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Beijing praises new US ambassador’s ‘positive role’

Tue, 2017-05-23 01:17

WASHINGTON: The US Senate has confirmed Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the next ambassador to Beijing, providing US President Donald Trump with an envoy whose decades-long connection to China could smooth relations between the global powers.
The confirmation, by a bipartisan vote of 82 to 13, comes at a time when Trump is looking to Beijing, its biggest rival and trading partner, to step up economic pressure on North Korea’s irascible regime.
Branstad will be thrust into the heart of one of the most important and sensitive relationships in global diplomacy, one that faces rising tensions in the South China Sea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed hope that Branstad will help the relationship “develop in a sound and steady way” after assuming his post.
“For a long time, Mr. Branstad has been playing a positive role in promoting bilateral exchanges and friendship,” Hua said during a regular press briefing in Beijing.
The new US administration has yet to fully outline its policy with China, a nation Trump repeatedly attacked from the campaign trail last year.
But Trump’s aggressive tone has softened since his inauguration, including doing an about face after months of branding China a currency manipulator.
Branstad will help shepherd the 100-day action plan on economic cooperation that was launched between the two countries in April, when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Trump at the US leader’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Branstad, who like Trump is 70, has known Chinese President Xi Jinping since the mid-1980s, when the Asian leader visited Iowa as a provincial official.
The two have met numerous times since, both in China and in Branstad’s US heartland state, as he sought to promote Iowan agricultural exports.
Trade will be a critical element of the diplomacy. Earlier this month, the economic giants announced an agreement that gives US beef, natural gas and certain financial services access to China’s massive market, while Washington in exchange will allow cooked Chinese poultry to enter US markets.
“Iowa’s extensive trade relationship with China has given Governor Branstad a front-seat view of the complexities of our country’s broader trade and economic relationship with China and will provide him with the foundation to effectively advocate for US interests,” Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa said shortly before the Senate vote.
During his recent Senate confirmation hearing, Branstad said he would urge his friend Xi to honor a commitment to rein in North Korea, which has sent tensions soaring with a series of missile launches and tests.
Branstad, currently serving a sixth four-year term, is the longest-serving governor in US history.

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Pyongyang ‘flatly rejects’ UN vow to tighten sanctions

Tue, 2017-05-23 12:00

SEOUL: North Korea has “flatly rejected” a UN statement vowing to punish its latest banned missile test with tighter sanctions.
In a unanimous statement backed by Pyongyang’s ally China, the UN Security Council on Monday strongly condemned Sunday’s test-firing of the medium-range Pukguksong-2, instructing the UN sanctions committee to redouble efforts to implement a series of tough measures adopted last year.
A spokesman for Pyongyang’s foreign ministry blamed what it called “the US and its followers” for the declaration, the official Korean Central News Agency reported, saying they were “obsessed by inveterate repugnancy and hostility.”
“It is absolutely ridiculous to see them finding fault with the DPRK’s every measure for self-defense,” the spokesman added, using the acronym for the North’s official name. “We flatly reject the press statement.”
Pyongyang habitually issues threats and says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against the risk of invasion.
It has carried out two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the beginning of last year in its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the continental US.
The administration of US President Donald Trump has said military action was an option under consideration, sending fears of conflict spiralling.
More recently the US has said it is willing to enter into talks with North Korea if it halts its nuclear and missile tests.
The US-drafted Security Council statement was agreed on the eve of an emergency meeting requested by the US, Japan and South Korea to discuss a course of action on North Korea.
In it the Council agreed to “take further significant measures including sanctions” to force North Korea to change course and end its “highly destabilising behavior.”
Meanwhile, US anti-virus firm Symantec said the Lazarus hacking group, widely believed to be connected to North Korea, is “highly likely” responsible for the WannaCry global cyberattack that hit earlier this month,
North Korea has angrily dismissed earlier reports linking its isolated regime to the worm that crippled hundreds of thousands of computers, demanding payment in Bitcoin to return control to users.
But Symantec said the ransomware had many of the hallmarks of other Lazarus attacks, including the 2014 strike on Sony Pictures and a multimillion-dollar theft from the Bangladesh Central Bank.
Without mentioning the group’s links to North Korea, it said that prior to the global outbreak on May 12, an earlier version of WannaCry was used in a small number of attacks in the previous three months.
“Analysis… revealed substantial commonalities in the tools, techniques, and infrastructure used by the attackers and those seen in previous Lazarus attacks, making it highly likely that Lazarus was behind the spread of WannaCry.”
Up to 300,000 computers in 150 countries were hit by the WannaCry worm, which seizes systems and demands payment in Bitcoin to return control to users.

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Netanyahu: I hope one day an Israeli PM can fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday greeted American President Donald Trump upon his arrival in Ben Gurion Airport and expressed that his hopes that one day an Israeli prime minister could travel from Tel Aviv to Riyadh. “Mr President, you just flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv. I hope that one day an Israeli prime minister will be able to fly from Tel Aviv to Riyadh,” Netanyahu said. May your first trip to our region prove to be a historic milestone on the path towards reconciliation and peace. I look forward to working with you in the years ahead, Mr President, to advance security, prosperity and peace. “I am confident that under your leadership, the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United […]

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Kim Dotcom Disappoints: Offers Full Seth Rich Testimony But Only To Special Counsel Mueller

As promised over the weekend, Kim Dotcom has delivered his official statement on the Seth Rich murder.  Unfortunately, it’s a bit light on the details and more of a teaser along with a promise to disclose full details of his relationship with Seth Rich to Special Counsel Mueller in return for safe passage to and from the United States.

#SethRich was a hero#SethRich changed history#SethRich exposed the corrupt
Here is my statement >

— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 23, 2017


Here is the full statement as posted to Kim Dotcom’s website:

I know that Seth Rich was involved in the DNC leak.


I know this because in late 2014 a person contacted me about helping me to start a branch of the Internet Party in the United States. He called himself Panda. I now know that Panda was Seth Rich.


Panda advised me that he was working on voter analytics tools and other technologies that the Internet Party may find helpful.


I communicated with Panda on a number of topics including corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.


“He wanted to change that from the inside.”


I was referring to what I knew when I did an interview with Bloomberg in New Zealand in May 2015. In that interview I hinted that Julian Assange and Wikileaks would release information about Hillary Clinton in the upcoming election.


The Rich family has reached out to me to ask that I be sensitive to their loss in my public comments. That request is entirely reasonable.


I have consulted with my lawyers. I accept that my full statement should be provided to the authorities and I am prepared to do that so that there can be a full investigation. My lawyers will speak with the authorities regarding the proper process.


If my evidence is required to be given in the United States I would be prepared to do so if appropriate arrangements are made. I would need a guarantee from Special Counsel Mueller, on behalf of the United States, of safe passage from New Zealand to the United States and back. In the coming days we will be communicating with the appropriate authorities to make the necessary arrangements. In the meantime, I will make no further comment.

Meanwhile, early reaction from the Twittersphere is supreme disappointment:

.@KimDotCom on #SethRich ????

A bit disingenuous to suggest evidence’d be revealed but here’s hoping he’ll have a good meet w US Investigators

— Zach (@zachhaller) May 23, 2017

* * *

For those who missed it, here is some background on the lead up to today’s Kim Dotcom announcement:

Last week, Fox News dropped a bombshell report officially confirming, via anonymous FBI sources, what many had suspected for quite some time, that murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich was the WikiLeaks source for leaks which proved that the DNC was intentionally undermining the campaign of Bernie Sanders. In addition to exposing the corruption of the DNC, the leaks cost Debbie Wasserman Shcultz her job as Chairwoman.

Of course, if it’s true that WikiLeaks’ emails came from a DNC insider it would end the “Russian hacking” narrative that has been perpetuated by Democrats and the mainstream media for the past several months.  Moreover, it would corroborate the one confirmation that Julian Assange has offered regarding his source, namely that it was “not a state actor.”

Meanwhile, the plot thickened a little more over the weekend when Kim Dotcom confirmed via Twitter that he was working with Seth Rich to get leaked emails to WikiLeaks.

I knew Seth Rich. I know he was the @Wikileaks source. I was involved.

— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 20, 2017


Which was followed up by the following posts on 4Chan’s /pol/ subgroup that high-ranking current and former Democratic Party officials are terrified of the Seth Rich murder investigation.

“Anons, I work in D.C.


I know for certain that the Seth Rich case has scared the shit out of certain high ranking current and former Democratic Party officials.


This is the reason why they have backed away from impeachment talk. They know the smoking gun is out there, and they’re terrified you will find it, because when you do it will bring the entire DNC, along with a couple of very big name politicians.


It appears that certain DNC thugs were not thorough enough when it came time to cover their tracks. Podesta saying he wanted to “make an example of the leaker” is a huge smoking gun.”

The post went on to claim that a “smoking gun in this case is out of the hands of the conspirators” which has resulted in near “open panic” in DC circles.

“The behavior is near open panic. To even mention this name in D.C. Circles [sic] will bring you under automatic scrutiny. To even admit that you have knowledge of this story puts you in immediate danger.


If there was no smoke there would be no fire. I have never, in my 20 years of working in D.C. Seen [sic] such a panicked reaction from anyone.


I have strong reason to believe that the smoking gun in this case is out o [sic] the hands of the conspirators, and will be discovered by anon. I know for certain that Podesta is deeply concerned. He’s been receiving anonymous calls and emails from people saying they know the truth. Same with Hillary.”

And here is the original tweet:

An Anon working in DC says that he’s seeing people in a panic like never before about #SethRich.

They know their about to be exposed.

— /pol/ News Forever (@polNewsForever) May 21, 2017


Meanwhile, Kim Dotcom has promised more information will be released on his interaction with Seth Rich by tomorrow.

I’m meeting my legal team on Monday. I will issue a statement about #SethRich on Tuesday. Please be patient. This needs to be done properly.

— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) May 20, 2017


This raises several questions.  First, if Kim Dotcom knew that Seth Rich was, in fact, the WikiLeaks source, why is he just now coming forward with such information?  Second, while Seth Rich may explain the DNC leaks we still don’t know who is responsible for the “Podesta Files” which we’re certain will continue to be attributed to “Russian hackers.”

Which leads to the most improtant queistion of all: is this all just another fake news diversion, or is there more to the Seth Rich murder?

The post Kim Dotcom Disappoints: Offers Full Seth Rich Testimony But Only To Special Counsel Mueller appeared first on

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Myanmar’s highest Buddhist authority bans radical group

Wa Lone | Reuters
Tue, 2017-05-23 23:20

YANGON: Myanmar’s top Buddhist authority banned a hard-line monks’ group on Tuesday, raising pressure on extremists after they barred a firebrand monk from public sermons and authorities arrested several Buddhist nationalists.
The radical group known by its Burmese initials Ma Ba Tha was declared illegal and “no person or organization” is allowed to use its name, according to a statement issued by the Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the country’s highest Buddhist authority.
All signs with the group’s name must be removed by July 15, the statement said, and anyone who does not comply with this ban will be charged under the law.
Tensions between majority Buddhists and Myanmar’s Muslim minority have simmered in Myanmar since scores were killed and tens of thousands displaced in intercommunal clashes at the onset of the country’s democratic transition in 2012 and 2013.
Mutual distrust has deepened since October, when attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents in northwestern Rakhine state provoked a massive military counter-offensive, causing around 75,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
Ma Ba Tha, or the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion, had wielded significant political clout in recent years, successfully campaigning for the passing of laws seen by rights groups as discriminating against Muslims.
One of its leaders is Wirathu, a radical monk who once called himself “Myanmar’s Bin Laden” and denounced the United Nations’ human rights investigator Yanghee Lee as a “whore.” He was recently barred from preaching.
Religious tensions in Myanmar have been high. Police last week arrested several hard-liners following their clashes with Muslims in the country’s largest city, Yangon.
Ma Ba Tha’s chairman Tilawka Bhivamsa confirmed he had signed the statement but refused to comment further.
The group had planned a nationwide conference in Yangon this weekend, expecting about 10,000 monks to attend.
In the runup to the 2015 election that ushered in the government of Aung San Suu Kyi, Ma Ba Tha organized a massive rally attended by thousands in Yangon.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party did not field Muslim candidates in that election out of fear of coming under attack by radical Buddhists.
Tun Nyunt, a director at the Religious Affairs Ministry told Reuters the government received the statement and was distributing it to local chapters of the Sangha and regional officials from his ministry.

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1 killed as security forces raid Shia village in Bahrain

  Bahraini security forces today shot and killed at least one demonstrator during a security operation that included a raid on the home of the kingdom’s Shia Muslim spiritual leader. Ayatollah Isa Qassim was not among the 50 people arrested during the raid, but the move is likely to raise tensions in Bahrain days after US President Donald Trump said Washington’s relationship with the Sunni-ruled kingdom – long strained over its human rights record – would improve. The operation in Diraz was based on intel that several fugitives connected to serious acts of terrorism and the killing of a policeman were harboured in the village a security official told Reuters, adding that six wanted people were arrested from the cleric’s […]