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Francois Fillon’s great race

Francois Fillon has won the conservative primary. It was an unexpected victory for the former prime minister. Who is the man who wants to be France's next president? In his spare time, Francois Fillon is an enthusiastic motorsport fan. He often gets behind the steering wheel of a fast car himself and drives a few laps at the track in LeMans, his hometown and host to the famous 24-hour race. Until now, he hasn't been seen in the political fast lane. For a long time, Fillon was active in the second tier of French politics. He was hard-working and loyal but never stood in the spotlight. His career somehow resembled that of a failed heir to a throne. But then, suddenly, in the first round of the conservative primary on November 20, he surprisingly overtook the assumed favorites Alain Juppe and Nicolas Sarkozy. Now Fillon suddenly has a chance to defeat Juppe and step up to the winner's podium. The 62-year-old, a professional politician, may finally be able to move into the Elysee Palace. Who is the man who has long been a high-ranking French politician yet never been considered a serious contender for presidency? Respectable and not scandalous "Francois Fillon stands for absolute respectability," political scientist Dominik Grillmayer, from the German-French Institute in Ludwigsburg, told DW. In public appearances Fillon comes across as "deliberate, modest and confident." For five years, between 2007 and 2012, Fillon served as prime minister under President Sarkozy and during that time, he attracted little negative attention. Fillon is the first French prime minister who managed to complete an entire term with a president. Before that, he had served as minister of social affairs and minister of national education. "Fillon is characterized by continuity and respectability," said Grillmayer. He is seen as a clean politician among the political elite. There once was an incident with a luxury vacation on the Nile in 2010, to which then Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak had invited him. Yet compared with his opponent Alain Juppe, who has been tried for illegal party financing, it seems like a negligible offense. A Catholic with conservative values Fillon, who was born in Le Mans in northwestern France, stands for traditional Catholic values. He is a lawyer who is regarded as thoroughly conservative. He rejects "marriage pour tous" (marriage for everyone), meaning gay marriage and also is against adoption rights for same-sex couples. He has been married for 36 years and has five children with his wife. They live in a 12th century castle in the southwestern department of Sarthe. Fillon advocates a right-wing, Islam-critical course. Just this autumn, his essay on "radical Islam" was published. Fillon wants to monitor mosques more closely and arrest people who have contacts to organizations like the so-called "Islamic State." Furthermore, he wants to make it more difficult for foreigners to access social and healthcare systems. He has also called for a cap on immigration. Neoliberal hardliner Fillon clearly supports the idea of a neoliberal economy and admires former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The former French prime minister wants to cut government spending by 100 billion euros ($106 billion) and get rid of 500,000 jobs in the public sector. He has no respect for the country's "sacred cows" - he wants to abolish the 35-hour work week and raise the retirement age. At the same time, he wants to significantly reduce taxes and duties for companies to make France more competitive again. Will he solve problems or divide the nation? Fillon is presenting himself as a problem-solver, someone who will put La Grande Nation back on track, said France expert Grillmayer. But the political scientist warned his controversial economic plans are going much too far. Not only the left, but people in his own camp fear he will further divide society. Fillon has launched a radical campaign. His demands have much in common with those of right-wing populists. He is trying to win over protest voters from the National Front (FN). Unlike Nicolas Sarkozy, French voters believe in Fillon's credibility. "People buy into the idea that he wants to implement these measures out of deepest conviction and that they are not just tactics," explained Grillmayer. Fillon is not one to jump on whatever bandwagon is convenient. His convictions have been known for some time. Fillon has been peddling his Catholic, conservative and capitalist values throughout the country for years. Grillmayer believes that Fillon has masterminded his own presidential candidacy. Because he is considered to be respectable and reliable, many French people see him as someone who can embody the dignity of the presidency. Will Fillon overtake his opponent Juppe on November 27 and then break away from the rest of his rivals, like FN's Marine Le Pen? It remains to be seen. The presidential race is still on.

Francois Fillon has won the conservative primary. It was an unexpected victory for the former prime minister. Who is the man who wants to be France’s next president? In his spare time, Francois Fillon is an enthusiastic motorsport fan. He often gets behind the steering wheel of a fast car himself and drives a few laps at the track in ... Read More »

Russian Soyuz carrying three astronauts arrives at International Space Station

A Russian spaceship carrying three astronauts from around the world arrived at the International Space Station Saturday. The crew will conduct experiments on biology and physical sciences in microgravity conditions. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft, carrying astronauts from the European, Russian and American space agencies, docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, a rookie astronaut, is the first French national sent to the ISS by the European Space Agency (ESA) since 2008. Russian Oleg Novitskiy, a pilot in the Russian Air Force and decade-long veteran of Russian space agency Roscosmos, made his second trip to the ISS. American astronaut, Peggy Whitson, is a space travel veteran and biochemistry expert who will break the record for most days in space by an American astronaut on this trip. Whitson previously commanded the ISS in 2007 and was the first woman to command the orbiting station, according to American space agency NASA. Three fellow astronauts greeted the new arrivals Saturday. Russians Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov and American Shane Kimbrough, already manning the ISS, hugged their new crewmates after the two day journey from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan. "Watching you, we could not be more proud,” NASA administrator Charles Boden told the crew from Earth. The crew will conduct experiments involving biology and physical sciences under the microgravity conditions in the orbiting spaceship. Each seat on a Soyuz rocket, which can carry three astronauts at a time, reportedly costs more than $71 million (67 million euros). This is currently the only way for astronauts to reach the ISS, after the US space shuttle program was phased out in 2011. Private companies, including SpaceX and Boeing are designing spaceships to send astronauts to and from the ISS from the US once again. The first flights are not expected until late 2017 at the earliest. More than 200 people from 18 countries have been to the ISS, which circles the Earth from 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the planet. Humans have lived on the space station for more than 15 years.

A Russian spaceship carrying three astronauts from around the world arrived at the International Space Station Saturday. The crew will conduct experiments on biology and physical sciences in microgravity conditions. The Russian Soyuz spacecraft, carrying astronauts from the European, Russian and American space agencies, docked at the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday. Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, a rookie astronaut, is ... Read More »

Donald Trump’s vision for Syria

The US president-elect's view of the Syrian conflict has remained one of his few consistent positions. But Donald Trump has said that if he did attack the Syrian regime, "it would be by surprise." "I've had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria," US President-elect Donald Trump told American newspaper "Wall Street Journal" (WSJ) last week. As the self-proclaimed billionaire prepares to enter the White House, questions have arisen regarding his policy on Syria, which has witnessed popular protests transform into a multipronged conflict since 2011. But behind the populist slogans and divisive rhetoric, Trump has offered fragments of a blueprint for his vision of the conflict, highlighting a focus on combating the "Islamic State" (IS) militant group in lieu of pursuing an aggressive policy on President Bashar al-Assad's brutal regime. "My attitude was you're fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS. Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria … Now we're backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are," Trump said, referring to the IS by its other acronym, which stands for "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria." "We end up fighting Russia, fighting Syria," if the US attacks Assad, he told WSJ. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is tipped to be a top candidate for the Secretary of State position, said on Tuesday that Trump's foreign policy in the region would hone in on dismantling the "Islamic State." "ISIS … is the greatest danger, and not because ISIS in Iraq and in Syria, but because ISIS did something al-Qaeda never did - ISIS was able to spread itself around the world," Giuliani said, according to American broadcaster CNN. Opposing regime change It should come as no surprise that Trump opposes military interventions aimed at toppling governments, making it a policy point to "end the current strategy of nation-building and regime change," as his campaign website states. In numerous instances, he has lambasted Washington's support for "moderate" rebels fighting to overthrow the Assad regime. In an interviewed aired by CBS' "This Morning" show in February, Trump questioned the ultimate aim of supplying armed opposition groups in Syria. "Assad's no baby, he's not good. But who are the people we are backing?" Trump said. "We're giving all this money and all of this equipment to people we have no idea who they are. They're probably worse than Assad," he added. One of the show's presenters asked whether better ties with Russia would allow him to pressure Moscow for Assad to step aside. "Well, they've been trying to do that. Could I? I don't think it's that important, to be honest with you. I think, frankly, you get rid of Assad or you knock out that government, who is going to take over, the people that we're backing? Then you're going to have (something) like Libya," he said. Since his unprecedented electoral victory earlier this month, the CBS interview has been circulated widely across social media platforms as an example of his foreign policy vision. 'But if I did' attack Syria If any of Trump's positions have witnessed a degree of consistency, it has been his take on Washington's role in the Syrian conflict. In September 2013, at a moment of heated debate across the US on whether Obama would launch a military campaign in Syria aimed at ousting Assad, Trump scrambled to his Twitter account to offer his input. "Many Syrian 'rebels' are radical jihadis. Not our friends and supporting them doesn't serve our national interest." When asked by another Twitter user what we would do about the situation if he was president, he said: "I'd let them all fight with each other - (and) focus on US." "But if I did (attack), it would be by surprise and not blurted all over the media like fools," he added. "What I am saying is stay out of Syria." Obama's policy to support "moderate" rebels stemmed from the Assad regime's brutal repression of opposition forces. According to UN figures, more than 250,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011, when the Syrian army launched a violent crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding Assad to step down. But Trump's remarks not only represent a departure on Washington's policy on Assad's Syria. They also reflect a marked shift towards counterterrorism operations at the expense of human rights, echoed in his comments to send alleged terrorists to Guantanamo and reintroduce torture tactics. While it is unclear who Trump refers to in his campaign promises when he cites working "with our Arab allies and friends in the Middle East" to defeat the militant group, signs point to his administration's consideration of the Assad regime in that plot as a potential partner at best and a "bad" guy at worst.

The US president-elect’s view of the Syrian conflict has remained one of his few consistent positions. But Donald Trump has said that if he did attack the Syrian regime, “it would be by surprise.” “I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria,” US President-elect Donald Trump told American newspaper “Wall Street Journal” (WSJ) last week. As the self-proclaimed ... Read More »

Largest US oil and gas discovery made – USGS

The US Geological Survey says billions of barrels of oil, along with a vast source of gas have been found. The record discovery was made in a field of shale rock in West Texas. The discovery, which was confirmed on Wednesday, "goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more," said Walter Guidroz, program director of the USGS Energy Resources Program. His team have uncovered an estimated 20 billion barels of oil, 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 1.6 billion barrels of natural gas liquids at the Wolfcamp Shale geologic formation in the Midland area of West Texas. The find is the largest source of shale oil, three times larger than a shale discovery in 2013 in North and South Dakota and Montana, officials said. Guidroz hailed "changes in technology and industry practices" that allowed them to estimate a huge increase in resources that a technically recoverable. Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted that his state had just gotten about a trillion dollars (934 billion euros) richer. Geologists said that the oil from shale rock is classed as unconventional compared to other oil found in the ground, because extracting it requires advanced drilling or recovery methods, such as hydraulic fracturing. Record discovery Ken Medlock, director of an energy-studies program at Rice University in Houston, said it seems "likely that we're seeing the birth of a new Permian Basin," referring to the energy-rich area of West Texas and southern New Mexico, which is one of the most productive oil and gas regions in the US. The advent of horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing and other advancements will allow for the removal of shale oil at a volume that will make the basin "the dominant onshore platform for oil production," he said. Chris Schenk, a Denver-based research geologist for USGS said it's been known for years that the region could yield new bountiful oil production, but it took the USGS time to assess the Wolfcamp Shale and estimate the volume of that production. "We think the potential is there for the future, and it's not going to be realized overnight," he said. Some analysts think the discovery the could lead to a resurgence of the oil and gas industry in Texas, following a severe downturn when energy prices plummeted and tens of thousands of jobs were cut.

The US Geological Survey says billions of barrels of oil, along with a vast source of gas have been found. The record discovery was made in a field of shale rock in West Texas. The discovery, which was confirmed on Wednesday, “goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the ... Read More »

One year since attacks, a grimmer France commemorates its victims

As France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history on Sunday, many remain traumatized. And there is widespread fear that more could be to come. Emmanuel Domenach thought he was on the road to recovery. But on the eve of the Paris attacks anniversary, painful memories are flooding back. "I feel the distress, the fatigue," says Domenach, a survivor of last November's rampage at the Bataclan concert hall that killed 90 people. "Psychologically, I'm reliving many things and it's not easy to deal with." On Sunday, when France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history, old wounds will reopen, even as more tangible traces remain of the string of shootings and bombings that killed 130 people and wounded more than 400. Nearly two dozen victims are still hospitalized; hundreds are receiving psychological counselling. French tourism has plummeted and tens of thousands of soldiers, police and gendarmes are still deployed across the country. Rights groups warn of eroding civil liberties under the ongoing state of emergency and of an increasingly stigmatized Muslim community. Equally troubling is the sense that last year's "Islamic State" attacks were not a bookend to a bitter past, but opened a more fearful page in the nation's history. There have been several others since, including the July truck rampage in Nice that killed 86 people. With authorities saying they are foiling terror plots daily, many here expect more to come. "It's a national trauma because we've had a number of terrorist attacks in different situations," says Dominique Szepielak, a psychologist with the French Association of Terrorism Victims, who has treated a number of November 13 survivors. "When you get prepared for one sort of terrorism, it can then take another form. It's very, very complicated." Getting on with life On the surface, the city has returned to normal. On Saturday night the Bataclan reopened after a makeover and with a Sting concert that sold out in a matter of minutes. Other cafes and bars targeted by the jihadists are also back in business, blasted windows replaced and fresh coats of paint covering bullet-pocked walls. "The past is always with us, but we all need to get on with life," says Audrey Bily, manager of Cafe Bonne Biere, where gunmen shot dead five people. The first establishment to reopen last December, the cafe is again packed with diners and drinkers, its refurbished interior cheerful and welcoming on a chilly evening. None of the staff were killed, but many are still traumatized. "The team is really close and that's important," Bily says. "They help each other move forward and reconstruct their lives." Domenach stayed standing many minutes after the jihadists burst into the Bataclan, mistaking the gunfire ringing out for sound effects as the Eagles of Death Metal concert briefly continued. Then came the screams and shouts, and he saw gunmen pick off people standing next to the bar. When the attackers finally headed upstairs to the balcony, he escaped with dozens of others. Worries of rising intolerance Over the months, he has slowly pulled himself together, forcing himself to go out to concerts - although it is too early to return to the Bataclan. Now, the anniversary feels like a new blow. "Just when you have the impression things are getting better, you're back at the psychologist because the wounds are still there," says Domenach, vice president of a survivor's group called "November 13, Brotherhood and Truth." "It feels like a kind of defeat." He's worried, too, about the broader fallout of last year's attack: the rising intolerance and hate speech on the streets, and what he considers as the government's misguided, law-and-order response to terrorism. Far-right activists assailed him earlier this year, he says, after he dismissed rumors that the jihadists had tortured their Bataclan victims. "As an association we're fighting for solidarity and fraternity," Domenach says, "and today we have the impression these values are being swept aside, and replaced by hate.” He is not the only one worried. A new report by the International Federation for Human Rights slams France's state of emergency for rolling back civil liberties and cites police searches and other measures that unfairly single out the country's Muslim community. FIDH lawyer Clemence Bectarte points to other measures adopted into law a few months ago that strengthen the hand of police and prosecutors and weaken that of the courts. "It's an alarming landscape," Bectarte says. "These measures were inconceivable a few years ago." Trying to move on Many hope to set aside these divisions on Sunday, as commemorations for the November 13 victims take place around the capital. One of several plaques honouring the victims is already secured on a wall in northern Paris, waiting to be unwrapped. Stephane Dantier, who owns a restaurant nearby, doesn't like it. "It transforms this neighbourhood into a monument for the dead," he says. His bistro is still filled with diners on a recent afternoon, lingering over a late lunch. Across the way, a bar and restaurant where jihadists gunned down 15 people on a balmy November evening have reopened. Last year's attacks have tightened bonds in an already closely knit neighborhood, he says. But its hard for residents to move on. "With the Nice attacks, it's all come back," Dantier says. "We're all making a big effort, but we feel wounded."

As France commemorates its deadliest terror attack in recent history on Sunday, many remain traumatized. And there is widespread fear that more could be to come. Emmanuel Domenach thought he was on the road to recovery. But on the eve of the Paris attacks anniversary, painful memories are flooding back. “I feel the distress, the fatigue,” says Domenach, a survivor ... Read More »

Australia reaches deal to send refugees languishing on islands to US

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try to reach Australia by boat are sent to detention facilities on Papua New Guinea's Manus Island and the small island nation of Nauru. Under Australia's strict border policy, they are prevented from receiving asylum even if found to be refugees. "The arrangements with the United States will offer the opportunity for refugees, both on Nauru and Manus, to be resettled," Turnbull told reporters in Canberra. "It is a one-off agreement. It will not be repeated ... Our priority is the resettlement of women, children and families." Australia has come under international and domestic pressure over the detention camps, where some refugees have been stuck in limbo for more than three years. Rights groups have criticized Australia, citing bad conditions and mental health problems associated with what amounts to keeping refugees in indefinite detention on the islands. US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed the resettlement deal, saying "we in the United States have agreed to consider referrals from [UN refugee body] UNHCR on refugees now residing in Nauru and in Papua New Guinea. "We know that these refugees are of special interest to UNHCR and we're very engaged with them on a humanitarian basis there and in other parts of the world," he told reporters in New Zealand on Sunday. Many refugees from Middle East, Asia It was unclear how the resettlement deal would proceed, with Donald Trump taking over the White House on January 20 after winning the US election this week. Trump campaigned on an anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policy. Many of the refugees on the islands are Muslims from the Middle East and Asia. The Australian and US governments did not say how many refugees were part of the resettlement plan. But Turnbull said the agreement was reached much earlier. "There is a great deal of preparation and planning that has gone into it and, indeed, in leading up to this announcement." Out of more than 2000 applications, about 675 asylum seekers on Manus and another 941 on Nauru have received initial or final refugee status, according to Australia's immigration department. Asylum seekers whose applications are denied will be sent back to their countries. Refugees who refuse to go to the United States will be offered 20-year residency on Nauru, a poor and environmentally destroyed island. The Australian funded detention center is now the island's main source of income. Papua New Guinea has said it will close the detention center on Manus. Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the deal was not an incentive for people smugglers to send boatloads of people to Australia. Future boat arrivals will not be eligible for the deal.

Australia has reached a resettlement deal with the United States for refugees held on two Pacific island detention centers. Canberra has come under international and domestic pressure over the camps. Refugees being held at controversial detention facilities on two isolated Pacific islands will be resettled in the United States, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday. Asylum seekers who try ... Read More »

Dutch police detain 100 Black Pete protesters

The tradition of dressing up in blackface makeup as the helper of St. Nicholas has been under fire in the Netherlands for years. Confrontation between the two sides of the debate got off to an early start this year. Police arrested more than 100 protesters in the town of Maassluis, near Rotterdam, on Saturday during a confrontation between supporters and opponents of Black Pete. For years, detractors have condemned the character, a helper of St. Nicholas in Dutch tradition, as a racist caricature. "We arrested about 100 people who were demonstrating in Rotterdam, where the protests were banned for the day," said local police spokeswoman Lillian van Duijvenbode to French news agency AFP. Current look dates back to 1850s According to folklore, Black Pete is a Moor who originates from Spain and helps St. Nicholas as he decides which children have been well-behaved enough to receive presents. His current appearance comes from an 1850s children's book and reflects what would now be recognized as a racist stereotype: Afro hair, large red lips and a clownish appearance. This is further compounded by the fact that in parades and reenactments for children, the character is almost always played by a white person in blackface. Heavy police presence Thousands of people came out to the Maassluis celebration to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. This included a heavy police presence to protect St. Nicholas' sidekick and a ban on protesting, which failed to deter demonstrators. "We asked them to stop their demonstration at three different places in town, but they refused," said van Duijvenbode. Around 20 far-right activists came out as counter-protesters. Activist John Morren told the Associated Press that "we are demonstrating for the preservation of a children's party," and to protect Dutch tradition. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has appealed for both sides to remain peaceful in their debate in light of the Christmas season.

The tradition of dressing up in blackface makeup as the helper of St. Nicholas has been under fire in the Netherlands for years. Confrontation between the two sides of the debate got off to an early start this year. Police arrested more than 100 protesters in the town of Maassluis, near Rotterdam, on Saturday during a confrontation between supporters and ... Read More »

Fighting intensifies in Mosul as Iraqi forces push forward

An Iraqi army official has described the fighting in Mosul as "one of the hardest battles we've faced." With the help of Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias, Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to liberate the city. The Iraqi campaign to uproot the so called "Islamic State" (IS) from its stronghold in Mosul slowed down on Sunday as liberation forces met fierce resistance from the militant group's fighters while entering more densely-populated areas of the city. "This is one of the hardest battles that we've faced till now," said Lieutenant Colonel Muhammad al-Timimi. Over the weekend, Iraqi forces moved into more densely populated areas of the city without air support from the US-led coalition due to the high-risk of civilian casualties. "There are a lot of civilians, and we are trying to protect them," al-Timimi noted. In a rare audio message circulated on Thursday, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the militant group, ordered his followers to stand their ground and fight. The tone of his message marked a stark difference to previous speeches, signaling the group's reluctance to flee the city like they have in similar situations. Since Iraqi forces launched their campaign to liberate the country's third most populous city, the militant fighters have launched a wave of suicide car bombs, mortar attacks, roadside bombs, sniper fire and even reported mustard gas attacks. 'A long fight' The militant group has setup booby traps in neighborhoods, effectively slowing the Iraqi forces' advancement, said Masrour Barzani, who heads the Kurdistan Regional Government's Security Council. "There are many different IEDs (improvised explosive devices) that they put in different places, come up with different tactics. Many that are used like networks," Barzani said. "So in one house, they are putting one IED and trying to hide it. And once it explodes, then the entire neighborhood explodes," he added. However, despite the growing challenges of fighting the group as Iraqi forces inch their way towards the city center, Barzani pointed to other obstacles. "The fight against ISIS is going to be a long fight … Not only militarily but also economically, ideologically," he added. In 2014, the "Islamic State" took over large swathes of land in Iraq and Syria, culminating in the group's capture of Mosul after Iraqi forces fled the city.

An Iraqi army official has described the fighting in Mosul as “one of the hardest battles we’ve faced.” With the help of Kurdish peshmerga and Shiite militias, Iraqi forces have launched a campaign to liberate the city. The Iraqi campaign to uproot the so called “Islamic State” (IS) from its stronghold in Mosul slowed down on Sunday as liberation forces ... Read More »

Beijing ruling to bar Hong Kong pro-independence lawmakers

China's parliament has effectively barred pro-independence legislators from the territory's Legislative Council. The move by the Communist party was made through a controversial reading of Hong Kong's constitution. The interpretation of Hong Kong's Basic Law stipulates that lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China when they take office. At a swearing-in ceremony last month, two recently elected Hong Kong lawmakers, Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, altered their oaths to insert a disparaging Japanese term for China. The stunt last month upset Beijing, which considers talk of independence to be treason. In issuing its ruling on Monday, it said the actions of the two lawmakers "posed a grave threat to national sovereignty and security," the state Xinhua news agency reported. Li Fei, deputy secretary general of China's top legislative panel, said that the comments amounted to an intentional insult. "All traitors who sell out our country will never meet good ends," he said. Now the Beijing's National People's Congress says that by deliberately altering their oaths, their swearing-in "should be determined to be invalid, and cannot be retaken." Hong Kong's leader, Leung Chun-ying, told reporters that he and the city government would "implement the interpretation fully." It also says those who advocate for independence are not only disqualified from election and from assuming posts as lawmakers, but should also be investigated for their legal obligations. Deepening rift with mainland China Yau and Leung were among several Hong Kong lawmakers campaigning for self-determination who won seats in September polls. Having them disqualified from office would be a favorable outcome for China's Communist leaders, who have become increasingly uneasy with the city's growing independence movement. The decision to invoke a rarely used power to interpret the constitution marks Beijing's most direct intervention in the semi-autonomous city's political system since it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Thousands of people took to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to demand that China's central government stay out of the dispute. Fears about China's increasing encroachment on freedoms in the former British colony prompted mass protests in 2014. Britain transferred Hong Kong to Chinese control under a "one country, two systems" formula that gave the territory wide-ranging autonomy, including judicial freedom guided by a mini-constitution called the Basic Law.

China’s parliament has effectively barred pro-independence legislators from the territory’s Legislative Council. The move by the Communist party was made through a controversial reading of Hong Kong’s constitution. The interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law stipulates that lawmakers must swear allegiance to the city as part of China when they take office. At a swearing-in ceremony last month, two recently ... Read More »

Southeastern Turkey hit by blast after HDP crackdown

At least 20 people were wounded when in an explosion outside a police building in Turkey's southeastern city of Diyarbakir. The explosion came hours after authorities detained the leaders of pro-Kurdish opposition. A large explosion hit the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeastern region on Friday, multiple news outlets reported. Television footage showed people walking amid broken glass and other debris from a building used by police; windows were blown out from the apparent explosion that witnesses said could be heard several kilometers away. Diyarbakir's governor's office blamed the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and said it was a car bomb placed near a police building. The attack comes just hours after police rounded up more than a dozen lawmakers from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) on charges of aiding the outlawed PKK, which has fought a decades-long insurgency for political and cultural rights for Turkey's ethnic Kurds. 'Spreading PKK propaganda' Police detained HDP co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag in separate early morning raids that targeted the lawmakers' residences while they slept. Turkey's private NTV television said the pair was accused of spreading PKK propaganda. The state-run Anadolu Agency said Demirtas was accused of provoking violence in deadly protests in October 2014. The lawmakers' detention appeared part of a large-scale operation against the HDP, which is the third largest party in the Turkish parliament with 59 seats and the main political representative of the Kurdish minority. Hundreds of charges were filed against HDP lawmakers following parliament's lifting of prosecutorial immunity, including "disseminating terrorist propaganda" to "membership in an armed terrorist organization." Turkey used extraordinary powers passed in the wake of the failed July coup to remove the elected mayor of Diyarbakir from office with a ruling party loyalist installed in her place. Tensions have surged in Turkey's Kurdish-dominated southeast since a fragile ceasefire declared by the PKK collapsed in 2015 with deadly clashes between PKK militants and security forces an almost daily occurrence. In the wake down of the political crackdown, access to social media sites Twitter and Whatapp was blocked in Turkey on Friday, an internet monitoring group said. Access was being blocked by throttling, an expert from the monitoring group Turkey Blocks said, a method of slowing certain websites to the point where they are unusable.

At least 20 people were wounded when in an explosion outside a police building in Turkey’s southeastern city of Diyarbakir. The explosion came hours after authorities detained the leaders of pro-Kurdish opposition. A large explosion hit the largest city in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeastern region on Friday, multiple news outlets reported. Television footage showed people walking amid broken glass and ... Read More »

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