Sri Lanka, June 4 (AP/UNB) — Eleven Muslim politicians resigned from top government posts in Sri Lanka on Monday, saying they wanted to enable the government to investigate allegations that some of them had links to the extremists who carried out the deadly Easter attacks.
Nine Cabinet and junior ministers and two provincial governors stepped down days after a Buddhist monk began a fast demanding the expulsion of three political leaders whom he said were linked to the local militant group that killed over 250 people in the bombings at churches and hotels.
The resignations of the ministers will not affect the government's stability because they have pledged to continue to support the government as backbench lawmakers.
Rauf Hakeem, a lawmaker for Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, said he and the others who resigned asked the government to investigate the allegations and allow Muslim political leaders to vindicate themselves amid an ongoing anti-Muslim hate campaign in Sri Lanka.
Muslims have seen their shops and home burned, been harassed in public places and subjected to hate comments since the April 21 suicide bombings, which were carried out by a local group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.
"We as members of the Muslim community represented in the government holding a variety of positons ... have taken a decision today to resign from all the positions and request the government to expedite any inquiry against anyone among us and bring it to a conclusion without delay," Hakeem said.
"If any of us are found guilty, we are prepared to face whatever punishment for that, but the innocent people should not be punished," he said.
Hakeem said that Sri Lanka's Muslim community has cooperated with law enforcement officials since the attacks, and that many have been arrested on trivial matters. He urged the government to quickly conclude their cases.
The Rev. Athuraliya Rathana, a Buddhist monk, started fasting on Saturday to demand the dismissal of three Muslim politicians whom he accused of being linked to the terrorist group that carried out the Easter attacks. Shops were shut and buses stopped services in some towns on Monday in support of the fast.
The monk gave up his fast after he was informed of the politicians' resignations.
Seven suicide bombers from a local group known as National Thowheed Jammath blew themselves up at three churches and three tourist hotels on Easter Sunday. Some 500 people were also wounded in the attacks.
Beijing, Jun 3 (AP/UNB) — China fired back at the U.S. Sunday over the two nations' trade dispute, issuing a report that blamed the conflict on the Trump administration but refrained from escalating the trade war.
The report from the Cabinet spokesman's office said China won't back down on "major issues of principle," but offered no sense of whether or how the world's second largest economy might retaliate against U.S. tariffs on goods manufactured in China.
The report said China has kept its word throughout 11 rounds of talks and will honor its commitments if a trade agreement is reached. It accused the U.S. of backtracking three times over the course of the talks by introducing new tariffs and other conditions beyond what was agreed on.
"But the more the U.S. government is offered, the more it wants," it said, accusing America's negotiators of "resorting to intimidation and coercion."
"A country's sovereignty and dignity must be respected, and any agreement reached by the two sides must be based on equality and mutual benefit," the report said.
The report, delivered at a Sunday morning news conference, appears to be a bid to shore up China's arguments and justify its position in the face of what looks to be a protracted dispute. Over recent days, China has been mobilizing its representatives abroad to sell its position with foreign audiences, while the domestic propaganda apparatus has been working overtime to convince the public of the righteousness of the government's stance.
Linda Lim, a professor at Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, said the report does not represent an escalation on China's part, but rather reiterates the government's position in a clear and measured way that leaves the door open for negotiations.
"They threw the ball back into the U.S. court," she said.
She said the report is a public relations win for China's government at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump's trade policy is antagonizing other U.S. trading partners, most recently Mexico. Trump announced last week that he would impose 5% tariffs on Mexican imports starting June 10 if the Mexicans don't do more to stop the surge of Central American migrants across the southern U.S. border.
The U.S. has accused China of stealing trade secrets and forced technology transfers. The Trump administration has imposed 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports and is planning to tax the $300 billion in imports that have so far been spared. It also escalated the stakes this month by putting Chinese telecom giant Huawei on a blacklist that effectively bars U.S. companies from supplying it with computer chips, software and other components without government approval.
Beijing responded by imposing tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. products, which went into effect Saturday. It also retaliated against the U.S. blacklisting of Huawei by announcing Friday that it will establish its own list of "unreliable entities" consisting of foreign businesses, corporations and individuals.
Wang Shouwen, China's vice commerce minister and deputy international trade representative, said China would issue more detailed information on the unreliable entities list soon, but that it was aimed at enterprises that "violated market principles" and cut supplies of components to Chinese businesses for non-commercial reasons.
China's statement that it intends to publish such a list follows additional measures last week that deepened the bite of U.S. sanctions imposed on Huawei in mid-May.
Several leading U.S.-based global technology standards-setting groups announced restrictions on Huawei's participation in their activities under U.S. Commerce Department rules that bar the sale and transfer of U.S. technology to Huawei without government approval.
Wang also repeated suggestions that China could restrict the export of exotic minerals known as rare earths that are widely used in electric cars and cellphones. Foremost among them is lithium, the main component in modern batteries.
The threat to use China's rich supply of rare earths as leverage in the conflict has contributed to sharp losses in U.S. stocks and sliding long-term bond yields.
"If some countries use China's rare earth metals to produce products to contain China's development, this is unacceptable by standards of both minds and hearts," Wang said.
Sunday's report lays out China's argument for blaming Washington for the frictions as well as the costs to both sides, and said China has room for fiscal policy changes to maintain the health of its economy amid the dispute.
Wang said China had been forced to "take forceful measures in response" to U.S. actions and denied China had backtracked on its earlier commitments.
He said the U.S. had made unacceptable demands, including on tariffs and compulsory requirements that infringed on Chinese sovereignty. "You give them an inch, they take a yard," he said.
Trump has touted the tariff increases as a way of reducing China's trade surplus with the U.S., which hit a staggering $379 billion last year. However, Wang questioned how much China was actually benefiting from its surplus, saying a joint Chinese-U.S. study showed the U.S. figure could be inflated by as much as 20%.
He also said many of those exports were produced by foreign companies operating in China and that Chinese firms often pocketed only a relatively meager fee for assembling. Subtracting the U.S. surplus in the services trade with China, the actual surplus came to just $152.6 billion last year, Wang said.
The U.S. deficit with China has actually been worsening since tariffs were first imposed, Wang said, pointing to a 50% decline in soy bean exports to China and a drop-off in U.S. auto sales in the country. The average U.S. family, meanwhile, will pay an additional $831 for consumer items over the year due to the higher tariffs, he said, while the dispute's impact on businesses could end up costing 2.23 million U.S. jobs overall.
"That shows that the deepening trade restrictions hurt U.S. workers," Wang said.
Moscow, June 2 (AP/UNB) — Russia's health ministry says 79 people have been injured in an explosion in a plant manufacturing TNT.
The blast took place Saturday in Dzerzhinsk, 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Moscow. An investigation is underway but the cause of the blast has not been determined.
The ministry said 38 employees at the plant and 41 local residents sought treatment after the blast. It said 15 were hospitalized, one in serious condition.
The blast broke windows in about 180 residential buildings near the plant, the state news agency Tass reported, citing city authorities.
Dmitry Krasnov, deputy governor of the region that includes Dzerzhinsk, said earlier on state TV that two people were missing in the blast, but later said that information had not been confirmed.
Singapore, Jun 1 (AP/UNB) — South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo on Saturday fended off calls to step up pressure on North Korea after it test-fired missiles last month.
Jeong told an annual security conference in Singapore that the tests were being investigated and a conclusion is within reach.
"There are discussions whether or not it is a short-range ballistic missile. There is a perspective that it is a Russian Iskander missile, or it is a new tactical ballistic missile," he said.
"There are data that we can verify, and we are working off those data to make sure we have a verification."
Jeong was responding to a question on whether the tests were a violation of a military agreement between South and North Korea last September to halt acts of aggression against each other.
He said the North was "in fact acting within the boundaries" of the agreement and tensions between their militaries "have been lowered to a significant extent."
"So currently the actions done by the North Korean regime have the intent to carry out the peace process through dialogue and talks. And I believe that's the hidden intent behind the lines in terms of their missile launches."
Jeong called on the international community to "assure North Korea that the decision to denuclearize is indeed the right decision."
He said that South Korea sees humanitarian aid and the lowering of military tensions as ways "to lead North Korea into conversation and away from ... the ways of the past."
North Korea itself has defended the launches, saying it was exercising its right to self-defense.
The U.S. and Japan say the short-range ballistic missile tests on May 4 and 9 were a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The tests ended a pause in launches that began in late 2017, and came amid deadlocked negotiations to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.
Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya, who spoke at the same session on Korean security, stressed that a strict implementation of sanctions against North Korea was necessary.
He specifically directed his comments at South Korea, China and Russia.
"We need to enhance surveillance on a global scale while strengthening effort locally to ensure the full implementation of sanctions," Iwaya said.
Earlier Saturday, U.S. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told the Shangri-La Dialogue conference that North Korea "remains an extraordinary threat" and has "neared a point where it could credibly strike regional allies, U.S. territory, and our forward-deployed forces."
Beijing, Jun 1 (AP/UNB) — China warned Canada that it needs to be aware of the consequences of aiding the U.S. in an extradition case involving Chinese tech giant Huawei that is believed to have sparked the detentions of two Canadians in China.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang's comments came after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Both were arrested on Dec. 10 after Canada detained a Huawei executive wanted by the United States on fraud charges. While China has denied they were taken in retaliation, it has repeatedly implied that there is a strong connection between the cases.
Korvig, a former diplomat and Asia expert at the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, a businessman, have been accused of colluding to steal state secrets. Canada has repeatedly urged their immediate release, calling their detentions arbitrary. Neither has been permitted access to lawyers or family members.
"We hope that the Canadian side can have a clear understanding of the consequences of endangering itself for the gains of the U.S. and take immediate actions to correct its mistakes so as to spare itself the suffering from growing damage," Geng said at a daily news briefing.
Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of the company's founder, is accused of lying to banks about the company's dealings with Iran in violation of U.S. trade sanctions. Her attorney has argued that comments by U.S. President Donald Trump suggest the case against her is politically motivated.
Washington has pressured other countries to limit the use of Huawei's technology, warning they could be opening themselves up to surveillance and theft of information.
China and the U.S. are currently embroiled in a trade dispute that is weighing heavily on global financial markets.
Another Canadian held in China, Robert Schellenberg, was re-sentenced to death in a drug case following Meng's detention. His case is currently under appeal.
In their joint statement, Pence and Trudeau said: "The United States and Canada stand together to firmly reject the wrongful detention of two Canadian citizens, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and call for their immediate release. China's actions are damaging its international reputation and a deep concern for all countries that uphold the rule of law."
"Canada and the United States welcome constructive, results-oriented engagement with China that concretely demonstrates respect for the rule of law, human rights, and fair and reciprocal trade," the statement said.