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Is Trump lining up Japan next?

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While the US takes aim at China, Canada and Mexico over perceived trade imbalances, Japan has kept a low profile, hoping Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s friendship with golf buddy Donald Trump will keep Tokyo out of the firing line.

But as Abe and Trump prepare to hold talks that will touch on trade frictions, there are signs Japan could be next in the US president’s sights, with the country’s greatest fear being higher tariffs on cars.

– What’s Trump’s beef with Japan? –

Trump has frequently grumbled about a “very high deficit” with Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy.

In comments to the Wall Street Journal, he stressed his good relations with the Japanese, before adding menacingly: “Of course, that will end as soon as I tell them how much they have to pay.”

Last year’s deficit in goods traded with Japan was $68.8 billion, third behind China ($375 billion) and Mexico ($71 billion), and less than a tenth of the total US deficit with the rest of the world ($796 billion).

The deficit amounted to $40 billion in the first eight months of this year, according to official US statistics.

Vehicle and parts exports from the auto sector account for 80 percent of the imbalance and it is the sight of “millions of Japanese cars” on American roads that raises Trump’s hackles, while few US brands are driven in Japan.

That has little to do with tariffs — Japan has no duties on imported cars, unlike the United States which imposes a 2.5 percent levy.

Analysts say with their larger sizes, US vehicles are not well suited to Japan’s roads or the tastes of its consumers.

Critics argue, however, that Japan imposes a raft of non-tariff barriers — including what they say are overly-rigorous safety standards — that make importing difficult.

– How are talks going? –

Initial negotiations between US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi have already taken place without a breakthrough and a second round is expected later Monday.

The two sides have opposing points of view: Tokyo wants to settle trade disputes in a forum like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-nation trade pact, whereas Washington wants a bilateral deal.

Tokyo may accept the bilateral approach if Washington holds off on imposing additional tariffs on the Japanese auto sector, according to Kyodo News.

For the moment, hostilities have not broken out in earnest but this could soon change, said IHS Markit economist Harumi Taguchi.

“It is highly likely that Donald Trump will move his focus to Japan once he reaches some settlement or deal regarding US trade tensions with China and NAFTA talks,” said the analyst.

– Would car tariffs hurt? –

“The Trump administration’s most effective weapon in talks with Japan remains the threat to impose tariffs of up to 25 percent on automobile imports on national security grounds,” said Tobias Harris from Teneo Intelligence.

Such a move would have a “considerable” impact on the Japanese economy, he added.

Car giants like Toyota and Nissan sell millions of cars in the United States, many of which are produced elsewhere — for example in Japan, Mexico or Canada.

Taguchi said a 25 percent tariff could cut Japan’s GDP by as much as 0.5 percent.

Manufacturers have already warned they will be unable to absorb the cost and it will be passed onto US consumers — in Toyota’s case, this could cost a buyer as much as $6,000 per car.

Trump will probably demand more Japanese cars made in the US, but the room for manoeuvre is limited.

Japanese companies already produce nearly four million units per year in the US and employ 1.5 million workers there, Taguchi said.

A China-style tit-for-tat tariff battle is also unlikely, as Abe has already said such a move would benefit nobody.

Instead, Japan will probably petition the World Trade Organization, as it threatened to do when the US imposed steel tariffs.

– Can Japan escape? –

What Abe should do is promise to increase purchases of “shale gas, military items, and some other items that will not substantially affect domestic production,” Taguchi said.

Japan has already announced the purchase of the costly Aegis Ashore missile defence system, produced by US contractor Lockheed Martin.

However, this is not likely to prove sufficient and Abe will have to use his negotiating skills.

If Japan offered a “satisfactory package of concessions on market access in the near term, particularly one that included agricultural concessions”, it might escape Trump’s wrath, said Harris.

But this is a very sensitive subject in Japan which already has tariffs in place to protect its farmers.

Opposition candidate takes early lead in Maldives presidential election

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MALE: Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has taken a 15 percentage point lead over incumbent Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives’ presidential election, according to early provisional counts reported by local media.

Yameen was expected to cement his grip on power, amid criticism over the fairness of the vote on the islands, best known as a luxury holiday destination.

Voting closed at 7 pm (2 pm GMT), after the Indian Ocean nation’s Election Commission extended voting by three hours due to long queues at polling stations.

The provisional results counted in 250 out of 472 vote boxes as of 4.40 pm GMT, showed the opposition leading by a margin of 15.4 percent, according to local media, Mihaaru. The provisional results for the remaining 222 vote boxes, with an estimated 130,000 voters are yet to be released.

The opposition said their own exit polls showed their candidate had secured 63 percent of vote, and added that they were closely monitoring the count.

Yameen’s party officials told Reuters that results from areas where he has strong support have still to be released.

The Muslim-majority Indian Ocean nation has become a theatre of rivalry between its traditional partner, India, and China, which has backed Yameen’s infrastructure drive, and prompted concern in the West about Beijing’s increasing influence.

Yameen’s government has jailed many of his main rivals, including former president and his half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, on charges ranging from terrorism to corruption.

More than a quarter of a million people were eligible to vote across the coral islands. Yameen, 59, is seeking a second five-year term.

Hundreds of people queued outside polling stations in the capital, Male, early on Sunday. On some islands, people started queuing on Saturday night.

“I am voting to revert a mistake I made in 2013. I am voting to free President Maumoon (Gayoom),” Nazima Hassan, 44, told Reuters after voting in Male.

Abdul Rasheed Husain, 46, in Male said he cast his ballot for Yameen to take the Maldives “to the next level”.

In the polling booth at the Maldives embassy in Colombo, some voters had to wait for more than seven hours.

Ahamed Ihusan, a 24-year-old business management student, told Reuters that “if it is a free and fair election, the opposition will win.”

Many opposition supporters blamed the Election Commission for the delays.

“Yameen is trying to frustrate voters by having a shoddy process for the elections and a long waiting time of 6-8 hours in some stations. I appeal to all to be patient and not step back,” an opposition supporter told Reuters, asking not to be named.

Mohamed Shareef Hussain, Maldives envoy to Colombo, said the Electoral Commission had not assigned enough staff, causing delays.

Police late on Saturday raided the main opposition campaign office saying they came to “stop illegal activities”, after arresting at least five opposition supporters for “influencing voters”, opposition officials said.

British Ambassador James Dauris wrote on Twitter that it was “easy to understand why so many people are concerned about what might happen on Election Day”.

INTERNATIONAL MONITORS STAY AWAY


Most poll monitors, including those from the European Union and the United Nations, declined the government’s invitation to observe the election, fearing their presence might be used to endorse Yameen’s re-election even after possible vote rigging.

Rohana Hettiarachchi, a member of the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), which was named as an election monitor, said his organisation could in fact not take part.

“Our four members were invited and the Elections Commission published our name in the international monitors list. But we did not get the required visa,” he told Reuters.

Transparency Maldives, one of the few election monitors on the ground, said the initial vote had gone smoothly.

The opposition’s joint candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, known as Ibu, told supporters he was confident of victory.

“I appeal to everyone not to allow any space for unrest tomorrow,” he told a rally on Saturday. “Let the voting end peacefully and let the people decide what they want. The people are hungry for a change.”

Yameen also urged voters to head to the polls and said he was confident of the work he had done in his first term in office to put the nation on a path of development.

The country has been in political turmoil since February, when Yameen imposed a state of emergency to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected leader and former president.

Yameen has disregarded calls from the United Nations, several Western countries and India for an amicable solution to the crisis.

Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments to press the Maldives to uphold democratic rights.

“Should the Maldives government fail to do so, they should impose targeted sanctions, such as those proposed by the European Union, against senior ruling party officials implicated in abuses,” the New York-based group said in a statement.

Does panel need ‘protocol’ for sexual assault allegations?

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Republicans and Democrats can agree on at least this much regarding the confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court: It’s a mess.

Republicans complain of Democrats’ 11th-hour leaking of a bombshell development and of delay tactics. Democrats complain of Republicans railroading their nominee and of unfair treatment of Prof. Christine Blasey Ford. The Californian, a professor of clinical psychology, has accused Judge Kavanaugh of sexual assault when they were teenagers at a party in high school.

“It’s all ad hoc and making it up as you go along,” says Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, speaking of this week’s chaotic efforts on Capitol Hill to hear directly from Professor Ford. As he and others acknowledge, this surely will not be the last time that an allegation of sexual assault or harassment surfaces with a judicial or any other executive nomination. “We know this is going to happen again, because it’s happening everywhere,” he says.

Recommended: What has changed since Anita Hill? Female senators who were there weigh in.

The specifics of this case, and the warning bell it signals, highlight a point made by Anita Hill in her New York Times op-ed this week. The law professor, grilled by an all-male Judiciary Committee when she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment in 1991, wrote that the committee “still lacks a protocol” for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that arise during the confirmation process.

Her suggestions include: input from experts in sexual violence to guide procedure and questioning of witnesses, investigation of allegations by a “neutral” body with experience in sexual misconduct, and a commitment to not rush the process. Allowing only committee staffers to investigate is not adequate, she told the PBS News Hour this week. “I doubt they are qualified to carry out this investigation in a neutral way,” she said.

Democrats have been loudly echoing several of those points this week, demanding that Republicans slow down their drive to a hearing originally called for Monday morning, and calling on the FBI to do an independent investigation of Ford’s story, which they find credible.

“There needs to be an unbiased, full investigation of the facts” and a hearing with corroborating witnesses “so you can hear from all sides,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) of New York at a press conference with Ford supporters from her former high school on Thursday.

“In the Anita Hill case, they didn’t give it enough time,” Senator Gillibrand said. “There were witnesses that wanted to testify, that were denied the ability to testify.” She called the GOP push toward a Monday hearing “bullying.”

That the committee needs a “protocol” to handle a matter such as this is a matter of dispute, including by some committee members. They point out that the powerful panel is quite capable of handling sensitive matters, including confidential ones, such as the July 30 letter that Ford wrote to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, in which she outlined her story. The problem, says Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, is that the process was not followed.

Ford has said that at a party when she was 15 and he was 17, a highly intoxicated Kavanaugh pushed her onto a bed, groped her, and tried to take off her clothes. She also alleges that he covered her mouth to prevent her from screaming for help. Kavanaugh has repeatedly denied the accusations. Since Ford came forward over the weekend, her lawyer said, she has received death threats and has had to move out of her home and hire private security.

PROCESS VS. CONFIDENTIALITY

Senator Feinstein, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, did not share that letter with anyone on the committee, honoring the confidentiality of the writer. But it leaked to the media last week – throwing Kavanaugh’s nomination into doubt and plunging Washington into a crisis about how to handle the new information.

“We have a process. Senator Feinstein basically defied that process by withholding the information that would have been investigated by committee staff,” says Senator Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “The FBI could have talked to alleged witnesses, but because that was not made public until after the FBI investigation had closed, until after the hearing, that’s what’s caused this situation.”

He went on to say that the committee “routinely” protects sensitive, personal information – in closed sessions, for instance.

That’s true, says Gregg Nunziata, former chief nominations counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and former policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of Florida. While the committee may not have a process to deal specifically with sexual misconduct claims, he says it handles that and other sensitive allegations (violence, substance abuse, problems with truth telling) that come up when evaluating a nominee’s fitness.

The committee looks at “hundreds” of nominees each Congress, he explains. A small number of staffers with security clearance have access to FBI interviews secured in a safe. “I never once saw information in those files misused for political purposes or ignored,” Mr. Nunziata says, and he cites a “handful” of nominations that did not move forward because of troubling background information.

“I think if Senator Feinstein had raised this with Senator Grassley in July, the likely next step would have been asking the FBI to go out and investigate” Ford’s story, Nunziata says. Sen. Charles Grassley (R) of Iowa is the chairman of the committee and has said he cannot compel an FBI investigation because only the White House, which oversees the agency, can do that.

That is “outlandish,” says Lisa Graves, former chief counsel for nominations for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont, when he was the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. Over many decades, when committee members had a concern about a nominee, senators were able to ask the FBI to look into a matter, she says. If she could change the committee process, “the first order would be that any sensitive or serious allegations would be referred to the FBI as a matter of course. Period.”

FROM POLITICAL SKIRMISHES TO PROCEDURAL WAR

The FBI helps to protect the process from politicization – and the Judiciary Committee is without question the most politicized and polarized committee in the Senate. Resentments go back decades to the Democrats’ attack on Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987, with skirmishes turning to all-out political and procedural war over high court nominees at the end of the Obama administration, when Republicans declined to take up the nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court. They left the seat vacant for a record 422 days, while now pushing to confirm Kavanaugh before the court sits on Oct. 1 – a month before the party’s political fortunes could change in the midterm elections.

Committee chairs are powerful people, but on this committee, that power is acutely felt by the minority, as Grassley calls the shots. He can overrule the minority, decide on witnesses, and, yes, decide whether there will be an FBI investigation or not. 

Should Feinstein have shared Ford’s letter? “She was between a rock and a hard place,” says Ms. Graves. “She wanted to keep the identity confidential. If she had shared it with Grassley, I think the information would have been shared directly with the White House.”

That, she says, would have denied Ford the chance to decide whether and under what conditions to tell her story, as well as informed a White House determined to confirm Kavanaugh “at any cost,” says Graves. 

“The bigger question,” she says, “is one of trust.”

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Journalism for Democracy, Caught Between Bullets and Censorship in Latin America — Global Issues

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  • by Stephanie Wildes (caracas)
  • Sunday, September 23, 2018
  • Inter Press Service

Journalists in Latin America are forced to take to the streets to demand respect for freedom of expression, such as these reporters in Caracas demanding: “Stop abuses against the press!” Credit: Humberto Márquez/IPS

Journalism “maintains a central role in the work for democracy in the region, although it suffers persecution of the media, journalists and political and social activists, which goes against hemispheric human rights agreements,” Edison Lanza of Uruguay, special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), told IPS.

The harassment “is very worrying in countries with political crises that lead to threats against journalism, with actions by states or various groups to repress, restrict or silence the press,” said Natalie Southwick, coordinator of the Latin American programme at the non-governmental Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based in New York City.

CPJ “is concerned about cases like the persecution of media and journalists in Guatemala and Nicaragua, the electoral polarisation in Brazil, the humanitarian crisis, repression and censorship in Venezuela, the deadly violence and impunity in Mexico, and the dangers for journalists in post-peace agreement Colombia,” Southwick told IPS from New York City.

Mexico, which up to July was in the grip of an electoral campaign tainted by violence, has seen eight journalists killed so far in 2018 and 12 in 2017. The most recent victim was 28-year-old Javier Rodríguez Valladares, shot dead in the middle of the street in Cancún, in the southeast of the country, while he was interviewing with his camera a local craftsman, who was also murdered.

Sandra Patargo, an activist with Mexico’s Red Rompe el Miedo (“break down the fear network”), reported that 146 attacks on journalists were documented during the electoral campaign. “On election day alone (Jul. 1) there were 32. And the rate of impunity for violence against journalists is 99 percent,” she said.

The NVALabs network against violence records “a general increase in violence in Mexico, but in the case of women journalists this growth is alarming, at around 20 percent per year and it involves two-pronged violence: for being journalists and for being women,” said Luisa Pérez Ortiz, the founder of the organisation.

There are journalists and media harassed or intimidated for covering the institutional crisis in Guatemala and the social crisis in Honduras, Lanza said, although the most serious case in Central America this year has been the hazardous coverage of the social rebellion in Nicaragua.

On Apr. 21, as the wave of protests and repression that in five months has claimed hundreds of Nicaraguan lives broke out, journalist Miguel Ángel Gahona was shot in the head while filming a clash between demonstrators and police in the town of Bluefields, on the country’s Atlantic coast.

A month earlier, on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, three members of a team of journalists from the Quito newspaper El Comercio were kidnapped and murdered by a dissident group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Also this year, four radio journalists died at the hands of gunmen in different states of Brazil. One thing in common is that in their programmes they had aired cases of corruption involving politicians from their regions.

But Southwick acknowledged that the murders of journalists have declined in countries that in previous years were more violent, such as Colombia, Honduras and Brazil.

“However, the figures can be analysed further if we take into account that in some regions there is less violence against journalists because insecurity has reduced press coverage,” she reflected.

Cyber-attacks

The climate of persecution and siege in which many traditional media outlets operate has begun to reach the on-line media, which, according to Lanza, “have remained somewhat beyond the reach of control strategies of some governments.”

The growth of digital tools “has been a great opportunity for journalists and media seeking to expand their ways of telling stories, but also for governments and other actors to try to limit, control and censor the press,” Southwick said.

These controls from the political powers-that-be are carried out “through tactics such as account hacking, attacks against websites and, in cases such as Mexico, the monitoring of journalists with tools such as spyware,” she explained.

These programmes collect information from a computer and transmit it to an outside entity without the knowledge or consent of the computer owner.

“They also operate strategies to criminalise the use of social networks, such as the Anti-Hate Law in Venezuela or Anti-Terrorism Law in Nicaragua, used to monitor social networks and arrest people who send satirical or critical messages,” added Lanza from Washington, D.C., where the IACHR has its headquarters.

An example of these actions is the case of El Pitazo, an on-line investigative news outlet in Venezuela, which has been a victim of “hacking” and denial of service attack (DoS) for more than a year, its director César Batiz told IPS.

“And everything seems to indicate that these are people linked to the government with the complicity of the private sector Internet service provider,” he added.

With the cyberattacks, El Pitazo has seen its daily users decrease, from 70,000 a year ago to 12,000 today.

“The peak numbers of attacks were recorded in September 2017 and April 2018, when we published reports on the arrest in the United States, as front men for multimillion-dollar corruption, of relatives of high-ranking officials” in the power structure in Venezuela, Batiz said.

Favourable winds

Southwick considered that “there are positive signs in the world of journalism rights in Latin America. Sentences and trials for the murder of journalists such as Jaime Garzón (1999) and Flor Alba Núñez (2015) in Colombia, and Pablo Medina (2014) in Paraguay…point against the cycle of impunity, although much remains to be done.

“In Ecuador, under President Lenín Moreno, we have seen enormous changes in the relationship between the government and the media, and we expect changes in the Organic Law on Communication,” said the CPJ activist.

According to Lanza, “the Southern Cone, notwithstanding the political polarisation there, is on a fairly consistent line in defense of freedom of expression and the right to information.”

In addition, “there has been good evolution in cases like Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru, and the changes made by Ecuador are very positive, since President Moreno has abandoned the organisation of the state apparatus to control information,” as happened with his predecessor, Rafael Correa (2007-2017).

“When you look very closely, you find problems,” but “in general the region is inclined toward international standards of democracy with freedom of expression,” Lanza concluded.

© Inter Press Service (2018) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

Where next?

Maldives votes in high stakes election seen as test for democracy | Maldives News

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Male, Maldives – Polling stations have opened in the Maldives for a tense presidential election regarded as a test for democracy in the popular Indian Ocean honeymoon destination.

Sunday’s vote pits President Abdulla Yameen, who has presided over a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, against opposition figure and long-time member of parliament, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Hundreds of voters had queued up overnight on islands across the country to cast their ballots before polling stations opened at 8am (3:00 GMT).

More than a quarter of a million people, out of a population of nearly 350,000, are eligible to vote in the island nation, which has been in turmoil since its first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was forced out of office in 2012.

Azka Adil, a 20-year-old athlete who is voting for the first time in the Maldives’ capital, Male, said she was “excited, nervous and scared because the vote might be rigged”.

“But I am definitely voting,” she said.



Today’s elections are regarded as a test for democracy in the island nation [Sharif Ali/Al Jazeera]

Ahmed Ibrahim, a 28-year-old government employee who is voting for Yameen, said he was choosing “strong economic policies”.

“I am concerned about today’s vote,” he said. “Campaigning has been vicious with a lot of character assassination … so I don’t think an informed decision will be made today.”

Both Yameen and Solih cast their ballots soon after polling stations opened. 

Stark choices

Yameen, who assumed power in 2013 after a disputed election, has jailed or forced into exile nearly all of his political rivals, banned protests, suspended parliament, and declared two states of emergencies in just five years.

Faced with widespread international criticism, he pulled the Maldives out of the Commonwealth in 2016 and fostered closer ties with China and Saudi Arabia, who have funded the country’s infrastructure boom.

Defending the Maldives’ Islamic faith and sovereignty and boosting the country’s economy were cornerstones of Yameen’s election campaign.

At a final rally in Male, Yameen said the choice on Sunday was between Islam and “infidelity”.

“I am serving the nation. I want to save the Maldives,” he told thousands of cheering supporters in Male. 



Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih voted soon after polling stations opened [Sharif Ali/Al Jazeera]

Solih, the opposition candidate, has vowed to restore democracy and release dissidents, who include Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The vote was “the last chance” for democracy, he told a crowd of yellow-clad supporters.

Without credible polls, it is unclear who will win and observers say they do not expect the vote to be free or fair.

The government has denied entry to foreign election monitors and journalists.

‘Tense and uncertain’

Mariyam Shiuna, executive director of Transparency Maldives, an election-monitoring group, said “the atmosphere is tense and uncertain” in the country especially after a police raid on the opposition’s headquarters on the eve of the election.

Officers claim they were looking for evidence of vote-buying, a move the opposition said was aimed at disrupting the election.

Despite the fear, Shiuna said the huge turnout at rival rallies in Male on the final day of campaigning showed “people are keen to cast their ballots and have their say”.

“Yet, there is an eeriness to this election because anything is possible and the general feeling is that neither party will accept the results if they lose, which will lead to further chaos,” she said, urging the international community to monitor events in the Maldives closely.

Ahmed Nihan, the leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, said he was “confident” of a win for Yameen, after “a long and tireless campaign”.

Eva Abulla, an opposition politician, urged voters to exercise their right to vote.

“Be alert, vote early and then get ready to protect that vote,” she said.

In the run-up to the vote, the opposition had accused the elections commission, headed by a Yameen ally, of rigging the vote, by changing vote-counting rules and appointing alleged ruling party activists to administer the vote.

The commission has denied the allegations, with its president Ahmed Shareef assuring reporters in Male on Saturday of a free and fair vote.

More than 2,000 local monitors are expected to observe the election, while the European Union said it did not send observers because the country failed to meet basic conditions for monitoring.

The US has threatened to take action against officials if the vote is not free and fair, and the EU said it was prepared to impose sanctions, including travel bans and freezing assets, if the situation does not improve.

Results are expected by midnight on Sunday (19:00 GMT). 

Isha Afeef reported from Male. Zaheena Rasheed reported and wrote from Colombo, Sri Lanka. 



Peolple stand in line as they wait to cast their votes at a polling station in Male [Ashwa Faheem/Reuters]

By Bridge and Bullet Train, Hong Kong Is Bound Tighter to China

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HONG KONG — After months of debate and political discord, passengers started boarding high-speed trains at a new station in Hong Kong on Sunday morning, the formal launch of a multibillion-dollar transportation link that will tie the former British colony more closely to the rest of China.

Another project, the world’s longest sea bridge, is expected to open later this year. Like the train station, it is both an impressive engineering feat and a source of controversy. It will span the mouth of the Pearl River, linking Hong Kong with the mainland city of Zhuhai and the former Portuguese colony of Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub.

Hong Kong officials say the projects are critical to economic development and will speed the movement of goods and people through the region, which the Chinese government wants to bind more tightly together. But many residents are concerned about what a Greater Bay Area, as China calls its vision of a more closely knit Pearl River Delta region, will mean for the city’s unique identity.

Large-scale building projects, like the highway that linked Hong Kong with Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, in the 1990s, helped secure the region’s status as a global manufacturing center. But analysts say the benefits of the latest projects are less clear, and some suspect that China’s desire to tighten its hold on Hong Kong trumped other concerns.

“I think it was obvious from the beginning that most likely political considerations were at least as important as economic reasons,” said Willy Lam, an adjunct professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Both projects have seen delays, cost overruns and other complications. Environmentalists fear the bridge will hasten the extinction of endangered Chinese white dolphins. At least 10 workers have been killed in accidents during its construction, and 19 people face criminal charges in Hong Kong over faked concrete quality tests, which have raised questions about the structure’s integrity and required costly reexaminations.

The high-speed rail station, which cost $10.8 billion, has been deeply contentious in Hong Kong because it will host Chinese officers who will enforce mainland laws in part of the terminal.

Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese control in 1997, operates its own laws under a model called “one country, two systems,” with more robust protections for individual rights than in mainland China. It maintains a border with Guangdong Province, but allowing mainland officers in the new station has, in a sense, moved the border south.

Pro-democracy politicians, legal scholars and activists say that represents a further erosion of Hong Kong’s unique position within China.

“Both of these projects represent the physical connection between Hong Kong and mainland China,” said Victoria Hui, an associate professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. “Of course the train station in particular goes all the way into the heart of Hong Kong with Chinese jurisdiction.”

Such concerns were inflamed this month when the mainland-controlled section of the terminus was handed over to Chinese officials in a brief, late-night ceremony, with no local news media invited. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, denied any intent to keep the event a secret.

Ms. Lam was also forced to explain why some mainland officers would work overnight, despite promises they would return to Guangdong when the station closed each evening, and why the station had an additional basement level that had not been disclosed to the public.

The new rail line has been billed as cutting travel time to Guangzhou to 48 minutes from over two hours, though trains stopping at stations in between will take longer. The line will also allow passengers from Hong Kong to connect to 38 long-haul destinations on China’s national high-speed rail network, including Beijing and Shanghai.

But some potential passengers have balked at the service’s baggage limits, as well as ticket prices that offer little or no discount to flying.

“I don’t think there will be any benefit to me,” said Ling Chiang, 28, a commercial photographer who travels to the mainland about once a month for work. He goes to Guangzhou by train but said he would probably stick with air travel for more distant mainland destinations.

“Why waste time when the price is about the same?” he said.

The Hong Kong government estimated in 2015 that more than 109,000 passengers would take the train every day, but this year it lowered the forecast to 80,000. Still, Frank Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for transportation and housing, said he was confident that the project would be profitable from the start.

Both projects represent some of China’s biggest national infrastructure undertakings of the past decade. The high-speed rail system, which began 10 years ago, is the world’s largest, with more than 15,000 miles of track. The county has also built hundreds of dazzling bridges that set records for length and height.

As with the express trains to the mainland, expectations for the 34-mile bridge-and-tunnel project linking Hong Kong to the western side of the Pearl River have been scaled back. A 2008 forecast anticipated 172,000 daily passenger trips by 2030, but the government this year lowered the figure to 126,000.

One reason is that the manufacturing center of Shenzhen, which was cut out of the original plan, is building its own new bridge about 20 miles to the north. The span will connect with the city of Zhongshan and is expected to open in 2023.

“This is a competitor to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge,” said Yang Chun, a professor of geography at Hong Kong Baptist University. “Obviously it will dilute the transportation volume, because they are parallel.”

The Shenzhen-Zhongshan bridge will be entirely within mainland China, meaning users won’t have to go through the border controls maintained by Hong Kong and Macau. They also won’t have to switch from driving on the right side of the road, which is used in the mainland, to the left, the side used in both former colonies.

The 14-mile main span of the bridge cost $7 billion, of which the Hong Kong government will pay about $1.3 billion. Hong Kong spent an additional $13.7 billion to build connecting roads, tunnels and an artificial island for its border-crossing facilities. The drive between Hong Kong and Macau is expected to take about 45 minutes — far shorter than the current four hours to drive overland, but not much less than the hour or so it takes to go by ferry.

More doubts about the bridge project were raised in April. Photos of an artificial island where a four-mile tunnel emerges near Hong Kong’s side of the river seemed to show that concrete tetrapods, structures meant to protect the island from erosion, had drifted away. The bridge authority said they were working as intended, but some engineers were unconvinced.

When Typhoon Mangkut blew through the region last week, some of the bridge’s detractors in Hong Kong expressed hope that the structure would be washed away. But as Hong Kong cleaned up, it was still standing, apparently unharmed.

U.S. strike kills 18 al-Shabab militants in Somalia, military says

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JOHANNESBURG — A U.S. military airstrike has killed 18 al-Shabab extremists after U.S. and local forces on the ground came under attack in southern Somalia, the U.S. Africa Command said Saturday.

No U.S. or Somali forces were killed or injured in the attack, an AFRICOM spokesman, Nate Herring, told The Associated Press. The airstrike was carried out Friday in self-defense after extremists were “observed maneuvering on a combined patrol,” while the U.S. also responded with “indirect fire,” the spokesman said.

The confrontation occurred about 31 miles northwest of the port city of Kismayo, the U.S. Africa Command statement said. Two other al-Shabab extremists were killed by Somali forces “with small arms fire during the engagement,” it said.

The operation was Somali-led, the AFRICOM spokesman said. There was no immediate comment from Somali authorities.

Al-Shabab fighters stand in formation with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia on Feb. 17, 2011.
Al-Shabab fighters stand in formation with their weapons during military exercises on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia on Feb. 17, 2011.Mohamed Sheikh Nor / AP, file

The U.S. has carried out more than 20 airstrikes this year against the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa.

U.S. military involvement in Somalia has grown since President Donald Trump early in his term approved expanded operations against al-Shabab. Dozens of drone strikes followed. Late last year the military also carried out its first airstrike against a small presence of fighters linked to the Islamic State in northern Somalia.

Since the expanded operations, two U.S. military personnel have been killed in Somalia.

A service member was killed in May 2017 during an operation about 40 miles west of Mogadishu. And in June, one U.S. special operations soldier was killed and four U.S. service members wounded in an “enemy attack” as troops with Somali and Kenyan forces came under mortar and small-arms fire in Jubaland.

The U.S. currently has about 500 military personnel in the Horn of Africa nation.

Al-Shabab, which seeks to establish an Islamic state in Somalia, was pushed out of Mogadishu in recent years but continues to control rural areas in the south and central regions. Its fighters continue to attack the bases of a multinational African Union force that remains largely responsible for security as Somalia’s fragile central government tries to recover from decades of chaos.

In the next few years Somali forces are expected to take over responsibility for the country’s security as the AU force withdraws. Concerns about their readiness remain high, and the U.N. Security Council recently voted to delay the handover’s target date to December 2021.

Death toll 209 as survivor found in capsized Tanzania ferry

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NAIROBI, KENYA: The death toll soared past 200 while a survivor was found inside a capsized Tanzania ferry two days after the Lake Victoria disaster, officials said Saturday, while search efforts were ending to focus on identifying bodies.

The survivor, an engineer, was found near the engine of the upturned vessel, Mwanza regional commissioner John Mongella told reporters. The Tanzanian Broadcasting Corporation, which reported the new death toll, said he had shut himself into the engine room. His condition was not immediately known.

Coffins arrived, and the work would now focus on identifying bodies, Tanzania’s defense chief Venance Mabeyo told reporters at the scene. Families of victims gathered and prepared to claim the dead.

No one knows how many people had been on board the badly overloaded ferry, which officials said had a capacity of 101. It capsized in the final stretch before shore on Thursday afternoon as people returning from a busy market day prepared to disembark, while horrified fishermen and others watched.

Officials on Friday said at least 40 people had been rescued.

President John Magufuli has ordered the arrests of those responsible. He said the ferry captain already had been detained after leaving the steering to someone who wasn’t properly trained, The Citizen newspaper reported.

“This is a great disaster for our nation,” Magufuli told the nation in a televised address late Friday, announcing four days of national mourning.

Pope Francis, the United Nations secretary-general, Russian President Vladimir Putin and a number of African leaders have expressed shock and sorrow.

The MV Nyerere, named for the former president who led the East African nation to independence, was traveling between the islands of Ukara and Ukerewe when it sank, according to the government agency in charge of servicing the vessels.

Accidents are often reported on the large freshwater lake surrounded by Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. Some of the deadliest have occurred in Tanzania, where aging passenger ferries often carry hundreds of passengers and well beyond capacity.

In 1996, more than 800 people died when passenger and cargo ferry MV Bukoba sank on Lake Victoria.

Nearly 200 people died in 2011 when the MV Spice Islander I sank off Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast near Zanzibar.

Sweden’s elections need in-depth reporting abroad, ICC investigations should affect all countries equally, North Korea reaps benefits of American diplomacy, China sees a steppingstone to Afghanistan through Pakistan, Naomi Osaka shines despite controversy

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The Local / Stockholm

SWEDEN’S ELECTIONS NEED MORE IN-DEPTH REPORTING ABROAD

“The rise of the Sweden Democrats – and the obvious parallels to Trump, Le Pen and Brexit – means the attention focused on Sweden is out of all proportion to the country’s size…,” writes James Savage. “[F]ew media companies employ journalists who know anything about Sweden…. [T]he result is dire: simplistic, sensationalist journalism that is frequently just plain wrong…. [S]ome pieces … are very perceptive…. Yet … readers are rarely told that Swedes are equally exercised by humdrum issues such as healthcare and schooling…. There’s no doubt that this is an extraordinary election in Sweden…. But foreign media … are presenting a picture of Sweden that … misrepresents the facts – and this does their readers a disservice.”

This Is Africa / Nairobi, Kenya

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT INVESTIGATIONS SHOULD AFFECT ALL COUNTRIES EQUALLY

“The International Criminal Court (ICC) was established in 2002, in terms of the Rome Statute,” writes Socrates Mbamalu. “The Rome Statute defined four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression…. [T]he ICC has been condemned for its one-sided prosecution of Third World leaders accused of such crimes…. While attempts by African countries … to withdraw from the ICC [were] heavily condemned, it is noteworthy that the ICC has often come under criticism from African leaders…. Given America’s [recent] flagrant dismissal of the ICC, African leaders seem justified in their distrust of the court…. If the court can’t deal with the powerful, how can its existence be justified?”

The Irish Times / Dublin, Ireland

NORTH KOREA CONTINUES TO REAP BENEFITS OF AMERICAN DIPLOMATIC OVERTURE

“Three months after their landmark summit in Singapore, Kim Jong-un continues to play Donald Trump like a violin,” states an editorial. “That meeting was a coup for the dictator in Pyongyang, giving him global credibility…. North Korea is still reaping the dividend…. Chinese president Xi Jinping [recently] sent a senior official to Pyongyang…. It’s better that Trump and Kim are exchanging pleasantries than threats, of course. But there is no evidence that Pyongyang has taken any meaningful steps towards eliminating its nuclear arsenal…. [A]ll [Trump] has signed up for is a vague aspiration for a nuclear-free region – one that would include the removal of the US nuclear umbrella over South Korea.”

Recommended: Global Newsstand Canada needs to make a statement about Aung San Suu Kyi, Question easy loans from China, Working mothers are assets, not liabilities, Tourism bump…

Dawn / Karachi, Pakistan

CHINA SEES A STEPPINGSTONE TO AFGHANISTAN IN DIPLOMACY WITH PAKISTAN

“[Pakistani Foreign Minister] Shah Mehmood Qureshi [has been] busy…,” writes Huma Yusuf. “The trip by the US secretary of state was followed by a visit by the Chinese foreign minister. One theme ran through both meetings: Afghanistan…. But there is a related dynamic … and that’s the evolving China-Afghanistan relationship. A reminder of this came last week with news that China would train Afghan troops…. These developments should remind Pakistan that China only does what it does to serve its own interests…. But as Washington will tell Beijing, there is a point at which Pakistan will not budge from prioritising its security and strategic objectives, no matter how high or sweet the friendship.”

The Japan Times / Tokyo

NAOMI OSAKA SHINES DESPITE WOMEN’S OPEN CONTROVERSY

“Japanese and women’s tennis fans around the world have a new hero: Naomi Osaka, winner of this year’s U.S. Women’s Open tennis championship…,” states an editorial. “[H]er stunning victory has been overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the treatment of Serena Williams…. [I]n this case, [Williams] was wronged…. There is no disputing the double standard that exists in the sport…. This controversy has … deprived Osaka of credit she rightly deserves…. [I]f this match is to be plumbed for its social significance, Japan should ponder the meaning of this exceptional athlete…. Japan needs to better appreciate its diversity…. We hope that Osaka gives us many more opportunities to think about this issue as she continues her outstanding career.”

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Experts Call For Global Momentum on Gender Parity — Global Issues

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  • by Miriam Gathigah (nairobi)
  • Friday, September 21, 2018
  • Inter Press Service

Mary Wanja, a farmer at Ngangarithi, Kenya, using water from a stream to water her produce. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicates that the face of farming is still very much female comprising at least 45 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. In parts of Africa and Asia, women’s representation is much higher contributing at least 60 percent of the labour force. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

“Of the six United Nations organs, it is only at the General Assembly where member states have equal representation with each nation having one vote, so issues discussed at the forum tend to be very critical and central to global development,” explains Grace Gakii, an independent consultant on gender issues in East Africa.

The 73rd session of the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) is being held in New York, United States, starting on Sept. 18th and running through to October.

“There are expectations that the high level meeting will also provide a platform to address issues of gender equality and women empowerment,”Gakii tells IPS.

The meeting comes amidst heighten efforts by the U.N. towards gender parity among its staff across all levels of its employment structure as well as through its work. A number of U.N. entities are already showing impressive progress towards a more gender balanced workforce in the period spanning 2007 to 2017.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. (FAO) has particularly been lauded for progress made towards gender parity within its workforce.

“We have no doubt that gender equality can have a transformative as well as multiplier effect on sustainable development, climate resilience, peace building, and drive economic growth,” Maria Helena Semedo, FAO deputy director general, Climate and Natural Resources, tells IPS.

Since the organisation’s director general Jose Graziano da Silva took office in 2011, it has not been business as usual as gender issues are taking centre stage.

“FAO works to support women as agents of change to help harness this untapped potential. We have been striving to recruit the best possible talent to help meet our gender parity objectives,” Semedo affirms.

A U.N. system wide action plan on gender parity within this organisation indicates that: “As of the close of 2017, 41 percent of all international posts were held by women, the organisation’s highest representation of women in 10 years.” Moreover, when it comes to junior positions within the organisation, FAO has achieved gender parity.

“These trends point to an organisation that is keen on pushing for gender equality, equity and essentially women empowerment in its structures. Such robust efforts to engender its workforce will without a doubt impact greatly on the work that FAO does with rural communities,” Gakii explains.

Against this backdrop, according to the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women), the entire U.N. system is not far behind.

One year into secretary-general António Guterres’ strategy to improve gender parity within its system, for the first time in the history of the U.N. there is now gender parity in top leadership.

“We will continue working to translate our success at having more women in senior staff positions. We also strive to have a friendly work environment for both male and female staff, with zero tolerance to sexual and power harassment in line with the secretary-general’s direction,” Semedo says.

Gender expert Wilfred Subbo says that in achieving gender parity, equality and equity within its own system, the U.N. is also able to set the standards for “rural communities and economies whose lives are impacted on a daily basis by policies and strategies set by the global humanitarian body.”

Subbo is an associate professor at the Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies, University of Nairobi.

Nonetheless, there are concerns that overall progress towards gender parity within FAO has been fairly slow. In the last decade, the representation of women has increased by only 12 percentage points.

That notwithstanding, experts are optimistic that as FAO continues its robust push for a more equitable society, this will have a more significant impact on food security, agriculture and rural developmentparticularly as climate change continues to impact on the world’s ability to feed its people.

FAO’s State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2018 report states that national agricultural and trade policies will need readjusting for the global market place to become a “pillar of food security and a tool for climate change adaptation.”

The report further details the extent to which climate change will impact on the ability of many world regions to produce food as well as influencing trends in international agricultural trade.

“Today, agriculture and food systems face an unprecedented array of challenges and our most recent numbers show that hunger is on the rise with the greatest vulnerability being amongst rural women and girls,” says Semedo.

Associate Professor Subbo is emphatic that without readjusting labour market structures for better representation of women, it will be impossible to comprehensively address the most pressing global needs.

He says that labour market structures are inherently skewed in favour of men, making it difficult for women to influence policy and decision-making processes.

“There is a need for a global momentum to speak to gender issues and especially the role, place and representation of women in the labour force because women are important pillars of the economy,” Subbo tells IPS.

He says that the fact there are now more women working in many sectors of the economy has served to mask an uncomfortable truth. “You will find these women at the bottom of the career ladder, they are the labourers in farms but absent in the boardroom,” he says.

Take for instance the agricultural sector, FAO indicates that the face of farming is still very much female comprising at least 45 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries.

In parts of Africa and Asia, women’s representation is much higher contributing at least 60 percent of the labour force.

The numbers are even higher in countries such as India where 79 percent of the female rural workforce is in agriculture.

“Even though a significant majority of the labour force in the agricultural sector is largely female constituted, women hold only 14 percent of the managerial positions,” Gakii expounds.

She says that as the world grapples with food insecurity, it is worrisome that women are also at the periphery of services that are crucial to the productivity and sustainability of rural economies. According to FAO, only an estimated five percent of women have access to agricultural extension services.

This is despite the significant role that the agricultural extension officers play in bringing advances in technology and better farming practices closer to farmers.

With fewer women in managerial and other such influential positions, compared to men, women receive fewer and smaller loans.

According to FAO, women in forestry, fishing and agriculture receive a paltry seven percent of the total agricultural investment.

Alice Wahome is an elected member of parliament in Kandara Constituency, Murang’a County, Kenya. She is the first woman to be elected to parliament in the county, and tells IPS that there is an urgent need to engender leadership across institutions and in key pillars of the economy.

“Promoting leadership that understands gender issues, the intricacies of gender and development does improve the participation of women at all levels of the workforce,” she observes. More importantly, “their participation accelerates development at all levels,” Wahome says.

© Inter Press Service (2018) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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