‘Hitman’ charge sparks Duterte probe calls

MANILA — The Philippines faced calls yesterday to investigate its firebrand president after a self-confessed hitman alleged Rodrigo Duterte ordered a thousand opponents and suspected criminals murdered when he was a city mayor.

The hitman told a Senate inquiry on Thursday he and a group of policemen killed some 1,000 people in Davao city on Duterte’s orders from 1988-2013, with the politician himself shooting dead one of the victims.

“These are serious allegations and we take them seriously, we will look into them,” said US State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner.

Critics say the alleged killings in Davao, where Duterte was mayor for more than 20 years, established a pattern that spread nationwide under the new presidency.

The allegations surfaced as the Senate investigated alleged extra-judicial killings in an ongoing anti-drug crackdown that has led to more than 3,000 deaths in Duterte’s first 72 days in office.

US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Manila to let United Nations investigators probe the claims.

“President Duterte can’t be expected to investigate himself, so it is crucial that the United Nations is called in to lead such an effort,” the monitor’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.

Duterte had on various occasions admitted or denied involvement in the death squads during the campaign for May elections, which he won by landslide on a pledge to kill tens of thousands of criminals.

Duterte has so far ignored the latest allegations while his senior aides dismissed them, with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre branding them “lies and fabrications”.

Wilnor Papa, a campaign officer for the Manila office of Amnesty International, said the problem of impunity was coming to a head partly due to the failure of previous governments, which failed to prosecute Duterte.

“We are now seeing riding-in-tandem (motorcycle-borne assassins) like those that prowled the Davao streets in the late 1990s, The targets are not only drug syndicates. Even purse snatchers use them and they can target basically anyone,” he said.

House of Representatives member Edcel Lagman urged Duterte on Friday to name an independent fact-finding commission made up of retired judges to “determine the identities of the principals and perpetrators as well as of the victims”.

The fate of the former death squad member, Edgar Matobato, was uncertain yesterday as Senate president, Duterte ally Aquilino Pimentel, refused to take him into protective custody.

His testimony was not related to the drug war killings being investigated, Pimentel said adding: “There’s even no showing that his life or safety is threatened.” — AFP

Singapore- flagged oil tankers held in Yemen port

SINGAPORE — Two oil tankers have been stopped from leaving a rebel-held port in war-torn Yemen over a commercial dispute, the ships’ Singapore-based owner said yesterday.

The Singapore-flagged Chao Hu and Hong Ze Hu — both carrying crude oil — have been prevented from leaving Hodeida, the second-largest port in Yemen, an impoverished country that is heavily dependent on imports.

“The vessels themselves are not under arrest but have unfortunately been caught up in a commercial dispute between cargo interests,” the ships’ owner, Ocean Tankers, said in a statement.

“The dispute has nothing to do with Ocean Tankers or our ships and we hope the dispute can be settled quickly,” the company said, providing no further details.

According to ship tracking data seen by AFP, both the Chao Hu and Hong Ze Hu have been anchored in the Red Sea for at least four months.

Shipping has become increasingly dangerous around Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, since fighting erupted two years ago.

The Iran-backed Huthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa unopposed in September 2014 and went on to expand their control of the impoverished country, advancing to southern provinces, including the Hodeida port. — AFP

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Renho — from model to Opposition leader

TOKYO — The biggest Japanese opposition party elected its first female leader.

Renho Murata is the third Japanese woman to attain high office in recent weeks in a country where women are woefully under-represented in politics.

Introducing the 48-year-old model-turned- firebrand who might just become the most feared woman in Japan.

Renho (she prefers to go by just one name) easily defeated her two rivals for the leadership of the left-of-centre Democratic party on Thursday.

Hours earlier, she sparked a controversy by revealing she still held dual Japanese and Taiwanese nationality.

Born in Japan to a Taiwanese father and Japanese mother, she insisted before that she had renounced the Taiwan citizenship at 17.

The law requires people with dual nationality to choose one or the other before they reach the age of 22.

Although failure to do so is not a crime, many retain dual nationality under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

In July, Yuriko Koike was elected governor of Tokyo, and immediately confronted the city’s bureaucracy by postponing the relocation of Tsukiji market – the world’s biggest fish market – due to concerns over soil contamination at the new site.

Last month, Tomomi Inada, a rightwinger who has been tipped as a future prime minister, became Japan’s second defence minister.

Born Hsieh Lien-fang in Tokyo to a Taiwanese father and a Japanese mother, she did not become a Japanese citizen until 1985, when the Nationality Law was revised to allow Japanese mothers to pass their nationality to their children.

Renho studied law before becoming the face of Clarion, a maker of car audio products, for its annual promotional campaign and posed for a number of swimsuit photo shoots.

In one of her most famous shots, she appeared on a beach minus the top half of her bikini, but with her arms strategically crossed to protect her modesty.

She later began to appear as a guest commentator on current affairs programmes before becoming a news presenter for the Tokyo Broadcasting System and TV Asahi stations.

First elected to the Lower House of the Diet from a Tokyo constituency in July 2004, she served as minister of government revitalisation for a year from June 2010 in the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then as minister for consumer affairs and food safety.
— Agenices

Thousands want Mexican leader to resign

MEXICO CITY — Thousands of people protested in Mexico City on Thursday, demanding that President Enrique Pena Nieto resign over his handling of drug violence, corruption and his meeting with Donald Trump.

Demonstrators marched across the capital toward the Zocalo square, where the president traditionally stands on a balcony of the National Palace the night before the holiday to replicate the “grito”, or shout of independence, made in 1810.

Riot police stood near the Zocalo to block access to protesters, who marched under the rallying cry “resign now”. Parents of 43 students missing since 2014 joined the protest, with people angry at the government’s failure to solve the case, almost two years after they were abducted by police and allegedly killed by a drug cartel. Some shouted “Pena out!” while one sign read: “We’re missing 43. State crime!” — AFP

Trump’s son clarifies ‘gas chamber’ comment

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump Jr sought on Thursday to clarify his remark that the media would be “warming up the gas chamber” if the Republican Party behaved the same way as the Democrats during the US presidential campaign, saying it was a reference to capital punishment, not the Nazi-led Holocaust.

Trump, the son of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, spoke to NBC News after the Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism, asked him to retract his statement.

“Trivialisation of the Holocaust and gas chambers is NEVER okay,” the Anti-Defamation League tweeted.

John Podesta, the chair of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, told reporters. — Reuters

London mayor Khan slams Trump

CHICAGO — Visiting London mayor Sadiq Khan on Thursday criticised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments on Muslim immigration.

Khan, who is of Pakistani descent and became the first Muslim mayor of a major Western capital when he was elected in May, arrived in Chicago to begin a US trip promoting trade ties.

Trump at one point called for a ban on Muslim immigration into the US. The candidate has since modified his stance to urge an immigration ban from countries with “a proven history of terrorism” and for “extreme vetting” of immigrants.

“We play straight into the hands of those who seek to divide us, of extremists and terrorists around the world, when we imply that it’s not possible to hold Western values dear and to be a Muslim,” Khan said to applause from an audience at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was his first visit to the US as London’s mayor.

“People shouldn’t have to drop their cultures and traditions when they arrive in our cities and countries,” Khan said, “We all have multiple layers of identity.”

Khan also appeared to back Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, pegging her as a “left center” politician similar to himself.

“I’m a big fan of Hillary Clinton,” he said, “She’s arguably the most experienced candidate to run to be president.”

Khan’s North America trip began in Canada earlier on Thursday in a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In Chicago, he planned to visit a technology incubator hub and stress opportunities for Chicago companies to establish European headquarters in London.

He is joined on his trip by a delegation of British tech industry executives, as they attempt to mitigate future economic impacts from Britain’s ‘Brexit’ vote to leave the European Union.

Khan’s five-day trip will also take him to New York, where he plans to visit a housing project and to meet with Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, to discuss bringing the American sport to London. — AFP

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Clinton out to break rival’s momentum

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton returned to the White House campaign trail on Thursday seeking to regain the momentum lost to Donald Trump, especially in the country’s key battleground states, during her battle with pneumonia.

The former secretary of state, 68, signalled she was raring to go, quickly going on the attack against her Republican rival at a rally in North Carolina and later in Washington at a celebration marking Hispanic Heritage Month.

But Trump didn’t skip a beat, pummelling her economic record and that of President Barack Obama — and releasing new medical records showing the 70-year-old billionaire real estate mogul to be in “excellent physical health.”

The presidential hopefuls are going to pound the pavement in the 10 days to come before their first of three highly anticipated debates on Sept 26 in New York.

“It’s great to be back on the campaign trail,” Clinton told cheering supporters in Greensboro, North Carolina — a key battleground state.

“With two months to go until election day, sitting at home is the last place I wanted to be,” she added.

“The heat is on.”

She announced stops for next week in states where Trump has started closing the gap, including Florida — a must-win for both candidates.

Her cough was gone, but her voice still seemed scratchy at times.

Clinton fell ill on Sunday during a 9/11 memorial ceremony in New York, where she was seen stumbling limp-legged into her vehicle, an episode that raised tough questions about her overall health and her campaign’s transparency.

With the candidates’ wellbeing suddenly at the forefront of the campaign, Clinton looked to head off further scrutiny by releasing new medical records on Wednesday indicating that she was “fit to serve” as president.

The disclosure came as the media-savvy Trump, 70, teased new health data of his own during the taping of a nationally televised medical chat show, before publishing it on Thursday in full.

The one-page letter from his longtime doctor lists various lab results, including for cholesterol, blood pressure and liver and thyroid function — all deemed to be within the normal range.

While Trump was shown to be slightly overweight, his doctor Harold Bornstein declared the Republican nominee to be “in excellent physical health”.

Clinton appeared to lose her patience with the drama.

“Look at the show he put on with Dr Oz today,” she said in Greensboro.

“I’ll never be the showman my opponent is — and that’s ok with me.”

Trump had made a point of refraining from harsh attacks on his convalescent rival but the candidates swiftly resumed their jousting with Clinton back in action.

In an address to the Economic Club of New York, Trump slammed the policies of Clinton and Obama as having doubled the national debt and promised his presidency would bring about “an American economic revival”.

There would be “no limit” to American job growth if the government were to slash taxes, remove destructive regulations and unleash the energy sector, he said, warning that the nation would tumble into “dwindling prosperity” and see more people grow dependent on handouts if Clinton were elected.

“The only thing she can ever offer is a welfare check,” he said.

Recent opinion polls show the Clinton-Trump gap narrowing with less than seven weeks before Election Day.

A CBS News/New York Times survey found Clinton had just a two-point edge (46 to 44 percent) over Trump in a two-way matchup among likely voters.

When third party candidates Gary Johnson and Jill Stein were included, the race was tied at 42 percent each.

Trump appears to have flipped the momentum in all-important battleground states as well. A recent Bloomberg poll puts him up by five points in Ohio, while a CNN survey now has Trump ahead of Clinton by three points in Florida. — AFP

‘Pastor was nervous mess’

GREENSBORO — Donald Trump branded a pastor a “nervous mess” on Thursday a day after she shut him down as he criticised White House rival Hillary Clinton, prompting a sharp rebuke from the Democratic nominee.

Trump had travelled to the suffering Michigan city of Flint in part to learn about how it has dealt with a major public health crisis prompted by the lead contamination of its drinking water.

But when the Republican presidential hopeful arrived at Bethel United Methodist Church, a predominantly black congregation, he turned political, assailing Clinton for having “failed on the economy, just like she’s failed on foreign policy”.

As he spoke, Reverend Faith Green Timmons interrupted him.

“Mr Trump, I invited you here to thank us for what we’ve done in Flint, not to give a political speech,” Timmons said in a low voice.

“Oh, oh, oh, OK,” Trump said, before shifting his remarks to conditions in Flint.

On Thursday, Trump told Fox News that he felt Timmons might have had a political motive for stepping in.

“She was so nervous, she was like a nervous mess,” Trump said. — AFP

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Trump suddenly believes Obama born in US

WASHINGTON — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, one of the leaders of the “birther” movement that questioned President Barack Obama’s citizenship, believes Obama was born in the United States, the Trump campaign said in a statement on Thursday.

In an interview with the Washington Post released earlier in the day, Trump declined to say whether he believed Obama was born in Hawaii.

“I’ll answer that question at the right time. I just don’t want to answer it yet,” Trump told the newspaper.

Those comments drew criticism from Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who expressed dismay at Trump’s response during remarks to a gathering of Hispanic leaders in Washington.

“He still wouldn’t say Hawaii. He still wouldn’t say America. This man wants to be our next president?” Clinton said.

“When will he stop this ugliness, this bigotry? Now he’s tried to reset himself and his campaign many times. This is the best he can do. This is who he is,” she said.

A few years into his presidency, Obama, the first African American to win the White House, released a longer version of his birth certificate to answer those who suggested he was not born in the US.

“In 2011, Trump was finally able to bring this ugly incident to its conclusion by successfully compelling President Obama to release his birth certificate,” Trump senior communications advisor, Jason Miller, said in a statement on Thursday.

“Having obtained President Obama’s birth certificate when others could not, Trump believes that Obama was born in the US,” he said.

Trump has been trying to drum up support among black voters, who overwhelmingly supported Obama in his 2008 and 2012 elections. Many African Americans object to Trump’s involvement in the “birther” movement and the implication that Obama’s presidency was illegitimate.

Donald Trump’s hair, a crusty, complex, yellowish affair that has become one of the enigmas of a very weird US presidential race, got messed up on Thursday.

The usually brash presidential candidate talked in subdued tones and played the good sport as he appeared on one of America’s most popular late-night broadcasts, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Fallon did his popular impression of Trump’s speaking style, ribbed him right and left and concluded his interview with a request.

“Can I mess up your hair?” Fallon said.

The comic explained that this might be the last time he could ask to do something unpresidential with Trump, lest he win election in November against Hillary Clinton.

The crowd went nuts over the idea.

A US federal judge on Thursday denied a request for a five-week delay by Donald Trump’s attorneys in a trial over whether the Republican presidential candidate’s now-defunct Trump University had fleeced customers.

Lead Trump attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, had asked that the trial, set for Nov 28 in San Diego, be moved to Jan 2, as it interfered with another case he is handling.

An attorney representing the plaintiffs opposed the request, arguing that the trial date had been set months ago so as not to conflict with the Nov 8 presidential election or the end-of-year holidays.

The two class-action lawsuits against the billionaire businessman claim that Trump University students were tricked with aggressive marketing that amounted to fraud.

The suits say students paid as much as US$35,000 (RM144,600) to enroll, believing they would make it big in real estate and would be taught by experts hand-picked by Trump.

Trump’s lawyers say many students have given the programme a thumbs up and those who failed to succeed had nothing but themselves to blame.

Trump has repeatedly hit out against the federal judge in the case, Gonzalo Curiel, accusing him of bias because of his Mexican heritage. — AFP

‘Dr M’s party no threat to BN’

KUALA LUMPUR — Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) will not threaten Barisan Nasional (BN) as it depended on local support for Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, according to Fitch Group’s BMI Research.

The research house added that aside from the two former Umno leaders, PPBM has not secured any serious defections from Umno.

“PPBM only appears to have two main powerbases in Johor and Kedah, with these powerbases largely deriving from both Mahathir and Muhyiddin’s personal popularities in their traditional strongholds,” said BMI research in a statement yesterday.

“While there have been a number of relatively high-level defections from Umno to PPBM, the latter still lacks Umno’s formidable party machinery, and we believe that Mahathir and Muhyiddin will continue to face difficulties in growing the party without the support of strong grassroots.”

The report added that the fractured nature of Malaysia’s opposition will also hamper their efforts to remove BN from Putrajaya, as many of the five opposition parties share ideologies and have made plans to contest in the same seats as well.

PPBM claimed that it is an alternative to Umno, but the party has been reduced to seeking the blessings of jailed opposition leader, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to cooperate with his PKR and the larger Pakatan Harapan.

While Dr Mahathir’s party had been expected to leech away support from Umno, it now appears the party will instead be in competition with existing opposition parties.

“With the opposition remaining fragmented and the main opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan is considerably weaker than its predecessor Pakatan Rakyat (PR), the entrance of PPBM into Malaysia’s crowded opposition scene is unlikely to strengthen the opposition.”

The report stated that Opposition also does not have a leader capable of uniting all the different parties ever since Anwar was imprisoned in February last year.

“Although PPBM’s charismatic leader Dr Mahathir could ostensibly unite the coalition, his efforts are likely to be thwarted by DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, with both men having a long history of mutual distrust,” the statement said.

DAP, PKR and PAS splinter party Amanah formed an informal alliance called Pakatan Harapan last year, following the breakup of the previous Pakatan Rakyat pact formed following the federal opposition parties’ landmark wins in Election 2008.

PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali had earlier this year proposed a “grand coalition” of other opposition parties to go head-to-head with BN in the next national polls after Dr Mahathir and Muhyiddin left Umno and set up PPBM.

Nothing concrete has emerged to date though the opposition parties all maintain they are open to cooperation with each other. — Malay Mail Online

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