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Japan’s Abe to pledge something for all generations in snap election-source

Tue, 2017-09-19 08:13

TOKYO: Pledges to spend on education and child care, stay tough on North Korea and revise the pacifist constitution are likely to be pillars of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign in a snap election next month, government sources said on Tuesday.
Abe is considering calling the lower house poll when the legislature convenes on Sept. 28 to take advantage of his improved ratings and disarray in the opposition, ruling party and government sources have said.
The prime minister, whose ratings have recovered from below 30 percent in July, is betting his ruling bloc can at a minimum retain a simple majority in the chamber and at best keep the two-thirds super-majority needed to achieve his long-held goal of revising the constitution to clarify the military’s role.
Abe wants to go ahead with a planned rise in the nation’s sales tax to 10 percent from 8 percent and use some of the revenue to create a “social security system for all generations,” which would invest in education while decreasing the proportion of sales tax revenue used to pay down government debt, the sources said.
Japan’s social welfare system is weighted toward spending on the elderly, with people aged 65 and over accounting for a whopping 27.7 percent of the population according to the latest government data.
“You can promise anything you want — make a nod toward a more equitable society, empowering women, work-life balance, welfare for all generations,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan.
“He’s got a strategy that is going to win.”
Using less tax revenue to pay down debt, however, would make it more difficult to achieve the government’s target of returning to a primary budget surplus in fiscal 2020, which could in turn raise concerns about less rigid fiscal discipline.
“We have to maintain fiscal discipline, regardless,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters when asked about the reports.
Abe has told reporters he will make a decision on the snap election after he returns from the United States on Sept. 22.
Japan’s opposition Democratic Party is struggling with single-digit support and a succession of defections. And while the nascent “Japan First” party, which boasts ties to popular Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, could be a viable challenger to Abe’s government, it has yet to draft a platform, pick candidates or formally register as a party.
That means Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior partner, the Komeito, have a shot at retaining their two-thirds majority in the lower house, political analysts said.
However, some analysts believe Abe’s electoral base could be undermined by voter distaste over suspected cronyism scandals and concerns about a political vacuum forming amid heightened tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
“I don’t dismiss the possibility of the voters giving Abe a nasty surprise,” said Gerry Curtis, professor emeritus at Columbia University in New York.

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China, Russia urge end to North Korea vicious cycle

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-09-19 07:42

NEW YORK: The Chinese and Russian foreign ministers called for a peaceful end to the “vicious cycle” on the Korean peninsula as they met in New York for the UN General Assembly, Beijing said Tuesday.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov urged all parties to seek a “peaceful resolution” to the current stand-off with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons program, the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The Korean Peninsula nuclear problem must be solved through peaceful means,” it quoted Wang as saying, adding that “the current deepening vicious cycle must be broken.”
“Restoring peace talks is also a necessary step to carrying out the UN Security Council’s resolution,” he said.
Lavrov said Russia’s position on the issue is “completely identical” to China’s, the statement said.
Russia has joined China’s call for a “dual-track” approach in which North Korea suspends its weapons program in return for the United States halting military drills in the region.
The White House said earlier that US President Donald Trump had spoken with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping over the phone, saying the two leaders were “committed to maximizing pressure on North Korea through vigorous enforcement of United Nations Security Council resolutions.”
Trump is currently in New York for the UN General Assembly but Xi — who has a major Communist Party congress next month that will cement his leadership for the next five years — is not attending the event.
The UN Security Council last week imposed a fresh set of sanctions, though Washington toned down its original proposals to secure support from China and Russia.
Regional tensions have soared this month as North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test and staged an intermediate-range missile test over Japan.
Trump has not ruled out a military option for dealing with Pyongyang.
The US flew four F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula on Monday in a show of force.
Separately, China and Russia began a joint naval exercise east of the Korean peninsula.

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Greeks brace for more Merkel, and potential sway of liberal allies

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-09-19 07:24

ATHENS: Germany’s bone-hard stance on Europe’s response to dealing with Greece’s debt mountain has hardly endeared it to a nation laboring under the effects of austerity that multiple bailouts have engendered.
Yet, while Germany’s role in trying to force Athens back onto the financial straight and narrow has sparked resentment — with Berlin cast in the villain’s role for demanding fiscal rectitude — most Greeks appear unfazed at Angela Merkel’s expected re-election next week.
Headed seemingly inexorably toward a fourth term, Merkel was present at the creation of all three of Greece’s bailout packages and is an old hand when it comes to the economic turmoil battering Athens while her priorities on economy and migration are well known.
Even so, some Greek observers worry a new coalition, potentially including liberals who oppose a European Monetary Fund to make emergency loans and who have suggested it might be best for Greece to leave the eurozone, could throw up fresh concerns for Athens.
After initially butting heads with leftist Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his first formative months in power in 2015, Merkel, the dour chancellor known as “Mutti” (mummy) has built a rapport of sorts with the young ex-student rebel.
To the consternation of German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, Tsipras has often appealed to Merkel directly when talks on Greece’s tough reforms stall.
“(He) insists on calling Merkel all the time,” Schaeuble said in June.
Athens is grateful to Merkel for helping to craft the EU-Turkey agreement that has kept Greece from being overwhelmed with thousands of additional refugees and migrants, after a huge influx in 2015.
She personally reached out to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to craft the pact, and stood out among European leaders by offering to take in thousands of refugees.
But Dimitris Papadimoulis, Greece’s European Parliament vice president, notes “it’s not a question of (personal) chemistry.”
“The Greek government seeks to change the economic mix and promote fair growth, whereas the German leadership, as we have known under Merkel, aims to maintain a ‘German’ Europe,” the veteran politician, a senior member of Tsipras’ Syriza party, told AFP.
Tackling migration “takes a collective response, it’s not just about Germany,” Papadimoulis said.
“The problem remains the lack of solidarity to entry states such as Greece and Italy, the non-implementation of the relocation program in full, and problematic behavior by states such as Poland and Hungary.”
For informed observers in Athens, the makeup of the next German government is key to its future stance on Greece.
Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc holds a solid poll lead, but looks set to miss an absolute majority that would allow it to rule alone.
“I am concerned about the election,” a senior Greek government source said this week.
“If a CDU-FDP coalition emerges, it will not be the best thing for Greece,” he said.
The last time Merkel was in a coalition with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), its then leader Philipp Roesler — economy minister at the time — was a notorious hawk on Greece and its troubled reform efforts.
Roesler made headlines in 2012 after asserting that for him personally, the idea of a Greek eurozone exit “lost its horror a long time ago.”
Current FDP leader Christian Lindner maintains a tougher stance than Merkel on migration and has called for Greece to temporarily leave the euro.
“Germany’s approach on the Greek economy is not going to change…(it) has grown tired of the Greek issue,” Yiorgos Tzogopoulos, a researcher at the Eliamep foreign policy think tank, told news portal
One area where Germany may back down is in giving European authorities extra powers to manage future bailouts — one of which Greece may well need when its current rescue program expires in August 2018.
In April, Schaeuble said future aid programs for eurozone countries should be under EU auspices.
This is consistent with Tsipras’ desire to keep out the International Monetary Fund, seen in Athens as the instigator of the toughest reforms demanded by its international creditors over the past eight years.
However, the emerging concord between Merkel and new French President Emmanuel Macron on promoting a multi-speed EU could be a “trap” for Greece, Tzogopoulos said.
“Greece may well become a laggard in various sectors of a new European (reality),” he said.
A shift in German policy toward Greece might not even be in the latter’s favor, says 36-year-old software programmer Stamatis Rapanakis.
“Greeks like fairy tales. A (Social Democratic) administration would tempt Greek politicians to seek a new round of talks. And this would delay reforms,” he said.

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New hurdles as Republicans rush to reverse Obama health law

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-09-19 07:17

WASHINGTON: After falling one vote short this summer, US Republicans have revived efforts to overhaul Barack Obama’s landmark health care bill, but skepticism Monday by some in President Donald Trump’s party has imperiled the plan.
Momentum for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act — a primary Trump pledge as a candidate — swelled in the past week, after a group of Republican senators unveiled a bill that would effectively replace Obamacare with block grants to the US states.
Senators returned to Washington with Republicans hoping to ram the bill through in the next 12 days, before a change in procedural rules that currently allow a health care overhaul to pass with a simple 51-vote majority in the 100-member chamber.
But if the bill were to move forward before September 30, it would have to do so without a comprehensive review by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
“That’s problematic,” moderate Republican Senator Susan Collins told reporters.
“I’m concerned about what the effect would be on coverage, on Medicaid spending in my state, on the fundamental changes in Medicaid that would be made without the Senate holding a single hearing to evaluate them.”
Collins is one of the three Republicans who voted against the previous Obamacare repeal effort, which dramatically collapsed July 28 when Senator John McCain gave his thumbs down on the plan.
In recent days, the senator from Arizona said he would rely on his state’s governor for guidance on whether the new plan, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, was viable.
As Arizona Governor Doug Ducey endorsed the new plan, its co-author Senator Lindsey Graham insisted the effort was “gaining the momentum we need to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
But McCain’s hesitation was clear. He expressed frustration with the lack of public hearings or a CBO score of the legislation.
“I am going to continue to look at this as the process goes on,” McCain told reporters. “But I want regular order.”
The bill’s supporters might be eager to avoid a CBO score. In July, the non-partisan body projected that the ranks of the uninsured would grow by 16 million Americans, and premiums would rise 20 percent annually, over the next decade if the previous Obamacare repeal bill became law.
An earlier repeal effort would have led to 32 million fewer insured.
Senator Ron Johnson, one of the bill’s sponsors, called Graham-Cassidy a “work in process.”
But Democrats insisted the latest bid was worse than previous versions, “a red siren moment” for the nation.
“Trumpcare’s back, and it’s meaner than ever,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned.
“If this bill becomes law, our health care system will be dramatically curtailed, and there will be chaos in many states.”
The bill, Schumer noted, allows states to permit insurers to roll back protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Money to states would decline over time, eventually disappearing unless Congress appropriated new funding.
And “the new Trumpcare would plunge a dagger deep into the heart of Medicaid,” the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled, by halting its expansion and establishing a per-capita cap on Medicaid spending, Schumer said.
Meanwhile, as Collins and McCain equivocated, conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul was a firm no, largely because Graham-Cassidy maintains nearly all Obamacare taxes and regulations.
“This does not look, smell or even sound like repeal,” Paul told reporters, anticipating years of health care marketplace chaos should the bill become law.
“I don’t think anybody’s realized the enormity of this,” he added. “It keeps 90 percent of Obamacare and redistributes the proceeds” to states to use as they see fit.
With Paul and all 48 senators in the Democratic caucus opposed, Republicans could afford just one more no vote.
Beyond McCain and Collins, eyes were on Alaska’s Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted no on the July effort, and Ohio’s Rob Portman, who voted for the previous bill but has denounced bids to curtail Medicaid expansion.
Democrats have expressed support for a bipartisan effort aimed at stabilizing Obamacare’s insurance exchanges so that millions of Americans could maintain their coverage.

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More than 40 million people trapped in slavery: new global estimate

Tue, 2017-09-19 07:01

NEW YORK: About 40 million people were trapped as slaves last year in forced labor and forced marriages, according to the first joint effort by key anti-slavery groups to estimate the number of global victims of the escalating crime.
The International Labour Organization (ILO), human rights group Walk Free Foundation, and International Organization for Migration said about 40.3 million people were victims of modern slavery in 2016 — but added this was a conservative estimate.
They estimated 24.9 million people were trapped working in the sex trade, in factories, on construction sites, farms and fishing boats, and as domestic workers, while 15.4 million people were in marriages to which they had not consented.
Almost three out of every four slaves were women and girls and one in four was a child with modern slavery most prevalent in Africa followed by Asia and Pacific, the report said.

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World leaders anxious to hear Trump as UN assembly kicks off

Agence France Presse
Tue, 2017-09-19 09:27

UNITED NATIONS, UNITED STATES: World leaders open their annual debate at the United Nations on Tuesday, eager to hear US President Donald Trump deliver his maiden address amid global anxiety over North Korea and Iran.
Trump takes the podium at the General Assembly just after Brazil’s Michel Temer, presenting his message to the world as he pushes his nationalist “America First” agenda.
At a first UN appearance on Monday, Trump vowed to push for reform at the world body that he once disparaged as a “club” where “people get together, talk and have a good time.”
On Tuesday, the US leader will outline his foreign policy priorities, from confronting North Korea over its nuclear and missile tests to deciding the fate of the Iran nuclear deal.
A top White House aide said Trump will take aim at “rogue regimes that threaten world stability and peace,” singling out Pyongyang and Tehran during his 30-minute remarks and urging responsible nations to step in to curb their behavior.
Trump will argue nation states should be free to pursue their interests unfettered — a contentious message for delegates to the world’s foremost multilateral forum.
French President Emmanuel Macron, seen as the face of a more confident post-Brexit Europe, will also be making his first address to the 193-nation assembly.
His speech will likely offer a sharp contrast to Trump’s world view.
The French leader has embraced multilateralism and even went so far as to turn Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan into a motto in favor of climate protections: “Make the Planet Great Again.”
France is pushing Trump to reverse his June decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris climate agreement and stick with a deal seen as the UN’s best achievement in years.
Seeking to shore up the climate deal, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will be joined by Macron for a meeting on the sidelines of the General Assembly later Tuesday that the United States has decided to boycott, unsurprisingly.
At the UN podium, Macron is expected to defend the landmark nuclear deal with Iran amid fears that a US pullout would deal a blow to decades of global non-proliferation efforts.
A counterview on Iran is likely to come from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who on Monday described the nuclear deal as “terrible” as he went into talks with Trump.
Netanyahu’s address comes a day before Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani will address the assembly.
Russia and China, whose foreign ministers will speak later in the week, are getting ready to challenge Trump on North Korea after warning that military action on the peninsula would be catastrophic.
Both countries are firm supporters of the Iran nuclear deal.
Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan will take his turn at the rostrum as the war in Syria rages on and Kurds in neighboring Iraq are pressing for independence, a move that could have ripple effects among Turkish Kurds.
Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are likely to be key themes during Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s remarks.
From Africa, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will address the world body, as will Gambia’s new leader Adama Barrow and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma.
Taking a break from the marathon of speeches, world leaders will attend a luncheon hosted by Guterres at the United Nations, with Japanese Wagyu beef, Yukon gold potatoes and chocolate mousse on the menu.
Trump will be seated next to Japan’s Shinzo Abe, who is expected to share his concerns about North Korea during his address on Wednesday.

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Suu Kyi appeals to global community over Rohingya crisis

Tue, 2017-09-19 07:28

NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi reached out to the global community Tuesday in a broad appeal for support over a refugee crisis the UN has decried as “ethnic cleansing,” urging outsiders to help her nation unite across religious and ethnic lines and offering a pathway back to the country for some of the Rohingya Muslims forced to flee by army operations.
Communal violence has torn through Rakhine state since August 25, leaving hundreds dead and driving more than 410,000 of the Rohingya minority from Myanmar into Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate, has been decried for failing to speak up publicly for the stateless Rohingya or urge restraint from the military.
But in 30-minute televised speech Tuesday she reached out to her critics, deploying the soaring rhetoric that once made her a darling of the global rights community.
“Hate and fear are the main scourges of our world,” she said.
“We don’t want Myanmar to be a nation divided by religious beliefs or ethnicity… we all have the right to our diverse identities.”
While expressing her sorrow for “all” groups displaced by violence, she said her country stood ready “at any time” to take back refugees subject to a “verification” process.
It was not immediately clear how many of the estimated 410,000 Rohingya who have fled Myanmar would qualify to return.
But the subject of their claims to live Myanmar is at the heart of a toxic debate about the Muslim group.
Myanmar’s army has previously it will not take back people linked with “terrorists” — suggesting many came from the hundreds of Rohingya villages that have subsequently been burnt to the ground.
Inside Myanmar, supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to rein in the army, with whom she is in a delicate power-sharing arrangement.
The UN has accused Myanmar’s army of “ethnic cleansing” over a campaign of alleged murder and arson that has left scores of Rohingya villages in ashes.
The army denies that, insisting its operations are a proportional response to the late August raids by Rohingya militants, who they label “extremist Bengali terrorists.”
Since then just under half of Rakhine’s Rohingya population has poured into Bangladesh, where they now languish in one of the world’s largest refugee camps.
A further 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced — apparent targets of the August 25 attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group.
Suu Kyi skipped this week’s UN General Assembly in New York to manage the crisis at home and deliver her televised address — the biggest yet of her time in office.

Analysts say Suu Kyi must walk a treacherous line between global opinion and Islamophobic anti-Rohingya views at home, where the military has curdled hatred for the Muslim minority.
While stories of weary and hungry Rohingya civilians streaming into Bangladesh have dominated global headlines, there is little sympathy for the Muslim group among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority.
Many reject the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity and insist they are “Bengalis” — illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
That narrative has justified the denial of citizenship for the estimated one million Rohingya who lived in Rakhine before the recent crisis.
Loathing for the Rohingya has brought the public, including prominent pro-democracy activists, into an unlikely alignment with an army that once had them under its heel.
A siege mentality has emerged in Myanmar with the UN, international NGOs and foreign media the focus of ire for apparent pro-Rohingya bias.
Many Facebook users changed their profile picture on Tuesday to carry a banner with a photo of ‘The Lady’ and saying “We stand with you Daw Aung San Suu Kyi” — using an honorific.
Tensions over the status of the Rohingya have been brewing for years in Myanmar, with bouts of anti-Muslim violence erupting around the country as Buddhist hard-liners fan fears of an Islamic takeover.
Although the military stepped down from outright junta rule in 2011, it kept control of security policy and key levers of government.
Any overt break from the army’s policy in Rakhine could enrage the generals and derail Suu Kyi’s efforts to prevent a rollback on recent democratic gains.
Observers say the military may be deliberately destabilising her government with one eye on 2020 elections.
Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing has emerged during the crisis as an unexpectedly popular figure, pitching himself as a defender Myanmar’s territorial integrity and the Buddhist faith.

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Rohingya Muslims being wiped off Myanmar’s map

The Associated Press
Tue, 2017-09-19 03:00

YANGON, Myanmar: For generations, Rohingya Muslims have called Myanmar home. Now, in what appears to be a systematic purge, they are, quite literally, being wiped off the map.
After a series of attacks by Muslim militants last month, security forces and allied mobs retaliated by burning down thousands of homes in the enclaves of the predominantly Buddhist nation where the Rohingya live.
That has sent some 417,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, according to UN estimates. There they have joined tens of thousands of others who have fled over the past year.
And they are still leaving, piling into wooden boats that take them to sprawling, monsoon-drenched refugee camps in Bangladesh. Decried as ethnic cleansing by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, few believe they will ever be welcomed back to Myanmar.
“This is the worst crisis in Rohingya history,” said Chris Lewa, founder of the Arakan Project, which works to improve conditions for the ethnic minority, citing the monumental size and speed of the exodus. “Security forces have been burning villages one by one, in a very systematic way. And it’s still ongoing.”
Using a network of monitors, Lewa and her agency are meticulously documenting tracts of villages that have been partially or completely burned down in three townships in northern Rakhine state, where the vast majority of Myanmar’s 1.1 million Rohingya once lived. It’s a painstaking task because there are hundreds of them, and information is almost impossible to verify because the army has blocked access to the area. Satellite imagery released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, limited at times because of heavy cloud coverage, shows massive swaths of scorched landscape.
The Arakan Project has found that almost every tract of villages in Maungdaw township suffered some burning, and that all of Maungdaw has been almost completely abandoned by Rohingya.
Of the 21 Rohingya villages in Rathedaung, to the north, only five were not targeted. Three camps for Rohingya who were displaced in communal riots five years ago also were torched.
Buthidaung, to the east, so far has been largely spared. It is the only township where security operations appear limited to areas where attacks by Rohingya militants, which triggered the ongoing crackdown, occurred.
The Rohingya have had a long and troubled history in Myanmar, where many in the country’s 60 million people look on them with disdain.
Though members of the ethnic minority first arrived generations ago, they were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, denying them almost all rights and rendering them stateless. They cannot travel freely, practice their religion, or work as teachers or doctors, and they have little access to medical care, food or education.
The UN has labeled the Rohingya one of the world’s most persecuted religious minorities.
Still, if it weren’t for their safety, many would rather live in Myanmar than be forced to another country that doesn’t want them.
“Now we can’t even buy plastic to make a shelter,” said 32-year-old Kefayet Ullah of the camp in Bangladesh where he and his family are struggling to get from one day to the next.
In Rakhine, they had land for farming and a small shop. Now they have nothing.
“Our heart is crying for our home,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Even the father of my grandfather was born in Myanmar.”
This is not the first time the Rohingya have fled en masse.
Hundreds of thousands left in 1978 and again in the early 1990s, fleeing military and government oppression, though policies were later put in place that allowed many to return. Communal violence in 2012, as the country was transitioning from a half-century of dictatorship to democracy, sent another 100,000 fleeing by boat. Some 120,000 remain trapped in camps under apartheid-like conditions outside Rakhine’s capital, Sittwe.
But no exodus has been as massive and swift as the one taking place now.
The military crackdown came in retaliation for a series of coordinated attacks by Rohingya militants led by Attaullah Abu Ammar Jununi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in Saudi Arabia.
Last October, the militants struck police posts, killing several officers and triggering a brutal military response that sent 87,000 Rohingya fleeing. Then on Aug. 25, a day after a state-appointed commission of inquiry headed by former UN chief Kofi Annan released a report about the earlier bloodshed, the militants struck again.
This time they attacked more than 30 police and army posts.
It was the excuse security forces were looking for. They hit back and hard. Together with Buddhist mobs, they burned down villages, killed, looted and raped.
“The military crackdown resembles a cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return,” Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said earlier this month in Geneva, calling it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
It could be months before the extent of the devastation is clear because the army has blocked access to the affected areas. Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said at least 1,000 civilians were killed. The government claims more than 400 died, the vast majority Rohingya militants. They put the number of civilians killed at 30.
The Myanmar government says 176 of Northern Rakhine’s 471 villages have been abandoned, but it has provided few details and no names.
Whether it’s the end game for the Rohingya in Myanmar remains to be seen, said Richard Horsey, a political analyst in Yangon. It depends in part on whether arrangements will be made by Bangladesh and Myanmar for their eventual return and the extent of the destruction.
“We are still waiting for a full picture of how many villages are depopulated versus how many were destroyed,” he said.

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As world leaders meet at UN, opinion hardens against Myanmar

The Associated Press
Mon, 2017-09-18 03:00

UNITED NATIONS: International opinion hardened against Myanmar on Monday as the US, Britain and other powers renewed calls for an end to violence against Rohingya Muslims, whose plight is overshadowing the Southeast Asian nation’s historic transition to democracy.
A year ago at the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, Myanmar was being lauded for staging elections and shifting peacefully from decades of oppressive military rule.
At this year’s UN session, Myanmar, also known as Burma, appeared in danger of being an international outlier again.
Outrage is growing over a military crackdown that has triggered an exodus of more than 400,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh in less than a month in what the UN has described as “ethnic cleansing. “
Last week, the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body, condemned the violence in its first statement on Myanmar in nine years.
On Monday, Britain presided at a meeting of several Western and Muslim-majority governments that urged senior Myanmar officials to stop abuses against the Muslim minority and restore humanitarian access.
Myanmar’s government has blamed the crisis on Rohingya insurgents who attacked security posts in Rakhine State in late August.
But the military’s heavy response has severely affected civilians. Human rights groups, which are demanding punitive sanctions against Myanmar, say satellite imagery shows dozens of settlements have been set on fire. Many fleeing Rohingya say their homes were burned by Myanmar troops or Buddhist mobs.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called the violence a “stain” on Myanmar’s reputation.
He urged action from the nation’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized for failing to speak out in defense of the Rohingya. The minority group is widely loathed by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar and viewed as outsiders despite the fact many have lived in the country for generations.
“It is vital that Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government make clear these abuses must stop,” Johnson said in a statement.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who spent nearly 15 years in house arrest under Myanmar’s former ruling junta, is skipping the UN gathering and will address her nation Tuesday.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said Monday’s meeting, attended by Myanmar’s national security adviser and deputy foreign minister, was productive but the situation remains dire. She urged the government to end military operations, grant humanitarian access and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians to their homes.
“People are still at risk of being attacked or killed, humanitarian aid is not reaching the people who need it, and innocent civilians are still fleeing across the border to Bangladesh,” Haley said.
Ministers from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Denmark also attended the closed meeting Monday. The British statement said the meeting urged Myanmar to implement recommendations of a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan calling for economic development and social justice to counter deadly violence between Buddhists and the Rohingya.
Also Monday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said one-third of the Rohingya community has been forced into exile and it requires a collective response by the international community to ensure their protection.
“We are waiting for Aung San Suu Kyi to give a strong answer and a real dialogue,” he told reporters.

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Trump campaign adviser was wiretapped under secret court orders -CNN

Tue, 2017-09-19 03:36

WASHINGTON: US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the 2016 election, CNN reported on Monday.
The New York Times, citing two people close to the case, also reported that prosecutors told Manafort they planned to indict him. Federal agents had raided Manafort’s Virginia house in July.
Manafort is one of several close advisers who helped President Donald Trump win the 2016 election and who are now being investigated as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of alleged Russian interference in the US vote.
Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager in June 2016 but was forced to resign two months later amid reports of his business relationship with the Kremlin-backed former Ukrainian leader, Viktor Yanukovich.
Manafort’s attorney and the White House did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment on the stories.
The secret court that oversees warrant requests under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act initially authorized monitoring of Manafort but discontinued it at some point in 2016 for lack of evidence, CNN said, citing one of its sources.
The FBI resumed surveillance under a new FISA warrant at some point last year and continued to monitor him into 2017, CNN said. The second warrant was obtained as part of the FBI’s investigation into ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives, it said.
FISA warrants require the approval of top FBI and Justice Department officials, and law enforcement has to demonstrate to the court that there is reason to believe that the subject of the investigation may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
CNN said interest in Manafort deepened because of intercepted communications between him and Russian operatives, and among the Russians. The government eavesdropping continued into 2017, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to Trump after he became president. CNN said it was unclear if Trump was picked up on the surveillance.
The FBI was not listening in June 2016 when Donald Trump Jr., Manafort and top White House adviser Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer who had promised to deliver negative information on Trump’s rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, CNN said.
Russia has denied interfering in the US election and Trump has denied there was collusion.

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