United Nations, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — The United States warned the Security Council on Wednesday that Nicaragua is heading down the path that led to conflict in Syria and a crisis in Venezuela that has spilled into the region — but Russia, China and Bolivia said Nicaragua doesn't pose an international threat and the U.N. should butt out.
The sharp exchanges took place at the first Security Council meeting called by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, the current council president, to address what the U.N. says is the government's violent repression of student and opposition protests that have killed over 300 people since mid-April and led thousands to flee the country.
"With each passing day Nicaragua travels further down a familiar path. It is a path that Syria has taken. It is a path that Venezuela has taken," Haley said.
She said Nicaragua's President Daniel Ortega and Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro "are cut from the same corrupt cloth ... And they are both dictators who live in fear of their own people."
But she said there is still an opportunity for Nicaragua's government "to prevent tyranny from threatening peace and security" by responding to the people's demands for freedom, an end to "dictatorship," and the release of arbitrarily jailed protesters.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia countered that the "subversive policies of the United States against Nicaragua have a long history" and the meeting —which Moscow "categorically objects to" — represented "a glaring and grim example of destructive foreign intervention."
He warned that "following today's discussion, polarization in Nicaragua will only worsen."
In Nicaragua, Ortega responded to Haley's comments in a speech to a pro-government march in Managua.
"What should we say to the United States?" the Nicaraguan president said. "We'll tell them that if they want to help the Nicaraguan people, if they want to contribute to peace, the best thing they can do and should do is not meddle in Nicaragua, respect Nicaragua."
The popular protests that began in mid-April were triggered by cuts to the social security system. Ortega reversed the cuts, but demonstrations quickly expanded and turned into a call for him to step down. He has refused to give up power before elections scheduled for 2021.
A report released last Wednesday by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on four months of unrest in the country described government repression that stretched from the streets to courtrooms, where some protesters face terrorism charges.
The human rights office called on the government to immediately halt the persecution of protesters and disarm the masked civilians who have been responsible for many of the killings and arbitrary detentions. It also documented cases of torture and excessive force.
Two days later, the government expelled the U.N. human rights team in the country.
Gonzalo Koncke, chief of staff to the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, told the council that Nicaragua "is at a critical juncture and the government must take critical measures" to re-establish democracy in the country.
The government must quickly hold "free, just, democratic and transparent elections" and start a dialogue with all parties that leads to agreements.
If democracy is not restored, Koncke warned, Nicaragua "may go the way of other countries in the region who have fallen in the arms of dictators."
Civil society leader Felix Maradiaga, a former secretary general of Nicaragua's Ministry of Defense who said he faces constant death threats, told the council he came to convey the urgency of the situation in the country that threatens peace and security in the region.
"Every day we see a climate of terror and indiscriminate persecution," he said, citing the rising number of political prisoners, armed and masked people bursting into homes, and sexual attacks.
"For more than a decade, the Daniel Ortega regime has been benefiting from the fact that it is off the international agenda, off the international radar," Maradiaga said. "So we are seeing the danger of Nicaragua spinning out of control in a volatile region of the world."
Nicaragua needs the attention of the United Nations, he said, "to ensure there is peace and security before it's too late." And he urged the U.N.'s most powerful body to adopt a legally binding resolution, assign resources and establish a system to monitor what's happening in the country and support the restoration of the rule of law.
Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Denis Moncada Colindres made no mention of the unrest or elections, stressing instead that "in Nicaragua we love peace, we strengthen our security and we promote and defend human rights in a holistic way."
"There is consensus in this council Nicaragua does not represent a threat to international peace and security," he said.
Asahikawa, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers were rushing to unearth survivors and restore power Thursday after a powerful earthquake jolted Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido, buckling roads, knocking homes off their foundations and causing entire hillsides to collapse.
Residents in Sapporo were shaken from their beds when the magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck southern Hokkaido at 3:08 a.m. Video cameras showed cities going dark as the quake disabled power systems, leaving nearly 3 million households on the island without electricity.
The island's only nuclear power plant, which was offline, switched to a backup generator to keep its spent fuel cool and nuclear regulators said there was no sign of abnormal radiation — a concern after a massive quake and tsunami in March 2011 that hit northeast Japan destroyed both external and backup power to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, causing meltdowns.
Japan's Meteorological Agency said the quake's epicenter was 40 kilometers (24 miles) deep. But it still wreaked havoc across much of the relatively sparsely inhabited island.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that seven people had been confirmed dead. The national broadcaster NHK put the number of people dead or "lacking vital signs" at eight — police only confirm deaths when victims are fully identified.
Rescuers were using small backhoes and shovels to sift through the tons of soil, rocks and timber in hopes of finding survivors in the town of Atsuma, where steep mountainsides collapsed, crushing homes and farm buildings and leaving scores of brown gashes in the deep green hills.
Disaster officials in Hokkaido said about 30 people were unaccounted for.
Airports and many roads on the island were closed and trains were idled by the power outages. NHK showed workers rushing to clean up shattered glass and reinstall ceiling panels that had tumbled down in the region's biggest airport at Chitose.
Japan is used to dealing with disasters, but the last few months have brought a string of calamities. The quake came on the heels of a typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered heavy flooding in western Japan, leaving the main airport near Osaka and Kobe closed after a tanker rammed a bridge connecting the facility to the mainland. The summer also brought devastating floods from torrential rains in Hiroshima and deadly hot temperatures across the country.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that up to 25,000 troops and other personnel would be dispatched to Hokkaido to help with rescue operations.
As Japan's northern frontier and a major farming region with rugged mountain ranges and vast forests, Hokkaido is an area accustomed to coping with long winters, isolation and other hardships. But the blackouts brought on by the quake underscored the country's heavy reliance on vulnerable power systems: without electricity, water was cut to many homes, train lines were idled and phone systems out of order.
In the prefectural capital of Sapporo, a city of 1.9 million, the quake ruptured roads and knocked houses askew. A mudslide left several cars half buried.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters that the extensive power outage was caused by an emergency shutdown of the main thermal power plant at Tomato Atsuma that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.
The hope had been to get power back up within hours and some electricity was gradually being restored. However, damage to generators at the Tomato Atsuma plant meant that the restoration of power could take more than a week, Seko said.
He said utilities were starting up several other thermal and hydroelectric plants but even with those stopgap supplies thousands would still be without power for some time.
In the meantime, authorities sent power-generator vehicles to hospitals and other locations.
Reacting quickly to the disaster, troops deployed water tanker trucks in Sapporo, where residents were collecting bottles to tide them over until electricity and tap water supplies come back online. The city hall announced it had set up charging stations to help residents charge their mobile phones.
The quake's impact was widespread. To the north, in the scenic town of Biei, residents lined up outside of supermarkets and convenience stores, quickly clearing shelves of water, toilet paper and food.
"Only a few cartons of instant ramen were left," said Mika Takeda, who lives in the town of 10,000. The one local gas station was limiting customers to only 20 liters (5 gallons) of gas, she said.
Seoul, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — A South Korean presidential official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him he still had faith in U.S. President Donald Trump despite ongoing difficulties in the nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Chung Eui-yong said Thursday that Kim emphasized during a meeting in Pyongyang on Wednesday that he has not once talked negatively about Trump to anyone including his closest advisers.
Chung says Kim said that he wishes for North Korea and the United States to put an end to their seven decades of hostile relations before the end of Trump's first term.
After their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim announced a vague statement about a nuclear-free peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. Post-summit nuclear negotiations were rocky and quickly settled into a stalemate.
A South Korean presidential official says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him that a declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War would not weaken the U.S.-South Korea alliance or lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea.
Chung Eui-yong said that Kim agreed to South Korea's stance that an end-of-war declaration would help build trust between the countries as they move forward in the process for denuclearization and stabilizing peace.
U.S. officials have insisted that a peace declaration cannot come before North Korea takes more concrete action toward abandoning its nukes.
While an end-of-war declaration wouldn't imply a legally binding peace treaty, experts say it could create momentum that would make it easier for the North to steer the discussions toward a diplomatic recognition and security concessions.
The Korean War stopped on an armistice and left the Korean Peninsula technically at war.
A South Korean presidential official says a trilateral summit between Washington, Seoul and Pyongyang at the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month is unlikely to happen.
Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that the conditions for such a meeting haven't been created.
South Korea has been pushing for a trilateral meeting, or a four-nation meeting that also includes Beijing, to declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The war stopped on an armistice and left the Korean Peninsula technically at war.
Chung says such a declaration would build trust between the United States and North Korea and help progress in negotiations to dismantle the North's nuclear program. North Korea has also called for an end-of-war declaration, but the U.S. officials have insisted such a declaration cannot come before the North takes more concrete steps toward denuclearization.
South Korea says North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told him that dismantling work at his main rocket launch site meant the "complete suspension" of all future long-range ballistic missile tests.
Senior South Korean official Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that Kim made the comments while reaffirming his commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula during their meeting in Pyongyang this week.
Since entering talks this year, North Korea has taken several steps such as dismantling parts of its main rocket launch site and closing its nuclear testing site. But U.S. officials say North Korea must take more serious disarmament measures.
Chung cites Kim as saying dismantling at the Tongchang-ri rocket site mean no future long-range missile tests would take place because it's his only long-range rocket testing site.
He says Kim also told him no more nuclear test would be possible in the Punggye-ri nuclear testing site because it has been completely dismantled.
Seoul says the leaders of the two Koreas will meet Sept. 18-20 in Pyongyang to discuss how to achieve the "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Senior presidential official Chung Eui-yong told reporters Thursday that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also reaffirmed his "firm resolve" to realize denuclearization when he met him in Pyongyang on Wednesday.
Chung's trip came amid deadlocked diplomacy over North Korea's nuclear program. North Korea has taken several steps such as dismantling its nuclear testing site this year, but the U.S. wants it to take more serious disarmament measures.
Chung says Kim's summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in will focus on what specific steps must be taken to realize the denuclearization.
He says the Koreas will hold talks next week to prepare for the summit.
North Korean media have released a declaration from leader Kim Jong Un that reaffirms his commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula amid a growing standoff with the United States.
The statement Thursday from the Korean Central News Agency followed a high-level South Korean delegation's visit to Pyongyang to meet with Kim and to set up a summit later this month between him and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
Kim was paraphrased as saying that it was "his will to completely remove the danger of armed conflict and horror of war from the Korean peninsula and turn it into the cradle of peace without nuclear weapons and free from nuclear threat."
Bangkok, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — Myanmar's government looks as if it's under siege from an international community concerned about the condition of its nascent democracy, with widespread calls for a genocide tribunal to hold its military to account for the brutal treatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority.
But experts say not to expect any change of course from the country's leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, even after a fresh round of withering criticism from abroad following Monday's show-trial conviction of two Reuters reporters who helped expose extrajudicial killings of 10 Rohingya men and boys.
Suu Kyi's motivations are opaque. Even as a revered pro-democracy activist, the Nobel Peace laureate had a reputation for being autocratic, but now her core ideology has come into question.
There is at least a loose consensus that she faces real restrictions on her actions due to the power retained by the military that is enshrined in the constitution it imposed in 2007.
"Aung San Suu Kyi has tried to balance her delicate and antagonistic relationship with the military and her conception of society's needs, perhaps fearing too strident a stance could prompt an overt return to military rule, which is possible under the constitution in certain circumstances," David Steinberg, professor emeritus at Georgetown University, wrote in July in the online magazine The Diplomat.
Other observers are less generous, saying Suu Kyi's seeming impassivity toward the plight of the Rohingya — and hostility toward those wishing to address the issue — undercut the narrative pitting her against the military.
"People tended to think that Aung San Suu Kyi and the military were at odds, and each feared that the other would dislodge them from power," said Khin Zaw Win, a rare outspoken critic of the government who directs the Tampadipa Institute, a Yangon-based capacity-building institution.
He said the conviction of the two Reuters journalists, who were sentenced to seven years in prison, is a reminder that "shows that what they fear in tandem is the world out there finding the truth and seeking to unseat them."
The old saying, "They have to hang together, or they hang separately," describes their situation, he said.
Political realities inside and outside Myanmar suggest there is neither the will nor a way to ensure justice for the Rohingya, 700,000 of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal counterinsurgency campaign by the army. Myanmar denies any large-scale human rights violations and says its actions were a response to surprise attacks by militants in August last year that killed a dozen members of the security forces. Critics charge it was ethnic cleansing.
Those inclined to bring Myanmar to account have few weapons to do so. Despite the recommendation last month of a special U.N. fact-finding commission that top Myanmar commanders be charged with genocide, no trial is likely to be held in the foreseeable future.
It's far from clear that any country would officially push prosecution, and certain that several would seek to frustrate it. Major powers that have never entertained much interest in human rights — China and Russia — also have strategic reasons to cozy up to Myanmar, a well-situated outpost on the Indian Ocean.
"A tribunal at the International Criminal Court, for example, on genocide charges will be difficult to pull off," Murray Hiebert, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., said in an email interview. "Not only isn't Myanmar a member of the ICC, but a case must be brought by a member of the U.N. Security Council. China and Russia have made clear that they would block a case against Myanmar."
The desire to contain China's growing influence in Southeast Asia is a major issue.
"The U.S. and most Western democracies want to avoid pushing Myanmar further in the arms of Beijing," Hiebert said.
Competition with China for geopolitical influence, as well as friendship from regional countries anxious not to rock the boat or jeopardize investments, also limits the threat of unfriendly action.
"I think Myanmar can still count on most Southeast Asian countries as partners, and also India and probably Japan — Japan has been wary of taking a tough stance on the issues related to the Rohingya, for fear of losing strategic influence in Myanmar," said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for the New York-headquartered Council on Foreign Relations.
Sanctions — the second-line approach to pressuring Myanmar — face the same constraints as pushing for a genocide tribunal, though nations inclined to do so can act unilaterally.
Hiebert noted that U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — a stalwart supporter of Suu Kyi in her Nobel Prize-winning days as a freedom fighter against military rule — remains sympathetic to her and is a roadblock to tougher action by Washington.
"I think Myanmar and most of the population will hunker down in the face of more sanctions as they have stood up to most protests over the treatment of the Rohingya over the past year," Hiebert said. "They tell foreign visitors that they have resisted and survived sanctions before. The difference this time, of course, is that most of the population seems to support the military's moves against the Rohingya, while in the past many people seemed to support the sanctions to put pressure on the military to move toward greater democracy."
Manila, Sep 6 (AP/UNB) — A Philippine senator who took refuge in the legislature to avoid an arrest order by President Rodrigo Duterte has asked the Supreme Court to declare the move illegal.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV is a fierce critic of Duterte. He told the high court in a petition Thursday that Duterte's proclamation voiding his 2011 amnesty as a former rebel military officer and ordering his arrest is based on "big lies."
The standoff has unraveled while Duterte is on a visit to the Middle East.
The Department of Justice says Duterte voided Trillanes's amnesty because the senator did not file a proper application and admit guilt for his role in past coup attempts. Trillanes showed documents and news reports disproving Duterte's claims.