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Manila- Minority Muslims in the southern Philippines cast votes on Monday in a long-awaited referendum on autonomy, the culmination of a peace process to end decades of separatist conflict in a region plagued by poverty, banditry and Islamist extremism. Some 2.8 million people in the volatile Mindanao region are being asked if they back a plan by separatists and the government to create a self-administered area known as Bangsamoro, or “nation of Moros”, referring to the name Spanish colonialists gave to the area’s Muslim inhabitants. A clear “yes” vote is widely expected, which would grant executive, legislature and fiscal powers to a region where more than 1,20,000 people died a four-decade conflict that left it one of Asia’s poorest and at risk of infiltration by radical groups. The central government would continue to oversee defense, security, foreign and monetary policy, and appoint a transition authority run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the separatist group expected to dominate the new setup after a 2022 election. “We are confident that ‘yes’ will win,” MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told CNN Philippines on Monday. “If there is no manipulation, no intimidating, there will be overwhelming approval,” he added. That would be a much-needed boost for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who remains a hugely popular personality among Filipinos but has so far struggled to make inroads on his ambitious policy agenda. Though the Bangsamoro plan was negotiated by his predecessors, Duterte, a mayor in Davao City in Mindanao for 22 years, is credited with ensuring it got the support of Congress, which the previous administration was unable to secure. A result is expected by Friday. Duterte last week urged voters to approve the plan and show they wanted peace, development and a local leadership that “truly represents and understand the needs of the Muslim people”. The plan’s advocates say it would address what are the predominantly Catholic country’s lowest levels of employment, income, education and development, which experts say are exploited by pirates, kidnapping gangs and armed groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. The MILF has denounced extremists and said disillusionment over the slow progress towards devolution was a factor behind a 2017 occupation of Marawi City by rebels loyal to Islamic State, which the military took five months of ground offensives and devastating air strikes to defeat. The whole of Mindanao has since been under martial law. The MILF and the government hope autonomy would lead to greater investment in infrastructure and natural resources, and allow for expansion of fruit and nickel exports and development of a palm oil industry....
Jan 21 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
London- British Prime Minister Theresa May unveils her Brexit “Plan B” to Parliament on Monday after MPs shredded her EU divorce deal, deepening the political gridlock 10 weeks from departure day. Britain will leave the European Union on March 29 without a deal unless MPs can force a delay or get their act together in time and come up with an alternative plan that Brussels is also happy with. The world’s fifth-biggest economy could lose preferential access to its largest export market overnight, affecting every sector, leading to rising costs and disruption at British ports. London and Brussels have spent the best part of two years working on a divorce agreement but MPs in Parliament’s lower House of Commons comprehensively rejected it on Tuesday. May’s government then survived a confidence vote on Wednesday and set about talks with figures from rival parties. But the main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn stayed away, saying a “no-deal” departure must be ruled out first—something May says is impossible. May spoke to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday, and to EU leaders Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk by telephone Friday to discuss where to go next on Brexit. EU chiefs have so far ruled out renegotiating the agreement, but have signalled they could postpone the withdrawal if May changes her “red lines” on leaving the EU’s customs union and blocking free movement of citizens....
Jan 21 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
Jakarta- Abu Bakar Bashir, the radical Muslim cleric and alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, will be granted early release from jail on humanitarian grounds, Indonesia's president said on Friday. Bashir, 81, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Islamist group Jemaah Islamiah (JI), was convicted in 2010 under anti-terrorism laws for links to militant training camps in Aceh province and jailed for 15 years. President Joko Widodo, who is seeking re-election in April, has been criticised by opponents who question his Islamic credentials and accuse him of backing the "criminalisation" of clerics. "The first reason is humanitarian. He is elderly and his health is also a consideration," Widodo told reporters, according to a statement from the social affairs ministry. Widodo also cited security concerns, but he did not elaborate. A legal adviser in Widodo's campaign team, Yusril Mahendra, said he had lobbied the president for Bashir's release. "This shows to the public that it is not correct that Jokowi persecutes or criminalises clerics," Mahendra was quoted by Indonesia media as saying. Jokowi is the president's nickname. Scores of the more than 200 people killed in the 2002 bombings of Bali nightclubs were Australian and Canberra has previously urged against leniency for Bashir. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday that he has been in contact with the Indonesian government. "Australia's position on this matter has not changed, we've always expressed the deepest of reservations," Morrison told reporters in Melbourne. The Bali attack spurred Indonesia to set up its now elite anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 or Detachment 88, which received funds and training from Australia and the United States. It was not immediately clear when Bashir would be released from prison in Bogor, a satellite city near the capital Jakarta, or what the terms of his release would be. Bashir's lawyers said he was eligible for early release because he had served more than a third of his sentence, but he had refused to sign documents detailing the requirements for his probation. Security officials have previously raised concerns about the cleric's influence in radical networks. In 2016, police moved him from a maximum-security prison on Nusakambangan island in Central Java to Bogor....
Jan 20 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
Washington- The US’s first Indian-origin senator, Kamala Harris, has picked Baltimore as headquarters of her potential 2020 presidential campaign, a media report has claimed. Harris, 54, who recently came out with two books, including one for children, has not officially announced her 2020 presidential bid. But reports in mainstream US media suggest that it might be announced soon. Local Baltimore Sun Friday reported that Harris has selected Baltimore for her campaign headquarters if, as expected, she runs for president in 2020, according to sources familiar. “Harris picked Baltimore because of its diversity, its proximity to Washington and because it is in the Eastern time zone, said the sources, who requested anonymity because Harris has not yet announced her plans,” the daily reported. The senator’s office has declined to comment on the report. “It’s the right choice,” said Krish Vignarajah, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, told Baltimore Sun. “The race ought to focus on the future of cities like Baltimore. And Senator Harris is incredibly inspiring — hard not to love a strong, vertically challenged woman of color!” she said. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the first ever Hindu elected to the US House of Representatives, is among the several Democratic leaders to have announced to enter the 2020 presidential race. Others so far being Senator Elizabeth Warren. The 2020 Democratic primary is expected to be a crowded race. Among other potential candidates are former vice president Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Senators. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont....
Jan 20 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
Washington- The US’s first Indian-origin senator, Kamala Harris, has picked Baltimore as headquarters of her potential 2020 presidential campaign, a media report has claimed. Harris, 54, who recently came out with two books, including one for children, has not officially announced her 2020 presidential bid. But reports in mainstream US media suggest that it might be announced soon. Local Baltimore Sun Friday reported that Harris has selected Baltimore for her campaign headquarters if, as expected, she runs for president in 2020, according to sources familiar. “Harris picked Baltimore because of its diversity, its proximity to Washington and because it is in the Eastern time zone, said the sources, who requested anonymity because Harris has not yet announced her plans,” the daily reported. The senator’s office has declined to comment on the report. “It’s the right choice,” said Krish Vignarajah, a former Democratic gubernatorial candidate, told Baltimore Sun. “The race ought to focus on the future of cities like Baltimore. And Senator Harris is incredibly inspiring — hard not to love a strong, vertically challenged woman of color!” she said. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, the first ever Hindu elected to the US House of Representatives, is among the several Democratic leaders to have announced to enter the 2020 presidential race. Others so far being Senator Elizabeth Warren. The 2020 Democratic primary is expected to be a crowded race. Among other potential candidates are former vice president Joe Biden, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Senators. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Bernie Sanders of Vermont....
Jan 20 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
LONDON- Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape its exit from the EU,  its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, hit the rocks on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions. After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by Parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution. Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties, which together hold 88 per cent of the 650 seats in Parliament, were prepared to compromise on key demands. Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling towards the cliff edge of a sudden exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch her “red lines”. But he repeated his own condition for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit. “The government confirmed that she would not take ‘no-deal’ off the table,” Corbyn said in a speech in Hastings, scene of a battle in 1066 that ushered in the Norman conquest of England. “So I say to the Prime Minister again: I am quite happy to talk, but the starting point for any talks about Brexit must be that the threat of a disastrous no-deal outcome is ruled out,” Corbyn said. But the further May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a crucial bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared. If May fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to delay Brexit, possibly holding a national election or even another referendum. Corbyn said that, under certain conditions, he would look at options including another referendum - a remark that increased expectations in financial markets that the political chaos would ultimately delay or stop Brexit. May has refused to countenance another election, having lost her parliamentary majority in a snap poll in 2017 that left her reliant on the support of a small Northern Irish pro-Brexit party. She has repeatedly said another referendum would corrode faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in 2016. “I believe it is my duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. And I intend to do so,” she said in a televised address. Her spokesman said Britain had not raised the idea of delaying Britain’s exit with the EU, though former prime minister Tony Blair said a delay was now inevitable....
Jan 18 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
Washington- A top North Korean general is in Washington on Friday for a rare visit, during which he is expected to meet President Donald Trump as the two countries seek to finalise a new summit aimed at denuclearisation and easing decades of hostility. Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, arrived on Thursday evening in the US capital, the latest peace-making mission just a year after once-soaring tensions began to abate. The North Korean negotiator abruptly cancelled his last planned talks in the United States--a meeting set two months ago in New York with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo--and this time the administration has treaded cautiously, not announcing his visit in advance. But an American source, who could not be identified as the schedule has not been announced, said Pompeo would welcome Kim on Friday for a meal in Washington before the two are expected to head together to the White House. Trump has repeatedly voiced eagerness to see Kim Jong Un again after their landmark June summit in Singapore, the first meeting ever between sitting leaders from the two countries that never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Trump has repeatedly hailed his diplomacy as a triumph, recently saying there would have been “a nice big fat war in Asia” if it were not for him. He has said to expect an announcement soon about the second summit, with diplomats seeing Vietnam and Thailand as possible venues. In a sign that frictions have eased since the official’s no-show in November, Trump--who has mused that he and Kim Jong Un are “in love”--said he received a warm new letter from the North Korean leader earlier this month. For Trump, the made-for-television summitry with the young and elusive North Korean leader also offers a welcome respite from news at home. Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump’s presidential campaign colluded with Russia, and his insistence that Congress fund a wall on the Mexican border has shuttered the US government for nearly a month. For Kim, the stakes are more existential as he seeks guarantees of the survival of his regime. Kim, backed by ally China as well as South Korea’s dovish government, is also hoping for an easing of international sanctions, but the United States insists on maintaining maximum pressure until Pyongyang moves forward on giving up its nuclear weapons. In Singapore, Kim promised his “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”. But the two sides appear to have different ideas on how to define that, with the United States expecting North Korea to give up nuclear weapons assembled over decades of work and Pyongyang more broadly seeking an end to what it sees as US threats. “I think there is somewhat of a general consensus of what denuclearisation means. I think there is obviously still disagreement on how to get there--whether denuclearisation is the end of the process or the process itself,” said Jenny Town, managing editor of the 38 North web journal on North Korea policy at the Stimson Centre. “Realistically, they can talk about it all they want to, they can define the end goal, but if you don’t have a common understanding of how to get there, you’re not going to reach that common goal,” she said. She noted that Americans had traditionally preferred to hash out the details of agreements before big summits, while the type of leader-driven diplomacy favoured by Trump is more common in Asia. “People have been very skeptical of this top-down approach, but we won’t know unless we try it,” she said. Pompeo in a recent interview voiced hope at reaching a deal with North Korea that would “create a much better, safer America” but cautioned that it was unlikely to be finished...
Jan 18 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...
NAIROBI- Kenyan security forces have killed all the Somali militants who stormed an upscale Nairobi hotel compound, taking at least 21 lives and forcing hundreds of people into terrifying escapes, the government said on Wednesday. Fifty people believed to have been in the complex remained unaccounted for on Wednesday afternoon, the Kenya Red Cross said, raising the possibility of a much higher final toll. The bloody bodies of five attackers were broadcast across social media as President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the end of a 20-hour overnight siege that echoed a 2013 assault that killed 67 people in the Westgate shopping centre in the same district. Somali group al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate fighting to impose strict Islamic law, said they carried out the attack in revenge for US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital. "The security operation... is over and all the terrorists eliminated," Kenyatta said in a televised national address, looking drained and grave....
Jan 17 2019 | Posted in : | No Comment | read more...