US sanctions Chinese companies over Muslim abuse complaints

US sanctions Chinese companies over Muslim abuse complaints

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FILE – In this Nov. 3, 2017, file photo, residents line up at a security checkpoint into the Hotan Bazaar where a screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hotan in western China’s Xinjiang region. The U.S. government has imposed … more >

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By JOE McDONALD

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China said Tuesday it would take unspecified “necessary measures” after the U.S. government imposed trade sanctions on 11 companies it says are implicated in human rights abuses in China’s Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.

The sanctions add to U.S. pressure on Beijing over Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party is accused of mass detentions, forced labor, forced birth control and other abuses against Muslim minorities. Xinjiang is among a series of conflicts including human rights, trade and technology that have caused U.S.-Chinese relations to plunge to their lowest level in decades.

The Trump administration also has imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials over the accusations. Beijing responded by announcing unspecified penalties on four U.S. senators who are critics of its human rights record.

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Three of the companies cited Monday were identified by investigations by The Associated Press in 2018 and 2020 as being implicated in forced labor. One company, Nanchang O-Film Tech, supplies screens and lenses to Apple, Samsung and other technology companies. AP reporters found employees from Xinjiang at its factory in the southern city of Nanchang weren’t allowed out unaccompanied and were required to attend political classes.

U.S. customs authorities seized a shipment from the second company, Hetian Haolin Hair Accessories, on suspicion it was made by forced labor. People who worked for the third, Hetian Taida, which produces sportswear sold to U.S. universities and sports teams, told AP detainees were compelled to work there.

The Department of Commerce said the addition of the 11 companies to its Entity List will limit their access to U.S. goods and technology. It gave no details of what goods might be affected.

“This action will ensure that our goods and technologies are not used in the Chinese Communist Party’s despicable offensive against defenseless Muslim minority populations,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement.

The Chinese foreign ministry rejected the sanctions as interference in its affairs and an attempt by Washington to hurt Chinese companies.

“What the United States is concerned about is not the human rights issues at all, but to suppress Chinese companies, undermine the stability of Xinjiang, and smear China’s Xinjiang policies,” said spokesperson Wang Wenbin. “We urge the United States to correct its mistakes, revoke relevant decisions and stop interfering in China’s internal affairs.”

Wang said Beijing will “take all necessary measures” to protect Chinese businesses, but gave no indication of possible retaliation.

China has detained an estimated 1 million or more members of the Uighur and other Muslim ethnic minority groups in internment camps.

The government describes them as vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies. It says those facilities have since been closed, a claim that is impossible to confirm given the restrictions on visits and reporting about the region.

Veterans of the camps and family members say those held are forced, often with the threat of violence, to denounce their religion, culture and language and swear loyalty to Communist Party leader and head of state Xi Jinping.

The companies cited Monday include clothing manufacturers and technology suppliers.

Two companies cited, Xinjiang Silk Road BGI and Beijing Liuhe BGI, are subsidiaries of BGI Group, one of the world’s biggest gene-sequencing companies. The Commerce Department said they were “conducting genetic analyses used to further the repression” of Muslim minorities.

Human rights groups say security forces in Xinjiang appear to be creating a genetic database with samples from millions of people including through using blood and other samples subjects are compelled to provide. Nationwide, authorities have gathered genetic information from the Chinese public for almost two decades that the government says is for use in law enforcement.

Phone calls Tuesday to BGI’s public relations and investor relations departments weren’t answered.

The Commerce Department imposed similar restrictions last October and in June on a total of 37 companies it said were “engaged in or enabling” abuses in Xinjiang.

The department issued a warning on July 1 that companies that handle goods made by forced labor or that supply technology that might be used in labor camps or for surveillance might face unspecified “reputational, economic and legal risks.”

The Chinese foreign ministry criticized the warning, saying Beijing would take “necessary measures” to protect Chinese companies but giving no details.

China says it’s not trying to replace U.S., won’t be bullied

China accuses Washington of ‘malicious slander,’ says it won’t be bullied by U.S.

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U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr speaks at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., Thursday, July 16, 2020. The United States has become overly reliant on Chinese goods and services, including face masks, medical gowns and … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, July 17, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China isn’t seeking to confront or replace the United States as the world’s top technological power, but will fight back against ‘malicious slander’ and attacks from Washington, a foreign ministry spokesperson said Friday, responding to a litany of recent accusations from the Trump administration.

Hua Chunying said China’s chief concern is improving the livelihoods of its citizens and maintaining global peace and stability, despite what critics say is an increasingly aggressive foreign policy that looks to expand Chinese influence in the military, technology, economic and other spheres.

“As an independent sovereign state, China has the right to safeguard its own sovereignty, security and development interests, to defend the achievements made by the Chinese people with hard work, to refuse any bullying and injustice against China, and to fight back against malicious slander and attacks by the U.S. against China,” Hua said at a daily briefing.

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Her comments came in response to a speech Thursday by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in which he cautioned American business leaders against promoting policies favorable to Beijing. He asserted that China at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic had not only dominated the market for protective gear, exposing American dependence on Beijing, but had also hoarded supplies and blocked producers from exporting them to countries in need.

Barr also accused hackers linked to the Chinese government of targeting American universities and businesses to steal research related to coronavirus vaccine development, leveling the allegation against Beijing hours after Western agencies made similar claims against Russia.

“The People’s Republic of China is now engaged in an economic blitzkrieg – an aggressive, orchestrated, whole-of-government (indeed, whole-of-society) campaign to seize the commanding heights of the global economy and to surpass the United States as the world’s preeminent technological superpower,” Barr said.

Numerous Trump allies have issued strongly worded messages over China in recent days, coming at a time when bilateral relations have fallen to their lowest point in decades over issues from accusations of technology theft to China’s claims in the South China Sea.

Hua dismissed Barr’s accusations of cybertheft related to vaccine development as “absurd.”

“Because everyone knows that China is in a leading position in the research and development of new coronavirus vaccines, we have first-class scientific research personnel, and we do not need to gain a leading position with theft,” Hua said.

Chinese companies have moved swiftly to develop a coronavirus vaccine, as countries compete for the prestige and profits that would come with being the first to bring such a product to market.

Inside the Ring: Pompeo hits Huawei execs

Pompeo hits Huawei execs

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced new restrictions on Chinese telecommunications executives on Wednesday. The move specifically targets the controversial company Huawei. (Associated Press) more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday announced new visa restrictions on Chinese telecommunications executives, including those from the controversial Huawei Technologies.

Visa limits are being slapped on Chinese people who are linked to technology companies doing business with foreign regimes engaged in human rights abuses.

“Companies impacted by today’s action include Huawei, an arm of the [Chinese Communist Party’s] surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang and the indentured servitude of its population shipped all over China,” Mr. Pompeo said.

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“Certain Huawei employees provide material support to the CCP regime that commits human rights abuses,” he said in a statement.

The action puts telecommunications companies around the world on notice that “if they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers,” Mr. Pompeo said.

The action is the latest effort to counter Huawei’s bid to corner the world market on emerging 5G technology.

Britain’s government announced this week it has banned all new Huawei gear and will remove all Huawei equipment in the country by 2027. The move followed pressure from the United States to end London’s use of Huawei gear over electronic spying concerns.

Mr. Pompeo said banning Huawei in Britain was not about commercial competition but is needed to protect information.

British security authorities, like those in the United States, concluded that Huawei equipment cannot protect personal and public information.

“Information that transits across these untrusted networks that are of Chinese origin will almost certainly end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” he said in a meeting with reporters.

The U.S. also is seeking extradition from Canada of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer who is charged with lying to investigators about the company’s extensive financial dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Notice of the visa restrictions comes as part of the Trump administration’s hardline policy toward China.

President Trump this week announced the end of Hong Kong’s favorable trade status after Beijing imposed a new national security law that effectively ended the former British colony’s independent system of government.

Mr. Pompeo said the signing into law of the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, and other executive branch actions were based on China’s undermining the rule of law on the island.

Mr. Pompeo noted that “if China treats Hong Kong as one country and a single system, so must we.”

“[Chinese Communist Party] General Secretary Xi Jinping made a choice to violate the Chinese Communist Party’s promises to Hong Kong … that were made in a U.N.-registered treaty,” he said. “He didn’t have to do that; he made that choice. We have to deal with China as it is, not as we wish it to be.”

Mr. Pompeo praised Britain’s decision to ban Huawei gear. “The U.K. joins the United States and now many other democracies in becoming ‘clean countries’ — nations free of untrusted 5G vendors,” he said.

“In the same way, many major telecom companies like Telefonica, Telco Italia, and NTT have become ‘clean carriers.’”

Taking a stand in South China Sea

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is perhaps the most outspoken proponent of the tougher new U.S. policies toward China being adopted across other federal agencies, notably the Justice Department, which is cracking down on Chinese espionage and technology theft, as well as the White House National Security Council, with its efforts to end Chinese exploitation of American pension funds.

This week the administration announced that China’s expansive maritime and territorial claims to own most of the South China Sea are illegal.

Mr. Pompeo said the new policy makes “crystal clear” the sea is not China’s maritime empire.

“If Beijing violates the international law and free nations do nothing, then history shows that the CCP will simply take more territory,” he said at the State Department. “That happened in the last administration.”

“What the CCP does to the Chinese people is bad enough, but the free world shouldn’t tolerate Beijing’s abuses as well,” Mr. Pompeo added.

The formal declaration is a setback for Chinese efforts to encroach on the international waterway that is used for several trillion dollars of international trade annually.

Asked to explain the new tougher policies Wednesday, Mr. Pompeo said what is significant is that the “conversation has changed.

“That conversation is different than we’ve had, frankly, for decades between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

“I think Chinese leadership understands it is no longer the case that it’s going to be acceptable that the United States is simply going to allow the important commercial relationships that we have between our two countries to put the American people at risk, and that’s what had happened.”

Multiple administrations for both Democratic and Republican presidents allowed China to engage “in behavior that was radically unreciprocal, enormously unfair to the American people, and frankly, put America’s national security at risk,” he said.

The Trump administration has begun to turn that posture around although more work needs to be done. But the new policies are a “marked reversal” of past engagement and conciliation with Beijing, he said.

Mr. Pompeo said he believes the new policies are having an impact in changing Chinese government behaviors.

“We will continue to do the things we need to do to make sure that the American people are safe and secure and that we have a set of fair and reciprocal relationships,” Mr. Pompeo said.

“That’s the end-state desire. We want good things for the people of China. We have a Chinese Communist Party that is putting freedom and democracy at risk by their expansionist, imperialist, authoritarian behavior. That’s the behavior that we’re trying to see changed.”

The secretary of state again criticized Beijing for covering up the early outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a regime that failed to disclose information they had about a virus that’s now killed over 100,000 Americans, hundreds of thousands across the world, cost the global economy trillions and trillions of dollars, and now is allowing the World Health Organization to go in to conduct what I am confident will be a completely, completely whitewashed investigation,” he said.

China needs to conduct a thorough investigation of how the virus began in Wuhan after stonewalling on where it originated and how Chinese authorities destroyed virus samples.

“The Chinese Communist Party talks about win-win and cooperation,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Cooperation isn’t about nice language or summits, or meetings between foreign ministers. It’s about actions, and that’s the expectation that we are setting for the Chinese Communist Party. We need to see fair, reciprocal responses.”

Navy warship Passes Spratlys

The Navy wasted no time in testing out the new U.S. policy declaring China’s broad maritime claims in the South China Sea to be illegal.

A day after the State Department announced the policy shift from one of voicing neutrality in South China Sea disputes, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson sailed close to the Spratly Islands.

“This freedom of navigation operation upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by China, Vietnam, and Taiwan,” said Cmdr. Reann Mommsen, spokeswoman for the Seventh Fleet.

“Unlawful and sweeping maritime claims in the South China Sea pose a serious threat to the freedom of the seas, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight, free trade and unimpeded commerce, and freedom of economic opportunity for South China Sea littoral nations,” she added.

The warship passage followed high-profile dual aircraft carrier operations in the sea last week by the battle groups headed by the USS Reagan and USS Nimitz.

Bill Gertz is The Washington Times’ national security correspondent. Contact him on Twitter @BillGertz.

China’s trade rises as economy recovers from virus slump

China’s trade rises as economy recovers from virus slump

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A worker wearing a face mask to protect against the new coronavirus guides the loading of a shipping container at a container port in Qingdao in eastern China’s Shandong Province, Thursday, July 9, 2020. China’s imports of U.S. goods rose … more >

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By JOE McDONALD

Associated Press

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China’s trade improved in June in a fresh sign the world’s second-largest economy is recovering from the coronavirus pandemic. But its exporters face threats including tension with Washington and a possible downturn in U.S. and European demand.

Chinese imports rose 3% over a year earlier to $167.2 billion, rebounding from May’s 3.3% decline, customs data showed Tuesday. Exports edged up 0.4% to $213.6 billion, an improvement over the previous month’s 16.7% contraction.

Imports of U.S. goods surged 10.6% to $10.4 billion despite tariff hikes in a fight with Washington over trade and technology. Exports to the United States gained 1% to $39.8 billion.

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China, where the pandemic began in December, was the first economy to start the struggle to revive normal business activity in March after declaring the virus under control. Manufacturing is recovering, but consumer spending is weak. Forecasters say exports are likely to slump as demand for masks and other medical supplies recedes and U.S. and European retailers cancel orders.

Leading indicators “suggest that exports will start to contract again before long,” Martin Rasmussen of Capital Economics said in a report.

Relations with the United States, China’s biggest national export market, have deteriorated to their lowest level in decades.

Disputes over Hong Kong, human rights and the South China Sea added to strains that began with a tariff war launched by the Trump administration in 2018 over Beijing’s technology ambitions and trade surplus.

The two sides have announced sanctions on some prominent Chinese and U.S. political figures in a dispute over abuses in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, though it is unclear whether those officials will be affected.

President Donald Trump said Friday that work on the second stage of a deal aimed at ending the tariff war is a low priority because relations were “severely damaged” by Beijing’s handling of the pandemic.

The two sides signed a “phase one” agreement in January to postpone further penalties but tariff increases already imposed stayed in place.

China’s June imports were boosted by a 74% increase in purchases of U.S. soybeans under a pledge by Beijing in that January agreement to narrow its trade surplus with the United States by importing more food and other goods.

China’s imports from the U.S. will likely remain elevated in the second half of this year,” said Nomura economists in a report.

Imports of U.S.-made semiconductors accelerated to 18.6% growth over a year earlier, which Citigroup economists suggested might have been motivated by concern U.S. export sanctions imposed on Chinese tech giant Huawei Technologies Ltd. will be fully enforced once a temporary postponement ends.

Imports “should continue to ramp-up” as the government spends more to support economic recovery and consumer demand, Rasmussen said.

China’s global trade surplus narrowed to $46.4 billion from May’s $62.9 billion.

The Chinese economy shrank by 6.8% in the first quarter, its worst performance since at least the mid-1960s. The ruling party skipped announcing an annual economic growth target, but private sector forecasts range from low single digits to a small contraction.

Some forecasters raised their outlook slightly after factory activity in May improved more than expected.

China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, Smith, Brownback for criticism

China sanctions Cruz, Rubio, Smith, Brownback for criticism

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By

Associated Press

Monday, July 13, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China said Monday it will impose sanctions on three U.S. lawmakers and one ambassador in response to similar actions taken by the U.S. last week against Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses against Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Rep. Chris Smith and Ambassador for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback were targeted, as was the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. The four have been critical of the ruling Communist Party’s policies toward minority groups and people of faith.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the U.S. move had “seriously damaged China-U.S. relations” and that China was determined to uphold its national sovereignty against what it sees as interference in its internal affairs.

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China will respond further according to the development of the situation,” Hua said.

She did not spell out the sanctions beyond saying they would correspond to the American ones. The U.S. prohibited any property transactions by Americans with four senior Chinese officials and barred three of them from entering the U.S.

There was no indication that any of the sanctioned Americans had plans to travel to China.

The sanctioned Chinese officials include Chen Quanguo, who heads the northwestern region of Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of Muslim minority groups have been incarcerated in what China terms de-radicalization and retraining centers.

Critics have likened the camps to prisons to which inmates are sentenced with little due process and where they are compelled to denounce their religion, language and culture and pledge allegiance to the Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping. An Associated Press investigation has also discovered allegations that women in Xinjiang’s predominantly native Uighur ethnic group were forced to use birth control or undergo involuntary sterilizations.

Ties between China and the U.S. have deteriorated steadily over the coronavirus pandemic, human rights, Beijing policy toward Hong Kong and trade. The Trump administration has also slapped visa bans on Chinese officials deemed responsible for barring foreigners’ access to Tibet, along with those seen as enforcing a clampdown on civil rights in Hong Kong.

Despite such moves, former national security adviser John Bolton has alleged in a new book that Trump told Xi he was right to build detention camps in Xinjiang.

Additional visa restrictions are being placed on other Communist Party officials believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, the detention or abuse of Uighurs, Kazakhs and members of other minority groups.

In addition to Chen, Xinjiang’s party secretary and a member of the national-level Politburo, the other sanctioned officials were Zhu Hailun, party secretary of the Xinjiang political and legal committee; Wang Mingshan, party secretary of the Xinjiang public security bureau; and Huo Liujun, a former top official in the region’s police force.

They and their immediate family members are banned from entering the United States.

China has sought to crush any hint of separatist tendencies among Uighurs, which critics say amounts to a campaign of cultural genocide. Uighurs are mostly Muslim and their Turkic language, Muslim religion and central Asian culture make them distinct from China’s Han majority.

While China says it is bringing prosperity and development to the vast, resource-rich region, many among Xinjiang’s native ethnic groups say they are being denied economic options in favor of migrants from elsewhere in China.

Last December, Xinjiang authorities announced that the camps had closed and all the detainees had “graduated,” a claim difficult to corroborate independently given tight surveillance and restrictions on reporting in the region. Some Uighurs and Kazakhs have told the AP that their relatives have been released, but many others say their loved ones remain in detention, were sentenced to prison or transferred to forced labor in factories.

In October 2019, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials “believed to be responsible for, or complicit in” the detention of Muslims in Xinjiang. It also blacklisted more than two dozen Chinese companies and agencies linked to abuses in the region – including surveillance technology manufacturers and Xinjiang’s public security bureau – effectively blocking them from buying U.S. products.

China’s officially atheist Communist government at first denied the existence of the internment camps in Xinjiang, but now says they are vocational training facilities aimed at countering Muslim radicalism and separatist tendencies.

Pompeo slams UN report on deadly US drone strike on Iranian

Pompeo slams UN report on deadly US drone strike on Iranian

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP) more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN

Associated Press

Friday, July 10, 2020

GENEVA (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized an independent U.N. human rights expert’s report insisting a American drone strike that killed a top Iranian general in January was a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.

The report presented by Agnes Callamard to the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council on Thursday chronicled events around the death of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and the legal implications of his killing as part of a broader look on the use of drone strikes.

Callamard, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions who has been commissioned by the council, called the January strike in Iraq “the first known incident in which a state invokes self-defense as justification for an attack against a government official outside a declared armed conflict.”

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Pompeo said in a statement late Thursday that the U.S. rejected her report and “opinions.”

“Ms. Callamard’s conclusions are spurious,” he said. “The strike that killed Gen. Soleimani was in response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”

Pompeo said the strike on Baghdad International Airport was carried out “to deter Iran from launching or supporting further attacks against the United States or U.S. interests, and to degrade the capabilities of the Qods Force.” He said Callamard “gives more cause to distrust U.N. human rights mechanisms.”

The Trump administration pulled the United States out of the rights council two years ago, accusing it of an anti-Israel bias and alleging that it is too accepting of autocratic regimes that regularly abuse human rights.

Callamard is perhaps best known for leading an investigation into the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi national, and issuing a scathing report on the actions of Saudi officials.

In her new report, Callamard acknowledged in her report that international humanitarian and human rights law can provide “diverging answers” on the legal validity of some drone strikes, and the one against Soleimani raised “genuine uncertainty as to how to interpret its lawfulness.

She said the United States had not “engaged with” her as she drafted the drone report. But based on the evidence the U.S. provided, “the targeting of Gen. Soleimani, and the deaths of those accompanying him, constitute an arbitrary killing for which, under (international human rights law), the U.S. is responsible,” she said.

Callamard wrote that the strike targeting Soleimani was “qualitatively different” from other drone strikes that targeted non-state actors.

“This is the primary reason the Soleimani strike is considered a watershed change in the conduct of extra-territorially targeted strikes and killings,” she stated in the report.

“It is hard to imagine that a similar strike against a Western military leader would not be considered as an act of war, potentially leading to intense action, political, military and otherwise, against the state launching the strike,” she added.

Among other recommendations, the report calls on the United Nations to examine the legal framework on the use of drones and for the U.N. Security Council – which Callamard called “missing in action” on the subject of drone strikes – to take up the issues.

The report’s release came as the United States mounts an increasingly intense diplomatic offensive to try to depict Iran’s Islamic Republic as the world’s most rogue regime.

Tehran has countered by issuing an international arrest warrant and asking Interpol for help in detaining President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the drone strike on Soleimani. Trump faces no danger of arrest, and Interpol said it would not consider Iran’s request.

___

Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Navy operations send message to China

The Navy’s message to Beijing

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In this photo provided by U.S. Navy, the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Groups steam in formation, in the South China Sea, Monday, July 6, 2020. China on Monday, July 6, accused the … more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The commanders of two Navy aircraft carrier strike groups sailing in the contested South China Sea say their operations demonstrated support for the idea of freedom on the seas.

Rear Adm. Jim Kirk, commander of a warship battle group headed by the USS Nimitz, said the dual-carrier operations underway in the waters off East Asia give military commanders “unmatched operational flexibility if the need arises.”

“Our training exercises enhance our ability to provide regional air defense and expand our reach of operations to respond to those who challenge regional stability,” said Adm. Kirk, making a clear but indirect reference to China.

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Beijing has claimed 90% of the South China Sea as its sovereign maritime territory, a claim rejected by the United States and nations in the region.

The operations this week included 24-hour carrier flight operations of warplanes from the Nimitz and the second carrier, USS Ronald Reagan. The combined strike groups include six guided-missile warships.

The carrier air wings so far have conducted hundreds of sorties in the sea as part of U.S. efforts to support regional allies, Adm. Kirk said.

Rear Adm. George Wikoff, who heads the Reagan strike group, said the more than 6,000 sailors aboard the two carrier groups are bolstering security commitments to regional allies.

The operations “reinforce international norms that support the free and open Indo-Pacific,” Adm. Wikoff said. “While working together as one strike force, we have demonstrated how the U.S. Navy fields a responsive and flexible and unmatched maritime team, committed to mutual defense agreements with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific.”

Chinese naval officials are closely watching the carrier, and in the past People’s Liberation Army naval fleets have tried unsuccessfully to force U.S. Navy warships out of the area.

“We saw plenty of the Chinese navy operating around us as we did our exercises,” Adm. Kirk said.

The Chinese presence near the exercises “helped us raise our level of readiness as we go against each other through training,” he said. “So that was a marvelous opportunity for us.”

Despite the monitoring, there have been no incidents so far involving the Chinese.

“We certainly saw the PLA navy, and they certainly saw us,” he added. “We expect all nations to operate safe and professionally during any of our maritime operations, and those expectations were met.”

Adm. Wikoff said the military activities were carried out in line with international norms for sailing in open seas.

“During our operations, we had opportunities to work with several nations,” Adm. Wikoff said. “What the dual-carrier operations allowed us to do was to simulate a complex training scenario that really improves our overall combat power at sea.”

The carrier show of force prompted a social media showdown of sorts pitting the Navy against China’s state-run Global Times news outlet on Twitter.

The Global Times tweeted a veiled threat to the carrier groups, noting China’s “wide selection of anti-aircraft carrier weapons like DF-21D and DF-26’aircraft carrier killer’ #missiles.”

“South China Sea is fully within grasp of the #PLA; any US #aircraft carrier movement in the region is at the pleasure of PLA,” the Global Times tweeted.

Rear Adm. Charlie Brown, chief of Navy information, tweeted back: “And yet, there they are. Two @USNavy aircraft carriers operating in the international waters of the South China Sea. #USSNimitz & #USSRonaldReagan are not intimidated #AtOurDiscretion.”

Asked about the exchange, Adm. Kirk noted some recent interesting comments by Chinese government spokesmen.

“We solely operate in accordance with international law, and we align with those like-minded nations that promote rule-of-law in the region,” he said. “We were just honing our skills together to ensure that we were able to raise our combat readiness to its highest level, and we were able to do that.”

Both ships are operating under enhanced health protective measures to avoid infecting the crews with COVID-19. The commanders said the crews have been following best practices and remain free of the disease.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters earlier this week that the U.S. carrier operations are seeking to “promote militarization” in the sea.

“It is completely out of ulterior motives that the U.S. flexes its muscles by purposely sending powerful military force to the relevant waters for large-scale exercises,” Mr. Zhao said. “The U.S. intends to drive a wedge between regional countries, promote militarization of the South China Sea and undermine peace and stability in the region.”

NDU: PURSUE ‘SYSTEM OVERLOAD’ FOR PLA

China’s military remains geared toward fighting a regional conflict over rival Taiwan, but Beijing’s other challenges could make winning against Taipei difficult.

That’s the conclusion of a National Defense University report, “System Overload: Can China’s Military Be Distracted in a War Over Taiwan?”

While preparing to fight over Taiwan, the PLA also must deter other regional rivals, enforce China’s expansive and growing territorial claims, protect increased Chinese overseas interests and — perhaps most important — protect a ruling Chinese Communist Party that is facing mounting challenges to its power at home.

“U.S. strategy should aim to achieve ‘system overload’ by expanding the range of challenges the PLA faces in other theaters and overwhelming its capacity to conduct multi-theater operations,” according to Joel Wuthnow, the NDU report’s author.

An effective peacetime strategy should leverage a potential Taiwan conflict to coax the PLA to build military capabilities less relevant to cross-Taiwan Strait military operations and reduce the ability of Chinese military planners to focus solely on the Taiwan problem.

The U.S. strategy should be to force China to face “multiple dilemmas” that would make it difficult for China’s communist leaders to make rapid decisions and conduct fast operations.

Instead of selling new F-16s, for example, the United States should sell low-profile but highly effective defensive systems to regional allies.

“Options that exploit stresses in China’s ability to coordinate large campaigns and shift resources among theaters include attacks on China’s command and control and logistics networks, information operations aggravating tensions in China’s civil-military relations, conventional strikes launched from multiple directions, and a ‘far seas’ blockade,” Mr. Wuthnow said.

CHINA DENIES FBI SPYING CLAIMS

FBI Director Christopher Wray this week revealed new details U.S. investigators have collected of Chinese intelligence and influence operations targeting economic and proprietary data.

Chinese economic intelligence gathering is “the greatest long-term threat to information, economic and national security,” Mr. Wray said in a speech to the conservative Hudson Institute.

The FBI director said his remarks included more information on Chinese operations than has ever been released publicly by the bureau.

On Wednesday, as expected, the Chinese Foreign Ministry dismissed the FBI director’s remarks as “lies.”

“You are buying [the] FBI’s words? For real?” asked spokesman Zhao Lijian, one of China’s so-called hard-line “wolf warrior” diplomats at the ministry.

Until recently, Chinese officials had limited their vitriolic rhetoric to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been leading the Trump administration’s charge in exposing Chinese government and Communist Party activities. Now Mr. Wray has become a target.

“We regret that U.S. foreign policies are kidnapped by FBI officials like Wray and other anti-China forces,” Mr. Zhao said. “The words of some U.S. officials are full of political lies in negligence of basic facts, exposing their deep-seated Cold War mindset and ideological bias.”

Mr. Wray also criticized China’s “Fox Hunt” operations in the United States aimed at threatening Chinese dissidents. The FBI director called the activities “rogue law enforcement.”

Regarding Fox Hunt, Mr. Zhao said the activities are aimed at combating cross-border crimes.

China’s Fox Hunt operation abroad is aimed to repatriate fugitives and uphold the sanctity of law and social justice,” he said, asking if the United States will become a safe haven for Chinese fugitives.

Bill Gertz is The Washington Times’ national security correspondent. Contact him on Twitter at @BillGertz.

Lebanese man who financed Hezbollah in US returns home

Lebanese man who financed Hezbollah in US returns home

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Hezbollah supporters scuffle with Lebanese army soldiers while protesting the visit by Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, outside ​​the Rafik Hariri International Airport in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein) more >

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By SARAH EL DEEB

Associated Press

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

BEIRUT (AP) – A Lebanese businessman serving a five-year sentence in the United States for providing millions of dollars to the militant Hezbollah group arrived Wednesday in Beirut after his early release, local media reported.

Kassim Tajideen was sentenced last year in a federal court in Washington for his role in a money laundering conspiracy aimed at evading U.S. sanctions. He was arrested in Morocco and extradited to the U.S. in 2017, where he was charged with laundering money for Hezbollah.

A State Department official said the U.S. government had opposed Tajideen’s motion for compassionate release but in the end the court ruled in his favor. Tajideen, who was designated as a terrorist in 2009, would remain on a terrorist list and his assets would remain blocked, the official added.

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The fact that he is being released early doesn’t diminish the severity of his crime, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

There was no immediate comment from Lebanese officials on Tajideen’s early release.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported Tajideen’s arrival. A local Lebanese TV station, LBC, broadcast a video taken with a mobile phone of his arrival at the Beirut airport. He stepped out of a small jet, wearing a face mask as a necessary coronavirus precaution. The video shows a man rushing toward Tajideen, hugging him and stooping down to Tajideen’s feet in celebration of his release.

A federal judge in Washington had ordered Tajideen’s release in May. The National, an English language newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, said the 64-year-old Tajideen was granted compassionate release due to health conditions and fears of coronavirus infections in prison. The U.S. Department of Justice had contested the release.

Tajideen was accused of conspiring with at least five other people to conduct over $50 million in transactions with U.S. businesses in violation of sanctions barring him from doing business with U.S. nationals and companies because of his support for Hezbollah. Washington has designated the Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist group.

Tajideen pleaded guilty last December and agreed to forfeit $50 million.

In March, a Lebanese military tribunal ordered the release of a Lebanese-American held in the country for nearly six months on charges of working for an Israeli-backed militia two decades ago. Amer Fakhoury’s release raised speculation that Tajideen may be granted early release in return.

Fakhoury, 57, who had faced decades-old murder and torture charges in Lebanon, became a U.S. citizen last year and is now a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire. U.S. officials had called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon to pressure Beirut to release him.

Separately, Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command, visited Lebanon on Wednesday, where he met with President Michel Aoun and senior political and defense officials.

The U.S. Embassy said McKenzie reaffirmed to Aoun the “importance of preserving Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty” and the strong partnership between the U.S. and the Lebanese Armed Forces.

McKenzie also made a brief stop at memorials honoring Americans who perished while serving in Lebanon. Bombings in 1983 of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut killed nearly 260 Americans and 63 others.

McKenzie’s visit and reports that he may visit the Marine barracks bombing site sparked anti-U.S. protests. Dozens gathered near the airport amid a heavy deployment of soldiers. Some chanted “Death to America” and expressed support for the 1983 attacks and raised Hezbollah and Communist Party flags. Others burned a picture of U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea and the Israeli flag.

McKenzie’s visit comes as Lebanon is facing its worst economic and financial crisis, which has triggered anti-government protests and created domestic political tension between rival groups. Amid the crisis, strained relations between Washington and Hezbollah, the country’s powerful militant group with strong political representation, have deepened. Although the U.S. designates Hezbollah as a terrorist group, it is also a major donor to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah lashed out late Tuesday at Shea, calling recent public comments she made that were critical of his group “unacceptable.” Nasrallah also accused Washington of taking advantage of the economic crisis to stir public opinion against Hezbollah and try to “isolate” his group.

Hezbollah won’t give up. This will only strengthen it and weaken your allies and your influence,” Nasrallah said, addressing Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo didn’t respond to questions about Tajideen’s release, but said Washington will continue to enforce sanctions on Hezbollah while calling for reforms to ensure a path out of Lebanon’s current economic crisis.

“There can be no mistake what the United States has done and will continue to do to put pressure on Hezbollah and also to try to assist the people of Lebanon at building out a successful government,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and we are supportive if Lebanon as long as they get the reforms right and they’re not a proxy state for Iran in Lebanon.”

_____

Associated Press writers Zeina Karam in Beirut and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

China threatens visa restrictions on US officials over Tibet

China threatens visa restrictions on US officials over Tibet

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By

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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China said Wednesday it will impose visa restrictions on U.S. individuals following the Trump administration’s imposition of travel bans on Chinese officials it accuses of restricting foreigners’ access to Tibet.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the move would target “U.S. individuals with egregious conduct related to Tibet issues” but gave no specifics.

“We urge the U.S. to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs with Tibet-related issues … so as to avoid further damage to China-U.S. relations,” Zhao told reporters at a daily news briefing.

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While China encourages travel to the Himalayan region, it has adopted “certain management and protection measures for foreigners visiting Tibet in accordance with law and regulations,” along with consideration for Tibet’s “special geographical and climatic conditions,” Zhao said.

The Trump administration announced its new travel ban on Tuesday, hitting an unspecified number of Chinese officials with visa restrictions, limiting or entirely eliminating their ability to travel to the United States.

In announcing the restrictions, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of systematically obstructing the travel of foreign diplomats, journalists and tourists to Tibet while Chinese visitors “enjoy far greater access to the United States.”

“Access to Tibetan areas is increasingly vital to regional stability, given (China’s) human rights abuses there, as well as Beijing’s failure to prevent environmental degradation near the headwaters of Asia’s major rivers,” Pompeo said.

The statement did not name any of those targeted nor did it give a number of those affected but said it the ban would be applied to Chinese government and Communist Party officials who are found to be “substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies related to access for foreigners to Tibetan areas.”

China requires special permits for foreigners to visit Tibet, where human rights activists say Beijing has engaged in a decades-long campaign to suppress local culture, the Buddhist religion and minorities.

The latest U.S. move comes as it wages concurrent battles over Beijing’s policies in Hong Kong, human rights in western Xinjiang province, global trade practices and aggressiveness in the South China Sea.

China claims Tibet has been part of its territory for centuries, although many Tibetans say their land was essentially an independent country for most of that time. Communist forces occupied the region following their seizure of China in 1949 and 10 years later crushed an abortive uprising, sending spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and more than 80,000 Tibetans into exile in India and other countries.

North Korea says it has no plans for talks with US

North Korea says it has no plans for talks with US

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Saturday, July 4, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea on Saturday reiterated it has no immediate plans to resume nuclear negotiations with the United States unless Washington discards what it describes as “hostile” polices toward Pyongyang.

The statement by North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui came after President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, told reporters in New York Thursday that Trump might seek another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as an “October surprise” ahead of the U.S. presidential election.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who had lobbied hard to help set up the now-stalled negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, also expressed hope that Trump and Kim would meet again before the election in a video conference with European leaders on Tuesday.

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Kim and Trump have met three times since embarking on their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy in 2018, but negotiations have faltered since their second summit in February last year in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.

Kim entered 2020 vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure. Choe’s statement followed a series of similar declarations by the North that it would no longer gift Trump with high-profile meetings he could boast of as his foreign policy achievements unless it gets something substantial in return.

“Is it possible to hold dialogue or have any dealings with the U.S. which persists in the hostile policy toward the DPRK in disregard of the agreements already made at the past summit?” Choe said, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We do not feel any need to sit face-to-face with the U.S., as it does not consider the DPRK-U.S. dialogue as nothing more than a tool for grappling its political crisis,” she said.

Some analysts believe North Korea would avoid serious negotiations with the United States at least until the November presidential election as there’s a chance U.S. leadership could change.

Choe said the North has already established a “detailed strategic timetable” for managing what she described as U.S. threats.

“The U.S. is mistaken if it thinks things like negotiations would still work on us,” she said.

The North in recent months have also been ramping up pressure against South Korea, blowing up an inter-Korean liaison office in its territory and threatening to abandon a bilateral military agreement aimed at reducing tensions. It follows months of frustration over Seoul’s unwillingness to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart joint economic projects that would breathe life into the North’s broken economy.

The North’s state media on Friday said that Kim, while supervising a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party on Thursday, discussed “import issues related to the external affairs” but didn’t specify what they were.

Pompeo urges UN arms embargo on Iran’s `terrorist regime’

Pompeo urges UN arms embargo on Iran’s `terrorist regime’

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FILE – In this Wednesday, June 24, 2020 file photo, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington. On Tuesday, June 30, 2020, Pompeo and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – Calling Iran “the world’s most heinous terrorist regime,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to extend the U.N. arms embargo against Tehran, which expires in October, and reject “extortion diplomacy.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif countered calling President Donald Trump’s administration “an outlaw bully” that is waging “economic terrorism” on his country to satisfy domestic constituencies and “personal aggrandizement.”

He called for the U.S. to compensate the Iranian people for the damage and vehemently opposed any extension of the arms embargo, warning that Iran’s options “will be firm” if it is maintained and the U.S. will bear full responsibility.

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The United States has circulated a draft Security Council resolution to extend the arms embargo indefinitely, and Pompeo said the United States’ “overwhelming preference” is to work with its 15 members to adopt it.

But he indicated that if the resolution isn’t approved, which is likely because of Russian and Chinese opposition, the U.S. will move to invoke a provision of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers to re-impose all U.N. sanctions against Iran. The Trump administration pulled out of the deal in 2018.

Pompeo spoke at a virtual open meeting of the council on implementation of resolution 2231, which was adopted in 2015 to endorse the Iran nuclear deal. The arms embargo is included in the measure.

Zarif told the council later that the U.S. violated all provisions of the deal by its withdrawal and insisted that the arms embargo be lifted completely on its Oct. 18 expiration date. “Any attempt to change or amend the timetable” for lifting the embargo is tantamount to undermining the entire resolution, he said.

Pompeo noted that Iran’s President Hasan Rouhani recently declared that “Iran will give a crushing response if the arms embargo on Tehran is extended.”

Zarif didn’t, but the foreign minister told the council: “The international community in general – and the U.N. Security Council in particular – are facing an important decision: Do we maintain respect for the rule of law, or do we return to the law of the jungle by surrendering to the whims of an outlaw bully?”

Pompeo seized on findings in a report this month by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said the United Nations has determined that Iran was the source for several items in two arms shipments seized by the U.S., and for debris left by attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and an international airport.

The report also said some of the items seized by the U.S. in November 2019 and February 2020 “were identical or similar” to those found after cruise missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Pompeo also blamed Iran for other actions, including an attack on U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq in January using its advanced missiles, and supplying Shiite militia forces who have launched dozens of rocket attacks since last year against U.S. and coalition forces fighting Islamic State extremists.

If the arms embargo is lifted, he said “Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000-kilometer radius – putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in Iranian crosshairs.”

Pompeo said Iran would be free to upgrade and expand its submarine fleet, to purchase advanced technologies for its Middle East proxies including Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria, and Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels.

And it will be free “to become a rogue weapons dealer, supplying arms to fuel conflicts from Venezuela, to Syria, to the far reaches of Afghanistan,” he said.

Zarif refuted many of the findings of the report and accused the U.S. of “maliciously” raising matters extraneous to the nuclear agreement, “such as Iran’s defensive capabilities and regional policies,” which are also “parroted by a handful of its allies and clients.”

He said these issues were deliberately left out of the deal because both sides disagreed on certain issues. He pointed to the U.S. unwillingness to address “our grave concerns over its unfathomable level of arms sales and build-up in our neighborhood” and its interventions in the Middle East.

Pompeo said he detailed only a fraction of “the overwhelming evidence” against Iran and told the council that the U.S. call to maintain the arms embargo is backed by Middle East countries from Israel to the Gulf “who are most exposed to Iran’s predations.”

The Trump administration has won only tepid support from allies for the U.S. draft resolution to maintain the arms embargo, and European countries are expected to present a counter-proposal that would extend at least parts of the embargo for six months. It is not clear if the U.S., Russia or China would support such a proposal.

Zarif said the U.S. has no rights under resolution 2231 “nor can its enablers try to save its face via so-called middle-ground formulas.”

The council meeting took place a day after Iran issued an arrest warrant and asked Interpol for help in detaining President Donald Trump and dozens of others it believes carried out the U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian general, Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad earlier this year. Trump faces no danger of arrest and Interpol later said it would not consider Iran’s request.

However, the charges underscore the heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. since Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal with world powers in 2018 and re-imposed crippling U.S. sanctions on Tehran.

The five other powers that signed the nuclear deal – Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France and Germany – remain committed to it, saying the agreement is key to continuing inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons.

___

Lee reported from Washington.

Boris Johnson says COVID-19 has been a disaster for Britain

Boris Johnson says COVID-19 has been a disaster for Britain

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Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the construction site of Ealing Fields High School in west London, Monday June 29, 2020. (Toby Melville/Pool via AP) more >

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By Jill Lawless

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged Monday that the coronavirus pandemic has been a “disaster” for Britain, as he announced a spending splurge designed to get the country — and his faltering Conservative government — back on track.

As the U.K. emerges from a three-month lockdown, Johnson has lined up big-money pledges on schools, housing and infrastructure, in an attempt to move on from an outbreak that has left more than 43,000 Britons dead – the worst confirmed death toll in Europe.

“This has been a disaster,” Johnson acknowledged Monday. “Let’s not mince our words. I mean, this has been an absolute nightmare for the country and the country’s gone through a profound shock.

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“But in those moments, you have the opportunity to change and to do things better,” he told Times Radio. “This is a moment now to give our country the skills, the infrastructure, the long-term investment that we need.”

Johnson promised a “Rooseveltian approach,” invoking the New Deal policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped wrench the United States out of the Great Depression. Johnson’s first announcement was 1 billion pounds ($1.25 billion) to build new schools. The British leader plans to unveil a series of other infrastructure projects this week.

Johnson won a large majority in Parliament in December with a promise to rebalance Britain’s London-dominated economy and revive the long-neglected former industrial regions of central and northern England.

Those plans were thrown into turmoil by COVID-19. The U.K.’s official death toll stands at 43,550, the third-highest in the world after the United States and Brazil, and the true figure is likely higher.

“What we’re going to be doing in the next few months, is really doubling down on our initial agenda, which was all about investment … in infrastructure, in education, in technology, to bring the country together,” he said.

Critics want to know where the money will come from. The economic freeze caused by the pandemic has left Britain facing a deep recession – the Bank of England estimates that the U.K. economy could end the first half of 2020 around 20% smaller than at the start of the year.

The U.K. faces another economic shock at the end of this year when a post-Brexit transition period ends, casting the country out of the 27-nation bloc’s vast single market.

Talks with the EU on a new trade deal have bogged down amid wide differences on major issues including fishing rights and competition. If no agreement is struck by the end of the year, the U.K. faces tariffs and other barriers to business with the EU, its biggest trading partner.

Despite the gloomy economic outlook, Johnson said it would be “a mistake” to return to the austerity of previous Conservative governments, which since 2010 have cut public spending in an attempt to lower a national debt that was swollen by the 2008 global financial crisis.

Despite his attempts to turn the page, Johnson, who was hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus in April, will likely face a reckoning over his government’s handling of the outbreak.

Critics accuse the government of being too slow to impose a nationwide lockdown, of failing to get enough protective equipment to medical workers and of botching the launch of a test-and-trace system to control new outbreaks.

Deaths and new infections are now declining, but slowly, and Britain lags behind its European neighbors in reopening society and the economy.

In another sign of Johnson’s attempt to regain control, Britain’s top civil servant announced late Sunday he was stepping down. Mark Sedwill is leaving his twin jobs as head of the civil service and national security adviser after reports of disagreements with Johnson’s powerful chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

Johnson has named David Frost, the government’s EU trade negotiator, to the national security post. The appointment has raised some eyebrows because Frost is a political appointee, rather than a neutral civil servant.

Opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said it was “obvious that the prime minister wanted to move (Sedwill) and was determined to do so.”

“Why you do so in the middle of a pandemic and a crisis instead of actually focusing on the crisis, is a question the prime minister needs to answer,” he said.

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

EU finalizing virus ‘safe list’; U.S. unlikely to make the cut

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In this Monday, May 25, 2020, file photo, people stroll at Trocadero square near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. European Union envoys are close to finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed back into Europe once it … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Monday, June 29, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union is edging toward finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter Europe again in coming days, with Americans almost certain to be excluded in the short term due to the number of U.S. coronavirus cases.

Spain’s foreign minister said that the list could contain 15 countries that are not EU members and whose citizens would be allowed to visit from July 1. EU diplomats confirmed that the list would be made public on Tuesday. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the procedure is ongoing and politically very sensitive.

EU envoys in Brussels worked over the weekend to narrow down the exact criteria for countries to be included, mostly centered on their ability to manage the spread of the disease. Importantly, the countries are also expected to drop any travel restrictions they have imposed on European citizens.

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The number of confirmed cases in the United States has surged over the past week, and President Donald Trump also suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel zone in a decree in March, making it highly unlikely that U.S. citizens would qualify.

Infection rates in Brazil, Russia and India are high, too, and their nationals are also unlikely to make the cut.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya said the EU is considering whether to accept travelers from China if Beijing lifts restrictions on European citizens. Morocco is another possibility, although its government doesn’t plan to open borders until July 10.

She said she wasn’t aware of pressure from the United States for the EU to reopen travel to its nationals, adding that countries have been chosen according to their coronavirus statistics – whether similar or not to that in the EU – trends of contagion and how reliable their data is.

“This is not an exercise to be nice or unfriendly to other countries, this is an exercise of self-responsibility,” she told Spain’s Cadena SER radio on Monday.

The safe country list would be reviewed every 14 days, with new countries being added and some possibly dropping off, depending on how the spread of the disease is being managed. Non-EU nationals already in the bloc wouldn’t be affected.

More than 15 million Americans are estimated to travel to Europe annually, and any delay would be a further blow to virus-ravaged economies and tourism sectors on both sides of the Atlantic. Around 10 million Europeans are thought to cross the Atlantic for vacations and business each year.

The 27 EU nations and four other countries that are part of Europe’s “Schengen area” – a 26-nation bloc where goods and people move freely without document checks – appear on track to reopen borders between each other from Wednesday.

Once that happens and the green light is given, restrictions on nonessential travel to Europe from the outside world, which were imposed in March to halt new virus cases from entering, would gradually be lifted.

Brussels fears that opening up to countries outside in an ad hoc way could lead to the reintroduction of border controls between nations inside the Schengen area, threatening once again Europe’s cherished principle of free movement, which allows people and goods to cross borders without checks.

___

Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.

Brazen ambush of Mexico City chief blamed on Jalisco cartel

Brazen ambush of Mexico City chief blamed on Jalisco cartel

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A forensic investigator collects cartridges at the scene where the Mexican capital’s police chief was attacked by gunmen in Mexico City, Friday, June 26, 2020. Heavily armed gunmen attacked and wounded Omar García Harfuch in an operation that left several … more >

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By Mark Stevenson

Associated Press

Saturday, June 27, 2020

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Dozens of gunmen believed tied to the hyper-violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel deployed for a complex, multi-point dawn ambush meant to kill Mexico City’s police chief in one of the most brazen attacks in Mexico since the equally ruthless Zetas carved a path of terror across the country nearly a decade ago.

The attackers used grenades and a .50-caliber sniper rifle to assault the chief’s armored vehicle early Friday, killing two of the his bodyguards and a woman driving by. Police chief Omar García Harfuch was shot in the shoulder, collar bone and the knee but was reported out of danger.

He called the attack “cowardly” and blamed it on the Jalisco cartel, which has established a nearly national presence, from the white-sand beaches of Cancun to Mexico City and the country’s most important ports, as well as in key border cities traditionally controlled by other cartels.

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Police officers who converged on the scene on the capital’s iconic Paseo de la Reforma boulevard in the upscale Lomas neighborhood rounded up a dozen of the shooters, who were hauled off for questioning, authorities said.

Later Friday, capital police arrested an alleged head of the Jalisco New Generation hitmen, suggesting he could have been the mastermind of the attack, said a Mexico City police official who was not authorized to be quoted by name.

The official said police arrested José Armando Briseño on the east side of the city. Nicknamed “Cow,” he is allegedly the gang’s chief of hitmen in the city of Tonala in Jalisco.

The attack on the police chief was meticulously planned and involved a total of 28 gunmen hired three weeks before, said Ulises Lara, the spokesman for the Mexico City prosecutors office. Three separate possible ambush points were set up on major thoroughfares, including one – which wasn’t used – in the heart of Mexico City, one block from the Independence Monument.

The gunmen were divided into four different cells, and they received ski masks and weapons Thursday night. They were taken to the ambush points at 4 a.m. to lie in wait for their target. They jumped from a truck and opened fire when Garcia’s convoy attempted to pass.

Lara said that of the suspects detained, one is Colombian and the other 11 are Mexicans from the capital and five states – Jalisco, Guerrero, Nayarit, Chihuahua and Michoacan.

It was the second high-profile attack this month, following the shooting death of a federal judge and his wife, bringing uncomfortable comparisons to Colombia’s drug wars of the 1980s and ‘90s in which drug traffickers routinely targeted judges and police for assassination.

Mexico targeted and dismantled the Zetas cartel after it killed migrants, unsuspecting citizens and officials from 2010 to 2013. But it remains to be seen whether the government will go after the Jalisco cartel they way it did the Zetas.

“If they (Jalisco) are not made a priority target after this, I don’t know what is happening, something is wrong with the strategy” of the government, said security analyst Alejandro Hope.

Mexico used elite military units and worked closely with the United States to go after the Zetas cartel. But now, amid budget cuts and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy of not directly confronting the cartels, it is unclear whether the government has the will or ability to fight Jalisco, especially in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This kind of attack is not normal, they crossed a line. You have to read it like an exceptional act,” said Hope. “You have two very serious attacks in two weeks.”

Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said Mexico’s intelligence agency apparently had information that Jalisco New Generation was planning an attack, but did not offer additional details.

It was unclear whether the attack was related to recent crackdowns on Jalisco-affiliated gangs in Mexico City or to the police chief’s earlier work in federal investigations.

García, 37, is a former head of the Federal Police investigation division and in 2016-2019 he led the branch of the federal Attorney General’s Office that oversees investigations and arrests of organized crime members. Before being named Mexico City police chief, he spent several months as the mayor’s intelligence coordinator.

Jalisco is the same gang that U.S. prosecutors said tried to buy belt-fed M-60 machine guns in the United States and that once shot down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. In October, the cartel’s gunmen ambushed and killed 14 state police officers in Michoacan.

Friday’s attack came two weeks after rumors swirled for a day that Jalisco’s leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, better known as “El Mencho,” had been captured or killed – though officials later denied that. Oseguera is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s most-wanted fugitive, with a $10 million price on his head.

In March, U.S. authorities arrested hundreds of Jalisco operatives in raids across the United States. They said the gang controls between one-third and two-thirds of the U.S. drug market.

Low-key 75th anniversary of UN’s birth because of pandemic

Low-key 75th anniversary of UN’s birth because of pandemic

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In this picture made available Friday, June 26, 2020 an aerial view shows a giant ephemeral landart painting by Swiss French artist Saype entitled “World in Progress” representing two children drawing their ideal world, at the European headquarters of the … more >

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 26, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations marked the 75th anniversary of its birth with a scaled-down event Friday because of the coronavirus pandemic, one of many challenges a deeply divided world faces along with poverty, inequality, discrimination and unending wars.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the virtual commemoration of the signing of the U.N. Charter that “global pressures are spiraling up” and “today’s realities are as forbidding as ever.”

He said people continue to lose trust in government and political establishments. He has also spoken repeatedly about the rise of populism triggering increasing threats to multilateralism. And he has often denounced what he calls a “groundswell of xenophobia, racism and intolerance,” including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.

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“Today’s marches against racism were preceded by widespread protests against inequality, discrimination, corruption and lack of opportunities all over the world – grievances that still need to be addressed, including with a renewed social contract,” he said in the video address.

“Meanwhile,” Guterres said, “other fundamental fragilities have only grown: the climate crisis, environmental degradation, cyber attacks, nuclear proliferation, a push-back on human rights and the risk of another pandemic.”

He recalled the hope that the birth of the United Nations brought to people everywhere as World War II was ending, and said the U.N. Charter remains “a touchstone for a world mired in a pandemic, torn by discrimination, endangered by climate change and scarred by poverty, inequality and war.”

The delegates from about 50 countries – representing over 80% of the world’s population – who signed the charter in San Francisco on June 26, 1945, “seized their opportunity to plant the seeds of something better and new” after the devastation of World War II and the Holocaust, Guterres said.

Nations and people everywhere “must do the same today,” he said.

The secretary-general said multilateralism must be given “teeth” to ensure “that effective global governance is a reality when it is needed.” Civil society, cities, the private sector and young people also must be brought to the table because they are “essential voices in shaping the world we want,” he said.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, president of the 193-member General Assembly, said multilateralism must not only include civil society but “ensure the full participation of voices that have gone unheard for too long: those of women, youth, indigenous persons and people with disabilities.”

“This is a moment of reckoning for our shared planet and shared future. This is a time for action, ambition and partnership,” he said. “Three-quarters of a century ago, skeptics doubted the resolve of the members of the United Nations. Cynicism did not prevail then, nor will it now.”

Guterres said in an Associated Press interview ahead of the anniversary that the U.N.’s biggest accomplishment has been the long period since World War II without a conflict by the major powers, and the avoidance of World War III or a nuclear war.

He said its biggest failing has been its inability to avoid the proliferation of medium and small conflicts, singling out Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan as examples of conflicts where peace is overdue.

At a news conference Thursday, he expressed growing concern over the “very dysfunctional relations” between the world’s two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, and its two major economic powers, the U.S. and China. It was a repeat of his warning in September about the looming risk of the world splitting in two, with the United States and China creating rival internets, currencies, trading networks and financial rules.

Nine months later, Guterres said in the AP interview, “we are witnessing this divide deepening.”

He said at the news conference that these rifts are growing at a time when global cooperation is urgently needed.

“One virus has put us on our knees, and we have not been able to fight it effectively,” Guterres said. “It’s spreading now everywhere. There was no control, no effective coordination among member states. We are divided in fighting COVID 19.”

Similarly, he said, nations have not been able to come together to effectively deal with climate change or to address the implications of genetic engineering, artificial intelligence and other technological advances.

Guterres said multilateral institutions need to be more powerful and international cooperation must be greater and more effective “to create the conditions for humanity to overcome these challenges.”

US watchdog: Afghan gov’t weakened ahead of Taliban talks

US watchdog: Afghan gov’t weakened ahead of Taliban talks

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FILE – In this Aug. 19, 2019, file photo, a man waves an Afghan national flag during Independence Day celebrations in Kabul, Afghanistan. Washington’s watchdog warns, Thursday, June 25, 2020, that “systemic” corruption within the Afghan government is weakening its … more >

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Thursday, June 25, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) – A U.S. watchdog warned that “systemic” corruption within the Afghan government is weakening its bargaining position in upcoming peace negotiations with the Taliban, even as the insurgents said Thursday they were ready and had compiled their agenda for the long-awaited talks.

John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, said the Taliban and other militants underscored the government’s corruption, using it to “undermine public support for the government, garner recruits to their cause, and weaken the government’s bargaining position during future peace negotiations.”

“It is the most insidious threat the Afghan government faces because it saps the support of citizens who are trying to go about their daily work, feed their families, and live free of fear and intimidation,” Sopko told a monitoring group known as Integrity Watch Afghanistan on Wednesday.

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Meanwhile, about 50 civil society activists in Kabul rallied on Thursday against corruption, urging the International Monetary Fund to rescind a $220 million loan given last month to the Afghan government to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Afghanistan has reported over 30,000 cases, including 675 deaths, but testing is severely limited, and experts say the number of infected is likely much higher.

The protesters said the government has already wasted billions of international money. Najibullah Azad, who leads the group of lawyers, doctors and economists in the protest, said government corruption is devouring international money and thatt he feared the IMF’s $220 million would disappear.

Sopko criticized Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government, saying it only paid lip service to fighting corruption, “ticking off the boxes” rather than implementing changes and arresting some of the worst offenders.

“The private sector and particularly international investors – who care far more about their own bottom line – will not overlook Afghanistan’s failure to tackle the corruption challenge,” he said. “Afghanistan’s leaders must come to realize that in the end, private sector investment will matter far more to their country’s future than international donors, because after 19 years of war, foreign governments, including the United States, are growing weary of paying Afghanistan’s bills.”

International donors cover 75% of Afghanistan’s operating budget and the U.S. alone pays $4 billion annually to finance Afghanistan’s military and security forces.

Ghani’s spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, objected to Sopko’s criticism, insisting that “the government has done a lot to tackle corruption and that has to be seen.”

No date has yet been set for negotiations but Deborah Lyons, the U.N. special representative to Afghanistan told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that she was “cautiously optimistic” the talks could start in July in Doha, Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

One of the obstacles to the start of the negotiations has been the exchange of prisoners, envisaged under a deal the Taliban signed with the United States at the end of February. That accord – and the Afghan-Taliban talks that were meant to follow – are seen as Afghanistan’s best chance for peace and an opportunity for U.S. and NATO troops to leave the war-torn country after nearly two decades of fighting.

The Taliban’s political spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, told The Associate Press that the Afghan government has so far released 3,500 Taliban prisoners. The U.S.-Taliban deal calls for 5,000 Taliban prisoners to be freed by Kabul. It also said the Taliban should free 1,000 government personnel, including military men, they hold captive.

___

Associated Press writer Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

Pompeo says US, EU working to resume trans-Atlantic travel

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the State Department, Wednesday, June 24, 2020 in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/Pool via AP) more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Thursday, June 25, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo played down concerns Thursday that the European Union might refuse to allow Americans into the 27-nation bloc as it considers lifting restrictions on overseas travelers starting next week, due to the spread of the coronavirus in the United States.

“It’s a challenge for all of us to decide how and when to open up our economies and our societies. Everybody’s trying to figure that out,” Pompeo said during a videoconference organized by the German Marshall Fund think tank. “We’re working with our European counterparts to get that right.”

European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1. Their envoys to Brussels are debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting entry restrictions on travelers from outside the EU that were imposed in March.

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As the criteria are narrowed down, a list of countries whose citizens might be allowed in is being drawn up. The list would be updated every 14 days based on how the coronavirus is spreading around the world.

The EU’s executive commission recommends that “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

That is likely to rule out people living in the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Beyond epidemiological concerns, any country being considered would first be expected to lift its own travel restrictions on visitors from all 31 European nations.

This would also rule out the U.S. In a March 11 decree, President Donald Trump suspended the entry of all people from Europe’s ID check-free travel area. More than 10 million Europeans usually visit the United States each year.

But Pompeo said it’s important for everyone to help “get our global economy back going again.”

“We’ve denied travel to Europe and vice-versa. That’s the posture that we all sit in now, and I think we’re all taking seriously the need to figure out how to get this up,” he said. “We’ll work to get this right. We want to make sure that it’s health-based, science-based.”

The European Commission on Thursday insisted that it’s not trying to target any country or that the list might be politicized as tourism-reliant countries around Europe push to get their borders open again.

“The European Union has an internal process to determine from which countries it would be safe to accept travelers,” spokesman Eric Mamer said, adding that the EU’s decisions are “based on health criteria.”

___

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

U.S. citizens likely to be left out as Europe reopens borders

U.S. citizens likely to be left out as Europe reopens borders

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A TUI X3 2312 Duesseldorf-Mallorca flight passenger talks to the press at Son Sant Joan airport in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Monday, June 15, 2020. Whether its German holidaymakers basking in Spain’s sunshine or Parisians renewing their love affair with … more >

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By Lorne Cook

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) — Americans are unlikely to be allowed into Europe when the continent reopens its borders next week, due to how the coronavirus pandemic is flaring in the U.S. and President Donald Trump’s ban on Europeans entering the United States.

European nations appear on track to reopen their borders between each other by July 1, and their representatives in Brussels are now debating what virus-related criteria should apply when lifting border restrictions to the outside world that were imposed in March.

In recommendations to EU nations on June 11, the European Commission said “travel restrictions should not be lifted as regards third countries where the situation is worse” than the average in the 27 EU member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

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That is likely to rule out the United States, where new coronavirus infections have surged to the highest level in two months, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. After trending down for well over a month, new U.S. cases have risen for more than a week.

The U.S. on Tuesday reported 34,700 new cases of the virus, bringing its total to more than 2.3 million and over 121,000 dead – the most anywhere in the world. The virus outbreaks in Brazil, India and Russia are remarkably high too, and it’s also unlikely that the EU will let their citizens in.

In contrast, aside from a notable new outbreak tied to a slaughterhouse in western Germany, the virus’s spread has slowed notably across the EU and particularly in the 26 nations that make up Europe’s visa-free travel zone known as the Schengen area, which more than 15 million Americans visit each year.

For the EU’s executive arm, the key criteria for opening up to the outside world should include the number of new infections per 100,000 population – the exact ceiling is up for debate – and the country’s overall response to the pandemic, in terms of testing, surveillance, treatment, contact tracing and reporting cases.

But more than this, the country should lift its own travel restrictions for Europeans from all EU and Schengen nations, the commission said, adding “it cannot be applied selectively.”

Brussels fears that opening up to countries outside in ad hoc way could lead to the reintroduction of border controls between nations inside the Schengen area, threatening once again Europe’s cherished principle of free movement, which allows people and goods to cross borders without checks.

This principle of reciprocity on its own should rule out U.S. citizens, at least initially. The aim is to revise the list of acceptable countries every two weeks based on developments.

In a decree on March 11, Trump suspended the entry of all people in the Schengen area. More than 10 million Europeans visit the United States each year.

“The potential for undetected transmission of the virus by infected individuals seeking to enter the United States from the Schengen Area threatens the security of our transportation system and infrastructure and the national security,” Trump’s proclamation said.

China warns US over actions against 4 more media outlets

China warns US over actions against 4 more media outlets

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BEIJING (AP) – China warned Tuesday it will take countermeasures after the U.S. added four more Chinese media outlets to a list of organizations that should be considered “foreign missions” in the United States because of their ties to the government and ruling Communist Party.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian attacked the Trump administration’s move as “yet another example of the U.S.’s flagrant political suppression of the Chinese media,” saying it would interfere with their reporting on the U.S. and betray America’s commitment to freedom of the press.

“We strongly urge the United States to abandon the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice, and immediately stop and correct this wrong practice that serves no one’s interest. Otherwise China will have to make the necessary legitimate response,” Zhao said.

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The U.S. decision Monday to add the four organizations to the list, which already included five others, doesn’t directly impede their ability to conduct journalism but could force some to cut staff in the U.S. and is likely to further aggravate relations between the two countries.

State Department officials said the four organizations, including state-run CCTV, will be required to submit the identities of all staff in the U.S. and any real estate holdings just as they would if they were foreign embassies or consulates.

The five other Chinese organizations were directed to cap the number of people they can employ in the United States in March – a month after they were designated as foreign missions.

China responded by revoking the media credentials of all American journalists at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

State Department officials said the organizations are essentially mouthpieces for the Communist Party and Chinese government, not legitimate news outlets.

The U.S. designated Soviet outlets as foreign missions during the Cold War. That precedent reflects the bitter state of relations between the United States and China, which are at odds over the origin and response to the coronavirus, trade, human rights and other issues.

UN rights body to report on racism after Floyd killing

UN rights body to report on racism after Floyd killing

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Delegates are seen prior to the vote at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, June 19, 2020. The U.N.’s top human rights body has voted unanimously to commission a U.N. report on systemic racism and discrimination … more >

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By JAMEY KEATEN

Associated Press

Friday, June 19, 2020

GENEVA (AP) – The U.N.’s top human rights body agreed unanimously Friday to commission a U.N. report on systemic racism and discrimination against black people while stopping short of ordering a more intensive investigation singling out the United States after the death of George Floyd sparked worldwide demonstrations.

The Human Rights Council approved a consensus resolution following days of grappling over language after African nations backed away from their initial push for a commission of inquiry, the council’s most intrusive form of scrutiny, focusing more on the U.S. Instead, the resolution calls for a simple and more generic report to be written by the U.N. human rights chief’s office and outside experts.

The aim is “to contribute to accountability and redress for victims” in the U.S. and beyond, the resolution states.

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Advocacy group Human Rights Watch said the measure fell far short of the level of scrutiny sought by hundreds of civil society organizations, but nonetheless set the stage for an unprecedented look at racism and police violence in the United States – over the efforts of U.S. officials to avoid the council’s attention – and showed even the most powerful countries could be held to account.

Iran and Palestine signed on among the co-sponsors for the resolution condemning “the continuing racially discriminatory and violent practices” by law enforcement against Africans and people of African descent “in particular which led to the death of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in Minnesota,” it says. Any state can sign on as a resolution co-sponsor at the council.

The approved text asks U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to examine governments’ responses to peaceful anti-racism protests and to report back to the council in June next year. It asked her to also include updates on police brutality against Africans and people of African descent in her regular updates to the council between now and then.

The council on Thursday wrapped up an urgent debate on racism and police brutality that was called in the wake of Floyd’s death last month that sparked Black Lives Matter protests worldwide. It came after Floyd’s relatives, families of other black victims of U.S. police violence, and hundreds of advocacy groups urged the panel to hold a special session on the issue – which it did not.

Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes as Floyd pleaded for air and eventually stopped moving. His death prompted a wave of outrage.

The African countries that brought the issue to the Human Rights Council measure insisted upon the urgency of the moment, citing an exceptional chance to train a spotlight on decades of racial discrimination in the United States.

Some member countries of the Human Rights Council – notably, the Western democracies like the United States – expressed reticence about singling out the U.S. Envoys from some Latin American countries lamented how back-and-forth haggling over such an important issue came as their capitals back home were largely preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic.

One key U.S. ally suggested the focus on the United States distracted from the need for a stronger, more global condemnation of racism.

“We would have appreciated more time for discussions and negotiation of the text of the resolution,” German Ambassador Michael Freiherr von Ungern-Sternberg. “Racism is a global problem. The fight against racism should unite us rather than divide us. Hence, we are against singling out one state.”

The envoy of Venezuela, where the government under President Nicolas Maduro has been at odds with the United States, fired a verbal salvo at Washington.

“The vile murder of George Floyd has stripped bare the systemic racism, and the fascist and supremacist nature of Yankee imperialism,” Ambassador Jorge Valero said.

María del Socorro Flores Liera, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, noted the timeliness of the resolution vote on Juneteenth, a day commemorating when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 and informed the enslaved black people there that they were free.

The U.S. mission in Geneva had no immediate comment on the resolution.

U.S. officials have engaged in back-channel diplomacy as the text was being drawn up – but the United States is officially on the sidelines of the 47-nation council. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out two years ago, citing the council’s alleged anti-Israel bias and acceptance of autocratic regimes with pockmarked rights records as members.

On Wednesday, the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, Andrew Bremberg, acknowledged “shortcomings” in the United States including racial discrimination and insisted the government was “transparent” about dealing with it. He called the U.S. the world’s “leading advocate” for human rights, adding: “We are not above scrutiny.” But he said racism is a problem in many countries.

Human Rights Watch said the U.S. had been trying to skirt attention on the issue.

“The efforts of the U.S. to avoid council attention only highlights why such scrutiny is needed, and how far there is still to go to dismantle the pernicious structures of institutionalized racism,” said the group’s Geneva director, John Fisher.

“No state, no matter how powerful, should be exempt from council scrutiny, and today’s resolution opens the door to bring increased international attention to violations both by the U.S. and other powerful states in future,” he added.

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

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In this Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, file photo, U.S President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend ceremonies at the Arc de Triumphe in Paris. After more than a year of thinly veiled threats that the United States could … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Details of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw U.S. forces from Germany have not yet been decided on among allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

Mr. Trump earlier this month ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, a move that experts have warned could deeply impact the historic U.S.-German relationship.

The president doubled down on the move Monday, when he told reporters that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

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“The U.S. has made it clear that no final decision has been made on how and when,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters during a virtual news conference. “It’s not yet decided how and when this decision will be implemented.”

“It’s a bilateral arrangement between the U.S. and Germany, but of course it matters for the whole alliance,” the secretary-general said. “What matters for me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defense and that we maintain the strong link between North America and Europe.”

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there. There has also been speculation some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said she wasn’t aware of preparations for any possible troop withdrawal.

“Any kind of actual planning, I think, has not happened yet,” Hutchison told reporters at a video news conference Tuesday. “I don’t think that we have any kind of timeline that we have heard of.”

She described Germany as “a good partner” of the United States at NATO and said that “it should not be thought that there is any walking away from Europe, and Germany.”

The NATO allies are expected to convene in a virtual conference on Wednesday, when the issue is set to be discussed.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens S. Korea with military action

Kim Jong Un’s sister threatens S. Korea with military action

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FILE – In this June 30, 2019, file photo, President Donald Trump, left, meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea. … more >

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By KIM TONG-HYUNG

Associated Press

Saturday, June 13, 2020

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened military action against South Korea as she bashed Seoul on Saturday over declining bilateral relations and its inability to stop activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border.

Describing South Korea as an “enemy,” Kim Yo Jong repeated an earlier threat she had made by saying Seoul will soon witness the collapse of a “useless” inter-Korean liaison office in the border town of Kaesong.

Kim, who is first vice department director of the ruling Workers’ Party’s Central Committee, said she would leave it to North Korea’s military leaders to carry out the next step of retaliation against the South.

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“By exercising my power authorized by the supreme leader, our party and the state, I gave an instruction to the arms of the department in charge of the affairs with enemy to decisively carry out the next action,” she said in a statement carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.

“If I drop a hint of our next plan the (South Korean) authorities are anxious about, the right to taking the next action against the enemy will be entrusted to the General Staff of our army,” she said. “Our army, too, will determine something for cooling down our people’s resentment and surely carry out it, I believe.”

Kim’s harsh rhetoric demonstrates her elevated status in North Korea’s leadership. Already seen as the most powerful woman in the country and her brother’s closest confidant, state media recently confirmed that she is now in charge of relations with South Korea.

The liaison office in Kaesong, which has been shut since January due to coronavirus concerns, was set up as a result of one of the main agreements reached in three summits between Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018.

Moon’s government had lobbied hard to set up nuclear summits between Kim and President Donald Trump, who have met three times since 2018. At the same time, Moon also worked to improve inter-Korean relations.

But North Korea in recent months has suspended virtually all cooperation with the South while expressing frustration over the lack of progress in its nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.

Over the past week, the North declared that it would cut off all government and military communication channels with the South and threatened to abandon key inter-Korean peace agreements reached by their leaders in 2018.

They include a military agreement in which the Koreas committed to jointly take steps to reduce conventional military threats, such as establishing border buffers and no-fly zones. They also removed some front-line guard posts and jointly surveyed a waterway near their western border in an unrealized plan to allow freer civilian navigation.

In an earlier statement last week, Kim Yo Jong said that the North would scrap the military agreement, “which is hardly of any value,” while calling North Korean defectors who send leaflets from the South “human scum” and “mongrel dogs.”

Her comments on Saturday came hours after a senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official said that Seoul should drop “nonsensical” talk about the North’s denuclearization, and that his country would continue to expand its military capabilities to counter what it perceives as threats from the United States.

In response to North Korea’s anger over the leaflets, South Korea’s government has said it would press charges against two defector groups that have been carrying out border protests.

The South also said it would push new laws to ban activists from flying the leaflets across the border, but there’s been criticism over whether Moon’s government is sacrificing democratic principles to keep alive his ambitions for inter-Korean engagement.

For years, activists have floated huge balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets criticizing Kim Jong Un over his nuclear ambitions and dismal human rights record. The leafleting has sometimes triggered a furious response from North Korea, which bristles at any attempt to undermine its leadership.

While Seoul has sometimes sent police officers to block the activists during sensitive times, it had previously resisted North Korea’s calls to fully ban them, saying they were exercising their freedom. Activists have vowed to continue with the balloon launches.

But it’s unlikely that North Korea’s belligerence is about just the leaflets, analysts say.

The North has a long track record of dialing up pressure on the South when it doesn’t get what it wants from the United States. Its threats to abandon inter-Korean agreements came after months of frustration over Seoul’s refusal to defy U.S.-led sanctions and restart joint economic projects.

Some experts say North Korea, which has mobilized people for massive demonstrations condemning defectors, is deliberately censuring the South to rally its public and shift attention away from a bad economy, which likely has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s unclear what kind of military action the North would take against the South, although weapons tests are an easy guess. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said North Korea could also be “planning something” near the countries’ disputed western maritime border, which has occasionally been the scene of bloody clashes over the years.

Nuclear talks faltered at Kim Jong Un’s second summit with Trump in Vietnam in February last year after the United States rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Trump and Kim met for a third time that year in June at the border between North and South Korea and agreed to resume talks. But an October working-level meeting in Sweden broke down over what the North Koreans described as the Americans’ “old stance and attitude.”

On the two-year anniversary of the first Kim-Trump meeting, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon said Friday that the North would never again gift Trump with high-profile meetings he could boast as foreign policy achievements unless it gets something substantial in return.

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

UN links items in arms shipments and missile attacks to Iran

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By EDITH M. LEDERER

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

UNITED NATIONS (AP) – The United Nations says it has determined that Iran was the source for several items in two arms shipments seized by the United States and for debris left by attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations and an international airport, according to a new report.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said some of the items seized by the U.S. in November 2019 and February 2020 “were identical or similar” to those found after the cruise missiles and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia in 2019.

He said in a report to the U.N. Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press that some items seized by the U.S. in international waters off Yemen are not only Iranian but may have been transferred “in a manner inconsistent” with the council resolution that endorsed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

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The secretary-general was reporting on implementation of the 2015 resolution enshrining the nuclear agreement aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It includes restrictions that took effect on Jan. 16, 2016, on transfers to or from Iran of nuclear and ballistic missile material as well as arms.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the resolution’s implementation on June 30, and the U.S. is expected to press for the U.N. arms embargo against Iran, which is part of it, to be extended indefinitely before it expires in October.

Iran’s U.N. Mission responded to the report Friday saying: “Iran categorically rejects the observations contained in the report concerning the Iranian connection to the export of weapons or their components that are used in attacks on Saudi Arabia and the Iranian origin of alleged U.S. seizures of armaments.”

Its statement said the U.N. “lacks the capacity, expertise, and knowledge to conduct such a sophisticated and sensitive investigation,” adding that the report reproduces exact claims by the United States. “In essence, the U.S. is sitting in the driver’s seat to shape the so-called ‘assessment’ regarding the Iranian connection to the attacks,” Iran said.

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 and re-imposed U.S. sanctions that had been eased or lifted. American officials contend Iran is working to obtain nuclear-capable missiles, which the Iranians deny.

The nuclear agreement is still supported by the five other parties – France, Britain, Russia and China, which are all veto-wielding Security Council members, and Germany, which is currently serving a two-year term on the council.

According to Guterres report, the arms shipments seized by the U.S. were assessed by the U.N. Secretariat to include parts of anti-tank guided missiles from Iran with 2016, 2017 and 2018 production dates as well as thermal weapon optical sights with design characteristics similar to those produced by an Iranian company, and a computer keyboard with Farsi markings associated with an anti-ship missile.

Guterres said U.N. experts also assessed that sections and components of cruise missiles recovered by the U.S. from the sites of attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abha International Airport in June and August 2019 and on Saudi Aramco oil facilities at Abqaiq and Khurays in September 2019 “are of Iranian origin.”

As for the delta-wing drones used in attacks on Saudi oil facilities in May and September 2019, Guterres said, “the Secretariat assesses that the un-crewed aerial vehicles and/or parts thereof used in the two attacks are of Iranian origin.”

The report also links Iranian material from the U.S. seizures and the Saudi attacks.

Guterres said the U.N. is also reviewing information in an Israeli letter last month on imagery of four Iranian anti-tank guided missiles “being employed in Libya” and information provided last month by Australia on its June 2019 seizure of arms from a dhow in international waters off the Gulf of Oman.

The U.N.’s atomic watchdog agency said earlier this month that Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium above limits in the agreement and remains in violation of its deal with world powers.

In his report, Guterres reiterated strong support for the Iranian nuclear agreement and expressed regret for the U.S. withdrawal and Iran’s actions since July 2019 to stop performing its nuclear commitments. He urged all countries “to avoid provocative rhetoric and actions that may have a negative impact on regional stability.”

The secretary-general said the Trump administration’s imposition of sanctions on Iran since 2018 remains “contrary to the goals” in the nuclear deal and the U.N. resolution endorsing it, and may also impede Tehran’s ability to implement some provisions of the agreement and the resolution.

He urged Iran to return to the agreement’s requirements and to “urgently address” concerns raised by the United Kingdom, Germany and France in relation to the 2015 resolution.

The three countries urged Guterres in a letter in December to inform the Security Council that Iran’s ballistic missile activity is “inconsistent” with a provision in the resolution calling on Iran “not to undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

The provision does not require Tehran to halt such activity, and the Iranian government insists all its missile activities are legal and not nuclear-related.

On Jan. 14, France, Germany and the UK announced that they had referred Iran’s actions violating limits in the nuclear agreement to the deal’s dispute resolution mechanism.

Guterres urged all parties to the agreement “to resolve all differences” within that mechanism.

Turkey says US is ‘safe harbor’ for group blamed for coup

Turkey says US is ‘safe harbor’ for group blamed for coup

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By

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey on Friday accused the United States of becoming a “safe harbor” for members of a network that it blames for a coup attempt in 2016, after Washington criticized the conviction of a U.S. Consulate employee on terror charges.

Metin Topuz, a translator and assistant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Istanbul, was sentenced to eight years and nine months in prison on Thursday, convicted of aiding the network led by U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. The Turkish government blames Gulen for the 2016 coup attempt and considers his network to be a terrorist organization.

Topuz’s arrest in 2017 and subsequent prosecution caused tensions between NATO allies Ankara and Washington. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement Thursday criticizing the conviction.

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Pompeo said: “U.S. officials observed every hearing in the trial of Mr. Topuz in Istanbul, and we have seen no credible evidence to support this decision. As a result, this conviction undermines confidence in Turkey’s institutions and the critical trust at the foundation of Turkish-American relations.”

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy hit back, claiming that other people with links to Gulen had “infiltrated” U.S. missions in Turkey and accusing U.S. authorities of ignoring requests for the extradition of Gulen-affiliated individuals.

“We are concerned that the United States has become a safe harbor for members of (Gulen’s) terrorist organization,” Aksoy said in a written statement.

Aksoy also called on the United States to respect the “judicial independence” of Turkey’s courts and to refrain from attempts “to influence the judiciary.”

Topuz has maintained his innocence throughout his trial and is expected to appeal the verdict.

Gulen, who has been in self-imposed exile in the U.S. since 1999, denies involvement in the coup attempt

International Criminal Court condemns US sanctions order

International Criminal Court condemns US sanctions order

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In this Nov. 7, 2019, file photo, the International Criminal Court, or ICC, is seen in The Hague, Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File) more >

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By MIKE CORDER

Associated Press

Friday, June 12, 2020

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The International Criminal Court has condemned the Trump administration’s decision to authorize sanctions against court staff, saying it amounted to “an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the Court’s judicial proceedings.”

An executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump announced Thursday authorizes sanctions against ICC staff investigating American troops and intelligence officials and those of allied nations, including Israel, for possible war crimes in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Trump’s order would block the financial assets of court employees and bar them and their immediate relatives from entering the United States.

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The court, which has 123 member states, said in a statement released early Friday that it “stands firmly by its staff and officials and remains unwavering in its commitment to discharging, independently and impartially, the mandate” laid down in its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.

It said an attack on the Hague-based court also constitutes “an attack against the interests of victims of atrocity crimes, for many of whom the Court represents the last hope for justice.”

O-Gon Kwon, president of the court’s management and oversight mechanism, the Assembly of States Parties, also criticized the U.S. measures.

“They undermine our common endeavor to fight impunity and to ensure accountability for mass atrocities,” he said in a statement. “I deeply regret measures targeting Court officials, staff and their families.”

The Hague-based court was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in places where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. The U.S. has never been an ICC member.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday denounced the tribunal as a “kangaroo court” that has been unsuccessful and inefficient in prosecuting war crimes. He said that the U.S. would punish the ICC employees for any investigation or prosecution of Americans in Afghanistan and added that they could also be banned for prosecuting Israelis for alleged abuses against Palestinians.

“It gives us no joy to punish them,” Pompeo said. “But we cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop and travel and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defender of those very freedoms.”

Last year, Pompeo revoked the visa of the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, after she asked ICC judges to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan. The judges initially rejected the request, she appealed and the the court authorized the investigation in March.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a tweet Friday he was “very disturbed by the United States’ measures” and called on Washington not to sanction ICC staff.

“The ICC is crucial in the fight against impunity and in upholding international rule of law,” Blok tweeted.

Senior U.N. and EU officials also spoke out against the decision.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Trump’s order “is a matter of serious concern” and he described EU members as “steadfast supporters” of the tribunal.” Borrell said “it is a key factor in bringing justice and peace,” and that “it must be respected and supported by all nations.”

The United Nations has “taken note with concern” about reports of Trump’s order, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that Berlin had taken note of the announcement “with great concern.”

“We have full confidence in (the ICC’s) work,” the ministry said. “It is an indispensable institution in the fight against impunity of international crimes and needed more than ever these days. We reject any pressure on the independent court, its staff or people who work with it.”

Switzerland said it “regrets” the U.S. sanctions and affirmed its support for the court “as an independent institution that prosecutes the most serious crimes and thereby contributes to lasting peace and international stability.”

“Switzerland calls on the USA to revoke these comprehensive measures,” the Foreign Ministry in Bern said in a statement.

It also called on the United States to “conduct a full investigation and prosecution of U.S. personnel” implicated in serious crimes such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.

The American Civil Liberties Union suggested it might seek legal recourse and said the order was “a dangerous display of his contempt for human rights and those working to uphold them.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, backed the U.S. action, accusing the court of fabricating “outlandish charges” against his country, and praising the U.S. for standing up for what he called truth and justice.

____

Associated Press Writers Deb Riechmann and Matthew Lee in Washington, and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.

NATO cooperation has strengthened despite reports of looming U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

NATO cooperation has strengthened despite reports of looming U.S. troop withdrawal from Germany

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) **FILE** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 8, 2020

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday said that despite President Trump’s reported plan to pull a host of American troops out of Germany, the U.S. and European allies are more productive in Europe than they have been in “many, many years.”

Mr. Trump has ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of U.S. troops from Germany by September, according to a Friday report by the Wall Street Journal. The move would reduce the U.S. force presence in Germany by about 28%, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there.

The report quickly rattled Germany, which has since said it has not been formally notified by the Trump administration about the plans to withdraw troops from the long-time ally.

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“European allies and the United States, we’re doing more together now in Europe than have done for many, many years,” Mr. Stoltenberg said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council.

When pressed on his views of the reported U.S. plan to pull U.S. troops from Germany, Mr. Stoltenberg declined to address the issue, but said he is “constantly consulting with the United States, with NATO allies on military posture and presence in Europe.”

He said the U.S. military presence has increased across Europe with American forces conducting exercises in Northern Europe, more rotational presence in Poland and Romania, and a heightened naval presence in Spain.

“The challenges that we face over the next decade are greater than what any of us can tackle alone,” Mr. Stoltenberg added. “Neither Europe alone, nor America alone, so we must resist the temptation of national solutions.”

Pompeo slams ‘obscene’ Chinese propaganda on riots

Pompeo slams ‘obscene’ Chinese propaganda on riots

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In this file photo, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press briefing at the State Department on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, in Washington. (Nicholas Kamm/Pool Photo via AP) **FILE** more >

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By Bill Gertz

The Washington Times

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday denounced Chinese Communist Party propaganda aimed at fueling U.S. civil unrest and seeking to further divide Americans.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s callous exploitation of the tragic death of George Floyd to justify its authoritarian denial of basic human dignity exposes its true colors yet again,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement.

“As with dictatorships throughout history, no lie is too obscene, so long as it serves the party’s lust for power. This laughable propaganda should not fool anyone.”

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Chinese diplomats and state-run media outlets in recent weeks have disseminated a steady stream of reports criticizing the U.S. government and Trump administration. Officials said the Chinese propaganda attacks are aimed at fueling racial and political tensions.

The official Xinhua news agency and Global Times, the state-run hardline Communist Party newspaper, sent out numerous stories criticizing the Trump administration for its policies toward minorities.

The propaganda is coming from the Chinese government that itself is under fire for imprisoning more than 1 million Uighurs in western China, along with other human rights abuses.

Mr. Pompeo said in recent days Beijing “showcased its continuing contempt for the truth and scorn for law.”

“The CCP’s propaganda efforts – seeking to conflate the United States’ actions in the wake of the death of George Floyd with the CCP’s continued denial of basic human rights and freedom – should be seen for the fraud that they are,” he said.

“During the best of times, the PRC ruthlessly imposes communism,” he said. “Amid the most difficult challenges, the United States secures freedom.”

Mr. Pompeo noted the stark contrast between the United States and communist-ruled China.

“In China, when a church burns, the attack was almost certainly directed by the CCP,” he said, using the acronym for Chinese Communist Party.

“In America, when a church burns, the arsonists are punished by the government, and it is the government that brings fire trucks, water, aid, and comfort to the faithful.”

Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, the officially-atheist government has cracked down on unofficial house churches that are frequently bulldozed to prevent gatherings of worshipers.

Mr. Pompeo also said that peaceful protesters in China’s Tiananmen Square or in Hong Kong get clubbed by armed militiamen for simply speaking out, and reporters who cover the dissent are sentenced to long prison terms.

In the United States, American law enforcement authorities bring rogue officer to justice. Peaceful protests are welcomed while looting and violence are shut down.

“Our free press covers events wall to wall, for all the world to see,” he said.

Also, doctors and journalists in China who warned of the dangers of the new coronavirus outbreak were silenced and imprisoned. The Beijing government also lied about death totals and the extent of the disease outbreak, Mr. Pompeo said.

“In the United States, we value life and build transparent systems to treat, cure, and underwrite – more than any other nation – pandemic solutions for the globe,” he added.

Chinese authorities imprison people who diverge from CCP ideology or place them in re-education camps, the secretary said.

The secretary of state’s comment provide the first U.S. government acknowledgement that China is among the foreign actors seeking to further inflame racial tensions in the United States.

Attorney General Bill Barr said earlier this week that he had evidence that among the protesters around the country there are “”foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray also said foreign elements had “set out to sow discord and upheaval.”

A U.S. official said videos posted online recently showed what appeared to be Chinese embassy and consulates personnel taking a direct role in riots in Washington and California.

UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

UN agency: Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal

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Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference after a meeting of the IAEA board of governors at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Monday, March 9, 2020. … more >

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By KIYOKO METZLER and DAVID RISING

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

VIENNA (AP) – Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of its deal with world powers, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Friday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported the finding in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press.

The agency said that as of May 20, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,571.6 kilograms (1.73 tons), up from 1,020.9 kilograms (1.1 tons) on Feb. 19.

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Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).

The IAEA reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the JCPOA. It is also above the pact’s limitations on heavy water.

The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal unilaterally in 2018, saying it needed to be renegotiated. Iran has since slowly violated the restrictions to try and pressure the remaining nations to increase the incentives to offset new, economy-crippling U.S. sanctions.

The ultimate goal of the JCPOA is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Since the U.S. withdrawal, Iran has stockpiled enough uranium to produce a weapon, although the government in Tehran insists it has no such goal and that its atomic program is only for producing energy.

According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association, Iran would need roughly 1050 kilograms (1.16 tons) of low-enriched uranium – under 5% purity – and would then need to enrich it further to weapons-grade, or more than 90% purity, to make a nuclear weapon.

With the nuclear deal in place, Iran’s so-called breakout time – the period Tehran would need to build a bomb if it chose to – stood at around a year. As Iran has stepped away from the limits of the 2015 deal, it slowly has narrowed that window.

However, that doesn’t mean Iran would immediately rush toward building a bomb if all the materials were in place.

Before agreeing to the nuclear deal, Iran enriched its uranium up to 20% purity, which is just a short technical step away from the weapons-grade level of 90%. In 2013, Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium was already more than 7,000 kilograms (7.72 tons) with higher enrichment, but it didn’t pursue a bomb.

As the country has expanded its nuclear program, Iran has been open about the violations and continues to allow inspectors for the U.N. atomic agency access to iacilities to monitor their operations.

It remains in violation of all the main restrictions outlined by the JCPOA, which Tehran says it hopes will pressure the other nations involved to increase economic incentives to make up for hard-hitting sanctions imposed by Washington after the U.S. withdrawal.

Though Iran has been hard hit by the new coronavirus pandemic, the IAEA said it has maintained its verification and monitoring activities in the country, primarily by chartering aircraft to fly inspectors to and from Iran.

It cited “exceptional cooperation” from authorities in Austria, where it is based, and Iran in facilitating the operation.

The agency raised concerns, however, about access to two of three locations it identified in March as places where Iran possibly stored and/or used undeclared nuclear material or undertook nuclear-related activities without declaring them to international observers.

Activities at all three sites are thought to have been from the early 2000s. The IAEA said in its current report that it had determined that one site had undergone “extensive sanitization and leveling” in 2003 and 2004 and there would be no verification value in inspecting it.

It said Iran has, for more than four months, blocked access to the other two locations, one of which was partially demolished in 2004 and the other at which the agency observed activities “consistent with efforts to sanitize” the facility from July 2019 onward.

The watchdog agency added that Iran has also “not engaged in any substantive discussions” with the IAEA to answer its question about possible undeclared nuclear material and activities for almost a year.

_____

Rising reported from Berlin

Court rules against planned Sydney protest due to virus fear

Court rules against planned Sydney protest due to virus fear

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South Korean protesters shout slogans during a protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, near the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, June 5, … more >

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By

Associated Press

Friday, June 5, 2020

SYDNEY (AP) — An Australian court sided with police in ruling Friday that a Black Lives Matter protest planned for Sydney poses too much risk for spreading the coronavirus and cannot be held.

Thousands of people were expected to rally in Australia’s largest city on Saturday afternoon to honor George Floyd and to protest against the deaths of indigenous Australians in custody.

But New South Wales state Supreme Court Justice Des Fagan ruled the rally was not an authorized public assembly. Fagan said he understood the rally was designed to coincide with similar events in other countries.

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“I don’t diminish the importance of the issues and no one would deny them in normal circumstances,” he said. “No one denies them that but we’re talking about a situation of a health crisis.”

In Sydney, outdoor gatherings are restricted to 10 people, while up to 50 people can go to funerals, places of worship, restaurants, pubs and cafes.

State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said organizers initially proposed a protest far smaller rally. She said protesters could not guarantee social distancing protocols would be followed.

“All of us have given up so much and worked so hard to make sure we get on top of the virus,” Berejiklian told reporters.

Earlier Friday, demonstrators in the capital reminded the country that racial inequality is not a U.S. issue alone.

Organizers of the Canberra rally that attracted about 2,000 demonstrators handed out masks and hand sanitizer. Most protesters kept a recommended social distance but drew closer to hear speeches. Public gatherings are limited to 20 in Canberra, but police did not intervene.

School teacher Wendy Brookman, a member of the Butchulla indigenous people, said Australia should not accept that more than 430 indigenous Australians have died in police custody or prison in the past three decades.

“We’re not here to jump on the bandwagon of what’s happened in the United States,” Brookman said. “We’re here to voice what’s happening to our indigenous people.”

One of the protesters’ signs read “I can’t breathe” and drew a parallel between Floyd’s death in the U.S. on May 25 and the Australian indigenous experience. Those words were among the last spoken by Floyd and an indigenous Australian, David Dungay, who died in a prison hospital in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

In South Korea, dozens gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy to condemn what they described as police brutality toward protesters in the U.S. They called for South Korea’s government to speak against the “racial discrimination and state violence” of its ally and pushed for an anti-discrimination law to improve the lives of migrant workers, undocumented foreigners and other minorities.

“As the U.S. civil society empowered and stood in solidarity with Korean pro-democracy activists in the past, we will now stand in solidarity with citizens in the United States,” said activist Lee Sang-hyun, referring to South Koreans’ bloody struggles against military dictatorships that ruled the country until the late 1980s.

Holding a banner that read “Justice for Floyd,” most of the protesters wore black and some brought flowers in honor of Floyd, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his neck with a knee for several minutes while he pleaded for air.

Larger marches are planned in Seoul on Saturday to protest Floyd’s death.

The Latest: Floyd’s mourners stand for 8 minutes, 46 seconds

The Latest: Fargo’s black leaders shift memorial plans

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Police officers spray teargas at protesters by the Crescent City Connection bridge in New Orleans, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, during a protest over the death of George Floyd, who died May 25 after being restrained by police in Minneapolis. (Sophia … more >

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By The Associated Press

Associated Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020

The Latest on the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee on his neck:

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– Mourners at George Floyd’s memorial service stand for 8 minutes, 46 seconds.

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– Rev. Al Sharpton speaks out at Floyd memorial.

– Mayor Garcetti ends curfew in Los Angeles.

___

FARGO, N.D. – Black leaders in North Dakota’s largest city pleaded for calm in the face of violent threats to disrupt a gathering in memory of George Floyd. They advertised the event as a celebration and not a protest.

The OneFargo event is scheduled Friday afternoon at a downtown Fargo park. Organizers had planned to march from the park to City Hall for a sit-in. They have scrapped that idea after social media threats surfaced to burn down the city offices and commit other violent acts.

Organizer Wess Philome says anyone who is looking to destroy the “positive energy” from Friday’s event should stay home.

The pledge to tone down the dissent comes after a violent protest in downtown Fargo last weekend resulted in damaged property, a dozen arrests and minor injuries to four police officers.

___

OAKLAND, Calif. — Police say well-coordinated criminals are capitalizing on the chaos around protests to stage widespread store thefts.

They travel by caravan and use messaging apps or social media to communicate or distract and throw police off their trail.

The wave of crime that has followed largely peaceful demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd has happened in big and small cities and in rural areas. Thieves have targeted high-value goods as officers are assigned to prevent protests from becoming unruly and enforce curfews. In the San Francisco Bay Area, a band of thieves stole nearly 75 vehicles from a dealership.

___

MINNEAPOLIS – Mourners at George Floyd’s memorial service are standing for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, a span that has become a potent symbol of police brutality.

The Rev. Al Sharpton exhorted Floyd’s family, civil rights leaders, politicians, athletes and celebrities at the service Thursday to stand as a commitment to justice in Floyd’s name. Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died in police custody in New York City in 2014, stood on stage with Sharpton and comedian Tiffany Haddish.

Floyd, a handcuffed black man, died on May 25 as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, ignoring his cries and bystander shouts until Floyd eventually stopped moving.

In the days since his death, protesters have seized on 8 minutes, 46 seconds – the time given in a criminal complaint that the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck – as a way to honor Floyd.

___

MINNEAPOLIS – The Rev. Al Sharpton says George Floyd’s story has been the story of black people in America, and that he died not from common health conditions, but from a malfunction of the criminal justice system.

Sharpton spoke Thursday at a memorial service for Floyd in Minneapolis, the first of six services for Floyd in three cities. Floyd died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck, ignoring the African American man’s pleas that he couldn’t breathe. The officer stayed there even after Floyd stopped moving.

Sharpton says the reason black people couldn’t be who they dreamed of being is because “you had your knee on our necks.” He added: “Get your knee off of our necks!”

He also commented about the protests that have occurred across the country and the world since Floyd’s death, saying that this time is different. Sharpton said he saw white people outnumbering black people in some marches and calling for justice.

Sharpton also called out President Donald Trump for walking from the White House across the street as protests were going on in Washington so he could pose with a bible.

“We cannot use bibles as a prop,” Sharpton said. “For those that have agendas that are not about justice, this family will not let you use George as a prop.”

___

VIENNA – Thousands of people have participated in an anti-racism demonstration in Vienna.

The Austria Press Agency reported police said about 50,000 people gathered in downtown Vienna.

Protesters carrying signs with the Black Lives Matter slogan marched to the Karlsplatz square. Many argued racism is just as present in Austria as the United States.

Diedo Ladstaetter, a 27-year-old student from Vienna, says his dark-skinned Latino friend “is affected by everyday racism. And therefore, I don’t see why it would be somehow different in Austria compared to America. You have to protest here, too.”

Some protesters also carried Antifa signs and were heard shouting “fight the police.”

___

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Public Schools will discontinue use of school resource officers from the Portland Police Bureau. Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero says Oregon’s largest school district needed to “re-examine our relationship” with the police after the nationwide upheaval over the death of George Floyd.

The news came after thousands of protesters gathered Wednesday for the sixth consecutive night in Portland and remained peaceful. Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday ordered all flags flown at half-staff to honor Floyd.

___

LOS ANGELES – The mayor of Los Angeles says he will end the curfew starting Thursday night.

Mayor Eric Garcetti made the announcement after the curfews were put in place since last week as a precaution against looting and violence.

Earlier, the Los Angeles County sheriff said he will not enforce a curfew in areas his deputies patrol. Curfews also ended in San Francisco and San Jose. The decisions follow generally peaceful demonstrations.

Oakland and Sacramento plan to maintain curfews for now.

___

LOCUST GROVE, Va. – Deputies in Virginia say a white man who called to report an assault turned out to be the aggressor and has been charged with attacking three African Americans because of their race.

Authorities responding to a call from Edward Halstead in Locust Grove on Tuesday night “interviewed several people and determined that the caller was in fact the perpetrator of assault and battery on three individuals,” the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.

Halstead, 53, was charged with attempted strangulation and three counts of felonious assault and battery due to the victim’s race.

It was not immediately clear if Halstead had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.

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BERLIN – German Chancellor Angela Merkel says U.S. society is “very polarized” while sidestepping questions whether President Donald Trump bears a share of the responsibility.

Merkel told ZDF television the killing of George Floyd “is something really, really terrible, racism is something terrible and society in the United States is very polarized.”

Merkel say her approach to politics is always to try to bring people together. She deflected questions about Trump’s role, saying she hopes the U.S. will unify and she’s “happy that many are making their contribution to that.”

Pressed again about Trump, she replied: “I think the political style is a very controversial one, that is clear.”

Regarding racism, she says “unfortunately we have it here, too. So let’s put our own house in order and hope there are also enough people in the United States who carry forward peaceful demonstrations.”

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ROME – The highest-ranking American at the Vatican will lead a prayer service on Friday in Rome to pray for “peaceful coexistence” following the death of George Floyd and protests that erupted across the U.S.

Cardinal Kevin Farrell, an Irish-born naturalized U.S. citizen, is the prefect of the Vatican’s family and laity office.

The Sant’Egidio Community, a Catholic charity close to Pope Francis, is organizing the evening prayer at its Santa Maria in Trastevere church. Francis this week decried Floyd’s death and the “sin of racism” while denouncing violence as “self-destructive and self-defeating.” He’s appealed for national reconciliation and peace.

Farrell was bishop in Dallas, Texas, and an auxiliary bishop of Washington D.C. before taking his current job in 2016.

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MOSCOW – The Russian Foreign Ministry urged the U.S. authorities to respect Americans’ right for peaceful protest amid the wave of demonstrations sparked by George Floyd’s death.

The ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, says Moscow has taken note of the use of tear gas to disperse rallies and massive arrests of protesters in the U.S. She also pointed out numerous journalists, including Russian reporters, were hurt while covering the protests.

Moscow long has bristled at Washington’s criticism of its human rights record amid Russia-U.S. tensions. Zakharova sought to turn the tables on the U.S. by pointing to the authorities forceful response to protests.

She says “it’s time for the U.S. to drop the mentor’s tone and look in the mirror,” challenging the U.S. authorities to “start respecting peoples’ rights and observing democratic standards at home.”

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NEW ORLEANS – New Orleans police used tear gas during a late-night protest on a Mississippi River bridge when protesters refused commands to not cross.

Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson was expected to discuss the protest at a Thursday news conference.

The encounter resulted in hundreds of demonstrators scattering on the bridge known as the Crescent City Connection, hours after a rally and march began near New Orleans City Hall

The department says on its Twitter page that tear gas was used after protesters refused to obey three orders not to attempt to cross the bridge. A department post says gas was deployed in “response to escalating, physical confrontation with our officers.”

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SAN FRANCISCO – Police in San Francisco have filed criminal charges against more than 100 people accused of looting and violence.

Police in Vallejo say they shot and killed a 22-year-old looting suspect on Tuesday after mistaking his hammer for a gun.

The San Francisco figures were announced on the sixth day of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. California authorities are generally praising thousands of peaceful protesters, with an estimated 10,000 gathering in San Francisco.

The violence has dwindled and some cities and counties have announced plans to shorten or cancel curfews.

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NEW YORK – Gov. Andrew Cuomo says an ambush that left three New York police officers injured and the suspect in critical condition shows the difficult balance police must strike in keeping the peace.

An officer on anti-looting patrol was ambushed in Brooklyn hours after an 8 p.m. curfew went into effect. The ensuing struggle Wednesday night left two other officers with gunshot injuries. All three are expected to recover.

“They have an impossible job, and they need support,” Cuomo told Long Island News Radio. “They’re out there, they’re getting hurt, last night again, they are the best, they are the best. God bless them because I don’t know that I would want to do the job that they’re doing now.”

Cuomo’s comments came days after he drew some criticism for saying some NYPD officers had exacerbated tensions during recent George Floyd protests with “very disturbing actions.”

The city’s police commissioner didn’t speculate on the stabber’s motive, but a police union leader blamed the attack on anti-police rhetoric.

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WARSAW, Poland – A large crowd gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw with signs reading “Black Lives Matter,” in Poland’s second anti-racist protest in two days in response to the death of George Floyd

Some laid face down on the ground in solidarity with the handcuffed Floyd, who was pleading for air as a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, says the violent scenes of protest in the U.S. are an “anomaly” and not a true picture of the Americans.

“We can and will heal and learn from this tragedy – and justice will prevail,” Mosbacher’s statement said.

A small protest march was held Wednesday in Poland’s western city of Poznan.

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BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Three men who were charged with murder months after the fatal shooting of Ahmaud Arbery appeared Thursday by a video link from jail for their probable cause hearing following a week of angry protests in the U.S. over law enforcement biases against black victims.

Jesse Evans, appointed as a special prosecutor in the case, says Arbery “was chased, hunted down and ultimately executed” based on the evidence his team would present.

Glynn County Magistrate Judge Wallace E. Harrell scheduled the hearing to determine whether authorities have enough evidence of murder in Arbery’s killing to send the case to trial.

Arbery was killed Feb. 23 after a white father and son armed themselves and gave chase when they spotted the 25-year-old black man jogging in their neighborhood just outside the port city of Brunswick.

It wasn’t until May 7 that Greg McMichael, 64, and Travis McMichael, 34 were charged with felony murder and aggravated assault. The McMichaels’ arrests came two days after cellphone video of the shooting leaked online and stirred a national outcry.

The neighbor who filmed the video, 50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan, was also arrested and charged with felony murder and illegally using a vehicle to try to confine and detain Arbery.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. – Gov. Tim Walz is sending Minnesota National Guard troops to state’s western border because of what he says are credible threats of violence during demonstrations planned in neighboring North Dakota.

The city of Moorhead, Minnesota, lies just across the border from Fargo, North Dakota.

Walz’s order didn’t say how many guard members are being deployed in Clay County. The governor didn’t provide details on what he perceives is a credible threat.

“The Minnesota National Guard stands ready to provide protection for all Minnesotans,” said Walz in a statement. “While Minnesotans turn their attention to rebuilding our communities and re-examining racial inequities in the wake of George Floyd’s death, our administration is committed to providing protection for our neighborhoods, businesses, and families in order for those meaningful conversations to happen.”

The National Guard adjutant general will work with local government agencies to provide personnel, equipment and facilities as needed, Walz said.

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SARASOTA, Fla. – A bystander video showing a Sarasota police officer pressing his knee into the neck of a handcuffed black man a week before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has prompted an investigation and promises of transparency.

Two Sarasota officers are seen on video holding down Patrick Carroll, 27, during a domestic violence call on May 18. A third officer was standing nearby.

The department told news outlets it wasn’t aware the officer placed a knee on Carroll’s neck until it was tagged in the video on social media on Monday.

Aerial video posted by the department Tuesday shows the officers speaking with Carroll for several minutes before placing him in handcuffs. He then resists being put in the patrol car, and officers force him to the ground.

Carroll said he was trying to ask officers why he was being detained. He said he has asthma and scoliosis in his back and was having trouble breathing.

The officer who placed his knee on Carroll’s neck has been placed on administrative leave, the department said. He hasn’t been identified. The two other officers are on “desk duty” while the arrest is being investigated, news outlets reported.

Carroll faces charges of domestic battery, possession of ammunition by a convicted felon and resisting arrest.

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MINNEAPOLIS – A full autopsy of George Floyd, the handcuffed black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police, provides several clinical details – including that Floyd had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

The 20-page report released Wednesday by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office came with the family’s permission and after the coroner’s office released summary findings Monday that Floyd’s heart stopped while being restrained by officers and classified his May 25 death as a homicide.

The report by Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Baker spelled out clinical details, including that Floyd tested positive for the COVID-19 virus on April 3 but appeared asymptomatic. The report also noted Floyd’s lungs appeared healthy, but he had some narrowing of arteries in the heart.

The county’s earlier summary report listed fentanyl intoxication and recent methamphetamine use under “other significant conditions” but not under “cause of death.” The full report’s footnotes noted that signs of fentanyl toxicity can include “severe respiratory depression” and seizures.

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