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China slams US for disinviting it from military drill

Monitoring Desk

BEIJING: China criticized the U.S. on Thursday after Pentagon announced it withdrew its invitation to Beijing to participate in the upcoming Pacific military drill on the pretext of the country’s continued militarization of the South China Sea.

Ministry of National Defense spokesman Ren Guogiang described the U.S. decision as “not constructive”.

“Closing the door of communication at any time will not help enhance mutual trust and cooperation between two militaries,” Ren said, according to a statement posted on the Ministry of National Defense’s website.

“The US has hyped up the so-called ‘militarization’ of the South China Sea by ignoring the facts, and used it as an excuse to cancel the invitation for China to participate in the Rim of the Pacific [RIMPAC] – 2018 multinational naval exercise,” Guoqiang added.

On Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Lt Col. Logan said: “China’s continued militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea only serve to raise tensions and destabilize the region.”

Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said in a press meeting that China was exercising its sovereign rights in the South China Sea.

Artificial islands in the South China Sea and China’s military operations in the region continue to cause tension between the U.S., China and regional countries, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. (AA)

 

 

 

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Saudi air defenses intercept Houthi missile over Jizan

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: Saudi air defenses on Thursday intercepted a “ballistic missile” fired into Saudi territory by Yemen’s Houthi rebel group, according to Saudi media reports.

The missile was fired toward Saudi Arabia’s southwestern Jizan province, the Al-Ekhbariya television channel reported.

Yemen’s Houthi-run Al-Masira television channel, meanwhile, appeared to confirm that a missile had been fired toward the Jizan seaport from Yemeni territory.

No casualties have been reported.

Thursday’s missile attack was the fourth by Houthi rebels since the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began last week.

Impoverished Yemen has been wracked by conflict since 2014, when the Houthis overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa.

The conflict escalated in 2015 when Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Arab allies launched a wide-ranging military campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains in Yemen.

Riyadh has repeatedly accused the Houthis of acting as a proxy force for Shia Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-foe in the region. (AA)

 

 

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Hariri asked to draw up new cabinet

Monitoring Desk

BEIRUT: Saad Hariri, head of Lebanon’s Future Movement, received a parliamentary mandate to draw up a new government on Thursday.

Hariri received the endorsement of 68 out of 128 lawmakers from different parliamentary blocs. The pro-Hezbollah “resistance bloc”, for its part, has refrained from fielding a candidate for the premiership but has confirmed its willingness to play a role in the next government.

According to Lebanon’s constitution, the president of the republic must consult with parliament’s 128 members with a view to choosing a prime minister who will then propose a new cabinet lineup. (AA)

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Equating Islam with terrorism ‘foolish’: Pope

Monitoring Desk

ROME: Pope Francis has slammed untrue claims linking Islam with terrorism, according to local media reports Thursday.

According to the ANSA news agency, the pope said the view equating Islam with terrorism is baseless.

“It might be coming out of many people’s mouths, but this equation is a lie and it is foolish,” he said in an interview. “The most important role [of religions] is that of promoting a culture of encounter, together in the promotion of true education for responsible behavior that takes care of creation,” he added. (AA)

 

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Pentagon ready to any action of N.Korea

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: The Pentagon is ready to respond to any “provocative actions” from North Korea, an official said Thursday after President Donald Trump canceled a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“We are in a boxer stance, we are ready to respond,” Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, director of the US military’s Joint Staff, told reporters.

“We’ll see what develops over the next few days. If any provocative actions occur from (North Korea), we will certainly, in concert with our allies and partners in the region, be ready for it.”

Secretary of State Jim Mattis spoke with Trump by phone earlier in the day, but officials would not say if he had been part of the decision process to scrap the summit or was merely informed of it.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the Pentagon is part of the US “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea that includes tough sanctions, diplomatic moves and military readiness.

“We are ready to fight tonight. That’s always been the case,” she said at a joint briefing with McKenzie.

McKenzie added that the Pentagon maintains a “very high” state of vigilance with North Korea.

We will continue that going forward to include our missile defense activities,” he said.

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Venezuela’s Maduro sworn for second six-year term

Monitoring Desk

CARACAS: Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro was sworn in Thursday for a second term as president of the crisis-wracked Latin American country, just days after winning an election boycotted by the opposition and decried abroad.

Maduro swore “to respect and enforce the Constitution and lead all revolutionary changes” in a ceremony before the Constituent Assembly, which he set up himself last year and stacked with his supporters.

In power since 2013, the socialist leader said those changes should lead Venezuela to “the peace, prosperity and happiness of our people.”

Maduro later plans to attend an event at the defense ministry in Caracas to receive a “reaffirmation of loyalty” from the armed forces’ high command.

The 55-year-old former bus driver was re-elected Sunday in a vote boycotted by the main opposition and widely condemned by the international community, including the United States, which denounced it as a “sham.”

His election for a second six-year term maintains him in the presidency until 2025.

Venezuela’s constitution states that the president must be sworn in before parliament, where the opposition holds the majority and which has in practice been replaced by the Constituent Assembly.

The parliament was declared in contempt by the Supreme Court two years ago, and consequently its decisions are now considered null and void.

Under the constitution, the inauguration of Maduro’s new term was to be held next January. Prior to the swearing-in, the Assembly approved by a show of hands a decree clarifying the new mandate would begin on January 10 even if Maduro was to be sworn in immediately.

 

 

 

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Trump cancels Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim

WASHINGTON (AFP): US President Donald Trump informed Kim Jong Un Thursday he is canceling their nuclear summit next month in Singapore, blaming “anger” and “hostility” from the North Korean regime for the collapse of the historic event.

Trump and Kim had been due to hold high-stakes talks on June 12 aimed at ridding the reclusive state of nuclear weapons, but the meeting was recently thrown into doubt as both sides raised the prospect of scrapping the discussions and traded threats.

Trump’s letter came a day after North Korea attacked US Vice President Mike Pence as “ignorant and stupid.”

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in a letter to Kim released by the White House.

“Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

Trump also brandished the threat of America’s nuclear might in his letter, writing: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.”

The US leader’s letter appeared to leave the door open to a future meeting with Kim, however, stressing that he had been “very much looking forward to being there.”

“We greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations and discussions” relative to the summit, he told Kim.

“I felt a wonderful dialogue was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialogue that matters,” Trump said. “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.

“The world, and North Korea in particular has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.”

The decision came as North Korea said it had “completely” dismantled its nuclear test site, in a carefully choreographed move portrayed by the isolated regime as a goodwill gesture ahead of the Singapore summit.

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China rejects India’s ‘reckless claims’ pertaining to Hafiz Saeed

BEIJING (APP): India had spread rumors with the help of some Pakistani journalist today (Wednesday) that Chinese president Xi Jinping advised Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to relocate hafiz Saeed, who is a co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba and the chief of Jama at-ud-Da wah,into Western Asian countries during meeting.

Reacting on this news, Chinese foreign ministry said that news about Hafiz Saeed was shocking and baseless, source added.

Confuting news regarding Hafiz Saeed Chinese foreign ministry added that President Xi and PM Abbasi did not discuss Hafiz Saeed at Boao Forum for Asia. In April 2018, PM Abbasi met Xi during Boao Forum for Asia for 30 minutes.

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Iran still implementing nuclear deal: IAEA

VIENNA (AFP): Iran is still implementing the 2015 accord over its nuclear programme, just weeks after Washington ditched the accord, according to a report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report, seen by AFP Thursday, shows that Iran is abiding by the deal’s key restrictions on its nuclear facilities in return for relief from damaging economic sanctions.

The latest assessment from the IAEA comes after US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord earlier this month, putting its future in jeopardy.

The IAEA urged Iran to stick with the accord and even go beyond its legal obligations so as to boost international confidence in Tehran’s commitments.

A senior diplomat at IAEA headquarters said this was not prompted by any lack of co-operation or change of behaviour on Iran’s part.

The IAEA is “encouraging (Iran) to go above and beyond the requirements” of the deal in order to boost confidence, the diplomat said, adding that Tehran could for example invite inspectors to sites they had not demanded access to.

Signatories Britain, France, Germany plus the European Union, Russia and China have been trying to salvage the deal after Trump’s decision but Iran has warned that if it suffers as a result the reintroduction of US economic sanctions, it could walk away from the accord.

As in previous reports, the IAEA confirmed that the number of centrifuges to enrich uranium at Iran’s Natanz plant had been kept below the agreed level of 5,060, while its total stockpile of low-enriched uranium “has not exceeded 300 kilogrammes (660 pounds)”.

Uranium when enriched to high levels can be used in a nuclear weapon. At lower enrichment levels, it is used for peaceful applications such as power generation — Iran’s stated aim.

Since the deal came into effect, Iran has twice inched over the agreed volume of heavy water, a reactor coolant.

However, the latest report said that for the past three months the volume had remained below the agreed maximum of 130 tonnes.

Apart from the relatively minor breaches of heavy water levels, IAEA reports have consistently shown Iran adhering to the terms of the deal in the two years since it came into force.

In the IAEA’s previous report it had said that Iran had informed it of a decision to “construct naval nuclear propulsion in the future”.

Press reports have previously said that Iran wants to develop nuclear-powered ships or submarines.

The latest report says that Iran has assured the IAEA that more information will be provided in due course and that “for the first five years, no facility will be involved”.

On Wednesday, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran would not discuss its missile programme in any new deal, as demanded by the US, and said European countries had to compensate Iran if it experienced a dip in oil sales.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned on Monday that Iran would be hit with the “strongest sanctions in history” and cautioned European firms against continuing to do business in the country.

On Friday, the remaining parties to the accord will meet in Vienna at Iran’s request to discuss the implementation of the deal and ways to save it without Washington’s participation.

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Rattled by bombings, Indonesia set to pass tough anti-terror laws

JAKARTA (AFP): Indonesia’s parliament is expected to adopt tough anti-terrorism laws on Friday as it seeks to combat a surge in homegrown militancy days after the deadliest attacks since 2002 bombings on the tourist island of Bali.

Revising a 2003 law became a top priority for the world’s biggest Muslim-majority after suicide bombings claimed by Daesh killed more than 30 people in the country’s second-biggest city of Surabaya this month.

The death toll was the highest since 2002 bomb attacks on nightclubs in Bali, when 202 people, most of them foreign tourists, were killed.

Indonesia subsequently scored some major successes tackling militancy.

But in recent years there has been a resurgence of militant violence and scores of Indonesians have gone to the Middle East to fight for Daesh, with thousands more believed to be drawing inspiration from the group at home.

The revised law will allow police to preemptively detain suspects for longer and prosecute those who join or recruit for militant groups, according to a draft reviewed by Reuters.

Law enforcement agencies have complained that they lack the power to detain militants suspected of plotting attacks unless a threat is made or an attack actually carried out.

Under the revised law, anyone suspected of planning an attack can be held for up to 21 days, instead of a week, for an initial investigation.

Suspects can then be detained for a formal investigation for up to 120 days without trial and up to 200 days with court approval, compared with 180 days now.

Suspects will also be open to prosecution for joining a “terrorist” organization, disseminating their teachings, or taking part in military-style training.

Those convicted of smuggling explosives or other chemicals and weapons into or out of the country for “terrorism” will face jail of up to 20 years.

MILITARY INVOLVEMENT

The revised bill was proposed by President Joko Widodo’s government in early 2016, after a gun and suicide-bomb attack in Jakarta, which at the time was the first Daesh-linked attack in Southeast Asia.

But the bill languished in parliament amid concern over intrusions on human rights and after some parties objected to clauses that could mean greater military involvement in internal security.

The new bill is expected to retain a clause stipulating the military can get involved in anti-terrorism operations only on a request by police and with the approval of the president.

Separately, Widodo’s government has also proposed setting up a special military task force to boost the efforts of the elite counter-terrorism police squad, Detachment, or “Densus”, 88.

Widodo has pledged to use his executive powers to override parliament if it failed to pass the bill by the end of June.

The attacks this month, in which two families, including children as young as eight, carried out suicide attacks on churches and a police station in Surabaya, have added a sense of urgency to the legislation.

Even so, the laws will still not be as tough as some other countries in the region.

Malaysia in 2015 reintroduced a law under which suspects can be detained without trial for up to two years with two-year extensions thereafter.