Archive for February, 2016

Islamic State executes eight Dutch jihadists in Syria

February 29, 2016

AFP

© Al-Furqan Media/AFP/File | The Islamic State has executed eight Dutch members of the jihadist group, whom it accused of trying to desert, activists said

BEIRUT (AFP) – The Islamic State has executed eight Dutch members of the jihadist group, whom it accused of trying to desert, activists said Monday.

“Daesh (IS) executed eight Dutch fighters on Friday in Maadan, Raqa province, after accusing them of attempting desertion and mutiny,” Abu Mohammad, a member of the citizen journalist group Raqa is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS), said via Twitter.

RBSS has been documenting since April 2014 IS’ abuses in Raqa, the group’s de facto capital in northern Syria.

Tension has boiled in Raqa over the past month between 75 Dutch jihadists — among them fighters of Moroccan origin — and IS intelligence operatives from Iraq, RBSS said.

Three other Dutch jihadists were arrested by Iraqi IS members who accused them of wanting to flee and one of the detainees was beaten to death during the interrogation, according to RBSS.

IS leaders in Raqa sent a delegate to solve the dispute with the Dutch cell’s enraged members, but they murdered the intermediary in vengeance, the citizen journalist group added.

The IS leadership in Iraq then ordered the arrest of all the members of the Dutch group, and imprisoned them in Tabaqa and Maadan in Syria.

Eight have since been executed, RBSS said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict, could not confirm the report.

However it said three European jihadists of North African origin were executed in what IS calls the Wilayet al-Furat — an area stretching across the Syrian-Iraqi frontier.

According to the Dutch secret services, 200 people from the Netherlands including 50 women have joined IS in Syria and Iraq.

Netanyahu Watching Iranian Aggression Against Israel from Syrian Territory

February 29, 2016

PM says that while cessation of hostilities is important from human standpoint, peace agreement must include halt to ‘Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.’

By Barak Ravid Feb 28, 2016 11:52 AM
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.705895

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel welcomes the cease-fire in Syria but stressed that any resolution to the civil war must address Israel’s interests and red lines.

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“We welcome the efforts to reach a long-term, stable and substantive cease-fire in Syria,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting. “Anything that would put an end to the terrible slaughter there is important first and foremost from the human standpoint. But it’s important to make clear that any resolution in Syria must include a halt to the Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.

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“We won’t agree to the transfer of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and we won’t agree to the establishment of a terrorist front against Israel in the Golan,” he said. “These are the red lines we have presented from the start, and they will remain our red lines.”

A cessation of hostilities in Syria came into effect at midnight on Saturday, under a U.S.-Russian plan which warring sides in the five-year conflict have said they would commit to. Russia’s military said Saturday that while Russia will continue airstrikes against ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, to whom the truce does not apply, it was keeping its aircraft on the ground for now “to avoid any possible mistakes.”

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But on Sunday Syrian insurgents said Russian warplanes attacked six Syrian towns in the western part of Aleppo province. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the airstrikes but said the identity of the jets was not clear.

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Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with Netanyahu by phone and presented the Israeli premier with the details of the cease-fire. The conversation between the two leaders was one of a series of phone calls that Putin made, and was preceded by calls to Syrian President Bashar Assad, Iranian President Hassan Rohani and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The conversation was part of the close coordination that their two countries have been carrying out with respect to the entire situation in Syria. In the context of that coordination, an Israeli military delegation secretly visited Moscow recently and met with senior Russian counterparts. The delegation was headed by Brig. Gen. Avi Peled, who heads the international military cooperation department of the Israel Defense Forces. The delegation also included a senior officer from the research department of the Intelligence Corps. Meanwhile, an Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation headed by ministry director-general Dore Gold visited Moscow. The meetings between the Israeli diplomats and officers and their Russian counterparts focused on the situation in Syria.
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http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.705895

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David Cameron’s Secret Plan: Axe 90 per cent of Conservative associations; smooth George Osborne’s coronation as leader

February 29, 2016

Critics believe that it is a bid to reduce the influence of Tory associations – which are typically Eurosceptic – on the party’s next leadership contest

 

David Cameron faces a challenge in pushing through EU reforms Photo: PA

David Cameron is planning to cull hundreds of Tory associations and strip local chairmen of their powers under controversial plans to rein in the Conservative grassroots.

The Daily Telegraph can disclose that up to 90 per cent of the country’s 650 Conservative associations could be axed under the biggest reforms to the party’s structure in 18 years.

Critics believe that it is a bid to reduce the influence of Tory members – which are typically eurosceptic – on the party’s next leadership contest.

It comes just weeks after Mr Cameron faced a furious response from Conservative members after telling MPs to ignore the views of eurosceptic associations in the build-up to the referendum.

Senior Tories are growing increasingly concerned that George Osborne’s chances of being the next party leader could be reduced because of his support for Mr Cameron’s bid to keep Britain in the EU.

Conservative members will determine the eventual outcome of the next leadership election and this newspaper last week disclosed that growing numbers of local groups have now swung behind Boris Johnson after he announced that he was campaigning to leave the EU.

The disclosure came as Mr Cameron was last night branded “totally irresponsible” by members of his own Cabinet for refusing to allow contingency planning for a “Brexit” despite publishing a taxpayer-funded dossier warning of a decade of chaos if Britain leaves the EU.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s most senior civil servant, was also attacked by Cabinet members who said he had committed an “unconstitutional act” by instructing officials to ban eurosceptic ministers from accessing documents related to the EU referendum.

George Osborne, the Chancellor

George Osborne, the Chancellor  Photo: Julian Simmonds/The Telegraph

Meanwhile, there were clashes between riot police and migrants in Calais after the authorities began dismantling huts in migrant camp known as “The Jungle”.

The relationship between the Conservative Party hierarchy and the grassroots has been strained since 2013, when a close ally of the Prime Minister described Tory activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons” who were forcing MPs to take hardline positions on Europe.

That was compounded earlier this month when Mr Cameron told his MPs that they should not decide how to vote in the referendum “because of what your constituency association might say” but to “do what’s in your heart” rather than what “might be advantageous”.

David Cameron prompts anger by telling MPs to ignore the views of eurosceptic grassroots members

Boris Johnson pulls ahead of George Osborne among grassroots Conservatives

Under the new plans, Tory associations could be merged into between 60 and 70 “multi-constituency associations” based loosely on county areas.

These new “super-associations” will employ permanent party staff, downgrading the role of association chairmen – the traditional lifeblood of the party.

The party’s membership lists will be run centrally from Conservative Central Office, further cutting out the traditional role of the chairmen and allowing the leadership to communicate directly with members.

Candidates will still be selected by association members but the absence of a local party structure will make it easier for central office to impose its favoured election candidates.

Senior Tories hope that the changes will make the party far more professional and better-able to mount campaigns to take on Labour and the unions.

However, critics warn that it will have a significant effect on the next Tory leadership race, which most insiders predict will be contested between Mr Johnson and Mr Osborne.

Lord Feldman is coming under pressureLord Feldman is coming under pressure  Photo: Steve Back

Under the current rules, Tory backbenchers reduce a longlist of leadership candidates to just two after a series of ballots.

In previous elections, local associations and activists have had a significant role in lobbying their constituency MPs over who to choose. Critics fear this influence would be severely diluted if the number of associations is dramatically cut.

After the longlist is reduced to two candidates, all Conservative members get a vote to determine who is elected leader.

Insiders believe that the existence of as few as 60 “super-associations” would make members significantly easier to control.

It could also reduce the influence of rural Tories because they would subsumed into larger associations which could include members from large towns and cities.

The plans will be presented to the party’s ruling board today by Lord Feldman, the party’s chairman. If approved, they could be in place within 12 months.

Best pictures from the 2015 general election polling night and the day of the resultConservative candidate for Uxbridge, Boris Johnson, celebrates on stage following his win   Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Party sources insist the changes are voluntary and subject to vote of members before they are rolled out through on a region by region basis.

However, it would be possible for individual associations which reject the changes to be overruled if a majority in a county area supports the changes.

Ed Costelloe, chairman of Grassroots Conservatives, said: “It means that MPs are more beholden to CCHQ and I think that is a diabolical thing.”

John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy and a party member for 50 years, added: “The way they are going, they are signing the death warrant of the Conservative party as a membership organisation.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “The plan is to offer constituency Associations the option to form multi-constituency associations so they can benefit from shared offices and access to professional staff.

“Multi-constituency associations can only be formed by a vote of Party Members in those constituencies – nothing is being ‘axed’.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/12178192/Secret-plan-to-axe-90-per-cent-of-Tory-associations-which-would-smooth-George-Osbornes-coronation-as-leader.html

China’s South China Sea Missile Diplomacy

February 29, 2016

By Bernie V. Lopez
Philippine Daily Inquirer

WITH THE report from the United States and Taiwan of Chinese missiles installed on Woody Island in the Paracels, China has upped the ante in the seemingly inevitable naval confrontation with the United States in the South China Sea. This signals “Defcon 1,” (or maximum force readiness), the beginning of imminent danger and heightened threats.

Woody Island is strategic to China, commanding a missile range at the heart of the Paracels in the northern portion of the South China Sea. There is oil in this area, and China wants it by hook or by crook. A few years ago, China built an oil rig a mere 260 kilometers from Vietnam’s shores, and Vietnam, in a “bumping war,” sent boats with water cannons to harass Chinese naval vessels guarding the oil rig. Vietnam also launched a nationwide boycott of Chinese goods, ultimately forcing China to abandon the oil rig. With the threat of missiles on Woody Island, China may revive the oil rig and other explorations near Vietnam’s shore.

Fiery Cross Reef (known as Kagitingan in the Philippines) and Second Thomas Shoal (Ayungin in the Philippines) in the south and Woody Island in the north form a potential “missile triangle” across the vast South China Sea. All three have long airstrips capable of servicing heavy-load planes, which are the infrastructure for rapid buildup of submarine missile silos and for quick troop mobilization in case of a confrontation. Missiles from Woody can reach Vietnam in the east and Taiwan in the south, and missiles from Fiery Cross and Second Thomas, if they are the next in missile buildup, can reach the Philippines in the west, specially the perceived future US defense revival of former bases in Subic and Clark.

The Philippine Supreme Court recently upheld the Edca, or the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the United States and the Philippines, which identifies eight strategic defense locations nationwide, including Subic and Clark.

The way of Vietnam—which historically has fought and won wars with China, France, and the United States—is defiance. The way of the Philippines is the opposite, seeking alliance with America, another giant that can face the giant; it is a way and a sign of weakness. Only time will tell which is a wiser geopolitical strategy in the long term. Either way, there will be huge collateral damage. Defiance rattles China, inducing caution. Alliance with the enemy giant does not.

So far, US psywar tactics, like sending warships near China’s military installations in the disputed Spratlys, have failed to stop the frenzy of Chinese rapid military buildup in the entire South China Sea. There are two possible reasons. First, China has perhaps a pretty good idea of the latest US missile weapons after hacking into Pentagon websites. It believes that it is ahead in the missile technology game, and has come up with a Mach-10 missile ahead of the United States. Second, China has perhaps new secret weapons that have made it resort to brinkmanship. But there also may be US secret weapons that China knows nothing about. So there is caution on both sides. China believes that the United States will be limited to psywar and diplomatic threats for now, and will not go into a major confrontation.

However, the more the Chinese military buildup continues, the more nothing is done, and the more dangerous the situation because this will lead to a bigger future war. China must be preempted now, but the United States is not in a position to do this.

Modern missiles are a game-changer in naval warfare. They can easily take out an entire carrier armada in the blink of an eye. Retired Pentagon generals and admirals have admitted that large carrier fleets are becoming obsolete and are vulnerable to new smart missiles that can reach targets within minutes. Gone are the days of the massive carrier battles of World War II. The possible naval battle in the Paracels-Spratlys will involve more of missiles and less of large carrier fleets.

America is not into territorial claims, which are the role of the small nations defying China—another reason why China is so brave in military expansion. It only wants free access to international shipping lanes. America and Japan, which exports all its oil from the Middle East via the Strait of Malacca, will not permit the closing of trade lanes. That is tantamount to strangling Japan’s economy.

If China claims territorial rights according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), which provides for a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone for a claimant, it would theoretically own the entire Paracels-Spratlys, not considering Unclos exceptions on conflicting claims. Paradoxically, China refuses to go to court in The Hague, to defend its Unclos rights, in fear of losing a legal battle. The Hague decisions require compliance, but China has defiance. It wants the Paracels-Spratlys by military force, not by law. Its territorial claims are ridiculously based on ancient maps. Victory at The Hague for other claimants is thus good only as a psywar tactic of international pressure.

For the first time in human history, an emerging superpower is claiming a vast marine area of planet Earth, almost the entire South China Sea, by military force.

Bernie V. Lopez (eastwindreplyctr@gmail.com) has been writing political commentary for the last 20 years. He is also a radio-TV broadcaster, a documentary producer-director, and a former professor at Ateneo de Manila University.

Read more: http://opinion.inquirer.net/93297/chinas-potential-missile-triangle#ixzz41b1ZPX6z
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A Super Tuesday Look at the Damage Campaign 2016 Can Do

February 29, 2016

Whoever next president is, vicious primary season threatens to taint the office and leave America divided

Heading into the biggest day in the primary season—this week’s Super Tuesday contests in a dozen states—it seems fair to ask how much damage Campaign 2016 might be doing to the condition of politics in America, and perhaps to the presidency itself.

Read more:

http://www.wsj.com/articles/a-super-tuesday-look-at-the-damage-campaign-2016-can-do-1456763020

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Heading into the biggest day in the primary season—this week’s Super Tuesday contests in a dozen states—it seems fair to ask how much damage Campaign 2016 might be doing to the condition of politics in America, and perhaps to the presidency itself. The unusual level of nastiness during the campaign figures to make the next president’s job of mending the nation and upholding the dignity of office all the more difficult, Washington Bureau Chief Gerald F. Seib writes.

More in Election 2016:

South China Sea: Singapore, China, Asean Make Another Attempt to Develop a “Code of Conduct”

February 29, 2016

Singapore and China will continue to work on exploratory ideas on minimising risks from unplanned encounters in the disputed South China Sea.

BEIJING: Singapore and China have looked into some exploratory ideas on minimising the risks from unplanned encounters in the disputed South China Sea, said Singapore Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (Feb 29).

Both countries will continue to work on these ideas in the next few months, Dr Balakrishnan added, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during an introductory visit to Beijing.

Singapore is not a claimant state in the South China Sea, but as the country coordinator of ASEAN-China relations, it will focus on the formulation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. The code will set guidelines for parties involved in disputes to manage tensions and avoid conflict.

Following meetings with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, Dr Balakrishnan said they have agreed to expedite negotiations on formulating the Code of Conduct.

“We both reaffirmed the importance of peace and stability and freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. This is an essential lifeline for China and for all ASEAN countries because so much of our trade and energy flows through this area,” he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Wang said China’s stance on the South China Sea remains unchanged, but he added that Beijing is ready to work with ASEAN to implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), while expediting consultations on the Code of Conduct.

“First of all, we believe that the specific disputes should be settled by the countries directly involved through dialogue and negotiation and this has been what’s been stipulated in article 4 of the DOC,” he said. “At the same time, China and ASEAN countries, as littoral countries of the South China Sea, will continue to maintain peace, stability and that includes the freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.”

China and other ASEAN countries including Brunei, Vietnam and the Philippines have disputed territorial claims to parts of the South China Sea.

During Dr Balakrishnan’s two-day visit, he also met Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao. On Tuesday, he will meet State Councillor Yang Jiechi and Communist Party of China International Department Minister Song Tao.

Dr Balakrishnan is also scheduled to meet Cyberspace Administration of China Minister Lu Wei in his capacity as Minister-in-charge of Singapore’s Smart Nation Programme Office.

EU unveils details of data privacy pact with US

February 29, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | Austrian Max Schrems waits for a verdict at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg on October 6, 2015 over claims that his privacy data was allegedly violated by Facebook within the scope of NSA mass surveillance programs

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU on Monday unveiled details of a new deal with the US to curb government spying on the personal Internet data of European citizens, but critics said it fell short and threatened fresh legal action.

Top US companies including Facebook and Google rely on such transatlantic agreements to give legal cover for them to transfer data from their European subsidiaries to their headquarters in the United States.

Brussels and Washington announced the new EU-US “Privacy Shield” deal on February 2, replacing a previous agreement that was thrown out by the European Court of Justice last year.

The new steps include commitments from President Barack Obama to limit the use of bulk-collected intelligence, the appointment of a US ombudsman to deal with complaints by European citizens, and fines for firms that do not comply.

EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova said the agreement was a “strong new framework” with easier redress for individuals”.

But Austrian Internet activist Max Schrems — who brought a case against Facebook in Ireland that led to the EU court judgment last year — said the new deal amounts to putting “ten layers of lipstick on a pig.”

“There will be a number of people that will challenge this decision if it ever comes out this way ? and I may very will be one of them,” Schrems said in a document on his Twitter account.

He said that the deal includes too many areas under which “bulk” data collection is allowed.

The old Safe Harbor agreement effectively meant that Europe treated the United States a safe destination for Internet data on the basis that Brussels and Washington adhered to similar standards.

But the EU court declared Safe Harbor “invalid” in October because of US snooping practices exposed by Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who leaked a hoard of National Security Agency documents.

Brussels said the new agreement meant EU member states’ national authorities will be able to fine firms up to 20 million euros, or up to four percent of total worldwide annual turnover, if they break EU rules.

EU authorities will also be able suspend data transfers to recipients in third countries or to international obligations.

Washington has also agreed to set up an ombudsman within the US State Department to assess complaints by EU citizens.

Europeans will further be able to seek redress for breaches through several channels including an arbitration system.

The deal will also be subject to an annual review.

Trump speech at Radford University disrupted multiple times by protesters

February 29, 2016

By Matt Chittum
Roanoke Times

RADFORD — Donald Trump brought his presidential campaign to Radford University Monday, rolling out personal attacks against Republican rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, and emphasizing his plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration.

Throughout the hour-long speech, Trump was interrupted every few minutes by protesters who were quickly pointed out by others in the crowd so they could be removed. The biggest disruption came from a group of a few dozen black Radford students chanting “No more hate! No more hate! Let’s be equal, let’s be great!”

A press photographer also got into a scuffle with security before being escorted out.

“Isn’t it fun to be at a Trump rally?” Trump said.

Trump belittled his main opponents as “Lying Ted” and “Little Marco” and played up what have become his standard applause lines, including his promise of building a wall along the Mexican border.

“We will be building the wall,” he said, triggering chants of “USA! USA!”

“We need 1,000 miles … I’m gonna make our wall even higher than China’s,” Trump said.

Trump also reiterated his call for reform of libel laws. “The press is a real problem in this country,” he said.

Trump also focused a section of his speech on his plans to bolster the U.S. economy, which he said would benefit from his history as a deal maker.

Trump at Radford University, February 29, 2016. Roanoke Times photo

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton also drew Trump’s scorn, as he criticized her tone and for being part of a weak foreign policy. “We need strength, we need strong people, it’s the only thing that’s going to be respected,” Trump said.

Trump’s rambling talk hit numerous red meat positions, including “knocking the hell out of ISIS,” jacking up taxes on imported goods to force American companies to return manufacturing operations to the U.S., doing away with the Common Core education standards, reviving coal production, and support for the Second Amendment, which drew particularly raucous cheers.

“Four years from now,” he said, “you’re going to say you were there at the beginning.”

Earlier Monday, several speakers stirred a crowd of roughly 3,800 with speeches on gun rights and immigration control Monday morning as they waited the arrival of Republican presidential front-runner Trump.

“I don’t need a politician to have perfect hair, I need him to have balls,” said Tamara Neo, the former Buchanan County commonwealth’s attorney.

Spectators lined up hours ahead of Trump’s scheduled noon appearance, many buying poofy red “Make American Great Again” ball caps and T-shirts.

“Fire the Idiots, Help the Vets” read the front of one popular T-shirt. On the back, “DONALD TRUMP: FINALLY SOMEONE WITH BALLS.”

The shirts sold for $10 each.

As they waited, the crowd periodically broke into spontaneous cheers of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” and “Build the wall!”

http://www.roanoke.com/news/nation/trump-speech-at-radford-university-disrupted-multiple-times-by-protesters/article_d18e83b0-4e23-5d2a-b800-1acfa6136d3c.html

Communist Party weighs action against outspoken Chinese tycoon Ren Zhiqiang

February 29, 2016

By Nectar Gan
South China Morning Post

A local Beijing Communist Party committee is considering action against outspoken tycoon Ren Zhiqiang, warning other party members to toe the disciplinary line.

The decision came after Ren, a retired property developer and a long-time “outstanding party member”, directly questioned President Xi Jinping’s demand that state media pledge “absolute loyalty” to the party.

The comments were made on Ren’s microblogging accounts, which were closed down on the weekend.

The party committee of Beijing’s Xicheng district said on its microblog on Monday night that Ren would be “dealt with seriously” for his blatantly critical postings on social media.

“As a Communist Party member, Ren has constantly published illegal information and wrong remarks that generated vile influence, seriously damaging the party’s image,” it said.

“As a party member, any remark that does not accord with the party’s lines, principles and policies, whether it’s on the internet or other media platforms, is not allowed under party discipline.”

READ MORE: China’s Donald Trump: loud and proud Ren Zhiqiang offers a litmus test for opinion inside the Communist Party

Party-run media have also stepped up criticism of influential online commentators, accusing some of colluding with “Western anti-China forces”.

An article posted on Sunday on Dangjian.com, a website linked to the central party committee’s propaganda department, also accused Ren and other critical “Big Vs” – or high-profile bloggers – of “opposing fundamental principles confirmed by the constitution”.

The article applauded the regulator’s decision to shut down the microblog accounts of Ren and a few other Big Vs, such as actress Sun Haiying and Beijing-based urban planning expert Luo Yameng. It said the commentators had “abused their own influence to attack the party and the government” and “damaged the honour and interests of the country by starting and spreading rumours to disrupt social order”.

“A few … Big Vs have prospered thanks to the party and the country’s policies … But instead of showing gratitude to society, they turn and attack the social system that has given them development and prosperity,” the post said.

READ MORE: Communist Party professor supports tycoon’s right to criticise Beijing’s policies

“Some have even smashed the Communist Party’s cooking pots after eating the Communist Party’s food. They colluded with Western anti-China forces and became the ‘pot-smashing party’, the ‘leading-the-way party’ and the ‘US-cent party’,” it said, using terms often deployed by leftists against liberal social media users.

“Leading-the-way party” refers to people who would betray China in a conflict by showing the US Army the way to find and destroy its targets. The “US-cent party” implies a person has been paid by the United States’ government to post comments online critical of the Chinese regime.

Other state media, such as Xinhua and state broadcaster CCTV, also applauded the punishment of Ren and recounted his “wrongdoings”.

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/1918995/communist-party-weighs-action-against-outspoken-chinese

Related:

Apple ready for encryption ‘conversation’: lawyer

February 29, 2016

AFP

© AFP/File | People make their way in and out of an Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York on February 23, 2016

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Apple wants a “conversation” to help settle a standoff with the lawmakers over accessing an encrypted iPhone, according to testimony prepared for a congressional hearing.

In a statement prepared for a hearing Tuesday, Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell said the public should understand that “encryption is a good thing, a necessary thing” even if it makes the work of law enforcement more difficult.

The hearing was called with Apple and FBI locked in battle over a warrant seeking to force Apple to help unlock the iPhone used by one of the shooters in last year’s San Bernardino attacks.

Apple’s refusal has set off an intense political debate about encrypted devices which provide “keys” only to users.

In his remarks, Sewell said Apple has been stepping up its encryption over the past few years.

“As attacks on our customers’ data become increasingly sophisticated, the tools we use to defend against them must get stronger too,” he said.

“Weakening encryption will only hurt consumers and other well-meaning users who rely on companies like Apple to protect their personal information.”

He added that around the world encryption and other methods help preserve privacy “and it keeps people safe.”

Sewell said the question of access to the locked iPhone is a question that lawmakers and the public should decide, renewing Apple’s criticism of the use of the broad 1789 All Writs Act that offers broad authority to law enforcement.

“The American people deserve an honest conversation around the important questions stemming from the FBI’s current demand,” he said.

“Most importantly, the decisions should be made by you and your colleagues as representatives of the people, rather than through a warrant request based on a 220-year-old statute. At Apple, we are ready to have this conversation.”

Sewell repeated the comments made by Apple chief Tim Cook, that the FBI is asking the company “to create an operating system that does not exist” which would open “a backdoor into the iPhone.”

Separately, two US lawmakers introduced a bill to establish a bipartisan commission of experts to study the issue of access to encrypted devices.

Senator Mark Warner and Representative Mike McCaul proposed the creation of a 16-member “National Commission on Security and Technology Challenges.”

The panel would include “leading experts and practitioners from the technology sector, cryptography, law enforcement, intelligence, the privacy and civil liberties community, global commerce and economics, and the national security community” to make recommendations to Congress.