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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs

World News, World News Updates, World News Headlines, Latest World News, Current Affairs


U.S. Troops Fire Tear Gas at Pro-Iran Protesters Outside the Embassy Compound in Baghdad

Posted: 01 Jan 2020 01:13 AM PST

BAGHDAD (AP) — U.S. troops fired tear gas on Wednesday to disperse pro-Iran protesters who were gathered outside the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad for a second day.

Dozens of pro-Iranian militiamen and their supporters had camped out at the gates of the embassy in Baghdad where they stayed the night, a day after they broke into the compound, trashing a reception area and smashing windows in one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

The U.S. Marines guarding the embassy fired tear gas as more crowds arrived and after the protesters lit a fire on the roof of the reception area. Smoke rose from the building.

The protesters are angered by deadly US airstrikes that targeted an Iran-backed militia over the weekend, killing 25 fighters.

On Tuesday, dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in , smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area in one of the worst attacks on the embassy in recent memory.

President Donald Trump blamed Iran for the attack and Defense Secretary Mark Esper later announced the immediate deployment of an infantry battalion of about 750 soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to the Middle East. He did not specify their destination, but a U.S. official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.

As Hong Kong’s Leader Pledges to ‘Listen Humbly,’ Protesters Return to the Streets

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 11:33 PM PST

Hong Kong began 2020 with more protests as crowds marched through downtown districts on New Year’s Day to call for greater political freedom.

Local media reported that the city’s Victoria Park—the traditional staging ground for mass protests—began to fill up from the early afternoon. Marchers chanted “Liberate Hong Kong” and carried flags reading “Revolution Now.” Others held banners calling for independence.

Several petrol bombs were thrown by protesters. Police fired tear gas.

Live news streams showed the premises of some businesses with mainland Chinese connections being vandalized and smashed. A branch of HSBC was also vandalized. The bank has been a target since it closed an account set up by a nonprofit organization after finding that it “was not being used for its stated purpose” of providing aid to protesters.

Scores of trade unions set up recruiting booths along the march route in a bid to draw members from Hong Kong’s newly politicized youth. Many of the unions are new, having been set up to counteract the pro-Beijing labor federations that have long dominated the sector.

Tensions rose as dusk fell, when protesters were ordered to disperse but instead pressed on to the march’s destination in the financial district.

The government issued a statement early Wednesday evening saying that “the top priority now is to stop violence and restore social order as soon as possible so that the daily lives of people and various business activities can return to [their] normal track.”

Wednesday’s procession came in the wake of a restive New Year’s Eve that saw hundreds protesters form human chains and others barricade Nathan Road—the Kowloon peninsula’s principal thoroughfare—sparking clashes with police. A train carriage was set on fire by masked radicals in the early hours of Wednesday, but nobody was injured. Radicals also hurled petrol bombs into a train depot.

The traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks at Victoria Harbour, which normally draw large crowds, were canceled after police voiced fears for public safety.

In a New Year message, Hong Kong’s top official, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, said that the semi-autonomous territory “experienced challenges not seen before” during many months of unrest and that “we all want to see an end to this predicament.”

She pledged to “listen humbly to find a way out,” and added: “We must handle the problems at hand and acknowledge the shortcomings in our systems, as well as the deep-rooted problems and conflicts that have been accumulating for many years.”

Meanwhile, a group of 38 political figures from several countries—including the recently retired speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow and former U.K. foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind—wrote to Lam, urging her to set up a probe into the Hong Kong police force’s handling of the unrest, which opponents say has been heavy handed.

The group said: “Should you continue to reject this idea, we call on the international community to establish an international, independent inquiry mechanism.”

The Hong Kong government has maintained that the territory’s Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) must be allowed to complete its report on the protests before another inquiry is considered, but critics—including a panel of overseas experts—say that it cannot do its work because it lacks the power to subpoena witnesses and documents.

The Hong Kong protests, now in their seventh month, originated in popular opposition to plans to allow for fugitives to be extradited to mainland China for the first time. Detractors feared that Beijing would use the provision to round up dissidents in the enclave.

The early protests have since escalated into an increasingly violent struggle against the local administration, with protesters demanding a fully elected legislature and popularly elected leader for the former British possession, retroceded to China in 1997 after 156 years of colonial rule.

Nearly 6,500 people have been arrested since the start of the unrest.

Trump Deploys More Troops to the Middle East After Embassy Attack

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 10:20 PM PST

WASHINGTON (AP) — Charging that Iran was “fully responsible” for an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, President Donald Trump ordered about 750 U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepared for possible deployment in the next several days.

No U.S. casualties or evacuations were reported after the attack Tuesday by dozens of Iran-supported militiamen. U.S. Marines were sent from Kuwait to reinforce the compound.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Tuesday night that “in response to recent events” in Iraq, and at Trump’s direction, he authorized the immediate deployment of the infantry battalion from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He did not specify the soldiers’ destination, but a U.S. official familiar with the decision said they will go to Kuwait.

“This deployment is an appropriate and precautionary action taken in response to increased threat levels against U.S. personnel and facilities, such as we witnessed in Baghdad today,” Esper said in a written statement.

Additional soldiers from the 82nd Airborne’s quick-deployment brigade, known officially as its Immediate Response Force, were prepared to deploy, Esper said. The U.S. official, who provided unreleased details on condition of anonymity, said the full brigade of about 4,000 soldiers may deploy.

The 750 soldiers deploying immediately were in addition to 14,000 U.S. troops who had deployed to the Gulf region since May in response to concerns about Iranian aggression, including its alleged sabotage of commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf. At the time of the attack the U.S. had about 5,200 troops in Iraq, mainly to train Iraqi forces and help them combat Islamic State extremists.

The breach of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday was a stark demonstration that Iran can still strike at American interests despite Trump’s economic pressure campaign. It also revealed growing strains between Washington and Baghdad, raising questions about the future of the U.S. military mission there.

“They will pay a very BIG PRICE! This is not a Warning, it is a Threat. Happy New Year!” Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon, though it was unclear whether his “threat” meant military retaliation. He thanked top Iraqi government leaders for their “rapid response upon request.”

American airstrikes on Sunday killed 25 fighters of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah. The U.S. said those strikes were in retaliation for last week’s killing of an American contractor and the wounding of American and Iraqi troops in a rocket attack on an Iraqi military base that the U.S. blamed on the militia. The American strikes angered the Iraqi government, which called them an unjustified violation of its sovereignty.

While blaming Iran for the embassy breach, Trump also called on Iraq to protect the diplomatic mission.

“Iran killed an American contractor, wounding many,” he tweeted from his estate in Florida. “We strongly responded, and always will. Now Iran is orchestrating an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. They will be held fully responsible. In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”

Even as Trump has argued for removing U.S. troops from Mideast conflicts, he also has singled out Iran as a malign influence in the region. After withdrawing the U.S. in 2018 from an international agreement that exchanged an easing of sanctions for curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, Trump ratcheted up sanctions.

Those economic penalties, including a virtual shut-off of Iranian oil exports, are aimed at forcing Iran to negotiate a broader nuclear deal. But critics say that pressure has pushed Iranian leaders into countering with a variety of military attacks in the Gulf.

Until Sunday’s U.S. airstrikes, Trump had been measured in his response to Iranian provocations. In June, he abruptly called off U.S. military strikes on Iranian targets in retaliation for the downing of an American drone.

Robert Ford, a retired U.S. diplomat who served five years in Baghdad and then became ambassador in Syria, said Iran’s allies in the Iraqi parliament may be able to harness any surge in anger among Iraqis toward the United States to force U.S. troops to leave the country. Ford said Trump miscalculated by approving Sunday’s airstrikes on Kataeb Hezbollah positions in Iraq and Syria — strikes that drew a public rebuke from the Iraqi government and seem to have triggered Tuesday’s embassy attack.

“The Americans fell into the Iranian trap,” Ford said, with airstrikes that turned some Iraqi anger toward the U.S. and away from Iran and the increasingly unpopular Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

The tense situation in Baghdad appeared to upset Trump’s vacation routine in Florida, where he is spending the holidays.

Trump spent just under an hour at his private golf club in West Palm Beach before returning to his Mar-a-Lago resort in nearby Palm Beach. He had spent nearly six hours at his golf club on each of the previous two days. Trump spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi and emphasized the need for Iraq to protect Americans and their facilities in the country, said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley.

Trump is under pressure from some in Congress to take a hard-line approach to Iranian aggression, which the United States says included an unprecedented drone and missile attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry in September. More recently, Iran-backed militias in Iraq have conducted numerous rocket attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces.

Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican and supporter of Trump’s Iran policy, called the embassy breach “yet another reckless escalation” by Iran.

Tuesday’s attack was carried out by members of the Iran-supported Kataeb Hezbollah militia. Dozens of militiamen and their supporters smashed a main door to the compound and set fire to a reception area, but they did not enter the main buildings.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blamed Iran for the episode and faulted Trump for his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

“The results so far have been more threats against international commerce, emboldened and more violent proxy attacks across the Middle East, and now, the death of an American citizen in Iraq,” Menendez said, referring to the rocket attack last week.

By early evening Tuesday, the mob had retreated from the compound but set up several tents outside for an intended sit-in. Dozens of yellow flags belonging to Iran-backed Shiite militias fluttered atop the reception area and were plastered along the embassy’s concrete wall along with anti-U.S. graffiti. American Apache helicopters flew overhead and dropped flares over the area in what the U.S. military called a “show of force.”

The embassy breach was seen by some analysts as affirming their view that it is folly for the U.S. to keep forces in Iraq after having eliminated the Islamic State group’s territorial hold in the country.

A U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is also a long-term hope of Iran, noted Paul Salem, president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

And it’s always possible Trump would “wake up one morning and make that decision” to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq, as he announced earlier with the U.S. military presence in neighboring Syria, Salem said. Trump’s Syria decision triggered the resignation of his first defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, but the president later amended his decision and about 1,200 U.S. troops remain in Syria.

Trump’s best weapon with Iran is the one he’s already using — the sanctions, said Salem. He and Ford said Trump would do best to keep resisting Iran’s attempt to turn the Iran-U.S. conflict into a full-blown military one. The administration should also make a point of working with the Iraqi government to deal with the militias, Ford said.

For the president, Iran’s attacks — directly and now through proxies in Iraq — have “been working that nerve,” Salem said. “Now they really have Trump’s attention.”

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Darlene Superville and Sagar Meghani contributed to this report.

North Korea Warns That It Will Unveil a New Strategic Weapon Soon

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 06:35 PM PST

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accused the Trump administration of dragging its feet in nuclear negotiations and warned that his country will soon show a new strategic weapon to the world as it bolsters its nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.

The North’s state media said Wednesday that Kim made the comments during a four-day ruling party conference held through Tuesday in the capital Pyongyang, where he declared that the North will never give up its security for economic benefits in the face of what he described as increasing U.S. hostility and nuclear threats.

Kim’s comments came after a monthslong standoff between Washington and Pyongyang over disagreements involving disarmament steps and the removal of sanctions imposed on the North.

“He said that we will never allow the impudent U.S. to abuse the DPRK-U.S. dialogue for meeting its sordid aim but will shift to a shocking actual action to make it pay for the pains sustained by our people so far and for the development so far restrained,” the Korean Central News Agency said, referring to the North by its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim added that “if the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the DPRK, there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” according to the agency.

However, Kim showed no clear indication of abandoning negotiations with the United States entirely or restarting tests of nuclear bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles he had suspended under a self-imposed moratorium in 2018.

He did issue a warning that there would be no grounds for the North to get “unilaterally bound” to the moratorium any longer, criticizing the United States for continuing its joint military exercises with rival South Korea and also providing the South with advanced weaponry.

“In the past two years alone when the DPRK took preemptive and crucial measures of halting its nuclear test and ICBM test-fire and shutting down the nuclear-test ground for building confidence between the DPRK and the U.S., the U.S., far from responding to the former with appropriate measures, conducted tens of big and small joint military drills which its president personally promised to stop and threatened the former militarily through the shipment of ultra-modern warfare equipment into (South Korea),” the KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

Some experts say North Korea, which has always been sensitive about electoral changes in U.S. government, will avoid engaging in serious negotiations for a deal with Washington in coming months as it watches how Trump’s impending impeachment trial over his dealings with Ukraine affects U.S. presidential elections in November.

Kim and President Donald Trump have met three times since June 2018, but negotiations have faltered since the collapse of their second summit last February in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim’s speech followed months of intensified testing activity and belligerent statements issued by various North Korean officials, raising concerns that he was reverting to confrontation and preparing to do something provocative if Washington doesn’t back down and relieve sanctions.

The North announced in December that it performed two “crucial” tests at its long-range rocket launch site that would further strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation that it was developing an ICBM or planning a satellite launch that would provide an opportunity to advance its missile technologies.

North Korea also last year ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity by testing a slew of solid-fuel weapons that potentially expanded its capabilities to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. military bases there. It also threatened to lift a self-imposed moratorium on the testing of nuclear bombs and ICBMs.

Ringing in a New Decade: See How New Year’s 2020 Is Celebrated All Over the World

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 02:09 PM PST

When the clock hits midnight on Jan. 1, 2020, a new decade begins. As New Yorkers prepare for the ball to drop in Times Square and folks across the U.S. are going about their Tuesday activities, other cities worldwide are already celebrating New Year’s Eve.

In Australia, revelers celebrated the moment with fireworks by the Sydney Opera House and above Melbourne’s skyline. Many in Seoul saw paper lanterns. Singapore’s luxurious Marina Bay celebrated with fireworks. In Hong Kong, pro-democracy protests continued.

Here, see how different cities around the world marked New Year’s 2020.

Sydney, Australia

Sixteen hours ahead of New York, the clock struck midnight and a new decade began in Australia at 8 a.m. EST. Fireworks lit up the sky behind the Sydney Opera House.

Australians Celebrate New Year's Eve 2019
Hanna Lassen—Getty ImagesFireworks explode over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House during the midnight display during New Year’s Eve celebrations on January 01, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.

Melbourne, Australia

Southwest of Sydney, the city of Melbourne lit up for 2020 at midnight, too.

Australians Celebrates New Year's Eve 2019
Asanka Ratnayake—Getty ImagesFireworks erupt over the Melbourne central business district during New Year’s Eve celebrations on January 01, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.

Tokyo, Japan

The decade began in Japan at 10 a.m. EST The new year is special in Japanese culture as it is considered a time to pray for one’s family.

JAPAN-NEW YEAR
Kazuhiro Nogi—AFP/Getty ImagesJapanese priestess prepare for New Year prayers at Kanda Myojin Shrine in Tokyo on December 31, 2019. Millions of Japanese people will visit shrines and temples across the country during the first three days of the new year to pray for the well-being of their families.

Seoul, South Korea

Lanterns were lit up in Seoul to mark the new decade at 10 a.m. EST.

South Koreans Countdown To The New Year
Chung Sung-Jun—Getty ImagesPeople gather to celebrate New Years on December 31, 2019 in Seoul, South Korea.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest movement didn’t slow down for New Year’s Eve, where the new year began at 11 a.m. EST.

Final Pro-Democracy Protests of 2019 in Hong Kong
Justin Chin—BloombergRiot police ride an escalator as they patrol the Harbour City shopping mall in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019.

Singapore

Fireworks at Marina Bay drew huge crowds in Singapore, when the day changed at 11 a.m. EST.

Singapore Celebrates New Year's
Suhaimi Abdullah—Getty ImagesSingapore awaits 2020 with curtain-raiser fireworks by Star Island as revellers join in the biggest countdown celebration at Marina Bay on December 31, 2019 in Singapore.

Bangkok, Thailand

12 hours ahead of New York, the new year was counted down in Bangkok outside of a shopping mall at 12 p.m. EST.

 

THAILAND-NEW YEAR
Mladen Antonov—AFP/Getty ImagesRevelers arrive early to watch the New Year countdown outside a shopping mall in downtown Bangkok on December 31, 2019.

Moscow, Russia

Celebratory fireworks went off in Moscow at 4 p.m. EST.

RUSSIA-NEW-YEAR
Dimitar Dilkoff—AFP/Getty ImagesFireworks explode over the Kremlin in Moscow during New Year celebrations, on January 1, 2020.

Istanbul, Turkey

The July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge lit up in red and blue as fireworks soared high above for the new year at 4 p.m. EST.

New Year Celebrations in Istanbul
Arif Hudaverdi Yaman—Anadolu Agency/Getty ImagesFireworks go off in front of July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge within the new year celebrations in Istanbul, Turkey on January 01, 2020.

Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan’s capital city celebrated the new year at 11 a.m. EST, 13 hours ahead of New York.

Taiwanese Countdown To The New Year
Gene Wang—Getty ImagesFireworks light up the Taiwan skyline and Taipei 101 during New Years Eve celebrations on January 01, 2020 in Taipei, Taiwan.

 

Protesters Shouting ‘Death to America’ Stormed the U.S. Embassy Compound in Baghdad. Here’s a Timeline of What’s Happened So Far

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 02:02 PM PST

Protesters shouting “Death to America,” stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, setting fires, scrawling anti-American graffiti and planting flags for Iran-backed militia groups.

The protest is reportedly in response to a series of U.S. airstrikes that killed 25 militia fighters on Sunday. The strike was in retaliation for a rocket strike on an Iraqi military compound that killed a U.S. defense contractor and injured U.S. and Iraqi service members.

As Iraqi security forces did not attempt to stop the protesters, the storming of the Embassy could heighten concern about the relationship between the United States and Iraq, especially amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran. About 5,000 U.S. troops are still stationed in Iraq, and some of the Iranian-backed militia wants them withdrawn, according to the Associated Press.

Iraq is already in the midst of a tumultuous period. Since October, more than 450 people have been killed in mass protests criticizing the country’s poor quality of life and demanding new electoral laws and accountability for corruption. In November, Adel Abdul-Mahdi announced he would resign as Prime Minister of the country after weeks of violent protests.

Here is how events have unfolded since the death of the U.S. contractor.

Friday, Dec. 27: U.S. Defense Contractor Killed in Rocket Attack in Iraq

A U.S. defense contractor was killed in an attack on an Iraqi military compound near Kirkuk, Iraq, according to the Associated Press. The attack also injured four U.S. service members and two Iraqi Security Forces members, according to the Department of Defense. As many as 30 rockets were fired in the attack.

The U.S. blamed the Iranian-backed militia for the assault. On Monday, the group denied responsibility for the Dec. 27 attack through a spokesperson, according to the New York Times.

Several other similar attacks have occurred over the past few months, according to the Associated Press.

Sunday, Dec. 29: U.S. Strikes kill 25 militia members

The U.S. conducts air strikes on five sites of Kataeb Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, according to the Department of Defense. The U.S. indicated that the strikes were in retaliation for the rocket attack. The attack killed 25 fighters, according to the Associated Press.

“The U.S. and its coalition partners fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and support a strong and independent Iraq. The U.S., however, will not be deterred from exercising its right of self-defense,” Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. He called on Iran and the militias to stop attacking U.S. and coalition forces.

The Iraqi government expressed outrage about the attack, calling it a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty, according to the Associated Press.

Monday, Dec. 30: Iraq Expresses Outrage After Airstrike

Speaking to cabinet members, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi declared three days of mourning for the people killed in the strikes, according to the Associated Press. He said that he had attempted to stop the U.S. airstrike, but the U.S. had insisted.

Tuesday, Dec. 31: Protesters Break into the U.S. Embassy Compound

After a funeral for fighters killed in the airstrikes, protesters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad.

Protesters gathered outside the compound shouting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” and started to throw water and stones over its walls. They smashed through a main door, set a reception area on fire, and covered the embassy wall with militia flags and anti-U.S. graffiti, and planting flags above the reception area according to the Associated Press. Many were wearing militia uniforms, according to the Associated Press.

The Iraqi security forces didn’t try to stop the protesters, permitting them to pass a security checkpoint, according to the Associated Press.

Commanders from militias that support Iran joined the protest outside the embassy, the Associated Press reported.

After the breach, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper said in a statement that additional forces are being sent to support the embassy. He also called on Iraq to help protect the facility.

“As in all countries, we rely on host nation forces to assist in the protection of our personnel in country, and we call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its international responsibilities to do so,” Esper said.

President Trump blamed Iran for the contractor’s death and the storming of the U.S. Embassy on Twitter.

“They will be held fully responsible,” Trump wrote. “In addition, we expect Iraq to use its forces to protect the Embassy, and so notified!”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham reaffirmed the President’s position in a a statement to the Associated Press

“As the president said, Iran is orchestrating this attack and they will be held fully responsible,” Grisham said. “It will be the president’s choice how and when we respond to their escalation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, President Trump declared on Twitter that the Embassy is “safe” and that U.S. personnel had rushed to the scene.

Kim Jong Un Calls for ‘Military Countermeasures’ to Secure North Korea

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 08:52 AM PST

(SEOUL, South Korea) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for active “diplomatic and military countermeasures” to preserve the country’s security in a lengthy speech at a key political conference possibly meant to legitimize major changes to his nuclear diplomacy with the United States.

Kim spoke for seven hours during the ruling Workers’ Party meeting that continued for the third day on Monday. He issued national goals for rebuilding the North’s economy and preparing active and “offensive political, diplomatic and military countermeasures for firmly preserving the sovereignty and security of the country,” according to state media on Tuesday.

The Korean Central News Agency said the plenary meeting of the party’s Central Committee will extend to the fourth day on Tuesday, a day before Kim is expected to use his annual New Year’s address to announce major changes to his economic and security policies.

Some experts believe Kim could use the speech to declare he is suspending his nuclear negotiations with Washington, which have stalemated over disagreements in exchanging sanctions relief and disarmament, and he could possibly revive confrontation by lifting a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.

KCNA did not report any decisions made at the party meeting or mention any specific comment by Kim toward the United States.

But it said Kim noted that the Workers’ Party is determined to enter “another arduous and protracted struggle,” possibly referring to efforts to overcome U.S.-led sanctions and pressure, before concluding his speech with calls for “dynamically opening the road” toward building a powerful socialist nation. KCNA said the party is working to draft a resolution based on the agenda laid out by Kim and plans to discuss an unspecified “important document.”

In his New Year’s speech to begin 2019, Kim said his country would pursue an unspecified “new path” if the administration of President Donald Trump persists with sanctions and pressure on North Korea.

Negotiations faltered following the collapse of his second summit with Trump in February, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantling of an aging nuclear facility in Yongbyon, which would only represent a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The North said earlier this month it conducted two “crucial” tests at its long-range rocket launch facility, raising speculation it has been developing a new long-range missile or preparing a satellite launch.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration still believes it “can find a path forward to convince the leadership in North Korea that their best course of action is to create a better opportunity for their people by getting rid of their nuclear weapons.”

“We’re watching what they’re doing here in the closing days of this year, and we hope that they’ll make a decision that will lead to a path of peace and not one towards confrontation,” Pompeo said in an interview Monday morning with Fox and Friends.

Asia’s Richest Man Unveils Online Shopping Platform to Challenge Amazon in India

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 08:45 AM PST

(Bloomberg) — Reliance Industries Ltd. started testing its online shopping portal, moving a step closer to billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s goal of setting up a digital platform to take on e-commerce giant Amazon.com Inc. in India.

JioMart, open to select customers who pre-register, promises more than 50,000 grocery products, free home delivery and a return policy that asks no questions. Labeled ‘the nation’s new store,’ it is currently available in only three neighborhoods surrounding Mumbai, according to the website.

The pilot site provides an early glimpse of how the energy-and-petrochemicals conglomerate controlled by Asia’s richest man is stepping up consumer offerings in a pivot toward newer businesses. With the unveiling of the portal, Reliance Industries will join the battle with Amazon.com and Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart Online Services Pvt. for a slice of an e-commerce market that KPMG says is set to grow to $200 billion by 2027.

Ambani, 62, is giving shape to his online retail ambitions by spending billions of dollars on a string of small acquisitions. The newer businesses, including telecommunications and retail, are likely to contribute 50% of Reliance Industries’ earnings in a few years, from about 32% now, Ambani said in August.

A spokesman for Mumbai-based Reliance Industries declined to provide further details on the retail project.

Ambani’s previous project, which needed almost $50 billion of capital expenditure, is already showing signs of success.

Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., the group’s wireless carrier started in 2016, is India’s No. 1 operator today and has more than 350 million users. The company entered the world’s second-largest market by subscribers with free calls and cheap data, forcing some incumbents to exit or merge with rivals.

Ambani is seeking to replicate that success in online retail as well. Terming it “new commerce,” the tycoon said in August that his goal is to “completely transform” India’s unorganized retail market — mostly mom-and-pop stores — which accounts for 90% of the nation’s industry.

“This tech-enabled partnership will link producers, traders, small merchants, consumer brands and consumers,” Ambani told shareholders in August. After beta trials with thousands of merchants across the country showed promise, “we are now getting ready to roll out the platform at a larger scale,” he said.

Reliance Industries has unveiled a sweeping plan to create a $24 billion digital-services holding firm, and also vowed listings of the new businesses within five years.

Betting the plan would unlock value, investors have piled on Reliance Industries shares, sending the stock soaring 36% this year against the 15% advance in the benchmark index. The gains helped Ambani add more than $15 billion to his wealth — the most in Asia — and taking his net worth to almost $60 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Medical Student Arrested, Held Without Bail After Alleged Attempt to Smuggle Cancer Research to China

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 07:27 AM PST

(BOSTON) — A medical student from China who U.S. authorities say tried to smuggle cancer research material taken from a Boston hospital out of the country has been held without bail by a judge who ruled he was a flight risk.

Zaosong Zheng, 29, who last year earned a visa sponsored by Harvard University to study in the U.S., appeared Monday in U.S. District Court in Boston. He was arrested Dec. 10 at Boston’s Logan Airport on a charge of making false statements.

Magistrate Judge David Hennessy ruled that evidence suggested Zheng had tried to smuggle vials of research specimens in a sock in his suitcase bound for China and granted the prosecution’s request to hold him without bail.

Zheng stole the materials from his lab at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, authorities allege.

Some vials contained a colleague’s work he had replicated without the authorization or knowledge of the lab, Zheng told authorities, according to court documents. He was possibly acting on behalf of the Chinese government, the FBI said in an affidavit included in court documents.

Zheng’s federal public defender declined to comment outside court when questioned by the Boston Herald. A voicemail message was left with the defense attorney Tuesday.

Harvard officials told The Boston Globe that Zheng’s educational exchange visa had been revoked. Beth Israel, a Harvard-affiliated teaching hospital, has fired Zheng and is cooperating with authorities, a spokeswoman said.

“We are deeply proud of the breadth and depth of our research programs,” Jennifer Kritz said. “Any efforts to compromise research undermine the hard work of our faculty and staff to advance patient care.”

The investigation is ongoing, and more charges are possible, prosecutors said.

Straight Couples Enter Into First Mixed-Sex Civil Partnerships in England

Posted: 31 Dec 2019 07:04 AM PST

(LONDON) — England and Wales have marked a new era in which heterosexual couples can choose to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage.

The change, mandated by Britain’s Supreme Court last year, took effect Tuesday. The groundbreaking case had been brought by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who were among the first to form a civil partnership under the new rules. They were joined by their two children for the partnership formed at the Kensington and Chelsea Register Office in central London.

Steinfeld called it “a unique, special and personal moment for us” that had been “rooted in our desire to formalize our relationship in a more modern way, focus on equality and mutual respect.”

The new rules means that mixed-sex couples can opt for a civil partnership that will give them similar rights as married couples, including marriage allowance tax relief, inheritance tax exemption, and joint parental responsibility for children. It is expected to be an attractive option for couples who believe marriage gives men the upper hand and also by couples who don’t want any religious element in their union.

The Supreme Court ruling means that civil partnerships, which have been available to same-sex couples since 2005, will be available to everyone.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to marry in England, Scotland and Wales since 2014. Same-sex marriages will be allowed for the first time in Northern Ireland early next year.

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