版权所有 - 中国日报�(ChinaDaily) China Daily <![CDATA[Sherpas in the lead at world's highest peaks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533077.htm KATHMANDU, Nepal-Once relegated to support staff, Nepalese climbers famous for their skills on the world's highest peaks are emerging out of the shadows of their Western peers.

They now dominate the lucrative industry in the Himalayan nation. Sherpa-owned companies have lowered the cost of expeditions, leading to record numbers on the peaks but also a higher death toll.

Eleven people died in 2019, the largest toll in four years, some of whom suffered cardiac arrest while waiting to make the final summit to Mount Qomolangma, also known in the West as Mount Everest. There were 1,136 Qomolangma climbers in Nepal last year, about 40 percent more than in 2013.

Since climbers began attempting to reach the top of Qomolangma a century ago, the industry has been controlled by Western companies relying upon Sherpas as guides and porters.

Mountaineering expert Ang Tshering's great-grandfather was among the workers who were part of the 1924 George Mallory and Andrew Irvine team that attempted to scale Qomolangma from the Tibetan side.

In recent years, however, the tide has changed: Sherpa guides are now more educated, and have traveled farther than their predecessors, picking up business acumen and corporate endorsements. As a result, there are more Nepal-based companies globally, not just in Nepal, but also in China, India and Pakistan, which collectively boast the world's 14 highest peaks.

"Nepalese are leading in the mountaineering and adventure tourism in the region now," Tshering said. "Nepalese operators have made a leap in mountaineering sector because they are less expensive, more experienced, have collected equipment and gear over the years they can use and have to pay less for a climbing permit."

Local guides must pay $650 for a climbing permit, compared to $11,000 for foreigners, said Surendra Thapa, an official at the Nepalese Department of Tourism.

There are now 47 Nepalese companies that handle expeditions to the world's highest peaks compared to about a dozen foreign companies, according to Krishna Aryal of the Expedition Operators Association of Nepal.

"Western climber guides and operators are no competition for the Nepalese," said Apa Sherpa, who climbed Qomolangma 21 times before retiring. "They used to serve the foreigners but now are mostly working for themselves."

Nepalis' rise to the top of the mountaineering industry has spread the wealth more broadly among native communities.

Hotels and restaurants

The trekking paths to Qomolangma and other peaks are lined with hotels and restaurants and shops owned by the Sherpas. For the first time, most children in the region have been educated in schools and families have permanent houses. Some of them have begun to expand their investments to hotels, trade and even developing hydropower projects, Aryal said.

With the number of Nepalese operators increasing and the price dropping, there has been an increase in number of climbers.

Kathmandu-based Seven Summit Treks, which has been in operation since 2010, had the highest number of clients last year.

Owner Mingma Sherpa said his company offers the lowest rate for those attempting to scale the mountain, starting at $30,000.Western companies are known to charge twice that.

"I charge very little because I know how it feels to have a dream and not be able to achieve it, so I decided that I will help people achieve their dream of climbing the highest mountain," Sherpa said, adding that his clients receive the same services like food, guide support, transportation and lodging as clients of Western operators.

The dramatic difference in price, he says, is owing to the fact that Sherpas are happy with thinner profit margins.

"Now people who do not have too much money are also able to achieve their dream of climbing Everest or any tall peaks," he said. He said Nepali operators don't skimp on safety-climbers use the same rope fixed by their Sherpas to reach the top, the same aluminum ladder paths Sherpas set up to cross Qomolangma's infamous icy crevasse as well as camps on the same sites as everyone else.

John All is a professor of environmental science at Western Washington University who visited Qomolangma on a research expedition in 2019.

"Adding a Western operator just adds someone to the top of that structure that needs to be paid. The Western operators are best for rich people who are uncertain about their abilities and need someone to baby them a bit. More experienced climbers can use Nepali organizers."

 

Staff members of Asian Trekking, a Nepal-based mountaineering company, participate in a training session on Jan 17 in Kathmandu, Nepal. NIRANJAN SHRESTHA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533138.htm IRAQ

3 dead, dozens wounded in protests

Iraqi security forces clashed with anti-government protesters on Sunday night and Monday morning in Baghdad, killing three and wounding dozens of demonstrators, officials said. Separately, three Katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, the seat of Iraq's government and home to several foreign embassies, but caused no injuries or damage, two security officials said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The heavily fortified Green Zone has been frequently targeted by insurgents' mortar and rocket attacks. The roughly 10 square kilometer zone is located on the west bank of the Tigris River, which bisects the Iraqi capital. The clashes prompted authorities to close key streets and thoroughfares leading to the Iraqi capital's center.

SOUTH KOREA

Anti-piracy mission to be expanded

South Korea's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the military will expand the operational area of an anti-piracy naval unit, deployed in the Gulf of Aden, to the Persian Gulf including the Strait of Hormuz. The ministry said in a statement that in consideration of the current situation in the Middle East, the government decided to "temporarily" broaden the Cheonghae Unit's operational area in order to guarantee the safety of South Korean people and the freedom of navigation of South Korean ships. The operational area of the unit, which has been on an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden since 2009, will be expanded to the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. With the broadened operational area, the route that the unit patrols will be lengthened from the current 1,130 kilometers to about 4,000 km, according to the ministry. The unit will conduct independent operations, not joining a US-led coalition.

CANADA

Prince Harry rejoins wife for non-royal life

Britain's Prince Harry has arrived in Canada to begin a new life with his wife Meghan and son Archie after sparking a crisis in the Windsor family by unexpectedly announcing earlier this month that they would be stepping down from royal duties. Harry was shown arriving on Vancouver Island by Sky News, just days after striking a deal with Queen Elizabeth II and senior royals that will see him and his wife Meghan exit official roles to seek an independent future. Buckingham Palace and the queen said on Saturday that Harry and Meghan would no longer be working members of Britain's monarchy, no longer use their "Royal Highness" titles and would now pay their own way in life, freeing them to forge new careers in Canada and the United States.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK to stay as Europe's banking hub after Brexit]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533134.htm More than 1,000 financial services companies in the European Union plan to open offices in the United Kingdom after Brexit in a sign Britain will remain Europe's banking hub after the nation's withdrawal from the bloc.

Banks, asset managers, payments companies and insurers in the EU are among those that have already made applications so they can continue serving UK clients, the regulatory consultancy Bovill said on Monday.

Reuters reports that the new offices would help companies counter the loss of business as unrestricted two-way access between the UK and the EU comes to an end in December following a Brexit transition period.

By October, 1,441 EU-based companies had applied to the Financial Conduct Authority for temporary permissions to operate in the UK after Brexit, according to figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request from the consultancy.

Of that number, 1,000 appeared to be seeking permission to set up an office in the UK for the first time, according to the data.

"These figures clearly show that many firms see the UK as Europe's premier financial services hub," said Michael Johnson, a consultant at Bovill.

Boost for London

The findings are a boost for London's prospects, Johnson, added. "The high proportion of firms without an existing UK branch that have applied for the temporary permission suggests there will be some movement of staff from these EU 27 firms into the UK.

"Although much attention has been given to the number of UK firms moving staff and operations into Europe, there is also likely to be movement in the opposite direction.

"The results of the FOI (Freedom of Information) may have been anticipated by those in the industry, many of whom have recognized for some time that London remains Europe's only truly global financial center, and firms on the continent with global aspirations will need to continue to do business here."

Most applications came from Irish financial companies, with 228.In second place was France, with 170 submissions, Cyprus was third, with 165, and Germany was fourth, with 149 submissions.

But Bovill said: "In practical terms, these figures mean that European firms will be buying office space, hiring staff and engaging legal and professional advisers in the UK. This augurs well for the UK economy, as the country will retain its reputation as a prime location for financial services in Europe."

The full extent of the UK and EU's access to each other's markets after the end of the transition period in December is subject to ongoing negotiations, but the resulting agreement is unlikely to cover the full range of financial services.

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Iran confirms missiles fired at airliner]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533132.htm TEHERAN-Iran's civil aviation authority confirmed two missiles were fired at a Ukrainian airliner that was brought down this month, in a preliminary report posted on its website late on Monday.

"Investigators ... discovered that two Tor-M1 missiles ... were fired at the aircraft," it said, adding an investigation was ongoing to assess the bearing their impact had on the accident.

The statement confirms a report in The New York Times that included video footage appearing to show two projectiles being fired at the aircraft.

The Tor-M1 is a short-range surface-to-air missile developed by the former Soviet Union that is designed to target aircraft or cruise missiles.

The Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down in a catastrophic error shortly after takeoff from Teheran on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board.

Three days later, Iran's armed forces confirmed that the airliner was shot down "unintentionally" by the military, as the plane "was mistaken for a hostile target" near an Iranian "sensitive military site of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps".

The incident occurred amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States. Hours before the crash, Iran launched missile attacks on two Iraqi bases hosting US troops, in retaliation for the US killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.

The Revolutionary Guard's aerospace commander Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility, but said the missile operator who opened fire had been acting independently.

Kiev on Monday urged Teheran to return the black boxes-containing the flight data recordersfrom the passenger plane.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said returning the black boxes would show that Iran was committed to an unbiased investigation of the tragedy.

Prystaiko was speaking as an Iranian delegation led by Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami was visiting Kiev to discuss the incident.

"His main task is to apologize and acknowledge what happened. We hope that we can go a little further than just political discussions and discuss practical problems. Among them, in particular, is the return of the black boxes," Prystaiko said.

Iran said on Sunday it was trying to analyze the black boxes, denying an earlier report it would hand them to Ukraine.

The office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Iranian experts were expected to assess Ukraine's technical ability to decode the black boxes. A statement said the wreckage of the aircraft was to be returned to Ukraine.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Europe's guardian of stem cells and hopes-real and unrealistic]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533120.htm WARSAW, Poland-Poland has emerged as Europe's leader in stem cell storage, a billion-dollar global industry that is a key part of a therapy that can treat leukemias-or overly raise hopes, as some critics say.

Submerged in liquid nitrogen vapor at a temperature of -175 C, hundreds of thousands of stem cells from all over Europe bide their time in large steel barrels on the outskirts of Warsaw.

Present in blood drawn from the umbilical cord of a newborn, stem cells can help cure serious blood-related illnesses like leukemias and lymphomas, as well as genetic conditions and immune system deficits.

Polish umbilical cord blood bank PBKM/FamiCord became the industry's leader in Europe after Swiss firm Cryo-Save went bankrupt early last year.

It is also the fifth largest in the world, according to its management, after two companies in the United States, a Chinese firm and one based in Singapore.

Since the first cord blood transplant was performed in France in 1988, the sector has significantly progressed, fueling hopes.

Mother-of-two Teresa Przeborowska has firsthand experience. At five years old, her son Michal was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia and needed a bone-marrow transplant, the entrepreneur from northern Poland said.

The most compatible donor was his younger sister Magdalena. When she was born, her parents had a bag of her cord blood stored at PBKM.

More than three years later, doctors injected Magdalena's stem cells into Michal's bloodstream. As a result, Michal, who is nine, "is now flourishing, both intellectually and physically", his mother said.

A cord blood transplant has become an alternative to a bone-marrow transplant when there is no donor available, with a lower risk of complications.

At the PBKM laboratory, "each container holds up to 10,000 blood bags... safe and secure, they wait to be used in the future", its head, Krzysztof Machaj, said.

The bank holds around 440,000 samples, not including those from Cryo-Save, he said.

If the need arises, the "blood will be ready to use without the whole process of looking for a compatible donor and running blood tests," the biologist said.

Families can pay an initial nearly 600 euros ($675) and then an annual 120 euros to have the blood taken from their newborns' umbilical cords preserved for around 20 years.

But researchers also warn against unrealistic expectations.

Hematologist Wieslaw Jedrzejczak, a bone marrow pioneer in Poland, describes promoters of the treatment as "sellers of hope". He compares them to makers of beauty products who "swear their cream will rejuvenate the client by 20 years".

Research is being done on the possibility of using the stem cells to treat other diseases, notably nervous disorders. But the EuroStem-Cell scientist network warns that the research is not yet conclusive.

US hematologist Roger Mrowiec, who heads the clinical laboratory of the cord blood program Vitalant in New Jersey, said: "It's not true, as it's written sometimes, that we can already use them to fight Parkinson's disease or Alzheimer's disease or diabetes."

 

Biologist Krzysztof Machaj shows stem cell samples, stored in large liquid nitrogen freezers, on Nov 26 in Warsaw, Poland. WOJTEK RADWANSKI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Putin submits reform blueprint to lawmakers]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533094.htm Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday submitted to the country's lower house of Parliament a bill that would enable amendments to the Constitution, but lawmakers stressed that the proposed changes would come into effect only after approval is gained from citizens in a national vote.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed that the chamber, known as the State Duma, had received by the bill.

One of the proposed constitutional amendments would see the State Council given official status in the charter, and set out the responsibilities of the president in relation to the body.

"In order to ensure effective coordination and cooperation between Russia's state bodies, and to outline the key principles of foreign and domestic policies and the priorities of the country's social and economic development, the Russian president is supposed to form the State Council of the Russian Federation," says an explanatory note published on the State Duma's website.

State news agency Tass reported that Putin had suggested strengthening the role of the State Council and the regional governors.

Putin had said in his annual state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly last Wednesday that the State Council-an advisory body comprising the regional governors and top federal officials that was revived in 2000-has proved its efficiency.

He said that "its working groups provide expert, comprehensive and quality analysis of issues that are pressing" for the country and its people.

Putin added: "It is reasonable to enshrine the role and status of the State Council in the Russian Constitution."

Public vote

Andrey Klishas, head of the Russian Federation Council's Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building, will represent the president during the legislative hearings on the bill, as a co-chairman of the constitutional commission. He said the working group will soon discuss the voting procedures and organizing principles.

Klishas said the public vote envisaged by the draft law enabling the constitutional amendments will be held after the legislation is approved by the Parliament. The national vote will be held on the law as a whole, not on its separate articles, he said.

Procedures for the vote would be guided by the principle of transparency, ensuring the people's trust in the result, Klishas said.

Pavel Krasheninnikov, the head of the State Duma Statehood and Constitutional Legislation Committee, will also co-chair the constitution commission working group. He stressed the requirement of public endorsement for the proposed changes in the national vote.

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Malaysia says won't be 'garbage dump' as it returns waste to 13 countries]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533108.htm Malaysia's Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin said on Monday that her country will not serve as the "rubbish dump of the world" and confirmed that customs officials had returned 150 shipping containers of scrap plastic to 13 countries.

The majority of the almost 4,000 tons of waste was repatriated to Europe, with France, the United Kingdom and Spain receiving 43,42, and 10 containers, respectively. Seventeen containers were returned to the United States, 11 to Canada and five to Japan.

Yeo said an additional 110 containers will be sent back to various nations in the first half of this year.

"Our position is very firm. We just want to send it back. We want to communicate the message that Malaysia is not the dumping site of the world," she said during a news conference in Penang Port in northern Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities notified the UK in November that the containers would be sent back. On Monday, the UK Environment Agency, or EA, confirmed that some of the containers had already been returned.

"We continue to work with the shipping lines and Malaysian authorities to ensure all waste is brought back as soon as possible," an EA spokesman said while adding that the UK government is "working hard to stop illegal waste exports from leaving our shores in the first place".

Last week, the EA announced it had established the Joint Unit for Waste Crime, which is a new task force dedicated to tackling organized waste crime, including the dumping of hazardous materials and the false labeling of waste so it can be exported abroad.

Malaysia has been inundated with foreign scrap shipments ever since China banned certain waste imports in 2018.

Before the ban, China received nearly 45 percent of the world's plastic waste. Exporters are now straining the processing abilities of other Asian nations by sending them waste that previously would have gone to China.

Largest new market

In 2018, Malaysia became the largest new market for foreign plastic waste. From January to July that year, the country received 456,000 tons of plastic waste from overseas, compared with 316,600 tons for all of 2017. Around half of those shipments came from the UK and the US, which both doubled plastic waste exports to Malaysia during that period.

The government responded by halting waste imports in October 2018, though authorities say waste continues to arrive in the country illegally.

Last summer, Malaysia sent back 60 containers bearing 3,000 metric tons of garbage to eight nations, including the UK.

Back then, Yeo said the China ban had "opened up the eyes of the world to see that we have a huge garbage and recycling problem" and she urged developed nations to reevaluate their waste disposal methods.

"Developed countries like UK always prioritize recycling and its people follow suit, but they do not realize these wastes are dumped in our country," she said.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines have also returned containers to waste exporters during the past year.

 

Malaysian Environment Minister Yeo Bee Yin (second from left) inspects a container containing plastic waste on Monday before sending back to the country of origin. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Impeachment trial to begin with rules fight]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533104.htm The Senate trial on the impeachment charges against US President Donald Trump is expected to begin on Tuesday, but the president and his opponents took to Twitter and television on Monday to make their own arguments.

"They didn't want John Bolton and others in the House," Trump tweeted. "They were in too much of a rush. Now they want them all in the Senate. Not supposed to be that way!"

Bolton is Trump's former national security adviser, one of a handful of possible witnesses whom some Senate Democrats want to call during the trial.

"Cryin' Chuck Schumer is now asking for 'fairness', when he and the Democrat House members worked together to make sure I got ZERO fairness in the House. So, what else is new?" Trump tweeted.

Senator Chuck Schumer, leader of the Senate Democrats, tweeted on Monday that "Senator McConnell is trying to stop witnesses and documents from coming to light. Democrats will force a vote on witnesses and documents", in reference to the Republican Senate majority leader.

There are 45 Democratic senators and two independents, who Schumer expects would vote with the Democrats.

If four of the 53 Senate Republicans left their party ranks and joined the other 47 senators, that would provide the simple majority needed for a vote on whether witnesses should be heard at the trial.

Separately, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell put forward rules on Monday that could lead to a quick impeachment trial for Trump, with no guarantee that witnesses or new evidence would be allowed.

Under the resolution, which could face a vote as early as Tuesday, lawyers for Trump could move early in the proceedings to ask senators to dismiss all charges, a senior Republican leadership aide said.

The resolution McConnell unveiled would give House Democratic prosecutors and Trump lawyers a total of 48 hours, evenly split, to present their arguments over a maximum of four days.

Also on Monday, Trump's legal team rejected the House of Representatives' impeachment articles and called for their immediate dismissal by the Senate in a memo offering a legal and political case against his removal.

The 116-page Trial Memorandum sought to undercut charges that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress. The document was Trump's first formal, comprehensive defense against impeachment.

Trump is charged with abusing the powers of his office by asking Ukraine to investigate a 2020 Democratic political rival, former US vice-president Joe Biden, and obstructing a congressional inquiry into his own conduct.

Military assistance

Democrats say Trump abused his power by withholding congressionally approved US military assistance to Ukraine as part of a pressure campaign on the country, and obstructed Congress by refusing to hand over documents and by barring administration officials from testifying when they were subpoenaed by House investigators.

Trump's defense argued neither charge constituted a crime nor an impeachable offense, that he was within his rights as president to make decisions about foreign policy and what information to give Congress, and that the House pursued a flawed and one-sided process before impeaching him on Dec 18.

"House Democrats settled on two flimsy Articles of Impeachment that allege no crime or violation of law whatsoever-much less 'high crimes and misdemeanors', as required by the Constitution," it said. "They do not remotely approach the constitutional threshold for removing a president from office."

The memo's executive summary asserted that the House Democrats' "novel theory of 'abuse of power'" was not an impeachable offense and supplanted the constitutional standard of "Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors".

It rejected the obstruction of Congress charge as "frivolous and dangerous", saying Trump exercised his legal rights by resisting congressional subpoenas.

It also accused the House Democrats of conducting a rigged process, and that they succeeded in proving only that Trump had done nothing wrong. The memo argued, as the White House has repeatedly, that this was an effort to overturn Trump's 2016 election victory and to prevent his reelection in November.

"They want to use impeachment to interfere in the 2020 election. It is no accident that the Senate is being asked to consider a presidential impeachment during an election year," the memo said.

"Put simply, Democrats have no response to the president's record of achievement in restoring prosperity to the American economy, rebuilding America's military, and confronting America's adversaries abroad," it added.

In their own filing with the US Senate on Monday, the House impeachment managers who will make the Democrats case for Trump's removal to the Senate said he had "jeopardized our national security and our democratic self-governance".

But Trump's team said he was within his constitutional authority to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year to investigate Biden as part of what Trump said was an anti-corruption drive.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK wants post-Brexit trade with Africa to grow amid challenges]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533103.htm With the United Kingdom's tenure as a member of the European Union coming to an end this month and the country in need of new trading partners, Britain's prime minister called this week for deeper ties with Africa.

Boris Johnson made the pitch in London on Monday, during the UK-Africa Investment Summit, as the clock ticked down to the UK's Jan 31 departure from the world's largest trading bloc.

Johnson said he wants the UK to be Africa's "investment partner of choice".

He also announced that the UK will no longer invest in overseas coal mining or coal-fired power plants because, he says, it would be wrong to cut carbon emissions at home while contributing to them abroad.

Reuters reported that the UK instead plans to help nations use oil and gas in clean ways, and encourage more solar, wind, and hydro power production.

Meanwhile, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle said the UK likely will not be able to ramp up its presence on the continent in a way that will match the economic presence of major players such as Russia and China.

And the UK's department for international trade says imports and exports involving the UK and African nations in the year ending in the second quarter of 2019 totaled $46 billion, a number that was dwarfed by China's $208 billion.

But with the continent seeing significant economic growth, it is clear that there is plenty of potential for all.

The United Nations predicts GDP growth on the continent will be 3.2 percent in 2020 and 3.5 percent in 2021, and that 25 African nations will have growth in excess of 5 percent. All other regions of the world have experienced slowing or stalled growth in recent years.

'Huge' potential

Separately, the UK's international development secretary, Alok Sharma, said in a statement ahead of the conference that Africa's economic potential "is huge" and noted that the continent has eight of the world's 15 fastest-growing economies and a population that will double, to more than 2 billion by 2050.

"We have much to offer African nations," Sharma said. "UK aid is tackling climate change and supporting women entrepreneurs, our tech and digital expertise is helping Africa grow new industries, and the City of London is channeling billions of private investment into Africa, boosting jobs and growth."

The conference attracted delegations from 21 African countries, and leaders including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari and Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.

Johnson told them Brexit offers the UK a chance to have a "new start" in its trading relationship with other nations. And it was a message that echoed one carried by former UK prime minister Theresa May when she visited Africa in 2018.

 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (middle) gets animated at a stand run by Pavegen, a company that converts footsteps into energy, during the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London on Monday. LEON NEAL/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[France, US declare truce in digital tax dispute]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533102.htm PARIS-French President Emmanuel Macron and his US counterpart Donald Trump have agreed to extend negotiations on a dispute over a French tax on digital giants to the end of the year, postponing Washington's threat of sanctions against Paris, a French diplomatic source said on Monday.

The source said the French and US leaders, who spoke on Sunday, had agreed to give negotiations a chance to "find a solution in an international framework" and avoid "a trade war that will benefit no one".

Macron tweeted earlier on Monday that he had a "great discussion "with Trump on the issue. "We will work together on a good agreement to avoid tariff escalation," he said.

"Excellent!" replied Trump on Twitter.

The White House said the two leaders spoke and "agreed it is important to complete successful negotiations on the digital services tax, and they also discussed other bilateral issues".

The dispute began last year when Paris approved a levy on up to 3 percent of revenues earned by technology companies in France, as international efforts dragged on to find a new model for taxing revenues earned via online sales and advertising.

Tech companies often pay little tax in countries in which they are not physically present.

Washington said the tax singled out US companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix, and threatened duties of up to 100 percent of the value of French imports of such emblematic goods as Champagne and Camembert cheese.

On Jan 7, the two sides gave themselves 15 days to reach a deal to avert the US threat of duties on up to $2.4 billion of French goods.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who has been conducting intensive negotiations for several weeks, was less sanguine than Macron, describing the talks as "very difficult" earlier on Monday.

Avoiding sanctions that could be announced as soon as Wednesday is "far from assured", he told French television LCI.

Le Maire is due to meet US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

They are expected to continue talks seeking a negotiated agreement in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

French authorities have repeatedly said any international agreement on digital taxation reached within the OECD would immediately supersede the French tax.

After blocking the OECD talks for several years, Washington relaunched them last year only to make proposals in December which France rejected.

Agencies Via Xinhua

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Australia's 'new normal' barrels in]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533097.htm First came the drought, then the bushfires, and now the wild storms and flooding. This is Australia's new normal when it comes to climate.

As bushfires still smoldered in pockets along the eastern seaboard, Monday saw savage storms weave a path of destruction through parts of the states of Victoria and New South Wales, or NSW. Canberra, the national capital, was hammered by a freak hailstorm with hailstones as big as golf balls smashing cars, roofs and windows.

In central and western NSW, massive dust storms turned daylight into darkness as they rolled over towns, while in southern Queensland residents were told to prepare for further flooding after days of torrential rain.

Downpours have provided relief for parts of drought-stricken NSW, and helped firefighters slow the spread of bushfires and build containment lines ahead of an increased fire danger as temperatures begin to climb again.

Despite the rain, the drought-which has ravaged large parts of eastern Australia-will need a prolonged period of wet weather before it is broken.

But more rain brings another problem-the pollution of waterways that feed into river systems and catchment areas for cities and towns.

Stuart Khan, professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of New South Wales, said many of the bushfires have directly affected important drinking water catchments.

"In particular, fires have severely and extensively burned major drinking water catchments for Sydney and the Shoalhaven region in NSW.

"While rainfall is desperately needed to help extinguish fires and alleviate the drought, contaminated runoff to waterways will present a new wave of challenges regarding risks to drinking water quality, he told China Daily.

Bushfire ash is largely composed or organic carbon, which will bio-degrade in waterways, potentially leading to reduced oxygen concentrations and poor water quality, according to scientists.

Growth of algae

Ash also contains concentrated nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorous, which may stimulate the growth of algae and cyanobacteria in waterways.

"Following the fires, these drinking water catchments are now in a very unstable condition and highly prone to erosion of topsoil," said Khan.

"All of these impacts will challenge drinking water treatment plants and make it much more difficult to reliably produce high-quality drinking water.

"While major impacts are unlikely to be encountered before a substantial rainfall event, some will be long term, with observably poorer raw water quality likely to persist for years."

David Blake, at the Center for Ecosystem Management at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, said the protection of water supplies "need to be a vital part of emergency fire response".

"Wild and prescribed fires can significantly impact aquatic systems and wetland sediments," he told China Daily.

Andrew Butt, an associate professor of sustainability and urban planning at RMIT University's Center for Urban Research in Melbourne, said another consideration is when communities are rebuilt and "how we plan them in fire risk areas."

"Increased fire risk, and increasing populations, make this connection more significant and urgent," he said.

"This risk is significant for rural communities, but also in rapidly growing urban fringe areas, periurban communities and coastal towns."

Ravi Naidu, CEO and managing director of the Cooperative Research Center for Contamination Assessment and Remediation of the Environment and director of the Global Center for Environmental Remediation at the University of Newcastle, said the recent bushfires seen in Australia, Brazil and the United States raise yet another issue.

"Such fires are themselves major sources of contamination. The burning process itself affects air, soil and water quality; firefighting foams contain potentially toxic chemicals such as PFAS (per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances), and when buildings and infrastructure burn down, they release pollutants into the environment," Naidu said.

"The debris left behind after a major fire-including animal carcasses and twisted metal-is also a potential environmental hazard. Climate change will make such fires more frequent and intense."

The warmer soil and extended drought associated with climate change also has consequences beyond increased fire activity.

Scientists say climate change is increasing soil erosion, intensifying storms and, in some areas, delivering more extreme rainfall and flooding.

"These phenomena could increase our exposure to soil contaminants-including heavy metals and metalloids such as mercury, arsenic and lead, as well as PFAS-contained in airborne soil and dust, carried via floods or released from melting ice," Naidu said.

 

A dust storm approaches a farm, northwest of Dubbo, New South Wales, Australia, on Sunday. JASON HERBIG/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK police calls climate group 'extremist']]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/22/content_37533114.htm Environmental protest group Extinction Rebellion has been named alongside far-right and extremist organizations in a document of "key threats" compiled by the City of London Police in relation to its counterterrorism activities.

Over the last couple of years the group, also known as XR, has made headlines worldwide with its high-profile climate change demonstrations which have caused disruption to major cities and business districts.

One of its most recent public actions was in London last week where XR supporters set up a fake crime scene outside the offices of Siemens, protesting against the company providing technical support for a new coal mine being built in Australia, as devastating bushfires ravaged the country.

In a report, City police mentioned "the capability and impact the force is having against countering terrorist activity", and went on to say how it was sharing information with "partners and pan-London agencies regarding the key threats, particularly with regard to far-right organizations and Extinction Rebellion".

Specialist instruction was being given to local organizations by trained security staff, the report continued, adding that "the key issues continue to be threats relating to international terrorism and domestic terrorism. In addition, the high-profile actions of Extinction Rebellion, which centered around nonviolent disobedience, results in some disruption in the City, with the potential for the event to be hijacked or infiltrated by more extremist groups."

The inclusion of XR alongside far-right and extremist groups comes after it emerged that a counterterrorism training document being sent to public service bodies in the United Kingdom included a section on threat-linked badges and insignia, one of which was the badge of German second-tier soccer side St Pauli, a club known internationally for its social and political activism.

A spokesperson for the City of London police insisted the police did not bracket XR with terrorist groups, saying: "Ahead of the protests in the summer, our officers, who have regular contact with businesses in the area, spoke to them to ask them to consider the impact of the protests on their business continuity, and to make plans accordingly."

However, Paul Stephens, a former senior police officer who is now a member of XR, remained skeptical. "The categorization of XR with terrorist groups looks more like a strategy to encourage intelligence gathering than an error and is in complete contradiction to the words of counterterrorism policing," he said.

 

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2020-01-22 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Beijing envoy calls for cease-fire in Libya]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533040.htm BERLIN-President Xi Jinping's special envoy Yang Jiechi called on Sunday for an immediate and comprehensive cease-fire in Libya, as world leaders committed to ending all foreign meddling in the country's civil war and to uphold a weapons embargo as part of a broader plan to end the long-running civil conflict.

Yang, also a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the committee, made the appeal at the Berlin Conference on Libya.

Yang said that effort to address the Libyan issue should focus on the fundamental interests of the Libyan people and the future and destiny of the North African country.

All parties concerned should restart dialogue and reconciliation as soon as possible, he added.

Yang also called for resolving differences in a bid to achieve regional peace and stability. The spillover effects of the Libyan civil conflict should also be eliminated through a comprehensive approach that addresses both symptoms and root causes, he said.

China always takes an objective and fair stand on the Libyan issue, abides by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, always respects Libya's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and insists on promoting the political settlement of the Libyan issue under the UN leadership, Yang said.

China is willing to continue to work with the international community to positively contribute to restoring peace, stability and development in Libya, Yang said.

High-level representatives of Algeria, China, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Turkey, the Republic of the Congo, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States attended the conference, together with representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the League of Arab States.

'Serious dialogue'

The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France were among global chiefs signing the agreement on Sunday to stop interfering in the war-be it through weapons, troops or financing.

But the talks failed to deliver "serious dialogue" between the warring parties-Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, or LNA, and Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Tripoli's United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord, or GNA-or to get both sides to sign up to a permanent truce.

Sarraj and Haftar were both in Berlin but refused to meet each other, reflecting the scale of the differences separating both sides in the conflict.

"Ensuring that a cease-fire is immediately respected is simply not easy to guarantee," said conference host German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"But I hope that through today's conference, we have a chance the truce will hold further."

UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world powers had made "a strong commitment to stop" the conflict escalating into a regional confrontation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov pointed to some positive take-aways from the talks, but confirmed that the conference failed to launch necessary talks between Sarraj and Haftar.

"It is clear that we have not yet succeeded in launching a serious and stable dialogue between them," Lavrov told reporters after the conference.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged that there are "still some questions on how well and effectively" the commitments can be monitored.

But he said he is "optimistic that there will be less violence and... an opportunity to begin the conversation that (UN special envoy) Ghassan Salame has been trying to get going between the Libyan parties".

Lavrov said the Libyan parties had nevertheless taken "a small step" forward.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since 2011. Most recently, GNA troops have been under attack since April from the forces of the LNA.

Clashes have killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands in the past nine months. The Berlin conference came after inter-Libyan talks were held in Moscow on Jan 13 under the mediation of Russia and Turkey.

 

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2020-01-21 00:00:00
<![CDATA[New York aims to get ahead of Silicon Valley]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533038.htm New York, the center of finance, fashion, art, advertising and media, now seeks to become the world's leader in technology.

Following the economic downturn in 2007-2008, the city is reinventing its economy and pitching itself as an engaging place to live with unlimited cultural amenities-key elements in attracting and retaining highly educated workers. There are now about 333,000 people employed in New York's tech sector, Forrester Research estimates.

Typical salaries in new, venture capital-backed and established technology companies range from $65,000 to $240,000, tech website Built-in-NYC reported. The median individual income in New York is $50,825, statistics compiled by the US Census Bureau show.

In the third quarter of 2019, New York's total venture capital funding-a measure of a region's economic dynamism-trailed only Silicon Valley-San Francisco, but led Los Angeles, Boston, San Diego and Seattle, PwC MoneyTree reported.

New York also seeks to nourish new companies. Futureworks NYC, part of the city's Industrial Action Plan, will make affordable manufacturing space available at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, formerly a port facility on the waterfront.

To dominate the technology sector, New York must take on California's Silicon Valley, the world's premier region for tech innovation.

Key to development

Two factors and one man were key to its development. After World War II, the region was largely agricultural and land was cheap. Two major universities-Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley-were nearby and provided much of the early brainpower.

Frederick Terman, a professor of engineering at Stanford, encouraged two of his students, William Hewlett and David Packard, to develop new technologies and their company, founded in 1939, became the region's spark. But Fairchild Semiconductor, launched in 1957, is sometimes referred to as the "big bang" of Silicon Valley because it spawned nearly 40 companies, including Intel.

Silicon Valley is home to major companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Cisco, Oracle, Netflix, Adobe, eBay and Intuit. Silicon Valley employs about 371,000 people, but the tech industry has spread throughout the San Francisco Bay Area where a further 385,000 are employed, the Computing Technology Industry Association reported.

This raises a basic question: Can New York, where there are no orchards ripe for development, where everything is expensive and the subway has myriad problems, compete?

The early indications weren't good. New York didn't have a strong engineering base. In the 1950s, IBM and Bell Labs called the region home, but neither produced a slew of startups. But 40 years later, Silicon Alley-the area centered on Manhattan's Flatiron district during the dotcom boomsoon attracted talent and venture capital. However, the dotcom bust brought on by excessive speculation in then-new internet technology temporarily stalled the city's development as a technology hub.

The next blow was the financial crisis of 2007-2008, generally considered the worst worldwide financial downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Wall Street was hit hard and many lost their jobs. But then-mayor Michael Bloomberg had an idea: diversify the city's economy.

Cornell Tech is part of that diversification and a key factor in New York's challenge to Silicon Valley. Founded in 2012 and temporarily housed in Google's Manhattan building, the school has now moved into its permanent campus on Roosevelt Island, formerly known as Welfare Island because of its long-gone hospitals serving the poor.

The engineering school is a joint venture between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. It offers graduate study leading to a doctorate. It now enrolls about 300 students and plans to expand to 2,000 over the next 20 years.

Cities are central to innovation, acting as petri dishes where inventive engineers meet venture capitalists who back their startups and bring new products to market. There are now an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 startups in New York, advocacy group Tech: NYC said.

There's no reason to think future innovation will be limited to New York and Silicon Valley. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, professors Richard Florida and Ian Hathaway noted: "We're used to thinking of high-tech innovation and startups as generated and clustered predominantly in fertile US ecosystems, such as Silicon Valley, Seattle and New York.

"But with so many aspects of American economic ingenuity, high-tech startups have now truly gone global. The past decade or so has seen the dramatic growth of startup ecosystems around the world, from Shanghai and Beijing, to Mumbai and Bangalore, to London, Berlin, Stockholm, Toronto and Tel Aviv."

And they added: "A number of US cities continue to dominate the global landscape, including the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Boston and Los Angeles, but the rest of the world is gaining ground rapidly."

]]> 2020-01-21 00:00:00 <![CDATA[GAC MOTOR plans for further overseas expansion]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533036.htm GAC Group, a leading Chinese automobile company based in Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, will expand its overseas presence by soon introducing more varieties of vehicles to the international market.

The company released the high-end MPV model of GN8 of its self-owned brand, GAC MOTOR on Jan 18. The unveiling took place in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia.

The GN8 release was part of an event held by the Guangzhou government to promote its business and investment environment in the Middle East.

"GAC Group is a leading Chinese automobile manufacturing enterprise in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. Entering the global market is part of our important development strategy," said Zeng Qinghong, chairman of GAC Group.

As of 2019, GAC MOTOR, a subsidiary of GAC Group, had sold its vehicles in 24 countries and regions. The automaker has been present at major international automobile events, including shows in North America, Saint Petersburg and Dubai.

In the Middle East alone, GAC MOTOR has established 14 sales centers in nine countries, which had developed booming demand for high-end vehicles. It has participated in the Dubai International Motor Show since 2015, showcasing the great importance it places on the Middle East market.

GN8, a Chinese home-grown high-end MPV model, has served a number of international events including the Fortune Global Forum in 2017, the World Economic Forum and the CNBC East Tech West 2019. The latter event is an annual invite-only tech retreat held in Guangzhou.

The company said it believes the Chinese luxury GN8 model will meet the growing demand for high-end vehicles in the Middle East.

GN8, which was first released in the Dubai Auto Show last November, has already made a presence in the markets of the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the Philippines. GAC Group, a Fortune Global 500 company, sold 2.06 million units of vehicles in 2019, and has so far invested 27.8 billion yuan ($4.02 billion) in research and development of self-innovated vehicles.

GAC MOTOR has consolidated its dominance in the domestic industry by retaining its position as the highest-ranking Chinese brand in the J.D. Power Asia Pacific's China Initial Quality Study for seven consecutive years.

JD Power, the US-based global marketing information services company, measures top-performing auto brands and products by surveying millions of consumers.

The extensive automotive surveys conducted on customer satisfaction and product quality have made the index one of the most trustworthy measurements across the industry. "We have developed a higher reputation for quality," Zeng said. "Customers in Saudi Arabia are pleased to use our products."

GAC MOTOR will continue to provide high-end products and services to customers in Saudi Arabia, playing an active role in building a business bridge between China and the Middle East country, according to Zeng.

To expand its business into the overseas market, GAC Group has set up a subsidiary focusing on international business within the group.

GAC MOTOR realized overseas sales increase of 98 percent year-on-year in 2019, and will facilitate its domestic and international market presence by launching various new models in 2020, covering the SUV, MPV, sedan and new energy sectors. In the Middle East, GAC MOTOR will introduce more varieties of vehicles in 2020, upgrading its sales and after-sales services, the company said.

The company will also introduce its pure electric vehicle GE3 in Israel in February.

GAC MOTOR will facilitate its presence and strengthen its cooperation with local dealers by setting up a representative office in the Middle East, according to the company.

 

Clockwise from top: GN8, a Chinese home-grown MPV model, is to meet the growing demand for high-end vehicles in the Middle East, according to the company. GAC MOTOR showcases its new star model during the event. Zeng Hebin, general manager of GAC MOTOR International, introduces the GN8 at the launch ceremony of the GN8 in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Photos Provided to China Daily
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2020-01-21 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK warned of price rises after Brexit]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533019.htm British consumers could face post-Brexit price rises after Chancellor Sajid Javid ruled out alignment with European Union regulations once the United Kingdom leaves the EU at the end of January.

There will be an 11-month transition period until the end of the year, during which EU regulations will still apply, as the sides try to agree a trade deal, a target widely regarded as unrealistic.

But Javid told the Financial Times there would be no extension beyond that. "There will not be alignment, we will not be a rule taker, we will not be in the single market and we will not be in the customs union-and we will do this by the end of the year," he said.

"We're... talking about companies that have known since 2016 that we are leaving the EU."

This contrasts with what Javid himself said before the 2016 referendum, when he campaigned for Remain.

In an article still up on his website, titled "The only thing leaving the EU guarantees is a lost decade for British business", he warned: "If we leave ... that will put Britain at a serious disadvantage.

"The remaining EU nations will want to secure a deal that's good for their economies ... and who could blame them? If I was in their shoes, I'd do the same. If Germany left the EU tomorrow, I'd make sure any trade agreement we reached put British businesses first."

Javid's recent remarks are seen as a statement of intent for the negotiation period.

Separately, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had warned: "The more divergence there is, the more distant the (post-Brexit) partnership has to be".

Business leaders reacted less than enthusiastically to his comments.

Claire Walker of the British Chamber of Commerce said the lack of clarity could see production moved away from the UK.

"The government must clearly communicate these changes in a timely way and provide substantial support to help firms adapt," she said. "Otherwise they will struggle to make the most of new opportunities as Britain sets its own trading policies."

The Confederation of British Industry urged the government "not to treat this right as an obligation to diverge", while Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell called it "ideology overriding common sense".

Meanwhile, more positive news has come on the issue of the post-Brexit status of EU citizens in the UK. The application process for settled status runs until June 2021, and there had been fears those who did not complete it would face deportation. But following discussions between EU negotiator Guy Verhofstadt and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, this seems to have been ruled out.

"I wanted to be sure that there would be no automatic deportation for people after that period because it can be (difficult for) people who are very vulnerable," said Verhofstadt.

Sajid Javid

]]> 2020-01-21 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Iran denies plan to send flight recorders to Ukraine]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533054.htm TEHERAN-The Iranian official leading the investigation into the Ukrainian jetliner that was accidentally shot down by the Revolutionary Guard appeared to backtrack on Sunday on plans to send the flight recorders abroad for analysis, a day after saying they would be sent to Kiev.

Hassan Rezaeifar was quoted by the Iranian state-run IRNA news agency as saying that "the flight recorders from the Ukrainian Boeing are in Iranian hands and we have no plans to send them out".

He said Iran is working to recover the data and cabin recordings, and that it may send the flight recorders-commonly known as black boxes-to Ukraine or France.

"But as of yet, we have made no decision," Rezaeifar said.

The same official was quoted by the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Saturday as saying the recorders would be sent to Ukraine, where French, US and Canadian experts would help analyze them. Iranian officials previously said the black boxes were damaged but usable.

The government of Canada, which had nearly 60 of its citizens on the plane, said on Sunday that the boxes should be sent quickly for analysis by experts in either France of Ukraine.

Canada's Transportation Safety Board said in a statement that two of its crash investigators had left Teheran earlier on Sunday after a six-day visit during which they examined the wreckage. The board said: "There are still no firm plans as to when and where the aircraft recorders will be downloaded and analyzed."

The Guard's air defenses accidentally shot the plane down shortly after it took off from Teheran on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board.

The bodies of 11 Ukrainian victims were brought home on Sunday in a ceremony at Boryspil International Airport in Kiev. An honor guard solemnly carried the coffins into the airport terminal, where they are to stand until the evening.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky along with other government members attended the ceremony.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said that "bereaved families and the whole nation have an opportunity to pay their respects".

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2020-01-21 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU moving against facial recognition]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533003.htm Europe may halt the use of facial recognition technology over fears it might infringe on human rights.

The European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, says in a leaked 18-page draft white paper that it is concerned about the misuse of the technology, which is used to scan closed-circuit television images in real time in order to see if people are on watch lists compiled by the police and other agencies.

The technology is often used in public areas, including train stations, stadiums and shopping centers.

Brussels is mulling a ban of between three and five years, to give it time to study the issue and to draw up legislation.

An unnamed European Commission spokesman told the Telegraph newspaper: "Technology has to serve a purpose and the people. Trust and security will therefore be at the center of the EU's strategy."

The commission may also look at additional oversight of artificial intelligence.

The Guardian newspaper notes that the EU's general data protection regulations guarantee EU citizens the right "not to be subject of a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling".

The BBC reports that a ban could leave room for exemptions, to allow the technology's continued use for research and development, and for specific security projects.

The leaked white paper says the commission wants to find a "sound methodology for assessing the impacts of this technology" and adds "possible risk management measures" could also be "identified and developed".

The paper says the EU may need to create an authority to oversee any new rules.

The use of live facial recognition technology has become a hot topic in the United Kingdom, where campaign groups and some politicians want it permanently banned.

The issue came to the fore when the developer of 27 hectares around London's King's Cross train station was named in the press for using the technology without informing the public.

That system was turned off in September, after outraged campaigners said the scanning of people in order to proactively check up on them infringed on their right to privacy.

Pressure group Big Brother Watch told MailOnline: "Using facial recognition cameras is the high-tech equivalent of forcing members of the public to give their fingerprints to a private company we don't even know the name of."

The group says the technology is not foolproof, and innocent people could be misidentified, something that recent academic research noted was likely after the software was found to be weak in identifying black and Asian faces.

But experts say the technology can identify terrorists and those wanted by the police, and that it will ultimately be more effective than fingerprints for identifying people.

The European Commission's draft white paper was first obtained by the news website Euractiv, an independent pan-European media network.

A final version of the document is expected in February, ahead of a vote by the European Parliament on the issue. Any decision by the Parliament would need to be approved by the bloc's member nations.

The UK, Germany, and France have shown interest in ramping up their use of the technology, suggesting the issue may not be easily resolved.

 

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2020-01-21 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US looks to regulate new tech devices]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533000.htm From electric scooters to cultured meat, increasing concerns over public safety have prompted lawmakers at local and federal levels in the United States to consider how to regulate the latest technologies.

San Francisco, a city that's a hub for major tech companies, has recently passed legislation creating the Office of Emerging Technology to screen applications before they hit the city's streets.

Those looking to launch a tech application need to contact the office, which would then notify the public and relevant city departments for comment. The office then will hold a public hearing and weigh all feedback before allowing the application to be piloted in the city. Operating an emerging technology without approval would result in administrative fines of up to $1,000 per day.

"In the past, the city's infrastructure, its public spaces and streets and sidewalks, were all used by for-profit companies that were testing out their technology," said Norman Yee, a San Francisco supervisor who initiated the proposal, in an e-mail.

A prime example was electric scooters: Thousands of such devices were simply dropped onto city sidewalks and streets without any notification to residents or the city, he said.

The result was "chaos and confusion", because there was no enforcement or regulation over how fast these devices would be allowed to travel on the sidewalks and there was no control over how or where users should return them, said Yee.

"Technology is important to our lives. But, there must be a consideration of the impacts on the overall public's welfare and safety and interests at the same time," he said.

The electric scooter trend has led to complaints from residents and businesses in cities across the country. Last month, San Diego banned dockless electric bikes and scooters on the city's boardwalks.

Lime, a major scooter-sharing company, announced last week that it closed operations in San Diego and three other cities in the US, citing low ridership and regulatory challenges as contributing factors.

In the food industry, US senators Mike Enzi and Jon Tester last month introduced a bill to ensure that regulation of innovative food products stays up to date with the technological evolution.

The two senators introduced the Food Safety Modernization for Innovative Technologies Act, which would require government agencies to regulate food produced using animal cell-culture technology.

Cell-culture technology may allow developers to grow animal tissue for human consumption in labs from animal cell cultures. Commercialization of the resulting products is expected in the coming years.

"Emerging technologies may reshape the food industry in the coming years," Enzi said. "Existing food safety laws were drafted long before these technologies were contemplated. Our legislation would create an up-to-date framework in law so agencies appropriately work together to ensure folks know what they are eating and that it is safe."

But tech groups are concerned that government regulations would make innovation more difficult, especially for younger, small startups that are less well funded.

"Now you have added a layer of bureaucracy that companies will have to work through in order to test and ultimately deploy their technology," said Peter Leroe-Munoz, general counsel and vice-president of tech and innovation policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents many tech companies.

"More established companies have the legal departments and the resources to address some of those bureaucratic hurdles. But smaller companies are less well positioned to do that. So it raises the barrier to entry for younger, smaller startups," explained Leroe-Munoz.

He also noted another challenge for intellectual property, using the example of San Francisco's Office of Emerging Technology.

"There'll be a public hearing for the Office of Emerging Technology to hear and learn about the technology before they make a decision. What you're now risking is exposing valuable intellectual property in these public hearings," he said.

"There's a very real chance that companies will be forced to discuss intellectual property that they own. Whether it is with regard to the schematics of their technologies that they're working on, or it's business strategy, all these are tightly held secrets."

He is also concerned about the risk of the Office of Emerging Technology becoming politicized. There's a risk that political interests will capture the office and influence how it makes its decisions, regardless of the technology and the services that are being provided, he said.

A moment of pause

San Francisco is the first US city that has launched such an office. Leroe-Munoz said it's not clear if other cities are considering similar actions, but he hoped that this would give other cities or jurisdictions a moment of pause to reflect on the implications.

"Typically what we've seen is that in the marketplace, consumers will have an opportunity to decide whether new technologies flourish," said Leroe-Munoz. "The consumers will have less of an opportunity to do that, because the proposed strategy for the Office of Emerging Technology will become more of a gatekeeper."

Yee said the office actually benefits business in multiple ways, as tech companies now know exactly where to go for permit questions. The agency is responsible for deciding how the public's interests are best served.

"The bottom line is that there will always be some folks who think that any regulation will 'stifle' innovation-which simply is false and proven by the fact that we have the support of technology groups and business groups that are wise enough to see the benefit of working in partnership with government on smart legislation," he said.

A man dressed as an astronaut rides an electric scooter on the National Mall in Washington on Jan 11. SARAH SILBIGER/GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

]]> 2020-01-21 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Philippines looks for safer homes for 6,000 families in volcano area]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37532999.htm TAGAYTAY, the Philippines-The Philippine government will no longer allow people to live on the crater-studded island that's home to the erupting Taal volcano, with officials warning that living there would be "like having a gun pointed at you".

The simmering volcano has ejected smaller ash plumes for days after a gigantic eruption on Jan 12 sent ash drifting north over the capital Manila, about 65 kilometers away. While a larger, explosive eruption is still possible and tens of thousands of evacuees remain in emergency shelters, officials have begun discussing post-eruption recovery.

Philippine Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said officials in Batangas Province, where the volcano is located, have been asked to look for a safer housing area-of at least 3 hectares-for about 6,000 families that used to live in four villages and worked mostly as tourist guides, farmers and fish pen operators on Volcano Island. The new housing site should be at least 17 kilometers away from the restive volcano to be safe, Ano said.

The island was long ago designated a national park that's off-limits to permanent villages. The government's volcano-monitoring agency has separately declared the island a permanent danger zone, but still, impoverished villagers have lived and worked there for decades.

"We have to enforce these regulations once and for all because their lives are at stake," Ano said on Sunday, adding that closely regulated tourism work could eventually be allowed on the island without letting residents live there permanently.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a recommendation for the island to be turned into a "no man's land", but he has yet to issue formal guidelines. After an initial visit last week, Duterte plans to return to hard-hit Batangas Province on Monday to check the conditions for the displaced villagers, Ano said.

The 311-meter Taal is the second-most active of 24 restive Philippine volcanoes. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology has placed Taal at alert level 4, the second-highest warning, indicating a more dangerous explosive eruption is possible within hours or days due to continuous earthquakes, emissions of volcanic gases, and other signs that magma is rising.

Health officials say hundreds of people have been treated for ash-related breathing problems, but no deaths have been directly blamed on the eruption. Ash and volcanic debris have damaged homes near the crater, and the pressure of the magma underground has cracked roads and the ground nearby.

 

A woman walks along a park covered in volcanic ash at a town near the Taal volcano in Tagaytay, Cavite Province, southern Philippines, on Sunday. AARON FAVILA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-21 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Plastic in the sights of young researchers]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/21/content_37533017.htm Organizers of a major international student technology competition are looking forward to hearing the ideas of the next generation of scientists after the British International Education Association, or BIEA, launched its 2020 STEM Youth Innovation competition.

In 2020, the focus is on the fight against plastic pollution.

The competition to encourage young people's interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics-together known as STEM-comes off the back of a hugely successful 2019 staging, which saw one million students worldwide register interest and 33,000 schools, including many from China, take part.

Last year the theme was drone technology in wildlife conservation projects. Teams from Macao and Beijing reached the final stage. Major prizes were won by students from Hangzhou Shanghai World Foreign Language Primary School and No 2 Secondary School Attached to East China Normal University.

"I always hoped we'd capture people's imagination but to have such numbers and such high-quality entries from all around the world was astounding," David Hanson, STEM chairman at the BIEA, told China Daily.

"This year I think it will be bigger than before, particularly in terms of China because I've been to Beijing and met the Soong Ching Ling Foundation and they'll help manage regional events nationwide.

"Our themes are never accidental. In our first year, there had been a few natural disasters, so the theme was how to use technology to help people in crisis regions. Last year it was endangered species, which really caught the zeitgeist, and this year it's plastics, because everyone can see how big that problem is.

"The themes reflect the passions of young people, and we're saying: Don't be overwhelmed by the state of the world, we have the technology, you might find the solution we've not found yet."

The competition is divided into three categories, covering ages from nine to 17, with an overall first prize of $6,500.

New answers

The prominence of plastic pollution is partly due to television programs such as Blue Planet II and the efforts of activists such as Greta Thunberg, but Hanson said the competition aimed to encourage creativity rather than focus on negatives.

"Demonization of plastic is not the answer," he said. "Plastic can do things no other material can do, so we can't get rid of it altogether. We want people to think about how to use it smarter, better, and less intrusively."

Heidi Burdett is a marine biologist from Heriot-Watt University in Scotland, whose work deals directly with the issues of ocean pollution and discarded plastics.

She told China Daily she was thrilled by the focus of this year's competition.

"Engaging that young audience is really important and I'm astonished by how much they already know," she said. "I think they're far more informed than some of the older generation and know more than we give them credit for."

The so-called Blue Planet effect has seen China face up to and take significant steps to deal with its own plastic problem, something Burdett said should encourage all other nations.

"Someone needs to lead this, so if a huge country like China can do so and take this on, other countries will follow," she said.

Applications for the competition's regional heats close on March 31, with the international stage of the competition running from April to June, and the grand finale in the United Kingdom in the summer.

]]> 2020-01-21 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Thousands gather for Women's March rallies across the US]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532839.htm WASHINGTON-Thousands gathered in cities across the United States on Saturday as part of the nationwide Women's March rallies focused on issues such as climate change, pay equity, reproductive rights and immigration.

Hundreds showed up in New York and thousands in Washington for the rallies, which aim to harness the political power of women, although crowds were noticeably smaller than in previous years. Marches were scheduled on Saturday in more than 180 cities.

The first marches in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people to rallies in cities across the country on the day after US President Donald Trump was inaugurated. That year's march in Washington drew close to 1 million people.

In Manhattan on Saturday, hundreds of people gathered as part of a so-called Rise and Roar rally at separate events in Foley Square and Columbus Circle.

"Today, we will be the change that is needed in this world! Today, we rise into our power!" activist Donna Hylton told a cheering crowd in Foley Square.

Snow began falling by the afternoon in Manhattan, apparently putting a damper on plans for the two groups to converge in large numbers near Times Square.

In downtown Los Angeles, thousands of men, women and children filled several blocks as they made their way from a plaza to a park adjacent to City Hall, where a rally featured speeches by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the wife of California Governor Gavin Newsom, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Representative Maxine Waters and others.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom credited women for mobilizing against gun violence, creating the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and discrimination, and putting the Democratic majority back in the House of Representatives.

"In 2020, I have no doubt that it will be women who will lead again, rise up and move this country forward on a path toward justice," she said.

In Denver, organizers opted to skip the rally after the march and instead invited participants to meet with local organizations to learn more about issues such as reproductive rights, climate change, gun safety and voting.

Several thousand came out for the protest in Washington, far fewer than last year when about 100,000 people held a rally east of the White House. But as in previous years, many of the protesters made the trip to the nation's capital from cities across the country to express their opposition to Trump and his policies. From their gathering spot on Freedom Plaza, they had a clear view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Capitol, where the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate next week.

In Washington, three key issues seemed to galvanize most of the protesters: Climate change, immigration and reproductive rights.

"I teach a lot of immigrant students, and in political times like this I want to make sure I'm using my voice to speak up for them," said Rochelle McGurn, 30, an elementary school teacher from Burlington, Vermont, who was in Washington to march. "They need to feel like they belong, because they do."

People participate in the annual Women's March in Washington on Sunday. MARY F. CALVERT/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-20 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Trump call for stronger Japan alliance]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532875.htm TOKYO-US President Donald Trump marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the security treaty between the United States and Japan with a call for a stronger and deeper alliance between the two countries, despite criticizing the pact six months ago.

"As the security environment continues to evolve and new challenges arise, it is essential that our alliance further strengthen and deepen,"Trump said in a statement on Sunday.

"I am confident that in the months and years ahead, Japan's contributions to our mutual security will continue to grow, and the alliance will continue to thrive."

In June, Trump told a news conference in Japan that the treaty-signed six decades ago and the linchpin of Japan's military policy-was "unfair" and should be changed, echoing his long-held view that Japan is a free-rider on defense.

Trump at the time said he was not thinking of withdrawing Washington from the pact.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday called for making the treaty more robust.

"We have elevated the relationship to one in which each of us, the US and Japan, protects the other, thereby giving further force to the alliance," Abe said.

The treaty obligates the US to defend Japan, which under its US-drafted Constitution renounced the right to wage war after World War II. Japan in return provides military bases used by the US to project power in Northeast Asia.

The treaty was first signed in 1951 and revised in 1960 under Abe's grandfather, then-Japanese prime minister Nobusuke Kishi. Kishi was forced to step down following a massive public outcry from Japanese critics who feared the pact would pull their country into conflict.

Since taking office in 2012, Abe has raised Japan's military spending by 10 percent after years of decline and his government in 2014 reinterpreted the Constitution to allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War II.

 

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2020-01-20 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Myanmar eyes more visitors from China]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532868.htm Myanmar is courting tourists, especially those from China-and its efforts seem to be paying off.

Total visitor arrivals in the first 10 months of 2019 increased 24 percent year-on-year to 35.2 million, according to Myanmar's Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. But Chinese tourists recorded the largest relative increase of 161 percent year-on-year.

The hike is partly thanks to the visa-on-arrival policy for Chinese nationals effective from October in 2018 for a two-year period. Local tour guides have been encouraged to learn Mandarin since 2017. Private kindergartens are also teaching Mandarin-a previously unprecedented move.

The country is in the process of making the next Tourism Master Plan for 2020 to 2030.

"We are being supported by the Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation to do this," said Maung Maung Kyaw, director general of the directorate of hotels and tourism at the ministry.

"Broadly speaking, we are looking at creating new tourism destinations as well as building on labor and infrastructure capabilities to support the industry."

The Myanmar Tourism Federation, or MTF, a private sector launched in 2011, launched the Myanmar Tourism Bank last year, with five percent of its profits feeding back into the tourism industry.

The initiatives by the MTF include starting a WeChat account, making videos of the country's attractions, and publishing books and guides to be made available in China.

"We also attend travel shows in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Kunming to promote Myanmar to the Chinese," explained U Yan Win, MTF chairman.

Maung Maung Kyaw said: "I hope that tourism becomes an important source of tax revenue for Myanmar."

Stretching approximately 2,000 kilometers lengthwise, Myanmar has everything from snow-capped peaks in the north to virgin tropical islands in the south.

"At the moment, most tourists come and stay in Myanmar for an average of three days, visiting primarily Mandalay, Bagan, and sometimes Inle Lake," said U Yan Win.

A key priority for the MTF is to promote the country as an ecotourism destination.

He points to the lesser developed northern regions of the country, such as the Hukaung Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin State, known as a tiger reserve area.

In the same state is the Khakaborazhi National Park-with a mountain of the same name that is an extension of the Himalayas and the highest in the country at 5,881 meters. It also provides trekking trails with views of snowcapped mountains.

The MTF has aspirations to develop the southern regions of the country too, particularly the Tanintharyi Region.

"There are virgin islands, pristine diving sites, unparalleled marine biodiversity and fresh seafood. However, at the moment, only budget travelers visit as there is not much tourism infrastructure," said U Yan Win.

"We are looking for opportunities to develop the area, such as build five-star hotels." he said, referring to places like the Mergui Archipelago and Myeik city.

New airport

Already, things are looking up. In the southern most town of Kawthaung, which borders Thailand, there are plans to open an international airport, which would improve air connectivity to the region.

Memories Group, one of the most established high-end tourism companies in Myanmar, backs this plan. Its CEO Cyrus Pun has set his sights on the Mergui Archipelago.

"It has 800 islands that are unspoiled and untouched. In terms of marine biodiversity, fans of diving have told me that while the fish there are smaller, there is a greater variety," he said.

"Myanmar still has a mysterious, exotic appeal. It has an innocence about it, tangible through its culture, history and the spirituality of the people," explained Pun.

And the country aims at development of the tourism industry in a responsible and sustainable way.

The Myanmar Tourism Law was passed in 2018 and it includes guidelines on how visitors should behave when they are in the country.

U Yan Win said they are in consultation with the Tourism Authority of Thailand about best practices on managing the budget tourists through regulation.

While one of his biggest challenges is the negative publicity that Myanmar receives regarding its handling of sociopolitical conflicts between different communities, he hopes that travelers do not judge the country by what they read in the Western media.

"Most of the conflict is isolated along the northern border, but ours is a big country. Come and see for yourself what Myanmar has to offer-you will help everyone in the country and contribute to the development of the economy."

A man takes a photograph of pagodas in the ancient city of Bagan in Myanmar on July 6. U AUNG/XINHUA

]]> 2020-01-20 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Warehouses host glitzy Dubai's 'hipster' scene]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532840.htm DUBAI-In the glitzy city of Dubai, known for its megaprojects, futuristic skyscrapers and ostentatious malls, Dana Alhammadi sat in a cozy cafe learning how to make natural beauty products.

The "environmentally conscious" workshop at the KAVE cafe is part of an emerging cultural scene in a city which, after years of breakneck development, is exploring its alternative side.

If Dubai has a hipster center, it is Alserkal Avenue, an industrial area full of warehouses large and small that in 2008 became a hub for art galleries, startup businesses, and quirky retail outlets.

"It's really nice to know how to get something natural and to stop using a lot of chemicals," said Alhammadi, dressed in a traditional full-length abaya.

She was mixing bicarbonate of soda with coconut oil to make a backto-basics deodorant, jazz legend Nina Simone audible in the background.

"I'm happy that they started such activities and workshops here in the United Arab Emirates," Alhammadi said.

Home to more than nine million expatriates from well more than 100 countries, making up 90 percent of the population, the United Arab Emirates, or UAE, prides itself on being a melting pot.

Like other Gulf countries, it uses culture, media and sports events to win global recognition and push its soft power.

It has spent billions of dollars on high-profile museums and mega events, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Dubai Expo 2020 trade fair.

The oil-rich country also hosts cultural events, ranging from jazz and film festivals to fashion week.

A culture economy

With the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century, the UAE transformed from a tiny economy dependent on the pearl and fishing industries to a regional powerhouse and hub for trade and tourism.

Many tourists are drawn by the headline attractions: Malls packed with high-end brands, luxury resorts, man-made islands and an indoor ski slope.

But Dubai's ultrarapid rise resulted in what some see as a lack of cultural authenticity that in other capitals develops organically over time.

Alserkal, which hosts about 500 events a year, generally free of charge, is intended to create that cultural texture.

The project's director Vilma Jurkute said the community supports 70 projects by young men and women from different nationalities, attracting half a million visitors each year.

"It's essentially a community of thought leaders in literature, films, theater, and community development that formed a key pillar of a culture economy for the city of Dubai (and) for the region," the Lithuanian expatriate said.

Located in a light industrial district and embracing warehouse buildings that range from the sleek to the shabby, Alserkal represents an alternative to what Dubai is best known for, Jurkute added.

"We really are part of the city and we have been for the past decade," she said.

One of Alserkal's most prominent attractions is its Cinema Akil, the first and only art cinema in the Gulf, offering audiences a different film experience, according to the theater's deputy director Luz Villamil.

Every night independent films are played in the cinema, whose red armchairs and sofas, posters of old Arab classics and a cozy cafe help it to stand out from Dubai's usual blockbuster multiplexes.

Recent screenings have included Papicha by Algeria's Mounia Meddour and Capernaum by Lebanese director Nadine Labaki.

Next month, Akil will show You Will Die At Twenty by Sudanese filmmaker Amjad Abu Alala.

Sometimes, the screenings are followed by debates in the small theater.

Before it opened there was almost no choice for audiences interested in something other than Hollywood or Bollywood blockbusters, Villamil said.

"The most important thing for us is to show films that highlight voices that perhaps we feel… don't get represented very much, including Arab cinema and women-focused films."

A view of Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure and building in the world since 2009, in the city center of Dubai on Sunday. GIUSEPPE CACACE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

]]> 2020-01-20 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Global powers seeking peace deal for Libya]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532864.htm BERLIN-World leaders gathered in Berlin on Sunday to make a fresh push for peace in Libya, in a desperate bid to stop the conflict-wracked nation from disintegrating into a "second Syria".

The presidents of Russia, Turkey and France were expected to meet under the auspices of the United Nations, which wants to get foreign powers wielding influence in the region to stop interfering in the war, through the provision of weapons, troops or financing.

Leaders of both warring factions-Khalifa Haftar, the commander of the east-based army in Libya, and Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Tripoli's UN-recognized Government of National Accord, or GNA, in Tripoli-were also expected at the first such gathering since 2018.

But hours before the meeting, pro-Haftar forces upped the ante by blocking oil exports at the war-ravaged country's key ports, crippling the main source of income in a protest against Turkey's decision to send troops to shore up the GNA.

The move underlined the devastating impact of what is described by the UN as foreign interference, which UN special envoy Ghassan Salame said had to stop.

"All foreign interference can provide is some aspirin effect in the short term, but Libya needs all foreign interference to stop. That's one of the objectives of this conference," he said on the eve of the meeting.

The UN hopes all sides will sign a plan to refrain from interference, and commit to a truce that leads to a lasting end to hostilities, according to a draft of a final communique shown on Sunday.

That document also urges all parties to recommit to a UN arms embargo and raises the prospect of political, inter-Libyan talks in Geneva at the end of the month.

The one-day meeting will not attempt to broker a power-sharing agreement between Haftar and Serraj, Reuters reported.

If all goes to plan, the Berlin participants will hold an evening news conference.

Libya has been torn by fighting between rival armed factions since a 2011 NATO-backed uprising killed Moammar Gadhafi.

Most recently, Sarraj's troops in Tripoli have been under attack since April from Haftar's forces.

Clashes killed more than 280 civilians and 2,000 fighters and displaced tens of thousands, until a fragile cease-fire backed by both Ankara and Moscow was put in place on Jan 12.

Although Sarraj's GNA government is supported by the UN, powerful players have broken away to stand behind Haftar-turning a domestic conflict into what is essentially a proxy war in which international powers jostle to secure their own interests.

'Second Syria'

Alarm grew internationally as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered troops to Libya in early January to bolster Sarraj.

Underlining the stakes involved, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said "Europe and those players who are influential" in the region have all been called to Berlin, because "we have to make sure Libya doesn't become a second Syria".

"The conference can be the first step to peace for Libya," Maas told the Bild newspaper.

Meanwhile, Sarraj issued a call for international "protection troops" if Haftar were to keep up his offensive.

"Such a protection force must operate under the auspices of the UN. Experts will have to advise who should participate, such as the European Union or the African Union or the Arab League", he told Die Welt newspaper on Sunday.

He also criticized the EU, saying it had not been proactive enough on Libya.

On the eve of the Berlin talks, Erdogan warned Europe to stand united behind Sarraj's government, as Tripoli's fall could leave "fertile ground" for jihadist groups like the Islamic State terror group or al-Qaida "to get back on their feet".

Erdogan also played up Europe's fears of a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis. In a commentary for Politico news website, he warned that further unrest could prompt a new wave of migrants to head for the continent.

Accusing France in particular of siding with Haftar, Erdogan said leaving Libya to the commander would be a "mistake of historic proportions".

France has denied it was backing Haftar.

But Haftar is backed by Turkey's fiercest regional rivals-Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

 

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2020-01-20 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Hungary keen to attract more Chinese tech investments]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532862.htm Hungary is seeking more Chinese investments in its growing technology sector, in line with the central European country's goal of becoming a research and development hub in the region.

In an exclusive interview, Peter Szijjarto, Hungary's minister of foreign affairs and trade, said Hungary hopes to attract more investments from "technological, highly-developed companies". China has been investing heavily in Hungarian chemicals and automotive industries for the past few years.

Szijjarto is confident that Hungary will be able to attract more investments from China and other countries because Hungary offers political stability, low tax rates, and a wide range of cash incentives and nondiscriminatory policies.

"We are happy with the (current) bilateral trade and investment cooperation. We will do more. We have been in negotiations with various Chinese companies to make further investments in the country," he said.

The minister was in Hong Kong for the 13th Asian Financial Forum, an event organized by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

Szijjarto said relations between China and Hungary marked their 70th anniversary in 2019, noting that the "Chinese-Hungarian relationship has never been as good as now".

Hungary was the first European country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, and the country expects to benefit from one of BRI's flagship projects: The 350-kilometer high-speed railway that will connect the Hungarian capital of Budapest with the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

China is one of the biggest foreign investors in Hungary and is crucial to the country's economic transformation from being a manufacturing center to an innovation and development hub, he said.

Wanhua Industrial Group, which in 2011 acquired a 96 percent stake in Hungary's BorsodChem, remains Hungary's largest chemical material manufacturer. BorsodChem is also one of the biggest companies in Central and Eastern Europe.

Shenzhen-based carmaker BYD opened its first European factory in the northern Hungarian city of Komarom in 2017.

Szijjarto said BYD's electric buses are in high demand and that Hungary "is negotiating with BYD for further cooperation".

Huawei is also present in Hungary and is building a high-speed 5G network in partnership with the British telecommunications company Vodafone and German firm Deutsche Telekom.

Szijjarto said these Chinese investments are proof of strong economic relations between China and Hungary.

He added that Hungary is not bothered by the trade imbalance with China.

"Most of our imports from China are being processed and re-exported from Hungary to many other parts of the world. We have to be aware of the fact that China is a much bigger economy than (the) Hungarian (economy), so we are not bothered by the trade imbalance," he said.

Szijjarto said Hungary would have been more concerned if the Chinese companies were not investing in the country.

"But the fact is, Chinese companies are investing very heavily in Hungary," he said. He added that Chinese, Japanese and South Korean companies together accounted for 38 percent of new jobs created in 2019.

Szijjarto said Hungary is also keen to increase tourism's contribution to the country's GDP. And the central European country is also wooing Chinese tourists, who are now one of the biggest markets for outbound tourism.

A total of 256,000 Chinese tourists visited Hungary in 2018, 11 percent higher than the previous year.

Szijjarto said Hungary has launched more direct flights from Budapest to China in order to attract Chinese tourists. And there are now direct flights from Budapest to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Chongqing and Shanghai.

 

Peter Szijjarto

 

 

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2020-01-20 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Harry and Meghan won't use titles 'royal highness']]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532847.htm LONDON-Goodbye, your royal highnesses. Hello, life as-almost-ordinary civilians.

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will no longer use the titles "royal highness" or receive public funds for their work under a deal that lets the couple step aside as working royals, Buckingham Palace announced on Saturday.

Releasing details of the dramatic split triggered by the couple's unhappiness with life under media scrutiny, the palace said Harry and Meghan will cease to be working members of the royal family when the new arrangements take effect in the "spring of 2020".

The radical break is more complete than the type of arrangement anticipated 10 days ago when the royal couple stunned Britain with an abrupt announcement that they wanted to step down. They said they planned to combine some royal duties with private work in a "progressive" plan, but that is no longer on the table.

Harry and Meghan will no longer use the titles His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness but will retain them, leaving the possibility that the couple might change their minds and return sometime in the future.

Harry's late mother, Diana, was stripped of the Her Royal Highness title when she and Prince Charles divorced.

The couple will be known as Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Harry will remain a prince and sixth in line to the British throne.

The agreement also calls for Meghan and Harry to repay 2.4 million pounds ($3.1 million) in taxpayers' money spent renovating a house for them near Windsor Castle, Frogmore Cottage. The use of public funds to transform the house's five separate apartments into a spacious single family home for them had raised ire in the British press. They will continue to use Frogmore Cottage as their base in England.

The deal came after days of talks among royals sparked by Meghan and Harry's announcement last week that they wanted to step down as senior royals and live part-time in Canada.

The couple's departure is a wrench for the royal family, and Queen Elizabeth II did say earlier this week that she wished the couple had wanted to remain full-time royals, but she had warm words for them in a statement on Saturday.

The 93-year-old queen said she was pleased that "together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family."

Despite the queen's kind words, the new arrangement will represent an almost complete break from life as working royals, especially for Harry. As a devoted Army veteran and servant to the crown, the prince carried out dozens of royal engagements each year.

Financial support

Royal expert and author Penny Junor said the new setup will benefit both sides of the family.

"There are no blurred lines. They are starting afresh and they are going with the queen's blessing, I think it is the best of all worlds," she said.

It is not yet clear whether Harry and Meghan will continue to receive financial support from Harry's father, Prince Charles, who uses revenue from the Duchy of Cornwall to help fund his activities and those of his wife and sons.

The duchy, chartered in 1337, produced more than 20 million pounds ($26 million) in revenue last year. It is widely regarded as private money, not public funds, so Charles may opt to keep details of its disbursal private. Much of the royals' wealth comes from private holdings.

 

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2020-01-20 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Putin rejects lifelong tenure for state leaders]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/20/content_37532865.htm Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a meeting with World War II veterans in St Petersburg on Saturday, and raised the topic about his succession.

He said he did not want Russia to return to the late Soviet-era practice of having lifelong rulers who died in office without a proper succession strategy, Reuters reported.

Putin made the comments days after he proposed a package of constitutional amendments which led to the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister along with his government.

Putin, in a surprise move, picked Mikhail Mishustin, the low-profile head of the country's tax service, as the country's next prime minister. Russians are now waiting to hear which ministers will keep their jobs in a new government.

Asked by a war veteran on the occasion of the 77th anniversary of the lifting of the siege of Leningrad if it was time to abolish term limits for presidents altogether, Putin said:"As regards (presidential) terms for staying in power I understand ... that (concern over this) is linked for many people with worries about societal, state and domestic and external stability.

"But it would be very worrying to return to the situation we had in the mid-1980s when state leaders stayed in power, one by one, until the end of their days and left office without ensuring the necessary conditions for a transition of power. So thanks, but I think it would be better not to return to that situation."

Putin also told the veterans that the truth about World War II is sometimes hushed up deliberately by foreign countries at the state level and some corresponding websites are closed down.

According to news agency Tass, Putin said when propaganda that distorts the truth goes up to the level of state in foreign countries, nothing can be said against it.

"They close them (the websites) up, that's all. We have said several times that is posted on the internet, and oops! The site is shut down from abroad. Then again, oops, and it is closed down. As soon as it (the news) appears, they shut it (the website) down," Putin said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

]]> 2020-01-20 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Birmingham event to build Sino-UK ties]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532751.htm The British city of Birmingham will host representatives from businesses, universities, and government during a forum aimed at forging closer relations between China and the United Kingdom.

The fifth UK-China Regional Leaders Summit has been described as "the most significant gathering of its kind ever held in the UK" and will give the two nations an opportunity to strengthen cultural and economic links.

The three-day event was organized by Midlands Engine, which is made up of local authorities and local enterprise partnerships from the East and West Midlands, and aims to boost productivity, attract inward investment, and increase connectivity.

John Peace, chairman of Midlands Engine, said: "The summit is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for us to continue forging a 'golden era' for our two nations, and to build on the cultural and economic links which already exist for the powerful benefit of both countries.

"With deepening friendships, important civic connections, and the bonds between our economies growing faster than ever, the summit will offer our gathered community the chance to make new connections and friendships."

During the event, which will take place from Feb 17-19, delegates will be given the opportunity to visit towns, cities, and communities in the Midlands of England.

The gathering will focus on "the UK and China working together to address global challenges" and highlight opportunities for even greater collaboration between the nations.

Robert Jenrick, local government secretary and Midlands Engine ministerial champion, said: "From green energy to health technology, the Midlands leads the world in tackling some of the biggest global challenges of our time, so Birmingham is a fitting location for this landmark summit, which will showcase the very best of the region and strengthen valuable ties between China and the UK."

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Rouhani says Iran working to 'prevent war', open to dialogue]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532782.htm TEHERAN-Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said he wants to avoid war after Teheran and Washington appeared on the brink of direct military confrontation in early January for the second time in less than a year.

Ahead of parliamentary elections on Feb 21-predicted to be a challenge for Rouhani-and amid high tensions between Teheran and the West over Iran's nuclear program, the president said on Thursday that dialogue with the world was still "possible".

"The government is working daily to prevent military confrontation or war," Rouhani said in a televised speech.

The region seemed on the brink of new conflict earlier in January after the US killed senior Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad, prompting Iran to retaliate against a US military base in Iraq with a volley of missiles days later.

Eleven US soldiers were treated for concussion symptoms as a result of the Iranian missile attack, the US military said on Thursday in a statement.

At the time of the attack, most of the 1,500 US soldiers at the base had been tucked away in bunkers, after advance warning from superiors.

The strike caused significant material damage but no casualties, according to previous reports from the US military.

Rouhani said the strike amounted to "compensation" for the death of Soleimani, the architect of Iran's Middle East military strategy.

The tensions between the two enemies seemed to subside in the wake of the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner hours after the retaliatory strikes, as Iran was on high alert for US reprisals.

The tragedy killed 176 people, mostly Iranians and Canadians.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Thursday that all countries involved in the airliner crash should avoid turning it into a political issue, the Iranian semi-official ISNA news agency reported.

Five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down the aircraft last week said on Thursday that Teheran should pay compensation to families of the victims, and warned that the world is watching for its response.

Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain said in a statement issued after a meeting of officials in London that Iran should hold a "thorough, independent and transparent international investigation open to grieving nations".

Canada's foreign minister on Thursday vowed to push Iran for answers about the tragedy. "Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them," Francois-Philippe Champagne said.

Agencies - Xinhua

Hassan Rouhani

 

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532774.htm AUSTRALIA

Rain brings joy for firefighters, farmers

Drought-breaking storms dumped desperately needed rain on some bushfire-ravaged parts of eastern Australia on Friday, while giving joy to many farmers who have faced losing precious livestock and crops. The rains gave exhausted firefighters a boost in battling some of the blazes, with more relief expected over the weekend as the wet weather is forecast to hit other hotspots. The unprecedented fires, fueled by climate change and a yearslong drought, have claimed 28 lives over the past five months. They have scorched massive tracts of pristine forests in eastern and southern Australia, decimated livestock on already barren farms and destroyed 2,000 homes.

REPUBLIC OF KOREA

Sovereignty asserted in policy on DPRK

The Unification Ministry said on Friday that the country's policy on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a matter of sovereignty. The comment came after US Ambassador to the ROK Harry Harris reportedly told reporters that it would be "better" for Seoul to pursue inter-Korean cooperation through the "working group" between the ROK and the US in a bid to avoid "misunderstanding". Harris' remark was seen by local media as a US demand for the ROK to have prior consultations with the US before launching any inter-Korean cooperation. ROK President Moon Jae-in said in his New Year news conference this week that an enhanced inter-Korean cooperation can help win international support for the "exemption of a part of sanctions" against the DPRK.

UKRAINE

PM resigns after recording comes out

Ukraine's prime minister says he has submitted his resignation, days after he was caught on a recording saying the country's president knows nothing about the economy. In a Facebook post on Friday, Oleksiy Honcharuk said he has given his resignation to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "To remove any doubts in our respect for and trust in the president, I have written a resignation letter and submitted it to the president," he said. This week an audio recording surfaced in which Honcharuk appeared to make disparaging comments about Zelensky's understanding of economics.

JAPAN

Number of suicides hits record low

The number of suicides in Japan fell to a record low in 2019, the government said on Friday, as the country tackles one of the world's highest suicide rates. Preliminary data released by the Health Ministry showed 19,959 people died by suicide in 2019, a 4.2 percent drop for the country of 127 million people. Seventy percent of those were men. Final data will be released in March. The number of suicides in Japan peaked in 2003 at 34,427 and the figure remained above 30,000 between 2004 and 2011, but has since been falling steadily.

UNITED STATES

12-year term for jail phone is 'failure'

The Mississippi Supreme Court's confirmation of a 12-year prison sentence for an African-American man who carried his mobile phone into a county jail cell is being slammed as a brutal example of racial injustice. Even one of the justices who joined in the unanimous ruling said that while the sentence is legal, the prosecutor and trial judge could have avoided punishing the man entirely. Justice Leslie King is the only African-American justice on the nine-member court. He wrote that Willie Nash's case "seems to demonstrate a failure of our criminal justice system on multiple levels" because it's not clear whether Nash was properly searched or told not to take his phone into his cell when he was booked on a misdemeanor charge.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japanese minister sets example with paternity leave]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532773.htm TOKYO-Japan's popular environment minister said he will take paternity leave when his first child is born this month to be a good example for working fathers in Japan, where men are largely absent from child rearing.

With Japan facing an aging population and a dwindling birthrate, the government recently began promoting paternity leave. Last month, it adopted a policy allowing public servants to take more than a month of paternity leave.

Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi said on Wednesday he will take two weeks' leave over three months on the condition it won't affect his parliamentary and Cabinet duties.

While governors in Hiroshima and Mie in western Japan have taken paternity leave, Koizumi is the first Cabinet minister to do so.

He said it was a difficult decision, but that he is going ahead with the plan to pave the way for other male employees in his ministry and working fathers elsewhere. Koizumi is the son of maverick former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and is considered a future prime ministerial hopeful.

"Honestly, I had to think over and over how I should take time off for child rearing, or take paternity leave, while fulfilling my public duty as environment minister," Koizumi told a group of ministry officials and reporters. "Unless we change the atmosphere, government employees presumably won't start taking paternity leave."

Japan has relatively generous parental leave policies, allowing men and women partially paid leave of up to 12 months. While recent surveys show a majority of eligible male employees hope to take paternity leave in the future, changes are coming slowly and few fathers of newborns take time off due to intense pressure to focus on work.

Only 6 percent of eligible working fathers took paternity leave in 2018, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, far short of the government's modest 13 percent target for 2020.

Many working fathers fear taking paternity leave will damage their careers, and those hoping to take leave often face warnings from their bosses or colleagues.

Koizumi said he hopes to inspire further debate over how to balance work and family duties, including child and elderly care, in a sustainable way.

"I hope there will be a day when lawmakers' paternity leave is no longer news," he said.

He expressed his intention last year to take paternity leave when he announced his marriage to former newscaster Christel Takigawa. He has since faced divided public opinion, including criticism that he should prioritize his duties as a government minister.

Koizumi's announcement received a mixed reaction on social media. Some people said two weeks of paternity leave is a marginal amount and that he may be only trying to get attention, but many welcomed his decision as the beginning of change.

Shintaro Yamaguchi, a University of Tokyo professor and expert on labor economics and parental leave policies, said that even short-term paternity leave can make a difference, citing studies abroad.

"Paternity leave taken by leaders seems to have a big influence on people around them," he tweeted.

Agencies Via Xinhua

Shinjiro Koizumi, Japanese environment minister

 

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Europeans spend up with eye on space tourism]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532752.htm The 22-nation European Space Agency, or ESA, has announced a huge budget increase for its next five years of space exploration and discovery, and its director general has said the prospect of space as a tourist destination "will certainly come".

Last year was not a successful one for the ESA, with the development of its ExoMars lander-rover mission-scheduled to take place this summer-significantly delayed after two failed tests of the craft's descent parachute landing system.

As windows of opportunity for Mars landings only come around once every 26 months, it has needed help from the United States' Jet Propulsion Laboratories to try to fix the problem in time.

At its annual news conference in Paris on Wednesday, ESA Director General Jan Woerner announced an increased budget of 14.5 billion euros ($16.2 billion) for the years ahead. That figure is almost 21 percent bigger than the budget agreed in 2016.

" (It) is important at the beginning of a year to think about that it's not just another year. It's a very special year," he said. "Everybody is talking about climate change as the predominant challenge. Yes, it is predominant, but we have also other challenges."

Much talk of space travel in recent times has been around the prospect of travelers paying to go into space, with South African-born entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX project leading the way, in addition to proposals from British businessman Richard Branson.

Commercial race

SpaceX hopes to send its Crew Dragon spaceship on its first crewed mission soon, and has already released a computer simulation of how it expects the experience to look. And while the ESA is not going to join these businesses in a new commercial space race, Woerner acknowledged the validity of what they were doing and said the ESA would be playing its part.

"We are a public organization," he said. "We are not disturbing the commercial market but we are supporting it to develop new fields. Space tourism will certainly come, not just in lower orbit but also to the moon."

Germany, with a contribution of 3.3 billion euros, is the biggest investor in the European space program, ahead of France (2.7 billion euros) and Italy (2.3 billion euros). The next biggest stake is from the United Kingdom, with 1.7 billion euros, a figure that has been pledged despite the country's imminent exit from the European Union at the end of January.

This week, Tim Peake, the first British astronaut to visit the International Space Station, planted apple seeds that he took with him into zero gravity as part of an experiment, at the home of British scientist Isaac Newton, who famously discovered the law of gravity when an apple fell from a tree onto his head.

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Abu Dhabi pushes on with BRI cooperation on renewable energy]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532769.htm Abu Dhabi's energy chief Awaidha Murshed Ali Al Marar says the United Arab Emirates is looking to support energy development in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, as well as secure further Chinese investment in the UAE's electricity grid.

In an exclusive interview with China Daily at the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, or ADSW, Abu Dhabi Department of Energy Chairman Al Marar provided an update on a memorandum of understanding signed between the UAE and China last year.

"Since we signed the MoU with the State Grid Corporation of China, we have held several follow-up meetings and exchanged delegations with key Chinese entities," said Al Marar, who heads up energy policy for Abu Dhabi, the second-most populous of the UAE's seven emirates behind Dubai.

"Importantly, we were able to identify areas of cooperation in renewable energy policymaking and explored investment opportunities including in the energy transmission and distribution business as well as grid expansion within the UAE."

The UAE is looking to solar and nuclear power to lead its transition from fossil-fuel energy generation. Last year, China's Silk Road Fund and a number of Chinese banks led financing for a 950-megawatt solar farm near Dubai, which promises to be among the world's largest such facilities. In 2017, China's Shanghai Electric was selected as the main contractor for the project.

Al Marar said that UAE-China collaboration on renewable energy will help ensure sustainability in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, which is an infrastructure and economic development plan proposed by China.

"These type of agreements and the ongoing meetings, research and benchmarking between the Department of Energy and Chinese companies is key to enhancing our cooperation in the renewable energy industry and allows us to share and explore opportunities and future expansion plans that would support China's Belt and Road Initiative and Abu Dhabi's sustainable development goals," Al Marar said.

The UAE continues to generate the majority of its energy through fossil fuels, though Al Marar said the nation is working hard to lessen its reliance on finite resources and ramp up solar capacity.

Through the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala, the Abu Dhabi government in 2006 set up a renewable energy and sustainable urban development company called Masdar, which has developed nearly 5 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity worldwide and invested $13.5 billion in green projects.

In an earlier interview at ADSW, Masdar Chief Executive Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi confirmed to China Daily that the company is exploring investment opportunities in China and in those countries participating in the BRI.

Al Marar says China has played a major role in aiding the UAE's pivot to solar. "If you look at most of the solar panels on our grid you will see Made in China," he said. "China is focusing on getting away from coal and decreasing emissions. What China has been doing to adapt in terms of technology, research and production is spilling over to other countries, including ours."

At the ADSW, the Deputy Director of China's National Energy Administration, Liu Baohua, laid out the nation's commitments to sustainable development. He said that non-fossil fuels would account for 15 percent of China's energy mix by the end of this year-up from 14.7 percent in 2019-and rise to 20 percent by 2030.

"The Chinese government attaches great importance to the development of renewable energy and vigorously promotes the revolution in energy production and consumption," Liu said.

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Germany in bid to turn the corner]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532763.htm The German economy has just bade farewell to a troubled 2019, but while some believe the worst is behind it, Europe's growth engine still faces internal and external headwinds, analysts said.

Economic expansion of just 0.6 percent last year marked the slowest pace since 2013, due to lower demand for German exports combined with sluggish manufacturing output and the fallout from trade disputes, the Federal Statistics Office said.

Still, statistics official Albert Braakmann said the region's biggest economy had sustained growth for the 10th straight year, clocking up "the longest growth period since German reunification" in 1990.

Private consumption, state spending, and construction supported the economy's expansion, but the manufacturing sector has been a drag on its performance.

Growth of just 0.1 percent in the July-September quarter sparked widespread fears that the economy would end 2019 in recession-a fate it narrowly avoided with a slightly improved performance in the following quarter. But expansion for the calendar year came in much lower that the rates of recent years, including the 1.5 percent gain notched in 2018.

"The German economy has already gone through the worst, but it is still too early to say if it has entered a recovery mode," said Chen Fengying, a senior researcher on the world economy at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. "If the economy can stabilize itself, that would be the best scenario for now."

Chen said the German economy is export-dependent and is reliant on the manufacturing sector, which was affected by the global economic slowdown, trade disputes and the uncertainties over Brexit last year.

The researcher noted that every industry has its own economic development cycle. After more than 10 years of growth, Germany's manufacturing sector now needs structural reforms and adjustments.

"Germany has a rigid idea of not using fiscal stimulus to boost the economy and, externally, it will encounter some restrictions in making economic policies as a member of the eurozone," she said. "Thus, Germany has failed to respond quickly to the changing economic situation."

Although the economy slowed last year, Germany's public finances posted a record surplus of $15 billion. As for how to spend the budget surplus, conservatives in Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition are calling for corporate tax cuts, while center-left Finance Minister Olaf Scholz favors more public investment.

He Yun, an assistant professor at Hunan University's School of Public Management, said that 2019 proved how resilient the German economy is. "With the Brexit deal passed and phase one of the China-US trade deal signed now, the German economy is likely to stabilize this year, and will continue to be a stabilizing force within the eurozone," she said.

Service sector

However, there are still risks associated with the German and eurozone economies in 2020. Aside from the sluggishness of manufacturing, there are signs that the service sector in Germany is heading for a downturn, He said. This would likely affect hiring and result in weaker consumer demand.

The European Union and the United States have been embroiled in trade disputes since last year, and whether the tensions will ease remain uncertain. And although a Brexit deal is in place, negotiations for a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU face steep hurdles.

In the face of these challenges, Chen said Germany should speed up reforms in the manufacturing sector, and the development of high-end intelligent manufacturing would take it in the right direction.

She said that the German and global economies in 2020 will perform "a little bit better" than they did last year. Chen expects the major powers will be more cautious and seek to avoid worsening trade disputes or do other actions that have the potential to hurt all countries.

"The US and the EU are likely to make cautious moves to avoid an escalation in their disputes, as US President Donald Trump has an election to face and the EU has the Brexit deal to settle at home," she said.

As for the UK's imminent exit from the EU, Chen said she believes that both sides will seek to minimize any negative influences on the economy brought about by the breakup.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

Employees of German car manufacturer Porsche work on a Porsche 911 at a factory in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany, on Feb 19. RALPH ORLOWSKI/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Rituals mark opening of Trump trial]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532754.htm The impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress began in the Senate on Thursday with a mixture of ritual and formalities and a solemn swearing-in of senators to do "impartial justice".

Only the third impeachment proceeding against a president in the country's history, it began with the reading aloud of the two articles of impeachment by Representative Adam Schiff of California, the Democratic-controlled House of Representative's lead impeachment manager. The senators sat silently under strict rules that prohibit talking or the use of cellphones.

During the trial, all senators will be warned by the sergeant at arms to remain silent "on pain of imprisonment" and will be expected to be present and seated at their assigned desks.

Two hours after Schiff got the opening proceedings under way, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will preside over the trial, was sworn in.

Ninety-nine of 100 senators were present for the swearing-in. Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, was at home with a family member facing a medical issue, according to his office. He plans to be sworn in next week before the trial begins in earnest.

Aides said Trump wasn't watching the events on television. He told reporters in the Oval Office: "I think it should go very quickly. It's a hoax, it's a hoax. Everybody knows that."

Trial testimony won't get under way until the Senate reconvenes on Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend.

After the swearing-in, the Senate notified the White House of the pending trial and summoned Trump, but he will be given time to reply.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, recited unanimous agreements setting deadlines for trial documents. The House has until 5 pm on Saturday to file its trial brief, the White House until Monday noon to file its trial brief, and the House until noon on Tuesday to file its rebuttal.

At least two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate would have to vote to convict Trump to remove him from office. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

The articles accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political rival, former US vice-president Joe Biden, while withholding a valuable White House meeting and $391 million in military aid. The withholding of the aid is central to the impeachment proceedings against Trump.

Shortly before the impeachment process got underway, the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, an independent congressional watchdog, said the Trump administration broke the law when it withheld the aid to Ukraine last year. The GAO said funds appropriated by Congress can't be withheld by the White House.

The White House criticized the decision as "overreach".

On Thursday, the White House also dismissed allegations from Lev Parnas, a businessman and former associate of Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, that Trump was aware of a scheme to get Ukraine to announce investigations into Biden, a potential Democratic rival in the 2020 presidential election.

Parnas turned over to House investigators what he said were details of a pressure campaign against Ukraine, and he said on Wednesday in an interview on CNN and with The New York Times that he believed Trump was fully aware of the efforts to dig up dirt on his political rival.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham attacked Parnas' credibility, accusing him of seeking attention on anti-Trump media outlets and pointing to Trump's denials that he knows the businessman, despite the two appearing in photos together. "We stand by exactly what we've been saying," she added. "The president did nothing wrong."

 

 

 

US Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts (center) leaves the US Capitol on Thursday in Washington. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP

 

 

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Popular apps break EU data laws]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/18/content_37532772.htm Twitter-owned advertising-tech company MoPub and dating app Grindr have been sharing the personal data of their users to thousands of advertising partners in breach of European Union regulations, according to a study by a consumer rights group.

The Norwegian Consumer Council, or NCC, said in a report that the online advertising industry was "systematically breaking the law", transmitting personal data and tracking users in ways that are banned under the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU's data law.

The report, titled Out of Control, investigates the collection and use of personal data by 10 popular apps, and claims its findings raise serious concerns about the failure of data controllers to protect consumers' data and privacy.

The study scrutinizes the advertising technology industry for the role of apps in disseminating huge amounts of consumers' personal data, "without their meaningful consent in the name of personalizing advertising". The report's authors say the problem is not limited to a few dating apps, but that it is "endemic" across the sector.

Finn Myrstad, the NCC's digital policy director, told The New York Times, which first reported the study: "Any consumer with an average number of apps on their phone-anywhere between 40 and 80 apps-will have their data shared with hundreds or perhaps thousands of actors online."

The NCC said its report shows that every time people use apps, hundreds of "shadowy" entities receive personal information that can be used for targeted advertising, but may also lead to "discrimination, manipulation and exploitation".

The extent of tracking makes it impossible to make informed choices about how personal data is collected, shared and used, according to Myrstad.

"The massive commercial surveillance going on throughout the ad-tech industry is systematically at odds with our fundamental rights and freedoms," said Myrstad.

The council said it is filing formal complaints for breaches of the GDPR against Grindr, owned by Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech, and companies receiving personal data through the app, including Twitter's MoPub, AT&T's AppNexus, OpenX, AdColony and Smaato.

The BBC reports that, in response, Grindr said it was changing its consent platform while Twitter has temporarily disabled the relevant account.

"Every time you open an app like Grindr, advertisement networks get your GPS location, device identifiers and even the fact that you use a gay dating app," Austrian activist Max Schrems said in a statement by the council. "This is an insane violation of users' EU privacy rights."

The dating app Tinder is accused in the study of sharing user data with at least 45 companies owned by the Match Group, which operates a dating website of the same name. The NCC report also criticized other applications, including Qibla Finder, which orients Muslims toward Mecca for prayer; Clue and MyDays used for monitoring fertility periods; and the children's app My Talking Tom 2.

Nearly 20 months since the EU's GDPR data laws took effect in May 2018, "consumers are still pervasively tracked and profiled online", the report said.

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2020-01-18 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK farmer brews baijiu with flavor of England]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532603.htm A farmer in the English county of Essex has come up with an imaginative way to celebrate Chinese New Year-by launching his own version of the nation's favorite spirit, baijiu.

Pete Thompson is a vegetable farmer and much of his produce is for the Chinese market, hence his awareness of and interest in baijiu, a spirit which is familiar to Chinese communities around the world but not hugely well-known beyond that.

He has previously brewed his own apple brandy using fruit that would otherwise have been discarded, and has now teamed up with local brewery the English Spirit Distillery to make a drink out of 100 percent British-sourced sorghum grains.

They were fermented in a way close to the traditional Chinese method before the final distillation process was carried out at the Essex plant, for a product that is 50 percent proof.

It will retail at 45 pounds ($58) per bottle and is currently available direct from the distillery website, with negotiations ongoing for other retail opportunities.

Thompson's brew is described as having a "malty and umami flavor" and can be drunk on its own or as an ingredient in cocktails.

"We've created Thompson's Baijiu to honor Chinese tradition and British science and distilling expertise," he said.

"We marry innovation in growing crops for flavor and desire to create a holistic farming system, with the experience and wisdom of our partners the English Spirit Distillery to create exceptionally delicious spirits."

The new brew is just one of an increasing number of products being made out of produce that would otherwise be discarded.

In 2018, Scottish distillery William Grant and Sons' created a new type of vermouth flavored with coffee, and late last year they added banana peel rum to their product range.

"We've always tried to work holistically. But recently, we've been looking at people who are doing all sorts of interesting things with preserves and fermentation-really, you can do something with everything," Thompson told drinks industry website Harpers.co.uk.

"With spring onions and cabbage, we could be making kimchi. And now there's the baijiu which we're making out of our sorghum, as most of our core farming business goes to UK restaurants and Chinese supermarkets."

The ushering in of the Year of the Rat at the end of the month will be celebrated widely across the United Kingdom. The annual event held in London's Trafalgar Square is now recognized as being the biggest celebration of Chinese New Year anywhere outside Asia.

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Doctors warn of lasting smoke effects]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532657.htm With much of southeastern Australia shrouded by a thick blanket of smoke from bushfires, doctors are warning of severe health problems in the future.

Smoke from the fires, the worst Australia has experienced, is already affecting people's health, especially in Sydney, Melbourne and the national capital Canberra, with pollution levels hitting critical levels.

The poor air quality has become an issue in the lead-up to the Australian Open tennis championships this month in Melbourne, with some players pulling out of the qualifying round due to the pollution.

Several players complained about the conditions, including Australian Bernard Tomic, who sought medical treatment during his first-round loss on Tuesday when he struggled to breathe.

Slovenia's Dalila Jakupovic feared she would pass out before retiring from her match when she collapsed with a coughing fit.

Tennis Australia says it will continue to work with its medical team and scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology and Environment Protection Authority Victoria when making decisions about whether it is safe to play.

Doctors warn that even healthy people could develop serious illnesses, because of the smoke haze.

In a statement on Jan 3, Tony Bartone, president of the Australian Medical Association, or AMA, described the length and density of smoke exposure as "a new, and possibly fatal, health risk" most Australians have never faced before.

"With denser smoke haze and longer periods that people endure smoke inhalation, there is a much higher risk that previously healthy people will face … serious illness," Bartone said.

Australia's bushfires, which began in September last year, have killed at least 27 people, destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 homes, and led to emergency declarations in New South Wales and Victoria states.

Chris Zappala, AMA vice-president and respiratory physician, said the longer people were exposed to air pollution, the more likely they were to develop respiratory problems.

"Ordinarily, patients can handle a few days or a week of smoke particulates in the air... but this exposure is going on at reasonably high levels for a lot longer," Zappala said.

Fine particles

Bushfire smoke irritates the respiratory system and contains fine particles that can travel deep into the lungs, causing damage.

Bruce Thompson, respiratory expert and dean of the School of Health Sciences at Swinburne University in Melbourne, said: "The smoke generated by the current bushfires is a very serious health issue, especially for those with respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis and even upper respiratory conditions such as laryngitis."

The central issue is not only the large particles that are inhaled but more importantly the very fine particles that are less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5), he said.

"These particles cause inflammation and get inhaled very deep into the lungs, causing the lung to become inflamed. This is a big problem for people with respiratory conditions. They also can cross over from the lung into the bloodstream and cause inflammation in areas such as the heart," he said.

Clare Murphy, professor at the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Life Sciences at the University of Wollongong, south of Sydney, said the sheer numbers of people who have been exposed to very high levels of smoke pollution over extended periods in the bushfire crisis is unprecedented.

"In addition to the fine particles that are damaging to human health, smoke from bushfires contains significant amounts of different gases that are also toxic (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, acrolein and hydrogen cyanide)," she said.

"These additional airborne toxins are not measured at air quality monitoring stations (as they would usually be below the detection limits of available instruments), but nevertheless will impact on the health of those breathing the smoke."

 

A military helicopter flies above a burning woodchip mill in Eden, in Australia's New South Wales state on Jan 6. SAEED KHAN/AFP

 

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[New accord gives hope to US ports]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532648.htm Officials at US West Coast ports, some of which have experienced significant cargo losses, were cautiously optimistic as China and the United States on Wednesday signed the first part of a hard-fought trade deal.

"We have yet to see any details about the phase one deal, but we do know that cargo volumes will not return in the short run," said Gene Seroka, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, which has watched traffic drop for more than year.

"We've experienced 14 consecutive months of declining exports, and China has developed new trading partners. With imports, the migration of manufacturing to Southeast Asia is real, and we are seeing the effects to global trade flows," Seroka said. "All of this may be the new normal. The global trade and business community needs a sense of certainty so that we can execute our plans."

US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on Wednesday signed the trade deal at the White House, providing a respite after 18 months of trade skirmishes between the world's two largest economies.

The Port of Los Angeles, which called China a leading trade partner, reported that it moved 8.59 million TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) of cargo last year through November, which was about a half-percent more than the same period in 2018.

The port was due to reveal its December trade volume on Thursday, but that number was expected to fall slightly below the December 2018 figure, which was 9.4 million in cargo volume.

"We applaud this phase one deal, with an ultimate objective of lifting all of the restrictions on trade that have impacted the budgets of American families and businesses," said Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero.

"Specifically for this gateway, the pledge by China to buy more agricultural goods is a big deal for California's farmers, who saw their buyers of almonds, pistachios, dairy products, wine and other goods dry up in the trade war," he added.

China accounts for more than half of the trade moving through the Port of Long Beach south of Los Angeles.

Imports from China at the port were down 18.6 percent during the first three quarters of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018. Exports to China fell 31 percent for the first three quarters of last year, compared with 2018.

At the Port of Oakland in northern California, where goods from China made up 30 percent to 40 percent of its total cargo volume, officials said they were gratified to see the initial agreement between the US and China and are hopeful that the development will result in an increase in global trade.

Mike Zampa, communications director at the Port of Oakland, said: "The agreement is long overdue. The deal holds promise for our customers at the Port of Oakland, because it calls for significant increases in China's purchase of US farm goods, and since Oakland is one of the nation's principal agricultural export gateways, we expect the exporters who ship through Oakland are going to benefit."

"So, we are pleased with all of that, however, there's more work to be done. Most tariffs will remain in place, so we encourage both sides, the US and China, to resume negotiation and break down the remaining trade barriers," he added.

California is the largest exporter to China among all US states. Imports from the country at the San Pedro Bay complex, which includes the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, fell 9.6 percent during the first half of 2019, compared with the same period in 2018, while exports to China declined 22 percent.

Commodities to China

The trade dispute has had a sizable impact on the sales of certain commodities to China. The bay complex exported 96.6 percent fewer soybeans and 73.9 percent fewer grains to China.

Wheat exports to China, grown across 10 states from the Pacific Northwest to the Midwest and exported via Washington and Oregon ports on the Columbia River, nearly ceased last year.

"We are pleased that this agreement puts a hold on the increasing tariffs and retaliatory tariffs between the United States and China and hopeful that this initial agreement results in additional reductions in tariffs over the coming months," said Peter McGraw, media officer at the Port of Seattle in Washington state.

"We believe that productive engagement and negotiation is the best way to address barriers to a fair and level playing field for trade between our two countries," he added.

In September, the six largest West Coast ports-the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland-appealed to the Trump administration in a joint letter warning that the escalating trade conflict between the two countries "will create irredeemable economic harm".

Cargo cranes are used to take containers off from a Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation boat on Nov 4 at the Port of Tacoma in Tacoma, Washington state. TED S. WARREN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Abe trip yields limited results]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532641.htm Tokyo's efforts to mediate conflicts and to expand influence in the Middle East met limitations, experts said as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe concluded his five-day trip to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, and returned to Tokyo on Wednesday.

"The aims of Abe's Gulf tour were threefold judging from the available information: to secure its oil supply amid tensions between the United States and Iran; to win support for the dispatch of Japan's naval forces to the region and to help mediate and prevent an uncontrolled military escalation," said Yu Qiang, a researcher of Japan studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing.

"The three goals were a united, purposeful approach composed of interrelated parts," Yu said. "Its (the tour's) results, however, turned out to be limited."

As an energy-poor island country, Japan has always kept a close eye on Middle East stability. And according to the nation's Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, nearly 90 percent of the crude oil imported by Japan comes from the Middle East and more than 80 percent passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which is partly controlled by Iran.

"Japan's need for energy is the main driver of its increased involvement in the Middle East, and there are concerns that rising tensions there could jeopardize Japan's energy security, a national security priority for Tokyo," Yu said.

In response, Abe kept stressing the need to defuse tensions and the importance of a continuous and stable oil supply to Japan when meeting with the leaders of the three countries.

"Any military confrontation in the region that includes a country like Iran will have an impact not only on peace and stability in the region but the peace and stability of the whole world," Abe said when meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and called on "all relevant countries to engage in diplomatic efforts to defuse tensions".

As the largest crude oil exporter to Japan and the world, Saudi Arabia accounts for about 39 percent of Japan's overall crude imports.

Before leaving Tokyo, Abe reaffirmed Tokyo's decision to send Self-Defense Forces personnel and assets to the Middle East for an "information-gathering mission".

His decision came despite a recent poll by the Kyodo news agency showing 58.4 percent of Japanese surveyed opposing the mission and opposition parties in Japan calling for its cancellation,

Meanwhile, Japan's Defense Minister Taro Kono on Tuesday defended the decision, saying it was in the Japanese people's interest.

"It is in Japanese interest to protect the safety of the navigation in the area," Kono told reporters at a joint news conference with US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper at the Pentagon in Washington.

According to Japan's Defense Ministry, two P-3C Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance aircraft will start their mission to cover the high seas in the Gulf of Oman, the northern Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden on Jan 20; and a destroyer, the Takanami, will leave Japan on Feb 2 to join them, with the Strait of Hormuz excluded from the mission.

Commenting on the mission, Liu Qingbin, a professor at the Institute of Advanced Sciences at Yokohama National University, said that although Japan had reiterated its neutral stance, the mission is still controversial.

"First, it is very hard to believe that Japan, as a close US ally will be neutral in potential conflicts. And second, the dispatch itself is controversial given Japan's pacifist Constitution. And will it really be helpful for the 'safe navigation of Japanese ships in the region'?"

Responding to queries whether Japan would join a US-led mission aiming at deterring Iranian attacks, Kono pointed to restrictions in Japan's Constitution, but added: We will be closely communicating with the United States as an ally."

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532640.htm SWITZERLAND

2019 confirmed as second-hottest year

Last year was the second-hottest year on record after 2016, just as the past five years are the top five hottest and the past 10 years also the top 10, the World Meteorological Organization, or WMO, said on Wednesday, expecting more extreme weather throughout 2020 and the coming decades. The latest WMO data show that average temperatures for the five-year (2015-19) and 10-year (2010-19) periods were the highest on record. Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one, and the trend is expected to continue because of record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The year 2016 remains the hottest year on record, because of the combination of a very strong El Nino event, which has a warming impact, and long-term climate change.

JAPAN

Ghosn's lawyer quits after client's escape

The Japanese lawyer nicknamed the "Razor" who was spearheading Carlos Ghosn's defense said on Thursday he is quitting the case after his client skipped bail and fled Japan for Lebanon. Junichiro Hironaka's office issued a brief statement saying they had "filed with the Tokyo District Court letters of resignation for all lawyers... connected with all cases related to Mr Carlos Ghosn". Hironaka, 74, who earned his nickname for sharp legal strategies and an enviable acquittal record, has said he was "dumbfounded" by Ghosn's escape, which he discovered via the media on the morning his client fled. Ghosn is believed to have left Japan by hiding in a large case for audio equipment on a private jet, aided by a team of operatives.

INDIA

6.5-km cake touted as world's longest

It was a record-baking effort. Hundreds of bakers and chefs in southern India came together on Wednesday to create what they said is the world's longest cake-about 6.5 kilometers. They spread chocolate ganache on the serpentine dessert stretched out on thousands of tables and desks at a festival ground and adjoining roads in the coastal state of Kerala's Thrissur city. The vanilla cake, 10 centimeters wide and thick, weighed in at about 27,000 kilograms. About 1,500 bakers and chefs, wearing traditional whites and toque blanche caps, spent nearly four hours to put it together using 12,000 kg of sugar and flour.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[WEF sees change in climate as global risk]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532604.htm Economic and political polarization will increase this year, according to a report published by the World Economic Forum, or WEF, on Wednesday.

And the report says severe climate disasters will pose the biggest threat to the world during the coming 10 years.

For the first time in the 15-year history of the WEF's Global Risk Report, the top five global risks in terms of likelihood of occurrence are dominated by the environment.

The report writers interviewed more than 750 global experts, decision-makers, business leaders, and representatives of NGOs to rank their biggest concerns in terms of likelihood and impact.

The study found 78 percent of the respondents expect "economic confrontations" and "domestic political polarizations" to rise in 2020.

"This would prove catastrophic, particularly for addressing urgent challenges like the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and record species decline," the report said.

The survey was released ahead of the annual WEF in Davos, Switzerland, next week, which will be attended by world leaders, investors, and CEOs.

Issues of concern among the respondents include extreme weather events, the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation by governments and businesses, human-made environmental damage and disasters, major biodiversity loss, and ecosystem collapse.

Major natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, could also affect the global economy in 2020, according to the report.

The WEF warns that, without urgent attention directed toward repairing societal divisions and driving sustainable economic growth, leaders will not be able to systemically address threats, including climate change or lack of biodiversity.

WEF President Borge Brende said: "The political landscape is polarized, sea levels are rising and climate fires are burning. This is the year when world leaders must work with all sectors of society to repair and reinvigorate our systems of cooperation, not just for short-term benefit but for tackling our deep-rooted risks."

The Geneva-based NGO also quizzed the "younger generation", those born after 1980, who ranked environmental risks higher than other respondents in both the short-and long-term. Those respondents believe extreme heat waves, destruction of ecosystems, and health impacted by pollution will all be problems this year. And they also believe the impact from environmental risks by 2030 will be more catastrophic and more likely than they are today.

Peter Giger, group chief risk officer at Zurich Insurance Group, which helped to compile the report, warned of the urgent need to adapt faster to avoid the irreversible impacts of climate change and urged more to be done to protect the planet's biodiversity.

"Biologically diverse ecosystems capture vast amounts of carbon and provide massive economic benefits that are estimated at $33 trillion per year-equivalent to the GDP of the US and China combined. It's critical that companies and policy-makers move faster to transition to a low-carbon economy and more sustainable business models," Giger said.

 

 

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Venice flood project to be ready in 2020]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532630.htm ROME-The ambitious plan to protect the Italian canal city of Venice from severe flooding went through its first dry run this week and had good early reviews.

Venice, on Italy's northeastern coastline, was battered by record flooding in November. Waters rose 1.87 meters above normal, leaving two people dead and causing more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in property damage, including harm to some of the city's cultural riches.

Flood risks are not new to Venice, which is made up of 118 small islands divided by canals and lagoons.

Starting in 2003, the Italian government began the development of a complex set of gates aimed at keeping water levels from rising too high in the city. But the 5.5-billion euro project, called MOSE-an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Italian for Electromechanical Experimental Module)-was not yet ready to reduce the impact of last year's flood.

Based on the first full-scale test of MOSE this week, the project will be ready soon. The test moved 20 of the 78 water gates designed to block water level rise at four key junctures.

"If an emergency presents itself again, we will be able to raise the barriers and save the city from the worst damage," Italian Minister of Transport and Infrastructure Paola De Micheli told reporters on Monday.

Plagued by delays

Over its 17-year history, the MOSE project has been plagued by delays. Its original completion date was in 2016. But according to Monica Ambrosini, a senior official with the Venezia Nuova Consortium, which oversees the MOSE project, if rounds of tests go according to plan, it should be fully operational sometime between June and October this year-well ahead of the latest scheduled deadline at the end of next year.

"The gates are all in place," Ambrosini said."The only thing we lack now is the mechanisms used to raise and lower the gates. They'll be ready soon."

That was not the case on Nov 12, when flooding with the highest water levels in 50 years and the second-highest recorded hit the city. Some of the gates were operational, but Ambrosini said that raising just some of the gates would have made the problem worse.

"Ultimately, if some were raised, the water level would have ended up the same but the flow of water through the inlets where the barriers were not raised would have sped up," she said.

According to Giuseppe Passoni, a professor of environmental and land plan engineering at the Politecnico University in Milan, MOSE should solve most of the flood-related problems Venice could face. MOSE's architects say the gates should be able to withstand water level rises of as high as 3 meters, well above the all-time record of 1.94 meters of water level rise recorded in 1966.

"Once MOSE is fully operational, it will only be necessary to properly maintain it, and make sure there are no secondary problems," Passoni said.

Another challenge, the professor said, will be to make sure the gates are not raised too often, or if they are, enough oxygen is pumped into the Venice lagoon to make sure it can still support fish and plant life.

"If the lagoon were walled off for good it would quickly become stagnant because of a lack of oxygen in the water," Passoni said.

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Anti-Huawei pitch fizzles in UK]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532628.htm British ministers and officials have been less than impressed by an anti-Huawei presentation delivered this week by members of a United States delegation.

The high-level visitors from US President Donald Trump's administration delivered their message "dramatically" on Monday, The Guardian newspaper reported, but their contention that the Chinese technology giant poses a security risk to the United Kingdom's 5G networks reportedly came with no new evidence.

The newspaper said the feedback it got after the presentation suggests British intelligence agencies are not inclined to alter their assessment that Huawei poses a manageable security risk, a conclusion shared by the BBC.

A British government source told the paper: "We'd already anticipated the kind of threat that the US material demonstrates, and factored that into our planning."

The UK government is expected to make a decision imminently on whether it will allow the company to participate in the nation's 5G rollout. The government of then-prime minister Theresa May made an interim decision last spring, saying the use of Huawei components in some "non-core" areas of the network was acceptable.

The delegation said before it made its pitch that it had fresh technical evidence.

After the delegation finished, its members met journalists and one delegate insisted it would be "nothing short of madness" if Britain allowed Huawei to supply equipment for high-speed 5G mobile phone networks because components could feature secret "back doors" that allow espionage.

Despite the claims, no such back doors have been found and no proof of their existence offered and Huawei has said its equipment is safe.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said this week he does not want to jeopardize Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with the US but that he also does not want to stymie economic growth by failing to roll out 5G in a timely manner.

He told the BBC Breakfast program that "the British public deserves to have access to the best possible technology".

"We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody," he said. "Now, if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what's the alternative."

Separately, Reuters reported that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was set to meet conservative lawmakers on Thursday to discuss whether Huawei should be banned from that nation's 5G networks.

Her party has partnered with the Social Democrats to form a coalition government but the junior partner has been reported to want to ban Huawei from German networks. Merkel had previously said she did not support an exclusion.

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Trump impeachment articles sent to Senate]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532615.htm Members of the US House of Representatives delivered the articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump to the Senate on Wednesday, setting the stage for the third presidential impeachment trial in the country's history.

Led by the House of Representatives' sergeant-at-arms and the House clerk carrying the documents on a tray, seven House managers walked through a nearly empty Statuary Hall and the Capitol rotunda.

More than a dozen Senate Democrats sat silently at their desks when the group arrived at the Senate. They were joined by two Republican senators, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kevin Cramer.

A third Republican, Chuck Grassley, presided from the dais.

The House members were ushered to a bench at the rear of the Senate chamber, where they sat in silence as the House clerk announced the impeachment resolution had passed, and Grassley responded: "The message will be received."

Earlier on Wednesday, the House voted 228-193 along party lines to send the articles to the Senate. The vote came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi withheld the articles for nearly a month in an attempt to influence the rules of the trial.

The articles of impeachment accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine to open investigations to benefit him politically, including by withholding almost $400 million in aid to help the country combat Russian aggression, and of impeding Congress' investigation by preventing witnesses from testifying, and defying subpoenas for documentary evidence. Trump denies such claims.

The House also approved a resolution naming seven impeachment managers who will present the Democratic-controlled chamber's case against Trump during the trial that is expected to start on Jan 21.

Trump also will designate a team to defend himself. White House counsel Pat Cipollone is expected to lead the team. Trump's personal lawyer Jay Sekulow is also expected to join.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham accused Pelosi of lying "when she claimed this was urgent and vital to national security because when the articles passed, she held them for an entire month".

Trump posted a single tweet: "Here we go again, another Con Job by the Do Nothing Democrats."

Later on Wednesday morning at a White House ceremony for the signing of the first phase of a trade deal with China, attended by a delegation from China and Trump's Cabinet members, Trump brought up the impeachment. He again denounced it as a "hoax", and told House Republicans in the audience that if they needed to, they could be excused to rush to the Capitol to vote against naming the Democratic managers and advancing the charges to the Senate.

The House managers were expected to go to the Senate on Thursday to read the articles of impeachment against Trump.

A Senate trial on Jan 21 would give members time to vote this week to approve Trump's trade agreement with Canada and Mexico. They also can travel to their home districts for the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend. Once the trial begins, the senators must be at their desks in the Senate chamber six days a week.

McConnell said senators would take sworn oaths to render "impartial justice" in the trial. But he told reporters last month that he was "not an impartial juror" and recently he supported a resolution to dismiss the articles of impeachment in the Senate, though it is unlikely that the resolution would have enough support to pass.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Smooth transition seen in Russia change]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532611.htm The unexpected resignation of the Russian government will not have a big impact on the country's military and foreign policies or its relations with other countries, experts said.

Dmitry Medvedev resigned as Russian prime minister hours after President Vladimir Putin put forward a proposal to amend Russia's Constitution in his annual state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly on Wednesday.

Russia's State Duma, the lower house of Parliament, approved Putin's nomination of Mikhail Mishustin as the new prime minister late on Thursday. Mishustin formerly was the chief of the Federal Taxation Service.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia's ruling party, United Russia, unanimously approved Mishustin's candidacy ahead of the formal parliamentary vote. The party has a majority in the Duma.

Alexey Zudin, a politics expert from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, said the resignation of Medvedev's government is not an extemporization, but a decision made with deliberateness.

Zudin said the timing is well chosen, and the administration needs to be changed in order to push the national projects Putin raised in his address.

Dmitry Badovsky, head of the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Research, said the new government would focus more on the country's technological development and the solutions required for its economic problems.

It is clear that Medvedev's resignation is related to Putin's proposal for amendments to the Constitution, as well as to some problems Russia is facing, he said.

As Mishustin has abundant experience in economics, the new government is expected to bring greater efficiency to its work, said Badovsky, adding that policies could include those for economic stimulus.

'Internal matter'

China said on Thursday that its relationship with Russia would not be affected by the change in political processes under way.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the government's resignation is an internal matter for Russia, and China completely respected that.

Noting that relations between the two neighbors have become mature, stable and resilient, Geng said China is confident about developing and deepening the Sino-Russian comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination for a new era.

Chen Yu, an expert in Russian studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said the change of government won't bring any challenges to Sino-Russian relations because cooperation between the countries is comprehensive, with effective mechanisms and mutual needs being met in a range of fields.

"Moreover, the new prime minister is familiar with economic affairs, and may bring more new opportunities to the future China-Russia practical bilateral cooperation," he said.

Chen said the structure of the Russian political system held that powerful state ministries, such as the Foreign and Defense ministries, come under the direct management of the president. Therefore, the country's foreign policy and military development will not be affected by the government's resignation.

Andrei Bystritsky, chairman of the board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, agrees with that view.

He said the resignation of Medvedev's whole government will not have a big impact on Russia's ties with other countries, since it is still the head of state that defines the country's foreign policy."It will not affect the country's foreign policy. Some slight changes are likely but they are not going to be significant."

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Mikhail Mishustin, the newly named prime minister, in Moscow on Wednesday. RIA/XINHUA

 

 

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU frets over its citizens' rights after Britain's imminent exit from bloc]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/17/content_37532631.htm The European Union has called on the British government to set up an independent monitoring authority to ensure there is no discrimination against EU citizens seeking permanent residency in the United Kingdom.

Members of the European Parliament have warned that Britain's imminent exit from the bloc could endanger the rights and protections of many of the 3.5 million EU citizens living there.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told European lawmakers in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday they must not accept any "disguised" form of discrimination in negotiations.

"I will continue to insist on the particular importance of the UK putting in place a strong, independent monitoring authority ... that must be able to act rapidly and fairly when faced with complaints from EU citizens and their families," Barnier said.

"We must now work toward proper implementation of these rights and we won't be accepting any half measures or any form of disguised or veiled discrimination."

The British government is changing border controls that have been in place for decades. With its departure from the EU fast approaching on Jan 31, priority will no longer be given to EU migrants over those from other countries.

EU nationals living in the UK have until June 2021 to apply for permanent residency under the separation agreement reached between Britain and the EU's 27 other member states last year.

Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, Britain will have a transition period to the end of this year to find agreement with the EU on how their relationship will work.

Ending freedom of movement will have consequences for EU or British nationals providing services in the other territory, as well as limiting tourism stays and healthcare insurance, and the recognition of professional qualifications.

Citizenship issues could also have consequences for the ownership of companies operating in the UK and the EU, such as airlines, for digital privacy rules and for access to internet domains.

Speaking to members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stressed that no freedom of movement will exist after the end of the transition period for the one million British citizens currently living in EU countries and EU citizens living in the UK.

"After the transition period, the UK will be a third country and Brexit will mean changes to those who want to make their future life on either side of the Channel," she said.

"We will make the citizens' rights our main priority."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his negotiating team believe a comprehensive trade deal and future relationship can be reached by the Dec 31 deadline. But last week, during a visit to London, Von der Leyen warned it would be impossible to reach a full deal on that timetable.

Other key issues to be negotiated include trade, fishing, security, transport and energy as the two sides disentangle nearly five decades of Britain being enmeshed in the union.

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2020-01-17 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Nairobi gets a taste of art from Qinghai]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532418.htm An exhibition showcasing the culture and art of ethnic groups in Qinghai province went on display at a Confucius Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, on Monday.

The displayed items, covering various forms of art and photography, served to highlight the longstanding friendship between China and Africa.

The exhibition, Experience China-Magnificent Qinghai, was held at the Confucius Institute at Kenyatta University in the Kenyan capital.

At the opening of the exhibition, Elizabeth Nasubo, deputy director of the Department of Culture in Kenya's Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, hailed an enduring relationship between Kenya and China that dates to the 1950s.

"The cultural cooperation between Kenya and China is growing stronger as seen through this exhibition," Nasubo said. "We are happy to continue on this path because this cultural collaboration is an important stimulus for our youth to adopt positive behavior, thoughts and values.

"We are therefore grateful to China for being ready to work with us to promote our creative industry and we are looking forward to further collaborations."

The exhibition included traditional paintings by celebrated Chinese artist Xia Wujiao as well as photographs of Qinghai's spellbinding landscape and culture. During this leg of the tour, the Qinghai artists visited South Africa and Zambia, as well as Kenya, to promote learning, exchanges and dialogue between Chinese and Africans on cultural themes.

Zhou Meifen, the culture counselor to the Chinese embassy in Kenya, said cultural exchanges have become an indispensable part of strengthening relations between countries.

She said that Qinghai province, much like Kenya, is a place where people co-exist with nature in harmony. Cultural cooperation will make it easier for the people to understand each other through their shared backgrounds, Zhou said.

The touring exhibition provides an opportunity to show how civilizations can engage in dialogue and exchange on an equal footing, in order to facilitate mutual learning. This insight was reiterated by Wang Zhiming, deputy minister in the publicity department of the Qinghai provincial committee.

"In order to make the people of Kenya better understand China and Qinghai, we carefully selected more than 200 pictures and paintings for this exhibition," Wang said. "It is hoped that in this unique way a road from Qinghai to Africa will be constructed through which cultural exchange and mutual learning will be strengthened to promote the common development of the art and cultures of our people."

Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Boeing plane orders hit 16-year low]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532489.htm Orders for Boeing planes fell to a 16-year low in 2019 after two crashes of the 737 Max aircraft killed 346 people and led to the worldwide grounding of the plane, costing the company nearly $10 billion and its title as the world's largest aircraft manufacturer.

Before the cancellations, Boeing said it had received 246 orders for all types of new planes last year, the lowest number since 2003. Prior to 2019, Boeing had booked orders for about 4,500 Max jets, or enough to keep the production line running for seven to 10 years. However, Boeing last month temporarily halted production because it has about 400 completed but undelivered planes in storage.

Boeing said on Tuesday that it delivered 380 planes last year, including 127 Max jets. That's about 44 percent of the 863 planes delivered by European rival Airbus, now the world's largest aircraft builder.

Last year, Airbus delivered 690 single-aisle planes that compete with the 737 Max, Boeing's top seller. It's unclear when the US Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, and regulators around the world will approve the Max's return to the sky after crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019.

Last year, Boeing delivered 158 long-haul, twin-aisle Dreamliners. That's 13 more than in 2018, and 80 more large planes of all types than Airbus delivered in 2019.

In midday trading, Boeing's stock ticked up on Tuesday on news of strong Dreamliner deliveries; it closed the day at $332.35, up $2.13 a share, or 0.65 percent. The 52-week range is $319.55 to $446.01.

David Calhoun took over as Boeing's CEO on Monday and immediately faces new problems.

Moody's Investors Service said on Monday that it placed Boeing's debt on a 90-day review for a possible downgrade. Less than a month ago, Moody's cut Boeing's credit rating by one grade as problems regarding the Max drag on longer than anticipated. The lower bond rating means Boeing must pay more to borrow.

"Recent developments suggest a more costly and protracted recovering for Boeing to restore confidence with its various market constituents, and an ensuing period of heightened operational and financial risk, even if certification of the Max comes relatively near term, as expected," Moody's analyst Jonathan Root said in a note to investors.

In emails Boeing disclosed last week, some employees mocked the FAA, questioned the need for additional flight simulator training for pilots and called the staff of Lion Air, the Indonesian airline involved in the first crash, "idiots" for asking for additional training in the Max jets.

In one exchange reported by Bloomberg News and Forbes on Monday, an unnamed Boeing employee wrote: "Now friggin' (Lion Air) might need a sim (flight simulator, a ground-based, computer-driven mock-up of the Max's cockpit controls) to fly the Max and maybe because of their own stupidity. I'm scrambling trying to figure out how to unscrew this now! Idiots."

Another employee responded: "But their sister airline is already flying it!"-an apparent reference to Malaysian carrier Malindo Air.

Lion Air declined to respond when asked if it were the airline named in the messages, but people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg that Lion Air had asked about simulator training before accepting Boeing's word that it was not necessary.

Earlier this month, Boeing reversed itself and said it would recommend pilots receive flight simulator training before flying the Max.

A report on the October 2018 crash of the Lion Air flight criticized Boeing for not telling airlines about the Max's new anti-stall device.

Investigators believe the Max's automated anti-stall device erroneously pointed the nose of the planes down to avoid a midair stall and into a fatal plunge. Boeing has updated the system's anti-stall software, but the FAA has not yet approved it.

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Boeing said new CEO Calhoun will receive a $7 million bonus if he secures regulatory approval for the Max to return to commercial service. Some lawmakers criticized the deal.

 

An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 Max aircraft at Boeing facilities at an airport in Moses Lake, Washington state, on Sept 16. LINDSEY WASSON/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Wild winter weather claims 160 lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532488.htm ISLAMABAD-Search teams helped by Pakistani troops pulled out 21 more bodies from homes destroyed by this week's avalanches in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, raising the overall death toll due to severe winter weather to 160 for Pakistan and Afghanistan, officials said on Wednesday.

Since Sunday, 76 people have been killed in Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir in weather-related incidents and 45 people killed in Pakistan's southwestern Baluchistan and eastern Punjab provinces. Another 39 people were killed in Afghanistan.

The worst affected area was Neelum Valley in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, where the 21 bodies were retrieved, said Ahmad Raza Qadri, the minister for disaster management authority in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

Rescue operations continued in the area on Wednesday. They slowed down with nightfall, increasing the difficulties for the rescue teams, he said.

Qadri said heavy rains and snow had been pounding the Neelum Valley for the past few days, causing blockages on main roads that hampered the rescue efforts.

He said that Rescue 1122, a state-owned rescue agency, the Pakistani military and non-governmental organizations carried out the rescue and relief operations during the day.

"The meteorological office told us about the situation in advance, and we also issued an advisory for the people, but avalanches are something which cannot be prevented, though villagers might have taken some measures," he said.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said the severe snowfall and landslides had caused misery and deaths, and he asked the military, the disaster management authority and all federal ministries to "immediately provide all humanitarian assistance on an emergency footing to the affected people".

Saeed ur Rehman Qureshi, another disaster management official, blamed climate change as the major contributor to the unusual weather pattern in the area. "The effect of climate change is so rapid in the area that unexpected weather patterns including torrential rains, cloudbursts, heavy snowfall and avalanches triggered by them are being witnessed in the region," the official said.

Across the border in Afghanistan, more than 300 houses were either destroyed or partially damaged throughout the country, said Ahmad Tamim Azimi, a spokesman for the Natural Disaster Management Authority.

"A cold snap, heavy snowfall and rains that started two weeks ago have caused damage," he said.

Most of the deaths came after roofs collapsed under the thick snow, he said.

In Herat, seven people-all members of the same family and including children-died when the roof of their home caved in, Azimi said.

Harsh winters often take a heavy toll in mountainous Afghanistan, and the country remains poor despite billions of dollars in aid from the international community.

 

Workers remove snow from a hotel roof after heavy snowfall in the Khanozai area of Baluchistan Province, Pakistan on Tuesday. BANARAS KHAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Russian PM submits resignation to Putin]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532487.htm Dmitry Medvedev, Russian prime minister, submitted his resignation to President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, Russia's Tass news agency reported.

Russian media said Putin thanked Medvedev for his work. They said that Putin will name Medvedev as deputy secretary of the presidential Security Council.

Putin asked Medvedev's Cabinet ministers to keep working until a new one is formed, Russian media said.

Medvedev has served as Russia's prime minister since 2012. He spent four years before that as president from 2008.

Medvedev's resignation followed Putin's annual state of the nation address earlier on Wednesday.

During Putin's address to the Federal Assembly in Moscow, he proposed a national referendum on amendments to the Russian Constitution.

According to Putin, Russians may be asked to vote on some key changes to the Constitution, including setting out its supremacy over international law, as well as tightening background requirements for presidential candidates.

The amendments to the Constitution could be brought up for a popular vote to ensure "the development of Russia as a "welfare and rule-of-law state", he said.

Putin suggested stricter profiling of top officials, starting with the presidential candidates and going all the way down.

An amended Constitution would include requirements for "persons holding positions crucial for ensuring the country's security and sovereignty", like the prime minister, Cabinet ministers, governors, and heads of federal agencies, and that they should be barred from having foreign citizenships or residence permits.

In his address, Putin also called on nuclear-armed countries to work on a common approach aimed at preventing a global war.

He said the five permanent United Nations Security Council members-Russia, the United States, China, the United Kingdom and France-must devise "measures aimed at neutralizing any conditions for a global war".

Putin also said, for the first time in history, Russia is "not catching up" to anyone in terms of its military . Instead, he said, it is the other countries that are racing to develop advanced weapons that Russia already possessed.

During Putin's 15th state of the nation address since 2000, he called on the government to resolve large-scale social, economic problems "without delay".

The speech, which was different from previous addresses when Putin addressed many international issues and military developments, also saw the president focus a lot on domestic issues.

For one thing, he said he was dissatisfied with Russia's birthrate, saying low incomes of most households with children directly threatened Russia's demographic future.

"There are almost 147 million people in Russia today, but the country has entered a tense demographic period, with birthrates falling again," Putin said.

Agencies contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Middle East dominates debate]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532469.htm The seventh debate involving Democratic hopefuls for this year's presidential election kicked off with blunt exchanges over the United States' policy in the Middle East.

The candidates were asked individually why they were qualified to be the country's commander in chief.

US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont brought up the 2003 Iraq War, saying he had helped to lead the effort against it.

He called the Iraq invasion "the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country".

"Joe (Biden) and I listened to what (then vice-president) Dick Cheney and (then president) George Bush and (then secretary of defense Donald) Rumsfeld had to say," Sanders said. "I thought they were lying. I didn't believe them for a moment. I took to the floor (of the House of Representatives). I did everything I could to prevent that war. Joe saw it differently," he said.

Former US vice-president Biden, who voted in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq, said: "It was a mistake to trust that they (the George W. Bush administration) weren't going to go to war. They said they were just going to get inspectors (to search for weapons of mass destruction). The world, in fact, voted to send inspectors in and they still went to war."

Biden said that when Barack Obama chose him as his running mate for the 2008 presidential election, Obama subsequently relied on him to draw down the US troop presence in Iraq.

Biden criticized the Trump administration on its approach to Iran. "We're in a situation where our allies in Europe are making a comparison between the United States and Iran, saying both ought to stand down, making a moral equivalence. We have lost our standing in the region."

US Senator Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, said: "Donald Trump is taking us pell mell toward another war", in reference to the confrontation with Iran after the US killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike at the Baghdad airport on Jan 3.

Iraq's Parliament recently passed a nonbinding resolution calling for US troops to leave the country.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, said: "We need to get our combat troops out (of Iraq)".

Pete Buttigieg, an ex-mayor of South Bend in Indiana and former US naval officer who served in Afghanistan, said: "The president's actually sending more (troops)."

Biden was cautious about pulling all US forces out of Iraq because of the threat of terrorism in the region: "There's no way you negotiate with terrorists. They're going to come to us. They've come to us before, and they're going to come to us again."

Buttigieg said that if US troops can summon the courage to fight, the Congress needs to do the same to prevent military action without congressional approval.

Afghan war

Of the nearly two-decade US military presence in Afghanistan, Warren said she has listened to "one general after another who says we've just turned the corner. ... We've turned the corner so many times we're going in circles. ... Time to get our combat troops home."

Buttigieg said that the Trump administration, "by gutting the (2015) Iran nuclear deal", had made the region more dangerous.

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer favored economic sanctions on Iran as opposed to military action, and said "the US needs to look beyond being the world's policeman".

Sanders gravitated to a key issue of his, saying"87 million people have no healthcare or are underinsured". He said there are "500,000 people sleeping out on the streets tonight".

The debate at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by broadcaster CNN, featured the smallest field yet as the qualifying criteria was more stringent.

Tuesday's was the last debate before the Feb 3 Iowa caucuses, the first opportunity to gauge how voters stand on the candidates.

 

Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (second from left) speaks as fellow candidates Tom Steyer (left), Joe Biden (second from right) and Bernie Sanders look on during a debate on Tuesday in Des Moines, Iowa. PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Teheran raps Europe move on nuke deal]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532435.htm Three European countries have moved to accuse Iran of failing to keep to the terms of a 2015 deal aimed at curbing its nuclear program, sparking anger from Teheran at a time when calls have been made for a more conciliatory atmosphere.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday criticized the action by the European parties to the nuclear agreement to trigger a dispute mechanism. The Europeans claimed that the Iranians had failed to fulfill their commitments.

Rouhani said Iran could reverse steps that exceeded restrictions in the agreement as soon as sanctions against the Islamic republic are lifted. The country has been struggling with the impact of sanctions imposed by the United States.

Britain, France and Germany-as signatories to the agreement-initiated the dispute process as a means of challenging Teheran over the breaches to the limits imposed on Iran's nuclear program under the accord. The move could eventually lead to the reimposition of United Nations sanctions that had been lifted under the deal.

The Europeans said that they had taken the step in response to Teheran's backing away from its nuclear commitments over the past months.

As one of the signatories to the pact, China regrets that Britain, France and Germany has triggered the dispute mechanism of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and does not believe it will help solve any problem or ease any tensions, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a news conference on Wednesday in Beijing.

It is China's consistent view that there are strong reasons behind Iran's reduction of compliance, said Geng, adding that the withdrawal from the deal by the US in 2018 was "the root cause of the tensions on the Iranian nuclear issue".

"We call on all parties to maintain calm and restraint, insist on resolving implementation differences through dialogues and negotiations under the framework of JCPOA Joint Commission, and restore the balance of rights and obligations in the agreement," said the spokesman.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday that the Europeans' move was "legally baseless" and "a strategic mistake in political terms".

Zarif, in New Delhi for a security conference, criticized what he called the Europeans' failure to honor their own commitments to the deal.

Earlier on Twitter, the minister referred to the decision as a bow to the US "diktat", which "hasn't gotten it anywhere and it never will".

Russia, another signatory to the pact, said it saw no grounds for the mechanism to be triggered, warning that it risked causing a "new escalation".

"We do not rule out that the thoughtless actions of the Europeans could lead to a new escalation around the Iranian nuclear accord," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The three European countries said they still wanted the nuclear deal with Teheran to succeed and expressed "determination to work with all participants to preserve it".

"Our hope is to bring Iran back into full compliance with its commitments under the JCPOA," they said, adding that they were not joining a "maximum pressure" campaign that has been pursued by the US.

But British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on Tuesday for US President Donald Trump to replace the 2015 deal with his own new pact to ensure Iran did not get an atomic weapon.

However, in a televised speech, Rouhani dismissed any so-called Trump deal aimed at resolving the nuclear row, saying it was a "strange" offer and criticized Trump for always breaking promises.

The Iranian president also told the US to return to the pact that Teheran struck with world powers, adding that Iran could reverse its moves to scale back its commitments under the agreement.

First arrests

On Tuesday, Iran made its first arrests over the accidental shooting-down of a Ukrainian jet, which killed all 176 passengers and crew on board last week.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested. But he did not say how many of them had been held, nor did he identify them.

A spokesman for Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, Reza Jafarzadeh, said on Tuesday that investigations by Canadian experts is underway at the crash site near Teheran, according to Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency.

Jafarzadeh said the Canadians had collected documents after a meeting between experts from Iran, Canada and Ukraine.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had asked for Kiev's help in talking to Iran about the work required for identifying the bodies of the Canadian citizens who were killed, the Ukrainian president's office said.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which operates Interpol's national bureau in Canada, said it was working with Canadian police to collect DNA samples from the Canadian victims' families in Canada to assist with identification.

Among the victims were more than 140 Iranian nationals, with a large number of Canadians, along with those from Ukraine, Sweden, Germany and Britain.

AFP, Reuters and Xinhua contributed to this story.

 

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif speaks to reporters upon his arrival at the airport in New Delhi, on Tuesday. ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Plane dumps fuel over five schools in Los Angeles]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532455.htm LOS ANGELES-An airplane with engine trouble returning to Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, on Tuesday morning dropped jet fuel onto five schools, leaving some people with minor injuries.

The fuel, described by fire officials as a vapor, caused minor skin and lung irritation to 56 children and adults but nobody was taken to the hospital and the only decontamination required was soap and water, officials said.

The airplane, Delta Flight 89, had taken off with 149 passengers on board and was en route to Shanghai when it turned around and headed back to the airport, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"Shortly after takeoff, Flight 89 from LAX to Shanghai experienced an engine issue requiring the aircraft to return to LAX," Delta spokesman Adrian Gee said. "The aircraft landed safely after an emergency fuel release to reduce landing weight."

The mist fell on five elementary schools, but all injuries were minor and there weren't any evacuations, Los Angeles County Fire Department Inspector Sky Cornell said.

"That's a great sign," Cornell said.

All the fuel evaporated very quickly and nothing flammable remained in the air or on the ground, he said.

Diego Martinez, a sixth-grader at Park Avenue Elementary in Cuday, said he and his classmates were outside for physical education class when they saw the airplane flying low overhead.

"It was very close," he said.

The FlightAware website's flight track showed the jet took off over the ocean and made an immediate right turn toward land and circled back over Southern California to approach the airport from the east.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is investigating.

"There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major US airport," the FAA said in a statement. "These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground."

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU outlines funding for Green Deal]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532447.htm The European Commission on Tuesday unveiled the funding details for an ambitious 1-trillion-euro ($1.1 trillion) investment plan over the next decade to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

The plan, officially known as the European Green Investment and Just Transition Mechanism, will include money from both public and private sources.

About half of the 1 trillion euros is expected to come from the EU's long-term budget, with national governments contributing 100 billion euros and the private sector providing 300 billion euros.

"The transformation ahead of us is unprecedented. And it will only work if it is just-and if it works for all," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.

"We will support our people and our regions that need to make bigger efforts in this transformation, to make sure that we leave no one behind," she said, adding that the plan to mobilize at least 1 trillion euros will unleash a green investment wave.

The European Parliament election in 2019 witnessed overwhelming support from its citizens to step up the fight against climate change. The now 17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg in late 2018 sparked a youth climate movement that has swept European cities. The European Parliament voted on Nov 28 to declare a climate emergency.

Von der Leyen has made the climate fight her top priority. She unveiled the European Green Deal on Nov 11, just 11 days after taking office. The deal seeks to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by the middle of the century.

So far, Poland is the only EU member state that has not agreed to the EU agenda on achieving the carbon neutrality goal, citing its economy's heavy reliance on coal. About 80 percent of Poland's power is reportedly generated from coal.

The EU green investment plan includes a 100 billion euro Just Transition Fund to help countries like Poland during the transition.

European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal Frans Timmermans said the necessary transition toward climate neutrality is going to improve people's well-being and make Europe more competitive.

"But it will require more efforts from citizens, sectors and regions that rely more on fossil fuels than others," he said.

He described the 100 billion euro Just Transition Fund as "our pledge of solidarity and fairness".

The EU hopes to have its climate law by March this year to help achieve the carbon neutrality goals.

Members of the European Parliament were scheduled this week to further debate the Green Deal and vote on a resolution on Wednesday.

Sebastian Mang, Greenpeace EU's climate and energy adviser, said on Tuesday that if the funding is really meant to promote a green transition, it must only be available to governments that are committed to that transition and have a clear plan to ditch coal.

"If they want the cash, the likes of Poland and the Czech Republic will have to prove they are serious about tackling the climate emergency," he said in a news release posted on the organization's website.

"For the European Green Deal to be successful, all funding, including from the EU budget, needs to stop supporting fossil fuels, nuclear energy and other destructive industries," Mang said.

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU hints at fishing trade-off for Brexit]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532446.htm Allowing European fishing boats access to British waters has been suggested as a possible trade-off for giving Britain's financial sector continued access to European markets following Brexit.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the post-Brexit transition period following UK's Jan 31 departure will not last beyond 2020. That aim is widely seen as unrealistic because the European Union and UK must agree on a new trade relationship.

After that, the United Kingdom's financial services sector will lose access to European markets. Fishing rights will also need renegotiating, so EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has suggested the two issues could be resolved together.

"There certainly will be trade-offs, particularly at the end of the negotiations," Hogan told the Irish Independent newspaper. "The European Union will be seeking concessions on fishery access and the UK will very probably be seeking concessions on financial services."

Croatia has just taken over the rotating presidency of the EU, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said he is willing to take a tough line over negotiations.

"I wouldn't go into the vocabulary of weapons but what I have learned in international and European negotiations (is) that all arguments and considerations are treated as political," he warned.

In the 1960s and 1970s, British trawlers were involved in a series of fishing disputes with Iceland known as the Cod Wars, with numerous incidents of boats ramming one another, before NATO intervened to bring about a diplomatic solution.

Any repeat of such incidents would be disastrous for Britain's new relationship with Europe, a relationship the tone of which, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, will largely be set by Britain's attitude.

"It is the decision of Great Britain how close or distant of the biggest single market in the world they want to be," she said.

"The closer they are, meaning a level playing field, the more they are ready to respect the European rules, the easier accession to the European single market will be. The further away, the less there is of a level playing field, the more difficult their access to the European single market will be. It is a decision Great Britain has to make."

Asked in a BBC interview about the likelihood of a trade deal being reached this year, Johnson said: "I think it's very likely. I'm not going to give you a percentage."

When the interviewer suggested he now sounded less confident than before, Johnson replied: "Enormously likely, how about that? Especially likely ... Obviously you always have to budget for a complete failure of common sense. That goes without saying. But I am very, very, very confident ... that we will get (a deal)."

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532445.htm UNITED STATES

Encryption battle reignited over iPhones

Apple and the US government are at loggerheads for the second time in four years over unlocking iPhones connected to a mass shooting, reviving debate over law enforcement access to encrypted devices. US Attorney General Bill Barr claimed on Monday that Apple failed to provide "substantive assistance" in unlocking two iPhones in the investigation into the December shooting deaths of three US sailors at a Florida naval station, which he called an "act of terrorism". Apple disputed Barr's claim, while arguing against the idea of "backdoors" for law enforcement to access its encrypted smartphones. US President Donald Trump lashed out at Apple on Tuesday, castigating the iPhone maker for what he said was its refusal to unlock phones used by criminals while benefiting from government help on trade.

SYRIA

Israel launches raids on air base in Homs

Israel launched airstrikes on the T-4 air base in the province of Homs on Tuesday, but caused no major damages, the Syrian army said in a statement. The Israeli warplanes fired several missiles at the base, most of which were intercepted by the Syrian air defense forces. Four missiles hit the base, the statement said. The attack was carried out from the direction of the al-Tanf area in southeastern Syria, where a US base is located, the statement added. The attack is the latest in a series of Israeli airstrikes targeting military sites in Syria, which Israel usually claims are the positions of Iranian-backed fighters.

AUSTRALIA

Bushfire smoke stokes health fears in cities

Fire alarms have been sounding in high-rise buildings across downtown Sydney and Melbourne as dense smoke from distant wildfires confuse electronic sensors. Modern government office blocks in the Australian capital Canberra have been closed because the air inside is too dangerous for civil servants to breathe. The sun has glowed an eerie red behind a brown-shrouded sky for weeks over Australian metropolitan areas that usually rank high in the world's most livable cities indexes. It's an unprecedented dilemma for Australians accustomed to blue skies and sunny days that has raised fears for the long-term health consequences if prolonged exposure to choking smoke becomes the new summer norm.

JAPAN

Aso apologizes for ignoring minorities

Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday apologized for the remarks he made that have been criticized for ignoring the nation's ethnic minorities including the indigenous Ainu group. Aso, who is also the finance minister and one of most influential lawmakers in Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government, said at an event in his home constituency in Fukuoka a day earlier that Japan is the only country with a single race, language and 2,000-year-old monarchy. The claim sparked criticism that he was ignoring an indigenous ethnic group and Japanese racial diversity. In May last year, Japan implemented a legislation recognizing the Ainu ethnic group in northern Japan as an indigenous people of the nation.

MALAYSIA

Govt handout to boost digital transactions

Malaysia started a program on Wednesday to hand out a total of 450 million ringgit ($110 million) to nearly half of its citizens, the government said, in a drive to increase digital transactions that will be a big boost for e-wallet companies. Every Malaysian aged 18 years and above and earning less than 100,000 ringgit a year will be eligible to receive a one-time shopping handout of 30 ringgit through one of the e-wallets, the finance minister said in a statement.

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Show UK alternative to Huawei technology, Johnson tells critics]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532438.htm Pushing back against pressure from the United States, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that those opposing products from Huawei must come up with an "alternative solution" to the Chinese company's telecommunications technology.

"The British public deserve to have access to the best possible technology," Johnson said in an interview on the BBC's Breakfast program.

"We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody. Now if people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what's the alternative.

"On the other hand, let's be clear, I don't want, as the UK prime minister, to put in any infrastructure that is going to prejudice our national security or our ability to cooperate with Five Eyes intelligence partners," he added in reference to the shared intelligence network between the US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

A US delegation led by Deputy National Security Adviser Matt Pottinger, meeting senior British officials in London on Monday, warned the UK government it "would be madness" to adopt Huawei's technology in the UK's emerging 5G mobile network.

The visit is seen as the latest effort by US President Donald Trump's administration to lobby the British government ahead of a decision expected this month on whether to limit the use of Huawei's technology in the 5G network, according to a BBC report.

Andrew Parker, the head of British intelligence service MI5, said involvement by Huawei in the development of the network would not affect its intelligence relationships with the other Five Eyes members.

Asked whether he felt that the UK would lose out on security ties if the government continued to work with Huawei, Parker said he has "no reason today to think that".

He told the Financial Times that the government's decision was made harder as there are few options in the 5G market.

"Perhaps the thing that needs more focus and more discussion is how do we get to a future where there's a wider range of competition and a wider range of sovereign choices than defaulting to a yes or no about Chinese technology," Parker said.

According to the paper, Parker's remarks will raise expectations in the UK government and industry circles that Huawei equipment will be allowed to participate in some "non-core" areas of the network.

At present, four main mobile network operators in Britain-Vodafone, BT, EE and Three-are using Huawei products to launch their 5G services, while excluding the company from involvement in "core" parts of their networks, including with customer information and communication routes.

Last year, due to trade tensions between the US and China, the US banned companies from selling supporting components and technology to Huawei, citing national security risks.

Washington's pressure on London over Huawei comes as a long-awaited phase-one part of a trade deal between China and the US has been reached. The deal is expected to be inked this month in the US.

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Berlin to host Libya peace conference]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/16/content_37532468.htm BERLIN-Germany has invited major world powers to a conference on Sunday to address the civil conflict in Libya, after the country's rival leaders left Moscow without reaching an agreement, according to a statement by the German government on Tuesday.

According to the statement, the conference will be joined by envoys from the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, the Republic of the Congo, Italy, Egypt and Algeria. Officials from the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League will also be represented.

The statement said German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the conference after consultations with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

"With the aim of supporting the work of Guterres and the UN Special Envoy Ghassan Salame toward a sovereign Libya and for a reconciliation process, Merkel is calling for a Libya conference in Berlin on Sunday," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Twitter.

The statement said Germany has been hosting a consultation process on the Libya conflict since September, It complements the work of Guterres and Salame, who's also head of the UN Support Mission in Libya, or UNSMIL. The aim is to support the UN efforts for a sovereign Libya and for the Libyan reconciliation process through a group of states and international organizations.

The news came after Khalifa Haftar, the leader of east-based Libyan National Army, or LNA, left the peace talks in Moscow without signing an agreement with Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, or GNA.

The talks lasted about seven hours, and Sarraj and Haftar didn't meet directly.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said efforts to broker a peace deal will continue.

"We all work in the same direction and urge all the sides (of the conflict) in Libya to negotiate instead of trying to sort things out violently," Lavrov said on Tuesday in Sri Lanka.

Russia's Defense Ministry put out a statement saying that Haftar could still sign the proposed draft, but he needed some extra time to discuss it with his associates. "General Haftar had a positive view of the final statement, but requested two days to discuss the document with tribal leaders before signing it," it said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Tuesday he was optimistic about sealing an agreement to resolve the Libya conflict at the conference this weekend.

Maas said the German government was of the view that "the military conflict could be resolved only when the influence from abroad is ended, and all those who are exercising influence agree to stop providing military goods to the different warring parties in the future".

 

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2020-01-16 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Africa can turn floods curse into a blessing]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532337.htm Massive floods experienced by many African countries over the past three months highlight the continent's vulnerability to extended bouts of heavy rains, but also the potential to turn such climate patterns into an advantage.

The recurring curse of inundating rains can be transformed into a blessing, say analysts, noting that large parts of Africa also regularly suffer long periods of drought.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said African countries have massive potential in what it terms rainwater harvesting, which includes dam building among other measures.

Elijah Kimani, the executive director of the Institute of Environment and Water Management, said that countries in times of heavy rainfall should harness upstream water sources, as a means of reducing the impact of surface run-off upstream that all too often causes havoc in downstream areas.

He said that the goals of water harvesting can be realized through the construction of mega-dams in the upstream reaches of rivers. Such dams can be used to store the resource and then supply water to communities downstream during droughts.

"Having a reservoir will help in regulating water and ensure environmentally sound flows throughout a river. This will sustain aquatic animals, curb floods and ensure adequate water supply for all throughout the year," Kimani said.

Kimani said there is also a need to invest in early-warning systems to reduce the impact of floods. "If we have well-coordinated community early-warning systems, some of the dangers caused by flooding can be addressed," he said.

He said effective water harvesting would enable Africa to have adequate water supplies not only for household use but also for irrigation, ensuring food security, improved livelihoods and increased sources of sustainable revenue.

He commended Botswana and Kenya for their water harvesting projects, saying that within years the countries will be water secure-and that damaging floods will be history.

Bancy Mati, director of the Water Research and Resource Center of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, said Burkina Faso had done well in its rainwater harvesting efforts.

In the 1970s, the Burkina Faso government developed rainwater catchment technologies and systems aimed at retaining run-off water in micro-reservoirs in order for herders to provide water for their animals during the dry season.

Such efforts are on top of measures to improve soil quality in order to boost crop yields.

"Today, Burkina Faso exports food to neighboring countries, thanks to the rainwater catchment programs," Mati said.

Lesson from London

Mati highlighted efforts in London that could serve as an example for Africa. She said that although the River Thames provides drinking water for the British capital, the authorities have built large underground tanks where excess rainwater can be collected. The tanks help to ward off flash flooding in the city.

The rainwater is used for purposes such as watering gardens and flushing toilets.

"Ironically, in Africa, there will be floods but inside the house, the taps are dry. We should borrow a leaf out of London's book," Mati said.

Where flooding is caused by rivers breaking their banks, Mati said countries in Africa should employ what she calls river training, and cites the Netherlands as an exponent.

She said that river training entails the straightening of the waterway so that it doesn't have a meandering pattern, enabling a build-up of silt, which can contribute to flooding. Such works minimize the risks that a river will break its banks after heavy downpours.

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532402.htm REPUBLIC OF KOREA

Moon 'optimistic' about DPRK relations

Moon Jae-in, President of the Republic of Korea, on Tuesday expressed optimism about relations between the ROK and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, although the deadlocked talks between the DPRK and the United States brought difficulties to the inter-Korean ties. Moon made the remarks in a televised New Year news conference in the presidential Blue House, saying that although inter-Korean relations were faced with difficulties because of the stalled Washington-Pyongyang dialogue, efforts were being made to expand inter-Korean cooperation. Moon said his government was optimistic that things would go sufficiently well. He also said he could seek exemptions of UN sanctions placed on the DPRK to bring about improved inter-Korean relations.

INDIA

New citizenship law challenged in court

The southern Indian state of Kerala on Tuesday became the country's first state to legally challenge a new citizenship law that has triggered nationwide demonstrations. The Kerala government in its petition to the Supreme Court called the law a violation of the secular nature of the Indian Constitution and accused the government of dividing the nation on communal lines. The citizenship law provides a path to naturalization for people from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, unless they're Muslim. It has led to nationwide protests and clashes with police, resulting in 23 deaths.

VENEZUELA

National Assembly condemns sanctions

The President of Venezuela's National Assembly, Luis Parra, on Monday denounced United States sanctions against the newly elected members of the legislative body's board of directors. The US Treasury Department announced earlier in the day it imposed sanctions on seven delegates of the legislature, including Parra, accusing the directors' board of an "illegitimate attempted takeover of the Venezuelan National Assembly". Opposition leader Juan Guaido lost his bid for reelection as president of the assembly to Parra over a week ago, an outcome Guaido and his group refused to accept. The US has been pursuing a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation against the Venezuelan government in support of Guaido.

JAPAN

Nissan denies report of split with Renault

Nissan is "in no way" planning to end its partnership with Renault, the Japanese auto giant insisted on Tuesday after a report suggested a divorce was possible in the wake of the Carlos Ghosn scandal. Britain's Financial Times, citing "several people with knowledge of the matter", said on Monday that senior executives at the scandal-hit firm were speeding up work on secret plans for a potential parting of ways with France's Renault. But in a statement, Nissan firmly denied the claims. "Nissan is in no way considering dissolving the alliance," the statement said. Ghosn, who last month jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon, claims the charges against him were cooked up by disgruntled Nissan executives hoping to block his plans to more closely integrate the automaker with Renault.

Xinhua - Agencies

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Fears growing as volcano spews lava for third day in Philippines]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532385.htm TAGAYTAY, Philippines-A volcano near the Philippine capital spewed lava, ash and steam and trembled constantly on Tuesday on the third day of an eruption that could portend a much bigger and dangerous eruption, officials warned. Tens of thousands of people have fled ash-blanketed villages in the danger zone.

The continuing restiveness of the Taal volcano after it rumbled to life on Sunday indicates magma may still be rising to the crater, the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said. It raised the alert level to 4, indicating a hazardous eruption is possible in hours or days. Level 5, the highest, means such an eruption is underway.

The volcano was spurting fountains of red-hot lava 500 meters into the sky with dark-gray plumes of ash-laden steam that reached 2 kilometers high. The massive volcanic column at times flashed with streaks of lightning.

More than 200 earthquakes and tremors have been detected in and around Taal, 81 of which were felt with varying intensities. "Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magmatic intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity," the volcanology institute said.

Many residents abandoned livestock and pets as well as homes full of belongings after authorities sounded an alert warning that an "explosive eruption" could come imminently.

Gerald Aseoche, 30, fled with his four young children and a few possessions, and has refused to leave them to go to work as the volcano belches out lava and earthquakes tied to the eruption rattle the region.

"I am hoping this won't go on too long because I will lose my job if I can't report to work immediately," said Aseoche, a house painter.

"I can't leave them ... family first," he said as he cradled one of his children.

The government's disaster-response agency counted more than 30,400 evacuees in Batangas and nearby Cavite provinces. Officials expected the number to swell.

Government work was suspended and schools closed in a wide swath of towns and cities, including Manila, because of the health risks from the ash. The eruption has not directly caused deaths or major damage.

Falling ash pushed aviation officials to temporarily shut down Manila's main international airport, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flight and stranding tens of thousands of travelers.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport resumed reduced operations on Monday and was gradually recovering on Tuesday, but a backlog of canceled flights resulted in ongoing pain for travelers.

Taal is one of the most active volcanoes in a nation hit periodically by eruptions and earthquakes due to its location on the Pacific "Ring of Fire"-a zone of intense seismic activity. Its last disastrous eruption, in 1965, killed hundreds of people.

Agencies Via Xinhua

Residents leave Tanauan town in Batangas Province, south of Manila, as the Taal volcano erupts on Monday. TED ALJIBE/AFP

 

 

 

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK must look beyond US for security needs]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532384.htm British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the United Kingdom can no longer rely on the United States for military support as it has done for years, and the prospect of the US abandoning its position as the world leader keeps him awake at night.

The recent US attack that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, and the subsequent ramifications for regional and global politics and security, came the day after a new advertising campaign for armed forces recruitment was launched in the UK, whose military last year fell in size for the ninth year running.

"The assumptions of 2010 that we were always going to be part of a US coalition is really just not where we are going to be," Wallace told The Sunday Times.

In addition, US President Donald Trump has used the Five Eyes shared intelligence network, a partnership comprising the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand that has existed since after World War II, to put pressure on the UK over its possible adoption of 5G mobile phone technology from Chinese company Huawei.

Speaking about the issue in December, before his resounding general election victory, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: "I don't want this country to be hostile to investment from overseas."

He added: "On the other hand, we cannot prejudice our vital national security interests nor can we prejudice our ability to cooperate with other Five Eyes security partners. That will be the key criterion that informs our decision about Huawei."

Wallace said this reliance on US intelligence assistance made contingency plans all the more vital. "We are very dependent on American air cover and American intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets," he explained. "We need to diversify our assets... we are going to have to make decisions that allow us to stand with a range of allies."

As part of his preparations for Britain's withdrawal from the European Union at the end of January, and the resulting economic impact, Johnson has ordered detailed scrutiny of all government expenditure, as well as the "deepest review" of the country's foreign, defense and security policy since the end of the Cold War.

Johnson's failure to play a prominent role and speak out sooner and more vocally in the aftermath of the killing of Soleimani drew heavy criticism.

Speaking about the matter on Sky News, British Security Minister Brandon Lewis steered clear of criticizing the Trump administration's actions, saying "it's absolutely right for the US to be able to defend itself".

"The US took a decision about the right way to do that and we have to respect that ... the prime minister's focus with partners and talking to (Iranian) President (Hassan) Rouhani has been around de-escalating the situation. That is what's in the global best interest for all of us," he said.

When asked for his reaction to Wallace's remarks, Lewis added: "The US plays an important part in that (military support), but we also work with partners across Europe and other places around the world."

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Saudis recall 21 cadets from Florida]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532383.htm WASHINGTON-Saudi Arabia will withdraw 21 cadets receiving military training in the United States following a US investigation into a Saudi officer's fatal shooting of three US citizens at a Florida naval base that US Attorney General William Barr on Monday branded an act of terrorism.

The Dec 6 attack further complicated US-Saudi relations at a time of heightened tensions between the US and Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival. A deputy sheriff shot dead the gunman, Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, in the Pensacola, Florida, incident.

There was no evidence that Alshamrani had colluded with others, although Barr said FBI investigators had been unable to unlock his two phones to determine whom he had contacted.

"We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter's iPhones. So far Apple has not given us any substantive assistance," Barr said.

The attorney general said 21 of Alshamrani's colleagues were being expelled from the base's flight school after the probe found many of them had jihadist material and child porn.

Barr said one Saudi individual had "a significant number" of child pornography images, while 14 others "had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by someone else or received over social media". A total of 17-including some of those with child pornography images-had social media accounts containing some jihadi or anti-American content, Barr said.

While the material didn't rise to the level of criminal prosecution, Barr said Riyadh had "determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Saudi Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from their training curriculum".

A Justice Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said US officials agreed with the decision to withdraw them.

They were to return to Saudi Arabia later on Monday, Barr said.

Three US sailors were killed and eight other people were wounded in the attack at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.

"This was an act of terrorism," Barr said. "The evidence showed that the shooter was motivated by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation, we learned that the shooter posted a message on Sept 11 of this year stating: 'The countdown has begun.'"

Barr added that Alshamrani also visited the New York City memorial to the victims of the Sept 11, 2001, attacks on the US-carried out by Saudi hijackers for the Islamist militant group al-Qaida-and posted anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages on social media, including two hours before the attack.

Reuters - AFP

US Attorney General William Barr announces the findings of the investigation into the Dec 6 shootings in Florida during a news conference in Washington on Monday. TOM BRENNER/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK retailers look back on grim year]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532377.htm Wariness among consumers, a weak economy and uncertainties over Brexit contributed to 2019 becoming the worst for retail sales in Britain in at least 25 years, retail experts said.

A report from the British Retail Consortium, or BRC, a trade organization for retailers, found that sales in November and December were particularly weak, falling 0.9 percent year on year.

The BRC said sales in 2019 fell 0.1 percent, marking the first annual decline since 1995 when it started recording data.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said that the result was reflected in companies' voluntary redundancy arrangements as well as in the shop closures and job losses that the industry suffered in 2019.

"Twice the United Kingdom faced the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, as well as political instability that concluded in a December general election-further weakening demand for the festive period," Dickinson said.

"The industry continues to transform in response to the changing technologies and shopping habits. Black Friday overtook Christmas as the biggest shopping week of the year for nonfood items."

Karl McKeever, an analyst and director of retail agency Visual Thinking, said: "The ongoing Brexit debate and parliamentary games left many UK shoppers and households uncertain about their future, including the impact on their own personal finances, prospects for jobs and potential redundancies, etc."

Retailers also faced challenges as consumers become more concerned about climate change, including the effects of consumerism relating to plastic waste and wasteful fast fashion that "have seen consumers reorientate to a low price/value mindset", he said.

"I believe this has fundamentally changed the nature of shopping in the UK-and for a generation," McKeever said. "Since 2008 and the credit crunch British consumers have been increasingly embracing retailers operating in the low price-and reduced expectations-arena."

The BRC said that, taking November and December together to iron out the Black Friday distortions, like-for-like sales declined 1.2 percent compared with the same period in 2018.

There were significant store closures throughout 2019 with Mothercare UK, Bonmarche and luxury jeweler Links of London going into administration.

Retailers such as Arcadia group's Topshop, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, as well as the likes of HMV and Laura Ashley, closed a number of stores as part of restructuring plans.

The rise of online shopping has changed consumers' behavior as many shoppers spend less in stores and instead hunt for online bargains.

"Shoppers have cashed in on bargain prices, regular discounting and in-season markdowns, and now wait for lower prices, use online voucher codes, price matching or other promotional activity, e.g. Black Friday, to their benefit," McKeever said. "Shoppers know they don't have to wait too long for prices to come down."

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at research firm KPMG, said: "Consumers clearly favored logging on to walking in, with online sales up 12.8 percent in December. However, if taking a two-month average, growth online was clearly muted at only 2.6 percent."

Dickinson said public confidence in Britain's trade negotiations will have a big impact on spending over the coming year.

"There are many ongoing challenges for retailers: To drive up productivity, continue to raise wages, improve recyclability of products and cut waste," the BRC chief executive said.

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[737 Max crisis could hit US GDP]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532346.htm Boeing's decision to temporarily halt production of the 737 Max aircraft is likely to disrupt the supply chain and could reduce the GDP of the United States by as much as half a percentage point this year, analysts said.

Most of the disruption will occur in the first quarter as parts suppliers cut or halt production and, in some cases, lay off workers as companies struggle to reduce costs. The supply chain is global, but will hit hardest the US companies that supply most of the parts and labor, Moody's Investors Service said in a research report on Monday.

However, the knock to the US economy may be softened by the phase one trade agreement between the US and China, expected to be signed on Wednesday in Washington. Nevertheless, US government officials said they are prepared for the worst.

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Max shutdown could shave half a percentage point off the US economy, although he still expects it to grow by at least 2.5 percent this year.

"There's no question that the Boeing situation is going to slow down the GDP," he told Fox News on Sunday.

"Boeing is one of the largest exporters, and with the 737 Max (shutdown), I think that could impact GDP as much as 50 basis points this year. We've been looking at 2.5 to 3 percent (annual growth, but) it may be closer to 2.5 because of the adjustment in the Boeing numbers."

The worldwide grounding of Max flights in March 2019 following two crashes that killed a total of 346 people has cut Boeing's market value by about $50 billion and cost airlines as much as $1 billion in lost revenue. Boeing is negotiating settlements with its customers and with family members of those killed in the Indonesian and Ethiopian crashes.

"There will likely be at least some divergence of interests between Boeing and the supply chain once the Max is ungrounded," Moody's said. "Suppliers will seek to resume and increase production more quickly while Boeing will seek to increase more gradually to a level that allows it to fulfill its longerterm order book but more notably permits it to clear out as much of the inventory built up since the March 2019 grounding as possible."

Boeing has stored about 400 completed but undelivered Max jets. Last April, Boeing announced it would cut production to 42 planes a month from 52, a reduction of about 20 percent.

When manufacturing resumes, Moody's estimates current orders of about 4,500 planes will keep the assembly lines busy for seven to 10 years depending on the rate of production.

Moody's identified 24 companies likely to be affected by the production shutdown, including Spirit AeroSystems, producer of the fuselage and parts of the wings for the Max. Earlier this month, the Wichita, Kansas-based company announced it would lay off 2,800 workers.

GEM International, a joint venture between General Electric and Paris-based Safran, has cut production to about 30 engines a month to keep the supply chain intact. Boeing has announced that it will reassign workers at its plant near Seattle rather than lay them off.

 

 

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Joker leads Oscar nods with 11 as women miss out]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532375.htm LOS ANGELES-Dark comic book tale Joker topped the Oscar nominations on Monday, picking up 11 nods including best movie and best director, as women and ethnic minorities were largely shut out once again.

The predawn Academy Award announcement capped months of ceaseless campaigning by A-listers and studios, revealing which stars and movies have a shot at Hollywood's ultimate prize next month.

Todd Phillips's Joker, a bleak, art house origin story about Batman's nemesis starring Joaquin Phoenix, was just ahead of three films in the number of nominations.

Quentin Tarantino's 1960s Tinseltown homage Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood, Sam Mendes's World War I odyssey 1917 and Martin Scorsese's The Irishman each earned 10 nominations, including best picture and director.

Parasite secured the final best director slot for Bong Joon-ho, meaning once again no female directors made the short list.

Much of the focus so far this award season has been on the lack of female and ethnic minority filmmakers honored.

The acclaimed Little Women was acknowledged in several of the major categories, including best picture, but Greta Gerwig was snubbed for best director, in a repeat of her disappointing omission from the Golden Globes.

"Unfortunately, there are just five nominees" for best director in an "incredibly strong year", one Academy voter who asked not to be named said. "I don't think it's a vote against female directors."

In the history of the Oscars, only five women have been nominated for best director-including Gerwig, for 2017's Lady Bird.

Little Women supporting actress nominee Florence Pugh told Variety she was "happy that everybody is upset" over Gerwig's snub.

"Congratulations to those men," actress and writer Issa Rae, co-host of the official Oscars nominations announcement, said pointedly as she presented the Academy's picks.

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Trump impeachment trial possibly days away as Democrats meet]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532374.htm WASHINGTON-The Senate trial of US President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction could open within days as House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened Democrats early on Tuesday to discuss sending impeachment charges to the Senate.

Pelosi appeared ready to move ahead after holding onto the articles of impeachment since they were passed on December 18. In the meantime, House Democrats have tried to pressure the Republican-controlled Senate to agree to subpoena witnesses with direct knowledge of what Trump is charged with: Illicitly seeking help from Ukraine for his 2020 reelection campaign.

But with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refusing to agree up front on the witness issue, Pelosi is now expected to forward the case without a deal and see the president placed on trial by next week.

Pelosi's House Democratic caucus was expected to discuss the schedule for a full vote in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, on forwarding the case.

The Democratic representatives also were likely to decide who will comprise their team of impeachment managers to argue the case against Trump in the Senate, the upper chamber.

Once the House forwards the charges, the Senate is obliged to begin trial proceedings within one day.

On the first day, senators will decide the rules of the historic trial.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will then be sworn in to preside. In turn, he will swear in the 100 senators to preside as judges and jury over Trump's fate.

Republican Senator John Cornyn told The Hill news website that he expects all that could happen this week, and that opening arguments in the trial could take place as early as Tuesday, Jan 21, after Monday's federal holiday.

"That's what it feels like right now," Cornyn said.

Trump's Republican Party members hold a solid majority of seats in the Senate and are expected to exonerate him.

But the witness issue remains a point of contention.

Democrats want at least four current and former top Trump aides to appear at the trial. Trump barred them from testifying in the House impeachment investigation.

They also want documents related to the charges that Trump refused to hand over to the House probe.

The witnesses and documents, Democrats believe, could deliver more concrete evidence that Trump abused his powers for personal political gain and obstructed the congressional investigation.

But McConnell, backed by the Republicans' 53-47 Senate majority, said he won't agree on the issue before the trial opens.

In this case, with defendant Trump's own Republican Party in control of the Senate, which sets the rules for the case, Pelosi has little real leverage outside of public pressure.

Democrats are hoping that three or more Republican senators will break ranks to insist hearing from the witnesses.

"House Democrats have already done enough damage to precedent, to national unity, and to our institutions of government," McConnell said in a statement on Monday.

"The Senate will not be sucked into this precedent-breaking path."

Agencies Via Xinhua

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Libya truce talks lose out to fighting]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532360.htm Libya's rival leaders have left Moscow without reaching agreement on a cease-fire deal proposed by Russia and Turkey aimed at ending the country's long-running civil war.

Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of Libya's United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord, or GNA, in Tripoli, and his rival Khalifa Haftar, commander of the Libyan National Army, or LNA, arrived in the Russian capital on Monday to discuss a truce with top diplomats and military officials from Russia and Turkey. The talks lasted about seven hours, and Sarraj and Haftar didn't meet directly.

As fighting resumed near Tripoli on Tuesday morning, Haftar complained that the proposed document ignored some of the LNA's demands. He left Moscow without signing any form of agreement.

Sky News Arabia channel earlier reported that Haftar insisted on allowing his troops to enter the capital and on the formation of a national unity government that would receive a vote of confidence from the east-based parliament.

Haftar, whose forces are based in the country's east, had also called for international monitoring of the proposed cease-fire, without Turkey's participation, and demanded the immediate withdrawal of mercenaries "who arrived from Syria and Turkey".

Illustrating the gap between them, Sarraj was said to have wanted Haftar's forces to retreat to positions they had occupied before April 4 last year. He also insisted on retaining the post of supreme commander-in-chief of the Libyan armed forces.

According to the channel's sources, those demands became the main bone of contention for the sides during their talks in Moscow.

Haftar and Sarraj participated in the talks under the mediation of Russia and Turkey. On Jan 8, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a joint statement in Istanbul that called on the parties to agree to a cease-fire.

After the four-party meetings, Sergei Lavrov and Mevlut Cavusoglu, the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey, respectively, announced that Sarraj had signed a draft document spelling out the details of the proposed cease-fire deal, while Haftar requested more time to consider it.

Lavrov said efforts to reach a deal would continue.

"We will continue efforts in this direction. So far, the final result has not been achieved.... The Turkish and Russian representatives will continue to assist the parties in the implementation of the agreements that are being negotiated," Lavrov said.

Abdulhamid al-Safi, a media adviser to the speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives affiliated with the LNA, confirmed that no accord was reached in Moscow, except for agreements on humanitarian aid.

Tripoli-based official Khaled al-Mashri told Libya al-Ahrar TV that Haftar had asked for four days to consider sticking points in the cease-fire deal. He said he expects invitations to a peace conference in Berlin to follow later this week.

Later on Tuesday, the LNA posted on its Facebook page that it was "ready and determined" to achieve victory in the monthslong campaign to seize the capital from the GNA.

Libya's Al-Wasat news portal said, citing witnesses, that artillery fire had been heard in Tripoli's southern neighborhoods of Salah Al-Deen and Ain Zara.

Libya has been locked in a civil war since the fall of longtime leader Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.

Several armed militias of different backgrounds have emerged, and have been fighting each other to take power. Highlighting the difficulties facing negotiators this year, the warring parties had signed a peace deal on Dec 17, 2015, in the Moroccan city of Skhirat.

 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov leave a joint news conference in Moscow on Monday. PAVEL GOLOVKIN/REUTERS

 

 

 

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[As Harry and Meghan step back, Trudeau steps up with Canada welcome]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532359.htm Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has welcomed the prospect of Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan moving to the North American country after they "step back" from royal duties.

But Trudeau said further negotiations will be needed to figure out how they will be protected, and who should pay for it.

He spoke after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex indicated they want to effectively leave the royal family and pursue private lives in Canada.

Trudeau told the Global News television station that ordinary Canadians have been "very supportive" of the couple's plan, but noted that issues remain over "how that looks and what kind of costs are involved".

"There are still a lot of decisions to be taken by the royal family, by the Sussexes themselves, as to what level of engagement they choose to have," he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said more work needs to be done to figure out the couple's living arrangements but told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning the problems will be ironed out. Johnson said he believes the royal family to be one of the "great, great assets of this country".

"I think they'll sort it out all the easier without any commentary from me," he added.

Media attention

Last week, Harry and Meghan declared their desire to give up full-time royal duties and indicated that they want to raise their son Archie in North America. They had talked in the past about the difficulties of royal life and complained about the glare of media attention.

On Monday, Harry attended a meeting at Sandringham House with his grandmother and other senior royals. The house, in the English county of Norfolk, is Queen Elizabeth II's private home.

After the gathering, the queen issued a statement saying she "would have preferred" it if Harry and Meghan, who married in May 2018, had remained full-time working royals but that she backed their right to pursue their own lives. The statement said there would be a "period of transition" and suggested additional announcements would follow.

"My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan's desire to create a new life as a young family," the queen said.

She noted that Harry and Meghan had made it clear "that they do not want to be reliant on public funds in their new lives", suggesting they intend to generate enough income to pay for their protection, something the Evening Standard newspaper says will cost around 1 million pounds ($1.3 million) a year.

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Trudeau links crash to rise in Middle East tensions]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532349.htm OTTAWA-Victims of an Iran-downed jetliner would still be alive if not for a recent escalation of tensions partly triggered by the United States, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Monday.

"I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families," Trudeau said in an interview with Global television, according to a transcript shared with other media.

He added that the international community has been "very, very clear about needing to have a nonnuclear Iran" but also in "managing the tensions in the region that are brought about by US actions as well".

The Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 was shot down by a missile shortly after taking off from Teheran before dawn on Jan 8, killing all 176 on board.

By Ottawa's count, 57 of the passengers were Canadian citizens, many of them also holding Iranian nationality.

Long-standing US-Iran tensions have soared since Jan 3 when missiles fired from a US drone killed a top Iranian commander, Qassem Soleimani, near Baghdad's airport.

Iran responded with a barrage of missiles at two US bases in Iraq, inflicting no casualties in what was seen as an attempt to prevent a spiral of escalation.

But hours later, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit mistakenly shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet, in what Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called a "human error".

Trudeau also said he would have "obviously" liked a heads-up from Washington about the drone strike on Soleimani.

Over the weekend, Trudeau demanded that Iran provide Canada with "full clarity" on the shooting down of the airliner.

The Canadian leader said he made the demand in a call with Rouhani, who admitted earlier on Saturday that the airliner was mistakenly shot down by Iranian missiles.

At a televised news conference on Saturday, Trudeau said he told Rouhani the admission was "an important step" but "many more steps must be taken".

"A full and complete investigation must be conducted," he said. "We need full clarity on how such a horrific tragedy could have occurred."

The accident was a deep blow to the Iranian community in Canada, which is home to North America's largest Iranian diaspora. According to the last census, there were 210,000 Canadians of Iranian origin living in this country in 2016.

"It's a huge tragedy for the entire country and not just for the Iranian community," Trudeau said on Saturday.

Asked whether Ottawa would demand that Teheran pay financial compensation to the families of Canadian victims, Trudeau indicated that it would.

On Tuesday, Iran's judiciary said arrests had been made for the downing of the aircraft.

Agencies Via Xinhua

 

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[JD inks deals to widen scope of business]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/15/content_37532376.htm Technology and innovation, including the application of artificial intelligence, big data and robotics, continue to help China's e-commerce companies drive business while consolidating their retail infrastructure and expanding their ties with foreign partners.

At the recently concluded 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas, China's Nasdaq-listed JD announced a series of contracts with several partners, including HP, Microsoft and Kingston, to meet the needs of its more than 330 million Chinese consumers.

One of the two major business to business, or B2C, online retailers in China, JD reported revenue of $67.2 billion in 2018. At CES, the company also unveiled its intentions to move into other areas, including gaming and data storage, as well as enhancing customer satisfaction by improving its omnichannel, which includes online and bricks-and-mortar businesses.

Among the contracts, JD signed a deal with HP in the gaming PC segment after HP launched its gaming brand OMEN and related gaming PC series.

As HP's Best Worldwide Partner for OMEN by HP Growth in 2019, JD plans to launch 100 C2M, or consumer-to-manufacturer, products in the next two years.

With Microsoft China, JD will promote a trial experience to target Office 365 users, the omnichannel retail experience in particular. The two companies already offer Microsoft Re-imagined Retail at JD's Retail Experience shops in cities, including Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province; Suzhou in Jiangsu and Meizhou in Guangdong.

Separately, in the next three years, JD and flash-drive manufacturer Kingston are looking at a potential $800 million in sales after the two renewed their second 10-year partnership.

Ren Tao, the general manager of JD's computer and digital products operation, said the "new commitments" are being executed through a "strong partnership, which is forged in trust".

Meanwhile, as Western Digital's Worldwide Most Valuable Partner for 2019, JD will work with Western Digital to strengthen services in tailored products, supply chains and marketing, to help Western Digital realize sales growth in the world's second-largest economy.

Beijing-based JD was established in 1998, originally as a bricks-and-mortar store before gradually launching its online business starting in 2004. Following its initial public offering in 2014 in New York, JD opened an R&D center in Silicon Valley.

Currently, its 17,000 engineers at home and abroad focus on data science, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, automation, robotics and autonomous vehicle systems. Their research findings are applied to intelligent pricing, to inventory management and to fraud detection.

On Nov 11, the company launched JD E-SPACE, a custom-built, 50,000-square-meter store in Chongqing, Southwest China, to provide consumers a hands-on shopping experience. Customers can check out products including the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 and Surface Laptop 3, by scanning bar codes.

 

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2020-01-15 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Weddings go on a diet as slowdown bites]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532209.htm MUMBAI-India's weddings are famously lavish-lasting days and with hundreds if not thousands of guests-but this season many families are cutting costs even if it risks their social standing.

It is symptomatic of a sharp slowdown in the world's fifth-largest economy, with Indians spending less on everything from daily essentials to once-in-a-lifetime celebrations.

Growth has hit a six-year low and unemployment a four-decade high under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Prices are rising too, squeezing spending on everything from shampoo to mobile data.

Chartered accountant Palak Panchamiya, for example, has already slashed the budget on her upcoming Mumbai nuptials by a third, trimming spending on clothing and the guest list.

"Initially I chose a dress that cost 73,000 rupees ($1,000)," Panchamiya said as she picked through outfits at a recent marriage trade fair.

"But my partner felt it was too expensive, and so now I am here reworking my options and looking for something cheaper."

India's massive wedding industry is worth an estimated $40-50 billion a year, according to research firm KPMG.

The celebrations can last a week and involve several functions, a dazzling variety of cuisines, music and dance performances, and lots of gifts.

Foreigners can even buy tickets to some events.

But these days, except for the superrich-a recent Ambani family wedding reportedly cost $100 million-extravagance is out and frugality is in as families prioritize saving.

"Earlier Indian weddings were like huge concerts, but now things have changed," said Maninder Sethi, founder of Wedding Asia, which organizes marriage fairs around the country.

Cash ban

Cracks emerged in 2016 when the Indian wedding season, which runs from September to mid-January, was hit by the government's shock withdrawal of vast amounts of banknotes from circulation in a bid to crack down on undeclared earnings.

Mumbai-based trousseau maker Sapna Designs Studio shut for months as the economy was turned on its head by Modi's move.

"No exhibitions were happening and there were no avenues for us to sell either," said Vishal Hariyani, owner of the clothing studio.

Hopes for a recovery proved short-lived when the cash ban was followed by a botched rollout of a nationwide goods and services tax, or GST, in 2017 that saw many small-scale businesses close.

Since then, keeping his studio afloat has been a challenge, with consumers increasingly reluctant to spend too much, says Hariyani.

"We customize our clothes as per their budgets, and now weeklong weddings have been converted to just a 36-hour ceremony," he said.

"We have to pay GST, pay workers and even offer discounts to customers," he added.

Sadness, shame

Analysts say gloomy economic conditions have pushed India's middle class to pile their cash into savings.

"The whole economy has slowed down and reduced spending on weddings is a by-product of that. Everyone except the superrich are affected," said Pradip Shah from IndAsia Fund Advisors.

"It is reflective of how somber the mood is," he said.

In a country where families traditionally spend heavily on weddings-including taking on debt in some cases-the downturn is also a source of sadness and shame, with elaborate celebrations often seen as a measure of social status.

"We haven't even invited our neighbors. It is embarrassing but the current situation doesn't offer us much respite," 52-year-old Tara Shetty said ahead of her son's wedding.

"In my era, we always spent a lot and had thousands of people attending the weddings," she explained.

"My wedding was supremely grand, and now my son's is the polar opposite."

A bride takes a selfie at a mass wedding on Dec 21 in Surat, India. More than a hundred couples tied the knot at the mass wedding. AJIT SOLANKI/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Iran will become a pariah, UK warns]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532254.htm The United Kingdom has told Iran it will become a world pariah if it continues to suppress criticism of the recent downing of a passenger aircraft.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab issued the warning after Iran arrested the UK's ambassador to the country at a demonstration in Teheran on Saturday evening.

Rob Macaire was held for three hours before being released and was then summoned to a meeting at Iran's Foreign Office on Sunday, where he was accused of having played an "illegal and inappropriate" role at the demonstration.

"The arrest of our ambassador in Teheran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law," Raab said. "The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment. It can continue its march toward pariah status, with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomacy."

The row seems to have deepened an already sizable diplomatic rift between the two countries, Britain's The Guardian newspaper reported.

Germany joined the criticism of Iran and a spokesman for the UK prime minister issued a statement on behalf of both Britain and Germany saying the nations have "shared interests in ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon".

But Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy foreign minister, played down the incident, writing in a Tweet that the Iranian authorities had not known at the time that the person they arrested on Saturday was the ambassador.

Araghchi said he was simply an "unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering".

He tweeted: "When police informed me a man was arrested who claims to be UK ambassador, I said IMPOSSIBLE! Only after my phone conversation with him I identified, out of big surprise, that it's him. 15 mins later he was free."

Iran's Foreign Ministry said it summoned Macaire on Sunday to give him a chance to explain himself.

The ministry said it "reminded" him that his presence at "illegal gatherings contravened" the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, the BBC reported.

Teheran said his presence at such an event was "illegal and inappropriate".

After Macaire's arrest, pro-government protesters gathered outside the UK embassy to demand its closure and chant "Death to England" in a situation that the British Foreign Office described as tense.

Macaire, meanwhile, said he believed the event he attended on Saturday was a vigil in honor of the 176 victims of the tragedy, four of whom were British. He tweeted that he left when it turned into an anti-government protest, and was arrested some time later while making his way back to the embassy.

The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, told British media the episode was essentially a misunderstanding.

"The moment the police has been informed of the identity of the UK ambassador, he has been freed."

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA['Smile with your eyes': How to beat South Korea's AI hiring bots]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532246.htm SEOUL-In cram school-obsessed South Korea, students fork out for classes in everything from K-pop auditions to real estate deals. Now, top Korean firms are rolling out artificial intelligence in hiring-and job-seekers want to learn how to beat the bots.

From his basement office in the downtown Gangnam district of Seoul, career consultant Park Seong-jung is among those in a growing business of offering lessons in handling recruitment screening by computers, not people. Video interviews using facial recognition technology to analyze character are key, according to Park.

"Don't force a smile with your lips," he told students looking for work in a recent session, one of many he said he has conducted for hundreds of people. "Smile with your eyes."

Classes in dealing with AI in hiring, now being used by major South Korean conglomerates like SK Innovation and Hyundai Engineering& Construction, are still a tiny niche in the country's multibillion-dollar cram school industry. But classes are growing fast, operators like Park's People& People consultancy claim, offering a three-hour package for up to 100,000 won ($86).

There's good reason to see potential. As many as eight out of every 10 South Korean students are estimated to have used cram schools, and rampant youth unemployment in the country-nearly one in four young people are not in the workforce by certain measures, according to Statistics Korea-offers a motive not present in other countries where cram schools are popular, like Japan.

"The AI won't be naturally asking personal questions," said Yoo Wan-jae, a 26-year-old looking for work in the hospitality industry. "That will make it a bit uncomfortable ... I'll need to sign up for cram schools for the AI interview," said Yoo, speaking in Seoul's Noryangjin district, known as "Exam Village", packed with cram schools and study rooms.

'Gamification'

Businesses around the world are experimenting with increasingly advanced AI techniques for whittling down applicant lists.

But Lee Soo-young, a director of the Institute for Artificial Intelligence at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, or KAIST, said by telephone the new technology is being more widely embraced in South Korea, where large employers wield much influence in a tightening job market.

According to Korea Economic Research Institute, nearly a quarter of the top 131 corporations in the country currently use or plan to use AI in hiring.

One AI video system reviewed by Reuters asks candidates to introduce themselves, during which it spots and counts facial expressions including "fear" and "joy" and analyses word choices. It then asks questions that can be tough: "You are on a business trip with your boss and you spot him using the company (credit) card to buy himself a gift. What will you say?"

AI hiring also uses "gamification" to gauge a candidate's personality and adaptability by putting them through a sequence of tests.

"Through gamification, employers can check 37 different capabilities of an applicant and how well the person fits into a position," said Chris Jung, a chief manager of software firm Midas IT in Pangyo, a tech hub dubbed South Korea's Silicon Valley.

Preparing for such tests doesn't necessarily involve simply memorizing answers. "Some games don't even have a 'right answer', as they are aimed to spot the problem-solving attitude of the applicant," Jung said.

'Hopeless'

At People & People, consultant Park said he gave AI hiring talks to more than 700 university students, graduates and lecturers in 2019.

"Students are struggling from the emergence of AI interviews. My goal is to help them be fully prepared for what they will be dealing with," said Park.

In an online chat room monitored by Park, with more than 600 participants, numerous messages indicate thanks for the classes and success in AI interview quests.

But elsewhere, some who haven't yet taken lessons have already given up.

Kim Seok-wu, a 22-year-old senior at a top university, recently failed to get beyond an AI interview for a management position at a retail company, and decided to pursue graduate school instead of trying to find a job.

"I think I will feel hopeless if all companies go AI for hiring," Kim said. "The AI interview is too new, so job applicants don't know what to prepare for and any preparations seem meaningless since the AI will read our faces if we make something up."

Kim Seok-wu, a university senior majoring in management, demonstrates an AI interview program in Sungnam, South Korea, on Nov 20. KIM HONG-JI/REUTERS ]]>
2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Afghan woman cooks up defiance against militants with restaurant]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532245.htm PUL-E-KHUMRI, Afghanistan-"It is the need of the hour to have a restaurant here in Pul-e-Khumri city to host women and their families in a restaurant established and managed by women," whispered 30-year-old proprietor Gaity Anwari.

Nearly 160 kilometers north of Kabul, beleaguered Pul-e-Khumri city is the capital of the restive Baghlan Province. Surrounding the city are pockets of Taliban and other extremist armed insurgents.

Nonetheless, the ambitious Anwari explained: "Sitting idle under the excuse of continued insecurity incidents and increasing militancy can serve no one." She dared to open her Banu Restaurant (Lady Restaurant) with limited resources a couple of years ago.

In the beginning, Anwari worked alone but now says: "During the difficulties, I have been able to provide job opportunities for nearly 30 people and serve food for more than 150 guests daily." Her staff includes five men.

Banu serves traditional Afghan dishes as well as Western-style pizza and burgers.

Pul-e-Khumi has witnessed several militant offensives over the past couple of years. After the most recent attack in September, many residents left town for safer places.

In the patriarchal Afghanistan where militancy is rampant, a woman running a restaurant is risky, Anwari acknowledged. However, she said: "Strong resolve makes an impossible mission possible." Afghan women have opened restaurants in Kabul and a few other large cities over the past few years

Recalling her initial experiences after opening the restaurant, Anwari said her neighbors didn't believe that a woman could own a restaurant in a society where many men don't allow their female relatives to go outside the home unless they are accompanied by a male member of the family.

"Running a restaurant that enables women to visit with their family breaks some the old-fashioned traditions and gradually promotes the culture of tolerance in society," the striving woman believes.

Banu's most frequent customers are married couples.

"I often visit Banu Restaurant along with my husband and children to have lunch and enjoy being together here at lunch time," said guest Maryam Masush.

Anwari said: "Everything is possible and you can overcome all the challenges if you have firm resolve to succeed in your life".

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[First the bushfires, then extinction]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532236.htm As bushfires continue to burn in many parts of Australia, ecologists are starting to count the cost to the country's unique wildlife, with fears that many species may now be extinct.

Some reports have put the number of animals, birds and reptiles killed by the fires at half a billion or more.

"The numbers are fairly hard to determine, because nothing like this has happened before, especially across this scale," said University of New England entomologist Nigel Andrew, a former president of the Ecological Society of Australia.

He said fires previously "have been patchy in their distribution-they haven't been taking out entire landscapes".

Jim Radford, principal research fellow at the Research Centre for Future Landscapes at La Trobe University in Melbourne, agrees.

"The simple answer is no one knows," he said. "This is an area of biodiversity research which is grossly underfunded."

Professor Chris Dickman, a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science, has estimated that half a billion animals have perished in the state of New South Wales, or NSW, alone since the fires started in September.

Dickman based his figure on a 2007 report that he co-authored for the World Wild Fund for Nature on the impacts of land clearing on Australian wildlife in New South Wales.

"To calculate the impact of land clearing on the state's wildlife, we obtained estimates of mammal population density in NSW and then multiplied the density estimates by the areas of vegetation approved to be cleared," he said. "Estimates were conservative."

Dickman said he used the same formula to come up with half a billion animals affected by the current fires in Australia's most populous state.

"Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources" and by predators such as feral cats and red foxes, he said.

The current bushfires have destroyed almost half of South Australia's 4,400-square-kilometer Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park-normally a place of refuge for dozens of threatened plant and animal species.

Wildlife experts estimate that 25,000 koalas-half the island's koala population-have perished in the blazes.

As flare-ups continued, the fate of the island's echidna, kangaroo and bandicoot populations, as well as the rare dunnarts and glossy black cockatoos, remained unknown.

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park said it has taken in hundreds of starving and injured koalas, including many young koalas left orphaned by the fires.

Scientists say rare and unique flora and fauna in Western Australia's Stirling Ranges, 400 kilometers southeast of Perth, may never recover after fires tore through 40,000 hectares of land, much of it designated national park.

The story is much the same for the entire country.

Associate Professor Matthew Hayward, of the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, said: "The parma wallaby and red-legged pademelon are just a couple of the threatened species that have had the majority of their distribution destroyed in the fires."

Once a fire goes through an area, animals that did survive need to be able to find enough food, and this is suddenly much harder.

"There is unlikely to be much food in these areas until rains come and the vegetation responds. This drought-fire-drought trifecta means the impacts on biodiversity treble," Hayward said.

For generations

Joe Fontaine, a lecturer specializing in fire science and ecology within the environmental and conservation sciences field at Murdoch University in Perth, said: "The reverberations of these epic bushfires will be felt for generations.

"Tree mortality and seedling survival, as well as food and shelter for our animals, are all threatened by harsher conditions.

"We also face a fierier future, and a real risk of more drought-heat-fire interplay further threatening our iconic landscapes. Effective policy and thinking will need to incorporate these realities going forward."

Professor Bob Hill, director of the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide, said: "The fires around Australia are tragic at many levels, and the cost in human life and of animals, both domestic and native, is appalling."

Perhaps less well understood is the potential cost in terms of future vegetation, he said.

"Australian plants in many vegetation types have evolved in response to a high-fire regime over tens of millions of years, and they are well known for their capacity to regenerate, either from seed or vegetatively, after major fires," he said.

"However, the risk is that we are now seeing fires that are so intense that they are reaching temperatures where these adaptations are no longer effective-and if this continues we will begin to see plant species losses from burned sites as their regeneration processes fail. Over time, this has the potential to be catastrophic."

Australia supports a rich and impressive diversity of mammals, with over 300 native species. The continent is uniquely dominated by marsupials and is the only great land mass to contain three major groups of living mammals: marsupials, monotremes (egg-laying platypus and echidna) and placentals.

Some 244 species, or 81 percent of this distinctive fauna, are found only in Australia.

Thirty-four species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the past 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world.

 

Students and a troupe of ten elephants on Monday in Ayutthaya, Thailand, pray for Australia as bushfires rage. SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[French experts to help Ukraine with probing crash]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532210.htm Experts from Ukraine and France will cooperate in the investigation of the Ukraine plane crash in Iran and jointly decode the "black box" of the plane, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky held a telephone conversation with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Sunday, and the latter agreed to send French specialists to help decode the black box.

Macron on Sunday said he had promised to contribute to a comprehensive investigation of the crash and bring to justice those responsible for this crime.

At first, Iranian civil aviation officials denied the "missile strikes", but Iran's military admitted on Saturday that it shot down the Ukrainian airliner by mistake, claiming that the plane made a sharp turn that brought it near a sensitive military base.

Macron said that France had already launched a formal procedure to start an investigation at the International Civil Aviation Organization.

"Grateful to Emmanuel Macron for his compassion and willingness to assist in a comprehensive and fair investigation into the crash in Iran. Rapid truth-finding was possible thanks to the work of the Ukrainian expert group in Teheran and the assistance of international partners," Zelensky said on his Twitter account.

The presidents did not reveal when and how the experts from the two countries will cooperate, but Zelensky's office said in a statement that Macron had agreed to visit Kiev soon.

The plane belonging to the Ukraine International Airlines, or UIA, crashed last Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Teheran airport, killing all 176 on board.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk said his government will pay the equivalent of $8,363 to the families of victims, and will monitor the insurance payouts.

Separately, Interfax reported on Sunday that besides compensation to the victims, Ukraine will also provide comprehensive support and assistance to the relatives of the victims, including legal and financial help.

In addition, UIA will pay compensation to the families of the crew members, in keeping with a collective agreement.

China on Monday expressed its condolences to the families of the victims of the crash.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China also noted that all the parties involved in the incident have kept their channels of communication open.

"We hope the matter can be resolved properly and not further complicate the regional situation," Geng said.

In a related development, Zelensky said Ukraine wanted its international partners, as well as the global community, "to be one and persevere for a full and final investigation into all aspects of the crash".

And the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov said earlier that Ukraine had known that the plane was hit by missiles even before Iran admitted it, and the evidence was the reason that Iran was forced to change its earlier position.

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532233.htm RUSSIA

Libyan rivals may sign truce deal in Moscow

Libya's rival forces were expected to sign a cease-fire deal in Moscow on Monday, according to media reports citing local officials. Libya's United Nations-backed Government of National Accord, or GNA, had issued a statement expressing agreement to a cease-fire starting from Sunday at midnight. The Libyan conflict escalated in 2014, splitting power between two rival governments: The Tripoli-based GNA, and an east-based government backed by the Libyan National Army led by Khalifa Haftar.

CANADA

Officials accidentally push nuke alert

People throughout the Canadian province of Ontario awoke Sunday to a cellphone alert warning them of an "incident" at a nuclear plant just east of Toronto-only to later be told the message was a mistake. The alert went out during a routine training exercise being conducted by the Provincial Emergency Operations Center, Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement that apologized for the mistake.

SPAIN

Coalition government ministers take oaths

Twenty-two Cabinet ministers took their oaths on Monday to join Spain's new coalition government, a first in a country dominated until recently by two main parties taking turns in power. King Felipe VI presided over the short ceremony, which marked the inauguration of an administration led by Socialist leader and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez that ranges from the political center to the far left.

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Most Japanese oppose Middle East plan for naval forces, poll finds]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532227.htm More than half of the respondents to a survey in Japan say they oppose the government's plan to send naval forces to the Middle East amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

The poll, which was conducted by Kyodo News on Saturday and Sunday, randomly selected 737 households with eligible voters and 1,225 mobile phone numbers to gather respondents' opinions. As a result, the responses of 521 households and 514 mobile users were obtained, with 58.4 percent of them opposing the plan that would send Japanese forces into the troubled region.

The figure was revealed as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe left on Saturday for a five-day trip to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

Tokyo's commitment of Self-Defense Forces personnel and assets to the region will be for an "information-gathering mission to ensure the safe navigation of ships in the region, including those owned or operated by Japan", the authorities say.

"Japan will take its own initiative to tenaciously conduct peace diplomacy so as to ease tensions and stabilize the situation in the region," Abe told journalists before leaving Tokyo's Haneda airport.

Abe said he wants to win support from the three countries for the Self-Defense Forces deployment, as the mission is vital to ensure the safety of Japanese commercial ships operating there.

According to Japan's Defense Ministry, two P-3C Maritime Self-Defense Force surveillance aircraft will start their mission in the Middle East on Jan 20; a destroyer, the Takanami, will leave Japan on Feb 2 to join them.

The ministry said Japan's naval deployment is to enhance its own intelligence-gathering capabilities in areas that include the Gulf of Oman and part of the Arabian Sea. It stressed that the Strait of Hormuz, with Iran on one side and a key shipping lane, is excluded from the mission.

The Kyodo survey showed the approval rate for Abe's Cabinet rose 6.6 points to 49.3 percent from December; the disapproval rate stood at 36.7 percent.

Asked about the most appropriate time to dissolve the lower house for a general election, 46.1 percent of the respondents said this should be after the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games this year. Those who wanted to see the election next year or later came in at 36.1 percent. The four-year term of members in the House of Representatives will end in October 2021, unless Abe dissolves the chamber beforehand.

On a successor to Abe as the ruling Liberal Democratic Party president and prime minister, 18.2 percent of those polled support Shigeru Ishiba, a former secretary general of the party. Some 13.1 percent hoped Abe would remain in office and 11.8 percent endorse Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi.

The survey also showed that 86.2 percent of the respondents were "anxious" or "somewhat anxious" about Japan's economic outlook.

Kyodo News contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Queen chairs crisis meeting over Harry]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532226.htm Britain's Queen Elizabeth II summoned senior royals to gather at their private Sandringham retreat in eastern England on Monday to discuss the shock decision by Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, to step back from their official duties and spend more time in Canada.

British media sources report that the meeting, to be attended by the Queen, Prince Charles, Prince William and Harry, will be the first time the four have met since the Sussex crisis exploded on Wednesday. Meghan will dial in via a conference call from Canada, where she traveled to on Friday.

It is likely the royals will try to come to some agreement before the meeting ends to stop the immediate crisis causing lasting damage to the monarchy, reports the Independent.

Harry and Meghan spent six weeks in Canada over Christmas with their eight-month-old son Archie.

The couple announced last week that they wish to split their time between the United Kingdom and Canada in the future and plan to become financially independent.

The Guardian reports that the royal meeting will be an opportunity for them to discuss proposals-drawn up after a series of consultations between palace officials and representatives of the UK and Canadian governments-over how Meghan and Harry can achieve their aim of carving out new "progressive" roles as hybrid royals.

"There are a range of possibilities for the family to review, which take into account the thinking the Sussexes outlined earlier in the week", a royal source said.

BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said the trickiest area will be to agree the financial position of the Sussexes. There are likely to be tax implications to any decision to base themselves outside the UK for any length of time and Buckingham Palace will want "tight protocols to prevent them cashing in on their royal status", the correspondent added.

The Sunday Times reports that Prince William has said he feels sorrow that he and Prince Harry are now "separate entities" and expressed hope that they might pull together again in future.

"I've put my arm around my brother all our lives and I can't do that anymore; we're separate entities," he told a friend, according to The Times.

It adds that Prince William has spoken of his "sadness" at the broken bond with his brother and voiced sorrow that the royal family is no longer a "team".

"I'm sad about that. All we can do, and all I can do, is try and support them and hope that the time comes when we're all singing from the same page. I want everyone to play on the team," Prince William was quoted as saying.

ITV news reporter Tom Bradby, a friend to the couple, said on Friday that Harry and Meghan felt they were being "driven out" of the royal family after they were told they would not have major roles in a "slimmed-down monarchy", a claim which the palace has denied.

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Thousands flee from Philippine volcano]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532212.htm MANILA-Nearly 50,000 people living near a volcano on an island close to the Philippine capital have heeded an official warning to evacuate as fears of a large eruption grow, officials said on Monday.

Clouds of ash blew more than 100 kilometers north of Taal Volcano, reaching Manila and forcing the shutdown of the country's main airport with more than 500 flights canceled so far.

There have been no reports of casualties or major damage from the volcano's eruption that began on Sunday.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology increased the alert level for Taal Volcano on Sunday to 4 on a scale of 5 with an increased prospect of a hazardous eruption "within hours to days".

Level 4 means a hazardous eruption is in progress. The volcanic institute declared a permanent danger zone within the Taal Volcano's 14-km radius as it spewed lava and ash.

Volcano institute head Renato Solidum said the institute has recorded 52 volcanic earthquakes in the Taal region until 1 am on Monday.

"Such intense seismic activity probably signifies continuous magma intrusion beneath the Taal edifice, which may lead to further eruptive activity," Solidum said.

Gerry Natanuan, the mayor of the town of Talisay in Batangas Province, said 45,000 people living near the volcano, a popular tourist spot, were evacuated on Sunday night. He said that a few villagers who stayed to watch over their homes will eventually be forced to evacuate.

Batangas Province Vice-Governor Mark Leviste said there are 12 towns around the volcano but the towns of Talisay, Agoncillo, and Laurel towns are high-risk areas. The towns and Taal Volcano island is home to farmers, fishermen and tourist guides.

Thick ashfall

Leviste said there was zero visibility in some areas because of the thick ashfall on Sunday night. Some roads are covered with up to two inches of mud, he added.

Television footage showed villagers covered in volcanic ash evacuated to safer ground overnight. People living in high-risk towns near the volcano donned masks.

The institute said fine, dense ash drifted in many areas in provinces south and north of Manila.

"Fine ashfall can cause irritation and breathing problems, especially among the elderly and children, and it is particularly dangerous to the health," the institute warned. In addition, it said that "areas of ashfall have also an experienced sulfurous smell, which can also cause irritation".

The institute urged the affected residents to wear face masks or put a damp cloth or towel over their faces, warning of the effects of "heavy and prolonged ashfall."

"Motorists are advised to drive with extreme caution as ash can cause poor visibility and, when wet, can make roads slippery," the institute said.

The eruption also forced the government to cancel classes in schools in the provinces blanketed by volcanic ash, including Metro Manila.

Visits to the 2,500-hectare crater island, a major tourist draw, were banned as the institute declared the entire island a permanent danger zone.

Taal is one of the most unstable of the country's 24 known active volcanos with 34 recorded eruptions.

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Iraq warns of 'collapse' if Washington blocks oil cash]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532211.htm BAGHDAD-Iraqi officials fear economic "collapse" if Washington imposes threatened sanctions, including blocking access to a US-based account where Baghdad keeps oil revenues that supply 90 percent of the national budget.

US President Donald Trump was outraged by the Iraqi parliament's vote on Jan 5 to oust foreign forces, including nearly 5,200 US troops who helped Iraqi soldiers beat back the Islamic State terror group since 2014.

If troops were asked to leave, Trump threatened: "We will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before."

The US then delivered an extraordinary verbal message directly to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi's office, two Iraqi officials said.

"The prime minister's office got a call threatening that if US troops are kicked out, 'we'-the US-will block your account at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York," one official said.

The parliament's vote to oust the troops was triggered by outrage over a US drone strike on Baghdad two days earlier that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and his Iraqi right-hand man, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

The Central Bank of Iraq's account at the Fed was established in 2003 following the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Under a United Nations resolution that lifted the crippling global sanctions and oil embargo imposed on Iraq after Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, all revenues from Iraqi oil sales are now deposited in the account.

Iraq is OPEC's second-biggest crude producer, In 2019, the state reaped $112 billion from oil revenues.

Revenues are deposited in dollars into the Fed account daily, with the balance now sitting at about $35 billion, Iraqi officials said.

Every month or so, Iraq gets $1 billion to $2 billion in cash from that account for official and commercial transactions.

"Cutting off access means totally turning off the tap," an Iraqi official said.

Another official said cutting off access to the account would mean the government could not carry out daily functions or pay salaries and the Iraqi currency would plummet in value. "It would mean collapse for Iraq," the official said.

A third senior Iraqi official confirmed the US was considering "restricting" cash access to "about a third of what they would usually send".

The Fed declined to comment on Trump's threat.

A US State Department official confirmed that the possibility of restricting access to the Fed account was "raised" with Iraq following the vote.

"You can imagine why, if troops were expelled, banks might be nervous about sending lots of ... cash to Baghdad," this official said.

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Volkswagen calls for new approaches to revive electric car sales]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/14/content_37532235.htm German carmaker Volkswagen is calling on the government for new efforts including non-monetary measures to tackle the downturn in China's new energy vehicle market, despite the segment's long-term prospects being bright.

Statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology showed that a total of 1.21 million electric cars and plug-in hybrids were sold in 2019, down from 1.26 million in 2018.

It is the first dip in sales since China started to finance the segment in 2009.

The major reason is the subsidy cut in 2019. The subsidies are scheduled to stop by the end of 2020.

"We understand that the time of subsidies is over, as a healthy market cannot be based on financial incentives," said Stephan Woellenstein. The CEO of Volkswagen's operations in China was speaking on Saturday at the annual China EV 100 Forum held in Beijing.

"So let's take a different route to raise customer interest again and show the beauty of e-mobility."

Woellenstein said the carmakers should offer more attractive models while authorities should provide more incentives to buyers, such as free license plates, free parking, no ban days and road privileges.

"These non-monetary incentives are key for a healthy new energy vehicle development in the long run. Those incentives must be intensified and made more appealing to customers," he said.

Besides these measures, many industry insiders are calling for adequate charging infrastructure. They said a lot of people cancel orders because they cannot have private charging devices.

According to Li Zhi, a senior official at the National Energy Administration, there were around 1.2 million charging points by the end of 2019 across the country, with private ones numbering around 700,000.

There are around 3.8 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on Chinese roads so far.

Volkswagen said it has built a charging company with Chinese partners FAW, JAC and StarCharge to develop private and semi-public charging options.

Woellenstein said attractive models, more non-monetary incentives and adequate charging infrastructure will draw customers to e-mobility and bring healthy growth to the Chinese new energy vehicle industry.

"If we all come to the same understanding and begin this joint effort, we will bring e-mobility in China back on the road to success again," he said.

"Volkswagen Group China, together with our partners SAIC, FAW and JAC, has played and will continue to play its part. 2020 will be a decisive year to reverse the current trend," he added.

Volkswagen, as China's most popular car group, has been underlining its efforts in e-mobility. It claims to have offered 14 new energy vehicles in the country by the end of 2019.

Production of models on its electric-only MEB platform will start in 2020 at its Anting plant in Shanghai and Foshan plant in Guangdong province.

Its subsidiaries, Audi and Porsche, have also launched electric vehicles in China.

Volkswagen said it will offer 30 locally produced new energy vehicle models by 2025. Their combined annual sales are expected to total 1.5 million vehicles.

The car group and its Chinese partners will invest more than 4 billion euros ($4.45 billion) into the Chinese market in 2020.

Around 40 percent will be spent on e-mobility in fields such as production, infrastructure, and development and research for electric cars. The company said it foresees spending more on new energy vehicles than on gasoline cars in coming years.

Woellenstein also suggested that the industry focus on electric vehicles instead of fuel cell vehicles that are gaining in popularity in some places.

Studies have shown that regarding energy efficiency, full cell vehicles are not competitive compared with battery electric vehicles, he said.

Over the entire life cycle, a fuel cell vehicle reaches an efficiency of 25-30 percent, whereas a battery car reaches 70-80 percent.

"A substantial amount of energy is lost in hydrogen production, not to mention the lack of infrastructure and the guarantee of safe transportation," said Woellenstein.

Nevertheless, he said Volkswagen will continue to perfect fuel cell technology, especially for commercial vehicles and full-size passenger cars. "But we all have to make a choice which shall be the dominant drivetrain for new energy vehicles in the years to come," said Woellenstein.

 

SAIC Volkswagen's new plant in Anting, Shanghai, is specifically designed for the production of electric cars on the carmaker's MEB platform. CHINA DAILY

 

 

Volkswagen Group China's mega-factory in Foshan, Guangdong province, will strengthen the e-mobility strategy in China. CHINA DAILY

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2020-01-14 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Revival for archery as young Turks give new lease of life to ancient art]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532116.htm ANKARA-Traditional Turkish archery dates back to the period of the early Turkic tribes in Central Asia. But today young athletes are fascinated by this ancient martial art.

In December, traditional Turkish archery was listed as intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO, giving a boost to this age-old sport.

"We now have around 120 students, the majority of whom are between 18 and 20, and they are very interested in this ancient art, because it allows them to travel back to feel the spirit of their ancestors," said Muhiddin Uyanik, an administrator at the Federation of Turkish Traditional Archery.

Uyanik, is one of those who have initiated Turkey's bid to have the art put on UNESCO's cultural heritage list.

He is also the founder of a museum located in Ankara's old citadel, a famous tourist attraction in the Turkish capital. The museum, known as Turkpusat (Turkish arms), is dedicated to ancient Turkish martial arts, especially archery, with the world's largest collection of arrowheads.

"There is definitely an interest among young people who want to learn the craft, which is very laborious. In the old days, during the Ottoman Empire, a disciple had to undergo three years of theoretical learning and muscle building before shooting his first arrow," Uyanik said.

Since its foundation in 2014, Uyanik's school has taught around 800 people, mostly youth, the basics of traditional Turkish archery.

Speaking about why he took up the sport, a 15-year-old who has a passion for everything related to ancient Turkish martial arts, said: "My friends ask me why I practice this. I tell them that it is something I can't explain. It's a link between my ancestors and me."

The boy said he was drawn to archery because of historical action films which introduced a series of nationalistic folk heroes from the early Ottoman period.

He said he is only at the early stage of learning and would like to continue for many years, and eventually become a teacher.

In their works, historians also portray vivid war scenes of the Ottoman era, where agile Turkish soldiers, some of them on horseback, were capable of shooting 40-50 arrows within a few minutes, surprising the enemy.

In the long past, the bow and arrow were part of all aspects of life, especially during war and hunting. So, it was crucial for Turks to learn how to shoot arrows from an early age.

In the museum, there are archery tools called "zikhir," which one can put on the thumb to pull the bow, and were used by children as young as 3.

Showcasing his skill in Turkish archery, Arif Osman Gurdal, a 33-year-old veterinary physician, who showed how difficult it is to stretch an Ottoman recurved bow for a perfect shot, said: "This is the heritage of our ancestors, archery is part of Turkish culture both in terms of national and spiritual values, and we are trying to keep it alive today."

Gurdal, an archery teacher in a school in the suburbs of Ankara, is also introducing the skill to the next generation.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the newly emerging interest in Ottoman history is also helping revive this ancient sport.

Separately, Turkey hosts an annual traditional archery competition every May to commemorate the conquest of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453.

Uyanik said that this year Turkey will host an even bigger event, the Word Nomad Games, which is expected to attract competitors from around 80 countries, including China.

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Max jet crisis big challenge for new CEO]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532158.htm Fifteen years ago, Boeing considered David Calhoun for its chief executive officer. He didn't get the job.

But on Monday, the 62-year-old executive will assume the top slot amid the toughest crisis the world's largest aircraft manufacturer has faced: fallout from the crashes of two 737 MAX jets that killed 346 people.

The MAX, Boeing's top-selling plane, was grounded worldwide in March 2019. Boeing temporarily suspended production of the jet this month and has lost orders to Airbus, its chief rival.

It's unclear when MAX production will resume, a decision that could ripple through the aircraft industry's supply chain and, some analysts believe, cut as much as 0.4 percent off the nation's gross domestic product in 2020.

Airlines around the world have sued Boeing for lost revenue, pilots have sued for lost wages, families of those killed in the crashes have sued for wrongful death and some stockholders have sued because the share price fell after the worldwide grounding of the MAX.

The MAX grounding has cost Boeing nearly $10 billion-and counting, analysts said.

Boeing named Jim McNerney CEO in 2005, but kept in touch with Calhoun, who then worked for a General Electric division with annual sales of $47 billion that included the manufacture of aircraft engines. Calhoun left GE a year later to head Nielsen, a media and data company.

Clearly, Boeing liked what they saw in Calhoun and named him to the board of directors in 2009. On December 23, 2019, Boeing named him CEO.

Calhoun's management skills get rave reviews from his peers.

"Having seen him run GE's aviation business after 9/11, I know he can execute under pressure," former GE CEO told Jeff Immelt told Reuters.

Candor is key

Calhoun, who co-wrote a business book titled How Companies Win believes candor is key to leadership, an element that critics said was absent from former CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who Calhoun replaced in the corner office.

Muilenburg was sharply criticized for his testimony before Congress following the crashes of MAX jets in Indonesia and Ethiopia and for his dealings with family members of those killed in the crashes.

Calhoun, according to media reports, has sought to do better. He has spoken privately with the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, and taken a less aggressive tone in getting the MAX back in the air.

In a major policy reversal, Calhoun agreed that pilots should receive additional training on a flight simulator before flying the MAX with its updated anti-stall system. But there may not be enough of the ground-based, computer-driven mock-ups of the plane's cockpit to train pilots in a timely manner.

In a video published in 2014, Calhoun said, "The second you get into the office until the second you leave, every interaction is judged. You try to hide anything from everybody and through your body language it becomes perfectly apparent."

Many business observers credit Calhoun with the swift-and deft-handling of the departure of Kevin McAllister as head of Boeing's aircraft manufacturing division last October. It appears McAllister's firing foreshadowed the quick ouster of Muilenburg.

So far, the only major criticism of Calhoun is that he's not an engineer. He studied accounting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly called Virginia Tech, and began his career as a member of GE's corporate audit team.

"Short term, (Muilenburg's firing) is an olive branch," Robert Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co, an aviation consulting firm in Port Washington, New York said. "But it appears to be the end of engineers on the Boeing board of directors for now. Given the nature of the company in its commercial aviation, defense and space roles, I don't know that a well-intentioned board made up of accountants and lawyers have the skills to be informed decision-makers."

Design of the MAX's anti-stall system is at the center of Boeing's current problems.

Boeing updated an existing plane, the 737 NG, because designing, building and securing approval for an entirely new plane could take as long as 10 years and Boeing was pressed by a new plane from Airbus, the A320neo. But the larger, more fuel-efficient engines on the MAX forced designers to place them closer to the fuselage and farther forward on the wing. This changed the plane's handling characteristics.

To solve the problem, Boeing developed an automated anti-stall device, called Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. Investigators believe the anti-stall system erroneously pointed the nose of the planes down to avoid a mid-air stall and into a fatal plunge.

Safety experts and members of Congress have faulted Boeing for not adequately informing pilots of the system and how to override it in an emergency. However, the MAX flew without incident for about two years prior to the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Rebuild image

Rebuilding Boeing's image by emphasizing safety will be a key problem Calhoun must overcome to secure recertification of the MAX and return it to the air.

James Hall, managing partner of Hall & Associated in Washington and former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board said Muilenburg's firing was long overdue.

"Boeing needs to reset the table and put safety first," he told China Daily. "The whole thing was blown up when Boeing lobbied Congress to self-certify the MAX. There were a lot of missteps."

Boeing took another hit last week with the release of in-house emails that show employees boasting about bullying regulators and customers.

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[France offers retirement age concession in bid to end strikes over pension reform]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532155.htm PARIS-French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday offered a major concession to unions contesting his government's overhaul of the pension system, in a move aimed at ending strikes which are now in their fifth week.

Philippe said in a letter to unions and employers that he was prepared to withdraw plans to raise the retirement age for full pension benefits by two years to 64 if certain conditions were met.

"The compromise that I'm offering … seems to me the best way to peacefully reform our retirement system," Philippe said in a copy of the letter obtained by Reuters.

He made the concession after talks between the government and trade unions to break the deadlock failed on Friday.

The CFDT, France's biggest union which is inclined to accept a limited reform, welcomed the move, saying in a statement that it showed "the government's will to find a compromise".

But the hardline CGT union, which wants the reform dropped altogether, rejected the offer and called on workers to participate in a series of protests planned for next week.

The government's concession comes as tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through eastern Paris against the reform, which aims to replace France's myriad sector-specific pension schemes with a single points-based scheme.

The protest turned violent on its fringes with police firing tear gas and charging groups smashing windows and lighting rubbish bins and billboards on fire.

The government's standoff with the unions is the biggest challenge yet of President Emmanuel Macron's will to reform the eurozone's second-biggest economy.

Philippe's government had hoped to create incentives to make people work longer, notably by raising the age at which a person could draw a full pension to 64 while maintaining the legal retirement age at 62.

The government has argued that the pension reform, which would be the biggest since World War II, would make the system fairer while also putting it on a more sound financial footing.

With one of the lowest retirement ages among industrialized nations, France currently spends the equivalent of 14 percent of economic output on pensions.

Philippe aims to present the reform bill on Jan 24 so that it can be discussed in parliament starting in mid-February with the aim of passing a law before the summer break.

He said in the letter he expected unions and employers to agree on how to ensure the long-term financing of the pensions system in April. If they failed to agree, the government would pass decrees guaranteeing the pension system is in the black by 2027, he added.

 

Youths smash a shop window during a demonstration in Paris on Saturday. FRANCOIS MORI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU vows to uphold nuclear agreement]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532148.htm European Union foreign ministers vowed on Friday to preserve the Iran nuclear deal by ignoring United States President Donald Trump's latest call for them to quit the landmark 2015 agreement.

The US imposed new sanctions on Iran on Friday, targeting multiple sectors of its economy. The move was to punish Iran for its missile strikes at the US military bases in Iraq in revenge for the US assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3.

The Iran deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action known as the JCPOA, has come under great pressure after Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday that the EU is committed to preserving the JCPOA. "Without the JCPOA, Iran would be a nuclear power today," he told a news conference after a meeting with the foreign ministers, where they discussed the situation in Iran, Iraq and Libya.

Borrell emphasized the priority for "de-escalation" and said "it is in our interest" to preserve the JCPOA "as far as we can". He added that the EU has a "completely different" position from the US on JCPOA.

"We have been saying in the past and we continue saying that we regret the US decision to withdraw from the deal. We continue believing that this deal is a key element of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture and critical for the regional stability.

"To negotiate a new agreement is a very complex, highly technical process which takes a long time," Borrell said, adding that the current deal is very solid from the technical point of view.

Trump, in his address to the US public on Wednesday, called on Germany, France, the UK, China and Russia, the other parties to the JCPOA, to break away from the remnants of the deal.

Iran has been gradually abandoning the deal's limitation on its uranium enrichment for nuclear fuel. And following the US killing of Soleimani, Iran said it was dropping all the limitations under the deal.

Iranian leaders complained that while Iran had fully complied with the JCPOA, other partners had not kept their commitment, especially its vital oil trade threatened by renewed US sanctions.

EU foreign ministers on Friday also urged Iran to go back to full compliance to the JCPOA, and said they rely on the International Atomic Energy Agency to continue monitoring and verifying Iran's nuclear activities.

Germany, France and the UK have developed a special purpose vehicle known as the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchange, to allow normal business transactions with Iran. Belgium, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden said earlier that they would also join INSTEX.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said earlier that US' withdrawal from the JCPOA and its maximum pressure campaign is the "root cause" of the current tensions.

China would "make tireless efforts" and stay in close contact with relevant parties to firmly uphold the JCPOA, he said.

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Men in the US let it all out in support groups]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532140.htm SHEFFIELD, United States-In a chalet in the Massachusetts countryside, tears run down Lucas Krump's cheeks as he pours his heart out at one of a new kind of support group growing in popularity among men in the United States.

"There were moments this year when I wanted to give up," the 40-year-old told the circle of participants, all tired of trying to live up to traditional male stereotypes.

The dozen men-all white ranging in age from their 20s to 60s-were leading a retreat run by Evryman, a group that helps men shrug off the armor of masculinity to get in touch with their true feelings.

Over the course of one weekend last month, no fewer than 55 men opened up about their weaknesses and insecurities at the chalet, as snow fell quietly in the woods outside.

"I am sad. I am afraid," says Michael. He wished he could tell his family how he feels, but finds it hard.

The groups are seeing a surge in attendance, reflecting a shift in attitudes and increased curiosity about what it means to be male, particularly among US millennials.

Another participant, Tom, is struggling to get over a recent breakup.

"I felt a lot of pain. I felt a lot of sadness," he said, as his fellow attendees looked on with concern.

Participants shared their experiences and took part in group and one-on-one workshops where they learnt to deal with feelings of anxiety and anger.

Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who specializes in masculinity, says many American men today worry they are not doing as well as their father or grandfather and feel like they are living in a "straitjacket".

"We live in a society in which every other man is a potential competitor, for jobs, for money, for access, for power," he explained.

"So we don't look at each other as brothers, we look at each other as rivals. So when you have that kind of relationship, you feel isolated."

Other support groups providing men's workshops and regular retreats include Junto and Man-Kind Project.

The idea behind them is not new. Writer Robert Bly pioneered self-help books and therapy sessions for men in the 1990s.

But Owen Marcus, who helped structure Evryman's programs, says the sessions would never have been this popular 20 years ago.

"Younger men are much more open to this. They're more willing to take that initial risk," he said.

'Evryman' Co-Founders Lucas Krump cries during a support group meeting. ANGELA WEISS/AFP
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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Warring groups in Libya agree to cease hostilities]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532131.htm TRIPOLI-Libya's Government of National Accord, or GNA, agreed on Sunday to truce after the easternbased army of Libya on Saturday announced a cease-fire from Sunday midnight.

The head of the GNA, Fayez al-Sarraj, announced in a statement "a cease-fire from (Sunday) Jan 12 at midnight", underlining however the "legitimate right" of GNA forces to "respond to any attack or aggression that may come from the other camp".

Sarraj said the cease-fire had been accepted in response to a call from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who have emerged as key players in the Libyan arena.

Late on Saturday, forces of the eastern Libya-based Haftar announced a conditional cease-fire in west Libya.

"The General Command of the Libyan Arab Armed Forces declares cease-fire and stop of military operations in the western region, starting from 00:01, Jan 12, 2020, provided that the other party commits to cease-fire at this time," the eastern-based army said in a statement.

"The response will be harsh in case of any breach to this truce," the statement said.

The United Nations Support Mission in Libya welcomed the truce and urged the warring parties "to strictly abide by the cease-fire and make a room for peaceful efforts to address all disputes through a Libyan-Libyan dialogue".

The cease-fire will be the country's first break in fighting in months, and the first brokered by international players. It comes as Libya is on the brink of a major escalation.

Erdogan and Putin on Wednesday released a joint statement calling on the rival Libyan parties to establish an immediate cease-fire and to stop all hostilities.

The Tripoli-based UN-backed government welcomed the Turkish-Russian call, stressing the keenness to end the war and resume political process.

Separately, on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Libyan peace talks will be held in Berlin, adding that Libya's warring parties would need to play a major role to help find a solution.

Russia supports Germany's initiative, said Putin during a news conference after talks with Merkel.

"We believe that Germany's initiative to hold an international conference on Libya in Berlin is timely," Putin said, according to a transcript released by the Kremlin.

"It is necessary to ensure that the participating countries are really interested in initiating a peaceful settlement of the conflict," he said.

The eastern-based army has been leading a military campaign in and around Tripoli since early April, trying to take over the city and topple the UN-backed government.

Thousands have been killed and injured in the fighting, and more than 120,000 people fled their homes.

 

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[San Francisco losing its Chinese eateries]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532117.htm When Tilly Tsang's restaurant reopened after remodeling in San Francisco's Chinatown almost a year ago, her daughter and son took it over.

She still vividly remembers that local elected officials and reporters came to celebrate the long-standing diner being passed on to the next generation.

But a month ago, Tsang's son left the restaurant, going back to his old job as a hotel chef. The daughter still manages the restaurant but has a second job as an accountant.

"They have their own lives. As for the restaurant, I'll just wait and see," said Tsang. When the day comes that the daughter decides to leave, the restaurant will close, said the 69-year-old woman.

Tsang migrated to the United States from Hong Kong in 1969. Twenty-four years ago, she purchased the site on Washington Street, which was then a dilapidated grocery store. She remodeled it and opened the Washington Bakery and Restaurant in 1995.

"At that time, Chinatown was much busier than now. People were hardworking and it was easier to find good help," said Tsang.

Young people don't want to live in Chinatown because of the aging buildings and infrastructure, and fewer customers come here because it's difficult to find parking space, she said.

Within two blocks on Grant Avenue, one of the oldest streets in the nation's oldest Chinatowns, more than 10 sites which used to be restaurants or gift shops are vacant.

Throughout the Bay Area, many longtime Chinese restaurants fear the same fate.

On Castro Street in Mountain View, Janto Yang, now in his 70s, has run the Hong Kong Bakery and Cafe for several decades. He works 11.5 hours every day except Monday. To keep expenses low, he hires only a part-time assistant for the morning hours.

Quite a few Chinese businesses on the street have relocated or closed, including another longtime restaurant, Chef Zhao Bistro. They have been replaced by modern bars and restaurants.

Yang said he would close the business if running costs increase. Four of his children are technical and financial professionals in Silicon Valley and none of them want take it over.

Yang is not alone with his children choosing professional careers instead of continuing the family restaurant business.

"The younger generation doesn't want to stay in the restaurant business, which is demanding, with long hours, low income, and low prestige," said Gordon H. Chang, a professor of American history and Olive H. Palmer, a professor of humanities at Stanford University.

And the fallout is that more family-run Chinese restaurants in the US are closing, The New York Times reported last month.

The newspaper said that according to new data from the restaurant reviewing website Yelp, the share of Chinese restaurants in the top 20 metropolitan areas of the US has been consistently falling. Five years ago, an average of 7.3 percent of all restaurants in those areas were Chinese, compared with 6.5 percent today, which means 1,200 fewer Chinese restaurants.

"Chinese immigrants opened restaurants to make a living, especially when the Chinese had very limited employment opportunities because of racial prejudice," Yong Chen, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine said.

And Chinese Americans successfully turned Chinese food from a despised cuisine into the most popular ethnic cuisine in the US. The rise of Chinese food is a classic American story of immigrant entrepreneurship and perseverance, said Chen in his book Chop Suey, USA.

But restaurant work is very demanding, and it's hard for first-generation owners to have a normal life, so even owners of famous restaurants face such challenges as long as these are family operations, Chen said.

Another local legacy Chinese restaurant, Su Hong, which had served generations of families in Palo Alto and Menlo Park since the 1970s, has recently closed after the owner decided to retire.

David King, in his late 70s, said his retirement plan was expedited by familiar restaurant pressures, including increasing costs and labor shortages. He has sold the property. A five-story hotel is proposed to replace the restaurant.

Chang also wonders if the restaurants are closing because they aren't doing a good enough job.

"I've been to many Chinese restaurants that have poor English language menus, poor sanitation and poor-quality food. Chinese food has a reputation among some that is not positive; it is thought to be heavy, greasy, too salty and oily," said Chang. "Thai, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants are more appealing to many."

He said many Chinese Americans made their livelihoods in restaurants and they are an important part of Chinese American history.

"So, recent Chinese immigrants might take more time to understand the US market and tastes, just as Chinese American immigrants did in the past," he said.

Tilly Tsang still helps at the Washington Bakery and Restaurant in San Francisco's Chinatown after retiring last year. LIA ZHU/CHINA DAILY
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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Climate change threatens Afghanistan's heritage]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532128.htm BAMIYAN, Afghanistan-The archaeological treasures of Afghanistan's Bamiyan province are facing a new and daunting threat: climate change.

Nestled in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains, the Bamiyan valley's picturesque cliffs-where centuries-old Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001-still contain a network of caves housing temples, monasteries, and Buddhist paintings.

The valley is also home to the Silk-Road era Shahr-e Gholghola fortress and the Shar-e Zohak citadel to the east.

Experts say that a pattern of dry spells followed by heavy rain, and larger than usual spring snow-melts is putting this historic art and architecture at risk of destruction.

Afghan officials warned in a 2016 United Nations report that the structures "may collapse and suffer from severe erosion "due to conditions directly linked to climate change.

"The erosion processes are much faster, the rains more devastating and the wind erosion stronger, which has an extremely harsh impact on the sites," Philippe Marquis, the director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan said.

Marquis-who has explored and worked in the region for decades-explains that Afghanistan "is very fragile geologically, especially as vegetation cover has greatly diminished" due to deforestation.

French imaging company Iconem concurred, saying Shar-e Zohak is "very fragile" due to erosion that has increased considerably over the last 30 years.

For Baqe Ghulami, 21, who hails from Saikhand district in northern Bamiyan, climate change has long been a reality residents have had to confront.

"The weather is changing, now summers are warmer and winters colder," he says, while overlooking the empty spaces where the two towering Buddha statues once stood.

Many of the artifacts pre-date the arrival of Islam to the region but despite the fact they come from another religion, the residents said they proudly defended the area's history as their own.

From the empty caves, visitors can see the incomplete Cultural Center, construction of which began in 2015.

It aims to educate visitors about the urgent need to preserve the area's heritage.

"There is no benefit if people just see (the sites) without information," says Ali Reza Mushfiq, 26, the director of the Department of Archaeology at Bamiyan University, complaining that a dearth of funding leaves people in the dark-including his own students who lack access to books.

The archaeologist readily admits that "erosion is increasing", but believes the real danger comes from "human influence at the site", including looters, who are rampant in Afghanistan.

The Shar-e Gholghola Fortress and other key sites are now guarded to protect against such problems.

The removal of land mines from the area has seen thousands visit in recent years, but the influx of recent visitors has done little to change the reality on the ground.

"We must start training …(the) local people to teach them how not to destroy the site," says Mushfiq, adding that some residents continue to store feed and house livestock in the historic sites.

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Death toll rises to 11 as storms sweep US]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532127.htm HOUSTON-At least 11 people have been killed as powerful storms swept across southern parts of the United States, with winds, tornadoes, floods and snows.

Hurricane-force wind gusts, golf-ball-sized hail and 5-13 centimeters of snow fell on Friday night and early Saturday as storms pushed from Texas through the Southeast and Great Lakes into Maine, said the National Weather Service, or NWS.

More snow was expected through Sunday in parts of Illinois, Michigan, northern New York and New England.

"The real danger comes from the wind and ice accumulation," said NWS forecaster Bob Oravec in College Park Maryland.

Ice was predicted to cake highways and roads across the South and Northeast from Saturday night to Sunday morning, he said.

"The ice and wind will make driving treacherous, and trees can snap and knock out power and do other damage," he said.

Of the victims, one police officer and one firefighter were killed in Lubbock, Texas on Saturday morning, with another critically injured, after they were hit by a car while responding to a traffic accident, according to local officials.

Police Officer Nicholas Reyna, 27, who had been with the department for one year, died at the scene. Firefighter Lt. David Hill, 39, was taken to a local hospital where he later died. Firefighter Matthew Dawson, 30, was hospitalized in critical condition.

Lubbock Police Chief Floyd Mitchell called it an "extremely tragic day" for the city.

"If people would respect road conditions, things like this wouldn't have to happen," said Lubbock Fire Chief Shaun Fogerson.

A man drowned in Oklahoma after he was swept away by floodwaters while getting out of his stalled truck, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said on Saturday.

Randall Hyatt, 58, of Wardville, was overwhelmed by rushing water while getting out of his stalled truck.

An elderly couple were found dead on Saturday near their demolished trailer in Louisiana, and another person was killed on an icy highway in Iowa after the truck the passenger was riding in overturned, local media reported.

About 67,000 customers were without power in Alabama on Saturday night, according to Alabama Power. PowerOutage.us said Georgia had about 98,000 power outages on Saturday evening, with tens of thousands of outages also reported in Mississippi and Louisiana. Outages occurred from Texas to Ohio.

In Tennessee, damage was widespread throughout Shelby County, the state's most populous county, which includes Memphis. There were numerous downed trees and power poles, some of which will need to be replaced, according to the utility.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said portions of several highways in the southeastern part of the state were closed due to flooding. The Arkansas Department of Transportation reported that portions of several state highways across the state, particularly in southeastern Arkansas, were closed due to downed trees, power lines and flooding.

Many streams were already at or near flood levels because of earlier storms, and heavy rains could lead to flash flooding across the region, forecasters said.

Parts of Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana were under flash flood warnings or watches on Saturday.

The storm, bringing the threat of ice and snow to the Chicago area, prompted the cancellation of more than 1,200 flights on Saturday at Chicago's two main airports. Most cancellations occurred at Chicago's O'Hare International, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation's online flight-tracking website.

The weather service issued a winter weather advisory, flood watch and lakeshore flood warning for the Chicago metropolitan area for Saturday and a winter storm warning for adjacent areas of northwestern Illinois.

 

Workers repair utility lines on Old Highway 45 after they were pulled down by trees in Baldwyn, Mississippi on Saturday following severe storms. ADAM ROBISON/AP

 

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Abe begins Gulf tour in Saudi Arabia amid tensions]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532126.htm RIYADH-Japan's prime minister arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia at the start of a Gulf tour during which he hopes to ease tensions after the United States killed a top Iranian general.

The Saudi news agency SPA said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his delegation were received by senior officials including Economy Minister Mohammed al-Tuwaijri.

During his five-day tour, Abe will also visit the United Arab Emirates and Oman, where a new ruler was sworn in on Saturday following the death of modern-day Oman's founding father Sultan Qaboos.

Abe's Gulf trip had initially been thrown into doubt after Teheran responded to the US' Jan 3 killing of Qasem Soleimani by launching a barrage of missiles at bases hosting US troops in Iraq.

The escalation prompted fears of an all-out war. Those fears have subsided however after US President Donald Trump said Iran appeared to be standing down after targeting the US bases in Iraq.

"To avoid further escalation of the tense situation in the Middle East, (Abe) will exchange opinions with the three countries" he is visiting, Japanese government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said ahead of the visit.

"In each of the countries, we plan to ask for cooperation in ensuring a stable energy supply and the safety of vessels," he added.

Japan last month announced it would deploy a military vessel and two patrol planes to the region to protect its shipping interests.

Abe has in recent months tried to carve out a role as mediator between Japan's ally Washington and Teheran, with which Tokyo has long-standing ties.

In December Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Abe in Tokyo after a visit by the Japanese prime minister to Teheran in June.

That visit came amid tensions in the Gulf following a spate of attacks on oil tankers which Washington blamed on Iran, despite denials from Teheran.

"I'm deeply concerned about the tensions in the Middle East," Abe said earlier this week, according to Japan's public broadcaster NHK as he announced details of his Gulf trip.

"I hope to contribute to peace and stability in the region through diplomatic efforts to ease tensions," he added.

Japan was formerly a major buyer of Iranian crude but stopped purchases to comply with US sanctions imposed after Washington in May 2018 unilaterally quit the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Teheran.

 

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks to the media before his departure at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Saturday for a five-day visit to the Middle East. AFP
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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Climate change threatens Afghanistan's heritage]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532125.htm BAMIYAN, Afghanistan-The archaeological treasures of Afghanistan's Bamiyan province are facing a new and daunting threat: climate change.

Nestled in the heart of the Hindu Kush mountains, the Bamiyan valley's picturesque cliffs-where centuries-old Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001-still contain a network of caves housing temples, monasteries, and Buddhist paintings.

The valley is also home to the Silk-Road era Shahr-e Gholghola fortress and the Shar-e Zohak citadel to the east.

Experts say that a pattern of dry spells followed by heavy rain, and larger than usual spring snow-melts is putting this historic art and architecture at risk of destruction.

Afghan officials warned in a 2016 United Nations report that the structures "may collapse and suffer from severe erosion "due to conditions directly linked to climate change.

"The erosion processes are much faster, the rains more devastating and the wind erosion stronger, which has an extremely harsh impact on the sites," Philippe Marquis, the director of the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan said.

Marquis-who has explored and worked in the region for decades-explains that Afghanistan "is very fragile geologically, especially as vegetation cover has greatly diminished" due to deforestation.

French imaging company Iconem concurred, saying Shar-e Zohak is "very fragile" due to erosion that has increased considerably over the last 30 years.

For Baqe Ghulami, 21, who hails from Saikhand district in northern Bamiyan, climate change has long been a reality residents have had to confront.

"The weather is changing, now summers are warmer and winters colder," he says, while overlooking the empty spaces where the two towering Buddha statues once stood.

Many of the artifacts pre-date the arrival of Islam to the region but despite the fact they come from another religion, the residents said they proudly defended the area's history as their own.

From the empty caves, visitors can see the incomplete Cultural Center, construction of which began in 2015.

It aims to educate visitors about the urgent need to preserve the area's heritage.

"There is no benefit if people just see (the sites) without information," says Ali Reza Mushfiq, 26, the director of the Department of Archaeology at Bamiyan University, complaining that a dearth of funding leaves people in the dark-including his own students who lack access to books.

The archaeologist readily admits that "erosion is increasing", but believes the real danger comes from "human influence at the site", including looters, who are rampant in Afghanistan.

The Shar-e Gholghola Fortress and other key sites are now guarded to protect against such problems.

The removal of land mines from the area has seen thousands visit in recent years, but the influx of recent visitors has done little to change the reality on the ground.

"We must start training …(the) local people to teach them how not to destroy the site," says Mushfiq, adding that some residents continue to store feed and house livestock in the historic sites.

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532121.htm JAPAN

Interpol help sought to arrest Ghosn's wife

Japan has asked Interpol for its help in arresting the wife of former Nissan Motor Co chief Carlos Ghosn, local media said on Saturday. The move came after Tokyo prosecutors on Tuesday obtained an arrest warrant for Ghosn's wife Carole, 53, on suspicion of perjury during a court appearance last year. Investigators believe Carole, who is now in Lebanon with Ghosn may have destroyed evidence in connection with her husband's case involving financial misconduct. She is suspected of denying during a court appearance in Tokyo last April that she knew an acquaintance of Ghosn although she is believed to have contacted the individual.

DPRK

Nuke talks not possible until demands accepted

A senior official of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea said on Saturday that dialogue with the United States could resume only when it fully accepted Pyongyang's demands. Kim Kye-gwan, an adviser to the DPRK's Foreign Ministry, made the remarks in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. He acknowledged that the top leader of the DPRK Kim Jong-un had received birthday greetings from US President Donald Trump, saying personal relations between the two leaders were not bad, though it was "absentminded to think of either making us return to the dialogue with the US by taking advantage of such relations or creating an atmosphere for it."

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Germany seeks to preserve Turkey-EU deal]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/13/content_37532129.htm Upholding the existing migration pact with Turkey, which is on the verge of jeopardy, is critical for Germany and the European Union, as there are fears that continuing conflict in Syria may drive a new wave of refugees to Europe.

The EU countries will not be able to endure another massive influx of refugees, similar to the one in 2015, as refugee issues have already transformed the politics both in Germany and in the European Union over the past few years, analysts said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel plans a visit to Turkey in January, to urge Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to keep alive the refugee deal that Turkey struck with the EU in 2016, according to a report in German media Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

The meeting hasn't been officially confirmed by the Germans yet.

As part of the deal, Turkey hosts refugees heading for Europe in exchange for financial support of $6.6 billion from the EU, following the peak year of 2015 which saw over one million irregular migrants flocking to Europe via different routes to flee conflict and extreme poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

US President Donald Trump made an abrupt decision in early October to withdraw US troops from northern Syria, further destabilizing the war-torn region.

As the ongoing conflict in Syria is currently causing more people to run away from home and head for Europe, Erdogan warned on Dec 22 that Turkey, which has already hosted about 3.7 million refugees, cannot handle a new wave of migrants. Erdogan estimated that more than 80,000 Syrian refugees were heading to Turkey.

Previously, Erdogan claimed that not all of the money EU promised had arrived, and warned that it needed more support, otherwise, it would have to "open the gates" for migrants to Europe.

'Extremely worried'

He Yun, an assistant professor at Hunan University's School of Public Management, said that Germany and the EU should be "extremely worried" about a new wave of refugees coming into the EU.

"The refugee crisis has sowed bitter divisions within both Germany and among EU member states, and is fueling the rise of extreme nationalist parties," she said.

The 2015 refugee crisis withered Merkel's leadership, as she welcomed over one million refugees to Germany, triggering the rise of right-populist, anti-immigration politics and the fragmentation of the country's party politics. The refugee issue had a similar impact on other countries across the European continent.

"Any new influx of refugees that mirrors the wave in 2015 could lead to the collapse of the fragile coalition government between Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party, and cause further damage to the EU's internal unity," she said.

She said that the refugee problem is a thorny issue between Turkey and the EU. While the Turkish government is already having to deal with growing public discontent and security fears, the EU, on the other hand, believes that Turkey has not handled the refugees properly which is why tens of hundreds of them are still arriving in EU territories such as Greece.

"With the diminishing hope of Turkey joining the EU, the only incentive EU could provide for Turkey to continue the refugee pact is likely to give more financial assistance," she said.

Zhao Junjie, a researcher in European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that what Erdogan wants is for the EU to pay more attention to Turkey's interests and demands, including more financial needs, and the refugee issue could be his bargaining chip.

But Merkel would need to save the deal because the refugee issue is not only a thorny point in her political career but could also have a lasting influence on her party's leadership.

"Merkel was too generous with migrants a few years ago, which was criticized by many in Germany, so she has to ensure that the refugee crisis won't be repeated," he said.

Over the past few years, Germany has significantly reduced the number of refugees it takes and has even enacted procedures to repatriate some of those who are unqualified to apply for asylum.

 

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2020-01-13 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Yemeni beekeepers take risks to produce honey]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/12/content_37532044.htm SANAA, Yemen-Fleeing from airstrikes and land mines, Yemeni beekeeper Darwish Ali drove his beehives for more than 500 kilometers toward the western highlands of Sanaa Province, seeking safe valleys for herding his bees.

Yemen, known for producing some of the finest honey in the world, has been ravaged by more than four years of civil war that has shattered the economy and pushed the Arab country to the brink of starvation.

The 26-year-old beekeeper arrived in the valleys of Al-Haimah Al-Kharijiyah district two months ago, coming from Shabwa Province, about 470 km southeast of the capital Sanaa.

Shabwa's northwestern outskirts are still open battlegrounds between government forces backed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Houthi rebels.

So far, the coalition, which intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to support the government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, has launched thousands of airstrikes against the Houthi rebels, who control the most populous areas including Sanaa.

"I transported my bees to this area where they can find flowers to produce good honey," Ali said in Raimat Al-Haimah valley of Al-Haimah Al-Kharijiyah district.

Al-Haimah Al-Kharijiyah district, which is part of Sanaa Province, is known for growing Sidr and its almond trees.

The trees start producing flowers in early winter, and they bloom all through the winter.

Known for its purity and therapeutic benefits, Yemeni honey is hailed as among the best in the world.

However, the years of war in Yemen have badly paralyzed its traditional honey business.

Abdullah Nashir, a professor at the Agriculture Faculty in Sanaa University, said beekeepers risk airstrikes and land mines as they move between valleys.

"Like Ali, many beekeepers keep traversing from one place to another carrying their hives on the backs of trucks in search of flowering trees,... but they face the troubles of war," said Nashir, who is also the chief of the Cooperative League of Yemeni Beekeepers, a nongovernment syndicate comprising 100,000 beekeepers.

"Of course, the war has greatly harmed the Yemeni honey industry as it has put many obstacles in the way. Before the war, we used to export our honey, but the war and blockade have largely reduced exports."

Abdulkarim al-Najdi, who owns one of the main honey shops in Sanaa, complained of war and the economic crisis. "The war and the economic crisis have affected us very much. Before the war, my trade was very good, and people bought a lot. But not now, not anymore," he said.

]]> 2020-01-12 09:11:15 <![CDATA[US House move to curb Trump's war power dismissed by president]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/12/content_37532037.htm WASHINGTON-US lawmakers concerned about rushing to war with Iran adopted a measure on Thursday aimed at reining in US President Donald Trump's ability to take military action against the Islamic republic.

The resolution was introduced by Democrats in the House of Representatives after Trump's order to kill an Iranian commander and retaliatory missile strikes by Teheran dramatically escalated tensions and raised fears of a devastating war between the two foes.

The mostly symbolic but politically charged vote, 224 to 194, was largely along party lines, with three members of Trump's Republican Party joining Democrats in approving the measure demanding the president not engage in military action against Iran unless authorized by US Congress.

Among them was Matt Gaetz, one of Trump's staunchest supporters in US Congress, who noted in a floor speech that the measure did not criticize Trump, but said that "engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision".

"If the members of our armed services have the courage to go and fight and die in these wars, as Congress we ought to have the courage to vote for them or against them," Gaetz said.

As lawmakers launched a scalding daylong debate over presidential authority, Trump insisted he needs no one's blessing to launch attacks, essentially scorning existing legal requirements for consulting Congress.

"I don't have to," Trump said when asked whether he would seek congressional approval for more military action against Iran.

"And you shouldn't have to," he said, "because you have to make split-second decisions sometimes."

Trump signaled on Wednesday he was stepping back from the brink of war with Iran after the US drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was followed by Iranian missile volleys against bases housing US forces in Iraq.

But on Thursday, he fought back against criticism that he'd ordered the killing, risking all-out conflict, without real justification.

At a reelection campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio, Trump insisted, without providing any evidence, that Soleimani was "actively planning new attacks", including against US embassies, "and we stopped him cold".

He ridiculed his Democratic opponents in Congress, calling them insulting names and claimed that if he had consulted with them they would have leaked the secret operation to the "fake news".

"You should get permission from Congress," he said mockingly to mimic the Democratic House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

'Cannot afford war'

But Democrats, and some Republicans, have expressed deep skepticism about the administration's rationale for Soleimani's killing, and are demanding Congress reassert its power over a commander-in-chief's use of US military might against another nation.

Citing the War Powers Resolution of 1973 that forbids a US president from taking the country to war without congressional approval, the measure "directs the president to terminate the use of United States armed forces to engage in hostilities in or against Iran or any part of its government or military".

But the text also provides for key exceptions, allowing use of force to defend against or prevent an "imminent" attack against US citizens.

Pelosi, speaking to reporters about the resolution, said Trump "must de-escalate and must prevent further violence. America and the world cannot afford war".

The House measure was introduced as a concurrent resolution, a form of legislation that does not carry the weight of law. But as a political instrument it could serve as a rebuke to Trump's foreign policy.

Top House Republican Kevin McCarthy blasted Pelosi's effort as a "show vote" because it cannot become law and will therefore "never limit (Trump's) constitutional authority to defend the American people".

Pelosi said her Democrats were moving forward because their concerns were not addressed in a closed-door briefing to lawmakers on Wednesday by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials.

Democrats have introduced a similar war powers resolution in the Senate, where it faces a steep climb as Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

Two Senate Republicans, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, announced support for the Senate version, suggesting the vote, as early as next week, could be razor-thin.

The pair emerged from the top-secret briefing saying administration officials provided no acceptable rationale for killing Soleimani or specific evidence of imminent threats against US citizens, and took the "insulting" step of discouraging questions about military policy.

"To come in and tell us that we can't debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran? It's un-American, it's unconstitutional, and it's wrong," Lee told reporters.

A demonstrator makes his point at a "No War With Iran" rally at the US Capitol on Thursday in Washington. LEIGH VOGEL/GETTY IMAGES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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2020-01-12 09:11:15
<![CDATA[Commons vote paves way for Brexit in 3 weeks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/12/content_37532035.htm LONDON-Britain on Thursday gained a clear path toward the exit gate from the European Union in just three weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's fast-track bid to "get Brexit done" cleared its most significant hurdle when his European Union Withdrawal Bill was approved by the House of Commons with a vote of 330 to 231.

The bill will be debated in the House of Lords next week, but given its clear run in the Commons, it is not expected to face any tough opposition. It is almost certain to win royal assent from Queen Elizabeth within days of the Lords vote.

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said he had no doubt politicians in the Lords "will have heard the resounding message from the British people on Dec 12 (the general election day)" and will have seen the clear will of the House of Commons.

Not joining in the celebrations was Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party's leader at Westminster, who warned Brexit would cause a constitutional crisis for the United Kingdom.

"Today will go down as the final nail in the coffin for this broken union-as Scotland faces being dragged out of the EU against our will by an extreme Tory government with no mandate here," he told MPs after the voting concluded on Thursday.

Blackford said Scotland would at some point have an independence referendum and would remain as an independent European country.

Johnson on Wednesday ruled out a Scottish referendum, saying the people of Scotland voted in a "once in a generation" poll in 2014 to remain part of the UK.

Despite Johnson's repeated promise to get Brexit done on Jan 31, the departure will mark only the start of the first stage of the country's exit from the EU. Britain and the EU will then launch into negotiations on their future relationship, racing to strike new relationships for trade, security and a host of other areas by the end of 2020.

"Leaving the EU doesn't mean that we will have got Brexit done," said Paul Blomfield, a Brexit spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party. "We'll have completed the first step, departure, but the difficult stage is yet to come."

Tough job ahead

Top EU officials are already saying that sealing a new deal will be tough.

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, said on Thursday that Britain's goal of striking a full free-trade agreement by the end-of-year deadline that Johnson insists on is unrealistic.

"We cannot expect to agree on every aspect of this new partnership," Barnier said, adding: "We are ready to do our best in the 11 months."

International trade agreements typically take years to complete, but Johnson has ruled out extending a post-Brexit transition period agreed by the two sides beyond the end of 2020. The EU has offered to prolong it until 2022.

That has set off alarm bells among UK businesses, which fear Britain could face a "no deal" Brexit at the start of 2021. Economists say that would disrupt trade with the EU-Britain's biggest trading partner-and plunge the UK into recession.

Britain and the EU will have to strike deals on everything from trade in goods and services to fishing, aviation, medicines and security.

The EU insists there is no way to deal with all these issues in less than a year. British officials have suggested they could carve the negotiations up into chunks, sealing deals one sector at a time.

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2020-01-12 09:11:15
<![CDATA[China's envoy defends multilateralism principle of UN Charter]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/12/content_37532034.htm China's top envoy to the United Nations on Thursday expounded on China's position of firmly upholding multilateralism and the UN Charter.

"China, as the first country to sign the UN Charter, has consistently and scrupulously adhered to the purposes and principles of the Charter and has unfailingly supported efforts to defend the authority and functions of the United Nations," Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the UN, said in remarks to the Security Council, which held a debate on upholding the founding treaty of the UN nearly 75 years after its adoption.

"The UN Charter is a great historical text that came into being in the 20th century. As a cornerstone of multilateralism, the charter establishes the basic norms governing international relations in the present day, develops generally recognized principles of international law, and charts the way forward for human society," Zhang said.

To commemorate the treaty signed in June 1945, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and representatives of more than 110 countries attended the meeting and made statements.

"At this time when global fault lines risk exploding, we must return to fundamental principles; we must return to the framework that has kept us together; we must come home to the UN Charter," Guterres said.

Guterres said that present and past disagreements must not be an obstacle to action to address current threats. "War is never inevitable; it is a matter of choice-and often it is the product of easy miscalculations. And peace, too, is never inevitable; it is the product of hard work, and we must never take it for granted."

Zhang said that unilateralism is dealing heavy blows to the international rule of law and the international order, while protectionism is "plunging the world economy into a pit of uncertainties" and "acts of bullying" are threatening global peace and stability.

Zhang said revisiting and reminding ourselves of the spirit of the charter is "all the more relevant given the present context".

The recent US unilateral "adventurist act" has led to a high degree of tension in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, said Zhang, referring to the recent assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Iraq. He said China supports Guterres' call for peace.

"China calls on the relevant parties to exercise maximum restraint, do the utmost to return to dialogue and consultation without delay, jointly work for the de-escalation of tensions and uphold the JCPOA(the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action)," said Zhang, referring to the nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers in 2015.

Zhang said that if the situation in the region span out of control, it would not serve the interests of any party. Restoring peace is of crucial importance to the entire world.

He called on the council to uphold its responsibility vested by the UN Charter to maintain international peace and security.

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2020-01-12 09:11:15
<![CDATA[More countries back Libya truce call]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/11/content_37532046.htm DOHA/ALGIERS-Qatar on Thursday voiced support for calls by Turkey and Russia for a ceasefire to take effect in Libya at midnight on Sunday, the Qatari Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Qatar said it also welcomed the acceptance of the calls by the United Nations-recognized Libyan Government of National Accord, or GNA, in Tripoli.

The Qatari Foreign Ministry said in the statement that it hopes all factions in the Libyan crisis, as well as the regional and international actors, will support this initiative.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, following a meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday, called on the warring factions in Libya to agree for a cease-fire to come in at midnight on Sunday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Istanbul on Wednesday, said he wished the sought-for cease-fire would encourage the so-called Berlin process, a diplomatic effort aimed at bringing an end to the conflict in war-torn Libya.

Algerian Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum on Thursday said Algiers and Rome were in agreement on the necessity of a truce to be reached in Libya.

Coordination between Algeria and Italy on Libya is "very good", Boukadoum told a news conference attended by his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Algiers, APS News Agency reported.

He said that "a political solution is the most appropriate for Libya".

Di Maio said that the political leaders in Turkey, Egypt, Belgium and Algeria-countries he has visited in Rome's diplomatic push on Libya-"agree on the necessity of reaching a peaceful solution and a cease-fire in Libya".

He said that "everyone agrees on the need to reach a solution that guarantees stability in the region".

Algeria, which shares a 1,000 kilometer border with Libya, fears the fallout of any potential proxy war in Libya between influential international powers.

With Algeria's concerns for its national security, it has deployed thousands of its troops to the border with Libya.

Nation mired in civil war

Libya has been mired in civil war since the fall of longtime leader Muammar Gadhafi's government in 2011.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday said a resolution of the crisis in Libya is a real priority for France and the Middle East region. He was visiting Tunisia when he made the comment.

He criticized the recently signed agreements between Libya's United Nations-recognized government and Turkey, noting it could further destabilize the situation in Libya and the region as a whole.

"France, like Tunisia, supports the efforts of the UN Special Envoy to Libya Ghassan Salame to consolidate the international consensus at the Berlin conference soon to find solutions to the Libyan crisis," Le Drian said.

Germany has been trying to hold an international conference on Libya, bringing together all the countries with a stake in the Libyan crisis in a bid for a political solution.

No date has been set for the conference, which has been envisaged for Berlin. The conference has been hit by delays due to the differences among the would-be participants.

Libya is governed by dueling authorities in the east and in the west. The east-based government, backed by General Khalifa Haftar's forces, is supported by the Gulf countries and Egypt, as well as France and Russia. The western, Tripoli-based government receives aid from Turkey, Qatar and Italy.

In recent weeks, the fighting has intensified around Tripoli with a vow by Erdogan to send Turkish troops to back the GNA, headed by Fayez al-Serraj. Turkey's Parliament authorized the deployment last week. Turkey has already begun sending its soldiers to Libya, for training and coordination roles.

Ahmed al-Mosmari, spokesman for the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, one of the militia groups in the east, said in a video statement on Thursday that forces in eastern Libya will still try to take control of Tripoli from "terrorist groups". The east-based forces have been waging an offensive to try to take the city for months.

]]> 2020-01-11 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Iran seeks help with probe into airliner crash]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/11/content_37532048.htm TEHERAN-Iran on Friday urged all parties involved to contribute to an investigation into the crash of a Ukrainian airliner that killed all 167 passengers and nine crew members on Wednesday.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported on Friday that the authorities have invited the jet's manufacturer, Boeing, to participate in the investigation.

Teheran called on the US company to send a representative to participate in the process of analyzing the data from the black-box flight recorder. It would also welcome the input of experts from those countries whose citizens died in the crash.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board confirmed on Thursday that it had received formal notification from Iran of the crash and it had "designated an accredited representative to the investigation of the crash".

The Ukrainian International Airlines 737-800 aircraft crashed near Teheran's Imam Khomeini International Airport shortly after takeoff on Wednesday. Among the dead were 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, and a number of citizens of Britain, Germany and Sweden.

The Boeing jet left the Iranian capital after 6 am, bound for the Ukrainian capital Kiev. An initial report by Iranian investigators said the airliner caught fire immediately before it crashed, citing witnesses.

The incident took place amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran. Iran on Tuesday night launched ballistic missile strikes on Iraqi military bases housing US troops, in retaliation for the US killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.

US media reported on Thursday that US officials "increasingly believe" that the doomed plane was mistakenly shot down by Iran, while Iranian authorities insisted that a technical failure was the cause. They dismissed claims that a terrorist attack, an explosion or any form of firing at the plane may have caused the accident.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Thursday that his country is ready to join in the investigation, as set out under international law. He said a group of Ukrainian experts arrived in Iran on Wednesday for investigations at the crash site.

"We are making all the necessary efforts to find out the causes of this crash. ... Our goal is to find out the truth. This is the main thing," Zelensky said.

US, Canadian and British officials declared on Thursday that is "highly likely" that Iran shot down the civilian Ukrainian jetliner.

They said the missile strike could well have been a mistake amid rocket launches and high tensions throughout the region.

In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: "We have intelligence from multiple sources including our allies and our own intelligence. The evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered similar statements. Morrison said it appeared to be a mistake. "All of the intelligence as presented to us today does not suggest an intentional act," he said.

It was not immediately clear how the US and its allies would react, as the region remained on edge after the killing of the Iranian general and Iran's retaliatory missile strikes. US troops are on high alert.

At the White House, US President Donald Trump suggested he believed Iran was responsible for the shooting down of the aircraft and dismissed Iran's initial claim that the crash was caused by a mechanical problem with the plane.

"Somebody could have made a mistake on the other side." Trump said, noting the plane was flying in a "pretty rough neighborhood".

A preliminary Iranian investigative report released on Thursday said the pilots did not make any radio calls for help and that the aircraft was trying to turn back to the airport when the burning plane went down.

IRNA quoted Hasan Rezaeifa, the head of the of Iranian civil aviation accident investigation commission, as saying that "the topics of rocket, missile or anti-aircraft systems are ruled out".

Mourners console each other in Toronto on Thursday during a vigil for those who died after Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 crashed in Teheran on Wednesday. GEOFF ROBINS/AFP

]]> 2020-01-11 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Digital health market promising]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/11/content_37532057.htm An increasingly large array of vendors providing digital-based health services and products, including many from China, presented their innovations at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, in Las Vegas.

"I think the prospects for the future of China's digital market are pretty bright," said Tan Huan, a co-chief technology officer of Ubtech Robotics.

This year, the health and wellness category at CES-which ended on Friday-featured 145 exhibitors, a 25 percent increase over 2019, according to the Consumer Technology Association, which organized the show in the US city.

The global digital health market, which was valued at $144.2 billion in 2018, according to market research company Imarc, has more companies showcasing their innovations every year-whether it's fitness trackers, health monitors or sleep technologies.

With China's aging population becoming a serious social issue, Chinese innovators are increasingly focusing on technology to improve senior citizens' health.

Tan said that the medical field is where artificial intelligence and robotics products from Ubtech could become useful. There are several issues that Chinese society faces: The slow depletion of the labor force, a lack of professionals, and growth in demand.

Tan said the medical field is ever-evolving. The company has been exploring several uses for its products, including using robots as companions for people.

AI, robotics

AI and robotics could provide precision services for the medical industry, based on an ability to determine exactly what people need, said Tan, adding that there will be some new products next year from Ubtech geared toward the medical and wellness sector.

Neural FLEX Technology, a Shenzhen-based company that researches brain-computer interface techniques, has developed an intelligent noninvasive EEG headband called Soulink.

The product can detect brain activity in elderly patients indicating when their need to urinate arises, giving carers early notice, Charles Feng, CEO of the company, told China Daily on Wednesday.

The technology also can detect signs of brain fatigue in long-distance drivers, thus preventing potential tragedies.

Feng said that in China he sells his products directly to companies and usually engages in the business-to-consumer format when conducting overseas business.

Mavis Kang, director of Fitpolo sales at Moko Technology Ltd, a Shenzhen-based company, said digital health is growing in China because Chinese are becoming more health-conscious.

The company produces Fitpolo, a smart wristband that can be used to detect people's exercise and sleep patterns.

Omron Healthcare, a leading Japanese brand, showcased a wearable blood pressure monitor at CES 2020.

Other highlights of the show included a virtual reality game from Evolv Rehabilitation Technologies that helps stroke survivors regain physical coordination in a fun way; the Pivot app, which helps people quit smoking; and Singfit, a platform designed to help seniors access music as therapy.

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2020-01-11 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Former French leader Sarkozy to stand trial for alleged graft]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/11/content_37532058.htm Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial in October on corruption charges over allegations that he attempted to unlawfully obtain confidential information from a judge.

The former leader will stand trial from Oct 5 to 22, in what will be the first in several graft cases against the 64-year-old, according to Agence France-Presse. A court ruled last year that Sarkozy must also stand trial for illegal campaign financing when he unsuccessfully ran for reelection in 2012. Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, denies any wrongdoing.

The AFP report said the information that he allegedly tried to obtain from the judge-resulting in this corruption trial-was about another case that he was involved in that has been dismissed.

It says Sarkozy is accused of seeking the information from then judge Gilbert Azibert in exchange for helping him obtain a job in Monaco. Sarkozy allegedly made the offer through lawyer Thierry Herzog. Azibert and Herzog are also accused in the case, which is expected to be the first of the legal actions against Sarkozy to go to trial.

Since leaving office, after losing to the Socialist party's Francois Hollande, Sarkozy has faced a bombardment of corruption and campaign financing allegations, all of which he rejects.

Last October, a court ruled he must stand trial for illicit campaign financing-a charge for which he risks a one-year jail term and a fine. Prosecutors say Sarkozy spent nearly 43 million euros ($48 million) on his failed 2012 reelection bid-almost double the legal limit of 22.5 million euros-using fake invoices.

He said he was unaware of the fraud by executives at a public relations company, Bygmalion, who are among 13 others being pursued in the case.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Sarkozy has also been charged over accusations he accepted millions of euros from the government of Libya's former leader Muammar Gadhafi toward his first presidential campaign in 2007. French authorities started tapping Sarkozy's phone in 2013 to investigate the claims, according to a Bloomberg report.

The first former French president to be put on trial was Jacques Chirac, who died in September. In 2011, he was found guilty of embezzlement and misuse of public funds during his time as mayor of Paris.

Other senior French politicians charged with financial misconduct have included former prime ministers Edouard Balladur, Francois Fillon and Alain Juppe.

Fillon crashed out of the running for the presidency in 2017 after being charged with using public funds to pay his wife for a fake job as his assistant. Juppe, a prime minister under Chirac, was given a suspended jail sentence in 2004 over a party funding scandal. Balladur, 90, faces charges of campaign finance violations.

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2020-01-11 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Joint work on truce in Libya urged]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531966.htm A joint statement on Wednesday from Russia and Turkey calling for a cease-fire in Libya may lead to resolution of the conflict between government forces and east-based militias.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan have backed different sides in the country's long conflict.

Turkey backs Fayez al-Serraj's Tripoli-based, United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord, or GNA, and has said it will send military advisers and troops to reinforce its support, while Russian military contractors have been deployed alongside General Khalifa Haftar's eastern-based Libyan National Army, or LNA.

The GNA said on Wednesday it welcomed any "serious call" to return to political talks, without addressing the cease-fire call directly.

The UN has been leading efforts for months to pave the way for a truce and political negotiations in Libya, a major oil and gas producer, with few visible signs of progress.

"Today our President Erdogan and Russian head of state Putin are making a call for a truce in Libya, starting from midnight on Jan 12, the night from Saturday to Sunday," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced. His Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, confirmed the details.

The Libya conflict is undermining regional security and "triggering irregular migration, further spread of weapons, terrorism and other criminal activities including illicit trafficking", the joint statement said.

The call for cease-fire is aimed at supporting a resumption of UN-backed negotiations between the warring parties and facilitating further talks in Berlin, according to the statement.

It is not clear how much Russia and Turkey can influence events on the ground, but Putin and Erdogan have met regularly to discuss military deployments in Syria, and have also declared Libya policy a priority to prevent further conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The UN said it welcomed recent cease-fire calls, including that from Turkey and Russia, and urged the Libyan parties to respond positively.

However, Cavusoglu said on Monday Turkish military experts and technical teams would support Libya's UN-recognized government, a day after Erdogan said Turkish military units were moving to Tripoli.

Turkey's decision to send troops was condemned immediately by the European Union, which said foreign interference in Libya was exacerbating instability.

Putin took the cease-fire initiative with Erdogan during his visit to Turkey, where the two presidents met and presided over a ceremony to inaugurate the TurkStream gas pipeline in Istanbul.

Russia is building TurkStream and doubling the capacity of Nord-Stream across the Baltic Sea to Germany as part of plans to bypass Ukraine in its gas deliveries to Europe.

Russian gas has begun to be delivered to Bulgaria, as well as Greece and North Macedonia, through the new entry point from Turkey via the new gas pipeline, said Vladimir Malinov, the CEO of Bulgarian gas transmission and storage operator Bulgartransgaz.

Russian gas producer Gazprom started shipping gas to Bulgaria via TurkStream on Jan 1, replacing a route that formerly passed through Ukraine and Romania.

The Russian company shipped about 3 billion cubic meters of gas to Greece via that route last year. TurkStream natural gas pipeline project is considered a further step in Turkish and Russian relations in terms of energy.

 

 

 

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Deadly Iran crash adds to Boeing's woes]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531957.htm Boeing is dealing with a new disaster following the deadly crash in Iran of another of its 737 airplanes.

The crash of a Ukrainian International Airlines 737-800 aircraft shortly after takeoff from Teheran early on Wednesday killed all 167 passengers and nine crew members. At least 16 of those killed were children under age 10.

There were 82 Iranians, at least 63 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians on the flight as well as a few citizens of Britain, Germany and Sweden.

The Boeing jet left the Iranian capital after 6 am, bound for Kiev.

An initial report by Iranian investigators said the airliner was on fire immediately before it crashed, citing witnesses.

According to Reuters, an amateur video, run by Iranian news agencies and purportedly of the crashing plane, showed a descending flash in a dark sky. It was accompanied by comments that the aircraft was "on fire" and then a brighter flash as it appears to hit the ground. Reuters could not authenticate the footage.

The plane involved in the crash is the predecessor to the grounded 737 Max, but isn't equipped with the automated anti-stall system implicated in two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that led to the Max's worldwide grounding in March 2019 and the eventual exit of its CEO.

Shares of Boeing on the New York Stock Exchange fell $5.91, or 1.75 percent, to $331.37 on Wednesday, but rebounded in after-hours trading by $1.37 to $332.74.

Cai von Rumohr, an analyst at Cowen's, downgraded Boeing shares from the equivalent of "buy" to "hold" on Wednesday morning, cutting the price target from $419 a share to $371, according to Barron's.

Less than 40 percent of analysts who cover Boeing rate it a "buy", down from 83 percent a year ago, according to the financial publication Barron's. The average buy-rating ratio for the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, of which Boeing is one, is about 55 percent, it added.

On Wednesday, Boeing extended condolences to the victims' families and said it stands ready to provide any necessary assistance in the investigation.

'Black box' recovered

The Ukrainian jet crash came shortly after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard fired rockets at two bases with US troops in Iraq. Iran's government said the action was retaliation for the US killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a drone attack on Jan 3.

Following Soleimani's killing, the US Federal Aviation Administration said it would prohibit US airlines from entering airspace over Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf region.

The plane's "black box"-the cockpit voice and flight data recorder crucial to determining the cause of a crash-has been recovered, Iranian state broadcaster IRIB reported.

"We will not give the black box to the manufacturer (Boeing) or America," said Ali Abedzadeh, director of Iran's Civil Aviation Authority.

The flight crew didn't make a "mayday" call from the cockpit to alert the airport that the plane had mechanical difficulties. One aviation expert said it appeared the jet was "not intact" before the crash, The Washington Post reported.

"The wreckage pattern was very consistent with a plane that was not intact when it hit the ground," Todd Curtis, a safety analyst for Air-Safe.com and a former Boeing safety engineer, told the newspaper. "I didn't see a large central crater."

John Cox, a former pilot and airline safety consultant, told The Washington Post that a video posted on social media appeared to show "a large amount of fire" that could have been caused by an "uncontrolled engine failure" before the crash.

The Ukrainian embassy in Teheran withdrew an earlier statement ruling out terrorism or a rocket attack as possible causes for the crash.

"Information on the causes of the plane crash is being clarified," the embassy said in a statement.

An early report by Iranian media blamed engine failure. Rescue crews rushed to the scene, but the site was ablaze and they couldn't assist, the head of Iran's emergency medical services told state media.

The Ukrainian airline said the plane had been in service for about three-and-a-half years and was last serviced on Jan 6.

The Wall Street Journal said Iran has a relatively poor safety record because its airlines and infrastructure have been hobbled by US sanctions.

Reuters and Xinhua contributed to this story.

 

People attend a candlelight vigil held on Wednesday in Edmonton, Canada, in memory of those who died when a Ukrainian passenger plane crashed in Iran. CANDACE ELLIOTT/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Chinese companies need better branding]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531956.htm Entrepreneur Wu Yuli, who has been attending the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, for several years as an exhibitor, noticed a strange phenomenon faced by her fellow Chinese exhibitors at the event in Las Vegas.

Representatives of ODMs, or original design manufacturers, would often come by an area where a group of Chinese exhibitors were gathered. The representatives asked if they wanted their services, said Wu, who heads WE. LOCK, a Shenzhen-based manufacturer of AI locks.

"At present, China's development in 'smart manufacturing', production processes and software technology is no less progressive than any other countries, but some Chinese companies still cannot gain global recognition. I think the biggest factor has to do with our lack of brand awareness, or expertise in brand communication," she said.

CES, the world's largest technology show, draws tens of thousands of spectators every year. This year, 175,000 industry professionals, including 61,000 from outside the US, have convened in Las Vegas to showcase their latest products.

While Chinese innovations serve as a beacon for the country's role as an emerging tech leader, many Chinese companies, especially smaller firms, still find it hard to compete with global rivals due to subpar marketing strategies, some show exhibitors told China Daily.

CES exhibitors from China have made their presence known in various fields such as 5G, smartphones, the internet of things, autonomous vehicles, robotics, home appliances and digital health.

Representatives from around 1,100 Chinese mainland companies made the trip to CES this year. The Chinese vendors account for nearly a quarter of the show's exhibitors.

They include well-known Chinese household names such as TCL, Huawei and Lenovo, as well as startups.

"Forty years after the beginning of China's reform and opening-up, China's supply chain, manufacturing chain, as well as its talent pool, have probably grown to the top position in the world," said Wu Peng, general manager of marketing and sales at Dreame Technology, a Tianjin-based company that specializes in smart household appliances."Along with the development of these basic infrastructures, Chinese brands have become very competitive in the world."

Amy Zhang, public relations manager at Robosea, a Beijing company that specializes in underwater drones and technologies, said a major challenge when it comes to promoting products is consumers' lack of familiarity with underwater activities.

The research firm Kantar Millward Brown noted that young consumers, unlike some of those older generations with negative receptions of Chinese brands, are becoming more receptive to "Made in China" products, as innovative brands like drone maker DJI continue to gain revenue and following internationally.

In its 2018 report, Kantar Millward Brown listed Lenovo, Huawei, Alibaba, Xiaomi and Air China as the top five Chinese companies establishing "Brand China" as innovative, cutting-edge and pioneering.

The report also notes several challenges faced by Chinese sellers even as they make headway in the global market, namely a lack of brand-building investment and limited brand awareness among targeted segments of clients.

Chinese brands need to overcome people's negative perceptions about the products' durability and safety by improving the perception of trust, the report said.

Chen Junxun, principal consultant at Momentum Digital, a digital agency specializing in B2B digital strategy and content marketing, also noted the importance of establishing a good brand for Chinese sellers who want to succeed overseas.

However, Patrick Santucci, senior communications manager at DJI, who lauded his company for "being at the forefront of creating drone technology", explained that marketing Chinese products in foreign countries such as the US presents unique challenges.

"The (Chinese) culture is very different. I think there's a learning curve coming from China, to try to market in the US. It's very different. Maybe it's just the learning curve in terms of how to adapt your marketing to the US or Europe, because it's extremely different from China and a lot of the Asian countries," he said.

 

Attendee Angela Boersma participates in an augmented reality exercise at the Realmax booth during the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. DAVID BECKER/GETTY IMAGES/AFP

 

 

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[World Bank sees benefits of trade thaw]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531947.htm Additional progress in US-China trade negotiations that reduces trade uncertainty could lead to higher-than-expected US growth, the World Bank said on Wednesday, as it forecast the global economy could grow by up to 2.5 percent this year.

In an updated economic outlook released on Wednesday, the lending institution projects that US GDP growth will slow from 2.3 percent in 2019 to 1.8 percent in 2020 and then decelerate further to 1.7 percent in both 2021 and 2022.

The report said US growth has let up amid slowing investment and exports.

"Notwithstanding the recent trade deal with China, rising tariffs have increased trade costs, while policy uncertainty has weighed on investment and confidence," it said.

The World Bank report was unveiled a week before top Chinese and US trade negotiators are scheduled to meet in Washington. US President Donald Trump has announced that phase one of a US-China trade agreement will be signed in mid-January. After that, he will travel to China for continued talks.

The report noted that trade tensions between the world's top two economies escalated throughout most of 2019."These tensions, and the ensuing increase in policy uncertainty, have resulted in sizable aggregate losses for world trade," it said.

As for China, the World Bank expects its economy to grow 5.9 percent in 2020 and 5.8 percent in 2021-0.2 percentage point below previous projections for both years, amid a slowdown in labor productivity growth and continued external headwinds.

In the same way, the report pointed out that a "permanent and lasting" resolution of trade disputes with the US that builds upon recent progress could bolster China's growth prospects and reduce reliance on policy support.

It noted that the US and China together represent nearly 40 percent of global GDP, nearly a quarter of global trade, and an even larger share of capital goods trade.

"Accordingly, renewed disruption to US-China economic ties could result in damage not only to these two economies but to the rest of the world, as its effects would propagate through trade, financial, and commodity linkages," it said.

On the upside, further de-escalation of trade tensions between the two countries could lessen uncertainty about global trade policy and bolster activity, according to the report from the 189-member multilateral bank.

Weakest performance

Globally, the economy will grow only slightly from 2.4 percent in 2019 to 2.5 percent this year, the weakest performance since the 2008 financial crisis, the World Bank said.

It cautioned that, despite a recent notable reduction in the threat of protectionism, risks to the global outlook remain on the downside. A re-escalation of global trade tensions could further weigh on world activity.

In contrast, the International Monetary Fund predicted in October that global growth in 2020 would improve modestly to 3.4 percent.

"With growth in emerging and developing economies likely to remain slow, policymakers should seize the opportunity to undertake structural reforms that boost broad-based growth, which is essential to poverty reduction," Ceyla Pazarbasioglu, vice-president for Equitable Growth, Finance and Institutions at the World Bank Group, said in a statement.

"Steps to improve the business climate, the rule of law, debt management, and productivity can help achieve sustained growth," she said.

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Palestinian turns to the art of recycling]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531972.htm RAMALLAH, Middle East-Ayman Abed Rabbo, a Palestinian in his mid-40s from the village of Quosin near the West Bank city of Nablus, is a talented man who turns waste into artworks.

With a knife in his hand, Abed Rabbo sits on the floor as he transforms an old car tire into a brightly colored chair.

"Turning solid waste into artistic pieces is a clear message to every Palestinian to maintain a good and healthy environment," said Abed Rabbo, who spends several hours every day recycling used tires into masterpieces, including toys that impress the younger village residents.

The Palestinian said he feels glad to be able to do this kind of art."It is necessary to get rid of solid waste and recycle it into a proper form to create a safe, healthy and beautiful environment in our society," he said.

Abed Rabbo's talent blossomed when he was a teenager.

He said that the hard times he endured in his childhood provided an incentive for him to make some of the toys that he couldn't afford.

Abed Rabbo was imprisoned for 14 years in an Israeli jail, where he developed his talent. During his years behind bars, he invested into nurturing that talent. He would turn solid olive seeds into rosaries, fruit seeds into keychains, and empty metal toothpaste packs into the shape of the golden Dome of the Rock, an Islamic shrine on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.

After he his release in 2010, he became a professional trainer in turning common waste into pieces of art.

Abed Rabbo now works at the Palestinian Ministry of Environmental Affairs. He has run training courses at high schools, universities, community organizations and government institutions.

He said he makes art and toys from remnants of tractors, bulldozers, empty metal cans and bottles of soft drinks and soda water.

"During these training courses, we used 13,000 plastic bottles and 20,000 used black tires," said Abed Rabbo, who works as a volunteer.

The aim of training people in the West Bank, he said, "is to contribute to building up a generation that respects the environment and helps rescue it from destruction".

Adallah al-Atira, head of the Palestinian Environmental Authority, said that her office highly appreciates Abed Rabbo's creative talent and that is put to a good cause.

"His main goal is to protect the Palestinian environment from being damaged," she said.

Xinhua

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[China's US envoy reiterates benefits of 'mutual respect']]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531935.htm With China and the United States having reached a phase one trade agreement, Cui Tiankai, Chinese ambassador to the US, said that "dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality and mutual respect will eventually lead to a win-win outcome".

Cui spoke on Wednesday evening at the 2020 Lunar New Year Gala hosted by the China General Chamber of Commerce-USA, or CGCC-USA, on Wednesday in New York. The gala also marked the chamber's 15th anniversary.

"In a highly complex and fluid international environment, such a deal will be conducive to China, to the United States and to the whole world," Cui said. "Win-win is always the hallmark of our economic and trade cooperation."

The event, whose theme was "Responsibility and Appreciation", was attended by about 600 guests from both the Chinese and American business communities who had gathered to honor the contributions made toward building bilateral cooperation.

Cui said that over the past 15 years "China-US relations and, in particular, our economic and trade cooperation had experienced both sound and steady growth and considerable difficulties".

But despite the trade dispute and other external complexities, China had made steady strides in reform and opening-up over the past year.

Giving an example, Cui said that in October, China revised its regulations on the administration of foreign-funded banks. And according to the revision, foreign banks are now allowed to set up both wholly foreign-owned banks and bank branches in China, which means "more opportunities for them to expand their presence in China".

In November, China released a regulation called Opinions on Strengthening the Protection of Intellectual Property Rights, or IPR, which provides for equal treatment of Chinese and foreign companies and more strict and swift law enforcement in IPR cases. So, in the future, IPR infringement will come at a higher price in China.

And the new Foreign Investment Law, which went into effect on Jan 1, has further broadened market access for foreign investment. In addition, China has also lowered tariffs for some imported goods, which will open up new prospects for economic and trade cooperation with the US.

Further, Cui said: "The real strength of this important relationship lies in its ability to overcome challenges and difficulties.

"As we know, our ties are now faced with a difficult situation rarely seen in the past 40 years. Some forces are going all out to demonize China, and provoke confrontation between us. And what they are doing has seriously damaged our relations and put world peace and prosperity in real peril.

"So, if you ask me, what is your New Year's resolution, my answer is, I hope that China-US relations will move forward in the right direction and in a sound and steady manner," he added.

In the new year, Cui said he hoped that no matter how the US domestic politics changed, its real statesmen and women would keep to rational and practical China policies, and reject "extreme rhetoric" such as "decoupling" and a "new Cold War".

He also reiterated China's position on Hong Kong and Xinjiang, calling on China and the US to respect each other and not challenge each other's core interests.

"Hong Kong, Xinjiang, Taiwan and Tibet are all China's territories far away from America. On the issues concerning China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, we urge the US not to put our bottom line to the test. China will never back down on its core interests, and the attempt to split China will never succeed," he said.

"And I would like to quote from President Xi Jinping's New Year message, which says:'We are not afraid of storms and dangers and barriers'. No one can stop the friendly exchanges between the 1.7 billion Chinese and American people, and no one has the power to lead our two great nations astray to conflict and confrontation," Cui said.

"So, I believe that as long as we pull together, the giant ship of China-US relations will break the waves, navigate out of choppy waters and sail on toward better shores."

Xu Chen, the chairman of the CGCC and CEO of Bank of China USA, said that the upcoming signing of the phase one agreement is "certainly a step in the right direction that will restore some bilateral trade and investment, and lighten the burden on our corporations and consumers".

Cho Tak Wong, the chairman and founder of Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co Ltd, was presented with the Most Influential Business Person of the Year Award.

Cho transformed an abandoned GM plant in rural Ohio into one of the largest factories owned by a Chinese company in the US.

 

 

 

]]> 2020-01-10 00:00:00 <![CDATA[France, US pursue compromise amid threats over digital tax]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531928.htm France and the United States are seeking a compromise in a dispute over the former's proposed digital services tax after French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned the US over any retaliation against the new levy.

The French government said it will fight back if Washington introduces "highly disproportionate" tariffs in response to its tax, which demands more money from US online giants, including Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Last year, France proposed a 3 percent levy on revenue from digital services earned in France by firms with revenues of more than 25 million euros ($28 million) in France and 750 million euros worldwide.

On Friday, Le Maire wrote to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: "If the US were to decide to impose trade sanctions against the EU over the French Digital Services Tax, it would deeply and durably affect the transatlantic relationship at a time when we need to stand united."

The US has threatened to impose tariffs of up to 100 percent on French imports, such as wine, cheese, handbags and cookware, claiming that the digital tax unfairly discriminates against US firms.

Chris Rowley, a professor at Kellogg College, University of Oxford & Cass Business School, City, University of London, said the dispute should be considered in the context of the US having run a trade deficit with France of more than $19 billion last year.

"It is always good to start from first principles, particularly in light of the post-Brexit trade negotiations-let us not forget that this is not about 'free trade' as tariffs are about protectionism, with the French and EU large players in this," Rowley said.

"Likewise, it is about 'transfer pricing', which global companies have always engaged in to reduce or maximize their tax exposure in certain regimes."

2-week target

France and the US have given themselves two weeks to try to resolve the row over the French digital tax, Le Maire said on Tuesday, emphasizing that Paris has the European Union's backing on the issue.

Nigel Driffield, professor of international business at Warwick Business School, said:"In general, many EU governments are fed up of companies like Google making huge profits in their country but paying no tax."

After a meeting in Paris with Phil Hogan, the EU's trade commissioner, Le Maire said efforts have been stepped up to "try and find a compromise, within the OECD, on digital tax".

Hogan said the European Commission "will stand together with France" in its digital dispute with Washington.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been working toward an international framework to tax digital companies and Paris argued that once there is an international agreement on digital taxation it would immediately supersede the French tax.

Other EU nations are reported to be establishing their own national digital taxes, with Italy quite advanced with its legislation and Austria and the United Kingdom looking at applying similar duties. Reports say the conflict between Washington and Paris could become a wider EU battle.

"In terms of some form of EU response, that will be very difficult as it implies the EU itself actually being united, which it is not," Rowley said. "It comprises 28-soon to be 27-very disparate countries and economies with varied exposure to trade and the US. Any agreement would also be in the context of the internal hot debates.

"These are not only about the EU's future direction, possibly under a centralizing, 'dirigisme' Macronian mantle, but also practically concerning its budget composed of net contributors and receivers."

During a US Trade Representative hearing in Washington on Tuesday, representatives from industries including wine retailers, cookware manufacturers and handbag importers warned that businesses and consumers would bear the brunt of the proposed tariffs.

Faye Gooding from Le Creuset, the cast-iron cookware company, said: "The tariff proposed would truly make this company not sustainable in the United States."

Ben Aneff, managing partner at Tribeca Wine Merchants in New York, said the proposed tariffs would be "the greatest threat to the wine industry since Prohibition" and "be catastrophic for tens of thousands of American businesses".

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Harry, Meghan jolt palace with move to step back from royal duties]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531979.htm Fellow members of Britain's royal family are understood to have been shocked and hurt by the announcement that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan will step back from official duties.

The BBC says it believes the duke and duchess of Sussex did not consult other senior royals before making their statement, something Jonny Dymond, the broadcaster's royal correspondent, says "blindsided" the queen.

Harry is the second son of Prince Charles, the queen's oldest child and heir to the throne. Harry is sixth in line to the throne, behind Charles, Prince William, and William's three children. Many royal watchers hoped the couple would bring a breath of fresh air to the royal family but it now looks as if they are eager to leave.

The palace issued a statement, saying "complicated issues" must be worked out before the couple can start living lives split between the United Kingdom and Canada, where they spent the Christmas holidays.

Harry and Meghan said they made the decision "after many months of reflection and internal discussions" and insisted they want to "become financially independent".

"This geographic balance will enable us to raise our son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born, while also providing our family with the space to focus on the next chapter," they said.

British newspapers have focused heavily on the story, with tabloid The Sun describing it as "Megxit", a play on the Brexit process that will take the UK out of the European Union. The paper says Charles and William were "incandescent with rage" when told.

The announcement follows a similar decision by Prince Andrew, a son of the queen, after he was criticized for ties to the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The loss of senior royals offers ammunition to critics of the royal family, who question its value to the taxpayer.

Kate Williams, a royal historian professor from the University of Reading, says Harry, who the Express newspaper says is worth 30 million pounds ($39 million), and Meghan will not struggle for cash.

"Harry and Meghan are global celebrities," she said. "Meghan was already famous (as a television actor), as was Harry, who will become even more significant when his father, and, later, his brother, becomes king."

They are in the process of launching their own charity, having recently split from a foundation headed by William, something that prompted musings about a royal rift, speculation that will now intensify.

Britain's Prince Harry and his wife Meghan smile as they leave Canada House in London. They announced on Wednesday their "stepping back" as senior UK royals and their plan to work to become financially independent. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AP
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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UN opts for food handouts in Zimbabwe]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531973.htm The United Nations is replacing cash transfers with food handouts in a fresh bid to combat a hunger crisis gripping 8 million people in Zimbabwe.

Gerry Bourke, a spokesperson for the UN's World Food Program, or WFP, in Southern Africa, said that the move was necessitated by the limited local currency available.

"Zimbabweans who we support are telling us, please give us food, please don't give us cash because cash becomes devalued so quickly," Bourke said in an interview in Zimbabwe on Jan 2.

Zimbabwe is facing its worst food crisis in 10 years, with more than half the country's 16 million people now considered food-insecure. Most households cannot find enough food to meet their basic needs, due to the effects of climate change and hyperinflation.

In December, the UN warned that Zimbabwe, once seen as Africa's breadbasket, is in the grip of starvation.

"In rural areas, a staggering 5.5 million people are currently facing food insecurity as poor rains and erratic weather patterns are impacting harvests and livelihoods," a statement by UN experts said.

"In urban areas, an estimated 2.2 million people are food-insecure and lack access to minimum public services including health and safe water."

With Zimbabwe being a landlocked country, food has to be shipped into ports in South Africa and Mozambique and then trucked in. This was one of the reasons why the UN had preferred cash transfers to food donations.

However, Zimbabwe's poor economy has hurt the livelihoods of rural and urban households, with many experiencing severe cash shortages. These problems, together rising prices for cereals, prompting the UN's switch in how it deliveries aid.

According to the UN statement, eight of Zimbabwe's 59 districts have acute malnutrition rates of more than 5 percent of the population in those districts-a level not seen before in the southern Africa country.

"Due to this, children are increasingly dropping out of school and being forced into early marriage while others are facing domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation," the statement said.

Even though drought has long been a cyclical phenomenon in southern African, the impacts of climate change have made extreme weather patterns happen more often, with long-term consequences and damage.

These pressures, combined with the economic sanctions and restrictions imposed on the government of Zimbabwe by many Western countries, have exacerbated the situation by indirectly raising living costs for the overall population.

Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this story.

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japan swift to condemn fugitive Ghosn's remarks as one-sided]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/10/content_37531944.htm Japan's government and prosecutors on Thursday condemned as one-sided claims by Nissan's fugitive former boss Carlos Ghosn that sought to justify his escape from custody to Lebanon.

"His claims are one-sided and are completely unconvincing," said Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, in response to a packed news conference given by Ghosn in Beirut on Wednesday.

Suga said that whether Ghosn would be extradited to Japan was Lebanon's decision. However, Japan would cooperate closely with international organizations "so that Japan's criminal justice system can be operated appropriately", he said.

Earlier on Thursday, Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori said Ghosn's illegal departure from Japan "could never be forgiven under the system of any country".

The government "can never overlook (his attempt to) propagate erroneous facts about the legal system and its management in our country in a bid to justify his acts", she said.

"Ghosn should openly and squarely seek judgment by a court under our country's fair criminal justice system if he hopes to fight the allegations against him."

Mori's comments came shortly after the former auto executive made his first public comments since fleeing Japan for Lebanon.

At a near three-hour news conference before more than 100 journalists, Ghosn switched between English, Arabic, French and Portuguese in a bid to convince a worldwide audience that the criminal charges of financial wrongdoing filed against him were part of a vast conspiracy to take him down in Japan.

Ghosn asserted there was a "systematic campaign by a handful of malevolent actors to destroy my reputation and impugn my character" because he had planned to deepen the alliance between Japan's Nissan and France-based carmaker Renault.

"I did not escape justice. I fled injustice and political persecution," Ghosn said. "I was left with no other choice but to protect myself and my family.

"I felt I was a hostage of a country that I have served for 17 years."

Ghosn, who had run an auto empire that spanned continents, was arrested in late 2018 and charged with four counts of financial misconduct while running Nissan, one of Japan's big carmakers.

He stunned Japan last week by jumping bail and fleeing the country.

Ghosn was reluctant to give an account of his daring international escape at the news conference, but said "there is a lot of imagination" in some media accounts of his brazen flight.

Dai Erbiao, vice-president of the Asian Growth Research Institute in Fukuoka, Japan, said Ghosn's fall from acclaim as an international entrepreneur to international fugitive is not only a personal tragedy but one felt by Nissan and Japan.

"Japan, a country that is striving to explore the road to economic revitalization, is currently not lacking technology or capital but entrepreneurs who have a global vision and the mindset to dare to challenge old ways," Dai said.

 

 

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2020-01-10 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Experts see 200m 5G phones this year]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531792.htm It is now time for fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology to move to the fore, as was demonstrated by its presence at CES 2020.

"2020 is the year that we expect 5G to scale, and it's really moving faster than 4G despite skepticism," said Cristiano Amon, president of US chipmaker Qualcomm, on Monday.

The company estimates that 200 million 5G smartphones will be shipped in 2020, which Amon said is a conservative number.

"We expect to continue to see momentum. Forty-five operators (are) now with 5G commercially deployed. Three hundred and forty operators (are) investing in 5G globally. We expect that the number will go to 1 billion connections by 2023; that's two years faster than what it took for 4G to get to 1 billion," he said.

Qualcomm's forecast that 5G will prevail in 2020 aligns with the prediction by the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, the host of CES, or the Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest and most influential technology expo.

In partnership with Qualcomm, Lenovo unveiled the world's first 5G personal computer, the Yoga 5G, which will be available in the spring for $1,499.

"The 5G PC is now a reality, and that will define the future of productivity," said Amon.

5G is "getting to lower price points so that we can scale", he said, adding that the market is "moving toward 5G smartphones on a global scale".

Chinese TV maker TCL, for example, unveiled a new smartphone series that includes a 5G-compatible model-the TCL 10 5G. The phone, which is set to launch globally later this year, is budget-friendly at $500.

"This is what TCL is about-to bring [in] the latest technology and make it available for mass markets," said Stefan Streit, general manager of global marketing at TCL, at the company's news conference Monday.

TCL joins four Chinese phone makers that have added-or plan to add-5G smartphones to their portfolios in a year.

Oppo launched its Reno 5G as early as last February, while both it and Xiaomi have 5G phones lined up for 2020. All three companies are using Qualcomm's 5G chips.

ZTE released its first 5G phone powered by Qualcomm's processor in mid-2019, while saying it was working on its own chip.

Huawei, on the other hand, is sticking to self-developed chips for the two 5G models it released in the second half of 2019.

And 5G has also made its way into the automobile sector, with Qualcomm announcing a full autonomous-driving system, and carmakers recognizing the technological advancement.

"We're really getting to[the] harmonization of spectrum and regulation, so we can make the Cellular V2X (cellular vehicle-to-everything, or C-V2X) a reality," said Amon, who spoke about how China, the European Union and the United States are all making progress allowing the C-V2X to share the 5.9 GHz band.

"The development of 5G technologies will hugely benefit the autonomous driving industry," said Xiu Linchao, CEO and co-founder of Chinese autonomous-driving technology startup 5MSEC.

The so-called C-V2X, which enables vehicles to communicate with each other and the environment around them, requires a lot of data processing currently performed by hardware inside the car.

The processing speed is slower than if that occurs on the internet cloud, which would be possible when 5G is widely available, he said, adding that 5G technology will be a "leap forward" tor the industry.

Byton, a Chinese electric-car company, said that the company's new model-the M-Byte-unveiled at CES, will be upgradeable to a 5G network later this year.

Meanwhile, China Night, an annual event first held in 2017 by the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco, has become a must-attend for leading Chinese companies at CES. And business representatives and officials from China along with Nevada state officials attending the Consumer Electronics Show vowed to deepen collaboration and make good use of the platform to build partnerships.

"We aim to bring business leaders together and help them forge stronger partnerships," said Wang Donghua, consul general in San Francisco, at Monday's event.

Chinese companies and their US counterparts use the platform to communicate, to better understand each other, and to introduce services and products, said Yang Yihang, the economic and commercial consul at the consulate.

 

 

 

Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon (left) and Johnson Jia, senior vice president with Lenovo, hold the new Yoga 5G laptop unveiled on Monday during the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. MARIO TAMA/GETTY IMAGES/AFP

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Puerto Rico declares emergency after series of earthquakes wreaks havoc]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531848.htm SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico-Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after a series of earthquakes killed at least one person, toppled buildings and knocked out power in nearly the entire island of more than 3 million people.

The largest of the quakes in the US territory registered at magnitude 6.4, the most powerful to hit the Caribbean island in 102 years.

With two large power plants shut down, drinking water was cut off to at least 300,000 customers, Vazquez told a news conference.

She said power should be restored to most of the island within 24 to 48 hours. Puerto Rico schools will remain closed and public employees, other than health workers and police, will stay home on Wednesday while the structural safety of buildings is checked, Vazquez said.

"There are people who have lost their lives. There are people who have lost all their property," she told reporters, without giving further details on the extent of damage and injuries.

Puerto Rico's electricity authority said it hoped to re-establish services during the night in the metropolitan area of San Juan, the capital, which is home to about 2.3 million people.

At least 346 people were left homeless, officials said, after homes were flattened, mostly in the south of the island. Many damaged buildings sat next to piles of rubble.

Bottled water, batteries and flashlights ran low in San Juan supermarkets and ice was scarce as residents tried to keep food from rotting, said resident Luis Borri, 31.

"Water is running out, people are grabbing like 10 boxes," said Borri, who recharged his cell phone at San Juan's international airport where he works and where backup generators allowed normal services to continue.

Puerto Rico's emergency declaration will facilitate federal financial aid. US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the earthquakes, and administration officials were monitoring the impact in coordination with Puerto Rico officials.

Puerto Rico has been rocked by hundreds of quakes since Dec 28, including 10 of magnitude 4 or greater, the US Geological Survey said.

Powerful quakes are rare in Puerto Rico. A 7.3 magnitude quake that occurred in 1918 triggered a tsunami and killed 116 people, according to the island's seismology office.

"Everyone's scared. It's the first time anything like this has happened," said San Juan resident Patricia Alonso, 48, who with her 13-year-old son, was heading to her mother's apartment building, which had power from an emergency generator.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 killed about 3,000 people and destroyed a significant amount of infrastructure. Puerto Rico is also working through a bankruptcy process to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

"We are a resilient people. We have responded to many difficult situations. Now this has been asked of us one more time," said Vazquez, who assumed office in August after Ricardo Rossello stepped down over a scandal involving offensive chat messages and government corruption.

One of Tuesday's quakes triggered an automatic shutdown of electricity across the island as a safety measure and a later, more powerful quake damaged power plants in the southern part of the island, Vazquez said.

A 73-year-old man died after a wall fell on him, and a power plant worker was hospitalized after he was hit by debris, the governor said.

Tuesday's magnitude 6.4 quake struck at a depth of 10 kilometers at 4:24 am near Ponce on the island's southern coast, the US Geological Survey said.

Witnesses on social media described the quake as "super strong" and lasting up to 30 seconds. It was followed by a number of hefty aftershocks, including two measuring 5.6.

 

Maribel Rivera Silva, 58, rests outside a shelter in fear of aftershocks, after an earthquake struck Guanica, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday. CARLOS GIUSTI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US begins 2020 with spate of gun deaths]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531847.htm Less than 24 hours into the new year, the United States experienced at least three mass shootings.

The first one took place on New Year's Eve when four people were shot outside a busy nightclub in Cleveland. Less than two hours later, shots rang out at a hookah bar in West Virginia, injuring seven people. By morning, police were investigating five shooting deaths in St. Louis, Missouri.

"I'm shocked but not surprised, in part because mass killings have been trending upward for a few years, and in the absence of clear and decisive action to prevent what are very often preventable tragedies from occurring, they can and will only trend upward," said James Densley, professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota.

US citizens said goodbye to a year that saw an unprecedented number of mass killings, but several cities in the US began 2020 by combating rising murder rates, calling attention to a gun-violence crisis that has resulted in high number of casualties and polarizing debates.

According to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit group that tracks gun violence across the country, 15,597 people were killed and 29,590 injured in 2019.

As the new year began, the death toll started rising. As of Jan 5, the organization had tracked 479 deaths across the nation.

The prevalence of guns in the US is a major contributor to the high number of gun deaths. In 2017, there were an estimated 120.5 civilian-owned firearms per 100 residents, according to Small Arms Survey.

Mass shootings with an assault weapon accounted for 32 percent of all mass-shooting deaths between 2009 and 2018.

While the spate of mass shootings continues to raise alarm, US Congress is at a standstill on passing solutions to the gun crisis.

In February, the House of Representatives passed the Bipartisan Background Checks Act requiring a background check for every firearm sale. But it's being held up in the Republican-controlled Senate.

In December, lawmakers reached an agreement on a spending bill that would allocate $25 million of federal money for the study of gun violence. The money will be split evenly between the National Institutes of Health, or NIH, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. The move marked the first time in more than 20 years that US Congress has appropriated money for gun-violence research.

Since US Congress reconvened this month, 110 bills have been introduced, from enacting stronger background checks to banning semiautomatic assault-style rifles, but little progress has been made because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn't put the measures up for a vote.

Densley called the passage of the gun-violence research funding bill "a positive step" because it allows the CDC and the NIH to research gun violence as a public health issue, not simply a criminal justice issue.

He warned that US citizens are increasingly becoming more comfortable with a gun culture.

"It's a feedback loop fed in part by public fear and fascination. The more we talk about mass killings, the more they are in the public's consciousness and become part of everyday life and conversation, the more likely they are to happen," Densley said.

Densley, along with Hamline University professor Jillian Peterson and a team of students, has put together a national shooter database to study mass shooters and unlock ways to prevent the attacks from happening.

The group found many common traits among mass shooters; for example, many have experienced early childhood trauma, but opportunities for intervention are often missed, Densley said.

 

People mourn for victims of a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, which killed 22 in August. WANG YING/XINHUA

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531846.htm AUSTRALIA

10,000 camels may be culled due to drought

Snipers took to helicopters in Australia on Wednesday to begin a five-day mass cull of up to 10,000 camels as a drought drives big herds of the feral animals to search for water closer to remote towns, endangering indigenous communities. Local officials in South Australia state said "extremely large" herds have been encroaching on rural communities-threatening scarce food and drinking water, damaging infrastructure, and creating a dangerous hazard for drivers. It comes after Australia experienced its hottest and driest year in 2019.

DR CONGO

Measles claims 6,000 lives over past year

More than 6,000 people have died since the start of 2019 as a result of the "world's worst measles epidemic" raging across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to a statement from the World Health Organization on Tuesday. A lack of funding, according to the WHO, remains a major obstacle in the control of the epidemic. Only $27.6 million has been raised, but around 310,000 suspected cases of measles have been reported since the outbreak of the disease, said the statement. "Thousands of Congolese families need our support to ease the burden of this protracted epidemic. We cannot do it without sufficient finances," said Amedee Prosper Djiguimde from the WHO office in the country, calling for more fundraising to stop the epidemic.

INDIA

Gang-rape murderers given hanging date

Four men sentenced to death for the gang rape and murder of a woman on a New Delhi bus in an attack that sent shockwaves across the world will be hanged on Jan 22, an Indian court ruled on Tuesday. The men were convicted in 2013 of the rape, torture and murder of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in a case that triggered large protests in India. The attack prompted India to enact tougher laws against sexual violence, including the death penalty for rape in some cases, but implementation has been poor and the attacks have shown no signs of letup. In 2017, India's Supreme Court had upheld death sentences against the four men. In the past two years, the top court has dismissed review pleas filed by the convicts, paving the way for their execution.

FRANCE

Child found dead in plane's landing gear

A child was found dead in the landing gear of an Air France plane coming from Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, on Wednesday morning at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, reported local media. The plane, a Boeing 777, took off from Abidjan on Tuesday evening and landed shortly after 6 am in Paris. The body of a child "about 10 years old" was found, reported BFM TV. Air France said in a tweet that a corpse of a "clandestine passenger" was found on the landing gear of Flight AF703. Air transport police at the airport have started an investigation.

UNITED STATES

Gorilla undergoes cataract surgery

A team of eye doctors in California tested their skills on an unusual patient-a western lowland gorilla. Working with veterinarians from the San Diego Zoo, an eye surgeon removed a cataract from the left eye of a three-year-old female named Leslie on December 10, zoo officials announced. They said the surgery was performed at the zoo's medical center and Leslie was recovering well. The surgeon who performed the procedure, Chris Heichel, said that while he had carried out thousands of eye surgeries on human patients, this was his first on a gorilla.

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Jakarta reeling from worst floods in decade]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531834.htm The most intense rainfall ever to hit Jakarta has caused the worst floods there since 2007, leaving Indonesia's capital reeling while highlighting the importance of tackling climate change.

"The city's transportation was hit hard during the early days of flooding, namely the TransJakarta bus system, the local trains and the airport train. However, the subway and city center weren't affected too badly," Darang Candra, a Jakarta resident, said.

Candra escaped the floods because his home is at a higher elevation, but some of his relatives were not so lucky. "The flood mostly affects neighborhoods located in the flood plains. The rivers are so polluted with garbage, the ground is sinking, and big malls and apartments continue to pump fresh water out of the ground," he said. "Combine that with climate change and heavy rainfall, and voila."

The floods forced 724 power stations and substations to shut down across Jakarta. More than 60,000 people fled the most affected areas. The floods also triggered deadly landslides on the city's outskirts.

Jakarta, with more than 10 million residents, is more at risk of floods than most cities in Indonesia. A coastal city on the northeast of the island of Java, 13 rivers flow into it. The northern part of the city, which is most susceptible to flooding, is also sinking a few centimeters every year, according to the World Bank. And the intense flooding of the past few days speeds up this process.

Flash floods began to hit Jakarta on Jan 1. On Monday, the death toll had reached 67 and one person was reported missing, according to the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency.

"The rainfall of 377 millimeters recorded in East Jakarta on Jan 1 was the highest recorded rainfall in the history of meteorological data in Jakarta. In Indonesia, anything above 150 mm per day is considered extreme rainfall," said Leonard Simanjuntak, country director for Greenpeace Indonesia.

"The extreme rainfall that took place in a very short period in Jakarta on New Year's Day was a very strong indication that we are already experiencing the impact of the climate crisis.

"Indonesian President (Joko Widodo) also made a statement that this flood is caused by an ecological crisis," Simanjuntak said.

Meanwhile, the waters have started to recede in some areas but the city remains on alert. The national meteorological service, the Meteorological, Climatological, and Geophysical Agency, warned on Jan 5 that heavy downpours were likely to continue until next week.

Harald Heubaum, an expert at the University of London and co-founder of sustainable finance data initiative SUFINDA, said the heavy rainfall adds to "signs of what's in store for us if the world doesn't get serious about transitioning to a zero-carbon future".

Urgent need

Such events also highlight the urgent need to "prepare cities and rural areas for the impact of climate change", he added. "It's not something we have the luxury of dealing with in 20 or 30 years' time; it requires hundreds of billions of investment (dollars) today."

The Indonesian government is grappling with how best to deal with the immediate impact of the floods. Soldiers and health workers have been disinfecting the capital to avoid outbreaks of disease. While some people move back to their homes, it may take weeks for the city to return to normal. There are also concerns that the process could be delayed by more heavy rain.

The Jakarta Flood Victims Advocacy Team is already considering filing a lawsuit on behalf of flood victims.

Experts say the latest floods show how the government needs to do more while limiting the sinking of the city. The World Resources Institute estimated the city is sinking at a rate of 10.16 centimeters annually.

Arief Wijaya, climate and forests senior manager of WRI Indonesia, said the lack of green space in Jakarta was a contributing factor to the flooding.

"The lack of tree cover, particularly around rivers, disrupts the local hydrologic balance. This lessens the absorption of rainfall into the ground, trapping the water on the surface," he said.

Adi Pradana, WRI Indonesia's sustainable land use manager, said: "It's a complex issue with complex drivers. Solutions need to come from different fronts."

Pradana said construction projects around rivers should be halted, while fresh focus should go to environmental protection efforts, population and urban planning.

 

A police officer assists a woman to cross a makeshift bridge over a flooded river in Cigudeg, Indonesia, on Monday. AR RAYYAN/AP

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Putin asserts Middle East clout]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531800.htm Russian President Vladimir Putin met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in Damascus on Tuesday, a rare visit by Putin to the capital of the war-torn country that experts see as Moscow reinforcing its role in Middle Eastern affairs.

Putin last visited Syria in 2017, when he went to Russia's Hmeymim air base and announced a scaling back in the Russian military presence in the country.

The latest visit came at a time of heightened tensions in the region, with the United States and its allies assessing the damage from Iranian missile attacks on US air bases in Iraq early on Wednesday. The strikes were Iran's retaliation for the killing of leading Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Iran is Syria's main military ally in the civil war.

Putin visited the headquarters of the Russian Armed Forces unit in Syria upon his arrival. The Syrian president's office released a photograph of a smiling Putin as he shook hands with Assad. They were said to have listened to a military presentation by the head of the Russian forces in Syria.

"Here, in Syria, you are not only addressing the task of helping the Syrian people in liberating them from terrorist groups and gangs," Putin told the Russian troops. "Here, in Syria, you are also protecting your own homes, preventing fighters from infiltrating Russia and our neighboring states."

Putin and Assad discussed recent developments in the region and the plan to "eliminate terrorism" in Idlib Province, one of the last pieces of Syrian territory held by rebels, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

According to the SANA, the two leaders discussed the situation in northern Syria, and the actions taken by Turkey there with its deployment of troops. They expressed the will to back the political process in Syria and lay down the necessary conditions for it.

Accompanied by Assad, Putin visited the Old City of Damascus, including the eighth-century Umayyad Mosque and an ancient church.

Russia became involved in the Syrian conflict in 2015. Largely due to Russian air support, the Syrian government has effectively won the civil war, which has dragged on for almost nine years. The government has retaken control of most of the country from rebel fighters.

In recent weeks, Syrian troops have been pushing into northwestern Idlib, as the country's last rebel stronghold.

David Lesch, an expert on Syria, said Putin's visit was aimed at reinforcing the Russian position in Syria, "especially as Iran's position has been indelibly weakened since Soleimani had represented the Iranian influence in Syria".

The Iranian general was one of the key figures in Syria's civil war as the architect of his country's military operations in the Middle East, media reported.

Maxim Suchkov, a member of the Russian International Affairs Council, said the visit indicated that Moscow still intended to position itself as a broker in conflicts in the Middle East.

The visit has added significance given the current situation in Iraq and Syria, he said.

"The Russian president has kept mum on the regional escalations for over a week and now seems to have seized the moment by setting the stage to reassert Moscow as a key mediator and security provider for the region," Suchkov said.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (left) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visit the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday. ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/SPUTNIK/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japanese man pleads not guilty in murder of 19]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531825.htm YOKOHAMA, Japan-The man accused of the 2016 murders of 19 residents at a Japanese center for the disabled admitted he committed the acts as his trial opened on Wednesday but pleaded not guilty on grounds of diminished capacity.

Satoshi Uematsu, a former employee of the center outside Tokyo, did not dispute his involvement in the horrifying stabbing rampage during his first court appearance on murder and five other charges.

After prosecutors read out the details of the charges, the judge asked Uematsu: "Is there anything in the charges that differs from the facts?"

"No there isn't," Uematsu replied, dressed in a navy suit with a white shirt and tie, his long black hair tied back in a ponytail.

But despite admitting the attack, Uematsu's lawyers entered a plea of not guilty, saying their client was suffering a "mental disorder" at the time.

"He was in a condition in which either he had no capacity to take responsibility or such a capacity was significantly weakened," his lawyer said.

Traces of marijuana were found in Uematsu's system after the attack, and his legal team has claimed drug use may have affected him.

The session was disrupted shortly after it began when court security officers restrained Uematsu after he reportedly attempted to put something in his mouth.

The disturbance prompted the judge to call an unscheduled recess, though the session was due to resume in the afternoon.

'I had to do it'

Uematsu has reportedly said he wanted to eradicate all disabled people in the attack at the Tsukui Yamayuri-en care home in the town of Sagamihara outside Tokyo.

The 29-year-old is accused of breaking into the facility and moving from room to room, killing 19 people and injuring 26.

He turned himself in at a police station, carrying bloodied knives and admitting to officers that he was responsible for the attacks.

It emerged later that Uematsu had left his job at the center just months before the attack, and had been forcibly hospitalized after telling colleagues he intended to kill disabled people living there.

But he was discharged after 12 days when a doctor deemed him not a threat. He had also written a letter outlining plans to attack the center, claiming "disabled people only create unhappiness".

He faces the death penalty if convicted on some of the six charges. A verdict expected on March 16.

Since his arrest, Uematsu has shown no remorse, saying in an interview that people with mental disabilities "have no heart", and "there's no point in living" for them.

"I had to do it for the sake of society," he said of the attack.

Uematsu's self-styled mission to rid the country of people with disabilities shocked Japan, with experts and activists raising questions about whether others might hold similar views.

Agencies Via Xinhua

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Tech giants pressure Europe on digital rules]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531824.htm Major tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter are lobbying the European Union not to hold them legally responsible for all the content uploaded on their platforms.

According to the Financial Times, the tech giants have written to the European Commission via Edima, the European association representing online platforms and other innovative enterprises, warning that making companies liable for all content on their platforms would lead to punishments for companies that tried, proactively, to uncover illegal material.

The warning comes as the European Commission draws up its Digital Services Act, or DSA, that will set out rules for the technology sector to remove illegal content or face the threat of sanctions, expected to be unveiled at the end of the year.

The EU has so far relied on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube engaging in voluntary self-regulation for illegal material in everything except terrorist content.

The new laws will mean social media giants will be subject to mandatory "notice and take down" orders forcing them to remove illegal content, including certain types of racism and xenophobia, from their sites, or face fines.

However, in the letter from Edima, the companies accept that it may be necessary to set up a bloc-level independent watchdog to check that social media is doing what it can to remove illegal content.

The Financial Times report states that the EU has so far accepted that the large social platforms themselves take care to remove illegal content and that they are not held legally responsible for content that they are unaware of. The lobby group says that system should continue.

Edima points out that the companies risk being punished even though they are proactively working to uncover illegal material.

Liability could lead to "a perverse incentive whereby companies are discouraged from taking action before being made aware of the existence of illegal content, for fear of incurring additional liability", said Siada El Ramly, director-general of Edima.

However, the lobby group also points out that "a new approach might require some form of oversight to ensure it is effective".

According to the Financial Times, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton has stated that the EU will not seek to remove or water down the current rules on limited liability, but it adds that the law continues to be debated.

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[French mass strikes go on despite talks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531811.htm PARIS-France's government and unions appeared still far apart after talks resumed on Tuesday over proposed pension reforms that have triggered record-setting strikes, hobbling the country's train network and spreading to oil refineries.

Workers at Exxon Mobil France's Port Jerome and Fos refineries began a four-day strike on Tuesday, the hardline CGT union said, aiming to cause shortages at petrol stations.

An Exxon spokeswoman confirmed that the 140,000 barrels-per-day Fos-sur-Mer plant, which accounts for about 10 percent of French refinery output, was blocked. But the 240,000 barrels-per-day Port Jerome refinery was operating normally, she said.

Emmanuel Lepine, representing chemical industry employees at the CGT union, said workers were striking at seven of eight French refineries.

Workers are demanding "the withdrawal of this reform that no one wants", Lepine said.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the country was not at risk of fuel shortages and that police will ensure that oil depots are not blockaded.

"People have the right to strike, but they do not have the right to block (refineries)," he said on RTL radio, referring to action by workers to obstruct factory gates.

Philippe struck a determined tone sticking to the government's tight timetable for getting its pension proposal through the Parliament before the summer recess.

He said the pension reform bill will be presented to the cabinet on Jan 24 and for parliamentary debate from Feb 17.

"It's a good meeting," he said, adding that further discussions with unions would drill down into the minutiae of the government's plans.

The French Environment Ministry said all refineries continued to operate, but five out of seven were temporarily having difficulty distributing their products.

It said it expected no problems with petrol stations, supplies at which are guaranteed by a separate network of about 200 depots.

On Tuesday, only three of these depots reported difficulties while others were operating normally, the ministry said, adding that France has stocks corresponding to more than three months of fuel consumption.

The protracted battle over pension reform is proving to be one of the toughest domestic tests for centrist President Emmanuel Macron since his 2017 election on a platform of promises to modernize the French economy.

Nationwide strikes and demonstrations have shut schools and closed transport services, while demonstrations have led to clashes with the police.

Tuesday marked the 34th day of disruptive train strikes and walkouts in the Paris Metro. Unions are planning a fourth day of nationwide demonstrations on Thursday.

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Malawi farmers and E. Africa peers hit by pests]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531805.htm Farmers in Malawi have been battling against pests ravaging their crops, raising fears for the security of food supplies in the southeast African country.

The culprit is the fall armyworm, a type of caterpillar attracted to grass pastures and cereal crops. As Malawi grapples with the pest, farmers in East Africa are contending with locusts, which have left a trail of destruction on farms.

Fall armyworms usually feed at night and, in the case of corn, damage the crop by the chewing leaves of corn stalks. They attack more than 80 species of crops, according to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization.

On Monday, the Malawi Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development advised farmers to regularly inspect their crops, especially the underside of cereal crop leaves for signs of attacks by the pests.

In a media statement, the ministry said it has told farmers to report any suspected outbreaks of armyworm infestation to their nearest agricultural office or administrative officers within their communities.

"The officers will provide advice on how to manage the pests and pesticides for the control of these armyworms," the statement said.

According to the ministry, fall armyworms are highly destructive and, if not controlled, can wipe out the affected crops.

Tearfund, a charity, said that unlike the African armyworm, which eats only corn, the fall armyworm eats anything that farmers grow. The females lay thousands of eggs during their short lives, and the moths can fly up to 100 kilometers a day. The fall armyworms are also resistant to common pesticides.

To curb the pests' invasion, the Malawi government has been distributing certain pesticides, installed pheromone traps to monitor outbreaks and intensified training for farmers, including with awareness campaigns in communities.

Researchers are developing an integrated pest management strategy through a comprehensive research program. The strategy will help farmers to practice a variety of control options, rather than relying overly on pesticides.

In places, farmers have come up with homemade remedies to control the crop-munching pests. One such remedy involves a solution of water, with pounded chilli peppers and salt; another uses detergent with a salt solution to kill the pests.

Some farmers have even turned to a soup made from a small variety of fish known as usipa. Once the soup is sprayed on the crops, it attracts ants, which in turn feed on the fall armyworms.

In 2017, Malawi President Peter Mutharika declared 20 of the country's 28 districts disaster areas after an armyworm outbreak that year and called for international help.

Neighbors affected

The problem is also affecting other parts of Africa. According to the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology, an international scientific research institute headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, the fall armyworm has been spreading at an alarming rate across the continent. It was first reported in Africa in 2016.

Estimates from 12 African countries indicate that the pest is causing annual corn yield losses of between 8 and 21 million tons, costing up to $6.1 billion. The fall armyworms' encroachment affects the more than 300 million Africans who, directly or indirectly, depend on the crop for their food and livelihoods, the institute said.

In East African, farmers are struggling in the face of swarms of desert locusts, with Kenya being their most recent target. The locusts have caused despair in the northeastern part of the country.

Hassan Gure, an official from Wajir County Department of Agriculture, said the locusts have moved in a front extending more than 175 km and consumed about 10 percent of the crops they encounter. Aerial pesticide spraying began on Monday and is due to last three days.

In December, the Food and Agriculture Organization warned that unless early and sustained measures are taken to control the desert locusts in Ethiopia and Somalia, the pest would spread to other Eastern African nations, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, South Sudan and Sudan.

In Ethiopia, the locusts covered nearly 430 square km and consumed 1.3 million metric tons of vegetation over two months, according to the UN agency.

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU steps up push for end to Libya civil war]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531802.htm The European Union's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Tuesday called for an immediate ceasefire and a diplomatic solution to the Libyan conflict after meeting with foreign ministers of four major European nations.

The call came after an escalation in the fighting in Libya's civil war. On Monday, a rebel army led by General Khalifa Haftar said it had taken control of the strategic coastal city of Sirte, marking a major advance for Haftar's forces since the launch of a military campaign in April to capture Tripoli.

On Sunday, the forces were blamed for an attack on a military academy in the capital Tripoli, killing 30 students and drawing condemnation from the United Nations.

"We have agreed on a joint statement in which we are calling for an immediate stop to any further escalation of violence and also to the external interference which has been increasing over the last days," Borrell told a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday after his meeting with Heiko Maas, Luigi Di Maio, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Dominic Raab, respectively the foreign ministers of Germany, Italy, France and the United Kingdom.

Libya has been controlled by two separate forces since the toppling of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2011. The forces in Tripoli are recognized by the UN, and those in eastern Libya, the Libyan National Army rebel forces led by Haftar, are supported mainly by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister, said: "Any escalation and also any outside interference will only make the conflict more protracted, bring more misery to ordinary people in Libya, exacerbate divisions in the country, increase the risk of its partition, spread instability across the region and aggravate the threat of terrorism."

He said the EU will be actively engaged with all relevant actors in its efforts to stop the hostilities and achieve the resumption of a political dialogue. He also called for an arms embargo declared by the UN to be strictly respected.

Borrell stressed that the only solution has to come from political negotiations among the various parties, adding that there is no military solution.

The new EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy noted that he regards Turkish military assistance to Libya as foreign interference.

Turkey's Grand National Assembly approved a motion last week allowing its government to send troops to help Libya's UN-recognized Government of National Accord. Ankara claims that its troops are being sent not to fight but to ensure a ceasefire.

The EU has been conducting a flurry of diplomatic activities on the Libya crisis. On Tuesday, Italy's Di Maio traveled to Turkey. He retweeted a message on Tuesday evening by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu about their meeting.

On Wednesday, he was expected in Cairo to join his counterparts from Egypt, Greece, Cyprus and France for a meeting on the issue.

While foreign ministers of the EU's member states will meet on Friday to discuss developments in relations between Iran and the United States, Borrell indicated it would also be an opportunity to talk about any further actions that the EU may need to pursue regarding Libya.

On Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel officially invited Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune to a conference organized by Berlin aimed at finding a solution to the Libyan crisis. No date has been set for the meeting and there was speculation it would be held this month, according to the London-based Middle East Monitor.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Istanbul on Wednesday to discuss the situation. The two countries are backing different sides in the Libya's civil war and are trying to find a solution to the conflict.

 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (center) speaks with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (right) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian prior to a meeting to discuss the Libya situation in Brussels on Tuesday. FRANCISCO SECO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Asian nations fare well in world passport rankings]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/09/content_37531830.htm The usefulness of a British passport waned in 2019, according to a ranking compiled by the residence and citizenship planning specialists Henley & Partners.

In the latest Henley Passport Index, which ranks 199 of the world's passports by the ease with which they offer access to other nations and territories, the United Kingdom slipped farther from the first place it held in 2015, down to a tie for eighth.

Paddy Blewer, group public relations director at Henley& Partners, told Euronews that it is "unknown whether the British passport will fall post-Brexit with regards to value".

Asian nations were the big winners this year with Japan's passport named the best for the third year in a row, Singapore's remaining in second place, and South Korea's moving up to share third with Germany.

Henley & Partners compiled its list by analyzing data produced by the International Air Transport Association, and by conducting research of its own.

Passports score well by offering their citizens visa-free access to destinations, or visas on arrival. In the case of Japan, the nation's passport opens the door to 191 countries and territories.

The Independent newspaper quoted Christian H Kaelin, chairman of Henley & Partners, as saying: "Asian countries' dominance of the top spots is a clear argument for the benefits of open-door policies and the introduction of mutually beneficial trade agreements."

Kaelin said people increasingly want easy access to other economies.

"Over the past few years, we have seen the world adapt to mobility as a permanent condition of global life," he said. "The latest rankings show that the countries that embrace this reality are thriving, with their citizens enjoying ever-increasing passport power and the array of benefits that come with it."

European nations also fared well, with Finland, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, France, Sweden, Austria, and Ireland all near the top.

The United Arab Emirates has arguably been the index's biggest success story of the past decade, climbing 47 places to 18th and now offering easy access to 171 destinations.

Afghanistan was at the bottom, with a passport that qualifies for easy access to 26 destinations.

 

 

 

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2020-01-09 00:00:00
<![CDATA[EU seeks to defuse tensions over Gulf]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531592.htm European Union leaders are trying to help defuse the high tensions between Iran and the United States following the US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a military drone strike in Iraq on Jan 3.

The leaders of the EU and its member states have called for both countries to exercise restraint while the bloc tries to show some balance for a possible role as a mediator.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday: "It is important to halt the cycle of violence so that one more action does not give rise to the next one, and instead space is again created for diplomacy."

In a statement, she said Europe has a special responsibility and is talking to all those involved.

She expressed her concern over Iran's announcement that it will no longer respect the limits on its nuclear program set by the internationally brokered Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

"From the European viewpoint, it is important for Iran to return to the nuclear deal. We have to convince Iran that it's also in its own interest," she said.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell will convene a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday to coordinate their views.

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also emphasized "an urgent need for de-escalation" in a joint statement on Sunday.

"We call on all parties to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility. The current cycle of violence in Iraq must be stopped," they said.

Borrell had talked to Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday and invited him to Brussels to discuss the crisis. But there is no indication that Zarif has accepted the invitation or will attend the EU foreign ministers' meeting on Friday.

Threats to cultural sites

Germany and Britain criticized US President Donald Trump for threatening to attack Iranian cultural sites and impose sanctions on Iraq following a vote by the Iraqi Parliament on Sunday to expel US troops from the country.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, whose country opposed the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, said on Monday that threatening Iraq with sanctions is "not very helpful".

"I think the right way is to convince Iraq not with threats but with arguments," he said.

"This action has not made it easier to reduce tensions. I made this point clearly to @SecPompeo as well," he said in a tweet on Friday, referring to the assassination of Soleimani in views expressed to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The Guardian newspaper in the UK quoted Johnson's spokesman as saying on Monday that there were "international conventions in place that prevent the destruction of cultural heritage", after Trump's tweet threatening to hit the cultural sites in response to any Iranian retaliation.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said that it is imperative that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon. But he stressed that the killing of Soleimani was a decision made by the US, and not by either the transatlantic security alliance or the coalition against the Islamic State terror group.

On Sunday, hundreds of people demonstrated outside the US embassy in Brussels to condemn the killing of the Iranian general.

Pompeo has criticized European nations for a lack of support for the recent US actions.

"Frankly, the Europeans haven't been as helpful as I wish that they could be," he told Fox News on Friday, describing his talks with European allies about the targeted killing of Soleimani.

Carl Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister and frequent commentator on international relations, said in a tweet on Sunday that "the EU is doing what it can to prevent even further escalation between US and Iran, although I fear its efforts are seriously undercut by what's been happening".

It is widely believed that Trump's withdrawal of the US from the nuclear agreement with Iran-struck with the US and other world powers in 2015-and the subsequent reimposition of sanctions on Iran have triggered the new round of hostilities between the two countries.

Bildt, in another tweet on Sunday, said that Trump's decision to leave the nuclear deal has resulted in insecurity in the entire Persian Gulf region, more hard-line forces ascendant in Teheran, Iran's restarting of its nuclear activities and Iraq's turn against the US presence.

"More to come, I fear," he said.

On Tuesday, 40 people were killed in a stampede at the funeral ceremony of Soleimani in the Iranian city of Kerman, with 213 others injured, local media reported.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

 

Mourners attend the funeral procession on Monday in Teheran for Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a US drone strike on Friday. XINHUA

 

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US on alert for potential cyberattacks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531642.htm The United States is on high alert for cyberattacks on its financial and infrastructure computer systems after Iran vowed "forceful revenge" following last week's targeted killing of a senior military commander.

"Iran maintains a robust cyber-program and can execute cyberattacks against the United States," the US Department of Homeland Security warned in a bulletin issued after a drone attack on Jan 3 killed Qasem Soleimani, a major-general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and commander of its Quds Force.

"Iran is capable, at a minimum of carrying out attacks with temporary disruptive effects against critical infrastructure in the United States. An attack on the homeland may come with little or no warning."

The US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said sophisticated cyberattacks typically seek to steal vital information and disrupt or destroy the delivery of essential services such as water, electricity and transportation.

"It's hard to predict what the retaliation might look like despite all the statements being made," Holly Dagres, a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and editor of IranSource blog, told Newsweek. "One thing to remember is that Iran is a calculating, rational state and not suicidal. They traditionally play by the rules of asymmetrical warfare."

"While we don't expect cyberattacks to cripple our society, it's far more likely that they will score some major blows against individual companies," John Hultquist, senior director of intelligence analysis for FireEye, a Milpitas, California-based cybersecurity firm, told China Daily. "The US' vastly superior intelligence and military capability won't be absorbing cyberattacks from Iran. It will be our incredibly complex, technology-reliant economy."

Cyberattacks can be mounted from anywhere in the world, and it's often hard to identify the source, especially if attackers mask their identities by adopting a false cover. Analysts said the likelihood of cyberattacks from Iran underscores the obvious: Its military can't match the skill and technology of US forces.

Iran has apparently mounted successful cyberattacks in the past. In 2011, hackers attacked computers at the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market.

Iran also has been the target of successful cyberattacks. The Stuxnet virus, discovered in 2010 and believed to have been the work of US and Israel, disrupted uranium enrichment at Iran's nuclear plant near Natanz. The virus reportedly caused Iran's centrifuges to spin out of control and destroyed about 20 percent of the equipment. Iran then reportedly built its own cyberattack capability.

"Iran will definitely use everything they have at their disposal eventually, but I don't think a major cyberattack right this second makes sense," Jake Williams founder of Rendition Infosec, a cybersecurity firm based in Augusta, Georgia, and a former National Security Agency official, told The Washington Post on Sunday. "Every piece of malware Iran uses now removes a bullet they can fire later to have a greater effect."

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Australia fires force rethink]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531637.htm Though having lived with bushfires for centuries, Australians are facing a moment of truth this summer as the whole continent seems to be canopied by smoke from the raging blazes.

From the very early days of colonial settlement, and further back in time when Australia's first people roamed this vast continent, fires would burn and the rains would come and put them out. It was a cycle. Australians coped and moved on.

Today, however, something different is happening-fires are burning across the entire continent, the worst in memory.

Politician Richard Di Natale, leader of the Australian Greens, has described the fires as Australia's "moment of truth".

"We must accept that Australia's climate has changed, and we need to make sure that our land management, disaster response and climate policies are relevant to the new reality we face," he said in a statement.

Saturday, the worst day so far in the fire season (which began in September), saw temperatures soar into the high 40s C in places, creating massive fire storms that destroyed everything in their path. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, Australia was the hottest country on the planet on Saturday. It has been estimated by naturalists that half a billion birds, animals and reptiles have also been killed.

The Victorian emergency commissioner, Andrew Crisp, probably best summed up the problem Australia is now facing with bushfires when he told journalists on Jan 1: "What we talk about, when you start to get ratings into the extreme area, fires are fast moving, uncontrollable, unpredictable. You won't put them out. That's a fact.

"It was nature which started the fires and it will be nature that stops these fires."

Cooler weather

The slightly cooler weather since then indeed brought limited relief.

David Bowman, a professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania, said the bushfires provide a "critical link to understanding how climate change will transform bushfire behavior, frequency and ecological impacts".

"We are now transiting away from what climate models tell us about the possible effects of climate change on bushfires, to observing and experiencing extreme, unusual, and ecologically and economically damaging bushfires driven by anomalous climate conditions," he said.

This is all new ground, said Bowman. But he added: "As a society, we are running out of time to adapt to climate-change-driven bushfires, and policy failure will lead to escalating disasters that have the capacity to eclipse the worst disasters we have experienced."

Jim McLennan, bushfire safety researcher and adjunct professor with the School of Psychology and Public Health at Melbourne's La Trobe University, said climate change is a factor that cannot be ignored, with the current fires sweeping along the Australian east coast.

"Average temperatures across the country have risen and our summers are getting hotter," he said.

"During the last two years, annual rainfall has been well below long-term averages. In addition, annual rainfall patterns have changed, so that there are longer periods between rain events. This has resulted in drought conditions in many parts of Australia.

"However, the long-term changes in Australia's climate, identified by climate scientists as resulting from global warming, mean that the intense fires have become frequent, and they are now occurring in areas which were previously very low bushfire-risk areas."

 

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Most dams cannot allay flood risks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531593.htm Not even half of Japanese dams can release water to cut flood risks when faced with the prospect of torrential rains, a recent survey by Kyodo News showed.

According to the survey, 246 out of 559 dams operated by 57 agencies throughout the country are able to release water when there are forecasts of heavy rainfall. That finding indicates that only 40 percent of the country's dams can release their reservoirs' water before floods come.

The survey, conducted in December, was published to mark one and a half years since the torrential rains of July 2018. Those rains triggered massive flooding and landslides, leaving 155 people dead.

Some of the deaths were due to an emergency discharge from a dam in Ehime Prefecture when water levels reached their limit, the survey said, adding that there were also emergency water releases from dams when Typhoon Hagibis struck the country in October.

According to Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, more than 47 rivers burst their banks when Hagibis swept across the country. Satellite imagery and videos at the time showed houses surrounded by murky brown water and overflowing water submerging nearby farmland.

The Japanese government has been calling for dam operators to prepare for strategic releases and to actively manage water levels.

Forty-five dam operators said they have difficulties complying due to the structures of existing dams, which sometimes lack discharge gates or have discharge conduits with weak drainage capacity.

One of the survey respondents said that if water is pre-released but then there is no rain, the resulting water shortage would entail risks for farmers and water utility companies and negatively affect society at large.

A country that began to build dams for irrigation purposes more than 1,400 years ago, Japan now has many dams more than 100 meters high. However, their reservoir capacities are smaller than those of other dams around the world due to Japan's geographical features characterized by narrow islands and steep terrain.

Kyodo News contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Washington denies media reports of troop withdrawal from Iraq]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531618.htm BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON-The United States has no plans to pull its troops out of Iraq, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday, following media reports of a Pentagon letter informing Iraqi officials about repositioning troops in preparation for leaving the country.

Longtime foes Teheran and Washington have been in a war of words since Friday, when a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 80, wept in grief along with hundreds of thousands of mourners who thronged the streets of Teheran for Soleimani's funeral on Monday.

Iran's demand for US forces to withdraw from the region gained traction on Sunday when Iraq's Parliament passed a resolution calling for all foreign troops to leave the country.

The Pentagon letter said US-led coalition forces would use helicopters to evacuate. Several were heard flying over Baghdad on Monday night, although it was not immediately clear if that was related.

"There's been no decision whatsoever to leave Iraq," Esper told Pentagon reporters, adding there were no departure plans issued.

"I don't know what that letter is ... We're trying to find out where that's coming from, what that is. But there's been no decision made to leave Iraq. Period," Esper said.

The letter caused confusion about the future of US forces in Iraq, who now number 5,000. A US-led invasion in 2003 toppled President Saddam Hussein.

The top US military officer told reporters the letter was a draft document meant only to underscore increased movement by US forces. "Poorly worded, implies withdrawal. That's not what's happening," said Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the military's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The authenticity of the letter, addressed to the Iraqi Defense Ministry's Combined Joint Operations, had been confirmed by an Iraqi military source.

Esper said Washington was still committed to countering the Islamic State terror group in Iraq, alongside allies and partners.

Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Abdel Abdul Mahdi on Monday told Matthew Tueller, the US ambassador to Baghdad, that the two nations needed to implement the Iraqi parliamentary resolution, according to a statement released by the premier's office. It did not give a timeline.

The killing of Soleimani has prompted fears around the world of a broader regional conflict, as well as calls in the US Congress for legislation to keep Trump from going to war against Iran.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said that US attacks "constitute a serious violation of Iraqi sovereignty and violate the conditions for the presence of the American forces in Iraq".

Esper, Milley and other top US officials agreed to provide a classified briefing for US senators on Wednesday to discuss events in Iraq after some lawmakers accused the White House of risking a broad conflict without a strategy.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Tories splashing out to fund 'decade of renewal' for UK]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531611.htm Voters in the United Kingdom will soon find out whether the nation's new government will put its money where its mouth is and live up to expensive promises made during the general election campaign.

Sajid Javid, the chancellor of the exchequer, says he wants a March 11 budget he announced on Tuesday to kick-start a decade of renewal, and to unleash the UK's potential once it leaves the European Union on Jan 31.

The Conservative Party-also known as the Tories-returned to power on Dec 12 with a greatly increased majority, having promised voters not only a rapid exit from the European Union but also more spending in poorer areas, such as the formerly industrial northeast.

The Guardian newspaper says Javid is likely to announce a shakeup of his department, the Treasury, to ensure money can be borrowed more easily, and allocated throughout the nation more evenly.

The paper says Javid is likely to signal billions of pounds of spending on health, public infrastructure, and the environment. But he will have to work against the backdrop of a slowing economy that has left the government collecting 50 billion pounds ($66 billion) less in taxes than it needs to spend this year, creating a budget deficit. Hence the need to increase borrowing.

"People across the country have told us that they want change. We've listened and will now deliver," Javid said on Tuesday. "With this budget, we will unleash Britain's potential-uniting our great country, opening a new chapter for our economy and ushering in a decade of renewal."

The annual budget, which sets out the government's spending priorities and taxation changes, had been scheduled for November but was deferred because of the election campaign.

Javid is likely to be especially generous to people living in the Midlands and the north of England, where the party picked up seats traditionally won by the Labour Party.

He is also likely to ramp up spending on the police and new hospitals, and make it possible for people on low incomes to earn more before paying income tax.

The BBC noted that Javid says he will spend an extra 100 billion pounds on infrastructure in the coming years.

The left-leaning Mirror newspaper quoted shadow chancellor John McDonnell as saying: "After a decade of wrecking the economy, we can have no confidence in a Tory government delivering the scale of investment needed for renewal."

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Huawei ban 'would make UK 5G laggard']]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531600.htm China's ambassador to the United Kingdom says a British ban on telecommunications company Huawei would leave the nation's technological development "trailing far behind" the competition.

In an article published in UK newspaper The Telegraph, Liu Xiaoming said shunning Huawei would severely delay Britain's transition from 4G to 5G networks. He also said there is no evidence to support claims that Huawei poses a cybersecurity threat.

"Fabricating 'Huawei risk' in the name of national security is tantamount to giving a dog a bad name to hang him," Liu said. "Doing so will only hamper normal cooperation between countries, and in the end, those who intend to scare others would lift the stone only to drop it on their own feet."

The UK is considering full or partial restrictions on Huawei's participation in nationwide 5G upgrades, following allegations from the United States that the company has assisted the Chinese government in espionage, a claim that the company has persistently denied.

"China has never and will never ask companies or individuals to collect data, information or intelligence in other countries by illegal means," Liu said. "The fallacy that China's National Intelligence Law could 'force' telecommunications suppliers to hand over data to China is nothing but scaremongering."

The UK was expected to reach a decision on whether to ban Huawei last year. However, the Conservative Party leadership contest in the summer and then the general election in December delayed the verdict.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson enjoyed a sound victory in the election, and will now have the final say on the Huawei question. Johnson likely will reach a determination in late January when he convenes the National Security Council.

'Unnecessary' move

On Dec 28, UK tabloid The Mail on Sunday reported that UK security chiefs have told Johnson that a Huawei ban is not necessary.

"The balance between national security and the economic benefit to the UK is something we are confident we can manage," a senior security source told the paper on the condition of anonymity.

At last month's NATO summit in London, Johnson provided some insight into his thinking on the Huawei issue when he said he does not want the UK to be "unnecessarily hostile" to investment from overseas, while at the same time he did not want to compromise Britain's ability to "cooperate with other vital Five Eyes security partners".

Five Eyes refers to the English-speaking intelligence-sharing community comprising the UK, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Both Australia and New Zealand have joined the US in imposing restrictions on Huawei, while Canada has not yet reached a determination.

Liu noted that the US has provided no evidence to support the claim that the Chinese company plants so-called back doors in network infrastructure. He also highlighted the intense level of scrutiny the company is subject to from British security services.

"Here in the UK, Huawei established a cybersecurity evaluation center in 2010 at its own expense," Liu said. "This has been operated and managed by an all-British team since then. Its conclusion has been that Huawei products do not threaten Britain's national security."

Liu also referred to a review conducted by the UK Parliament's science and technology select committee, which came out against a full ban on Huawei.

Norman Lamb, the committee's chair, said his colleagues found "no technical grounds" for excluding Huawei entirely from UK networks.

"Banning Huawei would also reduce market competition, giving network operators less leverage on equipment vendors to demand high security standards," Lamb said.

As the UK deliberates, Huawei is forging ahead with network upgrades across Europe. It has signed more than 30 5G commercial contracts with European mobile operators, making the region the largest 5G market for Huawei outside of China.

Last month, major German mobile operator Telefonica Deutschland confirmed it is partnering with both Huawei and Finnish telecommunications company Nokia on its 5G upgrades.

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Africa aims to boost aerospace industry]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/08/content_37531628.htm The past decade has seen African countries bear the brunt of climate change with floods, prolonged droughts and other natural disasters having a devastating effect owing to the continent's inability to effectively monitor weather patterns.

With the realization that aerospace technology can help support development efforts through monitoring weather conditions, assisting security operations in conflict zones and aiding disaster planning, more African countries are venturing into space technology.

According to Maina Mwangi, a space engineer at the Kenya Space Agency. Since Africa is associated with more pressing development issues, it is tempting to wrongly dismiss space exploration as a waste of money.

"African countries are increasingly getting interested in space exploration after the realization that space technology can be used in many ways and there are many areas of development which can be fast-tracked through space science," Mwangi said.

In September 2018, during the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Beijing, the conference adopted the Beijing Action Plan of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (2019-21), which indicated that China is willing to provide African countries with meteorological and remote sensing application facilities, education and training assistance to enhance African countries' capacity for disaster prevention and mitigation of climate change.

A welcome development

Mwangi said China's entry into Africa's aerospace industry is a welcome development since it offers Africa the much needed technology and financing, thereby speeding up the progress in Africa's space exploration.

"As the Kenya Space Agency and indeed the African space industry as a whole, we are keen to partner with China which has a robust and vibrant space industry and has launched a number of satellites into space," Mwangi said.

Mwangi said that Africa's space knowledge and experience are still in their infancy and yet to develop all the frameworks, hence the need to collaborate with partners like China who are way ahead in this field.

The launch of Ethiopia's first observatory satellite into space on Dec 20 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Xinzhou, Shanxi province, is an indication that cooperation between China and Africa in aerospace technology has already taken off. The remote sensing satellite is to be used for agricultural, climate, mining and environmental observations, allowing Ethiopia and other East African countries to collect data and improve their ability to plan for changing weather patterns.

In November, Sudan launched its first satellite, also in cooperation with China. The Sudan Remote Sensing Satellite, which was also launched from the northern Chinese province of Shanxi was developed for Sudan by the Shenzhen Aerospace Oriental Red Sea Satellite Co, a private Chinese company.

"The fact that the Chinese government views space exploration as imperative for boosting the economy and promoting technologies that can help fast track development have made them attractive to African countries. The Chinese are also willing to share their knowledge and facilities with African countries making it easier for Africans to collaborate with them," Mwangi said.

Other African countries that have previously worked with China to develop their aerospace technology include Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Algeria.

Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-08 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Three US citizens, including soldier, killed in al-Shabaab attack in Kenya]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531426.htm NAIROBI/WASHINGTON-Three US citizens-one military serviceman and two contractors-were killed by Somalia's al-Shabaab militant group during an attack on Sunday on a military base in Kenya used by both US and Kenyan forces, the US military said.

The US military's Africa Command confirmed the deaths and said two other US citizens who work for the US Department of Defense were also wounded in the attack on the Manda Bay Airfield in Lamu county, close to the Somali border.

"The wounded Americans are currently in stable condition and being evacuated," Africa Command, or AFRICOM, said in a statement.

The attack presents another crisis for Washington just as the Pentagon grapples with a rapidly escalating standoff with Iran following a Friday US drone strike in Baghdad that killed senior Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.

Teheran and Washington have traded threats and counterthreats following the strike, stoking fears of open conflict.

The assault by the Islamist insurgent al-Shabaab group, which has been fighting for more than a decade to overthrow the Somali government, began before dawn and lasted around four hours, witnesses and military sources told Reuters.

A Kenyan police report seen by Reuters said al-Shabaab militants destroyed two planes, two US helicopters and multiple military vehicles during their assault.

The Kenyan military said five militants had been killed in the attack. There were no immediate reports of Kenyan casualties.

In a statement earlier on Sunday, al-Shabaab claimed it had destroyed seven aircraft and three military vehicles, without providing other details. It also published pictures of masked gunmen standing next to an aircraft in flames.

AFRICOM said fewer than 150 US personnel had been at the base, where they provided training and counterterrorism support to East African forces.

"Alongside our African and international partners, we will pursue those responsible for this attack," said US Army General Stephen Townsend, who leads Africa Command.

Kenyan military spokesman Colonel Paul Njuguna said the base had been secured.

"This morning at around 5:30 am an attempt was made to breach security at Manda Air Strip. The attempted breach was successfully repulsed," he said in a statement. "Arising from the unsuccessful breach a fire broke out affecting some of the fuel tanks located at the airstrip. The fire has been put under control."

In the operation to repulse the attack, at least five militants were killed and weapons including four AK 47 rifles were seized, he said.

There was no indication the militants had managed to enter the base. The airfield is separate to another on Manda Island used by commercial flights to Lamu.

Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 after a spate of cross-border attacks and kidnappings. They were later absorbed into an African Union peacekeeping force, now 21,000-strong, which supports the shaky, Western-backed Somali government.

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Britain experienced second-hottest, second-wettest decade in 100 years]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531487.htm The 2010s was the United Kingdom's second-hottest and second-wettest decade in 100 years, according to the Meteorological Office, which is the nation's official weather service and known as the Met Office.

In terms of both temperature and rainfall, the 2010s were surpassed only by the preceding 10 years: the decade running from 2000 to 2009.

Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office's National Climate Information Centre, told the BBC that the relatively high temperatures were "a consequence of our warming climate".

He said it was "notable how many of these extreme records have been set in the most recent decade".

The Times newspaper said the year 2019 was the UK's 11th-warmest recorded since records began 140 years ago. Britain's 10 hottest years have all occurred since 2002.

The Met Office said: "The UK climate is warming, but this does not mean every decade will be significantly warmer than the one preceding it. The cold year of 2010 influences the statistics for this most recent decade for example, but cold years like 2010 occur much less frequently now than in the past."

During 2019, four heat records were broken.

On Feb 26, the 21.2 C recorded at Kew Gardens in West London was the highest winter temperature ever registered in the UK. On July 25, the UK's hottest day saw Cambridge bask in 38.7 C. And on Dec 28, the 18.7 C recorded in Achfary in the Scottish Highlands was a record for a December day. The other heat record to fall in 2019 came on Feb 23, when the temperature did not fall below 13.9 C for a 24-hour period.

The average temperature for last year was 9.42 C.

The Met Office said eight monthly heat records were set during the past decade, including the coldest-recorded month, which fell in March 2018, when the mercury dipped to an average of -4.7 C, in Blaenau Gwent in South Wales.

In addition to being relatively warm, 2019 was also extremely wet, the 11th-wettest on record, with exceptional downfalls drenching the counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire during the summer and autumn.

On a global scale, last year was likely the second or third-warmest since recording started in 1850, the Met Office said. The warmest year globally was 2016.

The forecasters expect 2020 to be another warm year globally, likely around the sixth-warmest ever.

McCarthy said he expects the UK's weather to continue to warm in the coming years, with summers getting warmer and winters wetter.

"We would expect these sorts of records subsequently to be broken in the future," he added.

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Drunken driver in Italy plows into young German tourists, killing 6]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531485.htm ROME-A drunken driver speeding on a mountain road plowed into a group of young German tourists in northern Italy on Sunday, killing six people and injuring 11 others, Italian authorities said.

The deadly crash occurred in the Lutago village of Valle Aurina, northeast of Bolzano in the Alto Adige region, shortly after 1 am as the Germans gathered near their tour bus. They were between the ages of 20 and 25.

The largely German-speaking autonomous region of northern Italy, with its ski resorts in the Dolomites and quaint villages around Bolzano, is popular with German tourists.

"The new year begins with a terrible tragedy," said the regional president of Alto Adige, Arno Kompatscher. "We are left stunned."

The driver of the car had a high blood alcohol content and was driving particularly fast, a Carabineri police official in Brunico said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to give his name.

He said police had concluded that the crash wasn't an act of terrorism.

Italian news reports said the driver's blood alcohol level was nearly four times the legal limit, and that he slammed into the tourists as they were getting off their bus and returning home after an evening out.

"They were torn from their lives by the actions of someone speeding under the influence of alcohol," said Armin Laschet, the governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, the German state that is home to most of the victims.

The Lutago volunteer fire service said on Facebook that six people were killed at the scene. The 11 injured, four of whom were in critical condition, were taken to several regional hospitals, including two who were airlifted to a hospital in Innsbruck, Austria, said Bolzano Carabinieri Commander Alessandro Coassin.

Coassin said the driver, identified by Italian media as a 28-year-old man from the nearby town of Chienes, was arrested on suspicion of highway manslaughter and injury and was being treated at the hospital in Brunico.

Most of the victims hailed from western Germany, though two of the injured were Italian, officials said.

"These young people wanted to spend a good time together and were torn out of their lives or seriously injured from one second to the next," Laschet said.

Speaking to reporters in Germany, Laschet said the victims came from various cities.

"It was a single group ... but not everyone knew each other," he said.

 

 

 

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Turkish troop presence in Libya growing]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531479.htm ISTANBUL/TRIPOLI-Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey is "gradually" sending troops to Libya under a deal inked with Libya's United Nations-recognized Government of National Accord, or GNA.

"Our soldiers are gradually going," Erdogan told the CNNTurk broadcaster in a televised interview.

"The duty of Turkish soldiers is to ensure the ceasefire and not to fight. What we will do in Libya is to strengthen the legitimate government," he added, noting an operation center would be established in the North African country torn by a raging civil war, which pits the GNA based in the capital Tripoli against the Libyan National Army, or LNA, and its allies based in the east.

The mission for Turkish troops in Libya is to oversee coordination at the operation center, said the Turkish leader.

"As an opposition force, we will have different teams there," he added.

The Turkish parliament on Thursday passed a motion authorizing the government to deploy troops to Libya in support of the GNA, as Ankara signed security and military cooperation agreements with it as well as a controversial maritime boundary memorandum at the end of November.

The Turkish move has prompted opposition from some of its regional neighbors, while Libya's elected parliament, the GNA's rival in the war, voted on Saturday to sever ties with Turkey.

The UN Security Council was expected to meet behind closed doors on Monday about the situation in Libya, diplomats said on Sunday. The meeting, held at Russia's request, is formally focused on an international conference on Libya that Germany hopes to organize by month's end. So far, no date for the meeting has been announced.

But Monday's talks were the first chance for Security Council members to discuss controversial security and maritime deals struck by Libya and Turkey-and Ankara's subsequent decision to send troops to Libya.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his call for an immediate ceasefire in Libya.

Forces of the GNA on Sunday announced the launch of a deadly airstrike on an air base of the rival army located nearly 140 kilometers southwest of Tripoli.

A Turkish drone targeted al-Watia air base, killing three army soldiers and injuring six others, said TV channel Al-Hadath, showing footage of wounded soldiers being treated in a hospital.

Mohamed Gonono, spokesman of the GNA's military forces, said targeting the air base came in retaliation for a deadly airstrike on Saturday on a military academy in Tripoli.

Thirty students were killed and 33 others were injured in the airstrike according to the Ministry of Health of the GNA.

"Our forces targeted positions of (LNA leader) Khalifa Haftar's militias in al-Watia air base, destroying military vehicles, an ammunition store and mercenary gatherings," Gonono said in a statement.

The LNA had denied responsibility for the airstrike on the military academy.

"The General Command (of the army) completely denies responsibility for bombing the military academy in Tripoli," spokesman of the army Ahmad al-Mismari told a news conference in the eastern city of Benghazi.

"The bombing of the military academy could be the result of a motor shell, not an airstrike," the spokesman said.

Mismari said that an official investigation has been started, calling on the UN to send a committee to help investigate details of the attack.

The LNA has been leading a military campaign in and around Tripoli since early April, trying to take over the city and topple the UN-backed government.

Thousands have been killed and injured in the fighting, and more than 120,000 people fled their homes from the violence.

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Maduro recognizes Parra as new opposition leader]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531478.htm CARACAS-Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday recognized the newly elected board of directors of the National Assembly, and president of the legislative body, Luis Parra.

"The National Assembly has made a decision and there is a new opposition board of directors headed by Deputy Luis Parra," said Maduro.

Parra's election is a blow to opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido, who was hoping to be reelected head of the National Assembly, which began its 2020-21 legislative period on Sunday.

Parra signaled the opposition was "taking a new tack", and pledged to work to overcome Venezuela's political deadlock between the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and conservative groups through dialogue and conciliation.

"For us, Juan Guaido is the past and we must open the doors to the future," he told reporters.

Rejecting Guaido and voting in a new leadership was "a rebellion by the legislative assembly's opposition deputies themselves", said Maduro.

"The country repudiated and repudiates Juan Guaido as a puppet of North American imperialism," Maduro said. "No one should be surprised by what happened today."

Guaido declared himself interim president in January 2019, after the opposition refused to recognize Maduro's reelection, and was immediately recognized by Washington and its allies.

Maduro also said reconciliation talks between the government and opposition parties were ongoing.

On the agenda was the renewal of the National Electoral Council, the country's electoral watchdog, in the run-up to legislative elections later this year, said Maduro.

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Starmer joins Labour leadership race with new vision]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531477.htm Shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer has said the United Kingdom's Labour Party must "rebuild and fast" following its disastrous performance in December's general election, as he confirmed he will be a candidate to replace Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

Corbyn, whose personality and politics sharply divided the electorate, oversaw a collapse of the vote in traditional Labour heartlands, helping Boris Johnson's Conservative Party to win a majority of 80 seats.

Starmer, who is from the party's more moderate wing, has long been tipped as the most likely contender to restore Labour's credibility and electability. Even before his candidacy was confirmed, he was already winning opinion polls that asked party members who should be the next leader.

"We cannot bury our head in the sand: Labour must rebuild and fast. We have to restore trust in our party as a force for change and a force for good," he wrote in the Sunday Mirror newspaper. "The millions of people who needed change at the last election still need change. The moral fight against poverty, inequality and injustice must continue."

Starmer, 57, was a human rights lawyer and head of the Crown Prosecution Service before entering Parliament as member for the central London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. He campaigned for the UK to remain in the 2016 European Union referendum and had been one of the leading lights in the campaign for a second Brexit referendum.

The timetable for the leadership election was expected to be set by Labour's National Executive Committee on Monday. Before Starmer confirmed he would be standing for the leadership, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis had said they were candidates. Others who have announced their candidacy are MPs Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, whose leftist views are closer to that of Corbyn, is also expected to stand.

A perceived lack of clarity over Brexit is one of the reasons blamed for the collapse of Labour's vote at the last election, and Starmer's critics say his Remain politics and solid middle-class status mean he is not the person to win back these lost votes.

However, he has emphasized his humble upbringing in Southwark, South London, as the son of a toolmaker and a nurse, and is named after Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party.

Starmer launched his candidacy with a balanced statement, respecting Labour traditions while also embracing new ideas, saying it must not "lose sight of our values or retreat from the radicalism of the past few years".

Given his background as a human rights lawyer, it is no surprise that he favors a "human rights approach" to international relations and foreign policy. He has also spoken of the need for Labour to confront the issue of climate change, and present a vision to the nation of a "radically transformed economy that empowers trade unions and communities that have been left behind".

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Building collapse rescue ends with 36 dead]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531473.htm PHNOM PENH, Cambodia-The death toll from the collapse of a six-story building under construction in Cambodia has surged to 36, even as an additional survivor was pulled from the rubble, officials said on Sunday.

At least a dozen bodies were found in overnight operations at the site in the coastal province of Kep, where the building toppled on Friday.

Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the end of the rescue operation, confirming that 23 injured survivors were found.

A statement from Kep provincial authorities said at least 13 women and six children were among the dead.

Women are often employed as construction workers in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand, and families of workers also often live at the construction sites.

At a news conference at the site, Hun Sen said the couple who owned the building and hired the construction crew had been detained and sent to court to face charges. He did not specify the charges. A committee was being set up to determine the cause of the collapse.

Hun Sen said that according to preliminary findings, the building collapsed because the construction work failed to adhere to safety standards.

He said that plywood that is normally put underneath the concrete separating each floor is supposed to remain in place for about one month to allow proper setting, but instead was removed after roughly 10 days. He also indicated that the rebar-the steel rods assembled in a mesh to reinforce the concrete-were not of a strong enough gauge.

Hun Sen expressed his deepest sympathy to the bereaved families and the injured people in the incident.

He said families of the victims who died would receive $52,500 each and those who were injured would get $10,000 each.

Chinese help

According to the provincial authority, more than 1,000 rescuers, including Chinese experts, had taken part in the rescue efforts.

Hun Sen said the rescue operation took 43 hours and 20 minutes, explaining that it was necessary to proceed carefully to ensure that the diggers would not harm people trapped under the rubble.

Hun Sen highly praised the rescuers, particularly the Chinese experts, for their active involvement in humanitarian activities.

"I'd like to thank the experienced Chinese experts, who are working in Preah Sihanouk Province, for coming to help us rescue victims here," the prime minister said.

A senior provincial police officer had said on Friday that the accident occurred after concrete had been poured on the top level of the building.

The survivor found on Sunday morning was a young woman pulled from the rubble by members of Rapid Rescue Company 711, a military unit that is the country's elite specialized emergency rescue team.

Hun Sen posted a video of the rescue on his Facebook page. He traveled to the site on Friday "to lead the rescue team", he announced on Facebook. He also visited the provincial hospital where the injured were being treated.

In June last year, a seven-story building collapsed in Sihanoukville, another coastal area in Cambodia, leaving at least 28 people dead and 26 injured.

A rescue team carry a victim from the collapsed building which was under construction in Kep, Cambodia, on Saturday. REUTERS
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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Tributes paid to the hero of Nanjing]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531462.htm BERLIN-At a corner of a cemetery in the west of Berlin stands the tombstone of John Rabe, an ordinary German businessman who is revered and remembered by the Chinese for helping protect Chinese citizens during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.

Sunday marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Rabe. Nearly 30 people, Germans and local Chinese expats included, held a memorial at the tomb of Rabe, as in previous anniversaries.

Laying flowers, tidying up the tombstone, and standing in silence, many Chinese came to pay homage. A Chinese student soprano sang a German song to say "we thank you" at the memorial.

"As Chinese, we all know John Rabe," said Song Liguo, a middle-aged man who has lived in Germany for 19 years and went to the memorial with a bouquet of flowers.

"The well-known movie Schindler's List often reminds me of John Rabe. And I was surprised to learn that his tomb was in the city where I live. So, I decided to pay my respects in person," Song said on his third visit to Rabe's grave.

Rabe, a Hamburg-born business representative of Siemens in China, is regarded as the "Oskar Schindler of China", as he set up a security zone in worn-torn Nanjing with a few foreigners and saved tens of thousands of lives between 1937 and 1938.

When Rabe was called back to Germany in early 1938, he took with him a 10-volume diary that recorded the atrocities of the Japanese invaders.

Ju Zhengji, a Chinese doctorate student of history at the Free University of Berlin, has a more compelling reason to pay homage to Rabe because he is a Nanjing native. He volunteered to speak in front of all attendees at the memorial.

In his speech, he said: "Representing the people of Nanjing, I stand here to express our gratitude to Mr Rabe."

As a Nanjing native, Ju learned about the history and the touching story of Rabe while quite young. And reflecting on the lasting power of the manifestation of the greatness in human nature, he said: "Seventy years on, many people still rally at Rabe's tomb, remembering him. When man does a great thing, people do not forget him."

Wolfram Wickert from the Erwin Wickert Foundation, the organizer of the memorial, said Rabe helped promote mutual understanding and friendship between Germany and China. The courage shown by him at that extremely difficult time touched many souls.

After the memorial, attendees visited the building where Rabe last lived. There hangs a metal plate on a wall with a description of Rabe's life in Chinese, German and English, along with his portrait.

The designer of the plate, Thomas Wangler, a Siemens engineer, is among those who paid homage to Rabe. He said Rabe was a stranger to him until he saw a film about him, though only out of interest because the movie was about Siemens.

"But I was so impressed by the spirit of humanity and courage shown by John Rabe that I decided to take the job of designing the plate," Wangler said.

People clean the tombstone of John Rabe in Berlin on Sunday. PENG DAWEI/CHINA NEWS SERVICE
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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Boeing, FAA review wiring on grounded 737 Max jets]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531461.htm WASHINGTON-Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, confirmed on Sunday that they are reviewing a wiring problem that could potentially cause a short circuit on the grounded 737 Max jets.

Boeing spokesman Gordon Johndroe said on Sunday the US plane-maker "identified this issue as part of that rigorous process, and we are working with the FAA to perform the appropriate analysis. It would be premature to speculate as to whether this analysis will lead to any design changes".

The New York Times reported Boeing is reviewing whether two bundles of wiring are too close together, which could lead to a short circuit and potentially result in a crash if pilots did not respond appropriately.

The FAA said in a statement on Sunday the agency and company "are analyzing certain findings from a recent review of the proposed modifications to the Boeing 737 Max". The agency added it will "ensure that all safety related issues identified during this process are addressed".

Boeing is currently working on a plan that would separate the wiring bundles if necessary and conducting extensive analysis to establish if an electrical fault could occur in a real-world scenario, a company official said.

Officials said the FAA had directed Boeing to complete an audit in December. The wiring issue could push back the return of the Max, the officials added. Reuters has reported previously that the FAA is not likely to approve the plane until at least February and might not until March or later.

The FAA flagged the wiring issue as potentially "catastrophic." It is possible other protections like shielding, insulation and circuit breakers could prevent the short circuit, a company official said.

Boeing will halt production of the 737 Max this month following the grounding in March of its best-selling plane after two fatal crashes in five months killed 346 people.

Last month, Boeing's board fired Dennis Muilenburg as chief executive after repeatedly failing to contain the fallout from the crashes that tarnished the company's reputation with airlines and regulators.

The crisis has cost Boeing $9 billion, and has hurt suppliers and airlines.

Boeing is struggling to mend relations with the US and international regulators that it needs to win over to get the jet back in the air.

Separately, US and European regulators are expected to return to Iowa this week to review a software documentation audit of the 737 Max that was not completed last year, officials said on Sunday. The FAA and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency are scheduled to meet in Seattle this week and then return to the Rockwell Collins facility in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, next weekend to review the audit.

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Iraq says it wants foreign troops out]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531460.htm BAGHDAD/WASHINGTON-Iraq's Parliament called on Sunday for the United States and other foreign troops to leave as a backlash grows against the US killing of a top Iranian general, and US President Donald Trump warned Iraq that he would levy punishing sanctions if it expelled US troops.

Leading Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport, an attack that carried US-Iranian hostilities into uncharted waters.

Trump threatened sanctions against Iraq and said that if US troops were required to leave the country, Iraq's government would have to pay Washington for the cost of a "very extraordinarily expensive" air base there.

He said if Iraq asked US forces to leave on an unfriendly basis, "we will charge them sanctions like they've never seen before ever. It'll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame".

Trump's warning came hours after Iraq's Parliament on Sunday passed a resolution requiring the government to end the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, and prevent them from using Iraqi air space and waterways.

In addition, the Iraqi government should "file a complaint against the US for its violations and grave breaches of Iraqi sovereignty and security", the Parliament said in a statement.

The Iraqi Parliament's move reflected the fears of many in Iraq that Friday's strike could engulf them in another war between two bigger powers long at odds in Iraq and across the region.

While such resolutions are not binding on the government, this one is likely to be heeded: Iraqi caretaker Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi had earlier called on the Parliament to end the presence of foreign troops as soon as possible.

Iran and the US have been competing for clout in Iraq since the US-led invasion in 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Vote on foreign troops

Before Trump's comments to reporters, a US State Department spokeswoman said Washington was waiting for clarification of the legal nature and impact of the resolution, and strongly urged Iraqi leaders to reconsider the importance of the two nations' ongoing economic and security relationship.

Nearly 5,000 US troops remain in Iraq, most in an advisory role.

Abdul Mahdi said that despite the "internal and external difficulties" the country might face, canceling its request for help from US-led coalition military forces "remains best for Iraq on principle and practically".

He said he had been scheduled to meet Soleimani the day he was killed, and that the general had been due to deliver an Iranian response to a message from Saudi Arabia that Abdul Mahdi had earlier passed to Teheran. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran had been about to "reach a breakthrough over the situation in Iraq and the region", Abdul Mahdi said.

Despite decades of US-Iran enmity, Iran-backed militias and US troops fought side by side during Iraq's 2014-17 war against the Islamic State terror group, their common enemy. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was also killed in Friday's strike.

Sunday's parliamentary resolution was passed by overwhelmingly Shiite lawmakers, as the special session was boycotted by most Sunni Muslim and Kurdish lawmakers.

One Sunni member of Parliament said both groups feared that kicking out US-led forces would leave Iraq vulnerable to insurgents, undermine security and heighten the power of Iran-backed Shiite militias.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit expressed on Sunday his growing concern about the recent developments in Iraq, in a statement on behalf of the Cairo-based, pan-Arab body.

"The region is in a dire need of calm not escalation, and of settling conflicts not igniting and sustaining them," said the statement.

"The developments in recent days show the size of foreign interventions in Arab affairs and their high political, security and economic costs."

 

US Army paratroopers assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, prepare for departure for the Middle East from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Sunday. BRYAN WOOLSTON/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Fires respite opens up chance for evacuations in Australia]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531459.htm SYDNEY-Australian officials used a respite on Monday from fierce bushfires that have killed 25 people across the country's southeast to race to reopen blocked roads and evacuate people who have been trapped for days.

Police on Monday confirmed the death of a 71-year-old man on the south coast of New South Wales state who was reported missing on Dec 31, bringing the total death toll to 25.

A second day of light rain and cool winds brought some relief from heatwave-fueled blazes that ripped through New South Wales and Victoria states over the weekend, but officials warned the hazardous weather conditions were expected to return later in the week.

Authorities redoubled their efforts on Monday to provide supplies and repatriate thousands of people who have been trapped by fire lines in coastal towns for several days.

"This morning it is all about recovery, making sure people who have been displaced have somewhere safe (to go) and it is making sure we have resources to build up the presence on the ground to clean up the roads, clean up where the rubble exists," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday funding of A$2 billion ($1.4 billion) over two years toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been committed.

"What we are focusing on here is the human cost and the rebuilding cost for people's lives," he said.

Fire officials said that while the rain had brought some relief, it still posed challenges.

"With the more benign weather conditions it presents some wonderful relief for everybody, the firefighters, the emergency services personnel, but also the communities affected by these fires," said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. "But it also presents some real challenges when it comes to implementing tactical and strategic back-burns and other techniques to try and bring these fires under control."

In Batemans Bay on the New South Wales' south coast, power was expected to remain out for several more days. Further south in Bermagui, food and fuel were running out, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported.

Thousands of vacationers and locals have been stranded on beaches at the height of the summer holiday season, taking shelter from out-of-control fires.

More than a thousand people were evacuated by two naval ships on Friday from the town of Mallacoota in Victoria state, while others have been evacuated by helicopter from towns where roads have been cut off.

The bushfires have also attracted attention from all over the world. A global appeal to help Australian firefighters tackling the catastrophic bushfires raised more than A$25 million on Monday. Comedian Celeste Barber used her international social media fame to launch a Facebook fundraiser for firefighters that had surpassed its target in just three days with donations from all over the globe.

US pop star Pink said she would donate $500,000 to the firefighters, a donation matched by Australian actress Nicole Kidman.

World No 1 tennis player Ashleigh Barty pledged to hand over all her winnings from this week's Brisbane International tournament-potentially $250,000-to the Red Cross.

 

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Paris warns Washington not to impose more tariffs]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531451.htm The prospect of a trade war between Europe and the United States became more real this week, after France warned US President Donald Trump not to retaliate against new French "digital taxes".

France said it will fight back if the US introduces "highly disproportionate" tariffs in response to its 3 percent tax on revenues generated in the country by online giants such as US companies Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Bruno Le Maire, France's finance minister, on Friday wrote to Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, saying: "If the US were to decide to impose trade sanctions against the EU over the French Digital Services Tax, it would deeply affect the transatlantic relationship at a time when we need to stand united."

Le Maire noted that France is "in touch with the European Commission and other EU member states on the subject" and insisted all are "contemplating the various options to defend our trade rights in a proportionate and determined manner".

The digital tax measure was signed into law by French President Emmanuel Macron in July, but it is retroactively effective from Jan 1, 2019.

The Financial Times predicted punitive US tariffs would elicit similar EU taxes on US goods and services.

Le Maire will meet EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, Lighthizer will host a public hearing to mull likely new US tariffs, which could include a 100 percent tariff on up to $2.4 billion of French goods.

Le Maire noted in his letter that such a tariff would not necessarily benefit the US. "US companies and workers will not benefit from increased tariffs," he wrote. "The only alternative to French products, in some cases, is, in fact, Chinese, rather than American."

The Financial Times said that, if neither side backs down, the dispute could blow up into a wider transatlantic trade war.

Several nations are mulling similar digital taxation programs, with Italy quite advanced with its legislation and Austria, Britain, and Turkey following the same track.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, is also working on a global program to address how and where online companies should pay taxes. And the EU is said to be ready to develop a regional framework if the OECD fails to deliver.

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japan gives tourists web fast track to Shinkansen]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531434.htm The operators of Japan's busiest rail line-connecting Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukuoka-are gearing up to enable more foreigners to book tickets online ahead of an Olympics-driven tourism boom.

Central Japan Railway Co, or JR Central, and West Japan Railway Co, or JR West, which run the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen line, will provide a website in March for those wanting to buy tickets from outside Japan.

The new service is in response to an expected surge in the number of tourists in the lead-up to the Olympic and Paralympic games in Tokyo this year, the rail companies said in statements on their websites.

"As the number of foreign tourists visiting Japan is expected to increase, we will start a new Web service that allows you to reserve seats before arriving in Japan," the statement on JR West's website said.

According to the statements, the English-language reservation website will allow people across the world to book tickets for the Shinkansen-or bullet train-services before arriving in Japan.

Visitors now must wait until they arrive in Japan or use a smartphone application to book if they are in eight countries, including Australia, Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

After the website is launched, customers can collect their purchased tickets at ticketing machines in any railway station in Japan, or they can load them onto Japanese transport applications on their phones to use them in the same way they would normal tickets.

A JR Central spokesman said that, in preparing to launch the website, the company was encouraged by the huge popularity of the booking application for overseas users.

Kotaro Toriumi, an aviation and travel sector analyst at Teikyo University in Tokyo, said that by allowing more foreigners to buy tickets without going to stations, the website would facilitate the needs of tourists wanting to go to Kyoto or Hiroshima after visiting Tokyo.

"However, there are also some issues remain to be solved. One is you can only book a Shinkansen ticket one month before departure, which is not enough time for long-distance travelers. The other is, I wish the website would not just be in English but also support other languages like Chinese and Korean," Toriumi said.

Japan has enjoyed a surge in foreign visitors in recent years, with their ranks reaching a high of 31.19 million in 2018. Japan's National Tourism Organization has drawn up ambitious plans to boost the number of arrivals to 40 million this year.

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Climate becomes hot issue in Russia]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/07/content_37531428.htm Russians will celebrate the Orthodox Christmas on Tuesday, but the unseasonably mild weather has left many double checking their calendars and wondering whether the festival is losing something of its traditional winter appeal.

But there's more at stake. Russia's meteorological service predicts temperatures will be up to 16 C higher than normal for Tuesday and Wednesday. The warmer weather, with a forecast minimum of-2 C in Moscow, is seen as the latest indicator of global warming in the country.

In a bid to tackle the potential effects of climate change in the next two years, the government on Sunday published a plan to adapt its economy and population to higher temperatures. And while the authorities aim to mitigate the damage of these effects, they also want to "use the advantages".

The document, published on the Kremlin's website, notes the increased opportunities for navigation and trade as ice melts in the Arctic, an area where Russia has also boosted its military presence in recent years.

It outlines a plan of action and acknowledges changes to the climate are having a "prominent and increasing effect" on socioeconomic development, people's lives and health.

The Kremlin listed 30 points in which it aims to make full use of the climate change effects in the next two years, in what it calls a "first stage" plan.

The plan suggests that the hotter temperatures may open up to Russia more areas for farming, and it lists measures such as the building of more dams or encouraging a switch to more drought-resistant crops. It also covers crisis preparations, including emergency vaccination programs or evacuation plans in the event of natural disasters.

In terms of other advantages, the plan looks to decreased spending on heating over the winter.

But the paper also focuses on the risks of climate change and the dangers it poses to public health, the animal environment and the Russian permafrost.

"The consequences of climate change are having a significant and increasing impact on the economic and social development of the country, its conditions for life and people's health," according to the document signed by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Among the plan's measures, the government will calculate the risk of Russian products becoming uncompetitive and failing to meet new climate-related standards. Additionally, it will prepare educational materials to teach about climate change.

Russia is warming on average 2.5 times quicker than the rest of the planet, the report said, adding that the country's industry, transport and agriculture would have to adapt to these changes.

Russian President Vladimir Putin noted at his latest annual news conference that 70 percent of Russia's vast territory falls within the northern latitudes.

"Some of our cities were built north of the Arctic Circle, on the permafrost. If it begins to thaw, you can imagine what consequences it would have. It would be a disaster," Putin said.

 

 

 

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2020-01-07 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japan moves to tighten immigration rules after ex-Nissan chief 's escape]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531281.htm TOKYO-Carlos Ghosn's escape from Japan is "unjustifiable" and he is thought to have left the country using "illegal methods", Japanese Justice Minister Masako Mori said on Sunday, in the first official public comments on the case.

The 65-year-old former Nissan boss skipped bail and fled Japan where he was awaiting trial over multiple counts of financial misconduct that he denies.

Ghosn's escape from Japan has left authorities there scrambling to defend their justice system from fierce international criticism.

"Our country's criminal justice system sets out appropriate procedures to clarify the truth of cases and is administered appropriately, while guaranteeing basic individual human rights. The flight by a defendant on bail is unjustifiable," said Mori.

"It is clear that we do not have records of the defendant Ghosn departing Japan. It is believed that he used some wrongful methods to illegally leave the country. It is extremely regrettable that we have come to this situation," added the minister.

She confirmed Ghosn's bail had already been canceled and that an Interpol "red notice" had been issued.

In separate comments, the office of the public prosecutor deemed Ghosn's flight a "crime" and said the tycoon had "knowingly flouted" the country's judicial procedures.

"I have instructed the Immigration Services Agency to coordinate with related agencies to further tighten departure procedures," Mori said, promising a thorough investigation to uncover truth.

In their first remarks since Ghosn's dramatic flight just before the New Year, prosecutors said the escape vindicated their argument that he should have been kept in custody.

"The defendant Ghosn had abundant financial power and multiple foreign bases. It was easy for him to flee," the statement said.

He had "significant influence" inside Japan and globally, and there was a "realistic danger" he would destroy evidence related to the case, they added.

Ghosn twice won bail by persuading the court he was not a flight risk-decisions seen as controversial at the time.

Prosecutors argue that the lengthy detention is required to prove guilt beyond doubt and they are unwilling to charge a suspect if their case is not iron-clad.

"Therefore it was necessary and unavoidable to detain the defendant Ghosn in order to continue fair and appropriate criminal proceedings," they said.

 

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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Lawmakers, public health groups slam FDA's partial e-cigarette ban]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531330.htm The Trump administration's ban on the manufacturing and sale of fruit-and mint-flavored e-cigarette cartridges that appeal to teenagers but allowing the continued sale of menthol and tobacco flavors has been criticized by public health groups and Democratic law makers.

The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, said on Jan 2 that it would forbid the sale of most flavored e-cigarette cartridges, but would exempt menthol and tobacco flavors, as well as flavored liquid nicotine sold in open tank systems at vape shops. The ban is scheduled to take effect in 30 days.

The FDA ordered companies to stop making, distributing and selling most cartridge-based e-cigarette flavors-including mint and fruity flavors-by early February. It said the crackdown is urgently needed to stem a surge in teen vaping.

The policy is a retreat from the all-encompassing flavor ban that President Donald Trump initially announced on Sept 11 that would have banned all flavors, including menthol. That set off intense lobbying by vape shops and vaping advocates.

Critics believe Trump backed off a complete ban of flavored vaping products because such action might damage his prospects in states vital to his re-election campaign.

Public health groups denounced the new policy, saying that teens addicted to the nicotine in e-cigarettes will quickly switch to menthol-or tobacco-flavored pods if those are the only ones being sold.

Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the administration "failed to take the strong action necessary to address the youth e-cigarette epidemic".

"The guidance could have been a meaningful victory for children's health and instead is a major missed opportunity that will still leave young people at risk of addiction," Goza said.

Asked about the new vaping policy earlier, Trump said: "We have to protect our families. At the same time, it's a big industry. We want to protect the industry."

E-cigarettes generate $6.4 billion in annual US sales while vaping systems add another $2.6 billion, Wells Fargo analysts said.

Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, said Trump had caved in to industry lobbyists.

"President Trump and the FDA are going spineless in the face of corporate lobbying," he said in a statement. "This announcement is simply saying that FDA will target its enforcement on flavors, and even then it is carving out loopholes for tobacco and menthol flavors and vape shops. Industry profits and politics should never take precedence over children's lives and health."

Administration officials defended the new ban. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said administration officials pulled back from the comprehensive ban after getting more information on youth usage, including numbers showing that menthol is much less popular among teens than mint and fruit flavors.

Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a trade organization based in Stamford, Connecticut, called the FDA's limited ban a "partial victory" allowing thousands of small shops to remain open.

But the apparent delay of the ban may be short lived. A federal court order requires all vaping manufacturers to file an application by May 12 to continue marketing the products. Companies failing to comply with the deadline are subject to FDA enforcement action.

 

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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Fires rage on despite dip in temperatures]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531324.htm SYDNEY-A dangerous fire flared up in southeastern Australia on Sunday even as cooler conditions elsewhere allowed authorities to begin assessing the damage from heatwave-spurred blazes that swept through two states on Saturday.

Officials told residents and others in the New South Wales town of Eden to leave immediately and head north if they did not have a bushfire response plan.

"If your plan is to leave, or you are not prepared, leave toward Merimbula or Pambula," the state's Rural Fire Service said in an alert.

Tens of thousands of homes in both New South Wales and Victoria states were without power on Sunday as a large-scale military and police effort provided supplies and evacuated thousands of people trapped for days in coastal towns by the fires.

Previously, a southerly wind on Saturday night brought lower temperatures, after topping 40 C in many areas on Saturday. There was even the prospect of some rain in coastal areas in coming days.

Cooler temperatures and light rain forecast in some coastal areas in coming days could bring some relief, but officials said that would not be enough to bring the nearly 200 fires under control.

Fire officials said the next major flashpoint would come later in the week, but it was too early to gauge the likely severity of the threat.

"The weather activity we're seeing, the extent and spread of the fires, the speed at which they're going, the way in which they are attacking communities who have never ever seen fire before is unprecedented," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

Chinese Ambassador to Australia Cheng Jingye expressed his sympathies and condolences to the fire victims, and showed his appreciation to the firefighter and emergency services volunteers who devoted their heroic and dedicated efforts to fight the fire.

"I believe the Australian people will overcome the current difficulties and prevail over the terrible bushfires at the earliest possible time," he said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Saturday a historic first for the country: 3,000 army, navy and air force reservists will be thrown into the battle against the fires. He also committed $14 million to leasing firefighting aircraft from overseas.

But those decisions attracted complaints that he had taken too long to act while fires have burned through millions of hectares in the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Morrison told a news conference on Sunday it was not the time for blame.

"There has been a lot of blame being thrown around," said the prime minister. "And now is the time to focus on the response that is being made. ... Blame doesn't help anybody at this time and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise."

Thousands of firefighters fought to contain the blazes but many continued to burn out of control, threatening to wipe out rural townships and causing almost incalculable damage to property and wildlife.

As dawn broke over a blackened landscape on Sunday, a picture emerged of disaster of unprecedented scale. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said 150 fires were active in the state, 64 of them uncontrolled.

At the same time, smoke from Australia's bushfires drifting over to New Zealand caused a flood of emergency calls on Sunday as people reported a thick orange haze hovering over Auckland.

In recent days the smoke had covered much of the South Island, making usually pristine white glaciers appear brown.

The smoke has now moved north and blanketed much of the top half of the North Island, home to around two million New Zealanders.

Police supervise as locals shop for supplies at a supermarket which has electric power in Batemans Bay, New South Wales, on Sunday. TRACEY NEARMY/REUTERS
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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[New visa policy may hobble US tech workforce]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531299.htm Despite the stated aim of putting America first, the Trump administration's visa policy limiting skilled immigration may endanger the country's tech workforce and innovation economy, said experts.

The H-1B visa, a program for high-skilled workers that many Silicon Valley companies rely on, has become a target for reform by the administration.

The latest move by the immigration authorities is a new electronic registration system starting in March, which requires applicants to go through a lottery process before they submit full applications.

Under the new policy, only those with selected registrations will be eligible to file H-1B petitions subject to the 85,000 cap, including 65,000 regular visas and 20,000 for workers with advanced degrees from US universities.

The new system seems "inefficient" and "backwards", said Peter Leroe-Muñoz, general counsel and vice-president of tech and innovation policy at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which represents many tech companies.

"Now they (applicants) can either be not selected or, in effect, rejected in the lottery; and even if they are selected in the lottery, they could still have their application rejected at a later stage. So there are two points at which an applicant can miss out," Leroe-Muñoz told China Daily.

"It would be more efficient if you were able to have a pool of qualified applications from which you're pulling for the lottery, instead of doing it the other way around, because if you do the lottery first and then the applications, there might be a number of challenges or questions that come up after somebody has already been selected," he explained.

It makes more sense to "allow everybody a fair shot" and have a complete pool before running the lottery, Leroe-Muñoz said.

Over the past few years, the Trump administration has taken a series of measures to crack down on the H-1B program, including short-term H-1B approvals and an itinerary policy which requires employers to submit itineraries detailing H-1B visa holders' work.

The administration has increased the denial rate for H-1B visas to a record high: the denial rate more than tripled to 15.2 percent in 2019 from 4.3 percent in 2015; while the request rate for additional information almost doubled, according to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Leroe-Muñoz cautioned against such policies' potential threat to the current and future needs of the US workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM.

Skilled needed

"One of the things we have to remember about the innovation economy is that there is a present need to fill tech jobs with skilled tech talent, and we just do not produce enough skilled tech workers here in the US to fill all of those roles," he said. "That's why we need skilled immigration to help us fill those roles today."

The 2019 annual STEM survey by Emerson, a Missouri-based technology and engineering company, shows that only 39 percent of Americans have felt encouraged to pursue STEM careers as industries continue to report they cannot find individuals with the skills required for today's advanced workplaces.

"What worries us is the fraction of the workforce devoted to science and engineering will decline… and that's the case that's going out to 2050," said Arthur Bienenstock, co-chair of American Academy of Arts and Sciences' Committee on International Scientific Partnerships, at a recent lecture at Stanford University.

In 2015, US citizens and permanent residents got only 45 percent of the doctorates in engineering, and 55 percent went to people who were temporary visa holders, and similarly, in mathematics and computer science, the majority of the doctorates were obtained by foreign students, said Bienenstock.

Foreign students represent a critical part of the US science and technology workforce, and it's especially true for Chinese students in the STEM areas, he said.

But due to so-called national security concerns, the Trump administration has imposed restrictions on Chinese students, including reducing the validity of visas for Chinese students and scholars in certain "sensitive" fields. The restrictions have caused widely reported visa delays and denials and prolonged visa checks for Chinese students.

"When you start to fiddle with graduate education, you're starting to fiddle critically with the US science and technology workforce," said Bienenstock.

 

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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Refashioned Barbie dolls encourage girls to pursue tech, science careers]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531315.htm SALT LAKE CITY-When Nalini Nadkarni was a kid, she'd run home from school, climb up a maple tree in her parents' backyard and spend an afternoon there with an apple and a book.

That time in the treetops set the tone for the rest of her life: She's now a forest ecologist at the University of Utah. She has dedicated her career to studying rainforest canopies.

She's also always looking for new ways to get people interested in science, be it through fashion made with nature imagery to giving science lectures at the state prison.

Nadkarni's childhood memories have spurred her to interest children in science. After her own 6-year-old daughter asked for a Barbie, Nadkarni decided to refashion the iconic doll as a scientist-explorer wearing rubber boots rather than high heels.

"Lots of girls, and some little boys, love Barbie," Nadkarni said. "It's almost aspirational, they want to be Barbie."

That was about 15 years ago. Nadkarni said Barbie's maker, Mattel Inc, wasn't interested in the idea then, so she decided to redo dolls herself, using gear she collected.

She scoured thrift stores and eBay for Barbie dolls and enlisted help from volunteer tailors. She called the creation "Treetop Barbie" and began selling them at cost on her website.

Last year, Mattel began working with National Geographic to create a new line of scientist Barbies. Nadkarni has a long-standing relationship with National Geographic, so when it reached out for help, she quickly agreed.

Nadkarni joined a team of female scientists advising Mattel as it created a line of dolls that includes a Barbie marine biologist, astrophysicist, photojournalist, conservationist and entomologist.

For Nadkarni, the company's investment in the dolls reflects a broader cultural shift toward recognizing women in science, math and technology that could spark an appreciation for science even among kids who don't end up entering the field.

It's not known, though, how career Barbies might affect kids' aspirations. A 2014 study by Oregon State University found that girls who played with the dolls told researchers they could do fewer jobs than boys-even if they played with a doctor Barbie.

The study didn't examine the girls' reasoning, but researchers speculated that Barbie might be an inherently sexualized doll, said Aurora Sherman, associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, one of the paper's authors.

Putting the same doll in a professional outfit likely won't do much to change perceptions about what women can do, she said. But it might provide a starting point for conversations about women in science and math.

]]> 2020-01-06 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Net shows the young in Kenya a way to boost agriculture]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531314.htm NAIROBI-Holding a smartphone in his left hand, Antony Ngunjiri taps on the gadget's screen with his right index finger.

One may think that the 28-year-old is whiling away time as many other young Kenyans do.

Ngunjiri is, however, engaging a farmer on his social media account which he uses to disseminate agroinformation, get clients and market farm produce for farmers at a fee.

A graduate in agricultural production, he is among a growing number of young people in the East African nation who have turned to online agribusinesses.

The young people, who have no access to capital or land, have created jobs in online agribusiness.

"With internet technology, you don't need to dirty your hands for you to earn from the soil. You can fill information and marketing gaps as long as you have the knowledge and skills," said Ngunjiri in an interview on Thursday.

Apart from engaging farmers on social media, the young entrepreneurs are running websites where farmers can also sell produce.

Joseph Macharia, who runs Mkulima Young, a social enterprise farmers' site, said there are great opportunities in online agribusiness for young people who don't want to get their hands dirty.

Macharia's website offers farmers across Africa a marketing platform as well as disseminates information.

"There are entrepreneurial online opportunities across the agriculture value chain. All one needs to do is identify what they want to do and treat agriculture as a serious business.

"Running an online platform for farmers requires passion for farming, a willingness to self-fund its development and an understanding of how social media works," said Macharia, who has been running the site for the past five years.

Brian Mwangi, a web developer in Nairobi, said the number of those seeking to start websites is on the rise, with agriculture, sports, food and travel being among the leading categories.

"Currently, I am making an agricultural blog for two young farmers. This is the third I am working on in four months," said Mwangi, who charges 7,000 shillings (about $70) for the job.

He noted most of the websites he makes feature marketing and information sections.

It costs between $10 and $20 to host a website per year, charges that are affordable to many Kenyans.

Internet costs have also declined considerably in the east African nation, enabling many people to stay longer online, For those running farmers' sites, uploading content online is done without feeling the pinch.

Bernard Mwaso of Edell IT Solution said that it has become easier to monetize online sites because of increased internet usage in Kenya.

He pointed out that video blogging-vlogging-is another area where some Kenyan youth interested in agribusiness are exploring.

"While a majority are making websites, vlogging, which involves making short educative video clips, remains untapped. Farming is an area where how-to videos are very popular and one can make money out of it," he said.

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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Deaths of over 100 infants and newborns raise alarm]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531312.htm NEW DELHI-The deaths in December alone of more than 100 newborns or infants aged less than one year at a government hospital in India's western state of Rajasthan signal a big crisis, attracting public attention.

According to the latest figures, as many as 104 newborns or infants died at the hospital in the past 33 days.

A central government team of doctors and health experts is visiting the hospital to investigate and will submit a detailed report.

The team comprising four doctors specializing in areas like pediatrics and neonatology have reached the J.K. Lone Hospital and Medical College in the state's Kota district on Friday.

The state's health minister Raghu Sharma is also traveling to the hospital to assess the situation.

Unhygienic conditions at the district hospital are believed to be responsible for the deaths, pointing to a deeper crisis in the primary healthcare system.

"Broken windows and gates, pigs roaming inside the hospital's premises and an acute shortage of staff" were found by a team of the National Human Rights Commission that visited the hospital, said the Hindustan Times in a Friday article.

"In the last six years more than 1,000 children have died annually in the hospital. The deaths point to a deeper crisis in the healthcare system," said the newspaper.

"Many infants are brought to the hospital in a terminal condition with bleak chances of survival as they failed to get adequate and timely care at the first two levels of healthcare systems in the country," it added.

"Rajasthan and the central government should use the tragedy at the hospital to embark on more comprehensive reforms in the health sector," it said.

Meanwhile, the country's health minister Harsh Vardhan wrote a letter to the state's chief minister Ashok Gehlot, expressing concern over the case. He requested Gehlot to"assess the situation and take proactive steps to avoid these preventable child deaths," said an official statement issued by the country's health ministry.

 

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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Thousands remain in shelters as toll from floods in Indonesia rises to 60]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/06/content_37531316.htm JAKARTA-Indonesian rescue teams flew helicopters loaded with food to remote flood-hit communities on Saturday as the death toll from the disaster jumped to 60 and fears grew about the possibility of more torrential rain.

Tens of thousands in Jakarta were still unable to return to their waterlogged homes after some of the deadliest flooding in years hit the enormous capital region, home to about 30 million.

In neighboring Banten Province, half a dozen people died in the town of Lebak. Police and military personnel in helicopters dropped boxes of instant noodles and other supplies into remote provincial communities inaccessible by road after bridges were destroyed.

"It's tough to get supplies in there.... and there are about a dozen places hit by landslides," said Tomsi Tohir, the police chief of Banten.

"That is why we're using helicopters although there aren't any landing spots."

Local health center chief Suripto, who goes by one name, said injured residents were flowing into his clinic.

"Some of them were wounded after they were swept away by floods and hit with wood and rocks," he said.

Around Jakarta, more than 170,000 people took refuge in shelters across the massive urban conglomeration after whole neighborhoods were submerged.

Torrential rains that started on New Year's Eve unleashed flash floods and landslides.

Jakarta is regularly hit by floods during the rainy season, which started in late November.

But this week marked Jakarta's deadliest flooding since 2013 when dozens were killed after the city was inundated by monsoon rains.

Indonesia's disaster mitigation agency said on Saturday that two people were also killed after flash floods and landslides hit a village in North Sulawesi on Friday.

The agency said on Saturday the total death toll had climbed to 60 with two people still missing.

"We've discovered more dead bodies," said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo.

'Trauma healing'

Jakarta shelters filled up with refugees, including infants, resting on thin mats as food and drinking water ran low.

Some had been reduced to using floodwater for cleaning.

"We're cleaning ourselves in a nearby church but the time has been limited since it uses an electric generator for power," said Trima Kanti, 39, from one refuge in Jakarta's western edges.

In hard-hit Bekasi, on the eastern outskirts of Jakarta, swamped streets were littered with debris and crushed cars lying on top of each other-with waterline marks reaching as high as the second floors of buildings.

On Friday, the government said it would start cloud seeding to the west of the capital-that is, inducing rain using chemicals sprayed from planes. The hope is to prevent more rain reaching the city region.

Water has receded in many areas and power was being restored in hundreds of districts.

The health ministry has said it deployed some 11,000 health workers and soldiers to distribute medicine, disinfectant hygiene kits and food in a bid to stave off outbreaks of hepatitis A, mosquito-borne dengue fever and other illnesses, including infections linked to contact with dead animals.

Visiting hard-hit Lebak, Coordinating Human Development and Culture Minister Muhadjir Effendy said the government would help rebuild destroyed schools and construct temporary bridges, while offering assistance to victims.

"We're also asking for NGOs to help with trauma healing," Muhadjir said on Saturday.

Electrocution, drowning

Around Jakarta, a family, including 4-and 9-year-old children, died of suspected gas poisoning from a portable power generator, while an 8-year-old boy was killed in a landslide.

Others died from drowning or hypothermia, while one 16-year-old boy was electrocuted by a power line.

Urban planning experts said the current disaster was partly due to the record rainfall.

But Jakarta's myriad infrastructure problems, including poor drainage and rampant overdevelopment, have worsened the situation, they said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has announced a plan to move the country's capital to Borneo island to take pressure off Jakarta, which suffers from some of the world's worst traffic jams and is fast sinking due to excessive groundwater extraction.

Indonesians clean their homes and cutlery along the river in Jakarta on Friday, after flooding triggered by heavy rain on New Year's Eve struck the area. BAY ISMOYO/AFP
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2020-01-06 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Navy beach rescues, traffic gridlock mark exodus from path of wildfires]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531242.htm SYDNEY-Australian navy ships plucked hundreds of people from beaches and tens of thousands were urged to flee on Friday before forecast hot weather and strong winds worsen Australia's already devastating wildfires.

More than 200 fires were still burning, and warnings of extreme danger to come on Saturday set in motion one of the largest evacuations in Australian history. Thousands have fled at-risk coastal areas, creating traffic gridlock in places, and firefighters escorted convoys of evacuees as the fires threatened to close roads.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a disaster across much of the eastern part of the state, allowing the government to order evacuations in an area with as many as 140,000 permanent residents and tens of thousands more vacationers.

"If you can leave, you must leave," Andrews said.

South Australia state's Country Fire Service chief officer Mark Jones said the weather conditions were cause for concern because some fires were still burning or smoldering.

"The ignition sources are already there," he said. "There are millions of sparks out there ready to go if they break containment lines."

The early and devastating start to Australia's summer wildfires has made this season the worst on record. About 5 million hectares of land have burned, at least 19 people have been killed, and more than 1,400 homes have been destroyed.

This week, at least 448 homes have been destroyed on the southern coast of New South Wales state and dozens were burned in Victoria. Ten deaths have been confirmed in the two states this week, and Victorian authorities also say 28 people are missing. Fires are also burning in the states of Western Australia and Tasmania.

The navy was evacuating hundreds from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota, which has been cut off for days by wildfires, forcing as many as 4,000 residents and tourists to shelter on beaches. Landing craft ferried people to the HMAS Choules offshore.

Evacuees waiting to board the ship described smoke and embers flying everywhere when the fires were at their worst.

"It's just scary waiting," Dani Barmeister told Channel Nine. Another person waiting, Natalie Morrissey, said of the emotional wait while the fires threatened: "It's something that I want to forget."

Choules Commander Scott Houlihan said 963 people had signed up for evacuation by sea and more had been airlifted to safety.

In New South Wales, a state of emergency and a total fire ban were in place.

State Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said strong winds and high temperatures on Saturday will make the fire danger worse in many areas and urged those who can flee to do so.

"We know people have got a little bit of fire fatigue. They've been dealing with this now for months," Rogers said. "But we need people to stay focused. Tomorrow is not the day to drop your guard. Take it seriously. If you're in those areas where we put those maps out, do not be there."

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was inclined to cancel a scheduled trip to India later this month because of the wildfires. In December, he cut short a family holiday in Hawaii in the face of public anger at his absence.

Agencies - Via - Xinhua

"Caramelized" snow caused by dust from Australian wildfires is seen near Franz Josef Glacier in the Westland Tai Poutini National Park, New Zealand, on Wednesday. SOCIAL MEDIA/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-05 14:37:13
<![CDATA[US heartland pumped up for more opportunities in China]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531233.htm Four mayors from the United States' heartland made the most of their first trip to China, building personal connections and learning about a range of business opportunities.

Mayors Jim Brainard of Carmel, Indiana; Tito Brown of Youngstown, Ohio; Rich Carr of Maumee, Ohio; and Paul TenHaken of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, made the weeklong visit recently. The trip was organized by the United States Heartland China Association, or USHCA, and the China-US Exchange Foundation.

USHCA is a nonprofit organization with members in 20 US states from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.

Led by Bob Holden, a former governor of Missouri as well as chairman and CEO of USHCA, the mayors visited Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

In a previous interview with China Daily, Holden said he wanted the mayors from the US heartland region to sit down with their Chinese counterparts to create ways to keep the relationship going and find projects mutually beneficial for the people in both countries.

"We are a nation of great power; China is a rising power. How do we bring both cultures together so we can both continue and both be successful? We are working with cities and states to have them actively involved in this," Holden said.

In China, they visited businesses from varied industries such as poultry and automobiles, along with startups and high-tech companies, such as drone maker DJI. They also met with people in the education sector.

Sioux Falls' Mayor TenHaken, in a statement issued after his visit to China, said that "it is time that Sioux Falls looks at developing deeper, more consistent relationships with key Chinese communities and businesses".

One of the largest employers in Sioux Falls is Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods. The mayor believes that the Sioux Falls economy would be strengthened by deeper cultural and business relations with key Chinese partners.

During his visit, TenHaken said he noticed that US-China trade tensions affect both countries. "Every business I talked with-from drone manufacturers to poultry processors-discussed their desire to see a swift end to these trade tensions," he said.

The US and China subsequently reached a phase one trade deal agreement on Dec 13.

TenHaken left China with a good impression. "In each community, I was welcomed with warmth and gratitude from the municipal and business leaders," he said.

Youngstown Mayor Brown said he hopes the visit will help his city's businesses expand in China.

 

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2020-01-05 14:37:13
<![CDATA[AI beats doctors in cancer screening]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531230.htm Google says it has developed an artificial intelligence system that can detect the presence of breast cancer more accurately than doctors can.

An international team designed and trained a computer model on X-ray images from thousands of women in the United Kingdom and the United States. They then compared the system's performance with the actual results from 25,856 mammograms in the UK and 3,097 from the US.

The program was trained to detect cancer using tens of thousands of mammograms from women in the UK and the US, and early research shows it can produce more accurate detection than radiologists can.

The algorithm outperformed six radiologists in reading mammograms, according to a study published on Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature. AI was as good as two doctors working together.

The AI program was developed through a collaboration of Google Health, Cancer Research UK Imperial Centre, Northwestern University and Royal Surrey County Hospital.

According to the study, using the AI technology resulted in fewer false positives, where test results suggest cancer is present when it isn't, and false negatives, where an existing cancer goes undetected.

Compared with human experts, the program reduced false positives by 5.7 percent for US subjects and 1.2 percent for UK subjects. It reduced false negatives by 9.4 percent for US subjects and 2.7 percent for UK subjects.

The AI system was more accurate despite its having less information to work with than human experts did, such as patient histories and prior mammograms.

No 2 cause of death

Breast cancer affects one in eight women globally. It is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in women, surpassed only by lung cancer in its deadliness and overall prevalence.

Despite large-scale breast cancer screening programs in developed countries, screening mammograms don't find about one in five breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

"This is one of those transformational discoveries you have in your hand, which could disrupt the way we deliver screening in terms of improving accuracy and productivity," Professor Ara Darzi, one of the authors of the paper and the director of the Cancer Research UK Imperial Centre, told CNN Business.

"The performance of even the best clinicians leaves room for improvement," the study's authors wrote in Nature. "AI may be uniquely poised to help with this challenge."

The technology also could be used to address shortages in radiologists, they say.

A 2018 report by the Royal College of Radiologists found that 75 percent of UK radiology department directors believed there were insufficient clinical radiologists to deliver a safe and effective level of patient care.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-05 14:37:13
<![CDATA[Recession tops CEOs' fears for 2020]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531227.htm A worldwide survey of chief executives by the Conference Board said a recession in 2020 is their greatest fear-the second year in a row business leaders listed an economic slowdown as their biggest concern.

Recession fears come amid continued uncertainty about global trade, tightening labor markets, rising costs and global political instability, the survey of nearly 750 CEOs found.

"Just two years ago, global recession was barely on the minds of CEOs in our survey," said the New York-based, member-driven economic think tank.

Recession risk was listed as the top concern in the United States, China and Europe. In Japan, fear of a recession ranked second behind a tight labor market. In Latin America, recession jitters ranked behind uncertainty about global trade.

The International Monetary Fund said there have been four global recessions since the end of World War II: 1975, 1982, 1991 and 2009. The IMF expects the US economy to grow at a 1.9 percent annual rate in 2020, while worldwide growth hits 3.5 percent.

"The ongoing concerns about recession risk among business leaders reflect the slowing economy of the past year and the uncertainties about the outcome of trade disputes," Bart van Ark, the Conference Board's chief economist, said in a statement.

"However, given a slightly better outlook for the global economy and an easing of trade tensions, we anticipate that a drumbeat of negative sentiment, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, can be avoided and that we will see more confidence about business prospects in 2020."

Trade jitters between the US and China appear to have moderated with a tentative agreement on the first stage of what both sides hope will be a comprehensive deal. But China also listed uncertainty about global trade as a major concern. US CEOs listed it as their fourth-strongest concern, behind recession, intense competition and a tight labor market.

Last year, the temporary inversion of the bond yield curve in the US stoked fears of a recession. When the short-term yield on bonds in higher than 10-year notes, it often signals a recession because investors question prospects for long-term growth. But the strong US job market and consumer spending allayed recession fears.

A strong economy increases the competition to find and retain workers. This translates into increased pay-and new headaches for CEOs.

"Regardless of a company's location, size or industry sector, finding and keeping talent is the top internal stressor for CEOs in 2020," said the Conference Board, a nonpartisan research organization composed of about 1,200 companies in 60 nations.

"Demand for highly talented employees now exceeds supply in most mature economies and as a result, job openings are more difficult to fill while in some regions labor costs are accelerating."

The current US economic boom began in June 2009, as the economy emerged from the financial crisis. It is now the longest cycle in US history, breaking the run of 120 months of economic growth from March 1991 to March 2001, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

In 2019, US GDP growth slipped to 2.3 percent from 3 percent in 2018 amid a continuing trade dispute with China, but prospects of a deal are expected to ease recession fears in 2020 and boost domestic growth to 2.5 percent, the Conference Board said.

Despite slower growth, the US stock market ended 2019 near record highs.

The country's GDP, the total value of goods and services produced in a year, grew to an estimated $21.25 trillion in 2019, up from $20.49 trillion in 2018, according to government figures.

In a research note issued on Dec 27 to investors, investment bank Goldman Sachs said it pegs the risk of a US recession this year at less than 20 percent.

"We continue to see lower recession risk than most, largely because neither of the two classic late-cycle risks-inflationary overheating and financial imbalances-look threatening. Despite the record age of the expansion the private sector continues to run a healthy financial surplus," Goldman Sachs said.

Fears of a recession in 2020 may simply reflect an instinctive sense that the long economic expansion must surely be almost up. If so, recession fears are not "unreasonable", but current economic indicators make a downturn this year unlikely, the investment bank said.

Goldman Sachs said it expects the US-China trade dispute to ease as evidenced by initial steps to reach a comprehensive deal.

"We believe that tariffs have peaked," Goldman Sachs said. "With phase one of the negotiations apparently complete, we do not expect new tariffs on imports from China (in 2020).

"While minor new tariffs are possible, the risks that new tariffs would pose to financial markets and the economy will likely discourage the White House from raising tariff rates marginally in the run-up to the 2020 election."

The US Federal Reserve cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point three separate times in 2019 to boost the economy, but further cuts this year are unlikely.

 

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2020-01-05 14:37:13
<![CDATA[China, US can jointly tackle aging problem]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531121.htm Despite their many differences, China and the United States can collaborate to respond to a world that is aging rapidly and contending with chronic diseases, experts said.

In China and the US, the world's most-populous and third-most populous countries, respectively, officials are experimenting with ways to engage the private sector to tackle the challenges of elderly care.

The countries have policies of public-private collaboration because both have public needs that far outstrip what public services can provide. Moreover, both are "pragmatically eclectic" in how they proceed, said Karen Eggleston, deputy director of the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

Eggleston leads the center's Innovation for Healthy Aging project, which has partnered with Chinese institutions as well as health economists at Peking University and Peking Union Medical College to identify and analyze productive public-private partnerships advancing healthy aging solutions.

It's important to promote healthy aging not only because it saves money. It also enables longer working lives and supports the dignity of the elderly who have contributed to society, said Eggleston.

Globally, the population's aging trend is inevitable due to declining fertility rates and improved survival rates, according to a recent population report of the United Nations. The report projects that the world's population aged 80 years or over will increase more than threefold between 2017 and 2050, rising from 137 million to 425 million.

A recent report by the US Census Bureau projected that the US population aged over 65 would reach 78 million by 2030, surpassing the projected number of children under age 18 for the first time.

The proportion of China's population above 65 years old has increased from 3.76 percent to 8.40 percent since 2010, and the country's total population will begin to decline around 2028, said a report by the Institute of Population and Labor Economics published in 2019.

China has already experienced a demographic transition to relatively low mortality and low fertility, as a result of two generations of family planning policies as well as socioeconomic development and urbanization.

But how well China manages demographic challenges will have a profound impact on what the country will be like and what it can and will do in the decades ahead, Eggleston said. "Investments in healthy aging will be critical if China is to meet public expectations for fuller, longer lives."

The Gonghe senior apartments in Beijing's Chaoyang district might be a model for other nations that are facing the burden of population aging, according to Alan Trager, founder and president of PPP Initiative Ltd, a company that facilitates the development of public-private partnerships to tackle healthcare challenges in Asia.

In the case of the Gonghe nursing home, the local government donated the land and building, and a nonprofit organization operates the facility.

Multisector issue

Aging is a multisector issue that increases demand for healthcare, and other services for long-term care, so a public-private partnership plays a major role in developing integrated solutions to the challenges of population-aging, said Trager.

The challenges of aging populations are exacerbated by the rising prevalence of chronic diseases, which account for the highest financial burden among the elderly, according to Eggleston.

"Additional investments in controlling chronic disease could enhance the working capabilities and quality of life of China's elderly," she said.

Because hypertension and cancer are two of the most common chronic diseases, Eggleston's project at Stanford analyzes the value of hypertension control in China, using data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey, the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study and detailed patient-level data from partner institutions.

]]> 2020-01-05 14:37:13 <![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531103.htm REPUBLIC OF KOREA

Leader vows to build peace community

The Republic of Korea's President Moon Jae-in vowed on Thursday to build a peace community of coexistence and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula this year. "With our people's aspiration for peace on the Korean Peninsula, the government will build a peace community of coexistence and prosperity," Moon said. He noted that the leaders of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States maintained their willingness for dialogue, while the ROK government gradually moved toward the peninsula peace process last year in coordination with the international community.

UNITED STATES

Pompeo postpones trip amid Iraq unrest

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will postpone a trip to Ukraine and four other countries as the situation in Iraq has become tense after demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Baghdad. The embassy on Wednesday announced the suspension of all public consular operations, although the protesters were gradually withdrawing from its perimeter. The embassy said in a statement that "due to militia attacks at the US embassy compound, all public consular operations are suspended until further notice. All future appointments are canceled. US citizens are advised to not approach the embassy."

AUSTRIA

Conservatives and Greens in coalition

Austria's conservatives and the Greens agreed to form a coalition government on Wednesday, ending almost three months of negotiations. The agreement means Austria will have the left-wing Greens in government for the first time. "We have reached an agreement," Sebastian Kurz, Austria's former chancellor and leader of the conservative People's Party, told reporters at a joint news conference with Wener Kogler, his counterpart from the Greens. The two will become chancellor and vice-chancellor of the upcoming government, though the Greens, in a junior role, could gain just four of 15 ministries.

INDIA

Fire-hit factory in Delhi collapses

People including workers and firefighters were trapped inside a factory that collapsed on Thursday during a devastating fire that broke out in the Indian capital Delhi. According to officials, an explosion during the fire caused the collapse of the factory structure, trapping people under the debris. Authorities rushed 35 firefighters to the spot to contain the blaze. "The firefighting operation is underway and we are trying to rescue people stuck in the burning building," a police official said. According to the fire department, they received a distress call about the fire at 4:30 am local time and since then have been trying to douse it.

CROATIA

Country chairs EU for the first time

Croatia began to preside over the Council of the European Union on Wednesday, the first time since its EU accession in July 2013. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said on Tuesday that the presidency will further enhance the political and economic status of Croatia in 2020, and that the new year will be a year of further economic development and international positioning for Croatia. The slogan of the Croatian presidency will be "A strong Europe in a world of challenges." Croatia plans to support "a balanced, sustainable and inclusive growth of the EU that takes account of the specificities and needs of all member countries, their regions and citizens."

 

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2020-01-05 14:37:13
<![CDATA[Russia to lead BRICS, outlines plans]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/05/content_37531102.htm As Russia takes over the one-year chairmanship of BRICS, experts expect the group of five rapidly developing economies will continue to play an important role in global governance and regional stability.

BRICS, comprising Brazil, China, India, Russia and South Africa, will remain central for the member countries and will continue to protect the values of multilateralism, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

According to Russia's state news agency Tass, Russia plans to carry out about 150 activities at various levels during its chairmanship. Saint Petersburg will be the site of the next BRICS summit in July. The five countries' leaders will hold another meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the Saudi capital of Riyadh in November.

Over 20 ministerial meetings are expected to take place, including those involving the Russian Security Council secretary, the Supreme Court chief justice and the chairpersons of both houses of Russia's Parliament.

"We intend to ensure continuity and harmonious transition from the Brazil chairmanship to the Russian one. And we will continue the policy of progressive and comprehensive enhancement of the strategic partnership of the BRICS countries," Lavrov said.

He noted Russia is interested in increasing financial and economic cooperation, industrial interaction and practical cooperation in developing and implementing joint projects involving energy, telecommunications and high-tech under the BRICS mechanism.

The priorities of Russia's chairmanship include enhanced foreign policy coordination within leading multilateral organizations, primarily in the United Nations, Lavrov said.

Boosting space cooperation is another important task, said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who is the Russian representative for BRICS.

He said Moscow will "fill the emerging five-party space cooperation with specific activities", while steps will be taken to continue the implementation of the Clean Rivers program, initiated by BRICS with the aim of improving the environmental conditions of river basins.

In the stormy ocean of world politics, the BRICS "ship" will steer a steady course and further contribute significantly to maintaining international stability and ensuring global economic growth, Lavrov stressed.

Georgy Toloraya, executive director of the Russian National Committee on BRICS Research, agreed with Lavrov, saying the BRICS' role in global governance is to provide a voice for non-Western countries.

Toloraya said that in the context of increasing chaos in international affairs, BRICS provides an opportunity for consolidating the views of non-Western countries on the global agenda.

"It is not aimed against the West. BRICS is for order, for determining game rules that would meet the interests of various countries and not just Western countries as has been the case so far," he said.

Each BRICS member state takes a turn as chairman of the group for a year. Russia last chaired BRICS in 2015, when a summit took place in Ufa in the Republic of Bashkortostan.

]]> 2020-01-05 14:37:13 <![CDATA[Lebanon receives Interpol notice for fugitive Ghosn]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531225.htm BEIRUT-Interpol issued a wanted notice on Thursday for former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn, who jumped bail in Japan and fled to Lebanon rather than face trial on financial misconduct charges in a dramatic escape that has confounded and embarrassed authorities.

Lebanese Justice Minister Albert Serhan said in an interview that Lebanon "will carry out its duties", suggesting for the first time that the automotive titan may be brought in for questioning. But he said Ghosn entered the country on a legal passport, and he appeared to cast doubt on the possibility Lebanon would hand Ghosn over to Japan.

The Interpol notice is the latest twist in Ghosn's daring escape, which spanned three continents and involved private planes, multiple passports and international intrigue. Turkey made seven arrests on Thursday as part of an investigation into how he passed through the country.

Ghosn's arrival in Lebanon jolted the nation, which is in its worst economic crisis in decades.

Lebanon must now decide how to deal with the Interpol-issued Red Notice, which is a nonbinding request to law enforcement agencies worldwide that they locate and provisionally arrest a fugitive. A Red Notice is not an arrest warrant and does not require Lebanon to arrest Ghosn.

Shortly afterward, Ghosn issued a statement-his second this week-seeking to distance his Lebanese wife and family from any role in his escape. "The allegations in the media that my wife Carole and other members of my family played a role in my departure from Japan are false and misleading. I alone organized my departure. My family played no role," he said.

Ghosn, who is Lebanese and also holds French and Brazilian passports, was set to go on trial in Japan in April. He arrived in Lebanon on Monday via Turkey and hasn't been seen in public since. In a statement on Tuesday, he said he fled to avoid "political persecution" by a "rigged Japanese justice system".

How he was able to flee Japan, avoiding the tight surveillance he was under while free on $14 million bail, is still a mystery.

Some Lebanese media have floated a Houdini-like account of Ghosn being packed in a wooden container for musical instruments after a private concert in his home, but his wife has called the account "fiction".

Ghosn is accused of underreporting his remuneration for years and for embezzling company funds. He has denied all the charges, claiming company insiders conspired against him.

Ghosn, who grew up in Beirut and frequently visited, is a national hero to many in this Mediterranean country with close ties to senior politicians and business stakes in a number of companies.

Agencies - Xinhua

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Opposition to Turkey's Libya move grows]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531251.htm CAIRO/ANKARA-The Cairobased Arab League expressed on Thursday its opposition to approval by the Turkish Parliament of the government's move to deploy troops to war-torn Libya.

The pan-Arab body considered the move a "promotion of the ongoing conflict" in Libya, after Turkish lawmakers voted 325-184 at an emergency session in favor of a one-year mandate allowing the government to dispatch the troops. The body is among those concerned that Turkish forces could aggravate the conflict in Libya and destabilize the region.

The Tripoli-based government of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, backed by the United Nations, has faced an offensive by militias in the east and forces loyal to a government in the northeastern city of Tobruk allied with the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, or LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar.

The fighting has threatened to plunge Libya into violent chaos rivaling the 2011 conflict that led to the ousting and killing of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. Libya has been locked in a civil war since the killing of Gadhafi.

Turkey, along with Qatar, backs the Sarraj government, while their rivals-the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt-support the LNA.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last month that Sarraj requested the Turkish deployment after he and Sarraj signed a deal that allows Ankara to dispatch military experts and personnel to Libya. That deal, along with a separate agreement on maritime boundaries between Turkey and Libya, has led to anger across the region and beyond.

Egypt's Foreign Ministry condemned "in the strongest language" the Turkish Parliament's authorization to deploy troops, saying Turkey would carry full responsibility for the negative effect it would have on the stability of the Mediterranean region.

The leaders of Greece, Israel and Cyprus denounced the move as a "dangerous threat to regional stability" and a "dangerous escalation" of the Libyan conflict that violates UN resolutions and undermines international peace efforts.

Ankara said the deployment is vital for Turkey to safeguard its interests in Libya and in the eastern Mediterranean.

"A Libya whose legal government is under threat can spread instability to Turkey," Ismet Yilmaz, a legislator from Turkey's ruling party, said in defense of the motion. "Those who shy away from taking steps on the grounds that there is a risk will throw our children into a greater danger."

Turkey's main opposition party, CHP, had vowed to vote against the motion, arguing that the deployment would embroil Turkey in another conflict and make it a party to the further "shedding of Muslim blood".

The LNA said in a statement that it had called on citizens to take up arms against Turkish troops if they deploy to fight against the LNA in the country's civil war.

Erdogan and US President Donald Trump held a telephone conversation and discussed the situation in Syria and in Libya, the Turkish president's office said soon after the vote. A brief statement said they discussed "the importance of diplomacy in solving regional issues".

Talks in Germany

Ghassan Salame, the UN envoy to Libya, said Turkish troops on the ground would further disrupt the chances for future peace, though he still expects talks in Germany proposed for the middle of this month to take place. He said interference by regional powers means that Libyans could lose control of their country's fate.

"The direct military involvement of member states in the Libyan conflict is escalating, inflaming, and protracting the conflict," he said via e-mail.

Mokhtar Ghobashi, deputy chairman of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank, ruled out the possibility of Egyptian direct military interference in Libya, despite its strong condemnation of the Turkish move.

"I believe what Turkey is doing now aims at threatening Haftar to stop his attack on Tripoli," said Ghobashi, a political expert.

The Egyptian expert noted that the Turkish Parliament's approval is not restricted to sending troops to Libya but also covers humanitarian and medical aid.

"If the Turkish troops will be deployed in Libya, they will focus on defending Serraj and Tripoli, but they will not be engaged in fighting and will only provide logistical assistance," Ghobashi said.

The settlement of the Libyan crisis requires an agreement between the top figures of Libya's warring parties, including Haftar and Serraj, he added.

Xinhua - Agencies

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531226.htm GREECE

3 nations sign deal for gas pipeline

Greece, Israel and Cyprus signed a deal on Thursday to build an undersea pipeline to carry gas from new offshore deposits in the southeastern Mediterranean to continental Europe. The 1,900-kilometer EastMed pipeline is intended to provide an alternative gas source for energy-hungry Europe, which is largely dependent on supplies from Russia and the Caucasus region. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who attended the signing ceremony with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, said the pipeline will offer Europe "better flexibility and independence in its energy sources".

SUDAN

18 killed in plane crash in West Darfur

A Sudanese military plane crashed on Thursday shortly after taking off in West Darfur state, killing 18, said the army. The Antonov 12 plane "crashed five minutes after taking off from El Geneina airport" in the evening, said army spokesman Amer Mohamed al-Hassan in a statement. Seven crew members, three judges and eight citizens including four children were killed in the incident, added the statement. The plane earlier transported medical materials for the Sudanese Red Crescent Society in El Geneina, the capital city of West Darfur state. El Geneina has witnessed tribal clashes over the few past days that left many people killed or injured.

UNITED STATES

5 still missing after fishing boat sinks

Five fishermen missing after a crab boat sank in the frigid waters off Alaska were feared dead after authorities called off a search for those working in one of the most dangerous industries in the United States. Two other crew members were rescued after the disaster on Tuesday, telling authorities they were the only ones who made it into a life raft, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Dean Gribble Jr, who's appeared on the Discovery Channel documentary series Deadliest Catch, and John Lawler suffered hypothermia but have been released from a hospital. The Coast Guard said it used helicopters, planes and a boat to look for the missing crew members for 20 hours before ending the search late on Wednesday because they were not likely to have survived.

GERMANY

Ryanair prepares for more 737 Max delays

Ryanair is prepared for further delays to the delivery of its Boeing 737 Max airliners, its chief executive Michael O'Leary told German magazine Wirtschaftswoche, adding that he would only discuss compensation after the aircraft had been delivered. The 737 Max airliner has been grounded since March following two crashes which claimed 346 lives. One of the world's largest airlines, Ryanair has ordered 135 of the jets. "We were meant to have 58 planes by the summer," O'Leary said in the interview. In contrast to other airlines, including Turkish, Southwest Airlines and Germany's TUI, which have already agreed compensation with Boeing, O'Leary added that he would only discuss compensation after the planes were delivered.

3 turn themselves in to police for zoo fire

Three women allegedly responsible for a fire in a zoo in the German city of Krefeld have turned themselves in to the police, representatives of the police and the public prosecutor's office said on Thursday. They said the cause of the fire, which devastated the ape house of Krefeld Zoo on New Year's Eve, has been identified. The three women, aged between 30 and 60, confessed to having launched five sky lanterns which are believed to have started the fire that killed more than 30 animals, authorities said.

Xinhua - Agencies

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Starmer favored to move from Brexit post to Labour leadership]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531234.htm Keir Starmer has emerged as an early front-runner to be the new leader of Britain's Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn said he would step down following the party's general election defeat.

In a survey of 1,059 Labour Party members, 31 percent put the shadow Brexit secretary Starmer as their first-choice candidate, while 20 percent backed the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, as their favorite.

Backbencher Jess Phillips, the chair of the Women's Parliamentary Labour Party, was the third-most popular choice among members, who were surveyed between Dec 20 and 30.

The poll by YouGov for the Party Members Project suggested Starmer, a centrist candidate, was the first choice in all regions of the United Kingdom, age groups and social classes, reported The Guardian newspaper.

The survey also suggested that he would comfortably win a final runoff with Long Bailey, taking 61 percent of the vote.

Starmer is yet to formally launch his campaign for the party's leadership but is expected to do so in the next few weeks; a new leader will be elected in March.

The poll contradicts suggestions that the party might opt for a left-wing leader from outside London, not associated with the anti-Brexit cause, in order to appeal to the Leave-voting Northern and Midlands seats lost to the Conservatives in December's election.

Tim Bale, a professor at Queen Mary University of London, who jointly ran the poll with the University of Sussex, said the results suggest the winner is unlikely to come from the left of the party.

"This is not shaping up to be a 2015-style Labour leadership contest," said Bale. "Unless potential candidates drop out before the start of voting, it may take a few rounds to decide the winner this time around.

"But it doesn't look at the moment as if the winner will come from the left of the party. Right now, anyway, Keir Starmer looks to be heading for a fairly emphatic victory," he said.

So far, only the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, and the shadow treasury minister, Clive Lewis, have said they want to run to be the next Labour leader.

The former Labour minister and Home Affairs select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, is thought to be considering whether she will run for the leadership for a second time. Also expected to stand are Phillips, who represents Birmingham Yardley, and Wigan MP Lisa Nandy.

The party chairman and Corbyn ally Ian Lavery-who criticized the party's performance for its muddled stance on Brexit-might also run. Lavery, the most left-wing candidate, is a former National Union of Mineworkers chair who supports leaving the European Union.

In the poll, Phillips received the support of 11 percent and Lewis and Cooper were the first choice for 7 percent of the surveyed members. Thornberry was on 6 percent and Nandy was on 5 percent.

 

Keir Starmer

 

 

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Esper urges Pyongyang to negotiate on denuclearization]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531232.htm WASHINGTON-US Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday said the United States still sees a political agreement on denuclearization as the best path forward for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, but US forces remained prepared to fight if necessary.

"We would urge restraint by Kim Jong-un (the DPRK's top leader)," Esper said in an interview.

Kim said this week that there were no longer grounds for Pyongyang to be bound by a moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear bomb testing and that a "new strategic weapon" would be introduced in the near future.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were no indications that Pyongyang was preparing for an imminent long-range missile test.

The official said the assessment after Kim's speech was that Pyongyang believes it does not have to rush to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, though shorter-range missile or engine tests could be possible at any time.

US President Donald Trump-who in 2018 became the first US leader to meet with a DPRK top leader-said Kim had signed a denuclearization contract and Trump thought Kim was a "man of his word".

Last month, the DPRK warned the US of a possible "Christmas gift" after Kim gave the US until the end of 2019 to propose new concessions in talks over Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

Speaking on Thursday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said that the alert status of US forces was at a sufficient level to respond to anything that happens and military defensive capabilities were adequate to defend the US.

Reuters

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Jakarta floods death toll swells to 43]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/04/content_37531250.htm JAKARTA, Indonesia-The death toll from floods in Indonesia's capital rose to 43 on Friday as rescuers found more bodies amid receding floodwaters, disaster officials said.

Monsoon rains and rising rivers submerged at least 182 neighborhoods in greater Jakarta and caused landslides in the Bogor and Depok districts on the city's outskirts, which buried a dozen people.

National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said the fatalities also included those who had drowned or been electrocuted since rivers broke their banks on Wednesday after extreme torrential rains throughout New Year's Eve. Three elderly people died of hypothermia.

It was the worst flooding since 2013, when 57 people were killed after Jakarta was inundated by monsoon rains.

Floodwaters started to recede in some parts of the city on Thursday evening, enabling residents to return to their homes.

Wibowo said about 397,000 people sought refuge in shelters across the greater metropolitan area.

Meanwhile, Indonesia was due to carry out cloud seeding on Friday in a bid to prevent further rainfall over the capital.

Those returning to their homes found streets covered in mud and debris. Cars that had been parked in driveways were swept away, landing upside down in parks or piled up in narrow alleys. Sidewalks were strewed with sandals, pots and pans and old photographs. Authorities took advantage of the receding waters to clear away mud and remove piles of wet garbage from the streets.

Electricity was restored to tens of thousands of residences and businesses.

Jakarta's Halim Perdanakusuma domestic airport reopened on Thursday after its runway was submerged. Nearly 20,000 passengers had been affected by the closure.

The flooding has highlighted Indonesia's infrastructure problems.

Jakarta is home to 10 million people, or 30 million including those in its greater metropolitan area. It is prone to earthquakes and flooding and is rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled extraction of ground water. Traffic congestion is estimated to cost the economy $6.5 billion a year.

President Joko Widodo announced in August that the capital will move to a site in sparsely populated East Kalimantan Province on Borneo island, known for rainforests and orangutans.

Agencies - Via - Xinhua

A man walks near the wreckage of vehicles that were swept away by floods in Bekasi, Indonesia, on Friday. Severe flooding in greater Jakarta has killed scores of people and displaced tens of thousands of others, the country's disaster management agency said. ACHMAD IBRAHIM/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-04 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Plane crash fatalities fell by half in 2019]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531078.htm WASHINGTON-The number of people killed in large commercial airplane crashes fell by more than 50 percent in 2019 despite a high-profile Boeing 737 Max crash in Ethiopia in March, a Dutch consulting firm said on Wednesday.

Aviation consulting firm To70 said there were 86 accidents involving large commercial planes-including eight fatal incidents-resulting in 257 fatalities last year. In 2018, there were 160 accidents, including 13 fatal ones, resulting in 534 deaths, the firm said.

To70 said the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger planes was just 0.18 fatal accident per million flights in 2019, or an average of one fatal accident every 5.58 million flights, a significant improvement over 2018. The fatality numbers include passengers, air crew such as flight attendants and any people on the ground killed in a plane accident.

Large passenger airplanes in the study are defined as aircraft used by nearly all travelers on airlines worldwide but excludes small commuter airplanes in service, including the Cessna Caravan and some smaller turboprop airplanes, according to To70.

On Dec 23, Boeing's board said it had fired Dennis Muilenburg as chief executive after a pair of fatal crashes involving the 737 Max forced Boeing to announce a halt to production of its bestselling jetliner. The 737 Max had already been grounded since March following the crash of a Max in Ethiopia. That followed an October 2018 Max crash in Indonesia. A total of 345 people died in both crashes.

The Aviation Safety Network said on Wednesday that, despite the Max crashes, 2019 "was one of the safest years ever for commercial aviation". The 157 people killed in March on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 accounted for more than half of all deaths last year worldwide in passenger airline crashes.

To70 said the aviation industry exerted significant effort in 2019 "focusing on so-called 'future threats' such as drones". But the Max crashes "are a reminder that we need to retain our focus on the basics that make civil aviation so safe: well-designed and well-built aircraft flown by fully informed and well-trained crews".

Over the last two decades, aviation deaths around the world have been falling dramatically even as travel has increased. As recently as 2005, there were 1,015 deaths aboard commercial passenger flights worldwide, the Aviation Safety Network said.

In 2017, aviation had its safest year on record worldwide with only two fatal accidents involving regional turboprops that resulted in 13 deaths and no fatal crashes of passenger jets.

Last week, 12 people were killed when a Fokker 100 operated by Kazakh carrier Bek Air crashed near Almaty after takeoff. In May, a Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100 aircraft caught fire as it made an emergency landing at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, killing 41 people.

The figures do not include accidents involving military flights, training flights, private flights, cargo operations and helicopters.

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[UK economy ends year on a whimper]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531135.htm The United Kingdom's economy ground to a near halt in the final quarter of 2019, according to a survey from the British Chambers of Commerce.

The quarterly report from the group, known also as the BCC, made stark reading for the nation's new Conservative Party government as it strengthened its grip on power in a landslide general election win on Dec 12.

The BCC estimates that the UK economy grew by 1.3 percent during 2019 but by only 0.2 percent in the final quarter. It expects growth to slow to 1 percent in 2020.

After quizzing 6,500 companies in November, the BCC reported that the economy stagnated because of long-term uncertainty, rising business costs, and a global economic slowdown.

The Guardian newspaper said the services sector, which contributes almost 80 percent to the UK's economic output, worsened in the quarter, while manufacturing orders were extremely low, and manufacturers' investment plans were at their lowest point for eight years.

Suren Thiru, who leads the BCC's economics department, said: "The fourth quarter was characterized by a broad-based slowdown in the dominant services sector with all key indicators weakening in the quarter, amid sluggish household expenditure and crippling cost pressures."

Thiru said that "despite some improvements", the manufacturing sector remains very weak "by historic standards". Qatar-based news channel Al Jazeera said the report highlights a "protracted weakness" in the UK's economy.

Adam Marshall, the BCC's director general, called on the government to focus on renewing business confidence, to tackle "the prolonged stagnation that's affecting so much of the UK economy".

"The government must use its newfound majority to take big decisions to stimulate growth," he said.

But he also said the government will need to move fast if it is to leave the European Union in the right way, and that "a clear future trading relationship with the EU" was crucial.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he wants the UK to leave the EU on Jan 31 and for it to have a trade deal in place by the end of 2020. The Independent newspaper noted that Johnson continued to stoke fears among businesspeople that the UK could leave the EU without a divorce deal.

Andrew Gray, editor of the website Politico Europe, told Al Jazeera: "I think the danger in terms of UK-EU relations is that things again get pretty tense between the two sides with the pressure from the UK side to get things done very quickly." But a Treasury spokesperson told The Independent the economy will improve once the UK leaves the EU.

"Our economy has been held back by Brexit uncertainty for too long," the unnamed source said. "We are getting Brexit done, so we can move on and open a new chapter for our economy."

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Fires rage on with no end in sight]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531131.htm CANBERRA-Throughout the final months of 2019, Australia experienced its most destructive bushfire season ever recorded.

In the worst-hit state of New South Wales, or NSW, nine people were confirmed dead in November and December, close to 1,000 homes were lost and more than 3.6 million hectares of wilderness were burned.

In late December, another person was killed by fires in South Australia state, with homes, property and thousands of hectares of bushland lost there as well.

The world took note. Not least at the news that thousands of koalas had likely perished across Australia-a shocking symbol of the toll the disaster was taking on the country as a whole.

In the new year, Australians remained on high alert and, with many months of summer left to go, tensions were high as they braced for what might come next.

On New Year's Eve, the crisis escalated once more, both in NSW and neighboring Victoria state.

With soaring winds and temperatures fanning flames, thousands of people fled to the coast, taking shelter on beaches where they felt the safest.

Several rural towns were badly hit and residents could do little but try to escape as flames consumed entire communities. NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons confirmed that 382 homes were destroyed on New Year's Eve.

Around 50 homes were also confirmed to have been lost in Victoria-a number expected to significantly increase as assessment crews further accessed affected areas.

Already the total number of homes destroyed by bushfires this season is more than 1,400.

Rather than popping champagne, many Australians spent the last day of the decade in fear for their lives. The town of Batemans Bay was cut off by fires and residents were forced to spend the night by the water surrounded by fire.

As the new year dawned, five more people were confirmed dead in southern NSW. They had either been trying to defend their homes, or flee the vicious inferno.

In Victoria state's East Gippsland region, another person was found dead at home, taking the overall death toll this season to 17.

Images emerged on social media of residents escaping by boat against a deep red daytime sky, and again the world was shocked by the severity of the fires.

4,000 trapped

Military ships and helicopters were called in to rescue those still stranded near the ocean, including at the popular holiday destination of Mallacoota beach, where an estimated 4,000 people had taken shelter.

On Wednesday evening, the NSW Rural Fire Service issued an order for tourists to vacate a roughly 250-kilometer stretch of the NSW South Coast, another popular summer getaway. By Thursday morning, giant queues had formed of people trying to buy fuel, food and water in order to make their way home.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged calm and patience from those caught up in the disaster and insisted that everything possible was being done to make the evacuation process as smooth as possible.

"We cannot control the natural disaster but what we can do is control our response," Morrison said.

"What we can do is support those who are out there putting themselves at risk by showing the patience and the calm that is necessary."

However, not everybody could be reached. Scorched infrastructure meant that in many places phone and internet services were down, restricting normal lines of communication.

Of the fires in East Gippsland, where 17 people have been declared missing, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters: "These are very challenging circumstances." "For this many people cut off from services is not something we would normally experience.

"We do hold very significant fears for the welfare of anybody who is missing at this time."

A combined 500,000 hectares have been burned across East Gippsland after three major fires merged.

Nationwide, almost 5.9 million hectares have burned since the crisis began last year.

While conditions offered some reprieve on Wednesday and Thursday, forecasts pointed to a return of extreme fire danger by the end of the week.

"Fire dangers on Saturday will reach severe to extreme yet again across fire sites and communities that have already seen large-scale devastation," Bureau of Meteorology scientist Jonathan How said.

"As the heat and wind returns, so does the danger," he said.

Property damaged by the East Gippsland fires in Sarsfield, Victoria, Australia, on Wednesday. JASON EDWARDS/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Gulf standoff shows no signs of easing]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531130.htm The past year might just go down as one of the most tumultuous that the Persian Gulf region has seen for more than a decade, marked by tensions that left the United States and Iran teetering on the brink of war. And relations between the two foes are likely to further deteriorate in the year ahead, experts said.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump ordered 750 more US soldiers to the Middle East, charging Iran was "fully responsible" for an attack on the US embassy in Iraq the previous day. The assault and Trump's response represented a fresh escalation of tensions in the Gulf.

Days before, on Dec 29, the US military launched airstrikes on targets of Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria that killed 25 of its fighters. Washington called it retaliation for the killing of a US civilian contractor in an attack on an Iraqi military base that it blamed on the group, which helped Baghdad turn the tables on the Islamic State terrorists.

The US strikes angered the Iraqi government, which called them an unjustified violation of its sovereignty. Enraged protesters stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.

Trump made clear where he believed the ultimate responsibility lay for the killing of the contractor, saying in a tweet: "Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many. We strongly responded, and always will".

Iran denies any role in recent attacks on the US forces in Iraq.

Trump's order for the airstrikes on the militia targets sent a clear message that the killing of US citizens marked out his red line, officials and experts said.

What changed was the death of the civilian contractor, which "pushed the envelope", US State Department Assistant Secretary David Schenker said.

Since May, nearly 14,000 US military personnel have been deployed to the region to deter Iran. In mid-November, the US aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz-a passage vital for oil supplies-in a show of force against Iran.

Lu Jin, a Middle East researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, warned that as the confrontation between the US and Iran intensifies, the risk of a miscalculation is increasing.

"Despite Washington and Teheran being well aware of the costs and not wanting a potential war which doesn't serve the interests of either side, it is possible that any further miscalculation and misfiring between them could detonate a direct conflict," he said. "The danger of war lingers with the deployment of more and more US troops and military assets in the region amid the standoff."

Tensions in the Gulf have been rising since Trump in May 2018 withdrew the US from a 2015 nuclear accord that Teheran had signed with Washington and five other world powers. Trump said the deal was one-sided and gave Iran sanctions relief for rolling back, but not permanently dismantling, its nuclear program.

After pulling out of the agreement, Trump began a campaign of "maximum pressure", tightening the rope around Teheran's neck by reinstating sanctions to cripple Iran's economy. His aim is to force Iran to renegotiate a deal more favorable to the US. In response, Teheran has gradually reduced its commitment to the nuclear deal.

Tensions mounted after Washington blamed Teheran for a series of attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf from mid-May last year. Iran denied any involvement. In June, Trump canceled at the last minute an order to hit Iranian military targets in retaliation for Iran's shooting down of a US surveillance drone.

Iran has said formal negotiations or any kind of talks can take place only within the framework of the so-called P5+1, the grouping comprising the powers that agreed to the 2015 deal with Iran-the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.

Ren Yuanzhe, an associate professor in the Department of Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management at China Foreign Affairs University, said US policies are the root cause of the escalating tensions in the Middle East, citing Washington's maximum pressure on Teheran and its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement.

He said that, despite the US sanctions, the Iranian economy is not facing collapse in the short term because Iran is a regional power with the rare trait of having an independent industrial system. It also holds a few strategic cards, such as the ability to restart the nuclear process and to block the Strait of Hormuz.

Key factors

As for 2020, the intensity of US sanctions, the pace of Iran's resumption of its nuclear activities and the extent to which some European nations are willing to act as mediators are all likely to affect the level of tensions around the Iranian nuclear issue. No one expects the dark clouds to go away soon, experts said.

Li Shaoxian, a Middle East studies expert at Ningxia University, said the US' maximum pressure campaign is not aimed at starting a war with Iran, as Washington is contracting its global military reach to serves its "America First" strategy.

"But Washington's demands (over the nuclear issue) are too harsh for Teheran. Negotiating means surrender, which is totally unacceptable for Iran," Li said. "As for the US military deployment in the Middle East, the US is not aiming to start a large-scale war with Iran, but instead to impose a complete blockade and force Iran to comply."

As the US is now bracing for the 2020 presidential election, he said, Trump is unlikely to launch a direct military strike against Iran in the near future, relying more on its maximum pressure tactics.

"As the two foes take turns in responses, and send regional tensions spiraling, it is unlikely that these will ease soon," Li said.

Agencies and Xinhua contributed to this story.

Soldiers of the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division march out to their C-17 transport plane as they leave Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for the Middle East on Wednesday. JONATHAN DRAKE/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Apes, monkeys among 30 animals killed in German zoo fire]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531091.htm BERLIN-A fire raced through a zoo in western Germany in the first few minutes of the new year, killing more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats and birds, authorities said. Police said paper sky lanterns launched nearby to celebrate the arrival of 2020 were probably to blame.

Several witnesses saw cylindrical paper lanterns with little fires inside flying in the night sky shortly after midnight on Wednesday near the Krefeld Zoo, Gerd Hoppmann, the city's head of criminal police, told reporters.

"People reported seeing those sky lanterns flying at low altitude near the zoo and then it started burning," Hoppmann said.

He said investigators also found used lanterns on the ground that hadn't burned entirely. They were 34 centimeters long, made out of white paper with an opening at the bottom where a small fire would be suspended. The fire heats the air inside, making them fly and shine at night.

Police and firefighters received the first emergency calls at 12:38 am.

The zoo near the Dutch border said its entire ape house burned down and more than 30 animals-including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys-were killed, as well as fruit bats and birds.

Only two chimpanzees were able to be rescued from the flames by firefighters. They suffered burns but are in a stable condition, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said.

"It's close to a miracle that Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a younger male, survived this inferno," Dressen said, adding that many of the zoo's animal handlers were in shock at the devastation.

"We have to seriously work through the mourning process," Dressen said. "This is an unfathomable tragedy."

He said many of the dead animals were close to extinction in the wild.

The zoo said the Gorilla Garden, which is near its devastated Ape House, didn't go up in flames and that gorilla Kidogo and six other members of his family are alive.

Germans usually welcome in the new year with fireworks at midnight and people are allowed to buy and launch fireworks. Sky lanterns, however, are both illegal and uncommon in Krefeld and most of Germany. The mini hot-air balloons made of paper have been used in Asia for centuries.

After requests by police for witnesses to come forward, Krefeld police said several people had come in and were being interrogated. Police said they would not release details on them.

Hoppmann said some of the partially burned lanterns had handwritten notes on them.

The zoo, which opened in 1975, attracts 400,000 visitors each year. It closed after the fire and planned to remain closed on Thursday.

People mourn outside the Krefeld Zoo after its ape enclosure burned down in the German city on Wednesday. THILO SCHMUELGEN/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Mexico City's plastic bag ban taking residents back in time]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531114.htm MEXICO CITY-For centuries, Mexico City residents brought warm tortillas home in reusable cloths or woven straw baskets, and toted others foods in conical rolls of paper, "ayate" mesh or net bags, or even string bundles.

People in Mexico's massive capital city may have to return to those old ways after a new law took effect banning the plastic bags that became ubiquitous over the last 30 years. Some say they are ready and willing, and grocery stores are promising to promote reusable synthetic fiber bags, but others are struggling to get their minds around how the ban will work in practice.

"We have a very rich history in ways to wrap things," said Claudia Hernandez, the city's director of environmental awareness. "We are finding that people are returning to baskets, to cucuruchos," she said, referring to cone-shaped rolls of paper once used to wrap loose bulk goods like nuts, chips or seeds.

Some Mexico City residents still use traditional ayate bags, or tortilla towels or baskets, and many-especially the elderly-pull two-wheeled, folding shopping baskets through grocery stores. Some merchants still use old sardine cans to measure out bulk goods.

Under the new law, grocery stores will be fined if they give out plastic bags. Most will offer reusable shopping bags made of thick plastic fiber, usually selling them for 75 cents.

"They are not giving them away, they are selling them, and that is what I don't agree with," said city subway worker Ernesto Gallardo Chavez, who wonders what will happen if he goes grocery shopping after Jan 1 and forgets to bring his reusable bags.

"Just imagine, I forget my bag and I buy a lot of stuff," said Gallardo Chavez. "How do I carry it all, if they don't give you bags anymore?"

Like most city residents, Gallardo Chavez thinks protecting the environment is "very good." But plastic bags in Mexico City are almost never really single-use: most city residents have bought garbage cans and waste paper baskets just the right size to be lined with supermarket bags. And the bags are commonly used to clean up after dogs on sidewalks.

"We use the bags for garbage, to separate it into organic and inorganic, and then take it out to the garbage truck," he notes.

Hernandez, the environment official, said people should get out of the habit of putting their garbage in plastic bags. "They can take it out (to the garbage truck) directly in garbage cans."

But that is complicated given the city's stubborn water shortages. It's all very well to tell city residents not to line their trash cans with plastic bags, but washing out a kitchen receptacle every couple of days after use because it doesn't have a plastic liner will takes its toll on water supplies.

Not to mention the widespread habit of tossing used toilet paper into wastepaper baskets to spare the strain on many homes' aged and insufficient plumbing. Used toilet paper is not the kind of thing you can turn over loose to the trash collector.

Data analysis specialist Daniel Loredo says he is planning to hoard his last remaining plastic shopping bags precisely for that purpose.

But he and his roommates have already taken steps to build up a supply of reusable bags and make sure whoever goes to the grocery store is carrying a few. But for poorer city residents, forgetting to do so even one day could carry a high price in a country where the 75-cent reusable bag costs the equivalent of an hour's worth of the minimum wage.

"I think this will be a challenge, because these bags represent an additional cost, and maybe not everyone can bear that cost quite as easily," Loredo said.

A man carries items in a cloth shopping bag as he walks in central Mexico City on Wednesday. REBECCA BLACKWELL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Chinese-themed float shines at 2020 Rose Parade]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531110.htm LOS ANGELES-The shining sun and the warm weather on Wednesday morning invited tens of thousands of people out on the streets to watch the 131st Rose Parade in celebration of the New Year.

Hosted by Hoda Kotb and Al Roker-popular co-anchors of the Today Show, NBC's top-rated morning talk show-the parade held in the city of Pasadena is a family favorite, a mainstay in the West Coast and an iconic New Year's Day tradition.

"The Rose Parade is an institution. We've been coming to it for 20 years," said Chuck Hamil, a resident of Chino, California. "We all love the beautiful floats."

The Rose Parade is most famous for its gorgeous, spectacularly designed floats of all shapes and colors. They are exotic, multihued creations in all the colors of the rainbow, and as required by the parade rules, the floats must be covered entirely in flowers, seeds and other exotic plant materials.

Each float of the competitors has its unique theme. One of the most beautiful floats was Chinese-themed, which won the Golden State Award of this year's parade with a description by judges as the "most outstanding depiction of life in California".

It was a stunning creation by the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens, home to many exotic Asian plants as well as the famed Chinese Garden styled after a Suzhou scholar's garden nearing completion after 12 years of construction.

The colorful Huntington float, named Cultivating Curiosity, incorporated prominent elements of the Chinese Garden, one of which is the Pavilion of the Three Friends, a Chinese-style temple named for the traditional "three friends of winter" in the ancient Chinese culture: Bamboos, pines and plum blossoms.

Other rare and exotic elements depicted by the float include the Rose Garden Tempietto, a high-arched Japanese Moon Bridge, replicas of paintings by Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper, as well as a copy of the ancient text-Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales-which the library owns.

The Rose Garden Tempietto is an 18th-century French stone temple that houses the classical sculpture-Love, the Captive of Youth-which depicts Cupid and his captor, a fair maiden.

Spectators were also amazed by Donate Life's float to honor organ donors' gift of life, Blue Diamond's tribute to Almond Growers float, the City of Hope's elegant float commemorating its 107th anniversary, and the delightful float by Amazon's "Troop Zero" TV with replicas of the Voyager Space shuttle, a rocket, a satellite dish, a school bus, and towering pseudo-pines.

"City of Hope saved my mother's life when she had ovarian cancer," said parade-goer Michelle Cohen. "I tear up whenever I see their amazing floats."

Huntington Library President Karen R. Lawrence said: "The Huntington's incomparable collections have had an extensive reach over the past century, and we expect them to continue to inspire visitors, new and old, for the next 100 years in powerful and unpredictable ways.

"We welcome the national and international exposure that this celebrated parade provides and look forward to this joyful moment during our centennial as a way of sharing our treasures with audiences the world over."

Since 1890, the Rose Parade, hosted by the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, is an annual parade to mark the start of the Rose Bowl Game, on New Year's Day. The tradition has been uninterrupted despite the two world wars.

Participants in the 131st Rose Parade greet spectators along Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California, on Wednesday. LI YING/XINHUA

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Netanyahu seeks immunity in graft cases]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531109.htm JERUSALEM-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday he would ask Parliament to protect him from prosecution in the three graft cases he faces, a politically risky move that could delay criminal proceedings against him for months.

Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over allegations he granted state favors worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israeli media barons in return for gifts and favorable coverage.

He denies any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media and the left to oust a popular right-wing leader.

A trial cannot get under way once an immunity request is made, and Netanyahu announced the move in a speech on live television just four hours before a deadline for an application was to expire.

Netanyahu said in his address that the charges against him were politically motivated and he was entitled to Parliament's protection.

"In a democracy, only the people decide who will lead them," said Netanyahu, who has been in power consecutively for the past decade and has likened the indictment against him to an attempted coup.

Under Israeli law, a legislator seeking immunity can do so on numerous grounds that include an argument that the prosecution is not acting in good faith.

Had Netanyahu not filed the request by Wednesday's deadline, the indictment against him could have been submitted to a court as early as Sunday, setting proceedings in motion.

Amid deep political deadlock, Parliament seems unlikely to decide the issue before Israel's March 2 election. Netanyahu will need the support of 61 of its 120 legislators for immunity to be granted, the same majority that eluded him in attempts to form a government after national ballots in April and September.

If immunity is ultimately granted-entitling Netanyahu to avoid standing trial as long as he is a member of Parliament-Israel's Supreme Court is empowered to review the decision and strike it down.

Netanyahu's immunity request carried political risks, adding more ammunition to challengers who seek to portray him as an autocratic leader who sees himself as above the rule of law and who represents a danger to Israel's democratic and judicial foundations.

Responding to Netanyahu's speech, his main rival Benny Gantz, a former armed forces chief who heads the centrist Blue and White party, said the prime minister was "jeopardizing the civic principle upon which we were all educated-that everyone is equal before the law".

Recent opinion polls have shown neither Blue and White nor Netanyahu's Likud party are within easy reach of a governing bloc in Parliament in an election now two months away.

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Ex-Nissan boss had spare French passport: report]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531101.htm TOKYO-Japanese authorities allowed ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn to carry a spare French passport in a locked case while out on bail, public broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday, shedding some light on how he managed a dramatic escape to Lebanon.

NHK said in a report that prosecutors on Thursday raided the Tokyo residence of the former chief of Nissan Motor Co and Renault.

Ghosn, one of the world's best-known executives, has become Japan's most famous fugitive after he fled to Lebanon on Tuesday to escape what he called a "rigged" justice system.

The businessman, who holds French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, was smuggled out of Tokyo on a private plane by a security company days ago, the culmination of a plan that was crafted over three months.

Ghosn was first arrested in Tokyo in November 2018 and faces four charges-which he denies-including hiding income and enriching himself through payments to car dealerships in the Middle East.

Japanese authorities have not officially commented on Ghosn's disappearance. Government offices are shut this week for the New Year holiday.

Officials in Lebanon also said Ghosn entered the country with a French passport. But one of Ghosn's Japanese lawyers has said the lawyers were still in possession of three of Ghosn's passports-French, Lebanese and Brazilian-under the terms of his bail.

However, Ghosn had been issued a spare French passport, NHK said, citing unidentified sources, and carried it in the months before his departure.

NHK said: "Ghosn had been obliged to carry the passport with him since May, without elaborating on the reason." Foreigners in Japan are required to carry government-issued identification cards or passports at all times.

His lawyers applied to have the terms of his bail changed so that he could carry a passport in a locked case, NHK said. The key to the locked case in which the spare passport was kept was held by his lawyers, NHK said.

On Wednesday, the former Nissan chairman reportedly met with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun and thanked the president for the support given to him while he was in detention.

A lawyer for Ghosn said he will hold a news conference on Jan 8, according to reports. Sources close to him said he was unwilling to share details of his escape so as not to jeopardize those who aided him in Japan.

Former Nissan Motor chairman Carlos Ghosn leaves the Tokyo Detention House on April 25. ISSEI KATO/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Jakarta floods death toll rises to 21]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/03/content_37531122.htm JAKARTA-Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Indonesia's capital Jakarta on Thursday after flash floods and landslides pushed the death toll in the area to as many as 21 people, with more heavy rain forecast, authorities said.

The flooding, among the deadliest in years, caused chaos in parts of Southeast Asia's biggest city with train lines blocked and power outages in some areas. Swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns were inundated after heavy rain fell on Dec 31 and into the early hours of New Year's Day.

A Indonesian Social Affairs Ministry spokesman said in a message to Reuters that the death toll had now reached 21, while the disaster mitigation agency said it was 19.

As of Thursday, more than 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said, twice as many as a day earlier.

Thousands of livestock were reported missing and thousands of houses damaged in the neighboring province of Banten, local media reported.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo told reporters on Thursday that evacuation and safety procedures should be prioritized, and called for more coordination between city administrations and the central government.

On his Twitter page, Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding. He said some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

Some of the victims had drowned, while others were killed in landslides. Four were electrocuted, while three died of hypothermia.

Indonesia's Cabinet Secretary said in a statement, citing the geophysics agency, that the extreme weather may continue across Indonesia until Jan 7 and warned people to remain on alert for further flooding or landslides.

Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the geophysics agency, told reporters separately that heavy rainfall may continue until mid-February.

Umar Dani, 52, and his family were evacuated overnight from his home in East Jakarta on a rubber boat after water levels rose up to his neck.

"It has not flooded for so long here. We didn't have the chance to bring anything," he said. "I have to live on the streets now."

Television footage on Thursday showed rescuers in the nearby city of Tangerang evacuating residents, guiding them across a strong current by holding on to a rope.

Jakarta police on their Twitter account warned that a number of major streets across the capital were not yet passable, accompanied by a video showing a postal truck being stuck in the middle of a road.

Jakarta and its surroundings are home to more than 30 million people. More than 50 people died in one of the capital's deadliest floods in 2007, and five years ago much of the center of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

The government announced last year that it is relocating the capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo, though the planning ministry pledged that the government will invest $40 billion in modernizing Jakarta.

Local residents ride on the back of a truck to cross a flood-affected area after heavy rains in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday. WILLY KURNIAWAN/REUTERS

]]> 2020-01-03 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Light and nature interact on pastures]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530971.htm PASO ROBLES, California-It's an art installation, sure. But the internationally acclaimed artist who created the interactive work Field of Light at Sensorio in California sees it as much more than that.

It is, says Bruce Munro, a conduit of sorts allowing its viewers to better commune with nature when taking in "Sensorio's 58,000 shimmering, flowerlike lights that have been painstakingly installed over 6 hectares of pristine pasture in the heart of central California wine country.

"I don't want to sound like some kind of ancient hippie because I'm not," the 60-year-old British artist says with a laugh as he discusses his latest-and largest-light exhibition.

When the sun sets behind the rolling hills on the edge of the small picturesque town of Paso Robles and the lights come on, Munro says he senses a kind of tranquil peace settling over the hundreds of people who come each night to walk the hills and valleys bathed in his creation's gentle but colorful illumination.

"It almost is a lens to see the landscape that you're in," he said. "The landscape-nature-really does help us find a balance in our lives.

"We all are leading incredibly busy lives," he continues. "Busier than ever and with more screen time. And this is really an opportunity to get off-screen, to get back into the real world. You know, to smell the cut grass, the fresh air. Or whatever. And be a part of it."

Munro has been putting up light-centric installations around the world for 15 years. The works in his Field of Light series vary in appearance from sculptures to garden rooms to everyday objects that reflect light. His most famous, at least until now, is likely Field of Light at Uluru, located in the red rock desert of Australia, a region considered sacred to the aboriginal people.

Fourteen years in the planning, it opened in 2016 for a brief run that has since been extended indefinitely.

It is similar to Sensorio but smaller, made up of 50,000 colorful, solar-powered twinkling orbs. The artist insists that had nothing to do with his trying to outdo himself by putting his largest work to date in California.

"Size is relevant to the landscape it inhabits," he said. "I don't put lights in to make bigger and bigger installations."

At Sensorio, viewers see lights from numerous perspectives, including above and below, as they stroll the dirt paths bathed in softly lit colors. The result is a feeling of immersion in a world of quiet yet beautiful tranquillity.

The exhibition, initially scheduled to close in January, has been extended through June.

When it does close, Munro says, future visitors will hardly know it was there.

"Part of the reason we wanted to do solar is because there is no infrastructure that needs to be dug in," he said. "Everything is on the surface. When it's time does come to disappear, and the landscape comes back, the existing landscape or something else that goes there, its footprint will be very minimal."

 

The photo shows the entrance an art instillation by artist Bruce Munro, made up of 58,000 shimmering flowerlike lights. JOHN ROGERS/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US shares up despite China trade dispute]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37531005.htm The US stock market reached record highs in 2019 despite uncertainty created by the ongoing trade dispute with China and a temporary inversion of the bond yield curve that often signals a coming recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite and the S&P 500 indicators rose after the US Federal Reserve, or Fed, cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point three times during the year.

Lower interest rates mean lower borrowing costs-and that's good for businesses planning to expand and for consumers buying on credit. Retail spending represents about two-thirds of the US economy.

Through Monday, the Dow was up in 2019 by about 22 percent, the Nasdaq about 35 percent and the S&P 500 by about 29 percent. The market started 2019 in a hole after a two-month sell-off at the end of 2018.

"What a year for the stock market," Matthew Maley, chief market strategist for Miller Tabak, wrote in a research note. "One reason why the consensus believes the stock market can hold up next year has to do with the belief that interest rates will remain low."

But earlier in the year, the market was volatile as US President Donald Trump's tweets increased uncertainty. On Aug 23, Trump tweeted "We don't need China, and frankly, would be far better off without them."

He followed with tweets critical of Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Within 15 minutes, the Dow had plunged about 400 points and had lost a total of about 500 points within an hour. The drop cost investors about $500 billion.

Overall, the $21 trillion US economy remained strong as evidenced by record low unemployment, steady wage growth and strong consumer spending.

The market rallied after Trump's tweets because many investors saw lower stock prices as a buying opportunity. The agreement between the US and China on phase one of a trade deal on Dec 13 also boosted optimism.

In company news, Boeing's continuing problems with its best-selling jet, the 737 Max, initially hammered its stock price.

In October, Boeing reported a 51 percent drop in its third-quarter profit as revenue fell following crashes of two Max airliners that killed a total of 346 passengers and crew. But investors believe the problems with the plane's automated anti-stall device blamed for the crashes can be fixed and stayed with the stock, even though the Max crisis eventually cost CEO Dennis Muilenburg his job on Dec 23.

Boeing represents about 5 percent of US exports, and its stock is one of 30 tracked daily to compile the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

There have been nine major recessions since 1950, and all have been preceded by an inversion of the yield curve.

When the curve is inverted, short-term Treasury bonds pay more interest than long-term notes, underscoring doubts about future growth. The warning reversed in November, easing immediate fears of an economic slowdown, as employment and wages continued to rise.

IPOs caution

For many investors, the 2019 strategy was simple: Buy just about everything, especially technology stocks, but avoid overhyped initial public offerings, or IPOs.

Ride-hailing companies Lyft and Uber Technologies offered the potential to upend the conventional taxi business and perhaps car ownership in urban areas, but each came with steep losses.

WeWork, a provider of shared office space for small-to-medium-sized businesses and perhaps the most highly touted IPO of the year, ditched its plans as doubts grew despite being valued at $47 billion.

Investors concluded that the company expanded rapidly at great expense and that losses would continue long into the future because there was no clear path to profitability.

But IPOs from less-flashy companies with a clear path to profitability thrived in the market, including Chewy, an online retailer of pet food and other pet-related products, and Tradeweb Markets, an international financial services company.

Cutting interest rates stimulated the economy and boosted stock prices, suggesting a strong market ahead. But some analysts warn that FOMO-fear of missing out-artificially drives stock prices upward and may indicate a market top in the months ahead.

Mike Wilson, an analyst at New York investment bank Morgan Stanley, believes the market will decline about 4.5 percent this year, but US economic growth will stabilize below 2 percent as labor costs rise in a tight job market.

"Trade, the election and a late-cycle economy keep the market searching for new leadership amid high uncertainty," he said in a research note to investors. "We expect the market to vacillate between a pro-cyclical outcome and a defensive one as data comes in and trade tensions and the election evolve."

In a note to investors, Franklin Templeton, a global investment firm based in New York, advised: "Although uncertainties remain, our senior investment leaders have a cautiously optimistic outlook for 2020. They still do not see a global recession looming and believe there are plenty of reasons to remain invested. However, they also stress it's important to be selective, amid a changing market landscape."

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Kim says US responsible for nuclear talks impasse]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37531004.htm PYONGYANG-Kim Jong-un, the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, has blamed the United States for the impasse in bilateral nuclear talks, the official Korean Central News Agency reported on Wednesday.

At the Fifth Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea on Tuesday, Kim said the more the US stalls for time and hesitates in the settlement of the DPRK-US relations, the deeper the nuclear talks will fall into an impasse.

In his report, Kim blamed Washington for the current difficulties facing Pyongyang, saying the US "applied the most brutal and inhuman sanctions against (the country) and posed a persistent nuclear threat" to the DPRK over the past seven decades, and that the current situation on the Korean Peninsula "is getting more dangerous and reaching a serious phase".

Noting that Pyongyang had taken measures to build confidence in bilateral relations, including halting nuclear tests and shutting down a test ground, Kim rebuked Washington for conducting dozens of joint military drills and threatening Pyongyang with a shipment of ultramodern warfare equipment into the Republic of Korea.

"There is no ground for us to get unilaterally bound to the commitment any longer," Kim said, adding that "the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future", without giving details of the weapon.

"If the US persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will never be denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state, until the US rolls back its hostile policy toward the DPRK and a lasting and durable peacekeeping mechanism is built," he said.

Kim said there were no grounds for Pyongyang to be bound any longer by a self-declared moratorium on testing nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, according to a statement on the results of the policy meeting carried by KCNA.

In his latest comments on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said he had a good relationship with Kim and thought Kim would keep his word. "He likes me, I like him. We get along. He's representing his country, I'm representing my country. We have to do what we have to do," Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

Tension had been rising ahead of the year-end as Pyongyang conducted a series of weapons tests and waged a war of words with Trump.

The nuclear talks have made little headway despite three meetings between Kim and Trump since 2018. Working-level talks in Stockholm, Sweden, in October broke down, with a DPRK chief negotiator accusing US officials of sticking to their old stance.

Xinhua - Agencies

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US sends more troops to Middle East]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37531003.htm WASHINGTON-Charging that Iran was "fully responsible" for an attack on the United States embassy in Iraq, US President Donald Trump ordered about 750 US soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepared for possible deployment within days.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Tuesday that at Trump's direction, he authorized the immediate deployment of the infantry battalion from the Army's 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He did not specify the soldiers' destination, but a US official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.

"Approximately 750 soldiers will deploy to the region immediately and additional forces from the IRF (the Immediate Response Force) are prepared to deploy over the next several days," said the Pentagon chief in a series of tweets.

Esper added that the deployment would be "an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against US personnel and facilities".

The Pentagon's decision came hours after hundreds of Iraqi demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone.

Many of the protesters rallied outside the US embassy chanting slogans condemning airstrikes by the US forces against bases of Kataib Hezbollah, a Iran-backed militia group, in Iraq on Sunday.

The protest then turned violent as protesters set ablaze a guard tower and the outer gate of the embassy, an official from the Iraqi Interior Ministry said on condition of anonymity.

Trump blamed Iran for "orchestrating an attack" on the embassy in a Tuesday morning tweet.

He later threatened in another tweet that Iran "will be held fully responsible for lives lost, or damage incurred, at any of our facilities".

"They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat," the US president added, but later said he does not want, or foresee, war with Iran.

Iran on Monday denied any role in the recent attacks on US forces in Iraq after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran-backed forces for the attacks.

Also on Tuesday, Trump spoke over the phone with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, emphasizing the need to protect US personnel and facilities in Iraq, according to a White House statement.

US forces on Sunday attacked five locations in Iraq and Syria controlled by the Kataib Hezbollah militia group, in response to recent attacks on US forces in Iraq, triggering strong responses from Iraq and Syria.

Agencies - Xinhua

Protesters burn property in front of the US embassy compound in Baghdad, Iraq, on Tuesday. KHALID MOHAMMED/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Kisses, cheers and fireworks welcome 2020 in Times Square]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530996.htm NEW YORK-Couples kissed. Others cheered and waved balloons as fireworks burst into the night sky and confetti fell to welcome the start of 2020 in New York City's Times Square.

In one of the globe's most-watched New Year's Eve spectacles, the crowd counted down the last seconds of 2019 as a luminescent crystal ball descended down a pole. Throngs of people cheered and sang along to the X Ambassadors' soul-stirring rendition of John Lennon's Imagine just before midnight.

About 1,360 kilograms of confetti showered the sea of attendees, many of whom were also briefly rained on earlier in the evening as they waited in security pens for performances by stars including rap-pop star Post Malone, K-pop group BTS, country singer Sam Hunt and singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette.

The frenzied moment of celebration came after many hours of waiting for much of the crowd.

Mathieu Plesotsky, 25, visiting from Hesse, Germany, said he wanted to be a part of the spectacle after watching it for years on TV. He arrived in Times Square at 1 pm with his girlfriend and bopped along to the performers while waiting for the ball to drop.

"We've just stayed, stood, tried not to pee and danced to the (1970s disco group) Village People," he said.

Ever since the New York Police Department tightened security and began cracking down on public drinking years ago, Times Square on New Year's Eve has been an endurance contest as much as a raucous celebration.

Many people arrive before noon to get a spot close to the action. Alcohol is banned. Spectators enter through a security screening gauntlet to enter pens they cannot leave, including to use the bathroom, if they hope to return.

The weather can be brutal.

When revelers rang in 2018, it was only -12 C. At the dawn of 2019, rain poured throughout the evening, leaving puddles on the performance stages.

The weather seemed perfect on Tuesday, until it wasn't. Rain, which wasn't in the forecast, briefly drenched the crowd just before 8:30 pm.

Still, the celebration was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many.

"It was a dream. I wanted to do it so this year a lot of people helped me to get here, so I'm here, and I'm thankful for that," said Mariemma Mejias, 48, who flew to New York for the festivities from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Amanda Camacho, 25, from Heredia, Costa Rica, said she and her mother spent their evening in the security pens "talking to people and meeting people and sharing", Camacho said.

"We met people from South Korea. We met people from Guatemala that were actually here just for New Year's Eve, so it has been pretty cool," she said.

While giddiness prevailed at the televised event, some important global issues were also driven home, as well.

High school science teachers and students, spotlighting efforts to combat climate change helped press the button that began the famous 60-second ball drop and countdown to 2020, followed by the confetti.

Thousands of police officers were on hand for the festivities, plus more than 1,000 security cameras, helicopters and drones equipped with thermal-imaging and 3D-mapping capabilities and super-zoom lenses.

Aubrey Fannin, who traveled from Kirkland, Washington, with her friend Kennedy Bryne, is optimistic for 2020.

"This is our year," Fannin said moments after the clock struck midnight. "This is the world's year. Let's do it."

 

Revelers celebrate the New Year in Times Square in Manhattan on a cold and rainy night in New York. AMR ALFIKY/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[European leaders warn of challenges]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530972.htm LONDON-Leaders of European countries voiced concerns and aspirations in their Christmas and New Year messages, as the eventful year of 2019 rolled to an end.

In her New Year message on Tuesday, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin underlined the importance of social equality.

The 34-year-old Marin noted that the strength of a society should not be measured on the basis of the strength of the most affluent, but through how the most vulnerable cope with their lives. Marin raised the question whether everyone in Finland has the possibility of a good life.

The world's youngest prime minister acknowledged in her message that much in Finland depends on the world economy, but the government can provide a stable and predictable environment for companies.

"Fast policy changes should be avoided while reacting to the cyclical situation," she said.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed worries over the rise of anti-Semitism and far-right extremism in his Christmas speech, calling on all citizens to fight against them.

He mentioned the deadly attack near a synagogue in Germany's eastern city of Halle in October, in which two nearby people were killed and two others later injured.

In his Christmas message, Czech President Milos Zeman praised his country's low unemployment rate, stable economic growth, relatively low state debt and the growth of the average wage and old-age pensions.

Zeman also drew attention to the problem of "slowness" in construction proceedings and in the building of infrastructure in his country.

Greece is welcoming 2020 with optimism, having learned valuable lessons from past mistakes, leaving the financial crisis behind and moving forward with confidence and unity, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis proclaimed in his New Year message.

"We are entering the third decade of the 21st century which brings unprecedented challenges: from geostrategic instability on the planet and the climate crisis to the 'explosion' of technology and its consequences. All this requires open thinking and bold actions," the Greek leader noted.

Albanian President Ilir Meta said the solidarity his country demonstrated after the tragic 6.4-magnitude earthquake on Nov 26 is a solid and enduring foundation that inspires all and gives the people confidence for the challenges ahead.

"Each of you deserves more positivity, a fairer Albania, more loving, compassionate and more humane," Meta said, adding: "This first of all requires an inclusive and united Albania, always guided by the national and public interest."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in his first New Year message from 10 Downing Street, urged the people of Britain to join together to make the 2020s a decade of prosperity and opportunity.

"The first item on my agenda is to fulfill the will of the electorate and take us out of the European Union," said Johnson.

Denmark's Queen Margrethe, in her New Year address to the nation, placed special emphasis on tolerance and compassion.

Speaking live from Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen on Tuesday, the queen underscored the planet's vulnerability to climate change.

"It is a common challenge for all of us today, and it is important that we are all aware of how we live and what we do," said the 79-year-old monarch.

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Bank of England governor warns over 'worthless' fossil fuel investments]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530991.htm The outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, has warned major companies and financial institutions that assets in the fossil fuel sector risk becoming "worthless" and they should have to justify any such investments to those whose money is being invested in them.

The Canadian is stepping down as head of Britain's most important financial institution in March, before the official end of his designated eight-year term of office, and will take up a role with the United Nations as its climate change and finance envoy.

Carney has spoken before of his concerns about the effects of climate change and the role the financial sector plays in it.

As long ago as 2014, he gave a speech about the so-called Carbon Bubble, warning that significant fossil fuel resources would have to remain unused, rendering the sector less financially attractive, to avoid having a major damaging effect on the world's climate and environment.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today program, as devastating fires and soaring temperatures in Australia made worldwide headline news, Carney called the climate crisis a "tragedy on the horizon" and urged immediate political action, warning that "by the time that the extreme events become so prevalent and so obvious, it will be too late to do anything about it".

Pension funds

When asked if pension funds should withdraw from fossil fuels even if their current rate of return seems attractive, Carney replied: "Well, that hasn't been the case, but they could make that argument. They need to make the argument-to be clear about why is that going to be the case if a substantial proportion of those assets are going to be worthless."

Companies, he continued, needed to make a judgment call on behalf of their investors over whether they should withdraw funds.

"A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer-what's your plan?" he added.

He also expressed his anger at climate change doubters, saying: "We can't afford on this one to have selective information, spin, misdirection."

Previously, Carney has spoken of the positive opportunities offered to investment organizations willing to take the step and invest in other areas.

"There will be industries, sectors and firms that do very well during this process because they will be part of the solution," he told the Guardian newspaper in October. "But there will also be ones that lag behind, and they will be punished."

Carney will leave his post with the Bank of England in March, following a three-month handover period with his successor, Andrew Bailey, the bank's former chief cashier and head of the City of London financial watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority.

 

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US-Mexico ties in 2019 complicated by trade, immigration and violence]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530981.htm MEXICO CITY-The year of 2019 was one of the most complicated in history for the US-Mexico relationship as the United States continued to exert pressure on Mexico on issues concerning the influx of migrants, uncertainty in the bilateral trade deal and lingering cartel violence, experts told Xinhua.

Gustavo Vega, a professor at the Center for International Studies of the College of Mexico, or Colmex, said that 2019 had been "the most complicated year" for US-Mexico relationship since the 1980s.

"It's the reality of the geographical neighborhood. We have to seek out mechanisms to resolve the problems that continue to arise," said Vega.

An increase in the number of Central American migrants traveling through Mexico toward the US almost derailed the bilateral agenda, with daily threats made against the Mexican government by US President Donald Trump, which included closing its southern border if Mexico did not stop the thousands of migrants attempting to enter the country.

As the monthly immigration rate in May reached its highest point in a decade, and as a result Trump threatened to impose a general tariff on Mexican imports, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised to "take unprecedented steps" to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration.

Following an agreement in June, Mexico sent thousands of national guard troops to enforce immigration law across the country, and the monthly flow of migrants diminished, down from 144,000 people detained by the US to 42,700 people in November, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Dec 26.

However, many of the migrants were either waiting to apply for asylum in the US or had already applied and been returned by US authorities to Mexico to await the outcome of their cases.

Vega said that security was another major issue for the bilateral relationship, due to the violence caused by Mexican drug cartels.

Trump said in late November that he would designate Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, which implied that the US could deport cartel members and their associates as well as freeze their bank accounts.

As early as March, Trump mentioned the possibility of putting the cartels on the terrorist list. And the proposal gained momentum again in November, after the massacre of a dual-national Mormon family in north Mexico. The shocking crime saw cartel hitmen slaughter women and children in a hail of bullets.

The government of Lopez Obrador stated that the designation would be tantamount to "interventionism", and it was more important to combat weapons trafficking from the US to Mexico as it fed organized crime in the country.

Echoing Vega, Guadalupe Gonzalez, associate professor at Colmex, said that 2019 had been "an uncommonly complex" year for the two countries' relations, and the unapproved US-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, or USMCA, in the US Congress had also increased tensions.

The USMCA was signed in November 2018 to replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement. It was approved by US House of Representatives on Dec 19, but is yet to be ratified by the Senate.

"This has caused uncertainty for the Mexican economy," Gonzalez said.

"I think that next year will be as difficult or even more difficult than 2019," he added.

Xinhua

Families hoping to seek asylum in the United States wait on March 15 on the bridge connecting Reynosa, Mexico, to Hidalgo, Texas. ERIC GAY/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US universities alarmed by attacks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530978.htm While New York City is on track for another year with a lower overall crime rate, the recent murder of a college student in Manhattan has unnerved a campus amid an upward trend in crime on US campuses after years of declines.

"Our sense of safety in our community and our city has been brutally shaken," wrote Sian Leah Beilock, president of Barnard College, in a message to students on Dec 13.

Two days before, Tessa Majors, an 18-year-old Barnard freshman from Virginia, was fatally stabbed in a nearby park.

"A tragedy has happened in a park where so many of us have spent time," she said, referring to Morningside Park. It is about a kilometer from the school and is considered an "off-campus" location.

The park is between a Barnard dormitory and Columbia University, with which Barnard is affiliated.

In the first three quarters of 2019, there were 11 robberies in the park, among the most in New York City parks in the year, according to data from the New York Police Department, or NYPD.

In the year ending Dec 8, reports of violent crime and sex crimes surged 82 percent in the park and on its perimeter, according to the NYPD.

In August, a Chinese student at Columbia University-who had been in the US for only four days-reported that he was robbed in the same park by three youths.

Two Columbia University public safety booths are at the western edge of Morningside Park. The school said a guard was posted when Majors was attacked and responded "immediately upon recognizing that she was hurt".

In the aftermath of the attack, the schools increased safety measures by extending staffing hours of the two booths to 24 hours and adding a foot patrol between the booths, according to Amy Zavadil, interim executive director of public safety at Barnard.

The NYPD assigned two marked vehicles to the park, with requests made to the city for additional camera support and lighting, she added.

The police have identified three suspects in the case of Majors, a talented musician from Virginia, known for her outgoing personality.

One suspect is 13 years old and other two are 14. The 13-year-old has been charged with second-degree felony murder.

It was not the only fatal incident recently on or near a US college campus. On Nov 26, a 19-year-old student from the University of Illinois at Chicago was sexually assaulted and murdered in a campus parking garage.

The university started instituting 24-hour security patrols in campus parking garages, and school officials were considering making the extended patrol hours permanent in the coming semester, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Last year in Illinois, a man convicted in the June 2017 killing of a Chinese scholar was sentenced to life in prison. Brendt Christensen avoided the death penalty when he was sentenced in a US federal court in July in relation to the kidnapping and murder of Zhang Yingying, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

'No campus is immune'

In January 2016, a Chinese exchange student at Arizona State University was killed in a road rage incident in Tempe, Arizona. Yue Jiang, 19, died after she was shot and her car subsequently crashed, police said. Her killer was sentenced in June 2018 to 25 years in prison.

"No campus is immune from crime," said Abigail Boyer, associate executive director for the Clery Center, a nonprofit organization that helps schools to comply with the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, or Clery Act for short.

Regardless of the locations of schools-urban, suburban or rural areas, US universities and colleges all face safety challenges. How they perform in keeping campuses safe relates to the systems they have in place to "both prevent and respond to incidents when they do occur", said Boyer.

The Clery Act, a federal statute passed in 1990, requires all colleges and universities that receive federal funds to publish an annual report that discloses the school's campus crime and fire safety statistics and provides policy statements.

Data from the US Department of Education showed the number of reported criminal offenses had been decreasing in the decade after 2005 but has since risen slightly. The latest data from 2017 gathered reports from more than 6,300 institutions.

Boyer said the rise in crime might not necessarily mean that campuses are becoming less safe.

The data can "actually go up" with campuses putting a lot of effort into their response policies, procedures and programs, thus making students more willing to report, she said.

The University of Southern California, for example, reported a drastic increase in the number of sex offenses in 2018-from 34 to 118-as longtime gynecologist George Tyndall was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of students in his almost three-decade tenure.

The university, near downtown Los Angeles, was known among Chinese for two deadly crimes targeting Chinese students. In 2012, a Chinese couple, both graduate students, were shot to death in their car during an attempted robbery. Two years later, four teenagers robbed and killed another Chinese student.

"A lot of times, what campuses are focusing on now is how to re-create systems for reporting. So people are comfortable coming forward, for they are confident in the response that they are going to receive from their institution," said Boyer.

Seeking more secure environments, schools are investing more in security equipment and services. IHS Markit reported that in 2017, sales of security equipment and services to the education sector reached $2.7 billion, an 8 percent increase from two years ago.

A lack of video monitors and electronic door locks soaked up time and resources at Central Washington University in February after false reports of gunshots. In the past week, the school requested $3.28 million in state funding to upgrade its security systems, The Associated Press reported.

As the challenges that schools face change over time, the Clery Act has been updated accordingly.

An emergency notification requirement was added to the law in 2008, asking schools to alert the campus community of immediate or ongoing threats, in light of the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007-the deadliest school shooting in US history.

In 2013, the law was amended to address dating violence, domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

"While a lot of people associate the Clery Act with statistics, some of the most important work of the Clery Act is in the policies that institutions must create as a response to those requirements," said Boyer.

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Australia counts cost as fires death toll hits 12]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530974.htm SYDNEY-A third person was confirmed dead on Wednesday in devastating bushfires that engulfed Australia's southeast coast this week and a fourth was missing and feared dead, as navy ships rushed to provide supplies and assist with evacuations.

Twelve people have now lost their lives in fire-related deaths across Australia since blazes broke out a few months ago, including three volunteer firefighters, after a three-year drought in large parts of the nation created tinder-dry conditions.

Fanned by soaring temperatures, columns of fire and smoke blackened entire towns on Monday and Tuesday, forcing thousands of residents and holidaymakers to seek shelter on beaches. Many stood in shallow water to escape the flames.

Bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares-an area larger than Japan-and new blazes are sparked almost daily by extremely hot and windy conditions and, most recently, dry lightning strikes created by the fires themselves.

Cooler conditions on Wednesday gave the country a moment to count the cost of the fires, although there were still more than 100 blazes in the state of New South Wales, or NSW, alone and thousands of firefighters on the ground.

The body of a man was found in a burned car early on Wednesday on the south coast of NSW after emergency workers began reaching the most damaged areas, and police said the death toll will rise.

"Sadly, we can report today that police have confirmed a further three deaths as a result of the fires on the South Coast," NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys told reporters in Sydney.

"Police are also at Lake Conjola now, where a house has been destroyed by fire and the occupant of that home is still unaccounted for."

NSW police did not identify the missing man but said he was 72 years old and authorities have been unable to reach his home.

Police said early assessments have found nearly 200 homes have been destroyed, though they cautioned it was an early estimate.

Large-scale livestock and animal casualties are also expected across Australia's east coast, though Mogo Zoo-home to Australia's largest collection of primates, along with zebras, white rhinos, lions, tigers and giraffes-was saved.

The wildlife park was threatened by an out-of-control bushfire, though zoo keepers and firefighters managed to save all 200 animals.

In Victoria state, four people remain missing, state Premier Daniel Andrews said, after a massive blaze ripped through Gippsland-a rural region about 500 kilometers east of Melbourne.

On Tuesday morning, 4,000 people in the coastal town of Mallacoota fled to the shore as winds pushed a fire toward their homes under a sky darkened by smoke and turned blood-red by flames. Stranded residents and vacationers slept in their cars, and gas stations and surf clubs transformed into evacuation areas. Dozens of homes burned before winds changed direction late on Tuesday, sparing the rest of the town.

Mark Tregellas, a resident of Mallacoota who spent the night on a boat ramp, said only a late shift in the wind direction spared lives.

"The fire just continued to grow and then the black started to descend. I couldn't see the hand in front in my face, and it then it started to glow red and we knew the fire was coming," Tregellas said.

Meanwhile, Canberra was blanketed in thick smoke, reaching about 20 times hazardous levels, prompting health warnings.

Agencies VIA Xinhua

MV Sycamore departs from a naval base in Sydney on Wednesday to help communities ravaged by wildfires. ABIS BENJAMIN RICKETTS/ADF/ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[West African states moving to new currency]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530973.htm The France-backed CFA currency, used widely across West and Central Africa, will this year make way for a successor, the eco, in a move that reduces the former colonial power's influence over the shared currency.

As part of the reform, coinciding with the arrival of a new decade, the eight countries using the eco will no longer be required to keep half their foreign reserves in France, as is the case with the CFA.

The proposed switch to the eco was revealed by Cote d'Ivoire President Alassane Ouattara during a visit by his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to the West African nation on Dec 22.

As with the CFA franc, the eco will be pegged to the euro, guaranteeing its stability, Ouattara said.

Macron and his Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire described the reform as "historic", with Macron pledging the eco will be unveiled sometime in 2020, according to a report by France 24.

Aly Khan Satchu, a banker and consultant to blue-chip companies across Africa, said the move is more political than economic.

"Notwithstanding the headline-grabbing nature of the pronouncement, it appears that this is a baby-steps kind of reform," Satchu said. "These Francophone African countries were coming under tremendous bottom-up pressure to exert more independence from France, their erstwhile colonial master, and this announcement serves that need."

According to Satchu, the decision by the eight countries to drop the CFA franc and withdraw reserves from the French treasury serves to assert some semblance of economic independence from the former colonial ruler but will do little to change their fortunes.

"I believe that the CFA franc was actually uniquely positive," Satchu said. "It brought currency stability and a positive feedback loop of lower interest rates.

"If you look across Africa, knee-jerk economics has triggered a collapse in currency values like that of Ghana's cedi, which has fallen for 25 consecutive years. With that in mind, I think this is a poor decision economically."

Aside from Cote d'Ivoire, the countries switching to the new currency are Burkina Faso, Togo, Niger, Benin, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Senegal. All are former French colonies, with the exception of Guinea-Bissau.

The CFA franc, created in 1945, has long been criticized as a remnant of French colonialism. It was originally pegged to the French franc and later the euro, with France playing an important role in governing the currency.

While welcoming the move during a speech in Abidjan in Cote d'Ivoire, Macron said almost three-quarters of Ivorians never experienced colonialism and there is a need for them to build a new partnership of friendship with France.

Economic independence

Experts say that while the currency change may come as a symbolic expression of economic independence, countries in that part of Africa still need France for their survival.

According to Crispin Bokea, a financial inclusion and strategic planning specialist and economics lecturer at Kenya's Strathmore University, the move would not amount to full autonomy of monetary policy for the eight countries.

"The announcement can be seen as nothing more than a name change. The fact that the new currency is still pegged to the euro means that the monetary policy that was in place still persists," Bokea said.

Even though the Economic Community of West African States has urged members of the regional bloc to push on with efforts to establish a common currency, seven of its 15 members do not share the CFA franc.

Satchu said the eco, as currently defined, does not offer an economic rationale for its adoption by all members of the regional grouping.

Otiato Opali in Nairobi contributed to this story.

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Protests in India cast shadow on New Year celebration]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/02/content_37530995.htm NEW DELHI-Thousands of Indians ushered in the New Year by demonstrating against a citizenship law despite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attempts to dampen protests that have run for nearly three weeks.

The protests have rocked India since Dec 12, when the government passed legislation easing the way for non-Muslim minorities from the neighboring Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan to gain Indian citizenship.

Combined with opposition to a proposed national register of citizens, many Indians fear the law will discriminate against minority Muslims and chip away at India's secular constitution.

The Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, and the National Citizens' Register, or NRC, were part of the election manifesto of Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Meanwhile, Modi on Wednesday morning took to social media to extend New Year greetings to Indians.

"Have a wonderful 2020! May this year be filled with joy and prosperity. May everyone be healthy and may everyone's aspirations be fulfilled," Modi wrote on twitter. "Have a wonderful 2020!"

However, thousands of people gathered overnight into Wednesday in New Delhi in the biting cold to protest against the new law that makes religion the basis of citizenship.

Protesters had planned at least three demonstrations in the capital, including the area of Shaheen Bagh, where hundreds of residents have blocked a major highway for 18 days.

Irshad Alam, a 25-year-old resident of Shaheen Bagh, stood with his one-year-old in his arms and his wife by his side. He said he'd been participating in the protest every day.

"It's freezing here," he said, "But we are still here because we care about this movement."

More than 200 people gathered in and around a makeshift stage in the Muslim neighborhood chanting slogans and reciting poetry.

Police said they had deployed additional forces in New Delhi on New Year's Eve, with traffic curbs imposed in some parts of the capital.

Streetside poetry recitals, stand-up comedy, and music performances are also planned in the financial capital of Mumbai and the eastern city of Kolkata.

In the southern city of Hyderabad, at least two small groups of demonstrators have been organizing flash protests, to skirt police restrictions on larger gatherings.

Initially caught off guard by the scale of the protests, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, has scrambled to douse public anger, with Modi declaring that there had been no discussions on the NRC, contradicting party colleagues.

The BJP is running a campaign to say that the CAA is not discriminatory and is needed to help non-Muslim minorities persecuted in the three neighboring countries.

Agencies - Xinhua

Demonstrators attend a protest against a new citizenship law in New Delhi on Tuesday. ANUSHREE FADNAVIS/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-02 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Wildfires add fuel to social unrest in Chile]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/01/content_37530897.htm Chilean authorities are investigating whether wildfires that destroyed nearly 250 homes in the port city of Valparaiso on Christmas Eve were intentionally set, which may have been an attempt to keep the momentum of a two-month-old protest movement in the Latin American country.

Authorities are convinced that the fires which stranded thousands of people did not start spontaneously. Some analysts believe the intensity and timing of the blazes mark them as a new form of social protest and a continuation of the unrest that has gripped the country.

Nearly 500 fires spread through the hills of Valparaiso, destroying 245 homes in residential areas. Authorities responded by sending in firefighters, brigades from the National Forestry Corporation, or (Conaf, police and both army and navy personnel. The fires were both unusual in the region and unparalleled in their scope for the spring months of October, November and December.

Valparaiso, a UNESCO-designated city about 100 kilometers from Chile's capital, Santiago, has declared a state of emergency.

In a statement on Christmas Day, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel said evidence suggested arson was behind the fires. These were not the first fires in the region showing signs of being intentionally set, he said, adding that police and prosecutors were working together to investigate. Arson, said Blumel in Spanish, carries severe penalties.

His comments were based on a video that was allegedly filmed by a resident of one of the affected areas. The footage appeared to show a pickup truck leaving at high speed from a spot where a fire began and a small fuel container was found.

"The big question is whether they (the fires) were intentional-which is very likely-or not. Depending on the answer, the analysis varies," said Axel Buchheister, a lawyer and political analyst in Santiago.

"If the fires were intentional, they clearly seek to intensify and maintain social chaos and tension to cause the fall of the government and democracy," he said.

Protesters have been out en masse in Chile since mid-October to voice their displeasure with the country's economic and political model. Protesters calling for political reform led to Chile's biggest economic drop in a decade, with GDP in October contracting 3.4 percent.

Gonzalo Pinto, an instructor at the Valparaiso headquarters of Chile's Civil Defense, said on Friday: "Fires continue. Today we had a fire with red alert in Vina del Mar, also a small fire in Valparaiso.

"There is a 1 percent chance of spontaneous fires. All are provoked. They are either provoked by human mistakes or with the intention of creating fires," Pinto said.

The civil defense is working to support victims of the fires and to maintain order in emergency shelters at two schools.

The ultimate toll of the fires may not be known for some time.

Irregular constructions

Many of the affected constructions are irregular and are knowingly exposed to the risk of fire, said Buchheister, the lawyer.

"There is another concrete factor: urbanization does not meet the standards, and that translates into narrow streets or mere trails," he added. "In previous fires it has happened that fire trucks simply could not enter the area."

Oneidys Adriana Rondon Marquez, a director at ArqOne, a firm specializing in wooden architecture, said risk planning in Valparaiso accounts for floods and earthquakes but not fires. About two-thirds of the city's ad hoc houses fail to meet fire standards, she added.

Political analyst Alexis Lopez also believes the fires were purposely set as part of ongoing unrest.

Chile's protests were huge at first, with more than a million people taking to the streets in Santiago on Oct 25, but public support has dwindled visibly.

"The decline in public support for the protests has meant that coverage … has decreased and therefore, in the absence of such coverage, the violent actions of (some protesters) have also had to move and focus on other objectives," Lopez said.

"The number of fires makes it possible to argue that these are obviously intentional fires."

 

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2020-01-01 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Father concerned about Thunberg's profile]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/01/content_37530915.htm The father of Swedish teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg has told the BBC he will be happy when she returns to school after her year out campaigning, but despite the attention she received, her activism has made her a happier child and she is "in a good place".

Svante Thunberg was speaking on the BBC Radio 4 news program Today. Every Christmas, a number of high-profile public figures are invited to be guest editors, with one of this year's being the 16-year-old.

He revealed that before she discovered activism, Greta had suffered from depression, stopped going to school and even, in what he called the "ultimate nightmare for a parent", stopped eating.

But being diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, had given her a new clarity of vision which found its focus in the issue of climate change.

Her lone school strike protest in 2018 has become a global movement, which has seen her nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, address the United Nations and come in for personal criticism from US President Donald Trump, which she batted off lightheartedly.

"You think she's not ordinary now because she's special, and she's very famous, and all these things. But to me she's now an ordinary child-she can do all the things like other people can," said Greta's father.

"She dances around, she laughs a lot, we have a lot of fun-and she's in a very good place."

The levels of abuse she has received because of her public profile are a worry, he admitted. Previously, Greta has spoken of how she is picked on because of "my looks, my clothes, my behavior and my differences", and he said the hate generated by fake news allegations was particularly alarming but she handles it "incredibly well ... quite frankly, I don't know how she does it, but she laughs most of the time. She finds it hilarious".

Thunberg has accompanied his daughter on her global travels this year and said he thought she "really wants to get back to school" and that he looked forward to a "less intense" future.

In another part of the program, Greta interviewed veteran British wildlife broadcaster David Attenborough, who she has hailed as her inspiration, over Skype.

The 93-year-old described her impact as "astonishing". He said: "She has achieved things that many of us who have been working on for 20-odd years have failed to achieve-and that is you have aroused the world."

Earlier this year, in an exclusive interview with China Daily, Attenborough paid tribute to the difference Greta Thunberg had made to public debate.

"At the age of 16, you can't pretend you have the knowledge and science of a lifetime but you can see things very clearly, and young people do see things very clearly. It's their future so they have a better right to a powerful opinion," he said.

 

Greta Thunberg speaks during a climate strike in Edmonton, Canada, on Oct 18. AMBER BRACKEN/REUTERS

 

 

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2020-01-01 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Ex-Nissan chief flees Japan for Lebanon]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/01/content_37530903.htm BEIRUT, Lebanon/TOKYO-Ousted Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn was in his childhood home of Lebanon on Tuesday after fleeing was he said was a "rigged" justice system in Japan, raising questions about how one of the world's most-recognized executives slipped away while on bail.

Ghosn's abrupt departure marks the latest dramatic twist in a year-old saga that has shaken the global auto industry, jeopardized the alliance of Nissan Motor Co Ltd and top shareholder Renault SA and cast a harsh light on Japan's judicial system.

"I am now in Lebanon and will no longer be held hostage by a rigged Japanese justice system where guilt is presumed, discrimination is rampant, and basic human rights are denied," Ghosn, 65, said in a brief statement on Tuesday.

"I have not fled justice-I have escaped injustice and political persecution. I can now finally communicate freely with the media, and look forward to starting next week."

Tokyo officials have previously said the system is not inhumane and that Ghosn, who is facing trial on financial misconduct charges he denies, has been treated like any other suspect.

It was unclear how Ghosn, who holds French, Brazilian and Lebanese citizenship, was able to orchestrate his departure from Japan, given that he had been under strict surveillance by authorities while out on bail and had surrendered his passports.

Lebanese broadcaster MTV cited an official source as saying that Ghosn entered Lebanon using a French passport. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said they had no immediate comment on that report.

Ghosn arrived in Beirut on a private jet from Istanbul on Monday, said people familiar with the matter.

Japanese immigration authorities had no record of Ghosn leaving the country, the country's public broadcaster NHK said. A person resembling him entered Beirut international airport under a different name, NHK reported, citing an unidentified Lebanese security official.

Ghosn's lawyers were still in possession of his three passports, one of his lawyers, Junichiro Hironaka, told reporters.

 

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2020-01-01 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/01/content_37530906.htm RUSSIA

Moscow, Kiev finalize deal for gas transit

Moscow and Kiev on Monday signed a final five-year agreement on the transit of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine, after months of difficult talks but just ahead of a looming New Year deadline. Nearly 18 percent of the European Union's annual natural gas consumption comes from Russia via Ukraine, putting additional pressure on EU officials who helped to broker the deal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on his Facebook page that Ukraine will get at least $7 billion in transit payments from Russia over the next five years. He added that the deal could be prolonged by 10 more years. In a statement, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the agreement a "good and important signal to guarantee the security of our European gas supply".

SOUTH KOREA

Ex-minister indicted for corruption

Prosecutors on Tuesday indicted a senior aide of President Moon Jae-in on a dozen charges including bribery as they concluded a monthslong probe into a political scandal that rocked the liberal government and sparked huge protests. In a rare public response to an ongoing criminal case, Moon's office released a statement accusing prosecutors of pushing an excessive probe into former justice minister Cho Kuk and questioned whether it was politically motivated. The Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office said Cho was charged for receiving $5,190 in bribes, in the form of scholarships his daughter received from a medical school in Busan from 2017 to 2018, when he served as Moon's senior secretary of civil affairs.

AUSTRALIA

Raging blazes trap 4,000 in seaside town

Wildfires burning across Australia's two most-populous states on Tuesday trapped residents of a seaside town in apocalyptic conditions, destroyed many properties and caused at least two fatalities. In the southeastern town of Mallacoota, around 4,000 residents fled toward the waterside as winds pushed an emergency-level wildfire toward their homes. The town was shrouded in darkness from the smoke before turning an unnerving shade of bright red. Fire conditions worsened in Victoria and New South Wales states after oppressive heat on Monday mixed with strong winds and lightning strikes.

UNITED STATES

Attacker charged with hate crime

Federal prosecutors filed hate-crime charges on Monday against the man accused of a stabbing rampage at the New York-area home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration, saying the suspect kept journals with references to Adolf Hitler and "Nazi culture". Grafton Thomas, 37, entered no plea during his brief initial federal court hearing in White Plains, New York, and was ordered to remain in custody. Saturday's assault, which left five people wounded, prompted law enforcement to further bolster their presence in Jewish neighborhoods across the region.

GERMANY

Flights canceled as strike hits airline

Operations of low-cost airline Germanwings, subsidiary of Lufthansa, were severely restricted after flight attendants started a three-day strike action on Monday. Around 180 flights were expected to be canceled. The flight attendants' union UFO had asked its members not to show up for work between Monday and Wednesday. Eurowings, the new umbrella brand for which Germanwings is operating, expects that around 15 percent of its 1,200 flights would be affected by the strikes. The airports in Cologne-Bonn, Munich, Hamburg as well as Berlin-Tegel would be hit the worst.

 

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2020-01-01 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Iraq warns US ties at stake after deadly airstrikes claim 25 lives]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2020-01/01/content_37530914.htm BAGHDAD, Iraq-Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi on Monday condemned US airstrikes on bases of an Iraqi militia group, a move that could plunge Iraq further into the heart of tensions between the United States and Iran in the Middle East.

The US military carried out airstrikes on Sunday against the Kataib Hezbollah militia in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said.

At least 25 militia fighters were killed and 55 wounded.

"The prime minister described the American attack on the Iraqi armed forces as an unacceptable vicious assault that will have dangerous consequences," Abdul Mahdi's office said.

The airstrikes will force Iraq to reconsider working with the US-led international coalition against the Islamic State terror group, the Iraqi National Security Council said in a statement.

The Kataib Hezbollah said they will hold a mass funeral ceremony on Tuesday in Baghdad near the high-security Green Zone, where the US embassy is located.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it will summon the US ambassador in Baghdad over US attacks.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also condemned the US airstrikes, calling them "bloody".

Meanwhile, Washington accused Iraqi authorities of having failed to "protect" US interests.

"We have warned the Iraqi government many times, and we've shared information with them to try to work with them to carry out their responsibility to protect us," a senior US State Department official told reporters in Washington on Monday.

He said the US military and diplomats are in the country "upon the invitation of the Iraqi government".

"So it's their responsibility and duty to protect us. And they have not taken the appropriate steps to do so," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iran denies role

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iranian-backed forces-which helped Baghdad turn the tables on IS terrorists and are integrated into the Iraqi security apparatus-for attacks on US bases in Iraq.

Iran on Monday strongly denied any role in recent deadly attacks on the US forces in Iraq. Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiee said: "This unsubstantiated US claim cannot justify the bombing and killing of people in violation of international regulations."

Rabiee said that the US attack was more proof of its "destructive" role in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and it once again showed that "as long as the US keeps its uncalled-for presence in Iraq and Syria, peace will be unattainable for all".

Tensions have risen between Teheran and Washington-Iraq's two main allies-since May 2018 when US President Donald Trump pulled out of the world powers' 2015 nuclear deal with Teheran and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

On Tuesday, dozens of angry Iraqis broke into the US embassy compound in Baghdad after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire.

Demonstrators also torched US flags in the Shiite-dominated southern cities of Basra and Najaf, and in Kirkuk north of Baghdad.

Separately, dozens of Iraqi lawmakers called on the government to review an agreement allowing the deployment of 5,200 US soldiers in the country, saying the strikes amount to a violation that renders the pact obsolete.

US Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker said the strikes were a "proportionate" response for the death on Friday of the US civilian contractor in a rocket attack.

"We don't want an escalation here, we want a de-escalation," he added.

 

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2020-01-01 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Experts seek clear cybersecurity rules to enable tech cooperation]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530805.htm Allegations against Chinese tech companies like Huawei serve a political purpose but ruin the global technological trend to break barriers for cooperation, experts said.

So, clear regulations on cybersecurity could help address global needs given its increasing importance for the digital era and to develop and to break down barriers for cooperation.

A resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly on Friday with the aim of creating a new international convention on cybercrime is expected to be conducive to meeting global needs.

Abdul Wahid Mattoo, the security incident response manager at Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, also known as du, said the United States is using politics against Huawei and others for economic self-interest.

And it is crucial for companies and countries to collaborate on 5G and other fields, as partnering with companies who have strong expertise can help to better promote innovation.

Du and Huawei have been working together since 2006 and are now partnering to develop a 5G network. They released a joint white paper on the value of this technology in October.

Referring to Huawei and using its network devices, Mattoo said: "I've never encountered a security-related incident which would tell (me) that something is wrong somewhere, or the information is going somewhere else.

"We haven't seen any unusual activities."

Mauro Pezze, a professor of software engineering at Schaffhausen Institute of Technology, or SIT, in Switzerland, said that governments, companies and individuals must understand what to adopt in terms of cybersecurity regulations to break barriers for cooperation.

Barriers will likely emerge if innovative technologies are overprotected, which can be unhealthy for development, said Pezze.

Serguei Beloussov, the co-founder and CEO of Acronis, an international cybersecurity firm with headquarters in Switzerland and Singapore, said he hoped less onerous regulations and fewer trade barriers would promote the development of the global economy and stimulate innovation.

He added that he did not expect concerns over cybersecurity in issues like the United States-China trade conflict to be resolved soon, since technology is rapidly evolving.

"Any area where ... the situation is not 100 percent clear, it becomes a good area for politics," said Beloussov, referring to cybersecurity concerns raised during the US-China talks.

Speaking further about cybersecurity laws, Beloussov said the same kind of regulations and laws applicable to many other industries were not in place for the cyberworld.

As for punitive measures, he said: "I generally do not think that barriers between countries are good things. I think, in the vast majority of cases, various regulations decrease the size of the global economy and make everybody in the world poorer."

The global spending on cybersecurity-related hardware, software and services will reach $151.2 billion in 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of 9.4 percent, according to global market research firm International Data Corporation.

Meanwhile, China and the US are soon expected to clinch a "phase one" economic and trade agreement, which includes issues related to intellectual property rights and technology transfer, among others, according to Xinhua.

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Palestinians still hopeful as 2020 looms]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530860.htm GAZA, Middle East-The Palestinians bid farewell to 2019, frustrated yet hopeful that the coming new year will witness a breakthrough ending the internal Palestinian division that would strengthen their position vis-a-vis Israel.

Palestinians were seeking in the last quarter of 2019 to hold their general elections, the first in 13 years. However, they are still waiting for Israel's permission to hold them in East Jerusalem.

As peace talks with Israel have been stalled, Palestinians received a push when the International Criminal Court, or ICC, announced plans to open an investigation into allegations of war crimes in the Palestinian territories after a preliminary investigation that lasted more than four years.

Internal split

During 2019, the two Palestinian parties, the Islamic Hamas movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement, failed to end their division which began when Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

A series of Arab and Egypt-brokered understandings reached between the two rivals failed amid growing feuds between Hamas leaders and Abbas.

Failure to end the internal division has increased frustration and despair among the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where no official face-to-face meetings were held except a meeting in Moscow on Feb 11, which included not only the two rivals but leaders of all Palestinian factions.

The Moscow meeting led to no result, except a photo opportunity.

A unity government headed by the independent academic Rami Hamdallah, formed under the reconciliation agreements reached in April 2014, resigned on Jan 29, and was succeeded by a new one headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Ishtaye.

But the formation of a new government sparked outrage among Palestinian factions who said that this would deepen the internal division.

On Sept 23, eight Palestinian factions presented an initiative to achieve unity and end division, but it did not gain the attention of the Palestinian officials.

Presidential poll

On Sept 26, Abbas announced in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly in New York that he would call for legislative elections to be followed by presidential elections in the Palestinian territories.

He designated Hana Nasser, president of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, to start contacts and dialogue with Hamas and other political powers in the Palestinian territories. On Nov 27, Hamas officially announced that it accepted holding the elections.

However, issuing a presidential decree that sets a date for holding the elections was stuck due to Israel's refusal to hold the elections in East Jerusalem.

Abbas' insistence on holding the Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem aimed to challenge US President Donald Trump, who announced in late 2017 that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.

No breakthrough

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have remained stalled since 2014 following a nine-month US sponsorship that ended without any breakthrough due to deep differences on the settlements, Jerusalem and the borders of the Palestinian state.

On July 25, Abbas told a Palestinian leadership meeting held in Ramallah that he decided to stop sticking with the agreements signed with Israel in response to the mass destruction of Palestinian homes in southwest of Jerusalem.

During 2019, Palestinians complained about the increase in Israeli settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. At the same time, 252 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during violent clashes with Israeli security forces.

Severed US ties

Political ties between Palestine and the United States remained severed since the latter declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel at the end of 2017 and moved the US embassy to the city in May 2018.

Palestinians also insisted on rejecting the US Middle East plan, better known as "Deal of the Century", and boycotted the forum hosted by the US in Bahrain in June to roll out the economic part of the deal.

Palestinian ties with the US further worsened after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in November that Israeli settlements, built on the Palestinian lands, didn't violate international laws.

Xinhua

Palestinian demonstrators run amid tear gas smoke fired by Israeli forces during a protest in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday. SAID KHATIB/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[UK set to experience warmer weather]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530850.htm After weeks of frigid winter conditions, residents of the United Kingdom should soon be basking in unseasonably warm weather.

The mild spell, which will likely start on New Year's Eve when a tropical plume blows in from the Atlantic, the Daily Mail newspaper predicts, be the warmest for the time of year since 1841.

Meteorologists say the coming days could see 16 C reached, which will make the UK warmer than Corfu in Greece.

The Independent newspaper says the warm weather will continue well into January, with The Met Office, the nation's official weather forecaster, expecting the best of it to be found in Wales.

The unusually warm temperatures will be around 9 C higher than is usual for the time of year, Met Office forecaster Simon Partridge added.

"North Wales and Northeast Scotland will see the mildest temperatures in the coming days, but even London's 11C will be 3 C above average."

In contrast, Athens in Greece will see 9 C while Rome will reach 11 C.

But, as is so often the case with the UK's turbulent weather, parts of the UK will first have to endure more of the torrential rain that has hammered the country for weeks and which has caused widespread flooding.

The Met Office predicts at least 30 locations in the south could be hit by flooding before the warm weather settles in, and the Environment Agency has issued 67 severe weather warnings in connection with the heavy rain. Counties set to be hit by flooding include Dorset, Hampshire, Sussex, and Wiltshire, and the government's flood information service says heavy rain could disrupt travel and cause property damage.

Met Office meteorologist Alex Burkill said: "The reason for the settled weather (is) high pressure over Europe-that's dominating our picture. For most it's going to stay dry but cloudy and rather mild... but toward northwestern parts of the UK there will be a series of fronts coming through, bringing wet and windy weather with them."

Similarly mild weather meant Moscow in Russia saw its warmest Christmas Eve on record, with the mercury hitting 6 C. The Russian capital has experienced its warmest December since 1886 and Roman Vilfand, the head of Russia's weather forecasting agency, recently said 2019 was Russia's warmest year on record.

The unusually mild weather in Europe comes as scientists announced ice sheets in the Antarctic have melted far faster than predicted and a warm patch of water has been identified off New Zealand.

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[New York governor calls latest anti-Semitic attack 'domestic terrorism']]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530848.htm The Jewish community in the New York metropolitan area was coping with another assault on its members over the weekend after a man burst into a Hanukkah party and stabbed five people.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called the violence, which occurred late Saturday at the home of a Hasidic rabbi in Monsey, New York, an act of "domestic terrorism."

Cuomo on Sunday met with victims who had been attending the holiday celebration at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg.

"This is terrorism, it is domestic terrorism," Cuomo told reporters. "These are people who intend to create mass harm, mass violence, generate fear based on race, color, creed."

"We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism," US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter.

The suspect in the stabbings, Grafton Thomas, 38, from Greenwood Lake, New York, was arrested in Manhattan. Authorities said Thomas had blood from the victims on his clothing, and his car smelled of bleach when he was apprehended.

Thomas was arraigned Sunday on five counts of attempted murder and ordered held on $5 million bail, Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht said on Twitter. Thomas is due back in court Friday.

Josef Gluck, who was attending the celebrations, told Agence France-Presse that he saw the suspect stab multiple people as onlookers threw a coat rack, table and chair in his path and chased him out of the home.

"He was a big husky guy with a scarf over his face and nose," Gluck said. "Only saw his forehead and eyes. He came in wielding a big knife, sword, machete ... and he started hitting people right and left."

One witness who was at the rabbi's home said he began praying for his life when he saw the assailant remove a large knife from a case.

"It was about the size of a broomstick," Aron Kohn told The New York Times.

"People inside fought to stop him," Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, told the Times. "It was very heroic of them. They didn't just let this happen-they tried to defend themselves."

Thomas then tried to enter Congregation Netzach Yisrael-Kosson, a synagogue next door, but the entrance was barricaded by people who had fled the house, according to media reports.

Gluck said he ran after the car and memorized the license plate number.

Four of the victims, reportedly including the son of Rabbi Rottenberg, were hospitalized and later released. The fifth victim, an elderly man, was in critical condition.

Monsey is a section of Ramapo with a large Orthodox Jewish population. The area in Rockland County, the population of which is more than 30 percent Jewish, is about 30 miles from New York City.

Taleea Collins, a family friend of Thomas', told reporters Sunday that the suspect had struggled with mental illness for two decades and had sought help.

"Grafton is not a terrorist," Collins said. "He is a man who has mental illness in America, and the systems that have not served him well."

The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah commemorates the 2nd century BC victory of Judah Maccabee and his followers in a revolt against armies of the Seleucid Empire.

In November, a man in Monsey was stabbed multiple times while walking to a synagogue, according to media reports.

Saturday's violence was at least the 10th anti-Semitic incident in the New York and New Jersey area in a week, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Other recent attacks in the past month included the assault of a 65-year-old man who was punched and kicked by an assailant yelling an anti-Semitic slur in Manhattan on Monday, and attacks on two other men in Brooklyn on Tuesday.

Those incidents came after six people were killed during a shooting rampage at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, earlier this month. The two suspects in the attack were killed in a shootout with police and were believed to have fatally shot a Jersey City police detective before driving to the kosher store.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned "recent displays of anti-Semitism including the vicious attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey", at the start of a weekly Cabinet meeting.

Reuters contributed to this story.

 

 

People hold signs of support near the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on Sunday in Monsey, New York. STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY IMAGES/AFP

 

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530847.htm THE PHILIPPINES

9 missing as typhoon death toll rises to 47

The official death toll from Typhoon Phanfone has risen to 47 and is likely to keep rising as nine more people are reported missing, the government said on Monday. Police and local officials said most of the deaths were due to drowning, falling trees and accidental electrocution. Typhoon Phanfone, which made landfall on Tuesday afternoon in Eastern Samar Province, left a trail of destruction as it barreled through towns and villages across the central Philippines and parts of Mindanao.

URUGUAY

4 arrested in $1b-plus cocaine seizure

Four people were arrested for possible ties to the more than $1 billion worth of cocaine seized in recent days in Uruguay, the largest drug bust in the history of the South American country. The arrests took place on Saturday, news outlets reported. Authorities found 5.9 tons of cocaine, 4.4 tons of which was packed into cargo containers in the coastal port of Montevideo, said Attorney General Enrique Rodriguez. He did not say where the drugs were destined. Multiple news outlets reported it was being sent to Africa. The men accused of exporting the drug operate a soybean business, the Uruguayan customs agency said on Friday.

AUSTRALIA

Heatwave reignites bushfire crisis

Extreme weather reignited the bushfire crisis across Australia on Monday, with emergency warnings in four states as soaring temperatures and strong winds fanned infernos. Wind gusts of above 100 km/h battered southeastern Australia while temperatures over 40 C made firefighters' task extremely difficult. Around 30,000 people in the Victoria State region of East Gippsland were told to evacuate as out-of-control fires threatened communities there. Popular with hikers, campers and families, especially during the Christmas holiday period, the Gippsland Valley area is not affected by bushfires spread more than 15,000 square kilometers.

ITALY

Avalanche kills skier, 4th fatality in 24 hours

An avalanche has killed a skier in the Dolomite Mountains, the fourth avalanche fatality in the Italian Alps in 24 hours. Italian state TV said the skier was among four people struck by an avalanche near a mountain refuge Sunday morning. A day earlier, a wall of snow crashed into a group of German skiers in the Senales Valley of Bolzano Province, killing two 7-year-old girls and the mother of one of them. Prosecutors say they are investigating whether that slope should have been closed to the public that day, given a high risk of avalanches. Strong winds have raised the danger of avalanches in Italian Alpine ski areas, which are crowded with vacationers during the holidays.

ANTARCTICA

First to row across Drake Passage

As freezing water thrashed their rowboat in some of the most treacherous waters in the world, six men fought for 13 days to make history, becoming the first people to traverse the infamous Drake Passage by nothing other than sheer manpower. They dodged icebergs, held their breaths as giant whales breached near their small boat and rode building-sized waves while rowing 24 hours a day toward Antarctica. The team of men from four countries finished crossing the Drake Passage on Wednesday just under two weeks after pushing off from the southern tip of South America. Besides the threat to their lives, the men labored under grueling conditions. Their 9-meter rowboat had to be in constant motion to avoid capsizing. That meant three men would row for 90 minutes while the other three rested while cold and wet.

Xinhua

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[France to monitor social media in search of tax cheats]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530846.htm The constitutional court in France has approved controversial new rules allowing the government to trawl taxpayers' social media postings in search of undeclared income.

Human rights groups and the country's data protection authority have expressed concern about users' privacy being compromised, with national data watchdog the Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertes, known as CNIL, saying that while it recognized the government's aims were legitimate, personal freedom could be at risk.

But Minister of Public Action and Accounts Gerald Darmanin welcomed the news on Twitter, saying: "The constitutional court has just ruled that this experiment conforms to the constitution ... one more tool to fight fraud!"

He also told Le Figaro newspaper: "If you say you're not a fiscal resident in France and you keep posting pictures on Instagram from France, there might be an issue."

Sites such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as online selling platforms such as eBay, could be monitored for clues about additional sources of income.

"I'd like to point out that there is nothing extraordinary here, other countries are already doing it, such as the United States or Britain since 2010 for example," Darmanin told Reuters.

When the changes were first proposed, CNIL said that such a far-reaching data management operation could "significantly change individuals' behavior online, where they might not feel able to express themselves freely on the platforms in question".

The court approved the legislation as part of a wider range of tax law changes by the French government, which is carrying out a three-year experiment in increased online monitoring, but has made it subject to certain limitations.

Anything that is password-protected is off limits to the authorities, and any information gathered can only be used in relation to the person who has shared it.

But free speech campaigners are still far from satisfied, saying the lack of precision regarding the move could be the start of something more far-reaching.

"An experiment without any goals is a joke," said Arthur Messaud, from French internet freedom advocacy group La Quadrature du Net.

"We're putting the cat among the pigeons by allowing the generalized monitoring of the internet for everything and anything."

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US strikes hit militia targets in Iraq, Syria]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530822.htm BAGHDAD, Iraq-The United States has carried out airstrikes against a militant pro-Iran group in Iraq, killing more than 20 fighters, two days after a rocket attack on an Iraqi base led to the death of a US civilian contractor.

The Pentagon said on Sunday it targeted weapons caches or command and control facilities linked to the Shiite Kata'ib Hezbollah group, or KH, in western Iraq, as well as eastern Syria, in response to a barrage of 30 or more rockets fired on Friday.

According to local media, at least 25 fighters were killed and at least 55 wounded following US strikes in Iraq.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: "We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy."

Four US service members and Iraqi security forces were also wounded in Friday's attack at the K1 Iraqi military base in Kirkuk, an oil-rich region north of Baghdad.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday the airstrikes were successful, and he did not rule out further action to "deter further bad behavior from militia groups or from Iran".

Esper also said that he and Pompeo had traveled to Florida, where US President Donald Trump has been spending the Christmas holidays, to brief him on the latest Middle East events.

"KH has a strong linkage with Iran's Quds Force and has repeatedly received lethal aid and other support from Iran that it has used to attack" coalition forces, the Pentagon said earlier, referring to the external arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

A few hours later, four rockets exploded near a base housing US troops close to Iraq's capital without wounding anyone, an Iraqi security official told Agence France-Presse.

The military spokesman for Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister Abel Abdel Mahdi decried "a violation of Iraqi sovereignty".

Another powerful pro-Iran faction, the Assaib Ahl al-Haq paramilitary group-whose leaders were recently hit with US sanctions-called for the US to withdraw from Iraq.

"The American military presence has become a burden for the Iraqi state and a source of threat against our forces," it said in a statement.

"It is therefore imperative for all of us to do everything to expel them by all legitimate means."

Soared tensions with Iran

US-Iran tensions have soared since Washington pulled out of a 2015 landmark nuclear agreement with Teheran last year and imposed crippling sanctions.

Iraq-which has close relations with both the US and Iran-risks being caught in the middle.

More than 5,000 US troops were deployed in Iraq to support the Iraqi forces in their battles against Islamic State militants, mainly providing training and advising to the Iraqi forces.

In Iraq's neighbor Syria, Iran backs the government in an eight-year civil war.

Friday's attack on the K1 base in Kirkuk, Iraq, involved a direct hit on an ammunition depot that set off secondary explosions. Four more rockets were found in their tubes in a truck at the launch point, according to a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Federal security forces, Shiite militia units and Islamic State sleeper cells all have a presence in Kirkuk Province, which is claimed by both Iraq's northern autonomous Kurdistan Region and federal authorities.

Friday's attack and the US retaliation came as Iraq is gripped by its biggest anti-government street protests since the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Protesters, many of whom grew up in the post-Saddam era, have vented their anger at a government they consider inept and corrupt.

Protest related violence has claimed about 460 lives, most of them demonstrators, and left some 25,000 people wounded, but rallies and sit-ins have continued.

Xinhua

Iraqi soldiers on Sunday reload their rocket launcher on top of their vehicle following a series of attacks around the Ain al-Asad airbase that hosts US forces. NASSER NASSER/AP

 

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[BRI industry parks bolster African links]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530842.htm Chinese-built industrial zones under the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, have become effective platforms for African countries to learn about China's development experiences and realize their industrial transformation.

Hisham AbuBakr Metwally, an economics researcher with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Trade and Industry, said that while African countries are striving to catch up on the industrialization front, such joint economic zones with China give them opportunities to attract investment as well as to learn about best practices when it comes to China's economic development.

"Such industrial zones under the BRI support growth in Africa and help the continent achieve employment goals," he said.

Data from the General Administration of Customs showed that Chinese companies invested $34 billion in overseas economic and trade cooperation zones in BRI related countries, and about 4,500 Chinese companies have established operations in the zones. And they have paid $2.8 billion as taxes and fees to local governments and created more than 300,000 jobs for locals.

On the Africa continent, there are currently 25 Chinese-built industrial zones, which have created more than 40,000 jobs for locals and paid nearly $1.1 billion of taxes to local governments, Qian Keming, vice-minister of commerce said at a news conference in June. And he said that China is encouraging the construction of more industrial zones in Africa.

These industrial zones are defined by the Ministry of Commerce as industrial parks that are independent legal entities established overseas by Chinese companies. They have complete infrastructure, clear industrial development strategies, and provide public services to companies in it.

One of the flagship projects is the Chinese-built Eastern Industry Zone, which is 30 kilometers from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. It is also Ethiopia's only overseas industrial zone at the national level.

Founded in 2007, the zone has 83 manufacturers and has created over 10,000 jobs for locals. The companies there are mainly engaged in sectors like cement, footwear, automobile assembly, and textiles& garments, according to its website.

Another model for development is the China-Egypt TEDA Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, which is located in a desert 50 kilometers south of the seaport city Suez and 120 kilometers east of Egypt's capital Cairo.

The zone has 84 enterprises, including 42 manufacturing companies, and has attracted more than $1 billion investment. It has also generated about $58.2 million in taxes, according to the Egypt-TEDA SEZone (Suez Canal Economic Zone) Development Co.

The industrial park hosts companies involved in manufacturing, logistics, technology development, commerce, and finance.

Metwally said that this industrial zone has not only attracted Chinese companies, but also investments from other countries. For example, Russia has been attracted to invest in the same region with a big industrial zone.

"The China-Egypt TEDA Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is a breakthrough and offers a model for Egypt's industrialization," he said.

Zhang Jianping, the director-general of the Institute of West Asia and Africa at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation under the Ministry of Commerce, said that the BRI is a huge platform for global cooperation and development under which China and Africa can work together to realize the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Offering a model

Zhang said that the building of industrial parks under the BRI is critical to Africa's development. The African countries' infrastructure is relatively poor, and their development capacity is relatively weak. So, if they try to realize industrialization project by project, it will be slow.

"But industrial parks could quickly pass China's experiences to African countries, helping them bring industries together, improve efficiency and reduce risk amid development," he said.

Moreover, industrial parks can help improve infrastructure, offer jobs and vocational training to local workers, and generate taxes for local governments.

Jiang Hao, a partner at global consultancy Roland Berger, said that with the BRI, an increasing number of Chinese companies were willing to invest overseas.

For overseas companies that want to invest in Africa, these industrial parks can help them understand the destination countries' business environment, get better access to local recourses, simplify the examining and approving formalities and reduce legal risks.

He also said that these parks could speed up building of African countries' industrial capacity.

"For example, if a vehicle manufacturing factory comes up in an industrial park in Africa, downstream enterprises, including auto parts makers, are very likely to follow suit. Thus, an African country could rapidly build up a complete supply chain for the auto industry," he said.

Metwally said that many African countries attached great importance to the BRI as they want to get involved in mega-infrastructure projects financed and implemented by China, as these projects have a positive impact on boosting economies and contributing to growth."

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An Ethiopian works at a shoe factory in the Eastern Industry Zone, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ZHANG YU/XINHUA

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Russia and Ukraine close to sealing new gas transit deal]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530841.htm Reaching the final details of an agreement to transport gas to Europe via Ukraine was difficult for Russia, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak said on Sunday, but the worst-case scenario has been avoided.

According to Ukraine's Justice Minister Denis Malyuska, the signing process "has started" and "is not yet finished". He also posted a photo of the possible location of the document-signing ceremony on his Facebook page.

Talks on the details of final text started on Thursday in Vienna, Austria, and CEOs of Russia's Gazprom and Ukrainian companies, as well as senior ministry officials from both countries joined the talks on Sunday, according to a Gazprom spokesman.

On Dec 20, Moscow and Kiev announced that a new natural gas transit contract had been agreed upon for the term of five years.

Under this agreement, Gazprom, Russia's state-owned energy company, is bound to pay around $2.9 billion to Naftogaz, Ukraine's national oil and gas company, by the end of 2019.

Gazprom reported that the amount had been paid to Naftogaz on Dec 27.

Kozak described cooperating with Ukraine in the matter of gas transit was like "a choice between bad and worse" during an interview with Russian Rossiya-1 television channel on Sunday.

"The sum of $2.9 billion was a hard decision for Gazprom, for our country," said Kozak. "But we could have lost a bigger, much bigger sum."

The spokesman said Gazprom is about to sign an interconnection agreement with Ukraine's gas transmission systems operator, as well as a transit agreement with Naftogaz.

Under the agreement, a minimum of 65 billion cubic meters of gas will be transported from Russia in 2020 and at least 40 billion cubic meters annually from 2021 to 2024.

However, the Ukrainian side is not so optimistic about Sunday's discussion.

Naftogaz head Andrei Kobolev told media that all parties have so far been unable to agree on the texts of any gas transit agreements.

During the talks, three documents are being discussed, Kobolev revealed.

"In the past few days, our team worked with the Russians to agree on texts of treaties for implementation of the protocol signed in Minsk (capital of Belarus). It is clear that we are bargaining about every comma," he said.

Ukraine hasn't bought Russian gas directly since 2015, a year after a referendum in Crimea-then part of Ukraine-endorsed the region's integration into Russia. The vote was held after separatist conflicts broke out in the easternmost regions of Ukraine: Luhansk and Donetsk.

In December, Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement in principle on a new gas transit contract through the mediation of the European Union and Germany.

The European Union now imports nearly 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia. As the most important transit country of Russian gas, Ukraine earns billions of US dollars of transit fees every year.

 

 

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Taliban have 'no cease-fire plans' in Afghanistan]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530838.htm KABUL, Afghanistan-The Taliban on Monday denied agreeing to any cease-fire in Afghanistan after rumors swirled of a potential deal that would see a reduction in fighting after more than 18 years of war.

"In the past few days, some media have been releasing untrue reports about a cease-fire.... The fact is that, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no cease-fire plans," the Taliban said in a statement.

But according to officials from the Taliban, the insurgent group's ruling council agreed on Sunday to a temporary cease-fire in Afghanistan, providing a window in which a peace agreement with the United States can be signed. The council didn't say when it would begin.

A cease-fire, which had been demanded by Washington before any peace agreement could be signed, would allow the US to bring home its troops from Afghanistan and end Washington's longest war in history.

There was no immediate response from Washington.

The US wants any deal to include a promise from the Taliban that Afghanistan would not be used as a base by terrorist groups. The US currently has an estimated 12,000 troops in Afghanistan.

Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansoor was expected to approve the cease-fire decision. The duration of the cease-fire and when it would begin has was not been specified.

Four members of the Taliban negotiating team met for a week with the ruling council before they agreed on the brief cease-fire. The negotiating team returned Sunday to Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain their political office and where US special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding peace talks with the religious militia since September, 2018.

Talks were suspended in September when both sides seemed on the verge of signing a peace pact. However, a surge in violence in the capital Kabul resulted in the killing of a US soldier, prompting US President Donald Trump to declare the deal "dead". Talks resumed after Trump made a surprise visit to Afghanistan at the end of November announcing the Taliban were ready to talk and agree to a reduction in violence.

Khalilzad returned to Doha at the beginning of December. It was then that he proposed a temporary halt to hostilities to pave the way to an agreement being signed, according to Taliban officials.

Taliban officials familiar with the negotiations spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media outlets.

Key pillar

A key pillar of the agreement, which the US and the Taliban have been hammering out for more than a year, is direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban insurgents.

Those intra-Afghan talks were expected to be held within two weeks of the signing of a US-Taliban peace deal. They will decide what a post-war Afghanistan will look like.

The first item on the agenda is expected to address how to implement a cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghanistan's National Security Forces. The negotiations, however, were expected to be prickly and will cover a variety of thorny issues, including rights of women, free speech, and changes to the country's constitution.

The intra-Afghan talks would also lay out the fate of tens of thousands of Taliban fighters and the heavily armed militias belonging to Afghan warlords. Those warlords have amassed wealth and power since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 by the US-led coalition shortly after Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida carried out the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US. The Taliban had harbored bin Laden, although there was no indication they were aware of al-Qaida's plans to attack the US.

Even as the Taliban leaders have been talking about ceasing hostilities, Taliban insurgents carried out an attack in northern Afghanistan on Sunday that killed at least 17 local militiamen.

The attack apparently targeted a local militia commander who escaped unharmed, said Jawad Hajri, a spokesman for the governor of Takhar Province, where the attack took place late Saturday.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Taliban frequently target Afghan National Security Forces and US forces, as well as government officials. But scores of Afghan civilians also have been killed in the cross-fire or by roadside bombs planted by militants. The United Nations has called on all sides in the conflict to reduce civilian casualties. The world body said increased US airstrikes and ground operations by Afghan forces, as well as relentless Taliban attacks, have contributed to an increase in civilian casualties.

Agencies

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Kim calls for decisive turn in economy]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530837.htm PYONGYANG-The ruling party of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea emphasized the need to straighten the economic work system at a plenary meeting of the central committee, official Korean Central News Agency said on Monday.

At the second-day session of the 5th Plenary Meeting of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, or WPK, on Sunday, the DPRK's top leader Kim Jong-un analyzed the problems arising in the overall building of the state, including state management and economic construction.

Kim put forward in detail the orientation of the struggle for bringing about a decisive turn in the development of the country's economy and people's standards of living, the report said.

Kim "presented the tasks for urgently correcting the grave situation in the major industrial sectors of the national economy", the report added.

He also emphasized the need "to take positive and offensive measures for fully ensuring the sovereignty and security of the country as required by the present situation", KCNA said.

KCNA said the plenary meeting "goes on", suggesting it will be a multiple-day meeting.

The plenary meeting came a week after a meeting of the WPK's Central Military Commission that discussed "important organizational and political measures and military steps to bolster" the armed forces.

'New path'

Kim, who has said Pyongyang would pursue a "new path" if Washington persists with sanctions and pressure, is expected to announce major policy changes during his New Year's address on Wednesday.

The KCNA report did not describe any decisions made at the meeting or mention any specific remarks by Kim about the United States.

Pyongyang's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper published photos of Kim, wearing a white dress shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, speaking from a podium as hundreds of government and military officials jotted down his comments.

Lee Sang-min, a spokesman for the Republic of Korea's Unification Ministry, said Seoul is closely watching the DPRK meeting, but he didn't speculate on what Kim's call for active and offensive security measures could have meant.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst at ROK's private Sejong Institute, said it was the first time under Kim's rule that a plenary meeting of the party's Central Committee continued for more than a day.

Kim has met Trump three times in two years of high-stakes summitry, but the diplomacy has progressed little beyond their vague aspirational goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. At their last meeting in June, they agreed to resume talks. A working-level meeting in Sweden in October broke down with the DPRK blaming its US counterparts for maintaining an "old stance and attitude".

Xinhua - AP

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Toyota fined for price fixing]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530836.htm Toyota Motor Corp has been being fined 87.6 million yuan ($12.5 million) for violating antitrust laws set by China's market regulator.

"We have been informed about the penalty and we respect the decision," a spokesperson from Toyota in Japan told China Daily in a telephone interview on Monday, but he refused to make further comments.

On Friday, China's State Administration for Market Regulation published a document on its website that said Toyota Motor (China) Investment Co Ltd was fined for price-fixing on its premium Lexus cars in eastern China's Jiangsu province.

According to the document, Toyota breached the law between 2015 and 2018 by setting a minimum resale price for Lexus cars in several cities in Jiangsu, depriving dealers of pricing autonomy and harming competition.

It also said Toyota took a number of measures to impose price controls, such as cutting supplies to dealers selling at lower prices for certain models.

In conclusion, the administration said the setting of a minimum price "had a relatively strong binding effect and deprived sellers of the right to set prices", and thus a fine was decided on Dec 6 due to "the interests of consumers being undermined".

Toyota is the seventh automaker fined for price fixing since China's Anti-Monopoly Law came into effect in 2008. In June, Ford Motor's joint venture with Chang'an Automobile Group was fined 162.8 million yuan for violating anti-monopoly laws.

"The anti-monopoly law is rather new in China and is barely used compared to other countries and that resulted in the recurring problem of price fixing," said Jin Jianmin, a senior fellow at Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo.

Jin said a better way to solve the problem is for China to follow the European Union's example where violating automakers are fined based on global sales, not just on sales in the region where violations took place.

"In Toyota's case, the fine was 2 percent of Toyota's China unit's sales in 2016." Jin added.

China's auto sales declined in 2019, but Lexus has fared well, with sales in the first 11 months of 2019 at 180,200 vehicles, a 21 percent jump from a year earlier.

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US ag-tech startups moving to China]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/31/content_37530845.htm Shortly after entering the US market, ProteoSense, a Columbus, Ohio-based ag-tech startup, is looking at China as a target market for international expansion.

The company's pathogen detection platform allows agricultural water, food and environmental samples to be tested on-site in about 90 minutes. Conventional testing, which requires sending tests to a lab, usually takes a few days for results.

"For example, if you're an apple grower, apples go through the processing facility where they're washed and sorted, and that's where the risk for a food-borne pathogen comes in," said Mark Byrne, founder and CEO of ProteoSense.

The company's technology can help food manufacturers and processors comply with increasing food-safety requirements by quickly identifying pathogens rather than acting after a contamination problem or recall has occurred, Byrne said.

He said his company is looking for partnerships that have customer relationships in China.

The fast-growing middle class in China is driving food-safety improvements in the country, and its vast market provides big opportunities for ag-food tech companies.

US startups are going to China not just for that market, said Jonathan Hua, an early-stage investor at Scrum Ventures in Silicon Valley.

"China is great with building hardware very quickly and at a very low price. And China has a great infrastructure in building IoT, hardware solutions and automation," he said.

Many agriculture startups manufacturing products in the United States, such as robots that automate the harvesting process, are turning to China for sourcing components and manufacturing, Hua said.

Tensorfield Agriculture, a Silicon Valley-based startup, has chosen Shenzhen to build its nonherbicide weeding robot for "the fastest and most capable production timelines for prototyping", according to company CEO Xiong Chang.

The company is participating in a program of the Shenzhen-based HAX Accelerator, which aims to bring a prototype to production in the hardware space.

"China also has a lot of investment funding. And the government is very supportive of technological initiatives and bringing agriculture technologies from Silicon Valley to China," said Hua.

The city of Nanjing is building a giant agriculture innovation zone, and there are several initiatives popping up around China, all being backed by the government, he said.

"Collaborations like this are very critical, because together we'll be able to get there faster," said Hua. "I think American startups certainly should be going to China to exploit the opportunities to get funding or partnerships."

In the ag-tech space, what most of the accelerators are trying to do is to move the startups to the next stage of investment and then an exit through acquisition.

But Aaron Magenheim, founder of AgTech Insight, a Salinas, California-based ag-tech consultancy, said he wants to build a Chinese company and stay there for a long time.

"I'm not trying to have a quick exit to pay off a venture capitalist," said Magenheim.

"We can either bring a technology from Silicon Valley to China, or we can make the concepts work for China and build it there."

For the past five years, Magenheim has been working to build relationships and networks in China. He said he doesn't believe in "patent infringement very much anymore".

"It used to be important, but now the most important thing is 'time to market' and market share-getting a decent product out to the masses and having big adoption rates," he said.

"So if you look at it in that way, a US company should not be worried about a Chinese company taking their idea and running with it," he said.

 

 

 

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2019-12-31 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Chinese diplomat urges EU to stick to principles]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530691.htm China's top diplomat to the European Union has called for the bloc to treat Chinese companies such as Huawei in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.

Zhang Ming, the head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, made the comment in an interview with the Financial Times published on Thursday, according to a transcript provided by the Chinese mission.

Zhang, a former vice-foreign minister, said that he is not saying that the EU must accept or reject a certain company from a certain country. "But it is important for the EU to keep to the very fundamental principles of multilateralism, free trade and market economy. It's important for them to stand by the principles of openness, fairness, justice and non-discrimination," he said.

He emphasized that these are principles that the EU has long held dear to its heart. "So I hope on these matters of principle, the EU would not be ambivalent but be unequivocal. Otherwise there will be serious market distortions," he said.

"That will bring chaos to the world," he warned, citing the US allegation that European cars pose national security threats.

US President Donald Trump enraged European leaders in May by declaring European car imports a national security threat. He also threatened to slap on punitive tariffs.

The US government has also intimidated EU member states, warning that if they include Huawei in their 5G networks, they will face consequences from the US, such as the termination of intelligence sharing.

EU member states are expected to publish their final recommendations for security checks regarding 5G suppliers in January. Huawei, which has a major presence in the European telecom market, is a global leader in 5G technology.

Zhang described 5G technology as a result of global innovation and cooperation that could deliver benefits to all.

He warned against the tendency of politicizing cybersecurity, saying that some people believe that any country or its enterprise of a different social system or value system is suspect and must be restricted, brought down and boycotted.

He said such a tendency is not in line with the principle long held by the EU, citing Microsoft founder Bill Gates' recent comment that if Americans are skeptical about Huawei, then there is a reason for the Chinese to suspect the US administration of manipulating an engine of a Boeing aircraft.

In an article on the Politico website earlier this month, Abraham Liu, Huawei's chief representative to the EU Institutions, said Huawei wants to help Europe achieve technological leadership while enabling it to achieve its digital sovereignty by safeguarding data protection and privacy rights and improving cybersecurity.

He described Europe as the natural 5G leader with its most advanced operators and a world-leading industrial base. "This, married with the best 5G innovators-with Huawei as a full partner-means that Europe can shape the world's 5G landscape," he said.

Liu believes 5G will contribute to achieving the Green Deal rolled out by the new European Commission that aims to make EU the first carbon neutral continent by 2050.

 

Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese mission to the EU

 

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530747.htm DPRK

Fifth plenary session of WPK convenes

The ruling Workers' Party of Korea in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea opened the fifth plenary session of its central committee on Saturday, the Korean Central News Agency reported. The session was intended to lay out a new "transparent anti-imperialist independent stand" for the country in the face of stalled talks with the United States, the news agency said. The meeting was held "in order to overcome the manifold and harsh trials and difficulties and further accelerate the development of the revolution with a transparent anti-imperialist independent stand and firm will", the report said.

AUSTRALIA

Fireworks display to go ahead despite protest

A petition to cancel Sydney's famous New Year's Eve fireworks and use the money to fight bushfires ringing the city has topped 260,000 signatures, but officials say the show will go on. Sydney is spending A$6.5 million ($4.5 million) on this year's fireworks display-funds that the Change.org petition argues would be better spent on supporting volunteer firefighters and farmers suffering through a brutal monthslong drought. The massive fireworks display "may traumatize some people", the petition says.

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Rail team awarded Colombia contract]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530736.htm Chinese infrastructure companies are enhancing their presence in Colombia despite its difficult social and economic conditions.

Early last week, a Chinese consortium emerged as the sole bidder and winner of a contract on Dec 23 to build a regional rapid transit system. Known as Regiotram of the West, the system will connect Bogota with four outlying cities.

"The project will not only become a model of a suburban train, the first commuter train of the country, it will become a reference for cities like Cali, Barranquilla and Medellin to present their own projects," said Juan Camilo Ostos, vice minister of transport.

"Regiotram is an example of how things can be done. It has been a process of much technical thoroughness and it will be a model for other cities interested in commuter trains," he said. The plan is for this regional rapid transit to be completed by 2024 and be capable of moving about 40 million passengers per year.

The China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, or CCECC, a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation, was the sole bidder for the project. The trains will run completely on electricity across 39.6 kilometers and 17 stations spread through four towns and Bogota.

"Regiotram of the West is the most important mobility project of the country of the past few years," Jorge Rey, governor of Cundinamarca said at a news conference earlier.

The timing is somewhat complicated for the launch of a new project. Colombia has been undergoing a period of civil unrest and protests since Nov 21, affecting the retail sector and investments in the Latin American country.

"The fact that only one bidder has submitted a proposal is a product of the situation that the country is going through," said Ostos.

"China has extensive infrastructure experience. In projects of these characteristics, they have a competitive advantage over other market players, since they have the entire financing chain," he said.

He said the contractor will have to assume the risks of a currency that fluctuated a lot during the protests.

Jing Liu, CCECC's agent in Colombia and the company's representative in the bidding process, declined to comment on the bid or the bidding process before the contract is signed on Jan 8.

Under the project, CCECC will build the railway and system of stations and related infrastructure at a cost of $543 million. It will cost Colombia another $343 million for CCECC to operate the system for 22 years.

" (The Chinese) have been successful in infrastructure projects all around the world. They have done them in India, the Middle East, Europe, here in Latin America, everywhere," said Juvenal Infante, director of the Centre of Studies of Asia-Pacific and director of an educational travel program to China at Sergio Arboleda University in Bogota.

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Suicide bomb attack causes massive casualties in Somali capital city]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530724.htm MOGADISHU-A suicide car bombing in Somalia's capital city on Saturday has left at least 79 dead and 149 others injured so far. Somali and United Nations leaders have condemned the terrorist attack.

Somali government spokesman Ismael Mukhtar Omar confirmed the death toll from the suicide bomb attack, which occurred at a checkpoint on Afgoye road on the outskirts of Mogadishu.

The Somali government "strongly condemns this despicable act of terrorism", said Omar, who added that a commission appointed by Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire visited the hospitals treating those injured.

Most of those killed were university students returning to class and police officers, said Somalia's police chief General Abdi Hassan Hijar. He said the vehicle detonated after police at the checkpoint blocked it from proceeding into the city.

Eyewitnesses said they had seen body parts scattered on the road. "I have seen people who lost their limbs screaming, it was a terrifying scene," Lul Qali, an eyewitness, said.

An unnamed police officer at the scene said the huge blast was targeted at a tax office on the road. "As officials were checking cars passing the road, a car suddenly exploded, causing casualties and damage."

Eyewitnesses said that they had heard a heavy blast near a taxation office during the morning rush hour.

"I was in a rickshaw and I heard a heavy blast, then I saw black smoke up in the air," said Jibril Aden, a witness. "All three people onboard a rickshaw right in front of us were killed in the blast. People panicked and ran to different directions for safety."

It is reported that some Turkish engineers involved in the construction of a road into the city were present at the time of the blast, and Turkey has confirmed the deaths of two of its nationals.

Mogadishu Mayor Omar Mohamud Filish told a news conference that the truck involved in the attack blew up on a busy road near the checkpoint where vehicles waited for a security check.

At least 15 students from Banadir University who were traveling in a minivan were also killed, according to multiple sources.

Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo sent his condolences to those killed and wished the injured a quick recovery. He said terrorists targeted innocent children, mothers and fathers who were going about their activities.

"Today is a sad day that shows how terrorism has targeted our people. I share our grief with the families," he said in a statement after the attack.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the attack, noting that perpetrators of this horrendous crime must be brought to justice, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

Guterres reiterated the full commitment of the UN to support the people and government of Somalia in their pursuit of peace and development, while expressing his deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery to those injured, the statement said.

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack, the deadliest in Somalia since a truck bombing in October 2017 in Mogadishu, which left at least 276 people dead and more than 300 others injured.

 

A Somali police officer walks past the wreckage at the scene of a car bomb explosion at a checkpoint in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Saturday. FEISAL OMAR/REUTERS

 

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[New support for Mediterranean studies]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530699.htm With the establishment of an institute on the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Zhejiang International Studies University intends to get more support for Chinese scholars studying the region's social, economic and cultural issues.

"The Mediterranean Rim is somehow a new field for the academic world to explore, which means more efforts should be ramped up," said Yang Fuchang, former deputy foreign minister of China at the inauguration ceremony on Saturday in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The Institute for Studies on the Mediterranean Rim, or ISMR, is the first of its kind in China.

Nearly 50 scholars from China and the Mediterranean region have been appointed to be advisers and researchers at the institute.

"Connectivity emerges as one of the key concepts of the 21st century and the region around the Mediterranean Sea is playing a significant role in global economy, peace and security," Doga Olmez, vice consul with the Consulate General of Republic of Turkey in Shanghai, said at the institute's inauguration ceremony.

Ma Xiaolin, a professor of Zhejiang International Studies University and director of the new institute, said ISMR will serve as a think tank to help cultivate more professionals and lead China's research into the Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean region refers to the lands circling the Mediterranean Sea. The 21 countries belong to the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe. The sea is a pivotal point along the ancient Silk Road and has bred colorful cultures. The region is considered one of the cradles of the world's civilizations due to its long history and profound culture.

"The increasing economic exchanges and cooperation between China and Europe are offering the region new opportunities to enhance its profile in international trade," Olmez noted.

She said her country will work closely with China under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative and explore effective means to connect countries around the sea to keep it a symbol of creativity and vitality.

Qin Jirong contributed to this story.

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[China Railway Construction Corp engineers extend Moscow subway]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530721.htm Having completed drilling a 4.6-kilometer tunnel for three subway stations of Moscow's Large Circle line on Wednesday, engineers with China Railway Construction Corporation, or CRCC, are now set to construct the stations and some nearby facilities.

The tunnel project is the first in which a Chinese company has been involved in building a local metro system using Chinese equipment and technology.

Now scheduled to be completed in 2023, the Large Circle line will include 31 stations with a total railway length of 12.5 kilometers. "We will remain working in the project after the tunnels are drilled through," said Xue Liqiang, general manager of CRCC Moscow metro project.

The CRCC began drilling the 4.6-km stretch of tunnel in August 2017 on the Large Circle line in Moscow, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020, and the first tunnel was completed in early April.

When construction started in 2010 as an extension of the Moscow Metro system, the Large Circle line was supposed to be completed by 2021. However, the completion date had been postponed until the end of 2023.

"Our technologies can be applied to a wide range of strata and are competent for both station construction and tunneling work," Xue said.

"As for management, Chinese management is more compact, working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our equipment has superior performance. It can be adapted to all sorts of working conditions, is easy to operate and has good follow-up supporting services," Xue said.

The CRCC employs more than 100 engineering and management staff and over 700 workers on the project. About half of them are Russians.

The Chinese underground construction team has impressed the Russian partner again by their speed and the high quality of their work.

"I have worked with different kinds of tunnel boring machines. China's machines have good overall performance. Their functions have been improved and defects corrected," said Yuri Zakharov, head of the construction zone for the CRCC project.

The CRCC designed and produced five tunneling shields capable of withstanding the city's harsh winters and complicated geological conditions.

Zakharov noted China's tunnel boring machines can handle any excavation lines and climate conditions.

"Our Chinese partners have made full preparation for the project at the very beginning," he said.

Chinese and Russian personnel used to have many different opinions and even argued for over a month as the two countries have different technological standards and approaches, said Konstantin Orlov, chief mechanic on the project.

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[CEO has to restore trust, fix Max plane]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530719.htm Boeing is seeking to regain public trust and re-establish itself as the world's pre-eminent aircraft manufacturer with the appointment of a new CEO, but correcting the engineering flaws in the 737 Max jet may be the easy part, according to analysts.

To restore credibility, Boeing must be open and direct when dealing with the US Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, customers, pilots and the public, say the analysts. But a plaintiff's attorney believes harm to the company's reputation may be irreparable.

"I'm not sure there is anything the new CEO can do to correct the damage as far as how the victim's families view Boeing," said Floyd Wisner, an Illinois lawyer who has negotiated out-of-court settlements for some of the relatives of those killed in the Indonesian crash of a 737 Max in October 2018.

"All trust is lost and there's a great deal of anger-especially among the families of those killed in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, who rightfully believe Max should have been grounded immediately after the Lion Air crash in Indonesia, " he said. All 737 Max planes around the world were grounded following the Ethiopian Airlines crash in March 2019, which killed all 157 people aboard.

Analysts have estimated that Boeing will spend at least $20 billion to return the Max to service. Costs include compensation to airlines for lost revenue due to the grounding of the jet, out-of-court settlements with family members of those killed in the crashes as well as the cost of storing new but undelivered aircraft and returning grounded planes to the air.

The New York Times reported that Boeing has developed strategies for airlines to win back public trust and customers, including handing out cards to passengers stating why the plane is safe, having flight attendants or members of the flight crew personally address a customer's fears, or even rebooking passengers on a non-Max flight.

The crashes of the Lion Air flight in Indonesia and the Ethiopian Airlines flight in Ethiopia, killing a total of 346 passengers and crew, sparked the exodus of Boeing's top management.

CEO Dennis Muilenburg, 55, was fired on Dec 23. David Calhoun, currently board chairman of Boeing, takes over as CEO on Jan 13.

Muilenburg, an aerospace engineer, assumed the top post in 2015 after being with Boeing for 34 years. CNN reported last week that public filings show he could be entitled to more than $30 million in compensation-$20 millionplus worth of vested stock and a pension package totaling more than $11 million-and potentially a severance payment of about $7 million.

Muilenburg was criticized for making overly optimistic statements about the Max's return to service and for his tin ear in dealing with criticism from Congress, regulators and family members of the crash victims.

After the second crash, Muilenburg said the Max would return to service by December. But United Airlines recently said it had pulled the jet from its schedule until June 4 after previously expecting flights to resume in March. Southwest and American airlines hope the plane will return to service by spring.

With Muilenburg's exit, other Boeing executives are also leaving. The company's top lawyer, Mike Luttig, who advised Muilenburg on strategic and legal matters following the crashes, will retire in early January. Kevin McAllister has been removed as head of Boeing's commercial airliner division and Anne Toulouse will resign at the end of the year as vice-president for communications.

Different tone

Calhoun, the new CEO, is former senior managing director and head of private equity at investment firm Blackstone Group and former chairman of Nielsen Holdings, a marketing and media information company. He has served as a member of Boeing's board of directors since 2009 and, like other directors, approved the initial version of the Max's flawed anti-stall system. He therefore shares final responsibility for the Max's design and the company's response to the crashes.

Calhoun already appears to be setting a different tone with the FAA. Last week, he personally called the regulatory agency and talked privately with officials rather than including other top executives on the call, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The conversation followed Boeing's release to the FAA of what some see as still more damaging documents about the Max's development. The content of the documents hasn't been disclosed, but Boeing has acknowledged they could be damaging.

Earlier this month, Boeing announced a temporary halt in Max production, a move that's likely to disrupt the supply chain.

"You need redundant systems-double and triple redundancy that would operate and warn the flight crew if anything goes wrong," said John Cochran, professor emeritus of Aerospace Engineering at Auburn University in Alabama and president of Eaglemark, an aviation consulting firm.

"That's good engineering. Boeing's new CEO also will have to be a good public relations man. He must be honest and persuade everyone, including the FAA, that things have changed from top to bottom at Boeing."

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[US battling threat of wild pigs]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530704.htm In China, the rush to stop the African swine flu is at fever pitch. In the United States, another battle is raging-against feral pigs.

US authorities are working to reduce the population of wild pig-snow in the millions-because they are considered the most destructive invasive species in the country.

In June 2019, the US Department of Agriculture announced to offer $75 million in funding for the eradication and control of feral pigs.

"Wild pigs will eat just about anything. About 90 percent of their diet is composed of plant matter, while 10 percent is composed of animal matter," said Bronson Strickland, professor of wildlife management at Mississippi State University Service.

"Wild pigs readily consume invertebrates, freshwater mussels, reptiles, amphibians, eggs from ground-nesting animals, small mammals. As for plant matter, unfortunately, wild pigs commonly consume agricultural crops like corn, peanuts, soybean, rice, sorghum."

"Our ecosystem didn't evolve with the presence of these pigs," said Russell Stevens, strategic consultation manager and wildlife and range consultant for the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma. "That's why their presence is so detrimental to our native plants."

The first feral pigs were brought to the Americas by Spanish explorers in the 16th century. The Spanish released the pigs as they traveled and then hunted them for food if they returned to the area.

Then Eurasian boars were bought to the US, mainly from Canada, in the 1980s and 1990s. At first, they were imported as livestock. They mated with the feral hogs creating today's enormous feral population. Feral pigs are prolific breeders. Each female pig can give birth to six or more piglets a year.

Lafayette, California, about 30 kilometers east of San Francisco, was forced to close nature trails and parks after 40 feral hogs invaded a park at dawn this month, digging up the ground looking for worms and grubs. They caused $50,000 in damage and became aggressive toward dogs and humans.

In November, a pack killed 59-year-old Christine Rollins outside an elderly Texas couple's home where she worked as a caregiver. It was only the fifth death attributed to feral pigs since the 1800s.

Mike Bodenchuk, state director for Texas Wildlife Services, said that unprovoked attacks by wild pigs on people are "very rare".

Around 6 million pigs live wild in parts of North America, mainly in the US South. Three million inhabit Texas alone. They have existed in 17 states for centuries, but recently expanded into 38 states.

The hairy black and brown pigs can weigh as much as 800 pounds, and it is estimated that they cause more than $1.5 billion in damage a year. That includes the after-effects of the pigs' collisions with vehicles.

Wild pigs are also extremely adaptable and can survive in extremely cold climates. Bodenchuk said that in Texas the wild pig population is kept under control by shooting them. Some hunters choose to shoot them from helicopters with semiautomatic weapons.

Jim Cathey, associate director for the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, said: "If you have pigs in a trap, they're a formidable animal. They will do a few things. They may pop their jaws so you can hear their jaws clamp together, so that's an auditory warning and if you press them-say, you're trying to get them to go into a trailer or whatever-they'll charge.

"If you pressure them or they are cornered, they will either go around you or through you. They are super powerful; their canine teeth extend beyond their jaw."

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[For ROK and Japan, a year of fraying ties]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/30/content_37530722.htm Seoul-Tokyo ties were at a low ebb in 2019, as disputes rooted in Japan's wartime colonization of the Korean Peninsula resurfaced with a magnitude that damaged the two neighbors' diplomacy as well as their economic and trade relations.

Japan and the Republic of Korea's relations have deteriorated since October 2018 when the ROK's top court ordered a Japanese firm to pay compensation for the forced labor of Koreans during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule. Disagreements intensified and extended to other fields this year, not only fraying bilateral ties but also threatening regional stability and global economic development.

In July, Japan imposed tighter regulations on exports to the ROK of three materials critical for the production of semiconductors and flexible displays, citing Seoul's lax control system of strategic items that can be diverted for military use.

Japan also removed the ROK from its list of trusted trading partners. Under the new rules, Japanese companies are required to apply for an individual license to export materials to the ROK, a process that can take up to 90 days.

The ROK views the Japanese moves as retaliation against its court ruling. In response to export curbs, Seoul decided in August to terminate the bilateral military pact, the General Security of Military Information Agreement, or GSOMIA, saying exchanging sensitive military information with an untrustworthy partner is not possible.

Many analysts said that the dispute between Japan and the ROK is not just about trade but about an undercurrent of tensions stemming from Japan's wartime atrocities as well as a long-running territorial dispute between Tokyo and Seoul.

Lyu Chao, a researcher of the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the grudge between Seoul and Tokyo goes back more than a century when the Japanese colonized the Korean Peninsula. Their animosity intensified during World War II when Japan conscripted over 670,000 Koreans as forced laborers.

"Despite the decades that have passed, the Japanese government's attitudes towards war crimes is deeply resented by its neighboring countries. Therefore, as a result of the unresolved historical disputes and unsettled war-torn sentiments, new problems will still emerge today," Lyu said.

Bilateral ties have become further strained following the two neighbors' measures and countermeasures. Antagonism has grown between the two peoples, with the targeting of exports becoming an outlet for the expression of national sentiment. The Japanese are boycotting K-pop singers' albums and refusing to watch ROK TV dramas, while people in the ROK are campaigning against purchases of Japanese cars and electronics.

 

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2019-12-30 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Count on fiercer partisan divisions with US moving into election year]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/29/content_37530660.htm WASHINGTON-The year 2019, which kicked off in Washington D.C. with the longest US government shutdown and the inauguration of a deeply divided Congress, is drawing to a close with US President Donald Trump's impeachment as its final, discordant note.

The partisan wrangling is moving into the deep waters of the 2020 election year, which is almost certain to produce more acrimony, divisions and chaos.

At the center, two major events will help shape the country's bumpy election year: the impeachment trial in the Senate in January that Trump is widely expected to survive and the highly competitive Democratic primaries beginning in early February.

Trump impeachment

"I want an immediate trial!" Trump tweeted on Dec 20.

The president's demand came two days after the Democrat-led House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment that allege abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House's vote capped months of closed-door inquiries and public hearings in the lower chamber.

However, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer, the top Republican and Democrat, respectively, in the Republican-controlled Senate, have yet to agree on the rules governing the upcoming trial. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still won't say if or when she plans to send the impeachment papers to the Senate.

"The House cannot choose our impeachment managers until we know what sort of trial the Senate will conduct," said Pelosi in defending her decision in a tweet on Monday.

In response, McConnell said: "We're at an impasse."

US citizens' views on the impeachment are neatly split along party lines. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on the day of the impeachment found 48 percent of registered US voters believe Trump should be impeached and removed from office; 48 percent say they disagree.

Moreover, both Democrats and Republicans show no willingness to move closer to each other on the impeachment issue. The poll showed some 90 percent of Republicans oppose impeaching Trump and removing him from office, while 83 percent of Democrats favor it. Among independents, 50 percent support impeachment and removal, while 44 percent oppose it.

"Views on Donald Trump's impeachment remain locked in place, with most Americans having made up their minds both on Trump and the impeachment investigation a long time ago," said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research.

The Democratic Party won the first phase of the impeachment battle in the lower chamber, but failed to make the case transcend the white-hot partisan divide, local analysts observe.

Senate Republicans may follow suit by acquitting Trump in a quick wrap-up of the trial, with little effort made to sway those with opposing views.

Democratic primaries

No matter how the Senate trial unfolds next year, the chances of Trump being convicted are small, if not "zero" as McConnell has asserted. Republicans show no sign of abandoning the president.

It won't be as easy to predict the outcome of the 2020 Democratic primaries, which are likely to overlap with a delayed impeachment trial when they kick off in early February. The competition between the party's progressives and moderates will be intense. A recent poll found 57 percent of Democrats might change their minds on the candidates before the primaries and caucuses next year.

Based on most of the polls conducted in 2019, former vice-president Joe Biden, a moderate, remains a fragile front-runner in the sprawling field of Democratic challengers. He is followed by senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are splitting the progressive vote.

To the surprise of many, tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang has slightly overtaken Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend in Indiana, in the 2020 Democratic primaries net favorability rankings, according to a Morning Consult poll published on Tuesday. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, activist Tom Steyer and House lawmaker Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii are also fighting hard in the hope of becoming the party's banner-holder in 2020.

However, beyond those topics relating to Trump, the candidates disagree a lot, as six primary debates held by the party's national committee this year have shown. The issues that divide them range from a Medicare for All proposal, free college education and gun control to a wealth tax and climate change. The progressive agenda has garnered much more support among Democratic voters than ever before.

Suspense is building over the whether the eventual winner will be a progressive, a moderate, or someone in between.

"Democratic Party voters are split," said Thomas Edsall of Columbia University, citing a CBS survey breaking Democratic voters into three roughly equal groups: the most progressive wing; the middle group pushing bread-and-butter concerns like jobs, taxes and moderate healthcare reform; and those Democratic primary voters who describe themselves as moderate to conservative.

"The Democratic Party is actually three parties. They have different constituents and prefer different policies. Satisfying them all will not be easy," Edsall was reported by The Washington Post as saying.

The sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans seem to be working in Trump's favor. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Darrell West said that Trump's base has worried "about the left wing taking over", and see Trump as working hard to stop the left.

"He has very strong support from his base and this will continue through the 2020 election," West said.

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2019-12-29 12:12:13
<![CDATA[Stores share in festive cheer as sales climb]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/29/content_37530659.htm Holiday retail sales in the United States increased 3.4 percent overall this year, while online sales rose 18.8 percent despite a shorter season, according to a credit card company report issued on Thursday.

Mastercard SpendingPulse tracked retail sales from Nov 1 through Dec 24, Christmas Eve. Most holiday shopping is completed between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. But Thanksgiving was six days later this year than last, shortening the traditional holiday rush.

"Due to a later than usual Thanksgiving holiday, we saw retailers offering omni-channel sales earlier this season, meeting consumers' demand for the best deals across all channels," Steve Sadove, senior adviser for Mastercard and former chairman of Saks, said in a statement. "E-commerce sales hit a record high this year with more people doing their holiday shopping online."

Mastercard SpendingPulse said total apparel sales increased 1 percent overall this year from 2018 and e-commerce sales in the sector were up 17 percent from Nov 1 to Dec 24.

Jewelry sales grew 1.8 percent overall while online sales increased 8.8 percent. Electronics and appliance were up 4.6 percent overall and 10.7 percent online.

Overall, department store sales were down 1.8 percent, underscoring the importance of using the internet as a tool to drive overall sales, Mastercard SpendingPulse said.

On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "2019 holiday retail sales were up 3.4 percent from last year, the biggest number in US history. Congratulations America!"

In 2017, holiday shopping sales increased 5.1 percent from the previous year, Mastercard told Reuters. But Trump is correct if "the biggest number" refers to total retail sales, not the percentage gain year-over-year. The strength of the US economy is likely to be a key issue in Trump's 2020 re-election bid.

Online retailer Amazon put out a release on Thursday claiming a "record-breaking" season.

"This holiday season has been better than ever thanks to our customers and employees all around the world," said Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO.

The Seattle-based giant also said it was "a record-breaking holiday season for independent third-party sellers-mostly small and medium-sized businesses-with worldwide unit sales seeing double-digit year-over-year growth, surpassing a billion items sold in Amazon's stores.

In October, Amazon said third-quarter sales rose 24 percent from 2018 to $70 billion.

On Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite Index crossed the 9,000-point mark for the first time as all three major Wall Street indexes posted record closing highs, boosted by optimism over US-China trade relations and gains in shares of Amazon, which climbed 4.4 percent.

Tiffany, a high-end jeweler, said sales increased 3 percent overall since Nov 1, driven by strong sales in China. The company didn't break down its bricks-and-mortar and e-commerce sales.

"We are pleased to present out interim sales results for this important season, which reflect improved global trends compared to previous quarters this year," Tiffany's CEO Alessandro Bogliolo said in a statement.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group based in Washington, said it was encouraged by initial steps in a phase one trade agreement with China.

"For the first time in months, the United States and China are moving in the right direction on tariffs and we congratulate negotiators from both sides," David French, the federation's senior vice president for government relations, said in a statement.

"Tariffs create uncertainty and costs for American retail supply chains and the trade war won't be over until they are eliminated completely. We agree that we need to realign out relationship with China, but tariffs that harm American businesses, workers and consumers are not the answer."

US retail sales, which account for about two-thirds of gross domestic product, have risen steadily from $399.53 billion in 2000 to $701.2 billion in 2018. Retail sales dipped slightly in 2008 and remained flat in 2009 in response to the bursting of the subprime mortgage housing bubble and subsequent economic slowdown, reported Statista, a private-sector provider of market data.

Estimates for total holiday sales in 2019 ranged from $729.3 billion to $1 trillion.

Now employment is at record highs and interest rates are low, thanks to three cuts of a quarter of a percentage point each by the US Federal Reserve.

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2019-12-29 12:12:13
<![CDATA[Netanyahu gains 'huge' victory in party vote]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/29/content_37530644.htm JERUSALEM-Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a "huge" victory on Friday after winning a leadership primary that ensures he will lead his right-wing Likud party into a March general election.

Israel's longest-serving premier, who faces a corruption indictment and a third general election in 12 months, was expected to beat rival Gideon Saar but the convincing margin of victory strengthened his position in the party he has dominated for 20 years.

With all votes counted, Likud announced that Netanyahu had secured 72.5 percent of the ballots, with Saar winning 27.5 percent.

"A huge win! Thank you to Likud members for their trust, support and love," Netanyahu said on social media.

"With God's and your help, I will lead the Likud to a big victory in the upcoming election and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented achievements," he added.

Most media commentators had predicted a Netanyahu victory but its scale made banner headlines.

"Netanyahu, big time," said Yediot Aharonot, Israel's top-selling daily.

State radio described it as a landslide victory for Netanyahu.

The left-wing Haaretz newspaper described it as a battle between the "rational expediency" of Saar supporters and the "tribal loyalty" of the Netanyahu camp.

It noted the historic reluctance of Likud members to depose a sitting leader.

"Since 1948, the Labor Party has replaced its leader 17 times," it said. "The Likud has had only four leaders since Israel's inception, and only two since 1995.

"Netanyahu has led the party for the past 14 years consecutively, and for two decades altogether. Younger Likudniks have never known their party without Netanyahu at its helm."

Around 57,000 Likud members voted on Thursday-a little less than 50 percent of those eligible.

Saar, a former minister seen as to the right of Netanyahu, campaigned on the basis that the leader was no longer able to win elections after deadlocked polls in April and September.

"I am content with my decision to have stood. Those who are unwilling to take a risk for what they believe in will never succeed," Saar said on social media.

"My colleagues and I will stand behind (Netanyahu) in campaigning for the Likud's success," he added.

Saar announced his leadership challenge last month after Israel's attorney general indicted the prime minister on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.

Netanyahu, 70, denies the allegations, accusing the police, prosecutors and the media of a witch hunt.

Stephan Miller, a pollster who has worked on multiple Israeli campaigns, said Netanyahu had campaigned harder than ever before to defeat Saar.

Netanyahu held several campaign events a day in different parts of the country, while on Thursday his Facebook page broadcast live video of him phoning supporters.

In the campaign's most dramatic moment on Wednesday, Netanyahu was rushed off stage at a rally in the southern port of Ashkelon after a rocket was fired from the nearby Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

"His job was on the line and he fought to keep it successfully," Miller said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the media on Friday in Airport City, Israel. AMIR COHEN/REUTERS
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2019-12-29 12:12:13
<![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/28/content_37530643.htm UKRAINE

Deal for anti-tank missiles from US

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said on Thursday that it has signed contracts for more United States antitank missile systems, known as advanced fire-and-forget portable weapons. "During the fourth quarter ... the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine managed to sign contracts for the supply of the second batch of anti-tank missile systems 'Javelin', which are manufactured by the USA," Deputy Defense Minister Anatoliy Petrenko said.

IRAQ

President offers to quit over PM pick

Iraq's president refused on Thursday to designate a candidate for prime minister nominated by the Iran-backed parliamentary bloc and offered to resign. President Barham Salih's decision plunged the country into deeper political uncertainty amid nearly three months of unprecedented mass protests. Salih said in a statement that he would not name the governor of the southern Basra province, Asaad al-Eidani, as the country's next prime minister "to avoid more bloodshed".

CHILE

Wildfires in port city leave 700 homeless

Some 245 homes have been destroyed and 700 people left destitute after a forest fire tore through a poor area of the Chilean seaside city of Valparaiso on Christmas Eve. President Sebastian Pinera said on Thursday during a tour of the affected zone that there was evidence the fire had been started deliberately. "I deeply regret that what should have been a good night, a night of peace, should have been so profoundly altered by this tragedy," Pinera said.

 

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2019-12-28 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Japan to send troops in Middle East role]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/28/content_37530651.htm Despite constitutional restraints and public opposition, Japan's Cabinet approved a plan on Friday to send a Self-Defense Force aircraft and a destroyer to the Middle East, along with around 250 troops, amid heightened tensions in the region.

The planned deployment, backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition ally Komeito, is to purportedly conduct information-gathering operations and other activities related to improving the safety of commercial ships in the region.

Under the plan, the helicopter-carrying destroyer and a P-3C patrol plane, together with the 250 or so troops, will be sent.

In a bid to maintain its friendly ties with Teheran, Tokyo said its Self-Defense Force personnel will conduct their activities away from, and independent of, a Washington-led coalition in place to ensure maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz.

The decision marks a distinct U-turn by the government, which earlier in the year said it had absolutely no plans to deploy service personnel to the region.

The planned deployment is a thorny one owing to the nation's war-renouncing constitution, which heavily restricts the activities of the Self-Defense Force and specifically prohibits Japan from engaging in acts of war or maintaining armed forces with the potential for waging wars.

Kyoji Yanagisawa, Japan's former assistant chief Cabinet secretary in charge of national security and crisis management, questioned the move in an interview with Nippon Television Network, saying the deployment will "only serve US interests" and would be "a mistake".

Xinhua contributed to this story.

]]> 2019-12-28 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Fires threaten Sydney water supplies]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/28/content_37530657.htm SYDNEY-Australian authorities said on Friday they are focused on protecting water plants, pumping stations, pipes and other infrastructure from intense bushfires surrounding Sydney, the country's largest city.

Firefighters battling the blazes for weeks received a reprieve of slightly cooler, damper conditions over Christmas, but the respite is not expected to last long.

Temperatures in New South Wales state are forecast to head back towards 40 degrees Celsius early next week, fuelling fires near Warragamba Dam, which provides water to about 80 per cent of Sydney's 5 million residents.

"In recent days up to the cool change, the fires had been a potential threat to supply and assets, particularly in Warragamba and in the Blue Mountains," a spokesman for the state's water authority, WaterNSW, told Reuters.

"With the coming very hot conditions the fire situation may escalate in both those fronts and possibly elsewhere."

Warragamba Dam is 65 kilometers west of Sydney, catching water flowing from the mountains.

It is at 44.8 percent capacity, down from almost being full less than three years ago, as a prolonged drought ravages the continent's east.

Despite the widespread destruction, the state's water infrastructure network has not been damaged, the spokesman said.

There have been eight deaths, including two volunteer firefighters, linked to the blazes since they flared in spring.

With more than 40 dams across the state, WaterNSW supplies two-thirds of untreated water to the state's water utilities, which then treat and clean the resource to provide drinking water to cities and regional towns.

Large quantities of ash and burnt material could pose a threat to the quality of water in the dams if the fires are followed by heavy rain.

However, there is no significant rain forecast for the state in the short term and WaterNSW has put containment barriers to catch potential debris run-off, the water authority said.

Australia's reliance on a large volunteer firefighting force has been tested during this fire season that still potentially has months to run through the southern hemisphere summer.

While conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously said compensation for volunteers was not a priority, he said on Tuesday that government workers could receive additional paid leave for volunteering.

A senior government minister said on Friday the government was now looking into providing wider relief.

"The prime minister is looking at this issue further on how we can provide targeted support in these extreme circumstances so that our volunteers get the support they need to keep volunteering," Defence Minister Linda Reynolds told media in Perth.

While there are different rules across Australia's states, volunteers tend to negotiate time off directly with their employer.

]]> 2019-12-28 00:00:00 <![CDATA[UK politics changes its face in 2019]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/28/content_37530658.htm Following a general election, British politics looks very different at the end of 2019 compared with the beginning of the year.

Over the course of 12 months, Britain's Parliament reversed its position on the government's proposed withdrawal agreement bill on the nation's exit from the European Union, finally passing it three-and-a-half years after the country voted in a referendum to leave.

The original Brexit deal deadline of March 29, 2019, was set for two years after then prime minister Theresa May triggered Article 50-the formal process to leave-and kicked off negotiations.

May's minority government stumbled its way through attempts to pass laws and tackle Brexit, and ultimately brought gridlock to the House of Commons.

Under May, the deadline was delayed twice after members of Parliament rejected her negotiated Brexit deal-eventually pushing it to Oct 31.

The main sticking point for many MPs of the ruling Conservative Party was the so-called Irish backstop, designed to ensure there would be no border posts or barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit.

After winning a Conservative leadership contest in July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took over and set about renegotiating May's deal.

Johnson succeeded in replacing the backstop with new customs arrangements, and unlike the previous deal, the revised one would allow the United Kingdom to sign and implement its own trade agreements with countries around the world.

Despite this, Johnson missed the latest deadline after MPs again failed to pass the revised deal into law. The failure to approve a deal meant that Johnson had to send a letter to the EU to ask for a third Brexit delay. The EU agreed to a further extension, resulting in the deadline being pushed to Jan 31, 2020.

With Parliament in deadlock over the deal, Johnson called for an early general election, to which MPs agreed. The election, on Dec 12, resulted in a Conservative majority of 80, meaning it was then relatively straightforward for Johnson to pass his Brexit deal.

On Dec 20, in a historic moment for the nation, the withdrawal agreement bill was finally passed by 358 votes to 234.

In the election, the Conservatives celebrated their largest majority since Margaret Thatcher's landslide win in 1987, while Labour faced up to its worst election result since 1935.

The decisive majority was won with a big swing of votes from Labour to the Conservatives in areas of Britain that voted to leave the EU in 2016.

Johnson's message to "Get Brexit done" resonated with a public that had become weary of the lack of resolution over the subject.

The Labour strategy of trying to retain its support by remaining ambiguous about whether it was a pro-Remain or a pro-Leave EU party backfired badly.

Labour leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell apologized over the party's "catastrophic" defeat, which saw it lose 59 seats. The leader and shadow chancellor said they would step down in the new year.

Corbyn conceded that MPs "have to respect the decision of the EU referendum in 2016, and move on", but added: "That doesn't mean that we as a party should abandon our principles."

He said: "We remain certain there is a better and fairer way for this country to leave the EU. One which would not risk ripping our communities apart, selling out our public services or sacrificing hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process."

When MPs return after their Christmas recess on Jan 6, the Brexit bill will be debated for a further three days. It is expected to pass to the upper house of the UK Parliament, known as the House of Lords, by Jan 9. Once approved there, as is likely, the UK will be formally set to leave the bloc on Jan 31.

But this is only the first stage in the country's departure arrangements with the EU, as the UK will next enter a transition period until Dec 31, 2020.

Free-trade deal

During this period, the UK's trading relationship with the EU will remain the same while the two sides negotiate a free-trade deal.

If a trade deal is ready in time, the UK's new relationship with the EU can begin immediately after the transition. If not, the UK faces the prospect of having to trade with no agreement in force. This would mean possible checks and tariffs on UK goods traveling to the EU.

The Scottish National Party, which won 48 of Scotland's 59 seats in the election, says it rejects Brexit and now seeks to hold a second independence referendum-a ballot to which the Conservatives are strongly opposed. A constitutional clash between the Scottish and UK governments seems inevitable.

Though the process of ratifying the revised withdrawal agreement bill will continue in the new year, the country is now motoring toward the Jan 31 departure date. Johnson says "now is the time to act and forge a new relationship" with the rest of Europe.

Despite the progress, the UK remains a country divided by Brexit. More than half the votes cast in the election were in favor of parties that were more inclined to remain in the European Union. As the prime minister says, there is now "certainty". But also, certainly, there is less unity.

Pro-Brexit demonstrators hold banners outside Parliament in London on Dec 20. In the recent general election, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's message to "Get Brexit Done" had resonated with the public who had grown tired of a lack of resolution on the subject. KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AP

]]> 2019-12-28 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Survivors remember victims of deadly tsunami]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530548.htm BANDA ACEH, Indonesia-On one Sunday morning, Mawardi was watching cartoons with his two brothers at his house on Meulaboh Bay in Indonesia's westernmost province of Aceh when a 9.3-magnitude earthquake literally shook them from their seats.

His mother and grandmother, who were also inside the house, panicked and rushed him and his brothers out of the house.

"I heard a really loud noise, like a waterfall," said Mawardi, who was 13 years old at the time in 2004.

Together, they rushed to escape, but after dashing for about one kilometer, they were slammed to the ground by the huge black wave, and separated from each other.

Mawardi has never seen his mother, grandmother or brother since then.

More than 120,000 people were killed in Aceh Province by a nearly 30-meter-high sea wave triggered by a megathrust earthquake that struck undersea off the coast of Sumatra Island on Dec. 26, 2004.

That earthquake is one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. The catastrophe also caused major disruption to living conditions and economies in countries along the surrounding coasts of the Indian Ocean, including Sri Lanka, India and Thailand.

In Aceh, mass graves can still be found. In December 2018 about 45 body bags were pulled out from the ground by construction workers on a public-housing project in Kajhu Village in Aceh Besar Regency as they were doing excavating work to build a septic tank.

Kajhu was one of the areas worst hit by the tsunami. Around 85 percent of the villagers were killed and those who survived the calamity decided to abandon their villages.

The authorities have said coming across unknown graves of tsunami victims is common.

"Since 2004, we have found some mass graves made by volunteers in some villages where those who survived had left the areas. When people returned and started to develop the abandoned land, they found mass graves," former head of the Aceh Disaster Management Agency Teuku Ahmad Dadek said.

Dadek, who now serves as an assistant to the Aceh governor, is also one of the tsunami survivors.

"I headed a district in Meulaboh Regency at the time. At least 10 percent of the population went missing," he noted.

Every year, the Aceh administration holds a function commemorating the 2004 earthquake and tsunami. Not only does the event commemorate the people killed in the disaster, but also passes on the lessons to future generations.

Nurhayati (right), 65, prays to mark the 15th anniversary of the Indian Ocean tsunami at a cemetery containing mass graves in Siron, Aceh Province, on Thursday. CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN/AFP

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Mass protests turning Beirut's vibrant heart into a ghost town]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530598.htm BEIRUT-More than 10 years ago, Beirut's downtown was one of the city's most attractive areas visited by tourists and locals throughout the year for its popular restaurants and shops.

People would even stand for hours to wait for a table at some of the renowned restaurants and cafes.

The high demand for premises by people aiming to open businesses in Riad El Solh and Nejme Square led to a spike in rents.

However, a decade later, an economic slowdown in the country has turned Beirut's downtown into a ghost town, with many of the shops shutting down while others struggle to make ends meet.

The protests that have taken place since Oct 17 exacerbated the challenges facing shop owners in this part of the city.

"Our sales dropped by over 90 percent since the beginning of the protests over two months ago," said a woman who works at a clothes shop in central Beirut.

She said her shop closed for most time during the protests due to the violence.

Protests in Beirut's downtown started in a peaceful manner on Oct 17 but over a month they turned violent with clashes taking place among protesters, political parties and the Lebanese army. Many roads leading to the heart of the downtown area were blocked.

"If the situation remains the same in the coming month or two, we will probably shut down because we cannot even cover our expenses," said the woman, who declined to be named.

Yehya Sabbagh, who owns a mobile phone shop in downtown Beirut, said he wouldn't have been able to keep his store opened if he hadn't already paid for his rent at the beginning of this year.

"I think we may have to close in a few months if the protests continue," he said.

Before the protests, shops in Beirut's center were under pressure from the economic slowdown, intense competition and the falling purchasing power of Lebanese, said Adnan Rammal, a representative of the trade sector on the country's Economic and Social Council.

"However, some shops in the downtown area were impacted by the protests and they have closed as a result of these demonstrations, especially when it comes to pubs and cafes in Uruguay Street," Rammal said.

Rammal said that shops and cafes in Beirut's souks, or old markets, have also been affected by the protests and are rarely visited these days.

However, political analyst Youssef Diab blames the economic slide on the failing policies of successive governments.

"The country has reached this level of deterioration due to the policies adopted by Lebanese officials and not because of the protests that took place in the past two months. We are paying the price for wrong political decisions, which led to an economic slowdown," Diab said.

The Lebanese are concerned over a lack of financial support by the international community, including other Arab countries, which they have relied on in the past.

Demonstrators chant slogans during protests against the Lebanese political class as riot police block a road leading to the Parliament in Beirut on Sunday. BILAL HUSSEIN/AP

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Netanyahu faces leadership challenge]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530582.htm JERUSALEM-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is running for the leadership of his Likud party, facing veteran politician Gideon Saar in a vote on Thursday.

Despite the shadow of corruption indictments hanging over him, Netanyahu remains popular among Likud members and the fiercely loyal party-which has only had four leaders since its inception in the 1970s-has stood firmly behind the long-serving leader.

But whatever the result, "Netanyahu can only lose," said Stephan Miller, a pollster who has worked on multiple Israeli campaigns.

No matter how much support Saar receives, "it will be the first time in 10 years that a group of voters on the right explicitly express their desire to get rid of Netanyahu," he said.

"If that is more than a third of the party, Netanyahu will be significantly damaged," Miller said.

The winner will lead Likud into Israel's third election within 12 months.

Net any ahu has been premier for a decade but is also facing an indictment on a series of corruption charges.

Saar and Netanyahu have spent recent days crisscrossing the country, making their case to around 116,000 Likud members eligible to vote, though Netanyahu has not responded to Saar's call for one-on-one debates.

More than 100 voting stations were to open across the country, with results not expected until early Friday morning.

Polls in April and September saw Netanyahu deadlocked with challenger Benny Gantz of a centrist party. Neither was able to command a majority in Israel's Parliament under Israel's proportional representation system.

Last month, Netanyahu was indicted for fraud, bribery and breach of trust in three corruption cases, allegations he strongly denies.

The primaries were called shortly after, the first internal challenge to Netanyahu since 2014.

Saar, 53, has been a senior figure in the Likud for a decade and headed multiple ministries, but stepped away from politics for several years in 2014 after being politically sidelined by Netanyahu.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Gideon Saar

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530578.htm FRANCE

50% chance Notre Dame cannot be saved

The rector of Notre Dame Cathedral says the Paris landmark is still so fragile that there's a "50 percent chance" the structure might not be saved, because scaffolding installed before this year's fire is threatening the vaults of the Gothic monument. Monsignor Patrick Chauvet said restoration work isn't likely to begin until 2021-and described his "heartache" that Notre Dame couldn't hold Christmas services this year, for the first time since the French Revolution. "There is a 50 percent chance of scaffolding falling onto the three vaults, as you can see the building is still very fragile," he said.

UNITED STATES

Bloomberg splashes out $120m on ads

Former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg has spent about $120 million on digital and television advertising since joining the presidential race last month, local media reported on Wednesday. The billionaire owner of business news company Bloomberg is running for the Democratic nomination by spending in all 50 US states. But he is targeting the big, delegate-rich Super Tuesday states-such as California, Texas and Florida-that can make or break his campaign. A report said that Bloomberg's spending on ads since late November is more than double the combined ad spending of every single non-billionaire candidate in the Democratic field this entire year.

'Student hero' honored as Jedi

A North Carolina college student hailed by police as a hero for preventing more injuries and deaths after a gunman opened fire in a classroom has now been immortalized as a Jedi by the production company for the Star Wars franchise. Media report the family of Riley Howell, the University of North Carolina student who is described as a huge Star Wars fan, was tipped off by Lucasfilm in May that it planned to honor him in a forthcoming book, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker-The Visual Dictionary. The book was released by publisher DK to coincide with the release of the new film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.

TURKEY

7 killed as migrant boat sinks in lake

Seven people were killed as a migrant boat capsized in eastern Turkey's Lake Van, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Thursday. The boat carrying migrants capsized at around 3 am local time as it sailed close to Adilcevaz district in Bitlis on the northern shores of Lake Van. Five people were killed on the spot and two died later in hospital. Some 64 others were rescued and taken to hospital for treatment, the report said. Lake Van lies in the far east of Turkey near the border with Iran, from where migrants often cross into Turkey before heading west to Europe. Search operations are still underway.

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Toronto's streetcars reach end of the road]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530552.htm TORONTO-As Canada's biggest city, Toronto is known for a few things: the iconic CN Tower, the ice Hockey Hall of Fame, great food from around the world and its historic streetcars.

But by the end of the year, the trolleys will be retired and replaced with sleek new trams-a decision that has been met with a mix of sentimental sadness and scorn.

"I like these streetcars because they have a history in Toronto," said 37-year-old Kenneth, riding at the back of one of the old trams on line 511, running along Bathurst Street.

Toronto's original 19th century trolley cars were pulled by horses, before the cars were powered by electricity in the 1920s.

The historic tall, narrow, red and white streetcars, formally known as Canadian Light Rail Vehicles, were commissioned in the late 1970s.

To board, riders must climb three big steps. To request a stop, one pulls down on a yellow cord pinned to windows running the length of the trolley car.

Toronto is one of the rare major cities in North America, along with San Francisco, to have maintained major tramway networks. Lines still exist in a handful of cities including Cleveland and New Orleans.

The Toronto system serves an average of 65 million riders a year.

City emblem

Streetcars were once the main form of public transit in the continent's cities, but after World War II, cars and buses took over, and hundreds of kilometers of tracks were ripped out.

After years of debate at city hall and under pressure from activists, Toronto decided in 1972 to maintain its network, which is now composed of 11 lines running through the heart of the downtown area.

The old-time streetcars are now celebrated and an emblem of the city, appearing on T-shirts and posters in souvenir shops and on toy shelves.

"Toronto can be a little bit plain sometimes, and streetcars are one thing that has made us kind of different," Mark Fiorillo, who has lived in the city his entire life, said with a hint of nostalgia.

"No other streetcar looked like that: like beasts or tanks," he said. "They were quite cool."

Fiorillo heads up a charity called CityFund, which focuses on getting Toronto residents to be more engaged in their city.

With the support of the city's transit commission, Fiorillo launched an art project called A Streetcar Named Toronto-a nod to the Tennessee Williams play.

One of the old hulking trolley cars was splashed in brightly colored paint and is one of a handful still in circulation. The final day of service will be Sunday.

Most of the rest of the streetcars have already been replaced by new trams built by Bombardier.

In 2009, the Montreal-based company won a contract from the city for more than C$1 billion ($750 million) to provide 204 streetcars.

After several delays, the company accelerated assembly work and promised to complete the order by the end of December. Nearly all of them have been delivered.

The familiar sight of a streetcar in Toronto. OLIVIER MONNIER/AFP

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Hope offered for tech-shy consumers]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530560.htm When it comes to using digital technologies, people have a range of attitudes.

Sally Bailey, a healthcare professional in Houston, has to operate four computers throughout the day at work, besides dealing with patients.

Once she gets home, Bailey stays away from her computer and digital devices as far as possible.

"I don't go online unless I absolutely have to, such as paying bills, looking to purchase insurance, getting continuing education required by work, responding to very limited emails from friends, and occasionally ordering something from Amazon," she said.

Bailey created a Facebook account a few years ago to follow her son's activities as a marathon runner. She never posted anything after creating her account. She does not use her smartphone to surf the internet or browse social media.

For her, a smartphone is for talking and occasional texting. "I get news from the TV only," said Bailey.

In contrast, Matthew Largent, a marketing professional in Houston, said that he uses digital tools heavily to manage both his personal life and work.

He uses marketing software at work on the computer. His phone is his personal assistant-it's used to take notes, do banking, make and remind himself of appointments, and run a variety of apps for various purposes.

Largent said he feels the need to reduce the usage of digital devices. "It can lead you off track when you find something interesting. It's better to stick to your plan than following something interesting," Largent said.

It's no surprise that Bailey, when taking a 10-question quiz testing his digital literacy from the Pew Research Center, answered only four questions correctly while Largent nailed nine questions.

The quiz was used in a recent study by Pew. The 10 questions are related to popular apps, internet privacy, security, net neutrality and digital companies. Some 4,272 adults in the US were polled last June.

The results show that US citizens' understanding of digital technology-related issues varies greatly among the population by age and education level. Adults with bachelor's degrees or higher and aged under 50 years tend to be more digitally literate.

Some issues are more widely understood-67 percent of the population understand phishing scams can occur on social media, websites, email or text messages, and 63 percent understand the function of cookies.

However, only 28 percent of the population can identify examples of true two-factor authentication. Only 15 percent of people were able to identify Twitter founder Jack Dorsey. Data security-related questions were answered correctly by less than half of the population.

As indicated by the survey, Largent's digital literacy level puts him in the top 6 percent of the population. Bailey's score has her in the top 55 percent, but that means she is better than only 45 percent of the population.

At the extremes, only 2 percent of the respondents answered all questions right and 8 percent didn't get a single question right. The gap in digital literacy is vast among US citizens.

Three aspects

While the quiz tests some basic knowledge related to digital technologies, it's difficult to nail down what exactly digital literacy means, said Ian O'Byrne, assistant professor of literacy education at College of Charleston.

O'Byrne has been researching and teaching about various forms of literacy and digital technologies for years. He is working with the International Literacy Association and the National Council of Teachers of English to redefine digital literacy.

"The challenge is that technology is always changing. The way we communicate globally is always changing as well. It's challenging to make it simple for people to understand," O'Byrne said.

He looks at digital literacy from three aspects: consumption, curation and creation.

"Consumption is being a consumer of digital content. Curation means we look at all the information online and determine what is good and what is garbage. Creation means constructing and sharing content online," O'Byrne said.

While creation of digital content is a higher level of digital literacy not necessarily practiced by everyone, society is consuming large amounts of digital content as a whole. With so much information available online, consumption of digital content requires one to tread the online world carefully, O'Byrne said.

"We have serious questions about how critically we consume, think about and evaluate the content we come across. We have a lot work to do," he said.

There is a need for curation skills, O'Byrne said. For example, when people get their electronic health records, instead of asking doctors what the entries mean, often people tend to go online to research that for themselves.

"There is a need to critically consume that, to identify people who know what they are talking about, and identify experts online that you can reach out to," he said.

The constant changes of digital technologies mean digital literacy is also constantly evolving.

"About a decade ago I started teaching my students and other adults to have one digital identity and to connect that digital identity to Facebook, WeChat, LinkedIn, Twitter or whatever. Connecting the dots so that someone can find me on all platforms," O'Byrne said.

"My thinking has changed in the last three or four years. Now we live in a world we have to be more thoughtful about privacy, security, encryption and make sure we are safe online."

After a scandal involving Cambridge Analytica in which Facebook leaked users' data, O'Byrne said he deleted all his photos from his Facebook account because he found Facebook not to be a transparent company.

"I still teach my students to have that digital identity and footprint, but I teach them to be safe and focus more on open source tools, and ask questions such as who controls my data and what data I am sharing," O'Byrne said.

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Nuclear talks hinge on a fresh tack]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530559.htm The year of 2019 contrasts starkly with the peace euphoria that descended on the Korean Peninsula in the previous year, as uncertainty shrouds the future of US-DPRK nuclear talks and inter-Korean relations.

Since the start of this year, promises and progress have been made toward a step-by-step political resolution to denuclearize the peninsula. However, the peace process, which is still severely challenged by deep-seated problems, has stalled.

In February, US President Donald Trump and the top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un held their second summit in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, without reaching an agreement due to their divergences on several key issues including relief of economic sanctions on the DPRK and the approach to denuclearization. The two leaders also shook hands for a photo-op at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom in late June.

Despite both sides' willingness to continue talks, negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have seen little substantive progress.

In early October, a fresh round of working-level meetings in the Swedish capital of Stockholm broke down with no tangible outcome.

Pyongyang accused Washington of having come to the dialogue table "empty-handed", while Washington tried to put a positive spin on the talks, with negotiators claiming they had brought "creative ideas" and previewed a number of "new initiatives".

The DPRK also set a deadline for the United States to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal by the end of this year. Failing that, it will seek a "new path". Earlier this month, it claimed to have conducted "critical tests" at its Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, stirring up concerns that more such tests may follow.

The no-deal summit in February was a reminder of the gulf between the two countries over the scope of Pyongyang's denuclearization steps and what concessions the US should give in return, according to Wang Junsheng, an associate researcher at the National Institute of International Strategy under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Despite all their efforts to date, they have failed to find the convergence of their interests or common ground", Wang said, adding that each side has underplayed the other's desire for a deal. Both sides have latched onto their own demands and principles, which has blurred the prospects of the dialogue process and exacerbated their mistrust.

Some analysts said the fruitless Hanoi summit was a setback for both leaders. Kim, who took a nearly 70-hour train trip to reach Vietnam, may have anticipated that a deal would unleash economic opportunities that would deliver on his pledge for his people "never to have to tighten your belt".

Trump also need to improve relations between the DPRK and the US as a political achievement to boost his domestic support.

But with slow or merely no progress, tensions flared anew since May as Pyongyang escalated weapons tests in a move to heap pressure on Washington to show flexibility to break the deadlock in the negotiations.

Unrealistic goals

Inter-Korean relations also suffered stagnation and setbacks since then. In November, Seoul expressed regrets over Pyongyang's artillery firing drills on a border island, saying the act violated the inter-Korean military agreement signed by defense chiefs of the two neighbors during the third summit between Kim and the Republic of Korea's President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in 2018.

Amid little progress in the nuclear talks and inter-Korean exchanges, Kim in October ordered the removal of "all the unpleasant-looking facilities" that the ROK built for the long shuttered Mount Kumgang resort on the eastern DPRK coast close to the border with the ROK.

Zheng Jiyong, director of the Korea Research Center at Fudan University in Shanghai, said Kim's order drove home an unmistakable message that, with little progress in the nuclear negotiations between the US and the DPRK, inter-Korean cooperation can hardly move forward.

The absence of progress can be attributed to the unrealistically high goals set by the US and the DPRK, which limited negotiators' flexibility, Zheng added.

"As the goals are too high, the negotiating teams should recalibrate their strategic goals in more realistic terms," Zheng said.

With all these twists and turns, the Korean Peninsula is facing another critical juncture in the upcoming year. Zheng said the most pressing task for all stakeholders is to maintain momentum for diplomatic efforts and to prevent the situation from taking a turn for the worse.

Wang said: "To achieve denuclearization and build a viable peace regime on the peninsula requires bold decisions, political wisdom, and accumulation of mutual trust. These goals cannot be achieved in one go. A phased approach remains a practical solution."

Instead of retrogressing to the dark days of "fire and fury", many analysts believe that both sides should abandon their tactic of putting pressure, while they should jointly reach a consensus and keep moving forward in the correct direction. Dialogue is always a better option than confrontation.

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Boxing Day sales seen losing their luster]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530556.htm On Thursday Britons followed up Christmas celebrations with another annual fixture, the start of the post-Christmas sales.

Although it was forecast to be the day with the third-highest sales in British consumer history, a combination of pre-Christmas bargains and revised shopping habits means Dec 26 sales were predicted to be down for the first time in seven years.

The Centre For Retail Research said that around 25 million shoppers were expected to spend 4.4 billion pounds ($5.7 billion), but that total would be 8 percent less than the amount spent on the same day a year ago.

The increased competitiveness of Black Friday, the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season in late November, is one of the reasons, as well as people being more likely to shop online to find the best deals.

Richard Lim, from the consultancy Retail Economics, said the transatlantic growth of the United States concept of Black Friday drew consumers into making bigger purchases earlier, with post-Christmas sales taking a hit as a result.

"An element of discount fatigue creeps into consumers' mindsets by the time Boxing Day sales come about," he told The Guardian. "Perhaps the one exception is around furniture and flooring, where consumers wait for the highly anticipated sales period for big-ticket purchases."

In addition, an increasing awareness of the environmental cost of consumerism is affecting purchasing. A survey carried out by Barclaycard found that environmental concerns were a reason that 62 percent of shoppers would spend less, with the so-called fast fashion sector-which has come in for sharp criticism-one of the areas most affected.

"Despite Boxing Day remaining a key moment in the retail calendar, savvy shoppers have been planning their large purchases throughout the entire festive sales period, which begins long before December," said Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments.

"Our data for Black Friday and Cyber Monday revealed a huge jump in transaction volumes this year, so it's not surprising that consumers expect to have less money to spend after Christmas. So retailers need to take that into account."

But despite the fact that many of the best prices can be found by online comparison, some shoppers still enjoy the experience of battling through the sales crowds in stores.

Major retail destinations such as the Metrocentre in Gateshead, in the Northeast of England, Manchester's Trafford Centre and Lakeside in Essex are expected to welcome as many as one million visitors through their doors.

"We expect it to be one of our busiest shopping days of the year," said Trevor Pereira, commercial director of property company Intu, which owns the centers. "Going shopping on Boxing Day is a yearly tradition for many and people come to our centers to enjoy a great experience that cannot be matched online."

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Record drop in births sees Japan's population shrink by 500,000]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/27/content_37530568.htm Falling populations of both married couples and women of childbearing age, combined with a rising unmarried rate among young people, have pushed Japan's declining birthrate to its lowest level on record. The result: the total Japanese population dropped by more than 500,000 in 2019 as deaths outnumbered births.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare announced on Tuesday that the number of babies born in 2019 fell by an estimated 5.9 percent this year, to 864,000. That is the first time the number dipped below 900,000 since data-tracking began some 120 years ago.

Combined with deaths reaching a postwar high of 1.38 million, Japan suffered the largest-ever natural population decline of 512,000 in 2019.

"A number of reasons could be listed to explain the decline, while the most obvious one will probably be Japan's shrinking female population in their prime childbearing years-that is, women aged from 25 to 39 years old," said Liu Qingbin, a professor at the Institute of Advanced Sciences at Yokohama National University.

Data from the county's internal affairs ministry showed that there were 9,690,000 women between the ages of 25 and 39 in Japan as of July 2019; that was 210,000 fewer than in July 2018.

Other causes of the overall decline are the decreasing number of married couples and rising unmarried rate among young people, Liu said.

According to a report release by Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, the number of couples who married in 2019 dropped to a postwar low of 583,000, 3,000 fewer than in 2018. Meanwhile, the number of couples who divorced rose by about 2,000 to 210,000.

To tackle the issue, the Japanese government has been trying to increase its birthrate for years, including introducing laws to balance work and parenting, encouraging men to assume more childcare duties and offering free day care programs.

However, the efforts and hopes for a youthful boost to offset a rapidly aging population have not worked so far.

The country's total fertility rate, an index that measures the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime, dropped to 1.42 in 2018, while the necessary number to keep a population from shrinking is widely considered to be around 2.

"As long as the population of young people is declining, any measures taken by the government to counter the declining childbirth issue will not yield any dramatic effects," Akihiko Matsutani, an emeritus professor at Japan's National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, was quoted by the Nikkei newspaper as saying.

The country must "shift to a society and economy based on the premise that the population will decline," he said.

]]> 2019-12-27 00:00:00 <![CDATA[UK central bank plays it safe with chief]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530338.htm The building housing the Bank of England in London's financial district is traditionally known as the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, and in the new year there will be a new man in charge of the United Kingdom's central bank.

As Canadian Mark Carney prepares to step down from one of Britain's most significant non-political roles before completing the full run of his eight-year term, his successor as the bank's 121st governor has been named.

With the possibility of Brexit causing even more turbulent political and economic waters than those of the economic crisis a decade ago, the powers that be have decided to follow the bank's first overseas appointee with someone who is very much in-house, its former chief cashier Andrew Bailey.

The 60-year-old was the early favorite for the post, having spent more than 30 years working at the bank, and is currently head of the Financial Conduct Authority, or FCA, the financial watchdog.

He will take over in March, rather than at the end of January as initially planned, with Carney overseeing a handover period. Bailey saw off competition from the likes of Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics, to secure the role.

Bailey's appointment was welcomed by Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid and also Carney, who called his successor "an extraordinary public servant".

"Andrew brings unparalleled experience, built over three decades of dedicated service across all policy areas of the bank," Carney said.

Carney drew criticism from Brexit supporters for suggesting that Britain's departure from the European Union, one of the first major challenges Bailey will face, would cause "a major challenge".

With Bailey's appointment having been made so soon after the result of a general election this month that finally firmed up Brexit as a political event-after more than three years of uncertainty-Javid welcomed him as "the standout candidate in a competitive field … he is the right person to lead the bank as we forge a new future outside the EU and level-up opportunity across the country".

Keith Skeoch, the CEO of fund manager Standard Life Aberdeen, welcomed Bailey as a "safe pair of hands on the tiller" going into what could be a challenging time.

He praised Bailey's "breadth of experience and expertise, both within the bank and across the financial sector", adding that he will "take over the reins at a tricky time given the range of uncertainties which seem likely to dominate the monetary and financial policy debate in 2020 and beyond".

Labour's shadow chancellor John McDonnell, however, called Bailey's record at the FCA "less than inspiring" and said he would "need to demonstrate early that he appreciates the need to address the deep structural problems of our economy".

Although widely seen as a safe choice, with huge in-depth knowledge of how the bank operates, Bailey's professional resume from his period at the FCA is not without its talking points. In particular, its handling of the Royal Bank of Scotland's Global Restructuring Group, drew criticism.

Established to help transform the fortunes of small businesses, the FCA instead came under fire for allegedly asset-stripping customers. An FCA inquiry into the affair recommended no further action be taken, a decision described by Kevin Hollinrake, the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fair Business Banking, as "another complete whitewash and another demonstrable failure of the regulator to perform its role".

Also, the FCA admitted it would need to look at its own rules following the decline and eventual recent closure of the Woodford Equity Income fund, which left many investors badly out of pocket.

Bailey called achieving the top job at a place he had spent so much of his life "a tremendous honor".

"The bank has a very important job and, as governor, I will continue the work that Mark Carney has done to ensure that it has the public interest at the heart of everything it does," he said.

On Brexit, the first major challenge on his desk when he takes over, Bailey has advocated close coordination between British and European financial regulators to make any future transitions and longer-term relations as cordial as possible.

As chief cashier, Bailey's signature appeared on every banknote printed in the country, testifying to the value of the British currency. In a sense, his new role will do something similar.

 

 

 

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2019-12-26 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Thousands stranded as typhoon hits Philippines during holiday]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530377.htm MANILA-Typhoon Phanfone barreled into the central Philippines on Tuesday, bringing "violent winds" over Eastern Samar and Leyte provinces, the Philippine state weather bureau said.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration said Phanfone, which strengthened from a severe tropical storm into a typhoon, hit land at 4:45 pm local time in Eastern Samar Province.

Tens of thousands were stranded at shuttered ports or evacuation centers at the height of the Christmas season on Wednesday, and residents cowered in rain-soaked homes as Phanfone leapt from one small island to another for the second day.

The typhoon crumpled houses like accordions, toppled trees and blacked out cities in the Philippines' most storm-prone region.

No deaths have been confirmed, but rescuers said they have yet to reach the more isolated areas, some in neck-deep floods.

More than 16,000 people spent the night in improvised shelters in schools, gyms and government buildings as the typhoon made landfall on Tuesday, civil defense officials said.

Though weaker, Phanfone was tracking a similar path to Super Typhoon Haiyan-the country's deadliest cyclone on record that left more than 7,300 people dead or missing in 2013.

"It was frightening. The glass windows shattered and we took cover by the stairs," Ailyn Metran said after she and her four-year-old child spent the night at the local state weather service office where her husband worked.

The typhoon ripped a metal window frame off the building and dropped it onto a car parked outside, she said.

With just two hours' sleep, the family returned to their home in Tacloban city on Wednesday to find their two dogs safe, but the floor was covered in mud and a felled tree rested atop a nearby house.

The weather office said the typhoon strengthened slightly overnight on Tuesday and was gusting at 195 kilometers an hour, which can knock down small trees and destroy flimsy houses.

Survivors took to social media with pictures and videos of crushed homes, buses half-submerged in brown floodwaters, roads strewn with tree trunks, and coconut and banana plants being shredded by ferocious winds.

The typhoon wrecked the holiday plans of Manila-based Filipinos who make use of the long Christmas and New Year vacation to spend time with their loved ones in the provinces.

More than 25,000 people remained stranded at ports on Wednesday with ferry services still shut down, the coast guard said.

Scores of flights to the region also remained canceled, though the populous capital Manila, on the northern section, has so far been spared.

The Philippines is the first major landmass facing the Pacific cyclone belt. As such, the archipelago gets hit by an average of 20 storms and typhoons each year.

 

Fishermen carry a boat to higher ground in Baybay, Eastern Samar Province, on Tuesday after typhoon Phanfone hit the central Philippines. ALREN BERONIO/AP

 

 

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2019-12-26 00:00:00
<![CDATA[High tech provides real-time Santa track]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530376.htm PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, United States-Depending on which country they're from, the kids may ask about Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Saint Nick or Santa Claus.

But those who believe, all want to know one thing: Where in the world the jolly old man and his sleigh full of gifts are on Christmas Eve.

For the 64th time, a popular program run by the US and Canadian militaries is providing real-time updates on Santa's progress to millions around the globe.

And this year, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, is offering even more high-tech ways for children and parents to follow along.

Operation NORAD Tracks Santa has evolved from a misdirected telephone call in 1955 to a trailer parked outside the command's former lair deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and then to NORAD's modern-day headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base in the same state.

Along the way, the tens of thousands of telephone calls fielded by NORAD volunteers each year have been augmented by an explosion of technology that lets millions track St. Nick's journey from the North Pole to the Pacific and Asia, from Europe to the Americas.

This year's information portals include Alexa, OnStar, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and 3D apps developed for mobile devices by Cesium, a Philadelphia-based IT and defense contractor. The apps integrate geospatial and satellite-positioning technology with high-resolution graphics that display the actual positions of the stars, sun and moon and the shadows they cast at any point in Santa's journey.

It takes a village of dozens of tech firms-including Google, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Bing Maps-to deliver the immersive effect for global Santa trackers. There were some 15 million visits to the website last year alone.

And it takes a village of 1,500 volunteers to field emails and the 140,000 or so telephone calls to 1-877-HI-NORAD, which translates numerically to 1-877-446-6723. The volunteers staff phone banks, equipped with monitors, inside a building at Peterson, which offers a view of snow-capped Pikes Peak to the west.

More volunteers and firms donate food, water and coffee to those on Santa Watch.

"Hi Santa Trackers! Lots of kids are waiting to ask you about Santa," a sign reads.

Volunteers are equipped with an Operations Center Playbook that helps ensure every caller can go to sleep happy and satisfied on Christmas Eve.

Longtime Santa trackers are familiar with the NORAD-Santa story.

In 1955, Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup-the commander on duty one night at NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command-fielded a call from a child who dialed a misprinted telephone number in a newspaper department store ad, thinking she was calling Santa.

A fast-thinking Shoup quickly assured his caller that he was. And a tradition was born.

Today, most early calls come from Japan and Europe. The volume soars in the US and Canada, said program manager Preston Schlachter. United Kingdom callers ask about Father Christmas. Those in France generally seek Papa Noel's whereabouts.

For team members, once "Big Red"-Santa's code name-is airborne, Schlachter said, "it's off to the races."

"I've never had a block of time move so quickly," he said.

US Navy Specialist First Class Petty Officer Shannon Chambers looks over a volunteer playbook in the NORAD Tracks Santa center at Peterson Air Force Base on Monday. DAVID ZALUBOWSKI/AP

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[UK to go into next stage of Brexit talks]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530365.htm Britain's position outside the European Union will be marked when London co-hosts the next stage of Brexit negotiations with Brussels after Jan 31.

The rules are due to change as the United Kingdom will become a third-party country on that day and will then have less than a year to clinch a trade deal.

Over the past three years, Brussels has been the location for talks while the UK remains an EU member state.

The UK will stay in the EU's single market and customs union for 11 months after its withdrawal on Jan 31. But it will no longer be a member state and officials in Brussels expect the location of the talks to be split.

The Cabinet Office in Whitehall is the most likely location for the talks, which will involve teams led by Michel Barnier for the EU and an as yet unidentified minister for the British government.

A government spokesman said: "The political declaration makes clear that the UK and EU have to jointly agree the scheduling of talks. More details will be set out in due course."

On Feb 25, EU member states are due to adopt their negotiating position on issues such as trade in goods, fisheries, security and level-playing field demands. Negotiations on the future relationship are then expected to start in early March.

The Guardian newspaper quoted a leaked diplomatic note as saying: "The mandate will contain no surprises and will be based on the political declaration.

"Topics such as fisheries or a level playing field will be discussed (internally) in January. These discussions will be based on slide presentations from the European Commission instead of official drafts. That should give a sense of the sensitivities of member countries and make progress easier."

A summit of EU leaders in June, with which the UK will have no involvement, is expected to be a pivotal point in the negotiations.

Security issues are expected to be a major focus of talks. On fisheries, the political declaration obliges the EU and the UK to make "best endeavours" to agree on future access to British waters by July 1.

"Without an agreement on fish, there will not be a deal-the price for a trade deal is the level-playing field demands and fishing rights," an EU source told The Guardian.

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Syrians' peace dreams dashed again]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530339.htm As one year makes way for another, people in Syria are still denied the peaceful life they have been craving for so long. Instead, they have witnessed yet more violence and bloodshed from the country's interminable conflicts that stem from a mix of decades-old power struggles and competing interests.

The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, made remarkable military gains to reclaim most of the territory it had lost during the eight-year civil war. The authorities are now preparing to carry out postwar reconstruction.

Yet, a surprising decision by the United States to withdraw its troops from northern Syria hindered the process of Syria's reconstruction, and stirred up more tensions and turbulence in the region. That decision dragged more powers into an already complicated situation.

In early October, US President Donald Trump abruptly announced that the US military "will not support or be involved in" an expected military operation by Turkey in northern Syria, and US forces "would no longer be in the immediate area".

The US pullout left its Kurdish allies in Syria vulnerable to the incursion planned by their longtime enemies, the Turks.

The Syrian Kurdish fighters are seen as terrorists by Turkey, with their affiliations to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, which has waged a 35-year-long battle for autonomy within Turkey.

The power vacuum was soon filled by Turkey's fierce offensive, and weeks of attacks on Kurdish territory in northeastern Syria caused civilian casualties as thousands of Kurds fled their homes.

This year has seen the Syrian people's dreams for peace shattered once again. What's more, the conflicts of interest among powers in and outside Syria have made the situation even more complicated.

Turkey insisted on removing the Kurdish-led forces from areas along its border under Ankara's plan for a "safe zone" in northeastern Syria, a development that it says can enable the return of millions of refugees.

In the midst of Turkey's actions, Assad's forces sought to seize the opportunity to take back some territory once controlled by the Kurds. Long at odds with the Syrian government, the Kurds switched over to Assad's camp and agreed to an alliance in order to fend off the Turkish invasion.

In late October, the US changed tack and decided not to fully withdraw from Syria, claiming the U-turn was aimed at protecting the country's oilfields.

Russia stepped into the new battlefield, trying to mediate among the parties amid the hostilities along the Syrian-Turkish border.

More than two weeks after Turkey's offensive began, Russia and Turkey agreed on joint patrols in northeastern Syria to calm down tensions in the border areas.

Turkey's operations "undoubtedly undermined the previous results of fighting regional extremism", as the Kurdish fighters were at the front line of the battle against Islamic State, said Shu Meng, a researcher at the Middle East Studies Institute at Shanghai International Studies University.

The past year saw the pressure ratcheted up on the so-called Islamic State militant group, which lost Baghuz, its final territory in Syria, in March. Its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a US special forces operation in late October. His death was hailed as another milestone in the war against IS, following Iraq's announcement of victory over the militants in 2017.

However, the disbanded extremist forces could take the opportunity to sneak into northeastern Syria amid the chaos.

"Although it is difficult for the IS to make a comeback or restore a large force in the short term, the threat of extremism still exists," Shu said. "The sporadic threat of extremist attacks and the infiltration of extremists will persist in this turbulent region in the long run."

In December, Russia, Turkey and Iran adopted a joint statement on Syria at the 14th round of the Astana talks held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The three countries expressed concerns over the increasing terrorist activities in Idlib, a city in northwestern Syria, and said they would continue their cooperation in eliminating terrorist groups in Syria, including the Islamic State, the al-Nusra Front and other groups designated as terrorists by the United Nations.

Under these circumstances, the most important item on the agenda is how to push forward the process of Syria's political reconstruction and reconciliation, said Yu Guoqing, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"But the prospects for reconstruction are quite blurry since the parties concerned have differences on the Syria issue," Yu said. "They want their interests to be solidified before moving to the next step."

Russia wishes to continue to mediate among the parties to aid Syria's political reconciliation as "it plays a very important role" in the process. "Without Russia's consent, it would be difficult for the process to go forward," Yu said.

Iran is concerned more about its traditional existence in Syria, from fighting against extremist groups that may be active along the border line to its alliance with Syria.

Although a safe zone in northeastern Syria has been completed, many problems are yet to resolved, such as the settlement of refugees. This issue could be Turkey's future focus.

A man rides in a truck as civilians flee from Idlib Province on the main road near Hazano, Syria, on Tuesday. GHAITH AL-SAYED/AP

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[In Rwanda, opioids are a solution]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530355.htm BUSHEKELI, Rwanda-It was something, the silence. Nothing but the scuff of her slip-on shoes as Madeleine Mukantagara walked through the fields to her first patient of the day. Piercing cries once echoed down the hill to the road below. What she carried in her bag had calmed them.

For 15 years, her patient, Vestine Uwizeyimana, had been in unrelenting pain as disease wore away her spine. She could no longer walk. Her life narrowed to a dark room with a dirt-floor in rural Rwanda, prayer beads hanging on the wall by her side.

A year ago, relief came in the form of liquid morphine, locally produced as part of Rwanda's groundbreaking effort to address one of the world's great inequities: As thousands die from addiction in rich countries awash with prescription painkillers, millions of people in the poorest nations have no access to opioids at all.

Companies don't make money selling generic morphine to the dying, and most in sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford the expensive formulations like oxycodone, prescribed so abundantly in richer nations that thousands became addicted to them.

Rwanda's answer: plastic bottles of morphine, produced for pennies and delivered to homes across the country by health workers like Mukantagara. It is proof, advocates say, that the opioid trade doesn't have to be guided by how much money can be made.

Mukantagara, 56, has long been a witness to death. She watched her sister die in agony of cancer decades ago.

She settled on the edge of Uwizeyimana's bed. Uwizeyimana was feeling better. "Now I think everything is possible," she said. They held hands and prayed.

The work is never easy, Mukantagara says. But with morphine, there is a chance for death with dignity.

Twenty-five years ago, 800,000 Rwandans were killed as the two ethnic groups, Tutsis and Hutus, turned on each other. Those who survived struggled to recover from ghastly machete wounds and cruel amputations.

Medical advances meant more people began living into old age and facing diseases such as cancer. Some thought their pain was punishment from God, recalled Dr. Christian Ntizimira, a palliative care advocate.

In much of the world, the use of opioids was exploding. But the increase was in expensive formulations that are profitable for pharmaceutical companies, according to an AP analysis of data from the International Narcotics Control Board, or INCB. The use of morphine, the cheapest, most reliable painkiller, stagnated.

When the US Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines in 2016 calling on US doctors to cut back on the flood of opioid prescriptions that fed the addiction crisis, it exempted end-of-life patients.

The INCB reported that some 90 percent of opioids are consumed by the richest nations, where just 17% of people live.

And commercially-made morphine is on average nearly six times more expensive in many poor counties than it is in wealthy ones.

So Rwanda, Kenya and Malawi looked to Uganda, where the nonprofit Hospice Africa Uganda was making liquid morphine in a process so basic it was mixed for two decades at a kitchen sink. But that operation relies so much on donor support that it nearly shut down this year.

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Fukushima water plan sparks fears over safety]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530353.htm Concerns have been expressed in China and South Korea over a proposal by the Japanese government that may see massive amounts of radioactive water from the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant dumped into the Pacific Ocean.

Against the backdrop of safety fears, experts have called for greater transparency on the plan from the Japanese government.

"Dumping the contaminated water into the sea is no longer a domestic problem of Japan but a grave issue that affects the whole marine environment," said Yu Qiang, a researcher of Japan studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing.

The international community, especially Japan's neighbors, deserves more details and should have a say in the decision-making process over the contaminated water, Yu said.

On Monday, Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry proposed, as one option, the gradual release of nearly 1.2 million tons of the water that have been stored in above-ground tanks at the plant.

The radioactive water, which now comprises groundwater that seeps into the plant and rainwater, initially served to cool the plant's reactors after they melted down in March 2011 in the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986.

Nine years after the Japanese disaster, the water still occupies 1,000 huge tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi complex-enough to fill more than 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools, and it is still accumulating.

With the storage tanks forecast to fill up by mid-2022, the Japanese government has for years been discussing how to dispose of the liquid.

On Monday, the ministry presented three options from a group of experts: a gradual release of the water into the ocean, evaporation, or a combination of the two methods.

The ministry said a controlled release into the sea was the best option because it would "stably dilute and disperse" the water from the plant using a method endorsed by the United Nations' Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

According to the ministry and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co, or TEPCO, all 62 radioactive elements contained in the water can be removed to levels not harmful to humans before it is released. An exception is tritium, an isotope of hydrogen that experts say is harmful to humans only in very large doses.

"If the water is processed, the only radioactive materials that remain are low levels of tritium. Releasing it into the ocean would be the best solution in terms of cost and safety," said Kazuya Idemitsu, a professor of nuclear engineering at Kyushu University. Nuclear plants around the world release diluted water containing tritium into the seas, Idemitsu said.

However, Yu said that more data is needed to back Tokyo's claims, because the information released by Japan is oblique and sometimes self-contradictory.

Yu said that until 2018, TEPCO indicated that the vast majority of the water contained only tritium and was safe for discharge under Japanese government standards. But a briefing by Japan's Economy and Industry Ministry in November showed that more than three-quarters of the water still contain radioactive material other than tritium-and at higher levels than is safe for humans, Yu said.

Mun Mi-ock, South Korea's first vice-science minister, had called for more pressure to be exerted on Japan at a general assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency or IAEA, in September.

"It is necessary for the IAEA to carry out on-site investigations on the current status of the Fukushima plant and its contaminated water," she said, adding that it is important to establish standards and methods for the disposal of the water so as not to burden future generations.

Kyodo News contributed to this story.

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Briefly]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530349.htm RUSSIA

Advanced fighter jet suffers first crash

One of Russia's Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jets crashed on Tuesday in the nation's Far East region, Russian news agencies reported, the first accident of its kind involving what is the country's most advanced warplane. Citing Russia's United Aircraft Corporation, which makes the plane, the RIA news agency reported the incident took place during a training flight in the Khabarovsk Region and that the pilot ejected safely. The Defense Ministry will set up a commission to investigate the accident, which may have been caused by a failure in the steering system, the state Tass news agency cited two military sources as saying.

BURKINA FASO

Mourning declared after 35 die in attack

A militant attack in northern Burkina Faso has killed 35 civilians, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore said on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, a large group of jihadists simultaneously attacked the military detachment and civilians in Arbinda in Soum Province, the army said in a statement. During the clashes with local security forces, 80 jihadists were killed, the army said. However, seven security forces agents, namely four soldiers and three gendarmes, were also killed, and more than 20 others injured.

INDIA

Ruling party loses key state election

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party has lost a key state legislature election, a setback for the party as it faces massive anti-government protests against a contentious new citizenship law. According to results announced by India's Election Commission late Monday, Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party yielded power in eastern Jharkhand state to an alliance forged between the opposition Congress party and powerful regional groups following voting earlier this month. The election was held amid protests calling for the revocation of the citizenship law, which critics say is the latest effort by Modi's government to marginalize India's 200 million Muslims.

NEW ZEALAND

Police suspend search for victims

New Zealand police have called off the search for the bodies of two missing victims since the Whakaari White Island volcano eruption earlier this month after "extensive" efforts. Winona Langford, a 17-year-old Australian tourist, and Hayden Marshall-Inman, a 40-year-old New Zealand tour guide, are presumed dead. It is thought that their bodies are in the water off the island. "The search for the two missing victims of the Whakaari/White Island eruption has been suspended," Superintendent Andy McGregor, the Bay of Plenty district commander, said on Tuesday in a statement.

BRAZIL

Bolsonaro had brief memory loss

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro temporarily lost his memory after hitting his head in a fall at his official residence, he said in an interview on Tuesday. The 64-year-old slipped on Monday night in a bathroom at the Alvorada Palace, the latest health scare for the Brazilian leader who was wounded in a knife attack in September 2018 while campaigning for the presidency. "At that moment, I lost memory," he said of the fall. "The following day, this morning, I managed to get back a lot of things and now I am fine," Bolsonaro said in a telephone interview with Band television.

 

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2019-12-26 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Harbin ice sculptures warm Moscow hearts]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/26/content_37530356.htm Russian people are entranced by the ice sculpture masterpieces from Harbin, Heilongjiang province, which currently adorn the parks and streets of Moscow.

"These ice sculptures from Harbin are so beautiful. They are our precious New Year presents from China," local resident Anastasia Ivanova said at the opening ceremony of the Harbin Ice Sculpture Art Exhibition on Tuesday.

Arriving in Moscow on Sunday, 10 ice sculptors from Harbin immediately started working on blocks of ice in Sokolniki Park in northeastern Moscow.

The exhibition, on the theme of The Pearl in a Crown of Ice and Snow, will last till next Monday. Ten ice sculptures will be displayed inside the park and in the vicinity.

Along with decorations of Christmas and New Year lights, Russians first see two large ice sculptures, Friendship and Friendly City, at the gate of the park.

"We had a long discussion about the contents of the two works at the park gate," said Zhu Xiaodong, deputy director of the Harbin Ice Sculpture Art Center.

"For the Friendship piece, we carved China's ornamental column, or Hua Biao, and Russia's cathedral to celebrate the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"Meanwhile, for Friendly City, our artists chose some landmarks and cultural symbols of Harbin city, such as the Flood Prevention Cenotaph, Harbin swans and the waves of the Songhua River," Zhu said.

Zheng Jinnan, a teacher of ice sculpture at Harbin Second Vocational Middle School, is one of the 10 sculptors who worked on the Moscow exhibition.

He told China Daily that all the sculptures displayed in Moscow emphasize the beauty of their lines and details, which have colorful contents and exquisite artistic characteristics.

"Still, we met some difficulties in Russia, as the temperature of Moscow this winter reached above zero degree, which is too high for an ice sculpture piece," Zheng said.

At the opening ceremony, Zheng showed his unique technique before Moscow residents, using an electric drill and ink to carve an ice stone into a beautiful blue lotus, winning applause from the Russians.

Yan Honglei, director of the Publicity Department of Harbin Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China, said the ice and snow culture is an indispensable element of Russia.

Visitors take a selfie at the Harbin Ice Sculpture Art Exhibition in Moscow on Tuesday. WANG XIUJUN/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

]]> 2019-12-26 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Dongguan bets on innovation-driven development to get ahead]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/25/content_37530173.htm Runners from around the world recently gathered in Dongguan, in Guangdong province, to compete in the 17th Asian Marathon Championships and the Dongguan International Marathon 2019 on Sunday.

The events attracted some 30,000 runners and 42 athletes from 16 countries and regions, the organizers said.

The run was held along major routes and covered Hongfu Road; Dongguan Avenue; the basketball center of Dongguan and Songshan Lake Hi-tech Zone.

Daichi Kamino, a Japanese participant who won the first prize of the Asian Marathon Championships, said that he loved the city, its food, its broad streets and its energetic atmosphere.

As a city of sports, Dongguan's sports history dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when the modern sports was introduced into it.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, Dongguan has seen major development of sports industries. And it has won honors in many sports like weightlifting and swimming.

Since the 1970s, the city has played a big part in the sports field. Earlier this year, Dongguan hosted the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and the 2019 Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy; the city was also host of the Sudirman Cup world mixed team championships in 2015. And its international sports events have not only injected vitality into the city but also allowed it to progress on the socio-economic front.

Dongguan has also seen rapid industrialization, urbanization and modernization. Its Songshan Lake Hi-Tech Industrial Development Zone was chosen by academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences a decade ago as home to the country's largest single large scientific facility for the spallation neutron source among many other locations, turning itself into an increasingly important innovation hub in the Guangzhou-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

With these facilities, Dongguan has moved into more innovative projects including a neutron science city, which is under construction and spans an area of 53.3 square kilometers.

And it is part of the city's efforts to develop itself into a comprehensive national science center and thus to support the Bay Area.

Speaking about Dongguan, Liang Weidong, Party secretary of Dongguan, said: "In recent years, Dongguan has focused on upgrading its innovation-driven development and has developed an economic system and development pattern based on innovation."

Meanwhile, official data showed that in 2018, research and development investment in Dongguan accounted for 2.55 percent of the regional GDP, reaching the level of moderately developed countries, and as far as PCT international patent applications were concerned, Dongguan ranked second in Guangdong province.

"After years of effort, we are now moving the manufacturing sector to the middle and high end of the global value chain.

"And we must continue to strive for breakthroughs in strengthening our scientific and technological innovation," Liang said.

As of 2018, the city had a total of 5,790 high-tech companies and 32 R&D institutions.

And in the next three to five years, the city plans to build two industrial clusters of artificial intelligence and health to create output worth at least 100 billion yuan ($14.26 billion). Dongguan's geographical location and its proximity to the Bay Area cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen give it an edge as this offers it scope to benefit from innovation there, said Zhang Jingan, executive vice-president of the China Science Center of International Eurasian Academy of Sciences.

For 2018, the total volume of Dongguan's foreign trade surpassed 1.3 trillion yuan.

And by the end of 2018, more than 470 companies from Dongguan had invested in overseas markets, with the total investment surpassing $1.3 billion, official data showed.

Last year, Dongguan planned to invest more than 3 billion yuan in the next three years to establish the city as a hub for attracting technical talent.

In addition to the economic and industrial development, the city's progress can be also seen in its to bid improve its social welfare sector.

The city has pooled human resources of 1.95 million professionals including 126,000 high-profile ones. And Dongguan ranked sixth among the most popular cities in China for graduates in 2019.

"To make a breakthrough in high-quality development, Dongguan must drive socio-economic transformation with its city upgrades," Liang said.

"It must strengthen the city's landscaping and management and imprint it in people's hearts," he added.

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The 17th Asian Marathon Championships and the Dongguan International Marathon 2019 attract some 30,000 runners and 42 athletes from 16 countries and regions. CHINA DAILY

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The 17th Asian Marathon Championships and the Dongguan International Marathon 2019 attract some 30,000 runners and 42 athletes from 16 countries and regions. CHINA DAILY

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The 17th Asian Marathon Championships and the Dongguan International Marathon 2019 attract some 30,000 runners and 42 athletes from 16 countries and regions. CHINA DAILY

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2019-12-25 00:00:00
<![CDATA[Courts force rethink on the homeless]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/25/content_37530216.htm The short journey from the parking garage to the Golden Gate Theatre turned out to be more dramatic than the performance itself, said Margaret Lee, who visited downtown San Francisco on a recent night.

"The homeless people who seemed mentally unstable shouted at me. I saw eight or nine tents in one block, and there were syringes on the sidewalk," said Lee, a resident in the Bay Area.

"I know it's their constitutional right to stay on the streets, but it's also my right to go about my business without fear."

Homelessness in the United States has been most acute in major cities on the West Coast, where encampments are mushrooming on the streets or inside parks, and people are complaining about health and safety threats.

But cities and counties may find it difficult to balance the needs of the homeless and other residents, following a decision by the US Supreme Court last week to decline to review a lower court's ruling on a homeless case.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by some homeless people who sued the city of Boise, Idaho, for repeatedly ticketing them for violating an ordinance against sleeping outside nearly a decade ago.

Last year, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Boise law violates constitutional protections to fine or arrest homeless people for sleeping in public outdoor spaces when no other shelter is available.

The Supreme Court's decision means in states across the Ninth Circuit, including California, Oregon and Washington, local jurisdictions can no longer enforce similar statutes if they don't have enough shelter beds for homeless people sleeping outside.

"The decision reaffirms that cities are unable to criminalize unhoused people for conducting basic acts of survival-sleeping, sitting down, lying down-if they are not offering a place for them to go," said Sam Lew, policy director at the San Francisco-based Coalition on Homelessness.

"It is a decision that rings loud and clear that it is unconstitutional for cities to sweep homeless people off streets and sidewalks and that they have to begin investing in the real solution to homelessness: permanent, affordable housing," she said.

While homeless advocacy groups celebrate the Supreme Court's decision as a "huge victory", some municipalities are concerned that similar lawsuits, which have already been filed against several California cities and counties, will become more frequent.

"California State Association of Counties continues to be concerned about the lack of clarity in the Boise decision, and the potential risk for counties given the significant room for interpretation of the decision," Executive Director Graham Knaus said.

The organization joined an amicus brief filed by 33 California counties, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Fresno and Orange, in September to ask the Supreme Court to review the Boise case.

Now that the court has declined to review that decision, courts will decide on a case-by-case basis, which may cost taxpayers millions and divert public funds away from the ongoing efforts to address homelessness issues, said the California State Association of Counties.

Los Angeles, which also filed an amicus brief in support of Boise, has had a controversial ordinance since 1968 that makes it a criminal offense to sit, lie, or sleep on a public sidewalk anywhere in the city. But much of the ordinance was invalidated by the Boise ruling.

Among the city's 36,300 total homeless population, more than 27,000 are unsheltered and there are only about 8,100 shelter beds, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

For San Francisco, the court action is a "non-issue" because the city's ordinances have already complied with the ruling by offering the ability to have shelter when moving homeless people, said Jeff Kositsky, head of the city's homelessness department.

Lew said there aren't adequate and appropriate forms of shelter in San Francisco and there are consistently more than 1,000 people on the city's adult shelter waiting list.

"Whatever one thinks of this ruling, I think it provides an incentive for cities and counties to do more to help homeless people get off the streets in the shelter and in the housing," California State Senator Scott Wiener said.

Almost half (47 percent) of all unsheltered homeless people in the US are found in California, about four times as high as the state's share of the overall US population, according to a report, The State of Homelessness in America, released by the White House Council of Economic Advisers in September.

"California has a shortage of 3.5 million homes, and that is the root cause for homelessness for most people," said Wiener, who introduced a bill-SB 50-last year to legalize affordable housing near transit and job centers.

But coastal communities refuse to build enough housing, thus pushing out working-class families and spiking homelessness and evictions, he said.

"For decades, people have gotten used to their neighborhoods being exactly the way they are and that's the status quo. What we need to do is readjust our entire approach to housing, so we have to get a different mindset about housing," said Wiener.

Police officer Andy Johnson stops his bike in front of an area known for homeless people in Boise, Idaho. KYLE GREENE/IDAHO STATESMAN/AP

]]> 2019-12-25 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Song sessions and chats relieve holiday blues]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/25/content_37530215.htm LONDON-Babies bounced on parents' knees, toddlers dancing around the room, crackers pulled with the elderly nursing home residents in their armchairs as everyone sang to a medley of Christmas songs.

Following 30 minutes of festive-themed joyful chaos, the multigenerational group spanning almost 100 years of age chatted over mince pies.

For Kathleen Page, 89, the weekly Songs and Smiles sessions held in the activity room of her nursing home in east London have brought her happiness and a sense of belonging.

"I've got a feeling that, even though I don't know (the parents and children), they want me. It's a lovely feeling," she said.

"Since I've been in here, I've had something to live for-all these people in the same place. I've found peace."

The weekly singing sessions are hosted by the Together Project, founded in 2017 by Louise Goulden, who came up with the idea while on maternity leave after seeing the positive effect taking her baby into nursing homes had on elderly residents.

It is one of many social enterprises-businesses that aim to do good-tackling loneliness, often referred to as an epidemic that is more acutely felt around Christmas.

"Having children and parents come in and laugh together, move, sing Christmas songs can be so beneficial," said Goulden.

"The effect of the sessions ... lifts the mood of the home for the rest of the day and is even an anchor point for the rest of their week."

But the sessions do not just boost the spirits of residents. They have also helped lonely parents-some of whom have suffered postnatal depression-while also benefiting children who learn through positive social interactions.

The Together Project has spread to more than 20 nursing homes across England, mostly in the south.

Loneliness epidemic

Britain is in the grips of a loneliness crisis, affecting one in 20 people, according to 2018 government data from the Office of National Statistics.

Young people, between the ages of 16 and 24, are three times more likely to feel "always or often lonely" than people over 65, found the study, although no annual comparative data was available.

For more than 1.5 million older people, Christmas is the loneliest time of the year, with those who have lost a loved one struggling most, found a recent survey by charity Age UK.

"Everybody will be affected (by loneliness) at some stage in their lives," said Lyndsey Young, who experienced it herself when she moved to a new area where she did not know anyone, then became a mother and started working as a freelancer.

Loneliness inspired a business idea and in 2018 she designed an outdoor seating area lined with planters in Bottesford, a village in central England with a population of under 4,000, where people could sit if they felt lonely and wanted a chat.

Set up as a social enterprise, the Friendly Bench hosts a variety of events throughout the year with the aim of bringing groups together, from elderly people to teenagers to veterans and people with disabilities.

"It's more than a bench-it's a place for people to connect," said Young, who has installed the Friendly Bench in another location nearby in Leicestershire and has about 10 more planned next year.

Given the unpredictable winter weather, on Christmas Eve Friendly Bench volunteers will knock on doors in the village, handing out mince pies and inviting people to a gathering later that day in the activity space at a sheltered accommodation.

"People often don't have anything on in the run-up to Christmas or the bit afterwards... so it is nice to have a chat and meet people you've lived in the community with years when your paths don't cross," she said.

]]> 2019-12-25 00:00:00 <![CDATA[Elephants in Thailand 'broken' for tourism]]> http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/kindle/2019-12/25/content_37530213.htm BAN TA KLANG, Thailand-Separated from their mothers, jabbed with metal hooks, and sometimes deprived of food-many Thai elephants are tamed by force before being sold to lucrative tourism sites increasingly advertised as sanctuaries to cruelty-conscious travelers.

Balanced precariously on hind legs, two-year-old Ploy holds a ball in her trunk and flings it toward a hoop, one of many tricks she is learning in Ban Ta Klang, a traditional training village in the east.

Here young elephants are "broken" to interact with tens of millions of tourists who visit Thailand every year, many eager to capture social media-worthy encounters of the kingdom's national animal playing sports, dancing and even painting.

Villagers in Ban Ta Klang who have been working with the large, gentle animals for generation, say taming is necessary for safety reasons and that the force is not excessive.

"We do not raise them to hurt them. ... if they are not stubborn, we do nothing to them," said mahout Charin, as he stroked Ploy's head affectionately and spoke of her as part of his family.

Charin makes about $350 a month in a profession inherited from his father and grandfather.

"I have always lived with them," he added.

But animal welfare advocates argue the taming technique-where babies are removed from the care of fiercely devoted mothers at the age of two-is cruel and outdated.

It is also little known, one of many murky aspects of an evolving elephant tourism trade often kept from view of tour operators and travelers.

Big business

Elephants were phased out of the logging industry about 30 years ago, leaving their mahout caretakers unemployed.

So they turned to Thailand's flourishing tourism industry, a burgeoning sector of amusement parks offering elephant rides and performances.

A tamed elephant can now fetch up to $80,000, a colossal investment that then requires grueling hours of work and increasingly bizarre stunts to be recouped.

Mae Taeng Park in the northern city of Chiang Mai receives up to 5,000 visitors per day and charges an entrance fee of about $50.

Many come to see Suda, who holds a brush in her trunk and paints Japanese-style landscapes for visitors who can later buy the prints for up to $150 before taking an elephant ride through the hills.

As tourists become more aware of the potential cruelty of such activities, a growing number of places have opted to use the term "sanctuary" or "refuge".

Many do not permit rides or animal performances. Instead tourists are encouraged to feed, groom and care for elephants, gaining an unforgettable experience with one of nature's most majestic creatures.

But charities warn that even seemingly benign options, like bathing them, could still be problematic.

"Bathing with elephants … is often stressful for elephants and mahouts especially when dealing with groups of excited young people," Jan Schmidt-Burbach of World Animal Protection said.

"The best option is to leave it to the elephant to decide if and how to bath and ask tourists to stand back to observe and enjoy this moment without interference."

But even this may not be enough.

Some animal rights experts warn it can be hard to discern the treatment of the animals after the crowds have gone home. Some reported cases of elephants at so-called sanctuaries being chained for long hours, forced to sleep on concrete, and maln