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28 Feb
2017

Second peace conference with ethnic minorities needs to show results

MYANMAR (WNF) - The second peace conference to end the fighting between the military and rebel groups, held in Nay Pyi Taw, will be expected to produce more than talk, but de facto Myanmar leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might be limited by how much she can promise. The powerful military will have the last word.
The first peace conference, called the 21st Century Panglong Conference, brought together delegates from ethnic rebel groups, the government, political parties and the military. Held in Naypyidaw, it concluded on Sep 3, 2016, with no more than an expressed willingness to keep talking.

That willingness was seen as progress. Negotiations on the difficult issues – such as the recurrent demand of institutional reform to loosen the armed forces’ grip on the state – have almost negligible chances of prospering.

Reporting on the first conference, the New York Times notes that the military-drafted constitution gives the armed forces vast powers. It includes control over three critical ministries and 25 per cent of the seats in Parliament. Amendments must be approved by more than 75 per cent of Parliament, which means that any proposed changes are subject to the military’s veto. The newspaper reports that some participants called for increasing the representation of minority ethnic groups in the military and for other changes in the security sector, but the military has insisted that non-state armed groups must disarm and demobilize first. #21827 Updated: 02/14/2017 UPDATED FEB 14 TO INCLUDE CONFIRMED DATE AND VENUE

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Mar
2017

Gaza plans first comedy festival

GAZA STRIP (WNF) - The Palestinian territory plans its first comedy festival with the stated purpose of calling attention to the Gaza Strip and relaying the message that it is full of life, culture and art. (March 2017
The organizer, Mahmoud Madi, the director of Maimas for Media Production, told Al Monitor that it will feature stand-up comedians, will be modeled on comedy festivals organized in Arab capitals and specifically aim to attract young participants.

The regional publication also reported that at the ceremony in January where the plan was announced, Korean stand-up comedian Wonho Chung, who speaks fluent Arabic, performed a short routine. In a previously recorded video, he expressed his admiration for the residents of the Gaza Strip, according to the publication, and praised their steadfastness in the face of the siege and harsh living conditions. He added that comedy and laughter are powerful ways to ease the pain and grief of everyday reality. #22000 Published: 01/11/2017

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Mar
2017

Pakistan electoral reforms aim to boost women’s participation in politics

PAKISTAN (GN) - Pakistan’s National Assembly is expected to pass a series of electoral reforms intended to increase the participation of women in politics. (March 2017
The reforms would make it mandatory for political parties to allot five per cent of their tickets to women candidates. They were approved on Feb 7 by the federal cabinet, the country’s highest decision-making body.

Under Pakistan's constitution, women are guaranteed seats through a quota system in the national parliament and regional assemblies in Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces.

At present, 60 out of 342 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, are reserved for women with a further 137 seats reserved for women in the four provincial assemblies.

Women’s rights campaigners welcomed the move by the cabinet of ministers, headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, but said the quota should be increased to at least 10 percent.

In January, the Senate passed a law requiring a re-election in constituencies where women’s turnout is less than 10 per cent in an effort to address disparities in the number of women who go out to vote in the socially conservative country. #22054 Published: 02/14/2017

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Mar
2017

Australia, Indonesia making joint effort to protect WW2 wreck

AUSTRALIA, INDONESIA (GN) - Australia and Indonesia are to send divers to inspect the wreck of a warship torpedoed off the coast of Java during World War II to determine how best to protect the site from looters who have stripped numerous other WW2 wrecks. (March 2017
The Australian cruiser HMAS Perth was sunk by Japanese forces off the northwest tip of Java during the Battle of Sunda Strait in 1942. Of the 681 crew on board, 353 lost their lives.

"A physical dive on the site with archaeologists will be the only way to gain a clear picture of what remains of Perth," said Kevin Sumption, director of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Divers discovered in November that the wrecks of two Dutch warships sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea, in which the Perth also took part, had been completely stripped by marine salvagers, who have ransacked many other wrecks lying in Indonesian waters.

“We are doing everything we can, working in close partnership with our Indonesian colleagues, to secure formal protection of the site,” Sumption said.

Australia, Indonesia and the United States are yet to ratify the 2001 United Nations Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage.

David Steinberg, president of the Australasian Institute of Maritime Archaeology, said the case of the Perth and other wartime wrecks showed the importance of ratifying the convention.

A joint dive with Indonesia's National Research Centre of Archaeology was originally planned for October but was postponed due to the early onset of the monsoon season, and a later attempt at a sonar survey proved inconclusive. However, the survey was able to show that the wreck of another ship, the USS Houston, sunk in the same battle as HMAS Perth, was found to be largely intact.

The results of the March dive will likely take experts several months to analyse. #22055 Published: 02/14/2017

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Mar
2017

Sea trials begin for Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) begins its sea trials in March, with the Navy expecting to take formal delivery of the massive nuclear-powered aircraft in April if the trials are satisfactory. (March 2017
The Ford is the lead ship in the U.S. Navy’s new class of super carriers. Two nuclear reactors power the 1,092ft-long warship, allowing it to cruise at 30+ knots (34.5+ miles per hour) for years with refueling. Its new technologies include electromagnetic launch systems for jets and drones, a system that replaces steam catapults.

The carrier has been under construction since 2005. It was christened in 2013 and due for delivery in 2016. Setbacks with the advanced technologies caused the delay.

It carries 4,539 ship and air wing personnel and staff.

The Ford and the future USS John F. Kennedy and USS Enterprise will replace the Navy’s Nimitz-class carriers, which were first commissioned in 1975.

The new warship is named after former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, who rose to the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the Navy during WWII. He died in 2006. #22076 Published: 02/27/2017

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02 Mar
2017

Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens 100 years ago

PUERTO RICO (WNF) - The Jones-Shafroth Act signed by United States President Woodrow Wilson a century ago made Puerto Rico a United States territory and Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens. A century on, economic disaster makes the island an attractive place to leave, and Puerto Ricans can argue that the Act laid the foundation for the crisis.
The continuing exodus to the U.S. mainland of recent years has left the government with a shrinking tax base, compounding its economic woes.

The Act shaped democratic government on the island, but also affected shipping and prices in ways that laid a foundation for the debt crisis. According to the Huffington Post, tax provisions in the Act – with others introduced decades later – made the territory attractive to unscrupulous lenders and the type of hedge funds called vulture funds. The publication’s report on the debt crisis adds corruption and inefficiency as contributions to the territory’s present sorry state. The apparent disinclination of the U.S. Congress to provide funding relief compounds the impact of relentless austerity as the island attempts to meet its obligations.

The Commonwealth is U.S.$70 billion in debt to external lenders. A federal oversight board is working on a plan to restructure at least some of that debt, but the price is likely to be additional budget cuts and higher taxes.

The government sees changing the territory’s status from hybrid statehood to full statehood as the answer to its debt troubles: several avenues would be available for debt relief if it becomes the 51st state of the Union. A non-binding vote on statehood vs. independence/free association has been set for June, with a binding vote following in October if a majority chooses the latter. The U.S. Congress has the last word, however, and might find it more convenient to leave the island’s status unchanged. #21650 Updated: 02/14/2017 UPDATED 13 FEB TO INCLUDE JUNE STATEHOOD VOTE

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02 Mar
2017

Northern Ireland holds election with power-sharing agreement at risk

UNITED KINGDOM (WNF) - The Northern Ireland Assembly election is expected to return the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Fein as the two biggest parties, but possibly not as the power-sharing government required by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
A total of 228 people will battle it out for 90 seats – down from 108 – split across 18 constituencies.

Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness, the deputy First Minister in the DUP/Sinn Fein-led coalition, resigned on Jan 9 because of differences between the two parties over a clean energy scheme that went wrong and other issues. His resignation automatically removed Arlene Foster of the DUP from her position as First Minister and triggered the new election, the second in eight months.

On Jan 19 McGuinness made news again by announcing he had quit politics because of ill health. The new party leaders will have the task of trying to mend fences to restore power sharing. Under the terms of the Agreement, the First and deputy First Ministers, one unionist and one nationalist, have equal powers. One cannot be in position without the other. The multi-party executive is made up of both unionist and nationalist parties.

The DUP has refused to give way on an inquiry into the clean energy scheme and insists, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, that the structures of mandatory coalition power-sharing need to be reviewed before another executive is formed.

The Good Friday Agreement brought to an end the 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland. #22032 Published: 01/26/2017

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03 Mar
2017

New movie aiming to create an Erdogan cult?

TURKEY (WNF) - The Chief, a feature film that traces the early rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, opens in cinemas just weeks before Turks vote on more power for the president. The portrayal follows a formula used to invest Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the secularist founder of the Turkish Republic, with cult status.
Ataturk introduced Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet during his regime, which lasted from 1923 almost without interruption until 1945.

Al Monitor, the regional publication that reported the movie release, notes that the early Turkish Republic that Erdogan supporters so despise was characterized by a cult of personality around Kemal Ataturk, and that Turkey now has another cult of personality in the making, at the hands of the very people who for decades ridiculed the Ataturk cult.

There are already stadiums and institutions named after Erdogan, according to Agence France-Presse, which reported plans for the movie in 2016. #22058 Published: 02/15/2017

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04 Mar
2017

Trump to select new security chief

UNITED STATES (GN) - President Donald Trump will be able to select his own security chief when U.S. Secret Service director Joseph Clancy steps down after two years in charge.
Clancy took over as acting director of the agency in Oct 2014 and was sworn in as permanent director by Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, in Feb 2015. He replaced Julia Pierson, who stepped down after several high-profile security lapses and it was revealed that a number of agents were found to have hired prostitutes in Colombia in advance of an Obama trip.

With Clancy at the helm the agency tackled a heavy workload despite having the lowest number of employees in a decade. He was also in charge during the bitter 2016 presidential election, which was free of any major security incidents.

The Secret Service has almost 7,000 employees and is charged with protecting the president and his family as well as combating counterfeiting. #22062 Published: 02/22/2017

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05 Mar
2017

National People’s Congress held in Beijing

CHINA (WNF) - The National People’s Congress (NPC) meets in Beijing to approve plans outlined by the Communist Party leadership. Analysts will dissect the speeches of President Xi Jinping and others for clues to China’s military and economic ambitions.
Of burning interest in the whole region and beyond is whether the extensive reforms Xi has introduced in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to extend its reach beyond China’s borders – and out into the South China Sea – will also extend its grasp. Some 2.3 million PLA troops serve on the ground, in the air and on the high seas.

Li’s 2016 NPC speech hinted at more stimulus measures in the offing to prop up growth. Analysts who tease the premier’s speech apart each year will want to know whether the stimulus measures were introduced and whether they worked. They will also dig for news of the promised structural economic reforms and for the inside line on the state of the economy. Britain’s Economist magazine reported after the meeting that Li sensibly avoided the previous practice of declaring a specific aim for GDP growth for the coming year by announcing a target range – between 6.5 and 7 per cent.

An NPC web news bulletin reported in September that China's top economic planner Xu Shaoshi, chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, warned that challenges remain in investment and trade, and meeting annual growth targets will require "arduous efforts." Pressure will still remain in economic development in the second half of 2016, he said, then went on to express confidence that the country could meet major annual targets in economic growth, employment and commodity prices.

The NPC is the largest parliament in the world. It meets annually. Actual decision-making authority in China resides in the state’s executive organs and in the Chinese Communist Party. The NPC convenes along side the People's Political Consultative Conference. #21855 Updated: 02/09/2017 UPDATED to give Mar 5 opening date

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Mar
2017

Annual U.S.-South Korea military exercises set to be biggest ever

SOUTH KOREA (GN) - This year’s annual Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises between South Korea and the United States are expected to be the largest ever, with the two allies reportedly also discussing the possibility of deploying a U.S. strategic asset to the peninsula during the drills. (March 2017
Some military experts expect that B-1B, B-52 and B-2 bombers could be part of the U.S. deployment, along with an aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine, while South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that Washington had agreed to send F-22 stealth fighters.

Yonhap quoted a military official as saying that the move was intended to demonstrate the allies’ full readiness and combat capabilities against North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats.

The increase in firepower comes after North Korea escalated tensions with its latest missile launch. On Feb 12, North Korea test-fired a newly developed intermediate-range ballistic missile in its first provocation since the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was making good on an earlier threat to test-fire a missile of this kind, which is capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Defence chiefs from the U.S., South Korea and Japan vowed to strengthen intelligence sharing after the launch.

The Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are scheduled to start early in March 2017. #22059 Published: 02/16/2017

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07 Mar
2017

Tata to unveil new Tamo brand concept sports car to help shed budget image

INDIA, SWITZERLAND (GN) - India’s Tata Motors plans to unveil a concept car at the Geneva Motor Show that could preview the first model sold under its new, upscale Tamo brand. The company could do with a boost: it reported a worse than expected 96 per cent drop in net profit for its third quarter, citing poor sales and the fallout from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “demonetisation” move.
Trade magazine Autocar reported that the first TAMO car will be a two-seater, mid-engined sportscar, internally called the Futuro. The car would be a halo model for the brand and only 250 would be built, the magazine said.

Tata, which owns the British luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover, and currently produces the loss-making Nano, hopes the brand will help the company shed its budget image.

Managing Director Guenter Butschek told the motoring press that the Tamo brand – the name is short for Tata Motors – “is about bringing new technologies and ideas fast to the market. Eventually we will decide to take some of these concepts into the mainstream,” he said.

Tata Motors Limited, headquartered in Mumbai, is the largest manufacturer in the Indian automotive industry.

The company cited sharply lower earnings at Jaguar Land Rover and losses in its domestic business for the steep fall in third quarter profits.

Car makers in India were also hit by November’s “demonetisation” move, when Prime Minister Modi declared notes of 500 rupees and 1,000 rupees illegal tender, taking about 86 per cent of total currency out of circulation.

The Geneva Motor Show runs from Mar 9-19, with press days Mar 7-8. #22053 Published: 02/14/2017

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