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India, France Ask Nations To Root Out Terror Havens

PARIS, Aug 23: India and France on Thursday strongly condemned terrorism in all its forms and manifestations including cross-border terrorism and terror-related incidents in France and India and advised nations to root out terror havens.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron at their summit reaffirmed that terrorism cannot be justified on any grounds whatsoever and it should not be associated with any religion, creed, nationality and ethnicity.

The two leaders called upon all UN member countries to implement the UNSC Resolution 2462 on Fighting Terrorist Financing adopted last March 28 and welcomed the organization in Melbourne on November 7-8 of a new “No Money for Terror” International Conference on Fighting Terrorist Financing, which will build on the April 2018 Conference organized in Paris by the French Government and the Paris Agenda.

Both the leaders agreed to work for early convening of the Global Conference, proposed by India, to tackle the threat of terrorism around the world.

They also called upon all countries to work together for rooting out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupting terrorist networks and their financing channels, and halting cross-border movement of terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayabba, and their affiliates as well as terrorist groups threatening peace and security in South Asia and the Sahel region.

The two leaders reaffirmed their support for the implementation of the Christchurch Call to Action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist online content adopted in Paris last May 15. They agreed to strengthen counter-terrorism efforts in Multilateral Fora such as UN, GCTF, FATF, G20 etc. They called upon all UN member countries to implement the UNSC Resolution 1267 and other relevant resolutions designating terrorist entities. The leaders also agreed to work together on early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in the UN.

Based on a shared commitment to maintaining the freedom of navigation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific zone, maritime security cooperation between France and India is a domain of excellence in their strategic partnership. In this regard, France and India welcomed the swift implementation of the conclusions of the Joint Strategic Vision of India-France Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region, adopted during the State Visit to India of President Macron in March 2018.

France and India intend to coordinate their action at the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) and undertake, along with interested States, a joint project for reinforcing assets for combatting piracy and all kinds of maritime trafficking in the Southern Indian Ocean. France also intends to work concertedly with India at the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), over which it will preside from 2020 to 2022.

For the implementation of the White Shipping agreement, India and France welcome welcome the appointment of a French liaison officer at the Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) in Gurugram.

The summit also focused on the supply of additional 36 Rafale jets for India. Defence industrial cooperation is one of the mainstays of the strategic partnership between India and France. The two leaders noted with satisfaction the progress made in the implementation of agreements signed, particularly the delivery of first Rafale combat aircraft from this year.

They reaffirmed their commitment to further strengthen cooperation in defence industry field and extended their support to existing and upcoming partnerships between the defence companies of the two countries in the spirit of “Make in India” and for the mutual benefit of both countries.

Both sides noted with satisfaction that Indian MSMEs are increasingly becoming part of global supply chains of French Defence and Aerospace OEMs and reaffirmed to give further impetus to this trend. They welcomed the ongoing collaboration between aerospace and defence industrial associations of both countries, SIDM for India and GIFAS for France.

The leaders welcomed signing of an Implementing Arrangement for establishment of a framework for the realization of joint maritime domain awareness mission. They also hailed the launch of a Space Climate Observatory that further enhances Indo-French cooperation on combating climate change, besides TRISHNA joint mission and accommodating Argos in Oceansat 3. In an increasingly threatened environment, they have also resolved to act together at the international level to promote norms and best practices necessary for guaranteeing the safety of space missions.

Besides, the two leaders at their summit on Thursday evening at the historic Château de Chantilly palace near Paris also gave a push for the much awaited civil nuclear partnership as the two sides plan to conclude techno-commercial offer for the Jaitapur project within two months, sources indicated.

The two leaders expressed satisfaction at the progress in negotiations between NPCIL and EDF since the conclusion of the Industrial Way Forward Agreement between the two parties in 2018 for the construction of six nuclear power reactors in India in Jaitapur, Maharashtra.

Both parties reaffirmed that they were resolved to actively pursue discussions for their early conclusion. They also welcomed the extension of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) concerning cooperation with the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) in January 2019 for another five years, the signing of the Implementing Agreement between the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and the CEA on the safety of Light Water Reactors (LWR) in September 2018. They also commended the joint partnership in International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactors (ITER) and European Council for Nuclear Research (CERN) projects.

The Summit also give a fillip to cyber security and digital cooperation. The two leaders have adopted a cybersecurity and digital technology road map aimed at expanding Indo-French bilateral cooperation, particularly in the strategic sectors of high performance computing and Artificial Intelligence, with the target of bringing our start-up ecosystems closer to each other.

They further welcomed the signing of the Cooperation Agreement between the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing and Atos aiming at developing the cooperation in the fields of quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence and exascale supercomputing.

India, Pak should resolve Kashmir bilaterally: Macron

CHANTILLY (FRANCE), Aug 23: India and Pakistan should resolve the Kashmir issue bilaterally and no third party should "interfere or incite" violence in the region, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday after his marathon one-on-one talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The two leaders reviewed the entire gamut of the dynamic and multi-faceted bilateral relationship during their more than 90-minute long one-on-one meeting at Chateau de Chantilly, one of the finest jewels of French cultural heritage, located about 50 kms north of Paris.

The one-on-one interaction was followed by the delegation-level talks.

In a joint press statement after the talks, President Macron said that Prime Minister Modi briefed him about the recent decision taken by India on Jammu and Kashmir and that it is in their sovereignty.

"I told him that India and Pakistan will have to find a solution to the issue and no third party should interfere or incite violence in the region," Macron said.

He said that peace should be maintained in the region and peoples' rights should be protected.

"I will also speak to Pakistan Prime Minister after a few days and tell him that the talks should be held bilaterally," the French president said.

He also said that France will deliver 1st of the 36 Rafale fighter jets to India next month.

Speaking after Macron, Modi said the relationship between India and France is not based on any selfishness, but on solid ideals of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity'.

He said India and France will expand cooperation in counter terrorism and security.

"Both our countries are constantly facing terrorism. We thank President Macron for the valuable support that France has received in combating cross-border terrorism. We intend to broaden cooperation on security and counter-terrorism," Modi added.

He said France and India stand firm together to meet the challenges of climate change, environment, and technology inclusive development.

"Together we can pave the way for a safe and prosperous world," Modi said.

Ahead of the meeting, Macron explained the historic significance of the chateau to Modi and took him around the centuries-old building.

Earlier, the Prime Minister was accorded a red carpet welcome at the airport where he was received by Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian.

"India and France enjoy extremely friendly ties and have been working together bilaterally and multilaterally for years," Modi tweeted soon after his arrival.

During his two-day visit, Modi will also meet his French counterpart Edouard Philippe and interact with the Indian community.

He will dedicate a memorial to the Indian victims of the two Air India crashes in France in the 1950s and 1960s.

British House suspended as Brexit deadline looms

LONDON, Aug 28: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday threw Brexit opponents’ tactics into a disarray by securing Queen Elizabeth’s consent to cut short the forthcoming parliament session, virtually making it impossible for them to stymie his Brexit plans.

Parliament resumes after the holiday break on September 3 and the UK is due to leave the European Union on October 31. The sovereign accepted the Johnson government’s advice, as protests against the move built up.

MPs opposed to Johnson’s plan --- including many ruling Conservative MPs --- to leave the EU without an agreement if need be have been planning to use parliament to stop the eventuality, but may find their plans stymied by the prorogation.

Johnson’s plan to suspend parliament sent the pound south, while House of Commons speaker John Bercow called it a ‘constitutional outrage’, adding: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of prorogation now would be to stop parliament from debating Brexit”.

With Brussels adamant on not re-opening the withdrawal deal reached with the Theresa May government and the Johnson government insisting on leaving the EU without an agreement if need be, the scene is set for a constitutional, legal and political showdown in the next few weeks.

Among the likely scenarios emerging are: Labour tabling a no-confidence motion, a new caretaker government taking over, and a mid-term election. The last election in 2017 was also a mid-term exercise called by May.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “I am appalled at the recklessness of Johnson’s government, which talks about sovereignty and yet is seeking to suspend parliament to avoid scrutiny of its plans for a reckless No Deal Brexit. This is an outrage and a threat to our democracy”.

“That is why Labour has been working across Parliament to hold this reckless government to account, and prevent a disastrous No Deal which parliament has already ruled out. If Johnson has confidence in his plans he should put them to the people in a general election or public vote”.

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor, added: “Make no mistake, this is a very British coup. Whatever one’s views on Brexit, once you allow a Prime Minister to prevent the full and free operation of our democratic institutions you are on a very precarious path”.

Dominic Grieve, senior Conservative MP and former attorney general, described the move to suspend parliament days before it is due to do so as “outrageous”, indicating that he could vote against his party’s government during a no-trust motion.

A coalition of opposition parties led by Corbyn decided on Tuesday to act in unison to stop a no-deal Brexit, since that eventuality is seen to be economically debilitating to the United Kingdom, besides implications in other areas.

Grieve said: “If it is impossible to prevent prorogation then i think it is going to be very difficult for people like myself to keep confidence in the government and I could well see why the leader of the opposition would wish to table a motion for a vote of no confidence”.

“I’ve always been of the view that bringing down the administration which is made up of a party of which I am a member is something I would only do as a last resort…But if there is no other way of avoiding it it may be the only thing I can do”.

A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson has spoken to Queen Elizabeth to request an end to the current parliamentary session in the second sitting week in September.

Following the conclusion of the party conference season, when parliament goes into recess, the second session of this Parliament is expected to commence with the Queen’s Speech on October 14, leaving little time for MPs to legislate on Brexit by the due date of October 31.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland first minister, said: “So it seems that Boris Johnson may actually be about to shut down Parliament to force through a no deal Brexit. Unless MPs come together to stop him next week, today will go down in history as a dark one indeed for UK democracy”.

Communist China, Pope jointly ordain Catholic bishop for the first time

BEIJING, Aug 28: A bishop has been jointly ordained by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Pope for the first time following a provisional agreement between Beijing and the Vatican signed last September.

The joint consecration of Yao Shun from Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region in northern China, is a sign of changing ties between China – where religious organisations and heads have to be approved by the CPC – and the Holy See amid intermittent crackdown on Christianity.

The deal last September allowed the Vatican to have a say in the appointment of bishops in the churches run by the CPC.

It could prove to be an important moment in ties between the two, which have been fraught since the 1950s, and further complicated because of the Vatican’s relationship with Taiwan, which China sees as a breakaway region.

The Vatican press office confirmed the consecration. “The Episcopal Ordination of H.E. Mgr. Antonio Yao is the first to take place in the framework of the Provisional Agreement between the Holy See and the People’s Republic of China signed in Beijing on 22nd September 2018”, it said.

“Antonio Yao Shun was ordained bishop of the diocese of Jining, in the northern province of Inner Mongolia where about 70,000 Catholics live, by Paolo Meng Qinglu of the diocese of Hohhot,” it added.

The Vatican News reported that at present all the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the Pope. “Hundreds of priests and religious from the surrounding areas were present at the ceremony,” the report added.

The five religions approved in China are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism, and Protestantism but practising them is restricted.

“Catholicism and Protestantism have 6 million and 38 million followers in China, respectively, with 8,000 and 57,000 clerical personnel,” said a white paper titled ‘China’s Policies and Practices on Protecting Freedom of Religious Belief’ in April this year.

The white paper added China has 6,000 Catholic churches and places of assembly spread across 98 dioceses, and 60,000 Protestant churches and places of assembly.

The same policy paper had said: “China adheres to the principle of independence and self-management in religious affairs, and that the principle is a historic choice made by Chinese religious believers.”

“Religious groups and religious affairs are not subject to control by foreign countries; this principle is enshrined in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China,” the document said.

Modi returns after successful 3-nation visit to France, Bahrain, UAE

NEW DELHI, Aug 27: Culminating his three-nation visit to France, Bahrain and the UAE, Prime Minister Narendra Modi returned to New Delhi on Tuesday morning.

He also took part in the recently-concluded G7 summit in France's Biarritz, in the sessions on digital transformation and climate change to name a few.

Modi reached Paris on a bilateral visit on 22 August. Talks between the Prime Minister and French president Emmanuel Macron were held, following which agreements on maritime awareness, amongst other things were inked.

Following this, the PM left for UAE on 23 August, where he was conferred the 'Order of Zayed' by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Bilateral talks were also held between the two leaders.

Modi then reached the Kingdom of Bahrain on the last leg of his three-nation tour. He was honoured with 'The King Hamad Order of the Renaissance' during his meeting with the King of Bahrain on 25 August.

The Prime Minister headed back to France to be part of the G7 summit as a Biarritz partner. He had been invited by Macron to be a part of the summit.

Modi attended the G7 summit on 'Biodiversity, Oceans, Climate', where he underlined India's contribution to addressing reducing biodiversity, climate change, water stress and ocean pollution, according to Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.

He also met the Senegalese President Macky Sall on the sidelines of the G7 summit, apart from holding separate meetings with his British counterpart Boris Johnson, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and US president Donald Trump among others.

Modi further led the dedicated session of G7 Biarritz summit on Digital Transformation, where he highlighted India's efforts in putting digital technology to use to fight social inequalities through empowerment and inclusion, Kumar added.

"Au revoir France! Closing the curtains on an action-packed 3-nation visit to France, UAE; Bahrain comprising of bilateral & multilateral engagements, PM @narendramodi departs for Delhi. Deepened India's relations with friends, and projected our voice on the global stage," the Spokesperson tweeted.

People gave resounding mandate for building new India: Modi

PARIS, Aug 23: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday asserted that the resounding mandate of 2019 Lok Sabha polls was not just for a government, but for building a 'New India' that focuses on ease of doing business while ensuring ease of living.

Addressing Indian community at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) headquarters in Paris, France after inaugurating a memorial in honour of the victims of two Air India crashes in France in the 1950s and 1960s, Prime Minister said in 'New India' action is being taken against corruption, nepotism, loot of people's money, terrorism.

In an apparent reference to the revocation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Modi said, "There is no scope for temporary in India. You would have seen that a country of 1.25 billion people, the land of Mahatma Gandhi, Gautam Buddha, Ram, Krishna, took 70 years to remove what was temporary."

Asserting that people gave resounding mandate to the BJP government for building 'New India', Modi, who is in France on the first leg of his three-nation tour, said that India is moving fast on the path of development.

On triple talaq, Modi said "We did away with practice of triple talaq; injustice cannot be done to Muslim women in new India."

Modi said India will achieve most of the climate change goals set for 2030, in the next year and a half.

Prime Minister Modi said India will be free of tuberculosis in 2025.

Modi said that the friendship between India and France is unbreakable and the two nations have showed the strength on every stage.

He said India and France have a century-old friendship and asserted that he was dedicating "this day to friendship".

"The friendship between the two countries are not based on selfishness, it is based on liberty equality and fraternity," Modi said.

Modi is in France as part of his three nation five-day visit scheduled between August 22 and 26.

From France, he will travel to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain before returning to Paris for the G7 Summit.

India, France conclude roadmap on digital technology partnership

PARIS, Aug 23: India and France on Thursday concluded a path breaking road-map to make digital technology a transformative factor in their societies, to fight terror, to foster economic growth, sustainable development and secure enhanced internet access which is essential to bridge digital divide.

“France and India affirm their commitment to an open, reliable, secure, stable and peaceful cyberspace. International law, and in particular the Charter of the United Nations, is applicable and is essential to maintaining peace and stability and promoting an open, secure, peaceful and accessible Digital environment. They reaffirm the importance of promoting, and implementing voluntary norms of responsible State behaviour in cyberspace as well as confidence and capacity-building measures developed within the framework of the United Nations. This ensemble is the foundation of peace and security in cyberspace,” according to Indo-French roadmap on cyber security and digital technology that was agreed at the Summit meet between Indian Prime Minister Modi and the President Macron here on Thursday.

France and India recognise the shared responsibility of a wide variety of actors, in their respective roles, to improve trust, security and stability in cyberspace. They call for the strengthening of the multi-stakeholder approach to ensure an open, secure, stable, accessible and peaceful Digital environment, and stress that this requires joint efforts by governments, industry, academia, and civil society, according to the roadmap.

France and India intend to work for the promotion of an inclusive and transparent, open Digital environment by preserving a multi-stakeholder and multilateral approach to the Internet that respects the interests of all stakeholders including States.

France and India recognise that the rapid development of digital technology and its use must be accompanied by a cooperative, coherent, determined and resolute action by the international community, aimed at guaranteeing the sovereignty of States over the Digital Infrastructure located within the territory of the States as well as the protection of online human rights and freedom of expression.

France and India recognise the importance of the pursuit and the deepening of the cyber dialogue whose third edition was held in Paris on June 20, 2019, and welcomed the joint statement adopted at its end.

In this regard, they wish to strengthen their coordination in support of ongoing discussions in various multilateral fora dedicated to the discussion on application of international law and the implementation of the norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace adopted in previous UN GGE reports.

India and France also affirm their willingness to reinforce their cooperation, notably through the sharing of information between their cybersecurity agencies, in order to prevent malicious activities, undertake immediate corrective response, mitigate their potential impact and identify their causes.

Recognizing the need to strengthen the security of Digital processes, products and services, France and India intended to share information on the legal and regulatory framework and best practices, including on the protection of Economic Information Infrastructure impacting National security, and on testing and certification of Digital products. In this context, France and India intend to work together on the risks associated with the deployment of 5G technologies and the technical solutions adopted to deal with them.

France and India further recognised the need to address issues arising from the proliferation of malicious tools and practices in cyberspace, notably by actively participating in relevant discussions under the Wassenaar Arrangement, to which both are parties. Towards this, France and India intend to share their respective legal and regulatory frameworks, particularly with regard to the protection of Economic Information infrastructure.

France and India highlighted the importance of a close cooperation between all countries to address cross-cutting threats to cybersecurity, particularly in Economic Information Infrastructure impacting national security.

France and India also recognized that cybercrime is a transnational crime that requires enhanced international cooperation to effectively bring cyber criminals to justice. As such, they plan to strengthen their cooperation in this area, with a particular view to facilitating sharing of information, evidence collection, the identification of offenders, particularly malware developers, hosters / hosting platform providers or broadcasters.

They also express their concerns regarding the security of electronic means of payment and confirm their commitment to the protection of consumers against online financial frauds including ATM cash outs.

Finally, they plan to discuss the prevention of cybercrime with Service Providers, Social Media Companies to seek information sharing arrangements.

The two sides also decided to strengthen their coordination in supporting the development of a legitimate, fair and balanced approach to secure Digital sector at the international level. France and India also recognize the need to develop the necessary framework to ensure that technologies remain protective of public goods, data sovereignty and fundamental freedoms.

France and India welcomed the potential offered by the development of Artificial intelligence, particularly in the field of sustainable development, e-governance, autonomous transportation, smart cities, cyber security, health, education and agriculture.

They recognized the need for developing and implementing AI policies/programs in the context of citizen centric services, data sovereignty from legal, regulatory and cyber security perspectives. France and India are committed to fostering research and development in AI by sharing expertise and best practices.

The two sides also reaffirmed the importance of building an international, legal and ethical corpus to ensure the rapid development of artificial intelligence in the service of humankind, in accordance with international law. They affirm their commitment to working in this direction in the various multilateral fora (G7, G20, UN) and participating in the International Panel on Artificial Intelligence (IPAI).

France and India reaffirmed the responsibility and accountability of Social Media platforms in the moderation of terrorist and violent extremist content as well as illegal hate speech online and recall their support for the principles set out in the Christchurch Call.

France and India reiterated their commitment to preventing the manipulation of information, spreading fake news and the importance of online freedom of expression. They highlighted the risks that can be raised by the circulation of manipulated information fake news and profiling of personal data. The two sides called for an international exchange on this threat, particularly on the development of a framework to regulate social media platform.

India and France wish to develop an innovative Digital ecosystem that is secure and respectful of users' data protection. In the context of the implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and India's objective to put in place adequate regulation in this area, both parties recognise that the convergence of data protection frameworks of Europe and India would facilitate the flow of information and data.

Considering the importance and the role of technology in the lives of citizens, France and India intend to promote digital inclusion, to bridge digital divide and promote digital literacy, notably by exchanging information on their national policies and good practices in this regard.

The Ministry of the Economy and Finance of France and the Ministry of Electronics and IT (MeitY) of India will be nodal points to coordinate the implementation of this Indo-French digital partnership through appropriate mechanism.

To intensify the exchange, both sides intend to hold regular consultations on "Indo-France Digital Partnership” by physical meetings and video conferences.

The organizations under this Roadmap will interact and coordinate, as appropriate, with other commitments between entities in France and India.

France and India want to foster business cooperation in the digital sector by offering a wider scope to work in their respective markets. Also, French and Indian digital companies will jointly work towards furthering the scope of market opportunity to a new level and create greater bonds between their thriving tech ecosystems.

France and India already share strong economic exchanges in the digital sector - such as bilateral investments made by several French companies that have participated in the digital outreach of India as well as Indian firms that are setting up offices in France.

France and India underlined the importance of a rapid convergence of start-up ecosystems in both countries, welcoming initiatives that allow entrepreneurs to exchange ideas and share projects, including: French Digital companies in India and Indian Digital companies in France, which have generated significant employment. Illustrative examples are:

- the former French Tech Tickets initiative, which enabled 13 Indian start-ups to follow an incubation-acceleration programme in France
- the recently launched French Tech Bangalore India Community to create greater exchanges between our two tech ecosystems
- a brand new French Tech Visa that fast tracks the process for Indian employees, founders and investors to join the French tech ecosystem and create new bridges between France and India
- the French Tech Community Bangalore India and MeitY Start up Hub as a bridge of cooperation between the tech ecosystem in France and India.

France and India underlined the fact that high performance computing is a critical part of their bilateral cooperation in the digital field. They appreciate the progress made in their cooperation within the framework of the National Supercomputing Mission, which has enabled the joint development of high performance calculation tools.

Both sides appreciate the launch of an Indo-French pilot project dedicated to using high performance computing for water flow simulation in the Mahanadi river basin.

France and India affirm their wish to further expand and deepen this cooperation, in three main areas:

- High performance computing applied to artificial intelligence
- Quantum calculation, in this respect they appreciate the creation of an Indo-French Center of Excellence in Quantum Calculation in Pune
- Exascale calculation.

Both parties further agree to evolve programs and methodologies for participation in emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, smart manufacturing and automotive electronic components.

Hoping to take advantage of the excellence of their respective courses in computer Science and their schools in mathematics, France and India wish to develop an Indo-French research and innovation programme dedicated to artificial intelligence.

A consortium, bringing together academic institutions, ministries and reference companies, will mobilise all the potential in artificial intelligence of France and India around projects in the fields of health, climate, and transport, agriculture, disaster response, smart cities etc.

As part of this consortium, both parties will work towards mobilising € 2 million annually to fund basic and applied research projects, scholarships for training and research, exchange of experts and research projects, and awareness-raising measures.

This consortium will meet annually as part of the Knowledge Summit, with its first meeting to be held in Lyon in October 2019.

Pakistan flunked 32 of 40 parameters at FATF review

NEW DELHI, Aug 23: Pakistan has been moved to a list that entails close monitoring by the global terror financing watchdog FATF after Islamabad was found to have failed to deliver on most compliance parameters set for it.

The FATF’s Asia Pacific group that met over two days in Australia’s capital Canberra to review the progress found that Pakistan was non-compliant on 32 of the 40 compliance parameters. On 11 parameters, Pakistan was adjudged as low on 10.

“The Asia Pacific group decided to place Pakistan in the Enhanced Expedited Follow Up List for failure to meet its standards,” said a senior government official familiar with the developments.

The setback for Pakistan comes ahead of the Financial Action Task Force, or FATF’s plenary in October.

At this meeting, the global watchdog is to decide if Pakistan should continue in the grey list or be downgraded to the black list’ that entail harsher financial sanctions. Pakistan had been given time till October to improve its counter-terror finance operations or face further action.

Government officials suggest that New Delhi wants the action that FATF takes to be commensurate to Pakistan’s success or failure to deliver on the 27-point action plan that the global watchdog had set for it.

But there has been recognition in New Delhi that the chance of Pakistan being downgraded to the blacklist at the plenary are remote after China took over FATF’s presidency. A top official at China’s central bank, People’s Bank of China Xiangmin Liu had taken over as FATF president on July 1 from Marshal Billingslea of the US

India has, however, been engaging with other FATF members to hold Pakistan accountable on terrorism, money laundering and terror financing. For now, India’s assessment is that Islamabad is still tiptoeing around the basic problem of terrorist support and trying to impress the international community and groups such as FATF with cosmetic steps.

Like the cases registered against numerous leaders and activists of terror groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Jamat-ud-Dawah (JuD), Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) and Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FiF). But most of the arrests were made under a provision that does not let the authorities hold a suspect beyond 60 days. Pakistan has repeatedly detained JeM founder Masood Azhar and LeT founder Hafiz Saeed mostly under laws that provide for detention for apprehension of breach of peace.

Combating terrorism will be one of the priorities for two countries: Vinay Mohan Kwatra

PARIS, Aug 22: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be reaching Paris today for Indo-France bilateral talks scheduled in the evening. In an inerview, Indian Ambassador in France Vinay Mohan Kwatra has said combating terrorism in all forms will be one of the priorities for the two countries. He said,"Terrorism is a global issue. In context of India, it is in form of cross-border terrorism.

But issues of terrorism and cross-border terrorism, in general and all other issues related to it such as cyber-terrorism, financing of terrorism, India and France have same point of view. Our participation is powerful, strong and global. Naturally, this issue will be talked upon in this upcoming visit between the two leaders."

Indian Ambassador in France has said that after the first visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2015, we have observed that decisions are not only taken in bilateral meetings, but they are implemented expeditiously, efficiently and forcefully.

He said that in today's meeting the two leaders will take comprehensive assessment of the relationship and will also establish time line and agenda for our future cooperation in coming years.

He said that talks on cooperation in all important fields like security, industry and trade, challenges of counter-terrorism and climate changes, people to people contacts and cultural exchanges are expected.

The Prime minister will arrive in France in the evening and will straightaway head to talks with President Macron. During his visit to Paris, the Prime Minister is also scheduled to address the Indian community and also inaugurate the Memorial for the Indian victims of the Air India crashes at Nid D'Aigle.

France says Kashmir bilateral issue between India and Pakistan

PARIS, Aug 20: France has said that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, asking them to resolve their differences over it through political dialogue and refrain from any step likely to aggravate tensions.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's remarks came as his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi called him on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Kashmir after India revoked the special status for the Jammu and Kashmir.

Drian recalled France's constant position on Kashmir that it is up to the two countries, under the framework of their bilateral political dialogue, to resolve this dispute so as to establish lasting peace, the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

France makes a call to the parties for restraint, de-escalation, and easing the situation. It is essential to abstain from any measure likely to aggravate tensions, it said.

Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after India abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution to withdraw Jammu and Kashmir's special status and bifurcated it into two Union Territories.

India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 of the Constitution to revoke the special status of Jammu and Kashmir was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.

According to Pakistan's Foreign Office in Islamabad, Qureshi hoped that France, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, would play its due role to ensure peace and stability in the region.

"The two leaders agreed to remain in contact and continue to work together for peace and stability in the region," the FO said.

Qureshi made contact with French counterpart after reports in media that France was not supportive of Pakistan during UN Security Council meeting on Kashmir.

Modi's France visit from Aug 22 to boost ties

NEW DELHI, Aug 19: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will pay a two-day State visit to France from August 22 during which he will hold talks with French President Emmanuel Macron to strengthen strategic ties in key sectors such as defence, nuclear energy, maritime cooperation and counterterrorism.

Ahead of the visit, officials here said progress on setting up the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project is likely to be discussed during bilateral talks and India is committed to finalising the venture "as soon as possible".

From France, the prime minister will proceed for bilateral visits to the UAE and Bahrain, and will return to the French city of Biarritz on August 25 to attend the G7 Summit, where India has been invited as a partner country.

Modi will arrive in France on Thursday evening and straightaway head for talks with Macron, who will also host a working dinner for the PM.

The next day, Modi will meet French Prime Minister Edouard Charles Philippe, address an event of Indian community at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, and also inaugurate a memorial in Nid D'Aigle for Indian victims of two tragic air crashes of Air India flights in 1950 and 1966.

The discussions are expected to broadly focus on reaffirming France and India as the key strategic and like-minded partners, strengthening of defence partnership, including future defence acquisitions, progress on setting up of the Jaitapur nuclear power plant, convergent, strategic and political priorities in the Indo-Pacific and related operational needs, Secretary (Economic Relations) T S Tirumurti said.

Strengthening bilateral engagement in key areas of strategic cooperation such as defence, nuclear energy, space, counterterrorism, maritime security, cyber security, International Solar Alliance, and joint development projects will also be deliberated upon, he said at a media briefing.

The deliverables of the visit are expected to be in the sectors of skill development, space, information and technology and cyber.

Modi will on Friday arrive in the UAE where he would receive the 'Order of Zayed', the highest civil decoration of the country.

From the UAE, Modi will leave for Bahrain on August 24 on a two-day visit, which will be the first ever prime ministerial visit from India to the Gulf nation.

MoUs on RuPay cards will be signed by India with both the UAE and Bahrain so that they can be used in these two countries, Tirumurti said.

"Our relations with the Gulf countries are at an all time high and India enjoys excellent relations with the Islamic world," he said in response to a question.

During his visit to Bahrain, the prime minister will also launch the renovation of Shreenathji (Shree Krishna) temple in Manama. On August 25, he will head for the French city of Biarritz to attend the G7 Summit.

The next day, Prime Minister Modi will participate in sessions on environment, climate, oceans and digital transformation, Tirumurti said.

On the sidelines, the Prime Minister will have bilateral meetings with leaders of other G7 and partner countries.

The main theme of French presidency of G7 is combating inequality.

France has invited Australia, Chile, South Africa, India and from Africa --Rwanda, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Egypt -- as Biarritz partners.

Former Union minister Suresh Prabhu will be India's sherpa at the G7 Summit.

Asked if the progress on the Rafale deal and the controversies surrounding it will be discussed, a senior MEA official did not give a direct answer, saying defence cooperation would be "positively discussed" during the prime minister's visit.

India and France are strategic partners since 1998 and share a comprehensive, dynamic and multi-faceted relationship, the MEA said.

"Our two countries have strong cooperation in the fields of defence, maritime security, space, cyber, counter-terrorism, and civil nuclear energy along with robust trade and investment relations," it said.

The bilateral visit to France and the invitation to G7 Summit are in keeping with the tradition of strong and close partnership and high level political contacts between India and France, the ministry said..

India to help Bhutan in digital payments, space technology

THIMPU, Aug 18: India and Bhutan on Sunday agreed to maintain close coordination on matters linked to each other’s security and national interests, and emphasised on hydro-power as one of the important areas of cooperation as Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up his two-day visit to the Himalayan nation.

Modi was in Thimphu on his second visit to Bhutan as Prime Minister and the first since his re-election in May this year.

Modi and Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering reviewed all aspects of the bilateral ties as well as other regional and international developments, according to a statement issued by the external affairs ministry.

He reiterated India’s commitment to advancing the economic and infrastructural development of Bhutan, while Teshering thanked New Delhi for its support to the 12th five-year plan.

Inaugurating the recently completed 720 megawatt Mangdechhu Hydroelectric plant, they expressed satisfaction on the achievement and resolved to continue working to expedite completion of other projects such as Punatsangchhu-1, Punatsangchhu-2 and Kholongchhu.

They also launched the facility for use of Indian RuPay cards in Bhutan, which would facilitate Indians’ travel to Bhutan by reducing the need to carry cash, boost the Bhutanese economy and further integrate the two economies, said the statement. They also agreed for a feasibility study on use of India’s Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) app in Bhutan to promote cashless payments between the two countries.

The two Prime Ministers inaugurated in Thimphu the Ground Earth Station of the South Asian Satellite, constructed with the support of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Tshering appreciated Modi’s vision of launching the South Asia Satellite (SAS) in 2017, which has enabled Thimphu to improve the reach and cost-effectiveness of Bhutan Broadcasting Service and also enhanced its disaster management capacities.

Recognising the SAS’s impact on the socio-economic development of Bhutan, Modi offered increased bandwidth on an additional transponder as per Bhutan’s requirements. Tshering welcomed the offer as a major milestone.

They also agreed to collaborate on the joint development of a small satellite for Bhutan and form a joint working group to implement the project and other related activities, including developing a geo-portal system for Bhutan for natural resources and disaster management, using remote sensing and geo-spatial data.

Recognising that the space technology together with digital and emerging technologies offer tremendous potential in accelerating the socio-economic development, both sides agreed to strengthen collaboration in these areas.

“Thank you Bhutan! It was a memorable visit. The affection I have received from the people of this wonderful nation can never be forgotten. There were many programmes which I had the honour of taking part in. The outcomes of the visit will enhance bilateral ties,” Modi said just before his departure from Bhutan.

During his stay in Thimphu, Modi held wide-ranging talks with his Bhutanese counterpart Lotay Tshering on Saturday and they discussed steps to further expand the bilateral partnership across several sectors. The two countries inked 10 MoUs in the fields of space research, aviation, IT, power and education to infuse new energy in their ties.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister addressed students of the prestigious Royal University of Bhutan and asked them to work hard and take the Himalayan nation to great heights.

He said no two countries in the world understood each other so well or share so much as India and Bhutan that are “natural partners” in bringing prosperity to their peoples.

Prime Minister Modi met with Bhutan’s Leader of Opposition Pema Gyamtsho on Sunday and the two leaders discussed the issues of bilateral interests.

He also paid his respects at the National Memorial Chorten, a revered monument honouring the late Third Druk Gyalpo.

The visit concluded with a lunch hosted by the King of Bhutan in honour of prime minister Modi.

If we talk to Pak, it will be about PoK now: Rajnath Singh

KALKA/ ISLAMABAD, Aug 18: If a dialogue is held between India and Pakistan in future, it would be focused on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Sunday, ratcheting up the rhetoric against Islamabad at a time when tensions between the two countries have spiralled following New Delhi’s move to end special privileges to militancy-hit Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Two days after Singh hinted that India might change its “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons depending on “circumstances”, he launched another scathing attack on the neighbour and underlined that Pakistan must first stop supporting terrorism for a dialogue to begin, a reiteration of New Delhi’s stand that terror and talks cannot go hand in hand.

“Pakistan says there should be talks...why should there be talks? As long as Pakistan does not stop supporting terrorists on its soil, there is no reason to have a dialogue with it,” Singh said, addressing a rally ahead of flagging off a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) programme in Haryana where elections will be held later this year.

“If at all, there will be a dialogue on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. No other issue will be taken up for talks,” Singh said in Kalka, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi hit back, saying Singh’s remarks were “reflective of the predicament that India finds itself in, after its illegal and unilateral actions imperiling peace and security in the region and beyond”.

In Haryana, Singh also said Pakistan was unsettled by India’s decision to withdraw special status to J&K. No country has come to Pakistan’s rescue even though it has been knocking at the door of the international community, he added amid the loud chanting of “Jai Shri Ram”. “Even the president of America, a country perceived to be the most powerful in the world, has snubbed Pakistan,” Singh said.

But Qureshi countered Singh, and stressed, “The world community, including the United Nations Security Council, have taken cognisance” of the situation in Kashmir.

In the first week of August, Indian Parliament passed resolutions and laws to bifurcate J&K into two Union Territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — and scrap constitutional provisions giving the state special status under Article 370 and its people special privileges.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s move to nullify Article 370 meant laws passed by Parliament will apply to Kashmir without exceptions, will not make citizenship of the state exclusive and will allow outsiders to own properties in the state, among others.

Pakistan, which India says exports terror to J&K, said the move could disrupt regional peace, and the restrictions imposed in the state by India a day before taking the decision was an oppression of the Kashmiri people.

On Friday, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held closed-door consultations without granting Islamabad a formal and open meeting. Pakistan’s request for a formal meeting of the UNSC over the Kashmir issue garnered the support of just one of the body’s 15 members: China.

After the discussions, India said there was “broad acceptance” in the world community of New Delhi’s commitment to bilaterally address all issues with Pakistan. India maintains the move on J&K is an internal issue and is aimed at ensuring development in the region.

At the Kalka rally, Singh said for the present government, India’s respect and pride was above everything else. “I want to assure you... I want to say it clearly that the [Centre’s ruling] BJP does not do politics for forming government...we will not compromise the prestige of Mother India,” he said.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan recently said India was planning a bigger strike than that in Balakot, which, in turn, meant he admitted that the Balakot air strike took place and a large number of terrorists were eliminated, Singh said.

He was referring to the Indian Air Force’s February 26 raid targeting a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp deep inside Pakistan in retaliation against a brazen strike in J&K’s Pulwama on February 14 that killed at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel. Pakistan maintains that Indian forces failed to inflict any damage in the Balakot air strike.

On Friday, Singh created a buzz in diplomatic and political circles after saying that India might change its “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons, a remark that came against the backdrop of heightened tensions with Pakistan. Islamabad reacted sharply to his comments, with foreign minister Qureshi saying it was another “damning reminder of India’s unbridled thirst for violence”.

On Sunday, Union minister Jitendra Singh too touched upon PoK at an event organised by the BJP’s J&K unit at the party headquarters in Jammu. The minister of state for the Prime Minister’s Office also hit out at Pakistan for the “illegal occupation” of the region.

“We are lucky that it (revoking of the special status of J&K) happened in our lifetime. It is because of the sacrifices of our three generations,” he said. “Let us pray that we see the integration of PoK with the country and people freely visit Muzaffarabad (capital of PoK).”

UK faces food, fuel and drugs shortages in no-deal Brexit: Report

LONDON, Aug 18: Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, jamming ports and requiring a hard border in Ireland, official government documents leaked to the Sunday Times show.

The Times said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst case scenarios. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it did not comment on leaked documents.

The newspaper said up to 85% of lorries using the main channel crossings “may not be ready” for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improves.

The government also believes a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, will be likely as current plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable, the Times said.

“Compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the codename Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier offers a rare glimpse into the covert planning being carried out by the government to avert a catastrophic collapse in the nation’s infrastructure,” the Times reported.

“The file, marked “official-sensitive” — requiring security clearance on a “need to know” basis — is remarkable because it gives the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s readiness for a no-deal Brexit.”

Asked about the Yellowhammer documents, energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News: “I think there’s a lot of scaremongering around, and a lot of people are playing into ‘Project Fear’ ... We’ve got to prepare for no deal.”

“We will be fully prepared to leave without a deal on the 31st of October.”

The United Kingdom is heading towards a constitutional crisis at home and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

After more than three years of Brexit dominating EU affairs, the bloc has repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement which includes an Irish border insurance policy that Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, agreed in November.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said on Twitter he had signed a piece of legislation which set in stone the repeal of the 1972 European Communities act - the laws which made Britain a member of the organisation now known as the EU.

Though his move was largely procedural, in line with previously approved laws, Barclay said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back (from Brexit).”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers wrote to Johnson calling for an emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until October 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.

Johnson will this week tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one.

The prime minister is coming under pressure from politicians across the political spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing this week to bring down Johnson’s government in early September to delay Brexit.

It is, however, unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the British parliament to prevent a no-deal departure - likely to be the United Kingdom’s most significant move since World War Two.

Opponents of no deal say it would be a disaster for what was once one of the West’s most stable democracies. A disorderly divorce, they say, would hurt global growth, send shockwaves through financial markets and weaken London’s claim to be the world’s preeminent financial centre.

Brexit supporters say there may be short-term disruption from a no-deal exit but that the economy will thrive if cut free from what they cast as a doomed experiment in integration that has led to Europe falling behind China and the United States.

63 killed, 182 wounded in Kabul wedding blast

KABUL, Aug 18: At least 63 people were killed and 182 wounded in an explosion targeting a wedding in the Afghan capital, authorities said on Sunday.

The blast, which took place late Saturday in west Kabul, came as Washington and the Taliban are in the final stages of a deal to reduce the US military presence in Afghanistan. The Taliban denied any involvement in the attack.

Interior ministry spokesman Nasrat Rahimi provided the toll, which is the highest in Kabul in recent months.

“Among the wounded are women and children,” Rahimi said.

Afghan weddings are epic and vibrant affairs, with hundreds or often thousands of guests celebrating inside industrial-scale wedding halls where the men are usually segregated from the women and children.

Mohammad Farhag, who had been at the wedding, said he had been in the women’s section when he heard a huge blast in the men’s area.

“Everyone ran outside shouting and crying,” he said.

“For about 20 minutes the hall was full of smoke. Almost everyone in the men’s section is either dead or wounded.” Two hours after the blast, he said bodies were still being removed from the hall.

Insurgents have periodically struck Afghan weddings, which are seen as easy targets because they frequently lack rigorous security precautions.

Tens of thousands march in latest protest in Hong Kong

HONG KONG, Aug 18: Heavy rain fell on tens of thousands of umbrella-toting protesters Sunday as they marched from a packed park and filled a major road in Hong Kong, where mass pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity this summer.

Organizers said they hoped the assembly would be peaceful, which would make for a rare calm weekend in a months-long movement that has been marked by violent clashes with police. Law enforcement officers were keeping a low profile on Sunday, with no riot police seen from the procession’s main routes.

“We hope that there will not be any chaotic situations today,” said organizer Bonnie Leung. “We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful.”

Leung’s group, the Civil Human Rights Front, has organized three massive marches in Hong Kong since June. The protest movement, however, has been increasingly marked by clashes with police as demonstrators vent their frustrations over what they perceive to be the government’s blatant refusal to respond to their demands.

“Peace is the No. 1 priority today,” said Kiki Ma, a 28-year-old accountant participating in the march. “We want to show that we aren’t like the government.”

While police had granted approval for the rally, they didn’t approve an accompanying march. Demonstrators nevertheless fanned out and filled the streets, as there was not enough space at the designated assembly area.

Public transit trains did not stop at stations near the assembly because of overcrowding.

In Beijing, You Wenze, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature, condemned statements from U.S. lawmakers supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

You called the lawmakers’ comments “a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs.”

He said that Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people and the Chinese population as a whole rejected the actions of a “very small group of violent protesters” as well as “any interference of foreign forces.”

You did not mention any specific lawmaker, but numerous U.S. senators and Congress members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have affirmed the U.S. commitment to human rights and urged Hong Kong’s government to end the standoff.

Congress also has the power to pass legislation affecting Hong Kong’s relationship with the U.S. in ways that could further erode the territory’s reputation for stability and rule of law. That includes the recent re-introduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Congress, which would among its other provisions require the secretary of state to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to the city.

More directly, President Donald Trump could simply issue an executive order suspending Hong Kong’s special trading status with the U.S., a move that could have a devastating effect on the local economy at a time when Beijing and Washington are engaged in a bitter trade war.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to Beijing in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems,” which promised residents certain democratic rights not afforded to people in mainland China. But some Hong Kongers have accused the Communist Party-ruled central government of eroding their freedoms in recent years.

The protest movement’s demands include Lam’s resignation, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.

Harley Ho, a 20-year-old social work student who attended Sunday’s rally, said protesters were undeterred by the rain and would not rest until their demands were met.

“We will stand here, we will take action until they respond to us,” she said. “In the rain, our spirit becomes stronger.”

Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests. The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the protests.

A bad year for Xi Jinping clouds Communist China’s 70th birthday celebrations

BEIJING, Aug 18: It was meant to be an unabashed celebration of the triumph of Communism in China, and of President Xi Jinping’s authority as the country’s undisputed leader for years to come.

But as the People’s Republic of China approaches its 70th anniversary on October 1st, Xi finds himself battling threats on multiple fronts.

From a biting US trade war to relentless protests in Hong Kong challenging his rule and international condemnation over Beijing’s treatment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang, Xi is having a very bad year, analysts say.

Furthermore, the crises have left him with limited room to act and simultaneously shore up support at home.

“Xi Jinping has had the toughest year since he came to power”, said Eleanor Olcott, China policy analyst at research firm TS Lombard.

“Not only is he facing unrest on China’s peripheries in Hong Kong and Xinjiang but the trade war is weighing on an already slowing domestic economy.”

Few expected things to turn out this way.

In Davos in 2017, just weeks after the inauguration of protectionist Donald Trump as US president, Xi was at pains to portray himself as a champion of globalisation, outlining a role for China as a world leader.

Some even hoped he would open the door to further reform. But those expectations have now sunk.

“The Xi Jinping of Davos 2017, who emerged on the world stage as defender of the liberal global economic order, is unrecognisable today,” said Olcott.

By the time he secured his second term as the Communist Party’s general secretary in October 2017, Xi was at the centre of a cult of personality built by the state.

Last year, he enshrined “Xi Jinping Thought” in China’s constitution and, in a shock move, removed term limits on individuals -- overturning an orderly system of succession put in place to prevent the return of another all-powerful strongman like Mao Zedong.

Xi has used crackdowns on corruption and calls for a revitalised party to become the most powerful Chinese leader in decades, and the constitutional changes mean he can rule for as long as he wishes.

But stamping his personal brand on the government means Xi’s leadership is directly intertwined with the current headwinds.

An unexpected and festering trade war with the United States has eroded confidence and hit the economy hard.

Furthermore, his signature Belt and Road (BRI) global infrastructure initiative has faced setbacks, with critics saying the plan is designed to boost Beijing’s influence, lacks transparency and will saddle partner governments with debt.

The crackdown on Uighurs in Xinjiang -- a region deemed crucial to the BRI’s success -- has come under heavy international condemnation for reportedly placing an estimated one million mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the name of counterterrorism.

“Xi largely created the problems that are now major challenges for him and for China,” said Steve Tsang, a China-Taiwan relations expert at the School of Oriental and African Studies.

“They are all products of Xi’s policies.”

But the biggest challenge to Xi’s authority has come from the semi-autonomous hub of Hong Kong and it appears to have caught him off-guard.

Dramatic images of mostly young pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong facing riot police amid clouds of tear gas have dominated global newspapers and websites for weeks, as a movement calling for universal suffrage gathers pace.

Hong Kong, which was handed back by Britain to China in 1997, is ruled under a “one country, two systems” policy which gives citizens liberties unseen on the mainland.

Protesters say those rights have been steadily eroded and have openly criticised an increasingly assertive Beijing -- provoking fears China will resort to a heavy-handed intervention to quash the unrest, unleashing disastrous consequences.

Despite the hurdles facing him, however, the embattled leader’s hold on China remains firm -- for now.

“None of the challenges has ‘blown up’ sufficiently for anyone within the top leadership to openly challenge him. As long as they stay in the shadow, Xi remains in charge,” said Tsang.

And while international criticism mounts, analysts say Xi and the Communist Party can potentially exploit the attacks on him to serve Beijing’s broader ideological needs.

“The CCP media machine has successfully framed the trade war and Hong Kong protests as a result of unfair foreign intervention that seeks to perturb China’s rise,” said Olcott.

“Xi will play up this narrative at the 70th anniversary celebrations, and stress that China must forge its own development path according to the Chairman’s guiding ideology.”

North Korean refuses talks with South, tests missiles

SEOUL, Aug 17: North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range missiles into the sea on Friday and launched a scathing attack on “foolish” calls for dialogue from South Korean President Moon Jae In, rejecting further peace talks with Seoul.

It was the sixth round of launches in recent weeks in protest at ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the US. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has described the tests as a “solemn warning” to the South.

Pyongyang has routinely expressed anger at the war games, which it considers rehearsals for invasion, but in the past has avoided carrying out tests while the manoeuvres are taking place.

The South Korean military said the projectiles were fired from near the city of Tongchon, and flew some 230km before falling into the Sea of Japan, which is also known as the East Sea.

They were “presumed to be short-range ballistic missiles”, an official of the joint chiefs of staff told AFP, while further analysis was required to confirm that.

The latest missile test came as North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country said it rejected comments by Moon on Thursday outlining his desire for Korean unification, and said it had nothing more to discuss with the South.

It called Moon - who has long favoured dialogue with the North - an “impudent guy rare to be found”, for hoping for a resumption of inter-Korean talks while continuing military drills with Washington.

In a speech on Thursday marking the anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japan’s 1910-45 rule, Moon outlined a goal of “achieving peace and unification by 2045”, although his single five-year term ends in 2022.

“His speech deserves the comments ‘foolish commemorative speech’,” the North said in its statement.

Baloch activists ask India to help free Balochistan

Aug 15: Irrespective of being a province within the territory of Pakistan, people of Balochistan on Thursday expressed their solidarity with Indians on the occasion of the country’s 73rd Independence Day and said they need India’s support to free their land from the domination of Pakistan and its military establishment.

“I want to wish my Indian brothers and sisters a very happy Independence Day. The success they have made in the last 70 years makes Indians proud. Today, Indians are proud all around the world. We Balochs are thankful for their solidarity and help. We want them to raise their voice for a free Balochistan. We need their support. Thank you and Jai Hind,” said Baloch activist, Atta Baloch.

Balochistan, the most volatile province in the southwestern borders of Pakistan has been struggling since 1948 against Pakistani occupation. The Baloch people say that they got independence from the British on August 11, 1947.

The province, rich in natural gas fields, has also accused China of plundering their economic wealth especially after the construction of modern transportation networks, numerous energy projects, and special economic zones under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Another Baloch activist, Ashraf Sherjan, also after wishing India on this occasion urged the latter to “raise Balochistan officially in all forms, including the United Nations.”

“I wish a very happy Independence Day to all my Indian brothers and sisters. We appeal to India to raise Balochistan officially in all forms, including the United Nations. The people of Balochistan are suffering genocide at the hands of Pakistan and its military establishment,” Sherjan said.

“Balochistan is bleeding,” he added.

The activist further requested India to be “please be the voice of the voiceless” and concluded his remarks by calling out loud in Hindi, “Bharat mata ki jai.”

On August 14, Pakistan observed its Independence Day as ‘Kashmir Solidarity Day’, in a protest against India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 that accorded Jammu and Kashmir with special status and passing a bill, which bifurcated the region into two Union Territories.

However, the cash-strapped nation was left red-faced after #BalochistanSolidarityDay and #14AugustBlackDay started trending on Twitter with more than 100,000 tweets and 54,000 tweets, respectively.

At a time when Islamabad has been urging the UN Security Council to take action over Kashmiris in the wake of changing status of Jammu and Kashmir, it is worth mentioning that the human rights violations in Balochistan, the most volatile province in Pakistan, have already drawn concerns of the international community and other human rights watchdogs.

Satellite pics show Chinese military vehicles near Hong Kong

BEIJING/ HONG KONG, Aug 15: Satellite photos showed what appear to be armoured personnel carriers and other vehicles belonging to the China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police parked in a sports complex in the city of Shenzhen, in what some have interpreted as a threat from Beijing to use increased force against pro-democracy protesters across the border in Hong Kong.

The pictures collected on Monday by Maxar’s WorldView show 500 or more vehicles sitting on and around the football stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center just across the harbour from the Asian financial hub that has been rocked by more than two months of near-daily street demonstrations. Chinese state media have said that the exercises had been planned beforehand and were not directly related to the unrest in Hong Kong. President Donald Trump tweeted that US intelligence believes that the Chinese government is moving troops to its border with Hong Kong and that, “Everyone should be calm and safe!”

Flights resumed at Hong Kong’s airport on Wednesday after two days of disruptions, even as Cathay Pacific said two of its pilots had been sacked.

“One is currently involved in legal proceedings. The other misused company information on Flight CX216/12 August,” the airline said in a statement.

About three dozen protesters remained camped in the airport’s arrivals area a day after a mass demonstration and frenzied mob violence forced more than 100 flight cancellations.

Protesters spread pamphlets and posters across the floor in a section of the terminal but were not impeding travellers.

Online, they also circulated letters and promotional materials apologising to travellers for inconveniences during the past five days of airport occupations.

China on Wednesday strongly slammed the protesters over “terrorist-like” acts after two civilians including a journalist were assaulted late on Tuesday night.

State media arms of the Chinese government condemned the incident of assault after one of the victims was identified as a reporter with Global Times.

“We express the strongest condemnation of these terrorist-like actions,” Xu Luying, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, was quoted as saying in Beijing.

Xu added that the actions “seriously damage the international image of Hong Kong”.

She added that “extremely abominable violent crime must be severely punished according to the law”.

The online edition of People’s Daily released a strong editorial. “These rioters... have defied every law and regulation,” the editorial commented.

South Korea’s Moon calls for talks to end trade row with Japan

SEOUL, Aug 15: South Korean President Moon Jae-in offered an olive branch to Japan to end an ongoing trade dispute Thursday, saying Seoul will “gladly join hands” if Tokyo wants to talk.

Moon in a nationally televised speech also downplayed the threat posed by North Korea’s recent short-range ballistic launches and expressed hope that Washington and Pyongyang would soon resume nuclear negotiations.

“If a country weaponizes a sector where it has a comparative advantage, the order of peaceful free trade inevitably suffers. A country that accomplished growth first must not kick the ladder away while others are following in its footsteps,” Moon said in reference to Japan.

“If Japan better late than never chooses the path of dialogue and cooperation, we will gladly join hands,” he said.

Moon’s speech at a ceremony marking the 74th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese rule at the end of World War II came amid heightened public anger and diplomatic fallout over Tokyo’s recent moves to impose trade curbs on South Korea.

Seoul has accused Tokyo of weaponizing trade to target its export-dependent economy and retaliate against South Korean court rulings calling for Japanese companies to offer reparations to South Koreans forced into labor during World War II. Tokyo’s measures struck a nerve in South Korea, where many still harbor resentment over Japan’s ruthless colonial rule from 1910 to 1945.

After threatening stern countermeasures and declaring that South Korea would “never lose” to Japan again, Moon has taken a more conciliatory tone over the past week as there was relief in Seoul that the impact of Japan’s trade measures might not be as bad as initially thought.

There have also been concerns that the government’s nationalistic calls for unity were allowing public anger toward Japan to reach dangerous levels.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people were expected join anti-Japan protests planned for Thursday, including an evening candlelit vigil near Seoul’s presidential palace.

Thousands of protesters dressed in raincoats marched in heavy rain toward the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. They carried signs that said “Apologize for War Crimes” and “Compensate Forced Laborers.”

“I have a lot that I want to say, but I can’t,” said an emotional Lee Chun-sik, 95, the only survivor among four plaintiffs who won a landmark compensation case last October against Japan’s Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp., decades after being forced to work at the company’s steel mills during World War II.

Lee thanked the marchers for taking part.

The trade dispute comes as South Korea’s relations with North Korea worsen. Pyongyang has been ignoring Seoul’s calls for dialogue and in recent weeks test fired a slew of new short-range weapons that potentially threaten the South.

Experts say the North’s recent launches are aimed at building leverage for nuclear talks with the United States, and pressuring Seoul to coax major concessions from Washington on its behalf.

“In spite of a series of worrying actions taken by North Korea recently, the momentum for dialogue remains unshaken,” Moon said.

He called for new negotiations between the Koreas and the U.S. “at the earliest possible date.”

Pak plays Afghan card to get US support on Kashmir

WASHINGTON/ ISLAMABAD, Aug 13: Pakistan’s envoy to the US has threatened that his country might redeploy troops from the Afghanistan border to the Indian frontier, a move that can complicate peace talks with the Taliban, even as he called on Washington to mediate on the Kashmir issue.

Asad Majeed Khan’s comments came against the backdrop of little support for Pakistan’s demand for intervention by the world community following India’s decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

India has already dismissed Pakistan’s efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue by describing the changes in Jammu and Kashmir as an internal matter. India’s envoy to the US, Harsh Shringla, has also said President Donald Trump’s recent offer to mediate on Kashmir is no longer on the table.

Poland, the current president of the UN Security Council, said on Tuesday that India and Pakistan should bilaterally resolve the Kashmir issue, aligning itself with the European Union and the UN in rebuffing Pakistan’s efforts to seek third-party mediation.

“We hope that both countries can work out a mutually beneficial solution bilaterally,” Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz told reporters at the UN in New York. The strained ties between India and Pakistan impact South Asia and could lead to “serious political and security consequences”, he added.

Poland, he said, agrees with the EU’s position on this issue. After its foreign affairs head Federica Mogherini spoke on phone with the Indian and Pakistani foreign ministers last week, the EU had said it “supports a bilateral political solution between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which remains the only way to solve a long-lasting dispute that causes instability and insecurity in the region”.

Czaputowicz said the Security Council had received Pakistan’s letter and Poland’s permanent representative will “start consultations” about it soon. He spoke of the Security Council discussing the letter, but it could not be immediately ascertained if the body will meet to discuss Kashmir, as sought by Pakistan, or it will hold consultations to determine its response.

In an interview with The New York Times, Khan said India’s decisions on Kashmir “could not have come at a worse time for us” because Pakistan had tried to strengthen military control along the Afghan border, which has long been infiltrated by the Taliban, as part of efforts to end the war in Afghanistan.

“We have our hands full” on the western border, Khan said, adding: “If the situation escalates on the eastern border, we will have to undertake redeployments.” Pakistan was “not thinking about anything but what is happening on our eastern border”, he said.

Such a possibility could add a new element to peace negotiations between the US and the Taliban, which are believed to be in the final stages. Pakistan is “doing all that we can and will continue” to back the peace talks, Khan said.

India’s move to end Kashmir’s special status and split the state into two union territories sparked fresh tensions with Pakistan, which downgraded diplomatic ties, suspended bilateral trade and stopped several cross-border train and bus services. Khan said the crisis “unfortunately, I suspect, is going to get worse”.

In an article in the Washington Post, Khan referred to the offer made by Trump to mediate on Kashmir during a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan last month and said it was a “sign of immense goodwill that the people of Kashmir enthusiastically applauded”.

“The time is now for the US to make good on Trump’s offer of mediation – not for Pakistan’s sake or for India’s sake, but for the sake of the only people who have not been heard since India gagged them a week ago: the people of Kashmir themselves,” he wrote.

Khan contended India’s actions had put “South Asia on the brink of conflict for the second time in less than six months” and Imran Khan had warned the world community of “catastrophic consequences should India’s latest act of recklessness lead to conflict”. However, India’s ambassador to the US, Shringla, said on Monday Trump’s offer to mediate on Kashmir had been rejected by New Delhi.

“President Trump has made it very clear that his offer to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir is dependent on both India and Pakistan accepting it. Since India has not accepted the offer of mediation, President Trump has made it clear that this is not on the table anymore,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

“That has been the US’s long-standing policy. The UN Secretary-General was also very clear – he says this issue has to be resolved bilaterally between India and Pakistan in keeping with the agreements that the two countries have signed, the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. This is not an issue that is to be settled with third parties and I think that was something President Trump clarified.”

The US state department has clarified that there has been no change in its policy on Kashmir as it called on India and Pakistan to hold a dialogue to resolve their differences.

In a related development, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has said it won’t be easy for Islamabad to get the support of the UN Security Council and Muslim countries on the Kashmir issue.

“You should not in live in a fool’s paradise. Nobody will be standing there (in the UN Security Council) with garlands in their hands...Nobody will be there waiting for you,” he told the media in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, on Monday.

He said the Ummah (Islamic community) might not back Pakistan on the Kashmir issue. “Different people in the world have their own interests. India is a market of a billion people...A lot of people have invested there. We often talk about the Ummah and Islam but the guardians of the Ummah have also made investments there and they have their own interests,” he said.

During a phone call with Qureshi on Monday, the Polish foreign minister had said the Kashmir issue “could only be solved through dialogue, as also called for by the European Union”, according to a readout from Poland’s foreign ministry.

Hong Kong facing worst crisis since 1997

HONG KONG, Aug 7: China on Wednesday said Hong Kong is facing the most severe crisis since the city was handed over to Beijing by Britain in 1997.

Those protests are getting increasingly violent and having “an increasingly broad impact on society,” said Zhang Xiaoming, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong.

“It can be said that Hong Kong is facing the most severe situation it has faced since the handover,” Zhang told Hong Kong residents attending a seminar in the mainland city of Shenzhen just across the border from the Asian financial hub that has been wracked by daily protests against the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Officials in Beijing were “highly concerned” and studying the situation to decide on measures to take, he said.

China so far has not visibly intervened in the situation, though in editorials and statements from officials it has condemned demonstrators and protest organisers as criminals, clowns and “violent radicals” and alleged that they have been inflamed by politicians from the U.S., Taiwan and elsewhere.

Speculation that the military could be deployed grew after Chinese officials pointed to an article in Hong Kong law that allows troops already stationed in the city to help with “public order maintenance” at the Hong Kong government’s request.

Ms. Lam reappeared on Wednesday at the opening of an exhibition marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist state.

“Over recent months, conditions in Hong Kong society have been extremely unstable,” Ms. Lam said in remarks distributed by her office. “The special administrative region government will certainly join with all of you to deal with it calmly, restore social order, safeguard rule of law and cherish Hong Kong, cherish ‘one country, two systems,’ and cherish our home.”

Pro-democracy lawmakers continued to criticise Ms. Lam’s handling of the protests. Claudia Mo told reporters that Beijing and Ms. Lam were employing a two-pronged strategy of using the police force to handle the protesters physically while also attacking them ideologically by labelling their movement as seeking to destroy the “one country, two systems” framework.

“We all know this (Hong Kong) administration has become completely untrustworthy and this is just so sad for Hong Kong,” Ms. Mo said.

Protesters have come from all professions and age groups. On Wednesday, several hundred lawyers sought a meeting with Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng and staged a silent protest. The authorities have refused to open a dialogue with protesters and there was no immediate response from Ms. Cheng’s office.

Margaret Ng, a lawyer, said they wanted to meet Ms. Cheng to seek an assurance that there was no political motive in prosecution of those detained. More than 500 people have been arrested since the protests began and dozens have already been charged with rioting.

China's semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong has been rocked since April by increasingly violent protests that were sparked by a proposed extradition law. Here is a timeline of events leading up to the agitation:

April 28: Tens of thousands of people march peacefully against a local government Bill that would allow, for the first time, extraditions to mainland China. There are fears the law will tighten Beijing's grip on civil society and allow it to pursue its political enemies in Hong Kong.

June 9: Despite government tweaks to soften the law, tens of thousands more protest again. It descends into violence after midnight when police, using batons and pepper spray hoses, try to disperse small groups of protesters who hurl bottles and use metal barricades. At least 2,40,000 people participated in protests, say police and 19 people were arrested.

June 12: Huge crowds block major roads and attempt to storm Parliament, delaying the Bill's second reading. Police use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds in the worst clashes since the handover. Nearly 80 people are injured.

June 15: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam postpones the Bill, but a fresh demonstration the next day calls for its full withdrawal. The Bill is dead.

July 1: Just ahead of an annual march to mark Hong Kong's return to China, young masked protesters take over key roads, sparking new clashes with police. Later in the day hundreds smash their way into Parliament and ransack the building, daubing its walls with anti-government graffiti.

July 9: Lam says the extradition Bill “is dead” but protesters dismiss her comments.

July 21: Protesters are back on the streets and police fire tear gas and rubber bullets. In the Yuen Long area, masked men -- suspected to be triad gangsters -- attack protesters inside a train station.

July 30: 44 protesters are charged with rioting.

August 3: Demonstrators erect barricades in the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui.

August 5: Activists disrupt the subway system, paralysing much of the city and delaying scores of international flights. As many as 148 people arrested.

August 6: China warns that “those who play with fire will perish by it”.

Canada’s Punjabi community leader Deepak Obhrai is dead

Deepak ObhraiTORONTO, Aug 5: Canada’s political fraternity, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his predecessor Stephen Harper, has reacted with shock and grief at the sudden demise of veteran Indo-Canadian politician Deepak Obhrai, the first Hindu to be elected to the country’s House of Commons and the longest-serving Conservative Party MP in that chamber.

Obhrai, 69, passed away on Friday in Calgary, in the province of Alberta, surrounded by the family, just weeks after he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of liver cancer. He is survived by his wife Neena, three children, and their families.

Obhrai was first elected to the House of Commons in 1997, and re-elected ever since and was a sitting MP and was, in fact, preparing to face election for an eighth term during the Federal polls in October.

Obhrai, who was born in Tanzania and had roots in Punjab, was a strong proponent of closer ties between India and Canada. He was founder-chair of the CanadaIndia Parliamentary Friendship Group and also organised Diwali celebrations in Parliament since 1998, making Canada the first western democracy to do so, Obhrai was honoured the prestigious Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by the Indian government in 2009.

Trudeau expressed his condolences and described Obhrai as “a champion of diversity and human rights. He will be remembered for his dedication to the Indo-Canadian community and his hard work on behalf of Albertans and all Canadians.” Harper, under whom Obhrai served as parliamentary secretary in the foreign affairs department, said that his “legacy is his life-long commitment to Canada, which he served with energy and distinction wherever he went at home or abroad”.

Obhrai also ran for leadership of the Conservative Party in 2016 and the person who emerged victorious in that contest, Andrew Scheer, said he was “heartbroken” to hear of Obhrai’s passing.

Given his strong connection to organisations working within the India-Canada space, there was an outpouring of tributes from the community. Kasi Rao, president & CEO, Canada-India Business Council said: “We remember him for his tireless advocacy of many causes, including the championing for expanded economic relations with India.”

N Korea tests rocket launcher system

SEOUL, Aug 3: North Korea said on Saturday its leader Kim Jong Un supervised another test-firing of a new multiple rocket launcher system that could potentially enhance the country’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and US military bases there.

The report by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency came a day after South Korea’s military said it detected North Korea firing projectiles twice into the sea off its eastern coast in its third round of weapons tests in just over a week.

The North’s new launches came as the UK, France and Germany - following a closed UN Security Council briefing - condemned the North’s recent ballistic activity as violations of UN sanctions and urged Pyongyang to engage in “meaningful negotiations” with the US on eliminating its nukes.

In a separate report carried through KCNA on Saturday, an unidentified spokesperson of North Korea’s foreign ministry criticised the statement released by the three countries, saying that the North never has and never will recognize the UN resolutions it sees as a “grave provocation” against its government.

The spokesperson said North Korea has never signed an agreement with any country to limit the range of missiles and other projectiles it tests and wasn’t bound to any legal requirement. The spokesperson said the North’s unilateral suspension of nuclear and intercontinental range ballistic missile tests, announced by Kim last year amid a diplomatic outreach to Washington, was based on “goodwill and consideration for a dialogue power.”

President Donald Trump said on Friday that North Korea’s recent tests of short-range rockets and missiles may run afoul of United Nations resolutions but haven’t violated agreements with his administration.

He also said that he believes Kim still seeks to reach an agreement with him.

Hong Kong protesters defy China warnings with weekend rallies

HONG KONG, Aug 3: Anti-government protesters in Hong Kong kicked off a new mass rally on Saturday as they defy increasingly stern warnings from China over weeks-long unrest that has plunged the city into crisis.

The semi-autonomous southern Chinese financial hub has seen two months of protests and clashes triggered by opposition to a planned extradition law that quickly evolved into a wider movement for democratic reforms.

Authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing this week signalled a hardening stance, including with the arrests of dozens of protesters, and the Chinese military saying it was ready to quell the “intolerable” unrest if requested.

But protesters have remained unyielding, vowing to hold multiple rallies and marches throughout the weekend and into next week, sending tensions soaring once more.

Thousands of protesters filled a park in the densely populated neighbourhood of Mongkok, which has previously seen clashes between police and demonstrators, listening to speeches and shouting slogans.

Police initially denied activists permission to march through the neighbourhood but later allowed it after an appeal.

Two marches are also planned for Sunday -- one on Hong Kong island and the other in the Tseung Kwan O district -- as well as a city-wide strike on Monday and rallies in seven locations.

The call for strike action appears to be gaining more traction than previous walkouts, with a host of organisations and unions vowing to join.

Hong Kong has witnessed eight consecutive weekends of huge rallies -- often followed by violent clashes between police and small groups of hardcore protesters.

Under the terms of the 1997 handover deal, the city has rights and liberties unseen on the mainland, including an independent judiciary and freedom of speech.

But many say those rights are being curtailed, citing the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians and the jailing of pro-democracy protest leaders.

Public anger has been compounded by rising inequality and the perception that the city’s distinct language and culture are being threatened by ever-closer integration with the Chinese mainland.

The past two weekends have seen a surge in violence used by both protesters and police, who have repeatedly fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse projectile-throwing crowds.

A mob of pro-government thugs also attacked protesters, putting 45 people in hospital.

Hong Kong’s police have increasingly adopted tougher tactics, including this week charging 44 protesters with rioting -- an offence that carries up to 10 years in jail.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam has made few concessions beyond agreeing to suspend the extradition bill and has made few public appearances.

Protesters are demanding her resignation, an independent inquiry into police tactics, an amnesty for those arrested, a permanent withdrawal of the bill and the right to elect their leaders.

On Friday evening, thousands attended a rally organised by members of Hong Kong’s usually tight-lipped civil service -- a remarkable development as they called on their paymasters to meet the protesters’ demands.

Many civil servants wore surgical masks to hide their identities after the government warned that employees should show “total loyalty” and could be punished for attending.

Thousands of pro-government supporters also held a rally in a separate park on Saturday, many waving Chinese flags.

India turns down Pak, wants unimpeded access to Kulbhushan

NEW DELHI, Aug 2: India has effectively turned down Pakistan’s offer for consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav in its current form, with officials saying on Friday that New Delhi has asked Islamabad to provide “unimpeded” contact with the Indian national on death row.

In response to Islamabad’s conditional offer of consular access that was conveyed earlier this week, the Indian government asked the Pakistani side on Thursday to “provide unimpeded consular access” to Kulbhushan Jadhav “in an environment free from the fear of intimidation and reprisal”, said an official who didn’t want to be named.

The access should also be “in light of the orders of the International Court of Justice (ICJ)”, the official added. The ICJ ruled last month that Pakistan had violated Jadhav’s rights under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and sought a review of his death sentence.

The officials cited above said the ball was now in Pakistan’s court and its response was awaited. In its offer, Pakistan had said Indian officials could meet Jadhav at 3 pm on Friday.

The two sides are engaged in sensitive negotiations on consular access in view of the complex diplomatic and legal issues involved. People familiar with developments said Pakistan had attached several conditions to its offer, including the presence of Pakistani officials during a meeting between Jadhav and Indian officials and the use of audio and video devices to record the conversation.

This was the reason why the Indian side had insisted on the meeting being held in an environment free from intimidation and reprisal, the people said. This will ensure Jadhav can speak to the Indian officials freely and not be afraid of any possible reprisals, they added.

Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani security agencies in Balochistan in March 2016 and charged with involvement in spying and subversive activities. In April 2017, Pakistan announced he had been given the death sentence by a military court.

India rejected the allegations against Jadhav and said he was kidnapped by Pakistani operatives from the Iranian port of Chabahar, where he was running a business. In May 2017, New Delhi petitioned the ICJ, which stayed Jadhav’s execution. In its ruling on July 17, the ICJ said its stay of the death sentence should continue.

There was no clarity as to when the two sides would be able to resolve their differences on the issue, though India is keen on speedy and full consular access to Jadhav.

Sanjay Hegde, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, said the concept of consular access entailed officials of one country being able to meet a prisoner in a foreign country without being overheard.

“At the end of the day, the ICJ judgement is good as long as it is honoured. But the ICJ has no enforcement mechanism,” he said. “Ultimately, the issue of consular access will be the subject of some sort of agreement between the two sides.”

Japan to remove South Korea from favoured trade partners list

TOKYO, Aug 2: Japan’s cabinet on Friday approved a plan to remove South Korea from a list of countries that enjoy minimum export controls, a move likely to escalate tensions fuelled by a dispute over compensation for wartime forced labourers.

The decision to drop South Korea from the “white list,” a step that has been protested fiercely by Seoul, comes a month after Japan tightened curbs on exports to South Korea of three high-tech materials needed to make memory chips and display panels.

The cabinet has approved the move, Japan’s industry minister, Hiroshige Seko said.

Japan has said the measures are based on national security concerns, citing South Korea’s insufficient export controls as well as the erosion of trust after South Korean court rulings ordered Japanese firms compensate wartime forced labourers.

Japan says the issue of compensation was settled by a 1965 treaty that normalised ties between Tokyo and Seoul.

Saudi Arabia allows women to travel without male ‘guardian’ approval

RIYADH, Aug 2: Saudi Arabia will allow women to travel abroad without approval from a male “guardian”, the government said Thursday, ending a restriction that drew international censure and prompted extreme attempts to flee the kingdom.

The landmark reform erodes the longstanding guardianship system that renders adult women as legal minors and allows their “guardians” -- husband, father and other male relatives -- to exercise arbitrary authority over them.

The decision, following years of campaigning by activists, comes after high-profile attempts by women to escape their guardians despite a string of reforms including a historic decree last year that overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists.

“A passport will be granted to any Saudi national who submits an application,” said a government ruling published in the official gazette Umm al-Qura.

The regulation effectively allows women over the age of 21 to obtain passports and leave the country without their guardian’s permission, the pro-government Okaz newspaper and other local media reported, citing senior authorities.

Women in the kingdom have long required permission from their male “guardians” to marry, renew their passports or exit the country.

The reform grants women greater autonomy and mobility, the pro-government Saudi Gazette newspaper said, hailing the decision as “one giant leap for Saudi women”.

The decision was met with jubilation on social media, with the hashtag “No guardianship over women travel” gaining traction and many posting humorous memes of women fleeing with suitcases and being chased by men.

“Some women’s dreams were aborted due to inability to leave the country for whatever reason... to study abroad, a work opportunity, or even flee if so desired,” Saudi businesswoman Muna AbuSulayman said on Twitter.

“This change means women are in a way in full control of their legal destiny.”

The changes announced Thursday also grant Saudi women what has long been a male entitlement -- the right to officially register childbirth, marriage or divorce and to be recognised as a guardian to children who are minors.

The reform comes as Saudi Arabia faces heightened international scrutiny over its human rights record, including an ongoing trial of women activists who have long demanded that the guardianship system be dismantled.

That includes Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent rights activist who marked her 30th birthday this week in a Saudi prison, campaigners said.

Alongside a sweeping crackdown on dissent, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman -- the kingdom’s de facto ruler -- spearheads a wide-ranging liberalisation drive that is aimed at transforming the conservative petro-state, long criticised for its treatment of women.

His reforms include the much-celebrated decision allowing women to drive in June last year, allowing women to attend soccer games alongside men and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles.

But while transforming the lives of many women, critics said the reforms will be cosmetic for many others until the kingdom abolishes the “guardianship” system.

Some have undertaken perilous attempts to escape overseas despite the reforms.

They include 18-year-old Rahaf al-Qunun, whose live-tweeted asylum plea from a Bangkok hotel in January after she fled her Saudi family drew global attention.

Later, two Saudi sisters who sought sanctuary in Hong Kong from what they called family abuse were allowed passage to a third country that was not named for their safety.

And subsequently, two other Saudi sisters fled to Georgia.

The latest reform, which weakens but does not completely dismantle the guardianship system, could lead to family clashes in the deeply patriarchal society, observers warn.

Saudi officials have expressed committment to fighting guardianship abuse, but have warned the system can only be dismantled piecemeal to prevent a backlash from arch-conservatives.

In a one-off case last year, a Saudi court ruled in favour of a 24-year-old woman who challenged her father’s decision to not let her have a passport. But until Thursday’s ruling, she would have still required his permission to travel.

India evaluating Pakistan offer on consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav

NEW DELHI, Aug 1: Pakistan offered India consular access to former naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav-- who is on a death row in Pakistan on allegations of spying--on the orders of the International Court of Justice on Thursday. The Indian government is yet to respond to the offer.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told media on Thursday that “a proposal” from Pakistan had been received and was “being evaluated” in the light of the ICJ verdict and a response to Islamabad’s proposal will be sent through “diplomatic channels,” he refused to get into the modalities in his interaction with media.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) had on July 18, ruled that Pakistan had violated former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav’s right to consular access and called for a review of the death sentence handed to him by a military court at an appropriate forum of Islamabad’s choice.

The ICJ ruling was seen as a significant victory for India’s efforts to prevent the execution of the 49-year-old. UN’s principal court ruled that a continued stay of Jadhav’s death sentence was an “indispensable condition” for an effective “review and reconsideration” of his conviction.

Noting the review could be done in various ways, ICJ had left the “choice” to Pakistan. The court, based in The Hague, Netherlands, had added that the review must be unconditional and lead to a result. It also called on Pakistan to take all measures for an effective review, including “enacting appropriate legislation”. India had petitioned ICJ in May 2017, which had then stayed Jadhav’s execution.

Jadhav was arrested by Pakistani security agencies in Balochistan on March 3, 2016, and charged with involvement in spying and subversive activities. In April 2017, Pakistan announced that Jadhav had been given the death sentence by a military court.

India denies the allegations against Jadhav and maintains that he was kidnapped by Pakistani operatives from the Iranian port of Chabahar, where he was running a business.

Spokesperson for External Affairs Ministry, Raveesh Kumar had noted that ICJ upheld India’s stance that Pakistan was in “egregious violation” of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and was under an obligation to inform Jadhav without further delay, of his rights and to provide Indian consular officers access to him.


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