New Delhi, Aug 9 (AP/UNB) — A strict curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir in effect for a fifth day was eased Friday to allow residents to pray at mosques, officials said, but some protests still broke out in the disputed region despite thousands of security forces in the streets as tensions remained high with neighboring Pakistan.
The predominantly Muslim area has been under the unprecedented lockdown and near-total communications blackout to prevent unrest and protests after India's Hindu nationalist-led government said Monday it was revoking Kashmir's special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.
Thousands of Indian troops were deployed to the area, with more than 500 people arrested.
Kashmir is claimed in its entirety by both India and Pakistan and is divided between the archrivals. Rebels have been fighting New Delhi's rule for decades in the Indian-controlled portion, and most Kashmiri residents want either independence or a merger with Pakistan.
Dilbagh Singh, the region's police chief, told The Associated Press that residents in its largest city of Srinagar were being allowed to pray at area-specific mosques.
The relaxing of the curfew in Srinagar was temporary, officials said. Friday prayers began at 12:37 p.m. in Srinagar and lasted for about 20 minutes. Television images from the city showed small groups praying in mosques.
"We see a sense of calm and normalcy. There has been no incident of violence," External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar told reporters in New Delhi.
In Srinagar's Mochu neighborhood, a group of people trying to start an anti-government protest march threw stones at security forces who tried to stop them, and the paramilitary troops responded by firing tear gas and pellets to disperse the crowd, an AP photographer said. Two people suffered injuries that were not serious, the photographer said.
Other stone-throwing incidents were reported in Sopore in northern Kashmir, about 50 kilometers (40 miles) from Srinagar, but the situation was brought under control immediately by security forces, the Press Trust of India news agency squoted unidentified officials as saying.
While people were allowed to offer prayers in their local mosques, PTI reported that there would be no Friday congregation at Srinagar's historic Jama Masjid, where thousands of Muslims pray every week. It also has been a center of regular anti-India protests after Friday prayers.
Authorities closely watched for any anti-India protests, which are expected to determine a further easing of restrictions for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, which will be celebrated Monday.
In an address to the nation Thursday night, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised Kashmiri people that his government is making "sincere efforts to ensure that the people in the region have no difficulties in celebrating Eid."
The restrictions on public movement throughout Kashmir have forced people to stay indoors and closed shops and even clinics. Modi said the situation in the region would return to normal gradually.
The move by India to change the status of Kashmir from statehood to a territory limits its autonomy and decision-making power and eliminates its right to its own constitution.
In New Delhi, several Muslims who prayed at the city's Jama Masjid mosque expressed their unhappiness with the Indian government's actions in Kashmir.
Aftab Uddin, a 49-year-old businessman, decried that the change has been brought about by force.
"If they had won their (the Kashmiris') hearts, then we would have stood with the government," he said. "This was a 70-year-old contract that the government squashed unconstitutionally. The government thinks that the situation will improve? Situation will not improve."
Mohammed Ashfaq, a 30-year-old tailor, said the government has imposed a dictatorship, since it didn't discuss the issue with the Kashmiri people.
However, Mohammed Salim Ansari, a parking attendant, said the change was a good move because the Kashmiri people live in India but support Pakistan.
In Islamabad, about 8,000 supporters of the Pakistani Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami marched toward the Indian Embassy to denounce New Delhi's action on Kashmir. About 2,000 police and security forces were deployed to prevent the demonstrations reaching the embassy.
Hundreds of activists held similar peaceful rallies across Pakistan.
Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was to meet Friday with Chinese leaders in Beijing as part of efforts to pressure India to reverse its decisions on Kashmir. Before leaving for Beijing, he said he would apprise Islamabad's "trusted friend" about the situation.
Pakistan says it is considering a proposal to approach the International Court of Justice over India's action. It also has downgraded diplomatic ties with New Delhi, expelled the Indian ambassador and suspended trade and train services with India.
India's External Affairs Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar asked Pakistan on Friday to reconsider its decision, but he also said it should accept the reality and "stop interfering in internal affairs of other countries."
An estimated 20,000 people living along the heavily militarized Line of Control in the Pakistan-administered part of Kashmir have moved to safer places in the past week due to cross-border firing. Pakistan said cluster munitions were fired in violation of international treaties and humanitarian law.
In Iran, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, an adviser to Iran's supreme leader and Tehran's Friday prayer leader, told hundreds of worshippers that India's action was "an ugly move." The semiofficial Fars News Agency said he cautioned India not to provoke a confrontation with Muslims.
Washington, Aug 9 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is warning he may take action against Mexico if it doesn't do more against drug trafficking.
México is among the 22 major drug transit and drug producing countries identified in a presidential memorandum released Thursday night by the White House and Trump wrote in the document that the administration of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador needs to intensify efforts to eradicate opium poppies, interdict illicit drugs and prosecute and seize assets of traffickers.
If he fails to formally certify that Mexico is doing enough over the next 12 months, the U.S. could withhold financial assistance and block international development bank loans.
Trump made such a ruling in the cases of Bolivia and Venezuela, saying they failed to uphold their antidrug commitments over the past year.
"Without further progress over the coming year, I will consider determining that Mexico has failed demonstrably to uphold its international drug control commitments," he wrote.
Mexico's Foreign Relations Department responded Friday that the drug trade feeds on regional problems like demand, consumption, money laundering and weapons trafficking that can't be controlled by one country alone and require a regional approach.
"Drug trafficking and the violence associated with it are fed by high levels of consumption," the department said in a statement that contained a veiled reference to the United States, the leading market for illicit drugs. "Drug use reduction goals are not always met by countries in the region."
The department defended Mexico's efforts, saying the country "has made efforts to combat the production and trafficking of drugs in its territory, often with a very high cost in human and financial terms," adding that U.S. pledges to help combat arms trafficking that feeds drug violence were appreciated.
Christopher Wilson, deputy director at Wilson Center's Mexico Institute, said the new warning is "something that has to be taken seriously, but still it is truly unlikely that it would actually occur."
Wilson added the U.S. financial assistance does not amount to much given the size of the Mexican economy and is not as important as the bilateral cooperation on law enforcement issues.
"It is unclear if that is truly at risk, but that would be very negative to interest of both United States and Mexico," he said.
Mexico had received almost no criticism from Trump after both governments agreed in June to rapid expansion of a new U.S. policy to make asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their cases wind through clogged U.S. courts.
That agreement came after Trump had threatened to impose tariffs, even though its neighbor had already negotiated an updated trade deal with the United States and Canada.
But Mexico has been in Trump's mind for a long time. During the electoral campaign, he insisted he would make Mexico pay for the construction of a border wall.
On the other hand, Trump complimented the efforts of the Colombian president Iván Duque in rolling back record-high coca cultivation and cocaine production and said "this progress needs to continue and expand."
Trump reiterated his administration will work toward a joint goal to reduce coca cultivation and cocaine production by half by the end of 2023.
Trump had publicly chastised Duque over the drug issue in earlier years. But the White House reported in June that that coca cultivation and cocaine production in Colombia dropped slightly in 2018 for the first time in six years, though they remained at historically high levels.
Colombian Defense Minister Gillermo Botero wrote on Twitter the U.S. certification is "a big achievement and it encourages us to keep this commitment into the future."
Hong Kong, Aug 9 (AP/UNB) — Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Friday her priority is to "stop the violence" rather than make political concessions as the city's 2-month-long protest movement pressed on with a demonstration at the airport.
Lam said traffic disruptions and confrontations between police and protesters have negatively impacted the economy, particularly the retail and food and beverage sectors. The demonstrations, however, are not abating, and more are planned for this weekend, including at the airport, where protesters holding signs staged a sit-in at the arrival and departure halls Friday.
Police said they had not received a formal application for the airport protest and warned against violence or disruptions that could endanger public safety. They have issued four objection letters to marches planned for the weekend.
Signs held by protesters in the arrival hall included those saying "There are no rioters, only tyranny," while pamphlets stacked in piles warned visitors of the heavy use of tear gas by police. Officers said 800 canisters were used during protests on Monday alone, and journalists and protesters say many suffered skin irritation and internal injuries as a result.
While the airport appeared to be operating normally, extra identification checks were put in place for both travelers and staff, and airlines were advising passengers to arrive earlier than usual for check-in.
A similar airport protest on July 26 ended peacefully, and there was no indication Friday that police planned to use force to end what was planned as a three-day demonstration.
At a briefing, officer Vasco Williams said the force did not plan to issue an outright ban on demonstrations but would gauge each application based on the ability of organizers to maintain order.
"The police will closely monitor the situation this weekend and make respective deployment as necessary. It will be dependent on what happens at the time," said Williams, who is operations superintendent for the district of New Territories North.
However, Williams and three other senior officers present at the briefing repeatedly declined to answer questions about police tactics, including the alleged use of expired tear gas canisters, or the recall from retirement of former Deputy Commissioner Lau Yip-shing.
Lau oversaw the response to pro-democracy protests five years ago in which police were accused of using excessive force. He began serving in the specially created temporary post of deputy commissioner of police for special duties on Friday.
Police testing of water cannons for possible use against protesters has also drawn concern, with Amnesty International issuing a statement calling for "extreme caution" in any such deployment. Along with tear gas, police have used rubber bullets, sponge-tipped grenades, and beanbag rounds.
"The use of these powerful weapons in the city's densely populated streets could cause serious injuries and further enflame tensions," Amnesty said. Police actions so far raise questions as to whether police officers can "use water cannons in a way that doesn't put people at risk of serious injury," the group said.
A Hong Kong government statement referring to the travel safety warnings issued by 22 countries and regions appeared to acknowledge the potential for the protests to devastate the territory's crucial travel industry. The statement said the government and the travel industry were working to minimize disruptions and "all stand ready to welcome and assist visitors to Hong Kong any time."
The government on Thursday said tourist arrivals dropped 26% at the end of last month compared to last year and were continuing to fall in August. The travel industry accounts for 4.5% of the financial hub's economy and employs about 2500,000 people, or about 7% of the total working population.
The impact could be as bad or worse than occurred during the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, Travel Industry Council Chairman Jason Wong Chun-tat was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post. Wong said cancellations could see hotel revenues in August drop by 40% against the same period last year.
Sparked two months ago by proposed extradition legislation that could have seen suspects sent to mainland China — where protesters say they could face torture and unfair politicized trials — the protests have since morphed into calls for broader democratic reforms in the semiautonomous Chinese city, along with the resignation of Chief Executive Lam and an independent investigation into alleged police abuse.
Lam said Friday an inquiry into police actions would not be appropriate while they are still carrying out operations in response to the demonstrations. Hong Kong residents have accused law enforcement of gross negligence after 44 civilians were attacked in a commuter rail station last month by rod-wielding assailants apparently targeting protesters.
Hong Kong police say 592 people have been arrested since June 9, ranging in age from 13 to 76. They face charges including rioting, which allows for prison terms of up to 10 years, along with interfering with police duties and taking part in unauthorized gatherings.
Demonstrators have at time attacked with metal sticks, bricks, gasoline bombs and carts full of burning debris, while on several occasions, protesters have been attacked by unknown people believed to be linked to organized crime groups.
Bangkok, Aug 9 (AP/UNB) — Thailand's foreign ministry had no immediate reaction Friday to reports that the country's former prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, has been granted Serbian citizenship, joining her brother as a fugitive globe-trotting Thai with foreign nationality.
Serbia's state news agency Tanjug reported Thursday that she was granted citizenship "because it could be in the interest of Serbia." A government decree confirming she was granted citizenship was published in June in Serbia's official gazette. Serbian officials did not comment on the reason behind the decision.
Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks said Friday she was unable to comment on the report from Serbia, and that the Serbian foreign ministry had not contacted its Thai counterpart. She also declined to comment on any efforts to extradite Yingluck.
Yingluck fled Thailand in 2017 just days before she was convicted of negligence for implementing a revenue-draining rice subsidy scheme while she was prime minister. She was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for in the case, which she and her supporters say was politically motivated.
Yingluck had been forced from office by a controversial 2014 court decision, and the government she had formed was toppled by a military coup shortly afterward.
Yingluck's conviction was a chapter in a long-running power struggle between Thailand's traditional ruling class and the powerful political machine founded by her brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a telecommunications tycoon.
Thaksin was prime minister in 2001-2006. He was ousted in a military coup amid accusations of corruption and likewise was sentenced to prison by a Thai court, on a conflict of interest charge he insists was politically motivated.
He fled abroad, maintaining residences in England and Dubai, and carries a passport from Montenegro, another Balkan nation, obtained in exchange for investing there. He is also reported to hold a passport from Nicaragua.
About a month after Yingluck fled, Thailand canceled her personal and official passports. She was believed to have fled through Cambodia, and since then has apparently been traveling freely.
There were reports in January this year that she holds a Cambodian passport, but Cambodian officials denied them. Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen enjoys good relations with her brother Thaksin, whom he at one point appointed as an economic adviser.
Thai police once said they were seeking an Interpol arrest warrant for Yingluck, but none is known to have been issued by the international police organization. Issuing such a warrant would be controversial because of the perception that the case against Yingluck is political in nature, which would not be allowed under Interpol's rules.
Thai officials have from time to time announced efforts to extradite Yingluck and her brother from various countries, but it is not clear if they ever proceeded formally.
Bangkok, Aug 9 (AP/UNB) — Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said Friday he is not quitting despite facing mounting criticism for failing to properly take his oath of office.
Prayuth led the inauguration of his Cabinet in a ceremony presided over by the king on July 16.
However, he omitted a phrase in the oath of office in which he was supposed to pledge to uphold every aspect of the constitution. The omission has raised questions over whether the inauguration was legally valid.
Prayuth told reporters Friday that he was continuing to conduct his duties "to the best of my abilities because I am the prime minister."
The oath of office is required under Article 161 of Thailand's Constitution, which includes the complete oath and states it must be said to the king before Cabinet ministers take office.
Prayuth's failure to recite the oath in full, which also led to other ministers making the same error because they repeated what he said, was pointed out by opposition politician Piyabutr Saengkanokkul during a Parliament session on July 25.
Legal activist Srisuwan Janya filed a complaint over the issue to the Office of the Ombudsman on Monday which has been accepted for consideration.
Prayuth led a military junta that seized power in 2014 and was dissolved with the inauguration of the new Cabinet. The junta had ruled with a heavy fist and regularly cracked down on its critics. It also introduced new election laws to favor Prayuth's return as prime minister.
Mongkolkit Suksintaranont, a leader of a political party that was part of Prayuth's coalition, said on Thursday that he and four other parties which hold single seats in the House of Representatives were leaving the coalition.
"I did not think that being part of the government coalition would mean that we would have such little freedom," Mongkolkit said, adding that he had been told to refrain from criticizing the government in Parliament sessions.
When asked how he would handle the issue of the Cabinet's incomplete oath of office, Mongkolkit said, "If I was prime minister, I would have resigned already."