North Korea’s Insane Little Fat Boy Gives The ‘Bird’ To The World, Fires Another Missile

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast on Sunday, its second missile test in a week, which South Korea said dashed the hopes of the South’s new liberal government for peace between the neighbors.

A South Korean military official said the missile appeared to be an upgraded, extended-range version of the North’s solid-fuel submarine-launched missile. The missile fired a week ago flew was liquid-fueled, and flew further.

North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, saying the weapons are needed for legitimate self-defense.

The reclusive state has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. On Saturday, it said it had developed the capability to strike the U.S. mainland, although Western missile experts say the claim is exaggerated.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the latest test at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said on Sunday.

An official traveling with U.S. President Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia said the White House was aware of the latest launch and noted that the missile had a shorter range than the three previous missiles that North Korea had tested.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said economic and diplomatic pressure would continue to be applied to North Korea.

left
right
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to North Korean scientists and technicians, who developed missile ‘Hwasong-12’ in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 20, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

“The ongoing testing is disappointing, disturbing and we ask that they cease that,” he said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday”.

The two missile tests in a week complicate plans by South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in to seek ways to reduce tension on the peninsula. Moon took office eleven days ago after winning an election on a platform of a more moderate approach to the North, with which the South is still technically at war since no peace treaty was signed at the end of their 1950-1953 conflict.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the tests were “reckless and irresponsible actions throwing cold water over the hopes and desires of this new government and the international community for denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the latest missile test by the reclusive North was “a snub and a challenge to international efforts for a peaceful resolution”.

Abe told reporters after a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council that he wanted to raise the issue of North Korean missile launches at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Italy this month. China had no immediate comment.

RIVAL TEAMS

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the North appeared to be testing and perfecting both solid and liquid-fueled missiles, which might help explain why the pace of its tests had increased.

“I think the team to develop liquid fuel missiles are being pitted against the solid fuel team,” Kim said. “The liquid fuel team succeeded on May 14 so the solid fuel team went for another round to achieve success. That is why the speed of North Korea’s missile development is going beyond imagination.”

Sunday’s missile was launched at 0759 GMT (3:59 a.m. ET) from a location near Pukchang, 60 km (36 miles) northeast of the capital Pyongyang, an area where North Korea attempted to test-launch another missile last month but failed, South Korea’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The missile flew about 500 km (310 miles), it said. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and no damage to ships or airplanes was reported.

“The flight range was 500 km and South Korea and the United States are closely analyzing additional information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

On Saturday, North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said in a commentary: “The U.S. mainland and the Pacific operational theater are within the strike range of the DPRK and the DPRK has all kinds of powerful means for annihilating retaliatory strike.” North Korea’s full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

For a graphic on North Korea missile launch, click here

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Jeff Mason in Riyadh and Michele Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Peter Graff and Sandra Maler)

Iran: Re-elected In A Landslide President Rouhani, Promises To Open Iran Up To The World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani pledged on Saturday to open Iran to the world and deliver freedoms its people have yearned for, throwing down a defiant challenge to his hard line opponents after securing a decisive re-election for a second term.

Rouhani, long known as a cautious and mild-mannered establishment insider, reinvented himself as a bold champion of reform during the election campaign, which culminated on Friday in victory with more than 57 percent of the vote. His main challenger, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi, received 38 percent.

In his first televised speech after the result, Rouhani appeared to openly defy conservative judges by praising the spiritual leader of the reform camp, former President Mohammad Khatami. A court has banned quoting or naming Khatami on air.

“Our nation’s message in the election was clear: Iran’s nation chose the path of interaction with the world, away from violence and extremism,” Rouhani said.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose country has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, said he hoped Rouhani would use his second term to end Tehran’s ballistic missile program and what he called its network of terrorism.

Iran denies any involvement in terrorism and says its missile program, which U.S. President Donald Trump recently targeted with new sanctions, is purely for defense purposes.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of un-elected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp its strongest mandate in at least 12 years to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

CHEERING AND DANCING

Thousands of people gathered in central Tehran to celebrate Rouhani’s victory. Videos on social media showed young people clapping and chanting “We love you Hassan Rouhani, we support you.”

Some youngsters wore wristbands in violet, the color of Rouhani’s campaign. Others wore green, representing the reformist movement crushed by security forces after a 2009 election, whose leaders have been under house arrest since 2011.

During campaigning, Rouhani promised to seek their release if re-elected with a stronger mandate.

A supporter of Iranian president Hassan Rouhani holds his poster as she celebrates his victory in the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2017. TIMA via REUTERS

“We won. We’ve done what we should have for our country. Now it’s Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

Videos from the cities of Kermanshah, Tabriz and the holy city of Mashhad showed hundreds of people in the streets, cheering and dancing.

Rouhani, 68, faces the same limits on his power to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering social change in his first term, and that thwarted Khatami, who failed to deliver on a reform agenda as president from 1997-2005.

But by publicly thanking “my dear brother, Mohammad Khatami” in his victory speech, Rouhani seemed to take up that mantle. It was a remarkable challenge to the Shi’ite Muslim religious judicial authorities, who have blacklisted Khatami from public life for his support for other reformists under house arrest.

Many experts are skeptical that a president can change much in Iran, as long as the supreme leader has veto power over all policies and control over the security forces. Some said the pattern was all too familiar from Rouhani’s first victory four years ago and Khatami’s victories the previous decade.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

The re-elected president will also have to navigate a tricky relationship with Washington, which appears at best ambivalent about the nuclear accord agreed by former U.S. President Barack Obama. Trump has repeatedly described it as “one of the worst deals ever signed”, although his administration re-authorized waivers from sanctions this week.

Trump arrived on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, his first stop on the first trip abroad of his presidency. The Saudis are Iran’s biggest enemies in the region and are expected to push hard for Trump to turn his back on the nuclear deal.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. counterpart in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran’s presidential election was an internal matter. “We want to see deeds, not words” from Iran, he added.

Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, an ally of Saudi Arabia, congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.

BREAKING TABOOS

Rouhani’s reinvention as an ardent reformist on the campaign trail helped stir the passion of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he broke rhetorical taboos, attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.

During one rally he referred to hardliners as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut”. In a debate last week he accused Raisi of seeking to “abuse religion for power”. The language at the debate earned a rare public rebuke from Khamenei, who called it “unworthy”.

The contentiousness of the campaign could make it more difficult for Rouhani to secure the consent of hardliners to carry out his agenda, said Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University.

“Rouhani upped the ante in the past 10 days in the rhetoric that he used. Clearly it’s going to be difficult to back down on some of this stuff.”

The Guards could also use their role as shock troops of Iran’s interventions across the Middle East to try to derail future rapprochement with the West, said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born lecturer at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.

“Since the 1979 revolution, whenever hardliners have lost a political battle, they have tried to settle scores,” he said.

“I would worry about the more confrontational policy of the IRGC in the Persian Gulf … and more confrontational policy with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.”

Among the congratulatory messages sent to Rouhani by world leaders, Iran’s battlefield ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad looked forward to cooperating “to strengthen the security and stability of both countries, the region and the world”.

The biggest prize for Rouhani’s supporters is the potential to set Iran’s course for decades by influencing the choice of a successor to Khamenei, who has been in power since 1989.

A Raisi victory would have probably ensured that the next supreme leader was a hardliner. Rouhani’s win gives reformists a chance to build clout in the body that chooses the leader, the Assembly of Experts, where neither reformists nor conservatives dominate.

Khamenei praised Iranians for their big turnout after voters queued up for hours to cast their ballots. The strong turnout of around 73 percent of eligible voters appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformists disappointed with the slow pace of change.

Many voters said they came out to block the rise of Raisi, one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s, regarded by reformers as a symbol of the security state at its most fearsome.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche and Helen Popper)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Venezuela sends 2,000 troops to state hit by looting, protests

Workers of the health sector and opposition supporters take part in a protest against President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Anggy Polanco | SAN CRISTOBAL, VENEZUELA

Venezuela said it was sending 2,000 soldiers on Wednesday to a border state that is a hotspot of anti-government radicalism after a night of looting in which one 15-year-old died as political unrest rumbled on in the volatile nation.

Most shops and businesses in San Cristobal, capital of Tachira state on the Colombian border, were closed and guarded by soldiers on Wednesday, though looting continued in some poorer sectors, residents said.

People made off with items including coffee, diapers, and cooking oil in a country where a brutal economic crisis has made basic foods and medicine disappear from shelves.

Barricades of trash, car tires, and sand littered the streets, as daily life broke down in the city that was also a hotspot during the 2014 wave of unrest against leftist President Nicolas Maduro.

Hundreds of thousands of people have come onto the streets across Venezuela since early April to demand elections, freedom for jailed activists, foreign aid and autonomy for the opposition-led legislature.

Maduro’s government accuses them of seeking a violent coup and says many of the protesters are no more than “terrorists.” State oil company PDVSA also blamed roadblocks for pockets of gasoline shortages in the country on Wednesday.

In Tachira, teenager Jose Francisco Guerrero was shot dead during the spate of looting, his relatives said.

“My mom sent my brother yesterday to buy flour for dinner and a little while later, we received a call saying he’d been injured by a bullet,” said his sister Maria Contreras, waiting for his body to be brought to a San Cristobal morgue.

The state prosecutor’s office confirmed his death, which would push the death toll in unrest to at least 43, equal to that of the 2014 protests.

’21ST CENTURY JEWS’

With international pressure against Venezuela’s government mounting, the United Nations Security Council turned its attention to the country’s crisis for the first time on Wednesday.

“The intent of this briefing was to make sure everyone is aware of the situation … we’re not looking for Security Council action,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told reporters after the session.

“The international community needs to say, ‘Respect the human rights of your people or this is going to go in the direction we’ve seen so many others go’ … We have been down this road with Syria, with North Korea, with South Sudan, with Burundi, with Burma.”

Venezuela’s U.N. envoy Rafael Ramirez in turn accused the United States of seeking to topple the Maduro government.

“The U.S. meddling stimulates the action of violent groups in Venezuela,” he said, showing photos of vandalism and violence he said was caused by opposition supporters.

Venezuelans living abroad, many of whom fled the country’s economic chaos, have in recent weeks accosted visiting state officials and their family members.

Maduro on Tuesday likened that harassment to the treatment of Jews under the Nazis.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Maduro said during the cabinet meeting. “We don’t carry the yellow star of David … we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

The German Nazis and their collaborators persecuted and killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during the 1930s and 1940s.

Social media has for weeks buzzed with videos of Venezuelan emigrees in countries from Australia to the United States shouting insults at public officials and in some cases family members in public places.

Maduro’s critics say it is outrageous for officials to spend money on foreign travel when people are struggling to obtain food and children are dying for lack of basic medicines.

But some opposition sympathizers say such mob-like harassment is the wrong way to confront the government.

Graphic on Venezuela’s economic woes: here

(Reporting by Anggy Polanco, additional reporting by Eyanir Chinea, Brian Ellsworth, Girish Gupta and Andrew Cawthorne in Caracas, Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations in New York; Writing by Girish Gupta and Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Hay)

U.S. Decries Violence During Turkish President’s Washington Visit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. decries violence during Turkish president’s Washington visit

 (My question is, why were these protesters so close to a visiting President in the first place?)
By Yeganeh Torbati | WASHINGTON

The United States on Wednesday said it was voicing its “strongest possible” concern to Turkey over violence that erupted between protesters and Turkish security personnel during Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington.

Police said the fighting that flared outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence on Tuesday injured 11 people, including a Washington police officer, and led to two arrests.

“We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

A video posted online showed men in dark suits chasing protesters and punching and kicking them as baton-wielding police tried to intervene. Two men were bloodied from head wounds as bystanders tried to assist dazed protesters.

Erdogan was in the U.S. capital on Tuesday to meet with President Donald Trump.[nL2N1II15R] A spokesman for the Turkish embassy could not be reached for immediate comment.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Ian Simpson; Editing by Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Senate tees up ‘accountability act’ as regulation fight intensifies

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen May 17, 2017 in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
By Lisa Lambert | WASHINGTON

The U.S. Senate could soon approve a major overhaul of the federal bureaucracy and make lasting changes to regulation of the environment, education, banks and other areas.

On Wednesday a Senate committee sent a bill on to the full chamber that, supporters say, will make regulators more accountable to lawmakers and provide greater understanding of how rules affect the economy.

The next step, debating the bill on the Senate floor, has not been scheduled. The House of Representatives approved companion legislation in January.

Critics say the bill, the Regulatory Accountability Act, creates so many new requirements that it would paralyze regulators working to establish even the most basic rules and standards. They also say it makes cutting industry and banks’ costs a higher priority than protecting public health and safety.

For decades the political parties have been starkly divided over regulation and Republicans are currently winning their battle to lessen the red tape they say ties up business and hurts the economy. Republicans also say former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, pushed regulators to go beyond their duties of executing laws passed by Congress to create policy on their own.

Democrats say regulation, which touches nearly every part of American life, shields average people from health, financial and other threats and is needed to accomplish the goals set in laws.

The Senate bill would require more cost-benefit and other analyses, give courts and the White House greater checks on rulemaking, classify regulations by potential economic impact, and lengthen rulemaking processes.

One progressive group, Public Citizen, estimates it would add 53 steps to major rulemaking, possibly doubling the average amount of time it takes to finalize a regulation – currently four years.

The bill has pitted the powerful business group, the Chamber of Commerce, against progressive ones such as the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp broke ranks with her fellow Democrats to write the accountability act, indicating some members of the party may support the bill when the closely-divided Senate votes.

Also, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, is working on alternative legislation that her party could find more palatable and could keep some of the bill’s measures.

Since Republicans swept Congress and the White House in November’s elections they have moved swiftly against regulation.

Using the Congressional Review Act, lawmakers killed 14 Obama-era regulations in the span of three months.

Trump’s efforts have yielded mixed results. His order to cut two existing regulations for every new one has stalled during a legal challenge. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency was jammed with thousands of pleas to maintain regulations when it asked for public comment on Trump’s order to look into repealing or rewriting current rules. The comment period closed Monday.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Wal-Mart CEO to be questioned in U.S. lawsuit over Mexican bribery

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Wal-Mart CEO to be questioned in U.S. lawsuit over Mexican bribery

By Jonathan Stempel

A federal judge on Thursday ordered Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) Chief Executive Douglas McMillon to submit to questioning in a lawsuit by shareholders hoping to learn what he knows about suspected bribery by the world’s largest retailer in Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey in Fayetteville, Arkansas, said McMillon’s “direct and personal involvement” in matters underlying a class-action lawsuit justified requiring him to sit for a deposition by the shareholders’ lawyers.

McMillon had been president of Wal-Mart International during a period when shareholders led by a Michigan pension fund said the retailer concealed suspected bribery by its Wal-Mart de Mexico unit to government officials, to speed up store openings.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer had argued that McMillon lacked the “unique or special knowledge” to justify burdening him with a deposition.

But the judge said McMillon, who became chief executive in February 2014, took part in several meetings, saw dozens of communications, and had certified many public statements by Wal-Mart about the alleged bribery.

“It appears to the court that McMillon has unique knowledge of relevant issues in this litigation that only he can explain,” Hickey wrote. A deposition could last four hours, she added.

Wal-Mart had no immediate comment.

Jason Forge, a lawyer for the lead plaintiff City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System, said in an email: “We’re determined to try this case in court.”

Wal-Mart’s market value slid $17 billion over three days in April 2012 after the New York Times reported the alleged bribery and said it had been first discovered internally in 2005.

Shareholders accused Wal-Mart and Mike Duke, who preceded McMillon as chief executive, of downplaying the scheme even after learning about the Times’ investigation.

The class period runs from Dec. 8, 2011 to April 20, 2012.

Earlier this week, Bloomberg News said Wal-Mart may pay about $300 million to settle a U.S. government probe into suspected bribery in Mexico, India and China, citing people familiar with the matter.

A $300 million payment would represent about one week of profit for Wal-Mart.

The case is City of Pontiac General Employees’ Retirement System v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Western District of Arkansas, No. 12-05162.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)

Boko Haram releases 82 Chibok girls three years after kidnapping:

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Boko Haram releases 82 Chibok girls three years after kidnapping: Nigerian officials

By Ulf Laessing | ABUJA

Boko Haram militants have released 82 schoolgirls out of a group of more than 200 who they kidnapped from the northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014, officials said on Saturday.

The girls were released through negotiations with the government, one official said, asking not to be named.

A military source said the girls were currently in Banki near the Cameroon border for medical checks before being airlifted to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state.

The kidnapping was one of the high-profile incidents of Boko Haram’s insurgency, now in its eighth year and with little sign of ending. About 220 were abducted from their school in a night-time attack.

More than 20 girls were released last October in a deal brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Others have escaped or been rescued, but 195 were believed to be still in captivity prior to this release.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said last month the government was in talks to secure the release of the remaining captives.

Although the Chibok girls are the most high-profile case, Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of adults and children, many of whose cases have been neglected.

The militants have killed more than 20,000 people and displaced more than 2 million during their insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic caliphate in northeast Nigeria.

Despite the army saying the insurgency is on the run, large parts of the northeast, particularly in Borno state, remain under threat from the militants, and suicide bombings and gun attacks have increased in the region since the end of the rainy season late last year.

(Reporting by Felix Onuah, Tife Owolabi, Ahmed Kingimi and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson)

China’s Silk Road push in Thailand may founder on Mekong River row

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

China’s Silk Road push in Thailand may founder on Mekong River row

A Chinese boat, with a team of geologists, surveys the Mekong River at border between Laos and Thailand April 23, 2017. Picture taken April 23, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
By Brenda Goh and Andrew R.C. Marshall | KHON PI LONG, THAILAND

China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a remote outcrop of half-submerged rocks that Thai protesters have vowed to protect against Beijing’s economic expansion in Southeast Asia.

Dynamiting the Pi Long rapids and other sections of the Mekong between Thailand and Laos will harm the environment and bring trade advantages only to China, the protesters say.

“This will be the death of the Mekong,” said Niwat Roykaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group, which is campaigning against the project. “You’ll never be able to revive it.”

Niwat said blasting the Mekong will destroy fish breeding grounds, disrupt migrating birds and cause increased water flow that will erode riverside farmland.

Such opposition reflects a wider challenge to China’s ambitious “One Belt, One Road” project to build a modern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.

Second Harbour Consultants, a subsidiary of state-owned behemoth China Communications Construction Corp (CCCC) (601800.SS) said it was surveying the Mekong for a report that China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand would use to decide whether blasting should go ahead.

It added that it was not tasked with the blasting work, which would need to be tendered.

The company said in an e-mail it had held meetings with local people “to communicate, build confidence and clear doubts.”

China’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Clearing the Mekong for bigger ships is not officially a part of One Belt, One Road, a project announced in 2013; China blasted sections of the river in Laos several years earlier.

But some Chinese engineers involved in the survey speak of it as a part of the broader plan, and it is consistent with Beijing’s Silk Road objectives.

Even in its Southeast Asian backyard, where it has sympathetic governments and ancient historical ties, China sometimes struggles to convince ordinary people that One Belt One Road will benefit them.

Thailand, Laos and Myanmar have approved the survey work, which is funded by China, but further studies and approvals are needed before blasting.

KEEPING A LOW PROFILE

The Mekong River originates in the Tibetan plateau and cascades through China and five Southeast Asian countries.

China has built a series of dams along its stretch of the river that Thai campaigners say has impacted the water flow and made the regional giant hard to trust.

Chinese flags now flutter from company speedboats, while CCCC Second Harbour has met with Thai protesters three times since December in a bid to avert opposition to their work.

A unit of the conglomerate faced violent protests in January in Sri Lanka, where people objected to plans for an industrial zone in the south.

Chinese engineers on the Mekong said they were worried that Thai protesters would board the rickety cargo ship where they slept, prompting them to moor it on the Laotian side of the Mekong each night.

“We are afraid for our team’s safety,” one engineer told Reuters, declining to be named because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media.

“We keep a low profile here,” he added. “We want to do this project well and benefit Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, China, these four countries. This is not just for China.”

China wants to remove rocks and sandbanks to allow ships of up to 500 tonnes to sail from its landlocked province of Yunnan to the sleepy Laotian town of Luang Prabang.

That would expedite the shipping of Chinese freight deep into northern Laos, said Paul Chambers, an expert in international relations at Thailand’s Naresuan University.

“Luang Prabang may seem sleepy, but northern Laos … represents a hub of Chinese influence,” he said.

LOCALS REMAIN WARY

Despite reassurances from CCCC Second Harbour, some locals still believed the engineers were marking out areas for blasting, said Niwat, who represented campaigners in meetings with the Chinese company.

His group draped a large white banner reading “Mekong Not For Sale” on the bank overlooking the Pi Long rapids, whose name in Thai means “lost ghosts.”

“At the moment we’re only thinking about the economy and the earning figures without considering the unimaginable value of the eco-system to humanity,” he said.

The military seized power in Thailand in 2014 and banned gatherings of five or more people.

But Narongsak Osotthanakorn, governor of Chiang Rai – the Thai province where the Mekong is currently being surveyed – said people could “protest freely” against the Chinese plan.

Narongsak said the survey was the first stage in a process that would include an environmental study, public hearings and negotiations between China, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.

While he wouldn’t say whether or not he supported blasting, Narongsak said local people had much to gain from increased river trade. “I think no country would be happy to lose the benefits,” he said.

(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

France kills more than 20 militants on Mali, Burkina border

France has killed more than 20 militants hiding in a forest near the border between the West African countries of Mali and Burkina Faso this weekend, its regional force said in a statement.

The operation followed the death of a French soldier nearby earlier this month. It involved both air and ground strikes, the statement said. It did not identify the militant group.

Mali has been regularly hit by Islamist militant violence, despite a 2013 French-led operation to drive them out of key northern cities they had seized. It extended a state of emergency by six months this weekend.

But violence in its southern neighbor, Burkina Faso, began to intensify last year with an attack in the capital that killed dozens. Burkinabe officials believe a new Islamist militant group called Ansar al-Islam led by a local preacher was using the Foulsare Forest as a base for launching attacks elsewhere.

France has deployed some 4,000 soldiers to fight Islamist militants in the region.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Robin Pomeroy, Larry King)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton | UNITED NATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile development could lead to ‘catastrophic consequences,’ while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force.

Washington has recently lavished praise on Beijing for its efforts to rein in its ally Pyongyang, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made clear to the U.N. Security Council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the 15-member council in remarks contradicting the White House belief that it does wield significant influence.

The ministerial meeting of the council, chaired by Tillerson, exposed old divisions between the United States and China on how to deal with North Korea. China wants talks first and action later, while the United States wants North Korea to curtail its nuclear program before such talks start.

“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”

Tillerson responded: “We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

North Korea did not take part in the meeting.

In Tillerson’s first visit to the United Nations he scolded the Security Council for not fully enforcing sanctions against North Korea, saying if the body had acted, tensions over its nuclear program might not have escalated.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he said.

The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, he said.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, but Wang said military threats would not help.

‘FRIGHTENING’ CONSEQUENCES

Wang said dialogue and negotiations were the “only way out.”

“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov cautioned on Friday that the use of force would be “completely unacceptable.”

“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”

Gatilov said North Korea felt threatened by regular joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises and the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China and Russia both also repeated their opposition to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. Gatilov described it as a “destabilizing effort,” while Wang said it damaged trust among the parties on the North Korea issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the council that to bring North Korea back to the table the international community “must send a strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”

“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

(Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)