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Friday, November 20, 2015

Dozens detained in G20 protests in Turkey

November 15, 2015

ANTALYA, Turkey (AP) — Police in the Turkish Mediterranean city of Antalya detained dozens of people Sunday during a series of protests denouncing a G-20 summit that is underway in a nearby seaside resort, although the demonstrations were mostly peaceful.

Security is tight during two-day meeting that was expected to be dominated by discussions about how the G-20 nations will respond to the deadly Paris attacks, claimed by the Islamic State group. Demonstrators were being kept miles away from the venue at a secluded seaside resort some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Antalya city.

A group of some 500 youths belonging to a Turkish nationalist association gathered in the city, holding up card-board effigies of U.S. President Barack Obama and denouncing U.S. interventions in the Middle East. Police allowed the group to march briefly only after they agreed to leave the effigies behind.

Hundreds of members of Turkish left-wing groups and trade unions later held another protest denouncing the organization which gathers the world's wealthiest economies. They marched in central Antalya carrying a banner that read in Turkish and in English: "Killer, colonialist, imperialist war organization G-20 get out!" Police detained dozens of demonstrators after one of the demonstrators threw fireworks at police while the crowd was dispersing.

Earlier, police detained four protesters who wanted to walk to the venue of the G-20 summit to deliver a letter to participants. Police also detained a group of about 20 protesters who refused to undergo a security check, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Separately, members of Turkey's ethnic Uighur community also gathered in the city to protest China's treatment of the Muslim minority. Chinese President Xi Jinping is among the summit participants. Turkey has turned a sports center in Antalya into a temporary detention center in case of large-scale protests.

Turkey ends missile deal talks with China

November 15, 2015

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's state-run news agency says Turkey has ended negotiations with China on building a missile defense system.

The Anadolu Agency, citing unnamed officials, said Sunday that Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu decided to abandon the missile tender over the possibility that Turkey may construct its own "national" defense system.

The deal with China had been a source of tension with NATO partners, who said they would not integrate Chinese-made hardware with a European-wide system. The indications that the deal is being abandoned come as leaders from the 20 leading world economies— including China and NATO allies— are meeting in Turkey in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris.

Western leaders are discussing how to respond to the attack that French President Francois Hollande called an act of war.

Turkey opens military areas in Cyprus to search for missing

November 05, 2015

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey has granted access to 30 suspected grave sites in military-controlled areas in northern Cyprus, a move that will significantly speed up exhumation work, an official with a committee searching for missing persons on the war-divided island nation said Thursday.

Paul-Henri Arni, the U.N.-appointed member of the Committee on Missing Persons, said such access will accelerate the work to an estimated three years. He said it's important to move ahead quickly because many witnesses with information on such graves are elderly.

"It's a race against time," Arni told The Associated Press. "The only credible sources of information we have are these witnesses and they're dying fast." Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Some 1,500 Greek Cypriots and 500 Turkish Cypriots had disappeared from the mid-1960s during fighting between the two communities, as well as the invasion.

In the last decade, the remains of 1,020 people have been exhumed. Turkey still maintains some 35,000 troops in the island's north, where Turkish Cypriots declared independence that's recognized only by Ankara.

It's not the first time that Turkey has allowed crews to dig in military-controlled areas that dot the island's north and where access is strictly prohibited, but Arni said work has proceeded too slowly. He said his group has information of possible burials regarding all 30 sites, but declined to give an estimate on how many people might be buried there.

Turkey's decision comes as U.N.-brokered talks aimed at reunifying Cyprus have been significantly ramped up. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Turkish Cypriot leader's confirmation that Turkey has granted access to the sites, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The U.N. chief "is encouraged by the steps being taken to build trust and confidence between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities as the two sides have begun intensified talks this month," Dujarric said.

The Cypriot government welcomed Turkey's move, adding that it now expects Ankara to do more to help uncover the fate of the missing, including granting access to its military archives as well as allowing crews into areas where exhumed remains have been reburied.

Palestinian Authority to move institutions to Jerusalem

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced on Friday that measures to move sovereign institutions to Jerusalem are underway, Anadolu has reported.

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of the PA foreign ministry in Ramallah, Abbas said that this would be achieved soon, but through “political and diplomatic” efforts. The foreign ministry building was funded by China and a Chinese delegation headed by the Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yan attended the ceremony.

“Today in Ramallah, but soon in our capital Jerusalem, where we will move all our sovereign institutions,” Abbas said. “This is what we are working on and this will be through political and diplomatic efforts, which the foreign ministry and our embassies abroad are taking part in.”

Hailing PA-Chinese friendship, Abbas added that China has been and is still one of the largest supporters of the Palestinians’ hope for freedom and independence. “We are looking forward to receiving you in our eternal capital, East Jerusalem,” he told the Chinese delegation.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22277-palestinian-authority-to-move-institutions-to-jerusalem.

Hamas renews call for national uprising leadership

Saturday, 14 November 2015

The head of the Hamas Political Bureau renewed his movement’s call on Friday for a national leadership for the ongoing Palestinian uprising, Al-Resalah has reported.

“We have to work together based on one strategy to achieve active national goals,” Khaled Meshaal told Al-Quds TV channel. “We [Hamas leaders] are working to achieve an agreement on the tactics and tools of Al-Quds Intifada as well as an agreement to achieve strategic goals together.”

Meshaal stressed the importance of forming a united field leadership for the intifada, which was ignited at the beginning of October as a response to the continuous Israeli violations against the Palestinian people and Jerusalem, mainly in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22282-hamas-renews-call-for-national-uprising-leadership.

Palestine welcomes EU decision to label settlement products

Thursday, 12 November 2015

The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of National Economy, Abeer Oudeh, has welcomed the EU decision to label Israeli settlement products sold in the European market. She praised the EU decision as “a step in the right direction” towards de-legitimising the products of Israeli settlements built on Palestinian land occupied since 1967.

Oudeh called on the EU to speed up the process of implementing the decision so that the labeling will be clear for EU consumers as soon as possible. She pointed out that settlements produce more than 146 types of goods in various sectors; they are usually labelled “Made in Israel”, which is inaccurate and misleading as Israel has no sovereignty over the occupied Palestinian territories.

The EU decision came after three weeks’ of deliberations and attempts by the Israeli government to block the move. Israel Radio reported that it is likely that the decision will apply to fresh fruit and vegetables, honey, olive oil, wine and cosmetics.

On 26 April, 2010, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas approved a law banning products and services produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The law provided for settlement produce to be replaced by Palestinian products in order to support the local economy and provide a better marketing opportunity for Palestinian businesses.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/22234-palestine-welcomes-eu-decision-to-label-settlement-products.

Fatal Jordan police compound shooting took place in canteen

November 11, 2015

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — A shooting rampage at a police training center that killed five people, including two American instructors, took place in a canteen in the compound, the Jordanian government spokesman said Tuesday.

Monday's shooting also killed a South African contractor and two Jordanians who worked as translators for the foreign instructors at the facility. Six people were wounded, including two Americans. Officials have released few details, but government spokesman Mohammed Momani said Tuesday that the attacker, a Jordanian police captain, opened fire in a dining hall. The assailant was killed by security forces, Momani has said.

Images circulating on social media showed three large pools of blood on the floor of a room with at least two tables, one of them bearing plates of food. It was not clear if there was a political motive to the shooting spree.

Concern has swirled in pro-Western Jordan over possible revenge attacks by Islamic militants since the country assumed a high-level role in the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State extremist group, which controls large areas of neighboring Syria and Iraq.

The government has not released the name of the attacker. A former parliament member, Suleiman Saed, has said security forces told him a relative, 29-year-old police Cpt. Anwar Abu Zaid, was the assailant. Abu Zaid's family has said he was not an extremist.

The two Jordanian translators were to be buried later Tuesday and Wednesday. Translator Awni al-Akrabawi, 44, worked at the training center for the past three years and had close ties with his American colleagues, said a relative, Khairallah al-Akrabawi.

Al-Akrabawi, a father of four, had lived in the United States for more than a decade and spoke fluent English, said his relative, a former parliament member. His funeral was to take place Wednesday to enable U.S. relatives to reach Jordan, Khairallah al-Akrabawi said.

The U.S. State Department has said the two Americans killed in the attack worked for DynCorp International, a major military contractor, in a program funded by the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. The two wounded Americans are also civilians, the State Department said.

The two dead American instructors were both from Florida, according to a statement released by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. He identified the men as Lloyd Carl Fields Jr., of Cape Coral, and James Damon Creach, of Tampa.

Scott said he was "heartbroken" to hear of their deaths "while providing police training to increase safety in the region. "Both men served as law enforcement officers and will be remembered for their service to protect others," he said.

Thousands of police officers from the region, including the Palestinian territories, have undergone training at the Jordanian-run center on the outskirts of the Jordanian capital of Amman.

Tunisian opposition wants to criminalize normalization of relations with Israel

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Popular Front bloc in the Tunisian Parliament submitted a legislative initiative on Wednesday for a draft law to criminalize the normalization of relations with Israel.

According to Ahmad Al-Seddik MP, the bill fits into the policy and position of the Popular Front to “immunize” Tunisia against any attempt at foreign interference. “Particularly by the Zionists,” he told reporters, “as their influence is growing.” Although he expects some other political parties to try to kill the bill, he stressed that it is an initiative to “confirm Tunisia's support to the Palestinian people.”

Two marches have been organized by the Popular Front since the start of the Jerusalem Uprising last month to protest against the Israeli aggression and the settlers’ incursions at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Popular Front is a coalition of political blocs which includes eleven Tunisian parties. Founded in 2012, it won 15 seats, out of 217, in the latest election.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/22258-tunisian-opposition-wants-to-criminalise-normal-relations-with-israel.

Spain court suspends Catalan parliament push for secession

November 11, 2015

MADRID (AP) — Spain's Constitutional Court on Wednesday halted a push by separatist regional Catalan lawmakers to set a road map toward independence by 2017, acting just hours after Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy mounted a legal challenge to the secession bid and accused separatists of plotting to destroy centuries of Spanish unity.

The court's unanimous acceptance to review the Spanish government's legal case suspended a resolution passed Monday by the Catalonia parliament in Barcelona authorizing it to begin work on a Catalan constitution and to establish tax-collecting and security systems.

In a statement, the court warned Catalan politicians that they could face criminal charges if they defy its ruling. Just after his administration's legal officials filed the case, Rajoy blasted the Catalan independence resolution as an attack on Spain's sovereignty and democracy.

"We're talking about the defense of an entire country," he told reporters in an address and news conference carried live on Spanish television. "They are trying to liquidate the unity of a nation with more than five centuries of history."

The Catalonia parliament resolution also exempted the regional administration from being forced to heed Spanish institutions, including the Constitutional Court, setting up a legal collision course between separatists and Spain's government if the separatists attempt to take more steps toward independence.

Public officials who refuse to comply with the court order would likely face charges of disobedience, punishable by removal from office for up to two years and heavy fines, said Elena Inigo, a professor of criminal law at the University of Navarra's law school.

Monday's resolution in Catalonia was passed by the pro-independence "Together for Yes" alliance and the far-left CUP group, which between them won 72 seats in the 135-deputy regional parliament in September elections.

The two are in talks to form a new government that would move the independence process forward but disagree on who should be the leader of the Catalan parliament. Polls show that most Catalans support a referendum on independence, but are divided over breaking from Spain.

The northeastern region of 7.5 million people represents nearly a fifth of Spain's economic output.

Portugal eyes experiment with anti-austerity policies

November 11, 2015

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal is facing days of political and economic uncertainty as the eurozone nation waits to hear whether the anti-austerity lawmakers who forced the government's resignation will take power — and how they intend to manage the country's fragile public finances.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva began formal procedures for a change of power by meeting Wednesday with the speaker of Parliament and outgoing Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho. He was also meeting in the coming days with labor groups, business leaders and all political parties.

Parliament speaker Eduardo Rodrigues said the political upheaval was "not a positive situation" for the country. The head of state is widely expected to invite Socialist Party leader Antonio Costa to be prime minister. Costa forged a pact with the Communist Party and radical Left Bloc to bring down the center-right government after 11 days, making it the shortest Portuguese administration on record.

Cavaco Silva could also opt to install a caretaker government until a new election can be held. "At this point we are all waiting. Portugal is on hold," said unemployed Magda Rodrigues outside a Lisbon welfare center. She wants to set up her own business and is hopeful the new government will offer her more tax breaks.

The outgoing government got most votes in an October general election when it promised more years of frugality following the debt-heavy country's 78 billion-euro ($84 billion) bailout in 2011. But the second-placed Socialist Party formed an unprecedented leftist alliance to create an outright parliamentary majority that voted against the government's four-year policy proposals Tuesday, automatically bringing its resignation.

That alliance wants to ease austerity and focus on growth by putting more money in people's pockets. To do that, it has promised to reverse the tax increases and pay and pension cuts introduced after the bailout.

It also aims to reverse some privatizations, such as those in the transport and energy sectors, but it is not clear whether those steps would bring costly legal challenges. The Socialists say they will abide by eurozone rules on fiscal discipline but they have yet to explain how they will increase spending without damaging public finances. Portugal's economy and government finances are still weak. Government debt is at 128 percent of gross domestic product — the third-highest in the European Union — and the three main ratings agencies still classify Portuguese debt as junk.

"The main challenge for government is how, in the current context of budget orthodoxy, to move quickly in restoring Portuguese buying power," said Antonio Costa Pinto of Lisbon University's Institute of Social Sciences.

Leftist alliance moves closer to power in Portugal

November 06, 2015

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal's Communist Party announced Friday it has reached an agreement to back its Socialist Party ally, paving the way for a possible ouster of the country's new center-right government.

The deal came after an earlier agreement between the moderate, mainstream Socialists and the radical Left Bloc. Together the three parties have 122 seats in the 230-seat Parliament, outnumbering the government, and have vowed to reject the government's four-year policy program in a vote next week.

Such a defeat would force the government, which took office on Oct. 30, to resign, possibly opening the door for the unprecedented leftist alliance to take over. However, changes in government are overseen by Portugal's president, who could also name a caretaker government until new elections are held.

The Communist Party said that after days of talks it had sent the Socialists the text of a "joint position" aimed at pushing out the government. The Socialist Party made no immediate comment. The development came after several weeks of political tension following the Oct. 4 election.

At the heart of the political friction are the austerity policies introduced after debt-heavy Portugal's 78 billion euro ($85 billion) bailout in 2011 amid a financial crisis that gripped countries sharing the euro currency. The government says public spending must remain frugal to lower debt. Its left-of-center opponents want to ease austerity and reverse pay and pension cuts.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Friday he is ready to negotiate policies with the Socialists but added that "any more government spending needs to be counterbalanced," either by savings elsewhere or through taxes.

One hundred Portuguese business leaders have signed an open letter expressing concern about the political uncertainty and warning it could hurt the economy if it continues.

Split in Catalonia over next president amid secession push

November 10, 2015

MADRID (AP) — The regional parliament of Catalonia failed Tuesday in its first attempt to elect a regional president, a day after the chamber approved a plan to set up a road map for independence from Spain by 2017.

Artur Mas, the head of the pro-secession group and acting regional president, was seeking majority support in the 135-seat chamber. But radical pro-independence allies voted against him because of his support for austerity measures and his party's links to corruption scandals.

Mas' attempt to regain the leadership post he has held for years was shot down 73-62. Mas and the "Together for Yes" alliance won 62 seats in September elections, but need the far-left CUP party and its 10 seats to form a majority.

The two pushed through Monday's independence resolution. But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has pledged to halt the independence drive, and met Tuesday to plot strategy with the leader of Spain's main opposition Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez.

The Constitutional Court is expected this week to suspend the secession plan while its legality is studied, but Monday's resolution specifically orders the regional Catalan government not to heed the decisions of Spain's highest court. However, under a new law, the court is empowered to suspend public officials who ignore its rulings.

The secession resolution gives the regional government formed by the newly-elected president 30 days to start working on a new Catalan constitution — which would later be voted on in a referendum by the summer of 2017 — and begin establishing a new tax office and social security administration.

Tuesday was the first round of voting for lawmakers to try to select a parliamentary leader. A second round is scheduled for Thursday. The regional parliament has until Jan. 9 to form a government or a new election must be called.

Polls show that most of the 7.5 million Catalans support a referendum on independence but are divided over whether to break centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain.

Associated Press Writer Alan Clendenning in Madrid contributed to this report.

Catalan lawmakers approve plan for secession from Spain

November 09, 2015

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The regional parliament of Catalonia launched a plan Monday to set up a road map for independence from Spain by 2017, defying warnings from the central government in Madrid that it is violating the nation's constitution.

Popular Party of Catalonia, right, show Spanish flags and Catalonia flags at the end of a parliamentary session at the Parliament in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. The regional parliament of northeastern Catalonia is due to vote on a proposal by secessionist parties that hold a majority in the chamber to set up a road map for independence from Spain by 2017. The initiative defies Spain's central government, which considers it unconstitutional.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy pledged to halt the effort. The chamber, based in the northeastern city of Barcelona, passed the secession resolution in a 72-63 vote. The proposal was made by pro-secession lawmakers from the "Together for Yes" alliance and the extreme left-wing Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP). The groups together obtained a parliamentary majority in regional elections in September that they presented as a stand-in plebiscite on independence after the central government in Madrid refused to allow an official referendum.

Spain's government reacted swiftly Monday. In a nationally televised address, Rajoy said his government will appeal the decision at the Constitutional Court, which has in the past blocked moves toward independence.

"Catalonia is not going anywhere. Nothing is going to break," Rajoy said. He added he would meet with the leader of the main opposition Socialist Party, Pedro Sanchez, to forge a common front against the separatists.

The resolution passed by the Catalan parliament in its first postelection session declared "the start of a process toward the creation of an independent Catalan state in the form of a republic" and a "process of democratic disconnection not subject to the decisions by the institutions of the Spanish state."

While separatist lawmakers celebrated the result in the chamber, opponents held up Spanish and Catalan flags. "There is a growing cry for Catalonia to not merely be a country, but to be a state, with everything that means," said Raul Romeva, head of the "Together for Yes" alliance.

Catalan branches of Spain's ruling conservative Popular Party and the Socialist and the Citizens opposition parties had filed appeals to halt the vote, but Spain's Constitutional Court ruled last Thursday that it could proceed.

"You want to divide a country by raising a frontier within the European Union," Citizens regional leader Ines Arrimadas told separatist lawmakers. The Constitutional Court is expected to quickly rule that the law is illegal, but the resolution specifically orders the regional government not to heed the decision of Spain's highest court. It gives the incoming government 30 days to start working on a new Catalan constitution, which would later be voted on in a referendum by the summer of 2017, and begin establishing a new tax office and social security administration.

Pro-secessionist parties won their majority in September on the strength of just 48 percent of the vote. Anti-independence lawmakers say that denies separatists a legitimate democratic mandate to break away from Spain.

As well as warnings from the EU that an independent Catalonia would have to ask to be admitted to the bloc, separatist forces also face an internal dispute that could slow or even derail the independence push.

Later Monday, the parliament began what is expected to be a long, heated debate over whether Artur Mas should continue for a third term as regional president. While his "Together for Yes" alliance backs him with 62 votes, it is short of the required majority of 68. The anti-independence parties are against him, and the CUP has said it won't support Mas because of his conservative austerity policies and the corruption investigations involving his Convergence Party.

The parliament has until Jan. 9 to form a government or a new election must be called. By then, Spain will have held a national election — on Dec. 20 — and the issue of how to handle the situation in Catalonia will play a crucial role in whether the Popular Party can hold onto power.

Polls consistently show that while the majority of the 7.5 million Catalans support holding an official referendum on independence like Scotland, they are evenly divided over whether to break centuries-old ties with the rest of Spain.

Separatists have held massive pro-independence rallies since the Constitutional Court struck down key parts of a law that would have given more power to the wealthy and industrialized region in 2010. The ranks of lifelong secessionists, who feel that the Catalan language — spoken along with Spanish in the region — and local traditions can only flourish in an independent state, have been joined by those suffering through Spain's economic problems and who believe that Catalans pay more than their fair share in taxes.

"The Spanish state has consistently frustrated our aspirations. That's why we are where we are," Mas said. "Catalonia is a country on the move. No lawsuit, threat or fear can stop the desire of millions of people."

Analysts say that with the regional and central governments on a collision course, they will eventually be forced to negotiate a way out of the impasse. "The social and political pressure from Catalonia will provoke a political response in Madrid," said Jordi Matas, professor of political science at the University of Barcelona.

Chinese president visits Vietnam to discuss stronger ties

November 05, 2015

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping's meetings in Vietnam beginning Thursday follow the communist countries' efforts to repair ties strained over disputes in the South China Sea.

Bilateral relations plunged last year following China's parking of a giant oil rig near the disputed Paracel islands, which sparked deadly anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam. The two countries have since tried to repair ties with high-level contacts including Vietnamese Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong visiting China in April.

Xi was given a red-carpet welcome and 21-gun salute upon arrival before the two leaders headed for talks behind closed doors. "I hope my visit could help cement our traditional friendship, outline future development of our relations, and lift China-Vietnam comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership to a new level," Xi said in a statement carried by China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Vietnamese state media quoted Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh as saying that leaders will discuss strengthening of relations as well as the South China Sea and other disputes. Xinhua reported cooperation agreements covering party-to-party relations, trade, investment and infrastructure are expected to be signed.

But analysts say Xi's two-day visit is unlikely to mark much progress in addressing territorial tensions. "I personally think it's difficult to resolve the issue of territorial disputes when Vietnam and China still maintain their positions," said Duong Danh Dy, former Vietnamese consul general in Guangzhou, in southern China.

Xinhua said in a commentary editorial that settling their territorial disputes depend on "the two neighbors' will and ability to properly manage their differences," and that they should not allow the outside world to interfere.

Witnesses said about 30 people protested briefly in front of the Chinese Embassy in Hanoi on Thursday morning before authorities took them away in buses. Jonathan London, a professor at Hong Kong's City University, said it's in Vietnam's interests to have good relations with its big neighbor to the North and that Vietnam could take the opportunity of the visit to send a message to the Chinese president.

China says almost all the South China Sea is its territory, overlapping with claims of its neighbors. Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel islands, which are under Chinese occupation after it ousted the U.S.-backed Saigon government in 1974, one year before the end of the Vietnam War.

The two countries along with the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei claim all or parts of the Spratlys islands, which lies on one of the world's busiest sea lanes and are believed to be rich in oil and gas and fish resources.

China's massive land reclamation over the past 18 months in the South China Sea has rattled countries in the region and caused concerns in the United States, which supports the freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.

Despite the territorial disputes, China is Vietnam's largest trading partner with the two-way trade volume reaching $58 billion last year. Xi is scheduled to give a speech to the Vietnamese lawmaking National Assembly on Friday, a rare address by a foreign head of state at the Communist dominated body.

The Chinese President is scheduled to travel on to Singapore on Friday where he is expected to meet with Taiwan's leader, the first such meeting since Taiwan split from mainland China since 1949.

Separatists accuse Ukrainian govt of using heavy weapons

November 06, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine on Friday accused government forces of shelling residential areas under their control with heavy artillery, while Ukrainian forces said the rebels were violating the cease-fire.

The rebel mouthpiece Donetsk News Agency said Ukrainian forces used Grad multiple rocket launchers Thursday night and Friday morning north of Donetsk. Under the Sept. 1 cease-fire, which has largely held, heavy weaponry was supposed to have been withdrawn weeks ago.

The uptick in fighting came as the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany met in Berlin to discuss progress in implementing the peace deal reached in Minsk in February for the conflict, which has claimed more than 8,000 lives since April 2014.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the ministers agreed to press forward with the effort to ensure that heavy weapons are withdrawn. "It ought to be possible to conclude the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the end of November or the beginning of December," he said.

The ministers in Berlin also agreed there should be a deal by the end of this month on arrangements for demining, so experts can start removing mines before winter sets in, Steinmeier said. He added that they expressed their dissatisfaction with a continuing lack of access for humanitarian organizations to rebel-held eastern Ukraine.

"No one is denying the difficulties and obstacles that we still face on the way to a political solution, but my impression here was that the participants are working to actually overcome these obstacles," he said.

Clashes in Greek cities after march to mark student uprising

November 17, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Several hundred youths have hurled rocks, bottles and petrol bombs at riot police in central Athens following an annual march to mark the anniversary of a bloody student uprising.

The clashes, which went on for at least two hours late Tuesday, broke out following a rally that ended peacefully after being attended by 16,000 people and policed by 5,000 officers. Violence also broke out in Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. There were no immediate reports of any injuries or arrests.

The annual march that ends at the U.S. Embassy in Athens is held to commemorate the student uprising that was crushed by Greece's military regime in 1973. Many Greeks blame Washington for backing the dictatorship that ruled Greece from 1967-74.

Strong quake hits Greek island of Lefkada, 2 dead

November 17, 2015

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of at least 6.1 hit the western Greek island of Lefkada on Tuesday, killing two people, sparking landslides and causing extensive damage to roads and buildings on Lefkada and nearby islands.

The temblor was felt across western Greece prompting residents on Lefkada and the nearby Ionian Sea island of Kefalonia to rush out onto the streets. The Athens Geodynamic Institute said the undersea quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 and occurred at 9:10 a.m. (0710 GMT) off Greece's western mainland, 300 kilometers (186 miles) west of Athens. The U.S. Geological Survey put the preliminary magnitude at 6.5. Different agencies often have varying preliminary magnitudes in the hours and sometimes even days after a quake.

Greek authorities were struggling to assess the damage, their efforts hampered by landslides that blocked Lefkada's narrow, mountainous roads. The fire department said an 82-year-old woman was killed in the village of Athani when a wall collapsed on her and a 69-year-old woman died in another village when a boulder loosened by the earthquake tumbled down onto her house. Four people were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

State ERT TV said part of the harbor of Vassiliki in the worst-hit southwestern part of the island was submerged in the sea. Schools were closed on both Lefkada and Kefalonia. Authorities said several houses were badly damaged on Kefalonia and another nearby island, Ithaca.

Aftershocks were also hitting the area — including one with a 5.2 magnitude more than an hour after the main quake. Ionian Islands regional governor Theodoros Galiatsatos called on residents to avoid any structures that appeared damaged until authorities could assess their safety.

Earthquakes are common in Greece, which is one of the world's most seismically active areas, though serious injuries and deaths are rare. A severe quake near Athens in 1999 killed 143 people and caused extensive damage through the Greek capital.

The Ionian region is particularly seismically active, and new buildings on the area's islands are constructed to strict anti-seismic standards. Kefalonia was struck by a series of strong earthquakes, two of them with magnitudes of around 6, in January 2014, causing damage and minor injuries but no fatalities.

Those temblors awakened memories of catastrophic 1953 quakes that flattened nearly all the island's structures, killing hundreds of people.

Argentine presidential campaigns spar over pope's comments

November 20, 2015

HUACALERA, Argentina (AP) — Argentina's presidential campaigns sparred Thursday over just whom the country's most famous son is supporting.

Marcos Pena, campaign chairman for opposition candidate Mauricio Macri, criticized governing party candidate Daniel Scioli for comments implying that Argentine native Pope Francis was a supporter. The pope "clearly doesn't intervene in local politics," said Pena, who added that Scioli was being "disrespectful."

Speaking from Rome on Wednesday, Francis called on his compatriots to "vote their conscious." Scioli, who has often referred to the pope on the campaign trail, a few hours later provided an interpretation. He said the pope shared a "profound message" indicating that "people should seek out who they think will best defend them."

Francis has not returned to his homeland since being named pope in 2013. The Vatican has said that is because the pope doesn't want to influence the election. Earlier this year, Francis said he sometimes "felt used" by local politicians who wanted to take their picture with him in Rome.

Thursday was the final legal day of campaigning ahead of Sunday's runoff election. Macri planned to close his campaign in Humahuaca, about 995 miles (1,600 kilometers) north of Buenos Aires. Scioli scheduled his final rally in La Matanza, a part of Buenos Aires province that is a bastion of support for the ruling party.

Associated Press writer Paul Byrne reported this story in Huacalera and AP writer Alumudena Calatrava reported from Buenos Aires, Argentina.