8 August 2020
LEBANON SEES POSSIBLE 'EXTERNAL INTERFERENCE' IN PORT BLAST
Lebanons president said an investigation into the Beirut port warehouse
explosion was looking at whether it was caused by negligence, an accident or
possible external interference, his office cited him as telling local media
The cause has not been determined yet. There is a possibility of external
interference through a rocket or bomb or other act, President Michel Aoun
said in comments carried by local media and confirmed by his office.
He said the probe into Tuesdays blast at a warehouse housing
highly-explosive material was being conducted on three levels. First, how
the explosive material entered and was stored ... second whether the
explosion was a result of negligence or an accident ... and third the
possibility that there was external interference.
While the United States has said it did not rule out an attack, Israel,
which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has denied any role. Turkish
President Tayyip Erdogan said the cause was unclear, but compared the blast
to a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanons powerful Shiite group
Hezbollah, denied what he said were preconceived comments both
domestically and abroad that the Iran-backed group had arms stored at the
He called for a fair investigation and strict accountability for anyone
responsible without any political cover.
SRI LANKA ELECTION: RAJAPAKSAS WIN SUPER-MAJORITY, CEMENT GRIP ON POWER
Sri Lanka's parliamentary elections handed President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and
his brother an overwhelming majority, results showed on Friday, giving the
family power to enact sweeping changes to the constitution of the island
The election has been postponed twice already this year because of COVID-19.
Special restrictions are in place to minimize spreading the disease.
Rajapaksa had sought, and achieved, a two-thirds majority for his Sri Lanka
Podujana Peramuna party and its allies to be able to restore full executive
powers to the presidency.
The ruling group won 150 seats in the 225-member parliament, according to a
tally published by the election commission from Wednesday's vote.
The two-thirds majority will see Rajapaksa's older brother and former
president Mahinda Rajapaksa taking over as prime minister as the
tourism-dependent nation struggles to recover from last year's deadly
Islamist militant attacks and, more recently, lockdowns to control the
The controversial Rajapaksa family has dominated Sri Lankan politics for two
decades. Mahinda Rajapaksa was previously president, from 2005 to 2015.
The opposition of former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has been
trounced, having lost all but one of the 106 seats it held in the outgoing
The main opposition party is now a new group established by the son of
Ranasinghe Premadasa, a former president who was assassinated in 1993.
With their dominant majority, the Rajapaksas could attempt to change the
constitution, increase the powers of the president so reversing the work of
the previous government to introduce more checks and balances.
AMID PROTESTS, PAKISTAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES FATF-RELATED BILL
Amidst vociferous protests from Pakistans religious parties, the Parliament
has approved a third Bill related to the tough conditions set by the global
money laundering and terrorist financing watchdog FATF.
The legislation is part of the efforts by Pakistan to move from the
Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list to the white list.
The FATF put Pakistan on the grey list in June 2018 and asked Islamabad to
implement a plan of action by the end of 2019 but the deadline was extended
later due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mutual Legal Assistance (Criminal Matter) Bill, 2020 which calls for
exchange of information and criminals with countries was passed late
Thursday evening in a joint sitting of Parliament after a hectic two-day
consultation with the two major Opposition parties Pakistan Muslim
League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
The Bill was passed after the government agreed to include over two dozen
Opposition-proposed amendments with a majority vote amidst noisy protest by
the religious and nationalist parties, the Dawn News reported.
U.S. IMPOSES SANCTIONS ON HONG KONG'S LAM, OTHER OFFICIALS OVER CRACKDOWN
The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive
Carrie Lam, the territory's current and former police chiefs and eight other
top officials for what Washington says is their role in curtailing political
freedoms in the territory.
The sanctions were imposed under an executive order President Donald Trump
signed last month to punish China for its moves against dissent in Hong Kong
and are the latest dramatic action by his administration against Beijing in
the run-up to his November re-election bid.
As well as Lam, the sanctions target Hong Kong Police commissioner Chris
Tang and his predecessor Stephen Lo; John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong's secretary
of security, and Teresa Cheng, the justice secretary.
Among six other officials targeted were Luo Huining, mainland China's top
official in Hong Kong, and Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and
Macau Affairs Office in Beijing.
The Treasury Department said Beijing's imposition of draconian national
security legislation had undermined Hong Kong's autonomy and set the
groundwork for censorship of any individuals or outlets that are deemed
unfriendly to China.
Carrie Lam is the chief executive directly responsible for implementing
Beijings policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes, it
In a separate statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the moves
send a clear message that the Hong Kong authorities actions are
unacceptable and in contravention of China's one country, two systems
The sanctions freeze any U.S. assets of the officials and generally bar
Americans from doing business with them.
HEGEMONIC US WILL TASTE BITTER FRUIT OF SELF-INTEREST, SAYS CHINA AFTER
TIKTOK, WECHAT TARGETED BY WASHINGTON
China on Friday said it firmly opposes President Donald Trumps decision to
ban US transactions with the Chinese owners of messaging app WeChat and
video-sharing app TikTok, adding that Washington will eventually taste the
bitter fruit of choosing self-interest over market principles.
Trump on Thursday signed executive orders targeting the short-video sharing
platform TikTok, owned by Beiijing-based ByteDance, and the messaging
service WeChat - owned by the Tencent conglomerate.
The two apps are used by hundreds of millions globally.
Reacting to the US decision, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, Wang
Wenbin said Washington should provide non-discriminatory business
environment to all countries.
China urges the US to correct its wrongdoings, stop politicising economic
issues and cracking down on related firms, and provide a fair, just and
non-discriminatory environment for normal operations and investment by
businesses from all countries, Wang said at the regular ministry briefing
The US will eventually taste the bitter fruit of choosing self-interest
over market principles, international rules, which will only lead to the
decline of morality, national image, and international trust, Wang said.
Calling it a shameless act of hegemony, Wang said the US frequently uses
national security as an excuse to abuse state power and groundlessly clamp
down on related firms.
MALAYSIAS MAHATHIR FORMS NEW PARTY IN FIGHTBACK ATTEMPT
Two-time former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced on
Friday that he is forming a new ethnic Malay party more than two months
after he was sacked from his previous party during a political struggle with
Mahathir, 95, quit as Prime Minister in protest in late February after
fellow party member Muhyiddin Yassin withdrew their Bersatu party from the
ruling coalition, triggering its collapse less than two years after a
historic victory in 2018 national polls.
Truly Malay: On Mahathirs legacy
Muhyiddin was sworn in as new Prime Minister in March with a new government
supported by ex-Prime Minister Najib Razaks corruption-tainted party that
was ousted in 2018.
Mahathir, who was sacked from Bersatu along with his son and three other
senior members, said Muhyiddin had hijacked the party and helped revive what
he called a kleptocratic government.
He accused Muhyiddin of using money to buy support in Bersatu, causing it to
stray from its goal of fighting graft. Mahathir said he believes many
grassroot members are unhappy and still support him.
We feel that we must continue our fight and that is why we are forming a new
party, Mahathir said at a news conference. He didnt reveal the name of the
party but said its main agenda will be similar to Bersatus original
struggle to eradicate corruption and kleptocracy.
Mahathir said the new party will be independent and not align with the
Opposition coalition led by Anwar Ibrahim, who was initially slated to
succeed him in their previous government.
CANADA SLAPS RETALIATORY TARIFFS ON US ALUMINIUM GOODS
Canada has announced a C$3.6bn ($2.7bn, £2.1bn) tariff on US aluminium
products a day after US President Donald Trump imposed a 10% tariff on some
Canadian aluminium products.
Canada and the US reached a deal last year to lift tariffs on steel and
aluminium imports that had been imposed on grounds of "national security".
Mr Trump reintroduced them on Thursday to protect the US industry.
Friday's retaliatory tariffs by Canada will go into effect on 16 September.
The countermeasure was announced after deputy prime minister Chrystia
Freeland previously promised a "dollar-for-dollar" fight.
"At a time when we are fighting a global pandemic... a trade dispute is the
last thing anyone needs - it will only hurt the economic recovery on both
sides of the border," she said in a news conference.
Ms Freeland called the US tariffs "ludicrous" and denied Canadian aluminium
is a threat to US national security.
"Any American who buys a can of beer or a soda or a car or a bike will
suffer. In fact, the washing machines Trump stood in front of yesterday will
get more expensive," she said.
The tariffs would come into force after a consultation period with Canadian
businesses affected by the US levy.
MAURITIUS DECLARES EMERGENCY AS STRANDED SHIP SPILLS FUEL
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius declared a state of environmental
emergency late Friday after a Japanese-owned ship that ran aground offshore
days ago began spilling tons of fuel.
Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth announced the development as satellite
images showed a dark slick spreading in the turquoise waters near
environmental areas that the government called very sensitive.
Mauritius has said the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tons of fuel and
cracks have appeared in its hull.
Jugnauth earlier in the day said his government was appealing to France for
help, saying the spill represents a danger for the country of some 1.3
million people that relies heavily on tourism and has been been hit hard by
the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
"Our country doesnt have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded
ships, so I have appealed for help from France and President Emmanuel
Macron, he said. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and I worry
what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.
"We are in a situation of environmental crisis, the environment minister of
Mauritius, Kavy Ramano, said, calling the Blue Bay Marine Park and other
areas near the leaking ship very sensitive.
KABUL OPENS TRADITIONAL COUNCIL ON RELEASE OF 400 TALIBAN PRISONERS
A traditional council met on Friday in Afghanistans capital to decide
whether to release a final 400 Taliban prisoners, the last hurdle to
starting negotiations between Kabuls political leadership and the Taliban
under a peace deal with the U.S..
The negotiations are a critical step toward lasting peace in Afghanistan.
The talks will decide what a peaceful Afghanistan might look like, what
constitutional changes will be made, how the rights of women and minorities
will be protected and the fate of the tens of thousands of heavily armed men
on both sides of the conflict.
Besides Taliban fighters, warlords in Kabul maintain thousands of armed
militias loyal to them.
The Taliban in a statement on Friday rejected the Kabul gathering, saying it
had no legal status.
A statement by US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued late on Thursday
made it clear that the 400 prisoners had to be released if peace talks with
the Taliban were to move forward.
We acknowledge that the release of these prisoners is unpopular, Mr. Pompeo
said. But this difficult action will lead to an important result long sought
by Afghans and Afghanistans friends: reduction of violence and direct talks
resulting in a peace agreement and an end to the war.
SWITZERLAND SIGNS VACCINE DEAL WITH MODERNA
The Swiss federal government has struck a deal with Moderna to supply
Switzerland with 4.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine if the US biotech
firm successfully develops one.
The Federal Office of Public Health says the agreement aims to guarantee
Switzerland early access to the vaccine of Moderna and is one of the first
such deals by any government with the company.
An office statement on Thursday says the government wants to ensure that the
Swiss population has rapid access to a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.
At the same time, it says Switzerland is supporting multilateral projects
for the fair distribution of a future vaccine.
The Moderna deal would make it possible to vaccinate 2.25 million people,
because expectations are that two doses would be needed, it said.
The Swiss government is also in talks with other vaccine companies and has
already allocated 300 million Swiss francs (nearly $330 million) for
purchases of COVID-19 vaccine.
It did not specify the value of the Moderna deal.
FORMER SAUDI OFFICIAL ACCUSES CROWN PRINCE OF TRYING TO GET HIM KILLED
A former top Saudi intelligence official publicly accused Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday of sending a team of agents to Canada to
The allegation came in a lawsuit filed in US federal court on Thursday by
the former official, Saad Aljabri, who has accused Crown Prince Mohammed of
seeking to silence or kill him to stop him from undermining the princes
relationship with the US and the Trump administration.
The suit marks the first time a former senior Saudi official has publicly
accused Crown Prince Mohammed, the kingdoms de facto ruler, of carrying out
a widespread and sometimes violent campaign to silence critical voices.
Aljabri, who was a top aide in the Saudi interior ministry, now lives in
self-imposed exile near Toronto. Crown Prince Mohammed has tried to coax him
to return to Saudi Arabia and in March, Saudi Arabia detained two of
Aljabris adult children and his brother, prompting accusations by relatives
and US officials that they were being held hostage to secure Aljabris
return. His lawsuit says that Saudi agents attempted to target Aljabri in
Canada less than two weeks after another team of Saudi operatives killed and
dismembered dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in
Istanbul. US intelligence agencies have determined that Crown Prince
Mohammed likely ordered the killing.
Aljabris suit contained scant evidence to support its charges, including
about the alleged Canada operation.
BRITAIN BRACES FOR RECORD-BREAKING HIGH TEMPERATURES
Britain braced for record-breaking temperatures on Friday as forecasters
warned the public to take additional care in the heat.
The mercury is set to rise to 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit) in
southeastern England amid a heatwave lasting through the weekend.
Britains Met Office warned the public to take precautions against
dehydration and sunburn and be ready for a dramatic rise in temperatures
following a rather cool week.
Public Health England issued a heat-health warning and advised people
sheltering indoors to close curtains facing the sun.
This summer, many of us are spending more time at home due to COVID-19,
said Ishani Kar-Purkayastha, consultant in public health at Public Health
A lot of homes can overheat, so its important we continue to check on older
people and those with underlying health conditions, particularly if theyre
living alone and may be socially isolated.