LA officials call for boycott of Brunei-owned hotels

LA officials call for boycott of Brunei-owned hotels

Los Angeles: Officials and LGBTQ leaders in California joined Tuesday a growing chorus of people calling for a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels in the Los Angeles area. The call to boycott the fabled Beverly Hills Hotel, once the playground of Hollywood celebrities, and Hotel Bel-Air came after the sultanate announced plans to implement the death penalty for gay sex and adultery.

“As a citywide elected official, I represent a diverse community of Angelenos, and I call on everyone to boycott the hotels owned by Brunei’s royal family,” LA Controller Ron Galperin said in a statement. “I will not set foot in these establishments so long as they are owned and controlled by a regime that is willing to kill LGBTQ people.

“While I feel bad for the many hard-working employees of these local hotels, no one should support or attend any events there while lives are on the line.” Los Angeles Council member Paul Koretz said people should shun both hotels even “if that means marring their reputation and fabled history.”

“The city of Los Angeles and the United States and world should place severe sanctions on Brunei for taking LGBTQ rights back to the Stone Age,” said Karina Samala, chair of the Transgender Advisory Council. “We are all human beings with a right to live in freedom.” British pop legend Elton John and American actor George Clooney have also called for a boycott of the hotels and other properties owned by the sultanate in Britain, France and Italy.

The new Islamic penal code, or Sharia law, which is to come into force in the tiny southeast Asian sultanate on Wednesday, has already drawn fierce criticism from rights groups and the United Nations. Brunei first announced the measures in 2013, but implementation has been delayed, in the face of opposition by rights groups, and as officials worked out the practical details.

The new law stipulates the death penalty for a number of offences, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the Prophet Mohammed. It also introduces public flogging as punishment for abortion, as well as amputation for theft, and criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion besides Islam.

Since the new penal code was first announced in 2013, the who’s who of Hollywood have shunned the celebrated Beverly Hills Hotel painted in pink and green and once a favorite of celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor and The Beatles. Local news reports say the hotel has lost millions of dollars in business as a result of the long-running unofficial boycott.

Donald Trump team and China resume uphill effort to end trade rift

Donald Trump team and China resume uphill effort to end trade rift

Washington: The Trump administration on Wednesday will resume negotiations with China toward ending a trade war that has deepened uncertainty for businesses and investors and dimmed the outlook for the global economy.

The two sides are to meet for the ninth time, with analysts expressing optimism that the world’s two biggest economies might be near some kind of agreement. Negotiators met in Beijing last week in talks that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described as “constructive.” Now, Vice Premier Liu He, a close confidante of President Xi Jinping, is leading a Chinese team to Washington.

“We have been encouraged by the tone of the negotiations,” Myron Brilliant, head of international affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told reporters Tuesday. Brilliant estimated that the two sides are 90% of the way to an agreement but cautioned that “the last 10% is the hardest part, the trickiest part.”

At the heart of the dispute are the Trump administration’s allegations that China steals technology and coerces U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets – all part of Beijing’s zeal to overtake U.S. technological dominance.  To pressure China, the United States has imposed tariffs on USD250 billion in Chinese goods. The Chinese have counterpunched by taxing USD 110 billion in U.S. imports.

Forecasters at the World Bank and International Monetary, among others, have downgraded their outlook for the global economy, partly because the U.S.-China rift is damaging trade and causing businesses to slow their investment until they know how the dispute will end.

Tensions have eased somewhat since President Donald Trump met Xi in Buenos Aires late last year and the administration ended up suspending its plans to raise tariffs on $200 billion of the Chinese imports to buy time for negotiations “We’re making headway,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said Tuesday, describing the talks as “a larger, grander discussion than anything we’ve ever had in U.S.-China relations.”

Analysts say two major sticking points, in particular, stand in the way of any agreement. First, Trump wants to preserve at least the 25% tariffs he has imposed on USD 50 billion in Chinese imports as a way to maintain leverage over Beijing. China wants those sanctions lifted.

Second, the two sides must develop a mechanism to ensure that China honors any commitments it makes in an agreement. The administration complains that China has repeatedly failed to keep promises it made in previous trade talks.

The Chinese are widely expected to agree to buy substantially more American products – likely including soybeans and natural gas – to help narrow the United States’ trade deficit in goods and services with China, which hit a record USD 379 billion last year.

America’s trade deficit with China has been a chronic complaint of Trump, although many economists say a bilateral trade gap is relatively insignificant. Congressional Democrats and others have warned Trump against reaching any agreement that settles for more U.S. exports to China without also requiring Beijing to adopt serious economic reforms.

“Stand firm” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Tuesday. “Skip the political photo op and make good on your promise to stand up for American businesses and workers when China takes advantage.

Christopher Adams, a former China specialist at the Treasury Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative who is a senior adviser at the Covington & Burling law firm, added: “There has to be something substantive on the structural issues. Otherwise, the criticism will be severe.”

Whatever negotiators agree to, analysts say, they are unlikely to end the long-standing tensions between America’s mostly open, capitalist economy and a Chinese economy in which the Communist Party and the central government command the dominant role. Even with a deal, Adams said, “a lot of the underlying issues will still be with us unresolved because they’re rooted in fundamental differences between the US and Chinese systems.”

New Zealand shooters back gun control after Christchurch massacre

New Zealand shooters back gun control after Christchurch massacre

WellingtonNew Zealand will crack down on firearms ownership this week after the Christchurch mosques massacre that claimed 50 lives and the Kiwi gun lobby, for the most part, is okay with that. In stark contrast to the United States, where even the most minor curbs on gun ownership meet ferocious opposition led by the National Rifle Association, New Zealand gun owners agree action is needed.

The March 15 rampage by a white supremacist gunman has been a shock to the collective system. “We want to support our government in any changes to prevent a terrorist attack from happening in New Zealand again,” Nicole McKee, secretary of the Council of Licensed Firearm Owners said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s government announced an immediate ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles (MSSAs) after the shooting and will put laws to parliament formalising its action on Tuesday. Finalising such legislation can often take months but Ardern says the matter is so urgent it will be done by April 11.

Further curbs potentially including a gun register, tighter vetting and stricter gun storage rules are set to be passed by the end of the year. In a move that would be unthinkable in the United States, one of New Zealand’s largest gun retailers, Hunting & Fishing, voluntarily stopped selling MSSAs and halted online firearms sales. “Such weapons of war have no place in our business — or our country,” chief executive Darren Jacobs said.

New Zealand has its own National Rifle Association, but since the shooting, it has been at pains to point out it is a small sporting organisation, not a wealthy political lobby group like its American counterpart. “Our members shoot with single-shot bolt action rifles at paper targets,” president Malcolm Dodson said. Another office holder has told media the New Zealand NRA is considering changing its name to avoid any association with the American body.

On the surface, New Zealand and the United States share many historical similarities, but they have a fundamentally different attitude towards firearms. Both are former British colonies that fought bitter wars against indigenous populations and forged an individualistic frontier mentality.

However, statistics highlight the difference. In 2016, New Zealand, with a population of about 4.7 million, had nine firearms-related homicides. In the United States, population approximately 327 million, there were 14,415, more than two hundred times the per capita rate as New Zealand. There are approximately 393 million guns in private hands in the United States, or 1.2 for every person, whereas New Zealand has about 1.5 million, or 0.3 per person.

The New Zealand government believes there are 13,500 MSSAs in the country, while estimates put the number in the US at 15 million. Philip Alpers, a gun policy researcher at the University of Sydney, said the crucial difference between New Zealand and the United States was the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.

Alperts, himself a Kiwi, said countries such as New Zealand viewed gun ownership as a privilege, while in America it was seen as an inalienable right. “We have a population who, when they travelled to America would get off the plane and be absolutely horrified to see people walking around with a gun,” he said, adding that safety was at the centre of New Zealand gun culture.

Journalist Dawn Picken covered scores of shooting deaths in the United States and once had bullets lodged in her bedroom when a random gunman opened fire on her apartment building in Spokane, Washington state. She said she had found a different mindset since moving to New Zealand in 2011.

“It was quite refreshing as an American to come here and hear Kiwis who own guns say ‘I don’t think they should be easy to get and it’s not my right, they should check I’m not predisposed to violence or going to go off the rails,” she said. However, like anywhere, New Zealand has a vocal fringe element. “Tyrant Prime Minister Kills Sports Shooting,” screams the headline on one prominent pro-gun website.

But former police minister Judith Collins had a blunt message for the US NRA and any other gun lobbyists who tried to inject themselves into New Zealand’s gun control debate: “Bugger off.”  The difference in gun cultures has played out on social media since the Christchurch shooting.

When a right-wing US website tweeted that “armed government thugs” were carrying out door-to-door gun confiscations in New Zealand, dozens of Kiwis left mocking replies. “I had a self-saucing dessert in my pantry,” said one. “The cops came for it in the dead of night — apparently we aren’t allowed semi-automatic trifles.”

US welcomes India’s efforts to cut oil imports from Venezuela

US welcomes India’s efforts to cut oil imports from Venezuela

USA: The United States on Sunday appreciated India’s efforts adding to Washington’s sanctions to restrict exports of Venezuelan oil in the global energy market. “I would say that we have had contacts with Indian companies and with the Government of India and that we have found there to be a very considerable amount of cooperation, which we are very happy to see,” Sputnik quoted US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams as saying.

The statement comes after several Indian companies stopped importing oil from Venezuela after Washington urged oil refineries around the world to cut their dealings with Caracas or face sanctions themselves. The move comes after the US slapped additional sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry earlier this year to weaken President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Earlier, the US had implemented sanctions against Venezuela’s Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) state oil company, blocking the company’s assets, worth USD seven billion, and pressuring other companies to cut ties with the firm until March 11. The deadline, however, was later extended until May 10.

Due to the sanctions, Venezuela’s overall exports of crude oil and fuel reportedly dropped to 920,000 barrels per day in the first month of sanctions, roughly 30 per cent less than the 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) traded in the prior three months.

Meanwhile, President Maduro claimed that the US wants “to unleash an ‘oil war’ to invade our homeland and rule here”. The South American nation has been reeling with a political as well as a humanitarian crisis since the beginning of this year when Opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself President on January 26.

The US, along with 50 other countries recognised Guaido as the legitimate President, however, Russia, China, Cuba, and Bolivia have voiced their support for Maduro. However, Maduro shows no signs of losing the critical support of elites and the military. Rampant inflation, along with food scarcity and blackouts have gripped Venezuela under Maduro, while thousands of localities fled to the neighbouring countries as shortages, political turmoil, and crime rates have soared.

Bangladesh: Death toll in office building fire in Dhaka rises to 25

Bangladesh: Death toll in office building fire in Dhaka rises to 25

Dhaka: With the death of 19 more people, the toll from the deadly fire at a high-rise office building in Bangladesh’s capital rose to 25, fire officials said. A massive fire engulfed a 22-storey building in Dhaka’s posh Banani area on Thursday, in the second major blaze to hit the capital since last month.

The incident, in the building that houses several garment shops and internet service providers, left several people trapped inside as the blaze spread to two adjacent buildings. Nineteen bodies were recovered from inside the building. A total of 25 deaths have been confirmed and the number of people injured are 76 in the deadly fire that broke out at in Dhaka’s Banani area, a fire service official was quoted as saying by the Dhaka Tribune.

The injured are now being treated at Dhaka Medical College Hospital’s burn unit. The Fire Service Duty Officer Mizanur Rahman claimed the fire was brought under control at around 4:45pm on Thursday. Hundreds of people have been rescued from the building, the report said.

Fire Service Deputy Director Dilip Kumar Ghosh said that several people had panicked and leapt from the building, which led to the increased casualties. At least six of the killed, including a Sri Lankan national, died after they jumped off from various floors of the high-rise building for safety.

The building had narrow staircases, and lacked firefighting capacity. It is also of note that the building reportedly caught fire over a decade ago in 2008, Ghosh said. Fire officials said the blaze erupted on the eighth floor of the building and gradually went upward engulfing ninth, 10th and 11th floors, but could not immediately say what sparked the inferno.

Five military and air force helicopters were deployed to drop water on the blaze as flames and thick black smoke poured out of the windows. On February 20, at least 70 people were killed and over 50 injured when a fast-moving fire swept through an apartment buildings and chemical warehouses in Dhaka’s congested Chawkbazar area. In 2012, a fire at a nine-storey garment factory near Dhaka killed 111 workers.

Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash: Lawsuit filed against Boeing in US federal court

Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash: Lawsuit filed against Boeing in US federal court

Washington [US]: A lawsuit was filed against Boeing Airlines in US federal court on Thursday over March 10 Ethiopian Airlines 737 MAX crash in which 157 people were killed.

The lawsuit was filed in Chicago federal court by the family of a victim. The appellant alleged that Boeing had defectively designed the automated flight control system. Boeing is under international scrutiny in the wake of two fatal crashes in the last five months involving the 737 Max 8 jet.  A Lion Air flight crashed in Indonesia in October last year, and an Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed earlier this month. Neither of the crashes left any survivors. Investigators have revealed that they found similarities in both the plane crashes.

In the aftermath of the March 10 Ethiopian Airlines crash, shares of Boeing have plunged more than 10 per cent, wiping more than 25 billion dollars off the company’s market value. In a statement earlier this month, Boeing had said that it remains confident in the safety of the jets, but that it recommended the shutdown itself “out of an abundance of caution and in order to reassure the flying public of the aircraft’s safety”.

No decision taken on opening of Sharda temple corridor in PoK: Pakistan

No decision taken on opening of Sharda temple corridor in PoK: Pakistan

Islamabad: Pakistan on Thursday said no decision has been taken so far on the opening of the Sharda temple corridor for Hindu pilgrims from India in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and asserted that there should be “a positive atmosphere” for taking such steps.

Earlier in the week, quoting sources in Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Express Tribune reported that the Pakistani government has approved a proposal to establish a corridor that will allow Hindu pilgrims from India to visit the ancient Hindu temple and cultural site. Addressing a weekly press briefing here, Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal rejected the report, saying, “To the best of my knowledge, no decision has been taken so far (on opening the Sharda temple corridor).”

“A positive environment is required to move forward on all such issues,” he added. In its report, the Express Tribune had also quoted Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) member of the National Assembly (MNA) Ramesh Kumar as saying, “Pakistan has decided to open the Sharda temple. Work on the project will start from the current year after which Hindus in Pakistan will also be able to visit the site.”

Established in 237 B.C. during the reign of Emperor Ashoka, the 5,000-year-old Sharada Peeth is an abandoned temple and ancient centre of learning dedicated to the Hindu goddess of learning. Between the 6th and 12th centuries C.E, Sharada Peeth was one of the foremost temple universities of the Indian subcontinent. It is also one of the three famous holy sites for Kashmiri Pandits, the other two being the Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag and the Amarnath temple. Kashmiri Pandit organisations have been demanding opening of the Sharda Peeth corridor for many years.

US moves draft resolution in UN to blacklist JeM chief Masood Azhar

US moves draft resolution in UN to blacklist JeM chief Masood Azhar

United Nations: Stepping up the international pressure to designate Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar as a global terrorist, the US, supported by France and the UK, has moved a draft resolution in the UN Security Council to blacklist the Pakistan-based terror group’s chief.

Two weeks after China put a hold on a proposal to list Azhar under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the Council, the US on Wednesday circulated the draft resolution to the powerful 15-nation Council to blacklist the leader of the Pakistan-based terror group and subject him to a travel ban, an assets freeze and an arms embargo. UN sources told PTI that this is the “first time” the US, the UK and France have moved a draft resolution directly in the Security Council to designate Azhar. The previous have been listing proposals in the Sanctions Committee of the Council to designate Azhar.

Unlike a listing proposal, which is generally under a 10- day no objection period, the draft resolution is not under any no-objection provision. Sources said that the draft resolution will be discussed informally and then it goes to the Council. However, it’s not yet decided by when a vote would be held on the draft resolution, during when it could again face a veto by China, which has in the past blocked bids to blacklist Azhar.

Germany initiates move at EU to list Masood Azhar as global terrorist
Sources said the draft resolution would condemn “in the strongest terms the heinous and cowardly suicide bombing” on February 14 in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district that killed 40 CRPF personnel. An annex to the draft resolution says Azhar is associated with the Islamic State terror group, Al-Qaida for “participating in the financing, planning, facilitating, preparing, or perpetrating” or “supplying, selling or transferring arms and related material” or supporting acts of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

It says that Azhar founded JeM after his release from prison in India in 1999 in exchange for 155 hostages held on an Indian Airlines flight that had been hijacked to Kandahar, Afghanistan. It adds that Azhar was previously the leader of the terrorist group Harakat al Mujahadin, also known as Harakat ul-Ansar, and that most of these groups’ members subsequently joined Jaish under Azhar’s leadership.

In 2008, JeM recruitment posters contained a call from Azhar for volunteers to join the fight in Afghanistan against Western forces. The Sanctions Committee makes its decisions by consensus of its members. However, for a resolution in the Security Council to pass, it needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes from any of its five permanent members – China, Russia, the United States, France and the UK. France, the UK and the US on February 27 moved a proposal to designate Azhar under the 1267 Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee.

It was under the no-objection period and Committee members had a period of 10 working days to raise any objections to the proposal. More than a dozen member states had co-sponsored the proposal. About an hour before the no-objection deadline was to expire on March 13 at 3 PM, China blocked the proposal by putting a hold on it.

India expressed disappointment by the outcome, saying in a statement “this has prevented action by the international community to designate the leader of JeM, a proscribed and active terrorist organisation which has claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack in Jammu and Kashmir on 14 February 2019”. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an apparent reference to China blocking the proposal to designate Azhar as a global terrorist at the UN Security Council when he said Wednesday that China abuses over a million Muslims at home, but “protects” violent Islamic terror groups from UN sanctions.

“The world cannot afford China’s shameful hypocrisy toward Muslims. On one hand, China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, but on the other it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions at the UN,” Pompeo said in a tweet, without mentioning the JeM or the outfit’s chief. The February proposal was the fourth such bid at the UN in the last 10 years to list Azhar as a global terrorist.

In 2009, India moved a proposal by itself to designate Azhar. In 2016 again India moved the proposal with the P3 – the US, the UK and France in the UN’s 1267 Sanctions Committee to ban Azhar, also the mastermind of the attack on the air base in Pathankot in January, 2016. In 2017, the P3 nations moved a similar proposal again. However, on all occasions China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, blocked the proposals from being adopted by the Sanctions Committee.

A UNSC designation will subject Azhar to an assets freeze, travel ban and an arms embargo. An assets freeze under the Sanctions Committee requires that all states freeze without delay the funds and other financial assets or economic resources of designated individuals and entities. The travel ban entails preventing the entry into or transit by all states through their territories by designated individuals.

Under the arms embargo, all states are required to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale and transfer from their territories or by their nationals outside their territories, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, of arms and related materiel of all types, spare parts and technical advice, assistance or training related to military activities, to designated individuals and entities.

Donald Trump meets Sunder Pichai, says Google committed to US military, not China

Donald Trump meets Sunder Pichai, says Google committed to US military, not China

Washington: President Donald Trump has said that Google is totally committed to the US military as he met the internet giant’s Indian-American CEO Sunder Pichai at the White House, days after he accused the tech company of helping China and its army.

Trump, who has been at loggerheads with several big companies, earlier this month said, “Google is helping China and their military, but not the US”. On Wednesday, after a meeting with Pichai at the White House, the US President said: “Meeting ended very well”.”Just met with Sundar Pichai, President of Google, who is obviously doing quite well,” he said.

Pichai “stated strongly that he is totally committed to the US military and not the Chinese military”, Trump said. “Also discussed political fairness and various things that @Google can do for our country. Meeting ended very well!” said the President. There was no immediate tweet from Pichai. However, a Google spokesperson said that the company is pleased to have productive conversations with the President.

“We were pleased to have productive conversations with the President about investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the US government,” said the Google spokesperson. Trump’s tweet criticising Google earlier last month came after Acting Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan and General Joseph Dunford, chairman joint chiefs of staff, said during a Congressional hearing that “Google was partnering with China… but the Internet search engine giant has shown a lack of willingness to work with the US Department of Defence”.

During his trip to Washington DC, Pichai also met India’s Ambassador to the US Harsh V Shringla. “A thoroughly enriching experience to meet and interact with” Pichai on Google’s positive engagement in India and elsewhere in the world, privacy laws, internet governance and a host of other issues, the ambassador said in a tweet.

Belarus governor fired for keeping cows in poor condition at farm

Belarus governor fired for keeping cows in poor condition at farm

Moscow: Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has fired three officials including a governor for keeping cows in poor conditions at a local farm. Video aired by state television showed Lukashenko, an avid farmer himself, scolding the farm managers and the governor on a visit to the farm in the northern Mogilev region on Tuesday.

Lukashenko, who gave a sack of potatoes to Russian President Vladimir Putin last year, compared the conditions at the farm to those at a Nazi death camp. The cows were shown walking in the manure with mud caked on their bodies. The Belarusian president said that the cows were “barely alive” and the officials were “sick” for not noticing that.