Toronto, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — More than 100 academics and former diplomats are calling on China to release two Canadians who have been detained in apparent retaliation for the arrest of a top Chinese tech executive in Canada.
The letter by a wide array of China experts from around the world is addressed to Chinese President Xi Jinping. It says the arrests of the two Canadians sends a worrisome signal to those who work in policy and research in China.
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Chinese executive Meng Wanzhou, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng is the chief financial officer of the Chinese tech giant Huawei and the daughter of its founder. The U.S. wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.
The letter, released Monday, notes Kovrig is a former diplomat who was working as an expert on Asia for the International Crisis Group think tank. It notes that Spavor devoted his time to building relationships between North Korea and China, Canada and United States.
It praises Kovrig and Spavor as bridge-builders between China and the world and said their arrests make writers "more cautious" about travelling to China.
"Meetings and exchanges are the foundation of serious research and diplomacy around the world, including for Chinese scholars and diplomats," the letter says. "Kovrig and Spavor's detentions send a message that this kind of constructive work is unwelcome and even risky in China."
The letter said the arrests will lead to "less dialogue and greater distrust, and undermine efforts to manage disagreements and identify common ground. Both China and the rest of the world will be worse off as a result."
More than 20 diplomats from seven countries and more than 100 scholars and academics from 19 countries signed.
Guy Saint-Jacques, a former Canadian ambassador to China, signed the letter and noted it comes as Canada is working to rally international support for the case.
"It will be noticed in Beijing and I hope that it will make clear for them that the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor are not only a China-Canada problem but it's also having an impact on the image of and reputation of China," Saint-Jacques said. "It's an impressive list."
The signatories include former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans and Chris Patten, former British governor of Hong Kong. Two former U.S. ambassadors to China, Gary Locke and Winston Lord, also signed.
David Mulroney, another former Canadian ambassador to China, said the letter is significant because it shows the international breadth of support for the two men.
"This isn't simply a Canada-China dispute," Mulroney said. "A lot of serious people, including many who have spent years working in China, are worried about how it is closing itself off, and punishing those who seek to understand and interpret it for others."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he encourages friends and allies around the world to point out that all countries should stand up for the rule of law.
Washington, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's proposal to break through the budget deadlock appeared to be gaining little traction Monday, as another missed paycheck loomed for hundreds of thousands of workers and the partial federal shutdown stretched into its fifth week.
Despite the fanfare of the president's announcement and the rush to release the legislative package late Monday, voting in Congress was not expected to unfold until later in the week. Even then it seemed doubtful that the 1,300-page "End The Shutdown And Secure The Border Act" released by Senate Republicans had any chance of passing swiftly. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority but would need Democrats to reach the usual 60-vote threshold for bills to advance. Not a single Democrat publicly expressed support for the deal in the 48 hours since Trump announced it.
Details released late Monday highlight the centerpiece of Trump's offer: $5.7 billion to build the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border alongside temporary protection from deportation for some immigrants. The package would re-open the shuttered parts of government and boost some spending. To try to draw more bipartisan support, it adds $12.7 billion in supplemental funding for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer's office reiterated earlier Monday that Democrats are unwilling to negotiate any border security funding until Trump re-opens the government.
"Nothing has changed with the latest Republican offer," said Schumer spokesman Justin Goodman. "President Trump and Senate Republicans are still saying: 'Support my plan or the government stays shut.' That isn't a compromise or a negotiation — it's simply more hostage taking."
While the House and Senate are scheduled to be back in session Tuesday, no votes have been scheduled so far on Trump's plan. And senators, who will be given 24-hour notice ahead of voting, have yet to be recalled to Washington.
McConnell spokesman David Popp said Monday that the GOP leader "will move" to vote on consideration of the president's proposal "this week."
Trump, who on Sunday lashed out at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accusing her of acting "irrationally," continued to single her out on Twitter.
"If Nancy Pelosi thinks that Walls are 'immoral,' why isn't she requesting that we take down all of the existing Walls between the U.S. and Mexico," he wrote Monday. "Let millions of unchecked 'strangers' just flow into the U.S."
House Democrats this week are pushing ahead with voting on their own legislation to re-open the government and add $1 billion for border security —including 75 more immigration judges and infrastructure improvements — but no funding for the wall.
Trump later tweeted: "Democrats are kidding themselves (they don't really believe it!) if they say you can stop Crime, Drugs, Human Trafficking and Caravans without a Wall or Steel Barrier. Stop playing games and give America the Security it deserves. A Humanitarian Crisis!"
Meanwhile, the impact of the shutdown — the longest ever — continued to ripple across the nation as it stretched into its 31st day.
The Transportation Security Administration said the percentage of its airport screeners missing work hit 10 percent on Sunday — up from 3.1 percent on the comparable Sunday a year ago.
The screeners, who have been working without pay, have been citing financial hardship as the reason they can't report to work. Even so, the agency said it screened 1.78 million passengers Sunday with only 6.9 percent having to wait 15 minutes or longer to get through security.
The shutdown had also threatened to disrupt plans for an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day service at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the civil rights leader was co-pastor with his father from 1960 until his assassination in 1968. The site is run by the National Park Service and had been closed. But a grant from Delta Air Lines is keeping the church and associated sites, including the home where King was born, open through Feb. 3.
Trump on Saturday offered to extend temporary protections for young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and those fleeing disaster zones for three years in exchange for $5.7 billion for his border wall. Democrats said the proposal for a three-year extension didn't go nearly far enough, and that Trump was using as leverage programs that he had targeted. Meanwhile, some on the right, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter, accused Trump of offering "amnesty."
"No, Amnesty is not a part of my offer," Trump tweeted Sunday, in response. He noted that he'd offered temporary protections for the immigrants in question, but added: "Amnesty will be used only on a much bigger deal, whether on immigration or something else."
That statement led some to suggest that Trump might be open to including a potential pathway to citizenship for the young "Dreamer" immigrants in a future proposal to end the standoff.
Asked in an interview on "Fox News Sunday" whether Trump's Saturday proposal represented a "final offer," Vice President Mike Pence said the White House was willing to negotiate.
"Well, of course," Pence said. "The legislative process is a negotiation."
Harare, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Zimbabwe's president calls violence by security forces "unacceptable" and says it will be investigated after a week of economic crisis and crackdown in which activists said a dozen people were killed.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Tuesday called for a "national dialogue" among political parties. He spoke upon returning home after skipping a visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to deal with unrest.
Zimbabwe's military was in the streets last week for the first time since post-election violence in August in which six people were killed. This time, people reported being hunted down in their homes by security forces and severely beaten.
Mnangagwa says chaos and insubordination will not be tolerated and "if required, heads will roll."
He defends the dramatic fuel price increase that began the unrest.
Marawi, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Muslims in the southern Philippines voted Monday in a referendum on a new autonomous region that seeks to end nearly half a century of unrest, in what their leaders are touting as the best alternative to a new wave of Islamic State group-inspired militants.
The vote caps a tumultuous peace effort by the government in Manila and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, to seal a deal that was signed in 2014 but languished in the Philippine Congress until it was finally approved last year. Bloodshed including the siege of Marawi city by IS-linked militants and other bombings and attacks in the south threatened to derail it.
Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro rebels, has repeatedly said that the creation of a viable Muslim autonomous region is the best antidote to about half a dozen smaller IS-linked radical groups that remain a threat in Mindanao, the homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation.
"We can roughly conclude that all these splinter groups are a result of the frustration with the peace process," Murad said in July, when President Rodrigo Duterte signed the legislation creating the new region, called Bangsamoro.
Under the deal, the rebels gave up their goal of an independent state in exchange for broad autonomy, although they originally wanted a federal unit with more powers. Their 30,000 to 40,000 fighters are to be demobilized. Murad has appealed to the international community to contribute to a trust fund to be used to finance the insurgents' transition from decades of waging one of Asia's longest rebellions.
People remaining in battle-scarred Marawi voted in schools set up as voting centers, and evacuees voted in Saguiaran, with some hoping peace would mean they could get their homes and lives back in the city where military troops stand guard at checkpoints and homes are filled with bullet holes.
"We believe that this plebiscite will be the key to peaceful life," said teacher Gehariariah Daroninbang, who was voting "yes" and said while the deal was not assured to be perfect, it was "near to perfect."
Centuries of conquest — first by Spanish and American colonial forces that had ruled the Philippine archipelago followed by Filipino Christian settlers — have gradually turned Muslims into a minority group in Mindanao, triggering conflict over land, resources and sharing of political power. Uprisings seeking self-rule have been brutally suppressed, feeding more resentment. Insecurity is fueled by proliferation of weapons and armed groups that have resorted to ransom kidnappings and extortion for survival, such as the brutal Abu Sayyaf, which is not part of any peace process.
Bangsamoro replaces an existing poverty-wracked autonomous region with a larger, better-funded and more powerful entity. An annual grant, estimated at $1.3 billion, is to be set aside to bolster development.
Western governments have welcomed the autonomy pact. They worry that small numbers of IS-linked militants from the Middle East and Southeast Asia could forge an alliance with Filipino insurgents and turn the south into a breeding ground for extremists.
In 2017, Philippine troops backed by U.S. and Australian surveillance aircraft routed the militants who occupied Marawi for five months in battles that left more than 1,200 people, mostly Islamic fighters, dead and the mosque-studded city in ruins. Overall, the conflict has left about 150,000 people dead over several decades and stunted development in the resource-rich but underdeveloped southern region that is the country's poorest.
The Commission on Elections said it has printed 2.1 million ballots for the plebiscite. Results are expected no later than Jan. 26. If the measure is approved, a second referendum on Feb. 6 will ask residents of Lanao del Norte province and seven towns in North Cotabato province with a sizeable Muslim population to decide whether they want to join the new region as well.
Possible pitfalls include petitions to the Supreme Court to strike down the autonomy deal.
Santa Fe, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — A second person died from injuries sustained in an avalanche last week at a northern New Mexico ski resort, relatives and a hospital official said Monday.
The deceased skier was identified by family as 22-year-old Corey Borg-Massanari of Vail, Colorado, who had moved to Colorado from Minnesota to attend college and worked for an outdoor equipment company and as a zipline tour guide in the summer.
Borg-Massanari was one of two people pulled from the snow after the avalanche Thursday at Taos Ski Valley. He died Monday at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where he had been transported after the avalanche and treated for unspecified injuries, according to spokeswoman Alex Sanchez.
The other victim, identified as 26-year-old Matthew Zonghetti of Massachusetts, was pronounced dead shortly after the avalanche.
The avalanche struck a stretch of expert skiing terrain on the upper mountain known as the K3 chute. The resort planned an investigation to determine what triggered the avalanche.
Taos Ski Resort personnel have said the avalanche within ski-area boundaries took place despite a series of precautions earlier the day that included the detonation of explosives to trigger any potential snow-slides before skiers could take to the slopes.