US, South Korea to launch major navy drill next week

Author: 
AFP
Fri, 2017-10-13 09:50
ID: 
1507879895321661500

SEOUL: The US and South Korea will kick off a major navy drill next week, the US navy said Friday, a fresh show of force against North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests.
Tensions over North Korea’s weapons program have soared in recent months with Pyongyang launching a flurry of missiles and conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions.
The US has since ramped up military drills with South Korea and Japan, its two closest regional in the region.
In a statement the US 7th Fleet said the USS Ronald Regan aircraft carrier and two US destroyers would take part in the drill alongside South Korean Navy vessels.
The exercise, slated for October 16 to 26 in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, would promote “communications, interoperability, and partnership,” the statement added.
The move will likely rile Pyongyang which had previous warned against any upcoming joint exercises.
“If US imperialists and the South Korean puppets ignite a nuclear war of aggression against us, it would only advance their own demise,” the state-run KCNA news agency said.
There has been a flurry of US military hardware movement around the Korean peninsula in recent days.
On Friday the nuclear-powered USS Michigan submarine arrived at South Korea’s southern port of Busan, according to Yonhap news agency, just days after another nuclear-powered submarine — the USS Tuscon — left after a five day visit.
Earlier this week the US flew two supersonic heavy bombers over the Korean peninsula, staging the first night-time joint aviation exercises with Japan and South Korea.
That mission came 17 days after four US F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1Bs flew over the peninsula.
President Donald Trump has engaged in an increasingly escalating war of words with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-Un, trading insults amid rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals.
On Tuesday Trump discussed “a range of options” with his national security team to respond to North Korea’s recent missile and nuclear tests.
It came days after he said that diplomatic efforts with North Korea have consistently failed, adding that “only one thing will work.”
The North’s missile and nuclear capabilities have made significant progress under Kim, who on Saturday told party officials that the country’s atomic weapons were a “treasured sword” to protect it from aggression.

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One year after King Bhumibol’s death, Thais prepare for final goodbye

Author: 
AFP
Fri, 2017-10-13 07:51
ID: 
1507875543721497900

BANGKOK: Monks led somber ceremonies across Thailand Friday to mark one year since the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as the grieving nation prepares to bid a final farewell to the beloved monarch in a spectacular cremation ceremony this month.
Revered as a demi-god and loved as a “father” of all Thais, Bhumibol commanded deep devotion during his historic 70-year reign.
The past year has drawn out remarkable scenes of collective mourning across the kingdom, with many Thais expunging color from their wardrobes and donning only black and white for most of the year.
The solemn mood has deepened this October as many Thais grapple with having to say goodbye during his cremation on the 26th, an elaborate five-day event that will send Bhumibol’s spirit to the afterlife.
On Friday black-clad Thais streamed into temples, state agencies and the courtyard of the Bangkok hospital where Bhumibol died to give alms to Buddhist monks in honor of the monarch.
“I don’t want the cremation ceremony to take place, I just can’t cope with it,” 57-year-old Kanokporn Chavasith, one of hundreds of mourners gathering outside the Grand Palace in Bangkok Friday, said through tears.
Another tearful mourner, 61-year-old Chalita U-sap, told AFP: “I want him to stay with us forever.”
As the massive funeral draws nearer, TV channels have been ordered to reduce their color saturation, refrain from overly-joyous content and roll out documentaries highlighting the monarch’s good works.
Businesses have erected portraits and tributes to the king, while parks and pavements have been lined with marigolds — a flower associated with Bhumibol because of its yellow color.
The mourning has been encouraged and orchestrated by the ultra-royalist junta that seized power in 2014 as Bhumibol’s health was declining.
A severe royal defamation law, which has been vigorously enforced by the junta and landed critics decades in jail, makes it difficult to measure the role that social pressure plays in drawing out displays of devotion.
Frank discussion of the monarchy and its role in Thai politics is barred under the lese majeste law, which has embedded a culture of self-censorship across the arts, media and academia.
Bhumibol’s successor, his 65-year-old son King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is similarly shielded from criticism by the draconian legislation.
The new monarch has yet to attain his father’s level of popularity and has made moves to consolidate control over the palace bureaucracy and reduce government oversight during his first year on the throne.
Thailand’s crown has limited formal power but is one of the world’s richest and wields influence behind the scenes with the loyalty of much of the business and military elite.

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G7 agrees to ramp up economic pressure on North Korea

Author: 
Reuters
Fri, 2017-10-13 06:59
ID: 
1507871929231353800

WASHINGTON: Group of Seven finance leaders agreed to co-operate in countering North Korean attempts to avert UN sanctions, a senior Japanese finance ministry official said on Thursday.
It is rare for G7 finance leaders to disclose they had met on the sidelines of a G20 gathering, which was a show of resolve among advanced economies to boost pressure on North Korea in the wake of its recent provocations, said Masatsugu Asakawa, Japan’s vice finance minister for international affairs.
“The G7 agreed on the need to apply maximum economic pressure on North Korea by cutting its revenue source and preventing it from abusing the global financial system,” Asakawa told reporters after attending the G7 gathering.
“We agreed to strengthen co-operation, including by (taking) steps to counter North Korean attempts to avert United Nations sanctions,” he said.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously in September to boost sanctions on North Korea, after the country conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test that month.
It was the ninth Security Council sanctions resolution over North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs since 2006, highlighting the struggle the United Nations faces in containing North Korea.
Asakawa attended the usually informal meeting of G7 advanced economies and a dinner session of G20 major countries on behalf of Finance Minister Taro Aso.
At the G20 meeting, Asakawa said Japan explained premier Shinzo Abe’s pledge to keep up Tokyo’s efforts to restore fiscal health and achieve its budget-balance target.
The G20 meeting also discussed prospects for global growth and potential risks, including repercussions from an expected steady withdrawal of monetary stimulus measures by the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank, Asakawa said.
“There was talk of various spill-over effects as central banks of advanced economies normalize monetary policy, and a shared understanding that such effects were among risks to the global economy,” he said.

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Trump to halt subsidies to health insurers

Author: 
KEN THOMAS and CATHERINE LUCEY | AP
Fri, 2017-10-13 03:00
ID: 
1507865924771113900

WASHINGTON: In a brash move likely to roil insurance markets, President Donald Trump plans to halt payments to insurers under the Obama-era health care law that he has been trying to unravel for months.
Two people familiar with the decision described the plan late Thursday night, seeking anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The White House said in a statement that the government cannot legally continue to pay the so-called cost sharing subsidies because they lack a formal authorization by Congress. The administration has been making the payments from month to month, even as Trump threated to cut them off to force Democrats to negotiate over health care.
The president’s action is likely to trigger a lawsuit from state attorneys general, who contend the subsidies to insurers are fully authorized by federal law, and the president’s position is reckless.
Word of Trump’s plan came on a day when the president had signed an executive order directing government agencies to design insurance plans that would offer lower premiums outside the requirements of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Frustrated over setbacks in Congress, Trump is wielding his executive to bring the “repeal and replace” debate to a head. He appears to be following through on his vow to punish Democrats and insurers after the failure of GOP health care legislation.
On Twitter, Trump has termed the payments to insurers a “bailout,” and administration officials have questioned their legal authorization. It’s unclear if the president will get Democrats to negotiate by stopping payment.
Experts have warned that cutting off the money would lead to a double-digit spike in premiums, on top of increases insurers already planned for next year. That would deliver another blow to markets around the country already fragile from insurers exiting and costs rising. Insurers, hospitals, doctors’ groups, state officials and the US Chamber of Commerce have urged the administration to keep paying.
Leading GOP lawmakers have also called for continuing the payments to insurers, at least temporarily, so constituents maintain access to health insurance. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, is working on such legislation.
The so-called “cost-sharing” subsidies defray out-of-pocket expenses for people with low-to-modest incomes, and can reduce a deductible of $3,500 to a few hundred dollars. Assistance is available to consumers buying individual policies; people with employer coverage are unaffected by the dispute.
Nearly 3 in 5 HealthCare.gov customers qualify for help, an estimated 6 million people or more. The annual cost to the government is currently about $7 billion.
But the subsidies have been under a legal cloud because of a dispute over whether the Obama health care law properly approved the payments to insurers. Adding to the confusion, other parts of the Affordable Care Act clearly direct the government to reimburse the carriers.
For example, the ACA requires insurers to help low-income consumers with their copays and deductibles.
And the law also specifies that the government shall reimburse insurers for the cost-sharing assistance that they provide.
But there’s disagreement over whether the law properly provided a congressional “appropriation,” similar to an instruction to pay. The Constitution says the government shall not spend money unless Congress appropriates it.
House Republicans trying to thwart the ACA sued the Obama administration in federal court in Washington, arguing that the law lacked specific language appropriating the cost-sharing subsidies.
A district court judge agreed with House Republicans, and the case has been on hold before the US appeals court in Washington. Up to this point the Trump administration continued making the payments, as the Obama administration had done.
A panel of appellate judges recently ruled that a group of states can defend the legality of the subsidies if the Trump administration decides to stop paying.
While the legal issue seems arcane, the impact on consumers would be real.
Independent experts estimate that premiums for a standard “silver” plan will increase by about 19 percent without the subsidies. Insurers can recover the cost-sharing money by raising premiums, since those are also subsidized by the ACA, and there’s no legal question about their appropriation.
Consumers who receive tax credits under the ACA to pay their premiums would be shielded from those premium increases.
But millions of others buy individual health care policies without any financial assistance from the government and could face prohibitive increases. It’s also estimated that taxpayers would end up spending more.

Main category: 

UK won’t comment on reported death of ‘white widow’

Author: 
ARAB NEWS
Fri, 2017-10-13 03:00
ID: 
1507837342917464500

LONDON: Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman refused on Thursday to comment on a newspaper report that a British jihadi who recruited for Daesh has been killed in Syria by a US drone, Reuters reported.
“I’ve seen the reports, I don’t have any comments to make in relation to this specific case,” the spokesman said. He repeated government advice warning against all travel to Syria.
Sally Jones was killed along with her 12-year-old son, The Sun newspaper reported.
The paper said that Jones, who recruited female foreign terrorists, let the group brainwash her son JoJo.
Jones — who left her home in Chatham, Kent, with Jojo in 2013 to join Daesh — regularly used him as a human shield, said The Sun.
Last year, Jojo’s heartbroken grandparents identified him in a Daesh execution video.
Standing behind a row of kneeling prisoners in orange boiler suits, the boy brandished a pistol moments before the men were murdered.
The Sun said that it was a world away from his Kent childhood, with relatives describing him as a gentle animal-loving lad. One said: “He would never even tread on an ant.”

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Pakistan desires peace and cordial relations with India, says army chief

Author: 
Sib Kaifee
Fri, 2017-10-13 03:00
ID: 
1507836889677410200

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, has reiterated Islamabad’s desire for a resumption of dialogue with India and for peaceful relations with its eastern neighbor. Both nations are engaged in border skirmishes resulting in loss of life along the disputed boundary of Jammu and Kashmir.
Speaking at a seminar of Interplay of Economy and Security on Wednesday, Gen. Bajwa said, “It takes two hands to clap” and without India reciprocating, issues will remain unresolved between the nuclear-armed rivals.
“With a belligerent India on our east and an unstable Afghanistan on our west, the region remains captive due to historical baggage and negative competition,” said Bajwa.
He stressed that Pakistan had worked hard toward making a “deliberate and concentrated effort to pacify the western border through a multitude of diplomatic, military and economic initiatives.”
Gen. Bajwa’s remarks come nearly a week after the former chiefs of Pakistan and India’s prime intelligence agencies said that diplomatic communication channels were essential and must remain open for the sake of both countries’ national interests.
Inter-Services Intelligence’s (ISI’s) former Director-General Ehsan ul Haq, and former Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) spymaster, Amarjit Singh Dulat, took part in a debate at the London School of Economics in which both underlined that talks were the only option for resolving long standing issues.
Ehsan, responding to a question, said: “Interaction must be such that even when there is a breakdown in diplomatic relations between states and entities, the intelligence channel must continue because that becomes the last resort for venting and pre-empting crisis; the initiative for this has to come down from the political level.”
Ehsan’s former counterpart agreed and said that India should not cut ties with Pakistan as it made no sense to him. Pointing to history, he explained that even in the worst days of the Cold War, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Russian Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB) talked to each other.
On the other hand, Aqab Malik, security and strategy analyst at Pakistan’s National Defense University, believes that “India doesn’t want to engage because Americans are angry at Pakistan” and they (the Americans) are seeking a greater role for India in ending the Afghanistan conflict.
“It’s also mutual interest,” he said speaking to Arab News, and referring to the uncanny relationship between US President Donald Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He stressed that even in “100 years” India would not be friends with Pakistan. “Thinking otherwise would be living in a fool’s paradise.”
“We can’t compete in any way with India except when it comes to nuclear weapons. India has long term aims but we don’t and that’s why they don’t care about opening communication channels,” said Malik, explaining the large differences between both countries and noting that Pakistan is on the weaker footing.
Over the last 15 months the militaries of both countries have violated the cease-fire agreement — India claiming over 600 and Pakistan countering with a claim of 700 violations. The trust deficit has only grown over several decades with a dimming of hopes for a viable solution to end the Kashmir and eastern border dispute.
Pakistan’s foreign secretary, briefing the heads of missions of the permanent members of the UN Security Council in Islamabad, stressed the unprecedented escalation by Indian occupation forces at the line of control and the working boundary in 2017. She expressed grave concern over the increased frequency and duration of indiscriminate firing/shelling from the Indian side, deliberately targeting villages and civilian populated areas. This has resulted up to now in the deaths of 45 civilians and injuries to 155, including women and children.
Pakistan said it has displayed exemplary restraint but has been compelled to respond.
Malik painted a grim picture and said: “We are a thorn in their side and an obstacle to India’s ambition to become a regional power. That’s why there will never be a solution to the conflict between Pakistan and India.”

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US, Israel quit UN heritage agency citing bias

Author: 
John Irish | Reuters
Fri, 2017-10-13 01:13
ID: 
1507835434867215300

JEDDAH/PARIS: The US and Israel on Thursday announced that they were pulling out of UNESCO because of what Washington sees as its anti-Israel bias and a need for “fundamental reform” of the UN cultural agency.
While the Trump administration had been preparing for a likely withdrawal for months, the announcement by the State Department on Thursday rocked UNESCO’s Paris headquarters, where a heated election to choose a new director is underway.
UNESCO is best known for designating World Heritage Sites such as the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and the Grand Canyon National Park.
“This decision was not taken lightly, and reflects US concerns with mounting arrears at UNESCO, the need for fundamental reform in the organization, and continuing anti-Israel bias,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his could was also quitting the agency, saying it had become a “theater of the absurd because instead of preserving history, it distorts it.”
He said he has ordered Israeli diplomats to prepare Israel’s withdrawal from the organization in concert with the Americans.
The outgoing UNESCO chief expressed her “profound regret” at the decision and tried to defend the reputation of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, best known for its World
Heritage program to protect cultural sites and traditions.
“After receiving official notification by the United States Secretary of State, Mr. Rex Tillerson, as UNESCO director general, I wish to express profound regret at the decision of the United States of America to withdraw from UNESCO,” Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO, said in a statement sent to Arab News.
“Universality is critical to UNESCO’s mission to strengthen international peace and security in the face of hatred and violence, to defend human rights and dignity,” Bokova added.
The US stopped funding UNESCO after it voted to include Palestine as a member in 2011, but the State Department has maintained a UNESCO office and sought to weigh on policy behind the scenes. The US now owes about $550 million in back payments.
In a statement, the US State Department said the decision will take effect Dec. 31, 2018, and that the US will seek a “permanent observer” status instead. It cited US belief in “the need for fundamental reform in the organization.”
Several diplomats who were to have been posted to the mission this summer were told that their positions were on hold and advised to seek other jobs. In addition, the Trump administration’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year contains no provision for the possibility that UNESCO funding restrictions might be lifted.
Bokova said in 2011, when payment of membership contributions was suspended at the 36th session of the UNESCO General Conference, “I said I was convinced UNESCO had never mattered so much for the United States, or the United States for UNESCO.”
She said: “At the time when conflicts continue to tear apart societies across the world, it is deeply regrettable for the United States to withdraw from the United Nations agency promoting education for peace and protecting culture under attack.” 
At the time when the fight against violent extremism calls for renewed investment in education, in dialogue among cultures to prevent hatred, it is deeply regrettable that the United States should withdraw from the United Nations agency leading these issues,” she said.

Trump effect
The organization, which employs around 2,000 people worldwide, most of them based in Paris, has struggled for relevance as it becomes increasingly hobbled by regional rivalries and a lack of money.
UNESCO, whose full name is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is in the process of selecting a new chief, whose priority will be to revive its fortunes.
The US move underscores the skepticism expressed by President Donald Trump about the need for the US to remain engaged in multi-lateral bodies. The president has touted an “America First” policy, which puts US economic and national interests ahead of international commitments.
Since Trump took office, the United States has abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and withdrawn from the Paris climate deal. Washington is also reviewing its membership of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, which it also accuses of being anti-Israel.
“The absence of the United States or any large country with a lot of power is a loss. It’s not just about money, it’s promoting ideals that are vital to countries like the United States, such as education and culture,” a UNESCO-based diplomat said, warning that others could follow.
For differing reasons, Britain, Japan and Brazil are among states that have yet to pay their dues for 2017.
Russia’s former envoy to UNESCO told RIA news agency the agency was better off without the Americans.
“In recent years, they’ve been of no use for this organization,” Eleanora Mitrofanova said. “Since 2011 they have practically not been paying to the budget of this organization… They decided to exit — this is absolutely in line with Trump’s general logic today.”
After four days of secret balloting to pick a new UNESCO chief, Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari qualified for the Friday runoff.
France’s Audrey Azoulay and Egypt’s Moushira Khattab were tied in second. One will be eliminated after another vote by 58-member Executive Council on Friday. If the two finalists end level, they draw lots.
The election has exposed deep rivalries between Qatar and Egypt that has its roots in the crisis engulfing Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbors which have severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Doha after accusing it of sponsoring hard-line Islamist groups, a charge Qatar denies. 

(With Reuters)

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N. American family kidnapped by Afghan Taliban freed: Pakistan Army

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-10-12 15:58
ID: 
1507828459206598800

RAWALPINDI: A North American family that had been held hostage by the Afghan Taliban has been freed following an operation in Pakistan, the Pakistani military said Thursday.
The hostages are “safe and sound and are being repatriated to the country of their origin,” the army said in a statement, after the rescue in Kurram district, part of the semi-autonomous tribal belt along the Afghan border.
“Pak Army recovered 5 Western hostages including 1 Canadian, his US National wife and their three children from terrorist custody,” it said of the operation, which was launched after Pakistani authorities received intelligence from US officials.
It did not name the family, but Canadian Joshua Boyle and his American wife Caitlan Coleman were kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban during a backpacking trip in Afghanistan 2012, and are believed to have had at least two children while in captivity.
Pakistan officials provided no details about the operation.
“We welcome media reports that a family including US citizens has been released from captivity,” a US Embassy spokesman in Islamabad told AFP, without confirming the identity of the released hostages.
Pakistan has been under increased pressure from Washington to crack down on alleged militant sanctuaries inside its borders after US President Donald Trump lambasted the country in a televised address in August.
During the speech, Trump accused Islamabad of sheltering “agents of chaos” and suggested ties with Pakistan would be adjusted immediately but offered few details.
The last known footage of Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman surfaced in December last year when they appeared in video urging their governments to secure their release. They were pictured holding their two young sons, who had been born while they were in captivity.
It was not clear when the video was shot, but it was released after rumors swirled in Kabul that the government was planning to execute Anas Haqqani, son of the Taliban-allied Haqqani network’s founder, who has been held since 2014.
The Haqqani network has been accused of masterminding several high-profile terrorist attacks in the Afghan capital and have been known to kidnap Western hostages and smuggle them across the border into Pakistan.
Kurram tribal agency borders Nangarhar and Paktia provinces in Afghanistan. Both are riven by militancy, with the Daesh group gaining a foothold in Nangarhar and Paktia seen as a Haqqani stronghold.
Afghanistan is rife with militants and organized criminal gangs who stage kidnappings for ransom, often targeting foreigners and wealthy Afghans, who have been ferried over the border into Pakistan’s tribal belt.
The Taliban are also believed to be holding American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weekes, both professors at the American University of Afghanistan, who were dragged from their vehicles in Kabul by gunmen in August last year.
US Special Operations forces conducted a secret raid authorized by then-President Barack Obama to rescue them, but the hostages were not there, the Pentagon said at the time.
They most recently appeared in a hostage video released in June this year.

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Kenya bans opposition protests as election crisis deepens

Author: 
AFP
Thu, 2017-10-12 13:18
ID: 
1507828334886585600

NAIROBI: Kenya’s government on Thursday banned protests in main city centers, citing lawlessness during opposition rallies against the electoral commission ahead of a scheduled presidential poll re-run.
The move comes as opposition leader Raila Odinga called for daily protests next week to keep up pressure on election officials to reform, after his refusal to take part in the Oct. 26 vote plunged the country into uncertainty.
“Due to the clear, present and imminent danger of breach of peace, the government notifies the public that, for the time being, we will not allow demonstrations within the central business districts of Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu,” said Security Minister Fred Matiangi.
“The inspector general of police has been advised accordingly.”
The protests have seen hundreds of opposition supporters march through the streets, sometimes burning tires and clashing with police who have used tear gas to disperse crowds.
Though relatively small, the protests have caused outsized disruption, forcing shops to close up and deterring some from visiting city centers on demonstration days.
There have also been incidents of pickpocketing and muggings on the edges of the protests.
Matiangi said the protests had resulted in “attacks on police stations, attacks on police officers occasioning grievous bodily harm, serious disruption of normal business, assault on innocent civilians, destruction and looting of property,” and threatened legal action.
“It is the responsibility of the organizer that all participants remain peaceful. The organizers shall be held personally liable for any breach of law during the demonstrations,” he said.
Odinga said this week that he was withdrawing from the scheduled re-run, against President Uhuru Kenyatta whose victory in the original August poll was annulled last month by the Supreme Court citing widespread irregularities.
Odinga said that without fundamental reforms to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the vote would not be free and fair.
“All indications are that the election scheduled for Oct. 26 will be worse than the previous one,” he said, announcing his withdrawal Tuesday.
The IEBC has dismissed most of Odinga’s demands and on Wednesday said that he had not filled in the appropriate form withdrawing from the re-run and therefore was still a candidate alongside Kenyatta.
The commission also agreed to add six candidates who contested the original poll after the High Court ruled they should not be excluded.
In the most recent protests, on Wednesday, several people were injured in the western city of Kisumu, an opposition stronghold, where protesters clashed with police.
The banning of demonstrations sets the stage for more violence if NASA leaders push ahead with their threat to protest, with the next one promised on Friday.
Violence in the days following August’s vote left at least 37 dead, according to a rights group, with almost all of the victims killed by police, according to a local human rights group.

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Trump resists pressure to soften stance on Iran nuclear deal

Author: 
Reuters
Thu, 2017-10-12 14:44
ID: 
1507827591696507800

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump finds himself under immense pressure as he considers de-certifying the international nuclear deal with Iran, a move that would ignore warnings from inside and outside his administration that to do so would risk undermining US credibility.
Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely on Friday. There was always the chance he could still have a last-minute change of heart and certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”
Senior US officials, European allies and prominent US lawmakers have told Trump that refusing to certify the deal would leave the US isolated, concede the diplomatic high ground to Tehran, and ultimately risk the unraveling of the agreement.
Signed by the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the EU and Iran, the deal relieved sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbing its disputed nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded that Iran secretly researched a nuclear warhead until 2009, which Tehran denies. Iran has always insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and denies it has aimed to build an atomic bomb.
After Trump made clear three months ago he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the deal, his advisers moved to give him options to consider, a senior administration official said.
“They came up with a plan that protects the things they are concerned about but doesn’t recertify, which the president made clear he was not going to do. That ship has sailed,” according to the official.
The official said Trump has been telling foreign leaders and US lawmakers that his refusal to certify the Iran deal would not blow it up.
“He’s not walking away from it. The chances of him walking away from it go down if they work with him on making it better,” the official said.
White House officials said Trump is expected to announce a broad, more confrontational policy toward Iran directed at curbing its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and financial and military support for Hezbollah and other extremist groups.
Trump has said he believes the nuclear deal is too generous toward Iran and would not stop it from trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
He has criticized the agreement’s “sunset clauses,” under which some restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program would expire over time. He also wants to toughen language on ballistic missiles and inspections. The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran is complying with the agreement.
No renegotiation
European officials have categorically ruled out renegotiating the deal, but have said they share Trump’s concerns over Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East.
Several diplomats have said Europe would be ready to discuss sanctioning Iran’s ballistic missile tests and forming a strategy to curb Iran’s influence in the region.
Officials have also said there could be room to open a new negotiation for what happens once some of the core terms of the deal begin expiring in 2025, although there is no reason to believe Iran would be ready to enter in such a negotiation. Iran has said it may exit the deal if the US withdraws.
De-certifying would not withdraw the United States from the deal but it would give the US Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose the sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under the agreement.
One US official involved in administration said that declining to certify Iran’s compliance would probably leave all of the parties to the deal on one side and the US on the other.
“That means that while the French and others are also interested in curbing Iran’s destabilizing activities, they may be less likely to follow (the US lead at the risk of the agreement blowing up,” the official said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron both spoke to Trump this week to express their concerns about the potential decision not to recertify the Iran deal.
“If the feeling is that the United States no longer supports the agreement, then the political reality is that the agreement will be in serious jeopardy and its implementation will be very difficult,” a senior French diplomat said.
Two other US officials said Trump’s bellicose rhetoric on a number of fronts is troubling both many of his own aides and some of America’s closest allies, a few of whom have asked US officials privately if Trump’s real objective is attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
One of the officials said that like the heated rhetoric with North Korea on its nuclear program, the Iran discussion has vexed White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “who have tried to advise the President that there are significant risks in the course he’d prefer to pursue.”
“At the end of the day, though, everyone recognizes that he’s the decider.”
Trump allies who oppose the deal have watched the president closely to see if he might buckle under pressure.
“He’s not going to re-certify,” said Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump national security aide.
“I’m not worried. His gut instinct is absolutely right.”

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