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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Anti-Trump protests complicate start of his presidency

February 07, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — Scrappy as ever, Donald Trump on Monday dismissed polls showing low approval ratings as "fake news." But whatever his opinion, active opposition to his go-it-alone presidency appears to be widening.

From corporate boardrooms to the halls of Congress, Trump is facing an unprecedented effort to disrupt even the most basic of his presidential functions. It's an evolving, largely grass-roots effort that aims to follow Trump and his potential supporters everywhere they go — and there are early signs that it's having an impact.

The Trump name alone is enough to spark outrage. There are plans for a mass "mooning" of Trump Tower in Chicago. Boycotts are underway of companies that sell Ivanka Trump's clothing line or advertise on NBC's "Celebrity Apprentice," where Trump has remained an executive producer.

Congressional offices are being flooded with emails, social media messages and calls jamming phone lines. Hundreds of protesters are flocking to town halls and local congressional offices, some in strongly Republican districts, to voice their opposition to Trump's Cabinet picks, health care plans and refugee restrictions.

The goal, say organizers of some of the efforts, is nothing short of complete resistance. It's a strategy Democrats say they learned from the success of the tea party movement, which stymied President Barack Obama's agenda through protests, door-to-door political action campaigns and online activism.

"The lesson from the last eight years is, sadly, that implacable resistance works," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. "Because it's all about your base, and I will simply point out that our base is bigger than theirs, and it's riled up."

Trump and some Republicans shrug it off as sore losers unwilling to accept the results of the election. The president's core supporters, in states like Iowa and Wisconsin, applaud him as a man of action, delivering on his campaign promises to move quickly and shake up Washington.

Although recent polls show his approval ratings in the 40s, a historic low for a new president, Trump rejects the surveys as false. "Any negative polls are fake news, just like the CNN, ABC, NBC polls in the election. Sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting," he tweeted on Monday. "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it."

Later Monday, Trump renewed his Twitter attacks on The New York Times, slamming the paper "for the poor reporting it did on my election win. Now they are worse!" Trump's base is likely to reward him for his actions, say former White House aides, who note that all presidents face opposition and public demonstrations.

"It's only a problem if it lets it stop him from doing what he seeks to do," said former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who recalled a travel stop in Portland, Oregon, when protesters threw rocks at the president's motorcade. "When it comes to policy full speed ahead, the people screaming at you can't be convinced to be for you in any case."

But recent presidents never faced the kind of multi-front opposition that Trump is now experiencing so early in their terms. Last week, he canceled a trip to the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee, where local groups planned to protest his event. The White House said the protests weren't the cause. And on Saturday, more than 1,000 protesters beat drums, sang and chanted outside the gates of Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, where the president was attending a Red Cross benefit.

The displays of public outrage have been aimed not only at Trump but at lawmakers, world leaders and corporate executives who might be tempted to work with him to pass key parts of his agenda, like replacing the health care law or rewriting trade agreements.

The White House claims to be unimpressed by the protests. In fact, a lot of the demonstrators are simply paid to show up and shout, says Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer. But that's just a fantasy, foes say.

"The level of mobilization against Trump is almost like nothing I've ever seen before," said Joe Dinkin, spokesman for the Working Families Party, which coordinates weekly anti-Trump events across the country. "Collaboration with Trump is a path that will bring well-deserved ire."

Already, there are some signs that the early efforts may be having an impact on his ability to promote his agenda across the globe. On Monday, the speaker of Britain's House of Commons said he strongly opposes Trump addressing Parliament, making it unlikely he'll be given the honor during a state visit later this year.

Technology executive Elon Musk spent hours on Twitter over the weekend defending his decision to serve on Trump's business council. So far, one CEO— Uber's Travis Kalanick — has quit the group after facing a weeklong rider boycott.

The ACLU saw donations pour in after it sued the government over the refugee ban. And Republican lawmakers are bracing themselves for an onslaught of rowdy town hall meetings, after congressmen in California and Florida faced raucous crowds last weekend.

"The situation was rapidly escalating into a riot," said California Rep. Tom McClintock, who had to be extracted by police from an event in downtown Roseville, the population center of his sprawling congressional district. "One thing came through loud and clear: They were not angry at President Trump for breaking any of his promises - they were angry at him for keeping them."

World jittery about Trump's 'America first' inaugural speech

January 21, 2017

President Donald Trump's inaugural speech promised "America first" policy, but offered no specifics about America's place in the world. The billionaire businessman and reality television star — the first president who had never held political office or high military rank — promised to stir a "new national pride" and protect America from the "ravages" of countries he says have stolen U.S. jobs.

"This American carnage stops right here," Trump declared. In a warning to the world, he said, "From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this moment on, it's going to be America first."

A look at some reactions from around the world:


Like many in the Afghan capital of Kabul, restaurant owner Mohammad Nahim watched the presidential inauguration ceremonies but was disappointed to not hear any mention of Afghanistan.

"Trump did not mention a word about Afghanistan in his speech and the salaries of the Afghan army and police are paid by the U.S.," he said. He added that if the U.S. stops helping Afghanistan, "our country will again become a sanctuary to terrorists. I hope Trump will not forget Afghanistan."

Mohammed Kasim Zazi, a shopkeeper whose home is in eastern Afghanistan's Khost province, where the feared Haqqani network is prominent, said he expected Trump to stay focused on Afghanistan.

"Trump said he will finish the terrorists in the world and that has to mean that Afghanistan will remain in the sights of the U.S." said Zazi.


Perhaps no country was watching the speech more closely than Mexico. Trump has made disparaging remarks about immigrants who come to the United States illegally and sought to pressure companies not to set up shop in Mexico by threatening a border tariff on goods manufactured there and exported to the United States.

So Trump's talk of "protect(ing) our borders," ''America first" and "buy American and hire American" had particular resonance in America's southern neighbor.

Ricardo Anaya Cortes, president of the conservative opposition National Action Party, called for "the unity of all Mexicans, unity in the face of this protectionist, demagogic and protectionist speech we just heard. Unity against that useless wall, against deportations, against the blockade of investment."

"The challenge is enormous. ... We demand the federal government leave aside tepidity, that it tackle with absolute firmness and dignity the new relationship with the United States," Anaya said.

The United States is by far Mexico's largest commercial partner, buying some 80 percent of its $532 billion in exports in 2015. Mexico is the second-largest market for U.S. exports.

"At least the word 'Mexico' was not heard in the speech. Nevertheless one can expect the United States to launch a hyper-protectionist project," said Ilan Semo Groman, a researcher at Iberoamericana University.

If Trump truly moves to block or drive away U.S. investment in Mexico, Semo said Mexico should focus its commercial efforts on other countries.

"There are very clear possibilities," Semo said.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto sent three tweets after Trump's inaugural speech Friday:

— "I congratulate @realDonaldTrump on his inauguration. We will work to strengthen our relationship with shared responsibility."

— "We will establish a respectful dialogue with the government of President @realDonaldTrump, to Mexico's benefit."

— "Sovereignty, national interest and the protection of Mexicans will guide the relationship with the new government of the United States."


A group of retired government officials gathered after morning prayers for a walk in a sprawling park in the heart of the federal capital of Islamabad and the topic of their conversation was President Trump's inaugural speech.

They expressed concern that Trump would target the Islamic world, particularly Pakistan, because of his campaign rhetoric about Muslims as well as his inaugural speech in which he promised to eradicate Islamic terrorism worldwide. Pakistan has often been accused of harboring militant insurgents and declared terrorist groups that have targeted neighboring India, against whom Pakistan has fought three wars, as well as Afghanistan. Pakistan denies the charges.

"Likely there is more trouble in store for the Islamic world and our country will take the most brunt of the harsh treatment from President Trump administration," said Mohammad Afzal.

His sentiments were echoed by Shafiq Khan, who said "the one main thing that the new president mentioned about the world outside America is to tackle Islamic radicalism and that should be the matter of concern for all of us."

Umair Khan, an engineer, said of Trump: "Let him taste the burden of government and get settled, I am sure he will calm."


Some Tokyo residents are worried that Trump's "America first" policy will usher in an era of populism and protectionism at the expense of the rest of the world.

Tadashi Gomibuchi, who works in the manufacturing industry, recorded Trump's inauguration speech overnight as he was keen to hear what the new president had to say.

"Trump is trying to make big changes to the way things are. Changes are good sometimes, but when America, the most powerful, loses stability ... it's a grave concern," he said. "If you take his words literally, it may destabilize the world going forward and I'm really worried. I hope things will lead to a soft landing."

Retiree Kuninobu Inoue, who lived in the U.S. during the 1990s, is concerned about trade frictions between Japan and the U.S, citing Trump's decision to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership.

"Japan-U.S. relations are not just about security. Our good relations rely so much on trade," he said.

Protectionist policies such as the withdrawal from TPP and renegotiation of NAFTA will have a negative impact on the global economy including Japan's, said Akio Mimura, head of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

"These policies only enhance protectionist and populist movement spreading around the world, and could largely shake the free trade system that has supported global growth," he said.

In his congratulatory message to Trump, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stressed the importance of the Asia-Pacific region as a source for growth but also tensions.

"In the 21st century, while the Asia-Pacific region is the source of the global economic growth, the security environment of the region is becoming more severe," he said.


A Chinese state-run nationalist tabloid, the Global Times, says President Trump's inauguration speech indicates that the U.S. and China would inevitably face trade tensions.

The newspaper said in a Saturday commentary following Trump's inauguration that "dramatic changes" lay ahead for the U.S. and the global economic order.

"Undoubtedly, the Trump administration will be igniting many 'fires' on its front door and around the world. Let's wait and see when it will be China's turn," it said.

The paper noted that Trump blamed foreign trade policies for failing to put "America first," and said trade tensions between the U.S. and China seemed "inevitable within the four years ahead."

The paper says it expects that the Trump administration, in seeking to bring factories back to the U.S. from China, will use the U.S. government's relations with Taiwan as "merely a bargaining chip for them to put trade pressure on China."

In Beijing, Independent scholar and commentator Zhang Lifan drew a contrast between Trump's focus on domestic issues and Chinese President Xi Jinping's emphasis on international cooperation.

"The new U.S. administration's policy toward China is not clear now. In my view, Trump will deal with China like a businessman, especially on trade negotiations," Zhang said.


Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted her congratulations to Trump, saying: "Congratulations @realDonaldTrump. Democracy is what ties Taiwan and the US together. Look forward to advancing our friendship & partnership."

Trump didn't mention the self-ruled island in his speech, but he angered China and broke diplomatic protocol by talking by phone with Tsai shortly after winning November's election.

He has said earlier that Washington's "one China policy" under which it recognized Beijing in 1979 was open to negotiation, and questioned why the U.S. should be bound by such an approach without China offering incentives.


Some in South Korea worried that President Trump would ask Seoul to shoulder a bigger share of the cost of U.S. forces stationed in South Korea as a deterrent against aggression from North Korea, or that their country will be caught in a conflict between the U.S. and China.

"I think the biggest challenge is the national defense," said Park Geon-rok, a 30-year-old designer, adding that South Korea was "heavily influenced by the U.S."

In an editorial, the English-language JoongAng Daily said South Korea's relations with the U.S. under Trump will face a challenge as the new leader will likely ask Seoul to pay more for the cost of the U.S. military forces in the country, and renegotiate a bilateral free trade agreement. But the paper also notes it is "fortunate" that Trump has a strong position on North Korea's nuclear weapons.

There were concerns about potential conflicts between the U.S. and China, South Korea's key business partner. Kim Kyung-jin, a spokesman for the opposition People's Party, said that the international economic order might collapse as the U.S. seeks its own economic interest. Kim urged Trump to ease such worries.

"There is a possibility of us becoming an innocent bystander who gets hurt in a fight," said Nam Hae-sook, a 62-year-old homemaker. "Also, I think President Trump will be different from President-elect Trump. I think things will work out."

In place of impeached President Park Geun-hye, Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said in his congratulatory message to Trump that South Korea wishes to bolster the already close ties with the U.S. and cooperate on stopping North Korea's nuclear development.


Among dozens of young, urban Indians who watched Trump's inauguration and speech at a club in a New Delhi, the 27-year-old Jigar Gorasia said getting work visas for professionals and green cards will become a problem.

"It is going to be a little bit challenging for those," said Gorasia, who studied and worked in Chicago before moving back to India last year.

Divya Narayanan, a 21-year-old student of journalism, said that Trump as president worried her. "Someone at the level of the U.S. president coming out and saying things which are bigoted, which are sexist, it sets a precedent for other people in the country, right?"

Indian newspapers highlighted Trump's protectionist policies in his speech. "America First President," read the banner headline of The Indian Express newspaper.

"Protectionist Trumpet: Buy American, Hire American," was the headline of The Times of India newspaper.


A Vietnamese analyst said Trump's speech was disappointing because it mainly served the domestic audience.

"I think this speech would be right for an election campaign, but not an inauguration speech," said Nguyen Ngoc Truong, president of Hanoi-based private policy think-tank Center for Strategic Studies and International Development.

"It should not be that simple because in an inauguration speech, you must introduce an objective and multi-faceted vision, not just one-sided vision to the American public," he said. "I don't think Trump could have a magic stick to be able to manage America to realize the goals that he outlined."


An Australian father of two, Marek Rucinski, found Trump's speech "very divisive" and lacking substance.

"Normally these speeches are used to rally and unite people," he said. "It was, again, more bluster."

Rucinski was among some 8,000-10,000 people who attended a Women's March anti-Trump rally in Sydney's Hyde Park.

Self-described feminist, Niall Anderson, watched the president's inauguration in disbelief.

"Just disbelief that this can happen in 2017," the 35-year-old said.

The Australian newspaper's Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan wrote that "Trump answered one big question with his inauguration address: There is to be no transition from campaign Trump to presidential Trump."

"Donald Trump is always Donald Trump. This consistency is perhaps his chief virtue," Sheridan wrote.

"And his inauguration address made it clear that he intends to govern just as he campaigned, taking swings at his opponents, extolling his populist mantras, speaking in the slightly weird argot of contemporary down market celebrity," he added.

Associated Press journalists Amir Shah and Kathy Gannon in Kabul, Afghanistan, Peter Orsi in Mexico City, Mari Yamaguchi and Emily Wang in Tokyo, Gillian Wong and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, Youkyung Lee and Yong Jun Chang in Seoul, South Korea, Muneeza Naqvi in New Delhi, Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, contributed to this report.

Jovenel Moise sworn in as Haiti's new president

February 07, 2017

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Jovenel Moise was sworn in Tuesday as Haiti's president for the next five years after a bruising two-year election cycle, inheriting a chronically struggling economy and a deeply divided society.

The 48-year-old entrepreneur took the oath of office in a Parliament chamber packed with Haitian lawmakers and foreign dignitaries from countries including the U.S., Venezuela and France. He smiled slightly as the Senate leader slipped Haiti's red and blue presidential sash over his left shoulder.

In his inaugural address during the day of prayer and platitudes, Moise gave a rough outline of his government's priorities and pledged to bring "real improvements" to the economically strapped nation, particularly the long-neglected countryside.

He urged unity and promised to strengthen institutions, fight corruption and bring more investments and jobs to one of the least developed nations in the world. "We can change Haiti if we work together," Moise said to applause on the grounds of what used to be the national palace, which was one of many buildings obliterated during a devastating earthquake that hit outside the capital in January 2010.

There's little expectation among citizens that Moise's new government can overcome Haiti's deep problems of poverty and economic malaise in the next five years, but he does have a majority in Parliament and some are hopeful the businessman-turned-politician will make steady advances.

"What we still really need in this country are the basics: working hospitals, better schools and security. I think it can be done," said Maxime Cantave, owner of a car wash and propane business in the Port-au-Prince district of Delmas 48.

Nearby, Charles Bichotte agreed but said he'd wait and see if Moise was sincere with his various vows. "We've heard so many pledges from our presidents but here we are, still struggling," said the houseplant vendor.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian-born politics professor at the University of Virginia, described the many challenges facing Moise as "herculean." "He has to revive domestic production, increase foreign and local investments, rebuild the moribund agricultural sector, create a sense of national solidarity, and generate a sorely lacking political stability," he said, adding that all this will have to be achieved amid diminishing international assistance.

But Fatton suggested that Moise might actually benefit from citizens' low expectations of political leaders following many years of broken promises and failed policies. "If he manages to deliver a modicum of change he may restore a sense of hope for the future," he said.

The Tuesday inauguration was the concluding step in Haiti's return to constitutional rule a year after ex-President Michel Martelly left office without an elected successor in place amid waves of opposition protests and a political stalemate suspending elections. A caretaker government was quickly created to fill the void and pave the way for elections.

While Moise won a Nov. 20 election redo with a dominating 55 percent of the votes cast, his critics suggest he did not gain a mandate as barely 20 percent of the electorate bothered to go to the polls. The results withstood challenges by three of his closest rivals.

That election victory came more than a year after Moise topped an initial vote in 2015 that was eventually thrown out amid suspicions of fraud. Senate leader Youri Latortue, who led the swearing-in ceremony Tuesday and leads a party allied with Moise's Tet Kale faction, told the new president that lawmakers were "ready to cooperate with you for the benefit of the country."

A businessman from northern Haiti, Moise had never run for office until he was hand-picked in 2015 to be the Tet Kale party candidate by Martelly. Some critics viewed Moise's ascent with suspicion, suggesting Martelly was using him as a proxy. Moise dismissed the criticism in an interview last year with The Associated Press, saying Martelly will still be a valued adviser but he is his own man. During his Tuesday speech, he thanked Martelly for choosing him as the Tet Kale candidate.

Moise comes to office with an unresolved judicial investigation hanging over him. Late last month, a Haitian judge questioned Moise about a confidential report leaked during campaigning that suggests he might have laundered money and received special treatment to get loans in years before he ran for the country's highest political office.

Moise asserts all of his business dealings have been above board. He has blamed rivals for trying to "create instability" in the deeply divided nation with a long history of political tumult and damage his reputation before his swearing-in ceremony.

The judicial examination into Moise is ongoing and it is unclear when it will be resolved. Moise asserted Tuesday that the "justice system will never be used for political persecution" under his administration.

Gambia's new president to arrive in the country on Thursday

January 25, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's new president finally comes home on Thursday, a week after taking the oath of office outside the country during a whirlwind political crisis that sent the tiny nation's longtime leader into exile.

President Adama Barrow is set to arrive Thursday afternoon from neighboring Senegal, where he has waited out the chaos for his safety, a spokesman for the coalition backing him confirmed Wednesday. Gambians eagerly await Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of the actions taken by former leader Yahya Jammeh. Barrow defeated Jammeh in December elections that the ruling party challenged.

Jammeh finally left the country over the weekend after international pressure, ending a more than 22-year rule. He has been accused by rights groups and others of leading a government that suppressed opponents with detentions, beatings and killings.

A West African regional military force that was poised to oust Jammeh if diplomatic talks failed has been securing Gambia for Barrow's arrival. He has been waiting for the force to confirm that it was safe for him to return, spokesman Halifa Sallah said.

A new inauguration will be held on Gambian soil, said Sallah, speaking on Senegalese radio. "We will organize a ceremony soon at the stadium. It will be an occasion to show strength. Everyone will be invited. The president will address his people."

Barrow has requested that the regional force remain in Gambia for six months, but it is unclear whether heads of state with the regional bloc, known as ECOWAS, will approve a deployment for that long.

The new president has been busy this week forming his Cabinet and has named a woman, Fatoumata Tabajang, as vice president. She has vowed to seek prosecution for Jammeh, who flew with family and close aides to Equatorial Guinea.

On Tuesday, Gambia's lawmakers lifted the country's state of emergency and revoked a three-month extension of Jammeh's term, as the new government began dismantling his final attempts to cling to power.

Gambia's new president, still in Senegal, names female VP

January 24, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's new vice president will be a female leader of the opposition coalition that helped bring new President Adama Barrow to power, a presidential spokesman announced Monday, as regional troops continued security sweeps to prepare for Barrow's return to the country he now rules.

The appointment of Fatoumata Tambajang as vice president was announced at a news conference by coalition spokesman Halifa Sallah. He said the rest of Barrow's cabinet would be revealed Tuesday. A former U.N. Development Program staffer, Tambajang was instrumental in helping Gambia's opposition parties overcome their differences and unite against ousted President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a coup and ruled for 22 years.

Barrow remained in Senegal Monday, where he traveled more than a week ago when it was uncertain whether Jammeh would acknowledge defeat in the December election and step down. After days of frantic mediation, and as a regional intervention force deployed to apply pressure, Jammeh finally agreed to leave, flying out late Saturday night. Mediators said his destination was Equatorial Guinea, though that notoriously secretive country has yet to confirm Jammeh's arrival.

Barrow's return date has not been fixed, and this week's appointments are aimed at filling a void created by his absence. The armed forces have pledged loyalty to him, though regional forces from the West African body known as ECOWAS on Monday continued to push Gambian soldiers out of the official residence, State House, in advance of Barrow's arrival. They also took over a Republican Guard barracks training center in Bakau, just outside Banjul.

The presence of ECOWAS troops was cheered by many in the capital, and some emboldened Gambians even tried to cross the gates of State House — a place they didn't dare attempt to enter before. Abass Hydra said it was his first time back near State House since his father was arrested inexplicably during prayers and held for three months. "It was very difficult for us at that time, and it was traumatizing, and now finally we are free because Jammeh is gone," he said. "I hope for peace and unity. We need ECOWAS here so that they can help stabilize things."

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea's opposition denounced the government's decision to welcome Jammeh. President Teodoro Obiang will be held responsible "for what might occur" as a result of Jammeh's presence on the country's soil, according to a statement emailed Monday by Andres Esono Ondo, secretary general of the opposition Convergence for Social Democracy.

Jammeh should not qualify for political asylum because he triggered Gambia's crisis by refusing to step down, the Democratic Opposition Front said in a separate statement Sunday. "We are not against Pan-Africanism, but we are in favor of a more objective Pan-Africanism that does not consist in just bringing over the waste of Africa," the group said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said preventive diplomacy in Gambia avoided bloodshed, restored democracy and averted what it calls a "humanitarian disaster." Dujarric said the unity of ECOWAS, with U.N. backing, was critical to Jammeh's handover of power and if diplomacy had not worked, "we would have seen a far worse situation."

Associated Press writer Robbie Corey-Boulet contributed from Abidjan, Ivory Coast.

Gambia awaits new leader, but exiled one has right to return

January 22, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's capital on Sunday was awaiting the arrival of the country's new leader and an era of democracy, hours after the authoritarian ruler of 22 years flew into exile with an extraordinary set of assurances from the international community.

Even as new President Adama Barrow remained in neighboring Senegal awaiting a triumphant return after a whirlwind political crisis sparked by his December election win, former leader Yahya Jammeh appeared to be guaranteed the right to come home.

A joint declaration issued shortly after Jammeh left by the United Nations, African Union and West African regional bloc ECOWAS said the bodies will work with Barrow's government to make sure Jammeh, his family and his close associates are not the target of punishment.

But a top Barrow adviser, Mai Ahmad Fatty, said the declaration didn't have the new leader's approval. "I was very shocked to learn from Facebook that the document we had rejected was already posted at the websites of both ECOWAS and the AU," he said Sunday. "Gambia will neither respect nor honor what was contained in that joint declaration. We don't consider it legally binding on us."

Although the declaration was written to provide Jammeh with maximum protection, "it doesn't give him an amnesty, and under international law in fact you can't amnesty certain crimes like torture and massive or systematic political killings," international rights lawyer Reed Brody said in an email. "Depending where Jammeh ends up, though, the real obstacles to holding him accountable will be political."

The unpredictable Jammeh, known for startling declarations like his claim that bananas and herbal rubs could cure AIDS, flew off late Saturday with a wave as supporters and soldiers wept. He was last seen flying toward Equatorial Guinea, which is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.

Jammeh's dramatic about-face on his election loss to Barrow, at first conceding and then challenging the vote, appeared to be the final straw for the international community, which had been alarmed by his moves in recent years to declare an Islamic republic, leave the Commonwealth and leave the ICC.

With global backing, Barrow was sworn in Thursday at Gambia's embassy in Senegal for his safety, hours after Jammeh's mandate expired at midnight. Meanwhile, Jammeh was abandoned by his defense chief and many Cabinet members.

A regional military force that had been poised to oust Jammeh if last-minute diplomatic efforts failed entered Gambia shortly after his departure and was securing the country and its capital, Banjul, ahead of Barrow's arrival.

"President Barrow would like to leave (Senegal) as soon as possible. One can't leave the country open," Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the regional bloc, told reporters. But part of Gambia's security forces needed to be "immobilized," he said, and he confirmed that Jammeh had had mercenaries by his side during the standoff.

De Souza also revealed details of the negotiations before Jammeh's departure. In response to his insistence on "a sort of amnesty" for him and his entourage, the West African regional body attempted to have Gambia's national assembly vote on an amnesty law. "Sadly, we couldn't reach a quorum. The deputies had fled," de Souza said. "Most were in their villages. The others were in Dakar," Senegal's capital.

Jammeh also wanted to stay in his home village in Gambia, but regional heads of state preferred that "for the moment" he leave the country, de Souza said. With Jammeh gone, a country that had waited in silence during the standoff sprang back to life. Shops and restaurants opened, music played and people danced in the streets.

As he waited for the arrival of the regional force in Banjul, Gambia defense chief Ousmane Badjie said the military welcomed it "wholeheartedly." With proper orders, he said, he would open the doors to the notorious prisons where rights groups say many who have disappeared over the years may be kept.

"We are going to show Barrow we are really armed forces with a difference, I swear to God," Badjie said. "I have the Quran with me." Some of the 45,000 people who had fled the tiny country during the crisis began to return. The nation of 1.9 million, which promotes itself to overseas tourists as "the Smiling Coast of Africa," has been a major source of migrants heading north toward Europe because of the situation at home.

"I think it will be safer now," said 20-year-old Kaddy Saidy, who was returning to Banjul with her three young children. Barrow, who has promised to reverse many of Jammeh's actions, told The Associated Press on Saturday that at he will launch a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the alleged human rights abuses of Jammeh's regime.

"After 22 years of fear, Gambians now have a unique opportunity to become a model for human rights in West Africa, in which no one need to be afraid to stand up or speak out," Amnesty International's deputy director for West and Central Africa, Steve Cockburn, said in a statement Sunday.

Associated Press writers Krista Larson and Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

Gambia's defeated leader leaves country, ends standoff

January 22, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh and his family headed into political exile Saturday night, ending a 22-year reign of fear and a post-election political standoff that threatened to provoke a regional military intervention when he clung to power.

As he mounted the stairs to the plane, he turned to the crowd, kissed his Quran and waved one last time to supporters, including soldiers who cried at his departure. The flight came almost 24 hours after Jammeh announced on state television he was ceding power to the newly inaugurated Adama Barrow, in response to mounting international pressure for his ouster.

Though tens of thousands of Gambians had fled the country during his rule, Jammeh supporters flocked to the airport to see him walk the red carpet to his plane. Women shouted: "Don't go! Don't go!" Jammeh landed in Guinea an hour later. He and his family then took off for Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, according to an airport official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak to the press. Equatorial Guinea, unlike Guinea, is not a state party to the International Criminal Court.

"What is fundamental here is he will live in a foreign country as of now," Barrow told The Associated Press earlier Saturday. Barrow won the December elections, but Jammeh contested the results as calls grew for him to be prosecuted for alleged abuses during his time in power. A regional force had been poised to force out Jammeh if last-ditch diplomatic efforts failed to persuade him to leave.

The situation became so tense that Barrow had to be inaugurated in neighboring Senegal at the Gambian Embassy on Thursday, after Jammeh's mandate expired at midnight. Barrow told The Associated Press he would return to Gambia once it is "clear" and a security sweep is completed.

Shortly after Jammeh's departure, the United Nations, African Union and the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, issued a declaration saying that any country offering him and his family "African hospitality" should not be punished and that he should be free to return to Gambia in the future. It said Jammeh was leaving "temporarily."

The joint statement did not include promises of amnesty but said the world and regional bodies "commit to work with the government of the Gambia to prevent the seizure of assets and properties lawfully belonging to former President Jammeh or his family and those of his Cabinet members, government officials and party supporters."

Jammeh, who seized power in a coup in 1994, once vowed to rule for a billion years. He represented one of a dwindling number of West African leaders staying in office without apparent limit. The success in getting him to leave peacefully may help the vast region move toward more stable transfers of power.

His departure has brought an end to the political crisis in this impoverished nation of 1.9 million, which promotes itself to overseas tourists as "the Smiling Coast of Africa" while being a major source of migrants heading north toward Europe.

As Jammeh prepared to leave the country after hours of last-minute negotiations with the leaders of Guinea and Mauritania, human rights activists demanded that he be held accountable for alleged abuses, including torture and detention of opponents.

"Jammeh came as a pauper bearing guns. He should leave as a disrobed despot. The properties he seeks to protect belong to Gambians and Gambia, and he must not be allowed to take them with him. He must leave our country without conditionalities," said Jeggan Bahoum of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in Gambia.

An online petition urged that Jammeh not be granted asylum and should instead be arrested. Barrow, though, cautioned that was premature. "We aren't talking about prosecution here, we are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission," Barrow told the AP. "Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together."

In recent days, Jammeh had been holed up in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as he was abandoned by his security forces and several Cabinet members. The West African regional bloc had pledged to remove Jammeh by force if he did not step down. The group assembled a multinational military force that rolled into Gambia on Thursday, after Barrow's inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council supporting the regional efforts.

The joint statement late Saturday announced a halt to the military operation in Gambia. But the force already in Banjul would stay to secure the capital before Barrow's arrival, Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the regional bloc, told reporters in Senegal.

Gambia's unrest had more than 45,000 people fleeing the country, the United Nations said. But when Jammeh left, the deserted streets came back to life. Restaurants opened, music played and people danced in the streets.

"It's New Year's Eve in Gambia. We are just about to start a new democratic Gambia," said Momodou Janneh. "For the Gambia to truly move on, President Barrow must reside in State House and begin the task of governing," Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, wrote in an email. "In an ideal scenario, Jammeh will also face justice for the many crimes he has committed since 1994."

Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal. Associated Press writers Abdoulie John in Karang, Senegal; Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal; and Aboubacar Diallo and Youssouf Bah in Conakry, Guinea, also contributed.

Gambia's defeated leader agrees to cede power, leave

January 21, 2017

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Gambia's defeated leader Yahya Jammeh announced early Saturday he has decided to relinquish power, after hours of last-ditch talks with regional leaders and the threat by a regional military force to make him leave.

"I believe it is not necessary that a single drop of blood be shed," Jammeh said in a brief statement on state television. He promised that "all the issues we currently face will be resolved peacefully."

He did not give details on any deal that was struck, and it was not immediately clear when Adama Barrow, who beat Jammeh in last month's election, would return from neighboring Senegal to take power. But the speech signaled an end to the political crisis that has seen this tiny West African nation caught between two men claiming to be in charge. Late Friday, Barrow declared that "the rule of fear" in Gambia had ended.

Shortly before Jammeh's address, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz told reporters that a deal had been reached and that Jammeh would leave the country. He and Guinean President Alpha Conde had handled the talks.

A State House official close to the situation said Jammeh would leave within three days, possibly on Saturday with Conde, who was spending the night in Gambia's capital, Banjul. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak about the situation to press.

The famously mercurial Jammeh at first shocked Gambians by conceding his election loss to Barrow, but with the possibility of prosecution hanging over him for human rights abuses alleged during his 22 years in power, he decided to change his mind. Barrow was inaugurated Thursday at Gambia's embassy in Senegal because of concerns for his safety.

The defeated Gambian leader, who first seized power in a 1994 coup, has been holed up this week in his official residence in Banjul, increasingly isolated as his security forces abandoned him and he dissolved his Cabinet.

Defense forces chief Ousmane Badjie on Friday told The Associated Press that Gambia's security services now support Barrow and would not oppose the regional force that was ready to move against Jammeh if he refused to step down.

"You cannot push us to war for an issue we can solve politically," Badjie said. "We don't see any reason to fight." The force, including tanks, had rolled into Gambia without facing any resistance, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. At least 20 military vehicles were seen Friday at the border town of Karang.

The force included troops from Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Togo and Mali, and they moved in after Barrow's inauguration and a unanimous vote by the U.N. Security Council to support the regional efforts. Fearing violence, about 45,000 people have fled Gambia for Senegal, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Jammeh earlier had agreed to step down but demanded amnesty for any crimes he may have committed while in power and wanted to stay in Gambia, in his home village of Kanilai, de Souza said Friday. Those demands were not acceptable to ECOWAS, he added.

In his address early Saturday, Jammeh expressed "infinite gratitude to all Gambians" and said not a single person had been killed during the political crisis. "Our decision today was not dictated by anything else but by you, the supreme interest of our Gambian people, and our dear country."

Even before Jammeh's address, some of Gambia's diplomatic missions began switching their allegiance to Barrow, while a growing number of African nations announced they no longer recognized Jammeh. "We embrace and support the new president Adama Barrow," said Almamy Kassama, an official at the Gambian mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an email.

Banjul remained peaceful as the political crisis played out. Senegalese radio station RFM reported 30 Gambian soldiers had crossed into Senegal to join the regional forces. Soldiers at checkpoints in Banjul appeared relaxed Friday, with one telling visitors, "Welcome to the smiling coast."

Late Friday, Barrow addressed members of Gambia's diaspora and urged them to return home and rebuild their lives. "I wish to congratulate all of you and welcome you to the new Gambia," he said.

Associated Press writers Babacar Dione and Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal; Elias Meseret in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; and Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.

Gambian leader told to cede power or be forced out

January 20, 2017

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) —  Gambia's defeated President Yahya Jammeh must cede power by noon Friday or he will be dislodged by a regional force that has already moved into the country, West African officials said.

If Jammeh refuses to leave Gambia by midday the regional troops will force him out, said Marcel Alain de Souza, chairman of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS. A West African regional force including tanks moved into Gambia Thursday evening and has met no resistance, said de Souza. The regional force charged into Gambia after the inauguration of Adama Barrow as the country's new president and the U.N. Security Council voted to approve the regional military intervention.

Barrow, who won Gambia's presidential election in December, was sworn into office at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal, where he was for his safety.

Arrests as Vietnam breaks up anti-China rally

Hanoi (AFP)
Jan 19, 2017

Vietnamese police on Thursday scuffled with activists marking the 1974 Chinese invasion of a disputed island chain as they arrested several people and dispersed journalists.

About 100 people gathered in central Hanoi for the 43rd anniversary of the Chinese takeover of the Paracel islands in the South China Sea -- territory claimed by both nations that remains a diplomatic flashpoint.

In a rare act of public defiance in the communist nation, activists chanted "Down with the invaders!" and held banners against the "age-old enemy" near the capital's Hoan Kiem Lake.

Plainclothes police swiftly swooped in, snatching banners away and hauling at least a dozen people into a nearby bus.

Journalists were unceremoniously ordered to leave the scene and turn off cameras.

Though Hanoi and Beijing routinely trade barbs over contested territory in the South China Sea, Vietnam often breaks up anti-China protests to avoid stoking anger from regional powerhouse China.

The Paracels remain a bitter bone of contention between the neighbors.

China has controlled the islands since invading them shortly after US-backed Vietnamese soldiers withdrew in 1974.

The attack left 70 Vietnamese soldiers dead.

Activists called on Vietnam to take a tougher stance with China.

"I think Vietnam must be determined towards China... to get back Hoang Sa and Truong Sa Islands," said activist Pham Van Troi, 46, using Vietnamese names for the Paracels and the nearby Spratly islands, which are also disputed.

Beijing lays claim to virtually all of the South China Sea, and has built up islands capable of hosting military installations.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have also sparred with Beijing over territory in the disputed waterway.

Tensions have eased slightly in recent months but the issue remains a potential global flashpoint.

In 2014 China moved a controversial oil rig into contested territory, prompting deadly riots in Vietnam.

Last week Chinese state media reacted with fury to comments by US secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson that he would seek to deny Beijing access to the artificial islands it has built up in the contested sea.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Arrests_as_Vietnam_breaks_up_anti-China_rally_999.html.

UN chief commends African countries for accepting refugees

January 30, 2017

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — The U.N. Secretary General has commended African countries for opening their borders to refugees and people fleeing violence while other parts of the world, including the developed West, close boundaries and build walls.

Antonio Guterres made the remarks Monday in Addis Ababa where several dozen African leaders are attending the summit of the African Union. "African nations are among the world's largest and most generous hosts of refugees," said Guterres, attending the summit for the first time as head of the U.N. "African borders remain open for those in need of protection when so many borders are being closed, even in the most developed countries in the world."

Guterres didn't make a direct reference to the recent executive orders signed by U.S President Donald Trump to build a wall along the Mexican border and also ban the entry of people from seven Muslim nations, including three in Africa, but his comment drew enthusiastic applause from 2,500 attending the opening, including African leaders, officials, diplomat and dignitaries.

Speaking later at a press conference, Guterres said he hopes the U.S ban will only be temporary. "It is clear for me that refugee protection is something that is absolutely essential ... The U.S. has a large tradition of refugee protection."

Sub-Saharan Africa hosts more than 18 million refugees, about 26 percent of the world's refugees, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The refugees have fled conflicts in Somalia, Central African Republic, Nigeria, South Sudan and Burundi.

The world's largest refugee camp is Dadaab in Kenya which houses more than 300,000 refugees, mostly from neighboring Somalia. However, the Kenyan government last year announced that it intends to close Dadaab, which has been open for more than 20 years, saying that the camp is a security threat because it harbors Islamic extremists.

The African Union Commission selected Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chad's foreign minister, as its new chairman to succeed outgoing chairwoman, South African Nkosazana Dlami- Zuma. Guinea's President Alpha Conde has succeeded Chad's President Idris Deby as chairman of the African Union.

The African leaders approved Morocco's request to rejoin the body. Morocco left the pan-African bloc 32 years ago after a majority of the member states recognized the disputed territory of Western Sahara as a member. Morocco claims the territory in defiance of U.N. resolutions for a referendum on the independence.

Gambia's new leader, Adama Barrow, did not attend the summit but send his deputy.

Singapore university launches 7th satellite into space

Singapore (XNA)
Jan 19, 2017

Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has successfully launched its 7th satellite into space from the International Space Station (ISS) Monday evening, said NTU in a press release on Tuesday.

Named the AOBA VELOX-III, the satellite is the first Singapore satellite to be launched from the ISS, a 110-meter habitable human-made satellite that orbits the earth, according to the release.

NTU said the satellite was delivered to the ISS in December 2016 by Japan's national aerospace agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, on a resupply rocket from the Yoshinobu Launch Complex at Tanegashima Space Center, Japan.

Unlike the conventional way of launching a satellite directly into space from a rocket, the two-kilogram VELOX-III was shot into orbit around earth using a special launcher by a Japanese astronaut at the ISS.

The AOBA VELOX-III is a joint project between NTU and Japan's Kyushu Institute of Technology (Kyutech). The nano-satellite features a unique micro-thruster built by NTU, which enables the satellite to remain in space twice as long than it usually would.

Traditionally, small satellites do not have thrusters due to modest budgets and insufficient space to mount conventional thrusters used by bigger satellites. Without thrusters, satellites have no means to keep them in orbit and will gradually lose altitude.

Director of the NTU Satellite Research Center Lim Wee Seng said they have successfully made contact with AOBA VELOX-III, which is now orbiting 400 kilometers above the Earth.

The satellite will be conducting several tests, including the made-in-NTU micro-propulsion system, a new wireless communication system developed by Kyutech and experiments to evaluate the durability of commercial off-the-shelf microprocessors in space.

Professor Mengu Cho, Director of Kyutech's Laboratory of Spacecraft Environment Interaction Engineering, said the launch of AOBA VELOX-III is the tangible result of research collaboration between Kyutech and NTU for the past three years.

AOBA VELOX-III is an important milestone in the Japan-Singapore inter-university space exploration.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Singapore_university_launches_7th_satellite_into_space_999.html.

Lomonosov Moscow State University to Launch 'Space Department' in 2017

Moscow (Sputnik)
Jan 19, 2017

This year Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU), named Russia's best institution of higher education in 2016, will add a department of space sciences to its long list of 42 faculties to focus on mathematics, astronomy, biology, chemistry and informatics, the university's rector Viktor Sadovnichy said.

"The new department will deal with things we still know very little about - space, black holes, and people's behavior in zero gravity. It will be training specialists in space-related fields with emphasis on fundamental sciences. Our potential here is second to none," Sadovnichy said during an open-door meeting on Tuesday.

He added that with the construction of the Vostochny spaceport in the Far East Russia urgently needs specialists in various fields of space research and this is where Moscow State University can help.

The university has one of the most powerful supercomputers around which, besides catering to the needs of its more than 500 research teams, is also used by many institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and other scientific centers from across the country.

Lomonosov Moscow State University has even launched six satellites of its own making. One of them, aptly named Lomonosov, became the first to be launched into space from the Vostochny space center. "We are maybe the only university around capable of building and launching its own satellites.

The Lomonosov, which we launched from Vostochny in April 2016, is a space station bristling with dozens of instruments studying outer space and the Earth's atmosphere. Since the start of the space era our students and post-graduates have designed and built over 400 instruments that have at various times worked in space," Sadovnichi continued.

The new department will open in September as part of an agreement on joint research, educational and design work the university signed with Roscosmos space agency in 2015. The department will conduct fundamental and applied research, study the physical and psychological effects of longtime space travel on humans and develop computer software for intellectual aerospace trainers and many other things.

Lomonosov Moscow State University is consistently the highest ranked Russian university in both the BRICS ranking and the QS World University Rankings, placing 7th in BRICS and 108th in the world.

It's the largest of all Russian universities and one of the oldest, founded in 1755 and currently educating around 47,000 students, the majority of which are studying at graduate level.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/Lomonosov_Moscow_State_University_to_Launch_Space_Department_in_2017_999.html.

Putin heads to Hungary, his 1st trip to EU since US election

February 02, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — On his first trip to the European Union since the U.S. presidential election, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday is heading to Hungary, the nation whose leader has cozied up to Moscow despite Russia-West tensions.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a populist dubbed "little Putin" by his opponents, has been critical of the U.S. and of EU sanctions imposed on Russia for its action in Ukraine. Speaking ahead of Putin's visit, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the EU sanctions against Russia have failed to achieve their objectives and cost Hungary some $6.7 billion in export opportunities. He also pointed at what he described as the previous U.S. administration's pressure on Hungary to prevent it from warming up to Moscow.

"The whole world is noticeably holding its breath while waiting to see if there will be rapprochement ... in American-Russian relations and if so, to what depth and dimension," Szijjarto said. U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to mend ties with Russia, which have sunk to post-Cold War lows over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and the allegations of Russia's meddling in the U.S. elections. For the first time since his inauguration, Trump on Saturday had a phone call with Putin, which both the White House and the Kremlin described in strongly positive terms.

"If American pressure has been taken off European countries in terms of the sanctions, and there seems to be a good chance for this, I believe all of those who emphasized pragmatic relations and talked about the need to reevaluate the sanctions will be more courageous and that will be a new basis for debate," Szijjarto said Wednesday.

Hungary has also voiced hope for better ties with Washington under Trump. Orban has criticized the past administration for what he described as attempts to influence Hungary's domestic policies, such as a ban on entering the U.S. for six Hungarians, including the then-head of the Hungarian tax office, because of corruption allegations.

Orban, who has faced EU criticism for building a barbed-wire fence along its borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop migrants, has a sympathetic interlocutor in Putin, who has warned that flows of migrants could destabilize Europe.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov hailed what he described as "good personal ties" between the Russian and Hungarian leaders. Putin last visited Hungary in February 2015, and Orban traveled to Moscow a year ago. Discussions focused on long-term supplies of Russian natural gas to Hungary and a deal to expand Hungary's Soviet-built nuclear power plant with a 10 billion-euro loan provided by Russia.

Ushakov said during this visit the parties will discuss the possibility of extending prospective Russian pipelines to Hungary, as well as the Paks nuclear plant deal. The plant, launched in the 1980s, now accounts for about 40 percent of Hungary's energy consumption, and building two new reactors there will double its output, Ushakov said. The project is still awaiting permission from the European Commission, which Ushakov said has stymied it with "quibbles."

Pablo Gorondi in Budapest contributed.

Russia set to move closer to decriminalize domestic violence

January 22, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — In Russia, giving one's spouse a slap is nothing extraordinary for many people. This week, the Russian parliament is expected to take a step closer toward decriminalizing it altogether. Battery is a criminal offense in Russia, but nearly 20 percent of Russians openly say they think it is sometimes OK to hit a spouse or a child. In a bid to accommodate conservative voters, deputies in the lower house of parliament have given initial approval to a bill eliminating criminal liability for domestic violence that stops short of serious bodily harm or rape.

If the measure passes its second reading in the Duma on Wednesday, when the draft can be changed, approval in the third and final reading would be a foregone conclusion. From the Duma, it would proceed to the upper house, largely a rubber-stamp body, and then to President Vladimir Putin's desk.

Data on domestic violence in Russia are obscure, but Interior Ministry statistics show that 40 percent of all violent crimes in Russia are committed in family surroundings. In 2013, more than 9,000 women were reported to have been killed in incidents of domestic violence.

The bill stems from a Supreme Court ruling last summer to decriminalize battery that doesn't inflict bodily harm, but to retain criminal charges for those accused of battery against family members. Conservative activists objected, saying the ruling meant a parent spanking a child could be punished more harshly than a non-relative striking the child.

Ultra-conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, who also authored Russia's "gay propaganda" ban, then introduced the bill to decriminalize domestic violence. It initially was shelved after a disapproving review from the government.

Tables turned at the end of the year when a journalist from a conservative publication pressed Putin about it at his annual news conference. "If the father spanks his child for a good reason as a means of education, a traditional Russian one, he will be sentenced to two years in prison — and if a neighbor does this, he will get away with a fine!" the journalist told Putin.

Putin replied that "it's better not to spank children and refer to some traditions," but then said, "We should not go overboard with it (punishment for battery). It's not good, it harms families." The bill would make battery on a family member punishable by a fine of less than 30,000 rubles ($500) or a 15-day arrest.

The Moscow-based Anna Center foundation, which runs Russia's only domestic violence hotline, received more than 5,000 calls last year. The foundation says many more calls that go unanswered since the line operates only between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The Duma bill "is not going to improve the situation to say the least," said Irina Matvienko, who runs the hotline. "Domestic violence is a system which makes it difficult for a woman to seek help," she said. "It's not a traditional value. It's a crime. "

Calls to the Anna Center hotline show that a lot of Russian women initially don't even realize that domestic violence is an offense, Matvienko says. A survey this month by state-run pollster VTsIOM showed that 19 percent of Russians say "it can be acceptable" to hit one's wife, husband or child "in certain circumstances." The nationwide poll by phone of 1,800 people was held Jan. 13-15. The survey had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Russian police are notoriously reluctant to react to domestic violence calls, which many regard as meddling in family affairs. Prosecutors in November began investigating a police officer who took a call from a woman complaining about her boyfriend's aggressive behavior. Instead of offering help, the officer reportedly told the woman that the police would only come if she got killed. Shortly thereafter, the man beat the woman to death, prosecutors say.

Activist Alyona Popova, whose online petition against the bill has attracted more than 180,000 signatures, sees the efforts to decriminalize domestic violence as a continuation of the Kremlin's increasingly aggressive policies after several repressive laws targeting various groups, from foreign-funded NGOs to gay people.

"I think it's part of an overall ideology: aggression and violence are on the rise in society in general since war is everywhere and we're surrounded by enemies," Popova said, referring to the state media narrative that portrays Russia as a besieged fortress.

Council of Europe Secretary-General Thorbjorn Jagland earlier this week sent a letter to the speakers of both houses of Russia's parliament, expressing deep concern at the legislation. Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin dismissed the letter as an "unacceptable" attempt to influence parliament.

Olga Batalina, one of the bill's co-authors, said in the Duma last week that the penalty for battery should be lenient for acts of violence "committed in an emotional conflict, without malice, without grave consequences."

"Battery doesn't even involve grave bodily harm. We're only talking about bruises, scratches, which is bad, too, of course," Batalina said. The comment rattled some lawmakers. "Has anyone tried going around with a bruise for a week?" deputy Oleg Nilov asked Batalina at the hearing. "Does anyone think it's OK?"

There haven't been any significant protests against the bill so far. Activist Popova is not surprised: discussing domestic violence still is taboo in Russia. "Society is judgmental," she said. "It goes like this: you're a bad woman if you allow this to happen to you, or you're airing dirty laundry and you're to blame, or it's he beats you it means he loves you. And a lot of people don't want to go public about it."

Champagne corks pop in Moscow at Trump's inauguration

January 20, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Champagne corks popped Friday in Moscow as Russians celebrated the start of Donald Trump's presidency, confident of better relations ahead between the two countries. "It's weird, but it's great, and for the first time ever Russians are applauding the victory of a U.S. presidential candidate," political analyst Stanislav Byshok said.

Trump's promises to fix ravaged relations with Moscow have elated Russia's political elite following spiraling tensions with Washington over the Ukrainian crisis, the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election.

"We are ready to do our share of the work in order to improve the relationship," Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Facebook. About 100 Trump sympathizers, nationalists and spin doctors gathered at a trendy loft just a few hundred meters away from the Kremlin to celebrate Friday, with a triptych of Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French nationalist politician Marine Le Pen in the center of the hall.

An hour before Trump took the stage in Washington, the sound of opening champagne bottles echoed in the vaulted hall. The party was co-sponsored by the conservative Tsargrad TV channel, which is led by ultra-right ideologue Alexander Dugin.

"Yes, it's a holiday," said a beaming Dmitry Rode, a communications executive with a glass of champagne in his hand. "We all hope that relations between our countries and more importantly between our peoples will help to develop our economies. We're neighbors, we're just 50 kilometers (30 miles) away from each other."

Some party-goers wore Guy Fawkes masks, associated with hackers, in a sly reference to charges that Russia interfered in the U.S. election. "I'm happy for all Russian hackers," said 27-year-old IT professional Filip Nikolsky, who wore a sweatshirt with the "You've Been Hacked" slogan.

He said he doesn't know if the hacking allegations are true but "if it's true, why shouldn't we be happy?" Still, the mood at the party in downtown Moscow was subdued compared to outbursts of joy at the news of Trump's victory in November.

Revelers on Friday watched Trump make his inauguration speech in silence, and no one stood up for the American anthem, although the host suggested that all Americans should do so. At another Moscow nightclub, several dozen people began toasting Trump late Thursday.

Willi Tokarev, 82, a singer who emigrated to the U.S. in the mid-1970s and later became a music legend in Russia, topped the entertainment bill with his song "Trumplissimo America!" Trump's praise for Putin has raised expectations that he could move to normalize ties, although Trump hasn't articulated a clear policy and some of his Cabinet nominees have made hawkish statements on Russia.

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the lower house of parliament, expressed hope that Trump will move to establish constructive ties with Moscow, but cautioned there is no "magic button" to instantly achieve that.

"We expect a slow but steady revival of our relations," he said. Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, predicted that Moscow will face a pragmatic but very tough partner in Trump. "Russia's potential is incomparable to that of the United States," he said, adding that Moscow will have to apply a lot of skills "to play from the position of weakness and not lose."

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov voiced hope that Trump will work with Putin on solving the Ukrainian crisis and other problems, but warned against expectations of quick progress.

"Difficulties will remain," he said.

Angela Charlton in Davos, Switzerland contributed to this report.

India state polls test Modi popularity after currency chaos

February 04, 2017

NEW DELHI (AP) — Nearly three years ago, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won a sweeping national election victory with promises to develop the economy and root out corruption. But with a series of key state elections beginning Saturday, Modi's popularity — and his surprise currency decree that sparked months of financial uproar — is about to be tested.

India is just emerging from the fallout of the November decision, which withdrew India's two-largest currency notes from circulation and caused weeks of chaos as people waited to get their money back in new bills.

Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party hailed the move as a way to curb tax fraud and corruption and push India toward more digital spending. Opponents say it was a self-inflicted blow on the world's fastest growing economy, causing enormous hardship for the vast majority of Indians, who rely often completely on cash.

While the five state elections will not decide whether Modi remains in office, a loss would be seen as a serious blow to his political image. Most important is northern Uttar Pradesh state, whose immense population of 204 million people means state elections often help shape the national political agenda.

"In these elections, Uttar Pradesh is the real biggie," said Ajoy Bose, a political analyst in New Delhi. "If the BJP were to lose in Uttar Pradesh, it would be a huge setback, both for the party and for Modi. It would destroy the myth of Modi, who has been projected as this political juggernaut of invincible proportions," Bose said.

The elections begin Saturday in the northern state of Punjab and the beach resort state of Goa. The Himalayan state of Uttarakhand votes on Feb. 15, and remote northeastern Manipur votes on March 4 and 8.

Elections in northern Uttar Pradesh begin on Feb. 11, but because of the state's size, voting is divided into seven phases. Results from all the elections will be declared on March 11. In 2014, the BJP had won an overwhelming 71 out of 80 parliamentary seats in Uttar Pradesh, or 15 percent of all national legislators in the powerful lower house, ensuring that it emerged as the single largest party in Parliament.

But Modi now faces a tough fight in Uttar Pradesh, with the state's current top official, Akhilesh Yadav, in a political alliance with the Congress Party led by Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that ruled India for decades. While the Congress Party is a shadow of its former self, it remains the country's second most popular. The alliance is seen as a way to boost the chances of Yadav's Samajwadi Party while the Congress tries to remain relevant in a politically key state.

All those candidates must also face Mayawati, a former chief minister of the state and a master of caste-based politics. Mayawati, who uses only one name, is a Dalit, the name given to the lowest rung of India's caste hierarchy. She commands strong support among the state's Dalits, who form more than one-fifth of the population.

Uttar Pradesh voters are divided over the currency withdrawal, analysts say. "People in rural areas of the state saw the currency withdrawal as an equalizer, where the rich and the poor were hit by the same shortage of currency notes," said Nomita P. Kumar, an economist at the Giri Institute of Development Studies, a think tank in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh's capital. "Poor people were happy that, for once, the rich were in the same boat as themselves. They think it was a smart move by Modi to curb corruption."

Not so in Punjab, where the ruling coalition of the BJP and the regional Shiromani Akali Dal party face the twin challenges of a strong anti-incumbency sentiment and a palpable anger against the chaos unleashed by the currency withdrawal. Voters appeared to hold Modi responsible for the economic disruption that followed the abrupt removal of currency.

"The people's anger is directed against Modi and this will be reflected in the way they vote," said Bose, who returned Tuesday from a trip through that state. The BJP-led coalition also faces a strong challenge from the upstart Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man Party, which has tapped into the voters' disappointment with the state government.

In Goa, the ruling BJP was beset with divisions among its political allies, while the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress were also putting up a strong fight. Modi's performance in the current state-level elections is also likely to determine his political strategy in the run-up to the next national elections due in 2019, when he is hoping to wrest a second term in office, analysts said.

"This makes the outcome so important. It could be a make-or-break election for Modi," said Bose. The state elections are also significant for their power to help elect a new president. While the Indian presidency is largely ceremonial, it is a very high profile position and the president can wield significant power in times of political crisis.

The current president is Pranab Mukherjee, a Congress Party stalwart, whose term ends in July. Presidents are elected by a combination of national and state lawmakers. For Modi to bring in his own president, he needs to win Uttar Pradesh and at least one other state.

China to develop prototype super, super computer in 2017

Beijing (AFP)
Jan 17, 2017

China plans to develop a prototype exascale computer by the end of the year, state media said Tuesday, as it seeks to win a global race to be the first to build a machine capable of a billion, billion calculations per second.

If successful, the achievement would cement its place as a leading power in the world of supercomputing.

The Asian giant built the world's fastest supercomputer, the Sunway TaihuLight machine, in June last year, which was twice as fast as the previous number one.

It used only locally made microchips, making it the first time a country has taken the top spot without using US technology.

Exascale computers are even more powerful, and can execute at least one quintillion (a billion billion) calculations per second.

Though a prototype was in the pipeline, a complete version of such a machine would take a few more years to complete, Xinhua news agency cited Zhang Ting, application engineer at the National Supercomputer Center in the port city of Tianjin, as saying.

"A complete computing system of the exascale supercomputer and its applications can only be expected in 2020, and will be 200 times more powerful than the country's first petaflop computer Tianhe-1, recognized as the world's fastest in 2010," said Zhang.

The exascale computer could have applications in big data and cloud computing work, he added, noting that its prototype would lead the world in data transmission efficiency as well as calculation speed.

As of last June, China for the first time had more top-ranked supercomputers than the US, with 167 compared to 165, according to a survey by supercomputer tracking website Top500.org.

Of the top 10 fastest computers, two are in China and five in the US as of November, the ranking said. Others are in Japan and Switzerland.

China has poured money into big-ticket science and technology projects as it seeks to become a high-tech leader.

But despite some gains the country's scientific output still lags behind, and its universities generally fare poorly in global rankings.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/China_to_develop_prototype_super_super_computer_in_2017_999.html.

China Communist party expels former spymaster

Beijing (AFP)
Dec 30, 2016

China's ruling Communist Party has expelled the former deputy chief of the country's top intelligence agency, it said Friday, the latest high-ranking figure to face prosecution in a much-publicized corruption crackdown.

Ma Jian, former deputy head of China's ministry of state security, was suspected of taking bribes and abusing power, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) -- the party's internal watchdog -- said in a statement on its website.

He "seriously violated political discipline and the code of conduct, confronted an organisational probe, as well as transferred and hid money and property related to his case", it said.

Ma was first put under investigation for "serious disciplinary violations" -- standard code for graft -- in January 2015.

His case is being transferred to the judiciary, the CCDI statement said, where he will almost certainly be prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to prison.

The announcement is part of the ongoing corruption crackdown announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping after coming to power in 2012.

Since that time, the drive has punished more than one million members of the ruling party, from lowly "flies" to powerful "tigers" like Ma and his former boss domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang, although critics liken it to a factional purge.

The campaign has gained "crushing momentum", the CCDI said Wednesday in a statement on its website that looked back at the office's annual achievements.

Moving forward, it will seek to "purge the Party's political ecosystem", it added, suggesting it could intensify its efforts.

It has already swept through the ranks of the party, which has 88 million members.

This week alone, Chinese official media have reported the convictions of a vice-chair of the national legislature and a provincial vice-governor, the trial of a senior provincial official, the indictment of a deputy head of the Taiwan affairs office and a second vice-governor, and a probe into a senior general.

Ma's case is linked to other top officials who were thought to pose a threat to Xi, who last month lashed out at what he described as "political conspiracies" against him.

Earlier this month, Ling Jihua, the brother of a senior aide to former Chinese President Hu Jintao, was sentenced to more than a decade in prison and fined 1.5 million yuan ($215,000) for accepting bribes.

Ma is "closely linked" to Ling, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post.

Another brother, Ling Wancheng, has fled to the US, where he is reported to have shared Chinese state secrets with Washington.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/China_Communist_party_expels_former_spymaster_999.html.

China to build $1.5 billion power line across Pakistan

Islamabad (AFP)
Dec 30, 2016

China's State Grid Corporation is set to build a $1.5-billion power line across Pakistan to enable the transmission of 4,000 megawatts of electricity from the country's north to south, the government said Friday.

Pakistani and Chinese officials signed an investment agreement in Beijing on Thursday to build the country's first high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) line, according to a government statement.

The power transmission line would link the national grid between the southern Pakistani town of Matiari and easternmost city of Lahore, some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) apart.

Pakistan has been struggling to provide enough power to its nearly 200 million citizens for years, and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has vowed to solve the crisis by 2018.

Sharif inaugurated Pakistan's fourth nuclear power plant on Wednesday, a joint collaboration with China that adds 340 megawatts to the national grid as part of the government's efforts to end a growth-sapping energy deficit.

The energy sector has traditionally struggled to cover the cost of producing electricity, leading the government to divert $2 billion annually as a subsidy, according to a recent report commissioned by the British government.

China is ramping up investment in its South Asian neighbor as part of a $46-billion project unveiled last year that will link its far-western Xinjiang region to Pakistan's Gwadar port with a series of infrastructure, power and transport upgrades.

Last week Pakistan's main bourse announced that a Chinese consortium was set to acquire a 40 percent stake in the stock exchange in a deal estimated at $84 million.

Shanghai Electric announced in August it would buy a majority stake in the utility that supplies energy to Karachi for $1.7 billion, in the country's biggest ever private-sector acquisition.

Source: Energy-Daily.
Link: http://www.energy-daily.com/reports/China_to_build_15_billion_power_line_across_Pakistan_999.html.

China resumes ties with Sao Tome in triumph over Taiwan

December 26, 2016

BEIJING (AP) — China and Sao Tome and Principe officially resumed diplomatic relations Monday in a triumph for Beijing over rival Taiwan after the African island nation abruptly broke away from the self-ruled island last week.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his counterpart from Sao Tome, Urbino Botelho, signed books at a ceremony in front of their flags at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Wang said the re-establishment of relations would bring benefits to both countries and they would hold exchanges in tourism, the media and other areas.

The move is a victory for Beijing, which considers the self-governing island of Taiwan a part of China's territory and has been outraged by suggestions by President-elect Donald Trump that he could rethink U.S. policy that acknowledges this. Beijing and Taipei have competed for allies for much of the nearly seven decades since the end of China's civil war in 1949, when the defeated Nationalist government fled across the Taiwan Strait.

Most of the world does not formally recognize Taiwan as a condition of maintaining relations with China. Sao Tome and Taiwan broke ties last week, leaving 21 countries and governments, mostly in Latin America and the Caribbean, that have official ties with Taiwan. Taiwanese Foreign Minister David Lee last week accused Sao Tome of demanding "an astronomical amount of financial help," though he did not say how much.

Sao Tome and Principe is an island nation off the coast of west-central Africa with a population of almost 200,000. The impoverished former Portuguese colony relies heavily on foreign aid. Beijing suspended its relationship with Sao Tome in 1997 after the island nation established diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

In re-establishing relations with Beijing, Botelho said Monday, "We want to redeem our mistakes in the past." He said he hoped that more Chinese businesses would invest in his country and more Chinese tourists would visit.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry in a statement expressed its "strong disappointment and regret that Sao Tome has been confused by the diplomatic money campaign of mainland China and ignored the years of our great contributions to the health and wellbeing of the people of Sao Tome."

As its economic, military and political clout has grown, China has become more successful in pulling away governments in a bid to diplomatically isolate Taiwan, though some countries, including the United States, maintain strong unofficial ties with Taipei.

Relations have worsened between Beijing and Taipei since independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in January. In March, China established formal diplomatic ties with the small African nation of Gambia, which had severed relations with Taiwan in 2013. That was seen as a move toward abandoning the unspoken diplomatic truce between the sides that lasted eight years under Tsai's China-friendly predecessor.

Beijing suspended contact with the main Taiwan liaison body in June, blaming Tsai's refusal to endorse the concept of a single Chinese nation. While just a few countries and governments still have official ties with Taiwan, Beijing is eager to play up its latest addition after Trump suggested he might not adhere to the policy that recognizes only one China unless the U.S. gains trade or other benefits, analysts say.

Wang Dong, a professor of international relations at Peking University, said Monday's re-establishment of diplomatic ties was a warning to Taiwan that Beijing has "a lot of counter-measures" up its sleeve should they pursue independence, as well as a warning to the United States.

"The U.S. won't gain anything if they play with the one-China policy," he said. "It is also a warning to those in the U.S. who tolerate and support the Taiwanese independence forces."

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing contributed to this report.