Bangkok, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Thailand's new Cabinet was sworn in Tuesday, creating a nominally elected government after five years of military rule but keeping power in the hands of the same allies of the army.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn presided over the swearing-in of the Cabinet, whose 36 members pledged their loyalty to the constitutional monarch. The Cabinet's inauguration dissolved the junta that had governed while giving itself almost unlimited powers without oversight.
"Every task has obstacles. Every mission faces problems," the king told the Cabinet members. "It is normal to take on work and solve problems so that the country can be run smoothly according to circumstances." The Cabinet then held its first meeting at Government House.
Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army commander seized power in a 2014 coup ousting an elected government, returns as prime minister. This time he was elected by a parliamentary vote after a March general election that was held under a new constitution and laws enacted by Prayuth's junta aimed at disadvantaging established political parties in favor of the military and its conservative allies.
The measures were seen as being directly particularly at the Pheu Thai party. The party and its predecessors have won every national election for two decades and have been ousted in two military coups. The party founder is telecoms tycoon Thaksin Shinawatra, whose populist policies and enormous political support threatened the influence of Thailand's traditional power holders, including the military.
After seizing power in 2014, Prayuth declared a war on money politics and so-called "influential persons," including political power brokers with shady connections.
But in assembling a political machine, the Palang Pracharath Party that made him its candidate for prime minister recruited the same types of wheeler-dealers and made alliances with some to attain a majority.
"This Cabinet either represents old wine in a new bottle," said Paul Chambers, a political scientist at Naraesuan University in northern Thailand, referring to major posts held by former members of Prayuth's military government, "or a product of a multiparty and multi-factional balance of power."
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a professor of political science at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, described the Cabinet as "dominated by patronage politics and paybacks," including at least two members with questionable reputations who were recruited for their abilities to turn out the vote.
"The unsavory few who have had a shady and criminalized past are surprising because they will be a lightning rod on the Prayuth government's credibility," he said in an email interview. "It suggests that Prayuth has paid a high price for luring old-style politicians and influential figures into his party and Cabinet."
Prayuth is both prime minister and defense minister in the new government.
His key partners are Democrat party leader Jurin Laksanawisit, who is deputy prime minister and commerce minister, and Bhumjai Thai Party leader Anutin Charnvirakul, who is deputy prime minister and health minister. Anutin campaigned for legalization of the production of marijuana to aid farmers.
Three other deputy prime ministers held the same jobs in Prayuth's military government. One, Prawit Wongsuwan, was a senior career military officer like Prayuth. Another former senior officer, Anupong Paojinda, retains the post of interior minister.
Prayuth, in a Monday night speech marking the political transition, said "Thailand is now fully governed as a democratic country with a constitutional monarch, possessing a parliament that is elected and a government endorsed by the parliament. Several rights and liberties are safeguarded by the constitution in line with the highest international norms. Pending problems will be solved through democratic processes without the application of any special powers."
Prayuth recently revoked 66 of more than 500 special executive orders that he had enacted under the junta. Critics said it was an attempt to make it appear that the military is relinquishing power and transitioning to an elected government. The executive orders he retained enable the military to influence politics, such as one that allows soldiers to search and arrest people they suspect of threatening national security for up to seven days without charges.
Dubai, July 17(AP/UNB) — Iran's state-run media is quoting the country's Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the Islamic Republic helped an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz amid U.S. concern that Tehran seized one there.
The state-run IRNA news agency early Wednesday quoted Abbas Mousavi as saying Iran towed an unnamed vessel to harbor after it suffered a technical malfunction.
However, both the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates, where the tanker is based, say that the vessel hasn't been in contact with its owner since its transponder turned off late Saturday night.
A U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that America "has suspicions" Iran seized the vessel amid tensions between Tehran and Washington over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
An Emirati official says a small oil tanker that's based in the United Arab Emirates offered no distress call before switching off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.
The comment Tuesday comes a U.S. defense official told The Associated Press that America "has suspicions" that Iran seized the vessel. Tehran hasn't commented on the apparent disappearance of the MT Riah.
The Emirati official said the tanker "did not emit a distress call."
The official added: "We are monitoring the situation with our international partners."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing security matter.
A U.S. defense official tells The Associated Press that America "has suspicions" that Iran seized an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates that turned off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.
The official said Tuesday that the MT Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.
The official says: "Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact . it's going to be a concern."
The official said that the boat had yet to contact its owners or UAE authorities.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the matter did not directly involve U.S. interests.
A noted French academic working with a French-Iranian researcher arrested in Iran says he last heard from Fariba Adelkhah on June 12 — when she may already have lost her freedom.
Jean-Francois Bayart told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday that she responded to his email "in a strange way." He said he later understood "she wasn't the writer of this mail or she wrote it under constraint."
An Iranian judiciary spokesman confirmed on Tuesday that Adelkhah, 60, was arrested a day after France's Foreign Ministry announced it.
France wants consular access to her "without delay" and President Emmanuel Macron said Monday he would press Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani for information.
The arrest comes as Macron tries to calm rising tensions over an unraveling 2015 nuclear deal.
China has called the Iran nuclear deal "irreplaceable" and the sole way to resolve the concerns over Tehran's nuclear program.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Tuesday that "the complete and effective implementation of the agreement is the only viable and effective way to settle the Iranian nuclear issue and ease tensions."
He said that Iran's commitment to the agreement should be dealt with by the joint commission that oversees it.
Geng also blamed the United States for causing the current tensions — last year, the Trump administration pulled out of the deal and re-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran.
Geng said the U.S. should stop exerting pressure on Iran and create the conditions for a political and diplomatic settlement of the issue.
Iran's top leader says his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British authorities.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the seizure of the ship "piracy" in a televised speech Tuesday, saying: "God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response."
The Iranian supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria. Tensions have soared in the Persian Gulf over the past year as the Trump administration has ramped up sanctions on Iran after withdrawing from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Tracking data shows an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz drifted off into Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location over two days ago, raising concerns about its status amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.
It's not immediately clear what happened to the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah late on Saturday night.
However, Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn't switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.
Raja said: "That is a red flag."
Iranian officials haven't said anything publicly about the ship, nor have officials in the UAE. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters, declined to immediately comment.
Iran has confirmed it arrested a female researcher with dual French-Iranian nationality.
The confirmation came during a press conference by Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili on Tuesday. Esmaili was asked by reporters about the fate of Fariba Adelkhah.
Esmaili said "the person is among suspects who were recently arrested" and that more details about the case would be announced later. That's according to the website of the judiciary.
France on Monday said it was seeking information about Adelkhah and demanded consular access to her "without delay."
Iranian opposition websites based abroad have said she disappeared in June in Tehran. Iran occasionally detains dual nationals on security charges.
Iran also holds Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, arrested in April 2016 on charges of plotting against the Iranian government. Her family denies the allegations.
Iran doesn't recognize dual nationality.
Iran's foreign minister has suggested in an interview his country's ballistic missile program could be on the table for negotiations with the U.S. — if America stops selling arms to its Gulf allies in the Mideast.
Mohammad Javad Zarif's comments came in an NBC News interview that aired Monday night.
Iran long has maintained its ballistic missile program, under the control of its Revolutionary Guard, is for defensive purposes only. The 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers did not include its missile program.
Zarif says American weaponry "is going into our region, making our region ready to explode. So if they want to talk about our missiles, they need first to stop selling all these weapons."
Iran long has criticized U.S. arms sales in the region.
Iran's mission to the United Nations later called Zarif's comments "hypothetical."
It added: "Iran's missiles ... are absolutely and under no condition negotiable with anyone or any country, period."
India, July 17 (AP/UNB) — Rescuers cleared debris and used sniffer dogs Wednesday to find possible survivors under the rubble of a dilapidated building that collapsed in India's financial capital of Mumbai. At least 12 people were killed, and several are still feared trapped.
Dozens of rescuers worked overnight at the site where they have pulled out 11 survivors since the four-story building collapsed Tuesday, fire official Ashok Talpade said early Wednesday. The survivors included a child who was treated at a hospital and later allowed to go home. Others remain hospitalized.
A 16-year-old girl trapped under a heavy door was taken out by rescuers who cut through iron beams and cleared debris using hydraulic cutters.
The lane where the collapse occurred is too narrow for rescue vehicles, so equipment was carried by hand. People also formed a human chain to remove debris.
Heavy monsoon rains fall in India from June to September, causing severe flooding and collapsing poorly built and dilapidated structures.
At least four other collapses have occurred this month in Mumbai and another western city, Pune, killing at least 31 people. On Sunday, a building collapse in the northern town of Solan killed 14 people.
Maharashtra state's top elected official, Devendra Fadanavis, said the building that collapsed Tuesday was nearly 100 years old and 15 families were living there.
Talpade said the families had stayed after being asked to leave. Waris Pathan, an opposition lawmaker, said the building was a death trap, with authorities saying they had no money to rebuild the structure.
Washington, July 17 (AP) — The United States is hitting four top Myanmar generals, including the country's commander in chief and his deputy, with sanctions over the mass killings of Rohingya Muslims.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Tuesday that the four are responsible for "gross human rights violations" involving extrajudicial killings in an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
The sanctions bar those targeted and their immediate families from traveling to the United States.
The four men are: Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy Soe Win, and two subordinates deemed responsible for the abuses.
Myanmar's military has been accused of widespread rights violations leading about 700,000 Rohingya to flee the country since August 2017.
Pyongyang, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — North Korea on Tuesday suggested it might call off its 20-month suspension of nuclear and missile tests because of summertime U.S.-South Korean military drills that the North calls preparation for an eventual invasion.
The statement by the North's Foreign Ministry comes amid a general deadlock in nuclear talks, but after an extraordinary meeting of the U.S. and North Korean leaders at the Korean border raised hopes that negotiations on the North's growing nuclear and missile arsenal would soon resume.
The statement serves as a reminder of North Korea's longstanding antipathy toward U.S.-South Korean military cooperation, which the allies call defensive and routine but the North sees as hostile. It also ramps up the pressure on the United States going into any new round of talks.
At the dramatic June 30 meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, Trump crossed the border dividing the North and South, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korean territory. The leaders agreed in closed-door talks to resume nuclear diplomacy that had been stalled since their failed second summit in Vietnam in February.
Despite the seeming mini-breakthrough, there has been little public progress since. North Korea wants widespread relief from harsh U.S.-led sanctions in return for pledging to give up parts of its weapons program, but the United States is demanding greater steps toward disarmament before it agrees to relinquish the leverage provided by the sanctions.
Amid the diplomatic jockeying, North Korea said Tuesday that upcoming regular summertime U.S.-South Korean military drills are forcing it to rethink whether it should be committed to the promises it has made to the United States. It cited its moratorium on nuclear and missile tests and other steps aimed at improving ties with Washington.
The statement said Trump vowed to suspend military drills with South Korea during his first and third meetings with Kim, but the planned summertime drills with Seoul and the deployment of weapons in the South show that Washington is not fulfilling that promise.
"With the U.S. unilaterally reneging on its commitments, we are gradually losing our justifications to follow through on the commitments we made with the U.S. as well," said the statement, carried by the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
It also said it is not bound by any legal documents to suspend its nuclear and missile tests.
Since it conducted the third of its three intercontinental ballistic missile tests in November 2017, North Korea hasn't tested any long-range missiles potentially capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. After entering talks with Washington, Kim suspended nuclear and long-range missile tests, allowing Trump to boast of winning an achievement in his North Korea policy.
Later Tuesday, North Korea's Foreign Ministry issued another statement warning that it will wait to see if the U.S.-South Korea military drills take place as planned to decide on the fate of North Korea-U.S. nuclear diplomacy.
South Korea's National Intelligence Service, the country's main spy agency, told lawmakers in a private briefing Tuesday that there were no suspicious activities at North Korea's main long-range rocket launch site in the northwest and its missile research center on the outskirts of Pyongyang, according to Kim Min-ki, one of the lawmakers who attended the briefing.
Outside experts say North Korea has suggested that it could further put off or cancel the resumption of nuclear talks if the United States doesn't offer to accept its calls for a slow, step-by-step nuclear disarmament process or widespread sanctions relief. But some analysts say North Korea will eventually return to the talks because Kim wants cooperation with outside powers as part of a plan to revive his country's troubled economy.