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Phuket Gazette World News: Karzai rejects U.S. warnings over freed Afghan detainees

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Gazette World News: Karzai rejects U.S. warnings over freed Afghan detainees | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH
– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Karzai rejects U.S. warnings over freed Afghan detainees
Phuket Gazette / Reuters

PHUKET: Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday rejected criticism of his government’s release of 65 detainees viewed by Washington as dangerous militants, further fanning tensions with the United States as the international mission in Afghanistan winds down.

Afghan officials described the release as justice for its own citizens who had faced unfounded U.S. accusations. But the United States expressed deep concern over the decision and NATO, which runs the 12-year-old foreign military operation supporting the Karzai government, denounced it as “a major step backward”.

“If Afghan judicial authorities decide to release a prisoner, it is of no concern to the U.S.,” Karzai told a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara after talks with Turkey’s president and Pakistan’s prime minister.

“I hope the U.S. will stop harassing Afghanistan’s procedures and judicial authority. I hope the United States will now begin to respect Afghan sovereignty,” said Karzai, who after more than a decade in power is to step down after April elections.

Karzai’s government has long complained that foreign forces have locked up Afghans on dubious grounds, with no proper judicial process.

In an unusually strong statement, the U.S. military force in Kabul said some of the released detainees had killed both Afghans and foreign soldiers and now posed a fresh threat.

“U.S. and Afghan forces risked their lives to ensure the safety of the Afghan people. We call upon the (Kabul government) to consider the potentially lethal effects of today’s releases,” it said, adding that the released detainees may resume their “criminal behaviour”.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf called on Kabul to ensure that released detainees do not carry out any acts of violence “and to immediately bring to justice any who would.”

“Afghanistan is a sovereign country, (Karzai) is right about that. They can make their own decisions,” Harf said.

“We have been very clear, however, that we have a legitimate force protection concern for the lives of coalition forces, of Afghan security forces and Afghan civilians because these men have been released.”

In the U.S. Congress, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, said he was “appalled” by Kabul’s decision. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has said he would introduce a resolution condemning Karzai’s actions and would seek to cut off some U.S. development aid in response.

Video provided to Reuters by the Afghan Defence Ministry showed the prisoners, with jackets or blankets over their traditional Afghan garb, shaking hands with Afghan military officials as they left the prison.

Abdul Shakor Dadras, head of the Afghan board charged with reviewing the prisoners’ cases, said their detention had been unjustified from the outset, despite the U.S. claims.

“I believe the release of these 65 people will benefit the Afghan nation and it will benefit the American nation and American government,” Dadras told Reuters Television.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen echoed the U.S. criticism of the release of the detainees.

“This decision, which appears to have been made based on political calculations and without regard for due process before the Afghan courts, is a major step backwards for the rule of law in Afghanistan, and poses serious security concerns,” he said.

Sons of Their Country

The prisoners were part of a much larger group of detainees transferred to Afghan authority last year as one milestone in the U.S. and NATO transition out of Afghanistan. A coalition of foreign forces has been battling the Taliban since the Islamist group was ousted in 2001.

More than 500 of those prisoners have already been released, a U.S. military official said on condition of anonymity, while others were recommended for prosecution in Afghan courts.

The 65 freed on Thursday were part of a group of 88 whose proposed release had prompted U.S. objections. The fate of the remaining 23 prisoners in the group is still being examined by the Afghan government, the official said.

An unnamed prisoner, speaking in the footage provided by the Afghan Defence Ministry, said those detained at Bagram prison were “sons of their country, whose ancestors fought against Russia,” referring to what many Afghans see as the Afghan Mujahideen’s honourable fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

While U.S. officials have said U.S. forces would try to kill or capture the men if they took up arms against them, it remains unclear whether U.S. or coalition forces would try to apprehend or target them pre-emptively.

The detainees have become one more issue fuelling tension in U.S.-Afghan ties ahead of the April presidential poll and the planned pullout of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

The Obama administration has been pressing Karzai for months to sign a bilateral security agreement with Washington that would allow some U.S. troops to stay beyond that deadline.

It was unclear what effect the release would have on U.S. deliberations about what a possible post-2014 troop presence could look like or on its view of the stalled security pact.

The U.S. military official said the United States had provided Afghan officials with “hundreds of pages” of what he described as evidence or leads against the prisoners.

Some of the detainees, he said, had been linked by biometric data to the production or placement of improvised explosive devices, sometimes through fingerprints left on adhesive tape used to assemble homemade bombs.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Philippines

Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines

May Taylor

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Powerful 6.4 earthquake kills five in the Philippines | The Thaiger

PHOTO: AFP

A strong 6.4 magnitude earthquake has struck the southern Philippines, killing five, including one child, destroying property and disrupting power supply. The death toll is expected to rise.

The powerful quake was felt across the Mindanao region, even causing a 3-storey shopping mall to burst into flames. Residents were evacuated and a child was killed when a house collapsed in the town of Datu Paglas.

AFP reports that the quake was 14 kilometres deep and followed by two aftershocks. The Philippines is part of the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of constant seismic activity that stretches from Japan through Southeast Asia and across the Pacific.

Several injuries have been reported as a result of falling debris. The shopping mall that caught fire was evacuated when the quake struck, but it’s not yet known if there were still people inside as the fire took hold.

The mall was still on fire three hours later as nearly 100 firemen battled to put it out.

Residents on the coast in Davao fled to higher ground fearing a tsunami, even though a government seismologist reassured people there was no tsunami risk as the quake had occurred inland.

It’s understood that prisoners in the municipal jail in the town of Bansalan were also let out, but placed in handcuffs and held outside for the duration of the evacuation.

SOURCE: AFP

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World

Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags

The Thaiger

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Key ally rejects PM Johnson’s Brexit plan – Sterling sags | The Thaiger

The British Pound tumbled again today after UK PM Boris Johnson’s key ally in parliament said it “could not support” his plans for a Brexit deal, throwing a spanner in the works – just as Britain and the EU were closing in on an agreement.

The comment caused an immediate reaction from this morning’s Asia Pacific markets.

After years of wrangling, the two sides said they were edging towards the basis for a treaty allowing Britain to avoid an economically catastrophic “no-deal” exit from the European Union.

With both teams working through the night, EU negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been “good progress, and work is ongoing”, while France’s deputy foreign minister said Thursday a deal was “within reach but is not guaranteed”.

There had been optimism that a deal was in the offing, just two weeks before Britain is due to leave the bloc, as they worked towards a solution on the vexed question of British-ruled Northern Ireland.

But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) dropped a bombshell hours before the start of a crunch EU summit Thursday, saying it cannot support the plan.

“As things stand, we could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues, and there is a lack of clarity” on Value Added Tax, the DUP, which props up Johnson’s government, said in a statement on Twitter.

“We will continue to work with the Government to try and get a sensible deal that works for Northern Ireland and protects the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”

DUP leader Arlene Foster had met Johnson several times this week to discuss the progress of talks and had described as “nonsense” previous reports that she was ready to give way.

The pound, which earlier in the day was hovering at five-month highs around $1.2877 sank to $1.2750 before edging back slightly, while it also lost ground to the euro.

The DUP are against any deal that would tie Northern Ireland to EU rules but cut the rest of the United Kingdom loose.

Markets react

In early trade, London’s FTSE added 0.1%, Paris was flat and Frankfurt eased 0.2%. In Asia, most markets were in the red, with traders unable to take advantage of weak US retail data that raised the chances of another Federal Reserve interest rate cut. Comments in the Fed’s Beige Book update on the economy also pointed to a slowdown.

Hong Kong added 0.7% but Shanghai finished 0.1% lower and Tokyo lost 0.1%.

Sydney sank 0.8%, Singapore shed 0.7% and Seoul retreated 0.2%t, with Wellington and Manila also off. There were gains in Taipei, Mumbai, Bangkok and Jakarta.

Speculation about a possible US rate cut provided support to higher-yielding currencies against the dollar, with the Australian dollar 0.6 percent up and the South Korean won 0.1 percent stronger. The Thai baht, the Mexican peso and the South African rand also posted healthy gains.

Oil prices fell after data pointed to a sharp rise in US stockpiles that reinforced worries about the impact on demand from the China-US trade war and the global economic slowdown.

Key markets today

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2784 from $1.2817 at 2100 GMT

Euro/pound: UP at 86.65 pence from 86.33 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1081 from $1.1073

Dollar/yen: UP at 108.80 yen from 108.71 yen

London – FTSE 100: UP 0.1 percent at 7,175.09

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1% at 22,451.86 (close)

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.7% at 26,848.49 (close)

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.1% at 2,977.33 (close)

West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 56 cents at $52.80 per barrel

Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 55 cents at $58.87 per barrel

New York – Dow: DOWN 0.1% at 27,001.98 (close)

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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World

EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough

The Thaiger

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EU and UK zone in on possible breakthrough | The Thaiger

British and European negotiators headed back into intense negotiations on a draft Brexit deal after late-night talks brought them closer but so far fails to confirm an elusive breakthrough.

Reports that Britain has softened its stance on the customs status of Northern Ireland in order to clinch an accord at this week’s European summit had raised hopes that a chaotic “no-deal Brexit” can be avoided and is driving the pound higher.

But a marathon overnight negotiating session in the EU’s Brussels headquarters brought them to the eve of the meeting with still some distance to go to agree the wording of a treaty to govern the terms of Britain’s October 31 departure from the bloc.

“The teams worked into the night and continue to make progress. The teams will meet again this morning,” a UK official said, describing the talks as “constructive”. He and EU officials said the teams would get back to work at around 9am.

A senior European diplomat told AFP that the negotiators had begun to transcribe the British offer into a legal text that could eventually go before the 28 EU national leaders on Thursday at their European Council summit which begins on Thursday.

But there remain some important differences, he cautioned, while a European official, speaking on condition of anonymity as closed-door negotiations continue, played down hopes that any text would be finalised Wednesday.

Even if a text is prepared for the leaders this week – or if, as many observers in Brussels expect, an extraordinary summit is called later – any deal would have to be approved by a skeptical British parliament, which holds a special session on Saturday.

By agreeing to a form of customs boundary in the Irish Sea, Britain could allow its province of Northern Ireland to remain under EU rules, prevent a return to a hard land border with EU member Ireland and salvage a negotiated withdrawal.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may struggle to convince hardline Conservative eurosceptic MPS and his allies from Northern Ireland’s loyalist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to accept this concession — less than three weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Nevertheless, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and British Brexit minister Stephen Barclay judged that a deal was close enough to justify officials working into the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Barnier had said a text must be on the table by Wednesday if member state governments are to have a chance to consider it before the summit, because the 28 national leaders have no plans to themselves debate the details of the agreement.

But if, as now seems likely, the Wednesday deadline is missed, officials said talks could instead resume next week and a special summit be called just in time for Johnson to fulfil his pledge to lead Britain out of the bloc on October 31.

European leaders warn they will not let Britain use Northern Ireland as a back door to the single market and Barnier said Tuesday that “it is high time to turn good intentions into legal text.”

Yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined why EU officials are driving a hard bargain and hoping Britain will commit to a “level playing field” in post-Brexit trade and commerce.

“One thing is clear, Britain will develop into another competitor on the doorstep of Europe. And therefore the EU will be challenged to become more competitive and to assume geopolitical responsibility.”

Glimmers of hope

“The last moment is always a bit later than you think,” one German government official told AFP, suggesting Brexit would have to be postponed beyond the end of the month if talks are to reach a successful conclusion.

More than three years after Britain’s 2016 referendum vote to leave the European bloc, talks remain stuck on how to avoid customs checks on the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland.

The EU has reservations about London’s proposed customs arrangements and the role for Northern Ireland’s Stormont assembly in giving consent to the plans.

In London, DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC that she wanted to support a deal, but would not do so if she felt it divided Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and added that without her party’s support “everybody knows” it would not pass in parliament.

If no deal is reached by Saturday, Johnson will fall foul of a British law demanding he ask the EU to postpone Brexit for a third time rather than risk a potentially disastrous “no deal” departure.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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