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Pakistan’s Supreme Court suspends order giving Army Chief Bajwa an extension

ISLAMABAD, Nov 26: In a surprise move that threatens to shake Pakistan’s power structure, the country’s chief justice Asif Saeed Khosa on Tuesday suspended the government notification for the extension of army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s tenure until a hearing on Wednesday.

The court also issued notices to the defence ministry, the federal government and Gen Bajwa, who is due to retire on November 29.

During the court proceedings, the chief justice said that “apparently the summary and approval of army chief’s extension is not correct”.

The move comes after Prime Minister Imran Khan’s approval for an extension in Gen Bajwa’s tenure for another three years in August. Last week, the decision was followed by the approval of a new chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, a largely ceremonial post.

The person appointed, General Nadeem Raza, had earlier been tipped as a contender for the army chief’s position.

Observers say that the order of chief justice Khosa, who will retire on December 12, to suspend the tenure extension of the holder of Pakistan’s most powerful position has come as a bolt from the blue.

The chief justice on Tuesday was hearing a withdrawal application of a petition filed by The Jurists Foundation challenging the extension in Gen Bajwa’s tenure.

He, however, rejected the application and took up the petition in the public interest under Article 184 (3) of Pakistan’s constitution. The case was converted into a suo moto notice.

Khosa asked the attorney general in Tuesday’s hearings whether the notification for the extension was issued on August 19 and the prime minister approved this on August 21.

In reply, the attorney general told the chief justice that the cabinet’s approval was required prior to the PM’s approval. Khosa then inquired whether the president approved the extension to which the attorney general responded in the negative.

“Only the president of Pakistan can extend the tenure of the army chief,” he said during the hearing, to which the attorney general promised, “We can take approval from the president again.”

But the courtroom drama did not end there. Justice Khosa noted that out of 25 cabinet members, only 11 had approved the extension.

“Fourteen members of the cabinet did not give any opinion due to non-availability. Did the government take their silence as agreement?” Justice Khosa asked.

“Those who did not say ‘yes’ had not taken part in the voting,” the AG informed the court.

“Does the cabinet not want to give members the time to think? The 14 members of the cabinet still have not said ‘yes’ to army chief’s extension,” Khosa pointed out.

Observers are not clear why Khosa has put a spanner in the works. Many have commented that unlike the previous chief justice who enjoyed cordial relations with the army high command, Justice Khosa keeps away from day to day politics.

It is not clear whether this move would lead to changes in the strategic relationship between the army high command and civilian structures in the country.

According to a buzz, the extension of General Bajwa has not gone down well with some army generals.

On Tuesday, the army high command had announced some important transfers and postings, bringing Bajwa loyalists to important positions in the military. All that will now come under question, say some.

Sri Lanka not to harm India's interests: Rajapaksa

COLOMBO, Nov 26: Sri Lanka will work with India and it won’t do anything that will harm its interests, newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has said ahead of his visit to New Delhi later this week.

Rajapaksa, who is considered pro-China, said he wanted Sri Lanka to be a “neutral country” and work with all the countries.

“We will work with India as a friendly country and won’t do anything that will harm India’s interests,” said Rajapaksa, who will travel to New Delhi on November 29 on his first official trip abroad as Sri Lankan President.

“We want to be a neutral country,” Rajapaksa, who was sworn in as Sri Lanka’s president last week, told Nitin Gokhale of BharatShakti.in and Strategic News International in an interview.

“We don’t want to get in between the power struggles of superpowers... We are so small and we can’t survive to get into this balancing acts,” he said.

Rajapaksa said he wanted to work very closely with both India and China.

“We want to work with all the countries and we don’t want to do anything which will harm any other country for that matter, we understand the importance of Indian concerns, so we cant engage in any activity which will threaten the security of India,” he added.

Noting that the Indian Ocean is an important place and plays an important role in the present day geopolitics, he said Sri Lankan was placed in a very strategic location and all the sea lane are passing close to the country from east to west.

“So, these lanes should be free and no country should control these sea lanes,” he said.

Asserting that Sri Lanka’s involvement with China during the presidency of his elder brother Mahinda (from 2005-2015) was “purely commercial”, he said, “I invite India, Singapore, Japan and Australia to come and invest here. Don’t allow only China to invest.” He vowed to create an investment friendly environment in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa also said that giving away the Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease was a mistake by the previous government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena.

“The deal has to be renegotiated,” he said. “Giving a small loan for investment is a different thing but giving a strategic important economic harbour is not acceptable. That we should have controlled.”

China, which acquired Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in 2017 as a debt swap, has been ramping up its ties with the island nation and expanded its naval presence in the Indian Ocean with an established logistics base in Djibouti.

“We want investments to help us but we will not do anything to get involved in military and geo-political rivalry,” Rajapaksa said.

On allegations of him being “authoritarian” and “racist”, the president said, “It’s a wrong perception created during the civil war with the LTTE.” “I am a disciplined person but that doesn’t mean I am racist,” he added.

The two brothers -- Mahinda and Gotabhaya -- led a decisive campaign that helped end the island nation’s three decade-long civil war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

However, the brother-duo were accused of condoning sexual violence and extrajudicial killings allegedly by Lankan security forces during the civil war, which ended in May 2009 with the death of LTTE supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran.

Huge win for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy forces

HONG KONG, Nov 25: Hong Kong residents handed an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates in a vote for local district councils on Sunday, a stunning repudiation of the city’s Beijing-backed government after months of increasingly violent protests seeking meaningful elections.

Pro-democracy candidates won 86% seats of the 444 seats counted as of 9 a.m., official results showed, with eight seats still up for grabs. In the last election in 2015, they had won about a quarter of all seats. The pro-government camp won about 12% of seats this time around, versus 65% four years ago. The vote saw record turnout of 71%, with more than 2.94 million people casting ballots -- roughly double the number in the previous election.

The vote came at a time of unprecedented political polarization in the city, with divisions hardening as the protests become more disruptive and the government refuses to compromise. While the district councils are considered the lowest rung of Hong Kong’s government, the results will add pressure on the government to meet demands including an independent inquiry into police abuses and the ability to nominate and elect the city’s leader, including one who would stand up to Beijing.

Hong Kong stocks climbed Monday, with the Hang Seng Index rising 1.7%, opening above its 100-day moving average. The gain was led by developers and other stocks seen as most sensitive to the demonstrations. Analysts and investors also said the moves showed relief that the Sunday vote went ahead peacefully.

The district councilors have few real powers, mostly advising the chief executive on matters like fixing up parks and organizing community activities. Most importantly, they help appoint 117 of the 1,200 electors who select the chief executive, which would give pro-democracy forces more choice over candidates who must still be approved by Beijing.

The result will make it harder for establishment forces to put in their preferred candidate in the next race for chief executive, said James Tien, a former pro-establishment lawmaker.

“It will be very difficult for government to manage a win, and then I think it’s more difficult to govern right now,” he said on Monday. If the violence dies down after the vote, he said, the government will have “no excuse” not to appoint a commission of inquiry by January.

The vote shows dissatisfaction with Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government following months of protests triggered by legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China, which has since been withdrawn. Unhappiness with the administration rose to 80% from just 40% a year ago -- well before the unrest began -- according to surveys by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute. Lam’s popularity has fallen to record lows as the protests evolved into a wider pushback against Beijing’s grip.

Hong Kong “is at the precipice” and could fall off if authorities don’t heed the message of the vote, said Steve Tsang, the director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and the author of several books on Hong Kong.

“An overwhelming majority of voters have sent a clear signal: they want their Hong Kong back,” Tsang said. “It’s now time for the government in Hong Kong to hear what people have said and use this electoral result and the way this election has happened as a basis to work for a political solution.”

The vote has been closely watched around the world, particularly as U.S. lawmakers look to support the protesters while President Donald Trump seeks to finalize a phase one trade deal with China. Trump on Friday declined to say whether he would sign a bill that passed Congress with near-unanimous support, saying he supports both the demonstrators and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Elizabeth Warren, a leading Democratic candidate for president, said the vote sent a “powerful message that they want to keep their democracy -- and Beijing must respect that.”

Among the early winners were Civil Human Rights Front organizer Jimmy Sham, who was previously hospitalized after he was attacked by hammer-wielding thugs. Starry Lee, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, won her re-election even though many other pro-establishment figures lost.

“The high turnout rate did benefit the pro-democracy camp,” said pro-democracy candidate Kelvin Lam, who won after standing in for activist Joshua Wong, who was banned by the government from participating. “The result is like a referendum of the current administration, like a confidence vote.”

The election unfolded peacefully despite concerns it could be delayed or disrupted by violence following unrest in the leadup, with voters facing unusually long lines at polling stations across the city. Its elections have typically been plagued by low voter turnout and aren’t hugely competitive, compared with those for the Hong Kong’s more powerful Legislative Council.

Australia PM says allegation of China interference disturbing

CANBERRA, Nov 25: Australia’s domestic spy agency is investigating whether China tried to install an agent in federal parliament in what Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday called “deeply disturbing” allegations.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) said it had launched an investigation before the alleged plot was reported by Australia’s “60 Minutes” programme and affiliated newspapers on Sunday.

The reports said a suspected Chinese espionage ring had offered “a seven figure sum” to pay for a Melbourne luxury car dealer, Bo “Nick” Zhao, to run for a seat in Australia’s federal parliament.

“The reporting on Nine’s ‘60 Minutes’ contains allegations that ASIO takes seriously,” ASIO Director-General of Security Mike Burgess said in the statement on Sunday.

“Australians can be reassured that ASIO was previously aware of matters that have been reported today, and has been actively investigating them.”

Officials at China’s embassy in Canberra were not immediately available for comment.

“I find the allegations deeply disturbing and troubling,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra, adding the government had beefed up Australia’s laws and security agencies to counter foreign interference.

“Australia is not naive to the threats that it faces more broadly,” he added, without commenting on the specific allegations.

Resource-rich Australia’s ties with its most important trading partner China have deteriorated in recent years, amid accusations that Beijing is meddling in domestic affairs.

The government has set up a counter-foreign interference coordinator and given the intelligence and security agencies additional resources to protect Australians and the nation’s institutions, a government spokesman said.

Car dealer Zhao told ASIO about the alleged approach from another Melbourne businessman about a year ago, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said in the joint report with “60 Minutes” and The Age newspaper, citing Zhao’s associates and Western security sources.

Zhao was found dead in March in a Melbourne motel room and police have been unable to conclude how he died, the newspaper said.

ASIO’s Burgess said he would not comment further and the death was subject to a coronial inquiry.

“Hostile foreign intelligence activity continues to pose a real threat to our nation and its security. ASIO will continue to confront and counter foreign interference and espionage in Australia,” he said.

The latest allegations came a day after media reported that a Chinese defector, who said he was an intelligence operative, told ASIO how China had funded and conducted political interference in Taiwan, Australia and Hong Kong.

The man, Wang Liqiang, is seeking asylum in Australia with his wife and young son.

Morrison said his asylum claim would be assessed on its merits, based on any “reasonable fear of persecution in their home country”.

Responding to the media reports, Chinese police said the “so-called China spy” was a 26-year-old convicted fraudster from the eastern province of Fujian.

Wang’s account sparked an angry reaction in the influential state-owned tabloid Global Times on Monday, which said: “Chinese people would intuitively know that Wang sounds like an opportunistic liar, probably a swindler.”

The newspaper said someone of Wang’s age would have been “in a training or intern programme” if they were in the national security department. It added that it was very rare for a person in China’s national security establishment to have a child at such a young age.

“If Australia’s intelligence agency really believed Wang, it would have taken secret counter-espionage actions instead of letting the media expose it,” the Global Times said.

ASIO has not commented on any counter-espionage actions it may have taken in response to Wang’s claims.

Pope Francis Condemns Unspeakable Horror Of Nuclear Weapons

NAGASAKI, Nov 24: Pope Francis railed against the use of nuclear weapons and the growing arms trade on Sunday as he paid tribute to the "unspeakable horror" suffered by victims of the Nagasaki atomic bomb.

In a highly symbolic visit to the Japanese city devastated by the nuclear attack in August 1945, Francis said nuclear weapons were "not the answer" to a desire for security, peace and stability.

"Indeed they seem always to thwart it," he said.

At least 74,000 people died from the atomic bomb unleashed on the city in western Japan -- just three days after the world's first nuclear attack hit Hiroshima and killed at least 140,000.

"This place makes us deeply aware of the pain and horror that we human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another," said the sombre pontiff on the first full day of his Japan trip.

Hundreds of people in white waterproofs sat in torrential rain to hear the pope's speech, next to the emblematic photo of a young boy carrying his dead baby brother on his back in the aftermath of the attack.

He laid a wreath of white flowers and prayed silently in the rain.

Francis took aim at what he called the "perverse dichotomy" of nuclear deterrence, saying that peace is incompatible with the "fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation."

This marked a break with past pontiffs -- in a 1982 UN speech, pope John Paul II had described nuclear deterrence as a necessary evil.

The 82-year-old Francis also hit out at the "money that is squandered and the fortune made" in the arms trade, describing it as an "affront crying out to Heaven" in a world where "millions of children are living in inhumane conditions."

Later Sunday, Francis will visit Hiroshima and meet survivors of the atomic attack, known in Japanese as hibakusha, at the world-famous Peace Memorial in the city synonymous with the horror of nuclear war.

Minoru Moriuchi, an 82-year-old Catholic survivor in Nagasaki, told AFP the pope's visit would make the world "think seriously" about the nuclear issue as he described a "living hell" after the bomb was dropped.

"My father's sister ran away to our house with her two children and I never forgot this sight -- their bodies were reddish-black and completely burnt," Moriuchi said.

"Four other relatives were brought in... but they didn't look like humans."

The Argentine pontiff is fulfilling a long-held ambition to preach in Japan -- a country he wanted to visit as a young missionary.

"Ever since I was young I have felt a fondness and affection for these lands," said Francis when he arrived in Japan.

He landed in Nagasaki in the driving rain, greeted by two women in kimonos who handed him flowers before his motorcade splashed along the tarmac, security guards clutching umbrellas as they jogged alongside.

Like in Thailand, the first leg of his Asian tour, Catholicism is a minority religion in Japan.

Most people follow a mix of Shinto and Buddhism, with only an estimated 440,000 Catholics in the country.

Christians in Japan suffered centuries of repression, being tortured to recant their faith, and Francis has paid tribute to the martyrs who died for their religion.

Alongside its nuclear history, Nagasaki is also a key city in Christian history where the so-called "Hidden Christians" were discovered, who had kept the faith alive in secret for 200 years while Japan was closed to the world.

In a later speech in Nagasaki, he said he as a "young Jesuit from the 'ends of the earth'" had found "powerful inspiration in the story of the early missionaries and the Japanese martyrs."

Francis returns to Tokyo on Sunday night where he will on Monday meet victims of Japan's "triple disaster" -- the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

He is also scheduled to deliver a mass at a Tokyo baseball stadium, meet Japan's new Emperor Naruhito and hold talks with Japanese government officials and local Catholic leaders.

On the first stop of his tour in Thailand, he preached a message of religious tolerance, meeting the country's King Vajiralongkorn and the Buddhist Supreme Patriarch, who leads Thailand's Buddhists.

Mahinda Rajapaksa sworn in as Sri Lanka’s new PM

COLOMBO, Nov 21: Sri Lanka’s newly elected President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday sworn in as prime minister his brother and the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, capping a victorious return to power of the brothers credited with a military victory over Tamil rebels but also implicated in human rights violations.

Ranil Wickremesinghe stepped down as prime minister earlier Thursday to clear the way for the president to form his government. Wickremesinghe said in a statement that he was quitting despite having a parliamentary majority, respecting the mandate Gotabaya Rajapaksa received in last Saturday’s presidential election.

A refusal to resign could have resulted in a stalemate because the president can’t sack the prime minister or appoint ministers without his advice.

Mahinda Rajapaksa is widely applauded with ending a 26-year separatist civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels during his presidency from 2005 to 2015. His brother the current president then served as a powerful secretary to the Ministry of Defense.

In a boost to his grip on power, a court Thursday discharged President Rajapaksa in a corruption case, citing constitutional provisions for presidential immunity. The decision was made on the advice of the attorney general, said spokeswoman Nishara Jayaratne.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been charged with misappropriating $191,000 in state funds to build a monument for his parents.

He was also implicated in several investigations including the abduction and killing of critical journalists during the civil war. Jayaratne said that according to the constitution, no legal case, civil or criminal, can be filed against the president.

A U.S court last month dismissed a case filed by the daughter of a leading journalist killed in 2009 that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was behind her father’s death. The court said Gotabaya Rajapaksa was entitled to common law foreign official immunity.

The Rajapaksa brothers are accused of serious human rights violations during the war and Gotabaya Rajapaksa promised during the campaign that he will not honor a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution in which Sri Lanka agreed to investigate allegations against the government and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Netanyahu Indicted On Charges Of Bribery, Fraud, Breach Of Trust

JERUSALEM, Nov 21: Israel's attorney general indicted Benjamin Netanyahu on a range of corruption charges Thursday, the justice ministry announced, potentially spelling an end to the prime minister's decades-long political career.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit "decided to file charges against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for offences of receiving a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust," a ministry statement said.

It said a note of the decision and a copy of the charges had been provided to the premier's lawyers.

Netanyahu, who strongly denies all the charges, becomes the first Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office.

The prime minister has given up trying to form a governing coalition.

Netanyahu is not legally required to resign, only if convicted with all appeals exhausted, but political pressure is likely to be intense.

Netanyahu may now ask the Israeli parliament, or Knesset, to grant him immunity from prosecution.

Rightwinger Netanyahu, who has been in power since 2009, is Israel's longest-serving prime minister and dominates the country's political scene.

The decision comes as Netanayhu, a close ally of US President Donald Trump, is fighting for his political life.

Israeli been without a government for nearly a year, with neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz able to form a coalition government following deadlocked elections in April and September.

Sharp increase in Pakistan’s efforts to illegally get N-tech: Berlin

NEW DELHI, Nov 16: The German government believes there has been a “sharp increase” in Pakistan’s activities in recent years to illegally procure technology used in nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons, according to official documents.

The German government conveyed this information in an official reply earlier this month to a question from several lawmakers of die Linke (Left Party), including Sevim Dagdelen, the deputy leader of the party’s parliamentary group.

The government’s reply dovetails with concerns expressed by Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), the German domestic intelligence service, which said in a 2018 report on proliferation-related matters that there had been a “massive increase” in Pakistan’s attempts to clandestinely procure nuclear goods in Germany and other Western countries.

Dagdelen and four other MPs of the Left Party had sought information from the government on quantitative and qualitative changes since 2010 in efforts by foreign countries to illegally procure goods needed for the research and manufacture of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons and carrier systems from Germany, which is a “worthwhile target area” as it is home to numerous hi-tech companies.

In its reply, the German government said that since 2010, there had been “some quantitative changes” in illegal procurement efforts by states such as Iran, whose activities had witnessed a significant reduction since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) came into force in January 2016.

“By contrast, Pakistan has seen a sharp increase in proliferation-relevant procurement activities in recent years,” the government said in its reply in German, adding “no quantitative change” was seen with regard to North Korea and Syria.

The BfV, in its July 2018 report Proliferation – Wir haben verantwortung (Proliferation – We have a responsibility), had said: “There has been a massive increase in Pakistani procurement attempts both in Germany and in numerous other Western countries. The main focus is on goods that can be used in the field of nuclear technology. Accordingly, intensive efforts are to be expected in the future as well.”

The intelligence agency’s report had also noted that Pakistan hadn’t signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and associated security agreements, and that in addition to a civilian nuclear programme, it also had an “extensive military nuclear and carrier technology programme directed against the ‘arch-enemy’ India”.

Pakistan currently has 130 to 140 nuclear weapons and plans to increase this number to 250 atomic warheads by 2025, the report added.

Dagdelen, also a member of the foreign affairs committee of German Parliament, told the TV programme Tagesschau that Iran is “moving in the right direction” in terms of proliferation activities whereas Pakistan, one of the most important recipients of German armaments among developing countries, was “not a reliable partner”.

She said, “Therefore, the federal government must end arms supplies to Pakistan, especially with regard to the Kashmir conflict.”

In 2016, a report by experts at King’s College of London had said that Pakistan should be kept out of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) because of its use of front companies and other deceptive methods to obtain dual-use goods for its nuclear programme.

The report, prepared by Project Alpha of the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College, said Pakistan’s “deliberate strategy of using deceptive methods to obtain dual-use goods” had undermined its claim to be a responsible actor in the non-proliferation domain.

China Army In Hong Kong For 1st Time Since Pro-Democracy Protests Began

HONG KONG, Nov 16: China on Saturday deployed its troops in Hong Kong for the first time since the unprecedented pro-democracy protests began in the former British colony more than five months ago over a proposed extradition law, with soldiers in plain clothes clearing the roadblocks.

Soldiers from the Hong Kong Garrison of People's Liberation Army (PLA) -- the world's largest military -- have been deployed for the first time in more than five months of civil unrest in Hong Kong, as dozens marched from their Kowloon garrison to help clear roadblocks, Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported.

It was also the first time in over a year that the PLA local garrison has been involved in the public community work.

The soldiers, mostly in green T-shirts and black shorts, and carrying red buckets, ran out of the PLA's Kowloon Tong barracks at about 4 PM to clear obstacles on Renfrew Road, near Baptist University's campus, the report said.

A soldier said their action had nothing to do with the Hong Kong government.

"We initiated this! Stopping violence and ending chaos is our responsibility," he said, quoting a phrase coined by President Xi Jinping.

Firefighters and police officers also joined the soldiers.

Earlier, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the PLA could freely decide on whether to send soldiers to perform volunteer services outside military sites and the local government had no record of how many times this has happened.

In October last year, more than 400 soldiers were sent in batches to Hong Kong's country parks to help remove trees that had been uprooted during Typhoon Mangkhut.

China earlier said under Article 14 of the city's Garrison Law and Basic Law -- the city's mini-constitution, the PLA must not interfere in local affairs but troops can be called out to help with disaster relief if requested by the local government.

Such a request has never been made since the city returned to the Chinese rule 22 years ago.

On Thursday, Xi Jinping broke his silence over Hong Kong's unprecedented pro-democracy protests threatening China's control over the former British colony, saying the most pressing task at present was to bring violence and chaos to an end and restore order.

He made the comments at the 11th BRICS Summit in Brasilia, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Hong Kong is rocked by unprecedented pro-democracy protests for over five months and in the past few weeks they grew violent, bringing the international financial centre virtually to a grinding halt.

The protests which began over a proposed extradition law by the Hong Kong administration sparked fear of extradition of locals to the Chinese mainland for prosecution. It later turned into a major pro-democracy movement with demands to elect their local officials without the Chinese interference.

The protestors, mainly youth, are demanding pro-China Chief Executive Carrie Lam's resignation, inquiry into police brutalities and universal franchise of ''one person one vote'' with freedom for all the locals to contest elections for the local legislature.

Xi Jinping said the continuous radical violent activities in Hong Kong seriously trampled the rule of law and the social order, seriously disturb Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, and seriously challenge the ''one country, two systems'' bottom line, the Xinhua report said.

"We will continue to firmly support the chief executive in leading the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to govern in accordance with the law, firmly support the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law, and firmly support the Hong Kong judicial bodies in severely punishing the violent criminals in accordance with the law," the Chinese President said.

The Chinese government has unswerving determination to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests, implement ''one country, two systems'' policy and oppose any external force in interfering in Hong Kong's affairs, Xi Jinping said.

This is the first time Xi Jinping, regarded as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, spoke directly about the situation in Hong Kong, the former British colony handed over to Beijing in 1997.

Xi Jinping currently heads the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), the military besides the Presidency with prospects of a lifelong tenure in power.

Last month during his visit to Nepal, Mr Xi was quoted as saying that any attempts to drive a wedge between China and its territories will "end in crushed bodies and shattered bones".

He, however, did not name any particular province or region.

Nepal borders Tibet from where many Tibetans crossover to Dharamsala to visit the Dalai Lama.

"And any external forces backing such attempts dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming!" Xi Jinping added.

2017 N Korean nuke test equal to '17 Hiroshimas': ISRO study

NEW DELHI, Nov 15: The 2017 nuclear test by North Korea shifted the ground by a few metres, and was 17 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on the Japanese city of Hiroshima in 1945, according to scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

Researchers led by KM Sreejith of the Space Applications Centre, ISRO in Ahmedabad, Gujarat noted that North Korea withdrew from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 2003.

It subsequently developed nuclear weapons, with five underground nuclear tests culminating in a suspected thermonuclear explosion -- a hydrogen bomb -- on September 3, 2017.

The scientists, including Ritesh Agrawal and AS Rajawat from Geosciences Division, Space Applications Centre, ISRO, used satellite data to augment measurements of tests on the ground.

In the study, published in the journal Geophysical Journal International, the researchers noted that conventional detection of nuclear tests relies on seismic measurements using the networks deployed to monitor earthquakes.

However, there are no openly available seismic data from stations near this particular test site, meaning that there are big uncertainties in pinpointing the location and size of nuclear explosions taking place there.

In the latest study, Sreejith and his team turned to space for a solution.

Using data from the Japanese ALOS-2 satellite and a technique called InSAR, the scientists measured the changes on the surface above the test chamber resulting from the September 2017 explosion, sited at Mount Mantap in the northeast of North Korea.

InSAR uses multiple radar images to create maps of deformation over time, and allows direct study of the sub-surface processes from space.

The new data suggests that the explosion was powerful enough to shift the surface of the mountain above the detonation point by a few metres, and the flank of the peak moved by up to half a metre, the researchers said.

Analysing the InSAR readings in detail reveals that the explosion took place about 540 metres below the summit, about 2.5 kilometres north of the entrance of the tunnel used to access the test chamber, they said.

After refusing to join China-led trade deal, India supports talks with EU

NEW DELHI, Nov 5: India should hold talks with the European Union for a free trade agreement, the government said on Tuesday, a day after it refused to join a China-backed regional trade pact for fear of a flood of cheap Chinese imports.

Trade Minister Piyush Goyal said sectors such as gems, textiles and agriculture have pushed for a trade pact with the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also called for talks to restart to finalise an agreement.

“We should engage in a FTA with the EU,” Goyal told a news conference where he explained the reasons for not joining the Regional Cooperative Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that 15 nations concluded on Monday.

Goyal said India had put forward “strong demands” on services, investments leading to the prolonged negotiations for the RCEP, which includes the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, besides China.

North Korea says US terrorism blacklist hinders nuke diplomacy

SEOUL, Nov 5: North Korea says the US redesignation of Pyongyang as a sponsor of terrorism is dimming prospects for nuclear diplomacy between the countries.

The North’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday the State Department’s terrorism blacklist report released last week proves again the United States maintains a “hostile policy” and “inveterate repugnancy” toward North Korea.

It says “the channel of the dialogue between (North Korea) and the US is more and more narrowing” due to such a US attitude.

The North’s statement comes as North Korea is escalating its pressures on the United States over a stalemate in nuclear negotiations.

North Korea has demanded the United States work out mutually acceptable proposals to salvage the nuclear diplomacy by year’s end.

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