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17 Nov
2018

India-China rivalry a possible benefit to new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih

MALDIVES (WNF) - President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is sworn into office after a surprise defeat of strongman Abdulla Yameen in September. An early task is rebalancing the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago’s relations with regional rivals India and China.
The Financial Times reports that Solih’s win is considered an important strategic victory for India. New Delhi has watched with alarm as Beijing, through its Belt and Road projects in the whole region, has made deep inroads into what India once considered its natural sphere of influence.

Yameen, who jailed or exiled most of his rivals during his turbulent five-year term,
had drawn the Maldives closer to China since 2013 in a Beijing-backed infrastructure boom linked to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative. The ties are now at risk under his successor, who has vowed to review Chinese projects.

The Maldives opposition said before the election it would review China’s investments, partly out of concern over terms, as experts have warned that the archipelago risked falling into a debt trap. #22751 Published: 10/04/2018

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18 Nov
2018

APEC summit to turn spotlight on Manus Island refugee controversy

PAPUA NEW GUINEA (WNF) - Port Moresby hosts the 2018 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, with the Manus Island refugee controversy a potential distraction from the forum proceedings.
Papua New Guinea and Australia are members of APEC, the forum of 21 countries ringing the Pacific. Activists will use the presence of the world leaders and as many as 2,000 journalists among the thousands of visitors to spotlight Australia’s refugee policy. The country has been under fire for parking refugees in camps rather than admitting them to Australia. The Manus camps have been closed, but some 650 refugees remain on the island with nowhere to go.

Inside the summit, the argument about free trade is likely to be less one-sided than it was at APEC 2017 because United States President Donald Trump is not attending this year. As the other members restated their commitment to the principle of free trade at the 2017 event, Trump argued against it. He has shown no sign of backing down. China is expected to pick up the role of champion of free trade that was vacated by the United States.

Because of Trump’s absence, the 2018 summit statement is likely to be less guarded than last year’s final document. In 2017 it embraced free trade and the fight against protectionism – core reasons for APEC’s founding in 1989 – but the leaders agreed to address “unfair trade practices” and “market distorting subsidies.” According to Reuters, the language bore the imprint of Trump’s efforts to reshape the global trade landscape with his “America first” policy.

Cruise and naval ships are likely to be needed to accommodate some international delegations because of the shortage of accommodation for the thousands of visitors during the summit. #22431 Updated: 10/22/2018 UPDATED OCT 22 ON REFUGEE SITUATION AND TRUMP ABSENCE

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18 Nov
2018

Latvia celebrates centenary against backdrop of tension with neighbouring Russia

LATVIA (WNF) - The Baltic nations celebrate centenaries in 2018, with Latvia tailing the pack and all three worried about Russia. One Latvian wants to give the country its highest peak as a centenary gift.
The three countries gained independence in the turmoil that engulfed the region after the end of World War I: Estonia and Lithuania celebrated their centenaries in Feb 2018.

The hundreds of centenary events will help distract the three NATO and European Union members from their Russia headache, which includes fear of a conventional lighting strike that could be executed before NATO could react and of the hybrid warfare Russia has undertaken in eastern Ukraine. NATO has stationed battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

The Baltic three have large ethnic Russian populations, another source of tension. The Washington Post notes that the Baltics’ Russians have a long history of grievances over language, citizenship and cultural policies that excluded them from political and economic life after the countries gained independence in 1991. Russia annexed Crimea and it backs Ukrainian rebels in the east of the country with the argument that it is protecting ethnic Russians.

Latvian public broadcaster LSM reported in Sep 2016 that the owner of Mount Gaizins – the country’s highest peak at almost 1,022 feet – wants to give it to Latvia as a centenary present. The owner has met with legal hurdles and there has been no recent news on whether these will be cleared in time for the centenary. #22506 Published: 02/09/2018

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18 Nov
2018

40th anniversary of Jonestown tragedy a spur for action on the site?

GUYANA (WNF) - Hundreds of followers of People’s Temple founder Jim Jones perished at his remote Jonestown compound on Nov 18, 1978, in a quasi-religious murder-suicide that eclipsed the cult atrocities of the era. Forty years on, some Guyanese would like to see the notoriety of the site, now reclaimed by the jungle, converted into tourist dollars.
Jonestown wasn’t the first cult atrocity to make headlines: Charles Manson had orchestrated killings that shocked the United States in 1969, but his cult lacked the religious rationale that united Jim Jones and his followers. Jonestown also stands out because of the death count. When authorities arrived the following day, Nov 19, 1978, they found 918 bodies carpeting the compound. Most of the adults and children who died were believed to have ingested a poison-laced punch willingly, while others were forced to do so at gunpoint. Jones and several others died from gunshot wounds, possibly self-administered. The cult’s belief system combined elements of Christianity with communist and socialist ideas.

The other notable cult atrocities included: the 39 Heaven’s Gate suicides in California in 1997, linked to the belief that aliens would escort members of the group to the Kingdom of Heaven via extraterrestrial spacecraft; the 74 Solar Temple burned bodies in Switzerland, Canada and France between Sep 1994 and Mar 1997, linked to the belief that death would allow them to reach a higher spiritual plane ahead of an apocalyptic worldwide catastrophe; the dozens of death in Waco, Texas, of Branch Davidians, the followers of self-styled prophet David Koresh; and the sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo followers that killed passengers on a Tokyo subway train in 1995.

The BBC, which reported the local interest in developing the site, noted in 2011 that it is now hard to believe that Jonestown ever existed. The country has erected a memorial plaque at the compound, and relics of the tragedy can be found. The metal drums in which Jones mixed cyanide and fruit punch in preparation for the mass murder-suicide are still in place, according to the broadcaster, and locals say if you search long enough, you can still find remnants of a tractor and of a filing cabinet that would have kept documents about the community.

“What we need to do is attract people to come to Guyana, whether that attraction is Jonestown or Kaieteur Falls or birding or ecotourism or cricket, to see what a wonderful country Guyana has turned out to be,” a tourist tour company operator told the BBC.

The authorities in Guyana acknowledge that much more could be done, according to the broadcaster, but that Guyana’s government is wary of marrying the country’s public image inextricably to Jonestown. #22546 Updated: 10/22/2018 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE OCT 22

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18 Nov
2018

Special last ditch Brexit summit planned for November?

EUROPEAN UNION (WNF) - Britain’s and the European Union’s last chance for an exit deal before a crucial December deadline arrives on Nov 18, and no solution is in sight.
The regular EU summit Dec 18-19 is seen as the last practical date for a signed divorce deal before Britain’s scheduled departure on Mar 29. Prime Minister Theresa May faces a political fight in her own Conservative Party if she gives ground in the negotiations.

The biggest obstacle remains how to avoid police and customs checks at the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after departure day. Reuters reports that May and the minority Irish party that props up her government are opposed to the standing offer from Europe.

A trade agreement is integral to settlement of the border issue.

Other issues awaiting resolution include how Gibraltar, a British overseas territory at the tip of Spain, and Britain’s military presence in Cyprus will be affected by the divorce. Britain is arguing for a UK £1 billion refund from the Europeans to cover its costs in the development of Galileo, Europe’s global navigation satellite system.

Britons worried about Brexit might take heart from the BBC’s observation that nothing is irreversible at this point: “This is how the Brexit process is meant to go - but the UK or the EU could pull the plug on talks at any time. And, in theory, the UK and the other 27 EU members could agree to change the timetable or even halt the Brexit process altogether.” #22741 Updated: 10/22/2018 UPDATED OCT 22 WITH NEW STANDFIRST

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18 Nov
2018

Dubai hosts 2018 INTERPOL General Assembly

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (WNF) - Dubai hosts the 2018 INTERPOL General Assembly, with the election of a new president an urgent matter and abuses of the international policing database a top issue. Palestine and the Solomon Islands will be seated as full members at the assembly for the first time.
Chinese national Meng Hongwei, elected Interpol president in 2016, disappeared under mysterious circumstances during a visit to his home country at the end of September. Beijing announced on Oct 7 that he had resigned and was under investigation. The election is for his replacement.

The international policing body provides member countries with instant, direct access to a wide range of criminal databases, containing millions of records on fingerprints, DNA, stolen motor vehicles, firearms, travel documents and more. The databases share information contributed by member countries on a daily basis.

Databases on asylum seekers and INTERPOL’s Red Notice system have proven to be particularly vulnerable to abuse and misuse.

The system for handling data on asylum seekers has to be tight enough that refugee status cannot be abused by criminals and terrorists, but not so tight that member countries that regard refugees as the Trojan Horse of terrorism can abuse the human rights of asylum seekers. A policy resolution passed at the 2017 INTERPOL GA in Beijing “strikes a balance between enhancing international police cooperation and providing adequate and effective safeguards to protect the rights of refugees,” according to Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

Red Notices, fugitive alerts issued by Interpol, can make it hard for fugitives to slip across borders, but the database is known as a tool for authoritarian governments to control and persecute critics.

In Oct 2017 German broadcaster DW noted that the latest detention of a German citizen on an Interpol arrest warrant at Turkey’s behest “prompts further questions about the international policing agency’s modus operandi.”

Israel expressed similar reservations about INTERPOL after Palestine was admitted as a state party in a secret vote at the organization’s 2017 assembly.

As INTERPOL’s supreme governing body, the General Assembly meets annually and takes all the major decisions affecting general policy, the resources needed for international cooperation, working methods, finances and programs of activities. #22460 Updated: 10/11/2018 UPDATED 11 OCT TO REFLECT CHINA DEVELOPMENT

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20 Nov
2018

ISS partner countries meet to mark 20th anniversary of orbiting laboratory

SPACE (WNF) - The partner countries of the International Space Station (ISS) meet in Moscow to mark the 20th anniversary of the launch of the first ISS segment, Zarya. With the exception of the United States, they appear ready to continue supporting the orbiting laboratory beyond 2024, when pre-agreed funding runs out.
Zarya was launched on a Russian rocket, and it welcomed its first crew on Nov 2, 2000. The partners finished the space station, which orbits some 240 miles above Earth, in 2011. A joint enterprise between the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan and Canada, the ISS has now been continuously occupied since 2000. And, over that time, according to its fans, it has increasingly come to justify its estimated US $100 billion cost.

Reporting in Jan 2018 on its probable fate, the BBC noted that the ISS has proved that humans can live and work in space for prolonged periods and carry out useful science in orbit, but that humanity’s most expensive structure may plunge to a watery death unless a post-2024 agreement can be found.

Recent news suggests that post-2024 funding is all but assured. The U.S. administration and NASA want to pull the funding plug in 2025, but there are signs that Congress might have other ideas.

SpaceNews.com reports that legislation introduced in both the House and Senate contains provisions to authorize an extension of the ISS until 2030. That language stems from congressional criticism to plans by NASA in its 2019 budget proposal to end direct ISS funding in 2025 as part of an initiative to enhance commercialization of low Earth orbit. #22464 Updated: 10/22/2018 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE OCT 22

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21 Nov
2018

Mugabe-free Zimbabwe struggling for recovery

ZIMBABWE (WNF) - One year after the ouster of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa is struggling to begin healing the country after his predecessor’s 37-year misrule.
The Mugabe years saw the economy of the mineral-rich country descend into chaos. Mnangagwa has reaffirmed pre-election pledges to revive it and to settle outstanding debts with foreign lenders, and he has been trying to woo investors.

Reuters spoke to more than 20 investors, ranging from multinationals to entrepreneurs, who are interested in entering Zimbabwe for the first time or in expanding their businesses there.

They all expressed optimism about new opportunities in sectors from mining to telecoms, and financial services to construction, according to the news service, but most are leaving frustrated and empty-handed. They raise the issue of infighting over the facilitation of investment between factions linked to Mnangagwa and Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the army general who led the coup against Mugabe. Middlemen from both camps want to be the gateway for investment and are obstructing deals that don’t pass through their offices, according to investors who spoke to Reuters, making it difficult for businesses to know who they should work with.

Infighting within the ruling ZANU-PF party, with the military on one side and Mnangagwa on the other, is also described as hampering investment and recovery.

The European Union has lifted most sanctions against Zimbabwe since Mugabe was ousted. International lenders will be as important as investors for economic recovery to take hold. Mnangagwa will need to convince lenders of a commitment to democracy and sound economic management before the purse strings will be loosened. #22728 Published: 08/31/2018

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24 Nov
2018

State of Victoria election a pointer to 2019 federal election results?

AUSTRALIA (WNF) - The state of Victoria goes to the polls. The results offer a glimpse of the governing conservatives’ prospects, following its bruising leadership battle, in the country’s 2019 election. The Liberal/National Party Coalition governs Australia, but is in opposition in Victoria.
National broadcaster ABC reports that in the first Newspoll after what is described as a coup in the federal governing party, the Coalition’s poll numbers plunged because of public disgust. Victorian opposition Leader Matthew Guy describes his party’s troubles at the federal level as a non-issue at the state level.

Fighting a scandal, Victoria’s governing Labor Party and Premier Daniel Andrews might not be able to capitalize on the conservatives’ troubles. Andrews’ poll position ahead of the November vote was thrown into question after Victoria Police announced in July that they had reopened an investigation into Labor's rorts-for-votes scandal – taxpayer money spent on campaigning for the party’s successful 2014 election campaign.

Labor’s future in the state might rest on whether the enticement of Andrews’ proposed solar energy initiative outweighs the growing rorts scandal. He has followed up his recent billion dollar commitment to rooftop solar panels by announcing discounted solar hot water systems for 60,000 households, as he seeks to win voters concerned by cost of living pressures. #22732 Published: 08/31/2018

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