US assures Balkan allies of support against Russia

It comes as US vice president Mike Pence has called on Russia to reverse a decision limiting the US diplomatic presence in that country.

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Russia’s move followed the announcement of new sanctions to be imposed on Russia by the United States.

United States vice president Mike Pence has sought to reassure Baltic states of US support in the face of any Russian aggression.

While visiting the Estonian defence-force headquarters in Tallinn, Mr Pence has voiced assurances that the United States firmly backs NATO’s doctrine of collective defence.

That doctrine states that an attack against one ally is considered an attack against all the allies.

“At the heart of our alliance is a solemn promise that an attack on one is an attack on all. But this oath requires action, and every NATO member must renew their commitment to our common defence, and they must renew it now.”

Mr Pence’s comments to the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania come ahead of large-scale military manoeuvres Russia has planned next month with Belarus.

The comments also come under the shadow of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and US president Donald Trump’s lukewarm support early on for NATO.

Mr Pence says President Trump is due to sign legislation soon that will strengthen sanctions against Russia.

“President Trump has called on Russia to cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere and to cease its support for hostile regimes like North Korea and Iran. And under President Trump, the United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same.”

Russian president Vladimir Putin has retaliated to an announcement of new US sanctions against Russia last week by slashing the US embassy and consular staff in Russia.

He ordered it cut by about 60 per cent.

While the vast majority of the roughly 1,200 US embassy and consulate staff in Russia are Russian citizens, the cuts are still the most dramatic between the two since the Cold War.

Speaking on Russian state television, President Putin says Russia had to respond.

“We have a lot of options how to respond. Why now? Because the US has made this, what’s really important, unprovoked step to deteriorate the US-Russia ties, to impose illegal restrictions, to influence their allies who want to develop relations with Russia. (Russian …) I decided that it’s time for us to show that we will not leave anything without response. Is it a lot? Well, from the point of view of an embassy, it’s considerable.”

Mike Pence says the United States is open to a better relationship with Russia but Russia must reverse the actions, he says, caused the sanctions to be imposed originally.

Russian analyst Anna Matveeva, from King’s College in London, has told Al Jazeera television Russia is sending a signal it has lost hope in improving ties with the United States.

“Definitely, this is a response action. Most of the policy has been reactive. They have been already hesitant to what extent the early hopes to build a good relationship with President Trump can come to fruition. Now, this is a signal that there is a serious sign of doubt. Moscow has not been really responding to various hostile actions coming from the US. This is the first time where Moscow actually responded in kind.”

Mike Pence has also visited Montenegro, the NATO alliance’s newest member, and Georgia, an aspiring member that fought a brief war with Russia in 2008.

 

Etihad working with AFP over alleged terror plot

There are calls for stronger security presence in regional and domestic airports, following a thwarted alleged terror plot to bring down a commercial airliner.

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Abu Dhabi-based Etihad has not confirmed the alleged plot was targeting one of their flights, but has said that it is working with Australian police.

“The Etihad Airways aviation security team is assisting the Australian Federal Police with its investigation and the matter is ongoing,” the airline said in a statement. 

“Etihad is complying fully with the enhanced security measures at airports in Australia and monitoring the situation closely.”

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The Trade Workers Union believes less stringent security measures at regional airports are posing a major risk.

“They are still failing to come and to engage, and say ‘who is responsible’ for some airport breaches that are happening at our airports,” TWU Secretary Tony Sheldon told reporters in Sydney.

0:00 ‘We have to be more prudent’: AirAsia CEO on security measures Share ‘We have to be more prudent’: AirAsia CEO on security measures

“There is high staff turnover, lack of training, poor conditions, and no whistleblower protections.”

AirAsia X CEO Benyamin Ismail has told SBS World News that aviation safety rests on the shoulders of each airport.

“Everybody is concerned about attacks, but we just have to make sure we work together with airports to make sure that all these [security] processes are seamless,” Mr Ismail said.

At a Parliamentary inquiry into Australian border security, the newly-founded Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) said there remains an “unprecedented risk” to national security.

“In terms of the aviation and maritime sectors: they are highly vulnerable to serious and organised crime exploitation,” said ACIC deputy Paul Williams.

“They are a key link to the international illicit economy. They can facilitate the importation of illicit goods into Australia.”

Sydney father and son Khaled and Mahmoud Khayat, and Khaled and Abdul Merhi, remain behind bars without charge after being arrested on Saturday during raids across Sydney.

It is believed the alleged terror plot to bring down an Australian plane was “fairly well along” when authorities moved in, according to a Reuters report citing two US officials familiar with the case. 

Police have already obtained a court order to hold and question the four men for seven days, as investigators strengthen their case to lay charges.

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Chinese Christian churches targeted in religious crackdown

In an old apartment building in Beijing, a covert gathering of a dozen Christians takes place every Friday.

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They meet to read the bible, pray and sing Christian songs.

“We’ve been questioned by the police before. Friday is a less obvious day for us to meet,” says Pastor Xu Yonghai.

Every other day of the week the apartment is simply home to Pastor Xu and his wife. But on Friday it becomes a ‘house church.’

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“A few decades ago there was no such thing as a ‘house church.’ We had never even heard of Christianity. Now I believe there are thousands in this city alone,” says Pastor Xu.

And it’s this growth, says Bob Fu from the US-based NGO China Aid, which has caught the attention of the Chinese government.

“We definitely have been seeing a major deterioration and worsening. That has to do with the overall President Xi regime’s hardening policy.”

According the official estimates there are about 23 to 30 million Protestant Christians in China, but Bob Fu believes there are up to 100 million unregistered believers.

The state only recognises the Protestant ‘Three-Self Patriotic Movement’, a government-aligned church based on the principles of “self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation.”

Freedom of religion is guaranteed in China’s constitution, but many independent churches like Pastor Xu’s are outside the Chinese Communist Party’s control, “so they’re perceived as threat,” says Mr Fu.

Christians are turning to illegal ‘house churches’ in a bid to evade authorities.SBS World News

Punishment against Christians intensifying 

Last month Wang Zuo’an, director of China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs, published an article in a Communist Party magazine banning religion for its approximately 90 million members. Wang wrote that “foreign forces have used religion to infiltrate China.”

Concealing his identity to avoid punishment for speaking out, human rights lawyer Wang Yuan (not his real name) specialises in cases involving religious freedom. He says in some areas of China local authorities are intensifying punishment for Christians found worshipping in ‘home churches’.

Mr Wang says one of his clients from Xinjiang province was recently charged for ‘disturbing public order’ after holding a four-person Bible study at home.

“Disturbing public order usually refers to large gatherings in public places, such as protests etc. But these were just people in a private home reading and praying,” he says.

“Previously, people caught in home churches would be detained for 15 days at most. Now they’re being charged and sentenced to three, four or five years in jail. Even six and seven years.”

But Wang Yuan says the treatment of Christians varies throughout China.

“In some areas and cities the attitude of the local government is different. There are many Christians who can practice religion without too much trouble,” says Mr Wang.

But Bob Fu says churches previously allowed to grow unhindered have in recent years faced intense scrutiny, or have been destroyed.

Chinese are turning to Christianity in greater numbers.SBS World News

Crackdown nothing compared to decades before

In May a church in China’s northeastern Henan province was demolished after being deemed an “illegal structure,” by authorities.

The congregation of about 40 Christians reportedly tried to stop the demolition and were detained, but not charged. Weeks before government officials in the southern Zhejiang province reportedly forced their way into a church to install surveillance equipment.

“These cases are very common, more and more so in recent years,” says Mr Fu.

Pastor Xu Yonghai says he’s aware of the risk involved in continuing to run his ‘house church’, but has no intention of stopping.

He is no stranger to being imprisoned for his beliefs.

“I’ve been arrested three times. The first time in the ’90s I was sent to a labour camp for two years for ‘smearing the government’ in an article I wrote about the growth of Christianity.

“In 2003 I wrote another article about the treatment of Christians in the south, and was sentenced to two years in prison for “leaking state secrets”. In 2014 thirteen of us from our ‘home church’ were detained for one month because at one stage our congregation became too big and caught the attention of the police.” 

“We’ve since changed locations,” he adds smiling.

Pastor Xu feels the current crackdown is nothing compared to decades before.

“There hasn’t been a day when a Christian in China wasn’t in jail. But Christians before us in the ’50s were given lifelong sentences, they were in jail for 20 years. Compared to that, what we face is nothing, right? In some things you take two steps forward, five steps back. Right now we’re just in the five steps back stage.”

Followers of the Christian faith attend a ‘house church’.SBS World News

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PNG waiting to have next PM confirmed after chaotic and violent poll

Parliament will sit for the first time since the poll to vote for a prime minister, with the incumbent Peter O’Neill claiming his coalition has the numbers.

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Mr O’Neill’s People’s National Congress (PNC) was invited last Friday to form government during a controversial return of election writs, with counting in only 80 of 111 electorates completed.

A further extension of writs means a possible six electorates could still be undeclared when the 10th parliament sits, the largest number of empty seats for the first sitting ever in PNG history.

Mr O’Neill claims his coalition has at least 56 members, enough to rule, while an opposition alliance made up of the National Alliance, Pangu Parti and independents claims it almost has 50 MPs and is within striking distance of power.

The election has been marred by widespread electoral roll irregularities, with many thousands of people unable to vote, in what was described by international election observers as alarming.

Violence between rival supporters over disputed vote counting has cost numerous lives in the volatile Highlands, including two police officers killed with assault rifles, and caused rioting in major centres.

Electoral commissioner Patilias Gamato has faced calls for him to resign for incompetence, allegations he rejects.

Former prime minister Sir Mekere Morauta came out of political retirement to win a seat as an independent and has condemned the handling of the poll.

Mr O’Neill has said it was one of the most peaceful elections on record.

No one party has ever held a majority, but after writs the one with the highest number of MPs is usually asked to try to form government.

In the lead up to parliament sitting, “camps” of MPs-elect try to build a coalition, with PNC and its allies meeting in the regional town of Alotau, while opponents united by a shared wish to unseat Mr O’Neill met in Kokopo and Goroka.

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Both camps have returned to Port Moresby ahead of parliament sitting, with each keeping a careful watch that MPs who have declared their allegiance do not swap sides.

About 50 per cent of MPs lose their seats in PNG’s five-yearly election and many high-profile PNC ministers have been thrown out, while some veteran politicians have returned, along with newcomers with no parliamentary experience.

MPs are often financially broke after the election and allegations of inducements circulate, including offers of money and plumb ministerial positions being offered by the camps.

As the last of the electorates were still being declared and the opposing sides built up their numbers, at least one opposition MP was the target of a kidnap attempt at gunpoint.

Mr O’Neill said the alleged plotter, a failed candidate who was accompanied by police, was no longer a member of the PNC.

With the widespread election irregularities, many MPs will face further challenges in the court of disputed returns.

After the 2012 poll, it took four years to finalise the last cases.

One certainty is the new parliament will be all male, with no women elected after a record number in the previous term and despite the highest number of female candidates in the country’s short democratic history standing.

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Charity row over Italian migrant rescue rules

“There were two sticking points that prevented us from signing the code,” said Tommaso Fabbri, head of MSF’s Italy mission, after the charity took part in a meeting in Rome between the interior ministry and non-governmental organisations.

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One was the obligation for rescue vessels to operate with an Italian police official on board, and the other was the ban on moving rescued migrants from one aid vessel to another at sea, which complicated missions, he said.

“We are doctors, not policemen,” Fabbri told AFP.

“We will continue to carry out rescue operations without changing anything,” he said, but added the organisation was “open to controls” by the Italian coastguard in the name of transparency.

The code, created to address the biggest migrant phenomenon in Europe since World War II, lays down 13 rules Rome insists must be followed to prevent aid groups rescuing migrants from acting as a magnet for human traffickers.

But the rules have been widely criticised by the NGOs as making it more difficult for them to save the lives of those attempting the perilous crossing from the shores of crisis-hit Libya to Europe.

The interior ministry said those who “refuse to agree and sign are excluded from the system of sea rescues”.

The German NGO Jugend Rettet, a privately-funded aid organisation which has been carrying out rescue operations in the central Mediterranean, also refused to sign.

“We would only sign if the new rules made our work more efficient and increased the security of our volunteers,” spokesman Titus Molkenbur told journalists at the close of the meeting in Rome.

 ‘Restore climate of trust’

The new rules, which have been given a green light by Brussels, forbid NGOs from sailing into Libyan waters unless lives are at risk, or communicating with smugglers — including using lights that could attract traffickers.

Save the Children had signed up because its ship — the Vos Hestia — already operated according to most of the rules laid out in the code, the charity’s director general Valerio Neri said in a statement.

He said the decision to agree to the code “was dictated by the desire to guarantee continuity for the rescue operations, in a transparent fashion, and restore a climate of trust and collaboration”.

The charity said it would “constantly monitor” the code’s application “to make sure it does not hinder the efficacy of search and rescue operations at sea by NGOs”.

MOAS, the Maltese-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, also rubber-stamped the rules “in solidarity with the government and the Italian people,” said founder Christopher Catrambon.

“Our mission has always been to save as many lives as possible at sea, and this document allows us to continue to do just that,” he said.

Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms sent a letter to Rome saying it was willing to sign the code, the ministry said.

Nearly 95,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy this year, a rise of one percent on the same period last year, according to the interior ministry.

The privately-funded aid boats performed 26 percent of the rescues carried out in 2016, rising to 35 percent so far this year.

 

 

Up to US, North Korea to ease tensions: China

China has become increasingly frustrated with American and Japanese criticism that it should do more to rein in Pyongyang.

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China is North Korea’s closest ally, but Beijing, too, is angry with its continued nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea said on Saturday it had conducted another successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that proved its ability to strike the US mainland, drawing a sharp warning from Trump and a rebuke from China.

Video of the latest missile test appears to show it breaking up before landing, indicating Pyongyang may not yet have mastered re-entry technology needed for an operational nuclear-tipped missile, a think tank reported on Monday.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke with Trump on Monday and agreed on the need for more action on North Korea just hours after the US Ambassador to the United Nations said Washington is “done talking about North Korea”.

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A White House statement after the phone call said the two leaders “agreed that North Korea poses a grave and growing direct threat to the United States, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and other countries near and far”.

It said Trump “reaffirmed our ironclad commitment” to defend Japan and South Korea from any attack, “using the full range of United States capabilities”.

Trump tweeted on Saturday after the missile test that he was “very disappointed” in China and that Beijing profits from US trade but had done “nothing” for the United States with regards to North Korea, something he would not allow to continue.

Asked by a reporter on Monday how he plans to deal with Pyongyang, Trump said at the start of a Cabinet meeting: “We’ll handle North Korea… It will be handled.”

0:00 Trump won’t allow China to ‘do nothing’ on North Korea Share Trump won’t allow China to ‘do nothing’ on North Korea

China’s Foreign Ministry, in a statement sent to Reuters responding to Trump’s earlier tweets, said the North Korean nuclear issue did not arise because of China and that everyone needed to work together to seek a resolution.

Russia said on Monday the United States and other countries were trying “to shift responsibility for the situation to Russia and China” following the most recent missile test.

“We view as groundless attempts undertaken by the US and a number of other countries to shift responsibility to Russia and China, almost blaming Moscow and Beijing for indulging the missile and nuclear ambitions of the DPRK (North Korea),” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

At the United Nations in New York, China’s UN ambassador said on Monday it is primarily up to the United States and North Korea, not Beijing, to reduce tensions and work toward resuming talks to end Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon and missile programs.

The United States and North Korea “hold the primary responsibility to keep things moving, to start moving in the right direction, not China,” China’s UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told a news conference to mark the end of Beijing’s presidency of the UN Security Council in July.

“No matter how capable China is, China’s efforts will not yield practical results because it depends on the two principal parties,” Liu said.

Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Qian Keming told a news conference there was no link between the North Korea issue and China-US trade.

“We think the North Korea nuclear issue and China-US trade are issues that are in two completely different domains. They aren’t related. They should not be discussed together,” Qian said.

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China, with which North Korea does most of its trade, has repeatedly said it strictly follows UN resolutions on North Korea and has denounced unilateral US sanctions as unhelpful.

Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement China must decide if it is willing to back imposing stronger UN sanctions on North Korea over Friday night’s long-range missile test, the North’s second this month.

Any new UN Security Council resolution “that does not significantly increase the international pressure on North Korea is of no value”, Haley said, adding that Japan and South Korea also needed to do more.

Abe told reporters after his conversation with Trump that repeated efforts by the international community to find a peaceful solution to the North Korean issue had yet to bear fruit in the face of Pyongyang’s unilateral “escalation”.

“International society, including Russia and China, need to take this seriously and increase pressure,” Abe said. He added Japan and the United States would take steps towards concrete action but did not give details.

Abe and Trump did not discuss military action against North Korea, nor what would constitute the crossing of a “red line” by Pyongyang, Deputy Chief Cabinet spokesman Koichi Hagiuda told reporters.

“Pyongyang is determined to develop its nuclear and missile program and does not care about military threats from the US and South Korea,” state-run Chinese tabloid the Global Times said on Monday.

“How could Chinese sanctions change the situation?” said the paper, which is published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.

China wants both balanced trade with the United States and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, its official Xinhua news agency added in a commentary.

“However, to realize these goals, Beijing needs a more cooperative partner in the White House, not one who piles blame on China for the United States’ failures,” it added.

The United States flew two supersonic B-1B bombers over the Korean peninsula in a show of force on Sunday in response to the missile test and the July 3 launch of the “Hwasong-14” rocket, the Pentagon said. The bombers took off from a US air base in Guam and were joined by Japanese and South Korean fighter jets during the exercise.

“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy said in a statement.

“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

US begins Russia drawdown

The United States has begun removing furniture and equipment from a diplomatic property in Moscow in the first sign of compliance with a Kremlin order to slash its presence in Russia as retaliation for new US sanctions.

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President Vladimir Putin has ordered the United States to cut 60 per cent of its diplomatic staff in Russia by September 1 and says Moscow will seize two US diplomatic properties in response to sanctions approved by Congress last week.

The White House has said US President Donald Trump will sign the sanctions bill, meant as a response to alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and to further punish Moscow for its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, removalists began dismantling play equipment and barbecues at a US-owned dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, after being refused access the day before, according to a Reuters journalist at the scene.

The dacha, which is being confiscated along with a US warehouse in the south of the Russian capital, was used by US diplomatic staff at weekends and to host parties for students, journalists and other diplomats.

The removalalists said they arrived about 7 am and were seen packing beds and lamps into three white vans before leaving the property three hours later.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said US staff had to leave the dacha and warehouse by midday Tuesday, TASS news agency reported.

Ryabkov and the Kremlin said no one had obstructed US employees trying to access the property.

Putin said on Sunday Russia had ordered the United States to cut 755 of its 1200 diplomatic staff in its embassy and consular operations, though many will be Russian citizens, with the United States allowed to choose who leaves.

The ultimatum issued by the Russian leader is a display to voters at home that he is prepared to stand up to Washington but is also carefully calibrated to avoid affecting the US investment he needs or burning bridges with Trump.

Yingluck says she’s a ‘victim of a political game’ as verdict looms

Supporters at the Supreme Court, many with banners reading “We love Yingluck” and “We’re by your side”, mobbed the former prime minister, whose personal appeal in her heartland has surged as her legal travails have deepened.

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Yingluck’s government was toppled by the army in 2014 and she was then retroactively impeached.

She faces a criminal charge of negligence over a flagship policy to pay farmers nearly twice the market rate for their crops.

The scheme poured billions of dollars into her rural voter base but also allegedly caused massive graft as brokers sold sub-par rice or declared inflated inventories to scoop up the subsidy.

It left Thailand with huge stockpiles of unsold rice.

The court will issue a verdict on August 25, a ruling that could see Thailand’s first female prime minister jailed for up to 10 years.

In an impassioned hour-long speech to the court, Yingluck said she implemented the scheme in good faith to boost the incomes of Thailand’s poorest.

A woman holds a sign, “Yingluck Prime Minister in My Heart,” as former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra arrives at the Supreme Court on Aug. 1, 2017.AAP

Calling for the charge to be dismissed she denied turning a blind eye to graft, saying the case was a politically motivated attack led by junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha.

“I hope I can rely on the court to consider the case based on the facts and (political) environment when I was prime minister and not on the current environment,” she said reading a 17-page defence.

“I am a victim of a subtle political game… I was not involved in corruption and I did not consent to corruption. I have done nothing wrong,” she added.

Her trial over the outcome of a government policy is unprecedented in Thailand, a febrile kingdom where legal claims and counter claims swirl around most key political players.

A guilty verdict also incurs an automatic lifetime ban from politics — a potential gut punch to the Shinawatra clan whose candidates have won every Thai general election since 2001.

The Shinawatras are hated by the arch-royalist army and their supporters among Bangkok’s elite, who for a decade have turned to coups and the courts to regain power after losing elections.

Checkmate?

The ruling will be a test of the kingdom’s stability after a decade defined by coups and bloody street protests.

It is also a bellwether of the resolve of Yingluck’s supporters in the face of a junta which has comfortably corralled them since seizing power in 2014.

“The trial is an injustice,” said 77-year-old farmer Perm Duangchan, who travelled several hours to greet the ex-PM at court.

“I want her to win the case so she can come back and help the country.”

In a sign of government concern over potential unrest hundreds of police were at the court on Tuesday as the 18-month trial neared its end.

Yingluck has the right to appeal any conviction.

But she is entangled in several other legal cases including a civil case seeking $1 billion compensation for losses over the rice policy.

The verdict could mean checkmate for the close-knit Shinawatra family, whose political networks spread across the north and northeast of the kingdom.

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On Wednesday the Supreme Court is due to rule whether Somchai Wongsawat, who was briefly premier in late 2008 and is the brother-in-law of Thaksin Shinawatra, is guilty over a deadly crackdown on a protest.

He also faces jail if convicted.

Thaksin, the billionaire family patriarch, sits at the core of Thailand’s festering divide.

He was overthrown as prime minister in a military coup in September 2006 and currently lives in self-imposed exile to avoid jail for graft convictions in Thailand.

Manus Island asylum seekers protest power cuts, PNG resettlement

Dozens of men held at the centre marched around the compound on Tuesday chanting “bring power back” and “we don’t want PNG”, a video shared by advocates from inside the compound shows.

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We support #ManusProtest #BringThePowerBack pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/udKfn5cDvd

— RRAN WA (@rranwa) August 1, 2017

With the Australian-run centre due to shut in October, the remaining 800 men on Manus are being urged to relocate to a temporary transit centre in the main town of Lorengau.

Water and power supplies were cut off at the centre’s largest compound on Monday, Reuters has reported.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has said those deemed legitimate refugees would be resettled in the US under the deal brokered by the Turnbull government with the Obama administration, while others would be returned back to their country of origin.

#manusprotest Hundreds of refugees are gathering in Mike compound to tell Australian gov to stop pressuring people to live in PNG pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/SaeZeEoFLG

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) August 1, 2017

The “last remaining” people have been offered resettlement in PNG, he said.

The Tuesday protests were peaceful to send a message to the Australian government to “stop pressuring people to live in PNG,” Iranian Kurdish journalist inside the compound Behrouz Boochani said on Twitter.

#Manusprotes Hundreds of refugees are gathering in Mike compound to tell Australian gov to stop pressuring people to live in PNG pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/pOG0R6foLh

— Behrouz Boochani (@BehrouzBoochani) August 1, 2017

Asylum seekers fear PNG is not safe for permanent settlement.

There were also reports that three refugees were attacked and robbed in separate events on Manus Island at the weekend, including a Sudanese asylum seeker who suffered leg wounds after being attacked with a machete, an Iranian who was injured in an armed hold up and another man robbed while walking.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has been contacted for comment.

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Pakistan’s parliament elects ex-oil minister Abbasi as new PM

Abbasi is seen by the ruling party as a placeholder for Sharif’s designated successor, his younger brother Shahbaz, who must first secure election to the 342-member National Assembly.

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Abbasi, nominated by Sharif’s ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), secured 221 votes, Speaker Sardar Ayaz Sadiq announced on live television. He will be sworn in later Tuesday.

“I give the floor to the new prime minister of Pakistan,” Sadiq said as Abbasi took his place in the premier’s seat.

“I am thankful to all those who took part in this democratic process,” Abbasi said. “Those who were in favour, those who opposed me. This is the procedure in democracy. And I am also thankful to PML-N who nominated me for this post. Of all these, I am most thankful to Nawaz Sharif.”

Shabhaz Sharif, currently chief minister of Punjab province, plans to enter parliament by contesting the seat left vacant by his elder sibling before eventually taking over the premiership.

The constitution requires a candidate for prime minister to win a majority from the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

Three opposition candidates also submitted nomination papers to take part in the vote.

But Abbasi, a long-time Sharif loyalist, won easily as the PML-N commands a majority in parliament.

Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history — roughly half of which was spent under military rule — to be ousted before completing a full term.

The top court sacked him Friday after an investigation into corruption allegations against him and his family, bringing his historic third term in power to an unceremonious end and briefly plunging the nuclear-armed nation into political instability.

Abbasi is the former federal minister for petroleum and natural resources, and a businessman who launched the country’s most successful private airline, Air Blue.

Educated in the US at George Washington University, he worked in the US and Saudi Arabia as an electrical engineer before joining politics and being elected to the National Assembly six times.

He was arrested after the 1999 military coup led by General Pervez Musharraf which ended Nawaz Sharif’s second term as PM, and imprisoned for two years before being released.

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Shahbaz Sharif went into exile in Saudi Arabia along with Nawaz after Musharraf’s coup.

He returned to Pakistan in 2007 and was elected chief minister in the family’s power base of Punjab in 2008, becoming the longest serving top official in the province.

A tough administrator with a reputation for passionate outbursts, he is known for using revolutionary poetry in speeches and public meetings and considered by some to be a workaholic.

His scandalous relationships fuelled headlines in the past, but his marriage to the author Tehmina Durrani, who is his fifth wife, in 2003 has since dampened the media frenzy.

Shahbaz Sharif has been so far largely unscathed by the claims about the lavish lifestyles and luxury London property portfolio of the Sharif dynasty which have played out for months in the raucous news media.

It was an investigation into the claims, which first erupted with the Panama Papers leak last year, that eventually saw the Supreme Court oust Nawaz Sharif. He and his family have denied the accusations.

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