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Belarus elections rigged

Agence France-Presse

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Opposition supporters protest in Minsk after polls closed in Belarus' presidential election. AFP

MINSK, Belarus (AFP) — Police in Belarus broke up crowds of protesters with stun grenades and rubber bullets as long-time leader Alexander Lukashenko looked set to declare an overwhelming victory in a presidential poll his opponents say was rigged.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the capital Minsk and other cities after a state exit poll showed Lukashenko winning just under 80 percent in Sunday’s election, with main challenger Svetlana Tikhanovskaya coming second with about seven percent.

Tikhanovskaya, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother and political novice, galvanized the opposition during the election campaign, attracting tens of thousands of supporters to the ex-Soviet country’s biggest demonstrations in years.

In the capital Minsk protesters gathered near a central monument, where they formed human chains as they faced off against hundreds of riot police with shields, an AFP journalist and witnesses said.

A live video feed provided by US-funded Radio Liberty showed police firing stun grenades and advancing to disperse the crowd, with many fleeing. The channel posted images of young protesters with their faces and bodies covered in blood.

An AFP journalist saw at least one protester receiving medical treatment from paramedics, and others being dragged away by riot police.

Opposition-linked media outlets showed a video of a police van ramming into a crowd and running down a protester.

Government buildings in Minsk had been cordoned off, residents reported internet shutdowns and widespread connection problems, and social media posts showed columns of military vehicles on roads leading into the capital.

Alexander, a 35-year-old protester in Minsk, accused Lukashenko of blatantly rigging the vote.

“I came out to protest because the country needs a change in power,” he told AFP. “This is a crime, a mockery of our people.”

Videos posted on social media showed water cannon being used and there were reports of rubber bullets being fired.

After several hours of rallies, state news agency Belta quoted the interior ministry as saying that “police are in control of the situation.” Protests had largely died down in the capital by 3 a.m. local time.

Ales Bialiatski, the head of rights group Viasna, said several people were injured and accused police of using excessive force against the mainly young protesters.

“The police responded with disproportionate harshness, using their full force,” he told AFP.

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Thousands join Thailand pro-democracy rally

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PROTESTERS calling for Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down.

BANGKOK (AFP) — Tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters massed close to Thailand’s royal palace on Saturday, in a huge rally calling for PM Prayut Chan-O-Cha to step down and demanding reforms to the monarchy.

The kingdom has seen near-daily gatherings of youth-led groups since mid-July calling for the resignation of Prayut, the former army chief behind the 2014 coup, and a complete overhaul of his administration.

Some are also demanding reforms to Thailand’s ultra-wealthy and powerful monarchy — a once-taboo topic in the country due to its tough royal defamation laws.

The burgeoning movement, partly inspired by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, remains largely leaderless.

But the weekend’s demonstration is organised by students of Bangkok’s Thammasat University — a group that has been among the most vocal about the royal family’s role in Thailand.

History teacher Patipat, 29, said the government wouldn’t be able to ignore the event.

“Today is one of the turning points in Thai history,” he told AFP.

Bangkok’s Metropolitan Police Bureau said more than 15,000 protesters had gathered around the university’s downtown campus and the surrounding area by nightfall, though protest organisers claim a much higher turnout.

AFP reporters on the ground estimated a crowd size closer to 30,000.

This would make it one of the largest gatherings the kingdom has seen since the 2014 coup.

Flooding into the historic Sanam Luang field in front of the Royal Palace, LGBT activists unfurled rainbow flags as protesters marched in waving a three-fingered salute, a symbol for democracy taken from the Hunger Games film trilogy.

“We are calling for Prayut Chan-O-Cha… to resign immediately,” prominent activist and protest organiser Parit Chiwarak, also known as Penguin, told AFP.

Student leaders have also vowed to push for reform to the monarchy, asserting that they hope “to adapt it to society”.

“I believe the institution can be modernised,” said a rallygoer in his mid-20s, declining to be named.

Another protester wore a fake crown and a shirt that said “please realise this country belongs to the people”.

Demonstrators have said they will spend the night at Sanam Luang before marching to Government House on Sunday morning — a move authorities have warned against.

Some 10,000 uniformed and plainclothes police patrolled the area as the crowd grew. Tents were set up by protesters selling T-shirts, flags and beer.

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Abe visits war shrine, days after leaving office

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Japan’s outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (C) holds a bouquet of flowers as he bids farewell to staff members after the last cabinet meeting in Tokyo. (AFP)

Shinzo Abe, who stepped down this week as Japan’s prime minister, on Saturday visited a war shrine seen by neighboring countries as a symbol of Tokyo’s past militarism.

Abe last visited the controversial shrine in December 2013, sparking fury from wartime foes Beijing and Seoul and earning a rare diplomatic rebuke from close ally the United States.

Abe posted a picture of himself in a dark suit walking along a wooden corridor at the shrine in central Tokyo on Saturday, escorted by a Shinto priest in a white robe.

“Today, I paid my respects at the Yasukuni Shrine and reported to the spirits of the war dead my resignation as prime minister,” the nationalist politician tweeted.

The former premier had refrained from paying tributes at the shrine in person since his 2013 visit despite other conservative politicians doing so, in particular on August 15 to mark Japan’s surrender in World War II.

Four ministers from Abe’s cabinet paid tributes at the shrine last month in the first such visit since 2016.

Yasukuni honors 2.5 million war dead, mostly Japanese, who perished in the country’s wars since the late 19th century.

But it also honors senior military and political figures convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal after the war.

Abe announced late last month that he was stepping down due to health problems and was replaced by Yoshihide Suga on Wednesday.

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Two killed in hurricane-like storm in Greece

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Greece braces for a hurricane-like storm lashing the Ionian Sea. (Twitter)

Two people died and one was missing on Saturday after central Greece was lashed by a rare hurricane-like storm known as a “Medicane”.

Hundreds of people had to be rescued from flooded buildings as heavy rain and high wind wrecked homes, shops, and warehouses in regions north of the capital Athens.

Mediterranean cyclone Ianos hit islands off western Greece on Friday, forcing flights and ferry services to be canceled.

Emergency teams were searching for a boat carrying 55 migrants on Saturday after receiving a distress signal a day earlier, but the coast guard told AFP the vessel may have changed direction after receiving no help.

The city of Karditsa about 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of Athens was badly hit overnight, with mudslides, falling trees, and power cuts.

Local reports said a man was found dead on his farm in the area.

In nearby towns, a woman was found dead in her inundated house and another went missing after her car was swept away by a flooded river, firefighters said.

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Brazil calls Maduro a dictator

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VENEZUELA President Nicolas Maduro speaks during a meeting with members of his United Socialist Party in Caracas on Thursday. / JHONN ZERPA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BRASILIA, Brazil (AFP) — Brazil called on the international community Thursday to reject upcoming legislative elections in Venezuela, saying human-rights violations by President Nicolas Maduro’s “dictatorial regime” made the vote illegitimate.

The message came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo began a South American tour that will take him to the Brazilian-Venezuelan border Friday for an event also seen as upping the pressure on Maduro.

Brazil’s foreign ministry quoted from a United Nations report published Wednesday that accused Maduro and top cabinet ministers of probable “crimes against humanity,” including arbitrary killings and systematic use of torture — claims the Venezuelan government rejected.
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“Given the contents of this report, Brazil considers a regime such as Maduro’s lacks the legitimacy to convene a clean and fair electoral process, and that the legislative elections called by the dictatorship for December should not be supported by the international community,” the Brazilian foreign ministry said in a statement.

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IS claims killing of 6 French, guides

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AFP Photo.

PARIS, France (AFP) — The Islamic State extremist group on Thursday claimed the killing in August of six French aid workers and their two local guides while they were visiting a nature reserve in the West African country of Niger.

The six French humanitarian workers, aged between 25 and 30, their guide and their driver were killed on August 9 in the Koure National Park, a wildlife haven 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Niger’s capital Niamey.

The statement, issued in the Islamic State publication al-Naba and authenticated by US monitoring group SITE, said that the eight had been killed following their capture in a “blitz attack.”

It claimed that the attack was considered “a major security lapse” for France, which has a 5,100 strong force deployed in the Sahel region of West Africa to fight militant groups.

French anti-terror prosecutors have already said that the attack appeared to be a “premeditated” strike against Westerners while it was unclear if the French aid workers and their NGO Acted were specifically targeted.

The area, which is famous for its giraffes, is a popular a destination for weekend leisure trips by Niamey residents, including foreigners.

French investigators have been sent to Niger to carry out the probe.

French President Emmanuel Macron has described the killings as “manifestly a terrorist attack” and said there would be repercussions.

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Oracle, TikTok deal shapes up

A deal appeared to be taking shape this week that would allow Silicon Valley-based Oracle to be the US technology partner for TikTok to allay Washington’s concerns that the platform could be used for Chinese espionage.

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WASHINGTON (AFP) — Amid a looming deadline set by President Donald Trump, negotiators scrambled to find a new ownership structure for the popular video app TikTok that would pass muster in both the United States and China.

A deal appeared to be taking shape this week that would allow Silicon Valley-based Oracle to be the US technology partner for TikTok to allay Washington’s concerns that the platform could be used for Chinese espionage.

But details of the deal remained unclear. Some reports said Oracle would be a minority stakeholder in TikTok, with the Chinese parent firm ByteDance keeping a majority.

A US government national security panel was reviewing the Oracle bid while Republican lawmakers warned against accepting a deal that keeps the Chinese firm in control.

Trump said Wednesday he was undecided and still considering the national security implications of any new structure for the wildly popular app, which has an estimated 100 million users in the United States and as many as one billion worldwide.

Some analysts said it appeared difficult to craft a deal that allays concerns in both countries on security and the algorithms and other key technologies used by TikTok.

“It seems like a zero-sum game where either China or the United States gets the intellectual property and security benefits, and there’s no way for both parties to share that,” said Betsy Cooper, director of the Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub and a former Homeland Security official.

Cooper said the reported deal with Oracle hosting data as a minority shareholder “doesn’t sound like it resolves the security concerns” raised by Trump and other US officials.

James Lewis, who heads technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Oracle could still win approval for its deal, but may need to make changes.

“If they can show a good package of security measures it will help,” Lewis said. “It’s an easier sell for Oracle if ByteDance becomes a minority owner.”

Six Republican US senators said in a letter to Trump this week that “any deal between an American company and ByteDance must ensure that TikTok’s US operations, data, and algorithms are entirely outside the control of ByteDance or any Chinese-state directed actors, including any entity that can be compelled by Chinese law to turn over or access US consumer data.”

Trump has threatened to ban TikTok in the United States if no deal is reached by 20 September, in the latest battle between the two countries over technology.

Possible Beijing veto
Richard Windsor, an independent technology analyst who writes the Radio Free Mobile blog, said that any TikTok deal that addresses the US security issues runs the risk of facing a veto by Beijing.

“The fact that Oracle will have access to TikTok’s algorithms and source code greatly increases the chances of the deal being approved by the US administration, but it also greatly increases the chances of it being blocked by China,” Windsor said.

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Beijing urges stronger BRICS

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BEIJING, China (Xinhua) — Yang Jiechi, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), on Thursday called for more collective efforts by five BRICS countries.

This is meant to further deepen strategic mutual trust, strengthen dialogue and cooperation with other emerging markets and developing countries, and make greater contributions to safeguarding world peace and development.

Yang, also director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee, made the appeal at the 10th Meeting of the BRICS High Representatives for Security Issues via video link.

He pointed out that facing the challenges of COVID-19 pandemic, BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — have demonstrated their firm determination to unite and cooperate to tide over difficulties together.

BRICS countries need to consolidate the three pillar areas of cooperation, and translate important consensus of the leaders into real actions, Yang said.

In his remarks, Yang said the unilateralism, protectionism and bullying have seriously affected international relations and security order. BRICS countries should take the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations as an opportunity to firmly safeguard the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and jointly issue a strong BRICS voice of multilateralism.

BRICS countries should strengthen coordination on major international issues, oppose the Cold War thinking and ideological confrontation, and safeguard their common interests, as well as the legitimate rights and interests of developing countries, Yang said, adding that BRICS countries should also strive to seek security through equality, development and cooperation, and jointly promote political settlement of hot issues.

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Anez withdraws candidacy

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LA PAZ, Bolivia (AFP) — The interim president of Bolivia, Jeanine Anez, announced on Thursday her withdrawal from the presidential race a month before the elections, fearing she would split the vote against leftist Luis Arce, protege of former leader Evo Morales.

“Today I set aside my candidacy for the presidency of Bolivia,” said the right wing leader in a televised message.

She explained that she made the decision “in view of the risk that the democratic vote be divided among various candidates and that as a result of that division the MAS (Movement Towards Socialism, led by Morales) end up winning the election” of 18 October.

Flanked by her candidate for the vice presidency, businessman Samuel Doria Medina, and other political allies, Anez called for unity against the MAS, whose standard-bearer is in first place in polls.

“If we do not unite, Morales returns; if we do not unite, democracy loses; if we do not unite, the dictatorship wins,” said the 53-year-old leader.

Anez abandoned the electoral race one day after a national poll put her in fourth place in the race, and Arce in the lead.

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Numbers down but not much

New filings for unemployment assistance last week fell to 860,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, but despite the decline applications were higher than expected.

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WASHINGTON (AFP) — New claims for US jobless benefits inched down last week, but not by much, as a brief outburst of optimism about a new government aid package fizzled Thursday amid a continued impasse in Washington.

New filings for unemployment assistance last week fell to 860,000, the Labor Department said Thursday, but despite the decline applications were higher than expected.

A surge in workers filed for benefits amid the widespread business shutdowns in March at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, and though that wave is well past its peak, weekly filings remain far above the worst of the 2008-2010 global financial crisis.

And nearly 29.8 million people continued to receive some form of government aid through the week ended 29 August, the latest for which data was available, the Labor Department said, and analysts have grown increasingly concerned of a spiraling employment crisis.

“While it is good the numbers are falling, their decline is tapering, so we have over a year to get to normal,” chief economist at the AFL-CIO trade union federation William Spriggs said on Twitter.
The data comes amid a continued impasse in Washington over providing additional support to the battered US economy and help for workers who have lost their jobs.

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