.
    “The first, he said we can join the government accepting ministerial positions.    If not, he asked us to remain neutral in the parliament.    The third option was not to support Wickremesinghe saying that he and Ranil Wickremesinghe can’t work,” Ganeshan told Reuters.
    Both Wickremesinghe and Rajapaksa have maintained they have the parliament majority.    The house will sit on Nov. 14.    Political parties have accused each other of trying to engineers defections.
    The uncertainty has already dented investor sentiment on currency, bond, and stock markets.    The rupee hit a record low last week, before appreciating due to central bank intervention, market sources have told Reuters.
    The bourse has seen an outflow of 7.2 billion rupees since the political crisis unfolded, while the bond market suffered an outflow of 11 billion rupees, mostly on the three market days after the crisis.
    The yields in Sri Lanka’s sovereign bonds have risen between 109-260 basis points, raising the risk of making the island nation’s borrowing cost expensive.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

11/9/2018 Fukushima tests to help assess cooling of damaged reactors: Tepco by Osamu Tsukimori
FILE PHOTO: Storage tanks for contaminated water are seen through a window of a building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO)
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan, February 23, 2017. REUTERS/Tomohiro Ohsumi/Pool/File Photo
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The owner of the Fukushima nuclear plant, destroyed by an earthquake and tsunami nearly eight years ago, said on Friday it planned tests early next year to see how much melted uranium fuel has cooled in the damaged reactors.
    The tests planned for January to March will stop water cooling in the reactors to analyze how the melted uranium core reacts and heats up after cooling has stopped, said owner Tokyo Electric Power Co.
    All reactors need to be cooled to limit the radioactive reactions that produce heat to generate electricity.    At Fukushima, Tepco jury-rigged cooling systems after the quake and tsunami wrecked the plant in March 2011.
    The natural disaster triggered meltdowns at three of the Fukushima Daiichi plant’s six reactors, spewing radiation into the air, soil and ocean and forcing 160,000 residents to flee, many of whom have not returned.
    From January, Tepco will begin to gradually reduce the amount of water being pumped over the melted fuel in reactor No. 2 at the site to half the amount over a week, a company spokesman said.
    Then Tepco will resume full pumping, but in March the company will stop all cooling for a seven-hour period to test analytical models which have shown that the reactors will not overheat, he said.
    Tepco said it would use the test results to better understand radioactive reactions during an emergency cooling halt. It will also help manage other water issues at the site.
    Tepco has for years struggled to control the amount of water in the basements of the damaged reactors.     Groundwater flowing from hills above the plant enters the reactors, where it mixes with highly radioactive debris.    The contaminated material is pumped out and treated before being stored in tanks that are quickly filling up.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

11/9/2018 Sri Lanka’s president dissolves parliament, deepening political crisis by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena
talk during a rally near the parliament in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night and called a general election for Jan. 5 in a move that will likely deepen the country’s political crisis.
    The dissolution, which is expected to be challenged in court, was revealed in an official gazette notification signed by Sirisena which also set the next sitting of parliament for Jan. 17.
    The move comes after an intense power struggle in the past two weeks which followed Sirisena’s sudden sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the appointment of former leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, a pro-China strongman, in his place.
    Following the sacking, the president suspended parliament in a move which Wickremesinghe said was intended to prevent the ousted prime minister from contesting the decision in the legislature.
    Later Sirisena agreed to reconvene parliament on Nov. 14, but that will now not happen.
    Wickremesinghe has refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he is the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority.
    Before he signed the papers dissolving parliament and calling the election, Sirisena appointed allies of his and of Rajapaksa to cabinet positions.
    “This is a gross violation of the constitution,” Harsha De Silva, a lawmaker in Wickremesinghe’s party, told Reuters in reference to the dissolution of parliament.
    Independent legal experts had told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.    The only other legal ways would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.
    Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena can legally dissolve parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.
    Sri Lanka’s Election Commission was quoted in some local media as saying that it will seek a Supreme Court opinion before conducting the election.
    Sirisena also put the police and government’s printing office under his defense portfolio, local media reported. Ajith Perera, a lawmaker of the Wickremesinghe-led United National Party (UNP) said the party will challenge the decision at the Election Commission first and then may head to the Supreme Court.
    Perera said the dissolution was carried out so that Sirisena could avoid defeat in parliament next week.
    Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for Sirisena’s government, said the president’s coalition had the backing of 105 lawmakers as of Friday, eight short of a parliamentary majority.
    Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”
    India and Western countries have requested that Sirisena act in line with the constitution while they have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China.    Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Edited by Martin Howell and Toby Chopra)

11/10/2018 U.S. and others denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
A man reads a newspaper at stall carrying the news of the Sri Lanka's parliament being dissolved,
on a main road in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 10, 2018.REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, worsening an already major political crisis, has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.
    Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night, only five days before it was due to reconvene and he was in danger of losing a vote of no confidence.    He has also called a general election for Jan. 5.
    The president triggered an intense power struggle when he sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late last month and appointed the island’s former leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a pro-China strongman ousted by Sirisena in 2015, in his place.
    Sirisena’s rivals are set to challenge his decision, which they describe as illegal and unconstitutional, in the Supreme Court on Monday.
    The U.S. Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a tweet that the United States was “deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis.”    It said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.
    Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.
    “As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes,” Field said.
    Canada’s Foreign Policy twitter feed said that it was “deeply concerned” about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation’s civil war.
    “This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability,” it said.
    Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move “undermines Sri Lanka’s long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity.”
    Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”
    India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China.    Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.
    Wickremesinghe refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he was the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority.
    Before he signed the papers dissolving parliament and calling the election, Sirisena appointed allies of his and of Rajapaksa to cabinet positions.
    Independent legal experts have told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.    The only other legal way would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.
    Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena is on legal safe ground by dissolving parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.
(Additonal reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Editing by Martin Howell and Nick Macfie)

11/10/2018 Rouhani says new U.S. sanctions have no effect on Iran economy: state TV
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the
73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid /File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that U.S. sanctions announced last week have had no effect on Iran’s economy because Washington had already practically reimposed them earlier.
    “The sanctions have had no impact on our economy because America had already used all the weapons at its disposal and there was nothing new to use against us,” Rouhani said in remarks carried live on state television.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
[At the time of this article I do not think the Iranian President realizes that Trump and his confederates are over producing oil so the price per barrel is going down it was $75 a barrel and is around $60 a barrel today and if it keeps going down it will affect Iran because they will not get the funds from the oil they want to the 8 countries with the sanctions removed effecting their economy.    That is the same thing that President Ronald Reagan did to Russia when it went down to $20 a barrel forcing them to tear down the wall because they did not have enough money to purchase wheat for the Russia population.    This will be seen in the King of the South articles.]

11/10/2018 U.S. and others denounce dissolution of Sri Lanka parliament as undemocratic by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
A man reads a newspaper at stall carrying the news of the Sri Lanka's parliament being dissolved,
on a main road in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 10, 2018.REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena’s decision to dissolve parliament, worsening an already major political crisis, has drawn criticism from Western powers, including the United States and Britain.
    Sirisena dissolved parliament on Friday night, only five days before it was due to reconvene, but a new cabinet he installed was in danger of losing a vote of no confidence.    Sirisena also called a general election for Jan. 5. The president triggered a power struggle when he sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe late last month and appointed the island’s former leader, Mahinda Rajapaksa, a pro-China strongman defeated by Sirisena in an election in 2015, in his place.
    Sirisena’s rivals are set to challenge his decision, which they describe as illegal and unconstitutional, in the Supreme Court on Monday.
    The U.S. Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs said in a tweet that the United States was “deeply concerned by news the Sri Lanka Parliament will be dissolved, further deepening the political crisis.”    It said democracy needed to be respected to ensure stability and prosperity.
    Mark Field, the British minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, tweeted his concern about the dissolution of parliament days before it was due to be reconvened.
    “As a friend of Sri Lanka, the UK calls on all parties to uphold the constitution and respect democratic institutions and processes,” Field said.
    Canada’s Foreign Policy twitter feed said that it was “deeply concerned” about the decision and referred to the risks to reconciliation work after the nation’s civil war.
    “This further political uncertainty is corrosive to Sri Lanka’s democratic future and its commitments on reconciliation and accountability,” it said.
    Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne expressed both concern and disappointment in a statement, saying the move “undermines Sri Lanka’s long democratic tradition and poses a risk to its stability and prosperity.”
    Sirisena has said he fired Wickremesinghe because the prime minister was trying to implement “a new, extreme liberal political concept by giving more priority for foreign policies and neglecting the local people’s sentiment.”
PARLIAMENT TEST
    Mangala Samaraweera, an ally of Wickremesinghe, said their party expects the court to rule that the dissolution of parliament was illegal and that eventually a vote in parliament will be held to test whether there is a majority.
    “We will show that we have the parliament majority and we will show that the dictator president has dissolved a government which had a majority in the parliament,” he told reporters.
    They were supported by the Tamil National Alliance, the main party representing ethnic Tamil groups in parliament, who said they too will petition the Supreme Court against the dissolution of the house.
    “This is a clear violation of the constitution.    The president can’t do this,” M.A. Sumanthiran, a spokesman for the alliance, told Reuters.
    India and the West have raised concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China.    Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015, putting the country deep into debt.
    Wickremesinghe refused to vacate the official prime minister’s residence saying he was the prime minister and had a parliamentary majority.
    Before he signed the papers dissolving parliament and calling the election, Sirisena appointed allies of his and of Rajapaksa to cabinet positions.
    One of them said Sirisena was right to order an election to end the political crisis.    Dinesh Gunawardena, a newly appointed urban development minister, said the president had handed the country back to the people.
    “It is the people’s right to vote.    We have gone before the people.    No force can interfere.    The people’s mandate is supreme,” he said.
    Independent legal experts have told Reuters that parliament could be dissolved only in early 2020, which would be four-and-half-years from the first sitting of the current parliament.    The only other legal way would be through a referendum, or with the consent of two thirds of lawmakers.
    Given those views, it was not immediately clear how Sirisena is on legal safe ground by dissolving parliament, though his legal experts have said there are provisions for him to do so.
(Additonal reporting by Tom Westbrook in Sydney; Editing by Martin Howell, Sanjeev Miglani)

11/11/2018 ‘Life goes on’: Thousands mark WW1 Armistice in Australia, unbowed by attack by Sonali Paul and Alison Bevege
Police officers stand guard as people attend a memorial service at the Shrine of Remembrance to mark the
centenary of the Armistice ending World War One, in Melbourne, Australia, November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Sonali Paul
    MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Thousands of people attended memorial services across Melbourne to mark the centenary of the Armistice ending World War One, shrugging off heightened security after Friday’s attack in Australia’s second largest city which police branded terrorism.
    Attendance at Melbourne’s the Shrine of Remembrance was bigger than expected, with visitors determined to show they were not bowed by Friday’s stabbing of three civilians, one fatal, by Islamic State sympathizer Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, 30.
    “Carry on,” Kate Mansell, the mother of a toddler and a baby in a stroller, told Reuters.
    “Life goes on,” said Alison Brett, visiting Melbourne from Australia’s Northern Territory.
    Her daughter, Belinda, who lives near the shrine, said she was not worried about being in public after Friday’s attack.
    “You can’t let that stop you,” she said.
    At the shrine, across the river from the scene of the Bourke Street attack, a substantial but unobtrusive police presence guarded a crowd of about 4,000.
    Melbourne’s Pellegrini Espresso Bar, full to overflowing with floral arrangements left by mourners, remained closed on Sunday as visitors placed flowers on the pavement outside and taped letters of condolence on the cafe door.
    The cafe was owned by popular 74-year-old restaurateur Sisto Malaspina who was stabbed to death after going to help Shire Ali, mistakenly thinking the attacker’s car had broken down, according to witnesses quoted by ABC News.
    Shire Ali had set the car, packed with gas cylinders, alight, but it did not explode.
    Homeless man Michael Rogers, who became a hero when he used a shopping trolley to try to ward off Shire Ali as he lunged at two police officers, was showered with donations from well-wishers contributing to a fundraising account set up for him by a charity.
    The GoFundMe account had raised more than A$50,000 ($36,000) as of Sunday night and was still growing.
PASSPORT CANCELED
    Victorian Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said on Saturday the attack was terrorism.    Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Ian McCartney said the attacker was inspired by Islamic State.
    Police said Shire Ali had his Australian passport canceled in 2015 after an intelligence report that he planned to travel to Syria but an assessment was made that while he had radical views, he posed no threat to national security.
    Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton defended the work of security authorities which he said had 400 open investigations and needed information from the public to stop spontaneous attacks.    “The police can’t contemplate every circumstance,” he told reporters in Brisbane.
    Dutton said encryption technology made it difficult for authorities to gather intelligence.
    “That is why it is important for us to get as much information from the imams, from spouses, from family members, community members, council workers, people that might be interacting with those that might have changed their behaviors, where they think they’ve been radicalized,” the Australian Associated Press quoted him as saying.
    Imam Isse Musse, a friend of the attacker’s family, for 25 said the family told him Shire Ali was mentally ill.    “They say he had a mental problem,” he told Reuters.
    “If someone is mentally ill they can be a prey for any propaganda, any misinterpretation … but what can we do?    The family worked hard to take him to the doctor to be diagnosed but he said no and wouldn’t co-operate."
    “We are very disappointed with the event…we extend our sympathy to everyone who was made a victim.”
    In the capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Chief of Defence Force General Angus Campbell, other military personnel and diplomats attended a Remembrance Day service at the Australian War Memorial.
    “As we commemorate the centenary of the Armistice and cast our minds back over the years, we know too well the deep scars of war and long to prevent them from touching an Australian soul,” Morrison said in a televised speech.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/11/2018 Calls for open trade to greet Pence as Trump skips Asia summit by Jack Kim
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during an event hosted by U.S. President Donald Trump with workers
on "Cutting the Red Tape, Unleashing Economic Freedom" in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asia-Pacific leaders will join the heads of Southeast Asian states this week in Singapore to renew calls for multilateralism and fresh pledges to resolve regional conflicts ranging from the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar to tensions in the South China Sea.
    Notably absent when regional powers such as China, Japan and India seek to enlist support for a multilateral trading system will be U.S. President Donald Trump, whose decision to skip the Asia summit has raised questions about his commitment to a regional strategy aimed at checking China’s rise.
    Vice President Mike Pence will attend instead of Trump, and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those expected to join leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
    Li is expected to rally support for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact now being negotiated, showcased to be the free trade deal that will encompass more than a third of the world’s GDP.
    The pact includes 16 countries, including China, India, Japan and South Korea, but not the United States.
    Trump has demanded trade agreements that are fair and enforceable and based on the principle of reciprocity.    He has re-negotiated an existing pact with South Korea and the three-way deal with Mexico and Canada, and pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which involved four Southeast Asian states.
    The United States is also in the midst of a bitter trade war with China which has undermined global markets.
    China is pushing the RCEP deal – Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong told reporters on Thursday it “will be of great significance for deepening regional cooperation, coping with unilateralism and protectionism, and promoting an open, inclusive and rules-based international trading system.”
    However, Li is expected to appeal in Singapore for the need for the world’s two largest economies to work together to resolve trade disputes, reiterating commitment made by Beijing’s top leaders last week for market opening and lowering tariffs.
    It was not clear if Li and Pence will hold separate talks on the sidelines of the Singapore meetings, which would be a prelude to a summit scheduled between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the month in Buenos Aires.
    The encounter, if it happens, would come on the heels of high-level talks in Washington where the two sides aired their main differences but appeared to attempt controlling the damage to relations that has worsened with tit-for-tat tariffs in recent months.
    Many of the leaders in Singapore will also meet at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea next weekend.
    ASEAN, which will hold its own summit on Tuesday before being joined by other leaders, also faces the challenge of working through sharp differences over the handling of the Rohingya minority by Myanmar whose military has been accused of “genocidal intent” by the United Nations.
    Leader Aung San Suu Kyi is due to attend the Singapore meetings this week while Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, attending his first multilateral summit since returning to power in May, has served notice he has lost faith in the Nobel peace laureate over the issue.
    The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967, and it is one of the thorniest issues yet faced by a group that traditionally works by consensus.
    Many diplomats and rights activists say ASEAN’s credibility is at risk if it fails to tackle the matter head-on.
    At the meetings, ASEAN and China will try to make headway in negotiations for a code of conduct for the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost in its entirety while ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the area.    Taiwan is also a claimant.
    But an agreement is unlikely to be announced.
    Also, ASEAN members states may announce the successful conclusion of agreements with Russia and the United States on cooperating on cyber security.
(Reporting by Jack Kim; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Roberta Rampton in Washington)

11/11/2018 Bangladesh opposition alliance to contest polls ‘to rescue democracy’
FILE PHOTO: Politicians and people gather at the Suhrawardy Udyan for the maiden rally of
opposition alliance called Jatiya Oikyafront in Dhaka, Bangladesh, November 06, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) – A group of opposition parties in Bangladesh, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said on Sunday it plans to contest the Dec. 23 general election, despite the ruling party last week rejecting a series of its demands.
    The Jatiya Oikyafront, a 20-party alliance led by 81-year-old Dr Kamal Hossain, had in particular wanted a caretaker government to take over in the weeks heading into the polls.    The BNP says a caretaker government is essential for free and fair elections, but the ruling Awami League says the demand is unconstitutional.
    The BNP, which is in disarray following the jailing of its chief, former prime minister Khaleda Zia, on corruption charges, had also pressed for a caretaker government at the 2014 election and boycotted it after the demand was not met.    The last election was marred by deadly violence and shunned by international observers as flawed.
    Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is seeking to be reelected for a third successive term.
    “With the aim of rescuing democracy and a continuation of the movement to sustain a democratic process, Jatiya Oikyafront decided to participate in the election,” said Hossain in a statement, following days of deliberations with alliance members.
    Hasina’s government has won widespread global plaudits for letting in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar, but its critics have decried Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian rule.    In particular, they have attacked her for the government’s heavy-handed handling of student protests this year and its crackdown on free speech.
    While announcing the election date on Thursday, K.M. Nurul Huda, the head of Bangladesh’s Election Commission, urged all parties to participate in the election “to make it meaningful.”
    Hasina and Khaleda, who between them have ruled Bangladesh for decades, are bitter rivals and the BNP says its leader has been jailed on trumped-up charges to keep her out of politics.
(Reporting By Serajul Quadir; Edited by Martin Howell and Nick Macfie)

11/11/2018 Myanmar prepares for first Rohingya returnees, but U.N. warns against rushing by Poppy McPherson and Ruma Paul
FILE PHOTO: Rohingya refugees walk at Jamtoli camp in the morning in Cox's Bazar,
Bangladesh, January 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    YANGON/COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (Reuters) – Myanmar officials said on Sunday the country was ready to receive more than 2,000 Rohingya Muslims sheltering in Bangladesh on Nov. 15, the first group from 5,000 people to be moved under a deal between the neighbors struck last month.
    But more than 20 individuals on a list of potential returnees submitted by Bangladesh have told Reuters they will refuse to go back to northern Rakhine state from where they fled.    Bangladesh has said it will not force anyone to do so.
    The United Nations also says conditions are not yet safe for their return, in part because Myanmar Buddhists have been protesting against the repatriation.
    “It depends on the other country, whether this will actually happen or not,” Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s Minister for Social Welfare and Resettlement, told a news conference in the commercial capital of Yangon on Sunday, referring to Bangladesh.
    “But we must be ready from our side. We have done that.”
    Abul Kalam, Bangladesh Relief and Repatriation Commissioner, said he was hopeful the process could begin on Thursday.
    “The return will be voluntary. Nobody will be forced to go back,” he told Reuters.
    The countries agreed on mid-November for the start of repatriating some of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a sweeping army crackdown in Myanmar last year.
    They say soldiers and local Buddhists massacred families, burned hundreds of villages, and carried out gang-rapes.    U.N-mandated investigators have accused the army of “genocidal intent” and ethnic cleansing.
    Myanmar denies almost all of the allegations, saying security forces were battling terrorists.    Attacks by Rohingya insurgents calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army preceded the crackdown.
    Myanmar does acknowledge the killing of 10 Rohingya by security forces in Inn Dinn village.    Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year for allegedly breaking the country’s Official Secrets Act after reporting on the massacre.
    Reuters says the court’s ruling was wrong and lawyers for the two have appealed against their conviction.
    Win Myat Aye said preparations had been made for 2,251 people to be transported to two transit centers by boat on Thursday, while a second group of 2,095 could follow later by road.
    Once processed by the authorities, they would be sent to another center where they would be housed, fed, and asked to build homes through cash-for-work schemes.
    Returnees would only be allowed to travel within Maungdaw township, one of the three they fled, and only if they accepted National Verification Cards, an identity document most Rohingya reject because they say it brands them as foreigners.
    Many Rohingya, the majority of whom have been left stateless after decades of persecution, oppose going back without guarantees of citizenship and freedom of movement.
(Additional reporting by Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/12/2018 Asia stocks pressured on global growth worries, oil woes by Andrew Galbraith
FILE PHOTO: A panel displays the closing Hang Seng Index outside a bank in Hong Kong, China November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Asian shares fell on Monday, extending weakness in global equity markets at the end of last week as soft Chinese economic data and falling oil prices rekindled anxiety about the outlook for world growth.
    MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.17 percent in early trade.    Australian shares were down 0.08 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei stock index eased 0.12 percent.
    A combination of weak factory-gate inflation data in China and low oil prices weighed on global stocks on Friday, dragging MSCI’s gauge of global stocks to its worst day in two weeks.    The index was last 0.11 percent lower.
    Risk asset markets have been under intense pressure recently as worries about a peak in earnings growth added to anxiety about slowing global trade and investment.    A spike in U.S. bond yields, driven by the Federal Reserve’s commitment to keep raising borrowing costs, has also shaken emerging markets as investors poured money into U.S. dollar assets.
    On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.77 percent, the S&P 500 lost 0.92 percent and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.65 percent.
    The Wall Street losses came after the Fed had earlier in the week held rates steady but stayed on track to tighten policy next month.
    The Fed’s stance disappointed some investors who had hoped that the rout in equities in October might have prompted policy makers to take a more cautious approach on the outlook for rates.
    “Markets are pricing in a 25bp hike in December, with data flow suggesting pipeline inflation pressures are building,” analysts at ANZ said in a morning note.
    Taking some pressure off a sharp drop in oil prices last week, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Sunday that the country plans to reduce its oil supply to world markets by 500,000 barrels per day in December, representing a global reduction of about 0.5 percent.
    That helped to lift oil prices, with U.S. crude rising 0.90 percent to $60.73 a barrel and Brent crude gaining 1.13 percent to $70.97 per barrel.
    However, the Saudi supply cut may prove to be a temporary solution to falling prices as global growth slows, with two of the world’s biggest economies – Germany and Japan – expected to report a contraction in output in the coming days.
    “Supply-side surprises appear to be the main culprit, but concern that global demand is slowing may also be creeping into markets and weighing on risk appetite,” the ANZ analysts said.
    In currency markets, the dollar rose 0.07 percent against the yen to 113.90, and the euro was down 0.06 percent on the day at $1.1327.
    The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was up at 97.004.
    The British pound was off 0.3 percent to fetch $1.2934.    The sterling has been under pressure over the past few weeks as investors worried whether an orderly Brexit deal would be achieved.
Spot gold gained 0.15 percent to $1,211.03 per ounce.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

11/12/2018 North Korea keeps undeclared missile bases up and running: U.S. think tank by Josh Smith
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this
undated photo released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile operating bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
    In reports released by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, researcher Joseph Bermudez said maintenance and minor infrastructure improvements have been observed at some of the sites, despite the ongoing negotiations.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at their landmark June summit in Singapore, but the agreement was short on specifics and negotiations have made little headway.
    Shortly after that summit, Trump tweeted that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
    North Korea declared its nuclear force “complete” and halted missile and nuclear bomb testing earlier this year, but U.S. and South Korean negotiators have yet to elicit from Pyongyang a concrete declaration of the size or scope of the weapons programs, or a promise to stop deploying its existing arsenal.
    North Korea has said it has closed its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and the Sohae missile engine test facility.    It also raised the possibility of shuttering more sites and allowing international inspections if Washington took “corresponding measures,” of which there has so far been no sign.
    Last week, North Korea called off a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York, and state media said on Monday the resumption of some small-scale military drills by South Korea and the United States violated a recent agreement aimed at lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.
    The sites identified in the CSIS report are scattered in remote, mountainous areas across North Korea, and could be used to house ballistic missiles of various ranges, with the largest believed to be capable of striking anywhere in the United States.
    “Missile operating bases are not launch facilities,” Bermudez wrote.    “While missiles could be launched from within them in an emergency, Korean People’s Army (KPA) operational procedures call for missile launchers to disperse from the bases to pre-surveyed or semi-prepared launch sites for operations.”
    None of the missile bases have been acknowledged by North Korea, and analysts say an accurate disclosure of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities would be an important part of any denuclearization deal.
    Sakkanmol, the site closest to the border with South Korea and its capital Seoul, appears to be “active and being reasonably well-maintained,” the report found.
    “North Korea’s decommissioning of the Sohae satellite launch facility, while gaining much media attention, obscures the military threat to U.S. forces and South Korea from this and other undeclared ballistic missile bases,” Bermudez said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; editing by Darren Schuettler)

11/12/2018 South Korea-U.S. military drills violate agreements: North Korea media by Jeongmin Kim
FILE PHOTO: South Korean marines march during a military exercise as a part of the annual joint military training called
Foal Eagle between South Korea and the U.S. in Pohang, South Korea, April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea’s resumption of small-scale military drills with the United States violated a recent agreement aimed at lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula, North Korean state media said on Monday.
    About 500 United States and South Korean marines began military drills last week that were among joint exercises indefinitely suspended in June as Seoul and Washington focused on engaging with North Korea.
    The Korean Marine Exchange Program (KMEP) violated a Sept. 19 agreement signed by North and South Korea that called for a halt to “all hostile acts,” said the Rodong Sinmun, North Korea’s official party newspaper.
    The joint two-week drills are “directly against the inter-Korean military agreement that promised to eliminate practical threats of war and fundamental hostile relations from the Korean peninsula,” the newspaper said.
    A spokesman for South Korea’s defense ministry on Monday rejected the North’s criticism, saying they are defensive exercises involving small units under the size of a battalion.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at their landmark June summit in Singapore, where Trump promised to end joint, U.S. South Korea military exercises.
    But the agreement was short on specifics and negotiations have made little headway.
    Last week North Korea called off a planned meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York “because they weren’t ready,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Friday.
    North Korean media mentioned the canceled meeting for the first time on Saturday, when the Chosun Sinbo website reported that the talks could still be productive.    But it repeated North Korean warnings that the country could restart its nuclear weapons development if the U.S. does not make more concessions.
    The biggest combat-readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan also went ahead last week, with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joining Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship in the ocean off Japan — another key player in the effort to pressure North Korea.
    “It’s an anachronistic military move to openly hold war drills aimed at others while the United States naval forces residing in Japan are also participating,” Rodong Sinmun said.
(Reporting by Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

11/12/2018 China calls for open world economy but work remains on landmark trade pact by John Geddie and Manuel Mogato
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Singapore, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE/MANILA (Reuters) – China will further open its economy in the face of rising protectionism, Premier Li Keqiang said as he arrived in Singapore on Monday for meetings with Asia-Pacific leaders that will focus on speeding up work on a major new trade pact.
    Li’s remarks in an article in Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper came as Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called for more regional integration, saying multilateralism was under threat from political pressures.
    “China has opened its door to the world; we will never close it but open it even wider,” Li said in the article, in which he called for an “open world economy” in the face of “rising protectionism and unilateralism,” He did not directly refer to China’s bruising trade war with the United States.
    Notably absent from this week’s meetings is U.S. President Donald Trump, who has said several existing multilateral trade deals are unfair, and has railed against China over intellectual property theft, entry barriers to U.S. businesses and a gaping trade deficit.
    Vice President Mike Pence will attend instead of Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are among those also expected to join Li and the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
    It was not clear if Li and Pence will hold separate talks on the sidelines of the meetings, which would be a prelude to a summit scheduled between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of the month in Buenos Aires.
    The encounter, if it happens, would come on the heels of high-level talks in Washington where the two sides aired their main differences but appeared to attempt controlling the damage to relations that has worsened with tit-for-tat tariffs in recent months.
    Li said China would “work with all relevant parties to expedite” negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), showcased to be a free trade deal that will encompass more than a third of the world’s GDP.     The pact includes 16 countries, including ASEAN nations, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea, but not the United States.
    Regional diplomats said substantial work had been done on the trade deal, but it was not likely to be fully concluded until next year.
    “During the summit, the leaders would express their commitment to conclude the negotiations, because this is very important for the region especially in view of rising trade tensions,” Junever Mahilum-West, a senior official in the Philippines foreign ministry, told reporters last week.
    The draft of a communique to be issued by RCEP nations later in the week, which was reviewed by Reuters, said the group would instruct “ministers and negotiators to work toward the full conclusion of the RCEP negotiations in 2019.”
    Earlier, in remarks at a business summit on Monday ahead of this week’s meetings, Singapore’s Lee said: “ASEAN has great potential, but fully realizing it depends on whether we choose to become more integrated, and work resolutely toward this goal in a world where multilateralism is fraying under political pressures.”
    Lee has previously warned that the U.S.-China trade war could have a “big, negative impact” on Singapore, and the city-state’s central bank has warned it could soon drag on the economy.
    Also on Monday, the ten-member ASEAN group reached its first ever deal on e-commerce aimed at helping boost cross-border transactions in the region.
(Reporting by John Geddie in SINGAPORE and Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/12/2018 Suicide bomber kills six near police checkpoint in Afghan capital
Afghan policemen keep watch at the site of a blast in Kabul, Afghanistan November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up in the Afghan capital of Kabul on Monday, killing at least six people near a police checkpoint, including policemen, officials said, but no militant group has yet claimed responsibility.
    Six people were killed in the explosion, said Najib Danish, a spokesman for the interior ministry. Ten policemen and civilians, including women, were injured in the blast.
    The attacker on foot detonated his suicide vest close to the checkpoint near a school in central Kabul, which is in the same area as the finance and justice ministries and close to the presidential palace.
    Police spokesman Basir Mujahid said he was about 20 m (66 ft) away from the blast, near where a demonstration had broken up some 30 minutes before.
    “I took four bodies away but there were more on the ground,” he said, without giving further details.
    The attack came as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Kabul to protest against the government’s failure to prevent attacks by Taliban militants in two provinces.
    Afghan security forces suffered scores of casualties in heavy fighting at the weekend with Taliban militants in the provinces of Ghazni and Herat, officials have said.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)

11/12/2018 Vietnam becomes seventh country to ratify Trans-Pacific trade pact by Khanh Vu
FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk past Vietnam's National Assembly (Parliament) building in Hanoi, Vietnam, September 16, 2016. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam’s lawmaking body, the National Assembly, on Monday unanimously ratified a landmark 11-country deal that will slash tariffs across much of the Asia-Pacific.
    One of the region’s fastest growing economies, its status cemented by strong exports and robust foreign investment, the Southeast Asian nation is believed to be among the largest beneficiaries of the trade deal.
    The ratification makes Vietnam the seventh country to have passed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), the National Assembly said in a statement.
    “It is not just a trade agreement, but it also requires breakthroughs in law making and enforcement, in government management and social governance,” the government said in a statement, adding that the deal spells great opportunities for Vietnam.
    Vietnam has already signed around a dozen free trade pacts to scrap, or cut, taxes on several imports and exports.
    Taxes on nearly 43 percent of Vietnam’s apparel exports to Canada will be removed immediately after the agreement takes effect, and 100 percent after four years, the government said.
    The garment sector is Vietnam’s second largest export-earner after smartphones.
    Exports of footwear products and seafood will also benefit.
    The pact, which includes specific requirements on labor rights and conditions of work, is also expected to help Vietnam advance in labor reforms, the International Labour Organization said.
    “This is really an opportunity for Vietnam to modernize its labor laws and industrial relations system, and the need for such reforms firstly comes from the country’s internal context,” said the agency’s Vietnam director, Chang-Hee Lee.
    Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Singapore had earlier formally ratified CPTPP, which takes effect at year-end.
    The original 12-member deal was thrown into limbo early last year when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement to prioritize protecting U.S. jobs.
    Brunei, Chile, Malaysia and Peru are the four remaining members yet to ratify the pact.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Clarence Fernandez)

11/13/2018 11/13/2018 Pakistan frees 2 Taliban members as US envoy visits area
    Pakistan released two Taliban officials Monday during U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s latest visit to the region, in what could be part of American efforts to revive peace talks with the insurgent group, which now controls nearly half of Afghanistan.
    Abdul Samad Sani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who served as the Afghan Central Bank governor during the militants’ rule in the late 1990s, and a lower- ranking commander named Salahuddin were released Monday, according to two Taliban officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

11/13/2018 ‘Treasured sword’: North Korea seen as reliant as ever on nuclear arsenal as talks stall by Josh Smith
A Digital Globe satellite image taken on March 29, 2018 shows what the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and
International Studies (CSIS) Beyond Parallel project reports is an undeclared missile operating base at Sakkanmol, North Korea
and provided to Reuters on November 12, 2018. CSIS/Beyond Parallel/DigitalGlobe 2018/Handout via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Amid signs that negotiations between North Korea and the U.S. are stalling, analysts say Pyongyang still sees its nuclear arsenal as a key tool in securing its national safety and winning concessions from international rivals.
    Just as the United States has doubled down on its sanctions on Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has not retreated from his pledge to expand his operational force of nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, increasing his leverage under any still-elusive denuclearization deal.
    A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 active, undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Kim to give up his weapons programs.
    As time goes by, North Korea’s likely expansion of its arsenal could force Washington to rethink its insistence on full denuclearization, said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul.
    “This is the choice the United States has to make: whether they keep pursuing the ideal of ‘complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,’ or take this dilemma into consideration and make a compromise for limited denuclearization,” he said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump met Kim at an unprecedented summit in Singapore in June where they agreed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
    But with scant sign of progress on negotiations since and recent high-level meetings canceled, Trump said last week he’s now in “no rush” and still wants to meet with Kim for a second time.
    U.S. officials have said sanctions forced North Korea to the negotiating table and vowed to keep pressure until complete denuclearization.    But North Korea has credited its nuclear and missile breakthroughs for providing it the standing to meet the world’s largest powers.
    Kim’s own words suggest Pyongyang will continue with production and development of the nuclear program even as it negotiates with Washington on denuclearization, experts say.
    “In the 2018 New Year address, Kim Jong Un called for shifting to full-scale production and deployment of nuclear weapons and missiles,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS).
    “He’s never said or done anything since then to contradict that.”
    North Korea has not tested a nuclear bomb or ballistic missile since last year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site with plans to dismantle several more facilities.
    North Korea recently warned, however, it could restart its nuclear program if the United States does not drop its campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions.
NORTH KOREA NEVER PROMISED
    Monday’s report by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), sparked media coverage calling it a “great deception” by the North Koreans.
    But South Korea’s presidential Blue House said without an actual deal to violate, Pyongyang has broken no promises.
    “North Korea has never promised to shut down this missile base,” Blue House spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said.    “It has never signed any agreement, any negotiation that makes shutting down missile bases mandatory… the fact that such a missile base exists shows the necessity for negotiations to be achieved quickly.”
    Asked about the report, Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton told reporters in Singapore on Tuesday that Trump “has given North Korea an incredible opportunity to walk through a door to a different future if they denuclearize…but they still need to do that.”
    The activity at the missile bases is one of several examples why American officials may be reluctant to lift any sanctions, said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Security and Unification at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
    “In short, from the CSIS report we can infer that first, North Korea is not sincere enough with negotiating and second, there’s no change in their nuclear capacity,” he said.
    U.S. officials have discussed possible clandestine enrichment sites for nuclear fuel, and in July, analysts at CNS used commercial satellite imagery to conclude that North Korea was “completing a major expansion of an important factory for producing solid rocket motors for… nuclear-armed missiles.”
    In April, ahead of his meeting with Trump, Kim told a gathering of ruling party leadership the nuclear arsenal represented a “great victory” and announced there was no need for further tests of nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.
    In the speech, however, Kim also hinted at nuclear weapons playing an important role long into the future, calling them a “powerful treasured sword for defending peace” that would “reliably guarantee” a dignified and happy life for generations of North Koreans.
    “Note the description of nuclear weapons as the only firm security assurance,” Pollack said.    “They are not seeking any ‘security assurance’ other than the indefinite possession of nuclear weapons.”
(Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim and Joyce Lee in Seoul and John Geddie in Singapore. Editing by Lincoln Feast)

11/13/2018 ‘Defending the indefensible’: Malaysia’s Mahathir slams Suu Kyi over Rohingya crisis
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit
in Singapore, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was trying to “defend the indefensible” over alleged atrocities committed by the country’s military against minority Rohingya Muslims.
    Asked on the sidelines of a speech he delivered in Singapore to comment on how Myanmar and Suu Kyi had been dealing with the Rohingya issue, Mahathir said:
    “It would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible."
    “They are actually oppressing these people to the point of killing them, mass killing.”
    A U.N. report in August detailed a military crackdown with genocidal intent that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh.
    Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report.    Suu Kyi has previously said her civilian government should not bear all responsibility for the crisis because the military retains a powerful political role under the constitution.
    Southeast Asian nations will call for those responsible for atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to be held “fully accountable,” according to a statement prepared for a regional summit, reflecting a stronger line being taken within the group.
(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan, Writing by John Geddie, Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/13/2018 U.S. to step up sanctions on Iran, ‘squeeze them until the pips squeak’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton answers a question from a reporter about how he refers to Palestine
during a news conference in the White House briefing room in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The United States will step up enforcement of sanctions on Iran, national security adviser John Bolton said on Tuesday, as Tehran tries to find ways to evade the restrictions in oil trade and in banking.
    “The objective has been from the beginning to get oil exports from Iran down to zero,” Bolton said.
    “It is our intention to squeeze them very hard.    As the British say: ‘Squeeze them until the pips squeak’.”
    The United States announced reinstatement of sanctions earlier this month as the Trump administration tries to force Iran to curb its nuclear and missile programs as well as its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and others in the Middle East.
    Eight importing countries have been given temporary exemptions by the United States to keep buying Iranian oil when it reimposed sanctions, prompting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to say the Washington would not be able to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero.
    Bolton also said the United States will let an investigation by Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor to run through on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was killed last month at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate by a team sent from Riyadh.
    The kingdom’s public prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb later said Khashoggi was killed in a premeditated attack, but his body has not been found.
    U.S. President Donald Trump remains prepared to hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Bolton said.    The comments came after the release of a report detailing undeclared missile sites in the North that had been undergoing maintenance.
    Bolton was speaking to reporters in Singapore on the sidelines of meetings this week between the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and external partners, including the United States and China.
(Reporting by John Geddie, writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/13/2018 Canadian PM Trudeau says in talks with Pakistan over Asia Bibi
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends the GovTech Summit at Paris city hall, France, November 12, 2018. REUTES/Charles Platiau
    OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday talks were underway with Pakistan over a Pakistani Christian woman whose acquittal on blasphemy charges against Islam last month sparked days of protests in the South Asian country.
    Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row in Pakistan before being released, is in protective custody because her life is in danger from those who disagree with the acquittal.    Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, has appealed for help to Britain, Canada, Italy and the United States.
    “We are in discussions with the Pakistani government,” Trudeau said in an interview with Agence France Presse in Paris, where he attended a ceremony marking the end of World War One.    His comments were confirmed by a spokesman in Ottawa.
    “There is a delicate domestic context that we respect which is why I don’t want to say any more about that, but I will remind people Canada is a welcoming country,” he added.
    While AFP said the discussions were about potentially offering Bibi and her family asylum, this was not confirmed by the spokesman in Ottawa.
    On Tuesday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said Bibi’s situation was discussed when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was called by his Canadian counterpart the previous day.
    “Foreign Minister Qureshi said Asia Bibi is our national and Pakistan fully respects her legal rights,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal said on social network Twitter.
    Islamists have threatened to stir up protest in Pakistan if Bibi is permitted to leave.    The government has indicated it will bar her from traveling abroad.
    On Tuesday, the ultra-Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan (TLP) party that led the protests said it strictly opposed her release and any permission for her to go abroad.
    “It is a stance of the millions of Pakistani Muslims,” TLP spokesman Ejaz Ashrafi told Reuters.
    Last week, Canada urged Pakistan to ensure Bibi’s well-being and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “extremely engaged in this issue.”
    Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 after neighbors said she made derogatory remarks about Islam when they objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.    She is a Protestant and denies committing blasphemy.
    TLP supporters closed roads in major cities in Pakistan during three days of demonstrations against Bibi’s acquittal at the end of last month.
    Bibi’s lawyer, Saiful Mulook, fled to the Netherlands this week because of fears for the safety of his family.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad in ISLAMABAD:; Editing by Tom Brown and Clarence Fernandez)

11/13/2018 India’s top court to review ruling lifting ban on women of menstruating age entering temple
Hindu devotees wait in queues inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple
in Pathanamthitta district in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s top court on Tuesday agreed to review its ruling two months ago that removed a ban on women of menstruating age from entering a prominent Hindu temple in the southern state of Kerala, following widespread protests against the decision.
    The Supreme Court will on Jan. 22 hear all 49 petitions seeking a review of its previous decision, a lawyer directly involved in the case told reporters.
    Conservative Hindu groups had prevented women from entering the Sabarimala hill temple in Kerala state in recent weeks, clashing with police and damaging cars and buses.    Their action was in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling that lifted a centuries-old ban on women or girls aged from 10 years to 50 from entering the temple.
    In September, a five-judge bench of the top court had ruled the ban was illegal, saying it infringed the right to worship.
(Reporting by Malini Menon; Editing by Martin Howell)

11/13/2018 Myanmar’s neighbors to call for ‘accountability’ in Rakhine crisis: draft statement
FILE PHOTO: Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at the
ASEAN Business and Investment Summit in Singapore, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Southeast Asian nations will call for those responsible for atrocities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state to be held “fully accountable,” according to a statement prepared for a regional summit, reflecting a stronger line being taken within the group.
    The draft of the chairman’s statement, which was reviewed by Reuters but may change before it is delivered by host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the close of meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the situation in Rakhine State was a “matter of concern.”
    The Singapore government did not immediately comment on the draft statement.
    A final statement could be issued after the ASEAN leaders start their meeting late on Tuesday.
    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment on the summit message.
    A U.N. report in August detailed mass killings and gang rapes with genocidal intent in a Myanmar military crackdown that began in 2017 and drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine into neighboring Bangladesh.    It called for its commander-in-chief and five generals to be prosecuted under international law. Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report.
    Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who will be joining the summit in Singapore, has been widely criticized for her handling of the crisis.
    Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, ASEAN’s senior most leader, was scathing about the Nobel peace laureate on Tuesday when asked about the situation in Myanmar.
    “It would seem that Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to defend what is indefensible,” the 93-year-old told reporters in Singapore.    “We are very disappointed, because someone who has been detained before knows the sufferings, and should not inflict it on others.”
    Mahathir and Suu Kyi were seated side by side at the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit and at a welcome dinner.    TV coverage showed them studiously ignoring each other.
    Amnesty International said on Tuesday it had withdrawn its most prestigious human rights prize from Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya.
    “We called on the Independent Commission of Enquiry established by the Government of Myanmar to carry out an independent and impartial investigation of the allegations of human rights violations and related issues, and hold those responsible fully accountable,” said the ASEAN chairman’s draft statement.
    The Rohingya crisis is one of the biggest man-made disasters involving a member since ASEAN was founded in 1967, and it is one of the thorniest issues yet faced by a group that traditionally works by consensus and is reluctant to get involved in matters deemed internal to its members.
    In July, Myanmar established a commission of inquiry to probe allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine, which includes two local and two international members from Japan and the Philippines.
    The draft statement repeated ASEAN’s previous calls on the importance of the repatriation of displaced persons to Myanmar, humanitarian relief and reconciliation among communities, but went further in calling for accountability for the alleged atrocities.
    The strengthening of rhetoric in the draft was flagged earlier this year by Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan who said his ASEAN peers had urged Myanmar to give the inquiry commission a full mandate to hold those responsible accountable.
    A source close to pre-summit discussions, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Singapore was leaning toward a stronger stance because it is the most internationally engaged member of ASEAN and feels responsibility as summit host to protect its credibility.
    It was not clear if all members of the grouping would back the sternest statement to date from ASEAN on the Rakhine issue.
    ASEAN’s Muslim-majority members – Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – tend to take the toughest line on the Rohingya question, while Myanmar has close regional allies in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Under military control in recent years, Thailand has also provided cover for Myanmar.
(Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and John Chalmers)

11/13/2018 China says nobody can stand in its way in Pacific island cooperation by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening ceremony for the
first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – No country can block China’s cooperation with island nations in the Pacific and the area is no country’s sphere of influence, a senior diplomat said on Tuesday, ahead of a summit between President Xi Jinping and Pacific island leaders.
    Australia, in particular, has been vying for influence with China in sparsely populated Pacific island countries that control vast swathes of resource-rich oceans.
    Australia will offer Pacific countries up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in grants and cheap loans to build infrastructure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week.
    Xi is due to meet leaders from eight Pacific nations it has diplomatic ties with at the end of the week in Papua New Guinea, where he will offer “important measures” for more cooperation, Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang told a news briefing.
    “Other countries should not obstruct China’s friendly cooperation and exchanges with the island nations. Of course, they have no way to obstruct this cooperation and these exchanges,” Zheng said, without specifying any country.
    Meeting in Beijing last week, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told his Australian counterpart that Beijing and Canberra should be cooperating in the South Pacific and not be cast as strategic rivals.
    Zheng said China was willing to cooperate with other countries in the Pacific, and that everyone should “positively respond to the special difficulties island nations face and urgent needs” and help them to achieve sustainable development.
    “The island country region is not any country’s sphere of influence. Everyone should jointly help the island nations,” he said.
    “We hope that relevant parties can objectively and positively view China’s relations with Pacific Island nations, and earnestly abandon outdated concepts of Cold War thinking and zero-sum games, and do more to benefit the island nations’ development and improvement of livelihoods and regional peace and stability.”
    China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.
    Xi will be meeting the leaders of Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Micronesia, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Niue.
    Zheng did not give a date for the summit, only saying meetings would be happening in Port Moresby on Thursday and Friday, ahead of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea on the weekend.
    Six other Pacific island nations have diplomatic relations with Taiwan though, which Beijing regards as a wayward Chinese province with no right to formal foreign ties.    Their leaders will not be attending the meeting with Xi.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/13/2018 U.S. think tank says at least 13 undeclared missile bases identified in North Korea by Josh Smith
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this undated photo
released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
    In reports released by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), researchers said maintenance and minor infrastructure improvements had been observed at some of the sites despite the negotiations.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at their landmark June summit in Singapore but the agreement was short on specifics and negotiations have made little headway.
    Trump said on Twitter shortly after that summit “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
    North Korea declared its nuclear force “complete” and halted missile and nuclear bomb testing earlier this year but U.S. and South Korean negotiators have yet to elicit from Pyongyang a concrete declaration of the size or scope of the weapons programs, or a promise to stop deploying its existing arsenal.
    North Korea has said it closed its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and the Sohae missile engine test facility.    It also raised the possibility of shutting more sites and allowing international inspections if Washington took “corresponding measures,” of which there has so far been no sign.
    A State Department official, asked whether those hidden sites went against the spirit of the summit and whether North Korea must give them up, said Trump had made clear that “should Chairman Kim follow through on his commitments – including complete denuclearization and the elimination of ballistic missile programs – a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people
‘CLOSELY WATCHING’
    Kim Eui-kyeom, a spokesman for the presidential Blue House in Seoul, said South Korean and U.S. intelligence officials had been “closely watching” the sites using military satellites and that the CSIS report contained “nothing new.”
    He specifically criticized any suggestion that the bases constituted a “deception” by the North Koreans, or that there was any agreement that required Pyongyang to declare the existence of the bases.
    “North Korea has never promised to shut down this missile base,” Kim Eui-kyeom said in a statement, citing one base described in detail by the CSIS researchers.    “It has never signed any agreement, any negotiation that makes shutting down missile bases mandatory.”
    An official with South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also told reporters that Seoul is “familiar” with the sites identified in the report but declined to confirm whether intelligence had indicated any recent changes at the bases.
    North Korea called off a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York last week.    State media said on Monday the resumption of some small-scale military drills by South Korea and the United States violated a recent agreement aimed at lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.
    The sites identified in the CSIS report are scattered in remote, mountainous areas across North Korea and could be used to house ballistic missiles of various ranges, the largest of which is believed to be capable of striking anywhere in the United States.
    “Missile operating bases are not launch facilities,” the report said.    “While missiles could be launched from within them in an emergency, Korean People’s Army operational procedures call for missile launchers to disperse from the bases to pre-surveyed or semi-prepared launch sites for operations.”
    None of the missile bases has been acknowledged by North Korea and analysts say an accurate disclosure of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities would be an important part of any denuclearization deal.
    Sakkanmol, the site closest to the border with South Korea and its capital, Seoul, appears to be “active and being reasonably well maintained,” the report found.
    “North Korea’s decommissioning of the Sohae satellite launch facility, while gaining much media attention, obscures the military threat to U.S. forces and South Korea from this and other undeclared ballistic missile bases,” it said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith in SEOUL; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Darren Schuettler, James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)

11/13/2018 Vice President Pence pushes Japan for bilateral free trade agreement by Tim Kelly and Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO - Japan's Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso arrives to attend a visit and a dinner at the Orsay Museum on the eve of the
commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, keeping up pressure on Japan to cut its trade surplus with the United States, said on Tuesday American goods and services too often faced barriers in Japan and a bilateral trade agreement offered the best way forward.
    Speaking to reporters after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Pence also said that sanctions on Pyongyang would remain in full force until a fully verified denuclearization of North Korea was achieved.
    “The United States has had a trade imbalance with Japan for too long.    American products and services too often face barriers to compete fairly in Japanese markets,” Pence said at a joint media appearance with Abe.
    “The best opportunity for free, fair and reciprocal trade will come in a bilateral trade agreement,” he added.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has criticized Japan over trade, asserting that Tokyo treats the United States unfairly by shipping millions of cars to North America while blocking imports of U.S. autos and farm products.
    Japan says its markets for manufactured goods are open, although it does protect politically sensitive farm products.
    In September, Abe and Trump agreed to start trade talks in an arrangement that appeared, temporarily at least, to protect Japanese automakers from further tariffs on their exports, which make up about two-thirds of Japan’s $69 billion trade surplus with the United States.
    Japan has insisted the new Trade Agreement on Goods would not be a wide-ranging free trade agreement, but U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has said he was aiming for a full free trade deal requiring approval by Congress.
    Abe did not comment directly on the nature of a future deal.
    “As for the economy, we reaffirmed that we intend to further expand bilateral trade and investment in a mutually beneficial manner in accordance with the Japan-U.S. joint statement in September, and to realize economic development of the Indo-Pacific region that is free, open and based on fair rules,” Abe said.
NORTH KOREA SANCTIONS
    The U.S. Commerce Department has submitted draft recommendations to the White House on its investigation into whether to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on imported cars and parts on national security grounds, two administration officials said in Washington.
    In June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump pledged to work toward denuclearization at a summit in Singapore, but there has been little headway on specific steps.
    “Our joint actions together with South Korea and the wider world have brought North Korea to the negotiating table and opened the promise of peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Pence said.    He said more work remained to be done, and noted that another summit between Trump and Kim was being arranged.
    “The sanctions will remain in full force until we achieve the final, fully verified de-nuclearization of North Korea.    The United States, Japan and the world will accept nothing less,” Pence said.
    A planned meeting between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in New York on Thursday was canceled.    The State Department gave no reason for the delay.
    A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 undeclared missile operating bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for U.S. negotiators to persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
    Japan has said it will not normalize relations with Pyongyang until it takes irreversible and verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and reveals the fate of all Japanese kidnapped by North Korean agents decades ago, and to return any who may still be alive.
    After meeting Abe, Pence – who repeated that Washington remains committed to the Indo-Pacific region – will head to Singapore for a meeting of regional powers and then to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Papua New Guinea.    Trump is not attending the meetings.
(Additional reporting Elaine Lies and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Darren Schuettler)

11/14/2018 Pence issues sharp rebuke to Myanmar’s Suu Kyi over ‘persecution’ of Rohingya by John Geddie
Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hold a
bilateral meeting in Singapore, November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence expressed the Trump administration’s strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims on Wednesday, telling leader Aung San Suu Kyi that “persecution” by her country’s army was “without excuse.”
    Pence also pressed Suu Kyi to pardon two Reuters journalists who were arrested nearly a year ago and sentenced in September to seven years in prison for breaching the Official Secrets Act.
    “The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse,” Pence told Suu Kyi in remarks open to the media before they went into private talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore.
    “I am anxious to hear the progress that you are making of holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands and created such suffering, including the loss of life,” he added.fully accountable” according to a statement the Asian countries prepared for a summit, reflecting a stronger line being taken within the group.
    Suu Kyi, seated next to Pence, was stony-faced as he spoke.
    The Myanmar army launched a sweeping offensive in the north of Rakhine state in late August last year, in response to Rohingya militant attacks.
    Myanmar denies persecuting members of the Muslim minority, saying its forces have carried out legitimate counterinsurgency operations.
    Suu Kyi, responding to Pence, said: “Of course people have different points of view but the point is that you should exchange these views and try to understand each other better.”
    “In a way we can say that we understand our country better than any other country does and I’m sure you will say the same of yours, that you understand your country better than anybody else,” she added.
    The United States has accused the military of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, who are widely reviled in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
    U.N.-mandated investigators have accused the military of unleashing a campaign of killings, rape and arson with “genocidal intent.”
ARREST OF JOURNALISTS
    Amnesty International this week withdrew its most prestigious human rights prize from Suu Kyi, accusing her of perpetuating human rights abuses by not speaking out about violence against the Rohingya.
    Once hailed as a champion in the fight for democracy, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been stripped of a series of international honors over the Rohingya exodus.
    Neither Suu Kyi nor her office have commented publicly about the decision by Amnesty International.
    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not answer calls seeking comment on Pence’s comments on Wednesday.
    Pence also said that Washington wanted to see a free and democratic press in Myanmar, commenting: “In America, we believe in our democratic institutions and ideals, including a free and independent press,” Pence said.
    White House officials told reporters after their closed-door talks that he had pressed her “multiple times” to pardon the two convicted Reuters journalists.
    “They had a very candid exchange of views on that,” a senior White House official said. He declined to elaborate.
    Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the Reuters journalists, both Myanmar nationals, were arrested in the city of Yangon last December.    On Nov. 5, their lawyers lodged an appeal against their conviction.
    At the time of their arrest in December, they were working on a Reuters investigation into the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim villagers during an army crackdown in Rakhine state.    Reuters published its investigation into the massacre on Feb. 8.
    Suu Kyi has said that the jailing of the Reuters reporters had nothing to do with freedom of expression and that they were convicted, not because they were journalists, but because they had broken the official secrets law.
(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Robert Birsel)

11/14/2018 Iran’s president: U.S. chose wrong path on sanctions, will be defeated
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid /File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States has chosen the wrong path in reimposing sanctions on Iran and will be defeated, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday, according to the Tasnim news agency.
    Washington reinstated sanctions targeting Iran’s oil industry on Nov. 5 as it seeks to force the Islamic Republic to accept tougher curbs on its nuclear program, halt its development of ballistic missiles as well as its support for proxy forces in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
    “The Americans will definitely be defeated in this path.    The path they have chosen is wrong and incorrect,” Rouhani said.    “If they are being honest and they are looking for regional security, this is not the path.    If they are being honest and respect the Iranian people, this is not the path.”
    He added, “They have made themselves more infamous in the world and in front of our people.    It’s clear for everyone that the incorrect and cruel sanctions of America will harm the dear and honorable people of our country.”
    U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said Tuesday that Washington intends to step up enforcement of sanctions on Iran and “>i>squeeze them very hard.”
    President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions after withdrew the United States from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, reached before he took office.    The other signatories – Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China remain committed to the deal.    Iran has said it will stay in it only if the other powers preserve its economic benefits against U.S. pressure.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/14/2018 Making waves in West, China luring Pacific islands with Belt and Road by Charlotte Greenfield and Colin Packham
China's President Xi Jinping is seen on a big screen in the media center as he speaks at the opening ceremony
of the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on November 5, 2018. Johannes Eisele/Pool via REUTERS
    WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping will showcase China’s Belt and Road initiative to Pacific leaders at a regional summit on Friday, diplomats say, with Western countries watching warily for signs of Beijing’s growing clout.
    The competition for influence between China and Western allies Australia, New Zealand and the United States, is likely to provide a strong undercurrent at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
    “China is showing a desire for a bigger role in the region, and that is out in the open like it has never been before,” said a senior British diplomat who declined to be named as she is not authorized to talk to the media.
    China has said it will announce “important measures for further cooperation” at the summit.    Western diplomats believe that probably means formally extending its Belt and Road plans into the Pacific.
    First proposed by Xi in 2013, the initiative promotes expanding land and sea links between Asia, Africa and Europe, with billions of dollars pledged for infrastructure development.
    Western governments harbor suspicions that Beijing’s professed desire to spread prosperity masks an underlying intention to become a more dominant power.
    Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva is one of several island nation leaders who will meet collectively with Xi, having already been asked by Beijing to sign up to the Belt and Road.
    “We’re discussing that right now,” Lopeti Senituli, a political advisor to the Tongan premier, told Reuters.
    For Pacific nations, China may offer support for much needed infrastructure and development.    Xi’s vision to provide links to a bigger marketplace could also prove hard to resist for leaders of the remote, fledgling economies.
WHOSE PATCH?
    For China, extending its influence into the Pacific would lessen the sense of maritime containment, and also potentially secure support from grateful, indebted governments at international forums, where numbers can count.
    Three sources familiar with the matter, including the British official, said that Western nations had been informed that Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and Niue have agreed sign onto Belt and Road.
    Niue and the Cook Islands did not respond to an emailed request for comment, but the Cook Islands’ Finance Minister Mark Brown told Radio New Zealand last week that his government would be signing.
    Vanuatu’s Prime Minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said in a message on Twitter that he “did not believe” Vanuatu had committed to Belt and Road but he would check.
    China’s official Belt and Road website reported that Fiji had made a commitment on Monday, joining the likes of Samoa and Papua New Guinea.
    China’s footprint in the region has been growing in the past decade.    Pacific governments now owe about $1.3 billion in concessional debt to China, raising fears in the West, that the region was becoming more susceptible to Beijing’s diplomatic pressure.
    A senior Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday no country can block Beijing’s cooperation with Pacific Island nations.
    Xi’s meeting with the island nation leaders, which a U.S. diplomatic source said will be held without observers from the West, comes after a series of Western initiatives to shore up ties in the Pacific.
    Australia last week declared the Pacific “our patch” as it offered A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in cheap infrastructure loans and grants.
(Additional reporting by Tom Westbrook in SYDNEY and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

11/14/2018 Sri Lanka showdown looms as new PM loses confidence vote by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez
FILE PHOTO: Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa waves at the staff
after participating in the ceremony to assume his duties as the Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs
at the Finance Ministry in Colombo, Sri Lanka October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s parliament passed a no-confidence motion against newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on Wednesday, presenting a standoff with the opposition and throwing the country deeper into turmoil.
    Deputies from Rajapaksa’s party rejected the voice vote as illegal, saying it wasn’t scheduled and that the pro-China former strongman would remain in office.
    It wasn’t immediately clear what President Maithripala Sirisena, who triggered the crisis by firing Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and naming Rajapaksa to the job last month, would do now.
    Government officials said there was confusion about who was in charge.
    “We need cabinet approvals to go ahead with large value projects,” one told Reuters.    “We don’t know if a cabinet exists or not.”
    Sirisena dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections as a way to break the deadlock but the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the decree as unconstitutional.
    Wickremesinghe, who had refused to vacate the prime minister’s residence, said he intended to discharge his official responsibilities now that he had proved his majority in parliament.
    Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa was supported by 122 members of the 225-member house.
    “A majority voted in favor of the no-confidence motion and thus the no-confidence motion was passed,” Jayasuriya said in a statement.
    But Rajapaksa’s son Namal, who is also an MP, said the vote had not been put on the day’s business and hence was not valid.    Father and son left the chamber before the vote was taken and their supporters shouted slogans in support.
    The instability in the island nation of 21 million people has raised concerns for its tourism-dependent economy, already expanding at its slowest pace in more than a decade.
    On Wednesday, the central bank unexpectedly raised its key policy rates, a move aimed at defending a faltering rupee as foreign capital outflows picked up. But the currency , slid further to a record low.
    Sri Lanka, located just off the southern coast of India, is also an arena of contest with China.    Beijing invested billions of dollars in ports and other infrastructure when Rajapaksa was president, raising concerns in India about losing political influence in its backyard.
WAR HERO
    Rajapaksa, under whose rule Sri Lanka achieved its 2009 victory in a decades-long conflict against rebels from the Tamil minority, is seen as a hero by many among Sri Lanka’s Buddhist majority.    He has been accused by diplomats of human rights abuses during the war, which he denies.
    Wickremesinghe, who has sought to promote ties with India and the West to balance Sri Lanka’s relations with China, said he intended to do his job.
    “We will now take steps to ensure that the government in place before the 26th Oct will continue.    I wish to inform all government servants and police that you cannot carry out illegal orders from the purported government that has failed to demonstrate the confidence of the people,” he tweeted.
    According to the constitution, the president has to appoint a prime minister who in his opinion can command the majority in parliament.
    Sirisena has said he will never appoint Wickremesinghe as prime minister again.
    The parliamentary speaker has called the president’s sacking of the prime minister to bring a former leader back to power a non-violent coup.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Nick Macfie)

11/14/2018 Prolonging negotiations could put China-backed trade deal at risk: Singapore PM
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks during the opening ceremony
of the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Further prolonging negotiations for a major free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific will put it at risk of losing credibility, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday, as the leaders of the countries involved met to complete the pact.
    The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) along with China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand are trying to achieve full conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement in 2019.
    The countries had earlier hoped to conclude talks for the China-backed deal by the end of this year.
    “Market access negotiations have advanced substantially, bringing us closer to finalization next year.    We are now at the final stage of negotiations,” Lee told a meeting of the leaders of the 16 countries involved in the talks.
    He added: “Further prolonging negotiations puts the RCEP at risk of losing credibility and support from our stakeholders and will mean missing a major opportunity to bring in tangible benefits to our businesses and citizens.”
    Negotiations for RCEP began in 2012, which envisions the creation of a free trade zone that will encompass 45 percent of world population and more than a third of the world’s GDP, but does not involve the United States.
    RCEP talks were given new impetus after President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the competing Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal in one of the first acts of his administration.
    The draft of a statement to be issued by RCEP nations later in the week, which was reviewed by Reuters, said the group would instruct “ministers and negotiators to work toward the full conclusion of the RCEP negotiations in 2019.”
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Chyen Yee Lee; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/14/2018 China appears to relax North Korea sanctions: report to U.S. Congress by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un listens to U.S. President Donald Trump
as they meet in a one-on-one bilateral session at the start of their summit at the Capella Hotel
on the resort island of Sentosa, Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. congressional commission said on Wednesday that China appears to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea and called on the Treasury Department to provide a report on Chinese compliance within 180 days.
    In its annual report, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said the Treasury report should include a classified list of Chinese financial institutions, businesses, and officials involved in trading with North Korea that could be subject to future sanctions.
    The bipartisan commission said China had appeared to enforce sanctions on North Korea more thoroughly than in the past in 2017 and in early 2018.
    But this effort appeared to have relaxed since a thaw in relations between China and North Korea as the long-time ally of Beijing began to engage with the United States this year.
    “China appears to have eased off sanctions enforcement, despite its promises to keep sanctions intact until North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons,” the report said.
    “North Korean workers have returned to jobs in northeast China, economic activity and tourism have picked up in border towns, flights in both directions have resumed, and the two countries have conducted high-profile official exchanges to discuss economic development,” it said.
    It said China always left “key lifelines” in place for North Korea and there were “holes” in enforcement that included “ship to ship” transfers of goods.    The report said the Treasury Department, in recommending Chinese sanctions targets, should also “explain the potential broader impacts of sanctioning those entities.”
    The United Nations Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for its weapons programs.    The United States has imposed sanctions in the past on Chinese and other foreign firms for violating those steps.
    China and Russia have said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang for “positive developments” after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.
    China’s top diplomat and politburo member Yang Jiechi said after talks in Washington last week that China would “continue to enforce strictly relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
    Trump has suggested China may be exerting negative pressure on U.S. efforts to press North Korea to denuclearize in response to U.S. trade measures on Beijing.
    The U.S. Treasury did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission report, but the State Department said it expected all U.N. states to implement sanctions resolutions until North Korea gave up its nuclear weapons.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom)

11/14/2018 In APEC host Papua New Guinea, China and the West grapple over strategic port by Colin Packham and Philip Wen
A Chinese construction project is seen in Port Moresby, the capital city of the
poorest nation in the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC),
in Papua New Guinea, November 14, 2018. Picture taken November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Philip Wen
    SYDNEY/BEIJING (Reuters) – When Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill flagged the possibility of China bankrolling a port development off his country’s northern coast in June, the consternation in neighboring Australia set off a lightening-fast response.
    Despite a change in leadership in Australia’s government in August, a rival offer was swiftly formulated, government and diplomatic sources told Reuters, amid concern the strategically-located Manus Island port could regularly host Chinese military vessels.
    Canberra, a staunch Washington ally, said earlier this month it would fund the port development, part of what analysts see as a push to reassert its dominance in the South Pacific as Beijing seeks a more prominent role.
    “The Manus Island port was a big concern for us,” a senior U.S. diplomatic source told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.    “It was feasible Chinese military vessels could have used the port so we are very happy that Australia will fund the re-development.”
    Australia is preparing to make the verbal agreement formal at this week’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, held in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby.
    While conceived as a means to remove trade barriers in the Pacific, the hosting of this year’s APEC has also seen PNG become a staging ground for regional influence where the U.S. and China lock in competing alliances.
    China has spent $1.3 billion on concessionary loans and gifts since 2011 to become the Pacific’s second-largest donor after Australia, stoking concern in the West that several tiny Pacific nations could end up overburdened and in debt to Beijing.
    China says it has no ulterior motive beyond assisting the development goals of Pacific Island nations and that Australia should see it as a partner, rather than rival, in the region.
    On Friday, President Xi Jinping will showcase China’s Belt and Road to Pacific leaders, several of whom are expected to sign up to the infrastructure initiative.
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week characterized the Pacific as Australia’s “patch” while offering the region up to A$3 billion ($2.18 billion) in cheap infrastructure loans and grants to counter China’s rising influence in the region.
    “There is an acceptance within Australia that it has taken its eye off the ball and that has prompted Australia’s Pacific reset,” said Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.
NAUGHTY STEP
    This is the first time PNG, the poorest of the 21 countries in the economic bloc, is hosting the APEC summit.    The country’s overriding focus is for the event in Port Moresby to be a success, Western officials say, overcoming perceptions of inadequate infrastructure, high crime rates and a crumbling healthcare system.
    Aware of the importance PNG’s leadership has attached to the event, Australia and China have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help stage the forum.
    But Western efforts to leverage APEC have been a dealt a blow by lukewarm U.S. support, with President Donald Trump electing to skip the event.
    Attending in Trump’s stead, Vice-President Mike Pence will not stay in Port Moresby, instead flying in and out daily from the northeastern Australian city of Cairns.
    “The U.S. are well and truly on the naughty step,” a senior British diplomat told Reuters.    “Papua New Guinea believes the quality of the event is not what comes from it but rather who attends and the decisions by Trump not to attend and Pence to fly in and out only for APEC has upset PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.”
    In contrast, Chinese President Xi Jinping will spend several days in Port Moresby and conduct an official bilateral visit.
    He will also host a closed forum with Pacific leaders, where he is expected to announce a big Chinese aid and investment package to the Pacific, tying it to his signature Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, Western diplomats said.
    “The President asked the Vice President specifically to do this trip on his behalf because he believed that he would be the ideal messenger for the President on American policy for the region, the President’s objectives in trade and investments, and strategically,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters in a briefing.
    Asked whether Asian nations might view Trump’s absence as a snub, Pence told reporters traveling with him to Asia: “Not in the least,” adding that Trump attended the ASEAN and APEC summits last year.
PLAYING CATCH-UP
    Manus Island was a major U.S. naval base during the Second World War, playing a key role in Washington’s Pacific strategy.    More recently, the island has hosted one of Australia’s two controversial offshore immigration detention centers.
    Analysts say a Chinese presence there could impact the West’s ability to navigate the Pacific while offering Beijing close access to U.S. bases in Guam.
    “Australia is concerned the Pacific could become the next South China Sea where Beijing militarizes the region,” said La Trobe’s Bisley.
    The question is whether China has gained such a firm foothold it will prove difficult to shake, diplomats and officials told Reuters.
    PNG has the largest debt to China in the South Pacific, at almost $590 million, representing about one-quarter of its total external debt.
    “Chinese presence is seen everywhere.    It has been achieved in large part through its investment into the country,” said a senior French diplomat who declined to be named as he is not authorized to talk to the media.
    “With PNG’s economy now in trouble, what China says, goes.”
($1 = 1.3837 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham in SYDNEY and Philip Wen in BEIJING; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield in NEW ZEALAND and Roberta Rampton in WASHINGTON)

11/14/2018 Thousands flee as Taliban attack Afghanistan’s ‘safe’ districts by Mustafa Andalib and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Afghan families fleeing from the districts of Malistan and Jaghori, because of the
conflict between Taliban and Afghan forces, arrive in Ghazni, Afghanistan November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Mustafa Andaleb
    GHAZNI, Afghanistan/KABUL (Reuters) – Thousands of members of Afghanistan’s mainly Shi’ite Hazara ethnic minority have fled their homes in the central province of Ghazni as the Taliban have pressed into two previously safe districts, officials and witnesses said on Wednesday.
    In heavy fighting over recent days, hundreds of Taliban fighters have seized large areas of Jaghori and Malistan districts, both heavily populated by Hazaras, a group that has long faced discrimination in Afghanistan.
    “I saw Taliban burning the house of a local police commander, killing the commander and his son,” said Mohammad Ali, who fled from his home in Jaghori to Ghazni city.    “The bazaar was closed, there was no food, no medicine and no power so we escaped.”
    Roads into the area were closed and telecoms interrupted making it hard for aid groups and officials to assess the number of casualties, with problems facing those displaced made worse by plunging temperatures.
    Fighting between the Taliban, a mainly ethnic Pashtun Sunni Muslim movement, and a militia led by Hakim Shujayee, a local Hazara commander accused of abuses against Pashtuns, broke out in Uruzgan, a neighboring province to Ghazni in early November.    It later spread to Jaghori and Malistan.
    The fighting has fueled fears over a possible upsurge in ethnic and sectarian violence.    The Taliban say their fight is not against the Hazara population but against Shujayee, who has remained at liberty despite warrants for his arrest.
    “He (Shujayee) receives government support, so our fight is against him and the government that provides support to him, we will punish him for his crimes,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid.
    One senior official said at least 35 civilians, mainly Hazaras, and over 50 members of the elite Special Forces had been killed in the clashes.
    He estimated that more than 7,000 people have fled from Jaghori and Malistan either to Ghazni or into neighboring Bamiyan and more than 3,000 homes had been razed.
    Abdul Rahman Ahmadi, spokesman for the governor of Bamiyan province, which is adjacent to Ghazni and has a large Hazara population, said more than 4,500 internally displaced people had sought shelter in schools, mosques and private homes there.
    “We are doing everything to help the fleeing villagers, many are in a state of shock,” he said.
    The United Nations’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Afghanistan said the situation within the affected districts was chaotic, leaving people trapped in the districts facing “siege-like” conditions.
    Large parts of Ghazni province are already under the control of the Taliban after the militants briefly overran the provincial capital, Ghazni city, in August before they were pushed back by Afghan forces backed by U.S. air strikes.
    Prior to the fighting, Jaghori was known as a relatively liberal enclave with high levels of education and women’s rights.
    “Jaghori was the only district where women could drive a car freely and pursue higher education without worrying about militant attacks.    But now it will all change,” said one foreign security expert.
    Earlier this week hundreds of people held demonstrations outside the presidential palace in Kabul.    The protesters, mainly Hazaras, said President Ashraf Ghani had failed to address security challenges.
(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Jibran Ahmed, Writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Peter Graff)

11/14/2018 Bangladesh police break up opposition protest as election nears by Serajul Quadir
Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists vandalize a police vehicle
during clashes in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Novemver 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at opposition party supporters in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday as tension soared weeks before a general election.
    Activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) set fire to police vans, cars and motorbikes, according to police and media.
    “Our force was attacked without any reason.    They were only trying to ease the traffic flow but suddenly they were targeted,” said Masudur Rahman, a spokesman for the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
    The BNP supporters had been accompanying an election candidate who was picking up election nomination papers from the party’s offices in the city.
    Police initially asked the group of more than 500 people to disperse because they were creating a traffic jam but an altercation ensued and fistfights broke out.
    The BNP said at least 12 of its supporters were injured.    Police said at least 20 officers were hurt.
    BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir denounced the police action as an “injustice,” and part of a government plot to exclude the party from the Dec. 30 election.
    Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan told reporters authorities would check video footage of the confrontation and take legal action against those identified as having attacked the police or set fire to vehicles.
    Unrest usually breaks out during general elections in Bangladesh, where politics has for more than two decades been dominated by the rivalry between two women leaders – Sheikh Hasina, current prime minister, and former premier Khaleda Zia, who are both related to former national leaders.
    Khaleda’s BNP says a caretaker government is essential for free and fair elections, alleging that otherwise Hasina’s ruling Awami League will use the machinery of government to support its campaign.
    The BNP is in disarray following the jailing early this year on corruption charges of Khaleda, on what the party says were trumped-up charges to keep her out of politics.
    The last election, in 2014, which the BNP boycotted, was marred by deadly violence and criticized by international observers as flawed.
    An alliance of opposition parties, including the BNP, said on Sunday it would contest the election despite the Awami League’s rejection of the demand for a caretaker government.
    The alliance met with the Bangladesh Election Commission on Wednesday to ask for the election to be delayed by another three weeks to allow more time for organizing and campaigning.    The commission has not yet responded to the request.    The poll has already been delayed one week.
    Hasina’s government has won global plaudits for letting in hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, but its critics accuse it of increasing authoritarianism.
    In particular, they have attacked Hasina for they say was the government’s heavy-handed policing of student protests this year and a crackdown on free speech.
(Reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Martin Howell and Andrew Roche)

11/14/2018 Modi government, Indian central bank set for uneasy truce: sources by Manoj Kumar and Suvashree Choudhury
A Reserve Bank of India (RBI) logo is seen at the gate of its office in New Delhi, India, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain
    NEW DELHI/MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s government and its central bank are getting close to ironing out some of their policy differences, said two sources familiar with the discussions, as they seek to defuse worsening tensions that had threatened to unnerve investors.
    While the rift is far from healed, the sources said enough progress had been made to avoid acrimony at a board meeting of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) next Monday.    The threat that RBI Governor Urjit Patel would quit, as reported by some Indian newspapers last week, is also thought to be off the table for now, they said.
    The uneasy truce is likely to see the RBI ease up on some lending restrictions to help the government stimulate the economy, said the sources.    One source said the central bank could agree to tweak restrictions on lending to improve credit flows for smaller companies with a borrowing limit of 250 million rupees ($3.4 million).
    Neither the RBI nor the finance ministry responded to requests for comment for this article.    The prime minister’s office declined to comment.
    It is unclear how much of a role Prime Minister Narendra Modi played in defusing the tension.    Local media reported that Modi met Patel last week in an attempt to sort out the contentious issues but officials in the prime minister’s office and the RBI said they did not know of such a meeting.
    Modi had appointed Patel as the RBI governor in 2016 for a three-year term that ends in September next year.
    For weeks, government officials in New Delhi have been pressuring the Mumbai-based RBI to accede to a range of demands, from easing lending curbs to handing over surplus reserves to the government.    This prompted RBI Deputy Governor Viral Acharya to warn late last month that undermining a central bank’s independence could be “catastrophic,” bringing the feud into the open.
    Tensions were expected to come to a head at Monday’s meeting as government representatives on the board appeared to be ready to turn up the heat on Patel and accuse the RBI of being intransigent in the face of government demands.
    Now, it seems likely there will be a more constructive atmosphere with agreement on some issues, and disputed questions shelved for another day, the sources said.
CAN’T AGREE TO EVERYTHING
    The government is keen to provide more stimulus to the economy heading into next year’s election, especially as the incomes of many farmers have been hit by low crop prices.    At the same time it doesn’t want a bust-up with the central bank, which could badly affect investor sentiment and provide political fodder to the opposition Congress party.
    “The government understands the regulator will remain a regulator and can’t agree to all demands,” said a government official, who declined to be named, referring to the RBI.
    While the official did not give any details of the solutions being worked out with the RBI, he acknowledged that the government did not want to trigger Patel’s departure at such a sensitive time.
    There are five key state elections in the next few weeks and a general election due by May.    The Congress party has already been harrying the government over allegations of corruption in a military jet deal with France and infighting between the top officials of India’s equivalent of the FBI.
    A RBI board member said that helping to ease tensions was the idea that both sides wanted a healthy economy.    It was just a question of how to get there.    “The main issue is how to boost credit growth,” the member said referring to the credit crunch facing small companies.
    Economics Affairs Secretary S.C. Garg is expected to make a presentation in the board meeting to outline the concerns of the finance ministry and could bring up the question about the transfer of surplus cash reserves held by the RBI, the sources said.
    The board member said that an expert panel may be set up to work out the appropriate level of contingency reserves for the RBI, effectively kicking that question down the road.    The RBI introduced a so-called corrective action plan in 2014 for 11 state-run banks with bad loan issues and depleted capital.    That plan included curbs on risky lending and RBI officials said, as a result, the banks’ loan growth fell to zero and had remained there since 2016, from 10 percent in 2014.
    According to the RBI board member, the government wants the RBI to ease those curbs and lower capital requirements for the 11.
    Some improvements in the balance sheets of those lenders might give the RBI leeway to do that, although the RBI would prefer to give the mending process more time, said another official who is aware of discussions within the central bank.
(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/14/2018 Exclusive: China Inc’s mounting stress – funding woes, shrinking profit growth and a trade war by Adam Jourdan and Gaurav Dogra
FILE PHOTO: People cross a street at Nanshan district focusing on technology
sectors in Shenzhen, China September 14, 2015. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo
    SHANGHAI/BENGALURU (Reuters) – China Inc’s profit growth has fallen sharply while debt levels have recorded a rare drop, a Reuters analysis of earnings data shows – signs of strain brought on by Beijing’s crackdown on leverage as well as a trade war with the United States.
    Easy access to funds had long fueled growth for mainland Chinese firms but a concerted campaign by authorities to rid the financial system of excessive liquidity and rein in irrational corporate expansion is taking its toll.
    A rapid bruising of consumer confidence amid trade tension with the United States has added pain, creating a major challenge for Beijing as it looks to keep the economy on track after it expanded at its weakest pace since 2009 in the third quarter.
    Chinese firms managed a combined net profit rise of just 3.9 percent in the third quarter, compared with jumps of 20-55 percent seen in each quarter for the past two years, according to the Reuters analysis of earnings for 1,950 firms listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen.
    Earnings for Hengkang Medical Group Co Ltd, which has made acquisitions of medical institutions central to its business strategy, highlight the strong connection between credit conditions and corporate health in China.
    “Capital markets are tight and the cost of borrowing is pretty high,” said Li Dan, a securities official at Hengkang’s board of directors office and one of a dozen executives interviewed by Reuters for this article.
    Fierce competition for M&A funds, plus the slowing economy pushed the company into the red for the third quarter, she said.
    China Inc profits squeezed – https://tmsnrt.rs/2PnMKYA
    Combined debt at Chinese firms dropped 1.6 percent to about 12 trillion yuan ($1.7 trillion) for the quarter from a year earlier – the first decline in the nine years of comparable data available for roughly 1,400 of the companies.
    That was down 11.5 percent from the previous quarter, also the steepest quarter-on-quarter decline of the past nine years.
    Metals firm Shenzhen Zhongjin Lingnan Nonfemet Co Ltd, which cited a drop in prices for its weaker profits, said it was a “tricky” time for financing.
    “The market environment is really not good.    When we did our issuance, we came under great pressure and almost didn’t succeed with the fund-raising,” an official at the company said.
    “Lots of companies though aren’t able now to raise money in private fund raising successfully at all,” he said.    Like many company officials Reuters spoke with he asked not to be identified by name.
    China Inc debt in rare drop – https://tmsnrt.rs/2QAdcL9
CHEAP AND CHEERFUL
    Revenue growth remained more robust at 13.4 percent, in line with growth earlier in the year, though down from a climb of 21.6 percent in the same quarter in 2017.
    But pressure on profits was coming from a number of fronts, according to the companies interviewed.
    In addition to weaker demand and higher funding costs, they cited poor returns on financial investments, inventory build-up as well as downward pressure on product prices that was fuelling competition among firms.
    “Our prices have dropped a lot this year,” said a senior official at LONGi Green Energy Technology Co Ltd, adding that the margins on its products for the solar power industry had dropped to 20 percent from 30 percent last year.    That contributed to a 62 percent slide in third-quarter profit.
    “The demand side is weakening.    One: it’s because of credit availability.    Two is weakening sentiment due to the trade issue escalation,” said Christopher Lee, Hong Kong-based managing director for corporate ratings at S&P Global.
    “A lot of these private companies are under stress in the last couple of months,” he said, adding that he expected the government to roll out more measures that would make it easier for businesses to gain funding.
    By sector, financial firms were the hardest hit with the industry seeing an average 52 percent decline in third-quarter net profit.    Not only hurt by the crackdown on risky lending in the shadow banking sector, a sharp slide in China stocks has reduced the value of many of their holdings.
    Sudden slowdown in Q3 – https://tmsnrt.rs/2QAGBF2
    Firms in the so-called consumer discretionary sector, saw net profits drop 1.8 percent from the same quarter a year earlier – a stark contrast to growth of 21.5 percent in the second quarter and the first decline in trackable data that goes back to mid-2016.
    That represents a further ominous sign for consumer spending.    Others include a slide in China car sales that has brought the world’s biggest car market closer to a rare annual contraction as well as weak profit growth for premium liquor maker Kweichow Moutai Co Ltd, a bellwether for China’s luxury sales.
    Sales for e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s annual shopping bonanza Singles’ Day rose at their slowest-ever rate despite topping $30 billion – in part due to a stalling real estate market hitting sales of big ticket items.
    Belt-tightening by consumers is also forcing companies to roll out discounts to keep up sales.
    “Consumers are increasingly looking for better value and better – and bigger savings,” Joey Wat, CEO of Yum China Holdings Inc, told analysts after the company announced its third-quarter sales last month.
    The firm, which operates Pizza Hut and KFC in China, had seen “very aggressive promotion” from rivals that had increased competition to lure in diners.
    “In the short term, KFC can do that.    There’s nothing wrong to offer something, it’s a lovely term called cheap and cheerful, particularly during some slightly tougher times for customers,” she said.
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan in Shanghai and Gaurav Dogra in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Shanghai newsroom; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

11/15/2018 U.S. oil prices resume decline as oversupply worries drag
Oil pumps are seen after sunset outside Vaudoy-en-Brie, near Paris, France November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    TOKYO (Reuters) – U.S. oil prices fell on Thursday, resuming declines after an industry group said U.S. inventories had risen more than expected and shrugging off a report that OPEC and other producers plan to cut output.
    U.S. crude futures were down 33 cents, or 0.6 percent, at $55.92 a barrel by 0004 GMT.
    The contract rose 1 percent on Wednesday, after sliding for 12 straight sessions and touching its lowest since November 2017.
    Brent crude was yet to trade.    It settled up 65 cents, or 1 percent, at $66.12 a barrel, after hitting a session-high of $67.63, having also slumped in recent weeks.
    The oil market reversed course on Wednesday after Reuters reported that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its partners were discussing a proposal to cut output by up to 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd), more than officials had mentioned previously.
    But it did not taken long for concerns about potential oversupply to return to the fore.
    The American Petroleum Institute said late on Wednesday that crude inventories rose by 8.8 million barrels in the week to Nov. 9 to 440.7 million, compared with analyst expectations for an increase of 3.2 million barrels.
    Oil markets are being hit by surging supply from OPEC, Russia, the Unites States and other producers and concern that a global economic slowdown will cut into energy demand.
    That has pushed the price of global benchmark Brent down more than 20 percent since early October, one of the biggest declines since the price collapse of 2014.
    The Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) also said on Wednesday that the implied stock build for the first half of 2019 is 2 million bpd.
    The IEA left its forecast for global demand growth for 2018 and 2019 unchanged from last month, but cut its forecast for non-OECD demand growth, the engine of expansion in world consumption.
    U.S. crude output from its seven major shale basins was expected to hit a record 7.94 million bpd in December, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said earlier this week.    The EIA announces official crude stocks and other data later on Thursday.
    The surge in onshore output has helped overall U.S. crude production hit a record 11.6 million bpd, making the United States the world’s biggest oil producer ahead of Russia and Saudi Arabia.
    Amid the general market decline, late on Wednesday the CME raised December oil futures margins by 14.5 percent to $3,550 per contract, with the new rate effective from Thursday.
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Joseph Radford)

11/15/2018 Pence says ’empire and aggression’ have no place in Indo-Pacific by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a meeting with ASEAN leaders at the
ASEAN-US Summit in Singapore November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence told leaders of Southeast Asian nations on Thursday that there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific region, a comment that could be interpreted as a reference to China’s rise.
    Pence did not mention China in his remarks at the opening of a summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Singapore, but stressed that small countries as well as large ones should be allowed to prosper in the Indo-Pacific.
    The prime minister of Singapore later said that Southeast Asian countries did not want to take sides when pulled in different directions by major powers, but that one day it may have to.
    Leaders at the ASEAN meetings this week heard warnings that the post-World War Two international order was in jeopardy and trade tensions between Washington and Beijing could trigger a “domino effect” of protectionist measures by other countries.
    “Like you, we seek an Indo-Pacific in which all nations, large and small, can prosper and thrive – secure in our sovereignty, confident in our values, and growing stronger together,” Pence said.    “We all agree that empire and aggression have no place in the Indo-Pacific.”
    He said Washington had taken action to promote this vision, including steps to spur private investment in infrastructure and a pursuit of trade that is “free, fair, and reciprocal.”
    The vice president also highlighted the United States’ “pressure campaign” on North Korea, its “commitment to uphold the freedom of the seas and skies” and determination to ensure that Southeast Asian nations are secure in their sovereign borders, on land, and at sea in the digital world.
    Pence’s comments follow a major speech in October in which he flagged a tougher approach by Washington toward Beijing, accusing China of “malign” efforts to undermine U.S. President Donald Trump and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.
    The United States has conducted a series of “freedom of navigation” exercises in the contested South China Sea, angering Beijing, which says the moves threaten its sovereignty.
    China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which some $3 trillion of shipborne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam – all ASEAN members – as well as Taiwan.
    Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war in which they have imposed increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other’s imports.
    Asked at a news conference how important it was for ASEAN not to take sides when major powers are trying to pull it in different directions, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:
    “It is very desirable for us not to have to take sides, but the circumstances may come when ASEAN may have to choose one or the other,” Lee said.    “I hope it does not happen soon.”
    Leaders from the 10-nation ASEAN joined counterparts from China, the United States, Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand for the meetings.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/15/2018 Trump to meet North Korea’s Kim in 2019, wants plan to end arms program: Pence by John Geddie
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a news conference
in Singapore, November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Thursday President Donald Trump plans to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2019 and will push for a concrete plan outlining Pyongyang’s moves to end its arms programs.
    The United States and North Korea have been discussing a second meeting of their leaders after a June summit in Singapore to lay the groundwork for ending a nuclear standoff between the old foes.
    “The plans are ongoing.    We believe that the summit will likely occur after the first of the year, but the when and the where of that is still being worked out,” Pence told reporters after meeting South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore.
    In a separate interview with NBC News, Pence said the United States would not require Pyongyang to provide a complete list of nuclear weapons and locations before the second summit but that the meeting must produce a concrete plan.
    “I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Pence said.
    In prepared remarks for the plenary session of the East Asia Summit, Pence said it was essential that international sanctions pressure be maintained on North Korea until its complete denuclearization was achieved.
    “Chairman Kim agreed to this and we must hold North Korea accountable,” he said.
    North Korea had been angered by Washington’s refusal to ease sanctions and has warned it could resume development of its nuclear program if the United States did not drop its campaign.
    A U.S. think tank said on Monday it had identified at least 13 of an estimated 20 active, undeclared missile bases inside North Korea, underscoring the challenge for American negotiators hoping to persuade Kim to give up his weapons programs.
    North Korea had entered into agreements with regional powers in 1994 and in 2005 to dismantle its nuclear program in return for economic benefits and diplomatic rewards, but those deals broke down after Pyongyang clandestinely continued to pursue building weapons of mass destruction.
    With scant sign of progress on negotiations since the June summit and recent high-level meetings canceled, Trump said last week he was now in “no rush” but still wanted to meet with Kim for a second time.
    “We’re going to keep the pressure on.    We’re going to keep the sanctions in place,” Pence told NBC.    “President Trump continues to be very hopeful that in that next summit, we’ll come out with a plan for actually implementing and achieving denuclearization.”
    U.S. officials argue that sanctions forced North Korea to the negotiating table but North Korea has credited its nuclear and missile breakthroughs for providing it the standing to meet the world’s biggest powers.
    Pence told reporters that Moon agreed to work closely with the United States toward the second U.S.-North Korea summit, as Washington maintains its “maximum pressure” against Pyongyang.
    Asked if China, which has been the North’s main economic benefactor, was doing enough to maintain sanctions pressure, Pence said Beijing has done more than they have ever done before and Trump was grateful for that.
    A U.S. congressional commission said on Wednesday China appeared to have relaxed enforcement of sanctions on North Korea as Pyongyang began to engage with the United States this year.
    Trump is expected to speak more about enforcing sanctions when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Argentina late this month and the unique role that China can play in ensuring the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, Pence said.
    North Korea has not tested a nuclear device or ballistic missile since last year, and has said it has shuttered its main nuclear test site, with plans to dismantle several more facilities.
    In Washington, South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told the Wilson Center think tank it was important to provide North Korea with motivation to denuclearize, but added, “until we see actual progress on denuclearization, sanctions will be maintained.”
    Cho, who is expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday, said it was important to have patience and to continue dialogue.
    He said it was still possible that North Korea’s Kim could make a first ever visit to Seoul this year, for what would be a fourth summit with Moon, and such a meeting could help facilitate a second U.S.-North Korea summit.
    Cho reiterated Seoul’s support for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korea War, saying this would help Kim convince hardliners it was safe to denuclearize.    Moon has been keen to agree such a declaration by the year-end, but Washington has linked it to progress on denuclearization.
(Reporting by John Geddie in Singapore; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Bernadette Baum and James Dalgleish)

11/15/2018 VP Pence, South Korean president discuss plans for second U.S-North Korea summit by OAN Newsroom
    While in Singapore, Vice President Mike Pence expressed the importance of negotiations to achieve complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    “The historic summit that took place here in Singapore, the meetings that have taken place between the Republic of Korea and North     Korea over the past year, we believe, have represented meaningful progress towards achieving our objective of complete and verifiable, irreversible denuclearization,” he stated.
    Pence made the comments after meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talks to the press during the 33rd ASEAN Summit
in Singapore, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
    Moon expressed his gratitude toward President Trump for his work in achieving peace on the Korean peninsula.
    “I believe that such progress has been all down to President Trump’s strong leadership and bold decision, and I’ve always been very much grateful to him,” he stated.
    The South Korean leader also said North Korea’s Kim Jong Un told him it would have been impossible to achieve such progress without President Trump.
    Pence thanked Moon and said President Trump is grateful for their full partnership.    The Trump administration is in the process of planning another summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.
    “I look forward to discussing with you the plans for another summit between the president and Chairman Kim, and how we can work even more closely together in the days ahead to ensure peace and security can come at last to the Korean peninsula,” said the vice president.
    Pence said President Moon assured him inter-Korean talks will continue to take place with very close coordination with the United States.    According to the leader, South Korea remains committed to fully enforcing all United Nations resolutions and sanctions.

11/15/2018 North Korea state media says Kim oversees testing of ‘newly developed’ weapon: Yonhap
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a constructions site of Yangdeok, in this undated photo
released on October 31, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea’s state media announced on Friday that leader Kim Jong Un inspected the site for testing a “newly developed cutting-edge strategic weapon,” South Korean Yonhap news service reported.
    North Korea’s Korean Central Television (KCTV) said without elaborating that the weapon which Kim oversaw the testing of was “researched and developed for a long time,” and that the test was successful, according to Yonhap.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

11/15/2018 Sri Lanka president seeks fresh no-confidence motion against new PM
Sri Lanka's newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa speaks during the
parliament session in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s president on Thursday called for a fresh no-confidence motion against the prime minister he appointed last month, a move that could help break a political gridlock in the south Asian country hit by a constitutional crisis.
    The country appeared politically rudderless after the speaker of parliament declared there was no functioning prime minister or cabinet due to a no-confidence vote on Wednesday against Mahinda Rajapaksa, whom President Maithripala Sirisena appointed last month in controversial circumstances.
    But late on Thursday Sirisena met Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and leaders of some political parties, urging them to hold a new motion on Friday and drop their position that the appointment of Rajapaksa as prime minister was unconstitutional.
    “The president informed them to show their majority in parliament in a proper way following parliamentary procedure, and agreed to act according to the constitution,” Sirisena’s media team said in a statement after the meetings.
    It was not immediately clear if the call for a new motion meant Sirisena was willing to acknowledge that Rajapaksa did not enjoy broad parliamentary support.    Reuters could not immediately contact the political parties the president met with.
    Parliament had passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government with the backing of 122 of the 225 lawmakers in a voice vote, followed by a signed document.
    Sirisena, who triggered the crisis by firing Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister and naming Rajapaksa to the job, dissolved parliament last week and ordered elections to break the deadlock.
    But the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Krishna Das; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

11/15/2018 U.S. envoy for Iran warns EU banks, firms against non-dollar Iran trade
A customer buys Iranian gold coins at a currency exchange office
in Tehran's business district October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European banks and firms who engage in a special European Union initiative to protect trade with Iran will be at risk from newly reimposed U.S. sanctions, the U.S. special envoy for Iran warned on Thursday.
    It is “no surprise” that EU efforts to establish a so-called Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for non-dollar trade with Iran were floundering over fear in EU capitals that hosting it would incur U.S. punishment, Special Representative Brian Hook said.
    “European banks and European companies know that we will vigorously enforce sanctions against this brutal and violent regime,” he said in a telephone briefing with reporters.
    “Any major European company will always choose the American market over the Iranian market.”
    The SPV is seen as the lynchpin of European efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran from which U.S. President Donald Trump, who took office after the deal was sealed, withdrew in May.
    Iran has warned it could scrap the agreement, which curbed its disputed program in exchange for sanctions relief, if the EU fails to preserve the deal’s economic benefits.
    The SPV was conceived as a clearing house that could be used to help match Iranian oil and gas exports against purchases of EU goods in an effective barter arrangement circumventing U.S. sanctions, based on global use of the dollar for oil sales.
    Brussels had wanted to have the SPV set up by this month, but no country has offered to host it, six diplomats told Reuters this week.
    Their reluctance arises from fears that SPV reliance on local banks to smooth trade with Iran may trigger U.S. penalties, severing the lenders’ access to U.S. financial markets, diplomats said.
    Criticizing EU efforts to bypass sanctions, Hook reiterated a warning that such an EU effort sent “the wrong signal, at the wrong time.”
    However, he added that waivers from sanctions granted to eight of Iran’s biggest oil importers were to ensure the U.S. measures did not harm allies or raise oil prices.
    “We have looked at these on a case by case basis, taking into account the unique needs of friends and partners, and also ensuring that as we impose sanctions on Iran’s oil sector that we do not lift the price of oil,” Hook said.
(Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/16/2018 Trump’s summit no-show draws Asian nations closer together by John Chalmers
U.S. President Donald Trump points to the crowd after delivering remarks at an event for
"supporting veterans and military families" at the White House in Washington, U.S. November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump didn’t make it to this week’s summit of Asian nations in Singapore, but his influence was still keenly felt among the leaders who gathered in the city.
    One prime minister warned that the trade war between Washington and Beijing could trigger a “domino effect” of protectionist steps by other countries.    Another fretted that the international order could splinter into rival blocs.
    “The most important and talked-about … leader, President Trump, is the only one that did not turn up,” said Malcolm Cook, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
    And yet, in Trump’s absence, countries from South to East Asia pressed on with forging multilateral ties on trade and investment among themselves, including with China.
    China’s representative at the meetings, Premier Li Keqiang, egged them on.
    “Now the world is facing rising protectionism.    It is all the more important for us to come together and respond to the complex world situation to uphold multilateralism and free trade,” Li said on Thursday.
    The U.S. president’s lack of engagement with Asian nations came just days after a trip to France for World War One commemorations at which he appeared isolated from NATO allies.
    Simon Tay, chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, said Trump was inadvertently bringing Asian nations together.
    “Not necessarily by design, but because he is not being a consistent and reassuring presence, and because his policies have tended to fracture the natural order that Asia is dependent upon,” he said.    “Asians are trying to figure out what else they can do without relying on America too much.”
    The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
TWO POWERS: TWO STRATEGIES
    As well as the summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asian nations in Singapore, Trump will also skip the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea at the end of the week.
    At APEC on Friday, President Xi Jinping will showcase China’s Belt and Road initiative to Pacific leaders, several of whom are expected to sign up to the infrastructure investment drive.
    Xi’s multi-billion-dollar plan, which aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with Asian neighbors and far beyond, is viewed with suspicion in Western capitals as an attempt to assert Chinese influence.
    Trump attended both the ASEAN and APEC meetings in 2017, and his decision to stay away this year has raised questions about Washington’s commitment to a regional strategy to counter China.
    Vice President Mike Pence, who represented Trump in Singapore, told the meeting that United States’ commitment to the Indo-Pacific is “steadfast and enduring.”
    Asia presents the Trump administration with some of its most pressing foreign policy challenges, including its strategic rivalry with China and efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.
    Washington has touted what it calls an “Indo-Pacific” strategy aimed at greater regional cooperation, notably with India, Australia and Japan, to counter China’s influence, including in the disputed South China Sea, where it conducts naval patrols to challenge what it sees as Beijing’s excessive territorial claims.
    Pence said on Thursday – without naming China – that there was no place for “empire and aggression” in the Indo-Pacific.
    His comments follow a major speech in October in which he flagged a tougher approach by Washington toward Beijing, accusing China of “malign” efforts to undermine Trump and reckless military actions in the South China Sea.
    A U.S. State Department spokesman said: “We welcome contributions by China to regional development, so long as it adheres to the highest standards the people of the region demand.    We are concerned by China’s use of coercion, influence operations, and implied military threats to persuade other states to heed China’s strategic agenda.”
    Shortly before Pence spoke in Singapore, the U.S. Navy announced that two of its aircraft carriers with around 150 fighter jets were conducting warfare drills in the Philippine Sea, a show of force in waters south of China and within striking distance of North Korea.
TAKING SIDES
    Pence told reporters in Singapore that he had been struck in conversations with world leaders by “the connection that President Trump has made” with them through his vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.
    However, analysts say that countries across Asia are waiting for the United States to put substance behind its Indo-Pacific rhetoric, and Trump’s absence from the summits only served to heighten concerns among Southeast Asian states that Washington no longer has their back.
    Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday it was “very desirable” for ASEAN not to have to take sides with world powers, but there may come a time when it would “have to choose one or the other.”
    Some Southeast Asian nations may be quietly impressed by the United States’ robust approach to Beijing on trade, intellectual property issues and the South China Sea, but others have made it clear they already see China’s rise as inevitable.
    Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, asked on Thursday about the U.S. Navy drills, noted that China already occupies contested South China Sea islands and added: “Why do you have to create frictions … that will prompt a response from China?.”
    But Cook said Southeast Asian states’ hedging and unwillingness to publicly criticize Chinese aggression have contributed to Washington’s posture shift in Asia.
    “This change is certainly not all because of Trump,” he said.    “The choices of Southeast Asian states in the end bear some responsibility.”
(This story has been refiled to fixes typo in para 10.)
(Additional reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore, Jeff Mason and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

11/16/2018 U.N.-backed court rules Khmer Rouge leaders committed genocide by Prak Chan Thul
Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan sits at the courtroom of the Extraordinary Chambers
in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as he awaits a verdict, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
November 16, 2018. Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)/Handout via REUTERS
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A U.N.-backed court found two leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide on Friday, almost four decades after the ultra-Maoist regime which oversaw the “Killing Fields” was overthrown.
    Most of the victims of the 1975-79 regime died of starvation, torture, exhaustion or disease in labor camps or were bludgeoned to death during mass executions.
    Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people, almost a quarter of the population, died during the 1975 to 1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge.
    The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), said Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two,” Nuon Chea, 92, and former President Khieu Samphan, 87, were guilty of genocide against the Cham Muslim minority and Vietnamese people, and of various crimes against humanity.
    The court sentenced them to life in prison.
    Both men denied the charges.
    They were already serving life sentences for 2014 convictions for crimes against humanity, in connection with the forced evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh after they took power under their notorious leader Pol Pot in 1975.
    There had been debate for years among legal experts at to whether the killings by the Khmer Rouge constituted genocide, as by far the majority of their victims were fellow Cambodians.
    The court found that during their rule, the Khmer Rouge had a policy to target Cham and Vietnamese people to create “an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions,” Judge Nil Nonn said in the verdict.
    Genocide was committed against the Cham, Vietnamese and Buddhists, he said.
    The Cham “were dispersed and scattered among Khmer villages for their communities to be broken up and fully assimilated into the Cambodian population,” Nil Nonn said.
    “A great number of Cham civilians were taken … and were thus killed on a massive scale,” he said.
Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were killed at the S-21 interrogation center, at a converted Phnom Penh school called Tuol Sleng, after being tortured to admit being spies.
    “All Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who entered S-21 were labeled as spies and considered enemies,” Nil Nonn said.    “The fate of these prisoners was a foregone conclusion as they were all ultimately subject to execution.”
‘COLLECTIVE HUMANITY’
    Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea appeared for the court session but Nuon Chea left after about 40 minutes because of back pain, the court was told.    He followed the proceeding on a link from his cell.
    Khieu Samphan, looking frail and gaunt, stood in the dock with the help of prison guards when Nil Nonn read the verdict.
    The court, a hybrid U.N.-Cambodian tribunal, was set up in 2005 to bring to justice “those most responsible” for the deaths under the Khmer Rouge, has convicted just three people.
    Its first conviction was in 2010 when it sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch,” head of S-21 where as many as 14,000 people were tortured and executed, to life in prison.
    Two other Khmer Rouge leaders, Ta Mok and Ieng Sary, were facing charges but died before the case was concluded.    Pol Pot died in 1998.
    Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM), the country’s main research center into the Khmer Rouge atrocities, welcomed the verdict and said it was particularly significant for the minority communities.
    “It will affirm the collective humanity of the victims and give recognition to the horrible suffering that they suffered,” Youk Chhang told Reuters.
    But he said for most Cambodians, the important thing was not the particular charge of genocide, but the affirmation of the punishment.
    “What matters most for them is that the Khmer Rouge, who took away millions of people’s lives, are in prison for life.”
    The court, which has been plagued by political interference, is not expected to hear any more cases.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who defected to the regime’s eventual conquerors, Vietnam, said he would “not allow” any new indictments beyond the handful of top leaders.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

11/16/2018 Indian airport protesters block woman activist’s plan to enter hill temple by Jose Devasia and Malini Menon
Trupti Desai, a women's rights activist, waves from inside the
Cochin International Airport at Kochi, India, November 16, 2018. REUTERS /Sivaram V
0KOCHI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters blocked all the exits at a southern Indian airport on Friday to stop a women’s rights activist from heading to a Hindu temple to defy a centuries-old ban on the entry of women of menstruating age.
    Widespread protests broke out in the tourist resort state of Kerala after the Supreme Court in September ordered authorities to lift a ban on women or girls aged between 10 and 50 from entering the temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
    The activist, Trupti Desai, who arrived with a group of women at Kerala’s biggest and busiest airport in the city of Kochi, at 4.30 a.m. (2230 GMT), has been held up for hours by the demonstrators.
    Desai said police had advised her group not to leave the airport because of safety concerns, but vowed not to abandon plans to enter Sabarimala, the hill temple about 155 km (96 miles) away that is at the center of the conflict, on Saturday.
    “Protests are being held outside the airport and the police have said that we can’t go outside now,” she told Reuters.    “We booked taxis three or four times, but drivers said they were threatened their vehicles would be vandalized if they offer us a ride.”
    Desai, who led the “Right to Pray” movement in the western state of Maharashtra, had successfully fought to earn women the right to enter the inner sanctums of three temples there.
    “We won’t return until we have darshan,” Desai said, referring to the opportunity to view the image of a deity.
    “This kind of bullying and hooliganism are unacceptable.”
    At one stage, police tried to take the women through a cargo gate, but protesters foiled the attempt.
    “We will not let activists go inside Sabarimala.    We are willing to die protesting, but will not move an inch from here,” one of the women protesters told television channel CNN NEWS18.
    Thousands of demonstrators have protested against the court’s decision, and conservative Hindu groups prevented about a dozen young women from entering the temple last month.
    The groups say they believe allowing women who could be menstruating into the temple defiles the sacred shrine and they have asked the court to reconsider its decision.
    The court has set Jan. 22 to hear nearly 50 petitions seeking reimposition of the ban.    Until then, its earlier ruling allowing women entry stays in force, it said.
    As a result, the state government, run by the Communist Party of India, and legally bound to follow the court, finds itself at loggerheads with devotees and opposition parties who want the ban to continue until the court review.
    Separate meetings between Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, opposition political parties and the temple administration on Thursday failed to resolve the impasse.
    Vijayan made clear that while his government respected the feelings of worshippers, it had to obey the court.
    The hillside temple, nestled in a forest in the Western Ghats mountain range, will reopen at 5 p.m. (1130 GMT) on Friday for more than two months, with a three-day break in December.
(Writing by Malini Menon; Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)

11/16/2018 Japan PM tells Putin no U.S. bases on disputed isles if handed over: Asahi by Linda Sieg
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
during their meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russiaz
September 10, 2018. Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, eager to resolve a row that has haunted ties with Moscow since World War Two, has told Russian President Vladimir Putin the United States would not put troops on disputed islands if they are handed over to Japan, a newspaper reported on Friday.
    Seeking to cement his diplomatic legacy and improve ties with Russia to counter a rising China, Abe has pledged to settle the dispute over four isles in the Western Pacific that were occupied by Soviet troops toward the end of the war.
    They are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia.
    Any agreement involving transfer of sovereignty to Japan would have to address whether the U.S.-Japan security treaty, the core of Japan’s diplomacy, would apply, including whether Washington would have the right to put military bases on the islands.
    The isles have strategic value for Russia, ensuring naval access to the western Pacific.
    The two leaders agreed in talks in Singapore on Wednesday to speed up talks based on a 1956 joint declaration in which the Soviet Union agreed it would hand over two smaller islands after a peace treaty formally ending the war had been concluded.
    The Asahi newspaper said Abe told Putin the United States would not put military bases on the two smaller islands thereafter, the Asahi newspaper said, adding Abe’s top security adviser had previously said bases were possible.
    Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga declined to comment on the report.
    Japan has long insisted its sovereignty over all four islands be confirmed before a peace treaty is signed.
    In recent years, however, there have been signs Tokyo was rethinking its stance, perhaps with “two-plus-alpha” formula that would focus on the handover of the two smaller isles and some sort of visa-free access to the larger islands plus joint economic projects.
    A breakthrough has been elusive. But Abe, who is expected to meet Putin again at a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires from Nov. 30 and in Russia early next year, has said he’s determined to settle the dispute before leaving office in 2021.
    Putin may be less keen.    Russian news agency Tass quoted him as saying after meeting Abe in Singapore that talks based on the 1956 statement “certainly demands separate, additional and in depth analysis, given that not everything is clear in that Declaration.”
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Kim Coghill)

11/16/2018 Australia, Malaysia at loggerheads over possible Jerusalem embassy by Wayne Cole
FILE PHOTO: The new Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks next to his deputy Josh Frydenberg
during a news conference in Canberra, Australia August 24, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s treasurer on Friday said Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had a history of anti-Jewish statements, in an escalating war of words over the possibility Australia might move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison proposed the embassy move during a local election campaign last month, sparking concern from Indonesia and Malaysia.
    “The Malaysian Prime Minister has form,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a radio interview.    “He has called Jews hook-nosed people.    He has questioned the number of people that have been killed in the Holocaust.”
    The comments came after Mahathir brought up the issue of moving the embassy with Morrison during a meeting at the ASEAN summit on Thursday in Singapore.
    “I pointed out that in dealing with terrorism, one has to know the causes,” Mahathir told reporters afterwards, Australian media reported.    “Adding to the cause for terrorism is not going to be helpful.”
    Some 60 percent of Malaysia’s population is Muslim.
    Indonesia has also expressed concern over the embassy review and suggested it might upset plans for a free trade agreement with Australia, though Morrison has said the issues were not conflated during recent talks he had with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.
    Indonesia is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, where tens of thousands protested against President Donald Trump’s decision in May to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
    Morrison floated the idea of moving the Australian embassy and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back in October.
    The sudden announcement came just before a key by-election in a seat which happened to have a large Jewish community and Morrison’s Liberal National government was desperate to win to keep its majority in parliament.
    The seat was lost anyway, leaving the government ruling with the cooperation of independent lawmakers.
    Speaking on Friday, Morrison confirmed Mahathir had raised the subject of the embassy but declared that only “Australia determines Australian foreign policy.”
    “I think what Josh said today was filling in the history of his (Mahathir’s) record on various issues over time,” Morrison told reporters on a visit to Darwin, where he is due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
    “Make no mistake.    I will not have our policy dictated by those outside the country,” Morrison added.
    Australia and Malaysia have had a sometimes rocky diplomatic relationship.    The two countries clashed 25 years ago when former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating called Mahathir “recalcitrant” for boycotting the 1993 Asia-Pacific economic forum (APEC).
    Leaders of APEC countries are due to meet in Papua New Guinea this weekend.
(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/16/2018 China offers Myanmar support over Rohingya issue after U.S. rebuke
Rohingya refugees are reflected in rain water along an embankment next to paddy fields after fleeing from
Myanmar into Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China supports the Myanmar government’s efforts to protect domestic stability and approach to resolving the Rohingya issue, Premier Li Keqiang told the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence offered a strong rebuke.
    Pence on Wednesday voiced Washington’s strongest condemnation yet of Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, telling Suu Kyi that “persecution” by her country’s army was “without excuse.”
    Meeting Suu Kyi on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian summit in Singapore, Li said China attaches great importance to its ties with Myanmar and would build on their tradition of friendship, China’s Foreign Ministry said late on Thursday.
    “The Chinese side supports Myanmar’s efforts in maintaining its domestic stability, and supports Myanmar and Bangladesh appropriately resolving the Rakhine state issue via dialogue and consultation,” the ministry cited Li as saying.
    China is “willing to provide the relevant parties with necessary support in this regard,” he added, without elaborating.
    More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown.
    The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin returning refugees to Myanmar in mid-November.    The U.N. refugee agency has said conditions in Rakhine are “not yet conducive for returns.”
    China has close relations with Myanmar, and backs what Myanmar officials have called a legitimate counter-insurgency operation in Rakhine.
    China’s statement cited Suu Kyi as expressing thanks to China for the many times it has extended help to Myanmar, especially the constant understanding and support for the Myanmar peace process and the Rakhine issue.
    A plan to begin repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar stalled on Thursday, amid protests by refugees at camps in Bangladesh and recriminations between the officials in both countries.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)

11/16/2018 South Korea investigating tactical weapon developed by North Korea by OAN Newsroom
    South Korea is reportedly looking into a newly developed tactical weapon, which Pyongyang is claiming was inspected by Kim Jong Un this week.
    According to reports Friday, Kim said the weapon was one his father helped develop when he was in office, adding, it is a display of Pyongyang’s rapidly growing defense capabilities.
    U.S. officials said the move threatens to derail negotiations to fully denuclearize North Korea after the country agreed to scrap its nuclear development program.
    This comes after satellite images surfaced showing a hidden missile test facility in a mountain range in North Korea.
A photo showing North Korea’s missile launch is displayed at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, near the border with
North Korea, South Korea, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un observed the successful test of an
unspecified “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” state media reported Friday. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
    “Regarding the type of weapon, we need to find out more since they didn’t specifically mention details of the weapon in the report of Chairman Kim Jong Un’s inspection,” stated Lee Eugene, deputy spokesperson for South Korea’s Unification Ministry.
    The Trump administration is working toward a second meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un in hopes of achieving complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

11/16/2018 Bottles, chili paste thrown as Sri Lanka parliament descends into farce by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal
Parliament member Johnston Fernando who is backing newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa
throws a chair at police who are there to protect parliament speaker Karu Jayasuriya (not pictured)
during a parliament session in Colombo, Sri Lanka November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    COLOMBO (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s parliament descended into chaos for a second day on Friday as lawmakers supporting newly appointed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chili paste and water bottles at the speaker to try to disrupt a second no-confidence motion.
[This reminded me of the Democrat induced mobs that came to the vote in the Senate at Kavanaughs approval.].
    The vote went ahead anyway and for a second time lawmakers gave Rajapaksa and his new government the thumbs down, potentially strengthening the hand of Wickremesinghe, who is seeking to return as prime minister.
    Wickremesinghe was removed by President Maithripala Sirisena late last month and replaced with Rajapaksa, plunging the island off India’s southeast coast into political turmoil.
    Rajapaksa is seen as a close ally of China, though Beijing has denied accusations that it was instrumental in getting him appointed.
    Wickremesinghe said “anarchy” could result if the president did not recognize the second non-confidence vote.    He was speaking to foreign correspondents at the prime minister’s official residence, which he has refused to vacate.
    “We have the majority,” he earlier told reporters.    “We can form our government and we will act accordingly.”
    Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, from Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party, said the president had rejected the second vote.    Sirisena’s office did not respond to calls seeking comment.
    With parliament scheduled to reconvene on Monday, Sirisena appears faced with the choice of either reappointing Wickremesinghe, whom he has said he will not bring back, or allowing the crisis to fester.
    Rajapaksa’s camp demanded an early election.
    “We shall continue to agitate till an early election is called.    We are thrown into anarchy,” Rajapaksa loyalist Keheliya Rambukwella said, accusing Speaker Karu Jayasuriya of being biased and acting on behalf of Western nations.
    Sirisena dissolved parliament last week and called elections, but the Supreme Court ordered a suspension of that decree on Tuesday until it had heard petitions challenging the move as unconstitutional.
BOOKS, BROKEN CHAIRS
    Earlier on Friday, Rajapaksa supporters poured on to the floor of parliament, surrounding the speaker’s chair, and demanded the arrest of two lawmakers from Wickremesinghe’s party for allegedly bringing knives into the house on Thursday.
    A member of parliament from Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peremuna party sat on Jayasuriya’s chair surrounded by more than 20 lawmakers, delaying the start of proceedings.    Rajapaksa loyalists then tried to prevent Jayasuriya from sitting on a second chair brought in by police.
    One MP then pulled out the cushion of the second chair and hurled both towards policeman guarding the speaker.
    When Jayasuriya eventually started calling out names while standing – under a heavy police presence for the first time in parliamentary history – to know whom MPs supported, Rajapaksa supporters bombarded him with books, chili paste and water bottles.
    Three lawmakers and at least six police were injured, parliament medical staff said.
    The speaker’s office informed Sirisena in a letter that 122 MPs of the 225 lawmakers signed the no-confidence motion, the same margin as in Wednesday’s first vote.
    Sirisena had called for the second vote after rejecting the first.
    Sources close to the leadership have said Sirisena’s decision to sack Wickremesinghe came after the prime minister’s party rejected the president’s request to back him for second five-year term in 2020.    They also split over whether to back Chinese or Indian investors in various projects, the sources said.
    India and Western countries have requested Sirisena act in line with the constitution while raising concerns over Rajapaksa’s close ties with China.    Beijing loaned Sri Lanka billions of dollars for infrastructure projects when Rajapaksa was president between 2005-2015.
    Tourism accounts for nearly 5 percent of the economy and is a key main foreign exchange earner, along with the garment and tea industries, and remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Krishna N. Das and John Stonestreet)

11/16/2018 U.N.-backed court rules Khmer Rouge leaders committed genocide by Prak Chan Thul
Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan sits inside the courtroom of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
(ECCC) as he awaits a verdict, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 16, 2018. Extraordinary Chambers
in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS
DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A U.N.-backed court found two leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide on Friday, almost four decades after the ultra-Maoist regime which oversaw the “Killing Fields” was overthrown.
    Most of the victims of the 1975-79 regime died of starvation, torture, exhaustion or disease in labor camps or were bludgeoned to death during mass executions.
    Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people, almost a quarter of the population, died during the 1975 to 1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge.
    The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), said Khmer Rouge “Brother Number Two,” Nuon Chea, 92, and former President Khieu Samphan, 87, were guilty of genocide against the Cham Muslim minority and Vietnamese people, and of various crimes against humanity.
    The court sentenced them to life in prison.
    Both men denied the charges.
    They were already serving life sentences for 2014 convictions for crimes against humanity, in connection with the forced evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh after they took power under their notorious leader Pol Pot in 1975.
    There had been debate for years among legal experts at to whether the killings by the Khmer Rouge constituted genocide, as by far the majority of their victims were fellow Cambodians.
    The court found that during their rule, the Khmer Rouge had a policy to target Cham and Vietnamese people to create “an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions,” Judge Nil Nonn said in the verdict.
    Genocide was committed against the Cham, Vietnamese and Buddhists, he said.
    The Cham “were dispersed and scattered among Khmer villages for their communities to be broken up and fully assimilated into the Cambodian population,” Nil Nonn said.
    “A great number of Cham civilians were taken … and were thus killed on a massive scale,” he said.
    Hundreds of Vietnamese civilians and soldiers were killed at the S-21 interrogation center, at a converted Phnom Penh school called Tuol Sleng, after being tortured to admit being spies.
    “All Vietnamese soldiers and civilians who entered S-21 were labeled as spies and considered enemies,” Nil Nonn said.    “The fate of these prisoners was a foregone conclusion as they were all ultimately subject to execution.”
‘COLLECTIVE HUMANITY’
    Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea appeared for the court session but Nuon Chea left after about 40 minutes because of back pain, the court was told.    He followed the proceeding on a link from his cell.
    Khieu Samphan, looking frail and gaunt, stood in the dock with the help of prison guards when Nil Nonn read the verdict.
    The court, a hybrid U.N.-Cambodian tribunal, was set up in 2005 to bring to justice “those most responsible” for the deaths under the Khmer Rouge, has convicted just three people.
    Its first conviction was in 2010 when it sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, alias “Duch,” head of S-21 where as many as 14,000 people were tortured and executed, to life in prison.
    Two other Khmer Rouge leaders, Ta Mok and Ieng Sary, were facing charges but died before the case was concluded.    Pol Pot died in 1998.
    Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM), the country’s main research center into the Khmer Rouge atrocities, welcomed the verdict and said it was particularly significant for the minority communities.
    “It will affirm the collective humanity of the victims and give recognition to the horrible suffering that they suffered,” Youk Chhang told Reuters.
    But he said for most Cambodians, the important thing was not the particular charge of genocide, but the affirmation of the punishment.
    “What matters most for them is that the Khmer Rouge, who took away millions of people’s lives, are in prison for life.”
    The court, which has been plagued by political interference, is not expected to hear any more cases.
    Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who defected to the regime’s eventual conquerors, Vietnam, said he would “not allow” any new indictments beyond the handful of top leaders.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

11/16/2018 India’s Modi embraces Maldives as new leader takes office, China out of favor by Sanjeev Miglani and Mohamed Junayd
FILE PHOTO - Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, speaks during a joint news conference with Shinzo Abe,
Japan's prime minister, not pictured, at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan October 29, 2018. Kiyoshi Ota/Pool via Reuters
    MALE (Reuters) – Maldives’ President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih takes office on Saturday, seeking help from India and the United States to climb out from under a mountain of Chinese debt that his predecessor racked up in a breakneck development of the coral islands.
    The surprise defeat of pro-China strongman Abdulla Yameen has opened a window for India, the strategic outpost’s traditional political partner, to regain ground lost to Beijing in their tussle for regional dominance.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the highest ranking visitor at the inauguration at the national soccer stadium in the capital Male.    By contrast, China’s highest-ranking attendee will be Culture and Tourism Minister Luo Shugang.
    "I will convey to the new Maldivian government … the desire of my government to work closely for realization of their developmental priorities, especially in areas of infrastructure, health care, connectivity and human resource development,” the Indian prime minister said in a post on Facebook.
    Modi’s presence signals the end of years of frosty relations because of Yameen’s embrace of China, a relationship that had deepened India’s anxieties about being encircled by countries leaning towards Beijing.
    In Sri Lanka, an island nation to the southeast of India, the rivalry between New Delhi and Beijing has been one of the triggers for a political crisis in recent weeks.
INDIA-FIRST
    The low-key Solih, a veteran lawmaker, has promised an “India first” policy in the Maldives, saying the small nation of a little over 400,000 people needs solid ties with its immediate neighbor.
    His team is also reviewing millions of dollars of investments from China, as well as the related debt that the country has run up from Chinese lenders and how to restructure it.    Solih has said investigations will be launched to find out what happened and fix accountability, Adam Azim, a member of his transition committee, told reporters on Thursday.
    “We were led to believe it’s about $1.5 billion, the Chinese debt, but it could be worse,” said another member of Solih’s top economic team, which has been holding discussions with finance ministry officials during the transition following the election in September.
    He said the team had already reached out to India, the United States and Saudi Arabia for financial assistance so it could tackle the debt.
    “We straightaway need 200-300 million dollars to kick start the budgetary support,” the adviser said.
    Debt of $1.5 billion would be more than a quarter of the country’s annual gross domestic product.    Another member of the incoming president’s economic team said firm proposals for assistance had been discussed with Indian and U.S. officials.
FRIENDSHIP” BRIDGE
    Signs of the infrastructure boom are everywhere in Male, from where tourists are whisked off in high speed boats to luxury resorts built on atolls in the turquoise waters.
    Some 400 Chinese workers this year completed the mile-long China-Maldives Friendship Bridge, which towers over the city connecting the airport on one island to the capital on another.
    The airport itself is undergoing expansion, with a second runway to accommodate the thousands of tourists who arrive each day.
    The airport development is an especially sore point with India, after the Maldivian government canceled a $511 million deal with India’s GMR Infrastructure and later gave the contract to Beijing Urban Construction Group Company Limited.
    The Yameen administration also threw open new islands and lagoons from the 1,192 islands that make up the necklace-shaped archipelago for development of resorts.
    “There is such secrecy surrounding all these deals that it will take us weeks to figure out what went on,” said Mariya Ahmad, an MP and spokeswoman for Solih.
    Sensing an opportunity, India has told Solih’s team it stands ready to help, Indian government officials in New Delhi and Maldivian authorities in Male said.
    India had provided a $75 million credit line some years ago, of which a third had been utilized before the diplomatic chill set in with the previous administration, an Indian government official said.
    There is also a currency swap agreement between the Reserve Bank of India and the Maldives Monetary Authority that could help maintain financial stability, the official said.
    Modi, making his first visit since taking office in 2014, will hold talks with Solih before the inauguration. India has had a long standing defense cooperation agreement with the Maldives, providing coastal security and patrols of its exclusive economic zone.    But Yameen saw such co-operation as a cover for surveillance and had asked India to withdraw two military helicopters along with 50 military personnel this year.
    The Indians had refused and now officials in Delhi said they expected the visas of the personnel involved in the operations to be renewed.
    “In keeping with its neighborhood first policy, India looks forward to closely working with Maldives in further deepening the partnership,” Indian foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said.
    A diplomatic source said the United States was also set to increase its engagement with the Maldives.    Its relations had also become strained because of Yameen’s crackdown on political rivals and supreme court justices.
    But China remains a big player, given the investments by its state companies and as Chinese tourists pour in.    That means the relationship is unlikely to completely unravel.
    Between January to October this year, 247,911 Chinese tourists arrived, accounting for a fifth of all visitors.    India, which is much closer geographically, provided just 5 percent.
    China’s embassy did not respond to a request for comment about concerns that its projects had pushed the Maldives into financial difficulties.    Soon after Solih’s victory, Beijing had said it hoped the new government would maintain continuity in its policies and create good conditions for Chinese firms.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

11/16/2018 China’s Xi makes push into Pacific; scores ‘own goal’ with block on media by Charlotte Greenfield and Philip Wen
China's President Xi Jinping inspects the guard of honour at Parliament House in Port Moresby
on November 16, 2018, ahead of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit. Saeed Khan/Pool via REUTERS
    PORT MORESBY (Reuters) – President Xi Jinping made a push to expand China’s influence in the Pacific on Friday, holding a forum with leaders of eight small island countries in Papua New Guinea.
    But Chinese officials barred most media, including reporters from the Pacific, from the forum at which Xi met leaders from the Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, as well as Papua New Guinea, in its capital Port Moresby ahead of an APEC summit this weekend.
    China’s efforts to win friends in the resource-rich Pacific push have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region – Australia, New Zealand and the United States – who were not invited to Friday’s forum.
    But to the disappointment of many of the journalists there to report on China’s role in the region, Chinese officials barred access to all media, apart from a small list of outlets, citing space and security concerns.
    Many of those left out grumbled about what they saw as a lack of transparency around China’s efforts to gain new allies.
    “It just sends such a terrible signal,” said Jonathan Pryke of Sydney-based think-tank the Lowy Institute.
    “It just seems like they are trying to buy influence but not build influence,” he said, referring to Chinese aid to the region.
    Dozens of accredited journalists were turned away despite being invited to attend by PNG officials, who also arranged transport to the well-guarded forum venue.
    Chinese officials said they had not been informed of the host’s plans and had to limit media numbers.
    One official suggested journalists could look out for reports on the forum published by China’s state-run news agency Xinhua.
    Lina Keapu, photojournalist at PNG’s Sunday Chronicle newspaper said it was a “slap in the face.”
    “As the local media, we should be there covering it and getting the news to our national public,” she said.
    Pita Ligaiula, a journalist with the Pacific Island News Association, based in Fiji, said Chinese influence was among the big issues affecting the region and it was important to be able to inform the public about its intentions.
    “I come all the way from Fiji only to be told we are not invited to cover this,” he said.
    China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Pryke said China had scored an “own goal” by “marginalising domestic media in their own country” when they could have anticipated plenty of positive coverage from the event.
(Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Philip Wen in PORT MORESBY; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/17/2018 North Korea says it tested new ‘ultramodern tactical weapon’ by Thomas Maresca, Special to USA TODAY
    SEOUL – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the successful testing of a “newly developed ultramodern tactical weapon,” state media reported Friday.
    KCNA News said that Kim supervised the high-tech weapon test at the country’s Academy of Defense Science.    No details on the type of weapon were given.
    The report said that Kim expressed “great satisfaction” at the test’s success and said that it was “a striking demonstration of the validity of the Party policy of prioritizing defense science and technology.”
    The weapons test, the first one to be announced since last year, comes as negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang over the communist nation’s nuclear weapons program are at an impasse.
    North Korea had agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests as part of its ongoing diplomatic efforts with South Korea and the U.S.    The Washingtonbased Center for Strategic and International Security revealed this week, however, that the North has at least 13 secret operating bases where the regime is continuing work on its ballistic missile program.
    Pyongyang has also heated up its rhetoric recently, expressing anger over continuing economic sanctions and ongoing joint military exercises in South Korea.
    Earlier this month, North Korea’s foreign ministry warned it could return to its “pyongjin” policy of simultaneous nuclear weapons and economic development if sanctions aren’t lifted.
    North Korea has been seeking a phased process of sanctions relief for concessions in dismantling its nuclear arsenal.    Pyongyang also wants a peace declaration to formally end the Korean War, which took place between 1950-1953 and was halted with an armistice.
    But the U.S. has maintained that complete denuclearization must take place before those conditions can be met.    Pyongyang also criticized the resumption of small-scale military drills by U.S. and South Korean marines earlier this month, calling for a halt to “all hostile acts.”
    Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump signed a vaguely worded agreement in June at their summit in Singapore that promised to work toward a “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but details remain scarce on how to achieve that.    North Korea has made concessions, such as dismantling a nuclear test site, that critics say remain token gestures at best.
    The State Department released a statement in response to North Korea’s latest weapons test, saying that the U.S. was confident that Pyongyang would still comply with the agreement reached in Singapore.
    North Korea abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York last week, but a second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un is still planned for 2019, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed Thursday.
    Pence said the U.S. will not require North Korea to provide a complete list of its nuclear weapons and missile sites ahead of the meeting, dropping what had been seen as a key prerequisite.
    In an interview with NBC in Singapore, where Pence is attending regional summits, the vice president said the goal of the next Trump-Kim meeting will be to come up with a verifiable plan for cataloging the North’s weapons programs.
    “I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” he said.
    The weapons test, the first one to be announced since last year, comes as negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang over the communist nation’s nuclear weapons program are at an impasse.

11/17/2018 U.S.-China discord dominates APEC summit in Papua New Guinea by Tom Westbrook, Charlotte Greenfield and Philip Wen
Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev speaks during the APEC CEO Summit 2018
at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17 November 2018. Fazry Ismail/Pool via REUTERS
    PORT MORESBY (Reuters) – The United States and China swapped barbs over trade, investment and regional security at an Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit on Saturday, as growing fault lines among members suggested little prospect of consensus at the weekend meeting.
    Speaking in the Papua New Guinean capital, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said there would be no end to American tariffs until China changed its ways, after its president, Xi Jinping, warned that the shadow of protectionism and unilateralism was hanging over global growth.
    Illustrating the impasse between the world’s two largest economies, a diplomat involved in negotiating an APEC leaders’ declaration told Reuters trade was a sticking point, and the host nation was having trouble finding language acceptable to all.
    Pence took direct aim at Xi’s flagship Belt and Road program, which China has been promoting to Pacific nations at APEC, saying countries should not accept debt that compromised their sovereignty.
    “We do not offer constricting belt or a one-way road,” Pence told the APEC CEO summit, a precursor to the official leaders’ meeting, held on a cruise liner tethered in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour.
    China’s efforts to win friends in the resource-rich Pacific have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region – Australia and the United States.
    U.S. President Donald Trump is not attending the APEC meeting, nor is his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
    Xi, who is staying in Port Moresby, has been feted by PNG officials and stoked Western concern on Friday when he held a meeting with Pacific island leaders, in which he pitched the Belt and Road initiative.
    Speaking before Pence, Xi said there was no geopolitical agenda behind the project, which was unveiled in 2013 and aims to bolster a network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
    “It does not exclude anyone.    It is not an exclusive club closed to non-members, nor is it a trap as some people have labeled it.”
    There have been concerns that small countries that sign up for infrastructure projects will be left with debt burdens they cannot service, something Pence highlighted.
    “Do not accept foreign debt that could compromise your sovereignty.    Protect your interest.    Preserve your independence. And just like America, always put your country first,” he said.
    Sri Lanka formally handed over commercial activities in its main southern port of Hambantota to a Chinese company last December as part of a plan to convert $6 billion of loans that Sri Lanka owed China into equity.
    Soon after Pence spoke, Australia said it was joining the United States and Japan in a partnership that would help countries in the region develop infrastructure priorities, a possible alternative to China’s Belt and Road.
REGIONAL SECURITY
    Pence also said the United States would join Australia to help Papua New Guinea build a navy base on its Manus Island, which was a U.S. base in World War Two.
    The plan comes after China emerged as a possible developer of the deep-water port, which analysts say could impact the West’s ability to navigate in the Pacific while offering China a site close to U.S. bases in Guam.
    “The United States of America will continue to uphold the freedom of the seas and the skies, which are so essential to our prosperity,” Pence said.
    In a meeting that could irritate Beijing, Pence had talks with Taiwan’s envoy to APEC, Morris Chang.
    Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province of “one China,” ineligible for state-to-state relations, and has never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
    Despite Taiwan’s lack of diplomatic recognition by the majority of countries, APEC allows it to participate as an economic, rather than political, entity.
    Pence later told reporters traveling with him he would “carry back” a Taiwan proposal for a free trade agreement.
DOUBLE TARIFFS?
    There were differences between other APEC members, with some calling for radical change to trade systems while others argued for a return to the status quo on globalization.
    Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad warned globalization was leaving some people behind and fuelling inequality.
    Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison mounted a defense of free trade, saying a billion people had been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1991 because of the jobs and cheaper goods that free trade brought.
    Xi told delegates that the shadow of “protectionism and unilateralism” hung over global growth and erecting barriers and cutting ties was short-sighted and doomed to fail.
    But Pence made it clear that the United States would not back down, saying it could more than double the $250 billion of Chinese goods subject to tariffs.
    “The United States though will not change course until China changes its ways,” Pence said.
    Trump and Xi are due to meet at a G20 meeting in Argentina late this month, raising some hope that trade tension could ease.
    Trump is pressing China to reduce its huge bilateral trade surplus and make sweeping changes to its policies on trade, technology transfers and high-tech industrial subsidies.
    China has denied that U.S. companies are forced to transfer technology and sees U.S. demands on rolling back its industrial policies as an attempt to contain China’s economic rise.
    Sebastián Piñera, the president of Chile, which will host next year’s APEC, called on the two powers to find a resolution.
    “i>This is a very good opportunity to ask the U.S. and China to find ways to end their tariff and trade war which benefits no one,” he told the forum.
    “Both countries will have to change course.”
(Reporting by Tom Westbrook and Charlotte Greenfield; Writing by Colin Packham, Wayne Cole and John Mair; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel)

11/17/2018 Pence vows no end to tariffs until China bows
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a joint press conference at the
Istana or Presidential Palace in Singapore, November 16, 2018. Yong Teck Lim/Pool via REUTERS
    PORT MORESBY (Reuters) – The United States will not back down from its trade dispute with China, and might even double its tariffs, unless Beijing bows to U.S. dema