TAIPEI: Taiwan will allow visa-free entry for visitors from the Philippines in hopes that the Southeast Asian nation will reciprocate the gesture, a spokesman for the self-ruled island’s cabinet said on Thursday.
Taiwan does not have formal diplomatic relations with the Philippines, which recognizes the “one China” policy under which Manila acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.
China considers Taiwan a renegade province to be taken back by force, if necessary.
Whether the visa-free policy takes effect in October or November is to be decided by the foreign ministry, said Hsu Kong-yung, the spokesman of Taiwan’s executive yuan, or cabinet.
“After we open up the visa-free arrangements, in view of equal mutual benefits, we also hope they will make visa-free arrangements with Taiwan,” he told a news conference.
Taiwan already has visa-free arrangements with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore. The government is continuing this year with a pilot scheme with Brunei and Thailand kicked off last year.
It is also considering visa-free arrangements with Indonesia and Vietnam, according to a government document seen by Reuters.
A government spokesman did not immediately answer telephone calls from Reuters to seek comment on the Indonesia and Vietnam plans.
TAIPEI: Taiwan will allow visa-free entry for visitors from the Philippines in hopes that the Southeast Asian nation will reciprocate the gesture, a spokesman for the self-ruled island’s cabinet said on Thursday.
SEOUL: North Korea has accused Donald Trump of exploiting the death of American student Otto Warmbier, referring to the US president as an “old lunatic” for alleging the 22-year-old was tortured while in Pyongyang’s custody.
In a statement issued by the state-run KCNA news agency, North Korea’s foreign ministry accused the US of “luring and pushing” Warmbier, who died days after being released from North Korea in a coma, into breaking the country’s laws.
“Trump and his clique, for their anti-DPRK propaganda, are again exploiting the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who had been under reform through labor for the criminal act he committed against the DPRK and died after returning to the U.S,” it said, using the acronym for the North’s official name.
BEIJING: China’s Defense Ministry said on Thursday that the Chinese military will make all necessary preparations to protect national sovereignty and regional peace and stability, when asked about the risk of conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian made the comments at a monthly briefing in Beijing when asked what preparations China was making in case a war breaks out.
Wu also reiterated China’s view that the issue should be resolved via talks, not military means, which he said were not an option to resolve tensions.
BEIJING: China has ordered North Korean companies in the country to shut down by January as it applies UN sanctions imposed following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test, the commerce ministry said Thursday.
The ministry said the companies, including joint ventures with Chinese firms, have 120 days to close from the date the United Nations resolution was adopted, September 11.
The announcement comes days after China confirmed that it will apply another major part of the sanctions: a limit on exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea starting October 1 and a ban on textiles from its neighbor.
China’s application of UN sanctions is particularly biting for North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang’s main ally and trading partner, responsible for around 90 percent of the hermit nation’s commerce.
The United States has pressed China to use its economic leverage to strong-arm North Korea into giving up its nuclear ambitions.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Beijing this weekend for talks with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
MOSCOW: A Moscow court said Thursday it had issued an arrest warrant for Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who helped orchestrate the country’s state-sponsored Olympic doping program and has since fled to the United States.
“The investigators put Rodchenkov on an international wanted list. Our court on September 21 issued a ruling to arrest him in absentia since he is wanted internationally,” the court’s spokeswoman Yunona Tsareva told AFP.
Rodchenkov is the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping lab that oversaw drug testing at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
In May 2016 he gave an interview to the New York Times describing an elaborate doping scheme that he said involved dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia’s Black Sea city of Sochi.
A bombshell report by a World Anti-Doping Agency independent commission published in November 2016 said Rodchenkov had admitted to “intentionally destroying” 1,417 test samples ahead of an audit.
As a result, Russian track and field athletes were barred from the Rio Olympics last year and from the athletics World Championships in London last month.
Russia has consistently denied running a state-run doping program, with deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko pinning all the blame on Rodchenkov’s laboratory and Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA).
The Investigative Committee, which probes serious crimes, opened a criminal investigation into Rodchenkov in 2016, accusing him of abuse of office, for which he could serve up to four years in jail.
In a New York Times op-ed piece published Friday, Rodchenkov said he fled his homeland because he feared for his life and his family’s safety.
Russia and the US do not have an extradition treaty.
YANGON: International aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine State, where an army offensive has sent 480,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.
The latest army campaign in the western state was launched in response to attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border on Aug. 25.
The government has stopped international non-government groups (INGOs), as well as UN agencies, from working in the north of the state, citing insecurity.
“INGOs in Myanmar are increasingly concerned about severe restrictions on humanitarian access and impediments to the delivery of critically needed humanitarian assistance throughout Rakhine State,” aid groups said in a statement late on Wednesday.
An unknown number of people are internally displaced, while hundreds of thousands lack food, shelter and medical services, said the groups, which include Care International, Oxfam and Save the Children.
“We urge the government and authorities of Myanmar to ensure that all people in need in Rakhine Sate have full, free and unimpeded access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.”
The government has put the Myanmar Red Cross in charge of aid to the state, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the groups said they feared insufficient aid was getting through given the “enormous” needs.
Relations between the government and aid agencies had been difficult for months, with some officials accusing groups of helping the insurgents.
Aid groups dismissed the accusations, which they said had inflamed anger toward them among Buddhists in the communally divided state.
The groups said threats, allegations and misinformation had led to “genuine fears” among aid workers, and they called for an end to “misinformation and unfounded accusations” and for the government to ensure safety.
The United Nations has accused the army of ethnic cleansing to push Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar, and rights groups have said the army has committed crimes against humanity and called for sanctions, in particular an arms embargo.
The United States said the army response to the insurgent attacks was “disproportionate” and the crisis raised questions about Myanmar’s transition to democracy after decades of military rule.
British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field described the situation as “an unacceptable tragedy” after visiting Myanmar and meeting leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Burma has taken great strides forward in recent years. But the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis in Rakhine risks derailing that,” Field said in a statement.
Britain, like other members of the international community, called for the violence to stop and humanitarian access to the area and for refugees to be allowed to return safely.
Suu Kyi has faced scathing criticism and calls for her Nobel prize to be withdrawn. She denounced rights abuses in an address last week and expressed concern about the suffering.
She also said any refugees verified as coming from Myanmar would be allowed to return.
Myanmar is getting ready to “verify” refugees who want to return, the government minister charged with putting into effect recommendations to solve problems in Rakhine said.
Myanmar would conduct a “national verification process” at two points on its border with Bangladesh under terms agreed during a repatriation effort in 1993, state media quoted Win Myat Aye, the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, as saying.
“After the verification process, the refugees will be settled in Dargyizar village,” the minister said, referring to a Rohingya village that was razed after Aug. 25, according to satellite imagery.
It is unclear how many refugees would be willing to return.
Previous government efforts to verify the status of Muslims in Rakhine were broadly rejected as under the process, Muslims would not be recognized as Rohingya, an ethnic identity they prefer but which Myanmar does not recognize.
Most Rohingya are stateless and regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
“As we’re Muslim, the government hates us. They don’t want our Rohingya community,” said refugee Zafar Alam, 55, sheltering from the rain under an umbrella near the Balukhali settlement in Bangladesh.
“I don’t think I’d be safe there. There’s no justice.”
The government would take control of fire-gutted land, Win Myat Aye said this week. Rights groups say about half of more than 400 Rohingya villages were torched.
Officials have announced plans for resettlement camps for the displaced, while UN officials and diplomats are urging the government to let people rebuild homes.
SEOUL: Disgraced former South Korean president Park Geun-hye was named as a witness on Thursday by an appeal court reviewing the conviction of Jay Y. Lee, the billionaire heir to the Samsung Group, on corruption charges.
Lee, 49, was sentenced to a five-year jail term after being found guilty last month of bribing Park to help him strengthen control over Samsung Electronics, the conglomerate’s crown jewel.
The scandal played a big part in downfall of Park, who was dismissed in March after being impeached, and the case cast a critical eye over the ties between South Korea’s chaebols — big family-owned corporate groups — and its political leaders.
Setting the order of proceedings on the first day of the appeal, the Seoul High Court also decided to call Park’s close friend and confidante Choi Soon-sil.
Park did not appear as a witness at Lee’s lower court trial, and Choi had declined to give testimony.
Both women are fighting allegations of corruption in the influence-peddling scandal.
Park has been charged with abuse of power, bribery, coercion and leaking government secrets. Choi has been charged with bribery, coercion and attempted fraud.
It was unclear whether either would appear during Lee’s appeal. If they declined to testify, a judge said he would take their names off the witness list, but would accept testimony from their trial as evidence in Lee’s case.
Lee was not present in court for the largely procedural first day of his appeal, but he is expected to attend on Oct. 12, when arguments are set to begin.
WHO GOES FIRST
While Park and Choi were the prosecution’s witnesses, Lee’s lawyers received approval for four defense witnesses, and argued that the defense’s questions should be heard first, complaining that the prosecution used the lion’s share of the court’s time during the initial trial.
Out of the 58 witnesses that took the stand during the lower court trial held between April and August, only eight were defense witnesses, and they were heard over three days in July.
“The special prosecution said they would take three hours for questioning a witness, then questioned them until 8 p.m. The time given to the defense was short, and long after dinner,” Kwon Soon-ik, one of Lee’s lawyers, told a small but packed court of about 50 people.
The prosecution, in response, denied that their questioning time took longer than the defense, citing trial records. The prosecution has also lodged a cross-appeal against the lower court ruling, which had found Lee innocent on some charges.
Under South Korean law, the appellate court is the last chance either side has to establish facts of the case. The Supreme Court, the final court of appeal, only decides on matters of legal interpretation.
Experts expected the appellate court to try to rule by next January, as under Korean law, Lee can only be kept in detention a maximum of four months while the court considers his appeal.
The case against Lee centered on whether Samsung Group companies’ actions, such as the merger of two Samsung affiliates, helped him strengthen control over Samsung Electronics, and whether a bribe was paid for Park’s help.
The lower court had found Lee guilty of bribing Park’s close friend Choi, who was not a civil servant, by paying 7.2 billion won ($6.27 million) to sponsor the equestrian career of Choi’s daughter. The court further said that the payment for Choi’s daughter could be “considered the same as she (Park) herself receiving it.”
Lee has appointed new lawyers in a legal team led by law firm Bae, Kim & Lee LLC.
($1 = 1,147.7200 won)
KUALA LUMPUR: Two Malaysian teenagers were charged with murder on Thursday, for setting fire to an Islamic boarding school that killed 23 people, mostly boys.
The fire in Kuala Lumpur on September 14 was the deadliest of its kind in two decades, and the tragedy sparked public outrage, with calls for greater safety and tougher regulation at religious schools.
The blaze had broken out in a top-floor dormitory at the three-story boarding school where most of the students were sleeping in bunk beds, with many of the windows barred by metal grilles.
The two accused were part of a group of seven youths, all male and aged between 12 and 18, who police said had started the fire after feuding with students from the boarding school. They lived in the neighborhood and did not attend the school.
Prosecutors declined to provide the suspects’ names or ages, citing Malaysia’s child protection laws, but said both the accused boys were minors.
“They are being tried jointly and are facing 23 counts of murder, one for each victim of the fire,” prosecuting lawyer Othman Abdullah told reporters outside a juvenile court in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia carries a mandatory death penalty for murder, but authorities have said it will not apply to the youths as they were underage. They could instead face jail time, whipping, fines or detention at an approved school.
The two, along with four others, are also facing drug use charges. All but one were minors, while another youth was released due to insufficient evidence, Othman said.
Those charged had tested positive for drugs, including marijuana and methamphetamine, according to a charge sheet sighted by Reuters.
The court has set November 28 as the date for the next hearing, Othman said.
ISLAMABAD: Despite public humiliation and periods of house arrest, the former leader of Pakistan’s notorious Red Mosque is inspiring a new generation of extremists with his old rhetoric — highlighting Islamabad’s ambivalent attempts to bring religious hard-liners to heel.
Ten years after the military raid on his mosque made international headlines and shocked his country, Abdul Aziz remains influential, overseeing a network of seminaries as he calls for a “caliphate” to be established in Pakistan.
During his time at the helm of the Red Mosque, Aziz shot to prominence for his inflammatory sermons, advocating jihad against the West and a hard-line interpretation of Islam.
He spread this message among his thousands of students, mostly poor children from rural areas who are educated for free at madrassas affiliated with the mosque, sparking accusations of brainwashing from critics.
By 2007 things had reached a tipping point.
His armed followers had begun taking his message to the streets of the capital, vandalising CD and DVD stalls and kidnapping Chinese masseuses, with tensions quickly degenerating into murderous clashes.
When the regime of then-President Pervez Musharraf launched an assault on the mosque on July 10, 2007, the army found itself facing heavily armed jihadists.
The controversial operation was followed minute-by-minute on live television, with more than 100 people killed in the week-long effort to pacify the mosque and arrest its leaders.
The attack on the religious site sparked ferocious blowback from extremists across the country, marking the emergence of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) — an umbrella organization for homegrown militant groups targeting the Pakistani state.
In the following years Islamist violence increased dramatically, with thousands of Pakistanis killed, maimed, or forced to flee their homes as security deteriorated.
Aziz himself was arrested as he tried to flee the besieged mosque in a burqa, taken straight to a television studio and paraded in the garment — earning the nickname “Mullah Burqa.”
He faced two dozen indictments, including incitement to hatred, murder and kidnapping. But Aziz was released on bail in 2009.
“He was acquitted in all these cases, and the government has chosen not to file appeals,” said lawyer and civil rights activist Jibran Nasir.
“There is no willingness for prosecution against him.”
Despite brief stints under house arrest, Aziz now appears to be galvanizing the next generation with his fiery preaching — apparently without fear of repercussions.
“The curious thing is that the army has gone after the TTP but not Aziz,” said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a leading anti-extremist activist.
“There’s sympathy for his cause that’s greater than the fear of being attacked again.”
Aziz is known to boast of his relations with well known jihadists like Osama Bin Laden and has spoken sympathetically about the Daesh group. He has also condoned high-profile extremist attacks, like the massacre at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris.
“The impunity enjoyed by Abdul Aziz and other radical clerics raises fear of the capital returning to a 2007-like situation,” said political commentator Zahid Hussain.
In 2014, a video of students from his madrassa voicing their support for Daesh did not earn him any condemnation.
“There should be a caliphate in the world including in Pakistan,” said Aziz in a televised interview around that time.
Aziz “is tolerated… because it would be like touching a hornet’s nest,” explains former general Talat Masood.
Given the sensitivity of the population to religious questions, intervening “would risk attracting sympathies.”
Authorities, however, appear to be keeping him on a tight leash for now.
Aziz is no longer welcome at the Red Mosque, which theoretically belongs to the state, and he has been placed on the Pakistan’s anti-terrorist list.
A rally planned by his supporters to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Red Mosque siege was banned by the courts.
In recent months, the authorities have blocked roads surrounding the mosque to prevent Aziz from holding rallies and have taken measures to stop him from preaching on Friday, even remotely by phone.
The Red Mosque’s new imam Maulana Aamir Sadeeq, an affable 30-year-old, said it was time to “forget the past” and “the extreme positions” of a decade ago.
“We must put a distance between terrorism and us,” said Sadeeq — who happens to be Aziz’s nephew.
LONDON: Two drivers were set to defend a British tribunal decision giving them workers’ rights at Uber on Thursday, the latest threat to the taxi app’s business model which is battling to keep its license in London.
The pair successfully argued last year that the Silicon Valley firm exerted significant control over them to provide an on-demand taxi service and had responsibilities in terms of the working rights it provides.
“Uber’s a transportation services company marketing itself to customers as giving a uniform experience and pricing of what it means ‘to take an Uber’,” the General Secretary of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which is representing the drivers, Jason Moyer-Lee told Reuters.
“In order to deliver their service it has to hire workers. They’re workers rather than in business on their own account,” he said.
Uber said at the tribunal on Wednesday that its drivers were self-employed, like those at long-standing rivals.
The self-employed in Britain are entitled to only basic protections such as health and safety, but those deemed to be workers receive benefits such as the minimum wage, paid holidays and rest breaks.
The tribunal is due to end on Thursday with the judge unlikely to deliver a decision for several weeks.
Last week London stripped the San Francisco-based business of its license to operate, citing the firm’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses, although its 40,000 drivers will still provide rides until an appeals process ends, which could take several months.