Malaysia hits out at Myanmar over ‘ethnic cleansing’
Malaysia accused Myanmar of engaging in the “ethnic cleansing” of its Rohingya minority Saturday, as former UN chief Kofi Annan visited a burned out village in strife-torn Rakhine state.
Tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled their homes since a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar Army in the western state of Rakhine sparked by a string of deadly attacks on police border posts in early October, AFP reported.
“The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing,” Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry said in an unusually strongly-worded statement.
The statement came a day before a planned march in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur against the ethnic violence in Myanmar. Sunday’s rally is expected to be led by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Press TV reported.
A similar protest was held in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, where demonstrators urged the Nobel Committee to strip Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi of her title as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Myanmar has balked at such criticism, saying the Rakhine crisis is an internal issue – but international pressure on the country is mounting.
Malaysia’s statement noted that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries in recent years – including some 56,000 to Muslim-majority Malaysia.
That, the statement said, “makes this matter no longer an internal matter but an international matter”.
On Saturday morning, a convoy carrying the former UN chief arrived outside the Rohingya village of Wapeik, which has seen significant damage from fire.
Non state media journalists were stopped by police from coming close to the convoy or entering the village, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
Annan is not expected to brief the media until Tuesday – after his visit to Rakhine ends.
Myanmar has restricted access to the northern part of the state and says its military is hunting down those behind the attacks.
But rights groups and Rohingya refugees who have made it to Bangladesh have accused the military of killing civilians and razing entire villages as a form of collective punishment.
The Rohingya have long faced persecution and government restrictions on movement that many have likened to apartheid.
Much of Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many have lived there for generations.
“The Bengali people who brand themselves Rohingya are not Myanmar citizens,” Parmaukkha, a nationalist monk, told a small group of supporters protesting outside Malaysia’s Yangon Embassy on Saturday afternoon.
Lukoil keen on Iran oil projects
Lukoil is interested in participating in the projects in Iran if it gets the right to manage a part of oil, but would not agree to exclusively service, said Lukoil’s Vice President Leonid Fedun in an interview with TASS on Saturday.
“I am aware, they have drafts of a new oil contract, which is a mixture of production, sharing and buyback,” he said. “It is extremely important for us to be able to manage some own part of oil, so that we could include this oil in our assets.”
He noted, “We are not going to be involved in services only, we have been discussing it with them, and as yet this is what they should decide among themselves.”
Iran, he added, had confirmed its interest in having the company work in Iran.
“Vagit (Alekperov Lukoil’s president) has met Iran’s oil minister and they confirmed the interest our company participates, as we have a very good reputation as we put operational Qurna in that region,” he continued.
“I hope very much, if Iran among themselves offers acceptable terms of the oil contract, we shall be pleased to work in that republic.”
Earlier, Alekperov said Lukoil may sign contracts with Iran on two fields Al-Mansuri and Ab-Teymur in October-November 2017. He said that recoverable reserves of each of these fields exceed one million tons.
Iran has already signed three memoranda of understanding with Russian oil companies Lukoil, Tatneft and Zarubezhneft.
Earlier, a representative of National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) Gholamreza Manouchehri said that the Russian companies are potential investors in oil and gas projects in Iran.
President: No country allowed to weaken nuclear deal
Zarif says new vote shows lack of US credibility
President Hassan Rouhani warned on Saturday that no country is authorized to undermine last year’s landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries.
The nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was signed following efforts by seven countries in line with the promotion of international peace and security, Rouhani said in a meeting with Russia’s special envoy on Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, in Tehran on Saturday.
“No country must be allowed to carry out a measure based on its own desires to weaken the agreement,” the president said, IRNA reported.
He urged all countries to safeguard the achievements of the JCPOA.
“Iran has always remained and will remain committed to its international obligations (under the JCPOA) and the P5+1 members must fully fulfill their commitments so that the JCPOA would remain in place,” Rouhani pointed out.
He made the remarks in reaction to the US Senate vote to extend the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) for 10 years.
The US Senate passed the ISA 99-0 on Thursday after it easily cleared the House of Representatives last month. The ISA was first adopted in 1996 to punish investments.
Iran has vowed to take “appropriate measures” against the ISA extension, saying it violated the JCPOA terms.
Lack of US credibility
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday that the extension of the anti-Iran legislation in the US will have no “executive effect” and will merely be a sign of the American government’s unreliability.
“What was done at the Senate, even if it is signed off on by America’s president, has no executive effect and from the standpoint of the international community, it shows the lack of credibility of the US government, which acts against its commitments,” Zarif said.
The White House’s Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said Friday he “would expect” US President Barack Obama to sign the ISA.
Inside the legislation, Schultz added, “it includes a provision to allow the Secretary of State to waive relevant nuclear-related sanctions.”
The authorization of more sanctions is, however, considered a violation of the spirit of the Iran deal.
Iran’s Supreme Court upholds Zanjani’s death sentence
Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence issued by the Court of First Instance against billionaire Babak Zanjani for fraud and money laundering, among other charges.
Gholamreza Ansari, an official with the court’s supervision and inspection authority, announced the development on Saturday, Press TV reported.
Zanjani was arrested in December 2013 over accusations that he withheld revenues from oil that he had sold on behalf of the Oil Ministry and the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC).
Prosecutors subsequently accused Zanjani of owing the government more than 2.7 billion dollars in oil revenues.
In March, the Court of First Instance convicted him and two accomplices, Hamid Fallah-Heravi and Mahdi Shams-Zadeh, of “spreading corruption on earth,” and sentenced them to death. The three defendants were also ordered to repay funds owed to the NIOC and other state organizations.
In August, the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Tehran accepted allowing the Ministry of Petroleum to take over 642 million dollars in assets owned by the billionaire.
By his own accounts, Zanjani amassed a fortune of $10 billion, along with debts of a similar scale. According to judicial authorities, he received funds as well as oil and other shipments from certain bodies which he did not return.
Zanjani can appeal the verdict, Ansari said. Ansari also said that the Supreme Court had overturned the other convicts’ sentences and submitted their cases for reconsideration.
Antonio Conte’s men lay down title marker
Chelsea laid down a huge marker for the Premier League title by coming from behind to beat Manchester City 3-1 in a game that boiled over on Saturday at the Etihad Stadium.
City took the lead on the stroke of halftime courtesy of a Gary Cahill own goal before second-half strikes from Diego Costa and Willian swung the game in Chelsea’s favor, skysports.com reported.
Costa’s equalizer on 60 minutes came after a period of relentless City pressure during which Kevin De Bruyne missed a glorious chance from just four yards out.
Eden Hazard wrapped up the points in injury time to stretch Chelsea’s winning run to eight games in the league. But that was not the end of the drama as Sergio Aguero was dismissed for an ugly tackle on David Luiz before Fernandino followed him down the tunnel for an altercation with Cesc Fabregas.
The victory moves Chelsea four points clear at the top of the Premier League while City, which was four points clear itself at the end of September, has now taken just 12 points from its last eight games.
Much was made of the tactical battle between the two managers in the buildup and Pep Guardiola decided to match Conte’s 3-4-3 formation.
Guardiola made six changes from the team that beat Burnley 2-1 last weekend — with David Silva and De Bruyne back in the starting lineup.
Raheem Sterling, Yaya Toure, Nolito, Fernando, Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna were the six players to drop out.
It was just the single change for Conte, who lost Nemanja Matic to a “small muscular problem” with Fabregas replacing him.
Despite City starting with good intent, it was Hazard who had the first shot in anger when curling an effort from 20 yards inches wide of the post after 15 minutes.
Aguero tested Thibaut Courtois from a similar distance 10 minutes later but the goalkeeper helped it on its way over the crossbar.
City did have the ball in the net moments later but Fernandinho’s header from close range was ruled out as he was a yard offside from De Bruyne’s set-piece.
Luiz was thrust into the spotlight on 30 minutes as he obstructed Aguero as he attempted to latch onto a poor back-pass by Cesar Azpilicueta.
It seemed like referee Anthony Taylor was about to blow for the free-kick — and potentially a red card for Luiz as the last man — but ended up waving play on, much to the annoyance of the home fans.
Those boos turned to cheers just before halftime though as City took the lead. Jesus Navas swung a hopeful ball into the near post and Cahill awkwardly swung a right foot at the ball which deflected into the top corner.
The goal visibly shook Chelsea but City was unable to take advantage of its defensive frailties.
De Bruyne snuck in behind but was denied at the near post by Courtois before Cahill and Marcus Alonso got into bother on the edge of their box but Aguero’s effort was cleared off the line by the former.
De Bruyne should have doubled City’s lead on 57 minutes after Guardiola’s men opened up Chelsea down the right flank. Ilkay Gundogan rolled the ball across for the Belgian but with the goal gaping he could only hit the crossbar
And the miss would prove to be costly as Chelsea found its stride and was level three minutes later.
Fabregas delivered a ball over the top for Costa to bring down, beat Nicolas Otamendi and fire low into the net from 15 yards.
The game was now end-to-end and it was Chelsea that showed a more lethal instinct with Costa the architect.
He bruised his way past a timid Otamendi tackle in midfield and released substitute Willian in behind the City back three. The Brazilian kept his cool and fired low into the corner.
City had little response and it was left to Hazard to dance away past Alexander Kolarov in injury time to seal the points.
With the clock running down the game ended on a sour note as Aguero launched into a reckless high tackle on Luiz by the touchline. A melee ensued with staff from both benches getting involved.
The red card was brandished to Aguero and also Fernandinho, who grabbed Fabregas by the throat and pushed him over an advertising board.
Iranian cultural exhibition underway in Pakistan
A redesigned and improved Iranian Cultural Link Passage at Pakistan’s Lok Virsa Heritage Museum opened to the public on Friday.
Rearranged in collaboration with Cultural Consulate of the Iranian Embassy, the passage mirrors the classical and modern arts, crafts and other art materials of Iran having similarities with the culture of Pakistan, dawn.com reported.
Iran’s Ambassador Mehdi Honardoust was the chief guest at the ribbon-cutting inaugural ceremony, enlivened by musical performances and mystic songs sung by Muhammad Akram, from Lok Virsa music group, and Adnan Haider, who played Pashto and Persian tunes on Rabab.
Metal and brass work was very prominent among the decoration pieces like vases, plates, wall hangings on display at the Link Passage.
These were made with ‘minakari’ (or enameled work), which is the art of painting, coloring and ornamenting the surface of metals by fusing over it brilliant colors in intricate design.
In his address, Ambassador Honardoust said: “Pakistan is a cradle of history, culture and art which have been beautifully showcased in the Heritage Museum.
“We, Iranians also take pride in that because Pakistan is a brotherly nation. Pakistan and Iran have deep political relations and both the countries need to strengthen their cultural and trade ties on that pattern.”
He hoped the Link Passage will create better understanding among the people of Pakistan about the cultural heritage of Iran, which reflected the Eastern way of life and civilization. Though Pakistan and Iran enjoyed close ties, he said, there was still a need to work more for developing bilateral relations in different sectors.
Ambassador Honardoust stressed that strong cooperation was required between Pakistan, Iran and rest of Islamic world to face the current onslaught and negative propaganda against the Islamic civilization. Iranian movies were playing a key role in this regard, he noted.
He said such art galleries and events meant to preserve Islamic culture and art could also help in creating awareness among our future generations about their rich culture, history and civilization.
Executive Director of Lok Virsa, Fouzia Saeed said the Heritage Museum was established in 2004 as the first state museum of ethnology in Pakistan, depicting living cultural heritage presented through three-dimensional creative manner.
Apart from documenting and preserving the indigenous folk culture of the whole Pakistan, she said the museum also projects cultures of other friendly and brotherly countries that share similarities and influences with the culture of Pakistan, Iran included.
The Iranian link passage was created at the time of the inception of the museum, which has now been redesigned, improved and renovated by the Cultural Consulate of the Iranian Embassy in collaboration with Lok Virsa.
Cultural Attaché of Iran’s Embassy Shahaboddin Daraei said art pieces by famous Iranian artists were on display in the gallery. “They tell us about the pre-Islamic Revolution period and the culture of today’s Iran,” he said, sure that the gallery would go a long way in the progress and development of Lok Virsa.
Zara Khaliq, a visitor to the Iranian gallery, observed that such lovely gatherings and events give one immense understanding and knowledge about culture and art.
“We as society know little about art and culture and don’t give them the value and importance that they deserve. So I would suggest that a lot more such events should be held on regularly,” she said.
Mass protest demands arrest of S. Korean president
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.
Organizers claimed a turnout of 1.5 million for the candlelight rally in the South Korean capital, while police put the number at 220,000, AFP reported.
It was the latest in a series of massive anti-Park demonstrations and 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.
Along with the now-normal slogans for Park to step down, there were growing calls at Saturday’s rally for her to face criminal charges, arrest and imprisonment.
While the protestors want her out immediately, the political establishment is struggling to find a similar unity of purpose.
The impeachment motion introduced in the early hours of Saturday 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.
Even if impeachment were approved by the assembly on Friday, Park would likely remain in office for a considerable time.
An adopted motion would still require approval of the Constitutional Court – a process that could take up to six months.
Saturday’s mass rally culminated in a march to the presidential Blue House. Following a court order, police allowed the marchers within 100 meters of the complex housing Park’s residence and offices.
The scandal that has engulfed Park and paralyzed her administration has focused on her friendship with long-time confidante, Choi Soon-Sil.
Choi has been charged with meddling in state affairs and using her Blue House connections to force dozens of conglomerates to donate around $70 million to two foundations she controlled.
Hyundai near deal with Iran for 10 ships
Hyundai Heavy Industries Co., a major shipyard in South Korea, looks set to clinch a deal with Iran to supply 10 ships.
Under the expected contract, valued at $650 million, with the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Hyundai will build four 14,400 TEU container ships and six 50,000 DWT product tankers, TradeWins, a global shipping news service, reported Saturday.
The ships will be delivered starting in the third quarter of 2018, it added. If signed, the contract will be Iran’s first deal with a foreign shipbuilder since the lifting of international sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation.
Iran is seeking a series of ship-related contracts via the IRISL to handle increasing trade cargo.
“We are in consultations [with the Iranian side on the possible contract] but it’s not decided yet,” a company official said.
India’s UCO bank to open branch in Iran
India’s government-owned bank UCO plans to open a branch in Tehran before the end of the year, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
Addressing a joint meeting of Iranian and Indian business people in New Delhi on Saturday, Zarif quoted a top Indian Central Bank official as saying that UCO Bank will have opened its first branch in Tehran before the end of this year, Tasnim News Agency reported.
Describing banking cooperation between Iran and India as the backbone of bilateral economic relations, the foreign minister said Iran and India’s economies complement one another.
He further noted that Iran is not willing to be merely a supplier of oil for India, but seeks closer energy cooperation with the South Asian country in the upstream and downstream industries.
Heading a mainly trade delegation, Zarif arrived in India for the 6th Heart of Asia ministerial conference, slated for December 3-4 in Amritsar, Punjab State, and for talks with Indian officials on bilateral, regional and international issues.
China protests Trump’s Taiwan call
China protested to Washington Saturday after US President-elect Donald Trump broke with decades of foreign policy and spoke with the president of Taiwan.
It was not immediately clear whether Trump’s telephone call with Tsai Ing-wen marked a deliberate pivot away from Washington’s official “One China” stance, but it fueled fears he is improvising on international affairs, AFP reported on Saturday.
China regards self-ruling Taiwan as part of its own territory awaiting reunification under Beijing’s rule, and any US move that would imply support for independence would likely trigger fury.
During Friday’s discussion, Trump and Tsai noted “the close economic, political and security ties” between Taiwan and the United States, according to the president-elect’s office.
“President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming president of Taiwan earlier this year,” it said.
Beijing on Saturday offered a robust response.
“We have already made solemn representations about it to the relevant US side,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
“It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world. Taiwan is an inalienable part of China’s territory.”
Trump, who had come under fire for the telephone call, hit back – on Twitter.
“Interesting how the US sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call,” Trump tweeted.
President Barack Obama’s White House said the outgoing US administration had not changed its stance on China-Taiwan issues.
“There is no change to our longstanding policy on cross-strait issues,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told reporters.
Washington cut formal diplomatic relations with the island in 1979 and recognizes Beijing as the sole government of “One China” – while keeping friendly, nonofficial ties with Taipei.
But since coming to office this year, Tsai has refused to accept the “One China” concept, prompting Beijing to cut off all official communication with the island’s new government.
Syrian forces seize nearly two-thirds of east Aleppo
Syrian government forces have captured 60 percent of the area previously held by terrorists in eastern Aleppo after gaining new ground on the city’s eastern edge, the so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
At least seven plumes of smoke were seen rising from terrorist-held areas of the city on Saturday morning as the sound of jets could be heard overhead, Reuters reported.
The Syrian Army backed by allied militia has captured large areas of terrorist-held eastern Aleppo in the last week in a fierce campaign.
A Syrian military source said the army had built on its gains by capturing the Tariq al-Bab district late on Friday.
The advance opens the road leading from the government-controlled west of the city to the international airport just outside Aleppo to the east, which is also held by the government.
And it has prompted more civilians to flee, heading either further south into remaining terrorist-held districts or crossing into government-held territory or areas under Kurdish control.
Government forces have made swift gains in east Aleppo, and its loss would be the biggest blow yet to terrorists in the more than five-year-old war.
More than 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict started in March 2011, and over half the country’s population has been displaced.
The government has boasted its advances, and state television on Saturday showed buses full of residents going from west Aleppo back to their homes in neighborhoods retaken by the army.
On Friday, terrorists rolled back some government gains in the Sheikh Saeed district on Aleppo’s southeastern outskirts, but it was unclear how long they could hold that line. Sheikh Saeed borders the last remaining parts of Aleppo still in terrorist hands – a collection of densely populated residential neighborhoods.
In preparation for street-by-street fighting in these districts, hundreds of fighters from Syria’s elite Republican Guard and Fourth Division arrived in Aleppo Friday, the London-based monitor said.
Russia, a staunch ally of the Syrian government, has proposed setting up four humanitarian corridors into east Aleppo.
“We have informed the UN in New York and Geneva that there is no longer a problem with the delivery of humanitarian cargo to eastern Aleppo,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
He said the UN was coming up with a plan and approval from Syrian authorities remained essential.
Moscow has announced several humanitarian pauses in Aleppo to allow civilians to flee, but until the recent escalation, only a handful did so.