India’s Modi Claims ‘Surgical Strikes’ across the Line of Control — Pakistan military denies it ever happened

April 19, 2018

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that India will not tolerate those who like to “export terror” and will respond to them “in the language they understand”, referring to the 2016 ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control (LoC), reported Times of India.

On September 28, 2016, India had claimed that the country carried out surgical strikes on seven terror launch pads across the LoC, inflicting “significant casualties”.

The Pakistan military, however, had swiftly rubbished the notions of a surgical strike, saying: “This quest by the Indian establishment to create media hype by rebranding cross-border fire as a surgical strike is fabrication of the truth. Pakistan has made it clear that if there is a surgical strike on Pakistani soil, the same will be strongly responded.”

Read: Mystery of the ‘surgical strike’

Modi, during the ‘Bharat ki Baat, Sabke Saath’ diaspora event in London on Wednesday, claimed that before making the news of the ‘surgical strikes’ public, India had repeatedly attempted to contact Pakistan government to inform them about the operation.

“I said before India gets to know, we should call Pakistan and tell them what we did so they can come and collect the dead bodies if they have time. We were calling them since 11am but they were scared to answer the phone. At 12 we spoke to them and then told the Indian media,” he was quoted as saying.

Explore: Surgical strikes — The questions that still remain

“We believe in peace. But we will not tolerate those who like to export terror. We will give back strong answers and in the language they understand. Terrorism will never be accepted,” Modi said.

The Foreign Office on Thursday reiterated that India’s claims about the ‘surgical strike’ were false and baseless. “Repeating a lie doesn’t turn it into the truth,” said FO Spokesperson Dr Muhammad Faisal.

In response to Modi’s comments on Pakistan exporting terrorism, Dr Faisal said that it was the other way around and that India was backing terrorists in Pakistan. “Indian spy Kulbhushan Jadhav is proof of Indian state-sponsored terrorism.”

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Demonstrators stage a protest against the visit by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament Square, London, Britain, April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

‘Don’t politicise rape’

Hundreds of noisy protesters greeted Modi when he arrived in London on Wednesday. Holding placards reading “Modi go home” and “we stand against Modi’s agenda of hate and greed”, they gathered outside Downing Street and parliament as Modi arrived for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May.

Kashmiris held aloft flags, while others displayed posters depicting an eight-year-old Muslim girl, who was raped and murdered earlier this year in a brutal attack blamed on Hindu men.

Speaking on the gruesome incident during the event, Modi said: “Rape is rape. It cannot be tolerated. But should we compare the number of rapes in different governments? We cannot say there were this many rapes in our government and that many in yours. There cannot be a worse way to deal with this issue.”

Read: No Muslims left in Rasana — the village that has become a symbol of India’s rape crisis

He also urged people and political leaders to refrain from politicising the rape cases, reported Times of India.

Sexual violence against women is a highly charged political issue in India. Protests have erupted across India after the latest rape cases — one of the Kashmir girl and the other of a teenager — were reported. Police officers and a politician are under investigation in two of the unrelated cases.

A state lawmaker from Modi’s Bha­ratiya Janata Party stands accused of raping the teenager. No action was taken against the politician until the girl threatened to set herself on fire earlier this month. Her father died soon afterwards from injuries he sustained while in police custody.

Nearly 40 per cent of India’s rape victims are children and the 40,000 reported rapes in 2016 marked a 60 per cent increase over the level in 2012. But women’s rights groups say the figures are still gross underestimates.


US Air Force awards nearly $1 bn for hypersonic missile

April 19, 2018
© US AIR FORCE/AFP | This 2010 US Air Force file photo shows an X-51A WaveRider hypersonic flight test vehicle under the wing of a B-52 Stratofortress during testing
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Air Force is awarding almost $1 billion to Lockheed Martin to design and develop a hypersonic missile that can be launched from a warplane.The contract follows repeated warnings from senior defense officials about rapid advances by China and Russia in the field of hypersonic weaponry, where missiles can fly at many times the speed of sound and dodge missile-defense systems.

In a statement late Wednesday, the Pentagon said Lockheed will receive up to $928 million to build the new, non-nuclear missile it is calling the “hypersonic conventional strike weapon.”

“This contract provides for the design, development, engineering, systems integration, test, logistics planning, and aircraft integration support of all the elements of a hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon,” the statement read.

On Thursday, Mike Griffin, the Pentagon’s new defense undersecretary for research and engineering, said China had built “a pretty mature system” for a hypersonic missile to strike from thousands of kilometers (miles) away.

“We will, with today’s defensive systems, not see these things coming,” Griffin said.

Hypersonic weapons can beat regular anti-missile defenses as they are designed to switch direction in flight and do not follow a predictable arc like conventional missiles, making them much harder to track and intercept.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in February claimed to have developed a new type of hypersonic missile that is impervious to any Western shield.

Gary Pennett, director of operations at the Missile Defense Agency, recently said enemy hypersonic weapons — which could be launched from planes, ships or submarines — would create a “significant” gap in US sensor and missile interceptor capabilities.

The MDA has asked for $120 million to develop hypersonic missile defenses, a big increase from the $75 million in fiscal 2018.

Prayer and Meditation for Friday, April 20, 2018 — “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” — “Scales fell from his eyes.” — The Founder of A.A.

April 19, 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Easter
Lectionary: 277

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The Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio (c.1600-1)

Reading 1 ACTS 9:1-20

Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,
went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that,
if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way,
he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.
On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus,
a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
He said, “Who are you, sir?”
The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.”
The men who were traveling with him stood speechless,
for they heard the voice but could see no one.
Saul got up from the ground,
but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing;
so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus.
For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank.There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias,
and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.”
He answered, “Here I am, Lord.”
The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight
and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul.
He is there praying,
and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias
come in and lay his hands on him,
that he may regain his sight.”
But Ananias replied,
“Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man,
what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem.
And here he has authority from the chief priests
to imprison all who call upon your name.”
But the Lord said to him,
“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine
to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and children of Israel,
and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”
So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said,
“Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came,
that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes
and he regained his sight.
He got up and was baptized,
and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength.

He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus,
and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues,
that he is the Son of God.


The Conversion of St.Paul.   1767.  Nicolas Bernard Lepicie. French 1735-1784. oil/canvas.

Saul blinded by the light by Nicholas-Bernard Lepicie, 1767

Responsorial Psalm  PS 117:1BC, 2

R. (Mark 16:15) Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia.
Praise the LORD, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples!
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia.
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
and the fidelity of the LORD endures forever.
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.
R. Alleluia.

AlleluiaJN 6:56

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood,
remains in me and I in him, says the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel  JN 6:52-59

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
“How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them,
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my Flesh is true food,
and my Blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

Conversion of Saint Paul (Michelangelo Buonarroti).jpg

Conversion of St. Paul by Michelangelo

Who else in our “modern world” said “scales fell from my eyes”?

In November 1934, a man named Ebby Thacher visited Bill Wilson and sat with Bill in the kitchen of the Wilson’s Brooklyn apartment, and talked about the way this new spiritual answer to alcoholism had gotten him sober.  Bill W.’s fundamental conversion experience took place while he was talking with Ebby, as “the scales fell from his eyes” and he became willing for the first time to turn to the experience of the holy in prayer and meditation, and let its healing power begin to restore his soul.

The scales fell from the eyes….

Bill’s Story, p.12, Big Book

“Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

Ebby Thacher with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955

Ebby Thacher (on the right) with Bill Wilson, the cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, in 1955


The story of how Saul, the devout Jew and zealous persecutor of the church, became Paul, a passionate preacher of the faith, begins along the road going northward from Jerusalem to Damascus. As Saul approached Damascus with plans to arrest those who “belonged to the Way,” he had a vision that totally changed the direction of his life. Luke describes the conversion three times in Acts (Acts 9:1-19Acts 22:3-16 and Acts 26:4-18), and Paul alludes to it in his letters to the churches in Galatia and Corinth (Galatians 1:16-212 Corinthians 11:22-23).

Saul was one of many Jews who felt that the followers of Jesus posed a threat to the Jewish religion. Earlier he stood by approvingly at the stoning of Stephen, one of the seven church deacons, for alleged blasphemy. Later, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples, he went to the Jewish high priest for permission to arrest any followers of “the Way” in the synagogues of Damascus, where the Gospel was attracting converts.

The 150-mile journey from Jerusalem to Damascus can now be completed in one day, thanks to excellent roads. When Saul set out from Jerusalem with his escort, he had the choice of two routes: One went east down through the canyon called Wadi Qelt to Jericho, then turned north through the Jordan River valley. It crossed the river at Scythopolis (modern-day  Beit Shean). This route would have taken Saul around the southern shores of the Sea of Galilee and up to the mountain roads linking the Decapolis with Damascus. In summer time it is hot and uncomfortable, lying far below sea-level until the area east of the Sea of Galilee is reached.

The more frequented route moved through the khaki-colored hills of Samaria (the northern part of the West Bank/Palestine today), across the Jezreel Valley, then skirted the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, passing very near Capernaum, the base for Jesus’ three-year ministry (irony!).

Source: ARY_JOURNEYS/0.2Conversion.html



Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore

Why Does The President of the Phiippines fear a 71-year-old Australian Catholic missionary nun who serves the “poorest of the poor”?

April 19, 2018


Philippine Inquirer

 / 05:32 AM April 19, 2018

A 71-year-old Australian Catholic missionary nun who has been working with marginalized Filipinos for more than 27 years is the latest person of interest in the Duterte administration’s crackdown on what it perceives as openly prohuman rights, propoor, and therefore not to its liking.

Officials of the Bureau of Immigration picked up Sr. Patricia Fox of the Our Lady of Sion (Notre Dame de Sion) congregation from her residence in Quezon City last Monday and detained her for 24 hours at the BI Intelligence Division. She was released on Tuesday but the BI held on to her passport. The nun has a missionary visa that is renewed every two years. Now she has been given 10 days to respond to charges against her, among them her participation in rallies.

Image result for Sister Pat, Philippines, Photos

Sr. Patricia Fox

A not-so-recent photo on the internet shows Sister Pat at an outdoor gathering, carrying a backpack and wearing a floppy hat and a T-shirt with the image of Pope Francis and the words “Struggle with us for land, justice and peace.” What a great smile she had on her face.

Sister Pat was the national coordinator from 2002 to 2008 of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), one of several mission partners of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines. The RMP is composed of religious from different congregations and laypeople who work in the rural areas. It is turning 50 this year, and has been a candle in the dark, so to speak, in parts unknown and on roads less traveled.

I spoke with Sister Pat on the phone after her release from detention and while she was on her way home. With her was the current RMP national coordinator, Sr. Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd.

Sister Pat said she was really supposed to be detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City (a god-awful place for a frail 71-year-old), but she was detained instead at the BI as “a concession.” Ay, salamat naman.

She was “nasampolan” (used as an example) — to use street lingo — to warn foreigners not to be openly on the side of the marginalized and the voiceless. How many Filipinos have spent that many years of their lives, as Sister Pat has, working with the last, the least and the lost of this woebegone country? For heeding the biblical imperative to walk with those who have been largely forgotten, she is suspected to be an enemy of the state.

In a TV interview, a BI official said in so many words that monitoring the activities — of the “political” variety, that is — of persons like Sister Pat was part of intelligence gathering.  That statement was a giveaway. Ah, so … she may not be seen or heard sympathizing with the landless, the powerless, the voiceless.

Pray tell, what is political? Is everything to be reduced to the political? Is espousing land for the landless political? Is answering God’s call to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit the sick political?

Oh, anything that could open people’s eyes and make them know their rights could be deemed political. So — as I have seen up close — when nuns teach indigenous groups not the ABC but first the Ls and Ds (L for lota or land, D for damowag or carabao), etc. and how to compute the cost of harvested bananas so they are not shortchanged by middlemen, is that political?

“Sister Pat is known among church people for her progressive advocacies and her steadfast commitment to serve the rural poor,” said RMP coordinator Sister Elenita. “This incident is undeniably part of the Duterte administration’s crackdown on human rights and rural poor defenders and land reform advocates.”

Sister Elenita added that when Sister Pat was the RMP national coordinator “she actively advocated for genuine agrarian reform and the rural sectors’ welfare,” and “organized and implemented activities aimed at providing services to [them].”

Last April 6-9, Sister Pat was with the International Fact-Finding and Solidarity Mission in Mindanao that investigated alleged human rights abuses against farmers and indigenous communities in the southern, northern and Caraga regions.


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Duterte’s drugs war lieutenants get key posts in Philippine police reshuffle

April 19, 2018

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte holds a Galil sniper rifle next to outgoing Philippine National Police Chief Ronald Bato Dela Rosa during the National Police chief handover ceremony in Camp Crame, Quezon City, metro Manila, Philippines, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Dondi TawataoREUTERS


MANILA (Reuters) – Police at the helm of the Philippine war on drugs were given top posts in the national force on Thursday, indicating no let-up in a brutal crackdown that has caused international alarm, and defined Rodrigo Duterte’s 21-month presidency.

The job of national police chief was given to Oscar Albayalde, a strict disciplinarian who has been in charge of Metro Manila, where the vast majority of the thousands of drugs war killings have occurred.

He was succeeded as commander of the capital police by Camilo Cascolan, the architect of the controversial operational plan of the anti-drug campaign, “Double Barrel”.

About 4,100 people have been killed by police in the Philippines since July 2016 in what the authorities said were shootouts during anti-narcotics operations. At least 2,300 drug-related deaths have occurred separately, at the hands of what police say are unknown assassins.

Human rights groups believe the death toll has been understated, and accuse the authorities of executing suspects and staging crime scenes. Police deny that and say their more than 130,000 arrests prove their intent to preserve life.

Cascolan is the latest officer promoted to a top command post having served in the Davao region during the 22 years Duterte was a mayor there. The outgoing police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, also served in Davao.

Cascolan’s position as head of operations will go to Mao Aplasca, also from the Davao region.

Albayalde vowed no relent in the campaign and to ensure continuity of its “remarkable accomplishments”, including arresting or convincing tens of thousands of people to surrender, and the “neutralizing” of drug suspects.

“We will not relent on our war against illegal drugs and other forms of criminality. The drug menace, we must all understand, is a worldwide phenomenon,” Albayalde said in a speech.

“We will help and support each other to fight and win this war.”

The outgoing police chief, Dela Rosa, will head the bureau of corrections.

He is leaving behind a police force with “a sordid human rights record”, according to Carlos Conde, a researcher for the New York based Human Rights Watch.

In his departure speech, Dela Rosa lauded Duterte’s for his courage to order an all-out war on drugs, and pledged his “unquestionable loyalty” to him.

“It was an order I certainly could not refuse. I shared the same sentiments as the president and would not let pass the opportunity to do my share,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)

ISIL given ’48 hours’ to evacuate area south of Damascus

April 19, 2018

Al Jazeera

ISIL fighters have been in control of an area south of Damascus for nearly three years.

April 19, 2018
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]
The Yarmouk refugee camp has been under ISIL control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012 [Reuters]

The Syrian military has given ISIL fighters 48 hours to leave a pocket they control in the capital’s south, a pro-government local newspaper reported on Thursday.

Syrian forces have for days been launching air attacks on the area controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) in the south of Damascus, primarily around the Palestinian Yarmouk refugee camp and its surrounding neighbourhoods, Al-Watan daily said.

“The two-day window is an attempt to avoid a military assault. If they refuse to leave, the army is ready to launch a military operation to end their presence in the area,” the newspaper added.

Yarmouk, about 8km from central Damascus, was home to Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee community before the Syrian war began more than seven years ago.

Although most of the camp’s residents fled to other parts of Syria or to neighbouring countries, the United Nations estimates thousands remain trapped inside.

The camp has been under ISIL’s control since April 2015, and has been under siege since late 2012, barring thousands from exit and re-entry.

Since 2015, the Syrian government has regained control of the majority of Syria, with opposition groups now restricted to the northern part of the country.

Though other pockets controlled by ISIL group fighters still exist, the armed group were driven out of their last major stronghold in Syria in October last year, when the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the United States, launched a four-month long offensive to push them out of Raqqa.


In a U.S.-China Tech Battle, Lots of Self-Inflicted Wounds

April 19, 2018

The interdependence of technology companies across the Pacific means that a tech war isn’t a zero-sum game

ZTE is one of two Chinese companies seeking to take a global lead in establishing next-generation mobile internet networks, known as 5G.
ZTE is one of two Chinese companies seeking to take a global lead in establishing next-generation mobile internet networks, known as 5G.PHOTO: PICHI CHUANG/REUTERS


“Made in China 2025” is Beijing’s industrial plan to dominate high-tech industries including robotics, aerospace and computer chips. The Trump administration argues China is using the plan to give its tech companies unfair advantage over foreign rivals. But what is it exactly?

HONG KONG—Chinese regulators warned they have “hard to resolve” concerns about Qualcomm Inc.’s $44 billion bid for rival NXP Semiconductors NV, the latest shot in a technology-centric trade battle with the U.S. that is growing more intense.

The move follows a decision by the U.S. Commerce Department to ban sales of American components to Chinese telecom giant ZTE Corp., as well as threats from the White House to slap tariffs on $150 billion worth of Chinese goods to punish what it says are efforts to steal U.S. technology.

The tit-for-tat steps have put technology firms at the center of an escalating trade fight between the U.S. and China, placing new constraints on the companies’ strategic plans and threatening their access to giant markets.

“China wants very much to flex its muscles. It can certainly inflict pain on one large U.S. company, Qualcomm,” said Peter Fuhrman, chairman and chief executive officer of investment and advisory firm China First Capital. He said current tensions make this “the fraughtest moment in the 30-year history of U.S.-China technology trade and mutual reliance.”

Washington has for years warned about China acquiring U.S. technology through unfair means, and protested that Beijing is walling off the world’s biggest internet market from American companies. Beijing has in turn vowed to defend its tech champions, fueling a multi-front battle that is catching many of world’s biggest tech companies in the crossfire. During a visit to China last month, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Tim Cook urged President Donald Trump to support free-trade policies.

The Tech Arms Race Driving the U.S.-China Trade Dispute

“Made in China 2025” is Beijing’s industrial plan to dominate high-tech industries including robotics, aerospace and computer chips. The Trump administration argues China is using the plan to give its tech companies unfair advantage over foreign rivals. But what is it exactly?

China’s Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said Thursday a preliminary review of Qualcomm’s NXP deal turned up issues that make “it difficult to eliminate the negative impact,” but he didn’t close the door on an eventual approval.

Qualcomm on Thursday said it refiled its application with Chinese regulators, and agreed with NXP to extend the deal’s deadline by three months to July 25.

Qualcomm has been waiting for Beijing’s approval to proceed with the purchase of the Dutch company, having secured permission from the eight other major antitrust regulators around the world. The deal is seen as crucial to San Diego-based Qualcomm, which needs to look for growth beyond its dominance in the smartphone sector; NXP specializes in making chips for automobiles, a rapidly growing market.

On Wednesday, Qualcomm said it began laying off an unspecified number of employees to fulfill a promise to boost profit by shedding $1 billion in expenses. The layoffs are part of a cost-reduction program unveiled in January intended to persuade investors of the company’s prospects as it fended off Broadcom Ltd. , which was based in Singapore but has since redomiciled to the U.S. President Trump quashed Broadcom’s pursuit of Qualcomm, citing national-security concerns.

Mr. Gao also took aim at the seven-year U.S. ban on selling technology to ZTE—punishment for ZTE breaching an agreement reached last year to resolve alleged sanctions violations over the sale of gear to Iran. The ban is seen as potentially crippling for ZTE, which is one of two Chinese companies seeking to take a global lead in establishing next-generation mobile internet networks, known as 5G.

“The action targets China,” Mr. Gao said. “However, it will ultimately undermine the U.S. itself.” He said the U.S. is risking “tens of thousands of jobs and shaking international confidence in the U.S. business environment.”

The interdependence of technology companies across the Pacific means that a tech war isn’t a zero-sum game; Qualcomm is one of several U.S. suppliers hurt by the ban on sales to ZTE. The ban potentially covers software like the Android operating system, developed by Google parent Alphabet Inc., which powers ZTE smartphones. ZTE is working to find ways to preserve its access to Android, according to a person familiar with the matter.

A Google spokesman declined to comment Thursday. ZTE also declined to comment. It is delaying the release of its quarterly earnings report as it wrestles with the implications of the ban.

U.S. punishment of a company seen as a national champion touched off rallying cries for support on Chinese social media, with photos of restaurants and stores displaying signs saying “We are all ZTE people” circulating.

Hu Xijin, the editor of nationalistic tabloid Global Times who has a large social-media following, wrote in a post Wednesday that the ban was an attempt to edge China out in the race to dominate 5G technology.

“Chinese society absolutely needs to support ZTE and back Huawei,” Mr. Hu wrote, referring to China’s other major telecoms gear maker.

Huawei Technologies Co., the world’s largest provider of telecom equipment, acknowledged this week that after years of difficulties in the U.S., it is going to refocus on other markets.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission approved a measure this week that would bar wireless carriers from using government subsidies to buy telecom gear from Chinese manufacturers. The U.S. Trade Representative’s office also said this week it is considering retaliation for China’s restrictions on U.S. providers of cloud computing and other services.

“Everything here is about leverage and China understands its position in that respect very well,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting Limited, a Beijing-based telecom, media and technology consulting company. “With tech companies playing an increasingly pivotal role in economic and geopolitical policy, it will be difficult for them not to be drawn into the tensions between the two countries.”

Write to Yoko Kubota at and Dan Strumpf at

Oil theft ‘costing Libya over $750 mn annually’

April 19, 2018


© AFP/File | A Libyan official points at oil onboard a tanker seized off the coastal city of Zuwara for fuel smuggling, on April 29, 2017

TRIPOLI (AFP) – Fuel smuggling is costing Libya more than $750 million each year and harming its economy and society, the head of the National Oil Company in the conflict-riddled country said.”The impact of fuel smuggling is destroying the fabric of the country,” NOC president Mustafa Sanalla said according to the text of a speech delivered on Wednesday at a conference on oil and fuel theft in Geneva.

“The fuel smugglers and thieves have permeated not only the militias which control much of Libya, but also the fuel distribution companies which are supposed to bring cheap fuel to Libyan citizens,” he said.

“The huge sums of money available from smuggling have corrupted large parts of Libyan society,” he added.

The backbone of the North African country’s economy, Libya’s oil sector collapsed in the wake of the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

Before the revolt Libya, with estimated oil reserves of 48 billion barrels, used to produce 1.6 million barrels per day (bpd).

But output fell to less than 500,000 bpd between 2014 and 2016 due to violence around production facilities and export terminals as rival militias fought for control of Africa’s largest crude reserves.

No oil was exported from Libya’s main ports until September 2016 with the reopening of the Ras Lanuf terminal in the country’s so-called oil crescent.

The recovery of oil production and exports is key to restoring Libya’s moribund economy.

Sanalla urged Libya’s “friends, neighbours but above all the Libyan people themselves… to do everything they can… to eradicate the scourge of fuel theft and fuel smuggling”.

France’s CGT urges broader anti-Macron protests, other unions keep their distance

April 19, 2018

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A man holds a placard reading “Brussels Macron derailed” during a demonstration against the French government’s reform plans in Paris as part of a national day of protest, France, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit TessierREUTERS


PARIS (Reuters) – France’s far-left CGT labor union sought to broaden resistance to hard-hitting economic reforms on Thursday, urging employees across the public sector to join striking railway workers in their showdown with President Emmanuel Macron.

There was no clear evidence that anything of the kind was about to happen, however, even as rolling stoppages by rail workers halted train services for the eighth day this month.

The CGT’s goal is a “convergence des luttes” or “convergence of struggles” – a storm of public discontent where protests of different origins fuse into one widespread upheaval against government, something like in May 1968 or more recently at the end of 1995.

But a CGT strike call at the Paris subway train and bus group RATP appeared to have little impact: RATP management reported normal service across most of the grid.

More moderate unions involved with the CGT in the industrial action at the state-owned SNCF railway group also kept their distance from the Communist-rooted CGT as it asked others to join the protest action by striking or taking part in street marches.

“This is a political operation, not a union one,” Laurent Berger, one of the most influential labor leaders in the country, said of the CGT initiative.

That not only highlighted the underlying divisions and turf battles for membership subscriptions that permanently plague the labor movement but also more profound divergences between the Communist-rooted CGT and Berger’s more reform-friendly CFDT.

Berger said his union had nothing to do with a day of street marches organized by the CGT on Thursday afternoon.

He said he did not share the CGT penchant for a “convergence of struggles” between rail workers, power sector employees, state hospital staff and even some students involved in very separate protests about university entry criteria.

While his union is backing the rail strike alongside the CGT and other unions, the CFDT is fighting Macron for concessions on debt cancellation and a new collective bargaining deal to cover rail workers when the SNCF reform ends its rail monopoly, and with it the protected job status of all future SNCF recruits.

The CGT opposes the principle of liberalization and a pact under which all European Union governments have committed to start phasing out all passenger rail monopolies from 2020.

Forty-year-old Macron has stood firm and on Wednesday urged the unions to “stop holding the country hostage”.

His government hopes union divisions will ultimately work in its favor, and the lower house of parliament this week approved the bill that enshrines most of the envisaged SNCF reforms.

Public support for the SNCF protest is weaker than for all but one of several dozen major protests over the last 20 years in France, according to an Ifop poll published last Sunday. It showed 42 percent were sympathetic to the strikers.

That compared with much bigger support rates of two-thirds or so when strikes in late 1995 waged by rail workers snowballed into a broader public sector protest movement, forcing the government of the time to abandon rail and welfare reforms.

While polls suggest 60 percent of the French want Macron to pursue his rail shake-up, he is walking on eggs after cutting wealth tax and housing aid and raising pensioner taxes. Those changes, the polls say, have cemented voter belief that Macron is bad for purchasing power and economic equality.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Hugh Lawson)

Oil hits 4-year high ahead of Opec-Russia supply meeting

April 19, 2018

Energy stocks and crude-linked currencies rally as investors eye longer production curbs

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Production cuts by Opec and Russia have helped crude prices rally © Bloomberg

Michael Hunter and Adam Samson in London and Peter Wells in New York

Oil prices touched four-year highs on Thursday, lifting energy-related companies to the top of global stock indices buoyed by expectations that Opec would extend supply curbs.

The prospect of a longer-term ascent became a talking point among investors in anticipation of a deal on Friday between Opec and Russia to increase the duration of their agreement to limit global oil supply to 1.8m barrels a day.

They are increasingly expected to maintain the cuts into 2019, with Saudi Arabia giving little indication it is keen to reduce the cuts, even as prices hit further heights.

Brent crude rose as much as 1.3 per cent on Thursday to $74.72, taking the international marker’s year-to-date gain to almost 8 per cent. At the time the production curbs were approved in January 2017, Brent was trading at about $55 a barrel.

Production cuts by Opec and Russia have helped crude prices rally, with the latest leg higher coming as geopolitical risks to crude supplies rise, from Venezuela’s economic spiral downwards to the risk of the US reimposing sanctions on Iran.

“We are rapidly transitioning from a market drowning in oil to a new reality of undersupply and low storage levels,” said Richard Robinson, manager of the Ashburton Global Energy fund.

“At the same time, the market is facing heightened risk to current supply — as a result of the lack of spend and increasing political volatility in oil-producing nations — such as Venezuela, Angola and Iran. The seed is being sown for a structurally higher oil price, combined with heightened probability of risk premium,” he added.

This week’s meeting in Jeddah between Opec’s ministerial committee and the Russia-led producing countries outside the cartel comes as the outlook for demand improves.

Fears about the impact on global growth of the US-China trade dispute eased as the two countries held back from a further escalation this week, while confirmation of high-level talks between Washington and North Korea also brightened the geopolitical backdrop.

In the US, the rebound for crude has brought investors back to resource stocks in April, after a moribund showing for the sector for the rest of 2018. The energy component of the S&P 500 was up 9 per cent over the month to date, outperforming a rise of about 2.6 per cent for the wider S&P 600.

The trading pattern was also helped by a drop of 1.1m barrels in US inventories, according to data released on Wednesday.

Oil-linked currencies also stood out, making notable gains over the month to date on global markets. The Australian and Canadian dollars gained by about 2 per cent against their US equivalent. Norway’s krone was up 0.6 per cent over the same period against the euro.