FRONT PAGE NEWS
31 December 2019
US AIR STRIKES IN IRAQ, SYRIA TARGET IRANIAN-BACKED SHI'ITE MUSLIM MILITIA
US officials said on Sunday that air strikes in Iraq and Syria against an
Iran-backed militia group were successful, but warned that "additional
actions" may still be taken in the region to defend US interests.
The US military carried out the strikes against the Kataib Hezbollah militia
group in response to the killing of a US civilian contractor in a rocket
attack on an Iraqi military base, officials said.
US President Donald Trump was briefed by his top national security advisers
at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida following the strikes. "We
will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put
American men and women in jeopardy," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told
reporters after the briefing with Trump.
Iraqi security and militia sources said at least 25 militia fighters were
killed and at least 55 wounded following three US air strikes in Iraq.
TALIBAN KILL 14 AF TROOPS HOURS AFTER AGREEING TO 'CEASEFIRE'
The Taliban targeted a pro-government militia compound in northern
Afghanistan before dawn on Monday, killing 14 members of the Afghan security
forces, a local official said. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility
for the attack.
The attack came even as Taliban officials told the Associated Press and
other media outlets just hours earlier that a temporary, nationwide
ceasefire has been agreed upon among their council leaders. It wasn't clear
when the ceasefire would go into effect. However, an AFP report claimed that
the Taliban had denied agreeing to any ceasefire."In the past few days, some
media have been releasing untrue reports about a ceasefire... The fact is
that, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has no ceasefire plans," the
Taliban said, after multiple media reports, including a story in the Wall
Street Journal, suggested the group was on the verge of announcing some type
of temporary truce.
CHINA CONVICTS RESEARCHERS IN GENE-EDITED BABY CONTROVERSY
A Chinese court sentenced the scientist who created the world's first
"gene-edited" babies to three years in prison on Monday, according to the
official Xinhua news agency, on charges of illegally practicing medicine.
He Jiankui, then an associate professor at Southern University of Science
and Technology in Shenzhen, said in November 2018 that he had used
gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9 to change the genes of twin
girls to protect them from getting infected with the AIDS virus in the
The backlash in China and globally about the ethics of his research and work
was fast and widespread.
He and his collaborators forged ethical review materials and recruited men
with AIDS who were part of a couple to carry out the gene-editing. His
experiments ultimately resulted in two women giving birth to three
gene-edited babies, according to Xinhua.
The court also handed lesser sentences to Zhang Renli and Qin Jinzhou, who
worked at two unnamed medical institutions, for having conspired with He in
"The three accused did not have the proper certification to practice
medicine, and in seeking fame and wealth, deliberately violated national
regulations in scientific research and medical treatment," the court said,
according to Xinhua.
"They've crossed the bottom line of ethics in scientific research and
TRUMP, PUTIN DISCUSSED RUSSIA ATTACK, ARMS CONTROL, RELATIONS: WHITE HOUSE
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed
the state of relations between their two countries in a phone call
instigated by Putin, the White House said on Monday.
The official reason for the call, according to both sides, was for Putin to
thank Trump for what White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said was
"information the United States provided that helped foil a potential holiday
terrorist attack in Russia."
No details were provided, but Russia said on Sunday it had thwarted attacks
reportedly planned in St. Petersburg thanks to a tip from Washington.
Mr. Gidley said both Presidents committed to continuing counter-terrorism
cooperation between the two countries.
"The presidents also discussed the state of relations between the United
States and Russia and future efforts to support effective arms control," he
said, an apparent reference to Trump's stated desire for a new nuclear arms
Some new tensions have arisen between the two countries.
Mr. Trump on Thursday warned Russia, Syria and Iran against killing
civilians in Syrias Idlib province.
Syrian and Russian forces have intensified their bombardment of targets in
Idlib, the last significant rebel pocket of Syria. Syrian President Bashar
al-Assad has vowed to recapture it.
In another potential strain, Russia joined with China on a draft proposal to
the U.N. Security Council to seek a lifting of some U.N.-backed sanctions
against North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The Trump-Putin call came as the State Department announced Secretary of
State Mike Pompeo will travel to Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan
and Cyprus from January 3-7.
TRUMP SETS 'RED LINE' FOR TEHRAN AMID MOUNTING RISKS
President Donald Trump's order for airstrikes on a Tehran-backed Iraqi
militia group, after resisting retaliating against Iran for months, sent a
clear message Sunday that killing Americans was his red line.
But experts warned that, far from being deterred, Iran might find that line
signals there is space for them to continue the kind of provocative
activities that fired up tensions across the Gulf region throughout 2019.
And with Mr. Trump facing a re-election fight in 2020, some said Tehran
could even step up its actions to challenge the president's promise to pull
U.S. troops out of the Middle East.
U.S. officials said on Monday that Mr. Trump had exercised "strategic
patience" during the past year in the face of Iran's stepped-up military
activities in the region challenging the U.S. and its allies.
But they said that the death Friday of a U.S. civilian contractor in Kirkuk
in a rocket attack by the Hezbollah Brigades, an Iran-supported militia,
forced Mr. Trump's hand.
At least 25 members of the group were killed in retaliatory U.S. strikes
Sunday on five of their bases in Iraq and Syria.
"The president has shown a lot of restraint," Brian Hook, the State
Department's Special Representative for Iran, told reporters Monday.
AUSTRALIA FIRES: HOLIDAYMAKERS FLEE TO WATER AS BLAZE HITS TOWN
Thousands of people have fled into the water at a beachside town in
Australia to seek shelter from a massive bushfire bearing down on the area.
Residents said the blaze moved into the Victorian town of Mallacoota on
Tuesday morning, throwing embers towards homes.
Online, people reported the "roar" of the fire and posted pictures of a
black and then deep-red sky.
Several popular holiday spots along the coast between Sydney and Melbourne
are currently under threat from bushfires.
The most serious "emergency-level" blazes span a 500km (310 miles) stretch
from Batemans Bay in New South Wales (NSW) to Bairnsdale in Victoria.
Residents in several NSW beachside communities, including Bermagui and
Batemans Bay, have also been evacuated to the water.
Authorities had told people in these regions - many of them tourists - to
stay put because it was too late and dangerous to evacuate.
The major road in the region - the Princes Highway - has been closed off.
TESLA DELIVERS FIRST BATCH OF CHINA-MADE CARS
Tesla delivered its first batch of China-made cars on December 30, less than
a year after the electric vehicle company broke ground on its first plant
outside the United States.
Work began on the firm's multibillion-dollar Shanghai "Gigafactory" in
January, allowing the company to skirt trade tensions between China and the
U.S. and sell directly to the world's largest "green" vehicle market.
The first cars to roll off the assembly line - 15 of Tesla's mid-price,
mass-market Model 3 design - were given to employees who had placed advance
orders during a ceremony at the plant.
Tesla plans to begin large-scale deliveries of China-made Model 3 sedans
next month, said the firm's China general manager Wang Hao.
The company was now producing more than 1,000 cars per week in China and
hoped to double the figure next year, manufacturing director Song Gang told
Chief executive Elon Musk has said production could rise to 3,000 vehicles
per week in the future.
China typically requires foreign automakers to forge joint ventures with
domestic firms when establishing manufacturing plants, which means sharing
profits and technology with local partners.
But Tesla's China venture is wholly owned by the U.S. company, and Tesla's
decision to invest in Shanghai has been rewarded with preferential
Authorities last week announced the waiver of a 10% purchase tax for locally
made Model 3 vehicles, priced at 355,800 yuan ($50,900).
I'M USING ALL MY STRENGTH TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE, SAYS MERKEL
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a her New Year's message she is
fighting climate change with all her strength to enable future generations
to live in peace and prosperity.
"Global warming is real. It is threatening," Ms. Merkel said in the recorded
speech which will be broadcasted on Tuesday evening. Rising world
temperatures and the problems created by global warming are all man-made,
Ms. Merkel added.
"So we have to do everything humanly possible to overcome this human
challenge. It is still possible," Ms. Merkel said.
"At 65, I am at an age at which I personally will no longer experience all
the consequences of climate change that will occur if politicians do not
act," the chancellor said.
"It will be our children and grandchildren who have to live with the
consequences of what we do or refrain from doing today. That is why I use
all my strength to ensure that Germany makes its contribution -
ecologically, economically, socially - to getting climate change under
Ms. Merkel called on Germans to think out of the box to cope with the
challenges arising from global warming.
"To do this, we need more than ever the courage to think in a new way, the
strength to leave familiar paths, the willingness to try new things, and the
determination to act faster, convinced that the unusual can succeed - and
must succeed if the generation of today's young people and their descendants
should still be able to live well on this Earth," Ms. Merkel said.
SOUTH KOREA PARDONS OVER 5,000 PEOPLE
The South Korean Government on Monday announced special pardons to 5,174
people, including conscientious objectors who refused to do military service
for religious or personal reasons.
The move, set to go into effect on Tuesday, includes 1,879 conscientious
objectors, 267 who have been convicted for breaching election laws, as well
as two politicians and a labour activist, Yonhap News Agency quoted the
Justice Ministry as saying.
The ministry said the special pardons were aimed at relieving the burden of
convicts whose livelihoods were affected and helping them successfully
return to society. At present, all able-bodied Korean men are required to
serve in the army forces.