China protests over Trump’s Taiwan call

BEIJING — China lodged a diplomatic protest yesterday after United States president-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan, but blamed the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own for the “petty” move.

The 10-minute telephone call with Taiwan’s leadership was the first by a US president-elect or president since president Jimmy Carter switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979, acknowledging Taiwan as part of “one China”.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it had lodged “stern representations” with what it called the “relevant US side”, urging the careful handling of the Taiwan issue to avoid any unnecessary disturbances in ties.

“The one China principle is the political basis of the China-US relationship,” it said.

The wording implied the protest had gone to the Trump camp, but the ministry provided no explanation.

Speaking earlier, hours after Friday’s telephone call, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointedly blamed Taiwan for the exchange, rather than Trump, a billionaire businessman with little foreign policy experience.

“This is just the Taiwan side engaging in a petty action, and cannot change the ‘one China’ structure already formed by the international community,” Wang said at an academic forum in Beijing, state media reported.

“I believe that it won’t change the longstanding ‘one China’ policy of the US government.”

Trump said on Twitter that Tsai had initiated the call he had with the Taiwan president.

“The president of Taiwan CALLED ME today to wish me congratulations on winning the Presidency. Thank you!” he said.

Alex Huang, a spokesman for Tsai, said: “Of course both sides agreed ahead of time before making contact.”

Washington remains Taiwan’s most important political ally and sole arms supplier, despite the lack of formal diplomatic ties, the irony of which was not lost on Trump.

“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump said in another tweet.

Earlier this week, Trump spoke to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and praised him, according to the Pakistani leader’s office, as a “terrific guy”.

Islamabad and Washington have seen relations sour in recent years over US accusations that Pakistan shelters Islamist militants who kill US soldiers in Afghanistan, a charge denied by the South Asian nation.
— Reuters

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‘Philippines fighting drugs the right way’

WASHINGTON — United States president-elect Donald Trump told Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte that Manila was conducting its deadly drug war “the right way”, Duterte said yesterday, in stark contrast to the criticism he received from President Barack Obama.

The Philippine president called Trump on Friday to congratulate him on his election victory with Trump wishing him “success” in his controversial anti-crime crackdown, in which some 4,800 people have been killed since June, according to Duterte.

“He was sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well… in my campaign and he said that… we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement.

Duterte, 71, launched an unprecedented war on drugs that drew a wave of global criticism with Obama urging the leader in September to conduct his campaign “the right way” following concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings.

Video released by Duterte’s office showed the Philippine leader laughing as he chatted on the phone, later saying Trump would would be “a good president for the US”.

Duterte said the president-elect invited him to visit New York and Washington and he returned the favour by asking Trump to attend a regional summit that the Philippines is set to host next year.

“If I’m around, he wants to be notified of my presence,” Duterte said.

Trump spoke by phone on Friday with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, the Trump transition team said in a statement.

Trump also spoke on Friday with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

“The two men discussed the long history of good economic, political, and security relations between the US and Singapore,” according to the statement. — AFP

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Protesters demand ouster and arrest of Park

SEOUL — Hundreds of thousands of protestors marched in Seoul for the sixth-straight week Saturday to demand the ouster and arrest of scandal-hit President Park Geun-Hye ahead of an impeachment vote in parliament.

The latest in a series of massive anti-Park demonstrations in the South Korean capital came just hours after opposition parties filed an impeachment motion that will be put to a vote by lawmakers on Friday.

Whether the motion is adopted or not, Park is firmly on course to become the first democratically-elected South Korean president not to complete a full, five-year term.

The 64-year-old stands accused of colluding with an old friend who has been formally indicted for attempted fraud and abuse of power.

The only real questions that remain are precisely when she will go, and whether she will step down or be removed.

The protestors who have taken to the streets in their millions in recent weeks want her out immediately, but the political establishment is struggling to find a similar unity of purpose.

The impeachment motion introduced in the early hours of yesterday morning carried 171 signatures — accounting for every legislator from the three opposition parties and independents.

In order to secure the two-thirds majority required for impeachment in the 300-seat national assembly, it will need the support of more than two-dozen lawmakers from Park’s ruling Saenuri Party.

Just a week ago, the backing of enough Saenuri rebels seemed assured, but a rather confused resignation offer by Park on Tuesday strengthened the hand of her loyalists who insist she be allowed to step down voluntarily.

The party has since proposed she resign in April — a timeline it justifies as more conducive to a calm and steady preparation for an early presidential election.

Observers say the Saenuri rebels are likely to fall in line with the proposal and vote against the motion on Friday.

The prospect of an April departure for Park will do little to assuage the public anger that has driven the mass protests in Seoul and other cities.

“I no longer believe a word the president or her party says,” said bank employee Kim Hak-Won who was marching yesterday with his teenage daughter.

“How can we tell our children to respect the law when our own president refuses to do so?” Kim said.

Along with the now-normal slogans for Park to step down, there were growing calls for her to face criminal charges, arrest and imprisonment.

One life-size cut-out of the president showed her wearing jail uniform and bound by ropes.

There was also widespread anger with the Saenuri party over what were seen as its efforts to block the impeachment process.

But even if impeachment were approved by the assembly on Friday, Park would likely remain in office for some considerable time.

An adopted motion would still require approval of the Constitutional Court — a process that could take up to six months.

Yesterday’s mass rally was set to culminate in a candlelit march to the presidential Blue House, with police allowing protesters within 100 metres of the complex housing Park’s residence and offices.

Around 20,000 police officers were deployed to control the crowds, with organisers putting initial turnout at around 500,000.

A similar rally the previous week drew what organisers claimed was a record 1.5 million people. Police put the number at 270,000. — AFP

Thai police nab suspect in Pakistan factory fire

BANGKOK — A Pakistani man suspected of starting a devastating factory fire in Karachi four years ago that killed 255 people has been arrested in Bangkok, Thai police said Saturday.

Abdul Rehman, 46, was detained at a hotel in the red light district Nana area of the capital on Friday evening, said Thailand’s Interpol chief.

“Thai Interpol tracked this suspect following an arrest warrant sought by the Pakistani authorities,” Major General Apichart Suriboonya told AFP.

“He will be repatriated as soon as Pakistan is ready,” he added.

Apichart said Rehman was suspected of being part of a criminal gang that was extorting the owners of a Karachi garment factory.

The gang burned down the factory when the owners refused to pay seven million baht (RM891,000), he said.

The fire at the Ali Enterprises factory in September 2012 was one of Pakistan’s worst industrial disasters.

A judicial probe into the blaze was damning, pointing to a lack of emergency exits, poor safety training for workers, the packing in of machinery and the failure of government inspectors to spot any of these faults.

Initially the fire was believed to be an accident.

A murder case was registered against the factory owners, but it never came to trial.

Earlier this year police said they now believed an extortion gang was behind the blaze, naming Abdul Rehman as the suspect who allegedly lit the fire.

Much of the factory’s garment output went to the German company KIK, who have paid out nearly US$2 million (RM8.9 million) in compensation to the victims’ families. — AFP

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UK Supreme Court set for highly-charged Brexit case

LONDON — Britain’s Supreme Court will tomorrow begin hearing the government’s appeal against a ruling it must obtain parliamentary approval before triggering Brexit, in a constitutional showdown that has further inflamed political tensions.

The High Court dramatically ruled last month that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government did not have the power to invoke Article 50 of the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty, the formal procedure for leaving the EU.

The judgement prompted fury amongst Brexit supporters who fear lawmakers, overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU, may seek to delay or soften Britain’s withdrawal.

They have warned of a potential “constitutional crisis” as the judges rule on the limits of executive power.

Following a heated and divisive campaign, Britons voted by 52 per cent to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum.

But the Act legislating the vote did not make the result legally-binding, meaning either the government or parliament still has to pull the trigger.

In the shadow of the Houses of Parliament, all 11 Supreme Court judges will tomorrow begin four days of appeal hearings, with a decision due next month.

Despite the complexity of the issues involved, they will be under pressure to make a swift ruling, as May has promised EU leaders she will invoke Article 50 by the end of March.

May argues that as head of the government she has constitutional authority over foreign affairs, including the right to withdraw from treaties, under so-called “royal prerogative” powers.

But the claimants in the case, led by investment fund manager Gina Miller, counter that Brexit would nullify domestic laws and strip citizens of certain rights — actions that only parliament can carry out.

The High Court ruling against the government was cheered by opponents of Brexit, who hope pro-European lawmakers may be able to use a parliamentary vote to ease the terms of the divorce, for example by keeping Britain in the single market.

But the decision prompted personal attacks on the judges from members of May’s Conservative party and in the eurosceptic media, with one tabloid calling them “Enemies of the People”.

An added complication in next week’s hearings will be the presence of representatives from the devolved Scottish and Welsh governments, who are expected to argue that Article 50 also needs to be approved by their devolved parliaments.

Such a ruling could derail May’s timetable further and, given that Scottish lawmakers are opposed to leaving the EU, set up a stand-off between the nations.

The Supreme Court will also hear an appeal calling for the Northern Ireland assembly to have a vote, brought by Raymond McCord, a victims rights campaigner.

He is concerned that Brexit may result in Britain withdrawing from the European Convention of Human Rights, which he fears would undermine his fight for justice for his murdered son.

While the government has publicly expressed confidence about its appeal, legal expert Michael Zander said it has little chance of winning, describing the original ruling was “unanimous and very strong”.

“In my view, the government could be looking at losing 11-0,” he wrote in legal magazine Counsel.

If it does lose, the government is expected to immediately introduce a short bill authorising the invoking of Article 50 that it will try to rapidly push through parliament.

The main opposition Labour party, which has 231 MPs in the 650-seat House, has said it will not block Article 50 but it is divided on the issue.

The government is also braced for a potentially complex judgement, with Brexit minister David Davis this week telling MPs that “it isn’t just a yes-no outcome”.

Supreme Court judge Brenda Hale, one of those hearing the appeal, suggested during a recent speech that the 1972 European Communities Act which is the foundation of Britain’s EU membership may have to be entirely replaced before Brexit could begin — a process that would bring even further delays.

Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith, a leading Brexit campaigner, said that would cause “a constitutional crisis”, and warned that Hale held pro-EU views.

“It is not their job to tell parliament… how they should go about that business, that’s for parliament to decide,” he told the Guardian newspaper. — AFP

Move to name street after Jobs hits roadblock

PARIS — A proposal to name a street after the late Apple Inc chief executive and co-founder Steve Jobs has divided the leftist city council of a Paris district.

The local district mayor wants to call one of several new streets around the vast Halle Freyssinet high-tech start-up hub the “Rue Steve Jobs” in honour of the US inventor of the iPhone who died in 2011.

But Green and Communist local councillors in Paris’s 13th district don’t like the idea because of Apple’s social and fiscal practices.

“Steve Jobs was chosen because of his impact on the development of personal computing and because he was a real entrepreneur,” said a spokeswoman for mayor Jerome Coumet, defending the proposal.

She said other streets would be named after British computer scientist and code-breaker Alan Turing, UK mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, US naval officer and computer programming pioneer Grace Murray Hopper and French civil engineer Eugene Freyssinet, who invented pre-stressed concrete.

Leftist councillors are not impressed however by Jobs’ reputation and heritage.

They criticised working conditions at Apple’s Chinese subcontractors as well as the iPhone maker’s alleged tax avoidance methods in Ireland, which have come under fire from the European Commission.

“The choice of Steve Jobs is misplaced in light of the heritage he has left behind,” communist local councillors said in a statement.

The Paris city council, in which leftist parties have a majority, will take a vote on the issue sometime next week.

“Steve Jobs is not a perfect man, but he has changed our daily lives by popularising computers, the mouse and the smartphone,” Coumet said on his Twitter feed.

Halle Freyssinet, a former freight railway station designed in 1929, will become one of Europe’s biggest start-up hubs and will house some 1,000 start-ups when it opens early next year. — Reuters

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Fund to protect cultural heritage

ABU DHABI — Representatives of some 40 countries are expected to approve establishing a fund to protect heritage sites in conflict-ravaged areas and a network of safe havens for endangered artworks.

“These two elements will be included in the declaration” adopted at the end of a Unesco-backed Abu Dhabi conference initiated by France and the United Arab Emirates, said French ex-culture minister and co-organiser Jack Lang.

Lang heads the Paris-based Institut du Monde Arabe.

The two-day conference reflects growing international alarm over the destruction of ancient artefacts by Islamic State group.

Among these was Syria’s Palmyra, which IS seized in May 2015.

The world watched in dismay as the IS systematically destroyed monuments that once attracted scores of tourists before the Syria conflict erupted in 2011.

In Iraq, videos released in 2015 showed IS using bulldozers and explosives to destroy Nimrud, a jewel of the Assyrian empire south of Mosul, and ransacking pre-Islamic treasures in Mosul’s museum.

Extremists have also targeted other priceless cultural heritage sites in Afghanistan and Mali after denouncing them as un-Islamic.

A draft of the so-called Abu Dhabi Declaration, still being discussed by the participants, did not mention a figure on the value of the proposed fund.

However, delegates have spoken of a US$100 million (RM445.6 million) target.

France said it would contribute with around US$30 million (RM133.7 million).

Other states, including the Gulf Arab monarchies and China, have shown a willingness to contribute to the fund which would be based in Geneva, but without specifying amounts.

The fund aims to safeguard cultural heritage endangered by conflicts, finance preventive and emergency operations, combat the illicit trafficking of artefacts and help restore damaged cultural property, based on a declaration draft yet to be finalised.

Participants are also discussing setting up an international network of refuge zones where they hope cultural property endangered by conflicts or extremism could be stored temporarily.

But with sovereignty a sensitive issue, such assets would only be moved out of a concerned country after a request by its government, according to a source taking part in the discussions.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation will oversee the safeguarding operations.

The conference coincided with an announcement by Swiss authorities that they had seized cultural relics looted from Palmyra, Libya and Yemen, that were being stored in Geneva’s free ports.
— AFP

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Washington Monument shut until 2019

WASHINGTON — The Washington Monument, which has been plagued with elevator problems since a 2011 earthquake struck the US capital, will remain closed until 2019 for much-needed repairs and renovations, the National Park Service said.

A new elevator will be installed in the towering landmark — one of the most popular in the US capital — to allow visitors to reach the top of the giant stone obelisk for sweeping views of the city and its surroundings.

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist David Rubinstein has donated the $2-3 million (RM8.9-13.4 million) needed to complete the project, which will resolve ongoing mechanical, electrical and computer issues.

“The monument has become a symbol of our country, and reminds everyone of the towering strengths of our first president,” Rubinstein said in a statement issued by the National Park Service.

“I am honoured to help make this symbol safely accessible again to all Americans as soon as practicable.”

Rubenstein, co-founder and co-chief executive officer of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, is among the richest people in the United States, with a net worth of some $2.5 billion (RM11.1 billion), according to Forbes Magazine.

It is the second time he has given funding to repair the monument, Washington’s tallest edifice at slightly over 169 metres.

A surprise 5.8-magnitude earthquake that rattled the US East Coast in 2011 opened a small crack near the top of the iconic monument, built in honour of the nation’s first president, George Washington.

Officials at the time temporarily shuttered the building. It was reopened after months of repairs but had to be closed again indefinitely in August this year over the elevator problems.

“The Washington Monument is expected to re-open to visitors in 2019,” the National Park Service said. — AFP

Pensioner returns library book … 63 years late

LONDON — A British pensioner has returned a library book to her school some 63 years after taking it out, the librarian said Friday. The woman, now in her 70s, found the 1929 copy of Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson while clearing out her house.

The book, which charts the author’s 195km solo hike through the Cevennes mountains in southern France, contained a stamp showing it was due to be returned to North Walsham High School in Norfolk, eastern England, in 1953. Luckily for the student, the market town school has a policy of not fining students for overdue books.

“The lady who brought back the Robert Louis Stevenson book apologised for not returning it sooner — but better late than never,” school librarian Liz Sawyer said, appealing for others with overdue books to do the same. “While we don’t lose many books, there must have been a few which have been inadvertently retained by students over the years,” she said, adding: “It would be really nice to get some of them back.” The world’s largest fine for an overdue library book is US$345.14 (RM1,537) according to Guinness World Records. That book, returned after 47 years by the borrower’s daughter, was lent out by Kewanee Public Library in the US state of Illinois, and was due back in April 1955. — AFP

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ plans 2018 Broadway debut

LOS ANGELES — After a hit debut on London’s West End this summer, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is in talks to move to New York’s Broadway in 2018, producers said on Friday. The play, based on author J.K. Rowling’s popular boy wizard character, is being planned for Broadway’s Lyric Theater, which will undergo a multi-million dollar revamp to house the elaborate production, the show’s producers said in a post on Rowling’s website Pottermore.com. The Lyric Theater is one of Broadway’s largest venues, with nearly 1,900 seats, and has housed complex theatrical productions such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in 2005 and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which ran from 2010 to 2014. In preparation for Cursed Child, the Lyric Theater will be remodeled with a slightly reduced 1,500 seats, “to accommodate the dramatic look and feel” of the play. Cursed Child is sold out at London’s Palace Theater until 2018, although more tickets are expected to be released in January. The play is set 19 years after Rowling’s book series concluded the boy wizard’s teen years with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in 2007. The play is penned by Jack Thorne, with a story co-created by Rowling, and centres on the lives of an adult Harry Potter and his son. A book of the Cursed Child script, released to coincide with the opening of the play, has become a best-seller this year, with more than three million copies sold in the United States within its first month. — Reuters

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