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Japan risks

Both sides wish to promote regional peace.

China Daily

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photo credit: China Daily

TOKYO, Japan (China Daily) — Japan will build six patrol vessels for Vietnam to “boost Hanoi’s maritime law enforcement capabilities,” Japanese authorities said in a report that prompted an expert to caution Tokyo against stoking tensions in the South China Sea.

According to the statement, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA, signed the agreement with the Vietnamese government in Hanoi on 28 July. Under the arrangement, Japan will provide a 36.6 billion yen ($345 million) loan for Vietnam to buy the vessels.

Yu Qiang, a researcher of Japanese studies at the University of International Relations in Beijing, said: “Countries not in the region should refrain from stirring up trouble and creating tensions in the South China Sea, because it is against the common aspiration of countries directly involved to pursue peace and development.”

The vessels are due to be delivered by October 2025. Observers said they will likely be based on the Aso-class format, at 79 meters long with a top speed of more than 30 knots. The observers envisaged that the vessels would be fitted with a 40-millimeter main gun and four water cannons fixtures already in use on boats run by the Japanese Coast Guard.

The JICA said the deal will contribute to “the realization of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” phrasing used by the United States when inciting tensions between China and other countries in the South China Sea region.

Yu said the so-called freedom of navigation issue is not a problem caused by China but by non-regional powers like the US.

“China and countries in the South China Sea enjoy good friendship and trust,” he said. “It is believed that they can solve their disputes properly as they all advocate peaceful settlement through legal means. However, some other countries are trying to undermine regional solidarity out of geostrategic considerations, and countries in the region should be on high alert about this.”

Attempts to incite tensions in the region are not welcomed as the Philippines, for one, has rejected participation in maritime drills led by the US, Yu said.

Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said Manila would not join the navies of other countries in maritime drills in the South China Sea for fear of raising tensions in the area.

In a meeting with Vietnamese officials in July, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the South China Sea is the “common home” of China and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and both sides wish to promote regional peace and development.

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Trump endures crowd heckling

Anti-Trump protesters on the street could be heard shouting Vote him out and Honor her wish — a reference to Ginsburg’s stated desire that she not be replaced until after a new president is inaugurated.

Agence France-Presse

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AMERICAN flag flies at half-mast in honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as US President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Cecil Airport on Thursday in Jacksonville, Florida. / Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Donald Trump was heckled by protesters Thursday as he visited the Supreme Court to pay his respects to the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Trump, wearing a black face mask, and First Lady Melania Trump stood silently behind the flag-draped casket of the progressive justice who died last week.

Anti-Trump protesters on the street could be heard shouting “Vote him out” and “Honor her wish” — a reference to Ginsburg’s stated desire that she not be replaced until after a new president is inaugurated.

Trump is not accustomed to paying his respects to political opponents and his visit to the court is a rare tribute by the Republican president.

Despite Ginsburg’s plea and Democratic opposition, Trump is pushing ahead with plans to replace her on the court ahead of the election.

“I think it’s going to go very, very quickly,” he told Fox Radio on Thursday. “I have five women. I like them all.”

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Kim apologizes for ‘SK defector’s’ killing

Kim was very sorry for the “unexpected and disgraceful event” that had disappointed President Moon and South Koreans, rather than helping them in the face of the “malicious coronavirus.”

Agence France-Presse

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SEOUL, South Korea (AFP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a rare apology Friday over what he described as the “unexpected and disgraceful” killing of a South Korean at sea, Seoul’s presidential office said.

Apologies from the North — let alone attributed to Kim personally — are extremely unusual, and the message comes with inter-Korean ties in deep freeze as well as a stand-off in nuclear negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Analysts said the North was looking to placate its neighbor after the shooting — the first time its forces killed a Southern citizen for a decade — provoked outrage in the South.

The fisheries official was shot dead on Tuesday by North Korean soldiers, and Seoul says his body was set on fire while still in the water, apparently as a precaution against coronavirus infection.
He was earlier described as a defector.

Kim was “very sorry” for the “unexpected and disgraceful event” that had “disappointed President Moon and South Koreans,” rather than helping them in the face of the “malicious coronavirus,” said Suh Hoon, the South’s National Security Adviser.

Suh was reading out a letter from the department of the North’s ruling party responsible for relations with the South.

In it, Pyongyang acknowledged firing around 10 shots at the man, who had “illegally entered our waters” and refused to properly identify himself.

Border guards fired at him in accordance with standing instructions, it said.

There was no immediate confirmation of the contents from the North, whose state media did not mention the incident on Friday.

North Korean defector turned Seoul-based researcher Ahn Chan-il said it was “extremely rare for the North’s supreme commander to offer an apology, especially to South Koreans and their President.”

“I think this is the first since the 1976 Korean axe murder incident,” he said, referring to the killing of two US officers in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

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‘Delay TikTok ban’

Nichols said he disagreed with government lawyers’ claims that the ban — which would not immediately prevent usage of TikTok but prevent downloads by new users and updates — merely preserves the status quo.

Agence France-Presse

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PEDESTRIAN walks past a German ad for Chinese video-sharing social networking service TikTok in Berlin. / Agence France-Presse

WASHINGTON (AFP) — A federal judge Thursday urged the Trump administration to consider delaying a ban on new downloads of the popular video app TikTok and hinted he might block the government’s order set to take effect on Sunday.

Judge Carl Nichols made the comments at a hastily called telephone hearing where TikTok argued a ban, even if temporary, could cause irreparable harm to the video-sharing application with some 100 million US users.

The judge agreed with TikTok lawyers to an expedited hearing schedule and said he would make a decision before the ban takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday (0359 GMT Monday).

Nichols said he disagreed with government lawyers’ claims that the ban — which would not immediately prevent usage of TikTok but prevent downloads by new users and updates — “merely preserves the status quo.”

“I would like the government (Justice Department) to confer with its client,” Nichols said.

He asked the Justice Department lawyers to indicate by Friday if they were willing to postpone a ban; if not he would review briefs from both sides and make a ruling on TikTok’s request for a temporary injunction on President Donald Trump’s order.

The Chinese-owned app — which is wildly popular with US teenagers in particular — has come under fire as tensions escalate between Beijing and Washington, with Trump threatening a ban if it is not sold to an American company.

Earlier this month, Trump cited national security concerns and issued orders to ban both the popular Chinese app WeChat — which has been put on hold by a separate court — and TikTok.

But the TikTok order stops short of a full ban until November 12, giving the Chinese parent firm ByteDance time to conclude a deal to transfer ownership of the app.

A tentative deal unveiled last weekend would make Silicon Valley giant Oracle the technology partner for TikTok and a stakeholder in a new entity to be known as TikTok Global.

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No samba, no festival

Agence France-Presse

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THERE’LL be no dancing and big crowds in Rio de Janeiro this time. / Agence France-Presse

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AFP) — Brazil has postponed Rio de Janeiro’s famed carnival for next year, the latest spectacle hit by the pandemic as governments across the globe struggle to contain a surge in coronavirus infections.

Rio’s carnival, famous for its gyrating Samba dancers, drummers and dancing crowds, draws millions for all night parties in packed streets, making social distancing all but impossible.

Brazil now has the world’s second highest death toll after the United States — nearly 140,000 fatalities — and is still battling to bring the virus under control.

Rio’s samba schools had already warned in July that without certainty of a vaccine this year it would be difficult to organize the February 2021 festival.

“It’s not a cancellation, it’s a postponement,” said Jorge Castanheira, president of the group that organizes the parades. “We are looking for an alternative solution, something we can do when it’s safe to contribute to the city.”

It was the first time the carnival had been postponed since 1912, joining a growing list of major entertainment and sporting events disrupted by the pandemic with the virus showing no signs of slowing its track across the globe.

Australia also postponed plans to host a Test cricket match against Afghanistan and a one-day series against New Zealand Friday, saying the pandemic had made arranging the matches too difficult.

French Open tennis tournament will now allow only 1,000 spectators each day in line with tougher restrictions introduced this week by the French government.

Worldwide deaths are nearing one million and more than 31 million cases have been detected since the coronavirus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

With scientists still racing to develop a vaccine, governments are being forced to reimpose crippling lockdown measures that slowed the virus spread earlier this year but sent much of the world economy into a tailspin.

The European Union raised the alarm on Thursday, saying the pandemic is worse now than at the March peak in several member countries, as governments in Europe and beyond order new anti-virus measures.

Europe’s death rate has not returned to the levels seen earlier this year but new infections are soaring once again, prompting the bloc’s disease control agency to flag seven countries of “high concern.”

France reported an all-time high in new daily cases of over 16,000, one day after announcing tougher infection control measures especially for hard-hit Mediterranean port Marseille.

Bars in Paris and 10 other cities will be forced to close early but Marseille will see restaurants and bars close completely.

Fierce reactions from local officials underscored the struggle governments face balance health risks against the need to revive businesses battered by lockdowns.

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U.S. sanctions Iranian judge

The United States said it was taking action against Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati, voicing alarm over allegations that Afkari was tortured in custody to force a confession.

Agence France-Presse

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WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on an Iranian judge who sentenced a wrestler to death over his role in protests — an execution that triggered international outrage.

Navid Afkari, 27, who had won national competitions, was hanged earlier this month after being convicted of murder during demonstrations two years ago in the southern city of Shiraz.

The United States said it was taking action against Judge Seyyed Mahmoud Sadati, voicing alarm over allegations that Afkari was tortured in custody to force a confession.

“His killing was an unconscionable act,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“The United States calls upon all nations to promote accountability for this regime by imposing sanctions like the ones announced today.”

The State Department also imposed sanctions on Judge Mohammad Soltani over sentences handed to members of the Baha’i faith, which faces wide restrictions in Iran.

“The actions taken today by the United States expose Iran’s Revolutionary courts and their judges for what they really are: tools designed to enforce the Iranian regime’s brutal ideology and suppress dissent,” Pompeo said.

Under the sanctions, the United States will freeze any assets on its territory linked to the two judges as well as two prison systems.

The move also makes it a crime in the United States to conduct financial transactions with the two men.

Afkari’s execution triggered widespread revulsion including from countries that hope for a more stable relationship with Iran.

Iran summoned Germany’s ambassador after the embassy tweeted that the execution violated Afkari’s legal rights and was meant to “silence opposing voices.”

The United States has tense relations with Iran’s clerical state and regularly highlights human rights concerns.

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Argentina lawmaker kisses partner’s breast during videoconference

Agence France-Presse

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An Argentine lawmaker was suspended Thursday after  kissing his partner’s breasts during a parliamentary session being held by videoconference, a scene that quickly went viral on social media.

As another MP was making his address on a giant video screen installed in parliament, which also showed other participants in their homes, Juan Emilio Ameri could be seen fondling and kissing the breasts of a woman sitting next to him.

The lawmaker from the northeastern province of Salta then pulled one of the woman’s breasts out of her T-shirt and started kissing it.

The parliamentary session was initially interrupted, and then suspended, by the speaker Sergio Massa.

“The whole time we have been teleworking these past months we have had several incidents where deputies fell asleep or another hid, but today we had a situation that really overstepped the boundaries of this house,” said Massa.

Confused, Ameri, 47, tried to apologize, saying that he did not think he was connected to the internet at that particular moment.

“Here in the center of the country the connection is very poor. My partner came out of the bathroom, and I asked her how her implants were doing and I kissed them, because she had surgery ten days ago to have them put in.”

He was suspended from parliament for five days.

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Rio postpones world-famous carnival over Covid-19

Agence France-Presse

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Rio de Janeiro’s world-famous carnival parades became the latest casualty of the coronavirus pandemic Thursday as officials announced they were indefinitely postponing the February 2021 edition, with Brazil still reeling from Covid-19.

Rio’s carnival, the world’s biggest, is an epidemiologist’s nightmare in a pandemic: an extended festival of tightly packed crowds dancing through the streets and flocking to the city’s iconic “Sambadrome” for massive parades featuring scantily clad dancers, small armies of drummers and all-night partying at close quarters.

The event draws millions of tourists from around Brazil and the world to the beachside city each year.

The city’s elite samba schools, which typically spend the entire year preparing their elaborate parades, had said in July it would be difficult to organize the event for February 2021 if there were still no certainty of a vaccine for the new coronavirus by late September.

Meeting again to assess the situation, “we came to the conclusion that the event had to be postponed,” said Jorge Castanheira, the president of the group that organizes the annual parades, the Independent League of Samba Schools of Rio de Janeiro (LIESA).

“We just can’t do it in February. The samba schools won’t have the time or financial and organizational resources to be ready,” he told journalists after a plenary meeting by the group’s directors.

“It’s not a cancellation, it’s a postponement. We are looking for an alternative solution, something we can do when it’s safe to contribute to the city…. But we aren’t certain enough to set a date.”

Planning problems

In reality, “carnival” comprises numerous events, from the elite samba school parade contest organized by LIESA to less-formal “blocos,” or street parties.

LIESA’s announcement applies only to the samba school competition. City authorities have not yet announced whether “blocos” will be allowed.

Speculation had been mounting that authorities would have to cancel or postpone carnival in 2021, given that Brazil is the country with the second-highest death toll in the pandemic, after the United States, and is still struggling to bring the virus under control.

Brazil has registered 4.7 million infections and nearly 140,000 deaths from Covid-19.

And while the spread of the virus has slowed somewhat since its July peak, the numbers are still alarmingly high in Brazil, with an average of nearly 30,000 new cases and 735 new deaths per day over the past two weeks, according to health ministry figures.

Brazil has struggled to set a cohesive policy to deal with the pandemic.

Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro has railed against lockdown measures as a catastrophe for the economy, and downplayed the disease as a “little flu,” despite being forced into quarantine for nearly three weeks when he caught it himself in July.

Rio de Janeiro has been the state hit second-hardest in Brazil, after Sao Paulo, the country’s industrial hub.

With 18,000 people killed so far, if Rio state were a country, it would have the world’s second-highest mortality rate from Covid-19, at 104 deaths per 100,000 residents.

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Novavax enters late-stage clinical trials

Agence France-Presse

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US biotech firm Novavax said Thursday it was initiating its final Phase 3 clinical trial for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine.

The trial will be carried out in the United Kingdom and aims to enroll 10,000 volunteers, aged 18-84, with and without underlying conditions, over the next four to six weeks.

“With a high level of SARS-CoV-2 transmission observed and expected to continue in the UK, we are optimistic that this pivotal Phase 3 clinical trial will enroll quickly and provide a near-term view of NVX-CoV2373’s efficacy,” said Gregory Glenn, the company’s president of research and development, using the technical name for the formulation.

It is the eleventh Covid-19 vaccine candidate to reach the Phase 3 stage globally.

The company has been awarded $1.6 billion by the US government to develop and fund the drug, which is administered by two intramuscular injections.

The Maryland-based company uses insect cells to grow synthesized pieces of the spike protein of the virus, which it hopes will evoke a robust human immune response.

It also uses an “adjuvant,” a compound that boosts the production of neutralizing antibodies.

The company says the drug, which is a liquid formulation, can be stored at two degrees celsius to eight degrees celsius, refrigerator temperature.

In the spring, the company said it had proven the efficacy of a seasonal flu vaccine it had developed using the same technology.

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Power transfer unsure

Agence France-Presse

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US President Donald Trump listens during a discussion with state attorneys general on protection from social media abuses in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to guarantee that he will transfer power if he loses the November election, earning scorn from his Democratic challenger Joe Biden and even from within his own party.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump responded when asked at a White House press conference whether he is committed to the most basic tenet of democratic rule in the United States — the peaceful handover of power upon a change of president.

Biden, who holds a steady lead over the Republican incumbent in opinion polls ahead of the 3 November vote, expressed incredulity.

“What country are we in?” the former vice president said, when asked about Trump’s comment by reporters.

“Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a frequent but rare party critic of Trump, went further, saying that any hesitation on the core constitution guarantee was “unthinkable and unacceptable.”

“Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus,” he tweeted.

Get rid’ of ballots
Trump followed up his remarks — unprecedented in modern times for a US president — by resuming his near daily complaint about the fairness of the election.

Apparently referring to the increased use of mail-in ballots due to the coronavirus pandemic, he said: “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster.”

Trump frequently claims that mail-in ballots are vulnerable to mass fraud and are being encouraged by Democrats to rig the election.

However, there is no evidence that ballots sent through the postal service have ever led to significant fraud in US elections.

At the press conference, Trump seemed to suggest annulling what are expected to be the huge numbers of mailed-in ballots, noting that in such a scenario, he would remain in power.

“Get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation,” he said.

Trump’s latest insistence that there cannot be a free and fair presidential election came as pressure mounts over his plan to put a new, right-leaning justice on the Supreme Court.

Trump is set to nominate a replacement on Saturday for the late liberal-leaning justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week.

His Republican Party, which has a majority in the Senate, is then expected to quickly confirm the nominee.

If they succeed, the nine-justice court would then likely have a strongly pro-conservative bent for years to come.

Democrats are crying foul, saying that the process should wait until the results of the election are known, allowing the winner to shape the Supreme Court.

With Trump and the Republicans mounting a series of court challenges against the use of mail-in ballots, the chances of a contested election result are considered high.

On Wednesday, Trump said he thinks the election “will end up in the Supreme Court.”

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