Canberra, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — An Australian state government on Tuesday announced plans to mechanically pump oxygen into lakes and rivers after hundreds of thousands of fish have died in heatwave conditions.
Up to a million dead fish were found floating last week in the Darling River in western New South Wales state and the state government announced that 1,800 more rotting fish had since been found in Lake Hume in the state's south.
Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said 16 battery-powered aerators had been bought and would be placed in various drought-affected waterways after they are delivered by Wednesday.
"They are a Band-Aid solution; we admit that," Blair told reporters.
"Nothing will stop this fish kill unless we get proper river flows and water levels in our dams back up to normal. We are doing everything we can to try and limit the damage," he added.
Experts blame heatwave conditions across much of Australia, drought and algal blooms for starving waterways of oxygen.
Blair rejected some criticisms that governments were allowing irrigators to take too much water from the Murray-Darling Basin, Australia's main river system, which winds across four states and is where a third of the nation's food is produced.
Water experts were meeting in Canberra on Tuesday to decide how the nation should respond to the water quality crisis.
Australian National University water expert Daniel Connell said many more fish would likely die with heatwave conditions forecast to continue until the weekend.
"It's a very predictable crisis," Connell said.
Connell said taking water from the system to irrigate had likely contributed to the poor water quality in rivers as well as the drought which is impacting most of New South Wales.
"By massively reducing the amount of water in the system, you produce much hotter water, you produce conditions that are much more conducive to algal blooms," he said.
Riyadh, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he told the king and crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Monday that the Trump administration expects the kingdom to hold accountable "every single person" responsible for the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside one of the country's consulates after writing columns critical of the government.
In talks with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused by some of complicity in the murder, Pompeo said he had been clear about the administration's expectations.
At the end of a trip to Riyadh that also focused on Mideast crises and countering threats from Iran, Pompeo said he had raised the Khashoggi case in his meetings with the king and crown prince along with other human rights issues, including the fate of women's rights activists detained in the kingdom.
"We spoke about the accountability and the expectations that we have. The Saudis are friends and when friends have conversations you tell them what your expectations are," the secretary said. "Our expectations have been clear from early on: Every single person who has responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi needs to be held accountable."
He said the Saudis understood and had reiterated pledges to pursue the case wherever it leads. He would not comment on U.S. intelligence that has suggested the crown prince may have ordered the killing.
The relationship between Riyadh and Washington remains tense following the killing of Khashoggi, who lived in Virginia and wrote columns for The Washington Post, at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.
Saudi Arabia has charged 11 people in the death, including several officials close to the crown prince but U.S. lawmakers have been critical of its response, demanding that America withdraw its support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen in response.
Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia as part of a broader Middle East tour that has already taken him to Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. He was to depart from the kingdom for Oman shortly after his meetings in Riyadh but canceled plans to wrap up the trip in Kuwait on Tuesday, due to a death in his family.
At each stop, Pompeo has sought to reassure Arab leaders that President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria does not mean Washington is abandoning the Middle East or the fight against the Islamic State group.
Pompeo said he believed he had been successful in explaining Trump's position despite a lack of detail on exactly how and when the withdrawal will take place and differences with Turkey over the fate of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters after American forces leave.
Trump tweeted late Sunday that the U.S. will "attack again from existing nearby base if it (IS) reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds." Trump's decision to leave Syria, which he initially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked U.S. allies and angered the Syrian Kurds.
Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said later Monday that they spoke by phone to discuss cooperation on the withdrawal of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.
Trump backed away from the economic threat in a later tweet. He said he and Erdogan in their phone call discussed creating a 20-mile buffer zone along Turkey's border with Syria as well as economic cooperation between U.S. and Turkey and its "great potential to substantially expand!"
Pompeo also pressed the Saudis on bringing an end to the near two-year-old dispute with its Gulf neighbor Qatar, which has badly hindered U.S. efforts to create a united Arab military alliance to counter Iran.
Washington, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Monday denied he ever worked for Russia against U.S. interests, addressing an extraordinary question that has haunted his presidency and shows no sign of going away.
Speaking from the South Lawn, Trump issued a flat denial: "I never worked for Russia." He blasted former FBI and Justice Department officials and repeated his claim that the investigation into his ties to Moscow is a hoax.
Trump raised eyebrows over the weekend when he didn't directly answer the Russia question in an interview with Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, a personal friend.
He was asked about a New York Times report that law enforcement officials began investigating, in 2017, whether Trump had been working on behalf of Russia against U.S. interests.
Trump said the question was "insulting," but did not directly deny it.
Monday's clear denial demonstrated the unprecedented pressure Trump faces as the special counsel's Russia investigation shows possible signs of wrapping up. After two years in office, the president is still being questioned about whether he was compromised by Russian intelligence agencies and he is still struggling to answer clearly.
White House aides expressed regret over the weekend that the president did not more clearly and forcefully deny being a Russian agent on Saturday when asked by the usually friendly Fox News host, according to three White House aides and Republicans close to the White House. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.
When Pirro asked if he had ever worked for Russia, Trump said it was "the most insulting thing I've ever been asked."
"I think it's the most insulting article I've ever had written, and if you read the article you'll see that they found absolutely nothing," he said.
Trump went on to assert that no president has taken a harder stance against Russia than he has.
"If you ask the folks in Russia, I've been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other ... probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents," he said.
On Monday, Trump also defended his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, a move that has drawn Mueller's scrutiny. Trump called the Russia probe "a whole big fat hoax."
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into Russian election interference and whether Trump's campaign coordinated with the Russians. He also is investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump.
London, Jan 15 (AP/UNB) -British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win support for her European Union divorce deal by promising that her government won't try to water down environmental standards and workers' rights after Brexit.
The commitment is an attempt to gain backing from opposition Labour Party lawmakers, who suspect the government plans to reduce the protections after Britain leaves the EU.
May's deal has drawn opposition from both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers, and is facing likely defeat in Parliament on Tuesday.
The prime minister used a speech Monday to argue that the only alternatives to her deal were leaving the EU in March without an agreement, or reversing voters' decision to leave the bloc.
May said that a no-deal Brexit would hurt the British economy and "put the future of our Union at risk," while failing to leave the EU would be "a subversion of the democratic process."
A top European Parliament leader is urging British lawmakers to "behave responsibly" and approve the UK's divorce deal with the European Union.
Manfred Weber said Monday that "we ask, we invite our British colleagues to behave responsibly and vote for this agreement."
A vote in the U.K. Parliament is expected Tuesday. Many British lawmakers object to the agreement between Brussels and Prime Minister Theresa May, raising fears that Britain may leave the EU on March 29 without a deal in place.
Weber, a German conservative who heads the biggest group in the European Parliament, said lawmakers in London should accept the "extended hand" of their colleagues on the continent.
He said the European Parliament will approve the agreement.
Weber also slammed the far-right Alternative for Germany party's threat to quit the EU, saying this could cause "a situation like in London today: economic instability and political chaos."
The British government has published a letter from European Union leaders that it hopes will ease U.K. lawmakers' worries over the Brexit agreement between Britain and the bloc.
The letter to Prime Minister Theresa May from European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offers an assurance that the most contentious part of the deal — the "backstop" insurance policy to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland — is intended as a temporary measure and "would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary."
But the letter also reiterates the bloc's refusal to renegotiate the divorce deal. The two men say "we are not in a position to agree to anything that changes or is inconsistent with the Withdrawal Agreement."
U.K. lawmakers are due to vote Tuesday on the Brexit deal, and it looks likely they will reject it.
British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to tell lawmakers she has received further assurances about her Brexit deal from the European Union, in a last-ditch attempt to win support for the unpopular agreement.
May is due to make a statement in the House of Commons Monday afternoon, a day before lawmakers are due to vote on her EU divorce deal.
May argues that defeating the deal could open the way for EU-backing legislators to block Brexit, with "catastrophic" results for Britons' faith in democracy.
A handful of previously opposed legislators got behind the agreement in the last few days, but they remain outnumbered by those determined to vote against it.
Defeat would throw Brexit plans into disarray, weeks before the U.K. is due to leave the bloc on March 29.
Toronto, Jan 15 (AP/UNB)— A Chinese court sentenced a Canadian man to death in a sudden retrial of a drug smuggling case and Beijing said that it has denied a Canadian diplomatic immunity, ratcheting up tensions since Canada's arrest of a top Chinese technology executive last month.
A Chinese court in northeastern Liaoning province announced Monday that it had sentenced Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death, reversing an earlier 2016 ruling that sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau strongly condemned Monday's proceeding, suggesting that China was using its judicial system to pressure Canada over the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.
In his strongest comments yet, Trudeau said "all countries around the world" should be concerned that Beijing is acting arbitrarily with its justice system.
"It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply a death penalty," Trudeau said.
Canada later updated its travel advisory for China urging Canadians to "exercise a high degree of caution due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws."
Further escalating the diplomatic rift between the two countries, a Chinese spokeswoman said earlier Monday that Michael Kovrig, a former Canadian diplomat taken into custody in apparent retaliation for Meng's arrest, was not eligible for diplomatic immunity as Trudeau has maintained.
A senior Canadian government official said Chinese officials have been questioning Kovrig about his diplomatic work in China, which is a major reason why Trudeau is asserting diplomatic immunity. The official, who was not authorized to comment publicly about the case, spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kovrig, a Northeast Asia analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank, was on a leave of absence from the Canadian government at the time of his arrest last month.
Schellenberg was detained more than four years ago and initially sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2016. But within weeks of Meng's Dec. 1 arrest, an appeals court suddenly reversed that decision, saying the sentence was too lenient, and scheduled Monday's retrial with just four days' notice.
The court gave no indication that the death penalty could be commuted, but observers said Schellenberg's fate is likely to be drawn into diplomatic negotiations over China's demand for the release of Meng.
"Playing hostage politics, China rushes the retrial of a Canadian suspect and sentences him to death in a fairly transparent attempt to pressure Canada to free the Huawei CFO," Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said in a tweet.
The Chinese media began publicizing Schellenberg's case after Canada's detention of Meng, the daughter of Huawei's founder, at the request of the United States, which wants her extradited to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about the company's business dealings in Iran.
Days after Meng's arrest, Kovrig and Canadian businessman Michael Spavor were detained on vague national security allegations. Meng is out on bail in Canada awaiting extradition proceedings that begin next month.
Schellenberg's lawyer, Zhang Dongshuo, said prosecutors had not introduced new evidence to justify a heavier sentence during the one-day trial, during which Schellenberg again maintained his innocence. He said his client now has 10 days to appeal.
"This is a very unique case," Zhang told The Associated Press. He said the swiftness of the proceedings was unusual but declined to comment on whether it was related to Meng's arrest.
The court said it found that Schellenberg was involved in an international drug-smuggling operation and was recruited to help smuggle more than 220 kilograms (485 pounds) of methamphetamine from a warehouse in the Chinese city of Dalian to Australia. A Chinese man convicted of involvement in the same operation was earlier given a suspended death sentence.
Fifty people, including Canadian diplomats and foreign and domestic media, attended Monday's trial, the court said in an online statement.
Earlier Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said authorities had determined Kovrig was not entitled to diplomatic immunity, rejecting a complaint from Trudeau that China was not respecting longstanding practices regarding immunity.
Hua told reporters that Kovrig is no longer a diplomat and entered China on an ordinary passport and business visa.
"According to the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations and international law, he is not entitled to diplomatic immunity," Hua said at a daily briefing. "I suggest that the relevant Canadian person carefully study the Vienna Convention ... before commenting on the cases, or they would only expose themselves to ridicule with such specious remarks."
A former Canadian ambassador to China, Guy Saint-Jacques, said interrogating Kovrig about his time as a diplomat in China would violate Vienna Convention protections of residual diplomatic immunity that mean a country is not allowed to question someone on the work they did when they were a diplomat.
"It's difficult not to see a link" between the case and Canada's arrest of Meng, Saint-Jacques said.
Hua said the allegation that China arbitrarily detained Canadian citizens is "totally groundless."
Canada has embarked on a campaign with allies to win the release of Kovrig and Spavor. The United States, Britain, European Union and Australia have issued statements in support. Trudeau called U.S. President Donald Trump about their case last week and the White House called the arrests "unlawful."
Last week, Poland arrested a Huawei director and one of its own former cybersecurity experts and charged them with spying for China. The move came amid a U.S. campaign to exert pressure on its allies not to use Huawei, the world's biggest maker of telecommunications network equipment, over data security concerns.
The arrests raised concerns over the safety of Poland's nationals in China, although Hua brushed off such worries, emphasizing China's desire for the "sound and steady" development of relations with Poland.
"As long as the foreign citizens in China abide by Chinese laws and regulations, they are welcomed and their safety and freedom are guaranteed," Hua said.