Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

Where Brexit Hurts: The Nurses and Doctors Leaving London

November 22, 2017
The liver unit at King’s College Hospital in southeast London is world famous and has a very European staff. “The English are in the minority,” according to Dr. Georg Auzinger, the clinical head of critical care. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

LONDON — Tanja Pardela is leaving London. Her last day is Nov. 26. She wells up talking about it. She will miss jacket potatoes, and Sunday roasts, and her morning commute — past playing fields, small children in school uniforms and a red telephone box — to the hospital where she has been a pediatric nurse for 11 years.

Ms. Pardela does not want to leave the country she came to over a decade ago. But that country no longer exists. On June 24 last year, she said, “We all woke up in a different country.”

Seventeen months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, many Europeans are voting to leave Britain — with their feet. Some 122,000 of them packed their bags in the year through March, according to the latest figures available, while the stream of new arrivals has slowed.

In London, a city long sustained by European bankers, builders and baristas — “a place that makes you dream,” Ms. Pardela said — the departures are beginning to hurt. Construction companies and coffee shops are struggling to recruit. Top universities worry about retaining talent. And nowhere are the concerns more elemental than in Britain’s treasured and already overstretched National Health Service.

Tanja Pardela, second from right, at King’s, where she has worked as a pediatric nurse for 11 years. After the Brexit vote, she decided to move back to Germany. Her last day will be Nov. 26. Credit Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Long before Brexit, the N.H.S. suffered from chronic staffing shortages, and today the country has 40,000 nursing vacancies. But recruiting nurses from the European Union had helped plug the gap — especially in London, where the share of nurses from the Continent is about 14 percent, or twice the national average. King’s College Hospital, the massive institution where Ms. Pardela works, is short of 528 nurses and midwives, and 318 doctors.

Brexit seems certain to make it harder and costlier to recruit from the Continent, assuming that people will still want to come from there. Even the legal status of European Union citizens already living in Britain remains unclear, entangled in the stalled Brexit talks between Brussels and London. Many fear they could lose rights, job security, pensions and access to free health care.


China and Pakistan agree to push forward economic corridor plan after dam deal scrapped

November 22, 2017

Analysts say disputes over individual projects won’t get in the way as officials sign long-term plan for US$57 billion scheme

By Liu Zhen
South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 8:39pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 10:00pm

As China and Pakistan agreed on Tuesday to push ahead with their huge economic and infrastructure scheme, analysts said disputes over individual projects would not have a significant impact on its progress.

Officials from both sides were finalising a long-term plan to 2030 for the US$57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on Tuesday as they wrapped up a Joint Coordination Committee meeting in Islamabad.

The CPEC is a flagship project under Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” to open up trade along land and sea corridors from Asia to Africa to Europe. China is hoping to export its infrastructure and industrial capacity and expand economic ties and influence with countries involved in the initiative.

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The two nations on Monday agreed to begin the first phase of developing special economic zones, the World Tribune Pakistan reported.

But Pakistan rejected China’s demand to use the yuan in the Gwadar Free Zone, saying this would compromise its “economic sovereignty”, the Express Tribune reported.

Last week, Pakistan pulled the plug on a US$14 billion deal to build the Diamer-Bhasha Dam – excluding it from the CPEC – saying China’s conditions for funding the project were unacceptable and went against its interests.

However analysts said these were not significant setbacks given the breadth of the CPEC plan, which will connect China’s landlocked far western Xinjiang region with Gwadar Port near the Persian Gulf via road, rail, air and pipe – as well as a series of industrial zones.

Beijing and Islamabad regard themselves as “iron brothers” sharing an “all-weather friendship”.

“No matter how good the Sino-Pakistan relationship is, it is unavoidable that differences will occur in a programme of this scope,” said Du Youkang, head of Pakistan research at Fudan University. “We are talking about dozens of billion-dollar major projects and hundreds of smaller projects.”

He added that Islamabad was generally supportive of the CPEC plan as the government wanted to boost development in the country, including infrastructure, jobs and living standards.

“Chinese and Pakistanis – and also Pakistanis among themselves – have different ideas about so many issues,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of discussion and consultation to reach agreement.”

The long-term plan follows an initial list released in 2014 of 33 infrastructure projects identified for the CPEC. Construction has already begun on 18 of those projects.

Of those on the initial list, 21 are energy-related, 16 involve power generation and transmission, eight are to do with the development of Gwadar Port, and four are transport projects.

The coordination committee has met twice a year to discuss the CPEC’s progress since it was set up in 2014. However it has been 11 months since its last meeting in Beijing in December.

On Monday at a strategic dialogue in Islamabad, China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua agreed to positively promote the CPEC, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang.

Brexit has caused Europeans to doubt what sort of country Britain is, David Davis says

November 17, 2017

Brexit Secretary insists to German audience that UK is the same country it was before the vote

By Jon Stone Europe Correspondent
The Independent

Brexit has caused Europeans to doubt what sort of country Britain is, David Davis admits

Britain’s vote to leave the EU has left many Europeans with “doubts about what kind of country we are” following last year’s vote to leave the bloc, the Brexit Secretary says.

Speaking to an audience in Berlin, David Davis insisted that the UK did not want to isolate itself after withdrawal and that the UK was “the same country that we’ve always been” – as he spelled out his vision for a bespoke, comprehensive trade deal between Britain and the EU covering services as well as goods.

The minister also insisted that the decision to leave the single market and customs union was not an “ideological” one and that the UK had decided to quit the economic bloc out of respect for the indivisibility of the EU’s four freedoms.

“I recognise that, since the referendum last year, some in the European Union have had their doubts about what kind of country we are, or indeed what we stand for,” he said, speaking at the Süddeutsche Zeitung economic conference.

“Now if you want to know the mind of a nation all one must do is read its press, so with that in mind I looked through some copies of Suddeutsche Zeitung. I read that ‘Britain wants to isolate itself’, that we are  ‘short-sighted islanders’, or ‘Inselbewohner’.

“Well I’m afraid I have to disagree. We are the same country we have always been, with the same values and same principles we have always had: a country upon which our partners can rely.

“The sixth largest economy in the world, and a beacon for free trade across the globe; and when it comes to trade – as we forge a new path for Britain outside the European Union – I believe we can be its boldest advocate.”

Turning to the nature of the deal, he said the UK would not “pretend that you can have all the benefits of membership of the single market without its obligations”.

The minister said continued cooperation between Britain and the EU on issues like the mutual recognition of qualifications and health and safety standards would be crucial for trade to continue.

“We will be a third country partner like no other. Much closer than Canada, much bigger than Norway, and uniquely integrated on everything from energy networks to services,” he said.

“The key pillar of this will be a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement – the scope of which should be beyond any the EU has agreed before.

“One that allows for a close economic partnership while holding the  UK’s rights and obligations in a new and different balance.

Cornwall appeals to government as crops ‘rot in fields’ due to shortage in migrant labour after Brexit

“It should, amongst other things, cover goods, agriculture and services, including financial services – seeking the greatest possible tariff-free trade, carried out with the least friction possible. And it should be supported by continued close cooperation in highly regulated areas such as transport, energy and data.”

Mr Davis delivered his speech as the clock ticked down before the next European Council summit – and the next opportunity for the EU to grant Britain “sufficient progress” in negotiation to move to trade talks.

Theresa May and European council president Donald Tusk will meet in Sweden on Friday (AFP/Getty Images)

Theresa May is due to meet with Donald Tusk on Friday, the president of the European Council, with whom she will discuss Brexit.

Next week the Prime Minister is also expected to continue her charm offensive and meet with officials behind closed doors in the European Parliament, though no date has yet been confirmed for the meeting.

A week ago Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, spelled out a deadline of two weeks for the UK to make concessions or clarifications on its position before trade talks were postponed by another three to four months.

If no sufficient progress – as defined by the EU – can be made on the three separation issues before the December meeting of the European Council, trade talks will not be able to start until at least March.

Because of the time-limited nature of the Article 50 process, this would throw off the Brexit timetable and leave little time to negotiate a full deal.

Includes videos:

Trump claims ‘America is back’ post-Asia trip

November 16, 2017

Image result for trump photos, november 15, 2017, white house

Updated 2:43 AM ET, Thu November 16, 2017

Washington (CNN)– President Donald Trump, fresh off a five-country swing through Asia, sought Wednesday to cast his first 10 months on the world stage as an unmitigated success, claiming a “great American comeback” that has restored the US’ standing in the world.

The speech, which came as Trump fumed at press coverage of his trip, framed his accomplishments in terms of correcting the “mistakes” of his predecessors and following through on his promises to voters. But he offered no new announcements on trade or North Korea, two of the top issues he focused on during his trip.
“I vowed that we would reaffirm old alliances and form new friendships in pursuit of shared goals. Above all I swore that in every decision, every action I would put the best interest of the American people first. Over the past 10 months traveling the globe and meeting with world leaders, that is exactly what I have done,” Trump said from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House.
Trump on North Korea: What he said in Asia 01:39
Trump pointed to his efforts during his first foreign trip to rally Muslim leaders around the fight against radical Islamist terrorism and his urging that NATO allies boost their financial commitments to the alliance. And he highlighted his efforts on this most recent trip to bring back “free and reciprocal trade” and unite the world against the North Korean threat.
“My fellow citizens, America is back, and the future has never looked brighter,” he concluded.
But much of his speech failed to counter the core of the criticism he has faced in the wake of his 12-day trip to Asia: that he didn’t deliver on his rhetoric.
Beyond fresh Japanese sanctions against North Korea and a verbal commitment from China to increase pressure on North Korea, Trump made no immediate, visible progress to stop North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Trump's sip of water goes viral

 Image result for trump photos, november 15, 2017, white house
Trump’s sip of water goes viral 01:32
Trump on Wednesday touted his insistence to regional partners on “free and reciprocal” trade, but he emerged with no written commitments from the region to rebalance trade with the US or change trade practices that have disadvantaged the US.
The President did appear to try to clean up remarks in Beijing when he said he did not “blame” China for its unfair trade practices and gave the country “credit” for taking advantage of the US.
Trump said Wednesday that he emphasized to Chinese President Xi Jinping in “a very candid conversation” that US-Chinese trade must be “conducted on a truly fair and equitable basis.”
“The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over,” Trump promised, though he announced no changes to the terms of the relationship.
Trump returned Tuesday night from his tour of Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, where he focused on trade and North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
Trump was able to help secure the release of three UCLA basketball players, appealing directly to Xi to look into the matter.
But Trump on Wednesday morning was focused on the criticism he has faced from some over his warm embrace of Xi, whom Trump praised in Beijing and absolved of any wrongdoing for unfair trading practices that Trump has said have hurt the US.
“The failing @nytimes hates the fact that I have developed a great relationship with World leaders like Xi Jinping, President of China,” Trump tweeted. “They should realize that these relationships are a good thing, not a bad thing. The U.S. is being respected again. Watch Trade!”

Donald Trump hails Asia trip as ‘tremendous success’ and declares: ‘America is back’

  • President delivers lengthy speech and claims success in North Korea dispute
  • Trump ignores questions about Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
The bulk of the president’s statement on foreign policy was clearly aimed at his supporters, assuring them he was keeping his election promises on fighting for American jobs.
 The bulk of the president’s statement on foreign policy was clearly aimed at his supporters, assuring them he was keeping his election promises on fighting for American jobs. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images 

Donald Trump has declared his 12-day Asia tour as a “tremendous success”, claiming that “America is back” as a global leader.

The US president did not take questions from reporters, instead delivering an extended account of his five-nation trip, in which he claimed to have unified the world against the North Korean nuclear weapons programme, paved the way for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”, and insisted on “free and reciprocal” trade relations with the Pacific Rim.

“The days of the United States being taken advantage of are over,” Trump declared in the Diplomatic Room at the White House.

On North Korea, Trump claimed to have had a productive meeting with the Chinese president Xi Jinping, but restated the US rejection of the diplomatic option that Beijing has been promoting – a “freeze-for-freeze” deal under which Pyongyang would pause its nuclear and missile development and the US would rein in military exercises with its regional allies.

Trump did not repeat his prior threats of military action against Kim Jong-un’s regime, simply noting the oft-repeated formula that “all options remain on the table”.

The president also claimed to have won agreement from China and other countries in the region to exert “maximum pressure” on North Korea, but Chinese officials have stressed that Beijing will do nothing to trigger a collapse of the Pyongyang regime.

Perhaps as notable as what Trump said in the 24 minutes he spent behind the podium was what he did not say. He made no mention of the fate of embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and ignored reporters’ shouted queries of whether Moore should quit the race. Trump left the room without taking any questions.

Republican leaders, who have called on Moore to step aside, have been eager for Trump to weigh in on allegations Moore sexually assaulted and preyed upon teenage girls. The controversy represents a crisis for the Republican party, and jeopardizes its precarious 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Trump declined to weigh in on the allegations against Moore during his trip to Asia, telling reporters he was focused on his visit. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week Trump believes Moore will “do the right thing and step aside” if the claims are true, but cautioned against a rush to judgment.

Trump takes an awkward sip of water during his speech.
 Trump takes an awkward sip of water during his speech. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Since those comments, more women have come forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct, while reports have also surfaced that the former judge was banned from a shopping mall because predatory behavior toward teenage girls.

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, became the first White House official to condemn Moore on Wednesday, telling the Associated Press: “There’s a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”

“I’ve yet to see a valid explanation [from Moore] and I have no reason to doubt the victims’ accounts,” Ivanka, a senior adviser, said.

Read the rest:

Google’s Missouri problem mirrors woes in EU

November 16, 2017


© AFP/File / by Julie CHARPENTRAT | The US state of Missouri is following the lead of European antitrust watchdogs in examinging Google’s business practices

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – As an aggressive antitrust investigation plays out in Europe against Google, its practices have drawn comparatively little scrutiny from regulators on the US side of the Atlantic. But the midwest state of Missouri wants to change that.The state’s Attorney General Josh Hawley has launched an investigation which appears to mirror the probe by EU authorities, demanding information on how Google uses data gathered on consumers, and examining whether the internet giant abuses its dominant position in search.

“No entity in the history of the world has collected as much information about you as Google. My office wants to know what Google is doing with this information,” said a tweet from Hawley, a Republican who is running for the US Senate.

Hawley added that he sees “substantial evidence” that Google manipulates search results to list affiliated websites higher than those of rivals.

“If true, these actions may reflect an unlawful attempt to leverage Google’s monopoly power in the search-engine market to stifle competition,” he said.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission in 2013 dropped a two-year antitrust investigation of Google after the company agreed to make changes to some practices to ease competition concerns.

But a number of Google critics and competitors have argued the US probe did not go far enough. They point to the European Commission’s three-pronged inquiry into Google’s dominance in search, its advertising platform and its Android mobile operating system.

The EU has already imposed a fine of 2.4 billion euros ($2.7 billion) over search results and could impose stiffer penalties as the investigations proceed.

Scott Cleland, a consultant and longtime Google critic — who operates the “watchdog” website Google Monitor — said the EU probe may represent a turning point for stiffer actions against Google.

Even if the federal government remains on the sidelines, “the states represent a law enforcement and a political and government force that Google can’t ignore,” Cleland said.

If several state regulators band together, “they are very formidable,” he added.

– Shifting political landscape –

Google’s position has become more precarious with the election of President Donald Trump, following years of close — some say too cozy — ties between Silicon Valley and the White House.

And the failure of firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter to crack down on disinformation and Russian-sponsored propaganda has also eroded support of the tech sector in Washington.

“Google’s biggest challenge is that the American political landscape has shifted beneath its feet,” said Mark Blafkin, a co-founder of the technology and business consultancy Vrge.

“In the age of Trump, there is growing political momentum in both parties for holding Google and other tech giants accountable on competition, fake news, and a series of other issues.”

Google’s share of search is estimated at around 90 percent in many markets. Google and Facebook are scooping virtually all the growth in digital advertising revenues, according to analysts. And its Android system powers more than 80 percent of smartphones worldwide.

Europe’s top antitrust regulator Magrethe Vestager has argued that firms with dominant market share have a “special responsibility” not to misuse their power.

But in the US, an antitrust action against Google could be complicated by a decades-old standard of measuring consumer harm. Since Google’s services are mainly free, it could be hard to argue its actions are hurting consumers or raising prices.

But antitrust standards in other parts of the world are different, and some analysts see the EU probe as opening the door to more legal woes for Google.

“After nearly a decade of holding competition regulators around the world at bay, the European Commission’s ruling represents the first significant break in the dam for Google’s legal and public affairs strategy,” Blafkin said.

“Not only will Google face years of ongoing European Commission investigations covering search, AdSense, and Android, but history suggests a ruling like this could provide the foundation for other regulators to launch investigations or scrutinize mergers and acquisitions.”

John Simpson at Consumer Watchdog, another longtime Google foe, said it appears the winds are shifting against Google.

The latest actions in Missouri and congressional hearings on online abuse “are symbolic of a growing awareness? that the big tech companies deserve a harder look,” Simpson said.

“From the left and the right, we can see a new attitude, which is questioning some of the procedures of the tech industry.”


Deaths By Terrorism Down Globally But Up in Europe

November 15, 2017

Even as terrorism-related deaths drop dramatically in some parts of the world, fatalities in OECD countries have reached a 16-year high. Research Director of the Global Terrorism Index Daniel Hyslop tells DW why.

Trucks as terror weapons: 12 people died in an attack on a Christmas market in Berlin in 2016 (picture-alliance/rtn-radio tele nord rtn/P. Wuest)
  • The study by the Institute for Economics and Peace shows terrorism fell significantly in the worst-affected countries  Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria — bringing down global casualty figures.
  • The report went on to call 2016 a “turning point” in the fight against radical Islamist extremism.
  • The so-called Islamic State was the “main driver” for a rise in deaths in Europe and other developed countries. The group was linked to 75 percent of deaths from terrorism in OECD nations since 2014.
  • The rise in European deaths coincides with a tactical shift towards simpler and cheaper methods of attack.

Daniel Hyslop, Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace, talks to DW about global changes in terrorism-related deaths.

DW: What was unique about this year’s study?

Daniel Hyslop: The main report finding that was unique was the fact that the number of terrorist deaths actually decreased by 22 percent globally in 2016 compared to the peak of 2014. So it’s a positive story.

Four of the five countries that are most impacted by terrorist activity have actually seen a notable decrease in the number of deaths that they’ve experienced. That’s really a turning point in the fight against terrorism.

Which countries have seen a significant decrease in terms of terror deaths and which ones a significant increase?

Thecountry that saw the largest decreases was Nigeria, largely because of the Multinational Joint Task Force — the coalition of countries that are fighting Boko Haram — which led to an 80 percent decrease in the number of deaths that the groups committed. Maybe about 3,000 fewer people were killed last year from the group’s actions.

The other thing is Boko Haram split into three groups and it’s no longer the coherent group that it was a couple of years ago. It’s a big improvement in Nigeria and a big part of the story.

Read more – AFRICOM: ‘Terrorist groups’ remain a challenge across Africa

Daniel Hyslop, Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace (Institute for Economic Peace)


Daniel Hyslop: ’80 percent fewer terror victims in Nigeria’

There has also been an improvement in Yemen and Afghanistan, as well as Syria and Niger, which is connected to the improvement in Nigeria. The improvement in Yemen is really because of the sporadic peace talks that have occurred. There has been less use of terror tactics by Houthi rebels. Afghanistan was seeing sort of a perverse trend where the number of conventional battle deaths by the Taliban, the most deadly group in Afghanistan, has actually increased. But the use of terror tactics has actually decreased, so there’s a different trend going on there.

In Syria, we have seen a decrease in the level of terrorism from”Islamic State” (IS). The worst groups really tried to hold on to territory in the country and spent all of its resources on conventional battlefield situation.

Your numbers show that terrorism deaths are down by 22 percent compared to 2014. But we see terrorist attacks in the news every day. How do you explain that?

In Europe, I think one of the concerning trends is that in 2016 we saw the highest number of terrorist deaths in the OECD member countries, which include most of Europe, the US, Australia and Canada. And that number was the highest number since 1988. I think that’s largely the reason why at least in Europe we have the perception of there being perhaps more terrorism than before.

Read more – Cities struggle for security in light of terrorist attacks

Which countries had the most surprising outcomes?

Nigeria soldiers at a checkpoint in Gwoza (picture-alliance/AP Photo/L. Oyekanmi)Regional cooperation has helped combat Boko Haram, which used to be the deadliest terror organisation in the world

I think the most surprising outcome was Nigeria. The fact that it’s going down by about 80 percent, that is a dramatic improvement. You have to remember only two years ago Boko Haram was the deadliest terrorist group in the world. We’ve now seen the group significantly hollowed out, split into three parts. It’s also an example of cooperation between those countries in the region to fight against terrorism. And that just shows that these regional coalitions can be very impactful in terms of dealing with their own security challenges.

Has there been a change in how terrorist attacks have been carried out?

In the places where the majority of terrorism happens, which, of course, is in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Nigeria, there hasn’t been a dramatic change. However, in Europe there has been. What we have seen is a shift towards much simpler tactics, involving a lot less planning and a lot less people, for instance the use of trucks which Islamic State actually called for back in 2016. That has been a particularly disturbing trend. It has been effective and it’s been used several times already. It’s really in response to the fact that a lot of the really complex attacks are much easier to foil by the security services.

Does that mean that security measures and secret services are working more effectively?

If you look at the proportion of terrorist attacks foiled in OECD member countries, it has gone from about 19 percent of attacks being foiled in 2015 to about 34 percent of attacks on average being foiled in 2016.

What we have seen in the first half of 2017 is actually fewer deaths than at the same time 2016. It is not a uniform trend across all European countries but certainly in Germany, for instance, there have been no successful attacks in 2017. There have been several foiled attacks, but no success.

Read more – EU introduces new measures to combat ‘low-tech’ terrorism

Read more – Preventing terrorism: What powers do German security forces have?

I think one thing that we touched on the report is the fact that whilst Islamic State, the most devastating group, has almost been militarily defeated in Iraq, in Syria, it’s very hard to defeat the ideology that has given rise to the extreme violence that the group is being based on. I think that is the concerning trend going whether or not there is the potential for more violent permutations of IS to emerge. That is why we really think that what is important to address terrorism in the long run, especially in Iraq and Syria, is to develop more inclusive post-conflict settlements that include the disenfranchised groups like the Sunni groups to ensure that there is a long-term peace.

A lot of our work is based on positive peace, so on a concept of building up the attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain peaceful societies. That’s really where we need to focus rather than on the short-term counterterrorism.

Daniel Hyslop is the Research Director at the Institute for Economics and Peace. He has led consulting work with a range of intergovernmental organizations and think tanks including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Hyslop holds a Masters of Economics from Sydney University.

The interview was conducted by Nastassja Shtrauchler and edited for clarity.

Use of ‘keyboard armies’ to manipulate media has gone global, report says

November 14, 2017


© Freedom House | Online manipulation and disinformation tactics affected elections in at least 18 countries this year, including the US, according to the 2017 Freedom on the Net report.


Latest update : 2017-11-14

More governments are following the lead of Russia and China by manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online in a grave threat to democracy, a human rights watchdog said Tuesday.

A study of internet freedom in 65 countries found 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year.

These efforts included paid commentators, trolls, “bots” — the name given to automated accounts — false news sites and propaganda outlets, according to the 2017 “Freedom on the Net” report by human rights group Freedom House.

The report said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.

“The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Michael Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating.”

Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, explained such manipulation is often hard to detect, and “more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking.”

The organization said 2017 marked a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as a result of these and other efforts to filter and censor information online.

China is worst, again

Freedom House said China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for a third straight year, due to stepped-up online censorship, a new law cracking down on anonymity online and the imprisonment of dissidents using the web.

Other countries also increased their efforts to censor and manipulate information, the report said.

This included a “keyboard army” of people employed and paid $10 a day by the Philippine government to amplify the impression of widespread support of a brutal drugs crackdown, and Turkey’s use of an estimated 6,000 people to counter government opponents on social media.

Meanwhile, as Russia sought to spread disinformation to influence elections in the US and Europe, the Kremlin also tightened its internal controls, the report said.

Bloggers who attract more than 3,000 daily visitors must register their personal details with the Russian government and abide by the law regulating mass media — while search engines and news aggregators are banned from including stories from unregistered outlets.

The study also found governments in at least 14 countries restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation. In one such example, Ukraine blocked Russia-based services, including the country’s most widely used social network and search engine, in an effort to crack down on pro-Russian propaganda.

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” Kelly said.

“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary. Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”

Freedom House expressed concern over growing restrictions on VPNs — virtual private networks which allow circumvention of censors — which are now in place in 14 countries.

It said internet freedom also took a hit in United States over the past year.

“While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact,” the report said.

“Journalists who challenge Donald Trump‘s positions have faced egregious online harassment.”

British PM May pledges to protect Europe from Russian threats

November 14, 2017

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday the government would maintain its commitment to protecting Europe after Brexit as she accused Russia of military aggression and meddling in elections.

The prime minister said Britain would continue to provide assistance to states that were victims of aggression.

“The UK will remain unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security,” May said in a speech at the Guildhall in London’s financial district.

“The comprehensive new economic partnership we seek will underpin our shared commitment to open economies and free societies in the face of those who seek to undermine them.”

The British government is playing one its strongest cards in the Brexit negotiations by offering to put its defense and security assets at the disposal of the EU in the hope of winning concessions on future trading and economic relations.

The country has bigger defense budgets than any other EU member state and its diplomatic and intelligence services are among the most extensive in Europe.

FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Its government also argues it is one of the leading EU contributors to a range of security measures, such as data and evidence sharing, extradition measures and to the EU’s police agency Europol.

May on Monday accused Russia of fomenting violence in eastern Ukraine, of repeatedly violating the national airspace of several European countries, and mounting a campaign of cyber attacks.

She also accused Russia of meddling in elections and hacking the Danish defense ministry, the German parliament and its state-media of planting fake stories and photo-shopped images in an attempt to undermine western institutions.

May said the government is working to reform NATO so it is better placed to counter Russian hostility and has stepped up military and economic support to Ukraine.

“We will take the necessary actions to counter Russian activity,” she said.

May also said she wanted better relations with Russia if it worked to promote peace.

“Russia can, and I hope one day will, choose this different path,” she said. “But for as long as Russia does not, we will act together to protect our interests and the international order on which they depend.”

Reporting By Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg

U.S. Pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi Only Helps China, Aides Warn

November 14, 2017

Ahead of Rex Tillerson visit to Myanmar, leader’s team says West is driving them closer to Beijing

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar—Aides to Aung San Suu Kyi have been warning Western ambassadors that their pressure on Myanmar in support of ethnic Rohingya Muslims is pushing the country closer to China—a sign of the resistance that awaits U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson when he visits on Wednesday.

Washington and others are pressing Buddhist-majority Myanmar and its Nobel Prize-winning leader to do more to address a humanitarian crisis caused by a military crackdown on the Rohingya that drove over 600,000 people across the border into Bangladesh.

Mr. Tillerson in September condemned what he called the “horrors that we are witnessing” in Myanmar, amid reports that the military had burned Rohingya villages and killed and raped villagers. Proposed legislation in the U.S. Congress seeks to block the assets of military leaders and ban their travel.

During his visit, Mr. Tillerson intends to meet with senior leaders and officials on actions to address the crisis and U.S. support for the democratic transition in the formerly military-ruled country, according to the State Department.

Myanmar denies refugee accounts of atrocities during the security operations, which came after a Rohingya militant group attacked military outposts near the border in August. Ms. Suu Kyi’s government accuses Western leaders of falling for what they say are biased reports.

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar take shelter in Teknaf, near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh on Monday.Photo: navesh chitrakar/Reuters

Ms. Suu Kyi’s aides said she wouldn’t change course in response to U.S. or European sanctions. “We are used to being under pressure—first it was the military, now it’s the West,” said Win Htein, a senior party leader close to Ms. Suu Kyi.

Mr. Win Htein said he has told Western diplomats that if such pressure continues, “it’s inevitable” that Myanmar will move closer to its neighbor China.

Beijing has been Myanmar’s most vocal defender, last week blocking Western efforts for a resolution in the U.N. Security Council, which settled for a nonbinding statement that demanded an end to violent treatment of Rohingya and access for humanitarian agencies. Ms. Suu Kyi’s office later thanked those “who upheld the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries.”

Western officials said they had tried but failed in dozens of meetings to push Ms. Suu Kyi’s government to take concrete steps that would help ease the global outcry. A Western diplomat said the U.S. and Europe had little leverage because China, Japan, India and other Asian nations had indicated they would remain engaged with Myanmar.

Advisers to Ms. Suu Kyi said they expect the U.S. will reimpose some of the restrictions former President Barack Obama lifted last year after Ms. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in Myanmar’s first free election in half a century.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain has called for such action to punish Myanmar’s military leaders.

The previous sanctions were removed to encourage Myanmar’s democratic transition. Some U.S. officials said they worry that reinstating any sanctions would undermine that process and deter Western investment that they say could dilute the influence of the military.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s aides are also sending the message that sanctions could worsen her relationship with the army and cause the generals to tighten their grip. Ms. Suu Kyi doesn’t control the military, which still runs many of the most important government agencies, including the Defense Ministry.

Aides said Ms. Suu Kyi’s priority is to be able to work with the military to achieve her longer-term goals, which include constitutional change toward a fuller democracy. They said they worry that pushing too hard will damage any cooperation with the military or prompt it to take back civilian powers.

Ms. Suu Kyi’s party is operating on the belief that military leaders expect her to shield them and would see renewed sanctions as a sign of her intent to undercut them, according to a party official and a Suu Kyi adviser.

Aides also said Ms. Suu Kyi feels betrayed by the West and has sunk into siege mentality, reflecting the shifting attitudes of many citizens who increasingly view the U.S. as a preaching foreign power unjustly targeting their leader.

“Nationalism is going up because our small country is under so much pressure,” said Ko Ko Gyi, a longtime democracy activist. “We are watching who is with us in this tough time.”

Humanitarian agencies and nonprofit groups wouldn’t be allowed to work independently or freely access border areas within Myanmar because of security risks, said Minister for Social Welfare Win Myat Aye. He said local Buddhists see the United Nations and others as biased, and could turn hostile.

He said the government would allow Rohingya refugees to return after thorough verification and build houses for them, dismissing concerns that those who return would be unsafe.

Some policy debates in the West on a tougher response to the Rohingya crisis have touched on concerns about ceding a geopolitical advantage to China, according to people familiar with the discussions.

For China, Myanmar is a strategic prize. Gas and oil pipelines run through the country to China’s Yunnan province. A Chinese-led consortium is in final-stage negotiations for a deep-water port—a key piece of Beijing’s expansive Belt and Road infrastructure project.


  • Behind the Silence of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi
  • Myanmar Refugees Tell of Atrocities; ‘A Soldier Cut His Throat’
  • The Muslim Militant at the Heart of Myanmar’s Rohingya Exodus

The port would give China access to the Indian Ocean, where it wants to project power, and reduce its dependence on the narrow and easily blockaded Strait of Malacca for its oil supplies.

During its years of international isolation, Myanmar depended on its giant neighbor, but mining and infrastructure projects stoked widespread anti-China sentiment.

In 2011, Myanmar stepped away from China when a new Myanmar government suspended a Chinese dam project and began opening to the West. Myanmar emerged as a U.S. foreign-policy success story and Mr. Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country.

Last year, a Chinese official said to a Western diplomat: “When things go wrong, you will go, we will stay,” according to a person familiar with the conversation.

“In a few years, the U.S. and Europe might be asking: Who won and then lost Myanmar?” said Simon Tay, Chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. “Myanmar wants to diversify, but if they have no choice, they will turn to China.”

Write to Niharika Mandhana at

NATO to beef up in face of ‘assertive’ Russia

November 9, 2017

NATO plans to update its command structure for the first time since the end of the Cold War to ease movement of troops across the Atlantic and in Europe. It said the step was in response to Russian military moves.

A Eurofighter in a hanger in Estonia (picture alliance/dpa/Luftwaffe/VAPB 2015 PAO)

The decision “reflects NATO’s commitment to adapting its capabilities to emerging challenges,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said as NATO defense ministers started a two-day meeting in Brussels on Wednesday.

“A key component of our adaptation is a robust and agile command structure,” Stoltenberg said. “We will continue doing whatever is necessary to keep our territory secure and our citizens safe.”

One new command to be created will focus on protecting sea lines across the Atlantic, while another will upgrade movement of forces and equipment within Europe.

Infografik NATO Expansion Europa ENG

The move is also in part reportedly aimed at pushing European governments to upgrade civilian infrastructure to enable the transportation of heavy equipment.

“In many parts of Europe, we don’t have the standards, we don’t have the strength of the bridges or the roads or the different types of infrastructure which can carry the heavy equipment we need to move,” Stoltenberg said.

US President Donald Trump has criticized fellow NATO members for not paying what he says is their fair share of the alliance’s budget, a position that has alienated some in Europe and strengthened calls for an EU defense force.

Cyber defense plans

NATO members also agreed to increase the use of cyber weaponry and tactics during military operations. The creation of a new NATO cyber-operations hub comes as the alliance faces hundreds of attacks on its networks every month and fears grow over the Kremlin’s electronic tactics.

“We are now integrating cyber effects into NATO missions and operations to respond to a changed and new security environment where cyber is part of the threat picture we have to respond to,” Stoltenberg said.

For threat read Russia

Stoltenberg said NATO defense and deterrence efforts were “not directed against any specific nation” and that there was “no imminent threat against any NATO ally,” but noted that NATO has seen “a much more assertive Russia” recently, including Russia’s use of military force in Ukraine.

“NATO has to be able to respond to that,” he said. The changes to the command structure also include recognizing cyber threats and integrating national cyber defense capabilities into NATO planning and operations at all levels.