BREXIT: ‘LEGALLY BINDING’ CHANGES TO EU DEAL AGREED
Britain and the European Union emerged from last-minute talks late on Monday
to announce they had finally removed the biggest roadblock to their Brexit
divorce deal, only hours before the U.K. Parliament was due to decide the
fate of Prime Minister Theresa May’s hard-won plan to leave the EU.
On the eve of Tuesday’s vote in London, Ms. May flew to Strasbourg, France,
to seek revisions, guarantees or other changes from European Commission
president Jean-Claude Juncker that would persuade reluctant British
legislators to back her withdrawal agreement with the EU, which they
resoundingly rejected in January.
At a joint news conference, Ms. May and Mr. Juncker claimed to have
Ms. May said new documents to be added to the deal provided “legally binding
changes” to the part relating to the Irish border. The legal 585-page
withdrawal agreement itself though was left intact.
“In politics, sometimes you get a second chance. It is what you do with this
second chance that counts. Because there will be no third chance,” Mr.
Juncker warned the legislators who will vote late on March 12.
“Let’s be crystal clear about the choice – it is this deal or Brexit might
not happen at all,” he said.
Ms. May said the changes should overcome lawmakers’ qualms about a mechanism
in the deal designed to keep an open border between Britain’s Northern
Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a
safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU until a
permanent new trading relationship is in place.
SEOUL CLOSELY MONITORING N. KOREA FOR ‘MISSILE LAUNCH’: MILITARY
SEOUL, Sout Korea – South Korea’s military said Monday it was closely
monitoring North Korean facilities after a series of satellite images
triggered international alarm that Pyongyang might be preparing a long-range
missile or space launch.
Analysis indicates increased activity at two key sites — the Samundong
missile research facility and the Sohae rocket-testing facility. Any launch
could send stuttering talks on denuclearisation into disarray.
South Korea is “closely tracking and looking into all activity for possible
scenarios including a missile launch” across the border, in close
coordination with the US, said Kim Joon-rak, spokesman of the Joint Chiefs
Satellite images of Samundong taken on February 22 showed cars and trucks at
the site, as well as rail cars and cranes at a yard, US news outlet NPR
“When you put all that together, that’s really what it looks like when the
North Koreans are in the process of building a rocket,” Jeffrey Lewis, a
researcher at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey,
was quoted as saying.
TURKEY FALLS INTO RECESSION AS CURRENCY CRISIS TAKES TOLL
Turkey’s economy fell into its first recession in a decade, official data
showed on Monday, just weeks before President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s
government faces local elections where growth and inflation will be key
issues for voters.
Economic output contracted by 2.4 per cent in the final three months of the
year compared to the third quarter on a seasonally and calendar-adjusted
basis, the Turkish Statistics Institute (TUIK) said.
That followed a revised 1.6 per cent contraction in the third quarter. Two
consecutive quarter-on-quarter contractions in economic output is widely
considered to be the definition of a recession.
The flagging economy coupled with a currency crisis last year that battered
the lira are sensitive issues for Erdogan and his ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP) before the municipal vote on March 31.
The Turkish leader, in power since 2003 first as PM and then as President,
has often boasted of the country’s strong growth during his time in
Growth came in at 2.6 per cent for 2018 overall, but that was still much
lower than the 7.4 per cent recorded in 2017, a turbulent period following
the 2016 failed coup and terror attacks.
Inflation has also remained high. It struck a 15-year peak in October at
25.24 per cent before falling below 20 percent in February, with food prices
hit particularly hard.
MALAYSIAN COURT FREES SUSPECT IN POISONING OF KIM JONG NAM
An Indonesian woman accused in the 2017 chemical poison murder of the North
Korean leader’s half-brother was freed on Monday after a Malaysian court
dropped the charge in a case that drew suspicions of being a political
As the court announced its decision, Siti Aisyah, 26, turned to her
Vietnamese co-defendant, Doan Thi Huong, 30, in the dock and the two women,
who had been facing the death penalty together, embraced in tears.
They had been accused of poisoning Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North
Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with liquid VX, a banned chemical weapon, at
Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017.
Following the dramatic decision to release Siti Aisyah, a defence lawyer
asked for an adjournment in the case against Huong in order to submit a
request that charges be dropped against her too.
Defence lawyers have maintained that the women were pawns in an
assassination orchestrated by North Korean agents. Siti Aisyah, who had
worked as a masseuse at a hotel in the Malaysian capital, and Huong, who
described herself as an actress, had maintained that they believed they had
been hired to participate in a reality TV prank show.
ETHIOPIAN HORROR: SOME NATIONS GROUND BOEING 737 MAX 8 JETS
China and Indonesia grounded their fleets of Boeing’s 737 MAX 8 aircraft on
Monday as witnesses recalled the terrifying spectacle of smoke and debris
trailing from an Ethiopian Airlines plane before it crashed killing 157
persons. The Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max 8 plunged into a field minutes after
take-off from Addis Ababa for Nairobi on Sunday.
The victims came from more than 30 nations and included 22 United Nations’
staff. “The plane was very close to the ground and it made a turn. We looked
and saw papers falling off the plane,” Malka Galato, the farmer whose land
the plane crashed on, told Reuters.
“Cows that were grazing in the fields ran in panic … There was smoke and
sparks coming from the back of the plane.” The plane tried to climb but
failed then swerved sharply trailing white smoke and objects including
clothes before crashing, said farmer Tamirat Abera, who was walking nearby.
Investigators seeking to find the cause of the crash discovered the black
box with both the cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data on Monday,
Ethiopian state TV said.
WHO LAUNCHES STRATEGY TO FIGHT ‘INEVITABLE’ FLU PANDEMICS
GENEVA, Switzerland – The World Health Organization on Monday launched a
strategy to protect people worldwide over the next decade against the threat
of influenza, warning that new pandemics are “inevitable.”
Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, affect around one billion people and
kill hundreds of thousands annually, according to WHO, which describes it as
one of the world’s greatest public health challenges.
WHO’s new strategy, for 2019 through 2030, aims to prevent seasonal
influenza, control the virus’s spread from animals to humans and prepare for
the next pandemic, WHO said.
“The threat of pandemic influenza is ever-present,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom
Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
OVER 7,000 NEW MARINE SPECIES DISCOVERED
Hong Kong: Over 7,000 new marine species have been discovered from the
Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans, shedding new light on understanding of
microbial biodiversity in the seas. The team from the Hong Kong University
of Science and Technology, discovered over 7,000 new biofilm-forming species
and 10 new bacterial phyla, breaking the existing belief that the world has
only 35,000 marine microbial species and 80 bacterial phyla. The new
species, also included acidobacteria-a natural medicinal phylum with the
CRISPR gene editing system-raising hope for the development of new drugs.
GABBARD DECLINES TO CALL SYRIA’S ASSAD A WAR CRIMINAL
Washington: Democratic presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard has said she is
unsure whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a war criminal. Gabbard,
who met Assad in 2017, has previously drawn criticism for voicing skepticism
that his regime was behind the chemical weapons attacks on civilian people.
“I think that the evidence needs to be gathered and, as I have said before,
if there is evidence that he has committed war crimes, he should be
prosecuted as such,” Gabbard said. She also said last month that Assad is
“not the enemy of the US because Syria does not pose a direct threat to the
FACEBOOK LAUNCHES OFFENSIVE TO COMBAT MISINFORMATION ON VACCINES
WASHINGTON, United States – Facebook launched an offensive Thursday to
suppress the spread of misinformation about vaccines on the
2.3-billion-member social network.
The company has faced pressure in recent weeks to tackle the problem, amid
outbreaks of measles around the United States attributed to growing numbers
of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.
US lawmakers have decried the higher incidences of preventable diseases in
the wake of a movement against child vaccination, in large part due to
rumors they can cause health or developmental issues.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president for global policy management, said
the social media network would reduce the distribution of false data and
provide users with authoritative information about vaccinations.
“We will reduce the ranking of groups and pages that spread misinformation
about vaccinations in news feed and search,” Bickert said in a statement.
Facebook also will remove the misleading content from search recommendations
and predictions, reject advertisements found to contain misinformation about
vaccines, and disable accounts that continue to violate company policies on
vaccine information, she said.
The company no longer allows targeting based on users’ interest in “vaccine
controversies” and will share educational materials with users that come
across such misinformation.