Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Greece to miss IMF payments amid fears of ‘catastrophic’ eurozone rupture

May 24, 2015

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A Greek reversion to the Drachma would be an irreversible “disaster” for the entire euro project, Yanis Varoufakis warns

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Greece’s long-term future in the eurozone still hangs in the balance Photo: AFP
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Greece will be unable to find the €1.6bn (£1.1bn) sum it is due to hand the International Monetary Fund (IMF) next month, one of the country’s ministers has admitted.

Nikos Voutsis, the Greek minister of the interior, said that “this money will not be given and is not there to be given”, speaking on Mega TV. The Greek state is due to hand over the money in four installments in June, as part of its obligations for its 2011 bail-out.

Mr Voutsis’ comments came as Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister, told The Andrew Marr Show that if progress was not made, it would be the beginning of the end for the euro project.

The finance minister said that the Syriza-led Greek government has now “made enormous strides at reaching a deal”, and that it is now up to the ECB, IMF and EU “to do their bit” and “meet us one-quarter of the way”.

• How the ECB became the real villain in Greece
• AEP: defiant Greeks force Europe to the negotiating table

One possible alternative if talks do not progress is that Greece would leave the common currency and return to the drachma. This would be “catastrophic”, Mr Varoufakis warned, and not just for Greece itself.

“It would be a disaster for everyone involved, it would be a disaster primarily for the Greek social economy, but it would also be the beginning of the end for the common currency project in Europe,” he said.

“Whatever some analysts are saying about firewalls, these firewalls won’t last long once you put and infuse into people’s minds, into investors’ minds, that the eurozone is not indivisible,” he added.

Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek finance minister (Photo: Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)

“It will only be a certain amount of time before the whole thing begins to unravel.”

Mr Varoufakis’ and Mr Voutsis’ words followed a declaration from Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, that bargaining with Greece’s creditors would soon come to a close. On Saturday he said: “We are on the final stretch of a painful and tough period shaped by the government’s negotiations with the institutions.”

“Rest assured that in this negotiation we will not accept humiliating terms,” Mr Tsipras told Syriza’s central committee. “The overwhelming majority of Greek people want a solution and not just an agreement … it supports the government in this tough negotiation,” he added.

 

For Greece itself, using the common currency is now like using a “foreign currency”, and any exit from the eurozone would be “a disaster”, Mr Varoufakis said.

He continued: “Trying to get out of it is tantamount to announcing a devaluation 10 months in advanced.” Economists warn that if Greece were to leave the euro area, it could trigger huge levels of capital flight.

In turn, Greece would almost certainly have to resort to capital controls in order to stem the tide of money out of the domestic economy.

• How the eurozone could tear apart
• Greek economy is bleeding 600 jobs a day

Ratings agency Moody’s has warned that there is now a “high likelihood” of such controls, which might be necessary to keep the Greek financial system alive. An estimated €30bn has been withdrawn from the country’s banks since snap elections were called in December 2014.

Mr Varoufakis said that at some point the Greek government would have to make a choice between paying salaries and paying international creditors.

The decision is one “that no minister of finance should ever have to make”, Mr Varoufakis said, adding that “and of course the choice that makes under those circumstances is clear cut, isn’t it”, indicating that creditors would be left empty handed.

The Greek state had done “remarkably well” at making payments so far, given its lack of access to the money markets, Mr Varoufakis said.

Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister (Photo: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

The finance minister said that it would be unnecessary to for Greece to hold a referendum to refresh its mandate, as suggested by Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister.

Mr Schaeuble has said that a Greek plebiscite on continued membership of the euro would be “helpful” for both the country and its creditors. Mr Varoufakis, however, stressed that “the Greek people completely support us”.

He said: “We have a fresh mandate to end this austerity trap, to end this debt-deflationary spiral, and to say to these institutions that it is not in their interests as our creditors to say that the cow that produces the milk should be into into submission.”

The beatings should not continue “to the extent that the milk will not be enough for them [Greece’s creditors] to get their money back”, he added.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/11626969/Greece-to-miss-IMF-payments-amid-fears-of-catastrophic-eurozone-rupture.html

Philippine Lawmakers, United Nations Want Dialogue With China in the West Philippine Sea

May 24, 2015

 (The Philippine Star) |

Photo provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines shows construction on Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef in the Spratly Islands.

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines should engage China in bilateral talks in its efforts to maintain peace and order at the disputed West Philippine Sea, Sen. Francis Escudero said yesterday.

Escudero supports the government’s move to bring the issue before international arbitration but also stressed the need for the Philippines to pursue talks with China.

Escudero made the statement after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called for a peaceful solution to territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“We should also pursue bilateral talks with China to settle the dispute, maybe we could also pursue back channeling talks with them. We should use all means, multilateral, regional or bilateral level, to settle the dispute,” he said.

The heightened regional concern over the disputed waters came after China warned a US surveillance plane to keep out of the area last week. The US government said it was asserting freedom of navigation and aviation when it undertook the surveillance mission.

Escudero expressed concern that the Philippines might get caught in a crossfire between the US and China if ever a conflict arises.

However, he was optimistic that China and US will be able to settle the issue peacefully.

Escudero lamented the Philippines cannot match China in military terms.

He also cautioned the Department of National Defense against using the issue to beef up its resources by asking additional budget for the Armed Forces’ modernization program.

“They should stop saber-rattling so that they can get more budget because in the end, we may not even have enough resources to match China’s might in an actual war,” he said in Filipino.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Rodolfo Biazon Jr., for his part, called for ways to tighten security agreements between the Philippines and the United States to ensure a clear commitment that the US will come to the country’s aid in the event the territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea erupts into a conflict.

Biazon, chairman of the House committee on national defense and security, said he was disturbed by statements coming from top officials, including Armed Forces chief Gen. Gregorio Catapang, that the country cannot rely on the US for help in case the situation escalates in the disputed waters.

He said the country and the US have the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that entered into force in April last year but they apparently do not specify courses of action to take.

“It appears that the US will help us but up to what extent will that alliance go? Is this assistance for our diplomatic efforts or if the situation comes to force on force, will they help us? I’m bothered by such statements. Can we lean on the MDT? If not, why are we talking to the Americans?” Biazon told dzBB over the weekend.

“I know the MDT is there, the VFA and now the EDCA – we must study these. How can EDCA help us? The EDCA speaks about basing, the question is, whose bases?” he asked.

“Tensions in the South China Sea have increased but where that will lead, no one can predict. To avoid conflict, more nations should call for a peaceful resolution and we have been making protests on what China’s been doing,” he said.

Biazon said the Constitution bans foreign bases but the prohibition is not absolute as long as there is a basing treaty ratified by the Senate.

He welcomed the statements of condemnation coming from the US, Japan, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and other countries on China’s construction of military installations in the disputed waters even as they called on other nations “to wake up the world to resolve the dispute under the rule of law.”

When US President Barack Obama visited Manila in April 28 last year, he said his government supports the country’s bid to peacefully resolve its dispute against China.

“We don’t even take a specific position on the disputes between nations. But, as a matter of international law and international norms, we don’t think that coercion and intimidation is the way to manage these disputes,” Obama said. –With Paolo Romero

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2015/05/25/1458480/talks-china-over-sea-row-urged

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Warplanes from Libya’s official government attack an oil tanker near Sirte

May 24, 2015

TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya — Warplanes from Libya’s official government attacked an oil tanker afloat near the city of Sirte on Sunday, wounding two people and setting the ship on fire, officials said.

It was the third confirmed strike by the internationally recognised government on oil tankers, part of a conflict between competing administrations and parliaments allied to armed factions fighting for control of the country four years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

The recognised premier Abdullah al-Thinni has been working out of the east since losing the capital Tripoli in August last year to a rival faction. Both sides have been attacking each other with warplanes and thanks to loose alliances with former anti-Gaddafi rebels have also been fighting on several fronts on the land.

“Our jets warned an unflagged ship off Sirte city, but it ignored the warning,” the eastern air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi told Reuters.

“We gave it a chance to evaluate the situation, then our fighting jets attacked the ship because it was unloading fighters and weapons,” he added.

“The ship now is on fire. We are in war and we do not accept any security breaches, whether by land, air or sea,” Jourushi added.

Mohamed El Harari, a spokesman for Tripoli-based state oil firm NOC, said the Libyan tanker Anwar Afriqya had been carrying fuel for Sirte’s power plant. Another oil industry official said the size of the cargo was 25,000 tonnes.

Rida Essa, commander of coastal guards in central Libya loyal to the Tripoli-based rival government, said the tanker had been unloading gasoil for the plant when it came under attack. The ship was still on fire, he said.

He said a crew member and a port worker had been wounded.

Sirte’s power plant on the western outskirts is controlled by forces loyal to Tripoli. The rest of the city has fallen into the hands of Islamic State which has exploited a security vacuum.

The eastern government had already attacked in January a Greek-operated tanker docking at Derna, killing two seamen and accusing the shipper of sending weapons. NOC had said the tanker was only carrying heavy fuel oil for a power plant.

Two weeks ago forces loyal to the official government shelled a Turkish ship off the Libyan coast after it was warned not to approach. One crew member was killed in what Turkey described as a “contemptible attack”.

Libya’s recognised government has said its forces will hit any ships approaching ports without prior permission.

(Reporting by Ahmed Elumami, Ayman al-Warfalli and George Libby; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Greg Mahlich)

EU calls Russia’s NGO law a ‘worrying step’

May 24, 2015

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AFP

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Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law that enables authorities to ban “undesirable” foreign NGOs

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU said Sunday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a “worrying step” by enacting a law banning what Moscow deems to be undesirable non-governmental organisations.Under the law signed by Putin on Saturday, the Russian authorities can ban foreign NGOs and go after their employees, who risk up to six years in prison or being barred from the country.

The new law is a “worrying step in a series of restrictions on civil society, independent media and political opposition,” a spokesperson for the EU’s foreign service said in a statement.

“It will restrict freedom of speech and media as well as pluralism of opinion,” the spokesperson added.

The EU noted what it called “the negative opinion” of the Russian Presidential Council of Human Rights, because the law also goes against the Russian constitution.

Critics have said the vague wording of the legislation, and a process that bypasses the court system, means that any group or business could be targeted.

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The real reason tensions are rising in the South China Sea

May 24, 2015

By Emily Meierding

This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New Americaon Twitter.

A year ago this month, China moved its oil drilling rig, the HD-981, into waters around the Paracel Islands. China’s exploratory drilling provoked a confrontation with Vietnam, which also claims the area. Both countries deployed coast guard vessels and fishing fleets to the drilling site. Ships collided and turned water cannons on each other, sinking a fishing boat. In Vietnam, the incident sparked popular protests; over 20 people were killed.

A Chinese Coast Guard vessel watches over China’s oil rig 981, near Vietnam, in the south China Sea, may 2014.

The rig withdrew in July, after two months of drilling. But it left an unresolved question in its wake: is competition over the South China Sea’s oil and natural gas resources a threat to regional security? This question resonates across the region, as the Paracel Islands are not the only area where hydrocarbon exploration could lead to clashes. In addition to its disputes with Vietnam, China is also involved in disagreements over resource authority with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Could these countries’ attempts to exploit oil and gas spiral into outright conflict?

The answer, happily, is probably not. The risk of regional “resource wars” has been overstated. Sure, hydrocarbon competition can inspire international spats, but as the HD-981 incident demonstrated, governments are quick to contain them.

When it comes to maritime disputes, islands, not oil, are the greater threat to international stability. Why? Because resources can be shared but islands cannot. In a winner-takes-all environment, leaders have little choice but to dig in their heels. If one country obtains sovereign control over contested territory, the other loses it. But through joint development, resources can be shared.

Over the last few decades, this difference has been particularly evident in the East China Sea. There, Japan and China are contesting control over a group of islands—known as the Senkakus in Japanese and Diaoyus in Chinese—along with oil and natural gas fields, over 100 nautical miles to the northeast of those islands. The dispute over the islands has generated intense hostility between the two countries. The struggle over oil and gas fields, by contrast, has inspired constructive dialogue.

The East China Sea islands claimed by both Japan and China — called Senkakus in Japanese and Diaoyus in Chinese.

That path to restraint, admittedly, hasn’t always been linear. Chinese oil companies began operating in the East China Sea in the late 1970s, where they made their first discovery, the Pinghu field, about a decade later. Pinghu’s development was uncontroversial; the field is almost forty miles west of where Japan draws its international boundary. In the late 1990s, Japan even co-financed the construction of pipelines from Pinghu to the Chinese mainland.

But friction increased as China’s search for hydrocarbons moved closer to the border. In 2003, oil companies set up a production platform above the Chunxiao gas field, one mile from the maritime boundary. Japanese authorities demanded access to the field’s geological data to ensure that China wasn’t siphoning off Japanese reserves. When the companies refused, Japan launched its own exploration program. A seismic survey ship was deployed to the border zone in July 2004. Beijing responded by sending in its navy. Surveillance ships harassed the survey vessel and, in November, a Chinese submarine was spotted in Japanese waters. Two months later, two Chinese destroyers moved into the contested area.

Yet, Japanese and Chinese authorities managed to contain the dispute. In October 2004, the countries launched a series of bilateral talks on the East China Sea issue. Four years of negotiations eventually produced an agreement to exploit hydrocarbon resources cooperatively in the border zone.

The agreement has not led to significant resource cooperation, but China and Japan have avoided further confrontations around the fields. This outcome stands in stark contrast to the dispute over the islands, which continues to provoke tensions, as yet unaddressed by bilateral agreements.

The Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute also emerged in the 1970s, when China started challenging Japan’s authority over the islands. It has gone through periods of escalation, as activists from both countries have attempted to land on the uninhabited islands to reinforce their governments’ territorial claims. In 1978 and 1996, Japanese nationalists landed on the islands and erected lighthouses, prompting diplomatic protests from Beijing and deployments of Chinese fishing boats. Activists from Taiwan and Hong Kong attempted their own landings, some of which succeeded, in spite of resistance from Japan’s Coast Guard. In 2004, activists from mainland China reached the islands for the first time.

These incidents did not spiral into militarized clashes. However, they provoked intense hostility and made the islands a flashpoint for nationalist sentiment on both sides. The populations of both countries were primed for further conflict—such as in 2012, when the Japanese government acquired three of the islands from private owners. In China, the nationalization was met with major anti-Japan protests. Beijing also retaliated by increasing its military presence in the area. Violations of Japan’s territorial waters skyrocketed from almost none to over seventeen per month over the next year. In November 2013, China declared an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) that included the islands.

In the last 18 months, violations have declined, but Japan is still reporting an average of eight per month. Japanese and Chinese officials have also made little progress towards resolving the island dispute. Last November, the countries jointly issued a four-point consensus, aimed at improving bilateral relations. One of the points addressed the Senkakus/Diaoyus, observing that China and Japan had “different views” of the situation, but would attempt to prevent it from escalating. Yet, Japan still refuses to acknowledge the existence of a dispute and neither country has offered concrete proposals for resolving it. Relations between Xi and Abe may be thawing, but a cooperative island agreement is a very long way off.

Chinese and Japanese officials are constrained by their countries’ shared history. The islands issue has acquired enormous symbolic significance in both countries, so attempts to reach a compromise settlement will provoke intense domestic opposition. Consequently, island disputes are likely to remain a thorn in government’s’ sides, persistently at risk of escalation.

Countries have many incentives to compete for authority in the East China Sea and South China Sea, including islands, oil and natural gas, fisheries, sea lanes of communication, and national pride. However, when it comes to inspiring conflict, not all causes are created equal. Hydrocarbon resources, alone, are not a significant threat to regional stability.

Emily Meierding is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for International Environmental Studies (CIES) at the Graduate Institute, Geneva.

http://www.vox.com/2015/5/24/8646571/the-real-reason-tensions-are-rising-in-the-south-china-sea

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 (Contains links to several related articles)

Composite photo shows a US Navy P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft which was asked to leave the area by the Chinese navy as it approached contested islands in the South China Sea. Photo also shows construction on Fiery Cross Reef, from where the warning could have been issued.

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Chinese amphibious ship Changbai Shan near James Shoal, an area also claimed by Malaysia, January 26, 2014 Photo by AP

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One of Vietnam’s Kilo-class submarines

A handout picture released by the Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office shows the arrival of the Japanese navy (back) at Manila South harbor, Philippines on May 9, 2015.

 (Contains links to many previous related articles)

Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese workers riot at the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh province, May 14, 2014. Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

The Philippines, Vietnam and other nations have expressed concern that China is building airstrips and sea ports in the South China Sea and looks to be militarizing up to eight islands which have disputed sovereignty issues.

PAF Fokker F-27-200 MPA

China has previously warned off Philippine Air Force Surveillance Aircraft from the same area patrolled by the U.S. P-8

China often encounters maritime patrol aircraft from the U.S. and Japan with Chinese fighter jets. This Chinese J-11 aircraft was photographed by a U.S. Navy P-8 crew over international waters in the South China Sea on August 19, 2014. The U.S. protested the “dangerous airmanship” of the pilot.

Fishermen from Vietnam and the Philippines have long complained of rough and unlawful treatment from the Chinese fishermen….

Do Van Nam, the captain of the fishing boat QNg 90226, is pictured gesturing on his boat reportedly damaged by Chinese ships in Vietnamese waters on November 26, 2014.

Fishing boat fishing boat Dna 90152 from Vietnam was rammed by a Chinese Coast Guard ship and sunk last May.

Screenshot of a Chinese Coast Guard vessel ramming a Vietnamese vessel in May 2014

Nguyen Chi Thanh, the owner and captain of fishing boat QNg96093, is seen on his vessel after it was attacked by Chinese forces on January 7, 2015.
Tuoi Tre

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Chủ tàu Trần Văn Quang và chiếc mỏ neo bị tàu lạ đâm lút vào mũi tàu. Ảnh: Đức Nguyễn.

Photo: Captain Pham Quang Thanh on the fishing boat that was fired at by a Chinese naval boat off Hoang Sa (Paracel) Islands of Vietnam on March 20, 2013.

Chinese maritime patrol officers stop and search a fishing boat in international waters — a violation of international law

China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.

China has diminished Hong Kong’s competitive edge

May 24, 2015

By  and , Epoch Times | May 23, 2015

For the first time in a decade, Hong Kong no longer tops the list of competitive cities in China, and its due to the stifling hand of the Chinese regime, commentators note.

According to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ recently released Blue Book on Urban Competitiveness—a survey of 294 China cities, Taiwan included—Hong Kong now ranks number two, falling behind its neighbor just across the border in mainland China, the metropolis Shenzhen.

The survey report claims Shenzhen topped Hong Kong, a bustling international financial hub and former British colony, because the mainland city better backed innovation—in 2014, Shenzhen government spent 4.05 percent of its gross domestic production supporting its innovation and technology sector compared to Hong Kong’s 0.73 percent.

The report also said Hong Kong’s standing was affected by last year’s student-led Occupy protests. From the end of September to mid December, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers held three areas of the city to protest a restrictive Beijing diktat on political reform in Hong Kong.

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ ranking is suspect, writes Canada-based political commentator Meng Tianyu in her regular column for the Chinese-language Epoch Times. But Meng says Hong Kong has been slipping as a competitive place to do business since 1997—the year the Chinese regime assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong from the British.

Economically, Hongkongers have been overtaken by mainlanders, Meng says, citing the increased Chinese shares in Hong Kong’s real estate, finances, power, construction and stock market.

And Hongkongers aren’t exactly helping themselves. Local bosses of big business have started becoming members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Party’s multipartite political advisory body. Today, none “dare challenge a ‘lecturing edict’ from Beijing,” Meng writes.

Small business owners are increasingly catering to the mainlanders by stocking up on commodities they seek, and in the process, transforming the local economy and livelihood of the common folk. “On the surface, Hong Kong’s economy is in the hands of the mainlanders,” Meng says.

While Hongkongers are aware of Beijing’s intrusion in their way of life and have “demonstrated Hong Kong’s will to fight for democracy and freedom” in last year’s Occupy protests, Meng fears that they might not be able to resist assimilation by economic means.

Meng says the Chinese regime is also manipulating Hongkongers by controlling its media—pro-democracy newspapers lose lucrative advertising contracts, management staff are replaced with pro-Beijing personnel, and editors are brutally assaulted in the streets by thugs.

The only reason why Hong Kong is not yet “totally ruined” by the Chinese regime is because Party officials are taking advantage of the city’s “Special Administrative Region” status to launder their ill-gotten gains—an open secret, Meng claims.

Some of these money laundering tales even made the Hong Kong papers. Last year, a widely reported story involved one Zhao Dannuo, 22-year-old mainland Chinese woman, who laundered over 10 billion Hong Kong dollars (about 1.23 billion) using the Bank of China in Hong Kong. Zhao was said to have moved the money for Xu Caihou, the disgraced and recently deceased former deputy head of the Chinese military.

Hong Kong maintains its status as an international finance center, but, according to Epoch Times Hong Kong branch president Ms. Guo Jun, that advantage depends on its Anglo-American legal system inherited from the British, which is also eroded.

Guo noted in a speech on current affairs of China this year that the Communist Party has stepped in to interpret Hong Kong’s Basic Law, its governing document, has asked Hong Kong to adopt security legislation that would undermine civil liberties, and is also manipulating the political reform process in Hong Kong.

“If this situation continues and Hong Kong loses its judicial advantages, its financial and information center position would inevitably disappear. Hong Kong, the well-known Pearl of the Orient, would be gone,” Guo said.

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1366740-political-commentators-hong-kong-is-less-competitive-and-its-chinas-fault/

Iraq regains ground from Islamic State; mass murder in Palmyra

May 24, 2015

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Reuters

Iraqi forces recaptured territory from advancing Islamic State militants near the recently-fallen city of Ramadi on Sunday, while in Syria the government said the Islamists had killed hundreds of people since capturing the town of Palmyra.

The fall of Ramadi and Palmyra, on opposite ends of the vast territory controlled by Islamic State fighters, were the militant group’s biggest successes since a U.S.-led coalition launched an air war to stop them last year.

The near simultaneous victories against the Iraqi and Syrian armies have forced Washington to examine its strategy, which involves bombing from the air but leaving fighting on the ground to local forces in both countries.

In a sharp criticism of Washington’s ally, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter accused Iraq’s army of abandoning Ramadi, a provincial capital west of Baghdad, to a much smaller enemy force.

“The Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” he told CNN’s State of the Union program. “They vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they withdrew from the site.”

Iraq’s government, along with Iran-backed Shi’ite militiamen and locally-recruited Sunni tribal fighters, launched a counter-offensive on Saturday, a week after losing Ramadi. A police major and a pro-government Sunni tribal fighter in the area said they had retaken the town of Husaiba al-Sharqiya, about 10 km (6 miles) east of Ramadi.

“Today we regained control over Husaiba and are laying plans to make more advances to push back Daesh fighters further,” said local tribal leader Amir al-Fahdawi, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State, also known in English as ISIS or ISIL.

Much of Ramadi is in Ruins

“The morale of the (pro-government) fighters is high after the arrival of reinforcements and loads of ammunition,” Fahdawi said. “Today’s advance will speed up the clock for a major advance to regain control of Ramadi.”

Planes were bombing Islamic State positions on the opposite bank of the Euphrates river, where the militants were launching mortars and sniper fire to prevent the pro-government forces advancing, Fahdawi and the police major said.

MASS EXECUTIONS

Days after taking Ramadi, Islamic State also defeated forces of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad to capture Palmyra, home to 50,000 people and site of some of the world’s most extensive and best-preserved Roman ruins.

The fighters have killed at least 400 people, including women and children in Palmyra since capturing the ancient Syrian city four days ago, Syrian state media said on Sunday.

It was not immediately possible to verify that account, but it was consistent with reports by activists that the Islamist fighters had carried out executions, leaving hundreds of bodies in the streets.

The Sunni Muslim militants have proclaimed a caliphate to rule over all Muslims from territory they hold in both Syria and Iraq. They have a history of carrying out mass killings in towns and cities they capture, and of dynamiting and bulldozing ancient monuments, which they consider evidence of paganism.

“The terrorists have killed more than 400 people … and mutilated their bodies, under the pretext that they cooperated with the government and did not follow orders,” Syria’s state news agency said, citing residents inside the city.

Many of those killed were state employees, including the head of the nursing department at the hospital and all her family members, it said.

Islamic State supporters have posted videos on the Internet they say show fighters going room to room in Palmyra’s government buildings, searching for hiding troops and pulling down pictures of Assad and his father.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors violence in the country with a network of sources on the ground, says beheadings have taken place in the town since it fell but has not given an estimate for the toll among civilians.

It says at least 300 soldiers were killed in the days of fighting before the city was captured.

“A bigger number of troops have disappeared and it is not clear where they are,” Rami Abdulrahman from the Observatory told Reuters.

SETBACKS

Washington supports the government of Iraq but is opposed to Assad’s government in Syria, making it more difficult to build a unified coalition against Islamic State, the most powerful force among Sunni Arabs in multi-sided civil wars in both countries.

In Iraq, government forces and Iran-backed Shi’ite militia advanced against the Sunni militants north of Baghdad in the Tigris river valley earlier this year, recapturing former dictator Saddam Hussein’s home city of Tikrit.

But the insurgents responded by going on the offensive west of Baghdad in the valley of Iraq’s other great river, the Euphrates, among the most hotly fought areas during the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation.

Washington worries that Baghdad’s response of sending Shi’ite militia into the area for a counter-offensive could increase sectarian anger and play into Islamic State’s claim to defend Sunnis from a Shi’ite dominated government in Baghdad.

In Syria, where a four-year civil war has killed 250,000 people and made 8 million homeless, Assad’s government has been losing territory in recent months, both to Islamic State and to other Sunni groups, some of which are supported by the West.

(Reporting by Baghdad Bureau, Mariam Karouny in Beirut, Isabel Coles in Erbil andAndrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Thousands surround Japan’s Parliament, protesting new US airbase plan on Okinawa

May 24, 2015

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People stage a rally in front of the parliament (centre, top) in Tokyo on May 24, 2015 to protest against a controversial US airbase on Okinawa island, in southern Japan. — PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) – Thousands of demonstrators formed a human chain around Japan’s Parliament in Tokyo on Sunday, protesting the planned construction of a new United States airbase on the southern island of Okinawa.

The protesters, who organisers said numbered about 15,000, surrounded the parliament building holding banners reading “No to Henoko”, in the latest rally against the controversial base.

Henoko is a small coastal area on Okinawa where Tokyo and Washington plan to relocate the existing Futenma military facility, currently situated in built-up Ginowan. Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan as part of a defence alliance, a proportion many islanders say is too high.

“We must stop this construction,” said protester Akemi Kitajima, 66. “The government is trying to force the plan no matter how strongly Okinawa says ‘no’ to it.”

“The government is trying to force the plan no matter how strongly Okinawa says ‘no’ to it.”

Okinawa is home to more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan as part of a defence alliance, a proportion many islanders say is too high.

The plan to move Futenma, first mooted in 1996, has become the focus of anger among locals, who insist it should be shuttered and a replacement built elsewhere in Japan or overseas.

But both Tokyo and Washington have repeatedly backed the plan, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month insisting it was “the only solution”.

The protestors on Sunday also expressed opposition to Washington’s scheduled deployment of CV-22 Osprey aircraft at US Yokota Air Base in Tokyo.

The Osprey is a hybrid aircraft with rotors that allow it to take off like a helicopter and engines that can tilt forward, enabling it to fly like an aeroplane at greater speed than a chopper.

More than two dozen Ospreys have been already deployed at Okinawa’s Futenma airbase, prompting safety concerns from local residents.

Sunday’s rally comes a week after 35,000 people on Okinawa, led by the anti-base governor, protested the new US base plan.

Thousands Form Human Chain Around Japan's Parliament to Protest New US Base Plan

People stage a rally in front of the parliament in Tokyo on May 24, 2015 to protest against a controversial US airbase on Okinawa island, in southern Japan. (AFP)

Beijing’s top official on Taiwan greeted with protests — “Down with China’s attempt to use AIIB to buy Taiwan”

May 24, 2015

Meeting of top cross-strait officials on island controlled by Taipei marred by clashes by supporters of opposing political camps

Lawrence Chung in Quemoy and Associated Press

Officials from Taiwan and the mainland have met for talks on a range of issues in an attempt to maintain momentum for the forging of closer ties in the face of a sceptical Taiwanese public.

Yesterday’s talks yielded no firm agreements but underscored Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou’s desire to prove that engagement with the mainland benefited the island’s economy.

Ministerial-level officials from both sides met on the tiny Taiwan-controlled island of Quemoy, called Jinmen on the mainland, which sits in the mouth of a bay outside Xiamen, in Fujian province, where the rivals fought bloody battles up to the 1960s.

Taiwan’s cabinet-level body, the Mainland Affairs Council, said topics discussed included controlling the illegal excavation of sand from the ocean floor, connecting drinking water supplies from the mainland to Quemoy, and opening outlying Taiwanese islets to more mainland-based tourism and letting mainland tourists make transit stops in Taiwan.

Andrew Hsia Li-yan, chairman of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhijun, head of the mainland’s Taiwan Affairs Office agreed to speed up the process to allow mainland tourist to travel to other countries while in transit in Taiwan.

“We, both sides, must make up our minds not to allow any setback in the cross-strait relationship,” Zhang told Hsia, according to Xinhua.

Hsia met Zhang for the first time in Quemoy after becoming the council chairman in February. Hsia also said an agreement was also expected soon with Fujian province to supply drinking water to Quemoy.

The meeting between the two was originally slated for February but was postponed after Taiwan accused the mainland of unilaterally expanding a domestic air right next to Taiwan’s air space.

Although the aviation row was resolved after Beijing agreed to move the air route back, Taiwan’s pro-independence camp, including the Taiwan Solidarity Union, has repeatedly protested that the mainland was using all means to swallow up Taiwan.

When the meeting was announced two weeks ago, the Union vowed to send protesters to dog the Zhang’s visit.

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Policebroke up fights among groups on the Taipei-controlled island of Quemoy. Photos: CNA

Unfurling big posters and placards condemning Zhang and the mainland government, several dozen Union members protested outside the pier at Quemoy as a welcoming ceremony for Zhang began.

“Get lost, Zhang Zhijun, you are not welcome,” and “Down with China’s attempt to use AIIB to buy Taiwan,” shouted the protesters, several of whom hurled smoke bombs at the pier, only to be stopped by police.

The protesters became embroiled in a shouting match with another group who came to support Zhang, resulting in minor scuffles, a police spokesman in Quemoy said. The confrontation later turned more violent, leaving five people injured.

The protesters have called the mainland-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank a scheme by Beijing to “gradually swallow up” Taiwan, and criticised Hsia for representing the government of the island’s mainland-friendly president in expressing the government’s hope to take part in the bank.

Beijing rejected Taiwan’s application to become an AIIB founding member because it regards it as a renegade province subject to reunification, and not a sovereign state.

South China Sea: U.S. Must Deny China’s “Nine Dash Line” Claim of Ownership of the Sea

May 24, 2015

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PLA soldiers on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, March 18. (Photo/CFP)

Commentary By Lim Chuan-tiong
Want China Times

The United States has finally begun taking action to intervene in the simmering South China Sea disputes amid China’s fast reclamation of the region. Because of the potential US-China rivalry in the region, the South China Sea has become a flashpoint most likely to trigger a third world war.

The South China Sea territorial disputes have been around for many years. Beijing claims sovereignty over 90% of the islands and surrounding waters in the region. Since last March, it has conducted land reclamation on at least seven shoals and reefs in the region, including Mischief Reef, Johnson South Reef and Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, the island chain contested by no fewer than six parties.

China’s land reclamation in the region has expanded to more than 800 hectares. It is also establishing military facilities on the reclaimed shoals and reefs. It is scheduled to complete construction of a 3,000-meter long airstrip on Fiery Cross Reef between 2017 and 2018. Once that airstrip is completed, it will enhance Beijing’s defense and combat capabilities in the South China Sea, posing a greater threat to the US.

So far, there have been two stages in US actions in the South China Sea disputes. The first-phase moves were taken by the US government and Congress last year.

Last May, China’s placement of a state-owned oil rig in the South China Sea triggered the largest anti-Chinese protests Vietnam had ever seen. The US later made a three-point proposal to all South China Sea claimants that included urging them to stop building infrastructure on the region’s shoals and reefs and conducting unilateral economic actions in the region.

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 A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam. The US says it is concerned at China’s aggressive exertion of sovereignty in the sea.
A Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig, Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam, in May 2014. This rig has again been deployed to the South China Sea by China. The US says it is concerned at China’s aggressive exertion of sovereignty in the sea. But the weak U.S. response to China’s actions has encouraged China to continue to develop its land claims. Photograph: Reuters

At the same time, the Senate also passed a resolution to support the government’s policy to handle the freedom of navigation and territorial rows in the South China Sea through diplomatic resolutions, and to condemn any attempt to change the status quo in the region.

This has done little to curb China’s expansion.

The second stage started earlier this month when the US dispatched littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth, one of the most advanced in the US naval fleet, to conduct a patrol mission in the South China Sea since May 11. It was the first time the US had sent a ship to patrol waters surrounding the Spratly islands.

The move was apparently aimed at putting pressure on Beijing, which is likely to establish an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea, following its declaration of an ADIZ over the East China Sea, where China has a dispute with Japan, at the end of 2013.

However, the US actions in the South China Sea have so far only involved patrolling, which cannot stop China’s land reclamation and military deployment.

Only when Washington starts questioning China’s territorial claims, including denying the legitimacy of the U-shaped nine-dash line, the demarcation used by both Taiwan and China for their claims of the major part of the South China Sea, will it begin a series of actions to stop Beijing’s expansion in the region.

When that happens, it will mean a significant change in Washington’s South China Sea policy. The US, China and other South China Sea claimants, including Taiwan, should negotiate a peaceful resolution.

(Lim Chuan-tiong is an associate research fellow of Academia Sinica’s Institute of Modern History. Translated by Want China Times.)

http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20150524000014&cid=1703

Even a strong military power like China cannot just walk up, plant its flag and declare sovereignty. We are a world governed by law.

Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

Vietnamese workers riot at the Vung Ang Economic Zone in Ha Tinh province, May 14, 2014. Anti-China riots ripped across Vietnam in May 2014 as the people became aware of China’s illegal land grab in the South China Sea.

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China says it owns all the South China Sea north of the “nine dash line” shown above

China claims ownership of about 90% of the South China Sea. Most of China’s neighbors believe otherwise.


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