Archive for June, 2018

Rudy Giuliani: “We see an end to the regime in Iran” — National Council of Resistance of Iran meets in France

June 30, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump will suffocate Iran’s “dictatorial ayatollahs”, his close ally Rudy Giuliani said on Saturday, suggesting his move to re-impose sanctions was aimed squarely at regime change.

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Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivers his speech as he attends the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), meeting in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

The former New York mayor who is now Trump’s personal lawyer was addressing a conference of the Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an umbrella bloc of groups of exiled Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic.

“We are now realistically being able to see an end to the regime in Iran,” Giuliani said, pointing to recent protests in the country sparked by a currency collapse after Trump pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivers his speech as he attends the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), meeting in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

“When the greatest economic power stops doing business with you then you collapse … and the sanctions will become greater, greater and greater,” he said.

At the same conference last year, John Bolton, who was appointed Trump’s National Security Advisor in April this year, told NCRI members they would be ruling Iran before 2019.

Bolton, who at the time was with the American Enterprise Institute think tank, told Fox News in January: “Our goal should be regime change in Iran.”

But, freshly appointed to the Trump administration, he told ABC’s “This Week” in May: “That’s not the policy of the administration. The policy of the administration is to make sure that Iran never gets close to deliverable nuclear weapons.”

European countries which signed the 2015 Iran deal along with the United States, Russia and China, are sticking with it, saying the agreement prevents Iran developing weapons-grade nuclear fuel. But Giuliani said Europe should be “ashamed” of itself.

“This president doesn’t intend to turn his back on freedom fighters. The end of appeasement is over,” he told the conference of the NCRI, whose main faction is the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI) once deemed a terrorist group by Washington and Europe.

Maryam Rajavi, who heads the group, told reporters: “Regime change in Iran is within reach as never before … The wheels of change have started turning.”

In Tehran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Trump would fail in any attempt to turn the Iranian people against the ruling system.

“They bring to bear economic pressure to separate the nation from the system … but six U.S. presidents before him (Trump) tried this and had to give up,” Khamenei said on his website. [nL8N1TW082]


Tens of Thousands Meet In Paris To Demand A Free, Democratic Iran — “Topple the Ayatollah regime!”

June 30, 2018

“The overthrow of this regime requires… requires an organization and a strong political alternative, and requires a liberty army.”

 JUNE 30, 2018 19:27

 ‘Free Iran’: Anti-regime protests arrive in Jerusalem

Echoes of the revolution, but will Iran’s protests bring down the regime?

Tens of thousands demand Iran regime change at mass exile rally in Paris

Supporters of Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), attend a rally in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)

PARIS — Tens of thousands of people from across Europe and the US gathered on Saturday at the Paris suburb Villepinte Congress Center for the annual meeting of the Iranian opposition “Free Iran” movement.

Waving flags of Iran, supporters of the Iran Mujahedin kept chanting in Farsi ‘’We are ready,’’ and ‘’People are dying, we will take back Iran,’’ responding to the calls of the speakers to topple the Ayatollah regime.

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Wearing a blue scarf and traditional attire, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran Maryam Rajavi addressed the crowd, saying ‘’the overthrow of this regime inevitably requires the willingness to pay the price, requires honesty and sacrifice, requires an organization and a strong political alternative, and requires resistance units and a liberty army.

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), delivers a speech during their gathering in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018 (REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), delivers a speech during their gathering in Villepinte, near Paris, France, June 30, 2018 (REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)

‘’We call for the establishment of a society based on freedom, democracy, and equality, which has clear demarcations with despotism and dependence as well as gender, ethic and class discrimination. We have defended and will defend gender equality, the right to freely choose one’s attire, separation of religion and state, autonomy of nationalities, equal political and social rights for all citizens of Iran, abolition of the death penalty, freedom of expression, parties, the media, assembly, unions, associations and syndicates.’’

A large American delegation, headed by former Mayor of New York and prominent Republican Party member Rudy Giuliani, a long-time supporter of the movement, took part in the event.

Also present were former speaker of the House of Representatives Newton Gingrich and former US Ambassador Bill Richardson. The delegation was mostly comprised of neo-Conservative Republicans, but also by a few Democrat figures objecting the Iranian nuclear agreement. Former Canada Prime Minister Stephan Harper headed the Canadian delegation to the event.

Welcomed by cries of ‘’Thank you,’’ Giuliani told the public that ‘’when people take to the streets and protest day after day, like they do in Iran, when they do that, no many how many are killed and their number continue to grow and grow, then freedom is right around the corner.’’

Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivers his speech as he attends the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) near Paris, France, June 30, 2018 (REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivers his speech as he attends the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) near Paris, France, June 30, 2018 (REUTERS/REGIS DUVIGNAU)

Giuliani continued by criticizing those companies who do business with Iran, stating that “Those who continue to do business with this regime should be boycotted, and we should stop doing business with them… Thank god that my president turned his back on the very dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran, whose regime is the biggest supporter of terrorism.”

Giuliani added that “The sanctions will become greater and greater and greater; this president will not turn his back on freedom fighters. You have got an alternative built on solid foundations of democracy, human rights, and rights of all women and minorities to be protected; that sounds exactly like a full-pledged democracy.”

Gingrich said “the willingness of so many people to come from so many places is a major factor in the growing support for freedom in Iran

“Two years ago we had an administration committed to weakening the sanctions; today you have an administration who understands the reality, increasing the sanctions, which will become tougher and tougher every month. This is the only way to replace the current regime by democracy.”

Gingrich attacked European support of the nuclear deal with Iran, stating that “We need to shame the European governments unwilling to support freedom and democracy. Our goal is not to start negotiating but to have a free Iran who respects the rights of its citizens.”

Harper also criticized Europe, saying “we do not choose the easy way but the right way. Vive l’Iran libre!”

Former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kushner, a long-time supporter of the movement told the crowd that “not all Europeans agree with the political line of the current US administration, but the people of Europe all support the path of liberty.

“There is no difference between European people, US people and Canadian people in that we are all with you, we are all on your side in your battle for freedom. We must get rid of the Mullah regime and build up a real democracy with the people.’’

The Mujahidin movement is one of the largest opposition groups outside Iran, with its headquarters based in France. It advocates resistance and violent overthrow of the Ayatollah regime, claiming to be the true representative of the Iranian people and proclaiming itself as replacing government in exile.

But inside Iran there are many Iran opposition figures who reject the movement, due to its support in past years for the Iraqi Saddam Hussein regime.

Spokesman of the NCRI Shain Gobadi told The Jerusalem Post that this rally was one of the biggest ever to take place in Europe, and surely larger than the rally of last year, pointing out the many buses who brought people from across France, Belgium, the UK and other European countries especially for this event.

Rahan, a 20-year-old student from London, told The Jerusalem Post that “the ongoing protests in Tehran go to show that the toppling of the regime is not a far-fetched dream. With Trump in power, the world starts understanding that.”


Malaysia’s Child Brides Force Discussion of Underage Marriages

June 30, 2018

Reports of marriage between a 11-year old girl and a man 30 years her senior sparked an uproar in Malaysia on Saturday, reigniting debate on the subject of underage marriage in the Muslim majority country.

The Malaysian government confirmed the incident in a statement on Saturday, but added there were no records in the courts or the regional religious office that permitted this marriage.

If there was no written permission from the sharia court then the marriage would be unlawful, it said.

Image result for malaysia, child brides, photos

“The ministry looks seriously upon underage marriage… The ministry wants to discuss and cooperate with religious councils to examine and tighten laws so it can eradicate the issue of underage marriage,” said a statement from the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.

A task force has been formed comprising state religious councils, government agencies and activists to cooperate and examine the issue, the ministry added.

The girl, believed to be a citizen of Thailand, married the 41-year-old man who already has two wives and six children aged between five and 18, according to local media reports.

Image result for malaysia, child brides, photos

In Malaysia, the legal minimum age for marriage under civil law for both genders is 18. However, girls can marry at 16 with the permission of their state’s chief minister, while Islamic law sets a 16-year minimum age for girls and allows even earlier marriages with the permission of the sharia court.

Last year, Malaysia passed a law on sexual offences against children but did not criminalize child marriage.

Last week, the country hosted a “Girls not Brides” conference in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur on ending child marriage.

The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said it was outraged by the reports.

“If true, it is shocking and unacceptable. It is not in the best interest of the child,” said Marianne Clark-Hattingh, UNICEF’s representative in Malaysia, in a statement.

“It is a violation of her rights. Law reform to set the legal age for marriage at 18 without exception should be one of the priorities of the new Parliament.”

Malaysians also took to social media to express their outrage.

“By allowing this man to marry her, we just robbed this girl of her childhood. We must end child marriage. If true, this is grotesque,” read a Twitter post by user @faizalhamssin, echoing scores of other posts.

Image result for malaysia, child brides, photos

Malaysia’s English language newspaper, The Star, reported in 2016 that there were over 9,000 child marriages recorded over the previous five years.

Free Iran 2018 — Trump Allies Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani Urge People to Consider Life After the Islamic Republic

June 30, 2018

 US President Donald Trump allies Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani on Saturday urged regime change in Iran, saying the prospect was closer than ever after the Islamic Republic was hit by a wave of strikes and protests.

Former House speaker Gingrich and ex-New York mayor Giuliani also told a rally of thousands of Iranian opposition supporters in Paris that Trump needed to turn up the heat on European countries still seeking to do business with Tehran despite reimposed US sanctions.

© AFP | Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York delivers a speech during “Free Iran 2018 – the Alternative” event organized by exiled Iranian opposition group on June 30, 2018 in Villepinte, north of Paris

“The only way to safety in the region is to replace the dictatorship with a democracy and that has to be our goal,” Gingrich told the Free Iran rally, organised by exiled opponents including the former rebel People’s Mojahedin which is banned in Iran.

He stressed he did not speak for the Trump administration, but added: “It seems to me there would be a rather happy celebration should regime change occur.”

Gingrich said he did not support arming the Iranian opposition, saying Trump should instead heap on more sanctions after pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

And he blasted countries attempting to find ways to allow their companies to keep operating in Iran under the threat of penalties for US sanction-busting.

“We need to have a campaign to shame the European governments who are unwilling to support freedom and democracy,” Gingrich said. “We need to insist that they join the sanctions once again.”

Giuliani called for a boycott of companies “that continually do business with this regime”.

“Freedom is right around the corner,” he added of the recent protests in Iran.

Gingrich, Giuliani and other US politicians have been heavily paid to speak at the annual Paris rally in recent years.

Their comments came after US Secretary Mike Pompeo this week gave his backing to the strikes and protests over economic woes, not least the collapse of the currency following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

On Monday traders at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar staged a rare strike following earlier reports of street protests in provincial cities.

Iranians have been hit by rising prices, and record levels of unemployment have left a third of under 30s out of work.

The latest protests follow dozens over the new year which left at least 25 people dead.

The People’s Mojahedin were founded in the 1960s against Iran’s royalist government and went on to fight the Islamic regime after the 1979 revolution.

In 2009 the European Union struck the Mojahedin from its list of terrorist organisations, where it had been since 2002. The United States did the same in 2012.


The bloodiest election campaign in Mexico’s history

June 30, 2018

The election campaign that comes to an end when voters go to the polls on Sunday has been the most violent ever to take place in Mexico, with at least 48 candidates murdered and many others attacked since September 2017.

Being an election candidate in Mexico is “practically tantamount to a death penalty”, Mario Alberto Chavez, a mayoral candidate in the southwest of the country, told AFP.

© Reuters | The funeral of Erika Cazares, local councillor and candidate for local deputy, who was killed on July 2.

On June 25, a new victim was added to the already long list of murdered candidates for the general election. Emigdio Lopez Avendano, a candidate to become a local deputy in the southern province of Oaxaca, was ambushed while driving along a country road and killed along with his four passengers.

While the death toll of 48 comes from Mexican security group the Etellekt Institute, the country’s interior ministry puts the figure at 34.

>> Read more: Will the next Mexican leader be a good ‘hombre’ for Trump?

Candidates step down because of violence

It took until June 18 for the ministry to put forward plans to protect presidential candidates – and, so far, only Jose Antonio Meade, the ruling PRI party’s candidate and the protégé of current President Enrique Pena Nieto, has benefitted from this measure.

According to a statement from the National Security Commission, only 214 candidates for public office benefit from protection measures from local or regional authorities, while 12 have their security ensured by the federal police.

However, in the southwestern state of Guerrero alone, nearly 200 people decided to give up their candidacies because of the violence. Others in Mexico have come to the same decision because of pressure from organised crime groups. The extent of the violence and intimidation is such that in some municipalities in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacan and Puebla – all states in the south of the country – have decided to dissuade their candidates from running.

Mayoral candidates among most targeted

Twenty-three of the forty-eight candidates murdered since September were mayoral candidates. In the most recent case, town hall candidate Fernando Angeles was shot dead on June 21, in the municipality of Ocampo in Michoacan. State authorities then arrested all of the district’s police officers before carrying out their own investigaton.

According to a study by Laura Calderon, a Mexico specialist at the University of San Diego, “mayors are 25 times more likely to be murdered than an average citizen”. The survey also noted that at least 150 mayors and mayoral candidates were killed between 2002 and 2017.

Candidates running against incumbents have been the biggest targets by far during this year’s election campaign, particularly those standing for the PRI or Morena – the party of the current favourite, the populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – in states where a different party is in power.

This article was adapted from the version in French.



China-US trade row might pave the way for the soybean Silk Road

June 30, 2018

Trade threats are giving added urgency to Beijing’s need to find long-term alternative suppliers for one of its key imports

South China Morning Post

Landlocked Kazakhstan in Central Asia is home to an extraordinarily diverse array of horticulture but there’s one crop coming in for special attention from China.

China is looking to Kazakhstan and other countries along the Silk Road to diversify its sources of soybeans.

China already imports nearly 100 million tonnes of the crop a year, accounting for about 60 per cent of the world’s market. Last year roughly half of those imports came from Brazil and a third from the United States, with suppliers in places like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan together contributing less than 1 per cent of the total.

Almost all of the soybeans are processed into animal feed in China to satisfy the country’s ever-growing appetite for meat.

With finite room for growth in its small group of suppliers, China has long known it needs to diversify its sources to meet its expanding demand. That need has gained greater urgency in the last year as trade ties with the United States have frayed rapidly under the strain of tariff threats on both sides.

China has already imported less of the commodity from the US, and has instead turned to Brazilian and Russian supplies. In May, Russian authorities reported a record 850,000 tonnes in soybean exports to China since July, more than double the 340,000 tonnes a year earlier.

“Even if there is an agreement [with the US] China will look to diversify,” DC Analysis president Dan Cekander said. “The environment is now right that they will investigate all avenues of alternative suppliers, and the longer this dispute is prolonged the more likely that will happen.”

So far, China had cultivated few large-scale alternative sources and the huge market share might make buying US supplies inevitable, analysts said. But that could change as China pours investment into countries involved in its “Belt and Road Initiative”, Beijing’s effort to link economies into a China-centred trading network. And the longer the dispute with Washington goes on, the more these emerging sources will have to gain.

“The trade war with the US is generating really good press for the agricultural investment strategy along the belt and road,” said Even Pay, a senior analyst at Beijing-based consultancy China Policy. “[The trade war has] made the case for diversifying import partners really concrete, so policymakers and companies that may have been sceptical before are now seeing a lot of evidence that overdependence on any single supplier of agricultural products is risky.”

One neighbour keen to step into the breach is Kazakhstan, which after nearly a decade of trying finally exported soybeans to China last year.

Growers in the Central Asian nation shipped just 8,400 tonnes of the crop to China between September and March, according to Ukraine-based agribusiness consultancy UkrAgroConsult.

Exports had been derailed over the years by local protests over the leasing of land to Chinese agribusinesses.

But now Kazakhstan is laying the groundwork for greater exports in general with belt and road infrastructure projects, including the Kazakh section of the China-Europe transport corridor completed last year and the massive Khorgos dry port on the border with Xinjiang in China’s far west.

 China-US trade war is making American soybean farmers anxious

The relationship was reinforced in June when Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in Beijing, and pledged to coordinate their pet economic projects, Xi’s belt and road plan and Nazarbayev’s “Bright Path” economic policy. The two leaders agreed that bilateral ties would focus on transport, agriculture, investment and interbank associations, all critical for increasing Kazakhstan’s role as an agricultural exporter to China.

Tristan Kenderdine, research director at Future Risk based in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, said

China wanted to use the belt and road to diversify its agricultural supply lines, but investment in agriculture moved more slowly than that in other industries. “Kazakhstan is desperate to diversity its economy, and cooperation with China is crucial,” Kenderdine said.

Investment is also growing along the China’s border with Russia in Heilongjiang province. In April, construction began on a port in Fuyuan for shipments of crops, much of it soybean, grown by Chinese companies on Russian farmland.

In addition, a small but rising amount of soybean comes from Ukraine. He Zhenwei, secretary general of the China Overseas Development Association, told entrepreneurs in Ukraine this month that this would continue, with China expected to increase imports of soybean and other agricultural products from the former Soviet state.

China has invested heavily in infrastructure in Ukraine, from dredging seabeds to increase capacity at seaports, to building grain silos and highways.

But there are still serious challenges to importing significant amounts of soybean and other agricultural products from these countries, including poor water supplies and Soviet-era infrastructure, according to Professor Yang Shu, director of the Institute for Central Asian Studies at Lanzhou University.

“At the moment, these countries could never hope to make a dent in major soybean suppliers like the US and Brazil,” Yang said.

Nevertheless, the evolving relationships and Chinese investment in agriculture in the region point to well beyond soybeans. At an interministerial meeting in May, Chinese officials called for the country to speed up development of its large international grain traders and agribusinesses, and to transfer of production capacity to advantageous areas along the belt and road.

Cekander said the trade row with the US could also prompt China to begin substituting soybeans for other goods, switching soybean meal used for feed, to corn and corn meal, which would boost demand for supplies from countries like Ukraine.

“The biggest fear is that there is structural change in Chinese demand if trade tensions wear on,” he said.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz: The EU’s new power broker?

June 30, 2018

Austria takes over the EU Council presidency on July 1. Above all, its conservative new leader Kurz sees himself as a gatekeeper, with migration at the top of the agenda for his country’s mandate.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (picture alliance/dpa/BELGA/T. Roge)

The dispute over a common EU migration policy is far from resolved. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition has been teetering on the brink of collapse over the issue. The Visegrad countries continue to stoke tensions with fellow member states, while Italy has just sealed its ports in an effort to deter vessels of rescued migrants.

While the EU summit unanimously agreed to do more protect its external borders, the problem of how to distribute migrants within the bloc went unsolved in Brussels on Friday. The question mark continues to weigh heavily on the bloc just days before Austria takes the reigns of the EU Council presidency.

With a right-wing populist chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, at its helm, the bloc is about to be led by a country whose policies on migration in recent years have shown little willingness to compromise.

In 2017, Kurz and his conservative ÖVP (Austrian People’s Party) formed a government in a coalition in Vienna with the far-right FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria). He was serving as foreign minister at the peak the refugee crisis in 2015, and has credited himself with having curbed migration via the Balkan route into the into the EU.

A consensus on external border protection

“I think people are justifiably fed up of hearing migration talked about at the EU level, but not seeing anything happen in practice,” said Kurz a few days ahead of his country’s ascendence to the EU Council presidency in Brussels. The six-month Austrian tenure will be governed under the motto “A Europe that protects.”

In line with the slogan, Kurz is emphasizing his agenda to reduce immigration into Europe via all routes. The recent decision by the EU to establish camps for migrants in North Africa is, in Kurz’s view, a positive development.

Kurz lauded the bloc’s shift in policy: “It wasn’t like that in 2015. Now we are seeing action, and it’s heading in the right direction.” Austria is committed to improving the protection of the EU’s external borders, and a massive expansion of the EU border protection agency Frontex is on the agenda.

Aspirations to expand Frontex are not new to EU policy. The EU Commission had beat Austria to it with a proposal set out at the previous summit of bulking up the agency with a further 10,000 personnel by 2020. But even if improved external border protection meets with broad approval, some see it as being difficult to implement. The last increase of just 1,500 staff has still not been achieved. EU governments are reluctant to send their own servants to the EU border guards.

Saskia Stachovitsch, director of the Austrian Institute for International Politics in Vienna, considers the latest and much larger increase in staff at Frontex to be unrealistic: “Knowing how difficult the last Frontex increase was to achieve, I do not think that the next one will be easy.”

Austria a new power broker?

EU leaders reach deal on migration, but questions remain

There is still little agreement on what to do with migrants who are already in the EU. Rome has been demanding for years that refugees registered in Italy be relocated to other EU states. Slovakia and Hungary unsuccessfully appealed against EU policy in 2015, both countries still took fewer refugees than is required of them by the bloc. Austria, like many other EU states, also did not fulfill its refugee intake quota.

“A presidency carries the task of bringing together fundamental positions,” said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn on German national radio channel Deutschlandfunk. “I consider it not right, not good, not European, and misleading that the Austrian presidency is aligning itself so strongly with the Visegrad countries. It will damage the European Union!”

Without a common European solution to “share the burden” – a balanced distribution of migrants within Europe – the ongoing dispute over immigration plaguing the bloc will not be solved, said Asselborn.

In the run-up to the to his role presiding over the EU presidency, Kurz repeatedly emphasized that his government wanted to play a bridging role and mediate between the more hardline positions. Whether Austria will actually succeed in implementing its agenda over the next six months remains to be seen, according to Janis Emmanouilidis, the director of the European Policy Center think tank in Brussels.

Two tasks, too little time: The EU budget and Brexit

Another topic on which Austria could enjoy a key authority position on is the negotiation of the next seven-year EU budget. The financial framework is to be set for the period from 2021 to 2027 – the first EU budget without the United Kingdom, following Brexit.

In order to compensate for the financial hole left by the Brits, the EU Commission has set forth a proposal for an increase on the payments by the remaining members of the bloc.

Kurz rejects the proposed contribution increase as “unacceptable” and announced “long and tough negotiations.” The tug-of-war over the previous EU budget for the period from 2014 to 2020 took a total of two-and-a-half years.

Some member states, including Germany, are demanding a much faster turnaround this time, ideally ahead of the European elections next May, according to political scientist Emmanouilidis.

Austria’s EU presidency coincides with the final stretch of the Brexit negotiations, set to be finalized this year in order to pave the way for the UK’s exit from the bloc in early 2019. Whether such the deadlines can be met remains to be seen. There are several points of contention in Britain. The topics of border control between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and whether Britain will remain in the single market, remain hotly contested.

The EU presidency would then have the task of ensuring that there is no disagreement among the remaining EU countries in order to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible – no small order.

Philippines: Flood control project collapses before completion

June 30, 2018

Global infrastructure projects showing lack of proper engineering and attention to detail in construction….

Ding Cervantes (The Philippine Star) – July 1, 2018 – 12:00am

SAN Simon, Pampanga  , Philippines  —  Around 95 meters of a flood control project along Pampanga River in this town collapsed two days before its completion on June 21.

The contractors of the project have dispatched their workers and equipment  to repair the collapsed portion of the river wall, district engineer Lita Manalo said yesterday.

The project, which is worth P140 million, started on Nov. 24.

Manalo said initial findings indicated that the concrete base of the collapsed wall, which was not yet fully dry at the time, loosened amid heavy rains.

Video grab from GMA News shows the collapsed portion of the Pampanga flood control project in San Simon.

She said they are also checking if a broken pipeline of a water provider caused the damage.

Manalo gave assurance that the contractors would conduct repairs without additional cost to the government.

The project was a joint undertaking of Ferdstar Builders and DL Cervantes Construction.

Diosdado Cervantes of DL Construction said Ferdstar  built the dike.

“There should be no worry about the project because the builders are under contract with the government to repair it,” Cervantes said.

Repair works on the damaged portion of the river wall may take at least a month.

Trump Pushes Saudi Oil-Production Increase in Call With King — More Production should more lower prices at the gas station

June 30, 2018
U.S. seeks 2 million barrel a day increase, president says — Move would stretch capacity, undermine OPEC output agreement
Khalid Al-Falih

Photographer: Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump said he persuaded Saudi Arabia to effectively boost oil production to its maximum capacity to cool down prices, a move that threatens to blow up a fragile truce agreed by OPEC last week and inflame the Saudi-Iran rivalry.

“Just spoke to King Salman of Saudi Arabia and explained to him that, because of the turmoil & disfunction in Iran and Venezuela, I am asking that Saudi Arabia increase oil production, maybe up to 2,000,000 barrels, to make up the difference…Prices to high! He has agreed!,” Trump said on Twitter Saturday.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Trump, in a phone call Saturday, discussed efforts by the oil-producing countries to compensate potential shortages in oil supply, the state-run Saudi Press Agency reported. The two leaders stressed the importance of maintaining oil-market stability, according to the report. The agency didn’t say the leaders agreed or make any reference to 2 million barrels.

The telephone exchange is another sign of how U.S.-Saudi ties have improved under Trump compared with the Obama administration, which alienated the kingdom by seeking a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump last year chose Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip. Since then, the two governments have announced hundreds of billions of dollars worth of contracts, with Trump openly bragging about how many U.S. jobs the Saudis were helping to create.

Iran’s Response

If the Saudis agree to Trump’s request, “that means he is calling on them to walk out from OPEC,” Iran’s OPEC governor Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said in an interview. “There is no way one country could go 2 million barrels a day above their production allocation unless they are walking out of OPEC.”

At a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna last weekend, Saudi Arabia — the group’s largest producer — joined other members in agreeing to scale back its over-compliance with output cuts that have been in place since the beginning of 2017. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih indicated the group’s action would add nearly 1 million barrels a day to the market.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, topped $80 a barrel in mid-May, the highest level since November 2014. It closed Friday at $79.44 a barrel.

U.S. retail unleaded gasoline prices, including taxes, averaged $2.833 a gallon for the week ended June 25, according to the nation’s Energy Information Administration. That’s up about 55 cents from the same period last year. U.S. politicians closely follow pump prices, a measure of financial strain on their constituents.

Spare Capacity

If Saudi Arabia were to respond to Trump’s request, it would stretch spare production capacity to the limit, meaning that any supply outage could have an out-sized effect on oil prices. It would also likely aggravate other OPEC members, such as Iran and Venezuela, which initially sought to prevent any increase as OPEC, along with allies led by Russia, headed into their Vienna meetings earlier this month.

“We will be in uncharted territory,” Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London, said. “While Saudi Arabia has the capacity in theory, it takes time and money to bring these barrels online, up to one year,” she said.

Saudi Arabia has the capacity to pump a maximum of 12.04 million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency. The kingdom pumped slightly more than 10 million barrels a day in May, leaving exactly the 2 million barrels a day gap Trump asked the Saudi king to use now.

Oil analysts and consultants nonetheless think the kingdom can produce more than 12 million barrels a day in an emergency through a so-called surge, in which oil fields are depleted beyond what engineers consider a reasonable rate. In addition, Saudi Arabia shares with Kuwait a so-called neutral zone that hasn’t been used for the past couple of years and can pump as much as as additional 500,000 barrels a day.

‘Ramp Up’

“Saudi Arabia can use some of its stocks to boost exports, visible to the U.S. president, while it takes time to ramp up operating capacity,” said Olivier Jakob, head of Swiss-based consultant Petromatrix GmbH.

Trump earlier this month blamed OPEC for oil prices being too high, reprising comments he made on Twitter in April. At meetings in Vienna June 22-23, OPEC and its allies cobbled together a delicate accord in order to satisfy some producers, like Iran and Venezuela, which wanted to limit output, and others like the Saudis, which sought to ease away from the supply cuts.

The curbs were intended to help drain a global oil glut, a goal that has largely been achieved, though supply disruptions are now adding pressure to prices. Venezuela is in the midst of an economic crisis, which has caused oil production to plummet. In Libya, where a dispute over control of key ports has hindered output, the Arabian Gulf Oil Co. on Saturday halted 220,000 barrels a day of production, according to a person familiar with the outage.

Also see: Unexpected oil losses swamp Saudi production surge

Trump’s administration in early May said that it would renew U.S. sanctions on Iran and has sought to reduce other foreign buyers’ purchases of Iranian oil.

“I guess the Saudis want to give the confidence to Trump to go very hardcore on Iran,” tweeted the oil market’s most vocal bull, commodities hedge-fund manager Pierre Andurand. “It seems that Iranian regime change is the priority number 1 for the Saudis.”

— With assistance by Grant Smith, Abbas Al Lawati, and Nayla Razzouk


Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, July 1, 2018 — Have I ever begged God for help? Am I alive in Christ? Do I Believe in Eternity?

June 30, 2018

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Jairus came forward. He fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”

Have you ever begged God for help?

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 98

Reading 1 WIS 1:13-15; 2:23-24

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.

Responsorial Psalm PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

Reading 2 2 COR 8:7, 9, 13-15

Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse,
knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less

Alleluia  CF. 2 TM 1:10

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Our Savior Jesus Christ destroyed death
and brought life to light through the Gospel.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 5:21-43 OR 5:21-24, 35B-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.


When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.

Image result for Jairus,, Jesus, pictures
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

Image result for Jairus,, Jesus, pictures

Jesus Raises the Daughter of Jairus



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Reflection from The Abbot

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Death is not acceptable in so much of modern culture.  Yet death comes in so many ways to all of us.  The only death to fear is the death of the soul.  God created us to live but death has come into the world.  Physical death.  Everyone seems to want to fight against physical death.  For us who follow the Lord Jesus, physical death is the gateway to eternal life, to living with the Lord Jesus forever.

The first reading today is from the Book of Wisdom.  Even in this book from the Old Testament we hear:  “God formed man to be imperishable.”  God wants us to live!  Yet death came into our world.  The Old Testament knows already that death is not the final answer to our human existence.  Death is only final for those who belong to the company of the devil.

The second reading is from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. Saint Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to share what money they have with those who have less.  This is another form of dying to oneself:  recognizing that we can share what we have, even if we don’t have much.  In much of modern culture today, the emphasis is on getting as much for oneself as is possible.  This is another expression of the fear of death.  We have a fear of not having all that we want.  It is important to recognize that very often what we want and what we need are very different.  We have to learn to die to ourselves in order to recognize this difference.

We are not invited to look at how others live, but at how we ourselves live.  We are invited to see what we have that we could give away to help others who have less.  Saint Augustine said already in early centuries of Christianity that we should strive to have less so that others can have more.

The Gospel from Saint Mark today returns us to the theme of physical death, but in two forms.  The woman with the hemorrhages would have been cut out of normal society for all of the 12 years that she had suffered from the hemorrhages.  Yet she felt somehow that if only she could touch the Lord Jesus, she could be healed and returned to life.

The daughter of the synagogue official really dies and those around her send a message to her father:  don’t bother Jesus!  Instead, Jesus knows what is happening and goes to the home and brings the young girl back to life, in spite of everyone doubting that it could happen.

Our challenge today is a simple question:  Am I alive in Christ?  Am I willing to share what I have with those who have less?  Can I really believe that Jesus is the whole meaning of life?

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip



Reflection by  The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
01 JULY, 2018, Sunday, 13th Week, Ordinary Time

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ WIS 1:13-152:23-242 COR 8:7913-15MK 5:21-43 ]

No one is happy about dying, because no one wants to die.  Most people try to fight it.  Others attempt to defy it.  This is a fact.  I am sure we have come across many cases of terminally ill patients and their relatives who just could not accept the reality of death. Yes, today our culture places emphasis on youth, vitality, and health.   That is why many of us are conscious, or should I say obsessed, with our looks, our diet and weight.  Some take supplements; others dye their hair – because we all want to look young and feel young.  But no matter what we do, we know that life is fragile.  It is subjected to illness and must succumb to death, the inevitable limit.

So, the question that confronts us in today’s readings is this:  Can we still believe in life in the face of death?  The answer is a resounding “Yes.”  From the outset, the first reading makes it clear that in the plan of God, He did not include death.  In fact, the author states that God is unhappy that humankind must die.  Death is not God’s doing.  Rather, He created all things good.  God wants us to live.  And this is underscored by the healing and resuscitation miracles in today’s gospel.

How, then, do we live in such a way that we will never die?  And even when death really comes, are we able to embrace it with open arms, without fear?  We can if we really understand the meaning of death.  Unless we know what death is, how can we know how to live?  Isn’t it true that we value good health only when we have fallen sick?  If not we take our health for granted.  It is also similarly true with life.  In order to live, we must know what death is.   So what is death?  Very often, death is seen as the cessation of biological life.  If that were the case, then we need not worry about death – because it will be the end of all miseries and pain.  For good reason, we say, ‘call no man happy until he is dead’.

But what is to be feared is actually not biological death but a living death.  The fact is that physical health alone cannot bring us happiness.  Indeed, why ask for a long life at all if our present life is full of emptiness and misery?   To live a life of misery is to prolong our martyrdom.  Unless you hope to be a martyr for the Church!  So death is the loss of spiritual life, a life that is lived in the spirit – a spirited life – a dynamic life – life in the fullest sense of the term.  The tragedy is that many of us are contented with this kind of lifeless life – existing and kicking but really we have died.

But that is what even us Catholics seem to want.  Take the Sacrament of the Sick for example.   People would rather turn to prayer groups and even mediums for help in time of serious sickness than to avail themselves of the Sacrament.  Why? Because the Sacrament of the Sick does not seem to offer spectacular cures.  In fact, it has always been seen as the Sacrament for the dying.  But this is a wrong understanding of what the Sacrament is all about.  In this Sacrament, the Church is not concerned with merely restoring the physical health of the person.  Indeed, what good is it if the person who has been living a wicked and sinful life is restored to health, only to continue that kind of life?   No, in the Sacrament of the Sick, the Church attacks the root cause of all illnesses.  It prays for healing not just on the physical dimension but also on the emotional, psychological and most of all, the spiritual level.

In the final analysis, the reason why we are so unhappy in life is because we all have heart disease.  And what is the cause?  It is not high cholesterol but a selfish heart.  The first reading speaks of the death that is brought about by the envy of the devil.  An envy that is the product of selfishness.  Millions die this kind of death.  It is selfishness that alienates us from others.  The real suffering of the woman in the gospel was because she was alienated as she was considered unclean; so too, death was painful for the little girl and her parents because they have been alienated.

How then do we cure our selfish hearts?  The Gospel tells us that we must have faith – faith in Jesus who is our Resurrection and Life. In healing the Woman who was bleeding, and in raising Jairus’ daughter, Jesus shows that He has the power to bestow life.  But this life is ours only when we live the life of Jesus, which is a life of death.  A paradox.  But that is the way.  Why? Because the real antidote to death is death itself.  In Chinese medicine, it is said that the best way to overcome poison is to destroy it with a stronger poison.  Similarly, to overcome death we must fight death with death, but a higher form of death.

And what is this death?  It is the death to ourselves.   A person cannot live when he lives only for himself.  The paradox of life is that life is ours only when it is given away.  It is in sharing our life with others that we truly live.  The richest people are those who know how to share and the poorest are those who think only of themselves.  Yes, the rich, in the sense of this world, can have real riches only when the poor gives them the joy of giving and sharing.  This is the way Jesus lived.  For this reason, St Paul in the second reading urges us to follow the example of Jesus.  Christ became poor for our sake so that we might become rich.   Christ was as rich as God, but became poor in the incarnation and redemption.

But where can we find the strength to die to ourselves? That strength can only come from our own experience of the love of God in our lives.  The good things that happen to us and the blessings that we receive are signs of God’s fidelity to us.  The healing miracles in the Gospel and in our lives are meant to be just that: to remind us that God loves us.  That is why it would be naive to think that so long as we have faith and pray, God will always heal us.  Nay, we cannot be healed and live forever.  Even Jairus’ daughter would have to die one day.  But that is not the point.  The point of healing miracles is to reaffirm us that God loves us. It is this assurance of His love for us that helps us to profess our faith in the love of God even in illnesses and physical death.

Only with this faith in His overwhelming love for us will we be enabled to overcome the illnesses and death that comes from our selfishness.  For in experiencing His healing, we are empowered to do the same things that He did, to heal and to bring life to others, to lead them from exclusion to inclusion, from their hurts and sins to healing and wholeness.  We can see this so often in our lives.  Some who have been healed by God suddenly become His witnesses.  They are now able to go beyond their hatred to forgiveness, beyond their lack of concern to compassion and caring, beyond their dishonesty and deceit to openness and truth.  Yes, in healing others, we ourselves become truly wholesome, for we are no more alienated.  We become one with others in love and joy.

And then when biological death comes, we will no longer be frightened.  A man who has lived fully in this life will not cling on to this life anymore.  In fact, if many of us are so frightened of death, it is simply because we have never lived.  We ask for an extension of life because we hope that one day we will find life.  If we have lived a full life here on earth, we will not cling to life here because we would be too happy to go, to seek a higher form of life in the life hereafter – with God and Jesus forever – the resurrected life.  We will be too willing to move on instead of clinging to this life.

I think the worst thing that can happen to us is to come to the end of our lives and realize that we have never lived. The saddest tragedy for many of us is that we all know how to make a living, but we do not know how to live!

Written by The Most Rev William Goh