Monthly Archives: February 2017

First planned North Korea-US contact in Trump administration cancelled: WSJ

SEOUL: Plans for the first contact between North Korea and the United States after President Donald Trump took office were cancelled after the U.S. State Department denied a visa for the top envoy from Pyongyang, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.

The talks, between senior North Korean foreign ministry envoy Choe Son Hui and former U.S. officials, were scheduled to take place on March 1 and 2 in New York but were called off after Choe was denied a visa, the Journal said.

It was not clear what led the State Department to deny the visa but North Korea’s test-firing of a ballistic missile on Feb. 12 and the murder of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother in Malaysia may have played a role, the report said.

South Korean and U.S. officials have said they believe North Korean agents assassinated Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half brother of Kim Jong Un, on Feb. 13.

A U.S. State Department official denied so-called track two discussions had been scheduled.

“The U.S government had no plans to engage in track 2 talks in New York,” the official said, declining comment on individual visa cases.

A South Korean foreign ministry official declined to comment on the report of the cancelled meeting in New York, saying the reported plan did not involve the U.S. or South Korean government.

The meeting in New York would have been the first time a senior North Korean envoy would visit the United States since 2011 and the first contact between U.S. and North Korean representatives since Trump took office.

Choe, director general for North American affairs at the North’s foreign ministry, has previously met former U.s. officials and academics, the last time in November in Geneva for informal discussions.

Trump said in a Reuters interview on Thursday that he was concerned about North Korea’s ballistic missile tests and “it’s a very dangerous situation”. Trump did not ruling out meeting Kim at some point in the future under certain circumstances but suggested it might be too late.

(Reporting by Jack Kim and Tony Munroe in SEOUL; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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Tennis: Kyrgios two wins from defending Marseille title

MARSEILLE: Nick Kyrgios kept on course to defend his Marseille Open title with a 6-3, 6-3 quarter-final victory over Slovak qualifier Norbert Gombos on Friday (Feb 24).

The 21-year-old Australian fired down 15 aces and lost just six points on serve in a ruthless display that lasted less than an hour.

In Saturday’s semi-final he will face Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who thumped compatriot Gilles Simon 6-4, 6-1.

“I thought I served and returned really well today,” said Kyrgios. “All that matters is that I’m going out there and playing every point hard. “I think I’m pretty aggressive on my returns, particularly here where I’m trying to get in the first big hit.”

A year ago, Kyrgios beat Marin Cilic in the final.

Tsonga came through a quarter-final between two twice former winners thanks to converting four of seven break points.

The 31-year-old, on a seven-match winning streak, is bidding to win a second tournament in successive weeks after triumphing in Rotterdam last week.

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One month in, anti-Trump movement shows signs of sustained momentum

BRANCHBURG, N.J./VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.: U.S. Representative Leonard Lance, who has held more than 40 town hall-style meetings with constituents in his central New Jersey district, has never faced a crowd like he did on Wednesday.

The Republican endured catcalls, chants and caustic questions from more than 1,000 residents at a local college, while hundreds of others outside brandished signs with messages like “Resist Trump.”

Parallel scenes have played out across the country this week during the first congressional recess since Donald Trump became president. Republican lawmakers returning home confronted a wave of anger over a spectrum of issues, including immigration, healthcare and Trump’s possible ties to Russia.

The raucous meetings are the latest in a relentless series of rallies, marches and protests that shows no signs of abating more than 30 days into the new administration.

The anti-Trump energy has prompted talk of a liberal-style Tea Party movement, in reference to the protests in 2009 that helped reshape the Republican Party and arguably laid the groundwork for Trump’s surprise electoral victory last year.

“Some of the lessons to draw from that are persistence, repetition, not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” said Victoria Kaplan, the organising director for the grassroots progressive group MoveOn.

Since the day after Trump’s inauguration, when millions of protesters joined women’s marches worldwide, left-wing organizers have sought to harness that anger to fuel a lasting political campaign.

Hundreds of progressive groups have sprung up across the country – some affiliated with national organizations like Indivisible or MoveOn – to help coordinate.

At town halls in New Jersey and Virginia this week, constituents came armed with red “disagree” signs they held aloft to register their disapproval of what they heard from their representatives.

Some U.S. senators, such as Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, have faced weekly protests outside their offices, and a Pennsylvania healthcare network set up a “town hall” this week with an empty suit in place of Toomey, who declined to attend.

More marches are scheduled across the country in the coming months, including several major events in Washington, tied to gay rights, science and a push for Trump to release his tax returns.

The sheer volume of protests – last week, there were three nationwide calls for action within a five-day span – has some political observers wondering how long it can last.

But several experts who study protests said the level of outrage may be increasing, rather than subsiding, after a tumultuous first month in which Trump’s words and actions created fresh outrage among liberals almost daily.

“We’re not anywhere near reaching a saturation point for protest,” said Michael Heaney, the author of “Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party after 9/11″ and a University of Michigan professor. “If anything, it’s just getting started.”

The key for organizers is to convert large-scale protests into sustained action by building databases of names and encouraging locally based events, experts said.

“You can’t just have the diehards,” said Dana R. Fisher, a University of Maryland professor who studies collective action. “And then you need to channel them into new types of activism.”

When Fisher surveyed participants at the women’s march in Washington, she found one-third were attending their first protest – the highest percentage she has ever observed.

“This is unprecedented,” she said. “But there’s nothing that’s not unprecedented about the Trump presidency.”

Some Republicans have dismissed the protests as manufactured. Trump on Tuesday tweeted that “so-called angry crowds” in Republicans’ districts were “planned out by liberal activists.”

But Kaplan of MoveOn said the vast majority of actions were “organic.” A weekly conference call the group hosts to discuss the movement has attracted a bigger number of participants each week, with 46,000 people joining the latest discussion.

“We are firing on all cylinders to catch up” with grassroots protests, she said. “That is a demonstration of energy and sustainability.”

Experts also said social media has made it far easier to organise mass protests quickly and efficiently.

In what Kaplan said was a sign the protests are having an impact, many Republicans have eschewed town halls this week to avoid confrontations. There were fewer than 100 in-person Republican town halls scheduled for the first two months of the year, compared with more than 200 in the same period in 2015, according to a Vice report.

In Louisiana on Wednesday, residents shouted down Republican Senator Bill Cassidy as he tried to explain his healthcare proposal. Scott Taylor, a freshman Republican representative in Virginia, sparred with hundreds of impassioned constituents on Monday at his own event.

Like Lance, whose district voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump, Taylor is already a midterm target for Democrats. Taylor said in an interview after the town hall that he recognised many of the attendees from the local Democratic Party.

“It’s not like they’re just some new organic people who just came about and are concerned,” Taylor said.

But not everyone was a Democrat. Austin Phillips, a 22-year-old Trump voter, told Taylor at the town hall he was worried about losing healthcare coverage if Obamacare is repealed.

“Trump has talked about wanting to repeal it,” Phillips, who is self-employed and purchased insurance through an exchange created by the law, said in a later interview. “If they quickly repeal it with no replacement lined up, then theoretically everybody would lose their insurance.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Bittenbender in Louisville, Kentucky; editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)

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Kaymer one behind two rookie leaders at Honda Classic

REUTERS: Martin Kaymer chipped in for birdie at the 17th then birdied the last to move within one stroke of the lead after Thursday’s opening round of the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Springs Gardens, Florida.

The rousing finish by the German, playing his first U.S. event of the year, lifted him to a five-under-par 65, one stroke behind American rookies Cody Gribble and Wesley Bryan on a course softened by rain on Wednesday.

Anirban Lahiri of India joined Kaymer at 65 by rolling in a 24-foot putt for eagle on the par-five 18th.

Kaymer caught fire after hitting his tee shot into an awkward lie in rough on the edge of the par-three 17th green.

“It was just one of those shots you want to get within three feet or so,” two-times major winner Kaymer told Golf Channel.

“It was a bit of a bonus. You try to get away with a par and then chip in for two. I take it. Sometimes it works out the other way and you make a bogey.”

Gribble has already won this season, taking the Sanderson Farms Championship, while Bryan contended last week at the Genesis Open before finishing tied for fourth in his 13th PGA Tour start.

Bryan feels at home at PGA National, where he won his Web.com card at Q-School 14 months ago and went on to win three times on the tour to automatically graduate to the PGA Tour.

“A place that I’m comfortable at, and a golf course I know, they are few and far between out here,” Wesley said about PGA National. “It’s my first run at all these tournaments out here. I love this place, love this golf course and I had a great day.”

Seven players were tied two shots back in the opening event of the Florida swing that begins the run towards the first major of the year, the Masters.

Knotted at 66 were Americans Rickie Fowler, Ben Crane, Sean O’Hair and Ryan Palmer, along with Briton Ian Poulter, Canadian Graeme DeLaet and C.T. Pan of Taiwan.

Defending champion Adam Scott of Australia and last year’s runner-up Sergio Garcia of Spain were another two strokes adrift after opening with 68s.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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UN likely to vote next week on Syria sanctions

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council is likely to vote next week on a draft resolution that would slap sanctions on Syria over the use of chemical weapons, but Russia is almost certain to veto the measure, diplomats said on Thursday (Feb 23).

Britain, France and the United States are pushing for a ban on the sale of helicopters to Syria and sanctions on 11 Syrians and 10 entities linked to chemical attacks in the nearly six-year war.

The measure follows a joint investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which concluded in October that the Syrian military had carried out at least three chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015.

“This is the significant response that the Security Council committed to do in the event of proven use of CW in Syria,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The US, UK and France are very clear that this is an issue of principle,” he said. Russia’s ambassador said at a meeting last week that Moscow would block the measure, said the diplomat.

Russia has used its veto six times to shield its Damascus ally from any punitive action.

China, another veto-wielding Security Council member, is expected to abstain in the vote.

France and Britain presented a first draft on imposing sanctions on Syria in December, but held off on action to give the new US administration time to study it.

Another Security Council diplomat said the trio was moving ahead now that US President Donald Trump’s administration was fully onboard with the push for sanctions against Syria.

The vote could take place as early as Monday or Tuesday.

“We hope it will come to a vote as quickly as possible,” a US official told AFP.

BLACKLISTING SYRIAN COMMANDERS

The draft resolution, seen by AFP, would impose a global travel ban and assets freeze on 11 Syrians, mostly military officials including the head of Syrian air force intelligence and the commander of air operations in areas where attacks occurred.

These commanders are said to have been involved in an assault by helicopters that dropped chlorine barrel-bombs on the villages of Qmenas, Talmenes and Sarmin.

Among the entities that would be blacklisted is the CERS research centre in Damascus, described as responsible for developing and producing chemical weapons, and five firms said to be front companies for CERS.

The draft resolution would also ban the sale, supply or transfer to the Syrian armed forces or to the government of helicopters or related materiel including spare parts.

The proposed measure would set up a sanctions committee that would report to the Security Council on designating individuals and entities to a new blacklist.

Syria has denied using chemical weapons while Russia has dismissed the investigative panel’s findings as “inconclusive.” The panel also found that the Islamic State group had used mustard gas in an attack in 2015.

The Security Council is due to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria during a meeting on Friday.

The United States last month blacklisted 18 senior Syrian military officers and officials over the use of chemical weapons, but there have been no UN sanctions imposed on Syria due to Russia’s opposition.

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Three soldiers, civilian killed in militant attack in Indian Kashmir

SHOPIAN, India: Three Indian soldiers and a woman were killed when militants ambushed a patrol in South Kashmir early on Thursday, part of an upsurge of violence that has hit the restive northern region as it emerges from winter.

An army and police party was returning from a village in the Shopian district of South Kashmir when it came under attack. Four soldiers were wounded in the one-hour firefight, according to police and witnesses.

“Around 2 in the night (2030 GMT), we woke up after hearing firing on the road,” the son of the woman told Reuters Television.

“Our mother was sleeping upstairs. The firing stopped after an hour and when we went upstairs, we found our mother dead.”

Television footage showed grieving relatives; a red van with shattered windows and shards of glass on the front seat; pools of blood on the ground and bullet marks on the walls of buildings.

A search was under way for the assailants in the latest in an upsurge of militant violence since Feb. 12 that has killed eight soldiers, eight gunmen and three civilians in the part of Kashmir that is controlled by India.

India is trying to contain a separatist insurgency in its northernmost region that is more than a quarter-century old. Protests flared after security forces killed a popular militant leader called Burhan Wani last July.

India launched what it called “surgical strikes” along the de facto border with Pakistan after an attack last September on an army base it said was carried out by separatist infiltrators. Pakistan denies any role in the attacks.

The nuclear-armed neighbours have fought two of their three wars since independence over Kashmir, which each claims in full but rules only in part.

(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari and Reuters Television; Writing by Douglas Busvine)

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Hyundai motors to be S.League's new co-title sponsor

SINGAPORE: South Korean motoring giant Hyundai Motors was revealed as the new co-title sponsor for Singapore’s top-tier football competition, the S.League, on Thursday (Feb 23).

It signed a two-year deal and the league will now be known as the Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said in a press release.

“We are delighted to welcome Hyundai Motors on board as co-title sponsors of the S.League. The fact that a leading multinational company like Hyundai is willing to back the league strongly and wants to be part of Singapore football shows the strength of the competition, and we are appreciative of their support,” said Mr Lim Kia Tong, president of the FAS Provisional Council, in the release.

It was earlier reported that the previous co-title sponsor, food and beverage company Yeo Hiap Seng, was reluctant to continue in the same capacity as they were unsure of the league’s long-term plans. 

The Great Eastern-Hyundai S.League will kick off its 22nd season on Sunday at the National Stadium @ Singapore Sports Hub with the Great Eastern Community Shield match between Albirex Niigata and Tampines Rovers. 

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Turkey to allow female soldiers to wear headscarves – ministry officials

ANKARA: Turkey will allow female soldiers to wear a headscarf with their uniforms, defence ministry officials said on Wednesday, marking a symbolic shift for a military that has traditionally seen itself as a guardian of state secularism.

The change also reflects the influence of President Tayyip Erdogan and the AK Party he founded. Since coming to power in 2002, the Islamist-rooted AKP has fought to bring religion into public life in Turkey.

Although a majority Muslim country, Turkey is officially secular. Headscarves were long banned in the civil service and in universities, something the AKP successfully overturned.

Defence officials said the change stipulated that the head covering, which could be worn with an official uniform under a hat or cap, should not cover the face and should be patternless and in harmony with the uniform’s colour.

A ban on civilian personnel in the military wearing headscarves was lifted in November 2016.

The armed forces for decades wielded considerable power in Turkey, carrying out a series of coups between 1960 and 1980 and triggering the collapse of Turkey’s first Islamist-led government in 1997.

However, Erdogan has gradually eroded the army’s influence.

Last July, a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, and attacked parliament in an attempt to overthrow the government. More than 240 people were killed in the failed putsch.

Ankara blames the attempted coup on U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen and his followers. He denies the accusations.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, forged the secular republic in the 1920s after the collapse of the Ottoman empire and banished Islam from public life.

In April last year, the parliament speaker provoked opposition condemnation by calling for a religious constitution, prompting the government to insist that secularism would remain as a principle in the national charter.

Turks are to vote on April 16 in a referendum on constitutional reform sharply broadening the president’s powers. Opponents fear the change will bring a lurch towards authoritarianism while the government says the reform is needed to ensure political stability.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by David Dolan and Ken Ferris)

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Liverpool gained from mid-season camp in Spain, says Mane

REUTERS: Liverpool will reap the benefits of their mid-season training camp in Spain when they travel to relegation-threatened Premier League champions Leicester City on Monday, forward Sadio Mane said.

With the Merseyside club devoid of any domestic cup or European commitments, Juergen Klopp’s charges took advantage of their fortnight break and went for a four-night camp in La Manga in a bid to rediscover their best form.

“It was just like one (a pre-season)… The last few weeks have been quite difficult for obvious reasons, but we didn’t stop working during that period and that was important,” Mane told the club website (www.liverpoolfc.com).

Liverpool’s league victory over Tottenham Hotspur on Feb. 11 marked their first league win of the year and was also just their second victory in 11 games.

Liverpool’s title bid has faltered in recent weeks as they have dropped to fifth, 11 points behind leaders Chelsea with 13 games remaining.

“But re-finding our form against Tottenham and the way we did it, we thought ‘we’re back now and we’ve got to maintain this’. We have to play the match against Leicester with the same attitude,” Mane said.

“We had a good time (in Spain) but we also worked very hard, we trained together well and we also had a friendly game amongst ourselves. The weather wasn’t brilliant but a bit better than here.”

(Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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US targets millions in sweeping deportation plan

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration issued tough new orders on Tuesday (Feb 21) for a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants, putting nearly all of the country’s 11 million undocumented foreigners in its cross-hairs.

The orders sent shivers throughout US immigrant communities, where millions of people who have spent years building families and livelihoods in the country, most of them from Mexico and Central America, were seriously threatened with deportation for the first time in decades.

Rights groups labelled the move a “witch hunt”, warning that a threatened “mass deportation” would damage families with deep roots in the United States and hurt the economy.

But John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) who issued the new orders in two memos, said they were necessary to address a problem that has “overwhelmed” government resources.

“The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States,” he said in one of the memos.

EXPEDITED DEPORTATIONS

The new rules make it easier for border patrol and immigration officers to quickly deport any illegal immigrants they find, with only a few exceptions, principally children.

The priority will remain undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, as well as anyone who has been charged or potentially faces criminal charges.

However, people deemed as low priority for deportation by the previous Barack Obama administration – generally anyone not tied to a crime – are no longer protected.

“With extremely limited exceptions, DHS will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement,” the memos said.

“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to enforcement proceedings, up to and including removal from the United States.”

The memos followed up on President Donald Trump’s order, made just after his January 20 inauguration, for authorities to crack down on illegal immigration by tightening enforcement and building a wall along the nearly 2,000 mile (3,145 kilometer) US-Mexico frontier.

In the memos Kelly ordered immediate action to begin planning the wall. He also ordered the hiring of 15,000 more officers for the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies.

The move comes ahead of meetings this week between Kelly and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Mexico, in which illegal immigration and border security will be key topics.

SHARP POLICY SHIFT

The turn in policy follows years in which the Obama administration, and the George W. Bush administration before it, sought to find a way with Congress to allow most of the long-term illegal immigrants to stay in the country.

But Trump campaigned for the White House on a promise to crack down on what he characterised as a source of widespread crime and a drag on the economy. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump “wanted to take the shackles off” of officials enforcing the laws.

DHS said there are more than 534,000 pending immigration cases in the courts nationwide, and that department agents have apprehended more than 93,000 people trying to sneak into the country in October and November alone. That work “has significantly strained DHS resources,” it said.

While Spicer said Trump “has a big heart” and that policy could evolve in future beyond the DHS memos, there was no indication of what form those changes could take.

‘MASS DEPORTATION POLICY’

Pro-immigrant groups, already nervous after hundreds were arrested in a series of ICE raids on immigrant “sanctuary cities” two weeks ago, expressed shock and outrage.

“Secretary Kelly has unleashed an unprecedented witch hunt on millions of immigrant families,” said Angelica Salas, executive director for the Los Angeles-based Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.

“These guidelines represent an unlawful, expedited process, a dragnet, to remove undocumented immigrants living and working in the US. This is a dastardly approach to a very human issue,” she said.

Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, predicted strong legal challenges to the new policy.

“These memos confirm that the Trump administration is willing to trample on due process, human decency, the well-being of our communities, and even protections for vulnerable children, in pursuit of a hyper-aggressive mass deportation policy,” he said. 

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