BEIJING: Beijing on Thursday accused American politicians of corruption and hypocrisy in its yearly rebuttal to US criticisms of China’s human rights record, saving an extra heaping of invective for the country’s divisive presidential race.
“In 2016, money politics and power-for-money deals controlled the presidential election, which was full of lies and farces. There were no guarantees of political rights,” Beijing’s report said.
“Waves of boycotts and protests fully exposed the hypocritical nature of US democracy,” it added, without mentioning restrictions on freedom of speech in China.
The report was issued by China’s Cabinet in response to the US State Department’s annual survey of human rights in 199 countries released Friday. Beijing does not release rights reports on other countries.
Human rights are a longstanding source of tensions between China and the US, which imposed sanctions after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing left hundreds, by some estimates more than 1,000, dead.
Unlike the US, China does not have a democratic multi-party system. The Chinese Communist Party has repeatedly imprisoned those who openly challenge its right to rule or have protested publicly.
However, Beijing’s report highlighted recent cases of police violence and racial discrimination in America to argue that the US is in no position to take the moral high ground.
The report relied heavily on coverage by US media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Beijing is highly sensitive about critical coverage of its political system in the international press, with multiple journalists being denied authorization to stay in China in recent years.
The US State Department’s own report accused China of “repression and coercion” of civil society groups. It also noted encroachment on residents’ liberties in the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau.
In another development, China on Thursday demanded the US “stop its cyberattacks” after Wikileaks released a trove of documents which they said exposed the CIA’s hacking operations.
According to the documents leaked this week, the US spy agency has produced more than 1,000 malware systems — viruses, trojans, and other software that can infiltrate and take control of target electronics.
“We are concerned about the relevant reports. China is opposed to any forms of cyberattacks,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said.
“We urge the US side to stop its wiretapping, video surveillance, espionage and cyberattacks on China and other countries,” Geng Shuang told reporters at a regular press conference.
“China will firmly safeguard its own cybersecurity. It is ready to enhance dialogue and cooperation with the international community to formulate a set of international rules on cyberspace acceptable to all parties,” he added.
By infecting and effectively taking over the software of smartphones, WikiLeaks said, the CIA can get around the encryption technologies of popular apps like WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram, Weibo, and Confide by collecting communications before they are encrypted.
The CIA on Wednesday denounced the leaks, saying they put agents in danger and aid the enemies of the US.
China and America regularly carry out cyberattacks on the other, to the detriment of bilateral ties.
BEIJING: Beijing on Thursday accused American politicians of corruption and hypocrisy in its yearly rebuttal to US criticisms of China’s human rights record, saving an extra heaping of invective for the country’s divisive presidential race.
KUALA LUMPUR: North Korea guaranteed the safety of Malaysians banned from leaving the country, Malaysia’s prime minister said on Thursday, as two Malaysian UN employees left the isolated state in a possible sign that diplomatic tensions had begun to settle.
North Korea had barred Malaysians from leaving the country on Tuesday, sparking tit-for-tat action by Malaysia as relations soured over its investigation into the murder last month of Kim Jong Nam, the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
After earlier this week accusing North Korea of assassinating Kim Jong Nam with a banned chemical weapon and of treating Malaysians like hostages, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken a softer line to get his citizens out of the secretive, nuclear-armed state.
“Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea will not be severed, as we need to continue communicating with them to find a solution,” Najib said in a statement on his blog.
But, he added that his government “will not relent from a firm approach” in dealings with North Korea.
The departure of two Malaysians working for the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) meant nine still remained at the embassy in Pyongyang. They included three diplomats and six family members.
“The government of North Korea has given a guarantee of safety,” Najib said in a message on social network Twitter. “They are free to do their daily activities, but they cannot leave the country.”
Najib confirmed on Twitter that the two WFP staffers, Stella Lim and Nyanaprakash Muniandy, had left North Korea and reached Beijing.
It was unclear why the pair, who according to a Malaysian government official held UN passports, had been allowed to go.
Malaysian sources familiar with the matter said negotiations were underway between the two countries to resolve their issues, including the removal of the ban on Malaysians leaving North Korea, but were not expected to end soon.
The UN has called for calm between Malaysia and North Korea and urged them to settle their differences through “established diplomatic practice.”
Najib said any negotiations with Pyongyang would be conducted behind closed doors.
“I can only disclose that the government is in the process of establishing the reasons and motives behind the actions of North Korea,” he said.
South Korean intelligence officers say Kim Jong Un had issued standing orders for the elimination of his elder half-brother who was known to have criticized his family’s regime.
Malaysian police have identified eight North Koreans in connection with the case. They say are three still in Kuala Lumpur, hiding at the North Korean embassy.
Malaysia is one of the few countries that has for decades maintained ties with the isolated state. But as relations plunged in the wake of the murder, Malaysia recalled its envoy from Pyongyang and expelled the North Korean ambassador.
A source with direct knowledge of the situation said that no other country was involved in the talks now underway, not even its China, which has friendly relations with both.
“Malaysia has not asked China to get involved,” the source told Reuters. “Malaysia wants to resolve this bilaterally relying on its existing good relations with North Korea.”
Najib said he had spoken by telephone to Mohd Nor Azrin Md Zain, the counsellor at the Malaysian embassy in Pyongyang.
“Thank God he, his family and the other Malaysians are safe,” Najib said on Twitter.
Reuters spoke to Nor Azrin earlier in the week.
“We are still here. We have been given the assurance that nothing has changed,” he said.
SAN JOSÉ PINULA, Guatemala: Guatemala declared three days of mourning after a blaze Wednesday in a government-run children’s shelter killed at least 29 teenage girls and focused attention on allegations of sexual and other abuse in the facility.
All those killed were aged between 14 and 17.
Most died of burns in the fire in the Virgin of the Assumption Safe Home in San Jose Pinula, 10 kilometers East of Guatemala City, officials said.
A total of 38 other people were injured, 16 of them in critical condition, hospital officials said.
President Jimmy Morales said on national television that he had ordered the dismissal of the shelter’s director.
The blaze was believed to have started during an overnight rebellion in the center, which holds nearly double the 400 people it was designed to house. Some youths tried to escape, news reports said.
Morales said that before the fire, orders had been given to transfer some of the youths to other facilities because of the overcrowding.
“They were serving food to the teenagers when some of them started a fire in a mattress and that’s how the fire was set,” said Abner Paredes, a prosecutor defending children’s rights.
Human rights activists held a vigil Wednesday night, lighting candles and placing flowers outside the shelter and in the main square in Guatemala City.
“It was a ticking time bomb. This was to be expected,” one of the center’s former employees, Angel Cardenas, said outside.
He said he had lodged several warnings about conditions inside.
At the entrance of the shelter — whose imposing, barbed wire-topped concrete wall showed no sign of the drama inside — crying relatives crowded the entrance. They were searching for news of the children kept there. Police blocked access to them and to journalists.
A few survivors were seen hugging kin on the pine tree-lined road. But many other family members were left unattended.
“They don’t want to give any information at all,” said Rosa Aguirre, a 22-year-old street vendor who had rushed from the capital to see if her two sisters, aged 13 and 15, and her 17-year-old brother were among the casualties.
She said many frustrated people had gone to hospitals to see if their relatives were there.
Aguirre said she, too, had lodged complaints about how the center’s residents were treated, but received no attention.
She said brawls broke out inside often, and her brother was sometimes put in a dark isolation cell nicknamed the “chicken coop.”
She said she had tried in vain to gain custody of her siblings after their mother’s death four months ago.
Guatemalan media said the shelter’s occupants had revolted overnight and into Wednesday against alleged sexual abuse by staff, and over poor food and conditions.
The center, supervised by state authorities, hosts minors under age 18 who are victims of domestic violence or found living on the street.
They are sent there by court order and are under the responsibility of the Social Welfare Ministry.
The shelter has been the target of multiple complaints alleging abuse. Dozens of children have run away in the past year, reportedly to escape ill treatment.
The government decreed three days of mourning.
A prosecutor for upholding children’s rights, Hilda Morales, told reporters she was requesting the shelter be closed due to welfare authorities’ inability to manage it.
“We are going to ask for the immediate closure of the center, and attribute administrative and criminal responsibility against those in charge of the center for not fulfilling their duty,” she said.
She noted that last year the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had found in favor of several adolescents who had alleged mistreatment and sexual abuse in the shelter.
Another tasked with protecting children in the country, Harold Flores, told the radio station Emisoras Unidas that since last year complaints had surged against the shelter over minors fleeing to escape alleged sexual abuse there.
MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday pleaded for help from mayors in Muslim parts of the south to deal with Islamist militants, and threatened to impose martial law there if the problem is not tackled.
The largely Roman Catholic Philippines has been struggling to thwart two small but violent Daesh-linked groups behind kidnappings, piracy, bombings and the recent beheading of a German captive.
“I plead before you because I do not want the trouble in (the southern island of) Mindanao to spin out of control,” Duterte told mayors in a speech in Davao.
“Because then, as president, I will be forced, I will be compelled, to exercise the extra-ordinary powers.”
He added: “Help me. If not, you know, martial law, then I have to authorize the military just to arrest them, detain you.”
The Philippines is fighting Abu Sayyaf militants on two remote islands in the south. The government is seeking the support of separatists who are talking peace with the government to root out groups with extremist agendas.
After years of denials by the Philippines that Daesh is seeking a foothold in the country, Duterte’s administration says it is now certain that local rebels are in contact with Middle East extremists and receiving funds.
Duterte has warned of a “contamination” and the possibility of Daesh fighters driven from Iraq and Syria taking refuge in the Philippines.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Abu Sayyaf’s kidnappings were a national embarrassment, with the number of hostages increasing to 31 from 18 captives when Duterte came to power on June 30.
“It’s giving me a headache,” he told reporters, adding the military’s deadline to eliminate the militants by June was unrealistic.
“Sometimes, I couldn’t sleep at night.”
He said the army would move an infantry division to Jolo island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold where most of the captives are held. A marine and naval task force would be deployed to tackle piracy.
Lorenzana said the Philippines would jointly patrol southern seas with Indonesia and Malaysia from April, creating a sea lane for the merchant ships Abu Sayyaf has been intercepting.
Defense secretary suspicious
of Chinese activities
The Philippine defense minister on Thursday said he was “disturbed” by what he believes are survey missions by Chinese ships deep into its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and in an area designated as its continental shelf.
Lorenzana said Chinese ships had been monitored in recent months at various locations close to the Philippines. A warship was detected 70 miles off its Western coast in the South China Sea and survey ships were seen at the north and south of the eastern seaboard.
While Duterte has frequently praised China amid a warming relationship, Lorenzana has remained openly suspicious, noting that its fortification of manmade islands inside the Philippine EEZ has continued.
China claims most of the energy-rich waters through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.
Lorenzana said that satellite imagery provided by allies had tracked Chinese vessels for three months last year in Benham Rise, a vast area declared by the UN as part of the Philippines’ continental shelf.
“I am disturbed by China’s presence there, it is annoying if they will claim the area,” he told Reuters.
Lorenzana earlier gave a presentation to media showing where Chinese vessels had been and said he was suspicious of its activities to the east, because China had never laid claim to those waters.
He told reporters he had received information suggesting China may have been surveying water depths to prepare submarine routes to the Pacific. He has told the navy to intercept vessels if they return.
The reported Chinese activity comes as the two countries seek to forge closer trade and investment ties under Duterte after years of bickering and mistrust, mostly over the South China Sea.
DENPASAR, Indonesia: A British former war correspondent will be released from a Bali prison in a matter of months after being handed a short jail term Thursday for using hashish on the Indonesian resort island.
Ex-Reuters journalist David Fox, 55, was found guilty of drug use at a court in the Balinese capital Denpasar after being caught with a few grams of hash, and given a seven-month jail term.
His sentence will be reduced by time already served in detention since his arrest in October with an Australian businessman, meaning he should be released in May.
Fox, who said he used hashish to relieve stress caused by covering conflict, could have been jailed for several years for breaking Indonesia’s tough anti-drugs laws which include the death penalty for traffickers.
But prosecutors praised him for politeness and admitting wrongdoing during his trial. Fox admitted he became addicted to the drug to deal with post-traumatic stress from war reporting and vowed never to use it again.
He worked for Reuters for over 20 years and covered conflicts and natural disasters in countries including Bosnia, Rwanda, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. He left the agency in 2011.
After the verdict was handed down, Fox said he felt “relieved.”
“I’m very very grateful, I think the court recognized the circumstances of my peculiar case,” he told reporters.
Chief Judge Erwin Djong told the court that Fox was “legally and convincingly proven guilty of committing… the crime of unlawful use of narcotics” as he handed down the jail term.
Djong added the sentence would be reduced by the time that Fox had already served in detention.
It was lower than the one year recommended by prosecutors at an earlier hearing.
The Briton was detained on the resort island, where he had been living for several years, after the arrest of Australian Giuseppe Serafino, who runs a bar on Bali.
Authorities raided the house of Serafino, 49, after a tip-off from local residents that a foreigner living there had been using drugs.
Police found about 7 grams (quarter of an ounce) of hashish in the house and Serafino named Fox as someone who helped him buy the drugs.
Authorities then detained Fox and found 10 grams of hashish in the Briton’s pocket and at his house. Serafino is also on trial and will be sentenced next week.
Jakarta has sparked global outrage by hauling an increasing number of foreign drug convicts before the firing squad over the past two years.
Foreigners are regularly arrested for drugs offenses on Bali, which attracts millions of visitors to its palm-fringed beaches every year.
NAMIE, Fukushima: Beyond radiation risks, an unexpected nuisance looms for Japanese returning to towns vacated after the Fukushima nuclear crisis six years ago — wild boars.
Hundreds of the animals, which have been known to attack people when enraged, descended from surrounding hills and forests into towns left deserted after the 2011 disaster.
Now they roam the empty streets and overgrown backyards of Japan’s deserted seaside town of Namie, foraging for food.
“It is not really clear now which is the master of the town, people or wild boars,” said Tamotsu Baba, mayor of the town, which has been partially cleared for people to return home freely at the end of the month.
“If we don’t get rid of them and turn this into a human-led town, the situation will get even wilder and uninhabitable.”
At the end of March, Japan is set to lift evacuation orders for parts of Namie, located just 4 km (2.5 miles) from the wrecked nuclear plant, as well as three other towns.
Residents fled to escape radiation spewed by the Fukushima Daiichi plant, whose reactors went into meltdown after it was struck by an earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
In the nearby town of Tomioka, hunter Shoichiro Sakamoto leads a team of 13 assigned to catch and kill the wild boars with air rifles. Twice a week, they set about 30 cage traps, using rice flour as bait.
“After people left, they began coming down from the mountains and now they are not going back,” he said. “They found a place that was comfortable. There was plenty of food and no one to come after them.”
Since last April, the squad has captured about 300 of the animals, and intends to keep up its work even after the evacuation orders are scrapped, Sakamoto added.
More than half of Namie’s former 21,500 residents have decided not to return, however, a government survey showed last year, citing concerns over radiation and the safety of the nuclear plant, which is being decommissioned.
But at town meetings earlier this year to prepare for the homecoming, residents had voiced worries about the wild boars.
“I’m sure officials at all levels are giving some thought to this,” said Hidezo Sato, a former seed merchant in Namie. “Something must be done.”
JAKARTA: Indonesian politicians, including the justice minister and ex-interior minister, and officials were implicated Thursday in a major corruption scandal estimated to have sucked about $170 million out of government coffers.
A special anti-corruption court began hearing a case that alleges huge amounts of money were siphoned off funds earmarked for a government project to issue new ID cards to the country’s 255 million inhabitants.
Even by the standards of graft-riddled Indonesia, one of the world’s most corrupt countries, the seriousness of the allegations has caused widespread shock.
One current Interior Ministry official and one former official from the same department were the first to go on trial Thursday at the Jakarta court over the controversy that allegedly took place from 2009 to 2015.
Parliament had agreed to allocate more than 5 trillion rupiah ($370 million) for the project but about half was allegedly embezzled and handed out to politicians and Interior Ministry officials, causing the state an estimated loss of $170 million, the court heard.
An indictment released as the case got under way named high-profile figures accused of receiving kickbacks, including Justice Minister Yasonna Laoly, former Interior Minister Gamawan Fauzi, parliamentary speaker Setya Novanto and other prominent lawmakers.
Several politicians named in the indictment have denied the allegations.
“This is horrendous because the allegations highlight corruption in procurement and the budgeting process in parliament,” said Tama Langkun of watchdog Indonesian Corruption Watch.
Indonesia was ranked 90th out of 176 countries and territories in NGO Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index last year. A No. 1 ranking represents the least corrupt.
LONDON: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Thursday accused the CIA of “devastating incompetence” for failing to protect its hacking secrets and said he would work with tech companies to develop fixes for them.
“This is a historic act of devastating incompetence, to have created such an arsenal and then stored it all in one place,” Assange said.
“It is impossible to keep effective control of cyber weapons… If you build them, eventually you will lose them,” Assange said.
Assange was speaking in a press conference streamed live from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has been living as a fugitive from justice since 2012.
He said his anti-secrecy website had “a lot more information” about the Central Intelligence Agency’s hacking operation but would hold off on publishing it until WikiLeaks had spoken to tech manufacturers.
“We have decided to work with them to give them some exclusive access to the additional technical details we have so fixes can be developed and then pushed out.
“Once this material is effectively disarmed by us we will publish additional details about what has been occurring,” he added.
Commenting on the press conference, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said Assange “should spend the rest of his life wearing an orange jumpsuit.”
“He’s an enemy of the American people and an ally to (Russian President) Vladimir Putin,” he said in a statement.
On Tuesday, WikiLeaks published nearly 9,000 documents it said were part of a huge trove leaked from the CIA, describing it as the largest ever publication of secret intelligence materials.
“This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA,” it said.
The documents showed that CIA hackers can turn a TV into a listening device, bypass popular encryption apps, and possibly control one’s car.
Most experts believe the materials to be genuine, and US media said Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is opening a criminal probe into the leak.
The source of the materials remained unclear.
The investigation could focus on whether the CIA was sloppy in its controls, or, as The Washington Post reported, it could be “a major mole hunt” for a malicious leaker or turncoat inside the agency.
WikiLeaks itself said the documents, hacking tools and code came from an archive that had circulated among US government hackers and private contractors.
“The CIA has been so careless to produce this material. So do various cyber mafia already have it? Do foreign intelligence agencies already have it? It’s quite possible numerous people already might have it,” Assange said.
An investigation would come as the CIA is already enmeshed in a politically-charged probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the US election last year in support of President Donald Trump’s campaign.
WikiLeaks has stunned the US government with a series of publications of top secret political, diplomatic and intelligence materials in recent years.
The CIA on Wednesday accused the group of endangering Americans, helping US rivals and hampering the fight against terror threats through its leaks.
A CIA spokeswoman would not confirm the authenticity of the materials published by WikiLeaks.
Nevertheless, said spokeswoman Heather Fritz Horniak, “The American public should be deeply troubled by any WikiLeaks disclosure designed to damage the intelligence community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries.”
“Such disclosures not only jeopardize US personnel and operations, but also equip our adversaries with tools and information to do us harm,” she said.
Horniak defended the CIA’s cyber operations, which the WikiLeaks materials showed focused heavily on breaking into personal electronics using a wide range of malware systems.
“It is CIA’s job to be innovative, cutting-edge, and the first line of defense in protecting this country from enemies abroad,” she said.
KHARTOUM: Sudan’s foreign ministry summoned the United States Charge d’Affairs in Khartoum on Thursday to protest President Donald Trump’s revised executive order banning citizens from six Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the US
“The United States Charge d’Affairs in Khartoum was summoned this afternoon and met the Deputy Foreign Minister who once again expressed Sudan’s disappointment at the order banning Sudanese citizens and those of other countries from traveling to the United States,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: Pakistan has indefinitely closed two border crossings with Afghanistan after opening them for two days to let through Afghans with visas, officials said on Thursday.
The official border crossings were abruptly ordered closed last month after a series of attacks Pakistan blames on militants sheltered in Afghanistan, heightening tension between the neighbors.
But Pakistan temporarily reopened the crossings on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, to allow the return home of stranded citizens of both countries holding valid travel documents.
Two men, a woman and a child were trampled to death in the resulting surge of more than 20,000 Afghans passing through the crossings, said Attahullah Khogyani, the government spokesman for Afghanistan’s border province of Nangarhar.
Pakistani official Niaz Mohammad, based in the border town of Torkham, said 24,000 Afghans had returned to Afghanistan on foot, while 700 Pakistanis returned home, before the border was closed again at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“There is no clarity on when the border will be reopened,” Mohammad said.
The closure chokes off a key trading route for landlocked Afghanistan, although it has been working to build trade ties with other neighbors, such as Iran. It also cuts off Pakistani traders from a steady market.
On Thursday, about 200 traders and transporters held a protest at Torkham, complaining that cargo on 800 stranded trucks was rotting, particularly meat and fruit.
“People have suffered billions of rupees of losses in the past three or four weeks,” said one protester, Ali Jan, a transporter.
“Their loaded vehicles have been standing by the road and there is no indication when the border will be opened.”
A Pakistani government official, who asked not to be named, said the border would stay closed until Afghanistan took action against a list of 76 “most-wanted terrorists” whose capture and handover by Kabul the Pakistani military demanded last month.
Relations between the two countries are tense, with each routinely accusing the other of doing too little to stop Taliban fighters and other militants from operating in its territory.
Pakistan has blamed several attacks last month, in which more than 130 people were killed, on Pakistani militants taking shelter in Afghanistan. Afghanistan denies the charges.
Last year, Pakistan started building a barrier at Torkham, angering Afghanistan, which rejects a colonial-era boundary line dating from 1893.