Beijing, Jan 23 (AP/UNB) — China on Tuesday demanded the U.S. drop a request that Canada extradite a top executive of the tech giant Huawei, shifting blame to Washington in a case that has severely damaged Beijing's relations with Ottawa.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Meng Wanzhou's case was out of the ordinary and Canada's extradition treaty with the U.S. infringed on the "safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens."
Hua said China demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng and "not make a formal extradition request to the Canadian side." She is wanted for allegedly lying to banks as part of an effort to evade sanctions on Iran.
Hua's remarks came after more than 100 academics and former diplomats signed a letter calling on China to release two Canadians detained in apparent retaliation for Meng's arrest.
They also follow a report by the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail that the U.S. plans to formally request Meng's extradition to face charges that she committed fraud by misleading banks about Huawei's business dealings in Iran.
The U.S. Justice Department said it is continuing to pursue Meng's extradition and would meet any deadlines set under the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Canada. In a statement, the Justice Department thanked Canadian authorities for their "support in our mutual efforts to enforce the rule of law."
China detained former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and Canadian entrepreneur Michael Spavor on Dec. 10 in an apparent attempt to pressure Canada to release Meng, who was arrested Dec. 1 at the request of U.S. authorities.
Meng is Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei. Huawei has close ties to China's military and is considered one of the country's most successful international enterprises, operating in the high-tech sphere where China hopes to establish dominance.
The letter signed by academics and former diplomats said the arrests of the two 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.
Meng is living under house arrest in her Vancouver mansion while her case is under deliberation. Kovrig and Spavor are being held in Chinese jails and have yet to be granted access to lawyers, according to those who have contact with them.
The United States and other Western countries have broader fears that Huawei technology — particularly its hardware for mobile networks — could let the Chinese government listen in. Several countries, including the United States, have restricted purchases of Huawei equipment.
Huawei Chairman Liang Hua said critics need to back up their allegations.
"If they believe there's a backdoor, they should offer evidence to prove it," he told reporters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Kuala Lumpur, Jan 23 (AP/UNB) — After stripping Malaysia's royal families of some of their powers during his 22-year stint as prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad almost didn't make it to the premiership a second time.
Though largely a ceremonial post, Malaysia's monarch still signs off on most laws and appointments, including the prime minister, and hours after Mahathir and his alliance's stunning general election victory last May, King Sultan Muhammad V offered the job to someone else.
The offer was rejected and Mahathir heaped pressure on the king by holding a series of news conferences. The king subsequently signed off on Mahathir, but the hours of uncertainty put the spotlight on Malaysia's monarchy at a time when some of the royals are seeking to reassert their influence in politics.
Though Malaysia has only had a constitutional monarch since 1957, several of Malaysia's nine royal families trace their roots to centuries-old Malay kingdoms that were independent states until they were brought together by the British.
Sultan Muhammad V became the nation's first king to give up his post when he abruptly abdicated on Jan. 6 without explanation. Now the nation waits for Thursday's meeting of the royal families in which they will choose a replacement.
Here's a closer look at Malaysia's monarchy:
Traditional ethnic Malay rulers — mostly known as the sultan — constitutionally head nine of Malaysia's 13 states, forming one of the world's largest monarchy systems. Seven of the royal families are hereditary monarchies, with the northern Kedah sultanate one of the oldest unbroken dynasties in the world, dating back to the 12th century.
In Perak state, the second oldest ruling house in Malaysia, three royal families take turns to ascend the throne based on seniority. The ruler in Negeri Sembilan state, where the royal lineage is linked to the Minangkabaus from west Sumatra in Indonesia, is elected by a council of four territory chiefs.
All the families are headed by ethnic Malay Muslims males, as required.
Some of the royal families, especially those in the wealthy states of Selangor and Johor, have built-up large business interests. The most prominent is billionaire Sultan Ibrahim Ismail of Johor, who owns a fleet of jets and loves Harley-Davidson motorcycles. The Johor sultan is also the most powerful, having his own army — a condition agreed upon for the state to join modern-day Malaysia. His army's role is largely ceremonial today.
PICKING A KING
Malaysia's constitutional monarchy was put in place after the country's independence from Britain in 1957.
The nine heads of the royal families take part in what is known as the Conference of Rulers and every five years elect one among themselves to be Malaysia's king through a secret ballot.
The throne was initially rotated based on seniority, but there is now an established rotation order from one state to the next, making the vote more of a formality. Royals, however, can choose divert due to health or other issues.
NEXT IN LINE
The ruler of central Pahang state is next in line to be king. Sultan Abdullah Azlan Shah succeeded his ailing 88-year-old father on Jan. 15, in a move seen as paving the way for him to become the next king.
Sultan Abdullah, who was state regent for the past two years due to his father's ill health, is active in the sports. He is president of the Asian Hockey Federation and a council member of world football governing body FIFA.
Sultan Abdullah, 59, must be supported by at least five of the state rulers. Next in order after Pahang, is Johor state.
King Sultan Muhammad V shocked the nation by announcing his abdication this month, days after returning from two months of medical leave. The 49-year-old sultan from eastern Kelantan state only reigned for two years as Malaysia's 15th king and didn't give any reason for quitting.
During his leave, it was reported that the king married a 25-year-old former Russian beauty queen. Photos of the two at a wedding reportedly held in Moscow were circulated in the British and Russian press and on social media. Neither the king, the palace nor the government have confirmed the wedding.
It marked the first abdication in the nation's history. Three other kings didn't finish their reign, but that was due to their deaths.
THE SULTAN'S ROLE
The state rulers are highly respected among Malay Muslims, who account for two-thirds of Malaysia's 32 million people, and are seen as guardians of Islam and Malay traditions.
In addition to ceremonial duties, they can withhold consent for the dissolution of their state's assembly and the appointments of their state's chief minister.
During his first stint as prime minister, Mahathir pushed through constitutional amendments that stripped the sultans of their power to veto state and federal legislation. The amendments also removed their legal immunity following a series of scandals involving the Johor royal family. A special court has been set up to prosecute royals, but cases are rare.
HE WHO IS MADE LORD
Known as the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, or He Who is Made Lord, Malaysia's king resides in a 650- million-ringgit ($158-million) palace in Kuala Lumpur.
The king's duties, similar to those of the British monarch, are largely ceremonial since administrative power is vested in the prime minister and parliament. He is the nominal head of the government and armed forces.
All laws, cabinet appointments and dissolution of parliament for general elections require his assent. The king also issues pardons for criminals.
Public criticism of the king and state sultans is generally illegal. Under Malaysian sedition laws, people who incite "hatred or contempt" toward the monarchy can be imprisoned for three years.
Malaysia's constitution allocates some 5 million ringgit ($1.21 million) a year for the expenses of the king and his household, including palace maintenance, although the sum can be increased with cabinet approval.
The king and some state rulers have been vocal in politics in recent years. In 2015, the nine rulers issued a rare joint statement calling for a swift investigation into a massive corruption scandal at the 1MDB state investment fund.
The scandal promoted public anger that eventually led to a historic change of government in last May's polls.
Last year, the Selangor state sultan also appointed a new chief minister who had not been formally proposed by the government. King Sultan Muhammad V also sought to block the appointment of a non-Muslim attorney-general last year but gave in after Mahathir's government refused to budge on its candidate.
Washington, Jan 23 (AP/UNB) — Senate leaders on Tuesday agreed to hold votes this week on dueling proposals to reopen shuttered federal agencies, forcing a political reckoning for senators grappling with the longest shutdown in U.S. history: Side with President Donald Trump or vote to temporarily end the shutdown and keep negotiating.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. set up the two showdown votes for Thursday, a day before some 800,000 federal workers are due to miss a second paycheck. One vote will be on his own measure, which reflects Trump's offer to trade border wall funding for temporary protections for some immigrants. It was quickly rejected by Democrats. The second vote is set for a bill approved by the Democratic-controlled House reopening government through Feb. 8, with no wall money, to give bargainers time to talk.
Both measures are expected fall short of the 60 votes need to pass, leaving little hope they represent the clear path out of the mess. But the plan represents the first test of Senate Republicans' resolve behind Trump's insistence that agencies remain closed until Congress approves $5.7 billion to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. For Democrats, the votes will show whether there are any cracks in the so-far unified rejection of Trump's demand.
Democrats on Tuesday ridiculed McConnell's bill, which included temporarily extended protections for "Dreamer" immigrants, but also harsh new curbs on Central Americans seeking safe haven in the U.S.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP plan's immigration proposals were "even more radical" than their past positions. "The president's proposal is just wrapping paper on the same partisan package and hostage taking tactics," offering to temporarily restore programs Trump himself tried to end in exchange for wall funding, Schumer said.
McConnell accused Democrats of preferring "political combat with the president" to resolving the 32-day partial federal shutdown. He said Democrats were prepared to abandon federal workers, migrants and all Americans "just to extend this run of political theater so they can look like champions of the so-called resistance" against Trump.
The confrontational tone underscored that there remained no clear end in sight to the closure. Amid cascading tales of civil servants facing increasingly dire financial tribulations from the longest federal shutdown in history, the Senate chaplain nudged his flock.
"As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for another painful payday, remind our lawmakers they can ease the pain," Chaplain Barry Black intoned as the Senate convened.
The upcoming vote on the Democratic plan marked a departure for McConnell, who had vowed to allow no votes on shutdown measures unless Trump would sign them.
The White House views its latest offer as a test of whether Democratic leaders can hold their members together in opposition, said a person familiar with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. The administration also wants to show they are willing to negotiate, hoping it will push more blame onto Democrats, who are opposing negotiations until the government reopens. Public polls show Trump is taking the brunt of the blame from voters so far.
"How long are they going to continue to be obstructionists and not solve the problem and not reopen the government?" White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of Democrats.
One freshman, Democrat Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, a state that's home to many federal workers, was circulating a draft letter Tuesday urging Pelosi to propose a deal that would reopen the government and then consider border security legislation — including holding votes on Trump's demand for wall money — by the end of February. A similar effort was under way last week by a bipartisan group of senators.
As the stalemate grinded on, Alaska Airlines said the closure would cause at least a three-week delay in its plan to start new passenger flights from Everett, Washington. Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors, said the shutdown could slow home sales by 1 percent in coming months. And a restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, owned by musician Jon Bon Jovi joined the list of establishments serving free meals to furloughed federal workers.
McConnell's bill largely reflects the proposal Trump described to the nation in a brief address Saturday. It would reopen federal agencies, revamp immigration laws and provide $5.7 billion to start building his prized border wall with Mexico — a project Democrats consider an ineffective, wasteful monument to a ridiculous Trump campaign promise.
Republicans posted the 1,301-page measure online late Monday. Its details provoked Democrats, particularly immigration provisions Trump hadn't mentioned during his speech.
The measure would provide a three-year extension of protections against deportation for 700,000 people covered by the Delayed Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Democrats want far more to be protected — Trump last year proposed extending the safeguards to 1.8 million people, including many who'd not yet applied — and want the program's coverage for so-called "Dreamers" to be permanent.
Trump has tried terminating the Obama-era DACA program, which shields people brought to the U.S. illegally as children, but has been blocked so far by federal judges.
The GOP bill would revive, for three years, protections for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua who fled natural disasters or violence in their countries. Trump has ended that Temporary Protected Status program for those and several other countries.
Republicans estimated the proposal would let 325,000 people remain in the U.S. But the GOP proposal contains new curbs, providing those protections only to those who are already in the U.S. legally and who earn at least 125 percent of the federal poverty limit.
The bill would also, for the first time, require minors seeking asylum from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to process their applications at facilities the State Department is to establish in several Central American countries. Other new conditions include a limit of 15,000 of these minors who could be granted asylum. Currently, many asylum seekers apply as they're entering the U.S. and can remain here as judges decide their request, which can take several years.
As a sweetener, the Republican measure also contains $12.7 billion for regions hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. The Democratic bill also includes the disaster aid.
One White House official said Trump was open to counter-offers from Democrats. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said Trump was also willing to use his proposed temporary extensions for "Dreamers" as a way to seek long-term deal.
The official said Trump would be willing to seek at least permanent legal status for "Dreamers," but probably not a path to citizenship.
Democrats have refused to negotiate until Trump reopens the government. Trump is worried Democrats won't agree to a wall compromise if he relents, while Democrats say Trump would use the shutdown tactic again if it works.
"If we hold the employees hostage now, they're hostage forever," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters.
Bangkok, Jan 23 (Xinhua/UNB) -- A royal decree for Thailand's general election was issued on Wednesday to be followed by the announcement of the election date within the next five days.
Given an approval from His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn, the royal decree has been promulgated in the Royal Gazette, obliging the Election Commission to officially announce the date for the long-awaited election within five days, according to the constitution's organic law pertaining to the election.
The election date is largely expected on March. 24, marking a one-month delay from an earlier schedule for Feb. 24.
Under the 2017 constitution, the election of MPs is bound to be held within 150 days after the date on which the organic laws pertaining to the election was promulgated.
The last organic law pertaining to the election, one that governs the election of memebers of parliament, was promulgated on Dec 11.
Kabul, Jan 22 (AP/UNB) — Afghanistan was reeling on Tuesday from a brazen Taliban assault on a military base in the country's east the previous day that killed at least 45 people and wounded as many as 70, most of them military personnel, according to provincial officials.
There were fears, however, that the death toll from the daytime assault on the base, which also serves as a training center for a pro-government militia and is run by the country's intelligence service, was even higher.
The attack began when a suicide bomber first drove a Humvee into the base in eastern Maidan Wardak province and detonated his load as he rammed the vehicle into the main building there, according to Khawanin Sultani, a council member.
The building collapsed from the explosion, which likely contributed to the high casualty numbers.
The Taliban, who promptly claimed responsibility in a statement to the media just hours after the attack, later said in a separate statement that they had met again on Monday with U.S. representatives to discuss "ending the invasion of Afghanistan" in talks that would continue on Tuesday. They are meeting in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.
The simultaneousness of the events — the deadly attack, one of the worst Taliban assaults on Afghan forces in recent years — and the Qatar meeting that was meant to pave way for peace talks aimed at resolving Afghanistan's 17-year war underscored the audacity of the insurgents in the face of stepped-up U.S. peace efforts.
The Taliban, who now hold sway in almost half of Afghanistan, carry out attacks on a daily basis, mainly targeting the country's beleaguered security forces.
The base that was hit is located on the outskirts of Maidan Shar, the provincial capital, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Kabul. Sultani said that after the Taliban bombing, four other attackers engaged in a shootout with Afghan troops and that all the attackers were killed.
"The main building inside the base collapsed and most of the bodies were under the destroyed building," he said.
A provincial security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, told the AP that he personally counted as many as 75 dead bodies at the base.
Dozens of ambulances took the wounded to the main provincial hospital as well as to Kabul for further treatment, he said, adding that there were fears the death toll would keep rising. The blast was so strong that even on distant houses seen from the base the windows of the civilian homes were shattered, he said.
There were no official statements from the government in Kabul and it was not known how many of the dead were members of the militia in training and how many were military and intelligence officers and instructors.
The Taliban statement on Monday said they had met with U.S. representatives to discuss "ending the invasion of Afghanistan" in talks that would continue on Tuesday in Qatar.
Last week, the Taliban threatened to walk away from the talks, accusing Washington of seeking to "expand the agenda" — presumably a reference to American demands that the insurgents hold direct talks with the Kabul government.
The Taliban view the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet and have long insisted they will only negotiate directly with Washington.