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Dominican Republic embraces China, severs ties with Taiwan

Monitoring Desk

TAIPEI: The Dominican Republic’s government announced on Tuesday that it is establishing diplomatic relations with China and breaking its diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

It says it will also recognize Taiwan as an “inalienable part of Chinese territory.”

At a news event in Beijing on Tuesday morning, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Dominican Republic’s Chancellor Miguel Vargas signed a joint communiqué marking the establishment of ties.

In a joint statement, the countries said the move was “in keeping with the interests and desire of the two peoples” and that the Dominican Republic will sever ties with rival Taiwan as a result.

Dollar diplomacy?

China offered the Dominican Republic a $3.1 billion package of investments and loans to get the Caribbean nation to switch allegiances, a Taiwan official said on Tuesday, in a diplomatic blow to the self-ruled island.

China, which considers Taiwan a province, said there were no economic pre-conditions to the deal.

Taiwan now has formal relations with only 19 countries, many of them poor nations in Central America and the Pacific like Belize and Nauru.

China and Taiwan have tried to poach each other’s allies over the years, often dangling generous aid packages in front of developing nations, though Taipei struggles to compete in the dollar diplomacy with an increasingly powerful China.

The move by the Dominican Republic comes after regional neighbour, Panama, ended its own long-standing relationship with Taiwan last year in a major diplomatic victory for Beijing. The Vatican is possibly next on the list, as the Holy See and China edge closer to an accord on the appointment of bishops in China. The news on the Dominican Republic switch, announced in both Beijing and Santo Domingo, drew strong and swift condemnation from Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.

“President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic has ignored our long-term partnership, the wishes of the people of the Dominican Republic, and the years of development assistance provided by Taiwan, to accept false promises of investment and aid by China,” Wu told reporters.

“[Taiwan] strongly condemns China’s objectionable decision to use dollar diplomacy to convert Taiwan’s diplomatic allies. Beijing’s attempts at foreign policy have only served to drive a wedge between the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, erode mutual trust and further harm the feelings of the people of Taiwan.”

What’s the deal?

According to the Taiwan foreign ministry, Taipei calculated the figure of $3.1 billion as the value of investments, financial assistance and low-interest loans offered by Beijing to the Dominican Republic, which shares an island with Haiti to the west.

The figure includes $400 million for a new freeway, $1.6 billion for infrastructure projects and $300 million for a new natural gas power plant.

“It was a cost that Taiwan could not match,” the official said. China’s foreign ministry said the move was a political one with no economic pre-conditions, but that now they have established ties, China will “proactively promote mutually beneficial co-operation in all areas.”

China has stepped up the pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of Tsai Ing-wen, from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, as president. Beijing fears she will push for Taiwan’s formal independence. Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo.

The Dominican Republic had been a diplomatic ally of the Republic of China – Taiwan’s official name – for 77 years, including when the Guomindang (Kuomintang) government ruled all of China before being forced to Taiwan in 1949 after the Nationalists lost a civil war to the Communists.

Taiwan’s presidential office said that despite the severe challenges, the government would not bow its head in pressure to Beijing, and vowed to do all it could to protect Taiwan’s interests.

The Taiwan official said the Dominican Republic move was not unexpected.

“We’ve always known things were not looking rosy here,” the official said.

Growth potential immense

The Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, lauded the decision as in line with the trend of the times and history, in comments to reporters in Beijing.

“This important and correct decision by the Dominican Republic absolutely accords with the basic interests of the country and its people,” Wang said. “We highly appreciate this.”

The Dominican Republic said it had taken the decision after a long process of consultation, taking its needs and potential into account, according to a statement on the president’s website.

It said that even without formal diplomatic ties, China was already its second-largest supplier of imported products.

“Of course we know that now we’re establishing diplomatic relations, the growth potential of our trade links is immense,” presidential legal adviser Flavio Dario Espinal said. Espinal said that the government was grateful to Taiwan. “We are deeply grateful for the co-operation we’ve shared for years,” he said. “However, history and the socioeconomic reality force us now to change direction.”

In Taipei, Wu said China had failed to follow through on its promises to former Taiwan diplomatic allies, including $140 million in aid to the small West African country of Sao Tome and Principe in late 2016.

“Developing nations should be aware of the danger of falling into a debt trap when engaging with China,” he said.

Neither Wang, nor Dominican Republic Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas Maldonado, who stood by his side at the Beijing news conference, took questions from reporters.

Speaking in March, Wang said it was in the best interests of Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies to recognise an “irresistible trend” and ditch Taipei in favour of “one China” ruled by Beijing.



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Sri Lanka president reshuffles cabinet

COLOMBO (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s president reshuffled his cabinet on Tuesday after the defection of several ministers from his party, but the changes did not impress some market watchers looking for an end to the country’s political uncertainty.

President Maithripala Sirisena shifted 18 cabinet members, including reassigning posts once held by defectors from his ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

The reshuffle came after 16 SLFP members of parliament, most of them ministers, joined the opposition last month after a failed move to oust Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe through a no-confidence motion.

The motion was sponsored by opponents who blame the prime minister for failing to prevent an alleged scam in the bond market and anti-Muslim riots in March.

After the motion failed, the 16 MPs decided to sit with the opposition, weakening the SLFP’s coalition with Wickremesinghe’s United National Party (UNP).

Investors had been waiting for a cabinet reshuffle since April 12 when Sirisena, in the wake of the failed no-confidence motion, suspended parliament until May 8.

“The changes are very cosmetic. There is nothing to boost the market,” said a stockbroker in Colombo where the stock index ended flat on Tuesday. The coalition government and its reform agenda has been under pressure since a political party backed by Sri Lanka’s former president Mahinda Rajapaksa won a landslide victory in local polls on Feb. 10.

The government has struggled to deliver on its 2015 campaign promises to impose fiscal discipline as recommended by multi-lateral lenders, reform the constitution to give more power to the provinces, and begin an international probe in alleged war crimes during the final phase of Sri Lanka’s civil war which ended in 2009.

“The country does not need a cabinet reshuffle at this point, but reforms to restructure the country,” said Victor Ivan, an independent political columnist.



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IAEA declines to address Netanyahu’s accusations

VIENNA (Reuters): The U.N. atomic watchdog declined on Tuesday to directly address Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s accusations that Iran was breaching its landmark nuclear deal with major powers.

Netanyahu on Monday stepped up pressure on the United States to pull out of the 2015 deal, presenting what he called evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program. Iran is known to have had a weapons program until 2003, and analysts and diplomats said he appeared to be recycling old accusations.

“In line with standard IAEA practice, the IAEA evaluates all safeguards-relevant information available to it,” an International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman said. “However, it is not the practice of the IAEA to publicly discuss issues related to any such information.”



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Iran will respond to ‘Israeli aggression’

DAMASCUS (Reuters): A senior Iranian member of parliament vowed on Tuesday that his country will react to “Israeli aggression” against it in Syria, issuing his warning following a missile strike on Syrian military bases at the weekend.

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy committee, made the comments in Damascus after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented purported evidence of past Iranian nuclear arms work, but later insisted he was not seeking war with the country.

“We will respond to any aggression on Iran at the right time and place,” Boroujerdi told a news conference after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier this week. No country has claimed responsibility for Sunday’s missile strikes, which follow several suspected Israeli attacks inside Syria in recent years. Israel generally does not comment on specific missions, but acknowledges it has carried out scores of strikes against what it describes as Iranian deployments or arms transfers to the Hezbollah movement, its ally in Lebanon.

A British-based war monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, has said that at least 26 people were killed in Sunday’s strikes and that most of them were Iranians or members of an Iran-backed Iraqi militia.

The semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim said no Iranian base had been hit or Iranians killed.

Earlier this month, Tehran and its allies including the Shi’ite Hezbollah group accused Israel of a missile strike which Tehran said killed seven of its military personnel in Syria.

Boroujerdi did not directly accuse Israel of Sunday’s attack, but said such strikes in Syria were in response to the Damascus government’s victories over insurgents and militants.

“The presence of our military advisers in Syria has nothing to do with Israel,” he said.




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Israel’s Iran documents prove Tehran lying: Pompeo

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that documents obtained by Israel show that Tehran has been lying about its nuclear program.

“For many years, the Iranian regime has insisted to the world that its nuclear program was peaceful. The documents obtained by Israel from inside of Iran show beyond any doubt that the Iranian regime was not telling the truth,” Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo said he reviewed many of the files himself and officials have been analyzing them, which will continue for many months.

“We assess that the documents we have reviewed are authentic,” he added.

Pompeo said the documents show Iran had a secret nuclear weapons program for years.

“Iran sought to develop nuclear weapons and missile delivery systems.”

“Iran hid a vast atomic archive from the world and from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] — until today,” he stressed.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran’s nuclear deception is inconsistent with its pledge in the nuclear deal “that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop, or acquire any nuclear weapons”.

“Iran has lied and is still lying,” Pompeo said.

He added that now is the time to revisit the question of whether Iran can be trusted to enrich or control any nuclear material.

In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed that Israeli intelligence services had obtained 55,000 pages of Iranian documents revealing how Tehran allegedly lied to the world after signing a landmark deal in 2015 to curb its nuclear program.

His remarks followed a weekend meeting with Pompeo.

President Donald Trump is expected to announce his decision May 12 on whether the U.S. will pull out of the deal. (AA)



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UK territories ordered to open up about secretive companies

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain agreed on Tuesday to order its overseas territories such as the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands to make secretive company ownership information public by the end of 2020 to try to tackle corruption and tax avoidance.

The move was hailed as a major victory by campaigners in the fight against tax avoidance and money laundering.

“This is the news we have been waiting for,” said Simon Kirkland, a campaigner at Christian Aid. “This is a major step forward in the fight against the tax avoidance, evasion and corruption that costs developing countries so dearly.”

Overseas territories and crown dependencies have come under increasing pressure to reveal who is behind anonymously owned companies, with campaign groups saying such secrecy aids money laundering, tax evasion and corrupt diversion of public funds from developing economies.

Several politicians in the ruling Conservative party teamed up with opposition Labour lawmakers to back the changes, which were first pushed by former Prime Minister David Cameron, but resisted by the overseas territories.

Many of these territories have large financial services sectors because they levy low taxes and ownership of businesses lacks transparency.

Despite repeated calls for more openness, British crown dependencies and overseas territories are only required to reveal information on the true owners of offshore companies to law enforcement bodies, and then only if asked.

Alan Duncan, a junior foreign office minister, told parliament the government would support an amendment brought by two Members of Parliament calling for a central register of company ownership in these territories as lawmakers debated an amendment on an anti-money laundering law.

Britain has been trying to clamp down on tax evasion and corrupt flows of money through its large financial services sector, but has faced resistance from some of its overseas territories because the secrecy and low taxes are what makes their finance sectors attractive.

Margaret Hodge, the opposition Labour Member of Parliament who introduced the amendment, said it would help prevent tax evasion and disrupt the activities of criminals and militant groups.

“It will stop them exploiting our secret regime, hiding their toxic wealth and laundering money into the legitimate system, often for nefarious purposes,” she said.

“With open registers we will then know who owns what and where, and we will be able to see where the money flows, and then we will better equipped to root out dirty money and deal with the issues that arise from that.”

Naomi Hirst, a spokeswoman for the Global Witness anti-corruption Non-Governmental Organization, said the move comes after four similar amendments submitted before parliament in the past have failed.

She added the poisoning of a former Russian double agent in England in March had probably pressured the government to tackle the web of offshore shell companies used to invest in Britain.

Seven times the amount of money from Russia has flowed to British overseas territories rather than directly into Britain over the last decade, she said.

“This has really fired up imaginations and pointed out to even the most squeamish of politicians concerned about Russian’s role in the world that they need to look at this,” she said.

The amendment does not apply to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, because parliament does not have the right to impose its will on them.


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Saudi’s Salman says Palestinians should make peace or shut up

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: Mohammed Bin Salman makes a harsh statement about Palestine to Israel’s Channel 10 News which airs in America.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, during the Jewish leaders meeting in America’s New York last week, reportedly said that the conflict between Palestinian and Israeli society should come to an end with statements in favor of Israel as ties between the two countries strengthen. He harshly criticized the situation saying that it is better for Palestinians to “make peace or shut up and stop protesting.”

“The Palestinians were made many settlement offers in the last 40 years. However, they rejected all. It is time for Palestinians to either accept the terms offered or come to the negotiating table. If they cannot do any of these, they should shut up and stop protesting,” Muhammad bin Salman said.

Since the era of Sultan Abdulhamid II, Theodor Herzl, considered to be the founder of Israel, used several ploys in order to seize Palestinian properties and eliminate the Palestinian presence in Jerusalem, which is a tactic that is still employed by Israel today.

Despite their limited resources and the hardships amid growing discriminatory restrictions imposed by Israel, Palestinians have defi-ed all intimidation and bribes.

Saudi’s Salman boosts ties with Israel

In early April, Salman said Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land, another public sign of an apparent thawing in ties between the two countries.

“There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” he added. On Nov. 19, Israel Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz indicated that his country has had “secret” contacts with Saudi Arabia against Iran, which shocked many given the fact that Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations. Additionally, Saudi opened its airspace to Israel in February 2017.

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Vatican’s finance chief to find out if he stands trial for sexual abuse

SYDNEY (AP): The most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis will return to an Australian court on Tuesday to learn whether he must stand trial on charges that he sexually abused multiple victims decades ago.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington will rule in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on whether the prosecution’s case against Australian Cardinal George Pell is strong enough to warrant a trial by jury.

Lawyers for Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic argued during a four-week preliminary hearing in March that the accusations were untrue and should be dismissed. Pell has said through his lawyers that he would plead not guilty if the magistrate decides against dismissing the charges.

Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, was charged last June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations against the 76-year-old have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as “historical” sexual assault offenses – meaning the crimes allegedly occurred decades ago.

His alleged victims testified in the first two weeks of the preliminary hearing via a video link from a remote location to a room closed to the media and public.

Defense lawyer Robert Richter told Wallington in his final submissions two weeks ago that the complainants might have testified against one of the church’s most powerful men to punish him for failing to act against abuse by clerics.

But prosecutor Mark Gibson told the magistrate there was no evidence to back Richter’s theory that Pell had been targeted over the church’s failings.

Since Pell returned to Australia from the Vatican in July, he has lived in Sydney and flown to Melbourne for his court hearings. His circumstances are far removed from the years he spent as the high-profile and polarising archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney before his promotion to Rome in 2014.

Pell wore a cleric’s collar and a face showing little emotion while attending court during his hard-fought and extraordinarily long preliminary hearing.

He was frisked for weapons in standard security procedures as he entered the high-rise court building, and shared its corridors with alleged drug dealers, thieves, thugs and drunk drivers during breaks in court proceedings. The case places both the cardinal and the pope in potentially perilous territory. For Pell, the charges are a threat to his freedom, his reputation and his career. For Francis, they are a threat to his credibility, given he famously promised a “zero tolerance” policy for sex abuse in the church.

Advocates for abuse victims have long railed against Francis’ decision to appoint Pell to the high-ranking position in the first place.

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Keep army out of political debates: Mauritania minister

Monitoring Desk

NOUAKCHOTT: Mauritanian Defense Minister Diallo Mamadou Bhatia on Monday urged politicians to avoid involving the country’s armed forces in politics.

He made the appeal at a joint press conference held in the capital Nouakchott with Sidi Mohamed Ould Maham, the leader of the ruling Union for the Republic Party.

Bhatia also heads up the ruling party’s reform committee, which was set up last month by President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to prepare for parliamentary polls slated for June.

The Mauritanian opposition frequently warns against intervention in politics by the country’s influential military establishment.

Mauritania is set to hold parliamentary and municipal elections in June, with presidential polls slated for mid-2019.

The country’s main opposition parties have announced their intention to take part in the polls after boycotting the last election in 2013. (AA)




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Sudan maintains policy of economic reform: PM

Monitoring Desk

KHARTOUM: Sudan will continue on the path towards economic liberalization despite the many challenges facing the country, Prime Minister Bakri Hassan Salih said Monday.

Addressing members of the parliament, Salih said that Sudan had no other alternative but to press ahead with austerity measures adopted in early 2018.

“We have no choice but to maintain the policy of economic liberalization; we must implement economic reform and restructure our economy,” he said. “We deeply feel the suffering of our people — we see the long lines for gasoline — but we’re working hard to resolve the problem,” Salih asserted.

Sudan has suffered an acute shortage of fuel products since the beginning of April. The prime minister went on to point out that the country’s trade deficit had widened in 2017. He also noted, however, that GDP had increased over the same period.

“The trade deficit reached $2.7 billion in the second half of 2017 — from $2.3 billion in 2016 — but at the same time GDP has increased from 5.2 to 5.7 percent,” Salih said. Sudan has recently seen a sharp spike in inflation that has led to sporadic anti-austerity protests.

The government adopted a raft of tough austerity measures in its 2018 budget, including the lifting of subsidies on bread and electricity and some other essential.