World News Jan 31
VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO OFFERS TALKS WITH OPPOSITION
More than a week into a standoff with the Opposition, Venezuelan President
Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday that he is willing to negotiate.
Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after Opposition leader Juan
Guaido during a major opposition rally in Caracas declared that he had
assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh
elections to end Maduro’s “dictatorship.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Guaido urged Venezuelans to step outside their homes and
workplaces for two hours on Wednesday in the first mass mobilisation since
last week’s big protests.
Mr. Maduro, who previously rejected calls for negotiations, said in an in an
interview with Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that he was open
to talks with the opposition.
“I’m willing to sit down for talks with the opposition so that we could talk
for the sake of Venezuela’s peace and its future,” he said.
Mr. Maduro said the talks could be held with mediation of other countries.
He mentioned Mexico, Uruguay, Bolivia, the Vatican and Russia.
US, CHINA RESUME TRADE TALKS WITH A CHILL IN THE AIR
Top US and Chinese trade officials returned to the bargaining table on
Wednesday, working to avoid a sharp escalation in the trade war between the
world’s two largest economies.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is leading Beijing’s delegation to the talks,
with just a month remaining in a 90-day truce declared in December.
The talks also occur against the backdrop of Washington’s sweeping
prosecution of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, which has outraged Beijing and
infused the negotiations with uncertainty.
Should the talks fail, US import duties on $200 billion in Chinese imports
are due to more than double on March 2, something economists say could help
knock the wind out of global economy’s sails.
The world’s two largest economies are battling for nothing less than future
dominance in critical high-tech industries, according to US Trade
Representative Robert Lighthizer, the lead US negotiator.
Given the complexity of issues, a finished agreement is unlikely to emerge
from the two days of talks in Washington this week.
But US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesday he expected
“significant progress”, and noted the governments have another month left in
the 90-day truce declared in December.
8 IRAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS ACCUSED OF ‘SPYING’ APPEAR IN COURT
Eight environmentalists accused of “spying” on Iranian military bases
appeared in court on Wednesday for a closed-door trial, the official news
agency IRNA reported.
“The environmentalists were summoned to the court,” Mohammad-Hossein Aghasi,
a representative of the accused, told IRNA. Aghasi, however, was not present
in court as the state designated its own hand-picked lawyers to represent
the defendants, IRNA reported.
“I, as the lawyer of Sam Rajabi, one of those accused in the case, was not
invited to the trial,” Aghasi was quoted as saying. Aghasi told AFP that he
was “puzzled” by the court’s decision since “the court should never oppose
the lawyer chosen by the accused”. Defendants he represents were told that
they should change their lawyer, he said.
Four of the environmentalists were accused in October of “corruption on
earth”-a charge that can carry the death sentence in Iran. Another three
defendants are accused of espionage and the last has been charged with
“conspiracy against national security”, according to IRNA.
TRUMP PUSHES BACK AGAINST US SPY CHIEFS ON NORTH KOREA
US President Donald Trump dismissed assessments by top US spy chiefs of the
threat posed by North Korea on Wednesday, offering a more optimistic view
that there was a “decent chance of denuclearization” on the Korean
Leaders of the US intelligence community told a Senate panel on Tuesday that
the threat from North Korea remained unchanged from a year ago and said
Pyongyang viewed its nuclear programme as vital to the country’s survival
and was unlikely to give it up.
The Republican president has repeatedly clashed with leaders of the US
intelligence community, most strikingly in disputing their finding that
Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help him win the
Trump has invested heavily in improving relations with Pyongyang in hopes of
getting the reclusive communist nation to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
“North Korea relationship is best it has ever been with US. No testing,
getting remains, hostages returned. Decent chance of Denuclearization,”
Trump said in a Twitter post, drawing a comparison to the “horrendous”
relationship with his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama. “Now a whole
different story. I look forward to seeing Kim Jong Un shortly. Progress
being made-big difference!”
US DELEGITIMISING AFGHAN GOVT: FORMER DIPLOMAT
The US has delegitimised the Afghan government by negotiating with the
Taliban without its involvement, a former American diplomat has said, as he
described as “surrender” the Trump administration’s framework of a deal with
the terror outfit.
Remarks by Ryan Crocker, who served as America’s ambassador to Afghanistan
and Pakistan, came after Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for
Afghanistan reconciliation, said an “agreement in principle” has been
reached on the framework of a deal with the Taliban.
Under the framework, the Taliban would guarantee Afghan territory is never
used by terrorists and bring an end to the 17-year-old war.
“I was ambassador to Afghanistan. This deal is a surrender,” Crocker, a
foreign service officer who served as country’s ambassador to Afghanistan
and Pakistan, besides several other ambassadorial postings, said in an op-ed
in The Washington Post.
Crocker, who has kept a close a watch on the region, said that the current
peace talks with the Taliban bears an unfortunate resemblance to the Paris
peace talks during the Vietnam War.
“Then, as now, it was clear that by going to the table we were surrendering;
we were just negotiating the terms of our surrender. The Taliban will offer
any number of commitments, knowing that when we are gone and the Taliban is
back, we will have no means of enforcing any of them,” he said.
“By acceding to this Taliban demand, we have ourselves delegitimised the
government we claim to support,” Corker asserted.
‘FOREIGN ACTORS WILL VIEW 2020 US POLLS AS AN OPPORTUNITY TO ADVANCE THEIR
Foreign actors, including Russia and China, will likely attempt to interfere
in 2020 US presidential elections, America’s spymaster has said.
As such, election security has been and will continue to be a top priority
for the intelligence community, Dan Coats, Director of National
Intelligence, told members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on
Tuesday during a hearing on World Wide Threat Assessment for the year 2019.
“We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 US elections as an
opportunity to advance their interests. We expect them to refine their
capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other’s experiences
and efforts in previous elections,” Coats said.
Coat’s testimony before the powerful Senate Committee assumes significance
in view of ongoing investigations into the alleged Russian interference in
the 2016 presidential elections.
“On the heels of our successful efforts to protect the integrity of the 2018
midterm elections we are now focused on incorporating lessons learned in
preparation for the 2020 elections,” Coats said.
Senator Angus King wanted to know if the intelligence community would let
the candidates know if there was an attempt by foreign powers to interfere
in US elections.
“We would expect our foreign adversaries in the maligned influence space to
keep adapting as well which is a source of concern,” FBI Director
Christopher Wray said.
POLAR VORTEX BRINGS DEADLY COLD SNAP TO US STATES
Cities are all but shutting down across the US Midwest as the region shivers
in a deadly cold snap known as a polar vortex.
At least seven people have been killed in several states as a result of the
Temperatures fell to -30C (-22F) in Chicago – colder than parts of
Antarctica – and -37C in North Dakota.
Freezing weather will chill 250 million Americans, and 90 million will
experience -17C (0F) or below.
Snow is expected to fall throughout Wednesday, from the Great Lakes region
into New England. As much as 24in (60cm) is forecast in the state of
Wisconsin, and 6in in Illinois.
States of emergency have been declared in Midwestern Wisconsin, Michigan and
Illinois, and even in the normally warmer Deep South states of Alabama and
“This could possibly be history-making,” said Ricky Castro, a National
Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist in Illinois.
The NWS is warning frostbite is possible within just 10 minutes of being
outside in such extreme temperatures.
Grand Forks, North Dakota, has seen the lowest wind chill so far at -54C on
Twenty million people in the continental US are expected to experience
temperatures of -28C or lower by the week’s end.
HUNDREDS OF SCHOOLS TO SHUT AS TOXIC SMOG CLOAKS BANGKOK
BANGKOK, Thailand – Toxic smog forced Bangkok authorities to issue an
unprecedented order to shut nearly 450 schools on Wednesday, as authorities
struggle to manage a pollution crisis that has stirred widespread concern.
The Thai capital has been shrouded in murky haze for weeks, forcing
residents to don masks and sparking social media criticism of the uneven
response by the government.
Reasons given for the lingering pall include exhaust from traffic,
unfettered construction, the burning of crop stubble, and pollution from
factories getting trapped in the city.
Authorities have seeded clouds to provoke rain, sprayed overpasses with
water to catch micro-pollutants and even asked people not to burn incense
sticks and paper during Chinese New Year celebrations.
The measures so far have provoked derision from many Bangkok residents,
while stocks of pollution masks have run out in many shops.
But on Wednesday, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration stepped up its
health warnings, ordering all 437 city-controlled public schools to close
from lunchtime through Friday, while designating 1,500 square kilometres
(580 square miles) of the city a “control area.”
MACRON CALLS FOR INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE AT END OF EGYPT VISIT
Cairo – French President Emmanuel Macron met yesterday with Egypt’s top
clerics and called for inter-religious dialogue at the end of a three-day
visit aimed at boosting ties while raising human rights concerns.
Macron and Pope Tawadros II stressed the need for “dialogue between
religions” as he met Pope Tawadros II at St. Mark’s Cathedral, seat of
Egypt’s ancient Coptic Orthodox Church.
“I decided that a new conference will be held in Paris to see how to act
more effectively,” he said, without giving details.
A diplomatic source said the French capital would host a forum on religious
minorities in the Middle East, but without giving a date.
Macron visited the church adjacent to the cathedral that was the site of a
December 2016 jihadist attack which killed 29 people.
He also met in Cairo with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the
most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic learning in Egypt.
Their talks centred on “the training of imams (prayer leaders) in France and
the fight against the misguided vision of religion”, the French presidency
Also yesterday, Macron lunched with civil society members “active in the
areas of judicial protection of detainees, press freedom, gender equality
and children’s defence”, the presidency said.