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China complains to Sweden over tourists’ treatment

BEIJING (AP): China on Monday urged Sweden to respond to its complaints about the alleged mistreatment of a Chinese family removed by police from a hotel in Stockholm. The foreign ministry and China’s embassy in Stockholm have asked Sweden to investigate the case but have yet to hear back, ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters.

“We once again urge Sweden to take seriously our concerns and take concrete measures to ensure the safety and legal rights and interests of Chinese tourists,” Geng said, adding that the family had been “brutally abused by Swedish police.” Reports said an elderly couple and their son were removed from the hotel on Sept. 2 after they arrived a day before their booking and refused the staff’s requests to leave. Police were called and removed the group, at one point carrying the father out of the door by his arms and legs.

A statement on the Chinese Embassy’s website posted Saturday said its citizens were asking for “punishment, apology and compensation in time.” “The Chinese Embassy in Sweden is deeply appalled and angered by what happened and strongly condemns the behavior of the Swedish police,” the statement said. The Swedish Embassy in Beijing posted on its microblog Sunday that it had been made aware of the accusations against the police and an independent investigation into the incident would be conducted to determine whether there had been “negligence or illegal behavior.”

In Stockholm, however, Chief Prosecutor Mats Ericsson said an investigation was closed on Sept. 7 after concluding that police had done nothing wrong. “This is very normal (when you have) disorderly behavior,” he was quoted as saying by the Aftonbladet newspaper, one of Sweden’s largest. “Police have the right to remove a person from one place to another,” he said. Citing a police report, the tabloid said two people were lying on a sofa in the hotel lobby and refused to leave the premises at about 1:45 a.m. About 25 minutes later, a police patrol decided to remove them and the two people started screaming, reportedly about “human rights.”

The incident comes amid low-level tensions between Stockholm and Beijing over China’s detention of a Chinese-born Swedish national on suspicion of leaking state secrets. China has rebuked Sweden for demanding the release of Hong Kong-based bookseller Gui Minhai, 53, who was taken off a train by police in eastern China on Jan. 20 while in the company of two Swedish diplomats with whom he was traveling to Beijing.




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Dozens buried in Philippine landslide as China counts cost of Typhoon Mangkhut

PHILIPPINE (AFP): Philippine rescuers on Monday searched desperately for dozens feared buried under a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut, which also left a trail of destruction in Hong Kong and saw millions evacuated in southern China.

The confirmed death toll across the northern Philippines, where the main island of Luzon was mauled by fierce winds and rain, reached 65 and was expected to rise further given the number of missing.

Four more were killed in China’s southern province of Guangdong.

Searchers used shovels and bare hands to dig through mounds of rocky soil in the northern Philippine mountain town of Itogon, where 11 bodies have been pulled from the rubble and dozens more may still be trapped after a landslide buried an emergency shelter.

Relatives of the missing were among those taking part in the search for survivors, with little hope they are still alive.

“We believe that those people there, maybe 99 percent, are already dead,” the town’s mayor Victorio Palangdan told reporters.

Tearful families surrounded a whiteboard bearing names of the dead and missing as others inspected recovered bodies for signs these could be their loved ones.

Joan Catteg, 42, told AFP her missing cousin Harvey had taken shelter at the bunkhouse.

“He texted his wife not to worry. He said nothing bad will happen to him and that once the rain stops, he will go up. But he hasn’t returned until now.”

More than 155,000 people remain in evacuation centres in the Philippines two days after Mangkhut — the world’s most powerful storm this year — struck, said national police spokesman Benigno Durana.

Across northern Luzon, which produces much of the nation’s rice and corn, farms were under muddy floodwater, their crops ruined just a month before harvest.

Hong Kong began a massive clean-up Monday after the typhoon raked the city, shredding trees and bringing damaging floods in a trail of destruction.

The government of the high-rise city described the damage as “severe and extensive” with more than 300 people injured.

The monumental task of cleaning up began as residents, some in suits and ties, struggled to get back to work on roads that remained blocked by felled trees, mud and debris.

Bus services were halted and commuters piled onto platforms trying to board infrequent trains after trees fell on overhead power lines. Schools will remain closed through Tuesday.

Landslides and severe flooding affected some areas, with over 1,500 residents seeking refuge in temporary shelters overnight.

– ‘King of Storms’ –

The storm, with gusts of more than 230 kilometres per hour (142 mph), sent buildings swaying and water surging into homes and shopping malls in Hong Kong, with some roads waist-deep in water.

Windows in tower blocks and skyscrapers were smashed as people cowered inside.

In the neighbourhood of Heng Fa Chuen, thousands of rocks and pebbles from the sea covered parkland along the coastline which had been battered by waves.

The city’s main Victoria Park became an obstacle course with hundreds of trees down and many completely uprooted.

In the neighbouring gambling enclave of Macau, all 42 casinos shut down for the first time in its history as the storm approached.

They opened again on Monday but Macau was still in recovery mode after severe flooding hit parts of the city, forcing emergency workers to rescue people from shops and homes using boats and jetskis.

On Monday morning, shopkeepers in Macau were hosing down their stores which had been caked in mud after the floodwaters receded.

The storm made landfall in mainland China late Sunday, killing four in Guangdong including three hit by falling trees.

Authorities there said they had evacuated more than three million people and ordered tens of thousands of fishing boats back to port before the arrival of what Chinese media dubbed the “King of Storms”.

In the city of Zhuhai, a stone’s throw from Macau, volunteers and police pulled fallen trees and debris off highways.

“I think it will take us three or four days before it gets back to normal,” said Zhang, a police officer clearing a road near Nanshui town.

Rice paddies and banana plantations along the highway were flooded and destroyed, while some factories in nearby industrial areas suffered damage.

“I was scared. I didn’t dare go out last night. At one point the flooding was this high,” said Zhen Jingli, from Yashao village, pointing to his waist.

In neighbouring Guangxi, alerts were issued for a dozen rivers running high due to the downpours and expected to rise even higher, leading to possible floods in the next 24 hours, Xinhua news agency reported.

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Putin, Erdogan hold talks on Syria’s rebel-held Idlib

SOCHI (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Monday to try to come to an agreement over the Syrian rebel stronghold of Idlib.

The leaders of the two countries are on opposite sides of the deadly seven-year conflict but remain key global allies.

“We have a lot of issues to discuss, including difficult ones,” Putin said at the start of the talks at his residence in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

He added that the meeting would help “find solutions for where there are none yet.”

“I think not just the region, but the entire world has eyes focused on our meeting today,” Erdogan said for his part, in comments that were translated into Russian.

“I believe that the statement we will make after the Sochi meeting will give new hope to the region,” he added.

Russia-backed forces of the Syrian regime have massed around Idlib province in recent weeks, sparking fears of an imminent air and ground attack to retake the last major opposition bastion.

The United Nations and non-governmental organisations have repeatedly warned that such an offensive would unleash a “bloodbath” and “humanitarian catastrophe” in Idlib, which is home to three million people.

Turkey has intensified negotiations with Russia to avert a possible attack, repeatedly calling for a ceasefire.

Erdogan and Putin met previously on September 7 in Tehran for a three-way summit with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that saw the Russian and Turkish leaders openly disagree over how to deal with the rebel stronghold, which borders Turkey.

“The situation with Idlib is acute,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told RIA Novosti state news agency ahead of the talks Monday.

“There are certain differences in approaches” between the leaders, he added.

– Mass exodus fears –

The two men met as Turkey’s military has sent significant reinforcements to Idlib in recent weeks, according to media reports.

They were sent over the border Sunday and included tanks and other hardware, with a convoy of 50 military vehicles, according to the Hurriyet daily.

Russia and Iran are key allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Turkey however backs opposition fighters seeking the ouster of the Syrian leader, and has said a large-scale offensive against the rebels could trigger a mass exodus towards its border.

Russian and Syrian air strikes, artillery fire and barrel bomb attacks have killed more than 30 civilians across the province in the past month, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The bombardment has slowed over the past week, however, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday that the Syrian regime is not preparing a major offensive against Idlib, adding that Moscow will do everything to protect civilians.

“What is being presented at the moment as the beginning of a Russian-backed offensive by Syrian forces is not a faithful representation of the facts,” Lavrov said.

“We are doing everything to ensure that the civilian population would not suffer,” he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said Turkey was ready to cooperate with anyone in the fight against terror groups in Syria, but criticised the Damascus regime for using the presence of jihadist groups to legitimise a possible operation in Idlib.

The Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, when the Assad regime launched a vicious crackdown on pro-democracy protests that evolved into a complex conflict involving jihadists and world powers.

It has killed an estimated 360,000 people and forced millions to flee their homes.

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Police shoot man in Brussels after knife attack

BRUSSELS (Reuters): Belgian police shot and seriously wounded a homeless man who they said attacked them with a knife after they found him sleeping rough in Brussels on Monday.

Prosecutors dismissed any terrorist motive on the part of the man, who they identified as a Belgian national of Egyptian origin, and opened investigations into both the knife attack and the police officers’ use of a firearm.

Shortly after 9 a.m. in an area dominated by government offices, two police officers used a baton and pepper spray on the man when he pulled the knife after they woke him and asked him to move on. When he slashed one in the face, the other officer shot the man in the chest and leg. A third shot missed.

The prosecutors office said the officer was only slightly hurt. The man was rushed to hospital, where he was in a stable condition by late afternoon but still unable to give evidence.

The man was in his early 40s and believed to be homeless, the prosecutors added in a statement.

Belgium has been on high alert for politically motivated violence since Brussels-based Islamic State militants attacked Paris in 2015 and Brussels in 2016. Prime Minister Charles Michel expressed his support for the injured police officer on Twitter, calling for “respect for our security forces”.

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At UN, US accuses Russia of ‘cheating’ on North Korea sanctions

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters): US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Russia on Monday of “cheating” on UN sanctions on North Korea and said Washington has “evidence of consistent and wide-ranging Russian violations.”

Haley told the UN Security Council that while “difficult, sensitive talks” between the United States and North Korea are ongoing, it was the wrong time to start easing sanctions on Pyongyang.

“Russia must cease its violations of North Korea sanctions. It must end its concerted effort to cover up evidence of sanctions violations,” she said. “Its violations are not one-offs. They are systematic.”

Chinese UN Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu said the country implements sanctions on North Korea and warned that confronting Pyongyang would be a “dead end.” He called for progress in negotiations between the United States and North Korea and urged the Security Council to remain united on the issue.

“Resorting to force will bring nothing but disastrous consequences,” Ma told the council.

Russia and China suggested the Security Council discuss easing sanctions after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.

The United States and other council members have said there must be strict enforcement of sanctions until Pyongyang acts.

The Security Council has unanimously sanctioned North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the council that while there had been some recent positive developments, “there continue to be signs the DPRK (North Korea)is maintaining and developing its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.”

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Swiss open rape case against Tariq Ramadan

GENEVA (AFP): Prosecutors in Geneva have opened a rape and sexual misconduct investigation against Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan, who has been detained in France since February on separate rape charges, Swiss media reported Sunday.

The Tribune de Geneve newspaper quoted Geneva’s prosecutor’s office spokesman Henri Della Casa as saying that authorities had decided to open a formal criminal inquiry into allegations that Ramadan raped a woman in a Geneva hotel in 2008.

“I confirm the opening of an inquiry,” the paper quoted Della Casa as saying, a key step that indicated the authorities believed the allegations merit further investigation.

The accuser lodged her complaint in April.

“The prosecutors and Geneva police have worked quickly and worked well,” Romain Jordan, the lawyer representing Ramadan’s Swiss accuser, told AFP in an email.

He described the decision to open a criminal inquiry as “a major advance” that “demonstrates the seriousness of the allegations made by our client.”

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, has not yet been interviewed by Swiss prosecutors.

Jordan said that following the opening of a criminal case, Swiss investigators will now have to travel to France to hear Ramadan’s side of the alleged rape.

The 56-year-old scholar, a prominent and controversial figure within Islam, has denied any criminal wrongdoing.

Ramadan, who took leave from his post at Oxford University after the allegations surfaced, has complained that his imprisonment has made it more difficult for him to receive treatment for multiple sclerosis.

Ramadan, a married father of four who is one of European Islam’s best-known figures, is being held in a prison hospital in Fresnes, south of Paris.

On Tuesday, Ramadan will be questioned in the presence of a second accuser, a disabled woman identified as “Christelle” who claims he raped and beat her in a hotel in the southeastern French city of Lyon in 2009.

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Macron tells young jobseeker: ‘I can find you a job by crossing the road’

PARIS (BBC): French President Emmanuel Macron has told a young unemployed gardener that there are lots of employers seeking staff.

“I can find you a job just by crossing the road,” said Mr Macron, after the man brought up his concerns during a street encounter in Paris.

The jobseeker replied that employers did not respond to his applications.

France has an unemployment rate of about 10%, which is above the European average.

Mr Macron has responded by trying to make it easier for businesses to hire and fire staff and he has cut back the state sector, but he has faced protests.

Last month he faced criticism after accusing French “Gauls” of being resistant to change.

On Sunday, the French president was taking part in a cultural event when his exchange with the gardener was caught on camera.

“If you are ready and motivated, in hotels, cafes and construction, everywhere I go people say to me that they are looking for staff,” Mr Macron added.

Mr Macron initially asked if the man had registered as a jobseeker.

“Yes but there’s nothing,” said the man.

“I’m sending all the CVs and letters of motivation but it doesn’t lead anywhere. I’ve sent them to all the town halls but they won’t take them,” he added, quoted by Le Figaro newspaper.

Mr Macron pursued his point however, insisting that he was “sure” that some of the cafes in the Montparnasse area needed staff, Le Parisien newspaper reported.

“Frankly I’m sure that one in two of them are recruiting at the moment. Get going!” he said.

Unemployment in France is higher than in the Netherlands, where it is just above 5%, or Germany, where it is below 4%. The figure for the UK is below 5%.

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Israel bombs Iranian weapons-loaded aircraft in Syria

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: Airstrikes by Israeli forces destroyed a Boeing plane loaded with Iranian weapons, hours after it landed at the Damascus International Airport, media reports said Sunday.

Israel’s Channel 2 reported that Israeli jets also hit weapon stores at the airport hangars. The channel citing unnamed sources said the Israeli army declined to comment on the issue.

The weapons were supposed to be delivered to the Syrian regime or its pro-Tehran Shia allies, the report said. The Syrian News Agency (SANA) confirmed that Israel bombed the Damascus airport on Saturday evening.

“Our air defenses responded to an Israeli missile attack on Damascus International Airport and dropped a number of rockets,” the agency quoted an unnamed military source as saying, without giving further details.

In recent months, Israel has admitted to striking a number of Iranian targets inside Syrian territory.

Israel frequently accuses Tehran of exploiting the conflict in neighboring Syria — where Iran supports the Assad regime — to establish a permanent military presence near Israel’s border. (AA)




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Myanmar youth, journalists protest

YANGON (Reuters) – At least 100 Myanmar youth activists and journalists called for the release of two jailed Reuters journalists on Sunday, warning that the seven-year prison terms handed to the pair this month threaten the public’s right to information. Demonstrators including high-school students gathered peacefully in the heart of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, held signs and chanted slogans denouncing the guilty verdict against the two journalists.

A small contingent of police looked on as the protesters released black balloons printed with the words “Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo”. Reporters Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were convicted on Sept. 3 under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act in a case that was seen as a test of democratic freedoms in Myanmar. Thar Lun Zaung Htet, a journalist involved in organizing the protest, said the verdict against reporters who were “just doing their job” would stifle reporting in Myanmar. “Losing press freedom means our democratic transition is going backwards,” he said. The verdict drew calls from senior United Nations officials, political figures including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and human rights advocates around the world for their immediate release.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay could not be reached for comment on Sunday. The country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi said at a forum in Hanoi last week the case had nothing to do with freedom of expression. The reporters had been sentenced for handling official secrets and “were not jailed because they were journalists”, the Nobel laureate said. On Friday six Myanmar journalist organizations published a rare statement from groups within the country criticizing the country’s leader, saying they were “disappointed” with her comments. The reporters, who plead not guilty, said they were handed rolled papers by police shortly before they were detained last December, and a police witness testified in court that they had been set up. The reporters had been investigating the killing of 10 Rohingya Muslim men and boys by security forces and local Buddhists amid a military response to insurgent attacks last August.

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Large-scale military exercises to be held in Russia every five years – defense minister

MAGADAN (TASS): Russia demonstrates openness and invites observers and journalists to its military exercises to show its peacefulness and “tame the ardor” of its partners, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel.

He stressed that Russia’s military doctrine is purely defensive and the drills in conducts vividly demonstrate that Russia is not planning to attack anyone. “[Drills] does not even have elements suggesting any offensive actions in a foreign country, which cannot be said about our Western partners when they dress in the Russian military uniform, recruit Russian-speaking players and so on. Obviously, it does no credit to our neighbors but speaks much about what we should get prepared to,” he said.

According to the Russian defense minister, the Russian army demonstrates openness not only at exhibitions.

“Moreover, if you remember, at the instruction from our president we conducted a big conference, where the press was also invited, to sum up the results of the operation in Syria and the key results were the performances of our weapons.

We concealed nothing and said that serious drawbacks were exposed in some of them. We had to withdraw from service some weapons to upgrade them,” Shoigu noted.

“Because when those invited to such drills and those who see what we show, they understand that we have an efficient army and, I think, it somewhat tames their ardor,” he said.

The results of the Vostok-2018 military exercises will be summed up under the supervision of Supreme Commander-in-Chief, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Naturally, we are yet to analyze the drills. I think the results will be announced in October because such analysis is done under the supervision of the supreme commander-in-chief,” he said, adding that Putin took part at all the stages of the drills, starting from their planning.

“The plan was endorsed by the supreme commander-in-chief and his participation in these exercises, naturally, was not limited to a visit to the Tsugol firing range. His participations was much more profound because the part of the drill that was shown on TV, it was only the top of what really took place,” Shoigu said.

The large-scale Vostok-2018 exercises are running on September 11-17 under the command of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on the soil and in the waters of Russia’s Far East and in the neighboring waters of the Pacific Ocean.